Using Paul in Acts 22:21-23:11 as an example, Adam Tarnow shows us how to remain calm in crisis. Just like Paul was not caught off guard or surprised, we don’t have to be either. Adam teaches us that truth by giving us three reminders: remind yourself this is not a surprise, remind yourself this is not punishment, and remind yourself of God’s promises.
Acts 2018 and Beyond
From Acts 28 to Ad 2018: This Is No Fable
Sailing in the Storm
The Evidence of a Relationship
The True Story of Paul Can Be True of You: Passion, Providence and Peace
Calm in the Midst of Crisis
A Platform Built of the Past and Problems
Courage That Comes From Love
Good morning, Dallas. You guys are looking good today. I can't tell you guys had extra pie or anything. You guys are really looking tip-top shape this morning. It's fun to be with you guys. I especially want to welcome you if it is your first time. If this is your very first time, I want to greet you and introduce myself. My name is Adam, but I am excited to be here with you guys. We're going to continue on in Acts this morning.
To set up our time and where we're going, I want to start off telling you guys a story. February 1999 is when this story takes place. I was living in Atlanta, Georgia. I wasn't married. I had a bunch of friends in Atlanta, and we decided we were going to take one weekend and go up to the mountains in North Carolina to go skiing. I know for some of you who have lived here in Texas or haven't been to the East Coast that's really surprising to you to think you could ski on the East Coast.
It's not as good as it maybe is in Colorado or New Mexico, but in North Carolina there are mountains and there's snow and you can ski. So we went up there and rented a condo. This one particular day we had spent about a half day on the slopes and then got back to the condo, and I still had a bunch of energy left in me. I decided I was going to go out for a run, so I put on the running shoes, got a bunch of cold weather gear on, left the condo, and went out for a run.
It was in this town that I wasn't familiar with, but there was a resort there for the skiing, and at this resort there was a golf course. A golf course in winter is just covered in snow, and there are no people out there. I said, "Hey, this looks like a great place to go run." The cart path was cleared, so I'm just running along the cart path, and I'm having a great run out in the cool mountain air. Great scenery, snow everywhere. It's beautiful.
I looked at my watch. It was about time to head on back to the condo. I was just going to go around this last green. So I go around the last green, and I'm starting to take the cart path back to the condo, and something kind of got in me where I looked to my left as I started heading back. What I see coming at me, full steam ahead, running as fast as it can, is this massive dog. Like, teeth showing. It is barking. It is mad at me for some reason, and it is coming right toward me, and I had a reaction.
Now before I tell you the reaction I had, let's create a spectrum of possible reactions. Let's put over here on one side of the spectrum of the way I could have reacted, like old Captain Sully here, an American hero. When the birds went into the airplane engine and he knew the plane was in danger, he remained calm in the midst of this crisis, landed the plane on the Hudson River, and saved hundreds of lives. He's a hero. Let's put that over there on that side of the spectrum. That's one way I could have reacted.
Let's put over here on the other side of the spectrum of the way I could have reacted basically any house cat reacting to the sound of a garbage disposal. If that's the spectrum, unfortunately, to my great shame, I was like the cat. This dog comes running after me, and I panicked. I started running faster and screaming as loud as I could, "Help me! Help me!" That's where I realized, "Why am I on a golf course in the middle of the winter? There's nobody around right now to hear my cries for help."
I'm just trying to run, and this dog is barking and coming after me. I decide, for some reason (because you make crazy decisions in the midst of crisis sometimes), to go up this hill to try to get away from the dog. There's snow, and it's slippery, so I slip and fall, and I just had this thought that went through my mind of, "I'm dead. I'm dead. This is it. That dog is going to eat me right now."
Well, he didn't come eat me. I think he was shocked that I fell, and he kind of stopped. I stood up, and the loudest I've ever yelled in my life I just yelled at this dog. It was not English. I just yelled at him and maybe pointed a finger, and he just kind of turned around and left. I walked back to the condo, and my heart rate was up. I think it finally calmed down around 2007. So, for a good eight or nine years I was on edge with all this.
I tell everybody at the condo what happened, because I walked in and looked like I had seen a ghost. They're like, "Oh, that's too bad." Then I get back to Atlanta and call one of my friends, and I'm telling him about the trip. I told him about what happened with the dog, and he's like, "Well, what did you do?" and I told him. I said, "Well, I had a poor reaction." He goes, "Oh no, no, no. That's not at all what you do when a dog is chasing you." I was like, "Well, forgive me for not knowing there's a protocol for what to do. I haven't read that book."
He went on to tell me that when this dog or any animal is coming after you you need to remain calm and stand your ground and talk to it and try to scare it away. I was like, "Well, I did the opposite of that." Sully remained calm and saved hundreds of lives. I panicked and lost my dignity. That's the way I reacted to it. In this situation where I should have remained calm, I was anything but calm when that crisis hit me.
I start with that this morning because what we're going to talk about today is how we can remain calm in the midst of a crisis. Here's what I know is true about all of us in this room this morning: every single one of us has experienced a crisis. It doesn't matter where you're from. It doesn't matter your education level. It doesn't matter what zip code you live in. It doesn't matter what your job or your profession is or how much money you have.
Nobody in the room today is immune to a crisis. I would imagine you guys are a lot like me, that when you face a crisis you don't want to react to the crisis the way I reacted when that dog came after me and just panic and not remain calm. If you guys are anything like me, when a crisis hits you'd rather look back on that crisis knowing you remained calm and handled the situation well rather than freaking out and being ashamed when you look back on it.
Today, as we jump back into Acts and continue on, we're going to pick up Paul's story where JP left it off last week. JP was covering part of chapter 21 on into chapter 22 last week. If you guys remember, Paul had just gotten done with his third missionary journey and was heading back to Jerusalem, and he had some money and a message. He had collected money from the other churches because the church in Jerusalem was in need.
So he was delivering that money to Jerusalem, but he also had this message, and the message was "The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't just for the Jewish nation. The gospel of Jesus Christ is also for the Gentiles, people who were not chosen by God, part of the Jewish nation. They are also receiving the grace and mercy that's found through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ." This was news Paul was bringing back into Jerusalem.
He had this money and this message, and he showed up in Jerusalem. He tried to preach this message. He was sharing this message in a synagogue, and the Jewish people there did not like that message, so this mob ensued. They said, "This is the guy. He is anti-Jewish. He has been bringing a Gentile into the temple. Let's get him."
So this mob was coming after him. They were about to kill Paul. This government official shows up and rescues Paul, and as Paul is about ready to be taken off he asked the government official, "Hey, can I talk?" and the official let him talk. Paul addressed the crowd and shared his story. JP reminded us last week that when we face those types of situations our story is a platform we can use to proclaim God's message.
We ended last week in chapter 22, verse 21, the end of Paul's story, and where we're going to pick up today is chapter 22, verse 22. We'll go back to verse 21, but we'll start basically in verse 22. As we go through it, we're going to see how the rest of this story unfolds with this mob in Jerusalem, and we're going to make three observations about Paul, because Paul remained incredibly calm in the midst of this crisis.
We're going to see three observations and ways that we, too, can remain calm in the midst of a crisis. If you have your Bibles, let's open up, and we'll start here in Acts, chapter 22. I'll start with verse 21. "Then the Lord said to me…" Paul was sharing his message, sharing his story. "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" Verse 22: "The crowd listened to Paul until he said this."
Up until the point when Paul said, "God's grace and mercy isn't just for the Jews; it's also for the Gentiles…" When they heard him say "Gentiles," that was it. They were done listening to him at that moment. "The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then [when they heard the word Gentiles] they raised their voices and shouted, 'Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!' As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air…"
What they were probably doing there was looking for rocks to throw at Paul to kill him because they did not like his message, but obviously in this area there were no rocks, so what they were picking up was just dirt clods, and like any dirt clod, you pick it up and throw it hard and it just kind of dissipates into dust as it's flying through the air.
So they did not like what Paul was saying, and they were trying to kill him. Verse 24: "…the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this." The commander couldn't understand why these guys were so angry with Paul, so he was going to whip him to try to get the truth out of him.
"As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, 'Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?' When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. 'What are you going to do?' he asked. 'This man is a Roman citizen.' The commander went to Paul and asked, 'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?' 'Yes, I am,' he answered. Then the commander said, 'I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.'
'But I was born a citizen,' Paul replied. Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble."
The Sanhedrin was basically the Jewish Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was going to gather. They were the ones who heard all the matters of Jewish law when they were violated, and they were going to levy out punishment and discipline for different things. This commander is still trying to figure out, "Why are these guys freaking out over this guy's message? Why are they so angry and want to kill him?"
So he got the Supreme Court together and said, "Paul, stand before them. I want to watch this. I want to hear what exactly you've done that has gotten these people so angry to the point they want to kill you." So the Sanhedrin gathered and brought Paul and had him stand before them. Then look at what Paul does in chapter 23, verse 1. In the midst of all of this crisis, in the midst of all of this chaos, Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin confidently and said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."
We'll stop there and make the first observation and think about this story. I look at what Paul did and see how he handled this crisis, and I'm like, "What kind of guy does this? What causes somebody in the midst of all of this chaos to remain so calm?" There are a couple of things we need to remember about Paul. First, he knew he was right. He knew this mob was in a frenzy because they did not like the fact that God's grace and mercy had gone to the Gentiles. They were fueled by racism.
Paul knew he was right. He knew Jesus died for the world, not just for the Jewish nation. So he stood up there confidently and looked the Sanhedrin right in the eyes, because he knew he had the truth on his side. The other reason Paul was able to remain so calm in that situation, in the midst of that crisis, is that Paul was not surprised. He was not caught off guard by this adversity.
We remember from a couple of weeks ago, in chapter 21 the prophet Agabus showed up to Paul, took Paul's belt off him, tied himself up, and said, "Hey, the owner of this belt…this is what's going to happen to them." Paul knew that when he went to Jerusalem it wasn't going to be a vacation. This wasn't going to be a nice little time of R&R.
He knew there was going to be some adversity. He knew there was going to be a crisis when he showed up in Jerusalem, so Paul was not surprised. Because he was not surprised, he was able to look adversity straight in the eyes, look at the Sanhedrin, and just go, "Hey, listen. I have a clean conscience. I've just been following God."
Here's the first observation I want to make from Paul's life that we can also apply to our lives. When we face a crisis, the first thing we need to do is remember this is not a surprise. Paul knew this wasn't a surprise, so that helped him remain calm in the midst of this crisis. We, too, when a crisis comes into our lives, the very first thing we need to remind ourselves of is "This isn't a surprise."
There are so many verses I could go back and point out. Let's just pick out one: John 16:33. Jesus tells us, "In this world you will have trouble." Jesus reminds us that in this world there is going to be adversity. There is going to be chaos. There are going to be hard times. We are going to face a crisis. As JP so rightly reminded us last week…it's worth repeating again this week…just because we face a difficulty doesn't mean we're doing something wrong.
It doesn't mean we're being disobedient just because we face a crisis or an adversity. This is just part of being a follower of Jesus. There is going to be adversity.Let me illustrate it with a question my son asked us. On Friday night this week we were taking my mother-in-law out to celebrate her birthday. It was my wife and I, my two boys, and my mother-in-law.
We were driving back, and we were near the house, and Jake, my oldest, my third grader, out of the back seat asked what I thought was this really profound and thoughtful question. He said, "Guys, would you rather have a big part in a really bad movie or a small part in a really good movie?" I thought, "Man, that's pretty deep. That's pretty profound the way that little 9-year-old is thinking right there." Then I got a text message last night.
I shared this at the 4:00 p.m. service last night, and one of my friends texted me and said, "Hey, my son just asked me that same question. He's reading the book Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That's where he got the question."So I get that text, and I go, "Jake, come here. That question you asked about the movie… Did you make that up or did you get it from Diary of a Wimpy Kid?" He goes, "No, I got it from Diary of a Wimpy Kid." I was like, "Well, good job for reading."
I thought it was profound and it came from his little mind, and then I remembered he's a third grader. The author was very profound in that thought.Here's why I think that question is so profound. That really illustrates for me this view I had of God and the Christian life for the longest time. When I became a Christian in college right before my 21st birthday, I basically thought I did God a favor by allowing him into my life.
For whatever reason, I had this view that through all of my years, up until when I accepted him into my life, God was just knocking on the door of my life begging to let him be a part of my story. Just going, "Come on, Adam. Will you please let me in? Will you please let me in? I love you so much. If you let me in, I'll do good things for you. I'll protect you."I just had this view that I was playing this big part in my story, in my movie, and I did God a favor by letting him in.
What's crazy is that those first few months of following Jesus, when I did become a Christian and God opened my eyes to see that I was a sinner in need of a Savior… Do you know how I would describe those first few months? Calm. They were calm. Compared to where I was those few months leading up to when my eyes were opened, when I was on a path of self-destruction and I was drinking and using drugs and using relationships and just looking for pleasure anywhere I could find it…
My life was chaos before I came to know Jesus. So these first few months, comparing my life after Jesus to my life before Jesus, I'm looking at this and going, "I should have invited God in sooner. This is working out really well. I'm doing better in school. My relationships are better. I feel better. Why did I not let God into my story sooner? He's making my movie better."
I was part of a local church there where I was going to school, and one of the pastors was mentoring and discipling me, and we were spending time. He was teaching me God's Word and teaching me how to pray. We were reading this book together, and I remember there was this one chapter in one of the books we read on adversity. It was talking a lot about John 16:33 and all of the other passages and verses we see in the New Testament talking about how adversity is just a normal part of the Christian life.
I remember reading that going, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't think that's part of the deal. I became a Christian to avoid adversity. I was bringing enough adversity into my life that I don't need more adversity now that I'm following after God. I invited him into my story, and now he's doing this? That doesn't sound like he's keeping up his end of the deal." By the grace of God, that man was in my life to teach me God's Word and to show me over and over and over again that adversity is normal. This is just part of it.
My view was all wrong. I thought I let God into my story. The fact of the matter is I didn't let God into my story; God in his grace and mercy allowed me into his story. None of us in this room who claim to follow Jesus invited God into our story. We didn't say, "Hey, we're the big star in this movie, and you get to come in, God." No, the way it works is that we were invited into his story, into his movie, and we get to play a little itty-bitty part in this great, massive, amazing, cosmic story.
We all get to play this little part in a great, great movie. When we're in this story, when we're not the one who's in control, when we're not the author of the story, when we understand Psalm 115 says that God is in heaven and does what he pleases, then what we start to realize is that we shouldn't be surprised. Adversity comes. It's not a problem we need to solve; it's a platform God can use that we can proclaim his goodness, his faithfulness, and his sovereignty.
We shouldn't be surprised when adversity comes. We shouldn't be surprised when there's financial hardship. We shouldn't be surprised when there's trouble with relationships. We shouldn't be surprised when we get different health issues that pop up. We shouldn't be surprised when things happen with our kids. We shouldn't be surprised when the Astros win the World Series. Adversity comes.
So if we're going to be able to handle it in a calm way, the very first thing we need to be able to do is not be surprised. Paul remained calm in the midst of this crisis because he wasn't surprised. Let's keep moving. Look at how he reacts. "Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, 'My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.'"
He stood right before these guys and said, "Hey, listen. I'm standing here before you, and all I've done is just followed God. I'm not standing here because of anything else I've done other than following after God." Well, that was one of the wrong things to say to the Supreme Court, because look at this in verse 2. The leader of the Supreme Court was this nasty man named Ananias, and when Paul said this…
"At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, 'God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!'" Paul basically said, "Hey, I've done nothing wrong." Then he's sucker punched by one of Ananias' cronies.
What I think of here is Will Ferrell in Elf when he was struck in the face with the snowball and his reaction was, "Son of a nutcracker!" This was Paul's little "son of a nutcracker" moment. He was sucker punched. He wasn't ready for all that, and he called this guy a "whitewashed wall." "You're judging me, yet you yourself violate the law commanding that I be struck."
Verse 4: "Those who were standing near Paul said, 'How dare you insult God's high priest!' Paul replied, 'Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: "Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people."'" Paul recognizes, "Oh, I didn't know who that guy was. I'll repent of that. I should not have spoken to him that way." Then Paul gets right back at it. He says, "I'm standing here with a clean conscience," he gets punched in the face, and then he comes right back at it. He repents, says, "I'm sorry," and then goes right back at it.
"Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin…" The Sanhedrin was made up of two different groups. These were like denominations or political parties, if you will. He knew there were these two denominations or political parties. He knew some of them were Sadducees and others Pharisees. Then confidently he called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees." He was saying, "Hey, I'm with these guys. I'm like these guys."
"'I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.' When he said this, a dispute broke out [among these two denominations, the Pharisees and the Sadducees] , and the assembly was divided." **Then Luke provides this little aside, why they were so divided."(The Sadducees** [their little denomination] say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees [that little denomination] believe all these things.)"
So Paul brought this out. He just said, "Hey, I stand on trial because I believe in the resurrection," identifying with one of them. Then as we're going to see here in a second, it all breaks loose again, and they start warring again, and Paul has to be saved from that situation again.
The second observation I want to make this morning that we can learn from how Paul remained so confident to look these men in the eyes and say, "I have a clean conscience, and my hope is in the resurrection of the dead…" The reason he did that was Paul knew he was facing God's sovereignty; he wasn't facing punishment. If we want to remain calm in the midst of a crisis, we, too, need to remember this is not punishment.
Paul probably could have sat there and been facing all this, these men who wanted to kill him, and it would not have been a leap in his mind to go, "Hey, this is what I deserve. I, too, used to chase down Christians. I, too, used to try to kill these people. I have blood on my hands for murdering people of the Way, and now I am a man of the Way. I'm just getting what I deserve. I bet the reason these guys want to rip me to pieces is because of what I've done. God is punishing me right now."
That wasn't Paul's attitude. Paul knew he wasn't facing punishment; he was facing God's sovereignty. He wasn't surprised. He knew this was part of it. When you and I are facing a crisis, we need to remind ourselves that, as followers of Jesus Christ, any crisis that comes into our lives is not punishment being levied by God into our lives. We're so tempted to do this all the time when bad things pop into our lives, are we not?
Something bad happens. Maybe your car gets stolen or broken into. You go out in the parking lot and realize your car is not there or has been broken into, and you just start doing this inventory of all of the things you've done over the past couple of weeks. You're like, "Oh, I know my car got stolen because I haven't had a quiet time in three days and binge-watched Stranger Things the other night and ate too much," or whatever it is.
We just start going through this Rolodex. We just start going through all of these memories, trying to go, "Hey, I bet the reason something bad is happening right now is because of something I've done." What I want to remind every single one of us in here of this morning is that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, when crisis comes into your life, it is not a punishment coming into your life.
It is not necessarily a result of things you've done and God is punishing you by allowing you to experience this adversity. Every single one of us in here this morning has done something that deserves punishment, but Scripture is abundantly clear that that punishment has not been levied on us; it was levied on Jesus Christ. So as followers of Jesus Christ, we no longer ever have to fear whether or not God is going to punish us.
If we are being punished, that carries with it the sense of paying back for something we've done. There is no way any of us could ever pay back for the things we've done. We were stuck, and God sent Jesus to die for us. All the punishment we deserve for the things we've done in our lives was put on Jesus, not on us. So we never, ever, ever have to worry that what we're facing is now punishment because of something we've done.
There's an enormous difference between punishment and discipline or punishment and consequences. Are there things in our lives we do that bring consequences into our lives? Absolutely. All the time there are things we do. If we walked out into the parking lot and our car was not there and we thought it was stolen but really what happened is we parked in the wrong spot and it was towed, that's our fault for not reading the signs. That's a consequence of our actions.
We just ask ourselves when we're facing a crisis, "Is this something I've done? Is this a consequence or is this just a crisis God is allowing that's going to be a platform so I can proclaim his goodness and his grace?" It's not a punishment for us. I think about a job I had a few jobs before I came here on staff, and it felt like a crisis when I was in it. There were so many fractured relationships. Every day just seemed like it was getting worse and worse and worse at this job, and I was wanting to get out of it.
Then one day, as I'm sitting there and thinking about all of these fractured relationships and what makes this environment so hostile and toxic to me, I started to realize the one thing in common with all of these broken relationships was me and that I was the one who was responsible for this because of the things I was saying to that person, for the way I was treating that person, what I did to that person. I just sat there and went, "This is me. These are my actions."
When we're facing a situation that's because of us and our actions, it's simple. We just repent. "It's me. I'm going to go to that person and ask forgiveness for what I did. I'm going to go to that person and apologize for the way I treat them and what I do, and I'm going to go to that person and clean that up." Suddenly, this crisis started to not look so bad anymore. I was just experiencing the consequences that come from actions sometimes.
So there are times in our lives where things happen that are a result of our consequences, but every time a crisis is in our life it is not always a result of something we've done. It is going to be incredibly difficult for us to remain calm in the midst of a crisis if we think we're the one responsible for the crisis. Remember the book of Job, Job's story? He faced a crisis that probably none of us in this room have ever faced. He had his whole family taken from him.
Job is sitting with his friends. His friends come and start to comfort him in the midst of that crisis. As the story progresses, their conversation that was so encouraging starts to go, "Hold on, Job; I think you did something wrong," and they try to take him through A plus B equals C. "If you're experiencing a crisis, then A plus B equals this. There must be something you've done." Job, like Paul, was going, "My conscience is clear. I've done nothing. I'm not the author of my story."
We are not the authors of our stories. We're not playing a big part in our small movie. We play a small part in his massive story, and at times there's a crisis that comes in, so we need to not always be surprised when these things pop in, and we need to remind ourselves that it's often not a result of punishment. Let's keep going and see how this ends.
Acts 23:9: "There was a great uproar…" He said these things, and then there was this great uproar. "…and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. 'We find nothing wrong with this man,' they said. 'What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?'" It's almost comical how quickly everything turned. These guys who were united against him… Paul says, "Hey, I'm standing over here, and I have hope in the resurrection," and now the Pharisees are like, "This guy is pretty great after all. Maybe somebody told him to say this stuff."
"The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'"
Paul brings up the resurrection. They want to come after him. They want to tear him to pieces. The commander has to save him for the third time. Paul is just a guy, just a man, a person just like us. You can imagine. He's in that cell. He knew Jerusalem was not going to be this vacation. He knew it wasn't going to be smooth, but I don't know if he knew it was going to be this bad.
To feel like half the town is against you, and they don't just want you to leave the town; they want you dead because of the message that's not even your message, because of the message you're proclaiming. He knew he was innocent. In that moment when I'm sure, just like all of us…
You're maybe feeling a little discouraged, maybe feeling a little down, maybe feeling picked on, feeling like, "Why me?" In that moment, Jesus shows up and says, "Take courage. What you've been doing here in Jerusalem you're going to do in Rome." Jesus makes a promise to Paul that this season is going to pass.
This is the third and last observation I want us to make from Paul of ways we can remain calm in the midst of crisis: remind yourself of God's promises. Paul got to hear God's promise that this season was going to pass. If we want to remain calm in the midst of crisis, we, too, need to be like Paul and remind ourselves of God's promises. There are so many hundreds of promises we could go through and list out here, and I just want to share one.
One of the most helpful promises for me that I remember in the midst of crisis, that I share with others in the midst of crisis, is found in Deuteronomy 31:6 and also in Hebrews 13:5. It is that God will never leave you or forsake you, that you are never alone. In the midst of any crisis you're facing, you are never alone in the midst of that. The reason that's so comforting to me is that I think for so many of us we're really just like little kids still.
When we're scared, when we're afraid, when we're fearful, we just don't want to be alone, and we just want to know somebody is with us. Eighteen or nineteen years after that dog incident, I still go out for a run on my own, running in the neighborhood, and if I'm by myself, if I'm running alone, honestly, I'm still looking over my shoulder.
If I hear a rustle of leaves and it's a squirrel, I think it's a killer dog, and I get ready to run, or stay calm, as I now know what the protocol is. If I hear the rattle of a dog collar from somebody walking their dog, I get a little scared. When I'm by myself, I'm still on edge sometimes when I'm out there running, but if I run with my wife, if I'm out there with her I'm calm, because if a dog comes…just take her. I just have to be faster than her, and I am. No, it's just great to know I'm not alone.
When we first started having kids, there was this great ministry here at Watermark called the Nest, a great ministry for new moms and new dads. She went to one of the sessions they had on a Friday. Judy Wimberley was teaching that day, and she was teaching a topic a lot like this on how to help kids when they're feeling afraid. She gave a tool, and it was something I learned seven years ago, and I want to share it with you guys. Some of you already know it if you've been through it.
This tool is going to seem a little childish, a little immature, but this tool, I promise you… I think you're going to remember this. This tool is so helpful to remember the promise that God is always with you. What Judy said she did with her kids is that anytime her kid was afraid she said, "Put your hand up," and the kid would put their hand up, and then she would say, "God will never leave you."
Jackie came home seven years ago and was like, "Look at this. Isn't that great? It's a great reminder." That is probably the promise I have shared with more people and had to remind myself of over the last seven years than any other promise. It's just that God will never leave me. God will never leave you. This is not a little kid's movie platitude-type thing. Let's just make up a plot to some Disney movie that would say something like that.
We've all seen some movie like this, where there's Timmy and there's Grandpa, and Timmy has a really great relationship with Grandpa. Grandpa shows up to all Timmy's sporting events, and Grandpa is such an encouragement to Timmy. Then Grandpa is on his deathbed, and Timmy is really sad because Grandpa is going to die, and Grandpa looks at Timmy and says, "Don't worry, Timmy. I'm always going to be with you."
Then you fast-forward in the movie, and it's a baseball game. It's the bottom of the ninth. The bases are loaded. The team is losing. Timmy is up to bat, and he's nervous, and he's like, "I wish Grandpa was here, because Grandpa was always in the stands." Then Timmy looks out into the clouds and sees Grandpa up there with some wings and some other angels around him, and Timmy is like, "Great. Grandpa is always here with me." He hits a home run.
Then it's the spelling bee, and he's nervous. He looks up, and there's Grandpa, his little ghost going around. This is not that. It's not that kind of a promise of just, hey, little Grandpa. Jesus is up there kind of going, "I'm with you." No, this is for real. This is the God of the universe who is omnipresent. In a way our brains can't even understand, he's with you and he's with you and he's with you and he's with you and he's with you and he's with you. He is with all of us.
He knows exactly what's going on in your life and in your life and in my life, in all of our lives, and he has promised us that no matter what, we will never, ever, ever, ever be alone. So if you and I want to remain calm in the midst of crisis we remember God's promise. This is why God's Word is such a gift to us. We don't read it just for information. We don't read it to sound smart. We read it to get to know God.
It's about intimacy, not information. It's about these stories of his goodness and his faithfulness, stories like this of Paul. It's just full of his promises, that no matter what we face we are never going to be alone. So if we want to react like Paul, if we want to remain calm in the midst of a crisis, we remind ourselves it's not a surprise, we remind ourselves it's not punishment, and we remind ourselves of God's promises.
I'll close with this last story. I had another crisis that came into my life a few months after the dog incident. That one was in February. Now fast-forward to the summer. I had to go to a dermatologist because I had a mole on my leg that didn't look right, and I needed to go get it checked out. So I showed it to the dermatologist, and he was pretty concerned when he looked at it. He removed it right away and said, "I'm going to send this off for a pathology report. We're going to try to see what this is."
He started mentioning that this may be cancer. It didn't look right. I was 24 years old and I heard the cancer word, and I was like, "Whatever. I don't have cancer." He said, "All right, I'll get this pathology report back, and I'll call you as soon as we get it back." A couple of days go by. I actually got on an airplane and went out of town. I was traveling for work. I'm out of town and call in to get my voicemail and listen to the voicemail, and he said, "Adam, it's Dr. Goldstein. We got the pathology report back. Call me right away."
So I got on the phone and called him, and he said, "Where are you right now?" I said, "Well, I'm out of town." He goes, "You need to get back in town as soon as possible. Like, try to get back tomorrow if you can. We got the pathology report back, and it's a melanoma. It's a deadly form of skin cancer. It's Clark Level IV. It's this big. You need to go see a general surgeon. You're going to have to do some more tests. This is going to be your focus for the next season."
It's hard to build a lot of tension in this story because I'm alive. I didn't die, obviously. Here's what I remember, though. One of the first things that went through my mind when I got that report, when this crisis came in, was "I am so thankful that John Reeves helped me understand about adversity. I'm so thankful that I'm not surprised that this crisis has come into my life. I'm so grateful to know with certainty that this is not punishment.
I've done a lot in my life that deserves punishment, and I know Jesus took the punishment. What I'm facing is something God allowed into my life that is going to be a platform to proclaim his goodness, and this is not punishment." What I also remember about that time is just how rich God's promises were. Right after I got that phone call… I hung up, and I remember calling my parents and calling some friends and changing my flight.
I went back to the hotel room, and in the hotel room by myself that night, going to bed just going, "I can't believe it. I'm 24, and I have cancer." I woke up that next morning. I don't know if you've ever had this happen, when you have a crisis in your life and you wake up in the morning and have those first few moments where you haven't thought about it yet. I had those first few moments where I thought it was just a normal day, and then it hit me. "Oh yeah. I have cancer."
I got ready for that day, and I sat down at that desk in the hotel room and opened up God's Word. It was so rich to just pore over these promises. God was so present with me during that time. It's the most scared I've ever been, and never once did I think I was alone. God was with me. He gave me a lot of great gifts during that season.
I was part of a great church in Atlanta when I was going through that. I had some great friends around me, but no gift was nearly as helpful as the gift of his Word and his promises and the gift of his presence to know that he was with me. I don't know where you are, friends. I don't know if you're walking into a crisis. I don't know if you're in the middle of a crisis right now. I don't know if you're just getting out of a crisis, but none of us are immune to a crisis.
If we want to be like our brother Paul, if we want to remain calm, we need to not be surprised. This is what happens, because we're not the author of our story. We're playing a small part in his story, so we need to not be surprised. We can confidently know that whatever crisis we're facing we are not facing punishment, because Jesus has taken the punishment, and we can remember God's promises, that he will never, ever leave us or forsake us. Amen? Let me pray.
God, we thank you for this story of Paul and the life and the example of Paul. We just say thank you for him. Thank you for his faithfulness. Thank you for his model for us on how we can also remain calm in the midst of crisis. I pray, God, that we will not be surprised when crisis arrives, that we will remember that we are not the author of our story; you are the author of the story. You let us into your story, you are in heaven, you do what you please, and you're good.
God, I thank you that Jesus took the punishment for our sins. God, I thank you for your precious promises that are there to remind us that you never, ever, ever leave us. So I pray, Lord, that you will continue to help us to be faithful, like Paul was faithful, in the midst of whatever crisis we face. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.