The Difference in Being WITH God or FOR God

One of my favorite moments in the Gospel of Mark is in the description of Jesus’s appointment of the disciples. In Mark 3:13-14, we read:

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons.  

Our eyes are drawn to the end of the sentence where the ministry of the apostles comes into focus. Jesus appointed his followers and sent them out to preach and to drive out demons. How exciting! What authority! What power!

But don’t miss the brief mention of the purpose that precedes the power. Jesus appointed 12 apostles “to be with him.” Do you see the focus on proximity to Jesus? He summoned “those he wanted” and appointed them first and foremost to be with him. Don’t miss the beauty of this order.

If you are a follower of Jesus called into his service, remember that he called you—first and foremost—to be with him, not to work for him. Yes, he sends his disciples out to preach, and he gives them authority to drive out demons. Hallelujah! But before proclamation comes proximity. Before the power comes the Person.

Kim Huat Tan writes that being with Jesus “defines succinctly what discipleship means. By being with Jesus they can know him intimately and understand his teaching.”

The faithful follower of Jesus cultivates life with God before life for God. Get those backwards, and you’ll run dry. You may be a someone who knows and spreads the gospel, but you will slowly see your spiritual vitality fade if your relationship to Christ is not a priority. Proximity to Jesus is key. Your relationship with him is the most important part of your ministry. What happens in your prayer closet matters more than anything you do on a public platform.

It’s true that evangelicals sometimes imagine our life with God as a continual Bible study or prayer time, an ever-present feeling of “closeness to God” that manifests itself in semi-mystical fashion. And surely listening to the voice of God through his Word and demonstrating our dependence upon him in prayer make up part of what it must mean for us today to “be with Jesus.”

But we should take care not to paint too rosy a picture of what this relationship looks like. David Garland is right:

The task of being with Jesus is one that is harder than it might first appear. The Twelve will have to learn that there is a difference between hanging around with Jesus and truly being with him. The latter means that they must follow wherever he leads and share the toil of the ministry, the harassment of the crowds (3:20; 6:31-33), and the same bitter draught of suffering (10:39).

Being with Jesus—in proximity to him—means not only that we cultivate a relationship with him that inspires and empowers us in general but also that prepares us for the suffering that must mark the life of any who follow in the steps of a Suffering Servant. Without this emphasis, we run the risk of minimizing the challenges we are sure to face on the road to faith.

In the end, our relationship with Christ must precede any work we do for him. A generation ago, Francis Schaeffer warned in a letter about religious activity that neglected our personal relationship with Christ:

I believe most strongly . . . that our efforts in Christian service fall into three concentric circles: the outer circle is the apologetic and defensive. (This is an important portion of Christian activity and should never be minimized, but it is not the heart. . . .)

The middle circle is inside the outer one and is more central. This is the intellectual statement of the doctrines of the Christian faith in a positive way. (This to me is an even more important portion of Christian activity, but if it stands alone, it still is not Christianity.)

The innermost circle is the spiritual—the personal relationship of the individual soul with a personal God, including all that is meant in the apostolic benediction when we say, “The communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” It is this last, innermost circle with which the devotional deals and without which Christianity is not really Bible-believing.

Don’t miss the order, brothers and sisters. Proximity before power. The Person before the proclamation. Life with God before work for him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
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Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Three Ways to Unleash Creativity in Your Work

A leadership book I consistently recommend is Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice. I first read it several years ago when I was new to my role at LifeWay.

In the last year, I’ve had to learn the hard way some life lessons about the creative process. In revisiting The Accidental Creative for a book discussion with some editor friends, I’ve been impressed with how many of the suggestions here, had I been more careful to take note and implement, would have helped me avoid some errors. More on that below . . .

The Creative Process 

Henry wrote his book for those whose line of work might be considered “creative,” which he describes this way:

If you are one of the millions among us who make a living with your mind, you could be tagged a “creative.” Every day, you solve problems, innovate, develop systems, design things, write, think, and strategize. (1)

The gist of Henry’s book is that anyone can improve in their ability to generate good ideas on a consistent basis if they are more purposeful in their approach to the creative process.

A Caution

Now, a word of caution is in order—courtesy of singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, whose superb new book, Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community Calling and the Mystery of Making , is out this month. Peterson recognizes a sinful tendency among people with an artistic temperament:

A few years ago I noticed that people had made a noun out of the word “creative,” as in, “If you’re a creative, aren’t you sick of people not understanding that normal rules don’t apply to you?” The first few times I read about “being a creative” I leaned into it and thought, “Yes. That’s what I am. I’m a creative.” It was subtle and seductive. And then I noticed, possibly because of the Holy Spirit, that I felt proud of it, which led to a sense of disdain for people who weren’t like me . . . (165)

Peterson believes “creativity” is a defining mark for all humanity, including his wife who, though not an artist, gave birth to three children and creates a certain atmosphere of hospitality in the home:

We’re all creative. There is no “creative class.” Sure, there are people who make their living as artists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. But those people, I insist, are no more creative than anyone else. (166)

So, if you’re reading this article, you are “creative” in the broad sense, and if your primary vocation demands you spend time in design, writing, performing, strategizing, and so on, then you may be a “creative” in the narrow sense.

3 SUGGESTIONS FOR STRENGTHENING THE CREATIVE PROCESS 

How can we create space for our creative process to thrive? Here are three suggestions.

1. Pay close attention to input and output.

Todd Henry puts it this way:

If you want to regularly generate brilliant ideas, you must be purposeful about what you are putting into your head. (22)

Is there water in the well? What are you filling your mind with? What activities are taking up your time? Is your creative energy suffering because you’ve run dry?

For me as a writer, there are two streams that must fill up the well I draw upon when I write or speak: reading and interaction. Reading, writing, and interaction depend upon each other.

  • Reading is indispensable because, unless I am stimulating my mind with books and magazines, I am unable to write or speak when needed.
  • Interaction matters because good conversations sharpen my thoughts and shape my decisions about what deserves further attention.

Interaction informs my reading, which fuels my writing. If any of those three elements slips, I dry up.

In Problems of Christian LeadershipJohn Stott recommended an hour of reading a day, as well as “a morning, afternoon or evening every week, that is to say, a longer period of about four hours.” Stott also recommended a “quiet day” once a month, which would involve reading, reflecting, and more distant planning. (If roughly 10 hours a week of reading seems impossible to you, look at your Screen Time to see how much time you spend on apps, and count up your hours of streaming TV a week.)

2. Turn everything off.

This suggestion is the one I struggle with the most. I’m an achiever who feels like I’m in performance mode all the time. I throw myself into project after project and feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I complete a task (although it’s usually short-lived because I’m already on to the next challenge!).

The trouble I face is in turning off the input valve and giving myself time to process what I’ve been reading, or the conversations I’ve been having. I’m tempted to always have the input valve open, so that a podcast or audiobook (at 1.5x speed!) fills my time in the car or when I’m out walking or doing household chores.

Todd Henry recommends we pay attention to our need for “negative space.”

The time between your active moments is when ideas are formed, insights are gained, mental connections are forged. If your life is a constant blur of activity, focus, and obligation, you are likely to miss critical breakthroughs because you won’t have the benefit of pacing and negative space. What’s not there will impact your life as much or more than what is. (130)

I hope to get better at building times of silence into my regular rhythms. Scrolling through Twitter or downloading more and more podcasts will likely weaken, not strengthen, the creative process. Without “negative space,” I may sacrifice my best work for busywork.

I should learn from the examples of some of my favorite writers, such as G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, who were known for taking long walks or spending hours in the garden in solitude. The brilliant analogies in Mere Christianity likely came to Lewis, not from listening to the radio all day, but as he strolled about the paths around the Kilns. 

3. Plan in advance.

One of the upsides to the creative process, according to Henry, is that “you’re not really paid for your time” but “for the value you create.” The flipside is that this flexibility in how and where you do your work “introduces a new kind of performance pressure: completion anxiety.” Henry explains:

Because we’re capable of working at all times—our mind goes with us everywhere, after all—we continue working on our projects for as long as we possibly can. We’re never really certain when we’ve done enough. (28)

What’s the solution? Better planning. Henry writes:

Creative work requires that we stay ahead of our work. Tomorrow’s ideas are the result of today’s intentions. (116-117)

When I was serving as the primary teaching pastor at our church (preaching 40 times a year), I regularly delivered a rough draft of my sermon manuscript a month before the scheduled Sunday. There was simply no way for me to give my best creative efforts to something if I was haphazard or last minute in my thinking.

I still work this way. I’m constantly trying to get ahead in writing columns, or in preparing talks for conferences. Staying ahead of the work protects me from that awful feeling when I’m up against a deadline and there’s too little water to draw from in the well.

At the same time, all the planning in the world won’t give you endless energy when it comes to the creative process. One of the tough lessons I had to learn over the last year is that there was simply no way for me to continue my role as teaching pastor and write my next book. Something had to give, and in discerning my primary call, I chose to write. “Each commitment we make affects every other,” Henry says (121).

It’s not always a matter of maximizing your time, as if you’re a copy machine or a computer. It’s about creative energies and where you deploy them. And once you realize that creativity has a rhythm, with its own ebb and flow, you can begin to work with the rhythm rather than against it, recognizing the impossibility of being “limitless” in your output and instead embracing the right constraints and structure to help you succeed where God has placed you.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Unfocused: the Distraction of Digital Device Living

It’s no secret that new technologies and online habits are changing us in subtle yet profound ways, giving rise to new experiences and expectations. Writers like Tony ReinkeAndy Crouch, and Cal Newport have given us books rich with insight regarding the effect of the smartphone and social media. The Four-Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott joins the growing list of works that consider the effects of technological change.

Scott opens with a story from years ago when he dashed off a postcard to a friend far away and then moments later—ridiculously—experienced a sense of frustration: Why haven’t I received a response yet? Somehow, in some way, the instant communication made possible by email had changed what Scott’s expectations.

“This postcard from the edge of reason came to feel like a developmental milestone, an instant of self-consciousness in which it became clear that I was undergoing a transformation. I was being freshly coded with certain expectations of the world, one of which seemed to be an unflagging belief in the responsiveness of others and which never seemed to learn from its disappointments. Digital technology was reshaping my responses, collaborating with my instincts, creating in me, its subject, all kinds of new sensitivities.” (xiii)

The digital revolution changes what we expect from the world. We expect people to be responsive. We expect acknowledgement of a text message or email. If hours (or even minutes) go by without a simple “like,” we wonder why someone hasn’t acknowledged our comment on a social-media platform. We expect ease in shopping, in ordering food, and in accessing the maps we need to find our way to a physical location.

Just this weekend, I found a great deal at Barnes and Noble on a hardcover book, which I started reading at home. So engrossed was I in the story it told that I decided to forgo reading my Kindle while on my exercise machine, choosing instead to prop up the book where I usually put my eReader. At one point, to my own surprise, I pressed the edge of the book’s page, expecting it to turn automatically, as if the paper was a responsive screen!

Changing expectations aren’t new. Every time an invention leads to technological advance, our expectations change. We rely on the microwave, which changes how we think of leftovers. We rely on the refrigerator, which changes the amount of food we buy during a visit to the supermarket. We rely on air conditioning, which changes what we view as comfort in the home.

(When our upstairs unit froze up earlier this summer and I found out it would be a few days before the technician would be out to see it, I was distressed to discover that air conditioning is considered a luxury, not a necessity. A luxury? Tell that to my sweating family when it’s 90 degrees outside with 70 percent humidity! I imagine my great grandparents rolling their eyes at me from the grave, remembering how a century ago everyone worked their schedules around the heat of the day.)

New developments always change our expectations. But it’s the fast-paced change brought about by the digital revolution that has led to so many new expectations in such a short amount of time. Consider what has recently become accepted in our interactions. Scott points out the normalcy of “elsewhereness.”

“We may often seem elsewhere to those physically nearest us. It has become a part of the everyday rhythm of social life that we dart in and out of each other’s view—here one minute, gone the next: ‘I’m just checking . . . ’; ‘I’ll just answer this . . .’; . . . This intermittent elsewhereness has come to seem an ordinary aspect of human behavior.” (17)

What would have once been seen as distracting and impolite is now considered a normal element of human communication. Ten years ago, the person glued to their Blackberry during a dinner party would apologize and give excuses for their lack of attention. Today, we expect people to glance at their phones during any lull in conversation even if nothing is urgent.

The flip side to this “elsewhereness” is that we never feel as far away from home. When so much of our time is spent on a mobile device, we feel “connected” to home base even when we’re far away. Scott writes:

“Wherever we go, part of us is always at home. A thousand miles from our loved ones, we can pull a stranger’s blanket up to our chin and manage not to feel eerie, soothed no doubt by the night lights of our phones and laptops.” (32)

And then there are expectations that come from our increasing reliance on social media for both news and entertainment. The town square—Facebook comments and Twitter streams—share space with the latest trending video or funny meme, so that even important topics of conversation are swept into the same whirlpool of videos that provide our entertainment. “Social media can encourage us to think of people as a sort of casual entertainment,” Scott writes, “as something which we can dip in and out of, and sometimes flick to mute” (155).

We need more and better reflection on how our digital habits change our expectations. Unfortunately, everything about this revolution steers us toward distraction rather than focus. It will take significant effort to develop habits of concentration and resistance if we are to maintain the skills necessary to even see the ways in which our world may transform us into shallow and superficial people.

Surely our obedience to the apostle Paul’s call to “not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2), extends to our ways of being in a digital world. The act of discerning “what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” is a worthy goal in every generation, even one as connected as ours.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

What is the Church Really Here For?

In a series of articles titled “The Elusive Presence,”Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli describes the heart of the crisis within evangelicalism today. Mark is a longtime participant in evangelical churches and a keen observer of evangelical trends. He serves at the flagship periodical for the neo-evangelical movement. I’ve read with great interest his series—sometimes nodding along in agreement, other times raising an eyebrow (or two), and once or twice pulling out my hair.

In this column and in a few subsequent columns, I plan to interact with Mark’s series, explaining where I think he is spot on and where he might be way off. Let’s start with the overall gist of his argument.

We Have Forgotten God

We could sum up Mark’s overall concern about the state of evangelicalism this way: American Christians have lost interest in God due to the incessant drive to do good things for God. We’ve lost a sense of dependence on the Spirit as we’ve pursued our own vision of effectiveness and faithfulness. In the bustle of activity, we’ve lost our first love. Quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s comment about Western culture in 1968, Mark says of today’s church, “We have forgotten God.”

To desire God—this is the sum and substance of life. It’s not just one injunction of many but the greatest commandment. It’s not merely a duty to fulfill but the fulfillment of life itself—to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. There is no greater blessing than to give oneself to this pursuit, and to enjoy the everlasting longing it produces in us.

Mark worries that our emphasis has so shifted to love of neighbor that we’ve neglected or merely assumed the first and greatest commandment. As a result, we’ve lost the fire that fuels our good works in the world to the point that we now run on fumes as we dedicate ourselves to unsustainable levels of activity.

To be clear, Mark’s point is not to advocate for less activity or anything less than an abundance of good deeds. His goal is to show where our activity-prone hearts may have led us astray, away from the love for God that leads to long-lasting good works on behalf of our neighbor. We’ve “made an idol of activity for God,” and in pursuing the second commandment, we’ve forgotten the first.

Longing for Renewal

A second thread running through Mark’s series is the need to recover a vibrant sense of longing for God—a desperation-tinged desire for God and dependence upon his power. We need to be renewed. We do not desire him as we ought. We find it easier and more convenient to wear ourselves out in doing good for him than to seek a genuine, life-changing encounter with him. In this way, our good works can become a barrier to experiencing God, lulling us into complacency as to the state of our hearts, and replacing a life oriented toward knowing and loving God with a life full of religious activity.

In nearly every generation, the church must battle this kind of apathy. We are always in danger of losing our first love. At its best, evangelicalism is a renewal movement, calling Christians back to the passion that has marked all the religious awakenings that have risen over the centuries in various places around the world. As one of the leaders within the evangelical movement, it is appropriate for Mark to set before us a vision of renewal and revival marked by intense longing to know and love the God who made us.

Missional Critique 

Mark’s diagnosis of the modern malaise of evangelicalism is spot on. But then his series takes a strange turn, casting the blame for our disease on missional theology—the idea that the church exists for the sake of mission.

According to Mark, the missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin, though credited with inspiring and energizing many evangelicals in the past 50 years, was wrong to conceive of the church’s purpose in missionary terms. The missional movement that Newbigin’s insights inspired is faulty at the foundation because, when all is said and done, it gives rise same problem as the social gospel movement from a century ago: a reductionist understanding of the church’s purpose that, in the words of Walter Rauschenbusch, makes the church “exist for the sake of the world.”

The church is not an instrument, Mark says, and “thinking of the church primarily in missional terms is a mistake” because it is “unbiblical” and “unhealthy.” So, whether you take the route of the mainline denominations and fall prey to the social gospel, or whether you take the route of Newbigin-inspired evangelicals and see yourself as “missional,” you’re going to wind up plagued by burnout and malaise due to a foundational error—seeing the church as existing for the good of the world.

In the next column, I want to dig a little deeper into Mark’s analysis of the missional conception of the church and set in wider context his proposal for how we should understand the church’s purpose. In case you want a taste of Newbigin’s work in the meantime, see a summary of his thought I put together earlier this year.

This is the first column in a series. See the follow-up posts below.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Worlds Are Created From Words

From the late 1950s through the 2000s, enrollment in foreign language programs at the university level grew steadily. After 2009, language class enrollments began to drop.

Leigh Jones, from WORLD Radio, interviewed several professors to find out why college students are less interested in learning a foreign language. Julianne Bryant, who teaches Spanish at Biola University, attributes the decline, in part, to the recession in 2008, which led students to pursue degrees that might lead to better pay. Students perceive language-learning to be too hard, and they often don’t see the payoff in acquiring that skill until they are out in the work world.

The bigger concern of Bryant and other professors is not economic, but cultural. English is the lingua franca today, even though most of the world doesn’t speak it (only one in five, actually). Students have adopted the widespread cultural assumption that English is the only language that really matters. If you’re privileged with English as your native tongue, why put in the time or effort to learn a different language?

The answer has more to do with personal formation than merely the ability to communicate. Donna Summerlin, head of the department of language and literature at Lee University, sees language learning at the heart of a liberal arts education. “We live in a global society and people to be truly educated need to know something about the world beyond their little corner of it.”

True. That’s why it’s ironic to see the number of people who speak other languages increasing in the United States at the same time so many language programs are closing. Jones’s report showed that, due to the need for bilingual people, some professionals find better compensation as translators than teachers.

Languages as Worlds 

Not long ago, I picked up the new book from Gaston Dorren (a famous polyglot who speaks six languages and can read nine more). Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages opens with a quote from Alok Rai:

“Language is such an intimate possession, something that one possesses in the same measure that one is possessed by it. Language is bound up with foundations of one’s being, with memories and emotions, with the subtle structures of the worlds in which one lives.”

Language is tightly connected to how we perceive reality. We inhabit a world of language. For example, in Romanian there are two major words for tree: pom and copac. One refers to fruit-bearing trees, and the other to any tree. There is overlap with these synonyms (and many times they are used interchangeably), but in order to use them with dictionary precision, one must become an expert on identifying types of trees. Another example would be the more than a dozen words for snow in Central Alaskan Yupik.

When seen in this light, language learning becomes more than just doing diagrams, memorizing vocabulary, or figuring out the right verb tenses. The more fluent you are in another language, the more you realize that some words are virtually impossible to translate accurately. You come across concepts and shades of meaning that find no one-to-one correspondence. You have to live within the world of the language before you can fully grasp the meaning of a word or phrase.

This is why Bible scholars make the claim that “all translation is treachery.” It’s not that we can’t translate well, but that we can’t translate all. Words do not always capture all the particular shades of meaning when going from one tongue to another.

Benefits of Being Bilingual

What’s more, languages provide different structures of thought. Speaking another language is learning how to navigate a different world, with its own expressions, colloquialisms, and linguistic logic. For this reason, the benefits of being fluent in two or more languages go far beyond the “ability to communicate.” Over time, you find you can switch mental tracks in your mind. You think differently when you can enter into another linguistic world and view things from a different mental superstructure.

A few years ago, I wrote about the “brainy benefits of being bilingual,” and I included an excerpt from Time magazine that explained a few of the cognitive benefits of knowing another language:

Research is increasingly showing that the brains of people who know two or more languages are different from those who know just one—and those differences are all for the better. Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. 

Learning another language stretches our minds and opens up new windows of imagination. It also gives us more words with which to praise our King. O, for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise! (Might we at least try for two or three?)

Turnaround? 

Perhaps we will see a turnaround in language learning on university campuses. Surely we need more people who can see the world from various angles—something that fluency in another language makes possible.

Perhaps we will also see renewed enthusiasm among church leaders for learning the biblical languages. One of the best ways to bridge the gap between the cultures of the biblical authors and our present-day circumstances is by entering their linguistic world and engaging their inspired words on their own terrain.

We lose something precious when we lose the desire to speak another language. Let’s hope this trend reverses itself soon.

> Read more from Trevin.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Critical Importance of Leadership Development in Discipleship

“Your church is designed to lead, designed to disciple leaders who are, by God’s grace, commanded to disciple people in all spheres of life.”

That sentence is near the beginning of Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck’s excellent book on leadership development in the local church. This is the kind of book that pastors and church leaders will use and discuss for many years because it provides an important framework for considering these issues: Convictions, Culture, and Constructs.  I wanted to introduce this book to you by reiterating the importance of keeping discipleship and leadership together.


3 REASONS WE MUST NEVER DIVORCE LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT FROM DISCIPLESHIP

by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck

Consumption is focused on the masses and for the short-term payoff. Discipleship is focused on the person for the long run, for fruit that will last.

Churches will drift without a consistent and constant conviction for discipleship, to disciple people and develop leaders. We must not settle for consumption. Though much more challenging and difficult, we must insist on discipleship. And we must view leadership development as part of discipleship, not as distinct or divorced from it. Here is why:

1. Discipleship is the only means.

God has designed the end and the means. The end is people from every tribe, tongue, and nation gathered around the throne worshipping Him because they were purchased with the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9-10). Regardless of what happens this week, what unfolds in the news, the ending has already been made clear: God is redeeming for Himself a people from all peoples.

The end was made clear in the beginning. God preached the gospel to Abraham saying, “All the nations will be blessed through you” (Gal. 3:8). God told Abraham that people from every nation would have God’s righteousness credited to them. At the beginning of the Bible, we find that God is going to pursue all peoples through His chosen people, Israel. At the end of the Bible, we find that God has gathered worshippers from every people group.

In the middle of the Bible is the means, the command Jesus gave us: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). We live in the middle. The means to the glorious end is not leadership development apart from Jesus. The means is not leadership development divorced from discipleship. The means is discipleship. He has commanded us to make disciples of all nations, disciples who will obey everything He commanded.

2. Discipleship impacts all of life.

As Christ is more fully formed in people, the totality of their lives is impacted. Those who are overwhelmed with how Christ has served them will serve others. Those in awe of God’s generosity will be generous. Those who are captivated by God’s mission to rescue and redeem join Him in pursuing people who are far from God. Their serving, generosity, and sense of mission impacts their relationships, their approach to their careers, and their view of life. Their growth as a disciple shapes how they lead at home, in their profession, and through all of life.

Discipleship is the only way to produce leaders that serve and bless the world. If leaders are created apart from Jesus-focused discipleship, they are created without grace-motivated service, generosity, and mission.

To view discipleship as distinct from leadership development is to propose that discipleship does not impact all of one’s life. If a church approaches leadership development as distinct from discipleship, the church unintentionally communicates a false dichotomy—that one’s leadership can be divorced form one’s faith. Being a Christian leader must not be positioned as disconnected from living a godly life in Christ Jesus.

3. Leadership development apart from discipleship becomes overly skill-based.

If leaders are developed apart from Jesus, the emphasis is inevitably on skills and not the heart transformed through Christ. Divorcing leadership development from discipleship can leave people more skilled and less sanctified. And when competency and skill outpace character, leaders are set up for a fall. We don’t serve people well if we teach them how to lead without teaching them how to follow Him. We don’t serve leaders well if we develop their skills without shepherding their character.

It is difficult to say this humbly, but maturing Christ-followers make better leaders. Even authors not writing from a distinctly Christian worldview articulate this truth without realizing it. For example, in his popular books Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, researcher and author Daniel Goleman builds the case that the most effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. More than a high IQ (intelligence quotient), great leaders have a high EQ (emotional quotient), and are able to create environments and cultures that are highly effective. Effective leaders, Goleman contends, have the ability to manage their emotions, genuinely connect with people, offer kindness and empathy, lead with joy and inspiration, and display the master skill of patience. Sounds a lot like the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer (Gal. 5:22-23).

Yet all pushes for integrity and all the instructions on character development from leadership gurus won’t transform a leader’s heart. Inevitably after these authors reveal their findings that “character matters,” their challenges and their writings quickly degenerate into futile attempts to change our own hearts. We can’t change our own hearts. We can’t pep-talk ourselves into transformation. Only Jesus can transform our character. We must develop leaders who are consistently led and fed by Him before they attempt to lead and feed others.

Leadership development apart from being a disciple of Jesus always results in skills apart from character, in performance apart from transformation.

For more information, check out Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck’s Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development.


Talk with an Auxano Navigator about the leadership-discipleship connection.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Biblical Call for Hospitality

How should Christians stand out in a society increasingly fragmented and polarized, isolated and lonely, embittered and embattled?

Too often, the temptation is for the church to allow these forces to overwhelm us until we retreat to the safety of a fortress that shuts the door to doubters. But despite its façade of faithfulness, this option is worldlyIt’s exactly what you’d expect in a society like ours, where ideological tribes keep people with significant disagreements from ever interacting anywhere but online, where epithets and arguments are hurled from Twitter towers and Facebook fortresses.

Instead, we must follow the path of the ancient Christians in their countercultural practice of hospitality. Hebrews 13, Romans 12, the example of Jesus, not to mention the many Old Testament commands to welcome the stranger—all of these prompt us to welcome people into our homes and churches. Like the early church, we ought to display a welcoming posture—confident in our affirmation of orthodoxy and compassionate in our embrace of people made in God’s image. The church welcomes.

What makes welcoming difficult these days is that many believe this posture requires an affirmation of identity and behavior. We see this belief most often in matters related to sexuality, but it is increasingly true of political affiliation, whether on the right or the left. That’s why I’ve written that churches should welcome everybody and affirm no one. The church does not exist for the affirmation of its members but for the transformation of its people into the image of Christ.

Still, we welcome. But what does this welcome look like? And what role does hospitality play?

Healthy Hospitality

In traditional Christian circles, we tend to see faithfulness and health in terms of a clear and unequivocal position of orthodoxy on doctrinal and ethical matters. But surely this definition is inadequate. What good is orthodoxy without compassion, or moral standards without love? The sign of a healthy congregation is not merely its statement of faith but also its hospitality toward those who are not members.

Think about the home. A healthy home environment makes space for human flourishing, by inviting people who do not belong to the family to visit and find themselves refreshed. When a family welcomes visitors to the table, the dynamic of the home changes. Yes, the family remains the core, but this outward focus of hospitality renews the visitor and family members alike.

If a family were to see itself only as “us against the world,” with windows and doors boarded up and everyone huddled together for fear of contamination, the home would turn into an unhealthy fortress, where foibles would develop into pathologies, and where pathologies would hinder the flourishing of the family members. Hospitality is important for the visitor and family member alike; it brings health to the home.

The same is true of the church. Hospitality toward those who are not church members (even toward those who have radically opposing political or ethical views) should be normal, not unusual. This is not a step toward compromise; it’s a powerful weapon in our spiritual arsenal. Feasts are explosions of joy on the battlefield of good vs. evil.

The challenge to Hospitality

The challenge today is this: many people assume that hospitality demands a “come just as you are” posture that accepts and leaves alone the people who are welcomed. To truly welcome someone means you put aside any intention to change them, any push to convert them, any persuasion to convince them. According to this way of thinking, true hospitality means full acceptance, no questions asked.

This idea that hospitality means unqualified acceptance was the position of philosopher Jacques Derrida, and it seems to be “common sense” in this day and age. But we cannot embrace this definition, because it is incompatible with the Great Commission.

What if hospitality, properly understood, welcomes people in order to renew them? Peter Leithart makes this point in Traces of the Trinity: 

We don’t welcome the naked so they can be naked in our presence; we don’t show hospitality to the hungry so they can watch us eat. We welcome the naked and hungry to change their circumstances. We make room for them so we can clothe and feed them.

So too with moral hunger and personal shame. We don’t welcome addicts so they can continue in their addiction. We make room for them, and take up residence in their lives, in order to be agents of ethical transformation. We don’t receive the prostitute to help her get more tricks. We open our lives to the prostitute so we can deliver her from slavery—to the pimp, perhaps to drugs, to poverty, to a destructive life. Hospitality is not universal approval. It is universal welcome for the sake of renewal. We make room not to tolerate but to transform.

I love this idea of hospitality for the sake of renewal. But there’s a danger here. If we begin to see people as projects, and hospitality as merely a tool that is geared toward “fixing” someone in need, we dehumanize the people we’ve opened our arms to. We turn people into projects.

Hospitality For The Sake of Renewal

So where does that leave us? The idea of hospitality as universal approval is problematic, but so is the idea of hospitality for the sake of renewal if it turns people into projects. So what do we do?

The answer is to ensure that hospitality for the sake of renewal has in mind not only the renewal of the person being welcomed, but also of the group doing the welcoming. Hospitality leads to our renewal as well.

When we open our arms to people less fortunate, or when we welcome people with whom we have significant disagreements, we open each other to the possibility of renewal. A hospitable congregation serves the people being welcomed and is transformed in the process. This is the kind of church that will stand out. This is hospitality that renews.

> Read more from Trevin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

DiscipleShift Part 2: The Hope for Creators & Cultivators

Last week, I wrote an article about our free time and the choices we have: to consume, to cultivate, or to create.

Today, I want to extend that idea beyond the choices we make in our leisure time to our responsibility as churchgoers and disciple-makers.

Wistful Toward the Past

Young people who have grown up in church sometimes tell me about the awesome youth group they were part of or the college ministry that made an impact on them. The church made them feel welcome. Leaders made them a part of the community. Intentional cultivation of relationships led to growth in holiness. They sense wonder and gratitude when they think of the people who poured into their lives.

Fast forward a few years. The 20-somethings are now in a young-married group, or they’re just beginning their family, or they’re single and want to stay connected to church. What happens next?

Too often, I see people at this stage look back with fondness and with a touch of nostalgia at the days when they benefited from a thriving student ministry. They miss those days and regret that they’ve passed. They wonder if they’ll ever have that kind of experience again. That’s when I usually say something like this:

It’s time to shift your mindset.

You shouldn’t look at the church as if you were a consumer, expecting a certain kind of experience. Now is the time you should ask, “How can I create or cultivate that life-changing culture and experience for someone else?” Once you move from seeing yourself as a consumer, to a creator or cultivator, you will arrive at the place where pouring into others brings just as much (if not more) joy than when others were pouring into you. 

As we grow in holiness and discipleship, we must move from seeing ourselves as passive consumers of experiences that other people have created for us, and begin to see ourselves as ministers through whom God can work in the lives of the people coming up behind us.

Grandma’s Christmas Brunch

Imagine it’s Christmas morning, and Grandma has gotten up every Christmas morning for 30 years and fixed everyone a big brunch—bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, eggs, and fruit salad. Year after year, she joyfully spreads out that food for everyone to feast on.

At some point, if Grandma gets sick, or if Grandma has trouble pulling it off, or if by chance death takes her sooner than you expect, everyone else at the table will have to wake up and realize that if someone doesn’t do what Grandma did, we’ll never have this experience again.

Someone has to step up and say, “For 30 years, Grandma created this experience for us through her cooking and her feast. We’re going to carry it on and create this for everyone else now.” Someone has to move from the posture of ‘consumer’ to ‘creator,’ to ensure that the responsibility to create and cultivate an environment must move to the next generation. Otherwise, the tradition will disappear.

Apply that idea to student ministry. To Sunday school. To evangelism. To mission work. To community service. To choirs and worship teams. To ushers and deacons.

Cultivate and Create

We can sit around and wax nostalgic, reflecting on the good old days when people did this or that, or we can stand up and take our place as those responsible for pouring into others. The choice is ours.

Too many never make that philosophical jump. They continue to see their relationship to church as one of a consumer and thus never know the joy of becoming a creator or cultivator. When we fail to make this shift, church ministry sags and suffers. Transformative experiences fade away. Programs fall apart.

Don’t miss out on the next stage of ministry. Don’t be content with benefiting from others’ work on your behalf without ever experiencing how God wants to work through you on behalf of others.

Discipleship isn’t just about making disciples, but about making disciples who make disciples. It takes creativity and cultivation to sustain a disciple-making culture. We need consumers to shift their mindset until they become creators and cultivators, for the glory of God and the good of the church.

> Read more from Trevin.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

DiscipleShift Part 1: The Choice to Consume, Create, or Cultivate

I recently sat down with a 20-something who asked for some advice on how to become more productive in serving the Lord. He wanted to think more deeply and live more fully, and he wondered what he could start doing to cultivate the kind of life that would bear fruit for God’s kingdom in future decades.

Reflecting on my 20s, one answer came to mind. Every day, in the free time we have available, we have the choice to consume something, to create something, or to cultivate something. The pressures of this current cultural moment push us to consume, but the need of the day is for more people to create or cultivate.

Choice Before You

At the end of a long day at work, you’re greeted with an array of options. In that moment, the easiest choice is to consume. You watch a few episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, or you kill time by killing bad guys on a video game, or you sit back and cheer for your favorite sports team. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recreational activities. We need time off from pursuing productivity and efficiency. We’re human beings, not machines.

But I think the greater temptation in our day is that we move too easily between the machine-like efficiency of the workplace to the machine-like consumption of entertainment. Over time, we develop the idea that passive consumption is what we work for and live for.

Surely we were made for more than powering through the work week so we can spend hours binge watching TV or gaming on the weekends! God has built into us a rhythm of work and rest, yes, but it is a fallacy to believe that resting is always and only consumptivein nature. Restful activity can also be spent in cultivating and creating.

Consuming, Cultivating, or Creating

Here are the differences I have in mind:

  • Consuming: the passive reception of entertainment. As consumers, we spend time entertaining ourselves through television shows, movies, video games, and so on. These activities demand little of us.
  • Cultivating: the intentional development of something. As cultivators, we engage in something that makes a demand of us. It can be the development of the mind through reading and study, or cultivating of a skill or hobby, or restoring a car, or playing a musical instrument, or working in the garden. These activities require mental or physical exertion as we make something of the world we’ve been given. In turn, the activities develop us.
  • Creating: the invention of something that did not exist before. As creators, we leave something behind for others to enjoy and benefit from. We might compose a piece of music, write a poem or story or article, or paint a portrait.

We live in a culture that drives us toward consumption, not creation or cultivation. The result is we assume creating is work and consuming is rest. We assume that anything that demands something of us must be tiresome and strenuous. And so, in our free time, we naturally gravitate toward the activities that are easiest and most immediately gratifying. We choose distraction over development.

Enjoying the Creative and Cultivating Aspects of Life

We need a generation of young people to resist that tendency and to see through that fallacy. We are humans, not robots. We can train ourselves to enjoy the creative and cultivating aspects of life, even if they require something of us.

We can enjoy cooking as much as we enjoy the meal. We can enjoy the day’s yard work as much as we enjoy sitting on the patio on a summer evening with the smell of freshly cut grass in the air. We can enjoy planting flowers as much as we enjoy admiring them. We can enjoy writing songs as much as we enjoy singing them.

Finding joy in creating and cultivating doesn’t come naturally in a society that presses us to consume, consume, consume. The only way to escape the consumption trap is to spend your free time by choosing, again and again and again, to create or cultivate something rather than just consume.

Be Intentional

In The Tech-Wise FamilyAndy Crouch describes how he sets up the furniture in his home to emphasize activities that lead toward culture-making instead of consumption. I love the intentionality behind that practice.

Now, unlike Andy, my family has a television in our living room, and we watch it. Corina and I have favorite shows. I enjoy playing games on my phone with my son. My daughter and I like to watch classic TV together. I am not against passive consumption. Entertainment can be part of a well-balanced life. All of these activities have their place.

But we need a strong dose of intentionality with how we spend our free time. How often are you cultivating or creating something? The trick is to choose cultivation or creation so often that you begin to prefer to create something rather than consume something. Once you reach that point, you’ve arrived at a place where you’re unlikely to fall into the same consumptive patterns as everybody else.

You face a choice every day, week, month, and year. To create, to cultivate, or to consume. If Christians will regularly choose the former over the latter, we’ll stand out in a world that knows only the immediate gratification of consumption. And we’ll display for the world the joy of fulfilling humanity’s purpose of cultivation, as we reflect the image of the One who made us.

> Read more from Trevin Wax.


 

Read Part Two here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Will Your Church’s Past Become a Slingshot or a Black Hole?

Times were better. Our country was more united. Our churches were growing. We felt better about our present and future.

The pull of the past is powerful. Politicians know it, and so they pick a point in time—a pinnacle from which we’ve fallen, and then frame our current debates around the way to return to a golden era. Those on the right think of the 1950s or 1980s, while those on the left pine for the 1960s. (See Yuval Levin’s work on this subject.)

Churches know the pull of the past as well. A church that went through an era of peace and growth, that faced the challenges of the day and won converts and enjoyed status in the community, can succumb to a widespread malaise once the tide goes out. If we could just go back, say some of the elderly in the church, mourning the loss of a particular church culture.

The pull of the past is a good yet dangerous thing. Its force can either serve as a slingshot, whereby we pull back into the past in order to gain the force necessary to be propelled forward on our mission. Or its force can serve as a black hole that sucks up all our energy and emotion, until our present and future are swallowed up in a void of hopelessness.

How can we tell the difference?

Nostalgia as Black Hole

Let’s look at the negative side of the past’s pull—the descent into nostalgia that supplants mission. There is wisdom in looking to the past in order to find the resources we need in the present, but we are wrong to see history as prescribing a particular path forward.

The idea that we can implement the same measures and methods as previous generations, in spite of how our cultural moment has changed, is to give in to the black hole of nostalgia. It is the choice between living in the past and learning from it. We demand from our ancestors a map for the way forward instead of seeing the past as a treasure chest from which we pull out the resources we need.

As Kyle David Bennett writes:

“Nostalgia hijacks memory. It is the desire to return to an old present . . .

“In nostalgia, one sacrifices the present and the possibility of the future as one squats in the past. Nostalgia implies that God is present in one moment and not another, or more perniciously, that one prefers to be in a previous, unlivable moment more than the one God has brought them to now.”

Longing for the Past and Fearful of the Future

It is one thing to long for and regret the loss of goods we observe in a past era—goods that have been eclipsed or overshadowed by cultural change. R. R. Reno says that the good kind of nostalgia “expands our moral horizons, reminding us that our present form of life lacks something important.”

But the desire to inhabit a different era is idolatrous—a subtle yet undeniable attempt to doubt the wisdom of God, the Creator who gave us life in this particular time and place. We cannot be fully on mission in this era as long as we are longing for another.

Memory can be a sturdy foundation for the future, or memory can suffocate our mission.

Lesslie Newbigin, the famed missionary theologian, warned that “nostalgia for the past and fear for the future are equally out of place for the Christian.” Nostalgia and fear distract us from the question we must be asking:

“What is God doing in these tremendous events of our time? How are we to understand them and interpret them to others, so that we and they may play our part in them as co-workers with God? [The Christian] is required, in the situation in which God places him, to understand the signs of the times in the light of the reality of God’s present and coming kingdom, and to give his witness faithfully about the purpose of God for all men.”

Incarnational Remembering

If orthodox Christians tend to live in the past, revisionists and schismatics wish to jettison the past altogether, crowning our contemporary generation with a depth of moral insight unknown to any of our ancestors. We are right to see a role for the past, but how do we do this?

How can we resist the temptation of despair or nostalgia?

I like the distinction Kyle David Bennett makes between nostalgia and “incarnational remembering.” Here is how he puts it:

“Our participation in the renewal of all things requires remembering the past. When we remember the past, we let the past portrayal of the future inform our present. In other words, when we look to the past, we re-view the present and our world in light of the future. This affects our perception of and action in the present . . .

“Christians are called to remember the past, not to live in it. A follower of Jesus is not nostalgic. We do not turn to the past to reencounter or remedy a personal wound like some do in nostalgia. Rather, we turn to the past in order to reencounter healing and reconciliation with the goal of remedying the wounds of others here and now. Incarnational remembrance is sacrificial, not selfish. It minds the past to draw on it; it does not fill the mind with the past in order to reenact or relive it. Incarnational remembrance renews, it doesn’t relive.”

What are some ways that we can draw on the past to renew our churches in the present? How can we ensure that the past does not squelch but serve our mission in the present? These are the questions we must wrestle with if we are to keep nostalgia from overwhelming our hope.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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