Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Empathy and Race Relations

I am deeply saddened by the complete lack of empathy, dialogue, and understanding that has risen up during discussions of race.  One cannot have a respectful dialogue if one fails to understand where the other is coming from.  More so, I am completely dumbfounded by any Christian who posts or shares on their feed anything that resorts to vulgar name calling or refers to protesters as haters of America.  (I teach responsible social media use to teens.  Perhaps adults need it too).   There is no desire to love one another or for reconciliation in such language.  As followers of Christ, we are called to care about people.

There is a flag and there is a national anthem.   Please, be passionate about our country.  However, to be more passionate about an issue (kneeling/national anthem/patriotism) than an individual (or collective group, in this instance) who experiences injustice misses the entire point.   I found the following quote (next paragraph) helpful in clarifying why the flag/anthem is attached to the protesting.  You may disagree and believe an alternative form of protesting would be better suited, but the point of a protest is to elicit an emotional response so that people care about something that is otherwise being neglected.  So we must ask ourselves if we care more about how they are protesting OR do we care more about resolving the issue behind the protest?  Changing how the protest occurs does not solve the problem of racial injustice.  We must understand that solving that problem will create change and eliminate the need for a protest.

"one of the false binaries that the President has been trying to set up for this reason is to make you choose between love of flag and country AND love of the country getting better.  This is ironic for a guy who ran on a message of 'make America great again,' of course, itself a critique of the country.  What people need to realize is that we are all trying to celebrate and make this country a better place.  It's just the fact that the degree to which we can enjoy those freedoms have been unequal.  So, we need to involve the flag to get attention for that issue.  That's why it's so important."
  Pablo Torre  9/25/17  “Around the Horn” on ESPN

I hope that quote is helpful in understanding why the protests have occurred during the national anthem.  You are free to disagree with that approach, but it is important that we understand why that approach is being taken.  And one could also say it is important for protesters to understand that others see their protests in a different light.  There are complex layers here.  That is why dialogue is needed.  Personally, I believe if someone feels marginalized then it is the responsibility of the community to hear them out and help the situation.  And there are many marginalized people in America who do not always have a voice (children, elderly, poor, women, etc.) that is heard.

I have found these links to be helpful. I will say that I do not agree with everything that is in each of these links.  However, reading thoughts that you disagree with helps you gain understanding and empathy for others.  I must take this issue seriously as a follower of Christ as well as a future father of a child who will not be white (whenever our adoption in the Dominican Republic is processed).  TAKE TIME TO READ.

(I have intentionally left the URL's visible for those who prefer it).
Feel free to share articles that you have found helpful.

Confessions of a Racist by Philip Yancey

Skin in the Game – with Andy Stanley.  (Everyone loves him)

Tony Duny interview with Miami Dolphins players impacting race relations in their community

"Woke Church" by Dr. Eric Mason 

Analyzing Survey results Regarding Protests, Race, and Patriotism

Free Speech – Christianity Today by Ed Stetzer.  (Everyone loves Christianity Today)

Helpful History of Minority Demonstrations (Response to above article)

There's No Dishonor in Kneeling (Kaepernick) (Third Response to Free Speech article)

An attempt to explain white privilege with personal examples

Brain research on Race and Empathy – California Association for Bilingual Education

Racial Justice Videos by Verge Network

A deep look into Colin Kaepernick by Bleacher Report

Racism – I’m sorry it took so long – by a college classmate of mine

Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism by Prof. and Dr. Robin DiAngelo

One WWII vets focus

Understanding the first MLB player who took a knee

Racism - How Christians Should Respond (3 week study for small groups)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Path Towards Adoption

Monday was a big day for us.  We officially completed all our paperwork.  From home studies to fingerprints to much more, we have submitted our dossier forms for adoption from the Dominican Republic.  It has been many years since God first put the thought in our minds and hearts about adoption, but this past spring we felt it was time to take the next steps in this journey.  We'd love to have a personal conversation about it, but below are most of the basics.

Why Adopt?
We believe we are called to help restore the world that we are currently a part of.  You can call that living on mission for God; the idea that God has a purpose for you that is bigger than any of your own desires.  We don't exist to consume the world, but to bring about positive change that has an eternal impact (Matthew 6:19-24).

Every follower of Jesus who professes Him as their only salvation from their sins and the brokenness of this world believes that they have a part to play in the restoration process.  Purpose. Mission. You get it.  Part of that is certainly providing opportunities for people to place their faith in Jesus.  It also means seeking ways for God to use you based on your gifts, passions, and leading of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-28).

There are many ways to be used by God and those are seen throughout the Bible.  It is our responsibility to listen and discern how God may be leading us.  Caring for the marginalized people in our world is a major theme throughout the Scriptures.  This can range from widows, orphans, foster care, sponsoring a child through Compassion International, homeless shelter support, volunteering at a local school, and helping to babysit those kids down the street who have little adult support in their lives.  Ultimately, we believe everyone can play a role, and one part of our role for our family is adoption.

Adoption is a sign of the gospel.  We are the children of God (plethora of verses) and just as Christ adopts those who place their faith in Him, Christians are called to help restore the world, which includes orphan care (James 1:27).

Both our children are excited to add to our family.  They have even learned about adoption through Doc McStuffins' newest sibling being adopted in some recent episodes!

Why the Dominican Republic?
In short, there is such a great need that we felt led to the Dominican Republic.  There are an estimated 200,000 orphans under the age of 5 in the country.  That is overwhelming to even try to comprehend.  Thanks to the internet and social media, we live in a world where we are bombarded with tragic issues and needs.  In fact, we can become desensitized to it (or worse, think that liking a post or sharing it is helping the problem.  While raising awareness is important, actual involvement is far more important) or we may not be sure what we can do to even make a difference.

With that said, we are a big believer of the idea that we should "do for one what you wish you could do for everyone."  Instead of feeling helpless, you can choose to make a difference.  You may not be able to change the world, but I believe you can change someone's world!  Nobody is going to change the world, but everybody has the potential to change somebody's world.  Pick someone and go all in!  Andy Stanley has a great message on this here.  Be bold and do something now.

What Will the Process Look Like?
This is where we start to get the "deer in the headlights" and the jaw dropping looks from people.  While any adoption is a big process, there are a few unique wrinkles to our anticipated adoption.  The four of us will have an extended stay in the Dominican Republic during the adoption process.  Without going into the details of length, eventually one of us will be bringing our 2 current children home while the other stays with our newest family member in the D.R. for a significant length of time as paperwork gets finalized.  We are up for it the adventure, but that does not mean it will be quick and easy.  We are fortunate to have the flexibility in our jobs to embark on this journey.

When we receive a referral for adoption (hopefully in the winter of 2018-19) we'll then have 4-6 weeks to make our way to the D.R.  We are seeking a child 2 years of age or under to keep the birth order of our family.

How are you preparing?
Yes, we will be a "mixed" family (transracial, conspicuous, or whatever you would like to call it).  This simply means that people may look at us a little different since we won't all have the same skin color.

1. We're trying to prepare for adoption and attachment in general (here's a read).
2. We'll continue to try to understand life as a transracial family (thanks to currently being in seminary I have found numerous published journal articles on this!  Plus, we have other friends who are walking this journey already).
3. The racial tension in our country is real, so we also need to be prepared and understanding of various perspectives (in reality, everyone should listen more and talk less).  Thanks again to seminary for helping with this in a cross-cultural context class (and more helpful resources are here and here).
4. Learning about the culture of the D.R. for our future child's benefit.

At the end of the day, adoption is a past-tense verb.  It is not an adjective that will define our child.  When he or she becomes a part of our forever family, they will simply be our "child."  We don't refer to our other children as "c-section children."  While adoption will be part of the story, it will reflect the past more than the present or future.

What Can I Do to Help with the Adoption?
1. Prayer. Lots of it.
2. Be a future babysitter.  To those of you who help with our current childcare, you are playing a major role in the expansion of our family.  You are helping to form our current children and will also with our future children.  Do not take this lightly, because we do not.  You are amazing!
3. Donate your frequent flyer miles to help with airfare.
4. If you'd like to support our journey financially, then visit  https://www.adopttogether.org/strahmsadopt to make a tax-deductible contribution.  Every dollar helps as you play a role in the adoption.

If you'd like to take a deeper look at faith and adoption then Russell Moore's Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches is a great read.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Choose a Study Bible

A good study Bible is an investment in your faith development.  Many people ask me "What should I Get?" and we even have a tradition of taking new high school grads to purchase their first "adult study Bible."  So, I'm finally putting my thoughts down in print.  The following are some study Bible’s that I recommend.  I’m sure there are other good study Bibles that are not in my top 3.

ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version)
Thorough notes.  Online access as well.  More “hot topics” articles and info available (different religions, social issues, clarifications on theology, etc).

NIV Study Bible
            Not quite as detailed as the ESV, but still good.  Popular if you love the NIV.

Life Application Study Bibles (NIV, NLT)
            Comes in multiple translations.  Good notes as well.

Steps to Choosing:
  1. Make sure you are comfortable with the translation.
(NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, there are plenty to choose from.  All have slightly different purposes.  Some desire to put it the translation as literal as possible while other try to use more modern language).  Find a few of your favorite verses and compare how they are stated.  You should be comfortable with any listed above.  A chart is below to help you.

  1. View the Books of the Bible Introductionsat the beginning of each book of the Bible.  Cover helpful info such as author, date, history, and themes.
  1.  Study NotesFor me, quality and configuration are important.
Configuration - Some do much better at using boldness of words or passage references to easily navigate through the notes.  Others are just crammed together and hurt the head to look at.
Quality – look at some of the stories you know well (maybe in the Gospels).  Chances are if you know most of what is said in the study notes, than it might not be as thorough of a study Bible as you would want.

  1.  ConcordanceThis is in the back.  Essentially, it is a “word search.”  Looking for verses on “love,” then go to the back concordance and it will list verses with “love” in them.  Not all concordances are created equal.  Some provide just the top few examples where “love” is found.  Others will provide most or all references where “love” is found in the entire Bible based on your translation. 
  1.  Design Layout Some Bibles let you read left to right in one column per page.  Others have two columns.  If you are OCD, then this will matter to you.  I prefer one column per page and I think it helps link well with study notes at the bottom of the page, but to each their own.
  1. Physical Size do you want a compact and easy to carry or pack Bible?  Do you want bigger and better because you know that you will primarily use it at home and not take it with you everywhere (especially if you use a Bible App for casual reading on the go)?  Sometimes a compact version does not have all the extra content that a full size Bible has.  
  1. Bonus Stuff every Bible has a few different bonuses. 
-Life Application Bibles like to give biographies of people sprinkled throughout each book of the Bible to inform or remind you of each person’s importance and context. 

-The ESV Study Bible goes the extra mile (at least in the full size version, in the compact version I think it is only available online) for theology, history of the church, other religions, social issues, etc). 

-Most have a few basic maps as well.

-Some provide charts and other helpful info graphics throughout (timeline of Jesus’ miracles, list of Kings in chronological order, list of parables, diagrams of the temple or a city, etc).  These can be very helpful for connecting different stories into a uniform line of thought.

Those are my tips. Remember, if you never use it, then it doesn’t matter which you pick.

And don’t be afraid to write notes, underline and highlight, just make sure your highlighter doesn’t bleed through the page!  Every mark you make will help long term retention.

Did I miss anything in selecting a study Bible?

Also: Wesley Study Bible – I have never used it, but it comes recommended.  It is on my “to get list” for its theological footing in the United Methodist and Wesleyan view.  This would be subtle in the commentary notes to the average evangelical Christians, just as the ESV may have inclinations towards Reformed theology that most might not notice.  

Lastly, on a lighter note, you can just pick your Bible by using this chart below via Adam4d.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Visual Communication

As our world's attention span changes and our culture shifts from long blogs to tweets to instagram pictures it has made me think how I communicate.

I've made a few of these word pix as one of my goals of using social media is to point people towards God and hope and away from complaining, gossip, and narcissism that often overruns social media.  Ironically, taking the few minutes to make it has given me extra time think through what I was posting and has had a deeper spiritual impact on me as well (compared to simply typing it and posting it).

Take time to meditate on God's word....or settle for mediocre and shallow faith.  It's up to you.  I prefer the former.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Future Gift for My Son - My Study Bible

Somewhere along the line I said to a college student "Get into God's word or get into trouble."  I believe that is true.  We have plenty of wisdom and principles and the Holy Spirit's guidance to gain from reading the Bible regularly and studying it.

Don't just read.  Study.  My hope is my Bible can be full of pages like this one for my son someday to have.  It takes longer to mark it, but is worth it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Change is Good

Brainstorming with some of our teens.  Can't get stuck with how we are reaching people when there are always more people to reach.

The key to our discussion: How can we provide greater connection with Christ and each other throughout the week to foster better spiritual and numerical growth?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Spiritual Conversations Matter

I recently posted about the need for Christians to share their faith and what we were doing as a result.  

Here is a follow up to the Spring Break Stretch Retreat.
It was 3 busy days of "Knowing God's Story, Knowing Your Story, and Sharing those Stories."

I could share a lot of stories and details on the training, but I'll let the words of the teens who participated in the retreat share.

“The trip was great and really strengthened my faith and allowed me to be bolder.  I didn't realize the retreat would affect me so much.”

“I always knew I should share my faith.  This helped me know how to bring it up at anytime.”
“The more people I talked to the easier it was.  It isn't scary to share my faith.  I learned a lot.”
"I know how to listen, how to transition conversations and bring up Jesus. It's not that scary."
"This was far more helpful and practical than I could have imagined."
"It helped me care more for others and think about life without Jesus."
"I'm introverted, so it got me out of my comfort zone."

If they keep sharing the Gospel, then they can make a huge impact over the course of their life.

There are only 2 reasons adult Christians don't make an impact spiritually in the lives of others.
1. They were never trained.
2. Don't care enough to do it.

Let's pray the training and the heart stick with every teen who participated.

1 Peter 3:15 - Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What if Parents Led Their Children?

Scenario 1: Parent drops teen off at church.  Parent picks them up a few hours later.  Parent asks "how was it?"  Teen responds "fine."  End of Conversation.

Child continues to grow in their faith all the while the parent does not really know what is going.  Sure, they read the youth calendar and their teen may or may not attend Sunday morning worship with them.  Maybe they pray at lunch together, occasionally.   

Bottom line - the parent has unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) passed off the faith development of their child to the church.  That teen graduates and goes off to college having lost their only spiritual support group they've ever known.  It could be a LOT worse.  But, it could be better.

Scenario 2: Parent drops teen off at church.  Parent picks them up a few hours later.  Parent has a resource of different specific questions to really find out what the teen just did for the last few hours.  Thorough conversation ensues.  Questions.  Dialogue.  Sharing.

The church actually schedules less programming and events so that families can spend more time together.  And the church provides additional resources to help the parents take the lead in developing their child's faith with as simple of things as lesson recaps, questions to ask, suggested activities, and other options to help both sides share their faith.  

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Someday, that teen will probably live in a different town, far away from their youth pastor or "church friends."  There are a billion studies that talk about teens struggling to have a faith of their own when they hit college.  One of the biggest differences between those who do have a faith of their own and those who don't are actively engaged parents - because the parents are the one's who make the most impact and will be with that teen for the rest of their life.  

There's plenty about all of this.  Two of the best places are Sticky Faith and Fuller Youth Institute.

We're tweaking how we do our intermediate ministry called Level Up (5th-8th grade).
1. Only meeting the first 2 Sundays of the month.
2. Providing more dialogue and resources for parents.
3. Using mature high school students to mentor the intermediate group.

I'm not saying it will be a perfect ministry.  I'm not saying there won't be a learning curve or new obstacles with the increased focus on providing parents with resources (as opposed to just information).  I know there are other questions out there (for example: what if the parent isn't a Christian?).  But, I'm excited for the possibility.  Our church has done well with Children and with the Senior High, but we have struggled with the intermediate age group.  It's time to level up - balance your life while you grow in your faith.  (Note: Our Senior High still meets weekly).

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Biggest Problem Christians Have

Most Christians are ineffective in sharing their faith.  It's that simple.
Maybe they aren't equipped. Maybe they are lazy or lack the desire.  Maybe they are not intentional or bold enough.

If Christianity is going to help restore the world by pointing people to Jesus Christ, then most of that will be done outside of the physical church building.  People interacting with other people and openly discussing their faith and how God has changed their life for the better is arguably the best tool to bring people to Christ.

Perhaps the reason Christians struggle with this the most is that they have never experienced effective spiritual conversations in everyday life.  So, while a sermon or a study on it is nice for gaining information, most people need the extra step of being shown how to do it.  You could say it is a Biblical model.

1. Jesus invited the disciples along on his journey to see who he really was (Messiah).
2. Jesus invited them to observe him (Mission & Ministry).
3. Jesus taught them directly (Teacher) and allowed them to ask questions.
4. Jesus empowered them to do ministry and grow in their faith (Experience).
5. Jesus released them and delegated them to reach the world (Full Responsibility).

Jesus was with them consistently. Showing. Leading. Correcting. Releasing.
Jesus provided a way for the disciples to experience it, and expected them to do the same thing.

Over Spring Break we're trying to provide more of that equipping for today's teens.
Know God's Story.  Know Your Story (how God changed you), Share Your Stories.
G  E  T      S  T  R  E  T  C  H  E  D

1 Peter 3:15 - Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  

Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Note: I have put together a fairly thorough booklet (60 pages!) for the retreat.  If you'd like to see it, review it, or want to consider it for your group (any age) please leave a comment.

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Are You Supposed to Do with Your Life?

High school students ask this as they weigh their college, major, and vocation choices.
Adults see this as the fulfillment of their job, family, and overall life.

It can be empowering when we know the answer.  It can be deflating when we are dumbfounded.

Often we wait....and wait...and wait for an answer from God.  But, what if sometimes God just wanted us to act based on what we already know?

Enter Nehemiah - a man who is discussed far to infrequently to children in their faith development.

Basically, here's the story.  Nehemiah's hometown (Jerusalem) was destroyed before he was born during the Babylonian Empire and all the smart guys and good looking women were taken to Babylon to be slaves for King Nebuchadnezzar.  Eventually, the Babylonians are overthrown by the Persians, to whom Nehemiah is a servant for the King.

Nehemiah hears that Jerusalem, approximately 150 years after having its walls torn down by the Babylonians, still does not have a wall around the city!  Having a wall around your city is a big part of protection and honor.

What does Nehemiah do?
He prays to God for forgiveness for his people's lack of obedience.  And he asks the King that he might go home to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  And the King says yes.  It's a long story....but basically, no one near Jerusalem wants the wall rebuilt.  In fact, Nehemiah and his fellow wall rebuilding crew are threatened and a plot is setup to fight Jerusalem.

These enemies "all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night."    Nehemiah 4:6-9 ESV

But they didn't stop to fight....verse 17 says "Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked."  That's determination and focus!

Nehemiah's Steps
1. Heard the problem (Jeursalem in ruin).
2. Prays for forgiveness of his people AND for opportunity.
3. God works through the King to let Nehemiah go home
4. Opposition. More opposition.  Pep talks (not included above).
5. Prepares for worst (a battle) but never stops with his God given mission.
6. Wall is built in 52 days.  52 DAYS!!!!

While it is good for us to seek God's guidance, many of us wait for that burning bush or parting of the Red Sea to know what God wants us to do.  Not Nehemiah, he found a need, prayed to God, and then got it done!

See the needs around you.  Pray to God for wisdom and strength.  Get it done.  That is what you're supposed to do with your life.

This post is a part of my 2013 Lent back to blogging decision.  To see my other posts click here