Monday Motivation: Every Day is a Day to Worship

 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it!
33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!”

(1 Chronicles 16:31-34)

Today and every day, worship the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You don’t have to wait for a Sunday worship service to glorify God.  While public acts of service are wonderful, you don’t have to do some amazing thing in order to honor Him.  Lift up his name in everything that you do each and every day.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.”

(Psalm 100:1-5)

-Joe

Obese Spirituality

I was alarmed recently when I went to the doctor for my physical and found out that I had gained some weight.  Now, it may seem petty, but I have been between 180 and 185 lbs. for literally the last twenty years.  So you can understand my surprise when the doctor told me I weighed 192 lbs.  It’s not a huge increase, but I quickly realized that in middle age, the weight does in fact catch up with you like I was warned.

I can probably hear some of you saying, “I’d love to only weigh that much!”  I only mention it to show I’ve been a little undisciplined, that I’ve taken one too many trips to the all-you-can-eat buffet and listened one too many times to that ravenous voice in my head that says I need a snack at 11 o’clock at night.  Putting aside some very real medical and physical issues that cause some people to be overweight, most obesity is simply a result of taking in more calories than you can burn off.  Apparently, the problem is pretty widespread too.  According to the National Institute of Health, 74% of men and 64% of women in America are considered overweight or obese and the number is continually rising.

I believe there is a deeper problem behind the increasing rates of obesity and it has nothing to do with food.  In fact, we may be seeing the same phenomenon in parts of the church today and it’s becoming detrimental to our ability to win people for Christ.  I believe the problem lies with the fact that we have a consumer mentality.  In terms of our bodies, when we consume too much it gets stored as fat and can ruin our health.  In regards to the church, when we consume too much, we think only of our own spiritual appetite and miss the chance to be the true church to the world around us.

Ask any preacher or body of elders from any congregation of your choice and most will say that people primarily look at church as a means to be filled.  People want sermons that pander, programs that provide, and decisions to be made that fit their opinions.  Church has become a place where if your needs aren’t being met, you move on to somewhere else or leave the church altogether.  Instead, we should be fixated on serving rather than taking.  We should be asking, “What can I do with my life, my time, and my talents to serve God and his kingdom purposes?”

Sure, we should feed ourselves from time to time.  We should consume scripture because it brings life.  But we should also feed others, looking for ways to encourage, pray for, and teach those who need the life-giving sustenance that only God can provide.

I say, let’s all go on a diet together.  Let’s be more concerned about the needs of others and not just our own.  Let’s share the bread of life (John 6:35) and the living water (John 7:37-38) with as many people as we can so they can know Christ and have their spirits quenched.  I guarantee this diet will have a much bigger effect on your soul than any fad diet would ever have on your body.

(John 6:27a) “27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

(John 6:33) “33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

(John 6:51a) “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

-Joe

Would We Be Missed If We Were Gone?

The doors of the church building closed one final time.  The members said their goodbyes and departed, sadly making plans for where they would attend in the future.  No one thought it would happen to their church, but it did and it was time to move on.  The paint faded and peeled.  The windows were broken or stained.  The walls that once echoed with songs of praise now only heard silence.

Would we be missed if we were gone?

This fictitious story was meant to help us understand that churches close permanently all the time.  And with those closures come very real consequences for the surrounding community.  Or at least there should be.  If your church left the community or closed its doors for good, would anyone care or notice?  I know the members of a church that closed would definitely feel the loss, but would it really affect the community?  Does the church have a big enough impact on its surroundings that if it were gone, a huge void would be created?

The truth is, some churches are actively providing ministries and outreach that drastically help the communities around them.  And that is exactly what the church is supposed to do.  We are a vehicle by which people can come to know Jesus and learn how to effectively serve Him with the abilities they’ve been given.  For instance, an accountant by trade could use their knowledge to offer money management classes so that others can learn not to be chained to poor financial decisions.  Maybe a group of divorcees could offer a ministry to the community to help counsel couples on how to deal with real marital issues they may be facing.  Even if your talent is just being an encourager, you could use it in the community by volunteering at a local nursing home or classroom.  We must ask ourselves, are we truly being Jesus in our communities, not just preaching the truth, but being servants and meeting people’s basic needs?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:31-40)

I love this passage because it reminds us that being a Christian is not just about preaching the gospel.  Being righteous is not the only requirement to honor God.  We can help with social problems and teach the gospel and they don’t always have to happen simultaneously.  Sometimes a pressing physical need arises that needs attention before we share the gospel with others.  In fact, the true meaning of the gospel is really shown through acts of service.  The love that Jesus showed on the cross can also be shown when we sacrifice to take care of others.  Jesus goes on to say that if we don’t take care of these obvious needs around us, then we are essentially turning our backs on him as well (Matthew 25:41-46).  It means we can hole up in our churches and only focus on ourselves and be counted lost in the eyes of God if we look past the needs in the world around us.

I know that can be tough.  We are called out of the world and instructed to be careful of our associations (John 15:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but we are also sent into the world as well (John 17:18, Mark 16:15).  It doesn’t take long to look around and see some very desperate needs.  We definitely live in a hurting world where many have lost any sense of hope for their lives.  If the church doesn’t make every effort to meet those needs, who will?

I want to leave with the same question I posed at the beginning of the post.  Would we be missed if we were gone?  Would the entire community be affected by the closure of your church or would they barely notice?  I suppose it depends on our ability to love with our words or love with our life, and I believe that Jesus calls us to not only speak the gospel with our words but to live it out as well.

-Joe

 

The Roundtable of Misinformation

I’m sure you’ve heard of someone referred to as too smart for their own good.  That seems to be an oxymoron of some kind, but I believe it bears enough truth to examine.  I’m a teacher, so of course I feel strongly about education and the benefits it can bring in our lives.  I think it’s great for someone to continue learning throughout their life, always adding to their depth of knowledge.  At the same time, I also believe that we can constantly study and analyze subjects to the point where we fail to notice the simple, minor details anymore.  It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

A great example of this is spoken about in the book of Acts when Paul was in Athens.  Athens during biblical times would’ve been similar to our largely populated and educated metropolitan areas of today.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul over the religious ideas he was presenting (Acts 17:18) and like most disbelievers today, they began to insult him, assuming their knowledge trumped Paul’s thoughts and testimony.  Paul was used to this type of behavior in response to his ministry.  He even told Timothy to, “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20), and watch out for those who are, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

The philosophers of this time, much like those today who hold themselves in high regard because of their perceived wisdom, spent all of their time studying and debating the thinking of the day.  The problem is that most of philosophical thought is studied through the eyes of the viewer and the opinions of the day.  It means there’s no standard, that everything is relative and we can make our own standard to meet our needs as we go.  Much of the atheistic talking points today center around this idea as well, that we should use our collective knowledge to develop a moral standard that’s good for everyone.  I’m sure you can see the impossibility of that endeavor because we are inherently selfish creatures, usually seeking to make things more comfortable or palatable for ourselves.

Sadly, many churches and Bible colleges are adapting a form of this thinking as well.  Religion for some has become strictly about Bible knowledge and “study to show thyself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and worshipping in truth above all (John 4:24).  Notice how I quoted verses as reference for those thoughts.  That’s because they are entirely true.  But like the Pharisees who only focused on following the law, we can only focus on learning and not have any motivation to put our learning into practice.  It’s good to find truth, but it’s even better to do something with it (James 2:26).  Any extensive study of the Bible must ultimately lead to spiritual renewal and good works or it’s simply just study for the sake of knowledge.

Just like there are career college students who sputter along aimlessly and never graduate and put their education to work , there can be Christians as well who only focus on learning and none of the doing.  Paul was possibly able to convince some in Athens of the saving power of the gospel because he was out working instead of debating.  If anything, we can learn from Paul that the gospel is at its most powerful stage when it is lived and not just learned.

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Are You Ready to Trust God?

“Avoiding sin isn’t about us not getting in trouble; it’s about us trusting that the Creator knows his creation best and has designed the world to work in a certain way.  Everything outside of his creative order is a distortion, and when we follow that fractured path, we are implying we are our own gods and know better  than he does.  This isn’t primarily homosexuality, idolatry, drunkenness, greed, or right or wrong.  The issue is, are we going to trust that God knows best or that our thoughts, wills, and emotions are best?

(Jefferson Bethke- “Jesus>Religion”)

My Monday Motivation posts are all about providing positive motivation for the week ahead.  What’s your motivation for having a relationship with God?  Were you taught at a young age and just continue to do the church thing because it’s what you’ve always done?  Is there comfort and familiarity in being religious or attending church services on a weekly basis?  Do you try really hard to be a good person and follow the Bible and hope that your life is pleasing to God?

These are great questions to ask because our motivation behind why we follow God really matters.  He doesn’t want people who proclaim to love him on Sundays and then live life for themselves during the rest of the week.  He’s saddened when we talk about love and mercy in our Bible classes but go out in the world and only love those who love us first or love only ourselves.  God has created everything, even the commands he hands down to us, for our good.  Everything (outside of sin) about this world we live in is put in place to work a certain way.  When we live as if we know better than God, we are basically saying, “I don’t trust you.”

Are you ready to trust God?  Do you believe that he loves you and has your best interest at heart?  Do you know that your rebellion and sin deeply sadden him and that he just wants an intimate relationship with you, to know that he has given everything to call you his child?  For the rest of this week, really think about your motivation for calling yourself a Christian.  It’s not just a name.  It’s a life completely dedicated and surrendered to a loving and gracious God.

-Joe

Freelance Christianity

freelanceTake a look at my home page of this blog and you’ll find at the top in the header a new logo for Faith and Footsteps.  As much as I’d like to take credit for this awesome artwork, I can’t.  The logo was designed by my brother Steve who is a graphic designer by trade and a pretty good one if I say so myself.  I called him one day with an idea for a logo and within 10 minutes, he had sent me three separate designs for me to choose from.  I think it took me longer to decide which one to choose than it took for Steve to design them.

Steve does have a fulltime graphic design job with a firm located in Buckhead, Georgia, but he’s also had success doing a lot of freelance work on his own.  What’s nice about his freelance projects is he can decide what jobs to take and what kind of designs he wants to do.  Even though he works closely with clients on the particulars of their idea, he’s at liberty to design how he wants.  I really envy his ability to call the shots.  For someone as creative as my brother, he gets to do what he really loves to do everyday and that’s a wonderful blessing.

While doing freelance work in business is a productive way to make a living, treating Christianity that way can be awfully counterproductive.  Some believers try to freelance their way through their religious experience.  They are unwilling to follow God, to work with other believers, or to be accountable to Christ or the church at all.  While I’ll admit that a lot of our Christian walk is a very personal experience, it’s not only about personal holiness.  The purposes of God are best achieved when believers work in a coordinated effort with one another.  We shouldn’t pull away from the church, our spiritual family, to practice our own spiritual life alone.  In order to walk in the Spirit, we must be functioning in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

I hope I’m not alone in saying this, but there’s far too many Christians today who are trying to live separate lives at church and at home.  I do understand though because our society rewards personal responsibility and enjoying our own freedoms.  But the children of God should be different from the world and one way we can do that is to admit we need one another as we work to follow Christ.  We should step away from the ideas of the “all about me” Christianity or freelance Christianity, and instead give other Christians and the church the proper respect and attention they deserve.

(If you’re looking to have any design projects done to include website design, logo and identity packages, or print and email marketing, be sure to visit my brother’s website at http://butlercreative.com/.)

-Joe

 

The Purpose of Your Preacher

pulpitEvery day, I get to stand in front of a captive audience of 8-year-olds.  It’s quite the responsibility to be entrusted with those children for the nine months that I have them during the school year.  I used to be nervous each morning wondering how I was going to keep them interested and I how I was going to help them learn that day’s lessons.  After 12 years in education, that nervousness has been replaced with the comfort of familiarity.

The same has become true of my opportunities to preach.  No, I’m not a fulltime, paid pulpit minister, but I’ve had quite a few chances to preach as a fill-in or to preach a summer series sermon.  After all those opportunities, I’ve taken the time to examine why I do it.  The easy answer would be to say that I love God, that I want to serve him in the ways he has gifted me, and this is one of those ways.  Those answers are undoubtedly true, but there are other important reasons as well.

Preaching the word is meant to encourage, instruct, and to admonish (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It’s meant to declare the truth to a lost world in desperate need of hearing the good news.  I’ve found that it’s not difficult to make people feel good by talking about God’s love or his forgiveness.  People are starving for the truth and lots of preachers give that to them every Sunday.  Other preachers spend a lot of time talking about the coming wrath of God and how we must all repent or face the realities of hell.  All of those teachings are in God’s word, but a preacher’s job is much bigger than that.

One of the main jobs of any preacher dedicated to serving God and his people is to prepare the saints for work.  Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us we will reach the fullness of Christ when we become mature, actively working Christians.  Preachers, myself included, are supposed to equip followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to be effective disciples for Christ.  It’s not our job to entertain you or make you feel good all the time.  It’s to help you grow into a better understanding of the role you play in Christ’s church.

The Bible spends a lot of time reminding us of the importance of a unified church, one where each member is working for the benefit of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).  The preacher’s responsibility is to instruct and encourage saints in finding their gift and to get to work using it.   As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). 

The second verse of that passage should really weigh heavily on the hearts of all who preach God’s word.  We have been given the task of speaking to others on behalf of God.  Not speaking for God with our own words or thoughts, but making a thorough study of God’s word so we can teach it to others.  The end result is bringing  praise to God, not notoriety for ourselves for our biblical knowledge or application.

The purpose of your preacher is a great one indeed!  They have a tough job, and many times a thankless one, but we can help by being good students.  Be willing to learn, open to admonishment and self-examination, and get ready to work because discipleship is the job of all those who call themselves Christians.

-Joe