Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 4 of 4

As I was typing out the previous devotional notes, another point came to my attention which I hadn’t initially noticed, but which I cannot fail to overlook now that God has brought it to my mind. I’ll admit, it’s something I don’t want to talk about because I’ve thought it before, although not in the context of Acts 27, and I honestly don’t even like thinking about it let alone writing about it. But I believe God wants me to, hence the fourth part of this series.

The sailors and the centurion deserved to face the Tempest of Sin. They deserved the suffering and terror they fared aboard the Sin Ship and in the sea. It was just; it was fair. But what about Paul? Had he sinned? Had he chosen to disobey God’s will and press forward on the sailing journey? Did he deserve to bear the suffering he too was forced to share?

No.

It’s a simple answer. Why then did he suffer as much as anybody else?

Because we can’t keep sin to ourselves; it is going to affect other people, regardless of whether we want it to or not. We think, “Oh, I’ll just keep this sin hidden in my own personal world. If nobody knows about it, then it can’t hurt them.” Lie. Go ahead, keep telling yourself that – until truth comes knocking at your door and the reality comes out. The fact that you’ve been hiding the sin only adds to the pain it causes others.

Even if you manage to keep your secret from the people in your life, God knows. How much do you think you’re hurting Him by choosing to live in your hypocritical lifestyle every single day?

(Honestly, how much do I hurt Him?)

Sin is contagious, contaminating everything and everybody it touches. My mom made an analogy once that has stuck with me ever since. We raise livestock, which means we have to haul in loads of hay to feed them over the winter. Unfortunately, not all of that hay is good feed; if it has mold it cannot be fed to our animals because the mold will sicken – if not kill – the animals. When there is a tiny mold spot in a flake of hay, the spot spreads and spreads until the whole bale is worthless garbage…and then the mold spreads to the surrounding bales in the stack. Even if those bales were the cream the crop when first hayed, they too are damaged by the first moldy bale.

That’s what our sin does. When it rules us, it spreads into the lives of others. It damages them, hurting them, wounding them, cutting them, contaminating them. Something which we thought we could keep to ourselves is suddenly hurting those we love, and it’s hurting them far more than it is us. That truth – the knowledge that what we have done has absolutely broken those whom we would never wish to break in any way – brings an agony to our hearts.

Sin, like mold, can’t be contained to one moldy spot or flake. If it isn’t entirely taken out of the bale, then it will escalate until it wrecks far more havoc then we ever could ever imagine.

David’s sin with Bathsheba cost Uriah his life and Bathsheba her husband. Judas’ greed cost Jesus His life. A drunken driver wrecks the other car coming home from the basketball game, killing the mother and maiming the child. Selfish, materialistic ambitions cause the deaths of hundreds of neglected animals whom people insist on raising but cannot – or will not – feed.

Rather simple, ordinary sins, aren’t they? Lust. Greed. Drunkenness. Selfishness. Materialism. And the results are so extreme. So dire. So….

Deadly.

Maybe our sins won’t cause a physical death for somebody else. But they will cause an emotional death. And it seems to me as if the emotional wound is usually far more painful and takes a longer time to heal than the physical wound.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum – the wounder and the wounded. I ashamedly guarantee, the former is the worse position to be in. It’s far easier to forgive someone who has hurt you, then to forgive yourself for hurting another. It’s far easier to forgive a person than it is to watch them suffer day after day, to see the hurt in their eyes every time they look at you, to know they want to cry every time they see a picture of you.

Sin is destructive. Deadly. Contagious. We have to leave it behind – to jump ship. Yes, it’s going to be a painful, probably agonizing process. Yes, it’s going to wound others. But the longer you wait, the greater the sin becomes, and the more powerful an impact it has on those it touches.

The mold spreads from one bale to two…to three…to five…to ten…to twenty….

Did you know that if a haystack starts molding, the heat produced by the molding process can actually start a fire? That’s what happens if we just cling to the sin in our lives. Eventually, it will erupt in flames.

Hell here on Earth.

I do not want that in my life.

(Oh my goodness, I have so much to think about right now…so much to act on. I know that there are moldy flakes in my life that I need to get rid of, tackle and foodstuffs that I need to throw overboard. Before they grow into an entire Sin Ship. Before they consume me. And in so doing, consume those around me.)

But there is hope. Oh my goodness, there is HOPE!

Do you see the joy is in this serious discussion? In the story in Acts 27? It is the fact that “all” were saved! Look at it – just look at it in verse 44. They all abandoned ship – they jumped into that frightening Sea of Consequence and struggled to the land. Humanly, they were alone, every man for himself. But God was with them all the while – watching them, guiding them, holding them up. He brought them to dry land. He rescued them from sin. He gave hope when all hope was lost.

And He will do the same for each of us, if we are willing to finally jump ship once and for all.

Letting go of sin isn’t an impossible endeavor. On the contrary, throwing myself into the arms of a faithful, merciful God is the most possible thing imaginable.

So let go. Abandon ship. Face the tempest. Leave the unsteady rolling of the ship behind and set your feet once more on solid ground.

Good-bye, Sin Ship. Hello, Hope.

Advertisements

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 3 of 4

Acts 27: 39-44

So this is what happens when we hit the end of our ropes, when we’ve ridden the ship of sin as long as we can and suddenly we can go no further. When it’s time to let go for good. There’s no easy landing, no easy dismount. We have to be humbled. We have to be shipwrecked. Sin isn’t something we can just sneak out of, no matter how hard we try. On the contrary – we must face the consequences of our sin.

Sometimes we wonder if we will ever survive that shipwreck. The sin that we have lived in for so long is being battered to pieces, being exposed for the frailty it is. The strongest sin is no match for God’s power. And as our sins are basically being torn out from under our feet, we too are being exposed – mere flesh and blood, helpless, weak. No more crutches, no more facades.

If we want to live, we have no choice but to abandon ship. Otherwise, we will be destroyed with the vessel. But in order to abandon ship, we must “jump overboard.”

Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been for the sailors and prisoners, especially those who couldn’t swim, to leap out of the safety of what they had known – however rickety and wrong it was – into the storm of God’s wrath and the just consequences for sinful decisions?

In the story in Acts, it sounds as if the ordeal was an every-man-for-himself situation. Similarly, when we own up to our sin, we often feel as though we are entirely alone and the whole world has turned against us. Those can be some of the most agonizing moments, days, months, or years we will ever face. When in that sea of consequence, we wonder if we will survive the tempest, if we will ever reach land again. Or will we just be destroyed by the agony that consumes us?

But there is a promise of hope.

The last sentence of this passage says, “And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” Notice the “all.” Not some, but “all.” Because they were obedient and because they had the courage to leap overboard, God carried them through the storm. Yes, they had to suffer in the sea for a while, but God brought them through it. Just like He will you or I or anyone else who takes the plunge of faith and willingly faces the consequences of one’s sin and then leaves the wreckage of that sin behind.

It’s not going to be easy – those were probably the worst, loneliest, most painful months I have ever endured. Sometimes those sea waves still bombard me. Nevertheless, God has carried me through.

He has set my feet on dry ground once again. He set the ship’s passengers’ feet on dry ground again. He will do the same for anyone else who has the humbled, repentant heart to abandon the Sin Ship.

 

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 2 of 4

Acts 27:13-38

Do you see the point God is making here? When we heed the world’s advice rather than God’s, we head off on our own like the ship and its crew. At first things seem all right, with just a gentle wind to blow us along. But then we find ourselves trapped in the Tempest of Sin, doomed for destruction. And we passionately wish we had listened to God rather than to the men of the world.

I notice how much the passengers had to lighten the ship. Three times they throw items overboard. We aren’t told exactly what the first items are – I’m guessing they were sundries that were not necessary for the voyage, very possibly the merchandise to be sold at the journey’s end. Secondly, the crew pitched out the tackle – the means of making the ship travel. Lastly, the food – human sustenance – was thrown into the sea.

From one perspective, the point being made here is that the only way to get back with God – to become right with Him – is to get rid of everything in our lives which is ensnaring us in sin.

  1. The merchandise – the material things which are distracting me. They’ve got to go. The crew members were distracted from obeying God because they were more concerned about the material wealth and satisfaction they could gain by selling this merchandise than they were about attaining heavenly  joy and satisfaction through obedience to Christ. Do I have any material idols which are distracting me from serving God? Then overboard they must go.
  2. The tackle – whatever aids my journey of sin. If there is something that is supporting my sinful lifestyle, and that is basically enabling my sin, I have to get rid of it. How can I become untangled from my sin if I have numerous crutches which make it easy for me to remain in wickedness?
  3. Food – human strength. Food’s not bad, and even Paul mentions that we need it. But food only supplies human strength, which is not sufficient for freeing me from sin. I desperately need God’s strength, not human resources and human power. If I want to be completely cleansed of my sin, I must turn to God and rely on His strength rather than on mine, because only He can rescue me from this storm.

 ******

 “And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let if fall off.” vs. 30-32

When we have strayed from God’s will in order to accomplish our own, we can’t try to sneak back into the Way of Life. That’s what the sailors tried to do – they didn’t want to be shipwrecked with the rest of their companions to face the consequences of their mistakes. So they pretended to be doing the right thing – stopping the ship – while they were secretly plotting to abandon ship.

Deceit will not work…at least not for long. Truth always – always – comes to the light. God has a knack for gifting godly people with the ability to see right through ungodly deceptions. Lies and cover-ups are exposed, and the deceiver’s chance of escape is cut off.

Once we’ve taken the wrong path, we can’t abandon ship and sneak back into the presence of God. Instead, we have to ride out the storm. Not that it will be easy – on the contrary, riding out the storm can be the most painful, terrifying, and humbling thing that we have ever done. But if we want to get right with God, we must ride out the tempest. That painful, humbling, terrifying process is what purifies us and helps us to become right with God once again.

 

Acts 27 “The Sin Ship”: Part 1 of 4

Acts 27

The weather was terrible. They shouldn’t have been sailing any farther…it wasn’t safe or smart. Paul warned that the voyage would end in disaster. But did the sailors or centurion listen? No, they pushed on. They had their own goals in mind, their own destination point picked out. And they weren’t willing to give up their personal aspirations, not for anybody…not even God Himself.

Through His Word, the circumstances we face in life, and the advice of good Christian friends, God desperately tries to communicate to us His desires for our lives. But too often we overlook these messages, all for the sake of self-satisfaction.

What happens when we go our own way, not heeding God’s warnings? Acts 27 clearly gives the answer with the story that I have come to think of as “The Sin Ship.”

Acts 27:9-12

Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.” v. 11

The centurion was the ultimate authority onboard the ship; he had the preeminence to choose between pressing on with the journey or harboring for the season. Contrary to Paul’s warning, the centurion chose to listen to the sailors’ urging and ordered that the ship sail forward.

Note the contrast in verse 11 between the two sources of advice – it’s “the helmsman and owner,” mere earthly men, versus “the things spoken by Paul.” Not just “Paul,” but the “things” he said. Those “things” didn’t come from mere earthly wisdom as the sailors’ words did – Paul’s statements relayed God’s advice for the ship’s passengers. The centurion’s dilemma was between the words of men and the words of God.

And the centurion chose to heed the words of men.

The situation isn’t any different today – we are faced with both worldly and godly advice. We can’t escape it, but we do have to choose whose advice we will take, whose words we will follow. Who are my influences? Who are my advisors? When I’m making a decision, do I heed the words of the world, or the words of the Lord?

Look at the advice that Paul gave: If the centurion made the wrong decision, the choice could end in “disaster and much loss.” Is it any different for us? I think not. When we choose whose message to follow, we need to remember that there are positive or negative consequences for each, and we will have to live with those consequences.

I have paid the price to live with myself on the terms that I willed.” Rudyard Kipling

The trouble is, we don’t always consider the future negative consequences seriously enough to realize how severe they will be.

Look Up

Gazing at death may be terrifying, but gazing past death to the presence of Jesus waiting for the believer is the hope that dissolves the fear. We have the opportunity to glorify God in the face of death, boldly declaring our confidence in the fact that we will spend eternity in the presence of God. ~ NKJV footnotes

“When they [the Jewish council members] heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him [Stephen] with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'” Acts 7:54-56

I don’t face death in the same way Stephen did; I won’t be stoned for my faith. But I do face a lot of sin here on campus and sin is, in a sense, death. Oftentimes, I find it very difficult to deal with this sin that surrounds me. Try as I might, I can’t ignore it, but I don’t want it to taint or depress me either.

Here, in Stephen’s example, I have found the answer I’ve been looking for.

I want to be like Stephen — pleasing God and being Spirit-led. The problem is that too often I get so fretful and distraught over life that I try to deal with issues in my own way. However, when I truly take the time to consider the outcomes and alternatives, I find that it would be far better to yield everything to God and to pray, “Lord, guide me in this situation. Let me know what to say and do.” I do not have to brave life on my own, no matter if I am the only “Christian” in class; God is with me, and that makes “us” a majority.

Stephen’s words in verse 56 have given me such hope because they have reminded me that I can look beyond the crudity, profanity, and obscenity that I face. If I focus on those evil things, then, yes, they’re definitely going to tear me down. But…why should I think about them? Why should I worry or fret over them? They are so petty compared to Christ! He has already conquered all of those things and He has promised me an eternity free from sin. An eternity. Can you imagine it? That makes the short period of our suffering here on earth seem so…little. Someday, I won’t have to worry about all this junk and worldliness. Even here and now, I shouldn’t let it overwhelm me because, through His death and resurrection, Christ has already conquered the sin and wickedness of the world. That means He will conquer them in my life as well…if I only allow Him to.

I think this has been one of my challenges for this block of the school year — to look beyond the sin to the glory of God, to yield my responses to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to focus on Christ’s victory over sin. The phrase that has kept coming into my mind is “Look up.” My hope is in Christ. My future is in heaven. And my victory is in my Lord.

Look up. Look up. Always look up.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. ~ Colossians 3:1-4

A Calling, A Promise, A Warning, And A Covenant

Stephen is quite the story-teller as he launches into Israel’s history in Acts 7. But he isn’t talking for entertainment; he’s making a point. And in the first eight verses, he keys in on four important aspects of Abraham’s relationship with God.

1. God called Abraham out of his old land and into a new one.
2. God promised Abraham a future through his descendants, even though Abraham probably thought he would never have any children.
3. God warned Abraham that his posterity would suffer in bondage for four hundred years, but He also promised to rescue them and to judge the nation which enslaved them.
4. God gave Abraham a covenant in the form of circumcision — a covenant that marked those who had faith. It was a symbol of God’s promise to bless those who followed Him.

A calling. A promise. A warning. And a covenant. But they aren’t only true for Abraham. God is doing the same sort of things in our lives.

1. God has called us out of our old lives and into a new one. (Colossians 3:1-17)

As unsaved sinners, we were stuck in a world of sin. That was what we knew; that was how we lived. But then God said, “Look, I have something better for you.” And He offered us a whole new world! We no longer have to be slaves to sin. Now we can find purpose and meaning in life; through Christ we can discover hope, joy, and encouragement. God wants us to put off the “old” part of us and put on the “new,” clean, pure, Christ-inspired selves that God intended and designed for each of us individually!

2. God has promised us a future. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28)

Like Abraham, we might not know exactly what that future is or precisely how it is going to come about. But God knows. He has a fantastic future in mind for us, and He has our best interests at heart. It may not seem like it at times, but those faith-testing moments are when we have to remember to implicitly trust Him. He knows what He is doing. Maybe our lives don’t make sense. Maybe we don’t see God working in our lives. But He is.

Sometimes, like Abraham and Sarah, we are faced with a sort of hopeless barrenness in our lives. We don’t see how God can bring anything good out of it.

God might surprise us with an Isaac.

We must have hope in Christ and not in ourselves. We must rely on Him and not on the circumstances of our lives. If we give our life over to Him, He is sure to use every moment for His glory. But if we cling to life, it is sure to slip through our fingers and we will be left with less than we had before.

3. God warns us in His Word that we will face persecution and hardship for our faith, but He also promises to eventually rescue us from this world and to serve justice to all mankind. (John 16:33)

Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that life is going to be a bed of roses. In fact, it’s more likely to get pretty thorny! We will face difficulties — guaranteed. People will despise, taunt, or reject us — guaranteed. In some parts of the world, believers will be tortured and killed — guaranteed. As Satan attacks and attacks and the sharp thorns prick our hearts, we may wonder why we have to suffer like this. We may wonder if our torment will ever end.

And that is when we must remember to look beyond this life. Many Israelites perished in captivity, and yet they knew that eventually their nation would be rescued. There was hope in the future.

The same is true for us. If we’re living as we should, we won’t escape tribulation in this life. We may very well die at the hands of our persecutors. But, fortunately, our story doesn’t end here. After death, when we go to heaven to be with Jesus, we will be free. Free from sorrow, free from suffering, free from trials.

We will be rescued, and justice will be served.

4. God has given us a covenant in the form of Communion. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Perhaps Paul says it best:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

This is our covenant. We can remember what Christ has done — the sacrifice He made, His blood that was shed. We can partake in the Communion Service to be humbled and confess our sins, to ask for Christ’s forgiveness, and to thank Him for His salvation.

And yet, this is also a time to look ahead in hope because we know that our Savior is now alive, and that someday He will return! His kingdom will be established, wrongs will be made right, sin will be destroyed, and everything will be genuinely perfect.

What a marvelous world that will be!

Often we are amazed by how God worked in and through the lives of men and women of the Bible. But, the truth is, He desires to work in and through us in the same way. However, He can’t use us unless we are devoted to Him.

Abraham was. Can we follow his example?

Accept God’s calling.
Trust in His promises.
Take heed to His warnings.
Cling to His covenants.

All Were Healed

“And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people….Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” Acts 5: 12,16

What a beautiful analogy of Christ’s salvation. Who knows how many people were brought to the disciples to be healed. And who knows what all they suffered from! Perhaps they were blind, leprous, bleeding, paralyzed, injured, demon-possessed…. But it didn’t matter what they had; as long as they came to the disciples about it, they were healed. But the folks who stayed at home…they just continued to suffer. Assuredly, if they had decided to be healed by the disciples, then they would have been. However, they continued to suffer because they refused to believe and go to the disciples.

Salvation is much the same. Jesus died not for a select few, but for “the world” (John 3: 16). His offer of salvation is an offer of healing and it is freely given to all who come to Him. The sick people came to the disciples because they knew they would be healed, and we must come to Jesus with the same belief. Only this time, our sickness is sin. Some people believe that they have sinned too much to ever be forgiven, but that is a lie from Satan. The disciples healed all kinds of illness; Jesus forgives all kinds of sin. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a murderer, or an adulteress, or a liar; or whether you’ve lost your temper, or been divorced, or been in jail. Jesus forgives all. He heals all.

But we must believe enough to come to Him. That’s the major condition – to believe, repent, and yield to Him. Otherwise, we’re no better off than the sick people who stayed home. We won’t be healed. We’ll continue to suffer, not only here on Earth, but after death in Hell. If we do not believe, we will not be forgiven.

Christ’s gift of salvation is offered to all mankind, but it is only given to those who believe enough to come to Him.