Lunch With Islam, My Confession
Yesterday I had lunch with Islam. Accepting the invitation of Ashfaq Taufique, President of the Birmingham Islamic Society, a leader from our church and I spent a few hours of our midday at the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center. It was a day of firsts. According to our hosts I was the first Southern Baptist pastor to ever visit the center. For me it was the first time I had ever eaten anything curry. It was the first time I had ever been inside an Islamic Mosque. It was the first time I had ever carried on a meaningful conversation with anyone Muslim.
Eating something curry for the first time gives me yet another possibility of something one can do to mask the natural taste of chicken. I am fully convinced that God gave us chickens for eggs and so that their meat may serve as carriers for an array of international condiments and flavorings. Going to the mosque for the first time gives me yet another culture credit that I so desperately need. I am still determined to avoid the opera. Being 37, a follower of Christ since age 19, and a pastor for 14 years, and this being the first meaningful conversation with anyone Muslim, of this I am ashamed.
Our hosts were extremely hospitable. The conversation was friendly and enlightening. They allowed me to ask about anything related to Islam. We talked doctrine. We talked politics. We talked terrorism. None of their answers were surprising, yet I did find most all of the conversation enlightening. I confess that I have had several misgivings and misunderstandings of Islam. These men were of great benefit to me in helping me understand their faith and to separate fact from fiction. Some issues I had with Islam were answered, others, more doctrinal in nature, were not. I will share more of the doctrinal nuances from week to week in our current Wednesday night series “Investigating Islam.” Yet, for the purpose of blogging I want to digest what I learned yesterday from a perspective that challenges my own faith, Christianity, as well as others who subscribe to it.
The men I fellowshipped with yesterday were intelligent, articulate, and deeply devoted to their faith. In conversation they demonstrated to me that they have a fully integrated Islamic worldview. What they believed about Allah/God dictated every facet of their lives, the way they process information, their opinions, and their daily practices. One of the gentlemen at the table had committed the entire Quran to memory. They pray five times a day. They are committed to helping others understand their faith. They were well versed on the Bible and could hold a scholarly conversation about its teachings and translation. They had a great working knowledge of church history, world history, and politics. They love their families and their neighbors. They were apologists for their faith par excellence.
When I thought about them, their sense of devotion, dedication to study in all realms of life, their determination and patience to help me understand what they believed; and by comparison, when I thought about most of the people who claim the name of Christ, I grieved.
If these are the men that represent Allah, I do not fear them because they are terrorists – I found them to be nothing of the sort. They condemned terrorism resoundingly. I fear them because they know so much about what we say we believe, but about which we do very little. Given the opportunity to converse with most of our congregation, with most Christians, I am afraid that these men could easily shake the foundations of their faith. And we are to evangelize them – seriously? We are broadly ignorant of what we say we believe. Most Christians fail to have a working understanding of Scripture to the point that they could defend it against an above average intellectual challenge. Most cannot articulate what exactly it is they say they believe. Naturally then, when it comes to living truth, in a world that offers us above average moral and ethical challenges, we fail miserably.
Two weekends ago we had 500 people on our campus on Sunday. The following weekend we had a Bible conference – 7 hours – we had 60 people in attendance. One of our members, at lunch on Saturday, stated it eloquently, “We are not asking for 7 hours of their weekend, but 7 hours of their year – we only do this once a year.” We are not devoted to our faith, to study, or to its practice. Most people who claim to know Christ do not have a Christian worldview. Most are secularists, materialists, pluralists, and/or hedonists who give God a few hours on Sunday and call it worship. We memorize no Scripture, practice no semblance of Scripture meditation, and think fasting is a four letter word. Because we are so Biblically illiterate we are gluttons of a decadent culture, gullible to its lies, and drunk on the world.
The men of Islam put the followers of Christ to shame.
I have never posted so strong a message on my blog, yet God has opened my eyes over the last few weeks to my glaring lack of dedication and worship. Yesterday I had lunch at a Mosque. Two weeks ago I attended Shabot service at a Jewish synagogue. In digesting these visits, I am struck by the way Jews and Muslims both equate worship to obedience. We, Baptists, equate worship to a song set on Sunday morning. For the Jews, worship does not end with the Shabot service, it continues into the evening meal and into the morning. For most Baptists, the greatest desire for worship is that it end before lunch. For Muslims and Jews, worship is every day, every act. Life is worship. Worship is life. To worship is to revere God and to remember Him. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 reads:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Christians often criticize Jews and Muslims for having a seemingly empty, rote, ritualistic form of worship. But the proper question for us would be that if we do not do these things, how can we possibly say we believe? James asks the same question in his epistle – read it! If we do not teach our children the Word of God in our homes, how can we possibly say we love God, remember Him, revere Him, or worship Him? Muslims stop five times a day to pray. Most Christians do not dedicate five minutes of the day to prayer. If we do not give ourselves to learning His Word, memorizing it, and learning how to practice it in daily life how can we say we love God? Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you (Luke 6:46)?” If Christ is not our worldview – how can we say we have been born again? Are we saved? If we are so inundated with the culture we must ask, “Saved from what?” These Muslim men live a distinctly different way of life. They are diligent, devoted, and disciplined. Christians are called to practice the faith in such a way that it leads to a distinctive way of life, to a distinctive life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3-11). We are not distinct from the culture. Instead we have been assimilated into it.
I am thankful for the hospitality and friendship these Muslim men have extended to me. I want them to know Jesus as the Son of God, Redeemer, and Savior of the World. But I understand now, more than ever, what Jesus meant when he said that if the salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless and will be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Matthew 5:13). My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, at this point, if we do not repent of our sin and return to truly following Christ what we are calling Muslim men and women to is not salvation, but moral compromise. I accept responsibility. I am an under shepherd of Jesus. I repent before everyone who reads this today, and before my God. May there be no mistake that the rest of my life is lived in Christ.