God opens the heart to hear the message

Open heart

Sunday 07/03/22

Message – God opens the heart to hear the message

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God opens the heart to hear the message

Acts 16:1-40,
“(1) He also came to Derbe and to Lystra.

A disciple named Timothy was there, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but whose father was a Greek. (2) The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.

Of course we know the names of Timothy’s mother and grandmother who were themselves devout followers of Christ and godly women. Paul mentions these dear women by name in his second letter to Timothy as he was acting on behalf of Paul among the saints in Ephesus. Timothy was NOT a pastor in Ephesus but rather an Apostolic delegate, representing Paul who sent him there.

This is what Paul said regarding these women…

2Tim 1:5, “I recall your sincere faith that was alive first in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am sure is in you.”

These women had fulfilled one of their most important and high callings in life as women and that is being a light and teacher to their children.

Notice that one of the reasons this was an example of a very successful multi-generational faith was because it was a faith that was ALIVE! It was not just talked about – it was lived and modeled by these women. What a heritage!

I am reminded of another Michael Card song entitled For F.F.B. (which stands in part for Dr. Fred Brown Micahel’s grandfather.

The first chorus of the song goes like this…

Just a simple preacher from the Carolina hills, Born in just the perfect place and time
A gentle loving mountain man, with warm and sparkling eyes

and a face that wrinkled from a constant smile

From you I learned the kind of faith that looks up to the mountains.
In you I saw just what I’d like to be.
Oh, Granddad, I wish you could be here, to tell me what to do

’cause I first saw the light of Christ through you

What brought this wonderful song affectionately to mind were the words he chose to capture his experience which impacted the rest of his life for Christ.

FROM YOU I learned…IN YOU I saw

The song goes on to describe that Michael never even got to know his grandfather well.

What does that tell me?

A life that is lived before someone within your sphere is more powerful than hundreds words or thousands of hours.

Hold onto the words “within your sphere” because I am going to teach you just a little about that in a moment as well.

(3) Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

(4) As they went through the towns, they passed on the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the Gentile believers to obey.

(5) So the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day.

Strengthened in the faith – To confirm one’s faith and establish it by making it stable, firm, strong.

This is part of growing up spiritually and it is to this end that God placed spiritual leaders  in the church.

There is a loose set of statements regarding various levels of spiritual maturity in the scriptures and much of it depends on your relationship to the message preached.

If one is simple minded and only has surface understanding they are infants and easily swayed from the stability of the truth. If however they are mature, they are well rooted in the truth, to the point that their lives reflect the conviction of understanding and embracing the message preached.

The former – meaning those who lack discernment and are therefore easily swayed from the truth are called infants in the faith. The word is sometimes translated as children, but nursing children or infants would be more accurate.

For example, consider Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church.

Eph. 4:11-32, “(11) And He [Jesus] Himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastor-teachers,  (12)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,  (13)  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God

This word knowledge is epignosis and is greater than general or book learned knowledge because it stresses a more thorough participation in the acquiring of that knowledge on the part of the learner.

In the New Testament, it often refers to knowledge which very powerfully influences one’s life. It is a knowledge which lays claim to personal involvement.

This is one of my passions, but it is a passion which requires participation. As a Pastor-teacher, my job and commission from our Chief Shepherd is to equip you to be effective stewards in the kingdom.  This is accomplished, as Paul put it, through the foolishness of the message regarding Jesus preached. What did we just read in Ephesians? Through knowledge of the Son of God. Where is the knowledge acquired? Through those He reveals Himself to who are set forth as energies in the body to establish, strengthen and energize for ministry or Kingdom work.

1Cor. 1:20-25, “(20) Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish?  (21)  For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching.  (22)  For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom,  (23)  but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  (24)  But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (25)  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

But as you can well imagine, if you as the recipient of this grace do not interact with it, it will do you no good. As I teach, your hearts are one of the four soils Jesus taught about. Only if you receive the word, accept it as truth and cherish it above other things will it produce a harvest. This word phrase, “Knowledge of the Son of God” means first knowledge you recieve, then interact with and finally one that takes such root in the heart that it becomes one with the heart and produces change.

So back to Ephesians 4:12…

“(12)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,  (13)  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God

a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.  

(14)  So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.  (15)  But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.  

(16)  From Him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love.  

(17)  So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  (18)  They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts.  (19)  Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  (20)  But you did not learn about Christ like this,  (21)  if indeed you heard about Him and were TAUGHT in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus.  

(22)  You were TAUGHT with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires,  (23)  to be renewed in the spirit of your mind,  (24)  and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.  

(25)  Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, because we are members of one another.  

(26)  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.  (27)  Do not give the devil an opportunity.  (28)  The one who steals must steal no longer; instead he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he will have something to share with the one who has need.  

(29)  You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it would give grace to those who hear.  (30)  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  (31)  You must put away all bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and slanderous talk – indeed all malice.  

(32)  Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

So you can see this is settled, well-established knowledge that claims the actions and behavior of the one who possesses it.

Let me offer one more example, which you are very familiar with. It is found in the very first Psalm and may in fact be what the Spirit used to prompt Jesus with His teaching on the heart soils. It says,

Psalm 1:1-6, “(1) How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers!  

(2)  INSTEAD he finds pleasure in obeying the LORD’s commands; he meditates on his commands day and night.  

(3)  He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he attempts.  

(4)  Not so with the wicked! Instead they are like wind-driven chaff.  

(5)  For this reason the wicked cannot withstand judgment, nor can sinners join the assembly of the godly.  

(6)  Certainly the LORD guards the way of the godly, but the way of the wicked ends in destruction.”

Notice that this blessedness has as much to do with what they DO NOT pay attention to – what they DO NOT involve themselves in as it does what they DO pay attention to and involve themselves in.

Both David and Paul point to the instability of the spiritually wicked and immature. They are easily blown about by the wind. They possess little to no stability.

So Paul and Timothy went back through the cities Paul and Barnabus had first visited when they were first sent out from Antioch – strengthening the faith of the believers BY teaching, preaching and sharing the letter of exhortation from the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem.

Sphere authority

Acts 16…

“(6) They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia.

(7) When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this,

(8) so they passed through Mysia and went down to Troas.

(9) A vision appeared to Paul during the night:

A Macedonian man was standing there urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

(10) After Paul saw the vision, we attempted immediately to go over to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

(11) We put out to sea from Troas and sailed a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, (12) and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia, a Roman colony.

We stayed in this city for some days.

(13) On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began to speak to the women who had assembled there.

(14) A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us.

THE LORD OPENED HER HEART TO RESPOND TO WHAT PAUL WAS SAYING.

(15) After she and her household were baptized, she urged us,

“If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

There is a LOT here.

1st – God rarely gives us more light than we need for the next step.

Notice how clearly Paul did not set out on his journey knowing precisely, in advance, where to go.

This is a pattern with God.

God calls Noah to prepare an Ark for something he had no way of comprehending.

He called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeas and he went not knowing where he was going.

In like manner He led Moses through the wilderness and David during his time of being pursued by Saul.

It isn’t difficult to find examples of God giving only enough light for the next step, but not the whole plan.

This keeps God in control and us in need of constant communion with Him for His leading.

2nd – God leads through an inward witness.

It doesn’t say Paul and Silas spent hours in prayer seeking God for direction – they just went and listened AS they went.

3rd – Just because its there, doesn’t mean God led you

Notice they started to go to a few places and God actually stopped them from going. He FORBID them to preach the good news there!

This is something the modern church knows little of! We are deceived into thinking that the great commission is to be understood as a general order to go anywhere the gospel hasn’t been – yet, other than Barnabus and Mark – these men here were the ONLY known people going out into the world of the Gentiles with the message of Salvation at this point and yet, the Spirit forbade them to go. We are not told why, but Paul indicates in another place that some places are forbidden due to it being another man’s work.

Rom. 15:18-22, “(18) For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed,  (19)  in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God.

So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.  (20)  And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation,  (21)  but as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  (22)  This is the reason I was often hindered from coming to you.”

2Cor. 10:13-18, “(13) But we will not boast beyond certain limits, but will confine our boasting according to the limits of the work to which God has appointed us, that reaches even as far as you.  

(14)  For we were not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach as far as you, because we were the first to reach as far as you with the gospel about Christ.  

(15)  Nor do we boast beyond certain limits in the work done by others, but we hope that as your faith continues to grow, our work may be greatly expanded among you according to our limits,  (16)  so that we may preach the gospel in the regions that lie beyond you, and not boast of work already done in another person’s area.  

(17)  But the one who boasts must boast in the Lord.  (18)  For it is not the person who commends himself who is approved, but the person the Lord commends.”

I will not go any further into this right now, but I do want to connect the dots for you. This has to do with one’s placement in the body and thus their ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 12 we are told that there are 3 branches of stewardship as pertains ministry work in the body.

  1. There are gifts given by the Spirit. – 1Cor. 12:4; 7-11
  2. There are positions of ministry given by the Lord of the Body – Jesus. – 1Cor. 12:5; 12-27
  3. There are PEOPLE who are given TO the body AS gifts by the Father. – 1Cor. 12:6; 28-30

It is in regard to the way in which those offered AS gifts in the body by the Father operate in their ministry positions appointed by Jesus that I am referring.

Paul was an Apostle – appointed as such by the Father, but his ministry was to the Gentiles. Paul told us as much in Romans.

“(13) Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Seeing that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry…” ~ Romans 11:13

Furthermore, though he was called to the Gentiles, he was not called to ALL Gentiles, but certain Gentiles.

It is a matter of biblical historical record that Paul did not preach to Gospel to India, or Africa or Turkey, Russia, the Ukraine or the Orient, yet, he is said to have ran well and finished the corse given him to run.

What does that tell us?

He went where he was called and did not waste his time going where he wasn’t called!

4th – God is the One who opens the hearts and empowers them to listen and comprehend

The passage here in Acts 16 tells us regarding Lydia that…

“THE LORD OPENED HER HEART TO RESPOND TO WHAT PAUL WAS SAYING”

We have seen this in other places – like Cornilius and like the Ethiopian Eunuch – and they all shared this one quality – they were all actively reverent worshippers of God, when God invited them to come to Christ by HEARING & UNDERSTANDING the message preached!

5th – Regarding Lydia

Lydia was a Gentile business woman from Thyatira. As a seller of purple, she was most likely wealthy.

When the passage uses the words, “her household” it either meant her children, her employees or both. That she had no husband is clear – though she may have been widowed or divorced. By using the word “her household” she is being set forth as the head of her house which patently could not be said of a woman who was married if she was a god-fearing woman.

I believe it was the Ethiopic version of this passage that uses the term “her people”, which would indicate workers, but that her faith should extend to and in reality draw all of them in seems unlikely, therefore it is generally understood as her children.

As such, it is ASSUMED, by those who support infant baptism that “her household” not only refers to children, but in particular infants. Since her whole household were baptized this gross and unfounded assumption is used to support their odd belief.

This believe often suggests that baptism replaces circumcision under the new covenant and that therefore, children were symbolically baptized into the church – predisposing them as it were, to become legitimate members of their own choosing when they came of age just like children circumcised into the old covenant might do when they came of age.

However, the idea that baptism is a New Covenant replacement for circumcision is both unfounded and completely anti-grace. Paul who in many places speaks against circumcision never puts forth baptism as its New Covenant replacement where a work is involved in our righteousness. Furthermore Peter tells us that Baptism is the answer of a conscience which has already been made good and clean before God in Christ, not the means of that cleansing!

Acts 16…  Paul and Silas deal with the demonic and the legal

(16) Now as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means.

She brought her owners a great profit by fortune-telling.

(17) She followed behind Paul and us and kept crying out,

“These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”

(18) She continued to do this for many days. But Paul became greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out of her at once.

Notice Paul did not address this immediately. We are not told why and I think the silence in this passage screams caution against making assumed rules regarding how to deal with demons. All we ARE told is that Paul finally responded once his annoyance had been peaked.

Nothing is said of this girl’s conversion – only her loss of demonic influence and possible possession.

I have to say, FAR TOO MUCH could be read into this and turned into doctrine for my comfort. That Paul had this authority is clear or it would not have worked..the question is why?

Yes, all true believers can cast out demons, but this case seems singular in nature in that all of the other demons cast out in scripture are in some way or another connected with the clear or inferred will of the person being delivered. In other words, this is the only case I know of where a person was delivered without wanting it or seeking it.

Even in the case of the Gadarene demoniac [Mark 5:1-20], the man was pleased to be delivered though he didn’t have enough of a mind to request it. Also the young boy who was often thrown into the fire and the water, was delivered by the faith of the father who had parental authority concerning the boy [Mark 9:14-29].

In this case alone, it seems it was done on a person who may not have desired such deliverance – but even this is not known for certain!

(19) But when her owners saw their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.

(20) When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said,

“These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews (21) and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans.”

(22) The crowd joined the attack against them, and the magistrates tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be beaten with rods.

(23) After they had beaten them severely, they threw them into prison and commanded the jailer to guard them securely. (24) Receiving such orders, he threw them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

This was a severe beating. This is NOT like the Jews who would strike the bottom of the feet with a type of small whip terminating in three ends which would not break the skin. A “beating” with this instrument would be painful, but far from deadly or even permanently harmful and if struck 13 times would yield 39 strikes. The Romans however, had no restriction on punishment for non-citizens. Paul and Silas were both citizens, but were presumed to simply be non-Roman Jews and so their punishment was both without a trial and severe.

These beatings caused MUCH damage and many did not survive them. Those who inflicted the punishment were well trained in the art of inflicting as much pain as possible. To be beaten with rods always meant danger and much suffering. To include the word “severely” really speaks to how harsh and terrible this was…yet we see our dear brothers later praising God and praying to Him while shackled in prison.

Evidently even the stocks they were placed in were such that they could hold the legs at very uncomfortable angles.

Acts 16…

“(25) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them.

(26) Suddenly a great earthquake occurred, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. Immediately all the doors flew open, and the bonds of all the prisoners came loose.

Now it is not unnatural to wonder why not do this at the beating – preferably before it started?

Perhaps God would have, had they asked…again, to teach one way or another smacks of knowledge not offered us in this account. Perhaps this was one of those things Jesus was referring to when he told Ananias that He would show Paul what things he MUST suffer for His name’s sake as recorded in Acts 9:13. Truth is I do not know!

If it worked to the furtherance of the Gospel – that is certainly possible. If it worked to the encouragement of the brethren in that city whom they later encouraged before continuing on in their journey, then it is certainly possible. If it had worked, as I know it has, to teach countless future followers of Christ that in certain circumstances it is proper to evoke your national rights in the face of injustice – then it is certainly possible.

Acts 16… The beauty of a heart changed!

“(27) When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, because he assumed the prisoners had escaped.

(28) But Paul called out loudly, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”

(29) Calling for lights, the jailer rushed in and fell down trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas.

(30) Then he brought them outside and asked,

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

(31) They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”

(32) Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him, along with all those who were in his house.

(33) At that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized right away.

(34) The jailer brought them into his house and set food before them, and he rejoiced greatly that he had come to believe in God, together with his entire household.

(35) At daybreak the magistrates sent their police officers, saying, “Release those men.”

(36) The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent orders to release you. So come out now and go in peace.”

Paul asserts his Roman rights in the view of all the people

(37) But Paul said to the police officers, “They had us beaten in public without a proper trial – even though we are Roman citizens – and they threw us in prison. And now they want to send us away secretly? Absolutely not! They themselves must come and escort us out!”

(38) The police officers reported these words to the magistrates. They were frightened when they heard Paul and Silas were Roman citizens (39) and came and apologized to them. After they brought them out, they asked them repeatedly to leave the city.

(40) When they came out of the prison, they entered Lydia’s house, and when they saw the brothers, they encouraged them and then departed.”

This, no doubt, placed the fear of Rome in the minds of many who might want to afflict the church. You can be certain that they were all the more diligent to discover citizenship before taking action in the future!


Blessings!

Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it right...safety in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" that did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keep authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provides teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!