Phillips Brooks, former minister of Boston's Trinity Episcopal Church, is perhaps best
known as the author of "O Little Town of Bethlehem." He was a very busy pastor,
yet he always seemed relaxed and unburdened, willing to take time for anyone in need.
Shortly before Brooks died, a young friend wrote to him and asked the secret of his
strength and serenity. In a heartfelt response, Brooks credited his still-growing
relationship with Christ.
He wrote, "The more I have thought it over, the more sure it has seemed to me that
these last years have had a peace and fullness which there did not used to be. It is a
deeper knowledge and truer love of Christ.....I cannot tell you how personal this grows to
me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is the most real thing in the world. And
every day makes it more real. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the
years go on."
Our Daily Bread, October 14, 1994.
God, make me good, but not yet.
When a person becomes a Christian, he usually undergoes some radical life changes,
especially if he has had an immoral background. Through the first steps of spiritual
growth and self-denial, he gets rid of the large, obvious sins. But sad to say, many
believers stop there. They don't go on to eliminate the little sins that clutter the
landscape of their lives.
Gordon MacDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World, told of an experience in his
own life that illustrates this truth. "Some years ago, when Gail and I bought the old
abandoned New Hampshire farm we now call Peace Ledge, we found the site where we wished to
build our country home strewn with rocks and boulders. It was going to take a lot of hard
work to clear it all out....The first phase of the clearing process was easy. The big
boulders went fast. And when they were gone, we began to see that there were a lot of
smaller rocks that had to go too. But when we had cleared the site of the boulders and the
rocks, we noticed all of the stones and pebbles we had not seen before. This was much
harder, more tedious work. But we stuck to it, and there came the day when the soil was
ready for planting grass."
Our Daily Bread.
The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for
membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus
into your Life?" inquired an old deacon. "Yes, sir," she replied.
"Well, are you still a sinner?" "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a
greater sinner than ever." "Then what real change have you experienced?"
"I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a
sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved. I'm a sinner running from sin!"
she was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life
that she was truly converted.
Our Daily Bread.
At the village church in Kalonovka, Russia, attendance at Sunday school picked up after
the priest started handing out candy to the peasant children. One of the most faithful was
a pug-nosed, pugnacious lad who recited his Scriptures with proper piety, pocketed his
reward, then fled into the fields to munch on it. The priest took a liking to the boy,
persuaded him to attend church school. This was preferable to doing household chores from
which his devout parents excused him. By offering other inducements, the priest managed to
teach the boy the four Gospels. In fact, he won a special prize for learning all four by
heart and reciting them nonstop in church. Now, 60 years later, he still likes to recite
Scriptures, but in a context that would horrify the old priest. For the prize pupil, who
memorized so much of the Bible, is Nikita Khrushchev, the former Communist czar.
As this anecdote illustrates, the "why" behind memorization is fully as
important as the "what." The same Nikita Khrushchev who nimbly mouthed God's
Word when a child, later declared God to be nonexistent -- because his cosmonauts had not
seen Him. Khrushchev memorized the Scriptures for the candy, the rewards, the bribes,
rather than for the meaning it had for his life. Artificial motivation will produce
Moody's Anecdotes, p. 99.
A man once testified in one of D.L. Moody's meetings that he had lived "on the
Mount of Transfiguration" for five years. "How many souls did you lead to Christ
last year?" Moody bluntly asked him. "Well," the man hesitated, "I
don't know." "Have you saved any?" Moody persisted. "I don't know that
I have," the man admitted. "Well," said Moody, "we don't want that
kind of mountaintop experience. When a man gets up so high that he cannot reach down and
save poor sinners, there is something wrong."
W. Wiersbe, The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers,
I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am
not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the
great apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am.
It is easier to cry against one-thousand sins of others than to kill one of your own.
When I was a child, I often had a toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother,
she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to
sleep. But I did not go to my mother--at least not till the pain became very bad. And the
reason I did not go was this: I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew
she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist the next
morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting soemthing more, which I
did not want. I wanted immediate relief from my pain; but I could not get it without
having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they would start
fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. Our Lord is
like the dentists. Dozens of people go to him to be cured of some particular sin. Well, he
will cure it all right, but he will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if you
once call him in, he will give you the full treatment.
The Scottish preacher John McNeill liked to tell about an eagle that had been captured
when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it
couldn't fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn't long till the
eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that
once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly
hen. One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where
the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, "What a shame to
keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don't you let it go?" The farmer
agreed, so they cut off the restraint. But the eagle continued to wander around,
scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone
wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the
glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral
flight, up and up and up. At last it was acting like an eagle again.
The Australian coat of arms pictures two creatures--the emu, a flightless bird, and the
kangaroo. The animals were chosen because they share a characteristic that appealed to the
Australian citizens. Both the emu and kangaroo can move only forward, not back. The emu's
three-toed foot causes it to fall if it tries to go backwards, and the kangaroo is
prevented from moving in reverse by its large tail. Those who truly choose to follow Jesus
become like the emu and kangaroo, moving only forward, never back (Luke 9:62).
A man once bought a home with a tree in the backyard. It was winter, and nothing marked
this tree as different from any other tree. When spring came, the tree grew leaves and
tiny pink buds. "How wonderful," thought the man. "A flower tree! I will
enjoy its beauty all summer." But before he had time to enjoy the flowers, the wind
began to blow and soon all the petals were strewn in the yard. "What a mess," he
thought. "This tree isn't any use after all." The summer passed, and one day the
man noticed the tree was full of green fruit the size of large nuts. He picked one and
took a bite. "Bleagh!" he cried and threw it to the ground. "What a
horrible taste! This tree is worthless. Its flowers are so fragile the wind blows them
away, and its fruit is terrible and bitter. When winter comes, I'm cutting it down. But
the tree took no notice of the man and continued to draw water from the ground and warmth
from the sun and in late fall produced crisp red apples. Some of us see Christians with
their early blossoms of happiness and think they should be that way forever. Or we see
bitterness in their lives, and we're sure they will never bear the better fruit of joy.
Could it be that we forget some of the best fruit ripens late?
Professor Drummond once described a man going into one of our after meetings and saying
he wanted to become a Christian. "Well, my friend, what is the trouble?" He
doesn't like to tell. He is greatly agitated. Finally he says, "The fact is, I have
overdrawn my account" -- a polite way of saying he has been stealing.
"Did you take your employer's money?"
"I don't know. I have never kept account of it."
"Well, you have an idea you stole $1,500 last year?"
"I am afraid it is that much."
"Now, look here, sir, I don't believe in sudden work; don't steal more than a
thousand dollars this next year, and the next year not more that five hundred, and in the
course of the next few years you will get so that you won't steal any. If your employer
catches you, tell him you are being converted; and you will get so that you won't steal
any by and by."
My friends, the thing is a perfect farce! "Let him that stole, steal no
more," that is what the Bible says. It is right about face. Take another
illustration. Here comes a man, and he admits that he gets drunk every week. That man
comes to a meeting, and wants to be converted. Shall I say, "Don't you be in a hurry.
I believe in doing the work gradually. Don't you get drunk and knock your wife down more
than once a month?" Wouldn't it be refreshing to his wife to go a whole month without
being knocked down? Once a month, only twelve times in a year! Wouldn't she be glad to
have him converted in this new way! Only get drunk after a few years on the anniversary of
your wedding, and at Christmas, and then it will be effective because it is gradual! Oh! I
detest all that kind of teaching. Let us go to the Bible and see what that old Book
teaches. Let us believe it, and go and act as if we believed it, too. Salvation is
instantaneous. I admit that a man may be converted so that he cannot tell when he crossed
the line between death and life, but I also believe a man may be a thief one moment and a
saint the next. I believe a man may be as vile as hell itself one moment, and be saved the
next. Christian growth is gradual, just as physical growth is; but a man passes from death
unto everlasting life quick as an act of the will -- "He that believeth on the Son
hath everlasting life."
Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 99 - 100.
Why would Christians choose to sin rather than choose what they know God wants them to
do? Four answers are commonly given today.
1. Some would point to Romans 8:16 and explain that Christians who willfully sin have
forgotten their true identity as "children of God." While it is true that
Christians can forget who they are and sin as a result, Christians can also be well aware
of who they are and sin anyway.
2. Some say Christians choose to sin because they have lost sight of what God has done
for them. 2 Peter 1:9 indicates that Christians can be "blind or short-sighted,
having forgotten [their] purification from [their] former sins."
3. Some wisely state that Christians consciously choose to sin because they have
forgotten that God will severely discipline disobedient believers.
4. Some have said that Christians who consciously sin have lost their focus on the
future. These Christians have forgotten that God will reward in heaven only those who have
lived faithfully for Him here on earth (1 Cor 9:24). Christians who fail to keep eternity
in mind often sin in the here and now.
J.Kirk Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 31.