What’s Next?

2 Sam 1-2, 1 Chr 11, Ps 96 & 106, Acts 21

America is the land of opportunity.  Anything is possible here.  You have the freedom to choose who to be and how to do it.  And, we have all chosen.  Some of us choose success, while others will choose family and children.  Still others will commit to community service, political power, or maybe leisure and pleasure.  What have you chosen?

Its easy to look back upon our lives and evaluate choices that we have made.  From some, we brim with pride while others bring deep regret.  Looking backward is easy.  Looking forward requires a bit more courage.  But, we all have to ask “what’s next?”  What will mark the next 10, 20 or 30 years of your life?  Will you choose exploits in the land of opportunity, or something else?   Before you choose, consider Paul’s response in s in Acts 20.  He says:

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. Acts 20:24 (NLT)

Looking For Answers

1 Samuel 17, 1 Chronicles 2, Acts 12

Being alone with my thoughts is dangerous.  Dangerous, because I am focused on who I am.  While I like who I am, when I am alone, I focus on my shortcomings.  I find myself comparing who I am to who I want to be.  Often, I will compare who I am with who others expect me to be.  Facts are, I fall way short of who I want to be and even shorter of who others expect me to be.  This is why being alone with my thoughts is often destructive.  In the end, alone sends my heart and mind into chaos, replacing my confidence with anxiety and gripped with fear.

Fear and anxiety send me looking for answers.  How do I eliminate it?  My heart longs to be restored.  My quest for restoration leads me to podcasts, books, and videos, attempting to gain understanding from others’ experiences.  Their success, I think, can be my success.  Content creators promise it too.  If I follow these “10 Simple Steps,” for example, I too can convert “fear into fuel.”  This works.  For a minute.  That’s when the excitement and the newness wear off.  I find myself disappointed and distressed, just as I was before.  Alone again, with my thoughts.

In Acts 17, Paul presents the truth differently.  He teaches me not to be alone with my thoughts, but to be together.  Being together with my thoughts, counter-balance’s the world’s wisdom with Truth.  Instead of focusing on who I am, Paul reminds me of who I am created to be.  These are God’s promises.  When I am alone, I forget them.  If, however, I invite God to join me, he is quick to remind me.  First, he says that he will never forsake me.  Then, he tells me about the full life he has ready for me.  Finally, he freely fills me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  These are the building blocks for confidence, blessing, and courage.  As I move through together time, I quickly find that not only is this who God created me to be, it is who I AM.

Acts 17:26-28 (NLT) From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.  For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.

Gold Stars

1 Samuel 6-8, Acts 7

I can still hear the grey-haired lady in the front of the room shrill, “who remembers the memory verse?  I have something special for you.”  This always struck fear into my heart.  She would go around the room having each child recite the memory verse individually.  I never knew it.  But that didn’t get me out of it.  The teacher would help me along, sounding out the first couple of letters prompting me to say the word.

“Th..  Th….  Th….” She would repeat.

Oh “the,” I would say.

“Good Job, BJ.”   “L…. L… Lo…” was next.

“L..Lord,” I replied sheepishly.

“Yes!” she exclaimed.  “The Lord, what….?”

“Is?”

“Good.  The Lord is…. what?” she prompted.

“G…good?”

“Here is your sticker, BJ” she rewarded.

My gut wrenches as I recall it.  It happened every Sunday.  Pure torture.  I couldn’t figure out why I had to know this stuff anyway.  Everyone knows that “the Lord is good” (Psalm 100:5).

If it wasn’t the verses, it was all the people.  I never did understand who came first.  All those Old Testament guys were a blur.  Relief always came when we got to the New Testament because “Jesus” was the answer to every question.  Why do we have to know all this stuff anyway?

I would bet that Stephen was a committed Sunday School student.  He spent the time and energy required to develop a full understanding of the Bible.  He knew the characters by name.  He knew what they did and he knew when they did it.  More importantly, he was able to understand God’s work through each person.  This all happens in Acts 7.  Stephen was arrested and put on trial.  Do you know what he did?  He didn’t preach a sermon or tell an elaborate tale. He did not make threats, or accuse others.  He didn’t even defend himself.  Stephen did one simple thing that he had been preparing his whole life for.  He told God’s story.  In telling God’s story, he illustrated his provision, his deliverance, his salvation, and his love.   I think Stephen deserves a sticker.

God’s story is worth knowing.  Its even worth memorizing.

The Holy Spirit

Judges 17-18, Psalm 21, Acts 1

In Acts 1, the disciples are hanging around Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. While they wait, Jesus comes to them.  He talks with them about the kingdom of God. Talking to the one who died on the cross, brought them hope.  Hope that their dreams of a new life had not ended. In fact, their life with Jesus was very much alive. The disciples could feel the new world order upon them. This was the time that they had waited for. Jesus would now rule the world! Israel will finally be restored and all of God’s promises would now be fulfilled. The Bible explains these promises with words like freedom, liberty, fearlessness and peace, along with promises about healing our physical ailments and living prosperous lives. This was it. Israel will again be on top, the leader of all nations. Let’s go! But, Jesus wasn’t ready. He was holding them back. When they ask when it will happen, he responds, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business” (Acts 1:7, Message). For now, he continues, “you will receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that will enable you to be my witnesses.”

In that moment, upon hearing Jesus’ answer, do you think the disciples were disappointed? Seriously, the victory party they were anticipating seemingly vanished into thin air. No doubt, they did not fully understand. Yet, they remained silent. Consider that their silence is an indication of their acceptance and submission. They trust Jesus with whatever is coming. Or, perhaps their hope is kindled in Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. With his presence, Jesus explains, the disciples will receive power. In Greek, it is called “dynamis.” If you hear our modern words “dynamite” and “dynamic” in there, you are getting the idea. The Holy Spirit brings power that is explosive. His power provides “energy, ability, efficacy, and meaning.” With the Holy Spirit, Jesus explains, the name of Jesus will be extended “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

I readily admit that this scripture reveals my ignorance of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, this American Christian often misuses and misinterprets the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, selfishly claiming His good work for myself.  Similar to the disciples, I want to use this power to reign over all.  If I cannot reign over all, I’ll settle for health and good fortune.  You see, when the Holy Spirit indwells us with the power of God, we can easily use His gifts to get ahead in this world.  According to John Maxwell, this is a defensive posture resulting from focusing on my short life and not on servicing all of God’s creation, extending His rule for eternity.

Contrast that with true Holy Spirit indwelling. Jesus releases the Holy Spirit to us so that we can share God’s love and meaning with the world. Aligning with Him means that I will use my gifts in concert with His vision, not mine. This is what the disciples were able to grasp. They quickly dropped their own pursuits and limited vision in favor of His. As we move through the book of Acts over the next several days, we get to watch the Holy Spirit work through the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The Spirit gives power is both dynamic and explosive in the lives of everyone that the disciples meet. It is the beginning of Jesus’ great vision to take God’s message of love and hope to the ends of the earth.  Today, we continue to carry out this vision.  How are we doing with it?

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan offers several great questions that help us evaluate our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Take some time to consider them.

  • Can you say with confidence—from the depth of your being—that you know God and are known by Him?
  • Do I want to lead, or do I want to be led by the Spirit?
  • How would you be missed if you left this place? What would change? Basically, what difference does your presence here make? Or, as my youth pastor once asked me, what would your church (and the worldwide church) look like if everyone was as committed as you are? If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered? Or would it be weak and listless?

Exactly What To Say

Judges 4-6, Luke 21

To be a successful salesperson, you have to master four things.  The fist is how to generate leads.  Then, you have to follow-up with those leads.  Your follow up allows you to negotiate, which is the third role of a salesperson.  The fourth one might be the most important.  It’s script and role play.  That’s right, knowing exactly what to say and how to say it matters. If you don’t believe me, check out this book by Phil M Jones.  His entire goal is to script salespeople so that that can sell more.  He even titles it “Exactly What To Say.”  It works.  Practicing scripts is a proven way to increase your sales results.

Now, I am perplexed.  All of my training says to prepare, but in Luke 21, Jesus is tells us not to prepare.  He says, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer.” Luke 21:14 (ESV).  My initial reaction to that advice is incredulous.  How could it possibly be better to be unprepared?

I don’t get to ruminate on that for long.  In verse 15, Jesus provides some additional explanation.   Rather than your great script, he says “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  That’s interesting.  Why would I want to be unmeditated and unrehearsed?

It establishes my trust in him

It creates my dependence upon him

It promotes a response from my  Spirit filled heart

It gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to show his power

It ensures that He gets all the glory

Hope, Purpose and Opportunity

Joshua 1-4, Psalm 143, Luke 14

Rahab, lived in Jericho.  The news reports were filled with stories of the Israelites conquests. They even explained a wild tale of the Jordan sea parting and the people walking across on dry land. Then, there were reports of the Israelites destroying people. Not just regular people, they were defeating giants.  They were “as mighty as oaks and as tall as cedars!” according to Amos. How could it be?  The Israelites were puny!  The city Sihon had recently been sacked and the latest reports indicated that Og was utterly destroyed. How was it possible? “God is on their side,” was the only possible explanation. With Og gone, Jericho was the next likely target. Every resident feared the inevitable.

Rahab confirmed the danger as she answered the door to three strangers.  She knew instantly that trouble was imminent. The men standing outside were not locals, they were Israelite and they were coming for Jericho. She was trapped. As a prostitute, Rahab was despised and scorned. Nobody would save her.  Not even God would help her. He was on their side, not hers.

When the men asked for safe harbor, she contemplated the great risk in protecting them. Treason is punishable by death. Even so, she knew that Jericho was doomed. The Israelites will quickly and easily devastate the city. Nothing can stop them. God is on their side. Rahab was quick to spot the difference.

What is your story of God?  If you feel beaten down, there is good news.  Notice how she turned it around.  Through the Israelites, she sees that those with God do not live in fear and oppression, but have purposeful lives filled with opportunities. She confesses to the men, “the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. “ (Joshua 2:11). It’s that simple.

What happened to Rahab? Was her life changed? Was God on her side? Matthew 1:5 tells us that she gave birth to a boy named Boaz. Boaz son fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who sired King David. David, of course, is the predecessor to the King of King’s, Jesus.  Obviously, God honored Rahab’s confession.  He changed her from a slave of the world, facing certain death, and replaced oppression with life. Not just any life, but life worthy of a King’s lineage. Royalty. God was on her side!

There is no other force, no other power, no other name that can compare with the power of God.  Is God on your side?

Substitution

Deuteronomy 12-26, Luke 11

Ronald Reagan started eating Jelly Belly jelly beans as part of his effort to quit smoking. Before becoming President of the United States, Reagan had been a smoker but decided to quit the habit. He found that having something to occupy his mouth could help curb his craving for cigarettes. It wasn’t long before eating jelly beans became a well-known aspect of Reagan’s public persona; he was often seen with a jar of them nearby during his presidency.

Its worth paying attention to what Reagan did.  He knew that choosing to quit smoking wasn’t enough.  By adding a new behavior, he didn’t just remove the old, bad habit, he created a new one.  This new one became part of him.  He was identified by it.

Yes, this is an over-simplification of Jesus in our lives, but the principle holds true.    As Luke 11:15 explains, we can try to clean up our lives all we want but until we invite Jesus in, the change is temporary.  Then, it gets worse.  Only Jesus provides real transformation that changes our behaviors and our identities (John 13:35).

Deuteronomy 1-3, Psalm 36, Luke 5

Rebellion is such a strong word.  I am no rebel.  I mean, rebels have tattoos and piercings and probably ride motorcycles.  They cause trouble everywhere they go creating arguments, disrespecting authority, and private property.  Rebels are bad actors.  We put people like that in jail.  That’s not me.

It’s true, that is not me.  I am much more covert.  My insurgency is cleverly disguised.  I like to complain, for example.  I complain about the resources I have.  Money is a primary one.  That’s why I cannot give more.  Time is another one.  I’m too busy with my kids and my job to serve.  I just don’t have time!  According to Deuteronomy, complaining is rebellion.  It creates arguments and it disrespects authority.

The Israelites had the same problem.  In Deuteronomy 1, we find them at the threshold of the promised land.  God is ready to fulfill all his promises.  He says, “here you go, come on in.”  But, they refused.  Rather than move, they complained about the Amorites.  “They are too big,” they said.  “They will slaughter us” (Deuteronomy 1:26-27).  They took their focus  off of God, convincing themselves that “God must hate us.”

I wonder what would have happened if the Israelites would have just trusted.  I’m sure it would have been better than they could have ever imagined.  That conclusion creates new problems for me though.  If I know it would have been better for them, doesn’t that mean that it would also be better for me?  There is only one way to find out.  Next time I catch myself complaining, I’ll replace it with trust, gratitude, service and giving.

JackAss

Numbers 22-25, Luke 1

As I read today, i wanted to post about Balaam and his donkey, but quickly realized that Jennifer had already done it, brilliantly.  Here is is:

In Numbers 22 yesterday, we were introduced to the Moabite King named Balak.  He was afraid.  Knowing what the Israelites had just finished doing to the Amorites, King Balak and his people were distressed as they looked out and saw thousands of Israelites camped on the plains of Moab.  As any good leader would do, Balak took action.  He sent for Balaam, a “diviner” with an impressive track record, to help him take care of the situation.  “Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6).

I find it interesting that Balaam is not a prophet of God. He is a diviner or sorcerer.  However, God still steps in and provides Balaam instruction.  God tells him not to go with the Moabite princes and not to curse the Israelites because they were God’s chosen people.  Balaam desperately wanted the riches and honor King Balak had promised him.  So he persisted with God, hoping to change God’s mind.  Surprisingly, God compromised and let Balaam go. And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20).  So far so good, Balaam was getting what he wanted (or at least he thought so)!  Here is where it started to get crazy…

Balaam set out on a donkey, but God sent angels to block the way. Balaam was frustrated and beat the donkey because it wasn’t going where he wanted it to go.  THEN, God opened the donkey’s mouth and he started talking to Balaam!  (What, a talking donkey?  This sounds like a bad television show.)  After the donkey made Balaam feel bad for the beating, God opened Balaam’s eyes to see an angel of God standing in the donkey’s way.  Balaam fell on his face.  While he offered to change direction / to turn back and not go to meet King Balak, the angel affirmed God’s earlier instruction, “And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word I tell you (Numbers 22:35).  So far so good, Balaam is still getting what he wants!

When we get to Numbers 23, Balaam has King Balak set up alters and offer sacrifices to God. But the outcome was not a curse on the Israelites like King Balak requested.  Rather, having to speak the words God instructed, Balaam blessed the people of Israel.  Four times King Balak requested a curse and received a blessing in return.  By the end of Numbers 24, Balaam and Balak part ways.

This story is hard to follow. I’ll admit, a talking donkey is kind of weird and somewhat entertaining, but what is God teaching us with this story?  Remember – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  A few key lessons to consider:

  • God is sovereign – The plans of influential and powerful men, like King Balak, will not prosper without the Lord’s permission. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand, (Proverbs 19:21).
  • God uses a variety of means to accomplish his purpose – In Numbers 22-24, God used both a pagan sorcerer and a talking donkey to accomplish his plan. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”, (Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • Outward appearances aren’t enough – Balaam gave the impression he was God’s prophet; he had King Balak build alters and offer sacrifices to God; he spoke God’s words of blessing on the Israelites. But make no mistake about it, he was clearly in it for himself. Later in Numbers, we will see Balaam wreak more havoc on the Israelites. Unfortunately he never truly put his faith in God.  For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

This last key lesson is where I think the rubber meets the road for many of us.  Remember, God’s plan for salvation requires us to take action. …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved, (Romans 10:9-10). It isn’t enough to be a good person, to go to Church, to say the right things, to “hang out” with God and to sound godly.  God requires more. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8-11).

God requires our hearts.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).

With Faith, or By Faith?

Numbers 1-2, Psalm 64, Hebrews 11-12

Most of the time I live with faith.  When I live with faith, it is my companion and my friend.  Because I believe that God is who he says he is, I am confident. Knowing that he can do what he says he can do, I am comforted.  I know nothing can hurt me. I am safe and secure.  All of this occurs because I live with faith.  But, something is missing.  When I survey my life, I wonder if this is all there is.  Don’t you sometimes get that feeling that you are missing something?  That you were created to do something greater?

Hebrews 11 gives us a different picture of faith.  In fact, Paul does not talk about living with faith at all.  Instead, he talks about living by faith.  They are different.  When I am living with faith, I am driving my actions.  When I live by faith, however, God is driving my action,s and when God drives our actions, the impossible is possible.  Consider these examples given by Paul:

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did Hebrews 11:4 (NLT).

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat Hebrews 11:7 (NLT)

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land Hebrews 11:8 (NLT)

It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child Hebrews 11:11 (NLT)

What is the major difference living by faith?  Action.  I think that is why most of us would rather live with faith.  With faith, I can stay in my comfort zone, free of fear, uncertainty and self-doubt.