Lamar on Life

From a Christian living in a Gulf country. The Middle East, Arabic, understanding Muslims, outreach to Muslims are to be addressed. In addition, thoughts, reflections, and book reviews will be posted.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Interesting Iraqi Blogs -- Not American blogs about Iraq

The Iraqi blogosphere (yes, that's a real word now) has hundreds of people blogging in Arabic, but there are some interesting ones in English too. The first one I became aquainted with and probably the most famous one is,
http://raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com/
He is a liberal Iraqi from Baghdad whose blogs first became widely read during the initial attacks of the war. He was known for his wit and eloquent expression of Iraqi hopes and disappointments.

Two better blogs from my perspective are Healing Iraq and Iraq the Model. I have reprinted a post from Healing Iraq about his encounter with an Amman taxi driver. I'm afraid the conversation is typical, sad, and hysterical all at the same time. Enjoy.

http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/

http://www.healingiraq.blogspot.com/

Belligerent Taxi Drivers in Jordan 

Longtime readers know that I’m quite fascinated with taxi drivers. A couple of days ago I was in a taxi on my way to the U.S. embassy in Amman. What follows are tidbits from the conversation that went between the taxi driver and myself.

Taxi driver: What business might you have at the American embassy? I swear that I would never ever want to set foot in that country. In fact, a former American consul once offered my whole family citizenship. I have no need for it.

Me: Really? How come?

He then recounted an implausible story about the American consul renting or vacationing in a property that belongs to his family, and how he was so grateful for their services in the end that he offered green cards for the whole family, or something to that effect.

T: Now, two of my sons own businesses in America. We’re planning to visit them in about four months. They always speak of Niagara Falls. I really want to see those Niagara Falls. I want to see what the fuss is about. Do you know what they say about them? I heard that the water falls in a shape that resembles an arc. Allah be praised.

Z: So you are planning to go, after all.

T (ignoring the remark): It’s ridiculous the way they treat us at their embassy here. So many questions and so many investigations. They think we’re all Osama bin Ladens. No, my friend, we’re not like that at all.

Z: …

T (changing tone and peering at me strangely): You’re Iraqi?

Z: Yep.

T (complimenting me): ’Ala rasi.

[Long pause.]

T: So from which of the Iraqi governorates are you from?

Z (fully realising the intent of the question): Baghdad.

T: Baghdad. Oh, Baghdad. The capital of Al-Rashid.

[Another pause.]

T (peering at me again and predictably asking): Are you a follower of the Imamiya?

Z: No, I’m not.

T (with evident relief and a trace of a smile): So you’re Sunni? You’re not Shi’ite?

Z: Yes, you can say so.

The man looked happy now. He started bashing the Shia and their beliefs, lecturing me on how the Shia detest the companions (Sahaba) of the prophet, on how they loathed A’isha, one of the prophet’s wives (the one he married when she was just 9), and on how evil they all are.

T: So do they openly disparage the prophet’s companions in their mosques? Do they condemn Omar through loudspeakers?

Z: No, they don’t. It’s only in their literature.

T: I see. And how is it in Baghdad these days?

Z: Not very pretty, as you can see from the news.

T: I guess it isn’t. If only the lion Saddam was free. He would crush those ragtag militias in a few hours. Heh. We’ll watch how that wannabe Nuri Al-Maliki would flee for his life, that son of a bitch.

Z: …

I usually try not to get into an argument with such people. It would be counter-productive. Most of the time, I try to get them comfortable enough to reveal more of their opinions, unless I’m dead bored and I just sit back and listen to their monologues.

T: You know, when Saddam’s daughters sought refuge in Jordan, his majesty the king offered them one of his palaces and 50 million Dinars [about $70 million]. I think two of them are still here, while the third is in Qatar.

Z (nodding): …

T: One of my relatives used to work as a truck driver between Jordan and Iraq. He was once near the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad, and there was an enormous explosion that targeted an American patrol there. You know what the media reported? They said that 20 Iraqis were killed and dozens injured. But I swear that 45 American soldiers were killed in that explosion. This is always the case. The Mujahideen never miss their target. Do you see their videos on Al-Jazeera? They never miss.

***
It’s a common belief among Arabs who are sympathetic to the insurgency in Iraq that the media does not report real numbers of American casualties, or that American soldiers who are not yet naturalised U.S. citizens are not counted among them. This was most evident in the case of the Jordanian family at Al-Salt, which celebrated the martyrdom of their son in Iraq. It was reported that he detonated himself near a police station in Hilla, where dozens of Iraqis were lining up as volunteers to join the police. The blast also killed and wounded civilians at a crowded market nearby. When the martyrdom celebration caused a diplomatic crisis with the Iraqi government and embarrassed Jordan, the terrorist’s family stated that they were informed that their son had actually killed dozens of American soldiers, not Iraqi civilians.

# posted by Zeyad : 9/01/2006 01:17:00 AM

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I've been in the Middle East a number of years now, but I've still got a lot to learn. God has His ways of showing this to me again and again. It starts with listening. Listen to God. Listen to your Arabic teachers. Listen to your wife, your teammates, and to those who have gone before. And of course, listen to your doctor!

I had been having some sinus/congestion problems for which I visited my local doctor. My doctor is Iraqi, which has sometimes caused awkward moments in these times as international tensions escalate. So on this visit he informs me that my ears are clogged with wax which should be removed. He prepares the syringe, which looks like a cake decorating tool or a caulking gun with a big fat steel needle. He fills it with warm water, inserts the needle in my ear, and with the syringe cocked and loaded he asks me, “So, do you think Bush will attack Iraq?”

Now, I don’t know if you’ve had your ears syringed, but it’s an uncomfortable experience even if your doctor has the best intentions. My medical knowledge being as limited as it is, I was unsure whether an aggressively manned syringe might cause the patient’s brains to spurt from the opposite ear, but I didn’t want to take any chances with a brain which contains so many fond memories. So, I waited until he was finished before I answered.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “What do you think?” It soon became evident from his response that what he wanted more than my opinion was someone to listen to his thoughts about his homeland and the difficult situation of his people. He also wanted to know if President Bush could be trusted to do what his father failed to do, namely, to remove Saddam and bring relief to the people. I wish I could have assured him that everything would work out for the best. However, I was glad to know that I made a new friend with the simple words. “I don’t know. What do you think?”

We’re often too quick to tell others our opinion. Thank God for that syringe which caused me to keep my mouth shut long enough to listen. This reinforced a lesson I should already know. When dealing with Muslims, as in dealing with anyone, it is important to listen first. Ironically, I find that this is how God is with me. He listens first and waits for me to get it all out before He communicates with me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Where does the brain leave off and the mind start? What is the confluence of soul, spirit, heart, and mind? Compulsive behaviors, schizophrenia, fits, visions, depression, etc. Are these electro-chemical or spiritual or both? Why is genius and foolishness found in equal portions in humans? These kinds of questions have always fascinated me, but it is so hard to find definitive answers. Scientists and theologians are both equally at a loss to explain these things. It is a constant source of wonder to me. That’s why I loved this book I just read.

I love to browse used book stores. As I sorted through the junky volumes at a Salvation Army thrift store. The title of this book caught my eye. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” I found that it was written by neurologist from New York, the same man whose book “Awakenings” inspired the Robin Williams/Robert Deniro movie of the same name. It is a series of clinical stories of patients he has known through the years.

One of the many fascinating stories he tells is of autistic twins who had unusual abilities with numbers. Their IQ was estimated as about 60. Once a box of matches was dropped on a table, and immediately they both said 111. They they muttered 37, 37, 37. The doctor, who observed this, asked them, “How did you count them so quickly?” “We didn’t count,” they said, “We saw them.” The doctor already knew that the twins had remarkable abilities with numbers such as the ability to know what any day of the week a date for the next 40,000 years would fall, or the ability to tell when Easter will be for the next 80,000 years. He also knew that the twins were incapable of simple calculations. But the appearance of prime numbers aroused his curiosity even more.

Some time later he saw the twins sitting in a corner grinning at each other. As he drew nearer he hear one say to the other a six-digit number. The other twin would “catch the number, nod, smile and seem to savour it.” The other twin would return the favor and say another six-digit number, which met with a similar response. The doctor comments, “They looked, at first, like two connoisseurs wine-tasting, sharing rare tastes, rare appreciations.” As he reflected on what he had observed, he wondered if the numbers, which seemed so special to the twins, had any meaning to anyone else. After doing some research, he found that each of the numbers was a prime number. He returned the next day with a chart of prime numbers and joined in on their “numerical communion.” At first he just sat and listened. Then he made a contribution of his own, an eight-figure prime he had gotten from his chart. “They both turned towards me, then suddenly became still, with a look of intense concentration and perhaps wonder on their faces. There was along pause--the longest I had ever known them to make, it must have lasted half a minute or more--and then suddenly, simultaneously, they both broke into smiles.”

From that time on, he was joyfully accepted into their very exclusive number club, as long as he brought his chart. After some time, the club started swapping larger and larger numbers. After an hour they were giving 20-digit prime numbers, however, the doctor was left out because his chart only went up to 10-digit numbers. Of course in 1966 when this occurred there was no easy way of checking whether they were actual prime numbers or not, but gauging from the contented look on their faces and the fact that it took 5 minutes for a twin to find the number from out of the ether, the doctor felt confident that in their results.

How amazing this is to me! This, to me, is another indication that we are created in the image of God. Some have said that God’s language of this universe is mathematics. And I DO believe He is sending us a message about His eternal power and divine nature. Some would look at these twins and their limitations and say, “How sad it is that they are autistic.” But I think that God creates “unique” people like these twins as a hint that they are actually NOT unique. An indication that though our minds are very limited now, if a few switches were flipped, we would all have many mental powers that seem beyond imagination. Perhaps this is a foretaste of divine glory with resurrected and transformed bodies and minds. Perhaps mathematical insights and facilities will be accompanied by linguistic abilities, memory, scientific insights, artistic and musical talents, emotional depth, a sense of humor, sensory abilities, etc. etc. that would literally blow our minds. As the Rich Mullins song says, “There is such a thing as glory and there are hints of it everywhere.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I've decided to stop writing about Peter Lord's quiz and move on. However, I do want to ask what people think of another proposition. You will notice that T/F question #7 for Lord was "We get closer to Christ through acts of righteousness." Instead of that question, I will ask a similar question. What do you think of this proposition? "We get closer to Christ through acts of worship." Please include any relavent scripture in your reponse.

And now for something completely different. A book review.

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny Growing Up In the Shadow of Saddam
by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund
This is a fascinating book by an Iraqi woman, Zainab Salbi. As a child Zainab was known as “the pilot’s daughter.“ By that title it was understood that her father was Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot. Early in her parents’ marriage, when Saddam was the vice president, Zainab’s parents unwittingly became part of Saddam’s social circle. Essentially he forced his friendship upon them because he wanted to socialize with some of the young sophisticated people of Bagdhad. If you don’t understand how such a friendship can be forced on someone, read the book. The story of living in Saddam’s shadow is told by Zainab. First through the eyes of a child and then as a young woman, you will see how the souls of her parents were taken hostage by fear, and how she struggled to climb towards the hope of freedom.

Zainab writes,
“I’m convinced if you understood the the way he managed the competition of his ”beloved ones” you would understand how he stayed in power for 35 years even though millions of his people hated him and there were ongoing domestic and international plots to assassinate him.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Number 6 - “The closer we get to Christ, the less we are tempted.”

Peter Lord, as you may have guessed, says that this one is also false. In considering this one, I can think of nothing definitive that the Bible says on the subject, but here, for what they are worth, are my observations.

It seems undeniable that sins can easily become habits which gain momentum and weight as they snowball. When you give Satan a foothold, he will continue to exploit it as best he can. So the opposite corollary does seem to be true. That is, the farther we get from God, the more we sin. But then again, that is not really the exact opposite, is it? Because being tempted more and sinning more are NOT the same. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the more we sin, the farther we get from God and the harder it is to resist temptation or to repent. But does this bear any relation to whether the proposition above is true or false?

It also seems that mature Christians do NOT escape from temptation. Again we remember that Jesus was severely tempted in all ways. The types of temptations may change through the years, but it seems that God’s plan of faith-building in His children includes having us face and overcome temptations of various sorts as Christ did. We follow in His steps in this.

On the opposite end, I have known those far from God who seem to live a “good life” almost effortlessly. In fact, I have known non-believers who never seem tempted at all to commit sins that are much too common within the Church. It could be that Satan is satisfied that he has these people well in hand and so has no desire to bring about in them an awareness of the actual extent of their sinfulness. One formerly Muslim young man whom I know well related how almost immediately after coming to faith in Christ, he began to struggle with temptation to despair and with compulsive thoughts of suicide. These kinds of temptations had been completely unknown to him until after he became a follower of Jesus.

Peter Lord says, “Temptation is one of the proofs that we are Christians! Keep this close to you. You are as close to Jesus as you can be. As the years progress you may feel you can understand His heart better, but you are IN Him and He is IN you, and that is as close as anyone can ever get.”

Number 6 - “The closer we get to Christ, the less we are tempted.”

Peter Lord, as you may have guessed, says that this one is also false. In considering this one, I can think of nothing definitive that the Bible says on the subject, but here, for what they are worth, are my observations.

It seems undeniable that sins can easily become habits which gain momentum and weight as they snowball. When you give Satan a foothold, he will continue to exploit it as best he can. So the opposite corollary does seem to be true. That is, the farther we get from God, the more we sin. But then again, that is not really the exact opposite, is it? Because being tempted more and sinning more are NOT the same. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the more we sin, the farther we get from God and the harder it is to resist temptation or to repent. But does this bear any relation to whether the proposition above is true or false?

It also seems that mature Christians do NOT escape from temptation. Again we remember that Jesus was severely tempted in all ways. The types of temptations may change through the years, but it seems that God’s plan of faith-building in His children includes having us face and overcome temptations of various sorts as Christ did. We follow in His steps in this.

On the opposite end, I have known those far from God who seem to live a “good life” almost effortlessly. In fact, I have known non-believers who never seem tempted at all to commit sins that are much too common within the Church. It could be that Satan is satisfied that he has these people well in hand and so has no desire to bring about in them an awareness of the actual extent of their sinfulness. One formerly Muslim young man whom I know well related how almost immediately after coming to faith in Christ, he began to struggle with temptation to despair and with compulsive thoughts of suicide. These kinds of temptations had been completely unknown to him until after he became a follower of Jesus.

Peter Lord says, “Temptation is one of the proofs that we are Christians! Keep this close to you. You are as close to Jesus as you can be. As the years progress you may feel you can understand His heart better, but you are IN Him and He is IN you, and that is as close as anyone can ever get.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The fifth proposition was, “It is easier for a Christian to sin than to do righteousness.”

From the previous discussion of question 4, doesn’t it just seem that it IS easier to give in to the temptation than to resist it? And doesn’t that mean that it is indeed easier to sin than to continue to resist? There is a saying that “Opportunity only knocks once, but temptation bangs on the door constantly.” Temptation can just wear you down. Christ sweated drops of blood resisting temptation and obeyed “even to death on the cross.” Surely, THIS proposition is true. It seems sin is easier. Or is it?

What then does it mean that Christ said, “Come to me all you are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest”? And, “My commandments are not grievous”? And, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”? And, “The way of the transgressors is hard”?

We looked at I Cor. 10:13 before. Let’s look at the chapter again. Paul spent the first part of chapter 10 telling what happened to the children of Israel as they sinned in the wilderness. Vipers attacked, bodies got scattered across the desert, the angel of death visited. Then verse 11 says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...” Then Paul warns about how prevalent and common temptations are. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” And vs. 14, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”

Paul warns about falling. Which is easier, standing or falling? He also says to flee idolatry. Which is easier, fleeing or staying? Well, to fall takes no effort at all and neither does staying where you are. If our definition of “easy” is to expend no effort against the inertia of life or gravitational forces, then I guess it is easier for a Christian to sin. And if it is easier to not flee and just hang around while an enemy dismembers you, then I guess it is easier for a Christian to sin rather than flee. However, if “easy” means avoiding trouble and unnecessary hardship, then I have to say that it is NOT easier to sin. Jesus also warned us that to commit sin makes us a slave to sin. For example, it may be easier for alcoholics to take a drink, but it inevitably brings them into difficulty. Though it is easy to fall into slavery, living life as a slave is not easy.

Peter Lord’s argument against this proposition centers around our identity as Christians. He asks rhetorically whether it is hard for a horse to be a horse or a bird to be a bird. Instead, isn’t it difficult for a horse to live like a bird or a bird to live like a horse? We are a new creation, created for a specific kind of life too. “We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” As a bird is created to be a bird, we are created for righteous works. But a bird has to believe he is a bird, and we have to believe we are new creations.

Say there are two brothers. One of them believes that their beloved mother has died, and the other does not. Even if the mother is in fact alive, that brings no joy to the one who believes that she has died. We can expect him to live according to what he believes to be true. Or, if there are two soldiers who are supposed to carry their 70 lb packs over a mountain. One is told by the sergeant that he can’t do it, and the other is told that he can. If each of them believes the sergeant, how will their journeys differ? What we believe about life profoundly affects how we approach life’s challenges. And in this life, how much of the gospel we believe determines how much of our salvation we receive.

Jesus himself, in the garden of Gethsemene, saw two paths ahead. One went through the shame of the cross and ended in joy and honor. (Heb. 12:2) The other would have bypassed the cross, and ended … where? When you consider the glorious end of our path as part of the path, then we can join with Paul in downplaying our “momentary and light afflictions.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Question 4 from the True/False quiz says, “A bad thought is a sin.”

Peter Lord, while confessing that he was once “held in bondage by this particular teaching,” refutes it with a bit of simple (maybe too simple?) logic. He says, “If a bad thought is a sin, then when you are tempted, you sin. After all, no one can be tempted without a bad thought.” This view rests on the fact that Jesus Christ was tempted yet was without sin. However, in the complicated maze of the mind how does one determine whether a tempting thought has taken root and become sin?

James indicates that the point of sin is reached after desire and the sinful thought meet and sin is conceived. “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin . . . ” (James 1:14-15a) The image is sexual. The evil desire is in the female role waiting for the seed. The desire is unfertilized and thus sterile for the moment. This is what we should all recognize, that “in my flesh no good thing dwells”. The evil desire may be aroused, but that is still not the point where it is called sin. However, the situation is ripe for sin to occur. Notice at this point someone can be “dragged away and enticed” and the birth of sin still has not occurred. This is a powerful description of temptation; however, even at this point where one is being dragged away, the ‘dragee’ is not powerless and he is not going willingly. There is still a way of escape at this point. (I Cor. 10:13) This ability to escape is a power given to us as part of our salvation. Salvation is salvation from sin, not merely salvation from the consequences of sin. However, after the desire and the temptation conceive, the birth of sin follows. I think after this “conception” there is no abortion of the birth of this sin. I may be wrong on this point, but after the person was dragged away, he or she surrendered in the struggle so the conception took place. The person was dragged away and enticed. So, even though there was some dragging, it wasn't exactly rape; there was a seduction and a surrender.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More thoughts on Peter Lord’s quiz.
3. It is normal for a Christian to sin every day.

As you may have guessed by now, Lord says this is also false. The word “normal” indicates a state of affairs which is to be expected and is therefore useless to fight. Many Christians feel that the best one can do in this life is a sort of “sin management” system with which one tries to avoid being as sinful as you were yesterday or the day before. We use our past behavior as the measuring stick by which we evaluate our success for today. Lord says, “When asked, ‘How long can I live without sin?’ we usually ask it as though we were asking, ‘How long can I hold my breath?” However, as Lord points out, there is no teaching of scripture which says it is normal for a Christian to sin every day. Rather, we are repeatedly told that we are not to sin.

So, is God giving us an impossible command thereby setting us up for daily failure? No. I believe the secret (Though I doubt if it can really be called a secret since it has been explained by Paul a long time ago) is summarized in the words, “Therefore, I no longer live, but Christ lives his life in me.” (Galatians 2:20) And this is the verse Watchman Nee uses to summarize his classic book also called, The Normal Christian Life. Essentially, the normal Christian life is Christ living in me and all that that truth connotes.
Peter Lord appeals to the Christian who feels condemned by saying, “Dear Christian, living your life out on this planet is not a sinful act. A Christian can live without sin as long as he chooses not to sin. Committing a sin requires a willful choice to do so. It will never happen by accident or without your consent.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

2. You can sin and not know it.
Peter Lord says that this one is also false. He points out that the indwelling Holy Spirit’s assigned task is to convict us of sin. He asks, “Can the Holy Spirit live with me all day watching me sin and say nothing about it?”
This one is a little more difficult for me. I think I generally agree, but there are times I believe when we sin and don’t pay attention to the Spirit’s voice, and we thereby fail to recognize our sin. Our hearts are very tricky, and if we aren’t walking in the Spirit we will fail to recognize sin.
But what is meant by “conviction by the Spirit” whereby our sins are pointed out to us? Many times the voice that we think is the Spirit convicting us is not actually the Spirit at all. It is a voice of condemnation. The difference can be discerned in two ways:
1) It is general rather than specific, pointing out a general lack of character or “holiness” but not indicating a specific sin.
2) It is a voice that puts you down instead of showing you the way to restoration. It can leave you feeling discouraged and hopeless rather than showing how you can confess, make restitution, and be restored.
This voice of condemnation may be from your own psyche, or from those around you, or from the enemy of our souls, “the accuser of the brethren.” In any case, the Spirit’s work in you is to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13) The Spirit’s work is not to leave you in Romans chapter 7.
There is also the issue of maturity. Maturity is something that comes as we submit to God’s discipline, training, and instruction. As parents we don’t expect a baby to be unselfish. We don’t say, “We love little junior, but he is very rude and inconsiderate. He keeps insisting we set aside our agenda to cater to his every whim -- even in the middle of the night! We never expected to get such a sinful, evil baby.” And so as it is with junior, there is a lot of room for growth in us, even after the new birth and transformation of our nature. Behavior acceptable for an immature Christian is not the same as what is acceptable for a mature one.
Do you feel that you can not please God? Well, it could be one of two things. Romans 8:8 says, “Those controlled by the sinful nature can not please God.” This is true of anyone who “does not have the Spirit of Christ.” They can not please God. Or, another possibility is that your feelings are tricking you. God may indeed be “rejoicing over you with singing,” but you are listening to other voices.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here are my thoughts on the quiz questions, starting with number one.

1. A good description of a Christian is a “sinner saved by grace.”

Peter Lord says that this one is FALSE. This phrase appears nowhere in the Bible, and while it may be an accurate statement, it is an inaccurate description. In other words, it accurately describes what happened to you, but it is does not describe who you are as someone whom God has transformed into a new creature. The Bible ofetn describes Christians as saints - “holy ones.” He points out that the emphasis on still being a sinner is contrary to how God describes who you are now. But what about those who say that Romans 7 describes the Christian life? Paul writes, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” and “What a wretched man I am!” But is this really how Paul describes his spiritual condition? Or rather, is he describing the human condition in general? Romans 8 makes the answer clear; vs. 9 for example, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit...”

I agree whole-heartedly with Lord (and THE Lord as well, I believe). I think Christians hang on to this description of themselves as a “sinner saved by grace” for several reasons -- it sounds humble, it keeps them from being disappointed with themselves, it seems to give all credit to God for their salvation, etc. However, what it reveals is unbelief and a partial rejection of the full salvation of Christ, akin to the sentiment revealed in the old bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Our great salvation is much more than forgiveness; it is a complete transformation. Those who refuse to believe this truth will also refuse to walk in it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Peter Lord, a writer and pastor from Florida, gives a quiz at the beginning of his book, Turkeys and Eagles. Take it and tell me what you think. The first 9 are True or False questions.

1. A good description of a Christian is "a sinner saved by grace."
2. You can sin and not know it.
3. It is normal for a Christian to sin every day.
4. A bad thought is a sin.
5. It is easier for a christian to sin than to do right.
6. The closer we get to Christ, the less we will be tempted.
7. We get closer to Christ through acts of righteousness.
8. Sainthood is attained by only a few Christians.
9. To be tempted is a sign of inward sinfulness.
10. How many sins have you committed today? (You may approximate.)
11. How many acts of righteousness have you committed today?
12. How righteous is Christ on a scale of 1-100?
13. How righteous are you on a scale of 1-100?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 3
What follows is recycled from something I wrote in the months after 9/11.

We have been following the news since September 11, and we see on CNN and BBC the real struggle of Western journalists to find an answer to the question, “Why do they hate us?” The answer usually given is that Muslims resent American policies around the world. And then the expert goes on to list these political grievances, starting with Israel. There is truth to this political and somewhat obvious answer, but it misses the point. It is as if a farmer is asking, “Why is a fox attacking my chickens?” No one in this politically correct age of coalition building can say, “Well, that’s the nature of foxes, especially when they are hungry and they can’t find easier food.” No, instead, they tell the rancher, “Actually, foxes are naturally vegetarians and they are only killing your chickens because you have treated them poorly.” Let me just clear up something for everyone. Foxes are not vegetarians.

Karl Marx is famous for his adage, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Opium, in addition to funding the Taliban government, makes you sleepy and uncaring about what is happening around you. Marx saw religion as a barrier to mobilizing the people to action. This has been true in the Islamic world too. Traditionally, there has been a strong element of fatalism in Islam. A man’s destiny is written and cannot be changed. However, Marx’s experience was not in the modern Muslim world. If his experience had been here, he may have instead said, “Religion is the amphetamine of the people.” In these times, religion is used to stir people up.

Leaders here in the Middle East, religious and otherwise, use religion as a way to unite the people under their leadership and to manipulate against 'outside threats'. (For example, notice the islamization of the previously secular Iraqi regime.) Some years ago, when the people of Iran voted on whether they wanted an Islamic government, the result was an overwhelming 'Yes'. They had no inkling of what they were voting for, but they knew it was something of their own and not a foreign import. Leaders in the Muslim world carefully control the content and presentation of information to the people -- from preschool to the grave -- so Islam means exactly what leaders say it means.

In addition, Islam divides the world into two groups, the "House of War" (unbelievers like us), and the "House of Peace" (the Islamic world). In the Muslim media they show virtually every conflict as a struggle between Islam and the rest of the world. Preachers commonly preach death and destruction to unbelievers and the ultimate world conquest of Islam. This tendency is more pervasive than we can describe. Little boys in school are given plastic kalishnikov rifles and they are taught to march around giving Islamic war cries, “God is great!” Even as we visit our friends here they tell the children, “If you don’t behave, the foreigner will give you an injection!” as if we are in the business of hurting people. Every world event is seen through these “us vs. them” glasses. If people start to divide themselves along any other lines -- economic, ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, ideological, etc.-- who knows what chaos would ensue? Unity, power, and stability come through rallying around the banner of Islam.

Why do they, Arabs and Muslims, hate the West, and America especially? There are many reasons. However, in my opinion, the reason that is usually given, i.e. the situation in Palestine, is not the main reason. Rather, Palestine vs. Israel has become a focus of deep feelings of hatred, resentment, and anger which are originate from within the Muslim world. Think of a tornado. Most observers focus their attention on the violent swirling vortex of a tornado but forget that its energy comes from a convergence of wide-spread slower-moving invisible but massive forces. What are those forces in the Muslim world that are spinning off tornados?

The root causes of anger and hatred are spiritual, social and psychological and they often stem from causes unrelated to political policy. Millions of young men resent their fathers. They resent they can’t find work and prosperity. They resent feeling inferior every time they see the space shuttle or something else the West can do. They resent women, Western and local, for being attractive and powerful but inaccessible. They resent the rich and powerful of their own lands who propagate unjust social systems. They resent having to keep their opinions to themselves and distrust everyone for fear of being arrested by the secret police. I believe that they also resent Islam, which promises so much, but delivers so little.

How will the simmering resentment of the Islamic world emerge? Will it explode into riots, revolution and tribal warfare? Will people go on murderous rampages killing their families and neighbors? No, not if Muslim leaders can prevent these outbursts. Instead, leaders in the Islamic world have become skilled at channelling this anger and resentment away from the real problems of the people. They seek local solidarity under their own leadership and they seek to remove blame from themselves and put it on the “enemy.” Every economic, social, and religious problem can be blamed on this enemy. If there is no enemy, they invent one. But of course they don’t invent a new enemy. It’s always a reinvention of the same one, the “Christian” world. And in their minds, America is the ringleader, the crusader.

You may have noticed that one of the Al-Qaida recruiting videos showed armed Mujahideen bursting into a building and shooting a figure in the building. The symbol marking the target was not a bull's-eye but a white Christian cross. This is not accidental and it symbolizes what Al-Qaida has stated openly about their aims and motivations. It’s not “the West” or America that they seek to destroy, it is Christianity itself.

The spiritual reality is that Islam is designed by Satan to be a huge prison system. The guards are the faithful who seek to extend the walls of Islam to encircle every nation and to prevent escapees. The invitation to come in is extended to all with talk of peace, but the keys for leaving Islam are denied to everyone who enters.
So, do Muslim extremists want to turn America and Europe into Islamic states? Yes, in the long run. In the meantime, their goal is to ignite a jihad against the West as a means of unifying Islam. In the short run they want Islamic revolution in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other already Islamic states. They also have countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Philippines in their sights. These countries have Islamic minorities that can take over power, if not in the country as a whole, then at least in the Muslim areas. Then all religious and personal freedoms will be severely limited. Christians will come under further attack, and forced conversions will be instituted.

A truly Christian perspective on the news of the day should instruct us and bring us to prayer to do our battle. The Islamic world is a spiritual “stronghold.” In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church he writes,
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
. . . You are looking only on the surface of things.”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 2

In my years of experience with Muslims, I have found some Muslims who supposedly hate "the West." However, what a person imagines in their mind to be "the West" is invariably different from what the West actually is. It is impossible to hate the reality of something so abstract and large. That is, for example, people are not able to look at the lives of 300 million individual American citizens, and learn all about each one, their attitudes and actions, their social interaction, their community values, etc. and then after a consideration of their faults and general lack of virtue form a general hatred of the country. (The same would go for Danish society or whatever the flavor of the month is.) Even when hating individuals, we humans are only able to hate the mental image, the abstract construction, that we ourselves have formed and attached to the object of our hatred.

I have often heard this from Muslims, "We don't hate America, it's your government." Or, I have often been subjected to a 10-minute denunciation of America, which is followed by a request for help in obtaining a visa to go there. Muslims are very conflicted in their feelings about the West, but they always know they are supposed to feel negative toward the West because the West represents the opposite of their own society. Therefore, if a Muslim professes a fondness for the West, what it means to them is that that person is professing hatred for his own society. That's why I never trust opinion polls taken in the Arab world because Arabs usually keep several contradictory opinions handy, one for being polite, one for secret thoughts, and one of them is just for anyone that asks.

The concept of the West is prominent in the minds of the Rest, especially in the minds of Muslims and Arabs . The Muslim world's self identity is largely formed by looking in the mirror of the West and saying to itself, "We don't know what we are anymore, but we know we are not that." (Actually, that's what a Canadian friend told me about Canadian identity and America, but I think it's more true for Muslims.)

To complicate things further, when a Muslim looks at the West, he doesn't see what you think he sees. A (Newsweek?) reporter embedded with American troops rolling into Baghdad wrote about the somewhat vague ideas Iraqis had of what a free Iraq might mean for them. He tells of seeing a jubilant Iraqi man on the side of the road shouting in excited broken English to the liberators/invaders, "Yeah! Democracy! Sexy! Whiskey!" Such is the image of the West that is both hated and lusted after.

And the same is true for their image of Christianity, which Muslims usually suppose holds a similar role in the West as Islam does in their society. When satellite dishes where new in these parts, I asked a man, "Do you get any Christian programs on that?" He replied, "Oh, yes! I like to watch them -- Baywatch and (professional) wresting especially -- I watch all the Christian programs."