BEHIND THE SCENES WITH LYDIA, THE HOSPITABLE ONE
This is Paul again. Does anyone even remember Pastor Zahn? I want to talk to you about one of my favorite places. I am sure that many of you can probably reminisce a bit about a favorite or memorable place that you have. I was never married, never meant to be married, but I think many couples are like Pastor and Mrs Zahn. They reminisce.
Pastor Zahn really has a gem there for a wife. She is beautiful both inside and out. You probably don’t know this, but I have been a guest in their home for thirty seven years. They said that the place where they spent their honeymoon was very special. It was in the province…errrrr…. or state of Wisconsin. They said that their first daughter was a honeymoon baby. So where did they spend their honeymoon? They said at a cottage on a lake. Sounds nice and romantic, doesn’t it? Do you know where? Get this! In a town called Luck! Luck, Wisconsin! That is memorable, isn’t it?
Seriously, for me a place that was particularly memorable and had a special place in my heart was the city of Philippi. There were some real special people of God there. There I met the first convert to Christ in Europe. Her name was Lydia, a wonderful servant of God, the hospitable one.
I met Lydia on the second missionary journey at Philippi. Remember that Barnabas and I planned to go together on a second missionary journey after the blessings of the first journey. But we had a huge disagreement over his cousin John Mark. John Mark deserted us on the first. Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. I guess I didn’t want to take the risk. Too much was at stake. We were going to tough areas. We didn’t need to risk dealing with someone who had cold feet. So Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus; I took Silas and went to Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and Antioch of Pisidia. These were cities where God established Christian congregations on our first missionary journey. There isn’t a map, but what is more important is the lesson learned.
I had plans but there is something we always need to remember – God gets the last word. After visiting the territory we already had covered, I had a plan to continue. I wanted to go into the territory that would lead to the great metropolis of Ephesus. You know what? God prevented us from going there. Then I wanted to go to the province of Mysia. You know what? God prevented us from going there. I wanted to go to Bithynia. You know what? Yes, ditto!
Let me say this as some divine advice that was shown to me. God wants us to plan and think about what we are doing and will do. The good Lord says in the Proverbs, “The prudent give thought to their steps.” The things we say and do should be done with thought. Don’t live as if you are ready to bounce of one wall to another on a daily basis. Yet the Proverbs also says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
Finally all our plans are subject to the Heavenly Boss. “The Lord’s purpose prevails.” I thought it was good idea that we would go to Ephesus (which we did but a couple of years later), and Mysia and Bithynia, but God had other ideas. How important it is to pray in uncertain things “If it is your will,” and then accept the plans of the Lord.
How did I know that God wanted me to do something else? He revealed it to me in a vision. I saw a man from Macedonia calling out in unmistakable words “Come over to help us.” God gave me the information via a vision. I can’t promise that you will give a vision or a dream. Many times God gives you the instruction right under your nose in the Word. It might not say exactly “do this” or “do that” directly, but God does speak to good or bad motives you might have for doing what you want to do. Maybe they are wrong. You know what else? God teaches us from mistakes we do. The result might be disappointing to us in the short run but good for us and his church in the long.
God wanted us to take the news of the Risen Christ to Europe, specifically to Macedon. God even strengthened our team to do so. We picked up Timothy in Lystra and Luke in Troas. From Troas we sailed to the port city of Neapolis on the island of Samothrace. Our goal was to get to Philippi. We hoofed it nine miles west and had to climb a steep mountain ridge and saw the city below. We could see the Via Egnatia. That was the Roman Empire’s version of I-75. Philippi was a center of commerce and trade. The Lord guided us there. He had big plans for us.
Isn’t that the truth too when it comes to God’s children! “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” We are where God wants us to be, so don’t complain about it. Bloom where you are planted. Make the best of it! Hey, we got put in prison in Philippi and from there a jailor and his family became part of the body of Christ. So wherever you are, look around to see how God can use you.
We had a challenge when got to Philippi. Our usual way of doing mission work was to go the synagogues in each city. A synagogue needed at least ten men to start it. We found out that the Jewish population in Philippi was very small. We had reason to believe that a group of worshippers gathered on the Sabbath Day at the GangitesRiver, west of the city. Luke was there and wrote about the experience. I will quote him, “We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.”
They had gathered to worship. God doesn’t need a building to worship in, does he? God is not confined to the walls of a building. God the Holy Spirit is as powerful in the open air as he is in a beautiful building like this. But I will say this that a temple makes things easier. We aren’t slapping bugs in here. A building does give witness to a community that God’s people are present and active. Count that a blessing.
Why did we usually go to the synagogue first? I hope that is obvious. They knew about the Lord Jehovah. They knew their tie to the nation of Israel and God’s special treatment of them. They had Moses and prophets. They had God’s Law and Gospel. I was there to help them connect the dots and understand.
I was the perfect one to speak about this. I had walked in their shoes. I spent many years mistaken and not understanding Moses and the prophets. I was obsessed by trying to keep Gods law to get to heaven. I believed I was doing a terrific job so I could earn a place in heaven. I thought for sure that God would look at me and say at Heaven’s gates, “What a good life you lived! Everyone should be like he did!” Was I ever wrong!
God’s law is summarized in one word “love.” I spent time my time hating. I hated Jesus. I hated Jesus’ people. I hated people who didn’t live as dedicated as I was. The only person I loved was me. I was my own God. God said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.” God’s Law said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I had no idea who my neighbor is. My neighbor is you and you and you and you. My neighbor is even my enemy. Yes, I was to love my enemy. God let me know I was wrong. God also let me know that in Jesus, the one I persecuted, I was forgiven.
That’s what Messiah was to do. That’s what Jesus, the Messiah did. “For the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all,” The Lord sentenced him to pay the wages of sin, namely death. God raised him from the dead three day later to show the payment was NOT lacking but complete.
I hope the message of sin and God’s forgiveness hits home with you as it did for Lydia that day. She was a business woman, single. She sold purple cloth. Someone told me that the purple dye was extraordinary. It came from a sea snail. The dye was so powerful that it never faded. She was originally from Thyratira. She came a long way to live in Philippi, probably for business reasons.
But how true Luke was when he said, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to my message.” I can’t take credit for being a great preacher. Nor can she take credit for making the decision to follow Jesus. This was all grace. “The Lord opened her heart.” Hey, never say, “I found the Lord” rather say, “The Lord found me.” God had her in mind and chose her and her family to be her own. That’s why I was sent to Philippi and for all the other who came to know Jesus.
Here you are today to know the same thing. I have seen many of you every week I have been here. The reason you are here is because God opened your hearts too. Lydia had her whole family baptized. Can’t remember exactly how many that included but the robes of Jesus righteousness covered their sin and they were connected to God’s church by the Holy Spirit’s power and might. When you get to heaven, you can say, “Hey I heard about you!”
She really showed how much she loved Jesus by loving us. She took a huge burden off our shoulders. She said, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” She helped us do mission work. While the Lord opened her heart to know Jesus, in love she opened her home to us. She practiced some great hospitality. She put a roof over our heads, she provided meals to fill our stomachs; she gave us beds to sleep in. There was an old Jewish proverb that went like this: “Hospitality is one form of worship.” We worship God when we love the people he created.
Lydia practiced hospitality. I did a little research on that word. Isn’t it interesting that hospital is a major part of that word ‘hospitality.’ Going back to my time, pilgrims and business people fared pretty poorly when venturing away from home. About the fifth century religious leaders established guest houses called hospices. “Hospes” was Latin for ‘guest.’ Later during the Crusades hospices were very important to take care of travelers. After the crusades, however, the religious orders took care of the sick and poor and handicapped. They became hospitals.
I just know when Silas, Timothy, Luke and me needed a place to stay, a God-loving and God fearing woman practiced hospitality. She went way out of her way to feed and care for us. She went out of the way and showed the love of Jesus.
Don’t expect others to always show hospitality to you. Expect yourself to show hospitality to others. According to Pastor Zahn, one of the most successful missionaries in the country of China practiced hospitality evangelism. He built a house in China that looked like it came from England. Among other things he had English conveniences never seen by the Chinese. He had a kitchen stove, sewing machine and even an organ in his house. He and his wife invited people to see it. He gave a brief presentation of the Gospel and then people got to see the house. In a five month period 25,000 people from all around came to see the house. When he went into the streets of the city to share Jesus, people came to him and said they had visited the house and allowed him to speak. Often they brought out chairs and a table to put his Bible on.
Let me wonder aloud. What would happen if you invited a family who lived near you to your house who doesn’t love Jesus? I wonder what would happen if you invited them into your home and they saw the crosses on your walls or the prayers that are framed hanging there. I wonder if your obvious kindness would compel them to ask, “What makes you so nice?” I wonder what would happen if they heard from your lips, “Because Jesus loves you, I love you too.”