Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
July 30, 2010

This is the stuff of thriller novels

The HMS Investigator was abandoned in 1853 after being ice-locked in Canada’s western Arctic. Today’s NPR website tells us that this was the last leg of the famed Northwest Passage, the sea route across North America. The ship set sail in 1850 and nearly made it to the Pacific side when ice forced her captain, Robert McClure, to winter in Prince of Wales Strait along the east coast of Banks Island.

The next summer, McClure tried again but was again blocked by ice. He steered the ship and crew into a large bay he called the Bay of Mercy. They remained there until they were rescued in 1853, leaving their ship behind.

Now Canadian archaeologists have found Investigator. She is standing upright in about 36 feet of water. Her masts and rigging have long since been sheared off by weather and ice, but the icy waters of the strait have otherwise preserved the vessel in excellent condition. Archaeologists have also discovered artifacts on land left by the stranded sailors, along with the graves of three sailors thought to have died of scurvy. They will be marked and left undisturbed. There are no plans to bring the ship to the surface.

Was the ship’s mission a failure? Only if we believe that her crew should have defied physics. In Investigator’s era, ships were at the mercy of ice shelves and icebergs hundreds of times more massive than they. It seems to me that we should judge Captain McClure and his ship by their faithfulness to their mission. The crew didn’t abandon their ship and their orders until there was no other option.

Faithfulness is the truest definition of success. Excavations at Pompeii have revealed a human skeleton still grasping a lance, a sentinel who chose death at his post over the cowardice of retreat. The American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach holds the remains of 9,383 servicemen and four women, all casualties of D-Day. Were they less successful in their mission than those who survived this epic battle?

God measures success by obedience to his word and faithfulness to his call. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). He later added, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). When Paul obeyed his Macedonian vision (Acts 16:6-10), he had no idea he was bringing the gospel to the Western world and that you and I would benefit from his obedience.

We cannot measure the eternal results of present faithfulness. Why do you need that reminder this morning?

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