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?

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?