My Toenail Reminded Me of My Walk with God?

Earlier this week I was waiting for something to start, or end, or whatever… I had my shoes off and noticed how my toenails look a bit odd. This is a result of the many years I spent when I was younger jamming my feet into soccer shoes and beating my feet up on a soccer pitch, or scrunching my feet into rock-climbing shoes (which are typically worn a couple of sizes too small), or showering off in public showers where athlete’s foot tends to spread like glitter given to a 2 year old. They just aren’t the prettiest toenails in the world.

I noticed the middle toenail was doing something funky and I thought it was going to create an ingrown toenail situation, so I preceded to do a little trim… with my fingernails as the only tools I had available to me. I ended up ripping off a third of my middle toenail on my right foot. It split from the end of the nail down to the quick and so I just pulled and off it came. It didn’t hurt that much while I was pulling, but once the sensitive skin under the nail was exposed to the air, and I put my shoe back on and had to walk on it… let’s just say that it stung a whole lot.

It is starting to heal a bit now and doesn’t hurt quite so much all the time, so I have to chance to look back and think about what I learned from my stupidity. Two big ideas come to mind: (1) Use a nail clipper to remove unwanted nail length, and (2) Ripping off you toenail is a little like sin.

Often when we walk contrary to how God wants us to walk (loving Him and the people around us is a pretty good summation there), most of the time it doesn’t hurt too much. I mean, it might sting a little bit while you hurt another person, or, contrarily, it might even feel good while you make yourself feel better at the expense of thumbing your nose at God or at other people… but in the end, when we walk against the way that God asks us to walk, there is always a cost that is incredibly hard to bear in the long run. We may experience the pain immediately, or maybe a few years down the road, or only in the world to come… but somehow our actions always have consequences.

And this is where I love the fact that my toenail reminded me of my walk with God. Because all of my misdeeds, all of my sins, all of my brokenness has resulted in a whole pile of consequences with my name on them, but,

21 God made him who had no sin[, Jesus,] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus became my sin and took my consequences for me. Then God gifted to me a right standing before Him. I may see some of the consequences for my sins this side of eternity, but in the end all of my sins have been paid for when Jesus took on death and destroyed the power of sin and death so that I might be called a child of God.

Sometimes making a huge mistake, like ripping off part of your toenail, can help you end up thanking God for everything that He has done for you!

How Do We Use Sundays Well: Part 5

To start off: Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, were written in February and March of 2018. It is currently September of 2019… But as I was considering writing this post, I realized that it fit really well with the other four posts; so here I am picking up right where I left off over a year and a half ago!

I have been thinking a lot about a section of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth that the NIV translation has labeled “Correcting an Abuse of the Lord’s Supper”. You can find it in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. But all of it kinda sums up into the last couple of verses:

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

And when I come I will give further directions.

1 Corinthians 11:33-34 NIV

Paul is pretty frustrated with the Corinthian church because when some people come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper they are feasting and leaving very little for those who come in late. There is a socioeconomic piece here where often the people who would arrive early enough to eat more than others were the rich folks, who didn’t really need the nourishment that the Lord’s Supper could provide, and who didn’t have to work late in the fields… where as those who didn’t have as much financially, who had worked a long day in the fields, and who needed the nourishment the bread and wine could provide were the ones who got very little.

But how does this relate to our Sundays? Every week we gather to be reminded of who God is and what He has done so that we can be Spiritually Nourished (I have no clue why I capitalized that…). And when we do, there are those of us who know how to feed ourselves at home through spiritual disciplines like prayer, sleep, Bible reading, meditation, service, fasting, study, or confession. And there are those of us who have yet to learn how disciplines like these can help us remember that we are free to follow Christ because He has saved us.

If you are still learning and practicing how to implement your own spiritual nourishment, coming to a Sunday Service running on empty makes perfect sense! Come each week and be refreshed by the good news that God loves you in spite of your open rebellion against Him!

But if you know how to feed yourself, but you aren’t… why? You could be in a season of life where someone in your family is incredibly sick and your bandwidth has dropped to next to nothing. You might have recently experienced a huge transition in your life and you are working on putting all the pieces back together. You might be just be being lazy.

If we know how to feed ourselves, have the ability to do it, and don’t… when we come to church expecting to be fed instead of coming to church expecting to serve, we are putting those who don’t know and/or don’t have the ability to right now at a disadvantage and doing them a disservice. From season to season everyone is going to move from one group to the other, but I think that 1 Corinthians 11 is encouraging us, as often as we can, to serve our brothers and sisters by eating at home so that we can be nourished when we come together through acts of service.

Part 2 of this series finishes with the line:

How can we use Sundays well?  By recognizing that most of our worship takes place during the rest of the week.

I want to end Part 5 this way: How can we use Sundays well?  By recognizing that most of our spiritual nourishment can take place during the rest of the week.

 

Identity: Who I AM.

What does it mean to be a Christian?
Where is a follower of Jesus supposed to be heading in life?
How is a Christian supposed to react to everything that is happening?
What is the point of life?
Who am I?

These are really big questions and they often have really big answers! But all of the answers begin with a simple idea found at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, “You are an image bearer of God.” You are built to be a reflection of who God is.

The Fall of 2019 the Grafted Sermon Series will be looking at just who God is and considering who He is calling us to be.
Come at 4PM in the All Nations Baptist Church building to join us, or you can listen to sermons as they get uploaded here, as we take a look at Identity: Who I AM? We hope to see you there!

The Smell Was So Bad…

I was putting out my recycling earlier this week and as I walked by my trash can the stench was so pungent, that it felt like it was reaching out of the closed lid and grabbing my nostrils and punching my olfactory glad repeatedly. I was so confused because this smell was so far outside of the range of “normal trashcan smell”. What had I put into the trash this week?

And as I walked back inside I realized that there was a carcass of a chicken and a bunch of overcooked vegetables on top of our usual weekly garbage decomposing in the hot, full, black trash can. I had noticed earlier the week before that our chicken stock stores were running low and our small group had just done a round of freezer cooking… so it was time to make some broth!

Broth is amazing stuff. Put a bunch of stuff that would usually just go in the trash with some seasonings and spices and put it in a pot on the stove overnight and all of a sudden there is this wonderful liquid that contains so much wonderful protein and other nutrients that a glass of it can easily substitute for a lunch! Through a specific process, trash can become beautiful and life giving.

And as I walked back inside from that incredible smell, I was struck by how similar I am to chicken broth. Hang with me here. Left to my own devices, I am a whole bunch of trash that cares about himself and only cares about others insofar as I can use them to make my life better. I am a pile of rotting trash that is repulsive to anyone else. But through a very specific process, I have been transformed into something beautiful and life giving. Because of the love of God, demonstrated for me by His taking the penalty for and my very sins themselves onto Himself on the cross, I have been made new.

The Gospel is wonderfully good news for me, and for everyone around me. And it it good news for you and everyone around you as well!

Paul said it this way in his letter to Titus (chapter 3, verses 3 through 8)

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

My prayer is that these excellent and profitable things would find their way into our hearts and minds so that our hands might be devoted to doing to good to which we are called.

Prayer in the Midst of Busyness: Part 2

So… how did it go?

A month ago I asked all of you to take a plunge with me and find time to pray a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Risen Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (You can read the post here.)

How did it go? I have been considering how deep that little prayer over this past month… and I don’t think that I have found the bottom of the rabbit hole yet!

Here are a couple of thoughts:

“Lord”

Yep, I got one word into the prayer before I needed to stop! In the time of Jesus, the statement, “this-or-that-person is lord,” was a treasonous statement, because the phrase should have only been applied to one person: the Cesar. “Cesar is Lord,” is the way that phrase should have gone… but Christians say it about Jesus… And this phrase has so many implications.

  • If Jesus is Lord, then no one else is.
  • If Jesus is Lord, then He gets to rule how He wants to.
  • If Jesus is Lord, then even when earthly rulers change, the true ruler has not changed.
  • If Jesus is Lord, then I need to submit to Him and what He wants.
  • If Jesus is Lord, then I need to ask myself, “is He my lord?”

“Living God”

I really would like to break down every single word in that prayer, but we can do that in person over a cup of coffee, tea, beer, or whiskey if you like! The idea that God is alive and active in this world takes my breath away every time I think about it. This world is incredibly complex! It only takes a couple clicks of your mouse, or a few taps on your screen to find some good videos online about the beauty of the way that the individual cell in a human body works. And only a few more to find something about the vastness of the cosmos. But God is alive and active in ALL of it. And so it humbles me that He would love a broken person like me.

“Mercy”

I have a tattoo on my right arm that holds the Latin phrase, “Simul Justus et Peccator.” It roughly translates to, “simultaneously justified and sinner.” It was how Luther understood the crazy reality that humans are totally wrecked by sin (their own and others) and at the same time totally righteous in God’s eyes. And it is because of God’s act of mercy, by dying for us while we were still sinners, that we can find ourselves in this wonderful state! God interacts with us through mercy because He is a God of mercy… and it still blows me away.

 

What about you? Did this short prayer impact you over the last month? If you didn’t get a chance to try it out, there is no reason to not use this next month as the one where you dedicate yourself and your life to praying a bit more often! I am going to keep doing it, because there is more to mine in this simple prayer. Will you join me?

How Does Reading the Bible Change Us?

Especially as we have been working our way through the final chapters of Judges, I have been thinking a lot about why Bible reading is important and what the process might be for how the scriptures change us. The author of Hebrews thought…

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Somehow the word of God is able to perform surgery on us with the precision of a veteran surgeon. It can change us… but how?

There are many tools with super smart-sounding names (like “Hermeneutical Circle” or  “Hermeneutical Spiral”), but I have always felt that if someone wanted their ideas to be understood by normal people, then they would use language that we all understand. God communicated in ways that we could understand, when someone dies for you, they love you… even I can get that one; I should strive to do the same!

Therefore I have been trying to think about Bible reading in concepts that we all learned in grade and high-school. Recently I have been considering the Scientific Method. For those of us who need a refresher, a basic understanding revolves around the steps:

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Make an educated guess, or hypothesis.
  3. Make predictions about what would happen if the hypothesis is correct.
  4. Test the predictions in a way that others can duplicate so that your conclusions can be verified.
  5. Analyse if the results of the tests supported your predictions and hypothesis.
  6. Share what you have learned.
  7. Restate your hypothesis in a better way because of what you have learned.
  8. Go back to the beginning and do it again in order to get a better understanding of the world around us!

There are a ton of different ways to state this method of information gathering (some 6 steps, some 10), but they all follow this general format. The process a scientist goes through to learn something new or verify something old should put him or her in a position to have their minds changed each time they test a prediction about a hypothesis.

Can we use these ideas when we come to the Bible?

What if we…

  1. Read a passage of the Bible.
  2. Considered what it said enough to formulate a question about it.
  3. Came up with an educated guess, or hypothesis about what the text means.
  4. Made a prediction about what the passage, and the rest of the Bible, will say when under a microscope.
  5. Did careful observation of the text to see if our thinking was correct.
  6. Shared what we saw with other people.
  7. Restated our original thought in a way that was better supported by scripture.
  8. And then went back to the beginning so that we could get a better understanding of God, the word of God, ourselves, and His world around us?

If we came to the text and put ourselves in a position to have our minds changed each and every time we read a passage of scripture, we could become a people who would be changed and defined by the word of God! It looks like a bit of works, but don’t worry we have our whole lives, and each other, to go through this process again and again (until Christ returns or death parts us) to practice and allow it to become second nature!

Thoughts from the 4th of July, 2019

This first appeared as a Facebook post of mine. Sometimes Facebook posts are just words for the wind to carry off and never be heard from again… after re-reading these words a few times, I don’t think these fall into that category.

“Today Americans celebrate a bold statement: a declaration of independence from the British Monarchy. But that independence was not won without a fight and many, many deaths.
Today I also want to reflect on the fact that I, too, have made a bold statement: a declaration of my independence from the rule of sin and death in my life. But my independence was not won with a fight. Rather through the self-sacrificial love and mercy of my King, ultimately demonstrated in His death on a Roman torture device: a cross.
As you celebrate your freedom from what was a tyrannical rule, consider the tyrannical rule we see around us every day. Celebrate the birth of a nation today, but don’t forget about the True King and the True Kingdom which has and will overcome all of the tyrannical rules all of us have ever encountered.”

Prayer in the Midst of Busyness: Part 1

Summer can often get hectic around the Hammond Household: all the kids from the neighborhood are home from school and we try to keep an open door policy for them to come over and interact if they need to, our kids are home from school and want to do all of the summer activities, and every time we come home someone looks at our milkweed and finds another Monarch Caterpillar… (I think we are up to 27 at this point living on our dining room table…). And I often find myself at the point where frustration, tired, crabby, and overwhelmed meet.

How are we supposed to keep our sanity up with everything that is going on around us?

I am going to make three assumptions here:

  1. Many of you have felt this too in different circumstances.
  2. The hard work of simplification (removing stuff from life and the schedule that isn’t needed) has already taken place in our life and yours.
  3. God is a good God who wants us to thrive in life… not just survive it.

So what do we do when we are in a season when it is likely that we won’t be able to keep a level head because of everything that is going on around us?

I want to suggest we look to the ministry of Jesus. Luke 5:15-16 says:

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus ministry was incredibly successful and huge crowds wanted to come to Jesus as their Messiah. But the note that Luke makes about how Jesus organized His ministry has nothing to do with calendars or schedules or ministry philosophies… Jesus often pulled back from the busyness of life and prayed.

I often feel like the burden of scheduling more time to pray is inconvenient in a busy schedule… but Jesus did it often when everything was exploding all around Him… Jesus withdrew. I think (the scriptures don’t say, but I think that it is implied) Jesus knew that if He was going to continue to be successful, He was going to need to stay intimately connected to the Father.

I wonder what it would take in my life to feel the need to be connected to God like that. I wonder what my life would look like if I was known as someone who often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. I wonder what it would look like for you.

Let’s try it! I want to come to God more over the next month (July as of the writing of this blog) with a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Risen Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Will you take the plunge with me?

Should Function Be Married to Form?

This is one of those questions that has been rolling around in my head for a while, but in order to actually engage with the idea… we should take some time to understand what I mean by the words “Function” and “Form.”

Function

When I say Function what I am talking about is a desired outcome from an action or thing. The desired outcome of hitting a hammer into a nail is that the nail goes into the wood. The desired outcome from singing music in church is that people would worship God. The desired outcome from an alter call (inviting people to come down front during a worship service if they have received Jesus as their Lord and Savior), is to encourage people to take the leap of faith into the arms of God for the first time. The desired outcome of guitar lessons is that the student would learn to play the guitar. The Function of a thing is the reason why the thing is done or why the thing is… sometimes… Let me define Form and we will come back to this idea.

Form

When I say Form what I am talking about is the way a thing is put together. A hammer has the Form that will aide the Function of putting a nail into wood. Music in church should have the Form that helps the Function of people worship God. Billy Graham found that an alter call was an incredibly effective Form to fulfill the Function of encouraging people to make decisions to follow Jesus during his time. Guitar lessons are a great Form for some people to help them learn guitar. The Form is the way a thing is put together and should aide the Function for which the thing was made for.

But sometimes you don’t have a hammer. Can the Form we call “screwdriver” be used to hammer in a nail in a pinch? Sure! Forms can be used for different Functions! Which can be good and bad at the same time. Sometimes we can create Forms that serve more than one Function. Music in church can serve the Function of helping people feel at home in church instead of worshiping God. Guitar lessons could push a student away from ever learning guitar. An alter call could feel like emotional manipulation and push people away from God. The very same Form could serve a Function that is the opposite of why is was created!

Why does all of this matter? As we grow, both individually and as a community, there will be things (Forms) that we used to do that no longer serve the first reason (Function) we started doing them. These can be very good things like prayer, reading your Bible, going to small group, singing in church, or even the call to action. But the thing that we need to keep in our minds as we make decisions about how we follow Christ today, tomorrow, and the next day is that what we should chase after is perfection of the completion of Functions (the desired outcomes) not perfection of the Forms (the things we are doing).

Function should never marry Form because Forms serve many different Functions as times change and Forms serve Functions, not Functions serving Forms. (That is a fun sentence! Hit up the comment section with questions or thoughts about how you have seen Function and Form play out in your life!)

Is There A Way To Do Conflict Well?

I have a house that is constantly filled with little people these days.  They are growing, and learning, and stretching their boundaries, and playing as hard as they can, and working out issues together… well, to be honest… we are still working on working through issues together well.

We have been trying to use a concept that John Jenkins, Pastor at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, suggested in a short video in which he shared the way that his church has discussed conflict in the past. If you have time to listen to a short video, I commend it to you here, but if not… just keep reading I have a short synopsis down below!

The 3 steps that Pastor John suggests create the acronym SBI: Situation, Behavior, and Impact.

Situation is all about bringing a specific moment in history, within the context of all the other stuff that was happening, that brought up the conflict. When I say, “you always act in such and such a way…” that doesn’t fly! A specific situation gives the other person with whom you have a conflict the opportunity to ask for forgiveness for that moment and to change the way they act in the future!

Behavior is all about focusing on what happened, instead of focusing on the motive behind the behavior. Sometimes the best of intentions can still harm another person! (Oh, how I have learned this one in my life!) Assuming the best about the other person, and simply pointing out behaviors that have led to a conflict allow the other person to ask for forgiveness for that behavior and to change the way they act in the future!

Impact is all about focusing on how the behavior impacted you and your feelings. If you felt disrespected, saying, “I felt unloved,” is very different from, “You were unloving toward me.” My feelings, your feelings, everyone’s feelings are valid, no matter how illogical they may be! Sharing how another person’s behavior in a specific situation impacted your feelings, allows the other person to ask for forgiveness for the way that their behavior impacted you and to change the way they act in the future!

SBI (a little like FBI, only not so much). Using these three tools puts our family in a place where we can try to communicate all kinds of ideas and fail horribly without fear that relationships will be irreparable! The mercy of God is not too small that it won’t cover over every single time we miss the mark; can we join with God and be people of mercy who practice forgiving each other and asking for forgiveness when conflict arises between us?