A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post for veteran's day. It was a video which spoke of the devastatingly high rate of suicide among our returning vets. At the end of the video, the speaker made the point that we each need to be involved in the lives of vets we know. He maintained that it is personal contact, real-time encouragement, and love which helps those struggling to get through dark days. He wrapped up the short clip by declaring that he would intentionally reach out to veterans, stating, "I am my brother's keeper."
This statement rang out like a bell to me and resonated deeply. Whether that man is a Christian or not, he just hit on one of the most important truths in all of scripture - one which often goes willingly ignored or is simply brushed aside - the fact that we ALL are to be our "brother's keeper." Never in any verse of scripture are we told to "leave our brothers alone" or "let him/her do their own thing." Instead we are told that the ENTIRETY of the Law and Prophets is wrapped up in these two: 1. Love God. 2. Love others.
In John 20:21 Jesus says,"...as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
What did the Father send Jesus to do? Spread the gospel to all the world. Love others. Bind up the broken hearted. Heal. Cry with, mourn with, feel with. And ultimately die and rise again for the very people He so loved.
John 20:21 makes it very clear that we are to do the very same thing.
WE are to love others. WE are to cry with, mourn with, feel with. WE are to preach the good news. And WE are to die to ourselves that Christ might live through us in each of these actions. We are to be His hands and feet. We are to give hope to the hurting. We are to preach the gospel unashamedly for it is the only thing which can give any lasting hope, the promise of eternity spent with Christ.
The more I consider this concept, the more convicted I have become. Because really, how much do I love those around me? Oh, my friends, surely, but what do I do when I see a homeless person standing by a freeway off-ramp? How to I react to a downtrodden mother and child struggling to pay for their groceries? Do I even see them? Or do I pass right on by, on my way to the produce section?
I long to see with the eyes of Christ. I long to be moved with the compassion of the one who saw me and was willing to give His own life to save my soul. I long to be the hands and feet of Jesus because I guarantee you, if Jesus was driving my car and he saw a homeless woman by the side of the road, He'd probably go park, buy some hot chocolate, and walk over for a chat. Looking the other way isn't an option. He didn't look the other way when He saw me.
What really struck me about the "brother's keeper" video is the fact that this guy nailed the concept of loving your neighbor on the head. It takes action, time, and willingness to reach out. We need to be willing to love as Jesus loved. We need to be ready to help should the Lord bring someone in need across our path. Just as Jesus saw a hurting heart and reached out in love - so should we. Why? Because that is exactly what He sends us out to do!
Let me URGE you to share the gospel.
Friends, these acts of treachery and murder will not end unless Jesus Christ is preached. Look at the man who carried out this attack - a Muslim. What would cause him to do such a thing? Islamic ideology. What would cause him to cease? Jesus Christ.
The ONLY way we will see an end to the violence that rages in our world is if people are exposed to and accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. But they cannot possibly hear it if it is not preached. We have a huge responsibility while we walk this earth. The gospel is ours to share. If we neglect this command thinking it will all "be okay" and that the American army will take care of these people, we will find ourselves facing genocide, war, and murder the likes of which we have still yet to see.
What has caused our nation to flourish as it has? Jesus. What has held the evil at bay? Jesus. Only Jesus can conquer evil, indeed HAS conquered it, and it is He we need to preach. So please, fellow Christian, take seriously this command. Leave the protective bubble of your Christian friends and Christian music and Christian outings and get out there! People NEED the gospel! The Ottowa shooter NEEDED the gospel. Men and women on Skid Row need the gospel. Homeless and CEOS, drug addicts and disgruntled citizens, adulterers and liars, haters and the ambivalent desperately and unequivocally need the gospel. It is our job to get it to them.
The gospel should be the sole reason we live. It should be the air we breathe, the thoughts we think, the desire we treasure. It should be the hope we give, the words we speak, the center of our entire existence. God Himself came to give the gospel. Where do we get off thinking our lives are more important? How have we gotten so wrapped up in doing and being and experiencing that we forget the command about giving? Why is it that we treasure family and our bank account, cars and a white picket fence or fun vacation, but we do not treasure the one treasure we actually own?
Families and bank accounts, cars and white picket fences will fade. All who are married will eventually become single and children will move away. Lives will move on and times will change. Money cannot go with you and neither can that car. But the Gospel - THAT lives on.
So give the gospel! Give the one gift which will never fade or tarnish. Give the one bit of hope which cannot be taken away or shattered with a bullet. Give the one promise which will never be broken. Give the hope of the Gospel. We must learn to do away with our petty protestations and feeble excuses. NO excuse is good enough for not sharing the gospel. It might be awkward, possibly even uncomfortable at times, but dying on the cross did not feel comfortable! We must, absolutely MUST - I cannot emphasize it enough - we MUST share the Gospel!
What do we mean when we say, 'God bless America'?
Every president to walk through the hallowed halls of our White House has invoked this blessing at one time or another. Sports stars and rock stars, baseball hall-of-famers and Grammy Award winners have all used this saying in their speeches. John Q. American has uttered it from a place of heart-felt angst; Jack P. Politician has stuttered over 'God' in that phrase but struggled his way through for sake of constituents. Sadly, this phrase is now becoming anathema strictly due to Jack P. Politician's inability to pronounce those three little letters without offending someone. John Q. is told he can no longer utter those letters for the same reason.
I used to think there were two ways a Christian could look at this phrase. One, say it and hope against hope that the Lord would actually continue to bless a country that is rapidly turning away from Him. Or two, refrain from saying it at all, because how can one condone all that is occurring by asking for a blessing in light of it? Now I take a different tack - undoubtedly the one that I should have taken all along.
These days, I do speak that nearly-forbidden phrase. I utter it in prayer, say it in agreement when others shout it out, and honor those words in my heart when I hear them. But what do I mean by these words? Namely this: I do not use this insta-prayer to invoke promises for an ever-increasing country at the top of the monetary food chain. I do not say these words in hopes of promise for better country-wide commerce, lower oil prices, or a permanent position as the #1 world power. These things are fleeting and if we as a country truly do turn away from the Lord, I would not wish us in a prominent position for all the money in the world. Just as Israel was to be a light unto the nations to point them to Yahweh, America has largely been that light for the last couple hundred years in pointing people to Jesus Christ. If that is no longer our function, then we no longer deserve to be in a place of prominence.
So what do I mean when I utter those words? I say them in a prayerful attitude of seeking the greatest blessing the Lord could ever bestow upon this nation - that the masses within these shores would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and thus obtain salvation for all eternity. My heart cries out for my beautiful country, this land that I love, in much the same way it cries out for the many nations which inhabit this planet. In the same way I desire the lost of Albania and Morocco and Lithuania be found, so I desire my own country to receive that blessing.
Instead of cringing with doubt as to whether He will bless this country, I say those three words with all urgency and desire knowing that it is His desire to bless this country because He does not want any to perish! He wants every constituent in every county to come to a saving knowledge of what He has done for them. He does, indeed, want to bless America. - with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! And so, I shout it out in form of prayer and plea - God, PLEASE, PLEASE, bless America! And while I'm at it, I'll add Morocco and Lithuania and Saudi Arabia and Croatia and every other people group on this planet. Instead of a trite saying, it is now my constant prayer: God, bless America... bless America with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And every other nation too.
Sometimes it seems as if the world is hurtling to its doom and destruction. If one were to look merely at circumstances reported by the nightly news, there should be no hope for the human race. But I know better.
In the midst of ISIS trying to take over the world, Ebola outbreaks in the US, a dear friend fleeing her mission field with a forced evacuation, terror threats on home soil, a seemingly ceaseless debasement of our moral fiber, ill morals and blatant untruths being taught in our school system... in the midst of all this... Jesus.
Jesus is holding back the world from utterly crumbling into destruction. Jesus is reaching through the vastly encroaching darkness to bring light with the glorious hope of the gospel. Jesus is standing beside the displaced missionary letting them know He has a plan and it will work for their good and His glory. After all, the darkest moment in history of Christ's death on the cross brought the most glorious light and hope the world has ever known. And that is why through the midst of tragic events and a seemingly uncertain future, I can rejoice - for my future is secure!
I am secure in Christ and the hope of eternal life spent with Him. I am secure in knowing He has taken every single one of my sins, nailed them to the cross, and has washed me clean! No matter what may occur, of this I am sure, my life is hid with God in Christ Jesus. Oh what salvation! What marvelous grace! That my Savior would die for me, take the dreadful punishment I so righty deserve, to set me free from the bondage of death - for only the price of belief! What mercy!
And so, in looking around me, I say with the prophet, 'Come quickly Lord Jesus' and in waiting until He does I will follow His instructions and 'put my hand to the plow, not looking back' and will 'occupy until He comes.' May He find me hard at work for the spread of His Kingdom until the day that trumpet blows!
One of the most common questions I get asked is whether I think Muslims want to take over America. Are they really coming in order to control the school systems, local government positions, and the White House? Or are they normal people who won't bother us after all? The implied question within the question is essentially - do I have to do anything about this potential "problem" or can I breathe easy?
When it comes right down to it there are two common answers and accompanying responses. One, if Muslims are going to take over, then we need to do something about it and fast. The knee-jerk reaction to this usually tends along the lines of immigration reform whereby the 'what to do' becomes 'restrict the amount of Muslims which will enter our country.' The other response comes with the supposition that they are not, after all, planning on taking over. The typical reaction which accompanies this thought is a great big sigh of relief.
Neither answer, however, is correct. Let me propose a completely different thought than those stated above. I propose that Muslims already have "taken over." Let's look at a few facts. There are Muslims on school boards and in prominent positions within the education system throughout America. The religion of Islam and its ideologies are being taught in the Common Core - the nationwide, Whitehouse-approved, federally mandated curriculum. Muslims are in all levels of politics including the Whitehouse (and I'm not referring to the common suggestion regarding our President here). In terms of take-over, they've already done a pretty good job.
The problem with this supposition for many people is that neither the political knee-jerk reaction nor the reaction of relief is applicable. So what should our reaction be? "Grass roots" gospel activism! Taking action at the "grass roots" level is necessary and required if we are to assert the right to desire any lasting change within the temper of American Muslim society. We cannot simply bemoan the loss of Judeo-Christian ethics from the moral fiber of America. Declaring 'woe is us' after hearing the latest news story of ill morals displayed in our school system is not enough! Feeling 'bad' for the thousands suffering in Syria and Iraq is not enough! We must, of necessity, act.
Many Muslims are becoming disillusioned with Islam. They figure, if ISIS is a true representation of what it means to worship Allah, they would rather not. Muslims are seeking truth like never before. Many long for hope which they have not gained from Islam. And do you know what they are finding? Atheism. Buddhism. Agnosticism. Secularism. Materialism.
"Why is this?" you ask.
Dear Christian, a Muslim cannot receive the hope of Christ if we are not willing to go out and give it to them; if we are not willing to do the uncomfortable and at least try to share the gospel. How did you get saved, dear Christian? Undoubtedly someone at some point decided to share with you the precious hope-filled and life-giving words of the gospel. Imagine - if no one had shared with you the precious news because they were uncomfortable or afraid of offending you! How dreadful your life would be today! Thousands of Muslims are living in this place, hoping and searching but never finding, never hearing.
We must act!
Spend time upon your knees interceeding for the lost and dying of the Muslim world. Then take that oh-so uncomfortable step into the unknown and reach out to a Muslim neighbor. Individuals, you are needed to make a change. I can't do it for you, your church can't to it for you, you must do it for you. There will be no lasting change without the commitment to make it happen. So let's be committed. Starting in our own "Jerusalem" let's commit to pray for and share the gospel with Muslims! Will you commit to do this with me? Don't just watch others; take it into your own hands! Will you pray for an opportunity to talk to a Muslim and share the gospel?
My friend, take this challenge: talk to one. One Muslim by the end of the year. If we each start by talking to one, the entire world can be changed.
"Tolerance" is a pretty hot buzz word these days. It basically amounts to a cultural understanding that we are to be nice to everyone, say nothing that might "offend," live at "peace" with all humanity, and otherwise keep our mouths shut.
The problem with this picture, however, is that to create any lasting change in the world "tolerance" must be set aside. If we want safe streets, we must not "tolerate" criminals which roam them. If we desire a good economy and prosperous trade, we cannot possibly "tolerate" those who would launder money or siphon it from our bank accounts. On all of these issues, the majority of America would shout a rousing, "we agree!" but when it comes to the most important matter of all, the majority of America is silenced.
Thousands of people are going straight to hell all because of "tolerance." That sounds harsh, probably even cringe worthy. But it's true. Thousands are trudging through life, longing for something to offer hope, but are not given the answer because the answer might "offend." Christians, we cannot possibly "tolerate" this norm of culturally-induced silence in reply to false beliefs if we desire that the lost be found.
Never before has the Muslim mission field been so accessible to the church. It was not that many years ago that pioneer missionaries such as Samuel Zwemer had to go to Arab lands, facing persecution and hardship, in order to bring them the good news of the gospel. Today, Muslims are coming to us by the thousands! They are shopping in our stores, attending our schools, and making America their home. While there will always be a place for missionaries to go overseas, if we are not careful, we are going to miss out on an opportunity to step into the mission field that is literally right outside our front door.
Just as any lost soul needs the light of Christ, Muslims desperately need the gospel. Some will be open to it, some will not. But all need to hear it! "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans 10:14. We MUST risk the thought of *gasp* offending someone! We MUST reach out in love and sincerity and share the gospel! Do we not care that these precious offspring of Abraham have no other eternity than hell if they do not believe? This is not a matter of being politically correct! This is a matter of LIFE AND DEATH!
My fellow Christian, please cast aside the notion that we will all live in peace if we simply stick our head in the sand. Cast aside the idea that the best thing you can do for a Muslim is to be "tolerant." I challenge you! Be intolerant and share the gospel! Do not allow mainstream America to so affect you! The gospel is foolishness - "for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" I Cor. 1:18a, but it is also the power of God to those who are saved! I Cor. 1:18b. Yes, the gospel is offensive but if the one offended is won to Christ, how beautiful is that offense!
The gospel must be lived out. It must be spoken and taught and preached. It must be given in a spirit of meekness and love and grace. But most importantly it must be given!
I will leave you to dwell on this quote from a former Muslim:
We have a HUGE problem in America today. A mosque-sized problem.
Mosques are popping up in every major city across the country. Chances are, if you live in a populous city or state, there is mosque coming to a " street corner near you." The number of mosques rose a whopping 74% in the 2000-2010 decade, growing from 1,209 to 2,106! There are mosques in every state in the union and in each of our territories. There are 246 mosques in California alone! New York wins out as having the highest number in the nation with 257 and Texas is well on its way with 166.
But is this really the problem? I am going to take a bold step here and say a very emphatic NO!
The building of mosques at an exponential rate is not the problem. Muslims coming to our shores and integrating into our society is not the problem. This, my dear friends, is an opportunity!
The mosque-sized problem is that generally we in the western church are doing a great big nothing about it. I say "generally" because certainly there are ministries and churches which do, indeed, reach out to this growing populace living in darkness and in dire need of Christ. By and large, however, we as a church turn and look the other way, refusing to acknowledge the Muslim walking down the grocery aisle let alone say "hello."
I say these things with the full realization that there are a few major obstacles in the "way" of reaching out. Firstly, there is the "fear factor." Considering everything seen on any news station around the country, most Americans equate "Muslim" with "9/11" and now "ISIS." The other issue is a lack of understanding in the "how-to" realm. The oh-so common question of, "What if I offend him/her?" swirls around our heads before we even get up the nerve to say hello. Combine these two issues, and the typical Christian turns the other way or simply ignores the Muslim walking opposite them in the grocery store.
How many "well-meaning" Christians turn away instead of engaging the Muslim who has come to our shores? So many that in only 10 years the number of mosques "grew" by seventy-four percent! They are not afraid of offending us, my friend. How dare we let "fear" keep us from potentially "offending" them!
I want to challenge you today. Our problem isn't Muslims or mosques. Our problem is our own lack of reaching out with the glorious gospel of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Having lived overseas in a Muslim context, I can promise you, not all Muslims are going to want to murder you in your sleep. Yes, there are "extremists" who would be more than happy to do so, but may I also be so bold as to say they need Jesus too! Throw aside the fear and doubt the devil would so love to hinder you with and the next time you see a Muslim walking down the street, gather up the courage to say hello! As far as offending them goes - "Hello" is not a very offensive word.
Here are a few "how-tos" for those of you who have Muslims living in your neighborhood.
1. If you are going to say hello and introduce yourself, make sure you say it to the correct gender. Men socialize with men and women socialize with women. Period. In a husband/wife situation, the socialization rules are pretty much the same. Husbands speak with each other, wives speak with each other.
2. Let your beliefs infiltrate your speech. Including things like, "God brought me to this town 12 years ago..." and, "Lord willing..." are great ways to let a Muslim know you worship God and aren't afraid to show it. And while we're on the subject, don't be afraid to show it! For the most part, Muslims live, eat, and breathe Islam. We should live, eat, and breathe Jesus Christ!
3. If you are able to strike up a conversation, offer a way for further contact. If you just met these people, give a phone number (again, remember #1) or your street address and invite them over! Muslims are very hospitable people and though they may not seem super friendly at first, they will warm up to you through a genuine offer of friendship. Remember, they are largely ignored and ostracized due to media attention and the fact that most people would rather they just leave instead of adjust and fit into our society.
I cannot possibly overemphasize #2. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE is a commandment, not a suggestion. Muslims are won to Christ by seeing and hearing about the love, grace, mercy, and light of the Lord Jesus through His Gospel. Speak of Him, love Him through your actions, let Him affect and flavor every single thing you do. Be the salt of the earth. Reach out with the love of Christ. In Jesus' day harlots and Samaritans were the ignored and ignoble people of society. But many of them are in the kingdom of God because Jesus purposely spoke to them about redemption, their need for it, and the way they could obtain it.
Let us reach out, let our light shine, and speak the glorious news of the precious gospel!