March 22nd 2015listen to the music from this weekActs 27:1-44 – Shake and Shape. Storms. We all face them, but very rarely do we face them well. The difficult thing about walking through pain in life is that it often comes out of nowhere and creates situations in life that are out of our control. However, God often does some of his most powerful and formative work in our lives through the storms. It is often the situations that shake us most severely that end up shaping us most significantly!


My kids, all three of them, love art.  They’re all artists.  I’m sure they’ll grow out of it, but they are right now.  I’m just kidding, I hope they don’t.  We have this one sort of art piece at our home.  What they do is squirt paint onto this piece of paper that’s on a spinning wheel and you push the lever underneath and the paint that started out as a blob turns into a beautiful piece of artwork.  Anybody seen these?  Paint starts as a blob and when you push the little thing it starts to spin around.  And as it spins, the paint disperses into an arguably beautiful pattern.  As I was reading our passage of Scripture, Acts 27, this morning, what I see happening in the Apostle Paul’s life is a similar phenomenon.  You may have experienced it in your life as well.  That sometimes God uses difficult seasons in life to spin us around and the result of that shaking from the hand of God or something He allows to happen in our life is a beautiful piece of art.  Let’s all agree at the onset that we hate this!  We do, don’t we?  This is a difficult thing to walk through.  Nobody likes to be shaken like this.  Nobody just in our natural being goes you know what, thank you for the storm! thank you for the trial!  God has to do something in our hearts and our lives to make us and cause us to respond this way.  Every single one of us in here though, we’re going to walk through seasons of life that are shaking, are a storm like we’re going to read about in the Apostle Paul’s life this morning in Acts 27.  Every single one of us will walk through them.  The question is will we walk through storms in a way that produces something in us or in a way that takes something from us?  And our approach to that, at the onset, will be what determines what comes from that storm.

We’re going to jump into Acts 27.  As you can see from this map, the Apostle Paul starts in Caesarea and he’s gonna travel throughout the entire chapter and end up in Malta by the end of the chapter.  It’s quite the journey. And on the way, he’s headed to Rome, like he dreamed about doing, in order to preach the good news of the Gospel.  But he’s going to Rome, I don’t think, in a way that he would have dreamed or in a way that he would have imagined.  He’s going as a prisoner.  He had this dream in the core of his soul—one day I will stand before the Romans and proclaim the good news of the Gospel, as he says in Romans 1.  But how many of you know that sometimes God gives you a dream but the way that it takes place and the destinations along the way don’t quite look like what you think they would look like??  I’ll take the chuckle as that you can relate!  That is the Apostle Paul’s story.  He dreams of preaching in Rome and indeed, God will fulfill that dream and that calling to him, but it doesn’t look anything like what he thinks it will look like.  And we’re going to join him on the ship this morning as he’s a prisoner traveling towards Malta, where the chapter will end, and it’s going to be met with some tumultuous seas.

Acts 27:9.  He’s begun this journey.  He’s left Caesarea and we pick up…..Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, {That’s the Day of Atonement—the Fast of the Jewish people.} Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot  and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, {If you have your own Bible, circle the word majority.  They’re gonna make a decision based on a majority vote.  May I propose to you, never a good way to make a decision?!  It typically leads to where they’re going to find themselves.} on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.  Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor {so they took the anchor up} and sailed along Crete, close to the shore.  

What’s going to happen next is Paul and his traveling companions are going to encounter a storm.  What leads up to that encounter with the storm I think is fascinating.  And you and I are going to find ourselves in storms at some point in life and I think what precedes them will happen in most of our lives.  Sometimes it’s just going to be NATURE.  The fact that we live in a fallen world means that there will be storms in life.  It just happens.  It’s not of our own doing, it’s not our own bad decisions, it’s not God punishing us, it’s simply the fact that we live in a fallen world.  Sometimes you get a call from a doctor that just isn’t what you hoped to get.  It’s part of living in a fallen world.

But if you look closer, I think there’s some things also that we’ll see start to come to the surface and they’re things you may or may not be able to relate to that lead us into storms also.  One, Paul steps up and says we probably shouldn’t do this.  The other sailors and the centurion completely ignore him.  You may have walked into some storms in life where people surrounded you in love and said wouldn’t do that…wouldn’t go there if I were you.  And part of what leads us there is this prideful arrogance.  I know that it’s happened to other people.  I know there’s a graveyard of ships waiting right along this bend of people that tried to do this pass at the same time I’m trying to do it, BUT…..we’re bigger, we’re better, we won’t get caught, it’s not going to happen to us.

The other thing you see is in verse 13 that says a south wind starts to blow gently.  So there’s this calm.  And what nature seems to suggest is this would be a good time to go.  Even though in their head they know I shouldn’t do that, we shouldn’t go there, there’s a graveyard of ships waiting who’ve tried the exact same thing. What they do is they look at all their surroundings around them and go it seems like God’s in this.  Even though it’s ridiculous and it’s crazy, let’s go for it!  And they’re DECEIVED into taking a journey they should have taken. Look what happens, verse 14. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, 

When you walk through a storm in life, you start to see the things around you differently, don’t you?  You start to see the things that at the onset of the journey seemed like they were necessary, but when the storm comes they become trivial.  Some of the things we invest our life in, some of the things we invest our time in, some of the things we invest our money in—-one call from the doctor can change the way you see those things, can’t they?  They can.  The things we thought at the onset were essential become trivial.  And here’s what the storms of life do:  they PURIFY our PRIORITIES.  We start to look at everything around us differently.  And the things that really matter are the things we can’t throw overboard and everything else is fair game.  One phone call from the doctor makes you hug your kids a little bit tighter, doesn’t it?  You watch a movie that stirs something in you and you pray at your kids’ bedsides a little bit harder.

We were in California in 2008.  The housing market bottom fell right out of it.  And people that were living in million dollar homes saw them foreclosed on and sold for a fraction of what they bought them for.  To a person, every single one of my friends that found themselves in that experience would say, you know what, we lost what we thought was everything, but it turns out it wasn’t really anything.  It was just a home that we lived in;  and there’s things that are more important to us.  It happens in our physical life, it happens spiritually, too, doesn’t it?  After 9/11 and the World Trade Towers fell, church attendance rocketed, shot up 25% the next Sunday and it was up for about a month.  But people were shaken to this place of saying what’s really important in my life?  {Will you look up at me for just a second?} You don’t have to wait for the storms to come to evaluate what’s really important.  You don’t.  And you don’t have to wait for the storms of life to craft and to build your life around those things.  Friends, our actions always reveal our affections.  The things we make time for are the things that are most important to us.  And some of us, I propose, myself included, need to do a little bit of deck clearing.  To just say, why am I pouring time and energy and resources and money into things that don’t matter?  Just an honest confession with you:  When I walk in my door after a day at work, why is the first thing I do is check my email?  And immediately ignore the things that I say are most important to me?  I’m confessing….I’ve gotta do some deck clearing.  Maybe you do, too.

I read this study recently where they studied the way food tasted to people.  People that were distracted and watching TV and people that were just sitting and eating.  And they were somehow able to isolate that if we distract ourselves while we eat our food doesn’t taste quite as good.  Amazing!  So the big takeaway this morning is don’t watch TV while you eat, right?  But I think that it’s a bigger principle, a bigger picture.  That the more we distract ourselves and the more things we have that matter to us, the less actually really does matter to us.  If everything’s important, nothing is.   Our propensity to just do more, more, more, more, more and think that’s better is absolutely from the pit of Hell.  And one of the things that God, in His grace and mercy, reveals to us through the storm is you have a lot of things on deck that you could do without.  Toss them overboard!!  Get rid of them!  Cut ties with them!  Whether you’re in the storm or not.  May God purify our priorities to lead us to His joy and His goodness.

Here’s the way the story, the passage continues.  Verse 20.  When neither sun or stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.   {They’re like…we give up! We’re done!  Professional sailors tossing in the towel saying we’re gonna die out here.  And here’s one of the reasons why.  For us, the sun and the stars are a nice addition, they’re beautiful!  We get 300 days of sunshine a year (praise be to God!).  The stars….isn’t it wonderful to go outside and look up at the stars at night and go God, you’re glorious, you’re beautiful,  you’re grand!  And they’re a beautiful part of creation for us.  But for the people on that boat, it was their map.  It wasn’t just a nice addition to their life.  If they didn’t have the stars and the sun, they had no clue where they were going!  They were lost!  So what we see is not only do storms purify our priorities, but they also help DETERMINE our DIRECTION. Notice, if you will, that as the skies grow darker and as the clouds come in and the fog grows and they have no clue where they are, as the skies grow darker their ears grow more and more open to the goodness of the Gospel.  Listen to the way Paul capitalizes on the situation.  verse 21}   Since they had been without food for a long time, {‘Since’ ties us directly back into…in light of the tempest and the storm that they find themselves in, Paul is going to start to preach.  He’s going to start to preach because sometimes we don’t know that Jesus is all we need unless He’s all we have.  Listen to what he says.}  ..Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me {Just a quick timeout.  I want to propose that if you’re a lady in this congregation this morning and thinking about getting a tattoo of a verse on your body…..may I propose Acts 27:21: Men, you should have listened to me!! Just saying.  No wives elbow your husbands; Kelly is sitting in the front row so she can’t elbow me!} …and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. {I believe that the Message version says, “I told you so!”}  Yet now I urge you to take heart, {He says this is the moment that everything you think you built your life on is vanishing before your eyes…}  …for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.  

WOW!!  Sometimes it takes the storms of life coming in and blinding us to the point where we say alright, God, I CAN’T trust in myself anymore—’cause I have no clue.  I am NOT sufficient in and of myself.  I am often a distracted person.  I’m often just confident in my own self and I am numb to the reality that all the while you’re going will you follow me, will you chase after me, and yet my own map seems to serve me pretty well.  It’s those times in life, the storms of life, where the rug is ripped out from underneath us, where we’re finally open…God, where are you leading?  Because I have no other options.  God, where do you want me to go?  I don’t have a Plan B for what I just heard.  I love the way that the great songwriter and poet, Rich Mullins, puts it when he says: “I don’t know where you’re leading me, unless you’ve led me here, where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.”  I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a lot for me to release my hands off of the reins of my life.  And I think what people say as they walk out the other side of a storm…..I think the woman who sat across from me in my office and said, “Cancer’s the best thing that happened to me!”……I think what she’s saying, I think what he’s saying is I’ve reprioritized my life around the things that are really important AND I’m allowing God now to determine my direction.  I am aware that at any moment He could take my life from me.  And so why not let Him have it?  We live under the illusion of control so much of our lives.  But I think what we see in the midst of the storm is…..God, you’re the only one who’s in control and help us craft and shape and mold our lives around you, not a lot around our own striving and our own achievement.  I love the way that the psalmist writes it when he says this: Your word (O God) is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. (Ps. 119:105)   So when all the worldly wisdom says hold on to bitterness, we’ll be people who forgive. And when all the worldly wisdom says hate those who hate you, we’re going to love for and pray for our enemies.  And when the day looks dark and as they say, we’ve given up all hope, we’re going to continue to walk with and continue to be faithful because He is our God and in every season of life He’s good!!!

There’s this really interesting verse in (Acts) 27, we read it already.  It’s in Paul’s speech to these sailors, but listen to what he says: Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. (v 22)  Now, good news or bad news?  All depends on whether or not you can swim!  The sailors look at each other and go praise God????  Billy, can you swim?  No! But there’s a promise in here; either we’re going to learn how to swim or we’re going to crash really close to the shore {which is what really happens. There’s people who grab on to pieces of the boat and paddle in.}  But I can imagine looking at each other like I don’t know if I’m suppose to celebrate that or lament that.  But I’m with you in it, Paul!  Can I just say to you, if our hope is in the boat it’s always going to let us down.  And storms of life will always draw out where our feet stand.  And if our hope is in the boat—if it’s in anything other than God—it will (the storm) reveal that and God by His grace and because of His love is going to slowly, gently take away the things we rely on and point us to the only thing we can trust in.  So they feel the ground underneath their feet start to erode.

Here’s what the storms teach us….the storms stir in us.  They FIX our FOUNDATION.  They not only change it, as they fix it from being built on something that’s incorrect or wrong or unworthy, but storms FIX our foundation.  They plant our foundation firmly on the only thing that will last through the storms.  The boats that we often cling on to are:  safety and protection; clean bill of health.  The boats are things we can trust and things that carry us along.  Things that make life worth living.  They may be a paycheck or bank account, but inevitably those boats are going to get a hole in them someday.  They are.  It’s just a matter of time.  And so people who can, in all honesty, say the storm or the trial was the best thing that ever happened to me, I think they’re people who are saying we cleared the deck, we reprioritized life in such a way that the things that are most important to us get the most time from us.  They’re people that have said back to God, God, I don’t know where you’re leading, unless you’ve led me here, where I’m lost enough to let myself be led (Rich Mullins).  Where are you leading?  Where are you going?  I’m with you, I’ve got nothing else to cling on to.  And they’re people that say we’ve built our lives on a lot of things other than Jesus, but what the storm revealed is that You’re the only thing that will stand.

At the end of his beautiful Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to his listeners this: Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)   There’s two constants in Jesus’ parable here.  One, in both of the stories the storm comes.  And it will for every single one of us.  There’s not one person sitting in this room who is exempt from the storms of life coming.  Either by our own bad decisions or by the world we live in—-a fallen world where it’s sin-permeated.  It’s just part of being alive.  That’s one constant in the story.  The other constant in the story is that everybody is building a house.  Everybody’s constructing a life.  That’s not a question for anyone in here.  The question is not are we building a life?  The question is are we building a life that will stand when the storms of life come?  The thing that determines whether or not the house stands is simply where it finds its foundation.  May I propose to you and to us that we don’t need to wait until the storms of life come to reveal where we build.  We don’t need to wait for the storms of life to tell us we’re building on something that will not last.  It’s simply a question of what’s most valuable to me?  What do I love and what if it were taken away from me?  Would I be absolutely devastated to lose it? Part of the beauty and the power of the storms of life is they give a new foundation for our feet to stand on and they give a new home for our heart to abide in.  That’s what they do.  When the boat disappears, we have this beautiful opportunity to renew our trust in the God who won’t.  To rely on His presence in ways we previously hadn’t.  And to trust in Him as the God who will deliver us “safe to shore”.

People that can say, “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.”  Or the trial in the marriage that we walked through and almost didn’t make it through is the thing that we build on today.  (Those are) People who walk through storms….they don’t just survive storms…they THRIVE in the midst of them by saying listen, there’s some things on the deck we’ve just got to clear off and we’ve got to prioritize in light of who God is and in light of what God’s done. They’re people who say let the storm reveal the fact that God, I’m not following after you and really I’m trusting in my own wisdom and worldly wisdom, but not in the guiding and mercy of Jesus and Him alone.  And they’re people that say God, you’ve taken away the boat, but my HOPE is not in the boat.  It’s in you and in you alone.

I’d like to propose to you two things as we close.  One of them is simply this:  Jesus has already conquered the biggest storm you will ever face!  And in two Sundays we’re going to celebrate Easter, where Jesus walks out of the grave and the check clears “PAID IN FULL”!  By faith you stand in His grace and His righteousness and His mercy and you stand before the throne of God pure, holy, spotless and blameless.  It is the biggest storm you’ll ever face and He’s already calmed it by His very words: They’re with me!  They’re under my blood.  I have paid it all!

The second thing in closing I’d like to propose to you is this:  That God will not always PROTECT YOU from the storms.  If you ever hear someone say that He will, they’re simply lying to you.  How do I know that?  Just look at Scripture.  God will not always protect youfrom the storm, but he will always produce something beautiful in you through it! If you’ll run back to Him and say, “God, I believe that you’re good and I believe that you’re at work. How do I follow you even in this?”  I don’t know what you’re walking through this morning, but I do know that what the enemy wants to use for evil, God designed to use for good.  And that some of the ways that He does that is that He allows us to see what’s really important.  And He allows us to wrestle with this what’s guiding my life question.  How do I make my decisions?  And finally, sometimes He’ll take the boat away to reveal where we stand and to fix it firmly on Him, the Author and the Perfector of our faith.

In closing, I’d just like to pray over you Eugene Peterson’s Message version of James 1:2-4.  Would you open your palms and just raise them to the sky, symbolic of: God, we believe you’re in the storm, we believe you’re working in the storm and whatever you want to take from us and whatever you want us to receive from You, we’re open.   So, consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of any situation prematurely.  Let it do its work in you so you may become mature and well-developed, and not lacking in anything.  And Jesus, that is our prayer this morning.  That we would be mature followers of Jesus.  And Lord, as hard as it is to pray, we invite you would you use even the storms of life to make us and mold us more into the image of Jesus.  We’re all going to walk through storms, we’re all going to walk through trials.  The question isn’t whether we’ll walk through them and survive them, the question is whether You’ll work something in us that produces joy everlasting as we walk.  That’s our longing.  So if our priorities are jacked up, Lord, would you show us that please? And would you let us clear…help us clear…give us vision to clear the deck.  What are the things we need to throw overboard?  And Jesus, if we’ve lost our way, may we admit to being lost enough to let ourselves be led.  And if they’re things we’re trusting in other than You, may they sink beneath our feet and may we reaffirm our trust in the only thing that will stand the test of time and all of eternity.  And that is the very work, blood, of King Jesus.  God, we know You’re not going to protect us from every storm of life, but we also believe and we also trust that You’re going to produce fruit in us through the storms as we walk with You.  You’re that big and You’re that good, so we’ll trust in You with everything we have. It’s in Your beautiful, power name that we pray.  Amen.