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

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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

The Symbol of the Cross

Nike has the “swoosh.”  McDonald’s, the “golden arches.”  Apple, of course, has the “apple,” while the Miami Hurricanes are just the “U.”  We’re very familiar with the symbols and logos all around us everyday, but why have them?  Why do businesses, organizations, and sports teams have symbols to recognize them?  It’s all about marketing and branding; making sure that the public can easily remember who they are and what they do.

In Christianity, it’s no different.  Ask anyone to name only one image that would symbolize Christianity and our belief in God, and no doubt they would respond, “the cross.”  It’s a symbol that can immediately evoke feelings of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness as easily as it can remind us of death and evil.  For some, it is revered as our means of entering into a relationship with Christ, and for others, it is disdained as representing a terrible form of execution that Jesus chose to endure.

Some believe we shouldn’t glorify the cross as much as we do.  By lifting up this symbol, we are in some way glorifying the horrendous pain and death it caused for Jesus.  The cross can also become a symbol of idolatry, worshipped and revered, but lacking in any true meaning.  Even God made a point of reminding his people to worship nothing else but Him (Deuteronomy 4:15-19) and not place a symbol as more important than the one and only living God.

But the cross can also have great meaning and symbolism if understood correctly.  The cross may mean death, but it also means life.  It’s paradoxical nature shows us that without the death of Jesus, there could be no life for us.  To be true, the cross is no trinket.  It shouldn’t be trivialized as some meaningless article of jewelry or clothing, devoid of any real spiritual impact or change.  But for the person completely transformed by the message of the cross, it means love, hope, and forgiveness in the true sense of those words.

I believe we can look at the example of Jesus himself to see that the cross should be remembered  in our daily walk as Christians.  After rising from the dead, Jesus came to his disciples to show that all of his teachings regarding the resurrection had been fulfilled.  Thomas had not been with them when Jesus had come (John 20:24).  We know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus himself showed Thomas his gruesome wounds in order for him to believe (John 20:27).  I believe that Jesus means for Thomas and for us to remember the tragedy of the cross.  It’s as if he points to the cross and says, “Remember what I did for you.”  The disciples saw it as a symbol of defeat, but Jesus wants us to see the cross as a symbol of victory!

Should we use the cross as a symbol of Christianity today?  Well, you would be hard-pressed to find a church building that doesn’t contain one somewhere.  I think is comes down to a matter of worship.  We should never hold the cross itself in such high esteem that we forget who it’s meant to point to.  On the other hand, a Christian who is considerate of its deep meaning would never resign the cross to an image to be treated flippantly.  We must remember… where would we be and what hope would we have if Jesus had not gone to that cross?

-Joe Butler

Keep Praying

I have to say I’m appalled.  I not sure I believed I would ever see the persecution of Christianity in America get as bad as it’s getting.  It all came to a head for me when I was watching the news after the church shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.  One more atrocity perpetrated by the hands of a sick-minded individual with a gun.  By all accounts, the crime was not committed specifically against Christians, but was an act of domestic violence.  And because it happened to completely innocent people during their worship of God, all sides of the political spectrum have used it to attack each other.

But this time, it went too far.  People across the nation, including President Trump, have called for an outpouring of prayer.  The community and those families in that small Texas town need to know that they’re being prayed for.  They need the comfort of the nation rallying around them, but most importantly, they need the comfort and reassurance that only comes from God (Philippians 4:6-7).  Calling openly for prayer during a tragic loss like this is a very appropriate response.

But that’s not how many people saw it.  Immediately following the mention of prayer, the President and Christians nationwide were blasted for their faith in God.  People decried prayer as a waste of time, an action that does nothing for those being prayed for.  They said that if God actually answered prayer, those people would still be alive.  They have effectively attacked one of the roots of the Christian faith, and it was all done under the premise of showing concern for the fallen and their families.

This post is not a call for protests from Christians or for a public spectacle to be made.  It’s not being written to bemoan the negativity and harassment Christians are continually facing.  God has warned us that those difficulties would come (Psalm 34:19).  This post is a call to pray all the more!  It’s a rallying cry to stand up for our right to pray by continuing to pray more fervently and more boldly.

When we let our problems and concerns go unnoticed or fail to deal with them, they grow.  If you don’t pray your way through the difficulties in life, through the tragedies and losses like this shooting, those events fester and infect like a wound to our body.  And God can cure all that infects our lives and make us feel healthy and whole again.  He doesn’t always take away the problems.  In fact, sometimes these challenges are there to help us grow (James 1:2-4), but he does promise to bring us through.

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.”

(Psalm 55:22)

So continue to pray!  Pray prayers of thanksgiving and for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  Pray for those who are sick and for those who are mourning.  Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you walk through the peaks and valleys of this journey called life.  Most importantly, don’t let anyone keep you from conversing with God or tell you that prayer doesn’t work.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.

-Joe Butler

 

The Christian and Carnal Warfare: Where to Stand

So far in this series of posts, we’ve studied the Case for Pacifism and the Case for Non-Pacifism as well as an Introduction to the topic.  I encourage you to take the time to read these other posts to gain your own opinion on the discussion at hand.

I’ve titled this last post “Where to Stand,” with the understanding that readers will ultimately decide how they feel on the topic of Christianity and carnal warfare.  I have, in no way, exhausted this study or covered all the information out there on both sides of the argument, so this last post will pose a lot of questions for the reader to consider going forward.  I hope you’ve taken the time to think more critically about such a weighty topic, and have considered how a Christian should respond to worldly issues such as these.  I pray that in all things we do as followers of Christ , we put his commands and his kingdom first, above all things, and that God is glorified in all that we do.

At the end of this conversation on war, I’m left with several important questions that I will continue to study.  First would be the idea of whether war is ever justifiable in the eyes of God.  I say “in God’s eyes” because how he views the matter is of the utmost importance.  As James Willeford mentions in his book Is It Ever Right to Kill?, we “must distinguish between the morality of starting a war and the morality of defending oneself against unlawful aggression.”  He also asks us to contrast “unjust wars waged for unworthy motives and just wars of self-defense.”  As I’ve mentioned throughout this study…

OUR SENSE OF MORALITY AND JUSTICE MUST BEGIN WITH GOD’S STANDARD. 

The problem is that these issues may or may not be specifically addressed in the Bible.  That means we must take God’s general directions on Christian behavior and rightly apply them to these types of questions.  Other thoughts about war include:

  • How does our government wage war today?  Are we the aggressor or defender?
  • Who decides whether the motives for war are worthy?  Do we leave that up to our leaders in government?  Has God given us any direction on the matter?

How can a Christian know if the aim of war is of true legitimate value or if it’s being used as a means of control or aggression?  It’s a valid question considering the lack of trust that exists nowadays towards our government and our media outlets.  Our decisions on war are usually based on public opinion, media coverage, and the release of politically-based information from the government.  But can we really trust these sources?  Shouldn’t Christians consider speaking out against unjust wars, or do we simply go along with tradition or public opinion?

After my study of the topic, it’s blatantly obvious what God would have us do in regards to our relationship with our fellow man.  As already mentioned, we are to be a light unto a world filled with darkness.  We should be willing to love our neighbor as ourselves, even if it leads to persecution or even death.  We should promote a sense of peace because those who do are true children of God.  No matter what, we should glorify God by showing others the love he first showed us, and I firmly believe that may be impossible if we think war is the answer to our problems.

-Joe Butler

 

The Christian and Carnal Warfare: The Case for Non-Pacifism

Now that we’ve had a chance to discuss the case for pacifism (please read yesterday’s post), we are going to move on to understanding the Christian mindset on war from a non-pacifist’s point of view.

I believe most people will agree that the nature of war and our participation in it is not a cut and dry topic.  We could probably discuss, ad-nauseum, the valid excuses to wage war and there would still be someone who could present a personal argument for why war is sometimes necessary or justifiable.  All this is to say that the discussion of participating in war can be a difficult path to tread and one in which we should tread softly in light of what the Bible says.  Let’s take a look at some of the more popular arguments for the validity of war and see what God’s word has to say on the topic.

One of the most popular arguments for war is the Old Testament precedent for war-making during biblical times.  During the Old Testament dispensation, it seems that wars were occurring nonstop.  Even though Christians today live under the New Testament dispensation, non-pacifists continue to declare that our right to engage in war has not been removed.  They also argue that governments today have the God-given responsibility to use war and capital punishment to maintain order and promote justice.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it makes too many assumptions.  The Israel of the Old Testament had divine approval to wage war against heathen nations who disregarded God (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).  God commanded his people to act on his behalf when waging war against nations he wished to punish.  We cannot, however, use that excuse today.  We have no divine revelation or command from God requiring us to wage war against any evil nation today.  In fact, our command is to love our enemies and to pray for those who wish to harm us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Another argument for the non-pacifist point of view is our need to defend ourselves against any danger that may threaten our rights or the common good of the people.  This may be, in my opinion, the most common sense reason why war may be necessary at times.  What’s important to remember is not whether something makes sense to us, but what God has commanded on the subject.  There are several occasions where military service or analogies are mentioned in the New Testament, but interestingly, personal self-defense by a Christian was not.  On the contrary, we are commanded not to resist an evil person (Matthew 5:38-42).  While that is what the Bible teaches, not everyone in the early church agreed.

Augustine (354-430 AD) promoted Christian’s right to bear arms in war, but ironically denied the right of personal self-defense.  “As to killing others in order to defend one’s own life, I do not approve of this, unless one happens to be a soldier or public functionary acting, not for himself, but in defense of others or of the city in which he resides” (Letters of St. Augustine).  We must also remember that the church began to lose its way when acting on behalf of the State became more important that acting on behalf of God.

This naturally brings up our relationship to civil governments and how they function in a civilized society.  With that in mind, let’s now look at what the Bible has to say concerning this matter:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

(Romans 13:1-7)

After careful study of this text, several things are apparent…

  1. God institutes our ruling authorities.  This does not mean that God specifically condones the actions of our fallible human governments, but he does allow them to exist.  We may not fully understand why certain governments are allowed to rise into power, but suffice it to say that God is always in control.
  2. God has good purposes for the government.  The governments that God allows to exist are meant to rule in a way that honors Him and protects the good and justice of his people.  Sadly, most governments and people in power use their station for personal or national gain and they forget who they are ultimately meant to serve.  In a perfect world, governments would remember that they will one day answer to a higher power other than themselves.
  3. Governments have power to rule and punish.  Verse 4 of the text above reminds us that the government has the right to bear the sword to punish wrongdoers.  That God-given ability is to help protect a group of people and help promote some semblance of rule and order.  The State has been given this right and, whether they know it or not,  is acting on behalf of God because he has ordained them into this particular role.  This may not necessarily apply to how we handle private situations though in light of our command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  4. We have the obligation to submit.  It is evident in this text that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities as if we were submitting to God.  The underlying premise also evident is that our allegiance is always to God first before man or manmade governments.  If a government acts in a manner that is displeasing to God or that is morally wrong, we are not under compulsion to obey.  We must then ask if a government wishing to wage war is acting as a protector of freedom or in a manner that wishes to exert control over another nation.  The dilemma created is one which all Christians must take seriously.  Is the use of force against another a moral or immoral issue?

Finally, we’ll look at the non-pacifist doctrine of the lesser of two evils.  This teaching places at odds the idea of going to war with the idea of apathy.  We must choose the lesser of two evils, because to go to war is devastating, but to do nothing is equally destructive.  According to Hans Morgenthau is his book The Nuclear Discussion: Continued, “man must minimize the evil he must do and maximize the good he can attain by putting his evil acts at the service of good ends.”  The problem with this belief is that it allows room for particular evils as long as they lead to a greater good.  I’m not so sure God would look at sin in a similar manner or condone any action by a Christian that would obviously lead to sin or the death of his fellow man.

At the end of this study, we’re left with the difficulty that war brings forth: Is it ok for a follower of Christ to condone and support the act of war is they do so in submission to their governing authorities?  It is no easy question to answer.  It requires gaining insight into the motivations of those governments.  Even more important is to understand how God wishes for us to handle these situations in a way that honors him and his commandments.  I’ll close with this quote from Allen C. Isbell:

“The peril of the non-pacifist is that they tend to equate Christianity with one particular nation or one specific system of government.  The pacifist’s tendency to withdraw from all political affairs is perhaps, in some ways, a healthy corrective to this other extreme which identifies the cause of Christ with national interests.  National feeling should not obscure the fact that the Christian’s first allegiance is to the kingdom of God which has members in every nation.”

-Joe Butler