Mastered in Mediocrity

I love my job.  I love the fun my students and I have in class.  I love when they have those “Aha!” moments where they finally understand a difficult concept or lesson.  I love to see my young students move into middle school, then high school, and finally to watch them walk across the stage at graduation.  All of these reasons help to encourage me when the days get tough and the hours of lesson planning grow long.

There’s only one thing about my job that leaves me frustrated time and time again and to which I have yet to find an answer, and that is the growing tendency for students to settle for mediocrity.  It always breaks my heart when I’ve toiled over a lesson and spent a lot of time presenting it in a fun and engaging way, only to have a small handful of students react with little to no enthusiasm.  It’s even worse when I hand back graded assignments and some of the kids are completely content to have scored a C or D.  In their mind, as long as they didn’t get an F, they’re doing just fine.  It seems that many of today’s kids, and many people of the world in general, are mastering in mediocrity.

I wish this were a small, isolated problem, but I’ve noticed it’s becoming more prevalent in the church as well.  In the 31 years I’ve spent as a Christian and working with various congregations of which I’ve attended, I’ve seen many saints actively and lovingly seek to serve God in everything they do.  They want to spend time with other Christians and make God a priority in their lives.  But, I’ve also seen the prevalence of mediocrity trending upwards as well, and this is not just a new problem.  Jesus himself addressed this situation in the book of Revelation when speaking to the church in Laodicea.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

(Revelation 3:15-22)

As we can see from this text, this church had developed a lukewarm or even mediocre attitude towards God.  They were content to brag about their wealth in Christ and yet they lost their fire for Him.  We are especially drawn to verse 20 where Jesus says he is patiently knocking at the door to our hearts, hoping that we will invite him in.  We see that this is a very intimate invitation from God not to settle for mediocrity.  He wants our love for him to burn brightly, not out of compulsion or duty, but because we long to be in the presence of our Father.

This mindset must begin by how we view God and his instructions for us.  When we read the Bible as a policies and procedures manual, we may naturally find the easiest, most comfortable means to fulfill it.  On the contrary, we must view God’s word as a love letter written from a Father who desires communion with his children.  Mediocrity has no place in this relationship.

-Joe Butler

Advertisements

Monday Motivation: Wonderful Savior

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.”

(Psalm 121:1-8)

 

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

(Romans 5:8-11)

What a wonderful Savior we serve!  Long before we could ever do anything to deserve it, he reconciled us to God by sacrificing himself on our behalf.  The King we serve is also our Savior, and He continually saves those who earnestly seek Him.

-Joe Butler

Spiritual Portfolio

Have you ever sat down with a well-educated financial advisor?  No disrespect to anyone in that profession, but speaking to one is like your first day in a foreign language class.  You know when the teacher walks in and immediately begins to speak in German or French or whatever language you may be studying?  That’s what it’s like to sit down with most financial advisors as they pour over every detail of the stock and bond markets and how specific individual investment vehicles are the wisest choice for your family.  I feel completely lost and inadequate in the presence of someone who’s business it is to understand wise financial investment.

It’s not as is if their job isn’t important though.  We’re all faced with the realization that one day we might want to retire and it might be a good idea to get our financial portfolio in order.  What’s interesting is the time we spend doing so.  We citizens of affluent countries like the U.S. spend countless hours worrying over our retirement accounts and whether or not we’ll have enough money to live comfortably into old age.  The entire financial planning business exists solely to make us feel more comfortable about our future, and many times leads into idolatry of money and the things it can buy.

It doesn’t always work out so well either.  I can remember our country’s most recent financial collapse about a decade ago and the fear that it struck in the minds of many.  You see, when you spend your life accumulating wealth, only to see it disappear in a matter of days because of poor lending practices or corporate greed, it’s a sobering reminder that our financial security is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I still recall talking to folks who were visibly devastated by the loss of their retirement accounts and who were even considering drastic measures to fix their situation.  It’s sad that the love of money is truly the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

(Matthew 6:19-21)

In light of the passage above, I want to ask a simple, yet profound question.  Do we strive to be as spiritually wealthy as we do financially?  I imagine this is much more of a first world problem while our Christian brothers and sisters in third world or war-torn countries are trying to simply survive.  And I completely agree that good stewardship of God’s blessings would compel us to spend time using our resources wisely.  But do we even spend an equal amount of time or more growing our spiritual portfolio?  I ask because Jesus was very candid about our heart residing where we store our treasures.

Spiritual wealth cannot be taken away from us.  The trying times of this world cannot subtract from our spiritual investments.  Not so with worldly wealth.  All it takes is one corrupt politician, one major war, or even several simple banking mistakes to leave us high and dry.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of treasuring worldly things.  Who wouldn’t like more money?  It brings us comfort and more control over our future.  But it also brings thorns into our life that can choke out our desire to seek and serve God first (Matthew 13:22).  Our focus on wealth can easily blind us to the One who truly provides our sustenance.

What does a spiritual portfolio look like you may ask?  Where do I invest and how do I store up treasures for myself in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy?  Look to add these to your spiritual investments:

Pray to God today that he will advise you towards a wise spiritual investment strategy.  Give the time and energy needed to grow these attributes in your life.  And the best part is, this spiritual portfolio will pay dividends into eternity far greater than you could ever imagine.

-Joe Butler

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

 

The Church is a Vineyard

Work.

It gets a bad rap doesn’t it?  For those of us who enjoy our work, it goes beyond a means of support and becomes a rewarding and valuable use of our time.  For many others, work is a drudgery, time wasted building the success and pocketbook of someone else.  Whether we like our work or not, it will always be a key component to how we spend our time.

But we must get beyond the simple definition of work just being how we support ourselves.  It’s much more than that.  We were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and God has a great purpose for the work he has us doing.  It’s not just busy work or a means to fulfill our time.  He has amazing things for us to do as we work in his kingdom.  God has designed the church for this very important function and we are to spend our Christian walk joyfully performing the tasks he has given us.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

(Matthew 20:1-16)

In this parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven with a vineyard and gives us some insight into the very important work the church must complete here on earth.  We also see how God will reward those who do his work, regardless of how many years of their life have been dedicated to his service.  From this passage we see that…

  • The church is meant to serve God.  We have many things in this life that we could consider work.  Everything from our paid employment, to mowing the lawn, to ministering to the poor could all be considered work.  What makes them all important is that they can all be done in service to the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).  Everything we do in life can be used to glorify God and show our gratitude for his saving grace.  We have not been saved because of work, but we’ve been saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
  • The church is meant to accomplish God’s work.  We have such a great example in Jesus with regard to working for God’s purposes.  On several occasions (John 4:34, John 9:4), Jesus made it clear that there was much for him to accomplish for God’s kingdom and he derived his sustenance and strength by doing such work.  God has given us the vital task of teaching the world about him by introducing more souls to the church and to the Bible in order to grow his kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • The church is meant to bear fruit.  Jesus used the example of a vineyard when speaking his parable because it would have been easily understood by the members of an agrarian society.  The sole purpose of sowing a crop is to eventually bear fruit, and the church has the same role today.  We are to bear fruit that is worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10) so that the world may see and know the one we serve.  When the church is working, the fruits of the Spirit should be evident in everything we do (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • The church is meant to glorify God.  Even if all our work for God goes unnoticed, even if all our efforts go unrewarded here on earth, our primary purpose of working is to bring honor and glory to God.  We should always be a light in dark places so that the lost of our generation may have hope that God’s love is real and that it is offered to them as well (Matthew 5:16, John 3:16).  God will never forget the work you do for him (Hebrews 6:10).  Your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

God is calling all of his followers to be workers in his kingdom.  The role you play is vitally important to his overall purpose for mankind.  You don’t necessarily have to be a well-studied Bible scholar or vibrant public speaker to be used by God.  Just take the talents He’s given you and use them to the best of your ability to honor him.

-Joe Butler

The Church is a Body

Anyone who spends enough time studying the human body will probably find it extraordinarily fascinating.  It truly is amazing that the cells, tissues, organs, and systems that exist in our body all work in conjunction with one another to make up the most well-designed machine ever made.  Nevertheless, some of the body’s parts seem to be a little odd to have been included in the design.  Even so, they have very important functions that God saw fit to include and that we couldn’t live without.

Take, for instance, the uvula, that little flap of tissue hanging down at the back of your throat.  Seems a little strange to be there until you learn that it helps secrete saliva during the digestion process.  Or what about the hyoid bone?  This horseshoe-shaped bone, which is located in the throat, helps to work with your voice box (larynx) to make the broad range of sounds that we humans can produce.  It’s also the only bone in the body that is not attached to any other.

While there is an endless supply of facts and trivia regarding the human body, we can easily see that we were designed in such a way as to be able to operate at our utmost efficiency when all of the parts of the body are working together.  The same can also be said of the church, the body of believers who follow God and his Son, Jesus.  The church is a body and every single member, or part of it, plays an integral role in its health and well-being.  God knew, in his design of the church, the vital role of every member, and he used the analogy of the human body so we can better understand how we should function.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

(1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

In the passage above, we can see the design of the church, the body of Christ, and how it is meant to work properly.  Several things are evident when we study this passage of scripture:

  • There are many members in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14, 20).  Just as the human body is made up of many parts, the body of Christ has many important parts as well.  We may not notice all the inner workings of our own physical body, but they are there nonetheless, carrying out their functions and making the body run smoothly.  So it is with the church as well.
  • Everyone is valuable in the body (1 Corinthians 12:15-17).  It’s common knowledge that some of our body parts steal all the headlines.  The heart, brain, lungs, and other vital organs seem to be the most important parts of the body.  But lose a toenail or have a major infection of the lymphatic system and you’ll soon realize how important these hidden parts really are.  Likewise, every member of the church family is valuable.  The church cannot completely fulfill its function without every part working as it should.
  • Everyone has a purpose in the body (1 Corinthians 12:18, 24).  As the previous point has eluded to, each member of the body of Christ has been placed purposefully in order that the church may operate efficiently and effectively.  It is God who has placed us as he chose and given us the talents to perform our assigned tasks.  We shouldn’t take the liberty to attempt changing his design or assume that we can improve upon what he has so perfectly created.  Our job is to respect one another as equals and do our best to fulfill the next point in this post.
  • Everyone should care for one another in the body (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).  It doesn’t take us long to realize when something is wrong with our physical body.  When we are stricken with illness or a debilitating injury, we quickly understand the importance of all the parts of our body.  In the church, God desires that we exhibit a common purpose of serving him and his kingdom here on earth.  In order to do that, we must look out for one another, sharing in each other’s sufferings and joys so that we may be stronger and more capable of facing the difficulties that Satan throws our way.

Just like the human body, the church is a complex organism designed to work properly when we work together.  We are to always remember that Christ is our head, the lifeblood who we could never survive without.  It is he who guides us and directs us in our endeavor to pursue righteousness and in our mission to seek and save the lost through the gospel message we’ve been entrusted with.  We must all play our part in the body in order to make that happen.

-Joe

Brand New

My car is in need of a wash.  Actually, it’s BADLY in need of a wash.  Body parts of at least ten different species of bugs are plastered to the front bumper and windshield.  Road grime stains the sides because of all the rain we’ve had recently.  The floorboards have traces of scattered sand from all my visits to the beach this summer.  All-in-all, it’s sad that I’ve let it go this long without even running it through the five dollar carwash that’s up the road from my house.

But there’s a problem.  My vehicle is 11 years old and has the dings and dents that are typically evident on a car its age.  There are the minor scratches from my shopping companions at the local Wal-Mart.  There’s also the large dent and cracked rear bumper where someone decided to back into me one day while I was at work.  No matter how many times I run my vehicle through the carwash, those blemishes are still there for all to see.  They’re reminders that my vehicle lacks the luster of a brand new car straight off the showroom floor.

Sometimes we think the same way in regards to ourselves and our relationship with God.  When we come up out of the sin-cleansing waters of baptism, we’re excited to feel brand new.  We go into the world with a renewed lease on life and a hope of better days to come, confident in our standing with God.  Only later, we realize sin is still a tough thing to stay away from and it seems that temptation lurks around every corner.  Pretty soon, we’re convinced that we are damaged goods after all.  I mean, you can put a pig in a dress, but it’s still a pig right?

But that’s not how God’s redemptive grace works.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We’re not just cleansed by our faith and obedience in Christ only to become dirty again the very next day.  We are made new, as if the dents and scratches and rust of our hard-lived lives were never there.  And not just new.  We’re made better!  It’s as if I take my old Toyota Rav4 to the carwash and drive out in a brand new Corvette Stingray.  We’re given all the upgrades and fine-tuning needed to be the kind of Christian God calls us to be (Hebrews 13:21, 2 Peter 1:3).

Remember to live your life every day as if you’ve been made new by the blood of Jesus.  Don’t dwell on the imperfections and mistakes of the past because God doesn’t remember them (Hebrews 8:8-12).  Realize that you are a new creation, clothed in Christ, having put on his perfection and righteousness.

-Joe