Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
I read an interesting story this week from a pastor in New York City that I wanted to share w/ you.
He pastors a very large church, and at the very end of all of his Easter services, which was surely a very long day, he saw a homeless man walking up to him from the center aisle.
He admits that his first thought was, “Oh man, what a way to end an Easter Sunday, a homeless guy is going to hit me up for money) which happens a lot at their church.
As he got close to the pastor, the pastor claimed that the man smelled worse than any human being he had ever met.
So much so that he couldn’t look back at him while inhaling.
The pastor reached for his wallet, and began to pull out some money for the homeless man…partly so he could just get on with it, and get home to his family.
But just as he did, the man put his finger in the pastor’s face and said, “I don’t want your money! I want this Jesus, the one you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.
Please tell me about Jesus!
And it’s a sad, but powerful story of how often, when we get so focused on ourselves, and our busyness, our agenda, or our fatigue, that we don’t see what God’s really trying to do.
We’re going to see a great example of how to deal with a situation like this in the Book of Acts today as we study God’s word.
We’ve been on and off again studying verse by verse through the Book of Acts in the Bible for quite some time now.
Acts is the story of the early church. What happens when Jesus ascends back into heaven? How does Christianity actually get started?
Today is actually our 2nd to last message ever on the Book of Acts, it’s our penultimate message, if you will. J
So don’t miss our final one next week.
Let me catch you up to speed if you’re new today or have been out of town. When we left off in the Book of Acts 2 weeks ago, our hero, Paul, was sailing from Caesarea (which is in modern day Israel) to Rome, where he was going to be put on trial for his faith.
However, about halfway there, they encountered a massive storm, and got completely lost at sea for 14 days.
They eventually the crash onto the island of Malta, south of Italy
That’s where we last left off.
If you want to follow along today, you can do so through the YouVersion Holy Bible app or page 909 in your Bibles.
(Acts 28:1-11) – NIV
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. 7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. 11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.
When they land/crash at Malta, it’s the end of October, or maybe early November.
There is a huge port in Syracuse on the big island of Sicily…it’s barely a day away by ship, but they just can’t get there.
The sailing season for the Mediterranean is over. They are going to have to winter at Malta.
They’re going to have to seek out a ship somehow…somewhere…on the island, and hope they can catch a ride to Rome
And as we saw in verse 11, they were indeed on the island of Malta for the whole winter…3 months.
GOD’S AGENDA & TIMING
Maybe because it’s a new chapter in Acts…or because we just simply weren’t there, but I think as soon as this new section starts in Malta, we forget what they just went through.
They just got done swimming to shore after 14 days on the open sea where most of them thought they were going to die!
They are literally warming themselves by the fire…probably the same night when today’s passage starts.
Think about how exhausted these people probably were! They had just gone through a super traumatic experience!
Now…here’s what I’m thinking if I’m Paul…and I’m sorry…but I’m not a tenth of the man he is.
I’m thinking, “I just went through 14 of the most traumatic days of my life. However, conveniently, I’m now stranded on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean for 3 months with nowhere to go.”
I would be thinking, “That God…after all my trials...must want to bless me with a BEAUTIFUL 90 DAY VACATION ON THE SUNNY ISLAND OF MALTA!!!!”
And island where modern-day people pay thousands and thousands of dollars to vacation on.
But that’s not what Paul is thinking.
Right from the beginning…he’s out there serving.
He had just helped lead the 276 people on the ship to safety. He was their emotional leader at the time.
You don’t see him sitting back saying, “I’m in charge now…NOW build me a fire!”
No…there he is again…serving…HE’S THE GUY helping to add brushwood to the fire.
And not even probably a few hours into this new season of life…not even few hours into this “BEAUTIFUL 90 DAY VACATION ON THE ISLAND OF MALTA”… Paul gets bit, by a poisonous viper (just after 14 horrible days at sea!)
Quick theological note here: Notice again that God uses the suffering of his follower Paul (albeit just for a moment) to get the attention of the Maltese people (Paul’s bitten by a snake!!)
But thankfully, God heals him…or the snake wasn’t actually poisonous, or whatever…but God gets the attention of the islanders…to look to Paul
The islanders have this karma-like superstition.
Because Paul is bit by the viper, he must be a murder. God’s gonna get him after all!
But then when he lives, the go the COMPLETE opposite, and say he’s a god!
But either way, God’s got their attention.
And apparently, Paul’s not going to get a 3 month vacation.
God’s got a plan for these people. God has a heart for these island people.
For me lately, it’s been quite the busy season…
As our church continues to see growth, and more and more people keep coming, and I’m working w/ more leaders, we’ve planted now 2 churches out of Renovation, gearing up to take 23 people to Haiti…and now Lindsey and I are beginning to prepare more for our twins coming in February (I learned all about making a Baby Registry this week...)
Which means, life’s only going to get busier. Times 2. J
And as a guy who’s really driven and likes accomplishing a lot…and often is way too busy…I sometimes wonder how much I miss.
Cuz I like to go..go..go…and on a schedule.
If I have a meeting at 12:30 to get to, and I know it takes me 7 minutes to get there, I’m leaving at 12:23.
And I’m going to maximize every minute up until 12:23.
And if I hit 1 too many red lights…I run them. j/k
But no…then I’m in trouble. Because I’m always trying to squeeze more into my day than is possible.
And it makes me wonder…when I read this passage.
If God has other plans for me…(just like Paul wasn’t gonna get that vacation after all)…am I available? Am I even going to notice when God’s agenda is different than my own?
It reminds me of a fascinating study that was done at Princeton University.
2 psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Baston, decided to conduct a study about the Biblical parable about the Good Samaritan
Which is the story told by Jesus about a man who was left half dead by robbers, and when a priest, and later a levite pass him, they pass by on the other side…completely ignoring him.
But a Samaritan (who were looked as on outcasts to Jesus’ audience) passed by, he helped the man
And it’s a great story about what neighborly love really is.
Well, in this psychological study, the psychologists met w/ a group of seminarians and asked each to prepare a short talk on a given Bible story.
Then, along the way to their presentation, unbeknownst to them, there was a man placed in the alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning.
The question was: who would stop in help??
Their variables were as follows:
They 1st asked each person WHY they entered seminary..
They also varied which Bible story they were supposed to present on (and many of the candidates were GIVEN the story of the Good Samaritan)
And then, the final variable was for many of the cases, the instructor would tell the students, “Oh wow, you’re late for your presentation already, you better hurry over there!”
And what they found was it didn’t matter if a person entered seminary for theological reasons or because they just wanted to help people (it wasn’t a factor in whether people stopped)
Also…whether they had just prepared a talk on the Good Samaritan, also apparently wasn’t a factor
But what was a SERIOUS factor was if they were in a hurry.
Of the group that was in a rush, only 10% stopped to help
Of the group that wasn’t in a rush, 63% stopped to help!
And it all makes you wonder…what are we missing?
Seriously…what are we maybe missing that God wants us to do because it’s not in our plans?
Maybe God wants me to stop and talk to my neighbors when they wave at me rather than rushing to my next meeting?
And often, it’s not even about being busy.
Often, we’re so busy and so burnt out…that we finally get some rest time (which is important…it’s what the Sabbath is all about)
But even then, it’s not like we should have these times where we were should check out from God.
Or check out from God wanting to use us
God might want to use you at ANY time. That’s what happened with Paul. He had just went through an incredibly intense 14 days at sea!
But God wanted to use Him…THAT NIGHT…to start reaching the islanders
Probably not in Paul’s agenda…but he was faithful to it.
He’s probably thinking, “I’m just gonna sleep for a week…and EAT!”
Where is God maybe knocking on your door to use you but you’re too busy to notice?
Where is He maybe pushing you towards doing something…but you’ve got something else on your agenda?
Maybe it is just relaxing…or it’s your valued weekend time…or Sunday mornings…or you name it
The principle here is NOT that we should be always working, but that we should never have a time where we’re not open to God messing w/ our plans.
Otherwise we’ll miss Him.
And we’ll miss something great.
There’s an old story from ancient times about a large boulder in the middle of the roadway.
Traveler after traveler walked past the boulder, veering off the side of the road to get around it. All the while, they were shaking their head and muttering, "Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way. What an inconvenience!"
Finally, a man came along and, seeing the boulder, took a branch from a tree and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road. Lying underneath the rock, he found a small bag with a note. The man picked up the note and read it. It read as follows:
"Thank you for being a true servant of our kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the problem and spoken of what ought to be done. But you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler have walked by simply because they didn’t care enough about the kingdom to serve."
What are we missing??
AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES
And I wonder…what happens to that island if Paul goes on vacation mode for 3 months and ignores God’s cues?
What happens if Paul doesn’t start earning their trust w/ serving?
If he doesn’t use opportunities to show Christ to them?
If he just says, “Nah…I need a break.”
And He deserved one!
But it just simply wasn’t on God’s agenda
Paul and his companions were AVAILABLE TO SERVE.
In the latter half of our passage, they go to the house of the chief official, and Paul heals the sick father.
Which begs the question, “How did they even know to ask Paul in the first place? How did PAUL, again the PRISONER, get invited to the chief official’s home?”
Because He’s serving…and to God, He’s ALWAYS AVAILABLE.
When God got the Islander’s attention with the viper…Paul probably started talking about God…started serving…started sharing.
He doesn’t say, “Can we just talk later…I’m busy.”
He doesn’t say, “I need a vacation…maybe some other time… OR….”Sorry, too busy trying to salvage our ship right now.”
OR, Sorry, too busy making preparations to sail after winter. OR Sorry we’re trying to find another ship to sail on….
He was available for God…even in a time he probably wasn’t expecting to be, and God does a great thing w/ the Viper to get the attention of the islanders, which then opens up an invitation to come heal the Chief Official’s father, which then causes much of the island to come to him for healing by God…
Which in turn helps spread the gospel presumably all over the island…and the islanders even respond w/ such gratitude that they furnish the men w/ all the supplies they need after the winter is over.
All because PAUL WAS AVAILABLE TO SERVE…
On a beautiful island in the Mediterranean after the 14 scariest days of his life.
On a week where most of us probably would have just checked out from the world…He was available for God’s plans
Listen, as it’s been said, God doesn’t need your capability, He only wants your availability. If you give Him your availability, He’ll provide the capability.”
So the question is: Where are you “not available” for God right now?
Where do you hold up the “temporarily unavailable” sign to God?
Is it on your days off? Your weekend?
When you’re really busy?
When you’re on vacation? When you’re relaxing?
And again, this has nothing to do w/ never relaxing…it’s all about being available…whenever God might use you.
Maybe, oddly enough, you’re even unavailable on a Sunday morning.
That this is just “for you” and “you getting something out of it” rather than God maybe using you to put something back into it?
Through serving…through impacting others.
The idea from Scripture is that we’re always listening.
Living our lives…walking around…but w/ one ear to heaven.
That we would be a people of prayer.
Always saying, “Your will be done.”
“Where do you need me God?”
“Show me where you can use me today God”
“What are you doing today God? How can I find what you’re doing…and join with you?”
Otherwise…we’ll just go to our default mode…which is carrying out our agenda.
Which some days, is just whipping through a busy day and a whole bunch of tasks.
Or other days…sleeping in…watching the game…and laying around.
And again…NONE of those things are bad…but WHAT IF…God wants to interrupt your agenda on some days?!? ARE YOU AVAILABLE???
What if he needs you today?
What if he needs you at work this week? To say something to a co-worker?
What if He needs you at HOME this week…to encourage your child on something. To speak a kind word.
What if He’s trying to get your attention to help w/ the laundry because your spouse is in desperate need of some rest?
What if He’s trying to bug you to invite a new friend to church or talk about God…but you’re really busy and have a lot to do!
Here’s the deal: God is always trying to communicate w/ us. The problem is most of the time…we’re not listening. We’re not available.
He’s calling, but he’s getting a busy signal!!
But sometimes…God’s going to throw an opportunity at you!
Sometimes in the form of a whisper (that you might not even hear cuz you’re not tuned in) and sometimes in the form of a viper!
Sometimes…God’s going to…just when you think you’re on a relaxing island for 3 months…ask you to start doing ministry…go to houses and heal people…and start changing the world…
The reality is He wants to speak AND do incredible things through you…but you can’t let your agenda get in the way.
Sometimes he’ll want you to stop your busy day and offer a kind word. And yes, you might be late to something. And that’s OK.
Sometimes He’ll want you to serve…and impact lives…even when you were only planning to relax that day.
But I can guarantee you…whatever He has for you…it will accomplish His purposes.
And whatever accomplishes his purposes…is good.
So be open to God this week. Be open to Him.
If it’s going to be the busiest week ever for you: Be open to Him.
If you have a week off this week: Be open to Him.
He wants to use YOU!
As a believer…His Holy Spirit is in you…He wants to use You.
So let’s make a pact to be listeners this week.
Every morning. Every night. Driving in the car…at breaktime. At mealtime. While we’re doing work around the house.
“Just checking in God? Need anything? What would YOU have me do.”
What would your week this week look like if 3 times a day you just asked, “What can I do for you today God?”
Not just , “God help me with this.” “I need this.” “Help me accomplish this.” “Help me relax today.”
3 times a day, “What can I do for you today God? That’s maybe not even in my agenda”
How would your week look different?
My gut is…we’re going to start to be able to see the many things we’ve been missing…when we previously weren’t available for God’s plans.
And if we can do that. If we can be willing to operate on His agenda…and be available, then yes, He will do great things…through us.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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