Monday Motivation: Doing the Right Thing

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

(Luke 16:13)

If I’m honest, being a Christian is not always an easy thing to do.  I know there are plenty of believers out there who will tell you otherwise.  They will tell you that following God is a simple act of the will or that its much better than the alternative.  While that may be so, we are always at odds with what our fleshy selves want.  Even the apostle Paul had this struggle.  He said…

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

(Romans 7:15-20)

Needless to say, our human nature desires one thing while our spiritual nature (controlled by the Holy Spirit) wants another.  That is why the Bible tells us that we cannot serve two masters.  The passage from Luke above is not only about money. It’s also about our ability to do the right thing in God’s eyes; to serve him and not ourselves.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done at times.  We are warned in God’s word that we cannot be just hearers of his word and not doers (James 1:22).  We are also told that it is a sin to know what is right to do and not do it (James 4:17).  Sometimes it’s not comfortable to do the right thing or we receive criticism for doing the right thing.  Either way, we should commit to following God in everything he asks of us.  That’s what it really means to make him our master.  And in the end, we receive a reward for doing so:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

(Galatians 6:9)

-Joe Butler

Powerful Words (Blogs Revisited)

Powerful Words (Originally published May 28,2013)

“As a reading and language arts teacher, I love to read and write.  In fact, writing is one of my favorite things to teach because it truly is an art form.  I tell my students to “paint a picture with words” just as a painter does with paint or a sculptor does with clay.  Good writing is meant to be read and the reader can take these vivid words and descriptions along with their imagination and create an image in their mind of what the writer was saying.  Writing is not like the finite rules of math or the provable laws of science.  Writing is fluid and takes its shape from its creator.

This very thought led me to look at God’s word this way as well.  The inspired word of God is very descriptive and can be used in many ways if we will open our hearts to receive it.  Hebrews 4:12 says that, ” the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This passage is one of the most important verses in the Bible because it tells us how powerful the rest of His word is.

-HIS WORD IS ALIVE!  God’s word is not only relevant to the time in which it was written.  It applies to us today and is active in teaching us things we need to know.

-HIS WORD IS SPIRIT!  God’s word can cut right to our souls if we will receive it.  When we open our hearts and allow God’s word to penetrate, His power can then work within us to effect real change in our lives and our being.

-HIS WORD IS JUDGE!  God’s word can literally judge our attitudes, thoughts, and intentions.  We may be able to fool others with false Christianity or a false servanthood, but we can’t fool God.

As we can see, the word of God is very special…as important as God Himself.  He is the word and when we read and study our Bibles, we are literally conversing with and learning from our God.”

I still love to read more than ever, probably even more so than when I wrote the above post back in 2013.  And while I’ve gained a lot of enjoyment and insight into Christianity while reading other books, there’s no better place to turn to learn about God and his will for our lives than the Bible.  As the above post mentions, we are literally conversing with and learning from God when we read his word.  It’s as though he is speaking to us directly, instructing and encouraging us in our walk with him.

I love the fact that his word is literally living.  It doesn’t change over time or transform with the beliefs of the day, but the Bible can be used to answer all of the questions that life may throw at us, even in the 21st century and beyond.  Because his word is Spirit as well, it can change our hearts from the inside, making us more like Christ as we live our lives for him.  Also, there is no escaping the simplicity of the word and it’s command on our life.  The Bible easily judges our thoughts and actions and holds them to the highest standard…Jesus himself!

As a Christian, I would encourage you to delve deeply into the word of God on a regular basis.  Meditate on his commands and principles and see that his word can assist you in anything this life may offer.

-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

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

They Had Been With Jesus

“And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 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.”

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

(Acts 4:1-13)

If you haven’t already done so, go back and read the above passage of Scripture closely.  There are several subtleties, that if read too quickly, are easily missed.

Take a moment to reflect on who Peter and John were.  As two of Jesus’ earliest disciples, it was a common belief amongst the religious elite of the day that these two men were just simple fisherman tricked into following the provocative teachings of a false prophet.  The rulers, elders, and teachers of the law had no respect for the crucified Jesus and thought even less of his so-called uneducated followers.

These disciples were beginning to stir up trouble even after the priests believed they had taken care of their Jesus problem.  Here were Peter and John and the other disciples proclaiming a resurrected Christ and teaching people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:22-24, Acts 2:38).  These followers of Jesus were continuing to convince the Jewish people of their need to separate from the corrupt religious leaders of their day (Acts 2:40-41) and follow Jesus as well.

And now Peter and John are actually out healing people in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10).  The Holy Spirit was bestowed upon them (Acts 2:1-4) and they were using their new-found power from God to bring the message of Jesus to the masses.  It was precisely this message that had the religious leaders so incensed.  It’s why they throw Peter and John in prison and question these suddenly powerful men about their dealings as of late.

It’s Peter and John’s response that’s so surprising though.  You would think that after watching the cruel death of their Master on a Roman cross, the disciples would be afraid.  You can imagine them trying to hide, trying to stay out of the way of a possible crucifixion themselves.  But instead, we find them boldly standing up for the truth.  With courage, they insist on preaching the name of Jesus as our means of salvation.

This should be a rallying cry for all those Christians out there who may believe they live a simple existence.  The power of God resides within you!  These leaders looked at Peter and John and they saw their courage.  They knew they were unschooled in Jewish law.  In fact, they were generally unschooled period, just eking out a meager life as fishermen.  But there’s one unique thing about these men.  They had been with Jesus!!!

Today, the same example can still apply.  Shouldn’t people be able to look at our lives, how we act, the way we respond, the way we proclaim God to the world, and say that we’ve been with Jesus?  I don’t mean being with Jesus in a physical sense, but have we been in his word?  Can others see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives?  Do we spend a lot of time in prayer, seeking the guidance and direction of God?

HAVE YOU BEEN WITH JESUS?

-Joe Butler

Sin By Any Other Name is Still Sin

Finders-keepers.

Have you heard of that childhood mantra?  I hear it quite often from my 3rd graders, and I try to explain to them its inherent fallibility.  I had a student a while back find a dollar that another child had accidentally dropped.  I was watching him out of the corner of my eye and saw him pick it up and discreetly slip it into his pocket.  Little did he know, I already knew who the dollar belonged to, and this was an opportunity for a lesson too good to pass up, so I quickly made my way across the room to confront him.

“Hey, where’d you get that dollar?,” I asked.  He was pretty excited to come into a little extra spending money, so he replied, “I found it on the floor!”  After I told him the dollar didn’t belong to him, his immediate response was, “Finders-keepers!”  Now, I’ve used that excuse myself when I was younger, but added years of maturity have taught me that finders-keepers is just another way of saying “stealing.”

I asked the young man, “How come finders-keepers only works when it’s someone else’s stuff? If it was your dollar, you would want it returned!”  Surprisingly, he immediately got my point and gave the dollar back to its rightful owner.

All of this got me thinking of how good we are at glossing over our sins and indiscretions. The truth is, sin by any other name is still sin.  You can call taking someone else’s dollar “finders-keepers” all you want, but it’s still stealing what doesn’t belong to you.

The world today is definitely trying to rename sin, to make it palatable and acceptable.  The world may call it “happiness” or “love” or “acceptance,” but these are just examples of man trying to redefine what God said is wrong.  Even people in the church are beginning to argue over what constitutes sin, although the Bible makes it pretty clear what displeases God (1 John 3:15, Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:9-10, 1 John 2:9-11)!

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[b] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

(Galatians 5:19-21)

It’s obvious from this text that sin is evident to a rational thinking person, a person led by the Spirit of God.  This text, among many others, warns us that you will not inherit the kingdom of God if you blatantly have these sins in your life.  That also includes masking our sin under a different name in order to reduce its impact.  God is no fool.  He will rightly judge our actions, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14), and justly hand down the judgment we deserve.

This means we are to be torn over our sin (Psalm 38:4), not be ambivalent about it.  It means we must confess our sins and our attempts to cover them up (1 John 1:9), and ask for forgiveness from our Father who shows mercy to the penitent.  It means we must commit ourselves to being led by the Holy Spirit and listen when he convicts us of our wrongs, because sin by any other name is still sin.

-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

And

Words matter.

You would expect a reading and writing teacher like myself to make such a comment, but it’s true.  The word “love,” for instance, carries meaning far greater than most of us can put into words.  The word “money” has caused many a person to flood with feelings of greed, desire, or anxiety.  Or what about the word “religion?”  For some, it brings to mind thoughts of their close relationship with God, while others hear the same word and cringe with disgust.

If we’re to read the Bible, the most powerful words in existence, with even a remote level of discernment, then words and how they are collected into sentences and paragraphs and stories or letters become very important.  Take, for example, the conjunction “for” in Acts 2:38.  When Peter speaks the first gospel message at Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, he says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  This one little conjunction connects the two clause ideas of repentance/baptism and forgiveness.  It’s very simple to see the relationship because of the wording.

This is also the case in countless other passages in the Bible, and today I want to focus on Galatians 5:16-18.  For those who are new to this blog or who simply haven’t noticed before, the title of my site (“Faith and Footsteps”) has a very specific meaning.  Being a Christian is not simply about faith, but also about following in the footsteps of Christ.  The conjunction “and” ties Faith and Footsteps together.  You can’t have one without the other.  Let’s take a look at our passage…

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

(Galatians 5:16-18)

My favorite part of this text are the words, “walk by the Spirit.”  You see, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation, when we confess his name and repent of our sins, and when we show obedience to the gospel message through the act of baptism, we’re really only beginning our Christian walk.  That’s the “faith” part of our decision to be a Christian.  The “and” part comes in when we actually walk, when we take our first footsteps in our lifelong journey to follow God.  The truth is, when we put our faith in Christ, we’re all walking somewhere.  We’re either continuing to walk our own path, serving our needs and desires, or we’re choosing to walk by the Spirit, following God’s purposes for our life.

You can see that it boils down to my tag line for this site: “to search, to learn, to follow.”  We search out for God and all the while he is actively pursuing us.  We learn about him, his love for us, and what he has done to redeem us.  Then, we choose to take the steps to follow him.  Now notice in Galatians, he didn’t say, “just walk to church and you’re a good Christian.”  He didn’t say, “just walk a little different than the rest of the world.”  We are commanded to “walk by the Spirit.”  Why?  Because the Spirit is in contrast to our own sinful nature and desires.  We cannot call ourselves Christians and continue in our sinful ways.  We must be “under the influence” of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so much so that he controls our thoughts and actions.  This requires a close and discerning study of God’s word and a willingness to submit to the urgings of the Spirit.

It requires Faith “AND” Footsteps.

-Joe Butler

It Doesn’t Matter What We Think

We’re pretty smart…at least we’d like to think so.  We humans of the 21st century are convinced that we’ve got the world’s mysteries all figured out.  Well, maybe not all of them, but we sure do have an opinion on everything.  And while I’ll freely admit that the combined wisdom of mankind in our age is something to marvel at, we really haven’t scratched the surface of what there is to know.

I mention this, because it always amazes me when people try to interject their opinions in matters of religion and Christianity.  People say they believe the Bible as the inspired authority and word of God, and then some go about trying to change it to meet their preconceived ideas or needs.  The truth is, yours and my opinions don’t really matter at all, at least in the sense of trying to change God’s word. What matters is what God says!  We may want to disagree with God’s view on things and say that the times have changed or that we have a better understanding of his word today than people of previous generations.  But the truth is, God’s word stands just as firmly today as it did when it was first written down.

We shouldn’t take the liberty to force our viewpoint or interpretation on God’s word.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  It is He that allows us to understand the thinking behind God’s commands and promises.  It’s not fair for me to change those commands if they don’t coincide with the way I’m living my life.  It’s not right to add contingencies to God’s plan of salvation and accuse Him of not being loving if He doesn’t follow my advice (Galatians 1:6-9).  What we should do is study God’s word for what it says and pray continually that his Spirit will bring us into a better understanding of it (John 16:13).

This is probably most important as I take more opportunities to preach publicly and through this blog.  I must always remember, as does anyone who claims to teach God’s word, that it is God who does the teaching, not me (John 7:16-18, James 3:1).  I can study and use analogies to convey to others what the Bible is asking of us Christians, but I’m not free to add to or take away from God’s message (Revelation 22:19).  He knows far more that I will ever know (Isaiah 40:28).  Who am I to challenge the understanding and validity of the one who created me in the first place?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think.  All that matters is that God’s truth is proclaimed!  All that matters is that He is honored and glorified!

-Joe

Monday Motivation: The Other Helper

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

(John 14:15-17)

Think about why Jesus made this promise to his disciples back then and why he makes the same promise to us today.  Through these words, he comforts us and reminds us that he goes with us wherever we go.  The Spirit of God lives within all of his children who submit their lives to Him.

Have questions about this life?  The Spirit of truth will guide you into  a better understanding of God’s purposes.  Facing difficulties?  The Comforter will give you peace (Philippians 4:6-7).  Need help being a better witness for Christ?  The Holy Spirit will assist you in testifying about your Savior (John 15:26-27).

Remember, God wants to be with you always, in good and in bad.  Are you ready to make Him the center of your life?

-Joe