The Joyful Father.

Growing up in the church, I knew all the catchy Bible-ish sayings. They are “Bible-ish”, because, as I later discovered, they started with scripture and then added our own personal opinion, mistaken reading or cultural additions.

Sayings such as, “God helps those who help themselves” (yikes). Or, “The love of money is the root of ALL evil” (it actually says, “it is the root of all kinds of evil” which I think we can ALL agree on.) One I would hear a lot is, “the angels rejoice in heaven when even ONE sinner repents!”. And then we would all burst in to exuberant applause and celebration with said angles because, well, we were Pentecostals just like the Angels are. Pentecostals like to make a big noise. Nothing wrong with that.

Last week, I was reading through Luke 15. I came across this “angels rejoicing” verse and realized this saying is a tad inaccurate. Although not heresy, “the angels rejoicing over one sinner repenting” is not what the verse actually says.

Read it again: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Did you catch that? “Before the angels”. Well, who is before the angels of God? God is. So who is rejoicing? God is.

This verse is found in the Parable of the Lost coin which is placed in a trinity of parables, one right after the other in Luke 15.

Luke 15 looks like this:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep.
The Parable of the Lost Coin.
The Parable of the Lost Sons. (or prodigal son as it is commonly known).

Each one ends in exactly the same way… and it is not with rejoicing angels. I have no doubt angels rejoice. I like to believe the angels rejoice like a Pentecostal and not like a Lutheran, no offense to Lutherans. I am biased towards an exuberant rejoicer.

Each parable ends with God rejoicing. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” and then; “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And the grand finale of them all, the father running in joy to welcome back his lost son. Three stories. Three endings. Three pictures of God rejoicing.

Lots of people can rejoice over a sinner repenting. But the Father who was rejected and disregarded all these years? The Father who deserves to give us at least a few days of silent treatment? The Father who at least deserves to rage-tweet once or twice about how people just show up, spew all their mistakes and wounds at him and expect a “Welcome Home” party?

When sinners repent, the Father rejoices. That is the heart of the Father.

We should all be eager repenters. A rejoicing Father is waiting with open arms.

Book Notes: The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore is the final of the 4 books I have recommended from my reading in 2019.

I’ve read a lot of books on marriage, singleness, dating, friendship, parenting and sexuality. The Storm-Tossed family has been my favorite of them all.

In The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, Russell Moore connects the reality of our experiences in families to the cross of Christ.

If you are looking for a book of “Top Ten Ways to Parent Your Children” or “Life Hacks for a Single Christian”, this is not it. This book is for those longing for a voice to speak deeply to the brokenness of our families and the hope of Jesus and His Kingdom.

It was a pleasant surprise to read a book about family that does not make an idol of it. What a cup of cold water to have someone say, “Marriage and children is not the pinnacle of the Christian life”. This is a book that seeks first the Kingdom of God, not the American Dream with 2.5 children.

To give you a taste of the truth and wisdom found in this book, here are a few quotes that stuck with me through the year.

“In both the blessings of rain and the perils of storms, we lose our illusion of control. Family is like that too: the source of life-giving blessing but also excruciating terror, often all at the same time.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 3
“Family humbles us. Family humiliates us. Family crucifies us. That’s because family is one of the ways God gets us small enough to fight the sort of battle that can’t be won by horses or chariots but by the Spirit of the Lord.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 21
“Family is a blessing, yes. But family is only a blessing if family is not first.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 57

“The church is not a collection of families. The church is a family. We are not ‘family friendly’; we are family.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 60

“In the first sight of a new baby, whether by ultrasound technology or in person, we say, ‘It’s a Girl!’ or ‘It’s a Boy.’ We do not say, ‘It’s going to be a woman one day if she finds a man,’ or visa versa.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 77

“A covenantal view of marriage would show that you are not partners keeping score on your contract agreements, but you are one flesh, committed to love and serve each other not because of what you can get out of it, but because you simply belong to each other.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 112

We have “an individualized view of marriage in which my spouse will always be ‘the one’ to meet my needs, and an individualized view of the gospel in which Jesus exists to meet my needs just as my spouse does, except for eternity.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 168

“You cannot know why you’ve endured what you’ve endured. You can know, though, that you survived. You bear wounds, yes, and they make up a part of who you are. When you first encounter the Lord Jesus at your resurrection, notice, though, his hands and his side. They still bear the marks of Roman spikes and spears. And yet, he is no victim. He is the triumphant Lion of Judah, the One who is the heir of the universe. In him so are you.”

The Storm-Tossed Family, page 257

If you need a book that speaks deeply to the joys and pain of family, I would highly recommend, The Storm-Tossed Family.

Book Notes: Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams

Can We Trust the Gospels? it the third of four books I am recommending from my reading in 2019.

Did you ever get a boost to your faith in Christ and you didn’t even know that you needed it? This book was exactly that for me. It was a boost to my faith in the historical truth of Christ, the resurrection and the Gospels themselves. I didn’t even know I needed it but I’m glad I’ve had it now.

In a mere 140 pages, Williams takes the reader through the historical evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. This type of book can normally be dry, long, technical and bogged down by research details that only the brainiest of us would actually enjoy. But, somehow, Williams makes technical details absolutely riveting.

Several times, while reading, I would yell excitedly at my husband across the house. “You would not believe this!”, “Oh my word, you have to read this!”, “Babe!! The Gospels are actually historical fact… this is unreal!!”. I’m not joking, I yelled all those things and more.

I’ve been a lifelong Christian. I’ve studied the scriptures more than the average Christian. But, I realized, I had some of the old tropes in my thinking. “Just believe. Just have faith. The Bible says it so I believe it.” I don’t say those things, but I realized some of them were still rattling around in my faith.

Reading this short and concise book, shows it takes wild faith and denial of facts to disbelieve the Gospels. The four writers were absolutely in agreement about what they saw, heard and experienced. They did not revise history to make Jesus seem like he resurrected in order to give psychological hope. Williams shows in engaging detail, the only way for the four Gospels to turn out like they did… is if the events actually happened.

In a modern age, Can We Trust the Gospels? would be a great book for any young adult before going off to college. A great book for those who struggle with doubt and need a reminder in the trustworthiness of scripture. Anyone that wonders, is the Christian faith just an emotional fairytale to make us feel better… or could it possibly be historical fact? This book gives answers in spades. Your faith will rise, mine did.

Book Notes: Reappearing Church by Mark Sayers

Reappearing Church is the second of four books I am recommending from my reading in 2019.

Is Christianity in the Western world doomed? Is the Church on life support with certificate of death being written as we speak? Is the sky falling? If you listen to commentators and commoners alike, you will hear various versions of this all over the Western Church. In his brilliant book, Reappearing Church, Mark Sayers asks a very daring question, “What if what looks like decline in the Church is actually the beginning of a spiritual reawakening?”

Sayers, an Australian pastor, has influenced me greatly in the last three years through his speaking in writing. This book is his best yet. He has uses a unique mix of historical research, cultural insight and a high view of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. If you want a book that faces the realities of the Church head on, that looks back at the guidance of Church history and leaves you desperate for more of God. This is the book. If you want a book that says, “It’s more dire than you think and that is why we should have so much hope.” This is the book. If you want a book that will open your eyes to Western culture and convict you personally about your complicity in it, this is the book.

At less than 200 pages, this book is a voice that cuts through all the noise and lifts our eyes to the narrow path forward. To give whet your appetite for more, here is my sampling of some of my favorite thoughts.

On the future of faith in a Secular world: “Many religious believers are (assuming) defeat, seeing religions only option for survival in submitting to the authority of the secularist script, believing that the only hope for renewal lies in reinterpreting faith around progressive beliefs” (pg. 23)

“A church and a faith built upon the framework of radical individualism can only last so long.” (pg. 53)

On living in Western Culture: “We are drowning in freedoms but thirsting for meaning” (pg. 68)

“tribalism has returned to our culture both in the identity politics of the left and the return to nationalism on the right… this dynamic is pushing us further into isolation or digital silos of like-minded people.” (pg. 69)

“Secularism is the attempt to create a system for human flourishing in which the presence of God is absent.” (pg. 83)

“The Western life system has formed us in a particular way that creates people who resist the move of God in subconscious ways. The average Westerner is a radical individualist who is deeply afraid of compromising their autonomy. He or she determines their self-worth and identity primarily horizontally, via the media, culture, or peers. We are shaped by the passive -aggressive tone of consumerism, where we want maximum say with minimum responsibility. We are shaped primarily by our fluid and ever-shifting feelings. We yearn for community and connection, yet fear commitment and consistency. We wish for justice while desiring hedonistic payoffs. We religiously point fingers at others while jealously guarding our own right to do as we please.” (pg. 123-124)

“Consumer Christianity is a form of cultural Christianity that compromises the cross with self… mixing the worship of God with the worship of options, personal autonomy, low commitment, and having an opinion over having responsibility” (pg. 138)

We believe the myth that we can “find a life of meaning in the avoidance of difficulty. Renewal always springs from the desert; the presence is encountered in the wilderness.” (pg. 141)

“We need a great awakening where Christians are influential without being influenced.” (pg. 188)

Book Notes: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

*This year instead of posting a list of the books I’ve read this year. I am going to post articles about the books that impacted me the most in 2019. The posts will include some highlights of the author’s main ideas and my personal reflections. Think of it as my Cliff Notes, or Lindsey Notes as the case may be.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

To read the history of racist ideas in America is, as one might imagine, an unwanted task. Reading this book is to immerse yourself in reality. Kendi did not spare anyone and did not look with rose colored glasses at any event, ideology, or person. If he saw racism in any form, he called it out and used the persons own words and an avalanche of historical documents to paint the picture. It doesn’t matter if it was Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt or Martin Luther King Jr. (yes, you read that right).

Kendi starts out by telling the history of the different theories of race and how race came to be. Theories such as Climate Theory. Stating that black skin was due to living in hotter climate and that with time, if brought to superior cold climates, their skin would lighten and they would become like white people and cured of their inferior black skin.

Or Curse Theory. The evil interpretation of the Bible stating Black people came from the cursed line of Ham in Genesis. Thus equating blackness with being cursed, inferior and outside the favor of God.

He goes on to lay out other theories and how they impacted churches, governments, families and entire nations.

Of course, it is easy to say that today we have left such backward thinking behind. But not so fast. Theories on race produced a “race problem”.

To read the history of how America dealt with “the problem of race” was just devastating. I know this but let me state, if you think racism is someone who says the words, “I hate black people” then you have a lot of work to do. The insidious nature of racism is it’s superpower. It is so insidious and works itself into every nook and cranny of our society and our own hearts, mine included.

This is where this book shines. The reader see’s with horror how racism did not just “go away”. It morphed and worked it’s way into the fabric of our society in ways that we are so blind to. From the beginning to present day, the story of racist ideas is laid out in painstaking detail.

Kendi then names and explains helpful categories to understand how America has approached the “problem of race”. In seeing a race as a problem, solutions abounded. Those solutions were just as racist as were the theories of where black skin came from.

American “Solutions” to the “Problem of Race” (ie. different ways Americans are racist).

Colonization:

The belief that black people should be sent back to Africa. Black people, of course, were not consulted on this idea because white people knew what was best for them. It was declared that as black people were brought to America they were civilized, evangelized, and taught the higher (white) way to live. They could now be sent back Africa to bring the good news of this superior (white) way to live to the backward and lower sub-species of Africans who had not been enlightened yet.

Uplift Suasion:

This is the theory that racism will end and black people will get the respect they deserve when black people prove they are worthy of respect by being exceptional. After hundreds of years of brutal and dehumanizing slavery; emancipation happened (sort of). The immediate response was, “how are we supposed to respect you as black people if you live like this, talk like this and have no education?” No mention of slavery was made. Just imagine the cognitive dissonance it took to never give a school to a black child and then mock them for being so illiterate and backwards (this reasoning continues today). The literal chains were removed and the metaphorical chains remained… prove to us you deserve your humanity and our respect.

Through the generations, black people were placed on a hamster wheel. Prove to white people you are worthy of equal respect.

I’ve heard a person say this year, “If black Americans want to be respected, they’ve got to learn to speak proper english, pull their pants up over their butts and focus on education.” Or “kids think they want to run this world but talk like a rapper.” This is racism. This is not the belief that people are made in the image of God and have inherent value, end of story. It is comparing “black culture” to “white culture” and finding it lacking. It is anti-Christ to say, “you need to talk like a white person and get an education… prove to me that you are valuable and then I will treat you as such.”

Uplift Suasion says, “my racism and disrespect is your problem to solve.” You need to hustle and be perfect to be equal. Your existence doesn’t make you valuable… it must be earned by my standards. Thereby, black people are responsible for changing the hearts of white people by being exceptional in every way. It should be no surprise that thus far in American history, Uplift Suasion has never worked.

Kendi points out that even the statement “black excellence” is racist as it posits that the “normal” black person is dumb, lazy, law breaking and shifty. But this black person has excelled as a black person. The term “black excellence” (and phrases like it) says “they aren’t like normal black people who talk poorly and lack education.” Ouch.

Non-Violent Persuasion:

This is the belief that, sure, blacks are equal but not everyone believes that so we need to give white people time to warm up to the idea. This was seen after the Civil War that freedom and full civil rights needed to come slowly so that whites could warm up to the idea of an equal black man or woman. Just as evil, it was believed the black people needed to warm up to the idea of being equal and we shouldn’t just give them too much power… they won’t know what to do with it.

Kendi goes on to give more historical theories on the solution to “the race problem”. I don’t have space here for them all but each is devastating and evil in it’s own right.

Painful History Ahead

Lastly, Kendi gives a devastating but frank history of racism in the halls of power up to today. You need to read the book to see his masterful tracing of racist ideas and how they affected society. But let me give two short stories.

In 1901 Theodore Rooselvelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House after his inauguration. Booker T. Washington was called “the most distinguished member of his race in the world” at that time. Notice the “Uplift Suasion” present in that statement… Booker T. Washington is exceptional… not like the “normal dumb black person”. To his credit Roosevelt was clearly unaware of the reaction of racists across the country by inviting a black man to the White House, even if an “exceptional black man”. “The social earthquake was immediate and loud… Roosevelt had crossed the line.” One Newspaper captured the national anger, “When Mr. Roosevelt sits down to dinner with a negro he declares that the negro is the social equal of the man.” This was not acceptable. Senator Tillman made it very clear, “The action of President Roosevelt… will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.”

Lest we applaud Roosevelt, he sadly learned his lesson. In eight years as President, he never invited a black person to the White House again.

Story after story like this is laid out for the reader.

Nixon (no shining light of morality) confided to Special Counsel Charles Colson in 1973 that some abortions were necessary such as in the case of a “black and white” baby. Colson suggested that rape was also a moral reason for an abortion and Nixon conceded to that. Primary in his mind, though, was bi-racial children who did not deserve to live.

Final Thoughts

I often get push back when I suggest books like this. Interestingly, the primary one is that these books make people hate America and decreases patriotism. There are many problems with this view but late me state the most powerful one in my mind.

As Christians, we serve a God who is exceedingly and painfully in the business of truth telling. In his own book, the Bible, God does not sugar coat a single thing. Abraham’s story makes you cringe. David’s sins are laid bare. The nations of Israel was repeatedly and consistently sent Prophets who named and charged Israel guilty of committing sins of injustice and unrighteousness. The Apostle Paul, fully grasping that he serves a God who writes history with unflinching honesty, writes out his own story in embarrassing detail. Every flaw and sin is laid bare.

As Christians, we should be people who are not shy to read or write the stories of pain and failure. Our stories and our nations stories. God is not interested in a sugar coated patriotism or loyalty to a nation above all (which is the purpose that sugar coated history serves… Nationalism).

God wants loyalty to Kingdom above all. We live as citizens of the Kingdom first. We look straight in the eye every failure and evil our nation as walked in. Then we can be Kingdom workers who work towards God’s ultimate vision: nations that are redeemed from their sins and works of oppression. God want’s citizens who know that at His return, nations do not cease to exist but fully and finally exist in their intended glory. Bringing their gifts, cultures and languages to the throne of God bringing glory to Him. Redemption and healing requires honesty and repentance. Our goal is not patriotism, our goal is the glory of God. Books like this help us get us there.

4 Reasons Why Sin is Good News

David Letterman recently did an interview with Kanye West. The conversation was a thoughtful and insightful. I have never really listened to Kanye, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I enjoyed hearing his perspective on life, mental health and culture.

At one point, Mr. West perfectly captured much of Western culture today. In talking about the goal of life he said, “I believe the best thing is to be yourself to the max. Be who you are completely”

Not many people argue with this sentiment today. It has become the aim of life in Western culture. 

“You be you.”
“Speak your truth”
“The world is waiting for your full self”
“Be your best self”
“Everything I need is within me”
“Never apologize for who you are.”

All these sentiments capture a foundational view within modern secular culture; that mankind is basically good and that the more we look inward, the more good we will find. The goal of life is to free ourselves from the oppression of other’s opinions or our own insecurity and self-doubt. We are to never apologize for who we are. To do so is akin to self-abuse and self-destruction. Expression of self is always a good to be pursued because we all, are good.

In the midst of this, I’ve talked to a lot of people recently about the Biblical concept of sin. For many people, declaring sin within us seems contrary to the modern religion of “you be you”. And it kind of is.

I know the doctrine of sin and repentance can be seen as a belief that contributes to mankind’s oppression. I once had someone tell me, “Christians ranting on about sin is a form of spiritual abuse”

I believe the opposite. I dare to say, the denial of sin is one of the most oppressive beliefs today.

Here is four reasons we desperately need a revival of the doctrine of sin.

People are valuable but broken.

The story of scripture screams a clear message, people are valuable, people are broken.

First, people are made in God’s image and therefore of incomparable worth and value. Nothing can decrease the value. Nothing can increase it. But, secondly, people are broken. We have hearts that sin. We are sinned against. This world is full of valuable and precious people but we hurt one another in small ways and ways so big we strain under the magnitude of it.

For many these concepts are muddled. We need a revival of a doctrine of sin because the value and worth of human beings does not capture the human reality. Just telling ourselves we are wonderful and precious, although true isn’t the whole story.

The modern religion of self-love falls short. There is no space to reckon with our own brokenness. That which we have done to others and that which has been done to us. A belief in sin is a requirement to truly believe in the worth of people. People have value… therefore we cannot be treated in just any way. We must be treated in accordance with our value. And when we are not, it is sin. We must call it what it is. Whether we do it or it is done to us. (And God must be treated in accordance with His value).

We can never be whole if we refuse to believe we are broken.

According to pop culture, our problem is not truly believing in our self-worth, truly loving ourselves. If I tell someone “I am a sinner” I might get a reaction of, “Don’t belittle yourself, you are amazing and don’t let anyone tell you different. You’ve got to love yourself!”

So, our core problem becomes bad self-esteem and not a sinful heart. 

Thus we are all on, what I call, the hamster wheel of self-love. We aren’t broken, we just don’t love ourselves enough. And the hamster wheel goes on and on, never arriving at any destination. I’ve met hundreds of people striving to arrive at this elusive place of self-love, yet they never truly arrive. It looks exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, loving what God has made is important. But it is not the whole picture. Accepting our own sinful hearts and actions is actually freeing. We don’t need to just love ourselves more. We also need the grace and forgiveness of God and others. We can’t fix ourselves, we need help from God and others. 

What. A. Relief. 

Denying sin is the luxury of the privileged.

As I have travelled the world, I’ve noticed a very clear pattern. The only cultures that deny a belief in sin are prosperous and privileged ones. Read that sentence again. People who live in poor or unjust societies know with intimacy that mankind is broken and sinful.

It is only people who are prosperous or in power that have the luxury of saying, “people are basically good and basically do the right thing. You be you!”

Tell that to women who live in nations where it is legal for their husbands to beat them. Tell that to children who work in sweatshops. Tell that to refugees who have been driven from their nation in fear of their very lives. Tell that to the millions die for their faith each year. 

People are basically good! You be you! Speak your truth! This belief system is like throwing an anchor to drowning people.

Oppressed and poor people know intimately that mankind has something deeply broken within them that needs healing. They suffer at the hands of this every single day.

To deny sin is to tell these people there is no hope. Imagine saying to a human trafficking victim or abused wife, “People are basically good, the solution to man’s problems is to just for them to speak their truth” I can’t imagine something more hopeless.

The doctrine of sin gives hope to millions of oppressed people. It declares the truth to desperate people.

Accepting our sinfulness gives hope and health to our relationships.

In contrast to condemnation, accepting our sinfulness brings freedom. It scares me to be in a relationship with someone who believes people are basically good and all our problems lie in just loving ourselves more (Again, loving ourself is not bad at all!). 

The healthiest relationships are two sinners repenting to one another daily. Accepting responsibility for ourselves instead of blame or denial. Saying sorry for harsh words, lies, greed or selfishness. Offering forgiveness. 

I’m pretty sure that 90% of the health of my marriage is my husbands acceptance of his own sinfulness. He doesn’t deny it. He quickly apologizes for any sinful action towards me. I’m embarrassed to say he is quicker to apologize than me. I have incredible safety in knowing that if he hurts me, whether intentional or not, he will apologize. I will never hear, “Hey, I’m just being me! You’ve got to accept me as I am!” He knows he’s broken and valuable. So he can confidently own his sin without decreasing his self-worth. When he owns his sin, he declares my worth. To say, “I’m sorry I said those hurtful words” is built on a foundation of, “You are more valuable than that.”

How about you? How could an acceptance of sin bring more health and freedom to your life? If that seems like a contradiction, maybe you are seeing it wrong.