The Good Muslim?

Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.

The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).

The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.

Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.

Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?


Honor King Jesus!

Yes, I know I crossed the line in my last post. I dared to contradict the maxim that Islam is the greatest enemy to Christianity. Let me explain something about my worldview. The greatest threat to Christianity is never any external force–not Islam, nor even secularism. Our greatest threat is ourselves.

Forgetting our identity in Christ is our greatest threat. Forgetting how our life story intersects with the story of the Kingdom of God is our great danger. Losing sight of what God has done for us and how that ought to affect our choices is our biggest temptation.

There are disciple makers in closed countries who lay it all on the line–every day. Muslim, Communist, totalitarian governments can make their lives difficult, but they cannot stop the transforming power of the gospel at work in the hearts of families. Stop allowing the politicians and/or the media to push your panic button. Stop losing sight of this reality that the Word of God reveals. Our “battle is not against flesh and blood.”

Living under the reign of the risen, exalted and ascended King Jesus is our calling. Saying, “Yes, Lord,” and meaning it is our purpose. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, Israel rejected the truth that the reign of God is enough when they demanded a king. Satan often tempts us to doubt that the Father has our best interests at heart (not just mine as an individual, but “our” as family, congregation, community, nation and world). Trust God!

What If?

Imagine God has called you to minister to widows and orphans who live in a slum area of a third-world country. You could pour yourself into fund-raising in order to build a feeding center. It will be on the outskirts of the slum since you can purchase acreage there (with some government stipulations of a local board of directors, since foreigners cannot actually own land post-colonialism). You raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for the land, structure, wall and gate so you can protect the donor’s investments and the staff you will need. Oh, yes, there is also some money left for the first food you will give to the people you want to bless.

Yes, more people than you could have anticipated are willing to come for the beans and rice you give at lunch. Yes, they are willing to sit through the mandatory Bible study that precedes the meal. You know you are keeping some of these single moms from giving up their children as orphans because now they have at least one meal every day. You also know they are hearing from Scriptures and God’s Word will not come back void.

Have you really helped? Have you trained local people that “through this kind of hard work we must help the weak,” per Paul’s counsel?

More Blessed to Give?

Every teacher is selective! It does not matter whether you are using an inductive or deductive approach, you choose what will be taught and the order in which it is taught. Acknowledging this reality is significant. While it will not change it, you may become less accidental in how you exercise selectivity.

When I shared the critique of the Kenyan leader I was not wanting to be critical of the mission team–at all! I rejoice in what God has done through them. I rejoice in their willingness to be vulnerable. I rejoice that this subject was raised.

I, too, have encouraged missions organizations to carefully consider the importance of giving in the earliest stages of discipleship. As you might have noted in one of my replies to a comment made on my last blog, I believe God’s giving nature is one of his core character traits. John 3:16 is pretty specific when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Answer the question, “What do you learn about God?” based on this verse and you observe He is an extreme giver!

While I was not present when the referenced rebuke took place, the statement prompts me to believe these Kenyan churches struggle with a lack of needed financial resources which arise from a lack of giving. The problem with waiting to teach on giving is it does not become easier with time, it may actually become more difficult.

Acts 20:17-35 has long been the text that has most significantly challenged my thinking on giving. Here Paul meets with the leaders of the church of Ephesus and reviews their history and pulls back the curtains on some prophetic insights believers have been receiving regarding his near future. Paul is about to face “prison and hardships,” according to the Holy Spirit. With the potential that this may be his last time ever with this group, he warns them to be on their guard against those who will seek “to draw away disciples after them[selves].” By contrast, he reminds them of his lifestyle.

“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Do we deprive people of the greater blessing when we fail to facilitate their discovery of the grace of giving? Are we as intentional in our behavior and explaining the purpose behind it as Paul was?

Ephesians Applied to My Life (cont.)

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

(21) Since Jesus submits to the Father, we will recognize proper lines of submission.

(22-33) A wife’s husband is accountable. Just as Jesus answers for the church, he will answer for his wife. As the church submits to Jesus, so the wife submits. Husband, imitate Jesus with a servant love for your wife. His love made the church godlier. Jesus made the church more beautiful and purer. Model Jesus.  Love her like your own body—you are one in marriage. Every sane person takes care of his body rather than abusing it.  We get to imitate Jesus in this. We are parts of his body. This oneness has always been God’s plan for marriage. A great marriage gives deep insight into Jesus’ love for the church. Husband, love her like yourself; wife honor him.

Ephesians 6

(1-4) God rewards children for obeying their parents. He attached the first promise of a blessing to honoring them. Good things and life expectancy are tied to obeying your parents. Dads must nurture faith rather than bullying their children.

(5-9) Superiors should be treated in the same way you submit to Jesus. Not only when they are watching you because you are mindful of God’s will for you. Give them the kind of service you would give God. You know God sees and rewards every good deed.  Your status doesn’t matter in this. Supervisors, treat your people with respect.  Don’t bully them since you know God is over both of you and he doesn’t play favorites.

“I Will…” Statements

  • I will build respectful relationships.
  • I will be the kind of husband to whom  Debra finds it easy to submit.
  • I will have a saving influence in my leadership role.
  • I will lead like Jesus so Debra knows she’s blessed in my leadership.
  • I will be like Jesus—loving Debra with a sacrificial love.
  • I will love so that it makes her a better person.
  • I will lead her into increasing holiness.
  • I will love Debra with the protective love I have for myself.
  • I will care for her as I care for myself—better yet, love her as Christ loved the church.
  • I will reflect Jesus’ cares for me.
  • I will remember that oneness is God’s goal for marriage.
  • I will show Jesus’ love for the church in my marriage.
  • I will love Debra like myself so she can readily respect me.
  • I will obey my parents with a godly respect.
  • I will remember God’s promised blessing.
  • I will recognize God blesses my respect for my parents.
  • I will create a healthy environment that nurtures faith in Kenneth and Rachel rather than frustrates them.
  • I will have a respectful relationship with my accountability people.
  • Iwill be a man of integrity doing what’s right even when they are not looking.
  • I will give them the service I would give God as my boss.
  • I will recognize God will reward any good I do.
  • I will treat those who answer me with dignity and respect.  I will not strong-arm them because God will settle the score.

Ephesians Applied to My Life (cont.)

[NOTE: I will begin with my re-statement of the passage. Then I will present a list of “I Will…” Statements that I wrote based on that section. Reading these sections will give you some insight into what struck me as I studied through these texts, but your time would be better spent doing your own 3-column study first. After you have written your study then reading mine will give you another set of eyes and experiences that may help you with your efforts to hear from God.]

Ephesians 4:1-32

(1-6) Reminded why Paul was imprisoned, he admonishes them to be righteous in their living. Love excludes haughty and harsh behavior.  It prompts compassion. Work hard to maintain the peaceful oneness the Spirit created: One family, one Comforter, one confident expectation. One master, one surrender, one washing. One Papa God reigning and living in each and every one of us.

(7-13) Individually Christ gave us gifts. This is why the Word says, “Coming up he had the Victor’s entrance, leading his spoils and giving out gifts.” (The one coming up had earlier gone down from heaven to earth. The one who came down later went up to the highest place, so everything reaches fulfillment.) This Victor appointed some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastor/teachers. Giftings to equip God’s children to do edifying acts of servanthood. This building up continues until God’s family is mature compared to Jesus, walking like he walked.

(14-16) Such maturity will prevent us from being battered by false teachers who work hard to trip us up. Rather, lovingly saying what is right, we will become more and more like Jesus our Master. He is the one the family becomes stronger in by doing our own part.  Like a body growing stronger through focused exercise, we work together focusing on our mutual good.

(17-19) In view of all Jesus has accomplished, we must stop living the way unbelievers do, in their vain thinking. They don’t “get it” since their hearts are hard and they are spiritually dull and live a different lifestyle. Without a spiritual focus they keep choosing rebellion to God by seeking increasingly unholy ways to satisfy their human desires.

(20-24) Jesus changed our thinking. We came to know the truth about God through him when we were discipled. We were taught to stop living in self-destructive ways. We learned to be renewed in our thinking. We learned to be transformed to become more and more like God—doing what is right and holy.

(25-29) Integrity—being honest with our neighbors is expected because we are in the same family. When angry we must not sin—we will deal with our anger today so we limit Satan’s access to us. As people of integrity we avoid the temptation to steal by working hard to provide for ourselves and have some to share with the needy. We replace destructive speech with constructive conversation.  People who hear us are blessed.

(30) Our talking doesn’t sadden the Holy Spirit—God’s pledge of the coming redemption.

(31-32) Hatefulness, stirring up turmoil and lying about others are out of the question for us. Like God treated us with grace, we forgive and treat others with gentleness and empathy.

“I Will…” Statements

  • I will live up to my calling to a righteous life.
  • In humility I will put up with a lot from the people I love in God’s family.
  • I will work hard to hold on to the peace God’s unifying Spirit creates.
  • I will remember the seven ones:  church, Spirit, hope. Lord, faith, baptism and Father unite us.  I will put work boots and gloves on this unity.
  • I will stay humble regarding Jesus’ gifts.
  • I will recognize only Jesus earned the right to give these gifts.
  • I will follow his example of humbly leaving heaven to become a man.
  • I will recognize God exalted him for his humility; he will exalt you.
  • I will accept the fact that Jesus set the kingdom up according to his purpose.
  • I will build up the body by using my gifts in serving others.
  • I will work for God’s goal of mature faith in Jesus.
  • I will measure up to the standard of Jesus.
  • I will seek maturity because it protects us from the damaging effects of false teachers.
  • I will lovingly speak the truth like Jesus so we grow to be more and more like our head.
  • I will remember it takes all of us working together under his guidance to be built up in love—each must do his/her part.
  • I will choose mature thinking, rather than thinking in the old futile ways.
  • I will keep my heart soft by doing whatever God calls me to do.
  • I will realize disobedience contributes to a destructive insensitivity and sets in motion increasing levels of rebellion.
  • I will remember how I started.
  • I will remember the truth about Jesus started me off so I will stay in it.
  • I will obey the truth I learn and stop the old way of living.
  • I will seek a godly attitude each day.
  • I will do righteous and holy things since God transforms me through them.
  • I will be honest with members of God’s family.
  • I will deal today with anger that arises.
  • I will limit Satan’s use of my anger.
  • Rather than stealing, I will use hard work to provide for myself and to share with the needy.
  • I will speak only helpful words so my words are beneficial to my hearers.
  • I will make sure what I say is appropriate for the Spirit to hear.
  • I will choose not to be hateful and/or a trouble-maker.
  • I will treat others with kindness and forgiveness because Jesus did the same to me.

The Jesus Hymn Applied

The apostle Paul enjoyed a special relationship with the church in Philippi. This was the first city he visited after responding to the invitation to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Here he encounters two persons of peace (cf., Luke 10 & Acts 10). While it is not surprising that Lydia and her household come to faith in Jesus (Acts 16:15), the transformation of the jailer and his family stands in stark contrast (Acts 16:33). Lydia is known for her piety and as “a worshipper of God” (Acts 16:14).

Jailers were notoriously cruel and ruthless. When this man awakens to the doors thrown open by the earthquake, he moves to commit suicide. Though it takes a mighty work of God and an incredible experience of grace to get his attention, the jailer comes to faith.

Paul’s time in Philippi is brief and momentous, but God tightly knit their hearts together. One of the purposes of Philippians is Paul’s expression of gratitude for the support this church has given (Phil. 4:15-16, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”) He goes on to say, “I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18).

But this is not the first time one encounters the name of Ephaphroditus. He is first mentioned at the end of Philippians 2. That chapter contains the incredible hymn which holds up the humble servant nature of Jesus as the model for every believer. Paul urges these Jesus followers to exhibit this mind of Christ. They are to set aside their selfish wills and pursue what is best for others. If their union with Jesus has brought blessings into their lives they are strongly urged to humble themselves like Christ did in his incarnation.

I believe Epaphroditus provides a key to applying Paul’s teaching in the beginning of Philippians 2. When you examine all that is said about this brother in chapters 2 and 4, you find he was sent by the believers in Philippi to Rome, where Paul was under house arrest. He carried a financial gift that the church had gathered when they learned of Paul’s condition. Epaphroditus was actually supposed to remain with the apostle, for a season, but he became extremely ill. Word of this illness reached the believers in Philippi and this caused Epaphroditus grave concern (Phil. 2:26). Due to his illness, this brother “almost died” (Phil. 2:27).

How would your congregation respond if it sacrificed to send one of its own to assist a beloved missionary and your guy had to come home before he could complete his mission? Would there be great disappointment? Would there be members who questioned his faithfulness? Would people welcome him home or would they grumble and complain about his failures? How well do you deal with major disappointments? Are you able to see situations with Jesus’ eyes?

Paul uses an unusual word in Philippians 2:30 that is translated, “risking his life” (NIV). It only appears this one time in all of Scriptures, but is found in other writings. It carries the connotation of a gambler who places his whole life in as the wager for the game of chance. It is as if Paul says, “Epaphroditus was literally ‘all in’ for your sake.” He opened this section by writing, “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (Phil. 2:25).

Though this group of believers would likely feel great disappointment that their messenger had been unable to complete the responsibility they had anticipated, they were to see him as Paul did. Epaphroditus was to be received as a brother. He was to be seen as a fellow-laborer. He was a fellow soldier who had laid it all on the line. Epaphroditus was to be received as a faithful messenger.

Having the mind of Christ will prevent them from grumbling about this brother’s perceived shortcomings. When they consider this situation from his perspective, they will treat him with love, dignity and respect. They get to act like Jesus toward a brother who risked it all.

How do you deal with disappointments in other believers? Do you treat them as Jesus would? Do you treat them as Jesus did when he laid aside his glory to come as a man? Are you willing to die to yourself over these matters?

It sounds strange to admit it, but for years I never saw the connection between the first section of Philippians 2 and the last one. I often preached about having the mind of Christ, but did not recognize that Epaphroditus was going to be the immediate case study for the believers in Philippi. Will they practice the principles to which Paul calls them? How will they receive this brother? Will they greet him warmly and calm his distress? Only if they exhibit the mind of Christ.