Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When You Know the Ship Will Wreck

When you know the ship will wreck...and you warn people...and they don't listen...what do you do?  Especially if they drag you into their mess despite your warnings?

And what if, in the midst of their mess that they dragged you into, you've been promised a personal just-for-you rescue...what do you do then?

Shipwrecks are a good topic in election years.  They're a good topic for Christians at any time, because we can always look around and see the world getting into messes that Scripture warned them against.  Often times we've added our voices to the warning cry of Scripture, and have been mocked and vilified for it.  And yet we know that, when the world gets itself into the very messes that Scripture foretold, they will blame God for it (Pr 19:3).  And, to make matters worse, the messes they make often spill over into our lives.

Now, it's not as if our lives were mess-free.  We have our own, for certain.  And that makes it even easier to resent the messes that others dump in our laps.  We don't need theirs on top of ours, do we?

Or do we?

What is a Christian to do?

If the world were to judge by American Christianity, it might conclude that the Christian response to an impending shipwreck is to sit back with arms folded, hollering warnings with an air of disdain for the fools that we know won't listen, and secretly gloating over the disasters that come.

In many cases they'd have good reason to feel that way about us.  Admit it.  Don't many of us just love mocking the fools who voted for the wrong guy, even while we resent the way the wrong guy messed up the country we live in?  Don't many of us just love "writing off" this group or that group whose sins finally got them what they deserve?  If you've been around long enough, you can remember how many Christians gloated over AIDS when it first appeared.

Ugly, isn't it?  And anything but Christlike.

When you throw in the belief in a promised "just-for-you" rescue, the so-called "Christian" response tends to become even uglier.  The attitude I see far too often (and used to embrace wholeheartedly myself) is a contemptuous sneer that says, "Fine, go to Hell and take the world with you.  What do I care?  I'm getting raptured out of here.  You're going to get what you deserve, and I'm glad."

Well, if that's not the right response (and assuredly it's not!), then what is?  Does Scripture give us a picture?

It certainly does, in many places, most clearly in the face of Christ Himself.  But the picture I want to paint for you today is from the Apostle Paul in Acts 27.

He was a prisoner in chains, bound for trial in Rome.  He had no choice but to get on that ship... a ship that he knew would wreck.  He'd been divinely warned, and he had warned those in authority.  But they wouldn't listen.  (Acts 27:10-11).

Sound familiar?

On top of that, Paul had a divine promise of personal survival.  In Acts 23:11, God encouraged Paul that he must not fear, because he was going to give his testimony in Rome.  Sort-of like a "Rapture clause," if you think about it.  The ship might wreck, and everybody else might die for all he knew, but he was going to make it to Rome somehow.

But the trip sure wasn't going to be pleasant for him.  Listen to the description by the physician named Luke (Paul's traveling companion, fellow apostle,  and the author of the biblical Books of Luke and Acts):

14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 
15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 
16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat. 
17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 
18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 
19 And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 
20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Yeah, just reading it makes me queasy.  And Paul was here through no fault of his own.

So, naturally, he hunkered down in the storm.  He spewed hatred on the fools who hadn't listened to his warning, because it was their fault that he was reeling and puking along with them for days on end. He spewed hatred on the religious and political systems that had chained him on this ship in the first place.  And he prayed for his personal rescue to come get him off that ship as soon as possible, so that he could be comfy while the others perished as they deserved.  Right?

If you know your Bible at all, and if you know what Christlikeness looks like, then you know that he did the exact opposite.  Let's pick up Luke's narration again.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.

22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship.

24 and he said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you."

25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

26 But we must run aground on some island..."

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing.

34 Therefore I urge you to take some food.  For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you."

35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.

36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Think this through, and you’ll know how to respond to the impending shipwreck of our nation, or of that person who ignored your warning.

First – with honesty, but not spitefulness.  Paul did point out how it all began, but not to say “Nyah.”  Rather, he wanted to point people to the wisdom of listening to God.  He was always a soul-winner.

Second – with selfless, persistent prayer.  Notice the angel’s words.  “God has granted you all those who sail with you.”  The word “granted” indicates a kindness bestowed on someone who requests it.  Paul had not been content to get “raptured” off of that ship.  He prayed heartfelt prayers for the lives of everyone on board. And he prayed this persistently through two weeks...two WEEKS of tempest-tossed, vomit soaked, hungry, thirsty misery.

Third – with encouragement in the promises of God.  Unlike Jonah, who hated seeing God’s mercy extended to the wicked Ninevites, Paul was happy to give the good news of God’s grace to his shipmates.

Fourth – With personal hopefulness.  He ate.  And he shared food, even though the supplies had mostly been jettisoned.  No selfish hoarding here.  No siege mentality.  His faith was generous, contagious, uplifting.

If you read the rest of the story, you’ll see that Paul gained great credibility through all of this.  And after the wreck, God used Paul to perform miracles of healing for the natives on the island where they had run aground.  Because of this, the gospel continued to spread.

Do you suppose that God would have worked as many miracles and advanced the gospel so well through an unrepentantly self-centered, hateful jerk who just wanted to get out and let the others drown?  What about through a Gloomy Gus who sees nothing but disaster, and can't serve anyone because his hands are too busy pointing at people?  Paul’s faith made him available to move mountains.

Do I really need to say more?

One last thought from Acts 27, but from a slightly different angle.  If you've been reading my blog lately, you'll know that God has laid it on my heart to pray daily for my neighborhood.  And not just little, generic prayers, but bold prayers for the whole neighborhood to be saved, to become part of The Kingdom, and more.

This morning, as I looked out my front door and looked over the various houses to pray for them, the thought came to me.  C'mon, Betsy, do you really think that could possibly happen?  A whole neighborhood, for Pete's sake?

And that’s when the Spirit brought Acts 27 to mind for today. 

24 “God has granted you all those who sail with you."
37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 

I haven’t received any such promises from God.  But I know that He CAN save them all, and more, in response to prayer.  So why in Heaven’s name wouldn't I ask in faith and hope and love?  Why wouldn't I offer my neighbors truth...not spitefully, but in loving hope that they will turn to the One who is Truth?  Why wouldn't I have the kind of hope and encouragement that are contagious (See 1 Peter 3:15)?

Why wouldn't you?

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Oh my goodness! I am so blessed to have found your blog. Thank you...boy did this post bless me in ways only the Lord knows! Thank you, fellow prayer warrior!

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin