Choosing between a good decision and a bad decision is usually pretty simple.
It’s not always easy, but It’s usually simple. The choice is usual clear. Good. Bad.
But what about when you think you are making a good decision and you’re asked to do something different? Not something bad, just something different, perhaps something better.
Paul and his companions had been struggling with what they thought were good decisions, but they kept being sidetracked or checked before their decisions became reality. And now they are being challenged to do something different. To go in a different direction.
Perhaps it was a direction they had considered and rejected earlier, or maybe it was something they hadn’t even considered before, and now they had to.
Our present series at Cornerstone is called Step Out and we are looking at various times in the bible that God’s people are asked to step out in faith. We looked at how Abraham was asked to believe God when God called him to leave his home and settle in what would we think of as present-day Israel. Abraham was promised that he would become a great nation, but at that point he and his wife Sarah had been unable to have children.
Last week I looked at the story of a man who came to Jesus begging him to come to his home, which was 30 km away, and heal his son. Instead of making the journey, Jesus told the man that his son was healed, and he could return home.
And because Abraham stepped out in faith, not only did he and Sarah become parents in their old age, but we have the nation of Israel.
Because the father in last week’s story stepped out in faith and believed the promise of Jesus, not only was his son healed, but his entire household believed in Jesus.
This morning’s story is found about halfway through the book of Acts and takes place during what is often referred to as Paul’s second missionary Journey.
It Started with A Plan
The fact that this is often called Paul’s second missionary journey would indicate that there was a first missionary journey, and that journey is recorded in Acts chapters 13 and 14. It’s here we have a chronicle of how Paul and his companions travelled through what was then known as Asia and planted churches in what we now think of as Syria, Turkey and Cyprus.
At the end of this trip, Paul and the team regroup in Antioch and we pick up the story in Acts 15:36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.”
That was a good plan.
Now if you are familiar with the story, you will remember that personalities come into play here. Barnabas wants to take a disciple by the name of John Mark with them. Paul had a negative experience with John Mark on the first journey and so he resisted the suggestion. Eventually it caused a rift and Barnabas partnered with John Mark and went in one direction and Paul went in another direction.
At this point we would be tempted to think that this would have been a blow to kingdom expansion, but history would reveal that this was really the beginning of Kingdom expansion.
Barnabas went to Crete, and the church there would eventually become what we think of as the Eastern Orthodox Church. John Mark would end up in Egypt, where the Coptic church would take root. And eventually Paul would see the birth of the Church in Rome, or the Western Church.
Interesting, but a story for a different time.
So, as Paul regroups after Barnabas leaves, the question is where to go and what to do?
Paul gathers a new team, and they spend their time visiting the churches and encouraging the believers in the area.
But Paul is anxious to move on. He’s anxious to see more new churches established and more people reached for Jesus.
But every time he gets ready to move on, he’s blocked.
You heard about that in the scripture that was read earlier. Luke had been describing their activities, saying, Acts 16:4–5 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. A good plan.
And then we read in Acts 16:6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.
But that wasn’t going to stop Paul.
In today’s verbiage we’d say that Paul had an entrepreneurial spirit and as Stephen Jobs said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the nonsuccessful ones is pure perseverance.”
And then in Acts 16:7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.
The plan was to do what they had been successful doing in other places with other people. And it wasn’t a bad plan, but it’s wasn’t the best plan. And it wasn’t God’s plan.
At least not God’s plan for that particular time and place. We’ve talked about this before, that there were things that were used to reach people for Jesus in the past, that are no longer effective today. God used yesterday’s methods yesterday, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to use yesterday’s methods today.
Now I don’t know all the logistics behind Paul being prevented from going to the province of Asia, or to the province of Bithynia. But there didn’t seem to be any doubt that the prompting came from the Holy Spirit.
I am a planner in many ways, I like to know how things are supposed to work. When we go on vacation, I like to know this is what we are going to do, this is how much it’s going to cost, and this is how long it should take. And that doesn’t always work out well for me, because of other people, especially if we are in a group.
They are those who are late getting started and other’s who dilly dally along the way, and not only does it ruin my plan, but there’s times it ruins my day.
And having a plan is good. The old adage still holds true, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. But I’ve discovered that while it’s good to have plans, you should hold them loosely.
The Yiddish proverb says, “Man plans, God laughs” and while that may seem a little cynical, Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:9 We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
And just in case we missed the point, he reiterates it in Proverbs 19:21 You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.
Which is why the most important part of the Lord’s prayer is the part about God’s will being done.
Have you ever had one of those conversations from years ago that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it happened?
It was just before a Sunday evening service at Truro Wesleyan church, back when churches had Sunday evening services. I had been talking to a gentleman in my church by the name of Roy Corey, and Roy was every inch a gentleman. I don’t know what I had been telling Roy, but we were in the process of a building project and I’m sure that I was casting the vision for what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. And Roy said, “Let me tell you a story.” And he did.
One day a farmer was walking along leading a cow when he met a man who asked where he was going, and the farmer said, “I’m going to the market to sell my cow.” To which the man replied, “God willing.”
“No” the farmer said, “I’m going to the market to sell my cow.” And with that he continued on his way. A little further down the road, two men jumped out of the bushes beat the farmer half to death and stole his cow.
As he was hobbling along making his way home, he ran into the same stranger who again asked him where he was going. To which the farmer responded by saying, “I’m going home, God willing.”
And when he finished the story, Roy smiled and sat down.
It was Jesus’ brother James who wrote in James 4:13–16 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.
Let’s go back to our story, Acts 16:9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
So, while the story started with a plan, it’s here we see that T The Plan Was Interrupted.
And no, I can’t explain how the vision happened any more than I can explain how the Holy Spirit stopped Paul from going in the other directions. If you have it figured out, then you are probably smarter than I am.
But while we done know the how we do know the where.
Let’s pull up one of our trusty maps here, I hope I don’t bore you with maps, but I tend to be a visual learner. Here is Israel where Christianity began. And here is where church growth was happening in the first couple of decades. This could be described as the cradle of Christianity.
There is a lesson to be learned here, because while this is where Christianity began, today fewer than one half of one percent of Turkey would identify in the broadest sense as being Christian. And to understand what I mean by broadest sense, by the same definition 68 percent of Canadians would identify as being Christian. A stark reminder that God has no grandchildren.
Up here is Troas where Paul had his vision, and over here, was what was called Macedonia, in the northern part of what we now think of as Greece.
You understand the significance of this move. This moved the church in to Europe. This is the continuing fulfilment of Jesus’ command from Matthew 28:18–20 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And this has been a continuing process that God has had to prompt along. Because we get comfortable. And so, the early church had settled into Jerusalem, and it wasn’t until persecution broke out that they believers started spreading out and expanding.
And as more and more churches are planted in Asia, it was easy for the believers to focus on the success of that area and not go beyond their comfort zone.
And it wasn’t wrong to see the churches in Asia strengthened. It wasn’t wrong to want to plant more churches in Asia. But when that became the end all be all, and when it got in the way of going to all nations then it was wrong. I
The command wasn’t to make disciples of all Asia, the command was to make disciples of all nations.
The temptation is to serve where we are settled, after all there is so much to do here. And that hold true today. When I started casting my vision for Cornerstone impacting people here, near and far away, there were people who challenged me, because they felt that there was so much to do here. But we haven’t just been called here.
I serve as district director of Global partners, and part of that is challenging Wesleyan Churches on the district to step out and partner with our churches overseas. And sometimes they remind me of how much there is to do here.
And if we keep going with the story, we read Acts 16:10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
It’s interesting to note that it is here that the narration changes from the third person to the first person. For the first fifteen chapters we read that they were doing this, and they were going there. But now it says, Acts 16:10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
Most commentators feel that this is where Luke, the author of Acts first joined the story.
So what is the, “so what?” here? What do we learn from the story, or is it just a story?
Choosing to Do What Is Best, Doesn’t Mean The Other Is Wrong
Before we were a church, I travelled around the district speaking in churches from Yarmouth to Presque Isle Maine, casting the vision for what Cornerstone would look like and encouraging people to partner with us in prayer and with finances. Someone had to pay my salary along with all the expenses for starting a baby church. Some called it my dog and pony show, but it always involved me describing what this new church would look like.
And by its very definition it was going to be different than other churches on the district.
And sometimes when I would be talking to someone about the music we’d sing and wouldn’t sing, or the fact that from day one there’d be coffee available before, after and even during the service. (that didn’t take into account a global pandemic). I’d be excited about what this new church would look like, and they’d get very defensive about the way their church was doing church.
And I would try to explain that I wasn’t saying that how we were going to do it was how they had to do it. It was just that was how we were going to do it.
But very seldom did that end well. It’s the same today. There are a dozen ways to do one thing, and what is right for us might not be right for the church down the street. We have a different history and we are reaching different people.
This is really hard to understand but there can be different ways to do things. Just because one way is right doesn’t mean the other way is wrong.
When we were building the new church in Truro, we had two guys who were my primary leaders on the project. Gordon Sabine, who taught carpentry at the technical school, and Ron Wallace who was a contractor. And they were as different as chalk and cheese. Well one day we were getting ready to frame up the exterior walls and they couldn’t agree on how to do it.
One of them said they always put the wall together nailing the bottom plate to the bottom of the wall studs and then stood the entire thing up and nailed it to the floor.
The other guy said that he always nailed the plate to the floor first and then stood the remainder of the wall up and toenailed the studs to the plate.
It was just getting ugly, so I suggested that seeing we had four walls we could try it both ways. And we did. What neither one of them accounted for was how big the walls were. They were sixty foot long and twelve foot high. And while it took the entire crew to tilt them up at the end of the day, it took the same amount of time both ways. Two different ways that both worked.
It was after that that I had to separate them and let them work on their own projects because they didn’t play well together. I would say, “Ron you do this, and Gordon you do that and neither of you is allowed to offer suggestions or advice to the other guy.” And the funny thing is they were great friends, just very different in how they did what they did.
Just because Paul and his team were called to Macedonia didn’t mean that everybody was. Some people still had to stay in Asia and make sure everything was going well with the churches and the believers there. Barnabas went to Crete and started churches there, John Mark went to Egypt and started churches there. Tradition tells us that Thomas went to India and started the church there.
Just because God has called you to do something, doesn’t mean he’s called everyone to do that.
One of the challenges of being lead pastor is fielding the number of calls from people that God has given a specific vision to, who feel that Cornerstone should share that vision and passion.
That’s why we adopted a partnership model a number of years ago. This is what God has called us to do, and these are the partners that we have chosen to do that through. And so we when it comes to sponsoring children we only do it through Compassion. And when it comes to humanitarian efforts, we only do that through World Hope. And we only do bible distribution through the Gideons. And we only partner with Global Partners when it comes to sending and supporting missionaries.
That doesn’t mean that other organizations are wrong, they just aren’t right for us.
Personally, while I understand the passion people have for a multitude of different causes and ministries, I just don’t have the bandwidth to feel that passionate about everything. I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to feel passionate about this ministry or that ministry. I’m just saying that’s not what God is speaking to me about. At least not right now. Three years ago I wasn’t passionate about starting a second location in Sackville/Beaver Bank.
And going along with that, Choosing to do What is Best, Doesn’t Mean the Good Won’t Get Done
Paul’s passion had been for the churches and believers in Asia and I’m sure as he prepared to transition to ministry in Macedonia, he must have wondered what would happen to the work in Asia, but that work continued. It just became somebody else’s responsibility.
And the reality that 2000 years later the church in that area is no longer a vibrant viable church isn’t Paul’s fault. He was faithful when he was there.
And that’s tough at times, especially when you have a passion for a particular ministry, and you are called to move on.
The church we pastored in Australia, was a growing dynamic church when we left to plant Cornerstone. Within 10 years it had closed. And that hurt, but the responsibility for it closing wasn’t mine, it was the responsibility of the leadership that was there at the time.
And the fact that it closed doesn’t negate the lives that were touched while we were there.
I had to come to the conclusion in my life and ministry that I don’t have to do it all. That God can and will use other people to do the stuff I can’t do.
And how do you know what it is that God wants you to do? Talk to him and listen to him.
And that happens when we spend time with him, in prayer and reading his word.
Every one of us will come to a place that we have to decide between a good thing or doing a better thing. Which goes back to the what Jesus taught us to pray. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.