Tag Archives: Foolishness

Samson’s Ends and Means

Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.”
Judges 15:3 (NRSV)

So… I get that Samson was an ancient John Rambo with his long hair and lethal jawbone. But, I couldn’t help noticing this morning the pattern of events that lead to his most famous homicidal slaughter…

  • Samson chooses to betroth a Philistine girl, then threatens to impoverish and humiliate his fiance’s with a silly riddle which causes…
  • The Philistines to threaten the fiance with bodily harm if she doesn’t worm the answer out of Samson which causes…
  • Samson to go on a homicidal rampage, killing his bride’s own people and rejecting her which causes…
  • Samson’s father to give his betrothed to the best man as a wife, which causes…
  • Samson to take his anger out on the Philistines (not his father, or best man) by torching their fields which would take food away from their families and ruin their livelihood, which causes…
  • The Philistines to burn Samson’s betrothed and her father alive, which causes…
  • Samson to swear revenge on the Philistines for burning the bride that he rejected and left standing at the altar, which causes…
  • The Philistines to muster an army and march on Judah, which causes…
  • The men of Judah to hand him over to the Philistines, which causes…
  • Samson to go off on an even bigger homicidal rage with a jawbone.

We often hold Samson up to our children as a hero for his strength and violent victory. The story is actually a bit more messy than that. In fact, I find it quite tragic. The truth is that Samson started and exacerbated the chain of events that led to unnecessary human carnage, and the ends do not justify the means.

This morning I am reminded that God uses people despite their foolishness, but I don’t believe that this excuses the foolishness of those who God uses.

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Things I Don’t Control and Things I Do

Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior.
Judges 11:1a (NRSV)

Jephthah, son of prostitute. How long had that moniker followed him? His glories in battle, his deliverance of his people, and his leadership could not wipe the reference away. Dale Carnegie taught us, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and for thousands of years, the first impression we have of Jephthah is that he was born to a prostitute.

The fact that he was progeny of an anonymous woman of the evening was not under Jephthah’s control. He had no say in the matter. Still, this heritage marked him for life. It led to being driven away by his half brothers. I can only speculate (having known those of similar fate) that he had a chip on his shoulder throughout his life.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the first consequences of their sin was shame. They realized they were naked. They felt their exposed bodies were bad and something they had to cover despite the fact that God said that the way He created their bodies was good and the Garden had been a nudist paradise to that  point. Once sin entered the picture, humanity has forever been locked in a struggle with our shame, and we see that struggle in the story of Jephthah.

What I find interesting about Jephthah is that his story is bookended by contrasting examples of sin and shame. At the beginning of the chapter it was the sin of the father (sleeping with a prostitute) that led to shame being visited upon his son for the rest of his days. At the end of the chapter, it was Jephthah’s own foolish actions that led to the despicable human sacrifice of his daughter and solidified his story as a tragedy for the ages.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I have things that I don’t control (the family into which I’m born) and things that I do control (my own thoughts, words, actions, and relationships). Shame, that core pain in the depths of my heart that perpetually whispers to my soul that there is something terribly wrong with me, originates from both sources. It runs in the blood of my forebears and it is confirmed in my own foolish choices.

As I write this, less than two weeks from Christmas, I’m reminded that it was Jesus’ mission to address my shame. The progeny of God, born in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, came that He might take on all of my sin and shame when He died in my place on the cross, so that I might be unshackled from my shame and find redemption.

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And, the wisdom to know the difference.

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featured image by Gwen Meharg

Acceptable Choices are Not Always Wise Choices

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (NRSV)

St. Paul wrote, “all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.

In today’s chapter, Moses predicts that the Hebrews would one day wish to appoint a king over them as all of the other peoples around them had done. He makes it clear that having a king was not a wrong thing, but goes on to lay down some crucial boundaries for that person. He would have to be subject to God’s law like everyone else. He would need to constantly be reminded of God’s law so he didn’t forget it. He would need to be humble and not be considered better than the lowliest of his subjects.

A few books and a few centuries later, the people would do exactly as Moses predicted as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. The people demanded a king and Samuel capitulates but reminds the people that while it was permissible for them to do so, it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. And, it would come back to haunt them.

I’m reminded this morning that there are many times in life when we may make perfectly permissible choices for ourselves that will come back to haunt us. We can make decisions that are not wrong, but are not necessarily wise either. We may end up regretting those decisions and living through the painful consequences they bring into our lives.

As I continue to progress in my life journey, I pray that I can be increasingly wise to make the choices and decisions that are good and beneficial for me and my loved ones in the long run rather than those that are permissible and simply feel desirable in the moment.

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Wisdom, Age and Suffering

source: mythoto via Flickr
source: mythoto via Flickr

Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?
Job 12:12 (NIV)

Wisdom is, indeed, found among the aged.
Still, I’ve known many an old fool.

Long life does not necessarily bring understanding, Job.
But, it seems to me that suffering does. If it doesn’t break you.

I just can’t always perceive the increase of understanding when I’m still in the midst of the pain.

Press on.

Wisdom is Knowing When to Remain Silent

A reporter raises his hand to ask a question a...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
Proverbs 29:2o (NLT)

I remember watching a press conference on television many years ago. The press were gathered around the podium of the official in a huddled mass. Cameras were clicking and whirring. There was a din of activity in the room as they pushed in around the speaker. Bright lights blazed in his eyes and a gaggle of people pressed in on the man from behind as well as in front.

A reporter fired a question at him. There was silence as the speaker stood and looked down at the podium. Seconds passed. Murmurs rose among the press. Cameras clicked as the speaker said nothing, but continued to look down with furrowed brow. You could feel the sense of curiosity in the room. It became almost a panic. What was wrong? What was happening? Why wasn’t he saying anything? The reporter fired another question at the official who immediately held up his hand and interrupted the reporter.

“Give me just a moment, please. I’m thinking about your question and I want to respond to it appropriately, but I find it better to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth.”

I’ve never seen anyone in a press conference say or do anything like that before. It stuck in my memory and I’ve never forgotten it. Here was a wise man who was not going to be bullied by the pressure of the moment and a chaotic press corp rifling questions at him. He understood Solomon’s words.

A mentor of mine used to consistently pray this prayer: “Lord, help me to know when to speak, and when to be silent.” I find myself repeating it often in my own whispered plea. When caught off guard it is foolish to speak without thinking. Better to say nothing than to say something foolish that will haunt you ever after.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 7

English: Slalom
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their hair is gray,
    but they don’t realize they’re old and weak.
Hosea 7:9b (NLT)

Earlier this summer I went waterskiing for the first time in several years. I grew up on waterskis like a fish in water. For me, waterskiing has always been like riding a bike. No big deal. Actually, the skiing part wasn’t a big deal, but the wiping out was. A separated rib and badly bruised and twisted knee had me limping into the doctors office a few days later.

My doctor has been my doctor since I was a kid. He knows me well. The first time I saw him he was fresh out of medical school and he had to pull about a three inch sliver from a wooden skateboard out of my twelve year-old thigh. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about him is that he doesn’t mince words and he gives it to you straight. Upon entering the exam room, my chart and explanation of what happened in hand, he took one look at me and exclaimed, “What the hell were you thinking?”

As much as I hate to admit it. I can’t waterski like I was a 16 year old. I’m 30 years past that. My body doesn’t absorb the punishment of hitting the water at 30 miles per hour as it used to do. While I’m ready and willing to be very active in my over the hill years, I don’t want to be delusional and foolish.

As I walk life’s journey and observe those around me, I often see people who are delusional, even if it’s in a relatively harmless and innocent way. As I volunteer in the theatre I see people who are convinced they should get a role for which they aren’t right, sometimes becoming enraged when they don’t get it. At church I see individuals who think they have certain spiritual gifts (or wish they did) and refuse to admit that they don’t to everyones’ detriment.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God’s Message tells us to be “sober minded.” To me that means being realistic, clear headed, and owning up to the truth that is staring you right in the face. I’m not going to get the role of Romeo. While I love to sing and play music, I’m not a gifted musician. Though there are many ways for me to be recreationally active, my best waterskiing days are behind me.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 16

Footprints of Beach-ChickensWe can make our plans,
      but the LORD determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

I never planned to be a businessman.
I never planned to live in Pella, Iowa.
I never planned to be divorced, nor remarried.
I never planned to build a place on a lake (I dreamed about it, but I never planned on it).
I never planned to write a blog.
I never planned to…
I never planned to…
I never planned to….

Looking back, I can see so many places where my plans for the path my life would take and the actual steps of my path diverged. As I examine the past I can clearly recognize poor choices, sinful acts, wise moves and divine interventions at specific points in time. What becomes impossible for me to clearly differentiate are the consequences of will from God’s eternal purposes for me, for they weave together into one road that has brought me to this place on this day. All I am left with is the determination of what I will do with this day. At this moment, standing at this place on life’s path, whom will I serve and what will my next step be?

God, help me this day make wise choices with my every action I take, with every word that comes out of my mouth, and every meditation of my heart.

I’ll trust you with where that step will lead.

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