The Church is a Family

I know not everyone can relate to my personal situation, but I have had the benefit of a wonderful and very rewarding family life.  I have extremely fond memories of childhood spent in a caring household surrounded by loving parents and siblings.  Of course we had our hiccups; every family does.  But being raised in a Christian home has made all the difference in my view of God, of family, and of life.

On the other hand, there are many who read this and would give anything to have the fond memories of a loving family as I do.  You may have grown up in a broken or abusive home, one from which you longed to escape as soon as you were old enough to do so.  Others may be facing family turmoil as we speak.  Your marriage didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped or your kids are in and out of trouble.  For whatever reason, many people think of grief and heartache when they hear the word family.

I believe this is what makes membership in a church family so difficult sometimes.  When people from all walks of life come to know God and are added to his church, we then have to learn what God calls us to as a family of believers.  We are, “no longer strangers and aliens, but…are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).  We are meant to be a family, a group of loved ones who look out for one another (Galatians 6:10), and God has left us plenty of instruction on how to carry that out.

As a family, Christians are to…

As you can see, membership  in God’s family is a very active position.  You’ll also notice that our role as family members has us always seeking to take care of the needs of others.  Nowhere in this family is there room for selfishness or pride or jealousy.  Do those things happen?  Sure, for they are part of our human nature.  That’s why we must strive to stay in God’s word, learning his definition of what a true family looks like so we can apply that wisdom not only to our spiritual family, but to our family at home as well.

The church is a family that has joined together the saved of countless generations and whose head and leader is Christ himself.  Won’t it be grand to one day be reunited with all our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be called home by our Father to our place in Heaven to reside for eternity?  I hope to see you there!

-Joe Butler

 

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Monday Motivation: Youth is a State of Mind

fire-pngI set up the Christmas decorations the other day with my wife and daughter and it was such an enjoyable evening.  With traditional Christmas music playing in the background and the smells of a home-cooked meal wafting through the house, my family set out to decorate for the holiday festivities.  I watched my daughter’s eyes light up when the tree glowed for the first time and the joy on her face when she placed the ornaments on the branches was unforgettable.

It’s always rewarding to see things through the eyes of a child, for they remind you that youth is a state of mind.  It’s something to remember, for although we have no control over the fact that we grow old, we can decide just how we’re going to do it.  Below is a quote from General Douglas MacArthur during a dedication speech he gave in 1952.  I hope these words inspire you to always stay young even when you’re old.

“Youth is not a time of life- it’s a state of mind.  You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.  In the central place of your heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, grandeur and power, so long you are young.”

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Our Adoption

fire-pngPicture two infants, one the picture of health and energy, beautiful in every way, just waiting for someone to come adopt her, and the other, a little boy full of physical ailments, doomed to live as an orphan indefinitely.  Seems a little harsh, but this is the typical picture of adoption as we know it.  The children with the pretty smile and quiet demeanor and well-to-do pedigree are usually the ones sought after by parents who are ready to adopt.  And what of the other child, the one with all the “problems”?  If it were up to most people, he would be passed up, a task for someone else to tackle.

But not for God.

He has chosen to adopt you whether you fit the mold of beauty or not.  Got any scars from sin and imperfections?  He wants you anyway.  Do you feel like you’re never going to be good enough or smart enough or pretty enough to really feel loved?  He loves you anyway. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).  We have been adopted into the family of God, not because we deserve to be there or that we’ve earned our place in is house, but because He loves us and “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5).

Let that thought really sink in as you start a new week.

-Joe

Growing Tomorrow’s Leaders

proverbs-22-6What do you want to be when you grow up?  It’s a question asked of all people at some point in time while they’re young.  It’s become natural for us to groom our children for success and impart in them a drive for greatness.  We’re ingrained to believe life is best lived if we get a good education, a good job, a good spouse, and a nice comfortable retirement.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it or not but most of the influence parents have on their children today is centered around taking care of oneself.  Even in the church, we Christians sometimes find it more important to teach personal success instead of our faith.  I don’t think anyone will argue that parents have a huge but rewarding responsibility to train up their kids in a godly way.  We are promised that if we, “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  And I’ve seen that to be the case in many families within the church.  Just as well, I’ve heard of parents bemoan the path their children have taken and use this verse in Proverbs to question why things turned out the way they did.

So I ask, do these parents, and the rest of us for that matter, raise up our children to be strong spiritually or just successful physically?  One need look no further than this year’s presidential election to know it’s difficult to raise godly children when we live in such a corrupt and immoral society.  When even the leaders up for election lack any moral integrity, it’s hard for average families to stay focused on God.  But notice I said “hard” and not “impossible.”  God is fully aware of the state of our sinful world.  That’s why he said to us,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

(Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Instruction in God and morality start at home, the teaching and wisdom that’s passed down to children from a loving mother and father.  That teaching is more important than the teaching from your preacher or pastor, more important than your child’s teachers at school and Sunday school, and especially more important than the very influential impact of media in their lives.  All of this sounds great on the surface, but how exactly are Christian parents supposed to accomplish all this?  How are we to win the hearts of our children for God instead of for the world?

  1. PUT CHRIST FIRST YOURSELF- I know as parents we say we do this, but do we really?  Do the things you value really point back to God?  Kids actually pay attention to the values of their parents, in fact, a lot closer than you may think.  Do your children see that their parent’s lives really center around God or is He just an afterthought in your life?  You must first love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength before you can teach that to your children.
  2. MODEL WHAT CHRISTIANITY LOOKS LIKE- Many parents have no idea what a Christian life even looks like, therefore it would be impossible to show that to their children.  Parents must make it a priority to be in God’s word, learning daily how to walk in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Will we fail?  Of course, and when we do, we then have the opportunity to model humility and repentance as well.  Children learn by example so it would behoove us to provide a good one for them to follow.
  3. MAKE FAMILY A PRIORITY- The family unit, as God designed it, is such a remarkable resource for walking in the ways of the Lord.  Speaking from my own personal experience, it is a blessing beyond compare to have a God-fearing wife to work alongside me as I seek to be a better husband, father, friend, and Christian.
  4. BE A PART OF THE CHURCH- I’ve always been curious as to why many parents don’t take advantage of the unity and help that Christ’s church can provide in raising their children.  Many Christians today are very active with their church family, fellowshipping and worshipping together, and their kids are better off because of it.  We must remind ourselves that we are the bride of Christ, first created to bring honor to God, but also created to help prepare and encourage one another to live in a godly manner.  If I know of loving brothers and sisters in Christ who can help me be a better parent, I’m going to take advantage of that resource.
  5. SERVE WITH YOUR CHILDREN- I never knew what kind of an impact having children would have on me until I started seeing what a caring heart my daughter has for others.  It’s a great reminder that while I’m busy taking care of my family’s personal needs, there are others out there going through tough times and facing challenges I couldn’t begin to fathom.  I can take every opportunity, with my family by my side, to actively serve those around me that God puts in my path.  What better way to teach a child about Christianity than to show them that faith is best lived through actions and not just words (James 2:18).
  6. READ THE BIBLE AND PRAY WITH YOUR CHILDREN- My daughter’s favorite subject at school is reading.  But as much as she loves to read and as good as she is at it, she still needs her mother and I to walk her through the words of the Bible.  Take the opportunity, as often as possible, to teach your children from God’s word.  Show them how they are loved by God and how they can honor him through their obedience to his commandments.  And pray for your children as well.  Let them hear personally how you offer up your requests to God and how you place your trust in his provision.

For those who are parents, you probably never imagined what a difficult task child-rearing can be.  It’s made all the more difficult because we live in a sinful world where Satan tries to prey on our hearts and the hearts of our children.  God has entrusted you to not only seek Him but to model a Christ-like life to your most precious responsibility.  No doubt it will be hard but it will also be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

-Joe

Absence of the Mind

imageI can see it on their face.  It’s a look of distance, a sure sign that although they are physically right in front of me, their mind is a million miles away.  I can’t be too judgmental though.  We all do it at times.  We all, in our busy lives, fail to live in the moment, to give our undivided attention to the task at hand or the person in front of us.  We excuse it as using our time wisely or that we can’t help it.  But truthfully, it’s an absence of the mind that hurts relationships and stifles contentment.

Mindlessness is not necessarily done on purpose.  In fact, it’s a fault of many busy people who have so overwhelmed their lives with stuff and activities and responsibilities that they fail to know what it’s like to live in the moment.  It’s a habit that’s developed and over time, it steals the joy you could experience if only we would delight in the here and now.  Instead, we plot and worry about things.  Decisions that have to be made.  Tasks that need completing.  Our minds are free and with freedom comes great responsibility.

Our minds have the freedom to wander while our bodies must operate in the present situation we are in.  It’s wonderful that our minds are capable of processing all the information that they do, but a wandering mind is an absent mind.  For the Christian, mindfulness is essential to live in the peace God so desperately wants us to have.  Our marriages are more rewarding when our mind is focused on our spouse.  Our work is more fruitful when we dedicate our minds to the task at hand.  Our ministry is more effective when our thoughts are centered on God.

All of this sounds wonderful, and indeed it is, but how exactly do we become more mindful?  With all the distractions in our complicated, busy lives, how do we learn to live in the present and find contentment with what is right in front of us?  The words of James ring especially true:

 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

(James 4:13-14)

It’s so easy to treat our lives as if they will last forever.  In reality, our life is very short.  We cannot make up for lost time later on when we’re not even promised a “later on.”  That conversation you’re having with your husband needs your undivided attention.  Your child actually needs you to pull your mind away from work and give them your focus and love.  The friend you’ve neglected needs to hear your voice and know you care about him or her.  Tomorrow is not promised and now may be your only time.

Living in the present requires that we trust God.

If we are worried about the future or regretful of the past, our present is stolen away from us before we ever have a chance to enjoy it.

Do not be anxious about your life.  Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25a, 27).  Being mindful means giving God the disappointment of our past, by trusting him with our future and by taking pleasure in Him, our loved ones, and our surroundings in the present.

We have the ultimate freedom to set our minds on what we want to think.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).  The world tells us our minds must be busy.  The world teaches that multitasking is the only way to accomplish things.  But God teaches a different way.  He wants us to control our minds, to delight in the blessings he has given us.  Doing so is a great way to show thanks for his goodness and provision.

-Joe

blank-tombstone.jpgYou may wonder why there is a simple hyphen for the title of this post.  There is no mistake.  I chose it for a reason and it is powerful in its simplicity.  But more importantly, that hyphen has greater meaning than that.  That little dash represents the entirety of your life.  That’s right!  All of your life, every year you’ve lived and everything you’ve ever experienced is summarized in that dash.

On the day you die and you’re laid to rest, a gravestone will be placed above you.  It may contain a brief eulogy or some passing words of wisdom and comfort for your family to remember, but it will also contain that hyphen.  Right there between your date of birth and the day you die will be a dash summarizing your life.

It’s hard to imagine the entirety of our lives.  To us, it seems like a long time, a time filled with experiences, dreams fulfilled, and trials we’ve trudged through.  We want our lives to matter, to mean something, to show our accomplishments and leave behind a legacy.  But life is a vapor (James 4:14), here today and gone tomorrow.  And in its fragile state we are daily reminded of its importance.

Life doesn’t go on forever, at least this life here on earth.  Our plans made today may not come to fruition tomorrow.  Yet there is a way to make your life count and it may not be what you think.  Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  Crazy right?  We have to give up our lives in order to find them?  That’s exactly what Jesus instructs us to do and it’s the only way we can make that dash on our gravestone matter. 

He has great things for you to do in your lifetime and he’s blessed you with the time and talents to make them happen.  Give Jesus your life and let him help you make your hyphen mean more than just a dash carved in stone.

-Joe

 

Alignment

alignmentA little over 14 years ago, my beautiful bride Keri and I were married.  I was 25 years old at the time and like many others in that position, I was amazed at the many intricacies of being married.  I learned very quickly that my life was not my own any more or it didn’t only belong to God.  I had a new blessing to take care of physically, emotionally and spiritually and that blessing was this wonderful woman I was now joined with.

I’m a strong believer that a Christian man or woman gives up their autonomy when they enter into marriage.  I know many would disagree for we like to first look after ourselves. God designed the marriage relationship as one of mutual respect, admiration and love, and while we maintain our individual personalities and souls that make us unique, we also change and grow closer to one another as we live out our life together.

Keri knows that I support her wholeheartedly in her dreams and goals.  Behind God, she always puts me and her family first.  I’m confident that I can act as the leader of my family because Keri knows that my utmost concern begins with her and not with myself.  It truly is a beautiful feeling to come into alignment with your spouse for it’s God’s purpose for marriage.  But most importantly, when the meaning, significance and purpose of our lives together is in alignment with God’s purposes, it brings harmony to our entire existence as a couple.

I give thanks to God daily for blessing me with such a wonderful woman to share life with and also for letting me serve and worship Him alongside someone who loves God as much as I do.

My Best Friend!
My Best Friend!

-Joe