Monthly Archives: January 2021

Filling Young Skulls with Scripture

For a short, but wonderful season some years ago, I lived in northern Pakistan in the lovely city of Bradford, England. One of a long list of poignant memories of our curry-scented neighborhood was watching the local kiddos, dressed in white, streaming resolutely to mosque school each afternoon.

I didn’t know all that happened there. Still don’t, in fact.

Apparently, in some Islamic schools, kids learn nasty little songs about cutting people’s heads off. Lacking the language skills to properly pursue the prevalence of this, I’m going to assume that’s not the main thing after school Islamic training prioritizes.

Memorizing the Quran, up to the whole book, is another task of such programs. This intrigues me. Granted, most Muslim kids likely memorize in a language they don’t speak. And my conviction is that doing must be coupled with knowing. But still, that’s an ambitious task.

Can you imagine your pastor announcing that for the next year youth group will focus on memorizing the whole Bible?!? Makes me laugh just to think of it!

My wife and I led our church’s middle school youth group last night. We fussed and fretted over how to communicate the main points of the Bible story (The clearly low-hanging fruit of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!), while maintaining the kiddos’ interest. I even set my hand on fire to communicate the lesson!

Jesus went to great lengths to communicate in ways that would stick. We should too. But maybe we sell our kids short? Maybe we could raise the bar, at least for some kids? What if we asked them to memorize some of the Bible? All of it? (AWANA parents and kids: Keep up the good work!)

It will be a gut punch if a Muslim kid in college kindly tells my kid he’s memorized the entire Quran and asked why my kid hasn’t memorized the Bible.

Well, now I’m feeling pretty convicted. I’m off to memorize life-giving scripture with my kiddos. 

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Choking for the View!

It started the way some of your best stories probably start: “How cool would it be to go up in that minaret? Think we could?”

My team mate Frank and I screwed up our courage and asked the caretaker. This wasn’t easy since together we spoke about eight words of Turkish and he no English, but somehow the query carried and he said yes.

Before we could enjoy the crazy great view of our city from the balcony of the minaret, he requested we wash in the ritual way Muslims do before entering the prayer room.

The caretaker showed us what to do, including the part where water is sniffed up to clean the sinuses. Foreseeing what would happen, I fake sniffed. Frank, who was very young and trained well to follow instructions, snorted what must have felt like a quart of water up his nose and nearly drowned himself!

While he spluttered, the care taker and I laughed!

This ritual cleaning is called wudu and has roots in both the Quran and various hadith. It consists of four obligatory actions:

  1. Washing the face, including sniffing (a small amount of!) water into the nose.
  2. Washing both arms to the elbows.
  3. Wiping the head.
  4. Washing the feet to the ankles.

As you might guess, the rules about how to do wudu vary and can be a little complicated. And the discussion on what breaks the state of ritual purity are extensive and can cause me to giggle like a middle school kid. IE: A toot is cause for redoing wudu, but only if it is heard or smelled.

Muslims practice wudu to prepare themselves for ritual prayer. As a Christian I’m profoundly grateful to be clean before God in all the ways that matter. I depend on the example of Jesus and the teaching of Paul that the cleanness of Jesus makes me clean.

That said, thinking about wudu makes me wonder if sometimes I’m a little too casual with my Father, the Creator, the Most High God.

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Moses for Muslims

Can you relate to this? I’m often scouting for ways to prove I’m right and others are wrong. I’m not proud of it. Part of the strategy involves searching out the worst examples of peoples’ beliefs and behavior then deciding those things are characteristic and normative, even essentially a part of who they are.

Sometimes Christians do this with sharia, or Islamic law. We think of the worst possible behavior, eg. stoning a woman for adultery, forget it’s also in the Bible, pay no heed to the reality that most Muslims disagree with it, then think, “Whoa, Muslims really are weird!”

To be clear, I’m not advocating for life under sharia, for me or anyone else. Its implementation on a state level has been difficult to devastating for many. Not only have our Christian sisters and brothers suffered, but also untold millions of Muslims whose faith didn’t measure up in the eyes of the judges.

Sharia, what my witty friend Bruce calls, “Moses for Muslims,” is rooted in the teaching of Muhammad and is based on the Quran, the Hadith, reasoning and judicial consensus. It does include hudud crimes which are punishable by lashing, amputation and death. But “For the most part, Sharia is concerned with personal religious observances such as prayer and fasting.” (Please take a look at this page where a Muslim explains sharia. It helps to also hear from insiders. Of course, the description is sympathetic. They’re describing something they love.)

Here’s what I like about sharia: At least in an idealized sense, it’s asking WWMD? What would Muhammad do? “Based on what he said, how should we as Muslims act?”

This idea has been haunting me of late: To what degree do my thoughts and actions emerge from the Bible and to what degree from my culture? I deeply want to think and act in line with Jesus. I want to be able to examine a particular aspect of myself and say, “Yes, that has roots in scripture. Increase it.” Or, “Nope, that’s only American, not biblical. Time to change it.”

Will you join me in this? Maybe correct me? Reach out here.

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Peacemaking in Days of Strife

Seems it took 2020 less than a week to track us down, hiding here in early January. Dang it.

Since you’ve been willing to read my brief squawks for awhile, maybe you’ll indulge me a few thoughts on how people of Jesus might respond to the situation in the U.S. right now. (If you’re not American, please pray for us. I’d also invite you to share with me how you see things from your vantage point.)

  1. If your life is so arranged that everyone you know basically agrees with you on stuff, enjoy it. It’s nice to be agreed with. Just don’t be like me and continually chorus, “Those other people are silly dopes!”
  2. If you find yourself exposed to, attending church with or going home to folks who see things that matter differently than you do, well, that can be a challenge, no? I love what my friend, Brian Newman, shares in this brief video about the Beatitudes and the radical way following Jesus’s teaching might shape our behavior in these days.
  3. Often, but not often enough, I remind myself when people do things I think are crazy: I have no idea the anger and pain they’re dealing with. I haven’t walked their road. If you’re convinced the rug is being pulled out from under your world, that hurts. It’s scary. It can be infuriating.
  4. Being a peacemaker means choosing to not win for a long time. Peacemakers will win, to be sure, but that victory may be way out on the horizon. Your peace making efforts won’t change everyone’s mind in a single Wednesday night Bible study, no matter how smugly that would make me feel!
  5. Listening is undervalued. It’s tough to listen when “those other people are silly dopes,” but worth the effort. As David Ausberger says, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

This should go without saying, except that I need to hear it: If you’re frustrated, stressed, angry, scared or just done with it, don’t take it out on the kids. They didn’t vote for either candidate! 


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