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

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: 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

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

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

Seek the Welfare of the City

American politics disgust me.

I’m sorry if that offends anyone for I really don’t mean to be rude.  I know many people take great pride in the democratic functions of our government and love to take part in serving their community, state, or country in the political realm.  I guess I just have a jaded view of politics born out of the corruption we hear about literally every day in the news.  It’s just created a sense of distrust that those in political power commonly look out for themselves and rarely for the people they are serving.

But all of that aside, I still love my country.  I’m not into the popular idea of “worshipping” my country or our freedoms or some famous document like the Constitution because that would be worshipping an idol, but I do love my country and the people who live in it because it’s what God asks me to do.  Don’t believe me?  Read the following passage of Scripture and see if it changes your mind…

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

(Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Here, we read of God’s people who are exiled in Babylon and forced to live in a pagan culture which is a drastically different environment from how they were called to live.  What’s interesting are God’s instructions for how his people should conduct themselves while there.  They are to pray and seek the welfare of the country in which they reside.  They are told that their blessings will come through the blessings of the Babylonian empire.  God did not call his people to criticize or complain about their situation.  He didn’t ask that his people rise up in rebellion and show the Babylonians the power of the true and living God.  He called them to be light to the nation of Babylon.

Now contrary to popular opinion, God is not sitting up in Heaven right now only looking out for the welfare of the United States of America.  “We’re a Christian nation!,” is a common refrain heard from pulpits around the country, but the truth is, God is concerned about all of his children.  He wants all of humanity to come into a knowledge of who he is and how much he loves us.  Christ’s church is not limited to the man-made boundaries found on a map.  That’s why God would ask of us today the same thing he asked of his people during Jeremiah’s time.  We should still actively seek the welfare of the city, of the country, and of the world in which we live, even if it is a sinful one!

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27)

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

As Christians, we should stop complaining about the condition of our nation and be active in promoting its welfare for the glory of God.  Is there evidence of sin around us today?  Sure.  Was there rampant sin in Babylon during the time of the exile?  Again, the answer is yes, but the people of that age were still commanded to honor God even in the midst of their enemies, and we should do the same.  Let us follow the advice of Jesus when trying to live in this world and not of this world…

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

(Matthew 5:43-48)

Let us always seek the welfare of the city.

-Joe Butler