Tag Archives: Preaching

The Sequels: Adam and Eve

Jonathan Storment and Richard Beck – Adam and Eve from Highland Church on Vimeo.

This week I’m at a conference for preachers and haven’t had time to write. So I wanted to share this sermon that Richard Beck and I did this past Sunday. The sermon came out an observation. We noticed that much of the discussion between and about men and women in marriage lacks very much imagination, and even less generosity. And so we wanted to ask what does it mean to try and live out the cross in our marriages?

Here are my favorite points of the sermon:

  • The problem isn’t just the war between the sexes (women vs. men) it is the war within the sexes (men judging other men, women judging other women).
  • This isn’t a new problem, blame and shame started in the Garden, and marriage was the context for the first sin.
  • Mary and Joseph are an example of a reverse Adam and Eve.
  • We ask the question what is a man like, what is a woman like? But the better question is What is God like? (This point was Beck’s idea, but he let me say it).

We were trying to cast a vision for Mutual Submission that everyone could buy into, and Beck brilliantly came up with the parable of Duck Dynasty. (You’ll just have to watch)

One of the best parts about being at Highland is having so many gifted people who care deeply about the local church and living out the Gospel. This series has been a great example of that. From Jeff Childers, to Sally Gary, to Richard Beck, (and in a few weeks the one and only Leslie Storment will be talking with me!)

If you are interested in more about this series, or for a free accompanying E-book go to www.thesequels.org

How (Not) To Preach On Mother’s Day

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”- Paul

Honoring Mom

All this week I’ve received emails and Facebook messages from friends and mothers sending me to this blog. It’s a great blog for anyone in ministry to read about the hard side of Mother’s Day.

Over the past few years I’ve learned to just circle the day after Mother’s Day on my calendar as the day that I will get an angry email from someone…I just need to pick who I will get it from.

And I totally understand why.

We often talk about the Bible characters like Sarah or Hannah, and say things like, “to not be able to have a child back in that day was seen as a curse. Back in that day a woman felt like a failure if she didn’t have a child.” And we pretend like that is just a problem people used to have, back in the Old Testament.

Leslie and I first started trying to have children more than a year before we first got pregnant with Eden, and while I know it was just a year, for us it was a tough year. We started quietly wondering if something was wrong with us, or if we would ever be able to have kids.

And for a lot of people in our churches, that doesn’t just last a year.

But Jesus has a word for them this Sunday.

Great With (or Without) Child

There’s a time in the Gospels where Jesus is teaching, and someone just hollers out in the middle of his sermon “Blessed is the woman who gave birth to you, and nursed you.” Which is kind of creepy if you think about it.

Right in the middle of Jesus’ sermon, someone hollers out about Jesus’ nursing.

And you might expect Jesus to say something back like, “Yeah! Mom’s Awesome!” But he doesn’t.

Instead, Jesus replies by saying this, “Blessed rather are those who hear God’s Word and obey it.”

Now what Jesus is doing here is huge. He’s actually disagreeing with this person. John Ortberg points out that Jesus is saying that no longer is the highest calling of a woman to bear a child. Being a parent is a noble calling, but it’s not the ultimate one. And if you don’t, or are unable, to have children, you still haven’t missed out on the blessing and presence of God.

And this verse also has a lot to say about those of us who have kids.

Because this Mother’s day (or Father’s day) we’re also not defined by our kids lives…their choices, or how they turn out.

The Blessing of God is for those who hear the word of the LORD and obey. That’s the ultimate calling.

Mother God

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something about God this Mother’s day.

I think most of us know that God transcends gender. He’s not male or female…in fact, there are many times in the Bible that God is described as a Mother…Like when Jesus says that he wishes he could protect Jerusalem like a Mother hen protects her chicks. In fact, one of the titles used for God in the Old Testament (specifically about his mercy) literally means “many breasted one”

Flannel-graph that.

This happens all throughout the Bible. In the book of Job, after Job has lost everything he’s mourning, and rightfully so, he’s questioning God, and rightfully so.

But then God shows up to answer a few of those questions. But the interesting thing is that God doesn’t really answer Job’s question. Instead God points Job toward Creation:

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice?
 Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens.

So in the first section of this chapter he uses masculine metaphors to describe God and his creation. And then he switches to feminine metaphors. Like each part of creation shows a different part of what God was like.

As if each gender shows us a different aspect of God.

Last week, I heard Max Lucado talk about Mother’s Day at Pepperdine. He was talking about a family at his church, about a mother who showed the world a glimpse of what God was like.

And then he showed this video about that family. Watch the video before you read on…trust me, it’s worth it.

That’s a glimpse into the heart of God. That’s a Mother that will throw herself under a car to save her kids. She’s the bump.

That’s a Mother.

That’s what God is like.

So whatever place you find yourself in this coming Sunday. Whether it’s joy or sadness, nostalgia or hope…may you not get your identity from what you do or do not have. May the love of God define you and nothing else.

And since, chances are if you are reading this you were born of a woman, we are thankful that God gave you life.

So Happy Mother’s Day.

The Bricks We Build With

One of my mentors once told me that a single sermon doesn’t really make a difference. It is, he said, kind of like a brick. All by itself it doesn’t really do much good. But taken together over the course of time you can begin to really build something.

It’s interesting, that when Scripture opens up the story of God, God creates not by shooting energy out of his God like fingers, but by speaking. God speaks and he creates. I think so do those of us who preach and teach with our lives. We get the privilege of partnering with God in opening up possibilities to people who might be able to look at their life with God just a bit differently because of what we say.

So a few weeks ago, I read the book Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It’s a good book about the great value of Jesus, and the tendency that churches and church leaders have to unintentionally forget about him. Over time we can forget that all our programming and structures and ministries are nothing but scaffolding to create a place where people can meet the Risen LORD. And one of the things Sweet and Viola mentioned was the way preachers use their words. These authors go to churches and intentionally count how many times, if at all, a preacher will mention the name of Jesus. In Sweet and Viola’s words:

The tragedy of our time is that countless preachers, teachers and healers are giving dozens of sermons, lectures, and messages, relegating Jesus to some footnote or a flourish to some other subject. At best He gets honorable mention. What is lacking is a groundbreaking revelation of Christ that boggles the mind and enraptures the heart.”

And that line really convicted me. Now is the time of year that the Highland Church Shepherds give me off to study and pray and reflect for the coming year. But I started wondering…do I do this? It’s very easy to put a disproportionate amount of passion into secondary things. So I made a word cloud of every sermon that I’ve given over the past 12 months at Highland. I know what I say I think is important, and the kind of people I would like to shape the Highland church into, but I wanted to get a view from 30,000 feet about what I was really doing.

So here it is. Continue reading The Bricks We Build With

More Than a Fish

So I love this version of Jonah!  This girls got some fire in her bones, and a little Shirley Temple. The whole thing is 8 minutes, She embellishes the story a quite a bit, Jonah has a collection of farm animals, and as you might see she does voices for Jonah’s inner dialogue. It’s brilliant, but my favorite embellishment if you watched it to the conclusion, is how she ended it.

I just finished a series on Jonah at Highland, and it’s one of the most surprising series I’ve ever done. We’ve developed all these ways to keep Jonah at arms length, we pretend that it’s a story about a guy and a whale, and try to reduce Jonah to some Veggietales story, but it’s not. It’s a story about national idolatry, and racism, and arrogance, and unforgiveness, and a story about people who speak for God but don’t really like God.

And if you read Jonah, you’ll find that he’s the most unlikable character in the entire book. He’s the jerk of the book, who whines and complains and runs from God and refuses to pass on forgiveness that God had just given him. But the truth is while we might not like Jonah, I realized that I was a lot more like Jonah than I cared to admit.

And that’s what so problematic about Jonah, Jonah’s ending stinks. Like so many of the Bible stories, the ending comes way to fast. Jonah is having an argument with God, and like always God gets the last word, but the word is a question. God asks Jonah:

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

And that’s it. No pretty bow, or resolution. Jonah fades to black with this little question just floating in the air.

But maybe it would be helpful to remember that Jonah is written to the religious people of the day. It was written to God’s people, and that’s our place in the story. Which means, if you are a Christian, this question is directed at us. Should God not forgive them just because you don’t like them?  Continue reading More Than a Fish

A Restoration Movement

So this past weekend at the Highland Church of Christ, we talked about the vision for Highland for the next 10 years of her existence. It was the product of 18 months of the staff and shepherd praying, fasting and discerning what we would be about of the next decade. It was one of my favorite weekends in ministry so far. We plan to adopt a housing first model to address the disproportional amount of homelessness in Abilene, we plan to adopt a local at-risk school, develop two community centers in lower socio-economic areas of town, host service events on our campus a few times a year, get into micro-financing, water-wells, church planting and triple the amount of money that goes out externally.

You know the basics.

And we are doing it all to partner with God in his dream of Restoration. We’re calling it A Restoration Movement.

It’s new, and it’s old, it’s ancient/future. And we believe it’s from God.

But we are also hoping that it will be a Restoration Movement which means we believe that there are other churches that are out there who might be interested in how to go about creating, casting and implementing a vision for their church to become externally focused. And if we can, we’d like to help you get there. We are still working out the kinks on what that might look like, but I would imagine if your church is interested in something like this we can give you study resources, suggested reading lists and conversation partners, and more.

In the words of Jerry Taylor, “The Restoration Movement hasn’t restored very much, and it hasn’t moved anywhere in a long time.” But the language that we have used is great! It’s the language of the younger emergent Jesus followers, and the language of their parents and grandparents, and even better…it’s the language that is old as the Christian story itself. It’s God dream of Restoring, and the church is called to partner with this dream.

I believe that in the 70’s and 80’s people looked back on the churches of their past and asked, “How could we have been so racist?” I believe that in the 2000’s people stared looking back and asking, “How could we have been so patriarchal? or Sectarian?” And I believe that the next question we are going to (and already are) looking back and asking is, “How could we have been so selfish?”

Why do churches spend so much money on themselves? We spend over 90% on our church budgets devoted primarily to meeting the needs of the people who are in the buildings that we worship for one hour a week in. That’s ungodly. It’s time to do something about that. It’s time for churches to move toward blessing the communities and world around them.

It’s time for a movement. Continue reading A Restoration Movement

Heaven/Earth F.A.Q.’s

  So at Highland right now, we are going through a series called Heaven/Earth, where we look at what the classical Christian doctrine of the resurrection really means for us, Creation and the age to come. I’ve loved getting to do this series, I’ve loved the questions (and there have been some good ones), and the discussion, and to that end, for all you Highlanders, and those of you who listen online, here are the FAQ of the Heaven/Earth. What ones did we miss? Any other questions you’d like to ask?

1. Is this about Pre-Millennialism?

Actually, this series has nothing to do with any kind of millennialism. Churches of Christ in particular have been very divisive in the past by talking about this particular issue. Will Jesus return and reign for 1000 years? Is he reigning for 1000 years right now? These questions are more about how God is going to return and we’re exploring what Heaven and Earth will look like when he returns.

2. Where are the people I love who have already died?

The Apostle Paul believed that for him to die would be better for him, because he would be with Jesus right now. The story Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus gives us a clue that people who die are in some way with God, or not with God, right after death. This, however, is not the final resting place. There are 2 stages to life after death. One is the immediate bodiless state, where we are in some way with God without a body. The other is after the bodily resurrection, when we are joined again with our bodies, and our bodies are joined with God. Continue reading Heaven/Earth F.A.Q.’s

How (Not) to do an Interview with TMZ

So Leslie and I are out of town for the next few days (I’ve actually written the last two blogs on Tuesday) and have pre-scheduled their publishing. So it will be a few days before I can respond. But, I doubt I ever get the chance to talk about something like this again. So….

I never dreamed that TMZ would ever ask me to do an interview for anything…ever. When I first got the email asking me, I was pretty sure it was a joke. I still have no idea how the celebrity gossip hub of the world heard about me doing this, or why they thought it might matter. In fact, I wasn’t going to do it. Remember I don’t have any aspirations to be an actor, and this is not the story I’d like to be known for. I just want to be a preacher and I just want the church to be a supportive place for Christians who are trying to be faithful in some grey areas (the areas we have typically have withdrawn from). That’s when a very good ministry friend reminded me that if you offend some religious people, but help some non-religions people get a better glimpse of God, you might be on the right track…so seize the moment.

As you read this interview, please keep in mind, if you are a Jesus follower, this wasn’t really written for you. I wanted to help people who might have little to no exposure to the Jesus movement have a bit better view on who we follow. I didn’t want to be critical of culture, because they’ve heard that line before and it’s not helping anybody by pretending like we are above them. (if the 75% of Christians in America didn’t actually watch the stuff Hollywood produces they’d all be out of job anyway). So with that said, here’s how I answered the reporters questions. What would you have said or done differently in this position?

Explain to me a little bit more about how you were an extra for the show…what was it like on set regarding the storyline of the show. Were you actually featured on the first episode last night?

I was actually doing a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible, and so I decided to go to California to try and be an extra on a TV Show. I registered at Central Casting, you know the usual stuff you do to get in to background work. CC had several opportunities to play background for shows like Californication but I didn’t want to shock the church I work at.

On one of the casting calls, the casting agent Marianne was filling in for her agent friend Annie, and (remember this is my first and only time to do this) I thought she was booking for Annie, and that it would star Christian Bale. In hindsight, I realize that was very dumb.

No, I wasn’t on the show last night, but I think they were filming for the first and second episodes on the day we were shooting. If not, than my scene just got wound up being cut.

I am from Dallas, born and raised so this is something that hits home to me as well. I know there is a petition that was started to get ABC to pull the rest of the episodes from air. I am very interested in hearing the opinions of the church…if they are going to do anything to stop people from watching the show…sign the petition… Continue reading How (Not) to do an Interview with TMZ

Red Ocean, Blue Ocean

So this past week David McQueen, the senior pastor at Beltway Baptist and I, swapped pulpits for one Sunday. I preached at Beltway, and he preached at Highland. It was a great experience for me, Beltway is a Kingdom oriented church, and I was so glad that David (someone who grew up in Churches of Christ, but hadn’t preached in one for decades) was able to bless the people at Highland.

The very next day, Ben Siburt (the Executive Minster at Highland) and I went on a pastors retreat for churches in the area, where we prayed, worshipped and dreamed together for the city of Abilene. And then we all took communion together.

At one point during breaking bread together, one of the pastors stood up and confessed that he had been jealous of another pastor’s success. For years, he had looked at this church across town with envy, he had wanted not just to have what this other pastor had, but he also didn’t want him to have it. He had wanted to build his own little parody of a kingdom, have everyone look at how successful he was, but that was not the lot he was given in life. So he envied.

And all the other ministers squirmed in their seats. Because the dark side of ministry is that all of us can feel like this.

But then the minister went onto say, but God has been working on my heart the past few months, and I’ve realized something. When this other minister succeeds, I succeed. When his church grows so does mine. Because there is only one church.

And this is at the heart of what it means to be a Kingdom church. Kingdom of God language is common in churches, it sounds great, it’s inspiring and taps into the deep recesses of our souls about belonging to something larger than ourselves. But underneath a lot of our language is a little talked about fact, that’s not very Kingdom oriented. Churches compete with one another.  Continue reading Red Ocean, Blue Ocean

Why I Stayed

So since I’ve come out and told everyone the story about what happened to me in Hollywood, I have had one question raised more than any other…Did you think about leaving? Which is kind of like asking me, “Did you want to stay employed as a preacher?” For the entire day I questioned whether I should be there, and if so, what would the people I serve back in Abilene think. Here’s how this played out and why I stayed.

So there I was. I was on the set of the Disney studios, it was almost 8 in the morning, and I had just heard that I was about to be filming a scene in the Booby-licious bar. I had already done so much to get there, this was the product of a couple of weeks of planning, researching, standing in lines/registering, and one really, really big mistake about what show I would actually be filming.

My gut told me this was an unchartered area for preachers. I hadn’t heard a lot of sermons on a preachers spending time on a PG-13 sit-com, and I wasn’t that thrilled about being the first one to preach that sermon. I wasn’t expecting to be given a line or have any kind of established scene on camera, I knew that Extras are blurs in the background, so I could get by with it with no one knowing. The problem was that I had come here to tell the story of what the experience was like, and now that seemed slightly more difficult. The reason I would have left, or just not talked about it has nothing to do with me thinking that it was wrong for a Christian to be in that situation.

It was because I, on some level, was there as the preacher of Highland. I would have represented them, in other words I would have taken people along with me that had no idea or desire to be there. This is part of the burden of pastoring, you have to try to think about what people can hear, or what will prevent them from hearing you clearly again. I want to be clear on this, because after I talked about it at Highland there was a variety of responses, but the one that stuck with me the most was hearing from a person who said, “If he thinks that was wrong to be there, than I don’t want to ever confess any of my sins to him.”

If you know me, you know that I’ve done a lot worse than that. I didn’t think it was wrong for a Christian to be there, I had to figure out if it was wrong for me to be there.

Obviously I stayed (but I did plan on just not talking about it) and the first reason was because once I heard that the American Family Values Association had boycotted it, I had no desire to add my voice to that. I still had lines that I would not cross. There were things on that set, or any situation, that I would hope to say no to, despite whatever fallout might come. But they hadn’t asked me to do anything unethical, or anything that was wrong…just lots of grey areas.

Which is something that I think Christians are going to have to get used to.

Because to use Biblical language, Christians are in Exile, which means that we are no longer telling the dominant story lines in our culture. And that’s a problem because the only places that Christians generally feel comfortable really being in, are the ones where we can still have a semblance of control over the reality around us. But the reason that I decided to talk so publicly about it, was because I know that there are a lot of Christians who feel called to go into this (and other precarious industries). There are a lot of Jesus-followers (especially among younger generations) who are trying to wade into the grey areas of our society and be a blessing in whatever small ways they can.  Continue reading Why I Stayed

Good Christian Belles

So I kept silent about this for a few months because I wanted to tell this story at our home church first. I’m so glad to preach at a church like Highland where I can tell stories like this, and preach sermons about the Kingdom of God without pulling any punches, if you’d like to hear that sermon you can go here. But  since I’ve now told the story there…here’s what happened:

This past summer, I was on my study break that Highland gives me, I knew I was going to do a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible, using the metaphor of EXTRAS. So I decided to go to Hollywood and try and be an EXTRA in a movie. You know, normal preacher stuff.

After many attempts, on July 27th I got into the new Annie movie with Christian Bale. I called in, and after a few tries got through, a lady named Marianne, accepted me as a working class restaurant patron. I had to borrow a shirt without a label, and some shoes (apparently Hollywood is pretty picky about what they let you wear).

The call time is posted at 8:30 Pm; all details are held until that time. So I call in and find out that my call time is 6:00 A.M..So I got to the Disney Studios and discovered that it wasn’t anywhere the New Annie, And Christian Bale wasn’t going to be starring as Daddy Warbucks. This was for the new show Good Christian Belle’s that had been booked by Maryann as a favor to a woman named Annie.

It’s cool though. I can roll with the punches.

The first thing that happens when you show up to a set is that you have to get  camera ready. So you have to go visit the Wardrobe production person. In my case, it was an Austrian man named Hans who just happened to not be a morning person. Which was unfortunate because it just happened to be morning. He made the girl in front of me cry because she didn’t have her clothes ironed. He yelled at her and then looked at me. Hans had me intimated. I had been there all of 10 minutes and was already on the ropes. I told him that I didn’t have a lot of options, just one shirt to change into, and he said sharply, “Then go put it on! And stop standing here.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I went to the basement where they were holding the Extras, and it was un-classy to say the least. Having done Jail ministry for a while, there was very little difference between the rooms that we were kept in, and jail. The room for men to change in was an old storage unit.

Breakfast was served, and that was nice. People started to warm up. I’ve learned the best way to start conversations with other Extra’s is to ask them about what work they were the most proud of.  What sets they enjoyed working on the most…and to tell them that it was my first time ever to do this. People seemed to take me under their wing and tell me their stories. The problem came when they wanted to hear mine. I guess most preachers don’t do this in their off time, especially the show that we were on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading Good Christian Belles