Commitment to Christ Means Commitment to His Church (Blogs Revisited)

Commitment to Christ Means Commitment to His Church (Originally posted June 22, 2014)

“Is it possible to have a commitment to Christ separate and apart from a commitment to  his church?  Scores of today’s Christians apparently believe so based on the lack of attendance in worship services around the world. But the church, the body and bride of Christ, is far more than going to a worship assembly or attending the annual church cookout. If we are to identify ourselves as Christians, joined with Christ, we must also join our lives with Christ’s people. It is a privilege to be identified as a member of Christ’s family, but so many believers view it as a chore.

Part of the problem in today’s culture is how we view the church. We tend to think of the church as a building, a meeting place. We characterize churches based upon denominational leaning or what programs they offer. It’s common to hear people say, “I attend the church with the great singles program” or “I worship at the church that has unlimited resources and outings for retirees.”  We’ve created a consumer-driven mentality where we “shop around” for the congregation that best suits our needs.

But this is not how the Bible presents the church. Jesus nor his disciples never once refer to the church as a building or a series of programs designed to please the masses. The church of Christ is simply meant to be a body of believers sharing the life of Christ. We’re meant to care, love, serve, and teach one another. We’re called to forgive, encourage, pray for, and rejoice with one another (Read 1 Corinthians 12:25, John 13:34-35, Galatians 5:13, Colossians 3:16, Colossians 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, James 5:16, and Philippians 4:4).

So I must ask the question…How will you approach the church and your commitment to it?  Our only response should be total dedication to the bride of Christ because in doing so, we are also showing total dedication to Christ himself.”

It’s summer vacation time here in Florida, and I’ve noticed a lot more out-of-town visitors at our Sunday morning worship services lately.  I love it when we have visitors because I get to meet and talk to other Christians, but even more importantly, I gain a tremendous amount of encouragement by seeing the importance these visitors place on worship and the church itself.

We all have been there before I’m sure.  We are on a much needed vacation, one which we’ve have planned for months or maybe years, and we have many activities or hours of relaxation planned for our time.  A lot of times, our weekly worship time passes and we don’t give a second thought about missing.  Maybe that’s because we’re not home with our regular church family or we’re unfamiliar with the local churches in the area.

It’s always nice to live in a tourist area and know that Christians have made it a priority to assemble with a group of believers while on vacation.  It shows how strongly they view the church itself and the vital role it plays in worshipping God and strengthening the body of Christians worldwide.  The above post, which I penned almost 5 years ago now, is a reminder of what our commitment to the church should be.  If we are committed to Christ and then show no commitment to his bride the church, then we are really liars and not committed to him at all.  And it’s not just on vacation either.  Our lives should be an example of placing God and his church at the forefront of everything we hold dear.

I’ll close by echoing the words above.  How will you approach the church and your commitment to it?  Our only response should be total dedication to the bride of Christ, because in doing so, we are also showing total dedication to Christ himself.

-Joe Butler

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“What Do I Need Church For?” (Blogs Revisited)

What Do I Need Church For? (Originally Published April 1, 2013)

“God never intended for us to live out our spiritual lives on our own.  When someone is connected to Christ through baptism, they are also connected with the saints… everyone else who is in Christ.  We need each other and we need to be faithful to His church.  We must not forget that the “church” is not the meeting place where we gather on Sunday mornings to worship God.  We are the church and we are the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27).  It’s unacceptable to God to say we love Him and yet not participate fully in a local church.  Admittedly, people are turned off at times by a church because it is full of sinful people.  It’s so easy to look at the faults of others as an excuse to give up on church or not get involved.  On the other hand, how beneficial would it be if more people would examine themselves and their motives for a lack of church participation?

Following are some ideas for sparking our desire to spend time with Christ and His church:

1.Attend and get involved:  Don’t expect to grow closer to God and other christians if you’re never at church.  It’s important to consistently attend and not just sit in the back where you can make a quick exit.  Get involved, find a place to serve, and don’t wait for an invitation. 

2. Focus on Jesus, not on others:  Jesus is perfect, people are not.  If you’re looking for a perfect church, let me know when you find one because they do not exist.  Be forgiving of others just as you would expect forgiveness for yourself.

3. Be a blessing:  Are you known as an eternal pessimist?  Do you just take and never give?  God gave each of us unique gifts not just to serve ourselves, but to use to give, serve, and encourage others.  Look up the word edification.  It is one of the most important functions of the church.

4. Share God with others:  This is God’s ultimate mission for us.  If we really love Him and are grateful for everything He has done in our lives, we should be bursting at the seams to share Him with others.  And after they become a part of God’s family, look for ways to love, serve, and help them.

As a final word, although I’ve been a Christian for a while, I need you.  I need to see you at church.  I need to know you’re praying for me.  I need your encouragement.  I need your forgiveness and your patience.  I need your love.  But most of all, I want to join hands with as many saints as possible as we seek to know and serve our God from now into eternity.”


I have written many posts over the last few years referencing the importance of the church, but this was the first one I penned for this blog.  To be honest, part of me understands the discontent some have with the church.  Have I been hurt or let down by my Christian brothers and sisters before?  Have there been decisions and situations that I have not entirely agreed with within my church family?  Sure, but by in large, my spiritual family has provided a great amount of support and encouragement during my Christian walk.

It’s not difficult to look into God’s word and find a major importance placed on the church.  It baffles me to think that some Christians want to have a relationship with Christ without having a relationship with the church.  That is impossible because the church is the bride of Christ, the bride he died to save. It would be like trying to grow a plant without the sun.  We cannot completely grow as Christians without the nurturing of the church.

It really boils down to the attitude we have.  Do we love God enough to love his bride as well, even with her imperfections?  And if we are not loving the church as we’re called to do, are we really loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

I’ll end the revisit of this post the same way I ended the last one.  “Although I’ve been a Christian for a while, I need you.  I need to see you at church.  I need to know you’re praying for me.  I need your encouragement.  I need your forgiveness and your patience.  I need your love.  But most of all, I want to join hands with as many saints as possible as we seek to know and serve our God from now into eternity.”

-Joe Butler

 

 

Why Are You a Christian? (Blogs Revisited)

Why Are You a Christian (Originally published March 13, 2013)

“Why are you a Christian?  Do we ever stop to really think about why we profess to be a Christian?  On the surface, the answer seems to be self-explanatory.  Upon deeper reflection, I think you’d be surprised as to why you or anyone else “really” claims that title.

Some claim to be a Christian because it’s what we do.  Our nation, started on Christian principles as some would say, has claimed Christianity almost like a national religion.  Sure, other religious practices abound in America, but they are drastically outnumbered.  Christianity, in all its denominational forms, is practiced by most of us claiming a religious belief.  (I’ll go ahead and say right here that denominationalism is, in fact, not really Christianity at all but man’s feeble attempt to mold God’s law to his desires.  The church of Christ is the church of Christ and it will always and forever belong to Him.)

Some claim to be a Christian to be a part of the “in” crowd.  In many areas, one can plug themselves into the community by who they know and associate with at church.  It’s all about what they can get out of the relationship.  Networking at its finest.

Others call themselves a Christian because it’s what they’ve always done.  They were raised in the church, they were baptized, and now they just go with the flow because of its comfort level.  They have never stopped to ask why they believe what they believe.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:25-30 that we cannot be divided among different loyalties.  We cannot choose which part of God or Christianity we like as if we’re dealing with some spiritual buffet.  Verse 30 reminds us that we’re either “all in” or “all out.”  Our choice is not just to become a Christian and have our sins forgiven and that is the end of our commitment.  Our only choice is to follow God completely!  If there is not a complete commitment, isn’t it true that we are just “playing” Christian?  Christ scolds the church of Laodicea in chapter 3 of Revelation for this very thing… halfheartedness.  They showed a zeal for Christ when it met their needs and stayed quiet and complacent the rest of the time.  In fact, Christ even says He would rather us pick a side.  There is no in between.

Well?  Why are you a Christian?  If serving God and others is not at the top of your list of reasons, you might want to rethink your commitment.  And don’t forget that the choice we make has very real eternal consequences.”


I still enjoy the simplicity of this post because I think it sums up what is at the very core of religious belief or belief in anything for that matter.  We should be willing to ask the “Why” for what we do, whether it be our religious beliefs, our marriages, or even our chosen careers.  Motivation has always been an important factor for mankind and helps decide how dedicated we’ll be to any given endeavor.  There is no place where this is more important than our Christian beliefs.

Since this was written, I still stand by the assertion that our reasons for following God really matter.  Multiple times throughout God’s word we are reminded of where our heart should be when living a Christian life.  God can read the genuineness of our heart, so if we have ulterior motives for serving him, we’re really fooling no one but ourselves.  I also still stand by the fact that, in Christ’s eyes, there is but one church and that he is Lord over it.  Man’s propensity for creating false religions or other comfortable forms of Christianity that make it easy to live life with a watered-down faith really reveals our ability to serve ourselves rather than living in full submission to a sovereign God.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves the question that I posited when I first wrote this post, being “Why are you a Christian?”  To me, the only correct answer is to wholly follow and serve a God that has done everything for me.

-Joe Butler

 

Whew!

 

Boy, life can sure get busy sometimes…and I’m not even in school right now!  The school year is over and I’ve sent my students home for a much needed summer break. I’ve been busy myself teaching two different Bible classes at church, volunteering at our Vacation Bible School, taking a week off for a family vacation to Disney World, and pretty much spending every other spare day as a daddy/daughter day with Emma. I guess that’s why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month, which isn’t like me considering that I usually put out two or three a week. And I suppose that’s ok.

At first, it bothered me that I haven’t written in a while. It’s a ministry that I’m very dedicated to and truly enjoy. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there are always other important things to be done and other ways in which to serve God and his kingdom.

After finishing a quarterly Bible class for adults recently and undertaking another one currently, I’m reminded of the vital work that all of our Bible teachers in the church undertake. If you count yourself in this category, I encourage you to continue this good work. The church at all ages needs teachers who love God and are willing to volunteer their time to teach others about him.

And to the parents out there who are spending their days raising children in this tough world we call our home. I only have one child of my own, but as a teacher of 3rd graders, I know all too well what a difficult job parenting can be. Remember, your greatest act of stewardship is raising your children in a godly manner. Do so with the mindset that God is fully aware of all the hard work you put into that endeavor.

To the community of Christian bloggers out there.  Never forget that your impact and instruction of God’s truth can be felt literally around the world. Continue to serve him and others through your writing, and I pray that you will not grow weary as you do so.

Finally, if you’re not serving the kingdom of God in some way, your talents are needed as well. Find a ministry where your God-given abilities can be used. Commit to giving of yourself in even the smallest acts of servanthood, and I promise that God will bless you in amazing ways.  And don’t forget: You may very well end some days with an audible “Whew!”  That’s just the feeling of a job well-done and that the work you did for God was absolutely worth the time and effort.

-Joe Butler

Action Figure

Photo Credit: J. Scott Campbell

Toys today just aren’t what they used to be.  My daughter spent about 7 dollars of her allowance money the other day on a piece of foam in the shape of a cake.  They  call these things Squishies, and I guess I’m just too old to understand their significance.  The one she bought was apparently ultra rare, so she HAD to have it.  It didn’t look ultra rare to me though considering the Justice store she bought it from had plenty of them on the shelf.

Anyways, this spur-of-the-moment purchase of hers had me thinking of my own childhood toys.  I was born in 1976 and was therefore a child of the 80’s, so I enjoyed the best era of toys known to man.  My favorite toys were the action figures, the G.I. Joe’s, Transformers, and He-Man toys that I could create mock battles with all over every square inch of my room.  And they were epic battles, let me tell you.  I literally owned just about every figure they made at the time (toys were much cheaper then), and my brother and I played with them pretty much any day that it was raining and we couldn’t go outside.

I guess I loved those toys because, as the name implies, they were action figures that were movable.  You could pose them or put weapons in their hands.  The Transformers transformed from inanimate objects like cars and airplanes into awesome, detailed robots.  The G.I. Joes could ride around in decked-out, futuristic military vehicles.  And of course, He-Man had the coolest home of all…Castle Grayskull!

It may require a little stretch of the imagination, but we Christians are action figures as well.  Or at least we should be.  We were never meant to just sit on a pew in a church building somewhere like a toy sitting still on a shelf.  We are meant to put our faith into action, showing the world what following Christ really looks like.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

(James 2:14-18)

The definition of a biblical Christian is not just a morally upright person who attends every church service and tithes like nobody’s business.  A biblical Christian is really the product of putting your faith into action.  In a very real sense, we are God’s action figures, acting out our faith in the world around us, showing what Christianity looks like in practice and not just what it sounds like in theory.  Some practical examples of this faith in action are…

  • Do we not only grieve over a sinful culture, but also take action to fix it?
  • Do we stop complaining and criticizing the church and instead look for areas where we can serve and grow his earthly kingdom?
  • Are our convictions about morality just rooted in word, or are they practiced in deed as well?

The only bad part about my action figure toys was the fact that I physically had to move them.  They couldn’t just do stuff on their own.  But that’s not the case in our lives as Christians.  We can decide to put ourselves into motion, starting today on winning our world for the kingdom of God.  So make that commitment to be an action figure for God.  He will surely make great things happen through you.

-Joe Butler

Taking a Trip From Mind to Heart

For those who’ve read this blog for a while, you already know that I love to travel.  I’m a “it’s not the destination but the journey” type of person.  It doesn’t entirely matter where I’m headed per se’.  I just like the adventure of going.  I’m even one of those crazy people who enjoy going to the airport no matter how busy it may be.  While I’m sitting there waiting for my own flight to depart, I’m imagining all of the other passengers on their trip and where they may be headed.  I will admit that I still love the normalcy and comfort of home.  There’s just something special about visiting new places and seeing amazing sights along the way.

Our walk or journey as a Christian is much the same way.  To play off the name of my blog, we must certainly have faith in order to be pleasing to God, but we must also realize that we’re on a journey of faith as well.  What’s unique about this particular trip of faith is that it’s the longest and yet shortest journey we’ll ever take.  Longest in the sense that we are on a lifelong journey of discovery, learning more about God and becoming more Christ-like every day.  But it’s also the shortest trip as you’ll see in this post.

It is approximately 17 inches from the top of my head to the center of my chest.  How do I know?  Well, I actually measured it.  While you’re imagining what that may have looked like, go ahead and pull out a tape measure and take the same measurement on yourself.  Got it?  Good, because that distance is equal to the shortest trip you will take in your lifetime.

Now, I know that may sound confusing, but follow me for a second.  When we first have a Bible study or hear the good news of the gospel message, that information takes root in our mind and hopefully in our heart as well.  For those whose heart calls them into obedience to the gospel, it’s an emotional time of rejoicing and commitment.  Soon after, we find ourselves wanting to study the Bible more, wanting to share our story with others, and wanting to grow more like Christ in our behavior.

What I’ve found with longtime Christians is that, in the process of reading God’s word and attending Bible classes, in the process of attending worship on Sunday and going about our business the rest of the week, we sometimes forget to continue to move our understanding and belief of God and his word from our mind to our heart.  It’s such a short distance, but sometimes it’s a long trip.  Nevertheless, that trip from mind to heart is the most important journey we make as Christians.

All throughout God’s word, we are reminded that God wants our hearts.  From the greatest commands (Matthew 22:36-40) to how we give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and treat others (Matthew 25:34-40), God wants us to put our heart into our worship and service for him.  It’s simply not good enough to hang your hat on your Bible knowledge or your perfect church attendance record.  That’s taking Christianity away from the relationship it’s meant to be and making it about following rules and checking off boxes.  Instead, we should be changed at the heart level (Hebrews 4:12).

Another important aspect of taking the journey of moving God from our mind to our heart is that it will cause us to move from belief to action.  Examples abound of good Christian people who only practice their religion on Sunday mornings, but God has called us to do much more than that.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

(James 2:14-18, 24)

Looking at the above passage of Scripture, we can clearly see that God must be in the mind and heart.  Both are needed to have faith and both are needed to have deeds.  Verse 20 rings especially loudly when we examine that which justifies us in the eyes of God.  Our heart must be active in serving God if we wish to have salvation.

So I want to invite you to take a journey with me.  If you’re already a Christian, great!  If you’re actively spending time learning more about God and his will for your life, outstanding!  Keep up the good work.  But make sure your knowledge and love of God is taking root in your heart as well.  Make every effort to prune out the negative influences in your life that may get in the way.  And enjoy the journey.  It’s the most edifying one you’ll ever take.

-Joe Butler

That’s Mine

I’ve been extremely lucky as a parent.  Maybe it was due to my wife and I trying to be good parents, or possibly it’s the fact that my daughter has such a generous and compassionate heart.  Either way, our Emma has never been the type of child to hold too tightly to her personal stuff.  She has always been willing to share with others or give to those in need.

That’s not always the case with some of us.  More often than not, most people are protective of their money and personal belongings.  There are all kinds of excuses for this out there too.  We tell ourselves we’ve worked hard for what we have, that it’s ours and we can do with it as we please.  Or, we hoard our money and things and live in fear of losing any of it.  Either way, we sometimes have a skewed idea of who owns what and an even larger misunderstanding of what it means to be a giver.

Just think of the word stewardship in context of the church and immediately we imagine the collection plate being passed around and the perceived responsibility we have to tithe.  While it’s true that giving to the work of the church is an important act of love and faith, stewardship is much bigger than that.  It starts with the realization that God doesn’t want or really need your money.  He wants you…all of you!  While the money we give may vary from one Christian to another, there is one nonnegotiable that God asks of all of us.  He wants us to give him 100% of ourselves.

When we believe that everything we are and everything we own belongs to God, we will then begin to understand what true stewardship is all about.  It frees us to experience real faith and trust in a God who has promised to meet our every need.  It allows us the blessing of not worrying about all our stuff or our livelihood and instead spend our energy and resources helping to meet the needs of those around us.  And God has even promised to reward those who are generous with their blessings:

38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

As we can see in these passages of Scripture, giving is not just a command but the expectation of the follower of God, and it’s not in the form we typically think.  First, a person is meant to give from the heart, and that is only done if God has our entire heart in the first place.  If so, we are no longer owners of our own resources, but rather managers who have been trusted to wisely use what we’ve been given.  We become stewards with great responsibility.  And it’s not just material possessions such as money, houses, or cars.  It also means we are good stewards of our time, wisdom, and talents.  Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God.

If we live with these thoughts in mind, we’ll no longer say, “That’s mine!,” in reference to our lives or our stuff.  Instead, “in view of God’s mercy,” we’ll “offer (our) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- that is (our) true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).

-Joe Butler