What Christ Says to MDPC: Don’t Miss Your Opportunity!
This is the word of God: “To the Angel at the church in Philadelphia write these are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. 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. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claimed to be Jews though they are not but are liars, I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from My God. And I will also write on him My new name. He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy word.
Pray with me, please.
Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
Talk about your missed opportunities. There was a man named Arthur. He had a good friend who’s name was Walter. And one day, Walter invited Arthur to drive with him out into the countryside. They drove a long way out of town, ultimately turned off the main road, traveled a lot farther along through groves and groves of trees, and ultimately came to a large uninhabited expanse of land. There they stopped, and Walter turned to Arthur, and he said that he had purchased a large track of that property, and he proceeded to tell Arthur what he had in mind for the property. He then said to Arthur, “I want you to buy the surrounding land on that piece so that you will be in on this project from the very start.” Well, Arthur had the money to buy the land because, after all, it wasn’t worth very much way out there in the middle of nowhere. But Arthur feared that maybe his friend, Walter, had lost a bit of touch with reality, and so he mumbled something about money being tight, and then he said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” And so they got back in the car and drove back into town. Arthur is better known as Art Linkletter. Walter is better known as Walt Disney, and the property that Art Linkletter turned down the opportunity to buy is property, which now surrounds DisneyLand in Anaheim, California. Talk about your missed opportunities!
You know, there is a real sense in which we as individuals, and yes, we as a church are shaped by the way we use or lose the opportunities which come our way in life. That is, I believe, the subject matter of the six of the seven letters Jesus wrote in the book of Revelation. This sixth letter was addressed to the church at Philadelphia.
Philadelphia was, first and foremost, a city of opportunity.
It was located at precisely the spot where, in our terms, the Western world meets the Eastern world. And in fact, Philadelphia was founded in that location for the precise purpose of serving as a springboard to introduce Western ideas and ideals into the Far East. And so Philadelphia was actually a city primed with great potential to exercise a profound impact on the world of its day. Now, interestingly enough, the church at Philadelphia was very much like the city of Philadelphia. In fact, it was a great church. It was filled with men and women who stood unflinchingly for the great Gospel of Jesus Christ. And as such, that church earned the highest praise Jesus could deliver. The letter to the church at Philadelphia is filled with praises from the Master. At one point, He says to the church at Philadelphia, “I have placed before you an open door which no one can shut.”
Now, the church at Philadelphia seized the opportunity, which God set before them. And the fact of the matter is no one has ever been able to stop that church. You see, even to this very day, there is actually a strong, dynamic, faithful community of Christians in the location around what was Philadelphia, and so this is the only church of the seven in Revelation, the only one where the words of Jesus ring just as true today as they did then, “I have set before you an open door which no one can shut.”
Now, I have to tell you that as I have studied the letter to the church at Philadelphia and as I have reflected on the life of the church at MDPC, the word which keeps thrusting itself into my mind is the word opportunity, and the opportunities God is setting before us now are wide open. Frankly, I don’t know of any church anywhere which has responded to challenges and changes with greater courage and generosity than this church. I know of no church anywhere more faithfully engaged in proclaiming the Gospel and more effectively engaged in meeting human need than this church. I know of no church in this country which has done so much, so well, for so many, for so long, for the sake of Jesus Christ, and it is because of what this church has accomplished in its past that I believe God is opening to us wider and wider doors of opportunity. Now, what Christ is saying to MDPC is I have set before you the doors of opportunity. Are you going to use those opportunities, or are you going to lose them? Well, if we are going to use them as I pray we shall, then I think there are a couple of things that we need to do.
We need to appreciate our blessings.
The church at Philadelphia was a church where the people had little power and lots of hardship. And yet, they kept the faith, and they lived joyfully and gratefully, and Jesus praised them for it. Now understand, please, that real gratitude is never, ever dependent upon the circumstances which are ours or the things we possess of this world. Real gratitude issues forth from a deeper well.
In fact, I have noted that many of the greatest expressions of gratitude have come from people who didn’t have a lot of material things. Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. Martin Luther had to go into hiding for his life. Francis of Assisi was voluntarily poor. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Mother Teresa lived in a leper colony. And yet, here were people who’s lips and who’s lives bore constant expressions of gratitude for all of the blessings of life, which God had given them. Real gratitude issues forth from a deeper well.
Jim Murray, the late Jim Murray, was a great sportswriter out in Los Angeles, California. I used to love to read his stuff because Jim Murray had a knack for finding, in sports, the germ of a greater truth. I remember one of his columns in particular. He was writing about his experience at attending what then were called The Special Olympics. He began the column with these words, “It doesn’t take long to see why they called these Olympics special. No one is trying to win at all costs. Every athlete performs as if he or she were alone on the track. They all run with a beatific sense of joy and a visible sense of gratitude. There are no tears from losers because there are no losers.” And then he went on in the column to list a long list of experiences which were his as he attended those Olympics.
For example, he told about children who lost a 300-yard race by 200 yards, but they were cheered all along by their friends lining the track. He told about a young man who was leading his race, and suddenly, he was aware that one of the runners behind him had tripped and fallen. What did he do? He stopped. He turned around, and he went back, and he picked up the one who had fallen, and then they ran on together in the race. He told about a young boy who ran on crutches, a young girl who long-jumped with a prosthetic leg, a blind boy who followed the voice of his coach all the way around the track. He went on and on with this list, and then he finished his column by saying, “Matched against that yardstick, the athletes in the real Olympics are an inferior lot. It’s no trick to win the long-jump when you’ve got two legs, and one of them isn’t metal. It’s no accomplishment to win the mile-race when you can see where you’re going. It’s no achievement to win the 100-meter spread when you can hear the starter’s gun and the cheers of the crowd. It’s no honor to win the 400 meters when a competitor stumbles and falls, and you do not stop and go back and pick him up. Little wonder,” he wrote, “they call these Olympics special.”
Now, I want to ask you to find a place for those words somewhere in the tender heart of yours, just as I have in mine because I want those words to remind us all that the best way for us to appreciate our blessings and express our gratitude to God for all that He has done for us. The best way for us to do that is to reach out to those who are fallen, those who are suffering, those who are pressed down by circumstance, to reach out to them and offer them help in the name of Jesus Christ. The very best way for us to thank God for giving us His only Son is to bring others to His only Son. That they may share His peace, His power, His pardon, His joy, His love, His life, now and forever.
I know you are. You’re aware of the fact, I’m sure, that in the early days of the church, particularly, whenever there was worship, they always burned a strong-smelling incense in the worship. That strong smell of the incense actually saturated the clothing of the people who were in worship so that they began to smell like the incense. And as result, when they left church, other people could tell by their aroma that they had been to church, and they had been in the presence of God. Isn’t that great? By your aroma for people to know that you have been in the presence of God. Well, the aroma for us today, as committed Christians, is unconditional gratitude and joy. Gratitude, in any and all circumstances. You do remember, don’t you, what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians? He said, “We are the aroma of Christ to God.”
What I believe Jesus is saying to us at MDPC is if we are going to use the open doors of opportunity God is setting before us, then we must live our lives every day with such exquisite joy and such unconditional gratitude that other people notice the sweet, sweet fragrance of our lives. Oh yes, we must appreciate our blessings, but we must also advocate our faith.Those Christians at Philadelphia, it’s quite clear from the letter, they were unashamed in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They openly, unreservedly shared that Gospel with the city and the world around them, and Jesus praised them for it. But you see, we need to understand that Christianity is never meant to be something locked away in our hearts or even in our church. It’s meant to be shared, openly, winsomely, wittingly. It’s meant to be shared.
Just recently, I came across some answers that children in Sunday school had written in response to questions that they had been given. Now, these children, they got the words all wrong, but they sure had the message down. Listen and see if you agree. I think you’re going to like this. Noah’s wife was called Joan of The Ark. The natives of Macedonia did not believe, so Paul got stoned. The Patron Saint of travelers is Saint Francis of the seasick. It’s sometimes difficult to hear what’s being said in church because the agnostics are so terrible. The fifth commandment is to humor your father and your mother. Christians can have only one wife. This is called monotony. Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire by night. They got the words wrong, but they had the message right.
You see, the problem for us is that we get the words right, but do we really believe the message? So many times today, it seems to me that in the face of the great issues that bedabble this word of ours, the church of Jesus Christ and so many Christians as well, that voice is weak, timid, tardy, even not existent. One present, painful example, you no doubt know that our fellow Christians in Egypt are being slaughtered in staggering numbers by the day, and their churches are being destroyed day after day. And what’s the response of the church in America? Nothing, only the sound of silence. God forgive us.
You see, the problem is that there are too many Christians, who at their core, do not really believe what we say in our faith. That’s why I believe that Jesus Christ is calling MDPC to be filled with people, filled with apostolic zeal, people ready to hazard reputation or personal comfort or even career or maybe even life for the sake and the cause of Jesus Christ in this world. I want you to wonder what might happen if there were, how shall I say it, if there were Philadelphians all over MDPC? If there were people in this church who were constantly searching out ways to deliver the great good news of the Gospel, who were constantly ready to respond to human need whenever it arises, who are constantly working to transform people and circumstances by the power of the Gospel. What would happen if this church were filled with Philadelphians?
Think about it. Imagine it. Let me give you a hint by telling you about Teddy Stallard. True story. Teddy Stallard was in the fifth grade. His clothing was always wrinkled and a little bit dirty. His hair was never combed. His expression was blank. His teacher was Miss Thompson. Whenever she spoke to him, he always answered in mono-syllables. He was entirely unattractive, unmotivated, unengaged. He was easy to ignore, and Miss Thompson ignored him, concentrated on the other students. That year, at Christmas time, Miss Thompson had a party for the class, and the students in the class actually brought presents to Miss Thompson, even Teddy Stallard. Teddy’s present was wrapped in a wrinkled brown paper bag tied together with a piece of string. When Miss Thompson opened Teddy’s gift, inside was a half-empty bottle of cheap perfume and a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing. The other children began to laugh at Teddy’s gift. But Miss Thompson, to her credit, she took the perfume and dabbed it on her wrists and her neck, and she put on that rhinestone bracelet, and then she reached out, and she hugged Teddy Stallard; first time she had ever touched him. At the end of class that day, and the other students left, Teddy Stallard stayed behind. He slowly edged up to her desk, and he said, “Miss Thompson, I want you to know that those gifts I gave you today belong to my mother. She died two years ago. And I want you to know that now you smell just like my mother and that bracelet looks really pretty on you too. I’m glad you like my presents.” When Teddy Stallard left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and begged God to forgive her for ignoring this little boy. The next day, when the students arrived for school, they were greeted by a new Miss Thompson. She was now not only a teacher, suddenly, she had become an agent of God, and she poured herself into the lives of those students, particularly the slower students, and especially, Teddy Stallard. By the end of that year, Teddy had showed marked improvement. He was now the equal of anyone else in the class. She then followed him all the way through high school. He graduated second in his class. He went off to college, and she lost touch with him for a while. And then eight years later, a letter arrived in her mail. The letter read, “Dear Miss Thompson, as of today, I am Theodore Stallard, MD. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. Also, I’m getting married next month, the 27th, to be exact. I would like for you to come to the church and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. Would you do that for me? Love, Teddy Stallard.”
Dear friends, look about you in this church and in this community around us and find someplace where you can take hold for Jesus Christ because I believe that Christ is saying to MDPC, “I have set before you open doors of opportunity. Don’t miss those opportunities.”
Let those who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying to the church at MDPC.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and Amen.