Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Intimacy vs. Intimidation - Part One

Well the seasons have changed yet again. As I write this in my warm study this morning, it's a chilly 35 degrees on the other side of these walls. Scattered frost can be seen through our hazy windows as the sun begins to rise. As my wife and I were out and about yesterday, it didn't take long for us to run into the usual halloween fare. Ghosts, demons, bats, witches, you know the drill. It always amazes me how fascinated the world is with the supernatural, yet so few want to discuss the reality of the supernatural One True God who rules over it all. Vampires, demon possession and haunted houses are somehow deemed acceptable and even embraced as legitimate, but any mention of supernatural healing, angelic visitations, moving of the Holy Spirit or things of this nature is just crazy talk, even to many Believers. Isn't that interesting? I think so.

Although I wrote articles about halloween back in 2006 and 2007, I somehow allowed it to pass by last year without mention. If I recall, I just didn't want to discuss it. What I've been thinking about this year is not really related to halloween at all. I guess I'm just feeling more compelled to look into the deeper issues these days. People will dress up like blood-drenched zombies and ax-wielding mass murderers… I know that, it's what a fallen and depraved mankind will do. We somehow get some sort of satisfaction out of wallowing in darkness. It's all deception but we'll leave that for another time.

What I would like to address can be somewhat related to how the Body of Christ, in a general sense, counters this kind of thing and why. We have "judgment houses", "hell houses", etcetera. Most readers will know what I mean. When I point the finger at anyone involved with these crazy events, I first point to myself. When I was a youth pastor, we took our youth to them. It's just what we did. "Invite your lost friends!", we'd say. It was some twisted evangelism tool. A tool that I never once saw effectively work - ever. Now don't misunderstand me, nearly everyone was scared into "making decisions" when the night was over. Many cried and boohooed over their sin and shame, unsure of their salvation, but no lasting fruit ever remained. Why is that?

For information's sake, I found some websites that describe these events and how many of them function. While this piece is in no way focusing on these events, they appropriately depict the mindset that I'd like to discuss. "A Christian hell house, like a conventional haunted-house attraction, is an event where actors attempt to frighten patrons with gruesome exhibits and scenes. The format is that the various scenes are presented as a series of short vignettes with a narrated guide. Hell houses focus on occasions and effects of sin or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife. Typical scenes are: A person being sacrificed during a satanic ritual. Women undergoing very bloody late-term abortions, complete with screaming, lots of blood, and particularly insensitive, uncaring health providers. (Some of these scenes have been partly abandoned in recent years in favor of a portrayal of guilt and depression.) Gays and lesbians being tortured in hell for all eternity because of their same-sex behavior while they were on earth. A man having an argument with his wife and is later seduced by his secretary. Hell houses typically emphasize the results of anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal savior and their subsequently being damned to hell and torment."

OK, so my point of this article is not to "expose" or condemn these ridiculous theatrics, but I mentioned them because they accurately bring to light what I'd like to address. I want to delve much deeper into this than "hell houses", so stay with me because this is the point where we leave them behind. I will pose my main topic in the form of a question:

Can one be scared, coerced and intimidated into biblically-defined, genuine salvation?

Now I'm not talking about passing judgment upon anyone or second-guessing anyone's personal experiences. What I am addressing is the scores of people that I've known throughout my life, myself included, who "made decisions" in order to escape God's wrath and get into Heaven. It had nothing at all to do with Jesus becoming LORD of my life. That was just part of what I had always been told that I was to say. He was just the means to get me what I really wanted – security. So, I ask, can fear and a desire for security alone produce biblical salvation, if it has nothing to do with the lordship of Christ? Does it fit the scriptural mold? After all, what you and I define as evangelism really doesn't mean squat if it doesn't line up with the written Word of God. I don't care how long it's been a tradition or denominational staple. Just because men in positions have been preaching hellfire and damnation from pulpits for generations doesn't mean it shouldn't be examined.

If you would call yourself a true born from above Believer in Jesus Christ as LORD, I ask you, is your salvation rooted and established more in your love and adoration of the LORD or your fear of what might happen if you don't do what He wants you to? What motivates you more? Fear or love? Adoration or dread? While I do not want to disappoint Him or be found opposing Him in any way, I am moved by my love for Him and His great love for me. I want to gaze upon His face and that's why I don't want to oppose Him with my disobedience, not because of what He'll do to me if I do. I believe that there is a vast difference between these two lifestyles. It's moving from a "lightning bolt throwing, out there somewhere" God to a loving, personal Father. It's moving from a God who is on the edge of His throne waiting for me to screw up to a God who knows the sin that I am yet to commit, yet He sees Christ in me. Salvation is not some escape mechanism, it literally moves us from one position to another, in the eyes of God.

Some may say, "well God is a Judge, you'd better fear God… or else!" As I wrote about in a six-part series back in January, we've misunderstood the "fear of the LORD". There must be a healthy, biblical understanding of fearing the LORD. It is in not to be the same as fearing the dark or fearing heights. I stand in awe of His awesome strength and bow before Him in reverence. I correctly understand that He holds all things in His hands and does as He wills. I believe I correctly approach the biblical fear of the LORD for no one can oppose Him and prevail. Every breath that I take is a gift from His hand. After all, "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). I'm not throwing it out whatsoever. However, it does not say that fear is the beginning of salvation. So what leads all of mankind to God? Is it His wrath? It is His judgment? Is it fear that is instilled via religion and traditions of men? Is it the picketers shouting damnation and terror on street corners? What did Paul write on this matter? "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness (goodness) of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4 - Read all of Romans 2 for much more on this subject.) When I read verses such as this, little of modern-day "evangelism" makes the cut. My desire is to allow God to be God. I rest in the fact that He does the "work" and I am blessed to be any part of it, as He instructs. It is imperative that we properly understand the fear of the LORD and not lose sight of His kindness, tolerance and patience that drew us to Him. I think one simple way to gauge if you have a proper, biblical understanding of the fear of the LORD resides in your answer to this question:

"Does your fear of the LORD draw you closer to Him or push you away from Him?"

May you never forget what won you over, if in fact you have truly experienced His great love and compassion. I encourage you to stop right here and closely examine the God that you know. Is He a personal, loving Father that you see as kind, patient and tolerant as well as righteous, holy and all-powerful? Intimacy with Him is the goal and unless one understands His vast qualities and attributes, a skewed view of Him will always be present.

* Part two will be posted Thursday morning.


Melissa Ann said...

GREAT BLOG~~~ as usual !! A must read :) Looking forward to part two.

Grace said...

It is only by the spirit of God that one is drawn to the Lord! That is why I always ask the Father who Lord do you want me to reach out to, pray for etc.

Anonymous said...

I think you've posed some great questions here. I especially like, "Does your fear of the LORD draw you closer to Him or push you away from Him?" I think that's the key. As you said, healthy fear draws us in closer because we see the big-ness of God and our need of Him. Some good thought provokers you have here. I'll be back to check out the rest of the series. - Karen

rave.n said...

First, I love the acknowledgement that our world is fascinated with the undead side of spirituality but bawks at the Eternal Life side.

Next it's funny that you mention "hell houses" and "tribulation houses" because I've really been interested in going to one this year. Just to experience first hand what it's all about. Several of the volunteers here acted in them as they grew up. And while they take it with a grain of salt it is intriguing to learn more about it all.

Now a response to fear and scary truth as a motivating factor:
The first thing that comes to mind is are all those weight loss commercials. You know where someone sees their younger (also obese) sibling die of heart diseases or diabetes and then they realize they don't want to die. Or their innocent child comes up to them and says "Mommy, you're fat" or they can't ride the rollercoaster with their son.

It seems like their motivation to accept their current path is unhealthy is the fear of how their life negatively affects their loved ones. Hell houses and Tribulation facts tend to focus how you the individual can save themselves. However even scripture says we shouldn't focus on just trying to save our own life.

Maybe a more effective house would be a room with a man crying over each person. Just caring for them and then the next room he takes their punishment (assuming we all acknowledge we deserve some sort of punishment) -- then a room where he has open arms.

Harriet said...

Excellent writing again Joel. Thank you for being such a faithful steward of the gifts God has given you.

I have seen the results of this kind of scared into the kingdom stuff..mostly it is called "fire insurance"..the life lived afterwards is not changed in the least..EXCEPT when caught in a sin..then they repent and start all over again..for a day or so..
sad.. they miss out on the awesome fact of daily SALVATION TO LIVE!

Joel Spencer said...

Melissa Ann: Thanks, I feel it's important for us to look into. Part 2 was just posted.

Grace: Simple wisdom. If God's not the One orchestratingit all, we're simply scaring people into empty "decisions".

Karen: I think "healthy" fear sums it up best. A biblical, reverent and holy view of God is absolutely necessary. However, it is often way beyond that and moves into a seemingly abusive relationship with our Creator.

Joel Spencer said...

Raven: If I were you I'd go and check it out. See what the LORD would have you see in it. Ask some questions of attendees and see what the outcome is. I know I'd sure be interested to hear their responses. Perhaps I should go to one and do the same.

As you somewhat stated, the reality and love of Christ is apparently seen as insufficient. We must create a scary scenario to "get 'em in". To me, it's just another facet of religious "be saved... or else!" mentality. That's not to say that there aren't some well-intentioned folks behind it all. I just feel we need to see if it all is as God desires us to assist in His drawing of men.

Harriet: It fits perfectly into the life of rededications scenario. Sadly, it keeps many people subdued, unsure and so afraid that they never see the beautiful reality of salvation. We, the Christians who should know better, continue to corrupt potential Believers and send them down a path that I don't believe we're ever to go down. In our over-achieving efforts to do God's work, we've sure thrown a wrench in alot of it.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Great post! Only those whose hearts have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit will make it into heaven, not those who are scared! At the risk of quoting out of context here goes...

"But the FEARFUL, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).


Daughter of Wisdom said...

If the above verse does not scare the hell out of anybody, then nothing else will :-).

NINA said...

Great blog. Never really thought about it until now. The fear of judgment didn't kick in until I excepted Christ. Well, actually it was conviction and the fear of disappointinting the father that kicked in. My mom is a pastor, I grew up in the church and the moment I reached the age of consent, I raised as much as hell as I possibly could.I drank, I partied, and I cursed like a sailor. I wanted to be as far away from the "scared straight" religion I grew up in. You were considered a jezebel if your earrings were too large and if you missed a Sunday you were 'backslidden". All of the Church ladies were angry all of the time and the preachers yelled at you from the pulpits. I think the key to evangelism is not the scare tactics of religion, but it it love. Studies show that people respond better to love, which is far more fitting because that is what 'christianity' is built on. What we need to find is a happy medium.Because we seem to take that love and forgiveness thing out of text too. ok,on to part two.

Joel Spencer said...

Daughter: That verse brings up an interesting point. If I recall, perfect love( the love of Christ) casts out fear. When I walk in this love, fear no longer has a hold on me.

Nina: Since I started this article, I've discovered that fear's role in coming to Christ is a topic that ushers in much discussion. Some have said fear was the motivator. Some have said fear played no roll at all. I've found it to be quite an interesting subject.

Daughter of Wisdom said...

Joel said:

" Daughter: That verse brings up an interesting point. If I recall, perfect love( the love of Christ) casts out fear. When I walk in this love, fear no longer has a hold on me.

Nina: Since I started this article, I've discovered that fear's role in coming to Christ is a topic that ushers in much discussion. Some have said fear was the motivator. Some have said fear played no roll at all. I've found it to be quite an interesting subject."

Joel, that is so perfectly true! The fear of eternal punishment will drive some of us to try to avoid sin, just as the fear of prison drives some of us to shun crime; but fear does not make our hearts righteous. We can still be fearful, but in our hearts delight in sin, and commit sinful acts when 'no one is looking' (including God!). It is the love of Christ that makes our hearts righteous, so that we can live a righteous life of NO FEAR of eternal punishment.


Joel Spencer said...

Daughter: Well said. Fear alone is not enough. Fear is unhealthy when it is the primary motivator. That is clearly evident in any relationship, not just with our Father. Love "keeps" us seeking after Him with all that we have.