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Looking for the Living Among the Dead
By: Bill Easum

We just went through another Easter when people come out of the woodwork. I wonder what you preached about this Easter and what I might say that will make your message next week even more powerful. So, here goes.

The second church I pastored was a small church of about 200 in worship in the Rio Grande Valley. The week before my first Easter, the Chairperson of the Board came to my office to ask me what turned out to be a very important question (not all of his questions were worth asking). He looked me in the eye and told me this story: ďOur last preacher was here just one year. You want to know why?Ē ďCertainly,Ē I hesitantly replied. ďHe was here only one year because of his Easter sermon. He got up in the pulpit and started his sermon like this Ė ĎIf you were there on the first Easter and went to the tomb and took a Polaroid, it would be blank. For, you see, the resurrection never really happened.í Can you believe that Ė he didnít believe in the resurrection? You do, donít you?Ē

The Question of the Ages
The question of the ages is, ďWhat do we do with Jesus - and specifically the resurrection?Ē How one answers the question about Jesus and the resurrection goes a long way to determining how effective that personís ministry will be in bringing people to Christ. Those who believe something actually happened at Easter tend to bring more people to Christ than those who think it is simply a story with a good moral. For them, salvation is a life and death issue that extends beyond this mortal life.

Although I believe Christ was raised from the dead, I donít make it a matter of fellowship or litmus test for faith. I just know my belief in the resurrection is part of what fuels my passion.  Itís what allows me to believe passage like Philippians 4:13 - ďI can do all things through Christ.Ē Itís also what allows me to tilt at windmills, because I know if God can raise Jesus from the dead, God can do anything, even helping a person like me make a contribution to the world and Godís Kingdom. Everything else pales in light of the possibility of such a contribution. Iíve also noticed belief in an actual resurrection is a key difference in growing and non-growing churches. So, itís important to offer the people a real Jesus who had a real resurrection. Did you do that this Easter? If not, plan on doing so next year.

Separating Fact or Fiction
Of course, we all know thereís a thin line between fact or fiction, reality and fantasy. And if weíre honest, most of us have had times of doubt when the line becomes blurred for even the most committed Christian. So, itís no wonder people born after 1980, who are steeped in a scientifically and technologically advanced world, have difficulty making the leap of faith to embrace what they cannot measure. Most of these folks are more skeptical about religion than any other generation in history. Itís not that they donít believe in the resurrection; they donít yet buy into religion period. Many of them see religion as totally fiction, reserved only for the weakest of minds.

Still, some of these folks are looking for something when they attend worship or they wouldnít be there. Some of them just might be looking for some form of reality behind the curtain of empirical proofs. The question is, how can you help them see the risen Jesus as real?

A number of videos come to mind that may help you make the distinction. The first video clip is from The Matrix and the red pill blue pill Neo has to choose to decide whether he wants to pursue reality or settle for the ďrealĒ that isnít real. 

A second clip comes from The Truman Show.  There are probably a dozen clips you could use from this film, especially when Truman begins to wonder aloud about whatís ďout there,Ē but I would probably use the scene where the spot light falls from the ďskyĒ and Truman comes to believe that maybe, just maybe, things arenít what they seem. 

The Coup de Gras
Videos may help, but all videos in the world wonít take the place of personal testimonies of how God has resurrected a life. Skeptical people need real life examples to move them from doubt to belief.

So, use the example of the Apostle Paul and share your personal redemption story. Not only that, line up a couple of powerful testimonies from people in your congregation who have had a gut-wrenching resurrection experience in their life and arenít afraid to share in public (video those who have a powerful story but are timid in public). Personal stories give feet to the Resurrection, so donít be afraid to share them. Hearing personal stories of how God has worked in personís life is far more powerful than anything else you can do, even preaching the best sermon of your life.

Still, no matter how you cut it, thereís no way you can convince someone that what they think is fiction is actually fact. If you could, it wouldnít take faith to believe. So, donít make the mistake of approaching the resurrection as something you have to prove. Instead, show what God has actually done in your life and the lives of your people. People born after 1980 may be skeptical of religion, but they pay attention to personal stories.

Too Many Churches Are in Need of Resurrection
Thereís one huge problem in all of this. If your church is spiritually dead, you may have trouble finding stories of resurrection among your congregation. My consulting experiences have taught me one ugly truth; the vast majority of establish churches are spiritually dead and are in need of a resurrection. They are like the women who went to the tomb to care for Jesus. They are looking for the living among the dead (Luke 24:5). They try to revitalize themselves but to no avail. You canít revitalize something that is dead; it must be resurrected.

Thatís one reason I wrote the book A Second Resurrection. Its purpose is to help stuck congregations evaluate their spiritual condition and decide if they need revitalization or resurrection.

If your church is dead in the water, not going anywhere, it may be in need of resurrection. If this, this book shows you a way forward. Donít be afraid to consider the obvious. Remember, itís really no use looking for the living among the dead.

Moving On
Whatever your view of the Resurrection is, I hope we all agree itís about transformation and redemption. As such, the movie Chocolat can help set the scene for Easter next year. Itís about the changes that come over those who were willing to risk breaking the Lenten fast (a real sacred cow for them) and the control of the town patriarch. In doing so, a woman breaks free from an abusive relationship; a grandmother is reconciled with her grandson at the end of her life; a mourning widow is freed by love; a lonely gentleman opens his heart to another; and the chocolate seller comes to terms with her own past. All of them were seen by the town as ďlaw-breakersĒ (in the sense of law and gospel), but to me, there is no better exposition of the gospel than people who are freed from whatever held them enslaved. The ultimate redemption comes even for the patriarch who has to go down to the depths of personal humiliation in order to experience the joy of real acceptance into the community.

Thatís really what ministry is about - transformation and redemption. Preach that each Sunday and give personal examples of Resurrection.

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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