Mere Christians

Skye Jethani (Co-host of the Holy Post Podcast)

Episode Summary

“God does not need us. He wants us.”

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Skye Jethani, Co-host of the Holy Post Podcast, to talk about why Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday and what it means for your work, how a biblical view of heaven assigns untold dignity to the work you do today, and how to use everything from Altoids to doorframes to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence at work.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:04] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Mere Christians Podcast. I'm Jordan Raynor. How does the gospel influence the work of mere Christians? Those of us who aren't pastors, but who work as social workers, entrepreneurs, and city planners? That's the question we explore every week. Today I'm posing it to Skye Jethani, who has quickly become one of my favorite writers. He's written books like, What If Jesus Was Serious, Futureville and With, but he's perhaps best known these days as the co-host of the Holy Post Podcast. Before creating content full-time, Skye served in pastoral ministry for eight years and served as an executive at Christianity today.


Now, Skye is not a Mere Christian himself, but he has a whole lot to say to Mere Christians about how the gospel influences our work. Skye and I probably could have talked for three, four, five hours. Here are a couple of topics we explored. Number one, we talked about why Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the surprising truth that that means for your work. We talked about how a biblical vision of heaven assigns untold dignity to the work that all of us do right now. Finally, we talked about how to use everything from Altoids to doorframes, to cultivate an awareness of God's presence as we work. Guys, I'm predicting now this is going to go down as one of the top 10 episodes of the Mere Christians podcasts of all time. It's extraordinary. Please enjoy my conversation with Skye Jethani.




[00:01:52] JR: Skye Jethanit, welcome to the Mere Christians podcast.


[00:01:55] SJ: Thank you. I'm grateful to be with you.


[00:01:57] JR: Is the number one question you get about the origins of your name. Is that like –


[00:02:01] SJ: It’s up there until people see my picture. Then they basically want to know where did all that come from? Because it's so very confusing.


[00:02:09] JR: Break it down, break it down for us.


[00:02:10] SJ: Break it down. Yeah, so the name is probably your best way in. Skye is a nickname. It's a nickname I've had since I was born. I really didn't even know it was my nickname until I was about 10. My given name is Akash, A-K-A-S-H, which is a Hindi name. My father is an immigrant from India. In Hindi, Akash means Sky. That explains my English nickname. My mother is American, mostly Scandinavian and English background. So my middle name is Charles, which is my Norwegian grandfather's name.


[00:02:45] JR: Quite the contrast and –


[00:02:46] SJ: Yes. Very mixed background, and a very diverse heritage, which explains the ethnic ambiguity of my appearance and the strangeness of my name. I just kept the nickname for reasons I don't want to get into here. Yeah, when I was going away to college, I was debating, I have an older brother, who also has a Hindi name and a nickname. So he debated what he should use when he goes, and he went away to college. He's darker than I am. So more people saw him as an ethnic minority, so when he went off to college, he just used his Hindi name. He was like, “Fine, I'll just be what everyone thinks I am.”


[00:03:22] JR: Sure.


[00:03:22] SJ: I went off to college. I was like, “Okay, am I going to use my given name, my nickname, my middle name, what am I going to do?” At the end of a lot of deliberation, I just went, “I'm Skye. I've always been Skye. I'm just going to be Skye.” Now I've published multiple books as Skye.


[00:03:38] JR: Now you're married to it.


[00:03:39] SJ: Yes.


[00:03:39] JR: You can’t move away from it.


[00:03:41] SJ: I am stuck with it.


[00:03:41] JR: I love it. Hey, I mentioned this to you. We chatted earlier this year, but your book, which is now can we call it an old book? What is this, a decade?


[00:03:50] SJ: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's 11 years old.


[00:03:52] JR: It's a veteran, but I read it for the first time earlier this year and it rocked my world. Just to set some context for our listeners. I think it'd be helpful for you to talk through these four postures, you see us taking towards God. Can you give our listeners a quick overview of those four postures, Skye?


[00:04:11] SJ: Yeah. They're very simple propositions. I got to think back now, because I wrote the book so long ago, over under –


[00:04:17] JR: I saw somebody today, I was like, you know it's a weird experience being an author, because oftentimes your readers know your content much better than you do, because they read it last week and the last time you read it was a decade ago. It's a very weird experience.


[00:04:31] SJ: Yeah. I don't know if you've ever seen, I'm a Star Wars fan, or it used to be before it sucked. When you watch interviews with Harrison Ford or even George Lucas was some of the really not crazy fans. They're asking him questions about Star Wars lore and they look it like, I don't know. I'm just Han solo. I'm just George Lucas. I don't know. You people are crazy for being into this. Anyway, my own book it talks about five postures, actually, but four of them which are most common, and they're Life Over God, Life Under God, Life for God, Life from God, and then where we get the title of the book from, Life with God.


Essentially, the argument of the book is that those first four postures all have a grain of truth to them. Yet none of them actually get at the heart of what the message of Jesus is all about. So we get off track when we live over, under, from, or for and outline what those very popular postures of the religious life look like, especially in Christian communities. Most people who read the book have will go, “Oh, yeah. I've been that. I’ve done that. I'm that person. I know that.” Then I articulate why they all end up causing us so much pain and struggle and dissatisfaction in our faith. Before getting around to what did Jesus actually call us to, which is the with God posture. The rest of the book goes on to talk about what that looks like in practice.


[00:05:53] JR: Yeah. If I remember right from reading the book earlier this year, this is really born out of your own personal experience as a pastor and doing your work for God. I think you even said detrimental to your soul. Did you say that? Maybe? I don't know –


[00:06:10] SJ: Oh, yeah.


[00:06:10] JR: How so? Unpack that for our listeners.


[00:06:13] SJ: Let me count the ways. Yes. I think it was Dallas Willard who said, “The greatest threat to intimacy with God is ministry for God.” In my experience, he was absolutely correct. The reason why is, because we can become self-deluded in thinking that all the stuff I'm doing for God is my relationship with God. So the more impact I'm having in the world, the more lives are changed, the more the church is growing, the more society is transformed. All of those things, which may all well be genuinely good things. We mistakenly think that that's what the Christian life is about. We would never, most of us wouldn't admit this, but what we're really deep down believing is that God's primary interest in me, is using me to accomplish something in the world for himself.


There's so much arrogance in that assumption as if he needs us to do anything. It misses the heart of what Jesus was talking about, especially in places like the parable of the prodigal son, where it's really evident at the heart of the Father is that he wants his children with him. I'm not arguing it's wrong to be in ministry, or that it's wrong to be called by God to do things in the world. We all are, and we should do those things faithfully and honorably into his glory, but that's not his primary interest in us. That's where we get the cart before the horse. We need to route ourselves in communion with God, in intimacy with him, in life with him, out of which flows those callings, and those engagements with the world.


What I see in a lot of churches, what I experienced in my own life is that so few of us in ministry have a lived intimate encounter with God, and because we primarily live on the level of doing things for him, that's the message we communicate to the people we're leading and under our care, explicitly, or implicitly. If you would just do more for God like I am, then you will experience the fullness of the Christian life. That's a mistake that Jesus doesn't make in his ministry. Paul doesn't make – Paul does not call other people to be evangelists. He calls other people to live in deep, intimate communion with Christ.


In fact, in First Thessalonians, he says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Paul didn't lead a quiet life. In First Corinthians seven, he says, “Each person should remain where they are with God.” It's that with God calling. Yet in so much of the American church context, it's you need to go change the world, you need to be on mission for Jesus, you need to come to do the church thing, then you'll be significant, then you'll do what God is really up to in the world. I find that to be a toxic and demoralizing message for so many people. Then it leads to what you're seeing throughout the church, pastors who are burning out having affairs, destroying their families, destroying their ministries, because they're really in it trying to satisfy their own need for significance in the ego, rather than rooting it in their intimacy with God.


[00:09:17] JR: Yeah. Hey, you breeze past First Corinthians 7. Let's go back there for a second.


[00:09:22] SJ: Yeah.


[00:09:23] JR: Such an important passage when we think about vocation and calling, because the document, implicit and sometimes explicit message that young people hear today is, if you really love Jesus, you'll move to a mud hut 5000 miles away from home and do your work for God, but talk us through what Paul says in first Corinthians 7 on this topic.


[00:09:46] JR: Yeah. It’s one of the best texts on the topic for sure. Let's sit back and give you some context. It appears the Corinthians had written Paul a letter asking him a series of questions about which conditions of life are best for the believer. They had some specific ones like, is it better to be married or single? Is it okay to be a slave or do you really need to be free to follow Jesus? A very ancient one that's formed our context, but do you need to be circumcised if you're a man or can you remain uncircumcised as a Gentile and still be a follower of Jesus?


When you break down those three categories, one is relational status. They're either single, one is an economic status, slave or free and one is a religious status, because circumcision was a mark of Jewish identity. Which of these are best for following Jesus and in the middle – Paul answers each of these in turn, but in the middle of the chapter, he steps back, and he gives what he calls his principle, his rule for all the churches, this isn't just for you, Corinthians, this is for everybody. That's where he says, “Each person should remain where they are, as they are.”


If you were circumcised, remain circumcised. If you're uncircumcised, remain uncircumcised, if you're a slave, don't worry about it. If you can have an opportunity to be free, take it, that's great, because it's better to be free than a slave, but don't think that being free changes anything about your status with God. The same thing with marriage, hey, if you're married, stay married. If you're single, stay single. It's okay. His overarching messages and this is so foreign to us. He says, in my interpretation of it, that the fullness of the Christian life is available to anyone, anywhere, regardless of your circumstances, because the fullness of the Christian life is Jesus himself. He is available to you right where you are. You don't have to change anything about your circumstances to experience life with him.


Now, if he calls you to change your circumstances, because he certainly did that to Paul, right, he called him to be a missionary to the Gentiles, by all means, obey that call, but if he doesn't, that's okay. Then there's the pragmatic thing, if an opportunity presents itself for you to improve your circumstances, as it does if you're a slave, and you're given the opportunity to be free, Paul's like, “Yeah, sure. Go ahead, take it.” But that doesn't change your relationship with God in any way. So much of what I was formed in as a young Christian and so much of what I hear in the church still is that your relationship with God is defined by your circumstances. You're going to have a better Christian life, if you're married, for example, or if you have children.


You're going to have a better Christian life if you're working for a ministry or nonprofit. You're going to have a better life with God if you change your cultural circumstances and go cross-cultural and serve the poor. Again, if he calls you to do any of those things, by all means, do them, but don't for a minute think it changes your status with him or your ability to experience the fullness of the Christian life because that's a lie. That's just completely bogus.


[00:12:48] JR: Yeah. I love this so much. Talk to one of our listeners. Let's say there's a graphic designer, listening. She just came to faith in Christ. She's trying to understand what this newfound Salvation means for her work. Paul said, unless you hear an explicit call, stay where you're at, at that ad agency, whatever it is, and just do that work as under the Lord. What does it look like for her, that graphic designer to do her work with God and not just for him? It can sound so amorphous guy, make it tangible and practical to us if that's even possible.


[00:13:27] SJ: Yeah. To draw from something else Paul wrote, in First Thessalonians. He commanded them to pray without ceasing. A lot of times people will read that and go, “Oh, you know, Paul's exaggerating, he's being hyperbolic.” Who can really pray without ceasing? I don't think he was. I think he was being completely serious. It's because Paul had an understanding of prayer that I think is a little different than the way we commonly think about it. We think of prayer as communication. It's us talking to God, sharing our needs, desires, sins, griefs, confessions, whatever it might be, or in some traditions, especially more Pentecostal traditions, it's God possibly talking to us, speaking to us to his Spirit, or whatever, and that's all fine and good, and that's part of prayer.


I think Paul's deeper understanding is prayer is not first and foremost communication. It's primarily communion. It's been in someone's presence in God's presence. So when he says to pray without ceasing, he's talking about what Jesus said in John 15. “I am the vine, you are the branch. Abide in me and I will abide in you, and through me, you will bear much fruit.” That abidingness that remains connected to that being in the presence of, life. That's the life of prayer. That's what Paul's getting at when he says in first Corinthians seven, “Remain where you are with God.” Abide with him where you are. You're a graphic designer, and you're doing that job nine to five. As you do that work, can you begin to cultivate and develop an awareness of God's presence with you?


[00:14:59] JR: Alright, Skye, that's great. We know what being with God doing our work with God is, it's awareness of his presence. It's awareness of his love as we do the work. How do you cultivate that though? I want you to go a layer deeper in the practicality like how do we cultivate that sense of intimacy, as we do work as graphic designers, or baristas, or accountants or whatever it is.


[00:15:22] SJ: Yeah. I mean, this is where spiritual disciplines come alongside to help us. [inaudible 00:15:27] out of religious language and religious work around. Every one of us have learned skills through disciplines. Homework, when you're in school is a discipline to teach you how to read, how to do math, how to do it – if you learn a musical instrument, an athletic endeavor or sport, you employ disciplines to train your body to do things that couldn't otherwise do. Eventually, you don't need the disciplines anymore, because you do it automatically. When I was a young kid, I really struggled to learn how to read. So I'd have to do all these drills to learn how to read. Well, now, I read automatically. I don't even think about it, it just happens, right? I've trained my body to do it.


The same thing with being aware of God's presence, at the beginning, we need disciplines to help us do it. It's different for different people. It depends on your temperament. It depends on what works best for you, but there are certain things that have been done throughout history by believers that we can rely on as being beneficial to train us in an awareness of God's presence, the ubiquitous quiet time in Evangelical Christianity, right? To spend part of your day at least for a few minutes, turning off distractions to read Scripture and to pray, that's a good discipline to begin to make you aware of God's presence.


The next step though is when that time is over. Can you bring something to remind you of his presence throughout the day? Here are some things that I've seen and done in the past. I had a mentor who taught me every time you walk through a doorway, be reminded of God's presence. Or every time you look at a clock or your watch, it triggers you to be aware of God's presence. Another guy I know, he used to have those super strong, where they Altoids those mints, those super curiously strong, I think it’s how they're marketed. He used those for a season because he would pop those in his mouth and just that aroma, and that cool sensation that goes through your sinus passages, he's like, that would remind me of God's presence.


Another great one is every time you look at someone's face, the face is a reminder of God's presence that this person has created the image of God, and it's just a trigger to begin to remind you, God's here, he's with me. Actually, I can encounter him through this person, I'm talking to. There are different disciplines like that, that can just begin to remind you, and prompt you throughout the day to be aware of God's presence.


It can be as silly as I'm going to post different Bible verses places I go, mirrors, whatever. The point of Elvis, though, is to eventually get beyond those training wheels. Get to the place where it's just an automatic disposition, you have, a bias almost of your hardwiring, that as you do things throughout your day, you're constantly aware of God's presence with you. You need fewer of those deliberate disciplines to remind you. Again, different things work for different people.  So those are just some things that I think are simple and easy enough to do.


[00:18:21] JR: Go back to our metaphorical, graphic design, our exemplary graphic designer. As she cultivates that awareness of God's presence, how should that impact how she does the work? Right? How does the awareness of God's presence in love shape the rest of that working day for that designer?


[00:18:42] SJ: Yeah. I'd recommend this for everybody, but you should really read the practice of the presence of the Lord by Brother Lawrence, who was a 17th-century monk, whose primary work was in a kitchen for a monastery. He talked about how he would do his work in constant communication with God. Now, certain vocations that are easier to do than others. If you're cooking in the kitchen, you can do that, maybe it's okay for a graphic designer if you're generally isolated, you're on a task rather than a communicated thing.


What would it look like for her as she's doing her design work to be talking to God and communicating about the task that she's doing? Even praying for the client that you're creating this thing for and hoping that it brings them joy, or you're aware of something about your client or their business. It's a startup. You're praying for – it's just that flow, that natural flow of thought, instead of doing that alone, we all have it. We have this river that runs through our conscience all the time of ideas and thoughts and stuff that's going on whether related to our work or unrelated.


It's just simply inviting God to be a part of that river. As you're thinking about that task, that thing you're designing, that client, whatever it might be, do that with Jesus and ask him to bless the work, ask him to have favor on the person. Maybe it's a client, you can't stand and they're just driving you up the wall. Great. That's a wonderful fertilizer for prayer, right? So that's all it is. It's inviting God into the river of consciousness that's flowing through you already. Basically saying, “Hey, are you seeing this, too, what's going through my head?” Getting then his perspective on things that you wouldn't otherwise have.


[00:20:25] JR: That's good. That's good, man. All right, so first and foremost, we're called to be with God. I think great books are born out of nuance, right? What makes with great is it shades in this nuance that yes, we're called to do our work with God. We're called to do our work for God, but also with God. I want to go back to “for” for a minute, right? Because we are called to live our lives to do our work for him. The question, of course, is, what is Jesus invite us to do on his behalf in his life? I thought you argued pretty persuasively in Futureville, this sequel to With, if you will, that our answer to that question is really inextricably linked to what we believe about the nature of eternity.


[00:21:11] SJ: Yeah.


[00:21:11] JR: How so? What's the connection between our mission and what we believe about eternity? This is a whole other can of worms, but open it up a little bit for us?


[00:21:20] SJ: It. This is not at all unique to Christianity. I think it's just human. It's human. What we believe about the future defines what we think matters in the present. If you believe as some Christians do, that this world will be utterly destroyed and thrown away.


[00:21:38] JR: Like the Death Star.


[00:21:38] SJ: Then it makes sense that you don't bother fixing this world. You're just as someone who said, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's a waste of time. Why bother? That's why in some Christian traditions, the only work that is given any sense of dignity and validation, is evangelism. It's saving souls. It's spreading the gospel and winning people to faith in Jesus so that they too can escape the sinking ship. That's a vision of the future that defines rather narrowly, what matters in the present. When you actually read the Bible, and you study what it actually says about the future, you discover that God is not going to throw away this world. He is not interested in replacing it with a new world. As you see from the beginning of the Bible to the end, we worship a God who redeems, not a God who replaces.


Jesus did not die to rescue people off of a sinking ship. He died and was raised so that he might be given the name above all names, and that he might rule over all of creation, which is exactly what Paul argues in First Corinthians 15. He is presently the ruler over this world. He's not interested in giving it over to evil and throwing it away or saying that evil and sin and death got a victory, because they're going to get to keep the first planet as he goes and makes a new one. That's not the narrative of the Bible.


The narrative of the Bible is that, through Christ, God is redeeming all things and reconciling them to himself, so that he might be king over all. If that's your vision of the future, that everything actually matters to God, and he's in the process of redeeming at all. Then suddenly, all of our variety of vocations and callings in Christ, matter, because we are in a sense, participating with him in that redemptive activity.


Going back to the, with idea. No, God does not need us to accomplish this work. He's going to do it fine without us. That's why we root our value and identity in the fact that we live with him, and we're his child, and that's unchanging, but nonetheless, as his child, he invites us to participate with him in this work. That's an amazing thing and incredibly dignifying. It means our work does matter, but my value and significance is first and foremost rooted in my identity as his child, not in the work I'm doing, even though it matters. It's not of ultimate concern, is that nuanced make sense?


[00:24:09] JR: It makes all the sense of the world. I may be quoting you, this line sticks out in my head, “God does not need us. He wants us.”


[00:24:17] SJ: Right.


[00:24:19] JR: He invites us as children to co-labor alongside us, alongside him, but don't fool yourself, he doesn't need us to accomplish anything in this world, because at the end of the day, he's going to make all things new. Yeah, I think this is super practical for how we think about work, right? Because if souls are the only thing God's going to redeem, then there's really only one way that our work matters for God, right? If we leverage our jobs to the instrumental end of the Great Commission, which in the last 200 years of church history, we have elevated to the only commission of many traditions of the church. It leads to what you call this theology of evacuation, which you've touched on, but go a level deeper there. Can you explain what you mean by this theology of evacuation, Skye?


[00:25:06] SJ: Okay. So it's the sinking ship metaphor that I was referring to earlier, which is just the world is going down, God's not interested in saving it, all he's interested in is saving the souls off of the sinking ship. Therefore, anything else you do on this show matter, because it's destined for the flames, or in this case, it's destined for the waves. What that does is it, it tells believers that all the other things you do in the world don't really matter. They don't matter to God, they don't matter for eternity. It's a waste of time and energy, unless you're in ministry, or the one possible exception to that is if you make a lot of money doing something that doesn't matter. Then you give that money over to those of us who are doing the evacuations –


[00:25:51] JR: It’s all in same, same.


[00:25:53] SJ: Right? It's all in the same, same. It's just utterly inconsistent with the message of the New Testament. It's utterly inconsistent with the history of the church. I mean, Martin Luther said – was asked, if you knew that Christ was returning tomorrow, what would you do? He said, “I would plant a tree.”


[00:26:07] JR: Yes.


[00:26:08] SJ: That doesn't make sense if you have an evacuation understanding of the future.


[00:26:12] JR: It doesn’t also diminish the power of Christ's resurrection. Okay, all right, rant on this for a little bit. Yes.


[00:26:21] SJ: I love to stump people with this question, when I'm teaching at a church or something. Why do we worship on Sundays, as Christians? Usually somebody will say, “Well, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.” Then I'll go, “Okay, well, why did he rise on a Sunday?” Then everyone's stumped. No one's thought about this. The reason he rose on a Sunday, is because according to Genesis 1, the creation account of ancient – creation began on a Sunday. That was the first day of creation. Then God rests on Saturday, the Sabbath, the seventh day. Jesus rises, and anti writes, written beautifully about this. He rose on a Sunday because Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. His body was transformed.


Paul gets into this in depth that his body, it was the same body, right? He still had the wounds of crucifixion visible. It was the same body and yet – as formed, it was raised spiritual, as Paul says. That doesn't mean it's immaterial. It means it's been glorified. It exhibits different qualities. I mean, he appears and disappears. He passes through walls. He flies. He didn't do any of that stuff before the crucifixion. His body, as Paul says, is the first fruit, his resurrected body, the beginning of the harvest. Sunday was the first day of the new creation that's now continuing. The fact that Jesus’ resurrection is a material physical resurrection – is why Christians believe that the material universe matters, matter matters.


Agnosticism is the heresy that says bodies don't matter. Jesus didn't really rise from the dead, physically. That's utterly rejected by the New Testament writers. So the fact that Jesus has a bodily – resurrection and it's the same body, but it's a transformed and glorified body, is exactly what Paul talks about in Romans 8, when he says, that the creation itself is groaning, holding its redemption because it will share in the glory of the children of God. When we are resurrected and given new bodies, the earth itself will be resurrected, but continuity is important there. It's the same body of Jesus. We will have the same bodies. The earth will be the same earth, but all of it will be transformed and glorified. Set free from the curse, from sin, and death, and evil.


There's continuity, in other words, the sinking ship, will be brought back to the surface, and it will be perfected and it will be made the way God always intended it to be. It's not going to go down forever. So what we do in this world that is in conformity to God's character in his kingdom, and what he intends the world to be, that will last, that will endure, that will be part of the glorified new creation, the renewed world. What we do now matters. That's the idea of this resurrection power of God being unleashed on the whole cosmos, and that which is inconsistent with his character and kingdom will be purged away, but that which is beautiful, and good, and holy, and righteous, and just, all those good things that we do, will endure and last.


Getting into the end of the Bible, you have this incredible moment where John says that he sees the glory of the nation’s being brought into the New Jerusalem. What he's speaking of there are the cultural artifacts of history that have been made by all kinds of people that are consistent with God and His character that will endure for eternity, because they're good.


[00:29:50] JR: This is Isaiah 60.


[00:29:51] SJ: Yes, it's Isaiah 60.


[00:29:52] JR: You believe that there's continuity in our physical bodies.


[00:29:56] SJ: Totally.


[00:29:56] JR: If you believe that there's continuity in this physical earth, it stands to reason in Isaiah 60 says it explicitly in Revelation 21:26 says it, that some of the redeemed and purified works of our hands will have continuity – of worship to King Jesus, right?


[00:30:14] SJ: Totally.


[00:30:15] JR: There's intrinsic value in our work, not just instrumental value to go to work, and donate money to the people doing the “real ministry of the gospel.” Amen.


[00:30:25] SJ: Amen.


[00:30:26] JR: You argued in the book, I love this. I've been thinking a lot about this since I read it. Basically, all of this has profound implications for people's engagement with the church, right? That this richer theology of vocation is one of the keys, maybe the key to the church's ability to keep future generations engaged, right?


[00:30:47] SJ: Right.


[00:30:48] JR: Explain what you mean here, because I think you're spot on in your train of thought here.


[00:30:52] SJ: When I was in seminary, I was introduced to this idea called the driver's license to marriage license hiatus. Have you ever heard that before?


[00:31:01] JR: No, I have no idea what you're talking about.


[00:31:02] SJ: Okay. It was sociological given that when a young person who's raised in the church gets their driver's license, or around 16 to 18 years old, when you get your driver's license, or you graduate from high school, a lot of young people traditionally drop out of church involvement, but for generations, the trend was, they would come back into the church around the time they got a marriage license because you get married and you realize this person is terrible and I'm trying to raise children. I don't know how to do this. I need help. Oh, the church has things and people, and resources to help me. So for much of the 20th century, that was the trend.


Now here's the problem. In prior generations, the gap between driver's licenses and marriage licenses was really short, because in my parent’s generation, most people got married in their early 20s. Dropped by the church at 18 and you were married by the time you were 22. Four years, no big what? People came back. Well, the average age of first marriage for an American man today is 32. If you were raised in the church, and you dropped out, most young people do around 18 and you get married at 32, what's that 14 years?


[00:32:16] JR: It's half your lifetime.


[00:32:17] SJ: That's a long time. That's a long time to figure out how to do life without the church. So what they're finding now is because people are getting married much later, and having children even later than that, fewer of those people ever bother coming back to the church. I mean, there have been some people who argue this is why we need to encourage people to get married young. I'm not sure that's the answer. I think the better answer is to say, hey, if someone is 25, or 28, or 30, and they're not married, and they don't have children, why would they engage the church?


Well, chances are, if you're in that age range and you're not married, and you don't have children, you're probably getting most of your significance and identity from your vocation. Either the job you currently have or the job you aspire to have. When a religious community says nothing about that, cares nothing about that gives no validation to that, sees that as having no value in God's world or kingdom, no value for the future. Why would you engage in that community? So my argument is, if we really want to do a better job of engaging a younger generation and keeping them involved in the church, then rather than only supplying resources for people who are married with kids, and that's, again, legitimate.


We also need to be supplying resources for all of us in our vocations. Why not have a group in a church for people in place, or people in education, or people in the arts, or people in health care? pPck whatever area of the world and gather those believers together and say, “Hey, what are the unique challenges in our area of vocation for following Jesus?” What are things in our industry that are hard to do if you're a young person, just beginning in health care and you have people in your church that have been in health care for 20 or 30 years as believers, don't you want to hear from them? Don't you want a relationship with them to learn from them what it means to follow Jesus and healthcare? Few churches have a vision for that discipleship, but I think that's absolutely essential, not just for the expansion of God's Kingdom in the world, but to retain a younger generation who don't get their identity primarily from marriage and family.


[00:34:28] JR: Yeah, man. Every single time one of these studies comes out, they come out all the time, about young people disengaging from the church. Everybody loves to blame liberals. Everybody loves to blame, “culture” but I really believe that we the church are partially to blame, because after our kids walked the aisle, after they prayed the prayer. We never validated their God given desires, I believe, to work for the betterment of the world. The world valid hates their love of justice, and beauty, and cultural excellence, but the church doesn't. Of course, they walk away, right?


[00:35:07] SJ: Yeah. It’s a factor.


[00:35:09] JR: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. We're called to cultivate, as you say in Futureville, in the present and part of the way that we do that is through our work. By the way, what do you mean by that? You talk a little bit about this. You talk a lot about this in Futureville. What does it look for our listeners as business leaders, as artists, as teachers, to cultivate the presence of Futureville, ie the kingdom of heaven in the present?


[00:35:31] SJ: Yeah. A lot of that is rooted in the early chapters of Genesis when God plants that garden in Eden. There, the man and the woman are given responsibility to cultivate it. There's this, I want to say, throwaway verse, but a verse that many of us don't pay attention to that early rabbinical scholars did. It says that, in that garden, the Lord God planted every tree that was beautiful to the site, and good for food. These early rabbinical scholars said that in those verses, you have the basic building blocks for shalom, which we often translate as peace. The Hebraic understanding of Shalom is wholeness, everything necessary for flourishing, and they identify three qualities.


One is order, a garden unlike a wilderness can be full of life and vitality and vegetation and all that, but a garden, what separates a garden from a wilderness is order, there's intentionality, right? There's a gardener who put things in a certain place. Order is one. Second is beauty, in that text, and mentioned that for every tree that is beautiful to the site that God lists the beauty of the trees ahead of their usefulness for food was a big factor there. You need beauty for flourishing. Then finally, there's an abundance of the physical natural resources necessary for flourishing, and that's abundance. You have order, beauty, and abundance.


My argument is that when you get – throughout the Bible, you see these – wherever God's presence manifests itself in the world, you see order, beauty, and abundance. When Jesus shows up on the scene, through his miracles, in his teaching, he does that same thing, he brings order, beauty, and abundance. He calms the sea, order. He feeds the multitudes with just a few fish and loaves, abundance. He makes wine out of the water at a wedding just for the beauty of it, right? So you see it over and over and over again.


When you look at that as being the essential qualities of human flourishing, and Shalom, and what God's presence and kingdom always bring, then when you translate that to our vocations, the question that be asking ourselves is okay, in the calling that I have been given in this world, how do I manifest order, beauty, and abundance? That calling can be anything from I'm at home with little kids and changing diapers too, I'm the CEO of a multinational corporation like, what does it mean to govern what I have been given responsibility for, to bring order, beauty, and abundance, flourishing and Shalom to this little patch of the world that God has given me sovereignty over, that I am to rule in his name. That's what I mean.


It looks different in different vocations. Obviously, if you're an artist, there's a lot of beauty often in that, but there's still order. So if you're a lawyer, it's a lot of order. Maybe not a lot of beauty, but it shifts, based on our calling our personalities, and our giftings. Those are the things I look for. I tried to affirm and others were like – my kids, when they were in elementary school, they – a number of them had a teacher, a third-grade teacher, Mr. Allison. I got to know him a little bit. He had spent earlier in his career, he was a stockbroker, or commodity trader, or something or other, hated it. Felt drawn into education. He became a third-grade teacher. I sat in his classroom a couple of times, as a parent helper to do some stuff. It was just, I had to tell him this afterward, it was beautiful watching him teach third graders because you just had this sense that this man was put on the earth to teach third graders. He did it so wonderfully.


I saw the order, I saw beauty, I saw abundance in the way he taught these third graders. I don't even know if he's a Christian. I recognize that in him, I saw something of the image of God and him in the way he was teaching these third graders. So when I'm engaging with somebody, and I get to see them in their vocation, I'm looking for those things to affirm and say, wow. I recognize something of God's character and his kingdom's presence when you do what you're called to do in the world. That's what I think more church leaders need to do for the sheep under their care to validate and affirm them. Then ask, what do you need from me or what do you need from the church to help you to continue to faithfully follow Christ, where you are?


[00:39:41] JR: Amen. I really love you and out of your way of Futureville to make this point of those three, order, beauty, and abundance. We put a lot of stock in abundance and in order, right? The work of doctors and social workers and other social Crusaders, right? But very little in beauty, right? We are so obsessed with practical tangible value, fixing things that are broken in this world, but you see that God's values work beyond just the fixing, beyond the repairing of creation. Can you share your perspective on this briefly?


[00:40:20] SJ: Oh, man. We could spend all day on this one.


[00:40:22] JR: Yeah. I know – the deep one.


[00:40:24] SJ: I already mentioned from the Genesis account how the beauty of the trees is listed ahead of their usefulness for food. That caught those early rabbinical scholars, because in Hebrew writing, and there are lists or order, the priority of the emphasis is on the thing that occurs at the beginning of the list, right? So the fact that beauty is listed first is like, wait a minute, why does God care so much about beauty, that's not practical. Yet, you see that again, and again, throughout. I mean, the very first people in Scripture, who are identified as being filled with the Spirit of God –


[00:40:57] JR: That’s a low. Let's go.


[00:40:59] SJ: Are the artists who created the artistic embellishments for the tabernacle. Then wherever God's presence shows up, there's beauty there. The first miracle Jesus is reported to have done is turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Not practical, but really fun, right? It was really great. Then when you go – though, I think what's so profound about this, is that what I think Scripture is telling us through all these different stories and accounts is that the most important thing in the world is not useful and that God Himself, his ultimate value to us is not found in his usefulness, but it's in his intrinsic being.


David in Psalm 27, is it 29 or 27, I always get the mixed up says, “One thing I have I desired. One thing do I want, and that is to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord all the days of my life.” He's not saying I want to use God to beat my enemies, or I want to use God to achieve great things. No, he just wants to Behold God. The really stunning thing that we discover through Jesus is that's how God feels about us, too.


[00:42:08] JR: Yeah.


[00:42:09] SJ: That his primary interest is not in using us. This is huge when you really understand the Genesis Creation account, in juxtaposition to other ancient near Eastern creation stories. In all those other stories, humans were created to be the slaves or servants of the gods. They needed them to grow God’s food, to offer them sacrifices, and to build them temples. The overwhelming message of the Old Testament and the new is that God did not create us to use. He created us, to love us. We were created to be his image bearers, his representatives on the earth. So he says, “I don't live in a temple built by people. The throne is my temple. The earth is but my footstool.”


Psalm 50, he says, “Mine are the cattle on 1000 hills. If I were hungry, I wouldn't tell you, I don't need you to offer me sacrifices.” To translate that in a New Testament context, Jesus does not need us to build his church. He does not need us to redeem the world. He does not need us to accomplish anything. At the end of the day, he wants us, as you said earlier, quoting me back to myself. He wants us. Once you put that down as a foundation, that my value is intrinsic, not transactional. That gives me so much dignity and security that then whatever God calls me to do in the world, I will gladly and faithfully do out of this engine of delight and beauty that generates as I behold him and he beholds me, that's so freeing and liberating about the Christian faith.


Frankly, that's so foreign to many of us and many of our churches, because I'd argue that a lot of Americans – is just paganism. It's a small God who wants to use people to achieve something in the world, and people who want to use God to achieve what they want in the world. That is not Christianity. That is paganism. It's why it kills us. It's exhausting and burdensome and we're leaving our churches and pastors are frying out and everyone's just going I want out of this thing because idolatry and paganism is dehumanizing and destructive, but when you really get the message of Jesus straight, it's so life-giving and freeing.


[00:44:22] JR: And because God doesn't need us, but wants us. We can go to work tomorrow as a pastor, or missionary or graphic designer, or a third grade teacher, or an attorney fighting human trafficking, and know that that work has value just if we do it with our Heavenly Father, regardless of whether or not we're fixing anything in this world, because God's going to fix it in the end anyway. Amen.


[00:44:48] SJ: Amen. The creator of the universe doesn't do anything that doesn't matter.


[00:44:53] JR: Amen.


[00:44:54] SJ: If he is with you, doing graphic design that graphic design matters.


[00:44:59] JR: Well said. Really, really well said, man. All right, Skye. We could talk for three hours, but we're going to land this plane.


[00:45:07] SJ: Great.


[00:45:08] JR: Three questions I asked everybody who comes on the show. Number one, which books do you find yourself gifting or recommending most frequently these days?


[00:45:17] SJ: Oh man, I always depends who I’m –


[00:45:19] JR: No, in general.


[00:45:21] SJ: In general. When it comes to church stuff, talking a lot about is Scot McKnight book, A Church Called Tov.


[00:45:29] JR: Yeah.


[00:45:29] SJ: Where he contrasts a toxic church from a Tov or good church Tov is the Hebrew word for good. I think that's been very illuminating for a lot of people in their experience. That other one, I really enjoyed, lately. My dad, I just gave to him as a birthday present. He told me just today that he finished it, love it is Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Bomber Mafia.


[00:45:49] JR: Yeah. Was it great? I've heard it's great.


[00:45:51] SJ: It's fantastic. There's a fantastic audio book, too. I think he actually created it originally as an audiobook. If you like that, do it that way. I love Gladwell. I read anything that guy, writes, but I'm a history buff. It's about World War Two, but there's a lot of applicable stuff there. So that's a great book. Short read –


[00:46:09] JR: Which writers do you study? To go really dig into the craft, Gladwell, who else?

[00:46:14] SJ: Gladwell is one of them. I really like Simon Winchester. He writes about history as well. He's an English writer –


[00:46:20] JR: No kidding. Simon Winchester. That's a good answer.


[00:46:25] SJ: We just lost David McCullough, another American history writer. I love his stuff.


[00:46:30] JR: Oh, good.


[00:46:31] SJ: Michael Lewis. I can't get enough of his writing. A lot of these – they're either history writers or people who are writing nonfiction, but do it in a really engaging and entertaining way. Those are the writers –


[00:46:42] JR: This is so hard to do.


[00:46:43] SJ: I'm drawn to.


[00:46:44] JR: This is so hard to do, McCullough's Truman is exception. It’s one of my favourites. All right, Skye, who do you want to hear on this podcast talking about how the gospel influences the work that Mere Christians do in the world?


[00:46:58] SJ: Well, I'll tell you who I'd love to hear. This is my white whale who I want on podcast – I want to hear Stephen Colbert.


[00:47:05] JR: That's a great answer. I don’t know if we’ve heard that answer. It's a great answer.


[00:47:10] SJ: He is a committed Roman Catholic. He has talked in other places about how his faith informs his work as a comedian. He even mentioned to Dua Lipa, is that her name Dea – whatever that – Anyway, she's a celebrity. She was on his show. She asked him that question, and he actually gave a brief answer on his own talk show. That got me salivating like I want to sit down with Stephen Colbert and peek his brain about –


[00:47:32] JR: Target number one.


[00:47:33] SJ: There you go.


[00:47:34] JR: Colbert. Skye, what's one thing before we sign off, you want to reiterate to our audience of Mere Christians?


[00:47:43] SJ: It’s what you've said already, numerous times, God does not need you. He wants you. That is one of the most liberating truths I have ever encountered and out of that truth comes a whole different way of life.


[00:47:57] JR: Amen. Skye, I want to commend you, man for – Dude, you are so exceptionally good at what you do. You are extraordinary at your craft at communicating the word in succinct, compelling, fresh, life-giving ways. Thank you for reminding us that God doesn't need us that he wants us, but in his goodness, he's invited us to co-labor with him in cultivating an experience a foretaste of Futureville of heaven, right here in the present. Guys. If you want to learn more about Skye, go to While you're there, be sure to subscribe to his daily devotional which I'm subscribed to, too, that I love. It's called With God Daily. Skye, thanks for hanging out with us today.


[00:48:46] SJ: Thanks, Jordan. Anytime.




[00:48:48] JR: Man, I love that conversation. I hope you did, too. If you did, stay tuned for my next book, which is Lord Willing, it will come out next fall. It’s basically hit on all those themes. I think you guys are going to love it. Guys, if you're enjoying this podcast, do me a quick favor. Go leave a review of the show on Apple podcast, Spotify, wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you guys so much for tuning in. I'll see you next week.