Beneath the Surface

My wife and I were recently discussing friendships that we’ve had over the years, both good and bad.  We spoke about what we believe makes a true friend and the things that are friendship killers in most people’s relationships.  We both agreed that sincerity and depth are what make true friendships last and what seems to be missing from most people’s relationships these days, and we realized that neither of us were immune from this problem in our lives.

As for me and my family, we’ve been on the receiving end of shallow relationships meant only to give the appearance of importance but lacking any substance at all.  Even though my wife is literally the most personable person I know and could easily befriend a complete stranger, nevertheless, we’ve faced down the disappointment of friendships that have never gone beyond surface level.

I mention all this to transition to the fact that this problem is very prevalent in the one place it shouldn’t be…namely the church.  While I’m not naïve to the thought that not everyone will be great friends within a church body, I can personally relate to the fact that very few friendships go beneath the surface.  Maybe it’s because we’re so busy these days, although I believe we use that excuse far too many times.  Maybe there are too many cliques inside most congregations that all too often and unknowingly alienate people who are not part of their group.

While I believe these factors have something to do with it, I think the problem lies with the average personality in the 21st century.  We are an arrogant society nowadays, mostly looking out for our own interests and having very little time for the interests of others.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule around us all the time, but generally speaking, we tend to look out for ourselves first.  Let’s ask ourselves these very pointed questions:

  • Do we take the time to actually focus on the underlying struggles that other people face, or do we just blindly add them to the prayer list?
  • Do we act friendly on the outside or only when others are around, but not truly care about the people around us?
  • Are the majority of our friendships and relationships with other Christians no deeper than a Facebook post now and then, or do we actually know them on the inside and know what really makes them tick?

I ask these difficult questions because we all need to be more aware of and considerate to those around us.  The church itself was created with intimate relationships in mind, and we all must do our part to make that happen.  The church is the last place where people should feel ostracized or judged or left out.  We have a common mission of serving God and helping one another live godly lives, and that is easier to accomplish when we’re friendly with one another on a deeper level than just talking about the weather or last night’s football game.

Take the time to meditate on the following verses of Scripture and look for ways that you can be a better friend to those around you.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5)

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  (Colossians 3:12-14)

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  (Proverbs 27:17)

-Joe Butler

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What would it be like to be friends with someone really famous?  What would it be like to be friends with the president of the United States?  Better yet, what would it be like to be friends with every president of every influential country around the world?  Imagine the sway you could hold over some of the most important decision makers of our time.  Think of what it must be like to be in the know in regards to all of the policy decisions made each and every day, not to mention the popularity such friendships would bring.

You might expect that to be friends with that many world leaders would require some background in politics or at least some ability in public relations.  But what if it were just you or me, just an average, everyday person with a family, a normal job, and a normal life who was friends with the most important people in the world?  Or even better, what if you were friends with someone even more important…say the Creator of the entire universe?

It is not heresy to say that we can call ourselves friends of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It’s God himself who says we have this friendship and it is the most intimate and impactful thing we have as Christians.  No other religion in the world claims to have a god so interested in the well-being of its followers.  But as Christians, as dearly beloved children of the one true God, we can know that our Creator wants that kind of relationship with us.  Jesus seeks us and waits for us to invite him in as our friend (Revelation 3:20).  And he doesn’t just pick you if your life is perfect either.  He communes with even the worst of society (Matthew 11:19).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

(John 15:12-17)

Jesus does offer this friendship freely and of his own accord, but like any friendship, it’s not simply one sided.  Jesus will always love you even if you deny him, but he wishes that you would reciprocate that love.  He asks that we…

  • love one another (vs. 12)
  • obey his commands (vs. 14)
  • bear fruit in our lives (vs. 16)

His love and friendship should cause us to show that love to others.  We have been given much so that we can give to others.  Also, true friendship with Jesus means we accept him as our Lord and we obey him as a result.  We don’t take advantage of his generosity and use it to do what we want.  Finally, a friendship with Jesus will manifest fruit in our lives.  You can’t spend time with the vine and not bear the fruits of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:1-10).

I know it would seem great to be friends with all the important leaders from around our world.  It seems as if they hold the kind of clout we would love to be a part of.  But there’s nothing like having a friendship with Jesus, the one friend who will always love us even more than we could love ourselves.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: God Knows You

fire-pngIsn’t it amazing that the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, knows you?  I don’t just mean knows about you but knows you personally.  An intimate, genuine friendship with his most prized creation.  Sometimes we look at God as this hard to imagine Spirit, distant and unapproachable.  He is anything but.  He is a God worth worshipping when you realize how much he loves you.

J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, says,

“What happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the great God before whom all nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to you and begins to talk to you through the words as truths of Holy Scripture.  Perhaps you have been acquainted with the Bible and Christian truth for many years, and it has meant little to you; but one day you wake up to the fact that God is actually speaking to you- you!- through the Biblical message.  As you listen to what God is saying, you find yourself brought very low; for God talks to you about your sin, and guilt, and weakness, and blindness, and folly, and compels you to judge yourself hopeless and helpless, and to cry out for forgiveness.

Buy this is not all.  You come to realize as you listen that God is actually opening his heart to you, making friends with you and enlisting you as a colleague.  It is a staggering thing, but it is true- the relationship in which sinful human beings know God is one in which God, so to speak, takes them onto his staff, to be henceforth his fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) and personal friends.”

-Joe

Inconsistency

inconsistencyI’ve had a tough time recently in my walk with God and yet, very few people have known about it.  It’s that introverted part of me that tries to hide the side of myself that fails and struggles; so that others will believe that I’m bullet-proof and have my life together.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it’s inconsistent, fake at best and downright hypocritical at worst.  Now, I hate the word hypocrite, and no one would admit to being one, but areas where I talk one way and act another are sure signs that inconsistency has crept into my life.  All of this was brought to my attention recently by a friend who saw the need to talk to me about some of my inconsistencies.  I can’t say that I enjoyed the conversation, but I needed to hear most if not all of it.  And it led me to ask: What am I doing or not doing in my life that’s causing these areas of disparity?  Following are some of the ways that I find myself being inconsistent.

  1. PRAYER- The adage “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2) could definitely apply to my life right now.  Prayer, or the lack thereof, has taken away the focus from God and put it squarely on myself, causing me to seek Him for some things and use my own ingenuity for others.  I’ve effectively told God, “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got this.”
  2. FORGIVENESS- This is a tough one because offering forgiveness is an unnatural and sometimes difficult thing to do at times.  What it boils down to is that I expect forgiveness from others, especially when I’ve openly admitted fault, but I’m not so quick to offer forgiveness when I’ve been personally offended or wronged.  This is one area of inconsistency that has led to making comparisons and to hanging on to past hurts.
  3. JOY/ENCOURAGEMENT- I’m like everyone else in that I like to spend my time around people who are joyful and an encouragement to be with.  But I realize that’s a two-way street and all too often, I let my circumstances dictate my joy.  Instead, I should be making a concerted effort to be joyful regardless of what life throws at me.
  4. SELFLESSNESS VS. SELFISHNESS- Finally, the physical me, the Joe who wants to get what he wants, constantly gets in the way of the me who seeks to be selfless.  I agree with Paul that the me who wants to do good and think about others is always at war with the me who is just looking out for myself (Romans 7:14-23).  I’m selfless just enough of the time that I convince myself of what a good job I’m doing.  And that in itself is a selfish thought.

All of this examination boils down to one truth: A lack of surrender is the root cause of my inconsistency.  Because I’m still attempting to run certain parts of my life rather than surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, I can see a departure from the life God would have me to live.  It’s so simple really and yet so difficult, this act of surrendering.  It’s hard to let God run the whole show and trust that he will take care of me.

But that’s what faith is all about.  I must decrease so that He may increase (John 3:30).  If I can get that right then maybe I won’t be double-minded, having one foot in heaven seeking to serve God and the other foot on earth, looking out for only me.

Lord, I am in awe of your greatness.  Although I don’t deserve it, you are patient with me while I languish and worry about myself.  I know that you are wise enough and big enough to take care of my needs.  I know you have blessed me with many wonderful things, including the ability to work things out on my own, but I pray that you will help me surrender more wholly to you.  Show me the areas of inconsistency in my life and help me, through your Spirit, to put you and others first.  Cure me of my selfishness and give me a heart that knows what it means to serve you.  Amen.

-Joe

A Family of Friends

 

family of friendsBeing slightly introverted by nature, I’ve always argued that it’s not entirely necessary to have a large group of people around you at all times.  I know many thrive in that type of environment, but not me.  And yet I’ve matured in my understanding of what it means to develop relationships with others and the benefits that those relationships bring.

There can be no doubt that God intended for us to live in fellowship with one another.  Acts 2:42 tells us the early church devoted their time not only to studying God’s word and the apostles’ teaching, but also living in daily fellowship.  The same still applies to the church today.  We cannot underestimate the effect the people of the church have on one another and on the world around us.  I have been blessed tremendously by the friendships I’ve nurtured with my Christian brothers and sisters.  Even the encouraging words I’ve received online from the comments section of this blog have brought much light into my life.

campfire signing with my church family
campfire signing with my church family

church friends 2

I would pray that as you examine the church you attend, you will look at the joy that can be found when we care about the people around us.  Sure, there are let-downs along the way but it’s a good reminder to realize that we let down God as well and he still loves us.  And don’t assume the grass is greener somewhere else.  The grass is always greenest where it is being watered.

-Joe

Happy Thanksgiving

Sunset over St. Andrews State Park; Panama City Beach, Florida
Sunset over St. Andrews State Park; Panama City Beach, Florida

Today and every day, I have much to be thankful for. God has blessed me beyond belief with a wonderful life.  He has given me a beautiful wife and daughter to share my days with. He has granted me good health and a productive job to earn a living. He has shared with me a loving family and close friends to have fun with. And most importantly, He sent his son Jesus who loved me so much that he gave his life for me. It truly is a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

-Joe

A Time to Weep, A Time to Laugh

Bill Tipton
Bill Tipton

Here one minute… gone the next. My mind is trying to make sense of it all and my heart is overwhelmed with grief. A dear friend, Christian brother and mentor of mine passed away early this morning. Just writing those words still doesn’t make it seem real. And yet I know it is.

I know that when I go to church again, Papa Bill won’t be there to give me one of his warm hugs. I know that there will be a huge hole in the lives of all who knew him and loved him. As an elder of our church, Bill led and genuinely cared for the flock he watched over. In fact, Bill spent countless hours with me alone, reminding me of how God has blessed me and encouraging me to go into ministry full-time. He always took time to ask me and my family how we were doing and truly cared about my response.

I know there’s a time and a place for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I know that I and many others will mourn the loss of a close friend. I know that his family will miss their father and their husband. And I know there’s nothing I can do to make this hurt go away.

So I’ll weep and I’ll laugh and I’ll smile at the thought of a life well-lived. Bill Tipton…. I love you. You will be missed more than you’ll ever know.

-Joe

Surrounding Yourself With Allies

alliesAllies.  Partners.  Friends.  We all need them and especially more so if we are to walk through the sinful mess that is the world we live in.  True, we are all individually responsible to God for our own behavior and actions, but God doesn’t want us facing this world alone.  He created the church for this very reason.  And the people of the church, other Christians, are our allies in the important spiritual battles we are sure to face in this life.

In order to align ourselves with our Christian allies, we must first separate ourselves from this world.  The crowd we associate with drastically affects who we are and can pull us away from God and our mission to serve him.  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’  ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.'” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

There should not be fellowship between the righteous and the lawless.  There is no agreement amongst the light and the dark.  Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33), but keeping with good company can help us.  We are the ekklesia, the “called out,” which means our lives should reflect Christ and not the world.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” 1 Peter 2:9-12).

Having been called out of darkness, we have a responsibility to live as strangers in the world.  We are merely pilgrims awaiting our new calling into our heavenly home!

(Being one of the chosen of God does not mean we are members of some exclusive club thoough.  God’s invitation is open to anyone willing to accept his gift of grace by obeying the gospel plan of salvation.  That plan involves hearing the Word (Romans 10:14), believing in Him (Hebrews 11:6), repenting of your sin (Acts 17:30), confessing belief in Jesus (Romans 10:10), baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and a commitment to live a faithful life for Christ (1 Peter 2:9).  Please contact me through the comment section of this post if you are ready to accept God’s invitation of grace and forgiveness.)

-Joe

Friends Don’t Let Friends Die Without Jesus

friendsBack in 1983, the Ad Council launched a campaign declaring “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”  It was a worthy slogan to be sure.  Their website claims that 68% of Americans have since reported that they have tried to prevent someone from driving after drinking.  Obviously, the campaign has worked to bring the seriousness of drunk driving to the forefront.

Although curbing incidences of drunk driving is a lofty and worthwhile goal, it pales in comparison to sharing Jesus with others.  We, as Christians, hold the key to eternal salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet many are too distracted , busy or simply afraid to share it with others.  All of us agree that if we held the knowledge to cure the world’s most deadly diseases, we wouldn’t hesitate to pass that wisdom on.  The Ad Council had a 68% success rate with their drunk driving campaign.  Are 68% of Christians sharing Jesus with their friends?  If so, I think we would see the church grow dramatically.

In John 1:43, we find Jesus calling Phillip to follow him.  Two verses later it says, “Phillip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”  And in John 4:29 after the Samaritan woman found Jesus the Messiah at the well, she rushed back to her town declaring, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?”  In both of these examples, someone took the knowledge of Jesus and immediately shared it with someone else.  There was no hesitation or delay.  Because Phillip spoke of Jesus, Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).  Because the Samaritan woman told her kinfolk about Jesus, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

A real follower of Christ is one who seeks to share his good news with others.  Remember…Friends don’t let friends die without Jesus!

-Joe

Loving God On Purpose (A Story of Daily Testimony)

Jim didn’t know anything about Jesus or God but he was willing to learn.  Jim had built his life on hard work and success.  He was taught by his father that if you want something in life you have to go after it.  You had to have drive and purpose.  Nothing was going to come for free.  So Jim put his head down and pressed forward.  College education.  Corporate ladder.  Material success.  He knew he had it good.  At least that’s what everyone told him.  When he began to question it all, his friends took notice.  They told Jim not to worry, that he deserved the fruits of his labor.

But something was missing in his life and Jim couldn’t figure it out.  A neighbor had noticed though.  Greg lived across the street with his wife and two sons.  He noticed Jim’s drive, his success, and at times he envied him.  But Greg had a different manner about him, a calmness and confidence that amazed Jim.  After an especially stressful week at work , Jim approached Greg in his front yard and struck up a conversation.  That initial meeting turned into a budding friendship full of family get-togethers and paired vacations.

welcome-neighbor

And then he asked.  Jim had to know what it was about Greg that made him so humble, so in control of who he was.  Greg just laughed when Jim brought it up.  “I’m not in control of anything Jim.  God is!”  Jim learned that day that Greg lived his life for God.  He began to understand what it meant to love God, to live and act and love with a godly purpose.  Through his friend Greg, Jim learned who Jesus was.  He learned about the amazing gift of grace and forgiveness offered to him for free from God.  Most importantly, Jim learned that God had a purpose from him.  Jim, through his study of the Bible, understood that serving his own needs was not what life was all about.

He learned to love others and God on purpose!

-Joe