Pete was a car salesman for many years. He learned from his father all the ways to rope people in, how to make something old and beat-up look desirable and affordable, and how to paste on a friendly trustworthy smile. The result, people liked Pete, no one felt like they were buying junk but that they were truly getting a good deal. In their eyes Pete was their friend, he was on their side and would do anything to help his customers out.
Strange as it may seem, one of his customers actually did become his friend. Pete was drawn to something in this man that he did not possess, if only he knew what that was. This man soon invited Pete to church, his church happened to be the largest one in town, a megachurch that Pete had often marveled at on his way to work. Pete sat open-mouthed as the pastor, clean cut and clad in a suit and tie entered the stage after an amazing worship set. He held everyone’s attention, his eyes swept the room and Pete noticed that this man too wore that friendly trustworthy smile he had mastered as a salesman. The pastor then went on to sway and persuade his flock to give their lives to Jesus. He painted a life of luxury, a life of constant joy and hope. The latter being a life of hell and emptiness. Pete couldn’t help but think, “what a deal!”
During the alter call Pete gave his life to God and decided then and there that he would become a pastor just like the one who stood on the high pedestal before him bathed in glory. At this moment, saving the lost wasn’t on Pete’s mind, only promoting himself and taking on what he thought was a better salesman job, one that would buy more people. Let’s face it, everyone wants a life of bliss!
Due to his skill and his outward charisma, Pete soon had a church of his own. Like his personality, it was outwardly desirable, the band that he had put together was perfect, the cafe room, warm and inviting, the sanctuary a throne room, with lights, cushioned black seats, New Testament Bibles, fog machines, the works. The entrance lobby held “freebies”, that helped to rope people in, things like coffee mugs, t-shirts, inspirational books etc.
As to his sermons, he plucked verses and hand-picked stories from the Bible that helped to paint a Jesus that everyone could relate too. He was warm and fuzzy and just wanted everyone to believe in him so that they could enjoy a life of bliss with the promise of an afterlife of more bliss. God’s people didn’t have to do anything but accept Jesus and support the church financially. That was all they needed to do to earn a ticket to heaven! the latter was simply a bad deal, as far as Pete was concerned only a fool would turn down the deal that he offered.
The church grew, quickly. People flocked to have their ears tickled with half-truths and to hear about hippie Jesus and a laid back God. Satan was simply the bad salesman, the one wanting to rope people into a bad deal. Pete failed to recognize that he was much like that as a car salesman, and just as vile as a pastor. He had mutilated the Word of God, had erased the need for true lovers of Christ, and had completely destroyed the existence of sin and the need for real repentance. The matter of life and death had been cheapened to that of a business deal. People were coming to the altar to sign this deal, picking up their “get out of jail free” card, and then going on about their lives…as lost and unchanged as ever, except they now had the assurance that “that” life was perfectly ok.
It was a Sunday like every other, Pete’s church was now officially mega. A small town pastor entered the front doors and beheld the scene before him with apparent distaste. The multiple tithing bins, the cheap-made freebies, the expensive books and merchandise promoting the church all lined before the entrance to the sanctuary reminded him of the time Jesus upturned the money changers tables in the Temple because they cut off the people from a relationship with God.
He stepped into the sanctuary and saw the bright flashing lights and fog machines and noticed the crowd moved by the sole experience. Where were the true worshippers of Spirit and Truth? He sat down and prayed till the music ceased as if on cue and everyone seated. He looked up from his praying and saw Pete enter the stage much like the President of the world would. His image screamed wealth and prosperity, and though he smiled warmly at them all, the small town pastor felt only a chill go down his spine.
The sermon was brief, it talked about a Jesus void of zealous passion, a God who only watched things from His distant throne, was He only the ticket master? And a devil that was in plain sight, a bumbling fool that people could easily avoid if they gave their lives to God? No, if they financially supported this church and joined its ever-growing country club. The small town pastor sat quite still and waited till the sermon closed, and everyone left, some having just bought their tickets to heaven. The pastor only then disembarked the stage, his smile turning to greed as his eyes beheld the money poured out before the altar. He then locked eyes with the small town pastor and approached him, his smile returning to its original feigned innocence.
“Hello, did you give your life to Jesus today?” He asked, the small town pastor chuckled, “son I gave my life a long time ago and it’s not supposed to look like this.” He gestured around the room, though he had spoken kindly, the words stung Pete’s ego, he had never dealt with a critic before and didn’t like to be called “son.” He straightened his tie, his smile grew tight and thin, “how do you know you are saved, my friend? What if you were brought here for a reason?” The small town pastor chuckled again, “oh, I was brought here for a reason alright.” He suddenly stood and his warm smiled disappeared, he gripped Pete’s shoulders like a man pleading for reason. “Son, what you have done here is a grave thing! You have made a business out of peoples fear and desire for security, you have robbed them of the truth and without out this truth, how can anyone really be free?!”
Pete pushed the man’s hands away and stood back, his anger was suddenly overcome with a grip of fear, the fear of God. He looked at his shaking hands and gasped, “I…I wanted to sell Jesus to them, make Him desirable…” the small town pastor shook his head, “son, Jesus is already desirable, He gave his life as a ransom for many, God is already all-powerful, and satan, though wicked is not witless but very cunning in his attempts to take the flock!” The small town pastor then rubbed his eyes, “…your flock son, is not saved, the wolves have entered your gates, have devoured your sheep and you have made them ignorant to this.” He pulled out his own Bible, worn as it was from being read over and over. He handed it to Pete who still stood shaking, confused. “Read it son, the whole thing this time, don’t leave anything out, that’s why I was brought here today.” With that the small town pastor turned and left, leaving Pete alone with his thoughts.
And Pete then read the Word of God, this time listening to every word, not scanning it for what he could use to create his own religion. He read 2 Peter 2:3,
“in their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”
Pete thought of all the people who supported him and loved him, why only one critic? He found Luke 6:26,
“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
He had known the truth the whole time, deep down he knew what he was doing, and yet, he too wanted to believe what he taught. He flipped to 2 Timothy 4:3-4,
He closed the Bible and looked out upon the great sanctuary and wept. That day, Pete was no longer a salesman pastor, he truly gave his life to God and the end of his next sermon caused more than half the church to walk out. He called that small town pastor and asked to be mentored by him. In time, his smile grew truly trustworthy and kind, his flock grew slowly, but Pete was sure that all those who gave their lives to God truly transformed, picking up their cross to follow Jesus and not himself.
Pete stood upon the stage, no longer a pedestal, but in his heart, an open field, with a shepherd’s staff in his hand, protecting his flock from the cunning wolf who had proven himself a foe not to overlook. True salvation can’t be bought, a pastor’s burden isn’t light, and the truth cannot be divided.