Morality Matters

Years ago my wife and I were driving in Lexington, Kentucky, listening to a local radio station. The announcer was talking about an upcoming ball game between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators. At this point Karen exclaimed, “What did he just say!?” I replied, “I don’t know. What do you think he said?” “It sounded like he said that Kentucky was playing against the fornicators!”

To this day this is an inside joke with us. Any time we hear the Florida team mentioned, we call them the “fornicators”.

“Fornicator” is a funny sounding word, but there is nothing funny about the sin of sexual immorality. The Bible clearly and consistently forbids any sexual activity except for a man and woman who are married to each other—no exceptions.

Jesus sent an angry message to the church at Thyatira because of their immorality. In Revelation 2:18-29, Jesus threatens to severely punish some people in that church because of their lifestyle of fornication.

Why does Jesus get so angry when people who claim to follow him choose to live a life of sexual immorality? Here are a few reasons.

First, they are breaking God’s commandments. One of the 10 Commandments forbids sexual sin (Exodus 20:14). If anyone wants to know if the prohibition against sexual immorality is written in stone, tell them that it most certainly is! Jesus hates it when people claim to live for him, yet they live a life of disobedience to God.

Second, Jesus gets mad because sexual immorality in the church harms the local congregation. The apostle Paul describes it as a yeast that spreads throughout the whole church (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). One cannot measure the negative impact on a congregation that is plagued with fornication. When the Holy Spirit is grieved by such behavior, the result is that blessings are taken away and spiritual confusion runs amok in the church.

Third, communion is adversely affected if fornicators participate. Jude says, “These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm…” (v.12a). The Lord’s Supper is only for those who are living in communion with God. The sexually immoral certainly do not qualify!

Fourth, those who are sexual offenders have rejected God (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). They are not merely rejecting their parents, their Sunday school teacher, their minister or the elders of the church—they are rejecting God himself. No wonder Jesus gets so upset!

Another reason that Jesus gets so angry about sexual immorality in the church is that it tarnishes the institution of marriage. Marriage is a wonderful concept that was designed by God for the benefit of mankind. If we try to redefine it or ignore it altogether, we pay the price. Marriage is intended to be a beautiful illustration of the relationship between Jesus and his church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Sexual immorality mars that picture and makes Jesus mad.

Furthermore, the sexually immoral are not included in God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), and if they don’t repent, they don’t get to go to heaven (Revelation 22:12-15). Since Jesus gave his life on the cross so that people could believe in him and be included in his kingdom and in his heaven, it’s no wonder Jesus gets mad that they would throw away an eternity of joy for a few moments of stolen pleasure.

Well, now you know how Jesus feels about sexual immorality in the church, and you know why. Do you agree with him?

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Truth Decay

When I lost my baby teeth I noticed that some of them had multiple cavities. I had heard over and over from my parents and teachers how important it was to take care of my teeth. I had never disagreed with them. It all made sense to me. I was all in favor of the principle of proper dental care. I just wasn’t putting the principle into practice.

However, this was a wake-up call for me. I distinctly remember deciding that from that time on I would be diligent about brushing my teeth. After all, I would only get one more set, and they would have to do me for a lifetime!

We only get one chance to live our lives. It’s good to know that God gives second chances and that forgiveness is available for Christians who make a mess of things. But we only get one life. It seems to make good sense to try to keep our lives as free from sin as possible. Let’s be diligent about holding onto the truth of God’s Word and applying it to our lives.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:32.

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Encountering Jesus

Many people are familiar with the story of the biblical character Zacchaeus, perhaps more so from the children’s song than from the account in Luke 19. Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, wanted to see Jesus, but because he was a short (wee little?!) man he had trouble seeing through the huge crowd of people who followed Jesus as he traveled along the way.

Not to be deterred, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the throng and climbed a tree in order to get a better view. Now he could get a really good look at Jesus when he passed by. His plan seemed to be working until something unexpected happened. Jesus did not pass by. Instead, he stopped, looked up in the tree and spoke to Zacchaeus. He told him to come down from the tree so that they could go to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus came down at once and gladly welcomed Jesus into his home.

Meanwhile, people began to mutter and gossip about Jesus going to visit such a sinful man as a despised tax collector. Why in the world would Jesus do such a thing?

At some point during his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus declared that he was giving half of his possessions to the poor, and that if he had cheated anybody, he would pay them back four times the amount.

Jesus was impressed with the reaction of Zacchaeus. He stated that salvation had come to his house and declared, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10).

What can we learn from this encounter with Jesus?

First of all, don’t let any short-coming (pun intended), real or imagined, deter you from seeking Jesus. Many people come up with various excuses not to pursue an encounter with Jesus. Show some determination and do whatever you have to do to get close to Jesus.

Secondly, don’t pay attention to the naysayers. Many will question why Jesus should care about people like you. Just know that he does. No matter what sins you might have committed in your past, Jesus wants to come into your life and have a relationship with you.

Third, we should know that Jesus rewards those who seek him. If we show that we are serious about getting close to Jesus, he will invite us to an even closer relationship than we ever imagined!

Fourth, we must realize that a true encounter with Jesus will bring dramatic and lasting change to our lives. Zacchaeus was very likely a greedy man before he met Jesus. After he spent time with Jesus he became extremely generous. The change was indeed remarkable! Jesus still changes people for the better, transforming his followers in ways that are observable, and quite often rather amazing.

Finally, let us understand that the ultimate purpose for having an encounter with Jesus is to experience that salvation that we all so desperately need; the salvation that only he can give.

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Resolving Conflict

In his book, “Making Things Happen”, Bob Russell relates the following story about how he and his wife handled a disagreement:

“When my wife and I were first married, she wanted to put up the Christmas tree two weeks before Christmas. To me that was sacrilegious, because in my home you put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve! We argued about that and finally we came to a compromise. She put up the Christmas tree two weeks in advance by herself! Compromise is not a matter of weakness. It is a matter of wisdom; a matter of tolerance.” (p.72).

Conflict is not pleasant, but it can’t be avoided. Whenever people have differing opinions, there is the chance for disagreement. It happens among friends, in families and in the church. Whenever conflict arises, we shouldn’t try to ignore it. Let’s deal with it quickly, before the situation escalates. Let’s try to remain humble and respect the wishes of others.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”—Philippians 2:3-4.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”—Psalm 133:1.

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Blessed Are the Poor

I recently attended a youth sporting event. Once I got there I realized that I had left my billfold at home. Having no money and no credit card left me feeling humbled. I could not purchase a bottle of water from the concession stand. I could not stop for gas on the way home. I felt needy and helpless.

That’s how we all should feel in the presence of God. We come before him spiritually penniless. We can purchase no favor from him. We cannot buy our way into good standing with the Lord. We are totally helpless and must completely rely on his grace and mercy.

Thankfully, through Jesus, God’s grace and mercy are available in abundance. God’s amazing grace is all we need to see us through!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 5:3.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”—Ephesians 2:9-10.

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Can’t Stop Talking!

Dennis the Menace had this to say about Margaret, his chatty little friend—“Margaret always has something that she can’t stop talking about.”

I suppose that we all have a friend who likes to talk a lot. Perhaps others could say that we are their talkative friend!

Much of what we talk about has little significance—the weather, our little aches and pains, the latest local news, how our favorite team is doing, etc.

However, we Christians have something very important to talk about—the salvation that we have received through Jesus. Jesus says that we are to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8) and that means that we should be talking about him. The Jewish leaders ordered the apostles not to teach in the name of Jesus, but that did not prevent them from filling Jerusalem with the gospel message (Acts 5:28).  This is what his followers had to say about Jesus—“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).

Let’s join in with the apostles, who said in Acts 4:20, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

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Time to Be Quiet

A young mother was trying to impress upon her small children the need for silence at certain times. She taught them over and over, “There are three times when you need to be especially quiet: at church, in the library and when Daddy’s team is losing!”

Silence is a rare and precious commodity these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion on every subject. People raise their voices in an attempt to be heard. Commentators and politicians talk over one another. With so many people clamoring for our attention, sometimes it’s hard to even hear yourself think!

We need to get away from the noise and commotion in order to focus on God. Psalm 4:4 says, “Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”

That sounds like good advice to me!

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Gifted to Serve

A talking horse showed up at a major league baseball park and asked the manager if he could try out for the team. This team was struggling to win games, and the manager was in danger of being fired, so he thought to himself, “What do I have to lose?”

So he gave the horse a tryout, and, much to the manager’s surprise, the horse could really hit a baseball! No matter what the pitcher threw, the horse could hit it. He sprayed the ball all over the park, and even hit a few over the fence!

The manager signed the horse to a contract and put him in the starting lineup that very night. In his first time at bat, the horse swung mightily and hit a long drive into the gap in left-center field. But the horse just stood a home plate. The manager screamed, “Run! Run!”

“Run?” the horse said. “If I could run, I’d be in the Kentucky Derby!”

We can’t be good at everything, but every Christian is good at something. We have all been gifted to serve in the kingdom in ways that build up the church. Just as a human body has many parts, each with its own unique function, so in the body of Christ each part has its own job to do.

Romans 12:4-8 says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

This is not a complete list of all the spiritual gifts, but most Christians see something in these verses that describes how God has enabled them to serve in the church. Every believer should understand their particular area of giftedness and strive to do their very best to fulfill their purpose in the church.

Those who try to serve in some way other than the way they have been gifted often find themselves frustrated and unfulfilled. They also tend to frustrate those with whom they are trying to serve.

However, those who have a good understanding of how God has blessed them to serve experience a kind of satisfaction that is found nowhere else. They find themselves in synch with God and with the people they are working with in the kingdom.

If you have not yet found out what your place of service in the kingdom is, ask a mature Christian to help you find it. And once you’ve found it, do your best to improve how you serve God and people in the unique way that God has blessed you to serve.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…”—2 Timothy 1:6.

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Jesus Is Still Relevant

Some people have the idea that the teachings of Jesus are out of date. Oh, he may have had some good thoughts back in his day, they suppose, but times are much different now. Surely we can’t expect to adhere to the teachings of a man who walked the earth nearly 2,000 years ago! Many doubt that the words of Jesus still hold any relevance for us today.

A thoughtful consideration of Scripture would prove these people wrong. For instance, let’s take a look at Mark 10, where Jesus answers a question about divorce—‘”It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”’ (Mark 10:5-9).

Here Jesus addresses issues that are still discussed today.

First, he talks about creation. Molecules-to-man evolution is a theory that has hung around for some time now, even though it denies good science and lacks credible evidence. It is extremely far-fetched to believe that mankind exists today because of a vast number of highly fortunate changes over billions of years that have allowed one-celled organisms to evolve into fish, that later evolved into mammals, that later evolved into primates, that later evolved into man. Someone called this theory, “from goo to you by way of the zoo!” It is far more reasonable to believe, as does Jesus, that God created people at the beginning of creation.

Second, Jesus talks about gender. He names two—male and female. I have filled out medical forms that gave me more than two options for gender. In reality, there are only two. You are one or the other. Many people are confused about gender, either for themselves, or for others. We must be kind toward those who are confused about gender. They are created in God’s image and Jesus died for them. We must be considerate with those who are struggling to understand gender issues. But we have to agree with Jesus on the matter. God has created us either male or female, and we must either accept that, or find ourselves struggling against the truth.

Jesus also talks about marriage. Marriage has fallen into hard times today. Many want to redefine it. Others want to ignore it completely, and attempt to steal pleasures that do not belong to them. But Jesus says that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman that creates a special bond. Within that bond, sexual activity is blessed by God. Outside of that bond, sexual activity is expressly forbidden. Jesus also points out that the marriage bond is to be a lifetime commitment. Those who don’t treat marriage with the respect that it deserves do themselves and others a great injustice.

So there you have it—creation, gender and marriage—all issues that are still being discussed today. This passage of Scripture is just one of many examples of how Jesus is still relevant today. If we want to live the best life possible, we would do well to give close examination to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

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Day of Encouragement

I wasn’t aware of it until after the fact, but September 12 was “National Day of Encouragement”. If there is anything we need in 2020, it is certainly encouragement! There is no need to go over once again that long list of woes that have caused so much discouragement in our nation. Many people are struggling for various reasons. We can’t solve everyone’s problems, but perhaps we can make life seem more manageable if we simply offer some encouragement.

The Bible talks a lot about encouragement. For one thing, it is a commandment to obey. 1 Thess.5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Every Christian is supposed to spend a significant amount of time encouraging other followers of Jesus.

Furthermore, for some Christians, encouragement is more than a duty; it is their spiritual gift. Rom.12:6-8 says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…if it is to encourage, then give encouragement…” Many believers have been enabled by the Holy Spirit to encourage others in various ways. This is their special way of building up the church.

So, if you have the gift of encouragement, you should constantly be looking for ways to exercise that gift, saying and doing things that lift people up and exhorting them to be all that they are called to be in Christ. And for those who may not be gifted in that area, remember that encouragement is still a responsibility for every Christian. We must always be seeking opportunities to fulfill that responsibility by brightening the day for other followers of Jesus.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, was such a good encourager that he was given the nickname “Barnabas”, which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). If we want to be known as sons and daughters of encouragement, we would do well to look at his example.

First, Barnabas encouraged others with his generosity. He sold a field that he owned and gave the money to the church (Acts 4:37). Such a big offering would lift the spirits of the entire congregation. However, even smaller gifts can go a long way to encourage someone who is in need. A gift certificate or some other gesture of generosity might be all it takes to make someone feel appreciated.

Another way that Barnabas practiced encouragement is seen in Acts 9:26-28. Here Saul was trying to join the disciples after his conversion, but they were afraid of him because of his history of persecuting Christians. But Barnabas vouched for Saul and told the apostles that his conversion was real. Because Barnabas stood up for him, Saul was accepted by other believers. Maybe there will come a time when you can encourage someone by helping them feel accepted in the church. Your testimony of their faithfulness might be just what they need to be encouraged in their faith.

Finally, Barnabas encouraged Saul by bringing him to Antioch and putting him to work teaching the new believers there (Acts 11:19-26). Many Christians long for fulfillment. They want to use their talents in a meaningful way to build up the kingdom. Is there someone you know who is looking for a way to have a positive impact in the church? By helping others to find their place to serve in the local congregation, we encourage them more than we will ever know.

May this day, and every day, be a day of encouragement!

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