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

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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

A New Restoration

Change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe we need a new restoration!

-Joe Butler

Soliciting Your Prayers

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

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

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

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

-Joe Butler

Preparing to Evangelize

Practice makes perfect.

Well actually, I don’t believe it makes you perfect.  Maybe a better word would be prepared.  When a public speaker goes over his speech several times before presenting, he’s much better prepared to speak with authority.  When an athlete spends hours practicing on the field or training in the gym, he is more than ready to face the opponent on game day.

As a Christian, don’t think for one minute that we don’t have the same task before us as well.  If we want to take seriously Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19-20), we must be prepared to evangelize.  We must take the time to learn, not just to attend church services or talk about our faith, but to put it into practice by training ourselves to share the good news.

First, we must have a desire to know the truth.  We can’t possibly teach people about God unless we have a firm grasp on the truth as God would have us to know it.  A great example of this is Ezra making preparations to teach the people of Israel.  “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).  The word “devoted” stands out to me as the primary focus of this passage.  Like Ezra, we have to devote ourselves to the study of God’s word.  We cannot rely only on a preacher to teach us everything we need to know concerning God’s commands.  We must prepare ourselves to teach by studying and learning the truth for ourselves (John 8:32).

Once we learn the truths contained in God’s word, we must be prepared to actually teach them (Hebrews 5:12-14).  We cannot continually make the excuse that we’re not ready or that we don’t know enough or that teaching is someone else’s job!  The writer of Hebrews eludes to the fact that, at some point, we should have the spiritual maturity to pass on the good news of Christ to others.  When those opportunities arise, we should…

  • make the most of those opportunities and use them effectively (Colossians 4:5).
  • know the gospel well enough to give a defense for our hope in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).
  • tell others the truth in a loving fashion with genuine concern for their souls and not a judgmental attitude towards their sin (Ephesians 4:15).

As a teacher, I’m keenly aware of the difficulty of conveying a new concept to a student.  Likewise, we have some challenges when teaching the gospel to the lost.  We must be prepared for all of the scenarios we may face and the arguments that may arise (2 Timothy 4:2).  The Bible refers to different styles of teaching for the different situations we may face…

While some of these teaching techniques are similar in nature, they are all effective ways to teach, and we must know which style to use with the person we are speaking to.  This is where the preparation comes in, and remember…

practice makes prepared!

-Joe Butler

 

Calling All Sinners

I’m not one for petty arguments.  Sure, when something important is on the line and it’s worth it to give a little extra fight, I’m more than willing to go all in.  But so many things today fall under the category of petty or ridiculous, a waste of time at best and completely destructive at worst.

If you haven’t noticed, some of these petty arguments and trivial discussions have made their way into the realm of Christianity, and they are very detrimental to the growth and effectiveness of the church.  We hear all the wrong arguments today, and it has driven a wedge into the gospel message that Jesus would have us preach.

Traditionalists will argue they are the most in-tune with God and that they are the only ones that are going to Heaven.  They tend to hold tightly to their ultraconservative values and long for the days of yesteryear when the church was strong and evangelizing was easy.  Contrary to this view are the religious progressives who believe that they are the ones most in-tune with God.  They will teach that they are not drawn to legalism like their conservative brethren, but claim to be more educated and open-minded towards interpreting God’s word.

I hope we can agree that both trains of thought are wrong and lean too far to one or the other extreme.  In all our defenses and apologetics and division, Christians have failed to realize that we are allowing Satan to keep us busy participating in arguments with one another instead of staying busy living out God’s word in our lives.  There is no doubt that the wise disciple of Christ will do everything they can to understand and walk in the truth of God’s word.  But we can’t allow ourselves to get caught in the trap of always needing to prove why we’re right and someone else is wrong.  A great example of this can be found in the book of Mark, when Jesus calls Matthew as one of his disciples:

 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

(Mark 2:13-17)

In this passage, we see the initial calling of Matthew (Levi) as a disciple.  Have you ever stopped to think why Jesus would call a tax collector, someone who was openly stealing from others and showing no integrity whatsoever?  I’m sure the other disciples were thinking the same thing.  This just shows the type of heart that Jesus seeks to follow him.  Sure, Matthew has sin in his life.  In the eyes of his fellow Jews, his sin would be one of the most egregious of all.  But Jesus saw a heart willing to submit.

Not only does Matthew immediately leave his practice as a tax collector, but he invites all of his tax collector and sinner friends over for dinner with Jesus.  Again, we see Jesus more than willing to sit down with the marginalized of society to bring them instruction and to show them love.  Jesus is a physician looking for willing souls to heal.  He is not passing judgment on those present or getting into a theological debate as to why these sinners don’t deserve his time.  He’s not looking for those who are righteous in their own eyes, but rather searching for those who are suffering from the sickness of sin and who are willing to admit they need healing.

Now, just imagine for a moment that you are Matthew or one of his sinful friends.  Imagine you notice some scribes and Pharisees outside sneering at you.  They’re questioning why Jesus would ever sit down to a meal with you, why he would ever give you any of his precious time.  How would you feel?  I know how I would feel: embarrassed, belittled, and insulted.  Maybe I would hang my head a little.  Probably I would question whether I was worthy to be reclining at the table with Jesus at all.

You know who steps forward to answer the accusations of the religious elite?  That’s right, Jesus steps forward.  He doesn’t have time for the petty arguments these Pharisees are trying to stir up.  He simply states that he is here to call sinners to repentance.  If you think you’re already good enough or righteous enough, you have no room for Jesus in your heart.  He’s looking for the humble, not the proud.  He’s looking for the sick, not the one’s who think they’re strong enough to make it on their own.

Are you willing to admit you need a Savior for your sins?  Are you ready to confess that you don’t have all the answers and that you’re tired of pretending that you do?  Even if you’re already saved, are you ready to wake up every day submitting to Jesus as Lord and stop fighting petty arguments for Satan’s side?

Jesus is calling all sinners.

Will you answer the call?

-Joe Butler

The Church is a Body

Anyone who spends enough time studying the human body will probably find it extraordinarily fascinating.  It truly is amazing that the cells, tissues, organs, and systems that exist in our body all work in conjunction with one another to make up the most well-designed machine ever made.  Nevertheless, some of the body’s parts seem to be a little odd to have been included in the design.  Even so, they have very important functions that God saw fit to include and that we couldn’t live without.

Take, for instance, the uvula, that little flap of tissue hanging down at the back of your throat.  Seems a little strange to be there until you learn that it helps secrete saliva during the digestion process.  Or what about the hyoid bone?  This horseshoe-shaped bone, which is located in the throat, helps to work with your voice box (larynx) to make the broad range of sounds that we humans can produce.  It’s also the only bone in the body that is not attached to any other.

While there is an endless supply of facts and trivia regarding the human body, we can easily see that we were designed in such a way as to be able to operate at our utmost efficiency when all of the parts of the body are working together.  The same can also be said of the church, the body of believers who follow God and his Son, Jesus.  The church is a body and every single member, or part of it, plays an integral role in its health and well-being.  God knew, in his design of the church, the vital role of every member, and he used the analogy of the human body so we can better understand how we should function.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

(1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

In the passage above, we can see the design of the church, the body of Christ, and how it is meant to work properly.  Several things are evident when we study this passage of scripture:

  • There are many members in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14, 20).  Just as the human body is made up of many parts, the body of Christ has many important parts as well.  We may not notice all the inner workings of our own physical body, but they are there nonetheless, carrying out their functions and making the body run smoothly.  So it is with the church as well.
  • Everyone is valuable in the body (1 Corinthians 12:15-17).  It’s common knowledge that some of our body parts steal all the headlines.  The heart, brain, lungs, and other vital organs seem to be the most important parts of the body.  But lose a toenail or have a major infection of the lymphatic system and you’ll soon realize how important these hidden parts really are.  Likewise, every member of the church family is valuable.  The church cannot completely fulfill its function without every part working as it should.
  • Everyone has a purpose in the body (1 Corinthians 12:18, 24).  As the previous point has eluded to, each member of the body of Christ has been placed purposefully in order that the church may operate efficiently and effectively.  It is God who has placed us as he chose and given us the talents to perform our assigned tasks.  We shouldn’t take the liberty to attempt changing his design or assume that we can improve upon what he has so perfectly created.  Our job is to respect one another as equals and do our best to fulfill the next point in this post.
  • Everyone should care for one another in the body (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).  It doesn’t take us long to realize when something is wrong with our physical body.  When we are stricken with illness or a debilitating injury, we quickly understand the importance of all the parts of our body.  In the church, God desires that we exhibit a common purpose of serving him and his kingdom here on earth.  In order to do that, we must look out for one another, sharing in each other’s sufferings and joys so that we may be stronger and more capable of facing the difficulties that Satan throws our way.

Just like the human body, the church is a complex organism designed to work properly when we work together.  We are to always remember that Christ is our head, the lifeblood who we could never survive without.  It is he who guides us and directs us in our endeavor to pursue righteousness and in our mission to seek and save the lost through the gospel message we’ve been entrusted with.  We must all play our part in the body in order to make that happen.

-Joe