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

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 Go 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?

Where’s Your Agora?

No, an agora is not some body part that you haven’t ever heard of before. An agora is an English transliteration of the the Greek word αγορα. It means “marketplace” and it comes up in passages like this one from Acts 17:

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Acts 17:16-17 NIV [italics added]

The marketplace was were Paul would go to sell his tents and tell people about the Risen King Jesus who was the Jewish Messiah and what that meant for their lives. It was something like a modern day mall, college campus, social media platform, and bustling city center all rolled into one. This place was a center of a city’s life in the ancient times. Where people who lived outside the city walls could sell the fruits of their labor, and where the city dwellers came together to get what they needed to make it through life in the big city. Naturally ideas would be past between people and it made it a perfect area for Paul to proclaim the Good News about Jesus to new ears!

But our world is not organized around an agora like the ancient world. When we shop, we often don’t talk to each other; when we post our ideas on social media, most of the time we are not offending the very people from whom we are buying the ingredients for the evening meal; when we go to our jobs, we often try to keep religion and politics as far from conversation as possible. We don’t have an easy place where we can go and tell people about the Risen King Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and what His life, death, and resurrection mean for the lives of everyone we talk to.

We need to try to identify: where’s your agora?  Everyone’s will be different, while maintaining some of the same elements. It is a place where you can rub shoulders with people who need to hear about Jesus, a place where you can speak about Jesus (even if it is uncomfortable… there are some places where talking isn’t really allowed), a place where other people will be open to hearing some really good news, and a place where you feel in your element.

Some of the folks at Grafted have identified these spaces for themselves and I want to throw them out there for your consideration:

  • the local playground
  • a bike shop
  • a college campus
  • a movie night in your home
  • a recurring cookout with your neighbors
  • during recess
  • at the gym
  • the local beer hall/smoke shop
  • a record store
  • your place of work
  • with your high school friends on social media

While it may feel daunting to see that list and think that you have to reach out in EVERY SINGLE ONE of those spaces, don’t feel overwhelmed! Pick a single space from your life and consider if it could be your agora. If that is you, start up a simple conversation with someone about who they are, what they do, and if they go to church and why or why not. Most people have some interesting stories to tell! Listen to them and they might ask you the same questions back! Tell them about the Risen King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and how His life, death, and resurrection has effected your life.

And then see what happens!

Keeping Easter

It has now been almost three weeks since Good Friday and Easter this year. But so much has happened over the past couple of weeks that it feels like it has been forever since we came together and joyfully declared, “He is risen; He is risen, indeed!”

Maybe you aren’t feeling the same strain on your life and are finding it easy to remember and keep the joy and hope of Easter in your life and heart this year. But for me, I need some healthy reminders about how the death and resurrection of Jesus effects my life today.

This is why I need to constantly be both reading the Bible myself and be in conversations with other people who are trying to live out how Easter effects their life every day. The Bible, especially the letters in the New Testament, gives great examples of how the earliest followers of Jesus lived and were instructed to live because Jesus had died for them and had raised to new life. It is the same with other people who are trying to be followers of Jesus. Listening to how others are applying the joy and hope of Easter can give me me even more examples of how people live in light of Jesus.  Each give me ideas about what I can do in my own life, today!

What I really enjoy is the opportunity to discuss the Bible WITH people who are trying to follow Jesus and keep the joy and hope of Easter in their everyday lives. For instance I was talking to one of my favorite theologians and she said:

If you look at Paul’s letters, he’s like, “don’t be selfish; don’t suck; Jesus went to the cross you can handle being nice to one another.”
-R.A. Watczak

(13 book of the Bible summed up into one sentence… nice!)

But in this little sentence I was reminded that as I live my life selflessly, in a non-sucky way, and as I am kind to others because Jesus was kind to me, I can daily be reminded about the joy and hope of the Cross and Easter in all of the little things I do.

What about you? How are you keeping the joy and hope of Easter this year? How are you doing at interacting with the Bible and with other followers of Jesus to help remind and encourage you to follow Jesus?

Most of Us Don’t Do Sabbath Rest Well

I know it won’t come as a surprise to any of you that I was talking to my sister recently. I am not sure how the topic came up, but we got to talking about Sabbath rest an how sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between Sabbath Rest and Laziness. The conversation has been mulling around in my head a bit this week and I think I have come to two conclusions:

  1. My Christian circle doesn’t talk about Sabbath Rest enough.
  2. Most of us aren’t enjoying Sabbath Rest like we should.

Whether or not the first one is true, I am still going to write a blog post about Sabbath Rest… so arguing the validity of my argument feels like a waste of all of our time. But that second one… that is a pretty big claim. But before I show why I think that I am right, I want us to be on the same page about Sabbath. The verses where God commands the people of Israel to observe some kind of day without work are too numerous to list here, but in the first set of the 10 Commandments, found in the book of Exodus given by God at Mt. Sinai after Israel’s slavery in Egypt, God says this,

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

I would love to include other circumstances that God gives this command to His people, but for now, let’s agree that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day without work that shows a trust in the God who provides and reflects the fact that even He rested when His work was finished.

With that under our belts, here are three reasons why I think most of us aren’t enjoying Sabbath Rest like we should:

Some of Us Are Too Busy

I don’t think that this is going to be a surprise to anyone. We all know someone who has such a full schedule that there isn’t any time for them to sit down to drink their coffee. They know where all of the drive through coffee shops are just to make sure they can consume their caffeine on the road and not slow down while they are getting juiced up for the rest of the day. Sometimes this busy state is self-inflicted (these are the workaholics among us). But a good portion of stay at home parents suffer from this same problem. From the moment they are awoken at 6 AM by another potty accident until the time that they put the last load of laundry in the dryer after the kids are in bed, these warriors on the front evangelistic lines (let’s face it, they witness to non-believing kiddos all day) have their throttle fully on. No matter where the source of the busyness, it can get in the way of us enjoying Sabbath Rest.

We Don’t Rest, Rather We Just Engage in Laziness

On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who are constantly working, there are those of us who are so good at “zoning out” with our eyes glued to a screen that it is a little scary. This is not a new problem for anyone. The method of being idle may now include screens, but even prior to the invention of the novel Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Wow. Those who were being idle were such a drain on the family of God that Paul instructed that they not be allowed to eat!

When laziness is our modus operandi, we are unable to enjoy Sabbath Rest because we fill our down time with a substance called, “Nothing,” instead of enjoying God’s rest.

Lastly, We Don’t Understand Sabbath Rest

The last reason why I don’t think most of us are able to enjoy Sabbath Rest like we should is that we don’t fully understand it. Throughout the Old Testament a call to rest is brought up many times, and the author of Hebrews attributes this repetition to this idea:

9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9-10

The rests from work Israel were called to throughout the Old Testament pointed toward an ultimate rest from our ultimate labor: to be in relationship with God. Instead we must recognize that the work that is required so that we can be in relationship with God has been accomplished for us when Jesus declare that His work was finished (John 19:30), and He rested in a grave for a Sabbath before returning in His glorified body on the third day.

Conclusion

I truly hope that this post was a much needed mirror to help you look at the way that you organize your own life. I know it is hard to know how best to follow God, but I think that it is important for us to consider how we are enjoying the rest that God has offered to us through the completed work of Christ on the Cross. Sometimes that may mean taking some time off, other times it might mean serving someone else, still other times it might mean working our butts off on a project for someone who needs it. What are ways that you are able to enjoy the Sabbath Rest that God has offered you?

Is Christmas or Easter the Most Important Christian Holiday?

I love questions like this because it forces us to think about the things that God has done for us through sending His Son, who was born or a virgin, lived and taught as a wise man, suffered as a common criminal, and then was resurrected to new life to proclaim His divinity once and for all. Can we really tear them apart, Christmas and Easter? One cannot have its own importance without the other…

Those are fun thought experiments. But I think that they miss one of the most vital moments in all of human history: the moment Christians celebrate on Good Friday.

So much of the Old Testament points forward to this moment. From the prophecy that one of Eve’s children would be a snake crusher who would be crushed by the snake himself after the first sin:

[God said to the snake, “] 15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

To the promise to the patriarchs that through the family of God all of the nations of the world would be blessed:

12 The Lord had said to Abram, …
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

To the sacrificial system set out in the Levitical Law (there are, like 613 laws… ah, I am not going to be able to reference all of them here… but if you want something specific, go take a gander at Leviticus 16). To the saving nature of some of the leaders of Israel:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.

Judges 2:16

To the outlook of the prophets, who looked forward to a time when God would send the best example of a savior for His people:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

So much of the story of God’s interaction with people leads to the moment when Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. In that moment both the snake and Jesus were crushed, blessing was extended to the whole world for all could now be a part of the Family of God, the Lord has sent a true Leader who could save His people out of the hands of those who would have us turn away, and,

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

2 Corinthians 5:21

And now our lives have been changed because of Jesus’s incredible sacrifice. Truely, by His wounds we are healed. Our sins are forgiven. We are made new.

While Christmas and Easter are certainly important holidays for Christians, most of the story of God’s interaction with His people points toward and flows out of the cross of Good Friday.

It’s Snowing in April!

While this may have happened last year as well… a huge snowstorm in April is still unconventional. Granted, it definitely made me think about the song lyrics that say,

Jesus paid it all;
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed me pure as snow.

I started wondering, is this just a really fun word picture, or did the lyricists get it from the Bible? Enter everyone’s favorite superhero: Google Search!

Looks like Isaiah 1:18 may be our winner! Check it out here in its original context:

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In this passage Isaiah is calling out his fellow Israelites because they we not fulfilling their destiny as the children of Abraham. God called Abraham’s children to fulfill the promise God first made to him at the very beginning of Abraham’s journey with God in Genesis 12:2-3:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

All of the peoples of the earth should have been being blessed by the Israelites, including the fatherless and the widows among them. But, alas, no such luck. Israel had sinned by not becoming the people God had called them to be. And in their ledger their sin had left marks of scarlet and red crimson.

But God promised Israel that there would be a time when all the red would be removed, all the stain from the sins would be white, like snow…

It is simply the genius of God that the thing that He would use to both fulfill all of Israel’s failures and bless all of the nations of the world was the deep crimson red blood of Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 says,

In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

And Ephesians 2:13 says,

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Through the blood of Jesus, the sins, which marked Israel’s ledger red, have been forgiven. By the blood of Christ the blessing of being a part of God’s family have been brought near to to everyone!

While the white snow may be a bit overwhelming, especially since it has fallen so late in the year, it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red stain that sin left on the ledger of all of humanity; it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red blood of Jesus which simultaneously brings everyone who is willing to submit to God into His family and washes away the stain, so that even our sins are as white as snow.