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Closed Doors and Open Hearts

Closed Doors and Open Hearts

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Acts 15:36-16:15

Have you ever felt like you hit a dead end? 

I remember getting ready to graduate seminary in 2005. It was my last year of school and everything was lined up perfect. The church I was at wanted to bring me on staff. Amanda was pregnant, and we were expecting our first child. Everything was set to go and I felt like a stud, because everything had gone just the way we planned. That is until it didn’t.

The church had an unexpected change of plans. Doors closed quickly and I had to find a job… quick. I ended up doing sales for a friend’s communications company. What??? It was painful, not because that isn’t a good profession, but why did God call me to seminary only to go into sales. I didn’t need a 3 year masters degree in bible for that!

I remember the CEO sharing his experience in sales and how hard it was to open the door, the car door. I could relate. 

It felt like God had not just closed a door to ministry but closed it and kicked me off the porch. It felt like the end. Would a door open again?

We can go through times in life where it feels like we are at a dead end, as though nothing is happening, maybe that feeling like God has left the building. But it is not always the case. And some things the world says are failures God views in a different light. He redeems those moments. 

We have seen a resilience in the apostles taking the gospel to various cities and people and churches. We see that resilience again today. The world often tells us it is the end of the line. It is not. We are going to see the church and its mission continues despite breakup, failures, closed doors, and sparsely attended church services. God uses all of these for his purposes!

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

1 He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. 6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 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. (Acts 15:36-15 NIV)

  1. Breakups are not THE END. 

 “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.” (Act 15:36 CSB)

We saw last week that some troublers had come into the church, and the church worked through a process of how to deal with this. They wrote a letter to be shared with all the churches on how people in the church (Jews and Gentiles) should get along. Paul and Barnabas now want to go back and visit the church to share the word. 

Paul and Barnabas have been like Kobe Bryant and Shaq. They have been dominating together, seeing churches planted and people come to faith. But here they decide to separate and go different ways. 

They agree to go back and see the people and churches from their first journey together. Both think that is a good idea. But they disagree on who to take. 

39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

Disagreement: n a negative sense sharp argument, provocation, sharp disagreement. 

This provocation they have towards each other is used of the Lord’s provocation toward his people’s rebellion. So it is a serious argument

paroxysm is a violent explosion. a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity.

The LORD uprooted them from their land in His anger, fury, and great wrath, and threw them into another land where they are today.’ (Deu 29:28 CSB)

Barnabas wanted to take John Mark. But Paul does not want to. John Mark had abandoned (apostasized) them in Pamphylia. Apparently Barnabas believes he has been restored. Paul does not think he is “worthy.” And they were risking their lives. You don’t want to go to battle with someone who is going to abandon you.  

They decide to go separate ways. Barnabas takes Mark and sails for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and went north through Syria and Cilicia. They agreed to go different ways. 

Take aways. There are differences: legit, and not minimized. There is agreement in the mission. They are not trying to hurt the other. Both will bear fruit for the kingdom. 

Its OK to have differences with people, believers. It’s OK to go different ways. It’s hard but it is OK. I have gone through this at churches. Some left with bitterness, which wasn’t ideal. But each time I thought, “we are planting a lot of churches, we are sending people out.” We have seen God use persecution to send his people out to plant churches, so he can also use disagreements. His people can differ and still want to be a blessing to each other, and bear fruit for the kingdom. It’s not me against you. 

Paul goes v4 “commended by the grace of God.” One team of two has become two teams of four. That’s multiplication!

Paul and Silas bear fruit. So do Barnabas and Mark. After Shaq and Kobe you get James and Anthony Davis. 

We will see Paul and Barnabas later support each others ministry (1 Cor 9:6). Paul will go on to say that “Mark is very useful to me for ministry” (2 time 4:11).  The church will rejoice in their work. Mark will go on to work with Peter and write the gospel of Mark. Their breakup was not the end. 

  1. Failing is not THE END. 

God has a good purpose for you, and even for your failures. 

Show me a person who has never failed and I’ll show you a person who has never tried anything. 

Mark messed up. He bailed. Abandoned the disciples. Literally apostocised. Fall away. Reject. just abandoned them. Moral failure,  Turned from the faith. 

But time has passed. There has been restoration. He is Barnabas’s first round draft choice to plant churches. Paul does not agree. But what is clear is that Mark got back up on his feet. He repented. He stopped sulking at his failure. He started believing the gospel that messed up people can be saved and impact others. He was faithful. Set an example and all the things leaders are called to. He experienced healing. 

If you have messed up it’s not ok. It’s not ok that you did what you did. But God gives his spirit so that you can change. Get back on your feet. Stop laying around feeling sorry for yourself and blaming others. Own it. And move on. 

Mark is willing to give his all for the gospel and for the church. He is going to share God’s word with these churches. 

Winston Churchill was a nobody until he was 65. Was a failure. 

God has never used a perfect man. Jesus takes failures and makes them his ambassadors. 

Fail a test. Fail a job. Fail a person. Fail God. Failed marriage. Failed parent. Failed friend. Failed disciple. You need grace. And grace is there. It is not the end! It’s a new beginning. 

If we are going to reach people who have failed it is going to be through people who know failures and have overcome. 

  1. Closed Doors are not THE END

Paul and Silas wanted to go into Bythynia, which would allow them to take the Gospel into Asia. Brilliant idea!! But the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. 

How did they know. We are not told. 

-May have been a prophetic word (Silas was a prophet), 

-an edict that did not allow them to pass, 

-a lack of opportunity, 

-belief between them it was not where to go. 

End up going into Europe. The Spirit of Jesus would not let them. Was it wrong for them to want to go there? No, it wasn’t wrong. Jesus said to take to ends of the earth.

Sometimes God has a different plan. One door closes and another opens.  Where there is a closed door there is often a man waving his hands for you to come that direction. You don’t always get a man waving his hand saying come and help. 

Trust God for your closed doors. We are not told that Paul cried or was depressed. He moved on. God chooses our assignments, not us. 

*One sentence on the closed door. Several chapters on the one that opened.* 

The older I get the more I realize I need to trust God with the past more than the future. I have to trust him with decisions that were made and things we did. Regret is a lack of faith applied to the past. Faith sees how God worked in it all. Unbelief only sees the failure. Repent of that. Trust God. Move forward. Don’t let it keep you depressed, despondent. Look how God used it. Don’t allow yourself to be victimized. 

  1. Inconsequential Meetings are not THE END.

Once in Philippi, they looked for a synagogue to attend but there was not one in the city. To have a synagogue there must have been at least ten males. There is not that. And rules were if there was no synagogue then a group would meet for prayer near a stream. They find a small group of women gathering to pray. Is it worth going? 

Speaker today. Will only go if can guarantee so many people. Must charge at least this much. Here are my lists of requirements for me to come and speak to to you… This gathering would meet none of that. 

But while there, one woman named Lydia, dealer in purple cloth. An exotic cloth, a business woman.  

The Lord opened her heart to believe. This is the birth of the church in Philipi. 

Opened her heart: 

-to open completely. Like opening the eyes to see. 

-to open the mind of one, i. e. cause him to understand a thing. 

the ears, the eyes, i. e. 

-to restore or to give hearing, sight. Must be born not of water but Spirit too.

-you need to hear the word with your mind and your heart. Rest in it. Love it. Welcome it. 

To pay attention, to respond to Paul’s message: *to be devoted to*

-to apply oneself to, attach oneself to, hold or cleave to a person or a thing  

There is a response of hearing and following. Devotion. She has an encounter with the living God in a small group prayer by a creek. Nothing greater or more powerful than that.

This is what it looks like to respond to God’s word. This is what conversion is. You believe God ‘s word and you want to apply it to your life, you want to live it out.  Some people sit through messages and it’s like water off a duck’s back. Here and gone. Faith means we want to live by it and understand it.  

This is what it looks like to plant a church. This is what it looks like for the gospel to go forward. Church will do the light shows, the concerts everything else, and God can use that, but often we forget the most basic element. A heart being opened to the reading and teaching of God’s word.

Significance of this opening of the heart. Europe would be Christianized over the next few centuries. Become the Holy Roman Empire. But that nationwide conversion began with a vision of a man in Macedonia, calling Paul to come, so that he could share the gospel with a small group of women, see one whose heart was opened. A church was born a movement began. 

There are cycles of spiritual growth and decline in people and also through history. One person coming to faith changed the course of the pagan land. Now as we see our country become more and more dechurched, our hope is the same that God would open the heart of one person. That he would build the church through conversion. 

Are you praying for this? Are you burdened for this? Followers of Christ can be so consumed with their own preferences, not being recognized, their health, their safety. Believers should be marked by their deep concern for others to come to know Jesus. If I had one prayer that would be answered for our church, it is that people would have their heart opened to God’s word. 

Will you take time for the next 21 days to pray for hearts to be opened to the gospel?

We are doing Discovery Groups because it allows people to read God’s word. We need to pave a road of prayer for these. 

We want to see a movement of people following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, and I believe before that movement happens it is going to take a movement of prayer in which followers of Jesus are longing and praying to see people follow Jesus. Not praying for safety, not praying for bigger buildings, not praying for more YouTube followers, but praying and longing for people to follow Jesus. Heart to be changed. 

Wherever there is an open heart there is an open door. Just someone interested in the Bible, learning more, talking about it. We need to look for opportunities. 

I believe one of our great callings as Christians is to pray for the spiritual condition of hearts. Pray for hearts to be opened. If God answered your prayers is eternity any different, or do you just have more stuff. 

Two guys walking around sharing about Jesus and a woman listens and believers and a continent is changed. 


God redeems everything. Breakups. Closed doors. And gatherings of people too small to be considered a church. God doesn’t call us to do big things, but to have big faith in all we do. We need to be faithful in the small things. And if we are not doing these things who cares how big we are! 

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