This video post previews Samson, compares him with Jesus, and asks about the idols we have in our lives that we need to set aside in order to be set apart for God.
Please download the sermon notes beneath the video and use them to prepare for Sunday's message.
Samson: The Imperfect Savior Sermon Notes
I thought I knew Samson when I began studying for this week's lesson! Little did I know the story I thought I knew--about a man who was a hero, a man who avenged the Israelites at the hands of their oppressors, a man who gave his life for his people, pre-figuring Jesus--was about to be turned inside out!
If you closely read the story about Samson in Judges 13-16 several surprising things come to light. For example, one quarter of the story (ch 13) is taken up entirely by a "birth narrative." Reminiscent of other great heroes (Isaac, Samuel, etc.), Samson's story begins when his parents are visited by an angel who tells them about the great hero they will give birth to. Their child is to be set apart for God under a nazirite vow (see Numbers 6) of consecration.
Sadly, this is the highlight of Samson's story. Over the next three chapters, not only does he disregard his vow at every opportunity, but he lives selfishly, to satisfy his own urges and desires, and only calls on God in moments of his need when he desires to exact revenge. In fact, he does not even deliver Israel from their oppressors like previous judges did. Even his great hero's death, when he collapses the pagan temple in on himself and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of Philistines, is begun as a revenge quest (16:28).
So what can we learn from Samson? I'm starting to see Samson as a tragic hero. He's the imperfect savior. Not because he saved people despite his flaws but because he didn't save them at all. He took what could have been a great opportunity, not just once, but several times during his life, and blew it.
What opportunities do we have in our lives to serve God, to be his agent of deliverance for someone else, only for us to miss that opportunity because of our own selfish needs?
Samson is a wake up call to listen to God and keep our eyes on our perfect savior, Jesus, who lived unselfishly for us and delivered God's people through a selfless sacrifice.
How is the deliverer one who can't deliver himself?
How is the savior one who is imperfect?
Samson was strong but couldn't rely only on his strengths. His strength needed to be fused with God's strength. The defining aspect of Samson's life was his guidance by the power of the Spirit of the Lord. This phrase appears five times throughout Samson's story, always in reference to God giving him extra strength or guiding his life in some way.
God used Samson to overcome the Philistines. But even while Samson was working within God's plan he was overcome at the same time by his own weaknesses. He appears to have had a weakness for women, twice giving away important information to please his wife and once nearly being captured while he was staying with a prostitute. He also appears to be quick to anger.
But God worked through his imperfections to save Israel. In that sense, Samson is the imperfect savior. He saved the Israelites, despite his own flaws, by God's power. He reminds us that our strongest strength is found in working with God and that God can overcome our own weaknesses so his will can be done. But Samson also reminds us of Jesus, as his imperfection points the way to the perfection found in Jesus.
On Sunday we examined the example of Jesus in prayer and friendship. If Jesus invested much of his energy in prayer and in friendship with a few, then as his followers, so should we.
Sermon: Prayer and Friendship (Luke 6:12-13)
As followers of Jesus we should live according to his example, values, and priorities. In his life, especially as recorded in Luke, we see Jesus giving special attention to prayer and to his friendship with the twelve apostles, whom he chose. If Jesus focused much of his energy on prayer and friendship, as his followers, so should we. Below are my sermon notes for Sunday's sermon. Use them to prepare yourself ahead of time and come back to this page after the sermon and leave a comment.
What things do you give your attention to as a Christian? because you're a Christian?
Jesus and Prayer
Prayer was very important to Jesus. The gospels often record Jesus praying. Luke gives this special emphasis in his gospel and records Jesus praying at least nine times. Since Luke contains 24 chapters, there is a reference to Jesus praying in over one-third of Luke's chapters, making this a very important theme in Jesus' life. But why portray Jesus at prayer so much? Why not just indicate that prayer was important to him?
If we delve deeper, we see when Jesus prayed and what he prayed for. Specifically, Jesus prayed both as a habit and at important times in his life. Prayer was a fundamental aspect and example of Jesus' spirituality. These scriptures indicate to us Jesus' habit of prayer--5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 10:21; 11:1--while these scriptures describe Jesus' prayers at critical moments of his life and ministry--3:21 (at his baptism); 6:12-13 (prior to selecting his twelve apostles); 9:29 (at the transfiguration); 10:21 (as a response to the success of the 72); 22:39-46 (in the garden of Gethesemane); and 23:34, 46 (on the cross).
What is your prayer life like? When do you pray and for what? How do your prayers help you become more like Jesus?
Jesus and Friendship
Another critical component of Jesus' spirituality was friendship. Where we focus on programs, Jesus focused on relationships. Where we focus on information transmission, Jesus focused on mentoring and relational teaching.
Large crowds were always attracted to him and he seems to have had many followers. His group of followers was important to him, as we see him sending out 72 on a mission to share the gospel. But he had a qualitatively different relationship with a selection of his followers, twelve to be exact, "whom he also designated apostles" (6:13).
In this verse we see Jesus calling his followers to him but selecting only twelve to be apostles. Crowds followed Jesus and he taught and healed many out of these crowds, but when it came to learning, mentoring, and growing, he did so with a few. Did he not care about the rest? Did he not worry about them? Not at all. I think we see in this a narrowing of Jesus' focus to mentor, teach, and build relationships (friendships) with just a few.
We can view this as a principle of friendship and imagine Jesus' followers as the church-at-large and his selection of twelve as a model for us to follow in our friendships. He taught his disciples differently than he taught the crowds, providing more spiritual content to his disciples (Luke 8:9-15; 12:1) and his disciples were with him at crucial times in his life (Luke 9:28; 22:39).
What other Christians are you friends (not acquaintances) with? How do these friendships help you become more like Jesus?
Why are some churches the most vicious places? Why are some churches the last place you would look to find friendships? Are your closest friends inside the church or outside the church?
I think we've largely lost the art of friendship in the church. Sure, some of us have deep, solid friendships, but I wonder if the majority of us don't go beyond mere acquaintanceship with other Christians we know. We sure don't go out of our way to spend time with people who are members of the same church we are.
Friendship might be on the back-burner in our lives because we focus more on the actions and processes of following Jesus, such as discipleship and evangelism. But at the core of these processes is a developing relationship, or, friendship.
In fact, in Luke 6:12-16, Jesus teaches a principle of friendship. He called his disciples together and then chose some of them to become apostles. This implies he had a larger group of followers than the twelve he chose to be apostles. We don't know why he chose these twelve, except that he prayed all night before making this decision.
At the risk of reading too much into this text, we might imagine Jesus' followers as the church-at-large and his selection of twelve as a model for us to follow in our friendships.
In small churches, we often make excuses not to reach out to others by saying things like "We don't know everyone in the church yet." But if we look to Jesus' example, is it possible to say that he didn't know everyone in his church (group of followers)? That one of the reasons he selected twelve was to develop relationships and friendships with a few, rather than acquaintances with many?
Crowds followed Jesus and he taught and healed many out of these crowds, but when it came to learning, mentoring, and growing, he did so with a few. He taught his disciples differently than he taught the crowds, providing more spiritual content to his disciples (Luke 8:9-15; 12:1) and his disciples were with him at crucial times in his life (Luke 9:28; 22:39).
Does this create a model for us? What if we understood both discipleship and evangelism in the context of relationship and friendship? Didn't Jesus "disciple" and "evangelize" his disciples through the friendships he had with them? When do you best understand a lesson or a bible passage--when you hear it taught, or when you can discuss it or pray about it with another person or a group?
What if we stopped trying to force programs, discipleship, and evangelism and instead simply befriended others and developed our friendships with a few? How would it look if we gave up our attempts to "know everyone" and focused on really knowing just a few?
How would your spiritual growth be different if you understood it within the context of friendship rather than external action?
Sometimes in the church we talk about "growth." But we're not always specific. We usually mean we just need to add attendance numbers to what we already have. And this discussion is usually unfruitful because it's generic and unspecific. Our problem isn't "growth" or the lack thereof...it's that we don't have the systems in place to care for those we already have. If we can't, don't, or won't care for those we already have, what good will adding more do?
What is our motive for growth? Are we really interested in advancing and growing the God's kingdom? Or are we just chasing numbers?
I'm afraid our true motives are more often based in the cultural motif of "bigger is better." Too often we look at smaller churches and make a judgment about them based on their size. We assume something's wrong with them if they can't crack a certain attendance barrier. Sometimes nothing is wrong, but sometimes, something is wrong.
I believe God works in churches by teaching them things about themselves and that his teaching will sometimes include keeping a church small to learn how to love better. Small churches I've been a part of often think their reputation for friendliness and care is stronger than it actually is. This reflects a normal tendency to befriend people you see every week over many years. But guests don't always catch this vibe, and if we're not careful, our friendliness to those we know can actually be perceived as unfriendliness by those we don't know.
Sometimes a church stays stuck in an "attendance rut" because it doesn't have the systems in place that enable it to care for its members. In smaller churches, no member should ever feel like they don't belong but sadly many do feel that way. If the church is to be a place where all belong then shouldn't that be a big-time priority?
What systems do I mean? The default system in a small church seems to be some kind of a visiting program. But these programs, almost by nature, "grease the squeaky wheels" in a congregation. The loudest complainers and the ones with no interest in sharing the load are often the ones who are visited.
A proper system of care should build towards fellowship and probably be conceived of as a group where believers can share their gifts with each other in ministry. As I understand fellowship in the bible, it includes and incorporates the Christian practices of love, sharing, prayer, service and spiritual friendship. One way to do this care is through small group bible studies that meet at the church building. These same groups could also meet in members' homes for discussion and prayer.
My point is that there are only a few things in the bible that stand out as being really important. Care for each other is one of these and should be a priority, though not the only priority, for a small church. As Jesus points out in his parable of the bags of gold, God gives us a little to test how well we do with what he gave us (Matthew 25:14-30). If we pass, he rewards us with more.
We can loosely apply this to our evangelism. If we can't take care of the (relatively) few we have now, then we're more like the one who hid his gold rather than the ones who worked not primarily to increase their gold but to please their master.
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! We had recording problems yesterday and so there will be no new sermon uploaded this week.
In the sermon, which was focused around Romans 8:18-39, I began by noting that in the middle of his letter, Paul stopped to point out that we do, in fact, face struggles and suffering in our lives. But we should live above those. Paul points to the glory of God that is yet to be revealed to us as a reason not to dwell on our current sufferings. He actually says our present sufferings "are not worth comparing" to this future glory we will receive.
The reason this is true, is because our sufferings, as we groan together with the creation, attest that something greater is coming. We have the firstfruits of God's Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing our future inheritance so we should live our lives in expectancy of the revelation of God's plan.
Meanwhile, to help us amidst our sufferings, God himself prays within us through his Spirit. He works on our behalf for the good of his plan for the world, and all through this, the love of Christ keeps us so that nothing will ever separate us from God.
So we should be encouraged that whatever we face in life now is in fact the "birth pains" (8:22) of something greater that is being built right now. We don't always see it but we catch glimpses of it...of God's glory.
May's sermon series is focused around the story of the Judges--of their rise and fall, of their faith and disbelief. It's called "Finding God's Perfection in Our Imperfection" because when we try to go it alone, like many of the Judges ended up doing, we'll ultimately live out the imperfections of our lives and find failure in it. But if we follow God's will, he attributes the perfection of Jesus to us, our imperfections are washed away through his perfection, and we find godly success.
Here's the promo:
The Judges were great heroes even though each one was very messy. They followed God...at times. They followed themselves...a lot. In short, they were flawed. Kind of like us. Like these judges, who succeeded when they trusted God but failed when they trusted themselves more, we will never receive all God has for us if we go through life trusting ourselves to deliver the goods. Because the leadership of the judges' was flawed they anticipate the coming of Jesus, who comes to us as a true, perfect leader who does God's will. And if we seek God's will, if we allow God to shape and mold us, as a diamond is created out of tons of dirty carbon, the imperfections of our lives will be absolved and dissolved in the perfection of Jesus that God gives to us.
Join us throughout the month of May as each week we look at the story of one of the Judges, compare their story to the story of Jesus, and discuss how we find the way of God through it all.