Monday, August 25, 2014

Ex-Muslim, by Naeem Fazal

This book, mostly memoir and part motivational, is written by a Pastor of a current multiethnic congregation. Born and raised in Kuwait and raised as a Muslim, Fazal and his family lived through the Gulf war. He and his family were still living in Kuwait before they emigrated to the United States, to make their home in South Carolina. Though conversion to Christ was seen as treason by his Muslim parents, Fazal turned his life to Jesus. Fazal found a real purpose and zest in life that led to a full life of marriage and ministry.

I found this book personal, encouraging, and challenging. That was pretty much what I expected out of this book. I found this book hard to follow at times, and I was unclear as to where his Pakistani origins fit in. Fazal is very honest about himself before and after he came to know Christ. When he and his family were still in Kuwait, one of Fazal's brother's shared his faith with Fazal, challenging him, "Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you. He will, in His time." But it wasn't until they came to the US to live in South Carolina, that Fazal turned to Jesus, encountering both Jesus and the devil in his quest for the supernatural. I'm aware and Fazal is aware, that many people, even believers, will dismiss him as mentally unstable. Yet God is not limited by conventional means in revealing Himself to us and reports tell us that He often reveals Himself to Muslims through dreams and visions. In closed or restricted societies, like North Korea, He is reported to work in this way. This book shows the deep divide between what this author calls the Western style of "doing church" and actually "pursuing the Savior," and I wonder how much our Western model of organized Christendom can actually drive us from, rather than to, Jesus Himself. The author's baggage, while real, was basically uninfluenced by our Western mind-set.

I recommend every person to read this personal but challenging book. I recommend every Christian read it and not only to learn about how best to reach Muslims. We need to read it because Fazal helps us see the deep divide between Americal Christianity and biblical discipleship and between "churchianity" and following Jesus. We will gain insight into how to reach Muslims and question the quality of our relationships with God. I recommend that every non-believers, especially Muslims, read this book because it lets them that Jesus can be to them what they look for in Allah, and far more.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booklook in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review of this book.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Does the West Need to Care About What Goes On in the Middle East & Radical Islam?

It is a chaotic time in which we are living. A high-profile police shooting of a young man, which has caused much racial unrest nationwide. A high-profile suicide of a favorite Hollywood actor. Daily news about religious minorities, mostly Christians, being victimized by terrorists. Children beheaded. Women raped and killed. Men hanged. Yes, this is happening on the other side of the world and far from us in the West. It is terrible that it is going on. Yet we all have out own lives, our own families and our own troubles. What does it all have to do with me and mine?

It is no secret that there has always been much turmoil in the Middle East. There are nonprofits and causes called Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and Stand with Israel. Many in the Christian community believe that what goes on in the Middle East is strategic to what goes on in the rest of the world, including where we live. We probably know that the ongoing conflict is one over the Palestinians' fight for statehood and the Israelis' defense of their territory. We may know that radical Islamists are fueling this conflict, as they fuel many other conflicts throughout the world. These radical Islamists are also driving the current genocide of religious minorities, mostly Christians. This genocide is happening to those in Iraq but also to those in Syria. In Iraq, the nation is being completely Islamized. People are being ordered, Convert to Islam or die!" Many Christians and other religious minorities, not wanting to convert to Islam, fled Iraq. Others, religious minorities and mostly Christians, were unable to flee because of disabilities or old age. They were forced to convert to Islam. We may know of these things and think it is all sad. We feel sorry and agree that it is not right. But we may wonder what all this has to do with us?

Yes, I know how you may stand on this. Most of my life, I was not concerned about what went on in the Middle East. What did it have to do with my life, my family or my causes? I also was not concerned about radical Islam for these reasons. Also, I naively believed that Islam was a religion of peace, just like Christianity. Now we need to be clear about Muslims. Many Muslims are moderate Muslims and are just as horrified as the rest of us, about what radical Islamists are doing to viciously persecuted religious minorities, mainly Christians. These moderate Muslims are not the problem. They, too, if they live in Muslim countries, are victims of regimes that will not permit them any freedom of thought or religion. If they are exposed as converts to other religions, especially Christianity, they may face harassment, attacks, and in many countries, imprisonment or death. The Muslims we need to concern ourselves with are radical Islamists. They are gaining more and more power and influence, and have emptied much of Iraq of Christians and other religious minorities. And guess what?

It may be the last thing on our minds, but have you considered that radical Islam can affect the West? How is that? A few recent articles have been warning that radical Islamists will target the West next. An article warned that terrorists were planning to target girls in certain European nations, into online human trafficking. I have heard it on the news that threats were made by Muslim terrorists (often called ISIS) to attack US interests. I have read a book by Raymond Ibrahim, a Coptic Christian and raised by Egyptian parents, who is an expert on Middle Eastern issues. He warns that if we fail to educate ourselves about radical Islam's war on Christians and other religious minorities, that we will not only enable the suffering of these persecuted believers. We will also enable radical Islam to take over the West and Islamize us, too. Do you want us to become a nation where we, our children, or our children's children will be forced to convert to Islam or die?

It is time to educate ourselves. It is time to speak up.

To educate yourself, visit Raymond

To help victims of persecution, visit International Christian Concern.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Racism: Dead or Alive?

I had an idea of what I was going to muse about today. But over this past weekend, things so upsetting happened close to my area. It really is nothing new to us but proves that nothing has truly changed with our underlying racial tensions and even hostilities. A senseless shooting of the powerless by the powerful. The silencing of a member of a minority group by the member of the majority. A community in pain, grieving and unrest once again. A backlash of violence, looting and rage by members of a minority that has had enough.

The Tragedy

The sad incident that caused all of this was the fatal shooting of an unarmed, 18 year old boy in Ferguson, Missouri. Named Michael Brown, he was Black. I saw the tragic image of his devastated mom on TV, as she lashed out: "You took away my son! Do you not know that half of those in our community do not graduate from high school?! My son had just graduated from high school! Do you not know how hard it was for me to keep him in school?! But you have taken it all away!" The mom of another Black son, who also was killed in a similar fashion earlier, had come out to support this family in their pain. She had said: "We know how this family feels. We just want justice for Michael Brown." The cop who had shot the teen had his own version of the story, of course. According to him, he was responding to a physical altercation" that occurred between him and Michael Brown. "He was trying to get my gun" he claimed. The fear is that, as Law Enforcement Officers (LEO's) are known to be close knit, even to a fault via the "old boy's network." Yet it is said that an investigation is ongoing, and the LEO in on administrative leave. But despite the earnest calls of Michael Brown's family and his Pastor to let peace and calm reflection prevail, it did not. Soon Black young people began looting the local Quik Trip, more young people, women and children joined in their activities, and they moved from store to store. They destroyed everything that they could. That local Quik Trip ended up on fire, the manager and workers hid, fearing for their lives, and the store was totally destroyed. Hundreds of cops made their presence known, and 35 arrests were made as the night wore on. Two cops were slightly injured. Much of this seems too much like Trayvon Martin and other victims of senseless gun violence all over again!

Root Cause(s)?

The loss of that young human life and at the hands of a more powerful person, is very sad. We will never know what actually happened, as Michael Brown is not here to give his side of the story. And can we trust that the LEO who killed him, is telling the truth? That is unclear. As many of us know, LEO's often get by with their brutality against members of minority communities and the victims rarely get justice. But the resulting racial tensions in Ferguson only reflect those throughout the nation and which resembled those surrounding the senseless shooting death of unarmed Trayvon Martin. Most of what people denigrate as "race riots" are usually peaceful protests of heartbroken minority communities demanding justice and answers for victims of senseless and unjust violence. Many of such peaceful protests happened after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The day after the shooting death of Michael Brown, people marched in the streets to peacefully demand answers in Michael Brown's shooting death. Yet the teens and even women and children, who vented their rage on the community, are much like the Black Panthers who have a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman's head. It is easy to dismiss these people as thugs, punks and worse, and cheer that they are behind bars, where they belong. Yet some of us who watched the tragic scene of the violent lootings, know that there are deeper causes of the rage than rage-filled efforts to lash out at the community. We know that these people come from at-risk communities where poverty and hopelessness fuel rage and bitterness and futility. Many of them come from homes where fathers abandon their families and mothers are the heads of their homes. We should not look down on them or feel contempt, but rather pity this sad reality of the Bible's principle that "the sins of the fathers are being visited on the children" and the hopelessness of it all. These people, many of them so young, may never have a future as much of it may be spent behind bars. We understand that Blacks are overrepresented in the prison population. When will it end?

Where Do We Go From Here?

As one legal analyst stated, it seems that we are living in a post George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin era. The shooting of Black teens is not stopping. The heroic efforts of the Martin family and of other victim's families, seem to be having limited effect. It only goes to show that the root causes go deep, that racism is very much alive, and that we still have far to go. Yes, we have come a long way, especially as far as legislation goes, that give broad protections to minority groups. Racism is now universally condemned. We can speak freely of the need for peaceful race relations. We have a Black President. But unconscious racism remains in many of us. Research shows that most of us women instinctively clutch at our purses when we encounter Black males. Many of us still refer to Blacks as the members of a group, especially when it comes to crime. In the media, we tend to see Black on White crimes portrayed far more than Black on Black, or White on Black crimes. Because of this, we may find it easy to criminalize Blacks, especially males. Recently, I found myself saying, "Wow! All these Black on White crimes" and another time, I was watching a case unfold. I mused, "I hope this is not Black on White. That would just fuel the racism." The truth is, we need to be discerning as we use media, realizing that media reports are probably biased and distorted. Most media, whatever the form, have their own agendas and biases. I promise you, they do. It is our job to discern what is fact and what is just biased opinion. If we do this, we will find it easier to see people as individuals and not as members of groups, and to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

And there continue to be new, sad developments even as I write. The Black Panthers, not content to let the investigation unfold and run its own course, are angrily demanding "Charge that cope with murder now!" A new Black Panther, according to the FBI, is calling for more violence against Ferguson cops. The shooter cop, out of understandable fear for his safety, refuses to release his name to the public. An officer was shot and injured over the past evening. Violence continues in Ferguson.

All I know is that we need to stop the shootings of unarmed teens. Laws alone will not do that. Hearts need to be changed. That is where loving our neighbor comes in, including those who are unlike us.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How to Pick Up A Stripper by Todd & Erin Stevens

Do not be fooled by this book's eyebrow-raising title. The authors advocate a lifestyle that they call "kindness evangelism" among those whom Christian congregation traditionally have not included in our churches. Addressed to those who identify themselves as Christians who believe in Jesus, the authors write this book not to impart information or to entertain. They challenge us to lives of selfless, loving, service to our neighbors, no matter how they have treated us. Christ, the authors contend, using many examples of "kindness evangelism" from their own lives, will be more and more seen in us as we implement these principles laid out here.

When I began reading this book, I thought this would be a work of a person who left the stripping industry, met Christ as Savior and Lord, and wrote this to inspire the Christian community to show Biblical love to those often looked on as "outsiders." It is indeed a challenge to sacrificial, loving service to those in our lives but is written by a Pastor and his wife. I found myself quite challenged by this book and by the rigorously Christian call to selfless commitment in all areas of my life, no matter what the cost in comfort, time, convenience or even money. This book is easy to read but not easy to apply to one's life! Finding nothing here that I didn't already know, the "lifestyle kindness evangelism" advocated by the Stevens is both easier and more challenging than traditional Christian service and evangelism model I have been taught. As I read, I found my mind forming "yes buts" and most (not all) my objections were addressed. Though the writing is interesting, conversational and appealing, the calls to action can be overwhelming without a grasp of God's enabling grace.

As this is a limited book centered on outreach, there is little here about worship or discipleship. I wished that the authors had not placed the chapter on prayer at the end of the book. This chapter placement sends the wrong message about prayer and can drown out the Stevens' words about our need to make prayer and our relationship with God central to our outreach. Not only do I wish that they had placed this chapter at the beginning of this book, but I would have liked to see more stress on our own relationship with God and the need to be motivated and empowered by His grace. If you want to say in your comfort zone and see the local church as a place that exists for you, you will dismiss this book's message. But this book has a message that most in the Western Christian community need to read, share, and apply.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Booklook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a favorable review.

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