Beneath the Surface

My wife and I were recently discussing friendships that we’ve had over the years, both good and bad.  We spoke about what we believe makes a true friend and the things that are friendship killers in most people’s relationships.  We both agreed that sincerity and depth are what make true friendships last and what seems to be missing from most people’s relationships these days, and we realized that neither of us were immune from this problem in our lives.

As for me and my family, we’ve been on the receiving end of shallow relationships meant only to give the appearance of importance but lacking any substance at all.  Even though my wife is literally the most personable person I know and could easily befriend a complete stranger, nevertheless, we’ve faced down the disappointment of friendships that have never gone beyond surface level.

I mention all this to transition to the fact that this problem is very prevalent in the one place it shouldn’t be…namely the church.  While I’m not naïve to the thought that not everyone will be great friends within a church body, I can personally relate to the fact that very few friendships go beneath the surface.  Maybe it’s because we’re so busy these days, although I believe we use that excuse far too many times.  Maybe there are too many cliques inside most congregations that all too often and unknowingly alienate people who are not part of their group.

While I believe these factors have something to do with it, I think the problem lies with the average personality in the 21st century.  We are an arrogant society nowadays, mostly looking out for our own interests and having very little time for the interests of others.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule around us all the time, but generally speaking, we tend to look out for ourselves first.  Let’s ask ourselves these very pointed questions:

  • Do we take the time to actually focus on the underlying struggles that other people face, or do we just blindly add them to the prayer list?
  • Do we act friendly on the outside or only when others are around, but not truly care about the people around us?
  • Are the majority of our friendships and relationships with other Christians no deeper than a Facebook post now and then, or do we actually know them on the inside and know what really makes them tick?

I ask these difficult questions because we all need to be more aware of and considerate to those around us.  The church itself was created with intimate relationships in mind, and we all must do our part to make that happen.  The church is the last place where people should feel ostracized or judged or left out.  We have a common mission of serving God and helping one another live godly lives, and that is easier to accomplish when we’re friendly with one another on a deeper level than just talking about the weather or last night’s football game.

Take the time to meditate on the following verses of Scripture and look for ways that you can be a better friend to those around you.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5)

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  (Colossians 3:12-14)

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  (Proverbs 27:17)

-Joe Butler

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Preparing to Evangelize

Practice makes perfect.

Well actually, I don’t believe it makes you perfect.  Maybe a better word would be prepared.  When a public speaker goes over his speech several times before presenting, he’s much better prepared to speak with authority.  When an athlete spends hours practicing on the field or training in the gym, he is more than ready to face the opponent on game day.

As a Christian, don’t think for one minute that we don’t have the same task before us as well.  If we want to take seriously Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19-20), we must be prepared to evangelize.  We must take the time to learn, not just to attend church services or talk about our faith, but to put it into practice by training ourselves to share the good news.

First, we must have a desire to know the truth.  We can’t possibly teach people about God unless we have a firm grasp on the truth as God would have us to know it.  A great example of this is Ezra making preparations to teach the people of Israel.  “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).  The word “devoted” stands out to me as the primary focus of this passage.  Like Ezra, we have to devote ourselves to the study of God’s word.  We cannot rely only on a preacher to teach us everything we need to know concerning God’s commands.  We must prepare ourselves to teach by studying and learning the truth for ourselves (John 8:32).

Once we learn the truths contained in God’s word, we must be prepared to actually teach them (Hebrews 5:12-14).  We cannot continually make the excuse that we’re not ready or that we don’t know enough or that teaching is someone else’s job!  The writer of Hebrews eludes to the fact that, at some point, we should have the spiritual maturity to pass on the good news of Christ to others.  When those opportunities arise, we should…

  • make the most of those opportunities and use them effectively (Colossians 4:5).
  • know the gospel well enough to give a defense for our hope in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).
  • tell others the truth in a loving fashion with genuine concern for their souls and not a judgmental attitude towards their sin (Ephesians 4:15).

As a teacher, I’m keenly aware of the difficulty of conveying a new concept to a student.  Likewise, we have some challenges when teaching the gospel to the lost.  We must be prepared for all of the scenarios we may face and the arguments that may arise (2 Timothy 4:2).  The Bible refers to different styles of teaching for the different situations we may face…

While some of these teaching techniques are similar in nature, they are all effective ways to teach, and we must know which style to use with the person we are speaking to.  This is where the preparation comes in, and remember…

practice makes prepared!

-Joe Butler

 

What Will You Be Remembered For?

Abraham Lincoln.

What did you think of when you read that name?  16th President.  The Gettysburg Address and the Civil War.  Assassinated.  For such a historical figure as Lincoln, it’s easy to think of the major impact he had on our nation and on history.

Or how about Thomas Edison?  Of course we know him as a famous inventor, but are you aware of all the things he created that made life better and easier for us all?  With such creations as the phonograph, the light bulb, and the motion picture camera, it’s easy to see why Edison’s name will be remembered as one of the greatest minds of all time.

Some people are remembered for their achievements, some for their athleticism, and others simply for shining brightly during their fifteen minutes of fame.  But what will you be remembered for?  When (insert your name here) is written down after your passing, what will people think of?  That’s quite a sobering thought isn’t it?  Most of us will just live our lives with thoughts of how something might affect us or our immediate friends and family.  But our impact, especially if you’re a Christian, is more far-reaching than that.

Now, I don’t personally know every reader of my blog.  You may have great influence in your career or your community.  You may do great things amongst your small circle of friends, but I want to look specifically at the things all Christians should be remembered for that have the biggest impact on the world around us.

  1. LOVE– You can’t say the name Christian without saying the word love.  At least that’s the way it should be.  Those words are synonymous with everything it means to follow Christ.  Everything that Jesus ever did on earth, even down to his death on the cross, exemplified the true meaning of love (Matthew 22:37-40).  We too, should be known for the love we show, not only to God, but to others.
  2. FAITH– Another word that is compatible with the idea of Christianity is faith.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), so if your life is not remembered as a life lived in faith, you are an oxymoron.  You can’t be a Christian without it.
  3. BOLDNESS– Any brief study of the life of the Apostle Paul, or any of the other apostles for that matter, would reveal a life of boldness.  That’s part of the reason why we remember these obscure disciples to this day.  Their boldness in delivering the gospel message in their time allows us to practice our Christian beliefs today.  The world continues to need bold Christians to get out of the church pews and preach the gospel to a lost and dying world.
  4. PERSEVERANCE– Every Christian should count themselves blessed, if at the end of their life, they can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  The Christian life, if lived according to the Bible, will be tough at times, and perseverance is needed to make it through.
  5. KINDNESS/ GENEROSITY– Sure, kindness and generosity are not only hallmarks of Christianity, but are highly sought after moral traits in the secular world as well.  Many people exemplify this kind of consideration to those around them.  But our ability to evangelize and bring people to Christ begins with kindness and generosity.  Meeting the physical and emotional needs of others is a stepping stone to meeting their spiritual needs as well (Ephesians 4:32, 1 John 3:17-18, Acts 20:35).

What will you be remembered for?  Let it not be about all the things of this world; the success, the money, the achievements.  Live a life wholly dedicated to the service of God and others.  Live a life, that by godly standards, really does matter now and for years to come.

-Joe Butler

Refocus

I’m still reeling from the heartless, evil shooting that took place in Las Vegas recently.  Far removed from the terror and grief that the victims are feeling, I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around why such tragic events occur and why such evil even exists.

There are the obvious reasons.  Hate is at an all-time high in America, so much so that the nightly news is filled with stories of racism, murder, and road rage.  There’s also the greed of politicians and American businesses like the gun industry who care more about making money off of the sale of dangerous weapons than they care about protecting Americans from tragic acts like this shooting.  There’s the disappointment over the apathy that some in the church show in times like these instead of more boldly standing up for the Christian principles that our country was founded upon.

All these reasons and more are easily beginning to mire us in negativity and making us focus only on the bad that lies around us.  I don’t fault myself for feeling this way, and I don’t blame others for feeling the same.  I spent the entire day after the shooting dwelling on what an ugly world we live in at times and that I’m forced to raise my family in this environment.  And then I decided it was time to change the way I think.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

I wonder if Paul was on to something here.  You see, the era he lived in was filled with many of the societal ills that we face today.  To be sure, they didn’t have assault rifles and thus didn’t have mass shootings, but they did have crucifixions and persecution under the corrupt occupiers of Rome.  They had problems with the blatant immorality of adultery, murder, and homosexuality in Paul’s time as well.  And what did Paul ask Christians of his day to do?  He asked that they fill their minds with things that are good and positive and righteous.  He asked that they not worry about the difficulties and sinful behaviors that they saw in their daily lives.  He asked that they refocus on whatever is right.

And we must do the same.

While many people died in Las Vegas recently at the hands of some deranged madman, there were many more who showed great heroism and empathy in caring for the strangers around them in the aftermath of the shooting.  While our government seems to do nothing but argue and show signs of corruption and disrespect, we can still be thankful that we enjoy the freedoms that we do, especially our freedom to worship as we please.  While there are many groups out there promoting racism and hatred to anyone who will listen, there are far more people who are willing to love their neighbor and help those who are in need.

Refocus.  There’s plenty of good out there if you take the time to look.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: He Still Creates

One of the most amazing attributes of God, and one which is passed down to us, is the ability to create.  God, out of nothing, created the entire universe, everything we can see and many things that we can’t.  Simply with the sound of his voice, the heavenly bodies found their origin.  When he uttered the words, mountains rose into view and thousands of species of birds took flight.  That beach you love to lounge on?  Created in an instant.  Your favorite animal?  It was inspired by the mind of God.

It’s amazing to think that over six days, God put into motion all that there is.  But did you know that he still creates today?  He has the power to take you and literally make you new!

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

(2 Corinthians 5:17)

When we become one with Christ (Romans 6:3-8), he takes our old, sinful selves and banishes them once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-17).  The decaying, broken-down, sinful person inside of you is made new.  We are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27) and will be made like him at Christ’s return (1 John 3:2).

He still creates!

-Joe Butler

Build Up Instead of Tear Down

The World Trade Center compound in New York City was just another engineering marvel.  Finished in 1972 and built over the course of 3 years, the two main towers contained thousands of offices and was the center of finance and commerce in the New York metropolitan area for many years.

And then came the fateful morning of September 11, 2001, when our nation came under attack by militant terrorists.  Two planes, hijacked with reckless intent, were flown into the World Trade Center towers at 8:46 and 9:03 that morning.  The south tower crumbled into ruin only 56 minutes after being hit, and the north tower collapsed 102 minutes after impact.  What took years to design and construct took mere minutes to be destroyed.  It’s very hard and time-consuming to build up, but very easy to tear down.

With that in mind, have you ever noticed how often the Bible mentions encouraging one another?  It’s definitely a reoccurring theme throughout Jesus’ ministry, and especially evident in many of Paul’s letters to the churches he worked with.  God knows we need the encouragement of one another.  He knows we can be easily torn down by the difficulties of this life and that we need to be built up from time to time.

Is being a Christian hard at times?  Is the world around us quite unforgiving and difficult to live in?  Are temptations knocking at your door occasionally and it’s all you can do to keep on the straight and narrow?  One of the very reasons why the church itself exists is for encouragement in times like these.

 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:29, 32)

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Let’s look at each one of these passages of Scripture individually and learn what God has to teach us about being an encourager:

  1. WHAT YOU SAY AND HOW YOU ACT REALLY DO MATTER (Ephesians 4:29, 32).  Most people believe that this passage in Ephesians is biblical proof against cursing, and while that’s true, it’s so much more than that.  Yes, how we speak can have a tremendous bearing on our ability to build others up.  While vulgar language is just one example of ways to tear others down, so is sarcasm, crude joking, and gossip.  On the contrary, a kind word offered at just the right moment can work wonders in the lives of others (Proverbs 12:25).  Also, look at the last part of this passage.  We are instructed to be kind, considerate, and forgiving to one another.  Who wouldn’t be drawn to Christ’s church if that’s how they saw Christians treating each other?
  2. THE CHURCH HAS OTHER MISSIONS BESIDES JUST  WORSHIPPING GOD (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Most of us who attend a church service regularly have heard this passage referenced as a command to not miss meeting together.  Yes, it’s true that the Bible does specifically mention Christians gathering with one another.  While this verse may or may not be directly addressing what we think of as an “organized” worship service, nevertheless, it does remind believers that we should gather together frequently to “stir up one another to love and good works.”  If we are making excuses to not gather corporately for worship or other fellowship activities, we miss out on that encouragement and become more susceptible to the temptations of this world.  When it comes to the church as God designed it, the more we’re together, the better (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  3. RELIGIOUS UNDERSTADNING DOESN’T TAKE THE PLACE OF LOVE (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  I really love this passage of Scripture for its brutal honesty.  Many times, there is so much emphasis in Christianity placed on biblical truth and knowledge.  Arguments abound over doctrinal and hermeneutical differences, and Christians lose track of what Jesus told us to focus on.  When we are told to love God with all we have and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40), we must know that faith and knowledge without works (love) is dead (James 2:26).  In the case of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13, we can know that without love, all the tongue-speaking, prophecying, and miracle-working is pointless.  If we don’t encourage and care for one another, we’re just playing the role of Christian in name only.

16 years have passed since the comfort of our nation was rocked by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  The victims and families, even the country as a whole, will forever remember the hurt that was caused by the collapse of those buildings in New York City.  The scars will remain forever.  As Christians, we should resolve to be encouragers to those around us, to build up instead of tear down.  There are already enough demoralizing things to deal with in the world today.  Let’s not have any of them come from the church.  Let us be an inspiration for all those watching, to show what it means to be a follower of Christ.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: We All Need Jesus

“The problem we have with Jesus isn’t that he gives life and grace freely, but that we have to admit our need for it.  It’s hard to convince people Jesus is a great Savior when they don’t think they need saving.”

(Jefferson Bethke- “Jesus > Religion”)

Wow!

Just let that quote sink in for a minute.  We’re all sinners in need of a Savior.  The “I’m a good person” line of thinking doesn’t work with God.  Just because you think you’re better or more righteous than someone else doesn’t mean you meet Jesus’ standard of holiness.

Sound harsh?  Not really.  It’s actually quite liberating to let go of the rat race idea of trying to work our way into the good graces of God.  Just like the Pharisees treated God’s law as a checklist (John 5:39-40), we sometimes read the Bible as a policies and procedures manual in order that God will be pleased with us.  But it doesn’t work that way.  We have to learn that we’ll never check off enough boxes to be good enough to deserve his grace.

That’s the freedom we have in Christ.  When we humbly come to him as the penitent sinner that we are, he offers his grace and forgiveness free of charge.  We just have to get the point to admit that…

each and every day!

-Joe Butler