Tag Archives: evil

How the godly fall – Characters: Samson, Part 2

5 Nov
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

A fall from grace. Maybe you’ve experienced it. Or maybe another’s fall has affected you. There have been a number of high profile such failures, and countless more lower profile examples that don’t get reported in the news. No matter the situation, they impact people deeply, leaving us wonder, “How did that happen?” Parents split up. A pastor commits an atrocity. A friend betrays you. Sometimes we fail ourselves, when we don’t live up to our own expectations. How does this happen? And where is God in this? As we continue the story of our third character, Samson, in our current series, we find the answers are sometimes far from easy.

In the first post in this series on Samson, everything surrounding his birth and early years is amazing.  God has intervened, even before Samson is born, setting him up to be a powerful, godly leader. Perhaps most significantly, we learned that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, a very rare occurrence for ancient Israelites, and a clear indication that God had high hopes for Samson.

Then we come to Judges 14.  Look at verses 1-2.

Huh?  Samson goes to get a wife from the Philistines? That’s the enemy, remember.  Worse, Samson isn’t just making a bad decision in fraternizing with the enemy, he is breaking God’s law.  Both Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:3 forbid the Israelites from marrying outside of their own people.  What is going on here?  Has something happened in Samson’s life between chapters 13 and 14?  After setting us up for Samson to be a godly deliverer, the writer now has us scratching our heads.  Unless, Samson isn’t going to be the hero we thought. 

As we continue reading in chapter 14, Samson’s parents are disappointed, and they push back, trying to get him to obey God’s law. Samson is having nothing of it, basically demanding that they get the Philistine woman for him to marry. 

Then the writer curiously tells us in verse 4 that, “this was from the Lord.”  Again, we readers could really be confused by this.  Is God condoning sin?  Or is there another way to look at this?  At this point in the story, there are no answers to these questions.  As Samson’s story unfolds, however, the writer will lead us to some answers.  For now, suffice it to say that even though Samson is a flawed character, God is still at work. Let’s continue the story, and what we discover is that the Spirit of Lord comes upon him twice in this chapter, showing God’s presence in his life.

The first occurrence is in verse 6, when the Spirit of Lord comes on Samson to protect him, as Samson kills a lion that attacked him.  That alone is astounding.  He kills a lion.  With his bare hands.  It is okay to think, “That’s not normal.”  Lions kill people.  Not the other way around.  Something is going on with Samson.  We know what is going on: the Spirit of the Lord is on him.  Essentially Samson has a superpower. 

Days or weeks later he passes by the dead lion, and he notices that it has honey in its carcass. Samson not only eats it, but he also gives some to his parents to eat.  This might seem like a random detail, but it is important at this stage in the story.  In the first post, we learned that God wanted Samson to have what was called a Nazarite vow for life. There were three main rules a Nazarite would follow, as they were specially dedicated to God: no alcohol, no touching dead things, and no cutting their hair. Also God’s law forbade any Israelite from touching a dead carcass, let alone eating from it.  So Samson not only broke his vow to God, he also brings his parents, though unwittingly on their part, into breaking a law.  What does this tell us?  Just as he was flippant with God’s law by marrying a foreign woman, here again he shows disregard for God.  Take a pause with me and let’s consider what we are learning about Samson thus far. We have a guy with super strength, but he seems to disregard the source of that power, God’s Spirit, as he is repeatedly trampling on God’s law.  This is not a good pattern; it’s called biting that hand that feeds you. 

Then we come to the wedding feast, which was a typical seven-day-long drinking party.  Again we need to remember his Nazarite vow: no alcohol.  The text doesn’t tell us that he drank, but at a seven-day long party that would normally feature alcohol, and knowing Samson’s proclivity for disregarding his vow, it seems highly likely to me that he drank. 

I think this is especially likely when we consider the ridiculous drama he gets into with his new bride and her people.  30 Philistine men were given to Samson as companions, and some scholars speculate that these men were there to protect the proceedings from Samson.  Perhaps they were a kind of security detail, making sure Samson stays in line. 

So Samson proposes a riddle to them.  If they could solve his riddle by the end of the feast, he would give the men 30 sets of clothing and 30 linen garments or capes, but if they can’t figure it out, they would have to give Samson that much clothing.  Here’s the riddle:

Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.

Judges 14:14

Do you know what Samson is talking about? Samson clearly thought no one would figure it out.  And it seemed for a while like he was right.  Actually, he was right. There was no way anyone was figuring it out, because it was about the honey in lion that he had previously killed.  It’s cool that the translators made his riddle rhyme in English, but is it even a riddle?  It is more like an impossible guess. How could the Philistine men ever know what he is talking about?  They can’t know and they are frustrated about that, so these men start going behind Samson’s back, trying to get his new bride to help them.  She is one of them, a Philistine.  Will she be loyal to them or to her new husband who is an Israelite, enemy of the Philistines? 

His new bride cries the whole seven days of the wedding feast because Samson won’t tell her the answer to a riddle. Finally, after she begs him repeatedly, he divulges the meaning of the riddle. With little time left before the feast is over, she gives the answer to her people.  They in turn tell Samson the answer, and he is angry, because now he owes them 30 sets of clothing. 

At this moment, Samson’s story shifts into darkness.  It is also at this moment we learn of the second time the Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson in this chapter, but this time it is not for protection like it was with the lion.  This time he travels to a Philistine city, Ashkelon, where he kills 30 Philistine men and strips them of their clothes to pay up.

Samson’s war with the Philistines has begun. While it might seem like God has given Samson a victory over Israel’s enemies, we’ve also watched Samson begin a fall from grace. Yes, he struck a blow to the enemy who had been ruling over Israel for 40 years. Yes, God empowered him. But Samson actions were dark, betraying his vow, acting in anger and disregard for God. These are warning signs.

Perhaps you’ve seen that pattern in yourself or in others around you. The slow fade into darkness. The lack of concern for what might seem like small things, little lies, selfish purchases, and the like. These actions often reveal a direction of life, and that a larger fall could be coming.

As God is gracious with Samson, not abandoning him even when he disregard’s God’s law, God is gracious with us. Merciful. Patient. Return to him before the fall. Confess and repent. Will Samson? Will you?

God is in control? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 3]

20 Mar

If God is in control, why does the world seem totally out of control?

In the previous post in this series, I referred to three reasons bad things happen. Christians struggle to make sense of evil and pain in the world, just as anyone does. Why would God allow it? Why did he create our world this way? We often respond with a shrug, and a fairly tepid, “Well, God is in control.” Usually Christians understand God’s control in one of two ways, and we’re going to review them in this post.

First, some say that God has given us free will, because he wants to be in a loving relationship with us, and that requires free will.  In order to have a real, genuine give and take relationship with God, we need to be able to say “No” to him.  We need to be able to deny him, to turn away from him.   If we have no other choice but to love and obey him, that would not be a genuine relationship.  That means we would have no free will, or maybe we would have a seriously diminished free will, and I suspect few of us would really want that.

There are, admittedly, times in my own life when I say to God, “Lord, make me a robot for you, because I am so sick of my constant screwing up.”  But if God would turn off our free will, our person-hood would cease to exist, and we would essentially be robots.  The result of free will, though, is that we are NOT robots, and that means we often make terribly selfish choices against God, against each other, against ourselves, and against the world.  Those selfish choices lead to pain and disaster, as we see all the time on the news.  You might think, “Geesh, if that is what God did, creating free will…was it worth it?”  Because the pain and evil has been really bad, hasn’t it?  It has!  God took a massive risk in creating free will.  Thinking relationally, he risked that his creation that he loved, you and me and all humanity, could deny his love.  When you give people a choice, they can and do sometimes make poor choices. And thus there is much pain in the world.

So the free will view explains that God actually does give up a measure of control…and he gives it to us.  But we’re not all bad, right? We can do amazingly beautiful creative loving things with our power, limited though it is in comparison to his.  Throughout the ages, people have done acts of amazing artwork, invention, unity, friendship, commitment and love.  I’m not just talking about famous artists or world-changers.  We all have an opportunity to use our free will in God-honoring ways.  From how we parent and grandparent.  From how we neighbor, how we work, how we handle ourselves in school, and certainly how we participate in a church family.  Lest we get too negative and jaded, we need to look for the amazing results of godly free will all over the planet. 

So maybe the free will view could be summarized as saying that God is in control to the degree that we give him control?

That brings us to the second way Christians explain the presence of evil in the world. God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty is about God’s control.  Free will gives humans control. Sovereignty says that God has never given up control, no matter how out of control the world seems.

We believe that God is control in the master plan sense.  Satan or evil people cannot ultimately thwart God’s master plan. Throughout Scripture we see this many times.  Nothing could stop Jesus from being born, from living his life, from having his ministry.  Nothing was going to stop the resurrection of Jesus, for example.  Nothing will stop him from coming back.  In that sense, yes, God is in control.

But he also gives us a measure of control.  My denomination, the EC Church, is in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition and we believe God allows free will, and we must use our free will to choose him.  Many do.  And it is a primary aspect of the mission of God’s people to help others choose God too. 

But we also know many do not choose God.  So there is a proper sense in which the phrase “God is in control” needs some explaining.  If all we mean, when we say “God is control” is that he is going to work out his master plan, then it is a true statement.  But if we mean that God is going to make things great for people in suffering, then it is not a true statement.  He might allow the pain to continue.  We might never know why we went through the pain.  In fact, there might not be a spiritual reason.  It could simply be that we live in a broken and fallen world.  To people in those situations, it could actually be counter-productive and harmful to say to them “everything happens for a reason” or “God is in control.”  As we saw last week, there’s a much better way to come alongside people who are struggling.  And we’ll talk more about that in a future post in this series.

One thing I would recommend we don’t say to people who are struggling is the next phrase that we are fact-checking, and we’ll cover that in part 4.

Unmasking Halloween

31 Oct

Image result for unmasking halloween

Last week, I asked “What could be wrong with Halloween?”

Well…maybe this:

The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Halloween has “its origins in Samhain, one of the most-sinister festivals on the Celtic calendar. The ancient Celts believed that on November 1 the souls of those who had died returned to visit their homes or to journey to the otherworld. People set fires to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by ghosts.”

Almost all of our Christian holidays are responses to pagan holidays.  For example, Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25th.  Most scholars believe it is much more likely he was born in the spring.  But we celebrate his birth on December 25th because centuries ago the church wanted to have a Christian holiday in response to Winter Solstice which is on December 21st.  The same exact thing happened with Halloween.  All Saints Day was always in spring, and still is for the Eastern Church.

Again, the Britannica tells us that “In the 8th century…the Roman Catholic Church—perhaps in an effort to end the pagan holiday of Samhain—moved All Saints’ Day to November 1. The evening before became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. While the day was celebrated by some Christians, many of the Samhain traditions persisted, and Halloween eventually became more commonly known as a secular holiday.”

So it is that out of these ancient traditions grew Halloween.  Samhain’s focus on evil and witchcraft and demons and ghosts, and the current iteration in Halloween, has caused many people to wonder if it is something that Christians should steer clear of.

It is a concern Christians should take seriously.  What do we do about the spirit world?  Is it possible that participation in Halloween could mean that we Christians are in league with the devil?  Are we being tricked into something?

In 1st Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul talks about this in a letter he wrote to Christians living in the city of Corinth in the first century AD.

In their day and age, idol worship was a daily occurrence.  Pagan temples abounded in their cities.  Paul tells them to flee from idolatry.  The idols?  They’re nothing he says.  Just some carvings made from wood or stone.  The meat sacrificed to idols?  No big deal.  It’s just food.

But what he says in verse 20 is quite important.  Though idols and the meat sacrifices are nothing, who the people are actually worshiping is something.  He says the people are actually participating with demons.  Paul is very concerned, then, that the Christians should not have involvement in pagan worship because it was actually demonic.  Don’t make God jealous, he says.

Samhain, the root of Halloween, was once a pagan holiday.  So many Christians feel we should not participate in Halloween.

Before we address Halloween in particular, let’s talk about the spirit world a bit.  We do need to heed Paul’s teaching that we Christians are not to get involved in the spirit world.  The spirit world and demons are real and powerful.

How many of you have had experiences in which you felt you were directly interacting with the spirit world or that spirit world was interacting with you?  At Faith Church we have had missionaries tell us about interactions they’ve had with the spirit world oppressing their families and ministries.

During the summer I did my college missionary internship in Guyana, I had two such instances, and when we were missionaries in Jamaica there was a time when we, along with other missionaries, prayed through a family’s home as they were experiencing some demonic manifestation.

But those are all examples of foreign places.  We hear about the spirit world and demons in foreign lands, especially related to missionary work.  But what about here? I personally have had very little experience with the demonic in the USA.  But there have been a couple times.

When I was Faith Church’s youth pastor our youth group did work camp mission trips, and one year we went to Gloversville, New York.  The project I was on included minor repairs and painting at the home of a family in need.  As we got to know the family, the mother divulged to us that she was a witch.  She went on to describe what kinds of magic she did, as if it was all totally normal.  My work team I led, about 8 middle and high schoolers, found her stories to be disconcerting.

She then showed us a cabinet in her dining room.  It looked like a really big spice rack, and the containers had more than just spices.  She explained that they were ingredients for her magic potions.  The family also had a tree in their yard that she said they performed magic on, and somehow used it in her spells.  Some of the team members heard this and started looking at one another nervously.  They had been climbing in that tree.  Near the end of the week the lady told us that she was going to make us BBQ chicken as a thank you for the work we were doing.  When we got in the van after work that day, the team immediately started questioning me about the chicken. Should they eat it?

Then there was the woman living in one of the apartment complexes near our church property.  She had started attending Faith Church.  I was the youth pastor at the time, and she stopped by the office one day to tell the senior pastor that there were demonic manifestations in her home.  She wanted us to come over to her house and pray.  So we went over and prayed through her house.

What have you experienced?

And what do I mean by “demonic manifestation”?  I am not talking about just being scared.  Growing up I was often afraid of the dark.  My regular chore was to take out the trash, and I hated collecting the trash from the wastebaskets downstairs. If no one else was down there, as soon as I was done with the trash, I would turn off last light and bolt up the dark stairs, imagining evil things nipping at my heels.  I also can get freaked out at scary movies.  The Sixth Sense did me in for a few days.   I often have vivid scary dreams.   Are these examples of intersection with the spirit world?

I recently heard a psychology professor talk, and he was saying that there needs to be balance.  Some people want to say that anything that was once called a demonic manifestation is actually just the brain and our bodies misfiring.  Emotion that is too strong.  Out of control.  There is no spirit world, they say.  It is all in our minds.  This psychologist counters, “Wait a minute…not so fast.  It is a both-and.”  The spirit world is real, and likewise our minds and bodies can create situations that are not true.  The movie A Beautiful Mind is an example of how schizophrenia can impact a person.  In years gone by, a real condition like schizophrenia would have been considered demon possession.  Now we know that it is not so.

Look at the stories of Jesus, though, or look at the vast accounts of the spirit realm throughout the ages, and in our own day, and we need to conclude that the spirit realm is real.

My first encouragement to you today is that you do not underestimate the power of the dark side.  Ok, that was a little Star Wars reference for you.  But the point is true.  Satan is powerful.  Demons are no joke.  Remember our series through Luke and all the times that Jesus interacted with demons?  Those demons had lots of power to wreck, totally wreck, people’s lives.  So don’t toy with them.  Don’t experiment. Don’t think that you’ll be fine.  Don’t think you are strong enough to handle it.  Be teachable, be self-aware.  Know that you are not capable of defeating the spirit world should spirits interact with you.

Don’t invite the battle.

But aren’t Christians safe because of Jesus?  Safe from possession, yes, but not oppression.  As we often saw in the Gospel of Luke earlier this year and last year, Jesus regularly interacted with the spirit world.  Whether it was Satan himself or the many demons who confronted him, there was always one thing that was the same:

There was no contest. Those demons ran scared.  Even Satan couldn’t tempt him.

Jesus either outsmarted them or he overpowered them.  It wasn’t even a question.  Each time it was no contest.  He would win.

If the battle would be between us and the powers of darkness, it would also be no contest, but we would lose!  We need to humble ourselves and admit that.  The problem is that we often think we can do battle.

In Ephesians 6:10-20, we read about the Armor of God.  I’ve heard people talk like all we need to do is strap on that armor and go do battle with spirits.  But if you look closely at how Paul actually describes the armor of God, you see a very different picture.

When you put on the armor of God, you are actually depending on God and obeying him so that his power is at work in us and through us.  It is not our power.  It is all him.

Be truthful, faithful, righteous, study God’s word, and pray.  These might not sound like typical weapons in a battle, but in God’s Kingdom they are powerful, because they rely on his power.  By doing these things we stay humble, we stay dependent on God’s ability and power.

So whether it is real interaction with ghosts or Ouija boards or any form of sorcery or witchcraft, anything having to do with demons I encourage you to stay away from it.

But if the spiritual realm comes to you, and it might, I urge you not to assume that you can fight it and win.  Instead go to God in prayer.  Plead for him to save you, plead for him to have victory.

I have heard of formulaic prayers that are supposed to be able defeat demons.  Pray a “hedge of protection.”  “Pray the blood of Jesus”.  Claim victory in Jesus name.  As if these are magical incantations.  I’m not so sure about that.  I don’t see any Scripture that gives clear instructions about that.  They are based on Scripture, which is good, but in no way should we consider them to be formulaic prayers that will automatically defeat evil.

Instead, we are to put on the armor of God!

And what of Halloween?  Same goes there.  Put on the full armor of God and you’ll be fine.

Let me be a bit more specific.  Halloween in our day is not the same as the ancient Samhaim. Samhaim involved direct interaction with the spirit realm.

When you are participating in a costume party or trick-or-treating, are you involved in direct interaction with the spiritual realm?  I highly doubt it.  For most, Halloween is a bunch of kids in costumes, followed by their parents, as the kids run from door to door in friendly neighborhoods getting candy.  Whatever connection to the spirit world trick or treating once had, it is long, long gone.

The spirit world is active in many other ways.  And those other ways are where we need to be on alert.  Demonic possession and oppression.  Methods used for directly trying to interact with spirits.  Methods used for trying to access the power of spirits.  Steer clear of them.

Fortune tellers, mediums who claim to be able to contact the dead, Ouija boards.  Interaction with ghosts.  Sacrificing of animals.  Magical potions and incantations.  These are no joke.

I urge you to stay away from direct involvement in the spirit world.  And if that Spirit world should come to you, remember that Jesus is greater!  Remember that Jesus won the victory.  Pray for him to intervene!  If it keeps happening, talk with your pastor or a trusted, mature Christian friend for help.  And remember that our God is greater.