“Jesus was…tempted by the devil.” Mt 4:1 NKJV
The Bible says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Notice who led Jesus there: God! You’re in training for your destiny, and a good trainer has one thing in mind—turning flab into muscle. So he takes you into the gym and increases the weights until you break a sweat and start thinking, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” But God does. It’s only when you look back that you realize you’re handling situations today you couldn’t have handled a year ago. Sometimes old temptations will return with a vengeance. They’ll hound you until you think you need some new, novel, quick-fix strategy. Like the Israelites at the Red Sea, just when they thought they were finally free from a life of slavery, here comes Pharaoh. At that point they cried out to God in fear, saying, “We were better off in Egypt” (See Ex 14:12). “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water’” (vv.15-16 NIV). God used Moses’ rod—again! Victory over the Egyptians didn’t come from discovering something new; it came from using what God had already given them. You have the power inside you today to overcome the temptation you’re facing right now. You just need to tap into it. Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph 3:20 NKJV).
“If we could control our tongues, we…could also control ourselves in every other way.” Jas 3:2 NLT
The saying goes, “We are like cats; we lick ourselves with our tongues!” When someone spreads gossip, mark that person carefully. Why? Because if they talk to you about somebody else, they’ll talk to somebody else about you. The Bible warns us about three things: (1) A hasty tongue. “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Pr 29:20 NKJV). If you take time to get the facts, much of the time you’ll speak differently. Hannah prayed so passionately for a child that Eli the high priest thought she was drunk. When the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the Sea of Galilee, they thought He was a ghost. So think, or better yet, pray before you jump to conclusions. (2) A flattering tongue. “There is no faithfulness in their mouth…they flatter with their tongue” (Ps 5:9 NKJV). Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be genuine. When you flatter people, you manipulate them for your own ends. Don’t do that. Give it to them straight. If you love them, level with them. (3) A judgmental tongue. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Mt 7:1-2 NKJV). If you live long enough, you’ll be guilty of many of the same things you’re so quick to condemn in others. The truth is, how you deal with other people determines how God deals with you.
“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block…in your brother’s way.” Ro14:13NIV
Here are two more stumbling blocks you need to remove in order to win someone to Christ: (1) Boredom. Jesus isn’t boring, but sometimes religion is. The story is told of a lady who fell asleep during the sermon. Pointing at the man sitting next to her, the pastor said, “Please wake that woman up!” The man replied, “You put her to sleep, Reverend, you wake her up!” Jesus is called “the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11), and the Greek word for “good” is kelos, which means “winsome.” That’s the Christ we need to present to those seeking spiritual direction. (2) Money. It’s been said the most sensitive nerve in a person’s body is the one that runs to their pocketbook. Have there been financial scandals in the church? Yes. They even had them in the New Testament church (See Acts 5). But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water! It takes money to build churches, feed and clothe the needy, and send out missionaries. When money is in the right hands it’s a solution, not a problem. Furthermore, if God can trust you to finance His plans, He will show you how to make more money. He said, “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit” (Isa 48:17 AMP). (3) Discomfort. People say, “I just don’t feel comfortable in church.” The truth can do that to you! The gospel is designed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When Paul preached, some people trembled, but when trembling leads to trusting in Christ it’s a good thing.
“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block…in your brother’s way.” Ro14:13NIV
If you want to win someone to Christ, there are certain stumbling blocks you may have to remove. Let’s be honest, people are turned off by religion for a lot of reasons—legitimate ones. Let’s look at some: (1) Hypocrisy. Think about the twelve disciples; one of them betrayed Jesus, one denied Him, and one doubted Him. That’s a 25 percent default rate! But the good news is, Jesus continues to love us and work with us in spite of our problems. (2) Terminology. If you grew up in church, you’re probably familiar with Bible terminology. But don’t assume everybody else is, or you’ll talk over their heads. When Jesus talked to shepherds He discussed sheep. When He talked to farmers He discussed sowing and reap- ing. Identify the person’s interests and spiritual needs, then use language they understand. (3) Negative emphasis. If your major emphasis is on what people can’t do, they’ll run in the opposite direction. A well-known preacher says, “I grew up understanding what our church was against, but never what it was for. Basically, we were against everything!” Smiling, he added, “We preached against smoking and drinking. We especially preached against adultery, because we believed that could lead to dancing.” Seriously, the gospel is not about what you lose when you come to Christ, but what you gain. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10 NIV). If you’re serious about winning people to Christ, you must recognize the stumbling blocks that stand in their way and try to remove them.
“The gospel…of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Col 1:23 NIV
Who am I? What’s my calling? The apostle Paul, who considered himself “not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2Co 11:5 NAS), answers simply: “I am Paul. My role is serving. I am a servant to the gospel and the body of Christ.” Certain folks in the early church tried to determine which of the apostles were the greatest. Some claimed Paul, and others Apollos. But Paul challenged them, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe” (1Co 3:5 NIV). What- ever your calling, be it pastor of a megachurch or a lay member, you’re no more—and no less—than a servant. In God’s kingdom class distinctions don’t count. “There is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free man…male nor female…you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28 NAS). We’re servants called to do the will of God wherever He appoints us to serve. And that’s a good thing! In being a servant there’s relief from “the pressure to per- form.” No one has the right to judge you except your Master. “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls” (Ro 14:4 NAS). We should be concerned about what pleases God, not people. He alone can evaluate our service. Jesus came to serve His Father, saying, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (Jn 5:30). And He has also sent you to do God’s will, promising that, “If any man serve me, him will my Father honor” (Jn 12:26).
“A person without self-control.” Pr 25:28 NLT
The boy said, “He made me do it, Dad. He was ugly to me.” Attempting to teach his son responsibility, his father replied, “Son, you’ve got to learn that you are the guard at the door of your own life. You’re in charge. Nothing gets in or out without your permission.” That’s a picture of how things work in your spiritual life! “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls”—a defenseless city, because its guard failed to protect it. But what if the enemy is too powerful for you? For God’s people, all warfare is spiritual. Whether you’re tested on the social, financial, emotional or sexual front, the battle must be won spiritually. And the rule in spiritual warfare is: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1Jn 4:4). When your personal territory is under assault you’re never abandoned to your own devices—unless you choose to be. However inadequate you feel, however intimidating the situation looks, no matter how many battles you’ve already lost, the power of the Holy Spirit within you is always adequate to guarantee your victory. What’s the key to releasing that power? (1) “Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Ro 13:14 NLT). Invite the Lord to take the wheel, and redirect your thoughts. (2) “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives…self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 NLT). God’s Spirit won’t forcibly control you—but He will enable you to control yourself, resist temptation, master your vulnerability and win the victory.
“You need someone to teach you.” Heb 5:12 NIV
Marlene LeFever quipped, “Becoming an effective teacher is simple. You just prepare and prepare until drops of blood appear on your forehead.” In the 1920s Charlie Chaplin was the most famous person in the world. Born into poverty, he worked onstage to support himself, and by age seventeen he was a veteran performer. Then at age twenty- nine he did something unheard of: he signed the entertainment industry’s first million-dollar contract. But he wasn’t successful simply because he had talent and drive. He was also teachable. He kept learning and perfecting his gift. Even at the height of his career, the highest paid performer in the world didn’t rest on his laurels. He said: “When I watch one of my pictures I pay attention to what the audience doesn’t laugh at. If several audiences don’t laugh at a stunt, I tear it apart and try to discover what’s wrong. On the other hand, if I hear laughter I hadn’t expected, I ask myself why that particular thing rang the bell with the audience.” The truth is, if Charlie Chaplin had replaced teachability with complacency and arrogance we probably wouldn’t even remember his name today. But he didn’t. He never forgot the basics, and he committed himself to learning. Eventually he cofounded United Artists, a mega-movie company that’s still in business today. There’s an important principle in this story. The Bible says, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” If you want God to use you, stay teachable and never stop learning.
“We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Heb 4:15
Dr. Joseph Parker told his theology students, “Preach to the suffering and you will never lack a congregation. There is a broken heart in every pew.” Don’t lose your compassionate edge, because you can’t heal a broken heart unless you can first empathize with it. The Bible says, “We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” When you lose touch with people, you lose your touch when it comes to ministering to them. Jesus went looking for the leper, the loser, the lonely, the lost, and the lowest in society. And He was comfortable around them. Are you? Serving others is actually good for your health. A survey conducted at forty-four major universities reveals that giving protects your overall health twice as much as an aspirin protects your heart against disease. Dr. Stephen Post, who conducted the survey, says, “Giving is the most potent force on the planet and will protect your whole life.” The benefits of compassion to your physical health are so strong that if compassion wasn’t free, pharmaceutical companies would herald the discovery of a stupendous new drug called “give back” instead of “Prozac.” We give for different reasons: to get an income tax deduction; to make a good impression and have people think well of us; or because we’re put under pressure. You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. Your time, talent, and treasure are to be shared with others. When you refuse, you’re neither happy, holy, nor healthy.
“Faith…if it does not have works, is dead.” Jas 2:17 NKJV
Mother Teresa said, “The biggest disease today isn’t leprosy or cancer. It’s the feeling of being uncared for, unwanted—of being deserted and alone.” As a result, she spent her life rescuing sick babies and giving dignity to the dying. Asked why she did it, she replied, “Because Jesus did.” What a great answer! When simultaneous disasters hit different countries around the world, humanitarian organizations say we suffer from “donor fatigue.” Let’s add one more: “compassion failure.” Philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote, “Warmth, warmth, more warmth! For we are dying of cold and not of darkness. It is not the night that kills, but the frost.” Think about this: of the 1,189 chapters in the Bible, 250 contain the words of the prophets. That’s roughly 25 percent. Half of what they say denounces sin, and the other half condemns those who see human suffering and do nothing about it. Yet events that horrified those same prophets take place in our world every day, and we’re immune to them. Like wearing a watch, you get used to it and after awhile you don’t even notice it. But the prophets noticed! They never became desensitized to sin—or human suffering. And you mustn’t either. You say, “But my main focus at the moment is on building up my faith.” That’s a good thing; but never forget that “Faith by itself, if it does not have works [of compassion], is dead.”
“When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them.” Mt 9:36 NKJV
Christ’s concern for a hurting world revealed itself in two ways: condemnation toward those who took advantage of others, and compassion toward those who couldn’t help themselves. One time He took a whip and threw the money changers out of the temple; another time He healed the sick and fed the hungry. There’s a lesson here: you can be- come complacent and say, “I know there’s trouble in the world. It’s regrettable. But as long as it doesn’t touch me personally I’d prefer not to think about it. Cheating happens every day in business and politics. That’s just the way things are.” Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, you “pass by on the other side” (See Lk 10:30-36). The sad fact is that even churches that faithfully preach the Word and win souls (two all-important missions) fail in this area. Why? Because they’re afraid of being identified with those who promote a “social gospel.” But the opposite should concern us! “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity…how can the love of God be in him?…Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1Jn 3:17-18 NIV). What moves you? Success in business? Building a great family? Excelling in ministry? Those are worthy goals, but if you want to know what moved Christ, read this: “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion.” So don’t lose your com- passionate edge.