Monitor Your Thoughts (Blogs Revisited)

Monitor Your Thoughts (Originally posted August 31, 2014)

“The human brain. It’s such an amazing part of our body. It’s capable of so much good, so much knowledge. And yet, it is also able to cause much harm, succumbing to the temptations of this world.

Our mind is always active. An unconscious chatter takes place within us daily. Sometimes that message is mundane, day-to-day thoughts. Because we live such busy lives, our minds have many choices and events to process. But sometimes our thoughts stray away from daily tasks and land squarely on unhealthy things. Anxiety, fear, worry, and discouragement are all bottomless pits waiting to prey upon our minds. And sadly, sometimes our thoughts wander into the realm of sin.

Interestingly, the bible refers to most of our thought processes as a heart issue and Jesus addresses this in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:21-22 he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.”  And again in verse 27-28 he teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Jesus reminds us that the sin in our life occurs long before the act. It occurs when our minds and our hearts are taken captive by temptation.

So what do we do when we notice a decline in a moral train of thought?  First we must be aware of what we’re thinking. We must continually monitor our thoughts, being in control of where our mind is taking us. Finally, and most important of all, we must guard our minds and our hearts and preserve them for Christ. I’ll admit that’s hard to do, but Paul in Philippians 4:8 encourages us that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”

In a world where there is much that is wrong and evil abounds, we should know that we can still fill our minds and our hearts with that which is good. We can break through the prison that our minds often create and set it free thinking and meditating on a good and perfect God. Sure sounds like a good thought to me!”

The first thing that came to mind when revisiting the above post was, “Wow…we sure do have a lot of things that can distract our thoughts nowadays!”  But the truth is, it’s always been that way.  The world has always had disturbing ways to keep us from focusing on God.  It’s just now, with our television and internet-saturated culture, it’s even easier to become distracted.

The key to dealing with our thought life is similar to attacking any bad habit that we may have.  Instead of filling our minds, and as result, our hearts with negativity and evil, we must instead make a point of surrounding ourselves with the things that provide a godly influence and thought process.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”  This is a work enacted by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to be more aware of the sinful things that can divert us away from godly thinking.

Sounds great right?  Just change our thought process to be more in line with God?  Like many of God’s other commands, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  That is why Paul reminds us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).   There are still plenty of godly things in this world that can garner our attention, but only if we choose to focus our mind there. That might mean we need to change who we associate with, or what companies we affiliate with, or especially what entertainment choices we make.

No matter what we do, we must make every effort to “guard (our) heart, for everything (we) do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

-Joe Butler

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Developing a New Attitude for People (Blogs Revisited)

Developing a New Attitude for People (Originally posted August 29, 2014)

“People.  All those other beings that we share the planet with.  How do you look at them?  If you’re a people person like my wife, then you look at others as a gift.  You find the value in others and would like nothing better than to spend your day with as many friends as possible.  Others look at people as a tool.  They use those around them to get what they want.  Still others are solitary individuals, walking through life in their own little world, oblivious of those around them.

I would propose that as we walk through life we should develop a new attitude for people, one which Jesus adopted when he was on earth.  Jesus was definitely a people-person, one who saw the value in everyone he met.  But more than just meeting the needs of others, he loved what we cannot see in others… their soul.  Unlike some of us who are polite and concerned with those we know or easily get along with, Jesus showed love to all.  It’s amazing how we humans think we’re such good judges of the heart.  We like to decide who deserves our love and who doesn’t.  But Jesus didn’t look at others that way.  He loves all of us whether we deserve it or not.  He loved the people who wholeheartedly followed him as much as the ones who would deny him.  He cared for the sinner’s soul more than the opportunity to condemn them.

If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must have his attitude towards others.  Colossians 3:12 reminds us, “…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  The words “forgive” and “love” are added later on in the passage.  Did you notice something about all of those words?  They are all people related.  They are all ways that we can change our attitude for people.  It’s pretty obvious what effect we would have if we daily wore these Christian graces.  Just the act of forgiveness would drastically change our world.  And, when taken together, these attributes help us to show the love that God shows us every day.

Let’s begin to see people around us in a different way.  Let’s begin to fulfill the greatest command of loving God by loving others.  It’s what we were created to do.”

I’ve recently returned from a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and boy were the crowds insane!  I, of course, expected as much considering it was the start of summer break for kids around the country.  I never let the crowds bother me though.  You have to expect to deal with long lines and irritated tourists at times when visiting a place as popular as Disney.

What it did remind me of though was the post above, which I wrote in 2014, and which mentions the importance of the people around us every day.  Each day, whether it be a workday, a weekend day, or a vacation day, we are privileged to share our time on this earth with other people.  I say privileged because we must remember that the people we interact with on a daily basis are also creations of our Almighty God.  Each and every one of them matter in the mind And heart of God and they should matter to us as well.

Each interaction with another is an opportunity to be a light for the kingdom of God.  It’s a chance to show patience and love.  It’s an occasion to forgive and minister to their needs.  God specifically told us that we are to love the neighbors around us as we would love ourselves.  And not just the ones that are lovable.  We are to love them with a godly love, even the ones who we feel may not deserve it.   Only then can we see others for who they really are… a person of value, created in the image of God.

-Joe Butler

What Will You Do With the Word of God? (Blogs Revisited)

What Will You Do With the Word of God? (Originally posted July 19, 2014)

“I was writing in my journal the other day about my desire to have a closer relationship with God. Not just a “see you at worship service” relationship, but a “walk alongside him” relationship. I thought, what better way to get closer to him and learn more about his will than to read the bible more. Sometimes we think its hard to feel God’s presence or that we can’t figure out his will for our lives, but the truth is, he gives us everything we need for life and godliness in his word. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how powerful and informative God’s Word can be.  The words of the bible are his very thoughts.  Jesus is the Word manifested in the flesh.  So in order to have a relationship with him, I need to be studying his Word more. 

The thing is, what do we intend to do with the word of God?  In James 1:22, we are reminded that if we hear the word and don’t do it we deceive ourselves. Satan is the great deceiver, but sometimes we make his job easy for him. He’s likely thrilled to watch some of our worship services. He’s probably sitting there thinking, “Sweet!  Look at all these “Christians.”  They gather to hear a message from God that they’re not going to apply. They deceive themselves. My job is done.”  But that is not the reaction that God wants when we hear or read his word. He is a God who desires repentance, change, of actually turning away from the world and following him.

If we’re honest, there are several ways that we can respond to God’s word, only one of which he would be happy with.

  1. We respond with disbelief (We can hear something from the word of God and flat out not believe what it says. We can assume that God didn’t really mean that, or that he’s a loving God who would not really punish us. Against our better judgement, we walk away from what we know in our hearts to be the truth.)
  2. We respond with “That doesn’t apply to me” (Somehow, Christians have gotten into the habit of cherry-picking the bible, thinking that some parts apply to my life while others do not. God’s word is perfect. We cannot throw some of it out because we disagree or it doesn’t match the life we want to live. It’s our responsibility to mold our lives to fit what God wants, not the other way around.)
  3. The word “breaks us” but we do nothing (Sometimes we hear a well-delivered message from God’s word or we read a passage that really hits home.  We dwell on how important it is, how right and true, but no change is made. Like the soil with many thorns, we get sidetracked worrying about our lives. We forget that God’s word has no effect on us until it is applied.)
  4. The word “breaks us” and we change (“The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does” -James 1:25.  A disciple is a follower of their master. They listen to instruction, and then put that instruction into practice. Like Romans 12:2 says, we are to be transformed by renewing our minds with the word of God. Only then will we know his will.)

Next time you open your bible to study or you’re listening to someone deliver a message from God’s word, read or listen with a purpose. Ask yourself, “What will I do with the word of God?”

It’s amazing to look at the Bible sitting on my desk next to me and think of the amazing importance of that text.  I know this to be true, but it still stuns me at times to realize that these are the very thoughts of the God that I believe in and worship.  I’m astounded by the Bible’s permanency and its power.  I’m encouraged by its message of hope and grace.

I think, as Christians, we lose track of that at times.  We talk about how important the Bible is, but we don’t necessarily show that daily in the way we live or respond to the world around us.  We proclaim that the word of God has the great ability to transform lives, but it may not be entirely evident that it has transformed our own.

I wrote the above post many years ago to provide a reminder that we cannot only read God’s word or even memorize it or quote it when trying to prove a point.  We must be changed by it!  It should be evident in every aspect of our lives that the transforming power of the word of God has taken control of us.  That by reading it we respond to our sin with remorse and repentance.  That we take seriously our calling to make disciples of all nations.  That we realize that the grace and forgiveness that God has given us was meant to be passed on to others as well.

Ask yourself, “What will you do with the word of God?”  Will you set it aside in disbelief or pick it apart to eliminate the inconsistencies with your chosen lifestyle?  Or will you relish in the saving words of a God who loves you dearly and choose to daily follow his commands?

-Joe Butler

Commitment to Christ Means Commitment to His Church (Blogs Revisited)

Commitment to Christ Means Commitment to His Church (Originally posted June 22, 2014)

“Is it possible to have a commitment to Christ separate and apart from a commitment to  his church?  Scores of today’s Christians apparently believe so based on the lack of attendance in worship services around the world. But the church, the body and bride of Christ, is far more than going to a worship assembly or attending the annual church cookout. If we are to identify ourselves as Christians, joined with Christ, we must also join our lives with Christ’s people. It is a privilege to be identified as a member of Christ’s family, but so many believers view it as a chore.

Part of the problem in today’s culture is how we view the church. We tend to think of the church as a building, a meeting place. We characterize churches based upon denominational leaning or what programs they offer. It’s common to hear people say, “I attend the church with the great singles program” or “I worship at the church that has unlimited resources and outings for retirees.”  We’ve created a consumer-driven mentality where we “shop around” for the congregation that best suits our needs.

But this is not how the Bible presents the church. Jesus nor his disciples never once refer to the church as a building or a series of programs designed to please the masses. The church of Christ is simply meant to be a body of believers sharing the life of Christ. We’re meant to care, love, serve, and teach one another. We’re called to forgive, encourage, pray for, and rejoice with one another (Read 1 Corinthians 12:25, John 13:34-35, Galatians 5:13, Colossians 3:16, Colossians 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, James 5:16, and Philippians 4:4).

So I must ask the question…How will you approach the church and your commitment to it?  Our only response should be total dedication to the bride of Christ because in doing so, we are also showing total dedication to Christ himself.”

It’s summer vacation time here in Florida, and I’ve noticed a lot more out-of-town visitors at our Sunday morning worship services lately.  I love it when we have visitors because I get to meet and talk to other Christians, but even more importantly, I gain a tremendous amount of encouragement by seeing the importance these visitors place on worship and the church itself.

We all have been there before I’m sure.  We are on a much needed vacation, one which we’ve have planned for months or maybe years, and we have many activities or hours of relaxation planned for our time.  A lot of times, our weekly worship time passes and we don’t give a second thought about missing.  Maybe that’s because we’re not home with our regular church family or we’re unfamiliar with the local churches in the area.

It’s always nice to live in a tourist area and know that Christians have made it a priority to assemble with a group of believers while on vacation.  It shows how strongly they view the church itself and the vital role it plays in worshipping God and strengthening the body of Christians worldwide.  The above post, which I penned almost 5 years ago now, is a reminder of what our commitment to the church should be.  If we are committed to Christ and then show no commitment to his bride the church, then we are really liars and not committed to him at all.  And it’s not just on vacation either.  Our lives should be an example of placing God and his church at the forefront of everything we hold dear.

I’ll close by echoing the words above.  How will you approach the church and your commitment to it?  Our only response should be total dedication to the bride of Christ, because in doing so, we are also showing total dedication to Christ himself.

-Joe Butler

What is the Christian Life…A Rich, Abundant Life (Blogs Revisited)

What is the Christian Life… A Rich, Abundant Life (Originally posted April 29, 2014)

“So being a Christian is synonymous with having an abundant life right?  Great…where do I sign up?  Has God promised us a rich, abundant life?  Well yes and no.  Today’s post on living as a Christian will focus on what a rich, abundant life really means in God’s eyes. First let’s look at the verse that sparked this study, John 10:10.  Jesus said in that passage, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”.   Some versions refer to it as an abundant life.  There is no doubt that God provides us wonderful physical blessings but many have interpreted this verse to mean that God promises what we would call the good life.  Wealth, power, life on easy street.  If you’ve taken the time to read much of the rest of bible or study the lives of Christ’s followers, you’ll know practicing a Christian life is anything but easy.  So what does this “abundant life” mean?  We must shift into eternal thinking and read some other passages to fully understand this concept.

Lets look at 2 Corinthians 9:8.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  The abundant life is about the grace of God as well.  It’s about using that grace through the work we do for others.  God blesses us so we can then bless those around us.  It’s a beautiful way to show the love of God to the world and praise Him for the love he shows us.

The abundant life is also a life of power, or better yet, of God’s power living through us. Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.”   We need to view ourselves as vessels carrying the message and power of God throughout the world.

Finally, the abundant life is having our needs met.  “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  Suffice it to say that needs and wants are two very different things. But as the parable of the talents teaches, those who use God’s gifts wisely will be blessed with more.  God has always provided for his children…the entire bible speaks that message.  All we need to do is put our trust in him, obey and practice his teachings, and he will give us that abundant life we all hope for and dream of.”

For today’s “Blogs Revisited” post, we’re going to take a look at post I wrote as a month-long series back in April of 2014 answering the question of what is a Christian life.  I chose the topic of the rich, abundant life because this idea is so misunderstood and misinterpreted.  Of course that’s easy to do when we only use our physical world as a means of understanding Scripture.  As we grow more spiritually mature, we can hopefully understand the eternal ramifications of God’s word and the promises that lie within.

The idea of a rich and abundant life is a good example of thinking that God’s promises have to do with the here and now.  For sure, this passage of Scripture found in John 10:10 does promise us blessings, but we may have misinterpreted that God wishes for us to live a carefree life full of financial and material success.  As the post above mentions, one need only to study the Bible in its entirety to see that Christians throughout history have not always lived a life that we would consider comfortable and easy.  And if we only think of this life here on earth, it would make sense to think in this way, but God is preparing us for eternity and gives us the blessings (grace) we need to do the good works he wishes for us to do.  God does indeed meet our physical needs in this life and he does promise to bless those who are good stewards with more, but that abundance is meant to be shared rather than hoarded.

There’s no doubt that Christians should approach life with the mindset that they are rich in Christ.  But those riches have nothing to do with the physical things we have here in this life.  The riches of God are attributes like peace, contentment, joy, wisdom, and love and if you ask me, those things promise a much more abundant life than what this world could ever offer.

-Joe Butler

Trust and Obey (Blogs Revisited)

“Trust and Obey” (Originally posted March 11, 2014)

“Trust and Obey.”  Many of us are familiar with this timeless hymn still sung in many churches around the world.  The refrain speaks to a simple truth about following God.  “Trust and Obey” is a truth I’ve found many unbelievers have difficulty with because they think Christians profess to have all of the answers.  Those Christians farther along on their walk with God know that, all too often, we don’t know why God has asked something of us or why something has happened.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey.  With the technology of our modern age and our immediate access to information, we convince ourselves that we need to know everything.  Many things in our world try to encourage us to not trust God.  This is exactly how Satan works, creating distrust and skepticism towards what we know to be true.  He whispers to us during times of desperation, “Don’t trust God to take care of you.”  “Don’t trust anyone else; they’ll only let you down.”  “Just look out for yourself…you’re the only one you can truly trust.”

While Satan plants his poison in our minds, God responds by reminding us that He loves us.  He knew us before the beginning of time.  He has a plan for us through His son Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus himself reminds us of that plan in John 12:44-50.  He said, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into this world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  For I did not speak on my  own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Jesus is telling us to trust him.  Obey his teachings for in doing so we are obeying God and getting to know Him.  Trust and obedience does not negate rational thought and physical evidence either.  The world would have us believe that followers of God blindly believe in something that makes no sense; that we are uneducated and naive.  The exact opposite is true.  Most Christians have dutifully examined scripture and compared it to what we see in the world and other physical evidences and have reasonably come to the conclusion that trusting and obeying God is not far-fetched after all.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

It’s been a rough week.  Not for me personally, but for some close to me and my family.  I’ve been reminded this week that it’s during the difficult and trying times in life that we must fully embrace the concept of trusting and obeying God.

As the above post teaches, I’ve recently witnessed Satan poison the minds of Christians and convince them to place their trust in their own understanding instead of in the wisdom and purity of our all-knowing God.  I’ve heard them make excuses for their decisions and sins and watched as they have thrown away every good blessing God has given them in the pursuit of personal happiness.

But I have also been witness to amazing strength being exemplified by other Christians when they faced the death of a family member or the tearing apart of their marriage and everything normal in their life.  I’ve watched in amazement as they have openly proclaimed their trust in God during the most devastating of times.  They have committed to serving and obeying God and they will continue to do so regardless of the difficulties that Satan or this world throw their way.

I wrote the above post as encouragement for those of us who’ve chosen to give our entire lives to Christ.  Sometimes, Satan or the world in which we live will try to convince us to trust in ourselves more than God.  Sometimes, we are fed lies and delusions that create distrust towards God’s word and what we know to be true.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey, regardless the circumstances, and know that God wants the best for his children.

-Joe Butler

Excuses, Excuses (Blogs Revisited)

Excuses, Excuses (Originally posted February 21, 2014)

“We are all guilty of making excuses at one time or another.  Sadly, one of the areas where we give excuses is in not doing the will of God.  Through the years, Christians have devised ingenious excuses for not doing what God would have them do.

Excuse making is as old as man himself.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve made excuses for their violation of God’s commands.  In Exodus 4, Moses gave excuses for not being able to lead God’s people (The excuses Moses gave are very similar to the ones some Christians give today for not teaching the gospel or for not developing their talents) (See verse 1 and 10).

In the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24, Jesus gave a great lesson on how to combat excuse making.  In the parable, people were invited to a banquet but they immediately began to make excuses for not being able to attend.  The first excuse was given by a man who needed to tend to his property (vs. 18).  People today use the same excuse.  They say, “Excuse me for not serving God, but I’m too busy building a home, or remodeling my house, or car shopping, etc…”  The second excuse given related to work and livelihood (vs. 19).  People today claim work and maintaining a lifestyle as more important than God.  The third excuse that was made dealt with relationships (vs.20).  How many people through the years have used family as an excuse for not serving God?  Many will not put God first because their spouse doesn’t believe or they don’t like the preacher or they are arguing with another Christian.

Today we have a new arsenal of excuses being thrown around such as, “I can’t help it” or “I was born that way,” “I’m not as bad as other people I know” or “Everyone else is doing it.”  Sadly, these are some of the very excuses given by those who profess to love God.  And the conclusion is not pretty for those who make excuses.  No excuses will be accepted on the day of judgement (vs. 24).

Please join with and help me work towards banishing all worthless excuses and making God a priority in our lives.”

As the post above says, we are ALL guilty of boarding the excuse train from time to time.  I’m not sure if it’s ingrained in our human nature or simply a matter of finding the easiest path through a task or circumstance, but we are very good at making excuses, especially in the arena of following God.

From the creation of mankind, we have adapted our excuses to make ourselves comfortable and make life as smooth as possible with the least amount of speed bumps along the way.  It would probably be safe to say that the society we live in now even outright breeds excuses when we see the most famous of men and women making them on a daily basis.

When I penned the post above, I was mindful of the excuses that I make in my own life from time to time.  Excuses not to try my best or to skips corners.  Excuses not to do the right thing when the right action is blatantly obvious.  Even excuses why I don’t have time to serve the Lord the way I should.  I can say that I’ve gotten better at not making these types of excuses in my life.  And that is what growing as a Christian is all about.  It’s about destroying all excuses and putting God at the forefront of our lives no matter the cost.

Joe Butler