God Meets Culture, the writing home of Michael J. Klassen

September 14, 2012

How Big Is The God of Islam?

Tuesday this week, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed after gunmen set fire to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The killing, which coincided with a protest outside the consulate compound, surrounded an inflammatory movie about Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The Wall Street Journal identifies the filmmaker as Sam Bacile (reportedly a pseudonym), an Israeli-American real estate developer living in California. In fear for his life, “Bacile” has reportedly gone into hiding.

YouTube carried the movie, “Innocence Of Muslims” for a time, but after the protest decided to remove it. However, it does carry several movie trailers. Take a peek and you can tell it ranks extremely high on the “cheese” scale. So high that I refuse to give you the link here.

What The Protest Says About The Protesters

The movie portrays Muhammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer. Other scenes show angry Muslims destroying Christian homes and a donkey who was anointed the first Muslim animal.

After barely suffering through the embarrassingly bad movie trailer, I must ask an all-important question…

But first–a common phrase recited among Muslims is called the Takbir. When they’re happy, or pleased, or in the midst of battle, or under duress, they shout the Takbir: Allahu Akbar! The phrase is translated “God is great!”

Without a doubt, the protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar!” before setting the compound on fire and killing four people. But this begs the question: How big is Islam’s God if his followers must act on his behalf? I mean, if he’s that great, why does he need people to come to his defense? Can’t he defend himself?

Don’t worry—I don’t intend on pouring fuel on the fire in the Middle East…

What The Film Says About The Film Maker

This begs another question: How big must Sam Bacile’s God be if he must act on his God’s behalf? A cheesy movie like that has a zero percent chance of winning people over from Islam. At a minimum, the movie is an attempt to strike a blow to the Muslim faith.

Lest I cast a stone in my own glass house, I must ask myself, To what extent do I run to God’s defense? Sometimes, when I read comments from atheists belittling my faith—like I quoted in last week’s post—my initial reaction is to strike back.

Let’s Make Room For God To Defend Himself

Back in New Testament times, the Jewish religious leaders were furious about an upstart sect that proclaimed Jesus was the messiah. So, in defense of their God, they jailed the entire leadership team of this sect, intent on putting them to death.

Then a wise Pharisee named Gamaliel stood and addressed the incensed leaders. Extrabiblical records indicate that he was the most respected Jewish leader of his time (and the mentor of a young man named Saul, who we know today as the apostle Paul).

After recalling previous failed messiahs, he concluded his remarks with this:

Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. Acts 5:38-39

Gamaliel’s words convinced the religious leaders, and they released them.

Please understand, I’m not advocating a lackadaisical, fatalistic approach to life and faith. But in matters that involve a threat to the reputation of our God–If we really believe our God is all-powerful, then he doesn’t need us to fight his battles–except on our knees.

What battles are you tempted to fight on behalf of God?

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. 


September 7, 2012

Why The Pines Of Rome Whisper God’s Existence

Atheism has become  nouveau chic. Just look at the list of celebrities who have added their names to its burgeoning rolls: Woody Allen, Dave Berry, James Cameron, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Keanu Reeves. To find your favorite trend-setter, click here.

Yesterday, CNN posted an interview with apostle of atheism Richard Dawkins.

“I don’t think that religion has anything useful to teach us,” he explains. “One of the main reasons why people are religious is because they’re persuaded by the apparent design of living things.”

While eschewing religion, the self-described “fairly militant atheist” still considers himself a “cultural Christian.”

Admittedly, I cannot debate Richard Dawkins on the finer points of science. Or even its more general points. And while Dawkins would easily be able to discern flaws in my reasons for believing in the existence God, I  hearken to one proof:


How I Encountered God And The Pines Of Rome In Southern Colorado

Yesterday, I spent half the day driving home from Taos, New Mexico after a four-day spiritual retreat. In order to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, I decided to listen to some classical music.

I know, you probably think “classical music” is spelled “Zzzzzzzzz.” But I’ve played the violin since I was a child, and certain pieces bring back a flood of memories (which helps keep me awake on long drives home).

Back in the day, when my fingers were much more limber than they are today, I thoroughly enjoyed playing The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. Even if you aren’t acquainted with the music, you might recognize it because filmmakers have lifted segments for movie scores on numerous occasions.

But driving the desolate roads of southern Colorado, the final movement spoke to my heart. This happens almost every time I listen to it. Somehow, Respighi knew how to build a musical piece to a climax like no composer (contemporary or classical) I’ve ever experienced. His ending builds and builds and builds—to the point that my heart can hardly stand it. But then it builds more.

Yesterday, as the music hit its climax, my heart felt like it was about to explode. “Thank you God!” I shouted without even thinking. There was no other way to release the pressure. Suddenly, I felt enveloped in a sense of transcendence. But I’m not alone. Experts in classical music acknowledge the profound conclusion to The Pines of Rome.

How can science explain the transcendence so readily present in music? It can’t. Our hearts yearn for touching God. Is it subjective? Yes. Does that make it any less real or present? Not a bit.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Fortunately, even when we don’t believe in God, he still believes in us.

What songs or music evoke a sense of transcendence in you?

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He still plays his violin on the worship team at church when he isn’t preaching.

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