Letter from America

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                                 Actually it arrived one night in July 2014

This is a reblog of a sad timely post by Tim Keesee over at Desiring God.

Background: The latest headline-making iteration of Islamic terror is the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which split with Al-Qaeda in 2010 because (believe it or not) Al-Qaeda was too timid in their use of violence and too slow in implementing a trans-national Islamic state known as a Caliphate (from the Arabic for “succession”). Considered the successor to the Prophet Mohammed, the Caliph is the political and spiritual leader of the world’s one billion Sunni Muslims (at least in theory). The ISIS commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared himself to be the Caliph. Al-Baghdadi and his jihadists have startled the world with the swiftness of their conquests in Iraq and their brutal effort to obliterate the Christian communities from the region. Their stronghold is now Mosul, ancient Nineveh, the 2nd largest city in Iraq. Despite his rapid rise, there are realities that Mr. al-Baghdadi and his followers need to know. Christians should remember these, too.

Mr. Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi
Caliph
Mosul, Iraq

Dear Mr. al-Baghdadi,

Recently, you publicly presented yourself as the Caliph, the leader of a new order for the Islamic world. In your inaugural sermon at the mosque in Mosul near the ruins of Nineveh, you said, “If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me.” I’ve given that offer some thought and wanted to follow up with you.

Your reputation for unbridled terror has contributed to battlefield success and dramatic territorial gains in Syria and Iraq. As a result, tens of thousands of Christians have suffered at your hands. Those who could not flee your fury have been forced into dhimmitude. Others have been beheaded, some even crucified — making a mockery of their agony and making a mockery of Jesus the Messiah.

I think it’s best that you know that you will not succeed. You and your Caliphate are destined for failure. Of course, all empires, caliphates, and reigns of terror eventually come to an end, but something else is happening — another kind of failure in your command over the Islamic world. It’s that Jesus Christ is building his Church, and he said that “even the gates of hell” (which sounds a lot like Mosul right now) cannot stop its advance.

Christ is building the Church by gathering worshipers to himself from every tribe and language and people and nation — and that includes many, many among your subjects. From North Africa to Indonesia — and at many points in between — I’ve spoken with a number of formerly committed Muslims who are now joyful Christians. Several of your erstwhile subjects told me that Islamic terror in the name of Allah was what broke their faith in the only religion they had ever known. Having rejected Islam in their heart, when they heard the gospel, they believed! They told me that the September 11th attack — what your mentor (the late Osama bin Laden) did — first opened their hearts to the love and grace that is in Jesus alone. And so, Osama bin Laden and his kind have been unwitting agents in the gospel’s advance.

That’s why I said you can’t win. The gospel will continue to be heard in more and more places in your realm because our King will continue to send his servants there. These are men and women who are willing to die, but not like the suicide bombers that you use so often. The King’s servants are not bringing death; they are bringing life. As they go, they will risk everything, driven not by hate, as your servants are, but by the love Jesus demonstrated by dying for us.

Some days ago, your sledgehammer-swinging and explosive-detonating disciples destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah. The God of Jonah, whose name was first proclaimed there in Nineveh by Jonah, is nothing like the god you claim to kill for. Jonah’s God, the only God, showed grace to his enemies in Nineveh. God’s mercy would later reach its greatest, deepest, widest expression in his Son Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection forever secured life for all who come to him — even you, if you would come.

May the life-giving Christ, the God of Jonah, have mercy on your people once again. May they turn to him and live. May their ransomed voices shout with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

Sincerely,

Tim

Friday Frivolity – laugh but we need to weep

In spite of it being a terrible day for Christians as well as other tiny religions and sects in Iraq, I am posting a Frivolous Friday post.

But much like the picture – the warnings are in place but we still teeter towards complete destruction – ignoring the signs. May the God of all the world have mercy on us all.

This is the scariest sign on the beautiful south west coast of Wales (UK).

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Family & friends in Wales August 2014

The news says that ISIS or the Caliphate are sweeping through the villages with a special offer – Convert or Die! Where does this come from? This has never happened in history before in the middle east – has it? The killing, the beheading, the ruling over, the special offer – where does all this come from? This has never happened in history before in the middle east – has it?

 

Simple V Complex: Ramadan Reflections

Many lovely muslims say to me, a Christian, your beliefs about God are complex. Ours are simple. Therefore ours must be true.

I say to the lovely muslim “must be – how so?”

They profer – God would not give us something complex to understand about himself when we would struggle to understand it. He would give us something simple so it could be understood.

This is an attractive piece of reasoning based on the idea that God would be committed to presenting simple things about himself so that we would understand them.

But I am not so sure. Surely God would and does reveal truth to us – in his mercy and condescension toward his creatures. If God is complex, high above us, surely we might encounter something of that in his presentation of Himself to us.

complexityComing back to the idea that Simple is obviously truer than complex, I would venture that the simple understanding of the God as put forward in Islam is not necessarily true simply based on that idea. I find the Buddhist notion of One (everything is one, there is no divisibility – all divisibility is but an illusion – all is One) to be immensely attractice and immensely simple. The most simple idea in metaphysics that there is. But I actually don’t believe it is true. And complexity versus simplicity does not play a part at all in my judgement of Buddhism versus Christianity (versus Islam). But for the Muslim who insists I should abandon my One God who is Three (Complex) for their One God who is One (simpler) simply based on those grounds needs to be consistent and surrender to buddhistic One (simplest of all).

I am not advocating that Muslims renounce Islam and become Buddhists. What a waste of renouncement that would be. As a christian of course I want lovely muslims (and the unlovely ones too) to renounce Islam and embrace the Jesus of the New Testament – the Saviour & LORD. (He actually came to save the unlovely and rebuke the so called lovely). But some muslims and many particularly converts to Islam cite this reduced complexity of ideas about God as a major factor in their conversion. It is interesting that it becomes for many a master concept, a deal breaker – worth using emphatically to persuade others to embrace Islam. As a master concept it needs to carry them further – to Buddhism. If it doesn’t then it needs to fadeaway and become an incidental finding on the road having embraced a particular worldview. But for many it is more than this – not just something spotted on the arrival at a destination but a driver directing some towards Islam. I simply say that as a driver it’s work is unfinished when you arrive at Islamville. Buddhaville is 40 clicks down the road and is the simplest destination of all.

So why am I not a buddhist? Because as I journey through life I have found myself arriving at the God who is Three (One God, eternally existing as Father, Son and Spirit) not because I crave simplicity or complexity for that matter but truth. It may turn out to be untrue. But that won’t be because of it’s complexity.

I hope to say something about the proposition that Islam is simple and Christianity is complex another time but for now this has been another Ramadan Reflection.

Peace and blessing of Christ be upon you and your family.

Things I like about Islam – Ramadan Reflections

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  1. Beards [I have a beard]
  2. Consciousness about external modesty [I benefit from modesty in others]
  3. Gender roles are very clear [I am unclear about what the biblical gender roles are & how to negotiate them]
  4. Muslims seem pretty serious about Islam [I yearn for more seriousness in Christians]
  5. Long flowing robes [I fancy a bit of long flowing robe wearing, especially in summer]
  6. The faith does not easily lend itself to being an added extra in western life [Christianity does appear to – even if it actually doesn’t and can’t]
  7. Life does seem to be lived out corporatively to quite an extent – pray together, fast together [I would like more of that]
  8. The brand of Islam is masculine in the public square [Christianity less so]
  9. Unashamed conciousness about brotherhood and sisterhood [calling another christian ‘brother’ seems to embarrass – often them and sometimes me]
  10. Muslim actually get all sorts of free passes in western life – at work and at play [Christians are becoming more despised – like a when a child comes to hate it’s mother – it’s history – I desire free passes – regrettably]
  11. Strong emphasis on the Creator/creature distinction [many Christians have kind of forgotten this in a real and affecting sense]
  12. The control and effective policing of external life appeals to me [on my worst days]
  13. It has been influenced greatly by the strongest virtues of Christianity [Christianity is now being influenced by the strongest virtues of secular materialism – the culture]
  14. The understanding of who God is is harder to mess around with [Christians are going through a long phase of re-imaging God in their own image and now re-imaging scripture in cultures image]
  15. Emphasis on family is strong [now less so for Christians]
  16. Most resources go on helping the muslim community which strengthens the community considerably. [Christians following Christ’s example of superabundant generosity for the outsider are more promiscious in scattering their resources, helping those outside the community of faith to the glory of God in Christ Jesus]. This weakens the christian church in a spiritually bankrupt sense. Good thing.
  17. It is winning some of the numbers games [Jesus (my Lord, Master, Saviour & brother) was never a numbers person – he said narrow is the gate and few will come through it – many called but few chosen].
  18. Is so poorly understood by the western liberal media that a quick slight of hand from a muslim ‘talking head’ seems to cause the western journalist to exclaim “well folks, there you have it – Islam itself is great and innocent of all charges” [on my worst days I desire that kind of power over the media and that kind of idiocy from them].
  19. I like all the talk about honour [but not what the honour doctrines given full life within a believer can lead to. Can lead to death – the death of some one else – obviously the one who dishonoured].
  20. The charismatic power and sheer showmanship of quoting your precious text in another and rarely understood language by the hearer, before a translation to English. [Christianity has long lost this quality of quaint bamboozleoscity (it’s a word) which is increasingly important in the West where the new is good, the old is bad, the known is toxic and the ‘other’ or unknown is exotic].
  21. The corporate & physical drama expressed during prayer [as a former Roman Catholic & Pentecostal I retain some physical drama in prayer but when expressed  corporatively not so much]
  22. It is a religion based on Power [for the individual the central nexus is submission but for the Islamic community the central nexus is power – the old dead sinner in me, like a zombie walker cries out daily “get more power”].
  23. It’s a religion with an enormous and ‘flesh’ appealing system – there is a system of piety and good deeds (the halals) – if you do them you’re good with God – paradise bound. But it is of course the religious system of Schrodinger’s cat. As God cannot be bound by any system even one he designs and implements – God can say ‘No Cigar’ to the best of mankind (who would obviously be the best of the muslims). So like the religion of Schrodinger’s cat, there is a system to follow but it maybe for you, the follower, as if no system existed at all. System existing and not existing all at the same time. Like that darn cat. Who can tell whether it is really there at all. A system that is truely there must be systematic in it’s outcomes. Reliable. Trustworthy to deliver. The God of Islam is not systematic in his outcomes – or relating to your outcome as you engage with the system – through the halals and the harams. Nothing commits this God – not even himself. Not even his own system. [On my bad days I seek a system – even such a flawed system. But on my even worse days I am so glad there is no system, just the grace and forgiveness of the Holy and wrathful God of the Bible offered to all sinful mankind through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, his eternal Son; during what can only be described as this season of the gospel. This season spans from the moment of the resurrected Christ’s return to the right hand of his eternal Father until his second coming. Or for an individual perspective – that season offering grace, forgiveness and amnesty lasts for you from now until the day of your death and no longer than that].
  24. It has produced people who seem better than the sum of its parts. Some wonderful people.
  25. Did I mention the beards?

Jesus the Hungry – Ramadan Reflections

Light bulbs incandescent-globesLovely muslims say to me, a christian ….

Jesus could not be God – he hungered, ate – game over!

I say to lovely muslims that I, a christian

expect to see Jesus eating and hungering;

because Jesus on earth was the eternal Word of God – made flesh.

Flesh – real flesh – not fake flesh – not pretend flesh;

real eating – real hungering.

That is what incarnation (Word made flesh) means; what one expects with incarnation.

Jesus – God but not solely God

Jesus – man but not solely man.

Jesus – God and man.

Read the scriptures – all of them – not just the ‘Jesus eats! Game Over’ ones.

So when the lovely muslim person says to me, “Jesus ate, he was hungry”, said muslim undoubtedly has an expectation of a light bulb moment for me. There certainly is one – but not the one he expects.

The lightbulb moment for me is the sudden awareness that although this muslim knows I am a christian, he clearly does not know what christians understand our scriptures to say and what we therefore believe.

The lightbulb moment is seeing that the lovely muslim is putting 6th century islamic requirements on the first century Jesus and our scriptures.

We have work to do to understand one another and have a productive chat, this lovely muslim and me.

Gospel according to John – Chapter 1 – Verses 1 to 5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Gospel according to John – Chapter 1 – Verse 14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus the Ultimate – Ramadan Reflections

Thorn for Ultimate postJesus the ultimate one who submits – he submitted to his eternal heavenly Father

Jesus the ultimate one who fasts – he fasted – laid aside his divine privileges to be rough and ready in the neighbourhood with us & for us

Jesus the ultimate breaking of the fast – arose after three days in death to break the fast of desolation and begin a new kind of life for those who would become his brothers

Jesus the ultimate one to pray behind – he said ‘pray like this “our Father in heaven …” ‘

Jesus the ultimate call to prayer – ‘he said “come unto me …” ‘

Jesus the ultimate alms – he is the embodied kindness of the Father to the poor and sin sick of this world

Jesus the ultimate striver for the Father’s glory – resists the way of Satan in the wilderness and in the garden

Jesus the ultimate one on pilgrimage – journeys from eternity into time to raise a band of brothers and sisters under his banner of grace

Jesus the ultimate religion of peace – opposites are reconciled in his crucified body

Jesus the ultimate brother – to all brothers and sisters adopted by his Father through the Holy Spirit

Jesus the ultimate in resurrection – first over a new creation

Jesus the ultimate one over all the angels

Jesus the ultimate advocate for repentant and believing sinners on the day of judgement

Jesus the ultimate eternal word of God – enfleshed

Jesus the Ultimate

Why is Islam on my news programme every night?

Is it because of Islamophobia or Islam? Is someone trying to show Islam in a bad light or is Islam showing itself in a bad light?

This is one of the most important questions of the age. If it’s because of Islamophobia, then it’s nothing to do with Islam (apparently). If it is because of Islam, then it simply actually can’t be because of Islam and someone’s just being islamophobic after all.

That’s they way the narrative too often goes. Islam good. Islam can’t be bad. Islam good. All good – no bad in it at all. And any criticism of Islam is (you guessed it) islamophobic.

But that would kind of mean Islam is islamophobic in some weird but real sense. Because Islam does seem to do, a pretty good or bad job depending on your perspective, of showing Islam (itself) in a bad light. Don’t take my word for it – turn on the news programme every night at my house.
When someone who is claiming to be a very serious Muslim, citing islamic motivations, imperatives, and texts does a pretty awful thing, we are told it has nothing to do with Islam. Huh. Nothing? Seriously? Nothing at all? Not even just a little bit. But he – the guy that did the bad thing and thousands and sometimes millions of other Muslims think it has something to do with Islam. That’s why he did it and they support him for it. So a muslim can think it is nothing to do with Islam and another muslim can think it is to do with Islam but I cannot think it is anything to do with Islam. I am simply not allowed to do that. Many muslims say I can’t think or say that – they quickly label me islamophobic. And the liberal media says the same thing –  not because they are muslims because being liberals wouldn’t go so well for them in any regard – but because of their a priori committment to the philosophy that bad things could never be specifically attributable to a particular ideology particularly one with non-western stripes. Ideology good – sometimes bad person misinterpret ideology – he bad, ideology always good. There is one general exception and that’s those Christians – they bad blood, with bad blood ideology.

So why is Islam on my news programme every night. It’s a tricky question with a tricky answer. How you answer or even get to answer this question will tell us a lot about the future world we will live in. How you get to answer is important because the charge, slur and whip of islamophobia will try to dictate if and how you get to answer. The ‘how’ will involve courage on your part if you are going to be in any way critical. Islam does not appear to sit well in a world of appraisal, weighing and critique.

I have had some interesting conversations with muslims who believe in free speech so long as no one speaks freely. This conversation occurs without any sense of irony. Many muslims have imbibed the non islamic mantra of free speech as exactly that – something spoken of – but without any really meaning. You can speak freely but you mustn’t say x, y, or z. Oh! so not free speech then. Limited restrictive speech. I wish you would call it that – you are confusing non muslims when you say you believe in it when you don’t. But actually maybe you are being as consistent as you can be (but not actually very consistent) because you think we mean the same thing as you when we talk of free speech. Like we don’t really mean it – it’s just something you say. If that’s the case, well then can I apologise to you if you are a muslim with ideas of ‘not really free speech’ free speech. We should have been clearer.

I believe in free speech. I think I know what that means. You may say anything – no matter how offensive it is and who it offends. I do not want the law to restrict you. When Christ returns – he will come with other authority in this regard and he will deal with the free speech issue as he sees fit. In the meantime the best way for me to protect my freedom to share the gospel through speech is to protect all peoples freedom to say whatever they want, even if the gospel and the God of the gospel are defamed.

Why is Islam on my news programme every night. It’s obvious. It’s because of Islam silly.