All of us who have lived a while and sought to use our lives to serve God as opportunities would arise can probably testify to times where unexpected circumstances changed our plans, the end result being a pleasant surprise we would ultimately credit to God’s sovereign work in our life.
When I was age 15 and having completed my first year of high school, my good church youth group friend and son of the pastor invited me to go with him to work for the summer at a camp in southern New Jersey. I recall not being entirely excited about this, but I had no better plan for my summer and agreed to join him. I was going to work with the grounds crew at a very cool camp that had three lakes with cabins and a host of rustic buildings.
When I arrived, I found out that I was targeted for an immediate change in plans. They were short on having a sufficient number of counselors for the campers, and my pastor (who was on the board of directors) told them he thought I could do it. They gave me a Bible test, and all of those years of filling out Sunday School lesson books (on Saturday nights under the threat of my parents’ discipline) paid off. A week later I was the counselor in a cabin with seven 10-year-old boys. One of the responsibilities was to deliver a devotional each night at bedtime, on any biblical topic of our choosing. It was a first time that I did such a thing, and a first time that I felt God’s gifting to speak through me in illustrative and creative ways to teach truths from the Word of God. I helped 10 children that summer trust in Christ. Looking back, that was a “step one” in all else that has followed in my life over the past 47 years of college, seminary, and three church ministries.
The Apostle Paul had many experiences where his presumed plans fell through, only to see himself in an unexpected set of circumstances that God had divinely orchestrated for him to preach the gospel. Today’s passage is another of these. Shipwrecked on an island, Paul presents Christ through miraculous powers and abilities, being set up for such by surviving a venomous snake bite. Ugh! My lifetime phobia is snakes. My favorite movie quote is from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes? Anything but snakes!”
Paul learned the great truth that things happened to him, so that things could happen in him, so that things could happen through him. He knew that there were no accidents with God, that God orchestrated all the events of his life down to the finest of details. Paul lived out the language idiom of “blooming where you are planted.” The apostle oft found himself planted in some strange soils with severe conditions for growth and fruit. But he trusted God to use him in those circumstances to live not under them, but above them.
Do you currently have some life circumstances you don’t like? Have you considered how even these have not come to you without having passed by God’s superintendence over your life? How might God use you even in those moments to live well for Him and testify of His grace in your life?
Paul Ashore on Malta
Acts 28:1 – Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
Paul’s Arrival at Rome
11 – After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.