Stuck Week 1: The Storm and the Snake
Here I am again. Just stuck. Hey, can you see me? Can you not tell that I’m upside down? Someone help me get out of this. How long will it take to flip over? I don’t even know where to start, so maybe I should just give up. Why do I feel like I’m the only one here? It would be really nice if someone could help me get unstuck. Score.
Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the mobile app and the internet. We’re starting a brand new series this weekend called “Stuck.” I don’t normally talk a lot about my own personal life because I’m really here to talk about Jesus, but I will tell you something that you might not know about me. For about 17 years of my life, I worked with a 4x4 brand, Land Rover, and a little bit with Hummer, and did off-roading all over the world. In fact, I actually competed in a professional event called Trek. It was on ESPN back in 1999. Pretty cool stuff. I’ve been to Costa Rica, I’ve been to Mexico, I’ve been to all the deserts, I’ve been in Europe, I’ve been to Canada and done a lot of off-roading.
And what was sort of interesting is when I first started doing off-roading, it probably was ego to be honest with you, I didn’t want to ever get stuck. That’s just not what I wanted to do. I just felt like if you got stuck, that was a sign that you weren’t a great driver off-road. But as I drove more and more, I realized that getting stuck is part of the process. And, in fact, sometimes you choose where you’re going to get stuck when you’re doing off-roading rather than getting stuck over here where it’s really, really, really bad.
But I remember the first time I got stuck in my life. I was born in Kentucky. Go UK. Anyway — and we killed Tennessee last night. Take that Rocky Top back. Chip, get spiritual here.
Okay. So, anyway, I remember the first time. I grew up in Kentucky on a farm. It was about a 62-acre farm. Me and my brother — this wasn’t in Kentucky. This was actually in Florida. But we were driving in a 4x4 vehicle, and we decided — and that’s usually a bad concoction, two guys, two brothers, in a four-wheel drive vehicle. But we decided we were going to go off-roading, and we found this place that we probably shouldn’t have been, and went into a pond. And when I say “into a pond,” I mean like into a pond. Like water over the hood and all that good stuff. And so, we were good and stuck. And got out. You know, we’re wet. It’s just a bad, bad experience.
And my brother says, “You know, I’m going to go and get us out.” This is before there were cellphones. I know some of you all don’t remember those days, but there were days where you didn’t have a cellphone or Facebook or any of that stuff. So, my brother takes off. He’s gone for like an hour. You know? And I’m starting to worry now about my brother Bobby. Like, what’s gone on? And all of a sudden over the top of this pond area comes this tractor, and there’s a couple guys on it. You know? And they’re just having a ball. They’re like, “Hey, you don’t know how to drive down there, do you? Oh, just missed the road and went for the pond?”
You know? They’re having fun. And Bobby is just — he’s covered with dirt. I mean, it looks like they beat him up and I didn’t want to say anything. So, they got us out, pulled us out with this tractor, we get in the car and we’re driving down the road. Bobby’s like, “You owe me for the rest of your life.” And I’m like, “Why do I owe you for the rest of my life?”
He’s like, “Dude, they made me bail hay for 30 minutes before they would come and pull you out of the pond.”
So, if you’ve ever bailed hay, it’s not fun. It’s not fun for a minute. It’s surely not fun for 30 minutes. But we got out. So, I ended up learning to drive better and all of those great things, and I learned that you’re going to get stuck. But it was always fun because you’d meet somebody that has an off-road vehicle that’d be like, “I’ve been driving 15 years. I’ve never been stuck.” And you’re like, “You’ve never been driving off-road then.”
Anyway, along the way, you learn that if you’re going to drive off-road, there are certain things you need in your vehicle because you’re going to get stuck. The first thing you need is a set of really good boots. When you’re in Florida, you get stuck and you get out in your Cole Haans, they’re done. So, you’ve got to have a good set of boots and all of that. On top of that, you’ve got to have a tow strap or a snap strap because those are fantastic. You put them on a shackle, it’ll deshackle them. Put them on a tow hook or whatever, pull it out. Hook it to a receiver hitch and pull out front and back. You’ve got to have those things.
You’ve got to have traction mats. Traction mats are huge. If you’re in sand or you’re in mud and you get that wheel spinning, you get that underneath there, it gets a little bit of a grip and it’ll pull you out. But if you’re really going to do off-roading, you have to have a winch. I mean, that is absolutely imperative. When we did off-roading, we had two. We had one in the front and we had this portable winch which was awesome. It would go in the back of a class three receiver hitch and you could winch out of the back or winch out of the front. Really, really cool stuff. And you need a high lift jack because a high lift jack, sometimes your tire goes flat in the mud. And how do you change it? Well, you’ve got to get the vehicle up and get that around. You’ve got to have all of those things.
And you may be wondering, “Why in the world, on a Sunday morning when we’re supposed to be talking about Jesus, are we talking about off-roading?” Because here’s what I want you to understand. If you’re going to go off-roading, you’re going to get stuck. And the question is do you have the tools in your vehicle, at your disposal, to help you get unstuck? It parallels our lives. And everybody here, whether you want to admit it or not, this is the truism of all of us here. We’re going to get stuck in our lives. The question is do we have the tools to get unstuck. Now, I know there’s a whole sect of Christianity out there that you can watch on TV and they’ll tell you they’ve got holy water, that they bottled at the Waffle House bathroom, that if you buy for $19.99 and pour it on stuff, everything will go well. I can tell you that’s not true. Anybody who’s being honest is going to tell you that, even as Christians, we’re going to get stuck in our lives. It’s not a matter of getting stuck. It’s a matter of do we have the tools to get us unstuck.
So, for the next several weeks, what we want to do is talk about this big idea in a lot of different ways, but here’s the big idea: We want to learn how to get unstuck when we’re stuck so when we get stuck we don’t stay stuck. Amen? Right? That’s what we’re going to do over the next few weeks here. So, let me give you a little background and sort of a behind the curtain deal on how we do stuff. At the beginning of every year, we always do a series. Whether it’s called Reset, Our House or whatever it is, we talk about vision, we talk about all those things. Those are just things that we do. But before we get going in the year, usually at the end of December or the 1st of January, I meet with the creative team. What we do is we sit down and we talk about all these series ideas that I have. I catalogue throughout the year on my phone or my iPad just as I’m sort of talking, driving, eating or whatever. If I have an idea, I put it down, jot it down as an idea for a series. And, usually, I come in with like 15 or 20 of those and we talk about them. We sit around as a creative team and it looks something like this because we met on January 16th of this year. This is what it sort of looks like. And it just continues on and on and on, and we know what we’re doing, sermon titles and all of that stuff.
So, we’re prepared because we know that after Stuck the next series is called Doors, which is going to be really cool because I’m going to be able to open doors on the screen. That’s going to be so cool. And then the next one after that, as we go into Easter, which is going to be called Between Two Thieves. And then, after that, we’ve got a series called Unapologetic where we’re going to talk about answers to things when people really challenge you in your Christian faith to be able to give some really good answers. So, we’ve got a lot of good stuff going on because here’s my commitment as your pastor. I’ve got one major commitment that I will make to you over and over again. When you come here to Grace, it is my passion that when you come here, number one, you fall in love with Jesus and you learn that this is all about Jesus, and secondly, that you grow in your Christian faith and you’re equipped to do the things that you need to do.
If you’re not getting that here at Grace, then I want you to go find a church that you can get that at because it’s a really big deal to me that when you come here that’s what you get. So, I try really hard, and the creative team tries really hard, to have great stuff for everybody when they come to Grace. And I hope you see that to be the case. Well, we sit down and we talked about it. Everybody’s like “Stuck.” It was like unanimous. Everybody’s like, “That’s got to be the first one, man. That’s so great. That’s a great idea. And I’m like, “Really? Y’all think that’s such a great idea?” They’re like, “You don’t have any idea, Chip. This is a great idea. I mean, there are areas in our lives where we get stuck. That’s a great idea.”
I’m like, “Okay. You know what? Let’s stop for a second. I’m going to sit here on my iPad. Will you tell me in your lives what you get stuck in?” And it was great. I mean, I’m sitting there just jotting down stuff. I’m like, “This is great stuff.” So, we had a number of things. It’s not limited to these, but these were some of the ideas that come up and some of the ideas that we thought we should tackle in this series. And they were fantastic. The first one was bad habits. They were like, “Chip, sometimes we get bad habits in our lives and we don’t know how to get them out of our lives.” I’m like, “Man, I would’ve never thought about that. That is a great topic to talk about.”
I had some millennials in the room. They’re like, “One of the things we struggle with is debt and getting out.” I’m like, “That’s good.” Toxic relationships. You know? “I keep dating the same guy over and over again, Lucifer, and he just...”
Whatever. “How do I break out of that?” Spiritual dryness. That was a great one. They’re like, “Chip, sometimes we’re just so dry. We don’t tell everybody we’re dry, but we’re just dry. It’s like God left the building and we just don’t know what to do. And how do we get unstuck from that when we’re stuck in this?”
I was like, “Man, this is great stuff.” And decisions. Somebody said, “There’s a bad decision, a bad decision, a bad decision and a bad decision, and these are the decisions that I have to make. I’m just stuck. How do I know which one to choose?”
I’m like, “Man, these are fantastic things.” So, we’re going to talk about some of this stuff. I think these are really relevant and super practical things to talk about. So, it was part of my role at this point to decide, “Okay, we’re going to start here, start here,” and we named all the sermon titles. We had spiritual dryness. We would call that “Parched.” We were going to start with some of these and whatever. But over the last couple of weeks, I just couldn’t get — I mean, it was like no matter what I tried to read, no matter what I tried to do, I just kept getting taken back to Acts 27 and Acts 28. And I just couldn’t get going with this stuff because I just kept going back to this. And, finally, I just said, “Uncle.” I mean, I was smart enough to realize that Paul’s stuck on a ship at this point. He’s also stuck on an island at one point. I got the idea of why I might be going back here. But it wasn’t really part of what we had agreed. Finally, I just gave up and said, “This is what I’m going to do. We’re going to start off the series with this sermon this weekend and go from there.”
So, I want to give you a little bit of background. We’re going to look at some text and we’re going to talk about some things to think about as we start this series off. The book of Acts is what we call in the literary world, or literature world, a diptych, which means it’s a compendium volume. Luke and Acts should be read together. I know in your Bibles there’s Luke and then there’s John and then there’s Acts, and oftentimes you don’t see that they should be read together, but they should be read together. They are so well-written, and stuff going on in Luke’s Gospel is going on in the book of Acts. Reading these things together really makes sense. And you can go home this weekend and see in Luke 1 he says he’s writing to Theophilus. In Acts 1, he says he’s writing to Theophilus. These are written to the same person. They’re written together. There’s a lot of rich material that’s going on in there. So, in Acts 27 and Acts 28, which is the last part of the book of Acts, the major brunt of those two chapters is Paul is on a ship, he’s headed to Rome because he’s been arrested by the Jewish leaders, but he’s protested that he’s a Roman citizen and he wants to get hearing. You know, he can go all the way to the Supreme Court, and that’s what he wants to do to be heard. So, the book of Acts catalogues that trip to Rome.
But in Acts 27 and Acts 28, Paul is about to get on a ship to continue his journey. He says to everybody, “This is a bad gig. We don’t want to get on this ship. It’s going to be a faithful tour. The Minnow is not the one we want to get on.”
You know? So, they’re like, “Whatever.” They get on the ship and everything’s going pretty well for a little bit. Then, all of a sudden, this nor’easter wind comes up and the ship’s being tossed and thrown. They’re all going to die. And Paul’s told them back at port, “We’re going to lose a lot of life, man. This is going to be an ugly trip.” They didn’t listen to him. So, they’re out there. They’re being tossed. They go 14 days without even eating. On the 14th day, Paul gets them all together and says, “I’ve had a vision from God. We’re all going to be safe as long as we stay on the boat. If you try to get off the boat, you’re not going to live. But if you stay on the boat...”
Which was probably crazy at the time because it doesn’t look like anybody was going to live on the boat. And then he takes bread, he breaks it and he gives it to them. You should be going, “That sounds familiar.” But he does these things. We’ll come back to that. So, as they’re approaching what they consider to be land because they can’t see very well, and they’re trying to figure out where they’re at with the tools that they have in their day — you know, we have depth finders now on boats, but they had to do different things to figure out where they were at. They think they’re approaching land. As they get there, they end up hitting this rocky reef. The boat starts to break up and everything. So, the people on the boat are like, “Let’s just kill the prisoners that are on the boat and then we’ll try to save ourselves.”
And the centurion that’s with Paul says, “No, no. Let’s let them live.” So, there’s 276 people on this boat. They all get off. They all swim to the water. Some of them are holding onto planks of the boat and whatever. But everybody gets to the island safe. So, in Acts 28:1, we pick up this story that’s come out of Acts 27. We’ll look at this.
It says, “After we were brought safely through,”
The keyword here is “we” because Luke is on the boat with Paul. Dr. Luke. We call these the “we” sections in Acts.
He says, “After we were brought safely through,”
And you can imagine. I mean, he’s sort of thinking, because Paul said there was going to be great loss of life, then Paul has a vision that nobody’s going to die, I’m sure Luke’s going, “I like Paul, but man, this seems to be a little crazy.” But he’s like, “We got through. We got safely through.”
“After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called [Gilligan’s Island].”
That’s why you should read your Bible. Some of you all went, “Oh, that’s where they got the show from, out of Acts 28. No. Not at all. Read your Bible.
It says, “After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta.”
The etymology of Malta comes from a Phoenician background which means “a place of refuge” in the Greek. It’s a place that’s sweet as honey. I think that could be applicable here too. But Luke’s saying, “Hey, listen. We got safely through and we landed on this island that was a place of refuge.” They’re just happy to be there. And then what he records is really cool. This is really cool because he could choose to write whatever he wrote, but this is what we got. And I don’t believe there’s on surplus of words in Scripture. He says this.
“The native people showed us unusual kindness,”
This is interesting. The King James calls them barbarians. They’re not barbarians. I think that gives a bad idea or visual of who they are. These are just native people that are uncultured. They’re not Roman citizens. They’re not people that have been educated. And they’re surely not Christians. But you can imagine here these people wash up on the island. The normal thing would be that you probably would arrest people, start questioning people or all of those things. But Luke says, “Hey, these people here, these native people, what did they do? They showed unusual kindness.”
There’s got to be a reason why he told us that. I mean, it’s interesting because I think, too, that maybe we should take from this that, you know what, there are sometimes people in the world that show more kindness than people that are in the Church. You know? We’re going to figure out why they’re so kind in a minute, but just let this continue to go in your mind here.
“The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all,” — all 276 of them — “because it had begun to rain and was cold.”
So, they come in. They’re soaking wet. It’s raining again, so they’re even more wet, and it’s cold. And they kindle this fire for everybody to keep them warm. And then what’s next is really cool.
“When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire,”
I love this. This is Paul, folks. This isn’t just some dude. This is Paul. This is the guy that Jesus decided to arrest on the Damascus road and show Himself to. I always say this. This is important to remember. God’s not fair. God’s just. He’s never fair because He does things for certain people He doesn’t do for you. That’s just the bottom line. He probably didn’t knock you off your donkey on the Damascus road. He’s not fair. He’s just. Okay? So, He speaks to Paul. Paul goes on to plant churches all around the Mediterranean basin, and writes most of the New Testament. This is Paul. I mean, this is the man. What’s Paul do when he shows up on the island shipwrecked, cold, in the rain? He sees a need and fills a need. Fire’s got to be kindled. Go get some brush and put it on. There’s just something so rich about that right there. He goes and gathers some sticks and puts them on the fire.
And then we’re told, “A viper came out because of the head and fastened on his hand.”
So, he’s got these sticks and wood that he’s going to put on the fire. Of course, if you know anything about serpents and you know anything about snakes, when it’s cold, they don’t move as fast. But this snake, he realized that he was going to be charbroiled viper in a minute when he’s getting ready. It gets him enough to where he comes out and he fastens onto Paul’s hand. Just for those of you all who love Scripture and really love to see nuggets or whatever, the only place that “viper” is used is at the beginning of Luke and at the end of Acts. That’s not coincidental. In Luke 3, he calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Same word. He says, “The ax is going to be laid to the wood, and the wood will be thrown into the fire.” We’re seeing all these things again. I don’t have time to develop all of this stuff. I’m just telling you Scripture is rich. Spend time in Scripture. There’s a lot of things to get out of these books.
“A viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand,”
These are the people that have built the fire that are kind and generous and all this stuff.
“When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer.’”
We’re going to enter into some comedy here in Scripture. Scripture is funny. How do you go from being nice to someone to not just something’s wrong, he got bit by a snake, but he’s a murderer. I know none of us would ever make knee-jerk reactions on anybody, but they did. Those barbarians, right?
“They said to one another, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer.’”
So, they’ve concluded, now, he’s a murderer. And now we’re going to figure out why they were so nice and why they were doing the things that they were doing and why they’re concluding this — because they’re religious people too.
“‘Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.’”
They’ve got this idea of this god of Justice. So, see, when this boat capsized, broke up and everybody comes onto the land, their religion told them if things are going good, then these people are blessed, but when something’s going bad, they’re cursed. It sounds like American Christianity. So, they say, “This is why the Justice has not allowed him. He’s a murderer. Something’s wrong with this guy. This doesn’t fit.”
“He [Paul], however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.”
He was listening to Taylor Swift. He shook it off.
“He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.”
Now, Luke tells us he suffered no harm. They don’t know this yet. We know this now that we’re reading this, but they don’t know this at this point. He suffered no harm.
“They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead.”
They’ve seen this story before. They know what the viper does. They know the viper. They know when it bites you, you swell up and you die.
It says, “But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.”
Really? We go from murderer to god. I mean, I know none of us would ever make any rash decisions about people or anything like that. But they did. And let me just tell you something. When you’re reading Scripture, read the Scripture as if you’re the Maltese people. Read the Scripture as if you’re the woman caught in adultery. Read the Scripture as if you’re the Pharisee because that’s the way you read Scripture. Let it speak to you. Don’t try to go, “I wouldn’t do that. I’m not that person. I wouldn’t do that.”
No. We all are those people. Okay? So, the Maltese people, all of a sudden, they change their mind. Now he’s a god. And then Luke sort of shifts a little bit and tells us something here differently.
He says this: “Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius,”
So, now we realize that on this island there’s the island figure that has the majority of the island. He’s the head man on the island. His name is Publius.
This guy, Publius, it says, “Who received us and entertained us hospitable for three days.”
That’s interesting. Three days. So, Paul, who has been bitten by the viper, a death-like sentence, and his hand has been wounded, three days later — you should have some stuff going off in your head here. Three days later, what does he do? It happened — like, that’s not coincidental. I mean, Luke tells us in Luke 24 that Jesus said that the whole Old Testament is about His suffering and glory, and about the third day and all that. He says that in Luke 24. You can read that. He says, “It happened.” This is the third day because he’s received the death-like thing. It’s cold and rainy. It’s like death. And now, all of a sudden, three days later, this Publius’ father lay sick with fever and dysentery. This is Dr. Luke. He knows what’s going on. He knows he’s got a fever and he’s got dysentery because Luke’s a doctor. He records this.
It says, “And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him.”
Well, this is even better because what happens?
It says, “And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and they were cured.”
So, three days after the lethal wounding, all of a sudden, miracles are going on everywhere and people are getting healed and all this great stuff. And then he ends with this.
“They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.”
Eventually, a ship came by that they could get on and take to continue their journey. And these people, the Maltese people, were just incredibly nice. What’s going on here subliminally is this: Christians can have good relationships with those people who are not Christians. We can do good things for them and they can do good things for us. And I think you need to hear that because this is really, really important. And then what happens is Paul goes to Rome and the Christians come out to meet him. He goes into Rome. He’s there. He talks to the Jewish people. They don’t really want to hear what he has to say. He says, “Do you know what? I’m going to go to the Gentiles.”
And we leave the book of Acts with Paul is bound, but the Word of God is not bound. And that’s the way Acts ends. So, this is a great story. So, what can we glean? Normally, I do takehomes, but this weekend we’re going to do something different. These are just what I called some thoughts to think about as we start the series. These are just some thoughts. I just want you to think about these thoughts over the next week as we start this series called “Stuck.” I think they will help you out. This first one is so important. There may be two or three other things that, maybe if I thought about it, but at this particular, probably of anything that I could give to you, like if I could say, “Hey, this is the one nugget you want to know as a Christian going forward in your life, especially in regards to stuck, unstuck and all of this stuff, if I could give you one big nugget, it would be this.”
I’m going to have to explain it, so I’m going to spend some time on this. But this is the nugget. If you don’t take notes, it’s a good time to take notes. The book of 1 Opinions says God loves note-keepers and note-takers. Anyway, this is a good time to take some notes and pay attention.
Here’s the first one. This is it. When we follow Jesus, the pattern of suffering and glory will be replicated in our lives. What do I mean by that? Okay. What I mean by that is that throughout Scripture, all through Scripture, there is a pattern of suffering and glory that is in everybody’s story.
Luke tells us in Luke 24 that Jesus says, “You didn’t know, like Moses and the prophets, about the suffering and glory of the Christ? You didn’t pay attention to that?”
When you were reading Joseph and Joseph got thrown into the pit which was underground, like buried, he’s put in jail, that he’s there with the cup bearer and the bread maker? The bread and the wine? And he’s raised up out of that pit and he goes to the right hand of power of Pharaoh? That doesn’t sound like some story that maybe...
Or Daniel 6? When you read Daniel 6 there’s satraps and all kinds of officials that want to kill Daniel because he’s an innocent man, but they sort of conspire together to kill him. The rulers conspire together to kill him. And they come up with a plan. On day two, because we hear the first day, day two, the king says, “Yeah. He’s got to die. Got to put him in the lion’s den.” That day, they put the stone over the lion’s den. They roll a stone over the lion’s den. They seal it with the king’s seal. On the morning of the third day, the stone is rolled away and the Hebrew is very clear that Daniel is lifted up out of the pit. I could spend hours on these stories going through the Old Testament showing you the suffering and glory, and the suffering and glory of people.
This is a pattern that if you are a child of God you will experience in your life. And Luke goes to great lengths to show it. I’ll just give you an example here. Luke says, in Luke 22:19, that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples. Same Greek words. Same words in the original language. What does Paul do on the ship in Acts 27? He took bread, and giving thanks he broke it and gave it to those on the ship. Why did he record that for us? Why is he telling us that? Why is he telling us that what’s going on in Jesus’ life is going on in Paul’s life?
Why is he telling us that? Because he’s also going to tell us that Jesus was crucified and He received lethal wounds to His hands. He’s going to tell you that His hands were pierced. He doesn’t have to tell you that, but he tells you that. He tells you specifically those hands are pierced because Paul’s hand is going to get pierced with a stigmata. Jesus’ back was beaten. Right? Who else’s back is going to get beaten? All the disciples’ backs are getting beaten. Paul’s head is crushed with stones. Jesus’ head receives wounds.
These stories — if you follow Jesus, there’s going to be mountaintop experiences, there’s going to be healings, there’s going to be victory, but there’s also going to be moments of being stuck because this is the rhythm of grace. Suffering precedes glory. That’s how you know when you’re stuck, that’s how you know when you’re in a bad situation, that it’s not going to be there forever if you’re a child of God because the rhythm of grace is that after suffering comes glory. Continue on here. Jesus is crucified with thieves and is regarded as a criminal. He’s a murderer because He took the place of Barabbas, right? He showed His power over death and He was worshiped as a God. Well, what happens here? Paul’s regarded as a murderer, and when he suffers no harm from his lethal wound, they conclude he must be a god. Just coincidence? No. What’s going on in Jesus’ life in Luke is going on in Jesus’ life in Acts. In fact, all the miracles Peter does in the first part of Acts are completely done by Paul in the second part of Acts. Why are they writing this? Why are they telling us these things?
He goes on to say after three days, Jesus came forth from the grave. After three days, Paul does all these miracles on Malta. What’s going on in Jesus’ life, whether it’s the wounding or the miracles, is going on in Paul’s life because he’s a child of God. And suffering and glory will go on and coincide in both. Not only that, but Jesus commissioned His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations, and we find in Acts 28:10 that the people of Malta have blessed the furtherance of the Gospel. What we see in Paul’s life, we see in Jesus’ life, and vice versa. What’s happening in your life as a Christian, you’re going to have suffering and glory. You’re going to have periods of stuck and unstuckness.
Here’s the big light bulb idea that we need to understand. This is the one that we’ve got to get. Understanding conformity to Christ alleviates the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Because, see, that’s what we do. When we’re not thinking theologically, and we’re not thinking biblically, and we’re not thinking about how big God is, and we’re not thinking about His sovereignty, what we do when we get stuck is we go, “Why is this happening to me?”
That’s why Peter says in 1 Peter 4, “Don’t ask yourself — when the strange thing is happening, when the fiery trials of the Gospel come your way, don’t act like some strange thing is happening because it’s part of what goes on.”
In fact, we should, as Christians, be able to go, “Hey, I was counted worthy to suffer for Jesus’ sake because that’s a sign that I am truly a child of God.”
See, I can’t explain this to you, and nobody can. What I can tell you is that God is so sovereign that not one bird falls to the ground apart from the Father’s will. But I can also tell you that you’ve got choice and responsibility and you have to choose and do the things that you do.
And you go, “Well, how does that work?” I don’t know. What I’m telling you is they both are true at the same time. But understanding that and embracing that, which requires faith, let’s you and me know that no matter what garbage comes our way, we know that God is at work. That’s why James says we can count it joy when these difficulties come. When we’re stuck or when we’re going through difficulties, if you believe God is sovereign, then you have purpose. You don’t have to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” You can go, “Well, what do I need to get out of this? What’s God trying to teach me? What’s He trying to show me?”
It changes the whole ballgame when you understand that. Secondly — and if you understand that, theologically you understand this. Many times, being stuck, it isn’t about you and me. Your stuckness isn’t about you. It’s about others. Paul’s in the Philippian jail. It’s not the “flip out” jail. He’s not flipping out in Philippi. He’s in the Philippian jail and here’s what he says. He’s in jail. He’s stuck in jail. “Woe is me. So bad. I can’t believe it.”
No, no. Here’s what he says: “I want you to know, brothers, what’s happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel. It’s not about me. See, I realized when the ship was being tossed and I’m stuck on the ship, I had a vision from God that it wasn’t about me. It was about the 276 people on the ship that they could see God’s glory. When I got stuck on the island, it wasn’t about me. It was for the Maltese people to see the power of God in healing the sick.”
See, when you embrace the bigness and largeness of God in our lives, rather than embracing circumstantial Christianity, you realize that, “Hey, sometimes this isn’t even about me. It’s not even about me. God, You’ve got a plan and I believe in Your plan. Even if I’m in a pit or I’m at the right hand of power, it doesn’t make a difference. I am here to serve You and to do the things that You want to do. Use me in whatever way that You can because I know that, ultimately, You’re working all things for good.”
Third thing. This is really important too. When we’re stuck, continue serving. So often, we get stuck and people don’t go to church, they call out, they do all kinds of stuff because they’re just stuck. This is why this passage is so beautiful. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, what is Paul doing? He’s serving. He’s cold, wet and just come off a shipwreck. What do you find Paul doing? Just serving. He’s just doing the God thing. It’s what he does. That’s who we are. Sometimes it feels so foreign to do those things. I’d just like to give you this big quote by Henry Ford which just embraces why you’ve got to keep going against, maybe, what you feel at times and whatever. This right here: When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
Now, this next point has nothing to do with my sermon. It doesn’t. It’s just a cool point and I just felt like somebody needed to hear it. Maybe we need to hear it as a church. I’m just going to say it and then I’m going to get to point five. Here it is. Fires go out when you don’t keep them kindled. Just remember that. Fires go out when you don’t keep them kindled. Do you want to know why we are such a big proponent around here of being in church, being in small groups and being stuff? Because sometimes you need a Paul to go put wood on the fire to keep it going. Sometimes you need to be the one who goes and puts wood on somebody else’s fire. Sometimes you’ve got to put wood on your own fire. But fires that don’t get kindled go out.
This next one is huge. The hand bitten by the serpent will be used to heal. Listen to me. Listen to your pastor. Listen to me. This is not for your neighbor. This is for you. So often, when we get bitten on our hand — and usually we get bit when we serve, when we’re doing something. You’re trying to do something nice and you get bit. You’re trying to be a good person and you get bit. What we do is we walk around for years saying, “Look at the bite. Look at what happened. Look at this. Look at the bite. Let me have a small group and take over the small group and tell everybody about my bite and tell everybody how bad it is. This happened to me. The divorce that I went through, this that happened with my son or whatever. Look at the bite.”
No, no, no. God did not allow you to get wounded to just sit around and talk about it. The wounding that you had was a setup for the greatest ministry that you will have for the Kingdom of God. When we’re wounded, it becomes our ministry. See, that deep wounding that you have, that you’ve never been able to move on from, is probably the very thing that God wants to use you for to do great kingdom work for the Kingdom of God. Because, see, here’s what we’re told: He put his hands on him. He didn’t have to tell us that. He could’ve said, “Paul prayed for him and he got well.” Why did he tell us he put his hands on him? Because he wanted you to see the hand that got wounded was the hand that was used to heal.
Listen to me, child of God. Those scars and those wounds and those hurts that you have are not there for you to let everybody know what happened to you. They’re there to allow God to use them for His purposes, for His kingdom; to use you in your deepest points of wounding to be the greatest source of healing to someone else. Because He doesn’t use our strengths. He uses our weaknesses.
And this last one here is so important. The storm and the snake ultimately bow at the servant of God. See, what Paul’s destiny is is to do what God has called him to do. The storm can’t stop him and the snake can’t stop him. In fact — I love my new screen. I’ve got the gears turning here. You know? I love that stuff. It says, “Nothing in nature or politics...” — Caesar can’t even stop Paul — “...will keep the servant of God from fulfilling their divine destiny.”
The only thing that can keep you from doing that is you. God will do the things He said He’s going to do. See, this is a life of faith. We are so well-to-do in America. We have so many great things. We have so much blessing, so much abundance. I mean, we suffer from affluenza. We’re so affluent and all of this. And when things go wrong, we’re just all this stuff. Listen, it’s time for us to understand that when we decide we’re going to follow Jesus, it is a life of faith. And if we will follow Jesus, faithful is He who has called you to do the things that He’s called you to do. He will accomplish those things in your life.
Now, here’s the way I want to end this because this is important. Some of you all are stuck and some of you all have got things that you’ve been holding onto for a long time. I’ll end with this. Oftentimes, I would get out of vehicles when I was doing off-roading and it would be really nasty soup mud, and you’d get out, you’re trying to trudge through the stuff. And as you’re sitting there trying to maybe unspool the winch, or you’re setting there trying to get the hook on, you don’t really pay attention. You’re sinking down too. It looks something like this. Okay? You’re in the muck.
Your friend comes along and says, “Hey, man. Come on. Let me get you. Come on out. You’re stuck. Let me get you unstuck.” You’re like, “I can’t.” They’re like, “Dummy, step out of your boots.” And you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I’m not stuck. But I thought that...”
See, this is what’s happened. There are things that you’re stuck in in your life that you put so much time, effort, emotion and energy into. Sometimes you’ve just got to step out of the boot and let the boot go away and just move on. And that’s what I want us to do over the next several weeks. I want us to learn how to get out of these situations we find ourselves in, and how to get unstuck when we’re stuck, so when we are stuck, we don’t stay stuck.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the truth of Your Word and the richness of Your Word and these stories that You have given to us that are just profound. But Lord, I know in this church there are people that are stuck right now. God, I’m praying in Jesus’ name that they will learn how to step out of the boot. That they’ll believe that You can get them out of these situations and that You will if they’re Your children. And Lord, for those of us, maybe, who aren’t stuck right now, or for people in the church who aren’t stuck, I pray that this series will be preventive things so when we do get stuck, we’ll have tools in our toolbox to learn how to get unstuck.
Lord, I pray that You would do a really incredible work in our midst over the next several weeks here at Grace for Your glory. So, Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You would continue to watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would continue to lead and guide us, and I pray, God, You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, and I pray, Lord, that You would help us to stay focused on being the church that You’ve called us to be — the church that will reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.