I've said this many times before I talk about something like the second coming of Christ, the end times, the rapture, holiness, righteousness, sanctification, sin, etc. I don't hold back in preaching on these topics -- I believe any preacher is held responsible for this before God, especially pastors.
I have made the "soapbox" comment so many times (and our church people never mind, they actually love it!) that one of our members, Todd Stewart, made me a soapbox as a gift! The Sunday he presented it was just TOO FUNNY. I was so touched. Nobody wanted me to take it home, or put it in my office, they wanted me to keep it nearby so we keep it in the choir room.
On Mother's Day Sunday I was preaching at Celebration and I was getting ready to talk about Jesus coming back and I said, "now folks, I'm fixing to get on my soapbox again," and (this was not planned) but Todd quickly ran to the choir room and as I was making my point he ran on the stage with the soapbox. I got up on it and kept preaching and the congregation just roared. They laughed even harder when one of our church photographers, Lourdes Manners, ran to the front and captured the moment, which you see above. Even on Mother's Day when preaching a special message to the women of CC about being empowered by God for our role, I was compelled to weave into the message truths about salvation, the second coming and being ready. We had an invitation at the close of the service and several came to accept Jesus for the first time, or re-dedicate their lives. THAT NEVER GETS OLD!!!
After church a precious couple that has come to Celebration in the past year came to me in tears. They hugged me and just wept and wept. I will not share their names here for what in a moment will be obvious reasons. We will call them Jerry and Janet for anonymity sake. Janet held on to me and just cried and she said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you! Please never, ever stop getting on your soapbox! We don't know where we would be without it!!!" Jerry is every bit a manly man but he stood there with tears just coarsing down his face, saying the same thing. I'm about to share something that really angers me and I know it will be controversial with some but I am compelled to speak it. Normally I am 110% pro-pastor here on the blog and everywhere else. I have a heart for pastors and their spouses and when anybody comes to me about something concerning a pastor they can be assured except in EXTREMELY rare cases that I am going to come down on the side of the pastor. I am one. And if we can't support each other we're in real trouble. This is one of those rare cases for me however when I do not come down on the side of the pastor.
This couple came to us from another local church - an independent church that has exploded in attendance over a short number of years of it's existence. It's very contemporary -- nothing against that - so are we at CC, but I'm just setting the stage here so if you're reading this you can get a picture of the church. The church has been in existence less than 10 years and already numbers in the thousands. They consider themselves evangelical and have the best of everything when it comes to music, lighting, facilities, programming, etc. They have excellent marketing and full color glossy mailers are often in my mailbox at home advertising their next event or series. Jerry and Janet not only sat in this church for the past six years, but they were a part of the programming ministry for the weekend services. In all the time they were part of things there they never heard EVEN ONCE about Jesus coming back, the end times, holiness, abandonment to God, or any of that. According to Jerry, when someone in leadership asked the lead pastor to speak about the second coming he said he, "didn't want to scare anyone" so chose not to do so. WHAT??!!
I never just take people's reports like this at face value. I want to investigate it for myself. Fortunately this church has a podcast and so I went to it and listened to them. Interestingly enough in their entire archive I can't find ONE THING about Jesus coming back, nothing about holiness, sin, or even about the authority of the Word of God! (Jerry tells me 99% of those attending don't bring their bibles and usually if the bible is referenced in a sermon there it's one or two lines, shown on a screen but even the pastor doesn't bring a Bible.) WHAT??!!
There were plenty of messages in the archives about living a better life, having a better marriage, being a better parent, having peace, and achieving success in life. There's nothing wrong with any of that in fact we have preached messages about that at CC, and I want to be clear about that. I'm not against preaching about a biblical understanding of all of those topics. However all of that is secondary to the central message that Jesus was crucified, risen and coming again for His church! Many times what we do in today's church is temporarily medicate people through phenomenal worship music (let's be real, anointed music IS very soothing), and soft messages about how to "have peace" or "let go of fear." It seems the majority of messages preachers are bringing today are about how people can FEEL BETTER. You know, we're never going to be free and truly FEEL BETTER until we REPENT and GET RIGHT WITH GOD and prepare ourselves for HIS COMING!!! (Yes, I'm on the soapbox now.) We can even love others, but still not be right with God.
While we must love others (and are known that we are Christians by our love) it's not impossible to love someone and not be right with God. I have an atheist friend. She loves me very much, and I love her. She feeds the poor and gives to good causes. But sadly, she's not a believer and would readily admit that to you.
Jerry and Janet thanked me with tears streaming and said, "Thank you for being our pastor, for caring enough to tell us the truth, for getting on that soapbox." Jerry went on to say, "Pastor Deanna, sadly enough our former church is going to be filled with a lot of people after the second coming. Those people know nothing of what's to come and they might be as full after the rapture as they were before!" Jerry wasn't saying this with a critical heart. He said it in brokenness, weeping for lost souls.
I encouraged Jerry and Janet to meet with their former pastor and lovingly share concerns about this. Jerry's response was that it's impossible to meet with their former pastor, even when they were members. He said, "He comes to church after the service begins. He is driven to the service by someone in the leadership team, comes in a different door every time and is escorted in by four people wearing earpieces who are the church "security team." And, he is unreachable by phone or other means." [sigh] That's another blog for another day...
I told our church last week that one of my goals as a pastor is that when Christ returns, I want Celebration Church to be a desolate place, where not even ONE Celebrator can be found! My goal is for our church to be totally void of even one person who calls CC their home, after the rapture. I want people we owe bills to or others who need to find us to be in total bewilderment that they cannot find one person who knows anything about this place because WE ARE ALL GONE. (Insert wild cheering here that occurred when I said this...) There are many goals I have as a leader but none more important than my goal that everyone that Larry and I pastor make it to heaven. What greater responsibility do we have as pastors? I want these folks to be a success in life. I want them to have peace on earth. I want them to be free of fear, to have great marriages, great families, to love others. I want them to be happy. In spite of having all that in their lives and doing all these things if they miss heaven and hell is their eternal home these other things mean nothing.
Pastors, please, I beg you -- don't shy away from preaching the truth of God's Word. Care about your people enough to tell them the truth. There's nothing we can do for the people we shepherd that shows more love and care than to make sure their souls are cared for, with their eternal destiny clearly addressed. Every soul will live FOREVER...the question is...WHERE?