The Cross

In today’s advanced aged of technology, terrorism, and the search for peace, there seems to be no concrete answer. People look for an outcome that will satisfy their needs, but forget to look in the Bible for answers from God. Even though the manuscripts are over 2,000 years old, they remain relevant for many generations, to include the present and future populations seeking peace within their hearts.

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The only man-made things in heaven are the scars on Jesus Christ. He was wounded and killed so that we could spend eternity with Him and our Father God. Because of our belief in the sacrifice Jesus endured, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins. It takes faith to believe in something we cannot see. In fact, Hebrews 11: 1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Most people only rely on tangible assets which they can touch, feel, and see.

We are to lead a Christian life, which includes love and sacrifice for the less fortunate. Eternity is forever, and where we choose to spend it is a personal choice that each person has to make on his or her own. The mistakes or confrontations we encounter daily in life bring us closer to God and His Son Jesus. Upon our request, the Holy Spirit will come along side us and provide a spiritual solution.

Water Color of Crucifixion

The Cross is symbolic because it provides us with the solution of forgiveness for our sins, and empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us by their actions or words. Jesus died on the cross even though he healed the sick and taught His disciples how to lead a Christian life filled with love, kindness, forgiveness, and honoring God by being an example to unbelievers. Words certainly can hurt when the tongue speaks in anger, hatred, envy, or jealousy. The cross gives us the ability to lead a godly life.

C=-Christian, R=Redemption, O=Optimism, S=Salvation, and S=Solution.

Without the Holy Spirit to guide us daily, we will be searching for answers we cannot find on our own. There is only one way to the cross; faith and belief that eternity has no end, and that we will be at peace, shalom, living with God forever. When we spend time in the Word daily, we find answers to life’s questions and how it all relates to God’s unconditional, everlasting love. The price for being forgiven of our sins has been paid in full by Jesus as He hung on the cross. God sent him to teach us how to live, and, ultimately, He showed us the unfathomable love of God, who sent His only begotten Son to hang on a cross in our place. Our transgressions have been forgiven, allowing us to spend eternity with our Creator.

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For since the creation of the world God’s visible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

The only way we can begin to thank God for this unbelievable sacrifice is to praise Him, allow Him into our hearts and lives, guiding us in this earthly world. We are to be a beacon. We are salt and light to the world. This is actually not an option. Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He did not say, “You can be” or “You have the potential to be.” He said, “You are the salt and the light.” Everyone who is born again is the salt and the light of the world. (See Matthew 15:13-16.) We are salt and light to the world, not the church. Not to our family members or co-workers or classmates.  We are to go beyond the church  and share the Good News. We were saved to shine! We cannot hide our testimony. We have a story to tell. Jesus said we are to let our light shine before men in so they will see our good works and glorify God.

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Actually, as salt we Christians are to counteract the power of sin. As light we are to illuminate or make things obvious. Matters that need to be settled. Sin that needs to be exposed. We are to show others (believers and non-believers alike) that they should lay their burdens, their sin, their strongholds, their fears, their resentments at the foot of the cross. They have been crucified with Christ. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with a pure heart, when we love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), and when we do good without expectation of reward, we are shining lights. It is actually not our light, but a reflection of the Light of the Word, Jesus Christ.

We stand forgiven at the cross. We stand healed at the cross. We stand set free at the cross. The cross is the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. If you suffer from emotional problems – guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment – there is healing through the cross of Christ. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree. Clearly, God demands a penalty be paid for sin. Christ took that penalty upon Himself on the cross. The power of sin is too great. We cannot be delivered from it by turning over a new leaf. We can’t behave our way into heaven. Thankfully, we have a substitute, Jesus, who was a propitiation for our sins. When Christ died, those who believe on Him died too. We were identified with him in His death. When He rose from the dead, we were raised with Him into newness of life.

What happened at the cross shows us that God loves all people equally. He has a special place in His heart for those who are hurting – those who are under the penalty and power of sin. Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. In was, after all, a means of execution for centuries. In Christianity the cross is the intersection of God’s exacting judgment and his unparalleled love. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of the cross, those who put their trust and faith in Him have everlasting love. The cross, and the horrendous death endured by Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #3 – What is Jihad?

answering jihad

This is the third in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #3 – WHAT IS JIHAD?

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THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ISLAM defines jihad in this way: “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, of its defense.” This is a fairly standard definition of jihad among scholars of Islam in the West.

In broader Muslim literature there appears to be no such widely accepted definition, but that makes sense given the various kinds of jihad and the myriad application of the term found in classical and modern Islamic literature. The primary meaning of jihad as used by pre-modern Muslim jurists is “warfare with spiritual significance.” This definition appeals more to Qureshi than the standard scholarly definition, because it reflects the reality of a less than rigid use of the term.

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The popular definition of jihad as “Islamic holy war” is misleading. The words holy war are charged with connotations of the Christian Crusades, but the impetus and theological justification of the Crusades were markedly different from jihad, as Qureshi will explore in Question 17.

THE DEVELOPING DOCTRINE OF JIHAD

Part of the reason why jihad is so difficult to define is that the Arabic word itself means “strife” or “struggle,” and it is not always used in a doctrinal sense. The Qur’an appears to use the term to mean a “struggle for spiritual purposes,” at times remaining ambiguous about whether a violent or non-violent struggle is in view. In fact, some verses do use the word jihad as a purely spiritual struggle, such as Surah 22:78.

The Qur’an frequently uses the word in reference to a violent struggle for spiritual purposes. A clear example of this is a discussion of warfare in Surah 2:216-218, which culminates in Allah’s approval of those who undertake this jihad: “Warfare is prescribed for you, though you dislike it… Behold, those who believe, emigrate, and undertake jihad, these have hope of the mercy of Allah.” It is incorrect to argue, as do some apologists for Islam in the West, that the word can only refer to a spiritual struggle. Even in the Qur’an that is demonstrably false, let alone in the tradition of Muhammad’s life.

In fact, when it comes to the hadith, far and away the most frequent context of jihad is violent physical struggle. Qureshi will explore this issue further in Question 4, which will be published here next Friday. But for now, we will merely note that this meaning makes sense when we consider the time during which the canonical hadith collections were compiled, which was at the pinnacle of Islamic conquests. The Muslim community then preserved those traditions that were most relevant to them. In so doing, they solidified the term jihad in the direction of a violent spiritual struggle.

By the time of the great Muslim jurists, the generations that founded various schools of Islamic thought and enumerated codes of Sharia, jihad had developed into a fairly systematized doctrine of warfare. Conditions and rules of jihad conduct had been developed based on the relevant verses of the Qur’an and hadith traditions of Muhammad. For example, jihad could not be the endeavor of a rogue Muslim, but had to be formally declared by a legitimate authority among the Muslim people, most likely the caliph, the leader of the Muslims. [So much for validation of the “lone wolf” ISIS sympathizers.] The impetus for jihad must be of critical importance for the religion of Islam itself, or at least for a great number of Muslims. The causes ought to be specified prior to engaging in warfare, as well as the terms for resolution. These rules of conduct explain why al-Qaeda regularly broadcasted proclamations of jihad with Usama Bin Laden prominently displayed as an authority, airing lists of grievances against the West and demands for the cessation of hostilities. The endeavor was not simply for dramatic purposes, but also to fulfill the classical conditions for appropriately launching jihad.

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There are other requirements of jihad that classical jurists upheld, conditions that were grounded in Muhammad’s teachings for the sake of humane warfare. These included refraining from killing non-combatants or looting their property, restraint from disfiguring the corpses of fallen enemies, prohibitions against scorched-earth policies, and more. Depending on the jurist, treatments of jihad differed in exact rules and emphases. Although many jurists appeared concerned with combatant conduct for legalistic purposes, by the classical era of Islam there was a definite concern for moral warfare and attempts to limit collateral damage by some jurists.

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Of course, the mere enumeration of rules of jihad did not necessitate their enforcement, and it is clear that Muslims did not always follow them. For example, non-combatants were frequently slaughtered in eighth- and ninth-century Islamic conquests. In addition, Muslim-on-Muslim jihad was proclaimed at times during the classical era, even though these pronouncements should have been categorized as non-jihad hostilities. To be clear, examples of Muslim-on-Muslim violence in the past were not the same as contemporary Muslim-on-Muslim jihad, which is often rationalized by accusing enemies of being apostates. This is a modern development, though with ancient roots, as Qureshi will demonstrate in Question 7.

Although the concept of jihad continues to develop to this day, one theme remains consistent. Because jihad is a struggle for spiritual purposes, a mujahid enjoys the benefit of Allah’s blessing. This promise is in the Qur’an itself, and it partially explains the prevalence of jihad throughout Islamic history, especially among those most zealous for Allah’s approval.

THE USE OF TERROR

Although the Qur’an probably does not envision something similar to twenty-first century terrorism, it does command Muslims to use terror and spread fear: “Prepare against them all the strength and war horses that you can to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies.” This teaching of the Qur’an is corroborated through the hadith, as Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious with terror.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.220). Casting fear into the heart of Allah’s enemies is thus enjoined in the Qur’an and has a precedent in Muhammad’s life.

THE GREATER JIHAD AND THE LESSER JIHAD

A regular feature in Western scholarly discussions about jihad is the distinction between the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. The account reads: “A number of fighters came to the Messenger of Allah, and he said: ‘You have done well in coming from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.’ They said: ‘What is the greater jihad?’ He said: ‘For the servant [of God] to fight his passions.'” (Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd al-Kabir). From this tradition, a number of scholars and apologists defend the notion that jihad ought to be primarily understood as a spiritual struggle and secondarily understood as a physical one.

Although Sufi Muslims did develop the notion of “greater jihad” beginning in the twelfth century, there are significant problems with using the quotation above as a proof text for the primacy of peaceful jihad. Perhaps the most significant problem is that the Qur’an teaches the exact opposite. In Surah 4:95, the Qur’an says, “Not equal are those believers who are sedentary, other than the disabled, and those who undertake jihad in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has granted a grade higher to those who strive with their wealth and lives than to those who sit.” The exemption for the disabled makes the verse particularly clear. Physical fighting is more virtuous than not, according to the Qur’an.

This may be why none of the canonical collections of hadith include the tradition of the greater jihad; those compilers either did not know the hadith or considered it too dubious for inclusion in their collections. As Muslim scholars assert, and as Western scholars ought to agree, it is inappropriate to look at an entire doctrine through the lens of a single hadith, especially if that tradition is not in any of the canonical collections. The fact that the tradition directly contravenes a Qur’anic teaching should put the matter out of dispute: The notion that spiritual jihad is greater than physical jihad has no place in the foundations of Islam.

THE “SIXTH PILLAR” OF ISLAM

On the contrary, physical jihad was given such a place of prominence in the foundations of Islam that it has been honorifically referred to by some Muslim scholars as “the sixth pillar.” The Five Pillars of Islam are the minimum practices incumbent on all Muslims: proclaiming the shahada, reciting daily prayers, paying alms, fasting during Ramadan, and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. However, in the canonical hadith collections, a great emphasis is also placed on the Muslim’s duty to participate in jihad. Perhaps this is why, even in the earliest categorized hadith collections, the sections on jihad usually followed immediately after the sections on the Five Pillars. These traditions, as we shall see ahead, seem to imply that fighting is a requisite duty of all who are able.

CONCLUSION

Though the word jihad literally means “struggle,” and the Qur’an at times uses it in a spiritual context, the primary use of the word has always implied a physical struggle for spiritual purposes. The doctrine of jihad has been developing from the time of the Qur’an until today, in the classical era being expounded to include a code of conduct with injunctions designed to preserve innocent lives and lesson collateral damage. These rules, however, have not always been enforced.

The portrayal of jihad as primarily a spiritual endeavor, often by referring to the tradition of the “greater jihad,” is inconsistent with the Qur’an, the canonical hadith collections, Islamic history, and classical Islamic hermeneutics. It is an argument that has little grounding in reality. On the contrary, the foundations of Islam consistently portray jihad as primarily a physical struggle, as will be explored in Question 4 next Friday.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #4 – Is Jihad in the Qur’an and the Life of Muhammad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

10 Ways to Write a Poem

I found the following post on Poetry Breakfast, a WordPress blog I subscribe to. Please stop by: https://poetrybreakfast.com/

  1. Reassemble the torn bits of the poem
    he left on your desk in 1989
  2. Listen to the waves wash around
    sanded jellyfish and mermaids
  3. Retrace the steps he took
    to give you a birthday kiss
  4. Dance with her in post-stroke
    and wedding dresses
    and a virtual audience
  5. Feather the skinned knees of every
    smooth-cheeked kiss
  6. Drink down wine
    turned to water
    turned to winter
  7. Stretch the length of your spine
    along his hand and the lined page
  8. Taste the fat of coffee cream lyrics
    sung by a burning boy
  9. Lock eyes with clasped hands
    across happy hour smiles
    and congenital heart defects
  10. Commit it all to paper
    commit to no one
    commit soul to holy hands
    commit the rest to memory

By Annmarie Lockhart

About the Poet:  Annmarie Lockhart is the founding editor of vox poetica, an online literary salon dedicated to poetry, and Unbound Content, an independent poetry press. A lifelong Bergen County, New Jersey resident, she lives, writes, and works two miles from the hospital where she was born. You can read her words at fine journals online and in print.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #2 – Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

answering jihad

This is the second in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #2 – IS ISLAM A RELIGION OF PEACE?

Nabeel Qureshi writes, “Since I was born, I was taught by imams and my family that Islam is a religion of peace. What is surprising, in retrospect, is that this popular slogan may not have been around much earlier than that.”

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THE MEANING OF THE WORD ISLAM

Mark Durie, a research scholar of Linguistics and Islam at Melbourne School of Theology, informs us in an article for the Independent Journal, “Islam was first called the ‘religion of peace’ as late as 1930, in the title of a book published in India… The phrase was slow to take off, but by the 1970s it was appearing more and more frequently in the writings of Muslims for Western audiences.”

Whether or not one agrees that the slogan first appeared in the twentieth century, it is beyond dispute that the Qur’an never says, “Islam is the religion of peace,” nor do the traditions of Muhammad. This common misconception may stem from another, the oft-repeated assertion that the word Islam means “peace.” It does not. The Arabic word Islam means “surrender,” though it is related to the word for peace, which is salaam. Durie sheds light on the nature of the relationship and the origin of the word Islam: “The word Islam is based upon a military metaphor. Derived from aslama, ‘surrender,’ its primary meaning is to make oneself safe (salama) through surrender. In its original meaning, a Muslim was someone who surrendered in warfare.”

In an Islamic community, Muslims are taught that the “surrender” of Islam was a submission of one’s will and life to Allah, which Qureshi argues is noble and does not connote violence. But to contend that the word Islam signifies peace in the absence of violence is incorrect. Islam signifies a peace after violence, or under the threat of it. According to Islamic tradition, that is how Muhammad himself used the word. His warning to neighboring tribes is famous: Aslim taslam, which means, “If you surrender, you will have peace.” It was a play on words, as aslim also connotes becoming Muslim: “If you convert, you will have safety through surrender.”

So the word Islam refers to the peace that comes from surrender. Peaceful Muslim communities today present that imagery as a spiritual peace with Allah, but records of Muhammad’s life indicate that the notion of submission was also used in military contexts.

FROM ETYMOLOGY TO HISTORY

A more appropriate avenue for answering whether Islam is a religion of peace is the life and teachings of its prophet, Muhammad. The Qur’an and the traditions (hadith) of Islam’s prophet are far more definitive than the etymology of the word Islam. Qureshi plans a more in-depth discussion in Question #4, but suffice it to say for now that no one can honestly deny the presence of violence in both the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad. From the time Muhammad first obtained a following that could successfully fight, he launched raids and battles every year until he died. According to David Cook in Understanding Jihad, he commissioned or personally participated in eighty-six battles during that time, which is more than nine battles a year.

The Qur’an refers often to these campaigns, many times in approbation. For example, Chapter 8 of the Qur’an is about the Muslims’ first major battle, the Battle of Badr, and it teaches that Allah is the one who led the Muslims, that he compelled the Muslims to attack the Meccans, that he supplied them with angelic assistance, and that he was the one who slew the Meccans through the hands of the Muslims. There is no avoiding the presence and even the glorification of violence in this chapter, or elsewhere throughout Islam’s origins.

The battles of the early Muslim community seem to have escalated in a crescendo toward the end of Muhammad’s life, not halting with his death, but rather catapulting into global proportions. As soon as the prophet Muhammad died, there came the apostate wars, then the overthrow of Persia, and then the campaigns of Egypt and beyond. Within two centuries of the advent of Islam, Muslim conquests expanded Islamic territory from the shores of the Atlantic well into the valleys of India. At the end of that era, the most influential hadith collectors gathered whole books documenting Muhammad’s conduct and commands during times of warfare. Shortly after them, the great Islamic jurists systematically codified Sharia, Islamic law, devoting whole branches of jurisprudence to the proper practice of warfare.

For these reasons, no one can claim that “Islam is a religion of peace” in the sense that the religion has been historically devoid of violence, neither in its origins nor in the history of the global Muslim community. Apart from the first thirteen years of Islamic history, when there were not enough Muslims to fight, Islam has always had an elaborate practice or doctrine of war.

IN WHAT WAY MIGHT ISLAM BE A RELIGION OF PEACE?

Qureshi says, “In my experience, most Muslims who repeat this slogan have not critically considered the history of Islam. Those who have and [who] continue to say it mean it in one of two senses: a spiritual sense or an idealized sense.” In the spiritual sense, it is understood that Islam brings peace to a person through personal discipline, a right relationship with other Muslims, and submission toward the Creator, Allah. This sense of the slogan is irrelevant as a response to violent jihad.

In the idealized sense, it is generally meant that Islam brings peace to this world. Though battles have been fought, they were fought out of necessity. Ideally, the goal that Islam strives for is peace throughout the world. According to this sense, Islam can be a religion of peace despite the presence of war, so this sense of the slogan is also irrelevant as a response to violent jihad. (Some who espouse this view argue that the wars in the foundation of Islam were defensive endeavors, and argument that Qureshi will consider in Question #4.)

THE WEST AND THE RELIGION OF PEACE

Unfortunately, neither of these more viable and nuanced approaches appears to be in mind when Western media and Western leaders proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace. Rather, such proclamations appear to be little more than attempts to change public perception of Islam, albeit for a noble cause such as precluding retaliation against innocent Muslims. We often hear the loudest proclamations of Islam’s peacefulness in the wake of the most heinous jihadist violence. President George W. Bush called Islam peaceful after September 11. Prime Minister Tony Blair called Islam a peaceful religion after the July 7 London bombings. President François Hollande make the same proclamation after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This regular juxtaposition of extreme Islamic violence with a strong insistence that Islam is a religion of peace is obviously jarring, and not just to Westerners.

The Syrian Sheikh Ramadan al-Buti, considered one of the most influential traditionalist Sunni scholars in the world today, saw an insistence on Islam’s peacefulness as an effort by the West to emasculate Islam. If Western leaders and Western media repeat it enough, perhaps Muslims themselves will begin to believe it. He asserted in The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography that the West was seeking to “erase the notion of jihad from the minds of all Muslims.” In asserting this position, the sheikh showed characteristic Middle Eastern candor in his assessment of peace and violence in Islam. Tragically, he was himself killed by a suicide bomb in 2013.

CONCLUSION

Instead of seeking to redefine Islam, Qureshi believes we should consider more thoughtful and honest approaches. The question of whether Islam can be a religion of peace in spiritual or idealized senses ought to be considered, but the implication that Islam is a religion devoid of violence is simply false. The frequent proclamations by leaders and media members of Islam’s peacefulness may be well-intended, but more is needed than good intentions.

Instead, Qureshi says, “We must open our eyes and not allow ourselves to remain blind to evident facts in our attempts to either protect or sway Muslims. Though violence is writ large throughout the pages of Islamic history, including in its foundations, that does not mean our Muslim neighbors are violent. Muslims deserve to be treated with the kindness and respect due to all people.” In fact, their journeys may be leading many of them to confront Islam’s violence for the first time, as Qureshi’s journey once did, and they, too, may be approaching a critical three-pronged fork in the road.

Qureshi concludes, “May our eyes and our arms both be open to them.”

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #3 – What is Jihad? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Like a Roaring Lion, Seeking Whom He May Devour

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WHEN YOU YIELD YOURSELF to sin, you’re serving Satan, who is the author of sin. But when you yield yourself to obedience, you serve God, who is the author of righteousness.

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It’s easy to realize there are consequences (and rightly so) for what we do in everyday life, some worse than others. The impact is often multi-leveled. If you’re driving over the speed limit – something I used to do quite frequently – you could get a ticket or cause an accident. The speeding violation could cost you money and put points on your driver’s license. An accident could damage your car, other property or, worse yet, cost someone their life. Infidelity could cost your marriage, and typically leaves emotional scars on the couple and any children. Stealing a loaf of bread, even when out of necessity, puts you at risk for a criminal charge, which will blemish your record for years to come. Embezzling from your employer – one example from our local television station involved a bookkeeper taking nearly $100,000 from her employer – can land you in prison.

There’s much more to life than what we can see – the physical, natural, surface-level realm. Spiritual dynamics are constantly taking place around us. Frustration, resentment, unforgiveness – all can leave a blemish. Have you ever had a falling out with an individual, perhaps a family member? I am presently struggling with this very problem; something I brought on by my actions. It is easy to get embroiled in the dispute to the point that you cannot see your own part.  Pride goeth before the fall. Whether you recognize it or not, Satan is the one who influences us to respond in the wrong way.

Joyce Meyer, in her seminal book Battlefield of the Mind (1995), says, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7: ‘For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.'” Frankly, the longer I serve God and study the Bible, the more I realize the importance of God’s thoughts and words. Today, I long for finding the guidance and divine influence of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that as long as we are alive on this earth we will need to study what God’s Word teaches on the the various areas of thoughts and deeds.

Clearly, the devil is a liar. Jesus called him the father of lies and of all that is false. (John 8:44) He lies to you and me. He tells us things about ourselves, about other people, and about circumstances, that are just not true! He usually will not tell us the entire lie at one time. Instead, he begins by bombarding our mind with a cleverly devised pattern of propaganda, including a hierarchy of nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, fears, wonderings, reasonings, and theories. He moves slowly and cautiously – after all, well-laid plans take time. He has a strategy for his warfare. He has studied us for a long time, and he knows what will trip us up.

Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message says, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.” The New King James Version states, “…your adversary walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

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Because we are in a spiritual battle, we cannot afford to indulge the “luxury” of strife. God is a God of peace. (Romans 15:33; 16:20) Regarding the creation of mankind, God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26; 2:7) He directly breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils. Consider that God’s intent, at the moment when He breathed his breath of life into man, was to impart His image on mankind in full measure. I believe it was then and there that man became an image bearer of God. He at least hoped man would be of peace and not of strife. It is likely at this point that God transferred His agape love, His unconditional love, unto mankind with the desire that man would handle his every interaction with his fellow man in accordance with the kind of love we’re told about in 1 Corinthians 13. This is clearly the ideal.

Our life should be full of peace, not animosity and disunity. Of course I’m not saying that we (after the Fall) will ever live totally free from all wrangling and dissension, hatred and jealousy, but we should never just accept these attitudes, like it’s “game over,” nor should we promote them through our behavior. We ought to actively stand against such things and fight, recognizing that every time we get into strife a door is opened for anything the enemy wants to do in our lives. Think I’m nuts? Hey, how many times (consider the recent news events involving mass shootings) has strife or jealousy or mistrust or bigotry led to outright massacre? Too often! Satan gains access to our daily lives whenever there’s strife, and he has a giant appetite for death and destruction. He’s quite pleased when mankind turns from love and acceptance to carnage and plunder.

AN ONGOING BATTLE

Whether you realize it or not, we are at war. We’re in a fight over our souls. A battle which has the potential to end in spiritual death. Satan is walking about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil is trying to destroy our lives, moment by moment, from within. This is no typical war. In this battle, the casualties are our souls. The devil desires to rip your soul right out of your chest and drag it into the darkness forever. Worse, he wants to do this to our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. Essentially to everyone. A scary component of this war is that every man, woman and child on the planet is being dragged into combat whether they like it or not. There is no escape.

I’m not making this up. I wish I were. If you are attending a church where your pastor is not telling you about this struggle, please consider seeking a new, Bible-filled church. Our church leaders need to be talking about this. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Satan is ready to do battle at the drop of a hat. Peter warns us to be alert and of sober mind because the devil is on the prowl.

This is hard stuff, and I don’t find any of it particularly comforting. I will say that I lived well over 50 years in ignorance of these facts, or, worse, stupidly unafraid. The battle for my soul really went into full swing when I could not let go of anger and resentment toward my father, or anyone who would challenge me, defy me, or disappoint me. I laughed at the warnings I was given about drugs and alcohol. Surely I was bigger than addiction. I gave over to strife, opening the door just a crack, only to have mental illness, delinquency, selfishness, bitterness and active addiction claim me. We all have these types of issues, and we’re all vulnerable to conquest from the devil. Consider it a draft into servitude if you will.

IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP

Most Christians do not want to face this reality or acknowledge the stakes. Certainly, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on; maybe the Bible is wrong. Perhaps it’s all just allegory and illustration. Perhaps we can just lethargically run out the clock and then float up into the heavens and stroll along streets of gold. When we get there, we think God will embrace us and hand us our “honorable mention” trophy or, for some of us, our “conduct above and beyond” plaque. Maybe, but what about the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 regarding those who thought they were Christians because they said so? The Scripture says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (NKJV)

You see, even Christians tend to sleep when their outward circumstances are most pleasant. A man doesn’t sleep when he discovers his hot water bottle has been leaking all over his bed, but when an electric blanket has warmed up his bed to the ideal temperature and he can curl up under the sheets. When all is soft and comfortable, then he will say, “Soul, soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Take thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.” Admit it, you’ve been there. And while there, you’ve closed your eyes to the bad things you’ve been through, as well what’s going on around you now, and the terrible days that lie ahead. I remember all the painful, lonely, out-of-control times. The many years of active addiction. The sense that nothing would ever get better. My addiction, my brokenness, forced me to the throne of grace. I dropped to my knees and surrendered. I engaged with addictions professionals, fellow addicts and alcoholics, my sponsor, my pastor. I returned to the church of my youth, where I was saved and baptized at age 13. I made a habit of taking notes during men’s Sunday school and during the pastor’s message. I typically do not miss an opportunity today to assemble with fellow believers.

Funny, but I suddenly felt alive, relevant. I was wide awake. More spiritually engaged than I can ever remember. Few men sleep with a thunderstorm overhead and lightning striking nearby; many more sleep on a calm night. Now I’m not one to be ungrateful when given an completely new life; when renewed and rescued, set on the correct path, forgiven by God yet again, one more time. Moreover, God has called me to serve despite my decades of selfish, deliberate, sinful behavior. I start every day with enthusiasm, completely cognizant of the possibilities. It’s still fresh for me, but I know the potential remains for complacency to set in. As an alcoholic and addict in recovery, and a psychology major headed to graduate school for a master’s in professional counseling, I have at least a “head knowledge” of what happens when we get comfortable. Even as Christians. We “settle in.” We fluff our pillows and relax.

Ironically, we can get to a point where we rely on God less than when we did back when our world was crashing down around us. We tend to pray less often, and hardly ever on our knees. We claim being too busy, but we rationalize, saying to ourselves, “At least I talk to God in the shower or while driving to my next appointment.” We become less aware of God’s hand on our life. When the evening news becomes too laden with bad stories, we simply turn it off. Thankfully, I belong to a praying church. Several Sundays ago, our church held a special service. Instead of worship and a message, we held a “prayer walk.” We began in the sanctuary, then, after some basic instructions and prayer, we headed to the gymnasium of our affiliate Christian school. (Our church also operates a Christian school, grades K-12, which was founded in 1974.) Our pastor and elders had set up more than twenty individual prayer tables around the gym. Needs ranged from the missions we directly support, to missionaries in Muslim countries, our military men and women around the globe – especially those serving within harms way of North Korea – the fight against terrorism, various diseases, hurricane victims in Texas and Florida, our Christian academy, all the public schools and colleges in our region, those in the grips of active addiction, and so on.

My point? Arouse yourselves. Don’t become satisfied or complacent. Stay in the fight. Is Satan asleep? Or those powers and principalities, rulers of the darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms? Are they less dangerous than they used to be? No! There is no trial half as bad as imagining we are free from all trials. There is no defeat so great as imagining we are living lives of constant victory despite the headlines. It is often after we get confident about our status as God’s children, and rest in cliches, that we sleep; that we let our guard down. There is extreme danger in slumbering in the face of ever-present evil. We cannot defend ourselves when we’re sleeping. Nor can we stand in intercessory prayer for those in danger around us. Let’s face it: We need to arouse ourselves. There is work to be done. Did you know that Bible-believing Christians have never been so well off in this country. We have the resources to get anything done we set our minds and hearts to. We have everything we need except the will to do it.

A FINAL THOUGHT

When someone robs a bank and the police surround the building, they sometimes take a hostage. A bank typically has a great deal of security – locks, vaults, cameras, armed guards, top-notch alarm systems. One person with a gun isn’t really sufficient to go in and overpower such security measures. In spite of this, if the thief grabs a hostage and puts a gun to the hostage’s head, the thief knows his demands will be met. The people who run the bank aren’t willing to see a hostage killed just to protect a pile of money. One person with a gun and clip of ammo can challenge a multitude of police and S.W.A.T with automatic weapons simply by placing the life of one person in jeopardy.

Satan knows he can never overpower God in a direct confrontation. However, he saw how God gave Adam and Eve unconditional authority. Suppose he could get them – of their own free will – to yield their authority to him? God created the universe, and breathed life into Adam. He gave Adam a partner, a help-mate, Eve. When Adam and Eve defied God and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God had the right and the authority to simply push the reset button and start humanity all over again. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve, the devil, and all the angels caught up in Lucifer’s rebellion. Instead, He realized that to intervene in the affairs of this world in such fashion would violate his covenant with Adam and Eve. He had given dominion over the earth to Adam and his help-mate. And he gave them free will. If God intervened, He would have violated His Word.

What was God’s answer? Redemption. That’s a powerful word. Have you ever looked at its meaning? It means (i) the act of gaining or regaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt; (ii) the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. God had Adam’s attention. Indeed, He had his heart. He walked in complete harmony and fellowship with God. Nothing was wrong. Everything was beautiful. Exactly as God intended it to be. Then Satan took Adam and Eve hostage, plunging all of mankind into exile. Somehow, God had to regain possession of mankind. In the original Hebrew redemptio, redemption means repurchasing of captured goods or prisoners; the act of procuring the deliverance of persons or things from the possession and power of captors by the payment of an equivalent; ransom; release; as the redemption of prisoners taken at war; in theology, the purchase of God’s favor by the death and sufferings of Christ; the ransom or deliverance of sinners from the bondage of sin and the penalties of God’s violated law by the atonement of Christ.

Knowing that you were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless; the blood of Christ. – 1 Pet. 1:18-19

References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York, NY: AA Worldwide Services.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind. Fenton, MO: Warner Faith.

Addressing the Opioid Crisis Means Confronting Socioeconomic Disparities

FROM THE BLOG OF DR. NORA VOLKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE

October 25, 2017

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The brain adapts and responds to the environments and conditions in which a person lives. When we speak of addiction as a chronic disorder of the brain, it thus includes an understanding that some individuals are more susceptible to drug use and addiction than others, not only because of genetic factors but also because of stress and a host of other environmental and social factors in their lives that have made them more vulnerable.

Opioid addiction is often described as an “equal opportunity” problem that can afflict people from all races and walks of life, but while true enough, this obscures the fact that the opioid crisis has particularly affected some of the poorest regions of the country, such as Appalachia, and that people living in poverty are especially at risk for addiction and its consequences like overdose or spread of HIV. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers people on Medicaid and other people with low-income to be at high risk for prescription drug overdose.

Below is a pic of teens in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the heart of Appalachia.

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Some of the reasons have to do with access and quality of health care received by people in economically disadvantaged regions. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people on Medicaid are more likely to be prescribed opioids, at higher doses, and for longer durations – increasing their risk for addiction and its associated consequences. They are also less likely to have access to evidence-based addiction treatment. But psychological factors also play a role. Last year, economists Anne Case and Agnus Deaton attributed much of the increased mortality among middle-aged white Americans to direct and indirect health effects of substance use, especially among those with less education, who have faced increasing economic challenges and increased psychological stress as a result.

Environmental and social stressors are an important predictor of many mental disorders, and decades of research using animal models have told us a great deal about how such stressors increase risk for substance use, and even make the brain more prone to addiction. Among the best-known animal models of environmental stress and addiction risk are those involving social exclusion and isolation: Solitary animals show greater opioid self-administration than animals housed together, for example – a finding originally made famous by the “Rat Park” experiment of Bruce K. Alexander in the 1970s and replicated by other researchers over the subsequent decades.

Even more pertinent to the question of how low social status might affect addiction risk is research by Michael Nader, who showed that male monkeys who are dominant in their social group demonstrate less cocaine self-administration than lower-ranked (subordinate) animals or solitary ones. Some evidence points to brain circuitry in the insula – a region important in processing social emotions – that may link feelings of social exclusion to increased drug craving, as well as possibly altered dopamine-receptor availability in the striatum – part of the reward circuit – depending on social status. The relationship may be bi-directional. In other words, exclusion not only increases risk for using drugs, but increased drug use can increase social isolation further, creating a vicious cycle. Similarly, when people have strong family or community relationships, this often acts as a protective factor against the risk of becoming addicted, and can facilitate recovery among those striving to achieve it.

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Another animal model of environmental stress is an environment without opportunities for play, exploration, and exercise. Rodents housed in non-enriched environments have been shown to be more sensitive to the rewarding effects of heroin compared to those in more enriched environments. A team of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston recently explored the molecular mechanisms that mediate the protective effects of enriched environments. They analyzed the transcriptome – or the parts of the genome that are expressed – in the nucleus accumbens, which is part of the reward circuit, following cocaine exposure in animals raised in either enriched or dull environments. They identified a number of molecules and signaling pathways, including a pathway involving retinoic acid – a product of Vitamin A metabolism – that may underlie the effects of an enriched environment on the brain’s processing of reward. The researchers suggest that the mild stressors and surmountable challenges presented by an enriched environment act to “inoculate” against stress, making individuals in those environments more resilient.

Although highly simplified, animal models of social and environmental stress can tell us a great deal about how stressful human environments may act as risk factors for substance use and other adverse outcomes and, conversely, how socially supportive and rewarding environments may offer protection. Prevention efforts targeting some of the environmental determinants of substance use, especially in young people, have already shown great success by applying the principles of boosting social support and creating the human equivalent of “enriched environments.” For example, a primary prevention model implemented in Iceland drastically reduced teen substance use in that country by increasing parental involvement and youth participation in team sports.  

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Blame for the opioid crisis now claiming 91 lives every day is often placed on the supply side: overprescription of opioid pain relievers and the influx of cheap, high-quality heroin and powerful synthetics like fentanyl, which undoubtedly have played a major role. But we cannot hope to abate the evolving crisis without also addressing the lost hope and opportunities that have intensified the demand for drugs among those who have faced loss of jobs and homes due to economic downturns. Reversing the opioid crisis and preventing future drug crises of this scope will require addressing the economic disparities, housing instability, poor education quality, and lack of access to quality health care (including evidence-based treatment) that currently plague many of America’s disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities.

References

Volkow, N. (October 25, 2017). “Addressing the Opioid Crisis Means Confronting Socioeconomic Disparities.” [Web blog comment.] Retrieved from:  https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #1 – What is Islam?

This is the first in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

QUESTION #1 – WHAT IS ISLAM?

There are presently 1.6 billion Muslims globally, making Islam the world’s second-largest religion, and there are probably as many answers to the question, “What is Islam?” as there are adherents. The many individual expressions of the faith are valid experiences that give us insight into the lived reality of Islam. Qureshi says, “For that reason, it will be useful to start by sharing my personal experience of Islam while I was still a Muslim.”

QURESHI’S EXPERIENCE OF ISLAM AS AN AMERICAN MUSLIM

People often speak of religion in terms of beliefs and practices, and many introductions to Islam focus on the basic beliefs of Muslims, as represented by the Six Articles of Faith, and the mandatory practices of the Five Pillars of Islam. Yet that approach seems too distant and aloof to describe Qureshi’s experience as a Muslim. He says, “Islam was my identity, my culture, my worldview, my pride, even my raison d’être. For me, Islam was more than just a religion; it was my entire way of life.”

This passionate, comprehensive embrace of Islam was not unusual in Qureshi’s childhood environment. His great-grandparents were Muslim missionaries to Uganda, his grandparents were Muslim missionaries to Indonesia, his great-uncle was one of the earliest Muslim missionaries to the United States, and his uncle built one of the first mosques in America. While these relatives are idiosyncratic to Qureshi’s story, the convictions of his parents are reflective of many devout American Muslims. They were wholly dedicated to raising him as a pious Muslim child in what they perceived to be a morally permissive Western context.

What this means in essence was a constant remembrance of Allah and the teachings of Muhammad throughout Qureshi’s day, from waking to sleeping. Literally. Upon waking, he was taught to recite an Arabic prayer thanking Allah for giving him life; when lying down to sleep he prayed another prayer, affirming that his living and dying were in the name of Allah. Ceremonial washings and memorializing prayers filled his daily routine. His parents even taught him a standard prayer to recite on every occasion for which there was no other scripted prayer.

In addition to acts of ceremonial devotion, there were dozens of legal commandments intended to protect the community and glorify Allah. Men were forbidden to wear silk or gold, women were required to maintain modesty and veil themselves accordingly, and all Muslims were prohibited from usury and interest in their monetary transactions. Some commands functioned as identity markers for the Muslim community, such as the proscription of pork and alcohol, and the mandate to fast during Ramadan. Community was, of course, incredibly important for American Muslims as a minority. The majority of Americans did not understand them, and they felt it all the time, whether it be in the innocuous mispronouncing of their names, or the suspicious sideward glances at their women’s burqas. The mosque served as a haven where they could gather with others who experienced life in the same manner. Grievances from foreign lands were often laid to rest within the American Muslim community, as the local mosque was open to Sunni and Shia, Sufi and Ahmadi, Indian and Pakistani, rich and poor, black and white. Qureshi’s parents were focused on affirming Muslim unity and identity.

More importantly to Qureshi than all of this, Islam taught him to lower his gaze before women, to refrain from lust and other desires of the flesh, to respond to temptation by fasting, to consider the less fortunate and oppressed, to restrain himself from anger, to always tell the truth, to honor his parents and elders, and to follow countless other virtuous morals that he and his fellow believers often saw lacking in the amoral world around them. Through it all, what drove them ideologically were Allah and the prophet Muhammad. God, in his mercy, had sent guidance to mankind time and again, though man in his ignorance had rejected the messengers of Allah. Ultimately, Allah sent his chief messenger, Muhammad, to guide people as the perfect exemplar. Unparalleled in wisdom, character, and spiritual devotion, Muhammad led the new Muslim community from ignorance, through oppression, and into glorious victory for the sake of Allah. Since Muhammad was the perfect exemplar, Qureshi and his fellow Muslims followed his practices as best they could.

SO WHAT IS ISLAM?

But is Islam simply what Muslims experience, or is it something more? The sociologically inclined might say that Islam is simply the sum experience of all Muslims, but Qureshi says he would disagree, as would most Muslims. Islam is an entity beyond its people. Even if there were no one to experience it, we could still talk about Islam. Islam exists beyond experience. Qureshi says, “In my opinion, religions ought to be defined by the identifying characteristics that distinguished the earliest community from all others. For Islam, this boils down to exclusive worship of Allah and obedience to Muhammad. This understanding is verified by the shahada, the proclamation that every Muslim must recite in order to become Muslim: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger.” Even the prophet of Islam taught that this was sufficient to make one a Muslim.

There is much more to the religion of Islam, but at its core are the teachings of Muhammad and the worship of no other god than the one he proclaimed, Allah. These teachings are contained within Muslim scripture, the Qur’an, and in isolated traditions of Muhammad, often referred to collectively as the hadith.

DEMOGRAPHICS AND DENOMINATIONS

Yet Muslims interpret Muhammad’s teachings very differently, often along partisan lines of authoritative interpreters and cultural boundaries. That is why, in very broad strokes, Shia Islam looks different from Sunni Islam, why Bosnian Islam looks different from Saudi Islam, why folk Islam in the outlands of Yemen looks different from scholarly Islam in the halls of Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

Although the core of Islam is centered on the person of Muhammad in seventh century Arabia, the expression of Islam reflects local customs. That is one reason why it is important to remember that Islam is not primarily a religion of Arabs. [This is something that was quite new to me.] The country with the most Muslims in the world is Indonesia, followed by Pakistan, India, and then Bangladesh. None of those nations are Arab, and local customs manage to find their way into Islamic expression.

In addition, no two Muslims are exactly alike, and that is another reason why the expression of Islam is so varied. Qureshi said, “My sister and I were raised in the same sect by the same parents, but her practice and interpretation of Islam looks very different from how mine looked. Her leanings were far more Western and pluralist than were mine. I was more interested in learning about Muhammad and his teachings than she was, while she was more interested in American pop culture than I was.”

MUSLIMS ARE NOT ISLAM

Especially because of the great diversity of Islamic expression, it bears repeating that Islam is not Muslims, and Muslims are not Islam. Though Muslims are adherents of Islam, and Islam is the worldview of Muslims, the two are not the same, as many uncritically believe.

On one end of the spectrum, many assume that if the Qur’an teaches something then all Muslims believe it. That is false. Many Muslims have not heard of a given teaching, some might interpret it differently, and others may frankly do their best to ignore it. For example, even if it were demonstrated through careful hermeneutics that the Qur’anic injunction to beat disobedient wives (Qur’an 4:34) is meant to apply to all Muslims today, it would still have zero bearing in one particular family. Qureshi said, “My father would never beat my mother.”

On the other end of the spectrum, criticism of Islam is often taken to be criticism of Muslims. That is equally false. One can criticize the Qur’anic command to beat disobedient wives without criticizing Muslims. The accusations of Islamophobia, discussed in Question 12, often fails at this point. Islam is not Muslims, and one can criticize Islam while affirming and loving Muslims.

CONCLUSION

Thus Islam is defined by obedience to Muhammad’s teachings and worship of no other god but the one he proclaimed, Allah. Although there are as many as 1.6 billion expressions of Islam in the world, Muslims are not themselves Islam. Qureshi says, “In my experience as an American Muslim, there was absolutely no emphasis placed on violence, but a great deal of emphasis placed on morality, legality, community, and spirituality. For me and all the American Muslims I knew, Islam was a religion of peace with God and peace with man. But my experience of Islam is not the only one, and it cannot define Islam. For other Muslims, violence is a part of their expression of Islam, but their experience is no more definitive than mine was. To answer whether Islam truly is a religion of peace, we must consider what Islam teaches, not just what Muslims practice.”

Understanding Islam and Jihad

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Nabeel Qureshi, author of the New York Times bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, has written an engaging and revealing new book called Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Qureshi was raised Muslim. He was an eighteen-year-old American Muslim on September 11, 2001, proud of being both American and Muslim. His family taught him to love his country (America), and not just by their words. His father lived this teaching by serving in the U.S. Navy throughout Qureshi’s childhood, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander. Qureshi also has an uncle who served in the U.S. Army and another uncle who served in the U.S. Air Force. Growing up, Qureshi was surrounded by Muslims who loved and served America.

Interestingly, he indicates that it was Islam that commanded him to love and serve his country. Islam taught him to defend the oppressed, to stand up for the rights of women and children, to shun the desires of the flesh, to seek the pleasure of God, and to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. By his teenage years, he proclaimed Islam to all who would listen, and he usually started by informing them of a teaching that was knit into the fabric of his beliefs: Islam is a religion of peace. On September 11, he was confronted for the first time with the stark reality of jihad. It was not as if he had never heard of jihad before; he certainly had, but he knew it as a defensive effort buried deep in the pages of Islamic history. That is how the American imams alluded to jihad, and Qureshi said he and his fellow American Muslims never questioned it. In fact, they rarely, if ever, thought about jihad.

When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. Qureshi sincerely believed September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims than for the average American. Not only did they newly perceive their own insecurity from militant jihadists, as did everyone else, they also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. In the midst of this, while mourning their fallen compatriots and considering their own security, they had to defend the faith they knew and loved. They had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as they had always known. Qureshi remembers hearing a slogan at his mosque that he shared with many: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam.”

Qureshi began to investigate the Qur’an and the traditions of Muhammad’s life, and to his genuine surprise, he found the pages of Islamic history dripping with violence. How could he possibly reconcile this with what he had always been taught about Islam? When he asked teachers in the Muslim community for help, they usually rationalized the violence as necessary or dismissed the historicity of the accounts. At first, Qureshi followed their reasoning, but after hearing the same explanations for dozens if not hundreds of accounts, he began to realize that these were facile responses to non-Muslims who questioned Islam. Of course, Qureshi understood why they were doing it. American Muslims truly believed Islam was a religion of peace, and they were interpreting the data to fit what they knew to be true.

But was it true? After years of investigation, Qureshi had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundation of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take.

FROM QURESHI’S STORY TO MUSLIMS TODAY

Qureshi’s experience of Islam is, of course, his own, but his continued interactions with hundreds of Muslims confirmed for him that his experience as an American Muslim was not far from the norm. Perhaps his parents were more devout than most, his family more patriotic, his sect more explicitly peaceful, but by and large he saw his own former thoughts and convictions in the devout American Muslims he encounters today. In addition, the present climate in America is more than ever reminiscent of the days and months following September 11. The public at large is questioning whether Islam is a religion of peace, just like before, and Qureshi encounters Muslims who are providing the same defenses and explanations that he provided after September 11, before he knew better.

He said he does not doubt that Muslims who investigate the history of Islam from the primary sources are concluding, as he did, that the foundations of Islam are violent. Such Muslims are faced with the same choices he faced: apostacy, apathy, or radicalization. That is, turn from the faith completely, decide the truth doesn’t matter, or join the jihadists. For them, radicalization is not just a paranoid hypothetical, but a potential reality. Thousands of Muslims raised in the West have become mujahideen, fighters with various jihad groups, even though the battles are often centered in Middle Eastern countries. Presently, twice as many British Muslims fight for ISIS than for Britan’s armed forces, leaving their peaceful Muslim families grieving. This includes young women, such as the tragic case of the three girls from Bethnal Green in London.

The radicalized Muslims were explicitly introduced to violent traditions of early Islam, they became convinced of their authenticity, and they intentionally chose to follow them. Whether or not this is always the defining factor for radicalization should not cloud the fact that it is a universal factor. There is no need to remain bewildered any longer. When mujahideen themselves tell us their reasons for becoming radicalized, if we would simply listen carefully to what they say, we would find the foregoing to be true without exception.

There is a reason why both Muslims and non-Muslims might want to avoid the elephant in the room. Acknowledging violence built into the foundation of Islam could lead people to see Islam as a necessarily violent religion, and by uncritical extension, it might lead people to see all Muslims as inherently or latently violent people. Qureshi says we must boldly assert that these are false and dangerous conclusions, but that does not mean we ought to close our eyes to a common impetus for radicalization. Until we diagnose and respond to the actual causes for radicalization, we will continue to lose the sons and daughters of peaceful Muslim parents to terrorism.

EIGHTEEN QUESTIONS

Qureshi indicates that September 11 was a pivotal juncture in his life that ultimately led him to study the primary sources of Islamic history. This, he says, is often a watershed moment for many Muslims who are presently wrestling with the path they will take. Some may very well choose jihad. If we care about these young men and women, and the peaceful Muslim families they come from, to say nothing of the countless innocent lives they may take in the name of jihad, Qureshi believes it is critical that we carefully and thoughtfully engage the study of jihad with both truth and compassion. We cannot close our eyes or indulge in wishful thinking. It would seem the matter is not going away.

He also believes we must, at the same time, be careful not to slide down the slippery slope of assuming every Muslim is a threat. Of the thousands of Muslims he has encountered, only one has become radicalized to the point of explicitly supporting violence, and none have actually undertaken violent jihad. It is wrong, he says, to paint all Muslims with the same brush; we need to see them as individuals, the vast majority of whom just wish to live life, take care of their families, and peacefully honor God.

In his own words, Qureshi says, “I do not claim to have all the answers, especially answers regarding public policy, but there is certainly a first step in responding well to radical Islam, whether individually or collectively. We must understand it for what it is. To that end, I will respond in the pages ahead to eighteen questions people most commonly ask me about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, I will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in my view the best way forward.”

Qureshi is quick to remind us that, contrary to what a lot of frightened Americans believe lately, most Muslims in the world are not violent people, despite their desire to intentionally and genuinely follow Islam. That is why he hopes to also explain their perspectives, so we can understand our Muslim neighbors and show them the love and compassion that all people deserve, devoid of fear and mistrust.

Qureshi says, “Finally, it behooves me to mention that I am a Christian who left Islam after investigating the foundations of Islam and Christianity. This subject matter is deeply personal to me, and I do not pretend to be unbiased, especially since all people are biased to varying degrees. That said, in this book, I am trying to be as objective as I can be in presenting the information about jihad without judgment. I try to keep explicit Christian views out of the discussion, although a few certainly come through in the eighteenth Question and in the conclusion. I ask your pardon, but I really do feel that the Christian teaching of loving one’s enemies, even in the face of death, might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today. Not only does it allow us to counter jihad, it also enables us to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity: as image bearers of God.”

As the writer/publisher of The Accidental Poet blog, it is my intention to present each of Nabeel Qureshi’s Sixteen Questions  – which appear in separate chapters in his book – weekly, one each Friday, beginning tomorrow, for the next sixteen weeks. In the seventeenth week I will present Qureshi’s concluding remarks. Qureshi is affiliated with the ministry of Ravi Zacharias, a former Buddhist from India who converted to Christianity and is one of today’s leading apologists. I highly recommend Zacharias’s book The End of Reason.

Please take a few minutes to hear about this challenging and frequently polarizing subject from Nabeel Qureshi as he gives a glimpse into his book by clicking on the link below. May God bless us all.

High-Achieving and Religious Students At-Risk Youth For Substance Abuse?

New research shows high-achieving kids are more likely to drink and use drugs during their teen years and develop addictions by adulthood.

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DO YOU ASSUME THAT since your kid gets good grades and goes to a good school that they’re not drinking or doing drugs? Think again. That’s the takeaway from two new studies suggesting that academically gifted youths are more likely to abuse substances, both as teens and adults. One surveyed 6,000 London students over nine years. Those with the highest test scores at age 11 were more likely to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana in adolescence – and were twice as likely to do so “persistently by age 20.”

Notably, a study taken by Arizona State University (ASU) study found that high school students who were more afraid their parents would punish them were less likely to drink or get high as adults. One professor, Luthar, said her guidance for parents is to start the conversation in middle school, and not to downplay the seriousness of underage or or excessive drinking. She says, “Tell them it only takes one arrest, and all the things they are working for so hard can be derailed.”

BETWEEN 23% AND 40% OF HIGH-ACHIEVING UPPER MIDDLE-CLASS BOYS ARE DIAGNOSED WITH DRUG OR ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE BY AGE 26 ACCORDING TO A STUDY OF NEW ENGLAND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS.

The ASU study followed 330 high-achieving high school students from suburban New England schools. It found that their frequency of drunkenness and use of marijuana, stimulants, cocaine, and other drugs was substantially higher than the norm for their peers. By age 26, they were two to three times more likely to have been diagnosed with an addiction.

“The assumption has always been that if there is a group of kids that are at greatest risk of addiction, it is those living in poverty. Our data shows there is another group at great risk here,” says Suniya Luthar, lead author and ASU psychology professor. Luthar suspects pressure to excel at AP courses and extracurricular activities and get into a good college may drive some to self-medicate. While not all students in her study came from wealthy families, the schools were in affluent neighborhoods where access to disposable income makes it easier to purchase fade IDs, alcohol, and drugs.

Parents with high cognitive ability and socioeconomic status also tend to drink more themselves, thereby modeling a relaxed disposition regarding alcohol consumption as a means of reward or a way to unwind after a hard day. Some of these parents take a laissez-faire attitude when they catch their high-achiever child drinking alcohol. Luthar says, “People assume, ‘How bad can it be? She’s still on the honor roll.'”

We all have a basic need to receive positive regard from the important people in our lives (primarily our parents). Those who receive unconditional positive regard early in life are likely to develop unconditional self-regard. That is, they come to recognize their worth as a person, even while concluding that they are not perfect. Such people are in a great position to actualize their positive potential. Unfortunately, some children repeatedly are made to feel that they are not worthy of positive regard. As a result, they acquire conditions of worth; standards that tell them they are lovable and acceptable only when they conform to certain guidelines. Next comes acquiring a distorted view of themselves and their experiences.

Consider the song “Perfect” by Alanis Morissett:

Sometimes is never quite enough;
If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love.
Don’t forget to win first place,
Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face.

Be a good boy,
Try a little harder,
You’ve got to measure up,
Make me prouder.

How long before you screw it up?
How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up?
With everything I do for you
The least you can do is keep quiet.

Be a good girl,
You’ve gotta try a little harder;
That simply wasn’t good enough
To make us proud.

I’ll live through you,
I’ll make you what I never was;
If you’re the best, then maybe so am I;
Compared to him compared to her,
I’m doing this for your own damn good,
You’ll make up for what I blew;
What’s the problem, why are you crying?

Be a good boy,
Push a little farther now,
That wasn’t fast enough
To make us happy;
We’ll love you just the way you are
If you’re perfect.

23% OF FULL-TIME COLLEGE STUDENTS ABUSE OR ARE DEPENDENT ON DRUGS AND ALCOHOL – THAT’S TWO AND A HALF TIMES THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.

Daily marijuana use is at its highest level among young adults of college age since the early 1980s, with 4.9% of college students reporting daily use, and 12.8% of non-college peers admitting to smoking pot every day. What’s wrong with a little pot smoking? you might ask. There has been a major movement toward legalization of medical marijuana, as well as recreational marijuana, giving the impression that opponents of marijuana are guilty of much ado about nothing. According to a September 2017 study, however, new research suggests that marijuana users may be more likely than non-users to misuse prescription opioids and develop prescription opioid use disorder. The study was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with Columbia University.

Heavy alcohol use appears to be higher in college students than in non-college peers. Binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks in a row) is practiced by 32.4% of all college students, compared to 28.7 % among those in the same peer group who are not enrolled in college. 40.8% of college students report frequent intoxication (having been drunk) According to Nowinski (1990), a certain degree of rebelliousness develops in the adolescent. This seems to be linked to tension that exists between teens and authority, and reflects the underlying dynamic of individuation. This basic developmental process is the pathway that leads from childhood to adolescence. If it is successful, individuation ends in identity and autonomy. One key dynamic in individuation is the development of willpower. It is important to note that willpower without the ability to plan and delay gratification – this is what the Bible calls temperance or self-control – is dangerous; both are necessary, and teens who develop willpower without self-control are apt to be reckless and to get into trouble. This is especially true of substance abuse.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Substance abuse has fast become America’s number one health problem. Of primary concern is the opiate epidemic, including misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers, especially OxyContin and Fentanyl, and heroin. The substance abuse problem touches the life of every American child, family, congregation, community, and school, and is no respecter of socioeconomic status or culture. Interestingly, however, the opiate epidemic seems to be primarily hitting the category of white low and middle class males between the ages of 18 and 49. Geographic evaluation of the trend shows an initial explosion from within the Appalachian region. This seems to be due to the prevalence of occupations requiring hard labor, with frequent work-related injuries, and eventual economic collapse secondary to joblessness.

Given the tremendous negative impact of substance abuse, researchers, policy makers and practitioners look to identify factors that protect people from initiating the use of drugs, and help people who have become addicted to recover. A growing body of research suggests that religion is an important protective factor against substance use, and that religion may help people who are trying to recover from substance abuse by helping them find meaning, direction and purpose in life. Given the likely impact clergy can have on their congregation, they should pursue continuing education about the causes, consequences, risks and protective factors for substance abuse. Additionally, clergy and faith-based leaders should take a public stand against the use of drugs that is consistent with their personal and denominational beliefs and values.
I believe clergy and church leaders should identify and use congregation members with training, expertise, and experience in the area of addiction (e.g., social workers, addictions counselors, doctors, nurses, and people in recovery) to educate the congregation and create programs and ministries that address the problem. This is especially important for churches who also operate or are affiliated with a Christian-based school. It is advisable for churches to make space available for prevention activities, as well as for people affected by substance abuse (such as Celebrate Recovery).

 

REFERENCES

Community Commons. (October 27, 2016). “Mapping the Opioid Epidemic in the U.S.” [Web blog article.] Retrieved from: https://www.communitycommons.org/2016/10/mapping-the-opioid-epidemic-in-the-us/

Marshall, L. (October 2017). “Smart, Privileged, and At-Risk.” WebMD. 55.

NIH. (September 26, 2017). “Marijuana Use is Associated With an Increased Risk of Prescription Opioid Misuse and Use Disorders.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2017/09/marijuana-use-associated-increased-risk-prescription-opioid-misuse-use-disorders

Nowinski, J. (1990). Substance Abuse in Adolescents & Young Adults: A Guide to Treatment. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.

 

Replacing Darwin: During Reformation Month!

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO this month, the Reformation was initiated by a German priest and professor named Martin Luther, and continued by others such as Calvin and Zwingli. Luther’s letter to his ecclesiastical superiors denouncing the sale of indulgences included his 95 Theses. Luther opened with theses 1 and 2, which stated, ¹”When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. ² This word cannot be understood as referring to the Sacrament of Penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.” Luther added, “Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.” (Thesis No. 21)

In any event, Luther began the Reformation in October 1517. It was a movement that called the church back to the authority of God and away from the fallible opinions of man as vicar, which had led to severe compromise of the clear teaching of the Word of God. The Bible-upholding movement was so powerful that today we are still experiencing the effects of this historical shaking of the very foundation of doctrine that spread from Germany to the entire world.

Throughout history, whenever we witness a great work of God, our adversary the devil, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (See Ephesians 2:2) aggressively tries to undo the truth. I believe one of the major tactics Satan uses to counter the good effects of the Reformation relates back to the Book of Genesis. It began with a claim that the earth was very old, based on supposed geologic evidences (that grew out of a belief in naturalism and spread widely in the early 1800s) of slow, natural processes, with nothing supernatural involved. An old age for the earth was necessary to justify the ideas behind naturalism, and the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species soon followed in 1859.

Darwin’s book was an attempt to explain how animals and plants arose by natural processes, not supernatural means (intelligent design) revealed and documented for us by the Creator Himself in Genesis. Ultimately, armed with this cache of scientific “evidence” that the earth was supposedly millions of years old, and the supposition that molecules eventually gave rise to man, this led to the idea that man evolved from ape-like creatures, compromising the biblical teachings of theologians. Man decided that Genesis should be regarded as mythology. From both inside and outside the church, the Darwinian revolution changed the hearts and minds of generations concerning biblical authority. To this day, most church leaders and Christian academic institutions are infected by the religion of naturalism.

The result has been devastation in our churches. Today about two-thirds of our young adults are leaving the church in America, and very few are returning. There is a lack of trust in biblical authority and Scriptural knowledge in America today. See my blog post on biblical illiteracy by clicking here: https://theaccidentalpoet.net/2017/09/01/gods-point-of-view/ Today, church attendance in America is down 22 percent compared to a study taken in 2014. (See Pew Research Center Study here: http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/ ) America’s once very Christianized culture is now divided between an aggressive secularist philosophy and a dwindling number of those with a Christian worldview.

Sadly, compromise in Genesis has undone much of what the Reformation had accomplished. It’s why at Answers in Genesis (https://answersingenesis.org/) their theme for this year has been “Igniting a New Reformation.” We need to see a new reformation in the hearts and minds of God’s people in our churches before a much-needed spiritual revival can occur in this nation – a country that’s becoming increasingly hostile towards Scripture, and, unfortunately, Christianity.

This month, to honor the Bible and the Great Reformation, Answers in Genesis scientist Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson – PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Harvard – has launched what is considered a ground-breaking new book entitled Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species. You can order a copy by clicking here: Replacing Darwin. Richard Dawkins, militant atheist extraordinaire, and author of The God Delusion, said of Darwin’s theory of evolution, “Big enough to undermine the idea of creation but simple enough to be stated in a sentence, the theory of natural selection is a masterpiece.” Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford. He was University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 to 2008. I have watched his debates with Giles Fraser, John Lennox, and Denis Noble.

Jeanson’s book is the first major project to carefully research and then offer a direct frontal attack on the very essence of the arguments Darwin used to promote evolution, and which have become popularized in our culture (including also a large part of the church). If you enjoy studying apologetics, this book is a must for your personal library. Even if you don’t understand some of the technical material, you will grasp the basic arguments against evolution that people need to learn today. I’m reminded of the observation of Hosea the prophet: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Debates between the likes of Richard Dawkins and Dinesh D’Souza are often portrayed in the popular media as “science versus faith,” but in reality these disputations are more accurately “an atheistic worldview versus a biblical worldview.” Despite what we’re lead to believe, evolution is not mainstream science, but rather a philosophical view of earth history based on speculation. Many Christians in the field of science have noted that there is no conflict between true science and the Bible. Denying evolution does not, as many atheist celebrities claim, hinder the development of new science and technology. Dr. Raymond V. Damadian, inventor of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine – the precursor to the MRI machine we use today – said, “Regarding evolution, the scientific evidence needed to sustain it does not exist.”

All that the paleoanthropologists have to show for more than 100 years of digging are remains of fewer than 2000 of our ancestors. They have used this assortment of jawbones, teeth, and fossilized scraps, together with molecular evidence from living species, to piece together a supposed line of human decent going back 5 to 8 million years to the time when humans and chimpanzees allegedly diverged from a common ancestor. Anthropologists supplemented their extremely fragmented fossil evidence with DNA and other types of molecular evidence from living animals to try to work out an evolutionary scenario that will fit. But this genetic evidence really doesn’t help much either, because it contradicts fossil evidence. N.A. Takahata, author of “Genetic Perspective on the Origin and History of Humans,” (1995) said, “Even with the DNA sequence data, we have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.”

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.” – 1 Corinthians 3:19