Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Counting the cost

Listen to an audio version o f this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/160/16043/16043-88568.mp3

Harry* has a decision to make. A big one. The direction he takes might change history, at least in his town.

It will definitely change his own life forever.

Harry’s town lies in one of the most rigidly traditional parts of the Muslim world. He’s a prosperous and respected businessman, 50ish, his hair and thick mustache mostly gray. He deserves the respect he commands. Unlike some businessmen in his town, Harry doesn’t cheat his customers or gouge the tenants he serves as a landlord.

“Landlords say, ‘Yeah, you fix up the place, you pour your money into it, and I’ll raise the rent on you,’” says an American Christian worker who lives in a house Harry owns. “But he’s not that kind of guy. He’s kept the rent the same for four years. He’s just a good guy.”

With his children growing up and his family well-established, Harry has reached a stage of life when men in his culture grow more introspective and serious about religion. For several years he has talked about going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

In the meantime, however, he has developed a friendship with his American tenant. They’ve talked a lot about spiritual things — from the Islamic festival of sacrifice to the supreme sacrifice Jesus Christ made as atonement for humanity’s sin.

“He started asking some things about our Scriptures, and I just took a shot and brought them out to him one day, the full Scriptures in the local language,” the worker recalls. “He took them home. Two months later he was in 1 Samuel. I asked him why, and he said he’d read from the beginning to 1 Samuel. The next time I saw him he was in Jeremiah, and the next time I saw him he was in the Gospels.

“He’s asked all the [common Muslim] questions of me, like: Why do you call Him the Son of God? How do you get your Scriptures? Did Jesus really die on the cross? I told him at least two or three times the crux of the Gospel, about what it takes to get into heaven, that it is repentance toward God and faith in God’s sacrifice. I didn’t try to ‘close the sale,’ but he knows everything I could say about Jesus, who He is and what He has done. I’ve just got to believe he’s counting the cost because he’s listened to me. He’s been very intent. He’s got to make a decision about who Jesus is.”

What does counting the cost mean for Harry? If he makes a decision to follow Christ — and makes it public — he would likely lose his standing in the community very quickly. His children would lose their opportunities for higher education and good jobs. If a Muslim mullah decided to preach against him during Friday prayers, he could lose his life.

His decision could go either way.

“Actually, the last time I saw him, he didn’t look very good,” his American friend says. “He’d been in a life-threatening car accident and had his arm all bandaged up and in a cast. He looked kind of scared. … I’ve seen a man of this age and stature come into the kingdom and then turn back because there was so much pressure [from the community]. Harry’s saying to himself, ‘Could this really be true? How could I ever become a follower of Jesus?’”

If he follows Christ, he won’t make it alone. Nor should he have to. And as an influential man in his town, he could bring others with him if he shares his faith wisely — perhaps starting with his own family.

“We’re looking for a movement,” says the worker. “We’re not looking for one man of peace who has to weather the whole storm. It’s very hard for one person to do that. But if 12 or 15 or 20 pop up, he has some fellowship. We’ve got to have movements. In places like this, when one guy comes to Christ it’s just hard to stand against a raging flood. You’re trying to go upstream.

“So pray that he will listen to what God is saying and count the cost.”
And pray for all the other Harrys now counting the cost in the Muslim world. There are many of them.

* (Name changed)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The 'disease of Me'

Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/158/15884/15884-87522.mp3

Legendary NBA basketball coach Pat Riley has led multiple teams stocked with superstars, so he knows something about dealing with egos.

He also knows about winning and losing. What prevents potentially great teams from winning championships, in his view? Not lack of size, speed or talent. Rather, they are sabotaged by what Riley calls the “disease of Me.” Selfish stars focus on themselves. They resent others getting any glory. They’re frustrated, even when the team is winning, if things aren’t going their way.

“The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they become part of a team is to sacrifice,” Riley says. “It is much easier to be selfish.”

That pretty much describes the central challenge of the spiritual life. Following Christ requires sacrificing your own agenda. To do that, you have to get your eyes off yourself — and onto Him. You don’t have to be a superstar to struggle with that. As human beings, our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves, our wants and our needs. Others, including the Lord, get the leftovers.

“I start many sentences both out loud and in my heart with the words, ‘I feel like … ,’” admits a missionary in her most recent blog post. “That’s such a dangerous place for me. I’m a feeler and a discerner and many times that gets me in trouble, spiritually speaking. It causes me to presume that things are a certain way and that people think certain things about me. It makes me focus on myself. The enemy loves to use this in my life — to make me forget that it’s not about me at all.”

Why is it so hard to keep our eyes on Jesus? Sometimes it’s because we don’t believe He is enough. We want Him, but we want other things, too. Comfort. Perks. Recognition. Guarantees. Safety and security. Roadmaps. Faith doesn’t work that way.

Brad Bessent, a missions-hearted pastor who has taught me a lot, gets to the heart of the matter in a reflection on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5: “Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to follow Him. The thing is, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were extortionists and hated by everyone. But Jesus says to Levi, ‘I want you.’ He had already assembled a pretty motley crew, a mosaic of people. Fishermen, a leper, a paralytic, all in the same chapter, and now Levi (also called Matthew).

“When Jesus calls, Levi gives up everything to follow Jesus. He was a wealthy man and he left all of that behind him. When you follow Jesus, there is only one guarantee. You are not guaranteed security; you are not guaranteed safety; you are not even guaranteed shelter. All you are absolutely guaranteed is if you follow Jesus, you will get Jesus. So everyone considering becoming a believer has to decide: Is Jesus enough?”

For Levi, Jesus was enough. And he believed Jesus was enough for everyone else. Before leaving all he had to follow the Master, he threw a big party at his house, gathered all his lowlife friends and invited Jesus as the honored guest and center of attention. Levi didn’t say, “Look at me and what I’m doing,” although his friends surely noticed the radical change in his life. Instead, he pointed his friends toward Christ.

Levi has something crucial to teach us today, whether we are reaching out to our own fallen culture or to an unreached people group far away: Jesus is enough, and we must point searching people toward Him alone.

Missionaries learned that truth in a particularly resistant area of Asia that had long been known as a “graveyard of missions.” Christian workers tried again and again to confront the evil practices accepted in the culture, to no avail. They tried to introduce their own customs and values — and failed miserably. At the edge of despair, they remembered Christ’s words: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32, NASB). They stopped cursing the darkness and began lifting up the Light that shines in the darkness. At last, seekers became followers, and a Christian church movement was born.

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t,” John Piper declares. But the most effective form of missions is worship — lifting Christ over all things. “Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. … The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. … ‘Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy’” (Psalm 67:3-4a, KJV).

Culture warriors and social justice seekers, take note. You can battle the encroachments of secularism, humanism, greed and injustice all you want, and you might succeed — for a while. But pasting Christian values onto fallen cultures is like putting makeup on a corpse. Without the transforming power of Christ Himself, Christian social and political movements inevitably falter.

It is a matter of focus. Are your eyes focused on the world, on yourself or on Jesus? Jesus says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9b, NASB).
A great old hymn puts it this way: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”