Life and Faith: Are You Satisfied?
Have you see the movie The Greatest Showman? We just watched it for our movie night at The Cellar.
It is a fictional story based on some history about PT Barnum. It is basically historical fiction. In the story, Barnum brings together people who are different. Specifically, he creates a lace in society for people who have been cast out of society. And Barnum makes these outcasts the stars of his show. You have to watch it – a beautiful story of grace and acceptance. (Yes, there are problems in the story that we could rant about such as does Barnum essentially use these outcasts to become wealthy himself. Today, I want to focus on one theme of the story – acceptance.
Today’s bible story is about acceptance as well.
We sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.
Paul and Silas left the prison and made their way to Lydia’s house where they encouraged the brothers and sisters. Then they left Philippi. (Acts 16)
From what we know about the ancient world Lydia was a remarkable women. Then again, it’s possible that there were more ladies like Lydia in the ancient world than we know about. How is that possible? Well, because the ancient world saw history through men, not women. So if there were many like Lydia their stories would have easily been overlooked and left out.
The fact that we have stories like this in our Christian scripture tells you the significant place women held within the Jesus movement and the early church.
There are not a ton of details in this story, but there are a few that we really have to pay attention to.
- Lydia is a Gentile God worshipper – since the message is just beginning to spread to gentiles, this is important. How did Lydia come to worship the God of Israel as a Gentile? We don’t know. Was Lydia taught by rabbis and other Jewish teachers? Or was her faith simply compatible with Judaism and so she began to understand her God as the God of Israel? We don’t know.
- Lydia is in Phillipi but from Thyatira. Thyratira was known for it purple dyes. And we know that Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth. Likely she ran a trade business of purple cloth between thyratira and phillipi.
- Lydia appears to be the head of a household. There is no mention of a male, and husband, father, brother or son. Lydia is in charge of her own life, her own business, her own affairs.
- Purple cloth was not a cheap commodity, so likely Lydia was very well off. She was not just a good business woman, she was a wealthy business woman.
These details are great. Yet, what I love most about Lydia is this: she had it all, and yet she long for something deeper than the material things of life. She could have been content to sit back, enjoy life, serve on some non profit boards, play golf, have a glass of wine every evening and be content. But she wasn’t. She didn’t.
Lydia sought after God. She sought after God among people. She listened to great teachers and when she heard a word, she acted on it. Quickly, decisively, and passionately. She heard Paul’s message about Jesus, she made her decision, was baptized and then started serving by opening her home to these strangers who followed Christ.
Honestly, if you and I watched this happening today in our context we would think she is crazy. You don’t give your whole life over to folks you have just met! You don’t just invite strangers to stay with you. It all happens so quickly that we would no doubt question someone who did his today.
Think about it…. your friend who has been kinda quasi religious goes down to the Hindu temple one day and meets some new people, gives her life to their God, goes through this odd reincarnation ritual of dying and rising again, and invites these new strange friends into her home…all in the same day! Your friend has lost it, right? Drank too much of the kool-aid!
My point: Lydia is startlingly decisive and at the end of the day it’s because she has been looking for something more in her faith, in all the beyond this life stuff that really matters.
Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner, professor of theology at Pittsburgh Theological seminary, says it this way:
Unlike so many of us, [Lydia] sees the truth before her and decides what course to take, and it is done.
Lydia is decisive because she is discerning, able to see through the events on the surface to the deeper workings of God’s Spirit. She is discerning because God has opened her heart to a new level of perception. God has given her this ability to perceive because she comes to worship. She comes to worship because she is hungering for something more in life, something beyond the commercial success she has apparently achieved.
She is hungering for something more…
That is what inspires me about Lydia. She isn’t satisfied despite all that she has – more than most women in her day could ever hope to have. She isn’t satisfied. And it’s not about material things…she doesn’t want a bigger car, or a nicer home, or more jewelry, or s fat retirement account or a vs action home or anything material.
In fact, it seems to be the opposite. Her dissatisfaction isn’t about the physical world. It’s about the spiritual world. It’s about her life and what she is doing with it. It’s about what is beyond her life. About her heart and mind and soul. No, Lydia isn’t satisfied. She isn’t satisfied with her faith.
What about you?
On the whole, we Americans seem to never get satisfied with life. We want..
More than one scoop of ice cream
- More clothes
- Better gadgets
- Better food, luxury food
- Bigger, fancier cars
- Bigger, nicer, smarter house
- Another round of golf
- A bigger tv
- A longer vacation
- A shorter commute
- A better job
- A nicer boss
This list could go on and on, right?
But here is what I’ve noticed: so many of us are so unsatisfied with life. But when it comes to things beyond life, we act as if we are totally satisfied. When it comes to our faith, we act as if we have it figure out. We act as if salvation is something we posses and we’re satisfied with that. We got saved and we are good with that. So we stop learning and growing in Christ, we stop going to church and deepening our spiritual walk with other people and serving our community as the body of Christ.
You become satisfied with what you’ve gotten from God and you no longer strive to deepen your understanding and relationship with God. You become satisfied with worshipping by yourself in a car or on the radio and no longer take the time to gather together as a spiritual community to pray together, sing together and listen in to God together. You become satisfied with what You can hear from God and no longer discern the voice of God in community with other people – which if you read the Bible you see how essential the community is to understand the word and will of God.
Instead, you and me – we – need to become dissatisfied with our faith – dissatisfied with where we are in our faith journey. We need to want to go further, learn more, dig deeper, walk further into the kingdom of God. We need to be dissatisfied with our faith – to ask more questions and not be satisfied with trite cliche answers. We need to embrace those honest doubts within us and struggle through them to actually find what is on the other side of doubt. We need to be dissatisfied with our faith – to start being uncomfortable with comfortable conversations, to embrace difficult conversations and taboo topics and allow Christ to speak into our discomfort. We need to be dissatisfied with out faith!
Because when we become satisfied, we begin to lose our way, we begin to die.
Honestl, this is what that movie The Greatest Showman is about.
Every one of the outcasts in the movie – the bearded woman, the tiny person, the dog faced man, the 700 lb man, the African acrobats – everyone of them had accepted their place in society as outcast. They found a way to get by. They weren’t happy. Yet they lived as though they were essentially satisfied with what existence they managed to eek out. Not happy, but satisfied in the sense they were not trying to change anything.
PT Barnum comes to each one of them with a vision of who they are that is beautiful and amazing. He sees their talents and gifts and he envisions a world where they are loved and adored and accepted. And they create this amazing show that inspires people and brings joy to them. You know it as the circus.
So, I wonder if you have become satisfied eeking our an existence? I wonder if you have becomes satisfied in your job, your daily routine, just getting by. Unhappy and Dissatisfied with material things, but living as if you are satisfied with the things that really matter – life and faith.
What if God is looking at you right now….as flawed and imperfect and ugly or ordinary as you may feel.. and what if God is reaching out to you with a vision of who you are that is beautiful and amazing. What if God sees all kinds of talent within you that you cannot see. And what if God is creating a place right now for you to be you, loved and adored and all that you are meant to be.
And what if the only things that stands between you and that life is to open your heart to God and start wanting more…more God, more community, more life, more faith, more of the things that really matter.
Cause when you want more faith, you may just be willing to open your heart and take the steps to get there.