The house lights were down and a lone spotlight shined through the preacher who was narrating the Easter play. Although the play was [in true church fashion] a little bit cheesy, it was clear that these folks have given up countless hours of their personal lives to attempt at delivering the story of the Bible in less time than it would have taken to play Passion of the Christ.
Anyway, we get through Adam & Eve, Abraham, Noah, the birth of baby Jesus by a lowly virgin teenager who could sing like an angel in this rendition, the life and times of Jesus, and then the gruesome, [fake] bloody portrayal of Jesus being dehumanized and hung on a cross. Upon Jesus’ death, the narrator [pastor] steps out from the shadows and into the [spot]light where he would make his way to the front and center of auditorium, otherwise known as the “sanctuary”.
This was his moment, the moment where it was no longer about Jesus but about seizing an opportunity to turn “one-timers” into “weekly attenders”. In case you’re wondering, a “one-timer” is someone who only attends church on Easter or Christmas but rarely both, and certainly not on a “normal” Sunday. The pastor comes out of the gate like horses at the track, he’s ready to bring home the crown and will spare no expense in doing so. He quickly retells the story that he’s just spent 80 minutes narrating and then finds himself in a place that I thought died a few years ago, “Folks, if you walk out of this church tonight and on the way to your car, boom, you’re dead… are you confident that you’re going to heaven, or will you be in hell tonight?”
I know… trust me, I know.
Please keep in mind that my seven year old daughter is sitting with us because she loves Jesus, but she also loves plays. So, as if the ol’ “what if you fall over dead in the parking lot” scare wasn’t enough he went on a rant about how belief in Jesus isn’t enough [because even Satan believes in Jesus], verbally professing your faith in Jesus isn’t enough [because anyone can say it], simply having hope that you’re one of God’s [very, very select] chosen few isn’t going to get you into heaven, but only a willingness to stand up in this church at this moment and then filling out a “communication card” will be your golden ticket through the pearly gates.
During the pastors Turn or Burn altar call my daughter had moved to sitting in my lap hugging me so tightly that my arms could have wrapped around her twice. While he’s saying each of these things that won’t in fact get you into heaven her face starts to drop slowly, and then her eyes well up with tears, and when he ordered everyone to stand who was willing to finally accept Jesus Christ for real she stood up…
My daughter looked at me with a fear in her eyes that shook me.
I told her to “come to daddy” put her back in my lap and then handed her to mommy because she was so afraid that she couldn’t even get words out in order to communicate what was bothering her heart so deeply. She composes herself enough to tell my wife, “he said I’m not going to heaven… because if it’s not enough to believe it, or say it or have hope in it, then how will I ever know if I can get in?”
It’s obvious that I do not know what path my little princess is going to take, and some would argue that I am unable to say that my seven year old daughter actually has the mental capacity to believe in Jesus… But when we left that church and were talking about how it made her feel while driving home, I turned down the music and told her to say, “I’m going to heaven!”
As we live within the tension of Holy Week, let us not sacrifice anything or anyone for the growth of our churches. I deeply and desperately believe in the resurrecting power of Jesus and what He is able to do for a human who is willing… but, I don’t think that we need to make people fear hell for the possibility of them “accepting Christ”. Jesus’ love and grace are stronger than fear and death, so may we preach love and grace rather than fear and death this week, and hope to the heavens that God can reach us through our hardened hearts on any day of the year.
P.S. I’m also happy to report that no one fell over dead while walking to their cars last Saturday night.