Thursday, August 31, 2006
I knew I would marry my wife, Kristie, the first time I saw her. It was 1988 and I was a wide-eyed freshman hopeful. My best friend and I were sitting outside on the "brickyard" at NC State University. It was the first night of freshman orientation. We were sitting under the starry sky daydreaming about what college would be like.
By providence, I glanced over my shoulder... and about 20 yards away was Kristie and her roommate for orientation weekend. They were approaching a phone booth to call a friend.
There is a kind of knowingness that sometimes fills every fiber of your soul. This thought flooded my mind: I'm going to marry this woman. I turned to my best friend and said, "You see that woman. I'm going to marry her." He glanced at her... glanced at me... and in the overconfident way teenage young men do things... said, "Go for it."
So I did. At the phone booth, we managed some pleasant hellos. They were calling for a ride and were going to get a tour from a friend of the family. My friends and I returned to the dorm to hand out.
A couple hours later she came into the dorm suite where we were staying. Providence was smiling! We spoke again. She purchased me a Sprite. I thought: "she digs me."
Six times in that 4 or 5 day weekend, we made plans to get together for what I maintain were dates. Six times in that 4 or 5 day weekend, she stood me up!! Ouch! After the 6th time, my teenage ego was pretty bruised.
Then came the kiss of death. We were checking out of the dorm at the end of orientation. Like some fellas who never give up, I decided I would make one last attempt. I asked her for her phone number. Then those words that signal to every male that his game is weak, his plane has taken a nose dive and is spiraling without a chute 15,000 feet toward an onrushing canyon. Those words... "Let me have your number and I will call you." I left that encounter and returned home thinking... yep, this is over.
But providence! She actually called about two weeks later! Our hometowns were about 4.5 hours apart so there wasn't much opportunity to see each other over the summer. And I am so thankful that was the case. We spoke on the phone nearly everyday, sometimes twice a day. A beautiful friendship developed over those couple of months without the nonsense of the dating culture and all the pretenses and pressures that normally accompany it.
When we returned to school, we started dating. We were married as juniors in college on August 31, 1991. Fifteen years ago today, the Lord showed me His favor and granted me a wife perfect for me. In those fifteen years, this woman has saved my life, has taught me virtue, has championed every good thing I've desired, has forgiven me so much and thus modeled the gospel, has grown from being a Tomboy to being a delightfully meek and feminie woman, and has given birth to two sweet daughters, and is now six months pregnant with a third child. You will not meet a woman with more charm, humility, grace, joy, friendliness, strength, love, integrity, patience, meekness, kindness, warmth or intelligence. I praise the Lord for her!
Today we celebrate the kind acts of providence and the joy of being one flesh for the glory of Christ. Today is a wonderful day! Happy anniversary love!
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
First came a "ban on prosyletizing." Then came the expulsion of parachurch ministries aimed at meeting the students' spiritual needs. Now comes reconstitution of the chaplaincy to oversee and run student spiritual organizations to "ensure that their spiritual needs are being met." And the kick in the head... "According to Inside Higher Ed, group leaders also had to sign a statement 'expressing respect for the Catholic faith as a legitimate path to God'."
So much for freedom of conscience and religious expression--including the freedom to disagree or reject a religious idea. Religious freedom is the most fundamental and basic of all freedoms, and the freedom that most touches upon eternity and salvation. Whatever else Georgetown University is as a Catholic institution, it should not be allowed to impinge upon such an essential freedom.
Yep... same old Rome. Someone had better check the student handbook for the section on burning heretics.
The article goes on to point out that the "firing" of the Sunday school teacher, who had taught for 54 years, stemmed from the pastor's move "to a more literal interpretation of the Bible." Once again it seems the mean fundamentalists have subverted the freedom of women. One person commenting on the issue lamented that this kind of decision was appropriate 500 years ago but not for "this day and age."
I'm guessing that if you're reading this blog you are more than likely the same kind of backward, out-of-date, fundamentalist akin to the pastor at that church. You probably don't have much of a problem with believing the Bible means what it says when it records Paul's words: "I suffer a woman not to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man."
My question today has more to do with how one implements changes that stem from this passage. When you enter a church where women are teaching or preaching, exercising authority in the church, how do you proceed with reform and manage to stay out of the papers, or worse yet blow up the church? Any wisdom from experience out there?
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa's feature contribution to the current issue of Reformation 21: Biblical AntidoteS to Racism (One and Two).
Mel Duncan at River and Rhett tips us to a rather unfortunate instance involving one church forbidding African-American Christians to join.
A new brother to the blogosphere, Mark Robinson at Post Cogito, is thinking about the mystery of the gospel and multi-ethnic communities.
Phillip Way spends some time in Ephesians considering the truth about ethnicity--natural and spiritual.
I'm encouraged that increasingy race is less taboo in Christian and Reformed circles. I pray that the Lord would be pleased to heal us of the sins and divisions that have marred the body of Christ when it comes to race. I pray He would renew our minds and hearts and make us that one new man in Christ that He purposed us to be. Happy reading!
Monday, August 28, 2006
This past June, my brother Victor Lamaar Burns died after a year's battle with cancer. We called him "Geno." I don't really know why, but somehow that fit him quite well. He was about 50, and regarded himself as the oldest brother of the clan despite the fact that we have one older brother (that brother didn't count because he lived so far away from our home town). He was a jokester, sometimes a bully, but always loving toward the family when the chips were down. Cancer drove him to consider spiritual things when other things failed miserably. His last year of living was by far his best as he grew in hope despite declining physical health. He taught me more about respect than anyone I can think of.
Kay Holjes gave me my first job out of college. She was a flamboyant middle-aged woman who grew up in a Quaker home but lived more Thelma & Louise than anyone I've ever met. She was passionate for people with disabilities, founded from her kitchen table an organization to help them integrate into public life. She retired around age 50 to pursue painting. Moved with her professor husband, Charlie, to Reno, NV. I have never met anyone more alive, more saturated with life itself, than Kay Holjes. Every room she entered was infused with vitality, and every life she touched rejoiced at having been touched. About two years ago, Kay died of cancer in her early 50s. She never stopped living.
Last night I received an emergency call from my administrative assistant. She called to give me rather sad news. The oldest male member of the church, something of the father/grandfather of the church had been hospitalized with severe brain hemorrhaging. He is 79, plays tennis twice a week (beating men half his age to their chagrin), works four days a week, and is filled with the sweetest, Christ-like spirit of anyone I've met. I spent some time with his wife and son last night and this morning. Heather may be second only to Ray in sweetness of spirit and calm, assured faith. I was struck at just how well the two of them have lived life and how profoundly different the people around them are because of their abundant life.
Edwards' resolution calls to mind these three lives. My brother started living quite late in life, almost too late. But I trust that the work the Lord started, even in the last year, is complete now. He is more alive than ever he was on this ball of clay! And Kay Holjes burned bright and steady. But I don't know whether she died in the Lord or not. I hope so.
I suppose that Ray is the best example of Edwards' resolution. He came to faith after his first wife died of a brain tumor, leaving him with a two year old son. He met and married his second wife, Heather, a year and a half later. He has been married nearly 60 years between his first and second marriage. He has lived several decades with the Lord, and by all accounts he has really lived.
I preach as a dying man to dying men. But I think I also need to live as a living man among men who need eternal life. Perhaps too much of my time is spent not living, not reveling in the glories of God in all of his creation, not standing jaw-dropped awed at the mystery of love, not gazing into the unfathomable depths of mercy and grace, not giving myself away to others as Christ did, not fighting for justice where it's necessary, not giggling the silly giggle my girls giggle at the giggliest things, not... not... not... not living with all my might while I do live.
What is it about the human condition that lulls us into thinking that life is long, and slow, and always available? What makes us settle for existing rather than living vigorously? What makes Christians, of all people, wallow up and fade away rather than expending and burning passionately, radiantly with the eternal life that we have in Christ?
I want to live more like Jonathan Edwards. I want to live more like Ray McLaughlin. I want to live.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
"You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them" (Ps. 89:9).
It's amazing how a change in residence brings some biblical truths and illustrations into vivid color! And it's amazing to see what kinds of applications all of a sudden have more urgency and resonance.
But how wonderful it is to recognize that though the Caribbean be battered with storms, our Sovereign Lord rules it all! For all of the urgency and fear provoked by a hurricane (keeping in mind that this island was 80% wiped out just two years ago by hurricane Ivan), the Lord in all of His majesty and power is more fearsome than all! O let us bow down and worship the Lord, Maker and Ruler of all creation!
Friday, August 25, 2006
What I found interesting about Williams' article, beyond the almost-two-years-late backing of Cosby, was his proposal for remedying the current crisis in African-American family and community life. In the latter part of the article, Williams writes:
With seventy-percent out-of-wedlock birth rates; misogynistic, misogamistic and misanthropic attitudes galore; and serious rates of educational failure and unemployment, Williams falls back on proposing more marches and historical role models.
Where is the civil rights groundswell on behalf of stronger marriages that will allow more children to grow up in two-parent families and have a better chance of staying out of poverty? Where are the marches demanding good schools for those children -- and the strong cultural reinforcement for high academic achievement (instead of the charge that minority students who get good grades are "acting white")? Where are the exhortations for children to reject the self-defeating stereotypes that reduce black people to violent, oversexed "gangstas,"minstrel show comedians andmindless athletes?
In order to face this century's class battles, young minds need the self-confidence that comes from examples of inspiring historical personalities, such as a black woman born into slavery who made herself a national leader, Sojourner Truth, or a black man living under rank segregation, A. Philip Randolph, who defied corporate power to break segregation in organized labor. Frederick Douglass had to teach himself how to read before standing up to defeat slavery.
These examples should empower young people to believe in themselves and to organize across racial lines and build institutions with a solid footing in the nation's political and economic power. This is real black culture, and it is based on strong families creating determined, self-reliant young people.
I suppose I'm fine with marches if they can focus public attention on the crisis. Though that seems quite passe and ineffective in this day. The worn-off novelty and shock value of marches, not to mention the apathy of most people, probably make this a highly symbolic but finally impotent strategy.
And I found Williams' recommendation of historical role models a bit naive or short-sighted. Naive if he thinks accumulating facts about 200-year old figures is the key to self-confidence and self-efficacy. I've spent my time in rites of passage programs and other efforts that have this line of thinking as their basis, only to see very marginal returns. Self-esteem wasn't meant to shoulder the weight of an entire community, and dead leaders can't lead a contemporary exodus from self-destruction.
But perhaps Williams' recommendation of role models is just short-sighted. Maybe he didn't go back far enough... two thousand years... to a Jewish baby born in a stable... who lived, not an exemplary, but a perfect life... who gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for all of His people... who conquered, not just unjust civil rights statutes, but death and the grave and sin... who satisfied the wrath of God against repentant sinners... who rose from the grave three days later... who rules from on high and will return to judge the living and the dead.
Perhaps Williams' suggestion to look to someone was correct; perhaps he just chose the wrong Someone.
What has all this to do with church? Well, there are a great many that argue the Christian church must be involved in fixing these social ills. Involved? I think so. But the more interesting question is "Involved how?"
The problem is when they argue the involvement must take the form of essentially secular political and humanistic strategies for fixing what is without doubt a spiritual and eternal problem. What we need are not more marches on Washington, but men who march to the pulpit Sunday-after-Sunday and clearly hold out the Gospel of abundant life in Christ Jesus! We don't need to worry about waging campaigns against hip hop music; we need to define that lifestyle offered by the Destroyer of souls over and against the gospel of changed lives through regeneration and new love for holiness found in Christ. Our greatest need is not to build institutions for national and political power; our greatest need is to build the Church and to demonstrate the glorious bounty of life inside the kingdom of God!
Lastly, we don't need a race-based strategy for fixing these issues. That's part of the problem. We need a strategy premised on the fact that all men are created in God's image, that all men were created from the same blood, and that all men share an eternal destiny--to appear before the throne of God to give an account for the deeds done in the body. Which means, this is a problem for which we must all be concerned. Certainly predominantly African-American churches must be steadfast with gospel action. But so too must predominantly white churches and Asian churches and Hispanic churches. We need every able Christian posted outside the gates of hell to snatch from the fires as many souls as we can without respect to race, ethnicity, or national origin.
I'm intrigued by the title of Williams' new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It. I'm buying it just for the title. But, I am surely to be disappointed by the "what we can do about it" proposals if they stop short of the root problem. We need a strategy far bigger than anything Williams or Cosby has proposed so far. We need a strategy as magnificent and invincible as the Cross of Jesus Christ, preached with Spirit-filled power, applied to the hearts of hearers with the omnipotent aid of God. Our issues are that big.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.
This resolution aims first at the actions, or rather the prohibition of certain actions. Edwards resolves never to "do" things that fail to further the glory of God. Moreover, he is concerned with actions "in soul or body" and actions that are excessive in their lack or zeal for the glory of God ("less or more").
I guess I'm going to have to spend some time thinking through particular habits of action in my life. I'm not currently aware of any habit of obvious or gross sin that I need to repent of (perhaps my elders and co-laborers will soon correct that oversight! ;-)) But I suspect that my ordinary habits are not all aimed at the glory of God; I'm certain I have not resolved "never to do any manner of thing... but what tends to the glory of God."
So, some questions...
1. I need to lose about 30 pounds for my health (so a doctor with an overly enthusiastic fondness of the "O" word tells me). Is playing basketball for a couple hours a week on Mondays and Thursdays agreeable to this principle?
2. I once had a dear friend tell me that I was "more likely to take a nap than he was," by which he was exhorting me to not cut corners or procrastinate. But, and I don't think he knew this, I do like naps and will generally do so once or twice a weekend. Am I failing to redeem the time there?
3. Okay... then there is Civilization 4, a strategy simulation video game that I play every once in a while (by God's grace). Tending toward God's glory?
Granting that any of these things and many others may or may not be problematic depending on the amount of time invested/wasted and the attitude of heart while doing them (for example, before Christ, I was a big-time trash talker on the basketball court... moderate giftedness ruined by extraordinary pride), does any of these things aim directly at God's glory? In other words, despite the fact that they may not be sinful, is there a positive God-exalting warrant for doing them? Should I do this or that thing in light of God's glory is the question Edwards' resolution raises for me. Am I intentionally setting out to do things in body and soul that have as their express purpose to honor God?
And as a corollary, what is the role of recreation in the Christian's and pastor's life? How should we think about that aspect of our lives as God-glorifiers? Is there any such thing as "free time" when it comes to bringing fame and honor and praise to God?
But Edwards' resolution doesn't stop with doing. He also resolved never to be or to suffer anything opposed to the glory of God. Now that strikes at the heart of the matter. I could spend all day evaluating the things I do without any regard to who or what I've become, what I am. I could easily show more concern for being thought of in a certain way (e.g., servant, joyous, kind, humble) and never actually being that way. Resolving never to be anything in body or soul except that that tends towards God's glory is right and good; sounds like a good paraphrase of Rom. 12:1-2 or definition of sanctification. And yet I wonder, apart from New Year's resolutions and resolve to fight particular gross sins, how many Christians actually resolve to be and not merely to do, to be like Jesus in this or that essential way?
And then Edwards adds never to suffer or allow, to the extent of my ability, anything that does not tend toward God's glory. I presume that takes into account the actions and ways of being of others around us, perhaps the people in our charge as pastors or the members of our families. So the resolution becomes something more than individualistic piety by prompting responsibility and action on behalf of others.
I'm quite sure I'm not the kind of person that is quick and loving with a word of correction. I'm inconsistent at best. That's a failure in both character and ministry--one I'll need to correct in order to be faithful as a steward (I Cor. 4:1-2). I can recall more than one incident where I winced at someone's language or saw a kid in the mall doing something he should not, and failed to correct or instruct, thus allowing for things that do not tend toward God's glory.
This is a great resolution. It's penetrating and far-ranging. Resolved, to spend the next week with pen and paper in hand, noting things I do, "how I be" (a little Ebonics seemed a more fitting we of capturing being here), and also what I am tempted to suffer or allow that does not tend toward God's glory. Resolved, create a plan and ideas for tossing the insignificant and the aimless for the intentional and God-glorifying.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Now, I've read Edwards' resolutions a number of times... and each time I'm gripped by them. There is a great spiritual power and insightfulness that I can't shake. Of the 70 or so resolutions, I'm always pierced by a good two-dozen or so in any reading. And then I'm humbled all the more when I realize this was a teenage boy writing this stuff!! I see how unexamined and undisciplined my life is when I read these resolutions. I lack resolve on too many things that I perhaps think are inconsequential that Edwards reminds me are actually of great spiritual importance. Even the very use of the word "resolve" speaks to me of a substantial concreteness, such that when I hear the word I'm aware of my gooeyness. Yep. I need resolve.
So, I'm resolved to study Edwards' resolutions--not necessarily to blindly accept them as my own but to more intentionally use them as a window onto my own soul and as food for thought. I won't do a post on them all, but I thought the discipline of writing these things down might aid my resolve. And, I thought the prayers and comments of others might be of help to me and to others needing to live more resolute lives.
So, here goes. Edwards writes:
1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good of mankind in general. Resolved so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
Okay... that's a three-fer. But I'm struck by the sweepingness of the statement: "do whatsoever," "my whole duration, without an consideration of time," "whatever difficulties... howmany soever, and how great soever."
Now if my excercise is more than lip service, keeping my heart far from the Lord, I can't just "amen" those statements. Without question, this is what the Lord of Hosts is entitled to; it's His due and my responsibility. No problems there.
The problem, if I'm honest, is in my heart. Maybe the absence of resolve is fundamentally a faint or cowardly or convencience and comfort seeking heart. And if Edwards' joining together of God's glory and my good is a correct coupling (that whatever leads to God's glory is for my highest good), and I think it is, the issue is more like faintheartedness and cowardliness. Were I even sufficiently motivated by my own desire for blessing and comfort (eternal), I'd have more resolve it seems.
I do want to see God receive all the glory due His name. I do want my entire life to be aimed directly at the center-mass of God's glory. I do want to do those things that lead to the blessing of mankind. Too often I don't want to do the whatsoever part. The whatsoever part suggests a holy out of control abandon for the things of God. Do I evidence that? In spurts maybe? On occassion perhaps? Daily resolved to do this with a specific and intentional plan for doing so and an alert flexibility that eagerly seizes opportunities as they arise while repenting of even the slightest hint of hesitant "consideration"? Definitely not -- yet! Yet! Yet!
Oh Lord, grant that all your people would be zealous for your glory at whatever cost and in whatever way you afford us! Grant that we would choose blessedness with hyou and the joy of basking in the glory of your presence over wimpy, faint, convenience-seeking settlements that are less than your highest praise and fame. Oh help us Lord!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
As I close this morning, I'm reminded of a number of things that I'd like to offer as final encouragments and exhortations.
- Remember your own conversion. We labor under the perception that people from Muslim backgrounds are extra difficult to reach with the gospel, that their hearts and minds are harder than average folks. I suppose I understand why that perception exists... the antipathy between East and West is pretty high, distrust abounds, the "foreign" status and stigma that attaches itself to our Muslim (especially Arab) neighbors. But, in fact, a Muslim's conversion isn't any more difficult for God than our own. How hard was our hearts? How distant were we from christ? And how disinterested were we in spiritual matters, preferring the stench of this world instead? And yet, our Sovereign Deliverer God brought us to our knees in repentance and gave us the gift of faith in Christ Jesus His Son. As we witness to Muslims, let's recall the supernatural intervention that is our own conversion and be stirred with the remembrance that there is no human heart strong enough to resist our omnipotent God!
- Remember that there is nothing to fear. I find that I need to actively recall this point in my evangelistic efforts and attempts to share the gospel with folks I presume will not be interested. For me, it's fear of man more than fear of bodily harm or some angry altercation. I don't want to be thought poorly of or be seen as offensive. I have to nail that to the cross and remember the scorn and ridicule my Lord suffered that a worm like me could be called by His name. I have to remember His challenging words, that if I am ashamed of Him before men He will be ashamed of me before my Father in heaven! Ouch! And I have to remember that He has already overcome the world and given me that faith which overcomes the world. There is nothing to fear when sharing the gospel with Muslims.
- Remember not to chase rabbits. These conversations can spin out into many directions. My African-American Muslim friends love to recall the abuse of Christians involved in slavery and the slave trade. My Arab Muslim friends love to point to current geo-political conflicts as evidence of the West's and Christianity's anti-Arab bias. Ever tried to chase and catch a rabbit with your hands? Pretty ridiculous exercise to even imagine, huh? These kinds of conversations are rabbits darting toward underbrush for safety. Don't chase them lest you sprain a mental ankle. Let your friend exhaust him or herself on these issues, but remember to stay on the gospel. There will be a time where calm discussion of these events and histories will make sense, but almost always they are diversions when you're in the midst of Christ-centered discussion.
- Remember not to insult Muhammad. The fiasco that erupted all over the world because of the drawings of the prophet Muhammad are a good case study in why insulting or attacking Muhammad is a bad strategy. You'll create more enemies than is necessary. Let the cross and a high view of Jesus be your offense. Indeed, every Muslim will find the Sonship of Jesus and the divinity of Jesus terribly offensive, the highest blasphemy. Don't pour gasoline on the fire with ill-informed, ill-timed, or ill-tempered ad hominems against Muhammad. When asked what you think about Muhammad, turn the conversation back to Jesus. "I think Muhammad was correct to teach Muslims that Jesus was a prophet, who did greater miracles than any other Prophet, that Jesus is the word of God, and that His followers must believe in Him. But I don't think Muhammad went far enough about Jesus. Jesus is also the Son of God who gave himself on the cross for the sins of all who would repent and believe in Him."
- Remember Who is on your side in sharing the Gospel. The Triune God of Redemption has commissioned us to go and make disciples, to declare the Good News about the Son. He fights the battles of His people. He is our refuge and strength, our banner and our shield. And it is God alone who saves. We should take confidence in knowing His arm is not shortened that He cannot save, and that He has been pleased to work through the foolishness of preaching and weakness of men.
Let us rejoice in the great opportunity the Lord of heaven has given us to proclaim His good news to the ends of the earth. And let us rejoice that we have the privilege of sharing with Muslims in particular, whom the Lord seems increasingly pleased to make our neighbors and to bring close to the call of the gospel. And let us be faithful, full of faith, to proclaim this Good News. I pray the Lord would prosper us all in this work!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Why hospitality? Well, what more practical way to make love for the lost more tangible than to open our homes and our calendars in a way that invites intimacy and friendship?
There are the biblical admonitions to care for the strangers among us, to treat them equitably and kindly. And we're told that in the process some have entertained angels unaware (Heb. 13:2). We're also told that in a certain sense our service to and care for strangers is a service rendered to Jesus himself (Matt. 25:35). Who knows but that through our hospitality one of our Muslim friends will become a brother in the Lord.
But hospitality is a lost ministry among so many Christians--even Christian-to-Christian hospitality. It seems that so many people feel unduly burdened, inconvenienced, or uninterested in sharing their lives. There is a hardness of heart that reflects itself in an unwillingness to open our lives to others, to invite them to our tables, and to serve them from the bounty the Lord has given us. A wrong kind of privatization of life has occurred even among Christians many of us would otherwise think solid. This ought not be so among us.
And for some others, there is the fear of man that expresses itself in embarrassment or shame at the prospect of having someone in their "meager" homes. A worldly mentality assumes that to show hospitality we must have showcase homes and fine place settings (at least as fine as that neighbor or friend who has all the "really nice" stuff we covet). And so, some Christians neglect this important ministry because they're actually thinking of themselves and comparing themselves to the wrong standard--other fallen men. This ougnt not be so either.
Hospitality is so important a Christian characteristic and ministry that the Lord requires leaders in His church to be hospitable (1 Tim. 3). It's not that being hospitable is a habit that belongs only to the "super spiritual." It is, rather, that being hospitable often leads to spiritual growth as it cultivates humility to serve and generosity befitting those who would be servants of all. And every Christian should aspire to serve, just as our Lord came not to be served but to serve.
The need for our witness in Word to be accompanied by the witness of hospitality struck me while in southeast Asia a year ago. My Arab friends prided themselves on their hospitality. I remember meeting one young man whose first questions to me included, "How do you find our hospitality? Have you been well cared for?" And I recall that when things grew tense during the Christian-Muslim dialogue I had been invited to participate in, my counterpart reminded the 90% Muslim audience of their need to be hospitable to guests.
Now, I could do certain mental gymnastics that disregard the hospitality I've experienced by saying, "None of it counts because they're not in Christ." But, that's to miss the point, I think. I'm one who knows Christ and I'm afraid that I and too many other Christians do not exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, scribes or Muslims when it comes to being hospitable. Insterad of trying to explain this away, it's better to repent than to reflect.
And strategically, we need to recognize the opportunity that a ministry of hospitality affords us in our home countries. Most Muslim growth in places like the U.S. start with small trickles of immigration. "Strangers" enter the land, often without family or friends. They come as international students or as workers seeking opportunity. That's the time for us to extend a welcoming hand of hospitality and to speak with them of the gospel. We're far too often inhospitable when we notice the stranger, and then we lament when those communities grow and seem impenetrable to us. Let's welcome the stranger from the start and prayerfully work to place ourselves inside those communities as they form and grow. If there was ever a time to heed that old saw about "gettin' in on the ground floor," this is it.
To witness to Muslims, we must place ourselves in the way of Muslim neighbors and friends. We can do that by waiting in alleys and pouncing on them with tracks and harangues when they pass by (please don't do that). Or, we can use what the Lord has given us in the way of homes, living rooms, kitchen tables, food and drink, community outings, and family celebrations to invite a Muslim friend to experience Christian hospitality. Prayerfully they will taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good!
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Concerning the Purity of the Church:
- Is organizational solidarity what Jesus meant by unity? That's the question being pursued over at PulpitLive.
- Dan Edelen writes: "And here is where the great truth exists: God made the Church to be His means of delivering grace." Check out his reflection on suffering and the role of the church in his re-post: The Reason the Church Exists.
- Nathan Finn is concerned about SBC maps that lead nowhere. Check it out and read why.
- Let's pray for the many Chinese believers who are burdened to reach Muslims in Asia and N. Africa with the Gospel. Reformation Theology has an encouraging update from a worker involved in the work.
Friday, August 18, 2006
This was my initial plan:
- Meet the neighbors and schedule dinner with them in the first 30 days.
- Pray for opportunities and a ready mind.
- Find a new barber (a bro. needs a cut), preferably one with decent skills but not a Christian.
- Phone the brother of a friend who lives on the island and is not a believer. Do lunch.
- Pray that the Lord would send laborers into the harvest and for friends on the field.
- Think through an initial strategy for training and encouraging others in evangelism.
- Adjust my reading plan to focus more intently on the Savior and the gospel (I'd welcome recommendations).
- Pick up those two biographies I've been neglecting (The Life and Diary of David Brainerd and To the Golden Shore).
- Pray, pray, pray for a fervent spirit and abiding love for the lost.
- In the last week and a half I've had extended conversations about the gospel with three different persons. Two of those persons have agreed to meet with me regularly to continue our discussions and to think about how the gospel applies to some issues they're facing.
- I've been able to complete about 5 or 6 "reverse membership interviews" since settling into the office. And I've been greatly encouraged to do the work of an evangelist as I've heard the wonderful and diverse ways the Lord has worked to bring people to Himself.
- Thanks to my most able and gracious helpmeet, we now have a dinner appointment with the neighbor for next weekend. Should be an interesting conversation. She seems to be a kind lady--describes herself as Catholic but "likes to bounce around to different churches" (including FBC). Looking forward to the time together. Thanks Kristie!
- I've found two very competent barbers. Only one professes to not be a Christian. He's also one of the persons with whom I've had good evangelistic conversation. Praying the Lord gives us a continuing relationship and the fruit of conversion.
And there are those things that I've not done.
- I'm most saddened that my prayer life seems flat when it comes to evangelism. I trust that the Lord is heeding your prayers and mine, but I still lack fervency, which is part of my original concern.
- I still need to phone that friend's brother and try to set up lunch.
- And I've not yet picked up those biographies. In fact, my "reading plan" has met with the stiff opposition of setting up an office and doing all the little necessary things one has to do when moving to a new place, often right smack in the middle of your "perfectly scheduled day." :-)
So, I'm encouraged at the Lord's work of grace and opportunities he has given. But, I'm keenly aware of how much I need to grow and work depending on His gracious and omnipotent aid.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Today, we're looking at another aspect of the Qu'ranic teaching about Jesus and its importance in proclaiming the Gospel to Muslims: Jesus' death.
Nearly every Muslim I've had the privilege of sharing the gospel with denies that Jesus was crucified. Often, the denial is accompanied with the explanation that such a death is not worthy of one of Allah's messengers/prophets. And from time to time, some will claim that it wasn't actually Jesus that died but someone (perhaps Judas) that was made to look like Jesus at the crucifixion. And still others, like Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat, maintain that Jesus was put on the cross but did not actually die on the cross but came down and continued to live. The traditional Islamic understanding is that Jesus was "raised up" to Allah and will return at the judgment to condemn those who taught false things about him and worshipped him.
Several passages in the Qu'ran speak to Jesus' death. Most of them deny his death. But a couple are useful for our purposes here.
In Sura 19:33, while still in the cradle Jesus is depicted as saying of himself, "Blessed am I in the day of my birth, my day of death and my day of resurrection to life."
Sura 5 relays an instance where Allah is supposed to have asked Jesus what he taught during his earthly mission. It reads:
Allah said, "Jesus, son of Mary, did you every say to people, 'Adopt me and my mother as two gods in disregard of God Himself?'" To which he replied, "Glory be to you. It is not in me to say what I have no warrant for. If I had ever said such a thing You would have known it. For You know my innermost being and I do not know Yours. I said to them only what you commanded me to say, namely, 'Worshp and serve God, my Lord and your Lord.' As long as I was among them I bore witness to them and when you took me to Yourself it was You who were watcher over them. For you are a witness to all things" (5:116-117).
The phrase "you took me to Yourself" isthe Arabic word tawaffa, which literally means to receive back, to take back, or to collect as in a debt. It is the most common verb in Arabic to express the idea or action of causing someone's death and is used throughout the Qu'ran of Allah (for example, 2:258; 3:156). It's a euphemism of sorts, not too unlike someone saying that a person "passed away" or "went home."
Another text is Sura 3:54-55:
And [the Jews] plotted and planned, and God too planned, and the best of planners is God. Then Allah said: "Jesus, I am causing you to die and I will exalt you to Myself, vindicating you from the unbelievers over whom your followers will have the victory at My hands and then, at the resurrection, is the homecomong of you all. I will be the arbiter of all your disputes."
The last text we want to consider is Sura 4:157-159:
They claim, "We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the Apostle of God." But they killed him not, nor did they crucify him. They were under the illusion that they had. Those who differ about this matter are full of doubts. They have no real knowledge but follow only conjecture. Assuredly, they did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him to himself, and God is all powerful, all-wise. And there are none of the People of the Book who will not believe in him before his death. On the Day of Resurrection he [Jesus] will be a witness against them.
In these four passages, it's possible to affirm a number of things.
- Jesus himself said he would die ("my day of death" in 19:33).
- Jesus affirms that his death would be "blessed," so in whatever way he died we cannot conclude that it was "unworthy" of God's prophets. Note that in 19:15 the same blessing is pronounced on John the baptist who was beheaded, and yet his death is blessed.
- The Qu'ran itself teaches that Jesus actually died, not just that he was "raised up." Sura 5:117 uses the euphemism "You took me to yourself" and Sura 3:55 distinguishes between death and being raised up -- "I am causing you to die" and "I will exalt you to Myself." Any theory of Jesus' death can not confuse these two things.
- The Qu'ran flatly contradicts itself. Jesus plainly claims that he would die. And in Sura 3 Allah says he is "causing Jesus to die." But in the next chapter says "they killed him not, nor did they crucify him" and "they did not kill him... God raised him to himself."
- Not only does the Qu'ran contradict itself on this point, it also contradicts all the revelations before it that it claims to affirm! From Genesis 3:15 to the Messianic Psalms to all four Gospel narratives which give a disproportionate amount of space to the crucifixion events, all of biblical revelation points to the historical fact and necessity of Jesus' death on the cross.
When witnessing to Muslims, hold before them the certainty of Jesus death on the cross. The Qu'ran contradicts itself, but the biblical witness (which the Qu'ran affirms!) gives sure evidence that the Son of God was crucified and raised again!
Let's ask our Muslim friends which position a reasonable man would take given the evidence:
Would a reasonable man take the eyewitness testimony of people who knew Jesus and stood by the cross... or the contradictory claims of writers 600 years after the event?
The eyewitness testimony:
Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Having said this, He breathed His last.
So when the centurion saw what had appened, he glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous Man!"
And the whole crowd who came togehter to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. but all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, wathcing these things. (Gospel of Luke 23:44-49)
Then he (Pilate) delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" and bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. (Gospel of John 19:16-18, 25, 30, and 35).
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
All of them will die, many of them without returning to church. Some of those will be our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in sin. I fear that many of them will not have been our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so they will slip into a Christ-less eternity, face a good and just God while they are still pleading their own merits for salvation, and fall under God's deserved penalty forever. We could have helped them, like the man in I Cor. 5 who was caught in sin (and may have repented II Cor. 2?), or like the man in Gal. 6:1. But we didn't.
So, to whom is my brother Mark Dever referring? Check out his reflections on the Southern Baptist Mistake and the risk it represents for the judgment of pastors and the souls of our members.
Any Muslim you meet is likely to affirm these statements. These are the teachings of the Qu'ran. But, these statements are likely to be quickly followed up with urgent qualifications.
"But, he is not the son of God. Allah has no sons and no partners. There is but one God. And, he did not die on the cross, that is not a worthy death for a messenger of Allah. He was only made to look like he died on the cross. The followers of Jesus make a blasphemous mistake in making him an equal with Allah."
Now there is the rub! It's amazing how two groups could have so much in common and yet be miles apart in their meanings. But that is precisely the case with any discussion between Muslims and Christians.
How is one to cross this chasm, to speak into the dark cavernous void that separates the two positions? What is the Christian responsibility when we come to this impasse?
Well, neither our message or our method is to change. We proclaim (method) the truth about the One who is the way, the truth and the life (message). But where does one start?
I've found it helpful to start with as clear a statement of the consequences or risks associated with how we answer this question. That is... whether we spend eternity in heaven or in an agonizing hell facing God's wrath depends on who we say Jesus is. It's helpful to make it clear that this is no matter for light, impersonal speculation or intellectual sparring. This is a matter of eternal life and death. This is the ultimate question, "Who do you say that I am?"
Second, it's useful if you can to start with the common ground that is afforded. The Qu'ran, while not a revelation from God, is not completely without truth in some matters. And where Jesus is concerned, there are at least a few things to start with, things that most Muslims don't connect into a coherent whole when it comes to a doctrine of Jesus.
- Jesus was virgin born. That's obviously taught in the prophets (Isaiah, for example) and the gospels. But it's also taught clearly in the Qu'ran (Surah 3:45-48, 19:20ff). But the fact of His virgin birth isn't the issue, the reason for and meaning of His virgin birth is.
- Jesus was faultless. In Surah Maryam we read, "He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord that I may bestow on thee a faultless son." The promise or sign given is not just a sinless, which would be miraculous enough, but for a perfectly faultless son. We find the same thing taught in several Hadiths. For example, Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith, Hadith 4.506, narrated by Abu Huraira reads: "The Prophet said, 'When any human being is born, Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead'." We also read in Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith, Hadith 4.641, narrated by Said bin Al Musaiyab: Abu Huraira said, "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'There is none born among the off-spring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Mary and her child."
- Jesus was "strengthened with the Holy Spirit" (Sur. 2:87). In Surah 2:253 we read: "Those messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit." Many will argue that this reference to the "holy spirit" is a reference to Gabriel the angel. But if so, the Qu'ran suffers from a classic contradiction for in several places the angels and the Spirit are mentioned as different beings. "The angels and the spirit ascend unto him in a Day the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years" (Surah 70:4). "The Day that the Spirit and the angels will stand forth in ranks, none shall speak except any who is permitted by (Allah) Most Gracious, and He will say what is right" (Surah 78:38; see also 97:1-5). Clearly, the Spirit is not an angel and is responsible for strengthening Jesus during His earthly ministry.
So, the Qu'ran and the Hadith support the view that Jesus was virgin born, sinless, and aided by the Holy Spirit. The questions are: What relationship does each of these teachings have to the other? And, why are these things so?
These three teachings about Jesus are crucial for both the Christian and the Muslim. Moreover, they are interdependent teachings. One does not hold up without the other. This is something frequently overlooked by my Muslim friends.
So, let's start with the teaching that Jesus is faultless. Clearly to live a faultless human life is impossible for an ordinary man. The Hadith goes so far as to say that Satan touches in the womb every human except Jesus. That's loosely analagous to the Christian doctrine of original sin. But Jesus' birth is different. He is born supernaturally of a virgin. And not only is His birth different, so too is his life. He is able to live a faultless life because He is aided by the Spirit of God.
Now the Muslim has two problems here. He must explain how Jesus can be born of a virgin and not have God as His Father. Christians do not mean tht God has sex with a woman, as many Muslims mistakenly think. But we do understand from Jesus' own teaching in the Gospels that God the Father is His Father. Moreover, a Muslim must explain more carefully who the Holy Spirit of God is. We've seen that He can not be an angel. And if He is the Spirit of God, a Muslim must explain how He cannot be God, of God's essence. What emerges, even from the pages of the Qu'ran, though everywhere the Qu'ran explicitly denies it, is a Trinitarian view of God! God the Father commanded the birth of a sinless Son who is aided by His omnipotent Spirit.
Why is all of this necessary? Why must Jesus be sinless, aided by the Spirit, and virgin born? For the answer to that, we must turn our Muslim friends back to the Gospels, the revelation that the Qu'ran teaches was given to Jesus and that the Qu'ran teaches Muhammad affirmed.
In the Gospel, we observe these wonderfully profound truths:
"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
"Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'" (Matthew 14:33).
"He (Jesus) said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Fahter who is in heaven'" (Matthew 16:16-17).
"The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
"Then they all said, 'Are you then the Son of God?' So He (Jesus) said to them, 'You rightly say that I am'" (Luke 22:70).
"Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and the third day rise again'" (Luke 24:7).
Jesus, the perfect Son of God, came to die for sinful men. He gave His life as a ransom for our own. He died the death that we deserved to satisfy the holy wrath of God on behalf of those who repent of their sins and turn toward God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. He is the virgin born, sinless, crucified and resurrected Son of God who provides the only way of salvation and escape from the wrath to come.
When witnessing to Muslims, be bold, know the gospel, defend the scripture, confront them with their own sins and penalty of sin, and then bring them to Jesus!
Monday, August 14, 2006
Please disband the United Nations or move it to Beijing and remove the veto powers so a democratic U.N. emerges. The passing of this resolution is sickening.
Now, my head went all over the place for a moment. Do I really want to defend the U.N.? No, probably not. Do I want to think through the strange juxtaposition of Beijing and democratic? Hmmm... no, I don't think so. Have I time to try and figure out which resolution is in question? Not really.
So I'm left with a choice... to post or not to post the comment? That is the question.
I decided not. But the snippet above illustrates so well my experience in speaking with many Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims. The conversation almost always takes a hard turn toward politics and foreign policy, usually lamenting or lambasting the U.S. and the West for their anti-Muslim, anti-Arab efforts in some place on the news.
The task for me, for all of us engaged in such a conversation, is to remember from which nation we come. If we're Christians, our concern for U.S. or U.K. foreign policy is vastly secondary or tertiary. This world is not our home; we belong to the peculiar nation of Christ. We're Christ-ians, and remembering that our allegiance is to the kingdom of heaven will keep us from choking in political smoke screens. And hopefully it will help us to make things personal.
Our real concern is the person standing before us. Every Muslim man, woman, and child is made in the image of God. Their lives are of infinite worth as image bearers. And every Muslim man, woman, and child that we encounter is made to worship God. And yet, every Muslim man, woman, and child that we talk with is lost in their sin, alienated from the God they are to worship, and facing the dreadful day of judgment without God and without hope (Eph. 2:12).
In our evangelistic efforts we must press these truths home. We must wait patiently until all the political air is let out of their lungs and then redirect the conversation to the central issue: what will they do with their sins? How will they be saved from the wrath of God that is coming against all sin-sick men, women and children who reject Jesus?
Most Muslims will be eager to agree that God is holy and just, that he will punish the wicked. What most Muslims fail to realize is that in their sins they are the wicked. Most Muslims have a shallow view of sin, thinking of sin as "mistakes" or "faults" of some generic sense that may be dealt with simply by "repenting" and asking for forgiveness. They fail to understand the gravity of sin, their own personal sin by failing to recognize that sin is a rebellious, frontal assault against the holy God of the universe who will bring all men to account. They fail to realize that even the smallest sins alienate men from God and that approaching Him is not as simple as saying "I'm sorry" and calling for a mulligan. Atonement must be made. True repentance, the kind that turns from sin and toward God through faith in Jesus Christ, is absolutely essential. And it is only on that basis alone that forgiveness is possible.
In our witnessing to Muslims we must cut to the chase. We must make it personal. We must insist upon the heinous seriousness of sin and the clear and present danger they are facing.
Having established the reliability of the Bible, press these revelations into the conversation. Take your Muslim friend to the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5) and to Jesus' exposition of the commandments (for example, Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-48) and press them to examine their own lives in light of God's perfect holiness.
Nothing is gained from endless debates about politics. It only engenders strife. And nothing is gained by abstract discussions of religion, a sort of interpersonal interfaith discussion between friends. Work, depending on the aid of God's Holy Spirit, to expose their hearts before God. Knowing the severity of God, let us persuade all our Muslim friends to face the mirror of their own sins and see themselves the way God sees them: made in His image but like us scarred and ruined by their sin.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
1. One book that changed your life: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Great Doctrines of the Bible (3 vols), Martin Lloyd-Jones
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Knowing God, J.I. Packer
3. One book I’d want on a desert island: since I'm alone on a deserted island, and probably puzzling about things, I think I'd want either The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel or The Sovereignty of God, Pink
4. One book that made me laugh: a witty and insightful memoir, Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner or most anything by Zora Neale Hurston (for example, Of Mules and Men or Dust Tracks on the Road).
5. One book that made me cry: All of James Cone's books (God of the Oppressed, A Black Theology of Liberation, Black Theology and Black Power, etc.)
6. One book that you wish you had written: The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges
7. One book you wish had never been written: Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, and all of his others come to think of it...
8. One book that you are currently reading: Systematic Theology, Berkhoff
9. One book that you’ve been meaning to read: The Institutes, John Calvin
This is harder than it looks! (note that every question starts "one book" and I've routinely given two or more... sorry).
Now... I tag: Jeff Cavanaugh; Anthony Carter; and Andrea Ruffner!
Friday, August 11, 2006
To do so, it's helpful to keep a couple things in mind.
First, remember that the typical Muslim is what we might call a "folk Muslim" or "cultural Muslim." That is, she or he is not likely to be a scholar of either the Qu'ran or the Bible. Their views are shaped greatly by the teachings of an Imam or cleric and tradition. So, don't be afraid of hearing this charge.
Second, a few key passages from the Qu'ran can be used to suspend belief in Muslim claims about a corrupted Bible. The Qu'ran everywhere affirms that the Law of Moses (Torah), the Psalms of David, and the Gospels were "revelations" from God. For example:
"No just estimate of Allah do they make when they say: "Nothing doth Allah send down to man (by way of revelation)" Say: "Who then sent down the Book which Moses brought?- a light and guidance to man..." (Surah 6:91).
"And it is your Lord that knoweth best all beings that are in the heavens and on earth: We did bestow on some prophets more (and other) gifts than on others: and We gave to David (the gift of) the Psalms" (Surah 17:55).
"The Great Terror will bring them no grief: but the angels will meet them (with mutual greetings): 'This is your Day,- (the Day) that ye were promised.' The Day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed),- even as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfill it. Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): My servants the righteous, shall inherit the earth" (Surah 21:103-105).
"And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein..." (Surah 5:46-47).
Notice in the last quote (Surah 5:47) that "the people of the Gospel" are told to judge all things by what is put in the Gospels. As Christians, we should seize that as an open opportunity to move directly to Jesus. Moreover, we should our Muslim friends to this "revelation" in the Qu'ran, where even in the time of Muhammad the Gospels were still seen as reliable enough to arrive at the truth. Surah 10:94 read: "If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt (see also 16:43; 21:7). Even the writers of the Qu'ran admit in places that the Bible is sufficient for matters of faith and conduct.
Further, this key principle runs throughout the Qu'ran: "There is nothing that can altar the words of God" (6:34; 10:64; 18:27). According to the Qu'ran, Allah promises to watch over the revelation and guard it from corruption (15:9). These sentiments find their expression in the Bible first. "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands frim in the heavens" (Ps. 119:89; 1 Pet. 1:24-25). And Jesus taught "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop our of the Law" (Luke 16:17) and "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).
Let us be quick to ask our Muslim friends:
- If the Bible had been corrupted would the "perfect" Qu'ran have confirmed it?
- If even the Qu'ran teaches that the Torah, Psalms of David, and Gospels are words from God, and both the Bible and the Qu'ran teach that god protects His word and that His word will not be corrupted, then shouldn't we assume that the Bible is reliable and true?
What does it say about your view of Allah/God, then, if his word is corrupted by men? Either you must conclude that Allah is not omnipotent being unable to guard his word from mere men, or that he is not a god of truth because he willingly allows men to corrupt his revelation.
At this point, you're praying that the Holy Spirit of God makes your friend honest and willing to suspend his disbelief in the Bible in order to hear a clear presentation of who Jesus is from the Law, the writings, and the Gospel. May the Lord gives us much fruit from our labors!
Thursday, August 10, 2006
But God did not give us a spirit of fear or timidity but of power, of love, and of self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). This truth needs desperately to be remembered when evangelism and Muslim are used in the same breath.
There are four fears that most Christians tend to experience when it comes to sharing the Gospel with Muslims.
1. Fear of Terrorists
Let’s face it; a great number of us think “terrorist” or “potential terrorist” when we see an Arab, in general, and an Arab Muslim in particular. The images that inform this fear are plentiful: images of 9/11, of bearded men with head scarves, of angry Arabs protesting cartoons, of masked militia wielding automatic weapons and rocket launchers, of young Arab boys throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at tanks, of dreaded suicide bombers maiming and killing bystanders and civilians.
The almost daily deluge of these images fills us with suspicion and fear and causes us to hesitate in sharing, lest we talk with an actual terrorist and somehow end up on their “hit list.” This fear blinds us to the person’s great need of a Savior by focusing us on ourselves, our vain lust for security and safety. So, what if the person is a terrorist? Aren’t we better of rejoicing at the prospect of speaking with a terrorist and by God’s omnipotent aid actually seeing them converted from such hate-filled darkness to the joy and love-filled light of Christ? The Christian’s “war against terror” is the warfare we wage to spread the gospel to all—including folks we fear might be terrorists.
2. Fear of Muslim’s Knowledge
We often carry in our minds the idea that Muslims are thorough in their knowledge of the Qu’ran and its teaching. We fear that our discussion will turn into an embarrassing display of their superior knowledge and our weak understanding of the Bible.
The truth is that most Muslims are rather ignorant of the Qu’ran’s teachings, depending heavily on the interpretations of clerics and tradition (rather Roman Catholic and Jewish in that sense), and even more ignorant of the Bible. We need not fear what turns out to be another stereotype. We will more often meet Muslims who claim in sweeping terms, “The Qu’ran teaches…” or “There is a Hadith somewhere that teaches…”. Rarely will we meet men and women who have any specific reference or developed theology in mind.
So, our task is to hear and heed the call of scripture to “study to show ourselves approved” (as the KJV renders it), to be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). As we do so, any fear of what a Muslim knows will be replaced with confidence in the word of God which does not return void but accomplishes its purposes.
3. Fear Muslims Don’t Convert
A third stereotype or misconception is that Muslims do not convert from Islam to Christianity. That’s hogwash! And moreover, when we buy into that fear or misconception, we actually deny that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16), and yes, the Muslim too! I am exhibit A (my testimony), and there is an innumerable host of others. Spend some time reading and listening to their testimonies and know that the Lord’s arm is not shortened that He cannot save!
4. Fear of Offending
And then there is the fear of offending our Muslim friends and neighbors. We worry way too much about this one. When listening to a conversation I was having with a Muslim man, my wife pointed out to me that he had no qualms about telling me how blasphemously wrong he thought I was and how he felt no hesitation at proclaiming his own point of view (theological, political, cultural, etc.). She was correct, and that has almost always been my experience in discussing religious matters with Muslims—they aren’t shy at telling you what they think is right or wrong.
Christians need more mettle. We need to “man up” and share the Gospel Truth about Jesus without fear of man, without fear of offending, and with the passion and certitude that recognizes that their and our eternal destinies are at stake when it comes to believing the truth about Jesus (John 17:3, 7-8). We need a holy recklessness that throws our overly cautious and fear-laden civility to the wind to declare, proclaim, defend, announce, herald, assert, affirm, state, show, persuade, argue the fact that a holy, sin-hating, sin-judging God is opposed to men who love darkness rather than the light, whose deeds are evil and therefore worthy of eternal condemnation, that this same God sent His Son, born of a virgin, perfect in obedience, to die a criminal’s death in our stead, and raised Him from the grave conquering our sin and death and now calls all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus!
Let it rip with the kind of love that risks social awkwardness in favor of eternal fellowship with God the Father and the Risen Lamb! When witnessing to Muslims… renounce all fear in the name of Jesus!
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I've appreciated every one of those invitations and opportunities, both for their immediate purpose of lifting up the Savior and their secondary aim of equipping the saints. As a former muslim who introduced my share of people to the teachings of Islam, I receive these opportunities as tangible expressions of God's grace in my life. I've often felt that the blood of others is on my hands because of my former life and that these events are something of a cleansing, a God-given opportunity to now sound the trumpet of truth so that many others might find eternal life.
While I've appreciated these events, I don't necessarily find them the best form of training or equipping others when it comes to witnessing to muslims. So much happens so fast that the discussions often become something closer to "entertainment" or passive viewing rather than good "how to" instruction. So, I'm turning to the blogosphere to help with the task (not that the blog is perfect, but it's at least one more medium).
In this series of posts, I want to share a few ideas for speaking of Jesus with our muslim neighbors and friends. I pray they're helpful.
#1. Know the Gospel
Surely this is obvious, but it bears stating. I've been surprised at the number of times Christian friends have found themselves in discussion with muslims and left the exchange realizing how shallow their understanding of the gospel is. And I've been surprised at how many times I've left conversations with muslims scratching my head about this or that Christian belief I was unable to communicate well.
So, the first order of business is to drink deeply from gospel waters. The thimble-sized sips that are reflected in so many evangelical "presentations" of the gospel actually leave you thirsty when you're sitting across the table from someone who not only doesn't believe the gospel but actually believes you're going to hell for believing it. In those encounters we need to do more than whet our whistles with the good news. And swallowing our spit won't do either. We need to be bathed in the Good News! We need to be soaked with an understanding that far surpasses the "four spiritual laws." We need rock-ribbed, Trinitarian, virgin birth, hypostatic union, definite atonement Theo-logy. Whimpy "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so" understandings will leave you unsettled and ashamed.
I think Piper's articulation of the Gospel at the T4G conference is perhaps the best outline I've heard. If you're one of the few who hasn't heard this sermon and cried, "Woe is me for I am undone!" then you need to get this sermon and meet the God of the Gospel. Consider how he unpacks the gospel as historical events, propositional truth, experiential truth, and ultimately God himself. It will serve you well in any encounters with muslim neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
A few books on the gospel and evangelism from recent years should also be helpful: John Piper, God is the Gospel
Peter G. Bolt, The Cross From a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel
James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel
Will Metzger, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People
Prepare for your discussions by reading good literature. A muslim will not understand the necessity of the gospel because he won't understand the God-hating seriousness of sin the way Christians do. Nor will he permit the possibility of God being One and yet three persons, or that Jesus is uniquely the Son of God. This is shirk, the highest blasphemy in Islam. The concepts that are taken for granted in a nominal Christian culture are challenged at most every point when witnessing to muslims. So, there is a necessary apologetic task that is best met by understanding Gospel truth in a more profound way than is taught in most evangelical circles.
The Lord has given us a tremendous gospel opportunity by bringing muslims to our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. It seems that not enough of us have heeded the urgent call to "Go," so He has brought them to us. Now, in view of the millions of souls that need to hear the gospel, we must shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and bring the glad tidings of the Savior to the lost and perishing muslim friend across the street. Once you know the Gospel, then begin with urgency the task of witnessing to muslims. In the next post, we'll consider the muslim attitude toward the Bible and how, by God's Spirit and grace, to break through it for gospel conversation.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Stafford is a town of just under 20,000 residents with some 51 churches. Located between Houston and Sugar Land, Stafford is the only town in Texas that has no property taxes, funding city services with sales and business taxes. With only 300 unproduced, revenue-potential acres left in this town of just seven square miles, city officials are concerned to stop the further proliferation of churches in favor of some revenue generating businesses.
In one quarter-mile section near the city center, parishioners can choose among 17 churches. There are three small churches in the Quail Ridge Plaza shopping center, and three large brick churches on the street behind it. Down the road, the Evangelical Formosan Church is tucked behind a muffler shop.
One official remarked: "If you can't find religion in Stafford, Texas, you ain't looking hard enough."
Here's the question: Did no church leader have enough spiritual integrity to check whether there were other faithful gospel-preaching churches in the town before deciding to start another church? With this kind of density, how could the friendly neighborhood Baptist, Methodist, or non-denominational church get overlooked?
I'm hard-pressed to think that there are so few worthwhile churches in a small town like Stafford that 51 upstarts are needed in order to reach the 4,035 families living in the city. Here's the spiritual discernment reportedly used by the pastors and leaders locating churches in Stafford: One city official "said he asked the last six applicants why they wanted to build a church in Stafford. 'Every one of them said they prayed about it, and God said to come here,' he said. 'I can't compete with that, so here we are'."
"I prayed about it, and God said to come here." Just maybe God meant go there... and join an existing church and serve an existing congregation!
The city official's response ("I can't compete with that, so here we are") is perhaps more perceptive than he realized. Very often one can't compete with the self-proclaimed revelations and answers to prayers received by leaders looking to baptize their whims in God-talk. The phrase is usually evoked to silence objections and avoid careful teaching and accountability. And apparently, its use is on the rise. "God told me so" is now perhaps the most dangerous four-word-sentence uttered by church leaders.
Here's what I'd propose: the next time you hear someone say "God told me to do so and so," ask them to prove it before you follow along with them. If God has spoken then surely it should be evident in His word. If God said it then it shall surely come to pass (Deut. 18). But if God has not said it, then that "prophet" is a false prophet, a deceiver, a twister of God's "word" to his or her own destruction. Mark such a man and avoid them.
Perhaps most lamentable is the negative effect this situation is having on the witness of the church. Non-Christians are likely looking at the situation in frustration and concluding that the local Christian church is little more than the social club of the property-tax-dodging moralist. The church looks and acts as though it has no concern for the well-being of the community, particularly since most of the congregants on a given Sunday come from places other than Stafford.
The unity which is supposed to testify to the gospel truth that the Father has indeed sent the Son is outshone by storefront neon signs advertising 51 churches of the disunited. That's more church flavors than Baskin Robbins, and more churches in one small location than is reasonable or healthy.
Resolved: Not to plant a church or support the start-up of a church without understanding the existing church landscape, cooperating and supporting in some tangible way existing churches in the area, and considering the community impact of another local church.
My guess is that this resolution will apply to far more places than Stafford, Texas.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
New York, NY - In a recent survey conducted by the American Bible Society, 70% of 12-15-year-olds surveyed said there are correlations between the messages of the Bible and the way they apply those messages to their lives. African- American teens were significantly more likely to agree with this statement than teens of all other races and ethnic groups. More than 1,600 12-18-year-olds participated in a six-question survey conducted by Weekly Reader Research on behalf of the American Bible Society. The survey also revealed these newfound statistics:
- 51% surveyed were introduced to the Bible by their parents, with African-American (60%) and Hispanic teens (50%) leading among the surveyed ethnic groups.
18% of teens said a pastor or a priest introduced them to the Bible; 12.5% were introduced by a youth leader.
- Roughly 56% of the respondents were introduced to messages of the Bible before age 10.
- Children who read the Bible before age 10 were more likely to read the Bible regularly as teenagers.
- More than half of the teens surveyed read the Bible daily, weekly, on Sunday or sometimes and an estimated six percent of the 30.2 million 12-18-year-olds in the United States read the Bible daily (with no significant age, race or gender differences).
American Bible Society president Dr. Paul Irwin explained, "We conducted the survey to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the role the Bible plays in the lives of teens in America. All of us were very excited to see, and have reinforced, the important role parents play in introducing the Bible to children at a young age.There is much in these figures to suggest optimism. We have to be pleased that young people are being introduced to the Bible, predominantly by their parents, and with some frequency.
But statistics are often the enemy of faithfulness. There is a widespread, lamentable tendency to measure the quality and effectiveness of Christianity by statistics (membership rolls, baptisms, etc.). And these are precisely the kind of statistics that tempt some to conclude without warrant, "If we're gonna reach people, we must do it before age 10 or 12." The presupposition is that the gospel needs to be aided by our timing, that the gospel is not quite "the power of God unto salvation" unless we "reach 'em young."
That kind of reasoning, particularly coupled with the sometimes intense pressure from parents for pastors to baptize their little ones, results in younger and younger baptismal ages as a "rite of passage" or "entitlement" rather than as a sign of committed, informed discipleship. A wrong use of age-related statistics, sometimes coinciding with a good desire to see young people follow the Lord, produces manipulative and shallow evangelistic practices. And then there is the seemingly indomitable feeling of failure when youth programs and energy-draining outreach to children doesn't result in visible success and speedy fulfillment of the "build it for the kids and the parents will come" prophecy.
We desire to see disciples, not just professors. We want our children to follow and obey the Lord, not praise Him with their mouths while keeping their hearts far from Him.
For example, the study reports that "When asked if they turned to the Bible for education about sex and sexuality, 21% of all teens answered yes. Among those who said yes, 29% were African-American and 20% were Caucasian-White."
Any enthusiasm at a 50% or better Bible reading rate has to be tempered by a 20% application of the scriptures to an area of life as important as sex and sexuality. After all, following Jesus isn't as simple as merely reading the Bible from time to time.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
It'll be nice to have the first couple weeks here to observe and participate as a member. I'll start preaching Aug. 20th, Lord willing.
Here's the selection of songs we'll be singing (thanks Dave):
As We Gather
Ancient of Days
Blessed Be Your Name
In Christ Alone
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Lead Me to Calvary
How Deep the Father's Love For Us
An elder from a partner church here on the island will bring the morning message. In the evening service, a member of the church will give an update on the church's work with Baptist churches we cooperate with in the Caribbean. It should be a great Lord's day. I pray your's will also.
Friday, August 04, 2006
But amidst all the available distractions, my mind keeps coming back to this theme: evangelism. More specifically, I'm pondering why it is I don't share the gospel more often. Why don't I share it every chance I get? Why don't I create opportunities for sharing more consistently? What else have I got to talk about?
My wife and I once owned a direct sales business with a multi-level marketing component. Yeah... I know. But at least it wasn't Amway and we did learn a great deal. One thing we learned was to step out of our proverbial comfort zone and tell people about the business, to invite them to consider the business opportunity for themselves. We did that rather well for a while. And in an interesting sort of way, we're sure the Lord used that experience to teach us to "step out" and share the gospel, to overcome our fear of man.
But, I can't say I'm all that thrilled about my current efforts. And as I look to the coming life as a senior pastor, my concern is that I'll actually have fewer opportunities to interact significantly with non-Christians. I assume that my main evangelistic activity will largely occur through preaching, but I don't want to be satisfied with that. I want and need a good plan.
But there's still the "why" of my evangelistic duldrums. Why am I not doing more already?
I think I need to deepen my love for the Savior and the Good News of the Savior. I think I need to contemplate more deeply the majesty, person, and work of our Lord. I also need to think more deeply and pray more fervently about the perishing souls that surround me. I can't say I consistently view people the way Jesus views them. My valuation of their souls is too low. I think I lack urgency. I think I "trust in God's sovereignty" in the wrong way at times. I need to repent.
Two hours later, here's my initial plan:
- Meet the neighbors and schedule dinner with them in the first 30 days.
- Pray for opportunities and a ready mind.
- Find a new barber (a bro. needs a cut), preferrably one with decent skills but not a Christian.
- Phone the brother of a friend who lives on the island and is not a believer. Do lunch.
- Pray that the Lord would send laborers into the harvest and for friends on the field.
- Think through an initial strategy for training and encouraging others in evangelism.
- Adjust my reading plan to focus more intently on the Savior and the gospel (I'd welcome recommendations).
- Pick up those two biographies I've been neglecting (The Life and Diary of David Brainerd and To the Golden Shore).
- Pray, pray, pray for a fervent spirit and abiding love for the lost.
What am I missing?
The Lord has seen fit to give us the great privilege of proclaiming the Good News to those who are perishing. What a humbling and weigthy privilege it is! It's good and right that I'm up tonight unable to sleep in view of those who for eternity will suffer an eternal agony.
I want FBC to take this island with the gospel. I'm praying the Lord would be pleased to use us not only on the island but in the wider Caribbean and to advance His kingdom worldwide. I feel my poverty and my need for His divine aid.
It's 3:00am. I'm gonna try to sleep now.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2).
The apostle Paul's instruction to young Timothy is straight forward enough. Timothy is to entrust to reliable or faithful men the things he has learned from Paul. Teach what you learn to others, and charge them with teaching others as well. Here's the divinely-inspired gospel pyramid scheme if you will, multi-level marketing for those zealous for God.
While the apostle's instruction is pretty straight-forward, prior to joining CHBC I'd never really seen this done in an organized, scaled way. In most churches I'd been a part of, training faithful men was seen as the province of the local seminary. Occassionally a really promising young man with obvious gifts for public ministry would come to a pastor's attention, and that man would be heralded as the new prodigy, but never did I see a pastor take 2 Tim. 2:2 as a charge to proactively multiply the spread of the gospel by building into the lives of other men who would go and do likewise. The idea that it's the church that trains men for ministry seems to have fallen on hard times. In my experience, pastors are overwhelmed with so many other duties and tasks (some important, some secondary) that the slow work of cultivating leadership seems to go undone.
I remember well my membership interview at CHBC. Mark was gathering all the background information and testimony he usually gathers. We were moving at the brisk pace with which he seems to do everything. Then somehow he uncovered the fact that I'd been an elder at a previous church and felt called to preach the gospel full time. He had been speaking with me all this time. Then, he looked at my wife, Kristie, and asked, "Is he gifted to preach?" as though I had left the room. First thought: what in the world? Second thought: hmmm, I wonder what Kristie will say? Kristie looked at Mark and smiled a big smile, "Oh definitely." Whew....
Mark jotted a few things down on the interview sheet and then said with a twinkling enthusiasm, "You should call the office and let's arrange a time to start meeting for lunch regularly."
I was encouraged at my wife's answer and taken aback at Mark's instant interest and generosity. He didn't know me much at all. And yet, I think in view of 2 Tim. 2:2, he was quick to extend himself to me in an effort to teach me and have me teach others.
We met for lunch from time to time. Not as much I would have liked, but that was completely my fault. I honestly think Mark would have given me all the time I could have requested and his schedule could afford. When I did prompt a lunch, he never refused. And his study was always open to me. In fact, it was always open to any young man interested in, trying to discern, committed to, or already involved in ministry in the local church.
And not only was his lunch calendar and his study open, so too was the church. CHBC makes it a habit to invest in young men training for the minsitry.
First, there are the opportunities afforded to young men to publicly preach in the Sunday evening services. Elders and staff get first dibs, then come those men pursuing ministry and those trying to discern public teaching gifts. The congregation listens and encourages actively, being blessed by and celebrating the gifts the Lord has given the churuch.
Second, there are the growing number of men who have participated in the internship program. Two classes of six interns come to the church for a five-month "ecclessiology boot camp," where they intensively study church history, theology and the operation of the local church. The church provides housing, a small stipend, and significant small group and one-on-one time with the pastoral staff, all in an effort to multiply the number of faithful men who will teach others. With a steady faithfulness, the "alumni" of the program is now close to three dozen or so.
Third, there is the investment in 9Marks/CHBC Weekenders, a four-day look "under the hood" of CHBC offered to pastors, church leaders, and seminarians. Attendees sit in on an elders' meeting and a members' meeting, observe membership classes, discuss preaching, church discipline and other topics, attend Sunday services, and meet with staff. The aim: by God's grace provide a working, though imperfect, model of biblical faithfulness that other faithful men may adapt and improve.
Fourth, there are the number of men who benefit from the church's generosity in supporting their seminary education.
And the training seems never to stop. The teaching offered in Core Seminars (CHBC's version of Sunday school) is a "seminary lite" immersion experience. Both Michael and Mark are models of expositional preaching and theology set ablaze in the pulpit. And the elders are capable disciple makers who invest generously in training others in the deep truths of the faith.
I've learned that one of my chief responsibilities as a pastor is to train faithful men who will faithfully train others in handling the word of truth. I've learned that I need to keep my eyes open for men the Lord may be raising up in the body as elders, teachers and leaders, and to invest strategically in these men. I've learned that that investment multiplies itself as they go about the glorious task of training others also. And I've learned that such training is incredibly doable. From steps as simple as regularly meeting with a brother over lunch to discuss a book, to using the Sunday evening pulpit to help men discern their giftedness, there are immediate things I can do to be faithful to 2 Tim. 2:2. And Lord willing, establising an intern program to invest in the future leadership of the Church is not too far beyond our ability either.
I've learned that leadership is not some special thing that belongs to me alone, some thing I'm to jealously guard against the encroachment of others. Leadership is a discipline and desire I'm to intentionally cultivate in others. So, the end-game for me at FBC Grand Cayman is to pray and work for a cadre of leaders raised up from within the body and deployed to train others.
FBC Grand Cayman went three years without a senior pastor. They were led during much of that time by a faithful group of elders, men who put their shoulder to the plow when things were very difficult. Now I join them to identify and train other men to take up the mantle of leadership, and to groom future pastoral leadership to succeed us all and prevent any more three-year lags between senior pastors.