Lions, Honey & Lust – Oh My!

If a story was written about you, what would you want it to say? Perhaps you would want it to share a good mixture of different experiences from your life. Or, perhaps you’d want just the highlights to be proudly reported for all to read.

When we look at Scripture, we see many stories shared about different people. From Moses to the Samaritan woman at the well, we see people from different generations of life and from a wide variety of places and circumstances. Sometimes, Scripture gives us but just a glimpse into ones life, and then other times, the Bible goes into great detail.

For example, take David: From a shepherd boy to the King of Israel. Declared by God, as a man after His own heart, when we read his story we see moments of triumphant and moments of tragedy. We see his faithfulness and obedience to the Lord and we learn first hand from his missteps and mistakes as well.

Another amazing story is about a man named Samson. As a young boy, I was captivated by the stories I heard of the strength of this guy – how he lost it all after seeking only what was best for himself, but, how in one final moment, God used Samson as an instrument of Israel’s deliverance where Samson would die in a final act of courage.

Samson’s miraculous birth, exploits, failings, and redemptive death is covered in the book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16. These verses in Scripture share about everything from his mullet-like long hair, to his rated R lifestyle and all of it produces some profound stories for us to learn from.

If one is honest, they probably can see themselves in many of these stories. For even when we believe that God is for us, we can still pursue what we believe to best for us instead.

One experience in the life of Samson has always truly captivated me. In Judges 14, Samson sought to marry a Philistine woman. His family didn’t understand what God was preparing this marriage for. Scripture shares though, that God was using this marriage to create an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time. Verses 5 and 6 share that As Samson and his parents were going down to Timnah, a young lion suddenly attacked Samson near the vineyards of Timnah. At that moment the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him, and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands. He did it as easily as if it were a young goat. But he didn’t tell his father or mother about it. “

What a crazy thing to have happen? Right?! Almost out of nowhere, a lion attacks and you rip it apart with your bare hands?! Crazy! This experience would have made Samson a candidate for the TV show “I Was Prey” on Animal Planet. Now, I don’t know about you, but a wild animal attack is not something I am actively preparing for and I am sure that this moment during his travel to pursue a woman he wanted to marry, that it was definitely an unwanted experience as well. But unlike that TV show on Animal Planet that tells the story of surviving an attack, Scripture clearly said that Samson did not tell his parents about what had happened. He didn’t share this experience…yet.

The Nazarite Vow that Samson took came about because before he was even born, his parents made a promise the Lord – dedicating Him to the Lord, and promising that throughout the life of their son, he would fulfill this vow.

This specific vow can be summed up into three basic guidelines: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. Samson wasn’t suppose to “cuss or chew or hang out with girls who do” but man oh man, did Samson end up breaking all the rules, especially theses core guidelines of the Nazarite Vow.

Samson actively used his God-produced strength to tear apart that attacking lion. After some time had passed from his first trip, Judges 14 goes on to tell us that he would return again to Timnah for the wedding to this Philistine woman, and along that path, he looked for the carcass of the lion he had killed. (Side note: WHY? If I had been attacked by animal, and survived, I doubt I’d want to revisit that spot.) Samson goes and finds the lion, and he sees that bees had made a nest in the animal and were making honey in the carcass of the lion. Verse 9 says: “He scooped some of the honey into his hands and ate it along the way. He also gave some to his father and mother, and they ate it. But he didn’t tell them he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.”

It appears that without much thought, Samson ignores a key guideline. For the life of me, I cannot imagine doing what he did – it seems pretty disgusting, to dig around in decaying animal and to eat honey found in that animal. However, Samson saw something he wanted and took what he wanted. Making his vow out to be nothing!

We are much like Samson because far too often when we see something we want, then that becomes all that we can think about. Take ice-cream: see it, want it, and then we justify how we will work off those unnecessary calories, perhaps telling ourselves why we deserve a little treat like this, and then…we take what we want, that glorious ice-cream.

In a teaching, Pastor Craig Groeschel said: “Lust makes us think, ‘I want it.’ Entitlement is that love that takes ‘I want it’ and adds ‘…and I deserve it.” And like Samson, we can live our lives with a simple thought pattern: “I see. I want. I need. Heck, I deserve this…” type of mentality.

What God wanted for Samson was clear: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. But in the heart of Samson was something that pulled him away from God’s best: lust.

What causes you to pursue or even choose your own way over what we say we believe to be God’s best for our lives? It is an all consuming lust that is developed by what we see, and then think we want or need and what we believe that we deserve.

With this story of Samson, and with many stories from his life, we learn what happens when we seek to justify our sin and desires to fit our agenda. But when we do this, we are making a choices to turn our hearts away from what God wants for our lives.

What God wants for your life is actually the very best thing!

The Lord has given you abilities and strengths to make choices within your life – some big, and others small – but to make choices that not conveniently ignore God’s direction and His best for you. But rather, He has given you these abilities and resources so that you can continual turn your heart toward what we know God wants: an abundant life.

Remember where your strength comes from. It comes from your Heavenly Father.

Recall your own less-than-perfect story, and in doing so, begin to identify why you are giving into your own weaknesses, and seek to understand why it is easier for you to sell out your own God–given strengths, purely so that you might gain some kind of acceptance from people who don’t have your best in mind.

Seek to guard your heart. Keep an account of your strengths, of the the unique gifts, talents and abilities God has poured out on you, that He seeks to develop within you. Write them out. Look at the value God has for you. He believes in you. He has equipped you. Don’t give up and remember that the next time you make a commitment to God, that you will not sell out these strengths to anyone or anything. And when you do mess up on your promise to Him, be quick to confess that and repent of it. You must not forget that the Lord loves you and that He longs to forgive and restore you, and that He will help you pursue once again, His best for you.

Stay away from those lions and the girls that cuss too! Seek to make choices each day, in each relationship and within each experience, that push you closer to God while following the guidelines within Scripture. Strive to make each day, a holy and joy filled pursuit of God’s best, growing in His wisdom and strength everyday.

 

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tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

confronting shame

Most weeks I gather with a group of students from our Riverside Students Ministries at RWC and we work through a book (a student edition) that Max Lucado has written called “Experiencing the Heart of Jesus.” The book is great and it has an awesome format that provides readers with the opportunity to respond to his thoughts and write out their responses to questions and the scripture they are reviewing.

This last week we going through a section called “Freedom from Shame” and as things progressed we looked at John 21 where Peter had decided to go out and fish, and Jesus had showed up along the shore. The story in John 21 is powerful. Here is Lucado shares…
One of the next times we see Peter interact with Jesus is back on the shores of Lake Galilee. Peter is back in the fishing boat, and we wonder why goes fishing. We know why he goes to Galilee; he had been told that the risen Christ would meet the disciples there. The arranged meeting place isn’t the sea, however, but a mountain (Matt. 28:16). If the followers were to meet Jesus on a mountain, what are they doing in a boat? No one told them to fish, but that’s what they did. “Simon Peter said, ‘I am going out to fish.’ The others said, “We will go with you'” (John 21:3). Besides, didn’t Peter quit fishing? Two years earlier, when Jesus called him to fish for men, didn’t he drop his net and follow We haven’t seen him fish since. We never see him fish again. Why is fishing now? Especially now! Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter as seen the empty tomb. Who could fish at a time like this?
Were they hungry? Perhaps that’s the sum of it. Maybe the expedition was born out of growling stomachs.
Or then again, maybe it was born out of a broken heart. You see, Peter could not deny his denial. The empty tomb did not erase the crowing rooster. Christ had returned, but Peter wondered–he must have wondered–“After what I did, would he return for someone like me?”
If you find yourself awash in the whirlpool of sorrow, hiding int he shadows of shame, continually reliving your failures, Jesus’ invitation is for you. He wants face-time with you–not to scold you, but to hold you. He want you to come to his heart. Let him set you free.
No one could have been more grateful than Peter. The one Satan had sifted like wheat was eating bread at the hand of God. Peter was welcomed to the meal of Christ. Right there for the devil and his tempters to see, Jesus “prepared a table int he presence of his enemies.”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5). What the shepherd did for the sheep sounds a lot like what Jesus did for Peter. What if Jesus did for you what he did for Peter? Suppose he, in the hour of your failure, invited you to a meal?
On the night before his death, Jesus prepared a table for his followers.
It was now the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the Passover lamb was sacrificed. Jesus’ followers said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?” Jesus sent two of his followers and said to them, “Go into the city and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. When he goes into a house, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says: “Where is my guest room in which I can eat the Passover meal with my followers?” ‘ The owner will show you a large room upstairs that is furnished and ready. Prepare the food for us there.” (Mark 14:12-15)
Notice who did the “preparing” here. Jesus reserved a large room and arranged for the guide to lead the disciples. Jesus made certain the room was furnished and the food set out. What did the disciples do? The faithfully complied and were fed.
The Shepherd prepared the table. Not only that, he dealt with the snakes. You’ll remember that only one of the disciples didn’t complete the meal that night. “The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to turn against Jesus” (John 13:2) Judas started to eat, but Jesus didn’t let him finish. On the command of Jesus, Judas left the room. “‘The thing that you will do–do it quickly’…Judas took the break Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night” (John 13:27-30)
There was something dynamic in this dismissal. Jesus prepared a table in the presence of the enemy. Judas was allowed to see the super, but he wasn’t allowed to stay there.
You aren’t welcomed here. This table is for my children. You may tempt them. You may trip them. But you’ll never sit with them. This is how much he loves us.
And if any doubt remains, lest there be any “Peters” who wonder if there is a place at the table for them, Jesus issues a tender reminder as he passes the cup.
“Every one of you drink this.” Those who feel unworthy, drink this. Those who feel ashamed, drink this. Those who feel embarrassed, drink this.
Our failures leave us mired down in guilt and shame.
Jesus calls you to come, not for a scolding, but to welcome you back.
Jesus has prepared a place for you.
May you, confront and process your shame and fear. Don’t return to your sin. Don’t continue in your sin either. I pray you may confront it and what it produces in your heart. And that you invited Jesus to be apart of changing you from the inside out. May you experience freedom from shame.