Pastor Ezekiel “Bud” Bailey thumped his Bible shut, signaling that our study was over. Stuffing his reading glasses into the pocket of his Harley jacket, he leaned across the kitchen table towards me and drawled, “I have a proposition to make.”
I flinched, remembering how once before he’d used these same words to challenge me to an arm-wrestling match determining which of our churches would host the annual Thanksgiving service. As his beefy tattooed hand had clamped around mine, I’d realized how Jacob must have felt when wrestling the angel. Only, unlike the patriarch, I was defeated by this former Hell’s Angel.
Beside me, Kevin must have had the same memory, because he asked, “Not another wrestling match?”
Bud laughed, slapping his leg. “I should say not! This is about winnin’ souls for Jesus! Look, you boys know Easter’s comin’ up. Let’s make a little bet. We’ll see which of us can bring the most people to Christ on Easter Sunday. The losers can treat the winner to lunch. What’d’ya say?”
I shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”
“But a bet?” Kevin asked. “Isn’t that gambling?”
“Course not,” Bud said. “It’s just in fun.”
“He’s right,” I agreed. “I’m in. Kev?”
“‘They divided up his clothes by casting lots,’” Kevin muttered.
“Wha’ja say?” Bud asked, cupping a massive hand around his ear.
“Why not?” Kevin replied.
After lunch the next day I sent an ad to the city newspaper inviting everyone in town to our Easter service. I opened the paper Monday morning with a distinct feeling of pleasure.
That is, until I noticed Kevin’s contribution.
Come to Redeemed Assembly for Our Easter Breakfast and Regular Worship Service.
Feeling like Uriah the Hittite after his friends betrayed him, I dialed Kevin’s number.
He answered on the third ring.
“Hello, Kevin?” I yelled. “What’s the meaning of that article in the newspaper? We never said anything about Easter breakfasts.”
“You forget,” Kevin said, “that the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.’”
“Oh yeah?” I replied. “Well, two can play that game!”
As the weeks passed, our ads got bigger and better.
Come to First Baptist for Our Easter Breakfast and an Egg Hunt Following the Service.
Come to Redeemed Assembly for Breakfast, an Egg Hunt, and Our Easter Carnival Featuring Fun, Games, and Prizes.
Come to First Baptist for Breakfast, an Egg Hunt, and Our Spring Carnival Featuring Games, Prizes, Popcorn, and a Juggling Act.
Come to Redeemed Assembly for Breakfast, an Egg Hunt, and Our Easter Carnival Featuring Games, Prizes, Popcorn, Snow Cones, and a Cake Walk.
Come to First Baptist for Breakfast, an Egg Hunt, and Our Spring Carnival Featuring Games, Prizes, Popcorn, a Juggling Act, and Free Inflatable Bounce Houses!
Kevin called me soon after this.
“You rented all the bounce houses!” he wailed. “There’s none to be had anywhere!”
“You’re sure?” I asked, smiling.
“Of course I’m sure! What will our kids do now?”
“‘Let ‘em eat cake,’” I said, hanging up. Though not exactly biblical, it seemed fitting.
Easter Sunday surpassed all my expectations. Our church was flooded with people, and I preached like I’d never preached before.
The following Thursday I rat-a-tat-tatted on Kevin’s door, ready for another round of our monthly Bible Study. Bobbing up and down on the doorstep, I felt as smug as a modern day Jezebel glancing out her window.
Kevin answered the door.
“Well, Kev,” I grinned, stepping inside, “how’d you do?”
“A decent number,” I chuckled, “but MY church had 193 people in attendance on Sunday.”
“What about Bud?”
I shrugged. “Did he even advertise?”
“He said he’d put in an ad,” Kevin replied, picking up the paper.
“Where?” I asked, as he flipped through it. “Let me see.”
Kevin stopped, pointing to a picture of a bloody, battered cross, under which was an invitation to Free Will Baptist Church.
“That’s all?” I crowed. “They didn’t even have a breakfast!”
Just then, Kevin’s cell rang.
He answer it, said “sure” twice, and hung up. “That was Bud. He says to meet him at the diner. It seems he won the bet. Five people accepted Christ during his Easter sermon.”
“What?” I cried, looking from the cross, to Kevin, then back again.
As I stared at the cross, all my smugness evaporated, as Jezebel’s must have when pushed from the tower. “Ohhh, great,” I groaned. “We really made a mess of that one.”
(Scripture quotations from the NIV)
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