If It Happened Once….


Matthew 28:1-10

A newly appointed young preacher was contacted by the local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small country cemetery. There was to be no funeral, just the committal, because the deceased had no family or friends left. The young pastor started early to the cemetery, but soon lost his way. After making several wrong turns, he finally arrived a half-hour late. The hearse was no where in sight, and the workman were relaxing under a nearby tree, eating their lunch. The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workman say, “Maybe we’d better tell him that’s a septic tank.”

Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for twenty centuries, producing generations of the race’s finest characters. There is a grave in Germany sealed with a granite slab and bound with strong chains. On it an atheist had inscribed, “Not to be opened throughout eternity.” Yet somehow a little acorn had fallen into some crack, and its outer shell “died.” Years after, everyone saw a huge oak tree which had completely broken up the slab, still having the inscribed arrogant words. The new life of the acorn had openly displayed the power of life. All that death can do, it did to Christ. Our Lord felt the chill of it. He died alone. But He did for us what we are not able to do for our loved ones . . . He explored the basements of death to the very bottom . . . and came back to tell us to be of good cheer.

When we look at Matthew’s account we focus upon that great stone that the soldiers had placed in front of the tomb of Jesus. That was the women’s main concern. Who will roll away the stone for us? To their amazement, the stone that was very large has been rolled away. That stone symbolizes the finality of the death of Jesus, the massiveness of the stone is like the massiveness of the death of Jesus that confronts the women at the cemetery. The stone is so great it can only be rolled away by some higher power.

That great power comes in the form of an earthquake, Matthew’s unique contribution to the Easter story. The earthquake signifies that the resurrection is not something private and personal with Jesus. The earth shaking signifies the cosmic, earth and heaven shaking significance of the event. Easter is large, cosmic, demanding upon our imaginations. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

John says that they got to the tomb on Easter morning and it was empty.
Then, they went back home. Reminds you of the two disciples in Luke on the way to Emmaus. “Some women told us that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but we had already planned to have supper over in Emmaus, so we couldn’t change our reservations.” A man is raised from the dead and you can’t cancel lunch? Easter is an earthquake with doors shaken off tombs and dead people walking the streets, the stone rolled away by the ruckus and an imprudent angel sitting on it.

A new world was thereby offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the very disciples who had forsaken him. The world is about forgiveness, as it turns out, not vengeance. And the earth shook. Jesus picked up a piece of bread and ate it and you could see the nail prints in his hands. The world is about life, as it turns out, not death. And the earth shook.

People are forever saying, “I could believe in the resurrection, but where is the evidence?” Well, the best evidence for Easter is the existence of the church, that body of people gathered together. There are ten other resurrections in the Bible! Elijah restore life to a boy whose mother is a widow. Elisha restore life to the Shunammite’s son. An unnamed dead man’s body is thrown in the tomb of Elisha. Ezekiel watched life come to a valley of dry bones. Jesus heals the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus, Ruler’s daughter, Holy people in the tombs of Jerusalem. Peter raised Tabitha in Lydda. Paul raised Eutychus.

If it happened once? It has happened at least 11 times in the Bible. Who knows how many times it has really happened? The Easter lily is the floral symbol of Easter because its shape resembles a trumpet that heralds the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Ministry Of Hospitality


Matthew 10:40-42

Captured missionary to cannibals, “At least you get a taste of religion.” The Swahili in Africa have a proverb – Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day give him a hoe. My father-in-law would always quote Benjamin Franklin when we would come to visit. “Both fish and company smell bad after three days.” I wouldn’t have taken that to heart so much if it hadn’t been for the fact he would quote it when we first arrived. A sign seen at the entrance of an English castle open to the public: It is the duty of the host to make his guests feel at home. It is the duty of the guests to remember that they are not.

Hospitality was specifically commanded by God. It was to be characteristic of all believers, especially spiritual leaders. Jesus emphasized the importance of hospitality by answering the question who should inherit the kingdom: “I was a stranger and you took Me in”. In biblical times it was believed to be a sacred duty to receive, feed, lodge, and protect any traveler who might stop at one’s door. The stranger was treated as a guest, and men who had thus eaten together were bound to each other by the strongest ties of friendship, which descended to their heirs and was confirmed by mutual presents. Hospitality was a religious duty for all who lived around the Sea, who were enjoined by the law of Moses. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:34) The present practice of the Arabs is still similar to ancient Hebrew hospitality. Hospitality in Greek means “lover of strangers.”

The clergyman felt that their church was a bit stuffy and could use a bit of friendliness. And one of the things that impressed him most was the practice of everyone turning around and shaking hands with, and greeting, the other worshipers seated nearby. So, one Sunday he announced that the following Sunday they were going to initiate this custom. At the close of this same service a man turned around to the lady behind and said “Good morning,” and she looked at him with shock at his boldness and said, “I beg your pardon!
That friendliness business doesn’t start until next Sunday.”

There is a difference between “hospitality” and “entertaining.” Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.” Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.” Hospitality aims to serve. Entertaining puts things before people. Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture, we’ll eat on the floor!”

Lyle Schaller says, “The most influential question that can be asked of a first time visitor is, ‘Would you like to come home with us for dinner?'” For those not interested in “Knocking on doors,” Schaller notes, “Just open your door.”

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” (Gen 19:1)

Now hear it from Jesus: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ (Luke 16:20)

Why is it so important to God for us to show hospitality, especially to a stranger? Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff-no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

The stranger that comes to you, just might be God. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2)

The 23rd Psalm concludes with a portrait of a host who prepares a table for the weary, anoints the head of the guest with oil, and shows every kindness so that the guest’s cup runs over. The psalmist sees the Lord Himself as Host; His hospitality exceeds all others. But you are the stranger, the alien in the foreign land. Even today a traditional greeting to the guests among the Bedouin people of the Middle East is “You are among your family.

Jews believed that the first thing the Messiah would do was host a Messianic banquet. In fact, the last thing Jesus did was to host a banquet — the Lord’s Supper. The Supper doesn’t seem like a banquet. There is only a crumb of bread. There is only a sip of wine. They are in our bodies for only a short time. But the memory of what we have thought and felt at the Supper lasts far, far longer. It lasts until we come again to Communion even as strangers.



Matthew 15:7-8

A pastor answered his telephone to hear a lady’s voice request: “Please have six cases of whiskey sent to my house as we’re having a party.” Inadvertently, she had dialed the wrong number and the pastor recognized the voice as that of one of his parishioners. Gently he replied, “I am your pastor.” He had expected an apology for her dialing the wrong number. Instead she retorted in an angry voice, “Well Pastor, what are you doing at the liquor store?”

One day Linus is sitting on the curb talking to Charlie Brown, telling him about his aspirations: “Charlie Brown, when I get big I’m going to be a humble little country doctor. I’ll live in the city, see, and every morning I’ll get up, climb into my sports car and zoom into the country! Then I’ll start healing people. I’ll heal everybody for miles around.” And in the last frame he concludes, “I’ll be a world famous humble little country doctor.”

HYPOCRISY! Pretending to be what one is not. The New Testament meaning of hypocrisy and hypocrite reflects its use in Greek drama. In the Greek theater, a hypocrite was one who wore a mask and played a part on the stage, imitating the speech, mannerisms, and conduct of the character portrayed.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus vigorously exposed and denounced the hypocrisy of many who opposed Him, especially the scribes and Pharisees. They paraded their charitable deeds, praying and fasting as a theatrical display to win the praise of men (Matt 6:1-2,5,16). They sought to give the appearance of being godly, but they were actually blind to the truth of God (Luke 20:19-20). Six times in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls the Pharisees, hypocrites! “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness.” “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The apostle Paul encountered hypocrisy among some Jewish Christians, who refused to eat with the Gentile converts. Paul pointed out that “sincere love” is one of the marks of Christian ministry. And he exhorted his readers to behave like Christians: “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom 12:9).

Most everyone will remember the days of the Susan B. Anthony dollar. It only lasted for three years and there is a very good reason. It looked too much like a quarter and people didn’t like all of the confusion. In the public’s mind a dollar needed to look like it was worth 4 quarters, not just 25 cents. The world expects believers to look like Christ, not a cheap imitation. People outside of the church see too many professing Christians who look more like “chump change” than the real thing.

A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” (Acts 5:1)

I have been in ministry for a long time. The most difficult Christians to deal with are those who are utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection…. They are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them . . They dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, and outwardly seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves.

If your Christianity doesn’t work at home, don’t export it. More people are won or lost in the home than in the church. The home is either the greatest witness for Christ, or the worst. To pray without action is hypocrisy. To act without prayer is pagan. The Christian life involves the balanced tension between total dependence on God and responsible action by the one who prays.

There are very few who in their hearts do not believe in God, but what they will not do is give Him exclusive right of way. They are not ready to promise full allegiance to God alone. Many a professing Christian hits a stumbling-block because his worship is divided. On Sunday he worships God; on week days God has little or no place in his thoughts.

The Pharisees were always getting in trouble with Jesus, because they were the religious leaders, and knew better. “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21)

We all need a passion for holiness. Yet we all recognize that within our own lives we have the tendency to be dishonest spiritually. “I am still a recovering hypocrite.” Although we quickly become defensive when someone says the church is full of hypocrites, we would do better to acknowledge that we are all “recovering hypocrites” who could very easily slip back into the sin of hypocrisy. For your friend who is concerned about the church being “full of hypocrites,” just tell him it’s true. Then invite him to church because there’s always room for one more.

Giving God Thanks


Psalm 136:1-3

Three sons leave home, go out on their own and prosper. Getting back together, they discuss the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother. The first says: “I built a big house for our mother.” The second says: “I sent her a Mercedes with a driver.” The third says: “You remember how Mom enjoys reading the Bible? Now she can’t see very well. So I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took elders in the church twelve years to teach him; he’s one of a kind. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot recites it.” Soon thereafter, Mom sends out her letters of thanks. “Milton,” she says, “the house you built is so huge. I live only in one room, but I have to clean the whole house.” “Gerald,” she says, “I am too old to travel. I stay most of the time at home so I rarely use the Mercedes. And that driver is so rude! He’s a pain!” “My dearest Donald,” she says, “the chicken was delicious!”

There is a story of an older couple watching TV. The man stretches and says, “Honey, I think I’ll go to the kitchen and get some ice cream. Would you like some?” “Believe I would, thanks.” “Would you like some chocolate sauce on it?” “Yes, I would . . . but now be sure and write that down so you won’t forget.” Her husband glares, shakes his head, and marches off to the kitchen. Twenty minutes pass as the husband rustles about. Finally he reappears, carrying a plateful of scrambled eggs. “Why,” exclaims his wife, “I told you to write it down. Here you’ve come back and forgotten my bacon!”

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12)

Albert Scheitzer suggested that the other nine were so overjoyed they ran to tell their families. They may have intended to come back later to thank the Lord. Schweitzer said, “Remember, a great deal of water is flowing underground which never comes up as a spring.”

The New Yorker, whose cartoons are not only witty but also barbed with philosophical insight, had a dandy one November. It pictured a table fairly groaning with well-prepared food and the father at the head of the table asking, “Shall we say grace?” A study was released by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that the production of 100 bushels of corn from one acre of land was the result of 5 per cent of the effort of the farmer.

Giving thanks is a duty of which gratitude is the grace. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever. There is a need within all of us to give thanks. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

In India they are trying to get rid of the caste system that has been a part of that country for centuries. When you give money to a beggar in India, the beggar will put his palms together and raises his hand in a salute. Not in thanks, where one traditionally would receive one. Instead he salutes your wealth, his poverty, and the givens of the universe.

The great problem is that all of us have the need to say, “Thank you.” One of the signs of evil in our lives is the like of gratitude. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim 3:2)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:17) Prayer without thanksgiving is like a bird without wings – such prayer cannot rise to heaven or be sweet to the Father’s ears. God loves to hear our prayers, but He also loves to hear our praise. We understand it in the good times: And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. (Matthew 14:19) But we give thanks also in the difficult times: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.”

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:25)

What we do in honoring God, gives thanks to God. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:6) Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

The High Cost of Doing Business


Matthew 21:33-46

The pastor stood before his congregation and made the following announcement: “Folks, I have bad news and good news and bad news. The bad news: We need immediate repairs for our church building. The good news: We already have all the money we need to pay for the project. The bad news: The money we have is still in your pockets!”

The pastor stood reverently at the pulpit, bowed his head, and spoke to his congregation: “Before we take our offering, let’s all bow our heads and meditate on how much it costs to heat the church.” We are invited to great things when we receive small things greatly.

Ronald Warwick, captain of the luxury cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II, questioned a passenger who paid full fare for his dog to join them on an around-the-world cruise. (Accommodations range from $25,000 to $150,000.) “Wouldn’t it have cost less to leave him at home?” “Oh no,” the man said. “When we are away a long time, the dog’s psychiatrist fees are so high, it’s less expensive to bring him along.”–USA Today (10/25/95)

The dollar is a miraculous thing. It’s our personal energy reduced to portable form and endowed with power we do not ourselves possess. It can go where we cannot go; speak languages we cannot speak; lift burdens we cannot lift; save lives which we cannot deal with directly. Our dollar given to the church buys more to relieve human needs than any other place we might choose to invest it.

I have been pastoring churches for a long time and have pastored four congregations. My very first solo pastorate was Mount Zion Christian Church. The young people wanted to buy a pool table with money they had raised. It went to a congregational vote – over a pool table. The vote was on the pool table, but the issue was to allow teenagers in the church at times other than worship.

My second pastorate was Charlestown Christian Church. The Christian Women’s Fellowship got into a fight over what type of flooring to put in the dining room of the parsonage. At no time did they ever ask me or my wife what we wanted since we lived in the house. The issue was control, giving away control, to others and to God.

In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a small congregation went into partnership with a private school to stop white flight from the city’s core. A small group of people saw a greater need, that property values were going down and it was hurting minority children more. So, to keep families in the community they offered an alternative school. It grew so large that they had to bring mobile buildings in to accommodate the growth.

Hillside Christian Church I commend you for your vision, leadership and willingness to sacrifice to start a new congregation. When no other churches were willing to step forward or enter into a partnership, you where.
The only negative I heard from this congregation was concern for the health of its ministers. One person even said, “How can we not do it, that what being a church is all about.”

A Church Budget is a theological statement about what we believe and what we hold important. I make no apologies for what it cost to operate a church.
We express concern that administrative costs for the local church are high – we should be giving more to ministry! In the local congregation, administrative cost will always be high, that is where most everyday ministry takes place. I knew a man many years ago who said, “I send my money to “The Hour Of Power,” because they are really doing the Lord’s work. However, I noticed Robert Schuller wasn’t the one who conducted his funeral service, nor was his service held in Garden Grove.

Jesus said, “for the worker deserves his wages.” (Luke 10:7) All of life has a cost, in whatever we do. I am concerned about what is going on with the United Way and especially Big Brothers and Sisters. Look at the unreal predicament that the Church is put the organization in. We would much rather say to these children that grow up and become a juvenile offender than to run the risk of growing up differently than us.

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. The world was created by God and God owns it. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. God improved the world for us. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.
They didn’t want to pay for what they were using that didn’t belong to them.
They even killed the owners son!

Annually, Americans spend $26.6 billion on lottery tickets and give $19.6 billion to churches. The problem with our giving is that we too often give the widow’s mite, without the widow’s spirit.