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The Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, made the holidays easier for a thousand people last Sunday. Volunteers passed out $50 grocery gift cards to drivers lined up outside their church campus.
The congregation has given away more than $600,000 in gift cards since the spring of last year while also providing meals and food boxes in partnership with county government and local groups. This is all despite the fact that the church has not met in-person since the pandemic began, yet tithing continues online with regularity.
Contrast their generosity with this report: 86 percent of consumers will shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. They will spend $491 on average between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, bringing in a total of over $108 billion.
Know the 3 Black Friday strategies
“Black Friday” derives its name from the Philadelphia police department, which coined the term in the 1960s to describe the challenges they faced during this annual shopping frenzy. But the day and the weekend are also crucial to retailers who hope to end the year in the “black.”
To be successful, they must convince us of three things:
- We need something they are selling.
- We need to buy it from them.
- We need to buy it now.
The first step is obviously essential to the rest. For example, when Janet and I visited Philadelphia a few years ago, we passed numerous shops selling Eagles paraphernalia. I was never tempted because, as a Cowboys fan, the last thing I want to wear is an Eagles jersey. (Not to mention the danger to life and limb if I did so back home.) I’m sure Eagles fans visiting Dallas feel the same way about Cowboys souvenirs.
If we cannot be persuaded that we need whatever the retailer seeks to sell, the process ends before it begins. Thus the plethora of Christmas ads that seem to start sooner each year. Many include “social proof” whereby satisfied customers tell us why this product was so valuable to them and why we will be just as grateful when we purchase it for ourselves.
Next, we must be convinced that we need to buy this product from the retailer who is advertising it. Thus the Black Friday sales that compete with other sales to convince us theirs is the lowest price, the best service, etc.
Finally, we must be persuaded that we need to buy their product now. Thus the one-day promotions, the threats to hike up prices when inventory is gone, etc.
Do people need Christ to go to heaven?
Here’s my point: since Christians are called to share the good news of Christ’s birth and love at Christmas, our spiritual enemy is working hard to use all three strategies against us.
First, he wants us to believe that others do not need what the gospel offers, that everyone goes to heaven whether they trust personally in Christ as Savior or not. This heresy is known as “universalism” and is growing in popularity amidst a postmodern culture that is convinced all truth is personal and subjective.
According to a new Pew survey, 39 percent of American adults believe people who do not believe in God can go to heaven; another 27 percent do not believe in heaven at all. Only 32 percent say unbelievers cannot go to heaven.
Shockingly, more than one in five Evangelicals agree that nonbelievers can go to heaven. And forty-seven percent of Christian Millennials say evangelism is the improper imposition of their values on others.
A hellish parable
If Satan cannot convince us that others do not need the gospel, he will counter the second strategy whereby retailers seek to persuade us to buy the product from them. Known as “pluralism,” this is the heresy that “all roads lead up the same mountain,” the claim that Christianity is not unique and that all religions serve the same purpose.
The Pew survey (cited above) reports that nearly one in five Evangelicals believe “some non-Christian religions can lead to eternal life in heaven.” This despite Jesus’ clear statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And Peter’s bold declaration, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
If we resist universalism and pluralism, Satan will work to counter the retailer’s third claim that we need to buy their product today. Despite the biblical declaration that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2), the devil wants us to believe that those who need Christ have plenty of time to hear and respond.
There’s an old parable about the time Satan called a town meeting, asking his demons for ways to keep Christians from sharing their faith. One stood and said, “I will tell them there is no heaven.” Satan replied, “That will never work. God has made them for himself and there is something in them that believes there is life beyond this life. They won’t believe you.”
A second demon stood and said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan replied, “That will not work, either. The humans have an innate sense of right and wrong and believe intuitively that evil must be punished. They will not believe you.”
Silence settled over the assembly. Then a demon stood at the back of the room and said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” And Satan said, “Go.”
Has he found you today?
Why the Church exists
On the first “Black Friday,” Jesus died on our cross to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. You and I have now been entrusted with the greatest news in history: anyone who asks him to forgive their sins and become their Savior and Lord becomes the child of God and receives eternal life with our Father in heaven (John 1:12).
This Christmas season, let’s resolve to share Christ with those we influence. Let’s remind them of the reason for the season, inviting them to invite the Baby of Bethlehem to make his manger in their hearts. Let’s ask God to guide us and use us in sharing the gift someone shared with us. Let’s pay forward the gospel of grace and thus turn the holidays into holy days.
C. S. Lewis stated, “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ.”
For what purpose will you exist today?
(For more on the spiritual dimensions of our cultural materialism, see Mark Legg’s excellent article on our website, “Our Black Friday consumerism is a battleground for America’s soul.”)