Mark 3:31–35; Luke 1:26–55; 2:1–7;

John 2:1–11; 19:16b-27; Acts 1:12—14

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still, and at peace. Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself. Slowly and carefully read the passages of Scripture. Her name appears 51 times in the New Testament. It is thought the name means “bitterness” or “sorrow,” and indeed she had much sorrow as well as joy. “Dolores” a name often associated with Mary means “sorrow” in Latin.

  1. Why was Mary chosen to give birth to the Messiah? She was of no account, was poor, and lived in a small village with no reputation. Indeed, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
  2. What a wonderful mother she was. Besides giving birth to Jesus she gave birth to four boys, two of which became authors of New Testament books, James and Jude. And she bore at least two girls as well, maybe more, and who are unnamed in Scripture.
  3. At one point her family questioned Jesus’ activities, thought He might be mad, yet she supported her son despite the opposition He faced. She was present at the crucifixion, and at one-point Jesus her son, while dying commended her to the care of Apostle John, the only disciple present at the cross. Legend has he cared for her until her death. At some point, they lived in Ephesus.
  4. Mary became a widow as Joseph disappears fairly early on in the life of Jesus. Mary then raised a rather large family and with good result.
  5. It is probable that you have at least one family member in your remembrance who has the name Mary or a derivative thereof.
  6. She will always be honored as the woman who gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Muslim Honor Brigades

Essay Fourteen

Local Honor Brigades

In a nearby town is a tight knit community of Muslims, mostly from Thailand, Pakistan, India, among others. Some years back a person who lived there asked me for help in moving her out of that area. In the process, I asked her why she was moving. She said to get away from the young toughs who were accosting women who were caught outside and not wearing a head covering. She described pushing and shoving, loud name calling, and more. These bands of young Muslim men and boys did this on a regular basis and she was scared to death they would attack her even though she was not a Muslim. A neighbor told her that she could be picked on as they did not want non-Muslims in their community.

What is this all about?

This sort of grouping of mostly young males is not officially sanctioned but are very real none-the-less. They will be found in every community where Muslims are the majority. Those who so engage either are real believers in that they are convinced it is their duty to enforce Sharia law, or they follow along out of fear of being the object of the brigades themselves; they must show loyalty.

Based on my personal experience, I have found that some percentage of those born and raised Muslim do not believe in Allah at all. They are virtual atheists. They perform religious duties and rituals in order to be accepted by their Muslim families, friends, and communities. They would escape Islam if they could. But, so very often, they cannot.

How do I know this is so? By speaking with them in places away from the mosque. It is a sad thing, and I am surprised when they are interested in hearing about Jesus. Yet, to let this be known would certainly bring unwanted attention and concern from members of the brigade. It is not an easy thing to be a Muslim.

Being a Muslim is a full-time job. If one were to faithfully follow all the proscriptions of that faith, there would be little time for anything else. The early Muslims did not live a life most of those on the planet have to live to survive in this world today. What with having to earn a living, with families to look after, dwellings to keep up, and so on, there is not enough time and space to do all that is required. This is why so many Muslims look to local, state, and national assistance.

Attending the local Sunni Mosque over the years, I observed, and week after week, a good half of the congregation rushes in to be part of the service even if for a minute, or less. And this just to be seen by either fellow Muslims, the imam, or even Allah. And those who are to be impressed are the local honor brigade plus the good angel who is sitting on the right shoulder, and who is taking notes, and the devil sitting on the left shoulder, who is also taking notes.

National Honor Brigades

Local honor brigades are hardly known to most people outside Muslim dominated communities. This is not so in some countries, like England, where ninety plus communities are openly only for Muslims, and in these Sharia law dominates.

Operating largely under the radar in America are the large national organizations that function as honor brigades. These are collections of academics, activists, bloggers, and others, whose mission it is to protect and defend the honor of “true Islam.” One of the familiar themes of such organizations is that Muslim violent extremists do not represent Islam. And any one person or organization that so declares is guilty of being “Islamophobic,” which is the fear of Muslims.

 Today the face of the honor brigade is seen in American academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and the media in general, who present a kind of soft propaganda aimed at silencing any criticism of Islam. Part of the mission of these groups is to discredit anyone who speaks or writes about Muslim extremism, intimating these groups or individuals have an irrational fear of Islam. Some of these groups are: The Council on American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Islamic Council of North America. These organizations use the words “racists,”  “bigots,” “Islamaphobes,” and other derogatory terms to describe those, like myself, who will present extremist Islam as it really is. And there is no question, despite the misrepresentations, that for these their sole objective is to bring the entire world under subjection to Islamic Sharia law. And for all non-Muslims, one must either convert to Islam, be subservient to Muslims, or be killed.

These organizations are often funded by large and wealthy Muslin countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran. Yes, here Sunni and Shia branches of Islam will cooperate.

There is a Muslim Reform Movement whose mission it is to not make excuses for Muslim terrorist activities, but to uphold an “Islam of grace.” And there are such, who want to have Islam seen as a religious faith along with others like Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. However, this approach will not pacify or appease many Muslims as they realize that at the core of Islam is that it must dominate and control, and purge the world of opposing religions. This is seen in the sayings of the Muhammad of Medina, not the Muhammad of Mecca, who changed from being cooperative to being otherwise. And thus the world downgraded even further.

The Birth of John the Baptist & Zechariah’s Prophecy

Luke 1:57–80

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still, and at peace. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture. Memorize the memory verse.

1.         In the Hebrew Bible are indications that there would be a “forerunner” to the Messiah, an Elijah like prophet. This was the ministry of John and known as the “Baptist.”

2.         John was born into a priestly family, that of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was related to Mary, who would be Jesus’ mother. The name John means “Jehovah has been gracious.”

3.         The neighbors of Zechariah and Elizabeth were astonished about the name as it was not a usual name, and a certain kind of ‘fear’ fell upon them, and this news was widely spread in that region.

4.         Zechariah then, filled with the Holy Spirit, uttered a single, but long sentence, and become known as the Benedictus. It is a proclaiming or prophesy having to do with what would be John’s ministry.

5.         The prophesy covers the entire and complete work of the Christ whom John would announce. Zechariah said “he has visited and redeemed his people” and provided a means of “salvation for us.”

6.         Zechariah says of his soon to be baby son John that he “will be called the prophet of the Most High,” which captures the work of John, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

7.         And all of this Zechariah says is to “give knowledge of salvation” and the “forgiveness of theirs sins” and all due to the “tender mercy of our God.”

8.         Our passage concludes with the fact that the child “grew and became strong in spirit” while living in the wilderness, being readied for his public appearance.

But…it is warfare!

Essay Thirteen

War it is and of two kinds.

One Kind of War

Sadly, the killings go on daily. Who is waging this war? The jihadists—not all of Islam—are at war, or so we say. But some say we are in a real war with Islam itself. That is both accurate and inaccurate at the same time.

Islam’s core doctrine is that Sharia Law must rule the world. There is no question about it, and any knowledgeable Muslim would concede this. While many if not most Muslims care little about Islam being the only true religion in the world, these moderates or progressives are not the shot-callers and have little real authority or power. We must therefore recognize to whom we are referring when we speak of war.

According to Islam, from the super pious to the moderates, the West is corrupt. What is to be done? While most Muslims want to live and let live, there is a sizable faction, perhaps as much as 5%, who are willing to go to battle. This 5% equates to around 500,000 dedicated warriors.

Another Kind of War

Christians are at war, too. In fact, we are called to take up the armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–11).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul admits the existence of a war, but it is a spiritual war fought against an army mightier than any that humans could raise. He is referring to Satan and his minions. Fallen angels are the troops, and they possess spiritual power. C.S. Lewis used the term “hideous strength” in speaking of the ungodly power arrayed against the people who profess Jesus as Lord. If Christians think about this too long, we can become fearful, except that we recall 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

John the Apostle wrote about the works of the devil and points out that the devil has been defeated—active yes, but nonetheless defeated, and in at least two ways. One, our sin—that which screams at us that we are no good and destined to live in hell forever—has been utterly removed, not in part but the whole, and it has been nailed to the cross. So our sin—all of it, past, present, and future—is wiped out, cleansed, washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Incredible, but a fact.

Then two, the enemy called death has been conquered. Not physical death, because we will all die unless Jesus returns before we physically die, but the real death is the eternal death.

Hellfire is very frequently found in the Qur’an, most often used as a threat and a warning, and thus hellfire is very present in the Muslim mind. On this point there is a connection with Biblical Christianity. There is a hell, most definitely, and it was created for the devil and his angels, for there must be a place apart for that which is unholy.

Physical death is but a moment in time; spiritual death, however, is eternal. It is plain which is the real enemy. It is no wonder why John 3:16 has for so many centuries been the one verse most Christians have memorized: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It should be noted here, that in Islam Allah determines the moment and means of death. If a Muslim dies, it is the will of Allah. Biblical Christianity is far different. That we all die is plain enough, as we find in Hebrews 9:27–28:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

It is not the moment or means of death that God appoints but that death is a reality that comes with being human. Muslims may take comfort that death is in the hands of Allah, but Christians have the promise of being forgiven and having everlasting life based on what Jesus has already accomplished.

Still Another Kind of War-Game

A convict told me years ago that to make it in prison you must have a mission. A mission, a cause, a reason for living, without which one might go crazy. Could it be that jihad becomes not just the means to accomplish the mission but the mission itself?

War-games are exciting to play. The secrecy, the codes, the manipulations, extortions, intimidations—war games. And the stakes are extremely high, making life all the more interesting.

When one has nothing or next to nothing, and the future looks bleak, and so many others seem to be living the good life, one stops caring and will bet everything on a cause, and Allah is the highest of all causes for pious Muslims. As General Patton is reported to have said, “Compared to war all else pales.”

My point in this little aside is, maybe it is not religion that draws a religionist to the war.

The Weapons of Our Warfare

Back now to Ephesians chapter six and the weapons of the Christian’s warfare, which are not bombs, knives, swords, or guns. Here is the list:

“Stand therefore having fastened on the belt of truth” (6:14a). Here truth is not a “what” but a “Who,” and that Who is Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (see John 14:6).

“Having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (6:14b). Jesus Himself is our righteousness, we have none of our own but have His as a free gift.

“As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (6:15). The soldier stands secure knowing that he has no battle with God but is settled in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That war is over and there is peace.

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (6:16). Since Satan’s power over us has been nullified though the work of Jesus, we stand behind Him trusting in the triumphant Lamb of God.

“And take the helmet of salvation” (17a). The head, the most vulnerable part of the body, is totally protected in the salvation we have in Jesus, which cannot under any circumstance be taken from us. Our position in Christ is secure to all eternity, and even we ourselves cannot change that.

“And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17b). “Word” is both the living and written word of God, Jesus Himself and the Scripture, the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It is a sword, a spiritual sword, and it is sharper than any two-edged blade. The word is truth and there is great power in truth.

“Praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication” (6:18a). We pray, not necessarily by rote, which is acceptable and a Biblical way to pray—I am thinking of the Lord’s Prayer here—but saying to our heavenly Father what is on our heart and mind. The Christian is never alone; always walking with us is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Oddly, or not, the equipment is not heavy and may be borne by the young and old, weak and strong.

This is our kind of war, one that has already been won. The only blow struck was inflicted a long time ago while Jesus was on Calvary.

How to become possessed by demons

In chapter five the means of becoming possessed by demons is discussed, and the subject is perhaps the chief reason for acquiring this book. In fact, it is a subject that keeps coming up and is frankly one I would rather avoid. In the mid 1970s I co-authored a book with Robert L. Hymers, Jr. that dealt with the subject, which resulted in a flood of people who wanted to look into the subject more carefully. During that period the occult largely flew under the radar, but has now emerged as mainstream and garners a great deal of attention in all forms of media resulting in a growing number of people who honestly want to know more. Therefore this chapter is added to cover the issue more thoroughly.

For instance, neo-pagan practices like Wicca have swept across the country, key components of which are magic(k), spiritism, fortune telling, and more.

Shamanism in many guises is growing in popularity in the West, with shamans from multiple cultures advertising their services on the Internet. Here the occult is center stage and loudly announced.

Santería, one of the largest and fastest growing of the world’s religions, is utterly reliant on occult theory and practice, from spells and divination to contacting the dead.

Why is this so? One reason is that the occult is spiritual to its core and provides an alternative to humanist materialism. Many a materialist has moved to a spiritual orientation after direct contact with the spirit world. Perhaps an even deeper reason for the popularity of groups that are spiritistic is the quest for power.  Since power is the main focus of religions like Wicca, Santeria, and various other forms of shamanism, for many who feel powerless, the occult ‘arts’ are a strong temptation.  

But there is a problem. Contact and involvement with the occult is a sure and quick route to being possessed by demons. Shocking? For many the sense that power indwells them is a prized goal. However, the horrific and vile nature of that power within is a realization usually made too late.

This essay is concerned with how people become demon possessed. The word
“possessed” is troublesome, because most people think that a possessed person acts in a crazy or bizarre manner and is constantly under the control of a demonic spirit. Were it that simple! Most possessed persons rarely realize their condition, and it is rarely seen or confirmed by family or friends. The devil prefers to lie low and only slowly, little by little, wreak havoc. People may eventually figure out what has grabbed hold of them, but then they are left wondering what in the world to do. Most of them can only suppress and deny or run and cover, since no one in our culture wants to look like a ‘mental case’. How many abuse substances to keep the demons at bay?

What ‘opens the door’ to possession?

The Occult

There are three primary divisions in the occult world: fortune telling or divination, spiritualism, and magic.

Fortune telling: This is everything from the Ouija Board to the palm reader, but it includes psychic readings, the I Ching, tealeaf reading, astrology, tarot card reading, and a great many more practices.

Spiritualism or spiritism: The focus here is the séance, which can take any number of forms, but is the attempt to contact the spirits or souls of the dead. It is known from ancient times, is mentioned in the Bible, and is still popular, since actual spirits are contacted.

Magic: This is sorcery, witchcraft, and spells and curses, and it is the manipulation of spirits, gods, and goddesses to do one’s bidding through the performance of rites and rituals. The world of magic is complicated but far more common that most recognize. Whether white, neutral, or black, magic is still magic. Some of those involved rationalize that they are only invested in good magic or natural magic but not the bad varieties. However, the devil does not pay attention to such distinctions. Magic is magic.

After decades of dealing with people who have attracted and finally become possessed by demons, I have discovered that, when a person gives herself or himself to the occult, whatever form it might take, they expose themselves to the possibility of being possessed by evil or unclean spirits, all of which are ruled over by Satan. And you do not want Satan to get inside your head.

Occult involvement: By this I mean giving into, believing in, trusting in, acting on, or relying on, any overt form of occultism, which is more than casual contact. How much is enough to become demon possessed? Who knows, but the devil never plays fair.

Power and knowledge: These are the central motives that bring people into the occult world. That power and knowledge is accessed is not to be denied. The Faustian trade-off is operable, however; the devil will give gifts in order to achieve great dominance over a person’s life.

Satan is a gift giver and is especially good, for a period of time, at providing power, sex, money, and other goodies we humans desire. He gives to get, and this principle must not be underestimated. His assistance comes with strings attached, and he usually yanks back the delights and replaces them with torments, sooner or later.

Traumatic Events

A near-death experience is chief among the traumas that the devil uses to capture unwary and vulnerable prey. People of all ages have spoken of experiences in which they returned from the brink of death or even after actual biological death occurred. They describe being conscious, witnessing a wide assortment of events, and even conversing with people. Some of these “remembered experiences” result in bestselling books or films. It is virtually impossible, however, to fact-check the reports on what occurs in the brain of someone in this stage of brain activity. It is likely that the complex electrical and chemical mix that goes to work on the central nervous system of one who is on the brink of death produces incredible hallucinations.

My view is that such events, while not always of a demonic nature, are untrustworthy.  The devil, however, loves to hitch a ride on these visions to further his trickery and introduce spiritual entities. To suddenly encounter the spirit world is life changing to all who experience it. Books and movies about such experiences continue to emerge, from both Christian and secular publishers and filmmakers, and this makes me rather suspicious. The story lines are nearly always the same: the dearly departed always communicate they are okay and have landed in a good place after death. This is one of the devil’s favorite plot twists.

Linked to the discussion of near-death experiences above is what happens in the lives of the newly bereaved. Reflecting on my four-plus decades as a pastor who has conducted several hundred memorial and funeral services, I recall frequent episodes of demonic activity played out in the lives of those whose loved ones have died. Perhaps it is an appearance of the departed in a dream or even while fully awake. At a time of loss we are thrown off emotionally and will imagine things we would not otherwise, and this is not all, or even mostly, of a Satanic nature. That said, it is nevertheless true that the devil knows all too well that grieving people are vulnerable to deception. 

Initiations into religions

Satanism is a religion, and the introduction into it is a deliberate inviting of Satan to take control over one’s life, whether through a focused worship of the devil as god or reliance upon a ‘spirit’ for guidance. If someone is attracted to devil worship, the pull is powerful and lustful, an almost irresistible lure from which few can escape once they are trapped.

When devotees of Transcendental Meditation and Krishna Consciousness undergo initiation ceremonies, they are knowingly inviting the spirit of a dead guru to inhabit their minds and bodies. Of course, a demon shows up instead, but the devotee does not realize that he or she has been duped. The power gurus like Muktananda and Rajneesh had their ‘spirits’ within them, and as submission was made to the guru, it was in fact a submission to evil spirits. Current gurus continue in a similar mode.

In the asiento or initiation into Santería, the initiate is essentially “mounted” or possessed by an orisha deity. Here the possession is deliberate; the deception is that instead of the expected god or goddess, what possesses the head of the initiate is a satanic spirit.

What are the animal guides or spirits that the Wiccans meet on their soul journeys? They are certainly demonic spirits in disguise. The elves and fairies are cute; gnomes are curious looking; animal helpers are intriguing or majestic; goddesses may be clothed in spectacular auras; Zeus, Diana, Apollo, Moses, Abraham, Elijah, angels Gabriel and Raphael may dazzle; and John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul may seem to appear with special messages and prophecies. They are all merely familiar spirits who are expert in disguise, even down to the molecular level, but are no more than demons (see 2 Corinthians 11:14-15).


The trance state (or the ecstasy, passive state of mind, altered state of consciousness, or shamanic state of consciousness – all essentially synonyms) is the mechanism through which many are invaded by demonic spirits.

Trance states are induced in various ways. Sometimes drugs and other substances are used to reach the trance state, as is common among shamans and Santeríans. Music is often the vehicle, with the beat of the drum and the dance that goes with it, as seen in ‘charismania’ among Christians, where a person loses track of reality and ‘yields’ to the spirit (assumed to be God’s Holy Spirit). Books on Wicca and shamanism may come complete with chapters on various means to enter into the desired trance state so as to initiate the soul journey. They will invariably involve deep breathing, centering, visualizing, chanting, clearing of the mind, blanking out conscious thought from the mind, waiting to experience the otherworld, listening for the voice of a god, goddess, or spirit guide, dancing and whirling with eyes closed and heart ready to receive – whatever and whoever is out there. And the devil prowls around for just such a time and place to pounce.

My prior experience and recent research shows that the trance state is the most popular door opener to being possessed by demonic spirits. 

How to become unpossessed of demons

Jesus alone has power over demons; all of the satanic kingdom is fully aware of this and tremble at His name.[1] Jesus’ death on the cross, with His subsequent resurrection, ascension to heaven, and being seated at the right hand of the Father, has secured His power and authority over Satan and his fallen angels.

Consider two passages:

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8a).

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who as the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Jesus cast demons out of people while on the planet two thousand years ago and gave His disciples authority to cast out demons as well.

“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1-2).

Later Jesus sent out seventy-two others to do the same. (We see, then, that not only the Twelve called ‘apostles’ had authority to cast out demons.) Upon their return the seventy-two gave the following report: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17).

This authority over the demonic continues to this day.[2] A key biblical verse in this regard is James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The verse’s opening word, “Submit,” is the largest stumbling block to many looking for a way out of the devil’s sway. Demon possession gives power, and the demon will fight hard not to be cast out, so a usual ploy is to remind the person possessed that power will be lost. That threat freezes those who fear such a loss. The “submit” means a submission to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as a determined resistance to the devil. A spiritual battle ensues, until finally the demonic is rejected, Christ is embraced, and the demons flee.

Kent Philpott

February 2014

[1] Only Jesus and His disciples have authority over the demonic. Exorcists are magicians who promise relief but succeed in little more than play acting, trickery, and deception.

[2] For more on this is my book, How Christians Cast Out Demons Today.

Mary Visits Elizabeth & The Magnificat

Luke 1:39–56

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still, and at peace. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture. Memorize the memory verse.

1.         Mary and Elizabeth, cousins, and both descendants of the tribe of Judah, through whom the Messiah must come, both give birth, and both miraculously.

2.         Elizabeth, in her old age, will give birth to a male child who will be called John, and later, John the Baptist.

3.         Mary will give birth to Jesus, Jeshuah, or Joshua, who is the promised seed of Genesis 3:15, and who will triumph over the seed of the serpent, indeed, who is the Messiah or Christ.

4.         Mary, just after conception, travels south to Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth, who authenticates what has happened to young Mary. Elizabeth’s unborn child leaped in her womb when she heard Mary’s greeting, surely a miraculous sign of encouragement to both women.

5.         Mary then, unquestionably filled with the Holy Spirit, declares what is known as the “Magnificat” based on the first words Mary utters, “magnifies” the Lord and is an expression of wonderment, praise, and thanksgiving.

6.         The phrases “my soul” and “my spirit,” are a typical parallelism, and here of profound amazement and praise.

7.         Mary is acutely aware of her low status as a poor, young, female and bows before Her maker’s majesty.

8.         Then, due to an incredible flash of inspiration, she grasps something of who this child she will give birth to           is. 9.         Despite the powerlessness, humbleness, of her circumstance will come the fulfillment of what had been revealed to the prophets of old especially to Abraham.

The Making of an Extremist

Essay Twelve

This essay is prompted by Patrick T. Dunleavy’s book, The Fertile Soil of Jihad: Terrorism’s Prison Connection (Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011). In striking if not startling terms, Dunleavy describes how Islam in prison spreads in its many forms, including the Nation of Islam, the Dar-ul-Islam movement, and Prislam, a cultic form of Islam that sees its flock more as gang members than fervent converts. Muslim evangelism in prisons is growing, sponsored by both international and grass roots Islamic organizations. Its expansion over the years has been both phenomenal and disturbing. I am a firsthand witness to this.

My Prison Experience

During my thirty years as a volunteer at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, I saw Islamic Da’wa (evangelism/recruitment) in action. While coaching the baseball team there for seventeen years, I sometimes arrived early and sat by a garden-type fountain (usually broken) that faced the building housing both the Jewish synagogue and the Muslim Mosque. Yes, a strange combination, but that is how it was and still is.

Over the course of five years, I listened to many sermons in English (unlike the sermons given in Arabic at the local mosque that I often visit), and I could easily follow along with the message. The messages by the imams were most often angry tirades about the persecution Muslims received over the centuries. Their hate speech frightened me from time to time, and I was tempted to speak to prison authorities about it, but I never did. (During that time, I did not understand as much about Islam as I should have.) In total, I probably heard ten or fifteen hours of outright expressions of rage and calls for revenge aimed at all that was non-Muslim.

Muslims began showing up to try out for the baseball team and the eight-man flag football team I formed. Every one of the Muslims were African Americans, and they were generally good players and reliable. One of them was my most trusted team member, a person I could rely on to tell what was going on with the team, if anything. We became friends, and the week after he was released from prison he came to our Sunday morning church service, stood before the congregation, and spoke to us for ten minutes; what he said was completely appropriate—and from a kind and generous spirit.

I correspond frequently on Facebook with this man who converted to Islam in prison, but I still do not know much about his background or how he became a Muslim. Recently, he dropped his Muslim name acquired in prison when he made his profession of faith, and he has gone back to his given name; I am not sure what that means, but I intend to speak with him about it.

Many African Americans have taken the path to Islam for several reasons. They find the doctrine compelling and the close-knit community welcoming, but there are also material benefits: they and their families on the outside often receive financial assistance, and a job and maybe a car will be waiting for the convert upon release from prison.

Dunleavy speaks about the selection of Islamic clergy for chaplain positions and the inadequate vetting process that allows imams with extremist views to enter the prison environment. Muslim evangelists able to find their way into prisons are almost always on the radical fringe.

The radicals begin their work little by little, and it is not just African Americans who are targeted. Hispanic and Anglo-American inmates are also pursued in Islam’s prison outreach movement. To be counted as a Muslim in prison can be advantageous. There is a certain safety and special handling that often accompanies being in the prison’s Muslim brotherhood. After all it is part of human nature to want to belong to a group that gives both purpose and meaning to one’s life, no matter how misdirected that purpose is. Dunleavy’s book speaks of the role of religion in the fertile soil of prison. They say there are no atheists in foxholes or prison cells, but theology and doctrine play a very minor role in conversions of convicts.

The irresistible draw is to be part of a world-wide brotherhood of like-minded people who have a compelling mission. And this Muslims certainly have. Here is a young convict with a messed up past and not much hope for the future, and along comes a group that offers great enticements and a sense of meaning. I am not surprised that many African Americans and other people in our world jump at the chance to be a part of it all.

The Whys

John Grisham, in his book, Rogue Lawyer (New York: Dell Books, 2015), gives a brief but accurate rendition of what drives African Americans, among others, into Islam. In the story line of the book the rogue lawyer is visiting his bodyguard’s son who is in prison. Reading from page 109: “Young and black . . . in for nonviolent drug offenses . . . average sentence seven years . . . three years later 60% are back . . . convicted felons a branding they will never be able to shake . . . .”

These are Grisham’s words, but there is more, and my summary of the felon’s situation is this: Filled with anger and a desire for revenge, with no job skills, no real education to build upon, no family to lean on for support, and no sense of wanting to build his own family; his only friends are ex-cons or partners in crime; he finds peace only in drugs and lives with an expectation that his life will be short. Grisham sums up with, “One million young black men now warehoused in decaying prisons, idling away the days at taxpayer expense.”

I might add that now there are far more than just young blacks who fit this narration; growing numbers of Hispanics and whites are mixed in, and these numbers are growing. This is not an indictment, but it clears up any mystery of why Islam is growing in our prisons. If radical Islam feeds on the emotions of hate, anger, revenge, and alienation, this is a perfect storm condition for recruiting converts.

Recruitment and Motivation

Anyone can be radicalized and end up committing horrible crimes as a result—and not only born Muslims. By radicalized I mean someone who goes to prison for burglary and ends up willing to die in violent jihad for the sake of Allah. This is far different from someone who goes to prison for burglary and learns how to perfect the art thereof. Anyone who kills in the name of God is an ideologue and has been radicalized.

If you are in one group, members of another group will likely be viewed as an enemy. It is safe to say that religion and politics are prime categories of people groupings and identity that have traditionally and historically produced real trouble. The Irish Republican Army is an example of political terrorism. ISIS and Al Qaeda are examples of religious terrorism.

Fighting back and getting revenge are compelling reasons for joining a group, though they may not be in the conscious mind at the point of recruitment. Almost all of us have these emotions in us, sometimes buried deep, and they are powerful motivators driving some to ignore or disregard the consequences of their actions. The promises made by the group for security, power, belonging, and meaning, even material wealth or outlandish notions such as seventy-two virgins awaiting the jihadist martyr hero, are all enough to blind the eye and stop the thinking.

It is nearly an everyday event now that some extremist blows himself or herself up in the hope of killing and maiming as many as possible; and is it all for the glory of Allah!

Haram and other Motivators

Haram is Arabic for prohibited or forbidden.

There are two distinct world systems in the Muslim mind. There is Dar-ul-Islam (the world of Islam) and Dar-ul-Haram (the forbidden world). Much of the Western lifestyle is forbidden and seen as threatening the faith of a Muslim, particularly the young, through its seductions and enticement to things forbidden in the Qur’an. For the pious Muslim, it is a duty to attack the degradation of the West, especially American style degradation now that most of the country has embraced homosexuality. The excesses of contemporary civilizations are a motivator for those who want to live in the seventh century with Muhammad and his early companions.[1] 

In my time, I have known Christians who were seduced by the immorality around them. This is the reality of our world, and it is unlikely to change much despite efforts to sanitize the culture. It is not a simple task to live for Jesus when all those around us demean it. (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, so I know whereof I speak.) My experience is that Christians learn how to keep their footing regardless of the culture in which they are embedded. We understand that we are “in the world but not of the world.” While not always easy, it is doable, since Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit, the written Word of God, and hopefully a supportive church community.

What about the crusades? They were far away and long ago, and it is far from clear if the crusaders were “crusading” to lift up the name of Jesus. Mostly not. Nevertheless, Muslims use the battle cry “Crusades” to build anger toward Christians that will directed to acts of revenge; the charge need not be historically accurate.

What about colonialism? This is a major motivator for those who do not understand the development and expansion of nation states, most of which were not motivated by solid Christian and Biblical directives.

Oppression comes to mind. Muslims have been repressed; although, what people group has not been oppressed or repressed at some time in their history? This is too big a topic for this essay, but simply saying Muslims are being oppressed is enough of a trigger to set hearts and minds yearning for revenge. As I understand it, domination over Muslim countries, especially following World War I, flowed from the Western democracies.

But there is something else that may be a major if not the most important reason for Islam to be what it is today.

Fear of Failure in the Spiritual Marketplace

Extremists can be born out of a fear that Islam itself is inadequate to compete with other world religions, particularly Christianity.

One of the great contrasts with Christianity and Islam is that Islam’s ultimate goal is to dominate the world—Dar-ul-Islam—to see to it that all people live under Sharia Law. No Muslim who really knows the Qur’an would deny this in private, yet some do publicly.

The goal of Christianity is to present the message of Jesus to all peoples on the planet. As I have heard it said, Christian evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” And we know some will be convinced of their need of a Savior and turn to Jesus to save them from their sins. We also know that no amount of coercion, even slick persuasion, will yield a genuine new birth.

My sense of it is that only a small percentage of Muslims know much of what their religion teaches beyond the rituals, rites, pillars, and attendant cultural traditions. (This is also true of many in Christian churches. There is a difference between being religious and having true faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.) I have met so many people who identify with Islam but are practical, if not actual, atheists. They will go through the motions, but their heads and hearts are empty. These people may be in danger, because the honor brigades in the mosques, the zealous and pious musclemen, will know who they are and will label them as “weak.” Please note, I am not implying that this phenomenon exits only Muslim-dominated cultures. This exists wherever there is a mosque.

The message of Islam is not a comforting one. I am writing this essay after completing the basic content of this present book. A person, whether in prison or not, has a void in his or her life, a hunger and thirst, and will unconsciously attempt to fill it with something, somehow. Islam seeks to draw the thirsty with a false promise of water. I have pointed out the horrors that Allah has in store for non-Muslims and for Muslims as well. The Qur’an states that all Muslims will enter hellfire and will maybe escape it after a time. Allah is, after all, a deceiver and may lead even a faithful Muslim astray. Even those who die in violent jihad or who build a mosque have no real assurance of making it to paradise or escaping a temporary stay in hellfire. Allah’s mercy and compassion are quite fickle, making the true message of Islam rather unattractive after all.

With any awareness of this reality, Muslims must fear that Islam is unable to compete in the spiritual marketplace of life. Today there are numerous former Muslims busy presenting Jesus and the message of the cross to Muslim communities. The Gospel is inescapable, and the draw is a Creator God who loves us and sent His Son to die in our place. Many Muslims are converting to Christ when Jesus is revealed through the faithful witness of believers and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. God chases down those whom He will. Conversion to Jesus is an event not a decision.

Death, and this is not merely physical but eternal death, is the end result of sin, yet the Christian has gone from death to life. Everyone dies, and then comes the judgment. On the cross, Jesus has taken our judgment upon Himself. We call this grace. We pray for it for our Muslim friends and neighbors. We do not pray for revenge or retaliation.

[1]     Those Muslims who want to return to the time when Islam first began are called Salafists. It comes from the Arabic word salafi meaning forefathers or the time of the forefathers.

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

The Gerasene Demoniac

Luke 8:26–33

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still, and at peace. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture.

1.    In the country of the Gerasenes, east of Galilee, Jesus encountered a naked man who had been living in the desert, and this for a long period.

2.    When this man saw Jesus, he (or a demon within him) wanted Jesus to leave him alone and not torment him and this because Jesus had commanded an unclean spirit to come out of the man.

3.    This possessed man had incredible physical power. When Jesus said, “What is your name?” the answer was “Legion,” meaning many demons had indwelt him. These unclean evil spirits then begged Jesus not to cast them into the abyss, or hell, but rather that He would cast them into some pigs that were feeding nearby. Yes, demons prefer to inhabit flesh, and this is what is called, demon possession.

4.    Jesus, for some unknown reason, allowed this to happen and the startled pigs rushed over a cliff to their death by drowning in a lake.

5.    Is it known by those who engage in what is commonly referred to as “Deliverance Ministry” to experience exactly what Jesus did in Luke’s account.

6.    There is nothing mentioned about how the Gerasene demoniac attracted demonic spirits. It is highly likely that this man had broken the commands found in Deuteronomy 18:9–14, not to engage with those who practice divination, fortune telling, sorcery, magic, or engage with mediums, necromancers, or those who inquire of the dead–these standard occult practices, which are for so many in vogue today, and those who do so are unknowingly inviting evil spirits into their very bodies.

The Connection between Faith and Salvation

Romans 10:5–17

Find a quiet place, alone and apart from distractions. Be comfortably alert, still, and at peace. Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Sing or cant the Jesus Prayer. Pray for family, friends, neighbors, and yourself. Slowly and carefully read the passage of Scripture.

1.    Under Moses, righteousness or salvation was based upon obeying the Law, beginning with the 10 commandments. This proved to be unattainable, and was in fact, only a precursor to something better.

2.    This came with the arrival of Messiah Jesus. No longer was forgiveness and salvation based on what a person did, but all was dependent upon faith in the finished work of Jesus.

3.    Faith is operative when a person confesses that Jesus is their Lord, believing that God the Father has raised Jesus from the dead, following His crucifixion.

4.    And this settled in the “heart,” which biblically means the very core of a person. And such will be known to others by means of public confession, often meaning water baptism.

5.    And professing Jesus as Lord, especially when stating Jesus is Messiah and unpopular then, and now, risks being shamed or worse.

6.    And this is not for Jews only, but for Gentiles as well thus all of the human race. Indeed, all who call on him to save them from the just reward of their sin, these will be saved.

7.    Therefore, the message of the crucified and risen Savior must be proclaimed, and here is the heart of Paul’s words to the Roman Church.

8.    It is the “preaching” that counts, and those who will preach must be sent, and to all not just the Jewish people.

9.    Here we see that the Christianity of the early Church was clearly evangelical, which means that the message is to be presented to the entire world. Indeed, each and every Christian is a missionary, an evangelist, a sent one.

10.  Paul’s words in summary, verse 17, are words found on the back wall of the building we worship in, and they are: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Eid Al-Adha: Who Has it Right?

Essay Eleven

This is chapter 11 in Kent’s forthcoming book, Who is Muhammad’s Gabriel?

Eid al-Adha, the great feast of Islam, also called the Day of the Sacrifice, falls on the 10th day of the last month of the lunar calendar. It comes during the Hajj pilgrimage festival, the fifth pillar of Islam, and is essentially a reenactment of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, the Biblical account of which is found in Genesis chapter 22.

The essential Qur’anic story is found in the 37th chapter and verses 99 to 109. Quoted now from The Noble Qur’an:

99        He said, ‘I am going towards my Lord; He will be my guide.

100  My Lord, bestow on me a right-acting child!’

101  And We gave him the good news of a forbearing boy.

102  When he was of an age to work with him he said, ‘My son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. What do you think about this?’ He said, ‘Do as you are ordered, father. Allah willing, you will find me resolute.’

103  Then when they had both submitted and he had laid him face down on the ground,

104  We called out to him, ‘Ibrahim!

105  You have fulfilled your vision. That is how We recompense good-doers.

106  This was indeed a most manifest trial.

107  We ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice

108  and let the later people say of him:

109  ‘Peace be upon Ibrahim.’

It is plain that neither the names Isaac or Ishmael are in the above text. Only Islamic sources and tradition provides names, some Ishmael and some Isaac.

Abraham, the true Muslim, in absolute obedience and submission to Allah, intends to sacrifice his son—Ishmael or Isaac. (To reiterate: Islamic scholars are divided on just who was to be sacrificed.) God intervenes and provides an animal to be sacrificed in place of the son. For Muslims the bottom line is that they are to be like Abraham and fully submit to Allah’s commands.

The Binding of Isaac

In Genesis 22:1–19 of the Hebrew Scripture is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. God instructs His obedient servant Abraham to take his son to the region of Moriah and there sacrifice him. Abraham called the place of the sacrifice “the LORD will provide” (verse 14). The writer in that same verse adds, “On the mountain of the LORD,  it will be provided.” Later on in the Hebrew Scripture—Isaiah 2:3 and 30:29, Zechariah 8:3, and 2 Chronicles 3:1—we read that the temple is built on the “mountain of the LORD” or Moriah, the very mountain where Isaac was to be sacrificed.

For Judaism, the story of the obedience of Abraham is not much different from that of Islam, except that Islam does not focus on sacrifice but on obedience and submission to the will of Allah. For Judaism, much has to do with the actual location of the sacrifice, the temple mount where the temple of Solomon would be built and which therefore lays the ground for the whole sacrificial system we find in the Torah, especially Exodus and Leviticus.

The Ram as Substitute

One of the areas on which Christians tend to agree is the reason for the Binding of Isaac (Abraham bound Isaac before placing him on the make-shift altar—Genesis 22:9). While Abraham was indeed obedient to God, and yes, the location was likely Jerusalem and maybe even where the temple was built more than a thousand years later, the real storyline for Christians has to do with what we call “substitutionary atonement.”

What happened in our Genesis account? God told Abraham to take his son, his “only son Isaac” by the way, to a place far away and there kill him as a sacrifice. Abraham would have been familiar with animal sacrifice, as various forms of evidence demonstrate such was part of religious customs in Abraham’s world. He did not hesitate and was about to go through with it when he was stopped cold. Here now is Genesis 22:11–14:

But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

In place of Isaac a substitute was provided for the sacrifice. The spilled blood and death of an animal was acceptable to God, and Isaac did not die.

It was a burnt offering, which meant that after the sacrificial animal was killed the remains were burned. A burnt offering is for covering or atoning for sin—substitutionary atonement.

God Did Not Spare His Own Son

The New Testament is essentially about, perhaps only about, substitutionary atonement. Here God does not spare His only Son. The two verses below explain what I am trying to say.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all… (Romans 8:32a).

“Gave” means giving up to death, and in the case of Jesus the Son, it is death on a cross, which is exactly what King David spoke of in Psalm 22, and also the Prophet Isaiah recounted in Isaiah 53. From the point of view of a Bible-believing Christian, it cannot be missed.

Who would or should have been given up to death? You and I, is the plain answer.

For the wages of sin in death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The God of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is a holy God who will not tolerate sin in His presence, thus the necessity for hell. And I testify that I would not want to bring my load of sin into the presence of God, even if I could. No, I would much prefer hell.

But for reasons I do not fully understand, my Creator God loves me, and it is His desire that I should enjoy His fellowship forever. (Wow, it is beyond comprehension that He should act on my behalf since I helped send His only Son to die horribly on a criminal’s cross!) Since I am a rotten sinner unable to do anything to atone for it myself, God provided “a ram caught in a thicket” (and rams do not get caught in thickets) to be bound and sacrificed in my place. This is the essence and the totality of it. We must then depend solely on the grace of a loving God.

How Could Islam and Judaism Get it Wrong?

Islam has no choice but to get it wrong, because the religion denies that Jesus even died on the cross. Salvation for Muslims is based on obedience to Allah, hopefully doing more good than bad.

Islam, as I mentioned above, is divided as to who was bound, Isaac or Ishmael. Many Muslims say Ishmael, because Arab tribes are thought to descend through Ishmael and Jews through Isaac, making Ishmael more of a father to the original Muslim world.[1]  The reason some Muslims say Isaac is because the Qur’an is not clear on the subject (see Qur’an 37:107).

Judaism sticks with Isaac since that is clearly attested in the Hebrew Bible. Christians stand with the same choice, but the Christian position of substitutionary atonement pointing to the ultimate substitute, Jesus, is unacceptable to official Judaism.

An Appeal

Let me state emphatically that one’s position on this issue has eternal consequences. I know this is complex and mystifying, and the emotion of fear looms large, as one’s whole identity is also placed into the mix. But we must see the larger picture, the only one that counts. Is Jesus our substitute, the One who took our sin upon Himself and freely and completely wipes out all our sin forever? This is the one and only true thing that counts, ultimately.

My appeal then is this: Find a time to be alone. Get on you knees and bow your head. Address God, Allah if you like, and ask Him whether Jesus died in your place. It is okay to do so; it is only reasonable that you do so. You have nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

When you find yourself trusting solely in Jesus for salvation, I suggest you do the following:

  1. Obtain a Bible and begin reading the Gospel of John, the fourth book in the New Testament.
  2. Make a prayer list of concerns you have on your heart and in your mind. Find time to read your Bible and pray every day.
  3. Find a group of those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and be in fellowship with them.
  4. This group may be an organized church or not, but the main thing is that the Bible is taught and preached and that the Gospel message is proclaimed regularly and clearly.
  5. This gathering of believers in Jesus may be large or small, the people may be young or old, rich or poor, educated or not.
  6. This group should have an interest in communicating Jesus and His cross to others and be concerned about the poor and vulnerable around them.
  7. This group, to be healthy and strong, should be able to disagree among themselves but keep focused on Jesus.
  8. This group should identify with other Christians of whatever denomination and not see itself as the only correct and legitimate people of God.
  9. It may take some time to find a Christian group with whom you will be comfortable but keep trying.

[1]     It should be noted that Islam, or most of Islam, says Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’ba, though some say it was built in heaven. Ishmael plays a relatively minor part in the whole Biblical story, so perhaps there is a need to artificially enlarge his role?