Reading The Signs

This newborn baby stuff is tricky. Our daughter’s first baby is barely two weeks old, and I’ve said, “I don’t know,” more in these last two weeks than I’ve said it since…well, since my daughter was a newborn. For instance, is she really smiling in that picture, or is it just a gas bubble? I don’t know. She is—of course—the most perfect baby on the planet, but when exactly will she keep her leg straight while getting her diaper changed and keep her foot out of the poo-poo? I don’t know. And the biggest question of them all: When she cries, how do you know what she wants? It used to be simpler. If her diaper was clean, her tummy was full, and she still cried—she had colic. A warm water bottle swaddled on her tummy worked. We learned a few other tricks, but our options were limited. Not so anymore.

Now we have bouncy seats, pack-n-plays, electric swings, colic drops, and video monitors for every room. Holy cow! We sent astronauts to the moon with less paraphernalia! At the end of the day, my daughter looks at me and asks, “Mom, why is she crying?” and I still say, “I don’t know!” That is…until we learn to read the signs…

Acts 27:1-8 – “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” (emphasis added)

Here are a few things we learn from this Scripture when we “read the signs:”

  • Luke, the author of Acts, joined Paul on this journey, an eyewitness to the events (using “we” and “us” in the story’s descriptions).
  • We know both ships on which these men sailed served dual purposes: to transport passengers and to deliver merchandise/goods (stopping at ports along the coast of Asia and a ship from Alexandria would have been carrying Egyptian goods).
  • The centurion, Julius, was a kind man, allowing Luke and Aristarchus (one of Paul’s regular traveling companions—Acts 19:29) to sail with them, and allowing Paul’s friends to minister to him in Sidon.
  • By the time they reached Fair Haven, everyone aboard the Alexandrian ship had learned to read the signs of difficult—even impossible—sailing conditions.

Acts 27:9-13 – “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. 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.” (emphasis added)

Those on board this ship were learning more than nature’s signs. They were also learning to read human characteristics. Paul spoke boldly, honestly, and with the authority of God’s messenger. The pilot and ship’s owner acted on greed, continuing the journey to deliver valuable Egyptian cargo. The kind centurion ignored the rough seas, the proven sailing calendar, and Paul’s divine declaration, succumbing to the majority vote of wealth and power. A little gentle wind blew away the overwhelming signs opposing their journey, while distraction and desire blinded some to what common sense said was true.

Acts 27:14-20 – “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. 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. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 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.” (emphasis added)

Whether we’ve ignored the signs or innocently missed them makes little difference when the storms of life hit. In the flurry for survival, we can do little more than react instinctively and trust the Creator to either calm the storm or calm His child.

Acts 27:21-26 – “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 I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and 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. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’” (emphasis added)

This cracks me up! Paul says, “Ya buncha goof-balls! I told you to listen to my God! Now, He says we’re going to make it, but we’re going to wreck on some island…” Did you catch the good news/bad news theme throughout Paul’s message? It’s sort of what we’re left with today. The God whose we are and who we serve WILL stand beside us, but watch for signs of more storms to come. And trust Him. That’s the bottom line of every sign we see. The signs don’t always mean we avoid the struggles, but they guarantee us more courage during the shipwrecks—because they assure us our God has been at work all along.

  • Lord, when I become more familiar with Your signs, recognizing Your presence and preparation in my life, give me courage to trust You—even when the future feels uncertain. Let my instincts be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

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