A Resurrection Myth

There's a detail in the account of Jesus' resurrection that has captured the attention of scholars and Bible GraveClothesPicstudents over the years. The passage is John 20:6-7 and it tells us what Peter saw when he came to the tomb: "Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen."

Some have found  meaning in the fact that Peter found Jesus' face cloth separate from the linen that had wrapped His dead body before He was hastily laid in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. The myth surrounding the face "napkin" (as the King James referred to the face cloth) is that it was folded as a master would fold his dinner napkin to let the servant know he wasn't finished eating but was coming back to the table after a brief absence. People have assumed that Jesus was sending a message to His followers that He wasn't "done" but was "coming back"' in due time.

While this a touching thought and interpretation, it's not true. First-century Jews didn't use a dinner napkin (that was a European custom) and there doesn't seem to be any biblical evidence that the face cloth was folded a certain way. It was simply not with the body linens, but rather in a separate place.


Does the face cloth detail have any meaning? It must, otherwise John wouldn't have found it significant to include well after the other three gospels had been written that had omitted the face cloth placement. So what's the significance?

First, the fact that the face cloth was present and not thrown aside indicates that "body snatchers" hadn't stolen the body as was later reported. If someone is breaking into a tomb with armed guards asleep at the entrance, they wouldn't take the time to fold or place a face cloth in its appointed place. Speed would have been essential, so the body would have been grabbed as is, and unwrapped later.

Second, when Lazarus was raised from the dead as reported John 11, he had to be freed from his grave clothes. Granted, Jesus had been hastily entombed because the Sabbath was nigh, so He probably wouldn't have been fully wrapped. Still, it seems He needed no human help extricating Himself from His wrappings, either performing the task Himself or having angelic help in doing so.

Finally, Jesus' resurrection was just another "day at the office" for Him. The scene in the tomb didn't depict a violent struggle or an escape that had to be completed quickly and silently before the guards discovered what was happening. Jesus had surrendered His life to the Father because He trusted the Father's promise in His word:

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:9-11).


There are several lessons for us in this simple detail. Here are some thoughts as we close:

  1. God will do what He promised He would do. He promised His servant would not see decay and He didn't.
  2. You don't need to frantically work to fulfill your God-given assignments. God is with you and will empower you as He did Jesus.
  3. No one can wrap you in grave clothes so tightly or completely that God can't free you.
  4. You may have a role in removing your own grave clothesthose things that restrict your faith movements in God.

And one final thought: If Jesus is alive as He promised He would be and as reported in the gospels, and that's no myth, then His resurrection is real and He shares His resurrection power with us right here, right now. I urge you to put aside the fear and doubt that try to wrap and entomb you, and do so as nonchalantly and calmly as Jesus put aside His grave clothes. As you do, I know you will have a blessed Resurrection celebration!

The Leadership Walk: Week One, Day One (W1D1) - Humility

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me" (Philippians 2:19-23).

Paul had many men who were part of his team, but only one like Timothy. That indicates great leaders are rare. Look at the things that set Timothy apart and made him a good follower and leader in Paul’s eyes. He had learned to humble himself and put other's interests ahead of his own. What’s more, his concern for others was genuine, not fake or self-serving. His leadership power existed for the sole purpose of helping and serving others. Are you willing to be the one good leader that others encounter in their life journey? What areas must you develop in order to fulfill that desire?

LEADERSHIP STEP: Take 10 minutes to reflect on this passage. What leadership traits from Timothy's life do you see mentioned in this passage? How do you see humility working in Timothy’s life? What part of this description do you want to make part of your own leadership style? What will it take to make that happen?

A Wise Guy

I wrote a book called A Daily Dose of Proverbs in 1997.  It remains my best-selling book.  In it, I identified one verse from Proverbs for every day of the year and then wrote one page of devotional material to go with that verse.  Often I told personal stories, some successes and some failures, as I attempted to apply that verse to my life and walk. 

I think people like that book because I am transparent.  I don't try to hide my struggles and I am not afraid to share my victories.  I regularly get inquiries about wisdom and how one obtains it. Some just think I am a wise guy, which isn't always a compliment. Others think I am of the age when I may know what I am talking about, having made so many mistakes that I have learned a better way.  When I get inquiries, this is what I say:

  1. You get wisdom by studying and seeking it (see Proverbs 2:2-5).  That seeking cannot be passive; it must be fervent and consistent.
  2. You get wisdom by reading Proverbs (see Proverbs 1:2-7).  Proverbs is all about wisdom.  if you want to be wise, then learn that book.
  3. You get wisdom by walking with the wise (see Proverbs 13:20).  This can be done by reading the books the wise wrote, having mentors and coaches, and asking good questions of leaders and teachers.
  4. You get wisdom by learning from experience and making mistakes (see Proverbs 15:28). You must study what you have said and done so you can improve the next time. Some have a false sense of spirituality that means they will never make a mistake. That is wrong thinking and keeps people from gaining wisdom!

There is my answer to those who ask.  What would you say?  How does one get wisdom?  Do you have anything to add to the list? If so, feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted

Worship Quote

I am also knocking out a lot of reading while I am in the UK toward my next two classes in June.  I have nine books to read by June 1, so I am using all my free time toward achieving that goal.  In one of the books, Worship in the Presence of God (not a book I would recommend for your reading enjoyment), I did run across this wonderful thought about worship that is particularly pertinent in my life right now.  I could not wait to share it with you:

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne . . . (Revelation 4:10).

In acceptable worship all those 'crowns' are handed over, indeed immediately returned to God upon receipt, unequivocally and without holding anything back.  Nebuchadnezzar is a prime example. When his kingdom in all its 'golden' glory is restored to him, he for all practical purposes hands it right back to God (Daniel 4:34-37). He confesses God's sovereignty and does not ask, 'Why?' He submits to His dominion and does not chafe under it, nor seek to escape it. No wonder that he concludes with worship.

In fact, when God removes anything from any believer at any time, from the simplest and minutest to the biggest and most precious item, projected event or even person, he simply says, 'Thank You' for the 'crown' that has been presented to him in the first place. To be content (Philippians 4:11), yes to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18) indeed to rejoice (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16) in God's 'Thank you's' is the only evidence that a truly acceptable worship has taken place.  Any other response does and will fall short of it. 

Pretty good stuff, would you say?

Stirred Up

Yesterday I preached a message at my home church entitled Stirred Up.  In it, I take a look at the man who was ill for 38 years whom Jesus found by the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-10.  I applied the lessons from that story to your search for and fulfillment of purpose and it seemed to go well.  I got good feedback, but of course you only hear from those who enjoyed it.  Those who didn't usually sneak out the back or side door!

At any rate, I am attaching my message slides for you to read.  Also, the message is available on my church's website via podcast if you would like to hear it. 

Download Stirred Up ACAC

Oprah and Christian TV

I don't have much time for television, so I don't have any shows that I watch on a regular basis (except for Pardon the Interruption on ESPN). While I was in New York at my daughter's a few weeks ago, I watched an Oprah show that Deborah had recorded. On this show, Oprah featured adult children of divorced parents who confronted their parents about the pain the children felt over the divorce. The show included sessions with a counselor (who was excellent) who met with the children and parents. Then the families and counselor appeared live on Oprah to talk about what they had learned.

It was a tearful, painful time for all. The adult children were still writhing in pain for the most part and the parents struggled to face their own frailties and failures. It made for a powerful viewing experience that obviously contributed greatly to the healing of those families and individuals. All that made me reflect on the sad state of Christian television. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, God raised up people like Oprah to do the work that the church doesn't do, at least on television.

While we have many so-called Christian stations, we have very few shows that don't focus on the pulpit. We usually take our Sunday morning sermon, edit it, add some intro and exit material to ask for money or to let the viewer know how to get in touch, and that's about it. Why is this the extent of Christian television? It's because we want to dominate the conversation, so to speak. We don't want to get down into people's lives; we just want to preach at them. And why is that? It's because we feel that once we have talked to someone, preached at them even, then we've done our part and the problems of the world are fixed and our duties fulfilled. This relates to the thinking I discussed when I wrote about Permission Marketing.

I was watching TV the other night and saw Pastor Rod Parsley asking people for an $8,500 "resurrection seed." This "seed" would then release a powerful anointing that would provide a breakthrough idea for a new business for those who gave. Of course, any amount would be appropriate to send in to support the ministry, but only the $8,500 would release the breakthrough. I know that Oprah is backed by powerful sponsors and Christian TV must pay its own bills, but really, Pastor Parsley, do you really believe what you said? I guess you do or you would not have said it! Then you are urging people to play the spiritual lottery, a concept I discussed in a previous post.

I would love to see Christian media and interviews that involved creativity, that focused on real people with real problems. Do you agree with me? If you do, then what can we do about it? I know that I have made up my mind to accept an invitation to be part of an Internet radio network that will broadcast a weekly show sponsored by yours truly. Talk is cheap and I don't just want to criticize what's out there; I want to provide a better solution and practical example of what I would do. It will be 13-week pilot program and, if it's successful, will roll out into a regular show.

If you give $100 to my new show, I know that you will be blessed and God will give you a media ministry of your own. NOT! I am trusting the Lord for the finances to pay for the show and if you would like to give, then please write and let me know. Your gift comes with no guarantee except that God is watching and will take note. But maybe we can do something that will release the power that only we as believers have to help save a lost and dying world made up of lost and dying people.

The Spiritual Lottery

There is an epidemic of gambling the world over. Cash-strapped governments are so desperate that they are only too eager to promote and encourage gambling in their nations and towns. Gambling on the Internet is also big business. Yet I know many people who would never step foot in a casino or go online to gamble who engage in a form of gambling on a regular basis. I call it the spiritual lottery.

I watched the other day as someone on television promised the blessing of God if the people watching would simply send in a certain amount of money. I have seen this tactic before as articulate and credible sources promise the blessing of wisdom, business success or unlimited returns for a gift to this or that ministry. It occurred to me that these people were running something akin to a spiritual lottery. Let me explain.

When someone goes to a casino, they go in hopes of spending a little money and somehow making a lot of money in return. They may play certain card games or feed coins all night into slot machines, and they always hope that the next game or spin will bring them luck, that the next play will make them rich and bring them their dreams.

When someone promises that your next gift will be the one that will "put you over the top," isn't it the same principle? Isn't the giver hoping for the same thing that the casino player is looking for? Aren't they both looking for a shortcut to prosperity?

I know I should give and be generous. I know God will bless me when I do. Yet to expect my marriage to be blessed for a $1,000 gift or to receive the promise of wisdom for a $951 gift (since there are 951 verses in Proverbs) is absurd. So why do these peddlers promise such returns? They promise because it works; people fall for it all the time. Why? They are playing a spiritual lottery of sorts, and looking for a shortcut to wealth.

I call these people peddlers because, in most cases, that's what they are. They are peddling God's word, cloaking it in promises of untold returns to those who will invest. What is a peddler? One dictionary defines a peddler as "one who deals in or promotes something intangible (as a personal asset or an idea)." There were peddlers in Paul's day as well, for he wrote: "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17 emphasis added).

There are no shortcuts to prosperity. It comes through hard work, wise investments and the grace of God. Prosperity seldom if ever comes solely through giving, although giving is a hallmark of many prosperous people. Proverbs 3:9-10 states: "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. " It does not state that you give to get wealth; it directs you to give out of your wealth and it will be preserved. You don't give to manipulate God into blessing you. You give to honor God for how He has already blessed you. You don't give "betting" that your $15 will bring great returns.

So the next time someone comes along and promises a certain blessing if you give, don't fall for it. You can still give if you so choose, but don't do so to play the lottery. Give because you want to give. If God blesses you beyond your wildest dreams, that's great. If He doesn't, that's great, too. It's time we stopped supporting the spiritual lottery wherever it is run, and returned to giving for the pure joy of sharing God's blessings with others.

If you agree or disagree with what I've written, feel free to write your response on the site where this entry is posted.

The Work of Reconciliation

At one time, I was the director of a ministry called Reconciliation Ministries International. Our objective was to see reconciliation occur between people of all races, ages, and genders. One thing I learned during my tenure there is that reconciliation must be intentional. It cannot just happen and un-reconciliation isn't automatically dealt with at the point of salvation or by attending church.

One of the lessons for Kenya and the Kenyan church at this time is that they must be more intentional and proactive in bringing people together as an agent of reconciliation. Reconciliation must be preached, and it must be a specific, conscious topic of prayer and discussion for some time to come. Kikuyu Christians must reconcile with Luo Christians and vice versa; there is no option on this. Kikuyu Christians and Luo Christians are first and foremost Christians and then members of their tribes. I am not against tribal identification. We must, however, remember what Paul wrote:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

I am not preaching down to Kenyans as a superior outsider who has all the answers. I don't have many. I am also not ignoring the reconciliation issues that are ripe in my own country. I attend a church where people of many colors and backgrounds attend, because that is what I believe I need to do. I have given my adult life to reconciliation issues. So I stand with all my brothers and sisters in Kenya as we from this point forward address the wounds that are there, not just from this election, but from times long gone.

I urge you to join with me to do what you can do in your world to bring about reconciliation, not as a political agenda, but from a spiritual one. I remind you once again that we are all involved in the work of reconciling men and women to God and then to one another, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:16:20).

If you can contribute to relieve the suffering of our Kenyan brothers and sisters, you may do so through my website or by sending my ministry a check to PO Box 91099, Pittsburgh, PA 15221. Every penny will be used to help alleviate the suffering there at this time and will be sent directly, in cash, to the men and women I know and trust there.

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Willow Creek Repents

The title of this entry is taken from another entry on another site. The site is Out of Ur from Christianity Today magazine and the entry is a recent post concerning the Willow Creek Association's study of how effective its world-famous seeker-sensitive programs have been. In fact, there are two entries and I suggest that you read them both along with all the comments.

Here is a summary of the findings: "Spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage." Willow Creek has to face that they invested millions of dollars and thousands of man hours in programs that, well, haven't flat-out worked.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

1. I applaud Willow for making an effort to find out how effective their programs have been. The hardest aspect of church work can often be measuring how effective we are at what we do. What do we measure? How do we measure progress in someone's life and in the life of a congregation? The lack of tangible results can be frustrating or depressing. The lack can also cause leaders not to measure at all, but to just continue "doing their thing," whatever their "thing" may be. How often have you heard someone say when a church program goes nowhere, "Well, if one person was helped, it was all worth it!"? No, if only one person was helped, the church wasted a lot of time and money, nothing more.

2. I applaud Willow that they made their findings public. How often have we seen churches with "bad news" either hide the news, since the "people" would not be able to handle it, or they put a spin on the bad news to make leadership look better.

3. I applaud Willow that their leaders are involved in the current dialogue, or at least Greg Hawkins is involved. Do you see anyone from the ministries that are being investigated for their financial decisions coming forward to interact with the public, including their critics? I don't. Yet Willow is facing the music, so to speak, and trying to learn from the process.

I have never been a big fan of the seeker-sensitive churches, although their passion for the unchurched is commendable. I think Bill Hybel's annual leadership conference is the best in the Church world, and that format is now being emulated by John Maxwell and others. In this current discussion, I see Hybel's and team applying many of the principles that I have heard and learned in their leadership events. So let's keep the dialogue going on this subject and learn what we can from Willow's mistakes. Thank you, Willow Creek, for making them so public. There may be hope for the American Church to self-correct itself after all.

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Giving Your Way to Wealth

I raised an issue in my last Monday Memo and I have had several people write me about it. I basically said that I don't think it's possible to give your way to prosperity. I think prosperity comes from hard work and investments. Generosity is a value and one gives because it is godly to give, not expecting anything in return. Yet, I know that there is return when you give. Here is how I answered someone who wrote me:

I have never known anyone who prospered by giving. They were blessed by giving and God rewarded them, but their prosperity came through hard work and investments.

I guess I am thinking of those who promise a financial breakthrough if you give a $1,000 "seed gift" to their ministry. I do think, however, that it also carries over to some of the promises that are made to encourage people to give to their local church. Am I off base here? What do you think? I would enjoy hearing from you and allowing others to read your insights and testimonies. You can write your public comments on the site where this is posted. What say ye? Can you give your way to wealth?