Quiet Desperation

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

(John 5:2-6)

38 years!

Just let your mind wrap around how much time that is!  I’m 41 years old, so that is almost my entire lifetime.  It’s just hard for me to fathom being in a condition of quiet desperation for 38 years.  Or is it?

As odd as it may sound, we sometimes get so comfortable in our weakened state that we do nothing about it.  Why?  Like the man lying by the pool in the passage above, maybe we give up.  Maybe we lose hope of ever being healed of our “illness.”  Maybe we resign ourselves to a state of brokenness and lose faith in ever being whole again.  Maybe it’s the fear of change, or possibly we’re in denial.  Could it be that we’re ashamed or embarrassed of who we are or where we’ve been?  For whatever reason, many people live lives of quiet desperation and feel like things will never change.

What’s interesting about this loss of hope is how it affects our thoughts and decisions.  A lot of people may think they want help.  They may even swallow their pride and eventually ask for it, but most times they don’t really want help.  You see, for some, settling for mediocrity is an easier path to take than a path filled with the hard work required to rise above it.  In the above passage, Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed?”  God knows full well that sometimes we really don’t want to be made well.  At least our behavior speaks that way at times.  To be made well in the eyes of God requires work.  Not work in the sense that we must earn his grace, but a working faith and obedience on our part.

For the man by the pool, faith was required for healing to begin.  Ironically, the man just provides excuses.  On the surface, they were valid excuses.  He really didn’t have anyone to put him into the water.  And we’re good at making excuses too.  We can spend every day surrounded by our hurt and become so familiar with our excuses that they become our life story.  The space between reality and excuse gets blurred and we become accustomed to the lies that we’ve fed ourselves.

Another interesting point is that sometimes other people can hold us down as well.  Like the Pharisees who questioned the healed man about carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:9-11), we can sometimes have people in our lives who refuse to allow us to rise above our negative circumstances.  They are mired in their own unhappiness, so much so, that they can bring us down with them.  The old adage, “misery loves company,” is true, and it’s almost always evident in the lives of those who live in quiet desperation.  Just one more reason why we must surround ourselves with God’s truth and not fall into the trap of lies that others offer us from time to time.

Finally, shame and embarrassment can keep us from rising above desperate times and into the blessing-filled life that God has in store for us.  It’s easy to feel embarrassment when we are judged by the opinions of others.  It’s common to suffer shame due to circumstances both self-induced and those out of our control.  What we need to do is continue to meditate on God’s word and the promises he’s made to his children (read “You Are…”).  Only through his love can we overcome the lies Satan tries to feed us through shameful and embarrassing situations.

There’s no need to live quiet lives of desperation when we have so much to be thankful for through Jesus Christ.  We just have to live with a faith that believes God always wants the best for us.  Will our earthly life always be easy?  Of course not!  But we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), knowing he has already suffered desperation and shame in our stead and came out victorious.

-Joe Butler

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Requirements

I’m a pretty straightforward, no nonsense type of person.  I’m not sure if that’s due to my upbringing, the fact that I’m a guy, or if it’s just ingrained into my personality.  Those particular character traits have failed me at times, but for the most part, they make life easier for me.  And who doesn’t like easier right?  I just like to know what needs to be done and get it accomplished.

Of course, not all of life is set up that way.  Rule following and keeping your nose to the grindstone sometimes blinds you to the more intricate, personal aspects of life, and that is nowhere more evident than in our relationship with God.  In fact, that was exactly the problem the Pharisees had during Jesus’ time here on earth.  They had reduced religion to a bunch of boxes to check off and a scorecard of rules to follow which allowed them to be the ultimate winners when compared to the average Jew.

When Jesus came on the scene, he immediately turned upside down Israel’s view of the Messiah and the plan God had for his people.  But, was what he taught any different than what was laid out in the Old Testament centuries earlier?  Actually not.  Jesus was attempting to set straight what it really meant to be a child of God, and those requirements ran far deeper than just following the law.  Read a passage from the book of Deuteronomy with me to see what I mean.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

(Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

What does God ask of us?  I mean, it’s good to know exactly what we need to do and get to work doing it right?  God sought his followers to not just observe the law, but to circumcise their hearts as well (Deuteronomy 10:16).  God has, and always will, seek trust, not just a bunch of rule followers.  Let’s break down this passage a little further and examine these specific requirements from God.

  1. FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD (vs. 12)- On the surface, fear seems to have a negative connotation, especially if we think of an all-powerful cosmic being who’s hoping to watch us fail so we can be punished.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Fearing the Lord is the foundation of our trust in him.  If we really believe that God’s will for his children is to eventually have us in his presence, then a healthy fear of his authority and commandments is a natural outcome of that belief.  And again, this is not fear as in following some rules and praying we don’t break them.  It’s a fear born out of our love and desire not to disappoint our Father.
  2. WALK IN ALL HIS WAYS (vs. 12)- It would be quite cruel if God just set us here on earth and said, “Good luck…figure it out.”  But he doesn’t do that.  Through his word and the example of Christ while living as a man, we have no need to guess what the ways of the Lord are.  Interestingly, we tend to fight against God in this area and pursue our own path, and haven’t you noticed that it’s always our own way that leads us into trouble.  God’s ways are not burdensome and they always lead to goodness and righteousness, and we have to pursue them from the depths of our heart.
  3. LOVE HIM (vs. 12)- Earlier in the book of Deuteronomy, it says, “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Notice that in order to do this, we cannot just follow rules, or be circumcised outwardly and expect to please him.  Instead, we must desire an intimacy with God, to circumcise our heart and want to love him from a deep and meaningful longing within our soul.  Anything less is not really the true definition of love.
  4. SERVE THE LORD YOUR GOD (vs. 12)- So many people in the church have a hang-up with faith versus works and their impact on our ultimate salvation.  I’ve never understood this issue because the Bible makes it quite plain and easy to discern.  Our love for God should compel us to serve him in any way possible.  Service and works are a natural outpouring from a heart fully committed to God.  We are even told that we were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), so it’s important to remember that this is pleasing to God. Not work for work’s sake or for comparison’s sake, but work for the sake of love.
  5. KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS AND STATUTES OF THE LORD (vs. 13)- For those who would try to preach love as the only thing that pleases God, this verse should stop them in their tracks.  Sadly, for many who claim to be a Christian, it does not.  For many in the church today, God’s commands have been reduced to optional requirements that may change with the times.  Yet, nowhere in God’s word does it give us license to leave out or disobey any of his commands.  On the contrary, God’s word spends a lot of time discussing the consequences of disobeying his commands.  Yes, this is about following God’s rules, but it’s also about doing it out of love and fear.

I will end by asking a very pointed question.  Have you allowed God to really circumcise your heart, or do you just play the role of Christian?  He doesn’t ask for followers who pay lip service on the outside yet remain unchanged on the inside.  He requires you…all of you.

-Joe Butler

Sin By Any Other Name is Still Sin

Finders-keepers.

Have you heard of that childhood mantra?  I hear it quite often from my 3rd graders, and I try to explain to them its inherent fallibility.  I had a student a while back find a dollar that another child had accidentally dropped.  I was watching him out of the corner of my eye and saw him pick it up and discreetly slip it into his pocket.  Little did he know, I already knew who the dollar belonged to, and this was an opportunity for a lesson too good to pass up, so I quickly made my way across the room to confront him.

“Hey, where’d you get that dollar?,” I asked.  He was pretty excited to come into a little extra spending money, so he replied, “I found it on the floor!”  After I told him the dollar didn’t belong to him, his immediate response was, “Finders-keepers!”  Now, I’ve used that excuse myself when I was younger, but added years of maturity have taught me that finders-keepers is just another way of saying “stealing.”

I asked the young man, “How come finders-keepers only works when it’s someone else’s stuff? If it was your dollar, you would want it returned!”  Surprisingly, he immediately got my point and gave the dollar back to its rightful owner.

All of this got me thinking of how good we are at glossing over our sins and indiscretions. The truth is, sin by any other name is still sin.  You can call taking someone else’s dollar “finders-keepers” all you want, but it’s still stealing what doesn’t belong to you.

The world today is definitely trying to rename sin, to make it palatable and acceptable.  The world may call it “happiness” or “love” or “acceptance,” but these are just examples of man trying to redefine what God said is wrong.  Even people in the church are beginning to argue over what constitutes sin, although the Bible makes it pretty clear what displeases God (1 John 3:15, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:9-10, 1 John 2:9-11)!

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[b] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

(Galatians 5:19-21)

It’s obvious from this text that sin is evident to a rational thinking person, a person led by the Spirit of God.  This text, among many others, warns us that you will not inherit the kingdom of God if you blatantly have these sins in your life.  That also includes masking our sin under a different name in order to reduce its impact.  God is no fool.  He will rightly judge our actions, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14), and justly hand down the judgment we deserve.

This means we are to be torn over our sin (Psalm 38:4), not be ambivalent about it.  It means we must confess our sins and our attempts to cover them up (1 John 1:9), and ask for forgiveness from our Father who shows mercy to the penitent.  It means we must commit ourselves to being led by the Holy Spirit and listen when he convicts us of our wrongs, because sin by any other name is still sin.

-Joe Butler

 

Dear Hollywood

Wanted to reblog this excellent post from my friend Scott McCown. He hits the nail on the head here discussing all that is right and wrong with Hollywood.

The Morning Drive

HollywoodDisclaimer: I have tried not to write this post this morning. I have tried to talk myself out of it. I tried thinking about other things as I was driving to the study. But I failed.

Last night Amy and I watched part of the Golden Globes and I learned a few things. First, I am way out of the loop on what is showing at the movie theatre and what is on TV. The shows and movies that were winning were some I have never heard of. Next, I learned that clothing coverage is optional. I also learned that I have something to say to the actors, writers, producers, directors, studio executives, and anyone else in the entertainment industry. If you agree, please pass it along.

Dear Hollywood,

Thank you. Thank you for standing up against bullying last night. Thank you for the extension of the “Me Too”…

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A New Restoration

Change.

For most of us, it’s not necessarily something we look forward to is it?  We all like our comfort, our normal patterns of life.  It’s nice not to have to worry about too many unexpected surprises or be concerned about any unwanted discomfort.

But without change, we can get stuck.  We can miss opportunities for growth or new adventures.  We can lose out on chances to positively affect people or the world around us. We can arrive later on in life with regrets of “what if?”

For the 31 years that I’ve been a Christian, it seems that change, or the lack thereof, has hurt the church and the growth of individual Christians as well.  Change, in the sense that many of the professing Christians of today are much more worldly than in previous generations. The lack of change, in the sense that most believers of today are perfectly content with the comfortable form of Christianity they’ve created, so there’s no need to do things differently, to mix things up.

We can look at change in church history as the motivating factor which drove believers to be recharged in their efforts to serve the Lord.  It began with Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement, which encouraged Christians to change or reform their thinking about God and the church.  It eventually led to the Restoration Movement of Stone and Campbell, who wanted to “restore” the church to its 1st century example and teach the Bible as our only form of instruction.

I’m no outspoken apologist or a well-known preacher, but if you ask me, we need a new restoration!  We worship like the first century church in many ways, but we don’t necessarily live like it.  The community mindset of the early believers (Acts 2:42-47) is mostly missing in the 21st century church.  Especially in America, Christians show more allegiance to country and political party than they do for God.  While early Christians used their resources primarily for the care of others and the advancement of God’s kingdom, modern day Christians chase God on Sunday and the trappings of the world the rest of the week.

If the church is to be effective in winning souls going forward, we absolutely must continue to preach the gospel as it is delivered to us in God’s word.  To shirk that responsibility is to violate a direct command from God (Matthew 28:19-20).  We must also continue to follow God’s other commands regarding things such as worship, generosity, and love.  There’s no need to do things differently in those respects. But, we need to make some drastic changes as well if we’ll ever have a chance to convince the world to believe the saving message of the gospel.

I believe that change starts with us, the Christians of today’s church whose lives need to look more like Christ.  I believe we need to get serious and honestly look at the level of commitment we’ve individually made for God.  I believe we need to genuinely examine how our time and resources are used and honestly admit that God usually doesn’t get our best.  Most importantly, I’m convinced that we have many idols that have taken the place of God, and he deserves the be placed first again in our lives.

I believe we need a new restoration!

-Joe Butler

Soliciting Your Prayers

Time sure does fly!  It’s been almost five years since I started Faith and Footsteps as a means of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.  In this digital age of the Internet and social media where everyone can share their personal opinions on everything under the sun, I’ve purposed this blog with a focus on Christ.  I hope the posts have been an encouragement for people to search for God in his word, to learn more about him and his love for mankind, and to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

To that aim, I am soliciting your prayers as the new year approaches so that this site may be even more effective at bringing lost souls into a relationship with Jesus, and that I may have the wisdom and discernment to study God’s word and deliver it in a bold and dynamic manner.  There are several specific things that I am asking you to pray for:

  1. Prayers for boldness to speak. (Pray, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”~ Ephesians 6:19).  It goes without saying that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to speak openly about God.  I ask that you pray that these posts will boldly speak the truth to a world that is hostile to God.  Pray that God blesses me with the words I need to teach others effectively and words that help people take the lessons of the Bible and assimilate them into their lives.
  2. Prayers for an open door.  (Pray, “that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.”~ Colossians 4:3).  I chose to start this blog site with the main purpose of bringing the Good News to the world.  The internet is such a powerful tool that has enabled a small town, average Christian like myself to speak to people of all backgrounds about God.  I ask that you pray that these posts will reach someone searching for Christ.  Pray that hearts will be open to the gospel message and that souls can be saved.  Pray that I can answer questions and comments with the truth of God’s word so that those who are searching can be led into a closer relationship with him.
  3. Prayers for the spreading of God’s word.  (“pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” ~2 Thessalonians 3:1).  It doesn’t take long to notice the evil and lies that are taking root and spreading throughout the world.  While there’s much good that is going on, God is taking a backseat in the lives of many people, even in the lives of so-called Christians.  I ask that you pray that these posts will multiply true God-fearing disciples worldwide and that they will reach people I would never be able to reach otherwise.  Pray that the church will grow full of saints who are willing to obey God completely and who will fully dedicate their lives in service to him.

Thank you  in advance for the prayers that you will offer on my behalf and on behalf of this blog site.  I greatly appreciate all of my readers taking the time to read these posts as well as comment occasionally with questions and words of encouragement.  I will continue to wholeheartedly teach the word of God for as long as possible and pray that he receives all the glory.

-Joe Butler

Do You See Them?

I was on my way to work a while back when something interesting happened that would change my day.  I came upon a tent set up on the side of the road.  What made this interesting was the fact that this road goes through government property.  There’s nothing along that road for 17 miles but woods on either side.  Traffic was backed up in both directions because a police officer had pulled over to inquire who these people were and ask them to pack up and move on.  I know so, because I saw them about 15 miles down that same road that afternoon on my way home from work.

I guess what bothered me about the whole situation was how those people were treated.  It wasn’t too hard to notice that they were down on their luck; a man, a woman, and a dog looking for a place to lay their heads for the night.  I was most disappointed though by the comments I heard and read when I got to work that morning.  Several people were complaining of the backed up traffic caused by these squatters.  I even read some posts on Facebook that mentioned the people and how the police should just “arrest the bums.”

So I did something a little out of character and stopped to talk to them on my way home from work that afternoon.  To be honest, I don’t even remember their names.  They mentioned they were just passing through the area looking for work and had even heard that our communities were not very kind to the homeless sometimes.  I offered them some help even though everyone out there will tell you that you’ll just be taken advantage of by those kind of people.  They said they didn’t want anything, but I learned a valuable lesson that day, one I’m sure will stick with me for the rest of my life.

No matter where you go in this world, you can always find people who are struggling, people who are hurting and just getting by.  We’ve all seen the Facebook videos where a hidden camera captures people completely ignoring the homeless and destitute.  But whether you ignore them or not, these people are really there.  Sometimes they’re there due to poor choices and sin.  Sometimes they are there due to circumstances out of their control.  The question is, do you see them?  They matter to God, but just as important, do they matter to you?

Jesus gives us a great example of this when he is invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).  After Simon gets irritated by an unwanted woman crashing his house party, Jesus says to him, “Do you SEE this woman” (Luke 7:44)?  He wanted people to see this woman, not just as a prostitute, but as a real person, a precious soul that is important to God.  He wants us to see others the same way.  We can’t just see their skin color or their political party and excuse them as not worthy  of our time.  We can’t just look at their sin or their mistakes and assume they’re not worthy of our love.  We can’t openly recognize the very real physical and spiritual needs of the world around us and obviously look the other way.  What we see may be difficult to view at times, but we should care anyways because that’s what God has done for us.

Do you see them?  I pray you do for it was God who first saw you.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

(Matthew 25:31-40)

-Joe Butler