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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Message Proof then, proof now

One thing that struck me this week was a proof for the resurrection that I hadn't heard in all the lead up to Easter.  And that is in the old adage, "where there's smoke there's fire."  We tend to see things historically from the perspective of today.  Why did Napoleon do thus and so, when he could have had an even greater victory if he'd have moved Marshall Boo-Boo to this spot adjacent the battlefield?"  "Well, that would be because he didn't have gasoline-engine mass-transports that could have gotten them there in  an appropriate time."  A lot of things look different when you pull your head out of today.

Today, even non Christians are exposed to one extent or another by the Gospel message.  And people drawn to any Gospel message are likely to have been exposed to an earlier one.  The old "I've heard it all before" syndrome.  Take Billy Graham.  In almost anyone's opinion he is the greatest civilized-world evangelist of the past 100 years.  But how effective is he?  In an article called"Case Studies in Easy Believism" by Thomas Williamson of the Roger Sherman Society had some stats on this.

Observers over the years have noted that Billy Graham, who is considered to be America's premier evangelist, gets a lot of people coming forward in his meetings, but few lasting conversions.  Herman Otten, editor of Christian News, stated that "The editor's home congregation participated in the 1957 New York Billy Graham crusade. . . .  The editor's home congregation received about 28 [referral cards].  All were visited but none were interested in joining the church.  Surveys have shown that Graham's mass crusades have resulted in few ever joining a church."

Christopher Cagan and John Waldrip, after attending Billy Graham's San Diego crusade in 2003, presented a report which determined that "Graham's sermons are an outgrowth of the theology and methods of Charles G. Finney, the 19th Century evangelist who changed the meaning of salvation from Biblical ‘conversion' to the empty ‘decisionism,' which stopped historical revivals and ultimately helped to empty the churches... .  The sad truth is that Graham's message converts an almost infinitesimally small percentage of people who did not already consider themselves Christians before they ever heard him preach.  The third awful result of Graham's meetings is that almost no one is added to the churches....  Dr. Robert Ketcham of the GARBC (Regular Baptists) showed from hard-core statistics that only 13 previously unchurched people were added to the churches of San Francisco from a lengthy Billy Graham crusade."

So, from two mass crusades, separated by several years, we get 13 new believers.  Is that a bash on Graham?  Not at all.  But how many "unchurched people" actually ATTEND his crusades?

Now, let me borrow the musical Tardis and take you back in time to about 35 AD. Here we find a tiny group of people who have seen and know the Lord Jesus.  At the point before Pentecost, Luke said "the number of names was about 125."  Paul says that around 500 had seen Jesus after He rose from the dead.  Given the penchant back then to only count the men at any given function, add a wife and two kids to each "name", and we're in a similar ballpark.  That ballpark is surrounded by a world that doesn't know Jesus, hasn't seen Him dead or alive or resurrected, doesn't have a good grasp on Jewish history or the prophets (witness the Egyptian eunuch)- and by OUR standards, shouldn't show a lick of interest in anything about Jesus.

In just two sermons- not crusades with ballyhoo, tickets sold, TV coverage, but two sermons given on the spot without advance warning- Peter led  EIGHT THOUSAND people to faith.

You can read the sermons.  Billy Graham gives versions of these same sermons.  What's the difference?

David Jeremiah listed a few of them this weekend.  They were convinced because they had seen Him, they were commissioned by Him, they were committed to Him.  But most of all, they knew Him, lived with Him, saw Him back from the grave.  And that knowledge, that first hand experience, was told to the 8,000 and it convinced them.  Do you think you could convince 8,000 complete strangers of something that couldn't possibly happen had happened- and it made a difference in their lives?  Peter could, and did.

Last week, I told the slightly fictionalized story of Peter's private meeting with Jesus after the resurrection (an event alluded to in the Gospels and given proof by Paul).  In that story, Peter had to come to grips with three things.

First, the very worst thing He had ever done, which only one person knew about, was the denials.  And now that one person, who was dead, was alive again.  He would have to face that his worst moment was no longer hidden.  As if it ever was.

Second, it didn't matter.  It was forgiven.  And he would have to accept that.

And third, because of the second, he was now about to see his life change completely- from sand to rock!

We have to come to grips with these same things.  THE ONLY DIFFERENCE between us and Peter is faith.

The question never was is there proof in the Bible that these things actually happened.  Cold logic can deduce that.  The question really is, why is there so little proof NOW?


  1. Our pastor read the passage in church today about Jesus appearing to all of the disciples (except Thomas, who was not there) in an upper room. They'd locked themselves in there (I'm presuming because they were rightfully and realistically terrified of following the same fate as Jesus). Then Jesus was there and they say him and touched his scars and believed. They told Thomas and he said he wouldn't believe until he saw and touched those scars. (Which sounds terrible on the face of it, but the other disciples didn't believe either until they saw and touched the scars...). A week later, they are all back in the locked upper room and Jesus appears to them again (this time Thomas is present). He sees, touches, believes. And Jesus says those words that I've heard so many times in my life about how much greater it is/will be for those who didn't see see or touch to have faith.

    Of course, that is every person who's believed in the last two thousand years. In some ways, I'm astounded that there are so many people who DO believe and meet weekly. Read their Bible. Actively try to be the best disciples of Christ they can be. And another part of me is shocked that so many don't believe.

    I think the proof now is the same as the proof then. People who didn't see heard a story about a man who traveled the country for three years (doing and saying amazing --and shocking-- things, healing people, etc.) and then he died a torturous death. But that isn't the end... three days later he came back to life. And he did all of those things so that we would know the Father and believe and have everlasting life. If you know Me, you know my father... so he gave us an opportunity to know him. We get opportunities nearly every day. Jesus is nothing if not generous.

    1. Yes, He is. Thank you for a wonderful comment. I don't know if the other eleven asked about Jesus' wounds... but I bet they were sneaking looks!

  2. Very interesting, when I was younger I use to go to church each week but nowadays I don't feel the need to go to church I still pray and believe but don't feel the need to do so in a church.

    1. I'm pretty much in that same boat, for a slightly different reason. I try to help out by being part of the "assemblage of believers" we're not supposed to forsake.

  3. The experience of "conversion" or going forward is so often an emotional response based on the occasion that when later the person is distanced from that event the feeling is gone and the reconversion back to an almost original state takes place. If the decision has not involved an element of logic and reasoning then it's a tough one to hang onto.

    Rarely does a person change in a lightening flash of a moment. Real solid change involves study and careful thought. An emotional decision can often result in "buyer's remorse" and cause more negativity about the issues that were decided.

    The story of Jesus though incredible was thousands of years in the making and now we've had a couple thousand years to think about it. There must be some solid evidence even though most people don't understand it all and just accept the story because it is such a good one. The deeper one delves into the story, the more they can understand and thus solidify their belief in that story.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. That was basically the point of the article referenced. That evangelism had gone from true conversion- with the teaching, training, and praying involved- to "decisionism", a numbers game that nobody wins.