“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
I was guest preaching at a church when a woman who had waited in line to talk to me told me that she was thinking about leaving the church because the pastor had joined a country club. And apparently, someone had spotted him there on a Sunday morning.
“Why wasn’t he in church?” she indignantly asked me as though I should have the answer. I happened to know the pastor well—and I knew that he was on vacation at the time, so my educated guess was that he had attended a service the night before. I mentioned this and also told her that regardless of anything else, her church was doing an amazing job of impacting the community for Christ, so she should rejoice in the big picture and stay on board.
The timing was interesting. I had just finished preaching on avoiding the distractions that get us off the main task of being united in taking the redemptive power of Jesus into our world. And while I don’t want to get into a food fight with anyone who thinks that pastors shouldn’t join country clubs, I must admit that I am a little short-fused with how quickly we go after each other when it’s the gates of hell that we should be assaulting.
In Christ’s day, He faced groups who were all tangled up in major distractions. There were those who thought that political overthrow would bring in the kingdom of God. These “zealots,” as they were called, would have gladly spilled their blood in the streets to overthrow the oppressive regime of Rome. They remind me of a lot of American Christians who believe that if only we can get our nation to be Christian again through political overthrow we will be in good shape. What a major distraction! The only way that we are going to win America, or any other country for that matter, is to win people to the saving work of Jesus one person at a time. Our mission is not to save a nation but to save those living in the nation. Don’t forget that when Simon the Zealot met Jesus, he changed agendas and became one of the 12. He joined the right revolution (Mark 3:18)!
Then there were the Essenes who believed that they should withdraw from the world (they definitely wouldn’t have joined a country club!), because they felt that the only way to remain safe and pure was to cloister in closed communities until the Messiah came. This way they could be certain that no defiling influence would tarnish their lives. They carried it to such an extreme that they refused to have anyone who was lame, blind, or in any way physically handicapped in their groups.
What a difference from Jesus’ mission to engage this world with the love of His rescuing power! He crashed the gates of hell by spending time with sinners. And while it irritated a lot of religious folk, He was undaunted in His resolve to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Some may even be at the country club—hmm. In spite of Jesus’ example, there are still a few people around today who think that separating from the world and its sinners will make us ready for Jesus’ return. They are gate lockers, not gate crashers!
It seems to me that Satan doesn’t really care about whether or not we call ourselves Christians. All he needs to do is to distract us by getting us to throw rocks at each other or to somehow adjust the mission away from crashing the gates of hell. I’m sure he’s happy not having to worry about who is busting down his gates to set the captives free. So let’s not give hell something to be happy about!
- Are you like the Zealots or the Essenes? Write down a few things you could do to more fully engage your world for Christ.
- Pray and ask the Lord to give you a heart that is willing to connect with people on His behalf. Incorporate 2 Peter 1:5-8 in your prayer.
- Are you throwing rocks at fellow Christians over relatively insignificant things? Repent, and join the Jesus revolution!