BRAVE

by BRAVERY (1)

Over the last two weeks, I have had the privilege to listen to two very moving testimonies about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One was our friend from Iran and the other was our friend from India. In both testimonies, there was a common denominator… the LORD called and they answered. There was also another commonality – they both had to forsake all else to follow Christ.

In the West, we have it easy. There are mega-shopping malls and mega-churches. There are gas stations at every corner and also houses of worship. We take Christianity for granted. If you feel like going to church you can walk into any place of worship. If you don’t feel like doing any of that… well, you don’t have to do that either. I have heard many say “it’s whatever makes you feel good.”

The message of the cross is not “do whatever makes you feel good.” In fact, it’s quite different. In his book “Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed follower of Jesus,” Kyle Idleman says that the church’s message should be “Come and Die.” Granted, many churches would not get very far with an advertising campaign that tells people to die to their old selves and put away all things of the flesh (and sin). It’s not a popular message. YET, this is what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 “23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.…”

When listening to each testimony, I was reminded that here in the United States, there is no heavy persecution to follow Christ. Both of these men have faced persecution from their countries and also from their families. Yet, the persecution has brought out a beautiful light that shines from each one of their faces when they both attested to the fact that Christ rescued them – one from Islam and the other from Hinduism. To be delivered from death into eternal life, to be delivered from trying to reach God from their own works to the work done on the cross for them by the sinless Christ, to be delivered from darkness into light is only something the Holy Spirit can do.

What a marvelous and beautiful Savior. May His light shine through these amazing men who live and die for Jesus. May the Lord bless them and strengthen them in their walk with Him. Amen.

 

Advertisements

Do Muslims & Christians Pray to the Same God?

katarina-church-and-stockholm-mosque-1024x575
Katarina Church & Stockholm Mosque in Sweden

One of the frequent questions I get is “Do Muslims pray to the same God as us (Christians)?” If you would have asked me when I first became a Christian, my answer would have been unequivocally “YES!” Having been taught that Allah is the same God of Abraham (whom both Jews and Christians worship) for 35 years was the reasoning behind that answer at that time. I didn’t understand fully who God Almighty was and more specifically, who He was as revealed by Jesus Christ.

This year, I was mortified to learn that churches right here in Oklahoma City were allowing Muslims to come and pray with them. When I asked how prayers were being conducted, the two people I spoke to said that their Imam was leading the Muslim prayer with everyone there… in the church. Did I mention that this was IN THE CHURCH???

What’s wrong with that?

In my Muslim brain, I would not have seen any issues with that. Same God = Same God. No problem.

As a more mature Christian, my understanding of who we worship is very different! We, Christians worship ONE God in THREE persons: God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ his only begotten son and the Holy Spirit. All three separate persons who have existed together since the beginning of time (for there is no time for them – they are infinite!). They are three, but ONE.

This is not only completely different than what Muslims believe, it is also considered to be “Shirk.” Shirk is the ultimate sin of blasphemy that puts another equal to God. In Islam, the belief in Allah is called Tawhid. Tawhid comes from the Arabic root word for ONE “Wahid.” One means only one – not a father, no son and no Holy Spirit. In fact, in the Quran, the Trinity is called out by Isa (Jesus) in verse 5:116 (Yusuf Ali):

And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah‘?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

Yes… that’s right. The Quran points out that Christians believe the Trinity is Allah, Jesus and Mary. The next few lines say that is blasphemy and guess what… CHRISTIANS AGREE!  In fact, the Bible attests to this fact numerous times in both the Old & the New Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) ~ “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [NOTE: Jesus repeats this in Mark 12:29]

8:1 Corinthians 6 ~ yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

In Islam, the five daily prayers (Salat) attest to the Muslim belief that Allah is only ONE and that there are no others equal to him. In fact, there is a beautiful prayer I used to recite each time  I prayed and that is called “Surah Fatiha (the beginning prayer).” The Fatiha is prayed at least 16 times a day and can also be prayed upwards of 48 times a day.  I would pray this prayer as often as I could as a Muslim.

It is important to note that just in one prayer (there are multiple prayers recited in Arabic during each of the 5 times of Salat), there is a denunciation of the Triune Christian God and also it says that Jews and Christians are going into the path of destruction. Again, I urge you to not just take my word for it, but to look it up for yourself (www.muslimconverts.com). Here’s a screenshot of the prayer with translation in English. Many Muslims have no clue what they are reciting because they have to pray in Arabic and don’t even speak the language.

fatihah
Repeated 16-48 times by every Muslim during the day

In the name of inclusion and diversity, people are willing to consider Islam as the same as Christianity.  It is not the same – that’s the beauty of real diversity in the United States – that we can worship how we want. I am 100% on board for people wanting to open their hearts to Muslims – we should not only open our hearts, but also our homes. The only caution I give is to not compromise when it comes to belief and worship. Worship of the LORD our God YHWH is sacred and should be kept that way. Christians cannot stand in our place of worship with someone next to them who is denying the Triune God and His Christ with his every word.

Instead of asking do Muslims worship the same God, I think we need to be clear that Christians DO NOT worship the same God. 

This is what I believe, along with the thousands before me (The Apostle’s Creed):

Amen and Amen…

*NOTE: “The holy catholic church” does not mean the Roman Catholic church. It is a term that means the Church Universal (the big “C” Church!)! 🙂

Father’s Day

dadandI
My father and me in Murree, Pakistan

Father’s Day is a reminder to us to go back and think of our earthly father who has influenced us over the course of our life. My father has been a generous source of caring and love. I have photos of him carrying his daughters around and you can see his giant grin that goes from ear to ear. He is the kind of father that is ready with a hilarious joke, a well-told story or the loving kindness in his smile – even for strangers.

Over the years, I have come to the realization that some don’t have a warm, fuzzy recollection of our father. For some, that person was just a “donor” and left soon after they were born. Others never knew an earthly father who raised them up.

We live in a broken, messed up world. There are painful stories people have shared with me that have brought me to tears, listening to the cruelty and heartbreak of an uncaring, missing father. Some of these personal stories have left me wondering how does this person carry on with their life or even more than that – how do they have a role model to follow?

Not only did I have my father who raised me up, but we had the additional blessing of having our maternal grandparents who lived with us for several years. My grandfather (lovingly called “Abba”) was also kind, caring and ready to sit with you. He wanted to be involved in your life and was genuine in his affection.  He was quiet in his manners and demeanor but made you feel special even when you sat next to him. He had all the time in the world to spend with you.

When I became a Christian, imagine my surprise at reading about how Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6: “Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name…” He told them to call God their Father. It even got more strange for me, because I was told the Aramaic (what Jesus spoke to his disciples) – “Abba.”  I about flipped out of my chair that Sunday morning! Abba was my grandfather – my grandpa. Abba was not God Almighty’s name!

As a Muslim, I was taught that God was way up high in the heavens and that he was indifferent to us unless it was during the time of prayer. You see, as  a Muslim, you have to have an appointment to truly talk to God. Even then, you aren’t really “talking” to him as an equal. You are bringing in your petition like a slave does to a king. You bow down low (literally the case during prayer) and then you say certain verses in Arabic. You don’t just plop down on the couch and chit chat with God (YIKES! Blasphemous!) but you approach His throne (see another post I wrote on this here: MY Dad’s Chair) carefully so you don’t cause offense.

There is no relationship with God. That is just a ridiculous notion to a Muslim. When I heard someone praying and calling God Almighty her “Daddy,” I freaked out then also. I did not realize that Jesus had given us the model to pray. We truly DO have the freedom to call Him our Father in Heaven, as well as “Abba.” He is just that close to us in a true relationship.

What a mind-blowing revelation to me! Yet, many Christians take this fact as nothing special. When we realize that we have officially been adopted into the Kingdom of the LORD God Almighty – creator of Heavens and earth, we should be shaking in our shoes. Instead, He welcomes us into an embrace – He runs to us (Prodigal Son parable – see Luke 15:20) with joy and His arms open wide!

On Father’s Day today, if you have a crummy earthly father, don’t give up hope. If you have a missing earthly father, don’t give up looking. If you have a wonderful earthly father, give God praise. For all of us, remember that we have a PERFECT Heavenly Father who is waiting for us very patiently to return to Him so He will run to us, embrace us, and call us His child.  What a wonderful God, Redeemer and Savior we have! Amen.

Let’s Talk

two-people-talking-logo-bw-edited-300x300-300x300

My husband & I are Marriage Mentors. We developed the Marriage Mentoring Ministry at our last church and by the grace of God, are helping to create a new Marriage Ministry at our new church. It is an amazing blessing to work with couples who are either seriously dating, are engaged to be married or are newly married. We are NOT counselors, nor do we give advice. This is how mentoring differs from other things. More on that later in another post.

I have taught Business Communication for Undergraduate Business schools since 1997 – coming up on 20 years! Much of what works well for the workplace can and does work well for the home. It’s just that we tend to be more polite to those we work with than those with whom we live. It’s a fact. Familiarity adds to the casualness with which we approach relationships that are close to us. While we take care to watch our words at work, it doesn’t always happen to me at home. I am mostly talking about myself here… I don’t want to point a finger at you because when I do that, I know that four other fingers are pointing back at me (in my case, that is literally true, as I have one husband and three kids! Ha! Ha!).

I taught a Conflict Resolution course earlier this week to College Interns. They were absolutely NOT interested in the session or me, until I asked them how many of them were in a relationship. Most raised their hands and that’s when they got connected into the topic. Sometimes, we think that this stuff we are learning at work does not apply to anything other than work. When you can link things at work to home, that’s where learning becomes valuable and memorable to others.

Talking to others about personal matters is not easy. In the study of Conflict Resolution, I usually start off the session by asking them to think about how conflicts were handled in their home when they were growing up. Did their parent(s) yell? Were they passive aggressive or always trying to keep the peace? These behaviors can definitely influence how you react to conflict.

conflict-management

There are several ways you can approach conflict resolution – I also wrote about conflict & perspectives in my blog titled “Bridges, Balconies, & Burquas“. The first is to know your behavioral style. Most inventories (DiSC, Myers Briggs, Jungian, etc) are based on two dimensions: Task & People (horizontal axis) and Direct & Indirect (or in the figure, Outgoing/Reserved). There are free online tests you can take (& I encourage you to take them!) to find out how you fall into these quadrants. No matter what you take, the main questions are:

  1. Do you tell people directly how you feel about certain things or do you beat around the bush in order to spare feelings?
  2. Does interaction with others (maybe 20 min or more of talking) energize you or leave you making a mental laundry list of all the things you needed to get done in that time you just spent?

fc1f77f39ca32eb049ddcb7c7be752c7

Answers to those questions will allow you to figure out which side you land on – if you are energized with interactions with others, you will fall near to the “I” and the “S” side. If you are not, then “D” & “C” are more your style. If you are direct, you will go towards the top half of the circle and if indirect, then “C” & “S” may be more like you. Nothing is etched in stone, but knowing how you like to be approached is a good start to communicating with others.

Lack of Communication is one of the top reasons for divorce in a marriage. It is also one of the main reasons why employees leave (1. My boss & I didn’t get along OR 2. My co-workers & I didn’t see eye to eye). That’s it. It’s really that simple. When we start to see where someone might fall into the style spectrum, it’s easier to understand that them being quiet doesn’t mean they don’t like you – it simply means they are processing information & are being Contemplative! In other words, they are actually taking the time to think about what you just said! How many times do we misunderstand what we just saw in another person and shake our heads? The answer: I just did it today! 🙂

So, before you decide to say “Let’s Talk” to someone, you may want to consider how they like to be approached, how they view the world (=differently than you) and also what you may need to do in order to come to a good resolution. If we thought things through on a daily basis, maybe we wouldn’t waste so much energy in assuming a negative situation. The Bible says “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(NASB – Philippians 4:8). That is a great place to start. In addition, Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” When you watch your words and think for just a second before you speak, it can make a complete difference in the way you approach others and in return, how others approach you.

If you would like to learn more about the DiSC assessment or any of the things I wrote about, I would love to hear from you!

Needs or Wants?

jesushouse
JESUS HOUSE OKC

This morning, we went with a group of friends to tour the JESUS HOUSE with Director, Mike Bateman. As we walked through to get a better understanding of what they do there and how we could serve, we were collectively struck with how much HOPE there was with the residents. The Jesus House is not just a homeless shelter. They offer much more than just a roof over people’s heads – they offer the HOPE of Jesus and loving people to support with a true spiritual transformation.

Wherever we went, Mike asked the residents to stop and share their personal story if they were willing. Not only were they willing, but one gentleman stopped as he walked by, joined the group while another was sharing his testimony and then shared his as well. The stories had a common thread: life was not what it promised, family broke down, drugs and alcohol took over, had no hope.

After we finished the tour, the group stood in the parking lot to pray together and discuss areas we might be called to help. There were so many needs that it was easy to get bogged down into analysis paralysis and risk doing nothing. So, we decided to serve and take on most urgent needs of the Jesus House first (by the way, they need socks & underwear for adult men & women if you want to help!).

I asked a gentleman in the group what he thought about the tour. He responded by saying that he felt a bit guilty about all he had, when these people had so little. This is one of the things that I have noticed in my own life. We can get easily bogged down with two words: NEEDS and WANTS. It seems like our wants can easily turn into needs without us even noticing. For example, my son wants the newest iPhone. Just yesterday, he said he needed a new phone. My answer to him was that he didn’t need a new phone, in fact, he didn’t need a phone at all (which quickly ended the discussion on his part). It’s true… apart from using the phone when he is driving & is in emergency situations, he doesn’t really need a phone – especially since all his friends have one anyway and he could use one of their phones.

Before I get too harsh about my son’s perceived needs, I should address my own as well. I don’t really need anything at all. God has provided what we need and more. We have been blessed beyond the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter, clothes. Why then is there such a desire that grows in our hearts for more, more, better, faster?

According to the US Census (2014), the average median income for a family in the United States is $52, 250. Business Insider did some calculations and found out what you needed to make in order to see if you were middle class or not per State (in Oklahoma, it was under the median at $45,690). Pew Research found that “the income groups are defined as follows: The poor live on $2 or less daily, low income on $2.01-10, middle income on $10.01-20, upper-middle income on $20.01-50, and high income on more than $50” – this means that if you make $34,000 for the family, you are in the top 1% of income earners in the world. If you don’t want to look at the discrepancy of cost of living in the world, then you can use their income  calculator to find out where you fit into the United States’s income class.

If you don’t agree with how the numbers turn out, then consider this: If you have more than one car, you are wealthy. If you have a cell phone and big screen TV, you are wealthy. We don’t see things that way. Instead, we want to compare ourselves to our neighbors and then wonder why we don’t have enough to take that trip to Europe like so and so is doing. Dave Ramsey, author and financial expert says there’s a difference between being poor and broke. He says poor is an attitude, while broke is something you are passing through. Some people have a poor state of mind. They constantly feel like they need more: money, cars, next best thing. They hunger and thirst for something and don’t realize what they have is a spiritual hunger that only Christ can feed. It’s a spiritual thirst that only the Living Water, Jesus Christ can quench. This is a part of being poor in spirit.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:3

Sometimes, we need to step back and do something outside of ourselves to see our own situation. It’s eye-opening to go to a place where people had been living on the sidewalk or in their car and now have a place to lay down their head at night and eat three meals a day. Not only is it a visible reminder of material things you have (which can be taken away) but also of the spiritual blessings like peace that have come your way from God. I found myself being thankful for having a loving two-parent family, of having a loving spouse and children. These are the things that come to your mind and help you sift out the material things that clutter up your brain.

In the Bible, Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel tell about the Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-31). The man comes to Jesus and asks what he needs to do in order to have eternal life. They have a dialogue where the man says he has kept all of God’s commandments but wanted to know what he lacked. The Bible notes something really interesting here “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Jesus knew what was in the young man’s heart. He knew that he was keeping a religious checklist to work his way into the kingdom of heaven. What the young man didn’t know was that Jesus delivered a one-two punch: 1) sell all you have 2) give to the poor. Jesus isn’t asking all of us to do that. HOWEVER, He does know what you keep in your heart as #1. If that isn’t Him, you will get called out on it. There are many things we say in order to justify not following God first. We say noble things like “I’m doing this for my family” or “I can give more to charity this way.” Those may be true, but your family may not need that new TV or the trip to Cancun or other things. You may be able to give more money, but the time you are taking to gather all that cash maybe taking away from something you could be doing to serve God. It starts in the heart and from the heart comes your attitude towards what you might need and what you might want.

Today was an attitude-adjusting day for me. I am saying all these things to you because these are things I struggle with personally as well. I hear that voice whispering in my ear that I need this thing or that thing to make me happy, when the real truth is that God has given me all I need and I know that He will continue to do so daily. Amen.

So if you find yourself running on a hamster wheel of work, or running after things of this world, stop for a moment and think about where your heart is. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also ~ Matthew 6:21

 

 

Why Did God Do This?

orlando

Yesterday, a Christian friend told me that she had a co-worker who asked her “Why did God do this?” in regard to the horrendous story about the two year old child who was dragged away to death by an alligator at Disney World. Personally, I wouldn’t have stopped there if I was the co-worker. You can apply that question to all the horrific things that happen in this world – why is there murder, rape, sex trafficking, etc., however underneath that first question are a few underlying assumptions:

  1. God exists.
  2. He doesn’t care.
  3. He actually was the perpetrator of the acts.

My Eastern mind answered her with the assumptions first: Why does this co-worker believe she is above God Almighty in that she can sit in the Judgment seat to question, prosecute, and judge God as guilty – all in one question? This is a very Eastern way of thinking… who are you to condemn God or even ask Him that question? Yet, God being accessible to us in the person of Christ allows us to at least place these questions before Him.

So, let’s take this a few steps at a time. First of all, the answer for all this lies in the way that God has chosen to speak to us = the Bible. The very first chapter of Genesis addresses the answer, which is Original Sin. It starts at the Garden of Eden where man was given free will and death entered into God’s creation plan (that up to that point He had deemed to be good). When Adam & Even chose wrongly, all of creation fell into the curse – the curse is the result of not doing what God had laid out for them to do. He had only given them ONE rule to not break and guess what? That’s the one that got broken. This is the reason for the breakdown we see all around us. From the alligator to the Orlando shootings and the tragic loss of lives. There is so much sadness around us, it’s sometimes hard for me to think.

If the person sees that what happened is wrong and sinful, then we can start there as Christians. We believe that there is an absolute standard for wrong and right. That standard does not come from man – if it did, then many would say that what the Orlando shooter did was right. Taking life for any reason is wrong. This is a standard God put into action a long time ago with the Ten Commandments (see Commandment 6 as listed in Exodus 20:13). ALL human beings are created in the image of God and only God has written when it will be the end of their days. That life does not belong to man to take away. If there is a right and wrong and God put that into motion, then these acts occurred either as a part of a fallen, broken world (as in the case of the alligator) or due to man’s free choice to ignore what the Lord has put into place.

God’s original design for mankind and the world was to live in communion with Him. He created everything (Genesis) and called it “Good.” Man’s disobedience is not a one time thing. Man continues to run away from the call of God to return to Him and His decrees, causing more hurt, sin and violence. You don’t even have to go far in the Bible to see this happening! An animal had to be killed to clothe Adam and Even after the Fall “21And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”(Genesis 3:21). Cain commits the first murder of his own brother Abel within a few chapters of the Fall. Just 11 verses later, the first murder takes place  when Cain kills his own brother Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4:8). The intentions of man’s heart are evil. Without God, only our own selfish desires rule.

Don’t forget for one minute that the Orlando shooter claimed to be from ISIS and did this act during Ramadan. We visited a Muslim restaurant just today for lunch and I asked the woman (whom I knew to be fasting) how she was faring since she worked around food all day and was required to fast. She told me that this Ramadan season had been exceptionally difficult and that she was not fasting today. She would rather not fast than to keep a fast and break it (= higher sin penalty).  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fasting and the checklists one has to fulfill to be a good, devout Muslim and how many fall short of this exacting standard set by Islam. I personally believe that there was a desperation the shooter must have felt from the Muslim standards that increased his drive to do this heinous act.

When we believe that we are the ones in control of our lives and we try to work our way to Heaven, we will miserably fail. This is the reason why we need a Savior.

Jesus Christ did not condone any of these acts. God did not will for the two year old child to die. He did not want the suffering caused by the horrific act of one man who took the lives of many in Orlando. In fact, I believe that Jesus Wept (John 11:35). There is a blog entry done by Vince Vitale at RZIM that addresses this in a beautiful way, titled “Tears for Orlando.” Jesus came to earth to take on the burden we all bear and take our sins at the cross as his own. He is the ONE who was blameless and without sin (in fact, the Quran also says that Jesus was the only one without sin – see Surah 19:19 in Chapter for Maryam – Mary).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Please join me in praying for all the families affected by the devastating events that took place in Orlando this week. May we, as Christians extend the LOVE God has instead of judgment and blame.

 

Fasting

A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City
Saudi Declares Monday as first day of Ramadan – A Palestinian man hangs decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 4, 2016. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

I was a horrible Muslim. I grew up in countries where everyone fasted, yet I never kept a fast until I was a teenager in high school. I take that back – I tired fasting around 5th grade because we had moved to the US and our neighbors were very good at fasting. Not wanting to be shown up by a boy my age, I thought I would also fast. I had such a horrible attitude about it all, I had to end the fast in a shameful way. I ate lunch. I couldn’t even make it past the afternoon.

In High School, at least I was doing it for better reasons. I knew that fasting was supposed to get you closer to submitting to God’s will for you (now why you had to not eat or drink to do this, I still didn’t understand). This was a much better approach than jealous competition with our sweet and kind neighbor family.

I still didn’t do very well as a teenager in fasting. I would try to stay up all night to eat and then would conk out close to sunrise. I would even miss the early morning prayer (which is a no-no) because I stayed up too late and now no one could wake me up, including my alarm. My mom was kind to me during this time and allowed me to stay asleep as I always rationalized that I could make up the missed prayer time in the morning or do extra credit prayers later on. Again, not a great way to embark on any religious philosophy.

As an adult after 9/11, I tried to become a better Muslim than I had ever been. I was reading the Quran, trying to pray five times a day around my work schedule and also trying to fast. I did better – I was able to fast for about a week before the horrible migraines took me down. There is a special dispensation for medical disabilities and I reasoned with Allah that since He was merciful to me, that He would exempt me from this one pillar of faith.

Islam has FIVE pillars of faith. One must do each one of them (only Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca is done once in a lifetime. Others must be done every day or every season!). 5-five-pillars-of-islamThese are absolutes, so missing one of these is kind of an issue because you are not fulfilling requirements of being a practicing Muslim. Ramadan is sacred because Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed during that month. It varies in date year to year because the lunar calendar is used to mark the ninth month – Ramadan.

I believed all the other items in the checklist. I said the Shahadah, I tried my best to pray (not all my life, mind you! I don’t want you to think I was an awesome Muslim – hence the first line of this blog!), we gave Zakat, or charity and my parents were kind enough to take us to Mecca when we were little for Hajj. The problem is that even missing one requirement does not get you to Heaven! If you are missing a pillar or two, it is sinful and you will be punished by Allah, for you are then like a building without a foundation or a roof without a supporting pillar.

The Season of Ramadan starts tomorrow morning June 6, 2016 at Sunrise. This means that over 1.5 billion (good) Muslims will be eating and drinking tonight, but fasting tomorrow and for the next 30 days.

When I became a follower of Christ Jesus, I wanted to know my requirements or obligations. I was shocked that there wasn’t a checklist to complete or clear-cut directions on what to do. I had to repent of my sins and acknowledge the fact that I needed a Savior (because I could not pay for my sins by myself), I had to confess with my mouth that Jesus was Lord and Savior and I had to believe in my heart that he died on the cross and was raised from the dead. Romans 10:9 says “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

As I began to study the Bible, I found that there was no list that needed to be checked off.  Religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, but not as a requirement or obligation.  Fasting is the humbling of the soul, Ps 35:13; that is the inside of the duty; let that, therefore, be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. God sees in secret, and will reward openly. In contrast to what I witnessed in the Muslim countries as people trying to fast in competition or worse, shaming others who were not fasting (because they had “medically exempted” headaches, for example, not that I was embarrassed about this or anything!), Matthew 6:18 says “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Psalm 35:12-14 takes it a step further with David who fasts for his enemies’ health! What is that about? I was shocked to see that fasting took on a different meaning and that had everything to do with the condition of the heart and also the desire to commune with God.

“They repay me evil for good, To the bereavement of my soul. 13But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting,And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. 14I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.…” ~Psalm 35:12-14

As Christians, we do not have to fast but we should pray to seek God’s will if there is something going on in our lives that needs change. Fasting will not change the other person or their circumstances – instead, fasting is to help us draw closer to God and to hear His will for our lives. I also want to point out a stark contrast here. Fasting for the Muslim world means exchanging DAYS for NIGHTS. It is not a complete abstaining from food or drink for 30 days. Some people are shocked that humans are able to completely give up food or drink – not the case. In addition to not eating or drinking during the daylight hours, Muslims are to try to keep from thinking bad thoughts, smoking, cursing, or having marital relations.

Fasting for the Christian is to humble yourself before the Lord, to reveal things in your life that are broken, need healing or spiritual transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring. It can help one to recognize and repent unconfessed sin. It’s not magic, it won’t fix other people, but it can help you grow in your spiritual walk with Christ.

As we pray for others, may we remember to pray for the Muslim world to know the love of Christ Jesus who fulfilled all obligations for us and completed all checklists, took our judgment and paid the price of our sins for all mankind with his death on the cross. May they learn about the resurrection power over death that is found only in Jesus. Amen.

Bridges, Balconies and Burqas

disc-assessment-test

There are always two sides to any story. What we don’t often see is that there is a third side to the story – the community and the observers to the two parties’ argument or conversation. Conflict at its most basic is merely a differing perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with seeing things differently. That is Diversity and it enriches our perspectives. Conflict is something that comes up where one or more parties cannot understand or recognize the other person’s perspective.

This is true for religion, the global situation and negotiations between nations, at our workplace and also in our families. When we feel personally threatened, there is a friction that can come up. The story behind the situation can get lost, while we focus only on our own gains, our own viewpoint and our own needs, the perspective begins to become lopsided.

Building a bridge involves a balanced approach. There are careful measurements and an overall vision that sets the stage for the process. In order to build, both sides need to be worked on at the same time so that they can meet delicately in the middle.

While I’ve never built a bridge (physical one, not metaphorically speaking), I have crocheted socks. How in the world can crocheting of a pair of socks look like building a bridge? They both need to be worked on at the same time, by someone from the outside. This is another way to look at conflicts and negotiation. Action of one entity upon two other entities = third side (or the third party) is not a new idea.

In psychology, the third side or perspective is called the “Mediating Variable.” It helps two things that seem to be linked together to be explained in a better way. In conflict negotiation or mediation, unless you have a third party involved that can help to explain the situation clearly and ask the right questions, it is very difficult to get to a suitable resolution. Authors Heifetz and Linsky have called this to be a “Balcony Perspective.” If you are one of the actors on the stage, it will be very difficult for you to see the whole picture because you only know your part and maybe the part of the person before you and after you so you can be cued in. However, if you choose instead to see the drama unfold from the balcony view, you will be able to not only understand what is going on in front of you but also what the others are doing in the background. The entire scene becomes crystal clear all of a sudden. The same is also true for conflict and negotiation.

So before you jump into a blame game or rush into judgment of a situation, STOP. Take a ladder and climb up to the balcony. Take a fresh perspective of the scene unfolding in front of you. You might just be able to see things you have never seen before or things you were taking for granted in your everyday rush to be heard and to be placed in the #1 seat.

In my walk with Christ, I have found that building bridges between my past and helping people to understand what it was like to grow up in an entirely different culture (Middle East & Asia), with a different religion (Islam), and different family values, there is a lot of ground to cover. There is great fear driven from the media that causes people to become angry towards a certain group. I have met several women who was moderately Christian at the time  (not really attending church regularly and couldn’t really say much about having a relationship with Christ), who told me that she was angered by  Muslims here in the United States and elsewhere.

As all of my family is Muslim, I could have immediately taken great offense at what she said – they have as much of a right to be here as he does, even if they were not born here, but are U.S. Citizens. After taking a deep breath (= going to the balcony), I asked her a few questions: How many Muslim people have you talked to here (answer: none), how many Muslim people have you tried to reach or build a relationship with so you could understand them better (answer: none), how do you know what they believe other than the media (answer: I am well-educated), and finally – why do you feel this way? The last question made her pause. I told him that my family would not feel the same about her, so what was going on? She answered in one word “FEAR.”

This is no different than what happens at work. We take a stand on something and get mad about it, without taking into account someone else’s underlying concerns or addressing the issues below the iceberg. Ninety percent of the time, you will find that the issue at the face of the situation is not the real issue. The real stuff is lying below what the person is saying to you.

Going back to another woman who was fearful, God had a very funny way of taking care of that situation. I hosted a baby shower for a Saudi woman who was new to the country. I didn’t even know who she was, but that a group of Christian women wanted to have a shower but the location fell through. I offered up our home and we had over 30 women attend. The guest of honor came to my front door with her entourage of 8 women- all dressed from head to toe in their black burqa (or hijab). My friend came out from the kitchen and I heard a sharp intake and gasp of a breath. I have to admit – it was kind of a scary sight to have people you don’t know who show up to your door and you cannot see their faces (kind of like Halloween, but not on Halloween…).

u47p5029t2d524770f24dt201211091518531

 

As the women were ensured that no men would be in attendance, they started to take off their veils and covers. Underneath were these sweet-faced 18-20 year old girls dressed in cute trendy dresses, short hair, full make-up. So adorable! I could see a huge wide grin spread across my friend’s face. After the fun party, she and I got to talk. She had tears in her eyes because she felt like the Lord had taken her to a balcony to see a new perspective she would never have considered. What a JOY to have that perception and fear lifted off in one night. That is the way bridges are built…

May we seek ways to bring peace to our homes, families, workplaces, and nation in this way, for blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). 

 

 

Purpose

dreamstime_xs_41276645

There are two questions I have seen people wrestle with: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? This is a common theme in the University classroom, in the business sector – especially in Human Resources or Management coaching, and in conversations around the teapot at my house. The world tells us things we should do everyday. Use this toothpaste for whiter teeth, drink this coffee to help sustain coffee plantations in South America, or wear these clothes so you can fit in with others.

I didn’t have these questions when I was growing up. Traditions in the Asian culture has parents make those decisions. They choose what school you will go to, which college you will attend, what professional degree program you will join and also who you are going to marry. It’s all planned out… nice and neat. You are told that you don’t have to worry about dating because they already have in mind a family who has a nice son. They tell you that you will probably end up making this much money because you will be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the way the Eastern part of the world sees things.

Of course, the problem with me was that I was NOT living in that part of the world! Even though my parents enrolled me in a college I didn’t want to go to, in a field I did not want to pursue – (they chose the school based on their Dentistry program, obviously dismissing the fact that I was scared of the Dentist). Much to my parents’ dismay, I changed my school to one that had a medical school and changed my intent from Dentistry to pre-med (I did keep my major in the Biological Sciences though, as a consolation prize). In other words, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Things didn’t stop there. I ended up meeting my husband and we decided to marry. So, I didn’t go to the school they wanted, the profession they chose, and I disregarded the marriage future they chose for me, for I was to have an arranged marriage as my older sister did. After college, however, I settled in neatly to a job at Campbell Soup Company.

The first change came when the Vice President of Human Resources asked me what I wanted to do? Guess what… no one had EVER asked me that before. I was dumbfounded! I must have looked like an idiot because I told him that with my eyes open in surprise. He sat back in his chair and said “Well, have you ever thought about what you are good at or what you would like to do for work? Do you like what you are doing now?” For a person who loves to talk, I had nothing. I stared at him again. I did manage to ask him “What do you think I should do? I am willing to learn.” Apparently that was a good question because he had me look into Human Resources – a career that I adore and have done now for two decades.

None of this ever pointed to my spiritual life. This was just work and career related. Again, I was pretty clear on who I was as a Muslim (= God is the Master, you are a Slave) and what my purpose was (= to live a good life and do the five pillars so I could get into Heaven). I didn’t need to have a purpose. I just obeyed like I was supposed to… well, kind of.

I tried fasting, but would get major headaches. I tried praying five times a day, but it was really tough with holding down a full time job and two children at that time. So, even in that, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

What is someone’s purpose in life? Is it to get that degree?  Is it to get the next promotion or raise? Is it to get a bigger car or nicer house? Have you achieved your purpose when you have 2.5 children? I have done those things and even more (we have 3.0 kids!), but that has left me with wanting more. I really thought that getting a big home would truly satisfy me. The only thing it does is give me more rooms to clean. It sounds very ungrateful.But  I think that’s the TRUTH. I truly believe it is ungrateful to God to continue to want more than what He has provided for me. The promotions, career, home still didn’t tell me why I was created. What am I supposed to be doing? Is this all there is to life? You get in your nice car, go to your nice job, come back to your nice home and do that again over and over again?

life-purpose

I think what leaves us flat is that the purpose of life has to be bigger than simply fulfilling our own desires. When you go to the Bible, you get a very clear answer for the purpose God created you. It’s in Isaiah 43:7 ~”Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made…” This verse says we are created for one reason and one purpose: to glorify God in all we do. This seems a bit strange at first. Why shouldn’t I follow my own purpose? The answer is that you can, but by running after these transitional things, you will not be satisfied. If you look to others for your purpose, they may be contrary to your desires. If you get your purpose from doing things, you will get burned out because you are doing it on your own power and not on God’s provision for you.

I love the story of Jonah in the Bible (not just because of the whale). I love it because he chose to say “no” to God and insisted on doing his own thing. God gave him a clear purpose and marching assignment. Jonah ignored, turned away and ran off to do his own thing. THEN he got swallowed up by the whale.

It reminds me of when our oldest son was little. We would ask him to do something little like clean up his toys in his room. He said “No! I won’t do it” His refusal didn’t change our mind or outcome or anything else. It just added more time and drama to the thing we wanted and needed him to do. I think that’s how it is with us and God’s purpose. I think we sometimes know what God wants us to do and we say “No! I won’t do it” and run the other way. Other times, we try to do things on our own power like serving in the church or other ministry that we wanted to do (and not necessarily what God desired for us to do), and we burn out. We get swallowed up… just like Jonah.

So what should we do? For the Christian, purpose for our life can be narrowed down by asking God. Prayer is a wonderful way to start. It can be very simple, like “Lord, I will be obedient to your will and serve you in the way you have planned for me.” The next thing is to read and study His Word. God’s Word in the Bible is true and holy. It shines light into our life and brings comfort. God is really clear on how He has made you and what He thinks about you (see my post on Identity). Jesus told us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” ~ Matthew 7:7. If we ask the Creator, you will be given what you are looking for. If you are searching for answers to other questions, you will find the answers in His Word. If you think that God has closed the door to reconciliation or to your dreams, knock on it. You will find that Jesus had already been standing there, patiently waiting for you.

Identity

id-card

About two years ago, Saudi Arabia passed a law that allowed women to have an identity card (see article from Riyadh Times). Why is that such a big deal? Prior to that, according to Quranic laws, women had to bring male acquaintances along with them to identify who they were. You see, women are not allowed to testify in court unless they have been identified and the only way they can do that is to have men establish their true identity for the judge. Of course, if the case was due to adultery or accusations of a sexual nature, women were reluctant to bring men (or might not be able to find a man who would vouch for them).

This is the predicament women find themselves in some countries. In the West, we have so many freedoms that we take them all for granted and don’t really give it another thought. If you want an identity card or driver’s license, you just go, pay a small fee and get it. No one questions you.

Yet, it is in the West that I find so many women struggle with their identity. I have women who come to me for Executive Coaching for work. These are women in high positions who don’t really know who they are. I also talk to stay at home moms who seem to have lost their way, teenagers who don’t understand which role they should play, how they should dress, which group would be most accepting of them. Why is that?

Society throws different ideas around of who women are (sexual objects, wife, mother, I am a goddess, hear me roar, etc) and I am convinced that the women’s lib movements caused more confusion by saying you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. You don’t need to depend on anyone but yourself. Right after the movements of the 60’s and 70’s, the US saw divorce rates go through the roof. Women initiate 2/3 of the Divorces in the United States (see article for study). It doesn’t stop there. Harvard Health reported that the use of anti-depressants in the US has increased a whopping 400% since 1994. They estimate that 1 in 10 takes an anti-depressant… women’s lib isn’t really panning out to be the answer, is it?

So where is the answer? Both men and women search for their identity. We turn to others as if they have the answer for us. Chances are that they haven’t even figured it out themselves. The answer lies in the One who made us. Genesis 1:27 says that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In one of my favorite passages of Genesis 2:21-22, God creates Woman “21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.…” It’s interesting to note that Adam noticed that creation was not complete without a helper for him and even more interesting to see that Adam is put to sleep while God does “divine surgery” on him. We can infer from the passage that when Eve was created, she also was alone with God. Herein lies the secret to our identity. Not only were we created in God’s image and bear a stamp of his likeness, but we get a close-up view of how God feels about us when we spend time alone with Him.

I am most confused when I listen to the voices of the world “You should do this” “Why are you spending time on that?” or “You would be good at that.” These are well-meaning family and friends, but the One who really knows you before you were even born (Psalm 139) is the One you should turn to first to find out who you are and what you should be doing. When we establish our identity through others (“oh, she’s the pretty one” or “she’s a cut-throat business woman”), we continue on in our own insecurities and weaknesses.

It wasn’t until I met Christ that I found out who I was. I was looking towards my dad (whom I love dearly) to provide everything I needed in life. When I got married, I simply transferred all those expectations on to my husband (whom I love dearly). What a huge burden for him to bear! Christ says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. He didn’t say to give all your burdens and expectations and place them upon others to fulfill you. Yet, that’s what we do! We expect our boss to know what we need to be happy at work. We expect our spouse to know what makes us happy at home. We expect our children to know what makes us happy as parents. However, none is better equipped to bring you true JOY than the Lord.

God has invited us into a relationship with Him. Some of the words God uses to describe us are: Forgiven. Chosen. Redeemed. Holy. Beloved. Child. Heir. New Creation. Cleansed. Daughter. Glory of Man.

So when you find yourself saying:

I am worthless     REMEMBER: Matthew 6:26 ~Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

I am a failure     REMEMBER: Phil 4:13 ~I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I am unlovable   REMEMBER: Romans 8:39 ~nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I have so much guilt   REMEMBER: Isaiah 43:25 ~I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

I have nothing   REMEMBER: Phil 4:19 ~And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices that accuse. Listen to the voice that gives life. God is the One who created us and He is our heavenly Father who loves us. This is your identity as one created in His image. You bear the fingerprints of God. If you get confused and find out that you have no plan or feelings of self-worth, turn to the scriptures for the truth of who you are and why you were created.

My prayer for you: Lord, thank you for creating me in your image. Help me to see myself and others with your eyes. Help me to not elevate myself over others or you and to not let myself be degraded by others opinions. I want to live in your light, as you are in the light. Amen.