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?

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From North Carolina with (Fearless) Love

24 07 2016

welcoming refugees   I just got back to our work in Indonesia after an encouraging month’s tour in the USA, promoting my book A WAY OUT OF HELL and meeting people with a similar passion for peace.

The most exciting stop on my tour was in North Carolina, where I reconnected with my dear friend and Peace Catalyst International colleague, Thomas Davis, an extraordinary bridge-builder and peacemaker both in his hometown and in several nations around the world. (You can read Thomas’s amazing stories at his blog: http://www.incomparabletreasure.com/. You can see his Muslim Christian Dinner Club, read his post on “Jesus–Messiah, Feminist, Friend of Outsiders, Savior of the World” and so much more.)

Thomas invited about 20 Christian friends to a dinner to hear me share about our peacemaking work in Indonesia, but I went home astounded at what Thomas’s friends are doing in their own communities!

  • Some are helping international students, including Muslims, to adapt to their new surroundings in America and find local friends who will care for them
  • Others are involved with some Iranian Muslims reading the Qur’an and the Bible together
  • Still others have joined Thomas’s Dinner Club, where several families from the church and from the mosque regularly eat together, rotating to different members’ houses, with no agenda except to enjoy one another’s friendship
  • Out of this Dinner Club came the idea of joining together to help refugees fleeing the Middle East. Can you imagine a Syrian family arriving in America, and at the airport a local Muslim family and a Christian family are waiting side-by-side to welcome them to America and help them start a brand new life? Isn’t that outrageously beautiful?

My last post asked some tough questions of my fellow Americans; my trip to North Carolina reassured me that there are still those Christians in America who have rejected fear and have chosen to reach out in love. “Love your enemy” was always meant to change us, for if we no longer see an enemy, but the object of our affections, we begin to see the whole world as “friends and future friends.”

If you feel emboldened to start something small in your hometown that builds bridges between Christians and Muslims, please let me know! Perhaps Thomas or myself or others would be able to help you take that first step.





The Jihad of Jesus

11 04 2016

The Jihad of Jesus book cover   I remember well the Q&A session in one of the many interfaith events we’ve organized over the years. An angry Christian stood up and declared, “As long as the word jihad exists, there will never be peace between our two religions!” The room was deathly silent, demanding the right response given in the right spirit.

From the platform, one of the speakers, the Orthodox Christian Bambang Noorsena, looked at his dear Muslim friend and presenter next to him, and said, “Let me answer this question.

“The term jihad is a perfectly wonderful term found not only in the Al Qur’an, but also in the Bible.” The audience was shocked. Bambang then quoted a verse from his Arabic New Testament about our “struggle” in the faith. I can’t recall which verse he quoted, since there are more than 10 mentions of jihad in the New Testament, but it might have been one of these:

“I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight [jihad] we’re in.” I Timothy 1:18, The Message

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish [jihad] against the Devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:12 The Message

“I have fought the good fight [jihad], I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

There is a “holy struggle” we all engage in—not against people who are different than we are—but against worldly values, temptations to our flesh and the devil. In Indonesia, we’ve actually published a book called True Jihad which shows from the Al Qur’an that jihad today should only be fought against the world, the flesh and the devil! There are many Muslims who believe and practice this positive understanding of jihad.

But the best book I’ve ever read on the topic is Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. His book allows us to look in the mirror as both Christians and Muslims at how our “holy wars” have gotten away from God’s desire for us to struggle with faith, hope and love. Then he shares the struggle we should all be on.

>>For Muslims, it’s struggling to live out the Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (“In the name of God, the most Merciful, Most Compassionate”). This declaration of who God is begins every chapter but one in the Al Qur’an, and is recited countless times a day by the faithful. One Muslim told Dave he strives to interpret every passage of the Al Qur’an “consistent with the grace and compassion of God.” What if in every relationship, Muslims reflected God’s character of mercy and love?

>>For Christians, it’s struggling to follow Jesus—to love God, neighbor and enemy as Jesus first loved us. What if Christians put all other religious activities second to that? Dave presents a beautiful quote from Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s work Ma’an ‘ala-l-Tariq: Muhammad wa–i-Masih (p.52): “Christ was himself the message. He was the supreme example he left. He was the love which knows no hatred, the peace which knows no restlessness, the salvation which knows no perishing. And when we (Christians and Muslims—together) realize all these things on this earth, we shall then comprehend the return of the Christ.”

My early candidate for Book of the Year—you can find it at Amazon or even hear Dave share his amazing stories of peacemaking at www.jihadofjesus.com,

Buy at Amazon: The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice





A Shining Day for America

14 10 2015

bremertonmuslimsupportLike anyone, America has its good days and its bad days. October 10, 2015 was one of our good days.

Let me quote from one report about the anti-Muslim protests across our nation:

“Most of the planned protests simply didn’t happen after all. Among the few rallies that actually came together, the counter-protesters well outnumbered the anti-Muslim activists.”

In Michigan, Maryland, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington DC, hardly anyone showed up to protest, but concerned neighbors and churches were there anyway to show support.

Phoenix, AZ was the only place that actually felt like a protest, but though a lot of guns were seen, thank God it passed peacefully.

In heavy rain falling on Bremerton, WA, about 35 locals came, concerned for their Muslim neighbors (photo above). No protestors braved the storm. “We don’t mind getting wet,” one of them told Hatewatch. “It’s worth it to defend our friends.”

One of the best stories came from the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Michigan, where one lone protestor showed up. A Caucasian man exited the mosque to start a conversation with her. She thought he was Muslim and responded with “Get behind me Satan!” The man told her he was actually Jewish, and after some dialogue got her talking with some of the Muslim women from the mosque who also affirmed how much they were against the violence and murder of ISIS-type groups. The story ends with the protestor coming into the mosque to join a special breakfast they had prepared for all the protestors! She thought she was taking a stand against the enemy and discovered new friends.

Meanwhile, many interfaith groups across the country planned events to show their support for the Muslim houses of worship, some including positive social action plans.

The Huffington Post concluded that the end result of the protests, in fact, was a large outpouring of love and interfaith support for the Muslim community.

Well done, America! Thank you for your prayers for peace this weekend. Thank you to those who showed up at a mosque. Way to turn hate away and show that #LoveYourNeighbor is still worth standing in the rain for!





Dreaming of Peace

23 12 2014

???????????????????????????????????????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

16 09 2014

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.