By Roger Lippross
Believe it or not but there are 7 million Muslims living in the United States! And according to a wide range of reports the Living Christ is beginning to reveal himself to the Muslim community, especially those around the globe.
Some years ago a group of Christian strategists came up with the term ”the 10-40 Window” to describe the ancient heartlands of Islam from Morocco to Malaysia as the hardest part of the world to reach with the Christian message.
Islam has always had more tolerance of Christians and Jews than is normally thought, but when a Muslim converts to Christianity this is seen as a major offence in the Islamic world and may be met with persecution and death. That is why it was recently heartening to meet two former Muslims at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, CA at a seminar on representing Jesus to the Muslim world.
One of the things I learned was the importance of revisiting Jesus’ most simple declarations. Such things as “I have called you friends not servants.” That’s found in John 15:9-15 where Jesus is talking about a right relationship with Him:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you.”
As it turns out the Book of John is a very helpful book for reaching out to our Islamic neighbors. But what I want to tell you today is that the same Jesus Christ who was here 2000 years ago is still making friends and making them steadily in the Muslim world. Where Western Christians and foreign missions seem to be blocked, Jesus is appearing through unusual circumstances, in dreams and in visions to his Muslim friends, just as he appeared at crucial times in the Book of Acts (Acts 16:9, 18:9, 23:11, 27:23-24).
God through Christ is making friends all over the earth.
At the Lake Avenue Conference, our GCI missionaries, John and Naomi Biswas and I met two young women who tell amazing stories of how people are being called to Christ in the Muslim world. I want to mention in that connection the Jesus Film Project – which most North Americans know very little about – is playing a big part in making friends for Jesus all over the earth. The Jesus Film project began in 1979 as an outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ but is now recognized in 1000 languages and dialects before 3 billion people – the most watched film in history. According to the Jesus film web site it is making converts at the rate of one every 8 seconds.
Just think, every 8 seconds someone is becoming converted by the revamped “Life of Jesus” film now available, as it turns out, in Persian or Farsi, the main languages of Iran.
I mention Iran because one of the speakers at the May conference was a young woman named Zeebandee Abedini, the sister of a Christian pastor, Saeed Abedeni. Saeed was arrested, beaten and only recently released from solitary confinement. Someone gave her, then her mother a copy of the Jesus DVD. One night she received a visitation of a bright shining figure standing by her bed who introduced himself as Jesus Christ. Soon Zeebandee and her mother both became a Christians. Her older, entrenched Muslim father was adamant at first but began to look into John’s Gospel and read it for himself.
You can guess what happened. John’s first chapter talks about the Son who came from the bosom of the Father to further the Trinitarian mission of bringing many sons to glory through the power of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:10). The world rejected him, it says in John 1:5, but “to all who receive him," it says in John 1:12-13, “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” These are powerful concepts to anybody especially a Muslim.
Muslims who worship a strict "monad" – one solitary fenced off being they call Allah, portrays a religion where the torments of hell are more real than even in some Christian traditions (according to commentaries one threat of Hell is in every 7.9 verses of the Koran). The Muslim Allah the Merciful is often a rather remote and distant figure. But John's Gospel is good news of Someone who came “from the father's side," who is now in heaven but can be reached without a lot of detailed rituals. According to some, a super-devout Muslim should learn Arabic to read the Koran in the original language but Christianity has no such requirement. Instead there is this direct access called "friendship." Christian "entrance requirements” are rather simple – simply believe and accept the rulership of the One and Only Son over your life.
Moreover this Jesus we see in John 1:38 is both friendly and approachable: “And they said to him Rabbi, where are you staying? He said unto them ’Come and see.’" That is why John 3:17 speaks so poignantly to a Muslim reading them for the first time: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
That is what makes real Christianity so appealing to someone steeped in ritual and onerous requirements. Of course there are Christian groups that are as ritualistic and as legalistic as any in the Muslim world but…most Christians sense deep down that the way of faith is very simple indeed. Here it is in John 6:28-29,“ Then they said to him, What must we do to be doing the works of God? Jesus answered them, This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Our Muslims Friends, you see, are halfway there when it comes to Jesus. They accept Abraham (Ibrahim) as the “father of the faithful" and Muhammad taught that Jesus was a Great Prophet, though not divine. But the idea of a man coming from the bosom of the Father who appears as a Palestinian villager – this has startling impact on people who think about it for the first time.
Let me tell you of Hanan, a young Egyptian woman. Here was a case of a “Christian converted by a non-believer” if you can believe it! She was born in Cairo in a slum in abject poverty. She had heard about those Christians who “talk to God.” One day she was in a Cairo taxi and the driver said something like, “You seem to be looking for Jesus Christ.” That was the beginning and she soon found herself in a house church. Today Hanan lives in Los Angeles and feeling as free as a bird, experiencing the tremedous peace that God promises his people.
You see, our God is a missionary God as the late, great John Stott told us in Loma Linda back in 2005. Hanan was nudged to faith by an unconverted taxi driver. But just think – even Peter, the rock of the early church, was reached by his brother Andrew. This is yet one more story from John’s Gospel where Jesus made friends even among the Jewish hierarchy (John 1:40-42, 3:1).
Why does God work in so many different ways?
We don’t know. But he can speak through a dumb ass as we read about in Numbers 22:28 so why not a Cairo taxi driver? You see, it’s all about making friends and being the friends of Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus had no “converted” people to fellowship with in his earthly ministry. Jesus spent his entire time with sinners because he clearly told us, He came to seek the Lost (Luke 19:10).
It’s like Dan Rogers, our Superintendent of Ministers for Grace Communion International (GCI), told us years ago – “We have to walk as Jesus walked but be a friend of sinners.” And remember, we are all still sinners.
How can we be like that? How can we be the friend of sinners, as Jesus was?
First, we must intentionally build bridges to non-believers. There must be a purposeful commitment. We must not act “superior” as possessors of special truths but simply make friends – either in a neighborhood scrabble club, bridge club, bingo night. Or wherever your talents take you. I play banjo with a folk group every Wednesday and see it as a way to be a light and salt to this world. One of them is an atheist and I feel that is where I need to be – on mission! Try not to be pushy but ready to give a soft answer to a challenge.
Second, be attuned to what’s on people’s minds. The book section at Wal-Mart shows all kinds of books on Christian themes from going to heaven, to the purpose driven life. We don’t have to agree with all these propositions, we simply need to know what it is people want to talk about. I don’t know anyone who isn’t interested in “going to heaven” – remember your pastor had a sermon built around this 4-year-old boy named Colton Burpo who claimed to be in heaven while he died on the operating table and retruned. Even Time magazine covered this story, giving us ready talking points.
Third, use a specific tool. I am going to be bold today and offer you an opportunity to acquire a copy of The Jesus Film DVD after church. You can give this to your new friends or workmates and neighbors when and if they express a curious interest in Christianity. Or even fellow Christians on their sick bed or in hospital. Dan Rogers has said that there are about 190,000,000 in America not going to church. This means the biggest mission field you will ever come across is right here in the United States. That's why Korean and Ugandan missionaries are now banging on the door in New York City. And it usually takes 5-6 contacts with Christians before people will respond – that’s a statistical fact.
Be bold give it a try, reach out and touch someone.
Fourth, ask God for a burning desire, a heart for mission. John Stott said if the Holy Spirit isn’t flowing out from us it probably isn’t there or its just lying dormant. Think of it – every 8 seconds a person becomes Christian through just one film. One fact presented at Lake Avenue is that in the past 15 years more Muslims have become Christians than in the last 1500 years. That should inspire us. Gods Sprit is very active making friends of Muslims just as he made friends with us.
Finally, keep the vision before us of that great heavenly celebration in Revelation 7 of people of all races and nationalities gathered around the throne. That is where we are headed, where the world is headed. The harvest will be tremendous. Let’s make friends and be part of that harvest.