Tag Archives: gifts

How to recover when you’ve squandered your potential – Characters: Samson, Part 5

9 Nov
Photo by Fernando Dearfer on Unsplash

Samson is an illustration of a man with unbelievable potential for good, yet who allows himself to be degraded by his lusts and revenge.  There is such a lack of desire in his life to follow God, to keep his Nazarite vow, which could have and should have guided him to lead Israel back to God.  Instead Samson’s story is not that of a godly leader, but of a flawed individual who has some amazing individual victories, and a lot more individual failures.

Like Samson, any of us can squander our potential.  We can make choices that ruin what God wants to do in us and through us.  In this third installment of our Characters series, we learned that God wanted Samson to be a godly leader. Samson had been set aside, given the gift of the Spirit of God who empowered him with legendary strength, but Samson used this gift for selfish passions.  This reminds us that we are not robots.  God gives us good gifts, but we have the choice to use those gifts for good or bad.  Consider how different Samson’s story could have been if he had used his gifts for good!

When we think about gifts, we must remember that we are made in God’s image, loved by God, and he is everything we need in life.  We can live out of the deep satisfaction that only God can give us, thus transforming our hearts to follow the ways of Jesus.  Samson, however, was constantly enthralled by anger, revenge and lust, rather than being enthralled by God. He didn’t give credence or credit to God for the gifts he’d been given, and he did not choose to use them for God’s glory.

Yet in the midst of squandering his potential, God is still a redeeming God. It was messy and far from perfect, but God used Samson to free Israel from the Philistines.  It wouldn’t last, though.  If you continue reading Judges, you’ll see how bad it gets.  Samson’s leadership did nothing to bring the people closer to God.  Sure, they had temporary relief from the Philistines for 20 years.  But the deeper issue of who they were went unchanged. The story of Israel as told in Judges goes from bad to worse after Samson.

In what ways has God gifted you? We are all made in His image. We all, whether following God’s ways or not, have attributes of God within us.  How can we use our gifts for Him?  You have time, gifts, talents. Are you using them in ways that benefit the Kingdom of God? Are you intentional in your thoughts and actions?  It will likely take sacrifice for that to happen, for you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of what a kingdom mindset looks like. Then work to follow that. It might go against the cultural flow and assumptions of how to live life. It might go against your family’s wishes for you.  But you will have the peace and joy of knowing that you will be in line with God’s ideas.  

So we should be people who practice confession, repentance, if we are not line with the lifestyle of God’s Kingdom.  We should seek to be humble and teachable, even when you are on the heights. 

Think of the example of President Jimmy Carter who has taught Sunday school for decades, and who has spent years serving with Habitat for Humanity, even now into his 90s. 

Think of the example of Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl winning coach, and who has committed to All Pro Dads and other ministry.

Even on the heights it is possible to be humble. Even when we have gifts that give us laud and attention, we can use them for God’s glory. What gifts has God given you? How will you use them for his Kingdom?

No matter how bad it is, there is hope – Characters: Samson, Part 1

4 Nov
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

What gifts has God given you?  Sometimes we call them spiritual gifts.  Or it could be our personal abilities.  Our aptitudes. Things we are good at.  Could be working with our hands.  Thinking.  Art.  Communication.  Leading.  There are many such gifts.   Have you ever wondered if you’re using those gifts the way God wants?

Or maybe you are concerned you’re not using those gifts how God wants.  Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve messed up in life and God has passed you over.  In our quiet moments we can wrestle with those kinds of thoughts, can’t we?  I know I do.  When Michelle and I came home from one year as missionaries in Jamaica, I wondered if we had just ruined something.  I knew intellectually or theologically that God isn’t like that, but the thoughts were there for sure.  The dark thoughts.  The fears that we had squandered something.  Maybe you’ve wrestled with those thoughts too.  In this week’s series of posts, I believe you’ll find some hope.

A few weeks ago we started a series titled Characters. It is about people in ancient Israel that are generally considered to be heroes, but when we read their stories closely we find them to be broken or flawed people who really struggled.  And yet God still uses them.  There is hope for us in that. 

So far we have met Jacob, and his son, Joseph, two of the patriarchs of the nation of Israel.  Their family moved from Canaan (which is modern-day Israel) to Egypt. Eventually tboth died, but their family grew into the nation of Israel, still living within Egypt.

The new King of Egypt, the Pharaoh, feared their growth and enslaved the Israelites, resulting in a slavery that lasted 400+ years.  But God raised up a deliverer, Moses, who led the nation in an exodus from Egypt, headed back to their ancestor’s original home in Canaan, which they called the Promised Land.  When Moses died, Joshua became the leader of the nation.  Under Joshua’s leadership, the nation fought the conquest of Canaan and eventually settled in the Promised Land.  Moses and Joshua were strong leaders who kept the nation faithful to God, but after Joshua passed away, the nation struggled. 

We pick up the story in Judges 2.  In this chapter the writer describes a cycle of sin the nation of Israel went through.  Verses 16-19 give us a summary of the whole book of Judges: sin, punishment, God’s redemption through a leader/judge, and freedom…until the people start sinning again. The cycle would happen all over.  Imagine how God must have felt watching his people turn their backs on him.  Yet he is a faithful God, raising up judges to rescue them. Again, do you see the hope for the flawed?

This week, we’re going to meet one of those judges: Samson.  Turn to Judges chapter 13.  By chapter 13, there have been numerous judges, as Israel has gone through many of these cycles of sin, punishment, judge, and salvation.  We don’t know how many years have gone by since the days of Joshua, but it could be hundreds of years.  What has happened in those years is a gradual spiritual decline in the nation.  A nation that has moved farther and farther from God.  Sound familiar to your nation? 

In chapter 13 we are at the beginning of another cycle of sin.  Verse 1 tells us that the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and he delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years!  Who are the Philistines?  They are a pagan people, living mostly along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the arch-enemies of the nation of Israel. 

Into this national situation, Judges 13 tells the fascinating story of the birth of the next judge, Samson.  The basic details are in verses 1-5.

Already in these opening verses, we see God entering the story to be the faithful, redeeming God that he is.  How do we see this?

First, he is going to give a childless couple a baby.  That happens a lot in the Bible, right?  So often, in fact, that should tell us something about the kind of God he is. He brings hope!

Second, if you read the whole chapter you’ll find that Samson’s parents are decent people.  His dad Manoah seems a bit comical, bumbling.  His mom seems a lot more stable and possibly even more faithful than his dad.  But these aren’t paragons of godliness.  God is gracious.

Third, an angel shows up.  When angels show up, we should take notice.  How many times did angels show up to announce the birth of the previous judges?  I’ll let you research that on your own.

Fourth, there are special vows that God declares must happen in this pregnancy and baby.  Samson’s mom needs to take uncommon measures during her pregnancy: no alcohol, no unclean food.  And what’s more, her son will be a Nazarite for life.   

“Nazarite” is from the Hebrew word that means “separated” or “dedicated,” as the angel indicates about the child in verse 4.  It was a vow that people could choose to take.  But God wanted this child to be born as a Nazarite, and to live that way his whole life. As a result there are some specific rules the child will live by: no alcohol, no touching dead bodies, and his hair is never to be cut. 

Fifth, look at verses 24-25. The chapter concludes with the birth of the child, whom they name Samson, and we learn that the Lord blessed him and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him.  That phrase alone is a very rare description for people in the Old Testament.  The Spirit of the Lord only came upon a few people.  Samson was one of them. 

The account of Samson’s birth sets the stage for Samson to grow up to be a mighty man of God.  Think about what we have seen.  His parents were decent people, perhaps especially his mom.  God miraculously gives Samson to them.  Samson is set apart from birth in this special role called a Nazarite.  And the Spirit of God is on him.  Add that all up, and you have all the raw material for Samson to be a dynamic man of God.

In fact, it almost gives us the idea that he could be the one to bring the nation back to the place where Moses and Joshua had taken it.  We even get a hint of that from the angel’s words that Samson would begin to deliver the nation from the hands of the Philistines. 

Everything surrounding Samson’s birth and early years is amazing.  This is a reminder that God is a bringer of hope. If it seems like your life is too far gone, too messed up, know that when it comes to God, there is always hope.

Give More…coupons?

17 Dec

This past Sunday the theme was Give More, and AC suggests that, instead of giving presents, we should give presence.  Give the gift of spending time building relationships with people.  This idea flows from the example of our Lord who gave us the gift of himself.  In John 1 we learn that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  In Philippians 2:5-11 we read, similarly, that Jesus emptied himself, being made in human likeness.  He gave us the gift of his presence!  One of his names is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”  We talked about how to give the gift of presence.

So at sermon roundtable, one of our people had the brilliant idea of creating a coupon exchange where we give gifts like “1 hour of babysitting” or “teach you to make a pie”, etc.  We handed our blank coupons, and asked people to write their gift and name on the coupon, then come forward and hang it on a Christmas tree.  When they hung a coupon, they could take a coupon.

Advent Conspiracy coupon

What give did you receive?  How can you give the gift of presence to your family and friends this Christmas?  Maybe you can give more coupons!

(One guy came up to me, as I was sitting in the front pew waiting for people to be done, singing along with the praise team, and he handed me a coupon.  It said “I will clean your toilet for four hours.”  It was signed by his wife, but in his hand-writing.  I chuckled immediately, looked up, and he was smiling while she was shaking her head.)

YOLO!!!!!

6 Dec

Over the last year I became familiar with a new acronym.  Our digital culture loves acronyms! 

Have you heard of YOLO???  While YOLO is true, how should we think about it? 

From the Advent Conspiracy:

Quick question for you: What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year?

Next question: What about the fourth gift? Do you remember that one?

Truth is many of us don’t because it wasn’t something we necessarily wanted or needed. Spending Less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember in less than a year. America spends around $450 billion dollars during the Christmas season, and much of that goes right onto a credit card. By spending wisely on gifts we free ourselves from the anxiety associated with debt so we can take in the season with a full heart.

But how do we do this?  And what does it really matter?  Why not just enjoy life?  YOLO!  Right? Have any ideas?  Come prepared to think and discuss deeply as Phil Bartelt teaches our Second Week of Advent theme: Spend Less.

(By the way, what is YOLO???)