The gospel is a marvelous thing, is it not? To think of the GOD of the entire universe taking MY sin and MY punishment upon His own holy and pristine back all because of love! LOVE! How great it is! How marvelous. It shows me how depraved my own soul sits, unashamedly admitting I would never have done such a thing. Die for my enemies? Forgive those who put a spear to my side? Make a way for permanent relationship to those who would come in the future, the multitude of whom would rather I didn't exist? No way. But that is exactly what He did!
God. In. the. flesh. Came down. Lived perfectly. Died miserably. Rose triumphantly. Oh what glory! The mighty vindicated. The wretch justified. The sinner sanctified. The righteous purified. The blood of Jesus poured out.
Many people write in with comments and questions to thespiritofislam.com, a site managed by Arabic Bible Outreach Ministry. My job on this site is to answer the comments and questions sent in on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, a lady wrote in and since that time, her comment had become my favorite by far.
Her first sentence was, "It does not make sense to say that Jesus died for our sins."
The statement, written in confusion and frustration, made me want to rejoice. Why? BECAUSE SHE IS RIGHT! What sense does it make for a PERFECT, HOLY, JUST God to DIE for MY sins?? It makes no sense whatsoever! But that is the unutterable and marvelous mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does it make sense? No. My own death for my own sins - that makes sense. Horrific and justifiable extermination of all rebellious creation - that makes sense. Jesus, God in the flesh, perfect, all-knowing, fully God and fully man, Jesus, who had legions of angles at his beck and call if only He spoke the word, Jesus, dying - that truly does not make sense.
The commenter went on to say, "All the people who were involved with that killing were unjust. How does an unjust killing wipe out my sins?"
I longed to speak with this woman in person. She was so close to the Gospel! Jesus' death WAS unjust. Because He never should have died in the first place. I should have. She should have. Every single being to ever draw breath upon this planet should have. That would have been justice. But God decided to be unjust and take the punishment upon Himself. His death was the most "unjust" act of justice to ever take place. Because it wasn't fair. It wasn't right.
Justice demands a price paid by the law breaker. He never broke a law. But He paid the price justice demanded anyway. It does not make sense. It makes me stand back in awe and wonder. How great a God, how merciful a God, how gracious a God we serve!
How can something so ugly be so beautiful? Countless times in conversation with Muslims, the subject of the cross has arisen. Typically, the grand total of understanding as to what the cross is will amount to the misguided notion that the cross is simply "haram" or bad. It is not something to cherish or sing songs about. It is something to scorn.
One day, I was speaking with several friends when one of them caught sight of a cross. Each then began saying the cross was "haram" and shouldn't be displayed. Seizing on the opportunity, I asked them why it was haram. They simply continued stating the fact that it was. I asked if they knew what the cross meant. A few admitted they did not, one said it was where someone died. That was it. The grand total of their understanding. When I next asked if they wanted to know what the cross was all about, they eagerly said, 'yes!'
In order to speak of the cross, I told my friends I needed to ask them a question. I asked them if they thought God was perfect. This question was easy. Of course God is perfect! Muslim or Christian, we can all agree on this point. I then asked them if we as human beings were perfect. This question produced a bit more thought but, in the end, each friend decided that humans are not perfect. We went on to discuss the fact that because God is perfect and we are not, separation has been created between us and God. I continued through the following questions in a lead-up to discussing the cross.
Me: So can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: We can do good things and pray.
Me: But can we make ourselves perfect?
Friend 1: No.
Me: Who is the only one who could make us perfect?
Friend 3: Well, God! Got can make us perfect!
We then talked through the principle of punishment needed as a result of our imperfection. Just like in our family relationships, when a child disobeys his parent, punishment is needed to restore the relationship.
Me: What punishment could be good enough to completely remove the bad from inside us?
Friend 2: (a bit dramatically) DEATH!
Friend 1, 2 and 3: (Stunned silence)
Me: But can we die for ourselves?
Friend 3: No. Because then we'd all just be dead.
Me: Exactly. So who is the only one who could die for us?
Friend 3: God. But how could God die??
Ah, now we reach the beauty of that cross. I explained that God loves us and He wants us to have a relationship with Him. So He came down to the earth, called Himself Jesus, lived the perfect life we could never live, and died the rugged-cross death we deserved. I excitedly shared the fact that the story didn't end there! Jesus rose from the dead three days after he had been placed into a grave, proving once and for all that He was God. He had taken the punishment of sin we deserve and if we trust in what He did for us on the cross, we could have a relationship with Him! Through faith in Jesus Christ, our sin is removed and we are considered children of God.
Each friend reacted to our conversation differently. Friend 1 stated she thought the information was interesting then quickly changed the topic of conversation to dress shopping. Friend 2 joined Friend 1 in discussing the latest fashion trends. Friend 3 stayed silent for a long while. Then she caught sight of yet another offensive piece of wood. This time, instead of calling it haram, she turned to me, pointed toward the very symbol she so recently despised, and whispered, "The cross!" with tears in her eyes. In those two breathed words, the entirety of her world view shifted 180 degrees. The vile became desired, the despised became loved. The old, rugged, rejected cross became accepted whole heartedly as the object of salvation suddenly worthy of song and praise.
The Old Rugged Cross. The beautiful, despised, rejected, ugly, tragic, wonderful, longed for, praised, sung about, life changing, soul-inspiring Old Rugged Cross. May we continue to share its beauty with those who despise it!
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!
I once was lost, now I am found. I once was dead in sin, now I am alive in Christ Jesus.
Freedom, hope, love, and salvation wrapped up in two sentences. I am constantly struck by the utter beauty and simplicity of the Gospel. So many times we get waylaid by the lie that we must know the ins and outs of any ideology we might run into before we can effectively share the Gospel. We get stymied, thinking we should read the entire Qur'an before we speak to a Muslim. Or perhaps we should peruse The Power of Now before we talk with an atheist. But do we really need those things? With what must we be equipped to effectively share the Gospel?
Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.
In I Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul says, "And I, brethered, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
Paul was undeniably one of the most influential preachers of his (and our!) time, but his methods did not mirror those of the Roman or Greek of his day. Never were oratorical devises employed nor did he study under great speakers to learn the manner of wooing a crowd. He simply preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Paul's ministry stands as a great example to us today. Let us not fall into the thought that we must develop an argument we can use to "win" when speaking with an atheist or Muslim or fill-in-the-blank. Let us stop putting off our desire to share the gospel because we don't "know enough" of the other person's beliefs yet. Instead, let us arm ourselves with the Gospel and be ready to speak it whenever we have occasion! Let us be ready to give an answer to all who ask us the reason for the hope within us!
We have the hope of eternal life! This is no light matter! We literally possess the sum total of everything needed, hoped for, and desired by every human being on the planet. People are hungry and thirsty for the Gospel. Let us be ready to share it with them! Someone made the effort to ensure I heard it fourteen years ago - I cannot do any less for those I know today.
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!