Sunday, May 29, 2011


Sometimes, the things we, as Christians, say baffles me. It is then all I can do is hang my head in shame and wonder if we missed the point. I am curious if we really understand and believe these things, or are we just repeating what we have heard growing up in the church. If you are confused where this is going, keep reading and hopefully I will clear things up.

You see, for the past few weeks I have been wrestling with how we (notice I have included myself in this) sometimes spout off these cliches or flippantly quote Scirpture. When people are struggling we tell them just to trust, followed by a plethora of passages on that very topic. At times we tell people who are hurting that God is in control and "what the Devil has intended for harm, God will use for good."  Therefore, in the midst of that, choose to be joyful--which is not the same as happiness. Or perhaps a close friend is living in a world of doubt and we tell them to simply have more faith. There are still others we inform everything is in God's timing, not ours.

There is nothing wrong with any of these answers, is there? Afterall, Jesus told his disciples to have more faith. Time and time again, God has brought good out of the bad. Scripture tells us there is a difference between joy and happiness; and let's not forget joy is a fruit of the spirit. It is important that we trust God, even when it is difficult. God is also sovereign and knows what he is doing, so it seems things really are on his timetable. So if this is all true, what, if anything, is wrong with these answers?

I have come to the realization that more often than not, people don't just want answers. And if we are honest, we all realize these are rarely the answers to life's problems. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a vast majority of people believe the Bible has credible historical significance. For many, the hang up is whether or not the contents of its pages is still true today, 2000 years later. In a perfect world, I could tell everyone it is and they would listen; but the world in which we live is far from perfect. They have doubts and the burden of proof lies with me.

We live in a world that needs proof; real-life, rubber meets the road kind of proof. And this is where you and I come into the picture. We are the proof people need. I know this may come as a shock, but as followers of Christ, the world believes we will actually act out what the Bible teaches us and what Christ has shown us.

Now let me turn a corner and throw some statistics your way:
1 in 10 lines of the Bible is about generosity.
1 in 6 lines of Luke is about generosity.
(Generosity means that we take care of those around us.)
Every time the Bible talks about church, it talks about helping those in need.
Every time the Bible mentions compassion, it is followed by action.

What is compassion? Is it expansion of government or religious programs? Is it a synonym for leniency, as when lawyers ask a jury to have compassion for an accused murderer by letting him off? Compassion is defined by as "a deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering; the human quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it." "Wanting to do something about it?" True compassion goes beyond wanting to do something about it. Compassion without action is only sympathy.

This seems to be our societal problem. We are always looking for the easy way out. We have done such injustice to the word. The emphasis, as the word itself shows—"com" (with), and "passion" from the Latin pati (to suffer)—is on personal involvement with the needy, suffering with them, not just giving to them. "Suffering together" means helping the unemployed-but willing-to-work, adopting hard-to-place babies, providing shelter to women undergoing crisis pregnancies, tutoring the determined illiterate, and so on.

If we return to the Bible, we will find that the true meaning of compassion becomes quite clear; afterall, the Hebrew and Greek words commonly translated as "compassion" are used over 80 times in the Bible. Their most frequent use is not as an isolated noun rather it is used to show the culmination of a process. And this is what I have found to be the answer to ALL of life's questions and problems. This is the example we find in Christ. To live a life of compassion. To walk with others through the twists and turns of life, no matter where they find themselves.

Monday, May 16, 2011

DREAM, Part 2

Our dreams are God given. And it is God who will bring those dreams to fruition. What kind of God would place deep within each of us dreams that are unattainable? To operate that way wouldn't make him very loving or gracious now would it? Which is exactly why I do not believe that is how God works. Unfortunately, I sense that many in the church would disagree with me here. To be honest, in some ways I can understand their point of view. Many well intended Christians have taught us that whatever we want for our lives, God wants the exact opposite for us. This is why so many of us struggle with fully giving our lives over to God. We fear that if we do, he will take away our hopes and dreams.

Let me give you some examples.

Perhaps your dream is to serve God in full-time ministry, but are afraid to do so because He might send you to some remote village on the other side of the planet (or in my case you might wind up pastoring a church in a town of 15 people--not that there is anything wrong with that, I just like the city life). While the dream of ministry may be fulfilled, the fact that friends and family are important to you just went out the window.

I have a friend who wants to get married and have a family. It is something he hopes for, even though he is currently single. Periodically, he calls me up for relationship advice. Don’t ask me why? I may have been married, but I definitely don't have the market on dating or relationships (granted, having been through a marriage and a divorce, I might have a little better grasp than before). But, to be totally honest, I haven’t a clue when it comes to relationships (I kinda make it up as I go). Regardless, the questions come and I give the best input I can give him. Come to think of it, this could be part of the problem. Anyway, he tells me how he wishes God would just take this desire away, because he doesn’t see it happening. From these conversations, we inevitably get on this topic that our dreams are God given. Again, I don’t believe God is so cruel that He would place within us these hopes, dreams, and desires that He will not legitimately fill.

Now, we must take into consideration that part of the Christian life is learning to relinquish control to God. But our dreams are not necessarily part of that (if they are not selfish and in agreement with Biblical teaching). On numerous occasions in Scripture, we find that God speaks to individuals through dreams, i.e. Joseph (son of Jacob), Joseph (husband of Mary), Solomon, and Paul to name a few. God, being omniscient, desires that we learn to legitimately fulfill the dreams he has given us. The key word here being legitimately. There are no shortcuts with God. If we are following God, Scripture plainly tells us that He will shape and mold our dreams...not take them away. He will refine them and make them better than we had originally imagined. Afterall, God is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.

We must also take into account the timing here. Patience, which I don't have a lot of most of the time, seems to be a big thing with God for some reason. It may take years or even decades for these God ordained dreams to come to fruition. Personally, some of the dreams I have are just coming into view; even though I have had them for years. The story that always comes to mind for me is Joseph, the guy with the technicolor dreamcoat. From the time he was given his dream to the time he saw it fulfilled was somewhere around the 20 year mark. This guy had to endure to see his dream fulfilled. From the very beginning it seemed he was doomed for failure, but time and time again, what the devil intended for harm, God used for good.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

DREAM, Part 1

It is our dreams that perpetuate us. And that is why none of us ever dreams of living a life of mediocrity. Nobody dreams of working their way to middle management or having a dead-end job. Nobody's dreams consist of struggling with debt or just getting by. I have never heard of anyone dreaming their marriage would end in divorce. Our dreams don't involve addiction or pain and suffering. We all have dreams of grandeur. And for most of us, our dreams are unattainable in and of ourselves (if they aren't, I'd have to say they really aren't worth pursuing).

Think back to your childhood and try to recall some of the things you dreamed about. When I think back to those early years, it seems the sky was the limit; I mean that, seriously, not metaphorically. I had dreams of being a super-hero, like Superman. When I was younger, I was so convinced I could fly that I rode my big wheels right off our front deck. Needless to say, the only "flying" that took place was the drive to the emergency room to have gravel removed from my face. That may very well have been the day my dreams began to fade and I allowed them to get hijacked. Inevitably, that day comes looking for us all. For the vast majority of us, we succumb to the pressures of life and relinquish our dreams for the status quo. The discouragement sets in and gets the best of us. We can only hear: get your head out of the clouds, come back to reality, you are living on fantasy island, so many times. But, there are a few who will never give up and vigorously pursue those dreams with wreckless abandon.

It is God's design that we live life as the latter, because he has engrained deep in each of us the desire and the need to dream. How do I know this? The fact that we are created in the image of God leads me to this conclusion. God is a dreamer. If you don’t believe me, look around and take note of everything you see. The mountains, the trees, the animals, and of course humanity--all the work of a dreamer. The Bible tells us God desires that all men would be saved; that no man would turn away from repentance. If that doesn’t sound like a dream, then I don’t know what does. Now, let's throw into the mix the fact that God left everything he created in the hands of you and me. Broken, self-centered, over-indulgent humanity. All in hopes that we would learn to get along, love one another, and fulfill our purpose. That sounds like nothing short of fantasy to me.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that God has dreams of grandeur for each of us. More often than not, he wants bigger things for us than we want for ourselves. Unfortunately our dreams have been hijacked by society, media, and any number of "isms." The result is that we spend a good majority of our time and energy fighting God for control of our lives because, for some odd reason, we think we can do better without him. The key is to release control (or the false sense of control) of our lives and turn our hopes and dreams over to God. It is then and only then he will shape and mold both us and our dreams into something great.

That, my friends, is why it is essential we pursue our dreams. Well, that and because when we stop dreaming we stop living.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I have been on quite a rollercoaster ride. One I never expected to take, emotionally, physically and spiritually. What transpired wasn’t supposed to happen to me. You see, I was called into full-time ministry by God almost 14 years ago. From the time I decided to embrace that call upon my life and quit running from it, I did my very best to follow Him as closely as I could. Granted, I had my faults and slipped up from time to time, but doesn’t everybody? All of this has lead me to have some very frank discussions with God. On occasion, we even get into a wrestling match here and there (as you might guess, he always wins).

This story begins almost 6 years ago, so bear with me while I take you back and paint a picture.

I graduated from college with a degree in Pastoral Ministry in May of 2005. It was just a month later I took the plunge and said ‘I do.’ The first few months of our marriage was spent in both my parent’s basement and my brother’s basement. We were searching for a job in the church and didn’t want to be tied down to a lease. The first six months of our marriage I spent working Internet Tech Support (definitely not what I went to school for). When I was finally offered a chance to make use of my degree and fulfill my calling as a Youth Pastor, I jumped at the opportunity.

During our first year of marriage we lived with my parents, my brother, moved to a new town, accepted new jobs, and were forced to make new friends. If you’ve been married I don’t have to tell you how difficult that first year of marriage is. Nor do I probably need to tell you the added strain the rest of these transitions put on both of us that first year. On two separate occasions I was almost certain our marriage wasn’t going to survive; but, by the grace of God, it did.

After I had served on staff at the church for about two years, our time to leave had come. The Senior Pastor resigned and retired. And due to financial difficulty, the church was unable to keep me on staff much longer. After much discussion and prayer, my wife and I made the tough decision to pack up the life we knew, move and start over in Sioux Falls, SD. Not only was I not transitioning to a position at another church, I didn’t even have a job when we made the move. To say the move was a leap of faith is probably an understatement; however, God provided everything—as usual.

Once we made the adjustment and got plugged into a church (and I got rid of a bit of the bitterness I had towards God for taking ministry away from me), life seemed to be everything I wanted. Our marriage was doing well, I was helping out with a youth ministry, teaching a Sunday School class, and we made the decision to plant some roots. By this time we had paid off all of our bills (except my ridiculously expensive college degree) and decided the next logical step was to purchase our first home. After spending months looking at hundreds (literally hundreds—I’m kind of picky and OCD) of houses, we finally fell in love. We made an offer on a two-story house built in 1912. After several weeks of going through the logistics of negotiations, inspections, and the tense waiting periods, we finally signed the next 30 years of our lives away. After just a few months I was comfortable with where we were at and felt I was finally ready to have children (did I tell you that she was ready for kids from day one?). From an outsider’s perspective (and even my own) it appeared we had a picture perfect life. We had decent jobs, nice cars, a phenomenal first house (minus the white picket fence) and we even had two dogs. For me, everything was in order, life was going great and I had been blessed with far more than I had ever imagined at such a young age.

Everything seemed like this was going to be the most exciting year of our lives together. We had transitioned to being involved with a new church plant where I, for the very first time, felt I was finally exactly where I needed to be. I was getting more involved in ministry again and was well established at my current job. The future looked promising…and just as quickly as everything began to look like hell.

Just after our 4 year anniversary in June of 2009, our marriage took a turn for the worse. I came home from work to a note on the kitchen counter.  My wife apparently hadn’t been seeing things through the same lenses I had. Basically, the note explained how over the course of the previous year, our lives had slowly began heading in different directions. The note talked about how our marriage was a mistake. How the love was never really there and the last 4 years were all based on a lie. I distinctly remember all the emotions and questions I taking over my mind during those brief minutes I read the note over and over wondering how it is she no longer loved me. That evening my whole world fell apart.

When she got home that evening (about 5 hours later), we sat down and discussed everything. She expressed her feelings to me and how I had failed her during the last 4 years of our life. I agreed to several of them and made a conscious decision to work on them and make her priority. I also suggested we get into some counseling; however, she wasn’t ready. We made a commitment to work on the marriage and not let anyone know about this for a period of one month. To put it bluntly, that month was hell. It was obvious our marriage wasn’t going to succeed.

During that month we argued more than we had the previous 4 years. Oddly enough, we also had the longest periods of time we couldn’t even talk to each other or be in the same room as each other (so much for working on things). Throughout that month, a day didn’t pass without me wondering how we got to this point (even today I don’t have that answer). By the end of the month, both denial and depression had set in, I had moved in with my best friend as my wife needed some space to figure out what she wanted. After about a week of that, I moved back into the house. We discussed everything and she decided to move in with a co-worker and begin filing for divorce. Life as I knew it had come to an end.

It was then I couldn’t deal with anything anymore. I had lost over 20 pounds, was getting less then 4 hours of sleep a night and couldn’t find a reason to even get out of bed some mornings. The worst of it was that I was on the brink of giving up on God. After all, he didn’t answer my prayers—at least in the way I thought he should. A large part of me felt God had abandoned me and was no longer reliable. This lead me to the conclusion that if I wanted to make it through this, I needed to take matters into my own hands. After some time and discussion with those closest to me, I finally made an appointment with the doctor, got on some anti-depressants, started some counseling and began eating again. Although I gave up on God, I would periodically get into the Word because I had nothing better to do.

Jumping ahead about 3 months, we signed the divorce papers the day before Thanksgiving (so much to be thankful for there it seemed). From then it was a 60 day waiting period before everything became official. Right around the time I was ready to give up on God, my boss handed me a book to read. Funny enough, the title was “Furious Pursuit.” The premise of the book was how God is always pursuing us (as always, great timing on that one God); even when we don’t feel like he is and even when we may not want him to. I began reading the book and couldn’t put it down. There were so many things that hit home.

It took some time, but I eventually adjusted to my new life. I gained back the weight I had lost, got off the anti-depressants, became somewhat social again, and got a roommate. This wasn’t the life I had pictured, but I was learning to deal with it and make the best. Spiritually, nothing really changed until after the divorce became official January 25, 2010…4 years and 7 months of marriage to the day.

Although I had shut out God for the most part during all of this, I left myself open to friends and the church. But it was now I could see things from a different perspective. I can’t explain how or why, other than getting the final papers signified the closing of one chapter in my life and the beginning of another.

Now, I am able to see things in a completely different light. God never really answered the ‘Why?’ the way I had hoped, but He did give me a lot of other answers. On a different note, I always thought it was cheesy, but that “Footprints” poem really is true. When I saw only one set of footprints through the divorce, I can only attribute it to the fact that God truly was carrying me.

The lessons I learned and the massive strides I have taken in my spiritual life through all of this truly are invaluable—and I wholeheartedly believe I wouldn’t have learned them otherwise.

I feel that because of all of this, I am able, in a weird way, to relate just a little more to the suffering of Christ.

I see God in the people he placed in my life at just the right time.

I see God in the encouragement of friends and family through the roughest patch of life.

I see God through the love and compassion of my church, no matter how imperfect they may be. And I realize now, more than ever, how essential a church really is.

I learned what breaks my heart, breaks the heart of God even more.

I learned—the hard way—we were never intended to walk through any of life alone.

I learned that, unfortunately, it is suffering that unites us the most.

I learned that when God makes the promise to never leave nor forsake you, he intends to keep it.

I learned that my total forgiveness of someone doesn’t really make what happened okay; nor does it say God is fine with everything that transpired.

I learned that God doesn’t waste anything. What Satan intends for evil, God will some day turn into good.

I learned sometimes all God asks you to do is place one foot in front of the other.

And currently, I am learning that God really is in the business of making ALL things new.

I’m able to say that God has never been more real to me than he is today (even in the midst of my doubt from time to time). More and more, I see the faithfulness, love and grace of God in each and every situation, regardless of the outcome. And when I am listening, sometimes I swear that I hear him faintly whispering to me, “Jordan, I’m so sorry. I’m here for you and I love you!”