The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Restore Us O God! – Part 2

How can we experience restoration, revival? What are the steps we take to be restored and revived in our relationship with the Lord? Psalm 80 goes on to state:

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, And given them tears to drink in great measure.

The first step to restoration is conviction for the sin that hinders. This involves repentance and that repentance involves a deep teary sense of regret and a desire for restoration with the Lord. It is not mere shedding of tears. It is a deep conviction for sin that results in a change of mind and heart toward that sin (2 Cor. 7:10). Repentance means we regret our sin, desire restoration and do not plan to repeat that sin. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the sinner of their sin (John 16:8-11).

6 You have made us a strife to our neighbors, And our enemies laugh among themselves.

Without God’s presence, we are impotent and helpless, a laughingstock before our enemies. When we stray from the Lord and His word our relationships with those around us often become adversarial and aggravated.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!

Repentance then leads to a cry for God to shine forth; for His glory and power to come down again on His people.

 8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it. 9 You prepared room for it, And caused it to take deep root, And it filled the land.

Israel is the vine God rescued from the world of Egypt and planted in a fruitful place where it could take root. The LORD is the Vinedresser who digs, plants, cares for and cultivates the vine of His people (Luke 13:6-9).

10 The hills were covered with its shadow, And the mighty cedars with its boughs. 11 She sent out her boughs to the Sea, And her branches to the River. 12  Why have You broken down her hedges, So that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit? 13 The boar out of the woods uproots it, And the wild beast of the field devours it.

Israel was growing and spreading until she lost God’s protective covering. She was lunging ahead of the Lord. Without God’s covering she was vulnerable to robbery and loss. She was in danger of being uprooted and devoured. Without God we are at the mercy of others. We need to guard against lunging ahead or lagging behind the Lord. We need to walk in step with Him; going where He wants us to go and staying where He wants us to stay. That is true of individuals. That is true also of nations.

In the book of Jeremiah we read:

·         Jeremiah 18:7-12 - 7 The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, 8 if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. 9 And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. 11 “Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.” ’ ” 12 And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”

God always gives ample warning before He passes judgment. He is merciful in that if a nation repents He will relent of the disaster they deserve because of their sin. It that nation continues in sin, God will relent of doing good to that nation. God warned Judah about their sin and the consequences. They disregarded God’s call to repentance as “hopeless!” They saw no future in following God. That’s sad. They went into captivity and suffered greatly.

When we look at the United States today and view it through the lens of Jeremiah’s prophetic word I shouldn’t surprise us to see the many troubles our nation is experiencing.  Our nation has been indoctrinated from within through education and the media to forsake God. We as a nation seem to see no future in following God. We too cry, “hopeless!” And if we as a nation persist in our rejection and resistance to God, that hopeless cry will apply to us in some very grave ways. What is the answer? What is the solution? Revival!

14  Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine

We need to call out to God for His return, “Lord visit us again! We miss You! We need You!” It is only when we come to God as the only solitary and preeminent need for our lives, the indispensible and supreme Person in our lives, the King of kings and Lord of lords, only when we are willing and eager to have Him take His rightful position in our lives, then and only then will He bring revival to us.

The poem Revival – God’s Way by Estelle Gifford Jackson expresses what is needed for revival to come:

Revival – God’s Way

Where is the hope for Revival –

God’s Holy Spirit outpoured

Convicting of sin, and of judgment,

And righteousness of the Lord?


When nothing else is important –

Only God’s presence Divine,

When Christians quit worldly pleasures,

Then God, His ear will incline.


Desperate prayer for Revival

Will cleanse the Church by the Word.

Then clothed in spotless, white linen,

The Bride clears the way  for her Lord.


Prayer is the key to Revival,

Prayer that is true Spirit-born,

Nights of compassionate weeping – Intercession for all the forlorn.


Then will the burdens be lifted,

Then all the sinners will cry,

Then all the chains will be loosened

And worldly passions will die.


The lost ones will yield to God’s Spirit

When Christians, cleanses, weep and pray;

God’s Living Water flows outward;

This is “Revival – God’s Way”![1]



15 And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, And the branch that You made strong for Yourself.

We need to return to the root truth that we are what we are because of God and without Him we are lost! America has a godly Christian heritage. When need to get back to our roots.

16  It is burned with fire, it is cut down; They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

Without God we are lost! Ready to be burned in the fire! Perishing at His rebuke! Like Israel, God brought them into the world and God can and did take them out as a nation. He would eventually restore them, but only when they had paid their just due and been thoroughly disciplined by Him.

17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. 18  Then we will not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.19  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!

We need the touch of the Lord. We need His strength. We need revival! We need God’s reviving power! Restore us O LORD and shine Your glory down on us! Without Your touch we are weak and wasted. We need revival. Then and only then, when revival comes, can we call upon God and experience the shine of His glorious presence in our lives. Then and only then will we experience His salvation life. Then and only then will we find restoration.



[1] Leonard Ravenhill, Revival God’s Way, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Pub. 1983), p. 16

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Restore Us O God! – Part 1

Psalm 80 speaks of a time of hardship, not unlike our day, in which the restoration of God is needed for His people. The difficulty apparently had led to depression and discouragement. They were beginning to realize they needed God’s restoration. They needed to be revived. They had lost their passion for God. Perhaps this loss of passion was the cause of their difficulties.

There is a lesson for all of us to learn from this psalm. Do you have a passion for God? Are you only so-so or lukewarm? Jesus finds such a state in His followers repulsive. He said as much to the church of Laodicea (cf. Rev. 3:14-22). And unfortunately the contemporary Church is much like the Laodiceans. One commentator states:

The New Testament Church did not depend on a moral majority, but rather on the holy minority. The Church right now has more fashion than passion, is more pathetic than prophetic, is more superficial than supernatural. The church the Apostles ministered in was a suffering church; today we have a sufficient church. Events in the Spirit-controlled Church were amazing; in this day the Church is often just amusing. The New Testament Church was identified with persecutions, prisons, and poverty; today many of us are identified with prosperity, popularity, and personalities.[1]

Jesus rebuked the Laodicean church for being lukewarm, thinking they had need of nothing while in reality they were spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Jesus counsel to them was to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire.” The key is “from Me.” Jesus said to these people, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” The gold, the most valuable possession of Jesus, is our intimate relationship with Him; coming into His presence. “He who has an ear, let him her what the Spirit says to the churches.” Hear what Psalm 80 says about restoration and revival.

 Psalm 80:1 - Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!

God is prayerfully appealed to as the Shepherd of Israel His flock. And this is no small thing. Someone has said

            The self-satisfied do not want to pray.

            The self-sufficient do not need to pray.

The self-righteous cannot pray. [2]

God has been working on these people. Their circumstances and loses are percolating within them and has finally brought them back to their God.

As Shepherd, God directs us to green pastures of His word to graze in, protects us from predators, and keeps us close to His presence. This presence is alluded to in the words, “You who dwell between the cherubim.” This brings to mind the ark of the covenant whose lid had two gold cherubs with wings outstretched toward each other. This lid was “the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17ff.). It was here where God’s glory, His presence manifested itself to His people (Exodus 40).

Here is a call for the glory of the Lord to “shine forth!” God’s glory or shinning forth is closely connected with the manifestation of His presence (e.g. Exodus 32 and 33). When we look at the Old Testament God led His people with a pillar of fire by night. The fire of the LORD provided warmth, light to see the way in the dark, and protection from enemies. As the Shepherd of Israel, God oversees Israel like a flock. The psalm starts off with a pronounced recognition of God’s Shepherding oversight and then cries out for it to be renewed in the lives of the people.

2 Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, Stir up Your strength, And come and save us! 3 Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!

Here is a call for revival. A revival is an extraordinary manifestation of the glory of God. The word “restore” can also be translated “Turn us again” and means to return or go back, bring back. The people had lost something and were crying out to God to restore what had been lost. That they cry out for God to shine forth implies they were missing the presence of the LORD in their lives. They rightly associated this with salvation and sought to be restored.

4   O Lord God of hosts, How long will You be angry Against the prayer of Your people?

The people of Israel sensed the displeasure of God. What might have incurred the anger of God toward His people? Sin causes God to turn a deaf ear to the sinner (cf. Psalm 66:18). God is holy and pure and finds sin and wicked practices repulsive (Hab. 1:13). Sin separates us from God who is Holy (Isaiah 59:2).

Now God’s people were coming around. They were coming to recognize their wrongs before God and wanting restoration were crying out to God for restoration. God waits to assure that the sinner recognizes the seriousness of their sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Revival states:

“If you do not see your hopelessness, and your utter despair, before this holy, righteous God, who hates sin with the whole of his being, you have no right to talk about revival, or to pray for it. What revival reveals above everything else is the sovereignty of God, and the iniquity, the helplessness, the hopelessness, of man in sin.” – p. 42

Without a humbling recognition of our sin and guilt, revival will not come.

It is time for us to humble ourselves before God. Look around you. The state of our nation and this world has happened on our watch. The apostle Peter said judgment begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). It is time for us to do some self- assessment, some self-judgment. We need to humbly come before God and ask Him to search us to identify sin (Psalm 139:23-24). Then we need to humbly confess our sin and seek God’s cleansing of it by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7, 9). In Part 2 of this study we will look at the steps to restoration with God. Keep it all in prayer. Pray for a heaven sent revival. God bless you all.

[1] Leonard Ravenhill, Revival God’s Way (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Pub. 1983) p. 57
[2] Leonard Ravenhill, Revival God’s Way (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Pub. 1983) p. 134

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Common Life

“. . . then shall I become weak, and be like any other man” – Judges 16:7

The greatest consequence of sin and compromise, the tactical objective of Satan is to bring people down. Satan’s ultimate objective is to see people disqualified for heaven and sentenced by God, “down to hell” (Ezek. 31:15, 16, 17; 32:27; 2 Pet. 2:4). If he can’t get people to that final destination he will try to get them as low down as possible.

Satan is persistent, ruthless and relentless. He is slithery and will squeeze through whatever door we leave ajar. He doesn’t give up when a person is born again to eternal life and decides to follow Jesus. No, then he simply implements his contingency plan to reduce those called to a holy life to live a common life.

Samson is a perfect and tragic example of what happens when one set apart for God’s use neglects their holy calling. Samson recognized he was different than others. He just didn’t recognize Who had made him different. This led to his downfall.

Samson had a unique calling from conception (Judges 13). He was a Nazirite from birth and for life. He was chosen and uniquely set apart for God’s use to deliver His people. For Samson, being a Nazirite entailed separation from “wine or similar drink” even from the womb (Judges 13:4). His pleasure was not to be from the fruit of the world but from faith in God. Samson was never to cut his hair. He was separated to God, willing to bear the reproach of men. Lastly, Samson was not to touch anything dead. He was separated to God who is life and not to touch the dead of this world. Attached to God’s high calling was Samson’s power to deliver God’s people from their oppressors (Judges 13:5).   

Throughout his life Samson neglected and willfully disregarded God’s calling. He sought an unbelieving wife who lived in “the vineyards of Timnah” (Judges 14:1-5). He casually and without a thought of his Nazirite vow, scooped up honey to eat from the carcass of a dead lion (Judges 14:5-9). Samson toyed with temptation by passing though the vineyards of Timnah and actually broke part of his vow when he took the honey from the carcass. The door was ajar. Satan would enter in.

Samson was strong. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him repeatedly (Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). But there is little indication that Samson attributed his strength to the LORD. There is every indication that Samson thought his strength came from himself alone. He acted as his own lord. His life testifies to one who was over confident and proud. He was going down.  

With Delilah we see the perversity of Samson. He indulged his flesh with the harlot (Judges 16:1). His weakness was a lust for women.   His enemies knew his weakness and used it to their advantage. Delilah was the devil’s instrument to pry open the door, discover the secret of Samson’s strength, and bring him down (Judges 16:2-5).  

In proud self-reliance Samson entertained the queries of the temptress. It only took three pitches to strike Samson out. On the third he “told her all his heart” and divulged the secret of his strength. “Cut my hair and I’ll be weak like any other man” (Judges 16:17). The power was not in his hair but in the final portion of his faith vow to God that he broke.

In our own strength we are no match for the wiles of the devil. The most precarious place to be in our walk with the Lord is the place of presumption. Samson presumed on the strength of God never acknowledging or thanking the God who strengthened him. Samson thought he could handle this woman. He had no godly fear. For Samson, the pearl of God’s power was like a pearl ring in a pig’s snout (Mat. 7:6).  When the presence and power of God left him, he didn’t even know it (Judges 16:20). He was just like most men.

Proud sinful presumption led to the binding, blinding, and then grinding of this once mighty judge (Judges 16:21). That is sad enough. But what is even more tragic is that Samson knew he was different. Three times Samson told Delilah that he would “be like any other man” if he did certain things (Judges 16:7, 11, 17). Each time he played his game with Delilah he got a little closer to the truth and a little closer to losing the gift of his strength. In the end, he forfeited God’s holy best and became a common beast of burden.

Don’t miss the important truth here! The entire objective of the enemy was to discover the way to bring Samson down so that he would be, common, “weak, and like any other man.” Samson knew he was different! He had knowledge and experience. He wasn’t brought down by the mere questions of the temptress. He was brought down by presumption, pride, and a neglect of his unique place in the plans of God. As we pity Samson we need to ask, “Am I any different?” Should we pity ourselves?

Samson was willing to jeopardize his holy calling by playing with common things. Satan wants to bring God’s people down. He wants to get God’s people to forsake their high calling. And he does this by tempting them to indulge common things. Satan wants to relegate us to the rank and file sinful world. If he can’t get our soul, then he’ll settle for soulless behavior. Samson sacrificed the holy for the common. That is the victory Satan seeks to win against us.  

God wants us to rise above commonness to experience distinction. He calls us not to a common life but to a holy life. The apostle Peter was inspired to write, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16; Lev. 11:44). God says, “There is none like Me” (Ex. 9:14; Is. 46:9). God is unique. He is the most uncommon of all. God calls His people to be holy and unique too. We cannot be equal to God but we can be uniquely His (Mat. 5:48). Those who have been born again into the family of God are called “saints” or literally holy ones (Acts 9:32; Rom. 1:7; 15:26; Phil. 4:21).  

The word “holy” means separate, separated unto, or distinct. To be holy means to be separated to God for His use. To be holy we must be cleansed from sin. When we receive Jesus as Savior we are birthed spiritually and our sins are washed away (Titus 3:5). We can be cleansed from sin and set apart unto God for His use by the once for all atoning cross-work of Jesus (Heb. 10:10).  All we need to do is believe and receive Who and what God has offered us by His grace.

What does this distinctive uncommon holy life look like? It looks like Jesus. The objective of God in your life is to make you like His Son Jesus (Rom. 8:29). God wants to help you get off the broad easy-street Samsonite way that leads to destruction. He wants to guide you to the straight and narrow way that leads to eternal life (Mat. 7:13-14). The LORD wants to help you walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). He wants you to follow in the steps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21). He wants you to be one of the uncommon “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). Jesus wants us to experience an uncommon abundant life (John 10:10). We are called to something more than what the world commonly offers.

Holy living is closely connected to sanctification. To be sanctified is to be cleansed from sin that impedes our separated service to God. Jesus spoke of a sanctification that comes by the word of God (John 17:17, 19). Paul also referred to this (Eph. 5:26). The light of God’s word exposes the pests of sin so that the cleansing blood of Jesus can wash them away. Sanctifying cleansing comes by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18). The Holy Spirit is the Agent of holy sanctification (Rom. 15:16).  When we confess our sins to God and ask Him to forgive us based on our trust in Jesus’ atoning work, God will cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7, 9). Jesus is able to sanctify us to the uttermost! (Heb. 7:25). God’s desire is to do a deep thorough cleansing (1 Thess. 5:23).  If we surrender to God, He promises to deep clean us (1 Thess. 5:24).

In Hebrews it states, “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). In light of the life of Samson, in light of your holy calling and the life you live, how would you answer that question? Are you living a common life?

Friday, September 7, 2012


With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men” - Judges 15:16b

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the competition of sports. Hard work pays off. Discipline, teamwork, achievement, consistency, and fitness are all valuable ingredients for life.  Paul said, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.” He continued, “Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Paul said, “And if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). His priorities were right, eternal, holy. There is value in athletic competition, in its place.

Our nation worships at the altar of sports. Congregations meet religiously in stadiums where worshipers number in the thousands; millions annually. We pay exorbitant prices to get seats in these temples.  Athlete’s salaries reveal the value we put on sports. We weep when our team loses. We rejoice when they win. Our teams are like our denominations. Our preachers wear uniforms. They train their bodies to compete according to the doctrine of professionalism. They live by a law of meticulous measurement of what goes in out of them. False prophets are athletes who break this code of discipline or neglect their “God-given” ability. Apostasy is not appreciating one’s sporting opportunity. “Sin” is defined in terms of deterring one’s ability to compete. Promiscuity is only “sinful” because it distracts from what is really important, preparing and performing on the field. Our eschatology and hope is linked to sporting prospects. We push our children to excel in sports in elementary school, then through high school, on to college, and finally, hopefully, into professional sports. Statistics show only a very select few make to professional sports. But that doesn’t stop us. We’re distracted by delusions of grandeur. Our prize of upward calling is that BIG contract that will provide worldly luxuries for generations to come. Our Great Commission is making disciples of our teams. It’s our religion.

That meant to be a release valve from the pressures of life has itself become a pressure of life. The world has once again been turned upside down. Entertainment is given eternal worth. We are obsessed with fitness and the way we look. There is a spirit of competition in our marriages and families. Spouses are competitors instead of teammates. Parents push obsessively for children to “win!” We live in a fantasy world of “fantasy leagues.” We are an activity obsessed society. From ballet to baseball games we rush from one activity to another.  

What’s wrong with being involved in sports? Isn’t it a good thing to be more active? Doesn’t it promote health? In moderation perhaps, but there is little moderately done when it comes to sporting activity. Our priorities are out of whack. Our service to the Lord has become just another activity to be squeezed into our life. That is, unless it competes with our athletic events. Then we choose sports over church. We prefer the “game” over God. He’s just another common part of our games in life. This is blasphemous. God is Holy. He is anything but common. “’To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?’ says the Holy One” (Is. 40:25; cf. also Ex. 9:14; Is. 46:9; 48:11). We shower love on our sports idols. We give little love to God who gave His all for us (e.g. Jer. 2:11-13; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 5:21).  

Samson approached life like a sport. He saw himself in the Hall of Fame. By God’s grace he made it into His Hall of Faith (Heb. 11:32). But Samson was busy making his legend. He had little time for God or His calling. He prayed only self-centered prayers, if he prayed at all. He saw women as conquests. He was proud of his prowess. Life was his gym and he was its gym rat. He ripped up lions for sport. He was busy playing games. He challenged competition with riddles. When his opponents cheated he killed thirty men (Judges 14). His sport was important to him.

Samson ripped up his enemies’ city gates, posts and all. He lifted them up like a medal. He pranced up a hill like ascending a podium. With the gates, on top of the hill, it was as though he was saying, “Look at me!” “You can’t stop me!” (Judges 16:1ff.). It was always about “me.”

Samson saw his wife as a trophy. When she was given to another he sportingly caught 300 foxes. He tied their tails together. He put a torch between each pair of tail-tied foxes and then let them  loose in the fields of the Philistines. Who does that? Who comes up with such a plan? It’s Jokeresque. It’s sinister. It was not something done in the Spirit. It was the crazed impulse of a man bent on revenge. It was second nature to this sporting man who played by his own set of rules (Judges 15:1-7).

Samson didn’t only fight his enemies he, “attacked them hip and thigh.” Maybe Samson was into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Imagine his charge of the Philistines Monkey rolling them down like pins in a bowling alley.  With all his strength and quickness maybe this “Nazirite” went at them like an eight armed octopus of Omoplatas. Imagine a whirling dervish of fists and feet, flying arm bars, triangle chokes, Anacondas, Kimuras, heel hooks and knee bars. Like a Tasmanian devil he broke them up and tapped them out so quick and with such ferocity that those Phillys never knew what hit them.  Maybe for a coup de grace, and just for fun, he leveled them with a bunch of Superman punches followed by a series of  rear naked chokes and guillotines. It was an epic performance even if it was outside the octagon. Impossible? Ah, but this was Samson.

Samson took a donkey jawbone and beat the tarnation out of those Philistines. Then he made a victory chant. “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men” (Judges 15:16). He was talking trash. He even named the place “Ramoth Lehi,” the hill of the jawbone (Judges 15:8-17).  Ali had his Thrilla in Manila. This was Samson’s Pile High at Lehi. It’s in our sporting nature to mark our victories in a memorable way. How else will we be remembered?  

This sport run wild tore down character rather than built it up. Samson’s proud sporting nature unleashed a desensitized, dehumanized, and degenerated Samsonite hard view of humanity. “To do evil is sport to a fool” (Prov. 10:23a). To Samson, much like today, the enemy opponent was nothing more than fleshy objects to be reduced to bloody heaps. Jesus said in the End Times the love of many would grow cold (Mat. 24:12). We are there. We have become like Samson. We are Samsonites!

In Hebrews it states, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Sin entangles like Delilah’s loom weaving Samson’s hair locks (Judges 16:13-14). Samson’s worldview was gaming. He casually toyed with temptation. He had a devil-may-care attitude toward Delilah’s the enticing ways. But life is more than a game. There is a time for seriousness. Not seriousness as in “Will my team win?” Or, “Who will win this fight?” But seriousness as in, “How does this glorify God?” or, “Where will you spend eternity?”

I love sports. I have benefitted from sports. Sports are fun. But there can be a danger in sports, fitness and physical activity. These things can usurp the place of our eternal priority, Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Remember that.

Samson was all about self. Our inclination is to feed our flesh. We are prone to preoccupation with outward appearances rather than the condition of our heart. We are forever posing. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:21). The priority needs to be exercising ourselves to be godly (2 Tim. 4:7). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Is that your priority? Or have you allowed sports to make you a Samsonite?

What is the consequence of the Samsonite nature? Samson was bound, blinded, bloodied and ground-and-pounded (Judges 16). It brought him to the arena of the enemy. And in one final fight, with deep regret and hollow victory, Samson brought the house down on himself and his enemies. Samson finally learned that victory comes through dying to self. He tapped out self.

Should we care about and tend to our physical health? Yes indeed. We are not only to walk as Jesus walked and follow in His steps spiritually (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). It’s good to literally walk like Jesus did. But our priority should always be looking to Jesus. In Hebrews after we are told to set aside the sin that so easily entangles us, it goes on to say, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Look to Jesus. Tebowing is not a bad thing, if our heart is bowing too. We need spiritual athletes. We need people strong in the Lord. Don’t allow sports to make you a Samsonite. Be one with the Spirit’s might!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Honey from a Carcass

He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. – Judges 14:9a

Where do you find your pleasure in life? The Bible states we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11). Is that where you find your pleasure? Or do you look elsewhere for your pleasure?  The way we spend our time, invest our resources, and what preoccupies our thoughts points to the reality and most accurate answer to that question. If we truly take pleasure in something, have a passion and zeal for something, it will be reflected in how we live.

Samson is the last of thirteen judges mentioned in the book of Judges. The Spirit of the Lord is said to have come upon Othniel and Gideon one time each. But on Samson, three times the Spirit is said to have come upon him (Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). Sadly, later in his life it is stated that the LORD departed from him. Even more tragically when the LORD departed from Samson he was unaware of it (Judges 16:20).

What led to this tragic waste of holy potential in Samson? Keep in mind that God did indeed work through Samson to deliver His people from the dreaded Philistines. But God had to work in spite Samson. Samson was a strong man. He had otherworldly strength. But he was also a very carnal and fleshly man. He was lured by the lusts of his flesh. This ultimately led to his downfall. He was strong as steel on the outside but weak as warm butter on the inside.

It should be sobering to us that someone could repeatedly have the Spirit come upon them to perform mightily, and yet, that same person could be so carnal and lust driven. The Bible says the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and only God can truly know it (Jer. 17:9-10). It is only in the power of the Spirit that we can know truth; any truth; including truth about ourselves (1 Cor. 2:9-14). God has given His word to us, the scalpel of the Spirit, to help us discern the thoughts and intents of our heart (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12-13). The Spirit came mightily upon Samson. But Samson showed very little substantive spiritual relationship with the Lord. And yet, Samson is mentioned in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11 (Heb. 11:32). What a paradox!  What a tragedy! What was Samson’s weakness? What brought him down?

Samson was a man of sight but no spiritual vision. Samson began his descent when he “went down” to the Philistine town of Timnah. Once there he, “saw a woman” (Judges 14:1). Samson did not control what he looked at. Job said he made a covenant with his eyes not to look on a young woman (Job 31:1). Jesus said lustful thoughts are sinful (Mat. 5:32). When Samson went to his parents and requested they go get this woman to be his wife, they rebuffed him. They wanted him to choose a woman from God’s people. They were concerned that he was entering into an unequally yoked relationship (e.g. 2 Cor. 6:14f.). Samson refused their correction. He insisted on this unbeliever for his wife. “Get her for me, for she pleases me well” (Judges 14:2-3). He was governed by a lust for what he saw. He wasn’t interested in the spiritual dimension. He disregarded his parents counsel. The consequence was pain from his unbelieving bride’s betrayal (Judges 14:15-20).

It’s never a good thing to disregard godly advice. When we allow ourselves to be carried away by what we see it inevitably leads to hardship. Samson was a man who liked what he saw and saw what he liked. He never went any deeper than surface considerations. This shows a weakness in character. And when, as with Samson, one is habitually guided only by what is surface-seen, it leads to a deep fatal character flaw (Judges 14:1; 16:1). Samson lacked spiritual depth. He had no spiritual vision. He had no intimacy with God.

Samson sought sweetness in the dead.  Samson was conceived miraculously. He was called to a Nazirite vow from birth. Usually a Nazirite vow was entered into for a period of time. Samson was called to such a vow for life. This was part of his commissioning by the Lord to deliver Israel (Judges 13).

There were three aspects of the Nazirite vow. Each symbolized a holy truth (cf. Num. 6). The Nazirite was to refrain from wine or anything related to the fruit of the vine. This symbolized that they would not get any pleasure from the earth or the world. The Nazirite was not to cut their hair. This symbolized they would be humble and not governed by worldly appearance. Lastly, the Nazirite was not to touch a dead body of any kind. They were to be holy, separate from the deadness of this world. All of this was aimed at sanctification; being separated to God for His use.

In Judges 14:5 Samson did not only go “down to Timnah,” he went, “to the vineyards of Timnah.” There was no caution or hesitancy to go to a place, a vineyard, that he was called by God to stay away from. He had no spiritual sensitivity. He had little reverence for his holy vow.

While going through this vineyard a lion came roaring out at him. Danger accompanies the disregard of God’s instruction. There is peril outside the parameters of God’s word and calling. But the Lord is gracious. “And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him.” Samson ripped apart the lion (Judges 14:6). Maybe such a feat surprised Samson himself. Maybe he misinterpreted God’s enablement as his ability. He failed to give God the glory.

Later Samson returned to find bees had made a hive in the lion’s carcass. Honey is sweet. It tastes good. But it was in a dead carcass. A Nazirite was not to touch anything dead. What would Samson do? Did he care? No. With no indication of any thought to his calling or vow he reached into the carcass, scooped up some honey and went along his way slurping and licking his fingers. He even generously shared his sweet find with his parents. He didn’t tell them where he had got the honey though (Judges 14:9). Perhaps he wanted to avoid another rebuff by his godly parents.

What’s wrong with this picture? Samson sought sweetness, pleasure, from that which was dead. Don’t miss this point. The world is “passing away” (1 John 2:15-17). The world is dead and that which it produces is deadening. Those who live in the world, apart from God, are dead (e.g. Eph. 2:1-3; Col. 2:13). Why then do people reach into the dead carcass of the world to find sweet pleasures? There are, “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). But they are passing. They are temporary; short lived. They have no eternal worth. They will be burned in the fire. And like eating too much ice cream or sugar, they lead to a headache.

Because we are governed by our shallow sensory perceptions, not spiritual substance of the Spirit, we are susceptible to the same fate of Samson. Samson had no patience to endure with his wife (Judges 14:15-17), or with Delilah (16:15-17). He had no control over his temper (Judges 15). He had no discernment about Delilah’s true intentions. He was a prostitute’s John. And like most John’s he was robbed. He was overconfident, proud, and presumptuous (Judges 16). Pride goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18).  

Samson learned a severe lesson about toying with temptation and sin. When you compromise convictions and the calling of God it spiritually desensitizes you. The Lord left Samson and he didn’t even realize it (Judges 16:20). He learned the hard way that indulging in sin will bind you, blind you, and grind you down (Judges 16:21). That is the sad truth depicted in sad Samson’s life.

Samson had to die. Samson’s hair began to grow back (Judges 16:22). As slow as hair grows Samson began to regain his strength. He let his hair grow back. It was a sign that he was returning to the Lord. Maybe faith was taking root. There had been permanent damage inflicted. He was blind. And he was the object of mocking by his enemies. He brought shame to the name of the LORD (Judges 16:23-25). But God in His mercy would grant one final victory to this man of physical strength.

At a feast of the Philistines Samson was ridiculed as he was made to perform like a dancing bear at a circus. Relying on a young boy, Samson maneuvered himself between two pillars. Then he called on the name of the LORD. “O LORD God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God,  that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” (Judges 16:28). With those words Samson pushed against the columns of the pagan temple and brought it down on himself and the pagan crowd.

God did not grant this prayer so that Samson could merely take revenge. It was a self-centered prayer. God granted it to deliver His people. God worked in spite of Samson. In the end we learn the greatest truth from the words, “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life” (Judges 16:30b). That is always the case. Victory comes when we die to self. Jesus said we have to lose our life to find it (Mat. 10:39). We discover the will of God for our lives only when we present ourselves as living sacrifices, dead to self, alive to God (Rom. 12:1-2). God can work in spite of us. He can accomplish His will even when we stray or care little about His calling or purpose. But wouldn’t it be better, more rewarding to find our sweetness, our pleasure in His presence? Wouldn’t it be better to find our honey in Him?