Tick, Tock

24 in a day.

168 in a week.

8,760 in a year.

If you haven’t figured it out already, these are the amount of hours in those respective time periods.  When you start adding it up, it appears as if we have quite a lot of time on our hands doesn’t it?  The sad reality is that our time is extremely valuable and many of us never seem to have enough of it to do everything we want or need to do.

In a sense, time is one resource we all have in common.  We may have a valid complaint about an uneven playing field in other areas of life, but not with time.  If we all stay alive for the remainder of this year, we’ll all have the same amount of time to work with.  Axioms like “carpe diem” and “live the life you love” help to encourage us to seize the day and live our lives to the fullest, and I agree we should do just that.  But in light of being a Christian, shouldn’t we examine how God would like us to use our time?

First, I need to ask…How do you view the gift of time?  I strategically chose the word “gift” because that’s exactly what it is.  Each day that we draw breath, God has blessed us with the opportunity to live in a manner that is rewarding and that pleases him.  For me, Psalm 118:24 immediately comes to mind: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Do you view time this way or do you dread all of the chores you must attend to each day?  Considering time as a gift is the start of living a life dedicated to God.

Speaking of God, my next question is…What are your priorities?  Remember when I said that we are all gifted with the same amount of time?  The difference between us all is exactly how we choose to use it.  We are offered an abundance of choices, both good and bad, that we can fill our days with.  I mention the good as well as the bad because we’re so used to being bombarded in sermons on how we should stay away from the bad things the world has to offer and focus on the good.  While that is absolutely true (Philippians 4:8), even the good things of this world can be used by Satan to keep us distracted from living a life wholly committed to God.

For the person who wishes to faithfully follow God, we must remember that our time ultimately belongs to him:

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

So how are you using your time?  Do you allow the hours, days, and years to tick away and lose the valuable time God has given you to serve him and make a difference in this world?  Or do you seize every opportunity and use your time with God’s kingdom in mind?  Remember the words of the psalmist in Psalm 90:10, 12: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away.  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

-Joe Butler

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Single-minded Purpose

I’ll just say this up front…I’m not a big fan of the word multitasking.  I know it sounds good rolling off the tongue, but I’m confident it was just some corporate executive’s idea to make people get more work done in a shorter amount of time.  As an educator, my day is the epitome of multitasking.  If it weren’t, I’d never get anything accomplished.  Maybe that’s why I’m so mentally exhausted by the end of the week.

I just wish we had more time to focus on one task at a time.  That’s not to say that situations won’t arise that will require us to juggle several things at once.  Just ask any mom what kind of multitasking she has to do everyday!  It would just be nice if our modern and busy lives could slow down a bit and allow us to approach our activities with single-minded purpose.

All of this leads into my post for today and how we should be more focused on our Christian walk and our dedication and service to God.  In fact, this very subject is directly addressed in God’s word in Matthew 6:25-34…

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

(Matthew 6:25-34)

There are many lessons and instruction that can be derived from this short passage of Scripture, but if I had to summarize this teaching, it would be…

  • Don’t just spend all of your time worrying or stressing about your needs or getting as many things accomplished as possible.
  • Resist the urge to get pulled in many directions but seek first the things and will of God and he will bless you.

If we are wholly focused on God, we’ll live every day and every moment yielded to him.  It sounds like a hard thing to do in practice, but if we believe God, we should do our best to give him our undivided attention.  God promised to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), so it’s safe to place all of your focus on him and know he will meet your needs.  Even Jesus lived in this way as he did nothing but what the Father asked of him (John 4:34).  What will we do if we seek God first?

  • We will plan for and make decisions based on God’s purpose and will.
  • We will trust God (who is always faithful) to meet our needs so we are freed to focus solely on him.
  • We will ask God to bless our plans when they align with his.
  • We will design our schedules so that we have time for God and not relegate what’s left over to him.

With our lives getting busier by the day, it’s important that we not only carve out time for God, but give him our undivided attention.  I truly believe that Satan plays a role in keeping us so occupied with life that we can find excuses for having no time left for God.  And while we may have many responsibilities to take care of on a day-to-day basis, we must still have the desire to place God at the center of it all.

I pray that you’ll make a commitment and concerted effort to maintain the single-minded purpose of placing God in the most important place in your life.  As a Christian, we have no other choice but to stay focused on him because as our Creator, he knows what’s best for us, and he deserves nothing less than the best.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Self-Control

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

(Titus 2:11-13)

For many of us, we have just come off of an uplifting Lord’s Day of worship and rest and are now returning to a busy work week and family/personal tasks.  In the process of performing the many responsibilities we must do every day, I pray that you would keep in mind the passage above from Titus.  While the grace of God does amazing things in our life to include offering us salvation, it also acts as our trainer, teaching us what is right and how to live.

Make it a daily reminder this week that the Lord wishes us to live upright, godly lives as we anxiously await the return of our Savior.  Be ready to turn away from unrighteousness when those situations arise and pray for self-control to face any temptation that the devil may throw at you.  And no matter what you, do it in the name of the Lord, offering him the glory he so rightfully deserves.

-Joe Butler

The Struggle is Real

“The struggle is real.”

Just another phrase that has taken its place in modern American vernacular.  I’m unsure of how these type of trends begin, but maybe it’s the abundance of internet memes on Facebook that get it started.  Now, it seems everybody is speaking about how the struggle is real when humorously talking about some aspect of their lives.  But while the phrase is mostly said in jest, it does have some truth to it.

For many, the struggle is indeed real!  It may be something mundane like trying to break a simple negative habit, or it can be of a more serious nature like overcoming life-altering destructive behaviors such as anger, unfaithfulness, or a lack of integrity.  We all have different struggles in life, and for each one of us, their effect is very real and far-reaching.

Although our struggles are real and they seem to consume our lives at times, God is more powerful than those struggles.  Just let Paul tell you how God takes care of those facing life’s difficulties:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4:11-13)

If anyone knew what it was like to struggle, it was Paul.  He faced doubt from other Christians after becoming a Christian himself (Acts 9:20-21, Acts 9:26).  He dealt with people who refused to accept his calling as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 10-11).  He was beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:16-24).  He even pleaded with God to remove some of his more difficult struggles (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  In the end, he realized his struggles didn’t and wouldn’t define him.  God did!  He found strength in God through his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10, Philippians 4:13), and you and I can do the same.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?  Do you rely on your own ingenuity to rise above life’s negative circumstances?  Sure, it may work temporarily, but there are many struggles that we just can’t face alone.  Instead, I invite you to hand your difficulties over to God.  Bring him your questions, concerns, and doubts.  I can assure you that he listens and wants nothing more than to help you feel his presence and his love.

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)

-Joe Butler

Taking a Trip From Mind to Heart

For those who’ve read this blog for a while, you already know that I love to travel.  I’m a “it’s not the destination but the journey” type of person.  It doesn’t entirely matter where I’m headed per se’.  I just like the adventure of going.  I’m even one of those crazy people who enjoy going to the airport no matter how busy it may be.  While I’m sitting there waiting for my own flight to depart, I’m imagining all of the other passengers on their trip and where they may be headed.  I will admit that I still love the normalcy and comfort of home.  There’s just something special about visiting new places and seeing amazing sights along the way.

Our walk or journey as a Christian is much the same way.  To play off the name of my blog, we must certainly have faith in order to be pleasing to God, but we must also realize that we’re on a journey of faith as well.  What’s unique about this particular trip of faith is that it’s the longest and yet shortest journey we’ll ever take.  Longest in the sense that we are on a lifelong journey of discovery, learning more about God and becoming more Christ-like every day.  But it’s also the shortest trip as you’ll see in this post.

It is approximately 17 inches from the top of my head to the center of my chest.  How do I know?  Well, I actually measured it.  While you’re imagining what that may have looked like, go ahead and pull out a tape measure and take the same measurement on yourself.  Got it?  Good, because that distance is equal to the shortest trip you will take in your lifetime.

Now, I know that may sound confusing, but follow me for a second.  When we first have a Bible study or hear the good news of the gospel message, that information takes root in our mind and hopefully in our heart as well.  For those whose heart calls them into obedience to the gospel, it’s an emotional time of rejoicing and commitment.  Soon after, we find ourselves wanting to study the Bible more, wanting to share our story with others, and wanting to grow more like Christ in our behavior.

What I’ve found with longtime Christians is that, in the process of reading God’s word and attending Bible classes, in the process of attending worship on Sunday and going about our business the rest of the week, we sometimes forget to continue to move our understanding and belief of God and his word from our mind to our heart.  It’s such a short distance, but sometimes it’s a long trip.  Nevertheless, that trip from mind to heart is the most important journey we make as Christians.

All throughout God’s word, we are reminded that God wants our hearts.  From the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40) to how we give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and treat others (Matthew 25:34-40), God wants us to put our heart into our worship and service for him.  It’s simply not good enough to hang your hat on your Bible knowledge or your perfect church attendance record.  That’s taking Christianity away from the relationship it’s meant to be and making it about following rules and checking off boxes.  Instead, we should be changed at the heart level (Hebrews 4:12).

Another important aspect of taking the journey of moving God from our mind to our heart is that it will cause us to move from belief to action.  Examples abound of good Christian people who only practice their religion on Sunday mornings, but God has called us to do much more than that.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

(James 2:14-18, 24)

Looking at the above passage of Scripture, we can clearly see that God must be in the mind and heart.  Both are needed to have faith and both are needed to have deeds.  Verse 20 rings especially loudly when we examine that which justifies us in the eyes of God.  Our heart must be active in serving God if we wish to have salvation.

So I want to invite you to take a journey with me.  If you’re already a Christian, great!  If you’re actively spending time learning more about God and his will for your life, outstanding!  Keep up the good work.  But make sure your knowledge and love of God is taking root in your heart as well.  Make every effort to prune out the negative influences in your life that may get in the way.  And enjoy the journey.  It’s the most edifying one you’ll ever take.

-Joe Butler

Adultery, Conspiracy, and Murder

I kind of had to laugh a little when I typed out the title for this post.  Not because I condone those actions, but because they could easily describe a number of movies or primetime dramas currently on television.  Sad isn’t it?  Sad that we as a society celebrate, or at the least, enjoy being entertained by such filth and debauchery.  Also sad because many people who claim the title of “Christian” watch such shows as well.  But I digress.

Well, this post is still going to discuss adultery, conspiracy, and murder, and it’s a story we are all too familiar with.  If you will, grab your Bible and open up to the book of 2 Samuel, the 11th chapter so you can follow along with our study.

It’s springtime.  The time of year when armies go out to battle and apparently beautiful women bathe naked in full view of others.  We have David, the rugged and good-looking King of Israel gawking at the very married wife of Uriah, Bathsheba.  He sends for her.  She willingly comes.  The result?  A shameful example of adultery and an unwanted pregnancy (2 Samuel 11:2-5).

But the story doesn’t end there.  After unsuccessfully trying to convince Uriah to lie with his wife to cover up his indiscretion (2 Samuel 11:6-13), our honorable King David then conspires to have Uriah killed on the battlefield.  It wasn’t bad enough that he was attempting to commit murder.  He even convinced Joab to go along with the plan (2 Samuel 11:14-21).  Maybe Joab was afraid to disobey the king.  Maybe he was a willing coconspirator.  Regardless of the circumstances, a marriage was ruined, sin was rampantly spread, and a innocent man was killed, all because David couldn’t control his wandering eyes on that rooftop.

Then along comes Nathan.  Not just any man, but a prophet from God.  He brings to David the story of a wicked rich man who steals from his poor servant.  The man in the story?  It’s meant to be David himself (2 Samuel 12:1-7)!  Nathan fearlessly tells the king that because of his sin, the sword will never depart from his house.  Because of his sin, evil will rise against him and his neighbors will plunder him (2 Samuel 12:11-12).  And David’s response?  He immediately confesses his sin (2 Samuel 12:13).

Were it so with all who claim to be Christians. Just take a look at David’s own words as he laments over his poor choices with a penitent heart:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:1-4)

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:9-17)

What an amazing treat it is to read the 51st psalm and witness the outpouring grief over committed sin.  I think my favorite verse in the passage is verse 17.  One of the most genuine ways to worship God is to offer him a ‘broken and contrite heart.”  It’s a heart that God has promised to forgive and restore.  Also take a look at the blessings David offers at receiving forgiveness:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5)

When we don’t seek the forgiveness of God, we can literally waste away from our guilt.  We all know the feeling full well, for we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And yet David can confidently say that the iniquity of his sin has been forgiven because he had confessed his transgressions to the Lord (vs. 5).

Finally, read the words of Psalm 139 and see that David realizes God sees all.  David invites him to know his heart and to lead David into righteousness:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (Psalm 139:1-4)

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7)

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

These actions and this attitude should be the aim of all wish to be followers of God.  When sin occurs in our life, we should grieve over that sin to the point where we pour out our confession to God in the most transparent way possible (Psalm 51).  Next, we should rejoice that God offers us forgiveness, even to the most wicked of sinners (Psalm 32).  There is no sin bad enough that God has not offered to forgive and forget.  But we must let God have our heart and fully yield to his will for our life (Psalm 139).  We must invite him to guide us in the way we should go, and most importantly, submit to his divine leadership and wisdom.

Do you have king-sized sin in your life?  Rather, do you have ANY sin in your life?  Like David, go to God with a penitent heart and ask for his mercy and forgiveness because “blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2).

-Joe Butler

 

That’s Mine

I’ve been extremely lucky as a parent.  Maybe it was due to my wife and I trying to be good parents, or possibly it’s the fact that my daughter has such a generous and compassionate heart.  Either way, our Emma has never been the type of child to hold too tightly to her personal stuff.  She has always been willing to share with others or give to those in need.

That’s not always the case with some of us.  More often than not, most people are protective of their money and personal belongings.  There are all kinds of excuses for this out there too.  We tell ourselves we’ve worked hard for what we have, that it’s ours and we can do with it as we please.  Or, we hoard our money and things and live in fear of losing any of it.  Either way, we sometimes have a skewed idea of who owns what and an even larger misunderstanding of what it means to be a giver.

Just think of the word stewardship in context of the church and immediately we imagine the collection plate being passed around and the perceived responsibility we have to tithe.  While it’s true that giving to the work of the church is an important act of love and faith, stewardship is much bigger than that.  It starts with the realization that God doesn’t want or really need your money.  He wants you…all of you!  While the money we give may vary from one Christian to another, there is one nonnegotiable that God asks of all of us.  He wants us to give him 100% of ourselves.

When we believe that everything we are and everything we own belongs to God, we will then begin to understand what true stewardship is all about.  It frees us to experience real faith and trust in a God who has promised to meet our every need.  It allows us the blessing of not worrying about all our stuff or our livelihood and instead spend our energy and resources helping to meet the needs of those around us.  And God has even promised to reward those who are generous with their blessings:

38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

As we can see in these passages of Scripture, giving is not just a command but the expectation of the follower of God, and it’s not in the form we typically think.  First, a person is meant to give from the heart, and that is only done if God has our entire heart in the first place.  If so, we are no longer owners of our own resources, but rather managers who have been trusted to wisely use what we’ve been given.  We become stewards with great responsibility.  And it’s not just material possessions such as money, houses, or cars.  It also means we are good stewards of our time, wisdom, and talents.  Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God.

If we live with these thoughts in mind, we’ll no longer say, “That’s mine!,” in reference to our lives or our stuff.  Instead, “in view of God’s mercy,” we’ll “offer (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- that is (our) true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).

-Joe Butler