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Cravings (Psalm 63:1, John 6:35, John 7:37-39)

A craving is an intense desire or longing. Some people crave chocolate. Some people crave football. Some people crave a break. My wife Carla craves Diet Coke. I crave dark roast coffee. Our nine month-old granddaughter Sylvia craves whatever she can gnaw on to relieve her precious yet sore mouth.

Take a moment to list your cravings. I say “moment” because true cravings will pounce onto the list.

Which of your cravings are good for you? Which cravings are not good for you? Which cravings are good for you until they become too much of a good thing and turn on you?

In Psalm 63:1 David says, “Oh God, You are my God, I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You. My whole body longs for You in this dry and weary land where there is no water.”

David was on the run in a wilderness, out in the middle of nowhere, watching his back, ducking and dodging. His extreme physical hunger and thirst reminded him that he was even more hungry and thirsty for the deep fulfillment he could find exclusively in the manifested presence of God. David had learned by personal experience that relationship with the living God could satisfy his deepest aches and longings better than anything or anybody, and he wanted to return to that gratifying relational place. Reading ahead we find David telling us he found fulfillment while still in the wilderness.

WOW.

In America, our cravings have become industries. We can get what we want, when we want it, as much as we want, and we can even swipe a card or click an app and delay the practical consequences of our choices.

Perhaps we are in our own postmodern wildernesses where we attempt to satisfy God cravings with people and places and things (God-substitutes). These God-substitutes jump the instant gratification needle but they are not sustainable, and they have a nasty habit of serving up life damaging fallout once the needle stops jumping.

What if our cravings are more spiritual in nature but we keep misdiagnosing them? What if our starved souls are screaming for God’s presence but we keep trying to gratify our souls with inadequate indulgences? What if our self-imposed wildernesses can be wake-up calls?

John 6 records Jesus and the disciples miraculously feeding thousands of people with five barley loaves and two fish donated by a little boy. The next day the crowd looks until they locate their new Messianic meal ticket, McJesus. During the ensuing dialogue Jesus says to them, “I Myself am the Bread of life. The person who is continually coming to Me will never ever at any time be hungry, and the person who continually believes in Me and trusts in Me will never ever at any time be thirsty.” (John 6:35)  

John 7 gives an account of Jesus showing up at an eight-day long Jewish festival reenacting their forty years in the wilderness and celebrating how God miraculously provided water. On the climactic day of this water festival, Jesus secures everybody’s attention and yells, “Anyone who is thirsty, come to Me and drink up! If you believe in and entrust yourself to Me you can come to Me and drink continually. For the Scriptures say, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from their hearts.’” (John 7:37-38) John the Gospel writer adds a parenthetical statement that we call verse 39. “When Jesus said ‘living water,’ He was referring to the Spirit Who would be given to everybody believing in and entrusting themselves to Him. But the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet entered into His glory by being crucified and resurrected.”

Jesus was telling them (and us) that relationship with God in Christ abundantly and eternally satisfies our cravings.

Have your cravings driven you into a spiritual or emotional wilderness? Are you sick and tired of wandering around in a dry and weary land where there is no water? Are you willing to let Psalm 63 redirect your cravings in the right direction, in an ultimately satisfying direction?

It’s possible you are in a wilderness you did not choose. Life circumstances dumped or threw you into this dry and weary land where there is no sustenance and no relief. You are grief-stricken or depressed or lonely or desperate or exhausted. David didn’t choose the wilderness either. The jealous and homicidal king Saul chased David into the wilderness. What David found in his physical wilderness you can find in your emotional wilderness. Please know I would not make such a claim unless I had experienced the presence of Christ in my own dry and weary lands and had come alongside scores of other suffering people as they experienced the same.

I suggest you take your list of cravings, whatever they are, and place your cravings alongside Psalm 63:1. Let this verse become your prayer for a few days. Don’t try to do anything. Be a sponge. Welcome the Holy Spirit into all of your cravings. Invite the Holy Spirit to use this Psalm to speak to your cravings. Expect Christ to do what only Christ can do. Christ can liberate you from dangerous and destructive cravings. Christ can bring into balance the good cravings you struggle to manage. Christ can stimulate the spiritual cravings God created you to have. Christ can bring healing to the cravings you did not choose. God can enable you to desire the heart and the ways of Jesus like never before. That craving is better in every way imaginable.

This is what I hear God saying to me through these three passages. Oh God, You are my God, I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You. My whole body longs for You in this dry and weary land where there is no water. But there is water, if I simply remember where to look. Christ is Living Water and the Bread of Life, and Christ is those realities no matter where I circumstantially or internally find myself.

Bottom line – wildernesses happen. We cannot always choose where we are, but we can always choose where we live. May we crave shared life with the One Whose crucified and risen life abundantly and eternally satisfies.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Christ Sitting with Us In It (Isaiah 63:9, Hebrews 4:14-16)

In all their suffering He also suffered, and He personally rescued them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them THROUGH all the years. (Isaiah 63:9, prophesying about Christ)

How do you picture this verse? Where is Jesus? Where are you? What is happening? How is Jesus helping you?

Therefore, since we have a magnificent King-Priest, Jesus Christ the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens from death into new life with God, we must keep tenaciously clinging in faith to all we know to be true and real. For we do not have a divine Go-between Who is incapable of understanding and empathizing with the realities of our weak and flawed humanity. Our divine Go-between fully entered our afflictions. As a Man our magnificent King-Priest was tempted and tested and pressurized in every way just as we are and He emerged sinless and victorious. What this means is we can keep coming openly and boldly to the place where loving grace is enthroned, so that we can receive mercy’s kiss and discover the divine enablement we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

How do you picture this passage? Where is Jesus? Where are you? What is happening? How is Jesus helping you?

Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, offers this insight: “I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’ I never thought, until I found it, that it would be enough, but it’s perfect…I don’t feel alone in it anymore.”

Jesus suffers with us and rescues us and redeems us and lifts us and carries us primarily through our faith relationships.

…1 Corinthians 12:26 (The Passion Translation) …whatever happens to one member happens to all. If one suffers, everyone suffers. If one is honored, everyone rejoices.

…Galatians 6:2 (The Passion Translation) Love empowers us to fulfill the law of the Anointed One as we carry each other’s troubles.

How are you experiencing Christ sitting with you in “it”? In what specific ways are your faith brothers and sisters embodying Christ to you?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmisl.com)

 

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Reframing (Isaiah 43:1-3a)

The Lord created and shaped and formed Israel – the people God affectionately nicknamed “Jacob.” Now this is what the Lord says: “Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the deep waters and are in over your head, I will be right there with you. When you go through the raging rivers, they will not overwhelm you by sweeping over you and taking you all the way down. When you walk through blazing fire you will not be scorched, and the fierce flame will not set you ablaze. Why? Because I am the Lord your personal God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior….” (Isaiah 43:1-3a)

What happens to us is significant. Our perspective about what happens to us is even more significant in the long run. A “frame” or a “frame of reference” is a way we describe how we look at life or the things of this life. When we “re-frame” something, we decide to begin looking at the same reality in a different way or in a different light or from a different perspective. For example, how are Kansas City Chiefs fans reframing the word “quarterback” these days? Why? We can reframe a problem as an opportunity. We can reframe a weakness as a strength. We can reframe a tragedy as….

On October 1, 2017 Oshia Collins-Waters and Todd Wienke attended a concert in Las Vegas. During the concert a human monster shot hundreds of people, killing 58 people. Todd took three bullets while using his body to shield Oshia and others from harm. Today Todd is in constant pain because of bullet fragments doctors could not remove. Today Oshia is in therapy from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But they refuse to let that unimaginably horrific event define their lives. On October 1, 2018, Oshia and Todd returned to Las Vegas, to the scene of the massacre, and got married. That’s reframing!

According to Isaiah 43:1-3a, who is God in our lives and where is God in our lives?

What are some examples of “raging rivers” and “blazing fires” in your life?

How are the raging river and the blazing fire similar? How are the raging river and the blazing fire different?

How do the raging river and the blazing fire feel?

What does God promise to people who are in the raging river or in the blazing fire?

How did you see life / God / faith BEFORE the raging river or the blazing fire?

How do you see life / God / faith IN the raging river or the blazing fire?

How do you see life / God / faith AFTER the raging river or the blazing fire?

What perspective shift or reframing movement is emerging in you? How can you cooperate with the reframing shift this week?

What prayer rises up in you from Isaiah 43:1-3a? What does your heart want to say to God or ask God?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (rickjordankcmo@gmail.com, www.rickcarlajordan.com)

 

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Psalm 131

Lord, my heart has stopped needing to compulsively make everything about me.

My ego has stopped needing to compulsively prop me up by putting others down.

I have stopped needing to compulsively get myself all tangled up in matters that are too complicated for me or too far above me.

Instead, I choose to become quiet and calm in Your presence like a small, contented, weaned child being held in the arms of a loving Mother.

Because I am Your weaned and resting child, my soul is deeply content to be held in Your arms.

People of God, let us rest our trust and our hope in the Lord now and from now on.

(Psalm 131 from a variety of translations and Hebrew word studies)

 

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God Inside the Broken Heart (Psalm 34:18)

The Lord moves in so close to people whose hearts have burst open that God is actually present with them inside the broken heart. God rescues people whose spirits are crushed, rescuing them not by taking them out of it but by bringing them through it.

This is Psalm 34:18, based on several translations and Hebrew language word studies. What I hear God’s Spirit saying in this verse is that when we have troubles God has us, which means God also has our troubles.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com rickjordankcmo@gmail.com) 

 

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Productive Suffering (Psalm 116:10)

I believed in You and I trusted You, so I said, “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” (Psalm 116:10)

The best news from Psalm 116:10 is the fact that this anonymous psalmist expresses it in the past tense. In fact, please take time to read the entire psalm and observe the psalmist moving effortlessly between past tense, present tense, and future tense. But verse 10 stands alone in the psalm as evidence that faith and suffering are not mutually exclusive. People who trust in God suffer, but people who trust in God do not have to pretend it’s all good when it isn’t. God knows us inside and out, knows us far better than we know ourselves. God knows what we are thinking and feeling, but it is still vital to the relationship that we say to God what we are thinking and feeling. Once we are willing to speak our hearts and our minds, then the content is “out.” We can choose to be in God’s presence with holy honesty which leads to productive suffering. Because God has total access to us, God can start doing what God alone can do – wasting nothing and shaping us in the image of our suffering Servant Savior, Jesus Christ.

What does your hurting heart need to say to God right now?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Praying through the picture window (1 Peter 4:7)

Praying through the Picture Window (1 Peter 4:7)

Carla and I recently traveled to Hannibal, Missouri to visit with Carla’s charming and delightful aunt Betty. Uncle Charlie and aunt Betty are the best of the best. They don’t come any better. Charlie passed away a few years ago. Betty turns 93 in a few months. She lives where they have lived for years, only now it’s Betty and a full-bodied cat with a disproportionately tiny head. I think this cat is Tiger the 3rd or 4th.

The living room furniture sits where it has always been. Charlie’s recliner is the most comfortable chair and the couch is nice and soft, but we’re fairly sure Betty never sits on the couch or in the recliner. Betty’s chair is upright, does not recline, and doesn’t look very soft, but a small table next to the chair displays evidence that Betty spends most of her time sitting right there. She sat right there during our visit. Betty’s chair is strategically positioned so that Betty can watch the world outside her picture window, “the world” consisting of a front yard, a stretch of street, and the houses across the street. While we were visiting with her, Betty commented on what was happening outside – two neighborhood kids playing, Carla’s cousin Cindy arriving to say hi. Sometimes it didn’t look like she was watching, but Betty missed nothing.

She wakes up every morning, eats breakfast, turns on the TV, and sits in her chair. Except for when she nods off, Betty invests her days showing up and noticing.

The lesson escaped me until Carla pointed it out later that evening. Aunt Betty is more productively engaged in the world than many of us who are juggling and managing life in larger contexts. Betty taught us with her life that day. She taught us about the power of prayer.

First Peter 5:7 says this, “Since we are approaching the end of all things, be intentional, purposeful, and self-controlled so that you can be given to prayer.”                                                                                                 

The clock is ticking. We don’t know how much time we have left. The most valuable thing we can do is position ourselves so that we miss nothing. Peter calls this being GIVEN to prayer, and it does not happen accidentally. We must strategically locate ourselves for the sake of perspective over comfort. Being “given to prayer” is momentous. It’s more than just saying prayers. Being given to prayer means showing up for our lives in a conscious awareness of God’s presence and joining the Divine-human conversation in progress. Like Betty talking with us about what she was seeing through the living room window, through prayer we take notice and we talk to God about what we are noticing. We pray the news, our families, our friendships, our concerns – whatever or whoever goes by. After all, God is on high alert even when we nod off. Prayer is how we join God in what God is doing in the world. And the secret sauce is that Almighty God chooses to listen to us and respond to us!

Deuteronomy 4:39 says, “You just need to know with every fiber of your being that the Eternal Lord, and no one else, is God up in heaven and down here on earth.”

We become people given to prayer when we take responsibility for our little piece of “down here on earth” action, noticing it and offering it to God. Or as Jesus expressed perfectly in the Model Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

What new step can you take in your life of prayer? What would it look like for you to be intentional, purposeful, and self-controlled so that you can be given to prayer?

Rick Jordan (http://www.rickcarlajordan,com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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When Life Becomes Moment-by-Moment (Psalm 31:14-15)

In the Model Prayer, Jesus prays, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah affirms that God’s mercies are new every morning.

These passages help us live in a day-to-day reliance on God in Christ. But what about those seasons in life when we are simply trying to somehow make it moment-by-moment?

In Psalm 31:14-15 David says this. “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hands….’”

My times are in Your hands.

No matter what time increment best fits our journey, God’s immediate presence is available. Day-to-day or hour-to-hour or minute-to-minute or second-to-second…God has us. God has us when we are clinging. God has us when we have let go for a while.

God, our times are in Your Hands.

God, this moment is in Your Hands.

God, this breath is in Your Hands.

God, I choose to be in Your Hands.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com

 

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About the music God has given me…

Hi! Over the years, God has given me a variety of songs. Some are worship songs or songs inspired by specific Biblical passages. Other songs are simply observations about life.

I am available for church concerts, church events, social events, clubs, etc., on a donation or love offering basis.

I am scheduling living room concerts, which are ideal for small groups or informal get-togethers with family and friends. I come on a donation or love offering basis.

If you know of a venue (like a coffeehouse or an establishment) that would be receptive to a 59 year-old songwriter with a guitar, feel free to let me know.

Carla and I are praying daily for open doors.

My YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA. Clicking “like” on a video (if you do like it) helps me with the good people at YouTube. Right now I have 56 subscribers to the channel. Once I reach 100 subscribers, YouTube will let me become creative with the appearance and the presentation of the channel.

You can contact me through Facebook or email (rickjordankcmo@gmail.com).

We will gratefully receive all the prayer we can get! Thank you very much for considering these requests and for sharing this post with other people who may be interested.

Grace and peace to you,

Rick Jordan

 

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Solid Rocks and Crumbly Rocks

In the ancient world, cornerstones were the ultimate load-bearing stones. Builders started with the cornerstone. Builders laid out the entire structure using the cornerstone as a reference point for all of their measuring and leveling. Frequently the cornerstones were boulders that the builders could not move, so they squared them up and built on them. The boulder was in the way, so that boulder became the way to build something lasting. Their theory was that if the cornerstone couldn’t be moved then neither could the building, because the building had been constructed on and into and around that cornerstone.

In the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, Biblical writers identified God in Christ as The Cornerstone. Consider these passages.

  • You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You. I will trust in You, Lord, always – for You, Lord God, are my eternal Rock – strong, stable, trustworthy, and lasting. (Isaiah 26:3-4)
  • But the Master, God, has something to say…“Watch closely. I’m laying a foundation in Zion, a solid granite foundation, a precious cornerstone, tested and squared and true. And this is the meaning of the stone: a trusting life won’t topple.” Isaiah 28:16 (New Revised Standard Version and The Message)
  • So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are God’s house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself. We are carefully joined together in Christ, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Christ you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by God’s Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

What does it mean that God in Christ is our Cornerstone?

  • Jesus is our absolute, constant, indispensable, solid, immovable, strong, reliable, stable, trustworthy, secure, foundational Rock.
  • We build our individual lives ON relationship with Jesus and INTO relationship with Jesus and AROUND relationship with Jesus.
  • Jesus is our starting point and our reference point for everything.
  • Relationship with Jesus provides perspective about everything.
  • We measure everything from our relationship with Jesus.
  • Jesus supports our lives better than anybody or anything else.
  • The church builds its life ON relationship with Jesus and INTO relationship with Jesus and AROUND relationship with Jesus.
  • When we are joined together in relationship with Jesus, Jesus joins us to each other.
  • Jesus holds us together like ancient cornerstones held entire structures together.
  • When we are built on relationship with Jesus we cannot topple because Jesus does not topple.
  • We BASE our lives on relationship with Jesus.

In the 21st century construction industry, cornerstones are not what they used to be. Cornerstones have become ornamental or ceremonial. Cornerstones are inscribed with the name and date of the building, but that’s as far as the influence goes. Cornerstones are no longer load bearing.

“Ornamental” and “ceremonial” are adjectives that accurately describe much of what passes for Christianity these days. And yes, I hated typing that sentence.

What does life look like when relationship with Jesus is merely ornamental or ceremonial – part of our lives but not foundational? What does church look like when relationship with Jesus is merely ornamental or ceremonial – part of our life together but not foundational?

What does LIFE look like when Jesus is our Cornerstone?

What does CHURCH look like when Jesus is our Cornerstone?

As long as we are thinking about rocks – what “rocks” have crumbled beneath you? Examples of crumbling rocks include relationships, expectations, career, approval, fantasies, paradigms, self-worth, dreams, bad religion, health, ambitions, happiness, finances, goals, perspectives, systems, pedestalized leaders, assumptions, beliefs – anything we base our lives on instead of Jesus or anybody we base our lives on instead of Jesus.

What happens when those “rocks” crumble?

I’ve officiated many funerals alongside grieving people who referred to their deceased loved on as “my rock.” My wife is like a rock to me. I have no idea what I would do without Carla. I firmly believe God wants us to be in relationship with people who are so reliable and so solid that we can count on them. When death claims those people, it is devastating. God understands the intensity of that grief. In the previous paragraph, I wasn’t referring to rock-like people God places in our lives. I was referring more to Rock substitutes – people or places or things we stand on instead of Jesus.

I’ll use another example from my own life. As a recovering people pleaser, only recently have I grasped how thoroughly I was basing my life on people’s approval. That “rock’ has crumbled beneath me many times over the years, but the crumbling has not stopped me from counting on people’s approval all over again. In my people-pleasing, I am like Charlie Brown running toward the football Lucy is holding for me to kick, but Lucy has earnestly promised that this time she won’t jerk the football back at the precise moment I am beyond the point of no return in my kicking motion (like she has every other time)….

Splat.

Good grief.

I am finally getting tired of being Charlie Brown.

On whom or on what are you basing and building your life?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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The Jesus Who will put us through whatever it takes (John 9)

Reading the Gospel of John chapter 9, I am stunned as I watch everything Jesus put that blind beggar through.

Jesus spat on the ground next to the man, which was something Jewish people commonly did to disabled beggars to convey their disgust and to communicate their opinion that God had cursed the person with the affliction because of something the beggar’s parents did or something the beggar did. In the case of this man born blind, we would be talking about prenatal sin – like perhaps the embryonic baby had a porn stash in his mother’s womb.

THEN Jesus smeared muddy spit paste over the man’s blind eyes and told him to grope his way to the pool of Siloam. Jesus didn’t even guide him there! What abuse must the man have endured from people as he crawled or stumbled to the pool?

After the beggar’s eyes were opened, Jesus vanished from the scene, leaving the man to tell his story repeatedly to religious leaders whose interrogation intensified until finally those leaders barred him from the synagogue because he had the audacity to let some controversial Rabbi miraculously heal him on the Sabbath, committing two code violations the leaders had added to the laws in the Hebrew Scriptures.

But by the end of John’s Gospel chapter 9, the formerly blind former beggar could physically AND spiritually see! Notice how the man’s courage grew and his perceptions about Jesus brightened each time he repeated his story.

Is it possible Jesus knows what He is doing? Can it be that Jesus will stop at nothing to open our eyes and develop our faith? Can it be that Jesus will put us through whatever it takes to open our eyes and develop our faith?

I emphatically believe so.

When I measure these truths about Jesus alongside my prayer life, I wonder how often I ask God to take me the easy way through (or give me the easy way out). That path-of-least-resistance praying comes up short when compared to the formidable dimensions of John 9. God must know that, if God took us the easy way through, we might arrive sooner. However, that version of ourselves showing up at the destination would not be up to the challenge or that version of ourselves would not see clearly enough with the eyes of faith to trust and obey vigorously. So maybe our prayer lives need a new gear. The new gear might sound like this – “God, please put me through whatever it takes to open my eyes and develop my faith. Thank You for not taking me the easy way. Thank you for loving me enough and dignifying my journey enough to be as hard on me as you were on that guy back in John 9.”

I am reading an article from the Sojourner’s website about Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head). He discovered CTE while examining Mike Webster, the NFL center whose life ended tragically because of multiple concussions. In the interview with Sojourner’s Bradford William Davis, Omalu says this – “I let the Spirit of God percolate into my being. Everything I do, I do through the eyes of faith.”

WOW.

May you and I become people who let God’s Spirit percolate into our beings so thoroughly that we do everything through the eyes of faith – no matter what it takes.

In Jesus’ name,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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An Inductive Study Guide for John 9

We don’t see things the way they are as much as we see things the way we are.

We don’t see people the way they are as much as we see people the way we are.

We can have physical or spiritual or social or emotional blind spots. John chapter 9 is full of eyes that are opening and eyes that are closing. It contrasts light and darkness.

Bible study questions:

  • How did the disciples see the blind man?
  • What was wrong with the disciples’ questions about the blind man? In what direction did their questions take the conversation?
  • How did Jesus change the direction of their thinking? What is the difference between “why?” and “so that?”
  • Because poor blind beggars were considered cursed, Jewish people walking by them would sometimes spit on the ground beside the beggars to shame them and communicate their disgust with them. This man born blind would be conditioned to the sound of human spit splashing the ground and he would know what it meant. Why did Jesus choose to use a mixture of spit and mud on the man? How did Jesus change the act of spitting on the ground from a curse to a blessing?
  • Why did Jesus require this man to grope his way to the pool of Siloam with muddy spit paste all over his face? How would the people he walked by react to him? Why didn’t Jesus just zap him like He zapped others? What does this teach us about God’s role and our role in relationship?
  • Where do you see evidence that Jesus not only set the man free from his condition but also set him free from what he used to do because of his condition?
  • This newly healed man had to tell his story several times, mostly under the duress of interrogation. How do you see his view of Jesus expanding with each narration? What does this teach us about the potency of our faith story? How much expertise do we need about Jesus in order to start telling our story?
  • How did the religious leaders view the man?
  • How did the religious leaders view God?
  • Legalism is the elevation of rules and regulations over God. How did the religious legalism of the Pharisees cause them to bury the lead? What were they unwilling to see and appreciate?
  • How do you interpret the response of the parents to the religious leaders’ questions? Why would they throw their son under the bus? What does this say about the power of legalism?
  • Verse 34 indicates the religious leaders still viewed the man as cursed even though he had been miraculously healed. What does that tell you about the way religious rigidity affects how we see other people?
  • How do you interpret Jesus’ disappearance? Why didn’t Jesus stick with the man during the interrogations or at least show His face so the man would know what his new Eye Doctor looked like? Why did Jesus wait until the man had been kicked out of Jewish worship life before finding him? Does their encounter at the end of the chapter give you any clues about Jesus’ curious behavior? What do you think of the idea that Jesus is faithful but not predictable?
  • The fact remains, Jesus DID look him up. What does this teach us about God’s heart?
  • Jesus was the only One who viewed and treated this man like a human being and like a child of God. What are the evidences of this in the chapter?                                                                   
  • This man experienced two miracles in one day, and he got to participate in both of them. What was the second miracle?
  • How could you use this man’s story to help somebody understand what it looks like to follow Jesus?
  • How did Jesus view the religious leaders? What does this teach us about God’s heart?

C.S. Lewis “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” (from The Weight of Glory)

Application questions:

  • Scotosis is the technical name for a hardening of the mind or heart against unwanted wisdom. Scotosis is an unwillingness to see. There are four forms of scotosis in this chapter. Where do you see the blindness of desensitization to the plight of other people? Where do you see the blindness of legalism? Where do you see the blindness of prejudice? Where do you see the blindness of self-preservation?
  • What is the role of Jesus in your story?
  • What is your version of the two most important words in John 9 (v.1 – “He saw…”)? How does Jesus see you differently than anybody else sees you?
  • What is your version of Jesus changing a curse into a blessing, sometimes using the same physical or emotional or relational material?
  • When in your journey have you experienced Jesus being faithful not NOT predictable? When have you thought Jesus was being too hard on you? Have you reached the end of that story yet? If you are in the middle of that story, what keeps you going?
  • When / how has God in Christ opened your eyes? What is your version of the man’s “so I went there” statement of obedience in verse 11?
  • What is your story of how you used to be one way and now you are becoming another way (v. 25)?
  • What is your version of the statement “When Jesus found the man” in verse 35? When/where/how has Jesus intentionally found you in order to open your faith-eyes and change your identity?
  • To whom are you telling your story?
  • The Pharisees were blind to Jesus’ identity because He did not do things their way. What are some current examples of this same form of blindness, a blindness that says God can only be God if God does things our way?
  • In what ways are your eyes still closed, especially when it comes to how you view certain individuals or people groups? What are your blind spots and how did you acquire those blind spots?
  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes to have your eyes opened by Jesus?
  • When Jesus heals us from forms of blindness He also sets us free from whatever lifestyles we engaged in because of that condition. Are you willing for Jesus to set you free not only from your blindness but also from what you have been doing because of your blindness?
  • How is the Holy Spirit using John 9 to give you new reality checks or insights about the life of faith? Are you willing to let Jesus do whatever it takes to grow your faith?

God in Christ – Please open our eyes to see what You see. Please open our ears to hear what You hear. Please open our minds to receive what You know. Please open our hearts to trust where You lead, especially when You are being faithful and unpredictable. Please transform us into people who love like You love. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Faith Coaches (Psalm 59:9,17)

Two of my faith coaches are a married couple named Dick and Barb. Dick is a paraplegic because of a vehicular accident approximately twenty years ago. He accepted his wheelchair and his limitations as a new assignment from God. He is constantly on the lookout for the signs of God’s presence, and he is constantly on the lookout for ways to build people up. Today he said to me, “You have to look for things to celebrate, and then you have to decide you will celebrate those things.” Barb is so jam-packed with life that it jumps out of her. She takes care of her husband with seemingly untiring devotion. Barb chooses to be engaged in faith and in life full-throttle. Of course they are not perfect, but their lives teach me. They remind me of a quote and a Scripture passage. The anonymous quote is, “Faith is the decision to keep your eyes open.” The Scripture passage is from Psalm 59:9 and 17. “O my Strength, I will watch for You, for You, O God, are my Fortress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to You, for You, O God, are my Fortress, the God Who shows me steadfast love.”

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

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What does life look like for people who fear God while hiding in a cave? (Psalm 34:11-22)

The superscription refers back to an occasion when young pre-king David was running for his life from actual-king Saul. David pretended to be insane in order to protect himself from the Philistines. David wound up hiding in the cave of Adullam where his relatives and various misfits came to him (see 1st Samuel 21:10-22:2).

Psalm 34:11-22 New Living Translation

v.11) Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord.

  • “My children” tells us David was not alone in the cave of Adullam. 1st Samuel 22:1-2 reports that a herd of strays and mutts joined David in the cave. They were all refugees together.
  • “…to fear the Lord.” What does it mean to fear God? In response to God’s Self-revelation and divine activity on our behalf, we choose to love God, honor God, revere God, worship God, trust God, and obey God. We desire oneness with God above everything.
  • For a New Testament parallel, see Mark 4:35-41. In the teeth of a killer storm the disciples melted with one kind of fear (panic but not at the disco). The disciples then manifested another kind of fear (reverence) when they realized that right there in the middle of the boat with them was Somebody Who had chosen them AND chose to be with them AND was not affected by the storm AND could do something about the storm. The reality of the indwelling Christ is this: we have Somebody in our lives who can do something about our lives. How do we respond to Him?
  • A God-fearing life and a Christ-following life are one and the same life.

v.12) Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous?

  • This is a bewildering question for people huddled in a cave trying to not be dead.
  • The question in verse 12 cannot be separated from David’s statement about fearing God in verse 11. Fearing God is the best way to live. The God-fearing life IS the good life.

v.13) Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies!

  • Fearing God and following Christ will positively influence how we treat each other. We take the high road with our mouths.
  • David refused to bad-mouth Saul. He even called Saul “God’s anointed.”

v.14) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

  • We see the same instructions in Romans 12:9, 17-18, 21.
  • “Peace” is the Hebrew word Shalom, and it means “wholeness and restoration.”

v.15) The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; His ears are open to their cries for help.

  • God misses nothing.
  • God is up close and personal in the cave.

v.16) But the Lord turns His face against those who do evil; He will erase their memory from the earth.

  • See Romans 12:19.
  • On two occasions David could have taken matters into his own hands with Saul but he did not. See 1st Samuel 24 and 1st Samuel 26.

v.17) The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.

  • We hear and read these words one way when we are outside the cave and another way when we are inside the cave.
  • What if God hearing us IS God rescuing us? What if God’s attentive immediacy IS internal rescue regardless of our logistics or our circumstances? Are we okay with that? Is that enough?                             

v.18) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

  • The Hebrew word translated “crushed” means “broken, contrite, crumbled into powder.”
  • Again it is helpful to refer back to 1st Samuel 22:2 and to the strays and mutts who joined David in the cave. They were all crushed.
  • “Crushed” correlates with “humble” or “helpless” in verse 2.
  • Read Matthew 12:15-21 to see Jesus fulfilling this role.   

v.19) The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

  • The God-fearing Christ-following life is hard but simple.
  • We face many caves, but God sees us through all of them.
  • “…each time” implies the faithfulness of God’s powerful presence.
  • How have you encountered God’s faithful rescue in the cave?

v.20) For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!

  • Read John 19:36 to see Jesus fulfilling this prophecy.
  • It’s baffling to contrast verse 20 with verse 18. Crushed but not broken? How does that work?

v.21) Calamity will surely destroy the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished.

  • See Romans 12:19.
  • God will apply restorative justice and mercy to everybody and to every worldly system. God will turn the world right side up again.

v.22) But the Lord will redeem those who serve Him. No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.

  • These would be comforting words in the cave, because these mutts and strays would have felt extremely condemned by Saul.
  • Life is not easy for people who fear God and follow Christ, but God helps us through all of it and saves us from the worst of it.
  • Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 12:28-29 in The Message says, “Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and He won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God Himself is Fire!”

Bible Study Questions:

  1. If you could settle on just one thing, what does this passage say to you?
  2. What does this passage teach us about God?
  3. What does this passage teach us about God’s part in God’s relationship with us?
  4. What does this passage teach us about our part in our relationship with God?
  5. How is God’s Spirit speaking to you from this passage?
  6. How can you apply the passage this week?
  7. With whom can you share this passage during the next 167 hours?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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The story behind the song “Grace Has Become Your New Home”

We live in a transitional neighborhood. Several years ago, on the evening before a bulky trash pick-up, we set out on the curb a variety of items we could no longer use. Most of these items were broken. An hour later, everything was gone! People had driven by and picked everything up. Since then, I have tested this phenomenon several times. A broken aquarium…GONE. A vacuum cleaner that no longer sucked…GONE. A rusted out shower caddy…GONE. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

A song lyric came to me as I was staring at our empty front yard after the latest round – “When the curb you’ve been kicked to is where Jesus grabs you, then grace has become your new home.”

Here is how Paul puts it. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:1-10 New Living Translation)

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (one of Jesus’ ongoing reclamation projects)

https://youtu.be/dguOy_d55j8

 

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New Song – “Grace Has Become Your New Home”

Here is my brand new song – “When the curb you’ve been kicked to is where Jesus grabs you, then GRACE HAS BECOME YOUR NEW HOME!!!” Words & Music by Rick Jordan 07/18/2018, Copyright #bx8TM7XWSPirwG7b.

Here is where you can watch it, listen to it, “like” it, and share it – https://youtu.be/dguOy_d55j8

THANKS!!!

Rick Jordan

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Head’s Up! God is Coming After You! (Psalm 23:6)

For several years I was part of a small company that helped people with large delinquent medical bills apply for and receive Medicaid. These were people who either had no clue they would qualify for assistance or they lacked the motivation to apply. However, they did have an extremely good clue that creditors and collectors were in pursuit, which turned our skip-tracing into detective work. Some of these folks were experts at covering their trail, but the couple I worked with had a nose for working out trails. It was always a little awkward (and occasionally a little dicey) to catch up with people and initiate a conversation about their bill, so our opening line was strategically crafted for their peace of mind and for our safety.

“We are not here to collect; we are here to help you pay your bill.”

When the individual accepted that we had caught up with them in order to help them and bless them, they usually became more cooperative, even grateful. I met some remarkable people during those years.

This is my fourth article about Psalm 23, and it covers the last verse. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In verse 1 we learned that God our Shepherd is in front of us, ahead of the action. In verses 2-5 we learned that God is also alongside us, leading and nurturing and restoring and comforting and protecting and correcting and sustaining and blessing us. In verse 6 we learn that God is also behind us, pursuing us with goodness and with loyal and merciful loving kindness.

Theologians use a massive technical term to describe this divine character trait – omnipresence. Omnipresence means God is everywhere. Carla and I once owned a Dodge Omni, but I doubt it’s the same thing, and besides, that car only lasted a year. We can generally know God is everywhere without that realization making any difference to us. I mean, air seems to be everywhere, but how often do we think about air, much less appreciate air? But once we grasp that God is generally everywhere AND that God is specifically ahead of us and with us and behind us, we are making spiritual progress.

But…

If your image of God tells you God is a stern and punitive Judge who is out to get you, then Psalm 23:6 makes you paranoid and jumpy. If God is all over the place, and you believe God is out to get you, then you will probably keep your head down, like those people we were skip-tracing. But once we come alive to the reality that God pursues us in order to bless us, it can change everything. Who can’t benefit from divine goodness and loyal and merciful loving kindness? Sure thing, God is after you. But you might want to slow down or even stop, because God wants to love on you.

Here’s another window into the same truth – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him and entrusts themselves to Him shall never perish, but shall have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him could be saved.” (John 3:16-17) Isn’t this passage saying something similar to Psalm 23:6? Maybe Psalm 23 and John 3:16 are the most popular scriptures in the Bible because something in us is hungry to welcome God in Christ as good news, not bad news.

When I officiate memorial services for people, they nearly always request Psalm 23, oftentimes because of this last line – “…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Of course the grieving family wants Psalm 23 at the memorial service! There is a sudden raw gaping hole in their lives, and they desperately want to hear that the hole is more temporary than permanent, that a reunion is ahead. But let’s not stop there. Yes, it is a promise about heaven. But it’s more. From the Hebrew language, we can legitimately translate Psalm 23:6 like this – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This divine pursuit is not ONLY for the afterlife; it applies to the beforelife too! Our God has the there-and-then covered AND our God has the here-and-now covered!

Again John’s gospel sheds light on Psalm 23. In John 10:10 (where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep), Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they (human sheep) might have life, and have it more abundantly.” This abundant life in union with Christ is ours here and hereafter.

Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the goodness of God to catch up with you and drench you? Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the loyal and merciful lovingkindness of God to catch up with you and saturate you? God is trustworthy. God in Christ has more for us than we are currently experiencing.

Surely God’s goodness and mercy to you,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Enemy Stuff (Psalm 23:5)

First question – What is your favorite meal? Think big – the main course, the sides, condiments, and even desert. No need to calculate nutritional value or calories or points. This meal is hypothetical. If you gain weight by thinking about these foods, I apologize.

Second question – What is the most disgusting food you can think of?

Now, imagine that you are served your favorite meal. You are eager to dig in, until you notice that the person who prepared this delicious meal for you included the most disgusting food you can think of – and THAT food is touching the mouthwatering foods in the meal!

What is your next move? Do you loudly protest and insist that they start over and get it right this time? Do you kindly point out the error and ask them to start over and get it right? Do you walk out because you’ve lost your appetite? Do you hunker down and meticulously eat around it? Do you rebuke your gag reflex and decide that, against all regurgitory odds, you are going to eat everything on your plate?

This scenario is similar to what we discover in Psalm 23:5. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.”

In verses 1-4, the shepherd and the sheep are out in the wilderness. In verse 5, the imagery changes. The shepherd has traded in the rod and staff for cooking utensils, and is also the host in charge under the tent. On the table is a feast. You look around the tent and see friendly faces. All is well until you see THAT PERSON, or THOSE PEOPLE. For whatever reason, they are enemies. Suddenly the tent shrinks, the air is stifling, you have lost your appetite, your heart pounds, and you cannot see anybody else. Is this a sick joke? Who invited HIM or HER or THEM? It would be awkward for you to leave, but it’s extremely awkward for you to stay. There is an undercurrent of tension, even hostility. But the expression on the host’s face does not change. The host is generously taking care of you while they look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of them while you look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of all of you equally.

These are the head scratching realities we encounter under the Psalm 23 shepherd’s tent.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” In this verse, what word stands out for you? I propose that the most important word is the divine pronoun, repeated twice: YOU. David is describing the nature of God. The enemies are not in charge here. In fact, they only have the power we give them. But we are not in charge either. The God who has extended the invitations and coordinated the exasperating seating arrangement is in charge, taking care of us, feeding us, anointing us, overflowingly blessing us. Perhaps God is the One to whom we need to give our attention.

I do not want to discount the pain this article may have already caused you, because God definitely does not discount it. And God is not like the person at the contentious family reunion who whines, “Can’t we all just get along?” God knows our hurts and knows who has hurt us. God cares deeply about all of that. God is not minimizing it. God is equally a God of mercy and justice. It’s just that God can do things about “enemy stuff” that we cannot do.

We see this in the New Testament. On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

And then we have this prize from one of Paul’s letters. “For He Himself is our peace, Who has made the two groups into one, destroying the barrier, that dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

For context, please read Ephesians 2:11-22. There you will find that the two groups are Jews and Gentiles, mortal enemies with a heated and nasty history of conflict. Through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus knocked down those walls, which means He can knock down any walls. Christ can knock down the personal walls in our lives. Christ can knock down the ugly thick walls dividing us in this country.   

God’s table has room for us AND for the people we do not want at the table, the people we are certain should not be there, the people who make us shudder, the people who disgust us. God prepares a table for us in the presence of them, which also means God prepares a table for them in the presence of us. God’s goal at the table is that all of the “us / them” categories lose their place and fade away. Us / them becomes US.

THAT is quite a miracle.

I am asking you to do only one thing, and it’s also what I am asking me to do. Let’s stay under the tent. Let’s give God our undivided attention and see what happens next. God is love, after all. God is moving toward us with that anointing oil, and keeps refilling our cup until it spills over. In God’s presence, what do we have to lose? We might lose some bitterness, some hatred, some discrimination, or some shame.

Sticking around under that tent and around that table is worth the squirming angst, because God is so good.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Fudgsicles and Big Comforting Sticks (Psalm 23:4)

I was a small boy when I wrote my first song. It was summer. My dad was at work; my mom was home. The ice cream truck drove down our street during the hottest time of the day, the cheerful bell triggering salivating desperation for ice cream. Mom would give me the exact change so that I could purchase a little chunk of heaven frozen around a tongue depressor, otherwise known as a fudgsicle.

One afternoon, a neighborhood kid who had no money ran to the truck. I bought my fudgsicle and then spontaneously wrote my first song. Dancing in front of the empty-handed kid and waving my fudgsicle, I sang, “I have ice cream but you don’t.”

It was a short tune. I was a short monster.

Suddenly a large shadow eclipsed me and an adult hand jerked the fudgsicle out of my hand. I looked up at the beatific and smiling face of my mother. That’s when I discovered that she was also a songwriter. She borrowed my melody, but wrote her own lyrics.

“Now you don’t have ice cream either.”

I was embarrassed and furious and overmatched. I ran to the house, tears streaming down my face.

That was one of the best experiences of my childhood, even though I did not see its value at the time. My mother was not being mean; she was loving me.   

We continue our study of Psalm 23 with verse 4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Palestinian wildernesses are dangerous places, even more so at night. In ancient times, shepherds applied harsh comfort using big sticks. But what is so comforting about a rod and a staff?

Shepherds wielded the rod to fight off enemies of the sheep, predators that craved mutton after sunset. But the sheep made the shepherd’s job challenging. Sheep wander. Sheep effortlessly expose themselves to dangers from which they cannot extricate themselves. The staff was a long extension of the shepherd’s arms, enabling the shepherds to impose their will over the sheep because the shepherds knew better than the sheep what they needed, where they had to go, and what would kill them.

The rod and staff never felt comforting in the moment. If the shepherd employed the rod, it meant the sheep were in immediate and deadly danger. If the shepherd employed the staff, it meant the sheep had wandered off, were stuck on stupid, and had to be forcibly guided back. The crook of that shepherd’s staff around the neck of a sheep was unpleasant, but it beat the alternatives.

A shepherd who cared nothing for the sheep would not use those two big sticks.

What does the shepherding metaphor teach us about God’s nature? Good shepherds loved the sheep, but they were not always nice. They were often blunt and direct. So was Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus was unbelievably loving, but He was not always nice. We limit and even cheapen God’s image when we decide God has to be nice. God is much better than nice.

Like sheep, we will follow our noses or our eyes or our ears or our mouths or our impulses or our urges or our hormones or our obsessions or our addictions. We will follow other people when they are compelling or seductive. We will follow our irrational fears. We will walk into trouble or danger.

A nice God is the last thing we need.

God loves us deeply enough to be direct, to be blunt, to protect us from ourselves, even when it is painful. The recovery movement calls this tough love. On that hot summer afternoon, my mother was not being mean; she was tough-loving me.

When our hearts pray, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” we are entering a healthy place with God. We can have confident trust in the Good Shepherd, who doubles up roles as the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 10:11). When our hearts pray, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” we are willing to be led, redirected, and pulled back. We are okay with God being aggressive, even hurting us, when that is the only way God can lovingly help us.

Maybe this is what the fear of the Lord is all about. We are in worshipful awe of God. We own our identity as sheep, and we embrace God’s identity as Shepherd. We have such holy reverence for God and such ardent trust in God that we fear no evil when life goes dark on us for a while.

Where in your life do you need the Good Shepherd to come on strong with a loving imposition of divine will? Have any habits or lifestyles put you in danger? Does your heart insist on wandering? I offer you this prayer.

“God in Christ, I WANT Your rod and Your staff to comfort me. I WANT You to protect me, even when the predator is also me. I accept that You can see in the dark even when I cannot see anything. I accept that You know and do what is best, even when I protest or resist. Please stay aggressive with me. And please remind me of this prayer when it is in my best interest for You to snatch the fudgsicle out of my hand.”

Maybe you don’t need to pray that last line, but you get the idea. And I hope that neighborhood kid has eaten plenty of ice cream over the years.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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“Direction and Directions” (Psalm 23:1-3)

Last summer our three-piece band, Tasmanian Grace, had the honor of playing music for Boy Scouts and their families at the Kansas Speedway. I drove to the area late that afternoon. I’ve been to the Legends often, so I know how to get there, and the Speedway is impossible to miss. But there was a very specific way for band members to enter the Speedway. Even though I had directions, I couldn’t figure it out. Confession time – when it comes to logistics and directions, I wake up in a brand new world about every 13-15 seconds. I get turned around easily. One time I got lost trying to exit the North Kansas City Hospital enclosed parking garage. On another occasion I got lost driving around in the downtown Chicago highway loop.

After trying for approximately 30 minutes to enter the Kansas Speedway, I was thoroughly disoriented within plain sight of my objective. I called the bass player, Joe, because I knew Joe and Jim (the drummer) had already arrived. Joe handed the phone to Bill. Bill said, “Drive to the Nebraska Furniture Mart parking lot and wait for me. I will lead you in.” I protested; I did not want to divert Bill from his other responsibilities. Bill chuckled and said, “Don’t worry about it at all. I counted on this happening.”

So I found the Nebraska Furniture Mart parking lot and waited. Bill arrived soon after, issued me a parking pass, and led me in. He could have spent the rest of the evening explaining it to me over the phone; I never would have made it.

Friday night, Bill reinforced to me some important truths about who God is as our Shepherd and what God does as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with these familiar words. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The shepherd stays ahead of the action, anticipating what the sheep need before they are aware that they need it. In our lives, God stays ahead of the action, counting on us needing guidance. The Hebrew word translated “want” is rooted in the word “lack,” which is why so many translations say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need” or “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” It reminds me of Peter’s aggressive declaration that Christ’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our relational knowledge of Christ Who has called us by His own glory and goodness (2nd Peter 1:3).

Psalm 23 continues in verse 2-3 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The shepherd is an expert at calming and leading skittishly disoriented sheep. Giving a sheep directions would be an exercise in futility. The shepherd must become the direction, like Bill did for me. I relaxed when I saw Bill’s pickup truck pulling into the parking lot at Nebraska Furniture Mart. I knew I had what it took to follow him in.

God’s presence is uniquely reassuring.

I cannot think about Psalm 23 without pairing it with John 10, where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep. In the person of Jesus, God takes us by the heart and leads us. Jesus does not give us directions; He becomes the direction through relationship.

Are you directionless? Are you turned around? Are you disoriented? We don’t have what it takes to lead ourselves, but we do have what it takes to follow Jesus. We start where we are by saying, “Help!” We continue by cooperating with the help, and the help turns out to be a relationship with God Who loves us like crazy and leads us from a position of ultimate strength and wisdom.  

I hope Psalm 23 and John 10 benefit you in seeking the Good Shepherd, the One Who says it is okay, the One Who counted on us needing Him. May you and I allow Jesus the Good Shepherd to come and get us, to be our direction in life.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Perspective Matters (Psalm 34:1-8)

Psalm 34:1-3 confesses and encourages a buoyant life of grateful praise. In this God-crediting life we are bowing down before God in worship at all times and on all occasions. Our mouths continually express adoring appreciation to God. We are giving God credit for everything we have and everything we are. We cannot keep this life of grateful praise to ourselves; in fact our God-boasting is so compelling that broken people around us are drawn in and positively affected. We are magnifying God so noticeably that our God-magnification invites others to join us. We are lifting God up so irrepressibly that our God-exaltation invites others to join us.

WOW! The Psalmist sets the bar so high that it feels like pole-vaulting praise, doesn’t it? Carla follows a Twitter account called #ThoughtsOfDog. The account tries to capture in 280 characters what dogs might tweet if they could. One such tweet says, “Sometimes you have to spin in circles to appreciate all that’s around you.” Psalm 34 seems like that, doesn’t it?

But…

According to the superscription, David wrote these soaring words IN A CAVE!!! He was probably at the lowest point in his young life. King Saul was after him – again. David had wiped out many of Saul’s enemies but in doing so David had become more popular than Saul (we’ll call that oops #1). Insecure monarchs are easily threatened and they prioritize the decisive elimination of those threats. David had the advantage of being chased by a king who was a lousy aim with a spear. However, Saul was maniacally relentless, so much so that David and his friends were cornered and had to take refuge in Gath, which was Goliath’s hometown (we’ll call that oops #2). The Gathians didn’t want their giant’s killer living among them and they complained to their leader, King Achish (he is called Abimelech in the superscription). To save his skin, Goliath’s killer pretended he was insane, and he was so convincing that Achish told his people to chase Goliath’s drooling and pathetic killer out of Gath – he wasn’t worth the energy it would take to kill him.

Talk about a reversal of fortunes! David had gone from being Israel’s rising star to being a humiliated fugitive hunkered down with his buddies in the slimy confines of a cave. In such circumstances would you and I be lost in grateful praise to God? It’s important to understand that the context for a life of grateful praise is the triumphant internal movement of God’s Spirit in the midst of suffering. Perspective matters, and we always get to choose what perspective we take. Let’s keep perspective in mind as we read Psalm 34:4-8. In these verses, I have enclosed the Hebrew meaning of certain words in parentheses. David is taking us on a guided tour of the context for a life of grateful praise. The contexts are terror, shame, desperation, and vulnerability.

v.4) I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me (snatched me) from all my fears (haunts, terrors). Perspective matters when we are TERRIFIED or HAUNTED. David had ample reasons for both. God delivers our souls from terror and dread. 1st John 4:18 promises us that perfect love casts out fear. God in Christ loves the terror out of us, directly and through our relationships in the community of faith.

v.5) Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. Perspective matters when we are ASHAMED. David was shamed in Gath. If we are ashamed, it usually means somewhere back there in our history we have been shamed. But when we have been shamed, it does not mean we have to be ashamed. Being ashamed is a choice that quickly sets in as a malignant identity. According to this verse, faces are instrumental in recovery from shame. In the Hebrew Scriptures, relationship with God frequently plays out in some form of pre-technology facetime. God can and does heal our souls from shame, but these days God’s actual face is largely invisible. Our faces, however, are highly visible. Never underestimate what faces can do! God can use our faces to communicate divine love and grace. What if God heals shame through our facetime with each other? When I look into your eyes and I see the warmth of acceptance based on the love of Christ, there is in that look an invitation for me to “look into” the face of God and discover that there is no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  

v.6) This poor soul (desperately) cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. Perspective matters when we are DESPERATE. David was desperate. But did God really save David from every trouble? Does God really save us from EVERY trouble? Join me in pumping the brakes here, because on the surface we know God does not save us from every trouble. So what gives? Biblically speaking God does not promise to take care of the outside of us in the same way God promises to take care of the inside of us. People of faith still become sick, still have accidents, and still suffer the cruel sucker punches that are inevitable in a fallen world. People of faith still face death, not to mention whatever injury or health breakdown precedes death. God delivers our souls from the bigger trouble of desperation so that we become more than conquerors, sometimes in the ominous thick of the same difficulty that is making us desperate (Romans 8:28-39).

v.7) The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him (those who relate to God with reverent love), and delivers them. Perspective matters when we are VULNERABLE. I can only imagine how vulnerable David felt. God comes around us and brings to our souls a sense of secure peace that this world cannot take from us, and once again God does this in part through human relationships. Sometimes in the Hebrew Scriptures the angel of the Lord is exactly that – an angel. At other times, however, the angel of the Lord is a manifestation of God in the Person of the preincarnate Christ. Psalm 34:7 promises us that God shows up in our vulnerabilities and delivers us by holding us through.

v.8) O taste (judge) and see (by experience) that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in (hide in) him. A God-crediting life starts here, where we choose the goodness of God. We decide God is good WHILE WE ARE STILL IN THE CAVE! Perspective matters.

Recently I noticed a wall plaque that contains the popular expression, “It’s all good.” I’ve used the expression before. It can be a positive affirmation, but we also use it to counter the reality that it’s NOT all good. Life can be bad. Life can stink. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” is not a form of denial or a way to blunt the edges of suffering. When it is not all good, but we can still affirm that God is good, the cave becomes a holy place.

Sometimes God demonstrates divine goodness by eliminating our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. Most of the time God demonstrates divine goodness by being present in us more deeply than our terror, dread, shame, desperation, or vulnerability. In either scenario, and in all of the scenarios between those two extremes, God is good.

Verses 7 and 8 belong together. Verse 7 says God holds us. Our affirmation that God is good motivates us to take refuge, which means we want to be held by the One holding us, like an upset baby who while crying eventually relaxes into mom’s strong and warm embrace and becomes calm. In this state of being we enter a God crediting life, which loops us back into verses 1-3.

I don’t think David and his buddies were throwing a pity party in the cave. I think they were worshiping. It reminds me of Paul and Silas singing praise songs in a Philippian jail after the city officials had them stripped naked and severely beaten with rods because Paul and Silas had cooperated with the Lord Jesus in delivering a young girl from demons and depriving the economy of the girl’s “entertaining” ways. Oh – the jail where Paul and Silas were chained and bleeding on the floor was a cave the Romans had converted to a jail.

David’s faith friends were right there with him in the cave. Nothing in Psalm 34 is individualistic. God calls us to be in this Christ-following life together, no matter where it takes us. Paul’s admonition to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) tells us the most powerful gift we can offer one another is the gift of our facetime willingness to keep company with each other in life’s existential caves. Our companionship with one another in those caves can become the way we start discovering God’s goodness.

In 1st Peter, Simon Peter comes alongside David when he says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1st Peter 2:2-3) In this passage the Lord is the second member of the trinity, Jesus Christ. We know Jesus is good because He atoned for our sins on the cross and three days later busted out of…a cave.

Are you in a cave? What is the name of your cave? Taking Psalm 34 to heart – when we are in a cave the most significant battle may be the battle to keep the cave out of us. How? We taste and see that the Lord is good. How do you know God is good? Go on a spiritual treasure hunt. Where are the signs of God’s goodness in your life these days? Take notes. Ask around. Choose God’s goodness. That choice can transform your perspective, whether you are in the cave, out of the cave, or trying to not cave in.

Can it be this simple? There is one way to find out, and I believe the goodness of God is a decent place to start.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)  

 

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Guitar Picks and Flexible Gratitude (Psalm 34:1-3)

Due to nerve damage I sustained in a January 2015 automobile accident, I lost the ability to play guitar with a pick. I’ve adapted to playing nylon string guitar with my fingers.

During the past 3½ years I have occasionally visited guitar stores, purchased all kinds of guitar picks, and tried again to play that way, to no avail. I can’t feel the pick, so it falls to the floor. A couple of Fridays ago I tried one more time. I stopped at one of my favorite musical instrument stores. This time I saw a kind of pick I had not come across before. In fact, Rob at Music Gear told me these picks are no longer made. The wide end of the pick is rough so that you can hold on better, but plenty of picks have rough edges. This pick has a little scooped out indentation for the thumb. I tried it in my hand and it stayed! I bought the last two they had.

I was very thankful to God that I had found these picks! I was thinking that maybe now I could return to playing steel string acoustic guitar which would give me more versatility and enable our band to get back together. I showed Carla the picks as soon as she got home. I sat down and started playing. Sure enough, the pick didn’t sail across the room or fall out of my hand. But the loss of sensation in my fingertips and thumb prevented me from keeping the pick where it needed to be, even though I had found one I could hold. I tried and tried that evening, but eventually I realized no amount of practice would change the reality that I could not control the pick anymore. I was disappointed but I realized my little adventure answered once-and-for-all the question about playing guitar with a pick. Once that realization sank in I was very thankful to God for what I had learned, because now I can exclusively concentrate on the way I AM able to play guitar. I’m actually quite excited.

Does it seem to you that the first gratitude should have canceled out the second gratitude? I mean, how can I be thankful for both of those developments? For me, there is no contradiction, because it was never about the picks or my hands. It was always about my heart. With God, everything becomes an inside job.

David begins Psalm 34 by saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the LORD; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together!” (Psalm 34:1-3) The apostle Paul declares something very similar. In Ephesians 5:20 Paul says, “And give thanks for everything to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1st Thessalonians Paul says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

On that Friday my heart won twice, because I chose to be grateful twice. A life that gives credit to God is a life that can flex and breathe.

What do Psalm 34:1-3, Ephesians 5:20, and 1st Thessalonians 5:18 say to you about gratitude? How do these passages stretch you in your life of faith?

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

Here is our YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA/featured

 

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Psalm 34:3 and Real Estate

In Psalm 34:3 David issues this invitation: “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.” In Hebrew, “magnify” means “to enlarge, boost, or glorify.”

Lately I have been picturing our minds as neighborhoods full of For Sale signs. Whatever dominates our thought life buys up real estate. Magnified thoughts buy up real estate. For those among us who tend to obsess, a recurring thought pattern can monopolize the neighborhood.

Think of your favorite food. Imagine eating as much of it as you want. How’s the mental real estate going for you now? I’ll be here when you return from your snack.

Bitterness, shame, guilt, rage, anxiety, discouragement, eroticism – these are a few examples of toxic thought patterns that buy up the property between our ears. The larger problem materializes when they move in with all of their stuff! Those obsessive thoughts are no longer just thoughts – they are now feelings and choices. The neighborhood rapidly deteriorates into a reflection of the new owner’s values.

There are times when some form of therapy and/or medication is necessary. I rejoice that they exist! Where I am going next in no way diminishes the value of the medical community when we need help. Cognitive process therapy or thought field therapy are two of many ways we can upgrade our self-talk with some specialized support.

What if we can choose what we magnify in our minds? When we magnify a problem, we sign over to that problem an enormous amount of mental real estate, and the problem takes over. When we magnify God’s character and God’s promises, we sign over to God an enormous amount of mental real estate, and God takes over. Worship accesses the One Who made us and knows how we function best.

Worship works for my one-track mind like gangbusters. As a personal discipline it has become more of a delight than a discipline – my “ought-to” has become my “want-to.” And I have come to crave glorifying God in worship with other Christ-followers, in a variety of styles and settings. My mental health has never been better. I became sick and tired of signing my mind over to a revolting succession of tycoons and slumlords, and I started giving the Developer more attention, letting the crucified and risen Christ restore the neighborhood into a reflection of the rightful Owner’s values and heart.

“Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt God’s name together.”

How does this “worship therapy” work for you? You can reach me at rickjordankcmo@gmail.com.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)

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Just Breathe! (Psalm 104, Psalm 150, Ezekiel 37:1-6)

When You give them Your breath, life is created, and You renew the face of the earth. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath! (Psalm 104:30, 33)

We have an enormous backyard, and in some places there is more dirt than grass. As I was mowing recently, the mower began sputtering and coughing. It would barely run. I stopped, pulled off the filter cover, and saw the problem. The filter was clogged with dust. I did not have a new filter, so I knocked and blew the dust out of the old one and put it back.

Note to self – when you blow into a filter, make sure you first gauge the wind direction.

I started the mower and it instantly ran like it was meant to run. Mowers cannot function unless they can breathe.

Neither can people.

The Hebrew word translated “breath” is also the Hebrew word translated “Spirit” and “wind.” God created oxygen, and us, and our lungs. We must breathe in order to live, but how we breathe affects our quality of life.

Ready for an anatomy lesson? Our lungs occupy a significant portion of our torso. They extend nearly as far down as our ribcage. When we take a deep breath we fill those lungs, instantly supplying oxygen throughout our bodies. When we take a shallow breath we do not fill our lungs; in fact, we deprive oxygen throughout our bodies.

The more stressed out or anxious we are, the less of our lungs we use. We breathe anatomically higher, only using the upper section of our lungs. Our wound-up emotions produce oxygen deprivation, forcing our bodies to work harder AND giving our bodies less of what they need.

Since God has given us oxygen and breath and lungs, why not take full advantage of these gifts when we need them the most? If we can condition ourselves to breathe deeply, combining that breathing with Scripture and prayer, we are using what God gave us AND we are seeking God’s peace and strength with every breath we take. Deep breathing lowers blood pressure, slows down the pulse, and clears our minds. Deep breathing also makes us more available to God.

There is a breathing exercise simply called 4-7-8. You breathe in through your nose to a 4 count. You hold your breath for a 7 count. You breathe out through your mouth to an 8 count. You can repeat several times, combining the 4-7-8 breathing with a very short “breath prayer…”

…“Jesus, thank You for being my peace.”

…“God, I let go and let You.”

…“God I need You.”

…”Jesus I trust You.” (That’s my go-to breath prayer.)

Your heart will usually tell you what you need to pray, but you cannot go wrong using Scriptures. You can apply this breathing discipline literally anywhere at anytime, but you may want to start at home by yourself so that you can become acquainted with it. And if you have pulmonary issues or are on medication for anxiety, please consult your doctor first.

God can use our breathing to empty us of anxiety and fill us with His Spirit.

I love what Ezekiel 37:1-6 says about breath. Here it is:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “You alone know the answer to that.” Then He said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

God puts breath in us, we come to life, and we know God is God. I love that sequence!

Let everything that has breath and every breath of life praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)   

 

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Are You Waiting on the Lord for Something? (Psalm 37:7)

Are you waiting on the Lord for something? Carla and I are in a waiting season, balancing by faith the tension between confidence in a God Who holds the future and uncertainty about what the future holds.

Can anybody relate? Most people of faith I know are in between one thing and another thing. Transition was normative to the faith journeys we read about in the Bible, and that has not changed.

Carla and I are learning that, while we wait ON the Lord, we can also wait IN the Lord. For example, Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still IN the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for Him to act.” You can also check out Psalm 39:7, Psalm 62:5-8, Psalm 130:5, Isaiah 30:15-18, and Lamentations 3:24-26.

We all block out time for who and what matters most to us. Waiting IN the Lord means we block out time to intentionally and consciously engage Christ’s presence in us…

…by worshiping God as often as possible in as many ways as possible,

…by building relationships in a faith community,

…by marinating in the Scriptures,

…and by being fully present with the Spirit of God every single day – speaking some, listening more, and being quietly still most.

Waiting IN the Lord by intentionally engaging a conscious awareness of Christ’s presence IN us changes who we are while we wait, and that kind of spiritual core formation is God’s higher purpose for our lives. It means what Christ develops in us during the process of waiting could be superior to what we find upon arrival. And of course, waiting IN the Lord also prepares us for whatever God is preparing for us.

If only it didn’t take so blasted long, right? We want a microwave God, but we have a slow-cooking God. The results are much more satisfying.

May you and I be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for God to act.

Tick tock,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

Here is our YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA/featured

 

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What Difference Does Relationship with Jesus Make? (Acts 3-4)

Christianity affirms that Jesus came to us as a baby, grew up, atoned for our sins through His sacrificial death on a Roman cross, and rose again. Christianity affirms that Jesus defeated every enemy, and that Jesus is our Savior and Lord. Christianity affirms that this same Christ, through the Holy Spirit, indwells people who respond to Him in repentance and faith. Christianity affirms that Christ changes those people from the inside out.

That’s a whole lot of affirming. But how often do Christ-followers live out these realities we affirm when we gather together? Do these realities make a noticeable difference in the way we talk and act and react during the 167 hours that transpire between our weekly worship experiences? Does relationship with this death-conquering Christ transform the people who follow Him?

In the early years of the church, people who said yes to the loving lordship of Jesus were transformed and became transformative. In fact, the world faced a decision: do we join them or do we kill them? They couldn’t simply tolerate the church, which was in those days a dynamic movement, not an institution.

Fast forward to today. Did Jesus choose this path of incarnation, agonizing crucifixion, and resurrection just so people would attend church services and clean up a few bad habits along the way? Can the people around us observe from their interactions with us that the living Christ indwells us and empowers us? Is there anything transformative about us?

The book of Acts chapters 3 and 4 chronicles an outlandish event in the life of the early church. On the way to the temple, Peter and John encountered a crippled man who begged them for money. John and Peter stopped and made eye contact with the man. Then Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but what I do have I give you in the power of Jesus’ name…get up and walk!”

The man grabbed Peter’s outstretched hand, got up, and walked. Actually, he jumped around in aerobic worship on legs that were functional for the first time ever.

This miracle stirred up a commotion exactly like the commotions Jesus had stirred up, and the religious leaders reacted exactly like they reacted to Jesus. They had Peter and John arrested and brought before a tribunal where they demanded that Peter and John come clean about how they were able to say such troubling things in the name of their crucified Rabbi and do such a troublesome thing to that crippled beggar. Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8), Peter responded by proclaiming the good news about Jesus.

Check out what happened next. “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say.” (Acts 4:13-14, The Passion Translation)

The council members were doing their best to connect the dots. In front of them were three common Galilean fishermen. The Jewish leaders had no reference point for common Galilean fishermen saying and doing anything remarkable, but they knew these common Galilean fishermen were associated with that carpenter’s son who said and did extraordinarily remarkable things before they killed Him. They knew that these common Galilean fishermen had invoked the name of that carpenter’s son in healing the man.

The council members shifted into damage control, attempting to contain the uncontainable. I am quite sure the Gospel was never meant to be containable.

Can people recognize about you and me what the council recognized about Peter and John? Can people correlate our words and our behavior with what they have observed about our relationship with Christ? Because self-giving love is the timeless and international signature of a Christ-follower (see John 13:34-35), let’s start there. In the way we relate to people – especially the unloveable ones – is the love of Jesus evident? Are we attracted to the same kinds of people to whom Jesus and His early followers were attracted? Do we attract the same kinds of people Jesus and His early followers attracted?

The crippled beggar in Acts chapter 3 was physically challenged from birth and was a fixture next to the temple gate. How many people had ignored him as they walked by him or had glanced dismissively at him as they walked around him? Let’s zoom in on what Peter and John did before commanding him to walk and on what Peter did immediately after commanding him to walk. Before commanding him to walk Peter and John stopped, they made eye contact with the man, and they spoke to him. After commanding him to walk, Peter took him by the hand, which required physical contact without access to hand sanitizer.

Peter and John dignified him before and after they invoked the name of Jesus in commanding him to walk.

Paying redemptive attention to somebody does not seem like a big deal until you are the one stuck at the temple gate day after day being ignored. Are you and I willing to stop and move toward people, especially the ones who are inconvenient or objectionable or might require something from us? With whom can you and I make eye contact? With whom can you and I initiate a conversation? Who can you and I touch?

If we ordinary Christ-followers will move toward people and pay redemptive attention to them, who knows what OTHER miracles might happen?  

May you and I become increasingly swept up in the bigger-and-better-than-life realities of the Christ we follow, because this world desperately needs us to step up and love like Jesus.

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

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“A Curiouser Life” (an original song by Rick Jordan)

We posted another song, called “A Curiouser Life,” on our YouTube channel. Thanks in advance for clicking on the “Like” icon below the video (if you do like it of course) and thank you for subscribing to the channel – subscribing really helps! Here is the song. https://youtu.be/vQCoQWbYgbM

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When God Flips Us (Isaiah 61)

I am intrigued by people who flip houses, for two reasons.

  1. Flippers see what I cannot see. When I look at a broken down house I see nothing but a dump, but Flippers can see all kinds of potential. Flippers see a fine fixer-upper (cue the Rock Trolls from “Frozen”).
  2. Flippers get to call themselves Flippers, which sounds quite cool.

Flippers are able to deconstruct and then reconstruct a house that not only becomes habitable again but becomes valuable and desirable.

God is the consummate Flipper.

Isaiah wrote the section of Scripture we call Isaiah 61 to people who had been conquered, deported and enslaved. Their world had been blown to pieces. Their lives were in shambles. From their humiliated and defeated perspective, they were beyond salvage. But God specializes in flipping lost causes. Where we see irreparable ruin, God sees promise. Where we see a pile of manure, God sees compost.

Here is Isaiah 61 in The New Living Translation, with a few parenthetical notes I have added. In Luke 4:18-21 Jesus applies the first section of this passage to Himself and to His kingdom agenda, which is why the pronouns are capitalized.

On behalf of God, the prophet announces liberation, recovery, and restoration.

v.1) The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me, for the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort (heal) the brokenhearted  and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.

v.2) He has sent Me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. (In Luke 4:18-21 Jesus intentionally closes the scroll before reading this last statement, which means Jesus did not come to condemn us!)

v.3) To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory (deeply rooted, strong, stable).

v.4) They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations (a return to productivity).

v.5) Foreigners will be your servants. They will feed your flocks and plow your fields and tend your vineyards.

v.6) You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God. You will feed on the treasures of the nations and boast in their riches.

v.7) Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.

God directly reinforces this liberation, recovery, and restoration.

v.8) “For I, the Lord, love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing. I will faithfully reward My people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them.

v.9) Their descendants will be recognized and honored among the nations. Everyone will realize that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”                                              

The prophet expresses the transcendent and irrepressible joy and hope of the liberated, recovering, restored people of God.

v.10-11) I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels. The Sovereign Lord will show His justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise Him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere.

There are ten upgrading exchanges in this passage, all fulfilled in Christ:

  1. We exchange poverty and oppression for the good news of God’s intervention (v.1).
  2. We exchange brokenheartedness for God’s healing comfort (v.1).
  3. We exchange captivity and bondage for God’s liberation (v.1).
  4. We exchange debilitating and exhausting grief for God’s favor and grace (v.2).
  5. We exchange wretched doom (ashes) for God’s approving crown of beauty (v.3).
  6. We exchange despondent heaviness for God’s joyful blessing (v.3).
  7. We exchange devastating despair for God’s festive praise (v.3).
  8. We exchange ruined failure and waste for God’s new start (vv.4-5).
  9. We exchange humiliating shame for God’s double share of honor (v.7).
  10. We exchange suffered consequences for God’s justice and faithfulness (v.8-9).

No wonder the prophet erupts in joyful and hopeful praise at the end of this chapter! In the Christ-following life, joy and hope are not pursuits or objectives. Joy and hope are results. They are effects. They are outcomes. When we begin upgrading our lives for Christ’s life in us, all of the joy and hope we could ever need begins bubbling up through our union with Christ.

In light of these ten upgrading exchanges, please read verses 10 and 11 again. This rendering combines the New Living Translation, New International Version, The Voice, The Common English Bible, and The New English Translation.

I am overwhelmed with joy and my soul vibrates with exuberant hope, because of the Eternal Lord my God! For God has dressed me with the garments of deliverance and has wrapped me in a robe of His righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit, or a bride adorned in her jewelry. For just as the ground produces its crops and a garden yields its produce, so the sovereign Lord will cause deliverance to grow, and give His people reason to praise God in the sight of all the nations.”         

Faith exercise questions:

  • Do you know anybody who has been “flipped” by God? What was their response?
  • When has God “flipped” you? What was your response?
  • Which of these upgrading exchanges have you experienced?
  • Which of these upgrading exchanges are you currently experiencing?
  • Which of these upgrading exchanges do you want or need to experience?
  • From the passage, what is the next faith-step for you? Which of God’s promises do you need to claim? Do you need to be flipped?
  • What if Isaiah 61:10-11 can be our “new normal?” What if God WANTS to bring us into a joy-full and hope-full life that lifts us above hardships and attacks? Are you in?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com) 

 

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Removing What Does Not Fit and Does Not Work (Matthew 11:28-30 and 1st Samuel 17)

“Come to Me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus extended an invitation to people who were weary and heavy laden because of an oppressive pietistic system the religious leaders had made them carry. The trend didn’t stop in the 1st Century A.D. We can be worn out and worn down by the grind of performance-based religion, the kind where we must constantly prove ourselves to God or earn God’s favor or prove ourselves to religious leaders or earn their favor. Religion that is characterized by the imposition of imperatives (must / ought / should / must not / ought not / should not) is performance-based religion.

We can be worn out and worn down because we are carrying the weight of unrealistic expectations. “Be perfect.” “Be pleasing.” “Be strong.” “Try harder.” “Hurry up.”

We can be worn out and worn down because we are carrying the weight of pressures. “You should be like….” “You should be this way….”

We can be worn out and worn down because we constantly need approval.

We can be worn out and worn down by the weight of our addictions or obsessions.

1st Samuel 17 is one of the most widely recognized accounts in Scripture. The boy-shepherd and errand-boy David volunteered to fight Goliath the undefeated and massively armored giant. King Saul (an uncommonly large man himself and the one who should have been out there facing the giant) put his own heavy armor on David, which was quite an honor. The armor did not fit. It was too heavy and too cumbersome. At the risk of offending his king, David removed Saul’s armor. He advanced against Goliath in his shepherd’s garb, with his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five smooth stones. This was a perfect fit. David was fighting God’s battle, not anybody else’s. David might have been the only relaxed person in the valley that day, because he was attired in relationship with the living God. He was unencumbered.

What version of Saul’s armor are you wearing or carrying? Are you worn out or worn down because of something a person or people or a system or an organization has loaded onto you? Are you worn out or worn down because of something you have loaded onto yourself? Jesus invites you to take off what does not fit and does not work for you and put on what does fit and what does work for you.

Relationship with Jesus fits you perfectly. Relationship with Jesus is comparatively lightweight because it is made out of grace and love. Jesus calls it a yoke, which was a sort of harness that attached oxen together. As a carpenter, Jesus would have built these yokes, so He would know how to build one to custom fit each animal just right.

Attachment to Jesus in yielded companionship is custom made to fit us perfectly. Coming to Jesus redistributes our load, with most of it unloaded because Jesus never meant for us to carry it. Relationship with Jesus is rest.

David had to remove Saul’s armor. Are you willing to remove your version of Saul’s armor, even when it disappoints somebody? Are you fighting the wrong battles, or every battle, or the right battles but in your strength?

Remove Saul’s armor. Risk disappointing the people who think you should keep it on. Let Jesus clothe and equip You in relationship with Him. It fits and it works.

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Encouragement to Slow Down

Back on April 16, the devotional message from First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit’s pastor Blake McKinney reminded readers of Ephesians 4:2 – “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Part of the devotional message read, “God sees us rushing around, skimming life as we live in a constant hurry, and he urges us to be patient. He sees us losing our temper with the people around us when they don’t meet our expectations, and he urges us to be patient.”  

Blake’s observations really resonated with me. God must have known from the beginning how focusing on what we want rather than looking for ways to bless and give mercy to those around us would damage us on the inside.

Of course God knows best. He wants the best for me and you. He knows that if I slow down just a bit and take time to actually see the people around me, experience life with those in my path, it will bless me and it might somehow bless them, too. I’m so thankful that He’s patient with me in this.

Carla Jordan
https://rickcarlajordan.com/

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Can Faith Say OUCH? (2 Corinthians 4:6-10)

A few months ago I had the honor of officiating a memorial service for an Air Force Major. His widow is a woman of tenacious and vibrant faith, and yet I watched powerful spasms of grief slam into her and physically shake her. I arrived home from that Monday funeral and read a Facebook message from a friend I used to pastor. The year had been a succession of unanticipated and ferocious crises. His faith is alive, and yet he was staggering from this ruthless pummeling.

In my interactions with both of these people, I experienced the raw honesty of their faith as holy and humbling, because that authentically rough texture of faith is too rare these days. Most of us prefer our faith to appear smooth and unruffled.

It’s a shame when faith becomes stoic. We are pestered by this illusion that we always have to project a veneer of implacable fortitude, like nothing ever gets to us because we follow Christ. When spiritual formation deteriorates into appearance management, God’s people do neither themselves nor God any favors.

I highly regard what Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 4:6-10. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in fragile and broken clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

In verse 6, Paul reaches all the way back to Genesis 1:3, where God spoke light into being. Paul then informs us that this exact same God indwells us in the person of Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). Paul uses the word “face” to describe the light, which means it could not be more personal. What we have here is internal face-time with Jesus. That’s how close Paul tells us we can be with the indwelling Christ, the eternal One Who spoke light into existence.

In verse 7, Paul makes an abrupt turn, attested in the New Revised Standard Version by the conjunction “but.” Paul and his companions were in the heat of the battle, and they had no time or energy for appearance management. Paul was letting his readers see them sweat. In order to communicate the intensity of their trials and to place those trials in perspective, Paul uses the analogy of an ordinary household pot. That’s what we are. The Light of the world shines through common vessels, chips and all..

We discover that the same God Who caused light to pierce the darkness at the dawn of creation lights us up from the inside out, and then we discover that we are crackpots.

Oh well.

Here’s the thing. When we refuse to accept our fragility and our brokenness, it’s as if we are scotch taping together the cracks in our human vessels. People cannot see Jesus, the Light of the World, as clearly in us. Or they can see the shoddy scotch tape work and they decide we are hypocrites. So Paul proposes a God-induced balancing act. We are afflicted like everybody else is, BUT NOT crushed. We become perplexed like everybody else does, BUT NOT driven to despair. We may be persecuted, BUT NOT forsaken by God. We are sometimes struck down by life like everybody else is, BUT NOT destroyed.

This “BUT NOT” life of faith is a product of how we carry ourselves. Paul says we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, which sounds so weird it needs an explanation. Saying “yes” to Jesus with our lives involves a daily choice to deny ourselves (we aren’t in charge anymore), take up the cross of Christ (His love as our way of life is in charge), and follow Him (we aspire to live as He lived in this world). We become more identified with Christ than we are identified with ourselves, anything, or anybody else. When we are suffering, or when we are at our wit’s end, or when we are being bullied, or when we are knocked down by life, we deal with these adversities as people whose lives are in solidarity with the Man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). So everything that happens to us happens in the larger context of who we are in union with Christ. He is our derived identity.

The indwelling Christ can be a closer reality than our adversity, whatever that adversity is and however savagely the adversity affects us.

What better way to keep our hardships and issues in perspective? Regardless of what happens to us, we will never have to endure even a tiny fraction of what Jesus willingly endured on our behalf. Intentionally carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus is the ultimate attitude adjustment. It pulls us out of self pity or drama about our circumstances, and it puts us in a self-giving mode, like Jesus was during His incarnation.

Did you catch the cause-and-effect in verse 10? We are always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. Grammatically speaking, “so that” is a purpose clause. It tells us Christ can fulfill His purpose in us through everything we encounter. Nothing is wasted.

When we are carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus, we are no longer the main characters in the stories of our lives. No matter how shaken we are, we can be rock solid about the reality that Christ has overcome it all and Christ indwells us, which means indestructible and irrepressible Life is abundantly and eternally ours.

When we live this way, people cannot help but see the Light of the world shining through the cracks. This is no less true of us when we are struggling, sobbing, confused, battered, or aching. The surprise is that living this way takes a load off. It’s a relief. We do not have to pretend. Having a “but-not so-that” faith means we can trust Jesus Christ and be real at the same time, like my two friends were on that Monday. That’s what the people around us need from us.

In his song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen wrote these lyrics. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul says the opposite. There is a crack in everything. That’s how The Light shines out.

Yes, faith can say ouch. Sometimes it must say ouch.

  • Have you invited the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, to indwell you and to bring Light into your darkness?
  • What are the names of the cracks in your vessel (your life)? Write them down.
  • In this passage, honest faith means we can say so when we are afflicted (under pressure) or perplexed (confused) or persecuted (mistreated) or struck down (in crisis). On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how honest is your faith these days? Why did you assign a particular number to yourself? Ask God to reveal to you how to move up to the next number on the scale this week, so that your faith is more honest. Do you have a faith brother or a faith sister or a group, somebody who can be safe or some place that can be safe? The Christ following life thrives in redeemed community.
  • Study the four “but not” phrases in verses 8 and 9. 1) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;” 2) we are “perplexed, but not driven to despair;” 3) we are “persecuted, but not forsaken;” 4) we are “struck down, but not destroyed…” In each of the four, circle or mark which one describes you.
  • Study verse 10 – “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” Remember from the article above that verse 10 tells us to say “YES” to Jesus with our lives, so much so that the indwelling Christ is a closer reality than the adversity. How would you say this ultimate attitude adjustment strengthens us to not be crushed or driven to despair or forsaken or destroyed?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (rickjordankcmo@gmail.com, www.rickcarlajordan.com)

 

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“Powering Up God’s Way” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

What kinds of strength or power does the world recognize and reward?

  • Physical power
  • Military power
  • Athletic power
  • Persuasive power
  • Glamorous power
  • Attractive power
  • Prestigious power
  • Seductive power
  • Intimidating power
  • Charismatic power
  • Racial/ ethnic power
  • Sizable power
  • Political power
  • Financial power
  • Intellectual power
  • Social power
  • Manipulative power
  • ???

Some of these powers are intrinsically good and helpful. Some of these powers are intrinsically evil and harmful. Some of these powers are neutral – the way we use them determines their morality.

God’s power is incomparably greater than every conceivable form of human power, but human powers are more tangible and more sensory, aren’t  they? Because God’s power functions subversively we can miss it, especially when we feel powerless in this world.

Isaiah wrote this prophecy to exiles, people whose nation had been swallowed up by the dominant empire of that day – Babylon. From Israel’s desolate and conquered perspective God was disregarding their troubles and ignoring their rights (Isaiah 40:27).

It’s easy to read God that way when our faith is in a weakened condition.

In the passage, God argues otherwise. Isaiah 40:28 says God is Almighty whether we see it or not. God’s resources are never exhausted. God’s perceptiveness never dims.

Isaiah 40:29 is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. According to this verse, we qualify for God’s strength when we own our weakness! This reminds me of the first three steps in the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

BRILLIANT!!! We own our weakness, we choose to believe in God, and we entrust ourselves to God.

Isaiah 40:30 gives us valuable information about people who epitomize humanity at its dynamic peak. That strength eventually declines. At our very best and even with our technologically advanced powers, we cannot compete with God’s power.

Isaiah 40:31 continues that line of reasoning by presenting the alternative. “But those who wait on (hope in, trust in) the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not get weary. They will walk and not faint.”

What does it mean to wait on the Lord? We identify primarily with passive waiting, like standing in line or being put on hold. But “wait” in verse 31 refers to active waiting. We entrust ourselves to God moment by moment, wrapping ourselves around God and tenaciously leaning against the wind into the solid hope that God is still faithful to His promises and is still capable, no matter what powers in this life have destabilized us or enfeebled us.

People who live in such intentional and trusting hope “gain new strength.” This means far more than God supplying a boost or a power surge to what we already have going for us. Rather, we come to an end of ourselves and we exchange our failing strength for God’s sustainable power (verses 29 and 30).

God’s strength manifests itself in three scenarios. In the first scenario we soar high on wings like eagles. There are seasons in life when we are effortlessly and transcendently gliding. In this scenario it is all good.

In the second scenario we run without getting weary. There are seasons when life is challenging and there is resistance (like hills during a marathon), but we are making progress. We hit our pace and keep moving. In this scenario it is not all good but we are okay.

In the third scenario we walk without fainting. There are seasons when life stinks, when faith wobbles, when we are disillusioned or discouraged or deflated, and the best we can manage is to shuffle one 5,000 pound leg forward and then move the other leg in generally the same direction or in no direction we can detect. In this scenario it is not all good and we are not okay but by God’s grace we are still standing. Success is defined as not totally shutting down and giving up.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could choose which scenario or season characterizes us? The faith journey does not work that way. We do, however, get to choose the source of our strength. We do not have to settle for human strength or power that is ultimately inadequate. We can own our weakness and exchange our ebbing strength for God’s strength.

God most emphatically demonstrates divine strength in the weakness of the crucified Christ. On the cross, worldly powers were broken from the top down and humble love secured our redemption from the bottom up. God offers us that kind of strength.

Are you soaring? Are you running? Are you walking? Are you collapsing? In the grace of the Gospel we come as we are, not as we should be.

May you and I exchange our powerlessness for God’s enduring and adaptable strength.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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“When God Says NO in Light of a Better YES” (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

Parents in every culture can relate to this common sequence…

  1. The child makes an urgent and impassioned request.
  2. Due to the experience and perspective gained by higher mileage on planet earth, the parent knows that what the child is requesting is not in the child’s best interest.
  3. The parent says NO to the request, disappointing and frustrating the child.
  4. The child pushes back.
  5. If the relationship is functional, the parent uses this NO to guide the child into a better alternative, a better YES. In effect, the parent is saying, “No, but….”
  6. The child usually cannot appreciate the wisdom of this “No, but…” response until the child becomes a parent and must dance to the same tune.

God goes through this sequence with us all the time.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 finds Paul the apostle defending himself. Paul spent years of his life traveling throughout the Roman Empire, introducing Christ to a diverse mixture of  people who had no exposure to the Gospel. They also were not Jewish. During these journeys Paul was at odds with a group of people called legalists. Legalism is the name for any brand of Christianity that decides God’s grace and our faith are not enough, that a surplus of do’s and don’ts must be added to the life of faith in order for that life to pass inspection. The legalists, of course, are the self-appointed inspectors.

A pack of these legalists (called Judaizers) followed Paul from place to place. When the Judaizers entered a town or city Paul had just left, they would locate the brand new Christians and ask them what Paul had taught them. When the brand new Christians answered by describing the breathtaking simplicity of relationship with Jesus, the Judaizers would sadly shake their heads and tell them Paul had left out some important information. In order to follow Christ, these brand new Christian also had to start living by Jewish laws. Grace and faith were not enough. The Judaizers tried to convince these new Christ-followers that Paul was a fake and that Paul had no authority to be doing what he was doing. These legalistic Judaizers had come in the nick of time. They had come, in fact, to help the new Christians become more like Jesus AND become more like them.

Yikes.

In 2 Corinthians chapters 10 through 12, Paul defended himself and his calling from these opponents. Toward the end of this defense, Paul enhanced his credibility by recalling an ecstatic spiritual experience. Years earlier Paul found himself swept into the highest heaven, in the very presence of Almighty God. During this heavenly encounter, God confided in Paul! In order to counterbalance this ecstatic experience and in order to prevent Paul from developing an over-inflated ego, Paul wrote that he was given what he called “a thorn in the flesh,” a chronic and harassing attack from Satan. It might have been poor eyesight. It might have been recurring malaria or epilepsy. It might have been the residual effects of being stoned to death and surviving. The passage’s context tells us it most certainly included the people problems referenced earlier.

God would not remove this thorn even though Paul begged God on three occasions to remove it. In essence, God responded by saying, “No, but….” The chronic condition (the thorn) was going to remain in Paul’s life because God had something better than relief in mind. God’s grace was more than enough for Paul. In fact, God’s power would show up best in and would even be fulfilled in Paul’s chronic weaknesses.

The Wuest translation renders 2 Corinthians 12:8 this way – “My grace is enough for you, for My power is moment by moment coming to its full energy and complete operation in the sphere of weakness.”

Ever the extremist, Paul reacted to this answer from God by becoming a fan of his chronic condition, boasting that when he was weak he was actually strong. Carla showed me 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in The Voice Translation, which says, “So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on – I would rather stake my claim in these weaknesses and have the power of the Anointed One (Jesus) at home within me. I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed (Jesus) because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong.”

Many of us contend with something I call a theology of evacuation. We come to believe God’s primary role in our lives is relief, that God is obligated to always say YES to us by getting us out of unpleasantries or by getting unpleasantries out of us. Eavesdrop in on your prayer life and you may catch yourself in the act. But with God, evacuation is more the exception than the rule. God loves us too much to give in to our emotionally charged appeals for relief. Instead of removing the hardship, God may leave the hardship in us or God may leave us in the hardship. Why? Because it is the ideal environment for God to become our strength. The sufficiency of God’s grace is the BETTER YES. With the thorn still imbedded, we discover that God’s grace is more than enough.

Isn’t Jesus Himself the ultimate example of this truth? In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus writhed on the ground praying for evacuation three times. The Father said “NO, but….” Jesus emerged from the garden strong and proceeded to become vulnerable and helpless, all the way to an unspeakably brutal death.

God’s power was more than enough to raise Jesus from the dead. That being the case, is there any chance God might have what it takes to be more than enough for us in our area of greatest weakness?

Catholic author and speaker Brennan Manning (1934-2013) once said, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.” (The NIV Ragamuffin Bible, page 1330)

Brennan Manning also said, “…the question no longer is: Can I do it? Am I able? Can I overcome my moodiness, my laziness, my sensuality, my grudges and my resentments? The only question is: Is Jesus Christ able? Can my Savior, the Lord of my life, revive my drooping spirit and transform me?” (The NIV Ragamuffin Bible, page 1331)

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses (or challenges)?

How do you typically handle a “no” answer?

What is your “thorn in the flesh?” Do you have more than one “thorn in the flesh?”

When has God answered your prayer with “no” in favor of a better “yes?”

What would it look like for Christ to show up strong in your greatest weakness?

What would it look like for Christ’s grace to be perfected (fulfilled) in your weaknesses?

Are you willing to embrace the miracle you were not seeking, the miracle where God gives you more grace instead of less discomfort?

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)  

 

 

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About Faith and Courage and Letting Go

Consider these Scripture passages. What do they have in common?

  • Then Jesus told them what they could expect for themselves: “Any of you who want to be My follower must deny yourselves (set aside your own self-interests), take up your cross daily (take up My self-giving way of life), and follow Me (let Me lead). For if you choose self-sacrifice, giving up your soul-lives for My glory, you will embark on a discovery of more and more true life. But if you choose to keep your soul-lives for yourselves, you will lose what you try to keep.” (Luke 9:23-24)
  • Therefore, in response to all of these mercies God has shown you, I beg you, brothers and sisters, to make a decisive once-and-for-all dedication of your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and devoted and acceptable to God. This response to all of these mercies God has shown you is your only reasonable act of worship. (Romans 12:1)
  • Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God. (Romans 6:13-14 in The Message)
  • For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that He has given His life for all of us. This means all died with Him, so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for Him—the One who died for us and now lives again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 in The Passion Translation)
  • “My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of His cross crucified me with Him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives His life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God Who loves me so much that He gave Himself for me, and dispenses His life into mine! (Galatians 2:20 in The Passion Translation)

Now consider these imaginary scenes.

  • Scene #1 – Imagine that you are standing on the bank of a river. You have a glass in your hand. You kneel at the river, place the glass in the river, and then draw the glass out, full of river water. It would now be accurate to say you have the river (or at least some river water). You can take the river with you wherever you go. The river water is static and safe. You have the river water contained and controlled. You can go anywhere you want to go with it.
  • Scene #2 – Imagine that you are standing on the bank of a river. You have a glass in your hand. You place the glass on the ground next to you, take a deep breath, and jump into the river. It would now be accurate to say the river has you. The river’s current can take you wherever it is going. The river is wild and dynamic and risky and you are not in control, but you certainly are being taken somewhere.
  • Scene #3 – Imagine that you are standing on the bank of a river. You have a glass in your hand. You place the glass on the ground next to you and you tentatively approach the river. You step in just enough that your feet are in the water. After a while, you move a little deeper into the river, so that the water is up to your knees. This process continues, back and forth. Sometimes more of you is wet than dry. Sometimes more of you is dry than wet.

Questions:

  • Which scene best describes your relationship with Christ right now?
  • Which scene do you want describing your relationship with Christ?
  • How confident is your trust in Christ?
  • What is your next step?

Blessings,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

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Romans 12:1-2 Part 2

Here is Romans 12:1-2 from The Message. “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

What is one area in your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—that most obviously needs to be placed before God as an offering?

Clue #1 – Look for that part of you that is unmanageable or out of control. It might be something in your thoughts. It might be a behavior. It might be words. It might be a habit. It might be an irresistible urge. No matter how hard you try to control or manage this part of you, it keeps squirming free. Every day for seven days, offer this resistant part of your self to God as a living sacrifice.

Clue #2 – Look for that part of you that easily caves into cultural pressure, that part of you that comfortably gives into self-indulgent or self-gratifying influences around you. It’s that part of you that conforms to the world because – let’s face it – it’s easier to live from the outside-in than from the inside-out. Every day for seven days, offer that part of you to God as a living sacrifice.

If sacrifices could speak, they would tell us that becoming a sacrifice is a 100% proposition. So why is Romans 12:1-2 worth it? Why is this self-sacrificing life such a good idea? My answer is that the One calling you into this self-sacrificing life…

…is the same One Who made you,

…is the same One Who knows what is best for you,

…is the same One Who loves you more than anybody else ever does or ever could love you,

…is the same One Who willingly gave ALL for you.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Romans 12:1-2 Part 1

“Therefore, in response to all of these mercies God has shown you, I beg you, brothers and sisters, to make a decisive once-and-for-all dedication of your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and devoted and acceptable to God. This response is your only reasonable act of worship. Stop mindlessly living in conformity to the customs of the prevailing culture around you, but by the new ideals that shape your minds continue to let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will find and follow God’s good, well-pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Have you ever found yourself on both sides of a conflict or a competition, where it became necessary for you to once-and-for-all declare which side you are on? We can be guilty of dual spiritual allegiance. We try to follow Christ while also pleasing the world, which is like trying to take off in two directions at once. In Romans 12:1-2, God is telling us to decisively choose the One Who pours out mercy on us constantly. We know verse one contains a decisive command because the image in verse one has us climbing onto a sacrificial altar AND STAYING THERE.

There is no getting around the reality that faith in Christ is radical and extreme, but relationship with Christ is worth whatever our faith costs us. If we are spiritually climbing onto this altar and staying there, it can only mean we have FOR SURE chosen Christ, the same Christ Who in the ultimate act of mercy sacrificed Himself all the way for us.

When we stay on the altar of devotion to Christ, peer pressure loses its power over us because what’s happening up there on the altar is a better life in every way.

When we stay on this altar of devotion to Christ, materialism loses its power over us because what’s happening up there on the altar is a better life in every way.

When we stay on this altar of devotion to Christ, obsession and addiction lose their power over us because what’s happening up there on the altar is a better life in every way.

Faith exercises:

  1. How has God had mercy on you? How does God have mercy on you? Make a list. See if you can come up with at least a dozen ways God has been merciful to you. Examples – Did God wake you up this morning? Did God keep your heart beating all day? Did God provide food for you to eat, clothing for you to wear, shelter, transportation, friends, oxygen? Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Fact is, God does sustain us. Every moment we have is a gift.
  2. What are we doing with these gifts of mercy? In light of God’s mercies, we are given three commands. 1) We offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Because we are so grateful to Jesus for having mercy on us, we offer everything about ourselves to Jesus, letting Him be completely in charge of us. 2) We stop going along with whatever the world says and we stop letting the world around us drag us down. 3) We allow God to miraculously replace our stinking thinking with a renewed mind that willingly gravitates toward God thoughts. These thoughts help us love people around us and be a blessing to people around us. When we are obeying these three commands, we are making ourselves available for God to bring out God’s very best in us, which beats anything we can come up with on our own. Only God knows who your best “you” is, and only God knows how to get you there.

Grace and peace to you as you study these verses, pray these verses, and obey these verses.

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, rickjordankcmo@gmail.com)

 

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Why I Believe, in 2018, that Jesus is Alive

For the first time in decades, I am not employed as a professional religious person during the Easter season. I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to journey with Jesus from this new (for me) vantage point. I find that now, more than ever, I believe what the New Testament says about Jesus of Nazareth. Now, more than ever, I know that Jesus is alive from the dead. There is nobody like Jesus. Nobody can do what Jesus can do.

Paul put it this way in 1st Corinthians 15:3-8. “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him.”

You may recall Paul’s story. This ascending Jewish leader was given legal authority to arrest and severely punish Christ’s followers wherever he could find them. He was credentialed and empowered to wipe out the Jesus movement before it got out of hand, and it was working like gangbusters until he ran into Jesus. On the road to Damascus, a bright light shut him down. He was blinded by this light but he heard a voice speaking to him, a voice self-identifying as the very Jesus he was persecuting. Days later, the pugnacious troubleshooter was actively converting people to the same Jesus whose following he had been trying to exterminate. The rest of Paul’s life was made quite difficult because of his insuppressible faith in Jesus Christ, but those difficulties did not deter him. Christ was alive in Paul, and Paul had to advance the cause of this Christ.

Centuries later, I believe what the New Testament says about Jesus because little derivative resurrections continue popping up all over the place. I believe Jesus is alive from the dead because those New Testament stories are consistent with my own story. Somebody even wilder than me has been unleashed in me. The character and the behavior of this Somebody resonates with the Jesus we read about in the New Testament. This crucified and risen One keeps delivering me from my greatest enemy – myself. This crucified and risen One keeps lighting up my darknesses. This crucified and risen One keeps killing my self-destructive nature and producing extraordinary new life where that old nature used to wreak havoc. This crucified and risen One keeps loving the hell out of me. There is no other viable explanation for my ongoing miraculous transformation. I know who I was and what I was capable of before I started saying “yes” to this crucified and risen One.

I also believe Jesus is alive from the dead because those New Testament stories are consistent with the stories of other people I know, people whose stories I trust because I’ve had a front row seat. There is no other viable explanation for their ongoing miraculous transformations.

The Jesus we read about in the New Testament is worth trusting and following today. The old hymn entitled “He Lives” says it well. “You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart.”

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)

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“You Could Have” (A Good Friday song of thanks to Jesus)

I wrote this song of thanks to Jesus on the occasion of Good Friday in 2014. I was reflecting on the truth that Jesus (God the Son) could have aborted torture and crucifixion at any time. Love (Romans 5:8) and joy (Hebrews 12:2) kept Jesus moving toward suffering. Jesus chose impossibly horrific agony for us, a reality that blows my heart wide open in gratitude and confident trust. I hope the atoning death of Jesus similarly affects and transforms you.

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Letting Go (Philippians 3:5-14)

In the Bible, we constantly encounter people who choose to let go so that God can securely hold them and include them in what God is doing. This “letting go” thrusts God’s people into the undefined, the unknown, the uncertain, and the unbelievable, all of which are ideal contexts for vigorous faith development in the Christ-following life. Here are examples:

Noah let go of his pride and his worldview, spending more than a hundred years building something nobody had ever seen before in anticipation of something that had never happened before, all because God spoke to him.

Abraham let go of comfort and security and everything familiar, packing up and moving before he had a clue where God was taking them.

Jacob let go of his innate ability to get his way by deceiving people, instead trusting God to grant him favor.

Moses let go of his insecurities and his inadequacies and his many other fears, following God’s lead into one impossible situation after another.

Joshua and Caleb let go of their human inferiority against gigantically overwhelming odds, comparing their enemies to God instead of comparing their enemies to themselves.

David let go of his desire for revenge against the homicidally paranoid king Saul, repeatedly taking the high road.

David also let go of his ego, which meant the greatest Monarchy represented in the Hebrew Scriptures featured Jehovah as the Senior Partner and king David as the junior partner.

The prophet Elijah let go of his self-sufficiency and his freedom, allowing God to say dangerous things to powerful people through him, to feed him by whatever birds brought him or by what a starving widow fixed him, and to pit him against 850 false prophets in a showdown that became a shutout.

King Jehoshaphat let go of his pride and his panic, advancing against a coalition of three frothing armies by introducing the offbeat weaponry of a choir and a praise band.

The prophet Isaiah let go of his clothing for three years because God told him to.

Yes, that happened.

In His incarnation, Jesus let go of the benefits package that comes with being God, humbling Himself beyond our comprehension for our sakes.

Mary and Joseph let go of their expectations about marriage and about how babies are made and about parenting, moving with God’s Spirit into scandal, peril, and refugee status.

The disciples let go of their occupations and, in some cases, their families, in order to follow Jesus.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus let go of His human desire to avoid the agony of bearing our sins and feeling separated from Abba, staying the course to the cross because we were helpless without Him.

At Pentecost, the earliest believers let go of any notions about being in control of themselves or their lives, because the exact same Jesus they had walked with for three years had suddenly filled them beyond overflow in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Once persecution broke out, the earliest believers let go of any notions about being safe, confessing Jesus as Lord in the face of torturous death sentences.

On a roof in Joppa, Peter let go of “insider” and “outsider” categories, risking rejection in order to welcome Gentiles (“THOSE people”) into the body of Christ.

Paul let go of his admirable pedigree, his successful career, his dignity, his health, and his future in order to follow Jesus – even though he was promised suffering from the start.

In Philippians 3:5-14, Paul articulates the dynamics and the rewards of a relinquished life. Here is his autobiography in The Voice translation.

“I was circumcised on the eighth day—as the law prescribes—born of the nation of Israel, descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; I have observed the law according to the strict piety of the Pharisees, separate from those embracing a less rigorous kind of Judaism. Zealous? Yes. I ruthlessly pursued and persecuted the church. And when it comes to the righteousness required by the law, my record is spotless. But whatever I used to count as my greatest accomplishments, I’ve written them off as a loss because of the Anointed One. And more so, I now realize that all I gained and thought was important was nothing but yesterday’s garbage compared to knowing the Anointed Jesus my Lord. For Him I have thrown everything aside—it’s nothing but a pile of waste—so that I may gain Him. When it counts, I want to be found belonging to Him, not clinging to my own righteousness based on law, but actively relying on the faithfulness of the Anointed One. This is true righteousness, supplied by God, acquired by faith. I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead. I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed.”

Paul let go of his life so that Christ Jesus could grab hold of Paul and never let him go. What do you need to let go of so that Christ Jesus can thoroughly grab hold of you and bring you into His Life?

…Pride?

…Your past?

…Your future?

…Security?

…Addiction?

…Fear?

…Approval seeking?

…Materialism?

…Technology?

…Cynicism?

…Self-indulgence?

…Instant gratification?

…Hyperactive emotional sensitivity?

…Religion?

…Nosiness?

…Manipulation of others?

…A relationship?

…Narcissism?

…Control?

…Morbid introspection?

…Comfort?

…Anxiety?

…Anger?

…Bitterness?

…Doubt?

…_________?

May you and I live into our own versions of Philippians 3:12. “I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go.”

In Jesus’ name,

Rick Jordan

www.rickcarlajordan.com

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“Too Much in Touch with Our Feelings?” (Psalm 61:1-2)

My dad is tough, by anybody’s standards. In 1967, when he was working construction glass in South Carolina, he fell off of a building and landed on his back on a steel beam. Surgeons put him back together, and he didn’t even miss that much work.

Dad is 86 now, and still old-school tough. However, a couple of years ago he met his pain management match. Dad had shingles. He said it felt like all of his nerve endings relocated outside his skin. Air was excruciating, and everything beyond air was worse.

People don’t have shingles. Shingles have them.

It is possible for us to have emotional shingles, where instead of us having feelings, feelings have us. It’s like our emotions relocate outside us, and we over-feel everything. It’s all TOO BIG.

A few evenings ago, Carla and I were listening to a teaching by Brian Johnson from Bethel Church. He was talking about how he’s not characteristically a man in touch with his feelings, and as almost a throwaway line he said, “Some of you are way too much in touch with your feelings.” He’s right. Emotional oversensitivity is prevalent in our culture today. We can be so massively in touch with our feelings that our emotions take on more credibility than their pay grade. We become led by our feelings. We think and we decide with our feelings.

King David (somebody who was sometimes morbidly in touch with his feelings), wrote this Psalm. “Hear my cry, O God. Pay attention to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me up onto the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61 Evangelical Heritage Version)

Our hearts can be legitimately overwhelmed by the extremely hard knocks of this life. But our hearts can also be overwhelmed because we self-load our hearts by being way too much in touch with our feelings. Our overactive emotions can convince us we are at the end of the earth, or at the end of our wits, or at the end of our rope, or at the end of our options.

Notice what David asks from God. “Lead me onto the rock that is higher than I.” If you study the Biblical imagery of God as our Rock, you discover that God promises to be our secure relational place of stability, a place that is higher and more solid than our anger, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, etc. When we are trusting ON God like this, God has a way of placing us ON a new and much better perspective than the hyperventilating perspective our charged up emotions give us.

I offer you this prayer. “God in Christ, please cause me to be far more in touch with You than I am with my feelings, because when I am deeply in touch with You, then I can let You be in touch with my feelings and even in charge of my feelings. Thank You for hearing my cry, for paying attention to my prayer. Thank You for knowing where I am when I am emotionally at the end, for meeting me in that remote place, for pulling me up, and for guiding me back. Thank You for taking my overwhelmed heart seriously and for leading me to the Rock that is higher than I am. On Christ the solid Rock I stand. Amen.”

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)

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However much you think God loves you… (Zephaniah 3:17)

I am being held captive, but if you try to set me free I will fight you.

Her name is Sylvia, and she is our brand new granddaughter.

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We have three grandchildren in heaven, so Sylvia is our fourth one, and she made it. Sometimes I wonder if her parents and grandparents are lavishing her with all of the love we had stored up for the other three babies, in addition to the love we have for her.

When I am with Sylvia, time stands still. My entranced heart memorizes every sight, sound, touch, and smell (yes, smell). There is no area on the top of her head I have not kissed. I hum spontaneous songs of devotion to her. I am holding her but she has me tightly in her grip, spellbound and captive. I adore this kid so much I would have to lapse into heavenly languages to articulate it adequately.

Our daughter and son-in-law love her more than Carla and I love her.

And God loves her MUCH more than they love her.

God, in fact, loves every one of us more than parents love their kids and more than grandparents love their grandchildren.

Zephaniah 3:17 is part of a prophecy about God loving His people back into geographical and relational restoration. It says this:

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
He will quiet you with His love, calming all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful singing.”

Because we are able to think in pictures, I invite you to read that verse slowly and let your imagination create a scene for you. What does it look like for you to be loved by God in the ways this verse describes? Imagine God lovingly delivering you, lovingly delighting in you, lovingly calming you, and lovingly singing over you with unrestrained joy.

Make sure your imagination has all of the necessary information – that in the context of the passage God’s people are not exactly delightful or even loveable. God loves us as much when we are at our very worst as God does when we are at our very best.

What do you see in the verse? Go with it. Take it in. Accept God’s acceptance of you.

One of the phrases in that verse says God is the Mighty One who will save. If it became necessary for Sylvia’s parents or grandparents to give our lives for her, we would do that without hesitation. And in the person of Jesus Christ, God did that – loved us to death and back in order to save us.

I hope and pray you become avidly receptive to God’s love for you. Nobody on earth will ever love you like God in Christ does and nobody on earth can do for you what God in Christ can do for you.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)  

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Remembering to Notice

This is certainly not an original thought, but it occurred to me again recently that my perspective can make a big difference in how I view the big and small parts of daily life. On the one hand, it can be so easy to take kindness and blessings for granted. But if I am plugged in to what God is up to, there are so many good things to notice and for which to be thankful.  

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

A recent example was a tiny (and I do mean tiny) addition to the wall of the ladies restroom/shower area at the indoor track where I walk. A screw had been strategically added so the blow dryer had a place to hang while not in use. I didn’t realize what big feelings I had about a home for that blow dryer(!), but I was so thankful when I saw that little addition, I took a picture!   

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The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Psalm 37: 23

Reflecting on what a difference our perspective makes also caused me to think about the words of a song Rick wrote several years ago titled “I Saw.” I think of it as a song not about people-watching really, but about people-noticing and how paying attention can help us be more aware of the world around us and the people in our path.

I highly recommend watching out for what God is up to in your life. When I do, I am reminded of how very good He is.  

Carla Jordan

www.rickcarlajordan.com

 

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Song – “I Saw”

I posted another original song on my YouTube channel. The song is called “I Saw.” You can find it here – https://youtu.be/nCBqzd0sWuU .

You can also check out my YouTube channel for more songs here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfmKSgzM6LKsI2wAqH8R_ZA/featured.

I am booking living room concerts, church concerts, or concerts in other venues. Please contact me at rickjordankcmo@gmail.com.

Grace and peace,

Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com)