The Act of FINISH (Acts 28)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

Well, this is it.  I made it through the book of Acts in my preaching series and it only seems fitting for the final chapter/message to be “The Act of FINISH”.  I have to say it has been a joy to preach through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continued to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter had the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

In Acts 28, Luke concludes his account of the foundations of the church.  Paul is on his way to Rome, as a prisoner, when the storms overtake and destroy the ship he is on and everyone onboard takes refuge on an island.  After interacting with the people of the island for some time, the weather finally breaks and a ship headed to Rome is found so that the journey continues.  Finally in Rome, Paul has opportunity to address the Jewish leaders there and to continue to preach and teach the gospel even while living under guard in a house-arrest situation.  There is much to learn from this chapter, and from Paul, as we consider how we live out the Act of FINISH in our life. 

  • Faith:  If we plan to accomplish the Act of FINISH well, we must begin the entire process in Faith!  It is our Faith that allows us to believe and trust God even when we don’t understand.  As Paul faced persecution, false accusations, imprisonment, and shipwreck, his faith never seems to waver.  In good times and bad, our faith in God must constantly remind us that God both knows what He’s doing and His love for you and I and the people around us never fails.  Our faith provides the foundation for God to work in and through us in ways that are “immeasurably more than we can think or imagine.”  As God moves you along in your journey with Him toward the Act of FINISH, be sure that Faith keeps you trusting that God can, and will, accomplish His work in you. 
  • Invitation:  As we consider how we live the Act of FINISH, it is important to pay attention to the Invitations that we both give and receive.  How we respond to invitations, and who we extend them to, can have eternal consequences in the lives of people around us.  In Acts 28, Paul and those that had been on the ship with him were invited to spend time with the unknown islanders and then invited by the chief official of the island to spend time in his home.  How do you and I respond to invitations from strangers to have some type of involvement in their life?  Many of us have become so skeptical that we have a difficult time seeing the hand of God moving in the lives of people to cause them to actually invite us into where they live.  The other side of the equation is who we invite to spend time with us.  Once Paul made it to Rome, it was he who invited the Jewish leaders to meet with him!  How often do you think of inviting your enemies —  your chief accusers — to hear your story and know why you follow Jesus?  Most of the time we have come to believe that if I a person hasn’t yet accepted Jesus then they probably don’t want to and don’t deserve our time.  Refusing to invite people into your life for the purpose of seeing God at work will certainly stifle any real efforts to FINISH as God would want you to.  We are able to grow in the FINISH when we are willing to accept and extend invitations to those we would normally ignore or even those who we view as our enemies.
  • Notice: The Act of FINISH calls us to live a life that is worth Noticing!  The caution that must be issued with this is that we want people to Notice Jesus and not us as they watch Him work through us.  As Paul arrives on the island, the people notice that he is bit by a viper yet doesn’t die.  That gets their attention right away.  Later, they notice that the power of God working through him can bring healing to those who are in need.  Then as he arrives in Rome, the Jewish leaders notice that he is a consistent follower of Jesus and they want to know from a first-hand source about this “sect” that they have heard much negative talk about.  Do the people around you each day even notice that you are a follower of Jesus?  Jesus tells us to live in such a way that people see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.    As we live life looking toward the Act of FINISH, we must live in such a way that we are so transparent that the only thing others Notice in us is Jesus.
  • Insight:  One advantage of the Act of FINISH is that the longer we live, and the more we listen to God, the more Insight we should have in matters that are most important.  As we approached chapter 28, Paul was able to share the great insight he had received from God on how everyone on board the ship could be saved.  Our time with God through His Word, His Spirit, and prayer gives us insight on how everyone in life could be saved!  The insight that God gives us also helps us to see beyond the surface and into the genuine needs that the people around us have.  The insight we need is available, the question really comes in two parts; one, are we spending time with God to better see people as He sees them, and two, what are we doing with the insight God gives us?  As we grow in the Act of FINISH, it is important to not only seek Insight from God, but to use it for His glory and purpose.
  • Sharing:  Our life only accomplishes what it is meant to in the Act of FINISH if we are deliberately and consistently involved in Sharing.  Paul was constantly involved in sharing not only his faith and belief in Jesus, but pretty much anything he had.  Paul shares his knowledge, his ability, his resources whether great or small.  As I think about the Act of FINISH and Sharing, I can’t help but think about Matthew 25 where Jesus tells a story about a multitude of people who are divided into two groups — one group is welcomed into the King’s presence and the other is sent away into utter darkness.  What was the difference between the two groups?  Not how much they knew, not how much scripture they had memorized, not how often they had attended any religious gathering, not even how many religious acts they had done!  No, the difference is in how much they shared with the King!  While neither side seemed to think they had shared, or not shared, with the King, Jesus makes it clear that it is in what we share (or don’t share) with “the least of these” that we share with Him.  I believe we ought to use caution and the common sense that God gives us, but are we so afraid of being taken advantage of that we simply fail to share?  Have we become so greedy that we can’t bring ourself to give anything to a person in real need?  Are we so fearful of how people might react that we refuse to share the good news of Jesus?  The Act of FINISH that hears the Master say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your master’s happiness.” is the Act of FINISH that has learned how to Share.
  • Honor:  The Act of FINISH wraps up with a focus on Honor.  We tend to like honor when it is directed our way but we are a little more selective when it comes to actually showing or giving honor to someone else.  Paul knew how to both receive and give honor.  As Paul allowed God to work through him on the island, the people who were experiencing God’s healing in their lives were showing honor to Paul and his companions “in many ways”.  Paul had learned to receive honor with humility and grace.  He also knew how to give honor to those around him.  Even his inviting the Jewish leaders to hear him out was a way of honoring a group of people who his experience may have said didn’t deserve much honor.  As God does a great and might work in and through us, He also calls us to accept proper honor with the same humility and grace that Paul showed.  On the other hand, God also calls us to give honor to people that we may not think deserve that from us.  We dishonor people who are made in the image of God when we refuse to have a conversation with them for whatever reason we make up.  The Act of FINISH gains its real power from our willingness to humbly receive and give honor when honor is due.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of FINISH?  As you move from where you are to where God wants you to be, do you constantly walk by Faith?  Are you open to recognizing, and responding to, the Invitations that are both extended and received by you for the purpose of investing in the life of another?  Are you living your life in such a way that people Notice your good deeds and glorify God?  Are you spending regular time with God to gain His Insight into the way He would have you go?  Do you make the most of every opportunity to Share everything God has given you — including your possessions and your relationship with Jesus?  Are you growing in the practice of giving and receiving Honor with humility and grace?  I pray that your involvement in the Act of FINISH will boldly take you from where you are to where God wants you to be as you show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!

The Act of ANSWER (Acts 22)

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

After having the month of August off, it is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts!  It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply.  As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid.  Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.

As we arrive in Acts 22 in our sermon series we find Paul publicly giving his testimony as a result of being arrested for being at the center of a riot.  Paul seemed to understand what Peter would write about being ready to give an answer — even in times where it might seem safer to just blend in and not speak up.  As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be ready to give an ANSWER.

  • Acknowledge:  As we prepare to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is important that we acknowledge we started at the same place as the person who needs to meet the hope we have.  Paul begins his defense — his answer — in chapter 22 by acknowledging that he not only understands their concerns but for much of his life he was right there with them leading people in the very actions they were involved with.  Sometimes as Christians our answer falls on deaf ears, at least in part, because we don’t acknowledge we were once just as lost as they were.  We want to forget that part of our life.  We want to believe we have always been in a right relationship with God — but we haven’t been!  Our acknowledgement is a necessary part of our answer so that people can see there is hope for them to experience the change that Jesus offers.  When we are engaged in the Act of ANSWER, our Acknowledgement of where we’ve been can help others see they are not beyond the reach of God’s grace. 
  • Notice: For our answer to be as effective as possible, it is important that we actually notice who we are talking to!  Paul appears to do this as he chooses to address the crowd in Aramaic.  As you read the text, it is obvious that using this language gets the crowd’s attention.  Remember, this wasn’t a friendly crowd wanting to hear what the traveling preacher was saying — it was an angry mob already in turmoil over what Paul had been teaching.  If we are going to excel at giving an answer with gentleness and respect, it is imperative that we notice everything we can about who we’re talking to!  Too often we put our foot in our mouth because we’ve not paid attention to the details.  So, our mouth opens and out comes something offensive, making whatever truth we may have shared to fall on deaf ears.  When we Notice as much as possible about the people around us, God will use those details to guide our words in the Act of ANSWER.
  • Speak:  While this part of our answer should be obvious, it is often the most difficult because it represents the point of no return.  Paul writes to the Romans that faith comes by hearing the word of God and that hearing the word of God requires that someone speaks it.  Paul would not only speak as part of his answer about his faith, he would speak as much as possible in a language that his audience would understand.  A life lived fully in the hope Jesus offers will often get people’s attention but what will we do with it?  The speaking we do about our faith in Jesus must come from both our acknowledgement of where we started and from the things we notice about those we speak to.  When it comes to living out the Act of ANSWER, there does come a point where we must Speak about the incredible hope that we have in Jesus.
  • Willing:  To know these first three elements of the Act of ANSWER is good, but doing it typically requires that we ask the question of ourself, “Am I willing?”.  Even when we know the importance of the hope that we have, many times we are intimidated into not being willing to share it.  Paul had been told he would suffer much for sharing about Jesus yet he was willing to keep giving an answer because he knew it was the only way others would know about an everlasting hope.  Instead of letting fear drive our silence, we must be willing to step up and speak up every time God gives us an opportunity to share about our relationship with Him.  Are there people we are not willing to speak to because we think they’re unreachable or undeserving?  According to God, knowing the good we ought to do and not be willing to do it is sin.  The Act of ANSWER will never by attempted by us until we are Willing to be obedient to God in all things and make the most of every opportunity He gives us.
  • Expose:  There is a perceived downside to the Act of ANSWER and that is that it has a tendency to Expose both us and those we give the answer to.  When our answer is filled with the honesty and integrity that it requires, it reveals that we started at the same place as those hearing our answer — we were a sinner in need of God’s grace.  Paul’s answer to the crowd exposed to them that even in his strongest held beliefs before meeting Jesus, he was wrong.  God uses that same answer to also expose the need in the lives of those listening.  It appears that Paul was being listened to, and perhaps even had agreement from among the crowd, until his answer exposed a great sin of prejudice.  Everything was good until Paul stated that God had sent him to the Gentiles.  That was more than the crowd could stand!  Their racial prejudice was so ingrained that they would seek to rid the earth of Paul rather than accept that God desired all people to be saved.  Our answer, or lack of one, can expose just how much, or little, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God.  Who we tell, or don’t tell, can expose our layers of prejudice and lack of faith in God’s power to change anyone who would turn to  Him.  Our speaking the truth in love will many times expose the hatred, hurt, and rejection in the lives of those listening.  The problem isn’t the exposure, it is what do we do with it.  God’s call is for His light to expose, and dispel, the darkness so that mankind would no longer live and walk in it.  When done effectively, our Act of ANSWER gives out the light of Jesus so that the deeds of darkness are Exposed.
  • Respectful Rights:  As we give an ANSWER for the hope that lies within us, we do so recognizing that we have Rights that must be used with Respect.  Paul was not afraid to speak up for his rights in a respectful way in order to have even greater opportunity to speak about his faith in Jesus.  When about to be flogged in an attempt to get the truth out of him, Paul simply asks, as a Roman citizen, if doing so is right.  While some of our rights vary based on the country we reside in and the government we live under, God tells us that our relationship with Him through Jesus gives us the right to be called children of God.  Even when our rights seem to be non-existent or eroding away, do we use what we have to increase our opportunity to speak about our hope in Jesus?  When exercising our rights with respect will lead to hardship for us, are we willing to still speak up about Jesus?  Sometimes it is not so much that we have our rights taken away from us as Christians as that we have given up our rights as Christians because they create a hardship for us.  The opportunities we have in the Act of ANSWER often increase when we know the Rights given us by both God and our earthly authorities and we exercise these Rights with Respect.

So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of ANSWER?  Do you Acknowledge that you started at the same place in regard to God as those that you are giving your answer to are in?  Will you take the time to Notice everything you can about those to whom you will express the answer you have for your hope?  Can you Speak up and put your answer into words that others can understand?  Are you Willing to make the most of every opportunity?  Do you allow the light of Jesus Expose the truth about Him, about you, and about those you share with?  Will you be Respectful when you use your Rights to gain greater opportunity to share about your relationship with Jesus?  I pray that your response to the Act of ANSWER will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!