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Extraordinary times call for ordinary measures


WORLD Radio - Extraordinary times call for ordinary measures

How do we respond to “unprecedented times?” We've heard this term a lot over the past three years. But what does it mean—and are these times truly unprecedented?

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. We’re here to come alongside you as you disciple kids and students through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. Today, I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: So today, we want to give you a little bit of the lay of the land with what we’re doing with Concurrently, this podcast that is aimed for equipping: equipping adults engaged in children’s lives. And we thought we would start with a sense of our structure, a sense of our tools, a sense of our vision for what we’re doing here. And we wanted to start with a question. Typically, we’ll start with a question that’s coming out of culture or some news story. But today, since we’re just beginning, we want to start with a 30,000-foot view of what we’re about.

JONATHAN: So the question we want to tackle today is: What does it look like to disciple kids and students through extraordinary times? This is something we’ve heard about in our culture a lot, especially over the last few years. In the news, when it’s election season, people say things like, “This is the most important election of our time.” Or voices tell us things are getting worse than they’ve ever been before. Or even non-news sources—you’re in the grocery store, and there’s an announcement over the loudspeaker: “These are unprecedented times.” I think we all sometimes just feel it in the air, that times are changing, things are different. We are all dealing with things that we have not encountered in our lifetimes.

KELSEY: I think that’s a such a great thought right there, that these are things we have never encountered before. In that way, it is unprecedented, at least for us. So when you’re talking about those different voices that are adding to and reinforcing that theme, the beginning thing that I want to think through today with you, Jonathan and with our listeners, is what it looks like to have had our perspective really affected by external voices.

I thought about it recently, because we’ve gone through the holiday cycle. And we had that experience of being whipped into a shopping frenzy. You know, everybody else is shopping, so we certainly should be too. What have we not yet bought? What have we not yet done to make the holidays right for our family? But that sense of urgency—that prodding towards the urgent, that urgent response—that is an external prodding.

I’ve got this phrase that has been so helpful in my mind: the tyranny of the urgent. That sense of tyranny, to me, is really where I need to be sitting. You know, who is dictating to me what I need to be thinking? What I need to be feeling? What I need to be doing right now? So when we ask this question—“What about these extraordinary times?”—there are many voices trying to tell us what to think, what to feel, and what to do in a time that really none of us has ever experienced before. And therefore it feels urgent, anxious, extraordinary—in that way, unprecedented.

JONATHAN: Maybe a good place to start is to look at the idea of the extraordinary. What is meant by “extraordinary times”? Are these really extraordinary times, when you look at the big picture? If we define extraordinary, I think it’s easier for us to move into an appropriate response to the times in which we live.

KELSEY: Absolutely. And that gives us a chance to talk about one of the tools we want to use. In our process, we hope we will consistently be defining the terms we’re using, whether it’s something that’s been used out in culture, or whether it’s terminology we’re bringing in from discipleship, or even from some of our news stories.

JONATHAN: That’s a big thing we want to do on this podcast. To not just dive right into news stories, or tell people what to think about the news, but to provide tools so that—when you who are listening to this encounter stories in the news—you can pull those tools out of your toolkit. You can engage with those stories and learn along with us, as we engage with those stories on the podcast—as we are trying to use these tools to approach what’s going on in the world.

KELSEY: Yes, and we hope to model them. Together, we hope to explain them well, that you might use them. Because ultimately, we want you to put them in the backpack of the child who’s in front of you. We want them to be equipped with provision to go out into this world and to discern it well. So when we think about “extraordinary,” we want to approach that carefully. Extraordinary: something that is not the normal. What else?

JONATHAN: I think “out of the ordinary.” Something that disrupts our expectation.

KELSEY: That’s really good. So: not ordinary, not normal, outside of the ordinary. It interrupts our feeling of stability, of security, because it interrupts our process, our expectation. So we don’t know what to expect. We don’t have a sense of what’s next. How do we meet with that idea, then, if this is extraordinary to us? Where do we get our bearings from?

Well, I want to submit the idea that, in Christ, we have our bearings secure. And that this is the moment for one of the major discipleship tools we want to consistently employ: the reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. And the Father is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There is nothing new for Him. And He is never new to us, to His world. He encompasses it. He holds it. He authors it. He is intimately involved with every single moment.

JONATHAN: When we talk about the attributes of God, there’s the idea that God is outside of time, as we experience it. That can feel like one of the more esoteric ideas of theology. It’s much harder to comprehend that than it is to comprehend the idea of love or mercy. But the fact that God is outside of time should be so comforting, because He is not surprised. Nothing catches Him off guard. He sees the whole story of our world. We’re just looking at this slice. And ultimately, in my life, when I feel the temptation of doubt, I find the idea that God is looking at the world with a perfect perspective—all knowing and outside of time—that gives me such a basis to trust His commands.

KELSEY: It’s interesting, when you think of the attributes of God as unchanging, eternal, outside of time. By comparison—and obviously by contrast, deep contrast—the attributes of man are that we are time bound, that we are ever changing. Just think about the seasons of a human life. It’s so appropriate for us to do so when we’re talking to you, who are watching the seasons of your children and your students unfold.

We change from infancy through toddlerhood. We become children who start to be able to explore their world, and with that experience behind them, develop wisdom and engage their world with discernment. But that didn’t come when they were first born. It didn’t happen for any of us that way—that we were born with the knowledge for understanding how to engage with what’s before us. It gradually unfolds over time. And we change with that time.

So again, by contrast, we are time bound as well. We haven’t had a chance to see, except through study, the eras that have gone before us—the rootedness that humanity has over so many years of history. And because of those limits to our years, we often end up repeating the same problems, the same struggles. This ties back to our passage in Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun. So not only is it not extraordinary for God, because He is outside of time. It is extraordinary for us, but not for man, as in terms of man’s history. So that gives us maybe a little bit more of an angle of understanding. This is actually, by comparison with the rest of human history, not so extraordinary.

JONATHAN: Again, the idea that you’re in the grocery store, and there’s an announcement on the radio: “unprecedented times.” Then you look back just 100 years to the Spanish Flu, and the debates they were having back then, what they were dealing with back then. It is just this near perfect mirror image of the things we were going through over the last several years with COVID-19—the things we were calling unprecedented, the things people in our lifetime had no idea how to deal with. But with the perspective of history, it really wasn’t that unprecedented. It was unprecedented for us.

KELSEY: Exactly. So here, we’re naming another one of our tools. One of the things we want to reiterate, always, is that historical context for a story is vital for understanding that story. So as we look through current events, as we look at a particular news story, our development of discernment comes from contextualizing it well within human history.

We’ve talked about some of the tools: The discipleship tool of understanding the character and nature of God. And even anthropology: the character and nature of man in comparison to God. We’ve talked about an analytical tool: historical contextualization.

That’s where definition shows up. Definition is a part of our analytical process. Comparison and contrast. We’ve had Spanish flu; we now have COVID-19. So there’s a relationship to the things of history, or the experiences.

JONATHAN: So when we feel the emotional reality of a time that is unprecedented for us, there is that pressure of the urgent there. I think there are also a lot of voices pushing us towards that urgency. What do we do in response to the voices—not just in our lives, but in the lives of our children—that are pushing us towards that sense of panic, for lack of a better word? A kind of apocalyptic sense of doom?

KELSEY: I love that you’ve named several emotional words. I would want to add a couple more. We’ve got that sense of urgency. We’ve got that anxiety, even that panic. You’ve talked about what we do, basically, with the emotional dimension of our being. And this gives me a chance to back up a couple steps before I reengage that specific dimension.

Let’s define discipleship a little bit further. That is the teaching and learning process we’re engaged in. As believers for all of our life, we are going to be lifelong learners. We’re constantly learning more about the Father’s world and about Him. And that’s what we’re doing with our children. We are learning. We’re several steps ahead of them, and they are also learning along, following after us as we follow after Christ.

But the teaching and learning process is not just a head thing. We don’t just learn content and deal with it on a cognitive level, in the mind. We learn also with different aspects of our being. And any of you educators out there, you’re going to be familiar with these languages of our learning styles and our learning dimensions. We learn through our body, through our senses, and we learn through our heart. Narratives often touch us at the heart most deeply. Story connects us to the emotional. We see what’s going on with a character. We empathize. It informs our heart.

So going back, diving into that emotional dimension—we are going to have an emotional response to the world, to the stories of the world, to the voices in the world as we’ve named. So we need to diligently also attend to the heart. Some of that is through what we’ve done already, where we’ve named those emotions we’re feeling in response to the voices. You may be able to name more. You might feel indifference, because there’s just a massive barrage, and maybe you’re numb at this point. That’s still in that emotional realm. You naming how you feel, and you helping your children to name how they feel, is actually a big part of the learning process. Because it helps to reveal what you’re believing, and it informs your action.

So a discipleship tool we’re going to use is related to that emotional intelligence, and that emotional health. One of the things we might ask, if we were going to reframe it through some more biblical terms or theological ideas, is what it means for our loves—or even for our fear—to be ordered rightly.

JONATHAN: That’s such an important idea. The idea that—when we are teaching our kids, shepherding our kids—we’re not just training up their minds. We want to give them the tools to have a Christian worldview, to think rightly about the world. But we also want to shape their loves, and to shape their emotions. To me, one of the ideas that just unlocked a whole world in my mind was reading C.S. Lewis, I think it was The Abolition of Man. Just the idea that there are actually correct emotional responses to things in the world. It is right to look at the majesty of God’s creation and feel awe. And we can actually—through not just our words but our actions, and even by modeling the things we love—we can shepherd the hearts of our kids, or the kids we’re teaching, toward correctly ordered loves. Towards having the right emotions. Towards “This is something good and we should feel admiration for it” or “This is something that is corrupted; we should feel sadness over this.” You’re actually directing not just their minds, but their hearts. That’s so huge.

KELSEY: Yes. So we need to affirm those things, just like you’re saying, and I want to go back to that idea of rightly ordered fear. We started out this episode talking about that fearful, or urgent, or anxious response. A rightly ordered fear is a fear that is towards the Lord. We have had a chance to talk about this kind of idea in the past, and I love returning to it, because then my heart pivots towards what it means to know God. That to know Him is to fear Him. But it’s not that “shaking in my boots” kind of fear, although, there might need to be some of that.

JONATHAN: In the Psalms, I’ll say there’s some of that “shaking in the boots.”

KELSEY: That’s right. You know, that standing-on-holy-ground understanding of Him being a fearsome prospect. But just to partner that with the understanding that we get to know Him. We have the privilege of a relationship with this awe-inspiring God. And this is where I’m going to step back and name it again: We want to always leave you with the supply that I’m about to engage in right now, and that Jonathan and I will reiterate over and over again. We want to highlight that the Lord is the one who is not only far off and a fearsome prospect, but He is also one who has drawn near, who is Immanuel, who is with us, who left His Spirit with us as Helper. He is around us. He surrounds us as He surrounds His world and encompasses it. We’re a part of that. We are surrounded by encompassed Him.

So we’ll talk a little bit more about this, because these are the things that supply our human response. So again, what do we do with extraordinary times? What are the things that we do in moments that are—at least in our own lives—unprecedented? Extraordinary times, I would argue, call for ordinary measures. What does the ordinary work of discipleship look like?

JONATHAN: It’s helpful for me to think about the fact that the New Testament was written against the backdrop of the Roman Empire—against the backdrop of an empire that was persecuting Christians. That is the context against which we have all the earthly teachings of Jesus: His commands to love our neighbor, His commands to go and make disciples. All those things that maybe seem ordinary, that Jesus taught us, were taught against the backdrop of a time that—if we were dropped into—I think we would find quite extraordinary.

KELSEY: Yes. What the apostles, and what Jesus, and what the New Testament Church practices because of Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, are what we now maybe take for granted, but it needs reiterated. They practiced worship. They practiced sacrament. They broke bread together. They were in one another’s homes. They prayed together. They got up and did their work. They lived in a way that was completely human within times that felt unsettled. And yet they knew that was not the final word. And so they were able to live lives of wholesomeness and peace—Shalom—helping to bring Shalom, which is a peace that has a completeness to it: a helping to bring completeness. There’s such a wholesome ring to that word in my ears, that Shalom that helps to complete. And they did so with the ordinary work of the church. They cared for one another. They cared for the poor. They worshiped. They broke bread in one another’s homes.

JONATHAN: It’s like the ordinariness of the Christian life is a testament to the fact that our priority is set on something unchanging. And I think, even as parents or teachers, our kids are going to perceive our priorities. Whatever our words are, our true priorities are going to come out in our actions and be perceived. Even as I say this, I feel convicted for the things my kids see me doing, what priorities they perceive in me. If they perceive that your priority is set on something unchanging, that is an incredible act of discipleship in itself.

KELSEY: Even when something might be feeling old for you, it is new for them. So your faithfulness might even feel plodding, and one foot in front of the other, and unclear or drudgery at times. You are living out the day-to-day faithfulness of Christianity, of discipleship, and modeling that faithful one-step-in-front-of-the-other for your children, for whom all of that is new. For whom you are creating those structures and those ideas. You are nurturing expectation. You are nurturing steadfastness—steadfastness in the face of that which can feel like upheaval, like frenetic movement, like urgency.

JONATHAN: We have talked in the past, on our on the News Coach Blog (which you can find at gwnews.com/newscoach)—about the idea of gardening as an analogy, the first work that man did in the garden. We talked about it in the context of culture-making. I also think about gardening in this context: the idea of a slow and ordinary work, in which you don’t immediately see the fruits. I think that’s a principle we see in so many places. When we face something that feels extraordinary, we want to respond in an extraordinary way. We want to see an immediate change. To keep with the garden analogy, it’s like we want Miracle-Gro. We want it to shoot up overnight. But the ordinary act of doing that slow work—it doesn’t grow something fast, but it grows something with strong roots, and it grows something that actually creates good soil for the future.

KELSEY: Yes. It’s the hidden work. It’s not just the slow work; it is the hidden work. Things that are going on beneath the soil, even as we’re trying to prepare the soil. The rooting out. And this could be compared with some of the developmental stages. If we think of—in teaching language—what it means to plant the seeds, to put in our children’s minds those grammar level concepts, we’re giving them the seeds of truth, that it might dive down deep into their heart and grow roots. Then we’re starting to do that work of weeding the garden and helping them address the lies of the world, and differentiate the lies from those little sprouts of truth that are growing up in them.

So we’re in that stage of having some experience of the other stories and the other narratives, and helping them logically run back to truth, and to compare and contrast, as we’ve said. And then to the point where it’s bearing fruit. Again, I want to talk about provision. That fruit is something that is born in us. And this is so important, parents and teachers. Once we get that grip of the type of work we’re doing, both the steady slowness of it but also the challenge of it—it can be overwhelming. As wholesome as it is, it can still be very overwhelming. We’re dealing with another fallen creature across from us, who at times is going to challenge us and our authority, challenge the things we’re trying to plant in them.

It’s going to get to the place even when our words are over, and we’re going to need to engage with our older students by helping and asking them questions, and to draw out their learning and their understanding. But trusting that we’re not the master teacher. We’re not the ones who are ultimately in charge of the fruit that’s developed. And so that fruit, being something that is—as Galatians reminds us—it is born of the Spirit. And so we can look for that. And just like those roots that are hidden, that fruit might be hidden to us for a time, but the Spirit is always at work.

And so I think this is a great moment to once again remind us of so much of that supply. At the end of every episode, we want to leave you with the supply that we get from scripture. We want to talk about the fact that He has equipped us for that work we’ve been describing: that work that is a gardening work, that is a deep discipleship work, that seems like an ordinary work and yet is truly countercultural—and in that way, extraordinary.

And so to tell you where we get that phrase, that “He has equipped you for the work” which we want to use every time, let me read a couple scriptures. Jonathan, I’d love for you to help me with that. First, I wanted to look at James 1:17. This reminds us again of the timelessness, the changelessness, the unchangeable nature of the Father. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

JONATHAN: And then in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it says, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

KELSEY: And then our last one for today—but there are plenty more, I would like to refer you to Hebrews 13—but this one right now is 2 Peter 1:3. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.”

JONATHAN: I think all of us at times feel insufficient to tackle what is going on in the world, to convey that to our kids. We’re all at some point asked a question—once our kids get old enough—that we don’t have the answer to, and we feel like, “Am I even in the right place here?” But we are God’s workmanship, created for the work He’s prepared for us. He created us to do this. When we’re looking for the justification of, “What am I even doing here? Am I equipped for this?”—God created you to do this. You are His good craftsmanship. God would not create a tool that was not appropriate for the job.

KELSEY: That’s exactly right. You are fitted for it. He chose you before the dawn of time for the work that He has made for you, planned beforehand, like you said. That is such an encouragement to me. And I just want to systematically say again what we hope to give. We want to tackle a question, or tackle a story, and seek to engage with that and to analyze it. We want to point to analytical tools you might use in addressing those questions with your children. We want to address not just the head level analytical things, but also the heart level, the things of understanding and living out the truth in our belief and our action. So we will touch on analytical tools, discipleship tools, tools that are found in scripture. And we always want to leave you with the supply, and remind you: He has equipped you for the work.



Show Notes

How do we respond to “unprecedented times?” We've heard this term a lot over the past three years. But what does it mean—and are these times truly unprecedented? Kelsey and Jonathan cast a vision, affirming the everyday processes of discipleship as the method to meet with the news and noise of our busy world.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural events are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

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Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.

This episode is sponsored by Frameworks.

For many families, full time Christian education is not feasible. Frameworks offers online Biblical Worldview courses for public high school students, partnering with well-known ministries to create courses on discipleship, creation science, worship, finances, and more!

Explore Frameworks online, Biblical Worldview courses for high school students today at bibleclassesforpublicschools.com.

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