I’m reading a great book by Carl Medearis called Muslims, Christians & Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Connections. Having been a missionary in the Middle East for many years, Carl learned the hard way that you can’t go in “with guns blazing” to convert muslims with the logical message of Jesus. (For one thing, their cultural interpretation of what is “logical” and what is not is strikingly different than ours.)
This book is a well-thought-out summary of the beliefs and practices of Islam, as well as many stories of encounters Carl and his friends had with Muslim people. What surprised him was their respect for the Bible and honour of Jesus (Isa).
His insight into the religion and, more importantly, culture of the Muslim world is so needed for us in the west who claim to be followers of Jesus. He also gives much practical advice for people who have Muslim friends or acquaintances and how to speak with them without the conversation becoming another crusade.
It is a book well worth reading not just for anyone who has contact with Muslims, but for anyone serious about following Jesus. but
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Here’s a refreshing article from Associated Baptist Press on one church’s leap into Muslim-Christian relations and what happened when Calvary Baptist Church in Washnigton, D.C. hired a practicing muslim.
Welcoming Mohamed to Calvary
While I’d bet this problem spans professional worlds, I know for sure that anybody who is responsible for a church staff will agree that good help is hard to find. Even the ridiculously high pay and indisputable glamour that come with working at a church are often not enough to attract conscientious, committed folks who do such shocking things as showing up for work when they are supposed to.
I’ve been around this block more times than I’d wish on my worst enemy, so when we began looking for a new staff member recently I confess I felt a bit of anxiety about the hiring process. The good news is that this story ends even better than I ever could have imagined, with the recent addition of Mohamed to our staff. Mohamed is a young, first-generation immigrant from Sudan who was one of the best students in an English-as-a-second-language class that Calvary offers. He happened to be looking for a job just when we were looking to hire someone, and the rest is history.
Working at Calvary has been something of a learning curve — a religious learning curve — for Mohamed and for all of us. A very devout Muslim, Mohamed’s well-used Quran comes with him to work every day. During the appointed times, he goes into the staff lounge and says his prayers. He talks freely and animatedly about his faith and his mosque, where he and his wife attend every single Friday. Mohamed is full of curiosity about what it means to be a Baptist and how a church functions, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief upon discovery of some of our quirks. Exploring our differences and similarities has become something of an adventure around here; topics of conversation in the church office now encompass everything — from the shocking realization that Baptists are not the only Christian churches that have women pastors to how Ramadan is going for him.
So when I recently began hearing news report after news report about the current controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” I thought of Mohamed and started to get a little nervous. After all, Calvary is a little bit farther than two blocks from the Pentagon, site of another 9/11 attack, but not too much farther. And, did I mention Mohamed prays in our office? God forbid that Sarah Palin discover this scandal and tweet it to the whole world.
Honestly, until I heard all the ridiculousness in the news, it never even occurred to me that welcoming Mohamed to the church staff might be a problem. Does his practice of faith threaten or diminish mine? Are the prayers he offers in a quiet corner of the office harmful to the rest of us? What’s a church to do?
I’ve yet to find biblical directions for how best to address what, apparently, may be a scandalous outrage. Lacking those, I think I am going to go with a hunch I have: that if Jesus were here he would gratefully welcome Mohamed to the church staff (given the staff of disciples he had, I know he would certainly understand and appreciate excellent work). More than that, I think Jesus would extend a hand of friendship, engage in honest and respectful dialogue about faith and actively look for all the things we share in common rather than creating and fanning irrational fears that drive us apart.
As the ridiculous and blatant disregard for our country’s First Amendment continues to saturate the political scene, I just can’t get out of my mind the image of Mohamed quietly reading his Quran while he answers the telephone at Calvary’s front desk. Aside from the fact that I’m eternally grateful for a conscientious, dedicated employee, I admire Mohamed’s commitment to living his faith.
On the one hand, some may find it strange that this sort of thing is happening every day in a Baptist church.
On the other hand, respectfully welcoming Mohamed’s faith practice and presence on our staff may be one of the most Baptist things about us.
Amy Butler is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. You can also read her thoughts regularly on her blog, Talk With the Preacher.
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Teachings of Jesus That Christians Ignore
Another piece of blogging that is worth reading is the post from Contend Earnestly called Teachings of Jesus that Christians Ignore. Seth McBee compiles a list of such teachings from responses to a question he posted on Twitter. Here’s an excerpt:
I recently asked over twitter and facebook, “What is the hardest teachings of Jesus to follow?” and received numerous answers. What I want followers of Jesus to do is ask yourself if you are aiming in your life to follow these. I want you to pray that God would reinstate these commands in your life and remove the idol of culture from your heart so that God is king in your life. What is interesting is that the reason that most Muslims believe the Bible is corrupted is from teachings that came after the Crusades. The reason? They knew the Jesus in the Qur’an and knew that Isa al-Masih would never give credence to such actions. Because Arabic had no word for “crusade” before this time, it was given the translation as, “the war of the cross.” So, knowing who Jesus is, through the Qur’an, and seeing the brutal actions found in the Crusades there was only one conclusion: These peoples’ Bibles must be corrupted. I have to say, because of our actions as followers of Jesus, “Can we really blame them?”
As a follower of Jesus, I want to honestly repent to any Muslims who are reading this. I repent, in the name of all followers of Jesus, who have come before me or who will come after me that have not followed the teachings of Jesus, but have used the Bible as a means of trampling our friends of the Muslim faith. I am truly sorry.
I would also ask our fellow friends of other faiths, to please be patient with us. We are mere men and, unlike the one we follow, are not perfect but were born, just as you were born. Even saying this, I would also ask anybody from other faiths to comment or email me to let me know ways that we could follow Jesus more closely in your eyes and teachings you see that go most unfollowed by us. (Read it all here.)