Friday, October 29, 2010

A Bright Spot in the Disaster in Indonesia

Baby found in trees days after Indonesia tsunami

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia — An official says an 18-month-old baby has been found alive in a clump of trees days after the devastating tsunami that killed at least 343 people.

Relief coordinator Hermansyah says the little boy is recovering in a health center. He says a 10-year-old child discovered the baby in a clump of trees on Pagai Selatan island on Wednesday. Both his parents are dead.

The discovery is one of the few bright spots in the tsunami that flattened villages and displaced tens of thousands of people when it hit Monday.

Let us continue to pray for the recovery and the survivors. I pray that they would see the Gospel in this largely Muslim nation.

Too Much Facebook?

This woman sure did:

A north Florida mother has pleaded guilty to shaking her baby to death after the boy's crying interrupted her game on Facebook.
Alexandra V. Tobias pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Wednesday and remains jailed.
The Florida Times-Union reports that she told investigators she was angered because the boy was crying while she was playing the game FarmVille.
This is a sad case. Do you get angry at your kids for interrupting your time in anything? Just your kids?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jesus and Religion

Mark Driscoll offers a humorous (but sad and serious look at how Jesus treats the religious in this week's sermon from Luke. This is really good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

[Book Review] "The Skin Map" by Stephen R. Lawhead

There is much cause for celebration whenever a new Stephen Lawhead book comes out, especially since he is known for writing series and the last book may have come out two or three years ago. This book is the start of a new series and as such, there will be a new book a year for the next couple of years.
This book is a little different for Lawhead, but still reminiscient of the Paradise War series with the world between world idea. Lawhead adds in his famous style for going into great detail about places, especially within a historical setting.
I do feel that Lawhead is trying to hard to make this book a movie-series type feel, and he jumps around a lot from character to character. However, by the end, it seems he's just getting started and the next book may flow more easily with a better development of characters.
Lawhead has been blamed for being quite bloody in his previous books (though the Raven King series was not so much), and I think he's toned it down a lot. I think fans of Dan Brown's books will probably like this book and series. Though there is not much mention of Christianity in this book yet, I believe it will all be tied in some way. Lawhead subtly weaves it in. There is reference to Providence guiding the characters while the lead bad guy denies Providence and goes with a chaos theory.
As usual with most of the series that Lawhead writes, this one leaves you hanging, but this one the most. We must wait until September 2011 for the followup.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do You See the Cross?

Whenever we are exiting the interstate to get to where our church is, I hear the voice of my three year-old from the back seat asking the question, "Do you see the cross?" Now, this question is directly related to the fact that our church sign by the road has a huge cross on top of it. And yes, you can see it, as you enter the road from the interstate exit. This question has two meanings, however. Spiritually, do we see the cross?
I should mention the fact that across the road, there are the buildings of two cults. There is both a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We are a Reformed Baptist church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, we have a huge cross in front of our church, while neither of those churches has any type of symbolism outside. Based on their beliefs, I believe they fail to see the cross at all, even if it is 30 feet tall (my best guesstimate as to how tall it is).
On another note, some years ago, Christian musician, speaker, and author John Fischer wrote a book called, "On a Hill Too Far Away ," referencing the cross. In it, he describes a church in New England that has a large wooden cross in the front of the church. One cannot miss it as one sits in a worship service as it just gets in the way. He talks about how today's churches simply miss the cross. They focus on what color their carpet should be or the style of worship music, all the while missing the cross.
C. J. Mahaney has written a book, "The Cross Centered Life ," also focusing on the cross. I cannot comment on this as I have not read it other than to say that I have the Songs for the Cross Centered Life that accompanies the book. So, let me ask this. Do you see the cross in your life? How is the cross at the center of your life? Do you know what the cross represents? The cross represents all the sin that we have committed. It has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more, or says the hymn. Too often throughout the day, I don't see the cross. Some days, I don't even think of it that much, and I work for a Biblical University. 
I am reminded at least twice a week by a three year old to see the cross. May we see the cross daily and praise the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mosque at Ground Zero - Some Clarification and my take

Much is being made of the Cordoba Initiative, an Islamic cultural center being built a couple of blocks away from where the Twin Towers used to stand in New York City. There is a lot of misinformation being put out there as well. Robert Spencer and Pamela Gellar keep calling this an Islamic Supremist Center. Based on the United States Constitution and the zoning laws of New York City, there is nothing wrong with this center being built there. One hesitancy might be that this is going to send a wrong message, which is why my friend and former advisor in seminary, Warren Larson (Director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies), said he opposed it. The following article from the New York Times actually clears up a few things:
Since long before the Islamist terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a storefront mosque has been sitting on West Broadway in TriBeCa, a dozen blocks from the World Trade Center. No one seems to have ever minded its being there.

Okay, this mosque has been there for more than 10 years and nobody cared.  Continuing in the article:

No one is known to have protested the fact that three blocks from ground zero, on Murray Street off West Broadway, there is a strip joint. It prefers to call itself a gentlemen’s club. A man stood on the street corner the other day handing out free passes to willing gentlemen.

On Church Street, around the corner from where Cordoba House would rise, there is a store that sells pornographic videos and an assortment of sex toys. A few doors east of the planned Islamic center, there is an Off-Track Betting office. Spilling onto the sidewalk in front of it the other day were men who would have been described in my old Bronx neighborhood as degenerate gamblers.

A strip joint, a porno store and a government-run bookie operation. No one has organized demonstrations to denounce those activities as defiling the memory of the men and women who died a few hundred yards away.
Okay, so, we are okay with porn, naked women, and gambling, but not okay with a house of prayer. Not to say that they're praying rightly, but there seems to be a problem here. Many of the opposition claim that we were founded on Christian principles and that we have a duty to oppose the building of mosques. Many of the founding fathers were deists, at best, but hardly Christians. Our Constitution guarantees that Congress cannot establish a state religion, meaning which, this nation is not a Christian nation. We are not a Theocracy. I think the protests are hurting the Christian witness more than anything. The following is what I think is being most missed and this is astounding because it shows how much people do not know about Islam (emphasis mine):
New York officialdom, while sensitive to the displeased families, has long made it clear that it is not about to hand them veto power over how the city builds and rebuilds. Officials from the mayor on down have endorsed Cordoba House, in large measure because of Imam Feisal, a Sufi who has cultivated relations with other religions and who has spoken out against the violence of Islamist fanatics. He has given no one a reason to doubt his sincerity.
Wait a second! A Sufi? He's not a Shi'a (Iran/Iraq) or Sunni (the majority of Muslims)? But he is a Muslim, that should count for something, right? Not necessarily. So, what does that mean, that he's a Sufi? Sufism is defined as a mystically-oriented school of thought within Islam (Phil Parshall, Bridges to Islam). Dr. Parshall is perhaps a leading Christian expert on Sufism as he dealt with it a good deal when he was in an Asian country as a Missionary most of his life. I will be referencing the above book a few times in the next little bit.

Parshall says the following about Sufism:
Sufism is the embrasive influence of mysticism within Islam. I particularly like to use the word influence in attempting to define and understand Sufism. Mystical Muslims may or may not fit into categories or orders. Their behavior and even doctrine may differ widely among themselves, yet there are definite patterns within their fraternity that have the effect of creating homogeneity within heterogeneity. A Muslim has defined Sufism as "truth without form." That may be basically correct, but the so-called truth will be identifiable as we study the way it is expressed within the multiple sects found throughout the Islamic world. (Bridges, p. 26).
In Sufism, there is a striving for one's personal holiness, emphasizing love. There is little concern for heaven or hell, but only love (Bridges, pp. 27-28). In other words, Sufism is not the Islam we think of when we watch the evening news and see a bomb has been blown up in Baghdad or Kabul. No, Sufism, if anything, can be seen as the peaceful side of Islam.  Many Sunnis and Shi'a shun Sufism as it does not adhere to strict tenets of Islam.  Sufism has a history of syncretism as well, as can be seen by the history of the Sufi Imam of this mosque in New York City.

Free Resources on Islam

His Peace Upon Us reports on a few free resources on Islam.
Free "Discover Islam" E-book Resources DVD- You have to fill out your name and address, but the DVD should arrive soon.
Free E-Book on Islamic View of the Prophets - Downloadable .rar file. I use 7-Zip to extract the archive.

Resources on Islam

The following are listings of books I have used in my studies of Islam.

I recommend anything by Nabeel Jabbour or Phil Parshall. Dr. Jabbour is an Arab Christian who grew up in Lebanon and was a missionary in Egypt. He now travels the country holding seminars on Islam and is a good friend and former professor of mine. Dr. Parshall is also a former professor of mine, but is also one of the leading scholars on Islam in the Christian world. He is a former missionary to Bangladesh and the Philippines and has extensive experience among Muslims. I do not recommend books by either Robert Spencer or Ergun & Emir Caner. They are not helpful in understanding Islam at all and take an extreme right wing Christian religious approach in dealing with Islam. The books I have named are ones I have used in classes and take a much more balanced approach to Islam. Samuel Zwemer wrote numerous books and articles which are very helpful. Both Answering Islam (link above) and the Zwemer Center have full books and articles. In fact, the Zwemer Center has a huge collection of Zwemer's books and articles available on the campus of Columbia International University (CIU). The Zwemer Center (insert shameless plug here) also offers courses and seminars in Islam. You do not have to be a student at CIU in order to take a seminar. The seminars only cost $190 and are offered 5 weeks during the Summer and 2 weeks during the Winter. Be sure to check out their website for more information. If you do have questions about a book I listed or a book you found, please ask and I'll try to answer as best I can. I surely hope this helps you in learning how to minister to our Muslim neighbors.
[Edited to link to pages where you can buy the book. Yes, I do get a percentage of sales through Amazon's affiliate program. I have not been paid to endorse any of these resources (take that, FCC!)]

The Bible vs. the Qur'an

In this first of a series of questions about Islam, I would like to address the comparison of the Bible vs. the Qur'an. First of all, I do not believe that everything in the Qur'an is evil, as some such as Robert Spencer and Don Richardson have claimed. There are some parts that Christians can agree with, starting at Surah 1.

The problem with examining the Qur'an is the lack of textual criticism allowed by Islam itself. The Qur'an is not considered by Islamic scholars to be inaccurate to the point that to fully understand it, based on their teachings, one must read it in the original Arabic. The Qur'an is considered to be the eternal word of God, written on a gold tablet in heaven, given as the final revelation to the prophet Muhammad. Those of you who are scholars of Mormonism will realize that this sounds familiar as something similar is said about the book of Mormon.

The Bible, on the other hand, was written down over thousands of years by different men inspired by God. It has been subjected to textual criticism, but has not been found with major errors. We have some very old manuscripts from which to pull from and new scholarship continues to clarify what is meant by certain passages. Overall, it has held it's place over time. However, with the Qur'an, we do not have access to old manuscripts. In fact, many of the original manuscripts were destroyed on purpose soon after Muhammad was dead. The Qur'an has also been compiled from fragments that people had written down from things that Muhammad said. In fact, the Qur'an was compiled quite differently from the way the Bible was compiled.

As far as content, it's debatable as to whether or not the Qur'an is a wholly violent book or a wholly peaceable book. It's a little of both just as the Bible is. The ones who argue that the Qur'an is wholly violent (such as Spencer and Richardson) have to deny that the Bible contains scenes in which God commands genocide. One cannot argue for one without denying the other. On the other hand, one cannot argue that the Qur'an is wholly peaceable either. If one looks at the Qur'an through the eyes of history during the time of Muhammad, one can see different subjects come up as Muhammad experienced them. It's important to look at the various aspects of the Qur'an in a chronological manner.

Early on, Muhammad had no problem with the Jews and Christians and they had no problem with him. He was advocating monotheism, which caused problems with his own people. His first wife was a Christian (albeit a mystical Egyptian Coptic Christian) who confirmed to him that what he was saying was from God. Whether it was true or not is a different story. She sent him to her cousin (also a Christian) who also confirmed it. It was in the later years, when the Jews and Christians would not conform to what Muhammad was saying, that the "revelations" about killing Jews and Christians came about. Again, similarities to Mormonism abound. Satan must have run out of ideas when he created Mormonism.

With all this information, how does one effectively share the Gospel with a Muslim or even with someone who sees validity with what the Qur'an says? I heard Alistair Begg say that we often talk about the dangers of not accepting the Gospel with people, or the benefits of accepting the Gospel, but not the Gospel itself. What is the Gospel? It is Jesus Christ, God's only Son, giving His life as a sacrifice so that mankind might have eternal life through belief in this truth. The sacrifice was perfect because Jesus was sinless. Now, a Muslim, is not going to believe this truth right away. They may even throw up issues such as Jesus prophesying Muhammad in the Bible or God not having a Son because that would mean that God had sex. Let's get a few of these out of the way.

1. Does Jesus prophesy Muhammad in the Bible?

Short answer: no. Long answer, look at John 15:26ff. John 15:26 (ESV)“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Often, the Muslim will only have heard about Muhammad being prophesied by Jesus from their Imam, but they don't know where to go to find out the information themselves. I've just provided the answer for you. The Muslim does not know who the Holy Spirit is. Jesus is speaking in this passage about the Holy Spirit (the paraklÄ“tos). The Holy Spirit is a comforter, and advocate, not a messenger, nor a prophet. In John 16:13, Jesus references the Holy Spirit again, this time using the word, pneuma, for Spirit. Never is a physical person prophesied  by Jesus.

2. Jesus as the Son of God.

I recently had to answer for this when I was in Mali. It was quite interesting that this should come up, but should've been expected and I was prepared for it, for the most part. The Holy Spirit led as well. John 1 is about the easiest explanation that one can give to a Muslim for Jesus being the Son of God, or even  God made flesh.
John 1:1 (ESV) In the beginning was  he Word, and  the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and  the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and  his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right  to become  children of God, 13 who  were born, not of blood  nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And  the Word  became flesh and  dwelt among us,  and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of  grace and truth. 
Again, most Muslims have never heard this. In fact, the man I was talking to had asked about Jesus being the Son of God before and had received answers such as "he could only understand it if he had the Holy Spirit" (some truth to that, but not the answer one should give), to "Jesus was not the Son of God" (Jehovah's Witnesses). Either way, once I explained from the Bible this passage, he seemed satisfied with my answer (though it didn't seem he fully agreed), and said that no one had ever tried to explain this to him before. One thing to note, they may try to take you to the Qur'an on this point as well. We can go the Qur'an too (eyebrows raised, I know). Surah 3:42-55 can be of great help in bridging the Qur'an to the Bible. I don't have time to go into all this, but the Camel Training Manual can help. There is an online version available at the following link:
 Final thoughts

I know this is probably a lot to digest. One website that might be helpful would be I do plan on writing a subsequent post with a list of resources on Islam. A final suggestion is to be open to the Holy Spirit's leading. This is probably the best suggestion at times. Pray as you share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Muslim. Do not denigrate the Qur'an, nor Muhammad, unless you want to be quickly shut off. Be like Paul when he shared with the Athenians on Mars Hill. The Muslims have some truth, but not all of it. We are to share all of the Truth of the Gospel to them. One method may be to start with Genesis, explain the sacrificial system and how it was not sufficient for salvation, but that Jesus Christ is. The Old Testament points to Christ. If you have questions, please feel free to ask.