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Archive for September, 2012

Real Men

Muslims love and respect all prophets, but it is not surprising that they revere Mohammad as the greatest of all prophets since they believe he is the last prophet and the seal of the prophets. In Asif Balouch’s post, “Top Ten Traits of a Real Man (Muslim Style)” he uses the prophet Mohammad as a template for what a real man is. He rightly rejects our culture’s many definitions of a real man as one who can hold the most liquor, sleep with the most women, have the hairiest chest, shoot the biggest guns, beat up the most people, etc.

I fully agree with his lists of ten traits of a real man (read his piece for a full explanation). They are not only Islamic traits, but biblical traits. Here are his ten traits and my biblical support for each.

1. A Real Man Reads
In the Injil the Messiah said we are to love the Lord God will all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). In the Zabur (the Psalms) we read, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).

2. A Real Man Is a Focused Man
But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7).

3. A Real Man Is Gentle but Firm
The Messiah said this about himself, “Take my yoke upon you, and  learn from me, for I am  gentle and lowly in heart, and  you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29) and an elder (a leader within the church) must be “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3).

4. A Real Man Is a Family Man
Husbands are called to “love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) and leaders in the church “must manage his own household well, with all dignity  keeping his children submissive” (1 Timothy 3:4).

5. A Real Man doesn’t Slander/Backbite/Cuss/Gossip
“But now  you must put them all away:  anger, wrath, malice,  slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

6. A Real Man Keeps His Promises
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and  stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

7. A Real Man Respects All Women
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave  nor free,  there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

8. A Real Man Keeps His House in Order
This trait is about helping with chores and not merely saying it isn’t a man’s job. The first verse that came to mind here is “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Those in a man’s family are his closest neighbors.

9. A Real Man Handles His Own Money
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

10. A Real Man Knows He’s Being Tested
Count it all joy, my brothers,  when you meet trials  of various kinds,  3 for you know that  the testing of your faith  produces steadfastness.  4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be  perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

 

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Anas Hlayhel wrote a helpful and short piece on how Muslims can respond when the prophet Mohammad is mocked, “Mocking the Prophet, How Should We React?“. It is well reasoned and rooted in the Qur’an. Here is a short outline:

1. Mockery is equivalent to ignorance.
2. Ignore the ignorant (i.e. the foolish), but engage and even debate the reasonable.
3. Allah will take care of the mocker, so you don’t need to.
4. Respect other faith symbols, even idols, lest others disrespect Islam.

Please read the whole thing in order to see the Qur’anic reasoning behind his points.

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All of the levitical offerings (the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering,1 the guilt offering, and the peace offering) have been fulfilled in the offering of the Jesus the Messiah on the cross. The good news of the gospel is that “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).2 Typically when we think of the death of Jesus we think of the removal of God’s wrath and the forgiveness of sin. Rarely do we also recognize the beauty of Christ’s cleansing work. By his death we are made clean.

The cleansing that comes from Christ is superior than the cleansing received under the law because it comes, not through the blood of animals, but through the blood of the pure and blameless Messiah—a man. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

The sacrifice of the Son of God was the one sacrifice worthy and sufficient to truly make people clean. The old sacrifices were insufficient in that they had to be offered continually. There was no end to them because they never truly took away sin (Hebrews 10:4). But now that Christ has come and offered himself as the perfect lamb of God, sins are truly removed. All sins. So the author of Hebrews is able to say, “After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Christ’s work was finished.

Christ’s purifying work was so complete that he has washed and sanctified us in ways the levitical sacrifices never could. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). It used to be that only the high priest could enter the holy place, because he alone was consecrated by God to be in the fullness of his presence,3 but now we all have confident access (we do not need to fear that we will be put to death as Aaron did [see Leviticus 16:2, 13]). Our hearts are sprinkled clean. Our bodies are washed with pure water. Not only are we cleansed, but we are sanctified, “. . . we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

One of the flaws of the purification sacrifices in the law is that while they could cleanse us and make us fit to enter God’s presence, they could do nothing to keep us from being defiled the next time we come in contact with something unclean. The death of Jesus Christ, however, not only cleanses us from all past impurities, but actually guards us from all future impurities. By virtue of being in Christ we are impervious to defilement. Just as Jesus, by his touch, made the unclean clean without being defiled himself, so he now makes all who are in him clean at all times because we are always in him. Furthermore, because of his death we are even today being sanctified (see Hebrews 10:14), so that our hearts are actually changed in such a way as to no longer desire the defiling sin we once loved. So Paul was able to write to Titus, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).

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1 Allen Ross calls this the “sin offering” a “purification offering.” The word here for sin (ḥaṭṭā𐑮t) is derived from the piel, which means “to cleanse or purify.” This also makes better sense of the usage of the offering since it was necessary for one to also be made clean from things that were not sin (like menstruation, child birth, intercourse, etc.). See Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 129-130.

2 Yes, the Bible does call Jesus God’s son. It does not mean that God had sex with Mary and produced a child. To see what it does and does not mean, see my series on The Son of God, especially part 4 (Jesus Christ Is the Son of God) and part 5 (Jesus Christ Is God’s Unique Son)

3 And even when he entered he had to be very careful so as to not be destroyed (Leviticus 16:2), for example, he had to burn incense so that the smoke of the incense would obscure his view of the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat where God’s presence was centered (see Leviticus 16:12-13). This cloud is, in some sense, still present, even as we enter God’s holy presence, but one day the cloud will be removed and we will see clearly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Is Islam a religion of war or peace? I get asked this question a lot. I know that people are asking this question again after all of the attacks on US embassies throughout the Middle East. I’ll give you my answer to this question and then I’ll tell you why I am posting about it.

I don’t know. There you have it, that’s my answer. I don’t claim to be an expert in Islam. Even if I was I am not sure how well I could answer this question. Honestly, I see lots of reasons why people conclude that Islam is a religion of war. There are Muslim scholars who confirm this (though they might not state it this way). There are some really hard verses in the Qur’an. There are plenty of violent acts throughout the history of Islam. And of course, we see the violence perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam all around the world.

However, I can also see lots of reasons why people conclude that Islam is a religion of peace. There are Muslims scholars who confirm this. There are good pointers in the Qur’an towards peace. Within the history of Islam there have been times of peace and prosperity. And of course, we see acts of kindness and love perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam all around the world.

So which is it? Again, I honestly don’t know. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really care. That probably doesn’t sound good. Honestly, I am not that concerned about what true Islam is. I am more concerned about what my Muslim friend believes. This is not because I don’t care about the truth or don’t think that objective truth is real. I do. I care very much. It is because I have personally settled the issue of truth. Jesus the Messiah says in the Injil, “I am the truth” (see the Gospel according to John 14:6). He is enough for me. I am not saying Christianity is the truth. I am saying that Jesus is the truth. The truth of God has been embodied in a person.

When I am with my Muslim friend I don’t need to know what true Islam is. I need to know my friend. I want to know what he believes. Does he believe that such acts of violence in the name of Islam are justified? Or does he repudiate them? That’s what matters to me.

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I care deeply for Muslims as a group and for my Muslim friends in particular. I am really grateful to God for the relationships he has given me and the friends I have been blessed by. You also know that I have not been afraid to call anti-Islamic statements evil. I am more than willing to call out the evil from Christians regarding Muslims. I believe this film is offensive and the opposite of love.

However, one thing I really haven’t done is also call out the evil that Muslims have done. I feel angry about the response to this movie. I understand why it is offensive. But I cannot and will not understand the need to destroy property and ultimately kill others because of it, especially those who had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the film. I do not hold the American government responsible for the evil of individual citizens anymore than I hold other governments responsible for the evil of their individual citizens.

I am angry because the destructive and deadly responses are evil. I am angry because these responses make non-Muslims living in the Middle East fearful. I have American friends who live all over the Middle East who are fearful that they may need to flee. I am angry because the radical murderous Muslims are giving all of my Muslim friends a bad name. I am angry because the work that I do in trying to promote understanding and peace between Muslims and Christians can so easily be derailed by the site of angry mobs. I am angry because all people are made in God’s image and we are not treating each other with the respect that this simple truth demands. God made us. And therefore he loves us. How is it that this truth doesn’t change everything about how we live with people different than us?!

I feel for Muslims who are appalled at what is taking place. Surely they bear a greater burden of responsibility over their community than I do, but what can they do? I don’t know. And even if my responsibility is not as great, I still am responsible for my reaction and for the circle of influence I have.

So I will pray. I will pray to the God of peace. I will pray for those who have sinned in making the movie and those who have sinned in their response to the movie. I will continue to show the way of love that Jesus Christ teaches us. His way is the way of the cross. He didn’t kill his enemies. He died for them. He didn’t end their lives. He laid down his own.

The way of the cross is the only way forward because it teaches us to humble ourselves and extend the forgiveness we have received to others. It teaches us to love our enemies and to seek their good. It teaches us to love mercy and not merely insist on justice.

I will pray and I will seek to daily die to myself and my selfish desires so that I can love others, even others who don’t love me.

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It’s about the Heart

I was reading my Bible yesterday and was taken aback when I read these verses from the prophet Isaiah:

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; 4 I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.” – Isaiah 66:3-4

God is describing various acts of worship and how he views these acts of worship. Slaughtering an ox is an act of worship in the Tawrat (the law), but to God when these people slaughtered oxen it was like they were killing men. Pigs are just as unclean in Judaism as they are in Islam. Imagine someone coming to the temple to worship God and then offering pig’s blood as a sacrificial gift. Blasphemous! And yet their grain offerings were equivalent to this.

What was the problem here? The problem was not that they were failing to offer acts of worship. The problem was their hearts. Even though they “obeyed” God by “worshiping” him, they had actually chosen their own sinful ways and delighted in their sinful abominations. Theirs hearts were far from God. As the Messiah said in the Injil (he was quoting Isaiah!), “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Gospel according to Mark 7:6).

I think this is true today more often than we realize. Look at these pictures:

How many of the people here are only performing acts of worship while their hearts are elsewhere? How many are simply going through the motions?

Perhaps we should come closer to home and examine our own hearts. How often is your worship mingled with unholy thoughts? How often are you going through the motions while your heart is full of anger? or full of lust? or full of greed? or full of discontent? or . . .?

When we come before the Holy Creator of the universe, we ought not be so presumptuous to think that he won’t mind when our actions say he is great, but our hearts and minds reveal the opposite.

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Today is 9/11. Our lives have been so shaped by it that I have no need to explain to anyone who will read this what I mean by “9/11″.

We left for the Middle East in January, 2002, only 4 months after 9/11. I remember being with friends right after 9/11 had happened and listening them to tell me why we surely couldn’t go to “those Muslims” now. There was a lot of fear among Americans then. There still is. Unfortunately, this has caused some non-Muslims to say and even do things that shame us all. The result is that Muslims today feel more fearful than before.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali wrote an enlightening piece on CNN, “American Muslims Live in Fear 11 Years after 9/11″. There has been an increase in anti-Islalmic rhetoric and crimes. This is tragic. It has certainly changed the landscape for our Muslim neighbors.

The Islamophobia that seems to continue to gain steam is unhealthy and destructive to our nation and ultimately our own souls.

For American Muslims, the past decade has been tumultuous. We have emerged from private life to public life, into the public sphere in an effort to aid understanding between the communities of our multicultural country.

We do it not only for ourselves, but because irrational fear of Islam and Muslims is bad for all Americans: it frays the social fabric of our society; it creates divisions between Americans; it affects the health of our democracy; and it affects the wisdom of our policy choices.

It’s not too late to invite your Muslim neighbors over for dinner in order to love them by hearing from them what Islam is about. Such hospitality and pursuit of understanding seems like a fitting tribute to those who died on 9/11.

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The Prophet John (Yaha) objected to Jesus being baptized by him (ritually cleansed in water). Jesus, however, insisted by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus did not need to repent. He had not sinned. It was a baptism that symbolized cleansing. Jesus did not need to be cleansed. He was not defiled. Jesus did many things he did not need to do. His death was a death for sin. Jesus did not need to die for sin. In it all he was identifying with his people, but even more, he was fulfilling the law’s demands for his people (for they could not) so that they could experience the blessings of cleansing and forgiveness.

Just as his death fulfills the sacrifices for atonement, so his baptism fulfills the washing necessary for purity. “Not only did Jesus fulfil the laws requiring sacrifice for sin but the purity laws requiring washing from defilement and in doing so exemplified the significance of baptism.”1

Peter compared our baptism to Noah’s ark and the way God saved them through the water. Through the flood God cleansed the earth of wickedness, saving the righteous. He purified his creation by destroying all that was defiled. Peter says that baptism corresponds to this, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). At Paul’s conversion, Ananias said to him, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.

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1L. S., ““Cleansing in Christ.” (Unpublished diss., 2010), 19.

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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