June 25, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
We wrap up our June sermon series today in which we have been thinking about some important thresholds in the Bible. We looked at the story of Daniel’s friends crossing the threshold of a furnace door and how that willingness to face the heat rather than run from it led to a discovery of God’s presence and power they wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Then we looked at the story of Phoebe crossing the threshold of a boat deck to travel to Rome and carry Paul’s letter to the church there. We consider the power of crossing thresholds of prejudice narrow expectations in order to discover God’s potential within us.
Last week Pastor Jevon…
Today we conclude with the Apostle John’s revelation to the Church of Philadelphia. God says, “See I have set before you an open door that no one is able to shut.” That image is one of the most powerful in life. (for contemporary—it is why we have used doors for this series). There is so much implied in this idea. An open door means there is opportunity. There is newness. Life can be different.
An open door means risk. There is no guarantee of what’s beyond the door.
An open door is a reality. Life is a collection of the doors, the thresholds, we cross. We go to school for the first time. We are apprehensive and uncertain, but we discover that it’s a door to a new world of learning and relationships. We move to a new home and neighborhood and discover the same. We graduate and start new jobs or go to new schools. We get married. We accept promotions or go to new jobs.
One day we die. For Christians we believe that even death is a door. Its an opening to a new beginning. As Peter Pan said, “Death will be the greatest adventure of all!”
Yet doors can be scary. They lack assurances. What if they don’t lead where we hoped they would? All these questions and considerations come into play whenever we face doors. But face them we will. Doors are a part of life.
So in this sermon today I want to consider a number of aspects of going through doors. You may be facing a door of some kind right now. Perhaps it’s a difficult decision. Maybe you are considering a big change. I invite you to write down these ideas and then decide which point is most relative to you at this moment. After we have gone through them, I will offer some thoughts on what to do with the idea that stands out for you.
So let’s begin with this first thought:
Some Doors Have to Be Closed in Order for New Ones to Open.
Our scripture today is taken from the New Revised Standard Version. It says, “I have set before you an open door.”
But a number of other translations say, “I have opened a door for you.” In fact, that’s the more popular translation and it may seem trivial but there’s an important difference. An open door may be open all the time. It’s just thee. But an opened door means at some point it was shut. Someone opened it.
That’s the way many open doors start, as a result of a closed door. Closed doors are never fun, especially when we didn’t do the closing! Another person ended a relationship. An employer discontinued a job. A downturned economy closed an opportunity.
When we aren’t ready for a closed door nothing about it feels right. But God knows that sometimes it takes a shut door in order for us to even consider a different door in life. And the doors God opens no one can shut and the doors God closes, no one can open.
When Martin Luther King Jr graduated from Boston School of Theology he started seeking pastorates in the south. He narrowed his search to two churches: First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. King really wanted to go to Chattanooga. The church was more prestigious and he felt that would be a much better place to launch his career. But they turned him down! They chose someone else.
So King accepted the invitation from Dexter Avenue and within a few months of going there as pastor, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the whites only section of a city bus and was arrested. The local pastors met and chose their newest member to lead their response and thus Martin Luther King Jr became the leader of the civil rights movement.
Sometimes it takes a closed door for us to discover the one God wants us to walk through. Are you facing a closed door today. Maybe this is the one point God would have you hold onto today, that your closed door may actually be the start of God opening a door.
Here’s another point to consider:
Some Doors Open Before We Are Ready. So don’t wait for ready to arrive.
--Moses wasn’t ready to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. He made every excuse he could, but finally accepted and became the Great Deliverer.
--When called Isaiah, he said “But I am a man of unclean lips.” Yet he accepted and became a great prophet.
--Jeremiah said, “I am too young,” but God used him to restore faith in a downtrodden nation.
--Queen Esther told her uncle that the king would never listen to her, but when she went anyway she saved her people.
--Peter asked Jesus to leave him alone because he was a sinful man, but he became the Rock upon which the church was built.
On and on we could go naming people from scripture who were not ready when God opened a door God wanted them to walk through. If we wait to walk through a door until we feel ready, most of all will never walk through the doors God opens. In fact, one way we can tell that God has opened a door is if we feel inadequate to handle what’s on the other side. God calls us to do things that by our effort alone is impossible. If all we ever do in life is what we know we will succeed at doing, we will never do all that much, and we certainly will not require much faith.
God’s promise is to go with us, and if God is with us, our being ready is irrelevant.
Is that a helpful lesson for anyone today? Don’t wait until you feel ready to go through a door?
Let’s look at a third lesson:
Overcome Fear of the Wrong Door.
This is perhaps the issue that causes greatest consternation for most of us when it comes to facing doors, what if we choose the wrong one?
Its like the Game Show, Let’s Make a Deal. They often give contestants
choices of three doors that have different prizes. Two are usually things like a washing machine. But one has a new car. So contestants think, and deliberate, and the audience, who always knows better, yells their choice of doors, making it even more confusing for the contestant. SO they hesitate, and look to the crowd, wring their hands, sweat, because they don’t want the wrong door. And there’s only one right door for a new car. Of course, the funny thing is, if you win a brand new washing machine, you feel like a loser because it wasn’t the car!
Doors have a way of making you feel that there’s only one right one. If you don’t get everything you hoped for behind your door, then you chose wrong. But the truth is God works through all doors. The difference is measuring a door by the blessings it offers versus it offering us what we expect.
When I was in my last semester of college I faced a tough decision over which seminary to go to. I narrowed my choices to three: Duke, Emory and Yale. Yale wasn’t in the picture until they offered me a scholarship worth 50% of tuition. I’ve always felt a lack of academic confidence, so the idea of having a degree from Yale was very appealing. But when I learned that 50% of Yale’s tuition was still more then Duke or Emory at 100%, I took it off the board. Those who know me well, know I can be a little tight when it comes to money. So Duke and Emory looked a lot better after that knowledge.
But getting the choice to two didn’t make things better. I was living under the tyranny of the perfect choice. I felt my whole career hung in the balance of choosing the right seminary. It was starting to eat away at me. Both schools were calling me asking if I had made a choice. Finally, one night I had a dream and felt God say, “I hang out in Durham as much as I do Atlanta.” That was it. I woke up and felt free. God was saying I’ll be with you either place. There’s no wrong door.
So I applied my criteria and chose Emory. When I got there I found my advisor was someone I never heard of, Dr. Fred Craddock. I would learn that he was one of the premier preachers in the English language. His tutelage changed my life.
Is this an important lesson for you? Overcoming fear of the wrong door?
Let’s look at another one:
God Opens Doors that Lead to Significance Rather than Satisfaction.
Notice the Angel Gabriel never told Mary about a cross when he asked her to have a baby. Notice Jesus didn’t tell Paul about being shipwrecked or beaten or put on trial when he called him to be an apostle. Notice God didn’t tell Abraham about facing fearful moments when he said, “Go to a place I will show you.”
Truthfully, that statement to Abraham is really what God says to every person God calls to go through a door. Not here is where it will take you. Not, this is everything you will face. Instead, it is simply “Go to a place I will show you.”
An opened door is about a direction not a destination. It is about choosing to go in a direction we believe God sends us and will lead us. But if satisfaction is our number one goal, we won’t go long in a God-created direction before we second guess the door. Because God chosen paths are often filled with challenges.
One of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible is Matthew where Jesus says,
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:30) We want that to mean that discipleship is easy. But as John Ortberg reminds us, the yoke was the heavy wooden harness put on oxen to keep them working together. It was also a metaphor for teacher’s way of life. Jesus invites us to put on ourselves his life, so that easy means the help Jesus gives us to live this way. As Ortberg says, “Easy doesn’t describe my problems. It describes the strength from beyond myself with which I can carry my problems.” (All the Places to Go, p92)
Is that a needed thought for you today. That a door God opens doesn’t always lead to satisfaction, but it will lead to significance.
And them one final thought:
God Opens Doors That Make Our Lives Useful. God doesn’t open doors for the sake of our ease and comfort.