One thing that the average church member does not know is that the view from behind the pulpit is much different from the one sitting in a pew. Preachers often see things that no one else gets to see.
Many are either highly distracting, incredibly hilarious or even have the appearance of being dangerous. And yet the pastor must go on with the message without ever giving anyone any hint that he is seeing something wrong.
In my church, there are almost always visitors present for every service. In one particular service some years ago, a young man came in and sat right on the front row, nearly right in front of the pulpit. He was clearly not "experienced" with all things church related. His clothing, wild hair, even wilder eyes and all his mannerisms made it seem very much as if he was either a) a gang member; b) a mass murderer just looking for a place to happen; or c) someone who was hearing very ominous voices inside his head.
Believe me, that kind of thing can make a pastor just a little bit nervous.
I preached that day and I preached hard. During the invitation, when I instructed everyone to bow their head and close their eyes, he kept his head up, his eyes firmly focused on me. If I moved to the left, his eyes moved with me. If I moved to the right, his eyes moved with me.
When I asked the congregation to raise their hand if they knew for certain that they were saved, the young man did not raise his hand. But he also did not come to the altar a moment later when I invited anyone lost to do so.
Just a few minutes later, when everyone was filing out and shaking my hand at the door, the young man made his way up to me and said, "Preacher I'm sure you noticed that I didn't come to the altar." I said, "I most certainly did."
He responded, "I would have liked to, but you see, I can't get saved, I'm too bad." I smiled and replied, "Do you have a few minutes to stick around and talk to me about that?" He said he did, and a few minutes later I was behind my desk in my office with him sitting on the couch across from me.
He told me his story. He had actually been afraid to even come to church that day because he was literally afraid that God would kill him if he did. When I inquired why he would think that, he replied, "Because the last time I was in church, I robbed the place." Now that certainly caught my attention.
After hearing his story, which ended with the fact that he had just a few days earlier gotten out of prison for his crime, I opened my Bible and read to him the description of the crucifixion as found in Isaiah, Chapter 53. After reading to him the brutal punishment that Jesus endured on that day, I asked him one question: "Do you believe that the punishment that Jesus went through is punishment enough for the crime that you committed?" Tears begin to stream down his face, and he said, "Yes, preacher, I do."
We knelt beside my couch, a pastor of a church who had been redeemed by the punishment that Jesus underwent on Calvary, and a robber of churches who was about to be redeemed by that very same punishment. The young man received Christ into his heart that day. He later had to go back to prison for other crimes he had committed before he got saved, but though he is now incarcerated on the outside, he is free on the inside.
More than 1 million people in five different states will have access to this newspaper column. I obviously do not know all of you, or what you have done, but I don't have to. All that I need to know, and all that you need to know, is that Jesus was punished more than enough for whatever it is that you have done. When you receive him as your Savior, what he did on Calvary is applied to your account, and you are clean.
Have you been too bad to be saved? Without even knowing you, I can answer that question in one word: no.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., and the author of several books. His books are available at www.wordofhismouth.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.