Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weaknesses Can Be Powerful

Never underestimate the power of weakness. That’s the message I get through the story of Samson in the book of Judges. Samson lands the job of judge over Israel for a period of 20 years. He is a pretty interesting guy. He has a lot of strength, known for his buff body, but he also has some pretty powerful weaknesses.

Before Samson is even born, God has determined that he will be a man of strength and will bring deliverance to the Israelites. An angel of the Lord appears to a woman and tells her that she will have a son, whose hair should never be shaved. The source of his strength would be found in his hair. I don’t know why God picked his hair to be the source of his strength. I guess He chose something that wouldn’t be so obvious to others. After all, if someone could guess the source of his strength, then they could cut it off (the hair and his strength).

Now Samson is so strong that he does some pretty incredible things. He tears a lion apart with his bare hands. He manages to somehow tie the tails of 300 foxes together. I try to imagine gathering 300 foxes and tying their tails…an amazing feat for sure! He slaughters many (we don’t get details; we are just told he does in Judges 15:8). He breaks free from Judah’s attempt to bind him and turn him over to the Philistines. He kills 1,000 men with a donkey’s jawbone. These are just the stories we know of. I’m sure there are more that the Bible doesn’t include. After all, he did judge over Israel for 20 years.

So he is a mighty man, a mighty warrior and God uses him time and time again to do some pretty amazing things. But the problem is that Samson also had a weakness. His weakness was women. In the face of a lion he could demonstrate incredible might but in the arms of a woman, he became like mush.

We first see this when he gets a wife from the Philistines. Although he wanted to marry outside his people, it was God’s plan from the beginning. So I guess we can’t really fault him there. However, his weakness in women is quickly revealed when she manages to get out of him a riddle he has told the Philistines. She backstabs him and tells the Philistines the answer to his riddle.

Samson would be backstabbed by a woman more than once, yet they continued to be a weakness in his life and as we will see, a pretty powerful weakness. Samson ends up losing his wife, first to his best friend and then eventually she and her father are burned up by the Philistines. This was in retaliation for the whole fiasco of tying the fox’s tails together, setting them on fire and causing them to burn up the Philistine’s grain.

Then in Judges 16:1 he goes in to a harlot. No strings attached. The Philistines try to take advantage of this opportunity and lie in ambush. However, he manages to escape yet again, relying upon his strength as he rises up at midnight and lifts up the doors to the city’s gate, along with its posts and bar and carries them to the top of a hill. With so much strength, one would think he could overpower anything—including the lure of a woman. But no, that is his snag.

We all have a snag, a weakness that we can fall prey to time and time again unless we learn how to overcome it. It could be that Samson didn’t really recognize women as his weakness. Or it could be that he did but he didn’t know how to break the ties. It could also be that he didn’t want to overcome his weakness. We don’t really know but eventually, it would be his weakness that would bring about his demise.

Along comes Delilah. I don’t know what he thought he was getting into but clearly from the beginning her affections for him were not very deep. For some silver she is willing to give away the secret of his strength. But to do that, she needs to find out what it is. Three times she thinks she knows the answer and three times he tricks her.

The power of his weakness for women is most demonstrated in his “relationship” with Delilah. Not only does she nag him to give away his secret but she has men waiting to subdue him. Did he not know those men were there? The Bible doesn’t make that clear but it seems impossible that he didn’t know. In one instance it says that the men were in the “inner room,” so I don’t see how he didn’t know.

Here’s the thing, though. If he didn’t know, he was blinded by his weakness. Our weaknesses can do that. It’s like we are under the power of our weakness and the power over us is so strong that we can’t even see straight. Our perspective on things can get really messed up.

Finally, he gives in and tells her the source of his strength. It says in Judges 16:16 that she “pressed him day after day.” She just kept coming after him. Our weaknesses will do that. They will come after us, day after day. They are always there, whispering in our ear…enticing us. The question is will we give in? Samson gave in. In my Bible it says he was “vexed to death.” That means he was harassed, irritated, annoyed…to death. Literally it would bring his death.

The source of his strength is revealed, his hair is cut off, his eyes are gouged out and now he becomes nothing more than a source of sick entertainment for the Philistines. It says in Judges 16:20: For Samson did not know that the Lord had departed from him. There comes a time when our weaknesses have so overtaken us that the Lord is no longer with us, and we don’t even know it! We mistakenly think we can handle a situation but we have strayed so far from Him that we don’t even realize His presence is no longer there. What a sad ending for Samson but clearly, one that could have been avoided.

In the end, he sacrifices his own life to wipe out approximately 3,000 Philistines at a house where he pushes apart the pillars and the whole thing topples down on top of them. His end was due to his weaknesses. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your weaknesses. The more we give in to them, the more trouble we invite. Samson’s weakness was women. We all have our own unique weaknesses. Recognize what they are so that you can walk in the power of your strength and not those weaknesses!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Nameless Woman

There are so many stories in the Bible where you are left to read between the lines. You have no idea how it played out. The details are missing. I am going to have more than a few questions someday when I stand before Jesus!

There is one story in particular that I read about this morning. It’s in the book of Judges. It’s the story of Jephthah, a Gileadite. His father’s name was Gilead but there is no name for his mother. There is only a description of her. She was a harlot. At one point his half-brothers throw him out of the house, so he goes to the land of Tob.

Eventually the Ammonites come to attack Israel. The elders remember that Jephthah was a mighty warrior so they go find him and ask him to please come lead the Israelites against the Ammonites. He agrees but he makes this deal with God. He vows to God that if he would be victorious against the Ammonites, that whoever or whatever would greet him at his door when he returned from the battle, he would offer it up. In other words, he would sacrifice it.

Now, I’m not entirely sure what he was thinking…or if he was thinking. It seems like a very dangerous vow to make. Why would you suggest such a thing? Wouldn’t it have been enough to say, “God, if you give me this victory I will obey you the rest of my life?” I mean, I think that’s what people typically say when they make “deals” with God. I don’t hear of too many people who suggest something so radical.

At any rate, the vow is made. It’s a done deal. So Japhthah goes out and he gets the victory. He is returning home, maybe even forgetting about the deal he had made with God. Who should meet him at his door with celebration but his daughter! His only child! I mean, clearly he had not thought through this vow and considered the possibilities.

Japhthah knew his vow to God could not be broken. He had to break the news to his daughter. Now think about that. Your father tells you that he had made this deal, this dumb deal, and now he has to sacrifice you. I don’t know about you but I would run! Instead she says, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what you have vowed, since the Lord has taken vengeance for you on your enemies the Ammonites.” (Judges 11:36)

What I find kind of sad is that she is nameless. The Bible never mentions her name. She is this somewhat forgotten portion of scripture. We may have read the story a hundred times and never given much thought to it. But think about the reality of this situation. This poor girl has come out to celebrate her father’s return and his victory over their enemies. The celebration quickly turns sour. Her decision to greet her father would bring tragic consequences.

She doesn’t run from it. She knows the value of the vow that her father has made. Think about vows for a moment. Vows are meant to be kept. They are never to be broken. They are promises that we say we will keep. Yet today, vows have become nothing more than casual statements. It is no big deal to break a vow. Vow to stay together until death do you part? Nah. We stay together until it gets too hard or we think that the grass is greener on the other side.

This is a woman of integrity. I wish I knew her name. I can’t wait to meet her someday. I will have so many questions for her! Although she knows that the vow cannot be broken, she makes one request of her father. “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go and wander upon the mountains and bewail my virginity. I and my companions” (Judges 11:37).

I don’t know about you but I really find this remarkable. First of all, the fact that she doesn’t run from her father and that she doesn’t beg for her life is amazing to me. She then asks for some time to get away and mourn the fact that she would die a virgin. I really think that is what she was saying here. She didn’t seem to be grieving the fact that she was going to die. That would have been the ONLY thing on my mind! No, she was grieving the fact that she would never marry and never have children. She would die a virgin. I really honestly don’t believe I would be thinking about that. Maybe it’s because since the time she was a little girl, she had dreamt about the day she would grow up and meet her prince charming and become a mother. Perhaps she was already engaged and now the marriage would never take place. We really don’t know but I sure would like to find out!

So her father sends her away. She goes and spends two months in the mountains. Here is where I am really curious. What all happened during those two months? Two months is a long time to think about what you would never have, what you were going to face when that time was done. She must have had some awesome friends because apparently there were others who went with her to “bewail her virginity.” Maybe it was even her fiancĂ©. We really don’t know.

What if you were given two months to live? How would you spend it? At first, I would think that spending it grieving in the mountains is a waste of time. Most people might think that they would want to go out and do everything they can while they have the time. They would want to live life to the fullest and do something wild and crazy. It would be easy to think that she just wasted the last of her days. But here is what I think. Remember, this is just my own thoughts…this is one of those Bible stories where we really don’t know what happened.

But what I think happened is that she probably had some amazing encounters with God. I think God was with her and helped her during that time. I think instead of going out and partying and living life to the fullest, she spent it connecting to her Heavenly Father. I think He prepared her for the sacrifice she was going to make. I think that by the time the two months was over with, she was ready. And I also believe that God had given her a peace.

Here’s why I think this. She had more than enough time and ample opportunity to escape. She didn’t have to return to her father’s house after those two months. I think most of us would probably run to another city, another country! But amazingly, she comes back to her father’s house. There is also a line in this story that says: She never mated with a man (Judges 11:39). Obviously this was a big deal to her. Now think about that. She could have said to herself, “You know what? I’m going to die anyway…I might as well enjoy the time I have left and go for it!” She could have lost her virginity and given herself to a man. She didn’t. She died a virgin and apparently, this was a very big deal for her.

I think our true character shows when we are facing dire circumstances. When our world gets turned upside down, the real “me” will shine through. We can hide our true selves from a lot of people and in a lot of situations. But when we are faced with a raw situation, I believe the raw person we are shows forth.

She is a nameless woman whose story only takes up about seven verses of scripture. But her story is very powerful when you try to read between the lines. She gives us a lot to think about. What is she saying to you?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What If I Don't Feel Like Celebrating Easter?

I bet the title of this blog caught your attention. This weekend is supposed to be very special for our family. We have so many reasons to celebrate. First of all, we are celebrating Easter. It is the whole reason that Jesus came to this earth. He came so that on Good Friday He would take on the sins of the world, yet on Easter morning He would rise from the dead—clearing a path of salvation for all those who would believe on Him. What a glorious celebration!

Our family has other reasons to celebrate as well. My oldest son turns 16 this weekend. There is just something remarkable about that 16th birthday. It’s like a special turning point in a young person’s life. Childhood is just about to be completely left behind. A new season of life waits just around the corner.

We are also celebrating my mother’s 60th birthday which is yet another milestone in a special family member’s life. So many celebrations and so many good things to think about…but we have had this dark cloud covering the joys of all these celebrations. A marriage in our family is falling apart. It seems that prayers just aren’t quite getting answered the way we would like. Tomorrow is supposed to be a special day—the celebration of Good Friday. Sunday is another special day, Easter morning church service and then our family gathering to celebrate Jesus Christ and the aforementioned birthdays. But a family member will be missing. There will be this hole in our family and I have been battling the past week on how we can fill it.

The past several days I have been trying to think of ways to keep things joyful. Pretend it isn’t happening…bring out a funny DVD of a Christian comedian…put together some special Easter baskets for my kids and nephews…lots of different thoughts that I have had. In all honesty it has emotionally been a bit overwhelming. I have been feeling like I am trying to be the glue that keeps everything together and attempts to bring joy and peace in the midst of a very difficult and trying time.

I have also had my moments when I would like to do nothing more than just cancel everything. Forget even trying to make this happen. Call up family and announce the cancellation…they would probably understand. At one point I even thought that I should forget all about the plans I had this weekend to celebrate Easter—our Good Friday service, the Easter musical, and Sunday morning’s Easter service. How can I pretend to be happy when part of our world is falling apart? What if I don’t really feel like celebrating Easter?

Almost as quickly as I had those thoughts I was reminded of those dark moments that Jesus experienced the day He would hang on the cross for the sins of this world. It was now about the sixth hour (midday), and darkness enveloped the whole land and earth until the ninth hour (about three o’clock in the afternoon), while the sun’s light faded or was darkened; and the curtain [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:44-45). Indeed it was a dark time. It was not a time of celebration. It seemed that all hope was gone. But who was there? Who was hanging in the balance between life and death? Jesus was. Even in the darkest moments He was there. In our dark moments as a family, He is there. But the darkness won’t remain just as it didn’t on the day He was crucified.

I love how Luke 24 starts off…BUT. But on the first day of the week… What we know about the word “but” is that it cancels everything before. Our debt was canceled. The darkness that had once clouded everything was canceled by the word “but.” Because in Luke 24:3 it says But when they went inside, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Why couldn't they find it? Because He had risen! The dark cloud had been lifted and Jesus’ resurrection paved the way for light and life.

My reminder, which is for anyone else who is experiencing something difficult in life right now, is that the darkness doesn’t remain forever. There may be a dark cloud hovering over you right now but Jesus is still there. Don’t feel like celebrating Easter? Do you think Jesus “felt” like hanging on a cross? Remember the reason for the celebrations of Easter, what He did for you and watch the dark cloud begin to break away.