Summary: Being authentic in describing the Gospel and it's impact on our lives.
"Just Plain Crazy"
Let me check the mike, because you know I need all the help I can get. It’s like the Lutheran pastor who always started each service with "The Lord be with you." The people would respond, "and also with you.”
But, one Sunday the PA system wasn't working so the first thing he said was "There's something wrong with this microphone." The people responded, "and also with you."
I was reading an ad this last week for another one of those books on how to grow an absolutely, enormous, mega-church. This church, the ad says, "...may be the fastest growing church in America today...” I resisted ordering the book to add to an already significant collection of books on church growth. So, I don’t have any details about this particular church, but many of the booming churches and ministries in our culture make a lot of promises to people who attend.
One advertisement I saw for a traveling evangelist’s crusade read, "Come and find peace of mind…physical healing…and freedom from financial difficulty!" I don’t know about the other stuff but “Financial Difficulty” must mean they’re giving money away! Now there are some biblical passages used by some that would seem to support these promises.
"Come to me... and I will give you rest." [Matt. 11:28]
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." [Malachi 3:10]
"And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” [Luke 6:19]
"You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” [John 14:14]
Rest... A flood of blessings... Healing... Anything I ask for? Count me in. It would be stupid not to be a follower of Jesus Christ! However, the one thing that binds our scriptures together today is that serving the Lord is definitely not a quick trip to gain and glory! These texts provide a strong "reality check" for the authenticity of our message about the Christian life. Let there be no doubt there is great gain in following Christ -- peace, love and joy, not to mention “Living Forever” with God in Heaven. I mean there are some obvious perks, which come with a commitment to Christ. However, there is more, and these texts point out that there can and will be great pain…as well as gain when we put God first.
(Read Matthew 16:21-28)
Many have raised questions about the easy version of the gospel. Health and wealth; pray yourself into that mansion here on earth, and into that multi-million dollar bank account. Rest without requirements, blessing without burdens, or healing without heartache – but to get anything without giving anything – isn’t that a distortion of what it means to follow Christ? Isn’t this Christ…without a cross -- Christianity without commitment. Can this possibly be what Jesus came to bring?
Easy Gospel, tough Gospel there are all kinds of methods for bringing people to Christ. Writer and pastor Eugene Peterson tells of winning his first convert to the faith. Garrison Johns was a bully who delighted in beating up on Peterson everyday after school. Being raised in a Christian home with Christian values, his mother continually told him that this was the way Christians were treated. One day, however, Peterson snapped and jumped on Garrison Johns and got the upper hand. Surprisingly, he discovered he was stronger than Johns and pounded away on the bully as he held him pinned to the ground with his knees. "Say Uncle," Peterson demanded as the blows flew. Johns would not so Peterson continued the beating. Then, as a glimpse that maybe he was born to evangelism, he said, "Say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.' " Peterson writes, "And he said it. Garrison Johns was my first convert."
Our generation is not the first to raise these questions. One of the most powerful statements about what it means to follow Christ was the publication in English of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, "Cost of Discipleship" In the book, Bonhoeffer coins the phrase, "cheap grace." And I quote;
"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace... Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves... Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline... Cheap grace is a grace without discipleship, grace without the cross... Costly grace is the treasure hidden in a field... the pearl of great price... it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him."