What’s Really Going On in Syria?

What’s Really Going On in Syria?

As an American, it is very difficult for me to understand the conflict in Syria; the depth of which encompasses hundreds of years of political and religious battle lines.

Modern technology brings international attention to the plight of the citizens there. Images surface and are reposted thousands of times over and are difficult to avoid. We carry the world in our pockets, while somehow being ill-equipped to handle the knowledge that it brings.

It’s almost easier to ignore the news altogether for being crippled by an inability to immediately do something about what we see and hear. However, chosen ignorance can lead to apathy, and that we must not give in to.

FACTS AND FIGURES

Syria is a land rich with cultural and historical influence. It is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world with archaeological finds.

Professor Joshua Mark writes, “Syria was an important trade region with ports on the Mediterranean, prized by a succession of Mesopotamian empires.”

It has six world heritage sites, but unfortunately, its current conflict has brought unimaginable damage to this historically rich land.

Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, and more than one million have been injured. Over 12 million Syrians—half the country’s pre-war population—have been displaced from their homes.

The Free Syrian Army formed in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, who has international supporters such as Russia. There has been ongoing violence against citizens that has been condemned by the UN and other countries.

On April 7th of this year, President Donald Trump launched missiles at a Syrian air force base in response to the use of chemical warfare. There are four major players in the conflict: Assad and his regime, Kurdish forces, ISIS, and other opposition. This in no way encompasses the depth of war in Syria, however it gives us at least a starting point to comprehend what others are facing.

I don’t know what it’s like to become accustomed to hearing bombs. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a perpetual state of grief. I don’t know what it’s like to hide under rubble and wait for death to come.

However, I do know that there are people in this world who experience these things and more as a part of their ‘normal’ life. I’m not o.k. with being knowledgeable of what’s going on and doing nothing about it.

We lose a sense of our humanity when we’re not moved by the plight of others. To quote a pastor I know, “we can not do everything, but we must do something.”

THE RESPONSE

While everyday people like me may not have any say on what decisions are made by governments involved in this conflict, there are certainly ways to play my part. Our response: get educated and get involved.

As stated earlier, we have access to the entire world through our phones. Do a little research, don’t just take a Facebook user’s opinion on the matter. Research viable news outlets. Look at sources outside of America.

I’m thankful for tools, such as this timeline crafted by BBC News, that help give an overview of the history of the conflict.

A quick way to get involved is to donate money. Preemptive Love is an organization that is dedicated to “Loving the People No One Else Will Love.” They are on the ground in war-infested places that were otherwise unreached by any kind of aid.

In Aleppo, they’ve set up a kitchen where thousands are being fed. Aleppo is located with ISIS forces to the west, Turkish-backed rebels to the northwest, Kurdish militias to the northeast, rebels (including Al Qaeda) to the east, and government forces all to the south.

Matthew Willingham, Preemptive Love’s Senior Field Editor, writes, “When families in Aleppo ran for their lives, they didn’t have time to pack a lunch. When bombs are falling, you don’t stop to raid the fridge or whip up a sandwich — you run.”

Since December 2016, donations made it possible to make 790,540 hot meals, 2,000 sleeping bags, and 2,000 food packages. The beautiful thing is refugees, serving refugees, run the hot meal kitchen.

Preemptive Love is passionate about restoring dignity to the person by empowering them to be the change in their community.

It’s hard to imagine leaving my comfortable home, my steady job, my family and friends, and going to a country so ridden with war. It’s easy to leave that job to the missionaries who risk martyrdom. However, all of us have a responsibility to fight on behalf of humanity. We are the answer. Don’t become paralyzed by apathy. Preemptive Love states, “Every day, you make choices that either sustain conflict or transform it.”

For more information on Preemptive Love and ways to get involved, click here.

Faith and Work Series: Work. Career. Calling. What’s the Difference?

Faith and Work Series: Work. Career. Calling. What’s the Difference?

Many of us tend to do two things with our time: work and sleep. While finding a bunch of articles on sleep is just as exciting, the Urban Faith team will be shedding light on Faith and Work. So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.

When we are introduced to someone, what is one of the first questions we ask?

“What do you do?”

When we ask this question, what we really mean is, “What is your job?”

We define ourselves by our careers. Even most Christians find their identities in their vocations. Our work no longer serves God. It serves us.

In his article “Careerism and the Ethics of Autonomy: A Theological Response,” J.A. Donahue writes,

As a secular perversion of calling, careerism invites people to seek financial success, security, access to power and privilege, and the guarantee of leisure, satisfaction, and prestige.

Avoiding this “secular perversion of calling” is essential to integrating faith and work. Many Christians desire a deeper, more integrated approach to serving God in their work, but they struggle with how to do this. Understanding the difference between work and calling can help.

The Difference between Work and Calling

In an interview with Fast Company, Harvard Business School psychologist Timothy Butler offers the following advice about how vocation differs from career or job:

There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably—and shouldn’t be. They are “vocation,” career,” and “job.” Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it has to do with your calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is something you have to listen for.  You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.

Christians today have the same difficulty understanding the differences between vocation, career, and job. We also throw in the word “calling,” which further complicates things. Calling may or may not mean the same thing as vocation.

If we look at the origins of the words career and vocation, we immediately get a feel for the difference between them.

Vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” This explains why Butler equates vocation and calling. The definition suggests that a person listens for something which calls out to him. The calling is something that comes to someone and is particular to someone.

In the secular world, career is the term we most often hear regarding work. it originates from the medieval Latin noun carraria, which means “a road for vehicles.” Hence the term career path.

A career is usually associated with an occupation. Becoming a lawyer or a securities analyst is a career choice. It is not usually the same thing as a calling.

The most specific and immediate of the three terms is job. It has to do with current employment and a specific job description.

The Difference between Vocational Calling, Career, and Everyday Work

In order to understand the biblical doctrine of work, we must understand a fourth term, vocational calling, and how it differs from career, occupation, or job.

Vocational calling is the call to God and to his service in the sphere of vocation based on giftedness, desires, affirmations, and human need. It is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime (unlike a job or a career, which can change often).

How are vocational calling and career related? A career should be based on the opportunities for service presented to believers, enabling them to fulfill their vocational callings. Finding the right career at any one time is a matter of God’s specific leadership, guidance, and provision.

Vocational calling from God to the workplace is above a job or a career. Luther and the Reformers saw occupation as timely opportunity for service, in God’s providence, presented to believers to enable them to fulfill their vocational calling through what we would call everyday work.

Rather than equate vocational calling with a specific occupation or career, we are called to be Christians in whatever situation we find ourselves. Vocational calling stays the same as we move in and out of different jobs and careers. It is directly related to the discovery of our God-given talents. We develop and hone these talents into useful competencies for the glory of God and the benefit of others, often in various jobs or occupations.

Thus vocational calling provides a framework for our jobs, careers, and occupations. As R. Paul Stevens describes in Doing God’s Business: “The New Testament treats work in the context of a larger framework: the call of God to live totally for him and his kingdom.”

 

This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. The original article can be accessed here. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.

The Case for Christ: Can Atheism and Faithfulness Coexist Under One Roof?

The Case for Christ: Can Atheism and Faithfulness Coexist Under One Roof?

The Case for Christ film, debuting nationwide this Friday, is the most authentic journey from hardcore atheism to faith. The film is based on Author, Journalist, former atheist, and now Pastor Lee Strobel’s life without Christ as he intensly seeks the ‘truth’ behind the Christian faith that he once deemed bogus in order to ‘save’ his wife and marriage.

Jesus is a Fairy Tale

Although Lee (Mike Vogel) and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) collectively decide not to induldge in faith as a married couple, Leslie makes the decision to turn back to God after their daughter’s near-death experience and her asking questions about who Jesus is.

The unexpected series of events sends Lee on an exploratory tirade with his investigative journalism in tow. Throughout the film, viewers are able to witness how an atheist fights to prove his beliefs as ‘gospel’ through the use of science, historical facts, and general disbelief.

Many people have been a part of debates both online and in-person that discuss whether or not Jesus is a fairytale based upon scientific facts and anger towards the plights of the world. However, even with scientific evidence of the miracles of Christ and God, the doubt often continues to leave non-believers searching for more. “So, when is enough evidence, enough evidence?”

Facts vs. Faith vs. Marriage

Before Leslie decides to become a born-again Christian, her marriage to Lee was considerably solid. However, as her faith grows, so does Lee’s rage and presentation of facts against Christianity.

Lee’s main argument is that his wife believes in something that no one else can see, and he only chooses to believe in things that he can see. To add insult to injury, Leslie tries to force her husband into becoming a believer, which only drives him further away.

In fact, there are several moments like these throughout the film that makes moviegoers wonder, “Can a faithful and faithless love co-exist?”

On social media, the answers vary in the form of everything from scripture that discusses the concept of being equally yoked to those who think you should meet in the middle.

C.B. Fletcher Twitter

Gary goes on to say that, as long as her children were not coerced into believing in God or atheism, he finds comfort in knowing they are making their own choices.

Blind Faith and Real Love

Case for Christ is a love a story between God, Leslie, and Lee. When we love someone we want the best for them and fight and are willing to fight on our loved ones’ behalf. Lee fought for his wife’s ‘sanity’ , while Leslie fought for Lee’s peace and salvation. And all of this took place as God fought for both of them to find Him and grow together.

It is the undying love between Lee and Leslie that keeps them going despite their differeces, and that love is what saves them both.

Check out the trailer for The Case for Christ below:

 

3 Things to Consider When Dating a Divorced Christian

3 Things to Consider When Dating a Divorced Christian

I seriously dated a brother in Christ last year who happened to be a divorcée. Before then, I never thought much about divorce–let alone remarriage. Frankly, I didn’t know what either of these meant from a faith-based perspective.

I honestly didn’t think it mattered.

Yet, as I began to pray, study God’s word and talk with Christian peers who have experienced divorce and remarriage, I came to realize that my courtship could not move toward matrimony.

Don’t get me wrong. Being divorced isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for me. But I do believe there are important spiritual and practical matters to consider when dating Christians who have been previously married.

KNOW WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT DIVORCE

God tells us in no uncertain terms that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). God’s perfect will is that divorce never occurs because husband and wife are ONE flesh in His eyes (Matthew 19:3-6). It is His intention that marriage be for life and that no man separate what He has joined together. Ultimately, the law of marriage is a bond that should only be broken by death (1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2).

CONSIDER THE STATISTICS

Statistics show that remarriages have a higher fail rate. While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, the number rises to 67 percent for second marriages (and 73 percent for third marriages). These increases are due to remarriages entered into on the rebound, spousal comparisons, children, and individuals not being fully healed from their previous unions.

These stats don’t mean a remarriage can’t succeed. But you must know what you’re up against so that you can watch for the stumbling blocks; then proceed with wisdom, caution, and lots of prayer.

KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO

Marriage is a blessing, but as my friend Trish admits, “It’s hard.” This is especially the case with remarriages involving young children, she says. In fact, she finds the experience of her second marriage to be more challenging than her first. “No matter how bad a [first] marriage is–yes, even with adultery–when children are involved, it is best to forgive and reconcile [with your first spouse] than to remarry and try to blend a family in a new marriage,” Trish says when thinking of her own situation.

My friend Kathy, on the other hand, shares that her second marriage has been restorative. “My first marriage was a nightmare,” she recalls. Kathy’s first husband was unfaithful, abusive and manipulative. She was extremely reluctant to remarry after him.

When she met the man who would become her second husband, she thoroughly examined his character and was eventually won over by his faith in Christ and kind spirit.“He took to my children like they were his own, and my family loved him,” she says. “I fought remarriage until they wore me out.”

And after he proposed? “The ring stayed in the box for six months until God told me to stop acting silly.”

Yes, Christians should date with the intention to marry. Nevertheless, marriage isn’t possible if your intended belongs to another in God’s eyes. As we date those who have been previously married, ask questions to learn where they stand with Christ and in their previous marriages. Then, seek the Lord to determine if you would be permitted and willing to stand with them in holy matrimony—until death.

Is Kendrick Lamar’s Album the Solution to the Divide in Holy Hip Hop?

Is Kendrick Lamar’s Album the Solution to the Divide in Holy Hip Hop?

While the pop culture cognoscenti are impatiently waiting for another creative masterpiece in the form of Kendrick Lamar’s upcoming album, which is rumored to be released any day now, my hopes are a little more modest.

In recent interviews, Kendrick has indicated that his new album will have more of a focus on God. Whatever it ends up being, I hope that Lamar’s follow-up to the critically-acclaimed “To Pimp A Butterfly” will continue to break down the divide between sacred and secular hip-hop.

I realize that, for a segment of the urban Christian population, this idea goes completely against religious tradition. Many evangelicals and people of color, like myself, have grown up indoctrinated with the idea that Christians are to be distinct and withdrawn from the world, and that includes our art and music.

One need only look as far as last fall’s release of When Sacred Meets Secular by The Ambassador to see an expression of this worldview. In it, Amba raps passionately about his desire to be forthright and uncompromising with the Gospel message. I understand this position, and to a certain extent, I agree.

The Ambassador is right when he says that Christians should be free to share their faith in Christ with the public. However, the problem is that historically, Christian music hasn’t been free to roam in the public square of ideas. It’s been sequestered behind the artificially “safe” walls of Christian bookstores and websites.

And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with building an audience among people of faith. However, when that becomes the industry standard, it means that artists are sometimes asked to be as non-controversial and “family-friendly” as possible, instead of creating the art that most candidly represents their pursuit of truth and relationship with God.

When the soccer moms and youth pastors are the ones calling the shots, you don’t want to ruffle feathers. Thus, Christians who rap for other Christians often feel pressure to self-censor anything that gets too real in an effort to avoid their music being branded as “unsafe” and pulled from circulation (like what happened with Sho Baraka and Lifeway).

What’s worse is that the problem is just as bad on the secular side, and for similar reasons. Artists know that sex, violence, and tales of the drug trade are all elements that boost record sales. Sure, there are plenty of rappers who talk about those things because that’s all they know, but the flip side is also true.

For many young rappers, it’s all they know because that’s all that gets talked about. For so long, we’ve exposed the young men and women in our community to such twisted caricatures of masculine and feminine behavior, that anything that deviates from the stereotypically “real” portrayal of urban life is derided as corny or fake—labels that Lecrae had to work hard to shake.

But slowly, that tide is turning.

Just about every Christian public figure who experiences a measure of commercial success in hip-hop ends up bristling against the stereotype of what a “Christian rapper” is or is not.

And on the secular side, there is a growing undercurrent of faith from rappers who aren’t known for doing “Christian” music. Not that this is a new phenomenon; rappers like DMX, Nas and even Tupac have been known to intersperse their chronicles of urban, street life with plaintive meditations of faith. But thanks to newer artists like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar, those meditations have become much more explicit.

During the 2017 Grammy Awards, Chance collaborated with gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann for a performance that included a cover of the Chris Tomlin hit praise anthem “How Great Is Our God.” And, in both of his critically-acclaimed albums (his debut Good Kid m.A.A.d. City and the follow-up To Pimp a Butterfly), Kendrick has included prayers, spiritual meditations, and even a depiction of Christian conversion.

So, where do you stand? Is it possible for hip hop to truly exist in both the secular and Christian space?

Perhaps the two sides will continue to converge, because many would argue that folks need examples of faith that are both relatable and artistically-challenging. They need new, fresh examples of what it means to grapple with faith in the real world.

Where do you stand on the topic of secular v. Christian hip hop? Share your thoughts below.