Are You In Pain? Alhamdulillah. Praise God. Thank God.

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“. . .in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you. . .” (The Injil, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NASB)
“. . .give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you. . .” (The Injil, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you. . .” (The Injil, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, TLB)

In everyone’s life there are times of pain.

Sometimes. . .this pain can be unbearable. A nightmare. Beyond what one could have imagined. Nothing could have prepared you for it.

Our responses vary but the question in this blog post is:

“What kind of response would please God in times of great pain?”

There is a story in the Injil about two men who suffered greatly for God, for Isa (the Book of Acts, chapter 16). Their names are Paul and Silas and they were incredibly devoted followers of Isa – Jesus. It was their greatest longing and purpose in life to travel far and wide to tell people about him. Not everyone was happy about their message of repentance. Here is the story of one such occasion. Think about the pain Paul and Silas were in and their response:

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The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.”

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What a story! Paul and Silas had to have been in great, great physical and emotional pain in that terrible dungeon (probably damp, dark, filthy, rat-infested) but what did they do?

Complain to each other and the other prisoners?
Curse the guard and swear that they were innocent?
Lash out at God for letting this horrible beating happen?

No, they prayed and they praised.

They actually thanked God in their pain.

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You see, they believed several essential truths:

* God is never asleep or distracted or too busy to know what is going on in our lives
* He is aware of our suffering and He cares about it – He cares deeply
* God is not only aware but He rules – He is both loving and in control
* In painful times, there is purpose and meaning in our suffering
* Thanking and praising God in painful times tells Him that we love and trust Him.

Are you in pain right now? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?

Do you feel abandoned by God? You can’t hear Him or see Him or find Him?

Do you feel confused? Afraid?

Alhamdulillah. Praise God. Thank God.

When you have this reaction, it doesn’t mean that you enjoy suffering or that you have a fatalistic approach to life.

It means that you trust God. It means that you have ultimate faith in His power, wisdom, and love.

When you have this reaction in the painful storms of life, I believe that his heart is supremely blessed.

He knows He has someone who truly loves and trusts Him.

So I say today. . .by faith. . .

Alhamdulillah. Praise You, God. Thank You, God.

Will you join me?

Postscript: dear Muslim friends, while it is vitally important for us as Muslims and Christians to talk about the significant differences we have (such as how to get to Paradise – a huge issue!), it is also important for us to talk about what we have in common.

Thanking and praising God is something we can enthusiastically agree upon and use to build bridges between us for further discussion about who God is, why Jesus came to the earth and. . .how we can get to the place we all want to go – Paradise!

So. . .let’s talk!

Is Everything Going Wrong? Alhamdulillah! Thank God!

Dear Muslim and Christian friends,

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Sometimes, it just feels like everything is going wrong, doesn’t it?

So. . .what do you do?

Allow yourself to get very anxious where your nerves are on edge and your stomach is upset?

Do you complain or whine about how bad your life is (to yourself or to others)?

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Do you get angry with people or with God?

Fall into self-pity or even depression?

You could do those things or. . .you could do something that confuses (some) people but really pleases God: you could praise Him. You could thank Him. You could say, “Alhamdulillah!” (for you non-Muslims, this is Arabic for “thanks to God,” “praise God”)

I Thessalonians 5:18 in the Bible says,

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There was once a prophet who heard from God that everything was about to fall apart in his country. Everything was going to go horribly wrong:

an evil invading army was going to bring violence, destruction, calamity.

But this was his response to what God told him (we can all learn from it):
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“I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled. . .

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior
.”

(Habakkuk 3:16-18)

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How about you?

When everything is going wrong, what is your response? What do you do? What do you say?

If we say,Alhamdulillah,” if we say “Praise the Lord” or “Thank the Lord,” God is supremely pleased. It tells him that we trust Him. It tells Him that we believe that He knows best and is in loving control of our lives.

“I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips” (written by Dawud – David – in the Zabur – the Psalms, chapter 34, verse 1).

Is everything going wrong? “Alhamdulillah!” Thank God!

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Postscript: dear Muslim friends, while it is vitally important for us as Muslims and Christians to talk about the significant differences we have (such as how to get to Paradise – a huge issue!), it is also important for us to talk about what we have in common.

Thanking and praising God is something we can enthusiastically agree upon and use to build bridges between us for further discussion about who God is, why Jesus came to the earth and. . .how we can get to the place we all want to go – Paradise!

So. . .let’s talk!

Always Say, “Alhamdulillah!” Always Say, “Praise to God!” Always Say, “Thanks to God!”

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My Muslim friends, there is a practice you have that I truly enjoy, very much admire, and heartily appreciate. When I ask how you are (“Keef halak?” for men, or “Keef halik?” for women), you always answer the same wonderful way:

Alhamdulillah.” (“praise to God” or “thanks to God”)

You always. . .give thanks. . .to God!

I love it!

Did you know that the Bible also encourages followers of Jesus to always praise God, to always give Him thanks? No matter what. In every situation.

Here are a few verses about that:

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 18, NLT).

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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verse 4).

Let us follow the example of a man loved by both Muslims and Christians – (David):

“I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises” (the Zabur – the Psalms, chapter 34, verse 1).

“I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever. . .I will praise you every day; yes, I will praise you forever” (the Zabur – the Psalms, chapter 145, verses 1-2).

Whether you call yourself a Muslim or a Christian, are you praising and thanking God today?

All day?

No matter what?

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Postscript: dear Muslim friends, while it is vitally important for us as Muslims and Christians to talk about the significant differences in our respective faiths (such as how to get to Paradise – a huge issue!), it is also important for us to talk about what we have in common.

Thanking and praising God is something we can enthusiastically agree upon and use to build bridges between us for further discussion about who God is, why Jesus came to the earth and. . .how we can get to the place we all want to go – Paradise!

Happy New Year To All My Muslim Friends Around The World

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Dear Muslim friends,

I pray for each of you to have a wonderful New Year:

* may you see God more clearly than ever before
* may you understand who God is more than you ever have
* may you know how much God loves you and what He has given to save you
* may you have dreams or visions of a man in white – Isa al Masih – Jesus the Messiah

* may your family be safe from harm
* may your children be secure in your love
* may your parents hear the truths of God and live long lives

* may your work be honest and successful
* may you not cheat anyone and may no one cheat you

* may your heart be sincere and not hypocritical
* may your tongue bring blessings and not curses to others
* may your feet run to righteous places and not to evil places
* may your hands bring warmth, comfort, and encouragement and not impurity, abuse, or violence

* may your country have righteous, honest rulers who love their people
* may your government take care of those who need help – the poor, the orphans, the widows, the refugees

* may Muslims and Christians build bridges of friendship strong enough to withstand the weight of truth – to honestly and respectfully talk about what we have in common in our faiths. . .and what we don’t
* may all of us have the courage to seek out truth – regardless of how hard it is, how long it takes, or what it costs us

* may the Lord bless you and keep you;
may the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
may the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

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As always, I love you, my Muslim friends.
I really do.

In Honor Of Our Young Muslim Friend Who Went To Be With The Lord

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Dear Muslim friends,

We want to honor a very special young Muslim man – Mohamad – who died recently in Michigan.

His death shook a city.

Well over 1,000 people attended his funeral at the end of 5 days of public services in his honor.

The Detroit Lions football team took notice of Mohamad. So did the Detroit Pistons basketball team.

Community leaders recognized him. So did the Sheriff’s department.

What made this young man so special?

It was said that Mohamad never complained during his 1 and 1/2 year battle against cancer.

It was said that he never blamed God for this disease which ravaged his body.

I had the privilege of meeting this young man 5 times. The first time I met Mohamad was in his home. He had been battling cancer for 6 months at that time. Of course, no one is perfect, but it was so obvious that Mohamad was kind. Gentle. Humble. You could just see it in his face. He had this beautiful childlike (not childish) innocence about him. He was not a big talker but he appeared to be a big lover of people. Someone who cared about others.

The other 4 times I met this young man were in the hospital in the last week of his life. I was so blessed – as a Christian minister – to be welcomed at his bedside by his incredible family, including a few hours before he died. To be allowed to pray for Mohamad, and even to pray with him, was a great privilege I will not forget.

How I wish I could have spent more time with Mohamad – to really have gotten to know him. But all is not lost. I believe I will spend a lot more time with him in the future.

In. . .Paradise.

A prayer we had together – and the promises of God – assures me of that.

Isa al Masih – Jesus – said:
- “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
(the Injil, John 6:37, NIV)
- “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
(the Injil, Revelation 3:20, NLT)

God bless you, Mohamad. I long to get to know you better when we are both in the presence of God – basking in His glory, and in His eternal love for us.

In that place, there will be no more death. . .or sorrow. . .or crying. . .or pain. . .

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Do They Have Sharia Law in Dearborn, Michigan? (Christmas Caroling for our Muslim Friends)

Dearborn MI mosque on Ford Road, Nov 2018

Because my wife and I often travel to churches around the US to help Christians gain God’s great heart for Muslims, we are often asked the question:

“Do they have Sharia Law in Dearborn, Michigan?”

Surely there are some Arab Muslim families – Lebanese, Iraqi, or Yemeni – that might practice some form of Sharia in Dearborn. Conflict resolution (to keep issues out of court) might be a good example. But is Sharia the official law of the city? Not at all.

We love Dearborn, Michigan – the people, the culture, and of course, the food!

Being in Dearborn makes us feel like we are back in the Middle East. In Jordan. Or Lebanon. Or Palestine. Places where we feel so comfortable.

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In Dearborn, we can go to a park in the summer and speak for hours with people from all over the Middle East. We can talk freely about our faiths and even pray together without fear of any kind of religious police shutting us down. (I have been blacklisted from one Middle Eastern country, so I know about being “shut down”)

In Dearborn, we can visit a mosque almost anytime and be kindly received by the people there. I have walked into mosques all over the country – including the two largest mosques in Dearborn – and had men take the initiative to walk up to me, shake hands, and extend a kind greeting.

In Dearborn, we have freedom to go door-to-door and give out our materials about the similarities and differences between the Qur’an and the Injil. Sometimes we have been invited into homes for delicious Middle Eastern food, along with tea or coffee.

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In Dearborn, we have freedom to go to any Muslim neighborhood and sing Christmas carols (songs that celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus – Isa al Masih) as we walk down street after street. What a joy to visit Muslim homes and businesses in Dearborn and sing Christmas carols for over 11 years now! The welcome we receive from Muslims is quite often so warm and hospitable.

So. . .do they have Sharia Law in Dearborn, Michigan?

Well, if they do, it hasn’t stopped us from Christmas caroling. . .and so much more.

People of Dearborn - we love you!!!

Dearborn Yemeni masjid, April 2018

The Honest Muslim Panelist: “Let’s Not Pretend That Our Differences (Between Muslims & Christians) Don’t Really Matter”

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Dear Muslim & Christian friends,

I was having lunch in a great Middle Eastern restaurant a few weeks ago with a new pastor in our area. We began to talk about Christianity and Islam. We talked about the efforts of some churches and well-meaning Christians to have “interfaith” meetings which go to great lengths to totally ignore the differences between our faiths. They almost meld them together into some kind of “Chris-lam” in an effort to somehow be tolerant. Politically correct. Inclusive. And by their definition, “loving.”

My pastor friend related a different perspective in this story below which I hope Muslim and Christian readers will find both informative and thought provoking.

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“Several years ago my wife and I were attending an interfaith panel at _________ University. _________ is known as a politically, culturally, and socially progressive/liberal university community and almost all of the panelists reflected that basic mentality. There was a humanist chaplain from an Ivy League school, an Episcopalian bishop, a Reformed Jewish thinker, and several others who generally believed that the purpose of interfaith dialogue was for different faith traditions to see that we are basically all the same, save for a few small insignificant differences.

“However, one panelist came from a completely different perspective. He was a Muslim thinker from Chicago who was part of an interfaith group in that metro city. At one point in the panel discussion, he said,

“‘My best friend is a Southern Baptist pastor who tells me I am going to hell. But he’s my best friend because I know he loves me. He loves me enough to tell me what he really believes and not to pretend that our differences don’t really matter. In fact, to pretend that we do not have real differences actually diminishes the integrity of both of our faiths. So he is a committed Christian and that means that he thinks I am wrong. And I am a committed Muslim and that means that I think he is wrong. But we still love each other and acknowledging those differences is one of the ways that we show our respect for one another and our respective faiths. And that’s what gives us the ability to have real substantive discussions.’

“The whole place was just frozen in silence. It was a like an earthquake just happened in their heavy-handed culture of tolerance and “everyone has their own truth” and “we’re all right because we’re all basically the same.” And actually it captured in such a profound way that pretending we’re all basically the same is actually not tolerant at all because it does violence to the distinctiveness of all traditions and insists they all be like each other. It says Muslims aren’t allowed to be distinctively Muslim and Christians aren’t allowed to be distinctively Christian. But actually true tolerance, true respect, true love is honestly acknowledging the differences and loving one another in the midst of those differences.”

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I would love to meet this Muslim panelist.

I love his honesty.

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Muslims and Christians: Is There Just A Little Difference Between Us In What We Believe?

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Dear Muslim and Christian friends,

I have been so blessed to visit mosques in cities all over America:

Chicago, IL
Dearborn, MI
Cleveland, OH
Memphis, TN
Wichita, KS
Denver, CO
Des Moines, IA
St. Louis, MO
Anaheim, CA
Reno, NV
Green Bay WI
San Antonio, TX
Indianapolis, IN
. . .and so many more.

I always receive a warm reception in these mosques. Last summer, I visited a mosque in Michigan that was predominately made up of people from Bangladesh. I greatly enjoyed meeting the imam, his wife, his son, and his daughters. They were so kind and hospitable to me and to the Christian group I was with – yet another warm reception. We had a wonderful conversation outside the mosque before the prayer time about the great work this man and his congregation are doing to improve their community.

After our conversation, our group went inside the small mosque and observed the prayer time. The imam then shared with us about the five pillars of Islam and other Muslim beliefs and practices. We were listening to his presentation when his adult daughter spoke up and said something I’ve heard so many times from Muslims virtually everywhere I travel:

“There really isn’t much difference at all between Islam and Christianity – between what Muslims believe and what Christians believe.”

I really liked this imam and his daughter a lot. As I said before, they were both so kind. And as this young lady spoke, she had such a gentle, sweet look on her face. I debated briefly in my mind: “Do I contradict her in her place of worship? Or do I let it go?”

I chose to do the former.

I said to this young lady – and to the rest of the Muslims who were present,
“We can say that there is really just a little difference between what Muslims and Christians believe but. . .would that really be honest of us? Would that really be truthful?”

I went on to say,
“If we build a strong bridge of friendship, we can be honest enough to talk about – not just the similarities in our religions (and we truly have them) – but also, the differences. We have real. . .significant. . .differences.

“We have differences in who Isa – Jesus – is: is he a great Prophet or is he the (spiritual) Son of God?

“We have differences in Jesus and the cross: did Allah take Jesus to Paradise and put someone else looking like him on the cross or did Jesus really die on the cross for all our sins?

“We have differences in how we get to Paradise: do we get there by our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds or is Paradise a free gift received by faith alone?

“Let’s not deny these differences. Let’s talk about them! With respect. With love.”

Dear Muslim and Christian readers, I want to say the same things to you: let’s not be afraid of offending each other. Let’s really get to know each other. Listen to each other. Love each other. And yes, let’s talk about the similarities AND the differences in what we believe.

Let’s speak what we each believe to be truth – but speak it with love.

To do anything less would not only be dishonest, it would dishonor our faiths. . .

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Islam & Christianity: Is There Just A “Thin Line” Between Us?

Dear Muslim and Christian friends,

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“How Thin Is The Line Between Islam & Christianity?”

Moustapha Akkad’s 1977 movie, “The Message,” tells of an early event in the history of Islam – known as the First Hegira (migration). In this migration, Muslims fled to Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea) to find refuge.

Muhammad’s followers sought protection in eastern Africa because of persecution against him and his followers in Mecca from the ruling Quraysh tribe of Mecca. These early Muslims were reportedly boycotted and several of them were restrained in their homes. Some were stoned. Because of this, Muhammad ordered Ja’far ibn Abi Talib to take some of his followers – perhaps about 80 people, not counting small children – and emigrate to Abyssinia in 615 CE. Apparently, they did not all go at the same time but in small groups.

When the persecutors – the Quraish – got wind of this group’s plans, they sent a search party to forcibly bring this group back to Arabia. The group evaded them and made their way to Abyssinia. The Quraysh then sent Amr ibn al ‘Aas, a friend of the Abyssinian King, as an envoy to convince him not to give refuge to the fleeing Muslims.

When Amr requested that the “rebels” be returned, the Negus (meaning King or Monarch) – Ashama ibn Abjar – is said to have replied, “I cannot put souls into chains without first hearing them.” They were then taken before the king – supposedly a Christian – and his religious leaders to see if he would allow them to stay in peace, or give them up to be taken back to Mecca. The Muslims were called before King Negus and this is one report of their defense before him through Ja’far:

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The King to Ja’far: “Speak to me of Christ!”

Ja’far: “We say of Christ what our Prophet has taught us. That God cast his holy spirit into the womb of a virgin named Mary. And that she conceived Christ, the apostle of God. . . .”

Ja’far: “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Relate in the book the story of Mary. How she withdrew from her family to a place in the east. How we sent to her our angel Gabriel who said, ‘I am a messenger from your God. To announce the birth of a Holy Son to you.‘” She said, “How can I, Mary, have a son when no man has touched me?” And Gabriel replied, “For your lord says it will happen. We appoint him as a sign unto man. And a mercy from us. It is a thing ordained.”

The King drew a thin line in the sand with his staff and said to Ja’far and the Muslims: “The difference between us and you, is no thicker than this line.”

“Not for a mountain of gold will I give you up. You may live in Abyssinia in peace for as long as you wish. And may God’s blessings be upon you on your return.”

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My dear Muslim and Christian friends, what do you think?

Is there just a “thin line” between us in what we believe and how we practice our respective religions?

Are the theological differences between us “insignificant” as some believe?

Are the differences “simply a matter of semantics”?

Should we only focus on our “similarities” – what we have in common – as some people like to say?

Or. . .if we truly value friendship and a deeper level/depth of relationship, can we talk honestly and respectively about our differences?

I submit to you the latter.

I submit to you that when Muslims and Christians take the time to listen to one another and build a strong relationship, they can talk peacefully about their differences – even real, significant differences.

I submit to you that while we have many things in common in what we believe as Muslims and Christians, we also have some huge, huge differences – especially about the way to Paradise.

Let’s talk about those differences.

Let’s not sweep them under the rug.

Let’s listen to each other and love each other.

Dear Muslims and Christians, let’s talk.

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My Dear Muslim Friends: I Love You Too Much. . .To Be Silent

Dear Muslim & Christian friends,

My Arab Muslim barber often says to me, “Mr. Mark, I love you too much!” I know he is using the word “too” with the meaning of “so” and it always warms my heart. Believe me, I feel the same way about him! He is a very special person to me and I love him.

A few years ago, I heard about a Christian woman in the Middle East who was meeting for coffee with several Muslim women. Suddenly, a Muslim man – a relative of one of the women – came into the room and began to preach Islam to the Christian woman. Among other things, he told her that her doom in hell was sure unless she repented and took Islam for her religion. I found her response very interesting. After a few moments of careful thought, she simply replied to him to him with real honesty and sincerity, “Hamza, thank you for telling me these things. Your message to me must be because you love me and don’t want me to go to hell.” She was saying in essence, You love me too much to be silent and I greatly appreciate it.”

In my own life, I remember an experience with a Muslim man from the Middle East who was attending a university in the United States. We became friends and had many wonderful times of discussion about faith issues – sometimes until 2, 3, or 4 in the morning. On one occasion, Omar related that he had walked by an American restaurant with another Muslim friend. As they looked in the window at those who were eating, Omar said with real concern in his voice, “Abdullah, all these people, going to the hell-fire.” I asked Omar for an explanation of his comment. He explained that in his mind – in his way of thinking – these people were not Muslims and were in danger of hell. I could see that it clearly pained him and I deeply respected him for that. He cared about the eternal destiny of those people and because of that care, it was hard for him to be silent.

Now some – if not many – of my Muslim readers may not agree with Omar or Hamza’s theology regarding who goes to hell but here is the point I want to make in this blog post today: we should not be silent about what we believe.

No, silence about finding a source of water is not a loving way to live when people you know are dying of thirst.

In light of this, please consider 3 thoughts:

#1) Whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, if you love someone, you don’t want them to go to hell. Isn’t that right? It disturbs you to think about it. It actually hurts deeply to think of someone – especially someone you care about – suffering that horribly and for that long in fire!

#2) To my Muslim readers: if you believe that submitting to Allah, obeying the Qur’an, and following the life and teachings of Muhammad is the only way to Paradise and that for a friend to knowingly reject these teachings will send him or her to the hell-fire, what do you do? Do you remain silent? No! As I understand it, it is your duty – your religious obligation – to “invite” your friend to follow the ways of Muhammad and embrace Islam (this is “dawa”).

#3) The same goes for my Christian readers: if you believe that following the ways of Jesus as taught in the Bible is the only way to Heaven and that for a friend to knowingly reject his teachings and sacrifice for sins will send him or her to hell, what do you do? Do you remain silent? No! Your love for God and your friend compels you to share the “Good News” of Jesus death and resurrection and his offer of forgiveness of all sins with your friend (this is “evangelism”).

So. . .as I close, I want to say to any Muslim who has spoken or will speak to me about your faith, thank you for caring for my eternal soul by speaking of the Qur’an and the teachings and ways of Muhammad to me. As in the story of the woman above, your message to me must be because you love me and don’t want me to go to hell.

In addition, I want to say to you, my dear Muslim friends whom I love: please allow me to share with you what I believe about Jesus, the man I believe to be the one and only Savior from sins and hell-fire that you and I – that all people – so desperately need. I say with heartfelt love and incredible concern: your eternity depends on how you view Jesus and what you do with him as a result of that view.

Jesus once said these words to a woman at a well in Palestine (Injeel, Gospel of John 4:13-14):

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

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I have found living water in the desert of my thirsty soul. It comes from Jesus.

It would indeed be a crime for me to be silent and not tell you about it.

I love you so much, my Muslim friends.
I love you too much. . .to be silent.