Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is the Spirit Working?

Have you ever found yourself asking if God is truly working in your life? Have you ever wondered if the Spirit is really influencing your thoughts or your actions?

I have. There was a point in my life where I found myself in prayer asking God for wisdom and for spiritual discernment. I asked God to help me grow spiritually. As I studied the Scripture, I tried to "make every effort" to add to my faith the traits outlined in 2 Peter 1: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

One evening, as I was reading Scripture, I found myself in Galatians 5:22 where the "fruits" of the Spirit are recorded. I would be proud to say that I had them memorized; yes, indeed, I have been able to recite them for years. But, that day, I was struck by something profound. As I looked at those "fruits" that my mind had committed to memory - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control - I realized that I was sorely lacking in many of them.

Joy? Not so stellar. Peace? Occasionally. Patience? Nope. Kindness? If absolutely necessary. Goodness? Yes, I think so. Gentleness? Ouch. Faithfulness? Again, I think so. Self-control? Seriously? Why did self-control have to be in this list?

Is the Spirit working in your life? It shouldn't be a difficult question to answer. You can readily tell by the evidence of "fruit." As trees grow and mature, so does the fruit produced by the tree. At that moment I looked at my life and realized that I was not allowing the Spirit to manifest His works in my life. I needed to make significant strides in patience and kindness and gentleness. And definitely in self-control.

So, I made that my priority. It is always a huge victory for me, and a source of thanksgiving, when I recognize that the Spirit produces behavior in these areas that I could never produce on my own. Those are the times that I am completely assured that He is influencing my thoughts and actions.

And when I fail, sometimes miserably so, I thank God for the pruning and pray that the Spirit will call me to be more faithful.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Heart of darkness

John’s lesson this past Sunday referenced David’s appeal to God to “create in me a clean heart.”

Sometimes we forget just how badly we need God to do that. In his book Heart of Darkness, one of my favorites, Joseph Conrad uses a steamboat voyage into the heart of darkest Africa as a metaphorical vehicle for transporting readers into a region no less dark and savage: the human heart.

The idea is that if you look deep inside yourself — beyond the make-up and stage props, past the civilizing effects of law and social convention, right through to the real you, your innermost self, what you discover will frighten you. It’s a jungle in there. Sinful desires that could swallow a man whole prowl there freely.

A common conceit we Christians, and most everyone else for that matter, indulge in is that because we keep the law, work hard and provide for our families we must be generally good people. But Conrad’s nightmarish images are sobering. They remind us what we’re really capable of — what we must look like to God and what he finds after he takes up residence in our hearts when we put on Christ.

Scripture tells us our heart becomes the sanctuary of the Spirit. It also tells us that some major changes are in order, if we let the Spirit work.

About those sinful desires that could swallow you whole: The cage of law and social convention we erect and maintain to keep them at bay does permit civilization to continue functioning. But external restraining devices like laws and social norms lack real transformative power. For that kind of change to happen, someone has to descend into those deep-down scary places and drive out the dark things personally.

Hence David’s appeal to “create in me a clean heart.” The Man After God’s Own Heart had to face a bitter fact: After all the triumphs God had granted him, after all the time he'd spent in His presence, he was still, in his weaker moments, capable of unimagineable evil. And he was powerless, by himself, to change that fact.

That’s the way it works. We can follow the motions and rituals to perfection, but real change must occur on the inside and it must come from another Source.

Joseph Conrad didn’t believe in that Source. But his insights into life without it were prophetic; his book essentially forecasts the coming 20th Century, a time when humankind’s capacity for evil would prove not only fathomless but capable of endless reinvention.

The Unseen

Three brothers met and prayed. They are brothers not by birth, but by rebirth. They prayed for each other, for their families and their work. They prayed for direction, for protection and help. And they prayed that in all things, God would be seen in them and through them, for they are His.

Little can have as great a meaning or effect as this. It is a demonstration of what God intends for us in one another - His body. Spirit talking with spirit; talking through the Spirit to the One who sees and hears everything.

Jesus is never more clearly seen than when we attend to the spirits of men through the Holy Spirit of God given us. We must work. We must earn and provide, and this is of God. But the need of our souls is our greatest need, and it is the greatest need of everyone you see today, and tomorrow, and the very moment you walk away from this screen.

An encouraging word, a gentle smile, a pat on the pack, a hug around the neck, or a simple prayer for, or with, another; these are what make your day worthwhile, because these speak to the spirit. And, they reveal the Christ.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians. 4:18)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fish tales

Before I launch into this, one disclaimer:

If you have one of those Ichthys fish on your car, I don’t have a problem in the world with it. There’s not anything inherently wrong with sticking a shiny Ichthys emblem on your bumper. It’s a symbol and conveys something about what you believe, similar in that sense to wearing a cross around your neck. You may fail to live up to your symbols, just don’t bow down to them. Our fellowship is using a symbol of its own, an open door, to send a message about what we believe, who we are and what sets us apart. But Christians, we’d all agree, should be known primarily for their words and actions, not by an insignia.

And that’s just where the fish gives me pause.

While there are more fish emblems and other assorted Christian symbols out there than ever, it doesn’t translate to a rise in Christian influence. Whatever the symbol means, it doesn’t appear to mean we’re changing anything. Starting humbly, from a few fishes and loaves, Christianity converted the Roman Empire from the ground up. Now our civilization is busy converting back.

That’s the irony of the fish. Centuries before some marketing savant foresaw a fast buck in it, it served as an identifying mark for first-century believers, allowing them to find each other when dangerous times demanded secrecy. As such, the symbol was a harbinger of a coming revolution.

With its modern reemergence, however, if there’s a revolution afoot, we’re on the wrong end of it. Christianity is rapidly losing its influence in the West. If it sends us back to our roots, though, the decline may not be an altogether bad thing.

The Spirit-driven early Christians won the west for Christ through words and deeds, one pagan heart at a time. The difference today, I believe, is while our emblems are everywhere, we don’t back them up with the words and deeds. We can pepper the world with symbols, but it’s no substitute for salt — for the purifying, redemptive influence only the Spirit-led sons and daughters of the King can bring.

At Open Door, with our focus on that first-century spirit, I think we have a clear grasp of this and are demonstrating our faith by keeping words and actions central. Let's pray we continue.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spiritual Growth

If there is any one barometer of spiritual growth, it may be the way we approach and resolve conflict. The fruit of the Spirit identified in Galatians 5:22ff are identified as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Look at how many of those Spirit-inspired traits are useful - and evident - when dealing with conflict!

Conflict, however, is often where our sinful nature overwhelms us. The acts of the sinful natured are also identified in Galatians 5, and they included hatred, discord, fits of rage, jealousy, selfish ambition and dissension.

I tend to have little trouble with patience, kindness and self-control if everyone is getting along. On the other hand, if conflict arises, it is naturally much more difficult to live those traits. "Naturally" because my nature wants to take over and control my response. This, I think, is exactly how God demonstrates to us where we are on the road of spiritual growth.

I am convinced that God uses conflict to allow me to check my progress on the road to becoming more and more like the Christ as Paul discusses in Philippians 2. In fact, I think that the awareness of my failures during conflict are a sure sign of the convicting work of the Spirit.

The question is, do I seek forgiveness for my failures and make changes in my actions in future conflict - allowing the Spirit to produce fruit in my life - or do I make excuses and claim "this is just the way I am?"

Monday, April 14, 2008

It Is Not Enough

Today's average American is starving from Bible illiteracy. While more than 85% of us believe in an afterlife, most can't figure out how to get there. A couple of recent surveys point this out: In one survey, only 2 out of 10 people could correctly identify who delivered the Sermon on the Mount! In another, church members answering a simple quiz on Bible facts averaged only 40% correct answers. While many of us profess to be Christians, more and more of us are clearly non-practicing ones. It is apparent that most of us want to go to the good place after death, but we have no idea how to get there.

You might be surprised at what Americans think it takes to go to heaven. Some have concocted elaborate means and methods of getting there. Their doctrinal beliefs and practices seem to eliminate all from the running but themselves. On the other hand, getting to heaven is as easy as pie for most others: it merely takes American citizenship, or being religious, or being good and honest. However, the Bible - a book that recent surveys show fewer and fewer people read and know - says otherwise.

The Bible says that it is not enough to be an American. Nationality has nothing to do with inheriting eternal life with God. In fact, in America's increasingly secular society - bent on eliminating God from almost every facet of life - the claim doesn't even make sense anymore. How can we even contemplate God's welcoming arms at the pearly gates for a people who only invoke His name when faced with imminent danger ("Oh god!") or excitement ("Oh my god!")? Not so fast, fellow Americans.

It is not enough to be religious. The prevailing concept of God as a "Santa Claus in the sky" who exists to satiate man's materialistic desires is found nowhere in the Holy Scriptures, contrary to the preaching of multitudes of preachers all over our country. The book that fewer and fewer Americans read and know states that God wants a relationship with us, not based on spoiling us into being materialistic gluttons but in molding and making us into the image of His Son. He has given us free will to do as we please, but in a dying world that is distracted by the things that will rust and wear out, He calls us to something better -- something eternal. He wants us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly in His ways (Micah 6:8).

Finally, it is not enough to be good and honest. Honesty and moral goodness have come to be defined by our flawed, human comparisons of ourselves with each other. It is easy for us to say "I am better than Adolf Hitler!" But the book that very few read and practice clearly teaches that "none of us is good" (Luke 18:19) in comparison with a holy and righteous God. And after all, if we are to be admitted into heaven, it will be on His terms, and not on our own. Shouldn't we know what His terms are?

Do I have your attention now?! This post is not meant to be a discouragement. It's meant to be a wake-up call and an invitation. Check us out at the Open Door Church. We're engaged in re-establishing and practicing simple, uncomplicated Christianity as taught in the New Testament.

We read our Bibles. We know and acknowledge our failings but we've found a supernatural solution: God's inspired Word as our guide and His presence in our lives as a constant source of hope and help.

Simple New Testament Christianity is compelling because of its founder: Jesus, the Messiah. It is compelling because of its doctrine -- simple, obedient faith in the One who died for our sins and was raised for our hope. It is compelling because of its lifestyle: humble service to God and to our fellow man. Yes, it is counter-cultural, but oh so beneficial: IT IS ENOUGH. At the Open Door Church, we're out to make a difference.

Care to join us?

Sunday, April 13, 2008


In the beginning was the Word…

We of the Open Door Church of Christ hold the Bible, as our sole authority in spiritual matters, to be the final word on the Word Incarnate. Through the written word, we hope to bring others to acknowledge this same bedrock truth and to aid them in their quest to experience Him more fully and richly.

You’ll be hearing and reading more about what we hope to do with this medium. In the meantime, in the spirit of the Open Door concept, think of this blog and its companion website as portals — a different kind, yes, but with an unprecedented potential for connecting with people. The lost, the desperate, the disillusioned, the downfallen — we hope by providing this and other avenues we can reach them, whereever they may be.

Online visitors will be able to learn more about who we are, why we’re here, the love we share as a family of believers, and the ideas that drive us, such as what it means to lead a Cross-centered life. The content is aimed at members of our own fellowship, as well. We hope they’ll find the perspectives and insights here fresh, encouraging and stimulating.

Check back often! We’re new, but watch for postings to increase rapidly.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Blessings Beyond

“Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 6:48) This is the plea of the Christ and even the desire of our hearts, but so often we are far from it.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. But a portion of the glorious riches we have in Christ Jesus is the willingness and power of the Holy Spirit to create in us what we ourselves are unable to procure. And Paul says, this is the great mystery! (Col 1:27)

Here is a quote of tremendous encouragement for me today; “Thank God for the glorious and majestic truth that His Spirit can work the very nature of Jesus into us, if we will only obey Him” (Oswald Chambers, April 8). What a mighty and loving God we serve who will not leave us alone, but will fill us to the measure of all His fullness! We need only ask with willing hearts.

This is where joy is.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Welcome to the Open Door Church of Christ blog! This blog will be used to discuss issues, share devotional thoughts, and share news and events from the congregation.

The length of our journey is known only to the Lord, but the impact we can have on the people we meet each day is completely up to us. We do know that the Lord has called us to be an encouragement to each other (Hebrews 10:25), to serve one another other in love (Galatians 5:13), and to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Our prayer is that each of us will live a life worthy of the calling we have received, and we invite you to share the journey with us.