This morning I am going to read to you a remarkable, actual letter received not too long ago. I am going to leave out the names so that we can preserve anonymity. It is written by an older brother to a brother who had just turned thirteen.
Dear Brother. Happy birthday. Thank you for the present. I’m sorry I can’t give you one but I’ll try to send you something from here or do something with you this summer. Time has gone by very quickly. It just seems a short time ago that you were kidding me about being a teenager, and now I can kid you about it. In just less than two years you will probably be coming here.
Being a teenager has real problems, the hardest one being that it is extremely difficult for you to get along with anyone. You will undoubtedly have times when you feel no one loves you and that they are always picking on you. I’m just now realizing that this wasn’t true, and that mom and dad loved me very much. It will be hard for you to realize this, but the sooner you do the closer you will get to becoming a man.
Another problem you will have is that your voice will change, and will seem to sound so funny that you might feel self-conscious about it and become shy. Remember that when this happens it shows that you are normal and are beginning to mature, no matter what your friends say or who laughs.
You will also experience what is known asgrowing pains. This is where you become very awkward and uncoordinated in almost all your actions. This is partly because your reflexes have to readjust to your changing size and your new and stronger muscles that are beginning to develop. I have almost completely recovered from that stage and I have quite a bit of coordination, a lot more than most kids. You will probably not have as much coordination but will be quite strong if you take care of your body.
One of my biggest problems is pimples. When you have them you feel ashamed. I don’t think you will have this problem, but I’m almost sure (our younger brother) will. But in case you do be sure to have mom take you to a skin doctor and follow his instructions carefully.
Next year you will see a movie at your school that will tell you about more problems that you may have, and will explain the problems that I have told you about here.
This is also an age where you are becoming more mentally competent, and you will feel that you are babied and not treated like a man. Remember that your parents have raised you from the start and they know what is best for you. Remember also that God has not only raised you from the start but has made you, so He surely knows what is best for you. You are at the age when I first accepted Christ as my Savior and later on really came to love Him, and learn to live a life that is pleasing and obedient to Him. Remember that He loves you very much and sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross so that we could live forever if only we believe. You remember how much you loved your dog, Sam? Well think how much God loved His Son, yet He sent Him to die for each one of us.
Really think about these things. Go to church and Sunday school so that you may learn more about Him and find out His will for your life. There will be times when you think that everyone hates you but your dog. But remember that your parents love you very much, and that God loves you and is protecting you.
I have changed a lot since coming here, and you can change also, even if you don’t come here. Remember that being a teenager is a very special age and it can be the happiest years of your life or it can be the saddest. There may be things you might think it would be fun to do even if it might get you in trouble. But remember that only things done to glorify Christ count in this life, and He will pay you back one million times.
I will be praying for you, and I hope that you will be praying for me. I will be with you a lot this summer and I will try and help you with your problems. There are only sixty-five days left for me here, so be good. And remember that no matter what, I love you very much. Be a good teenager.
Love through Christ,
A letter that reflects Christian growth in a wonderful way.
Now I want to read a very familiar passage from the fifth chapter of Matthew, verses 43-48, from the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said,You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. RSV
I want to also read from the parallel passage in Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke 6:32-36:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now these words of our Lord have been haunting me for some time.
What more are you doing than others? And I am sure you can see immediately that our Lord is not concerned about actions, but about reactions. It isn’t that he is saying to these disciples,
Now why aren’t you busier than others? All too frequently this is a problem with Christians. They get so busy they have no time for even the right and necessary things in their lives. I know Christians who are busy every night in the week for the Lord, for the church. This is probably the single most destructive element in their homes. Sometimes busyness can be the worst thing we can do for our development.
But our Lord’s question falls on reaction rather than action.
Why don’t you react differently from others? This is what our Lord is asking. Someone has said that a Christian is judged not so much by his actions but by his reactions. It isn’t so much what he plans to do, but what he does instinctively on the spur of the moment, in the press of a situation. This is what reveals what is really in the Christian’s life.
Now it would be very simple for me tonight to take these verses and weld them into some kind of club, to beat you over the head with it. There’s a temptation to do that, but I really have no heart to do that. I’m not here to beat you with these verses and ask why aren’t you different from others? But I think it’s time we took seriously our Lord’s words here, because he clearly states that a Christian is to be different, and his reactions are expected to be different from others. He points out various practical situations. If someone is nice to you it’s no problem to be nice to them. Or if people are pleasant to you, it’s no credit to you to be pleasant back to them. What are you doing more than others?
But as He points out, it’s when the reverse is true; when they are unpleasant, what do you do back? When they are nasty and insolent to you, how do you respond? When you lend them money and they don’t repay, then what? When you invite someone over and instead of inviting you back you hear they have told some false rumor about you behind your back?
What do you more than others, is our Lord’s question. I’d like to put the question to our hearts tonight just as our Lord put it: what are we doing more than others?
A Christian friend of mine was recently talking to an office worker who had come to him with a problem. She asked for help and he asked her,
How long have you been a Christian? He said,
Now think of yourself back in your office, and say to yourself, The girl thought for a moment or two, then she said,
Here I am. I have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in me. Now what do I have in my life more than these around me who are not Christians?
Well, frankly, nothing. I think this is the question our Lord is putting to us.
Some of us men were talking recently and one said,
You know, if I had my choice between doing business with a hundred men who were not Christians or doing business with Christians, I’d take the non-Christians every time. Why is it often true that Christians shy away from doing business with other Christians? I feel that way at times, and I wonder whether others feel the same way about me. Because being a Christian we often expect our Christian friends to do favors for us. Television and auto repairmen are particularly subject to this, who would almost cross the street to avoid their Christian friends because they are likely to ask them over for dinner, then slyly remind them that the television set is out of order, or the car’s engine is running improperly.
What are you doing more than others, our Lord asks.
There is another very practical word about this in I Peter. (The
P in Peter, by the way, stands for
Practical). I Peter 2:16-21 gives us a list of expected Christian reactions:
Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants be submissive to your masters with all respect; not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. (Be submissive to that one who is overbearing, who rubs you the wrong way, with all respect.) For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Now that is putting it plainly and practically. A Christian is not expected to reply in the same tone of voice, the same gestures and reactions as a non-Christian. This is the way to which we are called by God.
I’ll remember an incident that occurred a number of years ago in Oakland when I was assisting a young couple who were leaving on a long train journey. I had gone along to help with baggage and boarding the train. We found the California Zephyr left from the Oakland station and we heard it was possible to check the baggage in San Francisco, it would be transferred to Oakland and we would not then have to be concerned about getting the baggage across the Bay.
We stopped at the San Francisco station to try to make those arrangements and found after we got there that they wouldn’t do this. We had to hastily re-load the baggage into the car, drive across the bridge to the Oakland station. And when we got there it was 25 or 30 minutes before train time but they had closed the baggage checking. We went in to check the baggage and the man behind the counter said,
You’re too late! The young man explained they needed to catch this train, on which they had tickets, and we had been mislead with false information and wasted time going to the San Francisco station, which was why we were late. Well he said,
I can’t help you. You’re too late! And this young man had a reputation for a hot temper so I thought I’d better step in and help out. We went into the station and explained it to the agent who said, sure he understood, and we should go back and tell them he said we could check the baggage. We went out expecting no difficulty, told the man in the baggage compartment that the agent sent us back. He said,
I don’t care what the agent said, I’m not going to check these bags.
I felt my temper begin to rise and I could see the flash of red creep up the back of the young man’s neck, so I stepped hurriedly up to the counter and said,
You don’t seem to understand. We have tickets for this train and we have to get these bags aboard. It isn’t our fault we were delayed, we started out in ample time but were misled by information given us by the railroad office. He said,
I don’t care what your excuse is. When it’s time to close the department, I close the department, and I’m not going to check your bags.
Well before I knew what was happening I was pounding on the desk and yelling, and he was pounding on the other side, yelling back at me. About that time the agent came in and saved the day by taking the bags, checking them in while we were arguing back and forth. I don’t think my friend has ever forgotten the lesson I gave him on how to hold his temper because he has reminded me several times since. And I never think about that without shame. I never think about it without hearing the words of Paul in I Corinthians 13:
Love suffers long, and is kind. That kind of thing not only ruins a Christian’s witness at the moment, but it leaves a residual poison in the heart and defiles the spiritual life until it’s taken care of before the Lord. This is why the Scriptures put so much emphasis upon what we think of as
All of us want to be witnesses. Almost every Christian I talk to is concerned about his or her lack of witnessing. Almost invariably we think of witnessing in terms of talking to someone about the Lord. I really feel the reason we don’t have an effective witness in speaking is often because we have many times ruined it in terms of being, of reacting. As you read through the New Testament you find it says little about talking to someone about the Lord as Christian witness, but it says a great deal about our reactions as Christian witness. The attitude we show in times of pressure, irritation and temptation to lose our temper or be impatient. This is what real Christian witness is. This is what paves the way for witness in words that follow. It’s when people see the unexpected Christian attitude that the door opens for witness.
Now why do we react that way? I think it’s because we know it takes supernatural grace to do differently, and we have simply given up expecting God to do anything supernatural in our lives. There’s the problem. I know many Christians who have long ago simply given up expecting God to do anything remarkable through them. They aim at nothing, and they hit it every time. Then we easily fall back into a terrible contentment with doing the best we can. Have you ever heard anyone say that?
Well, I’m just doing the best I can.
Well I feel sorry for people who are only doing the best they can, because as someone has well put it,
Christian living does not become attractive until a Christian sets out to do the impossible. That’s what makes it exciting! When you begin to sense that God is working through you as an instrument to accomplish impossible things, then you begin to be thrilled and your life begins to glow, and you realize the wonder of being an instrument of God.
You’ll remember I shared this with you some weeks ago but it won’t hurt to repeat it. I was talking with Doug Coe and he was telling about coming into Seattle not long ago and meeting with a Christian businessman. They were talking about what might possibly be done to arrange for the Governors’ breakfast. As they were talking, Doug began to talk about the possibility of working from the level of just the governors to including all the mayors of America—having Mayors’ prayer breakfasts across the country, led by the mayors of all the prominent cities of our land.
The businessman said,
That’s wonderful. I’d love to see something like that happen, and I think the place to start might be right here in Seattle because I know the mayor of this city very well. Let’s go down and talk with him. So they drove down and because this man knew the mayor they got right into his office. They laid the matter before him and he said,
Why this is wonderful. This is exactly what we need! He said,
I think it’s remarkable that you have come to me because just last week I was elected President of the Mayors Organization of America. We’re having a convention next month and I’ve been looking for something challenging to present to them. I’d like to present this idea that we have mayors’ breakfasts all across the country.
Well this was more than they expected, but certainly not more than God could do, and so as they went out of the office, got into the car, and were driving down the street when suddenly this man just pulled up to the curb and stopped. Doug said,
What’s the matter? The man held up his hands and they were trembling. He said,
I’ve never been so excited in all my life! To think that God would use me as a means of getting something like this done in our land! He couldn’t drive for the thrill of sensing that God was using him.
It’s this sense that Christians need to capture once again. And we don’t get it by simply saying to ourselves,
Well now I’m going out and doing impossible things. This is always the wrong way, because that is nothing but depending again upon yourself. But it’s expecting God continually to work through you to do impossible, supernatural, difficult things. As you confront the demands of your daily life, and the experiences you are going through, if you do so with the expectation that God can and will and desires to work through you, you will find He begins to accomplish these remarkable and difficult and impossible things.
You see, a Christian must never say,
I’m not qualified to do anything. This is the one thing the Lord rules out the Christian having the right to say. The Christian’s only question about any job is,
Is this the Lord’s will for me? Remember when God sent Moses down to Egypt he said,
Now Moses I want you to go down and deliver the people out of the hand of Pharaoh. Moses knew how cruel, how selfish he was; he knew how impossible this would be. And Moses said,
Lord, I can’t do this; I’m not qualified. That was a normal, instinctive human reaction. Then God said,
But I will be with you! Moses said,
But Lord I can’t talk; I don’t have ability to speak. And the Lord said,
Moses, who made man’s tongue? Moses begins to evade, and says,
Send someone else.
You see what he was doing? When God first spoke to Moses telling him to go do this thing, his instinctive reaction was exactly what ours is when confronted with something difficult or impossible.
Lord, I can’t do it. And that’s the natural, normal, human, fallen reaction. But then God said,
Well I will be with you. Then when Moses said,
Lord, I still can’t do this, what he was really saying was,
I can’t do it and I don’t think You can do it through me. Then we read God’s wrath began to burn against Moses, because that is an insult to God, to think He can’t do it through you.
You are asked to do a job and you say,
I can’t do it. Well of course you can’t. Most of the jobs God asks of us are things we cannot do, and all through the record of the New Testament you have Him calling on men to do things they cannot do. But of course the secret is God has said He will work through them to do it. Not apart from them; not instead of them, but through them!
Again you remember when Moses stood at the Red Sea with the whole host of Israel. Before them were the waters of the Red Sea; behind them they could see the dust of the Egyptian army. Moses said to Israel,
Stand still and see the salvation of God. Then he went to the Lord and cried out to Him for help. Do you remember what God said? He said,
Wherefore criest thou to me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. Lift up thy rod and stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it, and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground in the midst of the sea.
You see what He’s saying? He’s saying to Moses,
Why do you ask Me to do it? Do it yourself. I’m with you. Now DO it! God was in reality saying to Moses,
Stretch out your rod and divide the sea. Because Moses had said
God, you do this and God was saying,
You do it! All the way through Scripture you can see this is the way God continually works with man. There is such a thing as the authority of faith by which we daily expect God will be working through us to do things we cannot do ourselves. As we are confronted with a situation, the very fact we have something before us we are expected to do, God wants us to do, others expect us to do, is all we need to assure that this is what God wants us to do. Now DO it! This is what Paul means:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
You see, we don’t need to sing,
I need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee. Sing:
I have Thee, O I have Thee. Every hour I have Thee! As we lay hold of this we have all the assurance we need that God is working through us to accomplish impossible, remarkable, unusual, unexpected things.
I’ll never forget that story Doug Coe told us—remember about the fellow with the teamsters’ union in Washington who couldn’t speak well, slow of mind, a most unlikely instrument—and yet God took that man and used him to open up the teamsters’ union and Jimmy Hoffa, to a witness for Jesus Christ.
Now all through the Scriptures we have the record of God loving to stoop down and take lowly, insignificant, helpless things and use them. There’s Balaam’s ass. You feel a little more intelligent than he, don’t you? God used him! There’s the jawbone of the ass with which Samson slew his thousands, the sling of David with which he slew Goliath. Why are these numerous incidents there? To teach us that God delights to take men and women who can do nothing of themselves, but are simply willing to trust Him to work through them and start doing things, and God accomplishes it through them. This is the pattern set all through the history of Christendom.
Now, back to my question, or rather our Lord’s question:
What are you doing more than others? Right where you live, in your home, your neighborhood, your office, your work. You’re a Christian. The Spirit of God is dwelling in you. What difference is in your life from the lives of those around you? Do you answer differently? Do you react differently? If we come to grips of what our Lord requires of us we are driven to realize this is more than we can do. But at that point there always comes the answering word of God:
I AM with you, and we can do all things through Him.
I don’t know what God wants you to do. I don’t know what can be done in your neighborhood. But I can tell you this, that you can expect remarkable things to take place within the next six weeks if you will say to God,
Use me, Lord, as Thy instrument. Help me in every moment to count on Thee to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, the usual into the unusual. Then expect Him to do it! Start with that confidence, because this is exactly what He has promised to be through you.
Let me close this tonight by reading just a portion of a very fine article by Norman Grubb:
To one who asks,but how can we realize this as a personal experience?, he answers,Awake, as God answers Moses,Awake, arise from your deluded condition, as if you are still fallen, still separated by sin, still weak. Realize your equipment, the mystery hid from generations: Christ in you! Declare it, as the prophets of old:I am full of power, by the Spirit of the Lord!Cease to live bound up in those old grave clothes of judging by appearances, walking by sight. You appear weak, you appear to be without the presence of Christ, you appear loveless, of little faith, and the rest of it. You still live in the devil’s lies of the have-not life, but you have all these. All is within if Christ the Savior is within. Say,though all men and devils say I have not, I say I have, on the authority of the Word of God.
Our Father, these are times that call again for a demonstration of the vitality of the Christian life. We know these are tremendously difficult days in which we live. Days in which the opportunity for reaching people are fast fleeting by and, Lord, we do not want to let them pass unredeemed. Lord, lay hold upon our hearts now, that we may rise up and stand in the strength you have given us and stop asking thee for power when you have given us power. Stop asking you to use us—you desire to use us; stop crying we need thee when we have thee. Lord, help us to start to exercise that which you have given us, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.