Thursday, December 22, 2016

Images from Indonesia: My December 2016 Peacemaking Project

Dear Ones,

Thanks MUCH to all of you for your prayers and words of encouragement as I traveled to Indonesia for two weeks this month. I am wiped out due to jet lag and limited sleep, but it is absolutely soul-thrilling to be back in the company of my beautiful Carrie and our three delightful kids. : )

As for the journey around Indonesia, what a ride!!! I had amazing visits with dear friends and made many new friends as well--including meeting with a group of village elders and a surprise visit with the governor of a major province. All along the way, there were stunning opportunities to interact with beautiful people.

My Muslim hosts loved me lavishly at every turn, and I count it a great privilege to call them my dear friends and my partners in the cause of peace. 

Here's a short clip that should give you just a taste of my work and experiences along the way.

Trying to follow Jesus and wage peace,
Thomas



PS: Would you consider a donation to sustain and grow our work? December is when we do most of our fundraising for the year, and we would be grateful if you would partner with us via a donation. For details regarding how to give online or with a check, CLICK HERE. For all of you who already give so generously, we have nothing but gratitude in our hearts for you. Thank you! 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Muslim to Registry in the US?: Why This Jesus-Follower / Peacemaker / Pastor is Deeply Alarmed


Last week, as reports circulated that President-elect Trump was considering instituting a Muslim registry in the United States, I made a strong statement condemning this idea and stated with absolute resolve that, if it would make a difference, I would register myself as a Muslim in solidarity with my Muslim friends.

As you might imagine, my statement generated quite a lot of response. While some folks responded with clarifying questions and others noted their outright disapproval, the overwhelming majority of responses were extremely supportive—and this massive show of support came from Jesus-followers like me, from frightened but grateful Muslims, and even from non-believers.

I am genuinely grateful for each of you who responded, whether in critique or in support. It is my deep conviction that we need each other, because if we only dialogue with people who see things exactly as we do, then we miss amazing opportunities to learn from the different perspectives that are out there.

Thus, while I remain passionately convinced that this Muslim registry concept is a harmful one, I want to honor all of you by giving thoughtful responses to your questions and by doing my best to help you understand why I see things as I do in this case.




THE PROPOSED POLICY


I would encourage you to do your own research into the details of what has been proposed. For now, I will try to give you the big picture.

Last year at a campaign event, Mr. Trump told a reporter that he wanted to create a Muslim registry as a way of keeping track of immigrants to the US from majority Muslim countries. Last week, this talk was revived when a Trump advisor brought it up again in an interview. Later in the week, when asked in a TV interview if there was legal precedence for such a policy, a different Trump ally alluded to the Japanese internment camps.



WHY IT WILL MAKE US LESS SAFE


I have made it clear that I think that creating a Muslim registry is a horrific idea and will attempt to explain why.

It is important to note that we are talking about a policy affecting LEGAL immigrants. A few folks who responded to me last week raised the issue of border security. This policy will have zero positive impact on border security, because illegal immigrants will not voluntarily sign any sort of registry. This Muslim registry, then, would only impact immigrants who have been granted legal residency by the United States government.

The thing is that ALL legal immigrants are already registered. Our government knows who they are, what countries they come from, what their backgrounds are, etc. Our government is free to organize its database of refugees however it wishes. And our government can use its legal surveillance resources to keep an eye on any of these immigrants.

So, what then is gained by creating a second registry just for Muslim immigrants? The answer, as long as we are talking about national security, seems to be ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. This is why a similar registry started after 9-11 was later scrapped—because it was determined to be redundant and not at all helpful for catching bad guys.

I will take this a step further. I am convinced that the mere talk of a Muslim registry makes us all immediately less safe, as it fuels radicalism around the world.

The true radical extremists are constantly in the ear of young Muslims around the world, saying to them, “America is your enemy oppressor. Americans hate Muslims, and Americans want to destroy your way of life.” Every time some American political leader or Christian leader gets on TV and makes a reckless, sweeping generalization about Muslims, those words simply add fuel to the extremist fire. Thus, you can imagine that extremists around the world are having a field day with the Trump team’s comments about a Muslim registry and a comparison to the Japanese internment camps.



HOW THIS IS AFFECTING MY MUSLIM FRIENDS IN AMERICA


As you can imagine, my Muslim friends are absolutely and utterly distraught that this conversation is even taking place. They feel humiliated and crushed, and they fear for the future that their children may face. I can feel the weight of this, because they are my friends and because I share life with them and because I have been loved deeply by them.

Honestly, I'd rather stay out of this fray. But I could not remain silent and then hold my head up in the presence of my Muslim friends and pretend that I'm loving them. Love always costs something, and sometimes the cost is bigger than others. I'm willing to pay whatever it costs to love my Muslim friends well in the way of Jesus. It is noteworthy to me (and comforting) to know that there is near absolute unanimity on this issue among the Christians I know who share life with Muslims.



QUESTIONS FROM FRIENDS


If you signed a Muslim registry, wouldn’t you be denying Jesus?

First, call me an optimist, but I don’t expect to sign any registries. As I stated above, the idea being floated currently applies only to legal immigrants. As I am not an immigrant, I could not sign this particular list. However, if this thing snowballed and led to something even more outrageous (like a registry for all Muslims in America), then I absolutely would sign it—not because I am an adherent of the Islamic religion but rather because I believe in religious freedom for all of humanity. When I travel to countries where Christians are a minority, it undercuts my message of respect and rights for all if my own beloved home country does not grant those freedoms to all its residents.

This question about denying Jesus is a most important question, and it cuts to the core of this matter for me. Here’s where I am on it. If our government began to insist that all Muslims register, I am convinced (for myself only) that I would be denying Jesus if I did NOT sign that registry in solidarity with them. Jesus compels me to love God by loving others lavishly, and he requires me to extend this practical love to everyone—even those who feel like my enemies. (Here are 22 ways Jesus compels me to love God by loving others-- http://www.incomparabletreasure.com/2015/07/if-i-really-followed-jesus-how-would-my.html.)

Furthermore, in the vein of getting off on a technicality, the term Muslim quite literally means “one who submits.” I often use this as a light-hearted bridge with my Muslim friends when I tell them that I am a Muslim because I submit to God through Jesus. : )


Are you going all political on us?

I sure hope not. All who know me well know that, when I talk politics, I am always careful not to get partisan. The bottom line for me is that I find both admirable and disheartening things in the agendas of both major parties, and thus I cannot in good conscience promote either party. Furthermore, I never want the way I express my own personal convictions about politics to be a stumbling block that keeps folks from encountering the love of God through me. I believe it is good to express my views on politics (and religion, for that matter), but if I’m following Jesus then I must always do so with a humility that allows me to approach others as if I have plenty to learn.


How can you partner with organizations that don’t share your values?

To provide context, this question came in light of my decision to sign a statement pledging to register as a Muslim (should our country get to that point). The statement was being circulated by a handful of organizations, and some of my Christian friends find those organizations to promote values that are in opposition to their own values. I admit that I’m not always a fan of these organizations, either. But here are two very key principles that have transformed my work and outreach for the better:

  1. Affirm truth wherever you find it. 
  2. Find common ground with others and begin a relationship/partnership there. 
Speaking as an evangelical, I believe our tribe’s isolationist approach has seriously hindered our outreach and impact. A much better approach is to build real authentic friendship wherever I can, and I have found that I can build friendship with almost anyone by starting on common ground. Then, in the context of real partnership, we can talk openly and respectfully, as friends, about our differences. To bring this back to Jesus, he got in big trouble for being friends with all the wrong people, and he calls me to follow him.

So, I have no problem at all partnering with both people and organizations with whom I have real differences.


Isn’t this Muslim registry about border security?

No, as far as I understand it and as I explained above, this policy would only affect legal immigrants and therefore would do nothing to make our borders more secure.



TRAVELING IN DECEMBER TO A MAJOR MUSLIM COUNTRY


On December 6, I am slated to leave for a whirlwind visit (10 flights in 14 days) to a predominantly Muslim country, where I will be the guest of key Muslim leaders.

As their way of pushing back against extremist ideology, these Muslim leaders regularly invite me to teach in their country in Muslim conferences and even at Islamic universities. Usually, I simply share stories from our Peace Catalyst work throughout the United States, where we challenge Christians to love Muslims well in the way of Jesus by befriending them and advocating for their just and kind treatment. Then I explain to my Muslim audiences that I am compelled to love Muslims well because of Jesus, who said that the greatest thing I can do with my life is to love God by loving all others practically, including and especially those with whom I have real differences.

At these events in this Muslim country, I always deeply encouraged by the response and am moved by the real sense of the love that is shared among all who want peace, whether their exterior label reads Muslim, Christian, or something else.

A couple of years ago, after I shared this message at one Islamic university, a Muslim professor followed my talk with some passionate remarks of his own. Essentially, he said that I was their Christian brother from America and that he was deeply inspired by our work with and on behalf of Muslims in the United States. Then, he challenged the all-Muslim audience with word that went something like this: 


Just as Peace Catalyst is advocating for Muslims in the United States (where there are more Christians), we must build real friendship with the Christians in our country. We must sit with them and learn about to their hardships. And then we must advocate for these Christians in our midst, who as a minority group often are mistreated.

The reality, however, is that not all in this Muslim country want peace, just as I am convinced that not all in America want peace. (This is the reason I am not naming the country, as I don’t wish to stir up unnecessary trouble for my hosts or for me.) There is profit and power to be gained from violence and extremism, and this struggle will not end anytime soon. There are plenty of beautiful, kind people (Muslims, Christians, and many others) who are working to undermine the message of extremism, but I can assure you that talk in the U.S. of a Muslim registry severely hinders these peacemaking efforts. To be clear, when leaders in our country engage in this sort of reckless anti-Muslim talk, it reinforces everything extremists are trying to whisper in the ears of young Muslims around the world.

Thus, while I eagerly look forward to a reunion with my beautiful Muslim friends in the lovely country I will visit next month, I’ll be taking an extra glance over my shoulder this time around—thanks to the reckless rhetoric of a Muslim registry, which is akin to handing extremists a loaded gun.



THE WORLD IS WATCHING


When I visit this Muslim country (my destination next month), I am often hosted by one particular Muslim family. These beautiful folks consistently overwhelm me with their kindness and generous hospitality.


A couple of weeks ago, I got a text message from the wife/mother in my host family.

On the other side of the globe, this dear lady had seen the reports of hateful acts and even violence that ensued in the days after our election, and she had real questions and concern. In the course of our exchange of text messages, my friend shared with me a lovely verse from the Qur’an that encourages love for others. This served as a segue into a discussion about the ways and words of Jesus. Ultimately, in summation, my Muslim friend sent me these words: “If you don’t love, you don’t know God. For God is love.” Those of you who know the New Testament will recognize those words. They are verbatim from 1 John 4:8.

I am with my Muslim friend and the author of 1 John. We may rightly hold different convictions about all sorts of things, including politics, but if our perspectives and subsequent actions are not rooted in and driven by love—then we are neither following Jesus nor representing the heart of God in the world.

This is a constant struggle for all of us—me absolutely included. But will you join me in doubling down on love? If we follow Jesus into this sort of putting-others-first way of life, I am convinced God will use us to change the world for the better.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Muslims and Christians Gather to Hear the Story of Mark and Nancy Siljander

On Saturday, July 23, Apex Mosque (Apex, NC) graciously hosted Mark and Nancy Siljander and built an event around them. Although my friends at the mosque expressed disappointment that there were not more Muslims present, I thought a nice crowd (maybe 80?) of Muslims and Christians turned out to here Mark's message. Mark spoke for about 90 minutes formally, and then after the Muslims' evening prayer (Maghrib) he answered questions informally for another 75 minutes (until 10pm).

Unfortunately, there is no recording of Mark's talk at the mosque. The good news, however, is that Mark and Nancy delivered the sermon at our church (Fellowship of Christ) the following morning, and we did manage to capture that message. 

Mark covers most of the sermon, but Nancy comes in quite powerfully for the last seven or so minutes. I believe you'll be significantly challenged and encouraged by their story, which includes a stint as a US Congressman, traveling the world to share peacemaking ways of Jesus in the most troubled of locales, and a year as an inmate in a maximum-security US federal prison (in which Mark brought Jesus' love and peace to violent gangs). 

At our church, the response to the Siljanders' message was overwhelmingly positive. For example, one older man came to me in tears after the service and said that he was being set free by Mark and Nancy's words. A younger man confided that God used their message to convict him of a harsh attitude toward those with whom he has differences, and he already had a list of people he would approach to seek forgiveness. Very good stuff! 


Carrie and I have love and gratitude in our hearts for each of you! And thanks to all of you who prayed for this event at the mosque. It was a success, and we ask you to join us in praying that this gathering will lead directly to more and deeper friendships between Muslims and Christians.

Trying to follow Jesus and wage peace,
Thomas

PS: Here are a few images from the Apex Mosque gathering with the Siljanders.





Thursday, June 16, 2016

Muslim-Christian Dinner Club: You Can Do It, Too!!!

In our metro area, we wanted to create a partnership between a mosque and a church around one simple idea—finding a way to get people together who have reason to remain isolated from one another.

Thus, we formed the Apex Mosque-Fellowship of Christ Dinner Club.

In May, we Davises hosted the Muslim-Christian Dinner Club! With children,
our gathering numbered about 30. We always start with a potluck meal.














Muslim and Christian friends find spots around our home to eat and chat.














The kids--Muslim and Christian--hurry through the meal so they can get to the
important stuff--playing together!







Often, we finish with a big group discussion. In this scene, our friend Jihad
 has us captive with his hilarious humor (usually jokes about his name) and
his passionate, moving appeals to love one another.




























Here I'm getting in my two cents as little Omar wonders where my hair went!



















What Is the 
Apex Mosque-Fellowship of Christ Dinner Club?

The Dinner Club started 18 months ago with eight families--four each from the mosque and the church--meeting monthly for a potluck meal. While our monthly gatherings have since grown in size, we have kept the same basic format.

Our Dinner Club meets in a home one Saturday per month from 5pm-8pm. Typically, we alternate between Muslim homes and Christian homes. We always have two main components--lots of delicious, diverse food (potluck style) and an evening full of wonderful conversation and fellowship. Our ONLY agenda is building friendship, because we have discovered that real friendship between real people with real differences leads to all sorts of beautiful places!


Spreading the Love to Other Muslims and Christians

Since we have stayed at this for awhile now with most of the original families still involved, our friendships have grown quite deep. All of us acknowledge how much our lives have been enriched (and at times our perspectives challenged) by these multi-faith gatherings, and we want to spread the love to others.

To that end, we are attempting to host a larger gathering several times per year. For these bigger events, we extend an open invitation to Muslims and Christians in our community. Because these open events are too big for a home, we host them in the mosque and church facilities, alternating between the two. 

It's always good for our group to spend time together in our respective houses of worship, as doing so helps us grow in our understanding of one another. 

In addition, we have three goals in mind for the Muslims and Christians who are participating in our gatherings for the first time.

1. We simply want to give folks an opportunity to connect relationally over a meal with someone from the other faith perspective.

2. We encourage new Muslim and Christian participants to exchange contact info with one another and to meet for coffee or a meal.

3. We challenge them to consider starting their own Muslim-Christian Dinner Club gatherings. It only takes two families/individuals to get started!


Let Us Help You Start a Muslim-Christian Dinner Club 

If you'd like to begin a Muslim-Christian Dinner Club in your area but are not sure where to begin, feel free to message me below. Our group would be happy to share our ideas, experiences, and coaching!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Fruit of Peacemaking: Real Friendship with Real People with Whom We Have Real Differences


A recent gathering in the Davis home of the Apex Mosque-Fellowship of Christ
Dinner Club. We gather monthly for a halal (permissible for Muslims) potluck
meal, lots of laughter and friendship-building, and occasional serious talk as
well. At present, we are exploring ways we can work together as Muslims and
Christians to serve refugees moving into our area.  
It is my privilege to serve as a Global Peacemaking Coach with Peace Catalyst International, a vibrant, growing movement of ragtag Jesus followers committed to promoting peace in the way of Jesus and reaching out in love to those whose backgrounds and perspectives are different than our own.
Our work is not rocket science. Rather, it’s simply a matter of opening our hearts (and often our homes) to meet people where they are, to build genuine friendship, and to share with these friends the little things in life—like pancake suppers, play dates with our children, golf outings, coffee shop pow wows, and three-hour potluck meals. This is loving others in the way of Jesus. And it’s how I want to live my life—because it is the way of Jesus, because it’s a liberating way to live, and because real friendship always leads to deep discussions and often new understandings about life and love and the most important matters of the heart.

Jesus—Friend of Sinners and Respecter of Those from the Other Side of the Religious Tracks
This is the kids' table at the Mosque-Church Dinner Club! In the past, I have
said that we will know we are succeeding in our peacemaking work when
Muslim and Christian children are playing together. In reality, however, our
kids will lead the way for us if we let them!!!
Notoriously, Jesus was friendly with all the “wrong” people—oppressors, partiers, prostitutes, women in general, and even those from the other monotheistic religion. He gave dignity and respect to all manner of outcasts and outsiders, and He invites us to do the same—to build real friendship with real people with whom we have real differences.
Jesus’ call is not to a politely-tolerate-one-another sort of “friendship,” because in Jesus’ economy tolerance is a bar set too low and He instructs us to actively love others, even those whom we might think of as enemies. In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus compels us to love, do good to, bless, and pray for our enemies and those who mistreat us. Essentially, he says, “If you want to follow me, then treat enemies the way you would treat a beloved friend.”
Of course, Jesus modeled this in an ultimate way by dying for us while we were still sinners and enemies of God so that we might become friends of God (Romans 5:8), and He invites us to follow His example by living sacrificially for others (1 Peter 2:21).

Real Friendship, Real Differences
Occasionally, we move our Dinner Club from homes and into the mosque or the
church building, allowing more Muslims and Christians to join the fun. There
is something significant about getting into one another's places of worship, as
doing so answers questions and dispels fears and myths from both sides.
Real friends enjoy one another’s company. Real friends play together and help one another. Real friends make scheduling and financial sacrifices so they can spend time together. Real friends talk openly and respectfully about deep matters of the heart. They share their convictions about faith and family and politics, eager to learn and persuade all at once. And real friends do all this with an abiding confidence that their friendship is bigger than their differences and that love (a commitment to pursue good for someone) covers a multitude of sins and disagreements.

You Can Do It!
Christians, will you join us in following Jesus into real friendships with Muslims? Muslims, will you follow the example of Jesus by building real friendships with Christians?
If you would like some tips to help you get started, feel free to post a comment below so that we can dialogue. I will be happy to share ideas, but keep in mind that it’s not rocket science and it might be as simple as smiling and saying hello to someone next time you’re out shopping!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Jesus -- Messiah, Feminist, Friend of Outsiders, Savior of the World (Pondering John 4)

Today is International Women's Day, and I thought it appropriate to share my sermon from February 28.

In this message, we read through the story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in Samaria (John 4) and then consider some of the cultural background along with some implications for us as Jesus followers in 2016. 

We conclude with these six attention-grabbing observations from the passage: 

1. Jesus embraced risk and leaned into conflict.


2. Jesus bucked cultural norms to dignify women.


3. Jesus went out of his way to love the outsider / the OTHER (in this case a woman adhering to the rival monotheistic religion).


4. Jesus seems far less concerned with the outer label (Samaritan, Jew) and far more concerned with the heart. 


5. Jesus’ message was not "my religion can beat up your religion." Jesus' message was Jesus. He is the Messiah King who came to rescue mankind in a way that religion never could.


6. Jesus is for everyone — “Savior of the world.”

Sunday, January 31, 2016

ISIS, Fear, and Jesus -- A Very Personal Message

I recently visited Indonesia, where some of my hosts were key Muslim leaders who are concerned about ISIS. They fear that their young people are susceptible to being radicalized, and they keep bringing me in to speak as an example of an American Christian who does not hate Muslims (which combats the rhetoric put forth by extremists that all Western Christians hate and want to oppress Muslims). 

Our time together in Indonesia was wonderful and fruitful. Sadly, however, less than 48 hours after my return to the US, ISIS successfully bombed a Starbucks in Jakarta. 

While it appears that the vast majority of Indonesians condemned the attack and strengthened their resolve to love and respect all people, this bombing was a stark reminder of the troubling times in which we live and of the importance of our efforts to promote peace in the way of Jesus.

Just before Christmas, I preached a very personal sermon on "ISIS, Fear, and Jesus." I thought now might be an appropriate time to share this message with you. Thus, I invite you to give it a listen now or to download for later.