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We had a wonderful time on vacation back in my home area of the Mohican State Forest in Ohio. The highlight, of course, was visiting with family and friends as I attended both a family reunion and a high school class reunion.
And my two Sundays in Loudonville, Ohio, were especially interesting to me. I attended a church where hardly anyone remembers me – but which I had a hand in starting 38 years ago this month.
I have been a Baptist for more than 30 years, but in August of 1977 under the leadership of the late Rev. William E. Allen of First Alliance Church of Mansfield, I was the first pastor in starting the Alliance church in Loudonville – a mission of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. For five years in those days Pastor Allen had conducted a bi-weekly home Bible study in Loudonville, about 20 miles from Mansfield. The Bible study was held at the home of Henry and Gwen Helbert on North Union Street. Out of the 35 regulars from the Bible study, 25 of them stayed with us to start a new church. I only stayed 2 ½ years, but in that time we were running over 60 in attendance.
At age 25, I found these growing years for me personally. I performed my first wedding and conducted my first funeral. My first baptism was held outdoors in the Clear Fork Creek at Mohican State Park. Among the several who were baptized were three ladies, all of whom were former Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to Christ at our church.
After I left Loudonville to take Peoples Baptist Church in Bay City, MI, where I stayed 15 years, the Loudonville Alliance Church bought the old Nazarene church building on North Market Street in Loudonville when the Nazarene church built new on North Union (Route 60) – where they are to this day.
Over the years the Loudonville Alliance church did not have great growth, but they did pay off their building. My understanding is that an Ashland Theological Seminary student, from about 18 miles away, started a new fellowship in Loudonville. With a contemporary philosophy, that church group had great growth and became known as New Hope. In 2000 they merged with the Alliance church in the building on North Market Street – New Hope providing most of the people and the Alliance church providing the building.
Today New Hope Community Church on North Market in Loudonville is the strongest evangelical church in the area, running around 400 in worship during the school year. I was there in August when they had more than 300. It is a great church! Thoroughly contemporary, they are connecting with all ages. I met a couple of old friends who remembered me. I briefly met the lead pastor, Rob Paterson. He is an excellent preacher and doing an outstanding job of ministry!
My grandsons enjoyed being there as much as I did. The church was filled with young people. It was rewarding to see!
Although I taught the entire Old Testament book of Judges to a college class in India, this summer was the first time in 38 years of ministry that I have preached a Sunday morning series on the life of Samson. What a fascinating character!
If any of us today were to do what Samson did, we would be in all kinds of trouble! Although his life was dedicated to God, he seems to have had a weakness for women. He violated Scripture in falling first for a Philistine woman as his wife. Later he spends the night with a prostitute. And then he falls for Delilah.
Samson clearly violated all three tenants of the Nazarite vow – not to touch a dead body, not to drink wine or strong drink, and not to permit a razor to cut his hair. And his failure to keep the Nazarite vow and to follow the Word of God cost him dearly. He was somewhat of a tragic figure, and yet he is a great hero of the Hebrew faith – and is listed in the New Testament “Hall of Fame of Faith” in Hebrews, chapter 11.
Samson was an amazing individual. Each time he fell spiritually, he would repent, confess his sins and “get right” with God. And God would forgive him and use him again. Yet Samson’s usefulness was limited by his lack of obedience.
We can learn a number of lessons from Samson:
- Greater privilege brings greater responsibility. One of the reason God seems to forgive and to bless Samson is that he had no help – no mentors, no teachers, no supporters, etc. You and I have much greater privilege, so God may expect us to respond commensurately.
- We need to learn to live by principle. To do so would have kept Samson out of a lot of trouble.
- Our “flesh” can defeat us. The New Testament says, “Take heed you that think you stand, lest you fall.” We are all vulnerable to temptation.
- We need to be careful not to trust in our own power, which is the result of pride. Samson was a powerful man, but he tended to get in trouble by depending on his human power even when God’s power departed him.
- It is never too late to turn to God. Thank God we serve “the God of the second chance.” Late in life God’s power returned to Samson even after he had messed up!
The media and public consternation over Russell Wilson’s comments about God comforting him after he lost the Super Bowl is silly. He is being totally taken out of context and misunderstood.
Wilson is an evangelical Christian who is the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. They lost the Super Bowl after he threw an interception near the end of the game. He says that God immediately spoke to him to let him know that He was still using him and that what would be important now was how he responded to the adversity of losing.
To listen to the media and the fan posts and blogs, you would think that Wilson was claiming to have seen a vision from Heaven informing him that God had been the cause of his Super Bowl loss. What nonsense!
It is very common in the evangelical world to say that “God spoke to me.” God has “spoken” to me any number of times through the years. Never have I heard a voice. Only once were the words explicitly spoken to my mind. My pastor, who is now in heaven, used to say all the time, “God told me…” What he meant – and what Russell Wilson meant – was that he had an impression in his heart of what the Spirit of God was leading him to do or think.
Such impressions are especially true when we face adversity. Wilson was not claiming that God caused the Super Bowl loss. Wilson is saying in facing the crestfallen adversity of losing, God immediately encouraged his heart – by impressing upon him that what is important now is how you (Wilson) respond to adversity – because people are watching. They want to see if you are a hypocrite who only praises God on the field when you win. Or is your faith real when you lose? Would God give any of us such an impression? Certainly.
What Wilson said is common in the Christian experience. It is logical. It is not odd. The only thing odd has been the widespread reaction to Wilson’s comments by people who really do not understand the world of faith in which Christians like Wilson live on an everyday basis.
And if the truth be known – many of the critics are probably targeting Wilson the same way they criticized Tim Tebow, because Wilson has recently stated publicly that he and his fiancé are saving a sexual relationship for marriage. Now, that stuns the world in which we live!