How Would Jesus Respond to the Travel Ban

2 02 2017

refugees-denied  Since President Trump issued the temporary travel ban against citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations, there has been no end of controversy. Some foreign leaders have criticized it; others have supported it. Likewise, within America, many Christian leaders have joined in protests and petitions, while others have argued its merits.

What concerns me is the spirit behind these protests—are people truly concerned about the fate of refugees from Sudan or Yemen, or are they using this as an excuse to express their rejection of President Trump? Because if they’re truly stirred up by the needs of Muslim refugees, I’d like to know whether they’ve been doing anything constructive to help refugees before Trump came into office.

Through it all, I’ve asked myself over and over again, “How would Jesus respond?” Since I claim to follow Jesus, I want my response to align with his heart.

Jesus was often counter-cultural, never politically correct. But he reserved his few harsh rebukes for hypocritical religious leaders, not for political leaders. His breaking of cultural norms was always done in order to show love to hurting individuals. He healed the sick on the Sabbath; he didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery; he asked for water from a despised Samaritan; he healed the servant of a Roman oppressor; he partied with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus never joined other Jews who were protesting the government or planning violent attacks against it. The closest he got to a protest was driving the money changers out of God’s temple—again, dealing with his own religion gone wrong.

Does that mean I don’t support protests of government policies? I affirm the right to free speech that Americans hold dear, and I believe that peaceful protests can be an effective way to bring attention to issues of justice. I have joined in peaceful protests before, and will do so again. But I’ve done so not to represent Jesus’ heart of love necessarily, but more to support a community and an ideal that I believe in.

Now back to the original question, how would Jesus respond to the travel ban? In my heart, I am convinced that Jesus would respond by loving people, and no government restrictions or cultural controversies would stop his love.

So how about those of us who follow Jesus? How many of us would take the time to march in protest, or circulate a petition, or gripe on Facebook, in defense of these Muslim nations seemingly treated unjustly, but have never taken the time to get to know the Muslims who live in our own neighborhoods, or whose kids go to school with our kids? Which shows more love—marching alongside angry protestors, or walking alongside the Muslim children in our neighborhood to make sure they get from the bus stop to their homes safely? Shouting slogans against a government policy, or whispering words of comfort to a Muslim student unable to return home to her family during Ramadan? Perhaps some of us are doing both, and I commend you. But if we have time to invest in just one type of response, what would Jesus do?

What about those refugees we refuse to allow into our borders? There are many reputable agencies helping Syrian refugees that need our donations. One of my friends even volunteered at a refugee camp in Jordan for a short time. The travel ban neither eliminates our options to serve refugees, nor our responsibility.

The greatest need of the Muslim refugees is not entry to America. They need food and shelter. They need a chance to work and provide for their families. They need people to come alongside them and help them get back on their feet. They need our prayers, our donations and our love.

As the eyes of the world look toward America’s government and criticize its leadership in this global refugee crisis, what an opportunity for the Christians of America to model a different spirit, laying down our lives to love others. By doing this we will represent our nation well, but more importantly, represent the heart of our Savior well.





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!





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!





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.

 

 





Caught in Adultery

27 02 2015

judge[1]      I was reading this morning the incredible Biblical account found in John chapter 8 of a woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus for judgment. The religious leaders who caught her wanted to stone her, in accordance with the law of Moses.

But Jesus stooped and wrote with his finger in the dust. Then he challenged them, “Let’s have the man who never had a sinful desire throw the first stone at her.” He stooped and wrote again, and one by one the men walked away.

Jesus asked, “Dear woman, where are your accusers?” Two witnesses were needed to make an accusation valid.

She answered, “I see no one, Lord.”

“Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, be free from a life of sin” (John 8:1-11 Passion Translation).

What a beautiful story! But the religious leaders weren’t happy with how this story ended. They came back to talk more with Jesus, and by the end of chapter 8 they were picking up their stones again, this time to kill Jesus!

Religion is always looking to judge someone, and there are some in any religion who feel they serve God by passing death sentences on others. Whether it’s the Jews of Jesus’ day, or the Muslim fundamentalists who still want to execute any woman caught in adultery, or we American Christians who hear of a politician’s or celebrity’s immorality and “crucify” them with our words, we are quick to condemn, quick to punish.

The natural result of such judgmentalism is that we can move from judging the adulterous woman to judging the sinless Christ simply because we need someone to judge, someone to punish. Before you know it we’re judging the pastor of our neighbor church, our peace-loving Muslim co-worker, or the man walking the street who is a different color than we are.

Both Christians and Muslims agree that Jesus is coming back to be the Judge of the Final Day. Let’s take a look at how Jesus judges. At the conclusion of the story above, Jesus makes this comment in verse 12: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never walk in darkness.”

Those who shine light to expose, punish and kill are not judging like Jesus. True peacemakers shine a light that is life-giving. This light welcomes others out of sin and condemnation into freedom.

We should all shudder to be judged by the self-appointed watchdogs of our own religions. But Jesus’ judgments are not fearful. His perfect love for us drives out our fear. His light drives out our darkness. Everything he does is life-giving.

May we become true peacemakers who do the same.





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.





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.