Adoption

Years and years ago my then-girlfriend, Alida, told me about her passion for adoption.  Little did I know that more than a decade later me and that same woman would be pursuing the adoption of a child together!

 

Adoption: Our Story

It only took a small amount of time for me, as Alida’s boyfriend, to catch the adoption bug too.  Over the years that followed we periodically dreamed together about what adopting a child could look like.

Then, through a series of God-ordained events, we ended up in the Los Angeles area and began to become more and more affected by the realities of poverty and injustice within America’s inner-cities.  That’s when our adoption attention turned from international settings to domestic ones.  This  was a huge change for us.

So, due to this new focus and passion toward domestic adoption, Alida and I began researching options.  We discovered and then agreed to pursue the foster-care-to-adoption route.  Basically we would become a certified foster-care home and receive foster-child placements.  As a foster-care-to-adoption family our hope would be to foster children that we may one day adopt.

Alida and I found a agency to go through and started the process in mid-September of 2014.  We told our parents, siblings, and close friends that this process was beginning and they all started praying for us.

My dad told many people, including his sister Ellen, about what we were doing so that they could pray for us.  Unbeknownst to us, Ellen’s granddaughter (my first cousin, once removed) Wendy was pregnant and had just found out that very week.  She and her family decided that it would be in the best interest of the child to give it up for adoption.  They held out hope that it could be adopted within the family.

And it could!

Ellen told Wendy about us, Wendy’s mom asked us if we wanted to adopt Wendy’s child, and we asked for a few days to think it through.  Over the next two days we prayed, researched, prayed, cried, prayed, talked, prayed, didn’t sleep, and prayed some more.  After a long process we determined that this adoption was for us!

We believed, and still believe, that this adoption is what God would have for us to do at this time in our lives.  In fact, for us and in this specific case, we realized that all our reasons to say “no” were fearful, selfish, and not centered on the good news of Jesus and his kingdom.  Those were not the sorts of things that typically influenced our other decisions in life, so we felt that it was clear that saying “yes” was the right course of action.

And we did!

This January we’ll be the proud parents of a newborn!

Adoption

By: gabi menashe
Note: These feet are from a Flickr photo and not the feet of our child!

 

Adoption: The Reality

During our decision-making process we realized that we were not prepared for the financial differences between a foster-care-to-adoption process and a private, independent, interstate adoption.

In short, we quickly realized that attorney fees, social worker fees, state and federal fees, etc. were going to pile up.

Add to this the fact that our friends and family have very helpfully inundated us with offers of help.

In response we wanted to provide a way for people who so desired to help us and partner with us in the process.  In order to do so, we created a fundraising page.  So if you would like to offer us help in this way, simply go to the following link or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.continuetogive.com/mattandalida .

Even more importantly, we covet your prayers and support during this time.  Please pray that this process would go smoothly and please pray for us, Wendy, and the baby.

 

Thank you for reading this!  Feel free to leave a comment or two for Alida and me below!  :)

Obedient: John 2.1-12

There’s a popular fashion trend that’s been a thing since 2001.  It’s called OBEY Clothing.  Surely you’ve seen their shirts and hats out and about.  Here’s an example:

Obedient

OBEY Clothing Hat

The great thing about the OBEY brand is it’s origins.  It began with the street art of Shepard Fairey and is heavily steeped in the cultures of punk rock and skateboarding.  Thus, it’s both funny and odd that the word “obey” is so closely associated with this company since Fairey, punk, and skateboarding are all known for individuality, independence, and spontaneity.

Here’s the way OBEY’s website describes the use of the word “obey”: “With biting sarcasm verging on reverse psychology, he [Fairy] goads viewers, using the imperative ‘obey,’ to take heed of the propagandists out to bend the world to their agendas.”

Thus, even though OBEY uses the word “obey,” they are clearly hoping that the people they influence will not be obedient to the culture of advertising in America…unless, of course, they happen to be obedient to the advertising of OBEY itself and buy some of their products!

Needless to say, it has always been an interesting tug-of-war in Western culture between being obedient to cultural norms and being independent and entrepreneurial.  Whatever the case, we, as Western people, are rather obsessed with the idea of being obedient.

Thus, it is only wise for those of us who follow Jesus to see what the Bible has to say about being obedient.  One place to look is Jesus’ first miraculous sign in the Gospel of John.

 

Obedient Servants

In a previous post, I wrote about the story of Jesus turning to water to wine from Mary’s perspective.  Now I’d like to look at the story from the perspective of the servants.

So there were some servants minding their own business at a wedding in Cana.  It had likely been a long day, or even couple of long days.  They had worked hard and were probably enjoying a moment of calm.

Then the wine ran out.

While the shame of this fact fell on the family throwing the party and not them, they knew that it likely meant lots of work for them.  They’d probably have to go out and find some more wine, buy it with the master’s credit, and haul it back to the party.  And they’d have to do all of that super fast!

But then Mary says to them, “Do whatever my son tells you” (John 2.5).

Apparently Mary had the authority to command them to do things, which likely meant that Mary was either serving as a wedding coordinator of sorts or that she was simply protecting the honor of the family responsible for the wine.  Either way, these servants were prepared to follow Mary’s orders.

They waited.

After a second Jesus told them to do the following: “Fill each water pot with water until it’s ready to spill over the top; then fill a cup, and deliver it to the headwaiter” (John 2.7-8).

I love the way John explains the next part: “They did exactly as they were instructed” (John 2.8).

They were obedient.  Exactly obedient.  They filled the part pots all the way up to their brims.  Then they scooped some out and served it to the headwaiter.

If you stop and think about that for a second, it’s pretty crazy!  They knew what they were doing.  They were putting water in pots and then serving water to the headwaiter.  And this headwaiter likely had the authority to get them in all kinds of trouble for serving him water when wine was in order.

But they were exactly obedient anyway.

For whatever reason they trusted Mary and by proxy they trusted Jesus too.  They obeyed.

And somewhere in the midst of their obedience Jesus did a miracle which led to a deepening of the faith of Jesus’ disciples.

 

Obedient Followers of Jesus Today

One of the most common questions pastor-types get goes something like this: “I was listening to an international missionary talk about the cool things that God does over there, like miracles and stuff.  Why don’t those things happen here in the West?”

I don’t really think there’s an easy answer to that question.  But as of late I’ve been getting a feeling that the Bible may be pointing to something helpful.

And here it is in plain language: In the Gospels Jesus often does miraculous things within the context of obedience.

It’s not that obedience “causes” the miracle, but it appears that Jesus responds to obedient people by doing cool things on their behalf, or at least in their midst.

Friends, if that is true (which I think it is!), then perhaps we don’t see as many miraculous signs here in the West because we’re not all that obedient to Jesus.

We are obedient though!

  • We’re obedient to the value of individualism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of commercialism.
  • We’re obedient to the value of materialism.
  • We’re obedient to our selfish desires.

And the list could go on.

So here’s the question: To what or to whom are we obedient?

 

In the comments below let me know what you think about being obedient to Jesus.

 

Grocery Store Healing

I’m starting to learn that following Jesus is a full-time calling.

And I’m not talking about this government-regulated 40-hour work week stuff.  No.  I’m talking about every waking moment.

Now I’m not saying that we have to be “on” and doing “ministry” at every moment.  But what I am saying is that we need to be open to whatever God wants to do in us or through us at any moment in any place.

Even at the grocery store.

 

Grocery Store

Are you ready to follow Jesus…even at the grocery store?
By: r. nial bradshaw

 

At the Grocery Store

So here’s the story that inspired this post:

The other day I needed to run to the grocery store.  So I left the comforts of home and made my way to the market.

The grocery store that I went to is one of my regular haunts.  I know most of the cashiers’ faces and a few of their names.  This time, however, when I went to check out, I ended up in a line with someone I had never seen before.

I never caught her name because her name tag was flipped over, but she was pleasant enough.  She made a few little jokes and I politely laughed.  As I have mentioned before, I am an introvert and small talk is pretty much the bane of my existence.  But I felt like I needed to clue in, so I started paying attention.

The cashier was making a small grimace with her face each time she reached for my items with her right hand.  She noticed that I noticed and started talking about the pain in her wrist.  She told me all about it — when it started, what her doctor said about it, how long it takes to get in at the local clinic, and how she has to miss work sometimes because of the pain.

In fact, she talked so much that she was still talking even though I had paid for my items and reloaded my basket.  She kept talking.

Now I need to be honest.  My first reaction was to be frustrated.  My wife was waiting for me at home and it had been a long day.  All my selfish side wanted to do was to shut her down and get out of there.

But due to the fact that my wife and I (and some of our closest friends) have been attempting to make ourselves more available to God, I felt a small voice in the back of my mind telling me to listen up.  So I did.  I put all my introvert tendencies aside and continued to listen.

The cashier talked for another minute or two.  (Luckily there was no one else in line!)  Then I felt a very clear impression to ask her if she was a praying person.  So I did:

“Are you a praying person?”

“What?” she said.

“Do you pray?”

“Sometimes.  Well, not really all that much.”

“Would you mind if I prayed for you?” I replied.

“Uh, sure, I guess.”

I let go of my basket and moved in closer to her and asked if I could touch her wrist where she was feeling pain.  She extended her right hand and I took her forearm in my right hand.  It kind of looked like a Roman hand shake.

Grocery Store

Roman Handshake

I bowed my head and closed my eyes and said a really short prayer asking Jesus to heal her.  When I finished praying, I opened my eyes and we made solid eye contact for a few seconds.  She had gotten a little misty and I told her that I hoped Jesus would heal her.  Then we parted ways.

I went back last night to check on her at the grocery store and she wasn’t at work.  When/if I see her again, I’ll post a short update!

 

Available

So I’m only telling this story for one reason: we need to be more available.  I’ve lived much of my life viewing others as extras in the movie of my life.  This is unfair and selfish on my part.

God sends us to the places where we work, live, play…and shop!  Even the grocery store!

And the only reason this story sticks out in my memory is because it is the exception to the rule: I’m usually unavailable.

I’m distracted, or looking at my phone, or staring off into the distance, or talking to someone I came with.

But when I make myself available for God to use, he does!  And I guarantee that if you make yourself available, God will plug you into the work he’s already doing in the places where you work, live, and play.

Even at the grocery store.

 

(BONUS: This isn’t the first time that something interesting has happened to me at the grocery store.  Click here to read another post about an unexpected missional encounter at the grocery store!)

 

So, how has God used you in unexpected ways?  Has he used you at the grocery store?  Let me know in the comments below!

Trust: John 2.1-12

Jesus’ first miraculous sign in John is one of my favorite stories in all of the Gospels!  In fact, I love it so much that I plan on blogging about it from several different angles over the next few days.

And to get things started I want to look at this story from Mary’s perspective.  Spoiler alert — Mary’s perspective is defined by one word: trust.

 

Mary’s Perspective

The story of Jesus turning water into wine has been interesting to me for decades.  When I was younger, I was surprised to learn that Jesus’ first miracle in John involved him creating wine because the religious context I grew up in taught that all alcoholic drinks were to be avoided at all costs.

Later, while in college and seminary, the sociological background of this story began to intrigue me, specifically the elements of honor and shame that are part of this story.  And that’s right where I want to start, with the honor and shame system and how it impacted Mary.

So in the story what we see is that Jesus, his friends, and his mom attend a wedding.  This wedding was in the town of Cana, which is a neighbor city to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown.  And one of the first details that we learn about this wedding is that the wine was gone.

Why is this detail important?  Why would John include it?  For one main reason, at least in my estimation: the wine running out brought shame on the family organizing the wedding.

Since I didn’t grow up in an honor/shame culture, this part of the story is hard for me to understand.  So maybe an analogy would help…

Imagine that you were invited to a wedding.  When you arrive at the venue, everyone is standing outside because the venue has been double-booked!  Everyone is in their best clothes.  The bride and groom are ready to go.  But the family who booked the venue is embarrassed and frustrated.

These feelings are similar to what the family in this story would feel if they were made aware of the problem of the wine running out.

And who is the person to step in and prevent this shame from coming to fruition?

Mary.

And who does Mary turn to in this time of need?

Jesus.

Mary trusts Jesus.  Maybe she remembers what she was told about Jesus when she was pregnant (Luke 1.26-38).  Maybe Joseph has passed away, as is commonly believed, and Jesus was her nearest male relative to whom she could turn, which was the societal norm of the day.

 

Trust in Jesus

Whatever the case, Mary trusted Jesus.  She asked him for help.

And despite Jesus’ strange response, which we’ll talk about in a future blog, Mary tells other people to do whatever Jesus says.

So Mary’s trust doesn’t just stay private, she shares it with others.

Friends, whom or what do we trust?  Many of us would say that we trust Jesus, but our actions sometimes say otherwise.

From our obsession with our stuff, it could be said that we trust our possessions.

From our constant pursuit of more things, it could be said that we trust in our ability to consume.

From our protection of our autonomy, it could be said that we trust ourselves first.

From our focus on our families to the detriment of those in need around us, it could be said that we trust our families.

This list could go on and on.

The truth is that we seem to be willing to trust just about anything and anyone except Jesus.  How do we know this?  Because we aren’t doing a great job of following Jesus.  If we trusted him, we would follow him more closely.

If we trusted Jesus, we would be centered on his mission to make disciples and bring about justice for those most in need.

If we trusted Jesus, we would spend less time judging the sin of others and more time loving them.

If we trusted Jesus, we would be like Mary, letting our trust move from being private to becoming public.

And if we trusted Jesus, we would demonstrate less and less that we trust other things and people more than him.

 

What do you think about Mary’s trust in John 2.1-12?  And how do you think that we, as followers of Jesus, could demonstrate our trust in him more and more?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

Called: Even Me?

Am I called by God?

This is a question that many of us who follow Jesus ask ourselves over the course of our faith journeys. In my experience, what people usually mean by this question is something like this: Does God want me to serve him on a pastoral team or in some sort of a missionary context, such as campus ministries or traditional missionary service in an international setting.

This sort of calling is important, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s my belief and conviction that all of us who claim Jesus as Lord are called.  We are called to follow Jesus!

This leaves a few questions, which I want to explore.

 

Called Questions

  1. What kind of person can be called?  Anyone who is willing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus.  Anyone.  As we read the story of Jesus in the Gospels we see that Jesus calls all sorts of people to follow him, not just the religious sort of people.  Then, at the end of the story in Matthew 28, we read that Jesus wants his friends to make disciples of all people.  Not some people.  Not the right people.  All people.
  2. What does it mean to be called?  As I’ve written about before, being called to follow Jesus means doing what Jesus did — making disciples, loving people, caring for those in need, and bringing the good news to the poor.  In other words, the call to follow Jesus is active, not passive, as Francis Chan has reminded us so often!
  3. When am I called and when am I supposed to act on it?  If we take the Gospels seriously and if we are trying to actively imitate Jesus, then this answer is pretty straightforward.  In Matthew 4.19 Jesus makes some disciples and immediately tells them that he will make them disciplemakers.  So we are called at the very beginning and we should act on our calling as soon as we are trained up in the most basic aspects of following Jesus.  Check this out: in Luke 5 Jesus calls his first disciples.  Then in Luke 10 he sends out some of his followers on their first mission.  That’s just five chapters, and less for some of them!  What are we waiting for?
  4. Where does God call me to follow him?  Who knows!  Some of us are called to stay, like the man who had a whole bunch of demons exorcised from his body.  Jesus told him to go home to his own people in order to tell them how much the Lord had done for him (Mark 5.19).  On the other hand, he send out the 72 in Luke 10 to go before him.  So where are we called to go?  Where ever Jesus sends us, that’s where!
  5. Why in the world does God call me to join him in his will to reconcile all things to himself in Christ Jesus?  God wants to use us to transform the world because he created the world and everything in it (Acts 17.24) and he loves the world so much that he decided to become flesh to redeem it (John 3.16; 1.14).  And then, in a move that is left to the deep mysteries of the universe, God chose to use normal ol’ human beings to be agents of this redemption (2 Corinthians 5.19-20).  It appears that God deeply desires to choose us, to empower us, to partner with us.  That’s pretty cool!
  6. How does God call me?  He speaks and we listen.  God has a long history of speaking (in creation, to Moses, to his prophets, through Jesus, through the Scriptures, etc.) and he continues to speak today.  Some of us hear a voice from the Lord.  Others get clear impressions from him.  But most of us hear him calling us in the Scriptures as we seek to learn them and live them out within community.  However, God is the King of the Universe and he can use whatever means he wants to reach into our lives to communicate with us.  Here’s the question: Are we listening?

 

Brothers and sisters, if you follow Jesus, you are called.  You are called to actively follow him where ever he leads you.  You are called to do the things that were central to Jesus: making disciples (Matthew 28.19), loving God and others (Matthew 22.38-40), and pursuing justice for those who are easily forgotten (Luke 4.16-21).  Are you doing these things?

 

Are you called by God?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

Known by Jesus: John 1.43-51

One of my favorite passages in all of the Bible is Philippians 3.10-11: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Maybe I like this passage because I’ve spent much of my life trying to get to know Jesus.  I’ve read about him.  I’ve meditated on his words and on the words of others who have written about him.  I’ve sung about him.  I’ve talked about him.  And I’ve written about him a lot.

But even more meaningful is what we see in John 1.43-51 — people are known by Jesus.  We may want to know him, which is important.  But he already knows us.  We are known by Jesus.

Let’s unpack this…

 

Context

As I wrote about earlier, Jesus just called his first disciples.  He asked them to follow him and they did, thanks to the witness of John the Baptist and their families.

But what I didn’t write about was a miraculous moment between Jesus and Peter.  Here’s what it looked like:

Andrew meets Jesus and is enamored.  He goes to tell his brother Simon.  When Jesus meets Simon he identifies him without being told anything about him.  Jesus simply looked at him and said “You are Simon, son of John.”

Did you catch it?  Simon, who Jesus says will be called Peter, was known by Jesus before they ever met face to face.  That’s pretty cool, right?

It gets better, just wait.

 

Known by Jesus: Nathaniel

Jesus is so cool in this passage!

In verse 43, Jesus finds Philip and invites him to follow him.  Philip apparently said yes and wanted to let his brother, Nathaniel, know too.  So, Philip told Nathaniel that the long-awaited Messiah has come and that he’s from Nazareth.

Nathaniel’s first response was prejudiced and shallow: “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”  But instead of correcting him, Philip does something profound.  He simply says come and see for yourself.  I love this: when people are making judgments about Jesus that are annoying and naive, we can just invite them to meet the real Jesus.

So Philip and Nathaniel go to meet Jesus and as they are approaching Jesus he says to Nathaniel that he’s a good, upstanding guy.  Nathaniel is shocked and says “How do you know me?”

Jesus’ response in verse 48 is enigmatic: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  What’s so special about this?  There are at least two things:

  1. Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel before Philip had even told Nathaniel about him.
  2. There’s also something about the fig tree here.  In the Old Testament fig trees sometimes refer to home and in some rabbinic sources they are seen as places of mediation (DA Carson, The Gospel according to John, 161).  So, Jesus is saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the privacy of his own home, or he’s saying that he knew Nathaniel when he was in the midst of praying, or both.

Either way, what Jesus said really impacted Nathaniel.  His response in verse 49 goes like this: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  He was saying that he was all in!  Then Jesus responds, “You ain’t seen anything yet!”

 

Conclusion

The most amazing thing about this story is that Nathaniel was known by Jesus.  And this fact blew Nathaniel away!  But how was Nathaniel known by Jesus?  In John’s Gospel, we don’t know yet for sure.  But in the opening verses of John we read that the Word, who is Jesus, has always been around, even at the very beginning.  Thus, Nathaniel was known by Jesus from the beginning.  There was never a time when he wasn’t known by Jesus.  That’s really pretty cool!

Psychologists tell us that one of our basic human needs is to be known.  And we all know what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t really care to know us.  It hurts and it feels exploitative.

But the truth is that each and every one of us is known by God and we have been known by him from the foundations of the universe.

But that can be scary.

Think about it: If God has always known me, then he has always known all my problems, my failures, my hatreds, my prejudices, my mistakes, etc.  How could he love me if he has always known me?  I mean, come on, I have a hard time loving myself!

But that’s the miracle of the good news of Jesus and his kingdom; God has always known us and he loves us anyway.  Romans 5.8 is helpful to memorize: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let’s put that in plain English: We are all known by God, and yet he loves us anyway.  Despite our mistakes and sinfulness, Jesus came for us.  We are known by God and he still desires so passionately to be with us that he went to the greatest lengths possible!

Friends, we have two responses: 1) Accept and live into the love that God so graciously lavishes upon us, even though we don’t deserve it; and 2) Share that love with others, because to do otherwise would be incredibly, incredibly selfish.

 

What do you think?  What does it feel like to be known by Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

God’s Timing: 5 Traits

Have you ever been anxious about an upcoming event?  Have you been worried that you aren’t where you think you should be in life yet?  Have you fretted about why you haven’t started the supposed next life-stage yet?

On the other hand: Have you been totally surprised by the perfect timing of a phone call from a friend?  Have you been encouraged by how certain circumstances in life seem to line up just right and just in the nick of time?  Have you ever been so glad that that thing you wanted to come so quickly didn’t because it would have caused you to miss important opportunities?

If any of these things apply to you as a follower of Jesus, then you’ve experienced God’s timing!  And as you and I strive to be more and more on mission with Jesus, then we need to be more and more in sync with his clock!

 

What Is God’s Timing Like?

Timinig

By: Kainet

  1. God’s Timing Is Mysterious:  Here’s an example: When will Jesus return? Who knows but it will be like a thief in the night.  And God’s timing in many stories in the Bible illustrates that human beings have to live within the tension of God’s mysterious timing.  For instance, Jacob wanted to marry Rachel but was tricked into marrying Leah instead.  He had to wait for 14 years until God granted him the thing that he wanted!  That’s crazy!  We don’t and can’t always understand God’s timing.  We have to live and obey in the tension.
  2. God’s Timing Is Wise: God has this uncanny ability to do things at just the right time.  It’s almost like he knows what he’s doing!  Here’s an example from my life: When I was deciding which university to go to, I had narrowed my choices down to two.  So I planned to visit them both on the same day together.  The one I liked better was first.  But when I got on campus, I hated it!  It was ugly, the professor I wanted to meet was unavailable, and the people weren’t friendly.  Then we went to the second one and it was great…especially in comparison to the first one.  If I had seen them in a different order I may have had different feelings, which could have led me to a different school, which would have meant that I’d never have met my wife.  God’s timing is wise and we have to trust it!
  3. God’s Timing Is Timely:  This one just sounds silly.  But it is so true!  We’ve all heard stories of people who receive the perfect sum of money at just the right time.  We’ve all had the experience of a friend or family member calling or dropping in with just the right timing.  And many of us have felt strangely compelled to reach out to someone, only to find out that God used us to help them in a special way at just the right time.  God also will sometimes step in just at the right time to help us when there’s a need.  I immediately think of the story of Abraham and Isaac and how God sent a ram to get caught in a thicket at just the right time to prevent Abraham from sacrificing his son.  God’s timing is always right on time!
  4. God’s Timing is Good: This one is probably the hardest one for me.  Why?  Because I think that my timing is good.  I think the way that I would schedule things out is good.  I think my life-plan is good.  And those things may be pretty good.  But when they’re good it’s only because they line up with the goodness of God’s timing.  So sometimes this means that God will withhold things that we thing we may need or want because he can see the bigger picture and therefore he knows what is best for us.  This is a handy reminder that we must have faith in the fact that God’s timing is always a realization of the fact that God has our best interests at heart.
  5. God’s Timing is Divine: Here’s a verse about God’s timing, among other things, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55.8).  It is fair to add here that God’s timing is not our timing.  And since God is smarter, more resourceful, and more selfless than all of us, his timing should always be trusted.  Why then do we so often trust our own timing instead of his?  The answer is simple: we’re proud.  At the bottom is plain ol’ selfish pride that makes it hard for us to accept God’s timing.

 

Friends, it’s high time that we begin to accept God’s timing and stop trying to manipulate him into doing things on our timing!  He’s the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe.  He can do with our calendars as he sees fit!

 

When you think of God’s timing what comes to mind?  Share some thoughts and stories in the comments below!

Disciple-Making: John 1.35-42

The term “disciple-making” can be very, very intimidating…even off-putting.  Here’s an example:

I was giving a talk recently on the topic of disciple-making when someone in the audience said that the disciple-making language didn’t feel very inviting to people who have yet to follow Jesus and is a big turn off to some followers of Jesus.  My response wasn’t as kind as it could have been.  I said something like this: “Well, that’s because for many, many generations we, the Church, have been totally okay with people not actually following Jesus.”  I think my comment came across quite a bit harsher than I intended but I stand by the sentiment.  And I do so because of passages like John 1.35-42.

 

 

Context for the First Example of Disciple-Making

So what is going on in this scene?  Where are we in the story that John is telling?  In John 1.19-34 John writes about John the Baptist.  John the Baptist really plays one role in the story to this point: to point to Jesus, to testify (as I have written about before).  And since John the Baptist was visible, popular, and seemingly charismatic, people listened to him, including the two disciples mentioned in John 1.35.

Though I’ve made this point before, it worth repeating that testifying, or pointing people to Jesus, is one of our chief jobs as followers of Jesus.  If Jesus has truly transformed our lives, and if all that the Bible says about him is true, and if he has set us on paths of participation in God’s will on this earth, then how could we not point to Jesus as often as possible?!?

This is exactly what John the Baptist does.  He points to Jesus, which the people within his circle of influence see and hear.  We could stand to learn a thing or two about disciple-making from him!

 

Disciple-Making: Four Biblical Principles

The story in John 1.35-42 is very straightforward.  John the Baptist points out Jesus.  Two of his followers start following Jesus.  Jesus turns to them and has a brief conversation, which turns into a longer one at the place where Jesus was staying.  One of these two first followers, Andrew, told his brother, Simon, about Jesus the next day.  When Jesus and Simon met, Jesus tells Simon that he’ll be called Peter.  That’s it.  But there are four important principles to be found in there that I want to tease out below:

  1. People Are Ready to Follow Jesus:  Sure, not everyone.  But lots of people are ready.  Did you see how fast the first two followers of Jesus began to be his disciples when they met Jesus?  It was immediate.  Now we shouldn’t expect this response every time we engage in disciple-making.  But sometimes it happens this way.  Other times we have to be John the Baptist, spending time with folks, testifying about Jesus.  Then, when the time is right, we point directly to Jesus and they will be drawn to him!
  2. Our Intentions Matter: Did you notice Jesus’ question to his first two followers?  He said, “What do you want?”  This question is important for many reasons, but here’s an interesting one: these are the first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John.  This fact gives them great weight.  To me they reverberate down through the ages and confront each of us who wants to follow Jesus — what do we want?  Are we in it for “fire insurance,” business contacts, to appease a loved one, or because we’ve always done church?  Or do we actually want to follow Jesus as our Rabbi?  The word “rabbi” literally means “my great one” and figuratively means “teacher.”  Are we ready to submit to and learn from Jesus?  If that’s not why we want to follow him, we may need to do some re-evaluation!
  3. We Can’t Follow Jesus by Standing Still:  When the first two followers of Jesus ask him where he is staying, he says, “Come and you’ll see.”  Then, later, Andrew told Peter about Jesus and “brought him to Jesus.”  There’s movement in these phrases.  Following Jesus isn’t something that can be done by idly waiting, biding time until the Second Coming, or letting others do all the work.  No!  Following Jesus involves – GASP! – following!  This is an action word, a word dripping with movement.
  4. A “Made” Disciple Is Involved in Disciple-Making:  In this passage Andrew meets Jesus, then immediately wants his brother to know about Jesus too.  Here’s how DA Carson described it in his commentary on John: “The first thing Andrew did…was to find his brother and announce, We have found the Messiah.  He thus became the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother” (155).  In other words, Andrew went about disciple-making just as had happened to him — he shared with someone else.  An integral part of following Jesus means speaking and embodying the good news in our lives where we work, live, and play.  This isn’t optional.

 

So, there are four disciple-making principles from this passage.  What do you think?  Did I miss any other important points?  Let me know in the comments below!

Judgmental — A Fair Critique?

One of the most common complaints about Christians is that we are judgmental in the way talk about and treat others.  In fact, in a recent study, the Barna Group found that 87% of people between the ages of 16 and 29 find Christians to be judgmental.  That was the the top characteristic on the list, just ahead of hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

What should we do about these perceptions?  Is there anything we can do?  Are we doomed to being poorly perceived or can we take steps today to improve the way people see us?

 

Mixed Messages

Part of the problem is we are sending mixed messages.  We say that everyone is welcome but when certain kinds of “everyone” come we treat them differently.  We preach that God loves everyone and then we treat people as if he doesn’t.  We believe in grace but act in judgment.

Recently my wife and I went hiking.  On the drive up to the trail head we drove by a strange drive way.  It caused us to do a double take, to reverse the car so we could look again, and then to take the picture you see below.

judgmental

Conflicting Messages

Let’s unpack this photo a bit.  There’s a beautiful arrangement of flowers just to the right of the driveway.  The flowers seem to communicate something like “Welcome!  We’re glad you’re here!”  But the sign on the post screams the exact opposite message: “KEEP OUT! YOU’RE NOT WELCOME!”

Friends, this is a perfect metaphor for what we are saying to the watching world today.  Some of our words, music, programs, etc. say to people who don’t follow Jesus yet that they are safe to explore and to learn and ultimately to meet Jesus and find meaningful community.  But some of our words, postures, attitudes, etc. say to people that people like them aren’t welcome here among the people who supposedly have it all together.

 

Judgmental: A Few Examples

You may be thinking, “No way!  I’m never like this!”  And you may be right.  But my experience and my own failures tell me that it’s likely that we’re all unintentionally being a bit more judgmental than we think.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Believing and Behaving before Belonging: This example is very pervasive; you’ll see it everywhere if you open your eyes.  We constantly communicate to people who don’t know Jesus yet that they need to think correctly about some things and to clean up their acts before they can be part of our community.  Stop and think about that.  What we’re unintentionally saying is that we believe everything correctly and that we behave perfectly.  And let’s be honest, we know this isn’t true; we aren’t perfect!  But by communicating in this manner we are telling people that they have to earn their place among us and by extension with God too.  Oops.
  2. Holding Non-Christian Organizations to Christian Standards:  This is another one that’s uber-common.  Here’s the best example I can think of: We get all up in arms when Hollywood produces a movie with bad language, violence, and nudity.  Should we keep track of the things that we consume as followers of Jesus?  Absolutely!  But why would Hollywood cater toward this desire of ours?  They simply want to make money; in fact, that’s their job.  And since most Hollywood production companies are not Christian organizations, why should we expect them to live up to our standards?
  3. Holding Non-Christians to Christians Standards:  We do the same thing with people too.  When we learn that one of our friends or family members who doesn’t follow Jesus has done something that the Bible calls sin, we act all surprised and we may even try to shame them!  Think about that for a second.  Why would someone who hasn’t agreed to a covenant with God be held to the covenant standards of a follower of Jesus?  That doesn’t make sense at all!  And yet we do this all the time…just ask someone you know who doesn’t follow Jesus yet.
  4. Not Controlling our Non-Verbal Communication: This one is a bit more subtle to notice on our side, but it’s obvious to the person observing us.  Imagine this scenario: You’re talking with a friend and she tells you that she’s living with her boyfriend.  You make a slight face.  She then says she’s pregnant.  Your face gets a bit more obvious.  Now she tells you she’s considering an abortion.  Your face shows shock and outrage!  Don’t get me wrong, it would be best for this imaginary friend to wait to have sex until she’s married and abortion isn’t part of God’s design when it comes to human reproduction.  But by being shocked while having the conversation, all we are communicating is judgment.  This same scenario can be played out in a thousand other situations: drug-use, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, political choices, etc., etc.
  5. Speaking Christian-ese:  Here’s my definition of Christian-ese — the insider language that Christians speak among themselves, often incorporating biblical and theological terms (such as “repentance” and “sanctification”).  If there’s any chance at all that a new believer or someone who doesn’t follow Jesus yet may be hearing our language, we should leave these words out.  Why?  Because including them creates an “us” and “them” barrier.  And there’s little worse in life than feeling excluded!  Just remember back to being picked last in a game on the playground!

 

What Can We Do?

  1. Stop Being Judgmental:  This one is obvious but it needs to be stated plainly.  Here’s the biblical support if you need it: 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?…God judges those outside.”  There it is in plain language — It’s God’s job to judge those who don’t follow Jesus yet, not ours.  Let’s stop trying to do God’s job!
  2. Create Belonging before Requiring Believing and Behaving:  What did Jesus say, “Follow me!” or “Think right and act right, then follow me!”  He said the former but we tend to say the latter.  How do we expect folks to learn what to think and how to act?  Here’s the truth: the best way for people to believe rightly and behave in godly ways is to be in community with people who are learning to do the same!  None of us will ever believe everything just so and none of us will ever behave perfectly.  So we MUST stop requiring “full” belief and “correct” behavior before we are willing to be in community people seeking to meet Jesus.
  3. Start Being More “Shock-Proof”:  If our postures and attitudes toward others whenever they reveal their lives to us sours them on the good news of Jesus and his kingdom, then we have to do something different!  Here’s step number one: we need to work at being “shock-proof.”  When we find out something about someone’s life that doesn’t line up with what we think is good or right, we must do our level best not to react negatively!  This is difficult and will probably always be so.  But the first step is awareness.
  4. Be More Hospitable in Our Language: When we meet and talk to folks who don’t know Jesus yet, we need to begin to use normal, human language.  We can’t use language that creates an “us vs. them” situation!  Instead let’s start doing the hard work of translating our Christian-ese into the vernacular so that people can meet Jesus in language that they can understand!

 

What do you think?  What can we do to be a bit less judgmental?