Redeeming Culture Through The Arts

We cannot be afraid of the messy. There is so much freedom when we no longer fear the messy and allow ourselves to dive into it. Throughout history Christianity has had a very small box on what is “allowable” and the world has a pretty massive one. Then you have to think about God. See, God does not have a box. We have our small Christian box, the massive box of the world, and then the freedom of a limitless God that is not held to the laws of a box. Having a limitless God brings freedom. This provides the freedom to dive into the things that are edifying and the things that are cautionary and hard.

We have to create, to foster creativity, we must create a world where people like to create. Christian movies for example, they may be artistically rough but they are getting better. Our artwork does not just have to be about Christians, branching out is okay. Just because it is religious does not make it holy.

The Church needs to be a patron of the Arts. What would happen if the Church went downtown when all the artists are out selling their art and we took a thousand dollars and went out to find art we liked and bought it? How would the artists respond? They would be amazed; a church just bought their work! Keep in mind it doesn’t matter if the artist is Christian or not. Do we go to Walmart and wonder “Who created this ladle? I need to know if they are Christian.” If you like the piece of art, you think it would look nice in your church, buy it. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or not. Imagine what they could do to the artist! That is revival right there.

 

Derek Martin; Chair of the Creative Arts Department at William Jessup University 

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The Root Issue of Fatherlessness

I have been speaking professionally for 33 years. There are three places you can speak from professionally. You can speak from a place of preparation and if you prepare well people will hear what you have to say. The second place you can speak from is the place of burden, it’s a little bit of a  deeper than preparation. When you speak from a place of burden it tends to be more historic in the hearts of the hearers. There is a third place that you can speak from beyond perpetration and beyond burden, this third place, is from a broken heart. When you speak from the place of a broken heart this is where hurt people tend to have what I call a “prophetic experience”. I don’t want to scare you with that word, let me demystify it.

When something is prophetic it has three traits. The first being, it is piercing, which means that whatever you’re thinking about you stop thinking about and it pierces through any resistance in people’s heart. It is very personal, people begin to think about it in the context of their own life, their own relationships. But the most powerful thing when something is prophetic is that it is permanent. Something happens in a setting, you hear something and it sticks on you for the your life. I have asked the Lord that my comments would be personal and piercing, that they would be prophetic.

I want to start by saying, fatherlessness is a root, it is not a result. We have done this entire journey of teaching a disservice by putting it on the short list of social issues such as homelessness, addiction, crime, sex trafficking, and poverty. I want you to know that fatherlessness is not on the shortlist, fatherlessness has created the shortlist. Fatherlessness is not the result of something it is the absolute root of something. When you treat fatherlessness as a symptom rather than a source you miss the sense of urgency that is required to address this in a way that changes the course of history.

Fatherlessness is not a symptom it is a pandemic disease, it is not epidemic it is pandemic. There is a huge difference between something that is epidemic and something that is pandemic. I will make my case. When something is an epidemic it is a virus or bacteria disease, it begins to spread but when something becomes pandemic the rate of infection and how widespread the infection is what causes something to move from epidemic to pandemic. Fatherlessness is pandemic not epidemic. Fatherlessness is a root, not a result.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a tremendous organization locally that speaks prophetically and powerfully to our city about the fatherlessness issues. They say that in 1960, 50 years ago, there were 4.4 million children under the age of 18 that came from fatherless contexts or conditions. in 50 years that number has grown to 31.6 million which is 43% of the adolescent population in America. I am telling you this is not sustainable. When you put that many unsupervised children (in the father mother context) into the societal water supply to create a functional society of business leaders, people that can function as fathers and mothers themselves is creating an almost irreversible balance.

In the last 30 years out of wedlock pregnancies have gone raised in the black community by 28%, that’s a raise of 28% of fatherlessness families, in the Hispanic community it has grown by 137%, in the Caucasian community it has grown by 220%. If these numbers continue in 6 years if you are born in the United States the chances of you being fatherless are greater than the minority communities. It is not just something that effects simply the issues of poverty, location, geography, I believe the enemy uses anything he can leverage to destroy the family context and to poor into the human water supply in our nation this pandemic disease of fatherlessness.

My own father was what I call “functionally fatherless”. When we talk about being fatherlessness we talk about situational fatherlessness, you may come from a family whose father died or there was a divorce. There is a situation that caused it. It could be functionally fathers, like my dad, were there physically but he was disengaged. Whenever it came to the vital investments I needed in my life as an emerging young man, my dad lived with his eyes darting around the room, his head was like a bobble head, because in his own heart he had deep uncertainties within himself and God; he carried a deep sense of secrets. My father had died at 62 years old from an overdose of glucocorticoid. Glucocorticoid is a natural process of the brain that releases in times of crisis.

Do you know that God gave you the ability to outrun a lion if you are being chased? By poring glucocorticoid so your body like a shower head that turns on that cascades through the body. It suspends sleep, suspends hunger, suspends growth, so everything in you can outrun the lion. The thing is, the brain knows when the lion is no longer chasing you and it turns off the glucocorticoid and all your body functions resume. But the brain cannot tell the difference between a real lion and an imaginary lion. My dad, because of his father that abandoned his family and carried secrets in his life, those glucocorticoids pored through his life and created anxiety.  That anxiety ultimately became plaque that filled his heart and caused him to die.

My dad was functionally fatherless. He was there but he was disengaged. Then you have generational fatherlessness. That is where you have no father, your mother was not married to a man, your grandmother was not married to a man. We have kids in our school system today that when you say the word “marriage”  they look at you like it is a foreign language, there is no context, their mother was not married, their grandmother was not married, their great-grandmother was not married. They do not even know what a marriage, what a husband is. That is generational fatherlessness. It is a pandemic that is growing in both black, white, and brown communities.

What is the answer? What is the solution? I think we have to see two shifts. The first one is we need to see a shift in urgency. What we call a social norm in this nation must be re-categorized into a social storm. What happens is, what is a true storm has become a norm to our world. I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to awaken me to turn the norm back into a storm. The second thing we have to shift is we have to move from a place of recovery to a place of prevention. The only way that will ever happen in this nation is that the church must totally reengineer how it reaches and trains men. Not to be fathers, but trains adult men how to be sons to their heavenly father. What our sons need is not better fathers, what are sons need is their fathers to be better sons. So I pray for our nation, I pray for you, a new sense of urgency. There really is a storm that needs to be addressed called Fatherlessness.

God Bless you,

Scott Hagan; Lead Pastor of Real Life Church

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A Gospel Affirmation

It was with excitement for me that I got to begin a role in this ministry that is now called The ACTS Group. I was asked to lead something that had found it’s roots in the Luis Palau Sacramento Festival and the coming together of churches, nonprofits, and businesses to put this on June 8, 2012. Many of those churches and leaders said they wanted to create an organization and have someone, some people, or some way in which we can continue to be nudged to work together in this thing called gospel movement. That was the beginning of The ACTS Group process.

The ACTS Group is commended to help gospel movement move forward. We talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the kingdom, the good news, people use this term in difference ways. If we do not stop to reflect and say, “Well lm what do you mean by the gospel? What do you mean and what comes into your mind when you think of that word, the gospel?” How do we understand that? Even in all the different social needs that we can meet and all the different kinds of prayers that we can pray, and the different kinds of leaders in the different kinds of spheres, and the different types of cultural influence that we can touch or that we are in terms of being able to build into God honoring leadership? What is at the center holding us together? If this movement is a movement of the gospel the gospel must be at the center of who we are and what we do.

It is also going to mean somewhere along the road there is going to be a diving line where there will be some people who opt out because they realize that this gospel we are talking about is not the center for them. It has to be broad enough to include a wide variety of expressions of the Christian faith yet it has to be narrow because Jesus was very particular. When Jesus came he said, “I come as the light of the world.” He knew that we lived in a world of darkness, a world that had caved in upon itself because of humanities saying no to God. Jesu came as God to be able to bring hope, hope, light, and life. When Christ came the Light of the World came.

I want you to imagine in your mind’s eye just for a moment the sun in the sky. Often times when we see images of the sun we see around the sun the light arching out to the left and the right, above and below. When we look at a sun in the far distance we call it a star, we know the start shape. The light radiates out from the center. That center must hold, in that center is the gospel. We must understand what the gospel is. On the fringe of the light, on one side we may say “There is not much light over there.” and we can create in our minds spectrums. We may find ourselves categorizing different churches. saying things like, well, this is the very conservative churches, the legalistic, the rules keeping, the church that might say, ‘this is all there is, we have the gospel and no one else does.”. On the other end of the spectrum of where light is meeting darkness we find what some people might call the liberal church. On this side of the spectrum it can feel like they become untethered from the historic moors of Christianity and what are they holding onto anymore? Up here on this edge of the light are the people who do not really believe much in anything, they have labeled themselves agnostic or even atheistic, without God. On the bottom of the spectrum, where the light meats the darkness here,  might be someone who believes in plenty of gods or a different god than we believe.

I believe God is calling all persons to the center, to he one who is radiating the light, who came as the light, Jesus Christ. The message that he brought was good news for every human being. As we move forward there must then become an affirmation of the gospel in a way which we can sit across from each other and say, “Though we may disagree about some things, even many things, we can agree on these things.” I would like to speak to you thins affirmation of the gospel that we continue to build and construct so that we can find out what these things are that keep us centered in the gospel.

God exists! The living God created humans to live in relationship with hum. Humans are separated from that relationship and all of the benefits by sin. This condition left unchanged leads to death and eternal separation from God. God intervened! He saved humanity through the death and resurrection of his only son Jesus Christ. A person can now experience relationship with God they were created for through repentance and Faith. This relationship will transform them internally, externally and eternally though the Holy Spirit and faith. The transformed person is God’s catalyst for households, communities, and creation to flourish. We know these facts through the perfect and reliable scriptures of the Holy Bible.

These are the things that keep us centered, that can keep us united. As we pray the prayer with Jesus in John 17 that we would be one as he and the Father were one. It is that relationship of live, with the God who created us to live in relationship with him through his son, that unites us all gospel movement.

 

Jeff Kreiser; The ACTS Group Director & Founder of Convergence 

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You’ve Already Been Sent

Do you even know your own neighbors name? Perhaps we as pastors have lost sight on what it looks like to “be the Church” in our own neighborhood. Across the country there is approximately around 300,000 churches in the U.S. 200,000 of those churches are either stagnant or in decline. About 3 to 4 people nationwide go to church at least twice a month. How will we reach those 6 to 7 people not going to church? Odds are this is not going to change based off of how we as the American church have been doing things. We are probably not going to get anymore people into church by hosting events, a camp, a retreat, or inviting people to a building with a steeple atop of it. What I am proposing is that you have already been sent by God.

I believe that God is awakening the flames of “sentness” in his people, he is wakening a movement across his people in this country to remember the story that is in our heart. We are not a gathering people, we are a sent out people. Perhaps we have forgotten that at the heart of our story we are propelled, launched out, people of God to those people who will often never walk into a church building.

Often the invitations we give the people in the pews is to come to an event a the church and that serves as our equipping for evangelism and missions. Perhaps it is up to us to raise people in our churches to realize their opportunities already in front of them every single day. In all of our efforts to get a passport and cross the oceans to reach people, maybe God is just asking us to cross the street, to hop over to the cubical next to us.

This is how it works, in the 18th century John Wesley was kicked out of every church in England for preaching a message of grace. His famous line as he stomps his foot, “The world is my parish, I am going out into the streets to preach to the people.” We no longer need a boarding pass to encounter someone who doesn’t believe, talk, dress, look, eat like us. These people are right here in our mists. I believe just as Jesus said to his disciples he says to us, “You have already been sent. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” he is sending you, all of you. You have already been sent, with all of your doubts, fears, everything you believe you do not bring to the table. God has said you are the kingdom agent for that neighborhood, workplace, park, or gym.

There is no junior sized Holy Spirit in us! I believe God is awakening something Leighton within his people to reactivate movement, the missions of God, which is to heal and put together the world again. He has given that mission to every single one of us not just people on stage with microphones. Every single one of us. If you put Jesus in the center of your life, you have been given the invitation by God to put the world back together again. Stop waiting for this license. May we stop waiting for this permission, stop waiting for an invitation because you have already been sent.

It’s your move.

Jeremiah Aja; founder of Forge Sacramento

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Response – Refugees: The Stories We Tell

Since my colleague Joy Justus shared at this Convergence Conversation, much has happened and much has stayed the same.  Violence in Paris, Beirut and San Bernardino has awakened (or re-awakened) deep fears.  Refugees are still in desperate situations searching for home and hope in their uncertain journey.  How do we as followers of Christ unite as One Body in the redemptive mission He has entrusted to us?  How do we overcome the fear and the uncertainty to faithfully represent the gospel, both lived and spoken?  The wisdom Joy shared in this video is just as relative now as it was before she spoke.  Because I believe she reminds us of both the nature of the gospel and the humility we all need to embrace as we consider our fellow image-bearers with no home to call their own.  As we do so we begin to understand more fully what it was like for Christ to leave so much behind to reach towards us as loving friend and powerful Savior.

Kirt Lewis, Director of World Relief Sacramento

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Refugees: The Stories We tell

I would like to talk about the stories that shape the way we see and interpret the lives of refugees.

For most of us, what we know about refugees comes only from the media. What happens when we see the images in the media? What stories do we start to tell?

“This is their problem. They need to solve it themselves.”
“I would never risk my family’s life by putting them on a boat.”
“There are too many. We can’t help them.”
“What if they are terrorists?”
“We don’t have enough resources to take care of our own needs.”

We tell the story in a way that distances ourselves from them.

The story I often hear rising up in people’s hearts when they talk about refugees, is a story of fear. Why is our society so afraid of refugees and immigrants? Has the fear that grips them seeped into our hearts too?

I John tells us that there is no fear in love, but that perfect love drives out all fear. If we allow fear instead of love to grip us, then we will forget our story.

Let me remind you. Our story begins with the emphatic declaration that “God created humanity in God’s own image… and it was supremely good.” If we are followers of the God who started the story with Genesis 1, then we must discipline our thoughts, our actions, our speech, and our stories in the way of love for the sacredness, the imago Dei, of every human life. We must be wholeheartedly for and never against people.

If we say that we are the people of the God of Israel, then our story is a story of migration and of exodus. We are a people who are called to remember that we were slaves and immigrants in the land of Egypt, but our God liberated us from our oppressors as we crossed the sea parted before our eyes.

And our story does not end there.

Just when we thought that God had forgotten and abandoned us once again in Egypt, God becomes a human and the story changes forever. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus tells the final story of grace and forgiveness for all that is broken in ourselves and in our world.

The grand narrative of scripture is about a God who persistently and passionately reaching toward the forgotten, the oppressed, the oppressor, and the “other” with a hope for restoration. This is the story that should shape the way we view refugees.

Now, I would like to tell you my story. I am not a refugee, but my friendships with refugees have been one of the greatest gifts of my life. From 2012-2014, five friends from seminary and I moved to Indonesia to work in an immigration prison. This prison was locking up refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, and Sri Lanka. They had all attempted the desperate journey by boat to seek asylum in Australia. They got caught in Indonesian waters and placed in a prison as they waited to be processed by the United Nations.

I will never forget the first time I walked through the door that separated my free world from their prison.
A flood of grief and confusion, of love and peace flowed over me. I was greeted one-by-one by kind but desperate faces that carried stories of loss and hope. I was confronted with the cruelty of our world and in a mysterious way, the tender love of God.

I realized pretty quickly that sentimentality was useless. What was required was an opening of my heart in vulnerability to people who over time became my dear friends. To be a friend was to let them tell me their stores—who they are, what kind of world they live in, and what they hope for.

Do you know what I heard? I heard stories of tremendous pain and loss and tragedy. And I heard hopes of a place to belong, to raise children in freedom, to enjoy friends and family, and to work with dignity. What made us the same? We had the same hopes. What made us different? Their lives had called for a far greater courage and strength than mine had required.

There are refugees who are being resettled in Sacramento too. They are no longer distant people “over there.” They go to school with your kids, they assist you at the grocery store, and they drive next to you on the road. They are your neighbors.

If the story we are telling allows us to remain distant from the vulnerabilities, the suffering, and the hopes of refugees, then we need to tell a different story.

How deep are we willing to go to enter into their story? What stops us from going deeper?

Let is remember who we are and thereby live the story of sacrificial love and hope for restoration.

 

Joy Justus: Church Mobilizer for World Relief Sacramento

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Understanding Radical Islam

My Muslim friend was all smiles. I had brought my class to her mosque and was giving a short introduction to Islam lecture. Afterwards, she asked for questions and a hand went up with someone asking, “Well, what about Osama Bin Laden and 9-11?” The smile vanished from her face and her eyes were filled with pain and frustration. She replied, “What he does is not Islam. That is not my religion; it is not the religion of anybody I know. Islam is a religion of peace, 9-11 is not Islam.”

To outsiders looking in to the religion of Islam, it can be really confusing because both my really nice Muslim friend and the head of Isis both read the same Qur’an, they look at the same life of Mohammad, they both pray five times a day, they fast during Ramadan, they try to practice the Islamic law, they try to put the sharia into their life (the Islamic law), and they try to practice it as much as possible. So, how on earth can my nice Muslim friend be so nice and the head of Isis be so evil? How is this even possible that this is the same religion? This mixed practice of Islam raises fear about all Muslims. When a Muslim family moves in next door, one wonders which one is their new neighbor? Is this the nice Muslim or the terrorist? Because of this, we have to look at these two faces of Islam.

In this blog, I first want to give you three keys that will help you understand the news as well as help you understand why your Muslim neighbor may also be just as appalled at what they are seeing on the news as you. Secondly, I will give you five responses to radical Islam we can have as followers of Jesus.

Now there are a lot of bewildering terms when we talk about radical Islam, all kinds of terms like salafism and wahabism, all these “isms”. Part of the reason for this is that radical Muslims are not unified, thank goodness. They have a lot of sharp disagreements about the timing and method of things, who should be in charge and what their priorities should be. However, there are three things that unite all radical Muslims, you will find this in all of their writings. These three things are similar worldview, interpretation of the Qur’an and the same ultimate goals.

What is the worldview of a radical Muslim? It’s the foundation that God (Allah) is the ultimate lawgiver. Only he, the creator of mankind, has the right to make laws to govern mankind. According to Muslims, these laws are good for their flourishing; they are for the benefit of humankind. But, only God can give these laws. And, when men come along and make up their own laws, they are are usurping the authority of God who is the law giver. When government requires people to follow man made laws rather than God’s laws, that is oppression of people because it is God’s laws that are best, not man made laws.  Cultures, religions, and governments that fail to teach that there is only one God and Muhammad is his prophet are in a state of rebellion and aggression against God. Rejection of Islam in the mind of a radical equals rebellion and aggression against Allah. At this point, it becomes every Muslim’s duty to wage Jihad against these man made governments until everything is brought under Allah’s law.  Hassan al-Banna who is the founder of the Muslim brotherhood said “it’s incumbent on the house of Islam to wage war until such time as all nations submit to the will of god and accept Sharia law which is God’s law.”

The second thing that all radicals agree on is how to interpret the Qur’an. The Qur’an was written in over a 22 year period. During the first 12 years, Muhammad lived in Mecca and he had a very small following. He was a persecuted prophet and believers were commended to not fight because they did not have the strength to do that. He also had a favorable opinion of Jews and Christians. He then moved to a place called Medina and for the next 10 years he would continue to receive revelations, yet these revelations were very different than the previous ones. While in the early years, the revelations were mostly about monotheism. In the later years, he found himself the head of a city-state, receiving rules about family, religious, social, and civil life. He also developed very harsh criticism towards Jews and Christians. Suddenly, believers were obligated to fight against unbelievers.   How does this information help us? Radical Muslims now look at the later portion of the Koran and they say it supersedes the earlier portion of the Koran. They believe that the command to fight unbelievers supersedes the earlier command not to fight. In fact, in the last chapter of the Koran (chapter 9), there are a couple of verses that are considered the “great commission” for Muslims, which is to go out and fight unbelievers until they are under the system of Islam.

The third thing radicals all have in common is that they all have an ultimate goal, which is to bring the world under submission to Islam. A famous Egyptian Islamist said, “ Islam wants space, not a piece of the earth but the whole planet.” Radical Islam presents this ideal vision of what life could be like if everyone was living under Sharia. They tantalize young Muslims in particular with the vison to come and fight and struggle and be a part of the vanguard of bringing this wonderful Sharia to the whole world. This presents them with a purpose driven life – to come and fight for the cause of the law.

Now, my nice, kind Muslims completely disagree with this system of interpreting the Koran and its ultimate goal. But, the problem is that we have these two realities of Islam in our world. So, what are we supposed to that?

I want to quickly give you five biblical responses to this question:

First, resist prejudice. Most Muslims are in fact suffering themselves under radical Islam. Go with the assumption that your neighbor next door is a peaceful Muslim.

Second, reject fear. As it has been clearly stated in scripture, fear is not to be a part of who we are as believers. It’s says in 1 Peter 3 “Do not fear what they fear but set apart Jesus as Lord and be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the hope you have within.”

Third, do what Jesus told us to do, that is to LOVE. Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  In every story I have ever heard of a Muslim coming to Christ, it is love that opens their heart.

Fourth, raise your voice. Raise your voice in prayer for suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Be an advocate for them. There is a large need for prayer over our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering under radical Islam.

Fifth, reignite hope. God is doing amazing things in the world of Islam! He has not forgotten Muslims. God loves them, and wants all Muslims to come into a knowledge of His grace.

 Laurie Schlepper; professor at Western Seminary

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The Muslim Next Door

Twenty years ago I took an unexpected journey. Some people moved in across the street from us and they had children that were the same age as my own. I knew we were going to be friends. However, soon I discovered that they were of a different religion that they were very devout to. I have a degree in Christian Theology but it came evident to me that I knew nothing about their religion. Because of this, I had some homework I needed to do in order to have an opportunity for fruitful discussion with my new friends.

The religious landscape of America has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. There has been an increased where a lot of people have no religion but there is also increased religious diversity do to a lot of immigration into our country. The Church, I believe, has done a very good job at addressing secularism through apologetics. Yet, I do not know that we have kept pace with the challenge of world religions that are now in our mitts and flourishing on American soil.

According to Pew Research, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and it is expected to double in the United States within the next fifteen years. Maybe you do not know a Muslim right now but chances are you will. You are going to have more Muslims in your schools, in your business contacts, in politics, and maybe even living right next door to you.

Are we ready to encounter Muslims? Do we know anything about their religion? Can we educate ourselves on the religion of Islam to have a discussion with a Muslim? I do not know if we, as Christians, are all ready for that. My goal for this talk is to give you a fly over, or an aerial tour of Islam. It is not everything you need to know, I am sure it is not, but it will give you some vocabulary to perhaps go across the street and introduce yourself to that Muslim family and start some fruitful dialogue.

You could describe the religion of Islam with one word and that is the word “submission”. In fact the word Islam means submission and the word Muslim means, “one who submits”. Muslims are the ones who practice the religion of Islam in the Qur’an, which is  their holy book, it says in relation to God religion is submission. In order to submit properly there are basically five essential beliefs and five essential practices that any good Muslim is going to do. Of course not all Muslims are devout and there is a lot of diversity within Islam. Yet, if you know these five essential beliefs and five practices you will have a real good head start in dialoguing with a Muslim.

Let us look at the five essential beliefs. The first belief is in God, no surprise there, a belief in God. They use the word Allah which is just he Arabic word for God. How is God described in the Qur’an? He is described as the creator of the heavens and the earth. He is described as the maker of mankind. He is described as the who knows all and is all powerful. They describe God in many of the same ways that we as Christians describe God. That He is a one-of-a-kind being, there is nothing like him in all creation and to associate God with anything like an idol or a man is the worst kind of blaspheme or the worst kind of sin, the sin of idolatry.

Muslims believe that God could not possibly have a son because in the Qur’an it says, how could God have a son without having a consort? Because of this, they reject the idea that God could have a son. In fact you will find that if you start talking to Muslims about your faith the biggest hurdle will be first, this concept of the Son of God and then of this idea of the Trinity. It is very, very difficult for a Muslim to understand what we mean. This may mean that you will have to do some brushing up on your own Christian theology in this area if you are going to be in dialogue with Muslims. It also teaches in the Qur’an that God is merciful, loving, benevolent, and that he calls his people to submit to him. It is very interesting that there is one word that is not often used of God and that is the word “love”. He does love, but he loves conditionally, he loves the one who submits to him, ho does not live the one who does not submit to him. There we have a beautiful opening for the gospel, that while we were yet sinners God loved us enough to provide for our salvation. This is a concept that is unique to Christianity. This is the first essential belief, the belief in Allah.

The second essential belief is Spirit beings, they believe in Satan, angels, and they believe in these creatures called Jinn, where we get our word Jeanne. These little spirit creatures can cause a lot of trouble in life and you might actually find in talking to Muslims that they have concerns about some of the activity of these spirit beings.

The third essential belief is that of prophets. Mankind was born pure according but we have a real tendency to stray away from God and so God sends prophets to bring people back along to the right way. Muslims believe that Abraham, Moses, many of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and Jesus were all prophets sent by Allah to lead people back to the proper worship of God. They accept all those prophets but Mohammad is a very special prophet. He came about six hundred years after Jesus and he is considered the final  prophet, the universal prophet. Mohammad is not a prophet limited to a certain group of people, at a certain time in history. He is the last prophet because he brought the last scriptures. There will be no more prophets after Muhammad and everything about his life is help up as a beautiful example of how to be a good Muslim.

The fourth essential belief is Scripture. They believe that God gave the Bible but it became corrupted, they believe that the Qur’an is the final pure scripture that corrects all the errors that are in the Bible.

Fifthly, they believe differently in judgement. There is a judgement day coming that either people might be sent to paradise if they have done a lot of good deeds or if they have done a lot of bad deeds God might send them to hell fire. The key is that it is God’s choice, he is sovereign in this matter and so a Muslim never knows whether they have done enough to earn God’s mercy and that they will be sent to paradise. They have no assurance of salvation.

These are the five essential beliefs, what about the five essential practices? Often these are called the pillars of Islam. The first of these is “confession” that there is no god but God, there is no Allah but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allan. That second part is very important acknowledging that everything Mohammed brought came from God. Saying this confession of faith is what brings a person into the religion of Islam.

The second essential practices is prayer, they pray five times daily if they are devout, these are ritual prayers. The ritual prayers are not, “Dear Lord, help me with my business” kind of prayers. These prayers are very prescribed, certain things they do, certain things they say during these prayers.

The third essential practice is fasting, no food and no water during the month of Ramadan to show their devotion to God.

The fourth pillar of Islam is that of charity. They are supposed to give 2.5 percent of their wealth to charity, either to a local mosque or to other charitable organizations.

The fifth essential practice is that of pilgrimage. If they are able, once in their life they are supposed to go on the Hajj, to Mecca, where they do a number of rituals called the pilgrimage.

These are the five essential beliefs and five practices of Islam. If we make that into a house of Islam the roof that would be The Dalwa, the call to Islam, it is the duty of every Muslim to invite other people into the faith of Islam.

What you have just read is the fly-over of Islam. Jesus gave The Church the command to go and bring this wonderful good news of The Gospel of Grace to all people, because He loves all people, and this includes the Muslim neighbor next door.

 

 Laurie Schlepper; professor at Western Seminary

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Engaging in Biblical Justice

The Bible says to love justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  This is a beautiful statement but it leaves us with a profound question, “What is justice?” Perhaps justice is more than laws and rules, crime and punishment, fairness and unfairness. Perhaps Justice is something more. When we think about justice it is a collection of values and principles that interrelate and intersect. It is through doing and pursuing justice one is able to best understand it. When we are doing justice we are chasing after Christ. It is when we pursue Christ that we can start to understand what it means to love justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

It is hard work pursuing justice. It takes knowledge, effort, courage, and patience. The reality is most of the justice issues of our day cannot be solves in our lifetime. That is a tough message for our world today but it is the reality of what it takes. In that sense justice is a lot like mountain climbing. We have mountains all around us, we have social mountains, financial mountains, and political mountains to name a few. These mountains dictate who we are known as and think. These devalue us not only as individuals but humanity as well. These mountains start to monetize human beings. Often we do not see the mountains that we face.

To be able to tackle the injustices we encounter in our world we need to keep in mind that justice is not just about facing mountains, justice is about the process and the journey. It is about being collaborative and ethical using the resources from those that have gone before us and utilizing the ideas of the ones to come. When we make Christ the center and the circumference of our being and our doing then we will know what is justice.

Sosamma Samuel-Burnett; Founder/President of G.L.O.B.A.L Justice

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A Christian Perspective on Mass Incarceration in America

Mass incarceration is a term used to describe the expansion prison as an industry in response to legislation that resulted in mass arrests and convictions, predominantly in minority communities. Mass Incarceration in America looks like this: In the United States, 2.2 million people are currently in prison or jail. This is a 500% increase over the last 30 years. Roughly 70% of the imprisoned men and women in the U.S. are persons of color (black or latino). Although Black Americans make up only 12.7% of the U.S. population, they comprise 48.2% of adults in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.

Here in California, three strikes legislation and other laws resulted in massive numbers of people being locked up, a vast majority of them for non-violent offenses. Because of this, since the 1980’s there have been 22 prisons built. But only one California University campus. California spends an average of $62,300 a year on a prison inmate, while only spending $9,100 a year on a child in school.

What is a Christian perspective on Mass Incarceration in America? Where are our priorities? Proposition 47 allowed the balance of power to shift. Let me explain. What we have seen happen through Prop 47 is the shifting away from one way of doing policing that put people out of society, to one of engagement and redemptive value. I believe this relates strongly to our Christian faith. There is something redeemable in all of us. People need a second chance. Prop 47 simply gives people their second chance. Prop 47 also helped us by redirecting funds to education and rehabilitation which I believe is reflects Christian faith and values. As Christians we are able to look at a person, share the love of God with that person, educate them, empower them, and begin to show them who they are and can be.

Proposition 47 is restorative justice. It gives people a second chance in life. One of our Christian values that we take from Mathew 25 is Jesus saying to his disciples, “you have clothed me, you have gone to the prison, you have gotten me out of the prison…” The disciples asked “when did we do that?” and Jesus responded “when you have done it for the least…” We have work to do! We have work to do in rethinking, reimagining, and reconnecting with people to give individuals a way of living, and talking, and thinking that is new. The time is now. I believe there is a shift. Let’s welcome back the prisoner, make a way for them in community to live a redeemed life and have a  christian perspective on mass incarceration in America.

 

Rev. Lesley Simmons; Assistant Pastor of South Sacramento Christian Center

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