At a conference of some 80 former Muslims I asked the question: How many of you have been impacted by a specific verse? About 20 hands went up. A Pakistani woman in a colorful sari who was sitting in the front row stood up, turned around and with a gleaming face and passionate voice she recited: “God so loved the World….” I can never forget the glee on all faces. She touched a cord in the hearts of many.
When I first heard the gospel, it was God’s love that drew me in. The man who witnessed to me assured me: “Georges, if you were the only one on earth Jesus would have come down from heaven to die on the cross to save you.” These words blew me away. They rang in my ears for years to come. When a preacher came to town and explained the cross, I was under such conviction that I was sweating like someone who had just walked out of a steam room. It was God’s love, the compassionate heart of Jesus that put me under such “hot” conviction. That night I surrendered to God and accepted Christ as my loving savior.
For several years now, I have been asking CMBs to fill out a survey which included this question: What are factors that have led you to come to Christ? There were a variety of answers. Most importantly two: 60% said it all started with a dream or vision. But more amazingly, all those who filled out the survey wrote: “It was someone reaching out to me with love.”
A typical comment international students including Muslims make when they come to our weekly activities is this: There is so much love here.
Some years ago I accepted to debate an Imam in Denver. He won the coin toss to go first. For 45 minutes he launched an attack on the Bible, Christians and Christianity. When my turn came, the atmosphere was electric. More that 600 Muslims in attendance were glued to me when I stood up to speak. I can tell that they expected me to launch a counter attack. And as you may expect they were all ready to boo me as I have seen them do on some other occasions.
No! I was not going to give in to that. I told them that as a young man, I was trained in the “Christian Militia” to kill Muslims. At one time I hated Muslims with a passion for all they have done to me and my country. Then I narrated stories of the war I lived through in Lebanon for several years. I told them how my house was destroyed and after rebuilding it several times it was bombed again and again.
If you were in the audience, would you have thought about anything the Imam said? I was talking about real issues of life and death generated by hate.
The stage was set for me to speak about the Love that overwhelmed me when I realized God’s great love and compassion toward me. While I was giving my testimony, you could have heard the littlest pin drop. All were attentive. All were curious where I was going with this.
Next was challenging them to look beyond religious differences. I told them that Christianity was no better than Islam. Man-made religion, no matter its name, is corrupt and reflects man’s evil heart. Jesus did not come to establish Christianity on earth. That was not why he left His glory and come down. He certainly did not create religion. Religion is man’s creation. Islam, Christianity or any other religion have been a source of divisiveness, death and destruction. This is not from God. Jesus told us already that these are the work of Satan who is the thief that “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:1)
What Jesus came to do is to rescue us from the grip of Satan. He came to give us forgiveness and new life. (This is not the time to talk now about the church but of course at a certain time they need to know about the church, the community of believers, the flock of Christ the shepherd.)
I was straight forward with them when I explained that what I was about to tell them is humanly difficult for them to swallow. God becoming a man was inconceivable to a human mind. Yet if it is the truth, it is an awesome truth. Just because you do not understand God, does it mean you reject his offer of salvation? Of course I used my full 45 minutes explaining God’s cosmic plan of salvation and that through Jesus there is forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
No doubt my message of love did not satisfy everyone. When my time was up, the moderator opened it up for responses and questions from the floor.
Because I have done this a number of times, I was prepared for what was to come next. Some trouble makers wanted to provoke me. They pointed out that I did not answer the Imam and that I should. I had an entire hour to answer their questions. When a really tough question was thrown at me, I decided to handle it with all the love I could muster. I responded gently and with respect (1 Peter 3:15). I made a decision before hand that I will only speak with love and that meant sometimes not answering their questions fully or dodging it by asking them a more difficult question. Isn’t this what Jesus did?
This was a two and a half hour encounter with hundreds of Muslims from many nations. It was an opportunity for me not to show them how bad Islam is, how evil Muhammad was or how false the Quran. Rather, it was a unique opportunity to share the love of Christ not only in direct words such as: “Jesus loves you” Actions speak louder than words.
Some Christians who liked what I did commented: At least no one went away thinking you hate them. Well I would have preferred to hear: Everyone was blown away with your love for them. I guess I still have a long way to go.
Guess what happened next?
The official debate was over, the Imam and I shook hands and he headed home. As for me, I was surrounded by dozens of Arabs who wanted to speak in Arabic. They asked me questions and I sought the guidance of the Spirit of God to answer them as clearly and lovingly as I could. That lasted for several hours. People are drawn by love and repulsed by hate.
The principle I followed was this:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
No one loves as Jesus did. His great love cost him much suffering and pain and ultimately his temporal life. He loved everyone and had compassion toward all including those he offended.
Interestingly, no Christian worker would admit his or her methods are not loving. We all claim that our approach is true love. The fact is that love has many facets and different expressions. In a future article I will be addressing the various missiological approaches used worldwide and how we can love in different ways. Sometimes what we think is loving is actually hurtful. I will not get to it now except to say that the Bible instructs us to tell the “truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Brothers and sisters who are reading this blog: Live out the love of Christ. Do not just talk about it. Refrain from judgement of people and personalities. Tell the truth in love. Stick to the issues. Do not return evil for evil. Bless and do not curse.
Love love love.