One of the first tasks I undertook after moving into my home was to install a post and mailbox at the end of the driveway. The home’s previous owners had only used the home as a vacation destination so there was no need for one, but since this was my new permanent residence it was at the top of my list. I researched different types of posts online and found one that would suit my needs. It was advertised as a “no dig” mailbox post. That was exactly what I was looking for, something relatively easy to do myself.
Before purchasing, I glanced at the instructions to make sure I had all the tools I needed to install it. Thankfully, the manufacturers included images of the tools needed right on the box. Easy. One was a large hammer, similar to the one depicted here, so I added that to my order.
Once everything was delivered, I selected the location for the mailbox, unboxed the materials, and looked at the instructions. There was a steel anchor that had to be hammered into the ground to a depth of about 10-12 inches. I brushed aside some of the gravel in the designated spot, set the anchor in place, and began to pound. After a few blows the anchor began to descend but not very deeply. I continued to strike it, but even after several blows only an inch or two had sunk beneath the surface. I tried again… and again. Same results. Finally, I decided it was time to try a different approach.
I thought maybe if I attached the anchor to the post first, and then struck the post, the added weight would move the anchor deeper. I easily removed the anchor from the ground and began to secure the other end of it into the hole that was in base of the post. It took some effort but I managed to get the anchor firmly embedded. I lifted the post and tried to drive the anchor as deep as I could with my own strength. It settled as deep as it had been before – about an inch or two below the surface. I then began pounding the post with my hammer. Being that my target was a bit higher off the ground now, I was literally throwing my whole body at it. I’d start the swing of the hammer from my knees, bring it up over my head and let the momentum drop down onto the post like I was serving for the finals on Centre Court at Wimbledon. I was really hoping that the grunts and pounding hadn’t roused the neighbors enough to come out and see what the new resident on the block was doing… or trying to do.
I had worked up a sweat, my muscles in my arms and torso were beginning to ache, and the post was sitting precariously some 8 inches above the ground. I had made little progress. After a few moments rest I began again, flailing myself at this cedar post with all my might until finally it happened. The hammer broke! The rubber mallet came loose from its handle and flew into my front yard. Exhausted and a bit discouraged I decided to go back to the instructions for some guidance and perhaps comfort. That’s when I saw it. The depiction of the hammer that I had mistakenly identified as a rubber mallet was, in fact, supposed to be, a sledgehammer.
As I wiped the sweat from my forehead and stared at this cedar post ridiculously perched above the ground I couldn’t help but shake my head and laugh to myself. No wonder this wasn’t working! Now I really was concerned about my first impression with the neighbors. I had to do something to solve this problem and quickly before anyone else saw my foolishness. I raced into the house to look for another hammer. All I could find was a standard claw hammer left by the previous owner. It was better than nothing and hopefully more effective than the rubber mallet had been. I began pounding the cedar post with nearly the same vigor as I had before. There seemed to be some movement. I kept my eye on the anchor with every drop of the hammer until something else caught my attention. The cedar post had begun to splinter. The claw hammer was doing more damage than good and sure enough, with just a few more blows, the post was ruined. Epic failure.
I spent the next hour or so uprooting the remains, driving back to the big box hardware store, purchasing a new post and this time, a sledgehammer. Now, with the proper tools in hand, I began again.
The ease with which that anchor sunk into the ground beneath the power of the proper tool was a sharp contrast to the exhaustive, body-flailing efforts of my previous attempt. There was no comparison! The task was completed within minutes and the outcome was exactly what the instructions had promised. I was exhausted, humbled, and wiser. I not only learned to read directions more carefully but also, that even well-intentioned zeal produces nothing but epic failure when faith is placed in the wrong tool.
Zeal is one of those words we don’t use too often anymore. The Apostle Paul used that word, and one of the places he did is in his letter to the church of Rome. In Chapter 12, Paul begins by reminding the believers of God’s amazing mercy and grace that had been poured out on them. He spent most of the previous 11 chapters spelling out the truths of the gospel: how Jesus paid the price for their sin by dying on the cross in their place; how their relationship with God the Father had been restored; and how they would receive eternal life because of their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. He is now urging them to deeply contemplate the mercy they have received from God and in view of that, offer themselves back to God. He is asking them to lay themselves on the altar – not as dead sacrifices, but as ones that are living; believers living out their lives for Jesus as an act of worship, an act of love. (v. 1)
Paul provides these believers instructions on how they can become these “living sacrifices.” He tells them to reject conformity to the world’s standards. They were to be different than those who did not believe in Jesus. Instead, they were to allow themselves to be transformed by God through the life-changing renovation of their minds (v. 2). The word he uses in Greek is the word “metamorphosis” in English. It is a process that God brings the willing believer through, not something that the believer does for himself. It is a process that dramatically changes the believer, every bit as dramatic as a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. He also reminds them about having humility, being sober-minded as to who they are (v. 3). This means not thinking too highly of themselves but having a realistic understanding of who they are in Christ and how they are equipped to serve Him.
Paul even speaks about the right set of tools needed to carry out these instructions. In verses 4-8 Paul speaks of the various spiritual gifts that believers are given. While it is not a complete list, he is telling them that they are equipped. Each believer has been given at least one supernaturally powered tool that will allow them to carry out the function they have within the larger body of believers that they belong to.
Then, in verses 8-13, Paul speaks about zeal. His words are so powerful, so motivating. He leaves no question about what their lives are to look like in response to what God has done for them. In the original language his sentiment is even clearer than most of our English translations. Here is my rough paraphrase of these verses looking at the original Greek: “Let love be real – totally sincere, without hypocrisy. Utterly detest evil and stick like glue to good. Love fellow believers like brothers, be devoted to them like family, honor them. Let them go first. And quickly, diligently, earnestly and with enthusiasm in spirit, burn to the point of boiling in serving the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in persecution, affliction and distress, and pray constantly for what your fellow believers need; sharing and pursuing ways to show love even if they’re strangers.”
Do you hear his passion? Can you feel his desire for these believers to channel all their energy into service to God and in love towards one another? The word that is translated as “fervent” is to literally be boiling with desire, seething, bubbling with eagerness. That visceral kind of response to God’s love and mercy towards His children is what Paul is calling not only the believers in Rome to, but us as well.
I have seen a lot of zeal in our country lately. This political cycle, as I have noted in previous blog posts, has caused so much division – even division within The Church. The truth is, there are genuine, Christ-following believers across the political spectrum. And each one truly believes that the party they most identify with is what will make this country better. But, may I respectfully suggest, that if believers are pinning their hopes to whatever political party or platform they most identify with, they are putting their faith in the wrong tool. They are trying to shape the future of this country with a rubber mallet when what is needed is a sledgehammer.
Neither party, no matter how spiritual it claims to be, has the power to make the change that is needed. All that zeal, no matter how fierce or well-intended, will never change the spiritual direction of a nation. That is the issue. It’s a spiritual one. And ,to attempt to change it with a secular, man-made tool is foolish. Believers continuing to hammer away at our country’s spiritual direction using that tool is as foolish and as successful as me swinging at that mailbox post with a rubber mallet.
I am not saying that being involved in politics is foolish. As good citizens of the country God has gifted us with, we should be involved. We have a responsibility to be good stewards with what we have been given and employ whatever means we have, to choose leaders and vote for legislation that will be glorifying to God. What I am suggesting is that as The Church, we need to go back to the instructions. What is it that God has instructed His church to do? What is the goal of The Church?
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19
The Great Commission is where we start. We are to be about making disciples among the nations, baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey His commands. This is our instruction. This is what we, The Church, are to be carrying out as one Body.
There may be some that argue that without the leadership of a particular political party this goal of The Church cannot be met, or it may be more difficult to meet because of the environment the leadership of this country creates. To that argument I ask, “How big is your God?” Because the God I know will accomplish all that He has said He will accomplish regardless of what political party is in power. God is above all political parties. In fact He is the One who puts political leaders into place. (Romans 13:1) He does that whether we agree with His choice or not.
Paul’s plea to the believers in Rome still applies to us today. We cannot be conformed to the things of this world, including the political party we most identify with. Instead, we need to allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let God take off the blinders that are forcing believers to see the world only through the limited perspective of their political party, or their favorite cause, or movement, or sports team for that matter. God wants to show each of us who we are in Him. He wants us to see others as He has created them to be. If we have reduced ourselves and others to mere representatives of political ideologies, we have insulted The Creator. He has much for His Church to accomplish but many of us need to yield to that transformational process He offers us before we can be effective members of His Body.
The fact is, believers from every political party are already united. We are united because we share the same Spirit. We have not only been given the same mission to fulfill, we each have been given the Holy Spirit of God to dwell within us. So, in spite of our differences, whether they be race, gender, socio-economic status, political party, or hair color we are already one. We are one body of believers united by God’s Holy Spirit. What may be missing is our recognition of that unity and our ability to see past our differences.
We have also been equipped with the right “Tool.” We have a sledgehammer. He is the Sledgehammer of all sledgehammers, the Holy Spirit of God. He has not only the power to change the direction of a nation, He has the power to change the direction of a human heart. That is a far more difficult task with far greater consequences. That is the power we have within us! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, lives inside of us and it is that power that God wants to unleash in our world through us. He wants to use us to share the good news of salvation with others and make a spiritual difference in our nation, our world, and in the heart of our neighbor who ascribes to the opposing political party.
Paul ends this chapter of Romans with these instructions: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)
I love that Paul knew he was writing to a bunch of human beings with strong opinions. I love even more that God knew who He was dealing with when He inspired Paul to write these words to us. Re-read those verses while bringing to mind a believer from the opposing political party. Are you willing to live in harmony with them? Are you willing to associate with them? Are you willing to carry out the Great Commission along side of them? Can you bless and not curse them? Can you allow God to be God in their lives and take yourself off of His judgment seat? Will you instead, sit down and have a meal or a drink with them? That is our calling. We are to check our pride, our attitudes, and our political platforms at the door and allow God to be God. This is a call for the Church to be the Church. We cannot be overcome by evil but we must overcome evil with good.
Consider what God has done for you. Consider the sacrifice that Jesus made, substituting His body for yours on that cross. Consider how unworthy you are of the gift of reconciliation and eternity with God in heaven. In view of those things, do you not want to diligently, eagerly, and enthusiastically burn to the point of boiling in service back to Him? Then submit yourselves to Him, return to His instructions for you and use the Sledgehammer He has given you to bring Him glory and bring others the good news that Jesus has died and rose again for them too! Let us all, as believers, lay down our differences, and recognize the unity we have in the Spirit, so that we may be about carrying out our commission. The task will be easy with the proper Tool in our hands.
Father, you are so good to us. For reasons I may never understand you have chosen to want to be in a relationship with the people you have created. In spite of how sinful and stubborn we are, you made a Way for our sin to be forgiven. Thank you for your Son, Jesus. Jesus, thank you for willingly going to the cross on our behalf. We don’t deserve your mercy and grace but we accept it, Lord. Holy Spirit stir in us. Cause every believer to reflect on the great gifts they have received and stir in them to want to respond in an act of worship and love towards you. May we yield our will to yours, surrendering all, that we might be living sacrifices for you. Transform us, unite us, and use us as you have intended from before we were born. May we be glorifying to you and may others see that glory and believe that it is your Son alone who can save them. It is in the precious name of Jesus I pray, amen.