Should Christians join Violent Protests?

14 02 2018
Tunisia protests

Photo of Tunisia protests by The Star

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.

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Should Pope Francis be more Critical of Islam?

20 01 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Reaping in the New Year

1 01 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Peace Starts with the Youth

12 12 2017

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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





“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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





International Day of Peace — And a Special Offer

17 09 2017
The United Nations has declared this Thursday, September 21, as an International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” Special attention will be directed toward displaced peoples.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres offers this exhortation: “In times of insecurity, communities that look different become convenient scapegoats. We must resist cynical efforts to divide communities and portray neighbours as ‘the other’. Discrimination diminishes us all. It prevents people — and societies — from achieving their full potential.” He added, “Together, let us stand up against bigotry and for human rights. Together, let us build bridges. Together, let us transform fear into hope.”
Check out this short video of Yusra, a Syrian refugee who competed in the most recent Olympics! She wouldn’t have made it without the help of others. Now more than other, the world is recognizing that Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor” is our world’s only hope.
My friend Rebecca took a risk and loved her neighbors this week in Columbus, OH, where angry protesters threatened Muslims going to their Friday noon prayers at the mosque. Rebecca took her baby and rallied some friends to stand together on the sidewalk as a human barrier just to make sure her Muslim neighbors could navigate the protest safely.
The protesters, a group by the name of “Real Street Preachers,” used a bullhorn and the Bible to condemn the Muslims and graphically insult anyone who stood with the Muslims.

Rebecca writes about a man near her who shouted, “Muslims go to hell… So how many wives do you have, sir? The first one is for beating, the second one you use to cook, the third wife cleans and the fourth one is for sex. You don’t know the words of Jesus. John 14:9! Jesus said, ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father!’ Jesus is God!” He cried out, with his arms in the air, “He’s gonna throw you into hell one day, sinner. He’s gonna throw you into hell one day, Muslim. He’s gonna throw you [looking at Rebecca] into hell one day, whore, lezbo. You don’t know the Bible!”

Rebecca adds, “At one point, I was able to have some reasonable conversation with one protesting man, about 40 years old. As I looked into his calm blue eyes, I thought, ‘He looks so normal.’

“Later, describing it to a friend I said, ‘If I met him in Starbucks, I’d not know he was any different than me.’ He spoke with me, vacillating between a level tone and yelling at passersby, ‘I’ve been doing this since 2010. I know you guys don’t see it this way, but we are loving them… Muslims go to hell! …It’s tough love… You’re all going to hell!’

Just like Jesus, Rebecca chose to express her love by standing against the Pharisees throwing stones and standing with the condemned woman; by choosing self-sacrifice that others might be free. I just hope the Muslims affected by this event go home knowing the true Jesus through Rebecca’s love rather than the crass, condemning Jesus of the “Real Street Preachers.”
SPECIAL OFFER — All my e-books are half price this week for International Day of Peace!
If you’ve read one of my books but haven’t picked up the other two yet, this week only all 3 e-books are on sale half price! That means Someone Has to Die (Peace Trilogy Book 1) is only 99 cents, while A Way Out of Hell (Peace Trilogy Book 2) and A Violent Light (Peace Trilogy Book 3) are only $1.99 each!
Let’s all celebrate this International Day of Peace by loving someone different from us, and coming TOGETHER.




The Circle of Compassion

2 09 2017

circle of hearts“Johnny’s” obvious skin disease meant the other kids usually kept their distance. The fact that he was mentally a bit slow, and had dropped out of school to scavenge trash he could resell to support his family, didn’t help him in making friends either. But neither of these disadvantages could keep this teenager from falling in love.

Our house was Johnny’s safe place, where everyone was included in the circle of love. He dropped by, knowing he’d get a hug from my wife—probably the only one he knew who would touch him with affection—for some dating advice.

“I really like her, but she won’t even talk to me,” Johnny shared. “How do I make her like me?”

My wife responded, “You can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do.”

“Oh, is that sin?” Johnny heard a lot of sermons in his Muslim community about sin, but never seemed to have a clear understanding of what sin was.

“Not because it’s sin, but because you care about her,” my wife explained. “What if I asked you to steal something for me, would you do it?”

“Stealing is sin,” Johnny shook his head.

“I mean, think about how you’d feel if I asked you to steal…”

“I wouldn’t feel good in my heart,” the boy replied.

“Right. Because I care about you, I don’t want to ask you to do something that makes you feel bad in your heart. I only want to ask you do things you feel good about. Make sense?”

Johnny nodded. But it was still a leap to get back to the girlfriend issue.

“So you care about this girl, right? If you ask her to like you, and she doesn’t feel good about that, you shouldn’t force her to like you. Only ask her to do things she feels good about.”

Johnny picked at his peeling skin. The defeat in his eyes indicated he understood. My wife offered to pray with him.

Later when she told me the story, I was struck by how winning someone’s romantic affections often fails when we start with what we want, but will occasionally succeed when we step into that person’s life to find out what they want.

I also saw a parallel picture of how we Christians, even motivated by “love,” often make the wrong choice in how we share the Good News of Christ. We want our friends to know Jesus so badly, we’ll encourage them to make a decision to follow Christ before they’re ready, or to go against their family, even to sneak around behind their family’s back to read the Bible or attend a Bible study. Inside, they may not “feel good” about this, but will do it to please us because we “pressure” them into it, even using Bible verses to back us up. Surely there is a more loving way.

Gregory Boyle, in his amazing book, Tattoos on the Heart, calls us to this deeper and wider type of love:

Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away….Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.

One reason that Johnny and hundreds of other Muslims visit our home is that we’ve cultivated a habit of caring about what they care about. They share their dreams of getting married, going to college, seeing their parent get off drugs, the end of abuse in their home, or just knowing that tomorrow they’ll wake up with food in the house. “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that,” we say. And we pray together.

One day a new Muslim guy joined our weekly interfaith men’s prayer meeting. As we all shared our prayer requests, he confessed that he’d beaten his wife last night. “Of course, I was drunk…and she deserved it,” he explained. “But I guess I shouldn’t do that. You can pray for me.”

“All of us married men here know how hard it is to love our wives,” I sympathized. “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that.” He didn’t need a rebuke or a sermon. He already wanted to change! For several weeks we prayed with this brother for breakthroughs in his marriage (while my wife checked on his wife). And God answered him. He stopped beating his wife. And she was absolutely thrilled that he was attending our prayer meeting!

The day came when we shared our prayer requests and he had a completely new one—“I don’t feel God close to me, and that’s what I want more than anything.” You know our response: “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that.” Ah, the loving, wooing call of God was getting through, and this man was now ready to respond.

If we’d kept this drunken wife-beater out of our circle, we wouldn’t have had the privilege of witnessing this holy moment. But in the “circle of compassion” we found a kinship. We stood together with him in the mess. And we were still standing together when God’s love broke through.

Is there anyone you’ve been keeping outside your circle of compassion? Would it “feel good to your heart” to widen that circle just a little more?