This week I talk about the power of being responsible.
This episode came together quickly. I compare the "rights" argument with the "responsibility" argument. In some ways, these are two sides of the same coin. If you have rights, you have corresponding responsibilities which come with them. I emphasize the responsibilities, however, because they are rarely discussed.
I talk a lot about Jordan Peterson's book, The Twelve Rules for Life (affiliate link)
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In this episode of Balancing the Christian Life, we talk about the importance of responsibility.
Welcome to Balancing the Christian Life. I’m Dr. Kenny Embry. We’ll talk about how to be better Christians and better people in the digital age. Let’s go.
Thanks for joining me. Over three episodes I’m talking about three connected ideas important to growing up as a Christian. Last week I discussed the importance of gratitude. So, thanks for joining me for that, and if you haven’t listened, I’d appreciate it if you did. See what I did there? I expressed gratitude. In that same vein, if you’d like to financially support the podcast, I’ve put information on that in the show notes. Again, just more gratitude. Okay.
I’m returning to audio essays for two more weeks because they’re easier for me to edit, and I’m trying to finish up my semester at work and spend time with my family for the holidays. However, after this, I have two great interviews waiting. Lagard Smith is an author of some excellent books and I spoke with him about a week ago. That conversation was a bucket list goal for me because I’ve admired his work for a long time. His book, The Cultural Church, calls for Christians to think about how culture is changing the way we both interpret the Bible and treat each other. For a book that’s almost 30 years old, he does a great job of explaining why some issues which have never been questioned before are now becoming major debates for a lot of people in culture.
I also spoke with Mark Roberts, a guy who has been preaching for about 30 years in Texas and who has good insight into what digital discipleship looks like. Nancy Curtis, a listener and someone who I have known my entire life, helped me find Mark. He understands why we need to pay attention to what’s changing. You’ll hear why he says digital discipleship isn’t an interruption, but a disruption. I can’t wait for you to hear that conversation.
And finally, I’ve got an interview lined up with Edwin Crozier, who co-hosts the podcast Text Talk. They conduct a Bible study via podcasting. Edwin is a sharp guy, and I know what he talks about will be excellent.
I guess one of the things that impresses me is what the digital platforms make possible, and it’s hard not to be excited about what’s possible.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my back porch watching a saltbush tree deposit its fluff all over the back yard. It’s about 60 degrees in Florida, which is like 12 degrees everywhere else in the world. And I’m trying to plan out my day. This morning, I got up early to start fixing the Thanksgiving turkey. We’re going to try smoking it on the grill. And when I say we, I mean me. Katie and I share a calendar, so I know this Friday my daughter Abby will be going to the eye doctor. That’s Katie. I’ve got some grading to do for my classes. That’s me. And my daughter’s broken computer needs either attention or a replacement. Again, that’s me. Dinner will need to be made. That’s Katie. We probably need to get a few groceries for dinner. That’s probably both Katie and I. In other words, there’s a bunch of stuff we need to do, and I need to start putting the jigsaw puzzle together of fitting responsibilities into slots of time. There’s a lot of routine here.
It seems to me the life of responsibility isn’t a popular topic to discuss, and I understand why. It’s boring. Looking over my list, there’s nothing here that’s exciting. It’s mostly mundane stuff anybody can do. I can argue with all of it. Why am I the one who needs to fix the computer? Why am I the one to cook the turkey? There’s no glamor, there’s no bragging, there’s no social movement which chants let’s do the dishes or let’s make dinner. I’m a husband and dad and there are duties that come with those titles. Katie is a wife and a mom and she has her jobs as well. With the exception of a few Hallmark holidays, these are roles which go uncelebrated and often unnoticed.
No, the far sexier conversation is centered around it’s flashier cousin, rights. Who can tell me to do these things? What can I demand? What do I deserve? How am I a victim? How am I oppressed? How can I make life more fair? How can I show you why I’m not the one who should have to shoulder these responsibilities?
You probably see me tipping my hand at this point. God is fairly clear, he calls us to lives of responsibility, especially in the face of injustice, unfairness and I believe the people who accept responsibility have more value, are more productive, and make the world around them better because they do a thousand little things which make big change. They live lives of meaning.
But there’s a case to be made for rights. Victims exist. Both men and women have been victims in domestic abuse. Rape victims. Victims of discrimination. Victims of hatred. Victims of indifference. Foster children are prime examples of a population who, through no fault of their own, are victims of other people’s choices. Victims should have rights, and I’m not arguing they shouldn’t.
But the story of God’s people is the story of victims who become victors through Christ. They are a group of men and women who, even in the face of overwhelming odds, took responsibility for what they could control and made things better. Joseph was both a prisoner and slave. Daniel was framed and sentenced to death. Jesus was unfairly accused, tried and killed. They were all victims, but found their significance in their reliance on God. Life isn’t fair. And God’s call to those who are unfairly treated is to make your part of the world better through what you do.
Being someone who takes responsibility means you own both the choices you make and the consequences which follow. And as someone who acts responsibly, you make a difference, you become important to those around you.
People who take responsibility make things work. They build lives worth living. Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor and one of the few people I know who can pack a concert hall with an audience wanting to hear a lecture. One of his favorite topics is responsibility. He is the author of the Twelve Rules of Life, and wrote in that book, “To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality, it means acting to please God, in the ancient language.” He’s right. My wife and I both have the opportunity to not do what needs to get done. We can choose not to feed our children, we can choose to make choices which are more enjoyable, which would allow us to have more fun. In some instances, we have the right to do those things. Look, our lives often end up being the consequences of several choices we’ve made--how we chose to spend our time, spend our money, invest in our relationships and both develop or squander opportunities. When we act responsibly, we make choices which help make things better, but we always had the right choose something different. If you have a good marriage, if you are a good Christian, if you have close friends, those weren’t accidents. You took responsibility to grow them. You decided on what you wanted to value and then made choices to make them important.
Every Friday, I take my wife out to dinner. This isn’t a grand, romantic gesture. More often than not our evening ends at Sam’s Club or the Dollar General. But it’s time where we talk. Where we laugh. Where we get to complain or vent or try something new. We figured out if we wanted to make our relationship important, it was our responsibility to do that. It’s a standing choice we both make. Friday nights are for us.
But like I said, all responsibility comes with consequences. When we got out on Fridays, it’s more expensive. It means we say no to a lot of things which are worthwhile, but most are not more important than our relationship. We know this going in and we make that choice anyway.
But many times the price you have to pay isn’t fair.
It’s hard for me not to think of Daniel who took responsibility for his relationship with God and ended up having a death sentence where he would be food for wild animals in Daniel 6. That wasn’t his fault. It was a group of jealous colleagues. Or Peter’s audience in his two epistles, many who would be slaughtered because they believed in God which was against a corrupt government’s laws. Jesus even said in the last two beatitudes that the consequences of choosing him would likely be filled with lies or retaliation. Look, if you take the responsibility of having a relationship with God, you won’t get the same rights other people get. And to a certain extent, that’s something you should expect. I’m all for participating in government, but Christ followers should know there’s not a great track record for this. And I worry when too many put their faith in a politician, a party or a social movement and too little faith in God.
Joshua 24:15 is a famous verse because Joshua tells Israel, “If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It’s a verse that looks great in counted cross stitch on a pillow, framed on a wall or printed on one of those signs you can pick up in Hobby Lobby. But don’t lose what Joshua is saying. He’s taking responsibility for his choices. He’s saying unequivocally where he stands. And that commitment has a price.
Again, in one of his lectures, Jordan Peterson said, “You’re going to pay a price for every thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
Most responsibility doesn’t happen in grand gestures or big pronouncements like Daniel or Joshua or those poor souls in the first century who suffered terrible, gruesome deaths. At its core, taking responsibility is simply deciding what’s important, taking ownership of your actions and the resulting consequences.
In my work, I’ve probably taught a couple thousand students. Every one of them, at some point, feels like they’re a victim of something, and many are. They’re the victims of a grade scale or my subjective grading or a misunderstood assignment or not understanding an idea very well. They come from violent families or broken homes or parents flush with cash and poverty-stricken in attention. If they want to, they can point to a thousand reasons why something isn’t their fault. Sometimes they have a point. And sometimes they embrace being a victim. But more often than not, my star students take responsibility for their own education. If they’re confused, they ask, if they need help, they get help. If they can’t understand me, they talk to someone who does understand. They figure out how to learn and do it. They often preface their methods by saying, “this worked for me but I don’t know if it will work for you.” I appreciate that. They have my admiration and respect. They didn’t win a war, they didn’t deliver a people, they just took responsibility for making themselves better and accepted what came afterward. Sometimes they get good grades and sometimes they don’t. But my true star students leave with an education.
So today I’ve made some choices about what I’ll do as a Christian, a husband, a father, a professor. I hope they’re good, but I’ll have to live with the consequences. And I know many of you as well. Some of you are struggling with decisions, to take responsibility for what you’re doing. So let em offer a little encouragement. James, go get your run in. Jennifer, start outlining that book. Scott, keep being a good dad to those beautiful little girls. Craig, keep innovating for your congregation. Vanessa, keep being an encourager. Barbara, keep being you. And you...what do you need to take responsibility for?
Next week I want to talk to you about the power of habits. So until then, let’s be good and do good.