Caught in Adultery

judge[1]      I was reading this morning the incredible Biblical account found in John chapter 8 of a woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus for judgment. The religious leaders who caught her wanted to stone her, in accordance with the law of Moses.

But Jesus stooped and wrote with his finger in the dust. Then he challenged them, “Let’s have the man who never had a sinful desire throw the first stone at her.” He stooped and wrote again, and one by one the men walked away.

Jesus asked, “Dear woman, where are your accusers?” Two witnesses were needed to make an accusation valid.

She answered, “I see no one, Lord.”

“Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, be free from a life of sin” (John 8:1-11 Passion Translation).

What a beautiful story! But the religious leaders weren’t happy with how this story ended. They came back to talk more with Jesus, and by the end of chapter 8 they were picking up their stones again, this time to kill Jesus!

Religion is always looking to judge someone, and there are some in any religion who feel they serve God by passing death sentences on others. Whether it’s the Jews of Jesus’ day, or the Muslim fundamentalists who still want to execute any woman caught in adultery, or we American Christians who hear of a politician’s or celebrity’s immorality and “crucify” them with our words, we are quick to condemn, quick to punish.

The natural result of such judgmentalism is that we can move from judging the adulterous woman to judging the sinless Christ simply because we need someone to judge, someone to punish. Before you know it we’re judging the pastor of our neighbor church, our peace-loving Muslim co-worker, or the man walking the street who is a different color than we are.

Both Christians and Muslims agree that Jesus is coming back to be the Judge of the Final Day. Let’s take a look at how Jesus judges. At the conclusion of the story above, Jesus makes this comment in verse 12: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never walk in darkness.”

Those who shine light to expose, punish and kill are not judging like Jesus. True peacemakers shine a light that is life-giving. This light welcomes others out of sin and condemnation into freedom.

We should all shudder to be judged by the self-appointed watchdogs of our own religions. But Jesus’ judgments are not fearful. His perfect love for us drives out our fear. His light drives out our darkness. Everything he does is life-giving.

May we become true peacemakers who do the same.

Web Interview with Jim on Loving God and Others

mother-397956_1920
Image by Ebrahim Amiri

This week on the always uplifting blog 7 Christians (http://7christians.blogspot.com/), Victoria Buck has posted Part 1 of an interview with me. Part 2 will be posted next Monday. She asks some really insightful questions. If you’re interested in what other American Christians are concerned about regarding Islam, check out this interview!

I was excited to see the interview was picked up by the First Manuscript Daily News:  http://paper.li/DaxMacGregor/1308327425

Victoria is also an author of the futuristic Christian thriller, Wake the Dead, available at Amazon.com, and a Christian who publicly takes a stand for the Great Commandment—to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves—even if that neighbor is from a different religion that scares us.

My wife arrived home yesterday from a trip to London, and one thing that stood out to her was how many Muslims she saw at the airport, at the grocery store, just about everywhere. She said it felt like going to parts of our home town of Los Angeles where entire neighborhoods are Asian or Latino and a Caucasian or African-American really stands out. Many of the perspectives from this interview address an American audience for whom opportunities to love Muslims may be fewer than our British counterparts today, but looking at population growth and immigration trends, we know this will be an increasing opportunity in America for us and our children.

I hope you see it like that—as an opportunity. I recently heard of yet another Christian leader who wants to move to the mountains of Montana to escape all the troubles coming to America. To me, this is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and lived.

When the Samaritans built a cultural and religious wall to keep the Jews out, what did Jesus do? John 4:4 says that “he had to go through Samaria.” No Jew ever went through Samaria—from Galilee in the north they would cross the Jordan River, walk south along it and then recross the river to visit Jerusalem rather than take the direct route through Samaria. Why does the Bible say Jesus had to go through Samaria?

I believe it’s because the kind of love emanating from the Messiah’s heart had to go touch everyone, regardless of the human walls built by either side. Jesus never walked down the opposite side of the street to avoid the demonized, the prostitutes, the Roman soldiers, the lepers, or even the hypocritical religious Jewish leaders who were out to kill him. He even told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die. He went to the cross, not away from it.

So the next time you are in a rush and have to go through the part of town that’s different from your culture, or have to go to the drugstore or gas station attended by someone who doesn’t look like you, try to look at it through Jesus’ eyes. Maybe you have to go there because there’s a wall that needs to be broken by Jesus’ love in you.

Check out the interview at: http://bit.ly/165ZSGk . And maybe post a comment thanking Victoria for being a Christian doing her part to make a difference. Enjoy!

Jihad and Jesus

osama-304048_1280   We are all troubled by the images of terrorist acts in France, or ISIS beheadings in the Middle East. It’s shocking and offensive to us that civilians are often the target. The term jihad may be the most hated word in the world today.

But before we join all the political pundits pointing fingers, let’s remember that the concept of jihad, or “holy war,” didn’t start with Islam. The Bible has several examples of God sending His people to kill others. Joshua and Saul were commanded to lead genocide of whole people groups, including the children. Samson initiated a suicide attack that murdered 3,000 men and women. This week I was reading in II Kings 9-10 about Jehu—this story has a military coup, the beheading of 70 relatives of the king, the mass slaughter of religious leaders of a rival religion in their own house of worship—doesn’t this story sound like something we might read about in the Middle East today? Yet God was behind it: His prophet commanded Jehu to do it. At one point in the story, Jehu says, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord” as he goes on a killing spree. And when he’s done, God commends him!

Today we see the same stories played out on the nightly news, of beheadings and massacres by those “zealous” for the One they worship, believing that He will award their deeds. Many people have compared modern-day Islam to life in the Bible’s Old Testament. Their understanding of God as Creator, sender of the prophets and holy books, and man’s responsibility to follow His law, including giving alms, keeping prescribed fasts, and going on pilgrimage, has extensive parallels. One more similarity is an acceptance of violence done in the name of God.

The coming of Jesus changed everything. The Bible says Jesus is God’s eternal Word that took on flesh (John 1:14). God met man in the person of a Messiah. The Bible also says that looking at Jesus is the best way to understand what God is like, since he’s “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Jesus had enemies—the Jewish religious leaders jealous of his favor with the masses; King Herod, fearful of any political rival; Pilate and the Romans, their occupied territory threatened by popular uprisings. Some of Jesus’ disciples wanted to fight with swords, see Jesus overthrow the Romans and become their new king. But Jesus was bringing a different kind of Kingdom, launched by love and pursuing peace. Even through Jesus’ death on the cross he treated his enemies with compassion, one of his last, dying utterances being this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). All of Jesus’ teachings about “love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” he lived consistently to the end.

If looking at Jesus is the best way to understand God, the implications of this are profound. Because of Jesus, if we say we love God, we have to love man. Because of Jesus, when we accept Jesus’ divinity and follow him, even if we thought it was justified to kill in the name of God, we can never kill in the name of Jesus, for it’s the opposite of all Jesus stood for.

The cross started as a symbol of death. During the crusades of the Middle Ages it unfortunately became a symbol of Christian warfare and atrocities. But for those who accept this mystery of God’s Word becoming man, it is the most perfect symbol of love. One beam points up to heaven, representing the love between God and man; the other beam stretches left to right, representing the love between man and man, both of these based on Jesus at the center.

I have many wonderful Muslim friends who absolutely condemn the barbaric acts of ISIS and other jihadists today. They are good people with a sincere faith. I also happen to believe that the Messiah came not just for the Jews, but like the Prophet John said, Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), while another prophet ascribed to Jesus the title, “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). For those who are zealous for God in any religion, I say to you, that following Jesus changes everything.

Dreaming of Peace

???????????????????????????????????????Happy New Year 2015! Dare we imagine that this year could bring peace breakthroughs in relationships we previously gave up on? Which relationships would you most like to see restored this year? Perhaps with your spouse, your parent, your child, your sibling, a previously close friend…?

How does such a seemingly impossible reconciliation start?

I read an amazing article recently entitled: Daring to Dream: An Israeli and Palestinian Vision of a Better Future. When Israelis and Palestinians start dreaming together, you know we’re talking reconciliation on a miraculous scale! If they can believe it for their situation, why not us for ours?

I want to quote a few lines from their article. It’s thrillingly hopeful for me to read such a beautiful perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I encourage you to read it, even declare it by faith, thinking of whatever broken relationship you want God to restore in this new year. Ready?

We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine; we cannot do what we cannot dream.

We would like to give you a glimpse into our imagination, our vision, our dream. We invite you into our understanding of a better future, which we wish to draw into the present with our prayers, with our minds, with our hearts and with our hands.

We refuse all the previous excuses, even if well-intentioned. We refuse to be oppressors. We refuse to be victims. We refuse to be ignorant. We refuse to give up hope. We refuse the easy way. We refuse to think we are beyond redemption because of the complications. We refuse to remain an intractable conflict. We refuse to defer our peace to other generations and centuries because we are too lazy or too unimaginative to dream a better future. We refuse many things.

And we affirm and accept many others. We affirm and maintain the ability to dream. We accept the challenge of peacemaking. We willingly take on the burden of truth-telling, even when it hurts our self-conception and our understanding of history. We accept that we are limited in what we see and in what we know, and we endeavor to learn more and challenge ourselves to think critically. We take responsibility for our actions, and our shortcomings in this conflict. We embrace compassion, for ourselves, for others, and particularly for those who have no compassion for us. We affirm and maintain space for each other, as we desire to co-exist, thrive, cooperate, collaborate, and be better versions of ourselves as a result of each other’s input.

It takes incredible courage to declare these commitments, even more to live them out. Are you ready to refuse to live any longer with your past “coping mechanisms,” and instead, to “accept the challenge of peacemaking”?

In every relationship, whether in our own home or between the nations we care about, may we become those who cannot stop dreaming of peace.

(For more about this outstanding ministry that our family supports financially, check out https://www.musalaha.org)

Jesus in the Qur’an

Just after commemorating 9/11, I received this email from a concerned Christian:

Jim, I see much error in your theology based on what I read on your Q and A and blog. I guess the question is do you focus on peace making or true repentance leading to salvation? I also am concerned by your view of Islam as worshiping the same God as Christians as well as your implication that the Koran is a holy book. Islam is demonic as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20. Unless Muslims repent and turn to The Lord Jesus Christ, they will spend eternity in hell. This appears to be another gospel.

Thank you for your question and comments. I know many wonderful Christians who would agree with the views you’ve stated. I also know many wonderful Muslims who believe that Christians follow a false god and unless they convert to Islam Christians will spend eternity in hell. Even in our “rejection” of each other we stumble upon our commonalities!

Regarding my view of Allah, I think I’ve expressed it well in a previous Q&A post. I would disagree with you that I Corinthians 10:19-20 should be applied to the monotheistic God as viewed by the Jews or the Muslims. The context of this Bible passage is Greek polytheistic worship. Paul never referred to the Jews’ God as a “demon” even though the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah. Muslims have a very similar God-concept as the Jews AND they accept Jesus as Messiah—they just tend to overlook the life-changing implications of relating to Messiah as the Savior of the world.

Many Muslims, especially those who don’t speak Arabic as their native language, do not read the Qur’an in order to hear God’s voice speak through the written words spiritual truths to guide their lives, the way most evangelical Christians would approach the Bible. Instead, many Muslims trust their teachers to choose the most important parts of the Qur’an to teach. Because of this, unfortunately in my thinking, what the Qur’an teaches about Jesus is rarely emphasized as an essential truth all Muslims need for their daily lives.

Here are just a few things the Qur’an teaches about Jesus—

  • He had the most unique miracle birth in history, born to the Virgin Mary [19:16-22] by the Holy Spirit, and made a sign to all the peoples of the world [21:91]
  • He is called the “Word of God” and the “Spirit of God,” exalted in both this world and the next [3:45; 4:171]; no other prophet receives such exalted titles, titles which speak to Jesus’ relating to men’s spirits in 2 amazing ways
  • He creates life, heals disease, knows the secrets of men’s hearts, and even raises the dead [3:49]; this power Jesus demonstrates over sickness, Satan, and death is unparalleled in Muslim history, and many Muslims are discovering that Jesus will still do these miracles for them today!
  • He is the only sinless man to have ever lived [19:19]—Christians can see the significance of this in Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death on the cross to fulfill what the Prophet John spoke, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Sometimes it is hard for Muslims to see the significance of Jesus’ sinlessness.
  • Both the Qur’an [43:61] and the Hadith* (the traditions and sayings of Muhammad) point to Jesus as the one God chooses to return to Earth and become the Judge of the Final Day. The unique aspects of Jesus mentioned above qualify him uniquely to fulfill this role of which no one else is worthy. [*El Bukhari’s collection of hadith includes this one: “The Last Hour will not come until the Son of Mary come down as the just Judge.”]

In my experience in sitting through hundreds of Islamic events and hearing sermon after sermon, Jesus is rarely mentioned; when he is mentioned, the teacher quickly qualifies who Jesus ISN’T rather than honestly meditating on who Jesus IS using verses like I mention above.

I believe that the God of the Bible is the same God both Jews and Muslims are seeking. The Bible tells us that the Messiah will be a “stumbling block” to many. To the Jews, Jesus is “the stone the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” To the Muslims, Jesus is not rejected, but I feel like they stumble over him and thus miss all that the Messiah of the world is offering them.

I offer these views humbly, knowing that you and I and my Jewish friends and my Muslim friends are all seeking to be closer to God, to understand His truth, to walk on the straight path. May God grant us all Light to guide our own next steps on thisParrinder book journey to Him.

For what I consider a scholarly and fair treatment of Jesus in the Qur’an, try Geoffrey Parrinder’s book, available at amazon.com.

Ray Rice and the NFL–Punishment versus Compassionate Help

kids-56952_1920 (2)   One of the biggest stories in the news right now is about the professional football player, Ray Rice. Video tape shows him back in March brutally punching out his fiancé (now his wife) and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.

The response of the National Football League at first was to suspend Ray for two games. After a deafening chorus of protests, the NFL changed their punishment to suspend Ray indefinitely, and his club fired him. Much of the discussion has been centered on the NFL’s poor first response, and on how harshly the NFL should come down on domestic violence.

Now I normally blog about peacemaking between Christians and Muslims—what does this case from football have to do with peacemaking?

The answer is, no matter what the problem is, harsh punishments or violent responses don’t get to the root issues. They make the punisher feel self-righteously justified and, in this NFL case, distanced from the perpetrator. But they don’t solve the problem.

Now Ray Rice is unemployed and rejected by his community. How will that help him overcome the anger that is stored up inside him? Does this provide more protection or hope for his wife? Aren’t we setting Ray up his frustration and hopelessness to explode again?

Here is what I think the NFL should have done—the commissioner should have called a press conference and announced the following:

“Ladies and gentlemen, a tragedy has occurred within the NFL family, as one of our own has been found guilty of domestic violence. The NFL does not condone any kind of domestic violence, and has taken quick and decisive action.

“I met personally with the player, Ray Rice. I met with his wife, the victim. I met with the owner and coach of his team. Then all of us came together to discuss the best way to proceed forward.

“Ray’s wife did not want to file criminal charges against her husband. If she had, we would have supported that. We did not try to influence her decision at all. Since she chose not to, we want to support her with the strongest possible motivation and help for Ray to overcome the internal issues that led him to domestic violence and ensure it never happens again.

“All of us, including Ray, his wife, the team’s owner, his coach, and myself representing the NFL, have agreed upon the following plan for helping Ray:

“1) Ray will be suspended from practicing with the team for a period of 60 days in order for him to focus his time on personal and marital counseling. After 60 days if his counselor and wife recommend it, he may rejoin the team’s practice sessions as long as they don’t conflict with his ongoing counseling schedule.

“2) Ray will be suspended from playing with the team for a period of 1 season. He will remain a part of the team, and receive only the base salary of the lowest paid member of the team for this year. The balance of his unpaid salary will be used for counseling for Ray and his wife.

“3) Ray has 10 days to submit to us his preferred counselor or combination of counselors for approval by the NFL, his team and his wife. If he does not submit this request within 10 days, or if he does not attend the counseling sessions scheduled for him, he will lose his job with the football team and will not be allowed to be picked up by another team until the NFL gives approval for reinstatement, which will be based upon our assessment of his seriousness in resolving the anger issues that led to domestic violence.

“The message that we want to send to this nation is that domestic violence is a horrible tragedy that results from someone who doesn’t handle anger appropriately. The NFL will not field players who abuse others, especially their own loved ones. But we are a community who cares deeply about our players and are committed to helping them face their inner struggles and overcome them in appropriate ways, so that in next 50 years of life for our players, like Ray Rice, domestic violence will never be an issue for them and their families again.”

Can you see the difference between punishment, which isolates and impoverishes, exacerbating the very causes of the violence, versus caring enough for the perpetrator to help him overcome the root issues that caused the violence? When prisoners get released from Guantanamo Bay, do you think they are likely to hate America more or less? Violence comes from anger, from hatred, so the answer to it must be to overcome the anger and hatred with compassionate help in the context of a supportive community.

For those of you wondering when the sequel to my novel will come out, I’m working on it! And it addresses some of these topics above. More news on that later…

Today, I encourage you to show love to your family, and be willing to ask for help for any inner issues that are building inside of you before you explode and hurt someone you care about. Peace.

Imagination, Hope, Prayer and Societal Change

Societal change does not come by accident; it occurs because someone first imagined it.Mother Teresa

This imagination can sneak into your life anytime, anywhere.  For Mother Teresa, it started the first time she walked by a dying person on the street and wondered why no one was doing anything about it.  For a young Martin Luther King Jr. it may have begun as he read about St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi.  For an older Nelson Mandela there was plenty of time in prison to imagine what he’d do when he got out.

But people everywhere are dreamers.  Only a few believe those dreams can come true and fix their lives to that hope.  They begin to orient their lives to the dream, believing that if they can live it, others will catch it; and if their community can live it, they can change a nation or even the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  He began to live that dream, joining hands with people of other races and religions to promote racial equality.

Gandhi dreamed of India being free from British colonization. First he, then his community, began growing their own food and making their own clothes to show they could live independently of the British commercial system.  A nation watched, and began to believe.

Nelson Mandela could have spent his 27 years in prison focusing his imaginations on justice, or worse, revenge, but he chose to hope in a “rainbow nation” for South Africa where both white and black men cared about each other.  When elected president, he chose to keep many of the white staff from the outgoing president, knowing if he could change the culture in his office, he could change the culture in the nation.

But beyond imagination and hope, I believe there is one more vital key that many extraordinary peacemakers shared, and that is prayer.  When our dreams come into alignment with God’s dreams, an unstoppable force moves with us against that formerly “immovable object.”  Study the lives of the great peacemakers and you will inevitably find they were people of prayer.

One book about Mother Teresa is entitled, Everything Starts with Prayer.  She once said, “If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.”

Gandhi spoke and wrote prolifically about prayer.  He said, “No act of mine is done without prayer,” and “As food is necessary for the body, prayer is necessary for the soul.  A man may be able to do without food for a number of days…but believing in God, man cannot, should not live a moment without prayer.”  Gandhi’s fasting and prayer literally stopped a civil war and saved the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a transforming prayer experience after a midnight call from a racist who threatened to kill him and destroy his home.  Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, he poured his heart out to God, and felt God’s assurance that if he would stand up for righteousness, God’s presence would always be with him.  King would take personal prayer retreats, and even when locked up in jail would pray and sing.  One of his biographers would write, “Dr. King taught us about the importance of prayer, not only as part of our own personal devotional life but…also prayer must be a part of any movement for social action.”

Interestingly, the great peacemakers were generally humble people who recognized that if we all are dreaming and hoping for a change, we should all be willing to pray together for that change.  Martin Luther King Jr. brought Christians, Muslims and Jews together to pray for America.  Mother Teresa enjoyed praying with Christians, Muslims and Hindus, stating, “No color, no religion, no nationality should come between us—we are all children of God.”  Badshah Khan, the outstanding peacemaker among the Muslim Pashtuns in northwest India, joined Gandhi’s interfaith prayer meetings and credited his Christian teacher Rev. E.F.E.Wigram as the one “who had created in me the spirit of service to God.”  Nelson Mandela, a Christian, was a dear friend to the Muslim community of South Africa and joined them in prayer.   Gandhi was well-known for uniting different groups to pray.  About one of his famous fasts in response to Hindu-Muslim violence in 1924, Gandhi said this: “The fast was an adventure in goodness.  The stake was one man’s life.  The prize was a nation’s freedom.  If Indians were united as brothers, no outsider could long to be their master.”  When the fast was complete, Gandhi called his “brothers” together for a time of religious unity, where an Imam recited the Al Fatihah, a Christian missionary led the singing of a Christian hymn, then Hindu holy readings and songs closed their time together.

The point here is not that we all need to start interfaith prayer meetings—the point is that sometimes our dreams are bigger than ourselves, and we need to open our hearts to God and to others to achieve them.  As Mother Teresa has said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

So go ahead and dream!  Ignite your imaginations for a better future.  When those dreams turn to hope, you’ll find yourself naturally following Gandhi’s advice, “Become the change you want to see.”  Pray your dreams; let God’s dreams refine yours, expand yours.  And pray them with others who share your dreams, recognizing that if they are truly God’s dreams, they are much bigger than you.

Martin Luther King Jr. was laboring through his speech on the Washington Mall when one of the singers on the platform, Mahalia Jackson, called out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”  He abandoned his notes and began to pour out his heart to America about his dream.  As he declared images like the following:

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington (1)     I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

     I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

     I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…as he declared those images, King’s dream became a nation’s dream.  What might your dreams become?

What do Muslims Believe?

An American friend recently told me that he had discovered there were some Muslim families in his apartment complex.  But he hesitated to approach them, not knowing how they would respond.  He assumed if he understood what Muslims believe first, it would help him to make friends.

My friend’s desire is understandable, but may not be helpful.  Although having general knowledge is generally a good thing, what Muslims actually believe may be so individualized it may be wiser to make friends first, then find out what your Muslim friend believes.  This will save you from assumptions that may not be true.

I would encourage the same approach for Muslims who want to make a Christian friend.  Many Muslims have been told that Christians believe in the Trinity—God the Father, God the Mother (Mary), and God the Son (Jesus).  I don’t believe that, and I’d rather someone ask me what I believe than assume something false, wouldn’t you?

What an individual Muslim believes may have everything to do with what his parents or teachers taught him more than what the Qur’an actually teaches.  Here in Indonesia, our adopted Muslim son was raised in a radical Islamic boarding school that taught him Allah approved of stealing from Christians, murdering Christians, and raping Christian girls.  Living with us challenged those beliefs, and thank God he doesn’t believe that any more.  Some Muslims we know believe that reading the Bible will cause the Christian “jinn” (genie) to jump on you and distort your thinking to the wrong path.  Some Muslims we know believe that God gave His power to the witchdoctors to heal people, or kill people with curses.  But many Muslims we know believe none of the above.

We also know Muslims who believe the Qur’an teaches they must also follow the Christians’ Holy Books.  We know Muslims who see Jesus’ uniqueness in the Qur’an and embrace him as their Messiah too.  In fact, we’ve never met a Muslim who says bad things about Jesus.  Some know nothing about him, others honor him as a prophet, healer, and teacher, or even as the living Word and Spirit of God.  When you make a new Muslim friend, don’t assume he or she is against Jesus—ask!  You might be surprised at what they believe.

Perhaps the best example of this “surprise factor” is the Muslim artist Mo Sabri—check out what he believes about Jesus here (on youtube, search for “Mo Sabri I believe in Jesus” or click this link): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gDFFATGyh0  Amazing!!!

So whether you’re Christian or Muslim, I encourage you to make friends first—

IMG_5279along the way find out what your friend believes, and share what you believe in a respectful way.  Don’t make beliefs a condition for friendship.  Be a true friend.  Love sincerely.  The context of a loving relationship is the safest place for both you and your friend to take a fresh look at what you believe.

Praying for Strangers

Tonight we begin another fasting month of Ramadan, when we will join our Muslim friends and neighbors in not eating or drinking during the daylight hours.  As much as my body hates fasting, my spirit knows that my body needs to be reminded who is really in charge here.  Or as my former mentor, Lou Engle, used to say, I need to set aside lesser affections for the greater hunger of my soul for God alone.

This dichotomy of flesh vs. spirit vying for preeminence is also found in my prayer life.  Passing through each day, my flesh and my spirit have different agendas—one is willing to carve out a small niche for prayer, the other craves a 24/7 experience of communion with God.

This month I greatly enjoyed reading River Jordan’s book, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit. The author sent both her sons off to war one January, and in her anxiety and helplessness, felt God draw her into an unusual new year’s resolution: to pray for one stranger every day for a year.  Sometimes she prayed silently as she passed by, but many times she stopped and told the stranger that she would be praying for him/her, and was so blessed at the responses she received.  Every time it was hard to take a risk, but she never regretted telling people she would pray for them.  She ended the year feeling more blessed than probably any one of the people she met.

One reason I love this book is because I’ve found a kindred spirit.  I, too, have a habit of praying for strangers everywhere I go.  But I rarely approach a stranger and tell them I’m praying.  This part of Jordan’s story challenged me.  Sometimes a prayer may be enough, but sometimes the encouraging word and smile of a person who is praying may make a greater impact.  I hope to overcome my fears and be willing to talk to these people my heart is already praying for.

I’d like to end by quoting a couple paragraphs from River Jordan’s book (p.213):

   On some days I pray for more than one person.  Because I can.  Because I want to.  Because my heart has been softened by the year of connecting with the world around me.  Just the other day I passed a man on his riding lawn mower wearing a white hat.  He smiled and waved and I waved back, and in that moment, special stranger of the day status or not, it was my automatic response to wish blessings on his life and say a quick prayer for his health and happiness.  And the rest of my day continued that way.  A cashier, the woman at the insurance company, the librarian—I prayed for them all.

prayingforstrangers

   Then I began to wonder: Could it be possible for us to move through our day on a wave of prayer, receiving and giving, offering silent words, thoughts, good intent to the people that we meet along the way?  Could our cities have undercurrents of prayer that course through the business of our lives?  Would there be a tangible feeling, a current that pulls at us, whispering for us to remember we are part of a larger, vast ocean teeming with life and stories?  If I can begin to live this way for a moment, for part of a day, for a week at a time, then yes, I can imagine a place where people find a common ground of timelessness and understanding and goodwill.  And I like that.

You can read more at http://www.prayingforstrangers.com

Christians & Muslims work together in Afghanistan?

You all know about my work bringing Christians and Muslims together in Indonesia–in fact, this week members of both groups are coming together for prayer and fasting for personal breakthroughs, and expecting God to surprise us with His miracles, reminding us how extravagant His love is for us!

But in Afghanistan?? Yes, believe it or not, God is breaking down walls even there, as my good friend Thomas Davis of Peace Catalyst writes below. (And if you want to hear more from Thomas, I encourage you to visit his website Incomparable Treasures). Take it away, Thomas…

Stories from Afghanistan: A Journey of Faith and Friendship

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of visiting Kabul, Afghanistan as a guest of a Muslim non-profit focused on education projects. I was inspired and encouraged by both my new Muslim friends there and by the way I experienced God in Afghanistan!

In the coming weeks, I intend to unload some of my stories and impressions here on Incomparable Treasure. The order promises to be random in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way, and it is my hope that as I put fingers to keyboard that my “Stories from Afghanistan” series will offer you a window into the hopes and dreams of the people who live and serve there and ultimately into the broader story of God and His vast, relentless love for all people.

To get started, I will offer you a bit of background and foundation for the stories that will follow.

The Backdrop: A Journey of Faith and Friendship

For me, this recent visit to Afghanistan was the latest high point in an amazing, life-changing, three-year journey of faith and friendship. It began with an assignment in New Delhi as Interim Director of an English language institute. In that context, I met a young Afghan man—a Muslim who quickly became like a brother to this evangelical, Bible-believing Jesus-follower from America. As our friendship grew, we each invited the other deeper into our respective worlds. I introduced him to my Peace Catalyst colleagues and our Jesus-centered work, and he invited me ever deeper into his global Muslim network known as the Gülen Movement (www.gulenmovement.us).

My smart, feisty, compassionate Afghan friend and I have laughed together and cried together. We have studied the holy books with one another and have spent countless hours talking about God and His Kingdom and how one lives in right relationship with Him and others. We also dreamed often about working together for the common good, acknowledging that both Christians and Muslims have too often embraced peace-breaking attitudes and actions. My friend and I surmised that we need each other, because I can challenge Christians in ways that he could not and likewise he can admonish Muslims in ways that I could not.

The Invitation: Muslims Invite an Evangelical to Serve

Against this backdrop, my friend persuaded the leadership of the Afghan-Turk Educational NGO to bring me to Kabul to offer a 15-day language seminar for their teachers and to see their work up close so that we could explore more and bigger partnership for the future. The invitation came in late November. A month later, I was en route to Kabul on a journey fully funded by generous-spirited Muslims who invited me to serve alongside them, apparently undeterred by my passion for Jesus and his ways, words, works, and worth.

The Context: The Afghan-Turk Educational NGO

My generous hosts in Kabul comprise the Afghan-Turk Educational Non-Government Organization (NGO), a Muslim non-profit based out of Turkey. The NGO is an affiliate of the Gülen Movement, an international network of Muslims working in 180 countries with a focus on practical service to the less fortunate and on building bridges of friendship between Muslims, Christians, and others.

In Afghanistan, the NGO runs over 30 schools across the country, offering over 5000 Afghan children rare access to high quality education with solid emphasis on the foundational values of human rights, human dignity, and respect for all people. I was seriously honored to serve alongside these kind-hearted educators, many of whom are foreigners (mostly Turks but also Indians and Egyptians) making significant sacrifice to serve in a challenging environment.

Next in the Stories from Afghanistan Series—When God Ran

Both God and my Afghan and Turkish hosts gave me some encouraging and sometimes surprising gifts during my journey. In the coming weeks, I want to share some of those gifts with you—stories about

  • the strength of diversity as the love of children overcomes the hatred of adults
  • the sacrificial love of Turks and Afghans in the face of enormous risk
  • bald heads and snowball fights
  • jihadists and communists laying down their arms and ideologies
  • friendship, honor, and fake airplane tickets
  • finding common ground and discussing differences in the context of real friendship.

One major gift was the spiritual conversations along the way with new Muslim friends. In the next “Stories from Afghanistan” post, I will share the story of “When God Ran: Jesus, the Prodigal Son, and Unexpected Common Ground in a Kabul Classroom!

Subscribe to Incomparable Treasure!

To make sure you do not miss new posts on Incomparable Treasure, sign up to receive email notifications. On the right side of this screen and above the Davis family photo, find “FOLLOW BY EMAIL,” enter your email address, and hit “submit.” This will ensure that you will receive an email each day that a new story is posted.