Acts Lesson 1, Day 1

What was new, helpful or interesting to you in the notes?

I was particularly struck by the comment in the notes that “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to perform acts that were previously impossible when Jesus was with them, but not in them.”  We often think about how wonderful and inspiring it would have been to physically walk with Jesus and see His ministry delivered first hand.  It is also tempting to attribute the faith that the apostles had to that gift.  But, as the notes point out, that wasn’t the source of their strength and that wasn’t what strengthened their faith.  As Luke will point out in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul came to know Christ after His ascension.

The notes continue with: “Your study of Acts will reveal that the key to living a powerful, fruitful Chrstian life is to be filled continuously with the Holy Spirit.  This is both each christian’s overwhelming priviledge as well as Gods command to be filled continuously (Ephesians 5:18).  This is the normal christian life; any other life is subnormal.”

That is such a bold and true statement.  Nothing wishy-washy or part way. Christians are to be filled (all the way to “F” on on our fuel tank) with the Holy Spirit.  So how do we top off the tank and fill our lives with the spirit?  The notes discuss the prescription that Dr. Luke notes through the account of the Acts of the Apostles and how they did it.  Prayer. Strength from other believers.  Witnessing.  Work.  Persecution. Praise. Joy. 

This last point, Joy, I think will come up over and over again in the study this year.  We live in an area of great affluence, where few want for much of anything.  But there is such a lack of joy in our communities and neighborhoods.  As the notes say, “These early Christians lived in a state of exaltation and gladness in the midst of unheard-of difficulties.  Luke emphasizes Pauls intense joy and devotion to the Lord in every page of Paul’s history in Acts.”  This includes during times of being beaten, inprisoned, persecuted, chased out of town and even left for dead.  Clearly that joy is not coming from outside influences.  It is from the same gift of indwelling of the spirit that has been given to me and you.

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BSF Bible Lesson 1: Lecture

The old saying in corporate settings is to start out like you can hold out.  I am a fan of doing the exact opposite in the first night lecture in the children’s program at BSF.  I do my best to get as much excitement and energy as I can possibly get – even knowing I may not be able to match it every week – but I want the kids to know that I love this stuff and I think it is cool and exciting and fun.  I rarely write out my lectures, preferring to use some simple notes, because I  want to feed on the spirit and the energy.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go in unprepared, but I also don’t write down word for word what I’m going to say so I feel trapped reading it. 

The scripture for our first night is “the bible”.  Pretty all inclusive – but also a great visual.  “OK, let’s all turn to …. our bible.”

The Aim is to cause the student to learn that the Bible is the true Word of God.

I’m going to open with and spend quite a bit of time talking about truth.  What is it?  What is true?  Does 1 + 1 =2?  Sometimes?  All the time?  Is the sky blue?  Sometimes or all the time?  I’m going to talk about swearing in at court (or at least how they do it on TV): promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  What is a truth that isn’t the whole truth?  What is something that is in addition to the truth?  Then back into the one truth – the word of God.  Always, absolute, complete.

Section 1: The bible tells us the truth about who God is: Eternal, creator, sovereign, holy, trinity.  Easy subjects to discuss and have fun with.  I’m going to do it in a playful way… “OK, the bible start out saying that after there had been a lizard crawing around on the earth for a while and he started talking and stuff he was throwing a party one night and decided… hey, let’s make god, right?  NOOOOO.  Did a lizard make God?  Did a man make God?  Which came first God or lizards?  Which came first God or men?  When was God start?  Lot’s of emphasis, lots of moving… lot’s of excitement.  I want the kid’s to be doing everything they can to keep from yelling out… noooooooooooooooo.  I also want to emphasis what sin is – missing the mark. 

Principle #1: The words of the bible are the words of God.  This isn’t a story.  It isn’t a book about people like the Apostles and Moses and Joseph and Samson and Esther and Lydia.  It isn’t even a book about God.  It is a gift.  These are God’s words that he gave us so that we can know Him.  Are you reading God’s words?  Can you think of something more important that you should be doing?  How do you think God will respond if we say we didn’t find the time to read what he gave us?

Section B: The Bible tells us the truth about what God has done.   Revelation of God through time, history (his story), that he is a man with a plan (just rhymes better than God with a plan), Salvation has always been His plan for His chosen people, this plan enables a future and hope of eternal life (clarifying that hope does not mean uncertainty, it means looking forward to.)  Critical in this is that God is DOING.  This is in direct contrast to the belief that God set things in motion but is now missing.  It is also counter to the “Lion witch and wardrobe movies” where Aslon sweeps in and out but is gone for large periods of time.  The bible tells about what God has actively done and from that we know that He is actively doing even today in each of our lives. 

Principle #2: The Bible is the final authority for all the events of life.  This is not a reference guide.  It is not a rule book.  It is not a fable or foible or action drama.  It isn’t a love story, although there is plenty of love in it.  Have you ever done the hokey pokey?  right leg in, left leg out… So here is the most important thing you are going to learn all year… see these words?  See the voice of God in these words telling us about Himself and His plan for me and for you?  This IS what it is all about.   When you have questions about right and wrong, where do you look?  When you think about role models, are you looking at magazines or this book? 

Section C: The bible tells us the truth about who we are and how we are to live.  Ever person is: made in the image of God, created to bring glory and honor to God, is a sinner, needs a savior.  God didn’t make trash.  I’m not something He spit out.  He made me different than any and every other thing in all of creation.  He made me like Him.  He gave me the ability to make choices.  He gave me the ability to decide and He loved me so much that He let me do it even knowing that I would mess up.  No other creature sins.  Rocks don’t sin.  Birds don’t sin.  Our ability to choose, to accept or reject is something that makes us unique in all creation.  And we have always chose wrong (all of us except Jesus that is).  But did God say, oh well.. let’s start over?  No, He had a plan all along.

Prinple #3: The bible is without error.  The bible cannot be wrong any more than God can be wrong.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  His Word does not have errors.  When you need to stand on something, when you need to build on something, do you want something that can change? something that is true some of the time but not all the time?  something that is partially true, but not all the way?  something that is mostly true?  No, you want a rock. 

This book is the True Word of God.

Amen!

BSF Bible Lesson 1: Discovery

For discovery our first week we are going to do a combination of 2 of the activities.  First, we are going to have an interactive, guided discussion about the Apostles and the Book of Acts in particular.  Because they don’t have completed lessons to share this week, I thought it would be good to give the kids a chance to talk a little.  We might tie in a game where anytime someone says a specific word in their sentence, like “Jesus”, we all move one chair to the right.  I hope this will keep everyone listening, particularly the kid on my right who doesn’t want to get squished!

We are also going to start memorizing the books of the bible.  We are going to start easy and just do the first 6 books of the new testament, then expand from there as the weeks go by.  We are going to use a combination of song as well as an activity.  For the song, we’ll use the tune to Twinkle Twinkle.  Here is a version I found that I think will work well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KrgZ54qPyc&feature=related

I have level 1 this year, so I’m not sure how well the kids can read, but I’m putting the first 6 books on 3×5 cards and handing them out to 4 teams.  Race to get them in order with lots of cheering and air high 5’s.

Important note on that last item.  One of my big rules in the children’s program is that we keep all body parts to ourselves.  This is good advise for 1st graders and is still appropriate for high schoolers.  Rather than step in when it gets out of hand, we start with that at the beginning.  So instead of high 5’s we do air high 5’s, where you almost high 5, but don’t touch.  Goofy, but effective.  (I meant that about the activity, not me…).

Too many thoughts

Ever had those nights where you wake up because there are just so many thoughts running through your head?  They aren’t always worry’s or stress’s, although many times they are.  Sometimes it is just the thing you forgot, or a thing you wanted to remember or just stuff.  I know I do, and not only at night – I keep a pad of paper with me to write stuff down all throughout the day.

It seems like our lives are so filled with information, plans, worries, thoughts, ideas, stories, reminders, to-do’s – we need countless systems just to keep them organized and they aren’t even tangible things!

Then, smack up the side of the head, came the BSF memory verse that we are teaching the kids the first week.

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

So, first, here is how I’m teaching it:

For true, we are going to hold 1 finger up, because we know in our heads and hearts what is really true and there is only 1 truth. for Noble, we are going to turn the finger to the side, like shaking your head ‘”no”, but we’ll explain what noble really means.  For right, thumb out to the right (that one was too easy, if the kids know right from left that is).  For pure, we are going to clinch the fist – pure means keeping all else out, right?  For lovely, open hand circling their own face – they are children of God and each is lovely.  For Admirable – same thing but turn the hand the other direction – loveliness in others.  For Excellent – cross the arms in and X.  For praiseworthy, raise hands up high.  Then finally, both hands, fingers at temples: think about such things.

Try it – it is fun.  If you have a partner, have them do the “whatever” part and you do the reply.

But, for me… what a verse.  I fill my mind with so many thoughts and worries.  So many things I pray to God about, but seem to hold onto anyway.  So, here is His criteria for what I should be spending my time and brain cells on.  Here is the test.  If it is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, then I should spend some time thinking about it.  What fits that criteria?  Other than God, the bible and love for others, not much that I know of.

But what should I do with all the other stuff in my head?  Well, step 1, pray about it and turn it over to God since He is in control anyway.  Step 2, to quote a dear Italian friend of mine: “forgettaboutit”.

Amen to that!

Is it OK to plan?

I had the opportunity to listen to a very good motivational speaker this morning who strongly emphasized the difference planning and setting goals makes.  He said that only 10% of Americans actually set measurable goals for their life.  Many more have goals, but they are ones assigned to them by someone else, such as a boss or wife (just kidding, honey, if you happen to be reading this!!!)  Of them only 4 of the 10 have taken the time and initiative to write down their goals and of them only 1 of the 4 reviews their goals on a daily basis.  But that 1 out of 100 achieves a lifetime earnings of 9 times the rest. 

But, if I’m turning over my life to God’s will, should I be making plans as well?  By focusing on my plans am I denying God’s plan for me?

As I pondered and prayed on this throughout the day I realized the answer is a favorite politician answer – “it depends.”  What I realized is that the spirit of the goals is the most important element.

Let’s look at scripture.  If I set a goal to accumulate wealth or possessions then the relevant scripture is the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 who built bigger barns and silos to store up his riches.  In other words, if my goals are about my wants and desires for worldly gain, then I’m probably not on the right path.

However, I think there is support in the scripture as well for setting honorable kingdom goals.  Paul in 1 Cor 9 and 2 Tim 4 talks about running the race.  Clearly, a race has a starting point and a goal or finish line.  Paul doesn’t talk about running aimlessly, he talks about a race. 

What I walked away with was a realization that I should absolutely set goals, but those goals should be based on prayer, scripture and biblical principles.  Having a goal to provide for my wife and family so that they have the opportunities to feel safe, sheltered and protected so they can further their walk with the Lord is in alignment.  I can make that measurable, timebound, etc.  Having a specific goal of tithing or better yet, exceeding a tithe by a certain percentage is in alignment.  Having a goal of using my spiritual gifts in a planned, set way, is honoring to God.

The picture I came up with is an annual review at work, where you walk in and sit down with the boss and he says, “OK, let’s go over the goals that you have set and how you’ve done against them this year.”  If the goals I set are all about me and maximizing what I take away, I am clearly not a good steward and not an employee who is long for the job.  I would be embarassed to share those goals, regardless of how I did on them.  However, if my goals were about growing others, growing in my work, better utilizing the resources I had been given, then I would feel honored to share those and admit my accomplishments and struggles.  I also think that would be a far better discussion than trying to explain that I didn’t do anything because no one set goals for me.

I think this is part of what Christ was trying to explain in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19.  There is an explanation that we take initiative that we set goals and that those goals be in alignment with the mission we have been given.  God made it clear what he wants from us – to do His will. 

At some point we all reach the conclusion of the race.  We all face a judgment day.  We are all running – the question is whether we are on the race path or going in circles.

Do my inabilities get in the way of my ability?

Do my inabilities get in the way of my ability to do God’s will? 

That is a question I stumbled upon today in a book of devotions.  You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty deep.  So deep, in fact, that we have to resort to our highschool english training and “break it down” as the kids would say (that is if the kids were in the 1980’s).

Part 1. Do I have inabilities?  Duh! I excel in my ability to recognize my inabilities.  I can play the whole, “if only…” game all day.  If only I was wealthier, if only I was better educated, if only I was younger, if only… you get the drift.

Part 2. Get in the way of my ability?  Again, yes.  that is evident in the definition of what an inability is, right?

Part 3. to do God’s will?  OK, that is like throwing out a trump card all of a sudden – hearts trump clubs, or something like that.  If it is God’s will that I am supposed to be doing then all of a sudden things get turned upside down. 

So if it is God’s will, the plan that he has specifically for me that He wants and expects me to do, then does my ability matter at all?  Time and again, through biblical stories He points out that the answer is no.  10,000 men, no that’s way too many… send more away, so you may know the victory is mine.   185,000 Assyrians killed in a single night while camped outside the walls of the city.  And dozens more.

My mind started going all manner of direction then.  Maybe God is just having an off-day and didn’t plan accordingly to give me the right abilities for His plan for me today.  Maybe he has me and my talents mistaken with someone else (Moses even tried pulling that one. – “Aaron is more eloquent”)  Maybe God just doesn’t understand the level of ability that is required.

Obviously, none of that mkes any sense.  If it is God’s will for me to do, then He not only knows, but equips, enables, and whatever else.  My job isn’t even to ask him for the things I think I need, to pray all those petitions I get so busy preparing sometimes.  Instead, my only job is to ask that His will be done, through me, today. 

Now that is starting to sound a whole lot like a daily prayer someone might teach us:  Our Father… thy will be done.  Sometimes it stops and makes you think about the words that come out of your mouth when we quote Jesus and just how wise they really are!

God is not a pinata

Seriously.  Google the title of this post – this has to be the only one on the entire world wide web, right?  Wrong!  I checked, believe it or not, there are dozens if not hundreds.

I guess then I am not alone in my struggles and the responses I too often take.  But, let me digress with a little background information.  It is Labor Day.  We had family over, including little nieces and nephews.  My mother-in-law brought a pinata for the kids (of all ages, of course).  It was one of the pull-string variety, which is great since I often end up holding it and don’t really enjoy getting whacked by a stick, if you know what I mean!  Everyone pulled the strings, candy flowed out, all is good.

But it made me think about how often I treat God like a big pinata.  Maybe, if I pull the right string, blessings will flow down on me and I will be healthy, wealthy and wise, not to mention fit into the clothes I wore in high school.

But God isn’t the pinata, he is the dad holding it.  Just like the dad, in this case my brother-in-law, who sat patiently spoon in hand feeding his baby and wiping up all the messes that the baby made.  Or for that matter like the loving mother who sweeps up a little one moments before they catch a finger in the door or tumble down the stairs and gives them a big hug.

I need to remind myself that the pinata isn’t the thing to be desired or chase after, it is the fact that someone loves us enough to want to give that to us and so much more.  The real gift is the love, the rest is just candy.