The One Thing 324: Walking With Unbelieving Family (Part 2)

Dave Jensen (EV Church, Central Coast) and Anna Cox (Reach Australia) are twins born into a ministry family, but they have very different stories. After growing up together hearing the same gospel message, Dave walked away from Jesus in his 20s. Anna describes herself as a rule keeper and Dave as a rule breaker – how did that impact their relationship? This is part one of a two part series exploring how they came to faith and reflecting on why their journeys are so different.

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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

I’m Derek Hanna. Welcome to The One Thing, a podcast designed to give you one solid practical tip for gospel centered ministry every week. One thing is brought to you by Reach Australia, where we would love to see and we are working towards and praying towards thousands of healthy evangelists. You can multiplying churches right across Australia. Now if you missed the last episode, now’s a good time to pause and go back to listen to that one before you get to this, because we are talking to Anna Cox and Dave Jensen.

Dave’s from their church on the Central Coast and Anna is from Reach Australia, lives in Sydney. They grew up in a ministry family. We established last time and they’re not identical twins, but they are what you call fraternal.

So that’s right. Faternal.


The better. You’re not just getting two of the same. You’re getting two different.

Two peas in one pod. Yeah, that’s.

But even though we’re fraternal, mum and dad still dress us in the same place.

So how many years for that?

Just 22.

Dave was a really cute kid and I was a really ugly kid. And I just think, my goodness, my parents, like, I had a terrible haircut and preschool photos to day with these cute little chubby cheeks, that cute little smile, and I’m there with a terrible haircut. It’s just unfair. I had no I had no chance.

Good judgment with a brain installed in.

Well, we might I was going to say we posted photos. We’re not going to post photos that I think that. No, we will not do that to you. But look what we got to talk about this episode. We’re going to continue our conversation around walking with unbelieving family. But for now, you press play on another episode of The One Thing Walking with Unbelieving Family Part two.

Now, we did hear last episode, if you listen to that one, Dave spoke a little bit about what it was like to to make decisions that that kind of drifted him away from God. He knew they were a decision that didn’t lead to health and life. And but we only got a little bit of a taste of that.

Dave, can I hear a little bit from you? What was life like for you as you turned away from that as you started walking down the path? He walked away from God.

Yeah, In essence, it was it was a life of lies driven by love of my family. And I didn’t want to hurt my parents and also a great love of self above anything else. So I loved my family so much. I didn’t want to hurt them, but I loved myself more than anything. I didn’t want to stop living the way I lived.

And as I said, it was it was a it was a slow drift first in my sort of teenage years. But then by the time I sort of hit late teens, early twenties, and yeah, the shackles came off and for two reasons actually. So I went through a marriage and divorce in my early twenties. But beyond that, I actually I joined the Army and when I joined the army I moved away geographically and that meant that as I moved away geographically, the spiritual move away that I’d made, I didn’t have to hide it, you know, I didn’t have to pretend to go to church or go to church and go to the toilet during the

sermon or do all the things that you are unwilling about fearful children do. Growing up, I sort of was able to just not do things. And so in essence, in my twenties, if you fast forward to my mid-twenties, I would go to church. I was certainly identified as a Christian when I tell you that, I mean to say as a purely nominal and the three times a year you had to tick a box of your religion.

I would tell you I’m a Christian and dad was a prominent minister, so if he was in the news or whatever, I was proud of that and those type of things. I didn’t blaspheme or anything of that, but my life was completely off the rails. Well, my life story, my life was like a typical soldier in the Australian army.

So I wasn’t robbing banks or anything, but it wasn’t a healthy lifestyle. But besides all of that, I didn’t know a lot of God. I had no interest or thought about God, no proactive activity in my heart, soul to ever read the Bible or pray or do anything more than on holidays. I’d come back and I’d go to church with my dad or with Anna and know, and that was what was I was happy to do that.

You know, I, I, I didn’t hate church, I didn’t hate Christianity. But then when I get back, it just wasn’t a priority in my mind. And I think it’s as good a description as you can make actually of of fight of Christianity is just the the the the the misunderstood and yet willful forgetfulness of God. You know, And I just sort of just didn’t think about it at all until one day when I was 28 years of age, I woke up and I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

And I became a Christian that day. Hmm.

Yeah. And how did you feel watching Dave go through this period of his life?

I think what Dave said was he was living a life of lies. And I think the funny thing is that he was living a life of lives that allies. But we could all say it. He thought he was hiding it and he wasn’t. I think we could all say that his life was going off the rails in that he wasn’t living a life that the life of a Christian or a life of someone who even even worse than the life of a Christian, he was really living a life of sin.

And so we could all say that. And so I suppose it was it was a funny time because he still called himself a Christian, but he but it was clear he wasn’t. I think you live in hope, right? You especially they call themselves a Christian especially he hadn’t denounced Jesus. You live in hope that he’s going to get it.

You live in hope. That wonder and prayer that he will, the pennies will drop at some point. And by God’s grace they did. But yeah, I think that was that was my experience of Dave at that time. He lived out of town as well. So as he said he was living his life out of town, he’d come to come to Sydney and we’d go to church together.

And we also used, I think, the fact he called himself a Christian. Well, when he came to Sydney, we invited him to talks, we invited him to church, We gave him books and things like that. So. Yeah.

Hmm. Yeah, Yeah. I just want to be clear. Yeah. I called myself a Christian, but I in a very different sense to the person who goes to church and calls himself a Christian but isn’t. So think of me as a nominal, you know, nonbeliever and a Christmas and Easter guy. Oh, that’s what it was. So there I knew deep down that this isn’t.

Have I just. I, I wasn’t walking around the place going, Oh, I’m a Christian, I’m a Christian. As a Christian, I think you should. It just wasn’t a topic of conversation. I actually now I work as an evangelist, you know, and I think probably the place I was is one of the most common places there is, which is just a kind of unwitting.

It is willful, but it’s ignorant as well, and a delusion where you just say, Oh, well, I’m not against it. I believe there is a God. I believe the facts of the Bible as far as they exist. And so sure, yeah, I think that’s true. Yep. But it was an irrelevant truth, not a not a relevant truth or anything like that.

But yeah, I just reflect that. And when I would go back, yeah, I was always going to church or shooting semi books or to do whatever, but also what she was unwittingly doing over those years, her and her husband Matt and family were modeling for me the Christian life in a really profound, deeply powerful way because it was in such stark contrast to not only my life, but the lives of all the non-Christians.

I knew that the army is an extreme voice for that kind of thing, debauchery and whatnot. But even the non-Christians I knew who weren’t particularly extreme. It was just a different type of life, a life focused around Jesus that in my early twenties I thought was boring. But as I got older, I looked at and thought, You know what?

I actually want that. That’s what I want. I don’t want what I have. And that that was over years, a decade or more of just modeling this to me without any intentionality. Just the ordinary Christian life lives in front of non-Christians. Yeah.

So when you say you work up a 28 and you had that moment, it actually was that moment, but it was ten years of seeing the life of the gospel live that God worked people’s lives.

It was it was 28 years of of that. Yeah. I think innocence as an adult yeah those ten years particularly as no I think we you know she was my closest sibling not just in age but probably in relationship and through those those times and we’ve always we’re still all friends and you know and I’m still close to the rest of the siblings by in Sydney.

I’d come home and I’d see them more than I’d say the others. And so that was, yeah, particularly profound for me as an adult. But as I when I became a Christian, which was through watching a sermon on the Internet and then calling the guy I knew who is a Christian, a minister, but oh yeah, that was this is the Apostle Paul, a moment of, oh, there’s just thousands of people who had sowed seeds.

But the most dominant and predominant ones were Anna and my parents over that my entire life.

Yeah, Yeah.

And then we proceeded to sort you and accidently evangelize you by giving you an old computer.

What is that? Making?

You know, that’s a bleak spot to go.

And I think that’s a story there.

Tell us you wrote well and are in my game, you know, and I was like, yes, I’ve got a computer now. I can look at whatever I want on this computer, but on the YouTube account, on the whatever, on the computer were like sermons because I looked up sermons previously, you know. And so that’s what happened on the day that I became a Christian.

One of the like the the recommended videos to watch was like a John Piper video or something. And and and I went there and this this rabbits warren of John Piper there on the poor washer they don’t have this kind of like there’s sermon jam emotional music sermon clips and that made that really about yeah it was unreal but you know other things so anyway that gave me an MP three by I remember this is that early hand-me-downs and and they loaded some Mark Driscoll sermons on it.

Can we say his name?

I think we’ll bleep it out, I’m sure. No, he wasn’t prepared.

And I didn’t know how to delete them. And I listen to them and it’s good. So things like that and it.

Can you tell me the moment you heard, like how did you find out that Dave had become a Christian?

I remember my mum ringing me and saying I was coming to Sydney. He was living in Darwin at the time, she said, Dave’s coming to Sydney, he’s become a Christian. And I was like, What? Okay. And I guess I didn’t know what it meant and I have to be honest, I think we all were a little bit skeptical and I say that because as I’ve said and he said that he called himself a Christian and he had had a couple of moments here and there where he’d had professions of faith as a teenager and things like that.

So David’s become a Christian. I was like, okay, has he really become a Christian or is this just a you know, he’s had a moment and he’s rethinking it. So, yeah, so that was one thing. And then but quickly he came to Sydney and then very quickly it became apparent that his life had changed. It was probably the most remarkable thing I’ve witnessed, to be honest.

I’m actually getting in. Yeah, even getting a little bit emotional, thinking about it, how dramatically his life changed very quickly. He left the army. I mean, he he can tell his own story, I suppose, but he left the army. He moved back to Sydney. He said the army’s not helpful. For me as a Christian. It doesn’t help me be a Christian, so I’m going to leave.

So. Okay. He came to Sydney, he found a church, he went to church every week and he wanted to go to church every week and he started talking about his faith and it was just it was just amazing. I don’t think I, I, you know, as I said, I hoped that the penny would drop one day. But I guess when it did drop I, I was astounded.



Yeah. So Dave, who did you tell, How did you tell your family. Who do you tell first.

Yeah. I think the, I think I was at the altar potentially a little bit wrong but I could be wrong. 14 years ago I was converted and in Darwin and I had a family, you know, unmistakably spiritual encounter with God where I was struck to the core of my sin, my desperate need. And, you know, it’s a great point to remember that I’d heard the gospel more clearly probably than any individual my age in Darwin.

Certainly. But I didn’t understand the gospel. I didn’t understand it. That was the, you know, seeing the devil, the well, I my eyes revealed. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t get it. I still thought you had to be a good person to get to heaven. Can you believe that? You know. And so I called a guy and he was a Christian and he sort of we went through this all this stuff, and he explained the gospel clearly that Jesus died for sinners, not for perfect people.

My sin is not disqualified me for God’s kingdom. It qualified me for His grace. And when I became a Christian, I had two more weeks in Darwin before I was going to leave. I was actually going to go to Brisbane and have a party week in Brisbane, which was a desperate job. Oh please wish you could get in Melbourne.

And I changed my flights and I came to Sydney and I sit there and I remember watching footy with Dad and I told Dad so this is why I don’t think I told him I’m on the firing line. But whatever the case I told Dad and Dad was yeah, very happy but a cautious happy. Then he said Christine and he told me and mum came and, and that’s going through your mother and I told Mum and mum listen this might be a thought so I’m not sure but I’m fairly certain Mum’s response was Oh we’ll see you.

Oh my goodness. Of all the responses iconic to you, that’s what we write because it is classic. And to be fair, what Anna is getting as my life had been extreme, was I’d gone from your death metal music deregulate to you know, joining the army to marriage divorce so I just that kind of guy So a strong religious conversion did not necessarily mean anything.

And it could just be a flash in the pan paranoia of the soil. You know, I won. And and so there was a cautious optimism and hope. And then but beyond that, there was just a very quick realization when we go back to Darwin that I was surrounded with my own influences and that dragged me back into that of I needed to move physically, I needed to come home, I needed to join a church that taught the Bible that Christians could go around me and in God’s grace know I did.

I came back, I went to a church. I loved it and I loved the preaching that all these things, I loved Christians. I always feel out of place for that first year. But I realized that Christians and I’m very defensive of the church, I can’t stand when Christians bang our churches and the church sort of grabbed them and said, you know, shot, you know, how can you love a Christ and mock his bride?

You know, like I love church and not Chris. I’m so great because I’m not. But I also know how good it is in comparison to the world. When you’ve drunk salt water, you know how good the real thing is, you know? And and so now I’m much holier than no, I even go to church on holidays, which I don’t think any of us.

So and I’m all about it but I really I fell in love with the church. I fell in love with the Bible. And those things helped me love Jesus.

Yeah, it’s good.

And he goes to school. Is it because when he was 21st, I had, you know, I was at uni church and all the rest. I had like 150 people at our 21st. He had five. But by acid. Yes. I think you had more friends than I did there.

I don’t you don’t have to think about that. I mean we.

Only talking actual friends. Are we talking Facebook friends? What kind of friends are we talking about?

The church. Listen, by that stage, I worked at a church. And of course, when you’re part of church, everyone’s your friend. Yeah. Yeah. They pay you to be.

Yes, right?

That’s right.

Can I ask you one of the tricky areas for people who are in ministry leading ministries that they would be asking and thinking about, particularly raising kids and grappling with this, is it, right? Yeah. The passage in Titus two, it would almost be blamed was not the children not open to the charge being wild disobedient. It’s a pretty challenging passage.

I think I’ve hearing your stories. Well, I’m sure that, you know, we are people who want to take God’s word seriously and grapple with what it means, but it but in a healthy, realistic way. How how do you you know, how do you grapple with that kind of area if you reflected on that and what it looks like for you?

Dave, you’re working in a church now as well. What do you think?

Yeah, I mean, that passage is a taught us is a beautiful book and that passage. So it is a it is a one that I think all of us in pastoral ministry have to grapple with. I think the emphasis to understand the emphasis and to remember the emphasis I want to offer is really important, which is not so much how you if you have children who end up not being Christians, and that means you can’t be a minister.

It’s not the emphasis on the child, it’s the emphasis on your management of your home, on how you lead your home, and that you are modeling in your household what you need to then bring to church leadership. And that is a deep sense of trust and obedience in the Lord and in the teaching of the word to your family.

You’re the discipleship of your children, the leading of your wife and the partnership with your wife in those things. And so I’ll use the example of my family. If I came my parents, I have to say it’s case in point, isn’t it, that I don’t know. I had twins. One’s a Christian from childhood. The other one, you know, when I’m nearly 30, and yet they parent the exact same way that we are.

You know, our salvation is out of the hands of anyone except God. Yes, It was in no way the result of my parents parenting that I was the way that I was. And the evidence was clear. You know, it was I had all these other examples of my other siblings who didn’t go through that. It was me, it was my sin.

And it was a bunch of things that in hindsight, I got all this sin. I wonder if I would do the same thing. I might make a different decision here or there. But I have to say then when I was an adult, the management and that’s a terrible word, but the parenting of me as an adult was a masterclass in had a parent, a non-Christian child, which was they had this emphasis on retaining the relationship, but the relationship mattered deeply.

And so I never for a moment felt unloved by my parents or that they were ashamed of me or anything like that. And they didn’t compromise their faith in the slightest. There was no like, Oh, well, we’re not going to say grace now you’re here, son, because we know that you’re No, no, no. They went about their lives loving Jesus challenges and being faithful, patient.

And can I say I cannot stop meeting people everywhere, like, Oh, you will, Peter and Christine. Son, we were praying for you from Bob laughs and to him. And that happens relentlessly because there’s just my mum and dad are people who pray and they got other people to pray and and they do the same for their grandchildren. And so anyway, I think there’s a case there where you go, Hey, what we’re called to do as parents is to trust anybody, to proclaim the word children, to bring our children up in the fear of the Lord, whether or not they’re Christians is not.

We don’t take the credit if they are, but we can’t take the blame. If they’re not, There’s always better things we can do. But we and there’s always mistakes that we’ve made. But we don’t leave haunted by those mistakes because God is sovereign and we trust him that if the ultimate father of all things, and a father of Christian.

So yeah that’s where our with that just I think and even if you are listening and you’ve made mistakes and you’re with your children and you’ve got adult children or teenage children, that you’re not sure what to do, you know, the past in many senses is a bridge to nowhere, you know, So repent of the mistakes you’ve made.

Apologize if you have to do your kids starting, you start fresh, start going in. And that’s a wonderful thing, I think.

You know.

Yeah, I think a just hearing Dave speak reminds me that I sometimes live in fear that my children will, you know, when my when Dave was off the beaten path and we had another sibling who struggled sometimes with things to I could you know, it was painful was very painful for my parents and it was painful for our family.

And I live in fear a bit that that pain will come to me and my children. But then I remember to see how God has used that pain. And he really has in David’s life. You know, he’s really used David’s testimony to bring people to him. And, you know, David is now, you know, an incredible evangelist. And in large part because of his story and how he came to know God.

And so we it’s hard to trust God and trust God’s plan. But I can say how God’s plan worked in the life of Dave. And yeah, I think that’s the thing to remember as a parent.

MM That’s great. Well, I’m going to get you guys to do one thing, if that’s alright there. There will be a lot of people listening here, you know, the kids and I’m thinking about my kids as well and thinking of all the things that I don’t do right and should do and worried about the future, hoping they know Jesus.

My hope is that that I do. But what would you say to people who are in ministry or who Christian parents? What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone that has unbelieving kids, family members?

I think the one thing I would say, and David touched on this a little bit, was retaining a relationship. I think retaining a relationship of non judgment and unconditional love of just having them know that you’re always there for them no matter what, that you love them, Whether or not they love Jesus is is really an important thing to keep.

To keep going, to keep that relationship going. And for them to always know that they can come back to you when they when they need to, when they want to. And to know as well that those things that you teach them as a child, they never leave them. They actually always stay with them, even if they’re not living as Christians at the moment.

It’s good.

Dave I’m pretty sure those was two things, and I think the show is called The One.

To Call. It was calling their.

The one thing I just remember, just remember that if they’re not a Christian, they don’t understand the gospel, okay? And that’s not your fault unless it is. But the key is the way they will be saved is a sign my friend is saved, which is through understanding the gospel. Now, that doesn’t mean from here text message them two ways to leave or anything like that.

But you don’t need to stress and worry and think, Oh, there has to be some sort of algorithm where I need to, you know, say a particular words to them and and get them to meet a particular person. And this has to happen and, you know, pray for them to make people pray for them to be struck by particular circumstances in life, but just be faithful, trust God.

The gospel is the power of salvation. And it is through the the the remembering of what they’ve been taught in the past, all the repetition and all the opportunities you have in the future. And there are myriad opportunities to just point them to the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. And that that is the only thing that will save them.

So look for those opportunities you’ve got until you die so it doesn’t have to be tomorrow and you don’t know when you go, but just you don’t have to rush it. Look for the open doors. God will open them and just be ready to to go to give a reason for the hope that you have. Yeah.

That’s great. Well, your one thing was better than mine. That’s not fair.

It was also longer. Anna is also longer.

So I work at Ev,a sermon introduction. It’s 26 minutes. There’s no way I can get your stuff straight.

Well, listen, guys, I’m really thankful for your wider family and the impact they’ve had on my life and ministry. But particularly you two. I’m really thankful and I’m thankful for you being open and honest and encouraging and being sharing that. And so thanks for all God’s done your life. Thanks for being on and hopefully we’ll have you back in the one thing very soon.

And just as we finish this episode as well, let me point to the books I pointed to last time, but just with one slight correction, not the first one storm tossed Family by Russell Moore. Great book. Get your hands on. Think through this. I think apparently last time I said pastor’s kid or the pastor kid, it’s not the kid matter, Pastor.

It’s the pastor’s kid. The pastors keep up on his pop. That’s the other book. So just so you know, it’s a completely different book. Pastor kid, this is the pastor’s kid now, that that is perfectly clear. You can go buy it on Amazon dot com delay or your local bookstore or in fact even better wandering booksellers go there Excellent.

Now, again, we would love to have you join us in prayer as a network. We’ve got a WhatsApp group where we regularly post what’s happening across the network, what you can pray for, what God is doing, be praying for our network at churches and for the lost across Australia. So check the show notes. We’ll have a link for you there in that.

Alongside that, the Australian National Conference for 2022 tickets are now on sale and the Earlybird tickets are on sale, so they’ll be up for about a month. So go and grab them while you can. That’s in May 2024 to the church on the Central Coast in New South Wales. An excellent time to come be fired up about mission.

What God is doing across will be encouraged by connect with people who are doing what you’re doing all across Australia with some international ringers as well. So if you’re international, come and join us as well. If you want to contact us, you can always email us at Resources at Reach Australia to come to you. Thanks again for DI, Dave and Ana for joining us on Derek Hannah chats in.