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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Keeping Our Sense of Humor

We are now six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has been an unusual six months, to say the least. You never know if someone is simply applying hand sanitizer or wringing their hands over the latest news of the day.

Having extra time to reflect, I have learned some interesting things about myself this year. For instance, I never realized that I was a dog person. It’s true; I love all kinds of dogs…hot dogs, corn dogs, chili dogs…I am a true dog lover.

I have also learned some things about other people. For example, I never knew that Bigfoot’s name was Darrell. Did you know that? I sure didn’t.

We have all learned some things about health and science. Everyone now knows that for proper social distancing you must be six feet away from the person next to you. Unless the person is super annoying—then the distance is 35 miles.

Let’s try to keep our sense of humor, even in these trying times.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”—Proverbs 17:22.

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We Remember

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. Anyone who is old enough to remember the horrific event will never forget where they were or what they were doing when they first heard the news that America had been attacked.

Out of all the tragedy came inspiring stories of heroism. Some passengers on one flight fought back, preventing the terrorists from striking their intended target. Many firefighters and policemen rushed toward ground zero, ignoring the danger in order to try to save others. Civilians on the scene risked their lives in order to help people. Many lost their lives while engaged in these acts of heroism. We remember the courage of those who sacrificed everything in order to save others.

When we take communion, we remember the heroic sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus saw the devastation caused by sin, and he rushed to the scene. He came to earth and willingly laid down his perfect life as an atonement for the sinful life of every person who ever lived. This crucified and risen Jesus has the power to save everyone who will come to him in faith to receive the salvation that we all so desperately need.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”—1 John 2:2.

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Bringing People to Jesus

The second chapter of Mark’s gospel begins with a rather remarkable story. Jesus was preaching the word of God to people in a crowded house. Some men carried a paralyzed friend to the house, hoping Jesus could help him. However, they could not get to Jesus because of the crowd. Not to be deterred, they tore a hole in the roof and lowered the man into the presence of Jesus. Jesus forgave the man of his sins, and then, to prove that he had the authority to forgive sins, he healed the paralyzed man, who then proceeded to walk out of the place in full view of everyone. This amazed everyone there and prompted them to praise God for the miracle they had just witnessed.

From this episode in Mark we find some important principles about bringing people to Jesus.

First, it requires some work on your part to bring someone to Jesus. It takes time and effort. Make sure you put witnessing on your schedule. If you don’t make it part of your agenda, it probably won’t get done. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Second, sometimes it has to be a group effort to bring a person to the Lord. Most of the people that I have seen come to Christ have done so as a result of the efforts of multiple people in the congregation. Working together, we can do so much more than we could if we try to do it all by ourselves.

Third, it might cost something to bring people to Jesus. No doubt there were some practical people in the crowd who wondered who was going to pay for fixing the roof! Sometimes you have to spend money to bring people to Jesus. Let us not spare any expense in our evangelistic efforts. This should be an important part of every church’s budget.

Also, let’s not lose sight of the fact that spiritual healing is far more important than physical healing. Jesus immediately addressed the paralyzed man’s greatest need—to be forgiven. For him to be able to walk with God was far more critical than his need to be able to stand on his own two feet. Too often we pray more about physical needs than we do spiritual needs. I visited a church in Myrtle Beach that had a “lost list” printed in their bulletin along with the typical list of people who needed prayers for healing. Let’s never lose sight of the priority of evangelism.

Finally, let’s never underestimate the power of prayer. Some people will resist our efforts to bring them to Jesus. They don’t want to listen to us tell the story of the gospel—the good news that salvation is readily available through the crucified and resurrected Jesus. They politely decline our invitations to attend church services with us. However, no one can stop us from praying for their souls. As we bring them to Jesus in prayer, perhaps their hearts will soften up to the point where they will allow the message of salvation to work its wonders on their soul.

Let’s all be diligent in doing all we can to work together to bring people to Jesus.

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Rest for the Weary

Labor Day weekend is a time of rest and relaxation for most Americans. Many will get an extra day off to spend time with family, recovering from the rigors of work and taking a short break from everyday responsibilities.

Many of us feel an extra burden of weariness this year. We are tired of battling the coronavirus. We are weary of injustice, social unrest and violence. We are sick of the viciousness of a heated presidential election. Add all this to the struggles most of us face daily, and let’s face it—We are tired!

What better way to find rest than by participating in the Lord’s Supper this weekend? As we gather with other believers to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we experience relief from our burdens and a sense of renewed spirit. Our time of communion together gives us an infusion of strength and energy that enables us to do much more than merely carry on. Our time with Jesus gives us the power to worship and serve the Lord with great energy and enthusiasm!

So if you find yourself weary today, come and find rest in Jesus!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30.

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Empathy

These days it’s hard to know if someone is applying hand sanitizer or wringing their hands over all that’s happening in the world! We are still suffering in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are hurting financially, in part due to the pandemic. The issue of social justice has reached a boiling point in our country. And to top it all off, we are heading down the stretch of a contentious presidential election campaign that has highlighted just how divided our nation is politically.

Besides all of these concerns, people still have to deal with the problems that are inherently part of the human condition. Everyone has their own particular struggle with an issue relating to work, family, health or some other important area of life. All that many people are looking for is a little empathy—someone to talk with to share the burden, if only for a little while.

However, it seems like empathy is in short supply these days. It is a precious commodity, harder to find than toilet paper was just a few months ago!

Someone wrote to Dear Abby a few days ago with some suggestions about how we could be more empathetic. Briefly, here are some things we should understand about showing empathy.

First, we need to understand that we are not in a contest. We should not be trying to outdo the person who is sharing a problem with us. How quickly we point out that: we were out of a job for so many months also, that our aunt had that same physical problem, our boss is much meaner than theirs, our family is much more dysfunctional than theirs, and so on and so forth. Once again, it’s not a contest! We can’t make someone feel better by topping their woes with the problems that we or our loved ones have experienced. As tempting as it is, don’t go down that road! Even if you do have a similar sob story to relate, that is not what the person wants to hear from you.

Second, don’t try to solve the problem for them. No doubt they have many people lined up to give them advice that they didn’t ask for! They don’t need your solutions added to the pile! Of course, if they ask for your wisdom in dealing with their current circumstances, by all means feel free to share. But too often our unsolicited advice does nothing to alleviate their woes. In fact, it actually adds to them!

Finally, just listen. That’s usually all people want, a sympathetic ear. In the Old Testament, Job’s friends had a chance to comfort him in the midst of his legendary troubles. Then they ruined the opportunity by feeling like they had to say something! Good listeners are a rare breed, but they sure are appreciated in times of trouble. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Let’s make sure that we lend an ear to those who are seeking some empathy. It seems like the least we can do.

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