When the cabin pressure drops at 35,000 feet, life takes on a different set of priorities.
“We beg of you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God!” II Corinthians 5:20
“There is…a time to speak…” Ecclesiastes 3:7
“How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14
“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I Corinthians 9:16
Life is full of really good things. Ball games. Amusement parks. Family outings. Sunsets. The smell of flowers and baked bread and air-dried towels. Raindrops on the roof. The taste of Mom’s cooking. Airplane rides. So much to take in and enjoy.
I was on a flight from San Diego to Denver. As we boarded the plane, the flight attendants were busy readying the flight for departure. We passengers didn’t have the same sense of urgency but rather tended to our own matters, enjoying some of the good things around us. Some of the things I enjoy are baseball and reading leisurely magazines. As a courtesy, the airline had given us a free copy of the Colorado Rockies Magazine to peruse at our leisure. And though the team wasn’t having a banner season, Todd Helton was showcased on the cover and in the feature article. I enjoyed the article about Denver’s consistent slugger who gives fans something to cheer about, even in a losing season.
But the flight attendants weren’t focused on Todd Helton or the Rockies Magazine. They had other more pressing business to attend to. In fact, they implored us to put down our magazines and to take our headphones off so that we could give our undivided attention to their urgent message about critical safety procedures. One sentence stuck out in particular: “In the event that the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling above you. First, place the mask over your own nose and mouth; then, assist others…”
They sure make a big deal about this on each and every flight I take. It must be that important.
When the cabin pressure drops at 35,000 feet and high altitude and 600-mile-an-hour speeds suck the oxygen out of the cabin, life takes on a different set of priorities. The good things in life aren’t the focus any more. No time to pause and sip hot chocolate or enjoy the sunset. Not a chance. Every shred of energy is redirected toward the singular goal of acquiring oxygen—and surviving, first for yourself, then for those around you. It’s very clear:
1) Oxygen masks drop.
2) Secure your own mask.
3) Help others secure their masks.
Notice it doesn’t leave much room for secondary activities:
1) Oxygen masks drop.
2) Secure your own mask.
3) Finish your beverage and magazine article.
4) Consider helping others secure their masks, if you don’t have anything better to do.
For those wishing to survive, the magazine article evaporates and getting oxygen to everyone possible becomes paramount.
So it is with our preaching. We have these brief windows of contact with people and an opportunity to rescue them from what will certainly end in eternal tragedy for all those without Christ.
As it is with the flight attendants, so it is with us as preachers. We must give clear and persuasive instructions about how to be saved. (And I think there is little to be lost and so very much to be gained by giving these instructions each time we preach—just as the flight attendants every time instruct passengers on how to survive in the event of cabin pressure loss. On each flight there are certainly those who’ve not yet heard the message—or at least those who’ve heard it but weren’t paying attention the first time. The major difference here is plane’s rarely crash or lose cabin pressure. But every life will come to an end. We know all people face judgement for their sins—let us rescue them with life-giving instructions. Preaching is the perfect opportunity to distribute the ultimate oxygen mask—the gospel!)
The flight attendants don’t only tell people how to help themselves. They explain how they can help others as well. First, put on your own mask. Then, help others put on theirs. (For a world-changing article about helping others distribution salvation integrated with your preaching, see this wonderful article by Dean Hawk.)
As preachers, we can tell people how to be saved from God’s wrath. And we can train people how they can tell other people how to be saved.
It’s a bizarre thought that someone on a plane without cabin pressure would don their own oxygen mask and then return to reading their magazine without helping those around them. And one of the greatest travesties imaginable is a believer—with salvation secured—traveling through life ignoring those around them. This is where we have the opportunity not only to preach but also to pastor without cabin pressure by training others during and outside of the church service.
Let me pause for a moment with a careful comment here about presenting the gospel on regular occasion: The gospel is a crucial message targeted at the mind and the will and the emotions of our hearers—with a call to action. It is not a message meant to heap guilt, condemn, or stir up a flurry of activity. If poorly handled or presented in a wrong spirit, it might actually drive someone from Christ rather than draw them to him. Preaching is an opportunity to creatively illustrate the urgency of the gospel and to challenge believers to watch for those people God brings into their lives to tell them about Christ—or at least to invite them to church to hear it where they know their pastor will consistently and clearly share the good news.)
Challenge and implore your hearers: “For a moment, set aside the good things in life to listen to the preacher.”
1) The grace of God has dropped.
2) Secure your own salvation.
3) Help others secure their salvation.
Earth has lost its cabin pressure! The solution is urgent! Everyone must wear the “oxygen mask” of the gospel, or they will soon be lost forever. We must be as vigilant as the flight attendants in giving people careful instructions for saving themselves. Without a careful explanation, they simply won’t understand it:
1) Yes, you are wonderfully loved by God!
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
2) However, your sin has put you in grave danger and broken your relationship with God.
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
3) God’s wrath is certainly coming.
“You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)
4) Jesus Christ died and shed his blood to give you shelter from the coming judgment.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
5) God raised Jesus from the dead!
“…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
6) You can call upon him now and be rescued from the danger you are in.
“For whoever will call upon the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13)
The gospel we preach must be accurate and clear. Preach about sin? Emphasize God’s wrath? Talk about Christ’s blood? Affirm the resurrection? Can expressing all of these possibly be effective? Most certainly. Ultimately, it’s the only way to have a lasting effect. As we preach, must clearly and urgently present the gospel under the careful direction of God’s Spirit. It’s called the gospel. Preach it creatively. Preach it passionately. Preach it accurately. Preach it regularly. But by all means, preach it!
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
Along with Greg Laurie, I humbly and earnestly urge all pastors to take The SermonCentral Gospel Challenge today—to present the gospel in every church service each week.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article was originally published in 2007.
Ron Forseth, along with his friend Scott Evans, founded The SermonCentral Gospel Challenge—a vision to see 20,000 pastors present the gospel one million times a year. Ron was for six years general manager and editor of SermonCentral.com. He was also founding executive editor of ChurchLeaders.com. He studied for two years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and has a passion to share Christ and see all people groups of the world reached with the gospel. He was for several years a college pastor in Colorado and later served for most of the 1990s in China and Mongolia. He is currently vice president for development for Westfall Group, dedicated to raising $1 billion for ministries advancing the Kingdom of God. Ron lives with his wife Carol in Colorado Springs, Colorado.