Monday, April 20, 2009

This week's sermon: Finding God on a Sinking Ship

Somehow we have come to a conclusion as a culture and a people that God at work in our lives means smooth sailing. Some groups are so convinced of this that if you experience hardship or trials they start to look at you sideways like you are somehow in trouble because of sin in your life. And not that sin doesn’t wreak havoc on your life, it does, but not every problem in life is a result of sin. Let me give you an example:

Let’s say there is a man named Sam-any Sam’s here? And Sam cheats on his taxes. A few years later the IRS comes knocking on Sam’s door to collect and prosecute. That is trouble directly related to sin, we could counsel brother Sam and say, “Brother your sin brought you to this place, you need to repent.” In contrast to that example, let’s say Boyd-any Boyd’s here? Boyd was driving down the street following all the traffic laws and out of nowhere his transmission drops out of his car, and he gets rear-ended. Now, Brother Boyd was probably not suffering from consequences of his sin, unless he knew the transmission was about to drop, and he didn’t care and drove his car anyway. Do you see the difference? Sometimes the unfortunate events of our lives do not come as a punishment for our sins, but rather as a natural part of the world in which we live. Regardless of the origin of our trouble, it is always an opportunity for us to see the hand of God at work in our lives.

Read Acts 27.

Paul, who has been imprisoned for two years, is finally going to Rome to be heard by Caesar. They set sail and realize half-way to their destination that this may not be the best time of year to travel by boat. There are storms that rage during this time of year and the decision-makers know it, but they are determined to press on. In their persistence they run across a storm that pounds them for two whole weeks.

Every person on that boat was terrified, even Paul’s traveling companions, even Luke. They all thought that they were going down with the ship. Paul stays calm because he has an assurance that God has a plan for him to testify in Rome. That means he has to live to get to Rome to testify. That assurance is backed up by an angelic visitor who confirms that not only will Paul make it to Rome, but that God is graciously giving him the lives of every person on the ship, all 276 of them, as long as they stay onboard.

We have seen other storms in the scriptures that did come as a result of sin. Jonah comes to mind. There was a big storm, he knew in his heart of hearts that it was a result of his sin in not following God’s directions. Here we have a different situation. Yes, the pilot and owner of the ship were sailing at the wrong time of year and they ignored sound advice to wait for better weather, but no one is being punished with this storm. It is simply what happens in the Mediterranean at that time of year. This was Boyd’s transmission dropping out of his car. It is an event that belongs to the natural order of the world. But in the middle of that event, God shows up and saves their lives. This was an opportunity for each one of those people on that sinking ship to find out that there is a God who knows their situation.

How many of you feel like your life is a sinking ship? Or maybe it isn’t right now, but you have had sinking ship moments before, or you will in the future. Sinking ship moments are when you sit in the middle of your circumstances and everything looks grim. And our first response is to do what those sailors on the ship did: we start throwing things overboard. We start looking for a way to save the ship we are on, dragging the anchors, trying to tie the pieces of our lives together. Or we start hatching a plan to steal the lifeboat and leave everyone else to fend for themselves. Those are human reactions. But I believe God calls us to trust him no matter what happens.

The angelic visitor did not promise that the ship would be saved. In fact it wasn’t, it sunk, dashed to pieces by the waves. But every one of the people on board was saved. Your ship may feel like it is sinking. It might be sinking, but we need to stop looking for our own solution to saving the ship. In those moments we have a choice to give in to despair or to trust that God who knows right where we are.

God had a plan for Paul and those people on the ship, and he was going to accomplish it regardless of the obstacles. What is a storm to him? He made the elements that cause weather patterns, storms are nothing compared to his power. What is a sinking ship to God? He made the waves of that sea, and he used them to deliver everyone up onto the beach, safe and sound.

God has a plan for you and he will bring it to pass regardless of the obstacles in your circumstances. We read the scripture in Ephesians 1 last week that tells us the resurrection power of God is at work in our lives. If we believe that, then we can trust that nothing will stand in the way of God’s work in our lives. No storm is too big, no problem too great for him to overcome. When you find yourself in the middle of a sinking ship, trust that the God who knows everything about you, who knows the plan he has for your life, will in his infinite power bring that plan to pass no matter what.

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