Many people who reach out to Muslims agree that God initially changes them more than He changes their Muslim friends! As we take steps to move toward Muslims, a side benefit will occur: sanctification in our own lives.
I took a road trip some years ago with my friend Zahra. As if sitting shotgun to a brand-new driver in downtown Atlanta traffic wasn't sanctification enough, God used this trip to expose my own pride, impatience and argumentative spirit.
Though I love Zahra like a sister, and I knew in my head that this trip was an excellent opportunity to build into her spiritually, I found myself easily irritated and impatient. To be sure, part of the rub was cultural differences between her and me, but it was also my selfishness about time and warped sense of superiority.
At one point in the journey, Zahra and I stopped in Georgia for lunch. Over our Chik-Fil-A signature sandwiches, we started heatedly discussing whether the prophets sinned. Zahra held the position that none of the prophets have sinned. We're talking Moses, Abraham, David, Jesus, and to her - Muhammad and his cousin Ali - all sinless. In her rationale, Jesus is no different from Moses or Muhammad. (Neither the Qur'an nor the Bible supports this, by the way.)
Just as I was about to go for the jugular and prove my case for Jesus' divinity, I got a phone call from a friend. I took it. And Zahra ordered some chicken fingers.
Over the phone, my friend encouraged me and told me she'd been praying for my trip. Talking with another believer reminded me that Jesus calls me to love. I was gently rebuked by the Holy Spirit: truth must be spoken, but always in love. And no argument won is worth the loss of a person's respect. And I was walking close to that line.
Arguments are unproductive. When I start feeling uptight and sweaty and my teeth start clenching, I know I am defending a position rather than representing Christ.
As Christ’s servants in this world, we are to “not be quarrelsome but…kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24). If you find yourself in the middle of an argument, you can take a deep breath and a step back. You could say with a smile, “I’m sorry. Maybe I’ve offended you. Would you like to talk about something else?”
Our conversation was divinely interrupted by the phone call, but Zahra and I came back to the prophets-and-sin subject later that day on more friendly terms. Thankfully, I didn’t damage our friendship with my antagonistic approach.
God has been sanctifying me through my interactions with Muslims. He's teaching me to be longsuffering when I feel selfish and argumentative. And He's asking me - above all else - to love my Muslim friends fervently, for love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.
Iranian forces arrested Rev. Robert Asserian on Tuesday, May 21 as he conducted a prayer meeting at the Assemblies of God church in Tehran where he serves as one of the pastors. Security forces raided his house earlier in the morning, confiscating belongings such as his computer and books before moving to the church to arrest him. He was taken to an unknown location.
Church leaders had been expecting some sort of retaliation against the church. A few days ago, the elders met with government officials to ask for information and clarifications on another pastor, Farhad Sabokrough, his wife and two other church members from the AOG church in Ahvaz, who were called this month to serve one-year prison sentences. Officials told the elders the detainees would be released when the church permanently shut down.
Tension between the officially-sanctioned Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran has been growing in recent years. The church was informed that it may have to cease all its services by next month. On Sunday, May 19, AOG leaders announced to the congregation that they would soon come to an important decision about the future of the church due to increased pressures from Iran’s intelligence ministry. Church leaders are meeting this week to pray and finalize plans for the total closure of the church by mid-June.
Sources told Article 18 that the AOG church leaders are being forced to choose between closing if they continue to offer Farsi-language services or limiting their services to only the Armenian language. The whole congregation is invited to a service on May 26 to hear the announcement of the church leaders.
“The pressure has become unbearable,” a source told Article 18. “They [the government authorities] constantly threaten the church leaders and their families with imprisonment, unexplained accidents, kidnapping and even with execution. We cannot go on like this.”
The AOG church in Tehran is one of the few remaining churches that offers worship services in Farsi. In 2009, the same church was ordered to discontinue their Friday services, which were being attended by an overwhelming number of visitors each week. In February 2012, the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church was also ordered to cease its Friday services. Friday is the weekly day off for Iranians, and church services on Fridays attracted both new converts and Muslims interested in Christianity.
Sources: Article 18, Farsi Christian News Network, Middle East Concern
A criticism leveled at Christians is that we are narrow-minded because we believe in one God, the Creator of the material world and also a spiritual realm that is beyond this world. Because we believe in a spiritual realm, we are accused of being superstitious. Belief in the spiritual world and in an unseen God can be a cause for persecution because it challenges the pervading worldview in many places of the world. Our belief put a lot of Christians into prisons in the old Soviet Union, and it continues to do so today in other world areas.
The naturalistic world view is a narrow view of reality which believes that nothing exists outside the material world. This view, they believe, liberates humanity from superstition. It is a closed universe where there is no God to interfere from outside, and it runs on a pure “cause and effect” basis within time and space. Things happen in the world because they are an effect of a prior cause. This cause and effect principle is built into the universe. God is not needed. The naturalistic worldview includes both science (rather scientism, the belief that science alone can discover truth about reality and the universe) and occultism. This seems like a strange combination but both have limited reality to the material world, except in different ways.
The naturalistic view believes in “the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, namely, that everything is a machine” (Schaeffer, He is There and He is not Silent, 63). This is the view of many non-Christian scientists but is also to a certain degree the view of the occult. We assume occultists believe in a separate world of spirits distinct from the material world but, in fact, their ‘spiritual’ realm is merely another dimension of the material world. Magic, for occultists, is the supreme ritual and functions by cause and effect. If you perform the ritual just right (or put the magic potion together exactly as instructed), one can expect certain effects. It is a narrow, confined system of cause and effect, and not an intervention by a spiritual being from outside the material world but from within the spiritual realm of the material world. The gods are of this world. To believe that there is a God distinct from the material world and that he is the Lord of the universe is not an acceptable idea for those who adamantly refuse to believe or bow. Those who deny God and adhere to the naturalistic world view are usually not tolerant of Christians and, if they have power, will use that power to suppress Christian teachings. Suppression is a form of persecution.
Christians believe that the material world is real but is the result of a supernatural act of God, through Jesus Christ, who holds the world as we know it together. Cause and effect works within a greater reality, where God exists, as do spiritual beings who are outside the material world and are not affected by cause and effect. The Christian view, because it is not narrowly defined by the confines of the material world, is actually broader in scope than the world’s view. We believe that God is free to interact with this world and can suspend cause and effect, working miracles (like allowing Peter on one occasion and Paul on another to be released from jail, raising people from the dead, and allowing Peter to walk on water)!
Totalitarian, godless regimes see the Christian view as regressive (they call us narrow-minded!) and a threat to their desire for total control. If they think the Christian God is beyond their authority, they seek to destroy any semblance of God in their midst. Communists see Christianity as counter-revolutionary; but how can Christian truth be counter-revolutionary when revolutionary thought is based on the narrow, naturalistic view of dialectical materialism, a very narrow, confining box indeed! It is not so revolutionary—it is an intellectual and spiritual prison. This narrow ideology seeks to supplant an open system where God can interact with creation (a belief that allows for true freedom) with a narrow system that restricts freedom to worship the true God. Such a narrow ideology persecutes Christians because Christians will not conform to this belief system, even if it is the belief of those in power. We are seen as incorrigibles because we cannot accept their “progressive” view, because it is actually regressive. They are, in fact, narrow-minded.
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.