Where Do You Turn in Times of Doubt?

I don’t know about you, but I have some doubts in my life.  That may come as a surprise to those who know me, be sometimes we’re good at making others believe we always have it together.  I have my doubts about being good enough for certain people.  I have doubts that I’m not living up to my full potential or being the man I’m capable of being.

At times, those doubts are momentary obstacles that get in my way, they merely slow me down but I still find success.  Other times, doubts will paralyze me with indecision in the present or with regret in hindsight, thinking of how I could’ve made better decisions or taken more decisive action.

I share these feelings with candor and humility because I know there are others out there who are adversely affected by the doubts in their lives.  I know there are people out there who feel they have no place to turn and have resigned themselves to always feeling incapable in some way.  So I would like to share with you where I turn in times of doubt.

“When the cares of my heart are many,
    your consolations cheer my soul.”

(Psalm 94:19)

I believe God knows full well the kind of doubts and fears we all experience in life.  I’m convinced that’s why he included so many promises of hope and commitment in his word.  Our God wants us to rest in the knowledge that he is there for us and we have nothing to fear (Isaiah 41:10).  He wants his children to run to him with their cares and worries so he can console us like a good Father would.  I believe God knows how his adversary the Devil will try to convince us of our inability and ineptitude.  He knows that Satan is trying to separate us from the love and comfort that only God can provide.

That’s why he wants us to turn to him in times of doubt.  God wants us to give him our trust and know that it won’t be betrayed.  He wishes for Christians to do as our name implies and following his footsteps, knowing with assurance that he will never lead us astray.  And even if doubts do arise or mistakes do happen, he loves us still the same.

Where do you turn in times of doubt?  I hope it’s into the open arms of our loving God!

-Joe Butler

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The Symbol of the Cross

Nike has the “swoosh.”  McDonald’s, the “golden arches.”  Apple, of course, has the “apple,” while the Miami Hurricanes are just the “U.”  We’re very familiar with the symbols and logos all around us everyday, but why have them?  Why do businesses, organizations, and sports teams have symbols to recognize them?  It’s all about marketing and branding; making sure that the public can easily remember who they are and what they do.

In Christianity, it’s no different.  Ask anyone to name only one image that would symbolize Christianity and our belief in God, and no doubt they would respond, “the cross.”  It’s a symbol that can immediately evoke feelings of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness as easily as it can remind us of death and evil.  For some, it is revered as our means of entering into a relationship with Christ, and for others, it is disdained as representing a terrible form of execution that Jesus chose to endure.

Some believe we shouldn’t glorify the cross as much as we do.  By lifting up this symbol, we are in some way glorifying the horrendous pain and death it caused for Jesus.  The cross can also become a symbol of idolatry, worshipped and revered, but lacking in any true meaning.  Even God made a point of reminding his people to worship nothing else but Him (Deuteronomy 4:15-19) and not place a symbol as more important than the one and only living God.

But the cross can also have great meaning and symbolism if understood correctly.  The cross may mean death, but it also means life.  It’s paradoxical nature shows us that without the death of Jesus, there could be no life for us.  To be true, the cross is no trinket.  It shouldn’t be trivialized as some meaningless article of jewelry or clothing, devoid of any real spiritual impact or change.  But for the person completely transformed by the message of the cross, it means love, hope, and forgiveness in the true sense of those words.

I believe we can look at the example of Jesus himself to see that the cross should be remembered  in our daily walk as Christians.  After rising from the dead, Jesus came to his disciples to show that all of his teachings regarding the resurrection had been fulfilled.  Thomas had not been with them when Jesus had come (John 20:24).  We know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus himself showed Thomas his gruesome wounds in order for him to believe (John 20:27).  I believe that Jesus means for Thomas and for us to remember the tragedy of the cross.  It’s as if he points to the cross and says, “Remember what I did for you.”  The disciples saw it as a symbol of defeat, but Jesus wants us to see the cross as a symbol of victory!

Should we use the cross as a symbol of Christianity today?  Well, you would be hard-pressed to find a church building that doesn’t contain one somewhere.  I think is comes down to a matter of worship.  We should never hold the cross itself in such high esteem that we forget who it’s meant to point to.  On the other hand, a Christian who is considerate of its deep meaning would never resign the cross to an image to be treated flippantly.  We must remember… where would we be and what hope would we have if Jesus had not gone to that cross?

-Joe Butler

Whom Shall I Fear?

What do you fear?

We all have our fears in life.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise either.  Even the most hardcore daredevil or the most outspoken optimist has something that strikes fear in their hearts and minds.  And our fears are drastically different from each other.  One person is afraid of heights, another is terrified of snakes, while still another is scared of being alone.  None of these fears are inherently bad or wrong somehow, but they can sabotage our lives and leave us shackled to worry and despair.

One of the most remarkable things about our relationship with God is the fact that he chases away all our fears.  Or at least it should be that way.  In our earthly lives, our actions are sometimes based on fear of rejection, fear of reprisal, or the fear of punishment.  We humans can be very harsh with one another at times, and our actions lead to unhealthy fear in our relationships.  But when we follow the will of God, we have nothing to fear.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

“What can man do to me?,” you may ask.  Well, actually, they can do a lot!  People can belittle you and bully you.  They can exclude you and deceive you.  They can even imprison you or kill you!  But they can’t take away your hope and standing in Christ Jesus.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,”

(1 Peter 1:3-6)

Do you walk with this kind of faith and boldness?  Do you stand in the strength of the Lord when fear arises?  I hope so, because faith banishes fear.  Stop worrying about the cares of today, and especially about the cares of tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).  We cannot possibly see all of the plans God has for those who love him, but we are told to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  When fear arises, rest in this powerful message from God’s word:

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

(1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

-Joe Butler

The Faithfulness of God

How are you in the trust department?

I suppose that depends on how many times you’ve been burned; how often you’ve had someone betray your trust.  No one is immune you know.  We’ve all had some situations where we’ve felt betrayed, where we’ve been let down by unfulfilled promises or maybe even outright lies.

It’s the difficult part of interacting with humanity.  We’ve all dealt with dishonesty.  We’ve all been hurt by the inconsiderate behavior of others.  And the truth is, we’ve all been on the giving end too, not treating others the way we ourselves wish to be treated.

That’s one of the best parts of our relationship with God.  We never have to worry that he’ll hurt us, that he’ll take advantage of us or lie to us.  We can trust God with our very lives.  We can believe in his goodness and know that he will faithfully fulfill all that he has promised.

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

(Hebrews 6:13-20)

My favorite part of this passage is verse 19, We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  The choice of words is not by accident.  “Sure,” “steadfast,” “anchor.”  God’s promises are immovable, secure, and resolute.  It is impossible for our God to lie, so we can trust him with our deepest cares and concerns.  We can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the faithfulness of God will never fail.

-Joe Butler

You Are…

Self-doubt.

Self-pity.

Sometimes we beat up on ourselves so much, we don’t even know who we are any more.  Sometimes it’s our past mistakes that haunt us.  Sometimes it’s the put-downs from others that defeat us.  Sometimes the doubt and anxiety that Satan feeds us becomes the only noise we listen to.  Sometimes our preconceived ideas of success and happiness have us feeling inadequate and unsure of ourselves.

No matter what it is, we’ve got a lot of voices around us vying to draw our attention away from God and who we are in Christ Jesus.  Let the following verses remind you of who you really are:

  • You are God’s child- (John 1:12~ “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”)
  •  You are a friend of Christ- (John 15:15~ “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.”)
  • You are full and complete- (Colossians 2:10~ “and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”)
  • You are forgiven- (Colossians 1:13-14~ “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”)
  • You are a part of the body of Christ- (1 Corinthians 12:27~ “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”)
  • You are adopted into the family of God- (Ephesians 1:5~ “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”)
  • You are God’s special creation- (Ephesians 2:10~  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”)
  • You are a citizen of Heaven- (Philippians 3:20~  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,”)

Remember…don’t ever forget who you are!

-Joe Butler

Everything You Need

I just got back from another hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail.  That’s right…another one.  I can’t get enough of getting out on the trail, camping in some out of the way spot, and taking in the spectacular views.  It’s my time to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.

It’s not just throwing the pack in the car and heading for the trailhead though.  Long-distance backpacking requires that you plan and pack carefully.  For the most part, you’re miles away from the nearest road or resupply point, so if you forget to pack it, you’re out of luck.  You’ve got to be prepared with everything you may need, but since you carry everything on your back, you have to pack wisely to keep your pack weight down.  It’s usually a trial by error scenario where you learn over time what you need and what you don’t.

Our walk as Christians is likewise a battle of choosing what we’ll bring along.  If you weigh your life down with sin, worry, and regret, they will keep you from being all you can be for God.  On the other hand, God has promised to give us everything we need to serve him and do his will.  He has already filled our packs with our individual talents and experiences.  Then he adds the one ingredient we cannot do without…the Holy Spirit.  He’s our shelter, our sustenance, and our guide map.  He’s the one who walks with us along each and every step, keeping us focused on the prize, the destination called Heaven.

He will, “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”  (Hebrews 13:21)

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Take a moment to go through your life and notice what you’ve brought along for the journey.  Are you weighed down by the pursuit of prestige and worldly possessions?  Is your life so full of excess weight that there’s no room in there for God?  Trust God to prepare you for your Christian walk and submit to his wisdom and understanding.  And don’t worry.  He’ll give you everything you need for the trip.

-Joe Butler

Keep Praying

I have to say I’m appalled.  I not sure I believed I would ever see the persecution of Christianity in America get as bad as it’s getting.  It all came to a head for me when I was watching the news after the church shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.  One more atrocity perpetrated by the hands of a sick-minded individual with a gun.  By all accounts, the crime was not committed specifically against Christians, but was an act of domestic violence.  And because it happened to completely innocent people during their worship of God, all sides of the political spectrum have used it to attack each other.

But this time, it went too far.  People across the nation, including President Trump, have called for an outpouring of prayer.  The community and those families in that small Texas town need to know that they’re being prayed for.  They need the comfort of the nation rallying around them, but most importantly, they need the comfort and reassurance that only comes from God (Philippians 4:6-7).  Calling openly for prayer during a tragic loss like this is a very appropriate response.

But that’s not how many people saw it.  Immediately following the mention of prayer, the President and Christians nationwide were blasted for their faith in God.  People decried prayer as a waste of time, an action that does nothing for those being prayed for.  They said that if God actually answered prayer, those people would still be alive.  They have effectively attacked one of the roots of the Christian faith, and it was all done under the premise of showing concern for the fallen and their families.

This post is not a call for protests from Christians or for a public spectacle to be made.  It’s not being written to bemoan the negativity and harassment Christians are continually facing.  God has warned us that those difficulties would come (Psalm 34:19).  This post is a call to pray all the more!  It’s a rallying cry to stand up for our right to pray by continuing to pray more fervently and more boldly.

When we let our problems and concerns go unnoticed or fail to deal with them, they grow.  If you don’t pray your way through the difficulties in life, through the tragedies and losses like this shooting, those events fester and infect like a wound to our body.  And God can cure all that infects our lives and make us feel healthy and whole again.  He doesn’t always take away the problems.  In fact, sometimes these challenges are there to help us grow (James 1:2-4), but he does promise to bring us through.

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.”

(Psalm 55:22)

So continue to pray!  Pray prayers of thanksgiving and for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  Pray for those who are sick and for those who are mourning.  Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you walk through the peaks and valleys of this journey called life.  Most importantly, don’t let anyone keep you from conversing with God or tell you that prayer doesn’t work.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.

-Joe Butler