ISIS & the Cultural Muslim

ISIS & the Cultural Muslim

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I know Muslim homes around the world were cringing yesterday when a Muslim man’s name was announced for the terrorist attacks in Spain. My family gets really agitated and worked up each time there is an attack. They don’t want to hear it was a Muslim person yet again who was driving into people, killing at random.

Most of my family and friends are “Cultural Muslims.” They will tell you that they are not terrorists. In fact, this is what I used to go and speak about as a Muslim woman after the 9/11 attacks. The Muslim community sees itself as a peaceful, working class group – just like any other patriotic citizen.  There is a desire to fit into the culture, yet be set apart from it due to the religion and what it entails. This is not an easy thing to do. It’s a fight I had within myself as I grew up Muslim in America.

The freedoms you have in the West do not compare to the oppression from Islamic nations. It’s really easy here to get used to being able to talk freely to everyone (including men), to speak your mind and share opinion without repercussions and to practice your religion – even at work. I enjoyed all these freedoms!

When faced with the media and portrayal of Muslims, I find a broad-brush statement like  “all Muslims are terrorists” or even “all terrorists are Muslims.” The frustration for others comes when Muslims do not stand up and deny that Islam teaches this type of behavior. It’s hard for someone who doesn’t come from this culture to understand what’s going on in the background.

Muslims – even cultural Muslims will not condemn what ISIS is doing because ISIS is indeed going by what the Quran says (see Quran 3:32, 48:29, 5:23, 9:29, 9:73, 9:111, etc). Orthodox Muslims will tell you that ISIS is those who are holding true to the Quran = real, authentic Muslims. In fact, Orthodox Muslims say that the Cultural Muslims are not real Muslims and have denounced them. 

When I was a Muslim and we showed up to the Mosque, I would inevitably get the 20 questions routine (I have blogged about this before). There is a battery of questions asked unashamedly by others. I was usually asked what my name was, my parents’ names, where we were from (city), if I was married, husband’s name (this was a kicker when I was married to an American, but remained a Muslim), if I kept all the fasts for Ramadan, if I prayed 5 times a day, on and on. They weren’t trying to be nosy – they were trying to figure out what kind of a Muslim I was. The reason why they asked is because we were not regulars to the Mosque! Should’ve been obvious we were not Orthodox in our beliefs. The question and answer session usually concluded with the person looking down at me in disdain.

Nevertheless, even the Cultural Muslims will not come out against what another Muslim is doing, especially if they have no clue as to whether or not the Quran supports it (for many have not read the Quran or have only read it in Arabic when it was not their native language). The condemnation only comes from the Orthodox Muslims for the rest of the Muslim world to follow what they are doing. This is not only scary for the Cultural Muslims (because they actually want to live in Western countries and want to work and be “normal”) but also for the rest of the population for the US and Europe. Did you follow that? Orthodox Islam condemns Cultural Muslims for their flimsy, watered-down beliefs. 

There is a definite call to follow Orthodox Islam. Saudi Arabia sets the tone for the rest of the world because it is the heart of Islam and the birthplace of Muhammad. The Muslim world looks to Saudi Arabia for everything from when the moon is in the right phase for the start of Ramadan to dictates that they set (especially Sharia law). In 2007, Saudi Arabia launched an official website for issuing of “Fatwas” (religious decrees and mandates put forth by Islamic scholars on a council, including who was an enemy of Islam).

When I speak publicly about growing up Muslim and becoming a Christian, I get responses like “well, the Muslims I know are nice people and not terrorists.” My response is that my own family is made up of nice people and not terrorists, but that isn’t the point. The point is that to say you are a Muslim, you have to believe 100% of what is in the Quran. You cannot say “I don’t believe in the violent passages of the Quran.” That is not possible. As a Muslim, it’s black or white. Either you believe or you are not a Muslim. This is the choice I was faced with when I started to read the Quran. I didn’t know there were passages about violence against women. I didn’t know that there were passages about violence against non-believers and that they were the enemy of Islam. I didn’t want to believe that. The problem was I could not then say I was a Muslim. I knew either I believed it or I did not.

Here’s just a small sample of what the Muslim Scholars say about a Muslim who doesn’t pray 5 times a day:

If the one who does not pray does not do it because he denies that it is obligatory, even though he is aware that Allah has commanded that prayer be established, then he is a kaafir and an apostate according to the consensus of the ummah. 

If a person does not pray because he denies that it is obligatory out of ignorance on his part that it is obligatory, such as one who is new in Islam, he is not deemed to be a kaafir, but he is to be taught and instructed to pray. 

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allah have mercy on him) said:  The Muslims are unanimously agreed that the one who denies that prayer is obligatory is a kaafir who is to be executed if he does not repent from that kufr. However they differed concerning the one who affirms that it is obligatory but deliberately does not do it even though he is able to.

End quote from al-Istidhkaar, 2/149 

NOTE: Kaafir = Unbeliever (usually used as an offensive word)

The choice I had to make was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit. I was led to a church, where the pastor shared the definition of GRACE with me. He also explained that Jesus was the only one who was sinless and could bridge the gap between us and God, thus giving us assurance of heaven. Muslims do not have assurance. They only have works. Either they do good deeds or they go to the fiery place and burn for an eternity. There is no Savior – it’s all up to you. This is why Jihad is so alluring. Jihad is the only 100% way to get to Paradise (Quran 4:95 & 3:169-170). It’s an act of desperation – of knowing you cannot make it to heaven because you have sinned. You cannot do it on your own, so you drive a van into a crowd.

Christians need to use this opportunity to share the message of Grace with a Muslim -that God offers us His mercy and pardon from sin as a gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. It’s not what we do, but what Christ does that brings us to a place of peace and restoration with God and thus, with the world. The Muslim world is not our enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12.  How much better would the world be if we realized we are not to hate your enemies but to love them and offer them peace found in Jesus Christ?

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Do Muslims & Christians Pray to the Same God?

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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.

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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!)! 🙂

Reaching Muslims in Love

Most in the West do not understand the implications of witnessing to a Muslim. They don’t understand that there is a huge cost to pay to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, a Muslim  who turns their back to Islam — like me, is guilty of apostasy and must be put to death. Muslims here in the US will regularly tell you that this is a religion of peace, however, this command from the Quran is carried out in all Muslim countries, where it is enforced by Sharia. In the US, Muslims can face kidnapping, beatings from family members, and being disowned from the family.
When I accepted Christ, I knew the risk I was taking. I am not saying this as a “holier than thou” attitude, but as a reality. At the least, I had been taught that becoming a Christian was one of the worst things you could do. When a Muslim accepts Christianity, their fate in the afterlife is  to automatically be placed into one of the deepest levels of hell. Here are other verses that state what the fate of one who does not believe in Islam can be:
Quran

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a “just cause” Surah 6:152

– Allah loves those who “fight for his cause” Surah 61:3
Anyone who fights against Allah or renounces Islam in favor of another religion shall be “put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off alternative sides” Surah 5:34

But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted ; for they are those who have (of set purpose) gone astray.  Surah 3:90

Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty. Surah 16:106

Those who believe, then reject faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject faith, and go on increasing in unbelief,- Allah will not forgive them nor guide them nor guide them on the way.  Surah 4:137

Hadith (traditions of Mohammad)

A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a “just cause” (Sura 6:152).

Abd-Allah ibn Masood said : The Messenger of Allah said : “It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who bears witness that there is no god except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah, except in one of three cases : a soul (in case of murder) ; a married person who commits adultery ; and one who leaves his religion and separates from the main body of Muslims.” Sahih Al Bukhari number 6484 and Sahih Muslim number 1676

Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him. Sahih Al-Bukhari (9:57)

 

When you have been born into the religion (as I was) and you away, you are looked upon as worse than an infidel (one who was never a believer of Islam in the first place). It’s considered treason, for Islam is both religion and law of the State.

When witnessing to a Muslim, there needs to be an understanding of the seriousness of the cost to the person. Persecution is inevitable, even in the United States. However, I personally have taken that into account and know that following Christ is worth that cost.

There are several things you can do if you believe God is calling you to reach Muslims. I have created a bookmark so you can print it out & easily remember:

Bookmark-How to witness to muslims

  1. PRAY

Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against the spiritual forces. Prayer opens up the power of heaven and allows us to plug into the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Do not depend on yourself to have the smooth speech. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to share words that give life to others and are wrapped in love

2. MAKE EYE CONTACT

Kind of hard to do when someone is wearing a full burqa, but still try to do it. A genuine smile is the start of any authentic relationship! Sometimes, we get into a hurry and don’t listen to what God is telling you. A super quick prayer and a smile may bring about a beautiful friendship with someone from a diverse background.

3. EXTEND HOSPITALITY

Why do we have beautiful homes and we never invite anyone in? Why do we have nice kitchens and never offer to cook for anyone? Hospitality is a part of the culture for Muslims. It used to be this way for Americans as well. In our busy lifestyles, no one has time. Extend an invitation – just a cup of coffee or tea will do!

4. TALK ABOUT JESUS!

Hey! That’s who I want to talk about all the time anyway, so why not ask what they think of Him… you might be surprised! If that’s too risky for you, ask how your new Muslim friend sees God. Ask them to define His character and see where that conversation goes. Muslims are pious. They enjoy talking about God!

5. SHARE THE GOOD NEWS

Many Christians leave out the most important part. I have heard people say “well, I want to show Christ in my actions.” That is wonderful! However, that’s not the end of the story. How will they know if they never hear who Christ is and of His sacrifice for us on the cross. How will they know that God gave us salvation and His grace as a free gift. We cannot earn our way to heaven. ONLY CHRIST has paid our debt, bridged the gap to God and will come back to judge all.

6. BE PATIENT!

This is a relationship… not a pet project. A Muslim is a person, a human being. They are a person connected to a family. They need love and respect and deserve to be treated with kindness. On average, it takes a Muslim about 7 years to accept Christ. Remember, there is a lot at stake and it’s not an overnight decision. After conversion, be ready to disciple your friend & don’t leave them to wither on the vine.

It’s a matter of sharing your love, compassion and care for a hurting world. These are ways you can reach anyone (not just Muslims). If your heart is in the right place and you have prepared with the word of the Lord, God will help you! You are not on your own.

If you would like to know more about my journey, please check out my book:

From Isa to Christ: A Muslim Woman’s Search for the Hand of God

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!

East to West

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When I teach Cultural Diversity, my students often laugh at some of the stories I tell about growing up in the East. Things are simply viewed differently on that side of the globe. In this post, I talk about how Time, for example, is looked upon as a completely different entity. Also, the idea of personal space is enormously different in Oklahoma than it is even in New York, much less the eastern hemisphere. Language varies as well. One often wonders with all these differences, how do we even get along with one another without stepping all over each other’s toes?

I personally believe that people in the United States are kind and more open to discussions of your background, where you lived, where you grew up and also ethnicity. This is a part of the foundation for the country – Ellis Island was a beacon of hope for many immigrants at the turn of the century. This country is made up of people from all over the world.

As I contemplate the differences, you have to be struck with some of the similarities we all have as human beings: desire to be loved, valued, and treated with respect. If you don’t believe me, just go driving with someone and see their reaction when another driver cuts them off on the road. There is indignation built right into that for just about everyone.

Whether I am teaching management or sharing my testimony about Christ, I am almost always asked about my background and point of view on various matters. For some, the idea of a burqa or hijab is of concern. For others, it is the exotic locale of the Middle East or Asia and how life is for people there. Yet, there are others who ask me about what my views were like about Jesus when I was growing up in a Muslim country.

If you ask a Muslim person about Jesus (by the way, they would LOVE to talk about Jesus – seriously. It’s not offensive. Christians just think that Muslims would be offended), you will find that some  Muslims will smile and tell you “We Muslims have more respect for Jesus than you do as Christians.” At first, you might not believe this. However, the Quran has an entire chapter on Christ, titled after his mother, Mary. The chapter is called “Miryam.” Mary is the only woman in the Quran to be called by name. She is given a place of high honor and esteem, as is Jesus (“Isa” in the Quran). Muslims have to hold all prophets as holy. They believe that their books are holy. For this reason, Muslims will not say bad things about Jesus because he is a holy person of God. This is not always the case with what you might find in the West. We have the gift of freedom and free speech. It seems like the name of Jesus is a free for all and many people choose to even use his name as a blasphemy (anything that is not held in honor and also using it casually or when you are mad – almost as a curse word).

The Eastern mind operates differently than the Western mind. Many times, I am asked “Why” by people. Why does this happen, why would God do this? Why is this the case and why is this written? For those who grew up in eastern countries, the “Why” is not that important, especially when it comes to things of God. If God is sovereign and He wills it, then so be it. Who are you to ask why? This can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it places God above mankind and our brains – He is infinite! We cannot think through everything and know the answer to everything. We are finite beings. We have a definite beginning and end. It is a bad thing because the “Why’s” are not encouraged. So when I had questions about the Quran or even teaching in school, it’s frowned upon by your elders to keep asking “why? why? why?”  This type of thought is greatly discouraged because it is considered rude or even challenging authority.

So the question is- how does the East come together with the West when we are on absolute opposites of the compass?

When you look at the Bible, you find some interesting things about people from all over coming to the table of Christ.  Luke 13:29 says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? It means that Christ is preparing a table for us. He is getting ready many things in preparation for us to eat with him. How does one do this? He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. Christ doesn’t mind if you stand at the door and knock or even stand there and ask questions. He took care to address his disciple Thomas’s statements about how he would never believe  unless he put his finger into Christ’s wounds. Jesus didn’t get furious say “Thomas, how dare you question if I am the same Christ who was crucified!” Instead, when he later appeared to the whole group, Jesus said “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”John 20:27

Jesus is the only one who can connect the wide gap between the east and the west. The Psalmist wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 Those same hands that Thomas wanted to see are the ones that bring the east and the west together through the shedding of blood and redemption in one cross.This is the grace and mercy God shows each one of us. Jesus is the one who provides us the love (enough to die for us), gave us value (allows us to be called children of God),  and gives us respect for others (new commandment: love one another as I have loved you).

The song by Casting Crowns sums all this in a beautiful way:

Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west?
‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of Your mercy I find rest
‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west
From one scarred hand to the other

 

 

MY Dad’s Chair

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. ~Rev 3:21
King Henry VIII

When I was around 12 years old, my dad invited all of us to come and visit him in his new office in Rancho Cordova, CA. He had just received a major promotion with GTE and bragged to us about having his own executive assistant. None of this means much to a young child, but still, I was excited to see where my dad drove to daily. My mom, two sisters and I drove up to see my dad and his new office. I wasn’t too impressed until he came out to the lobby to meet us and began to show us around his office. Everyone knew him as “the Manager” & “head honcho” so I saw very quickly that he was an important man!

He led us all the way up to his office, which was located in a corner with two full walls of windows. He had an impressive mahogany desk and an equally impressive huge leather chair. Both were quite imposing and spoke to his status in the organization. My dad gleefully got in his chair and from behind his desk, looked at his three girls standing in his office. It was a bit daunting and awkward for me to picture my very own dad as someone really important… Who knew?

He must have sensed this in me because he looked right at me and patted his leg to come and sit in his lap. I didn’t need any further invitation. I quickly ran around his desk and jumped into his lap. He let me mess with the phone buttons, open and close drawers, etc. it was a neat feeling to be so close to a man so revered by others and so loved by me.

I am studying revelation in Bible Study Fellowship right now and in last week’s lesson, we covered the verse (on top) from Revelation 3:21. I am still pondering it after so many days. I knew the other verses in the  Bible that say we are co-heirs and that we may approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) and things like that, but I did NOT know that Jesus actually invites us to sit with him on his throne!

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:16

Can you even imagine that?

My first thought was “why?” Why would the Lord of the Universe invite me to sit on the throne from where he rules? Ridiculous! That doesn’t even sound right. In the Muslim mindset, God is way up there and you are not even fit to be around him. He is the Master and you are the servant. In fact, God is not present with you in Paradise. He rules above it. He wouldn’t demean himself and come hang out with the humans. Never.

Never… Unless you understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us. He is the one who came down to be with us, not us trying to reach God or the heavens. This is the thing you will not find in any religion. In fact, Jesus is not interested in religion but is completely interested in a relationship. He calls us to trust Him as the Good Shepherd who will lay his life down for his sheep. He is the widow who will turn her house upside down to find the lost coin. He is the merchant who will sell all he has to find the Pearl of great price. He is not interested in a checklist of rules, but is more interested in the condition of your heart.

He is the loving Father who calls us “little ones” and tells us to bring our burdens to him. He is the sweet and loving Father who will one day pat his lap and tell you to come and sit with Him, the King of Kings and Lord of lords, on His throne. Not as a slave or servant, but as His beloved child, created in His image. There, He will wipe away every tear from your eyes.

What a beautiful picture of love and redemption. What a beautiful Savior. Amen.