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.

 

 

Why Sharing the Gospel is Not Enough

In recent weeks my quiet time of prayer and Bible reading has included an in-depth study of Paul’s 1st and 2nd Letters to the Thessalonians. As Paul writes to the young Christians in that Greek city he makes a curious and profound statement in chapter 2 verse 8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. This verse strikes me as the perfect balance in an ongoing debate over the relationship between evangelism that focuses on speaking and preaching the Gospel and that which focuses on serving people at their point of need.

Why is it that so many of us in the Christian community are unable to hold things in tension and balance. We so quickly go to extremes. We want to make so much of following Jesus into an either or proposition when much of following Jesus is “both/and”. We have been doing that when it comes to preaching the Gospel or living the Gospel and doing so for generations. This is not an either or proposition.

Clearly Paul preached the Gospel. He verbally shared that wherever he went. He lived out what he says in Romans 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” We cannot get caught in the serious error that downplays the necessity of people actually hearing the truth of Jesus. The famous quote attributed to St Francis, “At all times preach the Gospel, when necessary use words”, may have been a great corrective for those who only used words, but to somehow use that to make preaching the words of the Gospel into a last resort tactic, is wrong-headed in the extreme. Paul makes it clear, we must, absolutely must, tell people the Good News that Jesus came and died and rose again so that by trusting and following Him as Lord we can have eternal life. That is non-negotiable.

Yet just as clearly Paul believed it was not enough to only preach the Gospel verbally. He was compelled to share his very self, his life, with the Thessalonians. The way that played out was that Paul served them, loved them, lived with them as a brother. He was open, transparent, and vulnerable. As a result his life became another way to demonstrate the Gospel. When that life was coupled with the preached Word, then you had a powerful testimony to Jesus Christ.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that our message is to come in the form of BOTH the spoken, preached Word, AND the shared life of Christ followers. The is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t send a message from on high, a voice coming out of the clouds, with the truth of trusting in Him. He actually came into the world and shared in our lives. It is what the incarnation is all about. Jesus came into the world and took on flesh, He lived among us, shared our joys, griefs, temptations, and victories. He became like us in all things with the exception of succumbing to sin. Jesus lived a both/and life. He spoke the Gospel and He shared His life.

For some of us the speaking part is easy, the sharing life is hard. For others the sharing life is easy but the speaking part is hard. Let me propose that followers of Christ embrace both in their lives. We must, absolutely must develop a culture in which we both speak the truths of the Gospel, hard as they may be, and share our lives with those around us, both those following Jesus already and those not yet, as hard as that may be.

The result of people like Paul sharing their very lives and speaking the truth of the Gospel was that the early church became of community of people who did the same. As they did so, others on the outside of the community wanted to be included on the inside. Some wanted in because they resonated with the preached word. Others wanted in because they resonated with the love they received. Some wanted in for both.

Are you more a speaker than a life sharer? Is it the other way around? What do you need to do to become better and speaking the Gospel? What do you need to do to become better at sharing the Gospel through sharing your very life?

President Obama: Christian or Muslim?

One thing you have to love about people, is the way we can refuse to let the facts get in the way of a good preconceived notion, conspiracy theory, or deeply held conviction. Depending on which poll you read in the past several months, anywhere from 18 to 24% of Americans still think that the President is a Muslim. When asked why they thought that, a significant number point to his name and say it sounds Muslim. Given that logic I guess my name, Lacich, makes me Croatian Eastern Orthodox.

Today at a prayer breakfast in the White House, President Obama spoke as clearly of his Christian faith as anyone could be expected to speak. In fact, he was more clear than a lot of people I have talked to who claimed to be Christians and are regular church goers. In an article in the Examiner, author Christine Priest Stiegemeyer, (hmm sounds like a Nazi name to me) details what the president said about his own faith and religious practice. He goes so far as to pinpoint the events that led to him embracing Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior twenty years ago. According to what I read in my Bible, that pretty much makes you a Christian, no matter what your name is. So if you are a Christian then I think it is time to recognize that the President is a brother in Christ, with you, me, and the Governor of Alabama. If you are wondering why I mention the governor then read this post from a few weeks ago. That means you need to treat the President with the same respect you would any other member of the family. After all, you just might find that you are seated across from him at the eternal banquet feast in Heaven. Talk about awkward!

But what if he was not a Christian. What if in fact he really was a Muslim? Then what? First, according to our Constitution, it is irrelevant what his faith is or is not. America was founded on lots of principles, one of them being that a person’s faith or lack there of, has no bearing on their rights as a citizen. Further more, if you are a Christian let me suggest that you are still required by Scripture to pray for him, to respect and honor him, as well as to love him so that one day he would come to faith in Christ. Christians can disagree with policy. We can express our opinions on issues. We can work, march, debate, and struggle for what we think is the right direction for the country. What we cannot do is attack the person who holds different views. We cannot raise the issue of their faith as being somehow the deciding factor of what is right or wrong.

But the fact is, the president has identified himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Every morning he reads scripture and a devotional on that passage. He prays and asks the Lord to give him wisdom and strength as he seeks to lead. At night he prays again and asks the Lord to forgive him. Maybe we can all get past this silly notion that he is a Muslim and instead spend our time reading the Scriptures, praying for strength and wisdom and asking for forgiveness.