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

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.