“Believe half of what you see and some or none of what you hear…” are words from I Heard it Through the Grapevine. Normally that’s a good thought in dealing with people and rumors.

But as we continue walking through Acts, in Acts 16 Paul sees a vision that changes the direction of his ministry… and changes our life. Paul and Silas had started to visit  the churches that had been planted in a previous missionary trip and they had reached out to new cities and people. But 2 different times they tried to turn to the east and the highly populated Eastern section of the Roman Empire and had been stopped by God.

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia ; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; (Acts 16:6-7)

But God never closes one door of opportunity without opening another for His people. This was no exception. In a vision, Paul sees a man from Macedonia, to the west from where he was, in what is today present day Turkey. The man says, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” Paul follows the Lord’s leading and moves to the west.

God blesses Paul and Silas’ obedience and His Word. Lydia and her family come to faith in Christ. God uses a jail sentence to the missionary team to lead a man and his family to Christ.

The central truth of this is NOT that Paul saw a vision. The important fact for them and for us, is that God does indeed lead His people and He always leads them to spread the marvelous message of salvation through Jesus alone.

That vision is still the same for us. In whatever direction God leads his people, it will always be for the purpose of reaching those people whose hearts the Lord has opened (Acts 16:14).

Paul and Barnabas had been a team for as long as Paul had been in ministry. At first Barnabas was the lead man. He was a veteran in serving God. Paul was the up and comer. But over time, the roles had switched. They had served well together in their first evangelistic trip. They had been highly successful. They were so successful that they had to have a meeting among the leaders of the church at large to deal with a doctrinal issue that was the result of the volume of Gentles becoming followers of Jesus.

Now Paul wanted to lead another trip to follow-up on those who were saved and to push the boundaries of unbelief back a few more cities. Barnabas was ready, but then came the point of dissension. Barnabas wanted to bring along John  Mark, who had left the team in the middle of the trip to return. The Bible doesn’t say anything about why he left, it just says that he left to go to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Paul, true to his temperament and personality, was determined not to take Mark. Barnabas, true, also, to his temperament and personality, was determined to take him. It got so bad that they decided not to minister together. (Acts 15:39)

First of all, I am thankful that the Bible shows our heroes of the faith warts and all. There are no rose-colored glasses in the Biblical record.

Secondly, even though the writer, Luke, was close to Paul, there is no condemnation of the position on either man’s part. It is simply a record that there was dissension and they split from ministry together. Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul chose Silas to follow-up on the other churches.

But what does that teach us about disagreements among believers? This is not a disagreement over doctrine. This was a disagreement over methods and personnel. There are a couple of important lessons:

The first is that disagreements happen even among good, well-intentioned people. They inevitable, and dangerous. But they are also very solvable. Sometimes they are solved by working out the disagreement fully and openly. Sometimes, though, they are solvable by dissolving the “business’ relationship.

People who share the same theology, the same godly life style, even having a history of serving well together will disagree. The important part is that it was solved.

In Acts 6, the church solved the dissension by changing their organizational structure. Earlier in Acts 15, they solved a doctrinal problem by making a clear statement of Biblical standards.

In the last few verses of Acts, the disagreement was solved by making 2 evangelistic teams that could cover more area.

What was the result? Cyprus was covered by a citizen of Cyprus, Barnabas. Europe was covered by Paul.

Were there scars? I am sure there were. But we have no hint of ongoing tension between the 2 men. We even have Paul saying that the source of the tension, Mark, was profitable to him for the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

Followers of Jesus will have tense moments of disagreements. But they don’t have to be bloody. They can result in new ministries and new, and better, relationships.

When I was at Tennessee Temple University, Dr. Lee Roberson made this statement:

“I have been in ministry for 50 years, but I can tear it all down in 5 minutes by my actions.”

Make no mistake, Joe Paterno was an amazing coach. He was a force for good in college football as well as in the Penn State University family. He was mainly responsible for the library on the campus. He influenced hundreds of young men who went on to many professions and not just the NFL.

But for the foreseeable future, no biography will begin with anything other than the scandal that we have watched with horror swirling around the abuse of children and the subsequent cover up. His friends might ignore it when they speak about him, but it will still be a part of our collective memory.

This is the way of the world. We don’t remember President Lyndon Johnson as the one who got the Civil Rights Act passed. We remember him as the one who built up the war in Viet Nam. We don’t remember President Richard Nixon as opening the conversation with China. Watergate and he will remain intertwined (and rightly so) with every conversation. And so it will be with Coach Paterno.

And so it will be with us, not just the publicly important.

We all need to end our lives in the manner of how we lived our lives. Followers of Jesus need to end their lives well and not be remembered for a fatal mistake. We need to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit as He indwells us to empower us to stay far away from sin.

I am thankful for the lessons I learned at Tennessee Temple, but, as I am in the 31st years of ministry, there is no other lesson I think about more than Dr. Roberson’s statement:

“I have been in ministry for 50 years, but I can tear it all down in 5 minutes by my actions.”

A few years ago, one of our men asked me if I was interested in become a certified BBQ judge with the Florida Barbecue Association. I prayed about it… no, I really didn’t, I just said yes, because no man can really be right with God and not want to eat BBQ, and certainly no man can be a Baptist pastor without wanting to judge, so it was a no brainer.We made the trip to the judge’s school and in a few short weeks we sat in a room with 40 or so men and women and were asked to judge Chicken, Ribs, Pork and Brisket on the basis of appearance of the presentation box, tenderness and taste. It was a foretaste, I hope, of Heaven.

Since that time, I have become a smoker of meats. Smoking is different from cooking hamburgers on a grill. This is cooking a piece of meat at 225-250 degrees over the course of hours and letting the smoke from the wood indwell that meat. I learned what kind of rub to put on the meat before cooking. I like cooking chicken, but I do love pork ribs and pork butt (by the way, that’s the shoulder of a hog).  It’s taken almost 4 years to get comfortable with the combination of heat, smoke and time.

What does this have to do with following Jesus? It has alot, honestly. In Acts 15, the early church was faced with a question whose answer would impact all of church history: Did the gentiles who were being saved have to become Jews in order to be saved?  This is one of what Churchill called “hinge points of history” for the fledgling church planters, Paul and Barnabas. Would they have to go back to the cities they had recently visited and force all the new believers to submit to circumcision?

Although James formulated the final answer, Peter made it very succinct. The church decision came back in a unanimous decision:

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. Acts 15:11

The leaders, Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James, as well as the rest of elders of the churches determined that salvation was purely by grace through faith. It was not a matter of keeping the laws which the Jews themselves were not able to keep perfectly. And that has been the orthodox doctrine of the believers since that time.

  • We don’t become Baptists to be saved.
  • We don’t become Americans to be saved.
  • We don’t become sober to be saved.
  • We don’t become anything to be saved.

We believe in Jesus Christ to be saved.

I can keep smoking and eating my pork! Thanks Jerusalem Council!

In studying Acts for Sunday morning, I have been trying for more than just Acts Facts, and aiming towards principles that will help me and our church begin to reach Osprey, Nokomis, Venice and Sarasota with the amazing story of Jesus.

In chapter 13-14, Paul and Barnabas are out on their first missionary journey. They are doing what Indiana Jones did in his movies, “I’m making this up as I go along.” True, they had the Holy Spirit, but they were going into uncharted territory.

One of the questions, they answered for themselves and for us is just who should I attempt to reach out to. I chose 3 principles to share that get fleshed out in the remainder of their mission endeavors.

  1. Start with those who are like you were: Paul reached out to the Jews. We all understand the mind-set of people like us in the BC years. So reach out to them. Matthew went to the tax collectors. We have walked where some of these people have walked, so reach out to them. But don’t stop there
  2. Reach out to those whom God gives special opportunity: Paul had the opportunity to speak to Sergius Paulus and then at the synagogue. We all have those divine appointments. God brings a person into our life and that’s no accident. Why does He do that? So we can talk to that person about Jesus
  3. Reach out to those who are different from you: Paul went to the Gentiles. If we’re not careful, we will only reach those in our comfort zone and once those prospects have accepted or rejected, we might be tempted to think that we’ve done our part. That’s the time to test our wings (and our faith) and talk to someone totally different from us. Paul discovered that the Gentiles were really to be his main thrust. God just might call you to be the Apostle to the group you might never have thought of.

Acts has so much for us as a church and as individuals. Let’s get going!

I can remember my first day as Pastor of FBC, Osprey. I had preached on Sunday morning and night and came into the office on Monday morning and, to be honest, I felt a little overwhelmed. There were so many things that could be done. There were some jobs that had to be done in a short time. And 1 or 2 that needed to be done RIGHT NOW!

You probably have experienced the same feeling.

You’d think that Paul and Barnabas might have felt a little overwhelmed by the immensity of the challenge of spreading the story of salvation throughout the world. So did they immediately spend several weeks trying to make strategy? Did they call the Roman Census Bureau and ask for a breakdown of the population? No, they, in Frank Sinatra’s words, they just started “spreading the news!”

We can and should strategize about how best to accomplish the work. We need to know the community we are in. But none of these will ever help us if we never get started telling one person and then another about Jesus Christ.

When they encountered ministry ending opposition, they just left the city and moved on. As we look at Acts 13 and 14, we discover that they followed the Holy Spirit’s leading and, although they had opposition, they never allowed it to discourage them.

You might have started telling a friend about what Jesus means to you. They may have reacted badly. Maybe you even got gun-shy and were afraid you were hurting not helping. Don’t be afraid. Move on! There are other people who need to be told. There’s plenty of people whose heart the Lord has opened who are just waiting for someone to talk to them!

Curtis Hutson, the former editor of “The Sword of the Lord” and now with the Lord, once told a story that I have used several times. According to the story, during the Civil War, the commanding officer ordered a charge. The men went into their charge, but encountered huge opposition. Soon they sounded the retreat. Everyone came back except one soldier who had hit the enemy soldier with the butt of his rifle, draped him over his back and ran back toward his lines.

When he got back to safety, he dropped the enemy soldier at the feet of his commanding officer.

Where in the world did you get him?” his commander asked.

The soldier replied, “Over yonder in a ditch… plenty of ‘em over there. All of you could have had one if you wanted one.”

Obviously, God gives the increase, but Paul and Barnabas would have understood the illustration.  There are plenty of lost people that we have contact with in the course of our day. Maybe we ought to stop trying to determine who to witness to, and just start witnessing.

Back in the days, the people who went to church in Osprey attended 1 of 2 churches. They either grew up in the Church of God or First Baptist and they were across the street from each other. There were times when they would join together for a Sunday night, but you made your choice (or maybe your parents made the choice) and that’s where you went. We really weren’t in competition, but there were times when one church or the other was the largest church in town, which isn’t saying a big deal because the population was about 1,000 people.

Now we have six five churches. There are 2 Baptist churches, 1 Catholic, 1 Episcopalian, 1 Church of Christ and the now defunct Church of God.

Over the 13+ years i have been in Osprey, the Church of God has gotten older. I kidded the 80 year old pastor, who is my friend, once that he was the youngest man there. He told me that he enjoyed the youth group. About a year ago, my friend had a stroke and could no longer pastor. They had supply preachers come. Then they called a much younger black pastor who looked like he would reach out to our community. But, unfortunately, even in this millenium, there were those who thought he was too different and relieved him of his duties. They stopped meeting on Wednesday nights. Then they stopped meeting on Sunday nights, but a pastor from Port Charlotte came to preach on Sunday mornings. Then he was unable to come anymore.

They tried to meet. But soon they just stopped gathering.

I didn’t notice anything until the Osprey grapevine told me that the church was no longer in existence. So 2 months ago, I walked over to look at the building. There was no sign on the doors telling people of her death. I just got back from looking again. There is still no sign tellng people not to come or where another C of G was meeting. It just died.

I know the easy reasons are age or doctrine. It isn’t the bills piling up because they own their building. It isn’t because of poor facilities. The fact is that I have lusted over their fellowship hall ever since I went there for a funeral. It isn’t location. They are right there on US 41. Thousands of cars whiz past them (and us).

The problem is neglect. People just stopped caring. There is no funeral service planned. I am not sure what they will do with the property or even what they can do with it. It’s a sad sight for me. I don’t want what happened to them to happen to me personally or to our church in Osprey. I know that this isn’t what Hebrews 2:1 is talking about but I walked away from looking in the windows of the building with this thought in my mind and it turned into a prayer, “God don’t let this happen to us!”

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

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