Father’s Day

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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.

A Christian’s Guide to RAMADAN

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I used to dread Ramadan as a Muslim… I knew I was supposed to look forward to it each year, but it was so much better to simply ignore it was coming and that I would be judged by how many fasts (“Roza” in Urdu) I would keep.  On the occasions I would fast, I would sleep all day, get headaches, try to brush my teeth because I couldn’t have water and even passed out from dizziness (I used to pass out all the time growing up).  I wrote another blog about fasting here last year.

All of that was worth the night time activities. Being one who enjoys having people over to our home, the evenings would be a time of celebration (we made it!) and we would feast, play board games and cards and eat full meals again until the wee hours of the morning before sunrise… only to do it all over again.

There was even a joke in our family-if you weren’t fasting and if someone asked you if you were keeping your fast, you should always say “yes, I keep it in my closet.” The bottom line is that for Muslims, keeping a fast is a matter of honor and shame for your family. Muslims will ask you straight up if you are fasting or not to see how pious you are (or not, in my case). There is definitely a sense of pressure from the community. This is not felt so greatly in Pakistan or in the Middle East because everyone there assumes you are fasting – it’s just what you do. During the day, restaurants are open only to foreigners (and even that is limited).  In some Muslim countries, it is a punishable crime to eat and drink in the public during Ramadan and the religious police look for people! Everything shuts down, so the only thing to do for women, especially is to watch long movies and sleep.

For many Christians, Ramadan is a mystery. I hope today to untangle some of those confusing ideas.

  1. Ramadan starts upon the sighting of the crescent moon by Saudi Arabia’s High Judicial Court. The dates always vary of when Ramadan starts due to Islam’s use of a lunar calendar (hence the shape of the moon on all things Muslim).  Fasting is for 30 days.
  2. TODAY, May 27 is the first day of Ramadan for 2017
  3. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the FIVE Pillars of Faith (requisite checklist for all Muslims)
  4. It’s not truly fasting as in the Christian sense of the word (completely abstaining from food and water like Jesus did in the desert (see Matthew 4) for 40 days and nights. Fasting for Ramadan is a flip of night and day. You can eat all you want from sunset to sunrise – you don’t touch food or water (not even a sip, otherwise you break your fast) from sunrise to sunset. It’s embarrassing for a Muslim to gain weight during this time!
  5. Ramadan is a time for prayer. Muslims try to get closer to God. WE CAN HELP!!!
  6. Join a Christian movement called “30 days of Prayer”  http://www.30daysprayer.com/ to pray for the Muslim world to come to the LORD. The website also has a devotional book you can order, as well as e-mail reminders to pray for the Muslims around you.
  7. Women who are pregnant or nursing (or menstruating) cannot fast. They will have to make up their fasts at a later time in order to do their duty as a Muslim. Children and the very elderly do not have to fast. There are also some exemptions made for athletes and those who are traveling.
  8. Some Christians I know want to fast in solidarity with their Muslim friends – you can most definitely do that (=freedom in Christ!), however please note that fasting during Ramadan is complete with religious obligations and rules set forth by Islam. Don’t follow those rules or do something contrary to the beliefs you have in Christ Jesus. These two religions are very, very different! Make it clear why you are fasting so that they don’t get the wrong idea or so that you are not misleading them into believing something else. Be clear about who you follow, that’s all.
  9. We can enter joyfully into a fast and even share the breaking of the fast party with our Muslim friends and neighbors. Let them know that Jesus allowed Christians to fast in Matthew 6:16-17 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”
  10. At the end of Ramadan, all Muslims celebrate Eid — many of my fond memories as a child revolve around us celebrating Eid with so much joy! Eid is scheduled for June 25 this year.

69859_artworks-000076178737-9xpof4-originalMuslims are our neighbors, and Jesus instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 22:39) Pray For Muslims in Love. Invite them to your home! 

The Bible says: 15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. ~James 5:15-17

Scared to Death

 

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From Camberley Mosque, UK

My first experience with death was in High School. Until then, it was not very personal. I had never attended funerals at all. I didn’t really think much about death or that life was going to have to end at one point or another. Many of you know I lived a fairly sheltered life. Our family moved around a lot when I was growing up. Several of my relatives passed away when I was very young (less than four years old) or were living in another country, so I did not get to have a relationship with them.

All of that changed when my grandmother passed away. She had heart issues but was in her late 50’s, so her death was unexpected and sudden. My grandparents had been living with us for a few years prior to moving out to a small home, so this was a relatively close relationship. Her death hit me very hard.

It wasn’t because I missed her or was upset about her death (sounds callous, I know). It was mainly because as a selfish teenager, all of a sudden it became about ME. I realized I didn’t know what to expect when I died. What did the Quran say about death? I knew there were angels on my right and left shoulder who noted my good and bad deeds to report them to Allah, but apart from that, I didn’t know.

When I was a little girl, I was told that when you sleep at night, your soul dies a little death and that God will return your soul to you in the morning if He wills it. This was also a pretty scary thing to consider as a small Muslim child. Here in the West, children are worried about the monsters hiding in their closet, but for the Muslims, you actually died at night!

From the Quran (al An’aam 6:60)

“It is He, Who takes your souls by night (when you are asleep), and has knowledge of all that you have done by day”

Interpretation – Hadith Al Bukhaari, 7474

 

It was narrated from Abu Qataadah (may Allah be pleased with him) that when they slept and missed the prayer, the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Verily Allah took your souls when He willed, and He returned them when He willed.”

When I asked my father, he replied that Muslims believed that Allah does indeed take into account the good and bad deeds and that all Muslims work towards increasing the balance of the good deeds so that the scales will tip in their favor. This led me to even more questions: how do you know how much each good and bad deed is worth? Are they all weighed the same? It can’t be! Isn’t murder worth more than a lie? What about a lie to my parents versus a lie to an unbeliever? Are they the same? Does one have a higher penalty than the other?

Muslims have no answers to those questions! There is no assurance of salvation, no pardon, nothing to rely on. You have to believe that Allah is most merciful and that He will tip the balance for you, but then again, the Quran says that Allah can change His mind — how do you know for sure?

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This is where the relief for me came in. It took another 20 years for me to come to Christ and the Holy Spirit showed me that indeed, I was a horrible Muslim. I tried to pray five times a day, but didn’t (meetings at work, luncheons, appointments, you name it). I tried to fast, but couldn’t (meetings at work, luncheons, migraine headaches, etc). I tried to give alms on a regular basis and did pretty well at that. Overall, I fell short of even meeting the checklist for the five pillars of faith (see my post on fasting). I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that these things were not going to get me to heaven. Only ONE thing could do that for me and that was Christ.

In John 14, Jesus speaks to His disciples and tells them not to worry.  He says:

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in Goda ; believe also in me. 2My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really know me, you will know b my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

What comforting words! He does not promise that we will prosper here on earth. He doesn’t tell us to do five, ten or fifteen things on a checklist. He says He is the way and we can come through Him. He says “get to know me.” He says He will come back and take us. We don’t even have to look for a way or find it on our own. We don’t have to do anything other than accept Christ for who He is: the way, the truth and the life. He is the WAY to God. He is the TRUTH that so many are searching for and He is preparing a home for us to live in… not to die in, but to live.

In Matthew 22:32, Jesus talks to the Sadducees (Jewish priests) and says “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

In Christ, we only have the shadow of death (Psalm 23). We pass from life here into eternal life with Him. Matthew 4:16 says “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 

What a joy and a relief for me on the day that I realized I did not have to sit in the shadow of death. I didn’t have to worry about what would happen to me, for the great light of Christ shined upon me! What a comfort to know – truly know that what God had planned from creation was going to be set right in Christ. He does truly love us and knows us by name. He will come and bring us back to be with Him. He promises this.

No Muslim (or anyone else) has this assurance! When I became a Christian, I asked my first Bible Study group why they weren’t shouting about this from the rooftops? What an amazing burden to be lifted off of me. I was scared to death of death and dying! I had nights where I found I couldn’t sleep. Before I had my first C-Section (my first surgery), I really thought that I might have to go and have my scales be weighed in front of God. I knew I was going to the “escalator down.” There’s no way, I would be admitted into heaven based on what I had done (or not done in my case).

Why hide this from others? Why not share what Christ has done for you? Do you have this assurance or do you still worry about where you are going when you die? If you are in Christ and you know Him, then you know the way, the truth and will have eternal life TODAY.

Muslims in Your Backyard

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Today, I was invited by my friend to attend a talk given by the Religion Department at Oklahoma City University. I welcomed the opportunity to be in the audience, given that I think we should have an open mind to see what the current Muslim conversation and views are in our community. The speakers were all from the University and were intended to present what it’s like to be a Muslim in America today.

Even though I was not speaking or on the panel (= not a Muslim), I had to pray that the Lord keep my mouth shut unless 3 conditions were met. I prayed “Lord, open my mouth only if 1) it glorifies you, 2) it glorifies your Son, and 3) it is wrapped in your love.” So, being equipped with prayer, I set off with my daughter (who had a fever yesterday and is fine today, but could not attend school due to 24 hr rule for fevers). Right when we got there, I realized I did not bring my notepad to take notes. So, digging into my purse, I found my Sephora coupon for a free mascara. After a moment of hesitation (free makeup!), I went ahead and wrote down notes from the speakers.

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Giving my ALL for Jesus!

The first speaker was the Imam from the Greater OKC Mosque. He is the Assistant Professor and Chair in Islamic Studies Religion and hails from Palestine. Just a side note, he is also the Imam for the guy Alton Nolan who beheaded an innocent woman, Colleen Hufford in Moore, Oklahoma. The Imam started off talking about Islamophobia in the US

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Alton Nolen in front of the Greater OKC Mosque

and asked why we couldn’t “coexist.” He cited examples of being harassed at the Muslim Day at the Capitol but nothing specific, other than saying that a Christian man from Kansas (how he knew he was Christian, I’m not sure) told him that he was “the devil.”

The other two speakers were less emphatic. The professor spoke about being victimized and using Muslims as doormats. He made political comments about the current presidency and also how he has been reading MLK Jr’s books about the Civil Rights Movement. He actually went as far as to say “the Civil Rights Movement is applicable now to the Muslim Community.” How? I find that to be a far reach. The African Americans at that time were facing serious oppression – separate bathrooms and eating areas, not being allowed seats on public transportation, etc. That is most definitely NOT what my family has faced as Muslims. He also said something that caught my attention. He said that Muslims needed to call for tolerance… really? Show me at least ONE Muslim nation that is “tolerant.” This is the reason why so many Muslims flock to the West – tolerance is here in the United States. You cannot find tolerance in the Sharia law that governs Muslim nations.

The young student they had on the panel was just darling and sweet in her replies. I told my husband afterwards that she reminded of me as a Muslim, telling everyone how wonderful Islam was. Her opening remarks were that she had not read the Quran and was not familiar with the writings, but she would share her experiences. She said that she had not felt any hate remarks aimed at her, even though she wears a hijab. She made it a big point to stress that she CHOSE to wear a hijab to cover and that no one was forcing her to do so. Her closing comment on Islam however, was naive and mistaken. She said that she wanted everyone to know that “Islam has the root word for peace and whenever we greet one another, we say ‘Salam’ which means peace be on you.” Unequivocally… not true.  If you want to know, here’s an excerpt from the website Answering Islam:

“In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related to the ‘stinging of the snake’ or ‘tanning the leather’?

Muhammad used to send letters to the kings and leaders of the surrounding countries and tribes, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the messenger of Allah. He always ended his letters with the following two words: “Aslim, Taslam!”. Although these two words are derived from the same infinitive Salama which is the root of Salam, i.e. ‘Peace’, neither one of them implies the meaning of ‘peace’. The sentence means ‘surrender and you will be safe’, or in other words, ‘surrender or face death’. So where is the meaning of ‘Peace”In order to find the meaning of a certain word in the Arabic dictionary, it is essential to search for the three letter infinitive verb which is called the root. Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don’t necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means ‘submission’, is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam which means ‘peace’ and so is the verb Salima which means ‘to be saved or to escape from danger’. One of the derivations of the infinitive Salama means ‘the stinging of a snake’ or ‘The tanning of the leather’. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. ‘Peace’, does that also mean that it must be related t’ in such a religion that threatens to kill other people if they don’t submit to it?”

Pastor Mateen Elass also wrote a great blog on the very topic of Islam not meaning Peace. You can find it here & I encourage you to check it out.

The question and answer session began with the question “All of you have been talking about how peaceful Islam is, but what about the violent passages in the Quran?” The Imam took that question right away and said there were NO passages in the Quran about violence at all! He continued to say that in fact, the Quran does not have words like “kill” or  “kill the Infidels,” “convert or die, ” or even the word “sword.”  The professor on his right picked up this theme from the Imam and said how Jihad was only to indicate a personal struggle and that all the students in his class were Jihadists because they struggled to get good grades. The Imam said that the media had bastardized and perverted what was written in the Quran… after all, it is interpretation that is the issue.

NO, NOT SO. We cannot continue to play the “it’s written only in Arabic, so we cannot truly understand the Quran unless you read it in Arabic.” “Kill” in Arabic pretty much means “kill” in English. This was a hard thing for someone who has been a Muslim as an adult and has read the Quran to swallow. I had to break down and whisper to my friend who invited me and tell her that was a blatant lie. There are over 164 passages in the Quran that are violent and deal with war, jihad (even though the word is not used, the intent to fight infidels is clear), or killing. It is not a story about peace and love… not even close. On average, one out of every six lines is about hell fire and damnation.

There is NO good news for Muslims.

Here is a list of over 109 passages in the Quran from a website called The Religion of Peace. Below is only ONE of these verses where you will find… drum roll please… “Kill, Killing, and Kill again” from Surah Al-Baqara (2:191-2):

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ ۚ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ ۖ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.

It’s difficult to sit there and see what is being said in front of you without anyone in the audience to challenge it. Yet I knew that this was not a place for debate and I was so thankful for coming to the place prepared through prayer ahead of time. The woman who asked the question about violence in the Quran left early, so I could not catch up to her to talk – maybe it was not meant to be. The rest of the questions were very politically correct and were in the line of “why can’t we all just get along?”

The message from the Muslim community (including those in my family) is mixed. There are many who do not know what is in the Quran and those who DO know (like the Imam) are choosing to not tell the truth or even a part of the truth.

It is important to know and look things up for yourself. The Quran is available online and all you have to do is to Google “violent passages in the Quran” or something along those lines to see BOTH the Arabic and the English. Please don’t accept things at face value. God gave us a brain and he intends for us to use it. Let’s use our brains to His glory and know what is being said in the media and on this type of a panel.

The end was more of the same. The Imam made an ostentatious claim that we are all under one God. He said “Allah, Eloh, Ilah” are all the same (look up the name Ilah & you will find something totally different!). Again, not true. Allah is only one dimension. Our God as revealed by the Scriptures is YHWH. He exists in three dimensions. Unless you know the relationship of love that exists between God the Father, the redeeming love of Christ Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit, you miss the whole picture. Allah is not the God of the Trinity.

There is great confusion and darkness for those who do not know God as revealed in the Scriptures. I pray that the Church will wake up and heed the Great Commission to GO! As one who lived in the US as a Muslim, I was accustomed to the darkness. I blindly believed what the Imams said in the mosque and what my parents told me. When the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the truth of God as revealed in Christ, it was indescribable. There is great freedom and love in Christ Jesus. I just pray that we, as Christians will share the Gospel in love. We need to always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE we have ~ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15.

I beg you… Be ready! Be prepared! Give that reason for the hope you have in Christ. DO IT with gentleness and respect. This is what we need to share with Muslims today. Find a Muslim in your own backyard and share the Good News of the Gospel!

Every Nation, Tribe & Tongue

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Crescent Project National Conference – Houston, TX

Last weekend, I had the honor of being invited to speak on a panel of Believers of Muslim Backgrounds (BMB) for the Crescent Project National Conference in Houston, Texas. The conference had about 400+ people in attendance. Fouad Masri, founder was spoke on the first night about how Fear exists not only for Christians who believe the media about Muslims but also for the Muslims in the United States who believe the media about Christians. There is a desperate need for an AUTHENTIC Christian witness to all people.

The panel was both exciting and interesting. I want to walk you through the details. There were only two women (myself and the other woman to my left in the picture) and all others were men. The moderator, Fouad Masri, had us sit in a particular order by country from left to right – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, another from Iran, Morocco, and Palestine. I want to point out that there were many more Believers from Muslim Background at this conference, about 21 of them (but not all were on the panel). This is the most I have seen gathered in one location. When we were introduced according to country, the man from Iraq put his arm around the man from Iran. They said something amazing “Only Jesus can bring these two countries together like this – arm in arm.”

Each of us had the chance to briefly tell our story. There were several questions asked by the moderator, that included why we decided to follow Christ, what made us follow Him, what is the one point we want people to know about Muslims. If you don’t know my story, let me briefly share it with you. I wasn’t looking for Jesus. I wasn’t interested in following him. In fact, I was trying to become a better Muslim. My family is considered to be moderate Muslims or nominal Muslims. In other words, we were Muslim in name, not by practice. We did not pray 5 times a day nor did we uphold many of the pillars of faith.

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After 9/11, I decided that I didn’t know much about what I believed, so I went into a deeper commitment to Islam. I started by reading the Quran (or Koran – different spellings can be found). The Quran brought questions for me – I didn’t have any questions about my faith, but just wanted to know more. The Quran actually was confusing and troubling in it’s treatment of women (Sura Al Nissa). It also contained a whole chapter on Jesus (Sura Maryam) that I didn’t understand – why did Jesus have so much power to do miracles like raise people from the dead? Why could he alone give life and heal?Through prayer, the Holy Spirit led me to a church where the associate pastor helped to connect the dots.  This was not an overnight thing, but was a journey that took over a 3 and a half years. At the age of 35, I accepted Christ and was baptized along with my husband and 3 children! What a huge praise it is and I still thank God for His mercy and grace on our family.

Sometimes I think that people in the United States sell Christianity & themselves short. They think that Christianity is just a religion for “white people.” Revelation 7:9 says “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Christ didn’t come for just one group! He came as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) and for the world. 

This was the most amazing part of this conference. To share the gospel of love with Muslims, you don’t have to go across the world (unless you want to) or to the Middle East (unless you want to). You simply can go to the local grocery store, University classroom, or restaurant. God has brought Muslims here to the United States. There are many who are lost, who need Christ’s message of hope  and need an authentic witness in their life. What are you doing to help reach out to them?

God said “GO” in the Great Commission. Are you going? God said “LOVE” in his commandment to us (John 13:34). Are you loving others in the world or just the ones you are comfortable around? God said “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7). Are you fearful?

Today’s the day to change all that. Decide to live for Christ and watch what happens. A world of new relationships awaits… from every nation, tribe, people and tongue…

 

Eid al Adha, 9/11, and God’s Sacrifice on Mount Moriah

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NY Times Photo for Sep. 10, 2016 -More than 3,000 Muslims gathered for prayer at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, Me., at the start of Eid al-Adha in 2015. Credit Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald, via Getty Images.

Eid al Adha is a Muslim celebration that is translated as the “Festival of Sacrifice” or “Bakr Eid” (Bakr means Lamb or Goat in Arabic). It falls on different days due to the Lunar Calendar. Once the new moon is sighted, the Festival is celebrated 10 days later. According to Al Jazeera, the  Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia stated that the New Moon did not fall until September 2, so they have declared Eid al Adha to be on September 12, 2016. However, if you look at the reports for the new moon (here,  here and here), all show it to fall on September 1, 2016, making Eid al Adha today, September 11, 2016. Personally, I believe it was a political decision to move it to September 12.

Regardless of the day Eid al Adha falls upon, countries do celebrate it on different days. In my post titled “The Sacrifice of the Lamb,”  I wrote about the significance of the sacrificial lamb and how Christ was described as the “lamb who was slain” (John 1:29 and Rev 5:6).  Muslims celebrate Eid al Adha during the season of Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and almost two million people are expected to journey this year to Saudi Arabia to perform one of the 5 pillars of faith in Islam. For most Muslims, Eid al Adha is marked with a sacrifice of a lamb or goat, which they eat, share and give to charity as a part of alms (another pillar of faith in Islam) and go to each others’ homes for parties and celebrations. For me, as a child, it meant dressing up in Eid clothes, getting Eidee (Eid money) and gifts from loved ones – it was kind of like Christmas, just without Christ or the tree or Santa.

I was reminded today by the date that it was the 15th anniversary of one of the most horrific days in the United States. September 11, 2001 is still etched in the minds of many Americans. In fact, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the horrible news come through my car radio. I was in my minivan, driving to the shopping center on the corner of 2nd and Bryant. I was stopped at a red light and I heard about the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center building. Parking my car as quickly as I could, I listened to the rest of the news. I headed home immediately, abandoning my plans so I could get the news on the TV. It was gut-wrenching especially as the news began to pour in about Muslims behind the multiple attacks.

That day marked a turning point in my life. I just didn’t know it at that time how much it would shape my future. After 9/11, my phone began to ring off the hook. Since I teach Human Resources and Cultural Diversity, many organizations asked me to speak to them and help them to understand what it was like growing up in Muslim countries and what it was like to be a Muslim woman. 9/11, despite the grave losses, was financially beneficial to me. I had speaking engagements lined up for the rest of the year! 9/11 also launched me on the path to the decision to become a better Muslim and also to read the Quran cover to cover. I began that journey and it took me over 3-1/2 years to read the Quran.

The Quran is what led me to Christ. When I share my testimony, many ask me “what did someone say to you to make you believe?” or “what should I say to a Muslim person who might have been like you?” My journey was different. I did not have a SINGLE AUTHENTIC WITNESS who shared the true Gospel with me – none. Instead, God in His infinite mercy led me to Christ through the Surah Maryam (Mary – mother of Jesus) in the Quran. I could not reconcile the miracles and power of Christ with the teachings of Islam and Mohammad. I also realized through the Holy Spirit that I could not work my way into Heaven and that I needed God’s help.

I owe everything to Christ’s sacrifice as the lamb who was slain. Did you know that on Mount Moriah, Abraham gave up his son so that “God Himself would provide the lamb?” (Gen 22:8). Did you know that the Solomon’s Temple was built upon that very mountain? Did you know that JESUS CHRIST was crucified on Mount Moriah, fulfilling God’s promise of salvation through the blood of the only blameless, sinless lamb of God?

Gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?

God is all-seeing, all-knowing. He is omniscient, omnipotent and worthy to be praised! So this day, please pray for Muslims who do not know the real reason behind Abraham’s sacrifice. Please pray for Muslims who are reading the Quran, trying to get to God through their own works and through meeting a checklist of the pillars of faith for Islam. Please pray for the families of the victims of 9/11, knowing that there are many more stories of lives impacted for the Kingdom through their deaths. Please pray for our country that we wake up to the only Way, Truth, and Life through Christ Jesus. Amen.

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.