My Response to SOMEONE HAS TO DIE — by “Grace”

Flag used by Caucasian jihadists in 2002. The ...

JIM’S BOOK BROUGHT HEALING TO MY HEART OVER MEMORIES OF MY CHILDHOOD IN THE MIDDLE EAST

When I read “Someone Has to Die,” I couldn’t put it down. I read it till about 4:30 in the morning till I finished. It was well-written, fast-paced, action-packed, emotionally rich, and relationally challenging. It reminded me of some wild experiences I had as a child growing up in the Middle East. The best part was the LOVE displayed by characters in the book, both Muslim and Christian–that was phenomenal. It is that kind of love that brings a sense of peace to the most chaotic circumstances.

The story was beautiful and moving; but beyond that, there was, for me, a stirring in my spirit. The story churned up my own story; and I needed resolution. So first thing when I woke up I went to one of my favorite places to pray. When I was eleven years old my family moved to a war-torn Islamic country. I thought of it as a grand adventure and an adrenaline rush, even in some very scary times. As an adult I have been gradually realizing that many of my childhood ways of thinking and feeling weren’t based in reality. We were in genuine danger sometimes. And there were probably more feelings I should have been having than just, “Oh, how exciting.” So when I went to pray the morning after I finished the book, I asked God what feelings he had about those events.

I remembered one time I was riding the bus with my mom, my siblings and some other expatriates. These wild, armed men kept trying to steal a ride, (or maybe rob us), and a guy at the door would bribe them to go away. Finally, the driver got so mad because the bribe money had run out so the next time some of these thugs tried to flag us down, he just kept driving. Then it was their turn to get mad, and they shot out the side view mirror. The driver stopped then; and a bunch of wild-haired men came pouring onto the bus. One motioned for my brother to move over close to me and sat down in the aisle seat. Others found places on the stairs. We rode maybe 3 or 4 hours like that. At one point, a boy came on the bus with a basket of pomegranates and the hitchhikers stole some from him. He ran off yelling and throwing rocks back toward the bus. Typical of Middle Eastern hospitality, the thieves then offered us some! We said no. My brother and I, wide-eyed in amazement at this new home of ours, thought of it as a grand adventure, as usual.

So when I went to pray the morning after reading “Someone Has to Die,” I remembered this story, and I started to feel the compassion of Jesus towards these men. I started saying, “Isa Masih! Rahman o Rahim!” over and over again. Mostly when starting a journey or anything of significance, Muslim people say, “Bismillah Rahman o Rahim” –it means, “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” I felt the compassion of Christ, so I was saying, “Jesus Christ, the Compassionate, the Merciful!” I always KNEW we should love our enemies, but I FELT it in a new way.  I had never really thought of those men on the bus as enemies anyways; they were just characters in my fantastic adventure story. Suddenly they were not just characters anymore; but people that Jesus feels great compassion for and on whom he longs to have mercy. Then I remembered the verse where Jesus says,  “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me….And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-41, NIV) And again, suddenly, I saw our journey in this war-torn country with its deep and pervasive hospitality in a new light. Could Jesus be showing His compassion and mercy by allowing people to show hospitality to us, even as children with very little understanding—to receive us—even to offer us stolen pomegranates? Could that have been a sign of his mercy even to these men?

So then, I asked God to give me compassion for some extremist Muslim men who killed the father of a very close friend. They killed him for no reason, when he was working for the good of other Muslim people. I feel God’s desire for these terrorists. His sorrow over the darkness they carry. His anger over the lies they believe that keep them in chains, bound to a lifestyle of violence and hatred. He wants them; He wants them for Himself, to set them free, and to give them peace instead of war, compassion instead of hatred, life instead of death. That’s God’s wish and hope for those men.

Jim Baton’s book tells a story—a story of people who love and of people who hate; a story of children caught in conflict; a story of what happens to people who don’t understand the love of God and those who do. By itself this book is an interesting, stimulating, thought-provoking read. But I believe that when a reader is open to dialogue with the Spirit of God about this, then the true value of what Jim has written comes to light. It is a tool in the hands of God himself–a tool I believe He will use to bring peace and reconciliation, justice and compassion, understanding and mercy, friendship and love.

—“Grace”

How did God speak to your heart when reading SOMEONE HAS TO DIE?  Write in and let others know!

Ishmael–God Hears

An illustration of Genesis 21:18. Print 448 in...

This week I read a wonderful book by an insightful Pakistani brother, Faisal Malick, entitled HERE COMES ISHMAEL: The Kairos Moment for the Muslim People.  What I loved about the book was the tremendous hope Malick holds, based on the Bible, for millions of Muslims to find a fulfillment of their cry for God through the Messiah, Jesus.

Only 4 Bible characters were directly named by God: Jesus, John the Baptist, Isaac and Ishmael.  Ishmael’s name means “God hears.” In Genesis 21, as a teenager, Ishmael faces a faith-crisis like few of us could imagine.  First his own father rejects him and sends him away.  Then the supplies run out and he knows he’s going to die.  His own mother can’t bear to watch and distances herself from him, too, leaving him totally alone.  Malick imagines Ishmael may have asked questions such as, “Who am I?  The son of a patriarch, or just the son of a servant?” “My father taught me about God, but like my father and mother, has God forsaken me too?”  Even without the lack of nourishment, Ishmael could have given up on life with a broken heart, broken identity, and broken faith.

But in Genesis 21:17 it says that God heard Ishmael’s cry.  The prophecy hidden in his name became his experience.  And God opened their eyes to see a water source that had been with them all along but they just couldn’t see it.

Many modern Muslims express a similar heart-cry for God, but issues of rejection, broken hearts, fractured identities, and despairing faith have blinded them to the Living Water right under their noses–the Messiah, Jesus, highly honored in the Qur’an, coming again to Judge the earth, the one Healer who can bring wholeness to their hearts.  He’s already present to save for those with eyes to see.

Malick exhorts us: “We must intercede for the Muslims like a mother would for her dying child.  Some of us have walked away from Ishmael, just like his own mother did, because the condition of Ishmael seems so hopeless in many ways; but we must yield to the Spirit of God and [believe] God will hear the cry of the Muslim people in this hour.”

I believe that the truth of God’s destiny over the sons of Ishmael is not fully found in “Islam” which means “submission.”  The submission of a servant is not the same as the affectionate relationship of a son.  But God will reveal to the Muslim world the truth of their destiny hidden in the name “Ishmael.”  God hears.  Even in the greatest crisis, at the lowest point, God has not abandoned them, He hears.

Without a father, a son’s identity and destiny cannot be fully fulfilled.  Jesus said he came to “reveal the Father.”  Who needs this revelation more than Ishmael’s children?  And as I’ve said before, Malachi 4:6 prophesies this revelation is on its way!

When Romans 10:19 talks about Israel being “provoked” to jealousy by the salvation of the Gentiles, could it be millions of Muslims reaching out to the Jews with a new love found in Jesus will finally provoke the Jews to consider that Jesus could be their Messiah?  Wouldn’t that just be like Father God to use a good (but despised) Samaritan to bring healing to a hurting Jew, to use a long-lost son (unwanted by his own brother) who comes home to start a party in Father’s house for everyone, including the older son who never understood his Father’s love?

Pray with me for Muslims worldwide to see what they couldn’t see before–an open door (John 10:9) for them to come as sons back into the Father’s house.  And when it happens, I want to be in the house partying with them! 🙂

God’s Father-heart for Muslims

Abraham Sends Hagar and Ishmael Away (Gen. 21:...
Abraham Sends Hagar and Ishmael Away (Gen. 21:1-14) Русский: Авраам отпускает Агарь с Измаилом (Быт. 21:1-14) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just returned from a speaking trip to Texas, where people asked me questions like, “Why do Muslims hate Christians so much?” and “How did we get into this mess anyway?”  I took those opportunities to direct them back to Abraham’s broken family relationships: the rejection, abandonment, jealousy, resentment, and broken father-figure that Ishmael inherited.

The question is, how can we minister healing to those heart wounds on an individual scale, then on a corporate scale, to Muslim communities and Muslim nations?

A vital key to our success in this is how we position ourselves.  Imagine Isaac coming to Ishmael with a superior attitude: “I got Daddy’s inheritance, but I’ll give you a handout now and again.”  Unfortunately, the Western church too often approaches Muslims with a superior attitude, and don’t understand when our isolated acts of kindness or generosity are looked at with suspicion or even rejected altogether.

We must position ourselves as equals, and invite Muslims to join us in the embrace of an Everlasting Father who does not reject or abandon us.  For many Christians, we need this revelation and healing for our own earthly father wounds before we can share it with our Muslim friends.  Only through their true Father’s acceptance can they find healing from their woundedness and rejection from their “earthly” father (Abraham), as well as the generations of fathers since.  We can open a new door for them back to the Father, and when they experience His love, they’ll be able to love those they couldn’t before.

I believe God is going to supernaturally help us in this process.  Malachi 4:6 prophesies that in the last days God will “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  We already see this happening on a family level, with more dads than ever before realizing how important it is that they invest deeply in their children’s lives.  We also see a younger generation being taught about honor for their fathers in a fresh way.  Could God take this to a community and national scale?  How about healing the father-child wound (and resulting orphan spirit) within Islam?  In these last days, I believe we’ll see it happen.

I remember the day one of my Muslim friends got the revelation that God was her Father.  I never told her that, but the Holy Spirit whispered it to her, and it changed everything in her relationship with God.  May God pour out the revelation of His Father’s heart on all the sons of Ishmael!

Peacemaking that Produces Intimacy

English: Four hands holding.

I was listening to Danny Silk teach on communication in marriage today, and it struck me the implications for the peacemaking process.

Danny teaches that many of us have a wrong goal of intimacy, believing that it comes from getting the other person to agree with me.  We don’t value what we don’t believe or don’t understand.  So we try to convince the other person to join our values, so we can feel “one.”

The problem is that every person thinks and feels different things, and longs to be accepted and understood.  In a marriage, trying to convince our spouse to always agree with us makes them feel dehumanized.  They will probably rebel (creating outer conflict), or give in against their heart desire (creating inner conflict).  Both responses move away from intimacy.

So I thought about peacemaking….  How often do we approach the other with the goal of convincing them to agree with us?  If they have the same goal, neither of us learns to understand or accept the other and we move farther away from intimacy, strengthening the walls between us.

In marriage, Danny teaches that we need to be committed to understanding, valuing and expressing our own needs, thoughts and feelings, and understanding and valuing our spouse’s expressed needs, thoughts and feelings, creating a safe place to be real, accepting the other, and providing for the other’s needs.

What if we applied this to our relationships across religions?  What if our goals included sharing our needs and seeking how to provide for the others’ needs?

The difference is like going to a department store—have you ever gone shopping and met a salesman who tried aggressively to sell you something you weren’t looking for?  Did you look for the quickest exit, and avoid him the next time shopping there?  Much Christian “evangelism” comes across like this, with about the same result!  Compare that to the salesman who takes the time to understand what you’re looking for and gives you helpful input that may add something new to your original thoughts, but helps you get exactly what you wanted or something better.  What if interfaith dialogue worked like this?

Both my Christian and my Muslim friends want to be closer to God.  Most of them want to know Him more, feel His presence, receive answers to prayer about daily life issues, receive more revelation or wisdom, get their hurting bodies and hearts healed, have more victory over sin, bondages and addictions, and some even want to see God do miracles.  Many of them want to see God change the world and be a part of that change.

So I don’t meet Muslims at a theological debate table; I ask them if they would like to pray together with me for those issues we both understand and value.  In the process, we can feel with each other the longing for what we’re both missing in our pursuit of God; we can share with each other new ways for seeing those needs met; and we can find a place of intimacy where we treat each other as brothers.  The greater the intimacy, the greater the trust; the greater the trust, the more open we are to God using the other to change us.

Most Likely to Become a Peacemaker

Martin Luther King, 1964

Remember those high school yearbook predictions: most likely to become famous, most likely to become fabulously rich, etc.?  Have you ever thought about what kind of person is most likely to become a peacemaker?

In my novel, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE, you’ll be surprised at who is willing to take a risk for peace, and who does everything in their power to prevent peace.  You might think that a Christian pastor is more likely to pursue peace than a Muslim imam–actually, that hasn’t been my experience in the Muslim world, and you’ll get a taste of this harsh reality when you read the book!

True, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian pastor.  But other famous peacemakers come from a variety of walks of life: Gandhi was a lawyer, Badshah Khan started schools for the poor, Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer who became president, and Jesus was a poor carpenter’s son.  And all over the world today there are everyday people who see two people or two groups of people hostile to one another, and take a risk to stand in the middle and love both sides.

When 9/11 happened, I remember emailing my Christian friends in the US encouraging them that it was the right time to make friends with the Muslims around them who might be afraid of angry, random retribution.  One couple took my suggestion seriously and joined other members of the community to serve their local mosque as nightwatchmen.  The mosque’s attenders were overwhelmed by the kindness of these neighbors.  One of them got talking to my friends, and next thing you know they were planning a hike together and eating in each other’s homes.  The risk my friends took to build a bridge paid off!

Just this week another friend shared how he took a group of American Christians into the gay prostitution district of his city to ask the homosexuals for forgiveness for how the Christian media and institutions have treated them!  He told me how many of them were deeply touched and asked my friend’s team to pray with them right there in the street.

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King is this: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  You may not think of yourself as a Gandhi, Mandela or MLK, but when you see any opposing people or groups where God gives you the grace to love both sides, take a risk and do something about it!  The ripple effect of you becoming who God wants you to be creates a momentum for them to become who God made them to be as well.

Peacemaker of the World

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus in the Bible comes from Micah chapter 5.  Many Christians hear the beginning of this passage read at Christmas foretelling Jesus’ birth: “But you, Bethlehem…from you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel…”  But if you read in the Message translation, verses 2-4 end with the shepherd-ruler being ascribed this amazing title: “Peacemaker of the world!”

I remember teaching a group of Muslim students once about how similar Muslim and Christian views are concerning our future world peace.  Several Hadith (Muslim records of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) point to a future time when the Prophet ‘Isa will return to take leadership of the Muslim umat (the people of God), to correct all false teaching concerning himself, and to usher in a period of world peace under his leadership.  The Bible also foretells Jesus’ return to reward the people of God, when every knee will bow before him and confess him as Lord (no matter what they believed about him in the past), and that he will bring about a time of world peace under his Kingship, where even “the lion will lie down with the lamb.”

Although there are also some differences between Muslim and Christian views of the end times, I find it interesting that both groups are waiting for the coming of Jesus as the next major event on the eschatological calendar.  And if we’re all waiting to see Jesus face-to-face and to live under his Leadership, doesn’t it make sense for all of us to try and get to know him the best we can even now?

We’re already seeing that the Jesus of Ephesians 2 is the demolisher of separating walls between people, and he’s bringing peace already between many various groups who thought they could never be at peace with the other.  What’s happening already is just a foretaste of the time when Jesus returns to the earth and is acknowledged by all peoples as the great Peacemaker of the World.

A Way Out of Hell

Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), polit...

Many sources have relayed this story of Gandhi’s extraordinary wisdom in peacemaking.

On one of Gandhi’s prayer and fasting to the death attempts to bring Muslim and Hindu radicals to lay down their arms and reconcile, a group of Hindu radicals enter the Muslim home where Gandhi has chosen to fast to lay down their weapons. One of the wildest of the group tells Gandhi to stop his fast and eat: “Here! Eat! I am going to hell; but I do not wish to have your death on my soul!”

In a whisper, Gandhi responds, “Only God decides who goes to hell. Tell me, why do you say you are going to hell?”

The man answers, “I killed a small [Muslim] child! I dashed his head against the wall because they killed my little one.”

“I will tell you a way out of hell,” Gandhi shares. “You find a Muslim child whose parents have been killed. Then you and your wife bring him up as your own.”

The Hindu radical is too stunned to speak, but bows touching his forehead to Gandhi’s feet.

Hell is all about separation—separation from God, and from meaningful relationships with men. The cycle of vengeance starts the process of a living hell on earth.

In heaven, on the other hand, we’ll experience holy intimacy with God and men. Earthly differences will have been completely overcome by perfect love. When we choose here on earth to love those who are different than us—as Jesus taught us, to even “love our enemies”—we join with God’s heart to bring heaven to earth.

Jesus instructed us to pray it: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There is a way out of the living hell mankind has created here on earth—by our prayers and our deeds of love, believe it, we will see heaven begin to invade earth!

Healing the Wounds of a Nation — South Africa

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, Ju...

As we work toward reconciliation between religions, we have to recognize that often other factors of difference, such as ethnicity, culture, language, control of wealth, control of power, etc., are also contributing to, if not driving, the conflict. On the surface, these contributing factors may make the peacemaking effort seem impossibly complex. But at the heart-level, the keys to reconciliation are consistent whether we’re facing Muslim-Christian conflict in Indonesia or the racial conflict of Apartheid in South Africa.

Recently, my peace-team and I invited a sizeable group of Muslim and Christian young adults to watch the film, INVICTUS. It’s the amazing story of how Nelson Mandela overcame his personal offense at the hands of a racist government to then lead the nation in building a unified society, where blacks and whites became one family again.

After viewing the film, we broke into small groups to discuss these powerful quotes from the movie below. As you read them, I invite you to write back to me how they affect you.

Quote #1 — The Power of Forgiveness: (Mandela) “The rainbow nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here.” (bodyguard) “But these people tried to kill us!” (Mandela) “Yes, I know. Forgiveness starts here too…. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

Quote #2 — Surprise with Compassion: “For 27 years in prison I studied my jailors. I learned their language. I read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we did prevail…. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner (whites). They are our fellow South Africans, our partners in democracy. And they treasure Springbok rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We would prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint, and with generosity.”

Quote #3 — Inspiration: “How do we inspire ourselves to greatness? How do we inspire everyone around us? … If I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can I expect others to?”