Monitor Your Thoughts (Blogs Revisited)

Monitor Your Thoughts (Originally posted August 31, 2014)

“The human brain. It’s such an amazing part of our body. It’s capable of so much good, so much knowledge. And yet, it is also able to cause much harm, succumbing to the temptations of this world.

Our mind is always active. An unconscious chatter takes place within us daily. Sometimes that message is mundane, day-to-day thoughts. Because we live such busy lives, our minds have many choices and events to process. But sometimes our thoughts stray away from daily tasks and land squarely on unhealthy things. Anxiety, fear, worry, and discouragement are all bottomless pits waiting to prey upon our minds. And sadly, sometimes our thoughts wander into the realm of sin.

Interestingly, the bible refers to most of our thought processes as a heart issue and Jesus addresses this in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:21-22 he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.”  And again in verse 27-28 he teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Jesus reminds us that the sin in our life occurs long before the act. It occurs when our minds and our hearts are taken captive by temptation.

So what do we do when we notice a decline in a moral train of thought?  First we must be aware of what we’re thinking. We must continually monitor our thoughts, being in control of where our mind is taking us. Finally, and most important of all, we must guard our minds and our hearts and preserve them for Christ. I’ll admit that’s hard to do, but Paul in Philippians 4:8 encourages us that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”

In a world where there is much that is wrong and evil abounds, we should know that we can still fill our minds and our hearts with that which is good. We can break through the prison that our minds often create and set it free thinking and meditating on a good and perfect God. Sure sounds like a good thought to me!”

The first thing that came to mind when revisiting the above post was, “Wow…we sure do have a lot of things that can distract our thoughts nowadays!”  But the truth is, it’s always been that way.  The world has always had disturbing ways to keep us from focusing on God.  It’s just now, with our television and internet-saturated culture, it’s even easier to become distracted.

The key to dealing with our thought life is similar to attacking any bad habit that we may have.  Instead of filling our minds, and as result, our hearts with negativity and evil, we must instead make a point of surrounding ourselves with the things that provide a godly influence and thought process.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”  This is a work enacted by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to be more aware of the sinful things that can divert us away from godly thinking.

Sounds great right?  Just change our thought process to be more in line with God?  Like many of God’s other commands, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  That is why Paul reminds us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).   There are still plenty of godly things in this world that can garner our attention, but only if we choose to focus our mind there. That might mean we need to change who we associate with, or what companies we affiliate with, or especially what entertainment choices we make.

No matter what we do, we must make every effort to “guard (our) heart, for everything (we) do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

-Joe Butler

Trust and Obey (Blogs Revisited)

“Trust and Obey” (Originally posted March 11, 2014)

“Trust and Obey.”  Many of us are familiar with this timeless hymn still sung in many churches around the world.  The refrain speaks to a simple truth about following God.  “Trust and Obey” is a truth I’ve found many unbelievers have difficulty with because they think Christians profess to have all of the answers.  Those Christians farther along on their walk with God know that, all too often, we don’t know why God has asked something of us or why something has happened.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey.  With the technology of our modern age and our immediate access to information, we convince ourselves that we need to know everything.  Many things in our world try to encourage us to not trust God.  This is exactly how Satan works, creating distrust and skepticism towards what we know to be true.  He whispers to us during times of desperation, “Don’t trust God to take care of you.”  “Don’t trust anyone else; they’ll only let you down.”  “Just look out for yourself…you’re the only one you can truly trust.”

While Satan plants his poison in our minds, God responds by reminding us that He loves us.  He knew us before the beginning of time.  He has a plan for us through His son Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus himself reminds us of that plan in John 12:44-50.  He said, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into this world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  For I did not speak on my  own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Jesus is telling us to trust him.  Obey his teachings for in doing so we are obeying God and getting to know Him.  Trust and obedience does not negate rational thought and physical evidence either.  The world would have us believe that followers of God blindly believe in something that makes no sense; that we are uneducated and naive.  The exact opposite is true.  Most Christians have dutifully examined scripture and compared it to what we see in the world and other physical evidences and have reasonably come to the conclusion that trusting and obeying God is not far-fetched after all.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

It’s been a rough week.  Not for me personally, but for some close to me and my family.  I’ve been reminded this week that it’s during the difficult and trying times in life that we must fully embrace the concept of trusting and obeying God.

As the above post teaches, I’ve recently witnessed Satan poison the minds of Christians and convince them to place their trust in their own understanding instead of in the wisdom and purity of our all-knowing God.  I’ve heard them make excuses for their decisions and sins and watched as they have thrown away every good blessing God has given them in the pursuit of personal happiness.

But I have also been witness to amazing strength being exemplified by other Christians when they faced the death of a family member or the tearing apart of their marriage and everything normal in their life.  I’ve watched in amazement as they have openly proclaimed their trust in God during the most devastating of times.  They have committed to serving and obeying God and they will continue to do so regardless of the difficulties that Satan or this world throw their way.

I wrote the above post as encouragement for those of us who’ve chosen to give our entire lives to Christ.  Sometimes, Satan or the world in which we live will try to convince us to trust in ourselves more than God.  Sometimes, we are fed lies and delusions that create distrust towards God’s word and what we know to be true.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey, regardless the circumstances, and know that God wants the best for his children.

-Joe Butler

The Light of the World

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” -Jesus (John 8:12)

One of the most easy to understand and yet stark teachings of Jesus was when he referred to himself as the light of the world.  It’s such a simple analogy that we can easily comprehend…that Jesus, in his purity and perfection, in his eternal love and wisdom, is the light that brings clarity to our entire existence.  Through an intimate connection to him, we can come to know God himself and his love for all of his creation.  We can be transformed into people of light ourselves, reflecting the glory of God to the world around us and bringing the light of love and truth to all the dark places in the world.

Jesus says that whoever follows him will not walk in darkness.  The apostle John echoes that sentiment when in his first epistle he writes, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  This simply means that the light of Jesus should affect us in a drastic way.  It should cause us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1) and walk in a way that brings honor to the one who has given us everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).  It also means that the blood of Jesus, offered as a sacrifice on the cross for us, continually cleanses us of our mistakes if we are walking in his light.

True, there is much darkness in the world around us (John 3:19-20).  But we are to be people who live in this world but are not of this world (Romans 12:2).  People who are aliens in a strange country as we await the glorious return of our Savior Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:11-12).  Our lives should be lived in stark contrast to the worldly desires around us, so much so, that the world cannot help but notice the light of Jesus shining through our example.

This is the true meaning of Christianity.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Seeing God

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)

The countdown has begun!  My spring break is right around the corner and I can barely contain my excitement!  Being a teacher, there are several breaks from school that we look forward to and Spring break is one of them.  Mostly because it’s Spring, the weather is changing, and I usually go to the mountains for a little hiking and vacation time.

This year, my family and I are heading up to my brother’s house in north Georgia and then going to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.  I’ve been there countless times and I never get tired of the endless mountain vistas, the crisp, cool air, and the peace and quiet that being in the mountains provides.

Another wonderful blessing of taking trips into nature is the closeness I feel with God and his beautiful creation.  As the verse above mentions, we can see God in the world around us.  We can see his wisdom in the order of the natural world.  We can experience a fraction of his creativity when we examine the tremendous differences in plant species such as trees and wildflowers, or the wonderful variety of animals in existence.  We can even gain some insight into his love for us that he would create such a beautiful world for us to reside in.

As Spring begins to blossom in your area of the world, take time to look around and relish in the perfection of God’s creation.  Take time to meditate on his immeasurable love for you.  Allow the truth of God’s existence to be seen in the natural world around you and use that time to worship him.

-Joe Butler

 

Excuses, Excuses (Blogs Revisited)

Excuses, Excuses (Originally posted February 21, 2014)

“We are all guilty of making excuses at one time or another.  Sadly, one of the areas where we give excuses is in not doing the will of God.  Through the years, Christians have devised ingenious excuses for not doing what God would have them do.

Excuse making is as old as man himself.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve made excuses for their violation of God’s commands.  In Exodus 4, Moses gave excuses for not being able to lead God’s people (The excuses Moses gave are very similar to the ones some Christians give today for not teaching the gospel or for not developing their talents) (See verse 1 and 10).

In the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24, Jesus gave a great lesson on how to combat excuse making.  In the parable, people were invited to a banquet but they immediately began to make excuses for not being able to attend.  The first excuse was given by a man who needed to tend to his property (vs. 18).  People today use the same excuse.  They say, “Excuse me for not serving God, but I’m too busy building a home, or remodeling my house, or car shopping, etc…”  The second excuse given related to work and livelihood (vs. 19).  People today claim work and maintaining a lifestyle as more important than God.  The third excuse that was made dealt with relationships (vs.20).  How many people through the years have used family as an excuse for not serving God?  Many will not put God first because their spouse doesn’t believe or they don’t like the preacher or they are arguing with another Christian.

Today we have a new arsenal of excuses being thrown around such as, “I can’t help it” or “I was born that way,” “I’m not as bad as other people I know” or “Everyone else is doing it.”  Sadly, these are some of the very excuses given by those who profess to love God.  And the conclusion is not pretty for those who make excuses.  No excuses will be accepted on the day of judgement (vs. 24).

Please join with and help me work towards banishing all worthless excuses and making God a priority in our lives.”

As the post above says, we are ALL guilty of boarding the excuse train from time to time.  I’m not sure if it’s ingrained in our human nature or simply a matter of finding the easiest path through a task or circumstance, but we are very good at making excuses, especially in the arena of following God.

From the creation of mankind, we have adapted our excuses to make ourselves comfortable and make life as smooth as possible with the least amount of speed bumps along the way.  It would probably be safe to say that the society we live in now even outright breeds excuses when we see the most famous of men and women making them on a daily basis.

When I penned the post above, I was mindful of the excuses that I make in my own life from time to time.  Excuses not to try my best or to skips corners.  Excuses not to do the right thing when the right action is blatantly obvious.  Even excuses why I don’t have time to serve the Lord the way I should.  I can say that I’ve gotten better at not making these types of excuses in my life.  And that is what growing as a Christian is all about.  It’s about destroying all excuses and putting God at the forefront of our lives no matter the cost.

Joe Butler

 

Monday Motivation: Suffering for Doing Good

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God;” (1 Peter 4:16-17)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (1 Peter 3:9, 13-14)

No one ever thinks it will happen to them.  You’re going along, doing your best to serve God and others when, out of nowhere, you face hatred or criticism or false accusation.  It’s even worse when those hurtful actions come from those within the body of Christ.

It’s comforting to know that your service and love to God and others is recognized and appreciated by those who know and have seen your spiritual fruit.  Jesus was blunt when he warned his disciples about the persecution they would most likely face (John 15:18-21).  He was also encouraging, telling them, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,” (Matthew 5:11-12).

My advice to you if you find yourself in such a situation: Do not be discouraged or lose faith in your service to the Lord.  He will reward those who serve him faithfully (James 1:12).  Do not become bitter or repay evil actions in kind.  Stand above the fray, even if it means you stand alone.  And above all, rejoice in sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  Blessed are those who love their Lord enough to follow him even in the darkest of circumstances.

-Joe Butler

Never Forget Where You Came From (Blogs Revisited)

Never Forget Where You Came From (Originally published June 7, 2013)

I had a college professor who had an extremely tough childhood.  Growing up around the gangs of south Miami, he was to see his dad murdered at a young age and all of his siblings imprisoned or dead from drug use or AIDS.  He constantly reminded us about not letting your circumstances keep you from better things but at the same time remembering where you came from so you could better appreciate where you are now.

A passage in Titus reminds us that, as Christians, we are to remember where we’ve really come from.  Titus 3:3-7 says, ”At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Just typing that passage touches me.  God’s immeasurable grace and mercy have rescued me from my circumstances, from where I’m from.   His son has given me hope and a promised place in heaven as an heir to eternal life.  When I’m reminded of where I’m from and how easily it would be for me to be there again, I’m much more appreciative of where I am now… in the loving arms of my God and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”

Cleansed.

Justified.

Forgiven.

I’m so grateful for reading this old post of mine this morning.  It was such a poignant reminder that the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ has erased the sins of our past and saved us from our circumstances.  It’s amazing to think of where we’d be if it wasn’t for the grace of God.  We would be lost.  We’d be spiritually dead even though we would be physically alive.  It’s good to remember where we came from, if nothing else but to be reminded of how amazing the love of God really is.

-Joe Butler