wrecked

Shipwreck_sis_Fotor

wrecked: biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming

Remember summer vacations? What did you do as a child? I spent most of my summers in upper Wisconsin at my grandparents cozy cottage on Alma Lake. I loved it up there. The swims in the spring-fed lake were refreshing, fishing was superb, and fresh coniferous air was bountiful. Mmm, I can still taste dads north-woods fish fries.

There was one summer, I went fishing with dad. We puttered in our old aluminum fishing boat far from the cottage through a channel to a nearby lake. It was a beautiful day and the lake was so clear that it looked like a giant aquarium. I remember the fishing being great, however, in an instant, the situation changed. Winds picked up. Dark storm clouds rolled into sight over the tall pines. And a wall of rain was tromping it’s way across the lake.

We quickly picked up anchors, strapped on life jackets, and puttered as fast as we could back to the cottage. Our little 10hp Evinrude motor was no match for the storm. We were soon overtaken. The rain hit with a force that stung the skin. We had never seen bigger whitecap waves on this little lake as we did that day. Water from the rain and waves filled our boat and I was tasked with scooping out water because it was bogging down the boat. Needless to say we survived the storm, but we arrived to my grandparents cottage wetter than the fish we caught.

My boating story is minuscule compared to Luke’s masterful account of a storm on the Mediterranean Sea. Now, Luke is no sailor. He’s a doctor. Yet, in Acts 27. he describes with amazing accuracy the techniques used by sailors in his day to guard against shipwreck. Also, Luke weaves into the story biblical truths and themes repeated throughout the book of Acts. These are biblical truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming. What do you do when life seems overwhelming? What truths do you hold onto?

1) GOD EMPOWERS THOSE WHO OBEY HIS SPIRIT (vs.1-20)

In the gospels, the disciples were weak and worthless, but in the book of Acts they became powerful and productive. How is that? The Holy Spirit empowered them. Power for life and ministry comes only through the Holy Spirit (vs.9-10). Real power belongs to God and is given by God. How is it that Paul perceived the voyage would be with injury and loss? The Spirit made Paul perceptive. It was already past the fast celebrating the Day of Atonement (September-October) and rarely did any ship sail between September and November because the sea was too dangerous and treacherous. Ironically, no one listened to the man empowered by the Holy Spirit and what happens is just as he said (vs.11-19).

There are two sure ways to to diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and ministry. First, is to grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:30), wherein you do the things the Spirit doesn’t want you to do. Second, is to quench the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 6:19), wherein you don’t do the things the Spirit wants you to do. In either case, you decide to take the self-guided tour, ignore alarms to danger, and gravitate to your self-comforts when life seems overwhelming. Been there? Me too. It is a sure way to snuff out the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, there are many signs given in Scripture of a Spirited-empowered life. I will briefly give three. The first is comfort. In John 14:16, the Holy Spirit is our Helper and Comforter who promises never leave or abandon us. The Spirit helps us live free from fear, worry and anxiety. Second, is heeding caution. The Holy Spirit alarms us to danger. I don’t think He does it through hunches or fuzzy feelings, but through visible road blocks (Acts 16:7) and pure conviction. Third, a Spirit-empowered life walks with confidence. For we walk by faith not by sight. We believe God can be trusted. He is faithful. He comes through. He hears us. He is with us. And that gives confidence for life and ministry.

The question a Christ-followers doesn’t need to ask is, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” The question I must ask is, “Does the Holy Spirit have me?” It is only the Holy Spirit who fills and empowers my life and ministry. Only He opens stubborn wills, awakens darkened hearts, and makes men alive with His Word. Without Him there is no hope (v.20). Without Him I am weak and worthless like Simon doing magic in my own power (cf. Acts 8), but with the Spirit I am powerful and productive even when everything around seems a wreck. God empowers those who walk with His Spirit.

2) GOD EMBOLDENS THOSE WHO BELIEVE HIS WORD (vs.21-26)

Paul’s ship incurred much injury and loss. It’s as if the storm spanked them. And while the situation has their attention Paul speaks with boldness (v.21), saying, “I told you so.” not to continue the spanking verbally, but rather to point them to his earlier words as being a prophetic warning from God (cf. v.10).

Like all spiritual fathers, Paul wisely mixes hard words with soft words and encourages the beaten and bruised words of hope (v.22-24 “take heart”). For that night, during the storm, Jesus came and assured Paul that the storm would not incur any loss of human life. He reminded Paul not to fear because he “will stand before Caesar,” which was a promise given by Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by many others (cf. 9:15; 23:11). If God has said something nothing can deter it. It’s a sure thing. Nothing will make it untrue. Nothing can block His promises or plans. Not even the worst winter storm at sea or persecution on land will not stop Paul from getting to Rome. And God shows mercy to all on board because He has on mercy Paul. How do God’s words to Paul encourage you to “take heart” when life seems overwhelming?

Interestingly, when Paul speaks of God, he does not refer to Him as the Creator of heaven and earth, or the God of providence, or the God who rules over the wind and the waves. He refers to God to whom he belongs and serves. Paul considered his life as God’s possession. He is God’s bondservant (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 1:1). It didn’t take much convincing on the Damascus road and it emboldened him on route to Rome.

Paul, with boldness proclaims that what God has said will come to pass just as He has said (v.25-26; cf. Psalm 14:1). God is exact. He always hits the bullseye. Sometimes it is less difficult to believe in God than it is to believe in God’s says. This is especially true when you voyage through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet God’s Word is sure. Like Paul, let’s fix our eyes on the end goal. (cf. John 14:1-2) For Paul, the road that leads to Rome is the road that will lead Home.

3) GOD EXTRAORDINARILY PROVIDES FOR THOSE WHO SERVE HIM (vs.27-44)

We’ve come to the eye of the storm and it gets worse before it gets better. Almost like life, eh? Here’s what happens next: the soldiers cut the ropes to their only life boat (vs.27-32), the shipmen eat their last meal and dump the remaining wheat overboard (vs.33-38), then they throw the anchors into the sea in a last ditch effort to run the ship ashore (vs.39-44a).

In the midst of the chaos, when life seems overwhelming they are able to share in God’s provisions. They are encouraged by a meal and trust God for their next. And as God said, in the end, the soldiers spare the prisoners, and Paul and all 276 people survive the storm (v.44b; “…all were brought safely to…”; cf. 28:1). God provides and keeps His promises. Isn’t that all we need to know?

Do you reflect on God’s provisions? How God has brought you safely through? I have kept journals since I was 15 years old. Sometimes I read back a year or two and observe all that God has done through difficulties, disappointments, trials, hurts, struggles, hardships and wrecks.

  • 3.2.1996 – I lost my wallet with a newly acquired drivers license on a ski trip in Colorado. I found it later hallway sticking out of a snow bank. God provides.
  • 3.2.1999 – My beloved grandma Joan had recently passed away. I lived with her a lot while growing up. She left me enough money to pay for my college tuition for the next two semesters. God provides.
  • 3.2.2003 – I spoke to a group of teens in South Africa from Psalm 1. Later that night, a friend told me that one teen girl committed her live to Christ. Today she celebrates her 11th spiritual birthday. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2004 – My aunt Karen overdoses on drugs and takes her life. My family is broken, but open and allows me to comfort them with the word of Christ at her memorial. God’s provides.
  • 3.2.2009 – Sarah and I fast from kissing during our engagement. Not easy. God provides.
  • 3.2.2014 – Learning Arabic in Chad. Following God to the ends of the earth. God provides.

God has brought me safely through. You too, I assume. May the words “brought safely through” be a banner of truth today and in the days to come. God extraordinarily provides. Paul later writes to the church at Corinth while in Rome, following the shipwreck,

“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:16-32)

Have you seen God empower you through His Spirit? Embolden you as you believe His Word? Seen Him extraordinarily provide for your needs? These are truths to hold onto when life seems overwhelming.

Communion Reflection: Remember what Paul did in the company of all the soldiers before they eat? He blessed the food and prayed (v.35). This is not the Lord’s Supper, but a simple meal prayer. Yet how is this similar to the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room? (cf. Luke 22:19-20) Jesus had the end goal in mind. It was His last meal before His death. In just a few short hours He would be wrecked, wrought, beaten and mocked, bearing the wrath of God in our stead. As we take communion, let’s celebrate with Paul a death march we’re all on keeping the end goal in mind.

Years ago, my wife, Sarah, wrote and sang this entitled, Shipwreck. It is so fitting to this text today. Listen and enjoy.

6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.