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

 

An Electrified Christian

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter…it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

-Mark Twain

I have this quote from Mark Twain on a bulletin board in my classroom at school.  Because I teach language arts, I try to teach my students to expand their vocabulary and use words in their writing that are more powerful and effective.  Like the difference in strength between a lightning bug and a bolt of lightning, there is a major distinction between a weak word and a strong one.  Hopefully by the end of the school year, my students will have learned a whole new set of vocabulary words they can use in their writing and conversations.

In a way, we can reapply this quote to what it means to be a zealous Christian.  We really do have a choice to live our lives and let our light shine with the effectiveness of a lightning bug or a lightning bolt.  The Bible directly addresses this concept in several places as well:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

 

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)

We can learn from these passage that our light, our example and modeling of Christ-like behavior, is not meant to be subdued or covered up in any way.  Our lives are meant to reflect Christ living within us, to bring the light of Jesus into the darkness of our sin-filled world.  It’s not too difficult to visualize that to shine forth like a lightning bug only allows us to have a limited reach, while letting our light explode out into the world like a lightning bolt will reach many more people for Christ.  The lesson is simple.  The amount of fervor we have for Christ directly affects the environment around us and has the ability to win more souls for the Lord.

So where does this light come from?  What powerful force must we rely upon in order to positively light up our world?  This isn’t about the unique features of bioluminescence found in a lightning bug or the powerful forces of static electricity in a bolt of lightning.  The strength of our light is found in Jesus himself!

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

I don’t know about you, but I am in awe over the fact that I’m tapped into the most powerful force of light in all of creation.  You are too if you are in Christ.  The really important question is: Are you living in the power of that light and letting it shine through your life every day?

-Joe Butler

Spiritual Sightseeing

I simply cannot get enough of the outdoors!

It’s not just enjoying a trip to the beach or a scenic drive through the mountains.  I want to immerse myself in the environment, to enjoy everything,  noticing and savoring the sights and smells and sounds.  When I go to Washington state, I love to visit Mt. Rainier and smell the rich scent of the evergreen trees and view the powerful glaciers as they make their slow advance down the flanks of the mountain.  When I go to the beach, I love to feel the coolness of the sugar-white sand and inhale the briny smell of the salty air.  When I’ve gone hiking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve noticed the scattering of the birds and squirrels as they explore the forest floor, the soft trickle of mountain streams cascading over rocks, and the leaves exploding into an abundance of vibrant colors in the Fall.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people actually see or experience any of those things.  They either miss them because they’re too busy to slow down and take notice, or they never leave their car or the parking lot when they do visit the outdoors.  The statistics even bear this out as well.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, almost 86% of people who visit a wilderness site only use developed facilities such as park roads, overlooks, campgrounds, and visitor centers.  And of the tourists who do leave developed areas, most never get any farther away than a half mile.  That’s too bad because they have no idea what they’re missing.

If you’ve been a Christian for even a short amount of time then you’ve probably noticed how people have this same mindset towards God and religion in general.  Some people are spiritual sightseers, never going any further than attending worship services and somehow thinking they now have a deep relationship with God.  I must ask, how can you possibly think you know God if you never immerse yourself in Him?  How can you know him and his will for your life if you are not being fed by his word?  How can you experience all the goodness God has to offer if you only act like a Christian for a couple of hours one day a week?

People are missing out on so much because they’re satisfied with a surface-level knowledge of God and his love instead of desiring intimacy with him.  Like Paul, we should declare that we, “want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and we can only do that if we are willing to learn about him and to make him the center of our entire existence.

Get off the beaten path and explore who God is.  Attend worship, read you Bible, pray, serve.  Go all in for God and you’ll discover far more about him than you’d ever imagine.

-Joe

Blessed Are Those Who Trust in God

Marymere Falls, Olympic Peninsula Washington
Icicle Creek: Leavenworth, Washington

“Blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

-Joe

Fingerprints

This week my students were home for spring break which left me with some time on my hands to do some of the things I enjoy. And one of my favorite ways to spend my time is hiking out in God’s beautiful creation. I took a trip to the mountains of north Georgia and did a three day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. What follows are some of the pictures I took while on my trip. As you can see, God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Enjoy!

-Joe

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Rooted in Christ

tree_roots_texture__hdr_sjpg1403Several years ago, I decided to plant some new plants in my front yard.  I went to the hardware store and purchased my plants and prepared to put them in the ground.  But first, I attempted to dig up an old tree stump.  Living in Florida where we’re quite susceptible to hurricanes, people are used to having trees blow over in high tropical winds.  A few years earlier, a category 3 hurricane had toppled this tree and I had simply cut the trunk down to the ground.  Now it was time to dig it up.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever attempted to dig up the root ball of a tree, but let me say right here that it’s hard.  With a shovel, an ax and a chainsaw in hand, I worked for hours hacking and sawing away, getting no closer to dislodging the taproot from the soil.  Instead, I planted my new plants around it and covered the area with pinestraw.

Colossians 2:6-8 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” 

Just like a tree that receives nutrients and stays rooted to the ground, when we live in the teachings and love of Jesus, we stay firm in him and are built up.  Our spirits grow, our faith expands, our love multiplies.  Jesus is our hub, the center of our lives where we draw all of our strength.  We must fight the urge to follow earthly philosophies that are only rooted in the traditions and faulty wisdom of man and begin to think and act like Jesus in order to blossom.

Today, the roots of that old tree are still under the ground.  Not water or rot or even termites have been able to destroy them.  And we can be like that as well.  A life focused on Jesus is a life that’s strong till the end.  Stay rooted in Christ and you’ll be amazed at how much you grow!

-Joe

A Gentle Whisper

Sunrise in Destin, Florida
Sunrise in Destin, Florida

I am in love with the wilderness. Not just the wild that is far removed from the touch of human civilization although that is best. I love any place in the outdoors where I can commune with God while in nature. There’s something about the silence and solitude the wilderness affords that allows me to feel closer to my God and to better hear him when he is speaking to my heart.

Along the Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park
Along the Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier National Park

I’ve alluded to this before, but I most enjoy hiking a backcountry trail, a path of least resistance through the woods and mountains where my cares melt away and I can sense the gentle whisper of God. Elijah once felt the presence of God this way. We think we must find God in the extreme events, the situations of power and strength. And while God is found there as well, He can just as easily be hidden in the small things. In 1 Kings 19:11-12 it reads…

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Like Elijah, we too wait for God in the extraordinary. Especially in worship, Christians think that God can only be found in newer praise songs or in the words of a dynamic speaker. Elijah found God in a gentle whisper and he was able to recognize him because of the silence and solitude of the wilderness. “Be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46:10).

Really take the time to find a place away from the hectic world we live in. Whether it be the beach, a wooded trail or an expansive mountain vista, go there to look and listen to the world around you. See God in his perfect creation and pay attention to his call in your soul. You may feel him far better than you ever have before.

-Joe

Safe!!!

A hiker’s worst nightmare met me on one of my recent hikes on the Appalachian Trail.  My destination for the night, Icewater Springs Shelter, was still a few miles away and a thunderstorm was rolling in.  Being on a ridgeline at 5900′ with lightning popping around you is definitely not a comfortable feeling.  I knew where the shelter was, I was on a well-marked trail, I knew I could make it.

Even though the shelters are 3-sided affairs, open to the elements on one side, the relative safety they provide is still comforting.  I did arrive safely at the shelter that day and, from the comfort of my sleeping bag, watched a powerful storm move by that evening.  The lightning flashed brilliantly around me and the thunder rolled and echoed off the surrounding mountains.  It was amazing to behold, but I had luckily found home and safety for the night.

Icewater Springs Shelter (Appalachian Trail)
Icewater Springs Shelter
(Appalachian Trail)

In Psalm 91:4, God promises us this same kind of comfort.  “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”  It brings much peace to know that God is always where we can find him.  His truth and love never change and he never departs from us.  His wings are spread, beckoning us to find refuge beneath them.  When we do, we find protection and security from the world around us; a contentment beyond explanation.

-Joe