On July 19, 2010

Terra Incognita

Christopher Columbus was no saint. Most people who took any form of American History class know that, including Columbus. He admitted in his diary on several occasions that he was a great sinner. But, like most of us, there was more to him than just his mistakes.

Mark Patterson, in his book, “Wild Goose Chase” points out that Columbus genuinely felt like he was on a divine mission from God. He felt the Lord’s hand guiding him, when other people were too busy mocking the idea of his travels, Columbus believed that God was behind him.

And here’s why that’s cool:

Back in the day of Columbus, maps were drawn of the known world from England to India. And on the margins of the maps the Cartographer would just put two words: Terra Incognita or Unknown Land. The general idea back then was that in those unchartered territories there could be dragons or Cannibals, or whatever other horrible things you could imagine.

If something was unknown then it must be dangerous.

For the past few weeks I’ve been preaching at RHCC about risk. And if there has ever been a series that’s blessed me more than the people I was preaching to, it’s this one. Our little family is in such an uncertain time for our lives. There are so many variables for us right now. What if we don’t sell our house? What if we don’t make any new friends? What if we find out that we are allergic to living in West Texas?

The unknown is always scarier isn’t it?

So this last Saturday night after church, a guy came up to talk to me who I’ll call Bill. Bill and I have known each other for a few months now. And Bill is dying of cancer. He’s had it for about 8 years and 10 surgeries now. And this week he is scheduled to have another major procedure. But here’s where the story picks up. He’s been having dreams lately. Dreams, he believes, that are from God. Now I assumed when he told me about these dreams from the Lord, they would be about pleasant things like rainbows and unicorns, but they weren’t.

Bill has been dreaming of the Lord telling him that he is going to die.

The voice tells him that he won’t make it through this next surgery.

I know that sounds horrible. It was shocking to me too. But Bill insists that these dreams aren’t nightmares, in fact, they are actually quite comforting. Because that’s not all the voice says. Bill believes God is telling him this so that he can get his affairs in order, but more than that, so that he can know what’s waiting for Him after his body gives out. In these dreams, God has been letting Bill know that He is good and perfectly capable of meeting him on the other side of this thing we call life.

And he believes it.

I’ve never had a conversation like this before. Most of the time when I talk to people who are running out of time, there is a desperation to the conversation. But this was different.  Bill knows his body is shutting down. His internal organs are failing one at a time. But he also knows that death won’t be the end of him. Because God told him so.

Now to be honest, I’m not sure what I think about all this. On many levels I want those dreams to not be from the LORD. I’d love for my friend to live many more years. And if this week comes and goes without any problems, I’ll rejoice that Bill lives to see another day. After all, I don’t think death is God’s plan for anybody. That’s why it always feel unnatural, because we weren’t created to die.

But what if this is God? Wouldn’t it be just like Him to give my brother one last gift? To let him know that he isn’t passing into some great unknown by himself, and that the Living God will be with him?

You know what’s ironic about that voyage that Columbus set out on? Not one of the men on that ship had ever sailed over 300 miles before. They were about to charter a new course for history. They were going to discover the other side of the world, but geographically speaking, they had previously barely even left their backyard. They sailed toward the Great Unknown, the Terra Incognita, only to find that they weren’t doing it alone.

And if they wouldn’t have made this risk we would never have discovered that a person can go East by sailing West.

In the words of Andre Gida, “People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Which is good news for me. And Bill.

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  • Kathy

    Take heart, dear Storments – we are a couple thousand that can’t wait to begin nurturing and maturing new blessed friendships with you, Leslie and beautiful children.
    A dearth of friendships is just not possible in Abilene, in general, and certainly not at Highland. We’re perched on the edge of the horrid seats in Highland’s auditorium, just waiting to turn loose on y’all our awaiting love for the sweet Storment family. You can cross that one off your list – not to worry, not to worry. :)

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Kathy, thanks for saying that. We believe that Highland is going to be a great place for our family. It’s just that any time you leave the familiar there is a bit of uncertainty and discomfort. So thank you for speaking into that. See you soon!

  • Carla McDonald

    Jonathan, all of us are allergic to living in West Texas. That comes with being here, along with many other negatives. But in spite of all the negatives, you start seeing that those are minor compared to the blessings God is pouring out upon you, and the blessings God pours out to others through you.

    Of the two journeys you described, Bill’s journey and Columbus’s journey, and the risks for each, you share at least one aspect with both – being called by God to go forward in faith. You are going to be amazed at all the things God is going to do, and like your friend Bill, amazed knowing that the Living God will be with you.

    I am eager to see and know how God is going to work in Abilene and at Highland, specifically as a result of His call and your willingness to bring your precious family to this place. You can look at it this way – He was easier on you than He was on Columbus. At least you know where you’re coming to, even if it is West Texas!

  • John Wallace

    I love this quote from Elisabeth Elliot from an essay entitled “Nevertheless, We Must Run Aground” — built around Paul’s proclamation in Acts 27:26. God loves to see the faithful movement of His people in response to His calling. From Moses to Abraham and beyond, the story is the same. And the takeaway is this: an unmistakable reminder from our Father that heaven is not “here.” It’s “there.” Enjoy the “here” while you’re “here” — wherever it may be. But if we’re not careful, our human nature will settle for the “here” and miss out on all God has to offer “there.” Corrie ten Boom says it very well (paraphrasing): “I’ve learned to hold every blessing from God in the palm of an open hand … because, if I don’t, it hurts so much when He pries my clenched fingers apart to reclaim what was His from the start.”

  • http://feetwasher.blogspot.com/ Philip Cunningham III

    I believe I needed this.

  • Tawna Ward

    Jonathon, You are going to be missed so much!! I come from West Texas and it’s true, everyone has allergies in West Texas! The people are Uber friendly, to borrow from the modern vernacular. You will assimilate beautifully, especially once you’ve spoken at church. I don’t know how anyone could resist being your friend!
    I am surprised when you stated, you don’t think we were created to die. I think that is exactly why we were created, to journey thru this world, trying to make an positive impact on others and then to joyfully return “home” to our Lord!! We are sad when loved ones leave us, but we should rejoice that our loved one is now “home” with their Father and painfree and carefree and glorious!
    God bless you in West Texas, and if they don’t UTTERLY LOVE YOU, come back, cause we already do! God bless you! Love ya!

  • http://alexwellss.wordpress.com alex wells

    love, love, love this blog.
    there is something terribly frightening and yet exhilarating about launching out into the unknown, and something bittersweet about letting the familiar fade into the past.
    what a blessing to have a God who is everywhere and in every time all of the time.
    thank you for sharing.

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  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    Interestingly enough, there is some thought that Columbus had a man with him who had been to the New World, although not as far south as Columbus sailed. Maybe he had a guide, and the terra wasn’t as incognita as we think.

    Have you ever heard the expression, “We pray harder to keep Christians out of Heaven than we do to keep sinners out of Hell?” I know that when we have a prayer time, the majority of the requests are for sick folks, most of whom are assured of their salvation.

    Bill has the right idea. Death is a travesty visited upon us by sin. But so far, the death rate has been very, very close to 100%. There comes a time when it’s best to let God lead you into that last adventure.

    It’s not entirely terra incognita to us, either. Jesus went there first. We have a guide. Praise God for that!

  • Bill Bell

    AC 2:17 ” `In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

    As written by Joel and preached by Peter, have we pre-shrunk these events to fit our limited understanding? Not to get all “Twilight zone” on us, but why do we have so much trouble accepting that the God of Comfort has prepared us (and is preparing us) for eternity and could use a dream to do so. Are we more afraid of messages from a dream that align with His words and promises… or of being considered an old man? Fear not, He says.

  • http://djiverson.com dj

    Living in the midst of the extreme sports empire, I am constantly surrounded by adrenaline junkies who like to push the edge when it comes to fear. Suprisingly though, a lot of these same guys that seek that rush are very insecure when it comes to death.

    So many people who are brave enough to take on the unknown still seem to want to do it on their own terms. But guys like Bill, I picture them standing there with Jesus in the garden, with no sword drawn.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Carla, we not worried about allergies…much. :) Part of stepping out in faith is that, while it can make you anxious, it’s also exhilarating! See you soon!

    John, what a great quote! I’m going to look up that article. There’s a book called “Wild Goose Chase” by Mark Patterson that has a couple of great chapters on that as well. You might be interested in reading it. Good to hear from you brother!

    Thanks Phillip! Glad to see you drop by!

    Tawna, thanks so much for the kind words. We are going to miss RHCC, but we’re glad that we are going to place that has such similar hearts like Highland. What I meant with that statement goes back to the original intention for creation. Death entered the world with sin. I do believe that we were created to be with God, but originally God never intended for us to die. Hope that makes sense! Thanks again for the encouragement!

    Alex, thanks! And well said!

    Bro. Danny! that is a great comment. Death Rate of 100% I’m actually using that this weekend. You’re a great conversation partner.

    Bro. Bill, I agree. So many stories in Scripture center around God communicating to people via dreams, but we don’t really have any categories for that anymore, and so we tend to write them off as just strange. My good friend wrote a blog on that last week here http://www.joshuagraves.com

    DJ, Love that last line. Love it. Good observation about risk takers often not being willing to face the end. That’d be an interesting study. Thanks brother!

  • http://www.changedwithin.blogspot.com Maynard

    It sounds just like God. I’m glad that Bill isn’t buying into the name it and claim it gospel that’s so popular right now. I think if God has named it, then by all means claim it. I like Bill’s attitude and look forward to having that kind of faith.

    I don’t understand your death comments – we’re not created to die?

  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    Jonathan, I’d bill you for the phrase, but it’s not original with me.

    Patrick Mead (who happens to be Joshua Graves’s father-in-law) has a saying: “Everyone dies of something. Just figure out what you want to die of and eat accordingly.”

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Maynard, thanks for saying that. What I was saying about death is that it was never God’s intention for the Creation. When God created the world death wasn’t a part of it, including for humanity. Death entered the world with sin, resurrection is actually forgiveness of sins. Death isn’t natural, because we weren’t originally intended to die. Does that make sense?

    Bro. Danny, that’s greatness. I’m gonna have Bueno for lunch.

  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    So you want to die of indigestion?

  • Peter Mosley

    I had two reactions to this one — one theological and one emotional. Nothing disagrees with what you said, but you awoke some strong reactions in me — I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot lately.

    Theologically — I went to a training workshop a few weeks ago held by people who were first responders to major tragedies — like the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina. These people counseled individuals right when the event happened, while the victims were still in shock. The workshop was three days long, but the basic gist of it is in these verses:

    Proverbs 1:7a–The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbes 3:5– Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Phillippians 4:6-7 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    The basic idea behind those verses is that God profoundly transcends any understanding I may think I have of my situation; I don’t understand my scary situation until I realize that God is bigger than my scary situation. I mean, just comparing the earth to the universe — you can’t even make out the MILKY WAY, I recently found out, when you compare it to our current limits of our visual on the universe on a projector screen, so forget earth — it seems almost comical sometimes that we are so worried about things on such a small, insignificant speck that, if you were looking at the universe through a microscope, you wouldn’t be able to make out. And how small we are compared to earth!!! So maybe God is trying to make a point that, just as his universe is bigger than the earth, He is bigger than our worries and concerns.

    Emotional — This is something that’s easier for me to say than to live out. It takes more faith than I have at times, but I’m working on it. I’m really sorry about your friend, and, to be honest, death really scares the crap out of me (although I know it shouldn’t), so your story of your friend helped me a lot with that. Thanks, and I’m waiting on seeing how this situation plays out.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Bro. Danny, no. Happiness.

    Peter, well said. I think this is why worship is so important. It lets us reframe the world and our place in it. I read a book last year about a man who spent a week on a mountain, and then spent a week on the couch watching cable television. He then wrote a book about that experience. His basic premise was this: the week on the mountain made him realize how small he was. The week on the couch, with all the commercials made him feel like he was at the center of the universe. Thanks for the good thoughts brother!

  • Peter Mosley

    What is the name of the book?

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