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The Monologue of Discourse :: Anonymous

At this exact moment I am sitting on an airplane, on a return flight from Saudi Arabia to my home north of Seattle Washington. I have just spent a week in what the locals like to refer to as “The Kingdom”. Additionally, the majority of the week was spent in one of the most chaste and fundamental cities in Saudi Arabia. The majority of Muslims in this particular city adhere to the strictest and most rigid interpretation of their faith. At first I was taken aback by the intensity of their spiritual resolve and wondered how it could be that such devout people could be at odds with my understanding of God.

On the morning of the second day we began to train the people that were to expand my company into this region of the world. Neither they nor I fully knew how to respond to one another. I was looked upon with mild interest and absolute suspicion. I must admit that I was not overly festive about the notion of chumming about with grown men that appeared to be wearing pressed night gowns and perpetually smelled of sandalwood. If both sides were dead bang honest about it, they wondered if we thought they were all terrorists and we wondered if they thought of us as nothing but vile, worthless infidels. But as common cause and curiosity often dictate, we began to dialog. At first it was casual and uneventful at best. We discussed our training schedule and how it would be administered over the course of the week. As we jointly observed the training regiment and we began to be more at ease with one another, a number of casual friendships started to grow. As it turned out, they were as fascinated at what we might think of them as we were as to what their impressions of us would be. In my immediate conversations, what I thought of them and their faith was all they really wanted to discuss at first. It really wasn’t until the third day (how Messiahnically fitting) that bonds began to form and the personal shields went down. My impressions and experiences are as follows.

Those that work for my partner and I also serve the Lord Jesus Christ and none of us knew if what we believed could be talked about as openly as they did their own faith. On our own turf we would have no such apprehensions but we were in the land of Allah. Having much of our perceptions of Saudi Arabia formed by conflict reports, gruesome videos and sensationalized news stories we were not of a mindset to carve too heavily on any sacred Islamic cow. But being intensely stubborn and annoyed by double standards I prodded around the flanks and nibbled just a might at the haunches. None of which by the way was well received or welcomed by several of my new acquaintances. Others though had a more openly engaging nature and fully enjoyed the exchange of reasoning, exegesis and personal convictions. Overall, most of them were happy to debate and challenge one another with regard to what we believe and why we believed it as long as it was assumed that the Quran was the basis for the discussion. Presupposing that the Quran is the bedrock of any significant discussion of theology is akin to discussing tsunami risks for only the Red Sea. By ignoring every other body of water, the conversation becomes myopic. This may be a very effective tact for a study of Red Sea events but does little for understanding the nature and risk of tsunamis worldwide. They spoke frequently about a noble and fervent quest for the truth but it seemed that journey would not welcome or entertain any level of dissent, or at least none that was ever conceded to. At times I will confess that it was overwhelming and by the evening, between work and theology I was exhausted. I would go back to my hotel room feeling like the proverbial cockroach hoping to survive the coming nuclear debate. I cannot help but think that some of their one-dimensional thinking was in part due to perceptions they had about Christianity and those that adhere to its precepts.

For instance, it was told to me with utmost sincerity that Muslins, unlike Christians pray without agenda and solely to glorify and worship God. In their opinion, Christians pray in order to get something, petition for something or request assistance for something. Is this perception completely unfounded? I would say that if my only understanding of Christianity was to come from TV or Radio, I might have the same notion. In the day-to-day reality of most Christians though, I believe that the majority of prayers focus on the glorification of God or for God to give us the strength to overcome “self” so that our lives might more effectively glorify Him. It was this kind of misinformation that made them certain in their beliefs and confirmed in them the error of those that follow Jesus. Presupposed or assumptive justification has always held a special place of pigeon-holing, tickedoffedness in my heart and I find it dehumanizing to boot.

It was also told to me on several occasions that Islam was based on fact and not on the anecdotal tales of once and twice removed sources as the Christian faith is. It made me wonder how often I reinforce my own beliefs based on presupposed or inadequate information. I like to think of myself as somewhat of a pragmatist when it comes to my faith. I do not feel as if I should ever have to check my intellect at the door in order to enter the church sanctuary. For that reason, I seldom shy away from any intellectual scrum. Yes, even when it is clear that I will take a debate thrashing. I always come away challenged to study and inevitably learn from the process. This trip was no exception. When it was over, I felt as if I had held my own and made an honest and straightforward defense of the gospel. It confirmed in me all the more that business was indeed my mission field. I felt as if I had made more inroads in 6 days then I could have in an entire year as a classical missionary. I was given the opportunity by God to change minds and not just on a classical theological platform. I am certain that as Christians we were more educated about our faith then many of them expected. This was evident by the level of candor and vulnerability that was verbalized near the end of the trip.

But here is the rub. While I readily conceded that Islam had at one time contributed mightily to the scientific debate about the existence of God, they would concede no such value or contribution from Christianity ever. They were convinced that the entirety of Christianity was based on myth, slight of hand, divine intervention and/or historical revisionism. With that as a presupposed fact in their mind, no honest examination of the truth could ever be engaged in no matter how much they claimed to be open to it. Who knows, maybe I am as equally convinced as to the faulty foundations of their faith that I don’t genuinely consider anything they have to say. I hope that is not the case. It is my intent to never stray into unalterable dogmatic waters. It is a process for me that requires frequent checks and balances. What nags at me is this; this has to be about truth and seeking the heart and truth of God. I am 99.4% (in that general vicinity) certain that my historical and factual understanding attest to the deity of Jesus Christ. Yes, ultimately I think God would desire me to be 100% certain of my faith. If the process cannot ultimately end in complete assuredness, is it really a process or just an intellectual hamster wheel? Anyway, I also know that it is very personal to me and spills into areas of country, heritage, pride and relationship. For me, these are areas of buttressing that cannot bear the same intellectual weight as the cold, hard and unvarnished facts of what I believe and why. Nor should they.

If I was totally confident that what I believe was absolutely and unequivocally true, any open exchange of ideas and knowledge would never offend or unnerve me. The fact that it often does, tells me that I am not as completely grounded in my beliefs’ as God would have me be. Is that OK to admit? To admit anything else would be to say that there is no longer room for me to learn or entertain how others got to the place they are. I know this is anathema to many but if my understanding of God never leaves any room for contest or debate, then whom can I actually win to Christ from another faith? That rationale might convince a person that has no prior cultural or relational frame of reference but will not even mildly intrigue a zealot. If both parties enter a discussion without the slightest inclination to genuinely consider the logic of the other, it strikes me as useless engagement. This all may sound as if I am unsure of what I hold as truth and can be swayed by every convincing wind of doctrine or logic. In reality, I think it to be the only honest way to engage people with whom I disagree with and wish to call brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have personally heard other world-views that depending on ones presuppositions are entirely defensible. I feel as if I need to be intellectually open to being persuaded even if I believe in my heart that nobody could ever undermine the foundational elements of what I hold as fact. To me the ultimate sign of weak or poorly founded beliefs is to intentionally disregard any other mindset or stated world-view. Again let me say though that I am firmly convinced that if pursued, any historical or factual study would confirm that my understanding of God would result in the fortification of Christ as the Savior.

Consider the following:

Luke 7: 18-22 (New International Version)

John’s (John the Baptist) disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses’ and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind received sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Jesus’ response was not condescending or even overtly direct. He did not chastise them or berate their lack of understanding. He challenged them to rise above the preconceived notions of whom it was they sought and instead challenged them to reach a conclusion based on the evidence that was before them. What he said was in essence, look at the miracles, look at the facts and “you” decide from them. Isn’t any defensible, real world-view about a continual examination of the evidence and how that evidence aligns with what we hold as truth? I am not talking about the core precept of Christianity. We had better of arrived at the sound conclusion that Jesus was and is the Christ if we ever hope to have our faith endure. I feel as if it is the responsibility of any Christian to be ready to mount a defense of the gospel at any time while simultaneously being open to alteration of what we hold dear. If we were completely assured of our position then this openness of heart would not even elicit an intellectual wince from us. By being open, we place ourselves in a position of reliance on something more than our own grey matter….and that is a good thing regardless of an individuals degree of scholastic accomplishments. To contend anything else would be to say that, all is known to us, and there is no longer room for epiphany or revealed understanding. The God I serve is not a definable entity and as such is not subject to my humanity or ability to comprehend. Discovering what is perceived truth and holding that knowledge against what we know as unassailable facts about God (what He has told us) is a delicate balance of motivation, application and process.

Now you may get the impression that I see my faith as this sterile, discovery dominated wind sprint that is always on the edge of plunging off the cliff. I hope I am never that antiseptic about issues that involve purpose, love and sacrifice. Even though I contend that no mutual quest for truth can take place without a willingness to exchange and consider; I also believe that our heart and spirit can be invaluable confirmers of truth when responding cleanly to issues of faith. The bottom line for me though is that I refuse to engage in a window dressing debate with an unreachable attitude that lurks just below the surface. I was made in Gods image. I was not asked to make God into the image of my politics, heritage or familiarity. The blessing my country has experienced speaks to God’s divine providence and not to her intellectual superiority over other cultures. The blessing is a result of the stated freedom to seek God as any individual deems appropriate. I believe that the precepts of Christianity flourish in a free society and whither in a theocratic environment. In my observation the same cannot be said of any other major faith.

I find dogmas to be helpful in and of them selves. It is dogmas in concert with a fundamental ignorance of another faith or set of understandings that render themselves impotent. I started this blather with a personal experience that involved followers of the Islamic faith. I do not think that what I propose here is limited to other faiths alone. I see it as an essential quality if Christianity is ever to make significant inroads in any other defensible world-view. The only thing that can be heard over the din of dogma is an open and honest spirit diligently thirsting for truth. This has to be about truth or the process is merely intellectual chest pounding.

John 18:36-38 (New International Version)

36 Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

37 "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. 
 Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

38 "What is truth?" Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him.

Jesus says that the very purpose for Him coming was to testify to the truth. Again, ultimately this has to be about truth. Not truth that is subjective or based on context. That kind of truth is a vapor will always be insufficient for explaining the condition of people or inspiring them to rise above circumstances. Truth is truth and it is not diminished or altered based on our pet peeves, cultural familiarity, fervent desires or social preferences. I can think of no higher aspiration or relevant life application than an unbridled quest for the purest possible form of truth. Being open to revealed and/or discovered truth while walking comfortably in our own beliefs is a little tricky. It is tricky because it makes us utilize a potion of our being that intellectuals like to discount. Being vulnerable is an issue of the heart. If we ever fully divorce our heart from the process of intellectually defending our faith, we have already relinquished the high ground. We may ultimately win the debate but that victory will result in the hollow thud of a self-aggrandizing act. The mind wants and needs to be right but the heart understands that truth imparted with love liberates people while truth uttered for the purpose of undermining the value of others is self-defeating. We need to decide why we are in the debate. Do we desperately want to see people saved and God revealed or is our need to be right so insatiable that it dictates us to defend that which we don’t even see as life changing? Our minds left to their own devices will always tend to stray towards self. Having our heart involved in the process keeps within us a sense as to what it is that we are attempting to accomplish. Pilate stood before Jesus and asked, “What is truth?” Based on his next action, which was to say that “ I find no basis for a charge against him”, his question most likely was sincere. I hope that we never quit asking the same question that Pilate did and always seek Him with a sense of reverence, compassion and intellectual tenacity.

Isn’t it just like God to introduce the heart into what our flesh desperately hopes is a process of reason only? Yes, even when our opponents are not shackled by any such dictate. My Islamic friends may never accept anything I have to say. They may dismiss it out of hand without so much as a thought. I will not continue on in the relationship with the same limitations. If I did, I would only be responding out of a sense of injustice when it comes to their conversational criteria. I would also be validating in my own heart the shaky foundation to my own reasoning. Assuredness of ones logic and motivation is an emotionally settling position and not one that should ever induce anxiousness or conversational disdain. The end result in our openness to consider will be that Jesus Christ as Savior will have any chance of being recognized by them. I welcome their dismissal and believe firmly that my willingness to engage them with a “relatively” clean and open heart is how my Savior will ultimately reveal Himself in the hearts of those I do business with and consider friends. One sided, maybe. My ego sure finds it as such. But in practical application, I think that my tact is the only one that actually has a chance to succeed and change hearts. And isn’t that the point?

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posted by Justin Forman | 1.22.2008 - 7:00 AM

1 Comments:

Thank you for sharing a story that is very close to my heart. As a Board member of Gospel for Muslims (www.gospelformuslims.com) we are trying to help Christians understand Islam and become effective in sharing their faith. Muslims do not understand our faith as you experienced. When they understand salvation from Christ, they convert. We have many of these experiences all year long in the US and even have some conversions in the most Islamic places.
Blessings,
Bob Howard
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 3:00 PM  

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