Have you noticed that every other television commercial that comes on the air is an ad touting the benefits of a new prescription drug? There is a new drug available for whatever it is that might ail you!
Do you have frequent heartburn? Are you tired of being tired? Is depression making you depressed? Do you have trouble going to sleep? Do you have difficulty waking up? Do you want to avoid diet and exercise? Is it painful for you to walk your dog? Is your hair falling out? Do you have a going or a growing problem? Are you overweight but love to eat? Do you need to put some excitement back into your relationships? No matter what you’ve got, there is a new pill created just for you.
And then, in nearly every commercial, after the person begins taking what they asked their doctor to prescribe, there is all of this exuberant celebration: dancing in the streets; jumping up and down; digging for clams; running around in the yard with your dog and your water hose; even sitting outdoors and watching the sunset while holding hands with your significant other in separate bathtubs!
As a pastor, I oftentimes wonder if this is not how we oftentimes promote the church. \If you channel surf through the religious channels, you will find that there is no shortage of preachers who sound like they are spokespeople for some new drug. “Are you down and out? Are you drowning in a sea of debt? Are you empty inside? Does your marriage need a boost? Then pick up the phone and make your pledge, send in your check, and sit back and wait for God to pour out God’s blessings! Wait for God to give you a reason to celebrate!”
I am not exactly sure, but I suspect that is what many people were thinking when they were following Jesus throughout Galilee. Listen to how the Sermon on the Mount begins: “And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” Folks had come out from all over to follow Jesus.
And listen to what Jesus says:
Are you 50 years old and wonder where your life is going? Are you down and out and feeling blue? Do you need help raising your children? Does your marriage need a boost?
No, instead Jesus says things like, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The crowd gets really quiet! Someone whispers, “I know he didn’t say ‘hard,’ did he? I thought Jesus was all about making things easy!”
“Love everyone, including your enemies. Be a blessing to the poor and to those who hunger and thirst for justice. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive those who have wronged you. Don’t judge. Accept others as I have accepted you. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross and follow me. Die to yourself. Don’t just hear these words, but do these words.”
I am afraid that churches are so desperate to attract people that they have been willing to trivialize and water down the gospel. I am afraid that the salvation that many churches are preaching is no different than the salvation that is being preached in commercials about a new prescription drug.
May God forgive the church for sometimes implying that Jesus will make life easier, will fix everything that is wrong with us, will put a little lilt in our voices, a little sunshine in our souls, because the chances are very good that the message Jesus preaches will only make your life more difficult.