Critic or Companion?

We all know Jesus as Savior, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  We know him as God’s one and only Son (Matthew 3:13-17) and the full representation of God himself (Hebrews 1:3).  What we don’t spend a lot of time talking about is the type of companion and friend Jesus is to those who know him well.  Jesus himself said that he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He didn’t come to earth to criticize or control mankind.  He came to save us.  Let’s take a look at several examples of this in the Bible.

  • (Luke 19:1-10)  The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector is a great place to start when studying the companionship of Jesus.  We see that Jesus did not balk at speaking with Zacchaeus even though he was an outcast in Jewish society.  As a tax collector, he would have been hated by his own people.  Even so, Jesus befriended him and asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  Apparently, Jesus had such a strong impact on him that Zacchaeus decided to pay back four-fold those he had swindled.  Zacchaeus may have had an integrity problem as a tax collector, but Jesus still loved him anyway.
  • (Matthew 9:9-13)  We have another example of Jesus befriending a tax collector when he called Matthew as one of his disciples.  For Jesus to approach Matthew at his tax booth and even speak to him would’ve been considered taboo.  It’s likely that Matthew had already heard of Jesus and his amazing miracles and teaching, because when Jesus calls him, Matthew follows immediately.  Not only is he affected by Jesus’ friendship, he realizes that others need to meet Jesus too.  He plans a dinner at his house and invites all his tax collector and “sinful” friends to meet Jesus.  That’s the kind of effect being a companion can have on others.
  • (John 4:1-26)  Finally, we can look at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as a fine example of Jesus’ loving response to a sinful person.  The fact that he, a Jew, would even speak to a Samaritan is beyond belief, but Jesus seems to go out of his way to carry on a conversation with her and make her feel at ease.  Sure, she was considered used goods in her day, but Jesus took the time to minister to what her real needs were.  She came to quench her thirst, but Jesus came to give her true living water.

The gospels are filled with stories such as these of Jesus being a companion to the outcasts of the world.  When everyone in the religious establishment of that time were being critical of these sinners, Jesus was there to show them that they were loved and that they really do matter to God.  Notice also that nowhere in the Bible did Jesus endorse anyone’s immoral behavior.  In all cases, he encouraged people to leave their sinful past behind them.  But he doesn’t take the opportunity to pass criticizing judgment either.  There will be a time that Jesus will judge (Matthew 25:31-33), but he gives all sinners the chance to repent and follow him.

How are you in your relationship with others?  Are you a critic or companion?  Critics are bent on passing judgment, not helping someone who is lost and in need of help.  Companions, on the other hand, realize where they’ve come from (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and are willing to lend a hand to those who’ve fallen into the trap of sin.  They don’t take a hypocritical stance regarding their perceived religiosity (Matthew 7:1-5), but are willing to do whatever it takes to save souls (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  It would be wise to keep the following passage in 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 2:3-5)

-Joe Butler

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The Church is a Family

I know not everyone can relate to my personal situation, but I have had the benefit of a wonderful and very rewarding family life.  I have extremely fond memories of childhood spent in a caring household surrounded by loving parents and siblings.  Of course we had our hiccups; every family does.  But being raised in a Christian home has made all the difference in my view of God, of family, and of life.

On the other hand, there are many who read this and would give anything to have the fond memories of a loving family as I do.  You may have grown up in a broken or abusive home, one from which you longed to escape as soon as you were old enough to do so.  Others may be facing family turmoil as we speak.  Your marriage didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped or your kids are in and out of trouble.  For whatever reason, many people think of grief and heartache when they hear the word family.

I believe this is what makes membership in a church family so difficult sometimes.  When people from all walks of life come to know God and are added to his church, we then have to learn what God calls us to as a family of believers.  We are, “no longer strangers and aliens, but…are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).  We are meant to be a family, a group of loved ones who look out for one another (Galatians 6:10), and God has left us plenty of instruction on how to carry that out.

As a family, Christians are to…

As you can see, membership  in God’s family is a very active position.  You’ll also notice that our role as family members has us always seeking to take care of the needs of others.  Nowhere in this family is there room for selfishness or pride or jealousy.  Do those things happen?  Sure, for they are part of our human nature.  That’s why we must strive to stay in God’s word, learning his definition of what a true family looks like so we can apply that wisdom not only to our spiritual family, but to our family at home as well.

The church is a family that has joined together the saved of countless generations and whose head and leader is Christ himself.  Won’t it be grand to one day be reunited with all our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be called home by our Father to our place in Heaven to reside for eternity?  I hope to see you there!

-Joe Butler

 

Beauty on Parade

I went to a car show recently and boy, there were some beautiful rides.  Perfect paint jobs were shining, chrome was clean and polished, and high-horsepower engines were on display.  It was easy to walk around and gape at all those beautifully restored mid-century cruisers and 60’s and 70’s muscle cars.  But the cars weren’t the only things on display.

While my wife and I were taking a picture of a car, a very scantily-clad young woman and her husband walked in front of us and our mouths dropped open for entirely the wrong reason.  She was wearing cutoff jeans that exposed pretty much her entire backside and her breasts were completely spilling out of her top.  The two of them strutted on by, and it was obvious that the woman was enjoying all the attention she was generating.  Our first impression was that she was dressed like a prostitute, and while that may not have been true, there was no doubt that her choice of clothing was meant to garner sexual attention.

I guess what struck me the most was the fact that her husband couldn’t care less that people were staring at his wife in such a derogatory manner, most likely viewing her in some inappropriate, sexual way.  Basically, this woman put her beauty on parade and was very openly revealing what only her husband had the right to see.  And I had to ask myself, should a man who truly loves his wife encourage her to present herself in such a manner, to essentially encourage her to be objectified by what she wears?

I’m sure I may already be stoking the ire of some who view me as trying to step on your right to wear whatever you want.  Some may be thinking that it’s my responsibility not to look, and in that sense you would be right.  But believe it or not, it was my wife who noticed this situation first, and we found ourselves disheartened that this is not just some passing fad at a weekend car show.  In fact, it’s not just a problem with the world anymore, but also amongst some Christian women as well.  Women who are commanded by God to reserve their bodies for just their husbands to see are no longer seen as respectable, gentle spirits.  Instead, they are being seen for their sexuality and what they are revealing.

A very similar situation such as this is recorded for us in the Bible and it’s an example of how a dedicated wife should carry herself in a public setting.  King Xerxes had just finished a six month party displaying to his kingdom how awesome he was and he decided to hold a weeks long banquet, again in his own honor (Esther 1:4-5).  It was at the end of this banquet that he called for his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself in front of him and his drunk friends because she was apparently quite a looker (Esther 1:10-12).  It was the Queen’s response that showed the honor befitting of a respectable woman and the response that should be shown by any woman who claims to be a Christian.

The Queen knew full well that she was being paraded around for the sexual enjoyment of men who were not her husband.  She had enough respect for herself and enough bravery to deny the request, even though it would most assuredly anger the king.  This wasn’t some prudish act or a display of arrogance.  It was knowing how to respectfully present ourselves to those who are not our spouse.  For the Christian, it’s knowing that God calls us to a higher standard than the rest of the world wants to abide by.

Of course, in our society today, this problem is not only confined to women.  It has become acceptable to flaunt our bodies to feel proud or gain attention.  I live in Florida, so you can imagine I’ve seen my fair share of this out in public.  But this isn’t what God wants us to do.  First, we must remember who made us and who we belong to.  God has undoubtedly made creation very beautiful, and that definitely includes the human form.  But we Christians are the home of God, the Holy Spirit, and have been bought back from the slavery of sin at a very great price.  We should, therefore, honor God with the way we carry ourselves physically (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Finally, when we marry, we hand over the rights to our body to our spouse.  The two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and agree to fulfill their marital duties with only each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).  Our bodies are not meant to be put on display for the sexual satisfaction of others.  We are to present ourselves sexually to only our spouse lest we be led into temptation and possibly the sin of adultery.

To all the husbands and wives…by all means, be proud of who God made you to be.  Enjoy one another sexually, for God made you compatible for that very reason.  But keep those things sacred and private, within the confines of the marriage, so that one day you may not be judged harshly (Hebrews 13:4).

-Joe

A Deadly Bargain

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Have you ever made a deal with someone and have it backfire terribly?  Ask most businessmen if they’ve ever had a business deal go sour and most would say yes.  In fact, doing business in today’s world just about assures you of some bad deals occasionally.

The same can be true of our personal relationships.  Many of those who’ve been through a divorce could attest to the fact that a marriage can be ruined by one or both parties not fulfilling their end of the marriage vows.  Friendships can suffer too when one person demands too much of the other or has unrealistic expectations of how the friendship should work.  All this is to say that we will all experience bargains that leave us wondering what happened and they affect our ability to trust.

I believe there’s one bargain that we make which could have drastic effects and consequences not only now, but for our eternity as well.  I refer to this as “The Deadly Bargain” and it’s one you absolutely don’t want to be a part of.  This bargain is the one we make with Satan every time we sin.  Satan is such a sneaky one isn’t he?  He tricks us into believing that dealing with him is in our best interest and that his temptations will give us happiness, success, and everything we’ve ever wanted.  He convinces us that we’re the true winners when we work with him, that we get exactly what we want all the time.  We must be aware of how Satan does business because he could care less if you or I get anything out of the deal (2 Corinthians 2:11).

When we bargain with Satan, we are essentially telling God that we don’t trust him.  Satan tries to tell us that he has our back, but that’s simply not true.  Only God is faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:3) and provides us with all that we need (Philippians 4:19).  Building a relationship with him is mutually beneficial as we enjoy his unending love (Psalm 52:8) and he is glorified from our obedience (1 John 5:2).  If there were ever a bargain that was a sure thing, our relationship with God would be the epitome of it.

Don’t get caught trying to make a deal with Satan.  There’s a 100% chance you’re going to get burned!

-Joe

Quit Hating

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I’m sure we’ve all had experiences with a negative person before.  And be honest…you may be that kind of person yourself!  The person who never sees a silver lining in gray clouds or who finds a reason to complain about every single detail in life.  Now, I know we all have our moments and bad days where nothing is going right, but I’m talking about a constant cloud of negativity and pessimism.

Can you imagine that someone could even nitpick over something good?  Well that’s exactly what happened in John chapter 5 when Jesus healed an invalid at the pool of Bethesda.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

(John 5:6-18)

I find this such an interesting story of how easily we can prevent joy and excitement with our own negative attitudes.  The Pharisees, the religious elite of Jesus’ day, harass the man who was healed because the healing occurred on the Sabbath.  It’s hard for me to fathom that they could look at this man, finally walking after 38 years of being paralyzed, and show any other reaction besides joy and amazement.  But that’s exactly what they did, and believe it or not, it still happens today!

I have seen people who are new babes in Christ criticized for not having their life together like some other self-righteous Christians do.  I’ve watched people leave the assembly over being ridiculed for how they dress or having tattoos.  I’ve even witnessed Christians become discouraged because they are not serving in the manner or capacity as someone else thinks they should.

Quit Hating!!!

If I could, I would tell these arrogant people to quit hating on others all the time and quit designing a form of religion that shuts out everyone who doesn’t fit the “mold.”  Quit preventing people from knowing God and entering his kingdom (Matthew 23:13).  What we all need to do as followers of God is find those silver linings that really are everywhere in our lives.  Dwell on the blessings we do have and learn to deeply experience what the “good news” actually means.  It means that we are saved by the blood of Jesus through obedience to the gospel.  We don’t deserve one bit of that gift but he offers it nonetheless.  And if that really sinks in, we’ll do everything we can to show how happy we are in Christ.  That’s the kind of attitude that will really change the world.

-Joe

 

Again?

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By far, one of the most difficult things God asks of us as Christians is to offer forgiveness to one another. When we’ve been wronged, especially if it’s continual, it’s hard not to just look out for ourselves or make our forgiveness meritorious and conditional. If you’re feeling the pain of having to offer forgiveness, know that you’re not alone. No one can go through life and be exempt from being wronged or personally offended, unless of course you have no relationships with others at all. Even Jesus’ disciples struggled with this concept and asked Jesus how many times they should forgive.

In Matthew 18, starting in verse 21, Peter came up to Jesus and asked how many times they should forgive. Peter wondered if it would be enough if he forgave seven times. Jesus responded by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).  What Jesus is saying is that there should not be a limit to the forgiveness we offer others.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I feel it too.  How is that kind of forgiveness even possible?  Shouldn’t the other person be held accountable for their actions?  Shouldn’t they have to earn my trust back or at least pay some kind of price for their wrongful deeds?  Jesus goes on in the rest of chapter 18 by teaching a parable of an unforgiving servant. When the servant who owed ten thousand talents  begged for forgiveness, the Master offered it to him without strings attached. It would be very easy for us to see how this parallels the forgiveness offered to us by God.  I could work daily for the rest of my life thanking God for the way he has forgiven me and it still would not be enough to earn it. That’s what true forgiveness is: an offer of grace that the offender cannot possibly pay back. We offer it not for what it gives us, but for what it gives God. Our offering of forgiveness goes up to him as a fragrant sacrifice where we deny ourselves and do what’s best for someone else (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).  It is a true and beautiful act of love that shows gratitude to a merciful God.

So when it’s time to forgive, and rest assured that time will come eventually, do your best to offer it freely and from the heart. Remember the immeasurable forgiveness God has offered you and use the opportunity to pass that grace on to someone else. Put your trust in God that by offering this sacrifice, he will protect you from abuse and reward you for your faith in Him.

-Joe

Joy Is What You Make of It

joyYou know him or her.  Scowl on their face.  All gray skies and clouds missing their silver linings.  Their only good day is one that has come to its end.  They lack any semblance of joy and their days are filled with complaints and worries.  These people are all around us, and truthfully, they are us from time to time.  We have some honest questions we should be asking of ourselves.  Am I a joyous person?  Do I always focus on the negative?  Do I look to find fault or complain?

It’s wise to start with the idea that joy is a vital part of our Christian life.  In order to build trusting and fruitful relationships with others, God would wish us to be joyful.  In fact, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) so it obviously plays a role in our ability to minister to others.  So where does joy come from and how can we get more of it?

Looking back at the description of a miserable person at the beginning of this post, it’s easy to see that we often blame our lack of joy on others or our circumstances.  While I agree that our environment puts us in difficult situations sometimes, we ultimately make the decision how we’ll react.  Joy is an individual responsibility and not someone else’s job.  Although that’s important to remember, as a Christian, we do have the added role of contributing to the joy others.  Our perfect example, Jesus, came to contribute to our joy (Hebrews 12:2-3) as he selflessly served us and ultimately died for our transgressions.  If that is the model we have set before us, what should our response be?

We should first have joy ourselves.  It’s often said that Christians should be the most joyous people on earth, especially if we really trust in the hope of our Savior Jesus.  But we should also give joy to others with our presence and relationships with them.  We can constantly look for ways to serve others the way Jesus served us (Philippians 2:3-4).

Let’s imagine again a new person, one who’s filled with a godly joy.  They are radiant.  They see the bright side of life whether life brings triumphs or trials.  Basically, they are a mirror reflecting the very character of God, a character the world is in much need of seeing.

-Joe