3 Stories of

My phone seems to blow up daily with news of yet another horrific terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Each new atrocity births endless socio-political pontification on how to end the violence, from dropping bombs, to building walls, to endeavoring to understand and appease the hatred of the killers.

These are scary times. Yet from the shadows of 24-hour fear-filled news cycle emerge three hope-filled stories. Stories that won’t be celebrated by the masses, but stories that illuminate the only Solution to the underlying problem. It’s not “the culture of the West is better than the culture of the rest.”  It’s not Christian moralism trumping Islamic moralism. It’s not our version of self-righteousness finally defeating theirs.

It’s the transforming work of the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promised work of His Holy Spirit in the lives of broken people humble enough to surrender themselves to a holy and loving Power greater than themselves. The Gospel isn’t just something “they” need, it’s something we all need. It’s not just healing for “them,” it’s healing for me, too. This is how we fight radical terrorism.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
–Ephesians 6:12

These 3 stories come directly from friends on the ground in the Arab World. I wrote them down exactly as they were shared with me. No extra details and no embellishment. When the news sends chills down your spine, remember that the Gospel is at work in this world. Here’s some proof that true hope has nothing to do with which party wins the next presidential cycle.

Backstory:

Eight years ago, there was a man connected to Hamas who worked in the mosque as a librarian. His job was to approve every book that found it’s way into any of the mosque libraries. Through a series of events, he gave his life to Christ and was discipled by one of the workers in his city. He began to share his newfound faith with his muslim friends, and slowly many of them also became believers in Jesus.

As their numbers grew, they used the same organization techniques he learned as a member of Hamas, formulating groups of no more than 6 people. Those six did not know who the other six were so that if one group was compromised, the underground church could still continue to flourish and grow. These small groups meet weekly, not in hiding, but in the open courtyards of the community mosques all over the city! They sit in study groups, they talk about the bible, they take up an offering, and they give it to whichever one of their members is most in need.

They call themselves the “Jesus-ites,” and they are slowly reaching critical mass. Last year, they baptized 140 new believers. And this year, they’ve already baptized over 300. Altogether there are close to 500 believers in this Middle Eastern city. It is out of that context that the following three stories have unfolded.

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Story 1:

This group is becoming very bold in their witness and has begun passing out bibles in the streets of their community. One day, a radical muslim approached one of the believers, grabbed the bible from his hand, and began ripping out the pages. As he’s throwing the pages into the air, his arm freezes above his head. Stuck. He can’t pull it back to himself.

More than a little freaked out, he takes off for home (with his arm still stuck in the air) and the believers follow him. When they get to his house, they offer to pray for him with the understanding he will declare that Jesus is God and forsake Islam if God heals him. And that’s exactly what happened.

The believers want to baptize him in his bathtub but he declines, declaring “I disgraced Jesus publicly by tearing up that bible in the street, I must profess him publicly as well.” So they walk back into the center of the city, find an old tub, use buckets to fill it with water, and baptize him in the center of this strict Muslim city.

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Story 2:

A young man shares his newfound faith with a man in his community. The man gets so violently angry he beats the young Christian and kills him. The believers gather together to discuss how they are going to respond to the death of one of their own. They set out as a group for the old man’s house, grab him, and tie him to one of the cement pillars in the center of his house (I don’t recommend this). Then, one by one, they force him to listen to the testimonies of how each of them came to Christ. The man is violently angry, spitting and yelling at them as they speak (but hey, where is he going to go?).

When they were finished, they untied him and left. But the next day they returned, laid hands on him and prayed, and the man gives his heart to Jesus. Now he is one of the believers in the underground church.

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Story 3:

A woman and her grown son from this same community come to Jesus. The husband comes home one day to find his wife listening to a chanting of the New Testament story of Christ in their home. In his anger, he begins to beat her. His grown son intervenes, but in his fury the father throws him against the wall, he hits his head on the concrete, and falls to the floor unconscious.

The mother rushes to the aid of her son, but as she’s bent over his body her husband grabs her from behind and attempts to slit her throat with a butcher knife from the kitchen. In the struggle he misses, yet still slices her chest from clavicle to clavicle. The neighbors hear the commotion and intervene. They take the woman and her son to the hospital, and the father to the authorities.

At the police station, the man simply states that his wife had become a christian and they let him go. No further questions asked. At the hospital, they stitch the woman up, and the believers once again gather to decide what they are going to do.

So they get a copy of the Gospel chanting the woman had been listening to, put it into printed form, and head to the hospital to visit the woman as she is recovering. While there, they begin going from hospital room to hospital room disbursing the message to each muslim patient and asking, “does someone deserve to have their throat cut for this teaching of Jesus?”

The woman recovers, but when she’s released she does not feel safe going back to her husband. Yet she feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit to forgive him for what he has done, and to share that forgiveness with him. So she goes to visit him and says, “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did. I love you, our son loves you, and Jesus loves you.” And then she leaves.

Without collusion, her son also visits his father and also says, “dad, I want you to know that what you did was wrong, but I forgive you. I love you, mom loves you, and Jesus loves you.” 

That same night, the man had a dream. Jesus appeared to him and said, “you wife loves you, your son loves you, and I love you.”

The man gave his heart to Christ, was reconciled with his family, and is now a member of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion:

It’s taken 8 years, but the seeds of the Gospel are beginning to grow in this spiritually arid land. Regardless of what you see in the media, never question that God is at work around the world. You can’t stop the message of Jesus.

Our dog is an idiot.

If it isn’t bad enough that this 6 pound Yorkshire Terrier wears pants to keep him from hiking his leg on anything bigger than he is (which is basically everything), last night he decided to hold a 20 minute licking session with his back right foot on the blanket where I sleep. Here I am, still recovering from my DST hangover, and this stupid canine decides to create a puddle of slobber for me to lay in.

I lost my mind.

As the dog scurried to hide himself on my wife’s (dry) side of the bed, she got a good late-night laugh at my expense.

Why do we let animals live in our homes? (Alas, that question is for another post).

The truth is, I had some unresolved angst living inside of me last night that had nothing to do with the dog – some stress from work and the weight of a few heavy circumstances that were poking at the broken places and insecurities inside of me. Add fatigue to the potion, and the dog gets blasted for a silly and unintentional offense.

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The problem was inside of me, but I needed somewhere else to lay the blame. Something outside of myself. Dogs are good for that.

As silly as it may sound, this story is a microcosm of our human condition. Our fallen instincts scream at us to look outside of ourselves for the source of our issues.

Poor leaders.

Oppressive culture.

Intolerance.

Family of origin issues.

“If ‘they’ were just better, I would be better!”

And those same instincts challenge us to search inside of ourselves for the solution.

More courage!

The pursuit of happiness.

Self-love.

Self-expression.

“I will make my own way in this world!”

And while all of these things may have some merit, this worldview helps us dodge the root problem that is at play. As usual, the Gospel turns our human assumptions on their head. 

The primary source of my issues resides inside of me:

Sin.

Sin is a virus that infects every aspect of our lives with self-absorption, self-obsession, and self-worship. It puts me at the center and everything and everyone else (including God) in my orbit. It’s the root of everything ugly and broken, and I am incapable of remedying it on my own.

The only Solution is outside of me:

The Gospel offers us wholeness as a gift. It’s given from the outside, not conjured up from the inside. The finished work of Jesus Christ clothes us in redemption. All I have to do is give up. Stop blaming. Stop striving. Stop trying to be my own savior. Stop pointing at everyone and everything else.

This is Good News, but it takes humility to truly hear it.

The brokenness is inside. The Answer is outside.

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming the dog.

I like to worry.

In fact, when I have nothing to worry about, I get worried. And like clockwork my fruitful imagination conjures up a awesomely terrifying possibility to fill the void.

Worry comes naturally to some more than others. I seem to have a gift for it. I may be a worry prodigy.

There are some genuinely scary things in this world (some of them are running for office right now), and I’ve had some good friends remind me that there are serious disorders out there – PTSD, clinical depression, those that have been devastated by horrific trauma – that are above simple platitudes and Facebook meme solutions. But for the rest of us who just like to keep a good fear or two in our back pocket for immediate access, here are 3 simple steps that just might help you shed the worry-bug.

3 Steps forDefeating Worry

When you start to worry:

  1. Pause. Fear and worry multiply faster than rabbits. When your mind starts to race with fearful future possibilities, the first step is to press the pause button. The longer the fear-story plays, the scarier it gets. Fear is a master storyteller, but we don’t have to help write the script. First step: press pause.
  2. Remember. Part of worship is remembering. In fact, much of our sin is rooted in forgetting who God is and what He has done (ask the Israelites who roamed the desert for 40 years after they forgot God’s presence and provision in rescuing them from Egypt). We obsess over our “unknown future,” because we don’t know if God will do things the way we want them done. It’s self-obsession and control. We may not know what He WILL DO, but we can see what he HAS DONE – in our individual lives, but also in the ultimate finished work of Jesus.

    “But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.”
    –Psalm 77:11-12

    Remembering is a powerful practice.

  3. Worship. Let these memories fuel your worship. Take time to elevate God to His rightful place. As Pastor Jack Miller says, “Praise is a form of sanity where you suspend thoughts of the future and dwell in the eternal now, lifting up God as the center.” And when we do, His presence draws near! Here’s a little secret, we don’t fight fear and worry, we DROWN them in God’s presence. God never promised us a life free of difficulty (in fact, he promised quite the opposite), but He did promise to never leave or forsake us. He promised to be with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Sure, the future may be scary. The unknowns might be ugly. What is yet to be written might not unfold according to our script. But God is good, and He promised to always be with me if I’ll only let Him. He promised that ALL THINGS would work together for the good of those who love HIm. That’s a pretty good bet if you ask me.

Pause. Remember. Worship.

Drown it, don’t fight it. This is a powerful strategy for worry-warts like me to embrace the unknown future.

We wrapped up our four week series on Faith & Work at The Point by casting a renewed “gospel-vision” for our work. We understand that the Gospel reconciles and redeems our spiritual lives, but can it really do the same for our everyday work, too? Short answer: YES!

The Gospel gives us a new WHY for our work, a new PERCEPTION for our work, a new COMPASS for our work, and a new POWER for our work. This is incredibly good news! Check it out:

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We continued the conversation on Faith & Work at The Point Church this week by looking at the ways work exposes our idolatry. What, you don’t think you worship idols? Yeah, me either. But I was wrong (and so are you).

Understanding how idolatry impacts our individual lives and our culture as a whole is a complete game-changer. See if you can find yourself somewhere in this message. I sure did.

It’s time to destroy the idols. Here’s how:

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