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Archive for the ‘Christians’ Category

Pope Francis

ImageI am thrilled that there is a non-European Pope. The major centers of Christianity are no longer based in Europe (haven’t been for a long time). There are more Catholics in China than there are people in Ireland. What a great day for our brothers and sisters in South America as they see one of their own installed as the head of the Catholic Church. I love it.

It is true that Pope Francis is the first non-European pope of the modern era, but do you know which country has supplied the most non-European popes? My beloved Syria. There have been six popes from Syria.

(It seems that all news somehow leads me back to Syria these days. I pray that Pope Francis will be a genuine peacemaker especially in the Middle East.)

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Protestants have a hard time listening to and learning from Catholics. Both are Christians, but we all like to find enough of a difference with others to justify not learning from them. Think of how much more true this is with people from a completely different religion? When was the last time you truly learned something significant in your life from someone of a different religion?

Yasmin Mogahed has written a helpful piece on marriage. We can all learn something from it. What so impressed me though, was that what she shared she had learned from a Christian author. She references Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs. In this book he lays out research that says that men most need respect from their wives while woman most need love from their husbands. The problem, then, is that when a husband isn’t loving to his wife, she often responds with disrespect, which leads to unloving behavior from the husband and on and on. It is a cycle that can only be broken when the husband determines to love his wife whether she is respectful or not. Or when the wife determines to respect her husband whether he shows love or not. This idea about love and respect comes right out of the Bible, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

I love that this Muslim woman is setting such a good example for the rest of us. She knows that she has a lot to learn from Christians. I have seen this first hand in my own life. It was my Syrian Muslim neighbors in Damascus who taught me what it means to be a good neighbor. This was especially good for me to learn since Jesus the Messiah commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). I have always been so grateful for what they taught me about being a good neighbor through hospitality and genuine concern and love for a neighbor.

When was the last time you learned something from someone from a different religion? If you haven’t, why not?

HT: Tia

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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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Eboo Patel has a thought provoking piece about how Evangelicals could grow to love Muslims. He compares current American evangelical attitudes towards Muslims with the attitudes evangelicals had towards Catholics more than 50 years ago before JFK was elected president. These attitudes are remarkably similar. He notes:

It is easy to draw a straight line between the evangelical anti-Catholic prejudice of previous generations and the Islamophobia of today, essentially saying that “evangelicals have to hate someone.”

What a tragedy that those who believe in the One who so loved the world that he gave his only Son (Gospel according to John 3:16) and follow the One who, in love, laid down his life for the sake of  others (John 10:11) would be seen by some as needing someone to hate. I can understand why my evangelical friends would protest this perception. I can also see why my Muslim (and non-Muslim) friends would feel this way.

Fortunately, Patel doesn’t simply leave it at that. He believes and hopes for better things. The change in many evangelicals regarding Catholics happened when they got to know Catholics. Perhaps this same change can happen as evangelicals get to know Muslims. I hope so. I hope that evangelicals won’t be thought of as the people who hate Muslims (or any other group), but as the group who embody Jesus’ love for Muslims.

Patel closes his article with this:

Maybe in 50 years, there will be no surprise when the loudest cheerleaders for Muslim presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices are evangelical Christians.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to see how he got there.

Related Post:
Love Your Neighbor

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Mosque Burning

I was really sad when I read that a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned down on Monday. It is likely that it was arson since someone had already tried to set it on fire July 4th (only minimal damage was done then). This, along with the even worse tragedy in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple, shows what a messed up world we live in. And it shows that religious extremism and violence against people from other religions is not simply a problem “over there” (wherever that is). It is a problem in America, among those who call themselves Christians.

Many people like to point out how intolerant Muslims are. And yes, there is intolerance among some Muslims. But are we not like the person Jesus spoke of who tries to take the speck out of his brother’s eye even though there is a log in his own (Matthew 7:1-5)? Even among those who would never dream of doing something like burning down a mosque or injuring a person of another faith, we like to think of the world in terms of us versus them.

I’m glad there is a Christian in Joplin who recognizes God’s call to love others as we love ourselves. Ashly Carter, a Christian college student, is planning an event on Saturday to promote “acts of love.” I like it. I think some Christians won’t. Why? Because they will be suspicious that Ashly is promoting an “all religions are the same so let’s love each other” kind of event. I don’t believe all religions are the same. I don’t believe all religions lead us to God (in fact, I don’t believe any religion leads us to God – I bet that will get some people going!). But even if she does believe this (I have no idea what she believes), I still rejoice that people come together in love rather than stay separated in fear and suspicion or even hatred.

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Christians in the West rejoice that they are forgiven of sins and declared righteous before God. For many, this is the gospel. There is no thought about being unclean or impure. There is no felt need to have defilement removed. Other cultures, however, live daily with the truth that we are defiled and in need of cleansing, especially if we hope to approach God. Muslims are required to pray five times a day, but before each prayer they must perform ablution (wudu [الوضوء‎]) to cleanse themselves and be ready to enter the presence of God. This is also necessary before one even touches the Qur’an let alone reads it. Purification is a necessary and real everyday issue for 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.1

Muslims are right to believe they must be cleansed before coming to God in worship. Many Christians, though, don’t see the need for such cleansing. My Muslim friends have helped me see this need. Being in their culture has helped me read the Bible with new eyes. Now I see what was plainly there.

God is pure and holy. We are in mortal and eternal danger if we seek to approach him while undefiled. My first goal in this series of posts is to help us all see the need for cleansing before approaching God in worship. My second goal is to help us see how God makes us clean through Jesus the Messiah. Through Jesus we are able to receive a once and for all cleansing that changes our lives and the way we approach God. Simply put, we are made forever fit for worship.

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1. The Qur’an says in Surat Al Baqara [2]:222, “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” In one of the hadiths (the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), Muhammad said, “Purification is one half of faith” (Quoted in Hajjah Durriah Al-Aytah, Jurisprudence of Worship: According to the Shafi’i School of Thought, Translated by Dr. Lama Al-Jabban [No publisher. 1999], 14).

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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I am pro-life. I believe life begins at conception and that all life is valuable in the sight of God.

I am also pro-pro-choice. I believe people who are pro-choice are created in the image of God and worthy of respect as those whom God loves, even if we don’t agree.

I am also pro-Muslim. I believe that Muslims are created in the image of God and therefore are valuable in his sight, even if we don’t agree on many important things.

I found the following excerpt from Sam Crabtree’s book, Practicing Affirmation, very helpful in thinking about how we talk with those with whom we disagree. I repost it in order to help both Muslims and Christians grow in our ability to affirm others even when we disagree.

Sam Crabtree:

On a very cold Minnesota winter morning I was bundled thick against the icy Canadian wind as I marched with several thousand others to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The march route was adorned by occasional pro-choice protesters with large placards chiding our pro-life efforts as being antiwoman. The setting was cold not only meteorologically speaking, but the air was chilled with icy looks and cold shoulders. In one part of the march a shouting match had erupted and it was ugly. It seemed to me that the pro-life marcher did a particularly poor job of winning friends and influencing people, and a pretty good job of making all of us marching with him appear to be angry, rude ruffians.

Continuing the march and seeing one particularly large and provocative placard, I felt the impulse to ask its guardians about it, but thought it would only erupt into a charged argument, and so I walked on by. Ten minutes or so later, I thought, “No. I’m going to speak with them,” and so I returned to the placard’s double guards, one of whom would not look at me or acknowledge my presence in any way. He looked off in the distance, literally stiff-necked. It had to be pretty hard work for him to ignore me and avoid me. And hard work it is when affirmation runs thin in relationships.

“May I ask about your placard?” I queried with a genuinely respectful tone, for these were human beings made in the image of God. There is more than one good way to jump-start an awkward relationship, and “May I ask you a question?” is one good way. Like a British Royal Guard, the one continued not to make eye contact with me and didn’t even twitch; to him I did not exist except as a threat to his placard and mission. But the second fella said, “Well, what?” (meaning, what’s your question?).

I took it as an invitation to continue. In strained relationships it can be very important to not proceed without an invitation, like playing “Captain, May I?” or “Simon Says.” Show deference to the captain and heedful respect to Simon. “I’m noticing your placard, here. I don’t know who designed it, but its graphics are strikingly attractive and its message is powerful.” There were no words on it, just a huge rendering of a coat hanger encircled with a slash through it. It was a graphic not hastily thrown together by some amateur, but was colorful and simple, and though we were on opposite sides of a controversial issue, I could affirm the graphic skill. So I did.

And then I took another figurative step forward, “I take your poster to mean that you oppose self-inflicted coat hanger abortions, am I right?” In tense situations, it can be good to not jump to conclusions, even when you’re pretty sure you already understand what the other side means. Slowing down to confirm the other party’s meaning is another way of affirming them as human beings who might like the opportunity to correct me if I have misunderstood. I am not beyond the possibility of misunderstanding, a healthy and humble admission to make.

“Right,” he replied, meaning that his poster was explicitly against coat hanger abortions.

Proceeding I said, “Well, I think we have something that you and I can enthusiastically agree on.” He looked at me as though I had forgotten which side of the issue I was marching on. “We both are in favor of the safety of women. We are men, and the safety of women is important to us, even though we aren’t women ourselves. I appreciate your willingness to come out here on a very cold day, seeking to protect women from a procedure that will never threaten you personally. That seems altruistic to me.” I’m not sure that he understood the word altruistic, but I am sure he took it as a compliment, which it was.

“May I ask another question?” While his sidekick still stood stiff as a poker, this man was opening up to me. By asking permission to pose another question instead of just charging forward, the conversation was kept from shutting down, like the shouting match that had erupted elsewhere on the march route.

“Sure,” he replied. The first time I asked permission to ask a question, he gave me a tentative “well, what?” because he was uncertain about what I might do. In response to my second request to interview him further, he replied casually with a “sure.” The cold was thawing. The door was opening.

So I asked my next question: “Could you tell me how many women have been injured by coat hanger abortions? Do you have that information, or could you point me to somebody who does?”

His stammering response was something like, “Hmm . . . nooo . . . no, I don’t.” His pokerfaced partner offered nothing, not even a flinch. “I suppose you could check at the library or somewhere,” was the best he could do. He wanted to help me do my research and get the facts. He was warming up.

On to my next question, “Well, can you tell me now many women have been injured by legal abortions in medical facilities?”

Same answer: “Hmm . . . nooo . . . no, I don’t, uh, have that information. I would think you might be able to get it at a library, or you could try to go online.”

He’s conversant now, and I moved on to my last question: “What do you say to the person who does have that information—the person who knows approximately how many women have been injured by coat hanger abortions in the United States and how many young women have been injured by legal abortions—what do you say to the person who has that information and knows that the number of woman inured by coat hanger abortions is less than one percent of the women who have been injured by legal abortions?” Checkmate. He looked embarrassed, which is appropriate.

He hung his head and looked at the ground. But he wasn’t angry, not with me. That is, he didn’t see me as his opponent; he saw the data as his opponent. He was awakening. Do you see how affirmation—looking for something to commend—opened the door to talk about the issue that divided us? And he was backing away from his hard stance. His partner walked off, having never said a word; we won’t win them all, and the practice of affirmation is no ironclad guarantee. Our conversation ended when the public address system fired up and the rally program began.

I hasten here to say that beautiful graphics should not be used in the service of killing defenseless children. But if I started my conversation there, I suspect our discussion would have quickly gone in the direction of the shouting match. My goal isn’t just to protest, but to persuade.

—Sam Crabtree, Practicing Affirmation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), pp. 76-79.

HT: Justin Taylor

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