Why do we do this to ourselves?

“Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”

Psalm 22:20-21

I was 8-years-old when my Dad asked me to go to our mailbox to get the daily newspaper and mail. I plodded out there, looking carefully in each box at the end of our short driveway. I don’t know what alerted me to the impending danger but I instinctually looked back over my shoulder. Sprinting towards me with snarling teeth was our neighbors pitbull. I took off like my life depended on it, because it did. I wasn’t fast but I tried. Unfortunately the pitbull was faster and gaining on me quickly.

At the last second, like a scene from a kid’s movie, I saw our German Shepherd come racing around the house. He intercepted the Pitbull and possibly saved my life, at the minimum a severe wound.

Whenever I read the words of Psalm 22, “Deliver … my precious life from the power of the dog!” I think of this moment. I don’t know who David’s “dogs” were but mine was not a metaphor at 8-years-old. It was a literal dog and I was scared out of my mind.

All of us can share a story when fear took over because life was on the line. When fear consumed because financial ruin was imminent or a marriage had just imploded. The truth is there is so much to fear.

We are living in a time where there are very real things to fear. Job losses, viruses that leave us or our loved ones very vulnerable, family relationships that are teetering on the edge of collapse. God never tells us to just “think positive.” In my last post I show how God actually wants us to give voice to fears and anxiety.

The unique thing about today is how we can feed our fears. Not in giving more fuel to the very real fears we face… but by adding to them exponentially. If we fear and worry about 4 things right now, a few moments on Twitter or Cables news can round that list out to an even 10 by the end of the day.

Never before have we had more opportunity to expand our list of “potential fears, very bad calamities and imminent doom”. The internet, cable news and social media are all built to add to our list of things to fear.

I think this is one of the reasons that study after study shows that the more you read the news and scroll social media… the more likely you are to struggle with overwhelming fear, anxiety and depression.

In this time, we all have plenty of very real concerns we carry in our lives. Take those to God. But also, be radical in refusing to add to your list of reasons to fear. Stop feeding the bears, making them fat and active in every corner of your life.

The reality is, for must of us, we can update the information we need in 5 minutes on the internet each morning and evening. Why consume more? Is the price you pay truly worth it?

We often say, “don’t feed your fears”, let’s also say “Don’t create a bigger list of fears” We’ve got enough on our plates as is.

Resource Highlight:
One tool that I use on a regular basis is an app called, Insight Timer. This is a great app for meditation, stillness, prayer and even sleep. I personally use it often for a timed ten-minute period of stillness and prayer before God. Check it out if you are looking for a tool to help as you set aside times of focused silence and stillness with God.

Resting in a Shadow

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” -Psalm 91:1

When I lived in South Africa, a lot of our life was lived outdoors. Compared to the American way of being indoors, I much preferred it. Large gatherings, walking instead of driving, coffee with a friend, spending time together as a family, special meals with close friends… all done outdoors.

In our city of Cape Town it was not stereotypically hot as many assume when they think of the continent of Africa. We had many cool or even cold days. But, quickly, you did realize that even if the temperature wasn’t scorching, the sun was still intense. For my pale skin I could get burned easily. For everyone though, the gaze of the sun was an unwelcome thing.

I remember many large gathering with friends in parks or along rivers. Often there was two or three trees nearby. Inevitably, everyone would be vying for a spot in the shade of the windswept trees. I have many fond and funny memories of 15-20 adults and children packed into one little plot of shade. Kids crawling all over us, food balanced on flimsy plates. Sometimes we would shout a “hello” to the rest of the group crowded into the shade of the next closest tree. Vast expanses of grass were everywhere around us. But, in that tiny plot of shade is where we all squeezed.

For many, the concept of a “shadow” evokes imagery of secrecy, danger lurking, the hidden parts of us we don’t want to reveal. In Psalm 91, a shadow is a place of rest and refuge. For those who follow Jesus, we get to abide or take up residence in a shadow. Not just any shadow but the shadow of God himself. Whatever threatens to scorch us or sap our strength, there is a place of shade and escape.

In these days where so many threats seem to be looming; viruses, economic calamity, isolation, the unknown future. What would it look like for you to “rest in the shadow of the Almighty”? In this world it feels that threats and fears lurk in every shadow. But there is one shadow that is a place of rest. In a world that makes us weary, there is a place of rest.

I will be posting every few days on a Psalm during this time of social distancing. I will also include a link to a resource, article or other content that you might find help in this time.

Resource Highlight:
Today I would like to highlight Curable Health. This app was life changing for me in finally breaking years of Chronic pain (muscle and migraine). There was the side benefit of drastically reducing anxiety I was experiencing! During this time they have decided to make most of their app available for free as a service to people who might find it helpful. If you download the app you will find the free resources that are available, greatly expanded. If you struggle with chronic pain or anxiety I would highly encourage you to check it out and even consider subscribing!

Love in an Age of Outrage

Upon hearing of our move to the United States, our South African friends inevitably brought up one thing. Politics. “Wow, are you going to have some conversations!”, “Prepare yourself for the division and all the crazies”, “I’m sure you are dreading having to enter into this political climate.”

Do you know what was surprising to me? None of it was true. Well, it was true online in the cyber world. But in the real flesh and blood conversations, I rarely heard crazy and outraged political arguments. Not because it is a big love fest. Rather, the opposite. I have found that for the majority of Americans, it has gotten to the point that people are simply afraid to bring it up unless they are with people they really know and trust. The risk is to great. The animosity, toxic. The lack of listening so rare.

We live in an age of outrage. “Outrage culture is always about other people who have done things wrong. The new morality is just being mad at other people.” And if you bring up politics or even share an opinion… you might be the object of this outrage.

A friend on Facebook posted this recently, “I challenge liberals to name one city under liberal leadership that is doing well. Just name one. Waiting”. Of course, I was curious as to how this would go down. The woman is known by her friends as being very politically active and her conservative opinions are not a secret.

Just as I expected, there were not many replies. We all have learned, who wants to reply to a question along those lines, on a public social media forum? One poor brave soul (or glutton for punishment) did step out and name a city. The dog pile was pretty predictable. “That place has a homeless problem that makes you not want to live there!”, “Their taxes are terrible!”, “What a dump!”. Of course you could find negative statistics on ANY city in America to back up your point, but, I digress.

As “liberal” people failed to reply to this question, other comments started rolling in. “Crickets! Just as I thought! You can’t do it! Haha!!”, “Silence, can’t think of one can ya!?” These are sad comments because the reality is we have chased each other to our silos. We have shouted each other into hiding. We have closed our ears and shouted so loud that we can’t hear others hearts. So what’s the point of talking in an age where so very few actually listen?

This Facebook scenario is exactly why, I have found, people generally keep to themselves. As we look around at the politicians that we support. They are us. Or we are them. I truly don’t know who went first.

So what do Christians do in an age of outrage?

One option is “tolerance”. This has been suggested. “The way forward is a more tolerant society”. This is an idea, but it is not Christ’s idea. For the Christian, the call is not to “put up with one another.” The goal is what we’ve always known, “love”.

We do not move from outrage to tolerance. It won’t work to try and just keep our disdain to ourselves and simply put up with each other. Our call is is to far more, love. Self-sacrificing, patient, humble, dying-for-your-enemy, kindness in the face of hate love.

Anyone can argue on Facebook. That is easy. Who can listen and love in real life? Who can defend our enemies against de-humanizing attacks of those we politically disagree with? Who knows that the path to victory (in the Kingdom) is not paved with destroying your critics because they first sought to destroy you?

If the new morality is just hating the right things and being mad at the right people. We are wondering nomads and lost. The ancient path of Jesus is still our bright shining light in a time of darkness. Love. Love those who love us? Easy. Do good to those who do good to us? No problem. Humble, listening, curious, you-go-first, gentle and gracious love? It is so rare because we see in Jesus, it is the picture of Divinity joining with humanity. Miraculous indeed.

The American Way

When we lived in South Africa, my family would make periodic trips to visit friends and family in the States. It was fascinating to watch our boys visit America at various stages of their childhood. On a trip when they were about 7 and 8-years-old the observation they made was all the American flags. Every time we were out driving they would comment, “And another! And another! And another! Flags everywhere, Mom, just everywhere!”

For most Americans this is normal. Each nation expresses their deep patriotism in different ways. Americans like to express patriotism with an explosion of flags. South Africans liked their flags but they tended to express their love of nation with eating lots of meat cooked over an open fire. I rather liked that expression.

Patriotism is not new or unique to America or any other moern country. The Apostle Paul ran into some serious patriotism when he visited the city of Philippi. It wasn’t a good patriotism as we shall see.

Moving through town, Paul found himself with an unwanted groupie. A slave girl possessed by a spirit of fortune telling. This slave girl’s oppression was a financially lucrative endeavor for her owners. The slave girl followed and caused a scene wherever Paul went. Eventually Paul turned to her and, in annoyance, cast out the evil spirit and she was immediately set free.

Good news for her! Bad news for those making a money off her fortune telling! Because of this one act, Paul was no longer welcome in Philippi. The slave owners took hold of Paul and Silas, dragged them before the local rulers and said some very telling words.

“These men are disturbing our city! They are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice!.” (Acts 16:12)

Now, Philippi was not just any Roman city. It was the leading city of it’s entire region. And it was known as being the place military veterans went to retire. Philippi was filled to the brim with veterans of the Roman Empire. The ultimate in Roman patriots. Citizens of this city had special government privileges, akin to those who lived in Rome itself. This was a special city full of special patriots. Their words take on even more meaning when you think of this. These were men who committed their lives to service of their nation.

To paraphrase their accustion of Paul, “The way of Jesus which Paul is preaching, that’s not the Roman way! That is not how Romans are! That is not what Romans do!”

Patriotism is a hot topic these days. This story in Acts 16 struck me powerfully. I can hear us in all our nations say, when confronted with the way of Jesus, “That is not the American way!”, “That’s not what an Englishman does!”, “That’s not how Zimbabweans are!”.

Too often we change the way of Jesus to fit the ways and customs of our nations.

If Patriotism is simply love of nation, then there is much room for it in the Kingdom of God. God is the creator and redeemer of nations. He loves nations. If Patriotism is loyalty to the ways of a nation… we are in danger of being more like Paul’s persecutors than Paul himself.

All of us need to learn the lesson of Paul and the Philippians. Our faith has to shape our patriotism and not the other way around. Our loyalty must always be to the King of the nations.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he keeps going back to this topic of national loyalty addressed to a church full of hyper patriots. In 1:27 he says, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”. The greek verb he uses for “conduct yourselves” literally means, “to live as a citizen” or “to take part in government.” Paul is literally saying, “Live as citizens of your earthly nation in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In 3:20 Paul reminds them, “our citizenship is from heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there.” Hey you Philippians, God loves your nation! But don’t forget where your real citizenship lies! Don’t forget who really rescues you! It ain’t Caesar, it’s Jesus!

Dare I say, if you’ve never faced the Jesus way and thought, “Yikes, that seems really un-American”, you still have work to do. You don’t have Godly love of nation, you have loyalty to the Kingdoms of this world above the Kingdom of God.

Patriotism in the Kingdom of God is to love your nation but not give it your loyalty. I think this is an important distinction.

Patriotism should perhaps be a lot like a marriage. It’s not dis-loyal to the marriage to tell your spouse, “Your breath stinks.”. That is love. It is not dis-loyal to your spouse to say, “That act is abusive, I won’t accept it.” That’s love. A Christian who is patriotic is not to be loyal to the ways of a their nation, like the Philippians. They are to love the nation God has placed them in, like Paul.

If Paul, a Roman citizen, was loyal to the ways of Rome he would have looked at that young girl and said, “Making money above all, that’s the Roman way!” and ignored that slave girl. Instead, he knew, Kingdom of God above all. He loved the Roman empire enough to refuse to conform to it’s customs and ways when they denied Jesus as Lord.

Let the nations bow down and submit their ways to King Jesus. That is how we love our nations. We love them enough to say, “In all your ways, may Jesus be King of your customs and laws. And when your ways divert from the Kingdom, I follow my King, not your flag.”

Sources: Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, IVP, 1993

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: 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)