If I Had a Hammer…And I Do

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29

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As a teacher, I loved seeing my students make “progress” in their writing skills. I used to hammer this idea into their brains: Good writing reflects clear thinking. Writing is thinking on paper. If you ain’t thinking deeply, you ain’t going to write deeply. I knew that if I could guide my students towards complex thinking, they’d eventually progress in their writing skills.

Progress is a good thing, right? Moving forward and not backwards. Moving from the rotary telephone to a portable device able to manage our own private worlds is progress, right? The ability to stream endless entertainment to our flat screens, tablets, and portable-private world-managing devices is progress, right?

Lately my old brain has been wrestling with the idea of progress and being progressive. Now this word is political. The implication of a “progressive” party versus a “conservative” party is the idea that one party is moving forward while the other seeks the status quo, or even a backwards movement. Maybe there should be a couple of new political parties: the cautiously progressive party and the optimistically conservative party. Or some such nonsense. I shudder as I watch this political circus unfold.

How did ordinary words like “progressive” and “conservative” develop into such divisive trigger words? Oy to the vey.

I prefer to  think of myself as neither. I think of when the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus into making incendiary remarks against Rome by asking a seemingly ordinary question about paying taxes to Rome. Jesus asked to see a denarius. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Duh. Caesar’s. Jesus then replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:13-17 ESV and mine) In light of this passage, I say that first, I belong to God. It’s in Him that I move and breathe and have my being. Second, I’m an American who respects the law. But first I’m God’s. Always first.

Right now I’m watching a beautiful goldfinch hang on tightly to a blowing tree limb. It’s a momentary distraction from hard thoughts. That such beauty exists in a world where terrorists kill around 200 people in one weekend deserves a pause.

 Maybe I’m just feeling my age. Maybe I am a dinosaur and completely irrelevant to social progress. But maybe I see more clearly. Our culture keeps marching us towards a secular definition of progress…a social change that fights to make morality relative. As a result, I see chaos and hatred fueled by intolerance on all sides. I see God pushed to the side as if He is an elderly man with an addled brain unable to grasp humanity’s superiority to its creator. We struggle and strive to make sense of the world and our purpose in it, and then praise great human minds for answering the unknowable for us. As if…as if we can fully know the mysteries of God. But we keep striving to know and to explain in order to gain truth and push an elderly, inept God aside. (See Job 38)

Progress is equated with a movement away from God’s truth. The more societies push aside God’s moral law, the more depraved, angry, greedy, and violent we become. Christ followers! Where are we?

Jesus warned us to be wary and alert. He told us not to be surprised at what was going to happen around us. And my old brain keeps thinking, “salt and light, salt and light, salt and light.” Jesus knew what was coming. He has always known that cultures would move towards darkness rather than towards light. He used metaphors like salt and light in order to permeate our self-centered hearts and remind us that we shouldn’t expect anything different from those who don’t follow Him; but we—as followers of light—must always be beacons of light. Salty folks permeating the darkness, preserving Truth, and offering Hope.

In him (Christ) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (note the use of present tense verbs!)…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. John 1:4-10

I’m writing this from the solitude so familiar to me now. And comfortable. I don’t mind my enforced solitude, though I long to be out in the community doing something “salty” for the kingdom of God. But my Lord keeps telling my heart to rest. I have another surgery coming—one I dread—so there is no moving from the solitude just yet. Instead I’m devouring God’s Word. It’s a hammer that pounds my conscience and breaks apart my illusions. It tears at my heart and shapes the way I view the world.

I see a Church that has become too comfortable with itself. One that allows us to stay safe within its confines. We go to Bible studies, small groups, prayer groups, and mission trips to foreign places. We give money to help missions and to feed the poor and to rescue human trafficking victims. Church: It is a haven from a volatile culture. I think Jesus might be right in the middle of the volatility. He never shied away from discomfort. If He is my example, then why am I playing it so safe?

I hesitated to even publish this particular writing because I don’t like to be confrontational. I hate hurting people. But Jesus showed us that we can show truth in love. And we must. We have to be salt and light to a world drifting further and further away from God’s Word for our life. We’ve allowed culture to shape our understanding of God’s Word. We hesitate to use the word “sin” in a culture that rejects the term and rejects the folks who use the term.

Christ followers, we have to quit dwelling in comfort. We have to step outside our Bible studies and small groups and move into the brokenness. I don’t know what that looks like, but I believe it has to happen and that God will direct each of us according to His good purpose.

As our culture progresses and moves away from God’s truth, I have to stand on His eternal Word. I have to trust in a God whose throne is righteousness and justice. I have to be uncomfortable and touch the untouchable and love the unlovable—just as my Savior did. I have to be salt and light in middle of the storm. I must be a living metaphor for Jesus. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Rev. 22:20

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:32-33