Friday, July 21, 2017

A Middle Eastern Perspective on Loving Muslims Part 1

"God's spirit is upon me: he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!" Luke 4:18 & 19 The Message

This week I'll highlight Brother Emad's story. He had just graduated from Bible College. Even though he saw the command in the New Testament to be a witness to those around him, there were three main factors that kept him from doing so:

"1. Fear. As a Middle Eastern Christian sharing my faith with Muslims was a difficult subject. I was not open to 'loving Muslims'. Fear and prejudice kept Christians far apart from Muslims. A lesson we had learned from history was that we couldn't trust Muslims. When someone suggested that I should share the Gospel with Muslims, I was convinced that this isn't possible. I had been brainwashed that under Islamic law it was illegal to witness to a Muslim. I was told it could even result in being sent to jail! No way did I want to take a chance of being severely harassed, risk persecution and imprisonment.

2. Argumentative Apologetic Approach. It seemed that often when the subject of religion came up between Muslims and Christians, there was a scene or shouting match. I wasn't interested in "fighting about religion". In my country both Christians and Muslims argued "my religion is better than your religion". It was all about someone being a winner and a loser. You were constantly poised to defend your religion and even shoved around if you tried sharing in public. This led to a total impasse between Muslims and Christians. At the end of the day, it left us feeling defeated.

3. Wrong theology. Middle Eastern Christians look at Acts 1:8: "But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere--in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." as their guide to witnessing. It clearly states that we are to start in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Christians' thinking was first we will evangelize nominal Christians. Once they are all saved and only then would we witness to Muslims. And once all of the Muslims were saved, we would go to the uttermost part of the earth.

In my first year of ministry, I attended a conference on church planting among Muslims. The speaker spent time explaining 2 Corinthians 4:15 "All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." What challenged me was the "More". Who are the "More"? I realized that "The More" are Muslims all around me. The speaker challenged us to reach out to Muslims but with a new approach. He really got my attention. It started me on a journey of rethinking what ministry to Muslims could look like. No one needed to remind me that the old way of doing things wasn't working."

Thank-you Lord for getting Brother Emad's attention and preparing him to reach out to his Muslim neighbors and colleagues. Amen.   

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unplugged

And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. Mark 6:31.

Very quickly Jesus was in high demand, mostly by desperate people who needed healing. The crush of the crowd and demands put on Jesus and the disciples wore them down. So, in essence Jesus said 'let's go, take some downtime, and retreat'. Mind you, these were often times when Jesus would debrief with them and teach them new lessons. Usually it didn't take long before people would discover them and the process would start all over again.

In the book 'Jubilee--a season of spiritual renewal' author Mel Lawrenz shares the following story:

"One day a woodsman challenged a fellow woodsman to an all-day wood-chopping contest. The first man labored heavily, stopping only for a brief lunch, whereas the other man took a leisurely lunch and several breaks throughout the day. The first man was shocked and annoyed at the end of the day to find that the other man had chopped more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.”

“What you didn't notice,” said the winning woodsman, “is that every time I sat down to rest, I was sharpening my axe."

It’s the middle of the summer and it's a good time to take a break from busy activities to recharge our batteries…to take our minds off the cares of life. We have many desperate people who look to us to assist them with settling in the West--in need of language skills, a job, and desire to get more of their families sponsored. With others we labor hard to gain trust and share spiritually or we face opposition to the truth. All of these wear us down. My wife and I build several retreat times or even a 'staycation' into our schedules during the year.

We were visiting a couple from West Africa. While we had a good chat with the husband, the wife was constantly(and I mean constantly) on her phone checking messages and the latest accessories for her wardrobe. Use of our gadgets can easily become addictive. On one of our holidays we met a man who said he came "unplugged". That is another level of leaving behind digital 'tyrants' that consume us. We can easily be caught up with answering just one more text or email before we lay our heads on our pillows. Even ministry can be addictive. God doesn't call us to be on duty 24/7.

If we follow Jesus' example of taking a break, the people who need us will still be around when we return to normal life again! We will be able to minister with new enthusiasm, energy, and wisdom. Taking a break will help to keep us 'sharp' like the woodsman. From my experience whether it's a conference, prayer retreat, extra time reading or writing, or enjoying God's creation each contributes to the 'Sabbath rest' that helps me to be refreshed and renewed. 

Lord Jesus, thank-you for giving us the pattern of ministry and times of renewal. As I'm away from my 'parish' help me to be fully renewed. Amen

Friday, July 7, 2017

Show up, Speak up, and be Ready

"Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not..." 2 Timothy 4:2

Art and Eleanore  make themselves available to Internationals at several college/universities in their retirement years. I'll let Art explain what happened as they were going about an urgent errand. 

"Emergencies are never planned--they just appear. But our response to the emergency is a measure of our commitment and faith, recognizing that these emergencies are no surprise to God, in fact they are often divine appointments.

My wife was having a medical emergency which necessitated a late evening visit to the hospital.  After the initial treatment we were required to get some medication.  We located a drugstore that remained open after midnight. There were two young men from a limited access country waiting to have a prescription filled.  I asked them what language they were speaking and they said Arabic. I greeted them in Arabic and  asked them if they had a Bible. They said they did, but probably they meant the Qur'an. I went to the car and got a bilingual copy of More than a Carpenter and another book.  We discussed the meaning of the title, that Jesus, although his earthly father was a carpenter, He himself was more than a carpenter.  He claimed to be the Son of God.  When one of the fellows said “I don’t believe that” I replied “You don’t have to but it is true”. My wife gave each one of her cards that has her painting on the front and personal testimony on the back with our contact email. They had to leave, but as they were leaving, they joyfully said goodbye and thanked us for the books and cards.

Why the medical emergency?  Why that particular drugstore at midnight? Why the encounter with those two muslim men?  Those are questions that I can't answer- our responsibility was to show up, speak up and be ready.

One year the Christian university had 95 students from an Arab country.  The challenge for us was finding a way of connecting with them.  A few words of Arabic greeting broke the ice and opened the initial dialogue. Since they were all taking ESL it made total sense to have a bilingual New Testament and also other bilingual books to give to them.  That year we gave out close to 100 Arabic New Testaments and other books. All those students were given an opportunity to explore truth.  One student was very close to becoming a believer, but in the last 'in depth' conversation he expressed his concern about the consequences of that decision. Another student has rejected Islam and accepted reason and is not willing to submit to Christ.

So our ministry continues.  Each time we go on campus we ask God for divine appointments. Our responsibility is to Show up, boldly Speak up and be Ready with materials to give them.  The rest is up to God, who works in their lives by the Holy Spirit to convict, bring to repentance and regeneration."

Dear Jesus, thank you for leading Art and Eleanore to just the right place at the right time to meet the Arabic speakers. I pray that you would continue to speak to these contacts that now have your word and heard a testimony. Amen