Keep Your Eyes Up

I love sports.  I’ve played all manner of sports growing up and enjoyed every one of them.  Football, basketball, golf.  I even played in a bowling league for a few years when I was young.

I suppose I’ve always been the athletic sort, and that’s why, when I was a little older, I joined our church softball league team.  Never mind that this league was more for fun and fellowship than anything else.  Everyone who played was very competitive and took it quite seriously.  That’s how I found myself playing center field in my very first game.  As the fastest player on the team, it made sense to put me at a position that had to do the most running.  Fly balls, line-drives, warning track catches at the fence.  I was good enough to catch them all…but only if I kept my eyes up.

You see, that’s how most sports work.  Hitting a golf ball?  You got to keep your eye on the ball.  Catching a 40 yard pass on the football field?  Better keep yours eyes up and on the ball.  Fielding pop-flys in a church softball league?  You still have to keep your eyes on the ball.  If I took my eyes off the ball for even a few seconds, my chances of dropping the catch would increase dramatically.  Just like in sports, many endeavors in life require our full focus and attention.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

(Colossians 3:1-3)

This is a very powerful text in its instruction and its simplicity.  If you belong to Christ, if you call yourself a Christian and truly desire to put God first in your life, then you will set your eyes and your heart on things above…on godly things.  You see, it’s very difficult, and I submit, almost impossible to keep our eyes focused on God if all we think about is this world.  It’s also true that if our focus is primarily on God, we will not be as distracted or worried over the things in our mortal life.  This is the premise of Philippians 4:6-7…

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:6-7)

When we take our cares and anxieties and offer them to God in prayer; when we keep our eyes on him and his loving kindness, we find a peace that goes beyond anything we can comprehend.  This type of focus is admittedly difficult.  Let’s be honest.  There’s a lot in our daily lives that can keep us from thinking about God.  That’s why we must be vigilant in our attempts to put God first.  It’s why we may have to whittle away some of the time-stealers and attention-grabbers in our lives and replace them with time spent with God’s word, in prayer, or in fellowship with other Christians.

So keep your eyes up and your heart attuned to God.  If not, you may very well miss out on all the wonderful things he has in store for you.

-Joe Butler

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Addressing the Main Problem

A popular refrain today is the teaching that Jesus came to love people and meet their needs.  I’ve constantly heard people say that religion and even Christians in general are too judgmental and restrictive.  I would never argue that much of Jesus’ ministry was about meeting people where they were.  He didn’t judge or outright condemn (John 3:17), but instead he spoke hope into people’s lives and met some of their immediate physical needs.

While all of that is true, Jesus does actually care about our sin problem and how it keeps us separated from God.  He realizes that sin is a far greater problem in our lives than what may be ailing us physically or circumstantially.  Yes, he came to sacrifice himself so we could be saved.  But his sacrifice and love should affect us in such a way that we become repulsed by our sin.  We should do whatever we can to get rid of it and not excuse our behavior because of the love of God (Romans 6:1-11).

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

(Mark 2:1-12)

In the above passage, Jesus heals a paralytic, but first, we see him forgive his sins.  I’m sure that when this man came to Jesus, he was only focused on his physical wellbeing.  And rightly so.  This man probably rested all his hope on being able to walk again.  For anyone who’s paralyzed, I’m sure they would give anything for that blessing.  What this man doesn’t know is that he needs spiritual healing far worse than he needs to be physically healed.  By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is giving him what he is truly longing for and doesn’t even realize.  He’s giving him Jesus!

There is such a powerful lesson to be learned from this story, and it’s especially applicable today in our religious landscape of love and grace above all.  Jesus is teaching that our sin does matter.  He’s teaching that our sin is the biggest problem we have and that it keeps us from a relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t want us to build our hope on our own strength just like he doesn’t want the paralytic to build his hope on the ability to walk.  He wants us to find our identity in Christ.  He wants us to leave our life of sin behind (Ephesians 4:22-24) and quit making excuses so that grace may abound.

Jesus’ love and grace find their fulfillment when we accept those gifts with a grateful heart and are willing to do the work necessary to defeat the sin in our lives.

-Joe Butler

 

Critic or Companion?

We all know Jesus as Savior, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  We know him as God’s one and only Son (Matthew 3:13-17) and the full representation of God himself (Hebrews 1:3).  What we don’t spend a lot of time talking about is the type of companion and friend Jesus is to those who know him well.  Jesus himself said that he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He didn’t come to earth to criticize or control mankind.  He came to save us.  Let’s take a look at several examples of this in the Bible.

  • (Luke 19:1-10)  The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector is a great place to start when studying the companionship of Jesus.  We see that Jesus did not balk at speaking with Zacchaeus even though he was an outcast in Jewish society.  As a tax collector, he would have been hated by his own people.  Even so, Jesus befriended him and asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  Apparently, Jesus had such a strong impact on him that Zacchaeus decided to pay back four-fold those he had swindled.  Zacchaeus may have had an integrity problem as a tax collector, but Jesus still loved him anyway.
  • (Matthew 9:9-13)  We have another example of Jesus befriending a tax collector when he called Matthew as one of his disciples.  For Jesus to approach Matthew at his tax booth and even speak to him would’ve been considered taboo.  It’s likely that Matthew had already heard of Jesus and his amazing miracles and teaching, because when Jesus calls him, Matthew follows immediately.  Not only is he affected by Jesus’ friendship, he realizes that others need to meet Jesus too.  He plans a dinner at his house and invites all his tax collector and “sinful” friends to meet Jesus.  That’s the kind of effect being a companion can have on others.
  • (John 4:1-26)  Finally, we can look at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as a fine example of Jesus’ loving response to a sinful person.  The fact that he, a Jew, would even speak to a Samaritan is beyond belief, but Jesus seems to go out of his way to carry on a conversation with her and make her feel at ease.  Sure, she was considered used goods in her day, but Jesus took the time to minister to what her real needs were.  She came to quench her thirst, but Jesus came to give her true living water.

The gospels are filled with stories such as these of Jesus being a companion to the outcasts of the world.  When everyone in the religious establishment of that time were being critical of these sinners, Jesus was there to show them that they were loved and that they really do matter to God.  Notice also that nowhere in the Bible did Jesus endorse anyone’s immoral behavior.  In all cases, he encouraged people to leave their sinful past behind them.  But he doesn’t take the opportunity to pass criticizing judgment either.  There will be a time that Jesus will judge (Matthew 25:31-33), but he gives all sinners the chance to repent and follow him.

How are you in your relationship with others?  Are you a critic or companion?  Critics are bent on passing judgment, not helping someone who is lost and in need of help.  Companions, on the other hand, realize where they’ve come from (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and are willing to lend a hand to those who’ve fallen into the trap of sin.  They don’t take a hypocritical stance regarding their perceived religiosity (Matthew 7:1-5), but are willing to do whatever it takes to save souls (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  It would be wise to keep the following passage in mind…

“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)

-Joe Butler

The Most Powerful Weapon in Heaven and on Earth

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

I’m sure we’ve all heard of this adage and probably know its intended meaning.  While there is obvious strength and great power in weapons that kill or cause violence, the written word has always been more effective at swaying the hearts of men.

There’s no better example of this than God’s word itself, written down for our instruction and encouragement in the pages of the Bible.  It’s no wonder that the word of God has not only stood the test of time, but is the most widely recognized piece of literature the world has ever known.  God’s word is the most powerful thing in the universe and gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and it’s the understanding and belief of the Bible’s main message (Jesus Christ) that gives us our salvation.

One has to look no further than the creation account in the book of Genesis to see the raw power of God’s very words.  Throughout the first chapter, God said, “Let there be…” (vs. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 27) and it was so.  Everything that you can see, hear, touch, and taste found its origin in the words of God.  And this is not the only thing God’s word can do.  The word of God can…

We can see the powerful effect God’s word can have against evil as well.  In the beginning of Matthew, chapter 4, we learn that Jesus himself used the word of God as a weapon against the temptations of Satan.  In three separate instances, Jesus thwarts the advances of his enemy by speaking, “It is written…”.  While this is the only recorded example of Jesus being tempted, we can be sure that He faced other attacks from Satan and knew very well the scope and power of the word of God.  In fact, Jesus is the personification of the word itself (John 1:1-5, 14)!

Finally, we can study the analogy the Apostle Paul used at the end of his letter to the church at Ephesus.  While trying to encourage the Ephesian Christians, Paul reminds them and us today that we are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:11-13).  And what would he have us choose as our go-to weapon?  That’s right…”the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  I find it fascinating that of all the things Paul listed as part of our spiritual armor (the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, ready feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit), only one would be considered an offensive weapon.  This should give new meaning to the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  The word IS the sword!

Take a moment and look around at our world today.  Hatred and evil seem to be at all-time high.  Sure, we’ve risen out of such times before, and sure, we may do so again.  But I’m convinced there’s no better way to cure what ails us than God’s word…the most powerful weapon in Heaven and on earth.

-Joe Butler

 

 

 

Monday Motivation: Wonderful Savior

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.”

(Psalm 121:1-8)

 

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

(Romans 5:8-11)

What a wonderful Savior we serve!  Long before we could ever do anything to deserve it, he reconciled us to God by sacrificing himself on our behalf.  The King we serve is also our Savior, and He continually saves those who earnestly seek Him.

-Joe Butler

Spiritual Portfolio

Have you ever sat down with a well-educated financial advisor?  No disrespect to anyone in that profession, but speaking to one is like your first day in a foreign language class.  You know when the teacher walks in and immediately begins to speak in German or French or whatever language you may be studying?  That’s what it’s like to sit down with most financial advisors as they pour over every detail of the stock and bond markets and how specific individual investment vehicles are the wisest choice for your family.  I feel completely lost and inadequate in the presence of someone who’s business it is to understand wise financial investment.

It’s not as is if their job isn’t important though.  We’re all faced with the realization that one day we might want to retire and it might be a good idea to get our financial portfolio in order.  What’s interesting is the time we spend doing so.  We citizens of affluent countries like the U.S. spend countless hours worrying over our retirement accounts and whether or not we’ll have enough money to live comfortably into old age.  The entire financial planning business exists solely to make us feel more comfortable about our future, and many times leads into idolatry of money and the things it can buy.

It doesn’t always work out so well either.  I can remember our country’s most recent financial collapse about a decade ago and the fear that it struck in the minds of many.  You see, when you spend your life accumulating wealth, only to see it disappear in a matter of days because of poor lending practices or corporate greed, it’s a sobering reminder that our financial security is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I still recall talking to folks who were visibly devastated by the loss of their retirement accounts and who were even considering drastic measures to fix their situation.  It’s sad that the love of money is truly the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

(Matthew 6:19-21)

In light of the passage above, I want to ask a simple, yet profound question.  Do we strive to be as spiritually wealthy as we do financially?  I imagine this is much more of a first world problem while our Christian brothers and sisters in third world or war-torn countries are trying to simply survive.  And I completely agree that good stewardship of God’s blessings would compel us to spend time using our resources wisely.  But do we even spend an equal amount of time or more growing our spiritual portfolio?  I ask because Jesus was very candid about our heart residing where we store our treasures.

Spiritual wealth cannot be taken away from us.  The trying times of this world cannot subtract from our spiritual investments.  Not so with worldly wealth.  All it takes is one corrupt politician, one major war, or even several simple banking mistakes to leave us high and dry.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of treasuring worldly things.  Who wouldn’t like more money?  It brings us comfort and more control over our future.  But it also brings thorns into our life that can choke out our desire to seek and serve God first (Matthew 13:22).  Our focus on wealth can easily blind us to the One who truly provides our sustenance.

What does a spiritual portfolio look like you may ask?  Where do I invest and how do I store up treasures for myself in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy?  Look to add these to your spiritual investments:

Pray to God today that he will advise you towards a wise spiritual investment strategy.  Give the time and energy needed to grow these attributes in your life.  And the best part is, this spiritual portfolio will pay dividends into eternity far greater than you could ever imagine.

-Joe Butler

Brand New

My car is in need of a wash.  Actually, it’s BADLY in need of a wash.  Body parts of at least ten different species of bugs are plastered to the front bumper and windshield.  Road grime stains the sides because of all the rain we’ve had recently.  The floorboards have traces of scattered sand from all my visits to the beach this summer.  All-in-all, it’s sad that I’ve let it go this long without even running it through the five dollar carwash that’s up the road from my house.

But there’s a problem.  My vehicle is 11 years old and has the dings and dents that are typically evident on a car its age.  There are the minor scratches from my shopping companions at the local Wal-Mart.  There’s also the large dent and cracked rear bumper where someone decided to back into me one day while I was at work.  No matter how many times I run my vehicle through the carwash, those blemishes are still there for all to see.  They’re reminders that my vehicle lacks the luster of a brand new car straight off the showroom floor.

Sometimes we think the same way in regards to ourselves and our relationship with God.  When we come up out of the sin-cleansing waters of baptism, we’re excited to feel brand new.  We go into the world with a renewed lease on life and a hope of better days to come, confident in our standing with God.  Only later, we realize sin is still a tough thing to stay away from and it seems that temptation lurks around every corner.  Pretty soon, we’re convinced that we are damaged goods after all.  I mean, you can put a pig in a dress, but it’s still a pig right?

But that’s not how God’s redemptive grace works.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We’re not just cleansed by our faith and obedience in Christ only to become dirty again the very next day.  We are made new, as if the dents and scratches and rust of our hard-lived lives were never there.  And not just new.  We’re made better!  It’s as if I take my old Toyota Rav4 to the carwash and drive out in a brand new Corvette Stingray.  We’re given all the upgrades and fine-tuning needed to be the kind of Christian God calls us to be (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Peter 1:3).

Remember to live your life every day as if you’ve been made new by the blood of Jesus.  Don’t dwell on the imperfections and mistakes of the past because God doesn’t remember them (Hebrews 8:8-12).  Realize that you are a new creation, clothed in Christ, having put on his perfection and righteousness.

-Joe