Monday, October 29, 2012

The Mediterranean, Paul and I!

I want to thank the wonderful saints of Hope Center of Redlands for honoring my wife and I two years ago on our 25th anniversary as Pastor's of our church. Not only did they honor us but sacrificially gave us the funds for the trip of a lifetime. That trip included a visit to Europe (Brussels, Paris and Rome) and a Mediterranean Cruise (Greek Islands, Athens, Istanbul and Ephesus in Turkey) with our best friends, Pastor and Sis. Phil White of Burbank.

Today I'm at sea on the Celebrity Cruise "Equinox" in the Mediterranean Sea. This ship is one of the newest of Celebrities ships. For the last two years it has ranked the highest of their fleet. There are 2850 guests and 800 employee's on this trip! The ship is 1,041 feet long and weights 122,000 tons!

You have 10 restaurants to visit for your meal. At the main restaurant, which is a buffet, you select from choices which are from around the world. The food is of the highest quality.

Not only are you pampered with service but your room is spotless! Our king size bed is as comfortable as you can get!

As I stand in my room's balcony surveying the horizon of Sea, I am flooded by the thoughts of Paul sailing on this Sea on three Missionary tours (Acts 13:4,13; 14:26; 16:10-11; 18:18, 21; 20:6,13,15,38; 21:1-8) On each trip he is not sailing for pleasure but for the expanding of the church. He is preaching the gospel for the purpose of seeing people converted and become disciples . He desires that each church would impact the citizens of their city and turn them from pagan God's to the One True God, Jesus Christ!

Most likely while sailing the Sea as a passenger on a ship there were some of the comforts of home. He had food, bed and the companionship of Barnabas, Silas, Pricilla and Aquila, Timothy and Luke (Acts 14:26; 18:18; 20:13-15; 21:1-8). As they sailed they talked of the journey, shared their stories, spoke of the victories, conversed about the scriptures, and made their future plans.

Yet that was not the only times he sailed these waters! He also traveled as a prisoner (Acts 27:1-8). Now the comforts of home could not be found in the belly of the ship. He was alone without any friends. Food was limited. He could be found at the end of a oar rowing when the winds had died! Storms from the north came hurling at the ship! Fear griped the sailors! The ship had to be helped to stay together! Ropes were used to undergrid the construction integrity of the ship! Overboard went cargo and foods to lighten the load. The tackling was thrown overboard! The clouds caused darkness to cover the sky and water for three days (Acts 27:14-20)! The ship collapsed and Paul found himself in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea clinging to a piece of board (Acts 27:41-44).

This was not the only time Paul was shipwrecked. In 2 Corinthians 11:25 Paul states he was shipwrecked three times! He states that he was in "perils" of the sea (11:26)! He was adrift in the deep for a night and a day (11:25)!

Yet through every trial of the sea Paul stayed full of faith! He never allowed the storms to rain on his parade of faith! He is not fearful as the sailors but confident in the Word of God that he has received. Dearly he held onto the words of past that came from Ananias:

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen
        vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and
        kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my
        name's sake.
(Acts 9:15, 16 KJV)

Paul will not be overcome by the waters of the Sea for he has been chosen to stand before the Roman King, Caesar! He does not know how God will save him from the Sea but he knows that the author of his faith is also the finisher of his faith (Hebrews 12:2). His God has a plan already in place. He will make a way of escape for each temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But he also understood that God's will might come with personal pain! Yet he must not pain stop him from fulfilling the purpose of his life! The shipwrecks and their suffering are the fulfillment of God's spoken Word to Paul! He realizes that he is in the will of God and the problems are merely stepping stones to his reward!

He is blessed that he also receives a Word from God during the present trial. First the Word from God comes by the Gift of Spirit as the Word of Knowledge. Before the journey is to continue after the stop at the city of Lasea (Acts 27:8) Paul admonishes the  centurion that he perceives that if they start again on the trip at this time, there will be loss of cargo, the ship and lives (Acts 27:10). The centurion does not listen to Paul but to the master of the ship and the ships owner and precedes forward.

As they begin to sail again toward Rome, the massive storm hits the ship just as Paul had predicted! The sailors fight the storm! It will not be a fight for cargo or the owners ship but for their very lives!

Once again in the middle of the trial, Paul receives a Word from God by the visit of an angel in the night. The angel reminds Paul of the words given to him from Ananias: "you will stand before kings", thus you must be brought before Caesar! You will not die from this shipwreck, in fact, none on the ship will lose their life. Paul passes on the message to the ships crew and encourages them to be of good cheer and believe God's Word as he believes it (Acts 27:23-25)!

As we read this biographical event of Paul's life, we can learn many lessons. First we must understand that this event is not a battle of spiritual warfare with Satan but is a battle between Paul and his flesh. Will he trust God and His Word or will he allow his emotions to be controlled by the circumstances of the moment? This is the great battle for every child of God, the battle between flesh and the Word of God! The battle is always fought within the mind.

Even when it is an attack between Satan and child of God, it will always be lost or won in the realm of the flesh, that is the mind. It will always come down to your belief in God's Word or to your believing the words of Satan. Whatever report you believe will be the winner of the battle.

You might be asking, how do I win the battle to believe the Word of God? You should place in your mind scriptures that you can recall that speak of everlasting sureness of God's Word. Scriptures as of:

1 Peter 1:24, 25 KJV

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of
        grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
        But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word
        which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Psalm 119:89 KJV

Forever O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.

Mark 13:31 KJV

        Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass

Secondly we must come to grips with suffering. We must understand often it is in the trial of suffering that we will receive a Word from God! God is speaking to us at various time. The problem is not God speaking but us hearing. Our lives are very busied and full of demands. These demands scream very loud and drown out the voice of God that is speaking to us. Often it is only when we are in trial of wilderness that we are quiet enough to hear His voice. The trial causes us to still ourselves and open our spiritual ears.

In every trial we ask ourselves the questions of who and why. Who is doing this? Satan? God? or ourselves? Why is this trial happening? Is it an attack from Satan? Is God punishing me? Did I make a wrong decision that led to this moment? We must examine our lives looking to see if we have sinned and take care of that sin if we have. Then we must examine our attitudes to purge ourselves of negative thoughts and feelings about people and life in general. Once we have done this we will have stopped voices that are speaking to us and turn our attention to God's voice. God will be in every trial with us (Matt 28:20). We must put full attention to finding His voice, listening to it, and then obeying it.

Thirdly we must become like Paul and in every situation look for God! Searching for God will cause us to have an attitude change. This search gives purpose for the suffering which causes our attitude to change. Often in suffering we think we are the only individual who is suffering. We compare our suffering with others and come to God with the question of why. We should be taking personal accountability and speaking to God the question: What do I need to do? I am limited in changing the attitude and actions of others but have complete control over my attitude and actions. God is present in every trial to give strength to help us go through the trial and/or to give us wisdom to learn and grow from it.

The prayer of Jesus for His disciples was not for deliverance from the world and its trials and pain but that the Father (Spirit) would keep them from evil (John 17:15). Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus was that the Father would strengthen the church with might in their inner man. This strength would come by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-16). Both understood that the handling of suffering in a positive manner is one of the greatest testimonies that can be given by man to other men as a display of God's power.

Yes, Paul would suffer but the suffering had purpose. It was part of the baggage of the trip of doing God's will of standing and testifying to kings. Perhaps God is wanting to use us to testify of His greatness as we confound others with the manner we handle suffering.