John Bradshaw - Don't Judge a Book
It's good to be with you today. Let's pray together before we open the Bible, and we'll expect that God will speak to our hearts. Let's pray.
Father in heaven, for the privilege of being able to open Your Word, we are very grateful. I pray that You won't let the limitations of fallen humanity prevent Your Spirit from doing Your great work. We need to be fed; we need to be encouraged; perhaps we need to be challenged. So guide us by Your Holy Spirit, we pray, gratefully, in Jesus' name. Amen.
A young man walked into a church. It was the middle of the week. He expected the church would be full. It was his first ever visit to a church quite like this, and he was not aware that the habit was not for people to come out to church mid-week. He thought everyone would be there. But it seemed to him as though there was a law passed that said don't come in the middle of the week. When he got to the church, there was the pastor, five elderly ladies, and two middle-aged men. And here he was, walking into the church for the very first time, with his long hair, his old overcoat, his faded jeans, with an earring in one ear, with a scruffy, scraggly sort of a beard, and with shoes riddled with holes. They looked like moths had eaten them.
So what does a congregation do with someone like that? A young man received a handbill in the mail. It was advertising a series of meetings that would focus on the prophecies of the Bible. He was interested, and so he attended. Long hair, beard, earring, this was back in the days when it was still rebellious to have an earring, a denim jacket that was decorated with metal studs. He looked like he'd come directly from gang headquarters. Not the sort of person you would automatically be inclined to trust, maybe not the sort of person you would want to be around. A church member made the comment and said, "That guy will never be baptized".
In fact, both men were baptized, on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Both of them shaved, cut their hair, took out their earrings, changed their clothing somewhat, and became ministers of the gospel. One of them was me. When I first walked into a church, nobody was thinking, "This guy will hold a Bible and preach God's Word one day". They were thinking more along the lines of, "What have we here? Where did this guy come from? This character must have got lost on his way to somewhere else". And I'm sure some of them were thinking, "We had better make sure our valuables are secure". You can't judge a book by its cover. Well, actually, I suspect you can, and that from time to time maybe we all have and perhaps even still do. But God does not judge a book by its cover, and you and I are both glad about that, amen?
The prophet Samuel was told by God to call a man named Jesse to a sacrifice. Knowing that he was to anoint the next king, he saw a young man named Eliab walk by, one of Jesse's sons. He said to himself, "Surely this is the Lord's anointed". But 1 Samuel 16 and verse 7 says, "But the Lord said unto Samuel, 'Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.'" God looks on the heart. Aren't you glad about that?
Some years ago, I was in India, and I was in the home village of It Is Written's Eyes for India physician, Dr. Jacob Prabhakar. Dr. Jacob provides, as an ophthalmologist, eye surgery on many very poor people who couldn't get access to or afford, uh, cataract surgery. As we were talking in his hometown, right by the first school he ever attended, humble little school, he told me how missionaries from the church school 40 or so miles from his house came to visit his parents. They told Jacob's parents they wanted to take him to the church school and give him, for free, an education, something that his parents could never afford. Jacob was the only boy in his family. He has seven or eight older sisters. His parents said, "No"! They would never allow it. "There's no way. You can't take our boy, our only son, our youngest child. You can't have him". The school folks reasoned: "We have a sponsor. Your child will get such a good education. He will have a bright future".
And eventually, mom and dad relented, and they allowed the church school people to take their little boy away to the church elementary school. He was sponsored through elementary school and through high school as well. Now, he didn't have a sponsor to, to enable him to go to university, but then a sponsor came along, and he went to university. And then he went to medical school, and he specialized in ophthalmology. Today, he performs a very precise cataract surgery. It's a complicated surgery, a delicate surgery, that he makes look simple. I've timed him at 1 minute and 40 seconds for an entire cataract surgery on an eye. And he can be more efficient than that. He's gone much faster. He has performed 465 cataract surgeries in a single day. He's a remarkable man.
So I asked him there in his home village, "If you had not had the opportunity to get that education, what would you be doing today"? He thought about it; he looked down; he paused. And over there in the distance there was a young man herding buffalo. They would take buffalo from one patch of grass to another, to another, to another, to another. Gotta keep these animals fed. And Jacob looked over there, he looked at me, and he said, "Most likely, I would be herding buffalo today". I looked over there at that man that Dr. Jacob could have been. I said, "What would you be earning"? He said, "Oh, most likely about as much as... about 4 US dollars a week". Here was a young man born to herd buffalo.
Now, the other alternative was his dad had a patch of ground where coconut trees were growing. Maybe he would have done something with the coconuts, except, as I talked to him, he said that it wasn't even worth the family's time harvesting the coconuts. You just get nothing for them; it's a loss even to do that. He was born to herd buffalo. But inside a 5- or 6-year-old future buffalo herder was a highly-skilled medical specialist. A philanthropist, really, inasmuch as he gives so much of his time to people who won't ever be able to pay him for what he does. I learned to look at buffalo herders differently. Inside these poor young children, inside they're neglected. Inside the forgotten is brilliance and achievement just waiting to be realized. Inside the people that we see, there are missionaries waiting to come out. Inside the lost people of this world are preachers and teachers and leaders and people who could change the world, or change a great part of the world, if only they were given the opportunity to do so.
As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher"? Someone has to tell them. And when they're told, their lives so often change. Who comes into your church? Think about that. Who comes to your back door? Who intersects with you on the road through life? Young person comes to church with a strange haircut. How does God feel? Let me pause and talk with you about that. You know what I believe? I really do believe that God's people are, by and large, very accepting. I really do believe that.
I remember going to a certain church, and there was a young fellow, and his hair... was it blue or was it green? He was naturally blond, quite blond, but he dyed his hair some shocking color, and I don't know what he was thinking, and, no, I don't think he looked good at all. In fact, I think he looked rather ridiculous, but he liked his hair. And the little old ladies would come to church, and they'd say, I forget his name; let's call him, let's call him "Brent", and they'd see him, and they'd say, "Hello, Brent. Oh, your hair is blue today. Oh, that looks nice, Brent. Don't you think that looks nice, Mabel"? And Mabel would say, "Oh, Brent, that's nice. You know, Brent, the blue is good. I preferred the green".
Now, I don't know exactly what Brent was trying to prove. I think there was a little part of him that was trying to shock people. The little old ladies wouldn't be shocked. They just loved him anyway. They loved him. You know how it works in some churches, "What in the world have you got hair like that for, boy? Go home and get that straight. This is God's house". No, wait a minute! There's a doctor inside that kid. There's a missionary inside that kid. There's a, there's a Sabbath school teacher inside that kid. There's a preacher, there's a, a lawyer inside that kid. We don't want to discourage the blue-haired kids of the world. You don't have to like it. They know you don't like it. But what do you do when the kid with blue hair comes to church? What do you do with the kids with black fingernail polish and black clothing and black hair and black, black, black, black, black, and they look like depression, uh, alive and well?
You can't look at that, at least I can't, and say, "Wow, fashionable"! You look at that, and you think, "Oh, well, something's going on in that child's life". But if that child comes looking like, uh, a Halloween fright to church, you know what you do. You say, "Praise the Lord! Kid is in church". And you encourage the child. How does God feel when God sees the blue-haired kid come to church? Or the black-dressed kid come to church? God says, "Amen. It's nice to have you in my house". Someone comes to church that you don't know. How does God feel? God is thinking, "Great"! And the reason God brought them to church is so that you can say, "How are you today"? You know, think about this. How much does this cost? Hmm. Visitor. I must go and say hello. "Hi, I'm John. How are you today"? Didn't cost me anything. I'm not going to get a bill in the mail. I won't get an email saying that it cost me something. It's free. And do you know what I just did? Made somebody's day.
You see, I can't judge a book by its cover. I don't know who that person is. I don't know what's going on in their life. But I know that, like me, they need Jesus in their heart. They need salvation in their life. Somebody comes to church that's of a different race to you. Do you think, "Hmm, maybe they're in the wrong church," or do you think, "Thank God that person's here"? Doesn't matter what color they are on the outside because God looks not on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. Every person we see is a soul for whom Christ died. Every person we see is someone through whom God can change the world. I'd like you to think of the great conversions of the Bible. Go to the book of Daniel and you meet, pretty immediately, a ruthless killer, a conqueror, a tyrant named Nebuchadnezzar. He was the king of Babylon. Shed more blood than you could ever even hope to measure.
Over time, God impressed him with the truth. Over time, God gave him evidence that he couldn't argue with. Over time, God revealed to him that there is a God. And in a short time, you are going to meet Nebuchadnezzar in heaven. If somebody told you 2,600 years ago that you were going to see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven, you would have rejected that person outright. You would have thought the person was mad. But he will be there because what you see on the outside is not a measure of God's ability to change what's on the inside. This is what God can do. Let's think about somebody else. King Manasseh. Last person you'd expect to see in heaven. He came to the throne at 12 years of age.
Second Kings chapter 21 says, "And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, 'In Jerusalem will I put my name.' And he built altars", this is shocking, isn't it? "...for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire", you know what that means? He sacrificed his children to the devil. shocking, "and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the", it was in the temple.
Most people wouldn't want to invite someone like that to church. Yet Manasseh is going to be in heaven. God got through to his heart. If God can reach Manasseh, God can reach people in your neighborhood. If God can reach Manasseh, He can reach that couple living in sin. He can reach those people who are drinking alcohol and using drugs. He can reach that person who just got out of prison. God can do it. "But," somebody says, "no one in my neighborhood is interested". Well, that's what you think. We'll never know if we just wait for them to come to us. "Uh, but this is a hard territory. This is a tough town". I've got news for you. It's all a hard territory.
We recently went and held evangelistic meetings in a hard territory in the United States. But 210-plus baptisms later, we see that God is able to handle hard. We conducted meetings in Rome in Italy. Tough place. A mile from St. Peter's Basilica. Tough territory. Rome, secular, secular, secular city. In 2018, it's about as secular as you can be. But people were won to faith in Christ, and long after we left town, there were still people coming to faith in God. Couple of months, three months, I think, after the meeting ended, maybe a little less, it was Sabbath morning in church, and four separate people came to the church office and spoke to the pastor and said, "Could we please have Bible studies"? This is in Rome.
When was the last time that happened in your church? Four different people: "Please, would somebody study the Bible with me"? Amen! And when the pastor baptized somebody that day, and he said, "If anybody would like to be baptized, would you just come down the front and join me here?" twelve people came down front! You'd be glad to see that any place. In Rome, Italy, ooh, that's not any place; that's a tough place. But this is what God can do. You know, it's important that we learn to see people as Jesus sees them. And I don't want to act like I'm not even in touch with reality. It can be difficult to reach people. There's no question about it. There's no question. But if our method of reaching people is to pick a doctrine and challenge them with the most challenging doctrine and then expect them to believe like us, that isn't going to work. You get to that later.
Here's how I've been putting it recently. How many letters are there in the alphabet, in the English alphabet, how many letters? Can you tell me? That's right. Of course, 26. And the first letter of the alphabet is what? A. Last letter of the alphabet is what? Z, or "zed". "Zed," Z, however you say it, it's still the last one. A is followed by... tell me? B. A, B. This is, there are no trick questions right now. A, B, and then what? C. And then after A, B, C is? Okay, right, D. Now, there's 26 letters. They're all as good as the other, unless you're playing Scrabble, in which case a, a "Q" can be difficult to get rid of, but if you do, you get a lot of points. All the letters in the alphabet are of, of equal usefulness. You know what I mean. You might use a few more a's and e's and o's than you do, let's say, x's and zed's, or z's. But they're there for a reason; they all have their job.
Now, when you teach your kid the alphabet, you don't say, "You know what, let's be creative with you, and we'll start at W. W, C, J, M, B, Q, C". You don't do that. You don't say, "Okay, I'll teach you the alphabet: A, B, X. Because I like X". A, B, J, that's a good letter. "J" for John. A, B, J. No, you don't do that. Because the, the J would be out of place. You say, "Okay, we're going to go through the alphabet in order: A, B, C". Now, you might really like an M or an E or an X, but you get to that in time. You understand what I'm saying? When you're sharing your faith, you start at "A" and then "B" and then "C," and you'll get to "J" and "M" and "R" and "W" in the fullness of time. Sometimes we see somebody, and we say, "You know what I gotta do? I gotta tell them about this teaching. They don't believe like I do on this, so I gotta tell them about this".
If the Holy Spirit tells you, "Go after them and speak about this," then you must. But the fact of the matter is, more often than not, God will not encourage you to, to make your first point of contact on something very challenging. He won't do that. You don't want to find the most challenging doctrine in the book and say, "Let's go and take that one". You start with Jesus. "How are things between you and God? Isn't God good? How's your faith? Do you believe? Do you read the Bible"? If they do, praise the Lord. You've gone A, B, C; now you're moving on. D, E, F, now you're moving on. Uh, A, B, C, D, E, F... G, H, I, and you're moving on. You know how it goes. But you don't need to take somebody like in a, uh, uh, a tackle, boom! knock 'em. Start at the beginning. "The Savior mingled among men as one who desired their good". He won their sympathy, ministered to their needs, or, "He showed sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, won their confidence, and then He bade them, 'Follow me.'"
Wouldn't it be a good idea to make friends, make friends for Jesus? And win their confidence and show sympathy and minister to them as though, as though, people say, "Wow, they really care". That'd be a good thing. You've heard that old saying, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care". It's a worn-out line, but I tell you, it's as true today as the day in which people first started using it. Jesus spent more time healing than teaching. So when you see somebody and you think, "Hmm, I wonder..". yes, there's a way. And let me tell you this: Before you started sharing with that person, God was there already. Before you even thought about sharing a tract or an invitation or, or, or, something else, the Holy Spirit was already at work. You never went and spoke to somebody about Christ, you never tried to share your faith in Jesus with anybody without the Holy Spirit already having gone there.
So you can know that you are working where the Spirit is working. But keep this in mind: You need to be working as the Spirit is working. I don't know why you would offer an atheist a, a Bible study. The atheist doesn't believe there's a God. Unless of course you would like to say, frankly, I don't know what you would say, but you might offer to, uh, mow the lawn for the atheist. If the atheist's laundry is hanging out, and the rain is coming, you might want to take the laundry in. You might want to drop the atheist off at, uh, supermarket or take that person shopping or look after their kids or invite them over for dinner, take them a loaf of bread. And before long, that person thinks, "Man, whatever this person's got, I like the way it looks".
And it could be that before long, that person who professed no faith in God or professed that there was no God, starts to believe in a God that has made a positive impact in your life. And might I say, please: Let people see that God has made a difference in your life. No one should ever say, "I don't want to do business with those folks because they're dishonest". "I don't want to be around them because they're mean". "I don't want to deal with old Mr. So-and-so because he's cantankerous". If Jesus is in your life, you'll make a good and a strong impression. Yeah, it's true some neighborhoods are hard. It's true. It's absolutely right. Some difficult, some areas are...tough, but God is tougher.
The Holy Spirit is able, and if God could turn Nebuchadnezzar to faith, if God could turn King Manasseh to faith, then God can turn your neighbor; He can turn your work mate, your colleague; He can turn your teacher; He can turn your friend. He can do it. Be watching for where God is working, and then you work there, too. I'll tell you a hard place. South Texas is hard. It's tough. When my associate speaker, Eric Flickinger, went to south Texas to hold meetings, he knew that he was going to a place that was as tough as anywhere else. He could not know that a young lady there in south Texas was having a rough time in her life. She had been raised in difficult circumstances. She was in a bad relationship. She just decided, just decided, that she was going to leave her home, leave her live-in boyfriend, and she would walk miles to a shelter so that she would be safe and have somewhere to live.
So she is walking now. She didn't even know where she's going, except she knows there's a shelter in this town several miles away. What's going to become of her? All she knows is that she's got to leave behind what she's been doing. She's walking down the road, and a car pulls over. And the kind lady driving the car said, "Where are you going, sweetheart"? And she explained. She thought, there's no point lying. "Look, I've had a rough life. I'm heading to a shelter. I'm in a bad situation. I've got to go someplace that I am safe". Now, if you met that lady, "How you doing"? "Fine". "Do you go to church"? "No". "Do you use drugs"? "Yes". "Do you drink alcohol"? "I sure do". "Uh, what's your lifestyle like"? "I'm living in sin". You'd probably have thought, "Not a candidate for the kingdom".
You may have thought that. Many people would. The lady in the car invited her to stay in her home. "I have spare rooms. I'll help you. Don't go to the shelter. You'll be safe with me". And so she accepted the offer. Turns out that the kind lady lived next door to the church, and she said to her new young friend, "There are meetings going on at our church right now. How would you like to attend"? If you knew the young lady, you wouldn't expect that she'd be interested. You might not have wanted her to be in your home. But Jesus wanted her in His home. She heard Eric open up the Word of God. Eric opened the Bible and read what was in it, and her heart was touched. He spoke of Jesus as Lord and Savior, and she said, "Yes. I want Jesus to be my Lord and Savior". He spoke about baptism. She said, "I want to be baptized". He spoke about people receiving new hearts through the grace of God. She said, "That's what I need". She needed it, and she received it. God changed her life.
Hard place. But Jesus inhabits the hard places. He is there working on the hard cases. His Spirit is working away on those who aren't interested, or on those who think they're not interested. If God hasn't given up on them, there's no way in the world that we should give up on them. The Bible tells us not only about Paul but about Saul, Saul of Tarsus. He pursued believers. He persecuted believers. He delivered them to be put to death. And he says... now, I'm going to read his own words here in Acts chapter 22 and verse 20, Acts chapter 22 and verse 20. Paul said, "And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him". He was complicit in their death. He, in fact, caught them, apprehended them, and dragged them away so they could be executed. When he came into the church, the church members were suspicious of him, but God had great plans.
You and I cannot afford to see people and write them off. We can't afford to see people and dismiss them because they don't look like or act like or smell like or live like or believe like someone on their way to heaven. Every person without Christ is a person who we could see in heaven. Every single one. I have met men who have come to faith in Jesus on death row, and they meant it. I went to visit somebody on death row. I'm not going to tell you what he did, but let me tell you, the way the Lord judges, he certainly deserved to be there, according to the law. No question about it. He could not know that I was coming. I went to visit him. We couldn't... you can't call a guy like that. I went to his, his cell, and there's one of these narrow windows, this, this rectangle-shaped window. Oh my goodness. I looked through that window into his cell. Something inside me felt like it died. I thought to myself, "That's the rest of his life. Every day he lives he will live inside that little room".
He doesn't have the comforts of home. It's not a picnic. I'm not saying he didn't deserve to be there; don't get me wrong. I'm just saying what a terrible place to have to spend 23 hours of every day. And when I walked up to the window and looked through the window, I was amazed at what I saw. He was down on his knees or on one knee, I can't remember which. His little thin mattress was turned back so that the bed, the solid bed was exposed, and he was using that as a desk, and he had something to write with and what looked like a, a pad with paper. And he had a Bible and it looked like a Bible commentary and a Bible dictionary and maybe another book, and he's studying his Bible! Oh my goodness! A man on death row. He wasn't doing it to try to impress me or anybody else.
And as we went to his cell, the man said to me, the prison guard said, "Oh, you're going to go and see Mr. ABC, are you"? And I said, "Yes, I'm on my way to see him right now". And he turned to me, and he said, "I want to tell you that man has really changed". I said, "That's what God can do in a person's life". He said, "He's changed. He's really changed". When he was being sentenced to life in prison, no one would have expected that that man could come to faith in Christ. But he did. And he still has faith in Christ, to this day. What he did? Terrible. But what God did in his heart? Wonderful. Can you see you leading a, a condemned man to faith in Christ? You might say, "Yes". You might say, "I've done it already". You might say, "I'd love to". You might say, "Hmm, not me. I wouldn't know how".
Well, you can learn how. You can learn how to share your faith. If you enjoy fine music, then you'll appreciate the sound of an orchestra. An orchestra is made up of numerous instruments. Can you name some? Can you name one? Name one right now. Name one. Usually when I ask people, they say, "Violin," or they say, "Trumpet," maybe "Upright bass". Another one that comes up quickly is cello, clarinet, flute, trombone, tuba. Tuba, great big thing. How do they carry those big tubas? French horn. Timpani. Those little timpani drums. Actually, I said "little", they're not little; they're big; they're large drums. They sound great at the right time. But then there's also the piccolo, and I must confess I don't know if the piccolo ever gets played in an orchestra. Maybe it does not, but I can tell you an instrument that does, and it's little. The triangle.
When I ask people about instruments in orchestras, no one says, "Ah! The triangle". They forget about the triangle because it's so small it's almost insignificant. But it's often the case that without the triangle there would be something missing. It doesn't look like it would take much or make much difference, but it does. At the right time, that ding, ah, it just sets off a piece of music, and you are glad for it.
Now, if you're the tuba honking away, praise the Lord for you. If you're the triangle, sweet little ding every now and then, you be a triangle for the glory of God because it might be your "ding" that will make the difference in someone's life. You might not ever get the opportunity to preach in a stadium. If you don't, ding your triangle for the Lord. You know what I'm saying. If you can't see yourself doing great things for the Lord, just do something for the Lord, and that'll be great enough. A teenager in the north of England decided that she had to do something. The Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland has been described as a notorious spot. Sunderland, northeast England, not far from Newcastle.
Now, this young lady, who had had mental health challenges herself, knew that people with mental health challenges often walked out onto the Wearmouth Bridge and did themselves harm. So Paige Hunter decided that she would write notes, write notes, and she'd leave them on the bridge so that people could see those notes and be encouraged. She would write things like, "Even though things are difficult, your life matters". "You're a shining light in a dark world, so just hold on". She would write, "You're not alone," three words, and leave a sticky note, or maybe she would put it inside a little plastic and leave it there on the bridge. People walking across the bridge, for the most part, would have wondered, "What in the world"? Until they found out what Paige was doing.
How, how tough a job do you think that would be? Writing a note and putting it on a bridge. Not tough. But this young lady had to do something because she was aware of people suffering. Notes on a bridge. She didn't sandblast the bridge. She didn't chisel something into the bridge. She didn't pay for an expensive sign. Notes, man. She wrote them with a pen or a marker, and put them on paper and then maybe some plastic and stuck them to a bridge. Maybe she thought maybe they would never even be seen. But recently Paige was recognized by Northumbria Police because what she has done has made a difference. Some reports say her actions have saved six lives. Other reports say her actions have saved eight lives. She's doing something. People are dying, so she's doing something.
Friend, around us... people are dying. We can be doing something. It's why the church exists. It's why God gives us life and energy and resources. That's why we're here on this earth. God hasn't put us on this earth to judge a book by its cover... but to give God the opportunity to write an entirely new story. Can you be part of that? Can your congregation be part of that? Can your life bend in that direction? God, I know I'm on this earth to make a difference. You might say, "I don't even know how to make a difference," but you can start each day saying, "Lord, I'm willing to make a difference. Would You help me to? Would You work in my life? Would You make a difference through me"? Why don't we pray that prayer right now?
Our Father in heaven, would You make a difference through me? Would You give me the opportunity to reach out to my neighbors? Can You give me grace to be proactive? There's somebody at work. Certainly I need to be careful. I don't want to be clumsy, so give me ears to hear and to be in tune with what that person is going through, and perhaps I can offer that person something, even just to pray for them. Heavenly Father, there are people all around us who are dying lost. Many of them, they don't look at, at all like they want to be saved. But we must not judge a book by its cover. Let us look not on the outward appearance but on the heart. Use us to make a difference in some life, in many lives. Make a difference in our life, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen. Amen.