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

Exposed (Blogs Revisited)

“Exposed” (Originally posted January 14, 2014)

One of my all time favorite classes in middle school was the photography class I took in 6th grade.  Mind you, I was in 6th grade in 1987.  Digital photography was still a dream in the future so we students were taught how to expose film on an old camera.  We were taught how to manually do all of the things digital cameras do for us today.  I loved going out shooting photos, waiting for the right light, finding interesting subjects, but what appealed to me the most was developing the film.  There were no digital screens to preview the photos after taking them.  No, we were forced to wait patiently until a roll of film was spent before we could anxiously make our way to the dark room.  Best of all was watching photographs come to life in the different chemical baths.  The image just magically appeared right before our eyes and we could finally see the subject immortalized on paper.

Those who are photographers know that one ingredient necessary for all pictures to exist is light.  Light simply reflects off the object we are shooting and the camera, like our eye, registers this reflection.  According to God, He is the light and we should be reflecting God’s glory to the world around us.  1 John 1:5-7 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  God reminds us of several things in this passage:

1. He is light.  It is impossible for darkness to even exist in his presence.  And yet we bring darkness to God all of the time.

2. If we claim the name Christian, God and others should see it by the way our light shines in our dark world around us.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:14-16, continues this theme by stating that, “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Again, we cannot claim the name Christian and only let our light out during worship or when briefly helping others.  Jesus says our light, our example, should be evident to all, bringing light to a darkened world.  We do so, not to receive praise ourselves, but so others may glorify God.  We must be exposed to God in order to expose Him to others.  And best of all, one day we will no longer walk in darkness but walk in pure light, praising God for all of eternity.

Boy does the world need some light right now.  Not only the world, mind you, but even the church!  I was reminded of this point again after reading a wonderful blog post from a friend of mine today.  (You can find that post here.)  He mentioned how we in the church are looking so much like the rest of the world that you can’t tell the difference between the two anymore.  Which reminded me of this post I wrote back in January of 2014.  We must let the light of God expose our actions and motives and determine whether we have God’s interests at heart or merely those of our own.  We must no longer walk in darkness and the futility of worldly thinking and living, and instead walk in the light of God, allowing his word to reveal to us where our hearts truly lie.

-Joe Butler

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

-Joe Butler

 

 

Why Are You a Christian? (Blogs Revisited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

-Joe Butler

 

Whew!

 

Boy, life can sure get busy sometimes…and I’m not even in school right now!  The school year is over and I’ve sent my students home for a much needed summer break. I’ve been busy myself teaching two different Bible classes at church, volunteering at our Vacation Bible School, taking a week off for a family vacation to Disney World, and pretty much spending every other spare day as a daddy/daughter day with Emma. I guess that’s why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month, which isn’t like me considering that I usually put out two or three a week. And I suppose that’s ok.

At first, it bothered me that I haven’t written in a while. It’s a ministry that I’m very dedicated to and truly enjoy. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there are always other important things to be done and other ways in which to serve God and his kingdom.

After finishing a quarterly Bible class for adults recently and undertaking another one currently, I’m reminded of the vital work that all of our Bible teachers in the church undertake. If you count yourself in this category, I encourage you to continue this good work. The church at all ages needs teachers who love God and are willing to volunteer their time to teach others about him.

And to the parents out there who are spending their days raising children in this tough world we call our home. I only have one child of my own, but as a teacher of 3rd graders, I know all too well what a difficult job parenting can be. Remember, your greatest act of stewardship is raising your children in a godly manner. Do so with the mindset that God is fully aware of all the hard work you put into that endeavor.

To the community of Christian bloggers out there.  Never forget that your impact and instruction of God’s truth can be felt literally around the world. Continue to serve him and others through your writing, and I pray that you will not grow weary as you do so.

Finally, if you’re not serving the kingdom of God in some way, your talents are needed as well. Find a ministry where your God-given abilities can be used. Commit to giving of yourself in even the smallest acts of servanthood, and I promise that God will bless you in amazing ways.  And don’t forget: You may very well end some days with an audible “Whew!”  That’s just the feeling of a job well-done and that the work you did for God was absolutely worth the time and effort.

-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

A New Restoration

Change.

For most of us, it’s not necessarily something we look forward to is it?  We all like our comfort, our normal patterns of life.  It’s nice not to have to worry about too many unexpected surprises or be concerned about any unwanted discomfort.

But without change, we can get stuck.  We can miss opportunities for growth or new adventures.  We can lose out on chances to positively affect people or the world around us. We can arrive later on in life with regrets of “what if?”

For the 31 years that I’ve been a Christian, it seems that change, or the lack thereof, has hurt the church and the growth of individual Christians as well.  Change, in the sense that many of the professing Christians of today are much more worldly than in previous generations. The lack of change, in the sense that most believers of today are perfectly content with the comfortable form of Christianity they’ve created, so there’s no need to do things differently, to mix things up.

We can look at change in church history as the motivating factor which drove believers to be recharged in their efforts to serve the Lord.  It began with Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement, which encouraged Christians to change or reform their thinking about God and the church.  It eventually led to the Restoration Movement of Stone and Campbell, who wanted to “restore” the church to its 1st century example and teach the Bible as our only form of instruction.

I’m no outspoken apologist or a well-known preacher, but if you ask me, we need a new restoration!  We worship like the first century church in many ways, but we don’t necessarily live like it.  The community mindset of the early believers (Acts 2:42-47) is mostly missing in the 21st century church.  Especially in America, Christians show more allegiance to country and political party than they do for God.  While early Christians used their resources primarily for the care of others and the advancement of God’s kingdom, modern day Christians chase God on Sunday and the trappings of the world the rest of the week.

If the church is to be effective in winning souls going forward, we absolutely must continue to preach the gospel as it is delivered to us in God’s word.  To shirk that responsibility is to violate a direct command from God (Matthew 28:19-20).  We must also continue to follow God’s other commands regarding things such as worship, generosity, and love.  There’s no need to do things differently in those respects. But, we need to make some drastic changes as well if we’ll ever have a chance to convince the world to believe the saving message of the gospel.

I believe that change starts with us, the Christians of today’s church whose lives need to look more like Christ.  I believe we need to get serious and honestly look at the level of commitment we’ve individually made for God.  I believe we need to genuinely examine how our time and resources are used and honestly admit that God usually doesn’t get our best.  Most importantly, I’m convinced that we have many idols that have taken the place of God, and he deserves the be placed first again in our lives.

I believe we need a new restoration!

-Joe Butler