Monday, July 18, 2011

I went to Point of Grace Church yesterday, and now I want to know…

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What good does it do for us, or anybody else?


If you acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life and the Lord of the universe, what does that mean? What does that look like? How does that separate you from other people? What is the essence of “calling on the name of the Lord”?

Do we just need to get the name right? Is it enough to refer to our Lord as Jesus, or Yeshua, or Yesua, depending on what language we’re speaking? Do we have to know that he lived as a man in first century Palestine, and died on the cross for our sins? Do we have to declare that he is a part of the indivisible Trinity? Is that all?

At the conclusion of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan destroys the old, fallen world and brings all his followers into a new Narnia, deeper and fuller than the old. There, the protagonists of the story are shocked to find a soldier from the enemy nation, from the Calormen Empire, who worship a bloodthirsty god named
Tash. The soldier tells them the story of how he met Aslan:

“[He] said [to me], ‘Son, thou are welcome.’ But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no servant of thine but the servant of Tash.’ He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’ Then I…said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”

100,000 civilians were killed in Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990. The war was triggered when gunmen belonging to a Christian militia group, alarmed at the growing number of Muslim Palestinian refugees entering the “Christian” nation of Lebanon, opened fire on a bus full of Palestinians, killing scores of civilians. On September 18, 1982, following the assassination of the Christian president-elect of Lebanon, Bashir Gamayel, Christian Lebanese militias entered two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and murdered around 800 Palestinian men, women, children and babies, sometimes carving Christian crosses onto the chests of their victims.

Who accepted that deed? Aslan or Tash?

In the 1990s, as the communist state of Yugoslavia was rapidly disintegrating into a patchwork of warring nationalities, the Christian Serbs of Yugoslavia set out to seize as much land from the dying country as they could. The best way to keep a Christian country Christian, they figured, was to cleanse Serb-held areas of their Muslim inhabitants. This was accomplished through a campaign of forced relocation, rape, torture, indiscriminate shelling of Muslim towns, and outright massacre. When the Muslim town of Srebrenica, once designated a “safe city” for Muslims and guarded by UN peacekeepers, fell to Christian Serb forces in July 1995, the Christian commander, Ratko Mladic, seized every Muslim male in the city, 7,000 in all, marched them into a football stadium, and executed every last one of them.

Who accepted that deed? The Lord Jesus or the prince of this world?

The speaker I heard at Point of Grace Church yesterday told us that the Allah of the Qur’an is the Satan of the Bible.


But when that same speaker called on us to vote for leaders who would close all the mosques in the United States, ban Muslim immigration to the United States, expel all Muslims from jobs in the U.S. military and American airports, cut off all foreign aid to Muslim countries, and deport our Muslim population, or else the Muslims would take over our country and we would lose our freedom – and his listeners applauded and shouted “Amen!” in response – who accepted those words as a sacrifice?

When he told us that the former king of Saudi Arabia used to travel around with a slave in case he needed an immediate heart transplant, that Muslims in the U.S. military refuse to kill other Muslims, that Obama’s church sends money to Hamas, that Obama’s church pays for abortions, that Muslims worldwide are part of a conspiracy to infiltrate and take over America, that Obama is deliberately bringing in thousands of Muslims to shift the demographics of the U.S., that Obama specifically invited the Muslim Brotherhood to listen to his address in Cairo, that Muslims have never invented anything, that Obamacare is a plot to bring more Muslims to America in the form of doctors and nurses who will replace the ones being driven out by shrinking profits - was he speaking the language of truth, or the language of the father of lies? (John 8:43-44).

I am not exaggerating a whit. The entire service, the pastor (!) informed us, will be posted on Point of Grace’s website. You'll be able to watch it for yourself, here, if you can handle it.

The speaker told us that President Clinton had betrayed America and Christianity by attacking Serbian “Christians” in Europe and allowing their Bosnian Muslim enemies to come and live in America. He repeatedly conjured up the image of Hillary Clinton kissing arriving refugees from Bosnia in welcome, as if that would disgust any right-thinking Christian.

One of my bosses in the fields this summer is a Muslim Bosnian woman named Amira (Arabic for “princess”) who came to Iowa in 1995, at the height of the Serbs’ campaign to kill and drive out the Muslims of eastern Bosnia. She greets me every morning with a giant smile. “Hello, Mr. Joel!” she says in a beautifully thick Bosnian accent. She worries about her daughter’s ear infection, makes sure we drink plenty of Gatorade in the 110+ heat index, and commiserates with me about my fears for Syria.

Who is more closely following the path of Christ? Amira, or Point of Grace’s speaker, the pastor who prayed over him, and the audience who applauded him?

“Hold on, Joel – are you saying that profession of faith in Christ is unimportant?”

I don’t know, my friends. All I am saying is this: By their fruits, you shall know them.

That, and:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 7:21

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” – Luke 6:46

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” – James 2:14

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” – James 3:9-10

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” – I John 3:14

These verses are in the Bible for a reason.

The speaker in question is Usama Dakdok, an Egyptian Baptist Christian who runs a ministry, “The Straight Way,” to educate Christians about Islam. He is insistent that his first name be pronounced “Yoo-sama,” not “Oo-sama.” (When I lived in Egypt three years ago, I had a Christian friend named “Oo-sama.” He felt no need to change its pronunciation.) He tells us that the first time he saw a Muslim in America, he knew freedom in America was doomed. To those who claim, “Only 1% of Americans are Muslim; how could they possibly be a threat?” he says, “Would you take only a centimeter of blood infected with AIDS?” He is certain that President Obama is a Muslim in hiding, who is working steadily to destroy the United States financially and militarily. He knows this because Obama was “born a Muslim,” and in Islam you cannot leave the faith without someone issuing a fatwa calling for your death. There are over a billion Muslims, and not one has issued such a fatwa. Therefore, all of them must understand the plan. Yoosama told us stories of how he, pretending to be a Muslim, spoke in Arabic to other Muslims in the U.S. and confirmed their love of Osama bin Laden and hatred for the infidels. He told us the death of Osama bin Laden was faked. He claims that Obama is trying to give the Iranians the nuclear bomb, that he orchestrated the Arab spring in order to bring Muslim regimes to power in all the nations around Israel, which will soon have to fight for its life – and if the U.S. doesn’t support Israel then, God will judge it with firestorms, earthquakes and hurricanes.

And, in case you missed it earlier, he wants us to close all the mosques in America and deport all Muslims from America.

And his “Christian” audience applauded and shouted “Amen” when he said that.

Yoosama ended his talk with a call for all of us to turn over our lives to Jesus. You can only be free in Jesus, he told us – which is why we’ll lose our freedom if people who don’t believe in Jesus keep moving here. He told us, “If you can’t name the place and time you were born again, then you’re not a Christian!” I can’t name the place or the time. And that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. My King allowed himself to be tortured to death for my sake, and the sake of the lost. I want nothing to do with Usama’s king, who wants to terrify me into kicking the lost out of my homeland.

I don’t claim that twelve non-consecutive months in the Middle East make me an expert. But I do know something about how Christians and Muslims get along in Egypt and Syria, and it’s not a merry story. There are fourteen hundred years of strife between the two groups, even if it’s below the surface most of the time. The vast majority of the time, the Christians, being the minority, are the victims. As Usama Dakdok, the South Lebanon Army, the Phalangist militias, and the Army of Republika Srpska demonstrate, sadly, this dynamic of persecution has sometimes managed to reduce the gospel to a tribal siege mentality in Middle Eastern Christians, with deadly, even genocidal consequences. I don’t blame Usama for his hatred. I pity him, and I grieve over the difficulties he must have had growing up as a Christian in Egypt. I do blame Point of Grace Church for inviting him to purvey his conspiracy theories and blood libels in this country, which until lately has been perhaps the most welcoming Western country for Muslim immigrants. We have suffered no Muslim persecution. We have no excuse.

Dear readers, I’m sorry this post isn’t very funny or entertaining. I get sick at heart thinking about this whole mess. During my sojourn in Syria, I often despaired at finding people I could talk to who would share common ground with me. Who I wouldn’t have to convince that the U.S. government was not behind 9/11, that the Holocaust really happened, that the CIA was not orchestrating the Syrian revolution, that Jews don’t drink blood for the Passover, that their Muslim countrymen weren’t ready at the drop of the hat to kill their men and rape their women. I longed to be back in America, where I could talk to people who were both in touch with reality as I know it, and willing to look past the religion of their neighbor and see him as a person.

Can you imagine how depressing it is to come home to this?

When did these twin toxins of bigotry and conspiracy theorizing infect the church I grew up in? Did it happen while I was away? Am I now seeing the American church with clear eyes for the first time, as a result of being away? Is a black man as president all it took to send us completely over the edge?

When did the American church become like this? When did it become a rendezvous point for scared white people, instead of a home for the dispossessed and an army of the mighty, ready to face death for His sake and the sake of the least of His brothers all day long?

Hate crimes against Muslims in the United States are on the rise. This is not an accident. Are American Christians going to be the protectors of our Muslim brothers and sisters, or will we feed the hatred?

If you think I’m wrong, if you think Usama Dakdok is right on any point, PLEASE e-mail me or leave a comment. I’m not angry at you, I promise. I just need to understand, for the sake of my own mental health. Please let me try to convince you.

Oh God. Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.

Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Finally - the truth about Islam REVEALED

It's been a mystery for fifteen hundred years, but the suspense comes to an end this Sunday, at a megachurch in the Des Moines metropolis.

Where I live!

How serendipitous.

Point of Grace Church, in Waukee, is devoting its Sunday morning service to this revelation, as well as a two-hour seminar Sunday night.

Here's the link to the trailer (yes, trailer) Point of Grace set up for its "Revealing the Truth About Islam" session this Sunday. (Anyone know how to embed videos from Vimeo? I'm such a dinosaur.)

If you don't take the time to watch the trailer, here's my trailer for the trailer:

[Footage of the 9/11 attacks, accompanied by scary scary Oriental music]

"We all know the horrors of terrorism."

[Footage of Muslims speaking scary-sounding Arabic on the TV nooz]

"But did you know that secret FBI documents PROVE that American Muslims are planning to set up a caliphate here WITHIN YOUR LIFETIME?"

Really, Point of Grace?

"Really, Joel."

Ok, fine.

According to Point of Grace's website, this Sunday's event is only part of a monthlong series entitled "The Agenda." The website's graphic for "The Agenda" shows the words "The Agenda" above a Star of David, a cross, and an Islamic crescent, all superimposed over a duststorm. I can only imagine what this agenda contains, or whose it is.

(Oh, and did I mention how I found out about all this? A Facebook ad.)

My beautiful, talented and worldly-wise mother asks me if the fact than an Egyptian Christian, Usama Dakdok, is leading the talk lends the whole thing credibility. My answer? More likely than not, it detracts from its credibility.

Don't get me wrong - Egyptian Christians rawk. But based on my limited experience with them, they are not the best source of information on Islam. Egyptian Christians live as a minority in Egypt, and have an, at best, rocky relationship with their Muslim countrymen. American Christian readers: Would you want Malcom X to tell Arab Muslims "the truth" about Christianity?

[I do two minutes of internet research.]

Apparently, Mr. Dakdok is, among other things, a proponent of the "Obama is a Muslim" meme, which, unfortunately, no birth certificate can ever disprove.


I may go to Point of Grace on Sunday, if only so I can blog about it later.

Some initial thoughts:

1) There is no such thing as "the truth" about Islam. Islam is not a country, a political party or an organization, with unified tenets and goals. "Islam" exists only in the minds of one billion plus people around the world, all of whom perceive ethics and reality a little differently. If you want to know "the truth" about Islam, go talk to one of them. (Believe it or not, they live here too.)

2) Re The "horror" of terrorism: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.

Someone wrote that once.