Selling The Gospel

When I was in my early twenties, I was offered an opportunity in a sales related company.  After going through some of the preliminary steps toward employment, I realized it just wasn’t for me. I told my prospective employers, “Thanks for offering the opportunity, but no thanks on the acceptance.”

My personality is toward realism and honesty–not very conducive traits for a sales career. To flourish in most sales careers, a person needs to put on the persona of being a best friend to the prospective client while simultaneously attempting to remove as much money as possible from that client, legally, of course.

The goal or game plan is to find common ground with the prospective client, get them to relax, persuade the client you are there to help them, influence their thoughts with your choice of vocabulary, etc. It is no longer a real relationship with that person. It becomes a performance orchestrated to obtain results.  It works if you have the personality makeup to play the role. That is why my 85-year-old grandmother bought a $1,500+ vacuum cleaner–a vacuum cleaner that was so heavy she could hardly move the thing. She used it only a couple of times before buying another $100 model just like she previously owned but  had traded to the very nice man who sold her the $1,500+ vacuum cleaner. He had even given her more on trade-in than she had given for it. He was such a nice man. No, he was a vacuum cleaner salesman playing up to an old lady who bought a vacuum cleaner she couldn’t even use. Personally, I don’t see where “nice” fits into this equation.

Often, many people in the sales field lose their realism in every-day life. They play to every person and situation the same as they would a potential client. I’m not saying all of them do this, but I am saying that many do this. There are people like this in my life and family, and I am thinking, “Why don’t you just be real? Quit trying to play me or sell me on something.” Their fakeness and insincerity is nauseating and very obvious, unbeknownst to them. They have played this game for so long, they have no idea how they come across, or even how to be genuine.

Where am I going with this, you may wonder. While talking with a friend recently, the topic turned to the fakeness and performance so sadly present in many of the pulpits and ministry today. We were discussing the fact that it was so obvious and nauseating. Then, it hit me. Somewhere along the way, we quit spreading the Gospel and went to selling the Gospel. In spreading the Gospel, we merely share the news. The power is in the Gospel, itself. In selling the Gospel, just like the vacuum cleaner salesman, it’s in our “smoozing” and presentation. We no longer trust in the power of the Gospel, but rather increasingly have to trust in our own ability to get the person to buy or believe the Gospel. This has its own irony, if you think about it. While saying to others that the Gospel is so powerful, the salesman does not trust its power, but must kick in his own methods to sell it.  And just like those salesmen of worldly goods, who lose touch with reality and are always in “sales mode”, many of those selling the Gospel have fallen into the same trap, which is really sad because many of the lost people aren’t seeking performances or presentations, but are seeking truth, sincerity and honesty, all which are present in the Gospel, unadorned with cheap human trinkets or sales gimmicks.

When we sell this modified Gospel, many of the people whom we get to buy into it, wind up just like my grandmother. They bought a product that is not beneficial to them and they cannot use it. They become disappointed in the product, when they should have been disappointed in the salesman. We need to get back to spreading the Gospel and quit trying to sell it.

Timing is everything. As we were finishing this article, the phone rang. It was a local number, but we didn’t recognize it. When my wife said, “Hello,” the voice on the other end said, “Hi! My name is…” the voice was sunshiny, but it was obviously a rehearsed sales pitch and even sounded computer generated. We hung up without a word. Ugh. Nauseating.

Just a Few Thoughts on an Evening Campfire with Friends

Last night, we enjoyed a pleasant evening with a small group of friends who brought all of the fixings. We grilled hamburgers, made homemade french-fries, and sipped on our drinks of choice. Each friend who was there has a particular talent or passion that often enriches their own lives and the lives of others. As we sat around the campfire, I began to think of the various parts that were brought together in this circle of friendship.

Two of them are excellent gardeners. In fact, one had brought some starter oak trees that he had grown from acorn seeds. I hope to plant them and have some great shade in years to come. Another friend had brought lettuce and onions from his garden. They were delicious on the hamburgers. One is talented in baking and homemaking; she had brought the homemade hamburger buns as well as a special homemade herbal beverage that was delicious and fresh tasting. Another friend is kind of like the glue that keeps the group together. Among her many, many talents, skills, and passions, she is deeply compassionate for people. But, the one talent that she has that came to mind as we sat around the campfire, was her talent with knitting and crochet. She is highly skilled and has created many masterpieces with yarn.

As I thought about each friend in turn, I realized that each one replicated a little bit of what God does with each of us. We are all familiar with the gardening aspect of the Gospel—planting, watering and nurturing seeds into fruition and harvest. Another way the Gospel is represented is the taking of small parts that seem insignificant, such as individual elements of a recipe or a small piece of yarn, and mixing or spinning, until a beautiful end is achieved. No one wants to sit down to a bowl of flour and baking powder—but you add a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and apply some heat, and a delicious loaf of bread is achieved. No one wants to wear a spool of yarn on his head; but you pull a little piece here, and wrap a little piece around this needle, and soon a beautiful cap, sweater, or perhaps a pair of socks emerges.

One of my husband’s talents is taking pieces of junk that once were valuable and restoring them. One of his passions is lights. He has always liked making lamps. His equal passion to lamps is lanterns. Some of the lights in our home are made of old lanterns that were either salvaged out of the pasture or trash, or redeemed at a flea market for very little money. With time and expertise, that rusty, valueless piece of junk slowly begins to emerge a masterpiece that graces a lampstand or mantle. If the lantern is fixable to run as a lantern, then it is restored to its initial purpose; however, if the lantern is too far gone to function as a lantern, then it is often turned into an electric lamp. Either way, it is no longer scrap metal destined for the furnace to be melted down. It is salvaged and beautified.

This is also an aspect of the Gospel. God takes what was perhaps supposed to be, but due to sin and corrosion of the soul, it became damaged and is not able to function as it was meant to do. He sends someone along to salvage and redeem. This person then brushes away the rust, repairs the bent parts, replaces the missing parts, and turns it into something that lights the way for others.

 

A Baby Basket

One of the pawn shops we frequented in central Texas was managed by a woman in her mid to late twenties. She was always “all business” and came across sometimes as distant and cold, viewing all customers with a detachment that is common in that occupation. We tried to break through the ice on several occasions, but without much success. We had been frequenting that shop for over a year when we found out that the manager was expecting.

When she was nearing the end of her pregnancy, we put together a baby basket with a receiving blanket, onesies, booties, etc. We included a New Testament for the mother and a Billy Graham evangelism track about making peace with God (my wife added that as a last minute item on a whim). When we dropped into the store, the manager was already away on maternity leave. We left the basket with one of the other clerks we knew and asked him to tell the manager that we were thinking about her and hoped all was well with her and the baby. We really didn’t know anything about this lady except for her first name and occupation. We went on our way and didn’t return to this store for nearly three months. In the months following, we were very busy and had basically forgotten about the baby basket.

When we walked in after approximately three months, she came running out of the manager’s office and said, “It was ya’ll, wasn’t it?” We said, “What?” She said, “The baby basket! I asked who left it, but I couldn’t place who he was saying. But it was ya’ll, wasn’t it?” We said, “Yes.” She said, “It changed my life. You showed me how to find God.” Her whole demeanor had changed. She showed us pictures of her baby, and she went on to tell us that her husband was in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan. He would be returning in only nineteen days. She showed us pictures of him and told us more about her life. Then, she stated that she wanted to share God with her husband as soon as he came home. She realized how important it was now and the difference it could make.

In reality, we didn’t know if she had even gotten the basket, or if she had gotten it and tossed it, or had even given a second thought to its origin. We didn’t know if anything would come of it at all; we only knew that God had put on our hearts to do it. We left the rest up to Him. For as long as she was at that pawn shop, she would go out of her way if she saw us walk in to show us pictures of her family and update us on her life. A pretty good return for a few items given in a baby basket to a relative stranger.

The Wrath of God

A few days ago, I read some posts that mentioned the wrath of God, and I have been thinking about them ever since.  In one post, a person stated that they didn’t want to speak about God’s wrath or think about people suffering His wrath. In another post, someone stated that as Christians, we do not need to talk about God’s wrath but instead, should talk about His love.

Nearly three hundred years ago, this same debate raged in the American colonies. Jonathan Edwards, American preacher, delivered one of the most powerful messages ever to be preached on this continent. The name of his sermon was, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But, if you read the sermon, it is much about God’s love. Both love and anger are part of God. When we speak of only one of His attributes, we are not speaking of God as a whole. What if we spoke only of the calm in the eye of a hurricane? Even if we did it because we didn’t like talking about the forces at play outside the eye, or the thought of people and property being exposed to those forces? Would we be doing the people in the path of the hurricane a favor? No. We sound the alarm. We tell them a storm is coming. Even if in the eye of the storm there is tranquility, that is only part of the truth. The second point that emphasizes what I am saying concerns bears. If you have ever lived in bear country, you go by certain rules. Those rules are posted frequently by the forest rangers/forest service as constant reminders to anyone traveling in the bear’s habitat. Why are these rules posted? To avoid the wrath of an angry bear. Or, perhaps better said, to avoid being a hiker in the paws of an angry bear.

We speak often of how to avoid the wrath of a hurricane or a bear. We take certain steps and precautions. When one is headed our way, we take protective actions. Interestingly enough, both the bear and the hurricane only affect our temporal, earthly life. God’s wrath deals with the immortal soul—eternity. We are taught to respect and fear the bear and the hurricane. But by failing to mention God’s wrath and anger, He is no longer to be feared—at least in the minds of those who would rather operate in denial. What does the Bible say is the beginning of wisdom? It is the fear of the Lord God Almighty. By speaking of only part of Him, this is lost. We are doing no one a favor by not speaking of God’s anger. Would you send children into the woods and not teach them about the wrath of a bear? Would you not warn a neighbor of a hurricane if you knew it was coming? The reality in this world is, If you die without being redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus, Who is God incarnate, you are facing eternity and damnation. I will agree, that does not sound pleasant. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone—even my worst enemy. The thought of hell in actuality is more than the human mind can comprehend. My refusing to think about it or speak of it does not make it go away.

I once made a similar statement to the one above regarding the redemptive power of Christ. It offended one of my friends who stated something like, “You must not care about me. You say there is a God, and I say there is no god. So, I must be wrong. How can you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong?” I replied to him, “No, I speak of this to you because I do care about you. You are my friend. I truly believe this. What kind of friend would I be if I did not warn you of what is true? If I knew of a danger that was present, of course I would warn you.” He stated, “I’ve never looked at it like that. So, my friends who tell me that God is real are doing it because they care about me. I always just thought that they were picking on me or being pushy with their religion.”

Again, we are doing no one a favor by not mentioning the wrath of God. Not only has the one sided view of God (only His love) become a personal favorite of individuals, but it is also a corporate ideal as well, perpetuated in and by many churches and Christian leaders—God’s love sells better than God’s anger. Christian entities and individuals need to quit trying to sell God and speak of Him in His entirety. We might be surprised at the results in our communities and country.

Crew Cab Revival

One excruciatingly hot summer evening, we were enroute to a week day revival service held at a friend’s church. About a half mile from our house, we saw three people standing beside a car up on a jack. The car was maybe a hundred yards up a county road off of the Farm to Market that we live on. Earlier in the day, we had noticed the car when we had returned from Dublin, but we hadn’t seen anyone with it. It was parked to the side of the road and was not a traffic hazard. However, this time, we were coming from the opposite direction, and now we could see that the driver’s front wheel assembly had fallen off.

Seeing the dilemma of the occupants of the car on the side of the road, we turned in to see if we could help and stated that we had seen the car earlier but had not seen them with it. They stated that no one had stopped all afternoon and that at one point, they had all laid down in the car to take a nap. We thought that perhaps they had been sleeping when we had come by earlier because we hadn’t seen them.

The trio looked rough. It was a male and two females in their late teens/early twenties. We silently acknowledged to ourselves that we could see why no one had wanted to stop. They said they had a cell phone but had no signal. Then they commented on how thirsty they were. We happened to have several bottles of water with us. We couldn’t remember why we had put them in the truck that day. We gave them water and asked them what we could do to help.

They said that they needed to get to Comanche. The male said, “If you can get us to where we can get a signal, maybe we can call someone to come pick us up. I think our car is toast.” We said that if they just needed to go to Comanche, there was no need for them to call someone. We could take them. They stated, “Ya’ll are dressed up. It’s obvious you’re going somewhere.” We said it wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait. As we all piled into the truck, before we pulled onto the road, the male noticed the Bibles on the dash and commented on them. We said, “Well, actually, we were going to church.” He apologized for making us miss church. I laughed and said, “What’s the point of going to church if I leave you on the side of the road?” He said, “Yeah, that doesn’t go together, does it?” Again, he said he was sorry and at the same time was thankful for the ride. He had decided that they were going to have to spend a very thirsty night in the car if no one stopped.

As we drove toward Comanche, he stated that his grandma had taught him about God and the Bible. He said, “I should have listened to God and followed the Bible more. You can tell by looking at me that I haven’t made some of the best decisions in my life. Maybe it’s time to change that.” We acknowledged that maybe it was time for him to go back to some of the things that grandma had taught him. By his own admission his life was a wreck.

We had a good conversation on the way to our destination. For most of the trip, the two females of the trio were silent. But, they were actively listening to this newly discovered side of their male companion. One of them stated thoughtfully, “Maybe it is time to turn our lives around. I know mine could use it. Maybe I ought to get my high school diploma or even a G.E.D. for starters.” Interestingly enough, my wife had contacts with someone whose specialty was to help high school dropouts recover their educational pursuits. She knew their numbers by heart and wrote them down for the two young women. We do not know what the revival service would have been that night at the church we intended to attend with friends. But, it would have had a hard time beating the one we attended in a crew cab F-250 while helping three strangers.

She Bearly Made It

No, the title is not misspelled. This is another story in which we risked saying a few more words to someone other than, “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you.” This one also occurred while we were out of state. We happened upon a garage sale sign just outside of a town, in a lovely subdivision that backed up against the national forest. Our vehicle automatically turns in at garage sales, and this time, we were lucky—there were three garage sales in a row!

We walked around all three, and I think we found only one or two items. There wasn’t much there that sparked our interest. However, one of the women sitting at the table where we paid for the items seemed to be a special assignment from God. She was in her early 60s and skinny as a rail. After we paid for the items and walked toward the car, my wife said, “I want to give her a Bible.” We often carried extras in our vehicle for just this type of occasion. As we searched our vehicle, none were to be found. My wife stated, “I know we are supposed to give her one. We’ll have to go get one and come back.”

We drove the 15 miles to where we were staying and retrieved a Bible. Upon returning to the garage sales, the woman was nowhere to be found. Another woman overheard us inquiring about her and walked up to the table. She said, “Oh, you’re talking about Carol. She was helping with the garage sale this morning. She’s just a neighbor.” We found out that she lived three houses down and had only been at the garage sale for a short time that morning—the same short time as when we had been there.

The ladies gave us directions to her house. I stayed in the car. Sarah knocked on the door several times before the lady appeared. When she did finally appear, she reeked of alcohol. Sarah reminded the woman that earlier in the day at the garage sale we had bought a few items from her. The woman said she remembered Sarah who then explained that she felt like she was supposed to give Carol a Bible and tell her God loved her. The woman gripped the door and began to shake uncontrollably. She said that she needed to hear about God because she had had a near-death experience the day before and was so afraid.

Sarah asked her if she wanted to share her story. Carol explained that she had been out walking the day before and had been cut off on her return path by a bear. The bear reared up on its hind legs and then charged. In fear for her life, Carol tried to run. She stumbled backward and fell, screaming and clawing, certain that the approaching bear that was only a few feet away was going to kill her. Neighbors heard the screams and quickly arrived on the scene. The bear had given what appeared to be a “false charge”, but in her terror, Carol had soiled herself. She was so terrified that she couldn’t walk and had to be carried back to her house. She said that this was the most terrifying and most humiliating experience she had ever had. She said that night that she drank herself to sleep and all she could think about was what would have happened to her if she had died? She was not only afraid of being killed by the bear but was terrified of the hereafter.

Sarah said that maybe that was why God had put it on her heart to come visit the woman today. Would she like to hear about God? The woman said she would but didn’t have much time. She had custody of her grandson and had to be at an event with him.

While this conversation was taking place, I could see my wife talking to the lady on the porch. And although I didn’t know the dialogue, I could tell by the body language something interesting was taking place. Later, when Sarah told me the details of the conversation, I think the fact that I stayed in the car made it more comfortable for the woman to relay her story.

Sarah gave the woman the Bible and her phone number. Off and on for months afterward, we had conversations with this woman. During these conversations, we explained what salvation through Jesus was and that we were all sinners who needed redemption. During none of these conversations would Carol commit to giving her life to God. She only wanted to hear about Him but did not want to take any action on her part. She would ask questions, and we would answer them as best we could. As time wore on, the fearful episode Carol experienced with the bear began to fade. Her desire to get to know God waned. She told Sarah one day that she refused to believe that she was a sinner. To her, the God who loved her and protected her was acceptable, but it was repugnant to her that this same God would expect her to admit she was a sinner and expected her to give up her life to His control. That was outrageous to her. She reasoned that she was not a sinner because she had never hurt anyone.

Try as we may, she would not accept that all humans must go through a redemptive process to be born again before they can gain entrance to Heaven—it’s not necessarily about being evil and hurting people that makes one a sinner. The mere fact of being without God is a sin. At some point, we must all actively, on purpose, invite Him in and give our lives over to Him.

While we all agreed that God had orchestrated the events that intersected us with Carol—the timing of the garage sale, which had been scheduled days or weeks before, which happened to be the day after the bear incident, and the fact that we happened to arrive as customers the same few minutes that she was giving her neighbor a break and sitting at one of the tables, the fact that she was wondering what would happen to her when she died, and was in fact wondering if there was a God, the fact that two strangers show up, and one of them goes out of her way to get a Bible and bring it back to her, so that she can know about God, in the end, to our knowledge, Carol never accepted God into her life.

After about a year, we lost touch with Carol. Strangely enough, she called us one night. Her grandson who had been playing high school football was severely injured and had to be care lifted by helicopter to a hospital. She was enroute to the hospital and asked us to pray for all involved. We were glad to, but we had to wonder…she acknowledged the idea of a God but refused to accept that she was in need of a Savior—she preferred the “genie in the bottle” type of God. And that just isn’t real.

Not every story ends the way we would like it to. Sometimes all we can do with the people God intersects us with is just plant the seed. In God’s time, He will send the rain.

Ask Not What You Can Do for God, But What God Can Do for You

Very seldom do I enjoy reading a book on the subject of religion that has been written in the last 20 years. They seem mostly to contain little meat and are derivatives of, “Your Best Life Now”.  If the authors were more honest, their titles should read, “ Making God Work  for You”, “Getting God on Board With Your Plans”, “What God Can Do For You”, “Adding God to Your Life”, etc.

In many modern theological books, there is no humbling oneself before God, no admission of what we truly are without God. In reality, these books are more about using God for one’s own benefit. We have both read works by and have visited in person with Christian leaders who literally believe that the Bible is a book of godly principles that are best incorporated into a lifestyle so that the person can be successful in business, government, and personal relationships. They see the Bible as a “how to” guide for successful living—they look at the principles therein and see them only as a way to be successful in this life. They literally scour the Bible and books of Biblical quotes and find ways to fit them into their already existing life—they do not view the Bible as a book that points to God in such a way as having to lay down their lives (leave their nets) and follow Him. They only see the book as a way to improve their nets, much like a book of spells or potions.

I read Joel Osteen’s mega seller, “Your Best Life Now.”  I wanted to see what all the hype was about . I picked up a copy one morning and read it in its entirety the same day. I didn’t hastily just thumb through the book. When I had finished, my copy looked like it had been attacked with a neon green highlighter. The areas that I had highlighted green were not great quotes I wanted to remember, but instead were areas of disagreement. Never before had I finished a book that I disagreed with to this degree. In vain I kept looking for the source of all the hype. I did highlight one or two things hot pink that I thought were good. But in the words of my great grandmother, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.”  This book by Osteen was one of the first to gain acclaim in an era of display racks lined with other prosperity gospel and Christian self-help titles that we still haven’t escaped, although recently, it seems to be morphing into a movement that champions a misguided version of God’s love, making it permissive instead of enduring.

What I find interesting is that if you go back to a time when books actually offered meat to readers and required thought to comprehend, a common thread connected these books: they warned of a trend in Christianity and where it would lead if it weren’t stamped out or at least brought under control. What was this trend? That Christians and the churches they constitute were losing the fear of God, and by losing this fear, we would no longer feel the need to be humbled before Him. If left unchecked, it would lead to a time where instead of Christians picking up their crosses and following Jesus because of who He is and our need for Him, they would claim to follow Jesus, but not for who He is. They would follow Him for the benefits they believed they could receive from following Him. True Christianity involves humility, repentance, and change in life direction. Crony Christianity involves neither. In Crony Christianity, I just add God to my life.

It is clear that from today’s religious climate, two things can be deduced : 1) writers from yesteryear were on to something; 2) we never got the trend that they warned about under control.

Now, it seems, we are trying to justify ourselves by reading books that tell us that God is pleased with us even if we just add Him. We really don’t have to follow him; He loves us anyway.