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Heart for eternity

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A man who was renowned for being wise penned a profound proverb 3,000 years ago which has been a signpost for countless humans in their quest for immortality. Solomon composed another equally elusive and intriguing saying. Coupled together these sayings read as follows, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die …God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end … A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born.” (Eccl. 3 ff)

I’ve shared this with hundreds of people from various backgrounds who I’ve met in all kinds of circumstances. I say, with a smile, “Here’s a gem of wisdom like a riddle. I think you’ll find it interesting.” Most people have responded warmly or even enthusiastically.

Some have been so intrigued that they’ve been drawn into a relationship where we could explore the real meaning of life. Notice, it is not just Christians and Jews who believe Solomon was endowed by God with exceptional wisdom, Muslims believe this too. In fact, Scripture says Solomon’s reputation for wisdom was so far-reaching that dignitaries came to visit him from around the world. So I’m not surprised when meeting people from a wide range of countries to see how strongly attracted they are by this wise saying of Solomon.

Over the last few decades there has been a huge influx of newcomers to the west, resulting in a colourful mosaic of different culture groups, especially in cities. Many of us who claim to follow Jesus, find it difficult to welcome such “strangers” especially Muslims, even though hospitality (“philoxenia” – love of strangers) is an important aspect of Christ’s teaching.

We’ve seen that Eccl. 3:11 is an effective springboard for broaching faith conversations with “outsiders” in a seasoned-with-salt manner, as we are instructed in Col. 4:2-6. But are there any simple guidelines for helping unbelievers who may be curious or even thirsty for living water? (i.e. eternal life, John 4:9-14) If you want to read some examples showing how such conversations have unfolded, email me here, raddad7[at]gmail.com and I’ll gladly send you a couple short stories. (Please adapt the email address appropriately.) David

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Following the star

Last week I got talking with a college student sitting at a nearby table in a coffee shop. All I did was ask, “Have you heard about a new movie entitled, The Star?” It didn't ring a bell at first but after showing him the promotional page on my phone he recalled that he had heard it. Then I posed a thought provoking question, “Can you suggest why this particular title was chosen for the movie?” (The Star) This gave me the chance to explain how the wise men in the nativity story sighted a special star that inspired them to undertake a long journey to find the Messiah.

I have also written an 800 word article that helps my brothers and sisters explain in a seasoned-with-salt way to their friends and neighbors why the wise men were so overjoyed at finding Jesus. I thank the Lord for opening a way to publish this article just in time for Christmas. It is available here: http://www.christianlifeinlondon.com/index.cfm?sel_cont=feat&nws_id=5

Not only so, a graphically enhanced single pg essay titled, “Following the star,” is available here: www.answering-islam.org/fileadmin/authors/clarke/follow_star.pdf I trust you won’t miss this opportunity to use this thought provoking essay as an intriguing, if gentle, way to share a reason for your faith.

How Headline News Translates to Good News

In Luke 13:1-9 Jesus engaged people in a lively conversation on a very relevant topic — two current news stories. He warned them to repent before it was too late. Of course, not every news headline highlights a disaster, for example, in London, 500 people recently attended an anti-hate protest. Let me share how this event led to an opportunity to share the Gospel.

A week after the protest I was at a food court in a shopping mall with Hannah, a university student friend. We were asking the Lord for an opportunity to share the Good News and came across a middle aged man who was having a coffee. We approached him and politely asked, “We don’t want to interrupt you but may we ask for three minutes of your time to get your opinion on a local story that made headline news last week?”

He invited us to sit down but added that he knew nothing about local news since he had just come from Trinidad. He explained that he was here to help his daughter settle into her first year of university. We enjoyed getting to know Roberto and Hannah offered to meet his daughter and help her adjust to a different situation far from home.

By now the three minutes we had asked for was gone but he obviously wanted to keep talking. We asked if he had heard about the two protests near city hall the previous week which highlighted opposing attitudes towards Islam/Muslims. He knew nothing about it, so we briefly explained what happened and asked, “Have you seen similar problems with religious or racially motivated prejudice in your home country?” Roberto admitted, “There are occasional problems but it isn’t as serious as in many other countries.” But then he added, “Fortunately, we haven’t seen any violence by radical Muslims, yet.”

I observed that our world seems to be getting more polarized and there’s no denying that Islam is a significant factor. Instead of labouring this point I pointed the conversation in a positive direction, “There’s a story I like which illustrates how to make peace rather than fuel hatred and controversy.” I asked Roberto, “Do you know the story where Jesus met a woman of Samaria at a well?” He told us earlier that he is a Roman Catholic so we weren’t surprised that he was somewhat familiar with this story.

We offered to read John 4 which tells how Jesus befriended Samaritans who were despised, even hated, by most Jewish people. We saw how Jesus graciously offered the woman God’s gift of eternal life. Although time didn’t permit us to read the whole chapter, he was curious to see how this story ends when he got home. We pray that as he reads his own Bible, he will be deeply impressed at seeing how the Samaritans accepted Jesus as their Saviour and Messiah.

As our conversation ended Roberto confided that he was diagnosed with cancer just one day before leaving for Canada. He gladly accepted our offer to pray for him and his daughter. Moments after we said good bye he caught up with us and asked, “Could I get a picture of us together?”

The next person Hannah and I met was a “normal” resident of London. We used a similar approach with this person, broaching the topic of the recent protests. Like Roberto, Patricia welcomed us to sit and talk. She admitted she was confused and somewhat skeptical of how some journalists report such controversies. She too, was interested to hear the story as recounted in John chapter four.

Non-Muslims aren’t the only people willing to hear the story of the Samaritan woman. I’ve read this story to several Muslim friends and it stimulated meaningful conversation. If you want to understand why Muslims find this story so interesting read this online article: http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/clarke/share_gospel.html You may also like to see a very different example of how to tap the curiosity-evoking power of headline news. You can find it by searching online for an article by this title, Salah, a modern martyr.

Why did I start this blog?

Many nations have been shaken over the last twenty years resulting in more than 65 million people being displaced. A ripple effect is an unprecedented influx of refugees looking for refuge in so-called Christian countries. Cities which decades ago were mainly populated by Caucasians are now predominantly multi-cultural. It is no secret that the latest wave of refugees are Muslims. How do most Christians feel about this trend and what should be our attitude?

Some Christians acknowledge that God is at work behind turbulent world events bringing newcomers to our countries and our neighborhoods so they can experience his love and hear the Good News about Jesus. There is, however, so much that needs to be done in terms of befriending our newcomer neighbors and sharing the message of salvation with them. This is one of the main reasons I started this blog.

At the same time, my emphasis is to encourage and equip ordinary Christians. As we go through our daily routines we may encounter different kinds of people, including no small number of newcomers, foreign students, etc. Are we praying and seeking to make the most of opportunities to be salt and light? Sadly, many of us feel intimidated about getting involved with a Muslim. We may feel totally inadequate, assuming that we must have special training to be able to answer questions that Muslims may raise.

Acts 8:1 describes a scenario not unlike what we face today. A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem forcing many thousands of “untrained” believers to flee into Judea and Samaria. (notice who left Jerusalem: “all except the apostles”) The believers who settled in Samaria became neighbors to Samaritans who were despised and even hated by most Jewish people. (Luke 9:51ff, John 4:9; 8:48) In spite of a long history of debates and polarized relations between Jews and Samaritans these ordinary Christians “preached the word wherever they went.”

This was the first time the Gospel was preached beyond Jerusalem as Christ had commanded his followers to do in Acts 1:8!

It is amazing to see how God used a great persecution in the 1st century to accomplish his purpose of spreading the Gospel. In a similar way, we see today, how God is using the greatest humanitarian disaster of modern times to bring some of the world’s least reached people to a “place” where they can hear the Gospel. By “place” I don’t just refer to migrating from one place to another, I also mean a mindset. For example, many Muslims are more open to hearing the truth about Jesus having become disillusioned with so much violence which they see as endemic in their communities/homelands. In fact, over the last 20 years unprecedented numbers of Muslims have believed in Christ as their Lord and Saviour and been baptized. Not only so, who do you think has been most instrumental as reapers in this harvest? Interestingly, it has not been so much, “formally qualified” missionaries as lay people! (see “A Wind in the House of Islam” and “Contagious Disciple Making”)

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there is no need to educate/equip Christians so they can more confidently answer questions or objections that Muslims may raise. What I’m saying is: there are more basic issues that we should address first. For example, we need to do a better job of motivating and showing ordinary Christians how to love our Muslim neighbors by doing acts of kindness, whether a little thing like a warm greeting and smile (Matthew 5:46-47) or something bigger like sharing a meal (Luke 14:12-14; Leviticus 19:33-34).

As I conclude, let me recommend a 24 pg book that explains these foundational principles. It is titled, “What every Christian needs to know about sharing the Gospel with Muslims” and is available online here: http://answering-islam.org/authors/clarke/sharing_gospel.html

Child like humility

Several earlier posts pondered man’s longing for eternity and suggested some simple ways of engaging our unsaved friends and neighbors in seasoned with salt conversations that point to Jesus. I trust you are putting into practice what you learned. Are you praying for and seeking opportunities to broach these kinds of conversations with friends?

If the human quest for immortality resonates with people, so also does humility. Like eternal life, humility has an intuitive appeal which makes it an effective door opener for sowing God’s Word in people’s hearts. Yes, indeed, humility is a character quality that is admired in most cultures, making it a suitable topic for engaging unbelievers in spiritual conversation.

But how does one begin talking about it with an unbeliever, be they agnostic or Muslim?

Let me share how I got into conversation with a father, Moe, and his son, Ali, as they were having fun in a park. I was in the same park throwing paper airplanes with my grandson Tirian. These planes caught the attention of a nine year old boy named Omar who became very interested. I let him have a turn flying one of the planes which he thoroughly enjoyed and so I naturally gave it to him. For the next 10 minutes I enjoyed watching the two boys play happily together. Eventually Omar went over to a bench where his mother and father were relaxing. It seemed appropriate to introduce myself to Omar’s father, Moe who recently came to Canada from Syria. He was surprised, yet happy to meet a friendly “mainstream” Canadian. We had a lovely time getting acquainted and before saying goodbye, we exchanged phone numbers. Our friendship has continued until now and we’ve even visited in each other’s home.

Over the next few weeks, I shared how much my wife and I enjoy our 12 grandchildren. I told him how they display a trait that sadly is often lacking in adults: humility. Since Moe believes in the prophets, I showed him a Psalm (Zabur) of David (Arabic, Daood) which alludes to humility as a trait of children. Roland Clarke has written an article that helps us understand how to unwrap this theme in a gracious, seasoned-with-salt conversation. He suggests that the next step is simply to show your friend Matthew 18:1-5 where Jesus similarly connects humility and children. Clarke continues unfolding this theme, culminating with Christ’s supreme act of humility, i.e. laying down his life as an obedient servant. (Phil. 2:5-12) You can find this article online at: http://answering-islam.org/authors/clarke/humility.html `

Did you enjoy seeing the natural way God opened a door for me to connect with Omar and then his father? However, you may doubt that God can open a similar door for you considering the unique circumstance and how taylor-made it was for me with my skill at making paper airplanes! I realize you may not be able to make paper planes, but don’t you do have other abilities God can use? In fact, you’ll find Clarke’s article fascinating because of the many different examples he describes where God opened doors to share the Gospel using the theme of childlike humility.

Engage a Muslim friend in meaningful conversation about fasting

Ramadan has ended but we still have an opportunity, especially these next few weeks, to ask our Muslim friends, “How did your fast go?” Obviously we're looking for more than a superficial answer, so let me offer some insights and suggestions to help us get to the heart issues. Bearing in mind, Colossians 4:2-6, we want our conversation to be relevant and thought provoking (seasoned with salt) so that we can answer questions that may arise. 

After asking your friend a general question, you could ask, “Did you feel closer to God?” (Note: Jews, Christians and Muslims see fasting as a way to draw nearer to God. (Isaiah 58:1-12, especially v.3)

Then follow up by commenting, “When I earnestly seek God by fasting, I become more aware of my failures. I feel convicted of my sin and my need for forgiveness. Do you have similar feelings?” You may want to explain, “It is appropriate to feel this way since all of us are sinners and God alone is absolutely good and perfect.”

Our friend needs to understand: fasting and repentance are closely linked in the writings of the prophets. In fact, a dozen times in Scripture the prophets connected fasting with humility, weeping and repentance. One example is Joel 2:12-14, “'Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping and mourning. Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.' Return to the Lord your God for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows perhaps he will give you a reprieve sending you a blessing instead of this curse.”

You can the follow up by reading Isaiah 58, noting how the prophet continues in chapter 59 by calling for honest confession and repentance.  (see v. 1-2, 12-16, 20) These two chapters are very relevant to Muslims. Don't be surprised if they arouse your friend's curiosity. Help him think through what he has read by ask him a few questions, such as, “What does this mean?” “How does this make you feel?” “What does it mean in verse 16 that no person was able to intervene to bring salvation except God ALONE?”

After reading these two chapters you may want to ask your friend, “Have you read what Jesus taught about fasting? Then you can read together, Matthew 6:16-18. (Due to time limitations, you  may have to continue exploring this theme the next time you meet.) Pray that God will open your friend's eyes to see: there is a big difference between fasting that is superficial or hypocritical and fasting that genuinely seeks God's face. Incidentally, the idea of seeking the face of Allah is in the Qur'an.

Let me conclude by referring you to a helpful article, titled, “Heartfelt Fasting and Repentance” which is available online here: www.answering-islam.org/authors/clarke/heartfelt_fasting.html 

Add seasoning to whet their appetite

Earlier we began exploring Eccl. 3:11 and glimpsed something of its intuitive and universal appeal. This puzzling proverb, somewhat like a riddle, can arouse people’s curiosity, stimulating them to seek for eternal life. (John 4:9ff, Rom. 2:6-9) Similarly in Psalm 49 the psalmist composed a riddle about eternal life, including a couple clues to help solve it.

If God saw fit to express truth using proverbs and riddles, shouldn’t we do likewise? The following are some of the comments/questions I have used to broach this topic of a heart for eternity with people who I’ve met in all kinds of different situations.

I would encourage you to read a couple examples showing how to season your conversation with salt. (Email me at raddad[at]gmail.com and I’ll gladly send you one or two short stories.) May I also I encourage you to choose one or two from this list which you particularly like and adapt them to suit you. Then ask the Lord to enable you to use them as gentle door openers to start talking about spiritual things.

1) Do you enjoy solving puzzles? Here’s a proverb written by a wise man 3,000 years ago.

2) Here’s a brain teaser which you might enjoy figuring out.

3) I came across an interesting proverb about perfume that you might like to read.

4) There’s a gem of wisdom that has meant a lot to me. I think you’ll enjoying pondering on it.

5) It seems as if your kind of work gives you considerable time to think. May I show you a brain teaser that will help keep your mind active?

6) Recently I heard a hit song on the radio from the sixties, titled, “There is a season” based on a wise saying of Solomon. Would you like to see the original saying from which the song comes?

Seniors in Canada now outnumber under fifteens!

I mentioned in my first blog that Canada has seen an unprecedented influx of newcomers, many of whom are Muslim. Solomon’s observation that God has planted eternity in the human heart appeals to Muslims but it is also relevant to another group – seniors – who according to Stats Canada now outnumber young people. Undoubtedly people at the latter stage of life are more inclined than young adults to ponder a wise saying related to death and immortality as found in Ecclesiastes 3:1,2,11.

Do you have any friends/relatives over 60 years with whom you could share this intriguing proverbial saying? Why not begin praying for an opportunity to do this? Ask the Lord to open a door to share this intriguing seed. I’ve found it to be an effective springboard for broaching faith conversations with “outsiders” in a “seasoned-with-salt” manner. (see Col. 4:2-6)

If you want to read a couple SIMPLE examples showing how I’ve broached this topic and unwrapped its implications email me at raddad7[at]gmail.com and I’ll gladly send them to you.