Monitor Your Thoughts (Blogs Revisited)

Monitor Your Thoughts (Originally posted August 31, 2014)

“The human brain. It’s such an amazing part of our body. It’s capable of so much good, so much knowledge. And yet, it is also able to cause much harm, succumbing to the temptations of this world.

Our mind is always active. An unconscious chatter takes place within us daily. Sometimes that message is mundane, day-to-day thoughts. Because we live such busy lives, our minds have many choices and events to process. But sometimes our thoughts stray away from daily tasks and land squarely on unhealthy things. Anxiety, fear, worry, and discouragement are all bottomless pits waiting to prey upon our minds. And sadly, sometimes our thoughts wander into the realm of sin.

Interestingly, the bible refers to most of our thought processes as a heart issue and Jesus addresses this in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:21-22 he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.”  And again in verse 27-28 he teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Jesus reminds us that the sin in our life occurs long before the act. It occurs when our minds and our hearts are taken captive by temptation.

So what do we do when we notice a decline in a moral train of thought?  First we must be aware of what we’re thinking. We must continually monitor our thoughts, being in control of where our mind is taking us. Finally, and most important of all, we must guard our minds and our hearts and preserve them for Christ. I’ll admit that’s hard to do, but Paul in Philippians 4:8 encourages us that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”

In a world where there is much that is wrong and evil abounds, we should know that we can still fill our minds and our hearts with that which is good. We can break through the prison that our minds often create and set it free thinking and meditating on a good and perfect God. Sure sounds like a good thought to me!”

The first thing that came to mind when revisiting the above post was, “Wow…we sure do have a lot of things that can distract our thoughts nowadays!”  But the truth is, it’s always been that way.  The world has always had disturbing ways to keep us from focusing on God.  It’s just now, with our television and internet-saturated culture, it’s even easier to become distracted.

The key to dealing with our thought life is similar to attacking any bad habit that we may have.  Instead of filling our minds, and as result, our hearts with negativity and evil, we must instead make a point of surrounding ourselves with the things that provide a godly influence and thought process.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”  This is a work enacted by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to be more aware of the sinful things that can divert us away from godly thinking.

Sounds great right?  Just change our thought process to be more in line with God?  Like many of God’s other commands, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  That is why Paul reminds us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).   There are still plenty of godly things in this world that can garner our attention, but only if we choose to focus our mind there. That might mean we need to change who we associate with, or what companies we affiliate with, or especially what entertainment choices we make.

No matter what we do, we must make every effort to “guard (our) heart, for everything (we) do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

-Joe Butler

What Will You Do With the Word of God? (Blogs Revisited)

What Will You Do With the Word of God? (Originally posted July 19, 2014)

“I was writing in my journal the other day about my desire to have a closer relationship with God. Not just a “see you at worship service” relationship, but a “walk alongside him” relationship. I thought, what better way to get closer to him and learn more about his will than to read the bible more. Sometimes we think its hard to feel God’s presence or that we can’t figure out his will for our lives, but the truth is, he gives us everything we need for life and godliness in his word. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how powerful and informative God’s Word can be.  The words of the bible are his very thoughts.  Jesus is the Word manifested in the flesh.  So in order to have a relationship with him, I need to be studying his Word more. 

The thing is, what do we intend to do with the word of God?  In James 1:22, we are reminded that if we hear the word and don’t do it we deceive ourselves. Satan is the great deceiver, but sometimes we make his job easy for him. He’s likely thrilled to watch some of our worship services. He’s probably sitting there thinking, “Sweet!  Look at all these “Christians.”  They gather to hear a message from God that they’re not going to apply. They deceive themselves. My job is done.”  But that is not the reaction that God wants when we hear or read his word. He is a God who desires repentance, change, of actually turning away from the world and following him.

If we’re honest, there are several ways that we can respond to God’s word, only one of which he would be happy with.

  1. We respond with disbelief (We can hear something from the word of God and flat out not believe what it says. We can assume that God didn’t really mean that, or that he’s a loving God who would not really punish us. Against our better judgement, we walk away from what we know in our hearts to be the truth.)
  2. We respond with “That doesn’t apply to me” (Somehow, Christians have gotten into the habit of cherry-picking the bible, thinking that some parts apply to my life while others do not. God’s word is perfect. We cannot throw some of it out because we disagree or it doesn’t match the life we want to live. It’s our responsibility to mold our lives to fit what God wants, not the other way around.)
  3. The word “breaks us” but we do nothing (Sometimes we hear a well-delivered message from God’s word or we read a passage that really hits home.  We dwell on how important it is, how right and true, but no change is made. Like the soil with many thorns, we get sidetracked worrying about our lives. We forget that God’s word has no effect on us until it is applied.)
  4. The word “breaks us” and we change (“The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does” -James 1:25.  A disciple is a follower of their master. They listen to instruction, and then put that instruction into practice. Like Romans 12:2 says, we are to be transformed by renewing our minds with the word of God. Only then will we know his will.)

Next time you open your bible to study or you’re listening to someone deliver a message from God’s word, read or listen with a purpose. Ask yourself, “What will I do with the word of God?”

It’s amazing to look at the Bible sitting on my desk next to me and think of the amazing importance of that text.  I know this to be true, but it still stuns me at times to realize that these are the very thoughts of the God that I believe in and worship.  I’m astounded by the Bible’s permanency and its power.  I’m encouraged by its message of hope and grace.

I think, as Christians, we lose track of that at times.  We talk about how important the Bible is, but we don’t necessarily show that daily in the way we live or respond to the world around us.  We proclaim that the word of God has the great ability to transform lives, but it may not be entirely evident that it has transformed our own.

I wrote the above post many years ago to provide a reminder that we cannot only read God’s word or even memorize it or quote it when trying to prove a point.  We must be changed by it!  It should be evident in every aspect of our lives that the transforming power of the word of God has taken control of us.  That by reading it we respond to our sin with remorse and repentance.  That we take seriously our calling to make disciples of all nations.  That we realize that the grace and forgiveness that God has given us was meant to be passed on to others as well.

Ask yourself, “What will you do with the word of God?”  Will you set it aside in disbelief or pick it apart to eliminate the inconsistencies with your chosen lifestyle?  Or will you relish in the saving words of a God who loves you dearly and choose to daily follow his commands?

-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

When Do You Cut the Strings?

“Live in the world, but not of the world.”

Have you ever heard that phrase?  It’s a common religious axiom that I’ve heard used throughout my life as a Christian, and one which has a strong sense of truth behind it.  Christians are called to take our light…our values, faith, and hope, out into the sinful world around us in hopes of winning others to Christ through the Gospel.

Sometimes, though, problems arise from the relationships we develop with unbelievers, and the wise and discerning Christian needs to be aware and ready to react to any circumstance that may pull them away from God.  Whether we would like to admit it or not, we humans have the tendency to be affected by the environment that surrounds us.  The Bible succinctly warns, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  It’s not hard to imagine how worldly situations and worldly people can overcome our will to follow God and cause us to sin.  On the other hand, shouldn’t we do all in our power to serve others and hopefully bring them to Christ?  That’s when the question naturally arises: When do you cut the strings?

Throughout the Bible and the recorded teachings of Jesus, we have the admonition to put God first in all that we do.  From “seeking him first” (Matthew 6:33) to allowing Christ to live through us (Galatians 2:20), we are reminded that God seeks our complete loyalty and dedication.  With that important command in mind, the answer to our question is simple.  If the circumstances or relationships we find ourselves in are causing us to turn our focus away from God, it may be time to cut those strings.

If we’re honest though, that’s much easier said than done.  Some of us seek so strongly to please others that we allow their negativity or sinfulness to drag us down.  Others are easily swayed by very personal and specific temptations that Satan throws their way and it would be wise to stay away from any environment that they do not have the spiritual maturity to withstand.  In any case, each individual Christian must be aware of their surroundings and listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit within us when we feel like we may be getting in too far over our head in regards to temptation.

It’s obvious that God wishes us to use our lives and our influence to teach others about him.  He promised he would be with us in that endeavor (Matthew 28:19-20), so we are left with the reminder to rely on his strength and his wisdom when dealing with the trappings of this world.  Always put God first and he will be sure guide you through whatever it is you may face.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: The Only Way

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)

I love many of Jesus’ teachings mostly for their straightforward nature.  Being a ‘get-to-the-point” kind of person, I love how Jesus’ teachings are so easy to understand for those who are truly seeking him.  Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)  He promises that he will give us the answers that we need to know him more deeply and serve him to the best of our ability.

One of those teachings is found in the passage above.  There is absolutely no gray area in the comment Jesus makes in regards to our coming to the Father.  Jesus says that he is the ONLY way!

The way to God is through Jesus.

The way to truth is through Jesus.

The way to find everlasting life is through Jesus.

My advice for this passage of scripture as well as most other teachings of the Bible is to read it for exactly what it says.  Don’t try to make the Bible say something it doesn’t or change its meaning to something that’s more comfortable.  Don’t try to filter the messages taught in the Bible through your own preconceived ideas and beliefs.  That’s not worshipping God…that’s worshipping yourself.

-Joe Butler

This is Personal (Or at Least it Should Be)

Have you ever met someone who only showed love to you or others out of personal responsibility?  Whether you’ve experienced this yourself or have seen it manifested in the relationships of others, we are all too familiar with a fake version of love.

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not the kind of love that I want to experience in my relationships.  I want my wife’s treatment of me to be genuine and sincere.  I desire my daughter’s response to my parenting to be filled with gratitude and appreciation.  I hope that my friends truly enjoy their time spent with me and are not simply faking it in order to be nice.

The reality is, sometimes our relationships do experience these negative side effects and it never feels good.  None of us want to face the fact that sometimes our love for others is not always reciprocated.  Doesn’t it make you wonder whether God feels the same way at times?

You see, there’s a distinct difference between knowing God intellectually and knowing him personally.  We can have all the Bible knowledge in the world and not necessarily have an intimate relationship with God.  What’s interesting is that you can have knowledge of him without love, but typically, if you really love God, you will seek to know him more completely.  If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38), you would naturally seek to learn more about him.

Also, an unwavering commitment to serving God and submitting to his will usually only stems from a deep-seated desire to nurture an intimate relationship with him.  The more personal we make our walk with God, the more likely we are to trust and believe in him and his goodness.  The entirety of the Bible reflects God’s desire to be close to his children and for us to look at him as our Father and guide.  A Christian can only do that if they are committed to making their faith a personal one.  The most alarming evidence that God desires an intimate relationship with us can be found in the book of Matthew:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

(Matthew 7:21-23)

I can’t imagine how terrible it would feel if I were to hear those words from Christ.  “I never knew you,” says that we never took the time to really get to know God.  We never took advantage of the opportunities to speak with him in prayer or grow closer to him through his word.  It means that we were too busy being prideful and living our own lives when God just wanted us to feel loved like his dear children.

Ask yourself today whether or not you’ve truly desired and nurtured a relationship with God.  Resolve to make your walk with him more personal and I know you’ll soon enjoy the fruits of that beautiful relationship.

-Joe Butler