Monthly Archives: July 2009

Eden’s Birthday

So today is Eden’s first birthday. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year, but in a weird way it’s hard to believe that she’s only been with us for a year. I guess most parents know this, but there is a strange familiarity that comes with having kids. After a while it’s hard to imagine life without her.

She has been so great for the 12 months, I understand so much more about God, the Scriptures and life just by how we care for her. When she laughs (which is often) or smiles (which is even more often) my whole world turns upside down.

I wrote this blog below exactly one year ago today, I meant it then, but I mean it even more today.

EDEN

One of the first blogs I ever wrote (on my old site) was from a hospital room. It was right after my mom had her heart attack and we were worried about what would happen to her. On that night it struck me that life was so fragile, so delicate.

Tonight I am writing from another end of life, in another hospital room. But with the same realization. Life is fragile.

Yesterday, Leslie and I had a baby girl named Eden Christina Storment. She weighed in at 6 lbs. and 15 oz. and the medical term for her condition is wonderful-itis. She is like a ball of greatness (it comes from her mom).

I keep worrying that I will drop her or not hold her just right, or say the wrong thing that she will subconsciously adopt and become a drug dealer when she is 13. It’s a really strange feeling to suddenly become responsible for a life, especially when you realize that you aren’t even that good at running your own.

I was thinking about all the dreams Leslie and I have for this baby person, and how some of them will probably be realized and some of them probably won’t. About how we are going to let her down, and how she is going to let us down, and still how thankful we are that God gave us a little life and how scared we are because of it’s fragility.

But in the middle of all that, there is a real sense of wonder. I find myself looking at eyes looking at me that have never seen anything else before. I find that she already has good taste in music, she likes Sinatra and Nat King Cole, with a touch of Jason Mraz. I find that in this little ball of wrinkled skin is so much potential.

And so this is what I want to say to her:

I want to tell you how you got your name Eden. It’s from the story of the way we all started off, the one that we will tell you many times in your life. See, your mom and I have always dreamed that the world could be better. It’s not meant to be filled with as much poverty, injustice and suffering as it has. But at the same time there is such beauty, so much kindness and love that it can be crushing at times. We dream that you will somehow make the world better. How is up to you.

Your other name Christina, that’s important too. We named you after your mom. The best, and now I know, toughest (she had a natural birth on purpose) woman I know. We did this so you would know that we already love you, not for anything you do, but because you are ours.

You are precious to us baby girl.

Welcome to this world.

The Flames Of Heaven

“I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved.”
-Reverend Jesse Jackson

So by now most of us have heard of the recent Harvard professor, Henry Gates, unfortunate arrest by the Cambridge police, and you’ve probably heard sound bytes of Obama’s unfortunate statement about said arrest, saying the police there acted stupidly. Which only furthered both sides of self-righteous indignation about the incident. Continue reading The Flames Of Heaven

The Donkey Video

Someone once said that preaching is like learning to play the violin in public. You’re gonna make quite a few mistakes and everyone is listening. I have found this to be pretty true in my own ministry. Sometimes I think my spiritual gift is creating mass-awkward moments.

So by popular demand, here is the video that I showed a couple of weeks ago in church illustrating that truth.

For those of you who I haven’t told about this story, this is from a few years ago. I was preaching on Jesus’ triumphal entry, and has miscommunicated with my administrative assistant. I had intended to give her two cues. One to go get the donkey out of the church parking lot, and the second to send it down the aisle.

She only heard me tell her of one cue.

And as you can see, she’s good at taking instructions.

So while I’m talking about Noah and the flood, Jesus rides in on the donkey. A few thousand years too early.

For all my preacher buddies out there. Am I alone here? Any other embarrassing preacher stories you want to weigh in with here?

The Death of Death

One of the central things about the miracles of Jesus, the things that most New Testament writers try to point out, is that what Jesus was doing, was about something bigger than what Jesus was doing.

It was for this reasons that John calls Jesus’ miracles signs.

Signs that point away from what is currently happening to a larger reality. For example, when Jesus heals people in the gospels, the majority of the time they are people who were not just sick or hurting, they were suffering from a specific kind of sickness or hurt. One that would exclude them from being a part of the community i.e. leprosy, or bleeding diseases, or even blindness or paralysis.

But what about death? Did you ever wonder why the gospels (every one of them) make sure and tell us that Jesus raised people from the dead?

It would seem, according to popular Christian theology that raising someone from the dead is the last thing that God would want to do. If what God is really up to is about escaping this current reality to a place with pearly gates manned by a picky St. Peter, than why would Jesus care at all about bringing people back to this place?

In John 11, Jesus is a bit too late to heal his good friend Lazarus. A tardiness that he explains later as a God-ordained opportunity to show these people something about what God is up to. Lazarus has passed away and has been wrapped and buried for four days. Jesus, the consummate funeral-wrecker, pays no attention to the etiquette of burial and requests that the stone of his tomb be rolled away.

Now I don’t care how popular of a preacher/minister you are, try going up to a hurting family days after their loved one is gone and asking for him to be unburied…it’s not going to end well. And Martha, ever the pragmatist, points out to Jesus that her brother Lazarus by this point will stink.

But Jesus insists. The stone is rolled away. Lazarus is called forth, and he comes out grave clothes and all. But what is missing from the end of this story?

The very thing that they were worried about no one mentions.

Lazarus doesn’t smell.

I think Jesus not only has the power over death, but over the effects of death. The sign is pointing us toward the truth that death and it’s symptoms have to bow to the voice of God. The decomposition of Lazarus was stayed, or reversed, but however it happened it was eliminated.

When we talk about the hope that the New Testament holds out, for us to talk about Heaven as the final place is to miss out on the beautiful truth of the power of God over the effects of death.

That every inch of the cosmos is still God’s.

That from the oak trees to Saturn’s rings, from Montana to Bombay every aspect of this Creation belongs to Him. And while she may groan for now, waiting to be set free, there is not a single part of this world that will not be liberated from her grave clothes.

The sign that Jesus points to isn’t away from this creation but toward a new and liberated version of it. One that has been emptied from the effects of death.

That’s why I think the stories of Jesus raising people from the dead are so significant. If Jesus would have acted like what many Christians tend to think about death, he would have simply eulogized the dead, he might of had stood in front of the tomb and spoke about a “better place” or talked of a distant day when we rejoined Lazarus in the sweet by and by.

But he didn’t. He called him back to this place.

But, you may say, Lazarus still died. He eventually had to go through that whole process again, and maybe that’s why Jesus wept. Because for now it was just a sign. One that pointed beyond the current state of the world to another day.

A day where all things are set right.

A day where nothing stinks.

A day in which death itself, will die.

The Danger of Distance

I just finished writing a teaching about the Rich, Young Ruler for the weekend, probably one of my favorite and least favorite passages of the Bible. It’s my favorite when I’m talking about other people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make it about somebody else.

The same week that I was chewing on this story, we discovered that we have foundation problems on our house, our roof needs to be repaired, and our ceiling just started caving in.

We have some housing issues to say the least.

So I’m living in these two worlds for the last week. One is the word of Jesus to this man to sell what he has and be generous. And the other is the crumbling of my little empire. And then this week something interesting struck me. A roof problem is a rich person problem. Having bad foundation is a rich person problem.

I’m grumbling about the stuff that I have that is falling apart, skipping right over the recognition that I have this stuff. That’s the problem with being rich. We rich people don’t consider always know we’re rich, we compare ourselves to the person who has a little bit more than us, not the majority of the world who barely has a portion of what we have.

So last week I have this profound realization where I am mowing and preaching in my head, and it struck me. I’m probably as rich as the Rich, young ruler was.

He lived in a time, and place of oppressed people and deep poverty. So rich was a relative term for them. He probably had quite a bit of stuff, but I bet it’s not as much as we thought.

This is kind of indicative for us of how I/we read the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear a preacher say that the Rich man was probably a good guy, we would have liked him, made him an elder etc. I still try and demonize him in my head.

And the reason I think that I/we do this is profound.

It’s because we want distance.

If we can just separate ourselves from this guy, than Jesus isn’t talking to us.

If there is one thing I have learned from teaching and preaching, as well as just personally following Jesus it’s this: the implications of the gospel are dangerous, and not always popular.

So we develop these hermeneutical loop holes to prevent us from really listening.

Remember what the Israelites tell Moses when they first meet God on the mountain. They say, “Moses, you speak to us, but don’t make us get close to Him, or we will die.”

Keep us at a distance.

Which I think may just be the unspoken request of many pulpit committees. Keep us informed but don’t get us too close.

I like the way that Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

The truth is that I am the Rich, Young Ruler. And you might be too.

And maybe that recognizes that is the first step to hearing the words of Jesus again. Not just as something that was said thousands of years ago to someone else. But something that Jesus is saying, right now, to us.

I know that following Jesus can be dangerous. That has always been true.

But maybe the greater danger is in keeping a safe distance. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what it means to be a Christian involves only pew-sitting, and 10%. We can trick ourselves into thinking the abundant life happens just an hour a week and then wonder why God doesn’t seem very real.

But the person who never steps out in faith, never takes a step closer, might never learn the joy that comes from watching God squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.

The Heresy of Love

So Rick just finished up a series on the book of 1st John, and if you were going to summarize that book in one sentence it’s pretty easy…God is love, so love each other.

It’s not even a long sentence.

And John repeats this simple idea over and over again in different ways. For John, someone who spent some years with Jesus, you could boil down what it meant to follow Jesus into the simple call to love your brother because God is love. But he’s not the only one. Paul gives love an entire chapter, Jesus says all the law and the prophets (or the entire Hebrew Scriptures) hang or revolve around this simple idea to love God, and love others.

Scot Mcknight has a book called the Jesus Creed, in which he describes coming to this simple, but profound realization. That love really was what following Jesus was all about. And so he would just repeat this mantra everytime he thought of it. Love God, and love others.

He found himself doing it about 50 and 60 times a day. And he said something that I think is interesting, he said that he knows now why we tend to gravitate toward the rules of the Bible, because the commandments are easier to follow than that simple creed. They can keep a safe distance from you and God, or you and others. But if you are called to love God and others, that’s a whole different story.

During the whole Reformation period, the church was battling different points of doctrinal disagreements. Protestants had just broken with the Roman Catholic church and were trying to navigate what it meant to be a follower of Jesus without the structures of authority defining that for them.

And all kinds of different ideas were emerging that were slightly…out there.

One guy named Michael Servetus had this idea that Jesus as the Son of God, wasn’t eternal. It wasn’t an idea that was looked kindly upon by the emerging leaders of the Protestant faith, and so eventually John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.

That’s John Calvin. The guy that Calvinism is named after (also Calvin and Hobbes…no joke).

So here’s a man who knows the Scriptures extremely well, brilliant thinker, deeply devoted to the Lord and to the church. And he had a man burned at the stake for heresy.

Greg Boyd makes a great point on this issue. He asks, “If we are thinking Biblically, how can we not conclude that Calvin was the greater heretic? Burning someone alive is not loving them, doing good to them or blessing them (Lk 6:27-28, 35). And without love, whatever other truth Calvin may have been defending becomes worthless. If we’re thinking biblically, how can we avoid concluding that Calvin was not only a worse heretic than Servetus, but that he committed the greatest heresy imaginable?”

Which is a bit of a touchy question.

Augustine was the first Christian to justify persecution in the name of Jesus, and since then millions of people were tortured or killed for their heretical beliefs, whether it was their beliefs on communion, baptism, or the nature of Jesus. But not one person in church history was persecuted because they lacked love.

I think that the Church that carried out these acts in the name of Jesus was much more heretical than all the heretics it persecuted. They bought into the lie that as long as you don’t mess with what we put our faith and hope in, then we don’t care about the heresy of not loving.

There are all kinds of heresy’s that are out there right now. Some people believe that Jesus is going to build a spaceship and take us to another galaxy (which is a relatively new heresy) some say that Jesus is their homeboy, or that you can earn forgiveness. The world is filled with heresy.

But the greatest of these is love.