Sharing Keys

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The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others.

Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with?

We used to have neighbors who would come over to our house when we were gone for the holidays and get our cat and take the cat to their house, because they said they didn’t want her to be alone on the holidays.

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who have our key and we have theirs. We’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town.

When keys are exchanged there is a relationship. There is trust. There is authority and access.

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus tells his followers, “I will give you keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” [my translation].

Keys allow you to access the purpose of the object they are applied. The purpose of a house is for living in it. A key can open the door to enter or close it shut. If it is a car, a key can start it or shut it off. If it is a post office box, a key can unlock or lock it. Keys are all about accessing the intended purpose.

Jesus’ keys are for the purpose of entering the realm of the King. Jesus’ kingdom keys allow access to the space where God rules and reigns. This is where things are as they should be and whatever is brought into God’s realm is made right.

I love Eugene Peterson’s take on Jesus’ words in Matthew, “You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”

Most of us here can tell a story of how someone used their key to give us access to the kingdom. The prevailing power of the church is based upon sharing access with others. What will you open, close, start, stop, unlock, or lock with the keys you’ve been given?

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You Are the Key

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How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world?

Sharing keys with neighbors
Have you ever had a neighbor you’ve shared a key with? We shared keys with Jim and Kathy Lee, next door to our first home. If we were gone for the day, they would get our cat. They didn’t want her to be lonely, so they would keep her at their house. We ended up giving the cat to them.

Giving someone access

We have neighbors on either side of us now, who they have our key and we have theirs (or the garage key code) and we’ve taken care of each other’s dogs when out of town. Neighbors have hired my kids to take care of pets while on vacation. Giving someone access to your home means there is relationship and trust.

Keys are all about access

Keys are all about access. After Jesus’ promise to build his church, he went on to say, “I will give you my keys. These keys have the power and authority of heaven” (my paraphrase of Mt 16:19). Jesus handed his followers his keys. What are the ramifications of this?

Christians making entrance

Craig Blomberg comments, “[T]he imagery of keys that close and open, lock and unlock (based on Isa 22:22) … take the binding and loosing (and Jesus is not just saying this to Peter because in 18:18 he says the same thing and it is in the plural) as referring to Christians’ making entrance to God’s kingdom available or unavailable to people through their witness, preaching, and ministry.”

More open doors

Complaints are often made in the church as to why we don’t see more open doors for the gospel. Three that come to mind are [extra points for the alliteration]:

  1. Resources
  2. Relevance
  3. Receptivity

Resources lacking

People argue that a lack of resources is keeping doors from opening. If only they had more money, were better equipped, or developed more training. It’s not true! We have everything we need to accomplish what God has asked.

Relevancy of the church

People say we need to make ministry more relevant. People criticize the church for not being technologically or culturally relevant. That is always misapplied energy. This probably deserves a separate conversation.

Receptivity of the culture

Others still, complain about the receptivity of the culture. It is true, there are places where gospel growth is faster than other places. Jesus spoke about hearts that produce more growth than others. But the fact is, we can’t blame culture for not being more open to the gospel. The Bible says people are dead in sin. Are we saying people are more dead in some places?

The problem is access

The church does not need more resources. Our problem is not relevancy. I don’t think we should even pray for more receptivity. The problem is access. Jesus has left the building of the church to our utilization of the keys he’s given us. It’s up to us to share access with others. We are the key!

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon offers a great exercise for living a life of access in their book The Art of Neighboring. Draw a tic-tac-toe box with you in the middle and write down the names of the neighbors around you. If you don’t know their names, that’s the first step. If you can name them, are you praying for them? If not, that’s the second step. Then create a practical plan for how to give them access to your life. For me, taking a van full of neighborhood kids to Awana that has been one way of creating access.

We are the key

How do we use our key to open up access, not just across the street, but across town, across the nation, and the world? Access becomes an acute descriptor when we realize there are areas of the world which will never have access to the gospel unless someone from the outside uses their key to go to them.

When it comes down to it, we are the key! We are the bearers of the gospel message. The issue is not resources, relevance, or receptivity. The issue is accessibility. Our lives in proximity to others is what opens access to the gospel.

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What Might We Be Missing?

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Memes Read Wrong

People are unobservant creatures. Oblivious to the obvious often. The stories intrigue of the women who did not notice they were pregnant, until some unrelated episode propelled them to the hospital. I know I should be careful speaking of such female things being a guy. But, really? How does a football-size object go undetected…that’s inside your body…all the while sucking the life out of you?

This is one of many proofs people are unobservant creatures. Versions of the dancing gorilla test is another example. Researchers have termed the common condition change blindness that is a close cousin to lack of paying attention.

If we can acknowledge how lousy we are at seeing physically, if we miss so much, what might we be missing beyond the realm of that one sense? Even beyond the five sense, how much more important is the spiritual and eternal than the physical. How do we develop practices to help us see what is going on around us?

One of the most basic and perhaps foundational characteristics of God is his ability to see. The very first descriptor that a person gave for God was the God-who-sees. This wasn’t observed by one of the patriarchs. It was the insight of a female, Gentile, fugitive named Hagar. God came to her, recognized her circumstances, and spoke hope back into her life. She was overwhelmed by the fact that God saw her.

Jesus’ ability to notice the people around him and what God might be doing with them, is a characteristic that even those who were after Jesus, his enemies, saw in him. In Mark 3 is the episode of the man with a withered hand that walked into church. His enemies instantly knew Jesus would spot him. I love this episode because it point to the fact that others (even his enemies) new Jesus was a master noticer. Whomever had the greatest need in the room, Jesus was going to notice. So the guys who were after him were watching him. Jesus picked up on what was happening and met the need.

The God-who-sees is paying attention to everything. As he makes people more like himself, an ability that appears is a greater awareness of what is happening around us.

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Lost Causes or Lost Treasure?

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Prodigal Son

Several translations (NIV, ASV, KJV, NASB) phrase Luke 19:10 in an interesting way. That is the well-known line of Jesus after the story of the wee-little man, Zacchaeus, where Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” The words that which was catch my attention. It’s not just the lost, but something about the lost that Jesus came to look for and restore.

Maybe the detail is insignificant or hermeneutically wrong, but to me this changes the conversation from a who question to what. I would submit the follow-up question Jesus hoped for was not, “Who are the lost?” Rather the appropriate question is, “What is it that has been lost?” Or, more fully, “What is it in people that has been lost?”

I think Jesus provides the commentary on this a few stories later in Luke. When he is pressed about taxes, he answers that the image of Caesar is inscribed on money, so “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Luke 20:25). Then by inference Jesus adds people are inscribed with the image of God. Therefore that which was lost is the image of God in people. What Jesus came to look for and restore is what we ought to be as divine image bearers.

Ray Stedman wrote in The Perfect Man  “He is not talking only about coming to save lost people; he has come to save that which is lost. Well, what is lost? Perhaps you say it is men who are lost. No, it is man, the secret of our humanity. We no longer know how to be what we were intended to be. The whole dilemma of life is that we still have, deep within us, a kind of racial memory of what we ought to be and what we want to be, but we do not know how to accomplish it.”

This significantly changes the way you should see people. Mark O. Wilson, in his new book Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus  says, “They are lost treasures, not lost causes.” We know Jesus seemed to see people this way by the stories he told of pearls, sheep, coins, and sons. People matter to God. He has inscribed himself on every man, woman, and child. The way Paul said it is, “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). When people find God (or, if you like, God finds them) they come face to face with that which they’ve been looking for.

Your church, neighborhood, and city is full of treasure. And that which is lost is lost treasure, not a lost cause. What would the difference be if they were treated like lost treasure?

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The Issue Is Access

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Joy of Gospel Access-Tim-HAMS Instr

What is happening with Jesus’ name in your city? There are multiple categories that are often listed, identifying the reason for (or not) the impact of the church in a city. Some look to the resources (re: money, buildings, assets) available. Some look to relevancy (re: decor, music, presentation, attractional ministry). I would submit the most important category is access.

 

When resources and/or relevancy is focused upon as the fulcrum of impact, there is a limit. Missiologists (I heard this from Alan Hirsch) indicate only 40% of the population in the US have the potential to enter the doors of our churches. That means statistically 60% of the people in your city cannot be reached through ministry within the four walls of your church. Access must be created by other means. I would submit this means those that name the name of Christ must build relational bridges with those around them.

 

That is the limit in the US. The issue is different in other countries. The number of people who name the name of Christ is so few in some countries that access is not an option. The image above illustrates different access ratios. If you think of a person knocking on doors, attempting to find someone to tell them about Jesus, it would take about 6 knocks here in the US. Our friends Dan and Katie moved last year to a country where it would take 30,000 knocks for that to happen. But that kind of context is another conversation.

 

The most important measure is not growth of the individual church, the increase in resources generated by your church compared to last year, or that your programs are judged more culturally clued in. The bottom line is if a gospel witness is available to more people in your city. In the NT, growth was not calculated by the number of people in attendance, but that the word of God was growing in a city and more people were naming the name of Jesus as Lord.

 

Leaders must continually challenge the mindset in the local church that sees the fulfillment of their guiding mandate as making the gospel accessible to all. That is not to say the expectation is for everyone to become a follower of Christ in a city. Salvation is not up to them. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. However, giving every man, woman, and child the opportunity to accept or reject Christ in a repeatable and accessible manner is the mandate of the local church. The church cannot define success by any other measure.

 

How does the idea of access change the way you think about the impact of the church in your city?

 

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