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.
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Refugees—Fresh Starts Require New Friends

16 04 2017

(an interview with Nick Armstrong of Glocal Community Partners)

For the past 3 years Nick and Laura Armstrong have been working with refugees in Boise, ID. Over 50% of the refugees coming to Boise are Muslim, and not everyone in the community is ready to welcome them. So Nick and Laura built relationships with 45 local churches to train and mobilize Christian families to start a friendship with a refugee family. I asked Nick to share about the refugees’ rocky path to starting a new life in America.

JB: How does a refugee end up in Boise, ID?

NA: It’s actually quite difficult to come to America as a refugee. About 1% of the over 21 million refugees in the world get resettled to a “third country” such as the US (for example, a Syrian flees to Jordan and gets refugee status there and then applies for a third country resettlement) and about half of those actually get approved to come to the US. Those refugees who get approved to come to the US go through a vetting process that is, by far, the most stringent of any entrant classification (e.g. tourist, student, business visa), and it takes a minimum of 18 months to go through the US vetting process which includes the involvement of the National Counter-terrorist Center, the FBI, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense) with an average time of 3 years to pass through a stringent vetting process before they can come to the US. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in cooperation with “3rd country” resettlement governments determine where a refugee will go, which means they could end up in Finland as easily as in Boise, ID. The family ties a refugee has in a “3rd country” can influence that decision, but there are no guarantees.

JB: Who takes care of them once they arrive in Boise?

NA: The Organization for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Washington D.C. coordinates with resettlement agencies such as World Relief, to determine the allocation of refugees to the various resettlement cities and agencies throughout the US. In the case of Idaho, once the refugees arrive, they receive an 8-month Transitional Refugee Assistance (TRA) from the resettlement agency which receives federal government funding. There is additional financial support from state and local governments. This helps them to rent a home, look for a job, get kids signed up in school, get medical coverage, join English language classes, etc.

Our role in this process is to help the newcomers to find local friends. They’ve lost their friends and community, and we want them to find new friends and a new sense of community in Boise. These new friends can also offer much needed social capital to people who need as many positive connection points to the community as they can get.

JB: What are some of the challenges resettled refugees face?

NA: These refugees have spent their most recent years in camps, etc., with a service-oriented mindset. They fled their homes with nothing, so everything had to be provided for them. They arrive in a similar place of need and similar mindset. They need integration and independence skills, especially language, and this takes time and a lot of help.

Many refugees come with various degrees of mental stress and traumas from the past, some come with PTSD. Most come with feelings of isolation and grieving tremendous loss. They need healing for their hearts. Some are finding healing and a new sense of community. But a few, like one woman we know whose PTSD is so overwhelming she continues to hide in her home after 2 years, need more help than the 8-month government program. They need a loving community who will reach out and walk with them through this tough transition.

JB: How have the citizens of Boise responded to the refugees?

NA: Well, I think that overall Boise has been a very open city with a mayor who has led the way in reaching out to refugees, recognizing the many benefits they can bring to the community. Having said that, there are still instances of hate crimes and bullying. The recent political climate has stirred up fear of refugees being potential terrorists, although the data doesn’t support such fear. Since 1975 over 3 million refugees have entered the US, and not one single terrorist attack on US soil has been perpetrated by a refugee! Our refugee crime rates are lower than the general populace. So that’s one of the challenges for us, to educate people and especially the churches that we work with to cast aside their fears and offer true friendship.

In our program, we require each Christian family to commit to weekly visits for 3 months with a refugee family, after that their level of involvement is up to them. I’m happy to share that 44 of the 45 Christian families in the friendship program have continued long past the original deadline and are delighted by the two-way friendships they’ve developed with the refugee families.

JB: Nick, I want to thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing! I love showcasing people on my blog who really live out “love your neighbor as yourself.” God bless you and your work!





Unifying America

9 01 2017
from HGTV website

Chip Gaines on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”

Generally, those who have reviewed my novels on terrorism and peacemaking have been encouraging if not enthusiastic. However, I was recently blessed by a brutally honest reviewer who objected to some aspects of my newest book, A VIOLENT LIGHT.

This reviewer drew conclusions that because some characters in the book acted the way they did, that I must be anti-law enforcement, anti-veterans, anti-gun owners, anti-self-defense, and anti-sharing your faith. This person decided that because of how some characters tried to build bridges across the religious divide, that I must be a universalist. All of these assumptions were incorrect.

I felt the parallels right away when I read about HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines from the show “Fixer Upper” getting blasted as LGBT haters because they attend a church that preaches that Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman.

I love Chip’s response: “We want to help initiate conversations between people that don’t think alike. Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

Those who attacked Chip and Joanna are similar to the reviewer who struggled with my novel—they perceive issues through dichotomous, black-and-white thinking: “If it’s not this, it must be that.”

  • If you don’t support the war, you must be disrespecting our veterans
  • If you don’t support gay marriage, you must hate those of LGBT identities
  • If you don’t try to convince people of other religions that your religion is superior to theirs, you must be a universalist

We heard plenty of this narrow thinking during the recent presidential campaign. One friend basically told me, “If you are critical of anything Trump has said or done, you must be supporting Hilary,” while another implied, “If you agree with any one thing Trump has said or done, you must be endorsing racism, sexism, xenophobia and a host of other evils.” Neither of these people took the time to actually understand what I thought about either candidate or the issues, having instantly pigeon-holed me with “not this, so that” thinking.

I know some of my Christian friends question why I work for peace alongside Muslims when, according to their thinking, I should be convincing Muslims to agree with my religious views first before working with them. Once again, here’s Chip’s brilliant perspective: “If your position only extends love to the people who agree with you, we want to respectfully challenge that position. We propose operating with a love so real and true that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the very people that are most unlike you.

“Fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side. This is how a house gets unified.”

What a good word for America, and for our world! Disagreement should never limit our capacity to love and serve others. Can we post this on the wall of the Senate and House chambers? How about at city-wide pastors’ meetings? Or at any community event?

The truth is that most issues are complex, most people are complex, and anyone who tries to get a group of people to agree on every single thing is probably a cult leader. Assuming that someone who disagrees with us must be on the opposite end of the spectrum from us, must be intolerant or a hater, does not extend to them the grace that we wish would be extended to us in all of our complexity.

Where I live and pursue peace in Indonesia, our current president Joko Widodo models well what Chip is saying. While the extremists were issuing fatwas forbidding Muslims from even wishing Christians a “Merry Christmas,” our Muslim president ignored them and joined the Christians in their Christmas celebrations. Yasser Arafat did the same every Christmas between 1995-2000 attending Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Armenian church celebrations with the Christian minorities in Bethlehem.

Both cases opened the door to accusations from the black-and-white thinkers. Christians speculated that the president must have become a Christian. Muslim extremists concluded that the president must have left the true faith. Both sides were guilty of dichotomous fallacies; the truth was that though Joko Widodo and Yasser Arafat disagreed with the minority Christians in matters of religion, it didn’t stop them from showing honor, support, and perhaps even love. Nelson Mandela, a Christian, experienced the same treatment when joining prayers at a mosque of minority Muslims in South Africa. But these men rose above such narrow thinking because “this is how a house gets unified.”

Our divided nation cannot wait for us all to agree as a prerequisite to progress. It’s time we “roll up our sleeves and work alongside the very people most unlike us.” As we do, we’ll learn to understand each other, and undoubtedly change each other in the process.





Christmas in the Bible and the Al Qur’an

19 12 2016
Govert Flinck – Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds (1639)

Govert Flinck – Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds (1639)

“Why do you think God announced the birth of Al Masih (the Messiah) to shepherds?” I asked my Muslim friend.

We had been talking about the Christmas story, and how the Al-Qur’an and the Bible emphasize different aspects of the story, but the Bible definitely includes a lot more detail.

Already mentioned were the similarities between the two accounts—of God visiting the virgin Mary to announce to her the miracle He was about to do by giving her a special son. The Bible tells how God chooses the boy’s name to be “Jesus,” literally, “God saves,” and that he will be called “Son of God” and rule over an everlasting kingdom. (Luke 1:26-38) Later God adds to the shepherds that Jesus is the “Savior…Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:1-20) The Al Qur’an contributes that Jesus is a “mercy” from God, His Word and Spirit. (Surah Al-Maryam 19:16-21; Surah Al-Nisa 4:171)

The chapter of the Al-Qur’an named after Jesus’ mother Mary (Surah Al-Maryam) focuses in on the story of how Mary’s neighbors reacted wrongly to this immaculate conception, causing Mary to take refuge from them outside the village, but how God took care of her there.

The Bible accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke use a panoramic view to include several other characters in the story, such as the sky being filled with singing angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, and the star leading wise men from the east to bring their gifts in worship to a new “king.”

So I asked my friend, why not announce Jesus’ birth to the governor or the king? Why not to the religious leaders? Why shepherds?

“Rich people often use their wealth for evil,” he replied. “Maybe the shepherds had pure hearts.”

“That’s so true,” I agreed. “And I think God wants us to know that He sees all of us. He sees the everyday people, like the shepherds, and He wants to include them in what He’s doing.”

“I have some goats,” my friend boasted. “I’m a shepherd too, you know.”

I smiled at him. Yes, I did know. And I knew that he lived a self-sacrificing life trying to raise four children after the untimely death of his wife, but he had never resorted to wrong ways of obtaining money. He’d worked hard, treated people well, and trusted God. He had a pure heart. And I knew God saw this, and loved him.

“How about this one?” I continued. “Why did God announce the Messiah’s birth to foreign wise men? Were there no wise men in Israel?”

My friend had no answer for this. So I shared my idea: “I think God wanted us to know that this Messiah’s birth was not just for the people of one country, but for everyone around the world.” And for me living in Indonesia, I wanted to add, “I’m a foreigner too, you know.”

No other birth in history has been marked with so many signs—a special star, a heavenly choir, a virgin-birth miracle, so many people receiving dreams and visitations, numerous prophecies fulfilled… No other baby has been given such illustrious names to live up to—Savior, Son of God, eternal King, God’s Word and Spirit, God’s mercy to mankind… Truly this is a birthday worthy of being remembered by Christians, Muslims, and anyone who respects what Jesus brought to this earth.

But for my friend and me, this Christmas we’re challenged to remember that God cares enough about us to include us in what He’s doing—even if we’re only lowly goatherds or foreigners—perhaps He’s just looking for someone with an open heart.

Merry Christmas!





The Battle for our Children

26 08 2016

021 (2)A lovely young woman (we’ll call her “Star”) wearing a head covering came into our office recently to apply for the position of Peace Generation Coordinator that we had advertised. She already had a master’s degree and seemed to be from a family of some wealth, so I was surprised to hear how she spent her free time.

Star is a member of a social-change-focused group called “the Gus Durians” after Indonesia’s former president Gus Dur. As a bit of background, Gus Dur once was probably the most famous Muslim cleric in the nation, and a constant voice for righteousness against a corrupt and abusive government, when an ugly dispute between various parties in the parliament resulted in his name being put forward as a “neutral” choice for president. He wasn’t really equipped to be a politician, and after calling the squabbling legislators “a bunch of kindergartners” he was impeached.

However, Gus Dur is not remembered for that brief political implosion, but for his years of championing human rights and especially minority rights. For example, every year he took flak from his Muslim colleagues for attending Christmas services at a Christian church, in solidarity with this religious minority.

The Gus Durians have carried on his legacy after his death. Star and her small group have actively sought out every minority group they could find in our city to ascertain their needs and offer help and support in whatever way they could. They approached Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah (a Muslim fringe group often persecuted as a “cult”), Communists, LGBT (homosexual activity is illegal in Indonesia), street kids, etc.

It’s the street kids’ story that I want to write about. My wife works with street kids, elementary school dropouts, beggars, trash-pickers, and other poor kids. On the recent Idul Fitri holiday, she served lunch to 80 of them in our home! But there are others working with street kids too.

Star discovered a half-way house for street kids in the high-crime district of our city. She and her friend sat with the leader to ask about his ministry. Then he began asking about their group, and when she mentioned searching for the LGBT community, he edged forward intensely, pressing them about where the homosexuals gather. At first they were taken aback and evaded his questions. As they probed deeper, they uncovered that this leader of the street kids’ ministry was also a member of FPI, the “Islamic Defenders Front,” that had attacked churches, burned down Ahmadiyah mosques, forcibly closed night clubs, and wanted to destroy the LGBT community as well! They felt fortunate they hadn’t given out any more information and got out of there as fast as they could!

All this to say…the battle between peacemaking and terrorism begins with our children. Our Peace Generation curriculum has already taught thousands of kids the values of peace, but we’re not the only voice in our city. Others are teaching the values of prejudice, hate and violence.

It’s too late if we wait until they grow up and join ISIS, then put a bounty on their heads and kill them. We need to act NOW to raise the children of our world to know that God loves them, and that He wants us to love all the other children of the world too. We must do all we can to raise a young generation—Christian, Muslim and other—with a new set of values of peace.





Is Jesus the “Son of God”?

21 02 2016

Jesus statue Rio   Recently I was having a meal in my home with a Muslim brother who often quotes the Bible to me and has a high honor for Jesus. I loved his openness to talk about Jesus, and wanted him to know that at least some of the differences between how Muslims and Christians talk about Jesus (not all) have their roots in historic and linguistic differences.

So I began to share about the phrase “son of God,” which is so difficult for Muslims to accept. The Qur’an clearly states that God cannot have a walad, or a biological offspring. Of course, all Christians would agree—Jesus’ sonship has nothing biological about it. So why did the Qur’an emphasize this point?

In the era of the Prophets of Israel, everyone was looking forward to the coming Messiah. He would be the “Anointed One,” the King who ushers in God’s Kingdom, the offspring of King David.

This concept of a King anointed by God to rule invoked a special relationship with God, which God chose to describe as a “Father-Son” relationship. In Psalm 89:20-27, we read that God called David his “firstborn,” and that David was to call God “Father.” This is even clearer in the case of Solomon, where God declares:

“I will be his a¯b (father), and he shall be my ben (son).”

Did you realize Jesus was not the first person to be called God’s son? But as Messiah, and rightful King, God spoke from the sky a similar pronouncement over Jesus in Luke 3:22:

“You are my ben (son), whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

So for a 1st century Jew, hearing a voice from heaven calling Jesus “the Son of God” would be understood as declaring him to be the Messiah (see also Matthew 16:16).

Now fast-forward to the 7th century and the birth of Islam. The Christian faith had spread throughout Greek and Roman culture, which both had religious traditions of major gods having sexual relations with other gods or with mankind to produce offspring, or minor gods—making the phrase “son of god” susceptible to more elastic interpretation. The Arabs themselves had centuries ago left the monotheism of Abraham and his son Ishmael and turned to worshiping a plurality of gods, which included male gods, female goddesses, and gods who were their offspring. There needed to be a clear call back to monotheism, to exalt God’s Oneness, and make it clear that He could have no offspring  (no walad, as opposed to the slightly more flexible Arabic word for “son” which is ibn, and has been used symbolically–like ben–in other Arabic texts).

While Christians believe that Jesus did have a unique relationship with God as the “eternal Word of God made flesh,” (John 1:1-14) the term “son” should not be a dividing point between Muslims and Christians, but a point of agreement. Jesus was not a walad, a biological son—far be it from God to have biological offspring—but an anointed Messiah-King, the “Al-Masih” mentioned in the Qur’an.

For those who want to explore many other Muslim-Christian misunderstandings based on historical or linguistic differences, let me recommend these two sources:

1) short video lectures on “Jesus in the Qur’an” accompanied by excellent articles from reputable Christian and Muslim scholars who are finding common ground at http://equalaccess.org.au/index.php/resources/videos

2) the outstanding book by Mark Siljander, A Deadly Misunderstanding, available at www.amazon.com or at http://www.adeadlymisunderstanding.com/

So when someone asks you, “Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?” take a moment to understand what the person is really asking. Don’t let the terms divide you, when in reality you may believe much the same thing!





Web Interview with Jim on Loving God and Others

2 02 2015

bc12e5bb[1]   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!