Remember this old Randy Stonehill song from the early 80s, complete with accompanying calypso beats and all?
Shut de door, keep out de devil
Shut de door, keep the devil in the night
Shut de door, keep out de devil
Light the candle, everything’s all right
Lately, the matter of doors and the keys that lock and unlock them has been on my mind. Recently I had to change the battery for my car’s keyless remote device — is it technically still a key? — and I was reminded that even the doors of my house are keyless. Oh, how modern technology has simplified but also complicated our lives at the same time!
The Bible has much to say about doors and keys. In Revelation 3 we read the words of Jesus conveyed to (and through) the apostle John:
“To the angel of 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…’” (Revelation 3:7-8a)
Okay, it’s clear enough from the above passage who holds the so-called “key of David”: it is none other than the Lord Himself. And yet, Jesus also told His disciples that He has given them — and, by extension, us — the authority to use that same key. By virtue of us being the servants of God, we too have been designated the “co-holders” of His keys:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
God has given to you and me the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and the authority and power to bind as well as to let loose things. We hold the keys, and it is a tremendous responsibility that we have, shutting and locking the doors that need to be shut and locked, and unlocking and opening the doors that need to be unlocked and opened.
If so, what is it precisely that you and I are unlocking and opening doors to let in, or shutting and bolting doors to keep out?
If there is something that keeps me up at night, it is our potential failure to fulfill that responsibility as Christ intended for us, that is, if we end up shutting doors that need to be opened and opening doors that ought to be kept shut and bolted. Think back over the past 2 years. The pandemic was a tremendous God-given opportunity for Christians to witness to a confused and hurting world struggling to come to grips with a crazy situation for which the politicians and the experts had no good answers let alone solutions. But what the world got instead was a Church that found itself mired in and divided over the very same things that troubled the world. Worse, whether deliberately or inadvertently so, parts of the Church probably added to the confusion and chaos by some of the things we said and did.
Granted, the Bride of Christ has never been perfect and pristine since Day 1. But in the “good old days,” despite the denominational differences of the past, the Church at least offered a semblance of relative unity to those — including the international students in this country — looking from the outside in. But that was then, and this is now. Rather than show the world a better way, we have contributed to the mess through opening the door to undesirable things and potentially closing the door to things that are good, excellent, and profitable. And the students see that.
Instead of unlocking and opening the door to the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22) — what we seem to have given the world, and failed to shut the door on, are the acts of the flesh described in Galatians 5:19 — discord, fits of rage, dissensions, factions, and so on. Not one of the Church’s prouder moments, let’s just say! Moreover, what has been heartbreaking is to hear story after story of Christian families and friendships ending because of, among other things, disagreements over politics and opposing views on vaccinations.
How, then, do we open the door to the good fruit of the Spirit and shut the door on the bad fruit of the flesh? Jesus provides the “key” (pun intended!) to the answer in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:1-8).
To keep bearing the good fruit of the Spirit, we only need to do this one thing: abide in Christ. We abide in Him by walking daily with His Spirit, for apart from Christ we can do nothing, certainly nothing of lasting spiritual value.
That said, what is mind-blowing to me is how easy it is for me to get things wrong. In a season where, at least where the ISI ministry is concerned, we are talking about the expanding of our tents (Isaiah 54:2-3), the anticipated growth of the ministry and so on, it is exceedingly easy to take all of that to mean the good fruit that we are to bear. In Matthew 7:17-23, Jesus reminds us that we are recognized by the fruit we bear, and those who produce bad fruit are also the ones who say to Jesus: Did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not, also in your name, drive out demons and perform many miracles? Jesus is very clear that not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the ones who do the will of His Heavenly Father (Matthew 7:21).
And what is the will of the Father that we are called to do? The answer is supplied in the second part of John 15:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:12-17).
Loving one another as Christ has loved us — that’s the key to our bearing unceasingly the fruit that lasts.
Over the past 2 years, I have become more and more convinced that God has strategically placed ISI where we are “for a time such as this,” as the saying goes. The ISI ministry is unique precisely because we are positioned — we stand in the gap, if you like — between the nations that God has assembled here in the United States, on the one hand, and the Church in America on the other hand. We are not only working with the local church to reach, befriend, and disciple international students; no, we are part of the local church reaching out to the uttermost parts of the earth whom God has brought to “our Jerusalem.” And if so, we are not only called to bless international students, but also to bless the Church. As “friends of the bridegroom” (John 3:29), we are equally engaged in the work of beautifying the Bride of Christ, to help it rise and shine with the glory of Christ such that the nations will be drawn to the brightness of its dawn (Isaiah 60:1-3)!
Dearly beloved, Jesus has given us the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What are we opening the door to and letting into His Church, and what are we closing the door on and keeping out? Let’s endeavor to “shut de door and keep out de devil” — let’s die to the flesh — and open the door to the fruit of the Spirit, that we may bear fruit that lasts, fruit that pleases Christ!
Let me close with this verse as a prayer for all of us who hold the keys:
“I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots — all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars” (Isaiah 22:22-24).
A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to one and all!