Everyday Talk, Everyday Discipleship

My wife and I live with two non-Christians, and a third is moving in this fall. These people don’t know much about Jesus. Their affection for Jesus is, practically, non-existent. When we talk about Jesus or pray or sing, they do not fall on their faces confessing their sin and praying for God’s Spirit to rain down mercy on them. Still, we’ve welcomed them as genuine members of our family. There are good days and bad days, but we love these people. Their journey to Jesus is a process. They have stony hearts and rebellious wills hell-bent on seeking their own glory, not God’s. They seek their own good, not that of others. We pray that someday they believe in Jesus and see transformation. But man alive, right now it’s not pretty. In fact, it can be downright unbecoming some days.

Can you imagine living with people like this?

Chances are, you do.

If you are a parent.

Our two, soon-to-be-three, non-Christian housemates are our beloved children. They are full-fledged members of our family, cherished and treasured above all else. Yet they did not come out of the womb singing “Just As I Am.” They aren’t Christians yet. They are members of a covenant household—Carly and I belong to Jesus—but they need conversion, just as we did at one point.

Having the perspective that we don’t just have two children but two non-Christian children (and another ready to move in), changes everything. Everything becomes evangelism and discipleship. Every conversation is a gospel conversation. Every failure or success is a moment for correction or instruction or encouragement or training. If and when our children do cross over from unbelief to belief in Jesus, this everyday and everything discipleship will not stop, but continue on quite organically.

If Carly and I are going to lead our non-Christian children to Jesus, it’s going to happen in the mundane, average, everyday stuff of life. A conversation here, a conversation there. While we walk and play and talk and read stories and watch movies and eat meals and drive and kiss ouchies and wipe away tears. Over and over and over again. It’s not going to be a one-time event or a once-a-week lesson at Sunday School. Those things can help, but it’s the everyday talk that will be the primary influence in our home. Deuteronomy 6:4-25 shows us the power of “everyday talk” in the home.

As parents in a big and fast society this is hard to handle. We want Chia Pet discipleship: after a few weeks gospel seeds start to sprout, the shekinah glory comes down, and our children are changed on the spot.

The reality is that it happens over a long period of time with lots of short, meaningful, gospel conversations that produce a lifestyle of discipleship

It happens on the way to Sunday worship, when Bailey asks me if God hears loud noises. I say he hears everything, so Bailey asks, “Is God in my heart?” Perhaps Bailey knows, deep down, there are things going on in her heart that no one knows and if God is in her heart, surely he’d “hear” those “noises,” too. Whatever the case, I say, “God is in your heart if you trust Jesus and love him.” Back to the radio. “Can you turn it up?” And we drive on.

It happens at the grocery store. Bailey makes a comment about the color of someone’s skin, simply noticing she looks different—a little darker—than we do. Everyone is made in the image of God and Jesus died for all people, not just the white ones. Back to veggies and ice cream and bread. And we walk on.

It happens when I’m unbecoming and selfish and hell-bent on seeking my own glory, and I turn to my blonde 24-month-old Hope and say, “Sweetheart, what Daddy said and did was not okay. Please forgive me. I need Jesus just like you.” Kiss. Hug. And we play on.

This is how discipleship happens. Look at the birds of the air. The grass of the field. Notice the sower. Consider this mustard tree. Do you see that mountain? Carly and I aren’t great at this. We probably aren’t even good at it. But we are learning and growing. We—the disciple-makers—are also being made, being changed. And it’s our prayer that, over time, by God’s sovereign grace, our everyday discipleship makes a few everyday disciples of Jesus right in our home.

The Way of the West and the Way of the Cross

Westerners, particularly Americans, love big. Big paychecks. Big business. Big burgers. Big houses. Big yards. Big contracts. Big stadiums. Big events. I suppose this is a human thing, of course. But we Americans tend to specialize in big.

Unfortunately, churches in America love big, too. We think that if just more people show up on Sunday, we’re growing. We think that if we had a successful outreach event on a Friday night, we’re doing evangelism. We think that if a large crowd gathers for an class, we’re making disciples. We think that if we just have more “big” events on the calendar, we are a spiritually active and healthy church.

But Jesus didn’t care much for crowds. In fact, he tried to get away from them. The big crowds and events were interruptions for Jesus. He embraced it, to be sure. He went out to preach to the crowds, but to Jesus, big crowds and big events weren’t the main thing. They were peripheral. To Jesus, real learning, real application, and real life change would happen in small, intimate settings. He had a band of twelve disciples. Three of them were his “inner circle.” He explained things more fully to them. He walked with them. He ate with them. He camped out under the stars with them.

Yet, in America, we like the glitz and glamour. We like to busy ourselves planning big events and then have the audacity to call it “ministry.” It’s the way of the West in the church. And it’s categorically different than Jesus’ method for spiritual formation. Now, big events aren’t bad. I like events. They can be a lot of fun. But when big events become a the thing, they become an ultimate thing. And only Jesus and his way is ultimate. Why do we think we can improve on the methods of the Master? His way is subtle, ordinary, slow, patient, and everyday. He talked about wind and water, figs and flowers, mustard seeds and sheep, virgins and vines.

But go a step further. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. He was alone. His disciples had left him. There was only one crowd and they were shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus died alone, with but a few women, and his beloved disciple John, standing beneath the cross. The way of Jesus—the way of the cross—is not flashy or glamorous. It’s not sexy or attractive or popular. It’s the narrow way—the hard way.

The gospel of Jesus Christ flips the values of the world upside down. It calls us to something radically different. Are we willing to die alone? Are we willing to give everything for a few and lose ourselves—our reputation, our prestige, our ambition—in order to truly gain it all? Or will we—the church in the West—continue to pursue the big, the flashy, the marquee, the eye-catching. Will we be a slave to events and big crowds? Will we forget the way of the Master?

What I Learned from Not Being on Social Media for 6 Weeks

During the six weeks of Lent this year, I took a hiatus from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I always tell people it’s good for the soul to get off social media because social media is, well, about you. It’s like a detox for the self-absorbed soul. Here’s are three things I learned/was reminded of during the past six weeks.

  • Being free from social media reminds me that I do not need to stay updated on everything that is happening in the world—big or small. The world goes on whether or not I know everything (imagine that!). Social media deceives us into thinking that we are more valuable or more fulfilled if we simply have information. We are gluttons for information. Information is important but a worthwhile and fruitful life consists of much more than having information. Today we have more information than we have ever had, yet the world is not really getting all that better. I’m not saying that we should all be clueless about what’s going on in the world. I am saying that social media can trigger our—my—desire to know information and assume the knowing is sufficient.
  • Being free from social media reminds me that I do not need to comment on everything that is happening in the world. My opinion matters very little (so take this post with a grain of salt). But the good news is your opinion matters very little as well. There’s only One voice that matters, and it’s God’s, not ours. It is important to write and dialog with others for a variety of reasons—and social media helps facilitate that. But feeling a need or compulsion to do so is dangerous and destructive. Social media has created a world in which everyone can be a commentator. It’s created a world in which power and influence are more easily obtained than ever before. Anyone can have an instant platform. But with this can come a sense of entitlement—not only that I am free to state my opinion, but that my opinion must be acknowledged and heard and even accepted by the masses. Social media thus becomes a kind of power broker. If you are on it and use it a lot, your reputation grows and influence spreads. This can be a good thing, but it can also morph into an unhealthy, crooked, and perverted desire for approval and control.
  • Being free from social media reminds me that the simple life is the best life. Every time I take a break from social media, I re-learn that there is beauty, joy, and peace in simplicity. Social media, in particular, and technology, in general, are good for so many things. They are good gifts from God. But social media is a bonus. It’s a tool. It’s peripheral, not essential. When used excessively and incorrectly, it complicates life. Social media can prevent us from engaging in the beauty of personal relationships and fool us into thinking that people who are not our friends actually are our friends. It tempts us, whispering, “Post this and watch how many comments and ‘likes’ you get!” To reiterate my first point, it throws thousands of pieces of information at us, encouraging binge-reading (or scrolling) and keeping us from deep reflection and true application. But in the past six weeks without social media, I never felt less human. On the contrary, in some sense, I felt more human. I’d like to believe I was a bit more in tune with what God was doing in the world and with the people around me. I hope that was the case. That’s the simple life–the best life. Social media too often subtly distracts me from the best life.

What about you? Have you ever taken a hiatus from social media? If so, how did it benefit you?

John Owen, Killing Sin, and the Need for Conversion

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” says John Owen in his famous work, The Mortification of Sin in BelieversSin is ferocious and relentless and unless we are actively seeking to kill it, before too long we will be devoured.

Killing sin doesn’t mean we completely destroy it (that’s Jesus’ job, not ours). It doesn’t mean we stop one wicked thing and replace it with another. It doesn’t mean we just occasionally overcome a sin.

Killing sin does mean that, over time, sin will weaken and it won’t be as attractive to us. Killing sin means that we fight sin by fighting to believe and live as if Jesus is more satisfying and delightful. Killing sin means we frequently see obedience in our life.

Owen writes about all this in more in his important book on sin. But one thing that particularly struck me this week as I’m re-reading Owen is the question of who. Who can kill sin? So often in popular Christian commentary or books, sermons or conversations, non-Christians are called to wise up, shape up, and clean up their act. Owen’s response? Ridiculous (my word, not his). Here are his words:

You would laugh at a man that you should see setting up a great fabric, and never take any care for a foundation; especially if you should see him so foolish as that, having a thousand experiences that what he built one day fell down another, he would yet continue in the same course…When the Jews, upon their conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart and cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), what does Peter direct them to do? Does he bid them go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cruelty, and the like? No; he knew that was not their present work, but he calls them to conversion and faith in Christ in general (v. 38).

Owen acknowledges that God has provided many means to restrain sin, otherwise the world would be hell, as it were. But, ultimately, it is of no use, there is no power, and there is no eternal value if sin is not overcome by and through Christ. Owen writes, “Be sure to get an interest in Christ–if you intend to mortify any sin without it, it will never be done.” In other words, if you are not converted to Jesus–if you are not born again by the Spirit–you will never be able to kill sin in general or even particular sins. You may replace a sinful behavior with other less noticeable sins. You may modify your behavior so you don’t appear as sinful. But you will never kill sin. And Jesus will never be your all-consuming treasure.

Unfortunately, we Christians do much harm to non-Christians precisely because of this issue. We have made Christianity appear to be a religion of morality, as if this whole Jesus-thing about simply stopping a few bad habits here and there. It’s all too easy to say to someone, “Stop this sin or that sin because sin is your problem!” A particular sin may certainly be ruining someone’s life. That is true. But any particular sin is only a symptom of not being alive in Christ. The bigger problem is that apart from Christ, people are dead and at enmity with God.

Only conversion to Christ can change this. We don’t need a new strategy that will help us changes our behaviors. We need a new Master. We need a complete transformation. We need a new heart. Once this conversion happens a person goes from death to life. Then, and only then, let the sin-killing begin, because, as Owen concludes, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

A (Brief) Political Manifesto

I recently attended a political event which was distinctively Christian. It was designed to inform Christians on the current political trends and issues related to family in New York State. I had mixed emotions during the event and as I’ve reflected back on it, not much has changed. But it got me thinking about how faith, the church, and politics intersect. I’ve thought about this before, of course, but this time I had a tangible experience that helped solidify some of my thoughts a bit more. After the event, I had a chance to write a reflection that is a sort of political “manifesto.” I pray it’s helpful to you.

We have been given an unbelievable privilege to live in a democratic republic. I believe Christians should participate in the democratic process. I believe individual Christians should participate and infiltrate the political arena and shine the light of the gospel there as we should in education, business, entertainment, the arts, law, etc.

I believe we should pray for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I believe we should submit to the authorities and honor them.

I believe that nearly everything Christians, in general, and pastors, in particular, say and do has political connotations and repercussions because our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or any political party. We serve a different King; we are citizens of another country. We give to Caesar what is his, but ultimately, we give to God what is his, namely us. This is profoundly political in a general sense.

I do not believe pastors should tell their congregations who to vote for. I do not believe churches should run or fund political campaigns or endorse any particular candidate. Rather, church leaders should so teach and lead and equip the congregation so that they understand the Christian worldview and how the gospel changes everything. This will help people make informed, just, and godly political decisions.

I do not believe the kingdom comes through legislation, political power, coercion, or propaganda. We are salt and light. Salt used to preserve is unseen. It only takes a small match to light up a dark room. Our influence is subtle yet constant. Our movement is marginal yet powerful. The church is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That is, we are the picture of an alternate city in all our earthly cities. We want justice and shalom for our cities in this world, and sometimes legislation and political action can help. William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England is a prime example. But we realize legislation cannot change hearts, and we realize the perfect society will finally come when Jesus returns. So we live together as a picture of that city to come and call others to join us. We desire and look for a new country, and I believe we were made for that country, that city—a city whose gates will never be breached and whose King never needs re-election.