Monday, June 4, 2018

When Muslims Dream of Jesus

When Muslims Dream of Jesus

Darren Carlson

In 2007, Dudley Woodberry and others published a study that recounted interviews with 750 former Muslims who had converted to evangelical Christianity. Many of the reasons they gave for their conversion would be expected—the love of God, a changing view of the Bible, and an attraction to Christians who loved others. But one reason might come as a surprise: the experience of a dream they believed to be from God. These study results aren’t isolated. Mission Frontiers magazine has reported that out of 600 Muslim converts, 25 percent experienced a dream that led to their conversion. The great missionary Lillias Trotter also reported dreams that drove Muslims to Christ.
But what should we say about the role of dreams and visions in hearing and believing the gospel?

Religion and Dreams

Some Christians are understandably hesitant to accept their legitimacy. Islam started with a vision. So did Mormonism, along with a long list of cults. Critics wonder how we could evaluate such dreams to know if they were true. Others believe that with the presence of Scripture, signs and wonders like dreams are no longer needed. Of course, many Christians are open to dreams and visions, considering them to be revelatory. All of us recognize that the Bible details dreams and visions in both testaments.
While Christians have a variety of approaches to dreams, Muslims—particularly Shia Muslims—are open to dreams being revelatory, due to both cultural (general acceptance) and religious (precedent in the Qur’an) factors. Dreams of Jesus, then, are taken seriously. In recent field work where I interviewed Christian migrants who’d converted from Islam, many reported a dream that led to their conversion. Their experiences of dreams and visions fit into the following categories:
  • Jesus speaking Scripture to them, even Scripture they had never heard before.
  • Jesus telling people to do something.
  • A dream or vision that led to a feeling of being clean or at peace.
  • A man in white physically appearing.
Let me share some examples.

Jesus Speaking Scripture

A friend of mine tells of a Persian migrant who arrived at a refugee center at 6 a.m., visibly upset. He told his story to a Persian pastor: During the night he saw someone dressed in white raise his hand and say, “Stand up and follow me.” The Persian man said, “Who are you?” The man in white replied, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I’m the way to heaven. No one can go to the Father, except through me.”
He began to ask the Persian pastor: “Who is he? What am I going to do? Why did he ask me to follow him? How shall I go? Tell me.”
In response, the pastor held out his Bible and asked, “Have you seen this before?”
“No,” he replied.
“Do you know what it is?”
The pastor then opened to the Book of Revelation: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The man started crying and said, “How can I accept him? How can I follow him?” So the pastor led him in prayer and peace came over him. The pastor then gave the man a Bible and told him to hide it, since the Muslims in the camps could cause him trouble.
But the man replied, “The Jesus that I met today, he’s more powerful than the Muslims in the camp.” He left and an hour later returned with 10 more Persians and told the pastor, “These people want a Bible.” No one had to teach him an evangelistic strategy.

Man in White

Another friend of mine had heard the gospel in Athens, but she struggled to believe. One day she went home despondent, and hid behind the couch in her family’s apartment. She began to pray:
You know what, God? Since I have absolutely no excuse, absolutely none, I have run out of excuses. I don’t know what to do, but following you means I have to deny everything I have believed and everything all of my family, generation after generation, believed. I can’t be in the middle. I have to either follow you or not. I can’t do it myself. It’s just hard to make that step. I need you to help me.
After she prayed, she did not know whether she was awake or asleep, but a man in white walked into the room. Her reaction was to blurt out, “Don’t come close to me. You are holy, and I am a sinner. Do not get close to me.” The man replied, “[Name], I told you, and I tell you again, I am the way and the truth. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That day she believed the gospel and was saved.

Jesus Is the Door

Similarly, there was an elderly Afghan woman that ended up in Athens alone. Her children were still in her home country. Each week she would walk into a ministry center, clearly overwhelmed with the troubles in her world. One Persian pastor had prayed with her many times and explained that the answer to all of her troubles is King Jesus. Like many other Afghans, she was not interested in the gospel. One day the Persian pastor asked, “If God reveals himself to you and shows you the truth, will you follow him?” She just laughed.
A few weeks later she met Jesus.
During the day she walked by the ministry, but no one was there. So she sat down to rest just outside of the door. Suddenly, she saw a bright light coming from behind her, so bright that she covered her eyes. The light was shining brighter than the sun. In front of her she saw a big shadow. Then she heard a voice, speaking in her language, “My daughter, my daughter, the door is open for you. Come!” She replied, “The door is closed!” Again the voice called to her, “I am the Son of God, Jesus. The door is open for you, my daughter. I am the door!”
As she told the story she began trembling, and her heart was pounding as she proclaimed the peace and joy that she experienced since hearing Jesus speak to her. She said, “Many times you [pastor] have encouraged me to pray that God would speak to me. I thought it was blasphemy! But now I know Jesus is alive.”
After talking to the pastor, she took some Bibles and began giving them to other people, insisting they must read the book.

Jesus Giving Instructions

There was a family in Kurdistan where each member of the household had a separate dream that they should cross the river the next day to find living water. The next day, without hesitation, they all went, and someone gave them a Bible.
They still had that Bible when they came to Europe.

Feeling of Peace or Cleansing

The husband of a woman I know became a Christian. He had gone to Greece, but she was still in Iran. He would call her from the refugee camp nearly every day to share the gospel with her. She decided she would need to get a divorce, since she couldn’t be married to a Christian and remain a good Muslim. So she decided to look up all the verses in the Qur’an about Jesus.
She was shocked to find him there, which then led her to find a Bible. One day, reading the Bible she recounted, “I was in my room alone, and the whole room became white and I felt completely clean. At that moment, through trusting in Jesus, I became a Christian.”

Walked on Water

There was family on a boat with other migrants traveling from Turkey to Athens. On the way they lost their 7-year-old daughter into the water. Everyone in the crowded boat was looking for her but couldn’t find her. Suddenly, she appeared on the other side of the boat, saying over and over, “A man who walked on the water took me and brought me to the other side of the boat.” The parents dismissed her words as silly.
Upon arriving on the island of Lesbos, they met a Christian who made a fire and offered to talk to them. That day, without knowing what happened, he asked if they would like to know about a God who walked on water. They started crying.
The man had never used that illustration in evangelism, but that morning he felt like he had to. They asked him, “Who are you?” to which he replied, “I’m a Christian.” They said, “What do you mean ‘walk on the water’?” He opened the Bible and read the story of Jesus walking on the water. They continued crying. “Our daughter fell off the boat,” they explained. “We thought she was crazy because she was dry on the other side. We didn’t understand it. But she kept saying, ‘It was a man who walked on the water that took me to the other side.’”

What Shall We Say?

Those who recounted their dreams truly believed they were from God, enough that it was part of their story of converting from Islam to evangelical Christianity. The social cost for many was quite high. Some leaders who told dream stories were genuinely encouraged by the dreams, and often prayed for unbelieving Muslims to experience a dream or vision of Jesus.
It’s not always that simple, though. In some cases the trustworthiness of the person telling the story was called into question. One Afghan friend told me, “Sometimes people say they have a dream, and it’s just some crazy story. Sometimes I believe they read something, and they have a dream. We need to be careful of that. Many are lazy in waiting for dreams.”
A U.S. short-term team came to Athens and held up Greek signs in a park: “We will interpret your dreams.” Later that day they came to a pastor and said they’d led 14 people to Christ that afternoon and wanted to pass them off to the pastor. The team left with a great story. No one ever saw those people in a church.
Instead of dreams, one Persian pastor encouraged people to read the Bible. “I get tired of people who will not read the Bible and are just waiting for a dream. They have it backward. They just need the Bible.” He exhibited a healthy skepticism. Some were converting because of dreams, but others were making up stories to fit in. Others were telling a dream story they had heard somewhere else to prove they were Christians in order to get asylum. Sadly, some ranked testimonies based on whether or not the person had a dream.
Where the Spirit moves, Satan distorts and distracts. But we can rejoice in the powerful work of God in the world and trust the sufficiency of the preached gospel to save sinners.
As I have pondered the legitimacy of these dreams, I have been drawn to passages like Matthew 12:22–36, where the validity of Jesus’s own ministry was questioned. Would Satan cast out Satan? Would he give dreams filled with Scripture, pointing to Jesus, that ultimately lead to conversion and purity? I doubt it. The Spirit is still on the move, saving his people from among the nations. Of course Satan tries to attack and muddle what is real, but this should cause us to be discerning, not dismissive.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

a few thoughts...

Every cell in your body, every neuron in your brain, is either male in its genetic makeup (XY) or female (XX).  Neither words, hormones, nor scalpels can change these and many other objective and sex-linked facts about you that you did not choose, that were handed to you at the first instant that you became you—at the instant of conception. No existential desire, personal preference, cosmetic camouflage, hormonal infusion, or tissue-destroying surgery alters – or can alter — that reality – these techniques can only distort it. On the surface, sex can be superficially obfuscated; it cannot be obliterated.
The gender confused person seeks to impose upon and overbear the conscience of all others. The confused person is insisting that others pretend he or she is a different sex and that they thereby participate in or become complicit in this person’s confusion.  The people refusing to employ the wrong pronoun in constrast however are not similarly insisting that the confused person use the proper reality-based pronoun. Rather, those people are simply standing on reality and conscience and aligning their vocabulary with those choices, a position perfectly consistent with human flourishing and liberty—and a Christian ethic. --Jeffery J. Ventrella

Transformation occurs as the contents of the heart are changed. Transformation across a series of decisions occurs when we do things that the Holy Spirit uses to alter the contents of our hearts. He alters it radically in conversion, and then steadily over the course of our sanctification through the various means of grace that He has appointed. --Doug Wilson

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hodge Podge for Jan 2018

If God should have no more mercy on us than we have charity to one another, what would become of us? —Thomas Fuller

The Bible is authoritative in regard to everything it addresses, and it addresses everything. --Van Til

I have put my soul, as a blank, into the hands of Jesus Christ my Redeemer, and desired Him to write upon it what he pleases. I know it will be His own image. — George Whitefield

A culture that is “spiritual but not religious”–made up of people who have mystical impulses but reject the existing organized religions–is a fertile ground for the introduction of new religions. --gv

A commitment to holiness means having a life that is always ready for company and open for inspection. —Nancy Leigh DeMoss

If we, including our very Lord, are called to live "not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from God's mouth," and if we must know that word in order to live by it, and if we cannot know it without reading it, we must read the word intensively and extensively to live as we should before God. --Andrew Sandlin
To say that some matter is too little to pray about is to say it's too little for God to care about. This is borderline blasphemy. The God who counts every human hair and sees every falling sparrow cares about every single detail of our lives. --Andrew Sandlin

those who claim the Lord's Supper is a simple memorial (a mental exercise recalling what Jesus did) would never say that a marriage is a simple memorial. A real transformation takes place in partaking.

“Gathered worship is our weekly celebration of victory that the war is won, that our enemy's head is crushed, and that our future is secure in our returning and conquering king.” —Burk Parsons

If we do not have the power of God in our lives, it may be because we are denying it; it may well be that we do not want God to interfere too much with our lifestyle.

You can have true Christian churches that don’t baptize the right way. You can have real Christian churches that sing the wrong kind of songs. You can have genuine Christian churches that have adopted unedifying forms of church government. But you can’t have Christian churches that have the wrong God. And biblical marriage is one of the creationally-established and central confessions of faith concerning the nature of God.--D Wilson
Male and female, man and woman—this is one of the central places we must look if we are to remember—as we must remember—that the triune God created the world. Not surprisingly, for those who would not have the triune God rule over them, this is the emblem that they must eradicate. The devil is playing the long game, and he is seeking to undo the great accomplishments of the early ecumenical councils, principally Nicea. He is attacking the symbol of our God as embodied in the Creed by attacking the image of our God as embodied in the marriage covenant.

To say that we are sorry for our sins is mere hypocrisy, unless we show that we are really sorry for them, by giving them up. —J. C. Ryle

Biblical change is not the absence of struggles but the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles. —Christopher Yuan

It is impossible to secure rights on the basis of an atheistic conception of man as a mere fact; yet human beings sense that they are something more. Science rejects those feelings of transcendence, even while politics places its whole trust in them. Atheistic anthropology is stuck in this dilemma, which it cannot solve. --Vladimir Solovyev

We cannot too much cultivate that spirit of love which disposes us to believe and hope the best we can of others. — John Newton

Remember, this is an inescapable concept. It is not whether but which. It is not whether a society will be theocratic, but rather which Theos (God, god) the theocratic society will have. It is not whether we will impose a morality, but rather which morality we will impose. It is not whether we will have blasphemy laws, but rather which blasphemy laws we will have. --dw

We must not allow our emotions to hold sway over our minds. Rather, we must seek to let the truth of God rule our minds. Our emotions must become subservient to the truth. —Jerry Bridges

Those who have been justified are now being sanctified; those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified. —F.F. Bruce

If whatever is not of faith is sin, if it is not possible to please God without faith, and if faith is nourished in expectation, not to live in expectation in all of life is sin. Simply put: The normal Christian life is one of unremitting expectation of God's working in our lives and in the world. --Andrew Sandlin

T. S. Eliot poem that says we travel, in part, to return home and “know the place for the first time.”

It grieves me to say this, but the primary reason people are in bondage to sin is because people are bored with God. One of Satan’s most effective tactics is to convince us that God is a drag. —Sam Storms

When you combine African-American and Hispanic women you have only about ¼ of the female population in our country. Yet these two groups account for 57% of the abortions performed. Every day in America 1,300 black babies and 700 Hispanic babies are killed in America. Every day in America nearly 3,300 babies of all races are killed in America. --SS

Gathered worship is our weekly celebration of victory that the war is won, that our enemy’s head is crushed, and that our future is secure in our returning and conquering king. —Burk Parsons

Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation. —John Stott
the man who planted trees

The community of the saints is not an "ideal" community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God's forgiveness. Sanctification means driving out the world from the Church as well as separating the Church from the world. But the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A False Dichotomy of Love and Hate

Christians, it turns out, are given a choice. One option is to approve of people satisfying same-sex desires through sexual contact. If Christians do that, they are believed to love LGBT people. The other option is to affirm Jesus’ teaching that sexual activity is reserved for a married man and woman (Matt. 19:1–4). If they do that, then Christians are allegedly hateful towards LGBT people. It’s a tiresome, false dichotomy.

I read an article where the author suggests that kids will either grow up believing that LGBT people are “absolutely as worthwhile and worthy of love and respect as anyone” or believing their parent’s religious tenets that LGBT people are “awful.”

Really? Are those the only two options? I know that article is just one example, but I see this thinking a lot (both in person and in print). We either approve of what someone does (somehow signaling we love them) or we hate them and they’re awful.

But here’s what the Christian faith has taught for two millennia. All human beings—including those who identify as LGBT—are made in the image of God, and are the pinnacle of God’s creation (Gen. 1:27). Like every person on the planet, they are to be treated with love, dignity, and respect. Period.

Let me briefly unpack that. If LGBT people are made in God’s image, then they bear the hallmark trait that justifies their equality with every other human being. That’s incredibly amazing and good. If LGBT people are made in God’s image, then they are to be respected as such in and of themselves. There’s nothing they can say or do to eliminate that. That’s also amazing and good. If they are the pinnacle of God’s creation, then they are the highest form of creation. Again, good stuff!

That’s what my “religious tenets” (to use the author’s words) teach me to believe about LGBT people.

Notice, there’s no “LGBT people are awful” doctrine, teaching, or implication. If they are awful, they are awful in the same way that any person is awful. That is, they are people who have committed crimes against God and deserve to be punished. But the Bible teaches every person on the planet deserves to be punished (Rom. 3:9–10). They are guilty just like every other person.

Though that certainly sounds like bad news (for everyone), the good news is that God loves His creation and declares people (including LGBT) are redeemable. Because of His grace, He is willing to offer a pardon. That applies equally and in the same way to LGBT people and to every other person on the planet who receives that grace. There’s no distinction between people. It’s the same grace and the same amount of grace offered to all.

Do you see a pattern? LGBT people are equally His image, equally guilty, and are candidates for God’s grace as any other person on the planet who receives that grace.

When the author of the article says he wishes that children of religious parents would grow up believing that LGBT people are to be treated with love, dignity, and respect, that’s no problem. That’s what our religious convictions affirm (at least for Christians).

Where the author and many others seem to get confused is when they learn of an additional teaching conveyed by Christ: Sexual contact can only occur between a married man and woman. That, somehow, translates to “Christians believe LGBT people are awful.”

Yes, it’s true that people who have sex with others of the same sex are violating Jesus’ teaching. That does not mean we think people who do so are awful. It means their behavior is sin and they are guilty of sin, but it is not a statement about how LGBT people deserve to be hated by Christians. They are still to be treated with love, dignity, and respect as anyone else is. We’re still commanded to love them.

The same is true of boyfriends and girlfriends who have sex (fornication). They are also violating Jesus’ sexual ethic. They are also guilty of sin. They are also to be treated with love, dignity, and respect as anyone else is. We’re commanded to love them too. The same is true of any person who violates Jesus’ teaching on sex or any other moral principle found in Scripture.

Now, are there some people who believe LGBT people are awful, and not to be loved and respected? Yes. In fact, I’ve met a few. After speaking at a church on this subject, one man confided in me and told me about his genuine homophobia. That is wrong, and I told him. Most Christians I speak to, though, aren’t like him. They express their frustration to me that though they love their LGBT friend or family member and treat them with respect, they’re told they’re being hateful because of their adherence to Jesus’ teaching on sexuality.

That’s why the dichotomy presented so often in this discussion is a false dichotomy. There’s another option. We can recognize that people who violate Jesus’ sexual ethic in scripture are committing sin and are not awful. We can acknowledge that people sin and are still to be treated with love, dignity, and respect. What a concept! Most Christians I know personally do this every day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Greatness of Giving Thanks

There are 13 letters from Paul in the New Testament, and in 9 of them he explicitly gives thanks for the recipients of the letter (Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4-8; Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3-5; Col. 1:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; 2 Thess. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 1:3-5; Phm. 4-5). The only exceptions are 2 Corinthians (where he jumps in with a word of comfort), 1 Timothy and Titus (for whom he implicitly gives thanks), and Galatians (who were in danger of apostasy). The mighty apostle Paul was a man marked by gratitude.

Paul did not have an easy life. He was beaten, slandered, misunderstood, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned, and opposed by someone almost everywhere he went. Nevertheless, he was profoundly grateful. Being grateful has little to do with your circumstances. Sure, it’s easier to be happy when everything is coming up roses, but we’ve all known people who seem to have everything, and yet are terrifically unhappy. Conversely, we all know people who seem to find hidden blessings in every trial. Grumbler or thanks-giver: we really do have a choice.

Think of the godliest people you know, the saints you most respect, the ones you want to be like when you grow up, the believers you want to emulate and imitate. Almost certainly, the people you are thinking of are thankful people. Cynics and critics may be celebrated on social media and on late-night television, but they do not make great heroes of the faith.

Despite his many earthly reasons to complain, Paul was constantly giving thanks to God—and not mainly for food or health or safety (though all are worth remembering), but for triumphs of the gospel.
Look at the beginning of Paul’s letter and notice what he gives thanks for in the churches.
  1. Have gave thanks for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
  2. He gave thanks for their love for all the saints (Ephesians, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon).
  3. He gave thanks for their steadfastness, especially in trials (1, 2 Thessalonians).
  4. He gave thanks for their spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians).
  5. He gave thanks for their partnership in the gospel (Philippians).
  6. He gave thanks for their history and mutual affection (2 Timothy).
It’s quite a list, especially when I consider the things that I’m most naturally thankful for (my family, a house, a job, good health, safe travel, nice holidays). These are all gifts from God too. There is no shame in thanking God for a million different things. After all, every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:17). But Paul’s list reminds us of the greatest gifts: gospel faith, gospel partnerships, and gospel victories.

As most Americans gather around the table this Thursday, take a moment to put on your apostle Paul hat and share what gospel graces you are thankful for. And while you’re at it, think about the friends and family you’d love to be like. Chances are they are overflowing with gratitude, even more than they are overflowing with turkey and stuffing.