Children Bombing Children—The Surabaya Church Bombings

23 05 2018

Church bombing family

The family that bombs together…

On May 13, 2018 a Muslim family of six took on three suicide bombing missions, attacking 3 churches in Surabaya, Indonesia. At least 18 people died, and dozens were injured.

A nine-year-old Muslim girl blew herself up in front of a church. An eleven-year-old Christian boy died.

Children raised to kill children. What has become of us?

That evening a bomb accidentally went off in a nearby apartment complex, killing a Muslim man, his wife and oldest child as they were preparing it for an attack. Their other kids happened to be playing outside and their lives were spared. Had the bomb been successfully armed, perhaps those children would have been carrying it to the next target.

The following day another local Muslim family of five suicide-bombed the police station. Their youngest, an eight-year-old girl, somehow survived the blast. I imagine she won’t make it back to her 2nd grade classroom in time to finish the semester with her friends. And if she does, how will they look at her now?

Indonesia is no stranger to terrorist attacks. However, this is the first time children have been sacrificed. These families are said to be inspired by ISIS.

I am not against Islam. I count several Muslims among my closest friends. Like Jesus, I try to be most critical about my own religion’s problems.

But I hope that my Muslim friends will agree with me, this is an example of religion at its ugliest.

David Garrison writes: “There is an evil in Islam, as with all religions, when it is used to control and manipulate its followers or incite them to violence against those who would exercise their freedom of conscience to embrace a different way. Islam today is perhaps the most intrusive and egregious world religion at squelching nonconformity of belief. We must remember, though, that Islam is probably no more controlling than was Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages or, closer to home, Puritanism in the early years of Anglo-American history. One can only hope that Islam, too, will experience a reformation in its relationship to its adherents.” (From A Wind in the House of Islam p.233)

Historically, Christianity has done equally heinous and barbaric deeds. We have no right to condemn, for we need God’s mercy as much as modern-day Muslims do. Thankfully, the Bible and the Qur’an agree that Jesus is God’s mercy to us.

When we receive God’s mercy, we have mercy to give to others. These two are always connected. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

If we want God to show mercy to us on the Judgment Day, neither bombing our “enemies” nor condemning them will do. Receiving mercy requires two things—1) being merciful to others; and 2) receiving Jesus, God’s mercy to us.

I implore my Christian friends who are wounded and outraged at this tragedy, to pray as Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I urge my Muslim friends to become activists within Islam to promote this saying of Muhammad from the Hadith:  “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”

When religious leaders kill their own family members who want to leave the faith; when minorities from other religions are beaten or killed if they refuse to convert or refuse to follow Sharia Law; when parents teach their children that God wants to kill the children of other religious faiths, O my dear Muslim brothers—as Garrison said, “There is an evil in Islam.” I pray that you will not stand idly by, but will passionately pursue a reformation of mercy.

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The Black Panther Challenge

3 03 2018

Marvel Studios poster taken from hamiltontheater.net

I finally found time this weekend to go watch The Black Panther. LOVED IT!!

This hugely entertaining film addresses the question of “What do we do with the blessings God has given us?” Not two, but three different arguments are put forward:

+  use those blessings to protect us and ours (Black Panther’s fathers’ traditional wisdom)

+  use those blessings to help the needy who are not part of us (Black Panther’s love interest)

+  use those blessings to dominate those who are not part of us (Black Panther’s cousin)

In the middle of this triangle stands the Black Panther, king of the technologically advanced Wakanda. He feels responsible to protect his nation; but he also begins to feel responsible to share with the rest of a hurting world.

*SPOILER ALERT* In one of the post-credit scenes, we learn the Black Panther’s final decision when he addresses the UN with this quote:

“More connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one tribe.”

This is not an original idea—it’s been said before by people such as Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pope Francis, among others. But it is a truth worth repeating, and a truth worth making a Marvel movie about.

Here’s my follow-up question for you: When is the last time you used your talents, skills, or money to help someone who is not a member of any of your groups? someone who had no way to pay you back?

Put another way: When is the last time you intentionally stepped out of your world into someone else’s world simply to bless them?

I think of my wife, who celebrated Valentine’s Day last month in an unusual way. She bought roses (not unusual) and gave some to our daughter and to me. But she saved out two red roses to give to strangers (unusual!). Then she prayed and asked God who to give them to.

She zipped downtown on her motorbike and followed God’s leading to a middle-aged woman, pulled up next to her, said “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and gave her a rose. The woman’s jaw dropped, her eyes lit up, she couldn’t believe this was happening. My wife shared that it was like no one had given this woman flowers ever in her life, she was so happy. Something similar happened with the second woman God led her to.

Our family doesn’t move in the same social circles as those two ladies, but a simple rose has built a bridge. This prophetic act reminds us that we’re all connected, we’re all “one tribe,” and our blessings are meant to overflow on others.

So whether we’re kings or paupers, let’s take to heart God’s commission to our father Abraham in Genesis 12—we’re blessed to be a blessing.





Should Christians join Violent Protests?

14 02 2018

Iran welcomed the new year with violent protests leaving many dead. In many other nations such as Iraq, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Bangladesh, South Africa and Ukraine, frustrations with corrupt, abusive and unjust governments have sparked angry riots. Christian citizens of these nations often feel all the pain that others feel—and sometimes more. In these cases, is it justifiable to join in violent protests?

This week I was so encouraged to receive a letter from someone who has read my novels, and is personally wrestling with this very issue. She writes—

 

You have had an impact on us beyond what you know. My husband, who DOES NOT read novels, ever, submitted to reading A Way Out of Hell out loud with me during vacation last summer. It really impacted him. Our adopted country, ________, is descending into political chaos. 60% of the country is strongly protesting the defacto reign of 6%. Protests, which have occurred often in many places, often turn violent. Protestors throw stones; the government responds with bullets. Over 20 people have died in such ways in each of the last 2 months. [This week] the protestors have called for a general strike over much of the country. General strike means nothing is open–in fact, if you drive your car down the street, it will be burned up. We are again praying against violence and for a just solution to longstanding grievances.

Religious leaders of all faiths have been calling for non-violence, but still individual Christians, in total frustration, participate in the protests and maybe even in the violence. My husband is now writing a paper on the practical as well as theological reasons for non-violence (Influenced by A Way Out of Hell) to stimulate discussion among the [Christian] leaders with whom we work. We have toyed with the idea of making a special trip to ________ to gather these guys together to discuss this. So far there is no consensus among our brothers there that this is the right time for that, or that [outsiders] should involve themselves in what might appear to be “politics.” So right now we just keep praying. However, I think it is safe to say that we would not have even considered doing such a thing before reading your book. You can pray that God will give us wisdom, and our beloved adopted country justice and peace. The alternative is a bloodbath that is beyond imagination.

 

The way of Jesus is an inherently revolutionary way. He stood against the same issues of corruption, abuse and injustice. But His Kingdom was not to be established by force. “Put away your sword,” Jesus said to Peter. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Instead, Jesus called all men to become their true selves—for tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and other perpetrators of injustice to repent (literally, “to change their way of thinking”); to tear down walls not built of stone, but of racial and social prejudice, religious arrogance, and of using power for any ambition less noble than serving; to establish a Kingdom based on love.

People in pain are tempted to do anything to make the pain stop. They don’t see far enough ahead to realize that using violence to stop one pain only produces another. Jesus saw past the pain to the society He wanted to build on the other side. The only way to achieve it was to demonstrate radical, self-sacrificial love IN the pain. This is our high calling as His followers.





Should Pope Francis be more Critical of Islam?

20 01 2018

When Pope Francis stated in his  Evangelii Gaudium (paragraphs 252 and 253) that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence,” he received a backlash from ex-Muslims. They responded with a letter to the Pope signed by 3700 former Muslims requesting that the Pope speak out more harshly against Islam.

Since these petitioners are former Muslims, surely they should understand the faith of their fathers better than we who are Christians, right? Which is why Christian pulpits around the world frequently invite ex-Muslims to explain all that’s wrong with their rejected religion and prove the superiority of Christianity.

However, a recent Christian Today article argues that ex-Muslims may not be the best candidates to explain Islam to us. I want to recommend this article here:

WHY EX-MUSLIMS MAY NOT BE THE BEST GUIDES TO ISLAM

Who would you want to stand up in the mosque to explain Christianity—someone who left the Christian faith to convert to Islam and has nothing good to say about Christianity, or someone for whom Christianity seems to have made a tremendous impact on their life—say, Mother Teresa, Ravi Zacharias, or even you? The fact that someone chose to reject Christianity doesn’t prove it’s oppressive or impotent; the fact that someone left Islam doesn’t prove it’s demonic or evil.

I firmly believe that Christianity has something to offer Muslims—namely, a much fuller and exalted role for Jesus than most Muslims have experienced yet. We Christians experience Jesus as a prophet and teacher, but also as our healer, deliverer, forgiver, savior, and purest expression of God’s love. We never need to put down another religion to make Jesus seem higher—he’s already “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). When we want to explain what God is like, we can point to Jesus.

Treating our Muslim friends with honor is how Jesus would treat them. So well done, Pope Francis! And it’s more likely to earn us the right to point our Muslim friends to the glory of Jesus.





Reaping in the New Year

1 01 2018

BradyTom Brady didn’t decide at age 38 that he’d better eat healthy foods and work out more if he hoped to play football into his 40’s. He’s been doing it for years. While other athletes’ careers are being shortened by a carousing nightlife, Tom usually has dinner with his family, reads his kids a goodnight book, then goes to bed around 8:30 so he can be rested for his 5:30 a.m. workout. Keeping this routine over the past several years is paying dividends today.

The Bible calls it “reaping what you sow.” The decisions we made years ago impact today. The decisions we make today impact tomorrow.

That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about. They’re a chance to evaluate if the path we’re on will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

I was reminded this week that not everyone gets to see the wonderful results of their good choices in their lifetimes. In the Bible, Hebrews 11 talks about religious heroes such as Abraham, Moses and so on who didn’t get to see all they hoped for, but their descendants did. In modern times, there are those like Van Gogh, who were only appreciated after their deaths, or those who died too young, like another football star, Pat Tillman, who walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to serve in the military after 9/11.

Tillman“Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful,” Tillman explained. “However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is . . . It’s no longer important.”

Tillman’s several tours of duty in Iraq and then in Afghanistan where he was killed in action earned him both a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Not all of us will get to see the results of our sacrifices. But our children will. And perhaps generations to come will find hope and inspiration from our lives.

When we do get to reap from the good that we sowed in earlier years, it reminds us that sacrificing is worth it; living out our calling in life is worth it. And it motivates us once again to sacrifice today for the sake of tomorrow.

This New Years Day, I was blessed to receive another award for one of my novels. A WAY OUT OF HELL won the 2017 Book of the Year award for Christian Suspense. But more meaningful than the award is every time a reader tells me how their entire paradigm regarding Muslims has been changed, and that they’re ready to open their hearts to love their Muslim neighbors.

Suspense Award 2017What can we do this year to fulfill our callings, to bring light and life to those around us, to use our voices for those who have no voice, to manifest on the earth God’s desire for “peace on earth, good will to men”?





Peace Starts with the Youth

12 12 2017

 

This year I’ve had the privilege of teaching a World Religions class for high school seniors and juniors. We’re looking at all the major religions of the world, atheism, agnosticism, even the occult. My goal is that my students understand enough about each of these belief systems to start intelligent conversations with anyone in a way that is loving, honoring, friendly and bridge-building. I want them to learn how to share their faith in Jesus well, listen well, and love everybody well no matter how they feel about Jesus.

It’s so important that we start the process of peace with the young.

Here are some comments from my students—do you think they’re getting the point of the class?

 

To be honest, Mr. Baton’s World Religions class is one of my favorite classes. I learned a lot of things in his class. I learned so many facts about different religions that I had never ever heard or thought about, and that makes me want to know more about our almighty God. In World Religions class I also learned about how we can start a conversation with our other religion friends, and how to choose the right words to say to them to introduce them to Jesus.

After joining World Religions class, I began to understand how to respect other religions and to know how to treat them well. Also, I feel like I really want to know more about God, and to discover signposts to Jesus and God in all different religions. –Chris

Throughout the semester, I have learned various things from our World Religions class. One thing that was emphasized was how to effectively interact with people of different faiths. I learned that we Christians have to make connection points first before explaining our opinions or our belief systems. It is essential for us to make connections and build up a relationship before describing our beliefs. If we fail to make relationships, which will automatically lead us to a deeper level of conversation and spiritual talks, people of different faiths will not even open their ears to listen to what we say. Thus, it is very important that we make relationships first when approaching others with different religions. Torres

This year was my first time taking a World Religions class and it has greatly opened up my eyes to the world around me. I’ve realized that people of other religions are simply just that, people. They aren’t evil, they aren’t bad people just because they do not believe in the God I believe in. Some have not had the opportunity to know about God while others are a specific religion because that’s all they know. For example, many Muslims are brought up in their Muslim family and community with Muslim friends. Everyone they know is a Muslim. When people respond to our sharing about Jesus, I’ve learned that we cannot expect them to immediately change their whole life for their new beliefs. In fact, it is all right for them to bring Jesus into their culture and traditions and see what beautiful things result. –Clarissa





“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

I was greatly encouraged to read this recent review of my writing on Amazon. The reviewer, Carolyn Klaus, kindly permitted me to post it here on my blog as well. Enjoy!

I just finished A Way Out of Hell. Wow. It is a tightly woven thriller that has haunted me, day and night, since I began reading it aloud to my husband during a long car trip recently. He doesn’t do novels, but has been as engrossed as I. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.

The author captured my interest by the excerpt on the back cover: “The Intelligence agent leaned back in the chair with his hands pressed together, tapping his lips. ‘If ISIS is indeed here, I want you to find their terrorist cell and take it down. And I want you to do this…’ he paused, ‘…non-violently.'” Was such a thing possible? Yes, as a Christian, I had heard Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” many times. It hadn’t seemed to me a very practical approach to combating terrorism. But then, the evening news wasn’t showing me very much success from other methods.

Both A Way Out of Hell and the first book in this series of three, Someone Has to Die, demonstrate the author’s intimate knowledge of the many cultures of Indonesia—and of human nature. Carefully chosen details paint the characters and their environments with convincing reality. More impressive to me was the deep sympathy with which the author depicts the inner life of each of the characters—from terrorist to prejudiced pastor. I found myself empathizing even with the bad guys.

But this was not just a highly entertaining read. Baton packs a punch. Peacemaking, realistically, is difficult, risky, and costly. It is not for the faint-hearted or for hirelings. But as the Muslim former jihadist hero says, “The only true and lasting change happens when men’s hearts, like my own, are changed. And men’s hearts are never changed by fear, intimidation, control, threats, or violence. All of these only succeed in reproducing themselves in those we want to change. Fear produces hatred, hatred produces threats; threats produce violence; violence produces anger; anger produces more hatred, then more violence, and the cycle never ends. The only way toward true peace is to stop that cycle and start a new one. There is another cycle we can choose…” Baton has shown how this could work in the real world today. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I hope a lot of others– Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and those without religion– read this and do the same.