Monday Motivation: Self-Control

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

(Titus 2:11-13)

For many of us, we have just come off of an uplifting Lord’s Day of worship and rest and are now returning to a busy work week and family/personal tasks.  In the process of performing the many responsibilities we must do every day, I pray that you would keep in mind the passage above from Titus.  While the grace of God does amazing things in our life to include offering us salvation, it also acts as our trainer, teaching us what is right and how to live.

Make it a daily reminder this week that the Lord wishes us to live upright, godly lives as we anxiously await the return of our Savior.  Be ready to turn away from unrighteousness when those situations arise and pray for self-control to face any temptation that the devil may throw at you.  And no matter what you, do it in the name of the Lord, offering him the glory he so rightfully deserves.

-Joe Butler

Advertisements

The Struggle is Real

“The struggle is real.”

Just another phrase that has taken its place in modern American vernacular.  I’m unsure of how these type of trends begin, but maybe it’s the abundance of internet memes on Facebook that get it started.  Now, it seems everybody is speaking about how the struggle is real when humorously talking about some aspect of their lives.  But while the phrase is mostly said in jest, it does have some truth to it.

For many, the struggle is indeed real!  It may be something mundane like trying to break a simple negative habit, or it can be of a more serious nature like overcoming life-altering destructive behaviors such as anger, unfaithfulness, or a lack of integrity.  We all have different struggles in life, and for each one of us, their effect is very real and far-reaching.

Although our struggles are real and they seem to consume our lives at times, God is more powerful than those struggles.  Just let Paul tell you how God takes care of those facing life’s difficulties:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4:11-13)

If anyone knew what it was like to struggle, it was Paul.  He faced doubt from other Christians after becoming a Christian himself (Acts 9:20-21, Acts 9:26).  He dealt with people who refused to accept his calling as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 10-11).  He was beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:16-24).  He even pleaded with God to remove some of his more difficult struggles (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  In the end, he realized his struggles didn’t and wouldn’t define him.  God did!  He found strength in God through his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10, Philippians 4:13), and you and I can do the same.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?  Do you rely on your own ingenuity to rise above life’s negative circumstances?  Sure, it may work temporarily, but there are many struggles that we just can’t face alone.  Instead, I invite you to hand your difficulties over to God.  Bring him your questions, concerns, and doubts.  I can assure you that he listens and wants nothing more than to help you feel his presence and his love.

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)

-Joe Butler

Taking a Trip From Mind to Heart

For those who’ve read this blog for a while, you already know that I love to travel.  I’m a “it’s not the destination but the journey” type of person.  It doesn’t entirely matter where I’m headed per se’.  I just like the adventure of going.  I’m even one of those crazy people who enjoy going to the airport no matter how busy it may be.  While I’m sitting there waiting for my own flight to depart, I’m imagining all of the other passengers on their trip and where they may be headed.  I will admit that I still love the normalcy and comfort of home.  There’s just something special about visiting new places and seeing amazing sights along the way.

Our walk or journey as a Christian is much the same way.  To play off the name of my blog, we must certainly have faith in order to be pleasing to God, but we must also realize that we’re on a journey of faith as well.  What’s unique about this particular trip of faith is that it’s the longest and yet shortest journey we’ll ever take.  Longest in the sense that we are on a lifelong journey of discovery, learning more about God and becoming more Christ-like every day.  But it’s also the shortest trip as you’ll see in this post.

It is approximately 17 inches from the top of my head to the center of my chest.  How do I know?  Well, I actually measured it.  While you’re imagining what that may have looked like, go ahead and pull out a tape measure and take the same measurement on yourself.  Got it?  Good, because that distance is equal to the shortest trip you will take in your lifetime.

Now, I know that may sound confusing, but follow me for a second.  When we first have a Bible study or hear the good news of the gospel message, that information takes root in our mind and hopefully in our heart as well.  For those whose heart calls them into obedience to the gospel, it’s an emotional time of rejoicing and commitment.  Soon after, we find ourselves wanting to study the Bible more, wanting to share our story with others, and wanting to grow more like Christ in our behavior.

What I’ve found with longtime Christians is that, in the process of reading God’s word and attending Bible classes, in the process of attending worship on Sunday and going about our business the rest of the week, we sometimes forget to continue to move our understanding and belief of God and his word from our mind to our heart.  It’s such a short distance, but sometimes it’s a long trip.  Nevertheless, that trip from mind to heart is the most important journey we make as Christians.

All throughout God’s word, we are reminded that God wants our hearts.  From the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40) to how we give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and treat others (Matthew 25:34-40), God wants us to put our heart into our worship and service for him.  It’s simply not good enough to hang your hat on your Bible knowledge or your perfect church attendance record.  That’s taking Christianity away from the relationship it’s meant to be and making it about following rules and checking off boxes.  Instead, we should be changed at the heart level (Hebrews 4:12).

Another important aspect of taking the journey of moving God from our mind to our heart is that it will cause us to move from belief to action.  Examples abound of good Christian people who only practice their religion on Sunday mornings, but God has called us to do much more than that.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

(James 2:14-18, 24)

Looking at the above passage of Scripture, we can clearly see that God must be in the mind and heart.  Both are needed to have faith and both are needed to have deeds.  Verse 20 rings especially loudly when we examine that which justifies us in the eyes of God.  Our heart must be active in serving God if we wish to have salvation.

So I want to invite you to take a journey with me.  If you’re already a Christian, great!  If you’re actively spending time learning more about God and his will for your life, outstanding!  Keep up the good work.  But make sure your knowledge and love of God is taking root in your heart as well.  Make every effort to prune out the negative influences in your life that may get in the way.  And enjoy the journey.  It’s the most edifying one you’ll ever take.

-Joe Butler

Quiet Desperation

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

(John 5:2-6)

38 years!

Just let your mind wrap around how much time that is!  I’m 41 years old, so that is almost my entire lifetime.  It’s just hard for me to fathom being in a condition of quiet desperation for 38 years.  Or is it?

As odd as it may sound, we sometimes get so comfortable in our weakened state that we do nothing about it.  Why?  Like the man lying by the pool in the passage above, maybe we give up.  Maybe we lose hope of ever being healed of our “illness.”  Maybe we resign ourselves to a state of brokenness and lose faith in ever being whole again.  Maybe it’s the fear of change, or possibly we’re in denial.  Could it be that we’re ashamed or embarrassed of who we are or where we’ve been?  For whatever reason, many people live lives of quiet desperation and feel like things will never change.

What’s interesting about this loss of hope is how it affects our thoughts and decisions.  A lot of people may think they want help.  They may even swallow their pride and eventually ask for it, but most times they don’t really want help.  You see, for some, settling for mediocrity is an easier path to take than a path filled with the hard work required to rise above it.  In the above passage, Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed?”  God knows full well that sometimes we really don’t want to be made well.  At least our behavior speaks that way at times.  To be made well in the eyes of God requires work.  Not work in the sense that we must earn his grace, but a working faith and obedience on our part.

For the man by the pool, faith was required for healing to begin.  Ironically, the man just provides excuses.  On the surface, they were valid excuses.  He really didn’t have anyone to put him into the water.  And we’re good at making excuses too.  We can spend every day surrounded by our hurt and become so familiar with our excuses that they become our life story.  The space between reality and excuse gets blurred and we become accustomed to the lies that we’ve fed ourselves.

Another interesting point is that sometimes other people can hold us down as well.  Like the Pharisees who questioned the healed man about carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:9-11), we can sometimes have people in our lives who refuse to allow us to rise above our negative circumstances.  They are mired in their own unhappiness, so much so, that they can bring us down with them.  The old adage, “misery loves company,” is true, and it’s almost always evident in the lives of those who live in quiet desperation.  Just one more reason why we must surround ourselves with God’s truth and not fall into the trap of lies that others offer us from time to time.

Finally, shame and embarrassment can keep us from rising above desperate times and into the blessing-filled life that God has in store for us.  It’s easy to feel embarrassment when we are judged by the opinions of others.  It’s common to suffer shame due to circumstances both self-induced and those out of our control.  What we need to do is continue to meditate on God’s word and the promises he’s made to his children (read “You Are…”).  Only through his love can we overcome the lies Satan tries to feed us through shameful and embarrassing situations.

There’s no need to live quiet lives of desperation when we have so much to be thankful for through Jesus Christ.  We just have to live with a faith that believes God always wants the best for us.  Will our earthly life always be easy?  Of course not!  But we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), knowing he has already suffered desperation and shame in our stead and came out victorious.

-Joe Butler

Requirements

I’m a pretty straightforward, no nonsense type of person.  I’m not sure if that’s due to my upbringing, the fact that I’m a guy, or if it’s just ingrained into my personality.  Those particular character traits have failed me at times, but for the most part, they make life easier for me.  And who doesn’t like easier right?  I just like to know what needs to be done and get it accomplished.

Of course, not all of life is set up that way.  Rule following and keeping your nose to the grindstone sometimes blinds you to the more intricate, personal aspects of life, and that is nowhere more evident than in our relationship with God.  In fact, that was exactly the problem the Pharisees had during Jesus’ time here on earth.  They had reduced religion to a bunch of boxes to check off and a scorecard of rules to follow which allowed them to be the ultimate winners when compared to the average Jew.

When Jesus came on the scene, he immediately turned upside down Israel’s view of the Messiah and the plan God had for his people.  But, was what he taught any different than what was laid out in the Old Testament centuries earlier?  Actually not.  Jesus was attempting to set straight what it really meant to be a child of God, and those requirements ran far deeper than just following the law.  Read a passage from the book of Deuteronomy with me to see what I mean.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

(Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

What does God ask of us?  I mean, it’s good to know exactly what we need to do and get to work doing it right?  God sought his followers to not just observe the law, but to circumcise their hearts as well (Deuteronomy 10:16).  God has, and always will, seek trust, not just a bunch of rule followers.  Let’s break down this passage a little further and examine these specific requirements from God.

  1. FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD (vs. 12)- On the surface, fear seems to have a negative connotation, especially if we think of an all-powerful cosmic being who’s hoping to watch us fail so we can be punished.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Fearing the Lord is the foundation of our trust in him.  If we really believe that God’s will for his children is to eventually have us in his presence, then a healthy fear of his authority and commandments is a natural outcome of that belief.  And again, this is not fear as in following some rules and praying we don’t break them.  It’s a fear born out of our love and desire not to disappoint our Father.
  2. WALK IN ALL HIS WAYS (vs. 12)- It would be quite cruel if God just set us here on earth and said, “Good luck…figure it out.”  But he doesn’t do that.  Through his word and the example of Christ while living as a man, we have no need to guess what the ways of the Lord are.  Interestingly, we tend to fight against God in this area and pursue our own path, and haven’t you noticed that it’s always our own way that leads us into trouble.  God’s ways are not burdensome and they always lead to goodness and righteousness, and we have to pursue them from the depths of our heart.
  3. LOVE HIM (vs. 12)- Earlier in the book of Deuteronomy, it says, “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Notice that in order to do this, we cannot just follow rules, or be circumcised outwardly and expect to please him.  Instead, we must desire an intimacy with God, to circumcise our heart and want to love him from a deep and meaningful longing within our soul.  Anything less is not really the true definition of love.
  4. SERVE THE LORD YOUR GOD (vs. 12)- So many people in the church have a hang-up with faith versus works and their impact on our ultimate salvation.  I’ve never understood this issue because the Bible makes it quite plain and easy to discern.  Our love for God should compel us to serve him in any way possible.  Service and works are a natural outpouring from a heart fully committed to God.  We are even told that we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), so it’s important to remember that this is pleasing to God. Not work for work’s sake or for comparison’s sake, but work for the sake of love.
  5. KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS AND STATUTES OF THE LORD (vs. 13)- For those who would try to preach love as the only thing that pleases God, this verse should stop them in their tracks.  Sadly, for many who claim to be a Christian, it does not.  For many in the church today, God’s commands have been reduced to optional requirements that may change with the times.  Yet, nowhere in God’s word does it give us license to leave out or disobey any of his commands.  On the contrary, God’s word spends a lot of time discussing the consequences of disobeying his commands.  Yes, this is about following God’s rules, but it’s also about doing it out of love and fear.

I will end by asking a very pointed question.  Have you allowed God to really circumcise your heart, or do you just play the role of Christian?  He doesn’t ask for followers who pay lip service on the outside yet remain unchanged on the inside.  He requires you…all of you.

-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

Soliciting Your Prayers

Time sure does fly!  It’s been almost five years since I started Faith and Footsteps as a means of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.  In this digital age of the Internet and social media where everyone can share their personal opinions on everything under the sun, I’ve purposed this blog with a focus on Christ.  I hope the posts have been an encouragement for people to search for God in his word, to learn more about him and his love for mankind, and to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

To that aim, I am soliciting your prayers as the new year approaches so that this site may be even more effective at bringing lost souls into a relationship with Jesus, and that I may have the wisdom and discernment to study God’s word and deliver it in a bold and dynamic manner.  There are several specific things that I am asking you to pray for:

  1. Prayers for boldness to speak. (Pray, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”~ Ephesians 6:19).  It goes without saying that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to speak openly about God.  I ask that you pray that these posts will boldly speak the truth to a world that is hostile to God.  Pray that God blesses me with the words I need to teach others effectively and words that help people take the lessons of the Bible and assimilate them into their lives.
  2. Prayers for an open door.  (Pray, “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.”~ Colossians 4:3).  I chose to start this blog site with the main purpose of bringing the Good News to the world.  The internet is such a powerful tool that has enabled a small town, average Christian like myself to speak to people of all backgrounds about God.  I ask that you pray that these posts will reach someone searching for Christ.  Pray that hearts will be open to the gospel message and that souls can be saved.  Pray that I can answer questions and comments with the truth of God’s word so that those who are searching can be led into a closer relationship with him.
  3. Prayers for the spreading of God’s word.  (“pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” ~2 Thessalonians 3:1).  It doesn’t take long to notice the evil and lies that are taking root and spreading throughout the world.  While there’s much good that is going on, God is taking a backseat in the lives of many people, even in the lives of so-called Christians.  I ask that you pray that these posts will multiply true God-fearing disciples worldwide and that they will reach people I would never be able to reach otherwise.  Pray that the church will grow full of saints who are willing to obey God completely and who will fully dedicate their lives in service to him.

Thank you  in advance for the prayers that you will offer on my behalf and on behalf of this blog site.  I greatly appreciate all of my readers taking the time to read these posts as well as comment occasionally with questions and words of encouragement.  I will continue to wholeheartedly teach the word of God for as long as possible and pray that he receives all the glory.

-Joe Butler