God’s Favor: Smack Dab In The Middle: Lesson 29

ACTS 28

The book of Acts ends rather abruptly in chapter 28, almost like a high-five that goes unnoticed, leaving the high-fiver hanging. A little awkward. Generally speaking I’m not happy with an unfinished story. I don’t like unanswered questions and mysteries that go unsolved. I’m the kind of person that will read the third book of a trilogy, even if I hate it, just to complete it. True story. I’ll keep the unused bag that matches the suitcase, just so I don’t break up the set. The ending of Acts has bothered me for years because it felt fractured, begging to have the remaining pieces of the story added. However, I saw something beautiful develop in chapter 28 this week that made me realize it was the perfect ending.

At the beginning of this study, we anticipated a few banner themes to emerge this year: evangelism, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, unity, persecution, hardship, and grace. Chapter 28 seems to wrap them up nicely into a picture of the compounding effect of God’s favor through each of these themes. God’s favor for the faithful is clearly demonstrated in this final chapter.

Luke says they were immediately welcomed onto the island of Malta where they landed after the shipwreck. The chief official for the island was kind and hospitable. Paul healed this man’s ailing father as well as many others on the island. They were showered with honors and were supplied with all their needs when they set sail for Rome after three months. They had several additional stops from there, and it was in Puteoli, The Forum and The Three Taverns on the outskirts of Rome, where believers came to meet Paul and offer their hospitality. As Paul was moving closer to Rome, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was slightly apprehensive, and Luke says these believers encouraged him.

When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God. (Acts 28:15b)

When Paul finally arrived in Rome he was given private lodging, lived at his own expense, had many visitors, and continued boldly preaching the Kingdom. No one tried to stop him. Paul is still a prisoner, yet the favor of God compounds in his life. If we can see God’s favor growing for Paul, can we see it in our own lives? What can we learn from this?

WHAT IS FAVOR?

As defined by Merriam Webster favor is a kind or helpful act that you do for someone. It’s gaining approval, support, or popularity. It’s maintaining a preference for a person or group over another. Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, in an article entitled The Real Meaning of Favor says this,

While the Greek and Hebrew words translated favor in Scripture include these definitions, there is a deeper dimension to the Greek word for favor: charis. Almost everywhere in the New Testament, this word is translated ‘grace.’ Grace (and favor) is essentially a gift. (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

Seeing the favor of God on Paul through the lens of grace puts a slightly different spin on this passage.

WHERE DOES FAVOR BEGIN?

Our first experience with the Father’s unmerited gift of grace occurs at the point of our salvation. His favor is poured upon us through his son’s shed blood, when we believe.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Paul’s first experience with God’s favor was on the road to Damascus when he met Jesus. He certainly didn’t earn this favor because Jesus said to him in that moment, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) But we see Paul do something. He responds. He humbles and surrenders himself. He releases his grip on his will and his life.

Who remembers the 20-year-old commercials for Nestea? These commercials famously depicted delighted consumers, drinking a glass of tea, and then freefalling backwards into a pool of water. The Nestea Plunge is exactly how I picture God’s grace when we humble ourselves and surrender to him. We freefall and become immersed in his favor. We Let Go and Let God. Interestingly it’s also pictured in immersion baptism.

HOW DOES FAVOR GROW?

As amazing and wonderful as his favor of salvation is, it doesn’t end there.   Bill Johnson goes on to say,

“This unmerited favor includes not only being forgiven of sin but also receiving access to the very presence of God in the same way Jesus has access to Him.”(Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

So it begins with salvation and it then grows in his abiding presence. This is what you call a responsive relationship. When we abide and produce fruit from the Holy Spirit, that is the additional favor and grace.

In Luke 19:11 we find the Parable of the Ten Servants. The story goes like this: A nobleman goes on a journey to be crowned king in a far away land, and before he leaves he calls his servants together and splits ten pounds of silver between them. He instructs them to invest it while he’s away. When he returns, they provide him with an update. The first was invested and earned ten times the amount. The next was invested and earned five times the amount. To them both, the king responds positively and provides them with more.

“Well done!” the king exclaimed, “You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.” (Luke 19:17)

The third says,

“Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.” To which the king replied, “You wicked servant!…Your own words condemn you…Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.” (Luke 19:20-23)

Each of us has been given a measure of favor and grace at the point of conversion. Like the parable, we can invest it or hide it. While we are positioned in his abiding presence, the Spirit will compel us to move, i.e. to make an investment. Each time we faithfully respond and follow, his favor grows.

What we see in Acts 28 is this cycle of growth. Paul has faithfully responded to the Spirit’s prompting for at least 20 years and this favor has grown. In Malta, God’s favor flows through Paul to the people on the island who are in a position to receive that grace. God’s grace and favor then flows through the people back to Paul in honor, hospitality, and supplies for the remainder of their trip. God’s grace and favor didn’t eliminate or prevent his unlawful imprisonment, but rather flowed through those around Paul, people who had received Paul’s investment, like the believers in Puteoli, The Forum, and The Three Taverns. The grace that flowed from God through Paul, touching the lives of the Roman soldiers, flowed back through them to Paul as the Roman government assigned him to private living quarters, allowing him to live peaceably.

WHERE IS MY FAVOR?

Each of us is smack dab in the middle of God’s grace. Do you have eyes to see it? Because you can’t respond to God’s gift if you don’t have eyes to see it and ears to hear Him. These too, eyes to see and ears to hear, are gifts that he wants to bestow. Simply ask.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were the-glass-is-half-empty curmudgeons in the traveling party with Paul. There’s a curmudgeon almost everywhere. If this was indeed true, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t fully see God’s gifts on this journey. They wouldn’t have seen the generosity of the Maltans, only a three-month delay. When they boarded another ship, fully supplied, they would have seen a small ship, fearing the supplies would never last. When they arrived on land in Puteoli, they wouldn’t have seen the blessing of hospitality from the locals, but only a dreaded voyage over land to Rome.

Do you feel like you’ve missed out on his favor? Do you look at others around you and think God favors them more? You are still smack dab in the middle of God’s favor. Respond. Bill Johnson also says in his article,

“While God loves everyone the same, not everyone has the same measure of favor. Yet everyone is positioned to increase in favor if each one of us effectively stewards what we have. In other words, when we seek His face with the favor we have, we increase in favor itself.” (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)

Sink deep into God’s grace, allowing the cycle of favor to spring into motion. Note: pursuing God’s favor isn’t the answer. Pursing God’s presence is. Engaging in a responsive relationship is what builds favor, grace, and deep meaning in your life. Most of us want our lives to count for something. We want to leave a legacy. Paul’s favor grew because he responded to the Holy Spirit and the legacy that remained is still working thousands of years later.

We stand in awe of the early church, amazed at their unity and resilient suffering, boldly sharing the gospel in the face of danger. How did they do it? We wonder. I wish we could have some of that power now, we say. The cycle of favor that was available to them is available now. Everything we’ve discussed this year in the book of Acts lies waiting in God’s favor/grace. Engage in a responsive relationship and watch it grow.

When It Goes From Bad To Worse: Lesson #28

Acts 27

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…it does. Who hasn’t felt that way at some point? Luke describes their journey from Caesarea to Rome in Acts 27, and it’s filled with emotion as what should have been a relatively simple trek turned into a life and death battle at sea when they head directly into the perfect storm. I inserted myself into the story while reading the text, and imagined the kind of fear that would come upon me as I observed the crew no longer trying to steer the ship.

The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale. (Acts 27:15)

How scary to see them tying ropes around the hull, just to keep it from coming apart, and watching helplessly as all the cargo gets thrown overboard. The mission of this ship becomes less and less important as the hours drag into days that then turns into weeks. I’m feeling it with them, hopeless. Are you feeling it too?

The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. (Acts 27:20 emphasis added)

Now imagine that those two weeks of absolute terror and loss could have all been avoided if those in charge had just listened to you. How would you feel? Paul could see all the warning signs of the storm season and had warned the ship’s captain and owner not to sail.   He said he could see a shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to life. But the traveling window for the season was closing and the ship’s commanders didn’t want to be stuck in Fair Havens for the entire winter, so they gambled and ignored Paul, to everyone’s detriment. Paul responds.

Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21b-26)

When things don’t go the way they should, like this example, where do you allow your attitude and outlook to drift? Do you let it “run the gale” or do you shift it into the best position? I see a theme developing in chapter 27 of trust and love. As I see it, when things don’t go the way they should, we have the option to hold a grudge and become disengaged or to trust and love.

OUR OPTIONS TO TRUST AND LOVE

Trust God’s PROMISE

Through the tumult of wherever we find ourselves, we have the option to trust God’s promises. Although Paul may have seized the opportunity for a little “I told you so” in his speech to the crew, I believe more that Paul was emphasizing his words could be trusted. His words were from a God that was beyond him. They had ignored him once already and he wanted the people to trust his words now. Paul said, “For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” (Acts 27:25)

We have a multitude of promises from scripture at our disposal. We can choose to trust those promises or try to take matters into our own hands. In this passage, we see that shortly after Paul shared God’s promise of survival, the sailors on the boat didn’t trust it. They were caught trying to abandon ship in the lifeboat as they neared land. But before judging these sailors, consider how often we do the exact same thing.

The kind of faith required for trusting God’s promises as Paul said he did, comes from God himself. God told Paul he would preach the Good News in Rome at least two years earlier when he was first arrested (Acts 23), and Paul understood that he would make it to Rome one way or another. But that didn’t keep the angel from reinforcing this word, “Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!” We see evidence right here of God providing Paul with the faith necessary to continue trusting his promise. God is so faithful to do that for us.

Trust God’s PURPOSE

We have the option to trust God’s purpose regardless of the plan. At this point in Paul’s life he is all too accustomed to disruptions in the plan. He has learned to maintain a healthy flexibility required for the ebb and flow that is certain in God’s story. Scripture tells us that God weaves everything together to work toward his purpose, even if it doesn’t look like the plan we had in our mind. (I’ll talk about loving God’s plan in just a minute.)

A two-week storm, resulting in a completely smashed up ship and stranded on a relatively remote island, would certainly cause me to lose sight of the big picture. But here’s the thing – God’s big picture has as much to do with the journey itself than it does the destination. I am confident Paul understood this truth (even if he needed an angel to encourage him). This shipwreck was used to demonstrate God’s sovereign power to save lives as much, if not more, than would be demonstrated in Rome. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I would have become a believer before that ship sunk.

Love God’s PERSPECTIVE

We have the option to love in all things. We don’t always have eyes to see, but we can always ask for those eyes and to love God’s perspective. Throughout my years I have found myself most frustrated when I felt strong conviction about something, but couldn’t garner a following. I have been known to allow my frustration to grow to the point where my obsession with the truth would overcome my love for it. There is a difference.

Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord (Prov 20:12)

God had given Paul the gift to see the future danger and damage that would occur if they continued sailing from Fair Havens. Paul’s love for God’s perspective moved him to share the warning, but he didn’t obsess over it by nagging them repeatedly and allowing it to overshadow their relationship. He allowed space for God to show himself.

The others didn’t have eyes to see because their eyes were clouded with various fears and worries. Can you remember a time in your life when you didn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear? To be sure, there has been a time in ALL our lives when we’ve been there, and we still are on some level. When God chooses to bless us with the gift of sight and hearing, we can love it, share it with those around us, and continue to love it even when it goes unheeded.

Love God’s PEOPLE

We have the option to love the people around us. I am struck with Paul’s ability to love and encourage everyone aboard the ship. Because he didn’t fall victim to obsession over his correctness, he didn’t open himself to the anger that often follows. Anger tends to isolate while building emotional walls of protection, but Paul prioritized those relationships over his correctness and offered great love.

Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat – all 276 of us who were on board. (Acts 27:33-37)

When I read this passage, I can totally feel the collective deep breath they all took as they ate. They were encouraged.

Love God’s PLAN

We always have the option to love God’s plan. Very recently I found myself in a situation that I did not like at all, and since I had not been given eyes to see God’s perspective, I was pushing for a plan that was not in line with God’s plan at all. One afternoon, God opened my ears to hear him. He said, “Love where I have placed you and serve.” My situation didn’t change much after that, but my attitude did. I chose the option to love his plan even though I wouldn’t have chosen it.

We see Paul doing the exact same thing here. God’s plan at this point included Paul, not only being shipwrecked on an island, but to be in chains and imprisoned. Paul chose to love where God had placed him and serve. Just before the ship was completely shredded off the coast of Malta, the soldiers wanted to kill all the prisoners so they wouldn’t escape. Julius, the commanding officer, disallowed this plan because he wanted to keep Paul safe. Paul wasn’t going to escape; he loved God’s plan more although I’m confident he wouldn’t have chosen it.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

Let’s face it; the comfort of control and the feeling of “getting a handle on things” lures even the most seasoned of believers. So often have I said with my mouth, God is in control, but deep down I doubt as I mentally calculate my next move. Our control is an illusion. God really is in control.

Recognizing his sovereignty is all about our internal attitude adjustment. And please pardon the cliché, attitude affects everything. It’s not that we won’t make a next move, it’s that we are willing to wait for God to tell us the next move. A life like Paul’s, which was a life filled with power, purpose, and promise, requires the right attitude.

Things may not be going the way they should because someone didn’t listen to you. Things may not be going the way they should because you didn’t listen to someone else. If you find yourself in this place right now, ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask him to help you trust his promise and his purpose. Ask him to help you love his perspective, his people, and his plan. Because, you see, it’s going to all work out.   It will, whether or not we choose these options. Choosing these options is less about the choice itself and more about positioning yourself. If you steer into the wind (the Holy Spirit is described like wind in Acts 2), you are positioned to then enter His presence, to be IN HIM. And that’s really what this is all about.

So take courage. For I believe God. It will be just as he said. (Acts 27:25)

No Wedding Regrets! Readers Respond.

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I really wanted to follow my last blog,  5 Things I Regret About My Wedding, with a reprisal that includes a few of the many responses I received.  There were two common themes among the comments that rose to the top:  1) Please don’t wait a year to eat your wedding cake – bleh!, and 2) even though things didn’t go the way they had planned, they loved every minute of it!  These comments moved me, so I had to share.

 

From Norma: “Oh, Jen , my love, don’t waste time looking back.  There are no mistakes, we just learn how not to do things.  Just think, when your girls get married what you can do for them.  And guess what?  They will have some regrets, also. :)”  Thank you, Norma.  How true!  Our mistakes in life CANNOT weigh us down.   They are part of our story; a story given to us for a purpose.  These experiences can actually empower us to be a force for change and a strong support for our communities that surround us.  We all have a corner in the world wherein we are placed by no mistake.  I believe that.  By the way, be encouraged because this is also true for pain and suffering that we’ve endured not by our own fault.

 

From Summer: “I regret not getting pictures with some of the special people that were there. Everything else was perfect! It all did not go as planned, but it was perfect:)”  So bold to use the word “perfect” when things did not go as planned.  There it is folks.  Our plans are not always the way it should be.  Our plans can be flawed, so why would we ever clutch them so tight?  I’ve had to learn this the hard way as many of my plans in life dissolved like sand filtering through my fingers.   Only to find that the real plan for my life was a whole lot better.  Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  His plans are always the best!

 

From Laarni:  “Here’s my problem.  I have difficulty with the word “regret” or as I see it, feeling disappointment or a sense of failure.  I tried to dig deep and have to report that I have zero regrets about my wedding day.  However, I asked myself what could have been improved?  Well, that’s easier to answer for me.  Here is a list of wishes:

•  I wish I had unlimited funds to pay for all the travel/lodging for every person that attended our wedding in Maui

•  I wish my best friend didn’t just have a baby so she could be there with me

•  I wish we stayed longer than 10 days

•  I wish I could eat Four Season’s homemade ice cream and lobster sandwiches 24/7

I did not feel disappointed when the wedding planner changed the venue the day of the wedding because of inclement weather.  The hotel open courtyard was actually better than being out in the elements.  I did not feel a sense of failure when Scott’s wedding ring did not arrive as planned and we had to find a cheap substitute, which I still have and cherish.  I truly believe that things happen for a reason and our hurdles were merely there to test us and see how we respond.  I loved our rehearsal dinner, wedding, and honeymoon and wouldn’t have changed anything about it.”    To cherish the things that go awry and see the beauty in what they can become.  This is the beautiful work that God can do in our lives.  In John 9:1-12 Jesus takes mud to heal a man from blindness.  If he can bring beauty out of mud, he can bring beauty from all of our regrets, failures, and pain.

Are you saddled with regret?  In the famous words of Queen Elsa, Let It Go!  What are your thoughts?  I want to hear them!

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