Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Church in the News

This church in this video is just down the road from us in Fort Worth. The senior minister grew up at RHCC, and his parents still go here. He’s a godly guy and this is a great church.

What strikes me as interesting about this “news event” is that this isn’t particularly newsworthy stuff. It’s just the church being who she has always been called to be. I am extremely glad that CrossTimbers was in the News for this, I’m happy that some people with religious angst might have a fresh perspective on the mission of a Jesus community.

But I do think this is telling about churches. We live in a world where what it means to be church can be so misconstrued. The world has heard so many different messages, sometimes (maybe more often than not) we are seen as people who are asking for money, not giving it away.

In James 1, there is a beautiful Scripture about what pure and undefiled religion actually is. James’ says that this kind of religion is to look after the orphans and widows, and keep ourselves undefiled by the world.

But in the original Greek language James’ doesn’t say the word And. He just says look after the orphans and widows, keeping yourselves undefiled by the world.

It’s like the way that the church is different than the world is how we view our resources. The way we are holy is by who we look after. We are called to care for those that other may forget, because we follow one who thinks they are important. Our resources are not our own, they are for blessing the world.

And when the church does that, even CNN thinks she’s beautiful.

p.s. if you are reading this blog on Facebook, the original video is on www.jonathanstorment.com

Sabbath

When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt Pharaoh gave them a quota on bricks. When they started to get tired of the whole slavery thing, he didn’t back down, instead he just raised their quota.

That’s why I think it’s significant that when God rescues the Israelites from that life, he provides for them food on a daily basis. He gives them all that they need to survive and they don’t have to do a thing. Pharoah’s economy operates out of anxiety and stress, God’s reality is anti-anxiety, it operates on trust.

Most of the stuff that God does for Israel for those first few decades are set up to help them lose that identity of a slave that was so deeply engrained in them. This is especially true of Sabbath.

Nothing says you are not a slave as much as not working.

For the past few hundred years, Sabbath has been seen as kind of anti-Jesus. We knew that the Pharisees had made it into a kind of litmus test for how good you could keep rules, so we just reacted the other way and lost the beauty of Sabbath.

And we are paying the price for that.

America is one of the most overworked, stressed, cultures of the world.

I wrote earlier in the year about how last year was one of the hardest of my life. I had no boundaries in place. I felt like I was always on, and kept wanting to run away from everything. But since the new year, Leslie and I have put some limits on our life, the main one being Sabbath, and I wanted to give an update on how that was working.

Last week was one of the busier weeks in ministry I’ve had since I’ve worked at RHCC. I had pre-marital counseling, grief counseling, did a funeral and a wedding within a 24 hour time period. And I had to write three different teachings, went to a dozen different meetings, and I had an anniversary to celebrate with Leslie.

Needless to say, I’m glad that week is over.

But it’s not like last year. Last year, if I would have had that week I would have wanted to escape to some far away land. But this year we know better. We saw this week coming, we knew that we were going to be busy, we knew our normal day off was going to be taken, so Leslie and I decided to take off Wednesday and just spend the day together.

We didn’t answer our phones, we didn’t check email, we just spent the day with each other.

Now that may sound like just ducking work, but the truth is that the work I did for the rest of the week was better for doing this. Or at least I felt better doing it. I was able to work out of an identity that wasn’t dependent on what I do to be secure. 

I’ve found that in the past 5 months I look forward to our Sabbath. It’s beginning to be a day that I orient the rest of the week around. Not because I don’t want to work, but because that’s when we are refreshed for the work God called us to do.

Sabbath is God’s way of saying, in Mark Buchanan’s words, “You’re not in Egypt anymore.”

This one is for the Grand Parents

So for the past week back Leslie and I have been just readjusting to a regular routine of having a 10 month old baby at home. And that has taken most of our down time. But at the request of family members here are some snapshots of us in California with Eden. This above picture is her with her favorite singer, Nat King Cole. Since day one, whenever she was fussy L-O-V-E worked like a charm. And although she can’t read yet, she’s pumped just to be sitting on the sidewalk.

Here’s Leslie and Eden on the Santa Monica Pier looking all cute.

This is us at the La Brea Tar Pits. I’ve always been fascinated by this place. Eden however was not.

This is at the Getty Museum. It’s filled with amazingly beautiful scenery as well as artifacts from ancient Rome.
Here we are at the Burbank Lookout. And if you want to see the Hollywood sign, all you have to do is photoshop the smog out of the way.

This trip was a blast. Not only is Eden a great baby at home, but she’s also a great baby to travel with. All 4 times she’s been on a plane she hasn’t cried once. Which is just great for us, because we’d like to make a lot more pictures like this in the future.

In an unrelated note, after preaching yesterday I met and visited some with Jim Nantz. Some of you may not know who that is, he’s one of the most famous sports commentators in the world. He works with Lance Barrow (the director of CBS sports) who’s a member at our church. He was a super cool guy, and didn’t carry himself like he thought he should be treated like a celebrity.

But I find this ironic. I spend a week and a half in L.A. shamelessly looking for celebrities (a practice I condemn theologically but still do often), and then the first week home, one sits behind me in church.

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy memorial day.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are…”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King wrote these words back in the politically charged days of the battle for civil rights for African-Americans. Every time I read this letter I get choked up. I wonder if I would have had the guts to stand up for others if I would have lived during this time.

These words were written to 8 white moderate clergy men who were vehemently opposed to King’s tactics using the whole “don’t rock the boat” logic. These men weren’t inherently evil, they just bought into an idea that justice takes time, and some evil should be tolerated. But in the words of Dr. King, “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.”

This letter is a great read, you can check out the entire thing here. But here’s my question. Where are today’s Dr. Kings? One of my biggest hopes for my life is to be a part of a community who fights for the upside down world of Jesus, and it’s implications.

So what about you? Have their been times in your life that you have found yourself fighting upstream? Are their areas of your life that you feel are counter-cultural? If so you are in a stream of redemptive history that goes back to Bethlehem, and you may find yourself writing your own letter.

But don’t worry, all the best letters come from jail.

Evangelism

Kevin Roose was a student at Brown University. He grew up sans religion and found himself at an ivy school unable to understand religious conservatives, and so he did the only thing that you would expect someone in his position to do.

He enrolled in Liberty University for a semester.

That’s the college that Jerry Falwell founded and administrated. Kevin Roose enrolled and befriended people without telling anybody that he wasn’t a Christian. He went to church, joined the choir, prayed with people, went to accountability groups, and even had a mentor discipling him.

And he did it all without converting. He wrote a book about this experience called “The Unlikely Disciple” and it’s a great read. Roose is witty, poignant and has a lot of great advice to give Christians. The satirist P.J. O’ Rouke once said that making fun of Christians is like “hunting dairy cows with a rifle.” So to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Roose is irreverant at times, and there are several things I disagree with him on, but to be honest I found myself saying often, “yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”

One such story was with his experience with a spring break mission trip he went on.

Now I have led 9 different Spring Break Campaigns, so when he talked about this my ears perked up. Roose talks about how he was trained to go up to total strangers and manipulate a conversation toward Jesus. Now Roose understands the story of Jesus at this point. He knows why they care enough to give up their spring breaks to try and convert people, but he absolutely hates the way they are doing it. He felt like they were exploiting people, that is looking past them in the name of a gospel that actually wants to makes people more human. He noticed that these sweet Christian people (who he had grown to love) actually came off as gruff and inconsiderate when trying to share their faith.

He says he felt like the grinch who stole Spring Break.

I think this is an interesting perspective on the way we have tended to do evangelism. His point in the end was that the Christians who have made him seriously consider Jesus in the past weren’t the ones who were trying to force a superficial conversation on him, but those who had an actual relationship with him.

A few years ago I baptized a guy named Bill in a bathtub. I had just met him in upstate New York and after talking with him for a while he wanted to become a Christian. I really liked Bill and was ecstatic to introduce him to the Lord.

And I never heard from him again.

Bill never got connected to the church we introduced him to. But I can’t blame him; he didn’t know them, he knew me.

I recognize that there is some good that has been done from these fly by night evangelism techniques, but those seem to be the exception not the rule. The story of God coming in the flesh can’t be told at a distant, physically or relationally.

So what about you? I know that a lot of people out there have tried this kind of evangelism, did it work? How should discipleship and spiritual formation inform the way we approach this?

Seeing Calvin

So I have been wrestling through the tiny book of Philemon for the past few weeks. It’s one of those tiny, postcard like books of the Bible. Paul is writing to a slave owner who is a Christian and telling him to receive back his runaway slave without punishing him for running away. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells him that he shouldn’t receive him back as a slave at all, but better than a slave…as a brother.

I’m telling you this because when I work through teachings in my head. I talk to myself…a lot.

I was walking through Downtown L.A. Tuesday, running an errand for Leslie, and preaching to myself. I had to look like Rain Man. I was just getting to this point about how Paul is teaching Philemon to see people differently, to see his former slave as a person. And then I passed Calvin.

Calvin is one of many homeless people in the area. And he was asking for change. I’m sure you may have had this experience before too. My immediate response is to pick up the pace, I told him that I did in fact not have any change, and he mumbled something that is inappropriate to write here.

But the irony is that I was just preaching to myself a lesson Paul taught thousands of years ago. A lesson about seeing people.

One of the most compelling things about Jesus is his ability to see people. It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles of Jesus, the excorcisms, the freeing from oppression that he seemed to do on a daily basis. But the biggest miracle of Jesus wasn’t that he healed the leper, but that he saw him.

So I get the irony of walking in Downtown L.A. preaching about seeing people, and then writing off a homeless man, and I turn around. I tell Calvin I don’t have any money but that I do have a Debit card and that since he is sitting outside a Wendy’s is he hungry.

He is.

I then offer to get him something to eat, and ask him to go in there with me. To which he replies, “I only have one leg man.”

Sidenote: Always check for missing appendages.

I don’t say this to brag. I don’t do this often, and I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to pass myself off as Mother Theresea. I say this because I wonder why it’s so hard for us as followers of Jesus to see others.

Maybe the greatest transformation God will do to us here is in giving us new eyes. Eyes that can see past all the junk and labels that we seem to look for. Because we will never treat people better than we can see them.

And I think that’s the gospel according to Philemon.

Pepperdine

Quick update on what’s going on in our lives…Leslie, Eden and I are in Malibu. We just spent the week at the Pepperdine Lectureships. Rick and I did our teachings on Post-modernism and faith for some of the best leaders in our fellowship.

Being here has been like a breath of fresh air. Literally and metaphorically (we are right by the ocean) these people give me hope for what kind of brotherhood the churches of Christ could be. Today we taught on the problem of when churches exclude others, and what a Jesus-like response would be to other world religions and homosexuals.

Every time we talk about this we are overwhelmed by responses. People who have a gay aunt or son are glad to hear that Jesus loves them too. I think this shows how deficient in grace our responses have been in the past.

While we miss our home church in Fort Worth, that Pacific ocean sure is nice, and so Leslie and I are sticking around for a few more days. We plan to hang out here till Wednesday. We’re gonna catch a Dodgers game, hit up a couple of museums and chill on the beach. Some much needed vacation time for our little tribe is in order. So I’ll be away from the internet for a few more days. Thanks for all the prayers and help with thinking through all these Post-modernism teachings, I’ll be back writing in a week.

Peace,

Jonathan

Promises and Prophets

We have a nighttime tradition around our house. After feeding and bathing Eden, Leslie or I read her a couple of stories from the Children’s Bible. It’s kind of like the Bible’s greatest hits, all with fully animated pictures. It’s a great resource for kids, but it bugs me to death.

I find myself over and over again wanting to say, “No, that’s actually not what happened Eden.” For example, tonight we were reading about the prophet Elijah, how after he stood toe to toe with King Ahab he went through some real bouts of depression, he even wanted to die. But it doesn’t mention that, just that God fed Elijah with birds. I guess ravens are more kid-friendly than depression. The showdown on Mt. Carmel ends with the prophets of Ba’al being embarrassed, not murdered.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Eden doesn’t hear all the gory bits of the Bible just yet. But the problem comes when we grow up and keep reading the Bible the same way.

This weekend a friend of ours from Harding was murdered. Leslie and her were in the same club in college, she was a kind, sweet girl named Micah. At first, everyone thought she was just missing. People combed through her neighborhood for hours, and they prayed and prayed for her safe return.

A preacher buddy of mine was a part of search party looking for her while they thought she was lost. And after everyone realized what had actually happened, someone anonymously left the comment on my friend’s blog: “Could someone please tell me where God was when all the praying was going on?”

What a great question.

Over the weekend I also did a graduation ceremony. And the verse I heard repeated several times was Jeremiah’s famous statement in chapter 29 “For I know the plans that I have for you. Plans to prosper and not harm you.” It’s a really inspiring verse. With only one problem.

Taken out of context, you might forget that before that verse there were 28 chapters of God telling Jeremiah that he is about to make life really hard on the Israelites. They are going to be captured, enslaved and oppressed by another nations. And that’s just the lucky ones.

The Bible is filled with hope and promises of blessings. But that’s not all it’s full of. It’s a story filled with the messiness of God partnering with flawed people. It’s filled with God allowing people to feel the brunt of their own choices, and sometimes feeling the brunt of other people’s choices.

I think this is a large problem for American churches. We love to read the promises of God, the hope of the story. Nobody’s favorite verse is Elijah battling depression; but if that’s all we know than we are in trouble. Scot Mcknight says that when we take these promises of hope and restoration out of the context that they are in, and put them on a Daily Bible calendar, we lose something.

And we figure out what we’ve lost when we hurt. We find ourselves asking where was God when we prayed? We find ourselves confused and disappointed when God didn’t stop tragedy from happening.

I don’t know why God allowed such a sweet kind girl to lose her life. I don’t get why God ca seem so absent when we are at our lowest. But the Bible tells a story that doesn’t white wash over these moments. That actually, it is in these events that God is the most present, suffering with us. And in light of the darkest times of our lives those promises really stand out.

That there will be a day when God restores all things. When the sorrow and pain of today will be a distant reality. Where swords are beaten into plowshares, and the lion and the lamb lay down together. Where death gives back what it owes.

And that’s a story I want Eden to know.

Graduations

So I’ve never done a graduation speech before. I’ve been asked a couple of times, but always had a scheduling conflict. But to be honest, speeches like that don’t really get me too excited. I’m not a public speaker, I’m a preacher. But tomorrow feels a bit different. I’m speaking to the graduating class of the very homeschool organization I graduated from.

To be honest it’s a pretty weird feeling. Ten years ago I sat in a crowded church auditorium and listened to a guy tell me something about the future, and all I could think about was how scared I was.

I assume it’s a pretty different feeling graduating from homeschool/highschool. It’s not that my family isolated me from other people, we have a pretty large organization of homeschooled families. It’s that my world was always pretty small. I had never flown on a plane, been out of the country, or even the tri-state area. And now I was being told that I needed to go off to school somewhere.

I actually just wanted to do construction work for a living and preach at a few different country churches on the side. But there were a few people who believed in me and recognized the fear behind those decisions, and they called potential out of me that I didn’t even know I had.

And so I left everything familiar and went to the large metropolis of Searcy, Arkansas.

Okay, so I took baby steps to a larger world.

That’s why I’m excited about today. I hope I can be a voice of encouragement for this graduating class. I know how scary this can be, but I also know how rewarding it is.

In the next few months, they are going to meet people who are going to be their groomsmen and bridesmaids in their wedding. They will meet friends that will be dear for the rest of their lives.

They will also get a whole lot of homeschool jokes. Were you the valedictorian? Who was voted most likely to succeed in your school? Who’d you go to prom with? Your mom?

But I believe God honors risk. And so what I hope to tell them today is that when anybody steps out in faith, that they can make a difference, it may be an uphill climb, but if they stick with it…they can do something significant.

I love Margart Mead’s quote, “Never doubt that a small group of people devoted to a cause can change the world. It is, in fact, the only thing that ever has.”

And if not, at least they can always fall back on spelling bee’s.