Saturday, February 25, 2017

Weekly Web Roundup (2/25/17)

Photo Credit: Marco N├╝rnberger
Here is a collection of items from around the web that caught my attention this past week:

In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books by Charles Chu (Quartz)
"Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important… All it takes to start reading a lot more is to take “empty time” spent Twitter-stalking celebrities or watching Desperate Housewives and convert some of it to reading time. The theory is simple. It’s the execution that’s hard."
Why Your Denomination Is Segregated (Christianity Today)
"Not all denominations’ equally reached enslaved people with their message, says Eric Washington, a history professor at Calvin College. The “stodgy” and “erudite” tradition of Anglicanism didn’t resonate as broadly—although former Methodist Absalom Jones was ordained as the first African American Episcopalian priest by the end of the 18th century. In contrast, many African slaves were drawn to Methodism’s theological emphasis on born-again conversions and total depravity and its preachers’ open-air, multiethnic services, says Washington. “[In Methodism,] there was no education requirement to be an exhorter or lay preacher,” said Washington, who is also the director of Calvin’s African and African Diaspora Studies. “So enslaved men who had a recognized gift to preach or exhort—they were encouraged in that.”"
Being Prophetic Without Being a Self-Righteous Know-It-All by Dennis R. Edwards (Missio Alliance)
"Being a prophet often means being rejected—for what one says and does for God, not for being a jerk! Furthermore, biblical prophets were known as godly people. That same Elijah is hailed as an example of one who knew how to pray (Jas 5:17). God constantly reminds me of the importance of cultivating an inner life that glorifies God. I know I will never pray well enough or fast consistently enough, or spend enough time in silence, or meditate enough…but I’ll keep trying. It was when Elijah was depressed that he took a pilgrimage to Mt. Horeb and heard God’s gentle voice. Prophets hear from God as we pursue God."
The Single Voice (Yo Soy Kristy)
"What this means is that as ministry leaders seek to diversify their organizations-with speakers at conferences, VP’s on executive teams, or simply diverse leadership at all levels- they tend to only want ONE person from certain ethnic groups to be their token minority. What this creates is a scarcity mentality among minorities who are all vying for that one space. It ends up pitting women of color against one another. Rather than fighting to make room for more of us, we often quietly shut the leadership door behind us, secretly glad we got the spotlight for that moment."
Give Your Kids the Gift of Absence by Amy Julia Becker (Christianity Today)
"Jesus sent his disciples out into the villages without him so they could learn about leadership, make mistakes, and return to him to learn more. As parents, we too can send our kids out into the backyard, the neighborhood, or the woods so they can make mistakes and grow. We can send them to school with incomplete homework, send them to our friends to talk through problems, and, when our own resources prove inadequate, send them to the church (and other communities) for equipping."

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.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Weekly Web Roundup (2/4/17)

Photo Credit: yorgak
Here is a collection of items -- including several that address politics and social media -- that caught my attention this past week:

7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media by Scott Slayton (One Degree To Another)
"Let’s pretend that what you want to say about politics on social media should be said. Now you need to consider if you are the right person to say it. Do you have an insight into this issue that you haven’t seen somewhere else, or are you merely repeating an argument you read in another place? Do you have a role or responsibility where people are looking to you for guidance? Why should you be the person to say what you are about to say?"
2017: A Year of Digital Detox by David Murray (HeadHeartHand)
"I’m utterly convinced that vast numbers of Christians are dangerously addicted to digital technology. It has way too big a place in our lives and it’s not just damaging us; it’s destroying us. Those who can get this under control are going to be uniquely placed to excel — relationally, vocationally, educationally, and financially. There is no surer way to a massive “competitive advantage.” But control (or lack of it) of our devices is also the biggest determinant of our spiritual health, growth, and usefulness. If we want to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we must grow in digital self-discipline."
How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed by Ann Douglas
"Connect with other caring citizens who share your concern about what's happening in our country and our world. Talk to other people you know who may be going through an especially difficult time right now -- especially members of vulnerable or marginalized communities. Let them know that you will be there to support them and that you care. Smile at strangers. (Assume their good intentions unless proven otherwise.) Look for opportunities to build bridges, not walls. Finally, reach out for other types of support if you feel like you're really struggling. Self-care isn't selfish; it's self-preservation. You need to take extra good care of yourself right now."
On Signalling Versus Displaying Virtue in a Trumpian Age by Derek Rishmawy
"I know that in many instances, especially after a tragedy or an outrage, there’s a pressure to tweet or post about it to make sure everybody knows that I too care. I too am saddened, or grieved. I fear that at times when I remain silent, or have found out about something late, I’ll be thought callous for having not said anything. Of course, with any fancy new word or concept, it can be used cynically. In which case, for those with a more jaded eye, or on the other side of a particular issue, all of the protests, tweets, and so forth are basically just virtue-signalling. This critique tends especially to be leveled by conservatives against progressives whose tribal identification seems to encourage that. And since Newton’s Third Law generally applies to these sorts of things, I have now seen various progressives complain about the very notion of critiquing public displays of virtue. Why would virtue be anything to critique? Seems worth emulating and encouraging. Indeed, we ought to be cynical about the cynicism and see nothing but self-protection in this."
Campus Ministries Race to Keep Up with Record Number of International Students by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (The Gospel Coalition)
"The foreign students flooding into U.S. universities are, in some ways, the ideal ministry field. Many are bright and affluent, able to afford some of the world’s top schools. That means they’re also likely future leaders, one day returning home to take influential positions. And generally comfortable with and curious about religion, they’re not hampered by the apathy or antagonism some American students feel toward Christianity. Their influence can be far-reaching."
Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis by Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute)
"Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year."
The Bishop Eddie Long I Knew by John Blake (CNN)
"Who am I to say how anyone should face a terrifying illness? Sometimes hope is all people have; let them believe what they want if it helps them get through the night. But there was something undeniably sad about Long not being able to level with those at New Birth who'd stuck by him when everyone else had fled. I suspect some of that inability comes from the prosperity theology he preached, which is pervasive in contemporary churches. I've heard scholars call it a heretical belief that distorted the life of Jesus. I think it fails on another level: It doesn't equip people to deal with loss. If you preach that wealth and health are a sign of God's favor, what do you do when you begin to lose both, as Long did?"
Teacher Has Personalized Handshakes With Every Single One of His Students (Good Morning America)

Why do I think this is an unbelievably cool thing? Because this young teacher demonstrates to each of his students that they have value in his eyes, that they are unique and that they are known.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

My Honest Letter To Facebook

Photo Credit: clasesdeperiodismo
I'm sorry, Facebook. It's not you, it's me. We've been together for nearly eleven years but I'm wondering if it's time for our relationship to end. You've changed. I've changed. The world has changed.

Things just aren't the way they used to be.

When you and I first got together back in early 2006, it was basically college students that were part of the network. Because I'm employed with an organization that works with students, you gave me special permission to be a part of this new world.

I felt special.

It was a lot of fun to reconnect with students who had been involved with our ministry or to see what colleagues had going on in their lives. Even some friends from my childhood signed on. We shared about the music we listened to, the movies we liked and did lots of silly games and quizzes. Lots of games and quizzes.

Then more and more people started to join. Eventually, it wasn't just people that inhabited the shared space of university life and students. Parents and grandparents started showing up. Even babies that couldn't talk were able to open accounts.

Things changed.

You listened to user feedback and offered more and more services. We were able to share all sorts of pictures and videos and articles and links. All that was on the Internet could suddenly show up on our Facebook feed.

I'm not sure when it actually happened but things took a turn for the worse.

Things got politicized. And things got nasty. And I got sad.

What was once a fun way to interact with friends and get to know acquaintances better suddenly wasn't so fun anymore. I learned that people I thought I knew had a completely different side to them.

I began to see abrasiveness and meanness in people that I experienced in real life as kind and considerate. I began to wonder: Is the person I know in real-life the "real them" or is the way they carry themselves on social media the "real them?"

As a recovering Pharisee, my struggle with pride and judgment is all-too-real. I found that seeing all the negativity from people was not helping me to love them as God wants me to love them.

So I sadly decided to "unfollow" a lot of people. And a small number I've even "unfriended." Not in real life. But, for my own spiritual health, I found it necessary in this pseudo world of social media.

I also realize that it's just not other people. I'm to blame, too. I've posted things that I've regretted. I've said things in a less than charitable manner. I've assumed the worst or been careless or haven't thought of others the in the loving manner that God does.

I hope things can get better but I'm not so sure.

If I'm honest with myself, I don't think you help me love Jesus or my family and friends more. Sure, there are occasional moments that you offer me inspiration or genuine laughter. I really appreciate the wedding and anniversary photos, baby announcements and seeing my friends children grow up, celebrations and even memes that bring levity to my day.

But, mostly, I find myself discouraged, irritated and frustrated when we spend time together. I just can't take the political harangues, the braggadocio cloaked in spiritual language, the arguing among strangers, and the complaining. (Wait, am I complaining here? Maybe so...)

This is not good and, if we're going to stay together, something needs to change. I'm not ready to give up on what we've had just yet. But you need to know that I have been thinking about it.

You've probably noticed that we haven't been spending as much time together over the past few weeks. I'm checking in with you every once in awhile but not nearly as much as I used to.

Sure, I'm still posting some things that I think people will find beneficial or humorous but I'm not going to be able to read through everything in my feed or "like" or comment very often.

I hope you understand.

If things get better, you'll be seeing more of me.

But, if they don't, I may have to leave. It'll be better that way.