"An Opening"

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MARCH 4th, 2018                                                                 PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints Acts 15:36-16:5; 6-15

"AN OPENING"

Much has happened since we last gathered. The circumcision confusion has been resolved, an encouraging letter explaining it has been drafted, and Paul and Barnabas are ready to hit the road again. All is well in Christendom once more! But wait — no — our beloved heroes of the faith are having a bit of a tiff! Barnabas wants to bring John Mark again as their assistant but Paul adamently disagrees. The young whipper-snapper abandoned ship before it barely got started, Paul argues.

However, there's evidence that there's more to it than that! Their tiff may have looked like this:

Calvin:            Whaddaya Mean kids can't go out in public?! At least kids don't have fleas!

Hobbes:           That's only because fleas can't stand the way kids smell!

Calvin:            By golly, you're asking for a snowball in the mouth!

Hobbes:           You can't threaten me! I've got snowballs too! (PIFF/PAFF/POOF/PEFF/PUFF)! You know, maybe we don't need enemies.

Calvin:            Yeah, best friends are about all I can take.             (—Jungle Cat, p.48)

Even best friends some times have trouble getting along...! Okay, maybe it didn't look quite like that, but by cross-referencing Paul's recent letter to the Galatians we discover Paul had other issues with Barnabas than his choice for an assistant. As Paul writes: "other Jewish believers followed Peter's

hypocrisy, even Barnabas was led astray..."           (Galatians 2:13)

So it is that Paul and Barnabas have a falling out. When the dust settles, Barnabas and Mark set sail for Cyprus, while Paul and Silas hit the road for Galatia. So their tiff results in not one but two mission trips. It would seem, that nothing gets wasted in the kingdom of God!

The stoning of Stephen led to the scattering of believers and the spread of the gospel, Saul's trip to arrest Christians in Damascus led to Paul's conversion and now his tiff with Barnabas has led to the doubling of their missionary efforts. God loves to turn the tables on the schemes of the enemy!

Not only that by Paul's parting with Barnabas launches not one but three more Kingdom players into action — the first of which is Silas of Jerusalem. He is introduced as "being a prophet, who had spoken at length to the believers (in Antioch), encouraging and strengthening their faith."

(Acts 15:32)

Silas will be Paul's right hand man throughout his second mission trip. He will come to be known as courageous Silas — beaten alongside Paul in Ephesus, singing with him in chains in Philippi and proclaiming the gospel of Christ together wherever the Spirit sends them. And look where the Spirit sends them — right back where Paul had been brutalized before — retracing his steps backwards from his first mission trip. Taking the Via Sabaste..., they travel thru Syria and then Cilicia, passing through Paul's hometown in Tarsus, and then on to the churches Paul planted in Derbe, then Lystra, then up to Iconium, before returning to Antioch of Pisidia. In each place they read the letter from the Jerusalem council, "and the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew in numbers."

(Acts 16:5)

Along the way, they recruit another traveling buddy — young Timothy. Rememer him? He came to faith during Paul's first mission trip to Lystra. God used Paul to change his mind with persuasive words, loving deeds & clear demonstrations of God's power! This is the same Timothy, for whom two letters are addressed in the New Testament in which Paul writes: "Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you...giving you the spirit of power, love & self-discipline." (2 Tim. 1:6-7) There Paul affectionately refers to Timothy as his son - his protege'.

 

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Ever since Paul laid his hands on Timothy and he was filled with the Holy Spirit Tim's mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, have been discipling him in the faith. But God still has one more traveling buddy to add to this mission team, changing it from a terrific trio to a formidable foursome!

The fourth enters the adventure inconeudo! His entrance is so subtle that he's never even men­tioned by name. You can find him only by listening for the narrative to shift to the third person plural: "They went on thru Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him, 'come over to Macedonia and help us!' So decided to leave for Mace-

donia at once, having realized that God was calling in to preach there! "          (Acts 16:8-10)

So Paul picks up another traveling buddy in the seaport of Troas evident in Luke's abrupt shift to the third person plural — from they went to Troas to we decided to leave...! Welcome Dr. Luke!

They're the original Fantastic Four, only they're not superheroes, they're ordinary men relying on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again they get redirected, learning to dis­tinguish between their desires and those of the Spirit, and the Spirit was sending them to Greece! * !

So it is that they arrive in Philippi — a Roman colony and hub of northern Macedonia in Greece. The city was named after King Phillip, the father of Alexander the Great, and its ruins are an archeolo­gist's paradise! Fil never forget our day there made priceless as had the place nearly to ourselves...!

Just as Luke describes, we went a little way outside the city to a nearby riverbank,(Acts 16:13), where a monument and little church are dedicated to a most remarkable woman, Lydia of Thyatira.

Luke tells us that "she was a worshipper of God", (Acts 16:14) a title that infers that she is a Gentile, worshipping with the Jews in her area. Luke tells us that she is a woman of means, running her own business, a lucrative enterprise selling expensive dyed silk & cloth. She owns her own home and has brought along other women from her household there to the riverbank to worship Yahweh.

Lydia is an amazing woman, but it's not her prestige or financial savvy that gets her name in print, but her bold and courageous faith. As Mother Teresa put it: "We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful" (Mother Teresa) — and faith is precisely what sets Lydia apart! She's not only the first woman in her town to embrace Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she's the first person in all of Europe! Her entire household is baptized along with her and the church in Philippi is born!

As Claudia & I sat on that riverbank cooling our feet in the waters in which Lydia was baptized I marveled at the wonder of it all. Through Lydia, the Holy Spirit began a chain reaction that led to my own baptism & the resurrection rejuvenation that continues to sweep me off my feet! I was filled again!

In verse 14 Luke shares with us the pivotal moment that led to Lydia's bold new faith: "The Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying." (16:14) The expression Luke uses here is an echo of one found at the end of his gospel. Two of Jesus' disciples are heading to Emmaus when Jesus, risen from the dead, breaks bread with them. "Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized (Jesus). They said to each other, 'Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us?'

(Luke 24:31-32)

The reference there is to their eyes but the verb and the verb tense are identical, and the impact is the same — opened hearts, burning in new recognition - and the next thing we know, "She's being baptized along with other members of her household..." (Acts 16:15)...in the waters of rejuvenation!

 

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Lydia was a woman of incredible courage, running her own business in a male-dominated soci­ety! But as impressive as that was it is not why her name is recorded in history's most holiest of books. No, the reason Lydia is known to us by name is because the Lord opened her heart...and she her home! Apparently, her heart had been closed — perhaps grieving the loss of her husband...

So how did her life come to be catapulted into one of eternal significance? It happened because Lydia's worship and prayer life put her in a place where her heart could be opened. She was a Gentile worshipping with Jews because she knew there was more to life...!

In the film, The Shack, Mack is a man with a wounded, angry heart. Estranged from his father, and grieving the loss of his daughter, Mack is man adrift. He's drowning in anger. The condition of his heart and soul is depicted in a scene where he's in a boat sinking in the muck of his own making:

[dvd clip from the film, The Shack; 1:13:30 — 1:16:251

Looking at Jesus, his heart is opened, prompting him to let go of his anger, and leading him to a

cosmic shift...            [dvd clip from the film, The Shack; 1:30:30 — 1:31:00; 1:32:30 — 1:34:45]

It always works better when we do life together with Jesus by our side. ...Catherine Marshall: "The search for God begins at the point of need Most feel this need either because of some problem which we have no answer to or because of a nagging awareness we should be getting more out of life."

(Catherine Marshall)

That's how God engaged a number of us at the Alpha retreat — at our point of need. Longings were met, inner walls crumbled, hearts were opened and as a result, tears flowed. So it was with Lydia. We're not told what Paul and his traveling buddies said, but we can guess. Something tho' connected —perhaps with her longing for deeper meaning, maybe it was Paul's vision that moved her — he told them that a man from her country appeared to him and pleaded with him, "We need your help!" - or maybe it was Timothy's Spirit-filled conversion..., or the realization that her husband's death was not due to God's anger or lack of love..., but whatever it was, a wall crumbled and her heart melted...and opened.

As God promised thru the prophet Ezekiel: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart offlesh, and I will put my Spirit in you!"

(Ezekiel 11:19)

Jesus is still on the scene doing open heart surgery to ignite our faith where it has flat lined, to reveal that there's more to life than what we've settled for, by saving us from ourselves.

What made Lydia extraordinary was her bold willingness to bring Jesus mission into her home, which was possible because Lydia's worship and prayer life put her in a place where her heart could be opened. As Paul would later write to Timothy: "Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you . For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline: Never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord With the strength God gives you be ready to suffer for the sake of the Good News, for God saved us and called us to live a holy life... " (2 Timothy 1:6-9)

Maybe God has sent someone to you...maybe he's sending you...that hearts may be opened!

Let's pray: Set us on fire, Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, and fill us with your love...! Give us strength and courage to live lives that honor you! Open the eyes of my heart, Lord — I want to see you! Join me in praying that.... Pray it....as we sing it! Open me up, Lord.