Prayer and Shoveling

This week Chelsea has the opportunity to play piano for a middle school production of Newsies.  Seriously, that girl can play! But with rehearsals all week long, I am getting the chance to spend a bit more time with my kids than usual: nap-time, picking up kids from the bus stop, encouraging homework, reading, and piano practicing after school, and getting dinner on the table… all the stuff that Chelsea does so effortlessly I am getting the opportunity to do this week!  Having the flexible schedule of a pastor is the only way I can do this; thank you all for the opportunity!

Whenever I get to spend time with my kids, I always end up having some stories that remind me of how the very small things we do as leaders, parents, aunts or uncles, friends, neighbors, and colleagues can have effects that will echo for all of eternity.

Three short stories from this week starring my son, Josiah.

Yesterday on the way to the bus stop, Josiah asked if he could pray for Jesus, since He died on the cross.  I tried to explain that Jesus didn’t stay dead, so He didn’t need our prayers… but J was persistent.  So I got to walk hand in hand as my son thanked God for being born and dying on the cross to save him from his sins.  While I am not sure if J understood what he was praying, I know for certain that the only way he knew to pray like that was because he has watched his mom, dad, grandparent, aunts and uncles, preschool teachers, and friends at Grafted pray that way.  By the way that we interact with the world we are training a young man to talk to God.

Last night it snowed.  When I got home from UPS I grabbed a shovel to get the front walk cleared off.  Chelsea and J were coming home from dropping off the girls at the bus stop and J asked if he could help me.  I told him to go get a shovel and jump right in. (When 3 year-olds help with the shoveling, the work only gets harder…) Nevertheless, J and his red shovel were out and moving around the white stuff while the sidewalk got clean.  When we got inside and out of the cold, I said, “hey buddy, thanks for helping me with the shoveling!”  I bet you the next time it snows he will want to come out and help again… hopefully by then he will learn the snow goes OFF the sidewalk… not back on… but by a simple, “thank you,” J is learning that his actions have value.

Today, as I was writing this blog post, I pulled myself out of work mode and found J and asked him if I could share these two stories with you all.  They are, after all, partially his stories to tell, not mine alone.  In a simple question, J is learning that I respect his autonomy as a human being.  And hopefully he sees me doing that to other people as well!

Proverbs 22:6 says,

6 Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

In some ways all of us are children, soaking up the way to interact with the world every moment of the day.  What stories do you have of people who have started you off on the way to go with simple actions?  How are you starting off other people in your life?

How do we Give Thanks?

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that comes around year after year and, for some people, it is the only time of year that they spend the time to give thanks.  This is true both for some who call themselves followers of Jesus and for some who have no interest in Christianity.  The mentality that chokes off the ability to be thankful begins with the idea, “I deserve this good thing.”  If we deserve it then there is no reason to thank someone else for it.  Said in another way, we cannot thank God for a gift if we think that we have earned and deserve it.

If we find ourselves in a position where we have trouble following one of God’s commands for us like,

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV (emphasis added)

then we need to recognize that there is some sin in our life that is entangling us, tripping us up from running the good race that is before us. (Hebrews 12:1) There is only one antidote for sin.  It isn’t doing better.  If we could work harder to not sin then we would be able to save ourselves from sin and the grace of God extended to us on the cross would no longer be a gift, but would instead be a wage we could earn. (Romans 11:6)  The only antidote for sin is the blood of Jesus atoning for it.  Covering over it.  Washing it away. Removing it from our ledgers.  Exchanging it for the righteousness of God.  As long as we confess our sins God is faithful, and just, to forgive us of our sins and when we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus covers over all of our unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9,7)

So how do we recognize this sin, call it what it is, confess it to God, and then find a new way to live?

Romans 12:2 says,

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

To be transformed Paul said to renew your mind.  Thinking differently will change how you react to the very same situations.  By changing the way that you think, you can change the way you view sin and can help you bring your sin to the cross for Jesus to destroy it forever.

This Thanksgiving I want to suggest that we all focus on changing our thinking to follow the thought processes laid our in the often quoted Proverb (3:34)

34 He [the LORD] mocks proud mockers
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

Do you work your way through life with the proud attitude that you deserve all the good things you have?  Or are you humbly accepting the good gifts that your Father is giving you?  Humility or Pride?  One will help you walk in the ways of God, the other will lead you further and further into the choking abyss of sin and death.

Turning an Image into an Object at Work

I get moved around a ton to different roles while working at UPS.  I have been working for the company for over a decade now and have a pretty good understanding of how to do many of the different tasks and how each of them fit into the greater whole of the operation.  The problem with this is that sometimes I don’t know the people with whom I am working very well… being bounced from place to place doesn’t always give me the chance to have as many conversations with folks as I may like, or sometimes I use the fact that I am going to get bounced soon to NOT have any conversations in the first place.

And so the people become nameless robots whom I label in my mind: good sorter, jerk, the one who is quick with a joke, the one you steer clear of for obvious reasons, the one you steer clear of for less obvious reason, the other pastor guy… While it may be ok to have a working knowledge about who a person is, it is not ok for me to diminish someone and boil them down from the complex person they are to a label I can spit out in less than a second in my mind.  People are not objects that can be easily labeled… they are people.  I am reminded of a quote by Clive Staples:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Recognizing that the ones with whom I work are not just mere mortals, but instead have an eternal destination, moves me to think, am I making a difference in eternity by the way that I am working here, am I expecting to spend eternity hanging out with this person (should God save them), and am I encouraging those with whom I work to think about their eternity?

Are you?

Brutal Honesty

In my life I have gone through all kinds of seasons where I have done a better or, alternatively, worse job of following Jesus. One area where you can see this pendulum swing is how I have interacted with Paul’s words in the letter to the church in Ephesus:

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4:15

I have used this verse to claim that my words need to be as truthful as possible because, “the truth will cause us to grow.”  I have been warned by others that if the truth isn’t said in such a way that the other person can understand it, it is just a loud noise coming from me… (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) But on I went, sharing brutal honesty wherever I went, armed with my knowledge that I really want people to become a part of the mature body of Christ; so here’s is your truth whether you want it or not!

But like in every great story, the main character in our story has changed a bit. (More than a bit for those of you who have known me for a while…)  Recognizing that the truth without love is only brutal honesty took far too long for me.  Brutal honesty isn’t just sharing the truth, it is more brutality than anything.  When the truth becomes a weapon, a club used to attack others, the phrase “brutal honesty” can be applied perfectly.

When our minds are governed by the truth that God is, that He loves us, and that there isn’t anything that we can do to change that, we can step forward into any situation with the confidence, with the grace, and with the love which was extended to us by God.

What does your relationship with truth and love look like?  Where have you been and where are you now?  Everyone is on a journey; following Jesus looks like getting a little closer to Him every single day!

Finding Rest Looks Hard

To say the least, the Hammond family has been going through a lot lately.  As we do, we are trying to honor God with the way that we raise our kids, with the way that we handle the stress of brain cancer and it’s treatment, with the way that we are reaching out to our neighbors with the love of God and with the good news that the love of God is for them, and with the way that we interact with Him.  There can be moments when I can be stretched to my limit where I am not sure I can keep going.

And in those moments I think about the words of Jesus that say things like:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I so very much want the rest for my soul, I want and easier yoke, I want a lighter burden… but often when I am stretched thin I chase after the rest, the easier life, and the lighter burden.  Jesus does not want us to worry and work after the removal of worry and work from our lives.  Jesus wants us to worry and work to focus our lives on Him so that He can remove the worry and work from our lives.  This is so incredibly counter intuitive to me.  If I stop juggling all the balls, they will fall to the ground, won’t they?

But what if all along there was a master juggler just waiting for you to turn around so that He could take the balls from you?  “Come to me,” says the Master Juggler.  “Learn from me,” He says.  “Take on the yoke of keeping your eyes focused on me.”

“And I will give you rest.”

Are you trying to keep all the balls in the air on your own? Or are you working hard to stay near, to keep your eyes fixed on, and to learn from the Master Juggler?

Equipping So That The Body May Be Built

I fear that often people think that they are going to join a church, it will provide for them a social club to which they can belong, and all will be puppy dogs and rainbows from here on out.  But if I have learned anything from the last four years of us working together to keep Grafted Community Church a place where people can be grafted into God’s family, it is that the work of doing church is hard, ridiculous, intense, and nearly impossible because we live in a world that is permeated by the presence, power, and result of sin.

As I think about the difficulties in keeping a church going, I think it is important to remember that it is Christ who is really keeping His church running by giving gifts to the children of God so that the church may be built!

This passage from Ephesians has been helpful to me lately.

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:11-16

One of the reasons I have needed this passage lately is because our church has for a long time relied on Jordan to help each of us do our part of building up Christ’s body.  Because Jordan is no longer employed by our church, each of us is going to have to take a hard look inside of us and see the gifts that God has given to each of us so that we can do our part of building up His body. There is a void let in our church because Jordan did so many wonderful things for our church.  Where are you going to use your gifts to grow Christ’s church?

If you have questions about using your gifts at Grafted, shoot me an email to dave@graftedcc.com and we can get together and figure out how to graft you into the roll!

Judges

Welcome back to a journey through a whole book of the Bible!  For our return to this style of sermons we have chosen, The Book of Judges!

This book has provided some of the most difficult stories for me to understand during my journey with the Bible.  Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter to God?  Am I supposed to be like Samson and kill a bunch of people with the jawbone of an ass?  What is going on with the Levite, his concubine, and the whole civil war thing at the end of the book?

In my understanding, Judges is the description of Israel’s spiraling out of control, spiraling from a people who have committed themselves to being the people of God, and spiraling into hell on earth.

But I believe that,

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Which means this book filled with backward leaders, horrible examples, and death and murder is useful for us so that we will be ready for the good work that God has prepared for us.  How is Judges going to do this? Well… (spoiler alert!)

Every story is going to point to Jesus.

Come back and listen as they get uploaded, or come join us on Sunday afternoons throughout the 2018-19 School Year and into Summer 2019 to find out how!  We hope to see you there!

Listen to the sermons here.

Be Still (And Don’t Look at Social Media)

It never ceases to amaze me as the world at large again and again comes to conclusions about ideas that have been floating around the family of God for generations. Today I was trying to feed my mind and clicked on this video by Derek at Veritasium… (it is seven and a half minutes long, but well worth the listen, no need to actually watch the video.)

For those of you who just scrolled right past that, the video describes all kinds of ways that we are better humans if we allow ourselves to be board every once in a while.

As I watched this video I realized how much it describes me.  In an effort to use every moment to its fullest I listen to podcasts, I watch or listen to educational videos, I have a Twitter Feed that is filled with encouraging messages about who I am as a child of God, I have a hard time driving down the road without the music on, I try to stay up to date on current events, and I check Facebook like 8 Bazillion times a day…

And what struck me was the fact that long ago God commanded His people to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Even when my prayer life was the most rewarding and healthy it has ever been, it involved using the time while I was in the car to pull it off.

When was the last time I was serious about seriously sitting down, being still, and simply knowing that the LORD is God?  How often do I fill my day so chock-full of good things that even when I do slow down to the point where I might be bored, I simply fall asleep?  What do I need to take out of my life so that I can be bored enough to think about things that actually matter, like God?

What about you?

Paths of Planets to the Movement of Molecules

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.”
Genesis 1:14

“If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”
― R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God: Know God’s Perfect Plan for His Glory and His Children

I believe in a God who set into motion the Paths of the Planets and the Movement of Molecules.  I also believe in a God who also is in control of both the very big and the very small.  I find it easy to trust that God can be in control of these things that I can’t actually see, alters or manipulate myself.

So why, if I can trust that God is in control of both the very big and the very small, do I have trouble trusting Him with the great middle in between?

Why do I have trouble trusting God when His word says,

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Why do I have trouble trusting that God is doing what is best for me when Chelsea and I sit down with her oncologist and he tells us that the cancer is once again spreading and the best course of action will most likely change her personality once she goes through the treatment and will turn her brain to mush somewhere between 5 and 10 years from now…?

 

 

Because I love my wife and I can’t imagine life without her.

 

 

So what am I to do now?

 

 

Today I am going to do my best to follow the words of my Savior,

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34

I am going to follow the wisdom found in the Old Testament when the Teacher looked at life and realized that everything was temporary,

13 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

There is This Psalm

My family, both nuclear because of my wife and extended because of my niece, has not been a stranger to spending time at a hospital as a loved one goes through some kind of medical procedure over which no one other than the doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff, and God have any ability to change the outcome.

There is a Psalm that has become a go to chapter in the Bible for both me and my sister as we sit in the waiting room…

This week there is no waiting room.  But there was the news that Chelsea’s brain cancer is growing again and it is time to put into motion the plan that we made right after her surgery: radiation and chemotherapy.  The combination of the two treatments has been highly successful at stopping cancer in its tracks in other patients.  But the radiation will give Chelsea’s brain a sunburn, the effects of which we will not see for something like 10 years and are irreversible once the treatment takes place. We will officially be on borrowed time.

There is no waiting room this week.  But there is a Psalm that still seems appropriate for this week.

Psalm 77

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.

I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God,
    the waters saw you and writhed;
    the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
    the heavens resounded with thunder;
    your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
    your lightning lit up the world;
    the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
    your way through the mighty waters,
    though your footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?  I may not understand them… but I am going to choose to believe that God’s ways are holy and that there is no god that is as great as our God.

God, you are great. God, you are good. Thank you for whatever comes my way, for I know You!