Sunday, September 6, 2020


Back to the Sea

I take you back now to again talk about the early Polynesians, navigating their way through the immeasurable waters of the Pacific and looking for an island to call their home. In several ways it is a good illustration of how one finds his or her way to God. In my rather lengthy explanation of the methods of these navigators last week, I had more of a purpose that to just teach you about the Polynesians. It was also to illustrate how a seeking soul finds his or her way to God.

Reason alone would not have allowed the Polynesians to discover and to colonize the vastly scattered islands of the Pacific. Reason alone would have calculated that the chances of finding such tiny islands in this great and unknown ocean to be very slim. In fact, now that we know the size of the Pacific in relation to the total land mass of all of the islands, we can calculate the chances. It is about one in ten thousand.[1] These are not very good odds, especially when your life and the life of your family are on the line.

However, it is not that these first people blindly and foolishly set out in their canoes in the outside chance that they would end up on an island. They did not rely on chance, since they had learned to read the signs of what was happening around them.

They used all of their senses as well as their reason. They had learned from the past and had built upon the teachings of their ancestors. They learned to feel the ocean currents and to read the wave patterns. They studied the movements of the stars and the daily flight patterns of the ocean birds. They may not have first known where the island of their destination was, but they had learned how to steer the course toward land even when out in a vast ocean hundreds of miles away from any island.

That is what Paul told the people of Athens about the search for God. If we would learn to read the signs of what was going on around us, God has given to each nation and people a specific time and environment in which to live, and in which all could “seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.”

Again in the words of Paul… 

And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

Finding God in the Midst of our Present Society

In our own present day society, we are not good at this. We are not good at reading the signs of things that are going on around us. When economic times become difficult, we often first look for someone to blame. When a natural disaster strikes in some part of the world, we limit our talk to climate change and how man may or may not be responsible. When a new standard of what is acceptable enters our culture that before was considered iniquitous, we simply learn to adapt to it and not to question. These types of responses show that we are not proficient at navigating through the times in which we live.

Perhaps we need to get a little bit wet. By this I mean like the apprentice Polynesian navigator, we also need to enter into an apprenticeship where we can learn to be sensitive to the signs of the environment and the times in which we are living. Perhaps we need to get out of our canoes and lie on our back in the ocean so that we can feel the currents and learn to read the wave patterns.

As it is presently, we are trying to do our navigation through life experiences without perceiving what God is doing. God is moving all around us, but we are novices in discerning the meanings of his movements. We are students who have not yet learned to read the currents and the waves of the times in which we live.

Learning to Navigate

In the end, God is not that difficult to find. That is what Paul also told the Athenians. He said to them, “Yet he (God) is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28 ESV). 

The man Job of ancient times said essentially the same thing: 

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? (Job 12:7-10 NAS) 

God is not far from any one of us. Signs of his presence are all around us. The reason that many do not see these signs is because they have not trained themselves to notice. Many are like land dwellers out in the ocean for the first time, or like city dwellers walking in the forest for the first time in their lives. They may enjoy the environment, but they have little understanding of what is happening all around them.

Many people do not know of the presence of God because they have grown to be insensitive to his actions. According to what Job said, the beasts, birds, fish, and even the earth itself would have something to teach us about the sovereignty of God. This is not a statement of pantheism or any such belief as that, but simply that there are evidences of God all around us, and we often do not see them.

Just as the Polynesians considered the boat in which they were riding as being rather stationary, and the elements of the sea, the wind and the stars being in motion around them, God is also in motion around each of us. It may not be necessarily in some mysterious and naturalistic way, but only that he is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives. In every way that God has at his disposal, he is trying to guide you to him.

Entering Into Our Apprenticeship

Paul, like an experienced navigator teaching an apprentice, also explains to us how to start to learn to feel our way to God. Paul tells us that God understands that we may have been unaware of what he was doing in the past, but now we must begin to learn. The very first lesson is this: 

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31 ESV) 

I will agree that what Paul told the Athenians was a simplified version of how we come to Christ, or how Christ comes to us. Paul did not enter into some of the deeper aspects of theology with the people on that day. However, despite all that he could have said and did not, what Paul did tell the people was completely adequate for them to find their way to God. Repentance and turning to the evidence of the resurrected Christ will lead us to God.

Reason alone will not bring us to this realization. Philosophy alone will not bring us there. We tend to elevate reason and philosophy in our opinion because they represent some of the highest achievements of man. Nevertheless, believe it or not, the use of reason and philosophy alone fall under the category of “the times of ignorance” that Paul spoke about. Paul told the people of Athens that it was time to move beyond that. It is also time for all of us to move beyond that way of thinking.

By charting our path through life using reason and philosophy only, we are assuming that we possess within ourselves the ability to find true meaning in our living. That is a faulty assumption. Thousands of years of philosophical reasonings have brought us no nearer to peace in society. If anything, we are presently seeing more chaos in society than at any time in recent history.

Some may argue that neither has thousands of years of religion brought us any nearer to peace. With this I would agree. Most religious movements, unfortunately even including many so-called Christian movements, have been nothing more than a thin veneer of external saintliness painted over man’s own efforts.

If one is to find God, all such efforts generated by our own abilities must cease. We cannot find God by using only our own powers of thought. Like the Polynesians in search of a new island home in the midst of the great Pacific, we also must learn to read the signs of what is happening around us in order to guide us to the One whom we are seeking. Using our own powers exclusively will only keep us sailing around in circles, ignorant of the meanings of the times in which we are living. 


Paul tells us that the key element in moving beyond the times of ignorance is repentance. This is the first step. As the apostle has written, although God is willing to forget our fruitless efforts of the past, in order to finally make some progress in our thinking, he next commands us to repent.

Why repentance?

Repentance is needed because by assuming that we can arrive at what is true by using only and merely our own powers of thought and self-government, we are demonstrating that we believe that we are the masters over all eternal matters of our lives. This is a false assumption. According to what the ancient man Job has said, we are the only ones of God’s living beings who are blind to the fact that we have been created by the hand of God.

To repeat what Job said, “Who among all [the creatures of the earth] does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?”

Whether we see it or not, our very existence depends upon the sovereignty of God. We do not realize this because we have become estranged from God. That estrangement came about because we have rebelled against the sovereignty of God and claimed our independence from him. In the Bible, living in this state of rebellion commonly is called “sin.”

It is because of this that the first step in being able to see the hand of God active in this present day must be repentance. Paul later told King Agrippa the same thing. He told the king that the message of his ministry had always been that the Jew and the Gentile alike “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20 ESV). 

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance (Acts 26:20 ESV). 

Faith With Eyes Wide Open

We must abandon our thoughts of our independence from God and accept that he is Lord of all creation. We do this by first accepting the fact that we are estranged from him because of sin. We are living in a state of rebellion against the One who created us, and it is only by repentance from this life of insurrection that we will find our way to God.

Coming to know God in this way is something that we accept and believe by means of faith. It is not blind faith, however. A blind faith would have us ignore the signs around us or to be entirely unaware of them, and still accept what we are told.

This is not the type of faith that will lead us to God. Rather than a blind faith, the faith that leads us to God comes about specifically because we have begun to become aware of things we did not before notice. Like an apprentice navigator in the vast ocean of this world, we have our eyes wide open and have begun to see some of what God is doing to lead us to himself. We have set out on our own voyage and he who was once unknown to us will become known. 

A Sign on the Horizon

Another of the signs of land that the ancient Polynesian explorers used to tell them of presence of land were the cloud formations of the sky over the horizons of the ocean. By observing the cloud formations in the distant skies, the sailors in their double-hulled canoes could often determine the presence of an island even far beyond the horizon. Even the type of cloud and the height the cloud attained told much about the nature of the land underneath them. In fact, the original Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, actually does mean, “land of the long white cloud.”

Fixing their course for the towering cloud in the sky, the Polynesians sailed toward their goal. They had set their hope on a new land where they could settle and call their new home.

Once we have responded in repentance and have learned to fix our path toward navigating our way to God, the apostle John tells us this: 

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:2-3 NAS) 

A Hopeful Sign in the Sky

John speaks of having our hope fixed on Jesus.

I have written and spoken much in the past on how the word hope, as commonly used in these days, is much different than the Biblical definition for the word. When we use the word today, we usually mean it mostly in terms of a wish.

In the midst of a cold spell in Northern Wisconsin, we may say something to the effect of “I hope that we will get some thawing temperatures today,” when in reality, we know that we will not. What we are actually saying is “I wish that we would get some warm weather!”

That is not the Biblical definition. When the Bible speaks of hope, it means it more in terms of a goal. Our hope is something for which we are striving.

As the Polynesian explorers read the signs of how to find land in the vast and trackless Pacific Ocean, one morning they saw the sign of the cloud on the horizon. After weeks and sometimes months at sea, as they followed the sign of the cloud, the day finally arrived when, on the far horizon and under that tall cloud, they saw land! They saw their new island! They had reached their goal—their hope! 

Our Sign of Hope

The Apostle Peter wrote much of the concept of hope in his short letters, especially in the first one. He speaks of our hope as a living hope—something that does not fade or die even in the face of difficult circumstances.

In the words of Peter, for those who have set their course guided by God, God has… 

Given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power for the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time…

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy, now that you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-5, 8-9 BSB). 

Peter urges us to “prepare our minds for action.” He tells us to be “sober-minded… setting our hope fully on the grace to be given us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Peter1:13).

This at last is our hope. This is our goal for which we strive. Our hope is the grace that we will finally understand in fullness when we see Jesus. 

Hope Beyond Today

Where is it that you are placing your hope? In our heavy election season, is your hope that all will be better if Trump is elected? Maybe you think all will be better if Biden is elected? Or perhaps your situation is a recent medical crisis, or a financial one. Maybe you are placing your hope in the promised vaccine. Perhaps you are thinking once the vaccine arrives, life can return to normal.

Really? Normal?  Is that all that you are hoping for? God is trying to guide you beyond a life that is merely normal. He wants to give to you the extraordinary.

I would encourage you to think beyond your present circumstances, whatever they may be. Jesus has told us that he has gone away to prepare for us an entirely new home (John 14). We need to lift our eyes to the horizon to look for the presence of God beyond our present circumstances or the present political situation. God is there. He is giving you signs to lead you to him if you would only take the time to recognize them. He is calling you to a new home that he has prepared for you.

 I encourage you to repent of your thoughts of being able to navigate through the wilderness of this life using only your own limited instincts. Learn to read the signs of what God is doing in your life and follow the path that he has laid out for you.

You must learn to navigate through these seas of the present. You must learn to navigate your way to God.

[1] Excluding the relatively larger land masses of New Guinea and New Zealand on the edges of the Pacific

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