(Please don't read that last sentence like it's just a sentence on my blog. Please consider the depths of what I just shared with you... a girl named Jessica is no longer spiritually dead but has taken her first baby step - and the most important baby step - into the cross and all of eternity. So lets's try that again...)
Today I had the chance to pray with a girl named Jessica to receive Jesus Christ into her life. In fact, several people came up after service today to begin this indescribable journey with the Lord. I love the Gospel in its purest form... when Jesus is lifted high and all people are drawn to Him.
We had this great service planned with some cool videos and great stage lighting, not to mention this real sweet PowerPoint that I put together. Unfortunately, the high winds in Michigan today affected the power lines and caused the church building to go down to 1/3 of its power. Scattered areas throughout the facility had electricity while many other spots were in the dark. The irony is that the lighting that remained was right where I would speak... the plugs that worked were near enough to where the praise team would play that they were able to pull off an acoustic set (not to mention rig up a microphone) through some small sound equipment... and the cross that we'd brought into the room for an altar call icon was able to have a spotlight on it.
Towards the end of my message I just shared from my heart an impression I'd experienced this week in prepping for the message. Simply put, I had the sense that someone in the room needed Jesus Christ and today was going to be the day of their salvation. I don't usually like making spiritual statements like this because way too often we use the phrase "God told me" to justify something we want to see happen. But in the best way I could discern I just knew it to be the truth, and so I said it.
And so without any spotlighted pressure or emotional manipulation, I just invited anyone who sensed God speaking to them to come to the cross (literally) where behind it a few of us would be willing to pray with them and for them.
And amazingly... they came.
It's interesting to me what salvation invitations have become these days. For many preachers it's a selfish thing - like a feeling we accomplished something trackable in a message that can be jotted down as a statistic on the next denominatonal report. For others, it's about satisisfying personal ego and justifying a position we may hold. Still others may even believe that it's the thing everyone expects us to do and why we were hired in the first place.
The good news, though, is that I see this all becoming less of a trend. While some of the reasons I just listed may still be true, I see a "salvation" of salvation taking place in the church. As I visit with other congregations and spend time with the Lord in the depths of my own heart, I find the issue being less about getting people to come to an altar and more about building a relationship where they feel encouraged and supported in this journey. The "fear of hell" or the "ticket to heaven" speech has taken a place of equal emphasis with the issue of living out a life of surrender on earth. This is refreshing to me because so often we become so focused on "what happens after we die" that we miss out on inviting people into the abundant life Jesus proclaimed.
In short, I believe that true salvation involves becoming the person that God created you to be. So often we think that Jesus' death on the cross was simply about all the bad things we did. It was so much more than that, though... it was about bringing us from spiritual death into everlasting life. The big problem isn't that people have sin in their lives... the big problem is that they are spiritually dead and don't even know they have sin their lives.
Which brings me to the famous Bridge illustration... perhaps you've seen it or used it (like I kind of did today). It goes something like this:
We were made in God's image and things originally were peachy keen between us and Him. Our choice to go our own way, though, brought sin into the picture. This created a chasm that separated us from God, leaving us spiritually dead and separate from Him. Even our greatest good deeds weren't enough, so Jesus came to fill in a gap that our sin had created. He did this by living a sinless life and dying on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.
By the grace of God and for His glory the cross and resurrection were provided for us to have spiritual union with God, bringing eternal life back into anyone who would turn away from sin and receive Him through faith and confession. Once we make this choice we are no longer who we have appeared to be... we are closer to living life as who we REALLY are... the old has gone and the new has come.
Got it? Good. Thumbs up... and very true.
But I believe that there is a new part of this illustration at work in our culture... maybe you'll see what I mean by this.
Do you see it? In the world we live in there is a smaller gap in the picture now (comparatively). Unfortunately, it's there because we (as the church) have partially contributed to it - a chasm of skepticism, questions, and hurt that prevent people from even wanting to get to the much larger chasm with God. Granted, the values and history of our culture have played into this, too, but it does seem like this hole has developed as more and more people have become fed up with the church as a whole.
But here's the upside... this is a chasm I believe we (as Christians) are called to step into. Perhaps this is yet one more way that we become like Jesus... all in the hope that we might live a life of such love for God that it inspires people to reevaluate their hurts. After all, if all the postmodern gurus are right and "stories" and "images" are how people best respond (versus old school debating) then maybe someone living out an authentic journey with God is how that hole gets filled.
Or back to the original point... maybe by living life as the "person" we were created to be we might help them listen to the Holy Spirit's whispers of who they are supposed to be.
So when the glamour is stripped, the electricity is gone, and the shadows dominate... will people see something real enough to respond to Jesus? Will we be revealed as being too dependent with doing everything "right" on the surface or will it be shown that the core of our hearts we long to love God out loud with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?
That has to be a good sign that we're moving in the right direction.