Preaching Up a Storm from Acts 27

As you may know, I (Rick) have the privilege of teaching preaching (homiletics) courses at Heritage. Recently I spoke to our students about an issue preachers encounter when speaking from narrative sections of Scripture–like the book of Acts.  While I realize many who read our blog are not pastors, I thought you might find it interesting to learn about some of the challenges preachers face when seeking to communicate God’s Word in a faithful and effective way.  The last post dealt with theological lessons from Acts 27.  In this post, I’ll focus on preaching from Acts 27.
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Perfect stormIn terms of high adventure and suspense, Acts 27 is a page-turner. Luke records, in vivid detail and nautically-precise terms, the voyage taking Paul from Caesarea towards Rome. Bad weather causes a detour to Crete. From Crete, things really go south (and west). The ship is driven for two weeks by an unrelenting storm; finally, the waterlogged boat shipwrecks off the coast of Malta. In the midst of it all, we watch Paul become the unofficial chaplain and captain of the crew!

I can see how preachers (including myself) tend to preach this passage as an example of godly leadership. Paul rises to a place of great influence in a situation where he was officially powerless. His speeches are inspirational and motivational. He models courageous and effective leadership in a tough situation.

I can also see how this passage is preached from the angle of “facing the storms of life with faith.” Paul demonstrates faith in God’s promise and protection even when deluged by danger. He demonstrates faith when others are giving way to fatalism (“we finally gave up all hope of being saved”—20) or fear (“keep up your courage”—23).

A question preachers must ask is this: is it homiletically (and hermeneutically) legit to preach Acts 27 in a way that focuses on “leadership principles when things get rough” or “faith in the storms of life”?

My answer would be “Yes, but not completely yes.”

On one hand the Bible draws from the stories of people in Scripture to highlight lessons of faith. If you wonder about that, read Hebrews 11 again. The writer of Hebrews draws faith lessons from the lives of Old Testament believers. So, yes, there is biblical precedent for drawing faith lessons from biblical stories. At the same time, I would have to add a word of clarification and caution.

While exemplary leadership and buoyant faith are legitimate themes of this narrative, I don’t think either are the central theme of Acts 27. In the flow of the book, Luke records the events of Paul’s dramatic voyage to show how God is sovereignly keeping His promises and fulfilling His grand purpose of sending the gospel to the nations.

A 1 8At the start of the book of Acts, Luke records Jesus’ commission to His followers to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). The rest of the book chronicles the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem and Judea (chapters 2-7), to Samaria (chapter 8) and on to the ends of the earth (chapters 9-28).

Paul’s story is part of the larger story of the spread of the gospel to Gentile lands. After blinding and opening his eyes, Jesus commissions Paul to take the message to “Gentiles and their kings” (9:15). Further, the Lord Jesus promises Paul he will testify in Rome (23:11). Acts 27 records how God’s promise about witnessing in Rome would be fulfilled in spite a “perfect storm.”

In Acts 27, Luke highlights God’s sovereignty over the storm, over the soldiers and sailors, and over Paul’s life. It was confidence in God’s power and promise that allowed Paul to step into the role of spiritual leader for this ship. And the promise of protection was not simply about Paul’s safety; it was about the proclamation of the gospel. Acts 27 shows God’s sovereign control and solid commitment to seeing the gospel go to the ends of the earth.

So how should all of this impact our preaching of Acts 27?   Remember as expositors we seek to make the main message of the text equal the main message of our sermon (see Millar and Campbell’s helpful book, Saving Eutychus). In other words, as preachers, we should generally put our primary sermonic focus on the primary focus of the passage.   And the primary focus of the book of Acts, as well as chapter 27, is the gospel going to the ends of the earth (1:8). We should keep the big story of the book in mind as we come to the individual sections of the book. Focusing our sermons primarily on leadership principles or storm-tested faith risks missing the forest (overall purpose of the book) for the trees (individual sections of the book).

So is it wrong to preach about godly leadership or storm-tested faith from Acts 27? No, these sermons can be helpful and can highlight biblical truths.   Further, these sermons have a great deal of “pew appeal” as they touch felt needs in the lives of our hearers.

World HandsHowever, we should make sure we don’t only preach about storm-tested faith or godly leadership as we exposit Acts 27. We may focus on lessons related to faith or leadership, but we should set them in the context of Luke’s purpose in writing the book (the spread of the gospel of Christ) and God’s sovereign control and missional heart. As we call our hearers to emulate Paul’s faith in God’s promises and power, we will also call them to be part of God’s larger purpose of getting the gospel to the ends of the earth.

 

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Sailing Through 2016

As we set sail into a New Year, we all hope for smooth sailing. But most of us have lived long enough to know storms will be coming our way. Balmy days and calm waters will, at times, turn into churning, choppy seas. How are we to navigate life in the midst of a deluge? What do we hold on to when we can’t find our spiritual land-legs? We get some answers to these questions in Acts 27.

Ship MapIn terms of high adventure and suspense, Acts 27 is a page-turner. Luke records, in vivid detail and nautically-precise terms, the voyage taking Paul from Caesarea towards Rome. Bad weather causes a detour to Crete. From Crete, things really go south (and west). The ship is driven for two weeks by a unrelenting storm; finally, the waterlogged boat shipwrecks off the coast of Malta.

As we read the tail of the trip in Acts 27 we notice two things: First, Paul shows faith, courage and leadership in the midst of the storm. Second, God shows sovereign control over events that seem out of control.

This chapter gives us a marvellous case study of the interplay between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Between God’s purposes and the choices of people. Here are four reminders that can provide ballast for our spiritual boats when the waves are high.

Human perception is limited and fallible

The captain and crew were convinced they should sail from Fair Havens to find a better winter port in Phoenix. On a calm day when a “gentle south wind” began to blow, they “thought they had obtained what they wanted” and launched out (13). Bad idea. They were clueless of the “northeaster” sweeping down on them.

Like that captain and crew, we don’t know what storms will blow into our lives this year. Our perception is both limited and fallible.

God’s sovereign plans do not insure smooth sailing

You’d think God’s desire to get Paul to Rome to “stand trial before Caesar” (verse 24) would have insured Paul was in for clear sailing. Not so. This trip would be stormy, slow and circuitous.

God’s ways don’t always follow straight paths. While being in a storm can be the result of being out of God’s will (Jonah!), being in the middle of a storm can happen to those who are in the middle of God’s will (Paul). Like the Portuguese proverb says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

God’s sovereign promises don’t negate human responsibility

Paul makes two statements that, on one hand, don’t seem to go together: First, in verse 22: “not one of you will be lost.” Later, in verse 31: “Unless these men [sailors] stay with the ship, you [soldiers] cannot be saved” (31). If none could be lost, how could the sailors’ departure keep the soldiers from being saved?

Evidently, God’s promised outcomes don’t negate the importance of human choices. God’s sovereignty doesn’t drown human responsibility. We are to have faith in God’s promises and still do the right things.

God’s sovereign purposes anchor our souls in stormy times.

The bigger story in Acts 27 is not just the Mediterranean storm or Paul’s faith-filled leadership. The bigger story is God’s commitment to keeping His promises and fulfilling His purposes. The Lord had promised Paul he would make it to Rome to be a witness for Christ to “the Gentile and their kings” (9:15; 23:11). God’s purpose was to move the gospel message from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (1:8).

anchorWhen storms threaten to deluge our souls, we have an anchor of hope in God’s sovereign purposes and His Scriptural promises. He will accomplish His plans and enable us to fulfill our part in His bigger story. We can take the words Paul spoke to his shipmates to heart: “So keep up your courage” (27: 25).

 

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Grateful

I once heard about a church custodian who always answered the question, “How are you?” in the same way. “Grateful,” he’d say. “I’m grateful.”

At a conference Linda and I attended recently, we were challenged to intentionally live out the biblical call to gratitude (Colossians 3:15, 17; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

We have just returned from a lengthy road trip: 15 States in 18 days. All along the journey, we experienced God’s goodness and want to express our gratitude. Here are three highlights of God’s goodness.

Michael and Elena’s Wedding

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We drove into New York city on New Year’s morning and led a walking procession with lanterns through the city to the Rehearsal dinner that evening at a Brooklyn restaurant.   The wedding celebration for our son Michael and his new bride, Elena, on January 2nd was wonderful—honouring to God and joyful for all of us.   After the wedding we drove to Lancaster, PA to spend a day with our oldest son, Ryan and his new bride Jenny (they were married in October).

Seminary Presidents Conference

After the wedding, we continued driving south to Sarasota, Florida to be part of the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary’s Presidents and Wives annual gathering. We’re grateful to God for letting us get to know others who lead seminaries in North America. We were refreshed by the conversations and presentations.

Southern Seminary

From Sarasota we drove north to Louisville, Kentucky and spent a week on the campus of Southern Seminary. Linda was in class each day working on a doctorate in education. I had the privilege of studying, writing and meeting with leaders from Southern. We are grateful for God’s grace—Linda finished her papers and presentations; I profited greatly from the time to plan and prepare for the coming semester.

Home Again 

When I turned in the rental car today, the odometer said we’d driven 5,495 km. We’re grateful to God for good weather, safe travels and the joy of being home again.   We’re also grateful to serve the Lord here in Canada at Heritage!

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas from the Reeds

This Christmas season feels more Californian than Canadian (12C/52F). It’s wet but not white.

We are hoping to have our three kids (and new daughter-in-law Jenny) with us for Christmas. Michael’s flight from NYC was cancelled today due to fog; he’ll try again tomorrow.

Linda and I want to extend our Christmas greetings to each of you. May all of our hearts rejoice as we celebrate the good news of great joy—a Saviour has been born for us (Luke 2:10-11). Now the ancient words spoken by Isaiah can become a reality for all of us who trust in Christ: “though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

Merry Christmas,

Rick and Linda

Reed Family

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The “Boring Part” of the Christmas Story

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Heritage Seminary Faculty Blog:

genThe account of Christ’s birth makes for fascinating reading.  Well, most of it does. But there is one part of the story that doesn’t normally hold our attention:  the genealogy of Christ.  Both Matthew and Luke include a genealogical record for Jesus in their books (Matthew 1 and Luke 3).

Since all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we should not be quick to breeze past the genealogies.  Even when they are filled with names of people we don’t know from Adam.

Here are four lessons from the genealogical list in Luke 3 that can deepen our appreciation of the Christmas story.

1.  Jesus’ story is linked to the Bigger Story


Unlike Matthew, Luke doesn’t include Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel.  He inserts Jesus’ genealogy as he begins the account of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 3:23-38).  It’s his way of reminding us that Jesus’ story does not happen in isolation from the larger, biblical story.  In fact, Luke’s placement of Jesus’ genealogy is a reminder to us that we cannot really understand Jesus’ story unless we see it in the context of the entire biblical story.

2.  Jesus’ story was a long time in coming

There are 76 names included in the list in Luke 3 (77 if you include God’s name). While this list may be abbreviated, it’s still long, and it reminds us that Jesus’ arrival was a long-time in coming.  The wait for Jesus’ birth is not measured in the months Mary carried him in her womb.  The true wait is measured in centuries and millennia.  That gives new meaning to the Christmas carol, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

3.  Jesus’ story is a story of God’s plan

As we read through the list of names in Jesus’ genealogy, we meet some who were given a glimpse of God’s plan for the coming Saviour.   Adam (3:38) was promised that one day the “seed of the woman” would come to crush the power of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15).  Biblical scholars sometimes refer to Genesis 3:15 as the “protoevangelium” (the first gospel).  Abraham was told his “seed” would bless “all peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3, 7).  David was promised an enduring kingdom, a throne that would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).  While the plan unfolded slowly from our perspective (2 Peter 3:8-9), God was relentlessly working His plan—generation after generation.

4.  Jesus story is a story for all people–including you and me!

By tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, Luke reminds us of a key truth:  Jesus is God’s gift to all people.  By presenting Jesus’ genealogical record, virgin birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, Luke introduces us to the One who is our world’s only, true hope.  All people need a Saviour; Jesus is the Saviour we all need.  If you haven’t linked your story to Jesus through believing and following Him, you can do that this Christmas.  He’s the best gift you will ever receive.

Turns out, the “boring part” of the Christmas story reminds us of the best part!
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December Finale

It’s finals week at Heritage, the grand finale of the fall semester. Students are pushing hard to finish well.  Today I saw one student in the cafeteria reviewing his Hebrew vocabulary cards as he ate lunch; the Hebrew exam was at 1:00 pm and he was using every nanosecond to prepare.
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I’ve been teaching homiletics (preaching) this semester and our final class is Thursday afternoon. What a delight it’s been to see students become more competent and confident in communicating God’s Word. I believe God is raising up some fine preachers and teachers for His Church.

OutreachLinda spent today grading assignments for a course she taught this semester on “Women Impacting the World Through Evangelism.” As the final project in the course, each woman had to plan and carry out a Christmas outreach event where the good news of Christ’s coming was presented. While they all faced serious challenges, each woman accomplished the mission. Lives were changed as a result.

The longer I’m at Heritage, the more convinced I am that this school has an important part to play in work of Christ in Canada. We are training men and women for life and ministry. We are equipping pastors, missionaries and church leaders. Our graduates are serving Christ across Canada and around the world.

I would ask you to continue to pray for us. Ask the Lord to strengthen and sustain us as we finish finals week and prepare for ministry in the New Year.  Thank you for your interest in us and the ministry of Heritage.

(We just published our December Newsletter.  It contains an article I wrote on “Christmas Peace in a Brutal World.”  There’s also a spotlight on Heritage graduates who are making a difference in Canada and around the world.  You can find our newsletter at discoverheritage.ca)

 

 

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Remembering Jay

JayI met Jay Keddy several years ago when his son, Allastair, graduated from Heritage college. Although Jay and I only talked briefly in person, he regularly emailed me over the past few years.

Jay served as a deacon in the area of missions at West Highland Baptist Church in Hamilton. Having served in Africa for several years, Jay had a passion to support missionaries. He faithfully compiled a list of current prayer requests from the missionaries and organizations supported by the church. I regularly received an email from Jay asking how the believers at West Highland could pray for the ministry of Heritage.

I won’t be getting emails from Jay any longer. On December 2nd, he was killed as he rode his bike to the Wednesday night prayer meeting at church.  His memorial service took place this morning in Hamilton.

Since hearing the news, my heart has been heavy for Jay’s wife and three kids. For his siblings and his mother. For his pastor and church family. For the children in the kindergarten class he taught at Prince of Wales Elementary School.

This sudden loss of a husband, father, son, brother, friend and teacher has left many with aching hearts and unanswered questions. Jay’s pastor, John Mahaffey told reporters from CBC news: “Even for people of faith, we wonder why God would allow something like this to happen.”

While I didn’t know Jay in a deeply personal way, I know that he was a rare kind of Christian man. You don’t often find a man so committed to the cause of missions or so passionate about prayer. Even more rare is a man who passionately combines the two by mobilizing people to pray for missions. Jay was that kind of man. He will be deeply missed.

I’d ask you to join those of us praying for the Keddy family at this time of grief. Pray that “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) would strengthen and sustain them. Pray that God would raise up other godly men and women to carry on Jay’s legacy of prayer and mission.

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