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!





1001 MORE Ways to Die in America (part 2)

10 11 2016
huffingtonpost.com

photo from huffingtonpost.com

Recently I addressed the fear that many Americans face that Muslim jihadists may infiltrate our nation posing as refugees and conduct terrorist attacks against us. I argued that although this is possible, living in fear of such an event makes no more sense than living in fear of lightning strikes or of dying from falling out of bed—both of which caused more deaths in America last year than Muslim terrorists did.

But have you ever paused to wonder how your fellow American citizens feel, who happen to be Muslims? Do you think they might also struggle with fear that anti-Muslim vigilantes in America might attack them?

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported an estimated 260 violent attacks against Muslims in America during 2015, the highest total since the months immediately following 9/11. They hypothesized that anti-Muslim political rhetoric was the primary cause in the increase.

CNN writer Daniel Burke summarizes the vicious variety in these attacks in his article, ”The Secret Costs of Islamophobia.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html)

   Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanesegged outside Walmartscorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.

   Heavily armed men have protested outside mosques in Texas and Arizona, arguing that it’s their patriotic duty to protect the country from Islam.

   People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”

This type of behavior breaks my heart! Does it break yours? Every one of those events happened to real people—nurturing fathers, gentle mothers, children wide-eyed with innocence—people just like you and me.

If you think you have something to be afraid of because one Muslim family moved into your neighborhood, how do you think they feel, surrounded by non-Muslims, with no idea who might be a violent, gun-carrying Muslim-hater that might attack them while they’re pushing their baby in a stroller down the sidewalk?

Fear goes both ways. And in 99.999% of the cases, that fear of the unknown can be shattered by walking up and introducing yourself, getting to know your neighbor, and starting a friendship. Every Muslim American needs non-Muslim friends to feel safe. And every Muslim you reach out to in love means one less fear you’ll have to worry about on your checklist.

I challenge you—the next Muslim you see, determine in your heart to approach him or her with a smile and introduce yourself. Ask about their family, work and dreams. Then write me and tell me what happened.

And try to do this before Christmas comes and finds you singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”





Win a Free Copy of A VIOLENT LIGHT

29 10 2016

WIN A FREE COPY OF JIM’S NEW THRILLER!

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To be eligible to win one of 3 giveaway copies of A VIOLENT LIGHT, here’s all you have to do:

 

  • Post a review of at least 2 sentences of SOMEONE HAS TO DIE or A WAY OUT OF HELL to one of the sites listed below*, or on your Facebook page or blog
  • The more sites you post on, the more chances you have to win
  • Email me at jimbaton@gmail.com telling me where you posted
  • Your name will be entered as many times as you post for a random drawing on Christmas Eve 2016

Winners will be emailed and posted on my website by Christmas Day, books shipped by New Year’s Day.

 

*Suggested sites:

If you haven’t read one of these books yet, pick up the ebook now or mark your calendar for Black FridayCyber Monday when the paperbacks will be on sale for only $8.99.

Spread the message of PEACE for the holidays!





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.





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 .





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!