Book Review: The Blood of Lambs

A couple months ago, I received an email addressing a subject that is a common topic today in conversation as well as on social media.  The email got me thinking and I started to read more on the subject as well as to pray more.  The email’s realistic yet compassionate message was inspiring.

In sharing this my goal is not to stir up anger, unhealthy debate, or inspire fear.  Instead my hope is to encourage people to become informed in a way that will lead to conversations and actions that will help to change our world one person at a time.  And especially to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, my hope is that you would pray more, live like Jesus Christ and show the love and light of the triune God to everyone no matter what their background, religion or race.

November 16, 2015

Syrian Refugees: Bring Them On

Recently President Obama proposed bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. This is only a tiny portion of the hundreds of thousands that have fled to Europe, which in turn is a small portion of the millions that have fled just over the borders to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many American leaders do not want to bring in any. And a few days ago Donald Trump said he wanted to exclude any Muslim from entering the U.S. until we “figure out what is happening.”

The fear is understandable. Obama promised that the refugees would be “rigorously vetted.” But this is likely to be the same kind of vetting that let Tashfeen Malik (the woman terrorist in San Bernardino) enter the U.S. two years ago on a K-1 (fiancee) visa. Since she came from Pakistan, which is known to harbor extremists, she was even subject to more vetting than others. We now know that she was already “radicalized” by then, and this was not picked up by the supposedly rigorous vetting.

So is Donald Trump right? From the American national security point of view, maybe he is. But from the Christian point of view, he is wrong.

Trump and many other politicians talk about keeping us “safe.” But Jesus never promised that we would be physically safe. In fact, He said “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18). Being flogged is not “safe.” In the time of Jesus, being delivered over to courts, governors and kings often meant death. Of the eleven disciples who remained after Judas, ten were martyred. See 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 for all the unsafe things that the Apostle Paul endured. Only John died a natural death.

As an example of a “worst case scenario,” back in 1981, an Islamic terrorist came to America from Lebanon on a legal visa. His purpose was to develop jihad cells and attack us from within, but God had other plans. He was in a severe car accident, and a Christian doctor took care of him, not knowing who he was – only a foreign man who needed help. After some time in a hospital, the doctor took him into his own home for months of recuperation. This completely exploded the terrorist’s idea of Christianity. When he left the doctor’s home, he could only fall on his knees and pray to God, who revealed Himself to this now ex-terrorist. The doctor practiced radical Christian hospitality and was used by God to bring this very unsafe man into the Kingdom.

So yes, we should be “wise as serpents” and examine the refugees as well as possible, knowing that like in the case of Tashfeen Malik, we will miss some. But for the sake of “bear(ing) witness before…the Gentiles,” I say “Bring them on.” It is very difficult for them to hear the Gospel in Syria and Iraq, but here they can. Our bodies may not be perfectly safe, but our souls are perfectly safe in Christ.

Alexander PierceBloodofLambCoverThe “worst case scenario” described in the above email comes from a book called The Blood of Lambs: A Former Terrorist’s Memoir of Death and Redemption by Kamal Saleem.  This book, written by Kamal, does tell his amazing story of conversion.  However, the book primarily focuses on describing Kamal’s formative years, how Islam shaped his world view and his journey that eventually brought him to the US.  

I was shocked and disturbed by a lot of what was described in somewhat graphic detail.  But it is those details that give the reader the whole picture of the ideology and culture that shaped Kamal and that continues to shape others.

However, one of the most impactful parts of the book for me was the descriptions of how Kamal first felt meeting Christians who lived out their faith.  The light Kamal describes is something that I would hope could be found in any Christian home.  However, it’s also convicting because so often Christians do not live their faith in such a transparent, deliberate way.

This book is worth reading, whether you are a Christian or not, it will be an interesting and informative read.  And once you read The Blood of Lambs, you might be interested in digging a bit deeper, continuing to learn about Islam and how practically to engage Muslims while showing Christ’s love.  For that I would recommend another recent read called Facing Islam, Engaging Muslims written by Alexander Pierce.

Enjoy reading and learning.  May your conversations be inspired and informed.

 

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The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part Two)

In May I posted Part One of The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs so now here is Part Two.  Originally I had intended it to be just one entry but as History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part One) got longer, I realized that it would be best to split up the reviews by books.  I read these two books Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms and Eternity in their Hearts almost simultaneously.  And I think they are more interesting when viewed together but they can also stand on their own.

EternityintheirHearts

I borrowed this book from a friend after our conversation about culture and the gospel.  I had read one of Don Richardson’s books before but Eternity in their Hearts gives a broader look across many different cultures.  Even before I read this book, as a Christian I believe that God has woven himself into the fabric of this world.  “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” Ephesians 1:4 NLT  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 NIV  I believe the Bible is true.  I believe the Christian faith is reasoned and reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny.

So with this in mind, I was not surprised as I read through Eternity in their Hearts and heard the stories of past and current cultures that have evidence of the one true God and the Christian gospel in their culture despite never having been previously expressed to the Bible or Christian proselytizing.

In the Part One post I had a couple quotes where people claimed that their religion was the oldest or their scripture was the most accurate.  It was these quotes and others similar that hung in my mind as I considered the information in Eternity in their Hearts.  It made my mind work as I considered truth and what truth actually means.  This of course is a bigger question and discussion but this short Youtube video Truth Refocused does a great job of presenting why truth can’t really be relative and to each his own.

I can’t do justice to this book by summarizing the stories, if you’re interested, you will have to read them on your own.  But I can tell you that stories of cultures that cross continents Greek in Europe, Inca in America, Mbaka in Africa and the Chinese in Asia are thought provoking.  And that’s just Chapter 1 which tells about cultures and people who have knowledge about a “Vague God”.  These cultures all have a name for or a belief in a supreme God that has been passed down often with stories that parallel Biblical stories with amazing accuracy.  “The Chinese call him Shang Ti- the Lord in Heaven….In Korea he is known as Hananim- The Great One…Belief in Shang Ti/Hananim predates confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism by an unknown number of centuries.”

Chapter 2 continues to dig deeper and focuses on an area in and around Burma where multiple people groups had hymns were waiting for the “Lost Book”.  All of these groups were waiting for a sacred book and some even had detailed hymns and Biblical stories that were also passed down and continued to whet the people’s appetite for more knowledge that they believed would be found in the “Lost Book”.  “Karen prophets actually taught their people hymns passed down from generation to generation by verbal communication alone…Karen hymns to Y’wa reveal how astonishingly clear the concept of the one true God can be in a folk religion!”

I could continue because this book keeps going through Papua New Guinea and many other places.  It explores many people who had glimpses and even more of the gospel before ever having the Bible or hearing the Gospel, causing them either to look expectantly towards a time when they would hear the truth more fully or in some cases this knowledge just proved to be a platform for understanding the gospel in their culture and context.  It is definitely worth reading but I have a couple warnings. You will need to ignore the heavy use of the exclamation point (which I get because it’s an exciting topic but not enough to merit all the exclamation points used).  Also when the author moved away from his story telling strength, his theories and arguments, while still compelling, can get dense and difficult to wade through.

But despite those warnings, Eternity in their Hearts is an interesting and thought provoking read.  If you like history, religion and culture, this book combines them all.

The History of Religion- Books and Beliefs (Part 1)

I love reading for many reasons but one main reason is that it introduces me to new corners of our world.  Fact or fiction, reading can give us insight into different people, cultures and time periods.  I’ve recently read two interesting but very different books.  They both had to do with religion and they both gave me a lot of food for thought.

HeirstoForgottenKingdomsHeirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell lived up to it’s subtitle Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.  This book was a look into 7 middle eastern religious people groups; the Mandaeans, the Yazidis, the Zoroastrians, the Druze, the Samaritans, the Copts and the Kalasha.  I appreciated the in depth look into the culture, history and practice of these people and their religion.  It was very interesting to read about them while thinking about the current struggles in the Middle East because it shed light on some of the structural and historical reasons behind bits and pieces of these conflicts.

Christianity, Islam and these other much smaller religions have all existed in the same space for many many years.  These smaller religions have influenced, been influenced by and sometimes even mistaken for Islam and/or Christianity.  Here is an example of this influence, “Early Christians often depicted the Three Wise Men who were said to have visited Jesus as Persian Zoroastrians; although this is never specified in the account in the Gospel of Matthew itself, it was a lucky choice.  When the Persian armies conquered Bethlehem in AD 614, it is said that they spared the Church of the Nativity from the destruction they visited on the rest of the town, because they saw a depiction of three Magi at the church’s entrance.” pg. 77

And another example of the influence, “I [the book’s author] mused on the ways that belief in reincarnation may have helped them to win converts.  To a Christian I imagined the early Druze saying, “By accepting Mohammad as a prophet you are not rejecting Jesus: for Mohammed is Jesus reborn.” To a pagan who revered the Greek philosophers, they could argue that the Druze leader Hamza bin Ali was Pythagoras returned to life.  In later centuries, the famous Druze Characteristic of courage in battle was fortified by the belief that death would lead quickly to rebirth.  Going into battle, Druze soldiers would shout, “Who wants to sleep in their mother’s womb tonight?” pg. 141

I personally think that my Christian, American worldview also provides me with an interesting perspective. Here are two quotes that have me contemplating the relationship of these religions with Christianity as well as the question of Truth (not relative truth but Truth with a capital T).

The Mandaeans-

“Ours is the oldest religion in the world, ” said Sheikh Sattar.  “It dates back to Adam.”  He traced its history back to Babylon, though he said it might have some connection to the Jews of Jerusalem.  The Mandaeans believed in Adam, he said, who was the first man, and they accepted some other prophets who featured in the Hebrew Bible, such as Seth and Noah.  Above all, they revealed John the Baptist.  But they rejected Abraham and had their own holy books that were quite separate from the Bible or the Koran.” pg. 9-10

The Samaritans-

“The Samaritans rejects Jewish religious texts such as the books of Daniel and Isaiah: for them, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, sometimes also called the Torah) stands alone.  The Samaritan Torah is slightly different from the Jewish one…it’s version of the Ten Commandments does not include any ban on using the Lord’s name in vain, but it does include a commandment to build an altar on Mount Gerizim.  Benny* argues that the Samaritan Torah is the more authentic version.  His people preserved the text better over the centuries, as he sees it, because they stayed in one place, scrupulously copying the precious scriptures from old ones to new ones.” pg. 165

*Benny who “was something of a spokesman for the Samaritans.” pg. 164

It is these quotes and other similar ones that were in the back of my mind as I read the second book.  I’ll write more about Eternity in their Hearts in another post.  But for now I would recommend Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms to anyone who is interested in history and how it relates to our world today.  Read it to learn about the Middle East and it’s history, religion and people.

Speaking at Presbytery

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a Presbytery meeting and present my heart and vision for the work in Australia.  Presbytery, for those of you unfamiliar with the Presbyterian church structure, is the governing body of the Presbyterian church made up of pastors and elders.  This was my second time attending and presenting in front of a Presbytery.  It is a privilege to be given time during this meeting so I try to keep it interesting and do my best to be a good representative.  In situations like this I feel like I am not only representing MTW (Mission to the World) and other missionaries but women as well.  Yesterday seems to have gone well because, even though I immediately left after my presentation, I received some great feedback later on.  Hopefully this presentation will translate into more conversations about Australia with churches and individuals.

bookofchurchorderDespite the seemingly cumbersome nature of some of the Presbyterian structures, I appreciate the value of having agreed upon guidelines for the church to follow.  It is both uniting and binding.  The Book of Church Order, used yesterday during the meeting, is the PCA’s (Presbyterian Church in America) record of these structures.  I don’t normally talk a lot about church order, denominations or church politics.  There are lots of reasons for this but a few of them have to do with tending to generalize and stereotype when engaging with these topics, my incomplete understanding of the underlying structures in general and they aren’t always the most exciting topics in the first place.

But you might have caught the little reference to representing women that I somewhat glossed over in the first paragraph.  So I figured I might as well briefly address this now.  The pastors and elders in the Presbyterian Church in American are all men.  Therefore, these meetings are attended by mostly men.  They do allow women to attend and I think that in general the men would encourage their wives, daughters and sisters in Christ to know about and understand what happens in the church outside of Sunday mornings.  Presbytery is just one of those working parts that helps to complete the whole.  But, let’s be honest, these meetings aren’t super exciting and so they don’t tend to draw large crowds of people who are there just for fun.  So yesterday I was one of two women actually attending the Presbytery meeting.  But I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak.  And it is a privilege to be that subtle reminder that we are all a part of the body of Christ and we can celebrate the gifts and talents we have been given and how they are at work building the church.

Jesus- An Introduction

Look to Him who woos His own.

Look to Him the fulfillment of prophecy,

the blessed sacrifice and true heir to the throne.

Look to Him who was, and is, and is to come.

Look to Him, the one who lives,

truth embodied and hope eternal.

A life foreordained, a death foretold

Ancient words, the Son’s story

A covenant beginning with creation

Truth proclaimed and hope revealed

Look to the true Adam

Eve’s seed, the ultimate victor

The earth shook, the curtain tore,

tombs opened, the serpent’s head crushed

Atonement, righteousness, justice

Look to the prophet greater than Moses

Moses talked with God, He is God

Moses kept the law, He fulfilled the law

Not welcome in His own town yet the great I AM

Bringing truth and grace

Look to the priest from Melchizedek’s line

He who has the power to bless us forever

He who made himself the final sacrifice

The ultimate sin offering

His body, His blood

It is finished

Look to the Servant King who will reign on high forever

David’s glorious successor

Lord of the everlasting Kingdom, the New Jerusalem

Extolled for all eternity

King of Kings

A history for us remembered, the future for Him a reality

Living words, the Son’s glory

A new covenant that He fulfills

Truth proclaimed and hope revealed

Water poured out as a flood

Crossing through the parted sea

Washing, healing, cleaning, restoring

John knew him, Lamb of God

The dove descends and His arms open wide

“Let all who seek come to me”

A meal of deliverance

Salvation manifested in bread and wine

Remembering those passed over and the one sacrificed

Communion with the saints

Instituted with a prayer and arms open wide

“This is my body, come and eat”

Abraham’s sacrifice, the son spared, the bull’s blood shed

Eternal sacrifice, the Son condemned, His own blood shed

Flanked by sinners but ever merciful

Hung upon the cross with His arms open wide

“Look at me”

The tomb empty, stone rolled away,

death overcome, the body resurrected

Enoch and Noah walked with God

and now the Son appears on the road

His scarred arms open wide

“Believe and follow me”

“For this is the will of my father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” John 6:40