by Eric Burd
Traveling through the Pacific Northwest and, even in the midst of a driving rainstorm, you may be shocked by the absence of a very common article – the umbrella! Where in the world are the umbrellas? Not here! As amazing as it might seem, the folks in this area are so acclimated to rain, whether a trickle or a tempest, that one finds a surprisingly slim number of umbrellas being used. Of course, this is my own observation, no statistical data to follow, but my guess is that in this one place where one would most expect to see umbrellas, they may be found the least.
Now, if I were an unsuspecting visitor from a sunnier state I may conclude that these people in the Great Northwest are entirely out of the loop. Nice as they may be – they have obviously never heard of umbrellas. If they had, they would certainly be using one…or two…or three…each! But no, no umbrellas, or at least very few. So, with this impression fresh on my mind, I would be overwhelmed with opportunity. My entrepreneurial juices might begin to flow as I imagine running to the bank for the sure-fire financing of the Northwest’s first and finest chain of umbrella stores. Confident, I could see an umbrella shop on every corner of that entire region of the country.
But alas, not as out of the loop as they may seem, the people of the Northwest have heard of umbrellas. Most have even tried one. And some, believe it or not, even own an umbrella. They received it as a gift or won it as a door prize, and it’s still around somewhere. It might be on the hat rack or buried in the entry room closet, but they have one. They just do not use them. They have become so hardened to the rain, they hardly notice it any longer and are unwilling to endure the hassle of juggling umbrellas throughout the rainy season. They have tuned the rain out – and life-long church-goers can do the identical same thing with the gospel!
As pastors and teachers we desire to disciple our members. We aspire to great things for them. We desire that they experience the deep things of God and wish to take them on journeys to higher spiritual planes. Good. There are those that can take those journeys with us. But there are others who have sat in the pew under the “rain” of our preaching all of their lives who have completely tuned the gospel out. Some are so hardened that they barely notice it any longer.
Who are these folks? We often will not know. They act like Christians. They claim the title of “believer.” But they have never genuinely drunk from the water of the Word. They have never been born again. And it is likely that no church is unaffected when countless church members in our land have their spiritual umbrella over their heads while the living water of the gospel is being poured out. We may not, we should not, preach primarily evangelistic sermons every week, but a simple dose of the blood of Jesus in its convicting power is good for every congregation – on a regular basis.
The same gospel that saves us also sanctifies us. In fact, the good news can be extrapolated out into a maze of essential doctrines of Christ. But the good news in its simplicity, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our substitionary sacrifice, is well being preached in every congregation, regardless of the perceive level of maturity among the members. While the Invisible Church is the place where all have been genuinely transformed by the gospel, the Visible Church is the one place on earth most likely to house those who have been hardened by the gospel. How many have literally sat under gospel preaching all of their lives without ever once a heart response to it? They are out of the loop.
In 1983, in my first year of pastoral ministry, I met a fellow minister around my age. He and his twin brother were both pastors in our district, each pastoring their second church. They were raised as PKs, attending Bible College together. This dear brother’s testimony was that he was preaching a sermon in his second pastorate when, like a bolt of lightning, the gospel flashed in his heart for the first time. He got saved. Yes, the pastor got saved! (Which, of course, is a good thing – but preferably before he becomes a pastor.) But, who knew? He didn’t! He had thought himself saved all along, until the tempest of the gospel rained on his heart for the first time…then he put away his umbrella.