May 18, 2008
It’s interesting when you draw something, because when you do something you always see the potential in the canvas or the piece of paper or maybe you’re working with clay. All of us have unlimited potential. All of us have things in our lives that God wants us to do. And I truly believe if we saw them, if we saw the kind of potential, the kind of purpose and power that God has in store for us, we wouldn’t believe it. It is staggering. It is amazing.
Fellowship Church is a church with a lot of crowds. On a great weekend we will sometimes have nearly 20,000 people show up. And people sometimes ask me, “Okay Ed, why is it so crowded? Why does it feel so crowded?”
Well that is sort of an easy answer. Basically there are three people sitting in every seat every time we gather together in one of our worship serves. That’s right, there are three people sitting in every seat, whether you’re here at this campus, whether you’re in Miami, Plano, Downtown or in Fort Worth. There are three people sitting in every seat.
You may be thinking, “What? Three people?”
That’s right. You are sitting there, the person you are. That’s number one. The second person sitting in your seat is the person that you could be if you were to reach the potential that God has for you. So, who you are right now, the person that you could be. And then a third person is the person you maybe if you take your eyes off of the Lord and if you do your own thing.
Well today, we’re talking about someone who had unlimited potential. This person had it going on. This person had a supernatural background and just phenomenal parents. And God anointed and appointed this person to begin to deliver Israel from their arch enemies, the Philistines. I’m talking about none other than the biblical body builder, Samson. That’s right, the he‑man with the she-weakness.
When I throw the name Samson out, do you know what it means? It means sunshine. It means light. Do you know anybody that when they walk into a room they just light the room up? Do you know anybody like that? When they walk in the room is just lit up. I know some people like that.
I also know some people who light the room up when they leave the room, don’t you?
It’s interesting how Samson fit his name, because he was sunshine. He was arguably the strongest man who ever walked on planet Earth. Not only was he physically strong, but he was also at a time spiritually strong and mentally strong. People loved to hear Sampson speak. He loved riddles and he learned to turn phrases. He had people sitting on the edge of their seats whenever he would talk.
Samson’s parents, they were people of prayer. They prayed. They sought the best for him. And due to this fact, Samson, because of his parents leading and because of his parents influence, took a Nazarite vow.
Now, today a Nazarite vow doesn’t mean that much and I don’t think anybody here is part of the Nazarite vow. But back in the day, back in biblical times, back in the book of Judges, a Nazarite vow meant three things. These things are very, very important.
Number one, if you took a Nazarite vow it was an outward commitment of an inward decision that you made to be set apart by God. Right up front you could not touch any grape products. No grape juice, no wine tasting. You had to stay away from grapes. Number two, you could not touch anything that was dead. You could not touch a dead cat or a dead dog or a dead gerbil or hamster. Number three, you could not cut your hair. I mean, a razor could not come close to your head. And that was a Nazarite vow.
So everyone knew Samson was a Nazarite. He was set apart for the service of God, because of these external things that he did not do. And God said in Scripture that Sampson’s whole mission in life was to lead Israel. Because Israel, once again, was facing their arch enemies, the Philistines. The Philistines were tough, man. They were bad people. They were pagans. They were people who would torture you and mess you around.
ILLUS: When I was a kid I found a snake, and I screamed when I found the snake. My parents rushed over, the neighbor kids rushed over and everyone said, “Don’t touch the snake. We’re not sure if the snake is poisonous or not.”
I said, “This snake is not poisonous. I know snakes. You can tell by the head and the eyes. It is not some pit viper. The head is not triangular. It is a nonpoisonous snake.”
My parents were telling me, “Ed don’t touch the snake.”
And they led this snake with a broom into a jar and we put the top on the jar. And right before my father walked in the house he said, “Ed, don’t touch the snake. don’t even think about touching the snake.”
I said, “Dad, I’m not going to do it.”
And I watched that snake in that jar and it was alluring to me, it was attractive to me because I used to watch all of these shows about reptiles and things like that. And my girlfriend was standing next to me, Tina Airwood. What a looker. I said, “Tina, bring me the yard gloves.” So she walked over in the garage and got the work gloves. I put the gloves on and I said, “I’m going to handle this snake.”
All the kids were like, “No Ed, don’t do it!” But I was saying, “Yes, I am.”
So I unscrewed the top of the jar, reached my hand in and grabbed this snake. And sure enough, the snake was docile. No problem. And all of my friends were thinking, “Wow, Ed’s a snake handler. This is a phenomenal!”
And I could see that snake like it was yesterday, crawling in and out of my gloved fingers and looking all around. You know how they do. I said, “I’m going to show you guys this snake is totally harmless. He is totally docile. I’m going to show you that this snake is a pet. Tina, take my yard glove off.”
So Tina took the yard glove off. When I reached my bare hand, my naked hand over to hold the snake, out of nowhere this thing bit me and it was just hanging on my hand. I was screaming. I was like, “Mommy!”
The snake fell to the ground, and I ran inside screaming. Blood was flowing, and praise the Lord the snake was nonpoisonous. I was right.
But you know what? You make a pet out of sin, you make a friend out of sin, it seems like it is benign, it seems like it is harmless, it seems like it is nonpoisonous. One day, though, it will grab you and bite you. And I’m telling you, it is not worth it.
So today’s talk really is for those of us here who have unlimited potential. What does potential mean? It means you have not done anything yet. Potential means you have not done jack yet. It does, though, mean that God has something unbelievable in store for your life. And that is why, quite frankly, the devil tries to attack you and me.
He sees the potential in our life. He sees what we can be. He sees what could happen if we really reached our potential.
Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to get to church on Sunday morning? Have you ever wondered that? It is tough even for me to get to church on Sunday morning. We’re fighting the devil. It is much easier for us to go to work on Monday than for us to get to worship service on Sunday. Have you noticed that? It is the amazing.
This morning when Lisa and I woke up, the kids were fighting over pizza in our house. 7:30 a.m., a pizza fight. And we made it, pizza fight and all.
But the real reason is the devil does not want you to hear what God has for you. The devil does not want you to reach your God given potential.
Samson had potential. His name meant sunshine. Maybe his parents called him Sonny. His parents were godly people. They were people who loved him. They were people who wanted the best for him. They were people that everyone in the community knew about because of their love and devotion to God himself.
If you have your Bibles turn now to the Book of Judges. Now this is a very, very interesting book. Judges 14:1. As you read this, it really doesn’t seem that powerful. But as you really unpack it, it sort of tells the life story of the biblical body builder.
Judges 14:1 says. “Samson went down to Timnah…”
Say the word “down” with me. I want to show you how to waste your life today. I want to show you how to miss your potential today as we look at the biblical body builder. The Bible says Samson went down to Timnah.
What is he doing down at Timnah? Timnah is a Philistine city. Timnah is a place of the pagans. Timnah is a place where nothing good happens. Samson, though, went down to Timnah. And when we go down Timnah we’re always going to face that Timnahtation, right? Well the Scripture keeps going.
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.”
Samson knew the score. He knew the situation. God had said countless times, “Don’t associate with ungodly people.” It is just like St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14. Paul said, “Don’t be unequally yoked with nonbelievers.” Because if you hook up with nonbelievers, if you date nonbelievers, if you fall in love with nonbelievers, if you marry nonbelievers, if you crank out some kids and you’re married to a nonbeliever, it is not going to be a harmonious thing. It is going to be full of dissonance. It is going to be full of depression and it is going to be full of wasted potential.
God is not being mean-spirited. It is not spiritual apartheid. God has our best interests in mind. God wants us to reach our potential. And sunshine, Samson is playing around with fire when he went down to Timnah. So he went down, he went away from where God wanted him to go.
So he sees this woman and here is something that is really sad. He tells his parents about this woman. He just gets in their face and tells them what to do.
Look at Judges 14:2-3. “When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”
He’s not asking. He’s telling them. “Hey mom and dad, get her for me as my wife.” Wow! You’re talking about rebellious. You’re talking about someone going down. Students listen to me, young people listen to me; whenever we disobey and disregard our parents’ directives, we’re going down. You have godly parents. You have parents who teach Scripture. You have parents who are passionate Christ followers. If you disobey them, if you turn from them, I’m telling you, you’re going down. It seems like such a small thing, an insignificant thing. Just four miles off the track. Just four miles away from where Samson was living. Just going down to Timnah, to Timnahtation.
Look at verse 3, “His father and mother replied, ‘Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’”
I mean, come on look at these beautiful Israeli girls. Why the Philistine filly? Check out Samson’s response in Judges 14:3. “But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.’”
Now this is tough, isn’t it? Because Samson’s parents had to practice tough love here, didn’t they? They had to release him. And that’s a very difficult thing, isn’t it parents? To watch our kids who maybe are mature, who are maybe older and to watch them go down to Timnah and listen to them tell us what to do. We tell them, “Wait a minute, here is what the Scriptures say.” But Sampson’s parents released him.
So they planned this wedding. And the wedding was going to happen about eight weeks from this time and Samson found himself going down to Timnah again. And check out where sunshine is. Sonny, I’m talking about Samson, is walking through a vineyard. Samson, what are you doing in a vineyard, my brother? What are you doing smelling the grapes? I’m sure popping two or three in your mouth? What are you doing? The Nazarite vow tells you not to eat grape products.
Then a lion jumps out at him. He takes the lion, kills it, and just keeps on going to Timnah. He sees his fiancé, the Philistine filly. Then, later on, he is walking back to his hometown and he hears something.
When you go down, notice this, you begin to look around. That’s the second way that we miss our potential that God has for us. We go down to Timnah then we look around.
And Samson is looking around in the vineyard and he sees the lion carcass, something that’s dead, right? He sees some bees have made a hive in the carcass and he reaches his big hand in there and scrapes some honey out.
I love honey, don’t you? Honey is great. It’s good for you. If you have allergy problems, eat honey harvested from your local area and it will help your allergies.
Samson begins to eat this honey. Then he takes the honey, the Bible says, and gives some to his parents. But he does not tell his parents where he got the honey.
Sin starts so small yet it ends so big. The evil one never comes to a young lady and says, “Hey, see that woman right there who has two kids out of wedlock and who is hooked on methamphetamine? See her? You’re going to end up like her when you sacrifice your virginity on the altar of a young man’s lust. That’s right; it is going to happen to you. That’s where you’re going potentially. That’s where you’re going to end up. I won’t show you that. Go ahead, everybody is doing it. Everybody is going down to Timnah. Everybody is looking around. Come on.
“Hey, young man, see that guy who is so lonely and greedy? See that guy who is hooked on this or hooked on that? It is just this once. It is just this one time. Why not taste a little bit of honey? Why not frequent that website? Why not go to that club? Why not hang out with those people? Why not have that weekend in Vegas? Because after all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? You’re not going to end up broke. You’re not going to end up destitute. You’re not going to end up all messed up. It is just a little bit of honey. Come on, a little bit of honey. Ask Samson. Ask Samson.”
You go down to Timnah, you look around and what’s going to happen? You’re going to get found. I mean, you hang out with the wrong people, they’re going to take you to the wrong places and then ultimately you’ll end up breaking God’s principles and missing his purpose for your life.
So this talk today is a warning; it is a wake-up call to everyone, especially those of us who have phenomenal potential. And the last time I checked, that’s everyone.
Because Ephesians 5:14, the alarm verse, do you know what it says? Wake up sleeper. “Wake up, o sleeper!”
And a lot of us are awake physically, we’re on point. I’m up. I’m ready. Spiritually though, maybe morally, maybe parentally, we’ve gone down to Timnah. What do we say? “I’m going to lie down and rest. I’m going to lie down and take a nap.” And then all of the sudden three hours later we wake up, “Whoa, I guess I’ve been asleep!”
We don’t realize our napping until we wake up. Parents, we say, “I’m going to put my kids down.” We’re going down. We’re going to sleep. We’re going to look around. And when we look around in that Timnah town, we’re going to get found. That’s the progression of missing potential, of missing it. And that is what Samson did.
You know, when I study Scripture I have always tried to think about and imagine what people in the Bible look like or just what their stature was, how they carried themselves, how they looked, how they processed the stuff that God had for them. And also the stuff that they missed. And Samson is definitely one of my favorite characters, because his life was such a tragedy.
But it continues. Samson, he is at this wedding feast and if you read the word and study the word “feast” in the Scripture, do you know what it means? He is at this big wedding feast. It means a drinking bout. He is messed up on the Nazarite vow again. He has touched the dead carcass. Now he has gotten drunk at this festival. He gets really big and bad and bold and tells this crazy riddle. And they finally figure it out and he gets all upset that they figured it out, because they used his fiancé to get to him to discover the answer to the riddle. And so he catches a bunch of foxes and ties their tails together, lights them on fire and burns up all of this grain in the Philistine country side. Now the Philistines were after him. PITA was after him. It was a bad situation for the biblical body builder.
Then one time, he was going after the Philistines again. This is hilarious here, in Judges 15:15 (KJV), it says, “And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.”
That’s the first instance we have of someone opening up a can. He was just taking these things on personally. He wasn’t leading Israel. And God was using him, check this out, in spite of his rebellion, in spite of his chicanery, in spite of going down and looking around and getting found. God was still using him. Not to the degree of he could have, not even near to what he could have done, but God was still using him. And he was taking out Philistines, but he was doing it because people were messing around with his relationship. They were missing around with his fiancé.
And then in Judges 16:1, I’m just flying through here, Sampson goes to see a high class call girl. His marriage was never consummated. The one in Timnah, that didn’t work out. The Philistines burned his bride and her father to death.
Well now in Judges 16:1 it says that Sampson, again, went down to another Philistine town, he looked around and he was found by a prostitute. So he is with this prostitute and all the Philistines, they hear that Samson is at this hotel. So they’re getting ready to surround the hotel and get him. Samson, though, again, he is not only physically strong, he’s mentally strong. He gets up early before the Philistines surround him, grabs the city gates and takes them up this hill and drops them off. The entire gates of the city! This guy’s strength was totally and completely insane.
So notice, Samson. What did he do? He went down; that’s how you lose your potential. Then he looked around. Then he was found. And then we’re going to find out, check this out, he got bound. He got bound.
Sin starts out small and then it gets big. It is the high cost of low living. And some of you right now know what I’m talking about. Some of you are going, “Wait a minute, you mean to tell me Samson was still used by God even though he was living this way?”
Yes. You can be blessed and I can be blessed for a while, for a season, even in our rebellion. That’s the kind of potential that God has for all of us. But just think what could happen and what can happen if we discover our potential.
So Sampson meets this girl named Delilah. You’ve heard of Delilah, haven’t you? Don’t you know she was a show stopper, another Philistine beauty? Don’t you know Samson’s parents were thinking, “What is he doing?”
During this whole situation I want to shake him and say, “Sampson, wake up, o sleeper! Ephesians 5:14. Don’t mess your life up.”
Delilah, her name means devotee. She was probably a temple prostitute. A prostitute in the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines. He meets her and they hook up. They’re together. And the Philistines, they know women just mess Sampson up. By day he is fighting the Lord’s battles. He is opening up a can. He is taking out lions by day.
But at night, what is he doing? He is feeding on his lusts. He is allowing the lusts to lead him. And here is what is so sick about it; here is what is so insidious about the devil.
The devil promises us freedom. “You’ll be free when you go down to Timnah. You’ll be free when you look around. You’ll be free when you get found.”
Yet in our freedom, that is where we find bondage. I have talked to so many students, so many single adults, and so many married folk who have slept in the wrong bed.
And their so called freedom that they’re after ends up incarcerating them, blinding them, binding them and grinding stuff into their life that is toxic.
And that’s what happened to the biblical body builder. The people got to Delilah, gave her three to five grand, we’re not sure how much, and said, “Delilah, find out the secret of Samson’s strength.”
So she began to press him, the Bible says. The Hebrew word for press is nag. She began to nag him. “Sonny, please tell me the secret of our strength. You’re so ripped. You’re so unbelievable.”
Now you might wonder, “Ed, where did you find the model for that drawing?” Well I simply took my shirt off and looked at myself in the mirror and drew the outline.
“Samson, please tell me the secret of your strength.”
He started messing around with them. “If you tie me up with these new vines, then I will be like any other man.”
She tried that and it didn’t work.
Sampson said, ‘Well if you tie me up with these new ropes, then there is no way I can fight Philistines. I will be just totally weak.”
That didn’t work.
Then Sampson said, Well Delilah, baby, if you take my hair and put it in a hair loom, I will be as weak as any other dude.”
She tried that. But it didn’t work. She began to cry, “Samson, please help me!” And she just wore him out with her nagging and complaining.
And finally Samson said, “Okay I will tell you. If you cut my hair, if you shave my hair, I will be as weak as any other man.”
And Scripture tells us that she knew that Sampson had told her everything. It is that intuition that women have. They just know and she knew.
So let me let you again follow me along in Scripture. Judges 16:19‑21. “Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’”
And this next little section is one of the saddest and most tragic verses in all of Scripture.
“…but he did not know that the Lord had left him.”
A tragedy of what might have been. He did not know that the Lord had left him.
“Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.”
What does sin do? Sin blinds, it binds and it grinds. Here is Samson; I mean his whole problem was the lust of the eyes. “I saw a Philistine woman. She looks good to me.”
Now his eyes are gone. What is Samson’s problem?
“I want to be free. Forget the Nazarite vow, forget the grapes, forget wine, and forget the carcass. I just want to be free. I will do what I want to do. I will open a can when I want to open one up.”
In the search for his freedom, what happened? He got bound. And then the biblical body builder is doing the work of an animal, going around and around and around grinding grain for the Philistines to eat.
Samson totally dejected. Don’t you know as he was going around and around in that mill he was thinking about the wasted potential? Don’t you know he was thinking about his parents’ directives? Don’t you know he was thinking about the things he had missed? Don’t you know that? Don’t you just feel for him? Opportunity after opportunity wasted. At any one of those steps he could have stopped and discovered the situation, but he did not.
Is that it? Did God leave him in that state? Did God leave him in that Philistine grain mill; his eyes gouged out and in chains, dejected, depressed, despondent, and realizing the missed potential? Did God leave him that way? No.
I mean, I would be a fool to end it here because the Scripture tells us in Judges 16:22, I love this, “But the hair on his head began to grow again.”
That’s an artistic device. That means he began to repent. He began to have a change of mind. Because the secret wasn’t in the hair. The hair was just a symbol of an inward commitment. God, though, is beginning to forgive him and restore Samson as Samson is crying out to him. The hair on his head began to grow. And the Philistines, they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it.
There was a big worship service for the god Dagon. And the Philistines wanted to bring Samson out to show everyone how their god had defeated the gods of the neighboring nations, and especially the God of Israel. So Samson was brought out, made fun of, cursed, and abused.
Samson asked the kid who was leading him, “Hey, take me beside some of the columns that hold up the building.” He knew the architecture. So the kid brought him over to the columns and Samson said this.
Judges 16:28, “Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more….”
Picture in your mind’s eye 3,000 Philistines sitting on top of this structure. Picture in your mind’s eye thousands underneath this structure. Picture Sampson saying, “Just this once, Lord, I will go down to Timnah. Just this once I will hook up with a Philistine filly. Just this once I will eat some grapes. Just this once I will reach my hand in a lion’s carcass and have a little bit of honey. Just this once I will have a haircut in Satan’s salon. Just this once.”
And then at the end of his life, at the end of his days he prays a prayer, “Remember me, God, just this once.”
And this prayer was a prayer from the heart. You know, he only prayed two prayers in the book of Judges. His parents, they were prayer warriors. One of the prayers was, “Lord, I’m thirsty; give me some water.” And the other prayer was, “Lord, help me to avenge the whole situation with the Philistines.”
So with that God answered his prayer. And with that, he pushed the columns. With that, all of the people crashed on top of him and died. And Samson killed more people in that instance than he did in his entire life. That’s the grace of God.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Okay, that’s pretty cool, Ed. I guess that means that I can live my life any way I want to and God will forgive me. So I can just pray a little prayer to meet Jesus Christ and everything is hunky‑dory.”
Are you kidding me? I hope you have seen through Samson’s life, it is not worth it. I hope you’ve seen the high cost of low living. I hope you’ve seen the wasted life. I hope you’ve seen the wasted potential. We want to see children and students and young people to step up and say, “I have lived a pure life my whole life. I have been set apart my whole life. I’ve done the deal my whole life. I’ve been to church my whole live. I’ve only dated believers my whole life. I’m only marrying a believer my whole life. I’m staying in the marriage my whole life. I’m going to hook up with a local church for my whole life. I’m not go down to Timnah. I’m not going to look around. I’m not going to be found and I’m not going to be bound.”
I want to hear young people tell that story, not the story of, “Well, I sowed my wild oats in high school and college and now I’m praying for a crop failure.”
I’m tired of hearing that. It’s not worth it. And young people, you’re missing your potential. If I could shake you, if I could get your attention, if I could wake you, I’d say, “Don’t go the way of the world. Don’t go the way of the devil.”
All you have to do is look at some of these actors and actresses and rock musicians. After they have done their deal for a couple of decades, they look horrible just physically, not to mention all the other junk and funk they deal with. It’s not worth it. Don’t do it.
Look at Samson, eyes gouged out, just a shadow of what might have been. Samson. The high cost of low living.
Something else I want you to take home from this, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to repent and go God’s way. You might say, “Ed, I don’t have any hair, man. I’m bound. I’m blind. I am all messed up. Sin is grinding on me.”
God wants to meet you right where you are and change your life, only if you’ll let him.
So who is sitting in your seat? Who you are? Who could you be if you really followed the Lord passionately? And then, who would you be if you take your eyes off of him?
I pray that today is a day for you. I pray that today you say, “God, by your power; by the octane that you gave Samson; by the strength that you used to bring your Son back from the grave, I want to tap into that and reach my potential. No longer am I going to sleep. I’m ready to wake up.”
Let’s bow for prayer together.
[Ed ends in a closing prayer.]