When God Closes A Door

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A friend was sharing with me that his church, for all the best of reasons, bought themselves an expensive security system in order to keep thieves and vandals out of their building. Trouble was, the security system also secured the church building against the intrusions of the congregation! Congregation members were reluctant to enter the building to arrange the flowers, or to prepare for a Sunday school lesson, or to meet for a Bible study, for fear of tripping the security system. This suggests to me that the great challenge of big locks is to be sure that you are not imprisoning yourself, while trying to lock out the criminals!

The Risen Christ moved through closed doors in order to get close to his disciples. The power of the resurrection is a promise that there is no force on earth, including the forces of our own doubts and unfaithfulness that can keep the Risen Christ from us. The predominate response to the resurrected Christ, at least among his closest followers, is fear. We fear the new life and demanding discipleship that he brings us in his resurrection. Yet the good news is that he comes to us, he breaks down our locked doors and shows himself to us, empowers us and sends us forth.

As a pastor my greatest challenge is looking into the eyes of new Christians and seeing them simply shut down. They had failed so often in life, had experienced so often the door slamming in their faces, that they had withdrawn; they had locked the door and thrown away the key, so to speak. Paul writes, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Our greatest struggle as people of faith is learning that God closes one door and opens another door for us. We walk by faith; therefore, it is not always easy to know when God is closing a door, nor when He is opening a door. This often occurs in an inaudible way, without burning bushes, or lighting bolts. We like the security of the known, so we want to remain behind our present door. The unknown bothers us, so it is difficult to go through the open door.

People at my age close doors more slowly. The longer we live the more we learn to be careful upon closing a door. Be careful when we slam the door in someone’s face saying, “I’m done with you! It’s over!” True, part of growing up, becoming wise, is learning when to close a door. Sometimes we keep coming back again and again, going over the same old script, trying to make the unworkable work. It is wisdom to know when to close the door firmly and move on into another room. We have got to know when to risk and put down our bet, and we’ve got to know when to fold, when to cut our losses, and close the door on the game.

When the door is closing and the new door is opening, we will struggle. We will go through a season of prayer. We will seek the advice and counsel of people we respect and feel have more wisdom than us. We will sit in the silence and wait.

When God is closing one door and opening a new door, we know this is going to lead to something better. Thomas Carlyle wrote; “When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.” When that tree falls (that door closes) in silence hundreds of acorns are planted in the forest (the new door opens).

It Is All About Jesus

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The men of Hillside have been in a comparative study of the difference between Christianity and Islam for several months. It has really stimulated the discussion, illuminated the differences, and raised a lot of questions.

Last Tuesday night our Disciples Men were invited to the Islamic Society of Wichita. The mosque is located up on 34th Street North. We were able to tour their building and school, sit in on a worship service (5th prayer of the day), watch two videos about the history, and ask questions.

It was obvious that several of our men went with questions about al-Qaeda and ISIS and wanted to know the society’s feelings on these groups. The general feeling was that the issue wasn’t Islamic, it was about terrorism. It is so difficult for some people to be able to make the distinction. Religious groups (including Christianity) are always being hijacked for some terroristic act.

It was interesting to watch the videos and to listen to the question and answers. It was interesting to hear history recounted from the side of Ishmael rather than Isaac. Many of the slight changes in the Old Testament stories, you and I would probably debate. All sounded well and somewhat pallatable to Christians, until we come to Jesus. It is at this point our roads radically change directions.

I can’t be satisfied with Jesus just being a prophet. Prophets can’t forgive sin. Prophets can’t grant salvation. Prophets can’t get me into Heaven. God can. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it….He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him….The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1NIV)

It is this one fact that separates us from all others. We believe in Christ. This Jesus we worship is God! I think Paul said it best, And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:8 NIV)

Can I Share A Pew With You?

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In the collection plate came a note. It was on one of our pew cards and written in pencil on the blank side. The note said that they were visiting our worship service that morning. They had come into the sanctuary and sat down, apparently what happened next is the horror of any minister; they were asked to move because they were sitting in someone’s spot.

We don’t have assigned seats in the sanctuary. Yes, we have a large number of people who generally sit in the same location, Sunday after Sunday. We even tease them about having their assigned places. But does anyone take that seriously? Apparently they do!

My mind races back to the days when a little white haired lady (Agnus) was alive and active in our congregation. One Sunday upon arriving at worship she made her way down the aisle to her usual seat. A couple (first time visitors) were sitting in the pew. Agnus stood at the end of the pew looking at the couple. Yes, Agnus was pretty set in her ways. The man looked up and said, “Oh, are we sitting in your seat?” Agnus said, “Yes. That has been my spot ever since this sanctuary was built. I don’t plan to sit anywhere else.”

First, that is just bad manners. Second, it is laying claim to something that really isn’t ours to claim. The building belongs to the congregation, not any one individual. Third, it is highly insensitive to visitors and members, alike. Lastly, Christianity is about sharing, not taking, even the pew.

Since the note was unsigned, I have no way of knowing who the visitor may have been. If I knew, I would certainly apologize for the inappropriate and certainly un-Christian behavior of my fellow congregant.

911 Was Only The Start

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I remember 9/11 as if it was yesterday. I stood glued in front of the TV and even watched live as the second plane hit the towers. What at first seemed a horrible accident immediately turned to terror.

Like everyone else, I struggled with what had just happened. It didn’t matter at this point what I had planned to preach the next Sunday, it needed to be changed. It was understandable that everyone was confused, hurting, angry and wanted justice. All of the innocent lives lost called for justice to be done. However, I was disturbed by the rhetoric of war. It came so quickly, so loudly, and wanted an immediate response.

Do you remember that sermon the following Sunday? I do. I had a lot of people to tell me I was wrong. I had some who were very angry. I had some members planning to leave the church. Why? Because I preached to wait, to talk and to find a peaceful solution if possible. To stop using the rhetoric of war so freely. But we were a populace that were hell bent on flexing our might and getting revenge. Here we are, thirteen years later, thousands of lives lost, and we are no closer to resolving the problem.

There were a few that day that said good sermon or timely sermon. I am sure some were real, but others only trying to be nice. But one remark stood out above all others. It was from the late Isabel Gates (mother of Bob Gates who would later become the Secretary of Defense) who looked up at me and said, “That sermon should be required reading of every President.” Her words gave me the courage to go on. Thirteen years later I can say, the sermon I preached was on target!

Sometimes we fear standing for the truth and what is right. It is not easy going against the majority and especially when that majority employs you. It doesn’t mean that you will always get it right – I have been wrong too. What it does tell me is that God is at work in all of our lives and even in this messed up world we live in. It tells me that God doesn’t have the same time frame that you and I run on. There is a lot more power in turning the other cheek and being servant of all than most Christians realize. But it also calls us at times to stand up for the innocent and helpless. God have mercy on those who kill, steal, and pillage the innocent in the name of God, for His vengeance will be awful.