Thursday, March 5, 2009
Sailing into the Storm
What human who has cast a glance seaward has not forever been impacted by the liquid-gems poured out for miles that surpass the sight line? The sea. My forefathers crafted wooden ships that would navigate the prism waters and sailed the seas with skill. I suppose it is in my blood though I've never sailed. So the story recorded in Acts 27 and 28 holds particular appeal to me because of the setting--The Mediterranean Sea. Guilty only of loving his Jesus, Paul finds himself a prisoner on a journey across the Sea to plead his case before Caesar. It's late in the year and Julius the Centurion in charge of Paul along with the sailors knew that though they had orders to deliver this and other prisoners to Caesar, embarking on a journey this long was dangerous. And yet, they set sail. If you will, walk with me through this passage a while. The first few verses use phrases like, "sailed slowly,"or "sailed under the lee" and "sailed along the coast." These skilled sailors were scared. They knew the dangers that surrounded them and they hovered along the coastlines of various islands and cities in hope of being sheltered from vicious winds. I love that they played it safe. We are so similar aren't we? We make sure we have 401k's and we take our multi-vitamins. We carry life insurance and look for jobs that provide benefit packages. Sure, it's common sense to do those things, but it's also playing it safe. Wouldn't you agree? If there is a natural shelter available, we're gonna sail the ships of our lives pretty near it aren't we? And there's nothing wrong with that at all--in fact I'd probably call it being wise stewards of our lives. When my husband and I moved from Ontario back to Georgia to be nearer my family one of the things that we gave up was the shelter of health insurance. We purchased it for our children, but not for ourselves. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel completely vulnerable. There isn't a morning that passes that I don't pray for God's protection over Jeff and that I don't look forward to the day when we again will have the harbor of insurance. But here's the thing--I know of so many people without health insurance for whom God has provided their medical needs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. In God's economy He just provides. Whether He provides through Bluecross/Blueshield or through an agency that helps people with cancer the bottom line is that it is still God who has provided. "And my God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19) As humans we like to compartmentalize provision and say that out of the ordinary provision is from God and the rest is just us taking care of ourselves. Surely God laughs at our audacity to actually think that anything we have could have found its source in anything other than His gracious hand. Scripture says that their sailing became difficult along the coast of Crete as they headed into the beginning of October. Paul knew that their lives were in danger and though he was a prisoner, he wasn't afraid to mention his concerns. "Men, I can see the voyage is going to end in disaster and great loss not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." (Acts 27:10) Proverbs 22:3 says, "A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but a simple man keeps going and suffers for it." It's ironic that the captain and owner of the ship--the individuals who should have known better--both insisted that they should continue on this voyage. The greatest expert in our lives is the Spirit of God and yet so often we ignore his still small voice and listen to the voices of those around us. Spiritually speaking any course we take that poses even one iota of threat to our walk with God is a dangerous sea on which to sail. I'm talking about buying that one item on credit because next year we think we'll have the money to pay for it. I'm talking about gossiping just that one time because that morsel of news is just eating a hole in our tongue and we're dying to share it. While taking that course may not have immediate implications, we are opening the door to loss not necessarily of physical life, but definitely of abundant life. So they continue on their journey and "when a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they could carry out their purpose, so they weighed anchor and sailed close along the coast of Crete." (Acts 27:13) Here they are sailing and what relief they must have felt when that south wind began to cool their faces as they stood on deck--that reassuring calm that gave them confidence they'd be okay despite the facts they knew to be true about sailing this late in the season. We all know the expression "it's the calm before the storm." It was. Here in the mountains of northern Georgia, the wings of Appalachia, we enjoyed several years of economic calm--houses going up, construction booming, new restaurants opening, people buying bigger trucks, more equipment, more, more, more. It wasn't sustainable growth and surely people knew the facts. It doesn't take a genius to realize that houses can't double in value every three years forever. Yet so few saw danger and took any sort of preparatory refuge. Often in our families we have prolonged periods of calm--everything seems wonderful--the kids are doing well in school, they're doing well with friends. Or in our marriages--we've been getting along well, we enjoy each other's company. Or in our churches--the new building is going up, offerings are coming in regularly, people like the new youth pastor. Calm. But are we prepared for the storm? The reality is that storms come. They do. We may have relative quiet for years, but in our lifetime we will face storms. This passage is so powerful because Paul faced the storm and lived to tell his story and somehow amidst all that he goes through, His faith in God remains the anchor that holds. We'll continue this story, but for now, let me just ask in what harbor do you seek refuge? Because here's the thing--there is shelter in the God who has loved you with an everlasting love. His arms will not fail in times of trouble. On this you can stand. Pray with me: Father, show me the areas in my life where I am enjoying relative calm and need to prepare for what may lie ahead. I know you told me in your Word that in this world I would have trouble, but to be of good cheer for You have overcome the world. Teach me to take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Teach me to seek harbor not in the coastline of worldly protection but in the shadow of You, the Most High God. Thank you that your Word promises you are with me always even in the shadow of death. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 91:1 Jeremiah 31:3 We'll continue to sail...I hope you'll join me again for part 2.