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.

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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)





My Response to SOMEONE HAS TO DIE — by “Grace”

10 06 2012

Flag used by Caucasian jihadists in 2002. The ...

JIM’S BOOK BROUGHT HEALING TO MY HEART OVER MEMORIES OF MY CHILDHOOD IN THE MIDDLE EAST

When I read “Someone Has to Die,” I couldn’t put it down. I read it till about 4:30 in the morning till I finished. It was well-written, fast-paced, action-packed, emotionally rich, and relationally challenging. It reminded me of some wild experiences I had as a child growing up in the Middle East. The best part was the LOVE displayed by characters in the book, both Muslim and Christian–that was phenomenal. It is that kind of love that brings a sense of peace to the most chaotic circumstances.

The story was beautiful and moving; but beyond that, there was, for me, a stirring in my spirit. The story churned up my own story; and I needed resolution. So first thing when I woke up I went to one of my favorite places to pray. When I was eleven years old my family moved to a war-torn Islamic country. I thought of it as a grand adventure and an adrenaline rush, even in some very scary times. As an adult I have been gradually realizing that many of my childhood ways of thinking and feeling weren’t based in reality. We were in genuine danger sometimes. And there were probably more feelings I should have been having than just, “Oh, how exciting.” So when I went to pray the morning after I finished the book, I asked God what feelings he had about those events.

I remembered one time I was riding the bus with my mom, my siblings and some other expatriates. These wild, armed men kept trying to steal a ride, (or maybe rob us), and a guy at the door would bribe them to go away. Finally, the driver got so mad because the bribe money had run out so the next time some of these thugs tried to flag us down, he just kept driving. Then it was their turn to get mad, and they shot out the side view mirror. The driver stopped then; and a bunch of wild-haired men came pouring onto the bus. One motioned for my brother to move over close to me and sat down in the aisle seat. Others found places on the stairs. We rode maybe 3 or 4 hours like that. At one point, a boy came on the bus with a basket of pomegranates and the hitchhikers stole some from him. He ran off yelling and throwing rocks back toward the bus. Typical of Middle Eastern hospitality, the thieves then offered us some! We said no. My brother and I, wide-eyed in amazement at this new home of ours, thought of it as a grand adventure, as usual.

So when I went to pray the morning after reading “Someone Has to Die,” I remembered this story, and I started to feel the compassion of Jesus towards these men. I started saying, “Isa Masih! Rahman o Rahim!” over and over again. Mostly when starting a journey or anything of significance, Muslim people say, “Bismillah Rahman o Rahim” –it means, “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” I felt the compassion of Christ, so I was saying, “Jesus Christ, the Compassionate, the Merciful!” I always KNEW we should love our enemies, but I FELT it in a new way.  I had never really thought of those men on the bus as enemies anyways; they were just characters in my fantastic adventure story. Suddenly they were not just characters anymore; but people that Jesus feels great compassion for and on whom he longs to have mercy. Then I remembered the verse where Jesus says,  “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me….And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-41, NIV) And again, suddenly, I saw our journey in this war-torn country with its deep and pervasive hospitality in a new light. Could Jesus be showing His compassion and mercy by allowing people to show hospitality to us, even as children with very little understanding—to receive us—even to offer us stolen pomegranates? Could that have been a sign of his mercy even to these men?

So then, I asked God to give me compassion for some extremist Muslim men who killed the father of a very close friend. They killed him for no reason, when he was working for the good of other Muslim people. I feel God’s desire for these terrorists. His sorrow over the darkness they carry. His anger over the lies they believe that keep them in chains, bound to a lifestyle of violence and hatred. He wants them; He wants them for Himself, to set them free, and to give them peace instead of war, compassion instead of hatred, life instead of death. That’s God’s wish and hope for those men.

Jim Baton’s book tells a story—a story of people who love and of people who hate; a story of children caught in conflict; a story of what happens to people who don’t understand the love of God and those who do. By itself this book is an interesting, stimulating, thought-provoking read. But I believe that when a reader is open to dialogue with the Spirit of God about this, then the true value of what Jim has written comes to light. It is a tool in the hands of God himself–a tool I believe He will use to bring peace and reconciliation, justice and compassion, understanding and mercy, friendship and love.

—“Grace”

How did God speak to your heart when reading SOMEONE HAS TO DIE?  Write in and let others know!