the lady at the ferry station

The Lady At The Ferry Station

She wasn’t hurting anyone. But if the truth be known, she was annoying a lot of people. It reminded me how sometimes we have no idea how our behaviors are actually hindering the gospel as we try to preach it to others.

We were at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, waiting for the boat to cross to Lower Manhattan, along with hundreds of others. There was this old woman, sitting in the middle of the crowded room. She was reading her bible. And singing. She was really singing.

It wasn’t an operatic voice or anything; in fact, she was a little out of tune. And LOUD. She was preaching-singing. She appeared to care little about what anyone around her seemed to think about her singing, too. It was like she was in her own little world.

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Sometimes, you don't have to say a word

Sometimes, You Don’t Have To Say A Word


We All Have Stories

The longer you travel this road of life, the more stories you remember from the journey. I remember this one for how it demonstrates how there are many different ways that God can speak to a person about the condition of his or her soul.

I used to work in an auto plant, building cars on the assembly line. Phil was one of the guys who had been there a long time. I remember the day I first met him. My first impression of him was that I thought he was pretty opinionated. He really was, actually, although I have to admit that, at the time, I was probably more opinionated than he was. By “opinionated,” I don’t mean someone who merely has an opinion; I’m talking about someone who has an opinion and knows how to use it. I would stick to my opinions without having a sufficient awareness of all the facts to see how flimsy my opinions really were.

I believe we often find an understanding of theology that reflects and makes sense of our own experiences in becoming Christians.

That was my experience. It kind of went like that for me. I happened to be a person who leaned pretty strongly toward an “Arminian” theology – that God gives everyone an opportunity to accept or reject the gospel, as I felt at the time that God had done with me.

Phil, because of his experience, was very strongly “Calvinistic” – he held a theology that basically says if you believe in Jesus, it’s because you were saved from eternity past, and you just came to recognize, in the course of time, that you are one of those whom God “ordained to be saved.” But you don’t really choose. You “got saved” because God chose you long ago. I wasn’t sure I liked his theology at the time. That wasn’t how it worked for me.

One day, Phil told me how he became a Christian.

And when he did, I had more of an appreciation for his theological position. I’m not sure how the conversation even started that day, but I’m glad it did.

Phil told me about his past life – his life “BC” – before Christ, and how much different his life was. When I knew Phil, he was a quiet fellow, and seemed to be reasonably modest and self-controlled. But as he tells the story, he was not always like that.

Phil explained that he used to be a supervisor on the line a long time ago, and that job came with a number of troubles. It’s a difficult job, being a front-line supervisor in an auto plant. It’s especially stressful if you have a strong-minded workforce with an attitude that they don’t really want to work all that much, and they are backed by a union with very broad shoulders. And Phil had a bunch of them in his department.

Phil was a miserable man with a problem.

Phil was dealing with a lot. The guys in his department weren’t really happy with him.

And neither was his wife. He had been fooling around on her, and, being a philanderer and an alcoholic, his wife was getting ready to leave him. To put it briefly, he was pretty miserable, and he admitted that he was completely miserable to live with. And to work with.

Anyway, one day, Phil had a situation on the line that was very quickly turning into a very serious and soon-to-be expensive problem.

And, there was Murray.

Now, you have to know Murray to appreciate him. He was a simple guy. By simple, I don’t mean stupid. I mean uncomplicated. Murray was just a plain, humble guy, who somehow was known as a Christian, even though he never seemed to preach much to the guys he worked with. Now I MYSELF was in the habit of preaching to the guys I worked with at the time, but I will say that they didn’t always do well with it – partly because (just being honest here) I was, at times, pretty vocal and opinionated about it.

But unlike me and my frequent preaching to people about how they needed to be saved, Murray was quiet about his faith. People knew he was a Christian, but he seemed never to preach at anyone. And yet, he hosted the presence of The Lord as he went about his work from day to day. They just knew there was something different about him. People knew, somehow, that if there was a God, he and Murray were pretty close.

So anyway, now that you know how I was always preaching, and Murray was not always preaching, I can tell the rest of the story.

As I said, on this particular day, Phil was having this “soon to be expensive” problem on the line. One of the operations in his section of the plant required a very specific bolt that had to be put in the vehicle at this point. If that bolt was not available, there was no way to continue running that line. They would have to stop the line and send everyone home. And THAT is expensive. You have to know that when these assembly plants have to shut the line down, they count the cost in thousands of dollars per minute. THAT is an expensive bolt.

Phil sent Murray to find those bolts.

Phil knew they were in the plant. He had checked the records and he knew they had been received in shipping. But they weren’t where they were supposed to be. And they were now literally within a couple minutes of seeing the line shut down and the shift workers sent home. Heads were set to roll, and Phil’s would be rolling with the rest.

And this is the point in the story where Phil got my attention. Phil said he watched Murray as Murray went to look for those bolts. Phil said that everyone in management was feeling the pressure that was about to hit if the line went down. And as he was feeling that pressure growing (and knowing Murray was a Christian) he watched as Murray took a left to turn down one of the isles where the parts were stored.

And then Murray stopped. He quietly bowed his head for about 20 seconds. And then, he looked up suddenly, spun his head around, did a “180” in the isle, and walked the opposite direction. And thirty seconds later, he came from that other direction with that box of bolts in his hands.

And in that instant, Phil knew that Murray’s God was real.

Phil said to me, “I just knew. God just somehow gave me the grace to believe it, I guess. But in that instant, I saw that Murray’s God was real. AND I WANTED TO KNOW THAT GOD.”

Murray had never preached to Phil. Phil knew full well he was a sinner. Murray never pointed that out, never pounded on him about what a horrible man he was. But when Murray prayed, and Phil saw that God had answered Murray’s prayer, God used that to reach Phil.

Now, we can argue until the cows come home about whether God chose Phil or Phil chose God; whether God chose to give Phil a chance to respond to an invitation, and if Phil chose to respond to the chance that God was giving Phil in the moment, or if God just caused Phil to believe, and so he just did. I guess Phil and I might still see it differently, if we were to sit down and compare notes about it.

And that might even be a good discussion to have, depending on how it happens.

But getting caught up in that would miss the point to be learned from the story. The point here is that we don’t know what God will use to get someone’s attention. We need to understand that sometimes, it’s not our talk but our walk that will be the thing that God chooses to use in someone else’s life.

In the bible, in Peter’s first epistle, he says, “always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within you.” And I think that is good advice – especially since it is in the bible. But just never forget that it also says, “we are epistles to BE READ OF ALL MEN.’

Murray said nothing that day. He was READ. Like a BOOK.

He was read because he was ABLE to be read – because He learned what it was to “do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with His God” (Micah 6:8)

So always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within you. But rest in God for the timing and the “how” – even if it’s just walking close enough to him to hear him say “turn right” when you were going to turn left.

Because you never know how God will use that simple act to bring a lost soul to Jesus. And your effective preaching – your “word in due season” – may be spoken without a single word.

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sharing the gospel with Muslims

Nine Things To Remember When Witnessing To Muslims

If you’re reading this post, then I would assume it’s because you’ve found Jesus. Or perhaps, more accurately, Jesus found you, and you came to recognize that. He has changed your life.

Part of what happens when you discover that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” is that you want everyone to know exactly what it is that you have found. And if you’ve been around for a while, sharing your faith, you’ll probably know well by now that there are a lot of Muslims out there too. And many of them are passionate about their faith. You know what you have that you want so desperately to share with them.

But if you’ve spent any time at all witnessing to Muslims, you’ll realize that they’re not all easily convinced. It’s interesting how we come to this new revelation about how much God really loves us, and when we go to share that truth with others, we sometimes get discouraged that they have a whole other way of looking at things.

If you truly love and care about the Muslim next door, you need to try to understand some things about their beliefs. Compassion is a powerful force in winning people to Jesus – learning how someone else thinks and feels is vital to being able to build bridges to connect with them and to help them to find this loving God they are probably already really looking for anyway.

I’ve put together a list here of some important truths that it would help very much to remember when you’re trying to share your faith with a follower of Islam.

1 – They believe in absolutes, too

One advantage you have in discussing what is “true” with a Muslim is that like 
pretty much most Christians, they believe there is set of facts and ideas that 
are true, and that these truths are “absolute.” That the sky is blue is an absolute – in other words, it is blue, even if you meet some guy who says it is always yellow.

It is frustrating dealing with a lot of people these days, because they have 
this soft, squishy notion that somehow, something can be true for you and not 
for me – like there might be a hell if you believe there is one, but if I don’t 
believe in hell, then there won’t be one for me.
Most Christians do get the idea that things are right or wrong, whether we want to believe them or not. Now, some Christians believe there is a hell, 
some believe in annihilation.

But whatever you believe, you believe your position 
is the right one, regardless of whether people believe it or not.
 And both you and the person who disagrees with you on that point both recognize you can’t both be right. Truth is truth, and you both agree that there is something that is true, though you might disagree on what it is.

Muslims believe in absolutes, too. In witnessing to a Muslim, this has a great advantage as compared to dealing 
with many other people these days. You and the Muslim believe much different 
things are true; but you both agree there is an objective, external “reality” 
that exists apart from your perception of it. It does give you a good jumping 
off point.

So be aware of this fact. You’re going to have differences about what you believe. But, like you, this Muslim you are trying to reach is concerned that you both come to terms with “truth.”

2 – They have a common understanding of “sacred texts”

Like the devout orthodox Jew with the Torah, or the devout Christian with the 
bible, the Muslim believes there are certain texts which were given by God 
through inspiration. Since they believe these to be the word of God, 
they have a tendency to view all they see and do in the world through a lens of 
using their texts to determine what is right and wrong, what is true and untrue,
what is holy and unholy. The devout Muslim believes the Quran (and the hadith) 
are given for us to model our understanding of truth and our conduct in the 

The point you need to remember is this: you “know” your bible is right. But he or she “knows” his or her Quran is “right,” too. And if you’re going to communicate with them – if you’re going to TRULY communicate the love of God to them, you’re going to have to be aware of their feeling about the Quran being right and the Bible being wrong. They might not be able to do the same for you. But your understanding of that is vital if you want to respect where they are coming from.

You will need to be willing to take some time to learn what is in their book if you’re expecting them to take the time to learn what is in yours. (And don’t worry. Your heavenly Father will protect your heart and mind if you ask Him too.) But if you want to truly know these people, and know their hearts, you’re going to have to hear where they’re coming from and what is in their book that shapes their belief.

3 – Half of their Quran is about what is wrong with Christianity

If you meet a muslim who is being friendly, or is perhaps trying to convert you to Islam, there is a pattern in the 
conversation that will sometimes occur. I’ve had it often in my dealings with 
Muslims (and there are a whole bunch of them were I live). They will discover 
that I am a Christian. And their response will often be, “oh, we believe in 
Jesus, too. We believe he was a prophet of God.”
 It is a common approach they take. I’m not sure if it is their way of trying to 
find common ground with Christians or if it is something else. But it sure feels 
like they are trying to find a way to connect with the Christian (of course, to 
straighten them out and bring them to a belief in Islam, but they’re trying).

If they say this to you, please remember that they have been taught what they believe from the Quran, and this is what the Quran tells them – that Jesus was a prophet – and ONLY a prophet. Always try to give room for the motives and the sincere beliefs of that Muslim on the other side of that conversation. THEY are trying to help YOU, too.

Of course you realize they are mistaken. But don’t forget that they think you are, too. Love the fact that they are concerned enough for you that they are trying to “help you” and that they are open enough to talk with you.

4 – They have been taught certain wrong things about your belief

What you may or may not know (depending how long and how deeply you have studied
Islam) is that it is not unreasonable to say that half of the Quran concerns 
itself with what it believes are flaws, weaknesses and sinful (pagan – 
polytheistic) practices and beliefs in Christianity and Judaism.
 The Quran, in many spots, feels like it is one long diatribe against Christians 
and their beliefs.

So, unlike Christianity, where your bible is more of an instruction about who Jesus is and who he wants to be in your life, the Quran is a book that spends a lot of time talking about who Jesus is not – much of the Quran is written to correct what it’s author believed were errors and misunderstandings about Jesus that crept into the church and brought paganism and corruption into the church.

The Quran talks about the immaculate conception, about the fact that Jesus did miracles and much of what the bible teaches about Jesus; but the Quran goes to great lengths to make the point that Jesus is NOT the son of God. So, if they believe the Quran, they don’t believe in “the same Jesus” that you and I do.

5 – They do not all believe the same thing

You have probably been around enough to know that each Christian’s beliefs are 
as unique as a fingerprint. None of us see things exactly the same way. What 
unites us in our faith (or, at least, should unite us in our faith) is our 
relationship with God through Jesus, with the scriptures as the baseline for 
measuring what is true. But our beliefs on various aspects of Christian theology
 will vary widely – hell vs. annihilation; fundamentalist vs. charismatic, 
different views on the finer points of salvation, eschatology and the like.

There are AT LEAST as many differences betweem the various sects and 
denominations in Islam. To say that they all believe the same is a very 
simplistic and quite unhelpful view.

It is an unfortunate reality that we tend to paint people with big, broad brushes. But the different ideas and patterns of thought in the Muslim community are vast and wide. And, like you, their experience in their lives will shape their faith and their beliefs, too.

Where they DO pretty much believe the same thing is in how they disagree with 
Christianity. They believe that there is one God, Allah; that he has NO SON; and
 that Muhammad is his greatest and final prophet. And you need to focus on helping them to understand who Jesus really is – with patience and compassion.

6 – Muslims, like everyone else, are people

Because of what is happening in the world today – in parts of the Middle East and in Europe, we can be scared that every Muslim we encounter is a closet-terrorist. But what you do need to keep in mind is that the vast majority of Muslims who have come to the west have come to escape sharia and the extremes of their previous countries. Muslims fought the Jews with Hitler in World War Two. And there were a great many Muslims who fought on our side against Hitler, against totalitarianism, against evil.

They are people first – people, who (like every other lost person you run into out there) need Jesus.

In spite of what you think, there are a great many among them who are sometimes 
quite unsure about what they believe; quite unsure if they are secure on their 
destination of heaven vs hell; unsure at all whether God really loves them. They
 are open to what is true, and many of them are rather disenchanted with their 
Islamic frame of reference because they recognize that it paints the picture of 
a God whom we must fear but cannot always trust.

As you are speaking to these people, recognize that they have hopes and fears like everyone else; that they are in need of a savior like everyone else; that so many of them are looking for that God-shaped vacuum to be filled with a God who is REAL.

7- God is even more interested than you are in them finding Jesus

We sometimes forget, as we go about our business in witnessing to these people 
about Jesus, that He is even more interested than we are in them discovering God for 
who he really is. Thomas Aquainas said, “our hearts are restless, and they do 
not rest until they find their rest in thee.” There is a hole in each human 
heart where God is longing to dwell, and until the Holy Spirit takes up 
residence there, the human heart will be hungering for what is real and what is 
true for anyone who is open to the truth. And there are many among these people 
who really want God, no matter the cost.

But even more than that, never forget that God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that people could be saved. If you have compassion in your heart for this Muslim to find Jesus, know that God is a lot more interested in it than you are. You are not alone. God’s GOT this.

8 – for a Muslim, believing in Jesus comes at a much higher price than it likely 
did for you

You must also remember that for a Muslim, this cost is extremely high. Many of 
us, when we came to Jesus, faced a little ridicule by our family and friends for 
”joining a cult” or getting “whacky” on religion. But you must understand that for 
the majority of the people who grew up in this Muslim culture, they come from a 
background where it is common for the family to totally disown them and disavow 
any relationship or connection with them.

In fact, in most Middle Eastern 
countries, there is a high percentage of Muslims who, when interviewed, would 
agree that the penalty for apostasy should be death. So while it might have been 
difficult for you to leave some illicit fun and some bad habits behind, for many 
of these people, they are literally toying with the reality that inviting Jesus 
into their lives is tantamount to signing on for a death sentence.

So you have to be very patient with them, very prayerful for them and very kind 
to them when they wrestle with the huge price tag that may well be involved for 
them to commit their lives to Jesus. Do not underestimate how difficult this could be to them as a real cost in their life, or how much it will require you to be a part of their life if they embrace this God who loves them so much – because those who embrace them now may no longer do so once they give their lives to Jesus.

9- You have the Holy Spirit on your side

And this is probably the biggest point you must remember. When you are speaking 
the truth about Jesus in love, you don’t need to be afraid of them. You need to 
remember who you are in Christ, who they are without Christ and how much they 

need the truth that you are wanting so much to share with them.

The majority of them do not have any concept of a kind, compassionate God who is like a Father, who is slow to anger, but whose 
compassions are new every morning. And for those who are seeking truth, you can 
rest in the reality that Jesus loves them more than you do; that as you speak, 
God is able to use your words to quicken His truth to their hearts. 
Never forget that you are carrying water to those who are dying and thirsty; but 
if they are rejecting your thirst-quenching truth, it might be because they have 
been drinking from a briny sea for so long that they feel what you have is 
merely more of the same.

So be kind. Be patient. Be loving. And do not forget that in the end, you’ll not 
win them over by mere persuasive arguments. Those are important so that they can see the difference between the real you offer and the counterfeit they have believed.

But ultimately, they will be won over by the Holy Spirit flowing
 through the truth you speak in love.

The battle is the Lord’s.

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