Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jamal, Jesus & Me

Some of you may recall that I've had the privilege over the past couple of days of sharing the gospel with a new Muslim friend, Jamal.

We met when I drove my wife to an emergency medical clinic to attend to a chronic cough (she's fine). Jamal was our attending nurse and he seized on the opportunity to question me about a book I was reading at the time, The Prophet and the Messiah. Since that initial conversation of about an hour (read about it here), we've met again briefly at his office and for 3.5 hours yesterday over lunch. Thanks to the many of you who told me you would be praying and the many of you who prayed without dropping me a note. I appreciate you all and trust that in eternity we will see the fruit of your faithful and loving prayers!

Our lunch meeting was an exciting time. I purposed that I'd start by sharing my own conversion testimony with him, with a slow explication of the gospel included. The Lord seemed pleased with the thought. When I sat down, Jamal said, "So... tell me about your life from A to Z." Open door.

After sharing my testimony and "unpacking" the gospel, the exchange began. First round: discussions about the reliability of the Qur'an vs. the Bible. A couple days prior, Jamal exclaimed that the Bible had thousands of errors and contradictions. I challenged him to cite just one, which he couldn't do. But that didn't dampen his certainty. He later produced a document with supposed contradictions, verses and parts of verses taken out of context and read with a wooden literalism. In a strange twist of humor, I recognized his errors because they were the same errors some of my hyper-fundamentalist KJO friends would use, assuming the KJV was the "standard" and measuring the "deficiency" of other versions in part by the number of verses "omitted" from the KJV. So, we opened the Bible to each of the passages, read them in context, and tried to lift up the gospel implications of the texts. All the while, I tried to stress to Jamal the several passages from the Qur'an that described the Torah, Gospels and Psalms of David as revelation from God (see, 2:285; 3:93-94; 4:163-165; 5:46-48; 6:91-92; 17:55; and 21:103). My question was: "If the Bible was corrupted at the time of Qur'an's writing (600 years after Christ and the apostles), why does the Qur'an confirm them?"

He evaded with some hypotheticals and dogmatic assertion based on "the Qur'an says so." I tried unsuccessfully to help him see that the problem of a corrupted Bible was a bigger problem for him than he realized. For if Allah is a God of truth, and he means to "reveal" truth to people, and he is omnipotent and can protect his revelation, what must we conclude about the nature and character of God if he allowed the Bible to be corrupted? Either he is not a god of truth because he was powerful enough to stop corruption but didn't, or he is not an all-powerful god having his revelation overthrown by weak men. From that point, we more or less continued in the discussion as though the Bible were true and reliable.

Round two: so who is Jesus? A prophet says Islam. God the Son, the Son of God says Christianity. I like Jamal because he didn't pretend these were reconcilable positions. He expressed his grave fear for my soul because as a former muslim turned Christian I was not only apostate from Islam but guilty of the highest sin in Islam, shirk, or making partners with God. This is Islam's unpardonable sin. You could see him shudder when I said unequivocally that I now "worship Jesus." "You what? You worship him? No please stop. I can't hear that! That... that... do you know how serious that is?" A small fear began to creep in. He and I, locked eye-to-eye, knew what such a confession would mean were we in his home of Jordan, or Saudi Arabia or many other muslim societies. "Jesus is God and so I'm neither making a partner with God nor worshipping a man. If you hear nothing else, hear me when I tell you that Jesus is God and you must give an account to Him at the judgment." I pointed out that the even the Qur'an teaches Jesus' virgin birth, his sinless/faultless perfection, and that eleven times Jesus is called al-Masih, the Messiah. From here we opened the scriptures to John 3 and Eph. 2. I tried to help my friend see his need for a Savior, his need as Stott put it to escape an already pronounced condemnation for his sins.

Round three: how is one saved? Following our discussion of Jesus, it was time to put the peanut on the bottom shelf. We were clearly serious about all that was being said. "Jamal, the real question is whether you or I will be saved, rescued from the wrath of God to come at the day of judgment. You and I both believe that God is holy and just and that His wrath is hot!" Jamal nodded vigorously in agreement. "All that's left is to determine how one is saved."

He began with a typical works-based proposal. "A person must live a good muslim life. I mustn't do any 'big sins' and when I make 'small mistakes' I need to ask Allah for forgiveness and he will forgive." Another opportunity to share the gospel, emphasizing the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of even approaching God without having our sins covered. He wants to know why Jesus should have to die for other people. Why God would do that. Because our good works will never make us perfect and "because of His great love" (Eph. 2:4). That's lost on him. His face is blank at the mention of God's love, a love that requires the death of "his son." I pray that the Lord would open his eyes.

For the first time, I think maybe Jamal is weakened a bit. He says, "After this conversation, I must go home and take a shower and become muslim again. I must be sure that I am a muslim by confessing that there is only one God and that Muhammad is his messenger. Otherwise, if I die having doubted I will not be a muslim and will be lost." I explain that as a Christian my salvation is secured because of the perfection of Jesus and the sacrifice of Jesus credited to my account. Though I may struggle with doubt, and though I may have questions about some difficult things, the love of God for me is not jeopardized. I'm preserved by the same God who saves me in the first place. I'm saved by His gracious act. "That's too easy. It's too easy," he replied.

It's 3.5 hours later. We're both engaged as though we've just begun, but it's time to head back to our families. Jamal looks at me and says, "You have an advantage. You know what it's like to be muslim and Christian. You see both sides. You're a great asset for Christians. You would be a great asset for muslims. I hope you become muslim again."

I smile and thank him for his compliment. I try to find a way to turn the compliment to Jesus and the work of the Spirit. Unsuccessful. We exchange contact information and agree to stay in touch. I feel that sad pang of seeing another person hear the truth and leave seemingly unaffected. I remember that evangelism is NOT defined by visible results, sinner's prayers, walking through tracts, or forcing decisions. Evangelism is faithfully proclaiming the gospel message of Jesus Christ and praying fervently that the Sovereign Spirit of God would give a new heart and make a creature new. My time with Jamal is past, but I'm still doing the work of an evangelist... praying for his soul.


Anonymous said...

That was the most ... perfect read I needed to hear from God > in you > to me. I'm getting ready to read and blog through the Koran/Quran and I would really like to have some personal contact with you.

Lauren said...

I thank God that you have been faithful in sharing His word and message with Jamal. My prayer now that you have planted a seed is that God will lead another to water it and that God will give the increase. Be encouraged!

Anonymous said...

Praise God for the opportunity given to you and Jamal. I will continue to pray for him as well.

anonintx said...

I prayed for Jamal also for the Lord to open his eyes to the truth of who Christ is and the salvation that is only found in and through Him. May the Lord be pleased to use the word to grant another soul repentance unto life eternal.

Thanks for sharing in depth about how to witness to others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this conversation. Our God is truly worthy of our praise! I will be praying for you and for Jamal. May God take out his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh!