Saturday, February 18, 2017

Weekly Web Roundup (2/18/17)

Photo Credit: Moody Man
Here is a collection of items from around the web that caught my attention this past week:

When Ministry is Unglamorous by Tara Sing (GoThereFor.com)
"What is an unglamorous ministry? It’s a ministry where nobody sees you serving. It includes faithfully walking besides someone through years of grief or pain. It’s the ministry that cuts into your personal time, for which the reward seems little and almost not worth it. It’s the faithful and quiet service of driving someone to and from church weekly, knowing they may never repay the favor or buy you a tank of fuel. It is being an ear for those whose burdens are great—and a patient one when they refuse to address problems that they could solve themselves. It is washing the feet of weary travelers or, in our modern context, putting fresh sheets on the bed and providing a hot supper when they arrive. It is cleaning toilets and sweeping empty halls when everyone else has gone. It is spending time with the person at church who is awkward and avoided. It is praying with all your might for those who are lost. Sometimes it is simply devoting yourself to caring for family members or friends who are enduring one season of hardship after another. It’s the ministry that we think is hard, that we can’t be bothered with, or that we struggle to do joyfully."
5 Things That Can Make You Feel Like You’re Leading When You Aren’t by Carey Nieuwhof
"Sometimes people think they’re leaders because they have ideas. Ideas help leaders, but in and of themselves ideas are not leadership. Life is filled with people who say things like “I had that idea 8 years ago.” To which I always ask myself “And what did you DO about it?” Often the answer is nothing. And that’s the problem. Thinking is not leading. Creativity is not leadership. Generating incredible ideas is one thing. Acting on them is quite another. A B+ strategy, well-executed, trumps an A+ idea every time."
My Home Has ‘Murder’ in Its Name: How Russell Jeung met Jesus among the Southeast Asian gangs of Oakland. Interview by Morgan Lee (Christianity Today)
"Meanwhile, as a sociologist, Jeung has devoted himself to learning about California’s Asian American population, a topic with deeply personal resonance. His great-great-grandfather arrived in the United States in the 1800s. “Since my family has been in California so long,” he says, “we sort of reflect Asian American history. All the injustices and issues that Asian Americans faced throughout their time in the US, my family has personally gone through them.”"
Mike Ilitch was famous for his fortune. But his surprising connection to Rosa Parks reveals something more. by Sarah Larimer (The Washington Post)

Mike Ilitch, Little Caesar's Pizza founder and long-time owner of the Red Wings and Tigers, passed away recently at the age of 87. A well-known champion for the city of Detroit, Mr. I's connection with civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was not as widely known. This article shares about the role that Ilitch played in helping to pay for Mrs. Parks apartment near the end of her life.

40% of foreign students in the US have no close friends on campus: The culture shock of loneliness. by Andrea van Niekerk (Quartz)
"Many international students respond to the “adjustment fatigue” by sticking to their own. An Indonesian student at the University of Florida laments that, “Their [American students’] conversations revolve around things I am not familiar with. As a result, international students tend to stick closely with each other. Even until today, I still always sit down together with other international students in the dining hall and hesitate to mingle with American students.” Many, however, find themselves even without the solace of their countrymen. The Journal of International and Intercultural Communication reports that 40% of international students had no close friends amongst their American classmates, a rate that was especially high amongst East Asian students (and incidentally slightly lower for those attending universities in the South). So despite actual numbers of foreign students on the rise, this casts one of the sadder lights on the true internationalization of American campuses."
Baseball Star Kris Bryant Gets Pranked by Hall of Famer Greg Maddux

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Weekly Web Roundup (2/11/17)

Photo Credit: Moinikon
Here is a collection of items from around the web that caught my attention this past week:

Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith by Tim Challies
"For some people Christianity is outright rejected and replaced by an alternate system of beliefs. For others, though, Christianity is merely displaced by competing passions, concerns, or emphases. They may commit themselves to success in business and allow religion to take a back seat, or they may passionately pursue sports and find it more exciting and fulfilling than their faith. Some endure times of trial or torment and in the midst of those troubles find their faith has fallen by the wayside. In either case, faith, once an important part of their life, falls in significance until it fades far into the background. It’s less that these people reject their faith and more that they lose interest in it or even forget about it."
Getting My Friend Back 25 Years Later by Joshua Rogers

This is a touching story of how a grown man was spurred on by his young daughters to make an effort to reconnect with his estranged best friend from middle school. Get your tissues ready.

Thoughts on Sharing our Stories by Marilyn Gardner (A Life Overseas)
"The person who has read a book cannot claim experiential knowledge. A person who has spent ten days on a cruise ship and has visited nine ports in those ten days is hardly an expert on every country where they have stopped. Yet they sometimes claim to be. The person who has gone on a short-term mission or volunteer trip needs to be careful to tell their story with integrity and honesty, not as an expert, but as a learner. It is easy to make broad assessments of places and people based on a limited view and a single story. At the same time, when we travel and when we live in places, we do experience the world through a different lens, and we do want to communicate those experiences. Much of my life is a learning process of how to communicate what I have experienced and be fair and wise within that communication."
The Headache and Hope of Multi-Ethnic Ministry by Adam Mabry (The Gospel Coalition)
"I’m not saying every church has to meet some false standard of diversity. Nor am I suggesting churches mostly composed of one ethnic group are bad. Yet if any church isn’t concerned with the other tribes—unconcerned to reach them, to know them, and to be known by them—how is that not the same kind of self-preferential partiality of which Peter was guilty? We carry the lunch tray of our cultural preferences to the table filled with persons like us because we just don’t want the headache of dealing with the other."
A Timeline of Black Christianity Before the Civil War by A.G. Miller (Christianity Today)

Here is an interesting timeline of some of the key moments of African American history as it relates to Christianity.

How Children Learn Who’s In And Who’s Out by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson (The Redbud Post)
"As an African American child, my mother taught me about race. She didn’t teach me so I would hate the other. She taught me so I would be informed, so I could better understand history and attempt to process why someone might think differently, and so I would have examples of what was and is a righteous response to hateful people. From her teaching and example, I learned my responsibility to educate myself and to advocate on behalf of others. As an African American parent of an African American daughter, this is part of the teaching and training that takes place in my home. Education about racial injustices is a necessity for her survival, and it was a necessity for mine. That’s why my mother taught me, that’s why I teach my daughter, and why I don’t want her to be colorblind."
Jennie Allen and the Longterm Impact of College Ministry by Tim Casteel
"College Ministers: What you are doing matters. Meeting with hundreds of disinterested freshmen to find a handful that want to know Jesus and make Him known. Turning over a multitude of rocks to find one or two gems. Teaching students how and why to read God’s Word. Discipling students who will make disciples. We rarely get to see the fruit of what we so laboriously sow. Students graduate and get married and get jobs and move off. And we go back to meeting with hundreds of disinterested freshmen to find a handful…"

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Differences Between Convictions, Persuasions & Opinions

Photo Credit: ThoroughlyReviewed
One of the things that I have most appreciated about my involvement with the ministry of Cru is that we are an interdenominational, worldwide organization. This means that we have people involved from a variety of church and cultural backgrounds.

This provides for our staff and students the opportunity to learn from those who are different than them and to gain a greater appreciation for the diversity that exists within the Body of Christ.

This, of course, also provides the opportunity for a variety of challenges as people from varying streams of faiths and ethnicities seek to understand each other and serve together around a common vision of proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

As a Christian ministry, we do have a Statement of Faith in order to clarify what we believe about those things that are essential to the Christian faith. This not only helps to provide direction when partnering with local churches and other organizations, but it helps to bring focus to who we are and what we're about.

As a new staff member with Cru I was introduced to a helpful framework to help in discerning which beliefs were absolutely essential to my faith and which could be viewed in a bit of a different light.

Dr. Alan Scholes frames this in the language of Convictions, Persuasions and Opinions. Here is what Dr. Scholes has to say:
1.  Convictions: These are central beliefs of the Christian faith that are crucial to salvation. Notice how Paul identifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as “of first importance” in 1 Cor. 15:3–5 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  Paul is saying that the truth of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead is fundamental to Christian belief.  To deny this is to deny the gospel (see vv. 1-2).  Other examples of “conviction-level” doctrines would include the authority of the Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the full deity of Christ, the full humanity of Christ, humans under divine judgment for sin, the forgiveness of sins, salvation by grace through faith, etc. These are issues over which we would eventually divide fellowship with others (if there is no repentance). The church has historically used the term "heresy" to speak about deviations from these beliefs.  Listen to what Paul says about those who abandon these fundamental truths of the gospel in Gal 1:8-9.  “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." 
2.  Persuasions: These are beliefs about which we are personally certain but can still fellowship with other Christians who disagree since they are not matters central to the gospel and/or the historic Christian faith. A person may be ignorant of these doctrines and yet still be saved.  For example, it is not necessary to know how God’s providence relates to human freedom in order to experience salvation.  Examples of "persuasion" level issues would be forms of church government, appropriate mode of baptism (sprinkling vs. immersion), the scope of Christ’s death (everyone vs. only the elect), the age of the earth, nature of God’s providence, and the nature of the millennial kingdom. Many denominational distinctives fit into this second category.

3.  Opinions: These are beliefs, desires, or even wishes which may not be clearly taught in Scripture over which believers may legitimately differ. Implicit in this third category is the assumption that there may be more than one correct "Christian" view on an issue. Notice what Paul says in Rom. 14:5-6 about Sabbath observance for Christians: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”  As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy but he didn’t.  Examples of “opinion-level” doctrines could be aspects of church government (e.g., how many elders should a church have), the order of Christian worship, etc.
Having this type of framework has been extremely helpful for me as I've gotten older in my faith and been exposed to many different beliefs that fall under the Christian umbrella. It helps me to determine which doctrinal beliefs are non-negotiable and which are not.

It is common for many Christians to think that everyone has to agree with them about everything. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's about salvation, baptism, when to hold Sunday morning services or what kind of chicken to serve at the potluck, these believers make no distinction between matters.

But what I've found as I've matured in my faith is that the number of issues that I would include in the "Conviction" category has grown smaller but my passion for these matters has not.

It has also freed me up in interacting with others about those areas that might be considered more "Persuasion" level beliefs to allow for a greater degree of flexibility. I can still firmly believe in a certain doctrine but I can also maintain fellowship with other believers that have come to different conclusions.

This type of approach to understanding Christian doctrine recognizes that how we understand the Scriptures is often influenced by factors like where we grew up in the world, what our church experiences have been, the ethnic group to which we identify and even our political party affiliations.

It is natural for us to want others to be passionate about the things we're passionate about. But there are simply some doctrinal beliefs where the Bible is not clear and in which sincere Christians might disagree yet remain in fellowship with one another.

Even though we may use guidelines as those I've suggested here, we may still find ourselves in disagreement with others about which beliefs fall into which category. In these circumstances, it's important for us to maintain a charitable & humble spirit.

In addition, it's wise for us to continue to search the Scriptures, to pray for God's Spirit to guide us and to seek the wise counsel of those we respect like our pastors and other spiritual leaders. I do believe it's possible for us to hold firm beliefs but interact with others in a winsome and kind way.