Jesus and Muhammad

It has been nearly two weeks since an arsonist destroyed the Bellevue Islamic Center. The person who did it has been apprehended. The specific reason behind the arsonist’s actions is not known but appears to be something other than a hate-crime. In many ways, this has been a catalyzing event for our community. It has brought many of us together in a stand of sympathy and support for our Muslim neighbors. It has also opened our eyes to the changing demographics of our neighborhoods.

This is the fifth blog in a series on Islam. I am writing this because more and more Muslims are moving to the Eastside. Some are moving here because of jobs they have received with high-tech businesses like Microsoft. Others have come because they are fleeing traumatic places in the world like Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. Some Muslims are not immigrants. They are natural born citizens of the United States who have converted to Islam.

The point of this series is to help us understand our Muslim neighbors better. The subject of today’s blog is the main figures of each religion, Muhammad for Muslims and Jesus for Christians.

The Arabic world, prior to the rise of Islam, was primarily tribal, nomadic and polytheistic. Mecca served as a crossroads for the region and featured a shrine, called the “Ka’aba”, which recognized some 360 gods. Muhammad was born into this context in AD 570. He grew up questioning why Arabs worshiped so many idols rather than one God like the Christians and Jews. Muhammad became a successful businessman and married a wealthy widow. Her wealth enabled him to spend much of his time thinking, reflecting and meditating. It was during one of these times, that Muhammad received his first revelation and understood from that moment on that he was the final messenger of God. Muhammad soon felt compelled to warn Arabs of the coming judgment day and to bring them to complete obedience and submission to the one God so they could escape his anger. The religious group that formed around him became known as ‘Islam’, meaning surrender, i.e. those surrendered to Allah.

Although Muhammad was just a man; Muslims believe his love for all humankind and revelations from God, which are recorded in the Quran word for word, make him unique and unlike any other man who ever lived. Muslims believe in the same prophets as Christians, most notably, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. They believe each prophet was sent by God to speak to a specific people at a specific time but Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. He has spoken to all humankind for all time.

By contrast, the Bible tells us Jesus is much more than the Quran or Islam recognizes. John starts his gospel with these words; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1. The beginning John is speaking about here is the antecedent to all time and space. It is the beginning of all beginnings. The point in time where there was nothing else and no one else but God. Then John says something so scandalous and unthinkable that its blasphemy to a Muslim. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1:14.

God became one of us and assumed all the frailty that comes with being human. Jesus got hurt, stubbed his toe, bled, laughed, cried, went hungry, and became thirsty. Jesus experienced everything we will experience in this life. Since he has experienced it all, he knows what we need when we go through those times too. Hebrews 5:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”

Jesus perfectly identifies with us. That means so much more than that he can relate with us. The Bible tells us he took all the sin and brokenness of every human being and placed it on Himself. He became our substitute. By his death on the cross, Jesus paid the price and served the sentence justice requires.

The claim of the Old Testament is that God is One. Muslims can agree with that. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior over heaven and earth. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11. That is the great dividing line between Jesus and Muhammad, Christianity and Islam.

Jesus shows us the radical, unrelenting, fierce love of God for you and for me. His love is like no other. His love pursues us, never gives up on us, seeks us until we are found, changes us and makes us radical lovers ourselves. It is not the mountains, or the oceans or the stars or all of creation that so spectacularly reveals our Heavenly Father. It is the incarnation. God became one of us and lived among us.

Without Jesus, it is possible to know who God is but it is impossible to know God personally.

Letter from the Editor

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16)

This verse from Luke stands out to me as a defining moment of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and I try to use it as the lens through which I view how Jesus would want me to treat others, along with Micah 6:8: “[God] has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.”

A spiritually-driven social justice mandate reaches beyond the capitalist and consumer society, beyond the contentment of those who have comfortable lives. A spiritually-driven social justice movement is concerned with the good of all, and it is not exclusive to race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, ability, religion, or other discriminatory factors. (more…)

Making Things Right

The Reformed tradition, in which we participate as Presbyterians, has always placed an acute emphasis on the role and importance of Sacrament in the life of the church. In Baptism we affirm the importance of community involvement in the life and ongoing conversion of each new believer. In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we confirm God’s call to relational love in our lives as both individuals and in community. Despite these lasting emphases, we often find it difficult to comprehend just how our lives and practices embody the Sacraments we attest to in our worship.

The Christian priorities of justice and reconciliation are at the forefront of some important ongoing discussions of who we are as a church, and how we incorporate specific practices like prayer, hospitality, and forgiveness into our thoughts and behaviors. But is there a connection between our most foundational worship rituals and these defining priorities? (more…)

Making Things Right

The best gifts I ever received were the ones my kids made in elementary school. Kilned clay creations, picture frames decorated with beads and sparkles, each of them carefully crafted, wrapped and presented with an “I love you dad” hug. That’s the best stuff, some of my greatest treasures.

There was one gift I never received. It was a Father’s Day present one of my daughters made for me. It fell out of her backpack on the way home from school. A neighborhood boy picked it up and teased her while she pleaded for him to give it back. Then he tore it up and threw it in a nearby pond. She came home sobbing. Her world was suddenly unfair and not as it was designed to be. He’d robbed her of her gift and the special moment she would have had giving it to me. (more…)

Forward In Justice

Growing up, whenever my siblings and I did things we weren’t supposed to, my mom always asked us the same questions: “Is that kind? Is that helpful? Is that necessary?” It used to drive us crazy. I can still hear her saying it now with that perfect, “I’m disappointed, but I still love you” tone. Those words have stuck with me, and from time to time I find myself saying those exact words to the children I nanny (thanks, mom). These questions helped foster my understanding of justice, and specifically social justice. If I can answer yes to these questions when thinking about my past or future actions, then I think I might be that much closer to living a life marked by justice.

Love is God’s justice and mercy as it is lived out through God’s people day in and day out.

During his time on earth, Jesus continually sought to bring justice to the world. He believed in the moral imperative that discrimination based on sex, age, religion, political affiliations, disability, or social status is wrong. From the woman at the well (John 4) to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), he carefully balanced justice and mercy as he encountered inequality. Jesus walked this earth humbly and more openly than any other person ever has. (more…)

Stepping Out: A Journey on El Camino del Inmigrante

I heard about a walk from Tijuana to Los Angeles. It would be 150 miles over eleven days. I was hooked immediately. Not because I thought I could do it, but because I felt I had to do it.

I was raised in a Christian home surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” that Apostle Paul speaks of in Hebrews 12. My parents, Dick and Phyllis Blomquist, spent their entire life together serving the Lord through missions. They were not overseas missionaries, but they were church planters. They, along with a few others, ventured across Lake Washington to begin a new church, known today as BelPres.

During their lifetime they supported and hosted in their home dozens of missionaries from around the globe: missionaries from the Sudan and Ethiopia, outreach programs to Native Americans in Canada, the work of John Perkins in Jackson, Mississippi, to local ministries in Seattle’s Central District. These missionary faces looked back at me daily from the bulletin board in our kitchen where just a few feet away we made phone calls and ate meals. I knew from a very early age that God cared for a world far beyond Bellevue. (more…)

Where Is God When Bad Stuff Happens?

For several years now, I’ve been walking with a close friend through a profound experience of injustice and suffering. It has certainly driven me to prayer and scripture, as well as drawn me closer to my friend and others experiencing injustice. Often I’ve joined the psalmist and other biblical saints in crying out, “How long, O Lord?” and “Why?” and “What should I do?”

The Bible reassures us that asking these kinds of questions is not bad as we all try to make sense of life and especially suffering. But what makes me sad and angry is the bad theology in some of the answers people are given. I’ve seen bad theology ruin people’s relationship with God, others, creation, and themselves. So despite the risks of oversimplifying very complex and heartfelt issues, I’ll share some of my reflections on scriptural truths that people in our congregation have found helpful. (more…)

Teaching Justice

We all teach our children about God’s love. But did you know that teaching about God’s passion for justice is just as important? Love and justice are two sides of the same coin. When we teach children to “act justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8), we are giving them a deeper understanding of the Gospel and tools to live out their faith. They learn that God is just AND loving. He gives us the opportunity to be forgiven through Jesus Christ. In response, we work to achieve justice in the world.

1. Teach children about God’s love for all people

Sarah and Irving De la Cruz have two young sons. “We represent different skin colors within our family, so it is natural for us to have a conversation about how we each look different, but also to think of the ways in which we are similar. In addition to conversations (which come up frequently), we seek out books that show diversity in their characters and different areas of the world. And we try to seek out friends who might look different than us.” The family attends multicultural events like foreign-language story times, or they eat at family-owned ethnic restaurants to learn about other cultures and traditions. (more…)

Book Review: I Shall Not Hate

Gaza is a horrific place. A little sliver of land located on the south-western coast of Israel and the border of Egypt, it has known at least 60 years of violence. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Muslim, and his family grew up in this environment, but it was home for them. He could have adopted the attitude of many of his neighbors – one of hatred and revenge. Despite their lack of almost all goods and services, one thing that couldn’t be taken away was an education, so he studied hard both day and night to build a better life for himself. As the eldest male of the family, he was also expected to work to bring in money to support his family. Being successful in school and through a series of fortunate opportunities, he was accepted into medical school in Egypt, where he specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. (more…)

Behind the Scenes with Patricia Moorhead and the Pastoral Support Team

There are between 75 and 120 pastors and staff at any given time here at BelPres. They tirelessly prepare sermons, give counsel, pray, plan—and sometimes put up with us! Have you ever wondered who takes care of those who take care of us?

Well, I’m here to let the secret out. It’s quite a wonderful bunch of women, led by Patricia Moorhead. There’s Nancy Burritt, Sun O’Donnell, Joanne Burwell, Sherry Christiansen, Elizabeth Bell, Kim Dreiblatt, and Judy Sumner. These ladies serve on the Pastor and Staff Support Team. Together, this group loves on those who love on us! They remember their birthdays, host a soup and bread event, and wow them with cheese and chocolate buffets. They’ve even been caught washing their cars and crafting handmade gifts. (more…)

Olive Branch After the Flood

BY Uon Seila, Director of Develop Our Village Economy(DOVE), BelPres Mission Partner in Cambodia

This time of year in Cambodia is harvest time for the rice crop. In the past, Cambodians took turns helping one another to the harvest crop. My family had only three people to harvest our crop so it took two months before we could finish. If we joined with another family of three, then it would take only one month. If we joined with three families with three people each, it would take just 15 days. This practice is called “provas dai,” which means lending hands to help harvest. I like this practice and I miss it. While working in the fields, each family shared food and ate together. The time under the Khmer Rouge spoiled this sharing practice. Now people hate to work together.

We had friends and supporters from overseas come and celebrate harvest time with us at the Onyx year-end retreat. At the beginning of 2016, some satellite sites suffered from insufficient funding, which was stressful. However, staff remained committed to developing our young leaders and we were reminded of Psalm 126:5-6, which says,” those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Praise God! We now feel joy because friends joined us to harvest our crop. Please report back to people at home how we enjoyed the fruit of this year’s harvest and to please join us to see more fruit and sharing in the years to come.

The church growth rate in Cambodia reached a plateau in 2015. If we do not do anything, it will decline soon. Cambodia is not alone, because churches in Europe and North America face declining congregations as well. This is a global issue that we need to work together to solve. After the flood Noah and his family wanted to get out of the ark but he want to make sure the water really subsided from the earth.

He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. The dove found no place to set her foot. She returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. He put out his hand, took her, and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. The dove came back to him in the evening. Behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf, so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. (Gen 8:8-12)

We have updated the organization’s vision, mission and core values. We believe that discipleship of emerging leaders is strategic ways to strengthen and grow the Church in Cambodia and bring transformation to the nation. We are excited that this vision encompasses all of DOVE’s programs. Our staff continues to seek ways that our programs can synergize more with each other.

Watch Seila’s Story

All We Need is Love…Jesus’ Love

Lord, I am not ready to serve. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the time. I can’t afford it. What if I fail? Just like Jeremiah, I have given God excuse after excuse as to why I am not cut out to be a missionary and why I can’t serve him. There are so many better people out there to do his job.

But God doesn’t see it that way. We are his plan to share his love. He uses everyday people every day. He wants us to serve him just the way we are, in the place that we are, with the people that we are with because that is why we are there. He chose to share his love and good news through us, knowing that we could not even follow one simple direction in the Garden of Eden. He already knows we are not perfect, we are horrible at following directions, and we will make mistakes.

As crazy as it sounds, he still believes in us, has faith in us, and tells us to share his love. He is the creator of heaven and earth, so if he wanted perfect people who knew of his presence from the moment we came into this world, he could have made that happen, but that was not his plan. I think word “mission” or “missionary” can scare people. It sounds like it comes with big expectations. That is why I feel like I cannot do it. I like the word “plan.” It’s simple and something I can be a part of and do.

We are his plan to share his love. We get caught up worrying that we don’t know enough theology to share the gospel, what if someone asks me a question and I don’t have the answer? You are not God so you won’t have all the answers. And the reality is, most people do not become Christians because someone shared a Bible verse with them. Most people come to know Christ because someone showed Jesus’s love. The first step is to not do all the talking but listen to their story and love them for who they are right at that moment. Your act of kindness is what they need. Jesus’s acts of love throughout his time on earth was what brought the throngs of followers to him. When you consider how many pages there are in the Bible, we can see that even Jesus was a man of a few words.

We are his plan to share his love. In 2 John 1:6, the Message says, “Love means living the way God commanded us to live. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love.” Look around you, everywhere you look, you will see people who are dying to be listened to and loved. Here is our mission field: in the cars driving by you, in the malls walking past you, in the office buildings working near you, on the streets begging by you; there are people feeling alone, helpless, broken, and lost. It can be anyone: the CEO, the teacher, the mother, the homeless, the barista, the brother, the technician, and the children.

As we begin this New Year thinking about new resolutions, stop your excuses and challenge yourself to a new mindset, to see the world through God’s eyes. His mission for you may be big or small, global or local, but ultimately the plan is the same, to share God’s love. John 13:34-35 say, “A new commandment I give you: Love another. As I have loved you, so you must love another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We act because we believe, we love because we are loved. Can you do at least one act of love every day? Can you share Jesus’s love because he shared with you first? All we need is love…Jesus’ love.

Watch Dr Scott Dudley’s Jan 8 Sermon about Jeremiah’s excuses to God.

Families Reunited with D.A.D.S.

William was raised from an early age to survive “on the street” though criminal activity. This resulted in him living with 17 aliases, multiple children, multiple women, multiple incarcerations and the accumulation of over $100,000 in unpaid child support. William found Divine Alternatives for Dads Services (D.A.D.S.) based on his mistaken belief, from “word on the street,” that D.A.D.S. would help him avoid the obligation to pay child support. Marvin and Jeanett Charles welcomed him with open arms as they do every new D.A.D.S. client.

As time went on, William found that instead of avoiding his child support responsibility, the D.A.D.S. experience helped him learn the importance of living in community and assuming responsibility, not just for child support, but also for his entire life. William received assistance to establish a parenting plan that allowed him to make regular child support payments and establish regular visitation with his three children. William discovered hope for a new future. Like so many others, the love William had for his children became a profound motivation to break the generational cycle of incarceration and destructive behavior.

During this period, William demonstrated an aptitude for fixing computer hardware and software applications. He applied those skills in a small business as a computer service handyman. He began attending community college and studied Information Technology(IT). At the same time, William was helping other D.A.D.S. clients go through the same process he did. He became a driving force behind a group of D.A.D.S. former clients who run a mentor program called Connie’s Urban Brothers (C.U.B.S.) at a city alternative school for youth who are at high risk of drug abuse, street violence, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school and incarceration.

Almost all of the men involved in C.U.B.S. have been incarcerated for extended periods of time and all of them have children. These men speak with authority, they know the dangers involved in taking the at-risk path – they have lived it. The school principal says that these men are the best thing that’s ever happened for the kids. She reports that school attendance has risen and attributes the rise in attendance to the regular presence of the C.U.B.S.mentors. William went on to graduate from community college with a degree in IT. Upon graduation, he applied for a job with a corporate executive he met through his work at D.A.D.S. He is now a highly respected IT professional at one of Seattle’s most recognized companies. He is married, in relationship with his children, is a homeowner and pays taxes.

William’s story is typical for many D.A.D.S. clients walking through the doors for the first time. Without D.A.D.S., William would have continued to search for ways to avoid his unpaid child support, continuing to live his life on the perimeter of society and ultimately returning to incarceration, self-destructive behavior and separation from his children. Now instead of being supported by society, he supports others. In January of 2015, William Hughes was elected the President of the Board of Directors of D.A.D.S.

Click here to go to D.A.D.S. website