The Dilemma of Christian Marketing

I was sitting in the middle of marketing training when I read the tweet: “Can Donald Miller and Henri Nouwen speak in the same language, or are they fundamentally opposed?”

Conor Sweetman, founder of Ekstasis Magazine, was genuinely curious about his query—and so was I. As a writer and editor in a marketing department, I think about the topic quite often.

I work for Prison Fellowship, the largest Christian nonprofit in the United States serving prisoners and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform. As part of my duties, I draft and edit everything from emails and donor newsletters to marketing materials and op-eds.

Is my work a sham? I’ve sometimes wondered. Am I no better than the manipulative algorithms behind your Twitter stream and Facebook newsfeed? Or is it possible that there’s some middle ground—you know, somewhere between Donald Miller and Henri Nouwen?

Read the rest at Ekstasis Magazine.

How to Lead a Quiet Life

Zacchaeus was killing it. As a Roman tax collector, he learned the art of extortion. He knew he was asking for more than Rome required, but what were his victims going to do about it? He could just turn them over to the authorities for tax evasion.

His tactics paid off—financially, at least. He was raking in money. But his scheming wasn’t earning him any friends. No matter how much wealth Zacchaeus built, his shady life continually undermined his financial success.

If you’re not careful, the same will be true of you. Your successes and accomplishments can be easily overshadowed by a disingenuous life. This is especially important for followers of Jesus, whom Paul refers to as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20) because their very lives are making an appeal to others for God.

If you want to represent God well and point people to Jesus, Paul has three pieces of advice for you.

Read the rest of my article at Unlocking the Bible

When Work Becomes an Idol

Work used to be something about you, not something that defines you.

Now, we ask someone what they do as soon as we learn their name. When we ask each other how we’re doing, the answer is almost always, “Busy!”

We seek jobs with lots of vacation, but most of it goes unused. When we do take vacations, we bring work with us. We put in 50 or more hours a week, and sometimes add a side-hustle or two.

This is the ceaseless American work ethic, or what some are calling workism: “the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”

How did we get here?

Read the rest of my article at RELEVANT Magazine

The Safest Way to God

We wake up and the deluge begins. Rolling over in bed, we grab our smartphones and tap our way into a ceaseless flow of words. Before getting ready, we ask Siri, Google, or Alexa what the weather is like. If we exercise or commute, we listen to podcasts or Spotify.

When we get to work, we send and read emails. Make phone calls. Respond to Slack messages and threads. And we tweet, post, and snap all the while.

The world has never been wordier than it is today.

Why do we talk so much? We have been duped into thinking that wordiness leads to wisdom. We think we will be heard, felt, and understood through our talking and typing. Not only is this thinking incorrect, but the opposite is often true: The more we speak, the less we feel heard, felt, and understood.

For centuries, the Christian tradition has understood the immense benefit of silence before God, but now the idea of silence seems to be a rare and forgotten concept.

We may be surprised to discover just how powerful it can be.

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

An Audio Devotional for Maundy Thursday

My friend Tim Briggs asked me to help out on a Spotify playlist he was putting together for Holy Week. (Be sure to check out Folk Hymnal, the group Tim writes for!) The end product is fantastic. Each day features alternating spoken word devotionals and songs that continue the narrative or give space for reflection. I worked on Maundy Thursday (today). The recordings don’t feature my voice because my recording wasn’t good enough to use (sorry again, Tim!), but I wrote the material being spoken. I’ve included the text for the spoken word portions at the bottom of this post.

Maundy Thursday Devotional

(Here’s a link to the Maundy Thursday playlist in case you can’t see the Spotify embed, and here’s the master Holy Week playlist where you can find the rest of the week’s devotionals.)

Spoken Word Text

Devotional 1

Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed. Death was so close he could taste it. But instead of losing his appetite, he reclined at a table with his disciples. Jesus had loved these men while he was in the world. Now he was about to show them the full extent of that love. He rose from the table, laid his outer garment aside, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began washing his disciples’ feet. In a day where you mostly traveled on foot and wore sandals, this would have been a dirty job. Only the lowliest of servants would have done it. Yet here we see the Christ, who created all things and for whom all things were created, stooping down to wash the very feet he made.

Devotional 2

When Jesus came to Peter, he declared, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet.” Here we see two men — Jesus and Peter — with very different identities. Peter, who had not offered to wash anyone’s feet, saw himself as unworthy of the love and service of Christ. Jesus saw himself as a servant who ranked no higher than anyone else. When Jesus explained to Peter that he could have no part with him unless he could be served by his Lord, Peter replied, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Though Peter had yet to understand what was happening, he was experiencing the kind of love and service that would set the tone for the Christian faith.

Devotional 3

Though he would soon taste death, Jesus wanted his disciples to taste life. It was the night of the Passover Feast, when God’s people remembered the time God passed them over as the angel of death swept through Egypt, killing every firstborn child and beast. Jesus held up a piece of bread and explained that it symbolized his soon to be broken body, and a cup that represented his blood about to be spilled. This must have confused the disciples; the body and blood had always been supplied by a lamb and a goat. But Jesus’ meaning is clear: He was about to become the lamb and goat. He was going to receive on himself the sins of the world and be cast outside the city gate. His blood would be poured out on the cruciform altar as the payment for our sins.

Devotional 4

“When [Jesus] had finished washing [his disciples’] feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’” Remarking on this passage, Charles Spurgeon said, “Blessed is that servant who is quite content with that position which his master appoints him — glad to unloose the latchet of his Lord’s shoes — glad to wash the saints’ feet — glad to engage in sweeping a crossing for the king’s servants. Let us do anything for Jesus, counting it the highest honour even to be a door-mat inside the church of God, … for the saints even to remove the filthiness from themselves upon us, so long as we may but be of some use to them, and bring some glory to God.”