Tag Archives: Theology

Naming The Loss

Sothis past Sunday I was able to share publicly for the first time about what happened with our little family last year. I’ve been inspired by Mike Cope’s blog over the past two weeks, and the way he’s been able to create a space for those with similar experiences, so I decided (with permission from Leslie) to share our experience on here as well.

Sometime early last August, Leslie and I had discovered that we were pregnant. We had been “practicing” for quite a while and so we where very excited to add another baby to the Storment’s family. After the first trimester ended, we started telling people, and picking out nursery color schemes. But when we went to the Doctor sometime late December, well into the 4th month of pregnancy,  we discovered that the baby had stopped growing a couple of weeks earlier. And that she was never going to be born.  We went into the hospital the next day, and began the long journey toward picking up our lives and finding a new normal in a story that would feel a bit incomplete.

It’s interesting that in the Garden of Eden, God allows Adam to name the animals. From a purely linguistic standpoint that is a actually a really big deal. To name something is create categories for it, it is to help shape the way that reality is experienced. The same is true for pain. The problem with a miscarriage, and with losses like it, is that it is a unique kind of hurt. One that is hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. In some ways, you wonder why it hurts so much.And the temptation can be to believe that it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But for those who have experienced it, you know differently. There’s something wrong that you can’t even put words to. But you must try. We must name our pain.

Now I believe that God is one day going to set the world right, and that means we will see our baby again. But all Theology must begin with the facts, and the facts are often bleak. To shy away from naming them isn’t making you more spiritual, it only makes us less honest. Tomorrow, I’m going to continue the series on Revelation by tying this in somewhat.  But, ever since this experience,  the #1 comment Leslie and I have had since sharing our story is “Me too” I thought it might be helpful to post how we named our loss. For those who have gone through something similar.

Because the emotions swirling around inside me were so hard to define, I sat down a couple of nights after we got the news and wrote a letter to Mary (our little baby who would never be born). I never planned on sharing this publicly, but I am doing so in hopes that it might bless others who are going through, or have been through, similar situations. Here’s how we named our loss. I hope this helpful to some. Continue reading Naming The Loss

Who is Worthy?

When I was a kid, my dad took me to a “men’s business meeting” at the church that we were attending. At one point, my dad had proposed that we help a widow who was needing some assistance with her utilities. Sounds like standard churchy stuff to do right? But one of the other men at this meeting had some beef with this widow. And he started to become visibly agitated by the suggestion. Anyone paying attention could have picked up on the obvious social cues. Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t paying attention.

After a few minutes of dad rehashing the reasoning, this guy stood up and took off his jacket and said, “You wanna fight Cletis? (yes, that’s my dad’s name) Because’ I was golden glove in high school, and I reckon I could still take you.”

So in the book of Revelation, after Jesus writes to the 7 churches, John turns his attention to the vision he had given about what life was like in the Heavens. He sees a throne and a scroll, and a sea of glass. Now, sea in the Bible and specifically in the book of Revelation is the symbol for evil. The Jewish world knew the sea was the abyss, that was after all the place where the beasts came out in the book of Daniel.The sea was  But despite the presence of evil, God is on the throne and His purposes have not been undone. That’s what the sea means.  But what about the scroll?

N.T. Wright thinks that the best guess is that the scroll contains God’s secret mysterious plan to undo and overthrow the evil in the world. Somebody’s got to do something about the sea (cancer, AIDS, poverty, injustice). But who is worthy to do that?

In other words, John’s problem is our problem? Continue reading Who is Worthy?

Your First Love

When I was a junior at Harding, I was able to spend a semester in Greece studying the ancient world of the Bible. We got to go to the different places that Paul’s missionary journey took him, and we even got to go on a cruise of the places where Revelation was written from and to. And my favorite of all these places was Ephesus(pictured above).

The Ephesian artifacts were by far the most substantial. It almost felt like the whole city still had pieces that remained standing. So you could walk through and see the face of a giant Library or the homes of where Christians used to live…marked out by the subversive symbols to identify themselves to other Christians. We saw the amphitheater where Paul started a riot. We even saw a sign carved in stone for where the bordello was. After all, it is the oldest profession on earth.

It was fascinating to be there. If you stood there long enough, you could just close your eyes and almost hear the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the daily life on a busy city in the first century.

So John, the author of Revelation, is in exile on an island called Patmos. He’s living in a cave (I know. I took the tour and saw where our tour guide swore he laid his head every night). He’s been put there by the authorities because he’s been deemed a troublemaker. And rather then make him a martyr, they decide to just take him out of commission. They remove his voice from the equation. Because in exile, John can’t do any damage to them there. Right?

But John doesn’t give up. He writes this letter about the cosmic realities that are all around them. About how Jesus is the world’s rightful ruler, and He holds the keys of life and death. And then John does some pastoral work. He writes 7 churches on how to live into that reality. And the first one is the church at Ephesus.

He commends them for all that they’ve got going on. They’re doctrinally sound, they hate people talking about God poorly. They do good deeds often, they have suffered for the sake of the Kingdom of God and not turned away. If the church in Ephesus had a website, you would love their talking points. Who wouldn’t want to be at a church like that?

But Jesus has got one thing against them. They’ve lost their first love.

Sure they are right about doctrines, but in all the wrong ways. Continue reading Your First Love

Can I Get a Witness?

 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. -Revelation 1:1-3

So there was this time when I was a kid, I was nosing around in some letters that somebody had written my mom over a decade before. They were talking about a future visit and what they would be able to do when they were in town together. It was a letter about people being reconciled after a long time apart, and they were coming soon.

As we read through the book of Revelation, we would do good to remind ourselves that this letter isn’t written to us, at least not directly the way we think about it. It was first written to Jesus followers who lived in the world ruled by Rome. They were misunderstood, for the most part they lived in poverty and on the margins, they were beginning to be hated and persecuted, and so God gives John a vision for them.

He shows John life in the Heavens, he opens up the curtain between Heaven and earth and John sees Jesus coming in the clouds with trumpets with a sword and blazing eyes. And I guarantee you whenever this  little church that was gathered around listening to this letter being read,  when they got to this part, they began to whisper it. Because everybody in that day knew what that language meant.

That was how they talked about Caesar.

Caesar was, after all, indisputably the most powerful person in the world. He ruled the world from India to England and he did it with an iron first. However, you need more than just military might to rule that much land, you need faith. So Caesar needed people to believe he was divine, the son of God, and the Prince of Peace (all titles applied to him). When he was going places, they would say that Caesar came in the clouds and was preceded by trumpets. He was a force to be reckoned with, and these seven little churches (probably, for the most part, just a handful of peasants and slaves) were just a fly on his windshield that he could easily flick off. He had done that plenty of times before.

But…. Continue reading Can I Get a Witness?

Revelation and “The End of the World”

So when I was a teenager growing up in Arkansas, we had a guy from India, Simran Gujral (a Sikh) come live at our house for many months. Sikhs, as your might know, never cut there hair, and are known for wearing a turban. Simran was close to my age, and we fought and loved each other like brothers. In fact, I see him every couple of years, and I still consider him family. He is my Indian brother.

One day, we were having one of our many conversations about faith, and Simran told me that he knew when the world was going to end. He told me stories about Nostradamus, and Mayans, and predictions that only had a few short years before they came true. And I believed him about all of it. He was, after all, wearing a turban.

Since then I’ve changed my mind on what I think happens when the world (as we know it) ends.

But I don’t read Revelation like that any more. It’s ironic that Revelation is a book that is used by so many to incite fear, when that’s really not what John is trying to do. The book of Revelation is actually all about hope. It’s the book where God makes some of the most deep promises to His people in the whole Bible. It’s where we find out that no matter what life looks like around us, God is always with us, and watching.

And Revelation is not actually about the end of the world, but the transformation and renewal of it.

And since so many people these days are talking about the end of the world, I thought it might be nice to blog through the book of Revelation for the next few weeks. Because what blog couldn’t use some dragons from time to time? But first a couple of things you should know about Revelation. Continue reading Revelation and “The End of the World”

May I Recommend from 2011

One of the best benefits of being home schooled was that my mother let me read all the time growing up. My curriculum for a year or two  consisted of my parents dropping me off at the Benton Library and leaving me there all day. It was kind of a dream education. It almost outweighed the whole  being terrified of girls and social situations.

All that to say  I like reading a lot. And I thought I’d share with you some of the best books I read from 2011:

1. To Change the World by James Davidson Hunter. This book was my favorite from last year. It’s heady and a little verbose, but it is entirely worth it. Hunter takes on the way politics have infiltrated the Jesus movement in the West, and why the only way to save the Nation, is to stop Christians from talking about it the way we do. Whatever politics you hold dear, rest assured that Hunter will step on your toes. It’s seriously one of the most helpful books I’ve read in years.

2. Jesus, My Father and the CIA. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s up there with Tattoos on the Heart for me. It’s warm and profound and hilarious all at the same time. Ian Cron writes as someone who has wrestled with God and has found words to speak about it well. It’s a great memoir!

3. Simply Jesus. I have begun to pray for N.T. Wright’s health, because I am pretty sure as long as he’s alive and writing, I will never have a problem with coming up with ideas for preaching. Great book about the historical context of Jesus and what He thought he was doing in his ministry, death and resurrection.

4. The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. This book is one of the best books I’ve read to help understand the younger Christians. I found myself resonating with every page. It would have been easier to underline what I didn’t want to remember.

5. With by Skye Jethani. I really like Jethani’s writing. Jethani addresses some of the dark sides of the missional impulses that some of the younger Christians have. It was a convicting and healing read. Continue reading May I Recommend from 2011

The Glory of God

This is my final post for this year. Thanks for all the conversation in 2011, I look forward to more in 2012 (at least until the world ends).

This picture is one of the graffiti prophet Banksy’s newest. It’s called “Shop till you drop” and they have no idea how he did it. But I sure am glad he did.

So earlier today I went to the mall with our two kids, Eden and Samuel, to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Three days before Christmas, and I was there without Leslie and two kids under the age of 4. We were a train wreck. It’s in moments like this that you realize just how much you need your spouse.

I forgot to bring diapers, bibs, water cups, strollers, basically every single thing that human children need, I forgot. It got so bad that at one point, we were at lunch at the mall Pizza place, and I overheard the woman sitting at the table next to us say, “And that’s why I will never have children.”

I’m not kidding.

There are so many levels of irony about the way we celebrate the Christmas story. God gives up everything to be among us, and we have made greed synonymous with celebrating his sacrifice. God comes in subtle unassuming ways, and we have all but turned Christmas into one big Macy’s day parade.

Now I’m all for Christmas parades and lights and celebrations, and I actually think that Christmas can help form the people of God in ways that help us learn how, and what, to celebrate. But it is possible in the middle of all the glitter to lose sight of exactly what Christmas reveals about God. Continue reading The Glory of God

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

The City of Satisfaction

One of the C.S. Lewis’ most famous points came on the heels of his talking about our pleasures. Which is something that Lewis knew something about. J.R.R. Tolkien once made fun of Lewis for what he chose to give up for Lent. He drank 3 ale’s a day at the local tavern. For Lent, C.S. Lewis decided to just drink two.*

So he’s quite the spiritual giant.

Now, Lewis’ obviously knew heartbreak and pain as well. But he also had a deep appreciation for pleasure, and it’s purposes in the world. Because there is a reason in God’s good world that things are created to bring pleasure, and we are created to enjoy certain things. But C.S. Lewis’ famous point about pleasure is that nothing truly satisfies. Every good thing leaves us hoping for more of it, or deeper experience of it. And this, Lewis says, is one of the great lessons of pleasure. That moment of unsatisfaction is actually a God-given gift pointing to something else. Something deeper.

When we approach pleasure as an end we often find ourselves battling addictions or depression or despair. Because no thing and no person can give what most of us are actually looking for. Jurgen Moltmann comes at this from another angle:

“Why have people in our modern world become so perverted? Because both consciously and unconsciously they are dominated by the fear of death. Their greed for life is really their fear of death: and the fear of death finds expression in an unbridled hunger for power. “You only live once” we are told “you might miss out on something” this hunger for pleasure for possessions for power the thirst for recognition through success and admiration-that is the perversion of modern men and women. That is their godlessness. “

The fear of death is really behind their greed for life.

But for Jesus followers, we believe that God created both us, and the very things that give us pleasure. We believe that God wired up the world in such a way as to frustrate us from time to time because as much as we’d like them to fully satisfy us, they cannot. They are sign post that point to another reality. Continue reading The City of Satisfaction

The Next Christians and U2

So I’m on Sabbatical for the next few weeks from preaching. Leslie and I are so thankful for the wisdom of the Highland shepherds to work into every the rythymn of every year a season for rest and long term planning. We’ve spent the last few days with friends and family in Arkansas, swimming in rivers, shooting skeet and riding four wheelers…Yes I know, how very metropolitan of us.

But before this week, on the very first day of my sabbatical I got a chance to go to my first U2 concert. For over a decade I’ve listened to Bono sing about the Kingdom of God in sometimes cryptic and sometimes explicit ways. They are by far my favorite band, and Saturday night reminded me of why.

The faith of U2 has been the topic of a dozen books, and a thousand sermons. Bono has led the world in issues of justice and even said some very prophetic things to the leading powers of the world. He’s been espoused by people like Rick Warren as an authentic Jesus follower, and demonized by more conservative Christians who just couldn’t understand a “secular” rock star singing about Jesus stuff.

But that’s exactly what they are.

We live in such a superficial culture. If you ever doubt that, just TIVO the show Toddlers and Tiara’s one time. And it might be easy to try and write U2 off as one more example. But before the concert began we watched on the big screen statistics about world poverty, deaths from disease/poverty/abortion/war…which is not what you might expect before a rock concert. And yes, they were rock stars. Bono is the best showman I’ve ever seen. But it’s all connected to something larger. Continue reading The Next Christians and U2