Half of our local house church was sick and we had decided to not meet together, deciding instead to stay at home and worship God with our families. My wife, daughter and I prayed together, listened online to a Francis Chan sermon and sung some songs. It was a good and simple morning; God was brought glory and we challenged each other to move closer to Him.
After our morning of worship together, I headed off alone to visit one of the Masjids (Muslim places of worship) that several of my friends are a part of. Friday is the Muslim “holy day,” but on Sunday they have a Sunday school and prayer time. I try to be present semi-regularly; learning new things and talking about Jesus and about what is True in this world.
I had some extra time so I didn’t catch the bus across the street, instead deciding to walk a couple stops to the North. As I walked, I greeted the people that passed by; this is not a common NYC thing to do. I am often met with blank stares, but once in a while someone will greet me in return. This time, someone did just that and more. Not only did they greet me, but they gestured for me to come over and sit with them at their park-side bench. I obliged and dived straight into conversation.
My new friend was from Guyana (in South America) and a Hindu. Soon after I sat down, he called over another guest, this time a man from India; also a Hindu. Our conversation was rolling, and I began to talk about God. We were both thankful for the amazing weather and were thankful that we lived in a place where had freedom to do as we pleased. We were thankful together that even though we believed different things, we could still become friends. My new Hindu friends assured me that they thought my religion was good too and one even mentioned that he had a poster of Jesus Christ on his wall here in NY.
However, I didn’t really care if they thought my faith was ‘good'; I wanted them to understand that it was true. I shared some stories about Jesus and about His proclamations of being THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life. I talked about how it didn’t make sense to me that all different religions could lead to the same place. After a little more discussion though, I decided I had to be going. I was already running late to the Masjid and our conversation was dying out. I gave out my contact information and thanked the men for our time together.
I hurried across the street and fortunately caught the bus just as it was arriving to the stop. In about 15 minutes I was inside the Masjid, but sadly, most of my friends there were very busy. At first I thought this to be horrible, but I decided to make the best of it and to meet several additional members. As I’m writing, one man in particular stands out in my mind as he had just moved over from Macedonia and was trying to get settled into his new surroundings. We talked for while in broken communication (His English was 50/50 and my Albanian is not nearly conversational). He asked if my family had raised me Muslim, I quickly smiled, excited to explain that I was not Muslim, but instead a follower of Isa (Jesus). I told him that I had friends at the Mosque and I knew that they respected Isa. I told my new friend that I was happy he lived in my community and that I was excited to learn more of him and to share about my faith in Jesus. I also offered to help him with his English and he gladly took down my number! Before leaving, I helped clean up after the children and put away the chairs.
Next, I called up another friend, this time from Albania. We shared a coffee and discussed the transformative qualities of Christian living. I explained how being a Christian doesn’t mean we just live by some “law” but that we actively take part in the Kingdom life offered by Christ and help transform this world for Him. This conversation was followed by others; a very busy day where I was able to see friends from Kosovo and Bosnia, Morocco and Bangladesh… culture after culture I came in contact with. And this was exciting!
But the contact itself was only minimal in importance.
It’s what we do with the contact that matters.
During one of my final conversations of the day I was talking with a Muslim friend. We were talking about things that are forbidden in Islam but accepted in Christianity; things like pork, alcohol and the uncovered heads of women…
He shared with me that many people in his country do drink alcohol, and so does he on occasion. This bothers him though because it goes against the teachings of Allah (God) from the Qur’an. I agreed that this seemed like a difficult contradiction. I then explained how Paul told the early Christians that all things are permissible but not beneficial to us. I told about how if we do something that causes our brother to sin then we should cease doing it even if it causes us no harm.
“There is a freedom that comes in Christ,” I explained. “But this freedom is not to enable us to sin more… but a freedom to come back to the heart of God when we do mess up.”
As Christians, if drinking some wine causes someone around us to sin, we should NOT drink that wine. But if it doesn’t cause others to stumble then Christ has made that wine permissible… “But as a Muslim” I said, “drinking that wine is a sin… and nothing ever seems to make that right.”
The only answer for restoration is Jesus.
I had great contact with my friends, but without intentionally sharing the Gospel truths they needed to hear… my contact may have been in vain.
I could have just waved at the guy on the bench. I could have left the Masjid after I realized my friends were busy. I could have just sipped my coffee quietly with my friend as we discussed the weather, but because of His great love for us, I didn’t!
We must DIG deeper into our relationships; ASK questions and PROCLAIM Christ as King.
Meeting a Hindu is great, but explaining how Jesus is superior to all other God’s is greater.
Seeing your neighbor is great, but offering to help her carry her groceries is greater.
Going to the Masjid is great, but using it as a platform to talk about Jesus is greater.
Visiting your friend at the hospital is great, but praying with them for peace is greater.
Talking about the Law with a Muslim is great, but offering the Hope of Christ is greater.
Connection is great, but being intentional is greater.
Choose to be greater… I believe that’s who God created us all to be.