Powerful Words (Blogs Revisited)

Powerful Words (Originally published May 28,2013)

“As a reading and language arts teacher, I love to read and write.  In fact, writing is one of my favorite things to teach because it truly is an art form.  I tell my students to “paint a picture with words” just as a painter does with paint or a sculptor does with clay.  Good writing is meant to be read and the reader can take these vivid words and descriptions along with their imagination and create an image in their mind of what the writer was saying.  Writing is not like the finite rules of math or the provable laws of science.  Writing is fluid and takes its shape from its creator.

This very thought led me to look at God’s word this way as well.  The inspired word of God is very descriptive and can be used in many ways if we will open our hearts to receive it.  Hebrews 4:12 says that, ” the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This passage is one of the most important verses in the Bible because it tells us how powerful the rest of His word is.

-HIS WORD IS ALIVE!  God’s word is not only relevant to the time in which it was written.  It applies to us today and is active in teaching us things we need to know.

-HIS WORD IS SPIRIT!  God’s word can cut right to our souls if we will receive it.  When we open our hearts and allow God’s word to penetrate, His power can then work within us to effect real change in our lives and our being.

-HIS WORD IS JUDGE!  God’s word can literally judge our attitudes, thoughts, and intentions.  We may be able to fool others with false Christianity or a false servanthood, but we can’t fool God.

As we can see, the word of God is very special…as important as God Himself.  He is the word and when we read and study our Bibles, we are literally conversing with and learning from our God.”

I still love to read more than ever, probably even more so than when I wrote the above post back in 2013.  And while I’ve gained a lot of enjoyment and insight into Christianity while reading other books, there’s no better place to turn to learn about God and his will for our lives than the Bible.  As the above post mentions, we are literally conversing with and learning from God when we read his word.  It’s as though he is speaking to us directly, instructing and encouraging us in our walk with him.

I love the fact that his word is literally living.  It doesn’t change over time or transform with the beliefs of the day, but the Bible can be used to answer all of the questions that life may throw at us, even in the 21st century and beyond.  Because his word is Spirit as well, it can change our hearts from the inside, making us more like Christ as we live our lives for him.  Also, there is no escaping the simplicity of the word and it’s command on our life.  The Bible easily judges our thoughts and actions and holds them to the highest standard…Jesus himself!

As a Christian, I would encourage you to delve deeply into the word of God on a regular basis.  Meditate on his commands and principles and see that his word can assist you in anything this life may offer.

-Joe Butler

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Preparing For That Place

Confession time.

I’m a closet Disney fan.  Since my honeymoon almost 17 years ago, I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida too many times to even count.  We had Passholder tickets each year, and even though I live about a 7 hour drive away from the Disney resort, we always went several times a year.  There’s just something about walking into the Magic Kingdom or Epcot that puts a big smile on my face and makes me feel like a kid again.

My family and I are planning another trip to Disney over the Veteran’s Day weekend in November, which is now only about a month away, so we’re getting excited about planning our vacation.  Our tickets have already arrived in the mail, so the trip is now a reality.  We’ve been watching Disney vlogs on YouTube, researching different restaurants on the Disney website, and making reservations for our favorite rides, all in anticipation of our big trip.

Now, I’m not really an OCD planner.  I do actually leave time open on my vacations to relax and let things happen as they come, but I like to have my days somewhat organized, especially on a busy vacation like Disney World.  It never hurts to be prepared.  The significance of planning cannot be overlooked when talking about our Christianity as well.  There is a certain level of preparation involved when getting ready to meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and while some of that preparation is done on our own, much of it is done by Jesus himself.  While Jesus prepares a place for us (John 14:1-3), he is also preparing us for that place.

An appropriate analogy of this process is mentioned in the 15th chapter of the book of John.  There, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).  Through the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), we are being pruned to be more like Jesus.  In this way, we are able to, “supplement (our) faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

You can see through these passages that God is preparing us everyday to be more like his Son Jesus.  He is getting us ready for the day when we make our trip to Heaven to be with him forever.  The important thing to remember is the preparation we are making as Christians is far more important than getting ready for a family vacation or planning for retirement.  The growth that God makes in us should be far more valuable than riding the newest ride at an amusement park or making sure we are getting the most prestigious education.

Are you preparing for the day of his return (Matthew 24: 42, 44)?

-Joe Butler

When Do You Cut the Strings?

“Live in the world, but not of the world.”

Have you ever heard that phrase?  It’s a common religious axiom that I’ve heard used throughout my life as a Christian, and one which has a strong sense of truth behind it.  Christians are called to take our light…our values, faith, and hope, out into the sinful world around us in hopes of winning others to Christ through the Gospel.

Sometimes, though, problems arise from the relationships we develop with unbelievers, and the wise and discerning Christian needs to be aware and ready to react to any circumstance that may pull them away from God.  Whether we would like to admit it or not, we humans have the tendency to be affected by the environment that surrounds us.  The Bible succinctly warns, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  It’s not hard to imagine how worldly situations and worldly people can overcome our will to follow God and cause us to sin.  On the other hand, shouldn’t we do all in our power to serve others and hopefully bring them to Christ?  That’s when the question naturally arises: When do you cut the strings?

Throughout the Bible and the recorded teachings of Jesus, we have the admonition to put God first in all that we do.  From “seeking him first” (Matthew 6:33) to allowing Christ to live through us (Galatians 2:20), we are reminded that God seeks our complete loyalty and dedication.  With that important command in mind, the answer to our question is simple.  If the circumstances or relationships we find ourselves in are causing us to turn our focus away from God, it may be time to cut those strings.

If we’re honest though, that’s much easier said than done.  Some of us seek so strongly to please others that we allow their negativity or sinfulness to drag us down.  Others are easily swayed by very personal and specific temptations that Satan throws their way and it would be wise to stay away from any environment that they do not have the spiritual maturity to withstand.  In any case, each individual Christian must be aware of their surroundings and listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit within us when we feel like we may be getting in too far over our head in regards to temptation.

It’s obvious that God wishes us to use our lives and our influence to teach others about him.  He promised he would be with us in that endeavor (Matthew 28:19-20), so we are left with the reminder to rely on his strength and his wisdom when dealing with the trappings of this world.  Always put God first and he will be sure guide you through whatever it is you may face.

-Joe Butler

“What Do I Need Church For?” (Blogs Revisited)

What Do I Need Church For? (Originally Published April 1, 2013)

“God never intended for us to live out our spiritual lives on our own.  When someone is connected to Christ through baptism, they are also connected with the saints… everyone else who is in Christ.  We need each other and we need to be faithful to His church.  We must not forget that the “church” is not the meeting place where we gather on Sunday mornings to worship God.  We are the church and we are the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27).  It’s unacceptable to God to say we love Him and yet not participate fully in a local church.  Admittedly, people are turned off at times by a church because it is full of sinful people.  It’s so easy to look at the faults of others as an excuse to give up on church or not get involved.  On the other hand, how beneficial would it be if more people would examine themselves and their motives for a lack of church participation?

Following are some ideas for sparking our desire to spend time with Christ and His church:

1.Attend and get involved:  Don’t expect to grow closer to God and other christians if you’re never at church.  It’s important to consistently attend and not just sit in the back where you can make a quick exit.  Get involved, find a place to serve, and don’t wait for an invitation. 

2. Focus on Jesus, not on others:  Jesus is perfect, people are not.  If you’re looking for a perfect church, let me know when you find one because they do not exist.  Be forgiving of others just as you would expect forgiveness for yourself.

3. Be a blessing:  Are you known as an eternal pessimist?  Do you just take and never give?  God gave each of us unique gifts not just to serve ourselves, but to use to give, serve, and encourage others.  Look up the word edification.  It is one of the most important functions of the church.

4. Share God with others:  This is God’s ultimate mission for us.  If we really love Him and are grateful for everything He has done in our lives, we should be bursting at the seams to share Him with others.  And after they become a part of God’s family, look for ways to love, serve, and help them.

As a final word, although I’ve been a Christian for a while, I need you.  I need to see you at church.  I need to know you’re praying for me.  I need your encouragement.  I need your forgiveness and your patience.  I need your love.  But most of all, I want to join hands with as many saints as possible as we seek to know and serve our God from now into eternity.”


I have written many posts over the last few years referencing the importance of the church, but this was the first one I penned for this blog.  To be honest, part of me understands the discontent some have with the church.  Have I been hurt or let down by my Christian brothers and sisters before?  Have there been decisions and situations that I have not entirely agreed with within my church family?  Sure, but by in large, my spiritual family has provided a great amount of support and encouragement during my Christian walk.

It’s not difficult to look into God’s word and find a major importance placed on the church.  It baffles me to think that some Christians want to have a relationship with Christ without having a relationship with the church.  That is impossible because the church is the bride of Christ, the bride he died to save. It would be like trying to grow a plant without the sun.  We cannot completely grow as Christians without the nurturing of the church.

It really boils down to the attitude we have.  Do we love God enough to love his bride as well, even with her imperfections?  And if we are not loving the church as we’re called to do, are we really loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

I’ll end the revisit of this post the same way I ended the last one.  “Although I’ve been a Christian for a while, I need you.  I need to see you at church.  I need to know you’re praying for me.  I need your encouragement.  I need your forgiveness and your patience.  I need your love.  But most of all, I want to join hands with as many saints as possible as we seek to know and serve our God from now into eternity.”

-Joe Butler

 

 

Celebration

Yesterday was by far my most enjoyable day as a Father as I had the opportunity to baptize my daughter into Christ and watch her dedicate her life to being a Christian.  I thought I knew what it felt like in your heart to truly celebrate, but yesterday’s events gave new meaning to that word.  Words couldn’t begin to express how much God has blessed me through my beautiful daughter.  I’ve watched her grow physically, but more importantly, I’ve watched her grow spiritually as her love for God has blossomed over the last few years.

Psalm 118:24 has always been a favorite passage of mine for it reminds us that each day is truly a blessing from the Lord.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Needless to say, I have much to rejoice about today, and every day for that matter, because my wonderful daughter Emma has been saved!!!

God is so good!

-Joe Butler

Why Are You a Christian? (Blogs Revisited)

Why Are You a Christian (Originally published March 13, 2013)

“Why are you a Christian?  Do we ever stop to really think about why we profess to be a Christian?  On the surface, the answer seems to be self-explanatory.  Upon deeper reflection, I think you’d be surprised as to why you or anyone else “really” claims that title.

Some claim to be a Christian because it’s what we do.  Our nation, started on Christian principles as some would say, has claimed Christianity almost like a national religion.  Sure, other religious practices abound in America, but they are drastically outnumbered.  Christianity, in all its denominational forms, is practiced by most of us claiming a religious belief.  (I’ll go ahead and say right here that denominationalism is, in fact, not really Christianity at all but man’s feeble attempt to mold God’s law to his desires.  The church of Christ is the church of Christ and it will always and forever belong to Him.)

Some claim to be a Christian to be a part of the “in” crowd.  In many areas, one can plug themselves into the community by who they know and associate with at church.  It’s all about what they can get out of the relationship.  Networking at its finest.

Others call themselves a Christian because it’s what they’ve always done.  They were raised in the church, they were baptized, and now they just go with the flow because of its comfort level.  They have never stopped to ask why they believe what they believe.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:25-30 that we cannot be divided among different loyalties.  We cannot choose which part of God or Christianity we like as if we’re dealing with some spiritual buffet.  Verse 30 reminds us that we’re either “all in” or “all out.”  Our choice is not just to become a Christian and have our sins forgiven and that is the end of our commitment.  Our only choice is to follow God completely!  If there is not a complete commitment, isn’t it true that we are just “playing” Christian?  Christ scolds the church of Laodicea in chapter 3 of Revelation for this very thing… halfheartedness.  They showed a zeal for Christ when it met their needs and stayed quiet and complacent the rest of the time.  In fact, Christ even says He would rather us pick a side.  There is no in between.

Well?  Why are you a Christian?  If serving God and others is not at the top of your list of reasons, you might want to rethink your commitment.  And don’t forget that the choice we make has very real eternal consequences.”


I still enjoy the simplicity of this post because I think it sums up what is at the very core of religious belief or belief in anything for that matter.  We should be willing to ask the “Why” for what we do, whether it be our religious beliefs, our marriages, or even our chosen careers.  Motivation has always been an important factor for mankind and helps decide how dedicated we’ll be to any given endeavor.  There is no place where this is more important than our Christian beliefs.

Since this was written, I still stand by the assertion that our reasons for following God really matter.  Multiple times throughout God’s word we are reminded of where our heart should be when living a Christian life.  God can read the genuineness of our heart, so if we have ulterior motives for serving him, we’re really fooling no one but ourselves.  I also still stand by the fact that, in Christ’s eyes, there is but one church and that he is Lord over it.  Man’s propensity for creating false religions or other comfortable forms of Christianity that make it easy to live life with a watered-down faith really reveals our ability to serve ourselves rather than living in full submission to a sovereign God.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves the question that I posited when I first wrote this post, being “Why are you a Christian?”  To me, the only correct answer is to wholly follow and serve a God that has done everything for me.

-Joe Butler

 

So You Have Plans? (Blogs Revisited)

 

I think we can all admit that learning is one of the most important parts of our life, especially our Christian life.  Our path of following Christ is filled with countless opportunities to examine ourselves and God’s word and find ways where we can grow in wisdom and spiritual maturity.  In that light, I’m starting a new series of posts titled “Blogs Revisited,” where I will take a closer look at some of my past writings and make comments about the things I’ve learned since they were originally published here on my blog.  I will copy the post entirely with the date it was published, but I will also add some additional commentary on some new ideas I may have learned or new experiences I may have had since it was first published.  I hope everyone enjoys taking a look back at these previous posts and can continue to learn more about what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

So You Have Plans? (Originally published February 6, 2013)

“So you have plans?  Don’t we all.  If you’re anything like me, then you know what it’s like to be a planner.  Don’t get me wrong…I like to take things as they come every now and then, but for the most part, I have big plans for how things will turn out.  And there’s nothing wrong with planning.  If I didn’t plan for retirement one day, I’d never get there.  If I didn’t plan my workouts weekly, I would never make any progress.  But more often than not, my plans, and most likely yours, do not take into account what God wants with our lives.

Everything in my life, my gifts, my talents, experiences, and knowledge all work together to make me who I am.  No one else has been me or can ever be me (which is a good thing because two Joe’s may be more than the world can handle).  So since I’m uniquely made, it makes sense that there are things that God intends for me and only me to do with my life.  Call it purpose or whatever, but God has a plan for my life.  How much do His plans and my plans overlap?  Am I even aware of His plans or am I too busy chasing my own desires to even notice?

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

When some read this verse, they think it sounds a little harsh.  But I think God is trying to tell us something very important here.  It’s not that He isn’t concerned with our desires.  Those desires just need to match up with His plan.  God has a hindsight and foreknowledge that I do not possess.  He sees the big picture because He created me.  He purposefully opens doors for me that enable me to complete His plan, and He closes doors so I will not head in the wrong direction.

When it’s time to make decisions and create plans for the future, listen for God’s voice.  Listen to His plan.  Something tells me you won’t regret it.”

Since this post was originally written over five years ago, it’s interesting to see how my plans have shaken out.  Many of the things I’d set my mind to have come to fruition and many others, thankfully, have not.  It’s also amazing to look back on those five years and see that when my life was in alignment with the purposes of God, I always felt like I received an added measure of blessing from him to complete the task.  God has promised us that we have everything we need for life and godliness, and when our plans line up with his, he is more than happy to lend a hand to our success.

As I look into the future, it’s encouraging to know that if I listen to the voice of God as he speaks to me through his word and my experiences, his wisdom will see me along the correct path for my life…the life he created for me to live.

-Joe Butler