"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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)
Those verses from Isaiah chapter 55 are both significant and powerful! At this New Year's season, I want to draw on them and on chapter 16 of the Book of Acts in the New Testament as I share some heartfelt thoughts here. If it would not take up so much space, I'd "cut and paste" Acts chapter 16 here, but that would be too much, so I'll let you look at that on your own.
I have grown children who are very talented when it comes to acting and theater. My daughter Rachel has a Bachelor's degree in Theater Arts and longs to be doing something full-time in that field but for now her job at a major insurance company pays the bills. Rachel is involved with several community theater groups, both acting and directing. A few weeks ago, she had a part in "Annie" in Needham. Part of that show is a mention of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal". That was the inspiration for my title, "Different Deal in the New Year". I know some people may not care for the word "deal" so you can use "Different Ball Game" or some other such title- the intent and effect are the same. Bob Dylan had a song on his first Christian album way back in 1979 entitled, "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking". It's a typical Dylan type of song, but in my opinion, it's got a really good message. So many of us are Christians, but so much of our thinking comes from the world, the flesh, and even the devil; frankly it harms us and holds us back!
My dear friend Ed Duddy was once told that he has a "sanctified imagination". I believe, I have a "sanctified imagination", as well! I know this may sound really crazy, but just use your imagination here: Imagine that Jesus Christ brought you to a special meeting in Heaven, way back before He was born in Bethlehem. I know, that's pretty wild, but just imagine it. He asks you to be part of a committee to help Him decide what things He will do in His ministry on earth.
"Now, for my first miracle," He announces, "here's what I'm thinking. My disciples and I will be at a wedding in a small village where pretty much everybody in the village is present. They've not planned well, and they run out of wine early. I have some servants fill up six large stone waterpots with water; then I miraculously change the water into wine! It will be some of the best wine anybody's ever tasted! What do you think of that?"
What would you think; what would you say? Honestly, I'd probably say something like, "Please, Lord, do you know what a big issue all that 'Jesus drinking wine' stuff is gonna be for twentieth and twentieth-first century pastors? There's the constant matter of 'I can drink wine because Jesus drank wine!' Please consider something else! And, what about the thing that they didn't plan well for the wedding?!"
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I think that's what I'd say. Then imagine Jesus bringing up something else (that also happens to be in John chapter 2 for you Bible scholars out there).
"Let's look at a different matter. There will be a serious problem with animals being sold at the Temple to be used as sacrifices and with moneychangers cheating the people who came to the Temple. I'm thinking of making a whip, going in there, flipping their tables over, swinging the whip around, and throwing the moneychangers out! What do you think of that?!"
I can just hear myself saying, "Oh, Lord, pastors are always trying to tell people to tone things down and be civil. How are we going to explain that one in our Bible studies?!"
I suspect a lot of other pastors would give similar answers to Jesus Christ that I've given here. But, my observations are frankly all wrong! It's human thinking and reasoning; it may sound good, but it's not of God!! I deliberately used those examples to make my point: So often our thinking and living is so far afield of what God wants it to be! (Read that passage from Isaiah again!)
I want to get into the "meat" of this piece now, and it's found in Acts chapter 16. This was part of Paul's Second Missionary Journey. Please don't fall asleep or stop reading here! This is very powerful and important stuff. The only part of Acts 16 that I'm not going to deal with is Timothy being circumcised in the first few verses- it's just too much to go into at this time. Let's look, however, at FIVE AREAS from Acts chapter 16 that are very important for us to consider! GOD WANTS YOU TO BE OPEN TO A "DIFFERENT DEAL" AS IT WERE IN YOUR WALK WITH GOD! GET OUT OF GOD'S WAY! YOU CAN BE A NEW YOU IN THE NEW YEAR!
1. DIFFERENT COURSE.
Notice Acts 16 verses 6-10. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were setting out from what we would call "central Turkey" to bring the Gospel to new areas. There are two places that they seriously considered going to, but they got a strong impression from the Holy Spirit to not go into "Asia" or "Bithynia". Doesn't that seem strange?! I have a pastor friend who believes the Holy Spirit said this because there were already Christians in those places. I honestly don't agree with that. I don't think there were Christians there, but the Holy Spirit said, "Don't go there!". If you were Paul and his companions, what would you have done? Many of us would have said, "That's got to be the devil! I'm going in!" Do modern Christians do things like that? In my opinion, yes and fairly often. Listen, I've done that! If they had gone to Asia or Bithynia, would God have done some good things and would there have been some fruit of their ministry? I honestly belive: yes. But, they would have settled for far less than God had for them! Read James chapter 4:13-16 about human thinking and planning and how flawed it can be. Jesus said in John 10:27 that His sheep hear His voice. How we need to learn to hear the Lord and what He is saying to us! This will save us from a lot of heartache! In fact, Paul next had a vision of a man of Macedonia (northern Greece) saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" and that's exactly what they did.
2. DIFFERENT PROTOCOL.
"Protocol" is the proper way things are done. Paul had a certain protocol when he went into a major city on a missions trip. He always went to the synagogue for several weeks and ministered. Usually, he'd gain a number of converts, but he'd also make a lot of enemies and be driven out of the synagogue and then would go and preach and teach somewhere else. Paul also seems to have especially been drawn to men. In verses 11-15, we see that at Philippi, a major city, there was no synagogue. This was very unusual. Instead, there was a group of women who met for prayer by the riverside, led by a businesswoman named Lydia. This was not typical. I wonder if Paul, Silas and Timothy wondered what had gone wrong...if they wondered, "What about the man Paul saw in the vision?" I wonder if they thought they had missed God's plan somehow. Honestly, I would have wondered about this stuff. It's said that New Englanders hate change. My experience is that's true. And, in New England churches, we often resist change, saying, "But we've never done it that way before!" Listen, I hate change! I'm one of the worst. I like to be very rigid and do everything a certain way. I remember that years ago I insisted on teaching my Adult Sunday School class exactly a certain way. I was not open to suggestions or change at all. Finally, a couple of people really pressed me to begin offering video classes and becoming more of a facilitator and less of a lecturer. Initially, I hated it. However, the class became much better, and we ended up doing a lot more of these type classes! I also like to have the same work schedule each week. I currently work a secular job where my work hours change each week! Do you think I like that? Well, I don't, but sometimes we have to be open to changes God wants to make in our churches and in our lives!
3. DIFFERENT RESPONSE.
Would you be described as a "moody" person? I am ashamed to admit it, but I am often a moody person. I am still "under construction" in that area. At Philippi, there was a slave girl who was demon possessed. She brought her owners big money from fortune-telling. Scripture tells us she kept whining aloud day after day that Paul and his companions were servants of God who proclaimed the way of salvation. Well, they were, but Paul really didn't need or want this demon's endorsement. The Bible says that Paul became "greatly annoyed" and cast out the demon. Was Paul right to do this? I don't know. The bottom line is, it was something he did in an angry reactive manner. I can certainly understand that, but it backfired on Paul! The slave girl's owners were furious! I am not sure where Timothy was here, but Paul and Silas were arrested, brought before the city magistrates, beaten with many stripes and thrown in jail! How would you have reacted or felt here? Honestly, I think I would have been in the pits of despair. Amazingly, Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise to God! The other prisoners were listening. Hebrews chapter 13 verse 15 speaks of bringing the sacrifice of praise. Listen, anybody can sing songs of praise to God when thing are going great, but what about when you've been beaten and thrown in jail?! That's when it becomes the sacrifice of praise!
4. DIFFERENT ALLEGIANCE.
The portion of Scripture in Acts 16 verses 25-34 is very powerful! Suddenly there was an earthquake! All of the prisoners chains were loosed! There was a miracle here! Nobody escaped! I think the other prisoners were so freaked out they didn't dare move! Suddenly, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself! He assumed the prisoners had all escaped and Rome would have him executed. He couldn't have been more wrong. Humbly, he received Paul's Gospel witness, and he and his family "get saved" and baptized and he washes Paul and Silas' wounds! WOW! My friend Dick Germaine believes the man Paul saw in his vision was the Philippian jailer, and I think Dick is probably correct. The jailer changed his way of thinking, as Bob Dylan's song says. Yes, we need to "get saved" if we don't know Jesus as our Personal Savior and Lord. But many of us have "been saved" but we still think, live, act and function according to the world, the flesh, and the devil. We truly need to change our allegiance! We need to change our way of thinking! One of the most Godly men I have ever known was the late Norman Milley, Sr. During the Depression and during World War 2 he was faced with situations on his jobs where if he told the truth he would be fired. He always told the truth, and would supernaturally watch God change the heart of his bosses who would then not fire him! I wish all of you could have met and known him! Listen, we need more Norman Milley, Srs. in this hour!
5. DIFFERENT ENDING.
I also could have called this, "Different Outcome". The ending here in verses 35-40 is not what we might expect. The city magistrates were alarmed to find out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens (most people weren't citizens) and that they had been beaten and jailed illegally. They sent word through the jailer to depart in "peace". I can just about imagine the jailer smiling and waving the 1960s peace sign with his fingers! "Peace!" "PEACE!" That sounds good, right, peace? Actually, Paul said, "NO!" He said he did not intend to depart in peace at all! He felt like a big stink should be made about what was done to he and Silas. Does that seem strange to you? Listen, Ecclesiastes chapter 3 admonishes that there's a time to speak and a time to be silent. Each case is different and unique. We really need the wisdom of God for each situation in our lives. (James 1:5 says we can and should ask God for wisdom about the challenges and situations we face in life.) To use an expression of my late father, Gene Baril, the city magistrates were "singing a different tune" in the final verses of the chapter! Ultimately, after Paul expressing his feelings and concerns, they do leave Philippi. As far as practical application about "DIFFERENT ENDING" consider this true story from one of my Bible College professors. Brother Flokstra pastored in Southern New England, in fact. He told the story that one of his church members lost his job. The whole church interceded and prayed for a miracle that the guy would get his job back. How likely do you think it was that he'd get his job back? Amazingly, the guy did get his job back! However, several weeks later he was offered a much better job (a dream job) with a different company. Now, he had a problem. After taking his old job back and making a bunch of commitments to the company, he didn't feel he could just quit. So, he had to turn down the dream job. GOD had a dream job laid out for this man, but Brother Flokstra and the church twisted God's arm to give the guy his old job back. They really messed up what God wanted to do. Isn't that sobering? How we need to let the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 permeate our souls and spirits!
AGAIN, GOD WANTS YOU TO BE OPEN TO A "DIFFERENT DEAL" AS IT WERE IN YOUR WALK WITH GOD! GET OUT OF GOD'S WAY! YOU CAN BE A NEW YOU IN THE NEW YEAR!
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