You’re probably hoping that this isn’t another response to the COVID-19 virus… honestly, me too. Every company I’ve ever given my email address to has sent me their response to how they’re improving their cleanliness and health standards, and I just want to say… why are we waiting until now to do that?!
But I’m grateful for the communication. While the virus is my motivation for this blog entry, I think it’s about something much bigger.
Remember our pal, Paul? The one who was a Pharisee named Saul and was blinded into realizing the reality of God? Paul is one of the most prominent players in the New Testament because this dude was everywhere. He traveled far and wide to promote the gospel and to create disciples wherever he went. He took his responsibility seriously, and we were gifted with many cool reflections of his work to learn from.
My favorite Paul story takes place in Acts 27 & 28. Paul is leaving Caesarea to travel to Rome. On his way, however, he encounters all sorts of hardship…
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous… So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and the owner of the ship.
When neither sun nor stars had appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete… But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”Acts 27:9-11, 20-25
Let’s pause here to recognize some things…
First, it’s undeniable that there are similarities to the emotions Paul and his crew are going through and what we’re currently facing, so keep that in mind as we continue.
Second, Paul knew how this was going to turn out. He didn’t know every misfortune they would face, but he had confidence in how it would turn out. After a storm had hit their ship, forcing them to make port in Crete, they again went against Paul’s wishes. I think Paul must have gone to sleep that night with a little fear in his heart because an angel of the Lord visited him to remind him of his purpose – of what he was called to set out to do. He shared this encouragement with his crew to confirm that God had already spared them and he’d continue to do it until Rome. Nevertheless! And here’s my favorite part…. “we must run aground on some island.”
What does that mean for them? Assurance that there would be yet another rough patch. They were weak. You’ll see in the next passage that they hadn’t eaten much. And yet they’d have to face another physically tumultuous hardship. *insert audible groan*, right?
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive…” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.
But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground…
Once safely ashore, we found out that the island was called Malta.Acts 27: 33-36, 41, Acts 28:1
These guys were hungry and borderline destitute, facing certain danger. Even though they had Paul’s assurance that they would all live to see another day, fear crept in. They cut their anchors and several soldiers tried to escape the ship as it was crashing. Paul asked them to hold firm and said “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31).
Here is where panic and doubt creep in to scare you and send you into flight mode. When you begin to panic, your body releases the hormone adrenaline. It kicks your brain into high gear, feeding your sense of doom, causing your heart to bound, your blood pressure to increase, causing heart palpitations, an upset stomach, and irritability. Not to mention the absolute fatigue your body feels afterwards.
Facing the panic in their eyes, what did Paul do? He broke bread, just like Jesus did after telling his disciples of certain betrayal at The Last Supper, and honored God. Wow. What an image!
Here’s my question to you today… have you honored God in the midst of the panic? Have you chosen to remind the people around you of what God has already promised us, instead of feeding the fear?
The world is watching us right now. The Church’s job is not to ignore what is happening, insisting that “God won’t allow it to hurt us.” Because good people have perished already. No, the Church’s job is to 1) recognize the seriousness of the situation, 2) encourage Jesus followers to do what the officials ask of us, and 3) be a group of people that doesn’t need a building to love people well.
In a couple of months, a day will come when we can look back at these days and agree that it made us stronger – made us appreciate our freedom more. But, nevertheless, we must run aground. Let’s do it like Jesus and Paul!