Live with a Higher Focus
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Revelation 3:7-13 ~ Sunday, Oct 13, 2019
An organization in Montana once offered a bounty of five thousand dollars for every wolf captured alive. Two hunters named Sam and Jed decided to head for the hills and make some money capturing wolves. Day and night they scoured the mountains and forests searching for their valuable prey. Exhausted after three days of hunting without any success, they both fell asleep.
During the night, Sam suddenly woke up to find that he and Jed were surrounded by a pack of fifty wolves, with flaming red eyes and bared teeth, snarling at the two hunters and preparing to pounce. Sam nudged Jed and said, "Hey, wake up! We’re gonna be rich!"
Sometimes when we are surrounded by what appears to be many difficulties, we may in fact be surrounded by many opportunities.
The church at Philadelphia was struggling. That’s how the members of that congregation viewed their situation. They weren’t big in size. They were struggling to fund their budget for ministry. Even more difficult, they were having a hard time doing ministry in their city. Members of the Jewish synagogue in town had made it their mission to wreck the reputation of this congregation by spreading private details about the personal lives of the members of the congregation and misrepresenting what the congregation taught and practiced. In view of all of these challenges, it’s not surprising that they are seriously questioning whether their church will make it much longer!
Notice, though, how Jesus sees their situation: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (v. 8). The congregation thinks its on the verge of closing its doors forever, but Jesus says he’s actually opening a door of ministry opportunity to them that no one can shut!
I believe Jesus is saying something similar to us at Christ the King in Palm Coast. This past year has been a gut check kind of year for our ministry. We were facing our first full fiscal year of principal and interest payments on our campus’ $5.3 million mortgage. Other expenses continued to increase too even as campus enrollment decreased slightly last school year. The bottom line: we were looking at a significant ongoing operating deficit, the kind that causes you to legitimately wonder how long our ministry could keep operating. Thankfully our mortgage lender provided us with relief to the tune of about $120,000 a year, but that relief is intended to be temporary. As we work on charting the path forward for this ministry in consultation with our lender, we are creating forecasts of what the future looks like. We’re not a small church (defined as under 100 people) but we’re not a megachurch (defined as over 1000 people) either. As a congregation we’ve responded with increasing offerings to support this ministry. That is an awesome blessing from our awesome God! But it’s also important that we all understand what it takes to operate this campus currently on an annual basis. When you realize that current giving supports just over 10% of what it takes to operate this campus each year, if our offerings are going to support a greater percentage of what we do on this campus, we have a big challenge in front of us. I believe the challenge reveals a couple of things: 1) it is important that we keep on encouraging each other. Challenges can cause us to get disheartened, to lose our focus, to get down. And 2) We need to work on this together. No one person in our congregation can overcome this challenge. Even if there were one person who could, I’m not sure it would be healthy for us as a body if only one person did! This is something we need to work on together and we’ll come through stronger as a body of believers as we all contribute! One more observation: When people ask about what it will take to build a permanent facility for the elementary school and/or expand into high school education, (because I know these things are near and dear to the hearts of people here at CTK) it’s tempting to feel a lot like the church in Philadelphia. To see ourselves as just a little church with only a “little strength,” a ministry that already faces significant challenges and is up against even larger obstacles and hurdles in order to expand this ministry even further.
For the church in Philadelphia, their greatest temptation was to think that their congregational struggles were a sign of spiritual failure, that because they were small in numbers that they were doing some thing wrong. It would have been easy to think that their challenges were God’s way of trying to tell them to change course and do things different. I think we can understand how they might worry that they weren’t strong enough in numbers, in finances, in influence, in volunteerism to face and rise above the challenges before them.
But the situation doesn’t surprise me. Here’s what I mean: When Jesus opens up opportunities for growth which challenge God’s people to grow: grow in their faith, grow in their cross-centered focus, grow in their ministry commitment, grow in their willingness to work together, as well as grow in their generous support for Gospel ministry, Satan simultaneously spins those growth opportunities into temptations to complaining, selfishness, stinginess, finger-pointing, or simply saying “enough is enough and I’m outta here.” Satan hates God’s people and God’s work with a passion and he will try anything and everything to undermine any and all opportunities for personal spiritual growth as well as growth in the numbers of people connected to Christ and His Kingdom.
Is it accurate to say that Satan has been busy tempting us in all of these ways especially over the last 15 months? How much of the devil’s influence is still infecting our life together as a community of God’s people right now? How much of Satan’s temptations continue to disrupt the unity of this body and our desire to work and witness together for Christ?
Let’s test this: Look around this room. As you look at the people in this room, what do you see? Do see some people who you try to avoid because there has been some hurt that happened in the past? Do you get angry as you look at others because you feel like they did wrong by you or your family members or this ministry? As you look around, do you see people who aren’t doing as much as you? Or you think aren’t giving as much as you? Or maybe you look around and you see some as though they are the cause of the problems this ministry is facing and so their presence here is a real problem for you? If this is what we see when we look at each other, if this is how we act and interact with one another, it’s really not surprising if we also feel like a congregation with only a “little strength.” Because when we hold onto the hurt of the past, when we fixate on things that could have or should have been done differently, when we are tempted to keep on pointing the finger of blame and talking about everything that isn’t right, we’re expending our energy on things that won’t fix or change anything. And if that describes the way things are among us right now, then Satan celebrates because whatever doors of ministry opportunity Jesus opens, we’re so tired from doubting, criticizing, blaming each other that we have little, if any, strength to even think about stepping through a door that Jesus opens!
Let’s go deeper. Why would we want to step through a door of ministry opportunity when it feels like the ones we were told were wide open and in the works, now suddenly seem shut and maybe even locked tight? Even if we want to walk through a new door of ministry opportunity that Jesus holds open to us now, how can we do that together when so much has happened that undermined trust, put a wet blanket on our enthusiasm, maybe even straining our desire to even remain? These questions get to the heart of the matter, and Jesus addresses them by revealing his own heart, paving the path forward for us himself.
Jesus shows us his heart through his life, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. Think about it! Why did Jesus come to this earth? It wasn’t because we had done everything right. It was because we made mistakes. We messed up. We’ve done wrong. How did Jesus respond? He entered the world through the womb of Virgin Mary, not because he was obligated but because he so loved us. Though there are times in life where we knew better, times when we could have done better, even should have done better, yet we chose to do what was unwise, even outright foolish. How did Jesus react? He willingly walked through the door of suffering, to hear the awful accusations, to feel the scourge of the whip, and stand under the sentence of condemnation, not because he was guilty, but because we are. Even now, when we’re assured of God’s grace to us but still struggle to fully extend grace to one another, as God’s unconditional forgiveness is proclaimed to us, yet hesitating to forgive others unless they first meet our requirements, though the perfect Son of God reminds us that he is fully “for” us even as we’re cautious in connecting with one another, slow to step forward and offer ourselves in service to one another, what does Jesus do? He gives up his spirit, collapsing through the doorway of death, so that three days later he can walk out of the doorway of the tomb. And he does it all, to forgive us…again. To work on us, even more. And, yes, to remind us that he still wants us as his co-workers in His Gospel ministry! And that is—as Jesus himself says “a door that no one can shut.”
With Jesus and all he has done for you in view, I want you to look around this room once again. Do things look different to you this time? You’re looking at the same people you looked at before, but are you seeing them in a different light now? Instead of fixating on what you see wrong in their lives, are you seeing them as precious souls for whom Jesus died, just as he did for you? Instead of pointing the finger of blame for what they may have done wrong, do you find yourself thanking God for the forgiveness he showers freely on us all? Instead of reasons to stay away from this person or that person, are you starting to see instead the many reasons Jesus gives for repairing relationships, renewing our love for one another, and recommitting ourselves even more fully and energetically to the door of opportunity that he opens before us now? Jesus opens this door before us! Will you walk through it?
The story is told of a mother who wanted to encourage her young son in his lessons on the piano, so she took him to see one of the great masters: Paderewski in concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.
The boy was a curious youngster and he was so impressed by the concert hall, that he got up and decided to explore a little. Eventually he explored his way through a door marked "NO ADMITTANCE."
When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway grand piano on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently plunking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano. He whispered in the boy’s ear, "Don’t quit ... keep playing!!" Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a counter melody to what the boy was playing. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a potentially disastrous situation into a wonderfully creative experience. And when they had finished playing the audience broke out in thunderous applause.
That story gives me a picture of how Jesus is with each of us. He’s the Master. He doesn’t need any of us. Yet he graciously invites us onto the stage, he calls us to actively serve in his ministry. Maybe we don’t feel like we have the experience, or the resources, or the skill, or the time to do a good job or make an impact. If we were doing this alone, that assessment is spot on. But we’re not in this alone. He comes alongside us and finds a way to turn even our simplest service into a thing of beauty before God. That of itself is amazing. Even more so when you realize that your service isn’t just a duet with you and Jesus. Your Master is also a Conductor, who joins us together as his orchestra. Focus and him and follow his guidance and he figures out how to cause our efforts to work together for the good of his Kingdom. What he leads and directs us to do resounds to the glory of God, at which all of heaven breaks forth in thunderous applause! Yes, this is the door of ministry opportunity that Jesus holds open to us! God work in each of us, God work in all of us, the desire, the excitement, and the commitment to walk through that door, and walk through it together! Amen.