Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trouble in Paradise: Sink or Swim

"Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. . . . The islanders showed us unusual kindness. . . .“This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” . . .  they changed their minds and said he was a god." Acts 28: 1-10

Beach on the Island of Malta

     Paul and the crew sailing to Italy had just survived shipwreck, washing ashore on the Island of Malta.  Ahhh, solid ground! Kind islanders! A bonfire! 

     Always one to pitch in and do his part, Paul grabbed a pile of brushwood and dropped it on the growing fire.  A sudden pain gripped Paul's hand. He probably thought a spark from the fire had landed on him, but looked down to see a poisonous snake latched on tightly and dangling from his hand.  

     The Islanders also saw the snake attached to Paul and the speculation and gossip started:

Hmmm. - He survived a shipwreck to be attacked by a poisonous snake?
Hmmm. - He's one of the prisoners from the ship, right? What did he do?
Hmmm. - Must've been bad - like murder!
Hmmm. - Justice says it's payback time.

     Then, Paul shook the snake off of his hand and into the fire to sizzle. 

Hmmm. - He's still walking.
Hmmm. - His color's good.
Hmmm. - No swelling. No blistering. Nothing unusual about his hand.

       *Crickets     *Crackling fire    *Campground songs

Hmmm. - He must be a god to survive both the storm and the snake!

       It's human nature to either vilify or deify people, but no one quite knew what to do with Paul.  He prophesied terrible storms and he was right.  He said "I told you not to sail now," but then shared his faith in God's goodness to encourage hopeless people on a beleaguered ship.  He shared visions of angels and God's promises, and the people lived on those promises for days. He was bitten by a poisonous snake, but shook it off and refused to die. Villain or god?  Neither. Rather, a man of God.

    The literal storms and snakes in Paul's life could have left him faith-shaken; instead, he shook them off and left deep tracks on sandy Malta beaches, turning the hearts of a people from false fertility gods to the One True God. (
     As Paul swallowed salt water and fought to stay afloat, he shouted encouragement and buoyed his fellow passengers.  Rather than allowing the snake to paralyze him in fear, he fried the poisonous thing. He, a prisoner, prayed for a bed-ridden Islander and God used him to heal all the sick people on the island.  In the middle of snakes and storms, he turned from his own perilous situations to impact a culture with his powerful faith in God. 

Dear Father,  We're so easily discouraged by storms and snakes, but we want to be like Paul - looking out for others and helping them latch onto You.  Give us faith where we lack it.  Increase our compassion. May Your Presence weigh heavily in us so our footprints lead them to You.
In the Name of the Only True Savior, Jesus!

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