Ultrasound of Our Future

Ultrasound

An ultrasound machine like this one granted us our first look at a face that will forever change our lives.

 

Ultrasound of Our Baby

My wife and I have been having a lot of life-changing days lately.  This is due to the fact that we’re in the process of adopting.  You can read some about it at this link, this link, or this one.

Yesterday was another one of those days — I was blessed with the opportunity of going to our birthmother’s ultrasound appointment.  It was a complete trip!  I was so excited to see the face of our child for the first time, thanks to the ultrasound machine and technicians; all while getting to have a wonderful conversation with the child of Wendy, our birthmother (who is also my cousin and her daughter will be our child’s cousin and biological sister).

While the whole scenario was certainly surreal, like much of this process has been, the reality of the situation began to sink in more and more fully.  I was looking at pictures of our child on the ultrasound monitor after all — his or her feet, hands, legs, heart, organs, brain, eyes, arms, face…

It was beyond belief!

Want to see the star of the show?  Here you go!

ultrasound

1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.55.20141117.143326.406.d86ae41b23b.0000000000 1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.56.20141117.143330.656.d86ae41b23b.0000000000

 

You may be able to see that our baby is resting on his or her hand.  I don’t know why but this little detail of the ultrasound photo really stands out to me, but it does.  I guess it humanizes the photo some.  I mean, I do that — I rest on my hand!  And here’s our baby doing the same thing!

I wish I had words to encapsulate how I felt in that moment…but all my words are inadequate.  I’ll try anyway: I was excited, nervous, happy, scared, hopeful, anxious, and joyous.  Ultimately I would say that in that moment I felt blessed: blessed to be there, blessed to have this opportunity to live out the life of Jesus within my own family, and blessed to be entrusted with this little life which is being knit together in Wendy’s womb and in our hearts.

Ultrasound of Our Future

But the other side of the blessing coin is being a blessing.  There’s a biblical principle, found in the covenant with Abraham in Genesis to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, that those who are blessed by God, in whatever capacity, are expected to be a blessing to others.  To hoard the blessing of God is nothing short of utter selfishness and is ultimately sinful.

Thus, when looking into the monitor at the face of our baby, I could not help but begin to imagine all that is going to unfold over the next months and years.

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to see a face that will forever change our lives.  I don’t remember first time seeing the faces of my parents and sister, but those faces certainly count.  And in 1998 I first saw the face of my wife, Alida, and my life’s never been the same.

Seeing our baby’s face for the first time yesterday was another one of those moments.

All our prayers, all our decisions, and all our conversations for the rest of our lives will be different because of the face looking back at us in these ultrasound pictures.

And we, my wife and I, have been blessed with this opportunity.  It’s our job to steward, or to care for, this blessing well, while always being prepared to share it with others.  It’s our God-given mandate to share the blessing that we are receiving in this moment.

I haven’t the slightest idea of what that will look like.  But I know this for sure: this child isn’t just ours.  He or she belongs to God and God will do with him or her whatever he sees fit.

It’s our job to be a blessing to this child and to be ready to share him or her with the world.

 

If you’d like to support my wife and I during this process, that would be great!  Please pray that everything continues to go smoothly and that all the little details that need ironing out will get ironed out.  For more ways to support us, click here.  Thanks!

Death Row Lessons

 

Death Row Lessons

What do you think of this video?

In it David Dow reveals a few lessons he has learned after working for 20 years with death row inmates.  He walks through various statistics and facts to help make his points.  And, along the way, he includes stories of people he has worked with, specifically a young man named Will who came from a low-income family in which he was almost killed by his own mother.

David Dow attempts to avoid controversy by spending his time toward the end of the video talking about something everyone can agree on: preventing the murder of an innocent person.

Let’s not get into a debate about the death penalty.  Instead let’s focus on what the speaker focused on — intervening before the murder is committed in the first place.

In fact, the story of Will that David Dow tells is not that dissimilar to the stories of the young men (and women) in my neighborhood.  Most of them are low income and therefore have limited access to things that other folks take for granted (such as a quality education, healthy food, quiet and safe places to do homework, etc.).  And many of the folks in my neighborhood are also from broken, violent, and dysfunctional families, some of which have long family histories of gang involvement.

What are some ways that we can intervene in the lives of young people, like Will and like those in my neighborhood, to help nudge them off the paths that might lead toward horrific crimes and ultimately death row?

And how should those who follow Jesus be involved in this process?  How can we, with the help of the Spirit of God and our various church communities, help prevent people from ending up on death row?  Do we really believe that Jesus has the ability to transform people and systems?  If so, why do we act like we don’t?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

This blog post is going to be revealing.  I’m going to try my best to be vulnerable and authentic.  My plan is to share 5 ways that relationships can be hurt.

And how can I be sure that these 5 ways to hurt relationships are actually for real?  Well, because I’ve been guilty of them all at one time or another!

Here we go…

relationships

Doh! We’re so good at hurting people in relationships!
By: Andrew McCluskey

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

  1. Make Assumptions — Assumptions hurt relationships just about more than anything else.  Part of the reason why is because they are so simple to make.  They take almost no effort whatsoever.  It may just be me (but, dang, I hope not!), but it’s almost as if the human default mode is set to “assume everyone is out to get you.”  When we behave this way within relationships, whether in marriages and friendships or at work and within families, we are guaranteed to hurt people we care about and with whom we need continued contact.  Why?  Because the assumptions we make tend to be really harmful, such as the assumption that someone is lying, trying to hurt us on purpose, ignorant, or stupid.
  2. Jump to Conclusions – A high school football coach of mine once said that the most athletic thing that local sports reporters d0 is to jump to conclusions.  Well, if that’s true, then I should be the Olympic representative for the USA in the category of jumping to conclusions!  The way that it usually works for me (and for others too, I’m hoping) is that I make an assumption. Then I follow the logic of the assumption to the end and get angry about the resulting imaginary conclusion.  Here’s an example: If someone is late to a meeting that we both agreed to attend, I often jump to the conclusion that they are intentionally being disrespectful.  I don’t allow for the fact that I live in LA County, an area know for traffic problems.  And even though I hurt relationships by jumping to conclusions, I certainly don’t like it when people do it to me!
  3. Fail to Apologize — Relationships that were once close but that are now broken for whatever reason, are like a cut powerline.  No longer can the powerline serve its function of delivering electricity where it’s needed and now both of the ends that were once together are dangerous.  Our relationships are not just about the specific people in them.  They are also about all the people connected to the parties within the relationships.  And when we are failing to apologize to one another we are depriving the rest of our relationships our best selves.  Furthermore, when we fail to apologize our emotions are raw and we’re often a danger for other people in our lives too.  It’s time we started apologizing when we’ve wronged someone, owning up to our part in the drama and taking responsibility to move forward in healthy ways.
  4. Fail to Forgive –Not only is apologizing important, but forgiving whomever hurt us is important too.  Relationships in which one person is trying to make things right while the other is trying to stand on the moral high ground by withholding forgiveness are set up for lots and lots of trouble.  In relationships that have lasted for a while, there is no moral high ground.  Since everyone within relationships is a person, then everyone has made mistakes.  No one is perfect, meaning that there’s no room to set on the high throne of judgment.  That a position that is reserved for God alone.  Our job within relationships is to accept apologies and offer forgiveness.  Not only is withholding forgiveness bad for the relationship, it’s bad for us too!  It can create bitterness and bitterness can ruin our lives little by little over time.
  5. Argue While Angry — All human relationships are going to including arguments.  We’re all people and we all have opinions and those opinions do not always line up just so.  And all relationships will also have to cope with anger from time to time.  Anger is a typical human emotion.  We don’t always seem to have control over when it comes or even why it comes.  But anger in and of itself is not bad or inherently sinful.  It’s what we do when we’re angry that matters.  Here’s how the Bible puts it in Ephesians 4.26: “In your anger do not sin.”  And I would probably add to this that arguing while angry is almost never a good idea.  Trust me.  You’ll say and do things that you will regret; things that can’t be forgotten or taken back.  It would be better to attempt to calm down before having a discussion regarding a disagreement.

Now on this blog I tend to write about missional stuff.  So how is any of this missional?  Well, since seeking the mission of God in our world is best undertaken with others and not alone, then we’re going to have to figure out how to hurt one another less.  And since the only real way to share Jesus with others is through relationships, we’re going to have to figure out paths toward healthy connections with other people.

Avoiding these five things is a good start.

 

What else should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments below!

Getting the Flock out of the Pen

Here’s the best thing I’ve read all week:

If the church consists of all those who have believed in Jesus, then church leaders must be less concerned with attracting a bigger flock and more concerned with getting the flock out of the pen.

This awesome nugget comes from Neil Cole and Phil Helfer in their timely and amazing book entitled Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically–From the Inside Out.

Perception Is Reality

Perception is everything.

perception

Sometimes it is said that a messenger is the message. I want to spend some time in this post unpacking what this idea means.

I want to do so by telling a story:

Perception on the Block

My wife and I were on a walk in our neighborhood recently. The intention behind this walk was to get to know some of our neighbors in an effort to share the love of Jesus with them in some capacity. So we prayed before we went on our walk and we asked God to bring people across our path that we could positively impact.

There was a group of young men that were hanging out across the street. So we went up to them and introduced ourselves. While we were doing this I noticed that there were two young men behind them who appeared to be in the middle of some kind of business transaction, which meant I wanted nothing to do with that conversation.

As we were about to continue our walk, one of the young men who was doing business said, “There go the police.”

This interaction reminded my wife and I of how we are perceived in our neighborhood. And that perception is generally that we are affiliated with the police or at least that we don’t really belong in the neighborhood. My perception of this perception of us is that it’s because we are white and we live in a predominantly African-American and Latino community.

Whatever the case, this perception is reality to those who perceive us. And this is a perception that we must overcome over time.

So as we think about how to be a tangible blessing in our neighborhood, how do we deal with this perception and others like it?

Here’s what I did in the story above: I simply turned around and approached the two young men who said that we were the police. I told them that we weren’t the police and that we lived across the street.

I’m not sure what they thought of this interaction but I felt it necessary to confront this issue head-on. The main reason why is because I understand that this perception of us being the police could really get in the way of us interacting with the people on our block in meaningful ways moving forward.

But some of the perceptions of followers of Jesus are not as obvious as the ones in our neighborhood.

Sometimes perceptions of followers of Jesus are more subtle or or more general, such as that Christians are judgmental, too political, sticks in the mud, etc. (as revealed in the book unChristian by David Kinnnaman).  And the reality is that it’s only through time and trust that perceptions such as these can be countered in healthy ways.

And while sometimes we may feel that the perception of us by those who do not yet follow Jesus is unfair, the responsibility is not on the perceiver but on the one being perceived. In other words, it’s our job as the messengers to be sure that the message is coming across clearly despite potential perception issues.

So here’s the question: how do we combat perceptions that might prevent us from being the tangible blessings that we are to be where we work, live, and play? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Halloween Massacre in Pasadena

On Halloween of 1993, Pasadena, CA had to face the reality of street gangs head on.  There was no more room to pretend like the organized crime of America’s gang capital, Los Angeles, wasn’t here too.

That night, three gang-affiliated men gunned down six teenagers who were trick-or-treating.  None of the victims were gang-affiliated; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time that Halloween.  Three of the young men died that night.

Halloween

This tragic crime happened near the intersection of Emerson and Wilson in the Bungalow Heaven section of Pasadena, CA.

More than two years later, the three gunmen were found guilty of first degree murder, among other charges.  And nearly three and a half years after the Halloween Massacre occurred the perpetrators were sentenced to death.  And though 21 years have passed, the three men who were convicted of this horror on Halloween have yet to receive their ultimate punishment.

The tragedy of this situation isn’t just found in the deaths of innocent young men or the ever-present delays of the justice system; it can also be seen in the fact that a community had ignored the warning signs that this type of gang-related violence was possible.  All the necessary components were present.  And yet no one seemed to notice and, thus, nothing was done.

 

Halloween Massacre Lessons

There’s no need to look unnecessarily back into the past to pick at proverbial scabs.  But when there’s an opportunity for learning to happen and growth to occur, it would be a grand mistake not to look back so that we can move forward.

So, it’s with this philosophy of learning from the past that I offer a few humble suggestions of possible lessons to be learned from the Halloween Massacre of 1993 in Pasadena.

  1. We must get our heads out of the sand.  Gangs and the things that help create them (such as poverty, broken families, joblessness, poor schools, etc.) are nation-wide problems, if not global problems.  In cities such as Los Angeles this is not surprising.  But in Pasadena, a city known for a parade of flowers, a football game, and a song about a little ol’ lady, they are surprising.  And they’re surprising in my hometown of Midland, TX too.  And perhaps they’re even more surprising in suburban and rural areas.  Here’s the truth: Gangs and the factors that lead to them are present almost everywhere.  It’s time we, as community members, as the church, and as families, did something about this.
  2. We must get past historic and systemic racism and classism.  One of the easiest ways to ignore gang violence is to blame it on the “stupidity” of poor people or ethnic minorities.  It’s easy for someone in a comfortable home among their still-together family to bemoan how “those people” don’t make any sense and how “they” make poor choices.  The truth is that the “they” are “us” and “we” are “them.”  There’s no divide.  Everyone is looking for a place to belong.  Everyone is looking for ways to make money.  And anyone can get wrapped up in the gang life.  A perfect example of this is murder or a gang-affiliated young man in my neighborhood last week.  He grew up in an intact family, in good schools, and with a bright future.  Gang affiliation isn’t just an issue among poor people and people of color.  This is a human issue.  This is our issue.
  3. We must cross barriers and enter into the communities most affected by gangs.  Friends, if every human life matters, then we must set our fears aside and enter into real, human relationships with people in every sort of neighborhood, including (and especially!) those most impacted by gangs.  Children need mentors.  Young people need to see and experience hope.  Gang members need to be reminded that they are seen and cared for by people other than their homies in their click.  We have to get over our fears and issues and cross whatever barriers may exist for us.  Will it be easy?  Of course not.  If you look like me you’ll face an uphill battle, trust me.  I’ve been mistaken for a police officer.  One of my friends, who just so happens to be have male-pattern baldness, gets confused for a skinhead all the time.  And you may have to fight against the accusation that you have the “save a brother syndrome.”  Relationships that cross cultural divides take time.  But they’re worth it.  For a ton of reasons.  You’ll grow and be stretched and learn how to love like never before.
  4. We must trust in the power of Jesus to transform lives, neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and ultimately the whole world.  We can’t do this.  We can’t do this as individuals or as groups of people.  We need divine help.  We need to power of Jesus.  We all do, not just the gang members or potential gang members.  And when we trust Jesus to do the transformation, it can help us to steer clear of the idea that we can change the world.  We can’t.  Only Jesus can bring true transformation.  And Jesus wants to use people who know and daily experience that transformation in their own lives to be agents of that same transformation in the world.  God wants to use us.  He wants to express his love and compassion for everyone and he has chosen to do that through us!

 

So, what will you do?  How will you help lead others to address issues like the ones that led to the Halloween Massacre in Pasadena?  And How will you and your community give the responsibility of transformation over to Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Baby’s Heartbeat

My wife and I are adopting.

Even though I have said and written those words many times, they still hit me in a surreal manner.  I instinctively think something like this: We’re not really adopting; this must just be a dream or something.

But it’s real!  In fact, yesterday it just got very, very real.

We heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time.

 

Heartbeat

A sample fetal heart rate monitor

The Baby’s Heartbeat

Wendy, my cousin and our birthmother, had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and we went with her.  The doctor and her assistant helped Wendy get into position and placed the listening end of a fetal heart rate monitor on her stomach.

And then we heard a series of sounds that brought this whole adoption thing out of the realm of “no way” right into the realm of “yup, it’s real.”

After listening for a little while the doctor told the assistant that the heart rate was 145 beats per minute.  But I wonder what the heart rates of my wife and I were?  I know that my heart was racing at a pace that felt like a million beats per minute!

That tiny baby’s heartbeat, which is in the normal range by the way (I Googled it!), represents a lifetime of stories, heartbreaks, love, and excitement.

That tiny heartbeat will change our lives forever.

 

Jesus’ Heartbeat

This whole experience kind of reminds me of when I first heard the heartbeat of Jesus.

Sadly, I lived for more than 20 years as a follower of Jesus before I really heard this heartbeat myself.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes I would hear a faint sound that might have been Jesus’ heartbeat.  I certainly heard other people talk about experiencing his heartbeat firsthand.

But I hadn’t, at least not consistently.

But a few years ago I pulled my head out of my academic books (where it had been buried for 7 years at the time) and came up for air.  I realized that while I was on my self-imposed academic exile, an entire movement within the Church had taken on full form.

That movement is called the missional movement.  (Here’s a post where I talk about this process in more detail.)

That word, missional, has definitely hit buzzword status and, as such, it needs a bit of explaining.  So, here goes: “missional” means to be on mission with Jesus.  As Hugh Halter puts it in his book entitled Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation down to Earth — being missional means being disciples that live the human life of Jesus in our human lives.

So, if we see Jesus doing something, then we should be doing it too.  If we see him telling his disciples to do these sorts of things and not those sorts of things, then we should obey.  If we see Jesus caring for people, whoever they may be, then we should follow suit.

Here’s a way I like to think about it — being missional means letting Jesus’ heartbeat beat in our hearts.

And what is Jesus’ heartbeat?

I think we see it primarily in two places.  And each of these two places is of utmost importance and both should be pursued by followers of Jesus with all of our gumption.

The first is found in Luke 4.16-21:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Here we see Jesus’ heartbeat in this way: his heart beats for the downtrodden, for the oppressed, and for the forgotten.  When our hearts start to mimic Jesus’ heartbeat, then we’ll start caring for the poor, those who are imprisoned, those who are differently abled, and those who are oppressed.

The second is found in Matthew 28.18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here we find the other side of Jesus’ heartbeat — his desire that his followers would help others follow him too.  And who are his followers supposed to help become disciples?  Everyone, all the nations.

And what are they to do with them when they start following Jesus?  They are to baptize them (making them part of the church family) and they are to teach them to obey Jesus (mentoring them to live the human life of Jesus in their lives).

Traditionally different sorts of Christians have focused on one aspect of Jesus’ heartbeat or the other.  Friends, this is simply a cop out.  We must focus on both.  All of us.  Each one of us.  Together.

We must be all about justice and we much be all about making disciples.

And hearing the heartbeat of Jesus can change our lives, even more so than hearing the heartbeat a baby.

When you think of the heartbeat of Jesus, what do you think of and why?  Let me know in the comments below!

If you would like to know how you can support my wife any I in this crazy process of adoption, click on the following link or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.continuetogive.com/mattandalida.

To read some more of our adoption story, CLICK HERE.

Thanks!

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!