Friday, June 11, 2010

The University of Adversity

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written for June 17, 2010, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church


Dr. Scott Peck begins his most helpful book, The Road Less Traveled, with the simple sentence: "Life is difficult."  When I first read Dr. Peck's book, that opening sentence stopped me dead in my tracks.  As much as I knew it to be true, I did not want to accept it.

We all have a mental model of what life is suppose to be like and  most of us have no place for 'difficulty' in that model. We go through life feeling that every time we have difficulty something wrong or abnormal has slipped into our lives. Any model of  life that ignores the constant recurrence of difficulty in some form is bound to be disappointing, because as Dr. Peck explained, "life is difficult." Our mistaken model of life causes us yet another difficulty; a feeling of disillusionment that life has not been even-handed and fair with us because it has been so difficult.


 Happiness is not the result of a trouble free life. If it were, we would never have a taste of it - not in this world. Happiness is a condition that graces our lives when we find creative ways of coping with difficulty. Happiness is not a singular experience that comes to us independent of other life experiences; it is a part of the whole cloth of life. It is a by-product. It is refined from life's inevitable difficulties by a style of creative living in which we accept and deal with the reality of our difficulties. 


We have not been placed here in this life for the purpose of dodging difficulty, but for the purpose of meeting it. Someone has suggested that at the end of life 'God will not look for your medals, degrees or awards, but for your scars'. That may be a better measurement of meaning than most of us could imagine. The scar tissue of adversity can become the muscle of character. There are some who will never achieve greatness because they never had enough adversity to make them strong.


No sane person goes out in life looking for trouble, but no person begins to achieve his or her potential unless life is seasoned with some adversity. Disraeli once said: "There is no education like adversity". No person is really educated until he or she has an advanced degree from the University of Adversity.


The ugly scars of adversity are like Rembrandts before God. Take a look at your life and see how many battle scars you have. You may be a hero and just do not know it. Do not hide your scars. Celebrate the victories they represent.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem, by Dr. Tom Butts

Several years ago Larry King did a program on depression, and reported that 20 million Americans suffer depression serious enough to require treatment. It seems this illness has almost reached epidemic proportions in this country. Very few families are free of the impact of depression. We all know depressed people - and we may be a depressed person.

As a pastoral counselor, if there is one word that I hear more often than the word 'lonely', it is 'depressed'. The two words are often inter-changeable. One is almost always accompanied to some degree by the other. Since I am a 'general practitioner' (not a specialist), some of the people who come through my door suffer a kind or degree of depression that is above my pay-grade, and if they are able to afford the cost, I send them to a more highly trained specialist.

There are multiple causes and consequences of depression. Depression can erode important relationships at home and in the work place. It can cause many problems and much unhappiness to the depressed person and to the people who live and work with them. Situational depression can be resolved with time and some outside help, and sometimes with short-term drug therapy. But there is a species of depression that is more than situational. It is deeper, darker and less amenable to the usual means of treatment. Unfortunately, such in-depth depression is not always initially detectable; and unfortunately, those who have such in-depth depression are often resistant to treatment either due to embarrassment, pride or despair. If you are depressed over a long period of time, it is important to consult someone who can help you determine the depth of your condition and keep you from falling into an even deeper, darker hole. Even the darkest of depressions can be treated

One of the most serious outcomes of severe depression is suicide. Not all suicides are the result of depression, but I would estimate that 95% of them are. Last year more than 30,000 people in this country died by suicide.

There is nothing of which I know that is more emotionally devastating than the death of a family member or friend by suicide. Death under any circumstance is an upsetting experience, but death by suicide leaves so many unanswered questions, even when some note of explanation is left. "What were they thinking? What could I have done? Why? Why?" The mental and emotional machinations of a suicide are almost always lost in mystery.

I decided to write this column after reading an article on death by violence in The Chicago Tribune. The World Health Organization, using research from 160 experts in 170 countries, reported that 1.6 million people (world-wide) died violently in the year 2000. One person commits suicide about every 40 seconds, one is murdered every 60 seconds, and one dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds. The report estimated that almost 1 million people took their own lives in the year 2000, making suicide the number 13 cause of death world-wide. 550,000 people were murdered, and that does not count the unlawful deaths disguised as accidents or natural causes. About 60,000 young children died from abuse.

You may rightly be wondering in what way I intend to find a word of encouragement for anyone given the above-mentioned statistics. Encouragement takes many forms. Sometimes it comes in the form of comfort. Sometimes it comes by logically seeing an individual tragedy in the context of its larger social setting. Sometimes it comes simply by knowing that you are not alone in your struggle to understand a mystifying tragedy.

There are things that happen to us, and to those we love, which are beyond our power to understand or fix. Such things may come in the plain brown wrapper of every day life, or be wrapped in life-altering and soul-ripping tragedy A friend once told me of an ordinary day in his family in which it seemed that everything that could go wrong went wrong. At the end of a uniquely stressful and complicated day, his wife was preparing the evening meal to the tune of two children crying. Suddenly something boiled over on the stove and she threw up her hands and began to cry. The husband asked: "What can I do?" She said: "There is nothing you can do, just comfort me." Things happen in life about which no one can do anything. If all you can do is comfort someone, that is enough.

When tragedy strikes we often feel alone. While it is cold comfort to be told that the same thing happened to 999,999 other families, objectively, we at least know we are not alone, and we have a statistical reality which in time may help to put the matter into perspective. At the moment in which suicide happens, nothing else seems to matter except that one isolated death, but with time the margins will expand so as to allow the tragedy to be put into some perspective

If you have experienced several months of unrelieved depression, and you cannot identify a reason for your depression, ask your primary physician for help. If you have a friend or loved-one who has symptoms of serious depression, use your powers of persuasion in a spirit of love to persuade them to seek help. Help is available

While there are often warning signs that a person is suicidal, you must never blame yourself for the decision of a person to commit suicide. Get help if you see signs of suicide in yourself or others. After a suicide, get professional and spiritual counseling to help you come to terms with the fact that someone you know and/or love chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. By Dr. Tom Butts

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enough: Part 2

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity & Generosity

By Adam Hamilton

Week Two: Wisdom and Finance

Key Bible Verses

  • Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity,
    but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. Proverbs 21:5

  • The wise have wealth and luxury,
    but fools spend whatever they get. Proverbs 21:20

Key Insights from the Book and the Video

  1. Many of us have a bit of the prodigal son in us: We have the habits of squandering and wasting our resources.
  2. We have a tendency to focus on today rather than plan for tomorrow.
  3. When our purpose is having as much pleasure as we can in the moment, the things we do tend to become less and less satisfying until finally we come to a place where we're entirely dissatisfied – and often broke.
  4. Two of the primary money wasters we struggle with are impulse buying and eating out.
  5. The rule-of-thumb regarding impulse buying is to shop for only what you need. Make a list, buy what you need, and get out of the store. If this is difficult, wait twenty-four hours before purchasing the impulse item.
  6. Society tells us that our life purpose is to consume; the Bible tells us that our life purpose is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our money and possessions should be devoted to helping us fulfill God's purpose for our lives.
  7. Being able to accomplish the greater purposes God has for our lives require goal setting and planning.
  8. Without a plan to reach our goals, we will revert to being like the prodigal son. A plan gives us concrete steps that we can take to accomplish our goals.
  9. Simplifying our lives enables us to give more generously and experience the joy that comes from living for something beyond ourselves.

Financial principles to live by

  1. Pay God your first fruits; pay your tithe and offering first
  2. Create a budget to track your expenses
  3. Simplify your lifestyle (live below your means)
  4. Establish an emergency fund
  5. Pay off your credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely
  6. Practice long-term savings and wise investing habits

Questions to Think About

  1. In what ways are you like the prodigal son mentioned in Luke 15?
  2. Which of the following most resembles your lifestyle:
    1. Heading toward a looming financial crisis
    2. Wasting what you have; spending money here and there because you can afford it
  3. Which of the money wasters, impulse buying or eating out, presents the biggest problem for you?
  4. How would you describe your life's purpose, vision, or calling?
  5. What does the phrase "Blessed to be a blessing" mean to you?
  6. How can goals and planning help us better accomplish the plans that God has for our lives?
  7. Of the six financial principles, which is the most challenging to you?
  8. If we want to achieve financial peace and accomplish God's greater purposes for our lives, what are our options? Why is simplifying our lives an important option?

Closing Prayer

Generous God, all we have comes from you, yet we are not always wise stewards of what you have so graciously given us. We have listened to the lure of the world, buying and consuming compulsively and excessively. Forgive us for being wasteful like the prodigal son. Forgive us for leveraging our future in order to have pleasure in the present. Help us to begin to put into practice the biblical wisdom we have discussed so that we may become good stewards of all that you have given us. Teach us to be generous and willing to share, to be Kingdom minded people who are focused on accomplishing your purpose for our lives.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Enough: Part 1

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity & Generosity

By Adam Hamilton

Week One: When Dreams Become Nightmares

Key Bible Verses

  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many grieves. I Timothy 6:10
  • Whoever loves money never has money enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
    This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5:10

  • What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26

Key Insights from the Book and the Video

  1. We live in a world that encourages us to live beyond our means rather than be good stewards of our God-given resources.
  2. When it comes to material possessions and money, we are not in a position to pass judgment on others, for we do not know their heart.
  3. For many people, the American Dream is a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. Generally, it has come to mean consuming, acquiring, and purchasing.
  4. We are affected socially and spiritually by two "illnesses":
    1. Affluenza – the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff.
    2. Credit-itis – the idea that we can have something now and pay for it later, which exploits our lack of self-discipline and allows us to feed our affluenza.
  5. Most Americans spend money with very little self discipline, saving less and spending more and more on credit.
  6. A spiritual issue lies beneath the surface of our financial sickness. We have surrendered to the sinful nature that is within us.
  7. The starting point of the solution to our problem is a changed heart, which results in changed desires and a changed sense of life purpose.
  8. As we allow Christ to work in us, seeking first His Kingdom and striving to do His will, we begin to sense a higher calling to simplicity, faithfulness, and generosity.

Questions to Think About

  1. What are some of the ways the world encourages us to live beyond our means? What challenges do you face when trying to save and be a good steward of your God-given resources?
  2. Why is it dangerous to pass judgment on others regarding the way they spend their money (Matthew 7:1-5).
  3. How has the "American Dream" changed over our nation's history?
  4. In what ways do you struggle with "affluenza and credit-it is? How is this a problem for us as individuals, as a family, and as a nation?
  5. What are some of the messages that advertisers convey to get us to buy their products?
  6. What are the root causes of our wanting to consume more? How is sin part of the problem?
  7. What role do you think God wants money and possessions to play in our life?
  8. How is a changed heart the starting point to the solution of our problem with money and possessions?

Closing Prayer

Lord, we confess that in many ways we have bought into the concept of the American Dream which says that success is defined by worldly profits, possessions, prestige, and pleasure. We struggle with the yearning for more, and often we try to satisfy this yearning by pursuing material things rather than pursuing you. Forgive us Lord. Change our heart, and correct our vision. Give us your perspective on money and possessions. Help us not to focus on all the things we wish we had, but to be grateful for what we do have. Teach us to wisely manage the resources you have given us so that when you prompt us to help those in need, we are free to assist them. Enable us to live simply, to be content, and to give generously.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Enough: Introduction

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity & Generosity

By Adam Hamilton

Introduction: Faith in the Midst of Financial Crisis

Key Bible Verses

  • I lift up my eyes to the hills —

    Where does my help come from?

    My help comes from the LORD,

    The Maker of Heaven and Earth. Psalms 121:1-2

  • Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. I Timothy 6:17

Key Insights from the Video

  1. An economic crisis is also a crisis of faith.
  2. The most potent threat we face today is fear.
  3. At the center of most economic crisis is the extension and abuse of credit.
  4. Credit comes from the Latin word "credo", which means "I believe" or "I trust". To extend credit to someone is to believe or trust that the person will repay you in the future.
  5. As Christians, our credo or trust is in God. The Apostle's Creed begins, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth."
  6. Throughout the Bible, we find words of hope and promise that remind us that we have no reason to fear, for God is our refuge and strength.
  7. An economic crisis is a spiritual issue stemming from at least five of the deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and pride.
  8. The Church is a beacon of light inviting people to find deliverance, redemption, salvation, hope, and a new way of life.

Questions to Think About

  1. How is an economic crisis a crisis of faith?
  2. What happens when we feel we can no longer trust our banks, financial institutions, and our government?
  3. What role does credit play in our economic crisis?
  4. What insight does the Latin root word "credo" for credit play in your thoughts about the economic situation?
  5. What insight do you get from the key bible verses about how we should trust in the Lord during times of fear during the economic situation?
  6. In what ways is an economic crisis a spiritual crisis? Identify the sins that are at the root of this spiritual crisis.
  7. We all are tempted by some of the sins of want and desire to have things. In what ways have you been tempted by or given in to the sins of gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and pride?
  8. Why is the government incapable of addressing the spiritual issue that lies beneath the state of our economy? What can Christians and the Church do to provide real help and hope?

Closing Prayer

O Lord, this earth and everything in it is yours. All that we have is a gift from you. When times are uncertain and our finances are hurting, forgive us for panicking and listening to the wrong voices rather than looking to you and your Word. Forgive us for giving in to fear and allowing worry and anxiety to keep us from being the wise stewards you would have us to be. Prepare our hearts and minds for the coming weeks of study. We pray to be open to your instruction and your guidance. As we learn to be better stewards of the resources you have given us, we put our complete trust in you. We trust you Lord, and with our lives and with all you have entrusted to us. Amen.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

LISTENING FOR GOD, by Dr. Jim Savage

I have heard Your Call, my Lord, and respond with a Yes that arises from the depth of my being. I Know that if I follow close to You, nothing shall be able to separate me from Your Love. Amen. (Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God)

Who are we to think that God speaks to us? Yet we know that God is trying to reach us all of the time.

Thomas Aquinas distinguished two kinds of Listening: "the language of man that speaks around us and God who speaks to us interiorly." For opposite reasons, these two kinds of Listening seem difficult for people who speak too much and superficially, while God doesn't express Himself enough and too profoundly.

Thomas Aquinas said: "There are two types of Wisdom: created and uncreated; both are given to man, and by this Gift of Wisdom, man can grow towards Holiness." He brought up many means to acquire created Wisdom: through our own efforts and as a freely-given Gift from God. We should give thanks to God for this Gift.

"Strive for the greater Gifts" (1 Cor 12:31): knowledge of God, theology, or discussions "about" or "of" God. By believing in a teaching that was given by God to man, we turn towards Him and draw the desired Wisdom from there.


There is something very practical about God's Grace.

"For the Grace of God that brings Salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to Live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age." (Titus 2:11-12)

Grace brings Salvation, then shows us how to Live out our Salvation. Grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness and yes to godliness. While the Law does motivate Obedience, acting as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ Jesus, the incredible Grace of God is an even greater Motivator.

Grace brings out the best in people, not the worst. True Grace pours from the heart to be Shared with all.

The desire to say no to all that would make Jesus sad should be a motivator for Grace. Yet, some folks do refuse to show Love for others who do not measure up to our expectations, our 'rules' for Christian Living. Many folks have do this at one time or another.

Jesus makes it easy for us. Grace is the radiance of the first-Love that Christ Jesus extended towards us. "We Love because He first Loved us." (1 John 4:19)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Is yours a Life of Grace? Are the people around you inspired to godliness because you offer Grace? When you make a decision about right or wrong, is it made by Listening and following through?

You can take control of your own Life by taking the time to Listen for God's Call, and following God's will, so don't wait for others to determine your fate in Life. Live with your Purpose for being in Christ Jesus as Lord. With God's help and the power of the Holy Spirit,
you can find complete enjoyment and can arise each morning with a song in your heart and a skip in your Walk........Thanks be to God for Such Love!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prayer For the people of Haiti...

Lord, I just want to say THANK YOU, because this morning I woke up and knew where my children were. Because this morning my home was still standing, because this morning I am not crying because my husband, my child, my brother or sister needs to be buried out from underneath a pile of concrete, because this morning I was able to drink a glass of water, because this morning I was able to turn on the light, because this morning I was able to take a shower, because this morning I was not planning a funeral, but most of all I thank you this morning because I still have life and a voice to cry out for the people of Haiti. Lord I cry out to you, the one that makes the impossible, possible, the one that turns darkness in to light, I cry out that you give those mothers strength, that you give them peace that surpasses all understanding, that you may open the streets so that help can come, that you may provide doctors, nurses, food, water, and all that they need in a blink of an eye. For all those that have lost family members, give them peace, give them hope, give them courage to continue to go on! Protect the children and shield them with your power. I pray all this in the name of Jesus!!! Amen!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eating Apples in the Dark, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written for January 7, 2010, by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts.

There is an interesting story of a mountaineer who came home hungry one night. He lit a candle and began to eat an apple from a bowl of four apples. He soon discovered that the apple was inhabited by a lively worm. He threw it away and selected another, which he soon discovered to be wormy. He tried the third apple, but again found a worm. Whereupon, he blew out the candle and ate the fourth apple in the dark.

Sometimes it is easier to live in the dark than to face uncertain realities of life in the light. Some call it 'putting one's head in the sand'. Others call it 'looking the other way'. Psychologists call it 'denial'. Whatever you call it, it is dangerous. It can lead to eating a lot of bad apples without knowing it.

Several years ago I was a delegate to a law-making conference of the church. The dynamics of the procedure were not much different from the sessions of the Alabama State Legislature, which I have observed many times. I found myself ill-disposed to come home and tell the people who had sent me what really went on. It would shatter too many illusions and create too much anxiety.

I was reminded of the old German adage: "It is better not to know how sausages and laws are made". I had never really understood that adage before, but my experience made it painfully clear. To know how sausages and laws are made tends to make you lose your taste for sausage and your respect for laws.

We are living in complex and potentially dangerous times. Even a democracy can be an ineffective and sometimes dangerous form of government in the absence of the studied attention of an informed citizenry. We take great pride and sometimes exaggerated comfort in the fact that we live in a democratic society. [I use the term "democracy" because that is how we commonly think of our form of government. Technically, we live in a constitutional republic.] It is easy to forget that whatever you call our form of government, it needs "tending to". It cannot be put on auto-pilot and left to function unobserved and unattended.

Speaking to the House of Commons in 1947 Winston Churchill made an astute "tongue in cheek" observation regarding democracy. He said: "Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Any student of history and any observer of the rise and fall of governments over time would agree with that "Churchillian" observation. Our enthusiasm about our form of government has sometimes led us to mistakenly think that we could export it, unaltered, to other countries whose culture is complicated and radically different from our own, and that such a change would be received with universal appreciation and function with great success. We have had occasion to experience great disappointment in the practical application of that philosophy. We tend to forget, if we ever knew, Churchill's caveat regarding the universal and immediate application of democracy as we know it. In a conversation with President Eisenhower in August of 1954, Churchill opined: "I am a bit skeptical about universal suffrage for undeveloped nations [actually, he used the word 'Hottentots' which I am hesitant to use] even if refined by proportional representation..The British and American Democracies were slowly and painfully forged, and even they are not perfect yet."

Our form of government is a "work in progress" and is dangerously fragile when left to float unattended. When 'the people' do not know, or do not care, what is happening at city hall or in the state legislature or in Washington, our democratic society (constitutional republic) can not only become ineffective, it can fail. When we blindly elect officials who become increasingly beholden to the army of self-interested lobbyists who prowl the halls of our law-making bodies, looking for law-makers who are morally weak, financially needy and fearful of not being re-elected, our government is in mortal danger. An informed and vigilant populace is an essential ingredient of our democracy. Ignorance and indifference are the greatest enemies of good government..

The fabric of integrity in our social and political life is kept intact by the people who keep the lights on while eating apples; and who are willing to watch diligently to see how sausages and laws are made. Ignorance may momentarily soothe our anxieties and accommodate our laziness when we have to take a bite of something about which we are not sure, but it will cause us to end up swallowing wormy apples, bad sausage and equally unpalatable laws. Blissfully blind ignorance can cause illness and lawlessness and the loss of our most precious possession - freedom.

Keep the candle burning bright when you eat apples. Keep an eye on how your sausages and laws are made. It is the key to the survival of our form of government and our way of life.

Speaking on the right of the election of Lord Mayor of Dublin over 200 years ago, John P. Curran said: " The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.."

Don't blow out the candle!!!