Reaching Our Neighbors

Perhaps you have heard about the church in Florida that is going to hold a Qu’ran burning day on September 11th in remembrance of the terrorist attacks that occurred 9 years ago. I do not know the pastor personally and have not tried to discern all of the reasons behind this decision, but I just wanted to share a different response.

I am taking a class called Understanding Islam this semester. I am learning that one huge key word is “understand”. This does not mean that I agree with the religion of Islam or what is in the Qu’ran but instead it means that I am not just making judgments, or condemning or responding in hate without taking the time to really seek to learn.

What does Christ command us? Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. I am learning in my class and have learned from other instances that the best way to share the love of Jesus with a Muslim is to build a relationship. How do we build relationships if we respond in hate toward them? I do not see that burning or destroying the holy book of another religion will help us to share the Gospel truth with people from that religion.

I have added a devotional given by my professor for additional consideration.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:5-6

These are three passages of scripture that have guided me as I prepared this course. Of course, there are many more passages that I have grown to love as I relate to Muslims and eager to find a story from scripture that would point to God. I will share many of these passages over the course of this semester, and hopefully, there will be additional passages brought to light that will be good preparation for our encounters with Muslims.

One of my overarching beliefs is that we must be ready to engage all peoples in a world who have yet to come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Many of these are, of course, Muslims. Muslims do believe in God (Muslims use the Arabic word Allah for God.)

The Apostle Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks. To me, this means to slander another faith by not knowing what they believe serves only to discredit my own faith. That is one reason why this course is so significant. This course is preparing you to give an answer. But what exactly are their questions? I love what Peter was saying in 1 Peter 3:15.

First, what is it that Muslims actually believe? We must have a basic understanding of what Muslims believe so that we can be prepared to give witness to the hope that we have. Steven Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, provided some excellent principles for daily living.

One of those habits was the idea of listening FIRST before trying to be understood. He makes the point that we have to earn the right to be heard. I believe that is especially true for Muslims. We must listen (and learn) first to understand, before we are to do the explaining. Muslims have heard our doctrinal shouting and have seen us preaching at them with fists clinched. Their prejudices and stereotypes about what they think are true about Christians keeps them from hearing our message. In reality, they often cannot see our lives and hear our words up close in a relationship.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to learn what it is they believe so that we do not discredit our own living witness. I strongly believe that only in comparison can we really begin to sort out what it is WE really believe. It is in the contrasts that we establish our own doctrinal “ non-negotiables” (If one cannot explain their hope in Christ, then how can one expect to share something they don’t own?). If we do not know what we believe about sin and what is distinctive about how to resolve sin, how can we differentiate our sin over what a Muslim believes? The answers we have to these kinds of questions are important: Is the Bible the only source of truth? What do I believe about prophets, angels? Judgment Day? They are significant to how we will explain these biblical concepts to Muslims.

Many students have come away from this course and have said, “ Only after taking this course have I come to better understand and explain what it is I truly believe.” If that becomes your testimony after taking this course, then as your professor, I have accomplished more than I had ever hoped.

Read the next passage, Colossians 4:5-6. Yes, Muslims are outsiders, but as Christians, we should want to bring them in as covenant insiders. As we learn about what Muslims believe about God, his word, and his character, we must learn to season our words so that the gospel message is tasty. Have you ever taken a bite of food that had been overly salted? Remember how utterly tasteless the food was in our mouths? In fact, the salt was so strong that you couldn’t even taste the actual food. Often Christians have the appetizing biblical food and have prepared the food to be enjoyed, but our testifying “salt” has kept outsiders from experiencing the life-giving food. We want just enough salt so that they will yearn for living water. One litmus test to measure if we are ready to share our faith with a Muslim is this: “Can I explain my faith and not be angry?”

Paul reminds us that we should learn how to respond to each person – individually. It would be impossible (and it’s not even biblical) to take a cookie-cutter gospel message, package it, and present it to each person in the same way. Sometimes, we throw our “gospel gift” at Muslims. God forbid that we would not take the time to understand the person – his beliefs, his worldview, his culture – and tailor a message just for him. Did not Jesus craft a message that was tailored for a particular person? The word given to the Samaritan woman was uniquely for her. The challenge to Nicodemus was for him (John 3). Did not the Lord do that with you? Did we all come by the same person with the same testimony in the same place and time? No way! Jesus knows each individual and knows how to explain who he is and for what purpose he came. Our job is to “show up” and be ready. In the same way, Muslims need a message that they can hear, understand, and respond to. Just because we offer a Bible verse does not necessarily mean they “ received” the intended message. So often, well-minded Christians have tried to explain God using prepared messages, plans, programs, and strategies, thinking that the message has been encoded and received, when in reality, the “ words” had no contextual meaning. Remember, Muslims already have theological words like sin, heaven, grace, in their vocabulary. It is our job to practice, trains and equip ourselves to explain the wonderful Gospel message and bring a new definition to their vocabulary words. Our words must have meaning for Muslims for our testimony to have meaning for them.

Why do we do all this? Because Rev. 7:9 tells us a day will come when there will be Muslims – from every tribe, nation and people at the throne room. Yes, there will be Muslims worshiping the Lord at the throne. Does that amaze you that God loves Muslims? I challenge you to lay aside everything you ever thought you knew about Muslims and begin to encounter the world of Islam to learn about these awesome and wonderful people. Throughout this semester, you will discover how to do this, and ultimately, how God is going to use you in that plan – I can’t wait to see how he prepares to use us all.

Revelation 7:9

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