Strange Things - Week 1

Strange Things - Steve Cullum  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started out talking about the Netflix show, Stranger Things, to tie into the series title. If you are a fan, you could talk about why you like it or how you watch it. If you are not a fan, or you want to add something else, you could also open with some strange personal story instead or before you talk about the show.]
Who here is a fan of the Stranger Things show? Who binge watches the entire season as soon as it is released?
Well, as many of you know, the story takes place in a quaint little town in Indiana. At least, it’s rather quaint until some people go missing. Over time, even stranger things begin to happen.
Often, when we look at the Bible, we can look at it with apathy, especially those of us who have been Christians for a long time. We may think we already know all the stories, and there is no real reason to keep going to it on a regular basis.
Others here have never really given the Bible a chance, and you might be wondering what the point of it is.
Overall, the Bible tells one giant story of redemption. God created the world with a purpose in mind, but people chose to do their own thing, to go their own way. The story of the Bible is God trying to bring us back to Him. And while there are some pieces that are confusing and others that can seem boring, there are also some amazing stories in there!
The Bible is also filled with some really strange things:
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I recommend editing this list below to be age-appropriate for your audience.]
- A teenage boy who fell asleep during a sermon, only to fall to his death out of a third-story window. God, through the Apostle Paul, brought him back to life.
- A guy who got tangled in a tree by his long flowing hair, only to be found by the opposing army later. They captured and killed him.
- One guy tied a bunch of foxes together and lit their tails on fire to burn down the farmland of some of God’s enemies.
- Another guy stabbed a really overweight king, and the sword actually disappeared in the king’s belly.
- One lady killed a guy by driving a tent peg through his skull.
Tonight, we are going to talk about another strange story from the Bible which is recorded in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This series is designed to re-tell the stories from the Bible. We did this while sitting around a fire, which was reminiscent of telling ghost stories. However you do this, have fun with the storytelling.]
At this point in the timeline of the Bible, Israel, God’s chosen people, had been established, but then was captured by the Egyptians. After 10 plagues, God used Moses to lead them out of captivity through the wilderness toward a promised land. The Israelites had just finished their latest fit of anger (this happened a lot as it was a long journey to this land, and they got impatient), which was met with punishment from God in Numbers 21.
After God straightened them out from that whole ordeal, the Israelites began traveling along across the land, taking over several other nations that God was handing over to them. They eventually got to the plains of Moab, along the Jordan River.
Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified of the Israelites, especially after he heard they took over the Amorites’ territory. Therefore, Balak called upon Balaam.
According to many Bible scholars, Balaam was a great prophet of God. He had even grown a great reputation for his abilities. But at some point, this went to his head, he became selfish, and he turned away from God.
Balak asked Balaam to call down a curse upon the Israelites. Balaam consulted God about Balak’s request, though, and God told Balaam not to go with the Moabites, because the Israelites were blessed by God. Instead of saying that, though, Balaam sent a simplified message back to Balak, basically saying that God said he couldn’t go. Maybe this is like those times when you really want to do something but your parents say you can’t, so you blame your parents. And Balak’s people did not fully pass along Balaam’s message, either. They basically just said Balaam refused to go.
Balak did not take no for an answer. This is almost always the case for enemies of God – they are relentless! He sent more distinguished men this time to ask him again, offering him an even greater reward. Balaam answered that if God said not to go, he would not go, even if they gave him all the silver and gold in Balak’s palace.
Maybe this is a bit of speculation, but Balaam might not have truly meant what he said. Many people call God their own, but their lives do not truly reflect the claim. Judging by what happened later, it seems Balaam may have been saying what seemed to be the right thing, but he did not truly believe it.
This time, God, probably out of anger and knowing Balaam really did want to go, said it was okay to go with them. This is probably like those times your parents have said something like, “Fine. See for yourself that I am right!” But God still told him only to say what He prompted him to say.
The next day, Balaam set off for Balak, but an angel of the Lord appeared to block Balaam’s path, preventing him from going forward. While Balaam could not see the angel, his donkey could and kept trying to avoid the angel. He even ran Balaam into a wall.
How often are we willing to put ourselves in clear danger, being crushed against metaphorical walls, to pursue our will over God’s?
Eventually, the donkey just lay down on the road.
God tried to stop him three times. Each time, the donkey attempted to stop, but instead of paying attention to God’s warnings, Balaam kept beating his donkey back on the road. It seems pretty obvious that Balaam still wanted to go. Jude 11, in the New Testament, even alludes to Balaam’s greed for monetary reward.
Have you ever been in a similar situation – faced with a temptation where God is trying to stop you from giving in, but you don’t pay attention to His warnings? Instead, you see them as things standing in your way of temporary fulfillment.
After the third beating, the donkey spoke!
Read Numbers 22:28-30 (NIV):
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
God then opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel, who told Balaam that he was from God, trying to prevent him from recklessly following Balak’s men. After this final warning to say only what God told him to say, the angel allowed Balaam to proceed to Balak.
When he finally got to Balak, instead of three curses, God told Balaam to speak three blessings upon Israel right in front of Balak. Of course, Balak was incredibly angry after each blessing, but God didn’t stop there!
Numbers 24:1 (NIV) says,
“Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not resort to divination as at other times, but turned his face toward the wilderness.”
Because of this, Balaam kept speaking blessings upon Israel on behalf of God by speaking prophecies about how all the other nations would fall, but Israel would remain strong.
Then the Bible says, “Balaam got up and returned home.” (Numbers 24:25 NIV) I’m sure there was probably more to it than this, but I just imagine him putting his arms down, grabbing his cloak and walking stick, and walking home.
I wish I could tell you that all happened just as God wanted, but there were, of course, complications along the way. In fact, many of Israel’s leaders were seduced by Moabite women, and God punished them heavily for giving into sexual sin before continuing His plan for the Israelites.
By now, you might be wondering what the significance of this story is. Others of you are planning on checking soon to see if it is even in the Bible.
While there are many things you can talk about in this story, I felt like there were three main points that stood out to me. If you grabbed something else, awesome! Be sure to talk about it in your small group later. But here are the three pieces of instruction I felt God was telling me:
1. Stop pursuing your own plans.
Balaam clearly had his own plans. Sometimes, he even claimed those plans as God’s. But every time he pursued them, they led him down the wrong path. We need to clarify the difference between our own plans and God’s plans. Sometimes, I know that is difficult, and we need to pray and also rely upon others to help us. But one question we can always ask is this: Who will benefit from this plan? If it is for personal gain, there is a good chance that it is not God’s plan. If it is for God’s glory, there is a really good chance it is what He wants.
2. Listen to God for advice.
Many times, we say we want to follow God, but when was the last time you really gave Him a chance to speak to you? When was the last time you unplugged for a significant amount of time and spent time in the Bible or just waited on God to speak? He wants to help you. He wants to point you in the right direction. He spoke to Balaam and his donkey, and He wants to speak to you, too!
3. Follow wherever He directs.
When it is all said and done, God’s plans are always greater than our plans. He had awesome plans for His people, the Israelite nation. They became the people God promised to Abraham, and through those people came Jesus, the Savior for all mankind, the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy! And just like Balaam eventually did, we need to follow God. I’m sure part of Balaam had given up on ever being used by God again after he messed up many times. But God continued to use him, and He wants to use you. We just need to follow.
So, where are you in all this? Have you stopped pursuing your plans for God’s plans? Are you listening to God for advice? Are you following Him wherever He asks you to go?
Stop. Listen. Follow.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: During this series, we had small group discussions after the message. I would encourage you to do the same. In fact, I have provided some small group guides as a part of this series.]
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