The Great Deceiver

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a dozen times–and that’s pretty much par for human experience. That’s what I thought when I recently read the story of Samson. Smitten by the wiles of Delilah, Samson becomes a total fool. This guy was really no fool, of course. He’s the one who, after he finds bees making honey in the carcass of the lion he’d killed, makes up a riddle that stumps all the Philistines. But set him up with Delilah and Samson becomes the dumbest guy in town. We pick up the story in Judges 16:16:

Because she nagged him day after day and pleaded with him until she wore him out, 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.”

This exchange came after Delilah had three times heard him lie about what would render him powerless. Samson suggested bowstrings, new rope, and a weird operation involving the braids of his hair. Each time, Delilah attempts to use this technique and then tells him that the Philistines are attacking him.

Three times, Delilah proved utterly untrustworthy. You’d think that Samson might have caught on and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t trust her,” but that’s not how he was wired. He tells her about his Nazirite vow, effectively breaking it, and he pays the price, first with his freedom, then with his eyes, and finally with his life.

Wouldn’t you think that Samson might have been a little more suspicious? Don’t you think he would have said something along the lines of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice (or four times), shame on me”? But again, that just wasn’t in the cards for this man. I’m inclined to be exceptionally critical of Samson.

But then I look to myself. I’ll do that while you look to yourself. Right now, my biggest frustration is with controlling my eating. A few years ago, I had gotten myself to a healthy weight, but in recent days, despite my best intentions, I’ve lost all the ground I had gained.

Day after day, I intend to control my eating. Day after day, I fail to control my eating. Does it make me happy to pig out on whatever comes to hand? No. Instead, I tend to feel at least guilty and often physically uncomfortable. You’d think I’d learn after one time, but definitely after two times, but what about a hundred times. I don’t. But tomorrow will be different.

What the flesh wants, the mind can create all manner of excuses to justify. Who’s fooling me in those hundred times? Who fooled Samson? Delilah wasn’t his most formidable deceiver, and my refrigerator is not conspiring against me. It turns out that I’m probably my own most dangerous deceiver.

Hi, My Name is Mark and I’m a Blog Abandoner

Thanks be to God, I’m not an alcoholic or any other sort of addict that would lead me to a twelve-step program. I certainly don’t want to mock their patterns of speech or diminish their challenge, but in some ways, my behavior in maintaining this blog is like the addict with good intentions, the person who desires to remain on the path of constancy but all of a sudden looks up to find himself off the wagon and with a week’s worth of unwritten days.

As I consider my on-again-off again blogging fidelity, as I look at all those non-highlighted days on the WordPress calendar, I’m reminded of the letter to the church at Ephesus from Revelation 2.

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

Jesus knew that this church had done some good things, that they had many positive qualities, but he also knew that the passion had faded away. This group of believers was not in danger of losing their salvation and being cast aside with the goats, but their lampstand was threatened. If they didn’t get back on track, Jesus promised in the next verse (Revelation 2:5), their position in his work would be taken away, perhaps relocated.

The church in which I grew up is defunct. It had been a growing, thriving place over several decades, but a couple of years back, whatever remnant of the congregation that still rattled around in that big building turned over the keys to a body less than ten years old. Their lampstand was removed and given to another.

In my own church, I see people who were, in the past, on fire for Christ. They knew their calling and they pursued it with a passion. Now some of those people limp along, half-heartedly, in Bible studies, in the choir, or among the ranks of the deacons. They’ve lost their first love. Still believers, still basically good people, they’re not achieving the good works they formerly knew. They risk watching their lampstand plucked out and handed to someone else.

God called me to write, among other things. Many of those other things are somewhat in the control of others, but my writing is something that is mostly within my control. I could be writing something, here or elsewhere, every day of the week.

But I don’t. I have abandoned the love I had at first. That Greek verb, aphiemi, is defined and translated various ways, but the preferred meaning, according to most scholars, here is to “give up or keep no longer.” It’s not a conscious sending away. It’s not resolutely quitting,  but more of, like the CSB translation, an abandonment.

I didn’t consciously decide to stop playing the guitar a few years ago, but I let it go and now rarely play. Frankly, I think God is fine with that. But this letting go of my first love for writing is more problematic. God’s not pleased.

What have you abandoned or let go?