Doors of Opportunity

Original Date: 
Sunday, October 7, 2012

Colossians 4:2-6 Open Doors: Doors of Opportunity

There’s a Good Dog!
The summer we moved to Spencer my cousin Ken invited me to go with him to the Willow Creek Leadership conference. That’s kind of a big deal. For a lot of years now, the Willow Creek Leadership conference has been the premier leadership conference for church leaders and Christian businessmen. And Ken wasn’t just inviting me to one of the satellite sites, he and a couple of guys from his church in Sioux City were going to the main site, right outside of Chicago. Bill Hybels’s home turf. All I had to do was get myself to Sioux City, and he was taking care of the rest.

So I was pretty excited. I remember the morning I was supposed to leave I was throwing my stuff into the van and I was ready to go.

Now, I need to pause in my story and introduce you to my dog. This is Obie. Short for Obadiah. Obie is a Miniature Schnauzer. And he’s pretty excitable. He’s 12 now, but even in his old age he still acts like a puppy. Five years ago he was even more hyper.

So, I was excitingly packing my van to go meet my cousin, and Obie needed to go to the vet for a haircut. So I told Beth I would drop him off on my way out of town. I put the dog in the van, backed out of the garage, and suddenly remembered I had forgotten my briefcase. I put the van in park, left the engine running, said “Obie stay!”, and ran in to grab my case.

Obie likes to go for car rides. He gets excited when he’s in the van. He likes to prop himself up on the dashboard and bounce from seat to seat. So when I got back to the van, I found the doors locked. Apparently Obie, in his excitement, had stepped on the automatic door lock button on the armrest of the door.

So, now I’m in my driveway with a running, locked van (for which we have no spare key, by the way) with a very happy dog inside. And, I’m going to be late meeting my cousin. And it’s August.

Now what, right? I’m thinking, “If he could lock the door, maybe he can unlock it.” So I’m standing outside the window, bouncing up and down, saying things like “C’mon Obie. There’s a good boy! C’mon buddy. Stand on the door. Stretch out your legs. C’mon boy. C’mon.”

Nothing. He just sits down and stares at me, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

I try doggie treats. Holding milkbones up by the window so he barks and scratches, but he won’t step on the lock.

Eventually, I have to call the police, who come and get the door open with remarkable speed. The dog avoids perishing in a locked car in the middle of summer. And I still managed to get to my conference.

The Meaning of Doors
That’s my best door story. As we start this series and campaign called “Open Doors”, I wanted us to think about what doors represent.

A locked door, a closed door, represents an obstacle. A barrier. Resistance. A closed door is a road block. As long as that van door stayed closed, I wasn’t going anywhere.

An open door, on the other hand, represents potential. It means opportunity. Invitation. Receptivity. An open door is a go ahead. When doors are open, possibilities abound.

And so, we’re calling our church campaign “Open Doors.”

As most of you probably know, we are proposing a building project that centers on a new lobby. We’re talking about building a new front door into our church. And so “Open Doors” seemed like an appropriate name since we want to create potential for new people to come into our church. We are hoping this new space will create possibilities for welcome, community, conversation and more.

But there’s also a deeper, more Biblical reason for the name. In the Bible “open doors” was a pretty common expression to describe God creating extraordinary receptivity to the gospel message. When the Bible talks about open doors, it usually means that people were responding to Jesus in a positive way.

So, for example, 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, where Paul writes:

8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Or 2 Corinthians 2:12:

12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,

Or, our principle text for today, Colossians 4:2-6:

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When the Bible—and especially the Apostle Paul—uses the image of open doors it is talking about opportunities to effectively preach the message of Jesus to those who don’t know Him.

So, using that image—as well as the great commission Jesus gives in Acts 1:8—the vision behind our capital campaign is that we will be a church that opens doors to Jesus in Spencer, Northwest Iowa, and around the world. For the next three weeks I’m going to preach on the three aspects of that vision. Then on the fourth week we’ll have our commitment Sunday. Today I’m going to talk about our role here in Spencer.

Proclaiming the Mystery
So let’s go back to the passage and let me see if I can help you with the setting.

The church in Colossae is a church that Paul never actually visited. He started a church in Ephesus, which is about 100 miles from Colossae. It appears that the Colossian church was started by someone who branched out from the church in Ephesus.

Even though Paul never visited this church, he received a number of positive reports about it. He wrote this letter to encourage the believers there, and to answer some questions they were asking. But at the same time, he’s asking them to pray for him. And that’s the part of the letter we’re looking at.

You’ll notice, in verse 3, that Paul is in chains. In other words, he’s writing this letter while he’s in prison. Most likely, he’s writing from Rome, in about 61 A.D., while awaiting his trial before the emperor.

And so, what do you suppose his greatest prayer request is? What does he want these Colossian believers to ask God on his behalf? He talks about opening a door; does he want them to pray that he’ll get out of prison? Should they pray for the jail cell door to swing open like it did that time he was in Philippi?

No, that’s not what is most on his heart. Rather, he wants them to pray to the ruler of the universe that Paul will find open doors for his message. That he’ll be able to proclaim the mystery of Christ. That when he speaks of Jesus to others, he’ll be able to proclaim it clearly.

In other words, the most important thing to Paul—whether he is in prison or out—is that people will hear about Jesus and come to faith in Him. Paul has no higher earthly goal than to keep sharing Jesus.

Paul uses the word “mystery” when he talks about the message. His desire is that the whole mystery of Christ will be made plain when God opens a door. Mystery is not meant in the sense that the gospel is confusing or obscure, like a tricky riddle. Rather, Paul means that it is a mystery in the sense that we would never think of it or know it unless God had made it plain.

So, here’s the mystery, the message, that Paul was looking to proclaim:
• That the Son of God should become a man.
• That he should live a life of poverty and love.
• That he should die in the place of sinners even though he was sinless.
• That he should rise from the dead and reign in heaven today.
• That the ungodly should be justified by faith.
• That Jew and Gentile, red and yellow, black and white should be reconciled in one body to God.
• And that Christ should be the only way to the Father.
These are things that no one would have ever dreamed of. They are the mystery hidden from the ages in God, but now to be revealed and made plain to the world. (John Piper, Walk in Wisdom toward those Outside, May 29, 1988)

That is the gospel. And Paul’s greatest desire is that God would keep opening doors for him to proclaim it.

Us, Too
But now look at verses 5 and 6.

This isn’t all about Paul. He’s not the only one who needs open doors for proclaiming the gospel. The Colossians, too, should be looking for opportunities. Thinking about how they act toward people outside of the church. Being thoughtful about the way they share the message and answer questions.

And if that’s true of them, then it is also true of us. Each one of us who knows and loves Jesus has been called to be an ambassador for Him. Right where you are, no matter your age or profession, you are called to look for opportunities to talk to people about Jesus.

We are all missionaries. Right here in Spencer. Or in Everly or Ruthven or Fostoria or wherever you call home. This is your primary mission field. You have friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members who are outside of Jesus and who are not going to come inside unless you invite them.

Here’s our main point this morning, the message I believe God wants us to receive from this Colossians passage: We are all called to look for and take advantage of open doors for sharing Jesus. The Spencer portion of our vision is for all who call Hope Church their church to be active in helping those outside the church to hear the good news about Jesus.

You see, so much of what we do as a church is for people who are not here yet.

Don’t get me wrong: we want to serve and bless you. For the families who belong to the church we want to provide great children’s and youth programs so that your kids will come to know the Lord. And we want to provide a community where you can be loved and supported in good times and bad. And we want to have worship services where you are inspired and you can grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

We want to serve and bless those who already here; but at the same time we always have an eye out for those who aren’t here yet. Those of us who know and love Jesus realize He is something so good that He needs to be shared. It’s implicit in our mission statement as a church. We’re here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him. When you begin to get a sense of the joy of belonging to Jesus you just want to give it to others.

And so, we are all called to look for and take advantage of open doors for sharing Jesus. Our goal is to be a church full of missionaries right where we live.

The Walkie-Talkie
The question is: how do we do this?

I see at least three things in the text that we should be doing to help us find and utilize open doors for sharing Jesus.

First, pray. We need to be praying that God will open the doors for meaningful conversations about Jesus with our friends and neighbors. Verses 2-4:

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

There is a recognition here that God is the one who opens doors. If someone is going to put their faith in Jesus it’s not going to be because you or I have done such a good job explaining the gospel--it’s not going to be because they are so clever or perceptive—it’s going to be because the Holy Spirit has worked in their hearts to create faith. That is something only God can do. Only He can open that door.

And so, if we want to see people experiencing the joy of Jesus we need to be praying that God will be working in their lives. We need to devote ourselves to prayer.

John Piper likes to say that prayer is meant to be a war time walkie-talkie. But too often we turn it into a domestic intercom. What he means is that prayer was never designed by God to be just a domestic intercom whereby we let God know about our needs and comforts—as though He were our Cosmic Butler. Too often we use prayer that way: “Jeeves, please heal my cold. Jeeves, please help me get this job. Jeeves, please help the Vikings win.”

Instead, Piper says, prayer was designed as a walkie-talkie for spiritual battlefields. Prayer is the link between active soldiers on the front lines and command headquarters, with their unlimited firepower and air support and strategic wisdom. And so, as we seek opportunities to share Jesus, prayer is one of the most important tools we have. The MOST important.

Think of it this way: suppose you have a friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus. In a sense, that friend is a spiritual prisoner of war. He’s surrounded by a fortress of worldliness, unbelief, sin, and more. But as you desire to share Jesus with this friend you can take your walkie-talkie, call command headquarters, and ask for a missile that will blast open a door in that fortress that surrounds your friend so that the message of Jesus will be heard and faith will be born.

So we must use prayer the way it is meant to be used. All of us should have an “impact list”. Two or three people in our circle of relationships that are outside of Jesus that we are devotedly praying for. Making a list like this will help us move away from hoping, someday somehow, to reach some nameless, faceless person; into specific action aimed at helping people we know and care about. (Bill Hybels, Becoming a Contagious Christian, p. 104)

Plus, it enlists the greatest power at our disposal. The power of God to make Himself known to people who are far from Him. Bill Hybels quotes a man named Dieter Zander, “We need to talk to God about people, then talk to people about God.” (ibid)

Redeem the Opportunities
Second, be wise. We need to be alert and watchful for the opportunities to share the message of Jesus. Verse 5:

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

The phrase “make the most of every opportunity” is actually an economic turn in the original language. It could read “buy up the opportunity” or “redeem every opportunity.”

In other words, life is a series of never to be repeated opportunities for buying up spiritual blessings. Every encounter is a potential opportunity to help someone move closer to Jesus or farther away. And just like a merchant at the market, we need to be keeping a sharp eye out to recognize and grab those opportunities to share about Jesus.

The key here, I think, is to be alert so that we can see the opportunities when they come. That’s why I put the emphasis on wisdom. I think Paul is saying that you have to be looking for openings.

So, for example, it probably won’t happen too often in your life that a non-Christian will come up to you and ask you to explain the substitutionary death of Jesus upon the cross. I explain things like that for a living, and I can’t say I’ve ever had anybody start a conversation with me like that.

But in your conversations with your friends and coworkers there will be times when you talk about family struggles, loneliness, or death. Each of those topics could be opportunities to express how Jesus has made a difference in your life. Or, again, maybe a discussion of your weekend plans could be an opportunity to talk about how excited you are about what’s going on at church. You don’t have to be snotty or preachy about it; but maybe if you talk about what a difference your church involvement is making in your life your friend will want to learn more.

And looking for opportunities to share Jesus doesn’t have to be an entirely passive process. This isn’t just waiting for other people to bring spiritual topics up. There are ways you can be actively seeking to create opportunities for spiritual conversations.

For example, Bill Hybels talks about the standard question: “How’s it going?” Usually, someone asks you that question, they expect you to say “great” and then you move one. But maybe, if you sense the moment is right, you could say something like: “Well, healthwise I’m o.k.; family wise I’m pretty good, but spiritually I’ve never been better. Which would you like to talk about?” Maybe the person will be curious, maybe not. But it’s a way of creating an opening.

Or, if you’re the one asking “How’s it going?”, instead of settling for their answer of great, you can follow up by saying, “Awww, c’mon. How’s it really going?” Maybe that will open the door for the person to share a little more of what is really happening in their lives at the time. That may lead to a chance to share a little of your faith, or maybe it won’t. But at the very least you’ve expressed that you genuinely care about that person’s life.

The point here is that we’ll never have conversations about our faith unless we’re looking for them. Be wise. Be alert. Be on a constant lookout to buy up opportunities to share your faith in Jesus.

Make it Tasty
Then, third, talk. We need to be prepared to give an answer about what we believe. Verse 6:

6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I love that Paul uses the word “conversation.” He’s not talking about doing what I’m doing right now—standing in front of a crowd and preaching on the Bible. He’s not talking about going door to door and launching into an explanation of how to get to heaven. There might be a place for those sorts of things (for sure the preaching part). But what he’s talking about here is sharing what you believe about Jesus in the context of your already existing relationships over the course of your already existing schedule. Have conversations. Talk about Jesus with your friends.

The best way to share Jesus is one on one, one friend to another. Here at Hope we don’t spend a whole lot on advertising. We might take an ad out for our Christmas Eve service and do a little promotion for Trunk or Treat. But otherwise we don’t advertise much. Instead, we say that the way a person is most likely to come to church is on the arm of a trusted friend. We believe the best advertisement is word of mouth. And the way someone is most likely to be open to spiritual things is if they are talking about it with someone they know and trust.

And this isn’t just about being able to explain the gospel. I think that’s important. I think every Christian should be able to explain that we are sinful, that our sin earns for us a debt with God we could never hope to repay, but that Jesus came and paid that debt for us when He died on the cross. We should be able to explain the basic facts.

But more than that, Paul is talking about telling your story in an attractive and winsome way. He’s talking about sharing the joy that you are experiencing in your life with Jesus.

That’s what I think the reference to salt is about. Salt is a flavor enhancer. It draws out and emphasizes the good flavors that are already in the food. And so, I take it that when we share about Jesus we should do so in a way that makes people’s mouths water. We should season our talk with salt by sharing why the gospel tastes good to us.

In other words, we should tell our own stories. Express what Jesus means to you. Let them see what Jesus has done for you.

We are all—every single one of us who knows and loves Jesus—being called to seek out and take advantage of open doors for sharing Jesus. Our vision for our church locally is that we will all be missionaries right where we live.

The Place for Relationships
Finally, let me go back to the building project for a moment. I couldn’t help but think, as I meditated on these verses this week, about the connection between what Paul is saying in verse 6 and the lobby we are proposing.

One of the things we have been saying in connection to this project is that worship happens in the sanctuary, but relationships happen in the lobby. The whole point of this expansion is to create space for relationships, for conversation. Whether that’s a greeter at the front door, friends sitting at a café table drinking coffee, dads standing together in the lobby waiting for Kingdom Kids to end, or a small group meeting in the middle of the week; this new space will be designed to help outsiders feel welcome and open doors to spiritually meaningful conversations.

Now, obviously, with or without a building the Bible is calling us to have redemptive conversations. Every encounter you have is an opportunity to either be helping someone closer to Jesus or farther away. But the building can be a tool for helping us deepen those relationships.

And so I say: look for open doors. Pray for open doors. And when you find open doors, go ahead and share why Jesus is so important to you.