Compelled By the Love of God

It’s a busy time right now at school for us teachers.  The end of the nine week grading period is upon us and it’s always a hectic time.  Kids are scrambling to get assignments completed, and I’m working to get grades posted in the grade book.  This is also the time of year where I try giving some extra motivation to my students, to encourage them to work harder for the next nine weeks and see if they can make any improvements.

It’s always interesting watching students react to their grades.  They always know what their grade is throughout their time in school, but when report card time hits, it becomes much more real for them.  The ones who have an A or B are usually pretty happy and proud and are looking forward to showing their parents how they did.  The students who scored a D or F usually begin to panic and worry about how their parents will react.  For an 8-year-old, the idea that they may punished for a bad grade is, in most occasions, enough motivation for them to try harder.

You see, my goal as a teacher is to try to teach students how to be intrinsically motivated.  It’s good to want to perform well for their parents or so they don’t get grounded, but it’s even better for them to take pride in their own hard work and have some ownership for how they did.  We’re all that way to some degree.  We work long hours at work to earn that paycheck.  We show love to our family and friends in hopes that they will reciprocate with actions of gratitude.  Athletes train consistently in order to win the game.  We’re all extrinsically motivated to some degree and need to find ways to be internally satisfied with our performance.

But it’s a little bit different in our relationship with God.  We don’t have to work ahead of time to earn his love and good favor.  In fact, he offers us more than we could ever want even before we realize who he is.  Does that mean there’s no response on our part to God’s love?  Absolutely not!  The love of God should compel us to react in a certain way.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Because of God’s love, we die to ourselves.  Because of God’s love, we decide to dedicate our lives in service to Christ.  Because of God’s love, we change our entire mindset to be God-focused instead of me-focused.  We do this, not for his love, but because of his love.  We do it because he deserves it.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 2:1-5a)

-Joe Butler

Mastered in Mediocrity

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

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

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

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

(Revelation 3:15-22)

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

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

-Joe Butler

The Roundtable of Misinformation

I’m sure you’ve heard of someone referred to as too smart for their own good.  That seems to be an oxymoron of some kind, but I believe it bears enough truth to examine.  I’m a teacher, so of course I feel strongly about education and the benefits it can bring in our lives.  I think it’s great for someone to continue learning throughout their life, always adding to their depth of knowledge.  At the same time, I also believe that we can constantly study and analyze subjects to the point where we fail to notice the simple, minor details anymore.  It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

A great example of this is spoken about in the book of Acts when Paul was in Athens.  Athens during biblical times would’ve been similar to our largely populated and educated metropolitan areas of today.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul over the religious ideas he was presenting (Acts 17:18) and like most disbelievers today, they began to insult him, assuming their knowledge trumped Paul’s thoughts and testimony.  Paul was used to this type of behavior in response to his ministry.  He even told Timothy to, “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20), and watch out for those who are, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

The philosophers of this time, much like those today who hold themselves in high regard because of their perceived wisdom, spent all of their time studying and debating the thinking of the day.  The problem is that most of philosophical thought is studied through the eyes of the viewer and the opinions of the day.  It means there’s no standard, that everything is relative and we can make our own standard to meet our needs as we go.  Much of the atheistic talking points today center around this idea as well, that we should use our collective knowledge to develop a moral standard that’s good for everyone.  I’m sure you can see the impossibility of that endeavor because we are inherently selfish creatures, usually seeking to make things more comfortable or palatable for ourselves.

Sadly, many churches and Bible colleges are adapting a form of this thinking as well.  Religion for some has become strictly about Bible knowledge and “study to show thyself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and worshipping in truth above all (John 4:24).  Notice how I quoted verses as reference for those thoughts.  That’s because they are entirely true.  But like the Pharisees who only focused on following the law, we can only focus on learning and not have any motivation to put our learning into practice.  It’s good to find truth, but it’s even better to do something with it (James 2:26).  Any extensive study of the Bible must ultimately lead to spiritual renewal and good works or it’s simply just study for the sake of knowledge.

Just like there are career college students who sputter along aimlessly and never graduate and put their education to work , there can be Christians as well who only focus on learning and none of the doing.  Paul was possibly able to convince some in Athens of the saving power of the gospel because he was out working instead of debating.  If anything, we can learn from Paul that the gospel is at its most powerful stage when it is lived and not just learned.

-Joe

The Purpose of Your Preacher

pulpitEvery day, I get to stand in front of a captive audience of 8-year-olds.  It’s quite the responsibility to be entrusted with those children for the nine months that I have them during the school year.  I used to be nervous each morning wondering how I was going to keep them interested and I how I was going to help them learn that day’s lessons.  After 12 years in education, that nervousness has been replaced with the comfort of familiarity.

The same has become true of my opportunities to preach.  No, I’m not a fulltime, paid pulpit minister, but I’ve had quite a few chances to preach as a fill-in or to preach a summer series sermon.  After all those opportunities, I’ve taken the time to examine why I do it.  The easy answer would be to say that I love God, that I want to serve him in the ways he has gifted me, and this is one of those ways.  Those answers are undoubtedly true, but there are other important reasons as well.

Preaching the word is meant to encourage, instruct, and to admonish (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It’s meant to declare the truth to a lost world in desperate need of hearing the good news.  I’ve found that it’s not difficult to make people feel good by talking about God’s love or his forgiveness.  People are starving for the truth and lots of preachers give that to them every Sunday.  Other preachers spend a lot of time talking about the coming wrath of God and how we must all repent or face the realities of hell.  All of those teachings are in God’s word, but a preacher’s job is much bigger than that.

One of the main jobs of any preacher dedicated to serving God and his people is to prepare the saints for work.  Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us we will reach the fullness of Christ when we become mature, actively working Christians.  Preachers, myself included, are supposed to equip followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to be effective disciples for Christ.  It’s not our job to entertain you or make you feel good all the time.  It’s to help you grow into a better understanding of the role you play in Christ’s church.

The Bible spends a lot of time reminding us of the importance of a unified church, one where each member is working for the benefit of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).  The preacher’s responsibility is to instruct and encourage saints in finding their gift and to get to work using it.   As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). 

The second verse of that passage should really weigh heavily on the hearts of all who preach God’s word.  We have been given the task of speaking to others on behalf of God.  Not speaking for God with our own words or thoughts, but making a thorough study of God’s word so we can teach it to others.  The end result is bringing  praise to God, not notoriety for ourselves for our biblical knowledge or application.

The purpose of your preacher is a great one indeed!  They have a tough job, and many times a thankless one, but we can help by being good students.  Be willing to learn, open to admonishment and self-examination, and get ready to work because discipleship is the job of all those who call themselves Christians.

-Joe

 

Why Worry When Worrying is Worthless?

worryWhy worry when worrying is worthless?

Ok.  I’m an elementary writing teacher and it was time for a little alliteration.  All kidding aside, worry is definitely something to worry about.  And rightly so considering all the many things in life that keep us distracted.  I worry about my students at school and I worry about my daughter at home.  I worry about the bills at times and our savings and whether or not I’ll ever get around to fulfilling some of my lifelong dreams.  And I know what you may be thinking.  “Just have faith and things will always work out.”  We all know such maxims may work for a season, but they don’t take away the real worries we have in our everyday life.

And yet, God asks us not to worry.  He tells us not to worry about our needs (Matthew 6:25-34) and he even commands us not to worry about death (Matthew 10:28).  So how can he expect us not to show concern when we face so many trials and difficulties in this life?

The answer lies in God’s omniscience, his ability to know exactly what we need.  He wants us to place our trust in him, to cast our anxieties on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  He promises that if we seek him first, we have nothing to worry about (Matthew 6:33).

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or his children begging for bread.

(Psalm 37:23-25)

The key is to give God the worry and know that he takes care of the righteous.  Now, one more attempt at some alliteration:

With worry we won’t win, without worry we will prevail.

  Ok, so 9 out of 10 words isn’t too bad!

-Joe

 

If You Could See Your Sin

germsIt’s getting close to winter time and with the change in seasons comes more sick kids in my classroom.  It’s tough being in a small room with a group of coughing, sneezing students and I can’t escape till the end of the day.  The best I can do is remind them to wash their hands throughout the day, to use sanitizer, and to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.

It’s an uphill battle though.  I know many adults who are minor germaphobes, but trying to convince third graders that they should do a better job at staying clean is just about impossible.  That is why I have a sign next to the sink in my classroom that reads, “If you could see the germs, you’d wash your hands.”  If they could see the evidence of their uncleanliness, they may be more inclined to do something  about it.

I wish this were only true with kids, but it’s not.  There are many smokers who would probably be willing to give up that nasty habit if only they could see the actual damage that their lungs are suffering.  Likewise, if they were able to view the internal damage to their brains and livers, most alcoholics would consider quitting as well.  But there’s an even more damaging habit that I hope we would all address in order to save not only our lives but our very souls.

This post will not deal directly with the fact that we all have sin in our lives (Romans 3:23), but unless we do something about it, we are doomed to be eternally separated from God.  If you could see the damage your sin causes, would you be more willing to make changes?  If you could see the distance that your sin causes between you and God, would you be more likely to repent?  I ask because I believe there is a way we can see the trouble our sin creates.

Open up your Bible and read Hebrews 4:12.  Better yet, I’ll quote it for you here.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 

(Hebrews 4:12)

 

This verse teaches us that we have to look no further than God’s word to find the conviction we need to honestly examine our sin problem.  Everyday, we have the opportunity to open our bibles and read of God’s immeasurable love for us, his desire that we be saved, and the obedience we must show in order to give our lives over to Him.  His word can pierce through our excuses and lies and convict us of where we offend and disobey God.

If you could see your sin, would you do something about it?  I pray that you do before it’s eternally too late!

-Joe

They Made Me Do It

blameThis being my first year as a third grade teacher, I’ve found there are several differences from the fourth graders I’ve taught over the last eleven years.  The most glaring difference, one which tests my patience daily, is the constant tattling going on.  Some are more guilty than others, but I consistently hear what someone else is doing wrong or how the tattler is being treated unfairly.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to roll my eyes in exasperation and exclaim, “Here we go again!”

One interesting thing about all this tattling is how easily children learn to blame someone else for their mistakes.  I don’t know if we humans do this naturally or not, but the instinct is there to find fault in everyone else but ourselves.  I wish I could say this was a problem only for elementary age children, but the propensity to deflect blame seems to be gaining more prevalence in society today.  I hear people blame their situation in life on everything from government to race, upbringing, lack of resources, or even gender.  There’s even a “law of exposure” in psychology which basically states that what we’re primarily exposed to will affect how we behave and think.

While it’s true that our environment considerably impacts the way we live, it would be foolish to not accept responsibility for our own actions or lack thereof.  In religious terms, the Bible is very clear that God will not allow us to blame others for our own choices.  “So each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12) should be an eye-opening passage that brings to light the reality of the coming judgment of mankind.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) but he will return to judge (Matthew 25:31-46) and a litany of excuses will not release us from the bad things we have done with our life.

God was very specific that it is our works that determine how we’ll be judged.  Once granted salvation through faith in his grace, we must all accept responsibility for the direction of our lives and use our circumstances, whether good or bad, to do what’s right and not make excuses.  “God will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;  but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:6-8).

-Joe 

 

Copycat

copycatAs a teacher, my students are always looking for ways to play practical jokes on me.  I’m a jokester myself and we have fun in class and my students feel free to play tricks on me occasionally.  Last week, I had a student play the copycat game with me where he mimicked everything I said and did in order to get me flustered.  Luckily, he got tired and quit after a few minutes, but it brought to mind how we all copy or imitate someone in our lives.

Our kids at home are copying our behavior whether we know it or not.  Just like my students in class, our own children learn from our example and words and in many cases, grow up to be and think just like their parents.

Society as a whole tends to copy itself in the sense that people make every effort to fit in with those around them.  Whether it be fashion, lifestyle, or recreation, we tend to live and act like those we are around the most.

But what about the Christian?  Is there precedence for us to be copycats?   To answer those questions, one need look no further than the Bible itself.  God’s word is full of examples of our need to imitate God or Jesus and to even imitate those who are following Christ’s example.

  • We are to suffer like Christ (1 Peter 2:20-21  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”)
  • We are to forgive like Christ (Ephesians 4:32- 5:2  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”)
  • We are to think of others like Christ did (1 Corinthians 10:33- 11:1  “Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”)
  • We are to obey like Christ (1 John 2:3-6  “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”)
  • We are crucified like Christ (Galatians 2:20  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”)
  • We are to shine like Christ (Matthew 5:14-16  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”)
  • We are to love like Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”)
  • We are to submit like Christ (Ephesians 5:22  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”)
  • We are to serve like Christ (John 13:12-15  “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”)

 

-Joe

“The World” Is Not Who You Think It Is

Split Rock (Rialto Beach, Washington Coast)
Split Rock (Rialto Beach, Washington Coast)

It’s always a good idea to reexamine things as a teacher.  I’m in the habit of not only teaching students but also reviewing their performance after they’ve been assessed.  I have to in order to know if the children have mastered the task or not.  Most times, a student who performed poorly has a deficiency in one or two areas.  It’s good to have that information so I know where to help them improve.  But on occasion, I come to the realization that it was how I presented the lessons that caused students to perform poorly.  It’s those times where I have to “go back to the drawing board” and reteach so the class will do better.

I was struck by this when reading some of my past posts on this site.  I noticed that I, along with many other writers whom I’ve read, have used the term “the world” to refer to those out there, outside the church, the people who are not following God and blatantly living a sinful lifestyle.  I couldn’t help but notice that that sounds an awful lot like the Pharisee in the book of Luke who arrogantly prayed that he wasn’t a nasty, good for nothing sinner like the tax collector (Luke 18:9-12).

And then it hit me.  The “world” is not who we think it is.  It’s not just the people who knowingly sin or purposely turn their backs on God.  “The World” is really all of us.  It’s the reality of our own sinful nature.  It’s a part of our heart at times and especially so when we begin to believe that we’re immune to sin or that our own sin is not nearly as bad as the next guy.  Just because I may act or speak more spiritually than an unbeliever doesn’t make me any less a sinner.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Here, Paul reminds us that while we can claim victory over the world through the blood of Jesus Christ, we should never forget where we came from.  As long as we are in the flesh, we will constantly battle our own selfish desires.  Paul goes on to say that we have a race to run and we cannot run that race aimlessly, taking for granted the sanctification we’ve given.  Instead, we should control ourselves so that we may not become disqualified for the prize of heaven (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

“The World” is a very real place with very real temptation and sin and we have to work daily to not think or behave like Satan wants us to.  A strong dose of humility is just what’s needed to remember that without Jesus, we would be just as lost as anyone else.

-Joe

Using God

image

I’ve noticed a trend in education over the last 10 years that seems to be indicative of the world we live in. Some of my students over the years just expect things as if it were their right to have them. Of course, much of what I see in the classroom is learned behavior. Still, while most of the students I teach realize that you don’t get something for nothing, there are those who are convinced that the world exists to serve them.

It’s disheartening, really, to know that our society is beginning to evolve into a population of people that only wants what’s best for them. While this “me first” mentality appears to be a new idea, it’s actually as old as time. Sadly, there are those who even look to God as some sort of fairy, only there to dole out blessings because they think they deserve them.

In Mark 10:35, we see the apostles James and John come to Jesus with this request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  Sometimes we approach God with an arrogant attitude and our own agenda. We think the Lord is there to serve our needs and not the other way around. But God already has his own plan and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get what you want. In this passage, Jesus tells these apostles, “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

Jesus was the perfect example of what it looks like to put God first. He has already served us in the greatest way possible when he died to reconcile us to God. Now it’s our turn. We must give him all that we are and all that we have and be content with how he blesses us. Love God with all your heart and know that he will give you exactly what you need to fulfill his plan during your lifetime.

-Joe