Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. I wonder how many of you decided to keep going, to take another lap around that wall or that obstacle that had been keeping you from what God promised. Any of you begin this week with a little more zeal, ready to persevere, and to keep going knowing that when you can’t see God working around you that he’s always working within you? You know, so many times what’s most important to God is not what he’s doing for us but what he’s doing in us.
Romans 8:28 tells us, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”
Today we are going to talk about “Choosing God’s Purpose”, because you never know, this might be your sixth day, your last time around that wall, but you’ll never know if you don’t keep going. This morning, you’ve come too far to walk away, you’ve come too far to go back, and I’m believing that many of you are going to have powerful testimonies in the weeks to come because you kept going. This week you were faithful, you kept going, and God showed himself to be more faithful than you could ever imagine. Others of you… others of you, you give up too quick. If you don’t lose 10 pounds in the first week you quit going to the gym, but you need to keep going. Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).
So this morning I want to share with you from the New Testament book of Acts and we’re going to look at one of the great Bible heroes known as the apostle Paul. You know, we often hear his name, but I don’t think we truly understand the depth of the character, the perseverance, and the strength of this man. We read so much of his writings in the New Testament but we overlook the personal challenges and difficulties which led him to experience the depth of the riches of Christ. Paul was a man of great spiritual strength whose character was born out of great pain, difficulty, and sorrow and today’s story illustrates this well.
If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me to Acts chapter 27. As we pick up the story we find Paul on board a ship headed for Rome, but he’s not on the Carnival Cruise Lines, he’s not a tourist, he’s in trouble, and he is experiencing great difficulty. You see, Paul is going to Rome as a prisoner with 275 other prisoners bound hand and foot and along the way he encountered an unexpected difficulty. We find them sailing against the winds, unable to keep their course, and they were traveling with great difficulty. If you can relate to that, if you’ve been there and done that, you’re in the right place because we are going to talk about persevering in the midst of unexpected difficulty.
Let’s read together at verse nine, Acts 27:9-12, “Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. 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 of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.”
Today I want to talk to you about Choosing God’s Purpose and here in the text we’ve got a centurion in charge of getting these prisoners safely to where they needed to go, you’ve got the owner of the ship, you’ve got the pilot of the ship, and then you’ve got a passenger saying, “I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous.” And so the centurion has to make a decision, choosing between listening to the owner of the ship, the pilot of the ship who has maps, understands the sea, and is familiar with navigating this ship, or he can listen to a prisoner, a passenger on board. And so obviously he decides to go with the pilot and owner of the ship, but what he didn’t recognize that Paul was no ordinary passenger. He didn’t know that Paul was on board because he was fulfilling God’s purpose and that God was speaking through Paul to warn them and so they’re not listening. Instead they’re listening to the news, the weather, and everybody else’s ideas, opinions, and assessments all before they listen to the preacher. And we’ve all been there, we’ve all done this, and we’ve all got to make this decision. Will I make my decision based on my senses or by the Spirit of God?
Choosing God’s purpose when it doesn’t make sense, because a lot of us are like the Centurion and instead of listening to what God says, we’re listening to what our senses say, and honestly that’s understandable, because a lot of times God just doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot of stuff that God told people do in the Bible that didn’t make sense, but if we we’re to live our lives by what makes sense we’ll never become a person of faith. If it always has to make sense for you to obey God you’ll never know what it means to trust him.
Last week we read about Jericho and it didn’t make sense for Joshua to walk around the walls of Jericho seven times did it? But you know, if today you stop every time following Jesus doesn’t make sense you’ll never have faith. If you’re concerned that you can’t afford to give God 10 percent, or that people are going to think you’re weird, people aren’t going to want to be around you, or that people are going to call you one of those Jesus freaks; if you’re always trying to make sense of God, you’ll never walk in faith, but we walk by faith and not by sight. I want you to think about those areas of your life where you’re living by your senses and to consider how you might live according to faith in God’s promise.
You see, you don’t have to understand to obey. The outcome is God responsibility; obedience is yours. You don’t have to know where you’re going to end up to take the next step. In this passage of Scripture we see some men who kept sailing when they should’ve stopped. It’s a recipe for disaster, because anytime you ignore God’s warnings, the winds will be against you. In this situation the sailors should have stopped, but they didn’t, they caught a wind, and for little while it looks like everything was going to be okay.
But then verse 13 says, Acts 27:13-15, “When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.”
They were driven along, going with the flow, but now they’ve completely lost control. It doesn’t say how long, but before very long the disaster Paul had predicted struck. Roaring down from the mountains of Crete came the dreaded northeaster and though sometimes when you ignore God’s warnings it feels like you’re making progress, what little progress you make is ultimately leading you to disaster. The ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind so the sailors had no choice but to give way to it. They let themselves be driven along, out of control, pushed along by the wind.
Luke says, Acts 27:16-17, “As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along"
There’s that phrase again, “Driven along.” I wonder how many of you are being driven along today because you’ve ignored the warnings of God. You know it was that gentle, quiet whisper saying, “You need to pay more attention, you need to put more heart into this, you need to do it like you used to, you’ve lost your first love.” And so now you’ve lost your hope, you’ve lowered the anchor, and you’re being driven along.
Picking up again in verse 18, “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard." Things are getting so bad now, and you know, maybe this might describe what your life looks like right now. Maybe you’re in a panic, you’re just throwing stuff overboard, you’re trying anything, like those sailors, you’re caught up in a storm. You found yourself in trouble, facing great difficulty, in the midst of some uncomfortable situations, circumstances that maybe for the most part, you created yourself.
Verse 19 says, Acts 27:19-20, “On the third day, they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."
Have you ever found yourself in that place, where the storms raging, you’re throwing cargo overboard, you’re trying to survive, still trying to make your way through the storm, until finally that moment that you gave up all hope? You came to the conclusion that all’s lost, there’s no way out, and some of you’ve made that conclusion about your own lives. You’ve decided that you’re always going to be depressed, you’re always going to be overweight, you’re always going to have these health problems, you’re always going to be addicted to this or that. And so you’ve resigned yourself to being bitter, to always having a negative view of things, and you’re driven along without hope. These sailors are out there on the sea with neither sun nor stars, they’re taking a beating, there’s no way of knowing where they are, and they gave up hope… they’re just drifting.
Verse 21 tells us, Acts 27:21, “After the men 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; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now…"
But now, changes everything. You see, we can’t do anything about what happened back then, we can’t do anything about the decisions we made when we were 14, we can’t even do anything about what we did last week… but now! “But now,” Paul says, “I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.”
Like Paul, I want to speak to you today who’ve been driven along; maybe you’ve lost some time, lost some cargo, lost some money, lost your peace, and lost your joy. “But now, I urge you to keep up your courage.” But now, and here’s where it’s going to get good.
You know, just like Mary and Martha met Jesus on the road after their brother Lazarus had died. They met him and Martha said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." (John 11:21-22). But even now, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see” (Hebrews 11:1). But now, I can’t see the stars, I can’t see any dry ground, but now Paul said, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). But now, we’re not putting this off anymore, we’re not going to drift along one more day, now is the time to do the right thing. And he says, “Keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed” (vs. 22).
Isn’t that amazing? Our God is such a merciful God! You may have made the wrong choices, you may have got yourself into that situation on your own, but God said, “I’ll still come get you, I’ll save you, I’ll give you another chance.” “Not one of you will be lost.”
“Only the ship will be destroyed.” Now whether that’s good news or bad news depends on your perspective. You see, if what you care about most is in the boat, when the boat goes down your hope goes down with it. And get this, sometimes our hope is too much in how we want God to do something, or how we want to get where we think God wants to take us. When our hope is in our plan, when our plan is interrupted our faith fails. You know, it’s like I thought I’d be better off by now, I thought they’d never leave me, I thought I was going to get into this university, I thought I was going to marry him, I thought they were going to… And what happens, is you get so focused on how you thought it was going to happen, that you missing what God wants to do in you.
That’s what Paul is trying to get these guys to see. He’s telling them, “We’re not going to get there in the boat.” You know, he likes the boat, but there’s no hope for the boat. You can’t just rewind and do that over, some things are never going to be like they were again. But listen to the confidence with which Paul speaks in verse 23, Acts 27:23, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me." Isn’t that powerful? The Bible teaches us that God goes before us, he goes behind us, but he also goes beside us. Aren’t you glad that he’s a 360 degree God? He goes into our future and prepares it for you. He’s gone into our past and redeemed you from it. He’s right here beside you in this moment to comfort you and to give you courage.
You’ve got to keep your courage up. The boat might be going down, but keep your courage up. Your bank account might be going down, but keep your courage up. Your grades might’ve gone down last semester, but keep your courage up. You see, your conditions are not always in your control, you don’t get to decide the forecast, some things are outside of our control, but your courage is in your control. Some of you’ve lost your courage, you’ve lost your confidence, you’ve lost your hope, and you’ve lost your joy. And the reason why is because your hope is in the boat. Your hope is in your circumstances and so sometimes God needs to break your boat apart so he can teach you how to let your hope float to the surface without it.
Keep up your courage even though you didn’t know you’d be divorced. Keep up your courage even though business... Keep up your courage even though your retirement account… Keep up the courage… even if everything else goes down.
Look at verse 24, Acts 27:24-25, the angel 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.”
It will happen. God’s purpose will be fulfilled. Maybe not like you thought, maybe not like you wished, but he’s still standing beside you, he’s still got you, and your security was never in the boat anyway. “Have faith in God” Paul says, “it will happen just as he told me.” Nevertheless” verse 26, “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
Let’s skip ahead to verse 41, because I want to show you this before we’re out of time. Acts 27:41-44, “But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety.”
This morning as we close, are you’re worshiping the way you want God to do it, or are you worshiping God who said he would and trusting him to do it however he sees fit? You see, he said he’d provide for you, but he didn’t say how he would provide. He said that he’d be there for you, but he didn’t promise that you’d feel it. He promised to meet every need, but he didn’t say he’d give you everything you wanted. It’ll happen, it might take longer than you want, it might look different than you thought, but if God spoke it one things for sure, whatever’s happening in your life, whatever’s happening in your spirit, I assure you. Scripture says, "He who began a good work in you ... Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” You see, God finishes what he starts. Some of you just need to remember today that God is the one who started it. Paul knew that God was the one who let him get on that ship. God was the one who let him end up in chains. He’d always wanted to go to Rome, but he hadn’t pictured the accommodations. This morning, we need to have the same mindset as Paul, that if God put me on the ship, if I have to float on pieces, if I have to grab on to boards, if I have to do the breaststroke, I’ll do it.
Last week we said shut up and keep marching. This week, somebody needs to be encouraged just to keep swimming. If you’ve got to do the backstroke, tread water, or do the doggie-paddle, just keep going, it will happen.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
May 28, 2016