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How to be a Christian in a Crisis

Date: 19 November 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 27:1 – 28:15

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19Nov23 Herald
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With Christ In The Vessel,

We Can Smile At The Storm

Smile At The Storm

Smile At The Storm

With Christ In The Vessel,

We Can Smile At The Storm

As We Go Sailing Home

Sailing, Sailing Home

Sailing, Sailing Home

We know this song don’t we? It first appeared in a 1951 hymnal titled “Salvation Songs for Children”. It’s a children’s song. It’s written for children to sing, because the lyrics are simple, the bible truth is clear, and perhaps more importantly, it’s far easier to imagine smiling at the storms of life when you’re a kid.

Even for a Christian, the storms we face in life are tough to smile at. In our passage this morning, we see Paul caught in a storm, we see him act, we hear him speak. One thing we do not see him do, unsurprisingly, is smile.

But notice what the song does not say. It does not say that with Christ in the vessel, the storm will pass us by, or that the storm will subside. It merely promises, that “we will go sailing home”.

In other words, that old adage is true: “God promises us a safe landing, but not a smooth journey”. There exists a notion popular in Christian circles that if you believe in God, if you only have enough faith in God, then everything will be okay, you will go through life victoriously, swimmingly, every chain will be broken, every sickness will be healed, every storm will be stilled. It is not true. Friends, it is not true.

The reality is this: Our destination is secure, but the journey will be rough.

ACTS 14:21-22 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Will we finally enter the kingdom of God? Yes, we will. But how will we get there? Through many tribulations.

Again, “God promises us a safe landing, but not a smooth journey”.

So, knowing this, how shall we face the storms we encounter? How should Christians conduct themselves in a crisis? That is the question for us today. And once again, the Apostle Paul is our example.

But before we begin to mentally read ourselves into the passage and parallel Paul’s crisis situation with the storms we face in our own life, let us clarify the nature of the crisis in this passage before we consider how we can draw appropriate applications to our own circumstances.

There are 2 things I want us to note about the storm in this passage.

The first is that it is a literal, historical event.

There are certain indicators of fictional stories. It often begins vaguely.

For instance, the trademark introduction to a fairy tale: “Once upon a time…” or

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”

Which indicates to the reader that the universe in which the story takes place is detached from our world, it is a fictional story.

Luke’s record of Paul’s journey to Rome, however, is replete with specific details – he lists the names of real people and real places. He provides time markers, and even highlights the name of the specific wind which occasioned the storm he found himself in.

Hang on a minute, that proves nothing. Many fictional stories contain vivid details of people and places and time. Yes they do.

But what they do not do, is contain details of contemporary living persons, of actual places with specific time markers, and then attempt to pass it off as a historical narrative, as Luke the author does. Why?

Because if a story is fictitious, details would expose it as fiction. Because details make the story verifiable.

So, first thing to note is that the storm is a real, literal, historical event. It’s not a parable, it’s not symbolic or allegorical. Which means that the storm is a storm, it’s not a metaphor of a general trial or hardship faced by Paul.

Second, this storm is not the result of Paul’s sin or lack of faith. Often times when we encounter a trial, we can default to a Jonah framework. Where the storm is the consequence of our rebellion, and instead of facing the storm, we ask “what have I done wrong? How can I repent, so that the storm will cease”.

Our passage today teaches us that storms can occur through no fault of your own. Sometimes, the question isn’t “what can do to still the storm”, but “what we should we do, in the midst of the crisis”.

Luke points to reasons external to Paul for the crisis. Both natural causes and human causes.

ACTS 27:14, 20 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.
20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

The weather is the main contributor of the crisis situation. A tempest known as the northeaster struck the ship. And the weather, as we know, is beyond Paul’s control.

But there is also the human element in the equation.

ACTS 27:10-11, 30-31 10 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.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.

The crisis could have been avoided, had the centurion in charge listened to Paul than to the captain and the owner of the ship. Certainly, greed was at play here. A delay in shipment could result in financial loss, so an owner of a ship concerned with his bottom line would prioritize risk over safety. Human greed leading to human foolishness, was a contributing factor.

Human selfishness was another source of danger.

30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”

The sailors, believing that there little hope for survival on board a sinking ship, decided to save themselves and row to land on the ships lifeboats. And that contributed to the overall crisis of the situation. Again, it was no fault of Paul that he found himself in this circumstance.

Now, why am I highlighting all these? Because in order to properly apply Paul’s situation to our lives, we must draw the appropriate parallels between Paul’s situation back then and our own situation today. And in order to do that, we must know what Paul’s situation is really about.

So, this passage doesn’t apply to the time you boarded the Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, and the engine stalled, and the electricity was cut off for two hours, and you were anxious. Sure, you can draw encouragement from the Scriptures in any situation, but not from this particular passage.

It also doesn’t apply to “Eh, you know that time I went diving at Cape Town. Wah, out of nowhere, heavy rain sia, the boat like that. I nearly vomit, y’know. Jialat sia, scary stuff. Thank God everything okay”. Yes, thank God, but again, this passage might not the most applicable to that particular “crisis”.

So what’s the appropriate parallel situation in a Christian’s life? It’s when a Christian, in obedience to the Great Commission, and through no fault of his own, faces a crisis situation which, humanly speaking, threatens to derail the mission.

And no doubt the early church, as well as Christians across the globe today, encounter many such situations. Civil war in Myanmar, cutting off resources and curtailing freedom of movement for gospel work. Landslides and floods destroying churches, with the rebuilding efforts setting the gospel work back. A Sunday school teacher facing a trying family situation, which makes it so difficult to focus and prepare the bible lessons each week.

This passage encourages Christians in such situations. If this makes the passage seem less relevant to you than you would like, the solution is not to force fit the passage to suit your life, but to get on board with God’s mission – the great commission – the church’s vision to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

And then the bible will take on a whole new complexion, a whole new meaning for you. Because as 2 Tim 3 reminds us, the word of God is written to exhort and equip the people of God for the work of God. The bible is not a manual on “how to flourish in life with the help of God”, it’s a manual for disciples on following Christ to fulfill his kingdom purposes here on earth.

So then, what can Christians in a crisis learn from Paul in this passage?

First, in a Crisis, we can Trust in God’s promises. We can trust in the promises of God.

ACTS 27:23-25 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 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.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

If you rely only on your physical senses, and look only at the material circumstances to evaluate the crisis, you might simply plunge into hopelessness and despair. Like the sailors, tossed about for so many days by the tempest, you might be tempted to believe that all hope is lost.

The difference between Paul and the sailors isn’t that they saw the storm differently. It’s that Paul saw more than just the storm, he saw beyond the circumstances, he wasn’t guided merely by his 5 physical senses.

His evaluation of the situation included the promises of God.

Which is the reason why, in the midst of a raging tempest, he can say to the men around him, “take heart!”, or as Dn Pak Choon’s editorial has it, in the KJV, “Be of good cheer”.

Be of good cheer. In the midst of a storm? Be of good cheer in the midst of a violent, life-threating storm?

Is Paul trying to lift morale with the power of positive thinking? Is this Paul giving a motivational pep talk about trying to see the silver lining in every storm cloud?

No, not at all. This isn’t hopeful, wishing, positive thinking? This is settled, evidence-based conviction based upon the revealed promises of God.

‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.

And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

God has said it. And that for Paul, settles the matter. However great the storm may be, God is greater still. However strong the wind, God is stronger still. And so between the storm and God, God always wins. His word settles the matter.

And so in the midst of a crisis, you can choose to either say: “God, see how big the storm is, and despair, or you can say, storm, see how big my God is, and be of good cheer.”

But notice this. How we wish that the way God encourages our heart is by removing the crisis. How we wish that the solution is for God to say to the storm, “Be still”. But God does not do that here. God does not speak to the storm. He speaks to Paul and said, “Paul, be still. Do not be afraid.”

And that, so often, friends, is the nature of God’s promises. More often than not, the effect of God’s word, is not to calm the storm around us, but to calm the storm within us.

And that, friends, the nature of Christian assurance in the midst of a crisis. The nature of Christian peace – it is not the absence of a storm around, but the presence of God with us, the promise of his word within us.

So, in a storm, remember the promises. Remember that he has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Remember that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can fear no evil, for his rod and staff will comfort us. Remember that though the thorn is not removed, his grace is sufficient for us, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness. Remember the promise that he will not give us a load he will not help us to bear. Remember the promise that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God.

Remember the great and precious promises of God in his word.

Remember that:

When the oceans rise

And thunders roar

Our Lord is King

Over the flood

We can be still and know

He's God.

The storm is not.

That’s our first point. In the midst of a storm we must trust, hold fast, to the promises of God.

Our second thing to do as a Christian in a crisis is to love our neighbours. To good to all.

Two friends are in the woods, having a picnic. They spot a bear running at them. One friend gets up and starts running away from the bear. The other friend opens his backpack, removes his hiking boots and starts lacing up his running shoes.

“What are you doing? Just move!” the first friend shouts, looking over his shoulder as the bear closes in on his friend. “Do you think you can outrun a bear just because you’re wearing running shoes?”

“I don’t have to outrun the bear,” said the second friend. “I only have to outrun you.”

Sometimes it can seem like its every man for himself in a crisis situation.

It doesn’t even have to be a major crisis. Have you noticed that when you are down with something even like a flu, there is a tendency, a temptation, to make everything about you.

I’m sick. Everyone be nice to me, tolerate me, indulge me, take care of me, serve me, put up with me.

We have a tendency towards self-preservation, towards self-love towards selfishness.

And this tendency is magnified under stressful conditions.

The Christian, however, is to love his neighbour as he loves himself.

ACTS 27:21-22, 25 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship…
25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

Twice, Paul relays to the men on board with him, most of whom were criminals, to “take heart”/ “be of good cheer”. And the reason he did so was because he wanted to encourage them, seeing that they had been without food for a long time. Not because they didn’t have food to eat, mind, but because they were too despondent to have any appetite.

In other words, he did it out of concern for them. Just as God loving encouraged Paul, Paul lovingly encouraged the men.

ACTS 27:33-36 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.

And Paul urged the weak and hungry men to eat, encouraging their hearts by assuring them that not a hair is to perish from their heads.

36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Once again, Paul demonstrates a care for others around him, though they may be strangers and criminals, he cares for them and does good to them.

And he continues the same when they landed on the island.

ACTS 28:8-9 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

On the island, Paul resumed service to those around him, healing the father of the island’s chief, as well as the rest of the people on the island who were sick.

We might, I think, too easily find reasons to excuse ourselves from ministry. Take a break because we’re “tired”, because we “busy”, because we are facing challenging circumstances.

In the midst of the storm, Paul never stopped ministering to others. Just having just been ship wrecked, beaten down by the weather, weary from sea-sickness, weakened from not having eaten well in weeks, Paul could have well said, “Alright, I need a break, I need some down time, I have been through a lot. I need to focus on myself now, now is the time to practice some self-love.”

But Paul simply picks up on the island where he left off on the ship. Continuing ministry – continuing to serve and do good to the people around him.

Friends, that is the mark of a Christian in a crisis. They draw encouragement from the promises of God, and they give encouragement to the neighbor. God ministers to them, they minister to others. They trust in God and they serve their neighbour.

Finally, the third thing that Christians do in a crisis is to Resist Human Opinion.

ACTS 28:3-6 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

In times of crisis, another thing we tend to do is to seek advice. Which is not wrong in itself, of course. But what Christians really want to do is pay attention to is God’s opinion, who in his omniscience is alone able to provide the truth of the situation.

Luke does something interesting in these verses. He records the islanders “flip-flopping” opinion on Paul. First a snake bit him and they declared him a murderer. Just from the fact that a snake bit him – they came to the conclusion that he had killed somebody.

And when Paul suffered no ill effects from the snake bite, they declared him to be a god.

This isn’t the first time people called Paul a god. At Lystra, the people said that he was Zeus when he healed a lame man. But in that passage, the focus was on Paul’s reaction. He tore his clothes in frustration, told them he was no god, and spoke to them about the true god whose providence is revealed in nature.

This time however, Luke is silent on Paul’s response. It was unlikely that Paul allowed them to call him a god with correction. But Luke does not record it.

The reason, I think, is because he wants us to focus on what the islanders are saying, rather than what Paul has to say.

And what we can gather is that their opinion is absurd, it’s worthless, it’s foolishness.

So while we seek advice from others in times of crisis. Do so with discernment. Take the advice which is comes from the word of God or points you back to the word of God, and filter out the rest.

Trust only advice which is aligned to God’s word, because that’s your anchor, that’s the bulwark of truth, that’s divine wisdom to guide your path in the darkest of storms.

So, friends, when crisis hits, and your faith is shaken, and the night seems long, and everything you see and hear only gives you reason to increase your fear, remember Paul in the storm and remember your God. Trust in his promises, continue to love your neighbour, and resist being swayed by the winds of human opinion.

Remember that Christ Jesus is king. He is king over the flood. And with him in the vessel, we can take heart. We can be still and know he is God.

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