The Handy Ambulance/Hearse Approach To Evangelism

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(Woo-hoo! Before I write the post that explains the above title, I wanted to take a moment to announce the publication on my first novel entitled, The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing. The genre is Christian Humor Fiction and it is tentatively scheduled for release by Evergreen Press in four months. This week, I’ll be working on a Books page on this site that will give more information about the story and maybe include some excerpts.)

Now, read on…

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If I wasn’t such a vain person, I would seriously buy this:

It just looks so handy to me–not only to keep hair out of my face while eating, but to prevent the inevitable splashing of sauce on one’s cheeks when eating noodle and pasta dishes. (Does anyone else have issues with that, or is it just me and my exuberant eating style?)

Few things fascinate me more than weird gadgets. I think this interest could be something I inherited from my Grandpa Miles. He spent a good deal of money in his retirement years ordering oddball merchandise out of catalogs and off  TV commercials. I’m not sure if he had too much time on his hands, or if he really did believe in the gizmos’ power to improve his life.

I remember the grabber stick he was sure would be invaluable to my very short Grandma. It was flimsy and had a claw-like end that wasn’t easy to manipulate. Grandma tried it a couple times, but banished it from the kitchen after it prematurely let go of the box of light bulbs she was pulling off a top shelf. (It would later be adopted as a handy weapon of terror in my little brother’s grasp. I still whip around with my fists raised if I hear the word, “pinchy” repeated several times behind my back.)

I also remember sporting several huge, ugly red spots on my nose for days after letting Grandpa convince me that the Vacutex Blackhead Extractor was just the ticket for my pre-teen pore enlargement angst. It didn’t remove the blackheads–it just made them even bigger and highlighted them with blazing red rings. I wanted to die.

My Dad had issues with his father-in-law’s gadgets, as well. He said a person could drown trying to use Grandpa’s special X-ray Fish Spying Goggles, and reported that the Rearview Sight Enhancing Mirror greatly enhanced his chances of driving Grandpa’s car straight into oncoming traffic. Dad said the stupid mirrored visor consisted of a long row of smaller mirrors that stretched across the top of the windshield and made it look like ten cars were coming at him all at once. He kept instinctively flinching, gasping, and ducking while he drove. Said that lethal safety device made him feel like he was back in the Korean War.

Fortunately, my fascination has not induced me to buy many of these types of gadgets. I just like surfing for them out of interest.

It’s the emergency survival things that really catch my eye. I like to imagine what would be the most helpful all-in-one to own if I should ever mindlessly wander into lostness while berry-picking in the mountains.

No need for a daypack crammed with numerous matchbooks, multi-tools, compasses or flashlights if I have this handy-dandy product:

“The SM010A Emergency MP4 Player from Hong Kong’s SATY…can play standard MP3 and MP4 files..and it has a radio…it also has a built in flashlight on it’s top side. It has a pull cord on the left side which allows you to endlessly power it up. 2 minutes of string pulling is enough juice for 1 hour of flashlight usage or 1-2 hours of standby on your cellphone. The Emergency MP4 Player also has a pest and mosquito repellent…an alcohol breathalizer …and poison gas detector.”

www.craziestgadgets.com/2009/01/09/emergency-mp4-player

Wow–I could know on the spot if I was truly lost or just drunk. And, poison gas detector, you say? I say, “Bring it on, terrorists–you can’t make me leave my berry patch that easily!” The only thing this MP4 is missing is a collapsible gas mask that would allow me to keep picking if such an event occurred.

Survival gadgets can generally be thought of as Plan B products. They’re only useful if Plan A doesn’t pan out. That is, if your cruise goes  bad, or your plane wrecks, or you insist on following your GPS, even when it directs you to turn into a snake-infested swamp.

Some products are both Plan A/Plan B types. These can be referred to as “Combinations” or “Conversions.” They are combined units that can convert from one thing to another, depending on the necessity of the moment.

I ran across this mother-of-all combinations the other day:

http://www.northlandpcs.com/professionalcars.htm

An ambulance/hearse combination–how handy is that? Apparently, this 1973 Superior Cadillac was only one in a long, historic line of such combination vehicles that were really used for decades in small towns across the country. Who knew?

The implications are obvious–if Plan A, administering of medical care and transportation to the ER isn’t successful, than everyone is already equipped on the spot to implement Plan B. What a great time and money saver for any strapped municipal budget! Of course, this picture makes me wonder how I would feel if I had a medical emergency and a hearse showed up to transport me…

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So, the whole idea of conversions got me to thinking about another kind of conversion–Christian conversion. Specifically, the following harsh words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (NLT)

Yikers–them is fightin’ words. What exactly was Jesus accusing the Pharisees of here? I think he was basically saying that they would go to great lengths to convert Gentiles to Judaism, but then turn those former pagans into Mini-Mees of the Pharisees’ misguided selves. It was one thing to convert people to Judaism, but quite another to convert them to a twisted Judaism.

It seems that, by Jesus’ time, most of the Pharisees had fallen into a type of grievous idolatry–they were worshiping their own pompous traditions instead of worshiping God. Four hundred years of prophetic silence had taken its toll on the clarity and purpose of  Moses’ Law. It had slowly opened the door for the Jewish leaders to do what comes natural to all humans–make themselves the center of their world. So, being the bookish, creative thinkers that they were, they began to pick the Law apart and reinterpret it so extensively that it became strange, convoluted, and comprised of man’s ideas instead of God’s. These ideas, then, became the traditions that the Pharisees so zealously guarded.

The Pharisees had taken their eyes off God and focused their adoring gaze on their own works. Without intending to, they stopped worshiping the Creator and started worshiping the traditions, something they themselves had created.

It was their own special brand of  idolatry, and in reality, not much different from what they were trying to turn the pagans away from.

The ones they called the “Children of Hell.”

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A scene from Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgement.” The boatman Charon is ferrying the damned into hell. The early Roman church utilized this type of handy, scary art to make sure people got converted and stayed converted.

During one of my deepest Pharisaism disease flare-ups, I remember being particularly zealous to convert people. Fired-up by sermons and Christian radio messages that commanded good Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” and “go into all the world and preach the good news,” I determined to get as many people as I could to go to church.

This was obviously not a healthy idea. Like the Pharisees, my thinking had been infiltrated by selfish motives and I didn’t realize that getting people to “go to church” was not necessarily the point of the Great Commission.

In all reality, I wasn’t as interested in introducing people to God as I was to really just wanting them to join my awesome Sunday club. Under the guise of looking out for people’s eternal destinies, I set out to see how many people I could bring to church.

Not only were my motives misguided, so were my methods. I would start out seeing myself as a type of ambulance. I would identify who I thought needed spiritual care and healing and offer to take them to a place like that. More often than not, of course, the person wouldn’t agree that they needed my assistance. That’s when I’d convert my ambulance to a hearse.

They’d need one because I was taught to inform my resistant hearers that they were dying and heading straight for a gruesome, horrible, eternal hell. It was a handy combination technique–pull the magnetized strobe light off the top of the ambulance, close the window curtains from the inside, and voila! my vehicle of loving rescue could instantly become a delivery van for a terrifying death message.

It was a grievous abuse of theology, and, as such, also one of the most grievous symptoms of Pharisaism. But, at times, quite effective. I could certainly scare people into coming to church…

…But not necessarily to the love of God.

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So, like most issues related to Pharisaism, the validity of conversion methods rests solely on motive. Jesus consistently yanked the Pharisees back to the motives behind what their acts, not the acts themselves.

I had to face my diseased motives when I embarked on my recovery. What I found was that the whys and howevers of  my “witnessing” tactics really could be boiled down to one of the worst of the biblical sins–PRIDE. I was convinced that my instituted way of worship was the only right one, and I wanted people to acknowledge that I was right by adopting  that brand of faith practice. Of course, then, when that twisted thinking resulted in a convert, that convert would go on to be just as diseased as me. In effect, I had “turned that person into twice the child of a hearse-driver that I was!”

Thank goodness, I didn’t stay in that mindset forever. Once I began to recover, I learned to develop the daily habit of checking my motives. As long as I stay focused on loving people and letting them know that I’m there for them, I don’t have to drive a hearse anymore.

It really was just an unhandy, unwieldy, gimmicky gadget. Even Grandpa Miles wouldn’t have wanted it.

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I think Grandpa Miles is speaking to me from heaven today. I have a strange and unexpectedly strong urge to buy one of these:

But I promise I won’t…

…maybe.