Monitor Your Thoughts (Blogs Revisited)

Monitor Your Thoughts (Originally posted August 31, 2014)

“The human brain. It’s such an amazing part of our body. It’s capable of so much good, so much knowledge. And yet, it is also able to cause much harm, succumbing to the temptations of this world.

Our mind is always active. An unconscious chatter takes place within us daily. Sometimes that message is mundane, day-to-day thoughts. Because we live such busy lives, our minds have many choices and events to process. But sometimes our thoughts stray away from daily tasks and land squarely on unhealthy things. Anxiety, fear, worry, and discouragement are all bottomless pits waiting to prey upon our minds. And sadly, sometimes our thoughts wander into the realm of sin.

Interestingly, the bible refers to most of our thought processes as a heart issue and Jesus addresses this in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:21-22 he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.”  And again in verse 27-28 he teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Jesus reminds us that the sin in our life occurs long before the act. It occurs when our minds and our hearts are taken captive by temptation.

So what do we do when we notice a decline in a moral train of thought?  First we must be aware of what we’re thinking. We must continually monitor our thoughts, being in control of where our mind is taking us. Finally, and most important of all, we must guard our minds and our hearts and preserve them for Christ. I’ll admit that’s hard to do, but Paul in Philippians 4:8 encourages us that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”

In a world where there is much that is wrong and evil abounds, we should know that we can still fill our minds and our hearts with that which is good. We can break through the prison that our minds often create and set it free thinking and meditating on a good and perfect God. Sure sounds like a good thought to me!”

The first thing that came to mind when revisiting the above post was, “Wow…we sure do have a lot of things that can distract our thoughts nowadays!”  But the truth is, it’s always been that way.  The world has always had disturbing ways to keep us from focusing on God.  It’s just now, with our television and internet-saturated culture, it’s even easier to become distracted.

The key to dealing with our thought life is similar to attacking any bad habit that we may have.  Instead of filling our minds, and as result, our hearts with negativity and evil, we must instead make a point of surrounding ourselves with the things that provide a godly influence and thought process.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”  This is a work enacted by the Holy Spirit as he enables us to be more aware of the sinful things that can divert us away from godly thinking.

Sounds great right?  Just change our thought process to be more in line with God?  Like many of God’s other commands, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  That is why Paul reminds us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).   There are still plenty of godly things in this world that can garner our attention, but only if we choose to focus our mind there. That might mean we need to change who we associate with, or what companies we affiliate with, or especially what entertainment choices we make.

No matter what we do, we must make every effort to “guard (our) heart, for everything (we) do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

-Joe Butler

What is the Christian Life…A Rich, Abundant Life (Blogs Revisited)

What is the Christian Life… A Rich, Abundant Life (Originally posted April 29, 2014)

“So being a Christian is synonymous with having an abundant life right?  Great…where do I sign up?  Has God promised us a rich, abundant life?  Well yes and no.  Today’s post on living as a Christian will focus on what a rich, abundant life really means in God’s eyes. First let’s look at the verse that sparked this study, John 10:10.  Jesus said in that passage, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”.   Some versions refer to it as an abundant life.  There is no doubt that God provides us wonderful physical blessings but many have interpreted this verse to mean that God promises what we would call the good life.  Wealth, power, life on easy street.  If you’ve taken the time to read much of the rest of bible or study the lives of Christ’s followers, you’ll know practicing a Christian life is anything but easy.  So what does this “abundant life” mean?  We must shift into eternal thinking and read some other passages to fully understand this concept.

Lets look at 2 Corinthians 9:8.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  The abundant life is about the grace of God as well.  It’s about using that grace through the work we do for others.  God blesses us so we can then bless those around us.  It’s a beautiful way to show the love of God to the world and praise Him for the love he shows us.

The abundant life is also a life of power, or better yet, of God’s power living through us. Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.”   We need to view ourselves as vessels carrying the message and power of God throughout the world.

Finally, the abundant life is having our needs met.  “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  Suffice it to say that needs and wants are two very different things. But as the parable of the talents teaches, those who use God’s gifts wisely will be blessed with more.  God has always provided for his children…the entire bible speaks that message.  All we need to do is put our trust in him, obey and practice his teachings, and he will give us that abundant life we all hope for and dream of.”

For today’s “Blogs Revisited” post, we’re going to take a look at post I wrote as a month-long series back in April of 2014 answering the question of what is a Christian life.  I chose the topic of the rich, abundant life because this idea is so misunderstood and misinterpreted.  Of course that’s easy to do when we only use our physical world as a means of understanding Scripture.  As we grow more spiritually mature, we can hopefully understand the eternal ramifications of God’s word and the promises that lie within.

The idea of a rich and abundant life is a good example of thinking that God’s promises have to do with the here and now.  For sure, this passage of Scripture found in John 10:10 does promise us blessings, but we may have misinterpreted that God wishes for us to live a carefree life full of financial and material success.  As the post above mentions, one need only to study the Bible in its entirety to see that Christians throughout history have not always lived a life that we would consider comfortable and easy.  And if we only think of this life here on earth, it would make sense to think in this way, but God is preparing us for eternity and gives us the blessings (grace) we need to do the good works he wishes for us to do.  God does indeed meet our physical needs in this life and he does promise to bless those who are good stewards with more, but that abundance is meant to be shared rather than hoarded.

There’s no doubt that Christians should approach life with the mindset that they are rich in Christ.  But those riches have nothing to do with the physical things we have here in this life.  The riches of God are attributes like peace, contentment, joy, wisdom, and love and if you ask me, those things promise a much more abundant life than what this world could ever offer.

-Joe Butler

Trust and Obey (Blogs Revisited)

“Trust and Obey” (Originally posted March 11, 2014)

“Trust and Obey.”  Many of us are familiar with this timeless hymn still sung in many churches around the world.  The refrain speaks to a simple truth about following God.  “Trust and Obey” is a truth I’ve found many unbelievers have difficulty with because they think Christians profess to have all of the answers.  Those Christians farther along on their walk with God know that, all too often, we don’t know why God has asked something of us or why something has happened.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey.  With the technology of our modern age and our immediate access to information, we convince ourselves that we need to know everything.  Many things in our world try to encourage us to not trust God.  This is exactly how Satan works, creating distrust and skepticism towards what we know to be true.  He whispers to us during times of desperation, “Don’t trust God to take care of you.”  “Don’t trust anyone else; they’ll only let you down.”  “Just look out for yourself…you’re the only one you can truly trust.”

While Satan plants his poison in our minds, God responds by reminding us that He loves us.  He knew us before the beginning of time.  He has a plan for us through His son Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus himself reminds us of that plan in John 12:44-50.  He said, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into this world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  For I did not speak on my  own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Jesus is telling us to trust him.  Obey his teachings for in doing so we are obeying God and getting to know Him.  Trust and obedience does not negate rational thought and physical evidence either.  The world would have us believe that followers of God blindly believe in something that makes no sense; that we are uneducated and naive.  The exact opposite is true.  Most Christians have dutifully examined scripture and compared it to what we see in the world and other physical evidences and have reasonably come to the conclusion that trusting and obeying God is not far-fetched after all.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

It’s been a rough week.  Not for me personally, but for some close to me and my family.  I’ve been reminded this week that it’s during the difficult and trying times in life that we must fully embrace the concept of trusting and obeying God.

As the above post teaches, I’ve recently witnessed Satan poison the minds of Christians and convince them to place their trust in their own understanding instead of in the wisdom and purity of our all-knowing God.  I’ve heard them make excuses for their decisions and sins and watched as they have thrown away every good blessing God has given them in the pursuit of personal happiness.

But I have also been witness to amazing strength being exemplified by other Christians when they faced the death of a family member or the tearing apart of their marriage and everything normal in their life.  I’ve watched in amazement as they have openly proclaimed their trust in God during the most devastating of times.  They have committed to serving and obeying God and they will continue to do so regardless of the difficulties that Satan or this world throw their way.

I wrote the above post as encouragement for those of us who’ve chosen to give our entire lives to Christ.  Sometimes, Satan or the world in which we live will try to convince us to trust in ourselves more than God.  Sometimes, we are fed lies and delusions that create distrust towards God’s word and what we know to be true.  Sometimes it’s necessary to just trust and obey, regardless the circumstances, and know that God wants the best for his children.

-Joe Butler

The Light of the World

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” -Jesus (John 8:12)

One of the most easy to understand and yet stark teachings of Jesus was when he referred to himself as the light of the world.  It’s such a simple analogy that we can easily comprehend…that Jesus, in his purity and perfection, in his eternal love and wisdom, is the light that brings clarity to our entire existence.  Through an intimate connection to him, we can come to know God himself and his love for all of his creation.  We can be transformed into people of light ourselves, reflecting the glory of God to the world around us and bringing the light of love and truth to all the dark places in the world.

Jesus says that whoever follows him will not walk in darkness.  The apostle John echoes that sentiment when in his first epistle he writes, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  This simply means that the light of Jesus should affect us in a drastic way.  It should cause us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1) and walk in a way that brings honor to the one who has given us everything for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).  It also means that the blood of Jesus, offered as a sacrifice on the cross for us, continually cleanses us of our mistakes if we are walking in his light.

True, there is much darkness in the world around us (John 3:19-20).  But we are to be people who live in this world but are not of this world (Romans 12:2).  People who are aliens in a strange country as we await the glorious return of our Savior Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:11-12).  Our lives should be lived in stark contrast to the worldly desires around us, so much so, that the world cannot help but notice the light of Jesus shining through our example.

This is the true meaning of Christianity.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Seeing God

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)

The countdown has begun!  My spring break is right around the corner and I can barely contain my excitement!  Being a teacher, there are several breaks from school that we look forward to and Spring break is one of them.  Mostly because it’s Spring, the weather is changing, and I usually go to the mountains for a little hiking and vacation time.

This year, my family and I are heading up to my brother’s house in north Georgia and then going to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.  I’ve been there countless times and I never get tired of the endless mountain vistas, the crisp, cool air, and the peace and quiet that being in the mountains provides.

Another wonderful blessing of taking trips into nature is the closeness I feel with God and his beautiful creation.  As the verse above mentions, we can see God in the world around us.  We can see his wisdom in the order of the natural world.  We can experience a fraction of his creativity when we examine the tremendous differences in plant species such as trees and wildflowers, or the wonderful variety of animals in existence.  We can even gain some insight into his love for us that he would create such a beautiful world for us to reside in.

As Spring begins to blossom in your area of the world, take time to look around and relish in the perfection of God’s creation.  Take time to meditate on his immeasurable love for you.  Allow the truth of God’s existence to be seen in the natural world around you and use that time to worship him.

-Joe Butler

 

Excuses, Excuses (Blogs Revisited)

Excuses, Excuses (Originally posted February 21, 2014)

“We are all guilty of making excuses at one time or another.  Sadly, one of the areas where we give excuses is in not doing the will of God.  Through the years, Christians have devised ingenious excuses for not doing what God would have them do.

Excuse making is as old as man himself.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve made excuses for their violation of God’s commands.  In Exodus 4, Moses gave excuses for not being able to lead God’s people (The excuses Moses gave are very similar to the ones some Christians give today for not teaching the gospel or for not developing their talents) (See verse 1 and 10).

In the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24, Jesus gave a great lesson on how to combat excuse making.  In the parable, people were invited to a banquet but they immediately began to make excuses for not being able to attend.  The first excuse was given by a man who needed to tend to his property (vs. 18).  People today use the same excuse.  They say, “Excuse me for not serving God, but I’m too busy building a home, or remodeling my house, or car shopping, etc…”  The second excuse given related to work and livelihood (vs. 19).  People today claim work and maintaining a lifestyle as more important than God.  The third excuse that was made dealt with relationships (vs.20).  How many people through the years have used family as an excuse for not serving God?  Many will not put God first because their spouse doesn’t believe or they don’t like the preacher or they are arguing with another Christian.

Today we have a new arsenal of excuses being thrown around such as, “I can’t help it” or “I was born that way,” “I’m not as bad as other people I know” or “Everyone else is doing it.”  Sadly, these are some of the very excuses given by those who profess to love God.  And the conclusion is not pretty for those who make excuses.  No excuses will be accepted on the day of judgement (vs. 24).

Please join with and help me work towards banishing all worthless excuses and making God a priority in our lives.”

As the post above says, we are ALL guilty of boarding the excuse train from time to time.  I’m not sure if it’s ingrained in our human nature or simply a matter of finding the easiest path through a task or circumstance, but we are very good at making excuses, especially in the arena of following God.

From the creation of mankind, we have adapted our excuses to make ourselves comfortable and make life as smooth as possible with the least amount of speed bumps along the way.  It would probably be safe to say that the society we live in now even outright breeds excuses when we see the most famous of men and women making them on a daily basis.

When I penned the post above, I was mindful of the excuses that I make in my own life from time to time.  Excuses not to try my best or to skips corners.  Excuses not to do the right thing when the right action is blatantly obvious.  Even excuses why I don’t have time to serve the Lord the way I should.  I can say that I’ve gotten better at not making these types of excuses in my life.  And that is what growing as a Christian is all about.  It’s about destroying all excuses and putting God at the forefront of our lives no matter the cost.

Joe Butler

 

Monday Motivation: Suffering for Doing Good

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God;” (1 Peter 4:16-17)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (1 Peter 3:9, 13-14)

No one ever thinks it will happen to them.  You’re going along, doing your best to serve God and others when, out of nowhere, you face hatred or criticism or false accusation.  It’s even worse when those hurtful actions come from those within the body of Christ.

It’s comforting to know that your service and love to God and others is recognized and appreciated by those who know and have seen your spiritual fruit.  Jesus was blunt when he warned his disciples about the persecution they would most likely face (John 15:18-21).  He was also encouraging, telling them, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,” (Matthew 5:11-12).

My advice to you if you find yourself in such a situation: Do not be discouraged or lose faith in your service to the Lord.  He will reward those who serve him faithfully (James 1:12).  Do not become bitter or repay evil actions in kind.  Stand above the fray, even if it means you stand alone.  And above all, rejoice in sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  Blessed are those who love their Lord enough to follow him even in the darkest of circumstances.

-Joe Butler

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

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