The Dangers of Axe-Grinding

Previously published in another location on March 24, 2016

Have you ever seen or used a grinding wheel? I’m not talking about the handheld power-tool here, but one of those old-school things that people back in the day would sit at to sharpen their tools. Like this one:

1458827571042

Okay, some good friends of mine have one, a vintage one, which I’m afraid to touch because it’s really old and I’m really clumsy. I was hanging out over there one day, and their son sat down at this thing with an axe and started going to town, sharpening it.

Two things I noticed:

  1. He was totally consumed by the axe-grinding.
  2. It was kind of scary.

It wasn’t scary, like axe-murderer scary, just kind of creepy. I don’t know, I guess you had to be there. The scary part really has no point to this blog… it just produced a slight emotion of fear in me for whatever reason. Random. I know.

However, how the axe-grinding consumed him gave me a perfect depiction of what happens to us when we as Christians get carried away into controversies that really have nothing to do with the gospel.

They consume us.

Think about a time you got carried away into a controversy over a non-crucial issue with another Christian. You just KNEW that your idea was the right one. So you had mock arguments with your steering wheel, your mirror, your dog, and maybe even some of your kids’ stuffed animals. You pretended those inanimate objects were your adversary.

What was the outcome of those mock arguments?

Benefits: Okay, you won EVERY argument… congratulations, you have better reasoning skills than a teddy bear.

Drawbacks: Too many to list. But just for a start – your blood pressure spiked, you mentally slandered a Christian brother or sister, you probably yelled, and you lost your entire sense of inner peace and joy that should mark the Christian life.

I know what you’re thinking… How does he know so well about the effects of theological axe-grinding? Well folks, the truth is: I’ve done my fair share.

And I’m DONE. D-O-N-E (spelling it out). Done Done Done Done.

Theological axe-grinding over non-critical issues will consume you. It is a tool of Satan to steal the affections of your heart that God intended for His own sake. It is a tool of Satan to distract the people of God from building the Kingdom of God.

While you’re grinding a theological axe, you’re not focused on expanding the Kingdom of God through sharing the gospel with the lost. You’re not focused on equipping disciples of Jesus. You’re not focused on being the Kingdom of God by working to be restoration to a broken world.

Get this. Here’s what Paul told Timothy in his first letter. He told him to:

…charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion… (1 Tim 1:3-6 ESV)

So, will I pick up the axe and start grinding again? Not if I want to stay focused on what really matters. Not if I want to make as big an impact for Christ’s Glory among the nations as possible.

Paul instructed Timothy to warn the believers to avoid ‘devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies’ (theological axe-grinding of the first century). Why? Because they lead you away from a true devotion to Christ.

I have to ask another couple of questions here:

Is it possible to engage in a debate without it being theological axe-grinding?

Yes.

Is it sometimes necessary to engage in a theological debate?

Yes.

Okay then, when is it okay to engage in a debate?

Only when the truth of the gospel is threatened.

True doctrine is important. The truths of the gospel are important. Like, life or death, heaven or hell for all eternity important! The first half of Paul’s charge to Timothy was to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” 1 Peter 3:15 also commands us to be prepared to defend the truth gospel when it is threatened.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he says this:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know they only breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness…” (2 Tim 2:23-25a ESV)

In other words, you should avoid the axe-grinding and step in to the arena to correct false teaching only when it really matters.

But when are called to step into that arena to defend the gospel, you had better be kind, not quarrelsome, gentle, not arrogant or harsh.

And before you step, take a long look in the mirror and a loooong look at the issue itself. Are your motives right? Does this matter really threaten the gospel or just your preferences on a non-critical issue?

So, here’s what to do if you’ve engaged in some theological axe-grinding:

1. Pray

Just stop shouting at the steering wheel and pray. And this is the toughest step. Because you know that when you go to God with your heart in such a messy condition, His Spirit knocks it right out of you and makes you focus on Jesus. That’s the Spirit’s role: to point us to Jesus (John 15:26). When we examine the cross, we lose our all rights to hold a grudge or to be unkind.

2. Ask for Forgiveness

First, ask God for forgiveness. He’s the first person you offend when you act or think in an ungodly way. Sin hinders our relationship with God. Get right with him first.

After you ask God to forgive you, ask the person you’ve been arguing with to forgive you. But do not go to them until you’re read to ask forgiveness without expecting something in return.

If you expect them to admit their wrongs, you’re not ready. You didn’t really comprehend or embrace the forgiveness God gave you. Go back to God and sit with him some more. If you truly understand the magnitude of Christ’s forgiveness on the cross, you won’t care if they apologize. You understand that being right with your fellow man is a requisite for walking right with God. Don’t let “being right” on a non-critical issue rob you of the joy of walking in righteousness with Jesus.

3. Go and axe-grind no more!

Go share the gospel or do somersaults or both! I’m sure you’d either keep their attention or totally weird them out.

When you experience the gospel playing out in the practical forgiveness between you and a brother, the sense of joy and relief is overwhelming. You’ll probably cry. Yeah. I was brought to tears at the resolution of my last axe-grinding episode. I felt the freedom of the gospel releasing the chains of sin that try to crawl back onto my heart.
So, to conclude: Don’t back down from defending the truth of the gospel, but avoid axe-grinding at all costs. When you are called to step up and defend the gospel. Do so with gentleness.

Walk wisely my brothers and sisters.

In Christ,

Quentin Self

Advertisements

The Greatest: Are You Fighting With or Against Him?

Previously published on June 7, 2016 in another location

The world recently mourned the passing of Muhammad Ali, who is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, if not the greatest boxer of all time. At the very least, we know that Ali considered himself the greatest, if you don’t believe me, watch the video below and ask him for yourself.

See. There you have it, he’s the greatest.

Now, I want to ask the question, “Are you a great fighter?”

We are all fighting for something. Which means that we are also fighting against something. Any time you choose to devote yourself to something, you are fighting for that thing. When you devote yourself to something, you are saying “yes” to that thing. And every time you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else.

I believe that most people who call themselves Christians most of the time do not fight in a conscious state. I mean that Christians simply live their lives, saying “yes” to some things and “no” to other things without ever really asking “why?” Most of us simply don’t sit still long enough to consider if we are fighting the right fight, on the right side, according to God’s will for our lives.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Boom. There it is. There you have the answer to the most pressing question every Christian asks: “What is God’s will?”

We too often cripple ourselves trying to ask this question in the wrong way. We get caught up in details, getting angry with God because he won’t tell us the next step in our lives or when he won’t give answers to our pointed questions.

But, God has made his will crystal clear. His will is for lost people to be saved.

So, God’s will for your life is that you live your life to see people be saved. The details of your life really aren’t that important. Sorry, they’re just not. God will take care of the details, just trust him. Just fully take hold of what he has made clear: His will for your life is that you live to make disciples.

God desires for all people to be saved. God decided to use Christians in his plan to save people. God has commanded you to spend your life making disciples. Period. No wiggling out of this one. Either you obey or you disobey. No Christian is excluded from this. If you think you can just call yourself a Christian but not be a disciple-maker, then you’re deceived. Wake up. Actually read what Jesus said and get on board with what he wants for your life.

So, are you fighting the right fight?

In other words, Are you making disciples?

Are people getting saved through your disciple-making efforts? Are believers becoming more like Christ through your disciple making efforts?

If not, then I’d bet my car that you’re probably fighting against God instead of for God.

Here’s some scary logic to consider:

God’s will is for all people to be saved.
God is sovereign and able to accomplish his will as he sees fit.
If people are not being saved through our efforts.
Then we must be fighting against God’s will.
If God’s desire is for people to be saved, and if our church is not seeing people get saved, then we must not be working with God. We need to take a deep look in the mirror and see what idols we have allowed to slip in and take priority over the Great Commission.

Simply put: If people are not being saved through our church, then it is OUR fault. God is able to do whatever he pleases, yet he has decided to accomplish his mission of saving the lost through US. So if we are not seeing people saved, then we are not working according to God’s desires. We are not co-laboring with God in his endeavor to see lost people saved. God will not bless our disobedience. In fact, I believe that God often sends trials to break us in our disobedience to lead us to repentance.

We have to be willing to do whatever it takes to obey Christ’s Great Commission. If anything is hindering us from impacting lostness, then we must change it or remove it. If we are missing something necessary for disciple-making, then we must be willing to add new things. If we are failing to speak the gospel in the cultural language of the people around us, then we must be willing to learn a new language.

If there is anything that we are unwilling to give up for the sake of the lost, the we are idolaters and are living in disobedience to God.

I believe that 1 Timothy 2:4 should provide us with great confidence. God desires to save the lost. God is working in the world for the purpose of saving the lost. This means that we are not alone in our efforts to make disciples. God wills and God works to save the lost. Our job is simply to work with him according to his will.

I love being in the middle of a river fly-fishing. There is nothing that helps me to clear my mind better than fly-fishing. Here’s something I’ve learned from fishing: It is much easier to walk with the flow of the river than it is to walk against the flow of the river. It’s also easier to float down the river than it is to stand still against the current.

Why do churches plateau, stagnate, and fail to grow? Why do churches lose people?

Because those churches are either trying to stand still against the current or they’re trying to walk against the current.

God desires to SAVE THE LOST. I’ve repeated myself so many times, and I’ll repeat myself again: God desires to SAVE THE LOST.

Disciple-making is what God is working for in the world. In 1 Tim 2:4, God shows us the contents of his heart! God’s heart beats for the nations! God’s heart beats to see the lost people saved and to become disciples of Jesus.

So, if your heart does not beat for that same thing, then you are FIGHTING AGAINST GOD!

Now, it is easy to give lip-service to this. It’s easy to say, “I love Jesus and I am living to make disciples.” But, if there is no fruit in your life to back up what you’re saying, then you’re just lying. You’re just fooling yourself. But you won’t fool God.

If you really want to see the church grow, then start fighting on God’s side and not against him.

Here is some really hopeful logic:

God desires for lost people to be saved.
If we work and pray according to God’s desires,
he will work through us, and lost people will be saved.
It’s easy to overthink church growth strategy. In reality, church growth is pretty simple: work with God to accomplish his will.

But simple does not mean easy. Our sinful flesh makes us want to stand in the middle of the river or even try to walk up stream. Our flesh makes us cling to our own preferences. Our flesh makes us love ourselves more than God. Our flesh leads us to place our own preferences and comfort at a higher priority than the eternal status of lost people. Are we willing, for the sake of our own traditions, to let the thousands of lost people around us to spend an eternity of torment in hell? Seriously? We make a big deal out of so many things that are simply not a big deal.

If you have made a big deal out of anything other than the gospel, then you are fighting against God. So I say this with love: Get over it.

Spend enough time with Jesus so that his desires will become your desires. Let him change your heart and align your heart with his plan for the universe. Be willing to change. When he points out an idol, surrender it. Give it up. Otherwise, you will live your life trying to swim upstream or stand in the middle of a current. Do not waste your life by fighting against God’s will.

Here are a few signs that you may be fighting against God:

I look at lost people with judgement instead of compassion and grace.
I never share the gospel with people.
I do not spend much time with Jesus.
I determine if something is good based on my own opinion instead of God’s Word.
I do not spend time praying for lost people.
I would rather my church stay the same size.
I get mad when people try to change things about my church.
Here is the sign that you are fighting with God.

You will do anything or give up anything to see lost people saved and to help them become mature disciples of Jesus.
So, what is YOUR greatest desire? If your greatest desire is not for people to be saved, then your heart is not in line with God’s. You are fighting against God, which is never a good idea. He really is ‘the greatest.’

God desires to save the lost. He is able to save the lost. He has called us to have a part in reaching the lost. If we will work according to his desires, he will use us to reach the lost! What a glorious truth. What a glorious life: to make your life count for God’s eternal purpose.

In Christ,

Quentin Self

The Unexpected First Step to Reaching the Nations

Originally Published on March 17, 2016 in a different location. 

I like waking up early. Actually, it’s a love-hate relationship. In the first moments, I hate it. I want to throat-punch the morning. But after I get going, I love it. Why? STILLNESS. That is the one time of the day when I can be almost 100% sure that I can let my mind and heart be still.

Yes, still on Psalm 46 this week, but looking at the bigger picture of why stillness is so crucial to our lives as disciples of Jesus.

Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.” I read that and sometimes I’m like “yeah right.” My mind most of the time is running like a hamster on a wheel, only there is no wheel, and he’s blindfolded… you get the picture right? Pure craziness. And my heart is most of the time just plain messy. So, if we are ever going to be still, we have to fight for it.

Making time for stillness gives an incredible personal benefit. Our greatest need is worship. But what if I told you that making time for stillness has a global benefit?

What if I told you that the first step to making a global impact is for you to be still?

1458240974100

Heres the full verse of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” So you get that? God says, “Be still, listen to me… Good… now that you’re still… I want to remind you of the big picture.”

The Big Picture of human history is God’s global fame. He created all the universe. He deserves all the worship from every person in the world. And the crazy, seemingly paradoxical thing about this whole deal is that what we need more than anything is to worship God.

What God wants for the world is exactly what we need. He desires our worship, and it is worship that will heal our hearts and make us whole.

As rebellious sinners, we turn away from the only thing that will satisfy our hearts in an attempt to find what our hearts are after in things that can never satisfy.

So God breaks in. God breaks in and he breaks you with his love. He tells you, “While you were my enemy, I still loved you. I loved you so much that I gave everything for you.” And now that we have experienced that love and been made God’s sons and daughters, we are like orphans who get adopted and don’t know how to trust good parents.

That’s the battle we fight when we fight for stillness. Our minds and hearts are still trying to operate in the old way. They try to run down things that promise peace, and they never find it. So they keep on running and running and running, never still, and they run right past the one thing they need.

So be still.

God draws you into stillness so he can shout the gospel into your ears.

He draws you into stillness to remind you just how much he loves you. He draws you into stillness to remind you of the big picture. When he saved you, he handed you a command: The Great Commission. God’s goal in his grand narrative of redemption is that he “will be exalted among the nations.” And he’s invited to you play a key role in this grand narrative.

Viktor Frankl says, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by a lack of meaning and purpose” (and you should definitely read up on how Frankl came up with this, let’s just say he’s not throwing out random ideas with no basis… the guy survived Auschwitz).

When you fight for stillness, you fight to be reminded of your purpose.

So fight.

Fighting involves discipline. Fighting involves planning. Here’s a few steps to take in your fight for stillness:

  1. Get up early: Jesus rose early in the morning to be still with the Father. If you don’t capture those still moments of the morning, it’s likely you won’t get any still moments for the day.
  2. Be consistent: Jesus uses agricultural illustrations to describe your walk with him (John 15). Plants grow slowly. And they’ll never grow if you keep yanking them out of the ground and sticking them back once a week when they start looking parched. Keep your roots in the ground!

Okay, that’s it for this time. Fight to be still. Fight to find your purpose.

In Christ,

Quentin Self

You Have to Fight to Be Still

Originally published March 10, 2016

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following a daily emphasis for prayers. I’m copying a dead preacher who had a really good ministry during his life. Can’t remember his name right now, but anyway, the daily emphases are as follows:

Monday – Special Devotion. Tuesday – Spread of the Gospel. Wednesday – Kingdom of Christ. Thursday – Self Denial. Friday – Examination & Confession. Saturday – Intercession. Sunday -Church & Outpouring of the Spirit.

Let’s just say this discipline has been nothing less than fantastic, though fantastic has a different definition for different days. Like today, Thursday, Self-Denial day. The ‘fantastic’ of today can be pretty rough at first, but liberating. Bottom-line, this discipline grants focus. My prayer life is weak often for two reasons: Lack of focus, and lack of direction (which are kind of similar, but different).

Lack of focus is because we live in an A.D.D. culture where the tyrannical urgent robs us of mental clarity. Prayer is tough because as soon as our minds are calm, some unwanted “to-do” comes in our head and we’re sent scrambling out of the prayer closet and into the clamor of another crazy day.

Lack of direction is when my mind is focused but I end up praying for the same things and sound like a broken record repeating “Father God” and “Lord” a bazillion times because I really don’t know what to pray for.

When I only have one thing to pray about for the day, I have direction. And most often when I have direction, I have focus.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

I think our greatest need as disciples is to learn the art of being still. We need stillness in our hearts. But we first need stillness of our minds.

1457614622369This is my precious little boy looking out an open window this morning. He stood there for ten minutes, wide-eyes full of wonder, as he just listened to the symphony of songbirds on this still morning.

The Lord desires such a heart in us.

Feel free to try the daily focus for prayers. I know it helps me. Whatever the case, do whatever it takes to find focus and direction in your prayers. There is nothing like sitting in the presence of our Lord, hearing his gentle and fierce voice speak truth. So be still and listen.

Be sure of one thing though, in the busyness of this life, you will have to fight for stillness.

Focusing my daily prayers on one thing helps me to fight. In my set-apart time for prayer, I can focus. I sit in prayer longer. And in through the course of my day, I find myself prayer more often. Whatever you do, find something that helps you fight for stillness. The fight for stillness is the fight for joy. So fight!

In Christ,

Quentin Self