Focus: Week Seven - Shipwrecked
Today we are going to be continuing the sermon series "Focus: Take A Closer Look."
It's hard sometimes to see where Jesus is at work in the world around us, especially when things are so chaotic and uncertain. But when we take a closer look we learn to trust in what we can't see because of what we can see.
And when we begin to see Jesus more clearly, we can learn to know Jesus more fully as well. Throughout the month of July, we have been exploring the idea that when we get to know Jesus, we can then show Jesus to others.
Today we're going to be talking about showing Jesus even when life is challenging and we face hardships. Good timing, right? The world feels like it's falling apart around us some days.
How do we live out our faith, and show Jesus to others when we are going through such crazy times?
I think the answer lies in Grey's Anatomy. Don't judge me on this, I've been watching a lot of Netflix lately. And I forgot how awesome Grey's Anatomy was.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about Grey's Anatomy was a doctor television show that ran for many seasons---focused on Meredith Grey, who starts off in the first season as a first year resident at Seattle's Mercy Grace Hospital.
It's a really good show. I'm serious.
Anyway--there was an episode where the attending physicians and surgeons of the hospital put the fifth year residents through an ordeal that they called "The Gunther." They gave them a patient that had serious issues and they had to diagnose them as a team and then act to save the patient.
The idea behind the exercise was so that the attendings could figure out who The Gunther would be---the resident who would rise above the chaos, take charge, and show true leadership skills.
It wouldn't matter who was necessarily the smartest, the best student, the one who thought they were most prepared. It was always the one who could act coolly during a crisis.
It's kind of like this:
If you want to see how to recognize a good leader, wait until a room full, or a field full, or a boat full of people come across a crisis or hardship. Wait until the plan at hand doesn’t work and the next thing to do would be to make a change, make a decision. When that time comes all heads will point to their leader.
Or you could put it another way...
If you want to know whether what someone says about themselves is actually something they have internalized, just see how they act during a crisis.
You see, it doesn't matter what you say you believe, your true beliefs are evident in your actions... especially during a time of challenge.
It's easy to be a Jesus-follower as long as Jesus isn't leading you through a rough patch, am I right? Lots of Christians get disillusioned when life doesn't seem to work out for them.
It's like we thought there was a verse where Jesus said:
"Follow me, and I will make sure that your life is awesome. You will never have to face that many challenges. Well, maybe having to decide where to go for dinner, or which internet company to use... that's always a pain in the butt, I know, sorry about that. But seriously, I just want you to be comfortable, so I promise to only lead you to easy-does-it kinds of places, deal?"
Actually, Jesus kind of said the opposite. Here's a sample:
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.
There's more like that... a lot more.
The bottom line is that we are going to face challenges. We can't avoid hardship. It hits us when we least expect it. Think about it. Six months ago we were all pumped up about a brand new year that was shaping up to be fairly amazing.
Six months ago.
So if you have not internalized all of the things you say you believe about God... If you haven't truly owned what you say you believe about Jesus, redemption, resurrection, and restoration... then what happens when those hardships come... and they will?
That's what we're talking about today.
WHEN YOU SHOW JESUS THROUGH YOUR PROBLEMS, PEOPLE NOTICE.
Our guide today comes to us from the last two chapters of the book of Acts and the story of the Apostle Paul and a shipwreck.
Paul is on his way to Rome to stand trial before Caesar at his own request. This is the crazy bit... Paul could have been set free after being imprisoned for years at Caesarea Philippi--accused by Jewish religious leaders of sedition among other things for preaching the Gospel.
Paul decided that he wanted an audience with Nero himself---undoubtedly hoping that he would be able to share the story of Jesus with the Emperor.
Paul, along with some other prisoners, is handed over to a Centurion of the Augustan Cohort. Boarding ship at Caesarea, Paul is accompanied by two companions: Aristarchus and the author of Acts. Along with the centurion, his soldiers, and the crew, there is a bunch of other prisoners being transported to Rome as well. There are 276 people on the ship.
At one point Paul predicts that the voyage will be filled with trouble, but no one listens because he's a prisoner---I mean what's he going to say, right?
But Paul actually knew what he was talking about. He had traveled probably more than anyone else other than the sailors. The Mediterranean shipping lanes were closed for the winter because of the storms, but the military dudes ignore his warning---but they still respect him.
I know this because when the voyage lands at Sidon, Paul is graciously allowed to see friends, get supplies, all kinds of things. The centurion didn't have to do that at all. So we begin to see that Paul's witness is having an effect on the people around him who are watching him during his time of crisis... and theirs.
The ship limps along hugging the coast, and then they wait for a bit in a place called Fair Havens, known for its shelter from the storms on the Mediterranean. But when they set out for Rome once again, they end up fighting storms for fourteen days.
At last, Paul says to the group, "This is not going to end well, so we probably ought to eat, we're going to need our strength." He presides over that meal in a very interesting way---almost like he is sharing communion.
Think about this. In the midst of this incredible hardship, Paul is the one who is standing up, showing grace and peace, caring about the needs of others.
And when the ship finally runs aground off the coast of Malta, it is Paul whose influence keeps the centurion from allowing his soldiers to kill the prisoners. He made that kind of impression on the centurion---he forsook his own protocol.
So Paul and the crew are on the coast of Malta, and the locals come to help them out, give them some food and show hospitality. And what is Paul doing in the midst of this? Gathering firewood to put on the fire. That's what. Serving.
Suddenly, Paul gets bit by a poisonous snake that was hiding in the wood. The locals all expect him to die, but he doesn't, which blows their mind.
St. Paul's Cathedral Mdina.
Finally the arrive in Rome, and we get to the key verses for us:
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
The last verse says it all--"without hindrance." Paul had made such an impression on those who imprisoned him that they allowed him to visit friends, write, teach and preach "without hindrance."
There's a question that comes to mind for me as I ponder this story and what it teaches:
All of the people whose lives were touched, changed, transformed in this story--does it happen when Paul acts differently?
So let me ask you a question... When hardship comes, can people tell that what you say you believe is what you actually believe?
The Historical Exercise - How would I act? How are you acting now?
Here's a simple phrase that you can use. I made it up. It's kind of lame, but it works. When you are about to do something or say something in response to your hardship.... When you are about to react to pressure... When you are wanting to be silent... When you are filled with fear...
A simple question: "Is this the way---I say?"
God’s one-of-a-kind job description is that God actually uses our problems to lead us to the full solution. God is the perfect Recycler, and in the economy of grace, nothing is wasted,
When you show Jesus through your problems, people notice.