"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, December 26, 2008

December books

Children of Hope by Vernon Brewer with his daughter, Noel Brewer Yeatts -- This book discusses the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa and the civil wars and other factors on that continent that contribute to HIV's spread. The authors seek to portray the huge need by presenting the faces and stories of hurting people so that American Christians will be more compassionate in reaching out to the Africans with Jesus' love. The Brewers seek to show us the reality of many people in the real world by declaring, "The world we live in is not the 'real world.' We live in a bubble; a world more like Disneyland. The rest of the world is reality." (pg. 92)

Some pages that were noteworthy to me include the following:

Page 102 -- how the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) "recruits" soldiers -- kidnaps children from their families, shames them by having them kill siblings or friends and raping them so they will be too guilty to return home

Page 130 questions whether the response to the genocide in Rwanda (800,000 people dead within 100 days) was "so muted because of the prejudice against the people of Africa. Maybe it is because we've seen too many images of women and children with dirty faces, dust-covered bodies and wearing torn clothing. ... We forget these are people who feel and hurt just like us. God created each of them with gifts and a purpose. They are special to our Creator, and they must become valued by us."

Wow, when the author started putting it that way ... man! How come I thought these people were just used to this kind of living so maybe they don't hurt as badly as I would in that same situation? (blush, blush) When I heard about these children who were heading households because their parents either died or were too sick to care for them ... did I forget that their hearts were hurting, breaking, weeping over the loss of their loved ones?

Sadly, evangelical Christians in America tend to be the least likely to support the African AIDS crisis! Perhaps we feel the problem is too overwhelming or maybe we have prejudices against people with AIDS. (It's a homosexual disease, right? And those immoral heterosexuals pass it along to others. Tsk, tsk....they deserve to be sick because of their sinfulness, right?)

And we have the audacity to think of ourselves as "real" Christians? We know the true teachings of Jesus?

The same compassionate Jesus who never denied helping out someone who was sick. Who was MOVED with compassion ... moved enough so that He did something without asking first, "Have you been sinful? If so, I cannot help you." No! Jesus said the sick people need the physician and He came to heal the sick. He came to heal people from their sinful conditions. He was merciful to those who needed help. His harshest words were to those judgmental, self-righteous types who didn't understand how this so-called Messiah could associate with society's biggest sinners!

One of my favorite stories from the book was about Nildo. God used this poor orphan boy in Brazil to break Noel's heart when she was just a teenager. The Brewers were able to help him and he adored them for rescuing him. A touching part of the story was when Vernon was able to return to Brazil the following year and gave Nildo some gifts from the family including a framed family picture. He hugged and kissed the photo "and started telling everyone around him in loud Portuguese, 'These are my American sisters! They took me off the streets.'" (pg. 163)

I read most of this book while at McDonalds, and, boy, did I have to hold back tears many times!

I have more I could write about this book, but I may address those things another time. For now I want to leave with a quote from Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution:

"Over and over, when I ask God why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, 'You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet.'"

Defining Moments
by Vernon Brewer -- This book highlights the story of when God put his compassion in the author's heart on a missions trip to Mexico at the age of 17. Each chapter is full of how God has worked through Mr. Brewer's life through cancer, through ministry here and abroad in many remote places. I greatly enjoyed the stories from India, Burma, Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. I was touched greatly with the goodness and power of God!

Two quotes from the book that I wanted to share:

From Vernon Brewer's prayer: "You have changed my life! Don't ever let me lose sight of what's important to You! Help me to be sensitive to Your moving and to where You want me to go. Help me not to look inside, but to look upward. Give me strength; don't let me grow weary." (pg. 199) --- I want this to be my prayer to the Lord each day!

From Robert Pierce, founder of World Vision: "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God."

Things to remember: love touches, gets involved; Jesus was "moved with compassion," and Jesus was willing to make people well.

Christianity Today International Study Series: Islam -- This series is supposed to be done within a small-group discussion, however, I wanted to read it for myself. It has interviews by Muslims and former Muslims as well as others who know some things about Islam. A few things that stood out to me . . .

1. We are to reach out to all people, all nationalities and not "hunker down with folks just like us." Jesus reached out to everyone and told us to go into all the world. This includes reaching out to people we may be unfamiliar with and people we may even be prejudice against. (pg. 131)

2. The chapter asks, "Are you ready for the long haul of sharing the love of Jesus with a Muslim you know over many years?" (pg. 137)

3. Americans "have to confront our individualism and space issues" in order to reach out to others. Also "effective evangelism among Muslims means incarnating the love of Jesus through friendship, patience, humility and tenacity. 'It comes down to our relationship with Jesus Christ.'" (pg. 141)

4. "Your enduring, hospitable friendship with a Muslim is probably the greatest witness you can have for Jesus." (pg. 147)

The book gives the story of the Good Samaritan as one of the best examples of cross-cultural hospitality. Remember Jews and Samaritans detested one another so for a Samaritan to reach out to a Jew was a huge deal.

Mission Al Jazeera by Josh Rushing -- After spending 15 years in the US Marines, Josh Rushing resigned and started working for Al Jazeera English. This book tells much of his story. Some parts I enjoyed included the following:

Josh talking with the Al Jazeera journalists and producers about cultural understanding. The "struggle for the Arab soul" and what it means to be Arab was interesting. (pg. 44)

I love how Josh merely wanting to learn their language and about their culture was touching to them. Josh "was surprised to see how easy it was to shed the Ugly-American image."

Re: Isolationism and the "fear of all things foreign" -- pg.45. Josh says, "Even a small dose of international travel goes a long way toward curing this small-mindedness."

I enjoyed the story of Salama on pages 93 and 94 especially when he finally arrives in America, gets so involved in his guitar lessons that "I'm just so wrapped up in this that I've kind of forgotten what is going on in the rest of the world."

Page 101 -- Josh's take on how he was portrayed in the movie Control Room (This was how I learned about Josh. I saw this movie online.)

Page 102 -- "I think it should all be shown, the dead on both sides. In America, war isn't hell, we don't see blood, we don't see suffering. All we see is patriotism, and we support the troops. It's almost like war has some brand marketing here. Al Jazeera shows it all. It turns your stomach, and you remember there's something wrong with war."

Josh sees himself as a "cultural bridge" so people can understand Americans and we can understand Arabs (pg. 110)

Al Jazeera's intentions to raise people to a position where they are human beings (pg. 140)

Interestingly enough, Israelis regularly appear on Al Jazeera to share their sides of the story. However, Americans often think this is terrorist TV so they refuse to show their side on Al Jazeera. Josh says this is a huge mistake on our part. (see pg. 160)

The pages about the US being "the big fat hypocrite" were good (see pgs. 162, 163) -- preaching human rights, but then denying them to certain people is more like something other countries do than the self-righteous USA, right?

Pages 182-184 discuss America's "schizophrenic image" in the Arab world. Very very interesting!! (And sounds like things my Syrian friend has told me ages ago!)

Page 197 tells how - surprise, surprise -- a lot of Americans don't care about international news. Josh argues that we need to realize other countries' perceptions of us do matter!

"Arab blood runs thick" -- Josh discusses how Arabs care for the Palestinian cause so greatly and how any aggressive action often ties into Israel in their minds. He mentions our side "They're not Iraqi, why do they care?" and how the "idea of Pan-Arabism and their interconnectedness is simply lost" on us. (pg. 200)

I think I really enjoyed this book because I have found the message of it true. We need to have open discussions with others. Instead of desiring NASCAR for 24/7, we should make an effort to find out about other cultures and what other people dream and what their goals are in life. Make an effort to befriend people unlike ourselves and learn to respect various opinions and perspectives. I know Josh strongly encouraged this type of dialogue and I know firsthand how rewarding such a friendship can be. Indeed, I count it among the best gifts from God to now have Arab Muslim friends who live in Damascus, Syria.

Rethinking Holy Land is "a study in salvation geography" by Marlin Jeschke -- Considering God's promise to Abraham, words from Psalm 37 and using texts from Jesus (Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth) and Paul's words about Abraham's descendants inheriting the whole earth (Romans 4:13), the author makes a compelling case for making all lands holy. "This points up a fundamental privilege of all people who heed the call to sanctify the land in which they dwell. Since their God is the God of all the earth, they can be a pilgrim people and be at home with God wherever destiny calls them, and sanctify the land wherever they live." (pg. 144) The author gives an example of his people, the Mennonites.

Some topics and pages of interest to me:

God's commands to the Jews in exile (pg. 70), Constantine's role in politicizing Christianity (pg. 111), the shame of Christianity (pg. 118), Christian history repeating Deuteronomy and Joshua (pg. 121), how Christians produced modern Zionism (pg. 123), a special dispensation for Israel (pg. 124), holding Israel to a higher standard (pg. 127), "the dilemma of Judaism and Zionism" (pg. 130), salvation geography's Biblical texts (pgs. 40 & 151), misplaced confidence in violence (pg. 154).

Very interesting book that brought up some things I have never considered or heard. Need to reread to better understand this new (to me) perspective. Very worthwhile.

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