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

 

Excuses, Excuses (Blogs Revisited)

Excuses, Excuses (Originally posted February 21, 2014)

“We are all guilty of making excuses at one time or another.  Sadly, one of the areas where we give excuses is in not doing the will of God.  Through the years, Christians have devised ingenious excuses for not doing what God would have them do.

Excuse making is as old as man himself.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve made excuses for their violation of God’s commands.  In Exodus 4, Moses gave excuses for not being able to lead God’s people (The excuses Moses gave are very similar to the ones some Christians give today for not teaching the gospel or for not developing their talents) (See verse 1 and 10).

In the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24, Jesus gave a great lesson on how to combat excuse making.  In the parable, people were invited to a banquet but they immediately began to make excuses for not being able to attend.  The first excuse was given by a man who needed to tend to his property (vs. 18).  People today use the same excuse.  They say, “Excuse me for not serving God, but I’m too busy building a home, or remodeling my house, or car shopping, etc…”  The second excuse given related to work and livelihood (vs. 19).  People today claim work and maintaining a lifestyle as more important than God.  The third excuse that was made dealt with relationships (vs.20).  How many people through the years have used family as an excuse for not serving God?  Many will not put God first because their spouse doesn’t believe or they don’t like the preacher or they are arguing with another Christian.

Today we have a new arsenal of excuses being thrown around such as, “I can’t help it” or “I was born that way,” “I’m not as bad as other people I know” or “Everyone else is doing it.”  Sadly, these are some of the very excuses given by those who profess to love God.  And the conclusion is not pretty for those who make excuses.  No excuses will be accepted on the day of judgement (vs. 24).

Please join with and help me work towards banishing all worthless excuses and making God a priority in our lives.”

As the post above says, we are ALL guilty of boarding the excuse train from time to time.  I’m not sure if it’s ingrained in our human nature or simply a matter of finding the easiest path through a task or circumstance, but we are very good at making excuses, especially in the arena of following God.

From the creation of mankind, we have adapted our excuses to make ourselves comfortable and make life as smooth as possible with the least amount of speed bumps along the way.  It would probably be safe to say that the society we live in now even outright breeds excuses when we see the most famous of men and women making them on a daily basis.

When I penned the post above, I was mindful of the excuses that I make in my own life from time to time.  Excuses not to try my best or to skips corners.  Excuses not to do the right thing when the right action is blatantly obvious.  Even excuses why I don’t have time to serve the Lord the way I should.  I can say that I’ve gotten better at not making these types of excuses in my life.  And that is what growing as a Christian is all about.  It’s about destroying all excuses and putting God at the forefront of our lives no matter the cost.

Joe Butler

 

Exposed (Blogs Revisited)

“Exposed” (Originally posted January 14, 2014)

One of my all time favorite classes in middle school was the photography class I took in 6th grade.  Mind you, I was in 6th grade in 1987.  Digital photography was still a dream in the future so we students were taught how to expose film on an old camera.  We were taught how to manually do all of the things digital cameras do for us today.  I loved going out shooting photos, waiting for the right light, finding interesting subjects, but what appealed to me the most was developing the film.  There were no digital screens to preview the photos after taking them.  No, we were forced to wait patiently until a roll of film was spent before we could anxiously make our way to the dark room.  Best of all was watching photographs come to life in the different chemical baths.  The image just magically appeared right before our eyes and we could finally see the subject immortalized on paper.

Those who are photographers know that one ingredient necessary for all pictures to exist is light.  Light simply reflects off the object we are shooting and the camera, like our eye, registers this reflection.  According to God, He is the light and we should be reflecting God’s glory to the world around us.  1 John 1:5-7 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  God reminds us of several things in this passage:

1. He is light.  It is impossible for darkness to even exist in his presence.  And yet we bring darkness to God all of the time.

2. If we claim the name Christian, God and others should see it by the way our light shines in our dark world around us.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:14-16, continues this theme by stating that, “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Again, we cannot claim the name Christian and only let our light out during worship or when briefly helping others.  Jesus says our light, our example, should be evident to all, bringing light to a darkened world.  We do so, not to receive praise ourselves, but so others may glorify God.  We must be exposed to God in order to expose Him to others.  And best of all, one day we will no longer walk in darkness but walk in pure light, praising God for all of eternity.

Boy does the world need some light right now.  Not only the world, mind you, but even the church!  I was reminded of this point again after reading a wonderful blog post from a friend of mine today.  (You can find that post here.)  He mentioned how we in the church are looking so much like the rest of the world that you can’t tell the difference between the two anymore.  Which reminded me of this post I wrote back in January of 2014.  We must let the light of God expose our actions and motives and determine whether we have God’s interests at heart or merely those of our own.  We must no longer walk in darkness and the futility of worldly thinking and living, and instead walk in the light of God, allowing his word to reveal to us where our hearts truly lie.

-Joe Butler

 

Monday Motivation: Suffering for Doing Good

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God;” (1 Peter 4:16-17)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (1 Peter 3:9, 13-14)

No one ever thinks it will happen to them.  You’re going along, doing your best to serve God and others when, out of nowhere, you face hatred or criticism or false accusation.  It’s even worse when those hurtful actions come from those within the body of Christ.

It’s comforting to know that your service and love to God and others is recognized and appreciated by those who know and have seen your spiritual fruit.  Jesus was blunt when he warned his disciples about the persecution they would most likely face (John 15:18-21).  He was also encouraging, telling them, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,” (Matthew 5:11-12).

My advice to you if you find yourself in such a situation: Do not be discouraged or lose faith in your service to the Lord.  He will reward those who serve him faithfully (James 1:12).  Do not become bitter or repay evil actions in kind.  Stand above the fray, even if it means you stand alone.  And above all, rejoice in sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  Blessed are those who love their Lord enough to follow him even in the darkest of circumstances.

-Joe Butler

Never Forget Where You Came From (Blogs Revisited)

Never Forget Where You Came From (Originally published June 7, 2013)

I had a college professor who had an extremely tough childhood.  Growing up around the gangs of south Miami, he was to see his dad murdered at a young age and all of his siblings imprisoned or dead from drug use or AIDS.  He constantly reminded us about not letting your circumstances keep you from better things but at the same time remembering where you came from so you could better appreciate where you are now.

A passage in Titus reminds us that, as Christians, we are to remember where we’ve really come from.  Titus 3:3-7 says, ”At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Just typing that passage touches me.  God’s immeasurable grace and mercy have rescued me from my circumstances, from where I’m from.   His son has given me hope and a promised place in heaven as an heir to eternal life.  When I’m reminded of where I’m from and how easily it would be for me to be there again, I’m much more appreciative of where I am now… in the loving arms of my God and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”

Cleansed.

Justified.

Forgiven.

I’m so grateful for reading this old post of mine this morning.  It was such a poignant reminder that the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ has erased the sins of our past and saved us from our circumstances.  It’s amazing to think of where we’d be if it wasn’t for the grace of God.  We would be lost.  We’d be spiritually dead even though we would be physically alive.  It’s good to remember where we came from, if nothing else but to be reminded of how amazing the love of God really is.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Doing the Right Thing

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

(Luke 16:13)

If I’m honest, being a Christian is not always an easy thing to do.  I know there are plenty of believers out there who will tell you otherwise.  They will tell you that following God is a simple act of the will or that its much better than the alternative.  While that may be so, we are always at odds with what our fleshy selves want.  Even the apostle Paul had this struggle.  He said…

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

(Romans 7:15-20)

Needless to say, our human nature desires one thing while our spiritual nature (controlled by the Holy Spirit) wants another.  That is why the Bible tells us that we cannot serve two masters.  The passage from Luke above is not only about money. It’s also about our ability to do the right thing in God’s eyes; to serve him and not ourselves.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done at times.  We are warned in God’s word that we cannot be just hearers of his word and not doers (James 1:22).  We are also told that it is a sin to know what is right to do and not do it (James 4:17).  Sometimes it’s not comfortable to do the right thing or we receive criticism for doing the right thing.  Either way, we should commit to following God in everything he asks of us.  That’s what it really means to make him our master.  And in the end, we receive a reward for doing so:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

(Galatians 6:9)

-Joe Butler

Powerful Words (Blogs Revisited)

Powerful Words (Originally published May 28,2013)

“As a reading and language arts teacher, I love to read and write.  In fact, writing is one of my favorite things to teach because it truly is an art form.  I tell my students to “paint a picture with words” just as a painter does with paint or a sculptor does with clay.  Good writing is meant to be read and the reader can take these vivid words and descriptions along with their imagination and create an image in their mind of what the writer was saying.  Writing is not like the finite rules of math or the provable laws of science.  Writing is fluid and takes its shape from its creator.

This very thought led me to look at God’s word this way as well.  The inspired word of God is very descriptive and can be used in many ways if we will open our hearts to receive it.  Hebrews 4:12 says that, ” the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This passage is one of the most important verses in the Bible because it tells us how powerful the rest of His word is.

-HIS WORD IS ALIVE!  God’s word is not only relevant to the time in which it was written.  It applies to us today and is active in teaching us things we need to know.

-HIS WORD IS SPIRIT!  God’s word can cut right to our souls if we will receive it.  When we open our hearts and allow God’s word to penetrate, His power can then work within us to effect real change in our lives and our being.

-HIS WORD IS JUDGE!  God’s word can literally judge our attitudes, thoughts, and intentions.  We may be able to fool others with false Christianity or a false servanthood, but we can’t fool God.

As we can see, the word of God is very special…as important as God Himself.  He is the word and when we read and study our Bibles, we are literally conversing with and learning from our God.”

I still love to read more than ever, probably even more so than when I wrote the above post back in 2013.  And while I’ve gained a lot of enjoyment and insight into Christianity while reading other books, there’s no better place to turn to learn about God and his will for our lives than the Bible.  As the above post mentions, we are literally conversing with and learning from God when we read his word.  It’s as though he is speaking to us directly, instructing and encouraging us in our walk with him.

I love the fact that his word is literally living.  It doesn’t change over time or transform with the beliefs of the day, but the Bible can be used to answer all of the questions that life may throw at us, even in the 21st century and beyond.  Because his word is Spirit as well, it can change our hearts from the inside, making us more like Christ as we live our lives for him.  Also, there is no escaping the simplicity of the word and it’s command on our life.  The Bible easily judges our thoughts and actions and holds them to the highest standard…Jesus himself!

As a Christian, I would encourage you to delve deeply into the word of God on a regular basis.  Meditate on his commands and principles and see that his word can assist you in anything this life may offer.

-Joe Butler