ON HOLD? STUCK? what are you going to do? (Acts 27/28)

ON HOLD? STUCK? what are you going to do? (Acts 27/28)

Have you ever run out of gas? If so, I know how you feel. Besides feeling a little dumb, you also feel stuck; either on a highway or some random road, and if you as unlucky as I was, not close to a gas station.

Have you ever been locked out of your house? Same kind of feeling – stuck. My nephew was locked out of his uncles house a few weeks ago while visiting Montreal. He had one thing to do while everyone was out running errands – watch the dog (who was also a guest that day). Something attracted him to walk outside, that would be the trampoline. He stepped outside (underdressed) to play around for a minute or so. When he decided to go back in, he realized the door was locked. He had two worries, one was that his dog would pee in his uncles house, the other was that he would freeze (it was in the lower single digits, celsius, and he was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt). He was ‘stuck’ outside for 2 hours.

I’m sure you’ve been placed on hold from time to time. We call an office and either half way through the conversation or even before we get started, we are asked to hold. As polite as the receptionist sounds, we are still left with a decision, do we wait, do we hang up, do we call back? Just like running out of gas and locking yourself out, being on hold feels like your stuck – waiting for ‘pause’ to turn into ‘play’.

What happens when life gets put on hold? When you feel like you should be moving forward, you are instead stuck in your tracks. You get ‘the call’ or ‘the letter’ that puts everything to a halt – those become really tough seasons to get through. We want to look for silver linings, but if we’re honest, the grey clouds are lined with even darker grey lines.

U2 wrote these lyrics a few years ago…
You’ve got to get yourself together, you got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of if
Don’t say that later will be better, you got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it

Acts 27 & 28 are about yet another stop along the way in Paul’s journey to Rome. We know by this point in the story that Paul is on his way to Rome – Jesus says he’ll get there and he most definitely wants to get their too.

Even though the accusations from the previous chapters have been dropped (thanks to Festus & Agrippa) Paul still has an appointment with Caesar. He asked for one, so he’s getting one. This get’s him on a ship with over 200 other prisoners on its way to Rome.

To make a long story short (which Luke doesn’t do in Acts), Paul and the crew get stuck along the way. Paul advises the leaders and passengers to stay at the Good Harbour (Fair Havens) in Crete. It’s storm season and Paul thinks it’s best to hold off, but they don’t want to. You know how it is? You’re so determined to get ahead that you unwisely try to push forward, even when the risks are too great. Wouldn’t you know it, shortly after they set sail, the bad weather hits. Luke describes the 14 day period as so dark that you couldn’t see any stars at night or the sun in the day. Somehow, after throwing much cargo off the ship, they manage not to sink. After the weather finally passes and they feel like they just might make it, they hit a reef and are stuck quite a ways off shore. Many days before, Paul had a dream that every one would live, but the boat would be a write off. With no boat left they all decide to swim to shore. Paul’s dream comes true, they all make it to shore.

One problem, the shore they hit wasn’t Rome, it was Malta. Think about this for a minute. Paul’s long journey, including flogging, interrogation, prison, persecution, debates and bad weather ends not at Rome (yet) but at Malta. Get this, they were STUCK in Malta for 3 months. What happens in Malta teaches us something, both about Paul and about us.

This crew of prisoners were treated very well by the natives of this island. The Maltese were hospitable to Paul and the rest of them. Paul’s understanding of love and grace are expanded by the Maltese. Their behaviour affirms in Paul what it means to be hospitable, even or especially, to those who are not like you. There was no reason for the Maltese people to help them, but they did. They kept them warm by a fire, found them food and found them a place to rest.

Something else happened on this Island. Paul wasn’t only served by the Maltese, he served them. Both with chores as well as gifts of healing and helps. Paul healed many people on the island, which of course communicated the power of Jesus that Paul possessed.

What’s Luke trying to tell us with this story?

Even though Paul had a destination in mind, he didn’t wait to get their to use his gifts. He realized that even though he wasn’t in Rome, God cared about these folks too, so he showed them God’s love through healing and help. He may have been stuck, but he wasn’t going to let it slow down the calling on his life. The purpose of Paul getting to Rome was to share the gospel with gentiles. Here he is stuck with…more gentiles…so he helped and healed in the name of Jesus.

Too often we’re so stuck on our goal – on the place we think we’re supposed to be and can’t see the opportunity that’s right in front of us. When you’re stuck, you can pray, “God, help me, get me out of here.” but you can also pray, “While I’m here, maybe you want to use me?”

Is it possible that God wants to use our STUCKness for his purpose. I’m not saying that he gets us get stuck (although he may), but I am saying that instead of complaining or twiddling our thumbs (like we do when we’re on hold with a call) we can ask God to use us where we are – in the present moment. Sometimes it’s easier to wait for the next step than it is to be creative in your present circumstance.

Jeremiah 29:11 says this, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you…plans to give you a hope and a future.” These words were given to Israel while they were in Exile. They were stuck, they were on hold, they were going nowhere fast, yet God reminded them that even though they feel stuck, he is still pulling them forward. Also while in Exile God tells Israel to pray for the peace and prosperity of their city (Babylon). Pray for a place that they don’t even want to be in? Pray for neighbours that they never wanted to live beside? What’s the deal with that? Even though we think we’re stuck and have no where to go, we can still live out our God-given calling and make a difference where we are. Don’t lose the dream God gave you – don’t forget about the future God is calling you to – but also don’t miss the opportunity to live, love and serve in the moment and the place where you find yourself.

Think about this…

– People who follow Jesus should never worry about being on HOLD
– God’s purpose follows us into the waiting room
– Keep living, serving, giving and being who God called you to be…even when you’re stuck…even when you’re on hold
– You’ll eventually reach your potential, as Paul did, but in the meant time, serve God in Malta

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

small(er) group questions:

Any funny stories about running out of gas or getting locked out of your house?

Running into road blocks and getting stuck seems to be a theme in these last few chapters of Acts. Do you think it’s something we should get used to?

Is it fair to say that Paul learned about hospitality from the Maltese people? Do you think a light went on about how important it is for followers of Jesus to treat people well…especially those who are different?
How can hospitality communicate the best of humanity and the best of God’s story?

Even though Paul hit yet another road block, he served and healed and helped while in Malta. What does that teach us about when we’re stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it?
– Can we pray, “God, this sucks, but maybe you want to use me here, in this place, with these people.”?

How does this verse from Jeremiah resonate with you? “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you…plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Good stories are worth repeating (Acts 25/26)

Good stories are worth repeating (Acts 25/26)

There are some stories worth repeating – we would agree that the good stories should be retold over and over again. You’ve probably been at a party and one of friends said to another, “Hey man (or girl), you gotta tell everybody that story about _______”. As they proceed to share it, you wish you had a story as good to share.

Good stories have always been repeated. Good/Popular songs get played on the radio over and over, Good movies get watched, rented or downloaded more than other movies. And sitcoms or tv dramas show reruns for years to come.

For example, the Beatles song, ‘Yesterday’ has been played more than 7 million times on the radio (this doesn’t count the internet play it gets). Seinfeld has made more $3 billion in repeat fees (and 1/2 of that went to Jerry:). Starwars IV (the first to come out) is the 2nd most watched movie on TV reruns.

If you take the time to read through the whole book of Acts (as we at The Village have been adventurous enough to do), you’ll notice that one story gets repeated a few times. The story I’m referring to is Paul’s conversion. As Luke lays out what makes it into his second volume (his gospel being his first volume), he chooses to include Paul’s conversion story three times. Acts 9, 22 and 26. They’re all basically the same, but set in a different context. In Acts 9 we find out that this Pharisee who was responsible for Stephen’s death just a couple of chapters before has had a complete transformation. In Acts 22, Paul is defending himself from some accusations (which is a normal thing for Paul). In Acts 26 Paul is once again defending himself, and in this current hearing with King Agrippa begins to share who he used to be (a fundamental religious Pharisee) and how he became a follower of Jesus who is now called to share this new gospel with the world.

We enter this scene with Governor Festus trying to figure out if Paul should be convicted of anything or if he should be let go. He’s been accused of blasphemy from the Jews. Festus welcomes King Agrippa and his sister Bernice to be part of the discussion and perhaps write a letter to Caesar to be sent with Paul.

With King Agrippa wanting to hear from Paul, Paul takes this opportunity to share his (conversion) story (Acts 26). Here are the parts of his story that Luke wants us to hear…again…

Paul ‘used to be’ obsessed with putting an end to the early church movement. He was instrumental in putting Jesus’ followers in prison, and of course ensuring that many of them would die. Think about the things people are ‘obsessed’ with today: sports, gaming, netflix, etc. Paul’s obsession was watching early Christians being stoned (Acts 7). But something clicked in Paul – he realized that the hope he had in God was fully realized in Jesus. The people he was trying to stop were the ones who discovered God’s hope for real – Jesus. Paul couldn’t get past Jesus, until of course Jesus got his attention.

In Acts 26:12-18, Paul shares the heart of his conversion story. He tells us that Jesus got his attention, Jesus woke him up, knocked him off his horse (literally). In Paul’s conversion we see three things that change with Jesus: blind eyes are opened, darkness turns into light, and we are no longer are under Satan’s power, but God’s.

When you look closely, Paul’s story is more about ‘calling’ than it is about ‘conversion’. It’s clear that God didn’t get Paul’s attention simply for him to change churches…or synagogues, he changed him so that Paul could make a difference and share this story with the world. Jesus never saves us to sit, he saves us to serve. Paul’s big moment on that Damascus road turned into so many more moments where God used him.

How about you? Has God’s transformation in your life given you the desire to put a towel over your arm and serve? As grateful as you are and should be about God’s forgiveness and grace, have you allowed Him to turn your conversion into a calling? What are you called to? Who are you called to?

This last part of Acts 26 may be my favourtite. First, Festus tries to say that Paul is crazy. In Paul’s return comments, he appeals to King Agrippa and asks if he believes. King Agrippa’s response is humourous. Here’s the exchange…
Agrippa says, “Do you think that in such a short time you will persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul’s answer is classic, “short time or long I pray to God that you and all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains”. (love the inclusion and joke about the chains)

After all that Paul has gone through to get a ticket to Rome, he potentially blows it with this comment. Why? Because he really does believe in what he’s preaching. He really does want people to discover Jesus as Lord. He really does believe that everyone needs God. So he sees an opportunity to lead a King to ‘The King’, and he takes it and makes the most of it.

From what we see in Acts, Paul probably used his story many times. He wanted others to find God too. He wanted others to be awoken to who Jesus was and is.

Here are a few questions to think about…

– What
did…or is…God saving you from?
is…God calling you to?
– What
stories are you keeping to yourselves?      

    What story should you
be sharing?

– If
you’ve got no moment to look back on…no turning point…how about asking
God to get your attention…whatever way he needs to get it?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

small(er) group questions:

What’s one thing you say about your self over and over again? A trait you think describes you well that something people would like to know?

What’s one movie or show that you can watch over and over and not get sick of?

Paul talks a lot about who he used to be. Is there a past part of you that your thankful is now in the past? You feel like sharing?

We tend to think that Jesus stands at our door knocking and won’t come in unless we open the door. (I think Rev 3:20 lends itself to that) However, what do we make then of Paul’s experience. It seem like Jesus barged into that door. He got Paul’s attention. He woke him up.
– Is it one or the other…or both/and?

God’s desire seems to be two-fold: He wants to change us and he wants to use us. How long does it take to go from step 1 to step 2? Or can God use us while we’re still ‘becoming’ Christians…while the change is still in progress?

Paul took a risk in answering King Agrippa the way he did (Acts 26:28-29). What was it about  Paul that gave him such confidence? Can we have a similar confidence while still being true to ourselves and not looking too fanatical in front of friends?

What do you need to be praying for tonight?

WE ARE…a learning community (1/4)

WE ARE…a learning community (1/4)

(This past Sunday at The Village we started a 4 part series that will kickstart our fall season)

September is a great time to hit the reset or refresh button. We tend to look for reasons to do that, mainly because it’s very easy to get out of sync. For example, this summer I definitely got out of alignment in how, when and what I ate. Guess what, this fall it shows. Some people have winter tires, I’m making a splash with a summer tire. (now I have until Christmas to lose it before the winter one arrives)

Over the next 4 posts you’ll get a sense of re-alignment, re-prioritizing, maybe a little rebooting too. When we think about what kind of church community we want to be, a number of things come to mind: Loving, Caring, Honest, Welcoming, Spiritual, Creative, Jesus focused, spirit led, and the list goes on. At The Village we’ve chosen to highlight 3 words: Discovery, Story & Community. We feel that they cover a wide enough spectrum and they communicate much of who we want to be and what we want be known for.

Since we talk about these words often, I thought we could look at things from a difference angle and perhaps use some other words to add to the ones we already appreciate so much. If someone journeyed with The Village for a few weeks, what would they say about us? How would they define us? What words would they use to communicate their experience. I hope that they would at least say this about us – That WE ARE…
– a learning community
– a living community
– a loving community
– a Jesus community

What is important about being a learning community? Why does that word come into play for a church community? Well, if we hope that others discover God with us and us with them, there’s bound to be lots of learning going on. The discovery process is a beautiful thing – in it we are becoming more and more aligned with the ways of Jesus. God invites us on a journey to discover him. The scriptures are really about people who are figuring out (learning) why it’s better to follow God than anything else and that Jesus is the God we can follow. This happens through teaching, various forms of teaching: often times with words, many times through example and metaphor. The word teach or teaching is found well over 100 times in the scripture, mainly in the NT. The earliest church communities fed on and grew from the teaching of Jesus and subsequently, the apostles. If you wonder why teaching takes up more than a 1/3 of Sunday church gathering, it’s because through the teaching of scripture that the church has grown to what it is at today.

Think about this. We’ve been (both the church and the rest of the world) talking about Jesus for over 2000 years. Who gets that kind of longevity? Artists are lucky if their music or literature is even talked about 1 year after release. In our twitter/FB world, most posts don’t get a second glance. Jesus’ words, his compelling message about peace, love, grace and the kingdom of God, has been getting around for a very long time. As an old school gospel preacher might say, ‘this stuff will preach’!

So how does a church community continue to grow and become all that God would have it to be? By being a place where learning is valued, where questions are appreciated, where answers are looked for, where discovery is essential, both by the veteran follower of Jesus and the one who’s taking their first steps. We want to be a learning community. Not just any kind, but a safe kind. The kind where anyone and everyone who wants to discover Jesus, feels like they can do so at their own pace.

King David, in a Psalm full of both affirming thoughts about God and questions about His ways, says this, “teach me your ways oh Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11). There’s no better way to approach our faith journey that this. Let’s break it down:

Teach me (teach me what) your ways (who’s ways) Oh Lord (what do I do with his ways) so that I may walk (so learning his ways helps me live/walk, but how, in what way) in your truth (got it).

Jesus, when describing our relationship to him and to the Father uses the metaphor of a tree (vine), a branch and fruit (John15). He invites us to be connected to him (the vine) so that we (the branches) can grow and (eventually) bear fruit. We learn (grow, discover, become) by being connected to him. Jesus is the teacher who we listen to and watch. If you’ve ever grown anything, from flowers to vegetables, you’ve noticed that nothing grows to full form over night. We take for granted the goodness of fruit or the health of a strong tree. In a church community, you will have different people at different stages of faith; from veterans to newbies, from people who aren’t phased by anything to those who really struggle with doubt. Learning communities value everyone – we appreciate those who are asking all the questions and those who now have a few more answers than they did at first. John 15 teaches not only to be connected to Jesus, but to also appreciate all the branches that are growing out of the vine, and then to nurture the learning process so the fruit grows well and is spread around to make the world better.

Let’s be a learning community who listens and watches (Proverbs 18:13, 19:27, Luke 5:1, 2 Timothy 1:3), who follows and acts (James 1:22), who discovers God in fresh ways, and who stays connected (John 15:5) to Jesus, the vine. This will benefit everyone who calls The Village home (insert your own local church community here if you will) and it will benefit anyone willing to take a risk and begin a journey, so they too can discover God with us.

WE ARE…a learning community

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

small group notes : fall season-2014 (#1)

Do you think people participate in a church community to learn? If so, why? If not, what scares people about that idea or word?

Do we think that characters (people) in the scripture stories had it all together or that they were learning/discovery more about God everyday? You think they were figuring things out too?

The church has been teaching and talking about Jesus for a very long time? What is so fascinating about his message or story that has kept this tradition alive for so long?

How can our learning stay fresh? How should our learning environment be safe? What’s your favourite part of a Sunday gathering: worship, coffee break, teaching, other? (be honest)

Here’s Psalm 86:11 expanded…
Teach me (teach me what) your ways (who’s ways) Oh Lord (what do I do with his ways) so that I may walk (so learning his ways helps me live/walk, but how, in what way) in your truth (got it).
What do you think of it? How can this verse shape the way we approach God’s word and ways?

Jesus uses the metaphor of (he being the) vine and (us being) branches in John 15:5. How do these words relate to learning or discovering the gospel story?

We’re going to look at James 1:22 next week. If you have time, feel free to read it once before we close the night. If you really have time, you can talk about it a little too.