Celebration

Yesterday was by far my most enjoyable day as a Father as I had the opportunity to baptize my daughter into Christ and watch her dedicate her life to being a Christian.  I thought I knew what it felt like in your heart to truly celebrate, but yesterday’s events gave new meaning to that word.  Words couldn’t begin to express how much God has blessed me through my beautiful daughter.  I’ve watched her grow physically, but more importantly, I’ve watched her grow spiritually as her love for God has blossomed over the last few years.

Psalm 118:24 has always been a favorite passage of mine for it reminds us that each day is truly a blessing from the Lord.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Needless to say, I have much to rejoice about today, and every day for that matter, because my wonderful daughter Emma has been saved!!!

God is so good!

-Joe Butler

So You Have Plans? (Blogs Revisited)

 

I think we can all admit that learning is one of the most important parts of our life, especially our Christian life.  Our path of following Christ is filled with countless opportunities to examine ourselves and God’s word and find ways where we can grow in wisdom and spiritual maturity.  In that light, I’m starting a new series of posts titled “Blogs Revisited,” where I will take a closer look at some of my past writings and make comments about the things I’ve learned since they were originally published here on my blog.  I will copy the post entirely with the date it was published, but I will also add some additional commentary on some new ideas I may have learned or new experiences I may have had since it was first published.  I hope everyone enjoys taking a look back at these previous posts and can continue to learn more about what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

So You Have Plans? (Originally published February 6, 2013)

“So you have plans?  Don’t we all.  If you’re anything like me, then you know what it’s like to be a planner.  Don’t get me wrong…I like to take things as they come every now and then, but for the most part, I have big plans for how things will turn out.  And there’s nothing wrong with planning.  If I didn’t plan for retirement one day, I’d never get there.  If I didn’t plan my workouts weekly, I would never make any progress.  But more often than not, my plans, and most likely yours, do not take into account what God wants with our lives.

Everything in my life, my gifts, my talents, experiences, and knowledge all work together to make me who I am.  No one else has been me or can ever be me (which is a good thing because two Joe’s may be more than the world can handle).  So since I’m uniquely made, it makes sense that there are things that God intends for me and only me to do with my life.  Call it purpose or whatever, but God has a plan for my life.  How much do His plans and my plans overlap?  Am I even aware of His plans or am I too busy chasing my own desires to even notice?

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

When some read this verse, they think it sounds a little harsh.  But I think God is trying to tell us something very important here.  It’s not that He isn’t concerned with our desires.  Those desires just need to match up with His plan.  God has a hindsight and foreknowledge that I do not possess.  He sees the big picture because He created me.  He purposefully opens doors for me that enable me to complete His plan, and He closes doors so I will not head in the wrong direction.

When it’s time to make decisions and create plans for the future, listen for God’s voice.  Listen to His plan.  Something tells me you won’t regret it.”

Since this post was originally written over five years ago, it’s interesting to see how my plans have shaken out.  Many of the things I’d set my mind to have come to fruition and many others, thankfully, have not.  It’s also amazing to look back on those five years and see that when my life was in alignment with the purposes of God, I always felt like I received an added measure of blessing from him to complete the task.  God has promised us that we have everything we need for life and godliness, and when our plans line up with his, he is more than happy to lend a hand to our success.

As I look into the future, it’s encouraging to know that if I listen to the voice of God as he speaks to me through his word and my experiences, his wisdom will see me along the correct path for my life…the life he created for me to live.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: The Only Way

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)

I love many of Jesus’ teachings mostly for their straightforward nature.  Being a ‘get-to-the-point” kind of person, I love how Jesus’ teachings are so easy to understand for those who are truly seeking him.  Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)  He promises that he will give us the answers that we need to know him more deeply and serve him to the best of our ability.

One of those teachings is found in the passage above.  There is absolutely no gray area in the comment Jesus makes in regards to our coming to the Father.  Jesus says that he is the ONLY way!

The way to God is through Jesus.

The way to truth is through Jesus.

The way to find everlasting life is through Jesus.

My advice for this passage of scripture as well as most other teachings of the Bible is to read it for exactly what it says.  Don’t try to make the Bible say something it doesn’t or change its meaning to something that’s more comfortable.  Don’t try to filter the messages taught in the Bible through your own preconceived ideas and beliefs.  That’s not worshipping God…that’s worshipping yourself.

-Joe Butler

Filling the Gap

I drafted this post while sitting in the student services center on the campus of my town’s local college.  No, I’m not planning on going back to school any time soon, but I am here relaxing and reading while I wait for my daughter to get out of her activities for summer camp.

I remember vividly my years spent in college, shuffling back and forth between classrooms, the library, and the computer lab.  I also worked fulltime while taking a full load of classes each semester so, needless to say, it was a busy and stressful period in my life.  But I really enjoyed my time spent in there.  The goal was to get better.  There was the me at the moment and then there was the me that I wanted to become.  Going to school and getting a degree was not only going to open up a larger job market for me, but also hopefully provide me with a more well-rounded background and education.

And that’s the goal in my Christian walk as well.  There’s the me that I am now and the me that God wants me to be.  In truth, all Christians are in this lifelong endeavor of becoming more like Christ.  Now we can try to close that gap by working hard through our own way and our own will.  We can force ourselves to pray more and serve more and work harder in hopes that one day our behavior will reflect that of Jesus.  And those activities undoubtedly help us grow.

The gap really closes though when we realize that to become more like Christ means letting him have complete control over our life.  Only through a full state of submission can we become a new creation and reach our full potential in Christ.  The goal should always be to allow God to show us what it means to love like him, forgive like him…to effectively be a reflection of him.

Just remember, wherever you are right now is not the end result of where God wants you to be.  There’s always room to grow, to learn from your mistakes and become the person God created you to be.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Unending Love

“I love you.”

Without a doubt, the three most powerful words ever known to man. When spoken with sincerity, these simple words can literally have us floating on air and feeling like anything is possible.

Have you ever stopped to think why these words hold so much sway over our hearts?  Have you taken the time to think why we humans are able to relish in the most beautiful of human emotions?  I firmly believe it’s because we were purposefully created to enjoy that which God is at his core (1 John 4:8).

It was his love that spurred him to make mankind (Genesis 1:27).  It’s his love that sustains our daily needs and causes our cup to overflow with blessings (Psalm 23:5).  It was his immeasurable love that sacrificed his only son on our behalf (John 3:16).  And it’s his love that provides us peace and understanding during our overwhelming anxieties (Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7).

Whatever you face…

Wherever you are…

Never forget about the unending love of God.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: Change Your Perspective

It’s been raining a lot lately. I guess that’s appropriate considering it is summertime here in Florida. And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill showers either. The storms we’ve been having brew up during the heat of the day until they unleash their fury in the form of a torrential downpour of nickel-sized raindrops and violent bolts of lightning.

Now of course when the weather is bad, it’s the first thing people usually talk about. I’ve heard all kinds of comments lately about the “miserable” weather or how hot and stifeling the temperatures are. And it’s true, it has been ridiculously hot lately. The heat index has hovered around 105-110 degrees almost every day for the past two weeks.

But have you ever taken the time to notice how beautiful and inspiring that kind of weather is?  I love the smell of rain on hot concrete or the scent of moisture on a freshly cut lawn. I relish the sight of powerful strands of electricity playing across a cloud-filled night sky. I enjoy the calm before the storm when the winds shift and bring with them a crisp, cool breeze and the clouds advance across the sky like an approaching army.

You see, it’s all about perspective. Where some see inconvenience, I choose to see beauty. And the reality is, just about all of life is that way. In every situation, we have the choice to wallow in the negative and focus on what’s wrong and even dwell on how the day hasn’t met our expectations. Or, we can change our perspective and glory in every circumstance God has put us in. We can see the good in the bad and the lessons in the struggle.

Want to find true happiness and the genuine wealth God has offered us through this life?  Just change your perspective!

-Joe Butler

Whew!

 

Boy, life can sure get busy sometimes…and I’m not even in school right now!  The school year is over and I’ve sent my students home for a much needed summer break. I’ve been busy myself teaching two different Bible classes at church, volunteering at our Vacation Bible School, taking a week off for a family vacation to Disney World, and pretty much spending every other spare day as a daddy/daughter day with Emma. I guess that’s why I haven’t posted a blog in over a month, which isn’t like me considering that I usually put out two or three a week. And I suppose that’s ok.

At first, it bothered me that I haven’t written in a while. It’s a ministry that I’m very dedicated to and truly enjoy. But the more I thought about it, I realized that there are always other important things to be done and other ways in which to serve God and his kingdom.

After finishing a quarterly Bible class for adults recently and undertaking another one currently, I’m reminded of the vital work that all of our Bible teachers in the church undertake. If you count yourself in this category, I encourage you to continue this good work. The church at all ages needs teachers who love God and are willing to volunteer their time to teach others about him.

And to the parents out there who are spending their days raising children in this tough world we call our home. I only have one child of my own, but as a teacher of 3rd graders, I know all too well what a difficult job parenting can be. Remember, your greatest act of stewardship is raising your children in a godly manner. Do so with the mindset that God is fully aware of all the hard work you put into that endeavor.

To the community of Christian bloggers out there.  Never forget that your impact and instruction of God’s truth can be felt literally around the world. Continue to serve him and others through your writing, and I pray that you will not grow weary as you do so.

Finally, if you’re not serving the kingdom of God in some way, your talents are needed as well. Find a ministry where your God-given abilities can be used. Commit to giving of yourself in even the smallest acts of servanthood, and I promise that God will bless you in amazing ways.  And don’t forget: You may very well end some days with an audible “Whew!”  That’s just the feeling of a job well-done and that the work you did for God was absolutely worth the time and effort.

-Joe Butler

Pride

Pride is such an interesting trait.  In its positive form, it manifests itself as a necessary feeling of accomplishment  that builds self-esteem and nurtures confidence.  In its negative form, it embodies an unattractive sense of arrogance and haughtiness that no one seems to enjoy.  It’s pride in the latter form that I want to discuss today.

Pride, in its negative appearance, is probably best examined by looking at its opposite…self-control.  Where pride and our desire to serve ourselves try to override the commands of God, self-control seeks to do what’s in our best interest according to God’s will for our lives.  Read with me this admonition from the Bible:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

(Titus 2:11-13)

The grace of God is a mighty thing indeed!  It not only brings us salvation, but it also assists us in living self-controlled lives in the sight of God.  Our fleshly, sinful nature usually seeks to serve itself first.  We can even serve ourselves to the point of self-destruction, introducing things into our lives that can put us in danger both physically and spiritually.  It’s our fleshly selves that separate us from God through the sin we partake in.  We can be inherently good but not good enough, consistently enough, to stay away from this prideful behavior.  It’s only with God’s help that we can distance ourselves from pride and live upright, godly lives.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

(Romans 8:1-5)

The very scary truth is that Satan is out there every day waging war against our hearts, trying to convince us to live according to the flesh.  To love the world and its fleshly desires is actually showing hatred towards God (1 John 2:15-16).  It’s the epitome of pride to allow the temporal passions of our flesh and of this world to distract us from God.  But we do, and we do it all the time.  We are set free from prideful living when we walk according to the Spirit.  All the more reason why we must seek the fruit of  self-control.

16 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. 19 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 such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

(Galatians 5:16-23)

A great way of looking at this idea of self-control is to really think of it as “God-control.”  The more God is in control of us and the more submitted we are to him and his will, the less we tend to mess up and succumb to the temptations of sin.  Self-control is also about being disciplined enough to practice healthy spiritual activities such as prayer, worship, giving, encouraging, love, and forgiveness.  When we bring ourselves closer to God and others in these ways, we can’t help but depart from prideful behavior.

Remember to always remind yourself, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  This promise will undoubtedly apply to a life of self-control.

-Joe Butler

Monday Motivation: 24/7

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.

(Psalm 121:2-3)

I’m tired!  It’s about the end of the school year for me, and by this time of year I am mentally exhausted.  When you have a classroom full of 8-9 year olds all day, you can’t help but feel spent when the final bell rings.  It’s hard to imagine not feeling tired when we deal with stressful situations or an utterly taxing day.

But God never tires!!!!!

He is always looking out for you.  He shares your joys, walks with you through your struggles, and celebrates in your victories.  Isn’t it amazing to know that we have a God who never rests until his children are blessed and well-cared for?  Just remember that God is there 24/7.  No matter the need, no matter the worry, just call on his name!

-Joe Butler

This is Personal (Or at Least it Should Be)

Have you ever met someone who only showed love to you or others out of personal responsibility?  Whether you’ve experienced this yourself or have seen it manifested in the relationships of others, we are all too familiar with a fake version of love.

Now I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not the kind of love that I want to experience in my relationships.  I want my wife’s treatment of me to be genuine and sincere.  I desire my daughter’s response to my parenting to be filled with gratitude and appreciation.  I hope that my friends truly enjoy their time spent with me and are not simply faking it in order to be nice.

The reality is, sometimes our relationships do experience these negative side effects and it never feels good.  None of us want to face the fact that sometimes our love for others is not always reciprocated.  Doesn’t it make you wonder whether God feels the same way at times?

You see, there’s a distinct difference between knowing God intellectually and knowing him personally.  We can have all the Bible knowledge in the world and not necessarily have an intimate relationship with God.  What’s interesting is that you can have knowledge of him without love, but typically, if you really love God, you will seek to know him more completely.  If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38), you would naturally seek to learn more about him.

Also, an unwavering commitment to serving God and submitting to his will usually only stems from a deep-seated desire to nurture an intimate relationship with him.  The more personal we make our walk with God, the more likely we are to trust and believe in him and his goodness.  The entirety of the Bible reflects God’s desire to be close to his children and for us to look at him as our Father and guide.  A Christian can only do that if they are committed to making their faith a personal one.  The most alarming evidence that God desires an intimate relationship with us can be found in the book of Matthew:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

(Matthew 7:21-23)

I can’t imagine how terrible it would feel if I were to hear those words from Christ.  “I never knew you,” says that we never took the time to really get to know God.  We never took advantage of the opportunities to speak with him in prayer or grow closer to him through his word.  It means that we were too busy being prideful and living our own lives when God just wanted us to feel loved like his dear children.

Ask yourself today whether or not you’ve truly desired and nurtured a relationship with God.  Resolve to make your walk with him more personal and I know you’ll soon enjoy the fruits of that beautiful relationship.

-Joe Butler