Eyeball

30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. [34] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord. Acts 15:30-35

Two thousand years separates us from them, but the best way to deliver a message in both cultures was in person. We have devised less time-consuming ways, but the face to face personal touch is always the best. Judas and Silas understood that well.

In the hobby of Amateur Radio (Ham), enthusiasts trade postcards (QSL cards) that verify radio contact has been made. Frequency, call sign, and signal strength is noted. When they collect enough cards from around the world, they win awards. I have operated before. One of my most memorable QSLs was from a man I met in-country (Mongolia). JT1CS is his call sign and he reads this devotional regularly. He filled out his card and put “Eyeball” for the contact information. I didn’t quite understand it at first until he explained the obvious. He didn’t need a radio or fancy antenna to contact me; I was right there in front of him, eyeball to eyeball.

In a few days I will be making eyeball contact with my brother. He has Stage 4 Lung and Brain cancer. Sadly, he is not expected to live long. I will see him face to face. A letter, phone call, or an email just won’t do. And sometimes you have to travel across the country for those short moments to say what needs to be said.

Who do you need to make “eyeball” contact with in the next week? There’s something you need to say or do in person. You’d love to call or write, but you know what you need to do. Ask God to give you strength to do it.

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Church Leaders Take Charge

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell. Acts 15:22-29

Leaders in the Church now started to take control of situations. Prior to this, we saw itinerant preachers going from town to town preaching the Gospel. The church was old enough now to make its own decisions. That also meant that they didn’t need to rely on the disciples as they experienced everyday church life. It normally takes churches a long time to get to this point because problems arise every step of the way. Throughout the rest of this book and the New Testament we will see the kinds of problems they faced.

Down through the centuries, God has used the local church for sustained growth and development. It’s easy for a preacher to preach to tens of thousands. When that preacher moves elsewhere, the local church has to begin the long and arduous task of discipleship.

As a free piece of advice: any time an evangelist gives you stats about how many were at the crusade he held (here in the West or in a foreign country) and how many accepted Christ, ask how many are still in churches a year later? If the person doesn’t know, then he has not done a good job of followup with churches who are able to disciples those new Believers. The evangelist isn’t trying to be deceptive. It’s just that he hasn’t presented the whole truth to you.

Pray for your pastor and his wife. Then let them know with a card, phone call, email, or text. They’ll be glad you let them know.

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No Hindrances or Obstacles

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’—
18     things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” Acts 15:12-21

James was the disciple to speak up this time. He said what was said all along: why are you making it difficult for others to enter the Kingdom of God? It’s actually a relevant question for today as well.

On the face it, the Gospel is easy: believe and you will be saved. Obviously a lot more goes into it than that because there’s a repentance and the realization that we’re all sinners in desperate need of a saving God. But believing on the Lord Jesus Christ is all that is necessary to be saved.

Leaders pile on, though most of the time they don’t mean to:

  • Be a good person
  • Give generously of time and money
  • Do good for others

Those three are the “works” burdens that religious leaders often put on well-meaning Believers. Those are all by-products of “Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ”, and are not requirements. That is an important distinction. Or the Bible calls those three tasks “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

Again, the beauty and mystique of the Gospel message is that it’s deceptively simple. In doing so, God removed all possible excuses and hindrances to the message.

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Grace and Humility

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:5-11

Peter laid out the facts to his fellow Believers, and asked why they wanted to burden the Gentiles with something that doesn’t pertain to them. They were so used to following rules that it carried over into their news lives as Christians.

Part of it, though, could have been a power struggle between the Pharisees and the new leaders in the Church. It happens in the best of organizations, though it’s not likely called a power struggle by any side.

It takes a great deal of humility and grace to work through these power issues because each side is convinced it is correct.

Fortunately, as Believers, the Spirit of God is in each of us. We need to trust Him to help us resolve and work through interpersonal issues that arise.

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The Gospel Plus

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Acts 15:1-4

This seems to be the first recorded controversy in the church. It was handled in record time because the church leaders recognized the need to stamp out trouble quickly. The issue was circumcision but it could easily have been any number of different issues. Most of those issues are “works-relate” and exist in some form even today.

It’s the Gospel plus.

  • The Gospel plus circumcision.
  • The Gospel plus baptism.
  • The Gospel plus helping the poor.
  • The Gospel plus women covering their heads.

The Gospel is clear: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Those are certainly words to live by.

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Rest and Rejuvenation

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples. Acts 14:26-28

At this point in the story, Paul and Barnabas got a chance to stay in one place to fellowship and work alongside the disciples. Traveling all the time was wearying for them as it is for most people. Sure, some love the journey but it’s still wears on your body. They’ll have a longer road ahead of them, but for now they’re just enjoying the company of fellow Believers. I’m sure it gave the others an opportunity to hear Paul’s story and to answer a lot of questions they probably had for him.

Returning missionaries need the same kind of time to recharge and get to know the people in the home church. Of course they love to tell of the adventures (good and bad) but they want to be normal people for a few months before they go out raising more funds and than get back to the country God has called them to.

Pray for the missionaries you know who are returning home. Pray they get the rest and rejuvenation they need.

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Town To Town, Village to Village

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. Acts 14:21-25

The life of an itinerant preacher even when the Church was so young was not easy. The preachers couldn’t establish roots anywhere because there were just so many towns to visit. The places they visited couldn’t benefit from long term relationships because the preachers were gone the next day. Later in the book we’ll see how they were able to maintain their long distance relationships.

There are still parts of the world where the Church still has itinerant preachers who travel from village to village preaching and teaching. Many nations in Africa still employ this method as does India.

Pray for these two areas of the world as these preachers spend themselves for the Gospel of Christ. Their job is thankless and lonely. Temptations are real. Pray that the Gospel will be preached boldly with each village they enter. Pray also for any family they leave behind. It’s not easy on them either.

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Pauls of the World

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. Acts 14:19-20

Can you imagine the reaction when the people found out Paul was still alive? First of all, who does that? Who goes into the enemy’s camp and gets tossed out again. It’s like he was asking for more! But Paul and the disciples were moving in the power of the Holy Spirit. The church was growing, and they were continuing their march across the land. It would seem that nothing could stop them.

It’s actually a metaphor for this life. If you are so focused on one thing, it’s very difficult stop you. Babe Ruth famously said, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

The person who gets up over and over and over again when facing adversity is going to win. Paul’s a great example here. Moses, Noah, King David, the prophets. All of them were beaten down many times, but they still came back over and over again.

The disciples were also in this passage. What did they do? They ministered to Paul. What they actually did is speculation. Paul was on the front lines; so were the disciples. They were in just as much danger as Paul had been.

God needs Pauls, those who are so single focused as to be a fault.

But He also needs ten times as many people willing to support, encourage, and pray for the Pauls of the world.

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All Too Real

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Acts 14:11-18

We smile at some of the actions of these people, but it’s often all too real here. Sometimes people will flock to hear the great preacher or the healer or the prophet or the great servant of God. Megachurches fill up fast when there’s a dynamic speaker to draw them there. They’re so busy they don’t even have time to pastor. They let their Associate Pastors handle the more trivial details of the church. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, as some people are gifted at speaking while others are gifted at pastoring. the problem comes when the well-known speaking pastor/healer/prophet allows himself to be placed on a pedestal to be worshiped and adored.

There are just so many dangers associated with celebrity preacher-worship. Pastors should be loved by their congregations; there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact I encourage it.

Preachers and pastors are susceptible to the same temptations and sins that we are. In fact, because of their positions of leadership and influence, they are under spiritual attacks most of us aren’t under. Satan wants to destroy them any way he can.

Pray for your pastors and their families today. Pray for them the same way you’d pray for your family.

Then let them know through an email or a phone call (or snail mail) that you’ve prayed. They will certainly appreciate it.

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