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The God of Paradox

In Acts 27, Paul was on his way to Rome. He knew he would have an audience with Caesar.

“But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive.” (Acts 27:14-15)

Once this started....they were off to the races. You know, life is like that - we plan to do such and such....and get into it...then circumstances drive us like the wind does a boat into all sorts of things. We cannot imagine what will happen. In fact, at my age I look back over my life and I can see that I have rarely set out to do anything and had it to be like I expected it to be.

Do you know why that is? It’s because of the simple fact that I'm not all-knowing! God, though, IS omniscient and He is never surprised by what happens but He often chooses to not tell us how it will go, prophecy notwithstanding. So, we find ourselves dealing with things we didn't plan on dealing with and it becomes a minute by minute life…(and we hate it!)

“And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven.” (Acts 27:16-17)

They had been commanding the boat to go wherever they wanted; now the boat is in charge. Isn't that interesting?

This reminds me of the flesh. We try to use it to do our bidding and after a while we are in obedience to it. When we choose flesh we live "according to" or "in obedience to" the flesh (Romans 8) and in the end we experience death.

“And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship.” (Acts 27:18)

We do this in life too: when we are full of things to do... possessions, people, we start jettisoning them - lightening the load. I think it’s good to see what it means when we do that.

Often we don't even know we're overwhelmed; we're just trying to survive. It’s good for us to know when that is happening so we can do something about it from the spiritual perspective.

“And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship.” (Acts 27:18)

At first...we jettison things that aren't really crucial. Do you know why? It’s because we still think that, at this time, we can survive in our own strength but we might need the crucial stuff later. So we hold onto it. Later, when we think we're going to lose it all, we get desperate. Then we are ready to take more drastic steps.

“On the third day we threw the ship's tackle overboard with our own hands.” (Acts 27:19)

I would imagine that a sailor will NEVER throw away things crucial to sailing. Unless, of course, he believes he will die otherwise. This is when we start thinking about things like divorce.... suicide.....murder.....running away. There are countless ways we will handle the failure of our flesh. Most are pretty ugly.

Most of the people on that boat were lost. Unsaved people.

In most of us saved people is a small part of ourselves that has incredible faith; then the majority of our being is still convinced in the validity of our flesh. As time goes on, hopefully, the percentages change. This is the stuff of spiritual growth. (Imagine what we would be like if that little part would grow!)

“Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.” (Acts 27:20)

Things got worse. They did all they knew to do and things got worse. We hate this when it happens to us, but I think that often it is a gift from the Lord.

“But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.” (Acts 27:21)

After fasting, which I imagine was easy to do (have you ever been on rough seas in a boat? One word: seasick), God spoke through Paul. First, Paul spoke correction: “you should have listened to the God-guy (Paul speaking of himself) and not sailed from Crete”. Then He spoke hope - from the only Source of true lasting hope: the Lord.

"And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,” (Acts 27:22-23)

Let’s look at how Paul, even under stress, saw himself belonging to and serving God…and in the right order too: belonging…and then serving.

When do we begin to belong to God? When we are saved He purchases us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Recognition of that: the Lordship of Christ, is the source of real, pure serving.

“For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, "saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted(i.e., given) you all those who sail with you.'” (Acts 27:23-24)

Isn’t this interesting? God literally gave these people to Paul. The word "given" there is a form of the Greek word from which we get the word and concept "grace". Now, who is he with? Sailors and Luke. Who else? Unsaved people! What kind of unsaved people? His captors!

Paul, at this time, is in chains. In other words, someone gave Paul to these an earthly sense, as if he was a possession of theirs. At the same time, we have God, in a heavenly and therefore, more real sense, giving THEM to Paul. I find that interesting.

How can we apply this today in our lives?

Have you ever been in a situation where it seems you are owned by other people, situations or circumstances? How about when we work for someone that is difficult? If, in that situation, God says, “Lead that person to Christ”. In that case, God effectively gives that person to you spiritually just the way He gave Paul’s captors to him.

I think that God gives us ground all the time. This happens most often when it seems that someone else is in control of us.

Imagine hearing this from his captors' viewpoint:

"saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.'” (Acts 27:24)

Imagine what was happening inside them when they heard Paul says that God had given them to him, their prisoner!

Many years ago I was an associate chaplain at the county jail in Houston and there was a certain prisoner to whom I ministered there. He had a habit I loved: he would pray and ask the Lord to "give him" a jailor. Then when he sensed the Lord had pointed out someone to him, he would start praying for that guy...and would lead one jailor after another to Jesus. This earthly “prisoner” was free and he possessed his land.

“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.” (Acts 27:25)

Basically, Paul is asking them to enjoy his faith. They can't see what he sees and they don't know what he's experienced in Jesus. All they know is that it really seems like they are about to drown. He is asking them to benefit from his faith.

We see this in ministry situations all the time: people come in with tales of woe. These are things that really are happening - bad things. Well, these people want to be encouraged and we tell them things. Unfortunately, often in the Church at large “helpers” just say things that they think people want to hear. Things like, "It’s going to be all better".

We try but often it is without God's input. We just say it without guidance from the Lord and it is a wrong thing to do. In contrast, we can pray and when He really does say something we can legitimately repeat what He tells us, given that He releases us to do so. When we do that it’s what the bible calls a "rhema" word of God: a fresh God-spoken message and there is Spirit life in that.

Sometimes we quote scripture and all God’s Word is true but whether or not a particular verse is to be used that day in that’s up to the Lord. When we speak the words He gives us to speak, good things happen.

“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.” (Acts 27:25)

Paul was asking them to draw on something he had and that they needed. When we walk in the Spirit all Christians can do that.

I would like to offer a word of encouragement. Wherever we are: in our work life, in our families, in our relationships, I encourage us to seek the Lord in what we say to people and what we do. Let’s pay attention and see if it makes a discernible difference. See if people get more peace and comfort from our words when the Lord really does direct us. I think that would be a noble experiment. I believe it will work.

“Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.” (Acts 27:25)

Then he tells them to do something no sailor wants to do. (Remember: they were afraid to run aground earlier.)

"However, we must run aground on a certain island. Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land.” (Acts 27:26-27)

Sailors can sense where the land is by smell, by what sorts of birds are around and by wave and wind patterns; in other words, earthly talents and abilities are good too. Notice that Paul gave the word...and they didn't heed it.

“And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come.” (Acts 27:28-29)

Then the sailors tried to bail on them (no pun intended).

“And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, 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 it fall off." (Acts 27:30-32)

The soldier obeyed Paul, his prisoner!

“And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you. And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves.” (Acts 27:33-36)

He was living normally under bad circumstances and that encouraged them.

“And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship. So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea. When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible.” (Acts 27:37-39)

There is something cool about light (earthly as well as spiritual light): it allows us to see things that were there but were unseen.

“And they let go the anchors and left them in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore.” (Acts 27:40)

To be saved, they had to abandon the anchors that they were depending upon to be saved. They had to depend, instead, upon the wind (often symbolic of the Holy Spirit).

“But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.” (Acts 27:41)

God was taking away their ability to escape in a salvation of their own choosing (the boat).

“And the soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim away and escape.” (Acts 27:42)

This serves to remind us of how harsh Paul’s world was.

“But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land, and the rest, some on boards and some on parts of the ship. And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” (Acts 27:43-44)

God's word to Paul was fulfilled!

What is your boat? What earthly thing do you trust in that is keeping you from turning to the Lord, asking His opinion and then actually doing it?

We all have a “boat” or something that we trust in. It could be a job. Maybe it’s the security that comes from having a husband or wife. We think, “So long as I have this thing or this person, I’ll be okay.” As long as that isn’t challenged we have no effective need for God, active in our lives, right now; we’ll cheat ourselves out of His hand in our lives.

Oh, we’re into being able to go to heaven when we die and we need Him for that. In the meantime, though, we run our own lives, trusting in ourselves, things, situations, other people and, often, the meantime is a mean time.

It doesn’t have to be that way and I believe God has provided for us so that it wouldn’t have to be that way. Enjoying the Lord’s trustworthiness is that way. Paul did that.

We know that things were hard for him and the others at times. However, we also know that he was so convinced that God would provide that he and the others would push past the discomfort and minister Jesus anyway.

That’s why he experienced things like being a prisoner yet being given his captors. That is also why he was able to see it as it was.

I pray that you will find yourself in some place soon where something you thought captivated you is suddenly and sovereignly under your dominion through the intervention of the Lord. When that happens, occupy that territory!

1 Peter 5:10-11 puts it best:

"...may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Pastor Mike McInerney

Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.

Decatur, TX

© December 10. 2012 (Originally written July 14, 2004)

(For use with permission)

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