“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!