Posted on March 12th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 4: Sawm (Fasting and Ramadan)
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkey) occurs in the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Historically, it was during this month that Muhammad received revelations from the angel Gabriel that later were incorporated into the Qur’an. The emphasis during the month of Ramadan is on the practice of fasting. Muslims all around the world during this month will fast from sun up to sun down. For Muslims fasting includes refusing to drink water, eat food, or enjoying other pleasures during the daylight hours. All Muslims are expected to participate in the fast. There are some exceptions that are allowed. For example, senior adults, young children, and pregnant women are exempted from practicing the fast during Ramadan.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ramadan is the celebration that occurs each evening as the sun goes down and Muslims are permitted to “break the fast” (this meal is referred to as “iftar”). Each night as the sun goes down, many Muslims will gather with their families and partake in a big feast to celebrate the end of the fast for that day. In fact, food consumption during the month of Ramadan greatly increases. This has led some to suggest that Muslims actually consume more food during Ramadan than during any other month of the year. For this reason, Ramadan is a bittersweet time of year. On one hand abstaining from food and other pleasures during the daytime is very difficult. On the other hand, gathering with family and friends and breaking the fast together is a joyous occasion for many Muslims.
Ramadan is a significant time of year for Muslims and something they take very seriously. In fact, in some Muslim countries it is against the law to eat or drink in public during the daytime. This is such a sensitive subject in some Muslim countries. For example, I recently was in the Middle East during Ramadan and bought lunch at a restaurant in a food court and ended up hiding myself in a bathroom stall just to eat lunch! Some places are more relaxed on this issue than others, but Muslims in general take Ramadan seriously and view it as a time to reflect and hopefully hear a word from Allah.
What is the significance of Ramadan in Turkey?
During Ramadan in big cities, restaurants and businesses will remain open during Ramadan. At the same time, it is assumed that tourist and non-Muslims will respect the culture and attempt to refrain from eating and drinking in public. In smaller cities and towns throughout Turkey, many restaurants will be closed during the day. In Turkey, it is customary for drummers to walk around in the early hours of the morning to wake people for the predawn meal (sahur). This is always an interesting wake up call for tourists and visitors!
At the conclusion of Ramadan, Muslims around the world celebrate a 3-day celebration known as Eid al-Fitr (Ramadan Bayram in Turkey). This celebration includes singing, dancing, visiting, gift giving, and lots of fireworks! This celebration is perhaps the most joyful event for Muslims every year.
Posted on March 11th, 2014 by David Burnette
Sure, the gospel is necessary for our conversion, but what role does it play after that? How does it shape our everyday lives? Pastor and author J.D. Greear has answered a few questions for us on this very topic. J.D. is a pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, as well as an author and a blogger.
1. How should a recovery of the gospel affect everyday tasks, responsibilities, and routines?
For years now I have begun every day with “The Gospel Prayer” (see below), a tool that I’ve found helpful in steeping my mind and heart in the truths of the gospel.
Sometimes people in the gospel-centered movement seem ill-at-ease with spiritual disciplines, as if forcing yourself into a habit automatically spells legalism. True, devoid of the gospel, such disciplines will become legalistic and empty. But the entire purpose of daily disciplines is to give us an opportunity to think about, and meditate on, and move within the gospel. Practicing spiritual disciplines is like cutting furrows that faith in the gospel can fill with new life. The discipline has no power in itself, but provides a context in which God form the affections of faith. And ironically enough, our obedience to God when we don’t “feel” like it can even be an act of faith in and of itself, a cry to God can change our hearts.
2. How can we tell from a practical standpoint if we’re not being motivated by the gospel in our everyday routines?
Well, start each day with the assumption that overnight your heart got re-steeped in idolatry. John Calvin said that the human heart is an “idol factory,” constantly coming up with new things to replace God, new ways to have a life of happiness and power without God.
Ask yourself some diagnostic questions: What one thing do I have to have today to be happy? What made me feel the most significant yesterday? Where did I turn for comfort when things weren’t going well? These questions can reveal certain patterns in our lives—where our heart runs for meaning, satisfaction, and comfort. As St. Augustine said, things like worry, fear, sadness, and jealousy are “smoke from the fires” rising from the altars of our idolatry. Follow the trail of that smoke and you’ll see where you have substituted the gospel for something else.
3. How would you counsel a believer who is beginning to notice that his daily life is disconnected from the truths of the gospel?
Our hearts are hard-wired towards works-righteousness, so we need to constantly saturate ourselves in the gospel. If we don’t, our natural drift will always be away from those crucial truths. As I said in question 1, I’ve prayed a specific prayer every day for years now to remind myself of the gospel. I simply call it, “The Gospel Prayer.” It’s not magical, but it’s a tool to train your mind in the patterns of the gospel:
- In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.
- Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.
- As You have been to me, so I will be to others.
- As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.
To register for Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” and to get more information about Secret Church, go to www.secretchurch.org.
Reports coming out of North Korea reveal that 33 Christians have been sentenced to death for working with Kim Jung Wook, a Baptist missionary from South Korea who was arrested in North Korea last year. Together, they have planted approximately 500 underground churches. Kim Jong-un has called for their execution as he believes these efforts to be in direct opposition to his regime, a threat to national security. This would not be inconsistent with past actions, as he executed his own uncle–Jang Song-thaek–late last year, along with all of Mr. Jang’s relatives, because he perceived him to be a threat to power. Tragically, public executions in North Korea are not a rare occurrence. Hundreds upon hundreds have taken place, some for offenses as small as owning a Bible.
First, let us be encouraged and challenged by the example of these 33 believers who, at the risk of their lives, have done the work of ministry. Five hundred churches! Are we taking full advantage of our religious freedom to even aim at doing what the unfree have, by God’s grace, accomplished?
Second, let us pray for them. There is no doubt these precious brothers and sisters have some tough days ahead. Let us pray for their freedom. But most importantly, let us pray for their faithfulness to Christ. Ask the Lord to give them strength to endure. And as a result of their example, pray that the gospel goes forth strongly, spreading like wild fire to Kim Jong-un, throughout his regime, across North Korea, and beyond.
Posted on March 10th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 3: Zakat (Giving Alms/Charity)
What is Zakat?
The term “zakat” is mentioned more frequently in the Qur’an than any other of the five pillars. In fact, over 80 verses in the Qur’an mention the requirement to give charity and alms to the poor. One verse says, “Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and give zakat, will have their reward…” (Qur’an 2:277). Based on this verse and others in the Qur’an, all Muslims are expected to give zakat, which is 2.5% of one’s accumulated wealth (not annual income) to the poor and needy in their community. If a particular family is poor they can offer food or something else as a replacement for money.
Zakat is a system established for equitable distribution of wealth in Muslim societies. The background for this practice is the Islamic understanding that Allah as the creator is the rightful owner of all things. He alone determines the religious tax and implemented zakat as a way to care for the needs of the poor and destitute in the community. Therefore the giving of zakat is considered an act of worship to Allah. Zakat is intended to serve as a simple reminder to Muslims that everything they have ultimately belongs to God.
Some Muslim nations require zakat by law and zakat stamps can be purchased from local post offices. In other countries, giving zakat to the mosque or to the poor is a voluntary activity. Many mosques will have a metal zakat box near the entrance that Muslims can place their monies into as they exit the mosque. The month of Ramadan is the time when most Muslims will pay the zakat.
According to Islamic theology, those who give the zakat will receive rewards, be assisted in their journey towards paradise, and perform an act that is pleasing to Allah. A common mantra is that zakat is not just charity, but also duty, worship, and purification. Zakat is a central tenet to Islamic theology and something that Muslims all around the world practice annually.
What is the significance of the Zakat in Turkey?
In Turkey, many of the Muslims will at least claim and likely give the zakat in some form or fashion on an annual basis. A common occurrence in Turkey and other Muslim countries during Ramadan is for beggars and the needy to go door to door in apartment complexes asking for food and charitable gifts. This practice is not discouraged and serves as a way for the poor and needy to receive food and gifts from the Islamic community. As a country, Turkey does not have an official government run zakat system. Prior to Atatürk’s reforms in the 1920’s, the state collected the zakat, but it now has largely become a matter of individual responsibility. Therefore, the practice of zakat by Muslims in Turkey will differ from person to person throughout the country.
Posted on March 10th, 2014 by David Burnette
John Piper talks about how his sleeping habits affect him in the fight of faith:
” … I am emotionally less resilient when I lose sleep. There were early days when I could work without regard to sleep and feel energized and motivated. In more recent years my threshold for despondency is lower on less sleep. For me, adequate sleep is not just a matter of staying healthy. It’s a matter of staying in the ministry – I’m tempted to say it’s a matter of persevering as a Christian. I know it is irrational that my future should look so bleak when I get only four or five hours of sleep several nights in a row. But rational or irrational, that is a fact. And I must live within the limits of fact. Therefore we must watch the changes in our bodies.”
– When I Don’t Desire God, 205
In Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life,” one of the topics we’ll cover is The Cross and Resting. Join us as we think through this and other daily routines in light of the gospel.
Posted on March 7th, 2014 by Paul
- “Friday Prayers”
Pillar 2: Salat (Prayers)
What is Salat?
Five times a day the muezzin calls from the minaret of mosques all around the world to call Muslims to prayer. The Muslim call to prayer (adhan) is perhaps the most recognizable sound throughout the Muslim world. Muslims are expected to pray 5 times per day. Each of the 5 prayer times have a name and specific time of the day in which they are to be performed. Fajr is between dawn and sunrise, Zuhr is between midday and mid-afternoon, Asr is between mid-afternoon and sunset, Maghrib is just after sunset, and Isha is between nightfall and dawn. Muslims are expected to pray during these times each day either corporately in a mosque or individually at home or at work.
One of the unique characteristics of Islamic prayer is that those praying are expected to turn and face the city of Mecca. Mecca is in modern day Saudi Arabia and known as the holiest place in Islam. Muslims all around the world are expected to turn wherever they are (even in an airplane which can be interesting) 5 times per day and face Mecca when they pray. Before they pray, Muslims must ritually cleanse their hands, arms to the elbows, face, head, ears, nose, and feet to the ankles with water. This ritual cleansing process is known as wudu. Being outwardly clean before God is an essential part of Islamic prayer.
As they pray, Muslims assume special prayer positions throughout the prayer. The following steps are involved in a Muslim prayer:
- Raise their hands and say in Arabic, “God is great.”
- Fold their hands and quote the opening of the Qur’an.
- Bend over three times and says three times in Arabic, “Glorify the name of God most great.”
- Stands with hands to their side and says once in Arabic, “Give thanks to God.”
- On their knees they touch the prayer rug while saying five times in Arabic, “Glorify the name of God most high.”
- They sit up.
- They bow down again and repeat step 5.
- They stand and prepare to repeat the steps a second time.
- They turn their head to the left and to the right. These steps end the series of prayers each time.
What is the significance of Salat for Muslims in Turkey?
Most sources estimate that more than 96% of the people in Turkey follow the religion of Islam. The challenge is that the level of devotion varies significantly from region to region, city to city, and person to person. Pew Religion Research suggests that 27% of the Muslims in Turkey actually pray five times per day. 15% of Muslims in Turkey claim to pray several times per day, but not all five. Based on this research and my own personal experience in Turkey, it is safe to say that Muslims are practicing the prayers, but perhaps not as often as one might think. Again, this varies from person to person, but while many of the confessing Muslims in Turkey know the process and content of the prayers, chances are that they are not performing it as much as they might claim. Five times a day, the call to prayer sounds out from the minaret in cities all across Turkey, but the question is . . . do Muslims believe they are actually communing with God when they pray or are they simply going through the motions of religion?
Hear the Muslim Call to Prayer below:
This is part 2 of a 5 part series on the 5 Pillars of Islam. Check out part 1 here, and be on the lookout for the other parts over the next week.
Posted on March 6th, 2014 by Eric Parker
The religious consensus across our culture has dwindled so much that you would be hard pressed to find anything that a pluralistic society might agree upon. Even still, if someone is religious, then love is bound to be one of their core values. Some might even go as far as to flip the famous axiom “God is love” to say that “Love is God.” This reversal can be a dangerous error. Listen to what A. W. Tozer has to say,
The apostle John, by the Spirit, wrote, “God is love,” and some have taken his words to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God. This is a great error. John was by those words stating a fact, but he was not offering a definition.
Had the apostle declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to infer that God is what love is. If literally God is love, then literally love is God, and we are in all duty bound to worship love as the only God there is. If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Thus we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God. The God we have left is not the God of Israel; He is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; He is not the God of the prophets and the apostles; He is not the God of the saints and reformers and martyrs, nor yet the God of the theologians and hymnists of the church.
For our souls’ sake we must learn to understand the Scriptures. We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead. Words should express ideas, not originate them. We say that God is love; we say that God is light; we say that Christ is truth; and we mean the words to be understood in much the same way that words are understood when we say of a man, “he is kindness itself.” By so saying we are not stating that Kindness and the man are identical, and no one understand our words in that sense.
The words “God is love” mean that love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true of God but it is not God. It expresses the way God is in His unitary being, as do the words holiness, justice, faithfulness and truth. Because God is immutable. He always acts like Himself, and because He is a unity He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another.
A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 97-98
Posted on March 6th, 2014 by Jonathan
Belgium recently made child euthanasia legal. North Korea daily commits crimes against humanity. The United States preforms 1.6 million abortions each year. Each year, 2 million children are victims of sex trafficking. About 59% of Americans now support (so-called) gay marriage, while lawmakers and the general public are becoming more and more intolerant of those who don’t celebrate it. The current state of affairs makes it easy to be given over to anger or despair.
Emotions are a natural part of our response to these things. If you’re like me though, the anger and zeal you feel is often less like that of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple and more like that of a political talk show host. So to help us both out, here are a few things to keep in mind as we respond to the evil in this world.
- Be humble - “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3). Without the gospel reality of Ephesians 2:4-10, we would be no different than everyone else.
- Demonstrate love - “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Winning arguments is useless without love.
- Don’t be surprised – Even after witnessing miracles firsthand, religious leaders defiantly schemed with one another to bring Jesus down. Then, upon hearing about his resurrection from the guards at the tomb, “when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble’” (Matt 28:12-14). This is the sad state of human hearts before God.
- Show compassion – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). We ought to mourn over the lostness of our neighbors, and then lovingly address the needs of their sinful hearts, not just the sinful actions it breeds.
- Don’t take it personally - “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Ex 45:5). Because of his faith in God’s sovereign plan, Joseph was able to let go of bitterness against his brothers. In the same vein, sin is never ultimately against us, but the Lord (Ps 51:4, Rm 3:23).
- Believe in God’s promises – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rm 12:19). Nobody’s getting away with anything. All sins will be paid for, either by the sinner in eternity or by Christ on the cross. On top of that, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).
Posted on March 5th, 2014 by Paul
Pillar 1: Shahada (The Witness)
What is the Shahada?
“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This confession is the first thing whispered into the ear of a newborn Muslim baby and the last thing heard and spoken at death. This basic confession defines what it means to be Muslim. These words set Islam apart from the other monotheistic religions: Christianity and Judaism. If one desires to be Muslim, the starting point is a sincere confession of the Shahada.
At its core, Islam is a religion that demands devotion to one God, Allah. The Arabic word for God is “Allah.” The word Allah was used in reference to God in Arab culture since before the birth of Muhammad in 570 AD. The Shahada begins with God. It assumes that there is one God who created all things and sustains all things. Muslims around the world strive to live a life of submission and surrender to this one God, Allah.
According to Islam, Allah sent humanity many prophets to lead them towards God. The final prophet he sent was Muhammad. Muhammad, though he was human, served as a role model and messenger from God. In their daily lives, Muslims are to emulate and follow the example set by Muhammad while he lived on the earth. The explicit mention of Muhammad as the “messenger of Allah” in the Shahada stands again in contrast to both Christianity and Judaism, who do not recognize Muhammad as a prophet sent from God.
For Muslims, the Shahada serves as a guide to life. It encapsulates both belief in Allah as the one true God and also points Muslims to Muhammad as the definitive example of what it means to be submit and surrender to God. The Shahada is a statement of both faith and practice and serves as the foundational statement for the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.
What is the significance of the Shahada for Muslims in Turkey?
For many Muslims in Turkey today, the Shahada functions merely as a traditional saying that brings order and structure to Turkish society. The day-to-day implications of the Shahada are minimal for many Muslims in Turkey. Having been to Turkey several times the past few years, I am always surprised by the indifference expressed by Muslims towards Islam. Operation World estimates that Turkey is over 96% Muslim. In fact, the Turks proudly say that “to be Turk is to be Muslim.” Yet, in reality, when it comes to Islam as a whole and the confession of the Shahada in particular, there might be a lot of intellectual ascent, but little heart felt devotion to God, Muhammad, and this confessional statement.
This is part 1 of a 5 part series on the 5 Pillars of Islam. Be sure to check back here for the other parts over the next 2 weeks.
Posted on March 4th, 2014 by David Burnette
We don’t usually think about busyness as a spiritual issue, but as pastor and author Kevin DeYoung reminds us in his latest book, Crazy Busy, we need to stop and consider what is for many believers today a massive problem.
Kevin is a pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He has authored several books and his blog over at TGC - “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – is worth visiting regularly.
The fact that busyness affects how we follow Jesus on an everyday basis makes it extremely relevant to our upcoming Secret Church 14, “The Cross and Everyday Life.” That’s another reason we’re glad Pastor Kevin was willing to answer the following questions on this important topic.
1. How can someone determine whether their level of busyness is normal or an indication of a deeper problem?
Busyness itself is not the problem. God made Adam to labor in the Garden and He made it good. We have been created for good works, which means we have work to do. Any Christian who cares about people will seek to bear the burdens of others. Clearly, inactivity is not the goal of godliness.
Having said all that, obviously some busyness is problematic. We all know and feel that—some of us every day. To determine what is healthy busyness and what is not, I’d start by looking for sin’s symptoms. Am I losing my patience more than I used to? Do I find myself easily angered? Have I lost the joy of my salvation? Then I would take a look at the patterns in my life. Am I taking a regular Sabbath? Do I have habits of feasting and fasting, work and rest, leisure and labor? Do I seem to be working all the time and actually getting less done? Finally, I try to ask myself this simple diagnostic question: am I trying to do good to others or look good before others? If we’re honest, so much of our busyness is about people-pleasing, pride, and positioning ourselves for earthly applause.
2. How is our busyness, or at least our feeling of busyness, a gospel issue?
It could be a gospel issue in a number of ways. If busyness chokes out the seed of God’s word (like in the parable of the sower and the soils), that’s a gospel issue. If busyness is a convenient way to cover up the rot in my own soul—or make me forget that I even have a soul—that’s a gospel issue. If I am trying to do everything for God to such an extent that I don’t find any joy in God, that’s a gospel issue. And perhaps most seriously, busyness is a gospel issue when I keep running at breakneck speed just to prove myself to my parents, prove myself to the world, or prove myself to God. If we can’t come to Christ, take his light and easy yoke upon us and rest in him, then we haven’t understood the gospel at all.
3. In your book Crazy Busy you mention one thing busy people (and all people) must do. Can you summarize that one thing?
The one thing we must do is sit at the feet of Jesus. I know that sounds super-spiritual, or worse, like one more thing to do. But it’s the point of Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Martha is trying to be a great host, but all her preparations matter for nothing if she neglects the Host in our midst. Jesus gently rebukes Martha for being frazzled and bothered by lesser things, when Mary has chosen the better part, namely, to listen to Jesus and learn from him. It’s not a silver bullet, but I really believe if we could make it a priority to take an hour each day, or 20 minutes, or a regular five minutes to slowly read the Bible and pray, we would begin to see Spirit-prompted changes. It’s no accident that Luke was inspired to put the Mary-Martha story at the end of chapter 10, after the sending out of the 72 disciples for powerful ministry and after the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s the Lord’s way of telling us: look, you can cast out demons, you can preach, you can heal, you can stop by the side of the road to help the sick and dying, but if you don’t spend time with me, you are neglecting the very thing I want most from you: to sit at my feet.
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