Mere Christians

John Mark Comer (Author of Live No Lies)

Episode Summary

How to “think Scripture” at work

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with John Mark Comer, Author of Live No Lies, to talk about why he is passing the baton of leadership at his church after 18 years, the difference between thinking about Scripture and THINKING scripture, and how and why to read the gospels as biographies of the life of Christ.

Links Mentioned:

And don't forget, if you pre-order a copy of Jordan's new book, Redeeming Your Time, you can enter to win a trip for two to the Holy Land (or a cash prize of equivalent value)!

Entering to win is super simple:

NO PURCHASE NEC. Restrictions apply. U.S. + D.C. residents only. Visit for full rules, prize info, odds, free entry method & other details. Void where prohibited.

Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] JR: Before we get to today's episode, a quick announcement. October 19, I'm releasing my next book Redeeming Your Time: Seven Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present and Wildly Productive. But in case you haven't heard, I'm giving you guys an amazing over the top incentive to pre order the book today. I'm giving away a trip for you and the guest of your choice to visit the Holy Land. Here's why. The new book is all about these seven time management principles for the life of Christ that we can see in the gospels, believe it or not.


Essentially, what I've done in this book, is I've taken those seven timeless principles and map them to 31 hyper practical practices, to help you live out those principles today, ensuring that you and I can walk like Jesus walked in the first century, here in the 21st century today. So, I thought, if I'm teaching people how to walk, like Jesus walked, how awesome would it be to send a listener of the podcast to go walk where Jesus walks? That's exactly what I'm doing.


Now, listen, I know many of us are not comfortable traveling internationally right now. That's why I'm giving the winner of this sweepstakes three years to book their trip to Jerusalem. Now, if you're still not comfortable traveling to the Holy Land, I get it. No worries. If you win, you can choose to receive the equivalent cash prize of the trip instead.


Alright, so with all that other way entering to win this trip, or the prize wherever you want, super simple. Step one, go preorder Redeeming Your Time on Amazon or wherever you buy your books. Step two. Go to, you'll find a form right there on the website, where you can enter in the number of books you pre ordered, and enter to win the trip. That's it.


Now, here's today's episode.




[00:02:11] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I host a conversation with a Christ follower who is pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and routines, how the Gospel of Jesus Christ influences their work they do in the world.


Today, we're doing something we've never done before here on the Call to Mastery. We have our first ever repeat guest. My friend, John Mark Comer. We first had him on the podcast back on Episode 15, almost two years ago. So, why have him back? Why have a repeat guest? Two reasons. Number one, John Mark is easily in my top three favorite authors. Frankly, I've said a lot of questions I didn't get to the first time, even more after this conversation. But two, John Mark’s got a new book out that has a ton of application for the work you and I do in the world. I wanted to make sure you guys heard some of that content. If you don't know John Mark. He's the author of six books, including the mammoth best seller, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, which you've heard me talk about a million times in this podcast.


He's also the founding pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. So, John Mark and I sat down recently. We talked about why he's passing the baton of leadership at his church after 18 years after founding Bridgetown. We talked about the difference between thinking about scripture and thinking of Scripture. We talked about how and why we need to read the Gospels as biographies of the life of Christ. You guys are going to love this conversation with my friend, John Mark Comer.




[00:04:15] JR: John Mark, welcome back to the Call to Mastery.


[00:04:17] JM: Oh, Jordan, I'm so happy to join you for a conversation. Love the work that you are up to.


[00:04:23] JR: We were just talking before we start recording. You listened in for my episode with Cal Newport who we’re both massive fans of. What do you think?


[00:04:33] JM: I don't think I'd ever – I've read every single book by him. Fun fact, my 15-year-old son is right now reading – he got started before anybody knows about him writing about like study hacks for teenagers.


[00:04:44] JR: Right. That was his blog. I think it's still his URL, like or something.


[00:04:48] JM: Yeah, something like that. So, my 15-year-old boy, we make our kids do an hour of college reading every morning in the summer. So right now, he's reading Newport’s, I think it's, How to Be A High School Superstar, I think is the title. He's loving it.


I read everything by him including How to Be A High School Superstar, just as a dad, not because I’m planning repeating high school, but maybe I need to. But I don't think I've ever listened to an interview with him. A lot of writers are not great kind of talkers. Some are. A lot of great talkers are not great writers. They're both communications, but they're really different mediums. I was delighted and surprised. He was a fantastic interview. I mean, at some point, he's preaching to the choir, like I'm smoking what he's selling. I'm a fan because I'm so in alignment.


My biggest bummer about most of his books is he writes about all the things that I'm currently excited about and living, so he's not like, I feel like we've been on a similar journey toward digital minimalism and deep work and mastery of your craft and so good they can't ignore you. It's a little bit like, “Hey, bro, I need you out in front of me so that I can learn from you a little bit more.” I love his work. It was a fantastic interview.


[00:05:59] JR: He was a great guest. I loved that episode.


[00:06:03] JM: So, to those of you listening, go back and give it a go.


[00:06:05] JR: Go back, find episode, I don’t know what number but just search Cal Newport and Jordan Raynor, and you'll find it. By the way, it's a little silly that we're doing this interview remotely. I'm literally boarding a plane in 20 hours to come to Portland.


[00:06:17] JM: I had that thought. I thought, why are you not three feet away from me at my home office? What is this?


[00:06:23] JR: I know. Well, I'll see you on Sunday. But before I do, what's one thing I've got to do and one thing I've got to eat in Portland?


[00:06:29] JM: Okay, so the one touristy thing that for you as a writer is a must do – every city has its tourist list. I would say about 80% of that tourist list is a waste of your time and money trap. About 20% is like, “Yeah.” If you're in San Francisco drive over to Golden Gate Bridge. You're crazy to get down. If you’re Portland, it's Powell’s Bookstore. It's the largest independent bookstore in the world. The main one is an entire city block of four buildings that have been like, kind of put together with entrances and exits, and then they have other buildings too, like a whole technical one, all this kind of stuff. And four stories and it will just blow your mind. It's right downtown in a cool part of the city. As a writer, I mean, it's just like, if literature had a mecca or a Jerusalem, it's Powell’s Books.


[00:07:21] JR: It’s already in the list. So, dot.


[00:07:22] JM: I would say Powell’s Books. If you get time, the other one is go for a walk in Forest Park, which is up against downtown. The largest urban forest park in America, 5,000 acres, pure forest, straight up against downtown. It is a gift.


Where to eat? I would recommend this place called Shalom Ya’ll. As in Shalom like peace you all, which means it's a Mediterranean food company started by a guy from the south. It’s just wicked good.


[00:07:49] JR: It's on the list already. Good. I'm glad we did our homework well. Alright, so hey, big update. Since you were last year on the Call to Mastery, you announced you're transitioning out of Bridgetown Church, this church you founded to focus on building this new nonprofit. Tell us a little bit about this new endeavor?


[00:08:06] JM: Yeah, that's a long time coming. I can give you the short version and I don't know where you want to go at the conversation. But a lot of it has to do with vocation and accepting your limitations and –


[00:08:15] JR: That’s where I want to go. So, go there.


[00:08:17] JM: Yeah. Okay, so at the top end giveaway at the punch line. Yes, planted a church 18 years ago, right in the urban core, Portland, Oregon. The church is thriving, and whatever that means in a post COVID/middle of COVID – is this the middle of COVID? I don't know any more right now, with all the variants and the scary news. A beautiful church, we just moved into a building last year, an old church building that we bought and renovated. It's just this just really beautiful community that's following Jesus and what Pew Research just termed the least religious city in America.


So, it's been really a gift to be a part of it. But in four weeks, actually, from this coming Sunday, I will hand the baton of lead pastor off to a dear friend of mine, Tyler Staton, who has been a church planter and pastor in Brooklyn, New York, who has now moved here. He just got here a few weeks ago. He will take over the kind of point leader position on our elder team and pastor our church and anchor the teaching position. He is just an extraordinary leader.


Yeah, I'm transitioning after a long sabbatical, God willing, to start a new nonprofit called Practicing The Way which is this kind of five-year discipleship and spiritual formation initiative that we've done with our church, that I really feel a call to give myself more to, not less to, and to redo the entire thing, simplify it, synthesize it, and give it away to kind of the church at large and followers of Jesus around the world. It's lots we could talk about there. I think discipleship in the western church is abysmal for all sorts of different reasons. It's a broken model that does not on the whole yield a high degree of healing and transformation into the image of Jesus and a person of love. I think part of that is because it's not a high value in the western church. But there's a deeper problem when I don't think it's actually done according to both the ancient wisdom of the way of Jesus or modern social science. I don't think it's designed to actually produce deep healing and change.


So, I want to create discipleship resources for the church at large and followers of Jesus in the West. That's kind of what I'll be giving myself to more fully is teaching, writing, and then creating discipleship resources for churches to run.


[00:10:34] JR: It's interesting to me, because the last time we recorded an episode of this shows about two years ago. I was in the middle of launching my book, Master of One, and we were talking about this concept of focus in vocation, and you were talking about how, yeah, you're one thing away – in the parlance of the book is really that craft of teaching and teaching the way of Jesus. So, it sounds like that certainly informed this decision to get even more focused on that core craft. Right?


[00:11:01] JM: Yeah. It's hard. I know, there are a lot of similarities in the business world, but in pastoral work, and obviously, it feels kind of gross to talk about pastoral work as a career, and so just go easy on me here. But in pastoral work, if you're a gifted teacher or preacher, then people automatically assume that you're a gifted leader, and that you're the type of leader that can run an – they're all different types of leaders. And that you're the type of leader that can run an organization really well.


Ironically, depending on your model of church, but in a church where there's a high value for teaching or preaching, or if you want to call it the sermon on a Sunday, then often the growth of the church is hopefully not directly tied, but is at some level commensurate it to that teaching experience. Now, you could say that's a horrible thing. You could say, that's a good thing, depending on your value system. But I think if we just kind of set aside our moral judgments, it just kind of is at some level.


So, what happens is often somebody who like me, I'm not like, I'm not a leader, but I'm a little bit more of a thought leader than an organizational leader, which is a different gift set.


[00:12:13] JR: You don't want to be the COO of the church.


[00:12:17] JM: Heck no, bro. I struggle to manage my assistant who is wonderful. I was listening to Adam Grant interview, Malcolm Gladwell, and apparently those two guys are friends and Adam Grant’s like organizational psychologists. He was asking about – Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite writers right up there with Cal Newport. Just as far as nonfiction writing that's really smart, but super easy to read. But without simplifying things too much. I mean, those two are great examples of that.


Anyway, Adam Grant asked Malcolm Gladwell like some question about how to organize like office dynamics, and Gladwell was like, “What are you talking about? I text with my assistant and I work at a coffee shop. I don't know anything about how to run an organization.” But obviously, Gladwell has been an extraordinary thinker and gift to the world at large.


[00:13:08] JR: It's just different lanes, and you know your lanes.


[00:13:11] JM: But often, it's similar, like Portland's a hub for advertising, some of the best advertising agencies in the world are here, which probably is because Nike started here. And Nike is really more of a brand than if it were a company. And so, they needed kind of outside agencies, and Portland is very creative kind of city. I see this a lot where, because a lot of people in our church that work in advertising, they'll start out as artists, they'll be gifted designers, artists, and then maybe they have the right brain for some of the branding stuff, which is really kind of intellectual. If you get with somebody who's good at branding, they're basically an intellectual artist, because they're helping you understand the vision and the philosophy behind your business, or your product or your nonprofit. And then they're creating a visual language for it.


But then often, as the career path goes up, they end up in some form of like management, and all this and you're like, “Wait a minute”, what makes somebody a great artist, or maybe philosopher is not the same thing that makes somebody good at managing 30 employees. But that's the career trajectory. That's the next raise. That's the next step up the corporate ladder. But at some point, they like lose their soul. I've known a number that basically demoted themselves and gone back to doing art. I'm sure there are other lots of other examples in other vocational fields.


But in pastoring, I think really, my heart is teaching and spiritual direction. I love writing books. I love preaching to groups of people and I love sitting one on one for like two or three hours with another person and helping them discover God's invitations in their heart and help them sift through their desire and help them discover how God's coming to them. I love the practice of inner healing prayer, sitting with people and helping them discover the lies they've come to believe and getting freedom from those lies. So, that kind of stuff I love.


Newport said that in your interview with him. He said a lot of pastors, Protestant pastors, he said he was really surprised, we're drawn to his book Deep Work and he nailed it. He said it's because they often got into it because they like love the craft of preaching or they're like kind of therapist kind of personalities. They love like the healing of the soul with other people. But then they end up basically running a midsize business. So, our church is amazing, but it's like 25 employees, four point something million-dollar budget, and we have a 36,000 square foot building. So, those are all great things. I'm not like a cynical anti church. I love it. It needs its important stuff. But I don't think it's my best contribution.


[00:15:43] JR: Yeah, I hear you. I totally get it. I've made a similar decision in my career trajectory. So hey, you're not just launching this nonprofit though. You're also launching this book, Live No Lies, which I loved. We're launching our books a couple of weeks apart. So, yours comes out September 28? Is that the date?


[00:16:00] JM: Isn’t that crazy? Yes. September 28th. And when is yours?


[00:16:03] JR: Yes. Redeeming Your Time comes out October 19.


[00:16:06] JM: Oh, come on.


[00:16:07] JR: But this is not about my book.


[00:16:08] JM: I can't wait to read it.


[00:16:11] JR: Give us a short summary of this new title, Live No Lies.


[00:16:14] JM: Oh, goodness. Okay, I'm still working on the elevator pitch, Jordan. I need to get it down. So, two questions. Question one, do you ever just feel like life is a bit of a struggle? Even if you make enough money, and you aren't sick, or have a disease or your life, on an external level is decent, or maybe even really good and up into the right, but you feel this inner like tug of war, this tension in your desire, in your heart and you feel almost like a opposition like this just sense of, “Where is this pressure from? Why is life hard? Why does it feel like struggle?”


One thought could be because it is. Late modern western people have been duped into thinking that life is easy, when the reality is all great religious traditions and philosophical traditions have all said, life is very hard. From Jesus saying, “In this world, you will have tribulation”, which is like a promise that your grandma will never have in her like pocket promise book.


[00:17:16] JR: You're never going to see that stitch onto a pillow.


[00:17:18] JM: You're not going to see that on the like, I grew up in the ‘80s, ‘90s church, like the little calendars with a little scripture for the day, on the kitchen window sill. You're not going to see in this world, you will have trouble. In Buddhism, the first of the Four Noble Truths are is basically life is suffering. Life is hard. I think that's absolutely true. You don't need to be a Christian to believe this. You just need to be breathing. That doesn't mean life is not rich and good and meaningful and full of joy. But it's hard.


Ancient Christians were hyper aware of this reality, as we're most ancient people who didn't have modern medicine and electricity and running water and democracy and all the things that make us so comfortable, and affluent and often with that like an affluenza. They were just hyper aware of this and ancient Christian starting with the desert fathers and mothers, they saw your soul, like your whole being, as kind of under assault. Like there was this war, this fight. I read this morning, in my morning scripture reading, Paul's line, fight the good fight of faith for him. Christian spirituality wasn't like Christian Buddhist mindfulness, though there's a lot of that in the Christian tradition.


At its core, it was like a fight. It was a struggle, it was a war, it was this oppositional force like within you, and without you that you were up against. Ancient Christians identify what they call the three enemies of the soul starting with the desert fathers and mothers, and the third and fourth century, that they gave the language later to of the world, the flesh and the devil. This was language that was used by the church really, for 1,500 years, to kind of frame a life of discipleship and kind of a spirituality of struggle, and really how to grow and mature and overcome that struggle and come to a place of peace. But in the last, you know, depending on how you count it, a couple of decades or century, that kind of paradigm, that language has been lost. The result is, I think, a lot of neurosis. Psychologists define neurosis as when you suffer more than you need to. Psychologists are quick to point out there's a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what is. It's, I lost my job or my business just failed. Or I was betrayed by a coworker, or belittled by my boss or I just got diagnosed with COVID, or a disease or somebody I love died. That's pain. Suffering is the meaning that we make, the lens by which we interpret and emotionally experience what is.


So, pain and suffering, we often suffer more than we need to because we don't have a meaningful paradigm by which we interpret the struggle, that is life. Scott Peck, in his famous book, The Road Less Traveled, which is in my top 10, who at the time was a secular psychologist, he later came to faith in Jesus. But his opening line is life is difficult and then it's not a morose book. It's a beautiful book. And then he just points out that if you expect life to be easy, like you're full of neurosis and suffering, and like you're just wrapped in your heart. But if you expect life to be hard, then most people agree that life is actually deeply beautiful, and good and full of joy. So, a lot of it is about how you frame it.


So really, the book is about the sense of struggle that we feel in particular, as Christians where I think the sense of struggle is endemic to the human condition. But often, it gets worse when you become a Christian, not better, because our worldview is increasingly at odds with the dominant narratives on both the right and the left in secular western culture. And the world is increasingly, and on both sides, the right and on the left, hostile toward any form of following Jesus, that is like an orthodox historic Christian faith.


If you are willing to kind of update your faith to align with the ideology of the right or the left, then people on either side will be okay with you. But not if you actually stay true to Jesus and His teachings and discipleship to him, life in a community defined around his life and his values. Often following Jesus makes this struggle at some level worse, not better. That's really disorienting. It's all worth it, but it's disorienting if you don't have a paradigm for that.


[00:21:44] JR: Yeah, that’s true.


[00:21:44] JM: That's kind of what this book is about. It's about the struggle. It's about the sense of following Jesus in this increasingly hostile secular culture in the middle of the culture wars, where I don't care what side you get the most flak from, you're getting flak. How do we not just survive this kind of a moment? But actually, flourish and just find peace and joy, and stay faithful to Jesus and His calling our life in this moment. And then the rest of the book is really about the role of the mind in that and the thought life and lies and truth, and how that really is the core of both our neurosis and our journey to peace.


[00:22:24] JR: One of the things I loved about the book is you looked at the practices of Jesus in order to fight these three enemies, right? The devil, the flesh, the world. But you talked about this in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, to see Jesus's practices, we often need to rethink the way we see the Gospels, right? This idea that we read the Gospels for their theology and ethics, but not as biographies. Can you talk a little bit about this and why it's so important that we approach the Gospels through this biographical lens?


[00:22:56] JM: Yes. I wrote about that in my previous book on The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, but it's foundational to my whole view of what it means to follow Jesus and how I read the New Testament. It's very simple. We often miss that the four gospels, and it's interesting, we have four, not one, our biographies, but often Christians don't read them as far as genre of literature. Depending on what genre of literature you're reading, a comic book, or a novel, or a science textbook, or the New York Times. You intuitively approach it differently, and you read it differently. you interpret it differently, you apply it or don't apply it to your life differently based on the genre of literature. Christians often don't read the four gospels, like the biographies, they actually are.


If you think about how we read biographies, I'm not like a diehard biography reader, but I always read a few every summer, on vacation. I just finished President Obama's and every summer I'll read at least one, maybe a couple. But if you think about a biography, most of the time, we read about somebody that we at some level, have an aspirational desire to be like, not always, or maybe it's a pariah. I remember reading Elon Musk's, which I did not put down, it was phenomenal.


[00:24:08] JR: Yeah, so good.


[00:24:09] JM: But it wasn't because I wanted to be like him. It was more, because I'm just fascinated by him. I kind of want to avoid some of the stuff in his life as a father and husband and that kind of stuff. So, you can do this intuitive thing when you read a biography. You pay attention to the details of that person's life, their story, like what was their family of origin like? Where did they go to college? Did they go to college? What kind of career path did they have? Then you pay attention to the details of like their habits system. What's their morning routine like? I just read a whole thing on Winston Churchill's, like daily habits, and it was absolutely fascinating.


You do this intuitive thing, you're kind of mining their life story, both their kind of history and their habit system in an attempt to see, hey, are there any like pearls of wisdom and how they lived, that I could kind of pick up out of their story and filter through my personality? I'm not Winston Churchill, I'm not running England, I'm not running the nation through World War Two, but that I could pick up and I could apply to my own life, like, “Oh, here's how I could do something like that with my personality, and how I could kind of flesh that out. Here's how it can work in my schedule.” We naturally try to copy the best parts of their lives into our own, in the hope that we will achieve something similar to what they achieved.


This is just intuitive. It's just how we think as human beings, and it's right. Sadly, very few of us approach the Gospels that way, where we read the gospel, I'm not saying that's the only way we read it, because the gospels are full of theology and full of ethical vision. Jesus is different than me. He is both as human and me and more. But he's also more than just that. The analogy breaks down at some level, but we need to also read it as a template for how to be human. So, we need to read these stories, which don't have commands. None of what we would call the spiritual disciplines, which are all basically rooted in the life of Jesus, with a few exceptions, like journaling or something, because Gutenberg wasn't around yet.


But none of these are commanded by Jesus. Jesus doesn't command you to read your Bible in the morning. He doesn't even command you to Sabbath. He doesn't even command you to go to synagogue or church on Sunday. He doesn't command you to fast. He doesn't command you to type. He just does all of these things, and then says, “Come follow me.” So, the gospels are just full of these stories about the details of Jesus life. Mark 1, one of the first stories in Mark's biography, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a solitary place and prayed. No command. No moralism. No, you need to get up at this time tomorrow morning and spend this much time in Scripture and prayer. Just, “Hey, look at how Jesus started his day in a busy season of life.” Interesting. What would that look like for me as an apprentice?


[00:27:16] JR: I talk about this in Redeem Your Time because when I read this in [inaudible 00:27:20], there’s a huge idea, my mission is to help every Christ follower do their most exceptional work, not for their fame and fortune, but for the glory of God and the good of others. I knew for a while, I wanted to write a book on time management, as redeeming the time, as Paul says, is a huge piece of that puzzle. But I never wanted to write this another time management hack book with a bunch of quick fixes that are here today and gone tomorrow. I only wanted to write about the stuff that was timeless, right? And where better to look when I read that in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is it.” Jesus is the author of time in the flesh for these 30 some odd years on Earth. Do the gospel biographies say anything about how he lived his life, how he stewarded his time, and not surprisingly, they do. Mark, Chapter 1, he got up early. He dissented from the kingdom of noise, to spend time with his father. There are all of these habits. And that's what my book is. The seven timeless principles for the life of Christ.


I want to go back to Time in the Word though, because you argue in Live No Lies, that this habit of Christ is this critical practice for combating lies from the devil. You talked about this difference between thinking about Scripture and thinking Scripture to do this. Can you give us an example of how our listeners might think Scripture to combat lies they're telling themselves at work?


[00:28:48] JM: Oh, gosh. Okay, so there's hours of fascinating translation here. This all started for me, I would love to say it started with my brilliant reading of Matthew 4 and Luke. But it actually started by reading a fourth century, Desert Father named Evagrius, The Solitary.


[00:29:03] JR: Oh, what a name.


[00:29:04] JM: That just changed my life. And he and the Desert Fathers had this fascinating take on the story of Jesus and Matthew 4 and Luke 4, where Jesus right before kind of launched his – after he's baptized and anointed by the Spirit, before he comes kind of teaching and preaching and doing his thing, there's 40 days out in the wilderness in the desert, where Jesus goes head-to-head at the end of that with this creature, this Satan, this devil, this personification, or personalization, even of evil itself. It's this fascinating story. I'm guessing a lot of you listeners have read it at some point in your life, where the devil comes to Jesus out in the desert with these three temptations. They're fascinating temptations because they're not blatant. They're not like, “Jesus, go murder this person.” Or “Jesus, go steal this person's money.” Or “Jesus, go have an affair.” They're very subtle. Temptation one, turn stones into bread. What is that? Which is essentially, as I understand a temptation to basically flex his God muscles and rather than go the way of the incarnation, the way of taking on humanity's suffering, and humanity's fragility and mortality and eventually dying, rather to play the Zeus card, the Apollo card and to be like all the other gods and just flex your muscles.


So, there are these subtle temptations. And what is Jesus do with each one? So basically, what Evagrius said, is he said, “Pay close attention to that story. The devil doesn't come at Jesus with a sword and an army of Roman legionnaires. He comes at Jesus with a lie, with a deceptive idea is the subtle kind of temptation to a disordered desire in the human heart.” What does Jesus do? He doesn't fight back with a sword either. How does he fight back, so to speak? He fights back by the quotation of Scripture. Evagrius and the desert fathers and mothers said, “That's not like a magic incantation. It's not like if you quote Scripture, the demons are scared and fly away. Nor is it like a sword drill Bible study.” What Jesus was doing was what neuroscientists would call thought redirection. This is where Evagrius and they would say Jesus was thousands of years ahead of the best thinkers of his day. This is like leading edge neuroscience stuff, which is basically you know, Hebb’s Law of Neuroplasticity, neurons that fire together wire together. Changing kind of neural pathways in your brain and your thought life, the videos that play in your mind is hard. Because you can't not think about something.


If I tell you, “Jordan, don't think about the pink cat.” What do you think about right now?


[00:31:39] JR: Pink cats. All of them.


[00:31:41] JM: And if I said, “Just keep telling yourself, don't think about the pink cat. Don't think about the pink cat. Don't think about the pink cat.” You actually are wiring neurons together that make you more likely to think about the pink cat. By tomorrow morning, all you'll be able to think about is the pink cat.


[00:31:56] JR: I’m going to be dreaming about pink cats tonight.


[00:31:59] JM: You're going to be dreaming about pink cats tonight. So, if you want to erase neural pathways that I just started to lay down in your mind with a pink cat, and start to carve out new ones, the requirement is thought redirection. So, that I think is what Jesus is doing is he's using neuroplasticity in our language to build new neural pathways in his brain through thought redirection and his thoughts are Scripture. He's replacing the lies of the devil with the truth of Scripture. And this, I would argue, is actually the heart of spiritual warfare, which is not language used in the New Testament. And it means all sorts of wonky things to people in the modern world today.


But that, I would argue. It doesn't mean that there are other examples of spiritual warfare, such as demonization, or illness or death or natural disasters are not legitimate. I think theologically and biblically they are. But I would argue the primary locus point of our fight, so to speak, in the spiritual kind of realm with the devil or demons, is in the realm of our mind. It's the battle between truth and lies, I think is what Jesus goes on to say later, when he calls the devil the father of lies. When he lies, he speaks his native language.


So, this kind of thought redirection is the gift of Scripture. So basically, Evagrius, wrote this book in the 350s, in North Africa, brilliant book. You can get it online, called Talking Back subtitle is, A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons, which is so punk rock.


[00:33:26] JR: It's amazing.


[00:33:27] JM: The cool thing about books is, titles and subtitles are not copyrighted. So theoretically, I could take that. I could steal that.


[00:33:34] JR: I love it. It’s so good.


[00:33:35] JM: Basically, it's not really a book, it's a handbook. There's a four-page intro, that's genius, and then he just has these eight chapters based on these eight kinds of groupings of thoughts, that fun fact, later became the seven deadly sins of antiquity that collapse too, to make pride and vainglory were really similar. So, that's where we get this language of the seven deadly sins, it all comes back to Evagrius. These eight kinds of thought groupings, greed, lust, anger, and then he had all these examples of thoughts that he struggled with as a monk. These thoughts that were deceptive ideas, that were lies that came into his mind, that were temptations to his heart. And then he had a corresponding Scripture for every single one that he memorized. 500 entries in this book. So that whenever that thought came to mind, he would just change the channel and his mental attention. He just redirected his thoughts to this other Scripture, to this corresponding truth.


[00:34:33] JR: I love it.


[00:34:33] JM: So, this is freaking brilliant. This is where ancient Christian spirituality and the bleeding edge of mindfulness neuroscience are perfectly in mesh, not just compatible, but mutually reinforce each other. There's a spiritual discipline here, where we need to approach Scripture – there are lots of different ways to approach Scripture. I don't think there's a right way. There's devotional reading, there's the logical reading for worldview for ethics, there’s study trying to understand what God is saying. But for our formational purposes, we need to have Scripture in us at some level of memorization, like memorization of Scripture, I think needs to come back in popular church culture, enough that we have it in our mind, in our imagination. So as Jesus said, we can abide in it. John 15, one of Jesus' most famous teachings, his most in-depth teaching on spiritual formation on the process by which we’re formed. He has that great line is all about abiding in the vine, this beautiful agrarian metaphor, that line about how if you abide in my word, and my words abide in you, fascinating. What's he talking about?


I think what he's talking about is what we would call in kind of more modern language, the flow of consciousness. The thought flow, and the emotional flow through our mind stream, these kinds of videos that play in our mind, from the moment we wake up until the moment we conk out at night. He's talking about this flow of consciousness, words, ideas, images, sensations, flow through our mind stream all day long, every moment that we are awake, we are conscious. So, Jesus is not asking us to do something new. He's talking about something that we already do. We have words that we abide in words, we abide in ideas, we abide in narratives, whether they're true or false, whether they're lies or the truth of Jesus and scripture and to us. We abide in thoughts and narratives and belief structures and worldviews that pass through our mind stream all day long.


What he's inviting us to do, is to curate our consciousness as an active discipleship to Jesus, to begin the lifelong journey of thought replacement, where we're trading words from our culture, or from our own experience of wounding that are lies, and we're replacing them with the truth of the words of Jesus. His teachings, his life.


[00:36:55] JR: I love that in the book, you made your own little monastic handbook in the appendix to give people, which is so great. So real quickly, give us an example from your own handbook of a lie you've told yourself about your career or your work, and how you have replaced that lie with Biblical truth?


[00:37:15] JM: Well, let me give you one example that is just from the last week. So, I've been slowly compiling this monastic handbook, where I just have a list of some of the lies that I struggle with, and a list of corresponding Scriptures. So, I'm at that real vulnerable point in the launch of a book that you know, about where probably a dozen people have read this thing. So, I don't have a great feel for like, how it's going to play. Dozen people are not like an accurate sample set.


[00:37:46] JR: Yeah, they're your superfans. They're your friends.


[00:37:50] JM: Well, or my super critics. They’re like editors, and people that are trying to help me make it better by pointing out everything that sucks about it, which is great. That's what they're for. So yeah, there’s all that. You feel really insecure. It's like, all of a sudden, you're just going to – you've been working out for a year, and also, you're just going to take your shirt off in front of people. What will people think? That’s a wonky analogy. But it just feels really vulnerable. This is the first book I've written that has some controversial stuff in it. Nothing controversial as far if you're an Orthodox Christian, but the culture wars are just at a fever pitch right now.


So, unless if you are just thoroughly on the left or thoroughly on the right, which I'm not either, then I mean, you're just going to get crucified, if you just say anything other than just –


[00:38:35] JR: Biblical truth.


[00:38:38] JM: Yeah. So, I'm guessing that I will get a lot of flak for it. And I'm worried that people won't like it. I'm a human person. I want people to think that I'm a smart, good writer, and I want people to think it's – I don't even when people think it's good. I want them to think it's the best book they've ever read and it's brilliant. I'm not content with just, “It was good. Thanks.”


So, there's all these fear in me, of that fear of attack and fear of, “Will this cause undue controversy?” So, the Scripture that God gave me a few days ago, last weekend, was Jesus line in Luke 26, “Woe to you when all people speak well of you. For that is how they treated their ancestors and prophets.” So, I thought, “Oh, wow. I want all people to speak well of me. I want the praise of men.” And Jesus said that Pharisees refuse to follow him because they love the praise of men more than the praise of God. That doesn't mean that if I'm criticized is because I'm a righteous victim. That's not what I'm saying at all. Most criticism of me is at least partially very valid, because I'm human and fallible and of that, that's a great example.


Now, when that thought comes to mind, “Oh, no, what if people attack me online or whatever, because I talk about abortion or I talk about Donald Trump or talk about whatever.” Woe to you and all people speak well of you. I just turned the channel. That's the thought that I now bring to mind.


[00:39:58] JR: Really good example. I've said before, I'll say it again, you're easily top three writers, for me, who I look up to, and just love everything you write.


[00:40:10] JM: I'm eating this up right now.


[00:40:12] JR: I know you are. Coming off of that example, tell you more.


[00:40:18] JM: Tell me more. And in the top 3, am I number 1? Am I number 2?


[00:40:20] JR: Absolutely.


[00:40:21] JM: I’m just kidding.


[00:40:23] JR: So, I am curious, I think you are world class at your craft as a communicator. I ask this of nearly every guest on the show. I don't know why I didn't ask you it the first time you were on. What's the delta between good and great writers, in your opinion?


[00:40:40] JM: Well, I mean, it depends what you're coming to a book for. There are too many different types of writing. I'm reading the Overstory right now, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It's a long meandering literary novel. So, what makes that brilliant, and it is brilliant, so far is totally different than why I love Malcolm Gladwell book or something.


Let me just talk about the vein of writing that I'm in which is basically nonfiction, that is a synthesis and simplification of kind of highly intellectual ideas for an educated reader, but that's accessible, easy to read and down to earth. Other writers in this vein would be a Brené Brown, would be a master of her, or Malcolm Gladwell, or Cal Newport, or people like that. In my mind, the separation from the good to the great, is about artistry and it's about editing. Because I read so much nonfiction for my work, for a study. I have to read all sorts of academics, I read all sorts of pastors or Christian intellectuals. My number one critic would be, they just take 10 pages to give you 1 page worth of helpful information. It's nonlinear, and they go off and they repeat themselves, and they often use Christiany language. It’s like, “Hey, your point that you just made was brilliant. You could have made that with 10% of the time that I just gave to you.”


So, I think it's like brutal editing. My editors are always mad at me, because apparently most – this last book was the first book I've actually cut down. I've cut out 20,000 words of this book from the rough draft. But every other book has come in too short. And the editors will come back to me, I've literally had this problem since I was in high school. I used to fight with my high school lit teachers and my freshmen college professors, because they would always say, “Give us more in this paragraph. Say the same thing two or three more in different ways.”


[00:42:42] JR: Why?


[00:42:42] JM: I was like, “Why? Why what is the point?” I just clearly made my point in one sentence, you want me to add two more sentences saying the same thing in different way? That was literally educated to write that way. I think it's horrible writing. So, my poor editors are always like asking me to like, elaborate on this. I'll do it if it's nuanced, because I love nuance in writing, as long as it's not too much. But I'm always fighting back like, “No. If we can say it in one sentence, don't say it in three. If you can say it in one paragraph, don't say it in four paragraphs. If you can say it in a page, don't say it in a chapter.” There's like how many books have you read that were a great blog post that turned into a poor book?


[00:43:23] JR: Yeah, all the time. That's most books.


[00:43:26] JM: There’s a great idea. But this would have been like a great podcast interview or a great blog, or maybe a long form article. But it’s not a book. You don't have 300 pages here.


[00:43:35] JR: I've been telling people with regards to Redeeming Your Time. Part of my goal with the book is not just to expound upon these time management principles for the life of Christ, these timeless principles, but also to take the gold from the 12 time management books I used to recommend, which would take up, I don't know, however, many hundreds, thousands of pages of a book and instill it into 200 pages. Guess what, I think I pulled it off.


[00:44:01] JM: You nailed it.


[00:44:03] JR: They don't need to be that long.


[00:44:05] JM: That's exactly my sense, too. So, before I became a pastor, I wanted to be a journalist. I was drawn not to like beat reporting. I have no desire to report on like the wildfires right now. I was drawn to like explanatory journalism, where you know, there's some big complex thing going on. And it could be like a current event thing like Biden's new infrastructure plan, or it could be something larger. There are some journalists will go do the work and spend like two weeks reading all this obscure stuff, and then they'll just do it in one article, they'll like simplify and synthesize the whole thing for you, in a way that the average person can understand without spending 60 hours reading. I want to do that for people with spiritual formation. That's what Gladwell did for social psychology.


[00:44:47] JR: I was just going to say this. This is why you love Gladwell.


[00:44:51] JM: Yes, I want to do this for spiritual formation. I want to do this for helping followers of Jesus, most of whom are smarter than I am. I don't need to be down to them. But they're not going to go – they don’t have the time. I'm literally getting paid to read research study and think. So, I want to simplify and synthesize and create and package it in such a way that it's – there’s all the things. We're the narrative. Books are over, people aren't reading anymore. Actually, people are reading now more than ever, they just read very differently in little snippets online. So, I think books will always have a place because there's something that happens in the quiet of a book that just does not happen reading an article online. But I think books do with a few exceptions just need to be shorter and to the point and not waste so much time because people don't read to read like they used to.


[00:45:41] JR: Speaking of books, three questions I love to wrap up every conversation with. The first is, which books other than your own, do you recommend or gift most frequently? On the whole, I get that a lot of book recommendations are nuanced and specific to somebody's specific situation. But on the whole, what do you recommend?


[00:45:59] JM: Okay, I gift one of three short little books, I gift a lot, this book by a 20th century Quaker I love named Thomas Kelly. The book is A Testament of Devotion. It's in my top 10. It's absolutely beautiful. It just kind of captures the heart. I want to have a prayer and centering my life. And there's a bunch in there about slowing down and even those written, I think in the ‘40s. So, A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly, or by Frank Laubach, which is tiny. I mean, it's like a pamphlet, basically. It is absolutely beautiful. All about the practice of the presence of God. And then there's this one little book, it’s not really even a book. It's like a 40-day prayer journal that I gift a lot called The Welcoming Prayer. It doesn't even have an author, it's put out by some contemplatives in Pennsylvania, whatever. And this is a little bit of theology in there I don't endorse, but the overall kind of practice, it summarizes in this little 40-day pamphlet that you kind of pray through each day, one or two pages a day of reading. It summarizes so much of what I think spiritual formation is about.


[00:47:07] JR: Alright, so you're consistent, because two years ago, you said Letters by a Modern Day Mystic in response to that question. So good for you.


[00:47:12] JM: I have no memory of that. There we go. I know everybody I've ever given. If anybody's listening to me that I've given that gift to you, “Oh, I thought this was a special gift.” I literally have a couple of those books like I buy extra and stack them in my office to give them away.


[00:47:27] JR: I love it. Who do you most want to hear? You've heard Cal on the podcast talking about how he's thinking about the intersection of faith and work. Who do you want to hear next on this show?


[00:47:39] JM: Have you had Andy Crouch on, yet?


[00:47:41] JR: I have not. But Andy is always welcome. That's a great answer. I love him.


[00:47:46] JM: I think he thinks really well. He and the group Praxis. I just think they think really well and kind of the bleeding edge, similar vein to what you're in kind of redemptive entrepreneur.


[00:47:56] JR: David Blanchard is a good friend, he was on the show.


[00:48:00] JM: Okay. I would like to go listen to that.


[00:48:01] JR: Yeah, I'll send it to you. Alright, last question. What's one thing from this conversation that you want to highlight or reiterate to our listeners before we sign off?


[00:48:10] JM: Either you will direct your thought life or your thought life will direct you. So, you must take an active role in the curation of your thought life toward truth as an apprentice of Jesus, or in the end your mind rather than being a place of the kingdom of heaven, the rule of God, the result of which, as Paul says, in Romans is life and peace will end up wreaking havoc in your mind, in your heart, in your body, in your career, in your ministry, in your life. So, may you daily surrender your mind and your mind stream to the love and the truth of Jesus.


[00:48:50] JR: Well said. John Mark, I want to commend you for the exceptional work you do. Just helping us follow Jesus' lead more carefully. Hey, guys, the book is Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace, came out yesterday. I highly recommend it. Hey, and by the way, John Mark, where can we keep track of your work with this new nonprofit?


[00:49:15] JM: You can head over to And it's just a landing site for now. We plan to – it’s kind of a slow start because of my transition out of Bridgetown on a sabbatical. And we have a high value for kind of quality. So, that means everything takes a bit longer. We're planning to kind of a public facing launch in August or September 2022. So just under a year. From now, there should be will begin to house a resource library of practices and courses from four-week long practices to longer courses that you could go through with your church or your small group or a couple of friends before work or on your lunch break, that could kind of create pathways for you for discipleship and formation.


[00:49:58] JR: I love it. John Mark, thanks again for joining us.


[00:50:01] JM: Yes, it's happy to be along and I'll see you Sunday.


[00:50:03] JR: That's right. I'll see you Sunday. Looking forward to.




[00:50:07] JR: I love john mark so much. I'm so grateful for his help in helping us see the Gospels for what they are. Yes, the Gospels have a ton of theology, a ton of ethics. But they are also biographies of the life of Christ. And as I mentioned on the episode, that is one of the core premises of my new book, Redeeming Your Time, that once we read the Gospels as biographies, we can see at least these seven timeless time management principles from the life of Christ.


Remember, if you pre order the book, you can enter to win a trip for you and a friend of your choice to go to the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked. You can choose the trip, or if you're not comfortable going to Jerusalem in the next three or so years, you can choose a prize of equivalent cash value. But entering to win this is super simple. Step one, go pre order Redeeming Your Time on Amazon or wherever you buy your books. I'll give you one entry for each copy you pre order, up to three entries. And then step two, go to, just the homepage,, fill out the form and you'll be entered to win.


Guys, thank you for tuning in to the Call to Mastery this week. I'll see you next time.