Another Award for A Violent Light

15 08 2017

I’m happy to announce that A VIOLENT LIGHT has picked up its third award–the 2017 Global Ebooks Gold Medal for Best Religious Fiction. Though the issues I address in the book are not easy for many American Christians to hear, the recent heightened tensions in Charlottesville, Virginia, remind us that White Supremacy is alive and well in America.

One of the tragic aspects of what happened in Charlottesville included this posting reportedly found on a well-know Neo-Nazi website right after the event: “Trump comments were good…he said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Supremacists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

(President Trump did condemn the KKK and Neo-Nazis by name two days later.)

This mixture of White Supremacy and “Christian” faith is very disturbing to me. Yet it is very real. Just as many radical Muslims quote their Scriptures to support their evil atrocities, Christian White Supremacists quote the Bible to support their racism and violence as well. Religion and violence have a troubled history. The absolute opposite of this would be Jesus, who never let his religion get in the way of his radical love.

If you want to explore these issues further, A VIOLENT LIGHT is the thriller you need to read!

 





Leaving One’s Culture for Jesus, or Bringing Jesus into One’s Culture?

23 07 2017

Going to hellDoes following Jesus mean someone should leave his culture behind, or should he instead bring Jesus into his culture? I pondered this question while reading this week the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi writes about an experience in his youth, when he had friends from various Hindu sects, Jains, Muslims, but not Christians: “I developed a sort of dislike for it [Christianity]. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.” (p.31)

Living in a Muslim-majority nation, sometimes we see the exact same situation (substituting pork for beef) and the exact same reaction—a Muslim converts to Christianity and changes his diet, his dress, and begins denigrating his family’s religion and culture—which leads to his entire community disliking Christianity even more. Is this what Jesus meant by following him?

One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” Can you blame him? If Christians preached that following Christ meant beef, beer, hats and condemning everyone different from them, how is that “Good News” to a Hindu?

What if Gandhi had been allowed to just meet the Christ of the Gospels and had chosen to follow Jesus within his culture—maintaining the same diet, dress and respect for those around him? In his process of following, would not Christ be able to transform any area that needed change? Shouldn’t Jesus be Good News to everyone, even Hindus?

Do we Christians unwittingly posture ourselves today the same way they did in Gandhi’s day? Do we expect Muslims to take off their head coverings to follow Jesus? Do we refuse to associate with groups at the office over what they consume (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.)? Are we perceived as the most condemning people of other’s beliefs or culture, quick to explain why other people (besides us) are going to hell?

What would it look like to change our approach to only bring Good News and let Jesus take care of transforming whatever he thinks needs work? Could Jesus hold his own in a Hindu or Muslim community? Could he find a place in a Liberal media office, in a gun-rights group, at a homosexual wedding or in Hollywood? Could it be that people in general are pre-conditioned to fall in love with Jesus, “the desire of all nations” (Hag. 2:7), if we could just introduce him and get ourselves out of the way?

And if Gandhi and the world are right, that the most condemning people are Christians, how is this following Jesus when the Bible claims Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17)?

Let’s face it—Christians do not have a superior dress, superior diet, or superior culture—and the way we act sometimes, we should in no way claim to have a superior religion! The Good News that we do have is Jesus. And he’s Good News for everybody.

What do you think?





The Atheist Muslim

8 07 2017

The Atheist Muslim book“The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.”

This tweet by Ali Rizvi, author of the new book The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason, was followed up by an interview with Vox that was one of the most honest, objective, insightful discussions of modern Islam I’ve read in a long time. I’d love for you to read the whole interview!

Rizvi was born in Pakistan and raised in a “moderate to liberal Muslim family.” He now works as a doctor and author in Canada. He is a liberal who is critical of liberals; a Muslim who is critical of Islamic ideology; an honest intellectual that represents a large population of modern Muslims seldom heard.

In the interview, Rizvi discusses the difference between Islamic ideology and Muslim people living in an Islamic culture. He addresses Trump and the Travel Ban, ISIS and terrorism, the search for Muslim identity, and what a reformation within Islam might look like.

Now back to his tweet: “The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.” Rizvi explains—

“On the left, people were saying that if you have any criticism against Islam, then you were a bigot against all Muslims. On the right, it was like, there are a lot of problematic things in Islamic scripture, so everyone who is Muslim must be banned, or profiled, or demonized. Both sides weren’t making that distinction between challenging ideas, which has historically moved societies forward, and demonizing human beings, which only rips societies apart.”

Have you noticed this in your interactions about Islam or Muslims? I sure have. Actually, I’ve noticed it in conversations about Christians or homosexuals as well. Liberals tend to label any critical analysis of ideas as intolerant, while conservatives sterotyped or demonized people because of their association with such ideas. (Although when I talk with atheists about Christians, there’s somewhat of an ironic role reversal.)

Have you ever heard the term, “Islamophobo-phobia”? Rizvi continues—

“Several white Western liberals have confided to me that they agree with what I say, but won’t say it themselves because they’re afraid they’ll be labeled bigots or Islamophobes. I call that ‘Islamophobo-phobia,’ the fear of being called Islamophobic. It’s a great way to shut down the conversation and silence people with colonial or white guilt.”

One of the strengths of this interview, and no doubt the book, is that Rizvi enlightens us as to the ongoing conversation millions of Muslims around the world are having about these issues right now. They are wrestling with their own identity, culture, ideology, faith and the future of Islam. Rizvi concludes the interview like this—

“Today, this conversation and this movement is happening within the Muslim world. It doesn’t just include the hijab-wearing women and bearded men you see on your TV. It includes the beer-drinking Muslim colleague you work with; it includes the Muslim girl at college who had doubts about her religion’s views on women; it includes agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers like me who want the freedom to change our minds without literally having to lose our heads. There are many voices in this conversation, and you don’t have to choose. Just let it happen.”

What can we do? Be a sympathetic listener to your Muslim friend as he or she processes their own faith journey. Ask sincere questions without making assumptions or generalizations. And share your own journey of questioning within your own religion.

For those of you whose curiosity is piqued to read the interview, I’d love to read your comments!





Top 10 Books Every Christian Should Read

28 06 2017

I’m an avid reader, with a tremendous appreciation for how so many books have greatly impacted my life. But there are certain books that are transformational—they either bring the most important things into crystal clear focus, or take us to new places that we absolutely must go.

These books may not get the notoriety of Christianity Today’s or Amazon’s Top 100 Lists, but I guarantee they will all rock your world!

1. How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity by Morgan Guyton

The Pharisees had the Scriptures but had created a religious culture that kept the common folks from God—have we done the same today? This book is ripping me up right now!

2. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

Los Angeles gang members’ hearts get melted by the raw love of God—I cried through the whole book. Read my review here.

3. The Seven Mountain Renaissance: Vision and Strategy through 2050 by Johnny Enlow

A prophetic, insightful and hopeful view of the glorious Bride God is forming us into and how this maturing Church will be powerfully impacting all aspects of culture by 2050. Read my review here.

4. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis

Whether talking to a Hezbollah terrorist or a gay activist, Carl convinces us that Jesus would rather hang out with them than visit Carl’s church! Read my review here.

5. The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind Expanded Edition: Access to a Life of Miracles by Bill Johnson

“Jesus is perfect theology,” Bill states, then gives us a “mind-makeover” to step into a supernatural life with Him.

6. Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit by River Jordan

What if every day we took time to stop and pray for a stranger? River Jordan did, and it changed her life. Read my review here.

7. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa’s personal letters and thoughts reveal long struggles in the darkness, along with a determination to see Jesus in the face of the dying and “offer Jesus my smile.

8. Culture of Honor: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment by Danny Silk

A revolutionary book on moving from punishment-based discipline to honor-based relationships without fear. Read my review here.

9. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

For those over 30, the second-half of life requires a new way of thinking, and Rohr is a brilliant guide.

10. Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God by Brennan Manning

Walking through darkness, taking risks, releasing our need for clarity—all these require deeper levels of trust—not in Biblical principles, but in a faithful Father who is completely trustworthy.

Click on any book below to buy it for yourself or a friend, or add it to your Wish List for your next birthday or Christmas gift! You’ll never be the same.





Anti-Muslim Protests Planned Across America

27 05 2017

On June 10, 2017, in 22 major cities in America (Yes, you, Houston! Seattle! St. Paul! Kansas City! Raleigh! Orlando! etc.) a group called ACT! for America is planning anti-Muslim “March Against Sharia” protests. This conservative group expresses their prejudice against Muslims with the typical fear-mongering outlandish claims about an Islamic conspiracy to take over America; that “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government” and asserting that radicalized Muslims “have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.”

The website for one Florida branch of ACT! for America even makes this highly offensive claim: “It is not ‘fanatical’, ‘radical’, or ‘extreme’ Islam that we are fighting, but normal, orthodox, canonical, typical, accepted, traditional Islam.” This is pure prejudicial hate-speech against all the upstanding Muslim-American citizens around us who ACT! wants to deny their freedom of religion.

This group’s solution is to ban ALL Muslims from entering America, and to pass Anti-Sharia laws in every state before it’s too late and America falls to Global Islamization.

[Interestingly, my award-winning book A VIOLENT LIGHT introduces a similar group with a similar name (“Act Now to Save America”) though I hadn’t known at the time that ACT! for America existed.]

What can we do to show our support for our Muslim neighbors? Here are some ideas from my contact at the group Shoulder to Shoulder:

  • Rather than planning counter-protests or vigils or anything like that (which could add fuel to ACT’s desire to gain media attention), it might be more fruitful to use the fact that it’s Ramadan to encourage interfaith Iftars [fast-breaking meals] on the nights of June 9 and 10 in particular, and we could help pitch these to local and national media as the “counter-protests”, in that they are ignoring the fearmongering that ACT is doing and instead, getting together with neighbors to celebrate a beautiful time for the Muslim religious calendar.  Of course, just encouraging interfaith partners to connect with their Muslim contacts in these cities to find out what they are doing/thinking is the first step.
  • Muslim Advocates is working on a letter that could be sent to mayors, police chiefs, etc., to alert them of the anti-Muslim marches and to make sure they understand that these are hate groups leading them.  We could encourage faith leaders at local levels to be part of the group that sends/delivers those letters, showing community leaders that a broad segment of their constituents (not just Muslims!) are concerned about this.
  • ReThink Media is willing to help us with drafting and pitching op-eds from local clergy in some select cities.  I will do some outreach to clergy on our rapid response list, but if you have people you’d like to recommend to me in any of the cities displayed on this map (where protests are planned), please let me know.  We’d want the op-eds to run the weekend of the protests, not before, so that we don’t give them extra publicity.

Is your city on the map? If so, and if you’re interested in doing something in your city, perhaps Shoulder to Shoulder or I can link you with others who are also committed to religious freedom and loving your neighbor.

Is your city not on the map? Then I recommend you begin now to make friends with the Muslims in your school, workplace, neighborhood, park, and city. Don’t let the nightly news convince you that all Muslims are out to kill you. They’re not. Get to know a Muslim and find out the truth for yourself.

If you are a Christian and with the goal of self-preservation want to close your nation, your city and your heart to Muslims, I suggest that your fear is too great and your God is too small. Ask God to enlarge the capacity of your heart to love–whether you consider Muslims your neighbors or your enemies–Jesus offers no second option for those who follow him.

And please pass this on to other groups or churches in your city. Letting our Muslim neighbors know they’re cared for as an important part of our multi-cultural America is the best way to keep them from being radicalized by angry, disenfranchised extremists.

 





Awards for A Violent Light

20 05 2017

After seeing my 2nd novel win awards, I was thrilled to see my 3rd is doing just as well. In the category of “Religious Fiction,” A Violent Light was a finalist for the 2017 National Indies Excellence Awards. And it won the 2017 Next Generation Indies Award.

My hope is that these awards convince new readers to try this book, and allow God to take them to a new place of understanding and desire for peace.





You Can Go to Hell

15 05 2017

“I can’t wait for the Day of Judgement when Jesus is made to stand before Allah, his Lord and Creator. And is made to testify against you infidels. He will denounce your worship of him and disassociate himself from you all. Then, Hellfire for eternity for all of you who worshiped Jesus…”

These are the words of my Muslim acquaintance who had gotten himself into an argument with some Christians that quickly deteriorated into mutual swearing, name-calling, and arguing over who was headed to Hell.

Later he sort of apologized to them and explained his frustrations: “You’ll have to excuse me for my rather blunt tone. I deal with Christians regularly. I get so annoyed and frustrated when they constantly tell me that my religion is false, I’m going to hell because I refuse to bow down to Jesus, ‘Muhammad was a false Prophet,’ ‘Islam is a death cult,’ ‘Allah is the moon god,’ etc. I’ve heard it a million times and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. It’s an eye for an eye out here. If you Christians want to tell me that my religion is false and that I will burn in hell for eternity because I refuse to worship Jesus. Then I’m just gonna give you what you gave me, straight intolerance and disrespect.”

Honestly, while watching from the sidelines, I felt some sympathy for the guy. No one likes to be attacked, and in his eyes, he was responding in the same spirit that the Christians treated him. If they thought they were successfully convincing him of their “superior truth,” they were sadly self-deceived.

I decided to enter the conversation for the first time, but to come in the opposite spirit.

I apologized for how we Christians are so often guilty of hate, unforgiveness and judgment, all of which create a veil through which it is hard for people to see our Jesus, who only ever acted out of love, forgiveness and healing of others, even those who hurt him. As I gently turned the conversation back to Jesus, this man’s tone softened, and he surprisingly agreed that neither he nor Muhammad himself could live up to Jesus’ standard—he quoted Jesus’ words about “turn the other cheek,” “pray for your enemies,” and “forgive seventy times.” It turns out that this Muslim may know as much about Jesus as the Christians who were arguing with him. But the way they talked about Jesus fell far short of the beauty of Jesus himself.

The Bible tells us that part of seeing Jesus’ glory is in seeing how he is “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus spoke truth graciously. And the only people he ever argued with were his own religion’s leaders, never with someone from another religion. From what we read in the Gospels, there is no basis to assume Jesus would tell this Muslim man that he is going to hell. It’s far more likely he would look for a way to bring healing and blessing into this man’s life, and see if he’d come back for more.

After our brief dialogue, this previously enraged Salafi Muslim had completely calmed down and offered this:  “I have to thank you. Because you opened my eyes to something. You taught me to be less harsh and more compassionate and understanding towards Christians… Because of you Jim and you alone, I have decided to ‘lower my wing’ in humility and be more patient and understanding towards Christians. As opposed to being harsh, blunt and intolerant. Thank you and may God bless you.”

A transformation had taken place. A small part of that veil was torn, inviting him to come closer. I thanked him for his gracious words, and began praying in my spirit over our next encounter.

Before we parted, he added this spontaneous prayer of blessing for me: “I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey to eternal salvation. And I pray that God blesses you and that He bestows upon you mercy and makes your life long and prosperous. Take care and God bless!”