Keep Your Eyes Up

I love sports.  I’ve played all manner of sports growing up and enjoyed every one of them.  Football, basketball, golf.  I even played in a bowling league for a few years when I was young.

I suppose I’ve always been the athletic sort, and that’s why, when I was a little older, I joined our church softball league team.  Never mind that this league was more for fun and fellowship than anything else.  Everyone who played was very competitive and took it quite seriously.  That’s how I found myself playing center field in my very first game.  As the fastest player on the team, it made sense to put me at a position that had to do the most running.  Fly balls, line-drives, warning track catches at the fence.  I was good enough to catch them all…but only if I kept my eyes up.

You see, that’s how most sports work.  Hitting a golf ball?  You got to keep your eye on the ball.  Catching a 40 yard pass on the football field?  Better keep yours eyes up and on the ball.  Fielding pop-flys in a church softball league?  You still have to keep your eyes on the ball.  If I took my eyes off the ball for even a few seconds, my chances of dropping the catch would increase dramatically.  Just like in sports, many endeavors in life require our full focus and attention.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

(Colossians 3:1-3)

This is a very powerful text in its instruction and its simplicity.  If you belong to Christ, if you call yourself a Christian and truly desire to put God first in your life, then you will set your eyes and your heart on things above…on godly things.  You see, it’s very difficult, and I submit, almost impossible to keep our eyes focused on God if all we think about is this world.  It’s also true that if our focus is primarily on God, we will not be as distracted or worried over the things in our mortal life.  This is the premise of Philippians 4:6-7…

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:6-7)

When we take our cares and anxieties and offer them to God in prayer; when we keep our eyes on him and his loving kindness, we find a peace that goes beyond anything we can comprehend.  This type of focus is admittedly difficult.  Let’s be honest.  There’s a lot in our daily lives that can keep us from thinking about God.  That’s why we must be vigilant in our attempts to put God first.  It’s why we may have to whittle away some of the time-stealers and attention-grabbers in our lives and replace them with time spent with God’s word, in prayer, or in fellowship with other Christians.

So keep your eyes up and your heart attuned to God.  If not, you may very well miss out on all the wonderful things he has in store for you.

-Joe Butler

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Addressing the Main Problem

A popular refrain today is the teaching that Jesus came to love people and meet their needs.  I’ve constantly heard people say that religion and even Christians in general are too judgmental and restrictive.  I would never argue that much of Jesus’ ministry was about meeting people where they were.  He didn’t judge or outright condemn (John 3:17), but instead he spoke hope into people’s lives and met some of their immediate physical needs.

While all of that is true, Jesus does actually care about our sin problem and how it keeps us separated from God.  He realizes that sin is a far greater problem in our lives than what may be ailing us physically or circumstantially.  Yes, he came to sacrifice himself so we could be saved.  But his sacrifice and love should affect us in such a way that we become repulsed by our sin.  We should do whatever we can to get rid of it and not excuse our behavior because of the love of God (Romans 6:1-11).

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

(Mark 2:1-12)

In the above passage, Jesus heals a paralytic, but first, we see him forgive his sins.  I’m sure that when this man came to Jesus, he was only focused on his physical wellbeing.  And rightly so.  This man probably rested all his hope on being able to walk again.  For anyone who’s paralyzed, I’m sure they would give anything for that blessing.  What this man doesn’t know is that he needs spiritual healing far worse than he needs to be physically healed.  By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is giving him what he is truly longing for and doesn’t even realize.  He’s giving him Jesus!

There is such a powerful lesson to be learned from this story, and it’s especially applicable today in our religious landscape of love and grace above all.  Jesus is teaching that our sin does matter.  He’s teaching that our sin is the biggest problem we have and that it keeps us from a relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t want us to build our hope on our own strength just like he doesn’t want the paralytic to build his hope on the ability to walk.  He wants us to find our identity in Christ.  He wants us to leave our life of sin behind (Ephesians 4:22-24) and quit making excuses so that grace may abound.

Jesus’ love and grace find their fulfillment when we accept those gifts with a grateful heart and are willing to do the work necessary to defeat the sin in our lives.

-Joe Butler

 

And

Words matter.

You would expect a reading and writing teacher like myself to make such a comment, but it’s true.  The word “love,” for instance, carries meaning far greater than most of us can put into words.  The word “money” has caused many a person to flood with feelings of greed, desire, or anxiety.  Or what about the word “religion?”  For some, it brings to mind thoughts of their close relationship with God, while others hear the same word and cringe with disgust.

If we’re to read the Bible, the most powerful words in existence, with even a remote level of discernment, then words and how they are collected into sentences and paragraphs and stories or letters become very important.  Take, for example, the conjunction “for” in Acts 2:38.  When Peter speaks the first gospel message at Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, he says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  This one little conjunction connects the two clause ideas of repentance/baptism and forgiveness.  It’s very simple to see the relationship because of the wording.

This is also the case in countless other passages in the Bible, and today I want to focus on Galatians 5:16-18.  For those who are new to this blog or who simply haven’t noticed before, the title of my site (“Faith and Footsteps”) has a very specific meaning.  Being a Christian is not simply about faith, but also about following in the footsteps of Christ.  The conjunction “and” ties Faith and Footsteps together.  You can’t have one without the other.  Let’s take a look at our passage…

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

(Galatians 5:16-18)

My favorite part of this text are the words, “walk by the Spirit.”  You see, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation, when we confess his name and repent of our sins, and when we show obedience to the gospel message through the act of baptism, we’re really only beginning our Christian walk.  That’s the “faith” part of our decision to be a Christian.  The “and” part comes in when we actually walk, when we take our first footsteps in our lifelong journey to follow God.  The truth is, when we put our faith in Christ, we’re all walking somewhere.  We’re either continuing to walk our own path, serving our needs and desires, or we’re choosing to walk by the Spirit, following God’s purposes for our life.

You can see that it boils down to my tag line for this site: “to search, to learn, to follow.”  We search out for God and all the while he is actively pursuing us.  We learn about him, his love for us, and what he has done to redeem us.  Then, we choose to take the steps to follow him.  Now notice in Galatians, he didn’t say, “just walk to church and you’re a good Christian.”  He didn’t say, “just walk a little different than the rest of the world.”  We are commanded to “walk by the Spirit.”  Why?  Because the Spirit is in contrast to our own sinful nature and desires.  We cannot call ourselves Christians and continue in our sinful ways.  We must be “under the influence” of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so much so that he controls our thoughts and actions.  This requires a close and discerning study of God’s word and a willingness to submit to the urgings of the Spirit.

It requires Faith “AND” Footsteps.

-Joe Butler

Sin Doesn’t Happen All at Once

“In the heat of the moment.”

That’s how some people describe their behavior after an act of immorality.  The murderer?  “I didn’t mean to,” he says.  “It was in the heat of the moment.”  The adulteress?  “I’m sorry,” she claims.  “It was a moment of passion that I couldn’t control.”

I’ve always had a problem with these type of excuses, for they never reveal the real motives and intent of someone’s heart.  The person who has commited murder is often angry and has very little respect for others.  The woman caught in adultery is many times inappropriately flirtatious and engaging in relationships with other men long before she has an affair.

All this is to say that sin doesn’t happen all at once.  In most instances, it is the culmination of us finally giving in to the temptations thrown our way from Satan.  It is our true selves, what lies within our hearts, that is finally making its way to the surface (Jeremiah 17:9).  When we sin, what we are really experiencing is the evidence of a sickness of the heart above all else.

“each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

(James 1:14-15)

One of the best ways to examine how temptations over time can expose our heart is to study the life of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  From what little we know of Judas, we can conclude that his heart was never touched by being in the presence of Jesus.  His heart was too full of greed and hypocrisy to have any room for Jesus to reside.  Our study can begin near the end of the book of Matthew:

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

(Matthew 26:6-9)

This act of anointing Jesus with this very expensive oil is our first glimpse into the heart of Judas.  While it seems as if he had a virtuous reason for wanting to sell the oil, the account of this story in the book of John shows us otherwise (John 12:6).  We learn that Judas’ real motive was driven only by greed.  All he wanted to do was steal some of the money for himself.  Here was this beautiful act of worship offered to Jesus, and all Judas could think of was padding his pockets.

What’s interesting to note is that immediately following this passage in Matthew, we see Judas leave to go see the chief priests in Jerusalem.  This would not have been a quick journey either.  Bethany, where the anointing took place, is about a mile and a half away from Jerusalem.  That means that Judas was so upset over his inability to pilfer the treasury that he immediately went and agreed to hand over Jesus for the price of a slave… 30 pieces of silver.  Judas’ true heart was finally beginning to show.

A while later, on the day of Unleavened Bread, Jesus and the disciples made preparations to eat the Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-19).  What’s interesting is that Judas is back with the group by this time.  He was so good at convincing the other disciples of his loyalty to Jesus that they didn’t suspect a thing.  Jesus, on the other hand, knew what was in the heart of Judas.  Satan had taken up residence in his heart (John 13:27) and Judas’ temptation had finally given birth to sin (James 1:15).  What’s so disgusting is the hypocrisy Judas showed while eating the Passover meal.  Jesus took off his outer garment and began to wash the feet of the disciples.  And what did Judas do?  He sat there and let Jesus wash his feet too!  Here was a beautiful act of service and humility, and Judas just sat there even after he had betrayed Jesus.

To make matters worse, when Jesus began to discuss his betrayal (John 13:21), Judas had the gall to ask, “Is it I” (Matthew 26:25)?  All this time while Jesus was sharing an intimate moment and meal with his closest friends and followers, there was one among them who went untouched by Jesus’ loving kindness.  Judas had once more proved that, although he was present with Jesus, his heart was far from him (Matthew 15:8).

Judas’ final act of betrayal occurred when he left the Upper Room to see the Sanhedrin.  He had been looking for just the right time to hand over Jesus, and he had just found one.  Judas knew of Jesus’ custom of prayer in the evenings (Luke 22:39-40).  Judas knew exactly where to find him and arrived with reinforcements as if Jesus were some kind of criminal or insurrectionist(John 18:3).  This detachment of troops would’ve numbered in the hundreds, yet Jesus stepped forward and allowed Judas to betray him with a kiss (John 18:4-5, Matthew 26:48-50).  The traitor in their midst had just betrayed the Son of God!

As you can see, Satan had won the battle over Judas’ heart.  He didn’t just one day wake up and decide to forsake Jesus.  He allowed the temptations of Satan to take root in an already rotten heart.  He turned a deaf ear to the words of life Jesus spoke and ended up sending him to his crucifixion.

Now, you may say, “I would never let that happen to me.  I would never allow Satan to cause me to sin in such a way.”  To those who think such thoughts, be careful!  “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  “Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Judas didn’t heed those warnings and it cost him his soul.  Don’t let Satan convince you to hand over yours as well.

-Joe Butler

 

Critic or Companion?

We all know Jesus as Savior, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  We know him as God’s one and only Son (Matthew 3:13-17) and the full representation of God himself (Hebrews 1:3).  What we don’t spend a lot of time talking about is the type of companion and friend Jesus is to those who know him well.  Jesus himself said that he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He didn’t come to earth to criticize or control mankind.  He came to save us.  Let’s take a look at several examples of this in the Bible.

  • (Luke 19:1-10)  The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector is a great place to start when studying the companionship of Jesus.  We see that Jesus did not balk at speaking with Zacchaeus even though he was an outcast in Jewish society.  As a tax collector, he would have been hated by his own people.  Even so, Jesus befriended him and asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  Apparently, Jesus had such a strong impact on him that Zacchaeus decided to pay back four-fold those he had swindled.  Zacchaeus may have had an integrity problem as a tax collector, but Jesus still loved him anyway.
  • (Matthew 9:9-13)  We have another example of Jesus befriending a tax collector when he called Matthew as one of his disciples.  For Jesus to approach Matthew at his tax booth and even speak to him would’ve been considered taboo.  It’s likely that Matthew had already heard of Jesus and his amazing miracles and teaching, because when Jesus calls him, Matthew follows immediately.  Not only is he affected by Jesus’ friendship, he realizes that others need to meet Jesus too.  He plans a dinner at his house and invites all his tax collector and “sinful” friends to meet Jesus.  That’s the kind of effect being a companion can have on others.
  • (John 4:1-26)  Finally, we can look at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as a fine example of Jesus’ loving response to a sinful person.  The fact that he, a Jew, would even speak to a Samaritan is beyond belief, but Jesus seems to go out of his way to carry on a conversation with her and make her feel at ease.  Sure, she was considered used goods in her day, but Jesus took the time to minister to what her real needs were.  She came to quench her thirst, but Jesus came to give her true living water.

The gospels are filled with stories such as these of Jesus being a companion to the outcasts of the world.  When everyone in the religious establishment of that time were being critical of these sinners, Jesus was there to show them that they were loved and that they really do matter to God.  Notice also that nowhere in the Bible did Jesus endorse anyone’s immoral behavior.  In all cases, he encouraged people to leave their sinful past behind them.  But he doesn’t take the opportunity to pass criticizing judgment either.  There will be a time that Jesus will judge (Matthew 25:31-33), but he gives all sinners the chance to repent and follow him.

How are you in your relationship with others?  Are you a critic or companion?  Critics are bent on passing judgment, not helping someone who is lost and in need of help.  Companions, on the other hand, realize where they’ve come from (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and are willing to lend a hand to those who’ve fallen into the trap of sin.  They don’t take a hypocritical stance regarding their perceived religiosity (Matthew 7:1-5), but are willing to do whatever it takes to save souls (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  It would be wise to keep the following passage in mind…

“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)

-Joe Butler

The Most Powerful Weapon in Heaven and on Earth

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard of this adage and probably know its intended meaning.  While there is obvious strength and great power in weapons that kill or cause violence, the written word has always been more effective at swaying the hearts of men.

There’s no better example of this than God’s word itself, written down for our instruction and encouragement in the pages of the Bible.  It’s no wonder that the word of God has not only stood the test of time, but is the most widely recognized piece of literature the world has ever known.  God’s word is the most powerful thing in the universe and gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and it’s the understanding and belief of the Bible’s main message (Jesus Christ) that gives us our salvation.

One has to look no further than the creation account in the book of Genesis to see the raw power of God’s very words.  Throughout the first chapter, God said, “Let there be…” (vs. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 27) and it was so.  Everything that you can see, hear, touch, and taste found its origin in the words of God.  And this is not the only thing God’s word can do.  The word of God can…

We can see the powerful effect God’s word can have against evil as well.  In the beginning of Matthew, chapter 4, we learn that Jesus himself used the word of God as a weapon against the temptations of Satan.  In three separate instances, Jesus thwarts the advances of his enemy by speaking, “It is written…”.  While this is the only recorded example of Jesus being tempted, we can be sure that He faced other attacks from Satan and knew very well the scope and power of the word of God.  In fact, Jesus is the personification of the word itself (John 1:1-5, 14)!

Finally, we can study the analogy the Apostle Paul used at the end of his letter to the church at Ephesus.  While trying to encourage the Ephesian Christians, Paul reminds them and us today that we are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:11-13).  And what would he have us choose as our go-to weapon?  That’s right…”the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  I find it fascinating that of all the things Paul listed as part of our spiritual armor (the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, ready feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit), only one would be considered an offensive weapon.  This should give new meaning to the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  The word IS the sword!

Take a moment and look around at our world today.  Hatred and evil seem to be at all-time high.  Sure, we’ve risen out of such times before, and sure, we may do so again.  But I’m convinced there’s no better way to cure what ails us than God’s word…the most powerful weapon in Heaven and on earth.

-Joe Butler

 

 

 

Be There

I have a special place in my heart for the city of Seattle.  If you’ve never been there, you’re missing out because it’s the most beautiful, eclectic, adventurous metropolitan area I’ve ever seen.  With the Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains to the west and the Cascade mountain peaks of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens to the southeast, there’s no shortage of picture-postcard views.  And then you get into the city of Seattle itself with its funky neighborhoods and cool places to visit like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.  There’s always something interesting around every bend and a Starbucks on every corner.

My dad’s side of the family all live out in Washington state within an easy drive of downtown Seattle, and it was inevitable that I would one day fly out there to see it for myself.  Years ago, when I was planning my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, I remember collecting all kinds of information to enjoy my vacation.  I visited countless websites about the city, gathered road maps and city maps and even trail maps of Mt. Rainier, and spoke on the phone with my granddad on several occasions so that I could make the most of my trip.  I could study those maps and examine those websites for hours anticipating the day we would finally fly out, but it couldn’t replace actually being there.  Smelling the strong tidal scents of the Puget Sound and seeing the majestic Mt. Rainier rising above the skyline with my own eyes was much better than reading about them.  Being immersed in the environment, experiencing the sights firsthand is the only way to know and appreciate a place.

Have you noticed that the same thing applies to Christianity as well?  We can know the Bible from cover to cover.  We can have countless verses memorized and quote the popular ones left and right, but do we really know God?  I believe this is what’s missing from the lives of a large number of Christians today.  They attend church services and maybe even serve here and there.  They know their Bible and can often correctly quote from it when the need arises.  They are good people who I believe love God, but have they taken the time to really taste who God is?  Have they allowed him to enter their heart and soul and make a lasting impact on their lives?

Like going on vacation or visiting a new place, you can spend all the time you want studying and researching but never truly know about it.  Sure, you’ll have the facts committed to memory, but true knowledge comes from experience.  You have to be there in order to appreciate a place and you have to be present before God in order to know him.

Don’t let Christianity become something you do one day a week.  Don’t let Christianity be another hat you wear or a title you identify with.  Don’t let Christianity be a policies and procedures way of living so you can be viewed as a good person before others and before God, or so you can go to Heaven.  Be immersed in the God of love, grace, and mercy.  Learn to listen for his voice.  Do everything you can to be in the presence of God.  And what should you do when you get there?  Just be still.

-Joe Butler