Thursday, February 16, 2017

Compromised Potential

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 12, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey, John McClendon, John MacArthur and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

How often do we tell our kids, “You can be anything you want to be?”

Do we tell them that because we believe it, or to make them feel good?

(Do you think your kid can be president? A doctor? An actress? An NBA star? A princess?)

Even as they may not be titans of industry, we pray that our children will become faithful and in part because we as parents trained them in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).

The reality is, although we set out on a road as kids and teens, circumstances change everything, sometimes by choice, sometimes not so much.

Today we’re talking about Samson, one of God’s chosen judges who was destined for great things but battled many personal failings.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Judges 13:1-21:29

*** We continue our study of the book of Judges, tracking the Israelites as they fall into a cycle of rebellion against God, oppression by their enemies, and rescue by the Lord.

*** This week we come to Samson, who had great promise. He was given to God as a Nazirite even before birth, and he was prohibited from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and touching any dead thing.

*** However, by the time we get to the seductress Delilah, Samson had violated two of the vows, and would soon give in on the third as well.

PLEASE TELL ME (JUDGES 16:4-6)

4 Some time later, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the Sorek Valley. 5 The Philistine leaders went to her and said, “Persuade him to tell you where his great strength comes from, so we can overpower him, tie him up, and make him helpless. Each of us will then give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me, where does your great strength come from? How could someone tie you up and make you helpless?”

*** A hair-raising story.

--- Samson was an imperfect instrument.

--- More than any other judge, Samson experienced the Spirit coming upon him.

--- Four times, the Spirit of the Lord was involved in Samson’s actions (13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).

--- Yet, of all the judges, Samson was most clearly a rogue.

--- Having taken the vow to be a Nazirite (13:4-5, 7, 14; 16:17; Num. 6:1-21), he kept only the part about not cutting his hair.

--- But God had raised him up to deliver Israel from the Philistines (v. 5).

--- He used even the sins of Samson to deliver the Israelites from Philistine oppression (14:4).

*** World’s strongest man, and weakest man.

--- Samson was graced by God with great physical strength.

--- He killed Philistines by the dozens.

--- Yet spiritually Samson was weak.

--- He could strangle a lion and defeat an enemy, but he could not manage his lusts.

--- Recipients of power and strength can become arrogant and over-confident (just as anyone can be when it comes to what they do well).

--- It ended up costing Samson his physical dominance as well.

--- He repeatedly broke God’s covenant and his vow by seeking foreign wives, sleeping with prostitutes, touching dead things, and drinking wine.

--- He showed no interest in being the deliverer that Israel needed.

--- From the time of his birth, Samson had God’s presence blessing him (Judg. 13:24-25). Yet because Samson did not stand against the temptation that he encountered, he never achieved his full potential.

*** Question - What are some things that keep a person from reaching his or her full potential? What role does spiritual compromise play in failing to reach one’s full potential?

THE PHILISTINES ARE HERE (JUDGES 16:16-20)

16 Because she nagged him day after day and pleaded with him until she wore him out, 17 he told her the whole truth and said to her, “My hair has never been cut, because I am a Nazirite to God from birth. If I am shaved, my strength will leave me, and I will become weak and be like any other man.” 18 When Delilah realized that he had told her the whole truth, she sent this message to the Philistine leaders: “Come one more time, for he has told me the whole truth.” The Philistine leaders came to her and brought the money with them. 19 Then she let him fall asleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids on his head. In this way, she made him helpless, and his strength left him. 20 Then she cried, “Samson, the Philistines are here!” When he awoke from his sleep, he said, “I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

*** The power of nagging.

--- Without ruining your relationship, who in your home does the most nagging? How do you deal with it?

--- Samson was particularly weak when it came to women.

--- He lusted after them, he gave in to them, he abandoned his Godly call because of them.

--- If Samson can be said to have a “type,” it was women of his enemies.

--- Previously he had married a Philistine woman (14:1-7). That marriage did not work out. (To put it mildly).

--- Later, Samson also gratified his lust with another Philistine woman, a harlot (16:1).

--- So by the time we get to Delilah she’s his third Philistine heathen mistress.

--- Delilah was playing him like a fiddle, and he was a fool, playing along for the lust.

--- She kept begging Samson to reveal his weakness so that she could get paid 5,500 pieces of silver by the Philistine leaders.

--- At first he played it like a game and tricked her three times. Still, she persisted.

*** Question - Samson seemed to realize the relationship with Delilah was a trap, yet he did not turn away from the relationship. Why do we sometimes continue to play with temptation even though we know the dangers?

*** Unbe-weave-able.

--- Once Samson gives in and loses his hair and breaks the final Nazirite covenant, God’s patience ends and the Holy Spirit leaves Samson.

--- The actual source of Samson’s strength wasn’t his hair, it was the Lord Himself.

--- Like Saul (cf. Is. 16:14 with 1 Sam. 15:23), Samson lost the power of the Spirit because he disobeyed.

--- Samson was about experience life after the abandonment of God.

--- In the end, however, after Samson hits rock bottom and his eyes have been gouged out and he’s tormented by the Philistines, he renews his faith and gives his life to defeat God’s enemies.

--- Hebrews 11:32 even lists Samson on the honor roll of faith.

--- God gave Samson physical strength. Samson didn’t always use it for God and in the way God wanted him to. But, in the end, Samson leaned on God’s strength. God has given us all strengths. Strengths are things that we are good at. Some people are good at drawing, singing, speaking, etc. Every gift comes from God and should be used for God.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

In today’s study, we saw that spiritual compromise can be a very negative thing.

Instead of keeping his promises to God, Samson gave in to Delilah to make her happy.

He let his temptations keep him from using his full potential.

Jesus calls on us to “salt” and “light” in our world. We have to stand out from the world and be careful that we don’t compromise our faith to “fit in” with our culture.

I read an anecdote this week on sermonillustrations.com about the Little Sisters of the Poor, going door to door in France asking for donations for the poor. One man said he could give 1,000 francs if she would have a glass of champagne with him. She hesitated, because 1,000 francs would feed a lot of needy people. When a servant filled her glass, the brave nun poured it out, and then said, “And now, sir, another glass, please, at the same price.” She got it.

Samson risked so much for so little. We can do that every day, risking our marriages, our integrity, our spiritual connection with God, for a momentary thrill. Be on guard for what makes you weak. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil” (Eph. 6:11).

*** Wisdom and common sense teach us that it is best not to put yourself in settings where temptation is strongest. Respecting your vulnerabilities is a healthy way to stay on a good course.

*** When we overestimate our abilities, we underestimate the enemy. The New Testament warns us: “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

*** Standing against temptation shows that we love God. Giving in to temptation shows how much we love ourselves. With Jesus we have the power to turn from temptation.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Timid Warrior

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 5, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway and bits from Jay McCluskey and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever taken a “Before” picture when starting a new diet and exercise routine?

Advertisements for fitness gyms, exercise equipment, and diets often feature “Before” and “After” photographs of people who have utilized their products.

The goal is to show a stark contrast in improvement.

Gideon is one of God’s great “Before” and “After” projects.

He’s known as one of the great leaders of God’s people. But the Gideon we meet at the beginning of the story is in stark contrast to the hero of faith he becomes.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Judges 6:1–12:15

*** Two weeks ago we started our study of the book of Judges, highlighting the repetitive story of the Israelites rebelling, repenting and being delivered by God’s judges.

*** Every victory was worn by the Lord, who worked through the judges on behalf of His people.

*** In chapter 6 we meet Gideon while the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites. Gideon would become an unlikely hero.

UNSURE AND UNTESTED (JUDGES 6:11-16) 11 The Angel of the LORD came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him and said: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon said to Him, “Please Sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the LORD brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?” 15 He said to Him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” 16 “But I will be with you,” the LORD said to him. “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.”

*** Wanted: Judge Dredd. (Sylvester Stallone isn't walking through Israel's door.)

--- Because of the sin of the people, God allowed the Midianites to oppress His people.

--- None of the other stories in Judges devotes such attention to the details of the oppression as this one.

--- The Midianite oppression was so great that Isaiah mentioned it centuries later (Is. 9:4; 10:26).

--- The Israelites would hide in mountains and caves and fortresses, but it didn’t always work.

--- Whenever the people would plant crops the Midianites would attack and take all their food, their sheep, oxen and donkeys.

--- That’s why when we meet Gideon he is trying to hide his family’s wheat by threshing it in a wine vat.

*** I’m not worthy.

--- Initially, Gideon appears weak and timid.

--- Like Moses did, Gideon gives excuse after excuse: He thinks the Lord has abandoned them; His family is poor (even though he later gets 10 servants to help him); His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh; He’s the youngest in the house.

--- Throughout his calling, Gideon questions why God would choose him and asks for signs.

--- Gideon put out a fleece asking God to cover it with dew while the surrounding ground remained dry. God complied with Gideon’s request (6:36-38).

--- But Gideon was not satisfied. He asked God to reverse the process, allowing dew to appear on the ground but not on the fleece. God acquiesced to Gideon’s request (6:39-40).

--- When it’s time for battle God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 men down to 300 as a way of teaching Gideon to rely on Him (7:1-8).

*** Rely on Him.

--- God simply replies, “But I will be with you.”

--- God’s strength is enough.

--- With God on Gideon’s side, the Midianites could be defeated by one man with no power.

--- The Lord was reassuring Gideon that he could fulfill God’s calling.

--- God was molding Gideon into a mature believer.

*** Question – How can we give up our doubts and fears and rely on God as much as Gideon had to do?

A FIRST STEP (JUDGES 6:25-27)

25 On that very night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Build a well-constructed altar to the LORD your God on the top of this rock. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.” 27 So Gideon took 10 of his male servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.

*** Serious family problems.

--- Before Gideon could deliver Israel from the Midianites, he had to rid his own family of idol worship.

--- We say it all the time, before you can save the world you can start by getting your own family in order.

--- While Gideon’s request for signs might indicate he lacked faith, his willingness to cut down his father’s monument indicates a big step of trust.

--- The scripture makes clear Gideon was afraid of his dad and his dad’s posse.

--- Gideon’s small acts of faith prepared him for greater obedience to lead an army against his enemy.

--- Gideon may have been in the Old Testament, but he’s a great example of someone who came to deny himself and take up his cross as Jesus instructs us to do in Mark 8.

--- Many people think that this means that our “cross” is a sickness, an unsaved spouse, or a cruel boss. However, a cross is not something that is forced upon you, over which you have no choice. A cross is something you willingly take up.

*** A slight overreaction.

--- In the morning everyone discovered what Gideon had done in obedience to God, and the men of the city insisted he be killed.

--- What Gideon did in God’s command and to honor God, these guys wanted to kill him.

--- Gideon’s dad, Joash, however, got the message.

--- Joash said, if Baal is a god, then let him plead his case against Gideon and defend his altar.

--- Joash refused to surrender Gideon, and his own spiritual journey back to God began.

--- When we have strayed from God, look to those God sends to bring you back.

*** Question – When was a time that God drew you closer to Himself by working in the lives around you?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Imagine adding a packet of sweetener to your tea but not stirring the drink.

If you take a sip, you will think you need another packet.

No matter how many packets you add, you will think you need more as long as you fail to stir the drink.

We want more sweeteners, yet what we really need is to simply stir.

We often ask God for new and divine powers.

What He really wants us to do is to “stir” into use the strength He has already granted believers.

God’s discipline and molding of Gideon succeeded.

We read in Judges 7:1-25 that Gideon delivered God’s people from the hands of the Midianites with only 300 men.

He also was victorious over other Midianite rulers before his death (8:1-35). God worked through a timid leader to secure victory.

When his story began, Gideon wanted the Lord to miraculously deliver the Hebrews from oppression.

While He can work through miracles, God often chooses to work His miracles through faithful and committed believers.

*** This passage shows how God took Gideon where he was and began to shape him into the leader he would become. God starts where we are in making us useful servants in His kingdom.

*** Compare your faith to Gideon’s. Are there areas where you are timid? Look for opportunities to grow your faith through acts of service and obedience to God.

*** What first steps has God led you to take to develop your maturity as a believer and signify your commitment to Him?