My Voice, Your Voice, His Voice

3 10 2016

It’s always a good feeling to be interviewed—whether on television or by a child doing homework for AWANA—it’s affirming to know that someone wants to hear what I have to say, that my voice is being heard.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about 99% of the issues in our world. I love to listen to what others are saying, and do my best to hear God’s voice amidst the chatter. But there are a few issues that I care deeply about, to which I’ve given my life.

So if you’d like to hear my thoughts about any of the following topics (and much more!), in a moment I’ll direct you to three new places to connect with me!

  • What inspired you to write about ISIS?
  • Is ISIS coming to America?
  • Are jihad attacks more likely to come from refugees, illegal immigrants, or US citizens?
  • Is Islam a peaceful religion, or are its true followers those who promote violence?
  • What could healing Abraham’s broken family look like today?
  • What authors or books have influenced you?
  • What’s your favorite book of all time?
  • What’s your response to this current presidential election?

You can find recent interviews I’ve done at the following websites:

http://mybookplace.net/jim-baton/

https://anita-thoughtsonchristianity.blogspot.co.id/

Also, if you drop by your local Christian bookstore and pick up the November issue (already on shelves today) of Today’s Christian Living magazine, you’ll find my award-winning article, “Christmas with a Killer.”

I take the responsibility of my platform to speak very seriously. If you have a blog, Facebook page, magazine, newsletter, church or small group, and you’d like me to write something for you on the topics of Islam, peacemaking, writing, or prayer, please contact me!

And whatever platform God has given you, I hope you are developing the message He wants you to speak into your sphere of influence. Your voice needs to be heard! It’s time for us to believe that His voice can speak through your voice and my voice.

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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!





#LoveYourNeighbor

8 10 2015
A demonstrator holds a sign at a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" across the street from the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015.  Arizona police stepped up security near a mosque on Friday ahead of a planned anti-Islam demonstration featuring displays of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, weeks after a similar contest in Texas came under attack from two gunmen.  REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec

A demonstrator holds a sign at a “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II” across the street from the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015. Arizona police stepped up security near a mosque on Friday ahead of a planned anti-Islam demonstration featuring displays of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, weeks after a similar contest in Texas came under attack from two gunmen. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec

In my last blog I let you know about the anti-Muslim protests planned for this weekend. In this update, I want to share with you what just one person is doing about it.

Catherine Orsborn is from Shoulder to Shoulder, a Peace Catalyst-related organization. Here’s a letter explaining how she is rallying people to respond:

Hi, all,

Thank you so much for all of you who have made connections with your local clergy in the lead-up to this weekend’s hate rallies targeting Muslims.  We’re sending the below email out to the Shoulder to Shoulder community lists tonight to mobilize a mass social media move against the hate rallies this weekend.  It’s been complicated trying to organize local communities on this because most of the Islamic Centers we have connected with do not want any extra media attention brought to these protests, and therefore are asking us to refrain from counter-events- we got coverage in the Huffington Post on this point.  However, we need to be out in public showing our opposition to this hate, so have been working with some other national groups on social media strategy.  It’s included in the note below.

Our asks for you: Will you 1) use your denominational or organizational owned social media to participate in this social media campaign starting this Friday at 3 pm (not before, please, to concentrate the timing with our national partners!), 2) send this note out to your communities as you’re able, and 3) have your head of denomination or other high profile clergy participate in a tweet, and send it to us (@S2SCampaign or Catherine.Orsborn@s2scampaign.org) so we can highlight many religious leaders speaking out at this critical time.

Thank you!

In solidarity,

Catherine

This weekend:  #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked

Many of you have heard by now that there are a number of anti-Muslim events planned to take place around the country on October 10 (this Saturday).  Our partners at the Center for New Community are tracking these on this site and have an interactive map where you can see the locations, with links to the Facebook pages, for the events.  These are demonstrations of hate that go against the values of our religious traditions to love and extend hospitality to our neighbors, and against the highest ideals of our nation.

We know that there are Shoulder to Shoulder partners, along with concerned clergy, communities and individuals, around the country who have been actively fighting against anti-Muslim bigotry in their communities and building long-term relationships with their Muslim neighbors for a long time.  Public demonstrations of hate targeting the Muslim community are the reason Shoulder to Shoulder exists as a network of religious and interfaith individuals and groups.  This is a time when the Muslim community needs to hear and see our support.  Our national leaders are speaking out against this, as are many local clergy.

If you have not already, we encourage you to check on this map to see if there’s an event planned near you, and reach out to your Muslim friends and neighbors, and to interfaith networks that are in conversation with the local Muslim community.  Offer to help or to stand with them in solidarity, and ask them what they would like their friends from other religious communities to be doing right now to show support for American Muslims.

Many local Muslim groups have asked that people not turn out in large groups to the protests in order to avoid giving these groups more media attention than they have already gotten.  Other local groups may want interfaith allies to show their support through turning out people to surround the Islamic Centers (or perhaps another Islamic Center nearby) in a ring of solidarity.  Regardless, our nation and the world needs to know that this type of anti-Muslim hate doesn’t go unchallenged by our faith communities.  Whether or not your local Islamic Center wants a physical display of support from their interfaith partners this weekend, and even if you live in a location with no protests, we are encouraging everyone to participate in a social media pushback against this hate.

Join us starting this Friday at 3 pm EST (please wait until then to maximize social media takeover potential) on Twitter and Facebook to begin the nationwide social media pushback against these hateful acts.  We are using the hashtags #LoveYourNeighbor and #HateUnchecked, and we encourage you to post photos, videos or other sharable content with these.  Here’s a Facebook event page concentrated on the #HateUnchecked piece of this campaign, and as an inter-religious organization, we have added #LoveYourNeighbor.  Some ideas for social media engagement:

  • Post a photo that shows positive interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims in your community (from a dinner, a service project, or just hanging out), tagged with #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked
  • Post a quote from your religious tradition (scripture, a quote from a religious leader, etc) tagged with #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked
  • Post a video of yourself or with others stating what in your religious tradition drives you to stand against this hate, tagged with #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked
  • Post a photo of yourself (in clerical clothing, if that applies to you) – alone or with others in your community- holding the attached sign and tag with #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked
  • Some sample tweets:

o   Silence from the majority will destroy our country.  We can no longer sit back.  We must all raise our voices against #HateUnchecked.  #LoveYourNeighbor

o   My religious tradition teaches us to #LoveYourNeighbor.  We won’t sit silently when there is #HateUnchecked.

o   Our country is at its best when all communities are treated with equal dignity and respect #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked

o   “Do unto others” means religious freedom for all #LoveYourNeighbor #HateUnchecked

If you want to get together with others this weekend, you might consider hosting a public watch party of Unity Production Foundation’s new short film, “American Muslims: Facts vs Fiction” or one of their many other excellent productions on Islam, and hold a conversation about the issue of anti-Muslim bigotry in America.

There are many ways to engage and stand up with your Muslim neighbors this weekend.  Please tweet at us @S2SCampaign and let us know what your community does to come together in support of American Muslims this weekend!

In Solidarity,

Catherine

Personally, I love Catherine’s creative response! If you’d like to see another one, I’ll leave you with a link to a very different kind of response, but equally beautiful, that was successfully tried before (the photo beginning this article comes from this event):  http://tempe.redemptionaz.com/resources/blog-posts/detail/a-bright-night-for-the-church-a-recap-of-the-phoenix-mosque-protest/

Thank you for caring enough to take time to look at these links. Our country is not under attack by Islam. It is under attack by hate and prejudice. These can be found in people claiming any religious faith.

Is our love big enough to take this challenge? #LoveYourNeighbor





Love Excludes Prejudice

4 10 2015

mosque protest

 

There are anti-Islam protests—some armed—planned across America this Sunday, October 10th. Please take a moment to read about it here: http://imagine2050.newcomm.org/2015/09/29/anti-muslim-protests-some-armed-planned-for-at-least-20-sites-across-the-country/

How does that article make you feel? Is it possible to be a patriot and yet love your neighbor too?

This Sunday my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful church service in Indonesia, specifically for the poor, the prostitutes, and the mentally insane. About 60 people, or half the congregation, came from this last group. These were women who used to wander the streets naked, or were rejected by their families because they had become unable to function in the world. Some of them still don’t speak at all. But they were welcome at this special church service for them.

I noticed the worship band was made up of good-looking, smartly dressed young people who were there to serve others. As they sang, everyone was invited to dance to the music, which many of the crazy people seemed to really enjoy. Those able to speak were invited to take the stage and share how God had answered their prayers. It was a beautiful, joyful moment in the week when everyone’s individual problems could be put aside to belong to God’s family together.

The next morning I was reading the Passion translation of the Bible, and came across this heading to James chapter 2: The Royal Law of Love Excludes Prejudice. Verses 8-9 instruct us: Your calling is to fulfill the royal law of love as given to us in this Scripture: “You must love and value your neighbor as you love and value yourself!” For keeping this law is the noble way to live. But when you show prejudice you commit sin and you violate this royal law of love!

Here James is quoting both Moses and Jesus. He reminds us that following Jesus doesn’t mean there is no law—the Law of Love has become our “noble way to live.”

This love excludes all forms of prejudice. Whether it’s telling a black person to sit in the back of the bus, or giving a woman lower wages than a man for the same job, or refusing to sell your wedding cakes to a homosexual, or protesting the building of a mosque/church/any other house of worship in your community, or talking about any group of people with negative stereotypes—there is no room in the Royal Law of Love for any kind of prejudice.

The offering this church took from the poor and crazy I doubt would cover the cost of electricity for their sound system or their bread and juice for communion. Did they really need a full worship band with five vocalists and two dancers? After all, half the congregation might go home and immediately forget everything that happened. This church gave their best for the poor just as they probably had given in an earlier service that morning for the rich.

So I ask the American Christians reading this blog—is protesting at Islamic Centers across the nation the best we can give our Muslim neighbors? If not, what could we give them that shows our love? I’m talking about showing the same kind of love if those were our church members being victimized by hate? If that protest was outside our church, instead of our neighbor’s house of worship, what would we do?

One of the great challenges of being a peacemaker is loving all sides of an issue—loving the victimized Muslim neighbor, and loving the protesters shouting their hate at the same time. For those of you living in one of the targeted cities, I encourage you to ask God for your own creative way to fight prejudice with the Royal Law of Love.

“For keeping this law is the noble way to live.”





Where will my journey end?

9 08 2015

   I read a fascinating story recently about a man named Ed. Ed’s parents were religious, but felt that faith should be confined to yourself and your immediate faith community. In high school, Ed met some teenagers who were on fire for their faith and concerned about its global advancement. He joined their youth group and soon was on fire for his faith too.

Then Ed met a group that was even more radical, and he joined them. These guys were bold enough to stand up in public places and preach, challenge atheists to debates, and organize events to protest the government’s ungodly actions. Ed became a leader in this group, and started cell groups in several universities. He loved their organized approach to how they systematically targeted groups of people with their message, discipled them in their core beliefs, and believed their message would one day change the whole world.

Ed considered himself a “born-again” follower of the truth, one of the real disciples of the faith. But then a series of events exposed chinks in his spiritual armor.

First, he noticed that he and his leaders were so busy mobilizing, recruiting and preaching that they rarely had time to pray. He began to wonder which God wanted more—all the world to hear this message, or his heart?

Second, he met a girl. She shared his faith, but not his intensity. He realized that while he was always serious, she was happy. Not only that, she was kind and compassionate to others. She asked him how his radicalness could be good if it drove a wedge between him and his parents?

The last straw came when an argument broke out between someone from his cell group and a college student from another religion. The argument turned into a fight, and the other guy was killed.

Ed realized he had often preached on the superiority of his religion and God’s hatred against those that rejected it. He had never imagined his message could be interpreted that it was okay to kill another human being.

Ed left the radical group and began an intensely personal pursuit of God for his own heart. Along the way he met other charismatic leaders who spoke of God’s love for him and for the whole world. Ed realized that he had lived a life of religious fervor, but not one born out of love.

As his heart changed, he began to find himself able to love and accept those from different backgrounds and religions, and Ed became a peacemaker.

Reading this story reminded me in ways of my own spiritual journey, as well as many of my friends. We grew up in Christian homes. Ed grew up in a Muslim home. Yet our paths have remarkable similarities.

In any religion, there is a danger of being so consumed with our religion’s progress and advancement that we lose touch with God’s wooing of our hearts. Jesus put it this way: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26 New Living Translation)

I also love the litmus test for true spirituality the Bible gives us in I Corinthians 13:1-3 (the Message translation):

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

In every human heart, no matter what ethnic, religious, or social background people come from, there is a longing to be loved and to love. God created that longing in us, because it’s how He wants to relate to us. As Jesus’ disciple John wrote, “The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.” (I John 4:8 the Message translation)

I recommend Ed Husain’s book The Islamist (http://www.amazon.com/The-Islamist-Became-Islamic-Fundamentalist/dp/0143115987 ) to all my Christian friends, to help you understand some of the different faces of Islam, how ordinary people get caught up in the radical groups, and how many also find a way out. I recommend it to my Muslim friends for the same reason.

And for all my friends, I bless you on your spiritual journeys to encounter the God of love who is wooing your heart today.

 

 





Jihad and Jesus

21 01 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





What do Muslims Believe?

21 02 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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