Never Forget Where You Came From (Blogs Revisited)

Never Forget Where You Came From (Originally published June 7, 2013)

I had a college professor who had an extremely tough childhood.  Growing up around the gangs of south Miami, he was to see his dad murdered at a young age and all of his siblings imprisoned or dead from drug use or AIDS.  He constantly reminded us about not letting your circumstances keep you from better things but at the same time remembering where you came from so you could better appreciate where you are now.

A passage in Titus reminds us that, as Christians, we are to remember where we’ve really come from.  Titus 3:3-7 says, ”At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Just typing that passage touches me.  God’s immeasurable grace and mercy have rescued me from my circumstances, from where I’m from.   His son has given me hope and a promised place in heaven as an heir to eternal life.  When I’m reminded of where I’m from and how easily it would be for me to be there again, I’m much more appreciative of where I am now… in the loving arms of my God and Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”

Cleansed.

Justified.

Forgiven.

I’m so grateful for reading this old post of mine this morning.  It was such a poignant reminder that the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ has erased the sins of our past and saved us from our circumstances.  It’s amazing to think of where we’d be if it wasn’t for the grace of God.  We would be lost.  We’d be spiritually dead even though we would be physically alive.  It’s good to remember where we came from, if nothing else but to be reminded of how amazing the love of God really is.

-Joe Butler

Preparing For That Place

Confession time.

I’m a closet Disney fan.  Since my honeymoon almost 17 years ago, I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida too many times to even count.  We had Passholder tickets each year, and even though I live about a 7 hour drive away from the Disney resort, we always went several times a year.  There’s just something about walking into the Magic Kingdom or Epcot that puts a big smile on my face and makes me feel like a kid again.

My family and I are planning another trip to Disney over the Veteran’s Day weekend in November, which is now only about a month away, so we’re getting excited about planning our vacation.  Our tickets have already arrived in the mail, so the trip is now a reality.  We’ve been watching Disney vlogs on YouTube, researching different restaurants on the Disney website, and making reservations for our favorite rides, all in anticipation of our big trip.

Now, I’m not really an OCD planner.  I do actually leave time open on my vacations to relax and let things happen as they come, but I like to have my days somewhat organized, especially on a busy vacation like Disney World.  It never hurts to be prepared.  The significance of planning cannot be overlooked when talking about our Christianity as well.  There is a certain level of preparation involved when getting ready to meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and while some of that preparation is done on our own, much of it is done by Jesus himself.  While Jesus prepares a place for us (John 14:1-3), he is also preparing us for that place.

An appropriate analogy of this process is mentioned in the 15th chapter of the book of John.  There, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).  Through the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), we are being pruned to be more like Jesus.  In this way, we are able to, “supplement (our) faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

You can see through these passages that God is preparing us everyday to be more like his Son Jesus.  He is getting us ready for the day when we make our trip to Heaven to be with him forever.  The important thing to remember is the preparation we are making as Christians is far more important than getting ready for a family vacation or planning for retirement.  The growth that God makes in us should be far more valuable than riding the newest ride at an amusement park or making sure we are getting the most prestigious education.

Are you preparing for the day of his return (Matthew 24: 42, 44)?

-Joe Butler

You Are…

Self-doubt.

Self-pity.

Sometimes we beat up on ourselves so much, we don’t even know who we are any more.  Sometimes it’s our past mistakes that haunt us.  Sometimes it’s the put-downs from others that defeat us.  Sometimes the doubt and anxiety that Satan feeds us becomes the only noise we listen to.  Sometimes our preconceived ideas of success and happiness have us feeling inadequate and unsure of ourselves.

No matter what it is, we’ve got a lot of voices around us vying to draw our attention away from God and who we are in Christ Jesus.  Let the following verses remind you of who you really are:

  • You are God’s child- (John 1:12~ “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”)
  •  You are a friend of Christ- (John 15:15~ “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”)
  • You are full and complete- (Colossians 2:10~ “and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”)
  • You are forgiven- (Colossians 1:13-14~ “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”)
  • You are a part of the body of Christ- (1 Corinthians 12:27~ “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”)
  • You are adopted into the family of God- (Ephesians 1:5~ “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”)
  • You are God’s special creation- (Ephesians 2:10~  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”)
  • You are a citizen of Heaven- (Philippians 3:20~  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,”)

Remember…don’t ever forget who you are!

-Joe Butler

Everything You Need

I just got back from another hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail.  That’s right…another one.  I can’t get enough of getting out on the trail, camping in some out of the way spot, and taking in the spectacular views.  It’s my time to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.

It’s not just throwing the pack in the car and heading for the trailhead though.  Long-distance backpacking requires that you plan and pack carefully.  For the most part, you’re miles away from the nearest road or resupply point, so if you forget to pack it, you’re out of luck.  You’ve got to be prepared with everything you may need, but since you carry everything on your back, you have to pack wisely to keep your pack weight down.  It’s usually a trial by error scenario where you learn over time what you need and what you don’t.

Our walk as Christians is likewise a battle of choosing what we’ll bring along.  If you weigh your life down with sin, worry, and regret, they will keep you from being all you can be for God.  On the other hand, God has promised to give us everything we need to serve him and do his will.  He has already filled our packs with our individual talents and experiences.  Then he adds the one ingredient we cannot do without…the Holy Spirit.  He’s our shelter, our sustenance, and our guide map.  He’s the one who walks with us along each and every step, keeping us focused on the prize, the destination called Heaven.

He will, “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”  (Hebrews 13:21)

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Take a moment to go through your life and notice what you’ve brought along for the journey.  Are you weighed down by the pursuit of prestige and worldly possessions?  Is your life so full of excess weight that there’s no room in there for God?  Trust God to prepare you for your Christian walk and submit to his wisdom and understanding.  And don’t worry.  He’ll give you everything you need for the trip.

-Joe Butler

In Jesus’ Name

“In Jesus’ name…Amen.”

Sounds familiar right?  It should if you’ve said a prayer or been around someone who has.  It’s the phrase most often used to end our prayers to God, and rightly so.  We have the privilege to personally speak to God through the name of Jesus, so we should pay homage to that fact by mentioning his glorious name.

That’s not the only time we should invoke the name of Jesus though.  His name is powerful and is tied to all of the things we hold valuable as Christians.  Our salvation is guaranteed by the name of Jesus.  Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified by the name of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The name of Jesus is exalted above every other name in Heaven and on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).  He has been made Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 19:16), and all of creation is under his rule (Luke 10:17, Colossians 1:16).  The early Christians prayed for the power to heal that only comes through the name of Jesus (Acts 4:30), and they were promised and given such power by Jesus himself (Mark 16:17, Acts 3:1-7).

Today, meditate on the name of our Lord Jesus.  Reflect on the beauty of that name and all that he’s done to redeem us from sin and from death.  “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).  “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might” (Jeremiah 10:6).

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Wonderful Savior

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.”

(Psalm 121:1-8)

 

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

(Romans 5:8-11)

What a wonderful Savior we serve!  Long before we could ever do anything to deserve it, he reconciled us to God by sacrificing himself on our behalf.  The King we serve is also our Savior, and He continually saves those who earnestly seek Him.

-Joe Butler

The Church is a Family

I know not everyone can relate to my personal situation, but I have had the benefit of a wonderful and very rewarding family life.  I have extremely fond memories of childhood spent in a caring household surrounded by loving parents and siblings.  Of course we had our hiccups; every family does.  But being raised in a Christian home has made all the difference in my view of God, of family, and of life.

On the other hand, there are many who read this and would give anything to have the fond memories of a loving family as I do.  You may have grown up in a broken or abusive home, one from which you longed to escape as soon as you were old enough to do so.  Others may be facing family turmoil as we speak.  Your marriage didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped or your kids are in and out of trouble.  For whatever reason, many people think of grief and heartache when they hear the word family.

I believe this is what makes membership in a church family so difficult sometimes.  When people from all walks of life come to know God and are added to his church, we then have to learn what God calls us to as a family of believers.  We are, “no longer strangers and aliens, but…are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).  We are meant to be a family, a group of loved ones who look out for one another (Galatians 6:10), and God has left us plenty of instruction on how to carry that out.

As a family, Christians are to…

As you can see, membership  in God’s family is a very active position.  You’ll also notice that our role as family members has us always seeking to take care of the needs of others.  Nowhere in this family is there room for selfishness or pride or jealousy.  Do those things happen?  Sure, for they are part of our human nature.  That’s why we must strive to stay in God’s word, learning his definition of what a true family looks like so we can apply that wisdom not only to our spiritual family, but to our family at home as well.

The church is a family that has joined together the saved of countless generations and whose head and leader is Christ himself.  Won’t it be grand to one day be reunited with all our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be called home by our Father to our place in Heaven to reside for eternity?  I hope to see you there!

-Joe Butler

 

Monday Motivation: Jesus as Lord

“The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
    you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
    holiness befits your house,
    O Lord, forevermore.”

(Psalm 93:1-5)

Jesus is Lord.

JESUS IS LORD.

JESUS IS LORD!!!

Just let that sink in.  We have a King, a Lord who loves us beyond compare.  We have a Lord who is our Savior, who died on a cross to redeem us.  We have a Lord who has defeated death and is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven, and who is coming again to take us there.

JESUS IS LORD!!!  Make sure you live like you believe it.

-Joe

Eyes on the Prize

My daughter’s field day at school is fast approaching and needless to say, she’s getting pretty excited.  Being tall and thin like her mommy and daddy, our daughter is very good at all of the running events.  Her long legs and stride help her to run efficiently so she’s excited to have a chance to win some of the sprinting events.  Even at the age of 40, I’m a pretty fast runner myself, so I decided to show her a few pointers.  One of those is where her focus should be when she runs.

Now, I know everyone has probably seen Olympic sprinters on t.v. looking around at their competitors or taunting them when winning a race, but running with the finish line in sight is the most efficient way to run a sprint.  I told my daughter that if she wants to run her fastest, don’t look at the person next to her.  Don’t worry about how far of a lead you have.  Instead, look straight ahead at the finish line.  Keep your eyes on the prize.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking about Heaven.  After reading the descriptions of what our eternity in Heaven will be like in the Bible, it’s easy to have Heaven as our primary focus.  In fact, there’s nothing inherently wrong to be a Christian looking forward to the glories of Heaven (1 Corinthians 9:24).  There’s nothing wrong with longing for a place that God most definitely put into our heart, but I don’t believe it should be our primary focus.

As an educator, I work with kids every day trying to teach them different reading strategies so they can become better readers.  Although there are many things in my day that demand attention and although preparing for our state test is a key component of the school year, my true focus should be on the growth of my students and their academic success, not just clocking in and drawing a paycheck.  Likewise, if as Christians, we only focus on the rewards, on things like Heaven, I believe we’re missing the real meaning of being a disciple.  To be a true follower of Christ means we keep our focus on him.  He is the ultimate prize!

A religious life based on rule following and a misplaced focus on rewards and what God can do for us is not Christianity in the real sense of the word.  There’s no doubt that our salvation is a wonderful gift.  There’s no doubt that Heaven will be far greater than we could ever dream or imagine.  But true Christianity is more about the intimate relationship we get to have with our Creator than with anything else.  Just being in the presence of God is all the reward we really need.  And you know what?  We already have that reward (Galatians 2:20-21, Ephesians 3:16-17)!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

(Philippians 3:7-11)

Keep looking forward to the greatness of Heaven but remember that it’s the presence of God that makes it great.  Make sure to keep your eyes on the prize… the right prize!

-Joe

 

There’s No Place Like Home

homeI’ve had quite a few homes during my 40 years of living.  Actually, 11 homes to be exact.  My childhood homes, apartments in college, and my current family home all hold memories for me and they are places that I’ll never forget.  Home for me is such a comfortable place.  I’m sure that’s a product of my upbringing, but home has always been a calm  retreat to come to where I’m loved and well cared for.  Many of those happy memories are tied up in the places where we live and having that  comfortable place to just be you makes our lives that much more enjoyable.

I don’t know if or when I’ll ever move from our current house.  My family and I love where we live right now.  We enjoy our neighborhood, like the location, and it doesn’t hurt that the mortgage will be paid off in a couple of months.  Even though we have no plans to leave, I still have one more move to make and it will be the grandest of them all.  That move is our big move to heaven and it will be wonderful when that day comes.

Of all the homes I’ve ever lived in, only one was built brand new.  I can still remember my parents spending countless hours planning every detail from the carpet color to the kitchen cabinetry to the choice of landscaping.  It was a beautiful house that would be destroyed by Hurricane Andrew only 4 months after we moved in.  Not so with our heavenly home.  And what a home it will be!  Jesus, when comforting his disciples before his crucifixion, said,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

(John 14:1-3)

A grand and magnificent home is being prepared for us by our Lord Jesus himself and no job loss or natural disaster can take it away.  As Jesus’ words reveal, he desires us to be there with him (John 14:3).  We will live in close intimacy with our God for the rest of eternity!

Do we look forward to this move (Philippians 1:23)?  Do we really set our mind on our heavenly home (Colossians 3:2)?  These are important questions to ask because many of us live as if we’re perfectly happy with this world.  I get it, I really do.  There’s so much to be happy with in this life that it can cloud our vision for the future.  We were made for this move into eternity.  God has set the desire for heaven within all of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but it’s up to us to decide to follow God.  A residence has been prepared but we decide whether we accept it or not.

There’s no need to pour over blueprints or meet with some overpaid interior decorator.  It’s not important to fret over the dimensions of every room or worry about the landscaping.  Jesus is taking care of all the details for us and has prepared our home to perfection.  I can’t wait to see the home waiting for me and I hope you can’t wait either.

”  One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

(Psalm 27:4)

-Joe