As I watch and listen to all the things that are happening in our nation and world, I often want to stick my head in the ground like an ostrich and pretend that everything is ok. One minute I am filled with faith that Jesus is the only hope for this broken world. The very next minute I am wondering does it really matter whether I tell others about Him or not. As a result of this back and forth thinking, I found myself deeply discouraged on Monday.
To get my mind off of these thoughts, I decided to head to the gym and watch LeBron James and the Cavs play the Orlando Magic. I had a plan that I would watch the game as I worked out and then head back home and call it a night. As I walked into the gym I noticed that there were two men in the gym and the TV was on Monday Night Football. Though I actually prefer watching football over basketball I really wanted to see LeBron and the Cavs. My initial thought was ‘there goes my planned evening’. In spite of what I was thinking, I asked them if I could turn the channel and to my surprise they said ‘yes’. Once I turned the channel one of them started asking me questions about the game. I came having no intention of talking with anyone. I ended up seeing very little of the game as I worked out and talked to this young man. God sure has a sense of humor because my evening still turned out different than I planned it!
I learned so much about this young man in the next hour and a half. He had an accent so immediately I asked him where he was from. He told me that he was from a Middle Eastern nation. I learned from him that even though soccer is the national sport of his country that he was a huge basketball fan. He had even played basketball on the Jr. National Traveling team of his country as a teen. I learned that he was a college student, what he was studying and his career ambitions. He was wearing a cross on his neck so I asked if he was a Christian. He said yes and that he grew up going to the Catholic Church in his country.
I began to ask him what it was like to be a Christian in the Middle East. I was expecting to hear stories of extreme persecution and to my surprise he told me that his country was the only Middle Eastern nation that was predominantly Christian as he grew up there (though things are somewhat different now). He told me that in the cities it is relatively peaceful compared to the violence on the outskirts. The tensions that exist are not just between Muslims and Christians but between different factions in these faith groups (Shiites vs. Sunni Muslims; Greek Orthodox vs. Catholic Church).
By this time we were both heading to our cars to leave. As we stood by our cars in the calm and peaceful evening, he began to tell me how in America we don’t realize how good we have it. He mentioned to me friends of his from other Middle Eastern countries who daily live with the uncertainty of violence and others that have died from it. (It has made me think that the mass violence that
we are experiencing in this nation as a result of the grand jury verdict from Ferguson is just a normal part of life for others, in particular those in the Middle East.)
As we were shaking hands and preparing to get into our cars, I thanked my new friend for sharing so much about his life and experiences. I told him that God had used him to remind me of the need to pray for Christians and for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. When I said this he looked at me and said very politely that he does not usually talk to people about religion. He mentioned that he comes from a region of the world comprised of people from three religious groups, Jews, Muslims and Christians. These groups share a common history and origin yet there are hostilities and no real hope for peace. He began to say that both the Bible and Koran share many things in common as some of the same people are mentioned in these holy books and revered by both faiths (Abraham, Moses, David & Jesus to name a few).
As he paused I interjected that this is true but what is said about these people does not always agree. For example what each faith says about Jesus is radically different. In particular, Muslims believe Jesus to be a prophet but not the Son of God (not God incarnate). Whereas Christians believe that Jesus is not only a prophet but the Son of the Living God (God incarnate). Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead whereas these are the very fundamental truths of the Christian faith. He agreed that this was indeed true.
I went on to tell him that I do not like to talk to people about religion either. He gave me a strange look that seemed to say ‘then what have we been talking about?’ I told him that to me religion is centered on man and it focuses on man’s attempts to appease, to find approval, to gain a right standing or reach God in his own efforts (for instance the five pillars of Islam or the baptism of Hindus in the Ganges River to wash away their sins). I told him that Christianity is radically different for it not focused on man’s efforts but God making a way for people to have a relationship with Him.
Then I began to share with him the simple message of the gospel as I said that all people share these three things in common: 1). God created the world and each and every person who inhabits this planet (Acts 17:24-26); 2). Every person has sinned against God (Romans 3:23); 3). Every person finds themselves separated from God and deserving His wrath for our rebellion (Romans 6:23a). In light of this universal human predicament, God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. In His love God sent His Son to die for our sins and whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life (John 3; 16). As I was sharing these points he was shaking his head in agreement. Yet the conversation would shift on what I said next but you’ll have to wait until my next blog post for that.
I came to the gym this night to watch LeBron James and to work out. I had no intention of talking with anyone and yet I found myself in wonderful conversation about Jesus. Before I end, let me leave you with a question and a thought. Are you willing to let go of your agenda to partner with God in His? On this occasion I did. Yet I wonder how many times I have missed connecting with people and partnering with God in His purpose because I was focused on my plans.