Monthly Archives: January 2008

Prayer Call

One thing that I never got accustomed to in Morocco was the call to prayer that took place several times each day. I especially found the prayer call in the middle of the night quite disturbing. In one town where we stayed for four nights, we lived near a small mosque. Every night just as I was getting into deep sleep, the loudspeaker would go off  calling Muslims to pray. I am not sure what time it was. But it was still dark outside.

Now, I am all for prayer. But does god really want you to get up during prime sleep time every night to pray. This would seem to be something that would render the worshipper worse off if done regularly. I thought that late night prayer is an optional thing for Muslims. As a non-Muslim, I don’t know much about the specifics of Islamic prayer practices. I wondered if the local imam was overly zealous or maybe he knew the Christians were in town and wanted to have some fun with us.

There are some things about Muslim prayer that I find interesting. I respect that Islam has orderly and scheduled prayer times. They tend to be much more disciplined in their prayer practices than most Christian traditions. Having established, memorized prayers provides consistency and a sense of unity since everyone is praying the same thing. At the same time, this seems limiting and could easily make prayers into a ritual that lose their personal significance to the worshipper. Christians can copy some of the benefits of established, communal prayers by praying Scripture or prescribed liturgy shared by a congregation. 

Prayer seems much more of a communal activity for Muslims than most Western Christians. Many American Christians view prayer as a private activity and not something to be done in public unless part of a worship service. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the charismatic wing of the evangelical movement. They tend to be known for corporate prayer opportunities that involves individualistic prayer experiences. There are both benefits and limitations to corporate prayer. It seems like a wide variety of prayer expressions would be the best way to fully encounter and glorify God. 

Muslim prayers involve a wide variety of motions and body postures to mimic the words being spoken. Their prayers are more sung than said. I think that Christians should consider some of these techniques, such as kneeling, lifting hands in the air, etc. Body posture can impact the individual since humans are three part beings (body, soul and spirit). If you have ever fallen asleep praying in a chair, you know what I mean about the importance of the right prayer posture. 

I don’t know that I would credit Islam with originally developing many of these things (prayer posture, corporate prayer, singing prayers, etc.). Many of them can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures, which are much older than the Koran. But I do believe that Islam has promulgated them and made them common for many people throughout the world.

In Islam, the Salaat is the ritual public prayer that is done five times per day. There are other optional prayers. However, the Salaat is the primary prayer practice required to be a good Muslim. I wonder how many Muslims every say prayers other than the Salaat. 

My experience conversing with Muslims is that their attitude toward prayer is far different from mine. I view prayer as an opportunity to talk with and listen to my heavenly Father and Lord. It is an intimate interaction between man and God. This includes praise, listening prayer, making requests, praying Scripture, etc. As a Christian, I believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of me. I am free to express myself in complete honesty to God. Muslims tend to look at prayer as a more regulated, prescribed activity. They might view my approach as disrespectful or taking a cavalier attitude toward God. But that is far from my intention. My heart is to honor God by drawing close to Him.

While in Morocco, I did notice that there seem to be a lot of people who ignore the call to prayer. Much like in Christianity, there are many people who are Muslim in name only. They might go to Friday prayers. But they would not stop their normal life to make prayer a major priority. It gets down to commitment and priorities.

If you are a Christian, do you pray regularly? Or do you ignore the call to pray? For Christians, it is not the voice of a man over a loudspeaker but the sound of life around us proclaiming the majesty and glory of God.


The Bar

One of the most fascinating places that I visited on my trip to Morocco last summer was a small town called Moulay Idriss. It is a northern city known as a spiritual retreat for Muslims seeking enlightenment and direction. The city is small, built on a hill with lots of close quarters and streets that wound around each other. Moulay Idriss has a very rustic and mystical feel to it.

Many Moroccan Muslims come here if they can’t afford to go to Mecca on pilgrimage. The city is named after its founder who is considered to be a pioneer of Islam in the country as well as a distant relative of Muhammad.  

Moulay Idriss is buried in the city. Many people come there to pray, burn candles and celebrate some of the more mystical side of Islam. Just like in Christianity, there are a wide variety of divisions and differences between various branches of Islam. It just to happens that in Morocco, the religion has been somewhat combined with modern customs and ancient, mystical traditions.

My friends and I were there as Westerners and Christians. We enjoyed talking with the people in the town and even found a local teenage boy to help show us around. The entire time I felt a darkness to the town. I didn’t see any other foreigners in the town except us. Everyone knew that we didn’t belong. This feeling got worse as we approached the mosque in the center of the town next to the tomb of Moulay Idriss.

As non-Muslims, we did not enter the holy site out of respect for the religion.  At the entrance was a bar that stood about waist high. The bar was a line of demarcation. By bending down to enter, you are in essence saying that you submit to Allah as god and are a good Muslim. Of course, we were not prepared to do that. Looking at that bar as if it would cut me in half if I entered, I began to understood the chasm between me and the Muslims in Morocco.

My heart went out to them as I watched person after person bend under the bar to enter. They went somewhere that I couldn’t go. And I wished they would realize it was a dead end. I silently prayed for everyone that passed me that day.

My experience at the bar is something that I will never forget because it reminds me why Christians should support missions, pray for the lost and be witnesses of Christ’s love wherever we go.Moulay Idriss

We Did It to Ourselves

While walking around a major shopping mall today, I noticed how ridiculous the “American” life has become. We spend money that we don’t have to get stuff that we don’t need to impress people that we don’t even know. That sounds like craziness.

Who actually shops at Pottery Barn for Kids? Why in the world would you ever buy overpriced furniture and room knickknacks for children at a high-end boutique? Most kids destroy new stuff after a week of use any way.  

This is one of the really nice malls where trendy retailers sell jeans for $100-200 per pair. I don’t think that I have ever bought anything there because the prices are so high. I was there to meet up with a friend because it is a central location.

The entire experience reflects what is wrong with America. Consumption has become the national pastime. Our national savings rate is almost non-existent compared to 50 years ago. With the faltering housing situation and worsening dollar problems, I fear it is only a matter of time until our excesses catch up with us. I used to worry about the future generations. Now, I am concerned about the horrors that face us over the next five years.

Are we as country ready for a major recession? How will such an affluent society react if everything falls apart seemingly overnight?

Think this is alarmist talk? Look at all the economic fundamentals. Things don’t look good. I am not talking about the “false fundamentals” that are the equivalent to the government’s rendition of an economic magic trick. I am talking about the real numbers. Check out Crash Proof by Peter Schiff if you want to see why things could get much worse and how to prepare.

If America’s economy plunges over the next few years, we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. We thought that we could keep on gambling away the future and never have to live with the results.

Here’s a quick scorecard for those watching at home:

  • Record trade deficits despite a weakening dollar.
  • Housing bubble burst and loan crisis. Americans can no longer afford to tap house equity to pay for stuff. And having done so in the past has left many Americans with greater debt and fewer assets.
  • Inflation due to higher costs on everything from energy to food to education and basic necessities. Hyper inflation could well be on its way if the real buying power of the dollar continues to drop.
  • Weakening dollar will impact U.S. investments and securities in a negative way while providing some boon to U.S. manufacturing. This is a bit of a Catch-22 situation because raw materials become more expensive at the same time foreigners can afford to buy more of our stuff. I predict this will be a wash with manufacturing get a bit of a boost but not enough to spur the economy overall.
  • Still fairly low unemployment with an ever aging population. Jobs may not be the real problem for America in the future. Earning power is likely the bigger challenge. Future generations will have to take care of their parents at a time that the dollar earns less and less.
  • Extremely low savings rates with record consumption patterns. This cannot be sustained forever.
  • Massive personal and national government debt. What happens when foreigners are no longer willing to bankroll us? I think the tide is already starting to turn. 
  • Aging national infrastructure in everything from roads to ports. Security and war concerns have eaten up a lot of money that could be used for repairs and upkeep.
  • Inept government and naive voters will put the wrong people in place to make the necessary changes. 

I feel the perfect storm conditions are forming. The smart move is to prepare now by diversifying to foreign markets, reducing spending and saving more. Giving up lattes today may mean that you can keep your house tomorrow.

Built on Sinking Sand

The next several posts are based on experiences from my trip to Morocco last summer. I went on a humanitarian aid trip to work at an orphanage. While in Morocco, I also did a lot of prayer and intercession for the country.

One of the first places I had a chance to pray was at the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Built on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the mosque is one of the largest in the world. It is certainly the largest mosque that is open to non-Muslims. The structure was very impressive although it felt empty to me.

While praying outside of the mosque near the ocean, I noticed all the fallen stones and construction equipment near the base of the structure. It looked like there was a massive project underway to reinforce the base of the mosque. I wondered if this was a prophetic picture of Islam in Morocco.

Later that day, I met up with a friend who is doing humanitarian work in the country. He said that the mosque is literally falling into the ocean. This comment came completely unprompted by me. Then, my friend said that he believes this is a prophetic picture of Islam compared to the might waves of the Christian message about Jesus Christ. 

In His most famous sermon, Jesus warned about building on the sand and not the firm bedrock of His words. Islam is built on the sand because it denies Christ’s work on the cross. It encourages human efforts to appease a very demanding sense of god.

Islam is very strong in the Middle East. But there are cracks in the foundation that are starting to give way under pressure of a world that doesn’t make sense apart from Jesus Christ. My hope is that many come to know that we all can be guaranteed of salvation through Jesus.

I agree with Islam that God is great, mighty and beyond anything we can imagine. I disagree with Islam that we can do anything to bridge the gap between us and God except believe on His Son. The five pillars of Islam are nothing more than human striving in religious language.

Grace is the thing that makes Christianity different.

 What is the foundation of your life? Is it secure?

Getting Ready for the King

Americans have no idea what it means to live in a land with a king. Our president may be the most powerful political leader in the world. But our chief executive has to ask for his job every four years and is limited in what he can do.

I quickly learned in Morocco that a king is a completely different matter. The king is ruler for life. He has ultimate power over the military, the government, the culture and the people. He demands ultimate loyalty from his subjects.

The current king is King Mohammed VI, a progressive Muslim leader who has strived to modernize the country and bring civil rights reform. Of course, he has his critics. Morocco faces a number of challenging issues including: poverty, illiteracy, religious tolerance and education.

While in Morocco, you can’t help but see the king. His picture is everywhere. Generally, the people all spoke well of the king. I think the people really like him because he has attempted to balance Morocco’s past with a sight to the future.

Morocco’s 350-year-old dynasty is the world’s oldest next to the Japanese imperial dynasty. Its king claims to be directly descended from the prophet Mohammed.

Morocco’s “citizen king” and “first servant,” has tried to create a place where both old and new can flourish. That’s a good thing. I can see that how a king rules has a big impact on the everyday life of a people.

Proverbs 29:2,4 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan…By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” 

As good as the best earthly king can be, he is still fallible person. But as a Christian, I serve the one true God – the King of Kings. Yet, I struggle to really understand what this means because I have never lived in a country with a king.

While in Morocco, I got a peak into how a king impacts everyday life. First, the king’s picture is everywhere. All businesses and public places must have a picture of the king in prominent display. Second, the king has the final authority over the legislature. The king is the commander of the army. He is the protector of the people in both a military and moral law sense. His picture is on the money. He owns much of the resources in the country. He is the most famous celebrity in the country. The king is all over the newspapers.

When the king comes to town, it is a big deal. I mean a huge celebration. For a rural town, the king may only come there once or twice in his reign. If you get the rare pleasure of having a personal audience with a king, his subjects don’t just smile and shake his hand. They should kneel on one knee and kiss his hand or foot. 

While in the remote areas of the country, I heard about how the king came to one village and the people spent a year getting ready for just that one day. Wow! I serve the King of Kings and struggle sometime to “prepare” 30 minutes a day for His next earthly visit.

I was humbled by what I saw in the devotion of the Moroccan people to their imperfect king. Why do I struggle to match that sense of awe when the one that I serve made it all?

Satellite Messengers

My spiritual mentor likes to remind me that God can speak through just about anything including the mouth of a donkey. See the story of Balaam in the Hebrew Scriptures.

I don’t know if this reference is meant as an encouragement or if my mentor is trying to say that we can all be an ass sometimes. Maybe both.

I have learned that God can use anything to get out His message and bring His rule to the earth. He even uses half-hearted, misguided efforts of Western Christians to impact the unsuspecting with the truth of the Christian Gospel. I saw this while in Morocco last summer.

While walking through Casablanca, I noticed the satellite dishes strung across the tops of almost all the buildings and housing complexes in the city. Our guide and fellow humanitarian worker told us that Moroccans love to get European broadcasting on TVs. We even saw satellite dishes in some of the slum areas. A lot of the program is downright evil and smut.

Our friend also said that God has used the TV to bring the Gospel to the country. He recounted several stories of people he personally knew who had been saved and accepted Christ by watching religious television. Some of these people stumbled upon the message by accident and where gripped by its truth.

Evidently, American televangelists had made a difference by piping in Christian teaching through satellite broadcasts. This challenged my longstanding bias against TV preachers.

I always snicker when I think of most televangelists. I don’t think much of many of these preachers except someone like Billy Graham. I know of a number of Americans who react negatively to Christians because of TV evangelists. These people saw things on TV that made them get the wrong idea about God. But the Holy Spirit has used televangelists in Morocco, which is closed off to active missions work to native citizens.

The Spirit spoke to me that day and impressed this thought onto my conscience, “Don’t be so quick to judge. I am working through imperfect vessels, just like you. The message is powerful  and perfect despite the falliblity of the messengers.”

I felt humbled by these satellite messengers who had been there long before I arrived and would remain after I left for home. God truly does work in mysterious ways. He even uses people that I think give Him a bad name. I am sure there are some people who might think the same thing of me.

My lesson that day was that God can truly use a donkey or satellite TV as His messengers.

The Evolution of Language

Language is one of the things that is truly evolutionary in life. While people debate the evolution of species, we know that words change. Sometimes words start out as two separate words. Eventually, they get a hyphen to connect them. Eventually, these words become so linked in people’s brains that the words are slammed together to form one new word.

Language started as an oral practice before people ever wrote it down on a tablet or piece of paper. There are some amazing things about language that linguists have not really figured out even to this today. How does your brain know where one word stops and another one begins when listening to someone speak a known language? Scientists are still baffled by this because there is no noticeable space, such as you find in written language.

As I have begun to study Hebrew at Union PSCE Seminary, I am learning so much about even my native tongue. I had either forgotten these things from childhood or had never stopped to realize them. I plan on writing a lot about words as I process through the things I learn in my Hebrew class.

Here’s just one example of the great insight that can be seen by studying the meaning of Hebrew words used in the Tanakh (Old Testament). For starters, Hebrew never uses “is” or “are” equivalents. The present tense verb is assumed unless otherwise stated by the language used. This means you can have a sentence without a verb if the verb in English would be “is” or “are”.

Hebrew by default considers the place of action to be the present. This has ramifications beyond just language. It means that every noun is understood by what it is doing not necessarily what it is as a person, place or thing. I am reminded that life is mean to be lived in the present. We can’t usually change the past. And we can’t do anything about the future except do the right thing in the present.

Language is fascinating because it reflects the story of the people who speak and write it. Stop to consider how your language has changed through the years. What does this say about society? What does this say about you?

Thoughts from Watching the News

A number of things occurred to me while watching NBC news tonight. First, we are a nation of druggies. It seemed like every single advertisement was about some drug that would help with everything from getting a good night’s sleep to high cholesterol to weight control. There are some conditions that require medicines to fix. But I believe that many Americans have turned to the pill just because it is easier than personal discipline and making tough choices on a daily basis. The ads we seen on TV is a good indicator of what people are buying and what companies are trying to sell.

Second, TV newscasts are a horrible medium for covering complex issues. NBC reported on the social unrest and political corruption issues in Kenya. While the reporter did an okay job, there wasn’t enough time to really get into all the nuances that Americans just don’t understand. As someone who has been to Kenya and knows active missionaries in the country, I am somewhat familiar with the tribal factions and internal division. I felt the like the news told us that there was a problem without really explaining much about it. The report showed some pictures of bodies and rioters in the street. That was about it.

Third, NBC talked about why it didn’t cover secondary candidates instead of really tell us much about them. If I want to know NBC’s editorial criteria, I will check its Web site not tune into the nightly newscast.

Kudos to NBC in how its election coverage explained the caucus system in Iowa. I found that interesting.

On a completely unrelated topic, I want to give my horrible coaching job in a major bowl game award to the VA Tech staff. The Hokies did fairly well when the team ran the ball. I think that Beamer and Co took the Jayhawks too lightly. Instead of run the ball, which is Tech’s specialty, Beamer tried lots of passes in situations that ended up leading to turnovers and eventually Kansas points. When the TV announcers criticize your coaching throughout the second half and make sense, maybe you should try a different strategy. Now, I will have to hear story after story about how Kansas belonged in a BCS bowl game. Missouri wasn’t good enough…. blah, blah, blah.

Kansas had a good team this season. But I still don’t know if it belonged in the game regardless of the outcome.