Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Community - Fall 2015

It's time to start up our Radial book community again (cue cheering section)!

Because I know everyone has crazy busy schedules (work, school, kids, sports, etc.), I'll try to keep our reading minimal.  Less than a book a month, and if that's too much we'll shorten it.  Whatever works for the group of people that come!

With that in mind, the book selection will be up to the group.  I would suggest we keep it as diverse as possible to cater to everyone's preferences at least a little bit.  This means a range of cultures, time periods, and theology represented in both fiction and non-fiction writings.  I have a suggested list I typed up last year here, but please come with ideas and favorite books you would like to discuss more in a group setting.  Oftentimes I realize that through the years my views and opinions shift so it's great to come back to some familiar stories.

Since our first meeting is next week (!), let's start with a short story.  Edgar Allan Poe's "Black Cat" is available free here.  Please read & come prepared to discuss your thoughts.

A few more notes....
We will be meeting every other Wednesday night at the Barrel Room in North Canton (they serve a variety of wines, beer, and snack plates) so there's option for drink & food.  7:30pm meeting time, which gives ample time for discussion before a finish time before 9:00 for those who want to go to bed, check on the kids, or go to the Geisen group that meets on Wednesdays.  Time and place is subject to change based upon the needs of the group. All updates for the book community will be posted through this blog (the button on the right) as well as other social media outlets.
Check back soon!

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Work of the Holy Spirit

(the following is a section I recently wrote for a short article on the Holy Spirit for the Brethren Church publication, the Evangelist.  My writing partner started her section on the nature of the Holy Spirit and I picked up here...)

Transitioning into the work of the Holy Spirit flows naturally from the nature of the Holy Spirit. This is true in our own lives, right?  Who we are determines the way we act, the work we do, the means in which we approach others.  Likewise the Holy Spirit, being an entity of God Almighty, acts in accordance with the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ the son. 

Though there are a multitude of characteristics of the Spirit, I want to hone in on just a few for this brief article.  Let’s start with what the Lord tells us the Holy Spirit is here for.  Jesus tells us that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to You” (John 14:26 NRSV).  So in this way the Spirit acts as our teacher.  You know those little nudges of direction you feel from time to time?  That is likely the Advocate teaching you, reminding you, and guiding you in the times you are uncertain.

It makes sense that since Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), God gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us what that means.  He even states that the Advocate is “the Spirit of truth” who abides in us (John 14:17).  Truth is given to those who believe through the power of the living God working through us.  What an incredible concept! 

This empowerment is exceptionally evident in Acts 4 with the story of Peter and John, two men who were arrested because they healed and taught in Jesus’ name.  This is a great story to learn about the Spirit’s characteristics as healer and equipper.  I find it inspiring that “they were uneducated and ordinary men” (v.13) who became instruments for incredible power.  Through this act of the Holy Spirit they became bold and authoritative, ultimately revealing God’s mercy to those who witnessed.  The power of the Lord is not bottled up in those with PhDs or DMins or clergy living a particularly holy life.  Rather, the Advocate abides in us, equipping us to live more Christ-like. 

The nature of the Holy Spirit involves many attributes because it is a part of the Creator of the Universe who holds all attributes.  This may seem overwhelming, but I think it is important to acknowledge that the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:44), the same revealer that told Simeon he would not die until he had seen the Messiah (Luke 2:26), the same teacher that gave truth and understanding to the disciples (John 12:16), the same comforter Jesus gave the disciples (John 14:26), the same healer that gave sight to the blind (Mark 8:25), the same equipper who gave Peter and John boldness (Acts 4:8) is still just as active with and in all believers today and always. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Get Outta Here, Facebook! (why I gave up social media for Lent)

As I groggily reach for my phone in my usual morning fog, the alarm beeps seem to grow louder.  Who picked that annoying ringtone anyway?  Alarm turned off, I pick up my phone and start to browse the usual social media outlets: facebook, Instagram, and maybe even twitter for good measure.  Crap, it’s Morgan’s birthday. How did I not know that?  Good thing I have facebook to send me messages of peoples’ birthdays and anniversaries.   Lauren is in New York? Ugh- I want to be somewhere.  Sarah just booked a cruise? Is it only me who doesn’t get to go everywhere whenever I want?  Oh, and there’s another picture of someone’s beach vacation just to rub it in.  Ooh, that haircut is super cute. I need to do something to my hair – there’s no point in selfies if I don’t look good
Well, time to climb out of bed and start the day. 
I just noticed a link to an article that says, “You won’t believe what happens when….”!  Obviously I need to see if I believe it or not.  So exciting.

This recount of a fictional day, unfortunately, is closer to the truth on a typical morning than I want to admit.  The past year or so I have felt convicted about how second-nature it is to turn to my phone the instant something isn’t holding my attention completely.  Why has this obsession with our phones – and social media in particular – overtaken our lives?  I rarely walk into a coffee shop where thumbs aren’t becoming more arthritic by constant scrolling.  The other day a couple sat down beside me at Starbucks and began snapchatting EACH OTHER! Apparently a pixelated photo on a screen is better than the real thing. I mean, at least there’s editing.

Which brings me to another point.  We EDIT our lives for those around us.  Of course I’m not going to post about my sucky day and how I am battling depression and how annoyed I am that I can’t figure out what to make for dinner because I’m completely broke and have no groceries. 
No way.
I’m going to post #TBT photos of me at the beach to reinforce the idea that I have good days and that others should maybe even be jealous of this awesomeness.  I only post things when I’m at a concert or took a good photo, or when I’m with cool people to “check-in” with. 

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

This realization has helped me make much less frequent postings on social media.  I no longer update my albums, I don’t care if someone tags me in something, and I stopped checking in at the cool venues I frequent. 

But I realized that just because I wasn’t posting didn’t mean that I wasn’t a slave to other peoples’ lives.  I compare myself to where they go, who they hang out with, what music they listen to, and the vacations they take.  I want their hair, their makeup, their photo-taking skills.  Unfortunately just because I don’t care what others think about my personal postings, I still care about who I am based on others.  But now it’s an internal struggle.  Why can’t I be that awesome?

Get this: there is a reason we try to find our identity through others.  We were made that way.  But we are supposed to find our identity through the Creator and we are just searching in all the wrong places.  The good news is that we have been “given fullness in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).  There is no need to compare ourselves to others – that only sets us up for failure and frustration.  I am not saying it isn’t hard, but it is an important realization to focus on the fullness in Christ we have rather than the unfulfilling expectations society places upon us.

For this reason, I have decided to give up my social media outlets for Lent (blogging does not cause any stumbling or addictions for me).  I need to refocus my attention on God and give up this addiction to my phone and comparison to others. 

So far, in my first week off, I have found my time spent in the Word is much more enlightening than seeing what my friends are up to.  Yes I am missing birthday updates, but if I don’t already know their birthdays how good of a friend am I anyway?  I am becoming more invested in real-life relationships and less invested in the personas seen online.  I am realizing it doesn’t matter what others do or say about me, but rather who God says I am.  And that is all that matters in this life and the one to follow.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Erasing Hell" by Francis Chan - discussion guide

This week at our book community, we are discussing the important (yet frequently dismissed) topic of hell.  We are reading Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle's book, Erasing Hell, and I have a free pdf of the discussion guide compiled for our group available HERE.

Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Things about Racism I learned from John M. Perkins

John M. Perkins
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness 
like an ever-flowing stream 
(Amos 5:24 ESV).

In light of recent racial tensions throughout the country, I thought a great book to read for our next book community would be John M. Perkins' Let Justice Roll Down.  If you haven't had the pleasure of reading this enlightening book by and about a Christian civil-rights leader, it should be on your list for the coming year (because that's your resolution, right? more books!?).  Keep in mind that even though this was written decades ago, many statements he makes about our society's injustice towards other races unfortunately still hold true. Here are some truths I learned while reading to wet your appetite for his book:

1. It's all about power.
In his own experiences, Perkins realized that "The Southern white doesn't want the blacks removed.  What he wants is to have the blacks under his control, in a special relationship to him."  I suppose I always assumed that through racial tensions, one group wanted to eliminate the opposing group to make things easier.  However Perkins gives interesting insight, stating that keeping the downtrodden under the oppressor's feet allows them to keep their power.  This is truly what they want.  Not elimination, just power over them.  Who might we be keeping under our feet due to white privilege today? Think about the marginalized of our society. 

2. Taking a stand against oppression is the only way to start fixing the injustice.
"In situations of inequality or oppression, the oppressed group must take a stand somewhere, sometime.  For until the people take that stand, there is no development possible for them.  Yet when they take that stand in the face of clear injustice, an oppressed people are once again humanized."  Development cannot occur for a particular group of people if they are constantly under an oppressor's foot.  Lifting that foot, by helping gain the right to vote, work at good jobs, and live in acceptable housing begins to clear that injustice the system has pushed.  Only then can humanization truly occur for people.  Until then, people are merely existing without being able to thrive.

3. Christianity must be stronger than racism.
It seems often that church is merely a social club or a quick answer for our actions.  Perkins unfortunately witnessed this in the South, where white Christians did not acknowledge racial tensions as an injustice that needed fixed.  Rather they utilized their social status to keep many blacks downtrodden.  Jesus overcame many societal issues of his day, much to his peers' dismay.  Likewise, Perkins charges Christians to do the same, accepting the fact that it may not be easy, but eliminating racial injustices in society is what Jesus needs us to do.  Christianity is a stronger force than racism, bigger than economic struggles, and more powerful than anything against Jesus' teachings.  We have the important duty to accept this truth and act in ways according to Scripture to show others just how powerful Christianity can be, so that the following question is no longer needing to be asked: "The question on my mind and on the minds of most black people to whom we preached was whether or not Christianity was a stronger force than racism."

4. Identity in Christ is necessary to combat racism.
Perkins explains how "Everybody needs to feel important - because he or she is.  But brutality is something like dope.  Some people have to have it to confirm themselves. It's a sickness of the racist." This comes down to an identity issue.  It is something that so many of my friends have been struggling with lately, as they finish college, or go through a divorce, or leave a job.  Who are they without these things they've put their trust into?  Likewise, racists have confirmed themselves over and over with the power that comes with putting others down. This power is a drug - they need it more often and do not seem to care who they hurt in the process.  This is why people become addicted to their jobs, or obsessed with particular aspects of life: they need more and more of that "drug" to confirm who they are.  Perkins hits it on the nose by saying "Everybody needs to feel important- because he or she is."  EVERYONE IS IMPORTANT and everyone can find that confirmation through Scripture and prayer and the comfort Jesus gives us knowing this.  But when we lose focus of not only our importance, but our neighbor's importance, issues begin to arise.  Hold strong to the hope that lies in our identity in Christ.

5. We're all biased.
"Whether or not we admit it, our reading of biblical ethics is colored by our perception of the world around us."  This is an unfortunate truth.  If I grew up rich and affluent in America, I will read Scripture through this lens.  If I grew up knowing many economic and social hardships in the Global South, well then you better believe my understanding of Scripture will be different from the American's.  Regardless of where in the world you are from, there is a perception that comes along with your readings.... you are biased.  It is inevitable.  It is important, however, to understand this clouded lens and not argue with those who do not see things your way, but rather try to see how they have approached the same text in a different way.  Perkins saw how the whites in his town used their Christian privilege to keep blacks oppressed (which is obviously unbiblical).  They weren't all bad people, just confused in their theology.  We perceive things differently based upon how we were raised, but that doesn't change the one truth given to all.  What we must do is seek out true understanding and pray for clarity and justice for all God's people.

While these are all very racially-charged statements, there is so much biblical truth that is held within each sentence.  Perkins understood that God could speak through people of all races and statuses, and fights to allow more voices from the African-American culture to be heard.  The fact of the matter is that Christians need to band together to eliminate injustice to God's people - all people. 

For a discussion guide to help in your own book club or personal reading, click here for a PDF.