“His name was Samson, the long-haired strong man who took Nazarite vows, the last and most famous of the Old Testament judges, the warrior who slew the lion with his bare hands and a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.  But his storied life ended in prison, his hair shaved, his eyes gouged out, weak, blind, dependent, little more than a child” (italics added).  In my last Salvation Story post I mentioned that I would like to spend a few blogs pondering the beautiful, excruciating memoir of Brennan Manning — All is Grace.

Brennan’s memoir ends with this telling of the Old Testament story of Samson — a story that always piqued my interest as a child.  I was scandalized by Samson’s hippy hairdo and by Delilah’s seductive ways.  The way I envisioned them, they would have fit perfectly in an Abercrombie & Fitch commercial!  I liked the ending when Samson finally found his cajones, pulled down the pillars, and brought the house down.  The ending turned all that failure into a success story and I envisioned Samson as a beat-up, bedraggled, blind Rambo who overcame the consequences of his tryst with the bad girl, Delilah.

Reading the account of this story in All is Grace gave me pause to think more deeply about this man who at one time had the world in his hands.  He certainly had the “X factor” that pop culture is making a contest of searching for today.  And then he blew it.  Big time.  He sinned, gave into the flesh, turned away from his faith, backslid, chose darkness, or whatever phrase you might have for completly messing up.  Samson ended up blind, powerless, outcast, branded by shame.  He was a failure.  Wasn’t he?

After talking to a few people about Brennan’s memoir, one friend said, “So he really ended in failure!”  Did he?  He is blind, living alone with a caretaker who comes in a few times a day, very limited in his capabilities – due in part to the consequences of chronic alcoholism.   At one point in the memoir Brennan laments, “What makes a man drown himself in drink to the point that he passes out and misses his own mother’s funeral?”    Wow!

Is salvation a success story because God rescues us from the ravages of sin, sets us on the Rock of His eternal security, and equips us to love and serve and give until the day He brings us Home, runs to meet us, wraps His arms around us and proclaims, “Well done my good and faithful servant!”  That certainly has been the Salvation Story I’ve envisioned during times when I memorized Bible verses, invited friends to church, put more than a tithe in the offering plate, and returned the extra seventy-five cents when the grocery clerk refurnded me too much change.

I really would love to hear from you.  What is a succesful Salvation Story?  What does it mean about the story when we end up incompacitated by our failures with time running out for us to prove that we can do better?  The miserable thief received salvation by trusting Jesus in his last gasping breaths.  I think we all love that Salvation Story.  We’re a little more troubled by the thoughts that Ted Bundy might be a salvation success if he trusted with only minutes to spare.  I suspect that none of us have a lot in common with the thief on the cross or the sex offender in his prison cell, but we might more easily identify with Samson, tripped up by sin and set aside from further leadership opportunities.   And even more of us can find common ground with Brennan when he confesses at the beginning of the book, “This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not.” 

We are all in the middle of Salvation Stories, some of us further along than others, some feeling good about where we are, and others feeling not so good.  But I think it might be important for us to identify what makes a successful Salvation Story.  Is it someone who gets sober, starts preaching, stops lying, begins giving . . . and what does that mean for the person who relapses, doesn’t feel like reading her Bible, can’t tell the truth about what he did last week, or carefully hoards every cent he makes in his growing bank account so there’s nothing left for the offering?

I do think Samson’s story and Brennan’s give us some clues about what makes a successful Salvation Story, but before I share the clues I’ve been thinking about, I’d love for you to think about it and maybe share your own thoughts.  And while you’re thinking about it, ask yourself were you a success today?  Or a failure?  And how do you decide?

When your reading of this blog ends, or this hour ends, or day, or month, or year . . . . or life, will you be a failure or sucess?  And why?  I think it’s an important question to ponder and to find our own answers to, because it just might reveal the meaning of our lives.  And when I get done with eight or so hours of work, paying my bills, meeting friends for coffee, and watching Modern Family, I need to know what my life means.  I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this, and I will try to write my own in this next blog.  Since I have long ago given up the idea that success means following the money rules of Suzie Orman, the decorating tips of Martha Stewart, the parenting rules of Raising Kids God’s Way, the food/exercise plans of Bob & Jillian, the spiritual principles of Bill Gothard, or the living your best life tips of Dr. Phil or Oprah, I think it’s good to ponder what successful living and thus, ending well might mean. 

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash. . . .Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. . . . By  no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus” (Philippians 3, The Message).