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

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A New Kind of Discrimination

It is virtually impossible to turn on the television, read the newspaper, or peruse the internet these days without seeing or hearing something about some kind of racism or discrimination.  Sometimes it’s born out of fear, like the rampant discrimination towards anyone of middles eastern descent following 9/11 has shown.  Sometimes, discrimination stems from ignorance, as is the case in the majority of our racial problems today.  Whatever the cause, humans sadly find ways to feel hate or disgust towards others who are not like them.

I believe there’s a new kind of discrimination prevalent in our society and it’s no less impactful than other kinds, even though it receives far less attention.  It doesn’t take much time to look around and notice that the bulk of society, upper education, and the media as a whole have become much more liberal leaning than ever before.  They would argue it’s a result of more wisdom or an ability to think constructively for themselves or a lack of any need for religious thoughts and ideas.  I would counter that our society has just evolved to openly discriminate against an entirely new group of people, and that is the conservative Christian.

Exemplifying Christian values today is causing people to say we’re uneducated bigots.  And apparently this kind of discrimination has gone unchecked for long enough to be standard thought amongst many unbelievers.  The media has done nothing to stem the tide of this kind of hatred either.  In fact, they have openly encouraged it.  Only progressive, liberal ideas are being taught in our nation’s universities, and very few have spoken out against it while we continue to send our children to these so-called places of higher learning.  There’s no doubt that worldly wisdom and fallible human philosophies are trying to quiet the Christian viewpoint.

All this should come as no surprise.  In fact, Jesus himself promised it would happen.  He told us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21).  Also, Colossians 2:8 reminds us,  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” 

  We must be in prayer, asking God to continue to bless us with peaceful opportunities to follow him, all the while realizing that there may come a day when we will have to boldly take a stand for Christ even in the face of harsh criticism.  Finally, we must keep our eyes focused on the prize (Philippians 3:13-14) and remain faithful until death so we can one day receive our promised crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

-Joe

 

The Choice to Glorify God

Life is full of choices isn’t it?  Literally, every day, sometimes down to the hour or minute, we have a multitude of choices to make.  Some are so miniscule that they barely affect our daily routine.  Others are so profound that they help shape our future for years to come.  Our choice to glorify God is exactly that…a choice.  It is not contingent on our circumstances but on our response to those circumstances.

Paul, in the book of Philippians, said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).  What’s so amazing about his statement was that Paul truly had dealt with some dire circumstances in his life.  This particular letter to the church in Philippi was composed while Paul was in prison which leads us to believe that Paul really had learned to be content and glorify God in whatever circumstance he found himself in.  If you read Romans 8, you can see Paul convincing his readers that we have already conquered all that the world can throw at us (Romans 8:28-39).  We have no other choice but to glorify God in any and every situation.

All this still doesn’t make focusing on God in times of distress easy.  In fact, glorifying God doesn’t always lead to success or to a rich, abundant life as some would have you to believe.  The writer of Hebrews informs us that while some were successful in their service to God, others faced harsh persecution and even death.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

(Hebrews 11:32-38)

The first part of this passage details some of the successful ways these biblical characters were able to glorify God.  The second part of the passage shows that there may be a great physical cost for following God.  Yet, these faithful Christians were still able to glorify God through their obedience and dedication.  Which side do you want to be on?  Are you willing to glorify God no matter the cost?  I ask because even Jesus warned that faithfully following him would be difficult.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

(John 15:18-20)

It seems to me that the entire Bible is very clear about the costs of following Christ.  Our reward is not found here (Matthew 5:11-12).  The cost is literally paid on a daily basis (Luke 9:23).  We will absolutely face trials and difficulties (James 1:2-4).  But the choice is ours.  No matter the temptations, no matter the adversity, no matter the persecution, we can always choose to glorify God in everything we do.

-Joe

Are You There God?

imageAre you there God?  Have you ever asked that question?  I completely understand. We’re sensory creatures. We need to see and hear and touch in order to believe in the presence of something or someone. Faith is such a stretch at times, especially when it’s being tested by trials and temptations. I’m not going to be naive and just tell you to have more faith when the going gets tough. That’s easier said than done. What I am going to do is have you walk with me through one of the best biblical passages for those days when you’re wondering where God is.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely Goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

(Psalm 23)

  • The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Not living in an agrarian society anymore, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the idea of a shepherd and his sheep.  It’s an intimate portrayal of our relationship to God that the first century Jews would easily understand. Our Lord is there for us, watching over us daily. Even when we don’t feel his immediate presence, we are being watched over by our loving and protective shepherd.
  • “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”  Again, not living in a dry, desert environment, it’s hard for us to comprehend how comforting these words are to the early Jewish believer. Just imagine a beautiful pasture filled with wild flowers, a soft, trickling stream flowing nearby. This is what God does for our souls. Amidst all our worldly turmoil, he brings us into his presence and gives us a state of calm and comfortable assurance that we are his.
  • “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  God’s wish for us is that we lead holy, righteous lives that bring him glory. But he doesn’t just leave us on our own. He guides and instructs us through his word and Spirit so that we have everything we need.
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  It’s vital that we realize that we will go through life’s valleys at times. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from facing difficulty. Some of those situations are happenstance and some are self-induced. Like a shepherd uses his staff to corral his sheep and keep them close, God admonishes us to remain close to him.
  • “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  If you are letting your light shine in today’s ungodly society, you’re bound to make enemies with the world. First realize, those people are enemies of God, not you. No matter what persecution you face, God will see to it that you receive your reward and those who commit evil will receive judgment.
  • “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  In days of old, the King was anointed with oil to signify being chosen by God for that important position. God anoints us along with his son Jesus as heirs to the riches of his kingdom. Our cup truly does overflow.
  • Surly goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  We do not have a Lord who keeps us at a distance. In fact, he doesn’t just take care of us as a shepherd does his sheep, but he invites us in to live with him as well. His riches are our riches. His glory becomes our glory. And the best part is, communion with our Lord never ends. It lasts for all of eternity.

Are you there God?  Well, according to Psalm 23 and the rest of God’s word, he is most definitely there. And he loves you and me very much.

-Joe

Stand Firm

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Ive been a little disheartened lately by the general lack of disrespect towards God’s word by some in the body of Christ. I say some because it’s not necessarily a prevalent problem, but it seems to be growing as we see the church trying to mold itself to current cultural practices. I won’t delve into the specific areas where I see some in the church diverging from the word of God, but I do want to ask some hypothetical questions for us to think about.

Why do successive generations seem to feel more enlightened than the ones before?

Why do we sometimes believe we’re better, more informed, more savvy, and therefore smarter than Christians of past generations?

Why do we hear preached that God’s word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow yet our understanding of it has somehow changed or been enlightened?  

I ask these questions because I see the church at a crossroads of sorts. I see believers accepting things that God has clearly said are wrong. I hear of Christians who attend worship on Sundays but live like the world the rest of the week. God has clearly instructed us that his ways are greater than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), but many in the modern church are not heeding his instruction. People are leaving the truth and are following the flow of the world. They are doing it to fit in or because they claim it’s fun, but whatever the case, God-fearing disciples of Christ are truly becoming “the remnant.”

So maybe someone can tell me, when did God tell us to fit in with the rest of the world?  I don’t intend that question to be sarcastic. But, if we have accepted the calling to follow Jesus and believe in him as our Savior, then in many cases we would look like the exact opposite of the world. I realize that it’s hard to live counter to the flow of society. It may, at times, leave us feeling very lonely and left out. We may be persecuted or ridiculed when we don’t concur with popular belief. Personally, I battle daily with the lure of the world and of the flesh.

Nevertheless, Christianity, by nature, is countercultural, especially considering the direction our culture is taking. We have very specific instructions in the Bible concerning our behavior and the love we should have for others and for God. Following Christ should result in a life lived in service to others and complete submission to God.  Whether we do or do not understand or agree with his commands, we are to follow the lead of God if he is really going to be the Lord of our life

Will it be difficult?  Yes!  Will others blow you off or treat you harshly becaus of your dedication to God?  Absolutely!  Just remember what Jesus told us in Matthew 10:22.  “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Keep your eyes focused on God and stand firm in your faith. Let your life be a light that shines in this dark world of selfishness and sin and God will follow through on his promise to save you in the end.

-Joe

Trials and Temptations Become Our Testimony

I don’t know if I know anyone who enjoys facing hardships.  Most would agree that we like our lives as comfortable as possible.  Sure, a little adventure now and then is ok as long as we have some control of things.  But no one enjoys dealing with the trials of this life.

trials and temptationsThen why on earth would the Bible tell us to rejoice in affliction?  James 1:2-4 reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  As we’re told here in this passage, a good work is completed when we are tested.  It is the process we must take to become steadfast and strong.  And I firmly believe that difficulties can become our testimony to a dying world around us.

  • When a husband loses everything because of an addiction to pornography, we can learn from his mistakes.
  • When a wife teaches about the end of her marriage due to lies and infidelity, we gain wisdom from her experience.
  • When the bullied or outcast find peace and sustenance in God we can rejoice in their discovery.
  • When a drug user rises above their addiction through the knowledge of God’s saving grace, it’s God who receives the glory.

Through all of these examples, difficulties were allowed because it was the only way for that person to grow.  And in the end it is God who should receive the praise.  Our trials and temptations become our testimony only if we’re willing to share them.  It is there and only there where we find our true strength in Christ!

“For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

(2 Corinthians 12:10)

-Joe

What Does Real Strength Look Like?

One of the many things I enjoy doing in my spare time is exercising. I’m not a gung-ho meathead or anything. I’ll just lift weights three or four times per week, mostly so I can have more energy and maintain some semblance of attractiveness for my wife. I don’t workout in a large gym, but when I did, I was always fascinated by the guys trying to lift heavy and show off for anyone willing to watch. Strength was measured by how much weight they could throw around and how loud they could grunt while doing it.

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But I’m interested in real strength and boldness. The kind that will matter in my relationships. The kind that will matter for eternity. Let’s highlight several areas where Christians can model the kind of strength that matters to God.

  • Calm in the face of persecution. First, we must realize that we will all face persecution if we are steadfastly following Christ (2 Timothy 3:12). Once we understand that, we can look at persecution for its good attributes. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  These trials serve to mold into us the character traits Christ can work with. It’s easy to be hateful when faced with persecution, but it ruins our impact on the world for Christ. With a quiet strength we must remain calm and use the power of the Holy Spirit to reply in kindness and generosity. We must respond as Jesus did (1 Peter 2:23).
  • Learn to sacrifice. We should first begin by celebrating that we get to sacrifice. Submission and sacrifice shouldn’t be words we look down on but ways that we can show God’s love and strength to others. Most would look at the life of Jesus and question how his actions showed strength and boldness. In reality, it takes true strength to remove oneself and serve others. Rather than relying on others for satisfaction, we rely upon God. It then frees us to sacrifice in ways we never thought possible. Jesus even tied sacrifice to our salvation. Luke 9:23-24 reads, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself  and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”  If we want to really find life in Christ, we must sacrifice and die to ourselves (Romans 12:1-2).
  • Walking away. We typically don’t think of the strength of an individual when they walk away from a confrontation. In fact, they are most often viewed as a coward. Real strength allows Christians to openly flee things that would pull us away from God. We must resist the devil and his attempts to drag us down (James 4:7). In order to do that, it’s important that we stay focused on godly things. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 warns us that there are many whose influence is dangerous and evil. We are to stay away from them. Thankfully, there is still plenty of good in the world to focus on. Paul, in Philippians 4:8, reminds us, “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.”

I can think of no better way to end than with the word of God.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand “

(Ephesians 6:10-13)

-Joe