Monday, 27 December 2010

The Door of Opportunity

Rev 3.2 says that Jesus has the key of David; the authority to open and close doors. He then goes on to tell the church at Philedelphia that He has set before them an open door. Paul uses similar language when he speaks to the Corinthian church; 1Cor 16.9 For a great and effective door has been opened to me and there are many adversaries.

I call this the door of opportunity. They rely on a number of unique things coming together. The first is timing. Most opportunities are time sensitive. They are not there forever. At some point a decision must be made. To procrastinate can often mean the opportunity is lost and we are left with a horrible feeling of regret. To quote Shakespeare;

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
(Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3)

It's a powerful metaphor. Ships can only sail with a high tide. To miss the tide is to miss the opportunity. Fortunately for ships tides return. There is another opportunity, albeit on another day. But life doesn't always present us with another chance. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they had missed the hour of their visitation. The door of opportunity was closing on them. They had missed their time to recieve the Saviour, Luke 19.41-44. (A final opportunity will come at the end of the age, but they must wait for it and be provoked to jelousy by a triumphant church that lives in the fulness of the blessing that naturally belongs to the children of Abraham, Rom 11.11,25-27).

This leads on to another issue. Opportunities need to be discerned. The nation of Israel did not take the opportunity because they did not see it. They were blind to it. Most doors of opportunity need to be spiritually discerned. Simon Cowell is reportedly one of the most famous people alive today. He is known for many achievements; The X Factor; Britain's got Talent; American Idol; as well as being a successful television and record producer. But he is also known as the man who refused to sign up 'The Spice Girls'. A Missed opportunity in a field he is normally good at.

Think of Jesus in John 4. Scripture records that He 'needed to go through Samaria' John 4.4. This route was not the normal road taken by Jews travelling to the Holy City. The antipathy between Jews and Samaritans meant that most Jews avoided this road. Instead they took a longer more circuitous route to avoid any contact with a Samaritan. But Jesus breaks with tradition and taboo and takes the shorter more direct route. This led to His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. An encounter that led to the salvation of an entire village. An encounter that shocked His disciples and changed the destiny of a community, John 4.39-42.

Notice how Jesus challenges the thinking of His disciples; "Do you not say 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest?', Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest", John 4.35. He is inviting them to 'see' more clearly; to discern what God is up to and to walk through the door of opportunity.

Doors of opportunity also require some risk taking on our part. Think of Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1Sam 14. They were outnumbered by the enemy Philistines; two against an entire garrison. But Jonathan saw a door of opportunity. He knew that the issue was not about numbers. "For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few", 1Sam 14.6. The real issue was discerning God's favour to breakthrough and defeat the enemy. He asked the Lord for a simple encouragement by the way the Philistines would respond to his challenge. He got the answer he was looking for and these two men defeated their enemies.

It is a great credit to Jonathan's armour bearer that he followed him in this venture. Jonathan saw the opportunity and his armou bearer trusted his judgement. At the end of the day that is what leadership is all about; people trusting your judgement. That's why you need to get it right consistently. It builds trust. It builds confidence. It establishes your leadership track record. Everyone can forgive a few missed calls but they must be few. Then people will willingly follow. We lead out of discernment, not position.

Doors of opportunity sometimes come dressed as a Goliath; big, intimidating, loud and mocking. But faith allows us to go beyond this to see and experience victory. Another feature about doors of opportunity is that they are usually seen and pursued by those who have a pioneer spirit; people who like to push the boundaries; who are not content to live with the status quo but long to see change and advancement. Jonathan was such a man and his armour bearer recognised this and followed him.

I believe that every day the Lord has doors of opportunity for His church to walk through. Doors that need faith on our part. Doors that can only be seen by the discerning eye. Doors that require us to strike while the iron is hot. Doors that pioneers point out to us and we do well to follow their lead. But Paul also said that with this door of opportunity there were also many adversaries. In the Western world the church may not yet experience the persecution that was a regular part of Paul's ministry but there are other adversaries, no less intimidating to pioneers.

The first adversary is the power of unbelief. It is generated through negative confession. Remember Joshua and Caleb who were the only two spy's that brought their confession into line with God's promise to take the land. The other spies brought an 'bad report', Num 13.32 and it discouraged the heart of the people. Unbelief spread like a virus and the whole nation was affected. It robbed the whole nation of the opportunity to posses the land for forty years, Num 13.26-14.10,22-24.

Be careful what you say and what you hear. Words are powerful. They either build or destroy faith and faith is essential if we are to dare to risk going through a door of opportunity. Our western world view has developed a strong scepticism towards the miraculous. We've even written it into some of our theologies. It's called cessationism. It claims that spiritual gifts and miraculous healings should not be expected by the ordinary Christian today. It was there to establish the early church and then passed away with the death of the first apostles.

But God's word is true for all generations. He doesn't change. With the outpouring of the Spirit is the ongoing promise of His gifts and power. It is, after all, described in the book of Hebrews as a 'better' covenant. How can healing and the miraculous be part of the old and part of the early church, but not part of our inheritance today? This view doesn't come from an honest reading of the Bible. It is a theological imposition rooted in rationalism. A world view that has dominated Western thinking for four hundred years.

Postmodernism has created a new opportunity for the church. People are open to new beliefs in a way they weren't thirty years ago. Science and rationalism have not brought the promised benefits and peace people claimed they would. Instead we have suffered two world wars and been left in a spiritual vacuum. What a great opportunity to proclaim the truth; not through argument but meaningful involvement, servant hood, caring and praying.

Currently we have over 250 mothers registered in our soft play program that operates out of our ministry centre called 'The Hub'. Over 100 customers a day use our coffee shop. Our manager is effectively a pastor to the unchurched who come through our doors every day. And now some of them come on Sunday too. It's a door of opportunity. We saw it. We invested in it. Now we are making a difference - little by little. Our door of opportunity has become their door of opportunity. Through it many are finding faith and forgiveness in Jesus.

The other great adversary we face is fear. One of the enemy's greatest tactics to stop us moving forward into the opportunities God is giving us is intimidation. This is what Goliath tried to do with David. His size, his experience his intimidating language put fear into the armies of Israel. Only David rose above this and proclaimed his faith in God to gain victory over the enemy. What the armies saw as a frightening foe David saw as an opportunity for glory. And he was right!

Fear paralyses us. It gets our minds focused on the wrong things. What if....? We imagine scenarios that may never happen but in our minds they become certainties. And that is where the battle must be fought first; in our thinking. Fear always works by getting us to forget about God and His promises. Whenever Jesus turned up on the scene with His disciples His mode of entry was never conventional. Walking on water; appearing in locked rooms; these events all shocked them and so His first words were either; 'Peace to you'; Luke 24.36 or 'Don't be afraid'; Matt 14.27. He helped them shift their focus away from fear.

When our hearts are focused on Jesus and the promises He has made, fear cannot get a grip on us. In Matt 10 Jesus warned His disciples that they were being sent out as sheep amongst wolves. That doesn't sound safe. And it isn't! They would need wisdom - like that of a serpent and hearts that were pure and harmless like Doves. He also reminded them that the worst that could happen in life was being killed, but God had power to destroy body and soul in Gehenna. The fear of the Lord would keep them from the fear of man; Matt 10.16,28.

This is why we see such boldness in the early church. They knew how to walk through doors of opportunity without being intimidated ,either by Rome or the religious leaders of the day. Their hearts were fixed on God and His unfailing promises. Think about all the times in your life where you didn't take a risk to do something your heart told you would advance the Kingdom because of fear. I've been there. I've made that mistake, but I also learned from it. Now I am more determined than ever not to let fear rule when God is opening a door.

I used to teach at an International Bible College. One of my students came from Pakistan. He went back to his country and over a ten year period planted over 60 churches. His ministry regularly touches 20,000 people every day. For years he asked me to go and visit him to see what God had accomplished through him and to minister to the saints there. Now Pakistan is not the safest region to visit. Only two flags have been burned in Pakistan in recent history; the Danish flag (where I lived and worked for eight years) and the British flag (my nationality).

Eventually I said yes. But in my heart I needed to deal with some fear. I remember saying yes to this assignment even if it meant this was the end for me. I came to the place like Paul where he said, "So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death", Phil 1.20. It was fruitful time. Three hundred came to Christ in one meeting. I spoke every day in many cities. When I came to Islamabad a man came in with a gun to assassinate me. It was all caught on video, I'm not exaggerating. One of the ushers saw him and tackled the gun from him while I was very unceremoniously thrown into a car a driven out of the city!

I explained to my host that I was still willing to preach. I really had no fear. He politely told me that they may send others to do the job and if they missed they might harm one of his congregation instead of me!! Fair enough. It was probably the right decision. But think of those three hundred souls in that one meeting who would not have heard about Jesus had I not been obedient; had I not overcome my fear. When we stand and face the enemy God releases His blessing - and we grow in faith.

I believe that 2011 is going to be filled with many new doors of opportunity for the church to walk through. As we do we will advance the Kingdom of God. Watch your language. Make sure it builds faith. Check your heart. Make sure it is trusting God and not giving in to fear. Be awake and discerning to the opportunities that are before you; opportunities to serve; to bless; to give; to lead and to speak about Jesus. Every door of opportunity opens up into something new and unexpected. See it as an adventure and dare to go through. Who knows what you will find, accomplish or enable to make happen through that simple step of faith.