I Stand By the Door
I Stand By the Door by Rev. L. John Gable
September 18, 2016
Last week I shared a message with you based on the beautiful passage from John’s Revelation where we hear the risen Lord saying, “Listen, I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door I will come in and eat with you and you with Me.” As an illustration I used a reference to Holman Hunt’s famous painting “The Light of the World”. During the week Tab member Terra Seidel told me that several months ago she went to visit the chapel where that painting still hangs while at a conference at Oxford University in England. She said when she entered the chapel the door behind her closed and locked, so rather than hearing Jesus standing at the door knocking to get in she had to pound on the door to get out. Not exactly the “take away” I was intending for that sermon, but it makes for a great story.
The image of Jesus knocking is the invitation to faith and discipleship which Christ extends to each and every one of us. It is the invitation to enter into a personal, life-giving, life-changing relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. The focus of last week’s message was that faith is a decision we must make in response to Jesus’ invitation, and that does not happen to us by chance, nor do we inherit it as some kind of a birthright, nor is it something anyone else can do for or give to us. Rather this “opening of the door of our hearts” is the deliberate and necessary act on our part if we are in any way to say, “I am Christian”, a follower of Christ.
However, if you were with us last week, you may remember me saying that this was only the first of two points I wanted to make when I wrote that message. The title of that sermon was “I Stand At the Door”; the title of today’s message is “I Stand By the Door” and I want to focus on the importance of our role in the on-going ministry of invitation in Jesus’ name.
As we read the Gospels we see that Jesus’ message and ministry is framed by two words, “Come” and “Go”, an invitation and a commission. The Gospels open with Jesus’ invitation, “Come, follow Me…Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden…” The Gospels close with Jesus’ Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations…Go and be My witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” The invitation to “come” to Christ is only the first step in the lifelong journey of faith. Once we have “come” to Him we are then told to “go out” with the Good News of salvation that still others may hear and believe. As Oswald Chambers writes, “If you abandon to Jesus and come when Jesus says, ‘Come’, He will continue to say ‘Come’ to others through you. You will go out into life reproducing the echo of Christ’s ‘come’. That is the result of every soul who has abandoned and come to Jesus.”
This is the ministry of invitation and evangelism to which Christ has called each and every one of us who call ourselves Christian. The first step of responding and entering into a personal relationship with Christ is essential, for we cannot give away something we do not have for ourselves; but the second step is critical as well. We must share what we have found with others so that they too may believe and follow, that they too may enter into the abundant life which Christ alone can offer.
However, as we acknowledged last week, it is terribly unfortunate that the word “evangelism” has taken on such a negative connotation as it conjures up images of manipulation, coercion and brow-beating, when in truth it means “to share good news.” How is it that the gracious words of our Lord, such as, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest”, or “I come that they might have life and have it abundantly” have taken on the tone of threat and condemnation, even damnation, by those who in Jesus’ name offer them today?
I have found in talking with people that the real rub, the real difficulty or problem people have with evangelism is not in “what it is”, but in “how it is done”. We use our negative reactions to what we see other people doing as an excuse not to do this vital ministry of invitation ourselves. One of my favorite stories is of the woman who approached the famed evangelist D.L. Moody and said, “I don’t like the way you do evangelism.” Rather than taking offense, Moody simply asked her, “Tell me, Madam, how do you do evangelism?” Somewhat taken aback by his question she replied, “Well, I don’t do evangelism”, to which Moody said, “Well, I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don’t do evangelism.” Friends, rather than rejecting either the word or the task as being not to our liking, we need to reconstruct a way that we can naturally, yet effectively, share our faith with a culture that desperately needs to hear it. Rather than debating it, we simply need to get on with it and do it.
Look again at the model Jesus consistently gives us throughout the Gospels. He invites people, men and women and children, the self-professed religious and the notorious sinners, to follow Him, nothing more and nothing less. He simply stands at the door knocking; not pounding, not shouting, not demanding that He be let in, just patiently and consistently knocking, asking, inviting. Shouldn’t this then be the model we should use in our faith sharing?
If we believe that genuine faith consists of entering in to a personal relationship with Christ, and it is not simply a matter of knowing certain truths about Him or repeating prescribed statements about Him, then it would only seem natural that our ministry of evangelism should consist in establishing caring relationships and friendships with others in Jesus’ name. Such as the story of the man who told how he first came to faith. He spoke of a colleague who “built a bridge of friendship with me and Jesus walked across it.” Friends, that is a ministry assigned not to any pastor or church committee alone, but to each one of us. There are people that you know that I will never know, that you can talk to about Jesus who will never listen to the sound of my voice. I will even go so far as to say that there are some folks who no one else can reach for Christ except you. The Great Commission, “Go and make disciples” is more accurately translated, “Go and in your going, make disciples.” As you go and live your life, at home, at work, in the community, at school, be about the business of building bridges of friendship which allow Christ to walk over.
It used to be that seemingly everyone we knew was already a Christian or already had a church home, whether they were active there or not. Well, things have changed. Recent studies have shown that while 75% of Americans still consider themselves Christians that number is down from 80% just since 2008. 20% of Americans now say they have no religious affiliation at all and that category is increasing every year. While 40% say they go to church weekly, in reality only 20% are actually in church, which means that 80% of Americans are finding other things to do on Sunday mornings. All of this to say, “the fields are indeed white for the harvest.” I recently heard a pastor ask, “What does the average non-churched person in our culture think about the Church? That’s just it! The average non-churched person in our culture does not think about the Church. They think we are irrelevant.” So friends, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Not only for the sake of the Church, but for the sake of Christ and all those who do not yet know Him.
Let me encourage you to think about one person you know who is cut-off from Christ or the fellowship of His Church right now. I’m not asking you to think of them in a judgmental way at all, but rather in a loving, caring and invitational way. As you consider that person, ask yourself, “What could I do to build a bridge of friendship with that person that might allow Christ to cross over?” You don’t have to do it the way anyone else has ever done it, for just as every individual is distinctive and unique, so will be every means of reaching them with the love of Christ.
Where do we do this kind of invitational ministry? Not in here, but out there, we do our disciple making in our going. Take this the way it is intended, but there is always a real danger to us spiritually if we spend too much time in here because we are really needed out there. Years ago, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker, the pastor who helped co-found the AA movement, wrote a piece which speaks beautifully of the “where” of our ministry of evangelism. It is an extended piece, but I didn’t feel I could do it justice if I cut it, so I’ll read it in its entirety. It is titled, “I Stand By the Door.”
“I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which women and men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind beggars,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it…
So I stand by the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for women and men to find that door- the door to God.
The most important thing anyone can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the seeker’s touch.
People die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter-
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it- live because they have not found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it and walk in, and find Him…
So I stand by the door.
Go in great saints, go all the way in-
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And go way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house of God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes I venture in a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening…
So I stand by the door.
There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry.
And people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them they are spoiled for the old life,
They have seen too much;
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do anymore.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are to leaving- preoccupied
with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So, for them, too,
I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in,
But I wish they would not forget how it was before they got in.
Then they would be able to help the people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away from God again.
You can go in too deeply, or stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from the others as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door-
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But –more important for me-
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait for those who seek it.
‘I’d rather be a doorkeeper…’
So I stand by the door.”
Friends, for the past 165 years our ancestors in the faith have stood by the doors we belovedly call “Tab” and now it is our turn, our tour of duty. We have been called to stand by the door, close enough to hear the voice of God and know His presence, but not so far in as to forget about those who are still outside, thousands of them, millions of them, but more important for you and me, one of them, two of them, ten of them, whose hands we are intended to put on the latch which opens the door, individuals to whom we are called to build bridges of friendship so that Christ may walk over.
Gracious God, may this be our invitation to all who pass our doors here at 34th and Central. “To all who are weary and need rest; to all who are lonely and need companionship; to all who mourn and seek comfort; to all who are lost and need to be welcomed home; to all who sin and need a Savior; and to whosoever will come, may this Church open wide its doors”, in, through and for the sake of Christ we pray it. Lord, hear our prayer.