Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it?

Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
(Isaiah 10:15)

In Isaiah 10, God is calling out Assyria for destruction because of their arrogance and pride (Isaiah 10:12). The Lord used the Assyrian empire as the rod of His wrath to punish the nations, including Israel and Judah. But that does not mean that God approved of the Assyrians or that they were righteous.

The Assyrians were very arrogant in their pursuit of power and destruction. You can see the arrogance of the Assyrian kings in that they attributed all of this military victory and dominance to their own strength. God was not recognized nor magnified in their victories.

For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped.”
(Isaiah 10:13-14)

In verse 15, we see a piercing question asked by God:

Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?

Listen, buddy, God says, you are just an axe in my hands. I’ve never seen an axe or a saw strut around and boast. They are just wood and metal, instruments in the hands of the master. That is the point of God through Isaiah here, Assyria was merely an instrument in the hands of the Almighty and Righteous God.

Please keep this in mind today, guys. There is no cause for boasting in anything other than the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:31; Galatians 6:14). Be very careful of your words and who gets the credit and glory for who you are and what you do.

We are merely instruments of His righteousness.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
(Romans 6:13)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?

Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–(Galatians 1:1).

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:10-12).

We just finished a gospel meeting with my great friend, Jason Salyers. He preached from the book of Galatians. He drew our attention to the theme that “the gospel is not from men.” There were men in that Galatian region who were trying to pervert and twist the gospel. At the same time those very men were aggressively oppressing and persecuting those who stood for the gospel. Both Paul and those who stood for the gospel could have made life a lot easier for themselves if they would have just caved in and went along with those false teachers. As Jason pointed out, even the false teachers were teaching these things because they wanted to avoid persecution (6:12).

Here are some things about Paul in the book of Galatians to remember when it comes to being a people-pleaser versus a servant of Christ.

  • Paul understood his relationship and position with Christ did not come from men, but through Christ (1:1).
  • He also knew that seeking the approval of men was the same as turning his back on Christ (1:10-12). It isn’t that he didn’t try to accommodate the consciences of others and become all things to all men (1 Cor. 9), but his focus was first on pleasing Christ. He could do nothing for men that would not please Jesus.
  • You can’t yield when it comes to the truth of the gospel, not even for a moment (2:5).
  • Don’t try like Peter did to play both sides of the fence and make everyone happy (2:11-19). That’s just being a hypocrite, and it will have a strong influence to lead the faithful astray (2:13).
  • Understand that those who are “influential” added nothing to Paul. God shows no partiality and Paul didn’t either (2:6). Just because that person is a big time somebody doesn’t mean you cower and cave. God is not impressed by status, nor should we be.
  • Know that when you stand for truth, friends may become enemies (4:16).
  • Think about whether you are trying to make a “good showing in the flesh” or trying to please Christ (6:12).
  • Paul did not seek to please men, because he understood that being crucified with Christ meant that the world had been crucified to him as well (6:14).

There are several other verses from Galatians that tie in to this point, but this is enough for today to think about.

Thanks again, Jason, for the lessons.

Take a Few Minutes to Understand

I had two recent encounters with people in the retail business and both left me with the same lesson.

One is a manager of a farm store that I frequent. He has been pretty short and seemingly disinterested lately when I talk to him and ask him about various product questions. Come to find out, he recently slipped on a boat dock, hit his head on the concrete and he passed out. On top of that, he was underwater and his eleven year old daughter couldn’t move him to safety. He told me, “I don’t know why or how I woke up, but I did.” This led to a discussion about God and His relationship with Jesus, so please pray for this to lead to his coming to Jesus.

Another example was this morning as I was at the cell phone store dealing with a phone issue. We had two bad experiences at previous stores, had been on customer service for a long time last night and this morning, and I finally go to another of the store locations to get help. The young lady who helped me was very quiet as she did her job. Not very personal at all. About 10 minutes into working on a new SIM card, she said, “I’m sorry I’m quiet. My 14 year old dog is at home dying and I can’t get my mind off it.” It led to a good discussion, and I told her our family can certainly understand.

Now, the reason I bring these two examples up is because it would be easy to make a snap judgment about these two people and say they were rude, or didn’t care. We could walk away telling everyone how we received poor customer service. But what is the backstory? What’s going on in their lives? Did we take any time to think or consider what else is going on in their lives that may lead them to behave this way?

It is just another reminder for me, and I hope it helps you. Don’t be so hasty to make a judgment about someone. We certainly don’t like it when others do it about us.

You Shall Not Rule with Severity

‘You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.
(Leviticus 25:43)

‘…But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.
(Leviticus 25:46)

‘Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.
(Leviticus 25:53)

And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
(Ephesians 6:9)

Today, please consider the above collection of verses about how we “rule over” one another in the workplace.

Both in the Old Testament and the New, the Lord called His people who had servants to treat them with respect. Paul had to ask his Christian brothers to “give up threatening.” If it wasn’t happening then there would be no need to tell those men to give up threatening.

Some guys only have one way to communicate…bark out orders. They do not know how to sit down and reason with someone. The concept of looking at the other person as someone who has a brain and has value is foreign to them. Do what I say or else. It’s my way or the highway. If someone brings up an opposing idea or another way of doing things, they get defensive and blow up. Any one who dares challenge them is treated like dirt, shut down and cast aside. The volume goes up along with the intensity and then people just back down and cower from fear and give in to their ways. As long as you march in step with them, you have nothing to fear.

Have you worked for a boss like that? Have we treated others like that?

This is not the spirit of Christ, nor was it the spirit that God wanted of His people in the Old Testament.

Give up threatening. Don’t rule with severity. Think of what these passages teach, especially the one in Ephesians 6:9.

  • Remember that the people who serve you belong to God. All of us belong to God. Everyone of us is created in the image of God. One of the ways to help you give up threatening is to see the eternal value of the people you are trying to lead. We can get so consumed with our own importance or our own mission that we fail to see the relationships and the value of those relationships.
  • Keep in mind that you have a Master in heaven. He is watching. He will judge, and there is no partiality with Him. If we mistreat others, God is the one to whom we will report.
  • You should show the same attitude and spirit to them. Notice Eph. 6:9 says, “do the same things to them.” Those same things are laid out for you in Ephesians 6:5-8. The servants were to do the will of God from the heart with sincerity, and the masters were to do the same things. God asked the servants to keep their eyes on Him with a spirit of fear and trembling, and He asked the same things from the masters. There are not two sets of rules, but sometimes we can live that way. We would never accept the kind of treatment that we deal out to others. God says live by the same rules.

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
(Colossians 4:1)

Living Above Our Culture

Our culture seems to be changing at an alarming rate.  At best, God’s standards of morality are seen as “old fashioned” and treated like a joke and at worst, they are seen as racist, hateful, destructive ways of thinking.  I struggle with how I should respond to the world around me.  Should I speak up, speak out and get involved politically?  Maybe I should bombard Facebook and other forms of social media with articles and bible verses hoping someone will listen.  Most of the time I want to gather my family and close friends and go form a commune in the mountains in order to escape what is going on around me.

I’ve been reading through Daniel and noticed some things that have helped me.  In Daniel six, Daniel’s peers put a target on his back and devised a plan to bring him down.  They said in verse five, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.”  Then they convinced King Darius to institute a ridiculous 40 day statute that forbid anyone to make a petition to any god except the king, knowing that this would set a trap for Daniel.

Verse ten records Daniel’s response and says, “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.” 

If you’re familiar with Daniel six, you know how the story ends.  Daniel’s enemies catch him praying and rat him out to the king.  Even though Darius is distressed and tries to find a way to rescue Daniel, he has no choice but to throw him in the lion’s den.  God delivers Daniel, his enemies are disposed of, and Darius writes a proclamation to his entire kingdom that everyone is to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

Let’s consider a few simple observations about Daniel that could be helpful.

No Ground of Accusation:

If my life was put under a microscope, what would my enemies find, what accusations could they make?  Would they find jealousy and lust and greed and anger?  Would they find pride and arrogance and self-righteousness?  Or would they see kindness and patience and self-control?  Would they see generosity and hope and love?  In other words, would my life look any different than the world around me?  I’m not talking about perfection; I’m talking about a course of life that strives to imitate Jesus Christ.  In the end, when all things fall apart, I pray that the only accusation that will stick is, “He’s a follower of Jesus!”

As He Had Been Doing Previously:

I’ve always been impressed that, in the face of the new statute, Daniel didn’t have to change his behavior.  He didn’t become aware of the attack by his peers and suddenly amp up his righteousness.  As Daniel’s environment became more hostile he simply continued in the pattern of godliness and faithfulness that he had previously been dedicated to.

What does my walk with God look like?  Do I have the pattern of faithfulness in the times of peace that will see me through the times of distress?  We must devote ourselves daily to God, cultivating a deeper relationship with Him, so that our foundation of faith is prepared for whatever lies ahead.  If I’m walking with my God daily then I have no need to worry about what might be coming next.  I will simply take each day as it comes and take the next step of faith.

Praying and Giving Thanks:

Daniel knew the document was signed when he went up to his roof chamber that day.  He knew what the likely consequences would be when he got down on his knees and prayed.  I’m amazed that verse ten highlights “giving thanks” as the focus of Daniel’s prayer.  I’ve got to be honest; I’m not sure how much “giving thanks” would have been taking place if I was in his situation.  There would have been a lot of, “save me” and, “this isn’t fair”, and “destroy my adversaries”, but I’m not sure about thanksgiving.

I believe the depth of Daniel’s relationship with God is seen in his focus on giving thanks in a time like this.  Despite his circumstances and the evil motives of the men around him, he could still clearly see God for who He is and His worthiness of our thanksgiving.  As I contemplate the world around me and watch my nation grow more hostile towards God, my kneejerk reaction to everything should be the giving of thanks.  The darkness that grows around us should make us appreciate the light of Jesus Christ more than ever.

Above all else, Daniel understood who he was.  He lived and worked in a foreign land, far from home and surrounded by ungodly people but he knew he was a descendant of Abraham, a child of God, and in a covenant relationship.  It would have been easy for him to look at his situation, focus on the temporary, and just blend in but he chose the harder, higher path.  He looked at the eternal and lived above his culture.  If we do the same, the God that delivered Daniel will also deliver us. Amen.

Before Honor Is Humility

The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility (Proverbs 15:31-33).

Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honor is humility (Proverbs 18:12).

A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor (Proverbs 29:23).

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11).

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10).

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “GOD RESISTS THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time… (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Before Honor Is Humility:

  • Before I will be honored, I must first have humility. If I’m going around looking to be respected and honored, I have the wrong starting point, don’t I? These passages above show us where our mindset should be, and that is on humbling ourselves before God and others.
  • Before I can truly honor others, I must first have humility. Only when we have humility can we show others the proper respect and honor God calls us to have. Otherwise it is just fake and superficial.

What is humility?

  1. Seeing the Lord in the right perspective
  2. Seeing myself in relationship to the Lord accurately.
  3. Seeing others properly in relationship to 1 and 2.

I want to illustrate this simple definition of humility with a parable of Jesus:

Luke 18:9-17 – Jesus’ parable about the two men who went up to pray.

  1. How did each man see God?
  2. How did each man see his relationship to God?
  3. How did the Pharisee see his relationship to the sinner based upon 1 and 2? Do we see how arrogant and condescending the Pharisee was toward the sinner because of his lack of humility before God?

Philippians 2:1-11 – Paul Let this mind be in you…

  1. How did Jesus see the Father?
  2. How did Jesus see His relationship to the Father?
  3. How did Jesus see us in connection to #1 and #2? Jesus looked out for our interests, not His own, because of His humility. The Father honored Jesus and highly exalted Him because of that humility.

Before honor comes humility. 

Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.
(Joel 2:12-13)

The book of Joel begins with the discussion of a devastating locust plague sent by God as a destroying army to punish His people and to bring them to repentance. Those were dark days, literally (Joel 2:2).

God’s wrath comes slowly, but when it comes it is an overwhelming flood of devastation. When God brings His punishment it is thorough, but it is also done it the right way and at the right time. You know when God brings down the hammer of judgment He has exhausted all other avenues and given all opportunities for someone to come to repentance.

But after all this devastation which was left in the wake of God’s wrath, He calls them in love and grace to fast, call an assembly, and to return to Him.

But what kind of return does God want? Does He want them merely to feel sorry that they ended up in such a bad situation? Is He looking for them to have guilt just because things turned out so poorly?

It was clear throughout Scripture and certainly in our lives today that we do not always have “godly sorrow” which “leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We may be sorry we lost something important. It may be we are sorry we got caught. It may be we are sad because of the consequences, but that is not the sorrow God is looking for, is it?

The people of God could have torn their garments, fasted (it was not like they had much food at that point anyway), thrown ashes and dust on their heads and wailed and mourned. Was this what God was looking for? Not if their hearts weren’t in it.

“Rend your heart and not your garments…” Don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts. God wants us to be heartbroken because of the broken relationship we have with Him, not merely sad because we are being punished for our sins.

Men, does God have our hearts? Are we on the surface trying to fix / avoid the consequences of our sins or are we truly getting down to the “heart” of the matter?

Rend your heart and not your garments.

God sends a brother

A brother recently was struggling at work with his attitude. It is a second job, and it is physically demanding on top of dealing with ornery customers. He was really having a hard time with his attitude the other night, so he told his manager he needed to take his 10-minute break. He sat in the break room by himself and prayed hard for God to change his attitude. He went back to work, and within minutes another brother in Christ showed up at his workplace just to say hello and to see how he was doing.

Instant attitude change. Instant smile. Instant prayer of “Thank you, God!” for answering prayer.

Coincidence?

What did God promise?

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:19)

God will supply our needs richly! Sometimes that just may mean a person shows up to encourage and refresh us.

Here are a few verses for us to meditate upon today about how God filled that need in the days of the early church. May we be instruments of God’s encouragement today for others. And remember, God will answer your prayers for encouragement.

Another part of the story is that the brother who stopped by the workplace of the other brother also needed some encouragement. He was down and struggling with his own attitude and decided to look for his good friend. They both greatly benefited that night, didn’t they?

Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
(2 Corinthians 7:6-7)

I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:17-18)

…and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
(1 Thessalonians 3:2)

The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day–and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.
(2 Timothy 1:16-18)

Do Good

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10; NKJV)

 We are empowered to be a change agent for good in all of our relationships. We stand firm on the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope of our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We have a peace that surpasses all understanding in the tranquility of right relationship with the Great I Am. We are free to love others how He has loved us and God will be at work.

The great spiritual battle rages on around us and I pray we will become stronger in it rather than bitter or beaten down. We will be hurt and tired for sure. We will are all at risk of becoming defeated or bitter even when we feel like our hearts and spirit are at their strongest. Yet we have a choice to not allow the devil even an inch, put on the whole armor of God, and allow the love of God to prevail in our choices.

We focus on the steadfastness of the Lord and not the fickle or hurtful people in our lives.

We choose to see His smiling face rather than the downtrodden or frowning faces we encounter.

We concentrate on the majesty of our God and not the messes we find ourselves or those we care about sinking in.

We love people from a position of strength in our loving, abiding relationship with the Lord.

We are the first to forgive and we forgive often and we sow mercy and grace.

We work to find common ground with those in conflict, reminding ourselves of the relationship we have or desire in Christ…that God wants us all in the Book of Life.

We die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20) and in doing so we die to other people’s criticism AND praise and focus only on the glory of God and its revelation in our relationships in love.

No matter the situation, we cannot sow evil and produce good, sow discord and produce unity, sow lies and produce truth, sow sin and produce holiness. Those around us might not understand this and have no interest in seeing it. But if we do good…if we sow repentance, compassion, love…we can trust that the increase belongs to the Lord (1 Cor 3:7) and He is working.

Remember the Golden Rule.

“…whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12; NKJV)

Look for the Golden Result. People might just surprise you and return to you what you have given to them. Do good, be different, be a light, be the reason people ask “why do you behave that way”, be ready to tell them your story about Jesus, and trust God!

God’s Word Can Make You Wiser

O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.
(Psalms 119:97-100)

What power did the word of God have upon David? According to these verses, God’s word:

  • Made David wiser than his enemies.
  • Gave him more insight than all his teachers.
  • He was able to understand more than the aged.

I do not believe David was being arrogant and cocky when he said this. You can say these words out of a prideful heart thinking you are the cat’s meow of Christianity. And if we have that attitude, God will have to teach us some very difficult lessons in humility (Phil. 3:15)!

What I believe David is saying is that because of God’s word he was able to deal effectively with his enemies. We all have enemies, whether or not we follow God’s word. But when we listen carefully to the instruction of Scripture, we have an understanding and perspective that is foreign to the people of the world. It will truly stand out and shine.

God’s word did not make David the “smartest man on campus.” He was not more intelligent than his teachers. David wasn’t the man with his hand always up because he knew all the answers. This didn’t mean that David was condescending to his teachers and argued constantly with them because he knew better. You can look to Jesus at 12 years old as an example (see Luke 2). The teachers of the Word in the temple were just amazed at his understanding and answers. That is the power of the Word in a person’s heart. There is such growth and insight that comes from it.

Finally, the word of God made an old man out of David real quick. The Bible and its wisdom will make a young man or woman sound like they are decades older. Why? That’s the power of the Holy Spirit producing His wisdom within you through the word. How often do you see that young man or young woman at church who simply blows you away with their understanding? They may be 10, but they sound like they’re 40!

God’s word is just awesome and powerful, isn’t it?