Tag Archives: life

Cross Examination (3) – Are Muslims Better Followers of Jesus than Christians?

The first to speak sounds right – until the cross-examination begins. (Proverbs 18:17)

This is the second part of a series examining some of the common claims Muslims make about Christianity. I am using a video I was referred to. This video is by a famous Muslim apologist named Zakaria Naik. He is supposed to be a doctor and an expert on the differences between Christianity and Islam. So far I have found his understanding of Christianity to be sadly lacking. Either he is being deliberately deceptive or he knows far less than he thinks he does.

Let me explain. First off, Naik makes the challenge for someone to quote from the Bible where Jesus makes a claim to be God. He says that if anyone can point to one, he will accept Christianity and leave Islam. I pointed to an abundance of scriptures in CE #1.

Second, Naik says that Christians claim to follow the teachings of Paul not Jesus when they say Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I showed that this is patently false. Time and again Jesus shows that He knew of His coming death and resurrection. Even more, Jesus Himself talked many times of the redemptive necessity of His coming sacrifice. See for yourself in CE #2.

Let us now continue on with the video:

Starting at four minutes in, Zakaria Naik makes his third claim that Christians are not following the teachings of Jesus like Muslims do. He mentions things like eating pork and drinking wine and points to multiple scriptures:

Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit
Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
Leviticus 11:7-8 – The pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
Deuteronomy 14:8 – The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.
Isaiah 65:2-5 – All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imagination, a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.
Luke 2:21 – On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Muslims are all circumcised but apparently most Christians aren’t.)

Naik then drops his accusatory bomb at about 4:50. I quote “If Christian means, ‘a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ’ (pbuh) I am proud to say, ‘we Muslims are more Christian than the Christians themselves.’ ”

Can somebody please say double standard? Naik just made a claim that Christians are following the teachings of Paul, not the teachings of Jesus. Not one minute further in, he goes and does the exact same thing Himself. Are Leviticus and Deuteronomy, in prohibiting pork quoting Jesus? Is Isaiah? Did Jesus write about alcohol in Proverb 20:1 or was that Solomon? What about Ephesians 5:18? Did Jesus write that or was it… wait for it… PAUL!?! For shame!

To be fair, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day but that was something His parents did to Him, not His own teachings. Outside of mythology, we do not have any true words from Jesus until He is twelve years old and even that is merely a brief conversation (from which we can learn much)

So, about wine and pork, what did Jesus actually really say? Well, first of all his very first recorded miracle was turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. I am curious, if Jesus forbids it, why on earth would His very first miracle be putting such a great temptation (in abundant quantities) before them?

What about pork? Jesus doesn’t mention the food in particular but He does make a very strong statement about the concept in general:
Mark 7:18-23 – “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Here is a fundamental statement Jesus is making that will be reiterated by Paul and other writers later on. What you do is far, far more important than what you eat or drink. Naik’s claim isn’t just false, it demonstrates that he entirely misses the point in focusing on foods rather than on lifestyle.

Now that we have that taken care of, the question still remains, what are the teachings of Jesus and who is following them better? Since I want to at least make an attempt to keep this short I will focus in on Jesus’ most famous sermon rather than going through everything He taught in the 80+ chapters the gospels write about Him. You can find this sermon in Matthew 5-7.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… the merciful… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Quran says, “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.” (8:39)
“Whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).” (2:194)


Jesus says, “ For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

The Quran itself calls the Bible the “Books of God”, a “sign”, “light”, “guidance”, and a “mercy”. It commands us to follow it. (5:71, 7:156-157, etc) However common Muslim doctrine is that the Bible has been corrupted and changed and so it is no longer reliable. In making this claim are not Muslims calling Jesus a liar?


Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

There are 36 references to enemy (عَدُوٌّ) in the Quran. Any guess as to how many of those are in reference to loving, forgiving, or praying for them? No. The quran teaches to be on your guard against your enemies, do not slow up in pursuing to the death your enemies, and ultimately kill them all. (4:101-104, 8:12-15, etc)


Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

Do Muslims pray in private or do they gather together to all pray in one place? Do Muslims pray in their native language or are they commanded to all pray in Arabic?


Jesus says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

If the lifestyle and words of another prophet do not match up with the life and teachings of Jesus, does He not warn us to be on our guard against them?


Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

I agree with Zakaria Naik that there are many who claim to be Christians who are not actually following the teachings of Jesus. We all, Christians and Muslims and everyone else, fall so far short of our own standards let alone the standards Jesus puts forth. The question is, are we even making an effort to follow Him or are we simply justifying our failures while still performing our outward duties? Whether it is prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles, or if it is living up to the five pillars, it is not enough. Whether it is going to a church or attending a mosque, it is not enough. The true test is not in the appearance but in the heart. Like Jesus said back in Mark, it isn’t what is on the outside but what is in the heart that matters. Let us stop with the comparison game and look inward. Am I truly trying to follow after Jesus? Are you?


September Newsletter

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How Do You Stay Focused?

For much of July and August I had the honor to serve in two cities in southeast Turkey. I stayed most of the time in Gaziantep and worked as a volunteer in a school for refugees. I taught English and also worked with crisis counseling. For a couple days I also had the opportunity to head up to Suruc where I taught English with a local church there. In both places, nearly everyone I was working with were refugees out of the Syrian city of Kobani.

I have since returned to Istanbul and this past week was the first week all of the teachers had to be back in my school. About a third of the time there is some real preparation and planning for the coming school year. The remaining two thirds of the time we are enduring what I would call TED Talk type inspiration. The biggest *joy* of it all for me is that all of this is happening in Turkish. As bored as the other teachers are, I have the added burden of trying to translate the little i can understand into English. When I am truly focused I can follow the basic flow of the conversation and am picking up maybe a third of what is actually said. The problem is, how do you stay focused. Eight hours of this, for five days straight makes it tough to stay on task and it is much easier to pull up a phone app or grab a book and completely zone out. When that happens I understand nothing.

What I have experienced this week is also what I think most of us regularly experience in our walk with God. The language of the Spirit is not our primary language and even in our best moments we can only comprehend “as through a glass darkly.” If we do not invest all of our attention to it, even that little we could grasp is completely gone. When we allow the daily grind of life to divide our attention we lose all chance of gaining anything from the Spirit. Like I have had to do this week, we need regular reminders to turn our eyes and ears and hearts back on to the things from which they are prone to wander.


From now through September 1st the monthly devotional Walking With the Beloved will be available on Amazon for free. This edition starts just after the Triumphal Entry and carries us beyond the Last Supper and everything else that happened in the Upper Room and goes halfway through John 14. Pick up your copy now:


The River Walk is closing in on being four years old. That means very soon I will be needing to renew my membership with wordpress and the domain name. If it has been a blessing to you and you would like to contribute towards its continued existence, you can donate here. Anything given above and beyond the cost of these renewals will go towards its promotion within the Muslim world.

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Earlier this week I was asked by someone at my school, “why don’t you become a Muslim?” In Turkey they have a game called Ear to Ear that is very similar to the game telephone that I played as a kid. I explained how when I read the Quran it did not feel reliable but rather the end product of a process very similar to that game. That was the opening to a conversation with three other teachers lasting a couple hours where pretty much every argument against Christianity I have ever heard was presented. Please pray that the discussion would be the first of many such good conversations this year. Please pray that God would continue to remove the mental and cultural barriers that prevent them from coming to truly know Him. Finally, please pray that I would be a positive representation to everyone in my school and community of who Jesus is.


In The Shadow Of The Mosque

The numbers I wanted to get before putting this post up here I couldn’t. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I spent hours digging through trying to get the information. Those I tried asking who might have had the information either ignored me or claimed ignorance. The reality of it is, the information just does not seem to be public. I did, however, come across some other numbers that intrigued me. But I will get to that in a second.

If I were to make a list of the best and most iconic sights to see in Istanbul, one and two on that list would unquestionably be the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The three that would round out the top five, in reverse order, would be the Topkapi Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Suleymaniye Mosque. These last two are complementary. They both dominate the Istanbul skyline seen from the other. They are also probably the two most photographed buildings in the city.

With that in mind, I decided it was time for me to head up to Suleymaniye Mosque and snap a few pictures myself. Here you go:

(Click on any of these pictures for full size)


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The entire Mosque compound was so beautiful it was almost surreal. While I was up there the sun was descending on its journey through the sky, the temperature was still warm but dropping, and everything was just so peaceful. The quote came to me, “I think if ever a mortal heard the voice of God, it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.” (Frankfort Moore)

Some of the pictures above I did some cropping or editing in an attempt to keep the Mosque from being nothing but a silhouette from the brilliance of the sun behind it. This next picture, however, has not been edited at all. Of all the pictures I feel it comes closest to capturing the surreal quality of the grounds I was walking:

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Of course, there were some other tourists up there as well and most seemed clustered around what was the vantage point of so many Istanbul skyline pictures I have seen. There’s no way I could be here without taking a shot or two of my own:

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As much as I would have liked to stay there forever, eventually I did need to start heading out. There is a couple main entrance/exit ways that most normal people would take when visiting Suleymaniye Mosque. They dump you out on near a busy street full of foot traffic, cars, and other tourists heading along their ways to the north and the south.

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Like I said, normal people would head in and out through these doors. I am not normal. There was a back entrance and I was curious to see what lay in that direction.

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As you can see from the last two of these pictures taken at the back entrance, there was a good deal of supplies and workmen just beyond the walls. This is where I asked myself that question I have not been able to find an answer to. Just how much money each year gets poured into the maintenance and upkeep of such a beautiful, four hundred fifty year old building like this?

Although I was unable to come up with a direct answer, I did find out some interesting information. First of all, both the United States and the European Union give millions of dollars each year towards the repair of old mosques and churches in the Middle East. Far, far more than this is raised through private funding in Western countries and a good deal of controversy is raised over just how much of that funding raised for the purpose of the “upkeep” of mosques ends up getting diverted towards terrorist causes. Conspiracy theories abound. Beyond this, the Turkish government does have a ministry of religious affairs, the Diyanet, that among other things is responsible for the Islamic education of every child in Turkey, has a Directorate of the Hajj, and a Board for the Inspection and Recitation of the Quran. This Diyanet has an annual budget in excess of 1 billion dollars but I could find nothing about how that money is allocated. Transparency and Islam are not words that belong together.

One other thing I did come across which I found fascinating but I am guessing would bore most of you. That was a research paper done about the actual building Mosque. Long story short, this paper itemized the costs of each aspect of the building process and came to the conclusion that it cost 59 million akce or 700,000 Venetian ducats. Great. How much is that?

I wasn’t able to come up with a direct answer for either currency, but I did find two ways to indirectly answer how much a Venetian ducat would have been worth. The Venetian ducat was a common international currency for two reasons: 1) The Venetians were everywhere, trading with everybody. 2) Their currency was about as close to standardized as you could get for that time period. Each gold ducat is said to have been 3.545 grams of gold with a purity of 99.47%. When I checked a few days back, 1 ounce of gold was worth $1170. That means 700,000 ducats was worth 2.9 billion US dollars on the modern market.

There is another way to look at it. Nearly a century later, a future Sultan was strapped for cash. I’m guessing the building of this mosque and, a few decades later, the Blue Mosque probably had a good deal to do with that, but I digress.  To raise money, this Sultan was willing to grant nobility to anyone willing to sponsor one thousand soldiers for one year to be deployed in Crete. How much did that sponsorship cost? 60,000 ducats. By my math, that means you could sponsor about 11,700 troops with 700,000 ducats. So what does that mean to us today? Well, it costs 850,000 USD each year to deploy an American trooper overseas. That means 11,700 troopers would cost roughly 9.9 billion.

So there you have it. Building this immensely beautiful building costs somewhere between 2.9 and 9.9 billion dollars. To give one last point of comparison, the cost on the modern market for the building of the Empire State Building is 380 million and the White House rings in at 71.4 million. The Suleymaniye Mosque was an incredibly expensive undertaking and we can only guess at how much it costs to maintain.

I knew none of this when I was exiting that Mosque a couple weeks back. All I knew was what my eyes could show me. On leaving that building, I circled around it continuing to take pictures. These below were all taken within a block to the west, north, or northeast of the Mosque. They are a brief glimpse into the lives and homes of those that live in its shadow:

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These shoes…


I love these shoes. We have done a lot of life together. They have taken me places I never expected to go. They have also been with me faithfully through the daily grind that makes up a job on my feet. Back when I was using a pacer faithfully it was clear that I am putting in somewhere between 55-65 miles a week. Almost all of that for the past years has been done in these shoes.

Some people might have a color for every outfit. Others might have a pair for every occasion. Not me. I have a pair of sneakers for daily life, a pair of sketchers for nicer occasions, and a pair of flip flops that I will put on two or three times a year. If that.  95% of my life is worn in these sneakers and I have had the same pair for a bit over two years now. They have lived out their days. They have climbed mountains with me… but they will not cross oceans.

About a dozen years back I packed up and moved from Binghamton NY to Houston TX. In the packing I had to pair down my life to what would fit in my car. Anything I could not cram in to the trunk, the seats, or the turtle above had to go. Two years later I found myself doing the same thing when I was moving from Springfield MO up to Long Island. It was amazing how much I had somehow accumulated in the two intervening years.

This time more than a decade of accumulation has passed. This time having an entire car of packing space is a luxury I cannot afford. I have three suitcases. I have a hundred pounds. If those two guidelines are not met, something else has got to go. There are things that have just been sitting around accumulating space I won’t miss. There are other things it has been a joy to place in a new home. I have found takers for things like my tent, a space heater, coffee maker, toaster, jumper cables, a fairly large dvd collection, and more. Other things, like my worn down shoes, are only fit for the dumpster. But some things will be hard to give away. I started boxing up some of my books that will be donated to a local college. Lets just say there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What does it mean to live simply? This has always been a value in my life and I have tried my hardest to never become too attached to my “stuff”. Yet still the stuff accumulates. And still it is hard to let go. There are things I will need to buy when I get to the other side. Something to sleep on. A place to write. A new pair of shoes to do life in. Beyond that, how much “stuff” do I really need? How many of those I am going to be living for would have considered three suitcases a luxury when they were forced to pack up and move?

That clock keeps ticking.

Dolmabahçe Clock TowerI’m getting down under four weeks left and it is getting harder and harder to avoid the fact that clock keeps winding down. It is getting harder and harder to avoid thinking about it, living it, breathing it with every breath. Every time I’m meeting someone new these days my first words “Hi, my name is BJ…” are immediately followed by “and I’m going to Turkey in ____ days”. It is the subject of every conversation. It is the hinge around which every thought turns.

But at this point that door has opened wide enough that I am able to begin looking backward as well as forward. Now that March has stepped in and February has been frozen out, I am running into more and more lasts. Just a few minutes ago I payed my last month’s rent. Yesterday I spoke before a group of kids for the last time. Later that evening I attended my last leadership team meeting. Almost everything that went on in that meeting was planning and preparation for events and activities that will be happening after I am gone. Life here in New York keeps marching on and more and more, I am not a part of it. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

My life is now somewhere else. I just haven’t gotten there yet. I will be soon, though. Inexorably, that clock keeps winding down.