© 2000, J.W. Carter
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Rare is the person who has not experienced some traumatic crisis in life, whether it be a physical storm that threatens life and property, a storm that threatens or destroys important relationships, crises of great loss or tragedy, or any number of difficulties that come our way.
The tornado warning sirens were blaring, the sky was low, black, and churning in many directions. Jumping into my pickup truck with two neighbors, I attempted to back out into the busy roadway to go to the shelter when the only tornado I have ever seen was on the ground bearing down on us. I placed the truck into forward, jumped the curb, and purposely drove directly into the path of the funnel in order to park snuggly against the side of a 2-story brick building, the side facing the tornado, gambling that the funnel would lift over the strong structure. There was no time for any other decision. Instant darkness, a deafening roar, the sounds of gravel driving against the truck, and the sensation of the truck rising and falling. Then dead silence as the truck came to rest. None of us in the truck spoke. I think we were doing a self-assessment to see if we were actually unhurt. The funnel had passed, lifting over the truck and building, causing very little damage. A few months later we moved from Stillwater Oklahoma, never to return.
Many storms that we face are like a tornado, they come up unexpectedly and threaten us with impending loss or hurt. We deal with them using the best resources at hand, and they pass us by, leaving us to pick up the pieces. Other storms are not so short term, more like a hurricane that sits on us, wearing us down. We are left only with questions.
What is Gods purpose in the storm? What is our source of strength when we face it? When faced with the sight of the tornado, I actually saw two objects in front of me: the approaching funnel, and a solid building that would surely withstand it. By my drawing close to the strength of that building, it sheltered me from the storm. Had I stayed away from the building, the truck would have certainly been flipped around like a leaf in the autumn.
The Apostle Paul has completed his three missionary journeys, and facing persecution by the Jews, asked for assistance from Rome for, as a Roman Citizen, he could appeal his case all the way to the Caesar. When the Roman governor Festus, and King Agrippa interviewed Paul they could not find any Roman law that he had broken. Faced with the dilemma of releasing him and inciting a riot, they chose to honor his request for appeal to Caesar, and would send him to Rome. Unlike the previous governor, Felix, who allowed Paul to languish in imprisonment during his term, Felix promptly put the plan in place and had Paul sent to Rome on the next available ship.
Recall that from the beginning, the Romans found no fault in Paul and were reluctant to punish him, so the Jews decided to take the matter into their own hands, and planned to ambush Paul on the road to the hearing. When the Roman officer heard of this he formed a 470-man escort and transferred Paul to Caesarea where he was interrogated by Felix, Festus and Arippa. Paul unashamedly spoke of Christ, and all found no fault. When they were almost ready to release him, he appealed his case to Caesar. Why? Why is this trip necessary? The answer is in Acts 23:11
Acts 23:11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."
And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus band. 2And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. 3And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.
Note some curious circumstances concerning the voyage. These verses are written in the first-person. Therefore, who was with Paul on this journey? It appears that along with the other prisoners, Paul had the companionship of Luke and Aristarchus. We also see that Paul was not treated as much as a prisoner as he was as simply a passenger. Remember that the Romans had found no criminal fault in him, so they were giving Paul as much freedom as possible.
What happened when they landed in Sidon after a single days travel? Julius, the Centurion in charge of the prisoners, gave Paul liberty to leave the ship and go to his friends for a time of restoration. What does this say about Paul and his relationship with the Centurion? If Paul were to take advantage of this situation and flee, the Centurion would have been dealt with harshly. A common penalty for a soldier who lost a prisoner was to take the place of that prisoner. Obviously, the Centurion trusted Paul, and knew that Paul fully intended upon going to speak with the Caesar.
And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. 5And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. 6And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. 7And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; 8And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.
What do we see happening here? Paul and his group are intent on sailing to Italy, their course and plan is set, but something is getting in the way. What is it? It is evident early on that this is not going to be an easy trip. The problem has to do with the season of the year. Felix delay in getting Paul to Rome resulted in his leaving during the late Autumn when the cold winds from the West and Northwest would make travel over the Mediterranean Sea difficult at best, and treacherous at worst. They knew that they were going to face difficulty. They were receiving the warning signs of a storm.
Likewise, when storms enter our lives, we are often given warning signs. Relationships seldom experience instant crisis. The conflicts take time to build to the point of inflammation. However, we often ignore, or purposely reject responding to such signs. Why? Often we rely on hope that the storm will blow in another direction, though it seldom does. What happens often happens to a coming storm when we leave it unattended? Left to its own power, it grows until it threatens to overwhelm us. An old cliché "a stitch in time saves nine," refers to more than sewing. The scriptures speak more of wisdom, and imperatives to develop and apply it. Leaving a coming storm to its own power to overtake us is simply unwise.
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, 10And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. 11Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.
The Fast that is spoken of here is that held on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, celebrated towards the end of September. Sailing the shallow Northern Mediterranean is difficult in good weather. There are many small, rocky islands, many rocky shallows that are impossible to see. To venture into this area in a storm is foolish. Paul sees the impending danger and takes steps to warn the Centurion.
What would lead the Centurion to ignore Pauls warning and instead listen to the ships pilot and owner, endangering everyones lives? He might have felt a sense of duty: a need to complete the mission at all costs. We might characterize that as bullheaded or obsessive behavior. We are bound and determined to accomplish a task our own way, and against the sound and wise advice of others we surge ahead. What is the error of such behavior? We can be blinded to the storm and its influence in our lives as we see our world through the narrow focus of a tube, with no peripheral vision. We can be so duty bound that we do not even see the dangers alongside.
The Centurion might have had a temperament of self-strength. Sometime we have an "I can handle it" attitude where the attitude itself overwhelms the application of any wisdom.
And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west. 13And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
Often storms in life introduce themselves gently. There was nothing unreasonable about the decision of the ships pilot to set sail. Obligated to make the trip, they saw favorable winds and headed westward along the shore of Crete. They had been harbored on the Eastern, leeward side of the island where they were safe from the storm, and were now venturing out into a far more vulnerable area. In what ways do people make themselves vulnerable to storms in life?
But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. 15And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. 16And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: 17Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, struck sail, and so were driven. 18And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; 19And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. 20And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
Crises. Are people free of having to experience crisis in their lives once they have accepted Christ and have the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds? Does being a Christian introduce more or less crisis into life? We certainly live in a world that is hostile to the gospel. Some sound advice: love people, find a common ground, give testimony. Sometimes that hostility plays a part in the crises we experience, but more often they come from different sources. What are some of the crises we deal with?
In the Spring of 1992, my family was caught in the middle of a very impassioned church-split, brought by a desire for power by a few of its members. I had just been laid off from a career that had been 13 years in the making. Now, trying to sell the house, my neighbor ran a steel fence down the center of my driveway in an attempt to seize land based on an outdated deed, sending us to court. Shortly thereafter, my wifes father unexpectedly died.
Some close friends, called to the missionary field were excited to arrive in Kuwait, setting up their home with the prospect of their new ministry in front of them. A few weeks later they ran from their house as it was overrun with Iraqi troops, dodging bullets as they drove to the American Embassy where they were held under siege for over a year.
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
Consider their dilemma. What is the status of a sailing vessel of this day when they have seen no sun or stars for many days and spent the time in a storm? They have no idea where they are. By letting the storm drive them, they have no idea of how far they have traveled or in what direction. They could smash into unseen rocks or reefs at any time. They felt that their situation was hopeless. Consider a modern parallel: you are flying in a commercial airliner that enters a large storm and gets struck by lightning. The pilot loses his flight computer, altimeter and communications so he is flying totally blind. The plane is battered by strong turbulence and one of the engines fails, the others are on the verge of failing. The passengers are nauseous from the turbulence and terrified. Some curse, some weep. The flight attendants are strapped in their seats, but nobody is interested in eating at a time like this. The pilot tries to provide assurance over the intercom, but his strained voice betrays his terror. He knows that finding a landing place is near impossible, and the plane is so damaged that a normal landing might be impossible anyway. How would you react to this situation?
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. 22And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any mans life among you, but of the ship. 23For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. 25Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
People's personalities vary considerably. Some are takers, spending their efforts on taking and receiving. Others are givers, giving of their time and resources to others. Paul was a giver. What did he do? How would the passengers react if someone on that fateful plane flight stood up and made such a pronouncement to all of the people? (Some would curse, a few would believe.)
What present day circumstances may cause believers to feel hopeless? How can these verses help us to remain courageous in the face of difficult circumstances? What other Bible passages give you comfort during times when others may feel despair?
Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Pauls letter reminds the Romans that God has a purpose in all of the things that happen in our lives, and that purpose is clear: that through them we would be conformed to the image of Christ. The writer of the book of James states the same argument another way:
James 1:2-6. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
Often when all seems lost, people are ready to jump at the slightest trace of deliverance. Note that James says, "Perseverance must finish its work." Why? Some crises we face are beyond any human control, such as natural disasters. However, much of the crises we experience are directly linked to human sources. Consider:
James 1:13-18. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
What is the source of our testing? Much of it is caused by the effects of our sins upon each other. What are some of the sins that people openly commit which hurt other people? (Greed, lust, selfishness, hunger for power).
What are some of the things we know as Christians that can encourage us at times like these? We are called to encourage one another. We know God's grace is sufficient; God knows the fall of each sparrow, and that with God all things are possible.
Why did Paul have such confidence in his security and the security of the crew? He heard God speak to him through an angel. How often do we fail to hear God when he has made his will available to us?
Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island. 27But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; 28And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. 29Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day. 30And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
One response to crisis is to try to jump ship. Some of the crew tried to deceive the others and leave on a lifeboat, leaving the others behind. What Paul said was very similar to what James said in 1:4. God had a plan, and that plan required obedience and endurance. In order for God to work a miracle, we must be in a position to have one take place.
Where is the best place to be in a crisis situation? Certainly a good place to be is in the center of God's will. Paul was so positioned at this time. Just as the sailors were working hard at coming up with a way to avoid following God's plan, we may expend such energy doing the same. God may be calling us to be obedient to something while we are resisting. What are some things that God may be wanting of us, yet we resist? Consider Gods call to the tithe, service, witness, or even full-time Christian service.
People take matters into their own hands, and look for answers in other places. What are some of the places people look? One does not need to look far to find promised solutions in drugs, charlatan psychics, purchases, deceit of others, deceit of self, or rationalization. People ignore God's loving counsel, and thus rob themselves of the resource that will create the kind of spiritual growth that God has planned for us in the experience. They fail to see the strong fortress that will protect them from the storm.
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. 33And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. 34Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
One of the things we often fail to do in a crisis is take proper care of ourselves. When the plane is ready to fall out of the air, we are not interested in ordering a piece of pizza. Likewise, when we are surrounded by a problem, we may take our eyes off of our own needs. What are some of the needs that get neglected? (Basis physical needs: food, etc. Also, we too often forget our basic emotional needs: significance, self value, love of others, and love by others.) When we do not address our physical needs we get sick.
What happens when we fail to address our emotional needs? We may face depression. What is the effect of depression? (Anger, pity, lack of self worth, despair.) Depression can come from a failure to meet our emotional needs when we instead focus on the problem rather than its solution or the big picture of its purpose in our life. We think that we must get through, when in reality we can lean on Jesus, and let Him carry us through. We must realize how important we are to God, and seek him. Consider.
Prov 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat. 36Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
Why are our physical needs important to God? Why are our emotional needs important to God? We cannot function properly when these needs are not taken care of. Before they ate, Paul blessed the food. Why? Let us not forget the source of our sustenance, and of our deliverance.
A crisis is a time of testing that reveals what we are really made of. What are you really made of? How are you going to respond in a time of crisis? Paul's example to us is a clear one. He placed himself in the center of God's will by listening to him, considering what God was doing, ministering to the needs of others through God's strength after finding courage based upon God's promises. He remained composed and consistently Christian in his manner, and also reached out to other people in danger, helping them to confront and overcome their fears.
Jesus said that we are salt and light. Paul was certainly that in the midst of the storm.
Back to the tornado. When we see the crisis, we focus in on it. Had I focused in on the funnel, we could have lost our lives. However, looming in front of me was a fortress, a brick building that would block the storm. By drawing close to the fortress we were protected. Likewise, storms in our lives are opportunities to draw close to the fortress of Gods arms. Just as the building gave us its strength against the wind, Gods arms of protection give us His strength to overcome any storm that we might experience so that through it we can become more mature, more faithful, and more conformed to the Image of Christ.