People thought I was crazy for naming our church Substance. (And I’ll admit, I am a bit crazy! ) But people will certainly say we’re crazy for doing a four-part series on Hell during the Easter season. “Seriously,” one member asked, “are you really doing a hell series during the highest visitor time of the year?” In short, my answer is “Yes.” But, trust me in this: You’re definitely going to want to invite friends nonetheless!
I recently met a Christian who heard about our growth rate. The first thing he said was: “So, how are you watering down the truth in order to grow your church?” Of course, I was shocked by his assumption …especially when he had never even attended a singular service at Substance. I.e., He was basically saying: “Weekly growth = Compromise.” It made me wonder how many people delude themselves with this type of thinking simply to excuse their own lack of fruitfulness. But, seriously, what kind of religious weirdness does it take to actually say something that judgmental? Certainly, we all know that a spirit of cynicism and legalism is unfortunately alive and well in the body of Christ. And some Christians even think it’s God working through them to protect God’s church!
Of course, my whole life, people have told me that I’m a rather intense “feed-people-from-the-fire-hose” kind of pastor. So, finding people who think I water things down is a rather new experience. But, when I met this young Christian with the boldness to say this to me, I realized there is a greater deception that looms in the body of Christ. I call it the “Either/Or” Seeker-Sensitive Debate. Allow me to explain.
The great theologian Mary Poppins : ) once said: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I.e., Medicine is like truth… sometimes it tastes horrible even though it’s absolutely beneficial. Thus, a smart person adds the spoonful of sugar. She’s not “Anti-medicine” nor is she “Pro-100% sugar.” She’s advocating a 3rd option… a blending of the two.
Yet, the whole “Seeker-sensitive” debate is always being framed in an “either/or” mentality. I.e., Either you’re Pro-inconvenient truth or Pro-sugar coating. But why can’t we feed people inconvenient truth while simultaneously making it life-giving? Rarely do people respond negatively to a confrontation when they truly know that we love them and would do anything for them. And it’s much the same with preaching.
I recently had another young man tell me: “The true Gospel is offensive” (thereby indicating that we had a false Gospel — because unchurched people love us). Yet, at the same time he couldn’t explain to me why sinners ran to Jesus, not from Jesus. Truth be told: he was indoctrinated with the philosophy that “all sugar” is evil… even when the medicine (truth) is completely mixed in.
As if this narrow-minded “either/or” thinking isn’t destructive enough, some legalistic Christians take it a step further by “idolizing the spoon itself.” They say: “It’s not enough that you deliver icky medicine (hard truth)… but, “real Christians” use this exact type of spoon.” I.e., If you don’t use this exact worship format… or if you don’t preach this exact method of sermon… then you’re compromised. I.e., they judge a tree by its format not its fruit. Indeed, Christians often worship their formats more than Christ. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in long-term Christians. And, ultimately, they’re going to miss a massive harvest when God does a “new thing” in a “new wineskin.”
However, at Substance, I refuse to buy into this hyper-spiritual nonsense. And frankly, when you see how ripe the harvest is (how desperate the world is for ‘medicine’), I just don’t see how endless “spoon debates” bring honor to God. And I certainly don’t think I need to choose between either “medicine” or “sugar.” And by the time we’re done with this hell series, you’re gonna know what I’m talking about.
We kept thinking: “How in the world do we lighten up a Hell series without becoming sacrilegious?” Of course, we realize that this just might be an impossible task with some Christians. But, get ready, because our new series is called: “Hell, Fuzzy Bunnies, and Brimstone.” Believe it or not, the doctrines of hell form the foundations of God’s ultimate love letter. To put it another way: “Pure love without absolute boundaries isn’t love at all.”
When I shared the series with the staff, all of them said: “Wow pastor, you’re gonna blow people’s minds — in a good way.” In fact, here are a few of the questions we’re going to attempt to answer:
“How can a loving God create an eternal hell?
Isn’t hell a consequence that’s disproportionate to the crime?
Could hell be locked from the inside?
What about the people who never heard the Gospel or had access to a Bible? Is it really fair for God to judge them?”
And, to boot… we’re gonna have FUN answering these questions!
The parody rap video we did for this is hilarious! Your very own Pastor Nick is a superstar! (see our youtube music video)
So invite your friends. I’ve been working on the specific “medicine/sugar” recipe for quite some time. But, be ready: The “medicine” just might be different than you expect!
And don’t forget to pray for our new video venue at Northwestern (see my last blog). God is doing amazing things in our community! So come be a part of it this next month!