Survival tip 1: avoid the shipwreck
Six years ago tomorrow our son, Brian Eliot Holmes, was murdered in downtown Charleston. In modern culture-speak we would have classified his sudden death as a metaphorical train wreck. Seeking biblical instruction about dealing with this kind of tragedy we found strength and guidance in several shipwreck or near shipwreck narratives in Scripture. Since there were no trains in the ancient world or in the New Testament period, the shipwreck references in the Bible were the closest illustration of this kind of tragedy. In the months following his death I preached the first installments of eight sermons titled How to Survive a Shipwreck. We re-visit the principles learned in those experiences every year. And, learn some new shipwreck strategies too.
Shipwrecks are common in this life. They occur in a variety of life experiences---death, broken relationships, careers run amok, addictions, poor life choices, financial ruin, crime, political upheaval, uncertainty, and often, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are pivot points after which everything about our lives is altered. The grace to survive them, for me, is always sourced in prayer and Bible study. You see, shipwrecks happened in biblical times too. Since God's Word is eternal the truth of how they were handled then is formative in our dealing with them now. So, this week I'll be reviewing three shipwreck scenarios from Scripture and how they may inform us when something horribly wrong brings wreckage to a portion of our lives.
Scenario 1: The Near Shipwreck of Prophet Jonah
Jonah and his shipmates were were assaulted by a "mighty tempest on the sea" that "the Lord hurled upon" it (Jonah 1:4, ESV. You know the story. Jonah admitted that the storm at sea and the impending shipwreck was because of his disobedience in following God's instructions to prophesy against Nineveh. He told his companions to cast him into the sea, and they did. The storm was immediately calmed. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and the people on the ship were saved. Then, of course, Jonah heard from God a second time, was obedient, went to Nineveh and the evil city repented and turned to the Lord. The whole episode was a near-shipwreck. While there are many great theological themes evident in the Jonah narrative, several are specific about dealing the with potential of shipwrecks in our lives.
1. Disobedience to God is certainly the stuff of a shipwreck. Over and over in Scripture are the evidences of catastrophe, tragedy, and personal loss attributed to people out of step with God. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and reminded him that "By rejecting this (holding faith and good conscience) some have made shipwreck of their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19). What a vivid portrayal of people of faith who have chosen their path over God's, like Jonah.
2. Disobedience to God may cause s shipwreck in our lives that touches others. One of the horrors of the Jonah near-shipwreck was the danger the other shipmates faced as a result of Jonah's sin. We humans don't live in a vacuum. Our actions can hurt many other people. We should always be aware of the reach of our personal behaviors.
3. The shipwreck in the Jonah account was avoided because Jonah owned his sin. He confessed it, repented, and obeyed when God came to him a second time. Surviving a shipwreck may hinge on our responsive to God when our sin in acknowledged.
And, that's the survival strategy learned from the ancient truth in the Jonah narrative. Jonah, and the others on the ship with him, survived the shipwreck by avoiding it. That's a lesson many of us should learn.
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