God on the Move: “God’s Recovery Room” – Acts 28

surgeryIt has been my experience that surgery, though usually absolutely necessary, is painful. Even though it will hurt, we will do it if we need it – even if we don’t understand exactly why we need it. We will trust a little gray-scale piece of film and a doctor who explains the incomprehensible problem. We take it at face value that we must attend to our troubles – regardless of the pain that surgical attention will cause. In our lives, surgery is just one kind of storm that can unexpectedly blow in and take, for a time, our sunshine away. The difference is that in most cases it is a scheduled storm.

The truth is that most of us don’t want storms when they come into our lives – but as we have grown in our trust of God, we have come to recognize that our Father may have planned a storm to intersect our path. While we may easily nod our heads and affirm while sitting in the peace of our church pew that God is allowed to touch our lives with storms – it doesn’t mean the storm’s approach doesn’t still bring dread. Only sadists love pain. In fact, as storms assail us, we can even search for a silver lining, but the simple fact is that storms often bring pain and loss. Our experience warns that the coming squall may be both difficult and costly. We have learned the hard way that life storms usually leave us wounded for a time – and some change us for the rest of our lives. They become like that broken leg that never completely knits back together. Long after, it throbs on damp days and night. Even though we will eventually learn to walk—and even to dance again, it will always be with a limp that doesn’t allow us to erase our memory of that storm.

Sometimes storms teach us deeper truths. Usually they change us. In the best of circumstances, they leave us kinder people – more sensitive to fellow victims of other life storms. They may make us more aware of the need for our Father’s mercy and grace – a truth that can fleet away when our busy lives leave us believing in the myth of our own competence. They can help us see scars on ourselves and others, not as marks of damage, but as signs of experience. Our scars become less ugly when we recognize them as signs the storm has now passed by and our healing has – at least to some extent – begun to take place.

In the last lesson follow the Apostle Paul’s life, we watched a powerful storm overtake him and his companions and crush the ship beneath their feet. They weren’t running from God like Jonah; they were following God in obedience. Yet, the truth is, following God isn’t a guarantee of temporal safety – it is a guarantee of eternal reward. God will remember our storm. He will see the hard things we pass through during our obedience. In the lesson on storms we learned:

• God directs our lives by having a plan long before we know what it will be.
• God directs our lives by putting the right people at the right time into our story.
• God directs our lives and He has the “detours” worked out – but they are actually the plan.
• God directs our lives even when people don’t take us seriously.
• God directs our lives even when we are outvoted in the board room.
• God directs our lives even when we have to rid ourselves of things we thought were precious.
• God directs our lives even when our resources are gone and our strength is fading!
• God directs our lives even when they seem long, hard and drawn out – while He proves that He keeps His Word!

I remind you of that list, because it is very much attached to the truth for this lesson…

Key Principle: Just as God guides through the storm, so He plans for your recovery after the storm has passed.

I would like to share with you from the next portion of Scripture that recorded the day after the storm seven truths about the recovery room of God. Remember this if you are passing through it right now… the storm DOES end. If you pick up the Bible and read the first page, then flip to the last page and read it – you will see something remarkable: the universe that began in darkness is slated to end in a light that emanates from the person of the Savior Himself. Let me share with you from God’s Word about the recovery room that follows the storm…

The recovery room begins at the safe passage through the storm.

In the case of Paul, the life storm was a bonafide cold north wind that smashed his ship. It wasn’t a metaphor – it was a painful experience. The next day, it was over. Luke recalls the end of the drama…

Acts 28:1 When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.

Luke recalled all the men were recovered as some swam to the beach, and others floated on debris. The men were glazed, tired, hungry and wet – but thankful to see another day. In fact, Paul’s Malta experience began without the ship, without their belongings, without the pounds shed from lack of food – there was much to lament, but that isn’t what people do when they make to it land. They were relieved to have survived. The shivers and wet clothing were reminders that life was still theirs.

Here is the point: The entrance into the recovery room comes with real losses, some very hard memories and maybe fewer things in your possession than you had when you entered the storm. Here is the trick… look at the words “brought safely through” and rejoice. The recovery room fills you with an “Ahhhh!” followed by a little rest.

Storms don’t only TAKE from us, they also GROW us. Passing through storms can help us taste the sweetness of another new day with more passion and appreciation. Powerful gales can, and should, help produce in us endurance – that bittersweet quality that can only be gained by passing through the uncertainty of a tempest beyond our control. During the peril, endurance is the quality that emerges as moment by moment we believe we cannot make it for yet another, but we continue to stand up. When the storm has passed, we are stunned by the grace that has been granted to stiffen our weak frame.

At the same time, we emerge from the storms and enter the recovery with full knowledge that we are a work in progress. We begin to learn to pick up the pieces, and recognize that there is neither magic nor instant cure for the damage we have suffered. There are only momentary steps of progress. We learn that our “new normal” may be very different – but slowly the pain of the storm recedes and we begin to thaw back into something that is pliable. In time we laugh again – not out of nervous shock – but out of true delight. In time, we will again be able to make faces at the passing baby in the shopping cart – and catch ourselves ebbing anew toward wonder. Deep inside, even our storm weary frame wants to believe in a new morning that will bring a new sunrise, and a new day that will offer warmth of the sun to heal our inner stiffness.

Recovery doesn’t begin until the storm has passed, but it does come. We have to learn to wait for it, learn from it, and see it as another part of God’s grace.

The recovery room includes God-provided helpers.

Maybe you aren’t sure what the recovery looks like. The experience of Paul began with people provided by God to lift the men from the beach and bring them to a warm fire…

Acts 28:2 The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.

Living for more than fifty years on this planet has taught me a lesson: People in the cold world don’t have to be nice. They don’t owe us anything, and many of them act like they know that. Yet, strangely, when people pass through life storms they often report that a strange kindness falls on the people around them. People see their pain, and recognize the scars. After a hurricane, people from unaffected areas come to offer relief and assistance. It is one of the mysteries of life – when we hurt, there are people who wouldn’t normally offer help that just feel compelled inside to do something. We all recognize that we are like that home battered by the storm. The moment we are twisted by the violent winds, our value seems to fall away. Yet, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, the broken pieces can be removed and renewed. We must remember that when kind people are placed in our path after the painful storm, it is wonderful move of God to give us some relief.

Paul and the men came upon the beach soaked from the shipwreck and the storm. Take a moment and note in the verse that relief was offered to Paul and his fellows first in the form of emotional kindness, then in practical warmth and finally in inviting hospitality. Consider this when you have passed through the storm: It is easy not to notice the people that God gives us to begin your healing – especially while we are still trying to move in the strangeness of new pain. Let me ask you to do something…Look for those who offer a warm hug – mark down their names. Notice those who offer the practical warmth and assistance that will allow you to focus on healing – remember their faces. Embrace those who offer invitation into their homes and lives. You are looking at the faces of storm survivors. They came because they know something you do not. They know the night will end and a friend can make the transition much easier.

The recovery room includes moments of God-ordained testimony.

On the first reading of the next few verses it may look like Paul’s recovery is slipping back into troubled times – a new storm may seem to be brewing. That isn’t true. Paul isn’t worried. That isn’t the point. Luke recorded the story this way…

Acts 28:3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they [began] saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and [began] to say that he was a god.

The story wasn’t about trouble for Paul – he barely seemed to notice the viper stuck to his hand. Wet to his aching bones, exhausted from the ordeal and hungry beyond belief he simply pulled the venomous snake off his hand and tossed it into the fire. It was more an aggravation than anything else. If God preserved him from the storm and told him he was heading for Rome, no snake was going to stop the plan. Paul wasted no time complaining about the snake, because he wasn’t worried about death – God told him where he was going. Besides that, a quick snake bite death was probably going to be much less painful than what WAS actually ahead for Paul! The fact is the account wasn’t primarily about Paul – but rather about those who were watching him.

You cannot help but think the villagers were a fickle lot that really went through quite an unusual turnabout! One minute they were mentally digging Paul’s grave and thinking him a wretch – the next they were dropping to their knees to pay him tribute as a god. They observed the ongoing misfortune of a storm and a viper – but they got a lesson in God’s power and knew that something beyond the normal was going on with this man. Paul’s next invitation no doubt got people out of their seats and down the aisle. This guy mustn’t be taken lightly.

Do you wonder why didn’t God block the snake from snagging Paul’s hand? It is clear from the text that God intended Paul to be a testimony, and the snake bite gave him a platform to share the Gospel. We need to remember that lesson when we feel like recovery has begun and something happens that appears to be a step backwards. Even in the recovery room we must not forget why were created – to serve the Master’s purpose. Our lives are not primarily FOR us – but for His good pleasure and usefulness. When God offered a place for the recovery to show God’s power, the testimony of the Master’s goodness flowed from the recovering man.

The recovery room often includes moments of intimate, new friendships.

During the storm, you are just trying to hang on. In the recovery room, there is an opportunity to embrace new people – some who would never have come across your path in any other way. Look at the days of recovery as explained by Luke…

Acts 28:7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. 8 And it happened that the father of Publius was lying [in bed] afflicted with [recurrent] fever and dysentery; and Paul went in [to see] him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. 9 After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. 10 They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied [us] with all we needed.

It is obvious that Paul and his men would never have met Publius had the shipwreck not occurred. This was far off course of their destination – but the detour was planned by God along with the rest of the journey.

Recently I spoke to the wife of a longtime friend – just after she passed through another round of cancer surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. She told me about the people she met at the cancer center and showed me pictures of what amounted to a room full of new people she calls “dear friends”. She told me that although she loved her church very much, she found a new church in a cancer ward. These were people tossed from their lives into a treatment center – and each struggling with their own pain, perpetual vomiting and hair loss. Here is what impressed me about the pictures – everyone was smiling. The people weren’t somber – they were nothing short of “goofy”. I saw strange clothing, party hats and many bald heads with faces painted on top of them. “What is wrong with these people!” I thought. Then I listened. These were the league of the hurting. The myth of safety that covers us like a veneer had been stripped from their lives. They didn’t want to wait to live. They wanted to love, laugh and feel connected – even if they had to look silly to do it. They didn’t care. She said, “You know, when you pause a conversation to vomit in a bucket, and then continue, you have already been seen at your worst. What’s worse than that?” She paused and said, “They don’t care. They have their own bucket, and they know what the feeling is. At least we can share the moments in between.”

I don’t think like that. I hide my bucket and want to keep my hair – at least for now. I wonder how much I hide behind, and how my life would be more authentic if I really didn’t care if I looked silly in my relationships, my laughter and my loving. I am not sure, but I want us to focus on the words we read again…

Paul healed Publius’ dad, and then Paul healed many from the town. The snake was God’s gift that gave him a public platform to witness, while the healing power from God gave him an opportunity to touch people personally and up close. Paul used the time well, and helped people see Jesus through his life. He may have been marching to his death, for all he knew, but he might just as well do it with his combat boots on.

In addition to the touch of Paul and the positive testimony that grew from his healing hands, the Lord used that empowering to endear Paul to the people’s hearts. They were only too willing to supply for Paul, Luke and Aristarchus. They arrived on the shore as strangers; they left the dock as dear friends of so many people. In just a few months, the vulnerability of the recovery process allowed God to introduce new and deep friends that touched parts of us we didn’t know existed. I want to encourage you to refuse to overlook the work that God may do through you while you are in recovery to touch the lives of other people deeply. People need to see you as real, accessible and willing to touch them. You may be surprised at how deeply they touch you in return.

The recovery room includes the special strengthening by Godly people.

God wasn’t done rebuilding Paul and his friends after the storm. They got on yet another ship a few months later, but they were not yet ready for the years of waiting in Rome and the discomforts, and needed still more recovery. Luke shared how God brought that about…

Acts 28:11 At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead. 12 After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found [some] brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. 15 And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

Parting from the new friends at Malta, Paul had to face the days ahead and get the courage to stand in Rome without flinching. After another five days of uncertain travel, they entered the Bay of Naples. The spring season made the travel possible, and the broken nature of the travel made the centurion even more flexible than normal, which gave Paul an extra week at Puteoli. Seven days to share with open-hearted believers that excitedly invited others to join them (2.5 hours drive) made for a refreshing time for the men. How Paul needed that! Most were probably new faces to the Apostle – people reached by others and fellowships that sprung up in places Paul had never been. For a man who spent a third of his life building churches this was deeply encouraging.

Paul met with them, but I was particularly moved with how he thanked God for the way they helped build up his courage. He wasn’t made of stone, and he the scars of a fresh storm from which he was still recovering. These were people who were excited about Jesus, and added encouragement to Paul’s life. Don’t forget to look for the encouragers that God will send your way. The encounters may be brief and the experience not nearly so deep as those in Malta – but breathe in their encouragement – you will need it as you complete your recovery. While you do that, let me remind you of another important thing…

The recovery room strengthens us to continue to share Christ – even if conflict results.

Acts 28:16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. 17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews…

The remaining part of verse seventeen to verse twenty records part of the conversation between Paul and the Jewish leaders. Paul explained his arrest, and the Jewish leaders admitted they knew nothing of his coming. Luke explained…

Acts 28:21 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 “But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” 23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. 25 And when they did not agree with one another, they [began] leaving after Paul had spoken one [parting] word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying, GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, “YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 27 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.”‘ 28 “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves].

Here’s the truth: In pain, we can pull back from sharing our faith – because we don’t feel whole. More than that, in recovery, we can instinctively flee pain and may be sorely tempted to compromise our walk while focusing on restoring our comforts. We forget that the whole point of God taking you through recovery was to be again useful to His purposes – we must not forget that! Conflict may come, but recovery will help you become strong again – and you won’t lilt if you pay attention to the Master’s openings to be used.

The final thought on recovery comes at the end of the Book of Acts…

The recovery room can be an extended period, but it often leads to a time of unparalleled productivity and joyful fruit!

Paul was about to again be set aside from travels. His cruise membership was probably already terminated, but he was going to be very limited in travel options. He was under a “light chain” – a form of pre-trial supervision that was costly and inconvenient. Imagine someone watching you at every moment of the day and night. Luke said it this way:

Acts 28:30 And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

That doesn’t sound so bad… not compared to a shipwreck! At the same time, from this “light chain” experience in Rome, Paul received people and letters from the young churches, and wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – a clear sign that God used this time in Paul’s life to influence and lead many while he was in bonds. He wasn’t STOPPED from productivity, but accomplishments were more difficult because of the special conditions. Maybe your storm left you with a continued chain that is keeping you tied down. It could be a six month check-up that you dread two times a year – because you don’t know what news will come from it. Maybe your storm took from you someone precious – and you aren’t sure how to move forward. What you can do, what you MUST do, is to learn to savor life under your chain. It may not be the same, but it can be fruitful for God’s kingdom.

Pastor Ken Pell shared a story of one who passed through an early storm but made it through to fruitfulness. It is worth recalling. His extraordinary talent may be what the world will remember of him. As for me, I will remember his storm and his committed recovery…

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born into the musical family of Bachs in 1685. By the age of ten, both of his parents were dead. Early in his friction-filled life, young Johann determined he would write music … music for the glory of God … and this he did. Most of Bach’s works are explicitly Biblical. Albert Schweitzer referred to him as The fifth evangelist, thus comparing him to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. At age 17 Bach became the organist at the church; soon thereafter he was given charge of the entire music ministry. During his ministry in Weimar, Germany he wrote a new cantata every month … EVERY MONTH! And during one three-year period he wrote, conducted, orchestrated, and performed (with his choir and orchestra) a new cantata every week! No one had any idea what a mark Bach would leave. His legacy lives on some 300 years later. You can hear his music at will. At the beginning of every authentic manuscript one will find the letters “J.J.” This stands for Jesu Java (Jesus help me). At the end of each original manuscript you will find the letters “S.D.G.” This stands for Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God). From sermon central illustrations.

I’ll bet if you think of signing the work of your hands to the glory of God- it will be partly because you have always felt you needed to have Jesus help you. You see recovering people don’t feel whole – they feel repaired by God’s grace and in need of God’s constant love. Fortunately, we know that just as God guides through the storm, so He plans for your recovery after the storm has passed!