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4/16/2006

TRUCKS AND HELL

I sat spellbound and immensely entertained as the balding preacher spasmed and spat the Gospel at us for over an hour. Most weeks I sat comfortably in church like any other carefree six year-old, playing with crayons or folding bulletins into paper airplanes. Our regular pastor lulled me to sleep under the canopy of my father’s arm stretched over and behind my head and laid across the top of the pew. But this was not our regular happy pastor. This was his friend, angry pastor, the heavy artillery brought in for a week’s worth of revival services.

And he blasted away.

He wore a light blue three-piece suit that showed his white socks underneath if he stomped out from behind the pulpit, which he did often while his balding head shone like a spotlight into our souls. In his right hand he waved a black brick of a bible the size of my six year-old body. I could feel the breeze from the thing from my seat half way back in the crowd. His right fist he balled up like a gavel and struck against the pulpit again and again like a judge, punctuating every sentence with canon-blast booms of flesh against oak.

After wearing himself out he finally hollered an invitation like none other I’d heard before. “WHEN YOU LEAVE CHURCH THIS MORNING! YOU! COULD GET HIT! BY A TRUCK! A TRUCK!!” he spewed. “AND IF YOU DON’T KNOW JEEEEESUS THAT TRUCK’S GONNA SEND YOU STRAIGHT TO HELL! STRAIGHT! TO! HELL! WHO WANTS JESUS?!”

I had no idea church parking lots could be so perilous. I leapt from my seat and ran down the aisle, filled out a three by five card with one of those tiny pencils made for golfers and six year-olds, and I wrote alI I could think to write, “I NEED JESUS!” And for the next fifty-seven stanzas of Just As I Am and I Surrender All I just kept adding exclamation marks as if to make the point clearer, “I’M NOT JOKING, I’M SCARED OF TRUCKS, I"M SCARED OF HELL, PLEASE HELP ME!”

And when the music finally stopped the sweaty revival preacher took my card from me and read it to the crowd saying, “This young man has joined the family of God today.” And Amens and MmmHmms washed over me, soothing away my fear of trucks and hell. He invited everyone to come meet me afterwards and welcome me into the family. Eighty and ninety year-old grandmothers, about fifty of them it seemed, stroked my hands and squeezed my cheeks and kissed me, which scared me almost as much as trucks and Hell. And then my family took me to Western Sizzler.

I had a steak.

I got saved.

I got saved the way so many of us in America do. I came to Jesus to get out of Hell, to avoid being squashed by demonic forms of transportation and sent to the bad place where I'd be forced to wear drab clothing and chains for all of eternity. I repeated a prayer after a pastor and "invited Jesus into my heart" and asked him to be my "personal Lord and savior" - my personal bodyguard saving me from harm and hell.

I had no idea that what I should fear the most, what Jesus saved me from first, was neither trucks nor hell but me.

The thing Jesus wanted his Jewish audience gathered on a hillside two-thousand years ago to understand first about His brand of salvation had little to do with hell and nothing to do with trucks. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," Jesus announced.

“God loves you and has a plan for your life” the tracts left on urinals sometimes read. And that is true: God loves us no matter how messed up we are. But what Jesus wants us to understand first is just how messed up we are. Poor in spirit.

Jesus saves first and foremost not from external dangers but from internal demise. He saves first not from future torment but from today's depravity. He saves me first not from trucks and hell but from myself.

When that naked couple back in Eden had fruit for dessert in hopes of becoming like God they messed us all up; they bent the human core’s DNA so that every one of their offspring since has been born with a defect of the worst kind (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 53:1-3).

Our intellect is darkened (Romans 1:21). Our emotions can’t be trusted to steer us right (Titus 3:3). Our will is selfish (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:10-12)

No, we're not all chilling human heads in our freezers like Dahmer or gassing thousands like Hitler but all of us, usually around age two I think, begin producing outward evidence of our internal birth defect. Sometimes our busted insides don't display noticeable symptoms that make headlines. But even when there isn't an obvious specific infraction to point to and label “sin” we still sense a general taintedness in everything our human hands get a finger on don't we? Two year olds yell, "Mine!" Governments war. Cameras film child pornography. Talent warps perspective and boosts egos. Enterprise contaminates the environment and tramples the weak. Beauty snubs the ugly. Caretakers abuse. And all this while our bodies decay, become diseased, grow weak and incapacitated.

Everything is busted. And we must know it somehow. We must recognize this to some extent. We just don’t realize, perhaps, the scope of the problem. We don’t understand we’re so hung over from Eden that we’re helpless to fix our brokenness. We’re drunks fumbling with our keys trying to open the gates to utopia again.

And on and on we fumble. Generation after generation. We toil on an earth capable of growing enough food to fill every stomach, yet starvation has never died. It barely wanes. We hold enough wealth in the West to clothe and educate the entire globe, yet children beg naked and unable to write or read. There are enough adults in the world to put orphanages out of business, yet millions grow up with no one to call Daddy. We have enough spy satellites, schools of political science, ethicists, diplomats, armaments and historical data to bring peace to the nations, yet in four thousand years of recorded history only four hundred have been remotely warless. And my nation, America, has been at war somewhere in the world since World War I in pursuit of peace.

Much of our intellect, good intentions, talent, money, fame and strategy have been put to the task of ridding the world of all need and malice since the day Adam left the garden eons ago. Yet none of these tools have successfully built paradise on earth, not even a square mile of it. And no tool in the future ever will – not if it’s wielded by human hands guided by the urges of the defective human core.

No politician, petition, or program will ever stop the contamination seeping from the human heart across the breadth of geography of history. Nothing can penetrate our flesh and repair the wound itself: our corrupted middle.

Only Jesus saves. He saves us from the natural disaster of sin within the human heart. He provides the only hope of healing with one act of sacrifice two thousand years ago outside Jerusalem's gates (Romans 5:12-15). Jesus saves from the thing more menacing than trucks waiting outside and hell up ahead. He saves from the source of all that has gone wrong and is going wrong everywhere and with everyone: misguided emotions, corrupt minds and selfish wills.

Jesus saves.

14 Comments:

Anonymous c long said...

Amen and amen again. This post is dead on, Shaun. It's been a wow of a day, and I just don't want it to end, so I've been re-reading old shlogs, before heading back to Ezekiel. Hope your Alive Sunday has been a great one.

4/16/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

OK, so I didn't get this done before Easter. And I won't be done by the close of Easter. I did my best though. I'd rather be clear than quick.

There will be more on this subject coming. This is just the tip of the iceberg - a pinhole view of the giant subject of salvation. And I won't try to tackle all of it. I don't know all of it. But I will try to hit the parts that have been most revolutionary to my way of thinking about the Christian idea of salvation. What have we been saved from? How? Why? These are good things to think through together.

As always feel free to ask questions, disagree or clarify for me.

Happy Easter,
SG

4/16/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i like how you word things. . i love the simple phrase in the middle of your post. . "God loves you and has a plan for your life." I love that he does and I love him back. Its so simple. I also love how you describe the human condition as a 'hangover from Eden'. . that's just a great analogy. Thank you for sharing your own 'salvation' and steak experience - how very surreal and frightening that must have been for you?

4/16/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

Great post Shaun. Thank you for putting in the coherent and grammatically correct paragraphs, the thoughts and ideas that just float around the minds of those of us who aren't quite as eloquent.

I think another aspect of "Jesus saves" isn't so much that He saves us *from* something as it is that He saves us *for* something. Him.

The *from* theology certainly turns more heads like that preacher at your church. And maybe it gets faster results. And, yes, I suppose it's true.

But the *for* theology, I think, is where the power and passion of Jesus resides. He saves me because He has mind bogglingly incredible things for me to do. I may be a 30 something stay-at-home-mom in the unglamorous city of Waco, but the God of all creation saved me because He has greater plans for me than I could ever think or imagine. With God, there is no reason why my life can't be used to change the world - tomorrow. He could use me to lead thousands to His hope, peace and love. He could use me to heal the sick, change the course of a nation ... anything. Sound outrageous. It is.

I think that's why Jesus saved me. So that maybe I'll make myself available to Him to do outrageous things. Maybe that's just praying for the girl next to me at the Y - or maybe it's something bigger. I don't know, but it really inspires me to know that Jesus didn't just save me *from* something - He saved me *for* something.

Sorry for such a long comment - you just got me thinking. Thanks.

4/16/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

You're one step ahead of me Kat. That's where we're going next. Why was I saved?

4/16/2006  
Blogger HawkNest4 said...

WOW, great post, great comments . . . I'm so glad I could close my Easter 2006 with TRUTH from one of my favorite teachers! I just love how God speaks through you, exactly what I needed to read, right when I needed to read it!

4/16/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

I was saved at the age of seven. No revival meeting, no visiting preacher, no trucks or dangerous parking lots. Just plain old common sense. Since I'd heard about Jesus and why He came to earth in the first place since I was on the "cradle roll," it only seemed natural for me take the Bible at it's word, and accept what Jesus was offering. I did and I was excited about it. The only problem was that because I'd heard it all so very many times before, there was not a sense of anything being "different" in my life. Maybe there wasn't. Maybe I'd just decided to make public a decision I didn't actually remember making privately.

Now though, living many years as a "comfortable" Christian but, thankfully, becomming less and less comfortable everyday, I am now fully aware of WHY He saved me too. It was to bring Him glory of course, but also to just what Kat said. To change the world, or at least affect change, to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and fight for those oppressed. I'm starting with Wedner. He's our new Compassion Int'l child. He's beautiful and I know God saved me FOR him too. I'm trying very hard to be less and less comfortable everyday with my faith. By comfortable I mean complacent, boring, scheduled, and scared to color outside the box. It is my desire to be completely broken before God so I can be bold in my daily life for Him. I know I should be careful what I desire cause it's gonna hurt like hell when the brokeness happens.

Beth

4/16/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

Sorry to jump ahead Shaun! I look forward to reading what you have to say, though.

4/17/2006  
Anonymous c long said...

I love this little unseen community!

4/17/2006  
Anonymous Wess said...

Great blog Shaun. This is something that I have been thinking about in one way or another for a little bit now.

4/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun-

why dont you write a book on this?

4/17/2006  
Blogger Amy said...

Great post! AMEN!! Fantastic writing with a great point. I love how everyday I feel a little closer to understanding salvation, grace, etc, and how when i feel I understand it a little more, it suddenly seems so much huger.
Beth...congrats on the new compassion child. I just got one myself! I am so in love with this little girl....it made me realize even more that God wants to use my heart for the world. Ok I have these little tears in my eyes, that I can't seem to get out lately when I spend even a second reflecting on Jesus. :-)

4/17/2006  
Anonymous keith said...

"We’re drunks fumbling with our keys trying to open the gates to utopia again." I like that analogy. Commenting on our failures as a society in light of our noble efforts frames our depravity well.

4/18/2006  
Blogger Joshua Ballard said...

This post is actually spot on. But I wonder if it is something that only a mature(ish) Christian can say? Looking back I realize that my conversion experience was simply an attempt to get out of a bad situation. Hardly moral from the Kantian perspective, but hey, it got me into a relationship with Jesus.
I can't help but think of this as Jesus stooping to our level, as he did during his preaching ministry; Yes he did preach the Beatitudes, but I don't think many (if any) 'got' it. People still only followed him for food, healing and to hear about how bad the Pharisees were. When Jesus said that they would need to chew on his flesh in order to attain eternal life,(see John), they left him. I look at the reaction Jesus had with his disciples: 'will you too leave me?' and their response 'where else would we go? You alone have the words of life.' When I read that, I don't see in them the model non-Christian coming to God because it's the right thing to do, but sticking around only because they want life, not death.

Put simply, that balding evangelist man, as scary crazy as he was...got your attention. He preached hell, and funnily enough, so did Jesus. The Master Evangelist knew what buttons to push, when to push them and how to push them. But thankfully, he went further with the Beatitudes and the rest of his teaching, not like most of us with our pitiful hellfire messages.

4/26/2006  

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