Every tree in the Garden of Eden was beautiful and good for food and God said that Adam and Eve Could eat of all of them except one. Why would God put this one tree in the garden to begin with? The answer is because God’s greatest desire is to have a personal relationship with us and for that to happen free will had to be involved. For there to be a relationship you have to choose to love. If I were to give you a doll with a string and if you pulled the string that doll said, "I love you,” would you have a relationship with that doll? That's not a relationship.
God wants to have a relationship with us. And for there to be a relationship God designed it so that we could make the choice. The same is true with temptation today. At some point in this week I'm going to be tempted to disobey God. And when I'm tempted I have a choice. I can either choose in that moment to love God or I can choose in that moment to love myself. So when you're tempted this week remember that it is not an issue of personal failure or personal success. This choice is this - will you choose to love God or love yourself?
Throughout the book of Luke we see Jesus spending time with sinners which the religious leaders f his day criticized Him often. In Luke 15, Jesus tells two stories to show why He associated with sinners. The first is about a lost sheep and the second about a lost coin. From these stories Jesus reveals three reasons why He hung out with sinners.
First, Jesus hung out with sinners because they were lost and very valuable to Him. The sheep was lost and very valuable to the shepherd. The coin was lost and very valuable to the woman. People are lost and very valuable to God.
Second, Jesus associated with lost people because He is willing to go through infinite trouble to find lost people. The shepherd was willing to do this to find the lost sheep as was the woman to find the lost coin. Jesus was willing to go through the trouble of the cross to find lost people.
Finally, Jesus spent time with sinners because nothing brings more joy to the portals of heaven then when a lost person becomes found. The shepherd rejoiced with his friends when the sheep was found. The women rejoiced with her friends when the coin was found. In the same way, every time someone repents and comes to Christ, heaven rejoices.
I have found no greater pattern for personal evangelism than the 5 steps of Jesus in John 4 when He meets the woman at the well.
LOOK for divine appointments! Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. I believe that daily God orchestrates our lives so that we cross paths with people that God has pre-arranged.
LEAVE your comfort zones! Jesus was willing to travel out of His way to keep this divine appointment. If we are going to impact people we must be willing to leave our personal comfort zones.
LOVE lost people! The Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well had everything going against her. This woman wasn’t even accepted by her peers. If we are going to make an impact we must start each day by asking God to give us a love for lost, lonely and hurting people.
LEARN to start conversations! Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman at the well. If we are going to make an impact we must learn to do the same.
LISTEN for a common interest! The best way to connect with anyone is to find a common interest. That’s what Jesus did. He used a common interest they both had at the well…water. If we are going to make an impact we must listen for common interests we have with others.
Feedback is your friend. We should welcome it. It is not always easy to hear but is should be appreciated when it is given from a proper heart and in the proper way. With that said, let me introduce you to the least effective way of communicating a negative or a concern which is to do so with an “Anonymous Note.” What makes this an improper as well as an ineffective way of communicating a concern or a negative? First, to do so is to communicate a concern in an unbiblical manner. According to Matthew 18, if someone offends us we are to go to them. There is no room in those instructions for anonymous notes of a negative nature. This is true even if the note is cloaked in the spiritual looking signature, “a concerned brother” or “a concerned sister in Christ.” Second, when notes and letters are turned in anonymously it is impossible to be able to make a contact with the writer to have an honest dialogue about the concern. As a result, there is very little evaluation or action that can be made due to an anonymous note. Feedback is our friend and there is a lot we can and should learn from it, but for this to happen, feedback must be given in the proper way.
The Christian life is like swimming upstream and all you have are two strokes…prayer and Bible study. Perhaps the stroke that is missing the most in the lives of Christians today is that of Bible study. Why should each individual Christian study the Bible regularly and personally? There are dozens of reasons but let me give you just seven of them.
According to 2 Peter 1:16-21 the Word of God is more sure than hearing the very voice of God with our own hears or seeing God with our own eyes. According to Joshua 1:8 God commands us to meditate on Scripture day and night in order to do all that is written in it.
According to Romans 10:13-17 It is Scripture saves sinners and sanctifies believers. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. According to Matthew 4 it is knowing and quoting Scripture that gives us victory over Satan.
According to 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 13 we need the Word for spiritual growth. According to 1 John 5:11-13 = It answers life’s most important question which is, “Do I know for sure I’m going to heaven?”
According to 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 the Bible contains everything we need to know to do everything that God wants us to do.
In the book, Standing Fast, one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Ed Dobson, shares several examples of critical letters he received while a pastor. These letters, mostly anonymous, were defeating. Dr. Dobson shares three ways to handle criticism in ministry:
Accept it as part of the package! The ministry is sometimes pressure, discouragement, disappointment, heartache, criticism and conflict. In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” This is ministry reality.
Don’t believe everything you hear! A lot of criticism people throw our way is based on ignorance or misconceptions. When it’s appropriate, Dr. Dobson encourages us to educate people. When it’s not, it’s best just to forget the comments.
Ask God about it! Dr. Dobson says that he takes the criticism he receives to the Lord in prayer. “This is what they’ve said about me, Lord. Is it true? Help me to be honest with myself and determine what truth, if any, lies beneath their comment.” Dr. Dobson says that he actually reads to God the letters critical of him. Sometimes he finds that God is trying to say something to him. Other times, God simply reassures him that he is on the right track and has no need to become discouraged
Man is made in the image of God. That is what separates man from the rest of creation. God made man with the ability to have an intimate relationship with Him that can last for all of eternity. The image of God is not see in your body but rather your soul. That's the part of you that has a relationship with God and will last for eternity. In this we discover the purpose for why God created the whole world to begin with which was to create an environment and to create man in that environment where God could have a personal relationship with man that would last for all of eternity. That wasn't just God's purpose in making Adam and Eve. God told them to be fruitful and multiply. God's purpose was to have a personal relationship with all mankind for all of eternity.
That’s why God caused your conception. Yes, your mom and dad had something to do with it but it was God who caused your conception. He's the giver of life. And from the moment you were conceived, every moment you were in the womb, God formed you - everything about you. And He did all of this for one reason. He wants to have a personal relationship with you that will last for all of eternity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is seen in more detail in the New Testament but we see the first hint of it in the first chapter of Genesis. The Trinity is the fact that God is one God, yet, He has three distinct persons - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. That doesn't equal three gods. It's one God. When you hear that description of God you can only come to one rational conclusion which is that it does not make sense. From a human standpoint, our minds cannot wrap around this truth. It is impossible for me to truly understand how God can be one God, yet in three persons. That leads some people to say, “I can't trust a God I can't understand.” Personally, I believe the opposite is true. The truth of the matter is I don't want to put my faith in a God I completely understand because if my little finite mind can completely understand God He's not much of a God, is He? To me there is great comfort and great solace in the fact that there is a God far bigger and far more complex than anything my mind can ever grasp who created everything, has a purpose for everything, and is intimately involved in my life.
The Christian life is like swimming upstream and all you have are two strokes. If you were having to swim upstream against a very strong current, how well would you do? What if we tied one of your hands behind your back? At best, you might maintain but you certainly would make no progress. What if we tied both of your hands behind your back? You would do nothing but get carried backward by the current. The same is true about living the Christian life. It’s tough. The current of the world system, our own depravity and sinful desires is strong. The only way to make progress is to use our two spiritual strokes…prayer and Bible study. Take away either or both of these strokes, and we will quickly drift backwards into a horrible spiritual pit. Why is the stroke of prayer so important? Here are a few reasons:
It is a channel of forgiveness
It is a weapon against temptation
It is a means to fullness of joy
It is a reliever of worry
It is a means to help in times of need
It is a securer of wisdom in times of trouble
It is a foundation for spiritual warfare
It is a securer of laborers
It is a preparation for witness
It is a means to pleasing God
The local church is the hope of the world! I just believe that. The hope of the world is not the political system. The hope of the world is not the judicial system. The hope of the world is not in any certain economic system. The hope of the world is the local church because it is the church that has been given the only message of love, forgiveness, peace and eternal life through faith in a crucified, buried, risen Savior. In Matthew 5, Jesus called His followers the “salt of the earth.” That may not mean much to us today but it did back then. Next to the sun, salt was considered the most important commodity of that day because it was the only source of preservation that they had. Often, Roman soldiers got paid in salt, thus giving us the phrase, “worth one’s weight in salt.” Folks, we as the church are the most important commodity this word has. It’s us or it’s lights out! That’s why I believe that if we are going to invest in anything it needs to be the local church. There is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right. And in my opinion, the local church is working right when evangelism is the engine that drives its purpose.