In November 0f 1998, I began a sermon that had been percolating in my mind for a few days. It was going to be a message about Samson, the Judge from the Old Testament. If you’ve attended Sunday School or VBS, you know who I mean, the dude with the long hair who was betrayed by Delilah. Sound familiar?
I had heard the song “My Way” on the radio; I’m not sure if it was Sinatra or Elvis singing, although I’m positive it wasn’t the Sid Vicious version. You know the song, it begins:
And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
I saw it through, without exemption.
Just a few things that I didn’t know about the song, it was written by Canadian songwriter and singer Paul Anka for Frank Sinatra. It became Sinatra’s signature song and the song that he’s best known for.
Sinatra’s daughter Tina said that he came to hate the song, “He didn’t like it. That song stuck, and he couldn’t get it off his shoe. He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.” And I thought, well yeah, that was the entire point of the song.
And although I had heard the song many times, this time it kind of stuck, and I thought that would make a great sermon about Samson. At that point, I had been preaching for 19 years and had never preached on Samson. The closest I had ever come was by defending not getting a haircut once by saying the only time a haircut was mentioned in the bible, the guy went blind.
And I thought a great place to start would be to reread Samson’s story; it had been a while. It was only three chapters in the books of Judges. And as I read, I just shook my head.
I had always thought of Samson as one of the great heroes of the faith, I had certainly read the story before, but this time I was gobsmacked.
That was when I was much less politically correct than I am now. And I thought this guy was a kook, an absolute head case. At the very best, Samson was a Psychopath and the worst, a sociopath. And so, I preached on something else that week.
This is week 2 of our mental health series at Cornerstone. When we were planning our Spring schedule, the preaching team thought with all that had been going on for the past year that this would be a timely subject.
So, if you were here or at Windgate last week, we looked at Elijah’s story and what we could learn about depression from the story. And we looked at how there were several needs that needed to be met in Elijah’s life. Spiritual, physical, emotional, and social needs.
Sometimes, it is easy to see folks dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety and feel empathy and even sympathy for them.
I concluded my message on depression with a quote from British comedian Stephen Fry. Fry wrote, “It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
But what about those mental health issues that make a person really unlikeable? When the unscientific diagnosis is that they are jerks, or worse?
The story of Samson begins in the passage that was read for us earlier, Judges 13:2–5 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”
It was such a great beginning, and then the next three chapters chronicle some of his bad behaviour. He lies, he cheats, he kills massive amounts of people and today he would be branded a racist and misogynist, which would be pretty accurate.
In Science Daily, we read, “According to Dr. Eric Altschuler, Samson exhibited six out seven criteria for diagnosis of ASPD (antisocial personality disorder) (as identified by the American Psychiatric Association in its diagnostic bible, the DSM-IV) and a person need only manifest three of the seven criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder.”
On the other hand, Author Fred Smith wrote, “Samson may be our first total narcissist in Scripture. He exhibits all the characteristics. Narcissists misjudge their own importance and consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights and privileges. When opposed, they are furious and blame everyone around them. They infuriate other people and excessive pride in their own accomplishments causes others to work even harder – just to cut them down and see them humiliated. While thinking themselves sophisticated and shrewd, they are actually more gullible than the average person. They are betrayed by the very people they think they can trust. Finally, they believe they are destined for greatness and when crossed they react with revenge and violence – even at the risk of their own lives.”
And while Smith is no more a mental health professional than I am, his view fits with the symptoms
Symptoms of this Narcissism, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association) include:
Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
Envies others and believes others envy him/her
Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
Is arrogant in attitudes and behaviour
Has expectations of special treatment by others because of who he is
Yep, that sure sounds like Samson.
The term Narcissistic means “love of self” and it comes from a Greek myth about the young hunter Narcissus. Narcissus was known for his beauty and he was his own biggest fan.
One day while walking by a pool he saw his own reflection in the water and not realizing that it was just a reflection he fell in love with it.
Unable to pull himself away from his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live and he stared at his reflection until he died.
Now understand, it has been noted that these symptoms can be similar to the traits of people with strong self-esteem and confidence. The difference is how those traits are acted on. Narcissists don’t just see themselves as good as other people, they have such an elevated sense of self-worth that they inherently see themselves as better than others.
Psychologist, Dr. Sam Gerson writes, “The Myth of Samson is analyzed as a cautionary tale about the destructive consequences of believing that one’s special endowments create invincibility.”
And Charles Spurgeon wrote, “His (Samson’s) whole life is a scene of miracles and follies.”
And that’s all well and good, but what is the answer to the all-important question: So what?
I would suspect that there is someone listening to the message today, either in person or online, who struggles with this very issue, or is in a relationship with someone who does, or you have a loved one who does.
And again, as I said last week, I am not a mental Health Professional, so if you are dealing with this, you need to find professional help.
So, let’s start with Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
You Will Need to Recognize Your Problem
Like all of life, until you identify your problem, you can’t work on your problem. If you are familiar with any of the 12-step programs, then you are familiar with step one: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Why is recognizing our problem so critical?
When challenged about why he associated with those who the religious establishment of his day considered to be sinners, Jesus responded by saying, Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
But sick people need to acknowledge that they are sick and need a doctor. We all know of someone who ignored warning signs and died because they wouldn’t admit they were sick.
So, researchers studying narcissistic traits rely on a 40-question survey in which people get to choose from one or two options.
For example, “I prefer to blend in with the crowd” versus “I like to be the centre of attention” or “The thought of ruling the world frightens me” versus “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place”.
Recently, researchers have discovered that Narcissists are self-aware, and the answer to one question usually correlates to the longer survey, and that question is, “To what extent do you agree with the statement, ‘I am a narcissist?
But like any other problem, until you acknowledge that there’s a problem, then the solution is irrelevant. I have met folks who suffer from mental illness and others who seem to enjoy it.
Let’s keep going.
Romans 7:14–17 . . . The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is a sin living in me that does it.
Don’t Let it be Your Excuse
The biggest lie that people tell others and themselves is, “I can’t help myself.”
I can’t control my eating; I can’t help myself. I can’t control my drinking; I can’t help myself. I’m addicted to cigarettes; I can’t help myself. I’m addicted to sex; I can’t help myself. I’m a narcissist; I can’t help myself.
And that is a lie of the devil. Because if you are a Christian, you don’t have to help yourself; you have the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.
A favourite scripture for many people is found in Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Now I don’t want to burst your bubble, but this doesn’t mean you can do everything and anything.
You won’t be able to fly; chances are you won’t win the Boston Marathon or any marathon, for that matter. My lifelong dream of being an Olympic pole vaulter is still out of reach.
But what it does mean is that if God requires something of you, then you will be able to do it through the strength he gives you. And so, you can say no to your addictions, you can say no to your sinful habits, you can say no to narcissistic behaviour. Maybe not in your strength, but he never asked you to do it in your own strength.
If you’ve read the story, then you know that it comes down to the point where Samson has been captured, blinded by the Philistines, and this is his prayer, Judges 16:28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. . .”
It was only at the end of his life that we actually see Samson asking for help from God. This leads us to the next point.
Judges 16:31 . . . Samson had judged Israel for twenty years.
Don’t let the Label Define You
At this point in the history of Israel, they were ruled by judges, some judges were good, and some were bad.
From his conception, Samson was consecrated to God; his life was to have a purpose; he was to rule and deliver the nation from the oppression of the Philistines.
Remember, in the scripture that was read earlier it says this about Samson’s birth, Judges 13:24–25 When her son was born, she named him Samson. And the Lord blessed him as he grew up. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him . . .
Did you catch that, the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him, and yet in the entire story of Samson, it is only mentioned that he prayed twice and nowhere do we read about him worshipping God.
As a matter of fact, we know nothing about how he ruled Israel, the bible doesn’t tell us whether he was a good judge, a bad judge or a mediocre judge. His 20 years, governing Israel is summed up simply as a litany of his bad behaviour.
Fred Smith, when describing Samson’s story wrote these words, “What I discovered was a new way of looking at what it might mean to live a consecrated—but empty—life.”
In my forty years of Pastoring, I’ve witnessed the fall of several high-profile Christian leaders, and their entire ministry, all the good they’ve accomplished, everything they were able to accomplish for the kingdom was eclipsed by their Narcissistic behaviour. Leaders who lived a consecrated but empty lives, whose entire ministry at the end of the story was defined by their bad behaviour.
But it doesn’t have to end like that.
Romans 8:12-14 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
You Will Need to Want to Change No, that’s not right. For years I wanted to lose weight, and then one day I chose to lose weight. I know people who want to change, but never do. Wanting to is like wishing you would, and as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
So, it’s not simply wanting to change, You Will Need to Choose to Change
According to the Mayo Clinic website, there are no medications specifically used to treat narcissistic personality disorder. It goes on to say that they only solution is psychotherapy or talk therapy. I hate to disagree with the Mayo Clinic, but I think life transformation is another solution.
2 Corinthians 5:17–18 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
But it’s not that simple, if it was life would be so easy. Become a Christian and without any effort we become a wonderful human being.
Listen to what Jesus told those who wanted to follow him, Luke 9:23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.
How often did Jesus say we’d have to take up our cross and follow him? Daily.
So, choosing to live a holy obedient life isn’t something that’s done once, it’s something you have to do every day.
Jesus knew that if our Christian life was going to be successful, then it needs to be an ongoing commitment. And it starts each day when you give your day to God and reaffirm your commitment to live in obedience to His will for your life.
We would like to think that in that one moment, when our sins are forgiven, that we experience God’s grace and are born again, becoming a new creation. And that is all true, what isn’t true is that all our struggles and flaws will disappear at that moment in time. That magically, we will begin to exhibit the fruit of the spirit. You remember what the fruit of the spirit are, right?
They are described and defined in Galatians 5:22–23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
And we’re all in on that, we want the Holy Spirit to produce that kind of fruit in our lives, and then we are discouraged and disappointed when he doesn’t. And the problem is often the case with scripture; we don’t put it in context.
Sometimes we start reading too soon and don’t see what goes before, and other times we stop reading too soon and we don’t see what comes after.
Let’s keep reading in Galatians, Galatians 5:24–26 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
It is our choice to nail and passions and the desires of our sinful nature to his cross and to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. And the bible talks about us maturing in our faith that we begin as children and have to grow up. And growing up as a Christian is no more instantaneous than growing from an infant to an adult is in our physical lives.
I’m going to venture into an opinion here that should infuriate everyone here and everyone watching online, in one way or another. It’s not often I get a chance to do that.
I think Donald Trump is a Narcissist. And I think there are many people out there who would label him with even less flattering labels. Labels that they would never think of attaching to people who are suffering from other mental illnesses, whether it be depression, anxiety or bipolar.
And to be fair I think Richard Nixon was a narcissist as well, and before you jump to the conclusion that it’s a Republican thing, the label can also be affixed to Bill Clinton, John F Kennedy and Justin Trudeau.
There, I’ve just alienated half of you, and affirmed the other half.
Let’s see if I can fix that. I think, based on what I’ve read, what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen, you ready for this, hang onto your seats. I think that Donald Trump is a Christian.
And just like that, there goes the other half.
I believe that very early in his administration that he made a decision to become a Christ follower.
I think he’s a very immature Christian and that he is a Christian struggling with carnal and sinful behaviour. Just think of how you behaved when you first became a believer, but you weren’t President, and all your dumb sinful mistakes weren’t on display for the world, and you didn’t have twitter.
I am not a Donald Trump fan, and I’m not excusing his behaviour. Indeed, I think that he could have chosen to let the Spirit have control of his life and daily have taken up his cross, but that isn’t what he chose to do.
Do I think Donald Trump will be in heaven? If he has accepted Christ’s forgiveness and grace most certainly, because if God can’t forgive Donald Trump, then God can’t forgive Denn Guptill and God can’t forgive you.
And really, what God requires of narcists is what God requires of each of us as Christ’s followers, and that isn’t a long list of rules that we need to follow.
One day an expert in the religious law asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. And Jesus replied by saying Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied,” ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
And when you are loving God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself, you will be on the right path.