“Believing the Fact, I surrender to God in simple faith, making no promises but merely asking for his aid.”The Charter of the Samson Society
I’m a lousy dancer, and for good reason. I grew up thinking dancing was a sin, or at least a pre-sin. Like going to the movies, dancing was one of those worldly activities that real Christians shun because it leads inevitably to sex. My parents—who may have danced quite a bit, given the size of our family—prohibited us from attending any function where dancing might be committed. They even sent a note to the school office each year stipulating that their children were to be excused from square dancing in gym class. In my capacity as class president I helped plan many school dances, but I never attended any of them. On the night of the senior prom, while my classmates were preening in tuxes and gowns, I was quaffing Hi-C punch and exchanging testimonies with gingham-clad Christian girls at the junior-senior banquet in the church fellowship hall. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
To Dance, Or Not To Dance?
Since leaving home I have broken nearly every other childhood taboo with gusto, but I have not yet disentangled myself from the dancing inhibition. No matter how happy or romantic I feel, I just cannot get my body to cooperate. Do I wanna dance? Yes! Can I? Lord knows I’ve tried. At joyous family occasions like my daughter’s wedding and my wife’s birthday party, I’ve taken the woman I love in my arms and swept her absolutely nowhere. The best I can manage is a slowly rotating cheek-to-cheek clinch, performed with acute embarrassment.
My friend Steve, who belongs to a ballroom dancing club, insists that I can learn to dance. He says it’s really easy once you learn the basic steps. One two three, one two three, one two three, turn. And thanks to my experience in the Samson Society, I’m almost ready to let Steve teach me.
“Everything I was I carry with me, everything I will be lies waiting on the road ahead.”Ma Jian
My recent life journey has taught me that the expanding life of Christian liberty, the ongoing process of emancipation that the Bible calls “sanctification,” is not a death march to holiness. No, it’s a dance—a beautiful and intoxicating dance that God leads. For people who are accustomed to marching, the rhythm of the dance feels very awkward at first. Most of us trip and fall a lot in the beginning, but eventually we catch on. The secret of staying on our feet, we learn, is described in the first stage of the Path. It consists of three simple steps. Believe, surrender, ask. Repeat. One two three, one two three, one two three, turn.
The Samson Society charter opens with a seven-point statement of faith we call “the Fact.” We read this simple summary of the gospel aloud at every meeting, reminding ourselves of Christianity’s bedrock beliefs. God exists. He created us for a purpose. I deliberately rejected him, but God did not reject me. Christ has brought me back to God. I am now God’s restored son, and he is using even my weaknesses to bring his purposes to pass.
During my years of active addiction, I did not believe the Fact. Even though I grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday school, I did not believe that He loved me unconditionally. Because I did not fathom my own rebellious heart or recognize God’s relentless pursuit of it, I constantly begged forgiveness that was already mine, foolishly promising to “pay God back” with a life of pure obedience if He would give me just one more push, one more chance to redeem myself. For me, the life of moral improvement was exhausting. It’s hard work, being your own savior, and I could never finish the job. I wanted to please God, but I kept getting stuck. Even when I did break loose and lurch forward in a spurt of “spiritual progress,” I’d invariably wind up, days later, back in the same familiar rut, cursing myself for my stupidity. Would I never get it right?
Superstition and religion tell me that God responds to me. God is powerful, to be sure, but I am the real center of the universe, because God’s actions are predicated upon mine. Religion and superstition say that I can make God dance by being good, and that by being bad I can force him from the floor.
“God is powerful, to be sure, but I am the real center of the universe, because God’s actions are predicated upon mine.“Nate Larkin
The gospel says something entirely different. The gospel says that God always leads. He is always the initiator, and his actions are always loving. The gospel says that we love because God loved us first. For those of us in the Samson Society, the “Path that leads to godliness and freedom” begins with faith in an objective Fact. The ability to recognize and believe that Fact comes as a gift from God. It reaches each of us by personal revelation, like a heavenly visitor arriving at the perfect time, and it inevitably produces surrender.
In April of 1944, the battered remnants of Germany’s vaunted military machine were trapped in Berlin. Their earlier invasion of the Soviet Union had taken more than 3 million Soviet lives before ending in failure, and the bloodiness of that campaign had given the Soviets an insatiable appetite for revenge. Now, as the Third Reich toppled on the brink of collapse, 2.5 million Soviets were advancing against Berlin on three fronts, and they were moving fast. A wave of panic swept through the German capital.
The Nazis knew that the Western Allies, under the command of General Eisenhower, had been moving toward Berlin from the west, but the Americans had halted on the far side of the Elbe. Now, as the encircling Soviets blasted the city with the fiercest artillery bombardment in history, German troops launched a desperate bid to break through the Soviet lines and reach the Americans. The Germans finally understood that they were finished as a fighting force. Surrender was inevitable. Only one question remained—to whom would they surrender? Would they capitulate to the enemy who hated them and had sworn to exact vengeance, or would they surrender to another power whose ultimate intentions were more benign? Defeated German soldiers ran toward the Americans, submitting to them with gratitude and unfeigned relief.
Most of us are slow to recognize that we have lost the war against our besetting sin. We deceive ourselves about the progress of that war, taking false comfort in inconsequential successes, distracting ourselves with elaborate battle plans and issuing orders to internal forces we cannot control. Our losses continue to mount, affecting everyone around us, but we ignore them. We imagine that we are “fighting the good fight” against sin, but the battle is already lost. All that remains is the formality of surrender—and the opportunity, the wondrous alternative, of surrendering to God instead.
“The Bible was not given for our information, but our transformation“D.L. Moody
Until we grasp the magnitude of our defeat, the prospect of surrendering to God is distasteful to us. We recoil at the thought of giving up, fearing a loss of our imagined liberty, and we frantically carry on our feeble resistance. But on that great and awful day when the inner defensive ring finally collapses, we fall toward God exhausted, and there to our inexpressible relief we find welcome instead of rebuke, dignity instead of shame, and life instead of death.
I made a lot of trips to the altar in my early life, often while the piano played “I Surrender All.” I always thought I was surrendering, but I wasn’t. I was negotiating.
My time at the rail always ended with a pledge. I’d sing something like, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll be what you want me to be,” and I’d mean every word of it. In that moment I somehow believed that all my previous broken promises to God had resulted from imperfect understanding or a lack of resolve. But now the situation had changed. The preacher had shown me the truth, and God was offering me a second chance. I finally knew what to do, and I was determined to do it from now on. “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll be what you want me to be.”
I have found that for short stretches of time I can convince myself that I am being faithful to God if I define faithfulness in terms of only one behavior. If I decide that holiness consists of not drinking, for example, I can feel pretty good about myself as long as I don’t drink. Even though I treat drinkers with contempt and sin against love in a thousand other ways, I can swagger through the streets and parade into the temple with my head held high, noisily thanking God that “I am not like other men.”
Self-righteousness, however, is a double-edged sword. If I have reduced holiness to a single behavior, then I am standing on one leg. One slip and I am nothing again, absolutely useless. Either way, the commandments of the gospel mean nothing to me. I do not hear “Love your wife” or “Love your enemies” or “Love your neighbors as you love yourself.” I only hear “Don’t drink.”
“Only when we are strong enough to face the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.“Brene Brown
God, in his grace, has used addiction to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.
As a Christian, I am perpetually reduced to the role of a supplicant. No more can I offer God a bargain, his favor in exchange for my faithfulness, or go toe-to-toe with Him, demanding payment for years of service. But when I approach him humbly, as a restored prodigal son, he responds with overwhelming generosity to my requests for aid. No fancy prayers are required. In fact, God finds fancy prayers repugnant. He loves it, however, when I acknowledge my need and my belief in his benevolence with a simple one-word prayer.
Excerpted from my book – Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood