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

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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

Love Letter

I have two large shoeboxes in the top of my closet that, by all appearances, look old and worn out.  In fact, they are pretty old.  These two boxes hold all the letters and cards that my wife has given me over the years that we’ve known each other.  We met in our junior year of high school, and it’s pretty funny to go back and read of our innocent love for one another and how we longed to be in each other’s company.

Later, when I was in bootcamp with the United States Air Force, she would send me letters of love and encouragement that helped me get through our time of separation.  I keep those mementos to this day as a reminder of our feelings for one another and the bond of commitment that we share.  It reminds me to never take her for granted and to always recall the innocence and purity of when we first fell in love.

There’s another such love letter that we all have access to and its message has always stood the test of time.  The Bible is the most beautiful love letter ever written, and we have it preserved for us so that we may never forget that we are truly and wholly loved.  The story of God and his love for us is a remarkable one, one in which we see what real love and commitment look like.  All that he has done to redeem us to himself is, by far, the most amazing act of love of all time.  God himself, Christ in the flesh, bought us back, his adulterous bride, with his own blood, and the Bible is testament to that glorious gospel message.  We simply can’t miss it…God loves us more than we could ever imagine.

One of the best ways to understand this is by studying all of the analogies between human marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church that are spoken of in the Bible.  Books like Hosea and Ephesians tell of the sacrificial love that one should have for their spouse and it’s the same kind of love that Jesus has for us.  It’s a love that looks at the faults of the other and chooses to still love anyway.  It’s a love that strives for perfection for the one who is chosen.  And God tells us of this ideal union all throughout his word.  It’s a love letter that’s there for us to read and to relish every day.

God wants you to know him just as a husband and wife know each other physically (Ephesians 5:31-32).  But the intimacy of the sexual union between marriage partners pales in comparison to the closeness that God desires with each of his children.  He longs for you to fall into his arms, into his rest, into his grace and mercy.  He wishes for you to reciprocate that love and give yourself freely and completely to him.  He hopes that you will continually read his love letter to you and know, in the deepest part of your heart and soul, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Calvary

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

(Isaiah 53:1-9)

Calvary.

Never forget the sacrifice that has saved you.

Never forget how gruesome and painful it was.

Never forget that it wasn’t forced or bought, but was freely given.

Never forget… Calvary is the real definition of love.

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Grace

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:4-10)

God is rich in love and mercy.  So rich that he sent his only Son to be a sacrifice for us, making us alive for all of eternity.  That grace, that gift is far beyond what our feeble minds can imagine or dream of, and it’s that grace that should cause us to act.  God not only created us, he not only saved us, he has prepared for us good works that we should do in order to glorify him and his goodness.

What are doing today and the rest of this week to show gratitude to God for all that he’s done for you?

-Joe

It’s the Simple Things That Change the World

I love it when I’m able to brighten someone’s day.

A casual “good morning” to a stranger.

A favor granted for a friend in need.

A loving gesture for my wife that says, “I love you.”

All of these things and more bring me great joy when I’m able to lift the spirits of another, even if it’s only in some small way.

I’m not as good at it as I could be though.  There are many days when I count up missed opportunities, moments when I noticed someone down, someone in need, but I failed to act because I was focused too much on my own momentary agenda.  Sometimes I question or bemoan the state of society until I realize that I could be a small solution to that problem.  Christians, people like me, fret over how we can affect the world for Christ and the truth is, the solution is right in front of us every single day.  It’s not always a powerful sermon or an insightful commentary of God’s word that produces change in the world.  It’s also the simple things, the little acts of kindness and consideration and love that show the world what Christ is all about.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gets right to the point of this matter when he says that we should care for the simple needs of those around us if we are to call ourselves Christians.  This is feeding someone when they are hungry.  It’s visiting those who need encouragement.  It’s actually noticing the other souls around us who we share this earth with and acknowledging them and treating them the way we would want to be treated.  Jesus is even serious enough to say that our reward in heaven depends on our service to others.  Refuse to love when there are obvious needs around you, and you are basically turning your back on God as well.

And in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, we see that we can do amazing acts of righteousness like having tremendous faith or powerful spiritual gifts, and if we don’t show love, we are nothing.  All of our works are in vain if we fail to show love while doing them.

Do you want to change the world?  Do you want to live your life with purpose, to have an impact on those around you so that they can’t help but question who God is because of your love?  Well, it’s the simple things that change the world.  The opportunity to be an inspiration may literally be waiting right around the corner.  Take it and you’ll be changed as well.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Dressed Like Christ

Have you seen Jesus?  That was kind of a trick question because if you are reading this then you’ve never seen Jesus in the flesh.  Even though we’ve never physically seen him, we still have an opportunity to show Jesus to the world around us.  The Bible teaches that Jesus had an unassuming appearance, nothing that would draw our attention to him (Isaiah 53:2).  And yet, he was able to draw multitudes!  How?

I’m sure the miracles had something to do with it, but I think it was more than that.  I think it was what he wore.  Before you think I’m going to discuss the merits of appropriate clothing, it’s actually not Jesus’ choice of attire that I’m speaking about.  I’m talking about what Jesus wore on the inside and how we clothe our hearts and attitudes today.  In Colossians 3:12-15 it says,

“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. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

I believe people were drawn to Jesus for the same reasons they should be drawn to us today.  If we are clothed with Christ, with his demeanor and attitude, others can’t help but notice the difference between us and the world.  Being clothed with Christ means we show…

  • compassion
  • kindness
  • humility
  • meekness
  • patience
  • forgiveness
  • love
  • peace
  • gratitude

Let’s not be the person who may dress in expensive clothing but is only judgmental and downright selfish.  Let’s be the person who has a Christian heart.  If we do, the world will get to see the reflection of Christ which is the way it’s supposed to be.

-Joe