How Worn Are Your Bootstraps?

I’m not a fan of starting off any of my writing pieces with the rote definition of a word or phrase, but today I’m going to make an exception.  I’m sure most of us have heard or have used the phrase “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”  It’s an idiom, a figure of speech that means “to begin an enterprise or recover from a setback without any outside help; to succeed only on one’s efforts or abilities.”  The original use of this phrase, known to be around since the early 1800’s, was to show how someone had attained a difficult or even impossible task.

My mom and dad and their parents before them are all “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of people, and they in turn taught me and my siblings that if you want something, you go out and make it happen.  My dad has never been one to make excuses, and those lessons have paid off greatly in life.  In fact, much of our lives would be far easier if we would buckle down and put in the hard work for the things we want.  We would probably see a dramatic decline in some of our societal ills as well if that were the case.

While this figure of speech is appropriate for our success in everyday life, it doesn’t really work in our relationship with God.  As the definition implies, we cannot just go about trying to save ourselves by our own abilities.  For some reason, we sometimes get it in our minds that if we work just a little bit harder or we’re just a little bit better than those in the world around us, then God will be pleased with our effort.  That simply isn’t true.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Even though we’ve done nothing to deserve the grace of God, we’re still not released from some responsibility on our part.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 15:10).  I believe God, in his word, has made it very clear how he would want us to conduct ourselves and what we should be doing with the talents and blessings he has given us.  We have to “make every effort” to grow as a Christian so that we will come to know God and be more effective in the lost world in which we live (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Are you bootstraps becoming a little worn out?  How’s that working for you?  My guess is that you’re trying too hard to make your own rules and do things your own way and now your spiritual life is more of a religion than practicing true, biblical Christianity.  Instead, remember that while a responsible Christian knows how to please God through their obedience and prepared works (Ephesians 2:10), they also know that apart from God, they can do nothing (John 15:4-5).  By all means, work hard and put forth the effort to show God gratitude for all that he’s done, but recognize that without him, we really are nothing.

-Joe

Monday Motivation: The Gospel is the Best News

The Gospel.

The Good News.

The Best News!

Our news broadcasts, our newspaper reporting, our general outlook on the world is not so good, to put it politely.  Wars rage, conspiracy theories abound, racism and hatred still permeate our world.

And yet.

And yet we know that Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins that whosoever would believe in him could be saved and have eternal life (John 3:16).  I know you probably knew that news.  If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve heard it preached about and quoted constantly.  In fact, you may have heard it so often that the good news is not the best news any more.  It’s gotten replaced by the news of a job promotion, or that your house finally sold, or that a new baby was on the way.  All of those are great reasons to celebrate, but none of them compare to the best news…the gospel.  Mark Batterson, in his book “All In,” has said it best:

“The moment you bow your knee to the lordship of Jesus Christ, all of your sin is transferred to Christ’s account and paid in full.  It was nailed to the cross two thousand years ago!  But that’s only half the gospel.  Mercy is NOT getting what we deserve- the wrath of God.  Grace is getting what you DON’T deserve- the righteousness of Christ.  Everything you’ve done wrong is forgiven and forgotten.  And everything Christ did right- His righteousness- is transferred to your account.  And then God calls it even.

It’s like God says, ‘I’ll take the blame for everything you did wrong and give you credit for everything I did right.’  It doesn’t get any better than that, and that’s why it’s called the gospel.  It’s not just good news.  It’s the best news.”

Take the time today to really let the gospel sink deep into your heart and soul.  Don’t just tritely memorize scripture or say a few prayers of thanksgiving and think that the gospel has made a difference in your life.  Meditate on the immeasurable sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf and remember… the gospel has, is, and always will be the BEST news.

-Joe

 

Allies and Enemies

alliesTry this experiment for me.  Ask anybody you know, anyone at all what they would want more of.  I’m sure you’ll hear the usual answer of money or something else of that nature.  But by in large, most people would wish for more time.  I know personally I would.  Like most people my age, life is busy.  My time is spent working, tending to errands, spending time with family, and worshipping and serving at my church.  Of course , there’s some time left over for personal hobbies  or pursuits, but most of my day is already accounted for.

Since our time is such a valuable commodity and most of us wish we had more of it, it makes sense that we would make the most of our time.  With that said, the people who we choose to spend our time with becomes important as well.  I’ve titled this post “Allies and Enemies,” and while most people we interact with on a day-to-day basis do not easily fit into one of those two categories, I hope you’ll see that the time we spend with others can either be a negative or positive experience.

The Bible spends some time admonishing us to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 10:23-25, Ephesians 4:29) to serve one another (Ephesians 5:21, Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 5:25) and to choose our influences wisely (Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 10:17).  It makes sense that with a limited amount of time, we would be wise to spend it with those who are allies, people who look out for us and provide a positive influence and example.  “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  The impact a godly person can have on another is tremendous, so we should choose to spend our very valuable time with those who help us in that respect.  Those people can greatly affect where our minds dwell as well (Philippians 4:8). 

On the other hand, those people who don’t have our best interest at heart can do great damage to our life, even to our very souls!  “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  We are sorely mistaken if we don’t believe that the negative influence of others cannot affect us in drastic ways.  I myself have been impacted by a few negative influences and in every case, it turned out badly.  Time was wasted, feelings were hurt, and my spiritual walk with God was damaged in the process.  Luckily, I was able to get away from negative circumstances that sought to ruin important areas of my life.

When was the last time you really examined how you use your time and who you spend it with?  It would be a good idea to really determine whether the people in your life are allies or enemies.  If they are all about helping you live a more holy life, then definitely make time for them.  If they are toxic and breed jealousy or sap your energy and enthusiasm, then it might be wise to consider that they are hurting you in the long run.  There’s only so much time in the day…use it wisely.

-Joe

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What would it be like to be friends with someone really famous?  What would it be like to be friends with the president of the United States?  Better yet, what would it be like to be friends with every president of every influential country around the world?  Imagine the sway you could hold over some of the most important decision makers of our time.  Think of what it must be like to be in the know in regards to all of the policy decisions made each and every day, not to mention the popularity such friendships would bring.

You might expect that to be friends with that many world leaders would require some background in politics or at least some ability in public relations.  But what if it were just you or me, just an average, everyday person with a family, a normal job, and a normal life who was friends with the most important people in the world?  Or even better, what if you were friends with someone even more important…say the Creator of the entire universe?

It is not heresy to say that we can call ourselves friends of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It’s God himself who says we have this friendship and it is the most intimate and impactful thing we have as Christians.  No other religion in the world claims to have a god so interested in the well-being of its followers.  But as Christians, as dearly beloved children of the one true God, we can know that our Creator wants that kind of relationship with us.  Jesus seeks us and waits for us to invite him in as our friend (Revelation 3:20).  And he doesn’t just pick you if your life is perfect either.  He communes with even the worst of society (Matthew 11:19).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

(John 15:12-17)

Jesus does offer this friendship freely and of his own accord, but like any friendship, it’s not simply one sided.  Jesus will always love you even if you deny him, but he wishes that you would reciprocate that love.  He asks that we…

  • love one another (vs. 12)
  • obey his commands (vs. 14)
  • bear fruit in our lives (vs. 16)

His love and friendship should cause us to show that love to others.  We have been given much so that we can give to others.  Also, true friendship with Jesus means we accept him as our Lord and we obey him as a result.  We don’t take advantage of his generosity and use it to do what we want.  Finally, a friendship with Jesus will manifest fruit in our lives.  You can’t spend time with the vine and not bear the fruits of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:1-10).

I know it would seem great to be friends with all the important leaders from around our world.  It seems as if they hold the kind of clout we would love to be a part of.  But there’s nothing like having a friendship with Jesus, the one friend who will always love us even more than we could love ourselves.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Are You Ready to Trust God?

“Avoiding sin isn’t about us not getting in trouble; it’s about us trusting that the Creator knows his creation best and has designed the world to work in a certain way.  Everything outside of his creative order is a distortion, and when we follow that fractured path, we are implying we are our own gods and know better  than he does.  This isn’t primarily homosexuality, idolatry, drunkenness, greed, or right or wrong.  The issue is, are we going to trust that God knows best or that our thoughts, wills, and emotions are best?

(Jefferson Bethke- “Jesus>Religion”)

My Monday Motivation posts are all about providing positive motivation for the week ahead.  What’s your motivation for having a relationship with God?  Were you taught at a young age and just continue to do the church thing because it’s what you’ve always done?  Is there comfort and familiarity in being religious or attending church services on a weekly basis?  Do you try really hard to be a good person and follow the Bible and hope that your life is pleasing to God?

These are great questions to ask because our motivation behind why we follow God really matters.  He doesn’t want people who proclaim to love him on Sundays and then live life for themselves during the rest of the week.  He’s saddened when we talk about love and mercy in our Bible classes but go out in the world and only love those who love us first or love only ourselves.  God has created everything, even the commands he hands down to us, for our good.  Everything (outside of sin) about this world we live in is put in place to work a certain way.  When we live as if we know better than God, we are basically saying, “I don’t trust you.”

Are you ready to trust God?  Do you believe that he loves you and has your best interest at heart?  Do you know that your rebellion and sin deeply sadden him and that he just wants an intimate relationship with you, to know that he has given everything to call you his child?  For the rest of this week, really think about your motivation for calling yourself a Christian.  It’s not just a name.  It’s a life completely dedicated and surrendered to a loving and gracious God.

-Joe

Freelance Christianity

freelanceTake a look at my home page of this blog and you’ll find at the top in the header a new logo for Faith and Footsteps.  As much as I’d like to take credit for this awesome artwork, I can’t.  The logo was designed by my brother Steve who is a graphic designer by trade and a pretty good one if I say so myself.  I called him one day with an idea for a logo and within 10 minutes, he had sent me three separate designs for me to choose from.  I think it took me longer to decide which one to choose than it took for Steve to design them.

Steve does have a fulltime graphic design job with a firm located in Buckhead, Georgia, but he’s also had success doing a lot of freelance work on his own.  What’s nice about his freelance projects is he can decide what jobs to take and what kind of designs he wants to do.  Even though he works closely with clients on the particulars of their idea, he’s at liberty to design how he wants.  I really envy his ability to call the shots.  For someone as creative as my brother, he gets to do what he really loves to do everyday and that’s a wonderful blessing.

While doing freelance work in business is a productive way to make a living, treating Christianity that way can be awfully counterproductive.  Some believers try to freelance their way through their religious experience.  They are unwilling to follow God, to work with other believers, or to be accountable to Christ or the church at all.  While I’ll admit that a lot of our Christian walk is a very personal experience, it’s not only about personal holiness.  The purposes of God are best achieved when believers work in a coordinated effort with one another.  We shouldn’t pull away from the church, our spiritual family, to practice our own spiritual life alone.  In order to walk in the Spirit, we must be functioning in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

I hope I’m not alone in saying this, but there’s far too many Christians today who are trying to live separate lives at church and at home.  I do understand though because our society rewards personal responsibility and enjoying our own freedoms.  But the children of God should be different from the world and one way we can do that is to admit we need one another as we work to follow Christ.  We should step away from the ideas of the “all about me” Christianity or freelance Christianity, and instead give other Christians and the church the proper respect and attention they deserve.

(If you’re looking to have any design projects done to include website design, logo and identity packages, or print and email marketing, be sure to visit my brother’s website at http://butlercreative.com/.)

-Joe

 

The Purpose of Your Preacher

pulpitEvery day, I get to stand in front of a captive audience of 8-year-olds.  It’s quite the responsibility to be entrusted with those children for the nine months that I have them during the school year.  I used to be nervous each morning wondering how I was going to keep them interested and I how I was going to help them learn that day’s lessons.  After 12 years in education, that nervousness has been replaced with the comfort of familiarity.

The same has become true of my opportunities to preach.  No, I’m not a fulltime, paid pulpit minister, but I’ve had quite a few chances to preach as a fill-in or to preach a summer series sermon.  After all those opportunities, I’ve taken the time to examine why I do it.  The easy answer would be to say that I love God, that I want to serve him in the ways he has gifted me, and this is one of those ways.  Those answers are undoubtedly true, but there are other important reasons as well.

Preaching the word is meant to encourage, instruct, and to admonish (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It’s meant to declare the truth to a lost world in desperate need of hearing the good news.  I’ve found that it’s not difficult to make people feel good by talking about God’s love or his forgiveness.  People are starving for the truth and lots of preachers give that to them every Sunday.  Other preachers spend a lot of time talking about the coming wrath of God and how we must all repent or face the realities of hell.  All of those teachings are in God’s word, but a preacher’s job is much bigger than that.

One of the main jobs of any preacher dedicated to serving God and his people is to prepare the saints for work.  Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us we will reach the fullness of Christ when we become mature, actively working Christians.  Preachers, myself included, are supposed to equip followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to be effective disciples for Christ.  It’s not our job to entertain you or make you feel good all the time.  It’s to help you grow into a better understanding of the role you play in Christ’s church.

The Bible spends a lot of time reminding us of the importance of a unified church, one where each member is working for the benefit of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).  The preacher’s responsibility is to instruct and encourage saints in finding their gift and to get to work using it.   As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). 

The second verse of that passage should really weigh heavily on the hearts of all who preach God’s word.  We have been given the task of speaking to others on behalf of God.  Not speaking for God with our own words or thoughts, but making a thorough study of God’s word so we can teach it to others.  The end result is bringing  praise to God, not notoriety for ourselves for our biblical knowledge or application.

The purpose of your preacher is a great one indeed!  They have a tough job, and many times a thankless one, but we can help by being good students.  Be willing to learn, open to admonishment and self-examination, and get ready to work because discipleship is the job of all those who call themselves Christians.

-Joe