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Book Review – The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

Originally published in 2010, this updated paperback version is a great starter for the Christian seeking to connect with Muslim acquaintances or co-workers. As the title indicates, it sets forth to clearly present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a Muslim, not necessarily attack or defend the differences between Islam and Christianity.

The first five chapters draw attention to five essentials of the Gospel message that are important for the Christian to focus on as s/he shares his/her faith with a Muslim. Again, the book does not get into detailed arguments about individual Bible verses or Qu’ran suras. Rather it presents the key theological areas of difference and helps the Christ-follower focus on explaining them to a follower of Islam. As a former Muslim who came to Christ after college, Anyabwile shares good stories and examples along with his explanations.

In the final five chapters, Anyabwile focus on practical ways to share your faith with a Muslim that are not specifically “apologetic” (eg. hospitality, connect to a local church, discussion of suffering). The final chapter includes a thoughtful and honest discussion of the African-American (aka “Black Muslim”) challenges. Again, in all these chapters, Anyabwile’s conversion experience and pastoral heart come through along with his thoughtful and even-handed analysis and advice.

If you are looking for a point-by-point argument demonstrating the superiority of Christianity over Islam, this is NOT the book for you. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a starting point to learn how to answer Muslims who contend “we all worship the same God,” this resource presents good material for discussion in an easy-to-read and orderly fashion. I gladly recommend it.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer by Moody Press in exchange for an unbiased blog review.

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Just keep working…

Sometimes the most important thing to do is to just keep working.

It might not be easy. It might not be glamorous. It might not even “pay off” for a few weeks, months, or even years. But in the pursuit of excellence, sometimes you have to just keep doing the daily work so that you can get better at your skill/craft and then when the opportunity opens, you are ready.

There have been two recent examples of this in the sports world.

steenbergen goal.jpgThe first is Tyler Steenbergen with Canada’s World Junior hockey team. Steenbergen is a great offensive threat for his Western Hockey League team, the Swift Current Broncos. Yet when he arrived at Team Canada’s tryout camp in December (he was not invited to the initial summer camp), it was questionable he would make the team. He did, but for most of the tournament played very little as he was the designated “13th forward” (four lines of three forwards = Steenbergen was the “extra”). In other words, he sat on the bench a lot and cheered the rest of his teammates on who were playing.

Steenbergen was already used to being overlooked. He did not get drafted into the NHL in his first year of eligibility but did get taken last June in the fifth round by the Arizona Coyotes. He just kept working throughout the camp and trying to stay positive.

In the gold medal game against Sweden with the scored tied 1-1, Steenbergen scored his only goal of the tournament with 1:52 left on the clock to give Canada the gold medal. Up until that point, he was the only Canadian forward without a goal in the tournament. Asked why Steenbergen got more ice in the final game, Canada’s Head Coach Dominique Ducharme said, “I thought he was moving and doing the little things.”

In other words, he kept working.

This past Sunday, another “no name” came into the headlines as Case Keenum threw a winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs on the last play of the game to give the Minnesota Vikings a shocking victory over the New Orleans Saints and put them in the NFC Championship game where they will face the Philadelphia Eagles.

Like Steenbergen, Keenum is an example of an athlete who it seemed would be a star… yet it didn’t seem to happen. After growing up in Abilene, TX and going to the University of Houston where he became the only college football quarterback to have three 5000-yard passing seasons, as well as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions, he was not drafted.  He signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans and played ten games in two seasons with them before playing two seasons with the St Louis/Los Angeles Rams, posting up average statistics with them.

But, Keenum just kept working hard. This year he led the Vikings to first place in their division with an 14-3 record, taking over from Sam Bradford as the Vikings QB in week 3.

Here is the video of Steenbergen’s Golden Goal and Steenum’s last second touchdown pass.

Whatever task or objective you dream of accomplishing, sometimes you just have to keep working… when its hard, when it doesn’t seem like anyone notices, when the doors don’t seem to open as expected. Good things happen to those who keep working.

Online Education? What about…

While online education may be a trendy topic, for educators and thoughtful students, there are some serious questions requiring answers before just jumping on board this hip new fad. There are some legitimate concerns (if not arguments) to consider with online learning. For example…

Online education lacks the personal touch & connection
(Be honest: Its you and the computer)

While the lack of a physical connection may have been an issue in previous generations of distance/online learning, advances in Skype, video-conferencing technology, and various Course Management Systems (eg. Moodle, Blackboard, etc) have meant online education is very much a face-to-face experience, even if the personal connections are virtual. Although some online education is completely asynchronous (independently at your desired time and pace), the school usually offers other opportunities for groups of students to meet together live.

What about class discussion?

online study picIn a good, healthy, educational context, students learn almost as much from the interaction with other classmates as from the content provided by the professor. Indeed, one challenge facing teachers at any level and on most subjects today is content-related. Specifically, what can you teach me, that I cannot find elsewhere, especially online?

This, in fact, makes classroom interaction all the more valuable. Again, while this aspect may have been a concern in the early days of distance learning and online courses, the quantity and quality of classroom interaction has actually improved significantly in online courses due largely to the increasing options available with Course Management Systems.

In some CMSs, just like in a physical classroom, students can raise a virtual hand and ask a question. Whereas in a physical classroom setting, one or two students can hog the discussion time, and the instructors’ may feel “pressured” to acknowledge the hand waving in the room that everyone can see, the virtual environment makes it a little less “intimidating” for a professor to select other hands who have not spoken, rather than give the same student another question.

Likewise, CMS features like discussion forums or chat rooms encourage interaction on a variety of threads. Many professors require students participation in discussion activities, whether by posting a defined number of words or responding to a specific number of threads, as part of the course assessment. In this way, all students participate (not simply the vocal few) and those who want to share their two cents on every topic still have the opportunity.

The best online professors weigh in on the discussions and correct misinformation and misunderstandings. Likewise, faculty provide clarity on various perspectives offered by students. They do not just leave every student’s opinion as equally valid or correct.

But I want to get to know my professors!

Some would argue the benefit of a brick-and-mortar environment is actually getting to know your professor personally and professionally. This is especially significant when a student gets into the higher level courses and starts to think about finding a professor who can give a recommendation (or referral) for the first job out of university or for graduate studies.

The same goal can be achieved in an online educational context. As with the physical campus, so with the virtual campus, a great deal of the responsibility for making this connection, nurturing and growing the student-professor relationship to the point where a recommendation or referral is possible, depends on the students’ initiative and responsiveness.

However, unlike many physical colleges where the professor is primarily an educator and may have limited, if any, involvement with practitioners in the discipline, most online educators are both educators as well as practitioners. You may get a reference from the Senior Professor of Criminology at PhysicalU, but a reference from the Assistant Chief of Police who also taught a couple of youth criminology courses at OnlineU may be looked upon just as highly (if not moreso) when you apply for a position working with At-Risk Youth.

Additionally, since you have been able to volunteer with a non-profit while you study your degree online, you already have your foot in the door! (and another vital reference)

While there are many benefits to an online education logistically, technology is minimizing many of the interpersonal arguments for avoiding online education. When you combine these two explanations, it seems clear why online education is not simply a fad, but the way of the future.

 

 

Book Review – Unimaginable by Jeremiah J Johnston

Jeremiah Johnston sets out to answer the question What would our world be like without Christianity? (the book’s subtitle) Presenting historical analysis of the religious and social world of the time periods before Jesus of Nazareth lived on earth and after, Johnston demonstrates the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian monotheistic worldview. Then Johnston continues his historical review analyzing the intellectual patterns that shaped the social, political, and moral changes in the world. In the final section, Johnston explains why Christianity grew as a religion and the impact of Christian values relating to slavery, racism, women, and healing.

As a person who embraces Christianity as Johnston describes, his arguments were logical and provided additional support to some propositions. Likewise, his observations and analysis confirmed a few of my hunches with data.

By the same token, for the reader who does not embrace Christianity, while the arguments are clear, I am not sure they would be convincing. Especially in the middle section (The World Without Christianity), opponents would contend that philosophical arguments were not the primary factor in various political disturbances; that other global, social, political forces were at play to allow individual leaders (eg. Marx, Stalin, Hitler, & Mussolini) to enact their treachery. Likewise with various moral issues, non-theists would also be quick to point out that association does not equal causation.

The book succeeds at conveying the main argument in an easy-to-read and engaging manner. Nonetheless, this same simplicity could also be considered simplistic. Johnston can (and does in other forums such as ChristianThinkers.com) delve into more detail in his defense of Christianity, and so for the reader desiring more indepth analysis, his other work may be an appropriate next step. For a young adult trying to defend and counter accusations against his/her faith, this may be a helpful resource for bolstering the confidence in Christianity’s benefit to the world and thus I would recommend it.

Note: This book was provider to the reader in exchange for an unbiased review by the Baker Books Bloggers program.

 

Every child an Introvert?

The best punishment my parents could give my younger brother was to send him to his room. Why? Because he was an (extreme) extrovert.

But if they sent me or my older brother to our rooms, it was not a punishment but a reward! Both of us were glad to get away from our noisy household of eight people and get some alone time in our room to read, or study, or build with Lego or whatever.
(No, we did not have tv or game consoles in our room!)

Fast-forward 20 years and as a parent I am beginning to wonder we need to push all children – at every age – to become introverts!

I know that sounds crazy!

Most of us believe a parent should let their child be who God made them to be. If they are extroverts, let them socialize often with the people who demonstrate the kind of character qualities you want him/her to emulate. By the same token, if they are naturally introverts, let them have their alone time, while assuring there are other places they develop social skills and they do not just go off in silence being left alone to their own “devices.”

While all three of our children tend towards the extrovert side of the scale (an irony not lost on their two introvert parents), as parents we are also realizing that it is to their benefit to have some time where they just play or read or do activities involving their imagination in solitude.

The educational/developmental term for this is “independent play.” Almost always this refers to activities which do not involve phones, gaming systems, or computers! There is significant research about the developmental and social benefits of children playing alone available, mostly focusing on social and emotional development.

 

little-boy-sitting-on-the-floor-looking-up.jpg

However, my “push your child to introversion” suggestion has less to do with social skill development or re-wiring of the brain from social media (though I believe those are commendable benefits too) and more to do with spiritual development.

Whatever your spiritual/religious convictions, each person needs to be able to sit in silence and reflect, meditate, listen and/or pray in order to be spiritually whole. This is a vital life skill. If a child cannot learn to be introspective and reflective, they will likely not be able to process well the happenings of life as they mature.

 

Admittedly, a 7-or-8 year old will not likely be able to process as deeply or thoroughly a family members sickness and possible death as 17-or-18 year old. Likewise, a 10 year old may not be able to verbalize the confusion or fear they feel as well as the 16 year old as parents go through a marital breakup.

Certainly some, even most, children will benefit from talking with others about what is happening in them, to them, around them, and in their world. Ideally, they will talk to parents, teachers, or other wise and influential adults about challenging situations. But if there is no “push” to learn the skill of being quiet and listening to God/their inner voice when they face a confusing situation, they will quickly be consumed by the noise of their circumstances and the world, both now and in the future. As parents (or teachers) we need to find ways to help our children/teenagers individually process the life situations they encounter.

As adults, we may find it challenging enough to stop and reflect in various life situations we encounter and the challenges connected. How much more difficult… and yet equally important… is it for children and young adults to learn these skills so that as they mature and face life decisions themselves, they will learned how to listen to God/their inner voice when the adult influences are not nearby.

You can likely identify individuals who did not process trauma they experienced as a child well (if at all)… and you have watched the sad consequences of both the trauma and the inability to process it unfold in their lives, emotionally and spiritually. Today’s children are likely to face as much, if not more, trauma and turbulence. Shouldn’t we provide them the tools to process such challenges and pain when we have them available?

Okay, maybe we do not need to push our extrovert children to become introverts (though it would sure make for a much quieter and more orderly household!). Nonetheless, there is a responsibility to teach children to be still and listen to God’s voice.

I would love to hear your feedback on this blog post.

 

4 Benefits of Online Education

online study picMaybe you are 18 years old considering your future after high school…
work?
school?
a gap year?

Or maybe you are a twenty-something who has worked a few years post-secondary and are now ready to go back  to school and get an undergraduate degree but you have some other responsibilities… a life partner, children, a mortgage, vehicle payments? And while a student loan would help you live at the poverty line, that’s not really your goal for the next five years!

But… what other options do you have?

Online education may be the best option for you. Not just one online course to either finish your degree or to get started while you save money to go full-time. A full undergraduate degree completely through an online university. Instead of quitting your job and moving to a campus location, stay in your job, set up your computer in an office-like workspace, and let that be your online classroom.

The #1 benefit of online university is Flexibility.
You can study the courses for your undergraduate degree at your own pace. One course at a time, or 2, 3, or more courses at a time. Most online universities offer a traditional semester format (ie Sept-Dec and Jan-April), but most also offer a multiplicity of time schedules and format. While there are usually some expectations on completing your degree over a given period of years, the flexibility of online education both in terms of time and location are the #1 benefit.

The #2 benefit of online education parallels flexibility, and that is Continuity.
You do not need to quit your job… and thus lose your income to attend online university. The ability to continue working and thus bringing in income means you continue your education without additional debt. Furthermore, there is continuity for your family… whether you are an 18 year old realizing you may need to move away from home to attend a brick-and-mortar school… or whether you are a mature student realizing you will need to interrupt the life of your significant others to upgrade your education. Online education allows for flexibility of time and location and thus also enables a measure of continuity in work and life, while incorporating education into that mix.

Benefits #1 and #2 naturally lead to benefit #3: Financial Stability.
Not only is a person not required to give up their income when they enroll in an online education degree because s/he can continue working, they will also be able to graduate without significant debt (if any).
In addition to not giving up income, a substantial portion of the cost of education is not simply the tuition for courses, but the corollary living costs, whether of residence life and a meal plan or otherwise. These are the same costs you have living anywhere, but when you do not need to re-locate or accumulate these expenses in addition to tuition and books, it is a significant financial saving. Scholarships usually cover tuition, whether for traditional learning environments or online options. Because the additional living expense costs are not different with an online degree, you have a greater chance of graduating without student debt.

At the same time, students enrolled in online education are often still eligible for student loans, and a loan for educational purposes is generally regarded as the best loan available.

Benefit #4 of an online education is relates to its Career Success factor.
This is perhaps the most important though least considered value of an online education. Consider the many benefits for a career in completing an online education (along with the aforementioned life benefits of not having being in debt).

If you are a young adult completing an online degree, you will have had an opportunity to demonstrate two important skills for a potential employer:

  • Consistency – as well as graduating with a degree, you will have already held part-time work steadily for a period of 4-8 years. Thus, you could have a fairly good employment history already established before you apply for your first career job.
  • Multi-tasking – your potential career employer will see that you have been able to successfully juggle part-time (or more) work with part-time (or more) study on a consistent basis. This is a significant skill in the workplace, and one that some young people do not have and others cannot demonstrate initially because they have regularly been focused on one task at a time (either education or work).

If you are a twenty-something or older adult contemplating a career change, the above benefits will also apply to you. Along with possibly juggling in family responsibilities, you will have continued to build your employment resume, possibly even showing your current employer new skills beneficial to the company. Your current job can expand and new career opportunities open up when you complete a degree through an online university while continuing to work.

There are many other benefits of enrolling in an online university for your Bachelor’s (or Master’s) degree. Yet the flexibility, continuity, financial stability and set-up for career success factors explain why online education is not just the way of the future, but may be a wise option for you now.

If you are interested in exploring online education degrees, here are a few schools that are recognized as doing online degrees well:

If there is another online university you would recommend, do so below. Thanks!

Note: You can also gain an tax-deductible receipt for charitable contributions to most educational institutions. Why should you make a donation to an online university?

4 Leadership lessons from CodeNames (game)

One of the games our family was given for Christmas this year is CODENAMES. With 25 words (CodeNames) set forth in front of the two teams, two spymasters (one for each team) try to get their teammates (field agents) to guess the correct word (CodeName) giving only a one word clue. They are to say the clue word and then the number of CodeNames the clue word applies to.

For example: the Spymaster may say “Continent, One” if the word the field agent(s) is supposed to guess the CodeName “Europe.” However, if Asia or Africa or Antarctica are also options, the Spymaster could say “Continent, Two” and hope the team guesses both CodeNames.

Obviously, any clue can be misunderstood or misapplied. This could give the other team a point, one of the seven bystander words, or in the worst case, the Assassin CodeName (the other team automatically wins if you choose the assassin CodeName).

For example: a Spymaster gave the word “Volleyball, Two.” The field agents guessed “ball,” and “net” but also discussed whether they should guess “match” or “court” or “point.” “Ball” was actually a bystander word. “Court” and “match” were the other teams’ words. The clue was intended to point the team to “net” and “point.” Quickly, the Spymaster realized the clue given was not very helpful and her confused team tried to eventually guess the correct words and not the other options.

As we played this game with four generations of people from at least two different language groups (Canada and Asia), I realized quickly how this would be a GREAT game for a leadership class or retreat, or as an icebreaker for work teams. Really, any team building or human resources related group would benefit from insights learned in this game.

Why? Because there are at least four leadership lessons to learn as you play CodeNames.

Importance of a Common Language. A Spymaster may use a word (even spelled the same, not a homonym), yet there can be a variety of meanings for most English words. Obviously, some players will hear the word as a noun, others as a verb. But some will also picture totally different items in a word, and simply may not know the alternate meaning (eg. bat = a flying animal or an object used to hit a ball). One quickly realizes how context plays a vital role in understanding the meaning of a word.

Along with sharing a common understood language, equally important are the Connections people associate with a word. As the Spymaster playing with the aforementioned four generations, I had to double-check before I used the clue “Bolshevik” hoping the field agents would understand the connection to the CodeName “Revolution.” Fortunately, there was one field agent old enough to do so, while those field agents under 40 years old looked blankly after I shared the clue.

While a clue like “Bolshevik, One” seems fairly straightforward, the key to winning the game… not just successfully giving understandable clues… is gaining multiple correct CodeNames with one clue. If the Spymaster can give a clue that conveys two (or even three) CodeNames for their field agents – without hitting the other teams words or innocent bystanders or the assassin – you can collect your eight words before the other team and win.

Thus, the Spymaster needs to find Commonality between two (or more) words, while still accounting for the previously mentioned challenges (common language and connectivity).

However, the final skill needed to be a successful Spymaster in this game is the ability to recognize the other teams CodeNames and ensure your clue does NOT have commonality with them also. So as a Spymaster (Leader) you need to know the opposition as much as you need to be aware of your own team. You need to know not only how the clue relates to your teammates common language, connections, and commonality, but ensure it does NOT have commonality to other CodeNames. You certainly do not want them to guess the Assassin word when you give your clue, but you do not really want your field agents to give the other team points by guessing their CodeNames from your clue.

I would encourage you to join family and friends and play CodeNames. I would also encourage you as a leader to play the game with your leadership team. Its great fun and is open to all ages (8+). Not only will you laugh and sometimes be confused, even perplexed at your teammates, but you may also get to know and understand new aspects of everyone’s lives.

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