Why Are You A Muslim?

Why

Dear Muslim friends,

I think questions that begin with “why” can be hard to answer but they are so important. They can really help us to think.

I have a few questions for you today but. . .I want you to know that I am attempting to ask them with sincere respect and kindness. Here they are:

“Why are you. . .a Muslim?”

“Why are you a Muslim and not. . .something else?”

“Why aren’t you a believer in Shintoism, Jainism, Confusianism, Bahaism, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Christianity?” (others of the 10 largest or most powerful religions in the world)

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“Are you a Muslim because. . . you were ‘born’ a Muslim?”

“Are you a Muslim because. . . it is part of your culture?”

“Are you a Muslim because. . . you were born and grew up in a Muslim country?”

“Are you a Muslim because. . . your parents and grandparents and great grandparents before you were Muslim?”

“Are you a Muslim because. . . you made a careful search of the religions of the world – at least the major ones – and decided that Islam was the only religion that contained absolute truth?”

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“Are you a Muslim by choice? Your. . .own. . .personal. . .choice?”

Please allow me to share some things about my life as a follower of Jesus.

I am not a follower of Jesus because. . . I was “born” that way.
(no one is “born” a follower of Jesus)

I am not a follower of Jesus because. . . it is part of my culture.
(my culture is not very much like Jesus for the most part)

I am not a follower of Jesus because. . . I was born and grew up in a country that follows Jesus.
(the vast majority of people in America are not real followers of Jesus)

I am not a follower of Jesus. . . because my parents and grandparents and great grandparents before me loved and obeyed and followed Jesus.
(who my parents or grandparents were could not make me a Jesus follower)

I am a follower of Jesus because. . .when I was in college, I made a careful search of the religions of the world, at least the major ones, in a search for absolute truth. I easily observed that all the major religions of the world – except following Jesus – have the same way to Paradise/Heaven/Jannah/Nirvana etc. That way is “works,” specifically, “good” works. In this way of thinking, if we humans can just do enough good things, keep enough religious rules, obey enough spiritual leaders, then – we might – be able to go to an eternal place of bliss (whatever the name). But the nagging question is always this:

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I am a follower of Jesus because. . .as I looked at the major religions of the world as a young college student, it was easy to see that following Jesus was different. Absolutely unique. It became more and more clear to me that following Him was not about being good enough or obeying enough rules. It was about grace. Undeserved kindness and love. It was more about what Jesus did (dying for my sins) than what I do (trying to be good enough) to make it to Heaven. It was not about being saved by my good works but about being rescued from my sins. It was about being saved. . .by grace.

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I am a follower of Jesus because. . .I made a choice. A choice to follow Him instead of any other religion or religious figure. Jesus is different. Absolutely unique. No one else sacrificed themself for my sins. No one else loves me that much. No one else will never leave me. No one else loves me no matter how much I do or don’t do in keeping religious rules. There is no one like Jesus.

My dear Muslim friends, why am I a follower of Jesus? Because by His grace, I made a choice.

I chose Jesus. . .

Are you a Muslim by choice? Your. . .own. . .personal. . .choice?

If My Sins Are Forgiven, Can I Do Whatever I Want?

Dear Muslim readers,

As a follower of Jesus, my Muslim friends often say, “You Christians think you can stick your sins on Jesus, and then sin freely. You think you can do whatever you want if you are forgiven. Isn’t that true?”

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I answer, “Astaghfirullah! (an Arabic expression of disapproval or shame, meaning “God forgive me”) God forbid! No! We love God so much for what He has done for us through Jesus, that we desire to be free from sin to honor Him!”

As the Bible says, “Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not!” (Romans 6:1-2). Forgiveness from God should lead toward a growing purity and holy life in the one forgiven.

In this blog post, let me share more with you about how I believe the Bible itself answers this very important question about a person being forgiven, but then doing whatever they want. I have 6 points:

#1 – Many people who call themselves “Christians” are simply not followers of Jesus. They have not truly repented. If they had, there would be true change in their lives: change in their attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions. The Bible says you become a “new creation” – a new person – when you repent of your sins, receive his gift of forgiveness, invite Jesus to take over control of your life, and commit yourself to following him.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new creation (a new person). The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
Matthew 7:16 – You will know them by their fruits (how they act).”
1 John 1:6 – “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
1 John 2:3,4 – “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

#2 – When you have genuinely accepted Jesus as the Savior of your sins, you want to live for him, obey him, follow him. Your heart is filled with gratitude which overflows into a desire to not do “whatever you want,” but to do “whatever He wants.” You just want to please Him and live for Him!

2 Corinthians 5:9 – “we make it our goal to please him.”
2 Corinthians 5:15 – “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

#3 – The primary motive in avoiding sin as a follower of Jesus is not fear of hell but love for Jesus and for Almighty God.

John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
2 Corinthians 5:14 – “Christ’s love compels us.”
1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us.”

#4 – While fear of hell is not a Jesus follower’s primary motive for pure and righteous living, a healthy and reverential fear of appearing before God the perfect Judge after death (to judge one’s works, not his/her sins) is a solid Biblical motivator.

1 Peter 1:17 – “And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as ‘foreigners in the land.’”
1 John 2:28 – “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”

#5 – When a person commits their life to Jesus and begins to follow him, there is a change in the heart. The Bible actually says you gain a “new heart.” There actually takes place something like a spiritual “heart transplant!”

Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a new heart.”

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#6 – After a person becomes “born again,” a new power (grace) comes into their lives – a new power to resist sin.

Titus 2:11, 12 – “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

When Jesus comes into your heart following true repentance, there is true change. Jesus himself called it being “born again” (The Holy Injeel, The Gospel According To John 3:3). For some people, this change is virtually overnight. They stop swearing, gossiping, envying, boasting, lying, rebelling against parents, stealing, drinking, using drugs, and engaging in immorality right away. In essence, they stop living for themselves and begin living for the Lord. This gives them new joy, new freedom, new purpose. They feel alive for the first time in their lives.

For others, the change is slow but sure – like a butterfly coming out of a cacoon. Old sinful habits like those just mentioned die hard, but they do eventually die for one who sincerely follows Jesus. It takes time. Years. And it is a battle – a real and constant battle! A battle against 3 adversaries: this world’s anti-God system, our old desires which creep back in, and our adversary the devil.

To all my Muslim friends, please see from these Biblical truths that we who are really followers of Jesus can’t just “do whatever we want” after we receive the gift of forgiveness. This would go against everything we believe!

Do followers of Jesus still sin? Yes, we do. Of course. We fail every day.

But generally speaking, the forgiveness we have experienced actually motivates us to forsake (abandon, desert, leave, turn one’s back on) sin and live for God out of love and gratitude for what He has done for us.

As always, I love you, my Muslim friends!

What Is “Freedom Of Religion”: Is It Freedom To Choose Your Religion? Is It Freedom To Change Your Religion?

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Dear Muslim & Christian Friends,

I have been thinking a lot about this question: “What is freedom of religion?”

I mean, what does it really mean?

Is it freedom granted by the government where you live to practice your religion (as long as it does not harm others)?

Is it freedom for mosques to built in Europe and the United States but also churches to be built in Saudi Arabia?

Is it freedom to believe differently than your family, friends, or even your religious leaders?

Is it freedom for a Christian to study Islam, to read the Qur’an, to visit a mosque – in a search for truth?

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Is it freedom for a Muslim to study Christianity, to read the Bible, to visit a church – in a search for truth?

Is it freedom for a Muslim to engage in dawa with a Christian or a Christian to engage in evangelism with a Muslim (as long as there is no pressure but rather sincere dialogue based on mutual respect, love, and honesty)?

Here is the really BIG question: is freedom of religion the freedom to choose your religion. . .to even change your religion?

Let’s take it a step further.

Should you have the right to choose. . .or to change. . .your religion without suffering negative or harmful repercussions from:

your family
your friends
your community
your government
your religious leaders
your mosque or church?

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Freedom: no rejection, hatred, arrests, interrogation, torture, or imprisonment because of your choice or change in what you believe and practice.

Freedom: no one saying, “What?! You have become a ______________? You are not my son/daughter, wife/husband, brother/sister any more! You have shamed us. You must leave. Don’t ever come back!”

Freedom: no loss of property, job, education, spouse, children, personal freedoms or even. . .your life. . .because of your choice of what faith to follow.

This is one of my great passions for all people: freedom of religion.

Freedom to choose. . .freedom to change.

Everywhere. For every person.

My Muslim & Christian friends, what do you think about this kind of freedom – freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and even freedom of religion?

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Shouldn’t everyone have these rights? These freedoms? These choices?

In the USA. . .or in Uzbekistan. In England. . .or in Egypt. In Australia. . .or in Algeria. In Iceland. . .or in Iran.

You may not feel free on the outside to choose. . .or to change. But God has given you these rights in your heart.

It’s up to you. . .

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(edited from a post on Jan 8, 2015)

If Isa – Jesus – Didn’t Die, Who Was That Man That Came Out Of The Tomb?

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Dear Muslim friends,

Two days ago, Christians all over the world celebrated “Easter.” Sadly, when you do a google image search using the word “Easter,” you will see mostly images of little rabbits, eggs, and spring flowers.

But Easter is actually the name given for the day over 2,000 years ago when Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead after being executed (by crucifixion). (You can read about the resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb in the Injeel: Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-47, John 20:1-29).

Do I believe Jesus was actually crucified and rose from the dead as the Bible claims? Well, as a first century preacher stated in a letter to early Christians:

“. . .if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

What this means is, I am basing my belief that I will go to heaven solely, completely, emphatically on 2 events that I believe to be entirely historical: the death of Jesus on a Roman cross for my sins and the subsequent resurrection of Jesus from the dead to prove he was who he said he was.

Is there any evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?

In this blog post, I quote a speaker and author, Josh McDowell, regarding evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

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EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS THE MESSIAH
by Josh McDowell

The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen cloth. About 100 pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together to form a gummy substance, were applied to the wrappings of cloth about the body. After the body was placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. Large stones weighing approximately two tons were normally rolled (by means of levers) against a tomb entrance.

A Roman guard of strictly disciplined fighting men was stationed to guard the tomb. This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal, which was meant to prevent any attempt at vandalizing the sepulcher. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.

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So. . .what are the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

EVIDENCE #1: THE BROKEN ROMAN SEAL
The first obvious fact was the breaking of the seal that stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. If the responsible people were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus’ disciples displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves after his death and certainly would not have had the courage to fight off Roman soldiers, break the seal, and steal his body.

EVIDENCE #2: THE EMPTY TOMB
The disciples of Christ did not immediately go off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ was raised from the dead. Rather, they went right back to the city of Jerusalem, where, if what they were teaching was false, the falsity would be evident. The empty tomb was “too notorious to be denied.” Paul Althaus states that the resurrection “could have not been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.”

If the resurrection claim was merely a lie – some kind of hoax – the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body of Jesus from the tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor of his resurrection.

EVIDENCE #3: LARGE STONE MOVED
On that Sunday morning the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was the unusual position of the one and a half to two ton stone that had been lodged in front of the doorway. All the Gospel writers mention it. Now, I ask you, if the disciples had wanted to come in, tiptoe around the sleeping guards, and then roll the stone over and steal Jesus’ body, how could they have done that without the guards’ awareness?

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EVIDENCE #4: EYEWITNESSES
Christ appeared alive to his closest followers – and to many others – on several occasions after the cataclysmic events of that first Easter. Claims that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations are unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations – namely that different people cannot see the same hallucination simultaneously.

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Two of the most amazing appearances of Jesus after he rose from the dead are recorded in the Injeel, John 20:19-31. In the second appearance, one of Jesus’ disciples put his fingers into the imprint of the nails in Jesus’ hands and then made one of the most stunning statements of all time as he said these words to Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”

EVIDENCE #5: LIVING WITNESSES YEARS LATER
The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were being circulated within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of such accounts. They were still alive and could be questioned.

EVIDENCE #6: THE DISCIPLES’ LIVES – AND DEATHS
The strongest evidence of all for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the way those early Christians lived – and died. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ?

Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts – prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits – we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this “risen Christ.”

Instead, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking.

Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message: Jesus died and rose from the dead.

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Postscript to my Muslim friends: how do you evaluate these evidences for the empty tomb – for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

I am respectfully assuming you will answer that the Bible has been corrupted and changed.

If so, may I humbly ask you:

Who changed the Bible?
When was it changed?
Where was it changed?
Why was it changed?
What is the evidence that it was changed?

Until I see evidence that the Bible was changed, I will maintain my belief that it is true and accurate. And I will maintain my belief in the evidences from that first Easter – evidences for an empty tomb. I am staking my eternal destiny on it and invite you to carefully and objectively examine the evidence for yourself – for your eternal destiny.

As always, I love you, my Muslim friends.

I really, really do.

Empty tomb

What If Jesus Really DID Die On The Cross?

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(this is a repost of a previous blog post I did – my heart and message remain the same)

Dear Muslim friends,

Today my heart is heavy.
I’ve had tears in my eyes.

What has caused this? Why am I so emotional and feeling this pain today?

It is because of you, my dear Muslim friends, whom I love.

It is because I long with all of my heart for you to see Jesus – to see him for all that he really is.

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I know you love him. All of my Muslim friends through the years have told me that. . .and I believe it. But I want to ask you with all respect, “How can you love Jesus fully if you don’t know fully all the truth about who he is and why he came?” The Qur’an has many excellent things to say about him. That is good, but there is more to learn. So much more. And it is such good news!

Yes, my Muslim friends, I know you love Jesus. Thank God! Wonderful! But I want to tell you again how much Jesus loves you – because, in reality, that is far more important than how much you love him.

I beg you with all my heart to please listen.

Jesus loves you so much that he was willing to give up everything – even his own life – to see you become right with God.

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He gave up all his glory in paradise to come to earth to make sure that your every sin could be forgiven – to wipe away all your shame. He came to take away your fear of the Day of Judgment and hellfire and rescue you from the power of Satan. He came to take away the gnawing, painful doubt of wondering if you have done enough – if you are good enough – to make it to Paradise.

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I remember saying to a Muslim friend one time, “How would you like to know that every sin you have ever done could be forgiven? How would you like to know that you could go to bed tonight and know that if you did not wake up tomorrow, you would be in Paradise? Would you like to pray with me to ask Jesus into your heart, to truly repent of your sins, and to give your life to Jesus and follow him?” I will never forget his answer. He said, “Who could pass up an offer like that?”

I will end with this.

Two weeks ago I went to see a dear Muslim friend. He is one of the kindest, gentlest, most humble people I have ever met. The problem is, I know that as good as he is, his own goodness cannot get him to Paradise. God says it’s not enough. Sin is so terrible that it must be punished. And God is so holy that He cannot allow sin into Paradise without the appropriate sacrifice to remove the stain and shame of that sin. Like so many of you, my Muslim friend is truly a good person (by human standards). But like all of you – and like me – he still sins and for that reason, he needs a Savior. He needs true forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus.

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So before we parted ways, I asked him this question:

“What if Jesus really DID die on the cross?”

And that, my friends, is the question I want to ask you as well.

What if God loves you that much?

Please think about it carefully because your eternal destiny depends upon your answer.

Why Would God Allow His Prophet To Die On A Cross? It Doesn’t Make Sense!

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(this is a repost of a previous blog post)

Dear Muslim friends,

A friend and I had another excellent conversation about the Qur’an and the Bible last week with one of our wonderful Muslim friends. The great thing about our conversations is that we can be honest with each other about what we believe but also remain good friends. When we part ways, we shake hands, hug each other, and still really care about each other. This two hour conversation was no different.

Last week during our conversation, our Muslim friend said something that he says often, “God would never send one of his prophets and allow them to be killed!” He added with great emotion in his voice, “It doesn’t make sense!” He said that if he – as a man – sent someone to another country as his representative, he would always protect them and not let anything happen to them. How much more, by this reasoning, would God protect Jesus as His messenger.

“It doesn’t make sense!”

Those words keep ringing in my ears.

And you know what? He is right. It doesn’t make sense. . .at all.

- How could God love us so much that He would send Jesus – His one and only – to die for our sins?
- How could Jesus love us so much that He would give himself up for us in such a terrible, shameful, painful death?

It doesn’t make sense.

Or maybe. . .it doesn’t make human sense. Common sense.

Maybe it makes sense in a different way. Maybe it makes sense. . .to God.

Listen to what God says through his prophet, Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

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I think we need to careful when we talk about God and His actions that don’t seem to make sense to our little, finite minds.

God is King. Malek. He cannot be limited.

God can do anything. . .anything He wants.

And if He wants to do something so wonderful, so amazing, so loving, and yes, something that doesn’t makes sense to us – like sending His prophet Jesus to die for us – who are we to say, “It doesn’t make sense!”

It makes sense. . .it makes a lot of sense. . .to God.

The Terrible Sufferings Of Isa – Jesus – For You, For Me, For All Of Us

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Dear Muslim and Christian friends,

Yesterday – around the world – countless millions of Christians remembered something called “Good Friday.” Good Friday is the day that Christians believe Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world. It was, the Bible teaches, a day of terrible suffering and tremendous love by Isa al Masih – Jesus the Messiah – for you, for me, for all of us.

To my Muslim readers, I know full well that Islam teaches that Isa did not die – that another (possibly Judas or Pilate or someone else) – took his place; that God took Jesus up to heaven and put his facial image on someone who actually did die on a cross. But for now, can we agree to disagree about that?

In this blog post, I just have to say something. Many things. To Isa. Jesus.

I have to thank him. Publicly. Effusively (expressing feelings of gratitude, pleasure, or approval in an unrestrained or heartfelt manner).

So my Muslim friends, even if you don’t agree with my position about the death of Isa – Jesus – on that day 2,000 years ago, would you bear with me? Would you allow me to express my love for him here?

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A PUBLIC THANK YOU TO MY SAVIOR – ISA AL MASIH – JESUS: YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO. . .BUT YOU DID

* You didn’t have to leave your place with God in heaven and all the glory you had there. . .but you did. (John 1:1-4; John 1:14)

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* You didn’t have to come to planet earth – a place filled with sin and shame and hatred and foul darkness. . .but you did. (John 1:9-10)

* You didn’t have to choose to be born in a place for animals – a dirty, smelly stable instead of the king’s palace you deserved. . .but you did. (Luke 2:1-7)

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* You didn’t have to take the body of a human with all the weaknesses that we experience. . .but you did. (Philippians 2:5-7)

* You didn’t have to be born in little Bethlehem and live in obscurity in Nazareth instead of the fame you could have enjoyed living in Jerusalem. . .but you did. (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6; John 1:46)

* You didn’t have to refuse to be king. . .but you did. (John 6:15)

* You didn’t have to serve people instead of being served. . .but you did. (Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:5-7)

* You didn’t have to spend time with people everyone else shunned and hated (tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers) – eating with them, loving them, teaching them, healing them. . .but you did. (Mark 2:13-17)

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* You didn’t have to ride into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday on a humble donkey instead of a white horse. . .but you did. (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-11)

* You didn’t have to let your friends betray you (Judas for 30 pieces of silver) and deny you (Peter three times). . .but you did. (Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:14-16; Matthew 27:3-10; Luke 22:54-62)

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* You didn’t have to sweat blood (a rare medical condition during extreme stress known as hematidrosis) as you faced carrying our sins. . .but you did. (Luke 22:44).

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* You didn’t have to let them tie your hands and arrest you (since you were only bound by your love for God and for us). . .but you did. (Matthew 27:2; Mark 15:1)

* You didn’t have to go through a night of cruel, illegal, and unjust trials (3 Jewish trials, 3 Roman trials) on that Good Friday morning. . .but you did. (Matthew 26:57-27:26; Mark 14:53-15:20; Luke 22:54-23:25: John 18:12-19:13)

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* You didn’t have to let them blindfold you and spit on you and strike you and mock you and pull out part of your beard. . .but you did. (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65 and 15:19; Luke 22:63-65)

* You didn’t have to answer the high priest’s question – “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” but you did. (Mark 14:55-64).

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* You didn’t have to announce to the world on that night exactly who you were (you were not lying, you were not confused, and you were not blaspheming). . .but you did. (Matthew 26:62-66)

* You did not have to remain silent before false accusations of the Jewish leaders in the presence of the Roman governor Pilate. . .but you did. (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-4)

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* You didn’t have to let the Roman soldiers scourge you (with a whip of leather straps with bits of bone and iron and glass designed to rip the flesh open, exposing muscles and bone from the shoulders down to the thighs). . .but you did. (Isaiah 53:5; John 19:1-2; 1 Peter 2:24)

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* You didn’t have to let the soldiers mock you by placing a crown of thorns on your head and a purple robe on your torn back. . .but you did. (Matthew 27:27-29; Mark 15:16-20)

* You didn’t have to let the soldiers beat your face so much that it was severely disfigured. . .but you did. (Isaiah 52:13-14)

* You didn’t have to carry the heavy crossbar of your cross (that we deserved to carry) on your shredded, bloody back. . .but you did. (John 19:17)

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* You didn’t have to allow Roman soldiers to pound iron nails into your wrists and feet. . .but you did. (Psalm 22:16; Isaiah 53:5; Zechariah 12:10; John 20:25)

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* You didn’t have to refuse the sedative/anesthetic on the cross because you wanted to face death fully aware. . .but you did. (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23)

* You didn’t have to suffer the other horrible pains of crucifixion for 6 hours (dislocated shoulders, elbows, and wrists; exhaustion; infection; fever; severe dehydration; blood loss; hyperventilation; collapsing lungs; cardiorespiratory failure; and finally slow suffocation and cardiac rupture – a “broken heart”). . .but you did. (Psalm 22:14, 15, 17; John 19:34)

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* You didn’t have to pray for forgiveness for those who did all these cruel, horrible things to you. . .but you did. (Isaiah 53:12; Luke 23:34)

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* You didn’t have to endure the vicious verbal attacks – mocking, insults, sarcasm – from people and religious leaders who watched you die. . .but you did. (Psalm 22:7-8; Matthew 27:39-43; Mark 15:29-31; Luke 23:35, 37; John 19:24)

* You didn’t have to endure the worst pain of all – abandonment, desertion by God – while you carried our sins. . .but you did. (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

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* You didn’t have to go through so many terrible sufferings and finally die in my place, for my sins and shame – for the unspeakable sins and shame of all of humanity. . .but you did. (Isaiah 53:5-6, 8, 10-11)

* You didn’t have to love me – love all of us - with this kind of tremendous love. . .but you did.

Isa. Jesus. Thank you. For all eternity, thank you.

Good Friday.

You didn’t have to. . .but you did.

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Isa (Jesus) Wept On The First “Palm Sunday.” Does He Still Weep Now. . .In Paradise?

All my Muslim friends say something that may surprise my Christian readers: they all say that they love Jesus. Personally, I think this is beautiful. Instead of arguing over who owns Jesus, I think that the topic of loving Jesus can create a tremendous conversation that Muslims and Christians can engage in. We can ask each other the questions:

“Why do you love Jesus?”
“What is it about him that you love?”

I love my wife – not just because she is my wife – but because of specific attributes that she has. She is faithful, honest, supportive, kind, wise, discerning, deep, thoughtful, caring, an excellent listener and – on the lighter side – she watches football and basketball with me (I could list many more positive traits)!

In the same way, I love Jesus because of specific attributes that he displayed when he walked the land of Palestine over 2000 years ago. He was the epitome of love, honesty, justice, wisdom, self-control, courage, mercy, grace, patience, righteous anger, and faithfulness to God (again, I could continue).

There is part of a story of Jesus that moves me deeply but is little known by many. It typifies one of the many reasons why I love him. It happened at the beginning of the time Christians around the world are celebrating right now called “Holy Week.” The event I am referring to happened on what is traditionally called “Palm Sunday” – the day that Jesus approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and was wildly celebrated by the masses as the long-promised, long-awaited messiah: the savior of the Jews. As Jesus descended that slope toward the city, most people were delirious with joy, a few people were angry (the jealous religious leaders), and one person – Jesus – wept. The Gospels – or Injeel – say that “as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

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In that moment, Jesus saw so clearly that the people of Jerusalem would reject him and the salvation he came to bring. But it was not any kind of personal rejection that made him weep. He had far too much inner strength and understanding of his identity for that. No, he saw the terrible agony and future destruction that would come to the people of Jerusalem due to their rejection of him and his mission and that brought him to tears.

I love Jesus because out of his compassion he wept for people:

Lost people.
Doomed people.
Even wicked people who would reject him and curse him and hate him.

What kind of love was this?

While we as Christians and Muslims disagree on how Jesus got to Paradise (a topic for another day), we all agree that he is there. I wonder if, in Paradise today – right now – does Jesus look over our world and weep for people who are headed for the unspeakable destruction of God’s final judgment as he did on that day in Palestine 2000 years ago?

Does Jesus still weep?

(Postscript: dear friends, I write this blog for only one reason. I want as many people as possible to be in Paradise! Jesus paid the price for you to be there. He gave up everything – his very life – for you. No amount of good deeds can pay for your many sins. No amount of praying, fasting, giving, or going can erase the stain of your bad deeds. But, one thing can. The sacrifice of Jesus. If you want to talk about this, please reply to this blog post or send me a private message at InTheHarvest@gmail.com. We can talk together with mutual respect, honesty, and love.)

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. He is 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.

Please have the courage and commitment to truth to pray something like this:

“O God, please show me who Jesus really is. Please show me if he was just a prophet or. . .if he is something more. Show me if he really did die for my sins so I can be forgiven and be in Paradise forever with You.”

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.

There Are Only 2 Religions In The World – Which One Is Yours?

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(The post below was first done in June of 2013. Because of a great conversation with two kind sheikhs and other Muslim men at a mosque, I thought it would be good to repost it. I hope it is thought provoking as you seek truth in this life and what we all want in the future – Paradise.)

Dear Muslim and Christian friends,

I believe there are really only 2 religions – 2 religious belief systems – in the world. Sounds crazy, right? No, I truly believe there are just 2 religions in the world.

In the first religious belief system, we can use the illustration of a ladder extending from earth to Heaven.

In this illustration, most of humanity attempts to “climb the ladder” to Heaven by right beliefs, good intentions, obedience to all kinds of rules, and the faithful practice of all kinds of rituals. The adherents of this religious belief system believe if they can just do enough, they can tip the divine scales and God will let them into a place of bliss, perfection, and rewards.

This religious system is called “good works.”

Those who depend upon good works might call themselves “Buddhists” (using the 8-fold path of enlightenment) or “Hindus” (reincarnation – coming back over an over again in some new form), or something else. They might call themselves “Muslims” (practicing the 5 pillars, attendance at the mosque, memorizing the Qur’an, following the Sunnah, etc.) or “Christians” (going faithfully to “church,” practicing the “Golden Rule,” singing in the choir, reading the Bible, etc.).

A legitimate question about all of these people is,

“What – or who – are they counting on to gain Paradise when they die?”

Essentially, if they are trying to “climb the ladder” to Paradise by their good deeds, they are counting upon – and this is incredibly important – themselves. They are counting on their own performance, their own hard work, and their own spiritual achievements – in essence, their own goodness.

In the second religious belief system, we can also use the illustration of a ladder between earth and Heaven. But in this faith system, God in Heaven looks down upon humanity and lovingly sees that people simply cannot “climb the ladder” and get to Him. None of them can. All are helpless, all are hopelessly lost, and all are in need of rescue. All are in deep shame and in need of their honor to be restored.

So God sends His mercy and compassion down the ladder through His prophets. He does this especially and uniquely through Jesus – Isa Al Masih. The prophet Isa – spotless and sinless (Qur’an 19:19) – takes upon himself the sins and shame of the whole world through the voluntary sacrifice of his life. He provides restored relationship with God in Heaven, forgiveness of sins, and the honor that all people need and crave.

This is indeed Good News but. . .there is a big IF: mankind must believe in Isa (Jesus the Messiah) – who he is and what he has done – and follow him to the end.

This religious belief system is called “grace.”

Grace is simply receiving (accepting) by faith a gift that cannot be earned. In this case, the gift is the gift of forgiveness of sins and righteousness (right standing) before God and then the resulting gift of eternal life in Paradise.

2 religious belief systems: good works. . .and grace.

So yes, I believe there are only 2 religions in the world.

Which one is yours?

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(Postscript: All I want – all I passionately want – is for all people to see Isa Al Masih – Jesus – for who he is. I desperately want all people to put their complete trust in him and his sacrificial death so they can live forever in Heaven with God who certainly is full of genuine, undeserved mercy and compassion. If I can help anyone to find and follow that straight path, it is my complete joy, privilege, and honor.)