Two tombs that point to resurrection life

The Garden Tomb

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again. ‘ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:23-26 ESV).

The Greek word ἀνάστασις (anastasis) is translated “resurrection.” Literally, it means to cause one to stand up again. This is a physical word that points to a physical reality. Jesus claims that this word is more than an eschatological doctrine that gives us hope at funerals. He claims to be the resurrection and the life. Resurrection is more than a principle to believe. It is a Person to know.

Jesus’ resurrection claim has left a historical footprint in Israel in the form of two tombs: the Garden Tomb and the tomb of Lazarus. While visiting Israel three years ago, we saw many ancient ruins and grave sites, but one of the most meaningful was the Garden Tomb near Gordon’s Calvary.

IMG_5577The Garden Tomb is one of several possible locations for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over one of the traditional sites, but the church building hides any idea of what the site may have originally looked like. The Garden Tomb on the other hand is preserved in such a fashion that allows for meditative viewing. Our tour group spent considerable time there and I was even privileged to lead them in a communion service near the empty tomb.

IMG_5619The Garden Tomb has been maintained by a nondenominational charitable trust from the United Kingdom since 1894 named The Garden Tomb Association. It is near the Damascus Gate outside Old Jerusalem. We stayed at a hotel only a 5-minute walk away from the Garden Tomb and enjoyed stopping by nearly everyday. The association does not charge for entry, but does accept donations and runs a small store for support. We loved having our morning quiet times here!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the tomb of Lazarus in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya (Arabic for “The Town of Lazarus”). We were on a 10-day tour of Israel, followed by another 8 days on our own, but there is so much to see that we just didn’t get to it. Plus, getting to it is complicated by the fact that the traditional town which was once called “Bethany,” now lies on the other side of the wall in a Palestinian controlled area. I regret that we didn’t visit. It is only a couple of miles away from Jerusalem. Perhaps on a future trip. We’d really love to go back some day.

These two tombs tell a story. Both are empty today. Both match the appearance as described in the Bible. Both held a dead body for at least three days. The one in Bethany was occupied by Lazarus until Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth!”

IMG_5622The one outside the walls of Jerusalem was occupied by Jesus until the first day of the week over 2,000 years ago when the One who said, “I AM the Resurrection” stood up and left it empty till this day!

Resurrection life has conquered death. So, that whoever believes in Christ, though they die, yet shall they live!

Easter means… hope

0278=278“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name” (Edward Mote).

In the dictionary’s definition of the word “hope,” it describes three aspects (I have put this into my own words):

  1. Its basis. That which makes up the foundation for our expectation that our great desire will be satisfied.
  2. Its nature. That which describes the quality and strength of our future longing and its affect on us in the present.
  3. Its object. That which is the focus of our expectation. This is the future something or someone that we focus our desire upon obtaining.

I think Edward Mote (1797-1874), the founding pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, West Sussex, England must have been contemplating these three aspects of hope when he penned the words to that great hymn, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” Published in 1837, this hymn became an instant classic.

Mote declared, “My hope is built” on Christ! Mote sees Christ’s work on the cross, his “blood and righteousness” as the foundation, the basis of our hope.  I agree. But I would further add that which the apostle Peter proclaimed, that our hope is built on Christ’s resurrection. In other words, the basis for Christian hope is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our hope is built on the historical reality of Christ’s work.

Mote says that this hope is not mere “trust” in a sweet “frame” of mind. No, it is based on the firm foundation of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This also speaks to its nature. Christian hope is a “living hope” as Peter described it. Its quality lies in its connection to the living Lord Jesus, who abides in those who believe on him. This hope is not merely an optimistic or positive “frame” of mind, but a strong conviction that all is well and that all will be well because of the living Christ. As Mote wrote in verse three of his hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.”

Christ’s resurrection is the basis of our hope. Christ’s abiding Spirit within us is the nature of our hope. And Christ’s return is the object of our hope. As Mote wrote in his final verse and chorus:

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Christ is our living hope!

Stop going to church

BeChurch“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV).

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47 NKJV).

“…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 KJV).

Stop going to church?

Jesus commanded us to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), but He never told us to go to church. In fact, the only “going” He commanded, was to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). Jesus never told us to go to church because the Bible never describes it as a place to go, but a people to be.

Today, we have too many people who go to church and not nearly enough who actually understand what it means to be the church. Consider the description of the first-century church in the book of Acts. Their devotion to God and to one another, their visible witness, their gladness, and favor with outsiders; all these characteristics were evidence of the Spirit of Christ in their community. This Spirit-filled, family of God, confessing “Christ as Lord” with their mouths as well as their manner, was the “rock” upon which the “Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

The church, as the people of God, is to be the visible manifestation of the body of Christ in this world. The existence of the true church should be one of the strongest proofs of God’s activity and presence. It is to be, as the apostle Paul told the Ephesians, the “household of God built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” And as Paul told the church at Corinth, our meetings should be so Spirit-filled and Word-rich that unbelievers would “fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:25).

Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of those who only go to church, instead of being the church, has become an actual hindrance to the gospel receptivity of unbelievers. The church that should be an attraction to unbelievers, repels instead.

What can we do?

Stop just going to church and start being the church. Because the church is not the steeple, it’s the people. It’s not a place to go, but a people to be. It’s not a building filled with fine furnishings, but a faith-filled, family of Christ-followers. Pray that God would make our church a gospel-saturated, Spirit-filled, graceful and generous people, so that He can add to our number daily those who are being saved.

Let’s stop just GOING to church and start BEING the church, then Christ will BUILD the church.

Proclamation follows passion

TalkingHeart“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

“What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT).

Have you noticed? We tend to talk about whatever we are passionate about. If we love football, we will talk about the latest game or draft pick with a total stranger. If we love a new restaurant, we proclaim its food and atmosphere on social media to all who will listen. If we’re recently engaged to marry, no one can stop the bride-to-be from showing off her new engagement ring. It’s what we do. We just naturally talk about what or who we love. Proclamation follows passion!

This is what the apostle Peter was writing about in his first epistle. He knew that believers were often afraid to share their faith in Christ with others for fear of disapproval or persecution. Yet, he also knew that if believers elevated Christ to the highest place in their hearts, honoring Him as the Lord, then they would always be “prepared” to talk about their faith to others. Fear of persecution would not stop their proclamation because they would “fear” dishonoring Christ more than any fear of disapproval by others.

According to surveys by Barna, only 73% of born again believers believe that they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. And only 52% say they have actually shared their faith with someone else in the past year (George Barna, “Is Evangelism Going Out of Style?”).

Why is this? Why aren’t born again Christians sharing their faith? Here are some “reasons” that people give:

  • Lack of knowledge. “Fear that a question will be asked that I can’t answer.”
  • Rejection. “Fear that the person won’t like me.”
  • Disapproval. “Fear that the person will think I’m being too religious or uncool.”
  • Impolite. “It isn’t politically correct to discuss religion.”
  • No desire. “I’m an introvert. I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

There may be many more “reasons” that believers are giving for not witnessing, but the truth of the matter is not found in the external world, but in the heart. If we are afraid to talk about our hope in Christ with others, we may blame it on many things, but the real reason is found in our hearts. For as Jesus said, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If we are silent about our hope in Christ, then we have not set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.

Dear friends, as we approach the Easter season, let us examine our hearts. Have we set apart Christ as Lord? Do we “honor” Him as holy and above all things? Do we want to please Him above all others?

When we love Christ with all of our heart, mind and soul, we won’t be able to stop talking about Him. Proclamation follows passion.

Gospel-centered living

Gospel Centered Living_3 Strands (Black)“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV).

Over the next few weeks we will be discussing how making the gospel the center focus of our lives will result in a kind of three cord strand of evangelistic living. These three strands include: building relationships, sharing the gospel, and introducing people to our community of believers. Together, these three pursuits will not only reflect our gospel-centeredness, but will result in gospel-saturated lives that create an invitational culture that will bring those far away from God near.

In the book, Total Church, the authors write about this idea of living “gospel-saturated” lives:

TotalChurch“We need Christian communities who saturate ordinary life with the gospel. The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which “God-talk” is normal. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, and sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers. We want our life together to be gospel-saturated. We want to live and talk the gospel as part of our shared life.” – Tim Chester; Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae about how they could live lives that were marked by this kind of gospel saturation. Using the word “walk” to describe the ordinary, day-to-day coming and going of their lives, Paul encouraged them to live with the kind of “wisdom toward outsiders” that would open up opportunities for gospel sharing. Knowing that outsiders would be attracted to the wisdom and grace of gospel-centered living, Paul advised the Colossians to be ready to “answer” them with the gospel reason for their behavior.

This kind of gospel-centered living changes our ordinary days into extraordinary ones as we see “outsiders,” people who are far from God, brought near by the gospel that they see demonstrated in us.

As we approach the Easter season, we are redoubling our focus on making disciples that live gospel-centered lives. With this in mind, we are offering four Easter weekend services this year, so our members will have more options for inviting others to hear the gospel. In order to put more focus on these additional services, we decided to cancel our usual Easter EGGstravaganza event.

So, remind me again why we cancelled Easter EGGstravaganza?

Sure, this event was very successful at attracting large numbers of people to our campus (Over 3,000 attenders last year), but we really couldn’t point to anyone who came to faith or starting attending our church as a result. The event did make us quite famous in Wilson and certainly made us a lot of friends, but it didn’t appear to be leading “outsiders” into our gospel community.

We have not given up on doing special outreach events, but we are determined to carefully evaluate every event to make sure it is leading people closer to hearing and receiving the gospel.

So, this year we decided to take the money and effort that we normally spend on Easter EGGstravaganza and put it towards actually inviting outsiders to attend one of our Easter weekend services. We are mailing out 12,500 postcard invites to our Easter weekend services. These postcards have been carefully selected to go to households that have children and will advertise our Easter services, as well as a fun egg hunt opportunity for the kids after every service. We are also printing 2,000 doorhangers that we will hang during our annual Hope Station food drive and we are giving out special Easter invite cards to our members to pass along to their friends.

As Chester and Timmis say in Total Church:

“Major events have a role to play in church life, but the bedrock of gospel ministry is low-key, ordinary, day-to-day work that often goes unseen. Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.”

The truth is, most people visit our church because they were personally invited by a friend or family member. This is where the real gospel work takes place. One gospel-centered person deciding to befriend, share and invite an outsider to come inside and experience the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Generous ears

listen“Who among you will give ear to this,
    will attend and listen for the time to come?” (Isaiah 42:23 ESV).

“Lend me your ears” (Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give another is the gift of listening.

In a world where everyone is busy expressing their opinion on social media and tweeting about their status, do you ever wonder if anyone is really listening? We greet one another with “How are you?” but really don’t want to know. It’s just a pleasantry. We don’t have time to hear. Listening is a luxury we feel we can’t afford.

Yet many are starving for understanding, yearning for someone to really listen to their voice. Who will give the gift of listening to them?

There have been many through the years who have given me the gift of listening. And that’s really important to a “talker” like me. Certainly the one, other than Jesus, that has been my most ardent listener has been my wife, Robin. As long as I don’t start the conversation too late at night (she’s an early to bed, early to rise type), she will listen attentively as long as I talk. She’s my biggest fan. Always encouraging me when I express self-doubt. Believing in me when I describe my dreams. Her listening speaks louder of her love for me than words ever could.

That’s because listening is sacrificial. We have to humble ourselves and be silent to truly hear another. This self-imposed silence is not only to our speaking voice, but also to our inner one as well, not thinking of what we’re going to say next, but truly focusing on the other. Listening is a gift of love.

When was the last time you gave the gift of listening to someone that everyone else tends to shun? When did you last bend down to a child’s level and truly hear their little voice?

I’m glad that I have a wife that listens to me. Even more than that, I’m glad that we have a God that listens. As the psalmist said, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19 ESV).

If our great God can lean down and listen to us, shouldn’t we also be willing to have such generous ears?

Displaying the selfless generosity of God

Basic RGB“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV).

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare” (C.S. Lewis).

This coming Sunday we are beginning a new sermon series entitled, “Generosity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 8-9.” In this series, we are moved to communicate the truth that the apostle Paul sought to give to the church in Corinth, that those who have received the generous grace of God are to joyfully overflow with generosity towards others. Paul hoped to inspire the wealthy Corinthians by sharing the story of how the impoverished and persecuted Christians of Macedonia had received and responded to God’s grace by overflowing “in a wealth of generosity” themselves.

The kind of generosity displayed in the believers of Macedonia is unlike the so-called generosity of this world in at least three ways:

1. It was a generosity that resulted from first receiving God’s grace. 

newtons-cradle-1Like the device know as Newton’s cradle, the kind of crazy, self-emptying generosity that the Macedonians displayed, came from an external power source. Named after Sir Isaac Newton, the device uses a series of swinging spheres to demonstrate the third law of motion— that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When one of the spheres on the end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres and a force is transmitted them that pushes the last sphere upward.

In similar fashion, Paul said that the “grace of God” that had been “given” to the Macedonians had caused them to overflow with joyful generosity in spite of their poverty and affliction. The generosity seen in the Macedonian believers was in fact, the generosity of God flowing to and through them to others.

This is not the kind of generosity that the one desiring to win the lottery expresses, saying, “If I win the Power Ball, I promise I will give a lot of it to help the church!”

No, the truth of the matter is that someone who is not generous before winning the lottery, will not magically become generous afterwards. The Macedonian Christians gave out of their poverty, not their wealth. They were so full of God’s grace that they emptied themselves in generosity.

2. It was a generosity that surprised others in its sacrificial extravagance.

When Bill Gates gives away a million dollars people are impressed with the amount, but no one worries how Bill will live without that million. Everyone knows that he is a billionaire. He’ll probably be able to struggle by with the amount he has left.

But the apostle Paul was astounded by the offering that the Macedonians gave to help the hungry and hurting in Jerusalem. He doesn’t name the amount, but it must have been more than seemed humanly possible for such an impoverished people. Paul described their giving as being “beyond their means” (2 Cor. 8:3).

How is this possible? How can one give “beyond their means?” The only way this can happen is when one is willing to do without something in order to give more. The Macedonian believers decided to live on less in order to give more. I’m sure this meant more than just going without their daily “Starbucks” mocha latte. They sacrificed in order to give generously.

3. It was a generosity that held nothing back in reserve.

Generosity in the worldly sense usually points to the one who is willing to give from their surplus. Even the word, “generosity,” originates from the Latin, meaning of “noble birth.” Those born into nobility, with their lands and titles, were expected to be generous.

But the generosity of the impoverished Macedonian believers exceeded this expectation. They not only gave more than they were able, they ultimately offered their whole lives as an offering to God. Paul said that they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God” (2 Cor. 8:5) to him as well.

They said, “My ‘Yes’ is on the table! Whatever God wants from me, it’s His! And whatever you [Paul] as our spiritual leader, ask of us, we will do.”

It was God’s selfless generosity displayed in the Macedonian believers that Paul wanted the Corinthians to see. He wanted them to intentionally pursue the excellence of generosity as God had displayed it in Macedonia.

This is what God always wanted when He created us, that we would be His image-bearers in this world, displaying His character to the universe. He wants us to display His selfless generosity in our lives.

This is why He generously gave us His Son, Jesus, so that receiving this grace, we might be born again and become the generous image-bearers that God always intended.

Do you display the excellence of God’s selfless generosity in your life? What would it look like for you to start intentionally depending on God to grow in this area today?

Rank strangers

This album made in 1969, was one of their later recordings. (Pictured from L to R) Tommy Hall, J.C. Leonard, Wilda Combs, Ettie Dillon and (seated) Ralph Bays

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.In My Father’s house are many mansions;if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3 NKJV).

The older you get, the more you realize that author, Thomas Wolfe, got it right when he said, “You can’t go home again.”

That’s what the old song, “Rank Stranger,” written by Albert E. Brumley of Powell, Missouri, in 1942, was about. The lyrics describe a man’s visit to his childhood home where he could no longer find anyone that he recognized. Everywhere he looked around his old home place, the people he met seemed to be “rank” (“complete”) strangers to him, “no mother or dad, not a friend” did he see.

The song was included in a Stamps-Baxter gospel songbook that my mother and her gospel quartet often used. The name of her group was the Willow Branch Quartet, named after the Willow Branch Baptist Church which my great, great grandfather planted and where I was later baptized. The original group included my teenage mother, Wilda Dillon, singing lead; her mother, Ettie Dillon, alto; J. C. Leonard (the barber who gave me my first haircut), tenor; and Harold Shaffer, bass. The first three members formed the core of the group for nearly 40 years. But Shaffer, the original bass singer died and was replaced by several bass singers through the years. Among them was Howard Overbey and finally, during the last 20 years of the group, Tommy Hall (my 7th grade history teacher), who in addition to his bass voice, also played piano and guitar. As the group moved from its acapella origins, it also added another guitarist, my Uncle Ralph Bays.

Willow Branch QuartetThe quartet was based out of Bristol, Virginia and was well-known at churches and radio stations throughout the surrounding states of Tennessee, North and South Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. They recorded several 78s, albums, 8-tracks and cassettes through the years. They were often heard singing live on a radio station in downtown Bristol on Sunday afternoons.

According to Ralph Stanley’s autobiography, it was on one of these Sunday afternoons that he and his brother, Carter, drove through Bristol and first heard the song, “Rank Stranger” on the radio, being sung by my mother and the Willow Branch Quartet.

I was actually contacted by one of Stanley’s book researchers a few years ago about this very story. I was able to confirm to him that my mother had recorded “Rank Stranger” in 1956 (on an old 78) and that her quartet was often asked to sing the song.

Here is what Stanley’s autobiography says about this:

“I remember back in the fifties, we heard a gospel group called the Willow Branch Quartet. They played around the Bristol area… We were driving to a show, listening to the radio, when we heard the Willow Branch Quartet doing a song called “Rank Stranger.” There was something there that grabbed Carter and me. We’d never heard that term “rank stranger” before. The song was all about feeling a stranger in this world, even with your own family and friends and neighbors, and how the next world would make all that right… I reckon it became the most popular song the Stanley Brothers ever sung” (Ralph Stanley, Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 384).

IMG_1445I was able to attend a Ralph Stanley concert in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in October of 2013. I got him to sign his autobiography and I gave him a CD of some of my mother’s recordings, including “Rank Stranger.” He thanked me and handed it to his son, saying, “Here, put this on the bus. We’ll play it on the way home.”

“Home.” That’s where my mother, my grandmother, my uncle and everyone else in the Willow Branch Quartet are now. They are at home in heaven with the Lord Jesus. He’s the One who has prepared a place for all those who believe in Him.

And this is why when I go “home” to Bristol, things just aren’t the same. Here are the lyrics and a recording of the Willow Branch Quartet doing “Rank Stranger.”

I wandered again
To my home in the mountains
Where in youth’s early dawn
I was happy and free.
I look for my friends,
But I never could find ’em.
I found they were all
Rank strangers to me.

Everybody I met
Seem to be a rank stranger;
No mother or dad,
Not a friend could I see.
They knew not my name
And I knew not their faces —
I found they were all
Rank strangers to me.

“They’ve all moved away,”
Said the voice of a stranger,
“To that beautiful shore
By the bright crystal sea.”
Some beautiful day
I’ll meet ’em in Heaven
Where no one will be
A stranger to me.

Everybody I met
Seem to be a rank stranger;
No mother or dad,
Not a friend could I see.
They knew not my name
And I knew not their faces —
I found they were all
Rank strangers to me.

What do Muslims think of us?

Istanbul“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind… Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-2, 5 ESV).

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

Yesterday, I spent an hour on a Facebook Messenger video call with my great friend and former college roommate, who now lives in Istanbul, Turkey. It was great catching up with him and hearing how God is blessing his gospel ministry among the Muslim majority people in Istanbul. When we talk, it’s as if we have not been separated by time and geography because of the deep love and brotherhood that we share in Christ for one another.

Speaking of time and geography, he spoke of the strategic time and place of living in Istanbul during one of the most massive human migrations in modern times. He said his church has been inundated with Syrian refugees streaming into Turkey on their way to Greece and Europe. He said that it’s not just Syrians, but Iranians, Iraqis and other Middle Eastern peoples who are coming across Turkey’s porous border seeking to find a safer and more peaceful home for their families.

One of the ministries that he and his church offer is an English club. Both the resident Turks and the migrating Middle Easterners want to learn English to improve their opportunities in the world economy. English is the language of the world’s marketplace.

The English club that he leads offers a place to learn and practice conversational English with members of his church. It is not outwardly Christian, but they do not “bait and switch” people into coming in for English learning and then, surprise them with a high pressure gospel appeal. They really just teach English.

Yet, according to the Arabic and Turkish speaking peoples who attend there to learn English, “There is something special, something loving and peaceful about the teachers who facilitate the club.”

My friend reported that several have asked to learn how to become Christians after attending the club.

“Why?” I asked him. “If you’re not doing evangelism and explaining the gospel, why would they be asking about how to become a Christian?”

He said, “They tell us it’s because of the way we treat one another. And because of the way we treat them. One mother and her son attended together and she said that they have never felt such peace and love as she and her son feel when they are with us. She wants to have what we have.”

“But did you say something about the gospel or being Christian?” I asked.

“No, I think it was the loving and peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit in our gathering that caused her to ask. Of course, we were more than ready to tell her about Jesus when she expressed her interest. We live for these gospel opportunities.”

As my friend and I said our goodbyes, expressing the deep love and affection that we have had for one another for the last 38 years, I was reminded of how that was the very love that was attracting the people in Istanbul to his English club.

Many of us are quick to say what we think of Muslims. We are often motived by fear and distrust, so we express ourselves accordingly. But do we ever ask, “What do Muslims think of us?”

For that matter, do we ever wonder what anyone thinks of us? What do our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, family members and others think of us? I suppose the answer has a lot to do with what we think of one another, with what kind of attitude we have towards fellow believers.

The apostle Paul challenged the Christians in Philippi to have the same mind as Christ, towards one another, to be like-minded, loving, and serving the same purpose together. Jesus described it even more simply by saying, “People will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

My conversation with my friend in Istanbul reminded me that the community of Christ-followers, living, loving and serving together in unity, is the best and truest apologetic for those who would consider Christ.  Ultimately, what Muslims and others, think of us, will affect what they think of Christ.