To Love God

December 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Posted in Christianity, Church of Christ, faith, God, Religion | Leave a comment

What is the most important thing that Christians can do? Many would say helping others, obeying God’s commandments, loving one another or any number of noble and important things. And certainly all of these have a great degree of merit and importance. However, in Matthew 22 when Christ is asked what the greatest commandment is, he says that it is loving God with all your heart, soul and mind.

The context of this is very interesting considering that it is a reply to a question submitted by a Pharisee (or possibly Sadducee) lawyer with the intention of testing Jesus. What kind of test was this? Was there supposed to be a wrong or right answer? I would assume that this lawyer did not have Christ’s best interests in mind when he asked it. It seems that he wanted to try to trip Jesus up somehow. I wonder how the lawyer thought Jesus would answer. If I had to guess, I’d say he thought Jesus would say something politically correct like “well, all of God’s commandments are important.” That’s probably how a modern-day politician or leader would answer it. But Jesus, without hesitation replied that the greatest commandment is, put simply, loving God as much as you possibly can. Now, he also added that loving your neighbor as yourself was “like” the greatest commandment. So obviously, loving your neighbor as yourself has an extremely significant level of importance. But let’s focus on the greatest one: loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Very often, it seems that we talk about God loving us. And He certainly does! But how often do we discuss loving God in return?

I can see how loving a divine Being that we have not seen with our own human eyes nor felt with our human hands could be a very difficult concept to wrap our brains around. After all, most of the things we say we love in the world are things that are tangible or at least easily perceivable on some level. In order to obtain a better understanding of loving God, let’s look at a few passages from the scriptures.

The first time the idea of loving God is specifically mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 20:6 which speaks of God “showing love to thousands” of those who love Him and keep His commandments. Here we see the reciprocal nature of God’s love and our love for Him. Notice the where the balance is. If the Israelites would choose to love God, He would show love to a thousands of them.

In Deuteronomy 6, we see the greatest commandment that Jesus referenced. Verses 4-5 say “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” This narrows it down for the Israelites and for us. There is one God. He is the one we should love with all our souls and with all our might. So what’s the purpose of doing that? Think of it this way, you only have one husband or wife, that is if you have one at all. That makes you loyal to one person in that relationship. There should be no confusion. There should be no discrepancies. It’s very simple, very specific. There is only one God to love.

On a brief aside, you may have heard how the Bible is just a love letter from God. I think this is childish and overly simplistic. Considering the diverse nature of its content, referring to the Bible as a love letter seems to only be scratching the surface. The Bible is many things. I suppose at times it is a love letter, but there’s so much more to it! It’s history, it’s poetry, it’s prophecy, it’s law, it’s a warning, it’s hope, it’s full of blessings and even curses. How many love letters do you know of that have all of those things?

Back on track, I would say most of the time, we show our love by the the things we do. And by showing our love in the things we do, we inspire others to love us. What has God done for us on the most basic level that would make us love Him? Many of us would readily say that the sacrifice of Christ would probably be the greatest display of love that God has ever shown to mankind. I would agree whole-heartedly. But consider something much more basic: our very existence. Even as miserable as our lives can be, do we ever stop to appreciate being able to live? Being able to see God’s creation? If we were only flies being able to see everything around us, we would have the fantastic privilege of seeing the world that God has made. But more than that, we have been given our own human lives, which are an immeasurable blessing. Is there any single being in the world capable of doing this?

Surely, God has demonstrated his love to us in a way that no human is able to do. And for what? Do we deserve His blessings? Absolutely not. We must consider these circumstances and dwell on what God has done in order to inspire us to love Him through our obedience to Him. Our love for God should be the source of how we live our lives. Let us learn to love Him more each day.

Pagan Christianity: A Book Review

August 21, 2008 at 5:11 am | Posted in Bible, Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, faith, Religion, The Bible, The Gospel, Theology, Word of God | 3 Comments

I just finished a book called Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna and I must say that it is one of the most spiritually challenging works I’ve ever read, besides the Bible itself. I firmly believe that it is a book that every Christian should read. No matter what fellowship or denomination you’re a part of, this book probably applies to you.

So what’s the big deal? Why am I getting so excited about some book that’s not the Bible?

For a long time, I’ve wished for a comprehensive work that addresses the non-biblical human traditions that have infiltrated Christendom over the past two thousand years. This book comes closer than any I’ve ever heard of. From church government to worship to liturgy to salvation, Pagan Christianity leaves few stones unturned with regards to the problems that have evolved in Christianity throughout the course of its existence.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, this book addresses the following questions and more:

Why do our preachers/ministers preach every Sunday?

Where does our “order of worship”/liturgy come from?

Why do we seem like passive spectators in church rather than active worshippers?

What’s the difference between modern churches and the church of the first century?

Basically much of the book speaks to the question: “Why do we do the things we do?”

At the very least, some of this book will surprise you. If you’ve ever questioned whether or not the practices of your church are truly rooted in the scriptures, this is something you should read.

Granted, I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book, specifically some of the solutions they offer based on the conclusions drawn in it. But for the most part, their ideal vision for what the church should be is far better than the status quo in Christendom.

However, I must issue a warning. This book is not for the close-minded. It’s not for those who are content with keeping their religious views the same. This book will likely challenge the way you view your faith, your church, and Christianity in general. Whether you’re a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or a member of the church of Christ, this book is an assault on the manmade traditions that have led Christendom away from the word of God.

I strongly urge anyone who would bear the name “Christian” to read this book with an open mind. I can only hope you will do so and reap the benefits of it as I have. May God bless you in your search for the truth!

Why I Vote

January 31, 2008 at 10:06 pm | Posted in America, Bible, Catholic, Catholicism, Christ, Christianity, Conservative, Election 2008, faith, God, GOP, Liberal, Mitt Romney, Mormon, Mormonism, News, Patriotism, Politics, Pro-Life, Religion, Republican, Roman Catholic Church, Romney, The Bible, Theology, USA, Word of God | Leave a comment

Election day is a very special time for me. Typically, I’ll get up earlier than usual and vote first thing in the morning. There’s just something about the spirit of democracy in action that just excites me. Besides 2004, I have never even had to wait in line for an extended period of time to get to the ballot.  The process is usually very quick and I’m done in less than 10 minutes.

I’ve read of Christians who did not feel the necessity to vote, feeling that a Christian’s role in civil government was to be as minimal as possible. And while certainly I can understand that point of view, I definitely do not agree with it.

Morally, I think it’s a Christian’s obligation to vote. I suppose I could understand a conscious objection to selecting the “lesser of two evils,” but I don’t personally see it that way. I’d cite James 4:17 to support my claim that a failure to vote would violate my own conscience.

And why? Well, consider the issues. If you think about it, we live in a country where you have a voice in whether or not your government will permit the taking of innocent life. And that can be applied to abortion, as well as capital punishment. We live in a country where you have a choice to decide whether or not your government will allow homosexuals to participate in the traditionally heterosexual institution of marriage. Those issues may or may not bother you, but I believe they affect me.

If I ever hear someone complaining about the direction America is going in, I ask “did you vote?” If there answer is no, I see virtually no reason for such an individual to continue complaining to me because they will not gain one single ounce of sympathy from me. If you don’t do something to stop moral erosion in this country, then you’ve essentially contributed to it yourself.

But for those who do vote based on moral conviction, I’d like to say that one of the things I enjoy most about election day is unity. When I go to the polls, there are Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, members of the Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Mormons that are voting for the same things I’m voting for. No matter what our doctrinal differences are, we are united in moral causes when we vote. And I like that.

I think it’s good that we can put aside the specific religious beliefs that divide us so we can come together on the very core moral principles of our faith. I hope you will join me in doing so during this election year.

Thoughts on the Passing of Heath Ledger

January 25, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Death, Entertainment, Heath Ledger, Movies, The Dark Knight, The Joker, The Patriot | 1 Comment

This may seem odd considering that I haven’t written something in quite a while and all of a sudden I’m writing about Heath Ledger. I’ve got some other posts in the works but nothing I feel like publishing yet. Anyway…

I’ve always thought that Heath Ledger was a fine actor. I suppose the first film I recall seeing him in would be “10 Things I Hate About You.” And yes, I happen to enjoy that movie, which I believe to be a wonderfully light-hearted teenage rendering of “Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare. Then of course, there was “The Patriot,” which is also a fantastic movie.

His latest film “The Dark Knight,” the sequel to the incredible (and much-needed) new vision of the Batman series known as “Batman Begins,” was sure to be a blockbuster. Not only that, for me, “The Dark Knight,” will be one of those films that you find a way to watch on opening night, or even midnight on the eve before it opens in theaters. Ledger’s take on the Joker, from what I’ve seen in the trailer, will be nothing short of magnificent. Unfortunately, now the excitement is more or less dimmed (and perhaps supplemented) by an urge to see the final performance of a great actor.

Seeing the headline that first caught my eye on Yahoo News, I was in complete disbelief. Actor Heath Ledger, age 28 found dead in NYC apartment. How could it have happened? This guy had so much giong for him. He had a little daughter whom he loved very much. He had an acting career that was on the rise, which would have risen even higher as a result of his performance in “The Dark Knight.” He was arguably one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, perhaps even one of the most talented.

Currently, we don’t know whether or not it was a suicide. I personally don’t think it was, based on the circumstances. He never seemed to be a drug addict or someone that you’d see in and out of rehab like Lindsay Lohan or Robert Downey Jr. It seems so ironic to me that there are dozens of celebrities that get second chances, involved in much more dangerous substances than prescription sleeping pills, and yet they are still alive and well, if you can call it that.

I’ve heard that Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is going to protest Heath Ledger’s funeral. I must say that I can’t think of anything more anti-Christian than that. Their logic is that since Ledger starred as a gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain,” then he is currently “serving an eternal sentence in Hell.” In my opinion, people like that have no concept of grace, forgiveness, or even love itself.

I’m not an advocate of homosexuality. I believe the Bible is very clear on that (Romans 1:18-31, 1st Corinthians 6:9). And I’m not here to condone Heath Ledger’s portrayal of a homosexual. But I cannot say that Christ is glorified in the actions of Fred Phelps. I think a guy like Fred Phelps represents some of the things that are dead wrong about evangelical Christendom. He protests the funerals of homosexuals, soldiers, and now an actor. This is just ludicrous. Is there no respect for the dead any more? Why doesn’t he protest the funerals of drunk drivers, thieves, murderers, rapists or people like that? Evidentally, he considers the sin of homosexuality to be worse than the rest. And besides, who has made Fred Phelps the judge of a soul’s destiny?

But back to Heath Ledger. This guy was extremely talented. He was a fantastic actor that I really admired and now he’s gone. It’s a terrible terrible tragedy that I still can hardly fathom. It truly saddens me to know that he will not live to make another movie. Not that that was his only reason for living or even that that’s the only reason I’m sad about him dying. But I’m sad that a human being with so much talent, so much success is now dead and gone. I’m not even sure he ever had a chance to reach his prime.

I think it goes without saying, that he’ll be sorely missed.

Ann Coulter and Being “Perfected”

October 14, 2007 at 4:18 am | Posted in Ann Coulter, Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, Conservative, faith, God, Judaism, Liberal, Politics, Racism, Religion, Republican, The Bible, The Gospel, Theology, Word of God | 4 Comments

As a Christian that takes an avid interest in current events and the political scene, it probably wouldn’t be all that surprising for me to write a blog concerning the recent statements that Ann Coulter made on “The Big Idea” with Donnie Deutsch. So I did. I wrote a post on my more political blog concerning my take on that particular situation.

Now, the blogosphere, which isn’t short of any liberal or shall I say, left-leaning blogs, was quick to pounce on her statements, labelling her everything from racist to anti-Semitic. This came as no surprise to me considering that most people of a liberal mindset absolutely abhor Ann Coulter anyway. For them, this was only fuel to the flame.

And frankly, I can’t say I condone every statement she’s made in the past. I think she has crossed the line on more than one occasion. But from watching the video of the interview and reading the transcript, I couldn’t say I saw much that I considered to be remotely defamatory, racist, or even anti-Semitic.

Let’s note a few things about the interview.

First of all, Donnie Deutsch led the discussion to cover what Ann Coulter thought an idealistic society would be. She responded that it would look like the New York City during the Republican National Convention. That shouldn’t come as any shock at all because Ann Coulter is a Republican.

The conversation eventually turned to the concept of an “ideal society” full of Christians. And naturally, I would say that most religious people feel that the world would be better off if the world were full of people that subscribed to their particular religious beliefs.

Let’s make one more thing clear: Ann Coulter was not talking about race, she was talking about religion. Jewish nationality had absolutely nothing to do with this discussion. It was all about Christianity versus Judaism.

Donnie Deutsch clearly thought otherwise however, when he compared Ann Coulter to the head of Iran who wishes to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. To that, Coulter responded, and I quote: “No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.”

Now the headlines of mainstream media took that statement and ran with it. Some even misquoted her (actually if you read the transcript, Donnie Deutsch misquotes her too) as saying “Jews need to be perfected,” which is altogether different.

What Ann Coulter was  saying is that as Christians, we want Jews to be perfected. We would love for Jews to become Christians. Is that bad? Certainly nothing about that necessarily implies that Christians should force Jews to become Christians, but rather we simply want them to.

Now let me cut to the spiritual chase on this discussion. What does it mean for someone to be “perfected” in Christianity? That is the heart of the matter.

In Matthew 5:48, Christ says “you therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What a daunting task! How is it possible to be as perfect as God Himself?

Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Christ as the “perfecter of our faith.” Christ is the one who can make our faith perfect. But still, how does Christ do that?

Hebrews 10:14 says that by Christ’s offering, he has “perfected for all time those who are being sanctificed.” By Jesus Christ dying on the cross, He is able to “perfect” us.

And these verses only scratch the surface of the concept of perfection in the Bible. Humanity is anything but perfect. Christ is perfect. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. By being that perfect sacrifice, He in turn, makes us perfect.

Do I want to be perfect? Absolutely. Can I be perfect? No, I cannot be perfect on my own. But can I be perfected? Yes and I thank God I can!

And I think that’s what Ann Coulter was trying to get across. The Bible is full of Jews being “perfected.” It talks about it quite a bit actually. Not to mention the fact that Jesus Christ Himself, Peter the apostle, Paul the apostle, and most of the writers of the Bible were Jews themselves!

So do Ann Coulter’s statements in that interview make her racist or anti-Semitic? I hardly think so. If anything, she wants Jews to be saved. And if that’s anti-Semitic, then I’m just as guilty as she is.

Once saved…..always saved?

October 10, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Bible, Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, Grace, Religion, The Bible, The Gospel, Theology, Word of God | 5 Comments

There seems to be a large contingent in the realm of Christendom today that holds the Calvinistic belief that once a sinner is saved by the blood of Christ, such an individual cannot possibly lose the salvation they have received. From the outset, that kind of belief is comforting, isn’t it? The notion that no matter what we do, we can still be saved by Christ from our sin once we’ve come into contact with the blood of Christ.

 In fact, such a claim may not be wholly unsubstantiated by scripture. In John 10:27-30, Christ speaks of His flock, how they hear His voice, and how no one will snatch them out of His hand. We would naturally interpret that to mean that as followers of Christ, we hear His voice, His teachings, His word, and no one, not even Satan, can snatch us from His divine grasp. But is it possible that we could be released from that grasp? Or is it even possible that we could find a way to, God forbid, “free” ourselves from that grasp?

In several places, the book of Hebrews admonishes its readers to remain faithful. Hebrews 3:14 tells us that once we are in Christ, we share in Christ, “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Let’s note a few things about that passage. That word “if” makes that statement conditional. If we do not hold our original confidence firm to the end, then what? I believe it directly implies that we cease to share in Christ.

Hebrews 10:26-27 takes it a step further. It says that “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” For those who would say that a “knowledge of the truth,” does not imply salvation, let me remind you that the Hebrew writer uses the words “no longer,” which indicates that such an individual once had salvation.

Furthermore, if there no longer remains a sacrifice of sins, that means the individual is no longer covered by the blood of Christ. And if a “fearful expectation of judgment,” and a “fury of fire that will consume the adversaries,” doesn’t sound like eternal punishment to you, I’m not sure what else it would be.

If these passages alone are not convincing, let’s look at Hebrews 6:4-6. The passage states that it is impossible to restore someone again to repentance if they fall away after having been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, having shared in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God. This passage not only describes the possibility of an individual falling away, but it also indicates a state in which a soul cannot be renewed to repentance. The passage also says that such an individual crucifies Christ again. What could be a greater sin than that?

Now, some will say that these passages are merely hypothetical. Surely no one would ever reach the highest heights of salvation only to swan dive into the lowest form of apostasy. Unfortunately, the Scriptures not only indicate that such an occurrence is possible, it has in fact happened. Galatians 5:4 states to those who would seek justification in the law of Moses after coming to Christ, “You are severed from Christ,” and more explicitly, “you have fallen from grace.” Not “you are falling from grace,” not “you’re about to fall from grace,” not even “you will fall from grace.” It says “you have fallen,” meaning that the individual has already fallen from God’s grace.

Isn’t that what this is all about in the first place? Falling from grace? So many who hold the view of “once saved, always saved,” will also be quick to point out that we are saved by grace through faith… and rightly so! There is nothing anyone can do to earn salvation. The only way to salvation is through the grace of God. But the scriptures clearly indicate that the Christian’s access to that grace can be destroyed only by the individual that has that grace.

No one can snatch us away from Christ. No one can separate us from the love of Christ. Saved or lost, Christ loves us. But if we seek release from Christ, unfortunately, we can achieve it.

The way to avoid such a disaster is living a faithful life in Christ. For as the latter part of Revelation 2:10 says, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Proactive Christianity

August 19, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, God, The Bible, The Gospel, Theology, Uncategorized, Word of God | 4 Comments

Just a week ago, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how many Christians stress the “what-not-to-do’s” of Christianity. It seems that today, Christianity is about not doing drugs, not drinking, not smoking, not having extramarital sex, not doing this, not doing that. Is that what being a Christian has been reduced to? Is it all about towing a strict moral line, avoiding social evils at all costs in hopes of simply being a “shining light”?

Of course, I’m not making a case against living a moral life or even being a shining example for the world to see. But is that all we’re called to do as Christians? Hardly!

Christianity is supposed to be inherently proactive. It’s not just about what you don’t do, it’s about what you are doing. Christ’s message of being a shining light to the world isn’t about what you avoid, it’s about others being able to see the fruits of your faith.

Christ taught that we should go the extra mile, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, spread the good news of His teachings to the world, things that are very proactive. If His message was constantly a list of things not to do, little would separate the law of Christ from the Old Testament law of sin and death.

So often I hear the old adage, “you may be the only Bible someone ever reads.” However, I think we limit the real essence of what that saying is about. Unfortunately, many times the implication is that if we’re not involved in all those evil things of the world, then we’re being a good example, and such an example will result in some vague form of evangelism. That’s an ill-conceived and foolish notion at best.

Instead, we should be actively following Christ’s teachings by getting out there and doing what Christ Himself would do. Therefore, I suggest a new adage, “don’t simply be the only Bible someone ever reads, get out there and show them the real thing!”

Another symptom of our flawed ideology is that we think that simply bringing someone to our local congregation will cause them to obey the gospel. It’s almost as if we think that the “magical powers” of our church buildings will convert a sinner! This concept allows the believers to become more comfortable in their own surroundings rather than forcing them to realize that there’s a world outside that needs God’s grace.

On the contrary, I believe that one-on-one interaction on a personal level is a major and often overlooked part of evangelism. The message of the gospel is much easier to spread this way.

We must understand that even if our faith counted for nothing when we died, our lives and the lives of those around us would still be better as a result of following Christ’s teachings.

Our lives as Christians must be demonstrative, not reactive to the world around us, but proactive in spreading the message of the gospel.

Now I’m certainly not here to promote a “Christian nation” ideology like the one referenced in the movie “Jesus Camp.” Instead, I want Christians to take the opportunity to reach souls and hearts by love and truth, not by force and ignorance. We should continually be reaching out to those around us, willing to share the greatness of God’s word.

This type of proactive Christianity can’t be achieved by confining ourselves to the walls of a church building. Rather we should be spread the truth in each other’s homes, in our workplaces (if possible), in our schools (if possible), and wherever we can.

If we understand this facet of Christianity, the side that calls us to act, Christianity will spread. Of course we should abstain from the evils of this world, but abstaining is simply doing nothing if that’s all we’re committed to. We must act. We need to go the extra mile, love those who hate us, pray for those who persecute us, and commit ourselves to doing, not establishing a record of what we are not doing. As a result, we may reach the lost of this world and show them the true light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

July 29, 2007 at 6:34 pm | Posted in Bible, Conservative, faith, God, Islam, Islamic Terrorism, Koran, Muslim, Politics, President Bush, Quran, Religion, Salman Rushdie, The Bible, Theology | 23 Comments

The following is an abridged version of a paper I wrote a few years ago. I tried to be as fair as I could with it:

In the time following September 11th, 2001, Western society has often found itself separating modern time into two divisions: pre-September 11th and post-September 11th. The attacks on the United States of America left many people angered, frustrated, and confused. Knowing that the culprits of these heinous crimes were Islamic extremists, some may decide to direct these feelings at Muslims in general, causing a seemingly unfair evaluation of the religion of Islam.

When taking this into account, one must also note that there are extremists that operate under the guise of several different religions, including Christianity. However, regarding Islam, we must examine whether or not this religion actually teaches and promotes such actions, in order to see if Islam is actually a religion of peace.

At this time, Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with over one billion followers. In fact, there are more Muslims in the United States than there are Methodists. Islam is a faith and a code of conduct for all aspects of life. For instance, an ideal Islamic government for most Muslims would be one that is characterized by the moral principles of their faith.

Jihad

It is important to note that Islam is a religion that is characterized by missions, mobility, and militancy. In regard to missions and militancy, Muslims believe strongly in jihad, war against those who attack or resist Islam, and the requirements that one must practice in order to be a Muslim. Jihad is a central and very important concept of Islam. The basic meaning of it is “to struggle,” or “to strive.”

In their book Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb define jihad as the “sacred struggle with word or sword in the cause of Allah; a holy war.” However, the term “holy war” is often used in reference to jihad. Muslim scholars indicate that starting war is “unholy,” even though some wars are inevitable and even justifiable. And although there are only five major Pillars of Islam, jihad is sometimes considered to be the “sixth Pillar of Islam,” because of its importance.

Muslims have divided jihad into four expressions. The first expression is the “jihad of the tongue,” which is in reference to speaking about and spreading their faith. There is the “jihad of the hand,” which involves expressing their faith by doing good works. The third expression is the “jihad of the heart,” which entails making their faith a force for good in the world. These first three expressions are obviously the least talked about and arguably the least seen by the non-Muslim world.

However, the fourth expression is unfortunately the most popular: the “jihad of the sword,” defending their faith when under attack. This expression has been typically conveyed by extremists on occasions like September 11th. This type of jihad was also apparently referenced in 1984, when American University Professor Amos Perlmutter warned about a “general Islamic war being waged against the West, Christianity, modern capitalism, Zionism, and Communism all at once.”

Jihad is also of great significance since it likely fueled early success in the spread of Islam. It was a central idea in the fight against the pagans. The Qur’an itself urges Muslims to fight for the cause of Allah and kill pagans wherever they may be. For instance, Surah 9:5 of the Quran states, “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”

This apparently indicates a certain level of intolerance to certain non-Muslims. Also, it is important to note that since jihad is central to the beginning of Islam, one might conclude that it was born in the atmosphere of war, violence, and perhaps even intolerance as well. The very establishment of Islam was in the midst of fighting.


Usama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and Islamic Terrorism

  In modern times, it appears that the concept of jihad is still alive and well. The most popular evidence of the Muslim jihad can be seen in Islamic activist groups like Holy War, Party of God, Salvation from Hell, Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah. There is a wide diversity of these activist groups which are a testament to the flexibility of Islam. The terrorist organization Hamas is often credited with undermining Israeli and Palestinian peace relations.

According to Usama Bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, “It is far better for anyone to kill a single American soldier than to squander his efforts on other activities.” He continued to say, “We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retaliation in kind. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets.”

Because of his frequent cultural references and allusions to the Qur’an, Bin Laden is highly popular among many Muslims, especially those who consider themselves victims of change in modernity and globalization. He shares popular Muslim grievances concerning the presence of United States military in Islamic nations. He believes his mission is to destroy America and bring the world to Islam. He frequently calls upon his followers to sacrifice themselves as martyrs because “the walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets.”


“Islam is Peace,” the Muslim Defense

The common claim by many in defense of Islam is “Islam is peace.” President George W. Bush defended Islam by saying, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.” But although many may say that Islam means “peace,” the word Islam actually means “submission,” or “surrender,” and the Arabic word for “peace,” is salaam. However, an important thing to note about Islam is that it shares a common thread with Judaism and Christianity: Abraham. But not only that, they also share similar beliefs, traditions, and standards of conduct.

One of the major problems Islam faces is constant negative publicity and stereotypes it seems to receive as a result of terrorist actions committed in the name of Allah. According to Salam Al-Marayati, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, “When new acquaintances learn that I’m a practicing Muslim, they are surprised that blood and smoke are not simultaneously seeping out of horns in my head.” He also says that “Islam is a peaceful, tolerant religion, yet people associate it with violence and intolerance.”

Even though there are some Muslims like Usama Bin Laden who commit terrorist atrocities, there are also Muslims who are becoming community leaders with the intention of establishing harmony between religions and advancing civic causes. President Bush said of Muslim Americans, “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.”

Many Muslims strongly oppose terrorist actions perpetrated by organizations like Al Qaeda. According to President Bush, “the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks [September 11th, 2001]. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

It is certainly possible for some Westerners to sympathize with Muslims over the vast immorality in the West. And unfortunately, Western media tends to display its immoral tendencies and typically ignores those who lead godly lives. It is likely that problems like these strongly supplement Islamic resentment towards the West.


The Qur’an and the words of Muhammad

 The Qur’an and Muhammad are the primary sources for guidance and doctrine for the Islamic faith. Abu Hanifa, one of the great Sunni authorities says that the Qur’an “is the word of God, and it is His inspired word and revelation. It is a necessary attribute of God. It is not God, but still is inseparable from God.” The Qur’an is extremely important to Islam. Muslims believe it to be the final revelation of God. It is their “holy book.” The word Qur’an literally means “reading,” or “preaching.” The Arabic reading of it is considered musical. They also see the Qur’an as “most perfect,” and a miracle. It is thought to be “uncreated.” If one were to compare the significance of the Qur’an to something in Christianity, it would be compared with “Christ Himself.”

However, as glorious as the Qur’an may be to Muslims, Islamic terrorist organizations can find justifications for their actions within its pages. Surah 2:191 states, “And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter…Fighting is prescribed for you and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth and ye know not.” Here, it is easy for one to infer that fighting is considered profitable by the Qur’an.

Surah 3:157-158 says, “And if ye are slain or die in the way of God, forgiveness and mercy from God are far better than all they could amass. And if ye die, or are slain, lo! It is unto God that ye are brought together.” Along with that, Surah 4:75 states, “…and whoever fights in the way of Allah, whether he be slain or be he victorious, we shall grant him a mighty reward.” These verses seem as if they could be a justification for terrorists, especially suicide bombers.

Although Muslims may claim a degree of unity with Jews and Christians through Abraham, the Qur’an gives a rather different view. One example is Surah 5:54, which says, “O ye who believe. Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guideth not a people unjust.” Also, Surah 2:120 says, “And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion. Say: Surely Allah’s guidance that is the (true) guidance. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.”

It is possible for one to infer a certain degree of intolerance within the pages of the Qur’an. Surah 3:85, for instance, states “And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.” From this passage, one could deduct that he or she is a “loser,” if in fact he or she is not a Muslim.

Muhammad is counted as the last and greatest of all prophets by Muslims. He is instrumental to the creation of Islam. Muhammad waged war among the Jews in Medina, expelling and executing them. In the battle against the last Jewish tribe there were seven to eight hundred men slaughtered; women and children were taken as booty. There is a tradition from Muhammad that says, “The last hour won’t come before the Muslims would fight the Jews and the Muslims will kill them so Jews would hide behind rocks and trees. Then the rocks and trees would call: oh, Muslim, oh, servant of God! There is a Jew, behind me, come and kill him.”

There is also the Hadith, which are a collection of stories about and the sayings of Muhammad. In it, Muhammad states “know that Paradise is under the shades of swords.” The Hadith also says “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” These are both prime examples of the violent and intolerant nature of Muhammad, the great prophet of Islam.


Conclusion

E. Renan once said “Muslims are the first victim of Islam. Many times I have observed in my travels in the Orient that fanaticism comes from a small number of dangerous men who maintains the others in the practice of religion by terror. To liberate a Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him.” From the earliest roots of Islam, Muhammad called for the killing and destruction of anyone who opposes Islam and its demand for complete submission. Terrorism, death threats against Salman Rushdie, and capital punishment for those who convert from Islam are not extreme deviations or perversions of the “true and peaceful religion of Islam.”

A religion that promotes violence cannot be a religion of peace. A religion of intolerance is not a religion of peace. No matter what Muslims may say about their religion, their very own book actively promotes the murder of those who will not conform to it. They will not move away from the Qur’an because they stand upon it. As long as they do, they will not, nor will they ever be, a religion of peace.

Sources:

9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission Report. New York: Norton, 2004.
Basetti-Sani, Guilio. The Koran in the Light of Christ: A Christian Interpretation of the Sacred Book of Islam. Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1977.
Braswell, George Jr. What you need to know about Islam and Muslims. Mt. Juliet: Broadman & Holman, 2000.
Bush, George W. “’Islam is Peace’ Says President.” The White House. 29 Nov. 2004. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html.
Esposito, John. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?. New York: Oxford, 1999.
Findley, Paul. Silent No More: confronting America’s false images of Islam. Beltsville: Amana, 2001.
Geisler, Norman and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.
Huffard, Evertt. Christ or the Qur’an?. Henderson: Hester, 2004.
Sene, Brahim. Answering Islam, a Christian-Muslim Dialog and Apologetic. 27 Nov. 2004. http://www.answering-islam.org.
Shakir, M.H. The Qur’an: Translation. Elmhurst: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 2002.
Warraq, Ibn. Why I am not a Muslim. Amherst: Prometheus, 1995.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

July 26, 2007 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Bible, Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, faith, God, Heaven, Religion, The Gospel, Theology, Word of God | 11 Comments

I recently saw a video where President Bush claimed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God and that different faiths have different ways of “getting to the Almighty.” In a sense, he is right. I know that sounds terribly strange coming from a Christian, but in a way, it is true. Christians and Muslims both believe in the God of Abraham. Jews also believe in the God of Abraham. And obviously, we all have different ways of worshipping and following that God. So I couldn’t necessarily claim that President Bush was 100% wrong in his statement.

However, if you interpret his statement with the implication that all religions can legitimately access God and follow Him differently, while at the same time correctly, I’d say that his statement is absolutely false.

What kind of god would send his son to Earth to claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) if in fact, he was not the only way, the only truth, and the only life? Then furthermore, Christ claims that no one can “come to the Father,” implying God Himself, except through Him (Christ).

As harsh as it may seem, the simple fact of the matter is that either Christianity is the only way, or it is not. If Christianity was not the only way to reach and follow God, then Christ is surely a liar.

Christianity isn’t the only religion that claims to be the only way. In the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, Surah 3:85 states, “And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.”

Therefore, neither Christianity nor Islam would allow for the other to be regarded as equally valid. But what makes Christianity so different?

Unlike many religions throughout the world, Christianity offers a means of resolving the problem of sin. God sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to absolve humanity of its many failures. Of course, there are thousands of different denominations within the realm of Christendom that offer different methods for accessing that absolution. If you’re curious as what I believe concerning that, I’d urge you to read my post, “Access to the Sacrifice.”

Christianity is designed for every human on Earth. It is for any person of any race, nationality or background. No matter what religion you were raised in, no matter what your status in life is, there is a place for you in Christianity. The level of sin in your life is of no consequence to God. Even the most evil of all people on Earth have a chance to seek redemption. That’s the beauty of it.

However, I must say that I’d be misrepresenting Christianity if I said it was easy. It’s not. While every human is capable of living the life that it requires, relatively few have the desire to do so. It’s a challenge that does require a substantial amount of sacrifice. But the rewards are unlike anything that any language on Earth could describe.

In order to know the way that Christianity can be lived, you must search the Bible for answers. Within its pages, you’ll be able to find the way to live a meaningful life as well as what separates Christianity from everything else in the world.

The Body and the Blood of Christ

July 22, 2007 at 3:13 am | Posted in Bible, Christ, Christianity, Church of Christ, Eucharist, God, Jesus Christ, Lord's Supper, The Bible, The Gospel, Word of God | 2 Comments

This may seem extremely fundamental, but I believe it is no accident that the Bible refers to the church as the “body of Christ,” while also showing that we, as the body, are united by the blood of Christ. Think about it. We are Christ’s body, and we have His blood running through our veins.

Christ Himself serves as the Head of the body (Ephesians 5:23). He is the one who knows what’s best for the rest of the body. He directs and guides it where it needs to go. The head contains the mind of the body because everything the body needs to function goes through the head; and so it is with Christ and His church.

Since Christ is the head of His body, He is able to operate the members of the body according to His will. 1st Corinthians 12 teaches us we all have specific purposes to fulfill as members of the body. And every single member of the body is important. Each has its own specific duty to perform.

In the human body, nearly every single part has blood flowing through it. Science teaches us that the life of the body is in the blood, but the Bible also teaches us that as well (Leviticus 17:11). In order to have spiritual life in the body of Christ, we as members must have the blood of Christ running through us. Along with that, it is also important for our physical bodies to maintain blood flow. When the blood ceases to flow in a certain area, serious problems can occur. It is the same with the body of Christ. When we as members fail, in what ever way, to let Christ’s blood flow through us, we can become lifeless, causing problems not only for ourselves, but for the rest of the body.

The major difference of course, between our physical bodies and the body of Christ, is that Christ’s body will never be destroyed. This human body we live in will only age and eventually decay. Christ’s body will remain forever. It will only be improved. It will be made perfect.

I know this probably sounds extremely basic and simple. But I thought it was an interesting way to look at ourselves as Christians and the Church we belong to.

Another fascinating part about the concept of the body and blood is that they are the two focuses of the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist or Communion). When we tie this all together, doesn’t it make you think about how we are the body of Christ? And how we have Christ’s blood flowing through our veins? The typical focus of the Lord’s Supper is the crucifixion, at least in the circles I’ve been in. Christ’s body was beaten severely and His blood was shed for us. That’s where our mind tends to go. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

But I have to wonder, would it be illegitimate for us to also think about our brothers and sisters in Christ at that time? To think about the fact that we are sharing in His body. To think about how we are sharing His blood. These are two things that unite us as Christians. We’re bound together in Christ by His blood and His body. Can we also focus on that?

I’d appreciate your thoughts, comments, statements, questions, or declarations in this matter.

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