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"Putting out from the harbour at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
"On the Sabbath we left the city and went along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart -- and she believed." Acts 16:11-14 (The Message).
These were the moments that made it worth it all -- all the persecution, all the suffering, all the weariness and hardship were irrelevancies when it came to the joy of leading a soul to Jesus. Lydia was their first convert on European soil. Unlike Jewish women who were by-and-large, nonentities, Lydia was wealthy and influential, a successful business woman and also a thinking woman.
She had turned from the irrational worship of Roman gods to the God of the Jews, one of those in the category of "God-fearers", attached to, but not part of the Jewish religion. She had come to realise that the Jewish faith had something that attracted and satisfied her much more than the pantheon of gods that pandered to human wickedness.
It's no wonder, then, that she was ripe for the picking when Paul and Silas sat down with the women to bring them the full revelation of God in His Son Jesus. All she needed to complete her faith was the good news of what the God of the Jews had done to rescue mankind from the plight it was in through rebellion and sin. It all made sense to her and, without hesitation, she put her faith in the One of whom Paul and Silas spoke.
"After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said, in a surge of hospitality, 'If you're confident that I'm in this with you, and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.' We hesitated but she wouldn't take no for an answer." Acts 16:15 (The Message).
For the good news of Jesus to be authentic, it must produce something more than intellectual assent. You have to put your money where your mouth is. For Paul it meant burying old prejudices and setting aside old taboos. Both Paul and Silas, proud Jewish men, had to drop their attitude to women, and a Gentile woman at that. Lydia wanted to express her gratitude and generosity by opening her home to them.
These are the realities of the new life that Jesus offers to those who put their faith in Him. It's not only about recognising that He is who He says He is, the One who has power and authority above all others, but it's also about entrusting ourselves to Him so that He produces life changes in us so radical that we begin, more and more, to think and act like He does.
These are the fruit of His life and the evidence of our change of allegiance, from self to God, a paradigm shift so powerful that it actually alters the entire core and direction of our lives. No religion can do that. All religion can do is entrench more deeply what is already in us -- every kind of self-driven effort, accomplishment and indulgence that cut us off from God's grace.
Lydia was joined to Christ and, for her, a new life had begun.
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