I sometimes wish that Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, death, and resurrection had occurred in this age of ubiquitous cameras and videos. I know that the Bible says that Jesus came in “the fullness of time,” meaning that God knew what he was doing in every detail, including the timing (Galatians 4:4).
Still, I wonder what it was like two weeks after the first Easter. Can you imagine the energy? I’m sure the first and second Sundays after the resurrection were not “off Sundays” for those early Christians. No one in the early church thought of missing the gathering of believers due to weather or a ballgame in the weeks following Jesus’ resurrection. They never knew when He might show up again. They must have been living on the edge of their seats, wondering if Jesus was going to appear randomly to them personally or corporately as the resurrected Lord. Every pastor wishes that kind of excitement and anticipation infused their congregation today.
The passage of two thousand years has dampened our sense of anticipation, but Easter can still hold fresh affirmations and challenges from our living savior.
An unexpected Easter text
Two Sundays ago, I was in the worship center as Easter worship was about to begin. It was a bit surreal for me as a preacher. This was just the second easter in thirty-four years that I was not the one in the pulpit delivering the Easter message. I was grateful and thrilled not to have the pressure of an Easter sermon but also missing the high privilege of preaching on the greatest Sunday of the year.
As my daughter led her four-year-old daughter to the restroom for one last-minute visit, family and friends settled into a packed section of excited worshippers. The prelude music wound to its last minute, then a surprise Easter message pinged my phone.
I looked to see that a friend, the daughter of my late pastor, was sending me and my wife prayers and blessings for a good Easter. I saw the initial icon and almost didn’t open the full-text message thinking I’d look later. But then I clicked on the text message. There were two pictures in her text. In addition to her Easter blessing, my pastor’s daughter included a picture of something that has now become a treasured keepsake from my late pastor.
My pastor is a larger-than-life figure in my soul. I say “is” because his influence in my life remains substantial even in death.
Almost everything I know or do in ministry is linked back to him and a handful of ministers I met at my home church. This group of five ministers, led by my pastor, incarnated for me the truth of what Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14, “But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.” (NLT translation, italics added)
My pastor and the staff assembled around him lived and breathed faithful lives that embodied the gospel. They made the Christ-like life visible to me as a new believer and then as a college student sensing a call to ministry. Their lives were a bright contrast to what we see too often in our day, where ministry leaders are discovered to be living lives of secret sin and gross hypocrisy.
A treasured keepsake
My pastor’s daughter was going through some of his files and books during Easter weekend. She noticed a collection of 30 or so three-ringed binders in his office closet. She randomly picked one and peered inside. She noticed a tabbed labeling system and opened the first section. The first page was labeled “ORDINATION OF MARK TURMAN.” This half-page contained my pastor’s sermon notes from the night he led my ordination service in April 1989, thirty-four years ago. She was so stunned by the discovery that she took a picture of it and sent it Easter Sunday morning.
The sight of his ordination sermon outline took my breath away and brought me quickly to the verge of tears. That evening of dedication, affirmation, and commissioning still stands as one of the most sacred moments in my life. In my imagination, I can still see, hear, and even feel and smell the reality of that worship gathering.
More importantly, I can now see in black and white the clear instructions of my father in the faith as I was beginning to pastor my first full-time church. He admonished me to remember, “To be a pastor is a high honor. The calling is the most exciting, challenging, rewarding, and demanding a man can have. Anyone who thinks it is for softies and sissies is in for a surprise.”
He wasn’t kidding. I found that out over thirty-four years and four churches. On another occasion, he told me that being a pastor is a “splendid misery.” Every pastor knows the self-evident truth of that phrase.
“Live the Good life,” at home and church
The rest of my pastor’s message rings truer and louder than ever. Then and now, he challenged us to “Live the Good life.” He told me that the gospel must be incarnated in my personal life and in my public life. There must be no separation between the two. He once said, “If your faith doesn’t work at home, don’t export it.” The pastor and former President of Lifeway Resources, Jimmy Draper, listed spiritual humility and authenticity as the first of twenty-one essential principles for effective ministry. Beth Moore recently said in an interview that she learned the importance and power of knowing that she was first called to the person of Christ Jesus as her savior and Lord before she was called to any ministry position or title. We all need to remember that. We are called first and foremost to oneness with Christ, John 17:3. That is the essence of faith and eternal life.
The only thing a pastor must talk about: “Preach the Good Book”
Second, my pastor challenged me to “Preach the Good Book.” This instruction is grounded in the timeless words of 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (NLT translation, italics added)
There are so many things a pastor can talk about. There is only one thing we must talk about, the revelation of God’s love and power in Christ Jesus expressed in the Bible.
The world is full of headlines and tragedies. We are drowning in the information age. Those now described as “Gen Z,” people aged ten to twenty-eight years old, spend six to eight hours a day on their screens on average. They are sometimes referred to as “screenagers.” Mark Matlock, a leader in student ministry for years, declared “screens disciple.” Technology can be used for good or for ill. We need to preach, teach, post, and proclaim the truths of God personally, corporately, and digitally. Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing the message.” (NIV) Our great honor is to communicate Jesus’ presence, goodness, and grace to those who are living without God and without hope. Of all the things a pastor is responsible for, we must prioritize the preparation and declaration of God’s word. See Acts 6. What we need is transformation more than information.
Finally, “Fight the good fight.”
Last, my pastor challenged me to “Fight the Good Fight.” Three times in his pastoral letters, the Apostle Paul used the phrase, “Fight the good fight.” I urge you to read and study them. They form a good sermon or three good sermons. When I entered full-time ministry, my denomination was engaged in a decades-long, heated season of controversy. These battles were ugly and often ego-driven in pursuing power and control. The legacy of those battles still covers our ‘tribe’ and hamstrings our efforts of kingdom effectiveness.
My pastor pleaded with me to navigate away from these battles to focus on greater works of ministry. Instead of getting caught up in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or competing to see who believed the bible the most, he wanted me to focus on the worship of God, reaching the lost, discipling believers, and mobilizing the church to meet needs locally and globally. Then and now, I appreciated his admonition and sought to follow his instruction.
These are strong, clear, and biblical instructions: “Live the Good life, Preach the Good Book, Fight the Good Fight” until you see Jesus. Will you join me today?