They had the greatest message ever, but needed one thing more. So do we.

I told a friend once that if I have gone to seed on anything in Christian theology, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m about to qualify that. As essential an element in the Christian faith as it is, the resurrection of our Lord did not end the fears, settle the nerves, conquer the phobias, or break the chains with which the early disciples were bound. It took one thing more.

To be sure, when the Lord Jesus Christ walked out of that garden tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, it settled a lot of issues. His identity was forever established. His claims were solidly substantiated. His promises had just received the guarantee of Heaven.

When Jesus arose victorious from the grave, His enemies were routed. His opponents were silenced (or should have been, had they possessed a smidgen of integrity). His executioners were shamed. A bamboozled Satan and his imps were beside themselves with rage.

The resurrection of Jesus answers our questions, excites our hopes, and escalates our anticipation. It draws us back to the Scripture, back to the Church, and back to a new reality.

No wonder the disciples’ later preaching centered on the single key ingredient of belief in Jesus’ return from the grave as an essential element of saving faith. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Settle that–that Jesus actually died on that cross, that He lay in that grave from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, then walked out whole and healthy–and so many things fall into place.

Everything, that is, except one. And we see it in the Lord’s disciples, as recorded in John 20.

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What “going viral” really means

These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).

I used to think I knew what “going viral” meant.  I’d write an article or draw a cartoon, and if it were something I felt very strongly about, I would ask the Lord that it would go viral.  Others have their own definition for what “going viral” means, but to me it meant  others would copy it, spread it on their page, where it would be seen by others who would in turn copy it, and so forth.  Like some urban legends that seem to have taken on a life of their own and get reborn in every generation, anyone writing something worthwhile would like to see it “out there” and “with legs.”

So…

To “go viral” means:  a thing is fast-moving, all-encompassing, and unstoppable.

Witness the coronavirus pandemic.  Fast-moving indeed.  All-encompassing certainly, as it slows down at no borders and spreads into every village, every culture.  There is no stopping it.  Not so far.

But it occurs to me the first pandemic, the first “thing” to go viral, was not a disease at all.  It was the news of Jesus Christ.

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The overwhelming evidence of man’s lostness

One great evidence of the lostness of mankind is that people rarely look up from their daily lives to ask, “Where is all this headed? What is out there? Where are we going?”

I sit on my deck and watch the birds swarm around my feeders.  I keep them stocked and am delighted the birds love what I provide.  But never once has a bird looked up to indicate an appreciation for my efforts.  They are so like people it’s not funny.  We take everything for granted.

In a 1965 sermon, Billy Graham tells of the time when Robert Ingersoll, well-known atheist of the 19th century, was addressing an audience in a small town in New York. The orator forcefully laid out his doubts concerning a future judgement and the reality of hell.

At the conclusion, a drunk stood up in the back of the room, and said through slurred speech, “I sure hope you’re right, Brother Bob. I’m counting on that!”

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Something Churchill did we recommend pastors do

Winston Churchill was the ultimate dinner guest.

He was, that is, unless you wanted to get a word in edgewise.

Churchill  monopolized the conversation, we are told.  He did this particularly if the setting was his home in Chartwell and you were the guest.  Even one guest was an audience and the man most assuredly did love an audience.

I suspect most preachers have that in common with him.

Now,  if we have to sit there and listen to someone go on for an hour or more, most of us would prefer the speaker be a Winston Churchill.  Or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin.

But Churchill did something which made his conversation so unforgettable and his speeches so noteworthy:  He planned in advance his little set speeches.  Which is to say, he prepared his spontaneous remarks.

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Contagion: Things we catch from one another

Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.  –Mark 5:19

I suspect this piece will be weeks in the writing.  I plan to return to it from time to time.

In Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis has a disaffected preacher of some sort giving reasons he is leaving the ministry and turning away from God.  “If there is a God of love, why didn’t He make good health contagious instead of disease?”

An interesting question.

It is certainly true that diseases–many of them at any rate–are contagious, meaning they are spread by human proximity or physical contact, direct or indirect.

In his book None of These Diseases, missionary doctor S. I. McMillen tells how the Black Plague was eventually ended in Europe.   After exhausting all the known remedies and researching everything they knew, medical people asked the priests if the Holy Scriptures had anything on the subject of the transmission of disease.  “Quarantine,” they answered.  And they showed scriptures such as…

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What if Jesus had not died?

If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  –I Corinthians 15:17

“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.

What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?

That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.

Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”

So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?

On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.”  (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)

Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”

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Tell people the truth about God. Even when it’s hard.

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  –Acts 20:27

A friend going through a difficult time sent a message concerning a situation she was facing. Toward the end of the letter, making a case for straight-shooting from my direction, she said something I will not soon forget.

Pray for me if you like. Send me scripture if you like. Put me on a prayer chain if you want. But please don’t lie to me about God.

She was not trying to be dramatic, only to convey how strongly she wanted the truth. Even if it hurt, even if it went contrary to everything she was doing and believed, she wanted to know.

You have to respect that.

My impression is that so many doctrinal inquiries we preachers get are merely asking us to confirm what the questioners are already doing, to endorse all they have previously believed.

God help us not to lie to others about God.

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Think God can’t use a nobody like you? Bite your tongue!

“And Moses said, ‘Who me, Lord? In the first place, I’m way past retirement age.  I’ve not been to seminary. I didn’t even finish college. The other preachers won’t respect me. Pulpit committees won’t have anything to do with me. There’s a bounty on me back in Egypt. I stutter a lot, and tend to freeze up in front of groups. You’ve clearly dialed a wrong number, Lord.”

“And God said, ‘Hush.  Now,  listen.’” (My rather free version of Exodus 3-4.)

The Lord can’t use a nothing nobody like me.

Ever heard that? Ever said it?

Repent, sinner.  You underestimate God! And, you might just be overestimating your own importance in the equation.

The Lord delights in taking nobodies and doing great things with them.

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Things even a lost man knows

The natural man does not comprehend spiritual things.  I Corinthians 2:14

An unsaved guy misses a great deal.  He’s on the outside looking in and so he will not value some of the things Jesus said or God did.

However…

Some unbelievers have a sharp sense as to what is right and what’s utterly stupid. Case in point…

A friend messaged to say the last line at the end of chapter 3 in our book “Pastoring” deserves its own treatment.

We were talking about a pastor goofing off when he should have been studying, fooling around in the pulpit when he should have been feeding the flock, and glorifying himself instead of Jesus.  An unsaved fellow who was in the congregation one day when the preacher did some dumb stuff told his family afterwards, “That pastor is a joke.”

And we said, “Some things even a lost man knows.”

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Can you make an exception for me?

“Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12)

My wife is a career schoolteacher.  Either in high school or college, she has taught English all her adult life.  (She has a bachelor’s degree from Bob Jones and a Master’s from Rhode Island College.)  And I hear the tales…

Toward the end of the semester, at the time when term papers are due and tests are scheduled, invariably some student wants to be late or to be allowed to skip something or have a deadline rescheduled.  And they always have excuses.

When the student has shown himself/herself to be conscientious and serious about their work, the teacher is disposed to want to help them.  But in the case of a lazy student for whom this is a pattern, a loving, faithful teacher will refuse to make allowances.  Give in to the lazy, self-indulgent student on this and all you do is reinforce that ugly pattern.

“Can you make an exception for me?”

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