Which area of your life could use some sharpening?

It is one of those short proverbs that is filled with meaning. Solomon refers to it as sharpening the ax. He writes,

If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen it then he must use more strength . . . (Ecclesiastes 10:10).

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus himself grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). In that verse we discover four areas that we ought to be sharpening in our lives. We are to be sharp mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally. Solomon’s proverb reminds us that if we don’t attempt to sharpen these areas in our lives that it will take greater effort to live and we will be less than successful.

When was the last time you gave serious thought to the sharpening of your mental skills? What are you reading? What are you learning? Have you simply attempted to entertain your mind? Are you taking proper care of it? Solomon says that the mind is a gift from God we ought to sharpen.

And  what  about  your physical condition? Diet, rest and exercise? When was the last time you saw your doctor for a well check up? Are you as sharp as you should be?

Notice also that Jesus grew spiritually. Have you shown marked improvement in the spiritual realm lately? Has your prayer time intensified? Do you find greater joy when you read the Scriptures? Has your love for the Lord increased in the last month?

Finally, are you sharpening your life relationally? Would others see your personal relationships as making you more like Christ? Or do they seem to draw you away from Him?

These are four areas we would do well to evaluate on a regular basis. Which area is most in need of sharpening in your life? Do you need to sharpen the ax mentally, physically, spiritually, or relationally? If the fast pace of your life seems as if you have no time to stop and sharpen the ax might I encourage you to make the time to do so today?

Creation and God’s existence

There are people who say that they don’t believe in God because they have never seen Him. I must confess, I’ve never understood that argument. Have they ever been sailing? Or do they refuse to go because they would be dependent upon the wind they cannot see?

The apostle Paul spoke about this in Romans 1 when He recorded, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Theologian Paul Enns illustrates this principle through his love for Bulova wristwatches.  He writes,

I have always been partial to Bulova watches, because my father was a jeweler and always wore a Bulova wristwatch. A wrist watch is a precision instrument – it is small, intricately made, amazing in its ability    to    keep    accurate    time. If I were to open my wristwatch it would probably say, ‘Made in Switzerland.’

Although I have never been to Switzerland or a watch factory I know that somewhere there is a watch factory that manufactures wristwatches. How do I know? Because my wristwatch bears witness of the fact. Every effect demands a cause. Something does not come from nothing. A wristwatch demands that there is a watchmaker; . . .a house demands that there is a carpenter, and a creation demands that there is a Creator. Since the world exists there must be a cause for its existence; it did not come into being by accident.

I agree with Paul Enns. It only makes sense to believe in God. So next time someone tells you they don’t believe in God, ask them where they got their watch. For if they believe that something as simple as their watch didn’t come about by chance, how could they possibly say that something as complicated as human life came about that way?

The prayer list of Jesus

Have you ever wondered what’s on Jesus’ prayer list? The apostle Paul links Jesus’ resurrection directly to His intercession for us. The Scripture records,

It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

 Notice those last five words: Who makes intercession for us. Did you ever think about that?  Jesus’ resurrection makes possible His ongoing ministry of prayer on our behalf. That’s incredible. While I sleep – Jesus prays. While I eat – Jesus prays. While I work – Jesus prays. While I pray – Jesus prays! He lives to make intercession for us!

I found myself wondering recently what’s on Jesus’ prayer list for me and for you? Here is one request.  Jesus said:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:5).

Jesus is praying for my spiritual safety. And yours. He is uniquely interested that you and I don’t succumb to Satan’s tactics. He is so interested that He talks to His Father about it. Wow! That is some truth. Next time you’re tempted remember – Jesus is praying.

Do you feel alone? Remember Jesus is praying. Are you struggling with a decision? Remember Jesus is praying. Are you weary of the trials and persecution? Remember Jesus is praying. Because He lives I know He’s praying and that is why I can face  tomorrow.

Heaven is the real world…

I fell in love with another Bible verse recently. Probably because it awakened me to a subtle error I had been participating in. The book of Colossians tells us to “Seek those which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:2-3).

The Spirit of God used that verse to remind me again that this is not my real home – heaven is. That’s why my heart ought to be there. It’s also why my thoughts should be there too!

I read something by Pastor Eugene Peterson recently where he told the story of preaching on a Sunday morning, following the sermon a high-energy executive came up to him and said, “This was wonderful pastor, but now we have to get back to the real world, don’t we?” Peterson writes,

I bristled. I had thought we were in the most-real world, the world revealed as God’s, a world believed to be invaded by God’s grace and turning on the pivot of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

What I’m growing to appreciate is that heaven is the real world. It’s the one that lasts. That’s why the Bible refers to it as eternal. In heaven there is “fullness of joy” because Jesus Christ is there. (Psalm 16:11).

Answer this simple question: Have you ever wanted something so badly that it held your mind’s attention? It captivated your heart’s desires? Eventually you got it only for it to break? It now lies at the bottom of a landfill somewhere in South Jersey? How is it that our culture has convinced us that that kind of thing is real, and a heaven that lasts and is filled with joy is not?

That’s why I’ve spent my week thinking on things that are above. Thinking about Jesus. Who He is, and what He has done for our world (John 3:16-17). I guess I just don’t want my desires or my thoughts to be consumed anymore with the stuff that doesn’t last. You’ll never find heaven in a landfill, but you’ll find a lot of your personal possessions there.

Pride and humility

The book of Esther in the Bible is fascinating reading.  Although the story took place thousands of years ago, and in a geographical setting far from here, its intrigue and espionage could have been ripped from yesterday’s headlines. To understand the story one simply needs to know a few characters. Ahasuerus is the Persian King, Esther is his queen, and she is of Jewish descent. Mordecai is her older cousin, and he is a wise and brave counselor. And Haman is the man bent on destroying the Jewish people.

 However, God sought the protection of that group of people and this time he did it without the parting of the Red Sea or a host of plagues. He did it though the hands of common people with uncommon courage. Rereading the story points out again that courage. Mordecai learns of an overthrow attempt of the king, and courageously reveals this overthrow. He goes virtually unnoticed for that favor, for who knows how long, and never voices a complaint. He encourages his cousin Esther to talk to the king about the plot to destroy the Jewish nation. A task that would take a great amount of courage. For in those days and in that culture, to approach the king without being requested was an execution sentence. Esther knew this when she decided to go (Est. 4:16).

 Not only do we see uncommon courage in the hearts of God’s servants, but we see the basest form of pride in Haman’s life. Throughout the entire story he is consumed with himself. He talks of his accomplishments (Est. 5:11). He presumptuously assumes (Est. 6:6) the king would desire to honor him. His pride led to his destruction (Est. 7:10). The differences in the characters are obvious.  Courage requires a complete dependence on God. Pride is simply overconfidence in self and an independence of God. Which quality marks your life?

Improving my listening by focusing my thoughts…

My mind has a tendency to wander. Perhaps yours does too. So when I silence my cell phone in a service I want to attempt to shut off my mental day-timer too. Letting the day’s events run through my mind is not conducive to hearing what God desires for me to learn.

It often doesn’t feel like I’m in control of my thoughts because they are so hard to control. But the Scripture states that by God’s strength I can control them (2 Cor. 10:5), and he commands me to as well (Phil. 4:8).

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

I find this personally challenging in ministry. Whether racing to class or Sunday services my mind is racing too. I am looking for people I need to see. I’m remembering commitments I need to keep. It’s hard to limit my thoughts to God’s Word in those moments so that I might be attentive. But it is so necessary. And while it may not feel possible, God’s Word promises me it is.

I like the picture my brother-in-law shared with me of Chuck Swindoll who, prior to speaking at a chapel service at Dallas Seminary, was talking to his daughter. It was as if everything else was background noise. There were students pressing in for books to be signed. There was music being played, but none of it seemed to matter. Swindoll was focused on hearing his daughter. His eyes were glued on her as she spoke to him. He was listening…intensely.

That is the focus you and I need to bring when God’s Word is being taught, or when we are simply opening a Bible for our quiet-time. We need to limit the other thoughts so that we can truly listen to what God is saying. Don’t try to multi-task with God. Give him your undivided attention. You’re sure to hear his voice more clearly.

Listening and obeying

The Bible says a great deal about listening to God’s voice. When we read his Word we need to be attentive listeners. When we hear his Word taught we need to be asking “How can I change because of what I have heard?”

Author Ken Ramey captures this truth well,

Listening is hard work because application is inherent in it. You have to connect the information to your life, and do something about what you hear. . .”

 He goes on to explain,

A proper response to God’s Word begins by having an open, receptive heart. But it is not enough to just humbly and gladly accept the Word. You must act on it. You must be reactive to the Word. A chemical reaction is when chemicals undergo change. Perhaps you remember those high school chemistry experiments, when the test tube boils over after mixing two chemicals together. When you hear and receive God’s Word, it should immediately elicit some kind of reaction. It should produce some change in you.

There is an inseparable relationship in the Bible between listening and obeying. Throughout the Scripture, listening is equated with obeying. In many passages, a direct connection is clearly made between listening and obeying (Exod. 15:26; Deut. 6:3-5; Luke 6:47; 8:21; 11:28). They are like two side of the same coin. They are synonymous terms. In fact, there is a direct lexical link between the words “hear” and “obey” in both the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament word for “hear” is sama. This is the same Hebrew word used for “obey.” There is no separate word for “obey” in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hear” is akouw. The word for “obey,” is hupakouo, which literally means “to hear under,” is a derivative of the word for “hear.” The implication is that, in God’s mind, hearing and obeying are one in the same.1

Connecting listening with obeying is essential.  Understanding the meaning of these words is so helpful. Hear again the author’s conclusion of his word study:  The implication is that, in God’s mind, hearing and obeying are one in the same.

Doing what God’s Word says is not optional if we are to grow in Christ. It is far better to think of the doing part as the examination at the end of the instruction to determine if you have learned what God is teaching.

For additional study consider: Deuteronomy 8:1-3; 11:13-15; Isaiah 55:1-3; Proverbs 1:33; Luke 11:28

1. Expository Listening by Ken Ramey

The difference between a peace-maker and peace-keeper…

Peace-making is rarely confused with peace-breaking, but it is often confused with peace-keeping. When I first traveled to Bosnia in 2001 on a humanitarian aid effort I got a good look at peace-keeping. The United Nations had divided up the land between the Bosnians and Serbians. Without a doubt there were heinous crimes committed during their civil war. There had not been an attempt at repentance, forgiveness or restoration.

The UN’s answer to the conflict was to significantly limit the interaction between the conflicting parties. They drew strict boundaries in the villages. Serbians lived within their territories, as did the Bosnians. For those of us who are conflict avoiders this might seem like a good option. But to avoid the conflict does not resolve the conflict.  

The following chart from the junior edition of Ken Sande’s Peacemaker is helpful in distinguishing the difference. Peace-keepers tend to fall in the escape mode. Peace-breakers easily move to the attack mode. Only the peace-makers are the ones who will make the personal sacrifices to work it out.

You have three options in the work it out category:

(1) Overlook. Perhaps the point of offense is only a preference on your part, or you don’t see the sin done against you as intentional or characteristic of the other individual. The apostle Peter encouraged us,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

(2) Talk it Out. Perhaps you are unable to overlook the sin. You were hurt deeply. Maybe you are beginning to see a pattern of this type of sinful behavior on your friend’s part. Then it’s best to talk to them. Critical in winning your brother is that you initially do this between the two of you without a third-party. Jesus reminded us,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15)

(3) Get Help. It could be that your attempt at contact is rejected. There may be a refusal to acknowledge sin or you sense the conflict is only getting worse. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Jesus went on to say,

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16).

Be careful. It’s a slippery slope. Always attempt to stay within the work-it-out  boundaries. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).

What others have said about the Bible

Our 16thPresident, Abraham Lincoln said of the Bible,

But for this book we could not know right from wrong.

Isaac Newton said,

I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.

Daniel Webster added,

I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the will and the work of God. 

Educator William Lyon Phelps recorded,

Everyone who has a thorough knowledge of the Bible may truly be called educated. . . I believe knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible.

The longer I am a Christian the more convinced I am of the Bible’s authenticity and its incredible ability to minister to the hearts and minds of men, women, and children. More often than not, I have found that it speaks to the heart like my own words can’t. For the person whose hurting it brings comfort. For the person whose sinning it brings conviction.

However, the Word of God must be understood to be appreciated.  That’s why the Psalmist recorded, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.” (Psalm 119:33) The Psalmist longed to know the Word of God, and that should be our desire as well.

What Moses learned at the burning bush

The calling of Moses in Exodus 3 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Because the conversation between God and Moses is so lengthy it gives us a look into the Lord’s heart, and it’s easy for us to see our own insecurities in the life of Moses.

As you read this chapter remember that Moses, like each of us, was interpreting life through his past, present, and future. We are so familiar with the story, that we forget Moses didn’t know what was coming. For instance, we know that when Moses lifts his staff things will happen. Plagues will fall upon Egypt. The Red Sea will part. Water will come from a rock. But remember, at the burning bush those events are a part of Moses’ future. He still has to believe God and step out. From Moses’ perspective his future is uncertain.

Moses also had a past. He had been scooped from his river basket by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had grown up as a member of Pharaoh’s household. He was culturally Egyptian, but his DNA was Jewish. He would have seemed like the ideal candidate to ease the suffering on his people. But there was that issue of killing the Egyptian. He had tried to bury that part of his past, but one’s past sins don’t stay buried for long. As it became apparent that others knew, Moses fled. When Moses looked to his past I’m sure he had regrets. He had tried to take matters into his own hands, and was now an outcast in the desert. As he chased sheep and goats in the desert for 40 years, he must have replayed his past in his head a hundred times. But he couldn’t change his past. Two words described it: squandered opportunities.

So Moses had a past (that he’d squandered), and he had a future (that was uncertain), but he (like each of us) was living in the present. That’s where the burning bush comes in. The great thing about present time is that it is the place where our choices are active. Moses stood before the burning bush with God calling to him. He would have to choose to trust God, and go back to Egypt.

Most of us don’t serve God well in the present, because we are too busy blaming others for our past or worrying about our future.

Here are the lessons Moses teaches each of us about our past, present, and future.  (1) Through your past trust God that everything had a purpose. (2)  In your present ask God what he would have you do. (3)  With your future believe God that he will do great things.

Because He will.