I am writing this on Good Friday, the day Christians remember the suffering and death Jesus endured on the cross to redeem us from a meaningless life to one filled with forgiveness, healing, restoration, and fullness in Him. Not void of problems mind you, but we can do all things in Christ because of His sacrifice on the cross! So as I sit pondering the great cost to be saved, I think about how consumed we are with saving things in this world.
Go ahead and do a Google search “Save the” and you will get an idea how concerned we are with “stuff”! “Save the planet”, “Save the Whales”, “Save the Elephants”, “Save the Manatees”, “Save the Trees”, “Save the Tiger”, “Save the Chimp”, “Save the Rainforest”, “Save the Children” to name a few. Then we have our idioms like “save face” (attempt to keep our integrity intact) or “save our skin” (avoid getting into serious trouble). We count ourselves blessed if we are “saved by the bell” (rescued from a dangerous or tricky situation just in time). And we hope to possess a characteristic that compensates for all our character defects, which we call our “saving grace”.
We love to be involved in saving things! We attempt to save whatever is important to us be it in our lives, ministries, jobs, churches, homes, or family. Saving is high priority! It is for God too though I think He would find most of these “savings” to be of little value compared to His Son! And so it is in this vein of “saving mentality” that I share some thoughts about saving in the Church because as Easter Sunday approaches we witness many churches doing everything they can to get people through their doors in hopes of getting them saved! But without Jesus’ death and the cross what are we saving them to?
In our attempts to save though, I wonder if we are doing more exploitation than salvation! I don’t know – it is just a thought! Recently I heard a pastor describe their unique approach in attracting people to fill the seats of their church, saying “I have no problem with bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ.” The crap he is referring to is 3D televisions, Nintendo 3D’s, and 3D movie ticket packages. He said these are the tools they are using to get people to come to church because it is awkward to just invite people to church and so to alleviate some of the “weirdness” of inviting they are simply offering bribes making it more comfortable. Another one of their pastors said most churches are dying and willing to just sit back and let it happen while they are just crazy enough to do wild things to get people in. The report did end that most everyone who shows up to win a prize returns one more time.
I am not trying to debate the rightness or wrongness of this approach and I am not dealing with any particular church, just used the quotes of one pastor who spoke publicly so please don’t take this as an attack on a church. I am merely mentioning what was said publicly as I share some thoughts about salvation since it cost Jesus His life to save us! It would be difficult to argue with the success of these kind of tactics churches use to get people in, especially if you have a church that has little more to offer than the Gospel, the love of Christ, and the love of a few worshippers. It even appears that offering “crap” is necessary in the American Christian church to get people in the doors with a “chance” to be saved. Maybe we don’t have to go to the extreme of spending $8000 dollars in prizes but still… growing churches are those who have great music, lighting, singers dressed in cool clothes, flamboyant preachers, programs for all ages and needs, diverse people in the church, and relevant messages for people in our society. We would be hard-pressed to say anything less than church has become more about us than about Jesus! Even the way we now “attract” people is done in a way to save ourselves from awkwardness, weirdness, or being uncomfortable.
I really can’t talk though since it seems impossible for us to even compel Christians to come to church without all the “extra’s”! Our church looks like one of those dying churches mentioned by the pastor because of our few numbers even though we are anything but willing to just sit back and let it happen because we are crazy in love with Jesus, and share in His desire that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. Yet, we are not wild enough to bribe anyone to come to church. So how does all this fit into the “saving” mentality in the church today?
Questions rage in my heart and mind as I consider that question: After using all these “means” to attract people, when is it a good time to tell them the truth about Jesus? AFTER their first visit, after the second, third or fourth one? Will they be upset or feel we deceived them? When do we tell people we just offered them a chance to win a prize because we knew by giving them something, they would come and then we could slip Jesus into the equation? Will they feel disrespected at that point? And then when do we tell them a life in Jesus is the greatest thing ever but it really isn’t about all this “material” stuff we just gave them but about dying to all these things? When do we tell them we bribed them because it is too awkward to invite them to church and too weird to talk to them about a personal relationship with Jesus? Is it okay to give people the impression Christians are kind and generous people because they give away freebies at church? Is repentance and our need for a Savior so outdated and awkward that we need to attract people through the lust of their eyes and the desires of their flesh? Is love so difficult that we need to give people “stuff” in order to get their attention?
My biggest questions include things like what does it mean to be culturally relevant? Is the Gospel relevant? Is Jesus enough? Do I need to look, talk, act in a certain culturally relevant way to teach the Gospel today? Or for anyone to listen? Is this what Jesus would do? Is this what Holy Spirit is instructing His Church to do in the 21st century to save people? Am I too archaic or stuck in my own paradigm? Am I too old? Am I unwilling to consider alternatives? Am I close-minded? Do I really care about saving people to Christ?
As I asked God some of these questions for the umpteenth time, He chose to answer a few of them by taking me to His Word and to His cross. As I read and prayed He asked me if people today are any different from His disciples when He walked the earth. I wept and replied “No Lord, we are no different today; in spite of our advanced technology, in spite of our earthly riches, in spite of our vast intelligence, in spite of it all. No Lord, we are no different! “ And then He showed me what He thinks about saving especially surrounding His death.
Holy Spirit reminded me of what Jesus said “before” He went to the cross.
Mark 8:31-35 “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’ When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
God’s answer to being culturally relevant is that He IS always relevant and we are relevant when we are God-minded not man minded! God’s answer to sharing Him with others is to tell them the truth about denying self, taking up their cross and following Jesus! God’s answer to saving your life is to lose it! I will let you figure out God’s answer to awkwardness and weirdness when inviting people to Church. (Hint: It is in bold print)
Then He reminded me what others said as Jesus hung on the cross!
Mark 15:29-32 “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ …”
People will always be crying out for us to save ourselves, save the Church, save our reputation, even get them saved! In our attempts to show them Jesus we must ask ourselves what are we truly saving them to or from? Will we teach them how to save themselves or save themselves for Him! And then will we do what they ask or will we do what He asks? In other words, will we save ourselves or will we die to ourselves.
Then finally, Holy Spirit showed me (again) what Jesus did !
Mark 15:37 “And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last!”
Thank You Jesus for showing us how You save!
So back to the beginning! How important is it to save today? It is super important in God’s economy! Jesus chose not to “save face” but to face death to save us! He chose not to “save His skin” but to breathe His last that we might live! He chose not to be “saved by the bell”, not to be rescued in the nick of time, so that we could be saved by the grace of God. And He chose not to rely on “saving grace” but to offer grace that saves!
I pray this Easter is about the entire experience, His suffering, His death, AND His resurrection! I pray it is about losing our lives for Jesus’ sake so we live and lead others to this saving grace as well. I pray this is our passion in life as it was for Jesus! He saved His best for last! And if nothing else, I pray this got us all asking some questions of the Lord about His Church and saving at this most precious time in the lives of His followers!