Talking to 80 Muslim Students about Jesus

It was the type of opportunity about which one can only dream and pray to come to pass. A group of exchange students from more than two dozen countries visited Northland Church in order to have a 90 minute presentation and Q&A about Christianity and Jesus. They came as part of a program, supported by The State Department, with the intent of encouraging dialogue that leads to mutual respect and a lowering of tensions around the world.

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There were a few things I hoped to accomplish with my time. One was to help them understand that what tolerance really means is that I respect you as someone made in the image of God and treat you with dignity, even if I disagree passionately with what you think. In the past there was a common cultural ethic that said, treat one another with respect, engage people with different ideas, debate those ideas, and seek truth in the process. The current understanding of tolerance says, you cannot tell anyone that your ideas are right and theirs are wrong. But the end result of that new tolerance is to not pursue truth and disrespect and marginalize anyone who claims their ideas right and others wrong. We need to get back to a place where we can say what we think, agree and disagree with others, respect them as people, and never attack the person, only the ideas.

 

Second, in light of that understanding of tolerance, here is what I believe about Jesus, why I follow Him, and why I think He is the only way to Heaven. It was a delight to hear the questions that students asked regarding Jesus, why I thought He was the only way to Heaven, what place I thought Mohammed had in God’s plan, the Bible vs the Quran, and a host of other questions. Even though my answers clearly showed that I disagreed with much that Islam teaches, they loved the open yet respectful honesty of the answers.

Third, in the midst of our dialogue, questions and answers, I wanted them to see in real life the tolerance I just told them about, so they could actually experience someone who disagreed with them yet loved them. You see it is one thing to talk about tolerance and respect and dignity, but it is another thing altogether to demonstrate that in the real life tussle of questions and answers over difficult topics that are passionately embraced.

Not only is this type of understanding and tolerance needed between Muslims and Christians, it is even more needed among Christians of various stripes and theologies. We can’t really expect to engage, in a respectful Christ-like way, people who do not follow Christ, if we are unable to do it with people who identify themselves as Christ-followers.

 

 

Burn a Qur’an for Jesus.

Okay, it has been awhile since I have posted on what I consider to be a stupid move by Christians. Not that there hasn’t been any material to work from. But this one is over the top and I just had to say something before my head exploded. It is being reported in CNN that a Florida preacher is planning a burning of the Quran, the book considered holy scripture by Muslims. His hope is that this will have some evangelistic impact and cause Muslims to repent and follow Jesus. Are you kidding me?

Look I am all for trying to bring Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ. I am convinced that only by faith in Christ can one be assured of a place in heaven. So my objection to this burning of the Quran has nothing to do with thinking that every religion is as valid or true as the next. My objection is that this is as far from a biblical way to act as one can find and will in fact have the exact opposite effect. Far from causing any Muslim to reconsider his or her faith, this will only serve to alienate them further from the Gospel and will have that same impact on countless non-muslims who see this as one more angry Christian who is out of his mind.

Let’s look at this from a perspective that Jesus so clearly teaches, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Let’s suppose for a moment that this scenario is turned around. Instead of a Christian pastor burning the Quran to get Muslims to repent, it is a Muslim Imam burning a Bible to get Christians to convert to Islam. What do you think the reaction of Christians would be? Exactly! Many would be screaming about the horrors of Islam and how the Bible is our sacred book and that Muslims are just showing once again how evil they are. So why do we think that Christians burning the Quran will have any beneficial impact and cause people to want to follow Jesus?

It is far to easy to make an outrageous statement and burn a book for Jesus. What Jesus wold rather have is that we do the hard work of preaching and demonstrating the Gospel as He tells us to. The Bible says “speak the truth in love”. We don’t hold back from declaring that Jesus is the only way to heaven. But we do it as we serve people in need and as we weep over the fact that they are lost without Jesus. I mush prefer what Christians in Lebanon did a few years ago during a time of fighting between Muslims in Lebanon and the Israeli army. Instead of standing around and burning Quran’s and being excited that the Muslims where finally getting their due, the Christians sheltered and clothed and fed Muslims who had lost their homes or were simply fleeing the violence. When asked why they were doing this the Christians replied, “because Jesus said we are to love our neighbor and care for the hurting in our midst”.

You tell me, which kind of Christian would you rather be associated with? Whose Jesus would you rather follow?

It is Really All About Jesus

The headline reads “Episcopal Minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim”. I suppose it should not really come as a shock that someone would convert from one religion to another. It should not even be a shock that someone who was a minister in a Christian church would convert. It happens. What is incredible to me is that they would think that in converting from Christianity to Islam that they were really not making a change of any significance and that they thought they could still be a Christian minister and a Muslim.

Anne Holmes Redding was a minister in the Episcopal Church. Three years ago she attended an interfaith gathering and was struck by the humility of the Muslim Imam as he led chants, meditations and devotions. That started her on a journey the resulted in her conversion to Islam. You can read more about it http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/02/muslim.minister.defrocked/index.html For a couple of years she continued to be both a Christian minister and a practicing Muslim. For some incredible reason she saw no contradiction in this. “Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.” I’m sorry but this just flabbergasts me. Fortunately the Episcopal church was equally flabbergasted and required that she either recant being a Muslim or give up her ordination. She refused and was then removed as a minister.

I get it that many people think that all religions are ultimately the same and that they all worship the same god. But I also recognize that most people have never really bothered to look closely at various religions to see if this “cultural truism” is in fact true. But a minister in the Episcopal Church and most churches for that matter, has at least a Masters Degree that includes a heavy dose of Bible, Theology, and Comparative Religions.

In order to believe that she has not “changed allegiance” I can only assume that she never had an allegiance to Jesus to begin with. The understanding that Christians have of who Jesus is as Lord, fully God and fully man is in complete contradiction to what Islam teaches about Jesus.  To be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus is the Messiah. It is to deny that His death on the cross was a substitution for us and for our sins. In fact to be a Muslim is to deny that Jesus even died on the cross at all. It by implication also means that you have to deny that He rose from the grave. The Apostle Paul made it clear that without the resurrection of Jesus, we are to be pitied as people following a lie and are lying about God. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Being a Christian means that you are a follower of Jesus. It is not about having a religion that meets some inner need for spiritual fulfillment through prayer and meditation. It is about an allegiance to Jesus above all else. It is a giving of your life completely and totally to Him. We can talk about God in a generic sense and people will rally around that as being a unifying idea. But we can never speak of God without making sure that we understand who that God is and that our faith is really all about Jesus. As Paul told the Philippians, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is there a lesson here? I think so. As followers of Christ we must be willing to stand fast on the truth of the supremacy of Jesus. It is the hill we die on. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Mohamed  is not “a way” to God. Neither for that matter is Buddha, or Krishna, or any other human being. Keep your eyes on Jesus. It is He who is the author and finisher of your faith.

Provocative Submission: The Lure of Islam

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Hebrews 12:9

Any discussion about a life of submission in the 21st century has to take into account the growing popularity of Islam. The reason is simply this, the word Islam is derived from the Arabic word “salema”. The common meaning of the word is “submission”. Ultimately it is about submission to Allah who is the supreme deity in Islam. An oft-quoted phrase among Muslims is “insh’Allah”, which translates to “if God wills”. It is indicative of a mindset of submission to God in all things. If tragedy strikes, “insh’Allah”. If something wonderful happens, “insh’Allah”. If your plans are changed due to circumstances out of your control, “insh’Allah”. All of life is seen as being subject to the will of Allah.  

But, like any oft-repeated phrase, especially religious ones, insh’Allah can become a meaningless mantra. For Christians The Lord’s Prayer or even saying “God bless you” after a sneeze come to mind as common examples of phrases with powerful meaning that has been lost in the repetition. One only needs to hear a football team rush through the Lord’s Prayer after a victory, or a congregation say it in a mind-numbing monotone to know what I mean.

Yet in spite of the fact that there are times when such phrases are meaningless because of our human tendency to be shallow and glib, there is still power in such phrases. When they come from the heart, when they express our deepest longing or highest dreams, they become powerful symbols of reality. In some way they even serve to turn those dreams into reality. To pray with all your heart to the Lord that He “forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us” is to in some way bring reality to the prayer. You can’t pray that prayer from your heart and not be in some way changed by it into a more forgiving person. When the mouth speaks from the heart, the heart is in turn made more like the thing spoken.

So when a Muslim says, “If God wills” and does so from the heart, he is saying that he is completely and totally dependent on Allah for all things. It means that his own will as a human being is of no real consequence and the only path to peace in life is to submit to the will of Allah. It is an amazing statement when viewed alongside a western, post-enlightenment mindset, that holds individual freedom and self-determination to be among the most important of all human rights.

That Enlightenment mindset, that has so powerfully influenced Western Christianity, rejects any notion that we should submit ourselves to anyone or anything, even God. It is in part why I think so many are comfortable with a nebulous belief in some unknown supreme being who is out there somewhere. By holding to such a belief it is possible to still claim to believe in God but yet have no need to respond to or certainly not submit to Him. The Deists of the Enlightenment saw God as something of a great watch maker who made the world, wound it up, and then let it run on it’s own. That kind of philosophy has man at the pinnacle and the real power in the world, with no need to submit to God.

A Biblical worldview, certainly as it relates to submission to God, is far closer to the Muslim idea of insh’ Allah than it is to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The previously mentioned Lord’s Prayer is probably the clearest example of this truth. Jesus said that we are to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Jesus echoed this in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was faced with his impending death on the cross and asked if possible that there be some other way, some other cup to drink from. But in true submission to the Father be prayed, “Never the less, not my will, but Thy will be done”.

For some this sounds like a defeatist’s path. It is the path of one who has given up and has no hope. It sounds like the choice of the weak and faint of heart and a choice in which one has resigned oneself to pain and suffering for no reason. If however, we truly understand that our God loves us enough to send Jesus to the Cross and we understand that our God is in fact all wise and the sovereign King of all Creation, then whatever He decrees is in fact the best for us. Instead of us resigning ourselves to His will in an attitude of defeat or depression, we need to embrace His will and the freedom it gives us.

That freedom may just be lure of Islam that Christians must understand. It is something we can have in reality and not in the false way of Islam. There is an amazing comfort that comes when we embrace the fact that our God is sovereign and that our path is to submit to Him. It means that when things are going well we can rejoice and delight in knowing that our God is blessing us by His grace. When things are going badly from our perspective, then it means that we can rest in the comfort of knowing that even though we cannot see or fully understand, we have a God who loves us beyond measure. He is a God who does not abandon us but orders our steps for His purposes and glory. That is true freedom.