The tired traveler and the taxi man

I heard a cool story today and want to pass it along to you.

A man flew in from a country in Asia. He was a Muslim. He had flown many long hours and was exhausted when he arrived. He was supposed to be picked up at the airport by someone, but when he landed there was no one looking for him. He waited for a long time, wondering what to do in this strange new land.

A member of the Ethiopian church in Seattle was driving taxi that night. He saw the stranded traveler. Approaching him, the Ethiopian asked the immigrant if he could help, even offering to give him a ride and let him stay overnight at home.  The traveler gladly accepted, spending not just one night but two. The next day, the Christian helped the visitor contact his friends, who came for him.

Some while later, that visitor decided to visit a church in Seattle. When he entered, he looked up on the platform and who was preaching that day but the very taxi driver who gave him transport and lodging! He soon declared that whatever that taxi driving preacher believed is what he wanted to believe also. And he placed his trust in Christ.

Let’s keep our eyes open for ways we can welcome the stranger. Our loving actions, even when small, send a clear message!

 

With Jesus into the fray

There’s nothing better than getting spiritually jazzed when speaking with your board chair person. But I just got off Skype with Ray Sanford and have a few thoughts from our conversation to share with you.

Near Frontiers is a group of bridge-builders, connecting our good news Savior with needy people in the cities where God has placed us. There are areas of American cities where you don’t see banks or grocery stores. Police rarely venture into those neighborhoods. Instead you see potholed streets, boarded up shops, and schools so poor the parents don’t see the value of sending their kids.

Yet there are Jesus followers who move into the fray and represent Him in these places. Ray shared about his adult children, Ray and Mel, who live in West Philly. They invited students from Mel’s university cohort for Thanksgiving, and had Chinese, Indonesians, and an African for dinner.

There is a current in America (in fact globally) that is isolationist.  It would pull up the bridge to keep newcomers out. It would send immigrants back “home.”  That current will kill churches, and stifle Christian maturity.  That is the wrong response to the unprecedented scattering (diaspora) of our time.  Jesus said that it is unwise to pay more attention to the weather forecast than to understand the signs of the times.  Look at what God is doing among the nations and be amazed at the Great Commission mandate.

The Kingdom of God is going to advance by moving into the fray, not by avoiding it. Christ came for the sick not the healthy. In Near Frontiers we are bridge-builders, but we also call on believers everywhere to join the project and build with us. Don’t miss out on this gloriously messy time.

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Thanksgiving for my Muslim friends

I had the blessing of hosting my neighbors who are Muslims. It was Thanksgiving week, and it seemed natural to invite them over at such a special holiday time.

turkey dinnerMy wife, who is now in heaven, always did the cooking in our house, so the prospect of preparing a full meal was way over my pay grade. But I know Costco roasted chickens are reliable, so I went for two of those. I managed decent mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, plus rolls. Purchased a pumpkin pie and whipped cream. So they came over Saturday night after Thanksgiving.

I had prayed to God that we could have a meaningful conversation as friends. Some of my fellow Christians had reported that as they welcomed visitors of other faiths, they shared the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed – only one of the 10 returned to give thanks, you recall. This provides a timeless lesson on the importance of gratitude.

So I shared: “At Thanksgiving time, we seek to be especially grateful for the many blessings we enjoy in this country. Jesus once healed 10 men of their leprosy, but only one returned to thank Him.”  This led to clarification of what leprosy is, and agreement that thankfulness is important in both the Bible and Qur’an.

My friend and his wife lingered at the table, while their children went to the living room to play. Touching on the Bible story prompted other questions from my friend. He asked what Christians do to live out their faith other than church on Sundays – “Is that all you do?” he wondered, citing the five daily prayers of Muslims.  I replied that I meet with God every morning, reading from the Bible, and praying not only then but many times throughout the day. I talked of doing works of service to help others, and living with integrity.

Then he asked if it was true that a Christian is forgiven for every sin no matter what he does. He clarified that as a Muslim he prays every night and confesses every sin he committed during the day so that if he dies in the night he will still go to heaven.  I shared that Christians place their faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of all our sins – past, present, and future. This is based not on mere wishful-thinking but on the truth declared in the Bible that Jesus took on himself the sin of all humanity and paid the penalty for it all. I shared that God looks on our heart, seeing our belief in Christ, and extending grace continually to forgive our sins. I talked about how we confess our sins and are restored to our intimate relationship with God.

Our conversation flowed very naturally, in mutual respect. I was very thankful that God directed the meal and our talks. Our friendship deepened, I believe.

Then it was time for pie.


photo credit: flickr creative commons

You may enjoy these simple tips for making friends.


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When art crossed cultures

Here is a continuation of my former post about the lady who invited her Muslim workmate over for dinner. (Details of these events have been altered.)


“About a month after their dinner together, Julie and John invited Ahmed and Nabila to attend a new exhibit coming to The Museum of Biblical Art, not far from their homes.

 art gallery“Their invitation was accepted, and together they strolled through the museum, stopping to study each painting, sculpture and other art pieces.  The theme of this particular exhibit covered the entire Bible beginning with creation, depicted events of the Old Testament, and went on through the New Testament ending with Revelation.  As Muslims, Ahmed and Nabila were knowledgeable about the Old Testament, and were especially taken by a particularly intricate art piece, spending long moments studying it; even taking pictures.

“It wasn’t long before Ahmed began asking questions about John and Julie’s belief.  He said that one of his coworkers is Catholic, “How does your belief compare to that?”  Julie explained that while the Catholics believe the Pope is next to God, followers of Jesus have the assurance they can go directly to God in prayer.  “There is no one next to God except for His Son Jesus Christ.  I am a sinner, but because God sent His Son Jesus Christ to become the sacrifice for my sins, I am totally cleansed from my sins and can pray freely and directly to God.”

“Nabila listened carefully; then suddenly rushed to Julie throwing her arms around her and hugged her tightly saying, “Oh Julie, I can tell that this is deeply meaningful to you.”  Nabila continued to hold onto Julie for a while as Julie said, “It is deeply meaningful, and I am so grateful that Jesus cleansed me from my sins.”

“It so happened that the artists for several of the art pieces were in attendance at the exhibit, and available to talk with visitors about their work.  While Nabila, Julie and John moved on to other exhibits, the artist arrived who had created the intricate art piece that had so captured Ahmed and Nabila.  Ahmed had many more questions for him, and the artist graciously spent one-on-one time with him explaining more about his piece and the true events in the Bible.

“The time finally came to leave the museum and both Ahmed and Nabila exclaimed what a wonderful afternoon they had experienced.

“That night Julie mentioned to John, ‘When God has a plan, never underestimate how He can use even a piece of art.’

(Photo credit: rider.edu)

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Walk to the park

A young couple with kids lives intentionally in an urban black community. One day they were heading to the local park for a walk. A child from a house next door asked, “Can I go with you to the park”?

“If your mother and dad tell us you can go.”

The child took off running to get permission.

In the time it took for her to return, 11 kids with at least one parent showed up to join in.

It was quite a walk to the park that day.

She invited workmate to dinner…and laughed!

I love it when a friend shares with me their own journey to reach out in friendship to our new neighbors from distant lands. Here is one such story I know you will enjoy – we’ve changed the names. (By the way, do you have a story to share? Email it to us.) Another #NearFrontierTREK.


Julie and Nabila were coworker’s, and became quite close over the years. Finally, the day came when Julie felt she should extend an invitation to Nabila and her husband, Ahmed, to come to dinner at her home.

Before sitting down to dinner Julie explained that she and her husband John give thanks before eating, so, “John will say a prayer.”  After John finished praying Ahmed said,  “That was really nice.  I like that you pray before eating.”  Julie said, “We have so many reasons to be grateful, so that’s why it’s important to give thanks.”  They all agreed, even Ahmed and Nabila’s son nodded his head.

family mealDuring the course of the meal John and Julie asked how and where Ahmed and Nabila had met.  They grew up in the same Middle Eastern city, and theirs was an arranged marriage. Although their families would get together on occasion, along with Ahmed’s and Nabila’s brothers and sisters, Ahmed and Nabila were never allowed to speak to each other because of their future marriage.  We all fell off our chairs laughing when Nabila said, “Ahmed looked at me and said, ‘Good enough.'”  Ahmed just smiled, but then he said, “We truly learned to love each other.”

Julie offered that John and she also had an arranged marriage.  In surprised unison Ahmed and Nabila said, “You too?”   John said, “No no no no,” but Julie continued.  “Let me tell you our story.  I was at church seated at a table, and had noticed a new man (John) sitting at the table across from me.  As I listened to him talk I could tell that he had a deep love for God, and I began to pray, “God, please make it possible for me to meet this man.”  And, after the service John came to talk to me.  So that’s how God arranged our marriage.”  And Ahmed and Nabila understood.  Later on Nabila was talking about something and said, “…just like you prayed and God arranged your marriage….”


For a continuation of this relationship, click here.

Photo credit: cherebork.com

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Camping plan with my Muslim friend

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every Christian had a Muslim friend. That would mean that every Muslim would have a Christian friend.

Imagine how radical that could be if it spread throughout the entire world. The suspicion between groups would be reduced. We would find ourselves saying, “Well, actually, what you my brother are saying is not true, because I have a Muslim friend and he doesn’t have that hate in his heart. He is committed to his religion, but basically wants to live it, share it, and provide a better life for his family.”

I have been developing a friendship for the last couple of years with a Muslim family in my neighborhood. It is so cool that his kids come running when I come to their door, “Bob”!

A few years back I was given an aging tent trailer that needed work. I got it put together and have enjoyed some outings with it. Hussein, my friend, showed curiosity over the trailer, wondering what it was like when opened up. We exchanged wishes that we could go camping together sometime. I pondered this idea, wondering how we could pull this off. Long story short, on an impulse I decided to take a couple vacation days and camp at a nearby camp site. It is near enough to my neighborhood that I figured Hussein could drop by and check it out, even sleeping overnight if he wanted to.

campoutHere is a daytime picture of our site. I was disappointed that Hussein and his son Ali only came by one evening around 9pm (I was tired and actually heading toward bed). But we sat by the fire for awhile; then he wanted to see the inside of the trailer. He was fascinated by the amount of space inside, and the little gas stove.

What’s the point of this post? Friendship takes work, and flexibility. Friendship is worth it, and may mean more than appears on the surface. So that’s my latest #NearFrontiersTREK. Pray for a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist friend. Live the joy of Jesus before him, and leave the results to God.

Recently a buddy told me of a Jesus follower who was talking to a Muslim about religion. The Muslim asked the Christian if he had ever studied Mohammed. The Christian replied, “Well, years ago I encountered Jesus. I have been so fascinated with Jesus ever since that I have never felt the need to study anyone else.”

Let you light shine, whether your plans work out or not. God has a plan. Jesus is compelling. Let Him show.

Who will push “Play” no matter the cost?

Read what has come before here.

You can’t take this journey vicariously. It won’t happen by reading a book or watching a documentary. Doesn’t happen by listening to a sermon. A church won’t become inclusive by saying, “Anyone is welcome here.” Because what that means is they can come as long as they are willing to do things our way. But ask us to adapt what we do to accommodate them, no way! Ask us to change? Hey, this is our church.

Do you want to know what it ffriendseels like for someone from another culture, another country, another religion to come into your church?  The same way you (a committed Christian) would feel by going to worship at a Buddhist temple. The same way you would feel when entering a mosque on Friday afternoon. Don’t be so ethnocentric as to think they would like it in your church.

Friend, the onus is on us, to invite them into our homes, and to go to theirs; to take difficult steps in a risky direction.

 Which leads to the third part of the adventure. Peter must have cringed when he heard where Cornelius lived: the town of Caesarea; hear it? “Caesar—ea” This was Rome central. Regiments of Italians probably marched nearby as Peter rode into town. Herod himself had a retreat here. The smell of pasta and fettuccine filled the air. The aroma of grilled pork, a stench to Jews, wafted across the streets.

Cornelius had called together all his relatives. As Peter approached, the Centurion ran to greet him, kneeling in respect. Peter entered the home and said, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (Acts 10:28)peter vision

Cornelius describes the visitation of the angel, with instructions to call for Peter. They are ready to listen. And Peter lifts up the hood to unveil the theological engine of the mission of God. “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Peter shares the message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and granting of eternal life. The stamp of approval on this colossal new development comes with a thud — the Holy Spirit falls on them all. Peter concludes this is the same Spirit that had come upon the Jews not many months earlier, and baptizes them all in water.

What is the lesson here? To align the calling of our church with God’s mission, we must break the rules that protect our comfortable enclave. AND, we must be willing to be criticized by the powerful people who haven’t seen the vision.

That brings up back to where we began: on Pause.

The early church is scattering and on the move, but at a standstill in the mission of God—Jews speaking only to Jews. Word arrives that Peter, our senior pastor!, has gone to the home of a Roman centurion! And the Holy Spirit has been given to the Gentiles. The remaining elders in Jerusalem, when they hear this, drew silent, and glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18).

So a few folks from Cyprus—islanders, that’s what you’d expect from them– and a few brothers from Cyrene – Africans, that explains it—they came into Greeksville and spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.

And the church got off Pause…

and Played.

You know what is fascinating? God has brought Romans and Hellenists right into your town! Many of them have never heard an explanation of who Jesus is. Many have never gotten to know a Jesus-follower. Many international students, many foreign-born engineers, medical practitioners, have never been invited into the home of an American. They’re cautious… but curious. And many of them have been called by God into His forever family.

Who will invite them home for a cup of tea?
Who will explain an English word, or show how a chocolate chip cookie is made?
Who will ask them how they are doing?
Who will take them to a ball game or a bowling alley, or a museum?
Who will offer to take them to their appointment or pick them up at the airport?

Those who see a new vision.
Those who take difficult steps in a risky direction
And those who break the rules that protect a comfortable enclave.
Those who push play, no matter the cost.

photocredit:  myocn.net

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