Serve, Support, and Search

This week Chel and I met with the doctors marking the beginnings of the journey of radiation therapy for her brain cancer. We have known that this was coming for a couple of months now, but being in the room where it happens is a whole different ball game.

During the past few months the amount of support that I have been given, so that I can support my wife, and the amount of support that she has been given has been incredible. I cannot thank you all enough for your parts in that showing of support!

I have been thinking a lot about what has happened over the past few years on Chelsea’s medical journey. We didn’t have a couple of months to prepare for her first brain surgery to remove most of the tumor, or for the four other surgeries to fight the infection in her skull the next summer. And each time, we were taken care of by an army of people who loved us well.

This time, though, we have had the time… and it still feels like we are under prepared.

One of the things that I love about Grafted Community Church is how well we love people who are in some kind of crisis/transition. I can’t help but think this type of service became etched into our DNA as we took care of the Hammond family during our past five surgeries. But did we sacrifice anything as we learned these skills? Are there somethings that we have forgotten? If so, can we learn them this time around?

I want to propose that there are two big ideas that we need to keep in mind as we head down this path of serving someone in crisis/transition once again.

First, there are many people in our church who are not in a crisis or a transition today that still need to be cared for and loved. The process of supporting someone in a big transition also means linking arms with your brothers and sisters to hold back the waters from rushing too quickly against those that are hurting the most. If your brother or sister (or you) fall while trying to support someone else, then the support will not be as effective. We need to support each other in the nuts and bolts of life as we collectively support people in transition.

Second, there are many people not in our church who still need to be cared for and loved. If we cease to carry out the mission that Jesus gave to us of helping more and more people become a part of His Family while we work hard to support one family, we will end up turning our backs on both the Family and the family. My kids need to be reminded that God really does save sinners. Chelsea needs to be encouraged by seeing the ministry of the church continue even if she cannot be as active as a member as she has been in the past. God is worthy of us following Him. (Let’s do it!)

But adding in all of that to our already busy lives sound impossible. How are we ever going to have the energy to support those of us who are in crisis/transition, those who aren’t, AND reach out to others with the gospel? The answer: we won’t. Under our own strength we are far too weak to pull all of this off.

But then there is the verse:  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. It is by God’s power that we are going to be able to keep flying along, applying the good news to our lives and to the lives of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Remember: (Romans 8:11)

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

The power of God at your disposal, so that you may serve, love, and reach out without burning out. Please join me praying that God would help us to know the right things to do, have the courage to do them, and have the strength we need to complete everything to which He calls us through to completion.

A Country Song Helped Me in My Relationship with God?

As I look back on my life, every once in a while my musical tastes will wander back to listening to that wonderful style of music that most people love to hate, but that I came to love in High School: country music.

The time has come and my dial has been turned back to a local country station just a-blaring on the radio!

Sorry for all of you who don’t like the simple 3 chord songs that sing about a simpler world where everything is black and white, God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy…

(I swear I am going to stop making song references here in a second.)

Every time I come back around to the country ways, there is a song or two that catches my ear for the first time and something in it gets my head to thinking. This time around it has been the song, “The Difference” by Tyler Rich.

The basic idea of the song is that this guy wants to make sure that this girl knows that he doesn’t want to just be a friend, but rather that he actually does love her.  The end of the chorus is,

Yeah, there’s a hell of a difference in saying three words or kinda just meaning two
And there’s a difference in “love ya” and “I love you”

For some reason this song has worked its way into my thinking and made me consider how I interact with the One whom I should love the most. Do I really love God? Or do I just limp my way through a relationship with Him because I know that it is the best thing for me? Is my relationship with God about how much I care for Him, or is it just based off of what I can get out of this whole thing? Do I take the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as if they are something that I can make a reality in my life, or do I just think they are nice words to say and hear?

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Do I really love God with my everything, or do I just limp through in a “love ya” type relationship?

In Matthew 13:44 Jesus tells a story about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

I want to have the kind of Joy that would cause me to go and sell everything I have for the sake of getting God.  I want to Love God with all of my being.  I want my life to be built on something extraordinary.  And so, I am going to continue to search out who God is that I may fall more in love with Him; I am going to look for the Kingdom of Heaven where darkness has reigned that I might find joy in discovering another place where God is working; and I will mean what I say when I close a prayer with these five words: We love you, Jesus, Amen.

Sometimes You Just Need Something Silly 2018

One of the joys of joys of getting prayer requests each week is that sometimes I get to pray for y’all’s senses of humor… Some of the jokes that are on the backs of the communication cards are, well, bad. Others of them are pretty good! I carry these jokes around in my pocket because I can’t think of something better to do with them.

I thought it was rude of me to not share these jokes with everyone else, so here is a list of the jokes from the back of the communication cards from 2018! (I hope you enjoy!)

What drink makes you go “OUCH”?
-Punch.

What did the carrot hope for on its vacation?
– peas and quiet.

What allergy makes horses sneeze?
-hay fever.

Why did the tree travel to its hometown?
-it was looking for its roots.

Why did the forgetful chicken cross the road?
-to get to the other side -er no- to go shopping -no, not that either- I forgot.

Why did the calf cross the road?
-to get to the udder side.

Why did the gum cross the road?
-Because it was stuck on the bottom of your shoe.

Why did the ants dance of a jam jar?
-it said on the lid, “twist to open.”

What is the best thing about Switzerland?
-i don’t know, but its flag is a big plus!

Once a dog ate all the Scrabble tiles. For days he kept leaving behind little messages.

Did you hear about the claustrophobic astronaut?
-he just needed a little space.

What did Noah use of the Ark to help him see at night?
-flood-lights

How did the cold spread?
-it flu.

What do trees use to take notes in school?
-loose leads

Why did the cow stay home with a cold?
-she was milking it for all its worth.

What’s a nose’s favorite color?
-blew

What is fast, loud, and crunchy?
-a rocket chip!

Why did the student eat his homework?
-his teacher told him it was a piece of cake.

What do you call a droid that takes the long way around?
-R2 detour

Why did the cookie go to the hospital?
-because he felt crummy.

What do you call a deer with no eyes?
-no idea. (No eye deer.)

What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?
-still no idea.

Why did the chef get in trouble?
-he got caught beating the eggs and whipping the cream.

How much did the pirate pay for his hook and peg keg?
-an arm and a leg.

How much did the pirate pay to get his ears pierced?
-a buccaneer.

What did the dad buffalo say to his son when he went off to college?
-bye son (bison).

What do you call a fox with a carrot in each ear?
-anything you want, he can’t hear you.

Have you heard the skunk joke?
-you don’t want to, it stinks.

What is better than a talking owl?
-a spelling bee.

What do you call a wet bear?
-a drizzly bear.

What do you get when you cross a rabbit and a leaf blower?
-a hare dryer.

Why did pilgrims’ pants always fall down?
-beause they were their belt buckle on their hats!

How did they send the turkey through the mail?
-bird class

Who was not hungry on Thanksgiving?
-the turkey, because it is already stuffed.

Who was the drummer in the Thanksgiving band?
-the turkey because he had a drumstick.

What kind of key is not good for opening doors?
-A turkey

A Christmas Gift

I have been thinking a lot about gifts lately (which make a ton of sense since Christmas is right around the corner). Trying to help our kids catch that God showed us the most amazing gift by proving just how much He really is God-with-us on the first Christmas is pretty hard during the Over-Commercialized Christmas season in which we find ourselves.

One piece of the puzzle of how to think about God’s gift to us on Christmas has been to consider the greatest gift that has ever offered to me. In Romans 6:23 Paul says,

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eternal life. Life without end. Life that is as deep and rich as I can imagine that continues forever… that is an incredible gift. Especially when I have to come to grips with the fact that I have done nothing but earned death because of my own sin. I deserve to be removed from the eternal family because of my selfishness, my indifference towards the “others” in my life, and my downright mistreatment of myself, my neighbor, and God.

All of us fall into that boat; Paul talks about it a bit earlier in his letter to the Romans (Romans 3:23),

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

All of us are hopelessly destined to head towards our own destruction without the gift of eternal life extended to us by God.  This fact, in the same moment, makes me thankful for the grace of God in my life, and encourages me to forgive others for their sins. If I know that I am sinful because we are all sinful, then I know that every other person with whom I interact is also sinful (because everyone is sinful).  If I know that even my sin can be forgiven, as a wonder gift, by the grace of God, then I should know that every other person’s sin can be forgiven through that same gift, that same grace.

I preached a sermon during our sermon series in the Gospel of John about how Jesus creates a community that is radically inclusive. He demonstrated this when He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the one who would eventually betray Him to torture and death, an act of humility and love. (See John 13:1-17) We, too, should be following this Kingdom Standard, and take part in creating a radically inclusive community where what doesn’t matter is what a person’s past sin was, but rather that they have admitted their sin, believed that Jesus’s sacrifice brings them into the family of God and makes them new, and both confessed their sins to God and to others and committed to turning from a life marked by sin to a life marked by the love of God.

The Christmas gift that I want to give this year, and one that I hope you, too, can give, is the gift of forgiveness. I want to forgive just as God forgave me. Will you join me?

Reactions to the Manger

Every year we take 4 weeks away from our current sermon series to celebrate the Advent Season.  The four weeks leading up to Christmas have been a time when followers of Jesus have taken time to consider how their lives interact with the wonderful truth that Jesus was born!

In order for Grafted to do this, we are going to be taking a little break from looking at the book of Judges and instead we are going to take this Advent Season to look at the way that different people and groups of people reacted to both the Manger and the birth of the One who would eventually die to save His people from the power, presence, and penalty of sin: sickness and death.  We are calling this sermon series, “Reactions to the Manger.”  In the end, I hope that this sermon series will encourage you to think about how YOU are reacting to the manger, instead of only thinking about how busy you are with the end of the school and calendar years, busy with all of the holiday traditions that you are trying to fit into one month, busy trying to buy gifts, and busy trying to organize all of those things into the short 24 hours we each get every day.

The four groups at which we are going to be looking will be The Hosts of Heaven in week one.  Week two will be Greg tackling the prophets Anna and Simeon’s reactions.  In week three Steven will look at how the Shepherds reacted to the manger.  And then, right before Christmas, we will look at the way King Herod reacted to the news that there might be a new king on the scene… Each of these weeks are going to not only give us insight into how the people reacted to Jesus’s birth, but also insight into who God is and how we also can react to the beginning of the greatest event in human history.

Come join us this Advent Season, or listen to the sermons here.

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?