24 Jun 2015

When my children were little, we would read good books together several nights a week. We spent time with Peter and Lucy in Narnia, with Laura Ingalls on the Minnesota prairie and we even walked the battlefields of France with Sgt. Alvin York.

We also read about Daniel in the lion’s den, David and Goliath and three Hebrew boys thrown into a fiery furnace who lived to tell about it. These stories, of course, come from the best book ever written. Our children never got tired of hearing the stories of daring and adventure that we find in the Bible. There we came face to face with ordinary people like ourselves who did extraordinary things for God. Just this week, I wished that my children were little again so we could curl up on the sofa, drink some ice cold lemonade and enjoy the air conditioning while we read Acts 27.

It’s a sailor’s tale, a tale of the high seas, and Paul is right in the middle of it. A prisoner on his way to Rome to stand before Caesar, he has two traveling companions, Aristarchus and Luke. The other 273 people on the ship consist of the owner, the captain and crew (sailors), and the soldiers who are charged with transporting Paul and other prisoners to Rome. The soldiers are led by a centurion named Julius. The other prisoners are most likely being transported to Rome to provide entertainment in the coliseum as they are chased down and killed by lions. So here we have sailors, soldiers and slaves all thrown together by God for a most unlikely adventure. It is a study in itself just to observe the tension between the sailors and the soldiers as Army and Navy each take a turn at elevating self-protection above sworn duty. The sailors, at one point, lowered the lifeboat, pretending to be putting out anchors, but were in fact trying to escape. Then later, we find the soldiers planning to kill the prisoners to make sure that none of them escape. And of course, all of this is taking place in the middle of a hurricane as this ancient vessel is tossed around the Mediterranean like a toy. The climax of the drama comes after the ship has been battered by the storm for fourteen days, and Luke writes, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.” When the storm started two weeks earlier, the ship lost its way, and was blown off course, away from the island of Crete and into the middle of the sea. The men must have lost their appetite, for they had gone without food for fourteen days while they did everything in their power to save the ship. Do you see the progression, the downward spiral? Lost their way. Lost their appetite. Lost their hope. And it is precisely at this point that the character and the leadership of Paul have their greatest impact.

As you read the story to your children, see if you can find the three things Paul said to the other men on the ship to encourage them not to give up. Notice how God used the least likely character on board to lead, simply because he kept his head while everyone else was losing theirs. Learn how a plot to have Paul murdered is discovered and foiled. Mostly, observe how God intervenes in the affairs of men and shows them His grace.

A quiet evening with your family and an amazing tale that really happened, that reveals the graciousness of God—it doesn’t get any better than that.

J. Mark Fox has pastored Antioch Community Church since 1987 and has taught at Elon University since 1990. Mark received an MDiv from Luther Rice Seminary and a BA and MA from UNC, where he met his wife, Cindy. They have been married for 38 years and have 7 children and 5 grandchildren (so far!). Mark is the author of Age Integrated Church, published in 2015, that tells the story of how God changed Antioch’s vision. He is also the author of A Faithful Man: Equipped to Lead as Prophet, Priest, Protector and Provider (2012), Real Life Moments: a Dad's Devotional (2008), and others. His weekly column for the Times-News in Burlington has won 5 Amy Awards. Mark loves to travel, run and spend time with his family.