Monday, March 9, 2009

Sailing into the Storm (part 3)

I'm way too much of a perfectionist to live without regret. I've always admired people who without hesitation insist they have walked through the past to the present with no regrets. You may be one of them--the kind of person who looks at every mistake as an opportunity to learn and embraces them for what they are. Now don't misunderstand me, I do learn from my mistakes and I believe readily that God is sovereign amidst every misstep in my life. But I'm not going to lie to you--there are a thousand things I'd do differently if ever given a do-over card. It's interesting though because in God's economy there is a perfect way to live, albeit rather narrow, but perfect nonetheless. And yet "there is none righteous, no not one." (Rom. 3:10) No man's soul has ever slipped into eternity without first having missed the mark of God in some way. And God holds us to that standard which is why He can say about a good man or woman--maybe Mother Theresa, "Even you fall short." (Rom. 3:23) But though He holds us to that standard, He also miraculously and completely releases us from every shortcoming. I'm not talking about a license to do whatever we want, (Rom. 6:1) but I am talking about a God who somehow demands complete holiness and yet forgives and repairs every failure and poor decision we will ever make. Just yesterday I read a quip on a local country church: God doesn't measure us using the curve; He uses the cross. Somehow amidst our mess ups in life the miracle of grace is allowed to bloom like the first crocus of spring budding in a bed of winter snow. When Paul stood up to encourage the sailors, prisoners, soldiers and captain on a ship whose end was certain destruction, he knew the reason they were in this mess was a result of poor choices. Certainly they regretted ignoring Paul's sound advice with everything in them. After all, Paul had warned them that setting out to sea was dangerous and he knew that pushing forward into the Autumn Mediterranean would result in loss of life. They hadn't listened. Sound advice was given to them and for reasons unknown to us, they left Paul's advice in the wake of the ship as they set sail. How many times have I been given sound advice, been warned about a decision and pushed on because the current of my own agenda was stronger than that of the counsel I received? My guess is those men on that ship wanted to deliver those prisoners as quickly as possible. Perhaps the centurion responsible for Paul had a wife waiting back home for him with a belly full and ready to deliver his first child. Maybe the owner of the ship would receive some additional remuneration for seeing to it that every prisoner arrived by spring. Perhaps they genuinely believed it was the best thing to do despite what Paul had told them. Now Paul says something that I think is worth pausing to take in. Paul reveals some of his humanity here. I can't get over his inability to resist saying, "I told you so." Here we have a man who is responsible for spreading the message of Jesus all over the New Testament landscape and the guy who penned the very words we commit to memory from book after book of our scripture. When he stands up to a slew of desperate and depressed men I can't help but notice that he couldn't resist reminding them of the advice he gave. "Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss." (Acts 27:21) He just had to say I told you so. Did it really matter that he had given them advice and they hadn't listened? I only point this out because I think it's important that we see our heroes of the faith in their humanity. They, just like us are mere humans following Jesus. Just knowing that Paul, the man who was confident enough in other passages to tell people to emulate him, live like he lived, had the occasional human tendency gives me a little hope. Let's go on. He says to these men who have gone beyond looking into the horizon with worry and fear to a resignation that their lives are on a slow-motion journey to the bottom of the ocean's floor, "And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.' Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told." (Acts 27: 24) I think it's worth mentioning that these men worshipped gods like Zeus, god of thunder and lightning and Poseidon, god of the sea. Can you imagine worshipping gods like this your entire life and finding yourself collapsed on the deck of a ship, water sloshing around your wet ankles resigned to the belief that those gods must not care enough for you to calm the storm and quiet the sea? Surely they prayed to their gods, begged them for mercy. Remember when Elijah had the contest with the prophets of Baal and they called out to Baal for an entire day pleading with him to light their sacrifice? "They invoked the name of Ball from morning until noon, saying, "Baal, answer us." But there was no sound and no answer...Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response." (I Kings 18:26,29) It is no wonder these men literally gave up hope--they would have pleaded and begged their gods to intervene only to discover their cries for help fell like the waves around them into a sea of unanswered and misguided prayers. Their gods were silent. Silent. My heart has always broken for these men and I have to marvel at how similar I am to them. How often do I put my hope in my husband's job only to find it disappoint? When he loses his job we discover who the true God is. How often do I put my hope in that of a friend only to discover they cannot fulfill my needs? When they don't have time for us anymore we discover who the true God is. How often do we put our hope in our savings account or our retirement funds? When the stock markets falls like anchor of a ship we discover the true God. How often do we put our hope in great men and women of the faith? When they fail in some human way we discover they are not the true God. How often do we place hope in education or in doctors? When our children aren't getting well, we know the true God again. And here's one I constantly have to catch myself on--how often do I put my hope for our children in the way we are raising them? If we do everything right, surely they'll turn out okay. Wrong. Just ask the mother or father who prayed daily, raised them well, loved them well, taught them about God and then watched their child walk away. There are no guarantees. None. My children have free will and that truth forces me to confront the reality that only God can truly grip their hearts. Though most followers of Jesus would say they are monotheistic--worshipping only the one true God, I have to wonder if God himself wouldn't say, "You have become like the Israelites worshipping the gods of the world around you." Usually we don't realize we have formed idols from worldly ideas until we count on them and their complete silence break out hearts when we've cried out. It's then we realize we were crying out the name of our idols and not the name of our Father who loves us desperately. The other thing I love about this passage is this: these sailors made a grave error in judgment and God still moved in their situation. Paul looks them square in the face and says, 'you messed up but there will be no loss of life because the God that I worship? He wasn't silent. He sent an angel to speak to me last night and told me that He still had a plan. His plan is for me to go before Caesar and nothing, not even this storm will stop Him from accomplishing His purpose.' God will not allow any other God to get His glory--He always shows up. Always. He always shows himself strong. Always. Because his love does not depend on our perfection. And though these people made a significant mistake, He still reigned. His purposes for Paul's life would still be carried out. Period. This is such an incredible truth--God is sovereign even when we screw up. He knows we are human and He allows us to be exactly that, but that is the exact definition of mercy. He sees our needs and meets them. He doesn't change us so that we have no needs--that He's reserved for eternity--but He meets them over and over and over again. His grace says, 'Behold I love you with an everlasting love,' and His mercy says, 'And I see you messed up, but I knew you would and I have charted the purpose of your life with this in mind. I'll not be thwarted. I'll reign amidst the chaos.' This is our God--the one true God. So would I change some of my decisions in the past? Do I regret them? Sure I do. I've been tossed by the storms of poor choices and I'd have far preferred avoid those storms, but has God proven Himself faithful and worked each of those poor choices out for my ultimate good in the end? Absolutely. Without question He has never left me disappointed, never left me in the muck of my humanity. He has a strong right arm and He has never withheld His hand from me. Never. Paul had hope because when he gazed into the black of the storm He saw the light of the face of Jesus and remembered His words, "I'll never leave you. I'll never forsake you." Oh that we could know those words in the deepest marrow of our bones, the very fiber of our hearts when we stand hopeless amidst the storms that rip our spirits apart. I'll close with words Paul wrote to the Roman church, "Now may the god of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) Do you believe in the God of hope? Pray with me: Father, God who is literally hope, teach us amidst the storm to believe in who you are. Your word says you are the God who is hope. Your word says hope does not disappoint us. Lord, teach us to anchor ourselves so deeply in your character that when storms come we see that though they rage around us they do not change our position in You. Spirit of God may your fruit of hope overflow from the branches of our lives. In Jesus name, amen. Read with me: I Kings 18 Romans 8:6

No comments: