Sloppy discipleship is everywhere. Literally everywhere…

I know… that’s a harsh, blunt and somewhat unpastoral statement, but I’m just a bit over it. I’m tired of excusing laziness, apathy and busyness in the name of being pastoral. I’m weary of conversations with long term believers that lack any kind of new learning and insight, or even the anticipation of something resembling joy and passion.

And what does a culture of sloppy discipleship breed?

You guessed it… More sloppy discipleship and when we’re all playing then no one gets to question it and say ‘hey isn’t the life of faith supposed to somewhat more challenging, inspiring and even demanding?’

But really – is this what we want?

It struck me today again as I was reading a piece in Eternity magazine about Jordan Peterson’s presence at the PragerU 2019 Summit (just $1500/ticket…) I must confess I have never read a Peterson book or listened to a Peterson lecture. He just doesn’t feel like my kinda guy. That said, I know many Christians seem to laud him as a hero and prophet, even though he makes no claims to faith. In fact it was his reason for not believing that sparked me to write this post.

When asked why he is not a Christian he responded with:

I thought, well … who would have the audacity to claim that they believed in God? If they examined the way they lived, who would dare say that?”

Ouch!… That’s a brutal statement. Who would have the audacity to claim that their daily life actually reflects a belief in the kind of God they espouse? It stopped me in my tracks and caused me to reflect again ‘what evidence is there of God in my own everyday life?’ Some days I think I can sleep easy and other days not so much.

But by and large I feel we tolerate a lot of insipid and lack lustre Christian living as the norm and we get excited when someone actually starts to live with heartfelt passion. What’s with that?

The article goes on to quote Peterson again saying “So while I try to act like I believe, I never claim that I manage it.”

So to some degree Peterson is refusing to wear the badge because he is unable to consistently live in such a way that he could legitimately call himself a Christian.

And this is where it gets messy…

Because it’s kinda the point of the whole thing – that we can’t do it and there was this bloke called Jesus, the whole deal with the cross, forgiveness, grace etc… But maybe we have allowed grace to be a ‘get out of jail free’ card for people just too lazy/busy/indifferent to commit to rigorous discipleship?

If you’ve been feeling like I’ve been sinking the boots in a little with this post then you’re right I have – quite intentionally – and if you happen to be one of those insipid and lazy Christians then take it as a rocket…

You’re welcome…

When a person refuses to follow Jesus because he doesn’t feel he could actually live up to the call, but many of us claim to follow but with no evidence of transformed lives then we need to examine ourselves and ask what we have created.

Is this really Christianity?

What does that mean practically?

I feel like we have this default yardstick of Bible reading, prayer and church attendance – and to a large degree they have been inadequate metrics for assessing discipleship. But while they are poor measures they are good practices that if done with consistency will generally give us a foundation for living faith more consciously each day. If we position ourselves in a community that wrestles with the scriptures and that isn’t afraid to ask hard questions of application then we may well find ourselves inspired to live this counter-cultural life of discipleship. Of course the opposite is true too – remove yourself from community and spiritual disciplines and that will have the inverse effect.

In my business I have a basic rule that I try to embed in anyone who works for me. That is ‘we work as if we were Jesus and we treat the client as if they were Jesus.‘ It’s a really simple guide, but its actually helped me articulate a business philosophy as well as enabling me to behave in a Christlike way in the everyday challenges of life.

I would agree with Peterson when he said, “So while I try to act like I believe, I never claim that I manage it.” I too certainly wouldn’t claim to ‘manage it’ like I would hope. The difference between us however is that I have had a grace encounter that reminds me that I am loved, forgiven and saved no matter the ‘standard of my work’.

When we get too hardline on the performance end of discipleship we can actually miss the point of the cross, but when we swing too far into grace territory we can feel unable to call people to live lives that look more like Jesus.

And so the eternal wrestle continues – how to call people to radical discipleship in a culture of beautiful grace

Its gotta be possible.

Dumb Grace

If there is one thing that is a given in life it’s that we will get things wrong. We will screw up and fail – repeatedly – even intentionally. We are broken people and we will always behave as such.

This almost brought me undone.

The idea of returning to God each time I failed – especially when I had failed by own volition just felt ridiculous – obscene even. If I were God I’d have given up on me! I’d have shoved me away and said come back when you’re serious – when you actually want to change.

I was creating God in my own image – reasoning that ‘If I were God I’d be done with me.’ If if were God then I’d surely draw the line somewhere.

Unbounded forgiveness just felt dumb – ridiculous and completely undeserved (which of course was the point).

It was a very dangerous headspace to be inhabiting because it led me to considering just giving up – giving in and giving myself a ‘concession’ on some of my struggles.

This was a bit of a sticking point in my faith for a few years, and I’m not sure of how I moved on, but eventually I came to the realisation that this is actually the point of the gospel – that I am never going to be the picture of a perfect human being. I am always going to be broken and flawed and I am always going to be forgiven.

I was mistaking grace for stupidity on God’s part. I was taking him for a fool – creating him in my own image.

As I came to this realisation those times of ‘doh did it again’ or of sorrowful repentance became times of experiencing great grace – of revelling in God’s forgiveness rather than my own lack of capacity.

As my take on God shifted so did my experience of grace and as my experience of grace increased, so my image of God was also reformed.

‘This’ God is no mug – no soft touch – he’s just unbelievably and wonderfully gracious and that is good news.

How To Live

On the tail end of a recent trip to Bali I had a few hours to kill in the Denpasar airport so I went scouting the bookstores for potential new reading material. What I couldn’t help noticing were how many books there were on ‘how to live’. So I opened them to peruse their contents – maybe this was fascinating new information that somehow I had missed in the last 55 years.

But no – it was plain Jane sensible stuff that you shouldn’t need to pay money for – stuff your parents should have taught you!

Be kind


Save money

Make your bed

Think before speaking

Really?… we’re so disoriented as a society that we need ‘rules for life’? (Ok so this isn’t headed where some of you may think – I’m not about to espouse the Bible as ‘rules for life / God’s instruction book’. That would trivialise it – every bit as much as saying it is ‘God’s love letter’ to us. It isn’t at all helpful for me to imagine God writing me a ‘love letter’).

But the abundance – and growth in books of this kind is surely a symptom of a society that is adrift, lost and looking for anchor points. (Of course they need to be anchor points we find palatable… and that won’t disrupt our lives in any way.)

I realise there have always been self help books and some of them have been equally banal in their content – think ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. But I was stunned at the glut of simple ‘how to be human’ stuff on the shelves this time round.

Interestingly these rule books sit along side other books with titles like ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck’ or ‘How to Not Give a Shit’.

Is that a contradiction I see?

Which do we want ‘rules for life’ or to ‘not give a f#ck’?

Seriously – they are two very different beasts.

My hunch is that a society without anchor points (usually religious ones) will drift towards selfishness and narcissism every time. And my sense is that this is where we have moved to in the West – desperately needing direction of some kind (‘rules for life’) but refusing to surrender our autonomy or any intrusion on our pursuit of pleasure, happiness and personal fulfilment (not giving a f#ck).

It’s a conundrum – you can’t have both.

It seems that those who take their religion seriously – who hold to its core tenets (be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu) will typically live within a set of boundaries that result in less selfish lives and often more fulfilling lives – at the expense of actually giving a F#ck). That’s a generalisation I know – but my observation of a society that has tried to dispense with a religious framework for life is that it isn’t a very happy place to live.

The point of this post?

Simply to say that we did a lot better when we had ‘rules’, ‘boundaries’, whatever you want to call them and that the place you will most likely find these still at work is in a religious community that takes its faith seriously.

If I am my own authority and I answer only to my personal sense of morality then we are gonna come unstuck fast and end in disaster.

I Remember…

This is a jar of memories – actual real memories!

It was my birthday gift from my daughter this year and I love it. She has simply sat down and hand-written about 100-150 fond memories of time we have spent together.

I keep the jar by my bed and I generally read one memory each day – then I put it back in the jar. Sometimes I read the same memory twice, but that doesn’t matter.

The simple act of pulling a random memory from the jar takes me back to some of our favourite times and things we did together… I inevitably end up smiling and feeling some of that experience over again.

She reminds me of the times I took her ice skating – just the two of us… of the times Danelle would go out and she would get me painting her nails… of teaching her creative writing and sport while we were homeschooling.

Some of them are seemingly insignificant memories, snippets of life, but truth is they weren’t ever insignificant.

They accumulated and they combined to tell a story and its a beautiful one.

So – hows that for the coolest gift ever?!

Pathways to Joy

Have you ever been on holidays to a place you’ve been many times before and then one day suddenly found yourself ‘over it’ and never going back?… I think Busselton and Albany have fallen into that category for me. Every time we go we end up repeating the same cycle of activities and while they aren’t bad – I’m getting bored – verrry bored!

Lately Bible reading has fallen into that same space for me. I’ve been finding the Bible familiar, repetitive and dull. I understand how to do reflective/meditative reading, but my mind just seemed to be getting in the way. If I started reading John 1 I’d immediately be remembering big ideas – the incarnation – trinity etc and my brain would say ‘got it’ and then I’d struggle to stay with any kind of thought process. Either that or I would find the text being sub-conciously shaped into a sermon – again not the point…

I said to a friend ‘I’m finding scripture oh so very boring lately. I feel like I’ve ‘been there done that’ and I’m tired of going back to see if anything has changed. (I’ve also said to the family that I am ‘over’ Busso/Albany holidays – we need to go somewhere new and find some adventure)

Then as we were planning our second teaching series for the year at QBC I found myself saying ‘hey lets attack a major prophet! Let’s go after Isaiah, or Jeremiah or Ezekiel!’ I was feeling adventurous…

To give that some context, if I were honest I’d say I have carefully dodged any significant engagement with these fellas in my 28 years of Christian leadership so it was time to ‘man up’ (or whatever gender neutral term you prefer) and give this a go. The major prophets feel like dense, difficult to read books, not at all written in such a way that people can easily engage and follow. They are long, often repetitive and without a strong grasp of the context they may not even make sense.

So let’s do it… yeah…

We chose Isaiah – because he felt like the ‘sanest’ of the prophets. And if we got stuck then there were plenty of ‘inspiration texts’ to rip out of context and fall back on (wings of eagles and the like…)

So back in Feb I began reading Isaiah – reading – re-reading – reading and then reading again. I think I must have read the whole book 12 or 13 times just trying to get a handle on it. I was right – it wasn’t an easy read at all. My paper Bible was highlighted and annotated meaning that at some point in my life I obviously did take the time to engage with this book – but I have a feeling it was in days of Vose seminary c.1997, so I had forgotten quite a bit.

As I read I saw themes and ideas developing, I found myself buying some new commentaries and spending hours on the net asking questions, emailing my old theology lecturer and reading various people’s ideas on the different texts. I began to understand the setting of the book and as I did the message made more sense. I found myself flipping across to Kings and Chronicles, Ezra and more to get a better handle on things. This was good stuff…

Then last night around 11.00pm I found myself getting stuck into Lamentations – quite literally with the thought of ‘ok so what the heck is this about?’ And it was great. I read it through and enjoyed its content.

I chuckled as I finished – who would have thought I’d be reading Lamentations late on a Friday night – just for the fun of it?… For the last couple of months I’ve also been telling people how much I’ve been loving reading Isaiah and loving the stretch that its been to preach it.

The Bible has actually started to grab me again. And as I realised what was going on I remembered how much I enjoyed my time studying theology at Vose. I know plenty of people viewed theology as a dry subject and one that sucked the joy and vitality out of faith, but for me its always been the opposite.

My heart and head are connected and when my head is engaged and stirred my heart begins to come alive. I knew this – but it had been a while since I’d bothered to do anything about it. It was largely laziness that had me in a trap of working with the familiar and being able to use it in teaching easy enough, but losing some of passion that goes with fresh discovery.

So tomorrow I get to teach thru Isaiah 40 – and not just the juicy bits at the end that make for good preaching – but the context of exile and the hope of restoration, the nature of God and the rather sad and predictable shape of our own character.

As well as marinating in Isaiah, I’ve downloaded Rob Bell’s 4 part series on Leviticus – heck – if we’re going to get adventurous then lets see how we go in the ‘Simpson desert’! Those MP3s are now my staple ‘go tos’ in the car as I drive and I’m enjoying hearing his take on this most curious of books.

So – if you’re in the same boat – bored – sick of the same groundhog experience then maybe it’s time to go an adventure to somewhere new and to really go there – to live there, rather than visiting as a ‘tourist’ and checking out the highlights. I feel that’s what I have done in the last few months and in the process accidentally activated that part of me that finds joy in the Bible.