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Former Columbia International University student, Jason Casper, has a blog called A Sense of Belonging: The Caspers Learn of Life in Egypt.  His most recent post says there is an intriguing conversation going on between the Muslim Brotherhood and evangelicals in Egypt.  One point of the discussion says: “All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.”

This text is transcribed from documents received from the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, headed by Dr. Andrea Zaki, a chief participant in this meeting.

The text reads:

Based on a welcoming letter from Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi, President of the Protestant Community of Egypt and Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki, Vice-President, sent to the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, which addressed some public opinion issues at this critical stage in Egyptian history after the January 25th Revolution and gained the attention of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood, and based on the two parties’ communication, the General Guide called for a meeting to gather the leaders of the evangelical church and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The meeting took place on February 28, 2012, at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The General Guide has agreed to visit the headquarters of the evangelical church upon invitation.

The participants consented on the importance of the current historical moment Egypt is going through after the revolution, which requires everyone to take social and historical responsibility to advance the country. The participants emphasized that Egypt’s future depends on community cohesion and unity, and stressed on the basic values of the Egyptian society that represent its social and cultural identity and brings its citizens together.

The participants agreed on the following:

  • The sons of the country are all partners in one destiny and one future.
  • The joint struggle of all Egyptians of all segments of society, that was manifest in the January Revolution, represents the cornerstone of societal unity; the struggle reflects that full citizenship, based on equality, is the foundation of this society.
  • All sons of the country have the same rights and responsibilities as the constitution states. Equality among all citizens constructs societal unity; efficiency is the only criterion to hold a public position; and equality of economic opportunities is the basis of justice.
  • The Egyptian society is based on solidarity, interdependence and compassion among all people, which represents the bond that includes all citizens without discrimination. Therefore, education should promote the values of tolerance, solidarity and pluralism.
  • Respect for beliefs and sanctities is obligatory. Prevention of any contempt of others’ beliefs and the incitement of hatred is a compulsory social responsibility of loyal citizens.
  • Freedom of belief and religious practices as well as freedom to build or renovate religious houses – in light of the law and the right for citizens to resort to their own religious laws concerning their personal affairs along with other rights mentioned in the Islamic Sharia’ – are all considered part of the values of the Egyptian society and a base for its cultural authenticity.
  • The participation of all citizens in defending the country is the responsibility of all, and it is the crucible where all segments of society are melted and form national unity. This national unity is crucial to fighting all internal and external enemies of Egypt who want to drive a wedge between its societal segments.
  • The religious values are the motives of the renaissance. Therefore, everyone must mobilize these values to achieve a better future for Egypt.
  • Societal responsibility obliges all leaders, institutions and religious movements to fight against all types of strife, intolerance and discrimination, and consolidate the unity of society.
  • The Egyptian society’s identity represents the frame for all its people. All people have made contributions to this identity and deserve its legacy. Protection of societal values is considered the basis of cultural uniqueness and the responsibility of all citizens who contributed to building Egypt’s civilization together over time.

All participants of this meeting made emphasis on the importance of communication between the two parties to promote joint activities, especially among the youth, such as encouraging active participation, advocating for values and religious morals, and carrying the social responsibility of fighting the illness that affected the Egyptian society under the previous regime. This will guarantee everyone the right to participate in building a new Egypt that achieves the demands and dreams of the revolution.

Attendees from the Muslim Brotherhood:

  • Dr. Mohamed Badie (General Guide, Head of the Executive Office)
  • Mr. Mohamed Mahdy Akef (former General Guide)
  • Dr. Rashad Mohamed Bayoumy (Vice-General Guide)
  • Dr. Hosam Abo Bakr al-Seddik (Member of the Guidance Office)
  • Mr. Walid Shalaby (Media Counselor to the General Guide)

Attendees from The Evangelical Church in Egypt:

  • Dr. Rev. Safwat al-Bayadi (President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Dr. Rev. Andrea Zaki (Vice-President of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. George Shaker (Secretariat of the Protestant Churches in Egypt)
  • Rev. Soliman Sadek (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Fagala)
  • Dr. Rev. Makram Naguib (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Heliopolis)
  • Dr. Rev. Atef Mehanny (President of the Evangelical Seminary)
  • Dr. Helmy Samuel (Member of the Parliament)
  • Dr. Rafik Habib (Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services)
  • Rev. Refaat Fathy (Secretariat of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Rev. Sarwat Kades (Chairman of the Board of Dialogue of the Evangelical Synod)
  • Dr. Emad Ramzy (Secretariat of the Board of Directors of CEOSS)
  • Rev. Daoud Ebrahim (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Eid Salah (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Mr. Farouk al-Zabet (Head of the Congregation of the Evangelical Brethren Church)
  • Dr. Fready al-Bayadi (Member of the Council of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt)
  • Rev. Nady Labib (Head of Cairo Presbyterian Council)
  • Rev. Refaat Fekry (Pastor of the Evangelical Church in Ard Sherif)

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While teaching a course on Islam at Korntal (German branch of Columbia International University) last month, I went to Dachau, ten miles northwest of Munich.  It was the first of many Nazi POW camps, built in 1933, and a model for all other camps.   Fear and dread of Dachau was so great people prayed to escape its horrors: “Dear God, make me dumb that I may not to Dachau come.” On April 29, 1945, US soldiers freed 32,000 malnourished inmates (Slavs, political prisoners of many nationalities, criminals, gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, mentally ill and others).  Only God only knows how many perished through disease, malnutrition, execution and suicide.

Incriminating images show that Hitler took sadistic delight in torturing people.  One scene (left) is a huge memorial sculpture in memory of those who died on the high voltage fence surrounding the camp, either through suicide or in trying to escape.  I left Dachau with two sobering questions: Where was the church and could anything like that happen in our context?

Historically it was a harrowing time and conditions in Europe paved the way for the rise of a dictator. Germany was at an all-time low.  She had been forced to accept blame for Allied losses in WWI, and the 1919 Treaty of Versailles imposed reparations she could not possibly repay.  The Dutch Mark had fallen, unemployment skyrocketed, and the Great Depression gave Hitler the chance he wanted.  In 1933 with only thirty-seven percent of the vote he seized control.  Through deceit, back-room deals and demonic influence he swept democracy aside.  He controlled crime, built roads, improved the economy and restored national honor.  For such amazing success he was basically worshiped.  Even most Christians (Protestant and Catholic) adopted Nazi ideology, and buckled under governmental pressure.

Yet not everyone supported the Fuhrer and numerous attempts were made on his life.  Some saw through his religious veneer and became alarmed at his open hatred for the Jews, but few dared to oppose him.  One who eventually did speak up was the Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller, who had initially hailed the Nazis, but turned against them and helped found the Confessional Church.  For resisting he spent 1938-1945 in Dachau, the last seven years of the Nazi regime, but regretted not speaking up sooner:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The most powerful and radical opponent of Nazism, however, was Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Unlike most (including pastors), he foresaw the evil early on and railed against it: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”   In 1939 he made the heart-wrenching decision to leave the safety of America and certain death in Germany.  For conspiring to assassinate Hitler and trying to save an entire nation from the monstrous evil of Nazism he was arrested in 1943, and executed at the Flossenburg POW camp, April 9, 1945.  It was twenty-three days before the Nazi surrender and only one week before Hitler committed suicide.  Bonheoffer demonstrated the high cost of discipleship and he did so with joy and indomitable courage.

America also faces threats and it is usually assumed these will come from the outside. For the last ten years the threat of Islam has dominated our thinking and apocalyptic literature has perpetuated this fear.  For instance, From 9/11 to 666: the Convergence of Current Events, Biblical Prophecy and the Vision of Islam purports to “… Prepare the church for the fulfillment of these awful prophecies.”  The author predicts the Antichrist will be a Muslim and dates are even set for the Beast’s appearance, describing in dramatic detail what life will soon be like in the United States under Islam’s tyranny.  The Anti-Christ is indeed coming but we must not make wild predictions as to his identity.   What we can say is that he will be given power over “all inhabitants of the earth” and widely worshiped to a far greater degree than Hitler could have imagined.  He will control all business and any who refuse to do his bidding will be killed (Daniel 8:24; Revelation 13:3, 8, 16-17).

Closer to home, Bonheoffer admired some things about American Christianity, but warned of secularism.  Who can deny the prophetic truth of his words seventy years ago?   The lesson from Dachau is that we acknowledge our own propensity for evil and tendency to follow the crowd.  Current voices extol the glories of America’s past and desire to embrace an even greater future.  We too must avoid unshackled nationalism and pride in our political, economic and military accomplishments.  Moral decline, half-hearted commitment and failure to live out the gospel threaten us the most.  The greatest danger is within.

Check these titles:

Benz, Wolfgang and Barbara Distel, Eds., 2002.  Dachau and the Nazi Terror 1933-1945, Vol. II Studies and Reports).  Dacha: Verlag Dachauer Hefte.

Bonheoffer, Dietrich, 1937. The cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lutzer, Erwin W., 1995, Hitler’s Cross: The Revealing Story of how the Cross of Christ was used as a Symbol of the Nazi Agenda. Chicago: Moody Press.

Metaxas, Eric, 2010.  Bonheoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich.  Nashville, Dallas, Mexico City: Thomas Nelson.

Shirer, William, 1959. The Rise and fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster

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Chrislam: How Missionaries are promoting an Islamized Gospel

Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton & Bill Nikides, eds. i2 Ministries Publications, 344 pages, $25.

–Reviewed by Warren Larson, Former Director of the Zwemer Center, and Associate Professor of Muslim Studies, Columbia International University, South Carolina.

The best thing to be said about this book is that it addresses critical issues in mission to Muslims.  Insider movement (IM) proponents have received ample press in the past (Mission Frontiers and IJFM) and this text deems it high time to present another perspective.  It calls for careful exegesis (62-76) of passages like I Corinthians 9:19-22.  It insists Muhammad was not a prophet in any sense of the term and the Qur’an is not divinely-inspired.  It opposes removing familial language for God from Muslim-friendly translations (199-226), and though SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators have issued new guidelines saying “Son of God” will be translated literally in most cases, sees the loophole large enough to justify many problematic “exceptions.”  Many readers will resonate with such concerns but question the content and tone of this text.

Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel consists of twenty-five chapters and is written by numerous authors.  It contains a foreword, acknowledgements, preface, three appendices, bibliography, and an index.  Material is divided up into six sections that deal with various subjects, including hermeneutics, translation, missiology, testimonies/interviews of former Muslims, and resources of IM websites, an index and references from both the Bible and the Qur’an.

On the positive side, sections one and five have the most value: The first section quotes IM proponents extensively, however taken out of context, may give impressions never intended by the authors.  Section five gives Muslim converts (mostly Bengali) a voice in expressing strong opposition to IM; however other Bengalis could be called upon for the exact opposite view.  

On the negative side, the Preface (iii-iv) is especially troubling: It contains inaccuracies, misperceptions and unbiblical attitudes.  A statement in the second paragraph, “… [W]hat is at stake is not our personal relationships with brothers and sisters” suggests it does not matter what we say about fellow-believers, as long as we tell what we think is the truth.  A comment in the third paragraph makes a generalization about all IM ministries:  “… [N]o churches are planted …” Such sweeping statements set the tone for what is to follow.  This book is reactionary, primarily a work of extremes, including an alarmist and inflammatory title.  Nor is it put together well: One chapter (100-115) argues that Christians should treat Islam like an Old Testament ban, because after all, it is a pagan religion.  And Samuel Zwemer’s article (306-308) on secret believers is misplaced; a more fitting quote would have been: “We must become Moslems to the Moslem if we would gain them for Christ” (The Moslem Christ, 183). 

This book demonstrates that evangelical Christians have failed to settle an important question peacefully: To what extent can one remain culturally and religiously “Muslim” while seeking to follow Jesus?  The opinion of this reviewer is that differences of opinion on such a controversial topic can only be clarified through careful scholarship, mutual respect and face-to-face dialog.

Check these titles:

Cumming, Joseph, 2008. “Muslim Followers of Jesus?”  (Christianity Today, December).

Kateregga, Badru D. and David W. Shenk. 1999.  A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press. 

Khalil, Mohammad Hassan and Mucahit Bilici, 2007.  “Conversion Out of Islam: A Study of Conversion Narratives of Former Muslims” (The Muslim World, Volume 7).

 Zwemer, Samuel Marinus, 1912.  The Muslim Christ.  Published by the Message for Muslims Trust.

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The author begins by stating that during the cold war communism was the enemy, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Americans think Islam is the enemy.  The purpose of this book is to help us all understand that Islam is not the enemy and neither are Muslims.  They can in fact become our friends.  We should pray for them, take every opportunity to pray in their presence, and seek to witness with love and understanding.  We should seek their friendship, not simply to unload the gospel, but to become genuine friends.  In such a context, opportunities for witness will come, since most are open to discussing matters of faith.   Having befriended, witnessed and prayed with many Muslims over the years, Medearis sets a good example for the rest of us.

In an effort to help others engage Muslims in meaningful relationships, Medearis suggests a gentle steering of conversations toward Jesus, rather than focusing on apologetics, or trying to defend Israel.  He argues convincingly that if this is our goal many Muslim-Christian tensions will fall by the way side.  In short, he wants to move Christians from fear to faith and says a good place to begin is to look for common ground, like God, angels, Holy Books, Prophets and the Day of Judgment.  There are sticky points, like the Son of God, but we should not start there.

Medearis suggests that by using the Qur’an we can help Muslims think more deeply about Jesus: “[T]he Qur’an is quite possibly the greatest inroad we have to reach the hearts of our Muslim friends” (p. 66).  He arranges the nearly one hundred verses about Jesus (all of them positive) under the topics of his birth, his character, his death and his exaltation (pp. 70-73).  He admits the Qur’an is problematic, confusing, conflicted and “… a few verses do condone killing” (p. 66).  It categorically denies Jesus is the Son of God, but he insists there is a “gold mine running through the Qur’an: His name is Jesus (Isa)” (p. 66).

Of particular value in this book are the many practical ways Christians can relate to Muslims, especially in the area of hospitality.  Christians, he says, should first of all plan to “have fun” (p. 152) because most Muslims love to party.  Such settings will afford conversations and he lists the top five questions often asked: “Do you believe Muhammad was a prophet?”  “Do you think the Qur’an is God’s inspired book?”  “Has the Bible been changed?” “How could God have a son?” And, “Was Jesus crucified?” He gives guidelines on how to respond to each question and ends up with a few do’s and don’ts in witness.  Whatever you do, says Medearis, do not attack Muhammad and try to visit a mosque.

The greatest strength of this book is perhaps the author’s ability to tell stories and some of them are humorous.  Every missionary can relate to how using the wrong word can completely change the meaning.  In attempting to sing a song to a group of Arab children in the desert, the Medearis family used the wrong word for “joy,” so rather than “I’ve got the joy, joy,” joy, down in my heart …” they sang, “I’ve got a mouse, mouse, mouse, down in my heart” (p. 29).

Other stories illustrate how much prayer means to Muslims.  He tells about meeting a leader of the Hezbollah, and when Medearis prayed for him, and his country, tears began to stream down the man’s face.  Over the course of time, he had further opportunities to meet and pray with him in the name of Jesus.  Another was a gifted Lebanese Arab, high up in government, who confessed that he had lost all hope for the country and for his ability to make a difference, but over time, during which they discussed the book of Luke and prayed for the nation, this man too was able to seriously consider the life of Jesus.

One particularly moving story (pp. 92-96) tells how he and a friend witnessed to a Saudi princess who in the beginning was not at all open to hearing about Jesus.  She was a highly-educated woman of the royal family with a degree in journalism and strong feelings against the West, especially the United States.  But as they addressed her hurts and frustrations, the princess broke down and they were able to share Christ’s love and the hope that only God can give.  Before it was over, and in the midst of many tears, the princess placed her faith in Christ.

However, this story illustrates what may be the most controversial aspect in the book, because apparently the princess is still very much a Muslim.  The question is: Can one be a follower of Jesus and yet remain a Muslim?   Medearis devotes an entire chapter (pp. 134-150) to show they can retain their identity, but in their heart of hearts be disciples of Jesus.  Some readers will respond that “Muslim” also carries with it religious connotations, such as allegiance to Muhammad, and that eventually allegiance must be given to Jesus–come what may.  This is one of the concerns in reference to some insider movements and the controversy swirling around contextualization.  In my view evangelicals can only resolve these issues through mutual respect and face-to-face dialog.

The only weakness is this book contains some inaccuracies.  For example, it says Muhammad and his first wife had seven children together, six of whom died young (p. 24).  It is true there were no surviving sons from the marriage, but the couple had four daughters who lived for years. The book calls the Hadith one of the revealed Holy Books (p. 42), but it is not in the same category as the four divinely-inspired books.  He says Jews and Christians will not be in hell for eternity (p. 44), whereas many modern Muslim scholars regard Christians and Jews as mushrik (those who add partners to God) who will be in hell eternally.  He says Islam is based largely on works, when the truth is it is based on both works and faith.  Muslims must embrace the five pillars of Islam plus the six articles of faith (p. 57).  He says if a Christian or Jewish woman marries a Muslim man she is a Muslim (p. 89).  These can easily be edited out in a future edition.

In conclusion, this book should be read for at least two reasons: First, it demonstrates that attitude is more important than knowing all there is to know about Islam, and building bridges with Muslims is the most fruitful approach.  Second, this work stimulates ongoing Christian thinking as to the extent to which Muslims can remain Muslim as they follow Jesus the Messiah.

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The following post is written by Trevor Castor, Assistant Director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies.

Nearly one year ago Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest after Tunisian police confiscated his vegetable cart.  Bouazizi’s act on December 17, 2010 seemed to be the spark in wild fire that has moved through the Arab world. One month later on January 17, 2011 an Egyptian man set himself ablaze in Cairo protesting the poor living and economic standards in Egypt.  Four others in Algeria followed suit imitating Bouazizi’s protest and call for reform. Before long what began in Tunisia was boiling over into Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

 Many in the West have been watching the news concerning the Arab world over the last year with trepidation. A question I am often asked is “what do you think will happen if radicals like the Muslim Brotherhood come into power in these countries?” My Guess is that prior to this year most Americans had never heard of the Muslim Brotherhood but now they are concerned about the brotherhood’s political aspirations and how that might affect America. No matter who wins the day in Egypt, God will still work to see His plans for Egypt come to pass. It is no coincidence that when an Islamic regime took over Pakistan, Bible sales went up. Iran is another great example, following the 1979 revolution, Bible sales went up and the Church flourished. The underground Church in China might be the fastest growing Church in the world. We must realize that often times God uses the wrath of man to bring Him glory. (Psalm 76:10). Democracy does not always equate church growth and is not necessarily the most conducive political system for the spread of the gospel. Often times the gospel flourishes under harsh regimes and therefore we do not need to be fearful if Egypt or any other country moves in that direction. We pray for peace but we also pray for the harvest. Let’s be sure that our first concern is for the people of Egypt and other Arab nations to come to a saving knowledge of Christ whether that is politically good or bad for America. Too often our first priority is temporal comforts rather than eternal things. Whatever political power wins the day we pray that the Church will be strengthened and grow in the Arab world.

 Amidst the Arab Spring there has been a story overlooked by many. God is doing something among Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. On December 31, 2010 a Coptic church was bombed during mass. At least 21 people were killed and more than 70 injured. The Muslim response to the bombing was to show up at the next mass service acting as human shields. One Muslims put it this way “I know it might not be safe, yet it’s either we live together, or we die together, we are all Egyptians.”  

On February 13th during the Tahrir Square protests, Christians volunteered to make a human chain around the Muslims in order to protect them from Mubarak’s men while they had their prayer service. In turn the Muslims offered to do the same for the Christians. The evangelical Church in Egypt led a public worship service for the first time ever. Thousands of Muslims were present to hear the gospel proclaimed.

 On 11/11/11 a historic prayer event took place in Egypt.  More than 70,000 were in attendance. This was the largest Christian event that has happened in Egypt in over a thousand years. Some are saying that this is the beginning of a revival in Egypt. I hope that we do not allow the political activity in the Arab world overshadow the God activity that is clearly evident. We should pray that what is happening in Egypt be a spark in a new wild fire of revival that will travel throughout the Arab world.

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Most Palestinians are of course Muslim but many are Christian (Roman Catholics, Armenians, Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite, Anglican, Lutheran and Baptist).  The Arab-Israeli problem has caused suffering all around but Palestinian Christians are particularly hard hit.  The newsletter below is from a brother  whom I met at Fuller Seminary, where we both studied.  I remember him saying the roof of the little evangelical church he pastored, had been blown off several times.  After Hamas won the election in Gaza, 2006, Christians were put under increasing pressure from the Muslim side.  As the book, Between Two Fires: the Untold Story of Palestinian Christians (Jack Kinkaid and Ron Bracken) explains, Christians are caught in the middle.  He  later left Gaza for the safety of his wife and two daughters and relocated in Jordan, but regularly returns to give counsel, comfort and desperately-needed supplies.  His e-mail describes the suffering of Christians and asks for our prayers and financial support.

Dear Friends,

 Early on Wednesday morning, October 19, I left Amman for Gaza via Egypt, arriving late that evening. You cannot imagine the relentless stress suffered by church leaders in a small, crowded area like Gaza
(140 square miles). They are isolated from the rest of the world, surrounded by 1.7 million (not Christians), ruled by Hamas, and oppressed by the extremists and the even more radical Salafists. Every day, they battle depression and hopelessness.

 My first visit on Thursday was with a couple, students of mine at Bethlehem Bible College, who lead a home bible study. For hours, we talked about the unique ministry challenges they face and sought God together to find ways to serve better and to reach out to the territory’s tiny Christian community.  

I counseled another leader who has been stumbling and became isolated from the ministry. By God’s grace, he and his wife are once again leading worship in home bible study. On another occasion, I spent a very productive time supporting and encouraging the couple who leads worship in the church.  

There is much sickness in Gaza, a lot of it caused by the stress of daily life in addition to the diseases and infirmities that we all face. I visited a family who just lost their father to cancer. He was only 52 years old and had been a classmate of mine growing up in Gaza. I shared some memories with them about their dear father; we read the Scriptures together and thanked God for His comfort.  

In another home, I ministered to a mother who is struggling to overcome pancreatic cancer. And at the hospital, I praised God for saving a man who had a brain clot. He is a physician and a member of Gaza
Baptist Church. 
 

But the number one disease in the Gaza Strip is worry. So this was my main topic when I shared in home bible studies and when I spoke to the teachers at the Lighthouse School and with other church leaders,
beside  Preaching & teaching in the church in two Sundays. 
 

One day, I walked into a pharmacy and my heart nearly broke as the owner, who is a good friend, broke down crying uncontrollably the moment she saw me. She could not believe that I was actually there. She was able to share the oppression and pain she is suffering and later told me how the Lord used my visit to comfort and strengthen her.

Poverty is great in Gaza and unemployment is still very high. But thanks to God’s grace and the generosity of friends like you, I was able to help twenty-seven families—Christian and non-Christian—with food and medicine. Most of these families live in the Deir El Balah refugee camp (nearly 20,000 people packed into 39 acres). Each package included olive oil, orn oil, different kinds of beans, rice, sugar, and other supplies; worth bout US$60(we bought the food from Gaza).  

God willing, my next visit will be in January. At that ime, I hope also to teach a course on the Gospel of John through the Gaza xtension of the Bethlehem Bible College.

Please pray for:  

  • The people I isited, that the Lord will continue to heal, encourage, and comfort.
  • Those we elped with relief work, that God would multiply the “loaves and fishes.”
  • My sister, ho had blood clot in her leg and continues to need costly medical attention at
    home.
  • A desperately-needed scond car.
  • My upcoming January visit. 

Thank you very much for your prayers and partnership and for standing with us in these increasingly difficult days. If the Lord put in your heart to partner with us, Please let me know. 

 

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 Pasted in below is only the beginning of an ongoing discussion we are currently having with a fifteen-year old to whom God has given a great burden for Muslims.  She has many questions about Islam and is keen to know about their languages and cultures.  Names have been taken for security reasons.

 Dear A:

 What an amazing letter from a 15-year old! I am thrilled with how anxious you are to learn, your interest in other cultures, and how your love for Muslims has grown. I am also moved by how graciously you endured the nasty things a Muslim friend did to you and forgave her as Jesus had forgiven you. This is unusual maturity on your part and I commend you for it but I think your ongoing attitude of grace will be what finally helps her to see the difference. You can pray that God will lead Z. to the light and to give you wisdom in how you share with her. You have the makings of a tremendous missionary to Muslims and I pray that God may continue to motivate and prepare you to that end … Warren Larson

 Dear Sirs,

 Hello, my name is ___.  I am 15 years old and I am from ___.  My dad is the pastor of a small church [and] also a private school teacher, and my mom is a kindergarten teacher. I was so excited when I found out about you guys because I’ve always wanted to talk to someone about the contents and people of Islam! I believe that God has given me such a heartfelt love for Middle Eastern people. I can’t even explain the passion I have for these marvelous people, except for one word, God! I know it’s not just a learning interest I have, but a true, burning heart to be a part of these peoples’ lives; and allow them to be a part of mine. In fact, I almost have more love for them than I do my own life.

 I have studied Islam and the Middle Eastern countries for about two and half years now (since I was thirteen), and I was immediately drawn in. All my life I have been so blessed to have so many Middle Eastern [friends, Northern Africans, and Indians be a part of my life so far. I have an uncle who is from Algeria, I have had an uncle who has already passed who was from Lebanon, I have a friend (in whom we call each other sister) from India (she is Christian, praise be to God), and I have a good school friend named ___ who is Muslim (both of her parents are from Afghanistan). I thank God every day for them; it amazes me how much He loves to bless His followers.

 Ever since I was in 7th grade I have been interested in people from other cultures…but the Middle East was the only one that really stood out in my opinion. It was the only region that I really wanted to get to know, the only culture that truly gave me those butterflies of excitement that you get when you just want to learn!!! By that time I had met my friend ___. She told me that she was a Muslim (of course I was young and at that time really didn’t know what a Muslim was and our friendship kept growing and growing. Before I knew it we were passing notes every single day in class and joking with each other about stupid things (like 7th graders tend to do), and to this day I am still surprised that I maintained a B average in that class!! When 8th grade came around I had already read many books about religion, but mainly Islam;  __ and I continued to pass notes between classes since we didn’t have any together. I always wanted to know how religious she truly was. She surely didn’t act like a well-behaved Muslim girl like the Quran said she was supposed to be, but I never really asked her (she has always been friends with the “popular” crowd so I really didn’t know what to expect). She told me about eid and Ramadan as we passed notes…and I told her about Holy Communion and St. Patrick (since I’m of Irish origin). We remained great friends for that year.

 After that we had summer, and then freshman year started for all of us (Lord help us all!). During freshman year, ___ and I didn’t pass notes…however we did talk a lot between classes and in the mornings before the school doors opened, we still didn’t have any classes together. We started to show our two faiths a little bit more. I then thought that it was okay to tell her how happy I was about how much God has blessed me. She rarely talked about Allah, just about the rituals she did. Then a little after that…something happened. We were still good friends but she started to treat me a little bit like a genuine infidel. She would call me a loser almost every day (we had always liked to joke around…but it got to where it started to get offensive), about things that I truly cared about. She started to act like a Muslim freshman year, and that ruined half of the experience. I remember crying so hard because I had either said something wrong or I just felt as if wasn’t good enough to be her friend (I had prayed endlessly for her since that 7th grade year). I’m still her friend, and she’s still mine; but I do have scars from her words, facial gestures, and sarcastic remarks about my heavenly Father. I still shudder when I think of her sometimes…but God has taught me how to move on and how much I truly love Middle Eastern people. I will still forever love __, just like Jesus will forever love me.

 Middle Easterners are such amazing people with so much history, intelligence, creative abilities, and they’re food is great!! I mean, Jesus was a Middle Eastern (in my opinion). He was an Israeli Jew, and that is another thing that gets me so excited about Middle Easterners! Could you imagine how interesting it would be to live like Jesus?? The Middle East is His land, and I believe it should belong to Him. I always say…I will do anything to help Muslim people … anything that I can do, except for change my faith in Jesus Christ. If I have to leave my Savior for a group of people, then forget it.

 Anyway, that’s my list of reasons why I love Middle Easterners so much. I am currently learning Arabic, and I also really want to learn Hebrew (beautiful languages!!) so I could maybe communicate with them someday. I am really happy about what you all are doing here. It really means a lot to me, and I’m sure so many other people who are willing to stop and pray for those lost souls over there in the Middle East. I do have a few questions:  Is it very dangerous for missionaries to go over to the Middle Eastern regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? If so…is it possible to serve over there without getting killed?  What is a nice career I could have in helping these people in the best way that I can? Is politics a good choice?   Is there any way I can get in touch with a Muslim-to-Christian convert on a website or organization that you might know of?  How can I impact the life of Middle Eastern people at 15 years old?  How do I keep from getting so depressed about __ and how she chooses to live as a Muslim?

 Thank you so much for everything that you do. You are such and inspiration to so many people of any age, and I know God will bless your organization in every way possible!! Thank you so much and May God Bless you in everything you accomplish in His name!!

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Workers heading into cross-cultural ministry should realize that their carefully laid-out plans and strategies may require some changes.  This excellent article, used by permission of Lausanne World Pulse, lists six areas where the author, Audra Grace Shelby’s thinking needed radical adjustment.  Revision was needed in reference to team work, cultural adaptation, uncompromising witness, learning how to story for illiterate women, and sincerely loving others.  It illustrates how God hears our desperate cry for help and supplies the needed grace and wisdom for every challenge.  Shelby is a former student of Dr. Mike Barnett, Dean of the College of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University.  

 

Revising Good Plans for Yemeni Women

The grip of her hand squeezed into my arm as her brown eyes bore into my blue ones. “Please,” she urged. “Lazem!” (you must). She tightened her black hajab (hair covering) before it slithered to her shoulders.

I looked from her pleading eyes to the woman frowning beside her. The frowning woman had already asked me to visit her house. She stopped snapping her black balto (outer cloak) as both women waited to hear my answer.

I sighed quietly in the doorway. “Lord, how can I be in two places at one time?”

My predicament was a blessing, even as I felt pulled between the two women. I thought back to my arrival in Yemen six years earlier when I had prayed for opportunities to get beyond the veils and into the lives of the women.

I had arrived in the Red Sea coast region with my husband, four children, and a well-planned strategy to reach Tihama women with the gospel. I thought I had prepared myself well. I had researched Yemeni culture. I had studied books on Muslim evangelism. I had learned scriptures and Bible stories in Arabic. But I soon discovered my strategy was incomplete and I would need to revise it.

Revision #1: Building a Team
My first revision came in recognizing my husband and I could not do the task alone, nor had we been called to. Tihama was an area of four million unreached people. As missionaries, we saw ourselves as “feet …who preach the good news” (Romans 10:15), but I realized that as feet, we were only part of the Body of Christ. We needed the involvement of the whole body—the knees, hands, voices, ears—to join with us in a unified effort to successfully reach Yemen. When God’s people joined with us in fervent prayer, desire, support, and action, God began to open closed doors.

Revision #2: Partaking in Common Ground
My second strategic revision was to put aside “them and me” eyes and learn to walk on common ground. Yemen is 99.9% conservative Muslim. I could hardly portray myself as a godly, devout woman if I dressed in a way they considered immodest, even if it was just showing arms and hair.

In the sweltering 120 degree coastal heat, I could have justified wearing clothing that was comfortable by pointing to my freedom in Christ. But I covered my hair and wore a balto in public, even as I identified myself as a follower of Jesus Christ. I did not pretend to be Muslim, but I accepted that if local women could dress in black baltos and hajabs in the overpowering heat, so could I. And it opened doors: women invited me into their homes and husbands thanked me for respecting their culture.

Finding common ground meant I needed to be “real” with the women. They were only interested in my immaculate dress and manicured hands at weddings—the glamour highlights of their lives. In everyday life, Tihama women were more impressed to see my broken nails and scratched arms from cooking, cleaning, or working in the garden. I had house help, which they accepted since I lacked the availability of their extended family members. But they smiled approval and drew me deeper into their lives when they recognized I did the same chores they did.

Becoming like them, however, did not mean compromising my faith or mixing my faith with theirs. They were unapologetically devout, unhesitant to correct me if I did something contrary to their beliefs.

Revision #3: Being Unapologetic in Matters of Faith
They never seemed to worry whether their comments would offend me. This led me to further revise my strategic thinking, and be as unapologetically devout in my faith as they were with theirs. I needed to worry less about offending and focus more on seizing opportunities to communicate with polite respect, but without hesitation.

One afternoon, I sat among a group of women who scolded me for not saying “Ma’a sha’allah” (what God wills) as I talked about my daughter’s upcoming school exams. “You must say ma’a sha’allah or the Evil Eye will bring her harm in her exams!” they warned.

I paused. Having heard the phrase used repeatedly like a charm to ward off evil, I explained that I walked with God through the way—Jesus—and that he was all I needed, giving illustrations from my personal life. I told them of my husband’s illness—when doctors had not been enough to save him, but after praying in Jesus’ name, God had spared his life. I explained that through Jesus, I had all I needed.

I soon learned that being unapologetically devout meant I had to revise my natural inclination to argue and debate beliefs that differed from mine. This was no easy task for an outspoken woman. One day in a gold shop, I watched as a group of women bargained with the male shopkeeper over the price of a bridal necklace set. A man waited near them, studying me from his perch against a counter.

“Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” he asked me. I was startled. Few people in Yemen understood the difference. “Protestant,” I replied.

“Ah,” he said. “So, what do you believe about Jesus? Was he a prophet or was he the Son of God?”

My heart started beating in my throat as all talking ceased and all eyes turned to me. The women waited for my answer as the man challenged me, looking for a debate. I held my breath, knowing an argument would be ineffective and would accomplish nothing in front of women who were taught to lower their eyes to men.

“Lord, help!” I breathed. I swallowed and looked evenly at my confronter. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me,’” I answered (John 14:6). “This is what I believe about Jesus.”

The man said nothing. He looked at me, looked at the other women (whose eyes were still on me), and walked wordlessly out of the shop.

I exhaled, relieved that he had not argued and grateful that the grace of Christ had kept my own tongue from arguing. In the absence of contention, God had provided an opportunity to publicly share a powerful scripture in a country that forbade evangelism.

Revision #4: Adapting Communication
Another strategic revision came when I recognized the need to adapt my methods of communication. I yearned to effectively communicate the gospel in a way Yemeni women could understand. With illiteracy rates up to ninety-eight percent among women in Tihama villages, I could not communicate in textbook Arabic.

I had to learn the dialect they spoke—their region-specific heart language—or they would not understand my formal speech. I could not give the women printed gospel tracts or Bibles (even if it was legal to do so) since the women could not read them. The meaning would remain locked from their hearts. Reading to them directly from the Bible would not have solved the problem; the women would not have understood the formal Arabic translation.

I needed to tell Bible stories and verses in their words and to utilize audio Bibles recorded in their heart language.

Revision #5: Displaying the Love of Jesus
The most crucial revision to my strategy, however, began when I understood the attraction I seemed to hold for the women. I was an American, one of a handful among four million people, but their interest went beyond my foreign nationality. There was hunger in their eyes, and although most women lived below poverty levels, it wasn’t a hunger for food.

I had repeatedly heard, “Islam is hallee (sweet),” from hungry-eyed women who claimed the superiority of Islam while they squabbled over whom I should visit next. These devout women had once been fed by dreams. As teenagers, they had fantasized about freedom from their fathers and love from their future husbands.

But they became wives who sat with disillusioned eyes and listened to others’ dream. They became mothers at wedding celebrations who called out blessings for many sons, while clapping thin hands and skinny arms above their own worn-out bodies. These women needed health care and education. In villages without running water and electricity, they needed latrines, mosquito nets, and other practical essentials for living, and we planned these as key components of effective ministry.

But as the women pulled and tugged me from diverse directions, I began to realize that their tug of war wasn’t for who I was or what I could provide externally; it was for what I had internally.

They were hungry for the love in my life—something they couldn’t get from their religion or relationships—and they tried to get it from me.

They were bewildered by my love for God and the stories I shared about his love for me. They saw God as terrifying and remote, and they had a profound fear of dying. They were amazed that my husband loved me in more than a sensual way. Like dry sponges, they soaked up the love I tried to pour and squeezed me for more, sometimes leaving me feeling drained and wrung out by the depth of their need.

In my pursuit of the perfect strategy to share the gospel with Muslim women, I nearly overlooked the second most important command Jesus gave us: to simply, but completely, love our neighbor…for it is his love in us that identifies us most as his followers.

It would have been nice had I known at the beginning of our ministry in Yemen what it took me six years to learn. Perhaps I would have arrived with a more workable strategy. But then again, maybe I was the one (not my strategies) who most needed revising.

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By David Bentley

This spring I published a novel that opens with a real-time event in the Zwemer office in Pasadena when in March, 1996, Anwar al-Awlaki appeared with two other Arabs from the San Diego area mosque where al-Awlaki served as the imam.  Wedding Haircut: a prenuptial rite of passage for 9/ll terrorists is a parabolic tale told by one of the Arab visitors whom I transposed into a Saudi seeker of Jesus.

My hero is a composite of several men and even women I have met during my active ministry years. As follower of Jesus my lead character is a survivor who undergoes a torturous adventure within his new faith, ending with his unique haircut anticipating his wedding to a Mexicana beauty.  The haircut metaphor lends to the book’s romance as well as the terror as all of the 9/11 hijackers underwent similar body shavings with their hopes set on heavenly virgins following their suicides and the deaths of thousands in Manhattan, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

Anwar al-Awlaki along with his bodyguards went to their fiery deaths on September 31, 9:55 AM, near a small Yemeni village. He had been a target his father’s native Yemen government and the US, where he was born in New Mexico. He served as the imam of the San Diego area mosque prior to 9/11 and in Virginia after 9/11 and friends in both mosques describe him as a charismatic and knowledgeable spokesman for Islam.  The charges against him included his offering of spiritual help to a couple of the San Diego based terrorists.

I recall Anwar’s skills in English as he asked critical questions about Zwemer’s mission to the Muslim world. During the conversation, the Muslims referred to the Lausanne Conference a decade earlier when Zwemer’s mission advancing Muslim evangelization was declared but misinterpreted as a Christian attempt at paying Muslims to forsake their faith.  Sitting with me in the small library of our second floor Zwemer office was James Dretke and Warren Chastain. Dretke was interrupted by calls related to his duties as Director. Warren strayed from our subject of denying the accusations that Muslims were being paid to become Christians to make a case for the Gospel. I shared this with Warren’s widow a couple of months ago when I sent a book with my imaginations of a happy ending to that day in Pasadena, March 1996. 

            Wedding Haircut: a prenuptial rite of passage for 9/11 terrorists (Westbow Press, 2011), is available through bookstores or on-line.

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Why I am a Christian

There are three reasons why the author is a Christian and why he feels he made the
right choice. These are rooted in the first book of the Bible and traceable throughout. The essential issue in this all-important subject revolves around our God concept, our Christ concept and our human concept. Although the three are alluded to in Islam they are radically different from what God has revealed in the Bible.

As a young person growing up in Western Canada, at first I did not give this topic much thought or consideration. I was born and raised in a Christian home and came to personal faith when I was seven years old. Later, in college I sort of turned around and examined my faith: Why am I really a Christian? Still later, at the age of 24, I went to Pakistan and spent 23 years as a missionary in a country where 97% of the people are Muslim—mostly of the Sunni sect. I was challenged on many, many occasions as to the truth of my claims about Christianity and there were those who thought that I would eventually become a Muslim. Added to this, I have done further study on Islam, and written a Ph. D. dissertation on Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Therefore, I feel that I have had ample opportunity to examine my faith, especially in relation to Islam.

Nevertheless, though I have studied both faiths, and will continue to do so, I admit that I do not have all the answers. Yet I do feel obligated to write candidly—albeit kindly as I compare and contrast Christianity with Islam. And I stand corrected if I have misunderstood either Islam or Christianity.
In thinking about this subject, I recall what a man from North Africa with Berber blood in him, St. Augustine, said a few hundred years after the Prophet Jesus: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” I also think of a well-known Christian confession that says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
So Christians conclude that the only real satisfaction comes from knowing God because apparently we have been created with a God shaped vacuum. But it seems to me that many people in the world only know God by hearsay and never really give him much thought. He is no more than an inference or a deduction. For many, he is “there” but not dynamically “here,” and in that bracket I include many people in the United States as well as other parts of the world. “He must be,” they say, “so we believe in him.”
Finally, I could not help but wonder that perhaps even few Christians really thirst and hunger for God. In contrast to the neglect and ignorance of God that is often true in the modern world, I read in the Bible of some who longed to know God, to commune with God and to worship God.
For example, the Prophet Moses said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (Exodus 33:13). The Prophet David said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalms 34:8).

The Prophet Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). And, at the very end of the injeel (New Testament), it says that 24 kingly elders fall on their faces to worship God, and they lay their crowns before him and say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Several years ago I saw a book, written by Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian, but I confess that I didn’t read it very carefully. The primary reason was that his picture on the back reflected a very unhappy person. I trust that I am happier at being a Christian than Russell was at not being a Christian! What follows therefore are three reasons why I chose to become a Christian and am still convinced I made the right choice. These are rooted in the first book of the Bible and traceable all the way through. The following points reflect my thinking on this all-important subject.

The Character of God
Our relationship with God depends on what we think of him, that is, our “God concept.” I start with this point because I believe it is God who wants most of all to have a relationship with us. The Bible says, “We love him because he first loved us.” He took the initiative and I think we can all agree that God is the greatest Being in the universe: He is glorious, majestic, ruler and king; therefore, none of his subjects dare come into his presence without an invitation.
Moreover, etymologically (from a word study) the Muslim and Christian God are the same. Certain Qur’anic verses indicate this (Surah 22:40). I repeat, they are the same when you compare the origin of the words. “Allah” is linked to “El Bethel” and “El Elohim” in Hebrew and “Elah” in Aramaic. Allah is pre Islamic as, for example, when the Prophet Muhammad’s father was named Abd Allah” (servant of Allah).
Yet, though the word for God in Islam and Christianity has common etymological roots, there are vast differences. One gets a “feel” for divine distinctiveness in Christianity from the very beginning of the Bible—not in reference to his power and sovereign rule so much for that is also a Qur’anic emphasis, but in reference to his unconditional love.
In the Bible, humankind sinned and broke God’s laws still God searches for them. God takes the initiative: “Where are you?” And though he banishes them from the Garden, still he continues to love them and reveals a plan to restore the broken relationship. Great verses include: “God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8); “When we were still without strength, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6); and “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son (Romans 5:10). One short verse sums it up: “God is love” (I John 4:8).
This unconditional love of God for the unlovable is evident throughout the Bible; for instance: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3); but perhaps the greatest is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) which Jesus tells to show that God is like a father. The father does not disown him or send an army to force his return; rather, for the sake of a proper relationship he grieves, longs and even suffers with the boy until reconciliation takes place at the happy homecoming. At last the son in desperation repents, leaves his old lifestyle and returns, but he does so only because of the character and action of his father.
The father then welcomes his son with open arms because he wants to resume fellowship. That is what God is like in Christianity. The taurat says: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7).
But this does not imply that God is soft on sin. God is just and he has prepared hell for the wicked. Jesus described it as a place where “The worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). In fact, the Bible ends with a description of the horrors of hell in very graphic terms: the “lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels;” and a place that burns with “fire and brimstone.”
The good news of course is that God says we do not have to go to hell; that he has provided a sure way of escape. It is through One who has taken our punishment. The sacrificial system that you trace through the taurat, the zabur (Psalms) and other parts of the Bible is that God called for a substitute but that one day he would himself provide a perfect and sinless substitute who would be the final sacrifice. He would die for us and then rise from the dead. Jesus fulfilled that promise.
Some years ago, a scholarly Pakistani Muslim, Daud Rahbar wrote a Ph. D. dissertation: “God of Justice: a Study in the Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an,” and came to the conclusion that the only way God could be both merciful and just was through the cross. That is the solution to the problem. Rahbar later became a Christian and taught in the United States.
Conversely, and here I stand corrected if wrong, I believe that although God is loving in Islam (one name is al-vadud) he does not love the sinner: “Say: ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you, and forgive you your sins … God loves not the unbelievers” (Surah3:29). Also, “God loves the god-fearing” (Surah 3:70). And, “God loves not the traitor” (4:107). And, although he is merciful, it is the mercy of a king not the compassion of a father that we just heard about in Luke 15.
Although every surah (chapter) in the Qur’an, except the ninth, starts with “Bis milla ur Rahman ur Rahim” (“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”), God’s mercy is submerged in his sovereign power. I therefore conclude that love in Islam is reciprocal and that in a true sense a Muslim cannot say “God is love.” In Islam God is all-powerful, but distant, not personally involved with people. Essentially, Allah says, “Some to heaven, some to hell and I care not.” Heaven depends on a divine fiat.
Admittedly, Islam urges repentance, but the supreme will of God is far above the repentance of any individual. God forgives whomever he will and does not always distinguish between “big sins” and “little sins” (Surah 18:47). It is the absolute will of Allah to pardon whomever he will and condemn whomever he will. So who then can escape?
Accordingly, one Muslim wrote that he became very fearful when he read: “Not one of you there is, but shall go down to it; that for thy Lord is a thing decreed, determined” (Surah 19:72). Then came another blow: “Had thy Lord willed, He would have made mankind one nation; but they continue in their differences excepting those on whom thy Lord has mercy. To that end He created them, and perfectly is fulfilled the word of thy Lord: ‘I shall assuredly fill Gehenna with jinn and men all together'” (Surah11:120).
This Muslim believer realized he had no hope of salvation and his despair deepened when he read the tradition, written by Ibn Masud, who quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Every one shall enter hell. Afterwards they will come out of it, sooner or later, according to their works. Those who will come out first will do then like a horse at full speed, afterwards like a swift rider, then like a man springing, and finally, like the walk of a man. Tirmizi and Darimi have handed down this Tradition” (The Moslem World, 18, no. 2 April, 1928).
Hence, apparently in Islam God is not delighted by obedience, nor displeased by sins, nor merciful to the believer, nor disgusted with the forgetful, nor hostile to the arrogant. He is above all associations. In contrast the Christian God cares. His judgments are holy, just and good not arbitrary, whimsical or capricious.
Thomas Merton, a famous Christian convert, turned from Marxism, depression and hopelessness when he read a book on the philosophy of God. It revolutionized him for he saw that God was near, accessible, close at hand and immediate. He could be reached. In contrast, Muslims search for him but he seems unreachable.
A Muslim lady I know of in Pakistan was told by a Christian to pray to God as a friend and father. She said: “I got on my knees and tried but it seemed ridiculous and I could not bring myself to do it. I thought, “Isn’t it sin to try to bring the ‘Great One’ to our level?” I fell asleep more confused than ever and awoke to remember it was my birthday. I said, ‘Suppose I do call Him father.’ Shaking with excitement, I fell to my knees, looked up and said, ‘My father.’ I was not prepared for what happened! I spoke His name aloud and something broke through and I found myself knowing he had heard me. The room was no longer empty for I sensed his presence.”

Who I am
Our relationship with God depends on what we think about ourselves; it depends on our “human concept.” I have already alluded to this in the first point but in Christianity we know that humankind is soundly indicted for not only sinful deeds, but for inherent sin original sin. Humankind is intrinsically evil and this includes all of us, not just Muslims. The Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It says, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).
It started in the Garden and after an act of disobedience, God says to Adam and to Eve: “You have sinned.” There was no getting around it. The injeel explains, “Sin entered into the world by one man and thereby passed to all men because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). That is a damning and condemning statement but an accurate picture of how Christians understand the root of the sin problem.
However, God does not leave us there. He says to the sinner: “Your evil nature is perpetuated by deliberate rebellion and you can do nothing to remove the guilt and shame in my eyes. You are damned to eternal punishment so turn to me and trust me for salvation through Christ. I will enable you to make a new start.”
Again, in my opinion Islam falls short here in that it does not adequately deal with the sin problem. “Salvation” is a rare word in Islam (only appears once, Surah 40:41) because humankind is not fallen, there is no moral decline, and there is no doctrine of original sin.
Admittedly, the Qur’an says, surely he [man] is sinful, very foolish” (Surah 33:72); and, “Man waxes insolent, for he thinks himself self-sufficient” (Surah 96:6). But it seems to excuse him: “Adam forgot” (Surah 20:114); and, “Adam disobeyed his Lord …” but God forgave him.” It says “Satan made them slip”(Surah 2:34).
Islam says man is weak and needs guidance: “God is He that created you of weakness, then He appointed after weakness strength, then after strength He appointed weakness and gray hairs; He creates what He will, and He is the All-knowing, the All-powerful” (Surah 30:54).

Here we have what I feel, is one of the main reasons why Islam puts so much emphasis on the shariah (Islamic law)—the essence of Islam. However, there is a problem with a society that thinks if it only has the right law; it can create heaven on earth. The trouble is good laws can be—and often are—turned into instruments of injustice. Human societies can never be perfect for, according to the Bible, law is “weakened by sin” (Romans 8:3); law cannot by itself produce the obedience God demands.
At various periods Christians have tried to establish religious states based on the Bible, but they have all disappeared. In many ways the shariah is good as was the Torah of Moses but the Bible says the Torah was given not to make men good but to prove their sinfulness and need of a Savior, to lead them to Christ—the Savior. It was to expose their helpless condition so they would turn to Christ for salvation.
John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress said: “Run, run the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands; Tis better news the gospel brings: It bids me fly; it gives me wings.” So, any attempt to establish a social and political order outside of Jesus Christ as head is mutinous. It is open rebellion against the will of God. I emphasize that I am not defending western imperialism; I am defending the gospel of Christ. I also realize that for the most part the West has rejected the kingdom of Jesus Christ; nevertheless, he will return and set up his kingdom based on truth, justice and righteousness.
Furthermore, Islam fails to adequately account for the moral degradation, vileness, indescribable cruelty, inhumanity, wars and terrible crime that plague our world. The problem is more serious than that. If Jesus said to one of the most religious men in the Bible, “You must be born again”(John 3), what about the rest of us?
In January 27, 1995, I was up in Vancouver, Canada, and while there remembered with the rest of the world that on in 1945, exactly 50 years before, the survivors of a death camp, Auschwitz in Poland were delivered by Soviet troops. Of the approximately one and a half million prisoners who passed through there, 65,000 remained alive in 1945. Most only left some hair and the smell of their burning bodies. One Soviet soldier said that what shocked him most were the children some mere infants.
They were survivors of the medical experiments of the camp doctor, Josef Mengele. The Soviet soldier simply could not understand it. If you did not believe in the depravity of man before how could you now deny it? Other tragedies, like the terrible slaughter on the Indian subcontinent in 1947, may be less dramatic, but further proves my point that sin is a terrible disease. Therefore, what I see in Islam is an inadequate analysis of human sin and the Qur’an seems to vacillate on it because it says that “most go astray.”
Basically, it seems Islam is too optimistic of the real condition and therefore offers a less than satisfactory solution to the dilemma. For example, a Muslim girl 20 years old wrote to the editor of a Muslim newspaper and said she felt trapped by sin and wondered what she could do. He replied that she should get a hold of herself, turn over a new leaf, but he offered no external help. In other words, Islam can only offer law–not redeeming grace.

Who Jesus Is
Our relationship with God depends on who we think Jesus Christ is; it depends on our “Christ concept.” In Genesis we may remember that after the damning evidence was presented and the guilty verdict was pronounced, God immediately went to work. He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis3:15).
Christians believe this is the first promise of Christ but not the last. All the way through those many books written over several hundred years by numerous authors, the promise is repeated: “he is coming, he is coming, he is coming.” And, when Jesus Christ finally does come, he is an unusual person. He is born of a virgin (both holy books mention this); he is without sin, and he does miracles.
But the incomparable moral beauty of Christ is most astounding (again both mention this). Once he said, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 3:46). The Qur’an says of Christ, “A man without fault” (Surah 19:19). This is in contrast to other prophets, “Nothing else they said, but “Lord, forgive us our sins, that we exceeded in our affair, and make firm our feet, and help us against the people of the unbelievers” (Surah 3:141).
The Arabian Prophet says of himself in a Surah named after him, “Know thou therefore that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for thy sin, and for the believers, men and women” (Surah 47:19). Also, “Surely We have given thee thy former and thy latter sins” (Surah 48:2). Additionally, Jesus claimed to be both God and man (Philippians 2). So, in Christianity God does not just reveal his will He reveals himself.
We might well wonder why God chose this way and I think a recent book by Robert Gales on communication helps to explain why. In the book, You are the Message, the author concludes that a person is himself or herself the message. That is why Jesus Christ came, in order for God to fully communicate himself. Christians claim that this was the only way the sin problem could be taken care of. He (Jesus) was the only sinless one, the perfect representative who paid the penalty of death for us on the cross as it was predicted long before.
In Islam by comparison, God also forgives but what bothers me is how he forgives. He forgives arbitrarily, whimsically—almost irresponsibly. He does it by a mere word. Divine forgiveness can never be just an amnesty as if it does not really matter.
In Christianity, forgiveness involves sacrifice and suffering. Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God” who dies for the sin of the world and then even overcomes death. As a result of that finished work, he cleanses the sinner from all shame and guilt (Romans 8). Hence, to refuse the cross is a dishonor to the generosity of God; it is a dishonor of his grace. It is to rebel against his kingly will.
I remember what a Muslim from a remote Pakistani village said years ago: “Your prophet is superior to our Prophet for three reasons: He was born of a virgin; ours was not. He did miracles; in fact, he did them from birth and was a prophet from birth; ours became a prophet at age 40. Your Prophet is alive; ours is dead” (Surah 4:15 speaks of Prophets who were slain, but does not say they rose from the dead).
So when the Bible says Jesus is a Savior it means exactly that. He gives hope because we know that we are weak and unable on our own to please God. In ancient times, a Stoic philosopher by the name of Seneca said, “Wicked we are, wicked we have become, and, I regret to add, wicked we will always be.” He had no hope. Prophets can show us the way, but they cannot rescue us. They can teach us, but no prophet can die in our place.
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, crucified next to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Bible teaches that Christ delivers from both the penalty and the power of sin (Romans 6:11 14).
Our identification with Christ is so great we “die to sin,” that is our identity with him frees us from sin’s bondage. And, as he rose from the dead, we too are raised to newness of life. Now we have the Spirit of God within to help us to please God.
A new convert to Islam told of her frustration to fellow Muslims in a computer bulletin board message. She said, “I’ve been a Muslim for about 4 years. Islam is a difficult road for me to walk, but I believe with all my heart that I’m doing the right thing. … I want be a Muslim forever, but I feel there is so much to do in Islam … sometimes I think I’m going crazy trying to remember all this…I want to be a good servant to Allah but learning all this is too much for me. I’ve talked to my husband and he thinks I have a jinn [evil spirit]…. I am desperately looking for answers that will help me to be successful in my effort.”
Finally, I recall that after a few Muslim friends had read in the hadith (Traditions) that Muhammad could not guarantee salvation for his own daughter, they asked a disturbing question: “If the Prophet said he could not even save his own daughter Fatimah how do we know he can save us?” (al- Bukhari, vol. 6, p. 277.) Others were troubled by the call to prayer that echoes five times a day from mosques equipped with loud speakers: “Come to success, come to salvation “when they themselves had no assurance of salvation.
In response to all such questions, some in desperation have turned to Christ and found hope from the injeel and the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Many Muslims have also found great comfort from the words of Jesus: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

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