Exposed (Blogs Revisited)

“Exposed” (Originally posted January 14, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Joe Butler

 

Monday Motivation: Faith in Action

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“When we serve others through the use of our gifts, we are channels through which the grace and power of God are manifested.  When a man or woman with the gift of giving pays another believer’s electric bill, it is God’s grace.  When a pastor gifted as an exhorter stands to deliver a message, it is God’s grace to the people.  When a believer with the gift of service gives his or her time to meet a need, it is God’s grace in action.  In these instances, Jesus is at work through his body.  It is more than a matter of people being nice.  It is Christ manifest on earth.

When you hear about believers in need, don’t just pray.  Become a part of the answer.  Exercise your gift.  After all, isn’t it a bit strange to pray for someone who has a financial need when you have the resources to meet it?  Do you think God is going to create money and drop it out of the sky?  Of course not.  His plan to meet the needs of his people is his people?  That is why he has gifted us.”

(Charles Stanley- “The Spirit-Filled Life”)

I titled this post “Faith in Action” because it is so important that we use our gifts to serve the purposes of God.  He has asked us to use our lives for his service in the world around us.  We all have a tremendous amount of talents and abilities that God has given us and every person in the body of Christ plays an important role in using those talents to help others (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).  The church cannot be at its full effectiveness unless every member is working with the gifts they have been given.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  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?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

(James 2:14-17)

We cannot sit back and simply pray and hope that someone will find themselves the help they need.  If we are capable to help others with the resources we have available, then we need to help.  If not, we are not being good stewards of the blessings we have been given.  We are basically being selfish if we hoard our extra resources when we see obvious needs around us and do nothing about them.

Faith in action is all about doing instead of just talking.  We can sit here on our blog posts and write all day long about how to love God more and improve the world and we can listen to sermons from the pulpit about the disarray of society, but until we put that knowledge into practice, we’re just spiritual hypocrites as far as the world is concerned.  So I make this challenge.  Today, tomorrow, this week, look for ways to use your abilities and resources to serve someone else, especially someone in need.  Just look around your neighborhood, your community, your place of employment and I guarantee you’ll find someone who could use what you have to offer.

-Joe

Mold Me

mold me.jpgWhen I first started my junior year of high school, I signed up for an art class as one of my electives.  I had heard that the teacher Mr. Pinter was quite an eccentric fellow, but what drew me to the class were all the different art projects we would get to do.  Everything from perspective drawing to airbrushing to pottery was taught in that class and I had a blast learning all the different mediums.

One creative project was when we made full size Jack-O-Lanterns out of clay for Halloween.  I had spent several days shaping and molding that lump of clay into the most detailed, hideous pumpkin I could dream up.  When I was finished, my work was set on a shelf to dry before it was glazed and fired in the kiln.

Lo and behold, I come in to school one day to find my masterpiece deflated like a flat basketball.  I’m no famous artist so I’m unsure of what I’d done to mess it up, but I had to go back to the potter’s wheel and start over.  It took time, but eventually I came away with a slightly deformed piece of pottery that only barely resembled a Jack-O-Lantern.

Did you know that God, the Master Potter, can do the same in our lives?  Like a potter shaping clay on a potter’s wheel, he shapes us into what he wants.  And he doesn’t make mistakes like I did with my art project.  This is the creator of the universe we’re talking about here.  God formed man from the dirt of the ground (Genesis 2:7).  He can mold and shape you into any vessel he so chooses.  Let’s look at his word and see how God can mold us into perfection.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.  Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

(Jeremiah 18:1-6)

I love reading that part in the passage that teaches that the potter will rework the clay.  You see, the world around us and our sinful nature has spoiled us just as the potter’s clay becomes spoiled.  But God comes in and molds you into something new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  He works on you through his word, through his church and through your experiences to shape you into a Christ-like vessel.  He even places his Spirit in you to help with the process.

Are you prepared to be reworked?

Are you willing to let him mold you?

Are you ready to be clay in the Potter’s hands?

-Joe

Unqualified?

unqualifiedI wonder what it was like being personally called by Jesus.  There you are, mending your nets after a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee and some man named Jesus approaches and asks you to follow him (Matthew 4:18-20).  This is exactly what happened to Simon and Andrew and then also to James and John.  Just minding their own business, going about their day, and they were called out by the Messiah into a new line of work.

I wonder what qualified them?  We’re not specifically told why Jesus chose these men but we do know that they were simple and uneducated (Acts 4:13).  They didn’t attend seminary or Bible college or go through some man-made religious vetting process.  They were called to go and they did.  All of which makes me wonder why the church seems to require so much qualification today to serve in ministry.  I understand that the disciples were able to learn from Jesus himself, but even they did not actively start to preach the gospel until after Jesus’ death and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Which seems to imply that the same should be relevant today.

What I’ve found is that discipleship, and specifically training in ministry, is absent in the church today, at least in the nondenominational churches that I have attended.  The expectation is that if you’re interested in ministry, you seek outside sources of training to become “qualified” to preach the gospel.  There are a few in-house Bible schools within churches around the nation, but very few elderships actively teach and train men to be qualified but expect those qualifications when hiring.

So what is someone supposed to do if they feel called into that work?  First, I think it important that we understand that it’s through the Holy Spirit that we become capable of serving God as a minister.  While a post-secondary education and a little piece of paper saying you graduated carry some weight, it is God who gives you the talent for this good work.  The Holy Spirit is essential in giving us discernment of God’s word.  If that only came from college professors, then why is there so much false teaching out there?  It’s the Spirit who teaches us how to love, how to have patience, and how to live a life of self-control, none of which you learn to do in the classroom.  It’s God who gives us the talent to teach in a way that’s easily understood and it’s also Him who gives us the fire within to serve Him no matter the cost.

I personally have spent much time in prayer and Bible study preparing myself to preach the Word of God only to have some other Christians criticize and disqualify me with their judgments.  I’ve been told I wasn’t outgoing enough or wasn’t wise enough or haven’t preached enough to be considered a minister.  It’s been amazing to hear the excuses others will throw at you for not being good enough for God.  But God doesn’t look at it that way.  David committed murder and adultery and yet God used him.  Matthew was a thief but God called him.  Peter denied Jesus and was still used to spread the gospel.  And Paul?  Well, before Jesus came into his life (Acts 8), he harshly persecuted the church.  I have yet to meet a pulpit minister who was without disqualifiers, both before and after beginning their work in ministry but God uses them mightily.

What’s important is when God calls, it’s time to go.  It is God who determines our future service to him, not others.  It’s God who qualifies us as messengers of his precious gospel.  It’s God who gives us the tools needed to preach his word to the lost.  If elderships and other wise Christians would realize this, more time could be spent training the next generation of preachers within the church instead of expecting them to arrive already trained and ready to go.

Unqualified?  I think not.  Not with God on my side.

-Joe

Training in Christ

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“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6)

Yesterday, my wife and daughter, along with other youth and adult volunteers from our church, returned from Orlando, Florida from a youth leadership conference named Lads to Leaders. It was an uplifting time to grow in Christ and receive training in leadership skills that will help the church grow into the future. Lads to Leaders had its humble beginnings in a small congregation of Christians in Montgomery, Alabama when a man by the name of Jack Zorn set out to train the young men in his congregation to be Christlike leaders. That original vision has since grown to over 20,000 participants all across the southeastern United States and even as far away as the Philippines. As with any endeavor of this magnitude in the church, it has been met with much success but also its share of obstacles.

Lads to Leaders was not a program I grew up with personally. The church I attended as a young man had its own leadership training called “More Than Conquerors” and as the name implies, it was a great program designed to teach me how to serve God and model Christlike behavior. Unlike the Lads to Leaders program, there was no yearly convention to attend or competitions to enter but just a honest desire to honor and glorify God with our lives. I imagine that is the original intent of all leadership programs such as these, but in our overcompetitive society, we sometimes run the risk of straying away from bringing glory to God and instead focus more of our attention on our works.

I’ve been blessed to watch my daughter grow in her knowledge of Jesus by participating in scripture reading, song leading and even a Bible-based puppet presentation in the Lads to Leaders program. In fact, the youth from our churches who attend these events come back spiritually uplifted and more prepared to be leaders in the church and lights to the world. On the negative side,  I’ve occasionally seen the idea of competition become mean-spirited and “me” focused. I’ve heard of families and their children at other churches who chose not to participate and were chided for their lack of involvement. I’ve heard about how parent volunteers nitpick and argue with one another over convention performances and how things should be done their way. Far too many times, the children participating not only learn leadership skills but also learn about disunity when they see parents and volunteers lose focus about why they are there in the first place.  This a great reminder that the encouragement of people and the praise of God are the most important aspects of any program in the church and even though there are pitfalls at times, the work of the Lord is active and powerful at these events.

Our worship of God never has and never will be a competition. We don’t receive rewards from God for being a better song leader than someone else or being on the winning Bible bowl team. As a parent, I took the time to remind my daughter that her heartfelt and truthful worship of God will always be well-received whether she placed at the Lads to Leaders convention or not. I will always encourage her to participate in these kinds of things not only to grow herself but to also be a good example to other kids around her. I’m so proud of the kids from our church who participated in this year’s Lads to Leaders program.  I would wish to tell all those participants, parents and children alike, that learning about God and serving him is a lifetime process. Worship him in pride and with a competitive heart and He is sure to be disappointed. Do it with all your heart and with truth and humility and God has promised us that our worship will be appreciated.

(A special thanks to all those young and old who have helped my wife and I in the godly training of our daughter. God created the church for exactly times like these. Without your love and example, being a godly parent would be so much more difficult.)

-Joe

I Cannot Come Down

temple wallI’ve been busy lately.  Actually, very busy would be more precise.  You know, those times in your life when there’s not enough time in the day to get things done.  When I find myself being pulled in a thousand different directions I also notice that aspects of my spiritual life tend to suffer.  I begin to worry more and pray less which seem to be in direct proportion to one another.  I start to look at blog writing and Bible study as a chore instead of as a joy.  It’s not that I lose my faith or love in God.  I just lose a little of that intimacy that we normally have.

It’s amazing how Satan will use just about anything, even busyness, to pull you away from God.  In the book of Nehemiah we see an example of this very thing.  Nehemiah is in the process of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem when others make attempts to distract him from his work.  Chapter 6, verse 2-3 reads, “Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”   It’s obvious here that Nehemiah is facing distractions that are trying to pull him away from working for God.  Satan can easily use others around us, even people who are important to us, to keep us from the mission God has for our lives.

Later on in the passage, Nehemiah’s adversaries even begin to make up lies to ruin him (Nehemiah 6:6-8).  While it may be difficult at times, we must stay focused on the work of God even when the gossip and lies around us become unbearable.  God will always have plenty for us to do for his kingdom as long as we don’t allow busyness to sidetrack us.

Finally, enemies of Nehemiah try to convince him to hide in the temple so he won’t be killed but Nehemiah see through their plan (Nehemiah 6:10-14).  It’s interesting that this is one of Satan’s favorite tactics today.  If he can get Christians to hide within the walls of their church building and keep their beliefs private, the gospel has no hope of being spread.  We cannot hide in the church holding on to our comfortable Christianity we’ve created.  We must be out in the world seeking the lost in order to build the church.

When oppositions arises, and we know that it will, what can we do?  First, stay rooted in the word of God.  It is there where we find sustenance and strength.  The truth of his word can deflect any false attacks hurled our way.  Also, we must not allow our attitudes to change.  When others are pessimists or naysayers, counter them with encouragement and positivity.  Be the light in your own sphere of influence.  Lastly, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Like Nehemiah, tell the doubters, “I cannot come down.  I work for the Lord!”

-Joe

Heroes Behind the Scenes

heroesEvery avalanche begins with a snowflake.

A pretty powerful statement considering the size and strength of that one flake.  And yet, when it is combined with others like it, an entire mountainside of snow can come crashing down with amazing and destructive force and it all began with that first flake.

Heroes are like that.  Small deeds done over and over add up.  I see it every day and it is proof that your biggest heroes are found behind the scenes.  Let me tell you about some.

  • They get up early every day and go to work.  And not just work, but for them, a calling.  I join their ranks as well as we enter our classrooms and prepare to change the future.  You heard right.  They change the future because every day they stand in front of a classroom of inquiring minds and inspire their students to achieve greatness.  Every teacher I’ve ever had the privilege to work with is the same.  They love to teach, they love to encourage, they find joy in their student’s successes and sorrow in their struggles.  They are heroes behind the scenes.
  • She is a jack of all trades.  She’s a wife, a mother, a friend, a Christian, a counselor, an encourager, a rock.  She doesn’t know the meaning of “no” and will literally give you anything that you need.  Most of all, I’m proud to call her my wife.  Keri is the secretary of our church, the mother to not only our child but to other children who need one, and she’s the queen of her home.  She’s a friend to those in need, a cooker of great meals and the level head when times are tough.  She’s a hero behind the scenes.
  • He/She is out there right now working hard to make a difference.  He may spend his free time teaching the gospel to the lost.  She may work hard to raise her children on her own.  He plays ball with his son after a hard day’s work.  She lets her daughter in the kitchen to cook even though a mess is soon to follow.  He’s the police officer working late at night to keep us safe and she’s the ex-drug addict helping others to stay clean.  They don’t make it onto the 5 o’clock news.  Their stories don’t go viral.  But they are heroes behind the scenes.

Go take a good look in the mirror.  That’s right!  A long hard look in the mirror.  The hero is staring back at you.  Keep working hard.  Keep serving.  Keep challenging and encouraging.  Keep adding snowflakes to the mountainside and it will eventually start an avalanche.

-Joe

Surrender

surrender“What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 

The rich young man spoke these words in Matthew 19:16 and essentially, many Christians say the same today.  Now granted, we may not actually say the words, but our actions speak otherwise.

Got to attend church service?  Check!

What about giving?  Sure, good Christians do that.

Treat others the way I would want to be treated?  I’m trying ok!

Forgive when you’ve been wronged?  Now this is getting tough!

Already doing those and more?  Well good.  But don’t get too smug yet.  Just like the rich young man, there is always that one thing that is hard to surrender to God.  For that man in the passage in Matthew, it was his possessions.  And when Jesus asked him to sell all he had, he went away sorrowful (Matthew 19:21-22).  He couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t surrender all to Jesus.

The question to ask is, what does Jesus want me to surrender in order for me to follow him wholeheartedly?  What is that thing that has you in its grasp, that is more important to you than God?  Whatever it is, only you know if it’s keeping you from giving yourself to Him completely.  Only you know how attached you are to that thing, how much you need it in your life.

Can Christ replace the things you’re holding on to so tightly?  Can he ease the fear you have of complete surrender?  Is your faith more than a shallow belief rooted in a comfortable form of discipleship that doesn’t ever sacrifice?  Let us strive to put God at the center of our lives and allow him to cleanse us and purge out the things of this world that are keeping us from having an intimate relationship with Him.

“Our Christian faith is more than a way to find forgiveness for our sins in order to enter eternal life, yet it is that.  It is more than a system of right beliefs about ultimate truth and the order of things, though it is that.  And it is more than just a way to find God’s comfort in times of trouble or a helpful code of conduct for how to live a good and productive life, though it is those things too.  No, it is a call to leave everything else behind, follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and join in the great mission of Christ in our world.  It is a call to live as Jesus lived, to love as Jesus loves and treasure what Jesus treasures.  It is a call to forsake all else and follow him.  Only then can we become completed people- people living according to God’s deepest purpose for our lives.  Only then will we find our life’s great adventure.”

(Richard Stearns, “Unfinished”)

-Joe

 

Prayer

imageJust a few verses to start off your day!

 

1 Timothy 2:1-2–  “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

1 Timothy 2:8–  “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

Ephesians 6:18–   And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Philippians 1:9-11–   And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

 

As Christians, we should long to speak with our Father in heaven, praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  My prayer for you today is echoed in the passage in Philippians above.  I pray that you will grow in maturity in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he will continue to bless you with the fruit of his Spirit so that you may be effective in your life for him. I pray that your faith will daily grow in Jesus and that you will seek to glorify him in everything that you do.  I pray that we are unified in our desire to serve the Lord and obey him through his word.  And I pray that through us, we may bring others into the knowledge of the great and powerful love that our Father has for all of his children.

-Joe

 

Ambassadors For Christ

ambassadorsI’ve found as an educator that my job encompasses far more than teaching school subjects such as reading or social studies.  I take far more pride in seeing a child learn integrity or perseverance than if they make an A on a reading test.  And inevitably, every school year I have to deal with a myriad of discipline problems that arise due to their lack of maturity.

One such situation happened just the other day when I sent a group of students to the library.  On their way, one boy decided to shove another into a mud puddle soaking his shoes and pants in the process.  I try to give as much leeway as possible to my students because I caused as much trouble when I was young as the kids I now teach.  This particular student received in school suspension for three days for this particular outbreak of stupidity.

What I tried to teach him though was that whether he liked it or not, his behavior reflected not only on himself but also on me even though I was not there.  When a teacher or another adult sees one of my students misbehave, it reflects poorly on the one who is teaching them.  And in a way, as Christians, the actions of some can build a bad reputation of the church and of Christ.

As a disciple of Jesus, we have a unique and very vital role to fill in our lifetimes.  He has tasked us with being a light to the world around us and to continue his gospel message to seek and help save the lost.  You may not want that job, but when you decided to follow Christ, you became an ambassador for him.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

(2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

God makes his appeal to the lost through us and his word.  It’s our job to continue what Jesus started.  That is what the great commission is all about (Matthew 28:18-20).  How serious we take that command will help to determine whether his kingdom will grow in our lifetime.  It cannot be left up to your local preacher or elders.  It can’t only fall to the Bible scholars and Sunday school teachers to teach the gospel to the lost.

What do we say then?  Simple.  Share your testimony and his word.  Be his ambassador and he will bring the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

-Joe