Keep Praying

I have to say I’m appalled.  I not sure I believed I would ever see the persecution of Christianity in America get as bad as it’s getting.  It all came to a head for me when I was watching the news after the church shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas.  One more atrocity perpetrated by the hands of a sick-minded individual with a gun.  By all accounts, the crime was not committed specifically against Christians, but was an act of domestic violence.  And because it happened to completely innocent people during their worship of God, all sides of the political spectrum have used it to attack each other.

But this time, it went too far.  People across the nation, including President Trump, have called for an outpouring of prayer.  The community and those families in that small Texas town need to know that they’re being prayed for.  They need the comfort of the nation rallying around them, but most importantly, they need the comfort and reassurance that only comes from God (Philippians 4:6-7).  Calling openly for prayer during a tragic loss like this is a very appropriate response.

But that’s not how many people saw it.  Immediately following the mention of prayer, the President and Christians nationwide were blasted for their faith in God.  People decried prayer as a waste of time, an action that does nothing for those being prayed for.  They said that if God actually answered prayer, those people would still be alive.  They have effectively attacked one of the roots of the Christian faith, and it was all done under the premise of showing concern for the fallen and their families.

This post is not a call for protests from Christians or for a public spectacle to be made.  It’s not being written to bemoan the negativity and harassment Christians are continually facing.  God has warned us that those difficulties would come (Psalm 34:19).  This post is a call to pray all the more!  It’s a rallying cry to stand up for our right to pray by continuing to pray more fervently and more boldly.

When we let our problems and concerns go unnoticed or fail to deal with them, they grow.  If you don’t pray your way through the difficulties in life, through the tragedies and losses like this shooting, those events fester and infect like a wound to our body.  And God can cure all that infects our lives and make us feel healthy and whole again.  He doesn’t always take away the problems.  In fact, sometimes these challenges are there to help us grow (James 1:2-4), but he does promise to bring us through.

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.”

(Psalm 55:22)

So continue to pray!  Pray prayers of thanksgiving and for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10).  Pray for those who are sick and for those who are mourning.  Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you walk through the peaks and valleys of this journey called life.  Most importantly, don’t let anyone keep you from conversing with God or tell you that prayer doesn’t work.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.

-Joe Butler

 

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In Jesus’ Name

“In Jesus’ name…Amen.”

Sounds familiar right?  It should if you’ve said a prayer or been around someone who has.  It’s the phrase most often used to end our prayers to God, and rightly so.  We have the privilege to personally speak to God through the name of Jesus, so we should pay homage to that fact by mentioning his glorious name.

That’s not the only time we should invoke the name of Jesus though.  His name is powerful and is tied to all of the things we hold valuable as Christians.  Our salvation is guaranteed by the name of Jesus.  Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified by the name of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The name of Jesus is exalted above every other name in Heaven and on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).  He has been made Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 19:16), and all of creation is under his rule (Luke 10:17, Colossians 1:16).  The early Christians prayed for the power to heal that only comes through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:30), and they were promised and given such power by Jesus himself (Mark 16:17, Acts 3:1-7).

Today, meditate on the name of our Lord Jesus.  Reflect on the beauty of that name and all that he’s done to redeem us from sin and from death.  “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).  “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might” (Jeremiah 10:6).

-Joe Butler

Compelled By the Love of God

It’s a busy time right now at school for us teachers.  The end of the nine week grading period is upon us and it’s always a hectic time.  Kids are scrambling to get assignments completed, and I’m working to get grades posted in the grade book.  This is also the time of year where I try giving some extra motivation to my students, to encourage them to work harder for the next nine weeks and see if they can make any improvements.

It’s always interesting watching students react to their grades.  They always know what their grade is throughout their time in school, but when report card time hits, it becomes much more real for them.  The ones who have an A or B are usually pretty happy and proud and are looking forward to showing their parents how they did.  The students who scored a D or F usually begin to panic and worry about how their parents will react.  For an 8-year-old, the idea that they may punished for a bad grade is, in most occasions, enough motivation for them to try harder.

You see, my goal as a teacher is to try to teach students how to be intrinsically motivated.  It’s good to want to perform well for their parents or so they don’t get grounded, but it’s even better for them to take pride in their own hard work and have some ownership for how they did.  We’re all that way to some degree.  We work long hours at work to earn that paycheck.  We show love to our family and friends in hopes that they will reciprocate with actions of gratitude.  Athletes train consistently in order to win the game.  We’re all extrinsically motivated to some degree and need to find ways to be internally satisfied with our performance.

But it’s a little bit different in our relationship with God.  We don’t have to work ahead of time to earn his love and good favor.  In fact, he offers us more than we could ever want even before we realize who he is.  Does that mean there’s no response on our part to God’s love?  Absolutely not!  The love of God should compel us to react in a certain way.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Because of God’s love, we die to ourselves.  Because of God’s love, we decide to dedicate our lives in service to Christ.  Because of God’s love, we change our entire mindset to be God-focused instead of me-focused.  We do this, not for his love, but because of his love.  We do it because he deserves it.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one 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 2:1-5a)

-Joe Butler

Lifting Up Prayers of Praise

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
11 Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!”

(1 Chronicles 16:8-11)

I’ve done a little off-the-cuff research and I’ve come to the conclusion:  We don’t praise God nearly as often as we should.  After deciding to keep track of prayer requests for the last two months at the church I attend, I may have unofficially determined that we lift up very few prayers of praise.  I’ve listened to prayer requests in Bible classes, read church bulletins for requests, and been a part of many conversations where prayers were solicited, and here were the findings:

  • prayers for the sick or general health requests- 71%
  • prayers for worldly affairs (those affected by natural disasters, tragedies in the news, government/political related prayers)- 21%
  • prayers for miscellaneous things (salvation of a friend or loved one, prayers for particular ministries, etc.)- 6%
  • prayers of specific praise- 2%

Now, please don’t hear me say that those prayer requests are wrong!  We are absolutely encouraged throughout the word of God to offer up all sorts of prayers and that God hears every one of them.  He wants us to bring him all of our cares and concerns.  And yes, I admit it was a small sample size to pull statistics from.  But you’ve got to admit that 2% for prayers of praise over a 2 month period in a church of about 160 people is an awfully small amount.

Like Daniel’s song of praise quoted above, we should give thanks to the Lord as often as possible.  And why not?  We are blessed beyond anything we can imagine!  God is so worthy to receive our thanks every day for all that he’s given us and done for us.  He deserves our worship.  He’s earned our adoration.  The works of his creation cry out to be appreciated.

So what do prayers of praise look like?

  • simply be thankful for a brand new day (Psalm 118:24)
  • praise God for his mercy and forgiveness (1 Peter 1:3)
  • thank him for his daily provision in your life (Philippians 4:19)
  • be grateful that he has provided a way of salvation (John 3:16)
  • be appreciative of the guidance and instruction of his Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • thank him for the beautiful world we live in and dream of how amazing Heaven will be (Psalm 19:1)

Most importantly, save some prayers of praise for God where you don’t ask for anything.  Just be content in the moment and enjoy the goodness of God.  Like any loving father, He relishes the opportunity to hear his children come to him with a grateful heart.  Keep offering those prayers of supplication, because God has promised to answer (1 John 5:14-15), but make sure you’re lifting up prayers of praise as well.

-Joe Butler

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 Will You Be Remembered For?

Abraham Lincoln.

What did you think of when you read that name?  16th President.  The Gettysburg Address and the Civil War.  Assassinated.  For such a historical figure as Lincoln, it’s easy to think of the major impact he had on our nation and on history.

Or how about Thomas Edison?  Of course we know him as a famous inventor, but are you aware of all the things he created that made life better and easier for us all?  With such creations as the phonograph, the light bulb, and the motion picture camera, it’s easy to see why Edison’s name will be remembered as one of the greatest minds of all time.

Some people are remembered for their achievements, some for their athleticism, and others simply for shining brightly during their fifteen minutes of fame.  But what will you be remembered for?  When (insert your name here) is written down after your passing, what will people think of?  That’s quite a sobering thought isn’t it?  Most of us will just live our lives with thoughts of how something might affect us or our immediate friends and family.  But our impact, especially if you’re a Christian, is more far-reaching than that.

Now, I don’t personally know every reader of my blog.  You may have great influence in your career or your community.  You may do great things amongst your small circle of friends, but I want to look specifically at the things all Christians should be remembered for that have the biggest impact on the world around us.

  1. LOVE– You can’t say the name Christian without saying the word love.  At least that’s the way it should be.  Those words are synonymous with everything it means to follow Christ.  Everything that Jesus ever did on earth, even down to his death on the cross, exemplified the true meaning of love (Matthew 22:37-40).  We too, should be known for the love we show, not only to God, but to others.
  2. FAITH– Another word that is compatible with the idea of Christianity is faith.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), so if your life is not remembered as a life lived in faith, you are an oxymoron.  You can’t be a Christian without it.
  3. BOLDNESS– Any brief study of the life of the Apostle Paul, or any of the other apostles for that matter, would reveal a life of boldness.  That’s part of the reason why we remember these obscure disciples to this day.  Their boldness in delivering the gospel message in their time allows us to practice our Christian beliefs today.  The world continues to need bold Christians to get out of the church pews and preach the gospel to a lost and dying world.
  4. PERSEVERANCE– Every Christian should count themselves blessed, if at the end of their life, they can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  The Christian life, if lived according to the Bible, will be tough at times, and perseverance is needed to make it through.
  5. KINDNESS/ GENEROSITY– Sure, kindness and generosity are not only hallmarks of Christianity, but are highly sought after moral traits in the secular world as well.  Many people exemplify this kind of consideration to those around them.  But our ability to evangelize and bring people to Christ begins with kindness and generosity.  Meeting the physical and emotional needs of others is a stepping stone to meeting their spiritual needs as well (Ephesians 4:32, 1 John 3:17-18, Acts 20:35).

What will you be remembered for?  Let it not be about all the things of this world; the success, the money, the achievements.  Live a life wholly dedicated to the service of God and others.  Live a life, that by godly standards, really does matter now and for years to come.

-Joe Butler

Refocus

I’m still reeling from the heartless, evil shooting that took place in Las Vegas recently.  Far removed from the terror and grief that the victims are feeling, I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around why such tragic events occur and why such evil even exists.

There are the obvious reasons.  Hate is at an all-time high in America, so much so that the nightly news is filled with stories of racism, murder, and road rage.  There’s also the greed of politicians and American businesses like the gun industry who care more about making money off of the sale of dangerous weapons than they care about protecting Americans from tragic acts like this shooting.  There’s the disappointment over the apathy that some in the church show in times like these instead of more boldly standing up for the Christian principles that our country was founded upon.

All these reasons and more are easily beginning to mire us in negativity and making us focus only on the bad that lies around us.  I don’t fault myself for feeling this way, and I don’t blame others for feeling the same.  I spent the entire day after the shooting dwelling on what an ugly world we live in at times and that I’m forced to raise my family in this environment.  And then I decided it was time to change the way I think.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

I wonder if Paul was on to something here.  You see, the era he lived in was filled with many of the societal ills that we face today.  To be sure, they didn’t have assault rifles and thus didn’t have mass shootings, but they did have crucifixions and persecution under the corrupt occupiers of Rome.  They had problems with the blatant immorality of adultery, murder, and homosexuality in Paul’s time as well.  And what did Paul ask Christians of his day to do?  He asked that they fill their minds with things that are good and positive and righteous.  He asked that they not worry about the difficulties and sinful behaviors that they saw in their daily lives.  He asked that they refocus on whatever is right.

And we must do the same.

While many people died in Las Vegas recently at the hands of some deranged madman, there were many more who showed great heroism and empathy in caring for the strangers around them in the aftermath of the shooting.  While our government seems to do nothing but argue and show signs of corruption and disrespect, we can still be thankful that we enjoy the freedoms that we do, especially our freedom to worship as we please.  While there are many groups out there promoting racism and hatred to anyone who will listen, there are far more people who are willing to love their neighbor and help those who are in need.

Refocus.  There’s plenty of good out there if you take the time to look.

-Joe Butler