Monthly Archives: January 2009

King of Kings

In 1st Kings there is this fascinating story about the King of Samaria, a guy named Ahab.

Ahab lives in a palace next door to a chap named Naboth. And Naboth owns a vineyard. The King wants to buy Naboth’s vineyard because it’s so close to his palace, and kings back then were lazy and didn’t want to walk very far.

Now it sounds pretty cut and dry right? He offers Naboth a really good deal for some land, Naboth should take it. But this land had been in his family for generations, and Naboth wasn’t selling.

So King Ahab gets all mopey and 3rd grader-ish. Until him and his wife devise a plan. They decide to frame Naboth for blasphemy, they plant a couple of people to accuse him at a party. It works. Naboth is killed, and King Ahab gets his vineyard.

Sounds like a happy ending right?

But then God sends a prophet to tell Ahab that He is about to wreck his world. Cut off his descendents, take away his throne, the whole nine yards.

That sounds normal to us right? Guy does wrong, God enforces justice.

But that’s not the way it used to be. When a king did something, it was the job of the gods, at least the job of that kings gods to legitimize it, to justify it. (Hence the blasphemy charges to get the vineyard).

Think about that scene in the Frost/Nixon interview and recent movie. The one where Nixon tells David Frost that when a president does something illegal, it becomes legal. We know know that reasoning doesn’t fly, but it would have. But the The God of Israel is a different kind of God, and He is trying to set humanity on a different path. One where those in power don’t lord it over others.

He doesn’t exist to just legitimize existing power structures, he actually calls them to be accountable. That’s a new idea, even though it seems like it should have been around forever. Matter of fact, if you are in power God holds you more accountable.

This applies across the board, religious leaders and teachers will be held to harsher judgement. The writers of Scripture knew that power, and kind of power, can go to a person’s head. They can start to think that they are above the ones they lead. It’s a call to remember that even though others may answer to you, you answer to God.

One of the terms used in the Bible to refer to God and to Jesus, is the King of Kings. This isn’t just praise, it’s a statement about the way God works in the world. God is over your power structures, your thrones, your presidents, and your churches. So when humans get to big for their own britches, we need to remember we answer to someone else.

Get your own vineyard.

Propaganda

So our daughter is only 6 months old, and she is already facing an onslaught of propoganda. The two most common words around our house right now are ma-ma and da-da. Each spoken respectively by the parties represented.
You can probably see where this is headed.
Leslie and I are in friendly, but fierce competition to see which one of us can get Eden to say our names first. And I am proud to say that last night I won. Eden said da-da.
Well actually she said daaaaapblllt. She wasn’t looking at me, and it sounded like an Indian war cry, but I think she knew what she was saying.
In the coffee shop at church there is a woman who works there named Rose Mary. She has lived a really interesting life, starting from when she was a little girl in Germany in the 1940’s. She actually grew up in Nazi Germany.
I was asking her the other day about what she remembered and what it was like. She told me that she remembered listening to Hitler’s speeches on the radio and she remembered her dad not allowing them to read the newspapers. The reason, she explained, was because her dad was against Hitler. He did not agree with the Nazi’s, they actually had a Jewish uncle they loved.
But Mrs. Rose Mary explained, disagreeing with Hitler was not an option.
That’s the thing about propaganda. It does not invite disagreement. It acts to divide and polarize, closing the lines of communication. The actual definition of propaganda is “biased information with a particular point of view.” It’s myopic, it’s tunnel vision. And it’s not like we can say that was only a problem during the Third Reich. It’s still very much alive today.
I could tell during the presidential election who a person was voting for by asking them one question: Which station is more biased, Fox News or CNN (unless they were libertarian, that threw off the survey). We act like we are impervious to propaganda but we are more divided than ever. I hear people parroting exactly what they heard on the morning news thinking they came up with it.
I found myself this election year being an absolute jerk to people that disagreed with me. I couldn’t see how a person could be so ignorant and divisive. While I was myself being ignorant and divisive.
Don’t underestimate the power of propaganda. Because it’s working.
It is disheartening to see followers of Jesus become so divided over every issue that politicians and publicist have managed to spin. Now this isn’t to say that there are times and places to stand up for certain things, but just looking over this last year it seems like we have chosen our battles poorly.
Maybe it’s time to take a break from what we allow in our heads all the time. Mrs. Rose Mary’s dad knew that the only way to defeat propaganda is to not listen to it. Maybe it’s time to invite honest dialogue with those you disagree with, without assuming that you already know how wrong they are. Things aren’t always that black and white.
Unless, of course, it’s to get your daughter’s first words to be da-da.*
* Leslie wants me to be clear that Eden did not actually say da-da, however Leslie is wrong.

Women

So a while ago I found this picture on the internet. It’s from 1938, and it’s from Searcy Arkansas of all places. It’s a letter response from Disney to a woman named Mary Ford.

And it’s sad.

It’s basically Disney’s response to her request to come work on doing painting for their films. Their answer was no. And their reasoning is because she was a woman. The only work that was available for a woman was tracing. Which I can only assume was not where all the young artist wanted to land. What’s so surprising to me is how blatant this letter is with sexism. And it’s not just Disney, this was the way the world was 70 years ago.

There is a story in Luke 10 that I recently read in a different way.

It’s about these two sisters, Mary and Martha, and Jesus is visiting them in their home. Martha is cooking and cleaning and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. At one point, Martha doesn’t like that she is the only one who’s working, and so she asks for Jesus to make Mary work too. Jesus responds that Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.

Now what I have always heard that as meaning we need to rest. Don’t always work yourself to death. Which is a good thing.

But it is not the most significant part of that story.

See to sit at a Rabbi’s feet in that day meant that the Rabbi was training you, teaching you, to do the kind of thing that he did. To sit at the Rabbi’s feet meant that you were being equipped to do something.

And without exception, every Rabbi only discipled males.

We miss this because we aren’t from that time and that place. But for Luke and his audience this was revolutionary. Women could do stuff too. They could participate in this new thing God was doing.

I once met a Buddhist lady named Okhee on a plane ride from Miami. Okhee was from Korea, and when she found out that Leslie and I were Christians she said one of the nicest things I have ever heard about Jesus.

She said that while she was not a believer in Jesus, she was thankful for him. Because of Jesus the people of Korea now saw women as equals. Christianity had been growing in Korea for a decade or two, and her mother and aunts were now more free than they had ever been.

This is the kind of dangerous seeds that following Jesus plants. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the history of the world most civil rights movements have been spearheaded by followers of Jesus. People who saw that the Gospel was not just about private piety but a reclaiming of the image of God in all people.

But, and here’s where things get dicey, have we lost our passion for that? I wonder if many women in our churches would feel like equals? Or in other words…does Disney now treat women better than churches do?

I think a telling place about where we are is how we read the Bible. I’ll talk more about this later, but for now, when did the story about Mary and Martha become a story about rest over revolution?

If Jesus himself thinks Mary can do it, who are we to hold her back?

Anniversaries

So I am not one of those guys who remembers every special day in a relationship, or brings flowers on every holiday invented by Hallmark…but today is special to me for a pretty memorable reason.

On January 18th, 2001 I met Leslie for the first time at a Harding basketball game. I wasn’t very smooth or suave (I actually tried flirting with her by pushing her out on the court). I had not gotten past the whole Jr. High way of showing a girl I liked her. All I knew was that I really, really liked this girl.

I liked her so much in fact, that I went back to my dorm room and told my roommate that I had met the girl that I was going to marry. He immediately sat up in his bed and made me write down this statement:

I, Jonathan Storment, will marry Leslie Maas, January 18th, 2001.

Sounds romantic right? My roommate and I told a couple other close friends, and here is where it gets sticky. One of those friends, told her a couple of days later about what I had said and written about her.

Did I mention that I had just met Leslie?

So I go from being some guy who might have some sweet way to propose in the future, to being a really, really creepy guy who is moving way too fast…and she thinks I’m too short.

Needless to say, it was an uphill climb for a bit in our relationship.

But despite my good friend’s betrayal of trust (Josh Harriman you know who you are), things worked out and 8 years later I am so thankful that I bumped into her at that game.

Leslie has only gotten better, she has been better to me than I have been to her. She exemplifies selflessness with the way she serves others. She encourages me to be the man that I am not, but that she believes I could be.

I don’t know how God works with bringing people together. Whenever I hear someone say that God told them to marry this person I am always skeptical. But whatever gave me that impulse when I first met Leslie, I thank God for. Because after 8 years of knowing her, almost 6 years of marriage, and one beautiful daughter, I am one lucky man.

Happy Anniversary Sugar-Britches.

Deuteronomy

So I recently finished reading the book of Deuteronomy during my personal time. It’s the book that Jesus quotes more than any other, it’s one of the main books about Justice in the Scriptures, always telling the Israelites to take care of the poor, foreigners, widows and orphans.

But one of the things that really stood out to me was how barbaric it sounded. For example one of the things God commanded the Israelites was that when they entered a town or village that they had beaten in war, the men may take the women for their wives, they must allow them to shave their heads for mourning, they must give them 30 days to mourn the loss of their family, and if they are not pleased with them they must let them go, they are not their property.

What? Does that sound strange to anyone else?

A couple of observations here; First, Deuteronomy was written first and foremost to the people of Israel for that time and that place. Second, that time and that place was a culture dominated by war. And back in that day men didn’t look for “wives” during their raids on defeated villages. They weren’t wanting to wait thirty days, and despite how bad it sounds to our 21st century ears it was a huge statement for them to hear that these women were not their property.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know this sounds bad, really, really bad. The entire book of Deuteronomy is hard like this. It’s peppered with God commanding mercy and destruction, war and then kindness to the hurting. It’s hard to wrap your mind around.

But I think it helps to remember that this was God’s word to His people, in that culture. In that time God was calling them to take a huge step forward. He meets them where they were at, and calls them toward change. There was a reason that later books in the Old Testament sound so much different. God was developing a people.

He wasn’t going to leave them where He found them.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says that one of the things about our modern sensibilities to these passages is that we have a conscience that was developed by the Scriptures. We critique that which brought us to the point we are now.

God has the ideal, the lion lays down with the lamb, no more death, no more pain etc. But God also knows the reality of the world. He knows that systematic evil picks up a head of steam, and takes something significant to end it.

Something like self-sacrifice. Even to the point of death.

I think Jesus is so central to understand the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is so central to understanding Jesus. Because Jesus comes and re-interprets all of Scripture. He says to them You have heard that it was said eye for an eye…but I tell you turn the other cheek.

He’s calling them forward.

This is why sometimes when I hear people quote Scriptures for their own ideas and agenda I get sick to my stomach. Sometimes people talk about war, or slavery to justify their own anger or racism and totally miss the point.

That was a word to God’s people for that time and that place. But you have heard that it was said…

God called His people forward, and I think he’s doing the same thing today. It’s time to stop living in the past, because you have heard that it was said…But that was then, He doesn’t want us to be exactly like them, back then. It’s time to move forward.

Rick Warren

I recently watched this video that Rick Warren, the preacher at Saddleback church did for his congregation. I found it pretty insightful on Rick Warren’s political action for the past few months. It’s long but worth watching…I especially liked his point on how the need for conflict makes our nation so polarizing, and the need for civilians to operate with civility toward one another.

Here are some questions that Warren’s video raised:

1. Do you agree with his explanation of Homosexual Marriage/Partnership?
2. How about his reasoning for praying for the Obama inaugaration?
3. If the media’s portrayal of public figures are just characterization of the actual people, what good does watching CNN/Fox/MSNBC really do?

Anyway, this is not trying to drum up another political conversation, I think we are all tired of that. I wanted others to see Warren’s statements because I think that Warren shows what it looks like to have convictions without being dogmatic (whether you agree with him or not).

I feel like I have a political hangover ever since November 4th. I said things that I regret to people who I had differences of opinions with. I was so passionate about things that I don’t really care that deeply about. I appreciate Warrens humility and candor and I think next election year I will take a lesson from him.

P.S. Thanks to my friend Philip for this link.

Limits

I would like to apologize to my reader for not having written for a while (sorry Mom) having a new kid at home I decided to take a break from the blog and should have told you, but now having some footing for what life is like with a baby, I intend to start back writing.

With that said…

So when God creates the world he starts off by dividing the night from the day, the dry land from the water, the firmament from the sky (whatever that means). Before he ever gets into the dicey business of making monkeys and pomegranates he divides and orders the basic elements setting limits on how far they can go.

Rabbi’s said that God divided the light from the darkness and it has been mankind’s job to do that ever since. Maybe they are on to something. The basic idea in Genesis one is not a scientific treatise on exactly what went down, I believe it is much more. God is calling the world out of chaos and into order.

And he does this by setting limits.

The book of Job describes this a bit more clearly where God is sort of having a God-off with Job, reminding him of his place in creation. God says to Job:

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it  and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?

In other words, God is describing the limits he set on Creation as a way of reminding Job who he is not. Job is challenging the way God runs the universe, and God is letting Job know that there is a bit more going on than he thought. And he cites as evidence of his power, his ability to set limits.

For the last decade or so, the structure of how we live in a modern world has changed drastically. It started with pagers, suddenly people could get ahold of us even when we were away. Then it went to cell phones, the internet, email, and PDA’s. It is no impossible to fully unplug. Everyone became on-call, and to not be so was rude. Globalization kicks in and suddenly we are just a call or message away from the other side of the world. And even if you aren’t wanting to be located, you will be found by Google.

6 Billion people can now get in touch with you.

For the last few months I have been going through a pretty tough time. I have had a low-grade anger boiling just beneath the surface, I have had little to no joy in my job, things that used to fun were just becoming tasks. My family, my work and just me as a human being has suffered. And for the past two weeks I have been trying to figure out what was wrong.

It’s easy to blame others, to say it was because of difficult people in my life, but the truth is the problem is me. More blatantly, the problem is that I don’t know where I end and where others begin. I don’t know what I can and cannot do, I did not know my limits.

On the average day I come home after work, to work. Even if I don’t need to. I check and send emails night and day, and answer my cell phone all hours of the night. And I was beginning to resent everyone, especially myself. I found that I was never fully present anywhere. Even when I was trying to help people, I couldn’t really help one because I was feeling pulled in so many other directions.

I wanted to quit several times over the past month, even though I loved my job, I thought it was my job that was killing me. But I recently realized it was me that was killing me. I have always been bad about knowing what my limits are, but  I am not in the same season in life that I was a few years ago, I can’t do everything I once did, nor should I. I am learning how to embrace the gift of limits. God didn’t make me to be available 24-7. And he didn’t make you for that either. So Leslie and I have decided to do something drastic. We are no longer answering our cell-phones or checking email after 7 p.m.

We are unplugging.

We hope that this will make our ministry better, that this will make our family time better, and that we can work well when we are working, and rest well when resting.

This is not just a therapeutic post or a resolution blog. I am guessing that if you have the technological capacity to be reading this right now, you may have the same struggle that I do. You weren’t meant to available for everyone at all times, God didn’t make us with limitless resources.

And that is a gift.

You can sleep well knowing that you are inadequate for many things.

We can do what we can do, and do it well, and let someone else do the rest.

Maybe God’s word to Job is still a word to us. You are not God. The limits are already set.

It’s time to embrace them.