World Refugee Day–Faith over Fear

19 06 2019

Praying With RefugeesA bomb threat at the hotel where we were supposed to teach English caused us to cancel our classes one day. Thankfully, there was no bomb, and we could carry on teaching English here in Indonesia.

That’s the closest I’ve come to a bomb.

I’ve never watched missiles fall from the sky and wipe out my city.

I’ve never watched my apartment building crumble in a cloud of smoke, and wonder where I could go to be safe.

I’ve never lost track of family members—not knowing if they were killed in the mass destruction, or lying wounded somewhere, or taken to a refugee camp with no way of contacting them.

I’ve never been forced to leave everything I know and flee to a foreign land, giving up my dreams of the life I wanted for the new goal of just staying alive.

I’ve never been a refugee.

June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a time to take our eyes off ourselves for a moment, and consider our hurting “neighbors.”

Last year on June 20th, the United Nations reported that 2017 had record numbers of refugees around the world, 68.5 million people. That’s a new person displaced every two seconds.

God’s heart for refugees cannot be ignored. In the Bible, when a neighboring nation like Moab (modern-day west Jordan, but at the time an enemy to Israel) was attacked and had to flee their homes as refugees, God let us in on his emotions in Isaiah 15-16: “Oh, how I grieve for Moab! Refugees stream to Zoar…” The Moabites beg Judah, “Give the refugees from Moab sanctuary with you. Be a safe place for those on the run from the killing fields.” And God responds, “I’ll join the weeping. I’ll weep right along with Jazer, weep for the Sibmah vineyards. And yes, Heshbon and Elealeh, I’ll mingle my tears with your tears!” (Message translation)

Jesus himself was a refugee. His family fled Herod’s killing spree for the safety of Egypt. Aren’t we all glad Egypt took Jesus in, and didn’t turn him back at the border?

Taking in a refugee family can be a scary step of faith. Just ask Wolfgang and Chantal Massing, who were hesitant at first to disrupt their comfortable lives, but their faith in Christ prevailed. They invited a Syrian refugee family into their home and their hearts.

I love Chantal’s challenge to all of us: “Trusting more than fearing has got to be learned.”

On June 20th, what can we do to celebrate World Refugee Day?

  • Pray for refugee families, for peace in their homelands, for just immigration laws that welcome the hurting and the stranger.
  • If you know a refugee family, reach out to love them today.
  • Check to see if there are organizations in your city that help refugees, and ask them how you can get involved. Chantal started by donating items—she wound up with a gorgeous Syrian baby who called her “Grandma.”
  • Contact your government officials in support of legislation that helps refugees (ask me for more information if you’re interested).

My family has been blessed living in Indonesia by a wonderful Muslim family that took us in to live with them our first 3 months here, helping us to figure out how to do life in a whole new world. They became like a second family for us. Where would we be today without them?

Their kindness is exactly what Jesus expects of his followers when he charges us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)

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Isra Mi’raj and Your Supernatural Encounter

2 04 2019

HeavenHappy Isra Mi’raj to all my Muslim friends today!

For those Muslims who live as minorities, I pray for a peaceful day of celebrations. My heart was broken with all of yours by the tragic shootings in Christchurch, NZ. I’m thankful for the gracious response of the Anglican Christians who demonstrated the true heart of Christ by opening their doors for Muslims to come and pray while their mosque was closed, and the hundreds of volunteers who are providing food, transportation, free legal advice, and other demonstrations of practical love.

For my many Muslim friends who live as the majority in nations such as Indonesia where I live, I hope you’ll be ready to come alongside your suffering minorities with a similarly generous, peace-loving heart.

For my Christian friends who don’t know what the Isra Mi’raj holiday is about, it commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s supernatural journey in one night to visit both Jerusalem and heaven. It includes a symbolic purification of his heart by Gabriel, meeting several of the most famous prophets in heaven such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and meeting God.

Can ordinary seekers of God ask for supernatural encounters, such as meeting a prophet, or visiting heaven? Or are such encounters reserved only for the most holy?

I personally have never met a prophet face-to-face or been taken up to see heaven, but I know many people who have. A quiet housewife I’ve known for years suddenly encountered Jesus walking into her kitchen. Two junior high girls in our church were caught up into heaven for several hours and described to my pastor amazing things they would have had no other way of knowing. There’s an entire book of the Bible called “Revelation” that tells how Jesus’ close friend John visited heaven, and was told about the future of humanity. There are literally thousands of documented cases of ordinary people having supernatural experiences like these.

A 20-year-old Indonesian girl who was living with us saw a crowd on the street and stopped to find a young man having an epileptic-type seizure. She drew near and prayed for healing. The man stopped shaking and jumped up, asking, “Where did he go?”

“Who?” our friend answered.

“The man dressed in white. The man who touched me and healed me.”

No one in the crowd, including our friend, had seen this supernatural being, but the epileptic man saw him and received a healing touch. A supernatural encounter such as this might be only a prayer away.

Would you like to visit heaven? Talk directly to Jesus? Why not take this holiday of Isra Mi’raj as an opportunity to ask God for a supernatural encounter. Jesus taught us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

If you have already had such an encounter, or if you pray this prayer and receive one, please tell me about it in the comments section below!

Happy Isra Mi’raj! Happy supernatural encounters!





Curing the Christmas Blues

15 12 2018

IMG_20181216_081000197The holidays can be the toughest time of year. Especially if you’re alone.

As I write this, my wife is out of town helping a friend through surgery. My daughter is taking off on a train trip with her friends. And my son is an ocean away at university. Being alone at Christmas can make you long for the days of bickering over which Christmas movie to watch, awkward political conversations with the in-laws, and fighting both weather and traffic to visit grandma’s house.

No wonder people struggle with depression at Christmas. Being with extended family is stressful. Being without family feels extra-lonely at Christmas.

Before all the vibrant reds and greens drift into forgettable grays or those depressing blues, here are two ways to save Christmas:

  • Do something you like

In C.S. Lewis’s novel The Screwtape Letters, an older demon guides a younger demon in how to ruin a person’s life. In Chapter 13, he warns the demon to keep the human from reading a book he enjoys, or taking a walk out in nature that he loves. These simple pleasures come from God, and make the human feel “that he was coming home, recovering himself.”

Unacceptable, the older demon warns. “All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say…’I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither  what I ought nor what I liked.’”

The demon continues: “Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years [or a holiday!] not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.”

This Christmas, make it a point to do something you like—read a novel, take a walk, bake Christmas cookies for someone, decorate a Christmas tree just for yourself—there are a million pleasures God has given us that can bring joy to our world.

  • Engage with the human race

In the Ted Talk “How to Make Stress your Friend” by Kelly McGonigal, I learned that the neural-hormone oxytocin is released when we’re under stress; however, it’s also released when we hug someone. Kelly’s conclusion is that “when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. . . Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family, it enhances your empathy, it even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. . . So when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience—and that mechanism is human connection.”

Whether it’s the stress of traffic, shopping, and annoying relatives, or the stress of loneliness, our human tendency to run from the pain and isolate ourselves actually makes things worse. We need people—if not someone who cares for us, at least someone to care for.

So my second piece of advice for curing the Christmas Blues is to connect with someone you love, even if it has to be by Skype or phone; and reach out to someone who needs to be loved. Babysit someone’s kids, serve Christmas dinner at a shelter, ask in your local retirement home who is unlikely to have family visit, and listen to their stories for an hour. Or check which university students near you can’t make it home for the holidays (like my son!) and invite them for dinner. You won’t just be a blessing to them—you’ll discover a stress resilience inside yourself that leads to joy.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us, wasting our holidays on “nothing” would be a shame. Joy comes when we stay active doing things we enjoy, and when we give and receive love.

Merry Christmas!





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.





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.