Closed Doors!

I work in a place where I'm surrounded by hundreds of men, women and children who not only have to deal with the devastating reality of locked and closed doors, but also have to constantly deal with having doors slammed in their faces! For those who don't know; I'm a case manager and outreach worker at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a homeless shelter in Uptown, Chicago!

I want to start by emphasizing something very important: most of the time, the closed doors people at CCO face, are completely out of their control. Most of the time, these doors are not closed because of laziness, a lack of effort or an unwillingness to open doors, but rather, they are closed because of harsh realities like oppression, inequality, discrimination and racism. The sad and ugly truth is; certain people in my neighborhood, Uptown, want to shut Cornerstone's doors for good, not because we've done something wrong, but simply because we open our doors to house, feed, clothe and assist people who they consider undesirable and unworthy!

As I observe my homeless friends; I see the sweat, I see their efforts, I see people pounding the pavement every single day, only to be rejected time and time again! I see doors slammed shut, simply because someone is homeless or poor! I see doors closed because of the color of someone's skin, or because they have a mental illness, a disability, or because they are unable to read or write, have a felony or because of other things they've done in their past! They try and try again, only to hear that horrible word of rejection; "no, no, NO!"

Many of these men and women are incredibly determined, in fact, they are some of the most determined people I've ever had the honor of meeting, yet because of this constant rejection, (these closed doors), I often have people coming to me, crying out; "what's the point of trying to do what's right? God doesn't seem to care, so why should I? I want to give in! I want to give up! I'm tired! I'm tired of being tired! I'm tempted to go back to what I used to do, because at least then, I had a little money in my pocket"

I see how discouraging and depressing "closed doors" can be! I not only see it, I feel their pain also! I'm not here to offer any false hope or promises, because I know these trials, tests and challenges can linger on like a bad dream! The reality is, closed doors often remain closed for a long time.

James offers hope to people who faced similar discouragement, to people who also struggled to see light at the end of the tunnel, let me read James chapter 1: 2-4;

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4 NIV)

The advice James gives seems absolutely crazy, he's telling his readers to consider it all joy when they encounter various trials. He's telling us to consider it pure joy, a sheer gift, because God has a greater plan and purpose. He's telling us we need to endure through it and not give in or give up. He doesn't want us to escape or hide or find an easy way out. He's telling us to wait patiently, to persevere, to endure until God opens the right doors at the right time!

When we are surrounded by nothing, but closed doors and disappointment, we need to persevere! We need to endure! When we travel down this difficult path, we mature, we become more complete and God takes notice! When we let endurance have it's perfect result, we become more Christ-like, James tells us we will "lack in nothing".

Let us consider Joseph (Genesis 37-50); he was sold as a slave, captured, wrongly accused and imprisoned in a foreign land! He'd done nothing to deserve such harsh and brutal treatment. If ever there was someone who felt like nothing was going his way and all he could see was closed doors and a dark horizon, it was Joseph! Yet, through it all, he remained full of joy, he endured and remained faithful to God. Somehow and in someway, Joseph managed to keep hope alive through all his awful circumstances!

We must remember; when Joseph was living his life, he didn't know how his story would end or what his outcome was going to be; he didn't know if God would rescue him or if he'd rot in the Egyptian jail.

As we now know, Joseph's story didn't end in tragedy, it ended with triumph; God saw him, a ex-offender he had helped remembered him and he got promoted to a very high rank in the powerful Egyptian empire! It doesn't end there, Joseph forgives his brothers who sold him into slavery, he reunited with his family and saves many people from starvation. While sitting in his jail cell, I bet Joseph could only see closed doors, but he remained faithful and matured through his experience. Joseph became more and more godlike through these horrendous trials, God noticed him and He ended up using him for the greater good!

Everyone's story won't be as harsh or as victorious as Joseph's! The bible is full of stories of faithful men and women who endured through very dark, depressing and discouraging circumstances. Some, like Joseph, found honor in this life, while many others didn't! Some had doors open up, while many others kept looking at and knocking on closed doors. These men and women remained faithful and full of joy, not knowing if God would rescue them and open doors for them or if they'd remain in their trials, waiting for closed doors to open! One thing united them all, they all knew God had an eternal plan for them!

Hebrews dedicates a whole chapter to recognizing and honoring some faithful men and women of the Old Testament. They faced closed doors, hardships, imprisonments, floggings, persecutions and a lot more, yet they persevered and endured until the end, they kept looking to God. The writer to the Hebrews closes chapter 11 and starts chapter 12 with these words....

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 11:29 - 12:3 NIV)

We have to remember: God views us through a very different set of lenses than the world does. Jesus provides new hope and a new life! The world opens doors to those who bully, take advantage of others and are proud, while closing doors on people who are humble, meek and think of others before themselves. As the world promotes hatred and revenge, the Kingdom of God promotes love and compassion. Just because the world keeps slamming doors in your face, it doesn't mean that God isn't seeing you, placing incredible value in you and wanting to spend eternity with you.

I want to close with another verse from the book of James: a verse that should fill each of us with hope and joy; a verse that flips everything upside down and gives hope and joy to those who only see "closed doors". This verse should help those feeling hopeless, weak and betrayed.

We find written in James 2:5 "Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?" (James 2:5 NIV)

The beautiful thing about God is this, that through Jesus, He has flipped everything upside down. We read it in the parables of Jesus. We see it in His miracles. He gives hope to those who have nothing in this world. He gives dearly loves those who are poor in the eyes of the world. Those who are unloved and unrecognized in this world, are loved and recognized in the Kingdom of God. Though all doors may be closed in this life, God has lovingly opened the door to His eternal Kingdom to those who are rejected and shunned in this world.

Embrace this love; for He loves the unloved and gives us new hope.
Embrace the beauty of God's Kingdom; for God is with us even when we are alone.
Embrace God's truth; for there is revolutionary hope in the most hopeless situations.
Embrace joy; for even when all doors are closed, He gives us a future in His loving eternal Kingdom, a Kingdom where there'll be no hatred, discrimination or closed doors!

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....  
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 7/22/14, in response to this question; 
“Closed Doors”
"What about when all the doors are closed in your life? How can I stay loyal to God and try to live a good life when nothing is going my way? I’m just trying to get my life together, and it seems like nothing ever works out for me. Does God really have plans for me? If so, why aren’t the doors opening for me? I want to do things right, and all I need is a little help to get on my feet."

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