Sunday, October 28, 2012


Like everyone, there are are a few skeletons in my closet. Most of them are quite embarrassing. And unless you are one of the privileged few, they tend to stay hidden. But, lucky for you I'm in the sharing mood today and I'm going to plaster one of my secrets on the Internet for the whole world--or at least the 6 of you who read my blog--to find out. Growing up, I used to be involved in choir and theater. I know what you're thinking--"That's not embarrassing!" What if I up the ante a bit?

Throughout Elementary School I enjoyed singing. My voice could only be described as an interweaving of Adam Levine and Michael Buble. One year, I was offered the part of Frosty the Snowman in our Christmas program. They dressed me in a ridiculous snowman costume and even gave me a solo. To say I knocked it out of the park would be an understatement! As the years passed and I transitioned to Junior High School, my enjoyment of singing waned. I decided to move onto something more lucrative and found my passion to be acting. My career started off pretty small, basically as extras. But after participating in just a play or two I landed a major role. In our rendition of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I played the part of Quasimodo! On a side note, if any of these pictures exist, get rid of them. Shred them. Burn them. Do whatever is necessary so there is not even a trace of evidence left--other than this blog. I swear to you, if I discover any of those pictures on the Internet someone will pay. That's right, I'm talking to you mother! Sorry about that rant; I will now get back to the point.

In both cases, we had to audition for the various roles. While everyone had a part in the programs and plays, only a few of us were able to have the more significant roles. After auditions, the results would be made public to the class. Off in the corner of the room you could usually find someone crying because they didn't land the part they hoped. Of course, my teachers would make their way through the rows of desks and console the student. And it never failed, they would take advantage of that opportunity to teach, those of us who were the stars, a lesson in humility. In the most stern voice, they would inform all of us, "There are no small parts, only small people." followed by a glance in my direction. To this day, I still think that was a jab at my height, but again, that's off subject. Either way, getting those important roles was a huge boost for my ego. And if I'm honest, I might have relished the attention I was receiving just a bit.

Come on, who doesn't like the attention? Who doesn't want to be important? Who doesn't want to be a star? The accolades. The attention. The benefits. Honestly, things aren't all that different in the church. Even when Jesus flips our paradigms upside down and tells us things like, "the first will be last; the humble will inherit the earth; whoever loses his life will find it;" we still find ourselves taking part in an epic struggle of significance and stardom. But, as is always the case, this is nothing new. We see one such event unfold with Jesus' followers in the midst of his short ministry. The disciples, the ones who knew Jesus best, missed the point yet again--just like you and me. As you turn to Matthew 18:1-20, allow me to set the scene.

Over the weeks preceding this conversation, the disciples had witnessed some amazing events. In short, Jesus miraculously comes up with a shekel for the temple tax by telling Peter to catch a fish that will have the coin in it's mouth. Even if that could be written off as coincidence, just before that Jesus cast out a demon from a boy in the crowd--something the disciples apparently tried to do but were unsuccessful. And to put the icing on the cake, the text leading up to all of this informs us that Jesus was transfigured before the disciples very eyes. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. All after meeting up with Moses and Elijah--whom have been dead for quite some time--on the top of mountain. And right on the tail of those three awe inspiring events, the disciples lose focus and resort to bickering. And they confront Jesus with a very pressing question; one we are still asking today. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Essentially the disciples were asking Jesus which of them was paramount in his kingdom. The whole "there are no small parts" mentality Jesus had would no longer suffice for the self-absorbed disciples. In hindsight, Jesus should have seen this coming. He went out of his way to specifically choose these men. They were hand-selected by the son of God to be his disciples. That should count for something. Is it a wonder the disciples egos got the best of them so often?

And we pick up this conversation in Matthew 18. Jesus replies by launching into an expository far more in depth than the disciples had likely bargained for. He addresses their need to receive him like children, which leads to some discussion on their response to sin, the lost, and forgiveness. In other words, Jesus seemingly skirts around the question. But the underlying theme seems to be of concerning themselves more with participating in the Kingdom of God now as opposed to bickering over which of them is more important. What a profound thought! Think of the implications Jesus was bringing up here.  In his lecture about "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" Jesus shuts them down. He tells them to stop seeking distinction and start addressing the more important issues--accept him like a child; make sacrifices to avoid sin; seek out the lost instead of fraternizing with the affluently spiritual; almost haphazardly forgive others--only then will you be great. Jesus makes it abundantly clear he isn't really looking for the great or the important. They really don't have much room for God. In the simplest terms Jesus points out that importance and greatness don't come through exaltation, but humility.

This teaching is so basic, yet so important because we easily get so wrapped up in our own kingdom. We get caught up in the sub-plot of our own lives and lose sight of the grander story in God's cosmic movie of redemption. We try to make our role seem more significant than it is. We seek attention that doesn't belong to us. We promote ourselves and forget what is truly important. Truth be told, we all have an important role to play, no matter how small it may seem (see Romans 12). Even so, in the script God has masterfully written, we are no more than extras. The thing about extras is that if they don't fulfill their duties, someone else is usually ready and willing to step up and take their place. Furthermore, the leading role belongs to God rather than any of us. It always has and always will. When we understand this, it puts everything in it's proper place.

Think of it this way. In Hollywood, nobody knows who the extras are. Nobody can ramble off their names, their list of roles, how much they make, and they are never on the cover of any magazines. Yet the extras are absolutely necessary. Without them, Hollywood wouldn't be able to sell the story. How dull would the high-speed chases be without the semis, family vans and imports dispersed across the highway. Without them, the Porsche 911 Turbo would just cruise across the asphalt, at a steady speed, in a straight line, being followed by the police car that is never going to catch up. Or how about the romantic dinner the couple takes? It would be kind of awkward if the restaurant was empty and they had to seat themselves and take their own order. If the extras disappear, the viability of the story goes with it.

Can you imagine a Sunday morning without the tech crew? No sound coming from the speakers. No lighting for the stage. No words or video clips being projected on the screen. Who can fathom what the facility would look (and smell) like if nobody took the time out of their schedule to clean things like the bathrooms. I'm 99% certain nobody would show up at the 8:30 service if someone hadn't arrived, before the sun even rose, to make the delicious Zambian coffee. We would never be able to keep track of who came, who signed up for what, or what commitments were made if there wasn't anyone willing to cut out the connection cards. Parents would be nervous the entire service if their children were all just thrown into one big room with no adult supervision. But then again, it's not all about the building or our Sunday services.

Let's look at the bigger picture. In my Evangelism class at college I heard it takes the average person 7 times hearing the Gospel before they make a conscious decision to respond. While you may not be the individual that sits down with them and says some prayer to get them "saved" (I'm not a huge fan of that terminology), you may have brought them one step closer to that point. You see, we all have a part to play. And it really is important, even if we are just an extra.

Let me conclude my rambling with one final thought. In the scheme of things, even the biggest players in our eyes--the evangelists, preachers and missionaries--are only extras. So, I guess my teachers were right afterall, "There are no small parts, just small people."

Monday, October 22, 2012


I have something I desperately need to confess to you. It's pretty tough to admit; but I know I will feel better getting it off my chest. Well, here it goes. At 29, I still wish I could be a superhero! Whew, I feel better. From the time I was a young boy I was enamored with the likes of Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Around the age of 4, I must have convinced myself I was like Clark Kent and could actually fly. My parents were building a deck off our front door. The platform was finished but there were no rails built. I took it upon myself to take a few laps on my big wheel (Do you remember these things? The 100% plastic trikes with a giant front wheel.). I became bored and worked up the courage to launch my big wheel (and myself) right off the deck. You might be surprised to discover that I flew that day. In all honesty, it was no further than a few feet, but just as quickly as I left the deck, I plummeted face first into the ground below. The result was a trip to the hospital to have gravel removed from my face. Given that setback, I still want nothing more today than to be a superhero. Little did I know, I would be given that opportunity on more than one occasion.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me set a few things straight. I didn't inherit a fortune to pay for my secret life-style. I'm not out late at night fighting crime while the rest of the city is peacefully sleeping. I haven't discovered how to fly. I can't scale walls. I am not handy nor do I have any handy gadgets. Just ask my friends, I have to borrow simple tools from them like lawn mowers, saws and drills. I don't even have a side-kick, unless you count my spoiled dog. What I have is far greater and more profound than any of those things. And yet, I overlook it on a regular basis. The secret to my superpowers is...we will get to that later.

These past few weeks in church we have been diving into a series titled 'Who's Counting on You?' And to be quite honest, throughout this series I have found myself thinking the answer to that question is-- nobody. I don't have a wife at home counting on me to bring home the bacon. I have zero children counting on me to be there for them, set an example, provide for them and raise them. While they rely on me at work to get the job done, any number of people could really do what I do. So, it seems they really aren't counting on me per se. Yes, I volunteer at church, but again, other people could easily fill my shoes. And if I can admit something else to you, this isn't where I envisioned I would be when I was in college. Please understand, this isn't a pity party. I don't need anyone to tell what I'm doing is important and is making a difference--deep in my gut, I already know this. I'm not looking for a pat on the back, recognition, or accolades. What I'm sharing with you has just been the battle taking place in my soul during each of the messages in this series.

Permit me one last time to pour my heart out to you. I want to make a difference. I don't want to live for money, or possessions, or vacations, or anything else that is temporal. I desperately want my life to count for something. For something more. I see others pursuing amazing things and self-lessly giving themselves away to to a dark and hurting world. They regularly waste their time and money on those Jesus refers to as "the least of these." They are making a difference. And you can be sure their lives are counting for something! In my book, that's what real superheros do. And I want to be a superhero!

I sat there listening to Justin share about his life all the while finding common ground in my own life with everything he said. Knowing the truth from an early age, and yet doing nothing with it. Continuing to use Jesus as a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. Selfishly living the way I wanted. Spending my money on things I wanted. Wasting my time on what was important to me. I was even justifying why I couldn't make this next trip to Mexico, knowing full well that I needed to go again. Then Micah comes and shares about the life of Richman and the ministry of Poetice in Zambia, and the battle intensifies. Here are three ordinary men (Justin, Micah and Richman), who saw a need and decided to wastefully give themselves away to meet that need. None of them are financially wealthy. They don't have secret identities veiled by masks. And as far as I know, the only one with a utility belt full of handy gadgets is Justin (remember, I'm not handy so I consider a cat's paw a handy gadget). What each of these men have is is humility and compassion fueled by the Holy Spirit. Those are their superpowers. That is what sets them apart from a majority of the world. That is what makes them superheros--not to the entire world, but to those they serve and lead. The amazing reality is that you and I have access to those same superpowers, but sometimes we trade them in for the pursuit of security and comfort.

In hindsight, I see that every day I am presented with opportunities to be a superhero. Instead of embracing them, I tend to make excuses. I tell myself things like: "That's not going to make a difference; I'm too busy; I don't have enough money; It's too tough; This might be uncomfortable." Either that or I simply write these opportunities off as insignificant. Is sitting down with the homeless guy on the corner and sharing a cup of coffee or burger with him going to put a dent world hunger? Not really. Is giving a few dollars a day to an organization that provides basic necessities to children in third-world countries going to solve poverty? I highly doubt it. I am so focused on the bigger picture and the end result that I squander opportunity after opportunity to actually do something. It's not likely that I will solve any of the problems facing the world today. I probably won't go down in the history books as someone truly significant. A few times I have heard Phill say, "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." By embracing that mentality I can actually live up to the calling God has placed on each of our lives to be a superhero to those we actually come into contact with.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Finally, we take a look at the last truth many of us have inadvertently exchanged for a lie. God is more law than grace. Yes, Jesus did tell us that he came to fulfill the law and not abolish it. But I intend to make the case that doesn't make God more law than grace.

When we take this statement--God is more law than grace--to it's fullest (and seemingly most logical) conclusion we find ourselves in quite a predicament. It would only go to show that we are still bound to the law in its entirety. And if that is the case, we are all in way over our heads (more so than we are now). Bottom line is this: none of us has the ability to uphold every aspect of Mosaic law. We are all liars, cheaters, covetous, thieves, etc. However, my understanding of the point Jesus was trying to make is a bit different. Having said that, you should know that I'm not willing to just throw the law out the window. The law still has a purpose and holds a place in our faith--which I will address later.

To begin this discussion, let's take a look at the word "abolish." The Greek term "kataluo" literally means "to loosen down." It can also be translated "to overthrow, to render vain, or to deprive of success." The word is found seventeen times in the New Testament. In classical Greek, it was mainly used in connection with institutions and laws in order to convey the idea of invalidation. So, we see that Jesus really does not intend to invalidate the law, but to uphold every bit of it. He is not going to do away with the seemingly less significant aspects of it. Nor is he going to render it vain. Not just yet, at least. And from reading the account of Jesus' life, we see he did in fact do exactly what he said he would do. Jesus upheld and fulfilled the law. Not just part of it either. In the 33 years he walked the earth, Jesus followed everything God commanded. Some might argue there were times he didn't when it came to things like threshing grain or healing on the Sabbath. However, it seems to me he may have just put a different spin on it. And it was this total adherence to the law that made him capable of becoming the perfect sacrifice that would finally fulfill the sacrificial law...for good. Don't believe me, just read Romans 5:9: "And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation."

So, if Jesus came to fulfill the law and not abolish it, aren't we still bound to the same law? Not the way I see it. Jesus, himself, said that not a single "jot or tittle" would pass away until all of the law was fulfilled. And he took the burden off our shoulders by doing exactly what he said he would. This means that, in a way, God's wrath has been appeased and we no longer bear the brunt of that law. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is this: the law no longer has the same binding effect for us today. Paul makes this point abundantly clear in Galatians 3:23-25: "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." We are actually living under a new law; the law of grace!

Now you are probably asking, why not get rid of the law? If we are no longer bound to it, what's the point? I'm glad you asked. The purpose of the law has always been two-fold. Both are contrary to what you may have heard about it's intended purpose being to make us closer to God. Rather, the law has the opposite effect. The Pharisees were a prime example of this truth. They knew and followed the law better than anyone and missed out on so much of what Jesus came to show them. The law serves its true purpose quite well today! To begin with the law points out how sinful all of humanity is. It places everyone to have ever walked this planet on a level playing field. The law reveals how inadequate humanity is and how far we have fallen from God's standards. It clearly points out that we are all sinners. And with that truth laid out, it reveals we are all in need of a Savior. Which is why the Old Testament meticulously lays out all those rules and rituals regarding offerings and sacrifices in which blood had to be shed. They demonstrated the severity of the consequences of our sins--the penalty for sin is nothing short of death.

Now that my head is spinning, let me try to clear things up a bit. The law is the bare minimum. It is the minimum standard for everything—how to treat yourself, how to treat God, how to treat other people.  The amazing thing about grace is that it, in a way, is above the law. The law says you can’t commit adultery, whereas grace says you don’t even have to think about a woman with lust. The law says you must tithe 10%, whereas grace says you can give joyfully. The law says you must serve God alone, whereas grace says that if you serve God alone, He will set you free and you will not desire to serve any other god. Where the law commands us, grace gives us freedom to choose!

This is why I contend that God is in fact more grace than law. When it comes to issues of the law, grace has already won. When God declares us guilty, Jesus presents to him the trump card of grace. However, I must reiterate this does not mean we can live our lives any way we please. Afterall, we have been bought at a high price and we should live in a manner worthy of the price that was paid.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Faith is kind of a big issue in the Bible. However, it really isn't something concrete; so faith is a pretty tricky thing to nail down. In actuality, the Vikings winning the Superbowl might be more probable than concisely defining what faith looks like and how it plays out. Having said that, when it comes to faith, there are a few things in which we we can be certain. To begin with, we can't please God without it (Hebrews 11:6). Paul informs us it is faith alone that saves us (Ephesians 2:8). Jesus spends an awful lot of time talking about it (the Synoptic Gospels). Faith isn't a natural response, nor does it come easily. On numerous occasions Jesus says things like "You have so little faith" and "You need more faith." More often than not, most of us can probably relate to these statements. No matter where we are at in this journey we call life, faith plays a vital role. And we can be certain, like jello, there is always room for more.

In faith, Noah built an ark in the midst of a draught. Because of his faith, Daniel stood firm in the face of death. Jesus tells a Roman officer, "I haven't seen faith like this before." "Your faith has healed you," he told the sick. This list of those with exemplary faith is in no way exhaustive. Hebrews 11, known as the 'Faith Hall of Fame' tells of countless others whose faith is worth emulating. And this is the kind of faith many of us are striving for. Faith that instills confidence. Faith that moves mountains. Faith that heals. Faith that makes a difference.

What, then, is faith? According to Random House dictionary, faith is "confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; a system of religious belief." According to Scripture, Hebrews 11:1 to be exact, faith is "The confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." Let me summarize all of this into a clear, concise, workable definition. Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that He will! The Bible set the standard pretty high. And, I would contest, anything short of that standard isn't a lesser degree of faith; simply put, it isn't faith--period! And that, sadly, is right where I find myself more than I care to admit.

Several months I go, I embarked on a journey that would give me a much different understanding of faith. During a week long mission trip to Juarez, it was made abundantly clear that I am just like the disciples. They walked, talked and lived with Jesus for three years. Every single day they witnessed the miraculous that can only be explained by the divine. And yet these 12 men continued to question and doubt God in the flesh. I, like the disciples, have been given an extraordinary gift. I grew up in the church and, from the time I was young, heard the accounts of Jesus' life. On a regular basis I have seen the power of God at work. Lives have been transformed right before my eyes. My mother has been cured of cancer. Inexplicably finances have come through. Broken relationships have been restored. Hearts have been mended. My life has been given purpose. I have single-handedly witnessed miracle after miracle, yet I, just like the disciples, still find myself doubting.

Allow me to explain my dilemma in a little more detail. I have a steady job. While I may not make exorbitant amounts of money, there is always enough to pay my bills, put food on the table and have fun. I have a roof over my head. This means I don't have to worry about where I am going to sleep at night, because under that roof is a king size bed. There is food in my refrigerator--well, mostly condiments, but in the cupboards there is an array of food choices. So, wondering where my next meal will come from doesn't disrupt my day--unless I'm having difficulty choosing between Arby's, Qdoba or Jimmy John's. I have a reliable vehicle--most of the time. I have two different bank accounts, both of which have at least some money in them. You see, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that I can go through an entire day without having to acknowledge God's provision at all. To make it through most days doesn't really require faith on my part.

The family we helped in Juarez was living in a shack (that term doesn't even do it justice) about the size of the shed in my back yard. This was home to 6 individuals--mom and dad, along with their 3 children and granddaughter. Mud bricks, scraps of drywall, rocks, corrugated tin, pieces of wood and anything else lying around fashioned the roof and four walls. Dirt covered the 8' x 8' floor; partly due to the fact that the door was just a hole in the wall covered by a sheet. I guess the fact that the floor was made from dirt had something to do with it as well. The only window was, as you might guess, another hole in the wall. Just inside the door and to the left was a mattress supported by several 5 gallon buckets to keep it off the floor. On the adjacent wall sat a love-seat which was the only other piece of furniture they owned. Dinner, when they could afford it, was made out back using a small wood burning stove. The bathroom was located just off the side of the house, enclosed by two blankets hanging on some twine. Their only water source was a garden hose down the hill on the edge of the street. Even in the midst of dire circumstances, this family had enough faith to sit on a waiting list for 4 years in order that they might receive a home.

In the midst of all of this, I find myself standing at a crossroad. And faintly I hear Jesus utter, "Jordan, why so little faith?" All things considered, it's a reasonable question. If that family can have enough faith for God to provide their basic necessities, what is wrong with me? It's not like Jesus is asking for a lot. All it takes to move a mountain is a faith the size of a mustard seed. And if I'm honest, most of my problems are less like mountains and more like ant hills. Yet, on any given day, I can't seem to muster up enough faith to even budge them. To be quite honest, I don't have an answer. So, the following is my best attempt to explain how I'm working it out.

First things first. Faith is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. Faith is not even just a choice. Faith is a deliberate way of life! Faith is not passive but active. Every morning requires waking up and acknowledge everything around me is a gift I do not deserve. When I wake up and choose to disregard this reality, it's easy to write things off as merely luck or coincidence.

Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing God’s Word. Notice it did not say that faith comes by praying, going to church, denouncing all worldly things, or anything of the sort. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. That's the bottom line! If I don't know how this unseen God has been faithful  in the past, it will make it difficult for me to see how he is providing and what he is even capable of in the present. As I have shared before, diving into the Bible and consistently reading it is a struggle of mine. Is it a wonder why my faith is so anemic at times? The solution? Establish a routine. Schedule a regular time every day to get into the Word. Lay out a reading schedule; even if it's just a few minutes. Personally, I have a time in the evenings when I attempt to read one chapter from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament and either some Psalms or Proverbs. The key here is not to let other things crowd out or spill over into that time. That time is sacred! Part of this time is spent finding scriptures in the Bible which contain specific promises for specific life circumstances. These scriptures then become a part of daily confession and prayer.

Believe it or not, the Red Hot Chili Peppers speak to another way of working out our faith. Just "Give it away!" Sometimes, the best thing for our faith is to simply give things away--our money, our time, our energy, our emotions. To purposefully place ourselves in need of God's provision will do immeasurable things for our faith. You see, the things we hold onto and value the most control us. The moment we relinquish control of these things is the moment God begins to do his best work. If you are at all like me, the two things I have a tendency to hold onto the tightest are time and money. When we are subservient to things like this, it doesn't leave much room for faith. I was at a point in my life where I had to choose to make more room for faith. In order to make room, I needed to give something away.

I signed up to take the trip to Juarez knowing two things: money was tight and the number of vacations days I had left was minimal. That is why the trip to Juarez was absolutely essential for my faith. For weeks I went back and forth on whether or not to go. On numerous occasions I argued myself into believing taking this trip was the most irresponsible and irrational thing I could do. But for some reason irresponsibility and irrationality won. When I committed to just go for it and offer up my time and what little money I had, God's provision came through. My boss was more than willing to give me the time off and let me borrow a few days of vacation from next year. And for some odd reason he even gave me a raise. On top of that, friends and family responded by donating just about enough money to not only cover the cost of my trip, but to buy my passport as well. In the end, the trip didn't really cost me much. But I discovered that God leveraged my generosity (even as minimal as it was) to grow my confidence in him.

Lastly, I have come to the realization that having faith doesn't necessarily mean I no longer experience doubt. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest hang-ups for many of us. Reality is, life is full of surprises--some good, some not so good and some just plain terrible. But each surprise we encounter is actually a divine opportunity to trust God--even in the midst of our unbelief. When doubt creeps in and all else fails, I resort to the tactic of the desperate father we find in Mark 9:24. Like him, I simply cry out to God, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!" Sometimes, in and of itself, that may be the biggest act of faith of all.