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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June Books

I can hardly believe half of 2010 is over now! Wow! Christmas is fewer than six months away. And you celebrating Ramadan...it's coming up quite soon indeed! :)

Here is the list of books I finished in June.

The Letter and the Scroll
by Robin Currie and Stephen G. Hyslop is a National Geographic publication full of colorful pictures and script explaining briefly (in just over three hundred pages) and highlighting what archaeology tells us about the Bible. I found this at my local library on Tuesday afternoon and finished it by Friday morning. I enjoyed tracing Abraham's journey from Ur of the Chaldea to Haran down through modern-day Syria into Canaan, Egypt and back to Canaan. I enjoyed reading about ancient cultures and people such as the Egyptians, Midianites, and much more. The chapter on Jeremiah's scribe was of great interest and it briefly explained how many of the prophets may have recorded the Scriptures that we hold dear today. Also I loved to imagine myself exploring some grassy hills as I thought of this being a place Jesus may have walked long ago. The section on the Dead Sea scrolls was so interesting as was the Jewish history in relation to the Babylonians, Persians and later the Romans. Page 294 discussed Judaism entering a new era of rabbis taking importance over high priests since the Temple was destroyed by Rome. So much good stuff in this book, but one quote I wanted to note in relation to The Story of Paul on page 286:

"While legend holds that Paul met his end in Rome sometimes after 60 C.E., executed by the sword, history shows that the power of Paul's writings testifies to the primacy of the pen."

God & Government by Charles Colson -- bought this book over a year ago and finally decided to read it! Great book that included many historical references as well as personal experiences of the author. Enjoyed the background stories on the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos left power and Corazon Aquino took over as well as the events leading up to WW2 and also how some reconciliation took place between enemies in Northern Ireland. Great chapters about the perils and illusion of politics and remembering the Kingdom of God is within us not something we can legislate into power. I shared some favorite quotes in earlier posts and in the Father Jerzy post but here are a few more.

"'I am convinced now that none of us is ever really godless. I know now that He is always there for us whether or not we are there for Him.'" -- Jerry Levin, atheist turned believer in Christ (pg. 67)

Today in America -- "Legally and culturally, religion is increasingly being treated as a purely private affair whose teachings must yield to any so-called public purpose. You're free to believe what you want -- so long as it doesn't affect how you behave." (pg. 129)

Think of Jesus -- with his miracles and teaching, he started attracting quite the following. The people were ready for a Messiah who would free them from the oppressor! "But Jesus understood His mission, and it could not be accomplished by taking over the kingdoms of this world in a political coup." (pg. 132)

WW II Christianity "has become a religion of private comfort and blessing that fills up whatever small holes in life that pleasure, money and success have left open,what Bonhoeffer called a 'god of the gaps.'" (pg. 252)

"It would have seem quite impossible ... that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims.... The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer." -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (pg. 263)

Dying for Heaven by Ariel Glucklich is a book I found at the library. I didn't know anything about the author, but thought the subject - "Holy Pleasure and Suicide Bombers -- Why the Best Qualities of Religion are Also its Most Dangerous" - seemed intriguing. I discussed it more here.

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett -- found in the new book section of the library. It's like Queen Esther is sharing her own story with more details than can be found in the biblical book by her name. Enjoyed this! I talked more about this book in my post on the two queens who rocked their world.

"When you are frustrated with your circumstances, when you feel you are being held back, perhaps God is keeping you there because He doesn't want you to overlook little things. Abraham Lincoln once said, 'The doors of history swing on small hinges.' Your job today is to embrace the insignificant. Accept life when it seems to go in slow motion. Pay attention to the mundane, and the humble. They may be your greatest assets when your own divine moment of truth is revealed." (pg. 287)

Sacred Writings: The Quran translated by Ahmed Ali -- started reading online on May 4 and finished this book on June 22. See notes in many previous posts. The notes begin here.

A Christian Guide to the Quran by Raouf and Carol Ghattas. I got this book online last year and when I decided in late April to finally read it, immediately I saw how helpful it would be to actually read the Quran as I read this book that seeks to build bridges between Muslims and Christians. So I read this and the Quran together.

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld tells the story of a young Jewish boy, Hugo, who is hidden by a prostitute in the Ukraine while the Nazi soldiers search from house to house in order to rid the land of Jews. I found this at the library in the new books section.

The Life of Christ by the American Bible Society -- a book I got Andrew for Christmas that I decided to read finally. It has full-colored pages with lovely pictures and text "rediscovering how his life, death, and resurrection changed the world."

Biblical Viewpoint: Focus on Leviticus -- a series of short essays from nine authors discussing topics from the book of Leviticus from the Torah. The authors discussed such things as Lessons from Two Fires, The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness, The Significance of the Day of Atonement. The Sacredness of the Blood among others. This book was very helpful to me in making some sense to these seemingly complicated and "weird" laws and rituals. The essays showed how much these were object lessons to the Israelites so they would recognize how awful their sins were to God and also how merciful God was in providing cleansing for them.

For more detail on how these essays helped me, please see Focus on Leviticus part 1 and part 2.

Staying True by Jenny Sanford -- I don't often read books such as this, but I saw it on the new book shelf and was a wee bit interested in reading the words of South Carolina's governor's wife after her husband's public betrayal of her. Her story touches on her early years, but more about her meeting and marrying Mark Sanford, running his campaign, rearing their four boys all the while staying true to her husband. Instead of a bitter story about how he wronged her, I found her full of grace and strength that she credited to her faith in God. On forgiveness she writes: "Saying 'I forgive you' is not the same as saying 'what you have done is okay.' (pg. 200) and I love how her friends rallied around her. Mrs. Sanford sums that up by reminding us "We can easily get into a position where we think we can do so much on our own, and often we can, but we are not meant to live alone." She continues, "I can only imagine where I would be this very moment and what our family and future would be like if Mark has listened to and respected the advice of his dear friends instead of following his 'heart.'" (pg. 207) In her concluding pages, she writes with conviction: "My heart has been pained but it is clean and I have peace. I have so much gratitude, there is no space, even in this vastness, for one drop of bitterness or regret." (pg. 211)

I enjoyed the talk of South Carolina politics and some less savory tactics and learning the backgrounds of both Mark (his surgeon father died of Lou Gehrig's disease when Mark was in college and Mark, the oldest child, "saved" the family farm with great effort) and Jenny (raised in a Catholic family near Chicago). It was also nice reading about their children and memories of their lives in the governor's mansion in Columbia.

Quran -- Some Final Thoughts & Comparisons

Finally this post is done! It's from questions asked of me when I announced I'd finished reading the Quran. Please keep in mind these impressions are mine according to my reading. You are welcome to share your own similar or vastly different impressions if you'd like. So please know these are merely my opinions as is most everything else on this blog except what I quote from others. :-)

That said, I shall now move on.

What are your impressions of the Quran as a whole?

The Quran - as a reminder - is mostly made up of very small portions of the stories Bible readers recognize from the Old Testament and Gospel. For example, while there are many references to Moses and Pharaoh, there is not much about Moses' leadership among the Israelites and God's intervening care for the people as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. And aside from Moses and Joseph, not much at all is shared from the other great Bible stories. No mentioning of Jesus' wonderful teachings or lessons you could learn from the Old Testament kings and judges and prophets. Mostly the message of the Quran was God's creative and sustaining power (which was good and often full of beautiful imagery!) and the fact that Muhammad wasn't a poet/sorcerer/madman and people who rejected his message would roast in hell while the believers would recline on couches, drink wine, eat fruit and enjoy gardens, rivers and women in heaven!

The Quran didn't really give hope for God's power in helping you overcome your wicked ways. It was more of a threat/fear-based model that if you disbelieve and disobey the prophet, you would go to hell. I didn't see any place where God said "come to Me and I will clean you and help you live a life pleasing to Me" such as He offers in the Bible. Instead striving, endeavoring, working very very hard is impressed upon those who want to be favored in God's eyes on judgment day. So maybe I should say it is a reward-based model as it did offer things pleasant to desert people as waiting in the hereafter for those who believed and obeyed Muhammad.

The Quran did away with the need for Jesus' blood. Man has become his own savior ... with some mercy of God thrown in there if you believed Muhammad.

Peace is only for believers. There is little call to show good works to your enemies and love them so they will see the divine goodness of God as He or His principles live out in you. While I do see outward goodness in Muslims and adore most of the Muslims I've met, I don't see this outward goodness to your enemies stressed in the Quran which seemed to have a more confrontational approach to unbelievers on par with the Joshua days in the OT when the Israelites were taking over the Promised Land.

Was it what you expected?

I think it was mostly what I expected as I knew going into my reading that Muslims believed strongly in working for salvation (or for God's favor) and this was only confirmed by what I read. I don't think I expected the same message over and over and over again. I felt the "Muhammad, don't worry. You are a prophet and not a poet/sorcerer/madman and We will vouch for you in this Quran" was distracting as was the constant need to threaten hell for disbelievers and promise reclining couches and big, bright-eyed maidens as rewards for believers. I read the Quran straight through so I'm sure these don't stick out to Muslims who just read favorite chapters and verses, but if you ever read the Quran straight through, you'll see what I mean. I like a little more variety and would have enjoyed hearing the stories of David, Solomon, Elijah, Jesus and others in more detail. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned from these Bible stories.

Did you like it overall?

Yeah, I enjoyed the experience of reading it and posting notes and reading the feedback from Muslims especially as they told me the background information on the verses. It was helpful in learning more about their faith and cherished beliefs.

Would you recommend the Quran to others?

I would recommend it to others so they could learn more about Muslims. I think it would be helpful to have a Muslim friend to explain some things as certain passages seem to come out of nowhere and a Muslim friend would be able to share the stories leading up to those particular revelations. This is particularly important for those passages that seem very harsh on unbelievers as the average non-Muslim reader would find this intolerance difficult to understand and merely be further proof in her mind that Islam is not a religion of peace as Muslims often say it is. A Muslim friend could provide much-needed context.

Did it give you any ideas about Muslims or Islam?

I already had ideas of Muslims and Islam from meeting people online, reading blogs and traveling to Syria last year. Most of my experiences with Muslims have been wonderful and I consider many of them as dear friends. The Quran was helpful in showing me a bit about their beliefs and where they are coming from. For instance it's not wise to expect Muslims to turn the other cheek or love their enemies as they are not commanded to do these things as followers of Jesus are. So I need to keep these things in mind when I deal with Muslims because we aren't coming from the same set standard. "The Reality" is different ... their holy book declares something different for them from what Jesus says for me and I would be wise to keep this in mind as I seek to understand my Muslim friends. That's just one example.

Lastly I was asked to share the message of both the Bible and Quran in five points. I tried to summarize them with the top things that stand out the most to me. Of course my thoughts on the Bible are more complex since I grew up with it.


1. God created all things good. He enjoyed fellowship with His creation.

2. Humans sinned and these offenses against a holy God broke fellowship. Think of your spouse cheating on you and how this raises a huge wall.

3. God didn't leave man in his separated (broken from fellowship) position, but made a way to restore fellowship. Therefore, belief in Jesus' work on the Cross is necessary for restored fellowship. The Cross represents the meeting of God's justice and mercy because God is both just and merciful. And God alone is the Savior.

4. When we put our trust in God's Way for salvation, He then enables us to live in ways that please Him. Thus our good works aren't performed to save us, but they are a result of walking daily with a holy, loving God.

5. Because God is Love, people know we are His disciples by the way we love others - our family, friends, the strangers on the street, even our enemies. It takes little effort to love those who are kindhearted and treat you well, yet God enables us to love people even when they are difficult.


1. God wants our worship.

2. God does not have partners.

3. Although God is the savior, we must believe Muhammad's message, obey Muhammad and do good works (give to charity, pray, fight for God's causes, strive to do good) in order to have better chances at obtaining paradise. Because there are scales to weigh your good and bad deeds.

4. Muhammad is not a poet, sorcerer or madman as God vouches for him in the Quran and gives examples of previous prophets whose messages were rejected in like manner.

5. Be good to fellow Muslims, be unified, just and peaceful amongst yourselves. Mixed message on how to treat those outside of the faith - sometimes it was with some kindness, other times it was harsh fighting and still other times it seemed just leave them alone as long as they aren't bothering you.

Any other questions? Now feel free to share your own thoughts if you wish.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Original Sin & Depending on the Mercy of God

Last week when I announced that I'd finished reading the Quran, a couple friends asked my impressions of it as a whole, was it what I expected, did I like it overall, would I recommend it to others and whether it gave me any ideas about Muslims or Islam. Also I was asked to write down the messages of the Quran and Bible in five points each. The qualifier being "according to your reading" since ten people might read the Quran and Bible and come up with different thoughts on what are the five main points. That post is coming! I have the five points written, but want to review them for clarity. While writing those yesterday, I also jotted down some thoughts on sin nature/original sin that came to mind recently and I have decided to publish these notes first. Including this in my five-points post would make it too long. So here are some thoughts for you to consider. And I'd love to read your comments on this topic as well.


I was thinking about this the other day while cleaning or taking vitamins or something equally exciting. I recall Sarira giving a thought-out comment on Muslims believing in original purity rather than original sin. I am not sure if my thoughts are the norm for all Christians, but I wanted to explain briefly how I think of this concept. I know it's outlandish to birth this beautiful baby and believe it is an awful sinner since it hasn't had time to do anything wrong. I totally get that. I don't believe when I was born I was guilty of Adam and Eve's sin of eating the fruit from the tree nor was I guilty of the thievery of my greatgrandfather or the immorality of a great, great grandmother. I don't think you can pass down sins although I strongly believe you can pass down the consequences of sins. Just ask the little one born addicted to cocaine. He didn't snort crack yet his mother's sin affected his life even before he was born.

So as for original sin, I think of it more as a sin nature we inherit. A tendency towards first acting and reacting negatively instead of in a more positive way. Most parents that I know have never had to sit down and teach their children to be selfish with their toys or lie to get out of tough situations or bite when aggravated or even how to throw one of those lovely temper tantrums. I see those reactions coming with little effort whereas the good character qualities often take some learning and molding and reminders: "Say 'thank you.' What's the magic word? Say 'please.' Share with your sister!"

In some ways I see the Quran supporting these thoughts otherwise why would words like "strive" and "endeavor" be used in connection with doing good?

Dictionary.com says this is the meaning of "strive."

1. to exert oneself vigorously; try hard: He strove to make himself understood.
2. to make strenuous efforts toward any goal: to strive for success.
3. to contend in opposition, battle, or any conflict; compete.
4. to struggle vigorously, as in opposition or resistance: to strive against fate.
5. to rival; vie.

If we are born pure and basically good, it seems good deeds should spring forth from us more naturally than bad deeds, yet how many of you can honestly say that when someone cuts you off in traffic, your first thoughts are noble ones? If you are like me, you have to "try hard" or "make strenuous effort" to not react with a sharp word, honking your horn with emphasis or displaying a choice gesture for the offender! Why if goodness oozes from us, would the Quran use such a verb that has definitions such as "to exert oneself vigorously" or "compete." Those are definitions you could use for a World Cup athlete doing his best to score and put his team into the winning column! Not of one merely lounging by the pool reading a book as the good deeds just pop, pop, pop like grapes
on the vine bursting forth with little effort.

You might be saying, "Why all this focus on sin lately? Why paint us to be dirty, unclean, filthy people?" Trust me, it's not that I like realizing I am a sinner or that my sins are a putrid stench and abomination to God. I prefer to think of myself as basically a good person with charming ways and a friendly, welcoming smile. However as I've been reading more lately: the Quran and the essays on Leviticus, I realize we must first recognize we are sin
ners before we can understand our need for a Savior.

That Savior being God alone.

And not our good works.

Until we realize we are unclean in God's eyes and that we are unable to clean ourselves good enough for God's presence, we will keep trying to save ourselves by our own efforts. Yet as Creason said in his essay on Leviticus and the contagious "uncleanness,"

"In struggling to remain clean, the perceptive Israelite recognized his inherent wickedness. No matter how hard he tried he could not please God. Ultimately he had to thrust himself on God, hoping in God's gracious salvation (Psa. 119:81). Modern men and women are no better able to satisfy God through personal efforts. Like the Israelites of long ago, we too must depend on the mercy of God."

And I think depending on the mercy of God is something on which both Muslims and Christians can agree though it's harder to practice.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Separation of Church/Mosque & State

A good while back Samer and I were talking. He was sharing about the Islamic point of view and how Islam was a complete way of life. How you could not separate the church (errr, mosque) and state in Islam. Islam doesn't just regulate people spiritually, but it governs politically as well. There are rules for engaging in war - some very good rules, I might add. I truly find the Islamic rules of engagement and treatment of prisoners quite good.

So anyway, we were talking and I was in one of my states of disbelief at how all-inclusive Islam was in taking over people's lives when he asked:

"Wouldn't you want to live in a country where your Christian beliefs are what ruled the nation?"

Sounds delightful actually! Can you imagine a country where serving and honoring others was the norm? Where needy people were helped without complaint? Need the oil changed in your car? No problem, let me get my tools. Need your yard cleaned? Let me get my rake. And people loving each other and returning good for evil....utopia!

Sounds, well, divine.

The problem is that this church/state thing was tried before and, sadly, the Church just doesn't do well with a lot of power. It seems power has some magical ability to corrupt. So you start mixing the Church and the State and it becomes more of a control, power issue than spiritual one.

Plus there are various forms of Christians. There are some who just have attended church once in their lives or their families consider themselves Christian so they are as well. Then there are those of differing religious varieties - liberals, literalists, moderates. So whose Christianity will rule in the nation? It's rather subjective.

Just like sharia law is subjective to many Muslims. Whose interpretation will you follow?

Thus, I believe you can influence the State by the way you live and vote, however, you shouldn't use the State to force people to change. Quite frankly, the State is a poor substitute for God in changing people's lives. What we try to legislate (force people to do by law), God can simply do. And His way is more lasting and good because He gets to the heart of the matter by...changing hearts. Not merely outward compliance under threat of punishment.

All that just to say, I want to copy some quotes from God & Government...some of which relate to what I wrote above. I thought the author made some very good points in what he shared.

"The church, while not the Kingdom of God, is to live out the values of the Kingdom of God in this world, resisting the ever-present temptation to usher in the Kingdom of God by political means. Yet this is the temptation to which the church has most commonly succumbed, and certainly this is its greatest temptation today." (pg. 104)

"While human politics is based on the premise that society must be changed in order to change people, in the politics of the Kingdom it is people who must be changed in order to change society." (p. 105)

"If Christianity was true and meaningful, it must go deeper than that [life in Parliament]. It must not only save but serve. It must bring God's compassion to the oppressed as well as oppose the oppressors." (pg. 111)

"The kind of conflict that Wilberforce and other activist Christians experience -- between their Christian conscience and their politician mandates -- is unavoidable. Both church and state assert standards and values in society; both seek authority; both compete for allegiance. As members of both the religious and the political spheres, the Christian is bound to face conflict." (pg. 122)

Prior to Constantine's conversion to Christianity, believers in Jesus were routinely persecuted and martyred. "In A.D. 381 Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and in an ironic turnabout, church leaders began exploiting their new-found power. As historian F.F. Bruce has written: 'Christian leaders ... exploit[ed] the influential favor they enjoyed even when it meant subordinating the cause of justice to the apparent interest of their religion...they were inclined to allow the secular power too much control in church affairs ... Where church leaders were able to exercise political as well as spiritual authority, they did not enjoy any marked immunity from the universally corrupting tendency of power.'" (pg.124)

Heretics were suppressed at the order of this new church-state. In fact "the church turned to military conquest through a series of 'holy wars' that became more racial than religious. Jews, Muslims, and dark-skinned Christians were massacred alike. The goal was not to convert the populace, but to conquer it." (pg.125)

Religions had often been "assaulted but always in the name of other religions." Then came the French Revolution where "'irreligion became an all-prevailing passion, fierce, intolerant and predatory.'" As de Tocqueville put it, "'The total rejection of any religious belief, so contrary to man's natural instincts and so destructive of his peace of mind, came to be regarded by the masses as desirable.' The French Revolution was a conscious effort to replace the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of man. But the state must have some moral justification for its authority. Thus France's irreligion was soon replaced by a new faith -- man's worship of man." (pg. 125-26)

Social-gospel movement -- "[dissolved] Christian orthodoxy into a campaign to eliminate every social injustice, often through governmental means. Objectives became political and economic to the detriment of the spiritual. The reformers' well-intentioned efforts were shattered as social programs failed to produce the promised utopia, leaving observers to conclude, 'Things are no better. Where is your God now?'"

Today this happens on both the right and left, however, this "preoccupation with the political diverts the church from its primary mission."

"The political right is also subject to this temptation; many want to impose religious and cultural values by force of law, irrespective of the wishes of the electorate. This is as wrong and dangerous, as the secular left attempting to impose its values on society by force --usually via the courts." (pg. 132)

Re: New Jerusalems -- "If we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven can be established by political or economic measures, then we can hardly object to the claims of such a state to embrace the whole of life and to demand the total submission of the individual will and conscience." (pg.132 footnote)

Separation of church and state did not mean "religion and politics could be separated or religious values removed from the public arena. For one's political life is an expression of values, and religion, by definition, most profoundly influences values." (pg. 136)

Therefore "when laws were passed reflecting the consensus of Christian values in the land, no one panicked supposing that the Christian religion was being 'established' or that a sectarian morality was being imposed on an unwilling people. The point of the First Amendment was that such convictions could only become the law of the land if a majority of citizens could be persuaded (without coercion) of the merits of a particular proposition, whether they shared its religious foundation or not. Today's widespread attempt to relegate religion to the privacy of homes or churches would have been unimaginable to the founders of the republic -- even those who personally repudiated orthodox Christian faith. Though America has drifted far from the vision of its founders, this system continues to offer one of the world's most hopeful models in an otherwise contentious history of conflict." (pg. 137)

"Outwardly, we are a religious people, but inwardly our religious beliefs make no difference in how we live. We are obsessed with self; we live, raise families, govern, and die as though God does not exist." (pg. 245)

Thoughts? What do you think about separation of church/mosque and State? Do you agree that it is God who changes hearts and thus society or do you believe politics also plays an important role?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Focus on Leviticus - Part 2 of 2

This weekend I read eight short essays in a publication called Biblical Viewpoint: Focus on Leviticus. Please read part 1 here.

The conclusion ...

5. In speaking of contagious uncleanness (as some unclean "issues" were contagious like a disease) such as accidentally touching an unclean person or coming into contact with a quilt or saddle previously occupied by the unclean, the author is not satisfied with hygienic reasons, but looks again for spiritual lessons."In struggling to remain clean, the perceptive Israelite recognized his inherent wickedness. No matter how hard he tried he could not please God. Ultimately he had to thrust himself on God, hoping in God's gracious salvation (Psa. 119:81). Modern men and women are no better able to satisfy God through personal efforts. Like the Israelites of long ago, we too must depend on the mercy of God." (pg. 31 -- Creason)

This goes back to the Luke 18 parable of Jesus' that I mentioned in the first post. Also this thought of our being sinful is probably unpopular in our world because we like to believe we are basically good people who just sometimes do bad things. It's rather hard to believe God would see us as "unclean" and "sinful" when we try to bite our tongues and restrain ourselves from giving full vent to our anger against rude and cruel people. I totally get that. Our society has very few sins any more. Even things that 50 or 100 years ago would have made people blush and bring shame to them, no longer does. We have made a mockery of sin by making it beautiful and lovely and desirable instead of remembering sin is like a nasty, trash-and-dead-animal stench to our holy God. (Yeah, it's bad.)

6. About the Purification Laws -- "Uncleanness removed an Israelite from all contact with the Holy God, and this fellowship could only be restored through God-given purification rites. That God would provide these for His people gives testimony to His mercy. God desires that men see themselves as unclean sinners before Him; but more than that, He longs for them to experience His cleansing." (pg. 32 -- Creason)

I've said for a while that God is the Savior. But as Jesus told the self-righteous people of his time, it's not the healthy who need the physician, but the sick. Unless we realize we are sinners in need of a Savior (God), we can't experience His cleansing. Stop trying to clean yourself good enough for God! It's like giving your baby a pack of wipes and telling her to clean her dirty diaper. She just ends up smearing poop all over herself and probably the changing table and wall as well. Stop trying to be your own Savior and yield yourself to the One who can cleanse you and make you white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

7. General Lessons from the Purification Laws --

First, the waiting periods meant separation from the sanctuary. This teaches that sin of all kinds breaks fellowship with God.

Second, the purification rituals were almost a daily part of life. As there was a need for constant ceremonial cleansing in Israel's day, so modern believers must seek cleansing from sin on a daily basis.

Third, God provided careful procedures for Israel's cleansing. Those who attempt to find God's acceptance any other way were sadly mistaken. In all eras, God's cleansing must come His way -- or not at all.

Fourth, many conditions required blood sacrifices, thus teaching that cleansing from sin demands expiation. The animal victims paid an awful price, the shedding of their life's blood. These pictured Christ's perfect sacrifice on the cross of Calvary." (pg. 34-35 -- Creason)

8. One author suggested this as the key verse to understanding the purpose of this book --

11 I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. 13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high. (Lev. 26)

Thinking of this verse plus this main theme -- "Holiness is essential for fellowship with God." -- and it all makes a bit more sense.

At least to me. :)

Focus on Leviticus - Part 1 of 2

This weekend I read eight short essays in a publication called Biblical Viewpoint: Focus on Leviticus. Each essay was written by a different author and I found some of their thoughts incredibly interesting. I can't share all of them or I'd be reproducing much of the book, however, I wanted to take note of a few of them for my own easy review. In the introduction page, the main theme of Leviticus is given:

"Holiness is essential for fellowship with God."

One of the authors suggested Leviticus was a series of object lessons. Indeed as you read through this book of the Law, you notice how involved it is. I had never thought of Leviticus as object lessons for the Israelites, yet I recall how often Jesus used parables to teach important truths. God as the Creator of the human mind knows our abilities to learn and grasp truths often comes easier when we can visualize things or learn them through stories. Perhaps this is one reason for using object lessons. I don't know, but it was an interesting thought to consider.

Here are some of the thoughts I enjoyed from this book along with a bit of commentary from me.

1. "Not only does God's law prohibit the worship of other gods, it also demands that man worship God according to God's revealed will and way. Throughout Scripture, acceptable worship and approach to God has centered on the blood sacrifice. Man's salvation was won by the atoning work of Jesus Christ and there is no other way to God apart from that sacrifice. Without the shedding of the precious blood of Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins and no possible fellowship with God. The cross of Christ is the essence of the Gospel. That is God's revealed way." (pg. 17 -- Michael P.V. Barrett)

I totally get that by John the Baptist's declaration when he saw Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29)

Even Jesus said he came to give his life as a ransom for many (see Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45) and declared himself the only way to the Father (John 14:6).

Yes, Jesus declared it is a narrow way which leads to life (Matt. 7:13,14) perhaps because man always wants to reach God in his own way rather than God's way. Perhaps even the "Lord, Lord have we not done...in your name" verses show how it is essential to not merely do good things in Jesus' name or God's name, but to come to God as He prescribed. In short, we come to God in God's way or not at all.

2. The author contrasted the acceptable fire vs. the fire of judgment which was Nadab and Abihu's demise since they brought "strange fire" to the altar and were killed. He writes, "These two characters stand as a warning to all who think that pedigree or religion are viable alternatives to God's exclusive way to life. Their father was Aaron, the High Priest, and their uncle was Moses, the great Lawgiver and leader of Israel. They had a great heritage. They themselves were religious and had enjoyed many of the external privileges of religion. ... Godly heritage and religious experience are not guarantees of spiritual life. It is possible to be in the middle of true religion and simply ride the tide without a vital personal relationship to the Lord." (pg. 23 -- Barrett)

Notice how relationship with God - not heritage, religion or good works - is essential!

3. "These laws [of cleanness and uncleanness] functioned as 'schoolmasters' to bring men to Christ (Gal. 3:24). They illustrated the depths of man's fallen nature and created within him a healthy abhorrence for sin. Through them the perceptive Israelite recognized his inability to abide by God's demands. Bereft of all personal sufficiency, he learned to cast himself on the mercy of God." (pg. 27 -- James Frederick Creason, Jr.)

Keep that in mind as you read this parable of Jesus in Luke 18 and notice which praying person was considered "justified" by Christ.

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

4. The author described how scholars have tried to make sense of why God set certain animals as clean and some as unclean. He briefly covered theories of symbolism/allegory ("'Sin is the ugliness and spitefulness of the camel; the burrowing, secretive, wily disposition of the coney, the rabbit, and the fox; the filthy sensuality of the hog...'"), hygienic (e.g.scavenger birds might carry diseases), cultic (pigs were sacred to the Canaanites, yet bulls were also, but the latter were "clean" so?), arbitrary and election.

About arbitrary rules, this author writes, "They tested Israel's willingness to obey, since God made no attempt to explain the purpose behind them. Israel was to conform to these laws because Yahweh was her God (Lev. 11:44); her obedience was in no way dependent on her understanding. Man's rebellious heart is repulsed by rules which appear to be arbitrary, even when these come from God Himself. When God had proved this truth sufficiently, He did away with the laws." (pg. 29 -- Creason)

Haaaaa! How I can relate to disliking arbitrary rules! So, yeah, I can see the point of God wanting to prove to us we like to rebel against laws we don't understand. Actually the author said this theory deserved some respect yet he seemed to like the election theory best of them all.

I have a bit more, but I think I will stop for now as this post is already longer than I thought it would be! It was short 'til I added my commentary. *ahem*


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 97 - 114

Sura 97 - 106

Since these chapters are so short, I can read through them rather fast. Sura 97 was about the Night of Determination when "angels and grace descend" (vs. 4). I think this is the night during the last ten days of Ramadan when Muslims believe prayers will be answered and more good deed points awarded so they spend those nights in further devotion to Allah.

I thought this

4. The people of the Book were not divided among themselves till after the clear proof had come to them.

was an odd verse from sura 98. It seems this "clear proof" divided the people of the Book. Was this Muhammad? And why would he be a divider and not a uniter since he claimed to have the same message?

Both sura 99 and 101 dealt with weighing deeds with 99 mentioning an atom's weight of good or bad determining the outcome.

Sura 100 mentioned horses rushing into battle.

Sura 101 begins with a question about the "startling calamity" and what it was. The final verse answers.

  10. How will you comprehend what that is?
 11. It is the scorching fire.

Sura 102 reminds us that plenty keeps us occupied. I took this as a warning that we should not let our families and wealth keep us from the best thing which is striving to please God.

Sura 103 reminds us that we are getting old and need to keep eternity in mind. Youth is fleeting. My mirror tells me this often.

Sura 104 speaks about a fire called Hutama. It is kindled by God to penetrate the heart. This sura warns us against amassing and hording wealth, backbiting and slandering others.

Sura 105 was about some people on elephants who fought the Muslims. God shows how He was faithful in helping the Muslims defeat them.

Sura 106 seemed complimentary of the Quraish and said God granted them security as they traveled. Yet I recall Muhammad was fine with raiding caravans sooooo??

Sura 107 - 114

Sura 107 reminds us that the one condemned is he who doesn't care for the orphans or the needy.

 4. Woe to those who pray  5. But who are oblivious of their moral duties,

I liked this as it was a good warning against those who pray and are outwardly devout yet they don't care for others. Reminds me of Jesus who said he desires mercy and not sacrifice. He reminded us that we show our love for him by taking care of the poor, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoner. Not by outwardly washing our hands and faces.

Sura 108

1. HAVE SURELY given you pre-eminence (in numbers and following); 2. So serve your Lord with full dedication and sacrifice. 3. It is surely your opponents whose line will come to end.

It's a short sura, but I wondered if this were why Muslims have so many children. So their numbers wouldn't give out. And maybe the atheistic and secular countries will die out because they are not reproducing fast enough.

Sura 109

6. To you your way, to me my way

Got ya!

Sura 110 mentions the help of God while 111 is a death sentence for Abu Lahab and his wife who must have done something awful to cross Muhammad and make him curse them.

Sura 112 is a statement of "pure faith" about God.

Sura 113 is maybe a chapter for those who believe in the evil eye and magic and superstitions.

Sura 114 is helpful in sharing that our refuge is God and he protects us from those awful things that the tempter puts into men's minds.

All done with sura notes! Now I need to do a promised post for a couple of ladies who asked me questions about my reading the Quran.

Also I am reading a short book (100 pages) focusing on Leviticus. It's the book of the Law that deals with so many of the ceremonial rituals, purification rites, unclean and clean things. Basically it's about eight to ten essays from different authors who explain some of the significance of these things. Quite interesting. I have a few notes to share on this topic soon.

If you missed it, yesterday I posted how Esther and Vashti "rocked their world"!

Have a good Saturday!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Esther & Vashti -- Two Queens Who Rocked Their World

"The Jews believe [Esther] was not created to embody the fashion of her times, but to reflect the majesty and providence of a God moving unseen through the world, even the forgotten world of women." (pg. 274)

While growing up and attending Sunday school, the story of the Jewish-orphan-girl-turned-Persian-
queen-and-Jewish-savior (so to speak) Esther was a favorite Old Testament tale! It demonstrated how God worked behind the scenes to bring people to certain places in their lives so He could accomplish a greater purpose. Indeed cousin Mordecai's words --

"And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

are so, so something. I just like 'em.

Maybe he sensed that God gave Esther this favor before the Persian king in order to accomplish more than being a mere beauty queen/trophy wife. Perhaps Mordecai sensed a higher purpose for her being favored in the eyes of this Gentile ruler. Or maybe he was just desperate enough to play the "God card" (even though God wasn't mentioned in the whole book!) since the Jews were facing extinction in the land.

Evil Haman wanted to rid the land of the Jewish people, yet in a dramatic twist he ended up ...well, you really need to read the story for yourself. Let's just say: genocide didn't happen! Any wonder why Hitler hated the Jewish festival of Purim since it celebrates the Jewish people's deliverance from someone who wanted to exterminate them?

So, I was recently reading the Quran as you all know and for "light reading" I picked up Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett at the library. It was based on the biblical story only "fleshed out" a bit more by making it seem as if Esther journaled about her life as a Jewish orphan growing up in Persia and later being chosen as part of a harem of women prepared for the king's pleasure. And possible queenship if the king were really really pleased!

There were a few quotes about women in that society that took my attention. Nothing life-altering or new, but they did pique my interest enough that I went back and reread the first chapter of Esther which I'll share below as well. I want you to take particular note of Queen Vashti's scandalous behavior! And how it made the men fear. :)

First from the book...

Esther speaking of the world in which she was born -- "Passion and pleasure, like freedom, were the domain of men, and even young girls knew the wishes of their hearts would always be subject to a man's desire for wealth. ... Our role was clear: We were to be objects of passion, to receive a man's attention mutely, and to respond only with children for the estate." (pg. 21)


After Queen Vashti defied her husband: "By proclamation of the king, let it be known that Queen Vashti has been banished from her throne, and from the King's presence, for her rebellion. A new queen will be found, one who knows her place and gives honor to the King. Let it also be known that in every house, every man is to be the master, and his word shall be law for those living under his roof." (pg. 37)

This really made me roll my eyes, yet it's what prompted me to reread Esther 1 (below). The audacity of men. *shaking my head*

"'The only God in Persia is pleasure, pleasure that is often at the expense of women.'" (pg. 39) -- Mordecai's words to Esther re: Vashti's banishment

True even now perhaps?

On friends in the market who would carry their gods in their pockets, Esther admitted, "It would make G-d seem nearer if I could but touch and feel Him. Mordecai says this is the meaning of faith: to see without sight, to believe against reason that G-d is near, and that He rules in the affairs of men.And orphans." (pg. 39)

I just liked this. I guess this is why people often had carvings of gods? It's easier to live by what we can see than what we must trust without clearly seeing.

The lesson of Esther's imperfections: "When we risk letting down our guard and taking off our masks, when we let others see our weaknesses and faults, we draw them to us. We send out a quiet signal that it's safe to be real with us. Her power, and ours, does not grow by comparing our beauty to another's, or by insisting our strength is superior, but by setting all claims aside." (pg. 278)

Just liked this one,too, because it reminded me it's OK to be less than perfect. God uses imperfect people. What else is out there?

If you don't know the story of Vashti's rebellion and how it made the men angry (she might start a trend!), read it here. If you want to cut to the chase, start reading around verse 10 until the end. I'll even highlight a few things for those who merely want to skim.

Esther 1

Queen Vashti Deposed
1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush : 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

4 For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. 5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa. 6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. 7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. 8 By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.

9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas- 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times 14 and were closest to the king—Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.

15 "According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?" he asked. "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her."

16 Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.

19 "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest."

21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household.

Now I want to hear YOUR thoughts! Notice how Vashti refused to show off her beauty to the drunk king and his friends? Maybe women respect themselves by not parading around in attire seeking to please men. What did you take from this passage and/or this post and quotes from the book? Anything?

Note: I read this post to my husband last night and in mock horror he exclaimed, "Oh no, another man-hater book...and this one is from the Bible!" Hehehehe. :-D Really, I don't hate men. I happen to love them very much. I just don't care for men who mistreat women. Or women who mistreat men. Let's just all love and respect each other. Do that whole "in honor prefer one another" and "love your neighbor as you love yourself" and "do unto others as you would have them to do unto you [or your mom or sister]." You get the idea! :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 91 - 96

I'm countin' down to the end of these Quran posts!

Stay tuned for my post about Esther as I want to hear your thoughts. Maybe I'll post it on Friday.

Friday again. Yes, I am glad this week is nearly over. My nephew has been away at church camp and I've missed the little guy! :-)

Sura 91 - 96

This group of suras was rather nice. God continues to call witnesses of things He created -- the sun, the moon, the evening sky, the morning. I enjoyed much of the imagery and I applied some of that to myself metaphorically. Like in sura 91 and the thoughts about the soul:

7. The soul and how it was integrated 8. And given the faculty of knowing what is disruptive and what is intrinsic to it.  9. He who nourishes it will surely be successful, 10. And he who confines it will surely come to grief.

I like imagining our souls and how our consciences prick us when we do wrong and how small our souls feel deep inside when we know we've hurt others. On the contrary, when we put others ahead of us and honor others instead of ourselves, we nourish our souls and they are full of joy and life.

Sura 92 verses 4-11 had a good lesson about those who endeavor for different reasons. Some do good and will be rewarded while others endeavor to cheat and steal and get ahead however they can. These people will fall headfirst into the abyss.

Sura 93 was quite lovely as God reminded Muhammad all that He had done for Muhammad. This shows me how God is a Father to the fatherless and promises to show the perplexed, the Way. Though He does not always make the poor into rich people by human standards of wealth, God increases our spiritual wealth and joy which is of far greater value than gold or pearls.

Sura 94 was another lovely chapter. I loved the imagery of God taking the burden that made us hopeless and freeing us to love and serve others. The Bible says that God takes our hearts of stone and gives us new hearts - ones that love Him and others. Therefore, we are not only free to love others, but we have the desire to do that. And living for God and others bring us much joy. (You probably recognize this joy when you do something for others yet you feel so blessed and joyful because you were able to meet a need or just make someone feel special, adored and loved. Can anyone relate?)

Sura 95 was a bit puzzling as God says He made men with fine possibilities then brought mankind to the lowest of the low except those who do right. So it seems God brought the unbelievers low so only the "cream" rose to the top, I guess we could say.

Sura 96 declares God taught by pen so I wondered does this refer to God writing a book? Or a number of them?

Interesting imagery of God dragging people by their forelocks.

15. And yet indeed if he does not desist We shall drag him by the forelock, 16. By the lying, the sinful forelock.

Good point about mankind being rebellious and thinking himself self-sufficient (vs. 6-7). I often like to pretend I'm self-sufficient, but who am I kidding? I cannot even regulate my heart to keep pumping and my lungs to keep efficiently using oxygen. Plus I can't even produce my own oxygen. Thank God for His wonderful provisions for me! I am a needy woman indeed!

Notes on Quran - Sura 77 - 90

I mentioned the other day that I'd finished reading the Quran, but I forgot to mention that I haven't quite finished posting my notes. As you may recall I read and wrote notes faster than I published them. So I have about 3 or 4 days of note posting left. A couple of ladies who've been faithfully adding their thoughts to many of my posts had the audacity* to ask me now to share my thoughts on the Quran as a whole and one wants me to summarize the message of the Bible and the Quran in five points each. So I will be, Lord willing, doing that within the next few days likely just after publishing my last sura notes. In the meantime, if you have other questions along the same lines, please let me know and I'll see what I can do about including those as well. I sincerely am so very grateful for all of you who have taken time to add your thoughts, commentaries, criticisms, differing opinions and what have you. It has made this time much richer and enjoyable ...not to mention y'all helped me learn! :)

* Really, I loved that they asked!

On to my notes . . .

I'm starting to get into the shorter suras now so I'm going to try flying through these in my notes. There's not a whole lot of new stuff as most of it is reminders of reminders of reminders of the Reminder that is the Quran. Follow that? ;)

Sura 77 - 90

Most of the first suras talk of the Day of Judgment and the Hour of which no one knows when it will come. There is talk of heaven, hell, those ledgers of deeds and even wishing that you'd sent deeds ahead of you into heaven instead of living only for yourself.

Sura 80 began with someone frowning and turning away from a blind man. Was Muhammad being chastised for this?

1. HE FROWNED AND turned away, 2. Because a blind man came to him.

I couldn't help but think of Jesus and how he was often interrupted by people, yet he always made time for them. He stopped to heal, to touch, to speak to others. He even went to people's houses when he was needed to heal someone who was sick. I never recall God giving command for people to go pay alms or do good works prior to their coming to talk to Jesus. I love the example Jesus gave of this because I am often less than thrilled when people interrupt me. I need to think of interruptions as divine appointments and maybe I'll have a better view of them!

From Sura 82, I thought this was an interesting question and answer to end the chapter.

18. How then can you comprehend what the Day of Judgement is? 19. It is the day when no soul will have power to do the least for a soul, and God's alone will be done.

Sura 83 had some new words such as the place where the wicked lodge - Sijjin - and the righteous - 'Illiyun. Also there is a verse about laughing at the infidels (vs. 34).

Sura 85 mentions the Quran being preserved on a guarded tablet. Is this because God's Original Word was allowed to be corrupted so God learned His lesson and is guarding it now?

Sura 86 speaks of the Quran being a decisive word. It also had this somewhat encouraging verse (17) though the two prior seem a bit sinister. I guess the Muslims were preparing for some holy war or striving in the cause of God...whatever it was He was plotting for them at this time.

15. They are hatching up a plot, 16. But I too am devising a plan.  17. So bear with unbelievers with patience, and give them respite for a while.

Muhammad was encouraged to recite the Quran in sura 87 so he wouldn't forget it. And sura 88 reminded Muhammad he was a reminder not a warden (vs. 22).

Sura 90 was nice as it encouraged people to do good, treat the orphans with kindness and persevere in doing nice things for others.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 71 - 76

Sura 71 - Nuh

This sura mentioned Noah and the troublesome people of his day.

4. That He may forgive some of your sins and prolong your term till an appointed time. Surely when God's appointed time is come it will not be put off, if only you knew!

I found the word "some" curious as it makes God seem limited. Now, I recall that God can only forgive sins committed against Him and not what you have done against others, right? So maybe this is why God's power is limited to forgiving only SOME of your sins. It seems people hold a lot of power when their unforgiveness could be the difference in your making it into heaven. While I agree that it's important to make things right between people we've hurt, I know that is not always possible. If you murdered someone, you can't go back and ask the dead guy for forgiveness. Yet I think of it more like this.

In North Carolina when someone rapes a person, it's not a trial of Allison (plantiff/raped one) vs. Kyle (defendant/alleged rapist.) In criminal cases, it is always The State of North Carolina vs. Kyle. Allison couldn't forgive Kyle and thus Kyle avoid trial because the offense is - in the eyes of the law - against the State or the people who live in North Carolina. It's a much bigger deal than merely being against one person. My point: when we sin, it's not a matter of Kyle wronging Allison. It's Kyle wronging God. God is "the State" so to speak. He is the Creator of Allison, therefore, when you hurt Allison, you hurt what He created, what He sustains, what He, in reality, possesses. Therefore, when we sin ultimately it's God's right to forgive or not forgive. This is why I think when we confess our sins God can and does forgive us fully. And when we turn from our sins, we will want to make things right with those individuals whom we've hurt by our wrongdoings.

Thus, God's power to forgive sins is complete. He is the all-powerful and He can forgive and cleanse us from every bit of filth staining us. I can not clean you. Shoot, I can't even clean myself. God cleans us all!

This sura ends with Noah asking God to get rid of all the sinners so they won't be around to lead God's people astray. Noah asks forgiveness on account of his family and the few others who believed in God.

Now I see more and more that intercession is a part of Islam as Sarira and others have mentioned. I suppose I went into my reading of the Quran with the wrong assumption of this topic thinking Muslims thought they had direct access to God, therefore, they didn't need or have use for intercessors. Also since Muslims think they are each accountable for what they did, I saw no reason for intercessors. If you stand or fall on your deeds, how can someone basically talk God into giving you a favored status? This sounds like what Muslims criticize about Jesus' role in Christianity. So I've learned something new just from reading these suras so far!

Sura 72 - al-Jinn

This sura discussed some jinns who overheard the Quran and believed its message and became Muslims. Now I am wondering how many Muslim jinn are running around the world!

I thought the idea of some men seeking refuge with the jinn (vs. 6) quite interesting to ponder.

Sura 73 - al-Muzzammil

This was a sura encouraging Muslims to read and recite the Quran at night since their days are so busy (vs. 7).

8. But recite the name of your Lord withdrawing yourself from everything, devoting yourself exclusively to Him.

I thought this was a good reminder for us to have personal daily quiet time with the Lord.

Sura 74 - al-Muddaththir

This sura was interesting especially when those in hell were asked why they were there.

42.  "What was it that brought you to Hell?" 43. They will answer: "We did not fulfil our devotional obligations, 44. And did not feed the needy, 45. And plunged into useless things with those who were obstinate, 46. And rejected the Day of Judgement as a lie 47. Until the certainty (of death) had come upon us.

Indeed it seems we are our own saviors according to Islam! Here you see your good works - or lack of them in this case - are what keep you in or out of heaven.

Sura 75 - al-Qiyamah

12. With your Lord alone will be the retreat on that day.

This sura describes Resurrection Day.

13. Then man will be told what he had sent ahead (of good) and what he had left behind.

This reminds me of Jesus when he told us to store treasures in heaven instead of storing them here where they get stolen, rusted and infested with bugs.

Sura 76 - al-Insan

This sura begins with the conception of humans and continues to describe the Hereafter with more detail.

The latter part of this chapter dealt with the Quran being revealed gradually and a command to meditate on it at morning and evening and glorify God far into the night.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hear ye! Quotes plus Notes on Quran - Sura 68 - 70

Hear ye! Hear ye! Let it be known throughout blog land! I finally finished reading my translation of the Quran this evening! I started reading it online on May 4 and finished the Ahmed Ali book I got from the library!

More quotes from
God & Government . . .

"Government by nature seeks power and will always attempt to generate its own moral legitimacy for its decisions. Inevitably, it resents any group that attempts to act as its conscience." (pg. 275)

"Christian patriots spend more time washing feet than waving flags. Ideally, flags should not even be thought of as symbols of military and economic might, but of the common good of the specific people a sovereign God has called them to serve." (pg. 285)

"Political illusion .... What people once expected from the Almighty, they now expect from the almighty bureaucracy. That's a bad trade for anyone; but for the Christian, it's rank idolatry." (pg. 381)

"''Basically, we live in a culture where celebrities are opinion leaders." The author gave examples of stars who were given platforms to speak for bills and issues simply because they played the roles of something related in a movie .. A media expert explained, "'We're living in an age of optics. Expertise does not photograph well. Julia Roberts does.' And what Julia Roberts says can change, overnight, the way people view an issue." (pg. 385)

"Wars proliferate; political solutions fail; frustrations rise.Yet we continue to look to governments to resolve problems beyond their capability. The illusion persists." (pg. 390)


Sura 68 - al-Qalam

This sura gave more assurances to Muhammad that he was not possessed as people were saying. After seeing this message repeated in nearly every sura, I am scratching my head wondering two things: what were these people seeing from Muhammad that had them questioning so much and also was Muhammad doubting himself and thus having to get assurances from God? It's one thing for people to say you are crazy. The Pharisees said similar things about Jesus, but Jesus didn't have to defend himself or try to assure himself in every single revelation (sura/chapter). He flat out told his naysayers that his miracles and message came from God's authority and he sought to honor only God, not himself.

From John 8

48The Jews answered him, "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?"

49"I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."

52At this the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. 53Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?"

54Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.

So why could Muhammad not use the same defense? Based on what I've read of him, perhaps it's because he got a lot of honor from his celebrity status (even exceptions to the rules of the average Muslim) so it wasn't only a message to honor God. It was a message to honor God's apostle and give him special privileges. Maybe the people saw how the Quran's revelations gave Muhammad special favor so they questioned this message. Hey, if someone told me they received a message from God, I'd question him. Especially if this message made him out to be more special than the average person. Just sayin'.

There is a story in this sura about men who were planning to visit their garden, but forgot to say "if God may please." Also it seems they were bent on being greedy as they didn't want any needy persons crossing paths with them that day. During the night their crops were destroyed and they realized their error too late.

God concludes:

33.  Such is Our chastisement; and the punishment of the Hereafter will be greater, if only they knew!

Sura 69 - al - Haqqah

This sura mentioned those ledgers of deeds and how if your ledger was in the right hand, you got a good reward and if it were in your left hand, bad news. Not even your wealth or power can save you.

28. Of no use was even my wealth.
 29. Vanished has my power from me."

I like how this sura began with

2. What is the concrete reality?

and ends answering the question.

51. And He, He is indeed the ultimate Reality.
 52. So glorify your Lord, the most supreme.

I agree that God is the Reality, the Standard.

Sura 70 - al - Ma'arij

This chapter describes some sort of judgment day for infidels. It shares how people would want to use their own family members as ransom yet will be unable to do so. Then I read this:

19. Surely man is greedy by nature.

and I thought the Quran was making a case for our sin nature which makes us naturally greedy and selfish. (I've still never seen a parent have to teach her child to be selfish and greedy.)

36. What is the matter with unbelievers that they stare at you with fixed gazes and hasten towards you

I read a lot about people staring in other cultures. It seems it wasn't well-liked even back then. :)

G&G Quotes plus Notes on Quran - Sura 65 - 67

First a few quotes from God & Government by Charles Colson that I found thought-provoking.

"Existentialists argued that since there is no God, life has no intrinsic meaning. Meaning and purpose must boldly be created through an individual's actions, whatever they may be. This relativistic view of truth perpetuated a subculture whose password was 'do your own thing' -- which for many meant a comfortable spiral of easy sex and hard drugs. Personal autonomy was elevated at the expense of community responsibility." (p. 48)

"The church, whose principal function is to proclaim the Good News and witness the values of the Kingdom of God, must resist the tempting illusion that it can usher in that Kingdom through political means." (pg. 131)

"Nothing distinguishes the kingdoms of man from the Kingdom of God more than their diametrically opposed views of the exercise of power. One seeks to control people, the other to serve people; one promotes self, the other prostrates self; one seeks prestige and position, the other lifts up the lowly and despised." (pg. 311)

"People in power use power to keep themselves in power." (pg. 349)

"Mastery of nature through technology has given modern man the illusion that he has mastered life itself. The message of the Kingdom is that only God is master of life. Attempts to create alternatives to His rules are futile." (pg. 387)


Sura 65 - al-Talaq

This sura dealt with how to treat women you wanted to divorce. It regulated how long the couple should stay together and wait before remarrying to make sure the woman was not pregnant. It also discussed maintenance issues.

Sura 66 - at-Tahrim

Apparently Muhammad had trouble with his wives talking and revealing secrets. God took time to discuss this matter with Muhammad and tell him not to forbid himself of that which God made lawful for him (vs. 1). I thought verse 5 quite a nice threat from God to make the wives repent and behave.

5.  In case he divorces you, his Lord will give him better wives in return, who will be modest, true believers, obedient to God, repentant, observant of prayer and fasting, both widows and virgins.


9. O Prophet, fight the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be severe with them. Their abode is Hell, an evil destination!

Another peaceful quranic verse about loving our enemies.

God used Noah's wife and Lot's wife as examples of unfaithful women. But I thought it was Noah's son who was an unbeliever, drowned and later confirmed by God as not a real son. Now I did question in my sura 11 notes if Noah's wife had committed adultery and some agreed while others told me this had to do with an unbelieving son and a precedent of sorts for disowning children who left the Islamic faith. So I was a bit startled to see Mrs. Noah condemned here. In the Bible's account, she was one of only eight people who survived the Flood. So God use Mrs. Noah and Mrs. Lot as bad examples and Mrs. Pharoah and Mary as good examples for women.

Sura 67 - al-Mulk

This sura begins with a fairly vivid description of crowds of people being cast into hell such as the "roar and raging as though it would burst with fury." Also the people were being asked whether or not a warner came to them which they admitted to and thus confessed their own guilt (vs. 11).

Another part of this sura talked about God making the earth subservient to us so we could travel it, explore it and find food and water from it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 61 - 64

Sura 61 - al-Saff

2. O you who believe, why do you profess what you do not practise?

Such a great question that has spawned so many sayings. Things like "actions speak louder than words," "your actions are speaking so loudly, I can't hear what you are saying," and even "practice what you preach." Can you think of others?

6. And when Jesus, son of Mary, said: "O children of Israel, I am sent to you by God to confirm the Torah (sent) before me, and to give you good tidings of an apostle who will come after me, whose name is Ahmad (the praised one)." Yet when he has come to them with clear proofs, they say: "This is only magic."

Interesting about Jesus mentioning someone named Ahmad coming. I know many Muslims say this is Muhammad. The biblical view is that Jesus only spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit who was given to the believers at Pentecost.

Here are the words from Jesus about the Holy Spirit:

John 14: 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. ... 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

And this is how the Spirit of God arrived:

1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"

You can read Peter's reply here if you are interested.

10. O you who believe, may I offer you a bargain which will save you from a painful punishment? 11. Come to believe in God and His Apostle, and struggle in the cause of God, wealth and soul. This will be good for you, if you can understand. 12. He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens with rivers flowing by, and excellent mansions in the garden of Eden. This will be a great fulfilment.

I thought "bargain" was an interesting choice of words that the translator used. Seems a bit like a heavenly version of "Let's Make a Deal." :) Also I find struggling in the cause of God an interesting concept. Perhaps this is part of that inner jihad - the inner wrestling with our desires and things of faith - that I've heard about.

Sura 62 - al - Jumu'ah

This sura called out to the Jews and was a challenge to them to prove their "chosen" or "favored" standing by wishing for death.

 6. Say: "O you Jews, if you claim that you are the favourites of God apart from all men, then wish for death, if you speak the truth. 7. But they will never wish for death because of what they had done in the past, and God knows the sinners well.

This sura also dealt with congregational prayers on Friday.

Sura 63 - al - Munafiqun

This chapter was a challenge to hypocrites and had strong words for those who had good words yet didn't act and fight in the Muslim cause. The last verses strongly urge Muslims to not be greedy, but to give in the cause of God.

Sura 64 - al - Taghabun

4. He knows what is in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you hide and what you disclose; God knows what is in the hearts.

Good reminder that God sees everything. Nothing is hidden.

14. O believers, some of your spouses and children are your enemies, so beware of them! Yet if you forbear, overlook, and forgive, God is indeed forgiving and kind.

This reminded me of the post I did on Jesus' divisive sword. He said,

34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

My Quest Bible had this explanation:

These verses illustrate one of the harsher truths of God's kingdom: Not everyone will respond to the gospel. Hearts full of prejudice, hate and pride will resist Christ's offer of peace. Because many will reject it, the message will divide people, families and nations.

We can see this today sometimes when someone becomes a follower of Jesus and his family disowns or - in extreme cases - tries to kill him

15. Your wealth and children are surely meant as trial for you: But with God is the great reward.

It was just cute to see riches and children as being a trial. :)