“We All Need Sharpening” Matthew 9:16-17; II Timothy 2:15

A mountain man who was not accustomed to modern conveniences made a trip to town to buy supplies.  Upon speaking to the merchant, the mountain man lamented about the amount of time he spent cutting down trees for firewood.  The merchant asked, “What do you use?”The mountain man replied, “My cross-cut saw and my axe.”

“I’ve got something that will cut ten times quicker than what you are doing right now.  This chain saw will cut down trees with ease.  You will find that it is quicker and easier; you will be able to do so many other things, because you will save so much time on cutting firewood,” the merchant said smilingly.

The mountain man retorted, “Well my daddy cut trees this way and so did his daddy.  Matter of fact, if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”

“Suit yourself, old-timer,” said the merchant.  “I’ll be willing to sell you a chain saw whenever you get ready.”

A couple of weeks passed and the mountain man returned to town.  To the merchant he complained, “I just can’t seem to get everything done.  I work long hours every day, but there still seems to be more to get done.  I’d like to buy that there chain-saw after all.”  The merchant beamed, knowing that the man would save so much time.

Two more weeks passed, and the mountain man came to town again.  Yet this time, he was disgusted.  “I can’t believe I let you talk me into buying this new-fangled contraption you call a chain saw.  Instead of cutting down ten times more trees, I think I am cutting down ten times fewer trees.  I’ve never used a tool as sorry as this one.  It just ain’t worth a flip.”

The merchant said, “It sure looks like it’s taken a beating over the last two weeks.  Let me see that chain saw.”  The merchant examined it, hit the choke, then pulled the cord.  The chain sawed roared.

The mountain man said, “What in the world is that noise?”

Whose fault was it that the mountain man did not know how to use the chain saw?  The merchant assumed that everyone knew how to use one.  As common a piece of machinery as a chain saw is, certainly everyone knew how to use it.  Could the mountain man be faulted because of his inexperience?

It’s a silly story, but one that holds some truths in church life as well.  We make assumptions regularly.  One assumption is that everyone knows where our church is located, because it is “the Baptist Church in Madison.”  But there is another Baptist church just a few blocks away.  Did you know that we are the mother church of Calvary Baptist Church?  Our church minutes record that the month after our founding on November 13, 1834,  the first “man of color” was received by letter to become a member of Madison Baptist Church; the infant church became integrated when it was only a few weeks old.  In 1858, Madison Baptist moved into this building from their former facility on Academy Street, which is where Calvary Baptist is currently located.  At the beginning of the Civil War, Madison Baptist had 318 members, with 180 whites and 138 blacks.  In 1865, which is the year that the Civil War ended, Madison Baptist passed a resolution allowing its black members to be released from membership if they wanted to begin another church, and that Madison Baptist would give necessary aid to accomplish this objective, which resulted in the formation of the Calvary Baptist Church.

Some may even think everyone knows where we are, because we are on Main Street.  But First United Methodist and Madison Presbyterian are also on this same main thoroughfare.  We should not assume that everyone around here knows where we are, because not everyone does.

Speaking of assumptions, how often are people enlisted for positions and never given any expectations? Some of us who have been in church all our lives need to remember that not everyone has had that privilege. We should also not assume that simply because a position is filled because of election, selection, or volunteer, that the person knows what is expected.  It is a good idea to offer training, orientation, and expectations.  Some training is OTJ (on-the-job).  If you serve on a committee and you know the expectations, think of the other members who may not know.  Offer your assistance to new committee members.

Over the past couple years, we have offered training options for our Sunday School teachers.   The purpose of training is to help make us better.  The purpose is not to say that we are inadequate; instead it is to point us from where we are to where we could go.

The silly chain saw story can teach us not to seek to employ new methods without changing.  Jesus said it a different way in the verses I read earlier.  “No one uses a new piece of cloth to patch old clothes. The patch would shrink and tear a bigger hole.  No one pours new wine into old wineskins.  The wine would swell and burst the old skins.  Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins.  Both the skins and the wine will then be safe.”  The mountain man had difficulty chopping down a tree using a chain saw.  Instead he needed to let the saw do the work in cutting the tree down.

Reaching today’s unchurched for Christ is different than it was twenty or thirty years ago.  People simply will not come unless the church is relevant to their needs.  The denominational label is not as important as what the church can offer.  For instance, a young couple may not attend a church simply because it is Baptist, but they will be more prone to attend one that seeks to minister to their preschooler.  Creativity is critical in being an effective church.  Serving others can take on many faces, and to continue to offer a variety of ministries and activities, more volunteers still are needed.  Discipleship helps enhance our creativity by equipping us for service.  When we do something with confidence, we enjoy what we do, and we do it better.  Discipleship certainly facilitates that process.  We simply cannot continue to place the new wine of the gospel in outdated, tradition-laced wineskins.

How important is discipleship?  Consider the difference between a strong and a weak cup of tea.  The same ingredients of water and tea are used for both.  The difference is that the strong cup of tea results from the tea leaves’ immersion in the water longer, allowing the water more time to get into the tea and the tea into the water.  The longer the steeping process, the stronger the cup of tea.

e become stronger with every opportunity for nurture and study.  The more we read our Bible, the stronger we become.  The more we converse with God, the better we know God.  The more we invest in discipleship, the better equipped we are to serve God with all we have.

Unfortunately, many of us do not take the time to re-charge our batteries.  When there is so much to get done, we forget the importance of study.

One day, in the deep woods, a man appeared at a small logging company.  “I am a faithful and hard worker,” he assured the foreman.  After several questions, he was hired on the spot.  “Here’s your axe.  Use it well,” were the only instructions.

Immediately the man began to work, felling trees with great skill and speed.  The foreman was delighted.  But after several weeks, the man’s daily quota of trees began to decline.  Soon the foreman began to investigate.  “I just don’t understand,” the man responded.  “I am working harder and longer than at the beginning, but at the end of the day, I have felled fewer trees.”

The seasoned foreman spotted the man’s axe, and after quickly examining it, asked, “How often do you sharpen this?”

The worker quickly retorted, “Oh, I don’t have time to sharpen my axe; I’m too busy using it!”

Too often, we, like the worker, fail to “sharpen our axe.”  We get busy trying to live for Christ and fail to do the things that could really benefit us.  There are many opportunities provided to help you “put an edge” back onto what you do for Christ through the Madison Baptist Church.  Sunday School is a week-to-week opportunity for individuals to learn more about the Bible and how we should be applying Biblical truths daily.  Regular attendance in worship allows a believer to commune with God, experience the fellowship of other believers, and share in their sorrows and joys.  On Wednesday evenings, we have discipleship options for all ages.

How can we be on the cutting edge of ministry if we don’t regularly take time to sharpen our axes?  We all need sharpening; all of us can become dulled by inactivity, fatigue, burn-out, and stress, just to name a few.

Paul encouraged young Timothy to “do his best to present himself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  The Second Letter to Timothy was the last one that Paul wrote before his death.  Paul had given his all for Christ and was writing this last letter from prison.  He had a good idea that he was going to be executed for his faith.  Emperor Nero was persecuting Christians, and tradition holds that he had Paul beheaded shortly after this letter was written.  But even in his situation, Paul encouraged Timothy to be a good workman; to present himself unashamedly to God; to correctly divide the word of truth.  Paul was calling on Timothy to guard the gospel and carry the torch further.  In doing so, he would have to study and train.  Paul’s counsel to Timothy was to take time to sharpen his axe.  We all need sharpening.

Opportunities abound for us to do some axe sharpening; we avail ourselves of some and forfeit others.  All of us, no matter how old we are, no matter how long we have been a Christian, no matter how long we have been a member of this church, no matter how educated or uneducated we are, all of us need sharpening.  We are never too old to learn.

Many years ago a lady sent money to Holland for her sister Greta to immigrate to America.  Thrilled at the prospect of seeing her sister again after twenty-five years, Greta quickly booked passage on the first steamer leaving Rotterdam, settling for accommodations in steerage, that part of the ship for the passengers who pay the lowest fare, rather than waiting another six months to travel in the grand style that her relatives had planned for her.  A thoughtful ship official, familiar with this common choice among families anxious for reunions, discreetly offered the traveler the hospitality of the upper decks of the ship during the day.  Greta declined this privilege, however, and remained sequestered in her dark, rancid, and noisy quarters for the fourteen long days of her journey.  This, of course, was known as “minding one’s place.”  She never presumed that there was anything more to sailing across the menacing Atlantic Ocean than enduring sudden tosses from her mildewed perch until reaching land safely on the other side.  Only on disembarking in New York Harbor did Greta behold what she had been missing.  On those upper decks that she had regarded as off limits were tapestries, chandeliers, wood-carved cornices, Oriental rugs, silver, gleaming crystal, and buffets laden with exotic and plentiful food and drink.

Most alarming of all, though, there were people just like Greta, stranded in fourth-class sleeping accommodations, who had accepted the invitation of the kind ship official and had meandered above to enjoy these treasures during the day.  “Imagine,” the traveler later would gasp.  “It could all have been mine, too, had I only said yes.” (Doris Donnelly, “Is the Spiritual Life for Everyone?”, Weavings Volume 1, No. 1, Sept/Oct 1986.)

There are some who feel they have been relegated to be a second-class Christian because of something they have done in their life.  Others simply will not take the time to come out of the dreary doldrums only to find the light of God’s goodness.  Still, others will short-change themselves of growth opportunities by sporadic worship attendance or refusal to attend Sunday School or Wednesday night discipleship.  Just imagine what you can have if only you say “yes” to the grace God offers.  Just imagine what you can have if you seek light instead of darkness.  Just imagine what you can have if you make corporate worship, Bible Study, and discipleship a priority.

In seeking to make “Church First,” attendance is a minimal priority.  Want to live on the cutting edge?  What will you commit to do to sharpen your axe?