Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Who is my neighbour?
If Jesus was telling the story of the good Samaritan today, in our context, the Samaritan would definitely be Muslim!
Last night I believe something very significant happened. A bunch of evangelical Christians in Blackburn, in a Pentecostal Church no less, got together to pray. Some were on their knees others were in tears ... for their Muslim neighbours living in this town!
They asked for mercy for the racist attitudes they may have had. They asked forgiveness for assuming that Muslims didn’t need the Good News of Jesus in their life. There was sadness for the missed opportunities to show kindness and grace to people who are made in God’s image, brought about by the narrative of political correctness that had caused them to believe that people of Muslim faith may be offended!
There was joy and thanksgiving expressed to God for him bringing the nations to Blackburn, particularly of Muslim heritage. God always does thing for a reason.
Why and how did this happen?
Last night was the RISE Blackburn Unity Movement Prayer meeting, you can have a look at it HERE.
If you’ve not been, get yourself there, it’s cool! This evening's guest speaker was a guy called Andy Pratt who is a retired police officer who now acts as the Bishop of Blackburn's Interfaith Adviser.
I must admit, when I realised what Andy was going to talk about and the word Interfaith was mentioned, the thoughts that came into my head were snorefest with a slight tinge of heresy! How wrong I was!
Andy’s basic message was: 'Who are our neighbours?'
Undeniably in Blackburn our neighbours are the Muslim community making up close to 50% of the population of our town. When we have they amazing message of God’s love and grace, why are we not sharing this with them?
When was the last time the church showed hospitality to the Muslim community in Blackburn? If you have Muslim neighbours (and from my experience they are great neighbours to have) have you ever invited them for a meal? It's more likely they’ve invited you! 😊
What’s stopping us?
Well, we are probably more like the Jews in Jesus’s time, in their relationship to the Samaritans, than we think!.
Thoughts and sentiments prohibiting us may be as follows...
'What if we are tainted as Christians by having Muslim friends or being kind to them. People may question our faith and Christian orthodoxy. We might be tarred as being liberal Christians!'
Jesus had a similar situation with a Samaritan lady at a well in the Gospel of John chapter 4. Read it and see how that went. 😊
Then what about the crusades and culture wars? What about ISIS! Churches are closing and mosques are opening!
However, I would argue the biggest threat to the decline of faith and the church in this country is agnostic materialism, not the building of mosques.
What about: 'I don’t feel confident talking about Jesus to them as I don’t know enough, and they might come out victorious in an argument about faith with them'. Well if we don’t speak, even with risk of messing up, who is going to tell them the wonderful Good News of Jesus?
It might be I just don’t know what to do, or I might accidentally insult them. This may be true but you won’t be able to bless them unless you run the risk of actually talking, smiling and interacting with them.
All these feelings we may have today, have their parallels in the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus’s time.
I was really challenged, encouraged and heartened by last night’s prayer meeting for many, many reasons but would love to add my personal testimony, insight and encouragement, from my own life in interaction with people with Muslim faith and backgrounds.
Before I worked for Community Church Blackburn I had the unique privilege of working for the ARC project as a case worker. The ARC project (Asylum Seeker and Refugee Community) is a charity started by Christians who help, welcome, assist and build a community for people from throughout the world who are fleeing from their country due to persecution and war.
My role was to help them with their many and varied problems, from the trivial i.e. paying an gas bill, to more serious situations involving family break up and deportation.
In this position the majority of people I dealt with were of a Muslim background and faith so I feel well placed to make some good observations.
I have to say the vast majority of people I encountered there were gracious, humble, hospitable, funny, accepting, loyal, intelligent and extremely warm. Some are still some of my best friends. At ARC God really gave me a deep love and respect for people of an Islamic faith and really broke my heart for them.
One of the ways I got to share the Good News and sovereignty of Jesus over this period was through prayer.
Often I would do case work for them and do the best I could through my power. But as I grew in confidence, I would always ask if they would like me to pray over the situation they were facing. I would explain that I believed that Jesus (Esa) is God and Lord over the situation and he had the power and authority to deal with it far beyond what I had.
You would expect Muslim to be extremely offended by my offer due to my view of Jesus. However not one single person refused! Over my two years there I must have prayed for hundreds of people of a Muslim faith in the name of Jesus. I was always thanked and it was appreciated. In fact it caused a bit of a good problem for me in that people only wanted to see me at the ARC project as they got their case work done and also got a blessing from a Holy Man!
To illustrate this, there was a lady who attended our office, dressed in a full Islamic burka, so I couldn’t see her face. I completed her case work and was a little bit nervous about offering her prayer, particularly as she took her faith so seriously. However the Holy Spirit prevailed, gave me faith and I offered to pray for her in the name of Jesus and she accepted!
The next day she came into the office with a big plate of home-made cakes to say thank you as God had resolved her situation.
What I am saying? Well I am encouraging you to be open to praying for people of Muslim faith in the name of Jesus. If done tactfully I’m pretty sure in most cases it will be accepted and be welcome 😊
I also realised people of Muslim faith are basically closet Anglicans! Their world view is much, much nearer to Christianity than your average white agnostic western, materialistic European. Take for example the standard Islamic Arabic greeting “As-Salaam-Alaikum” with a response of “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam”. It basically means “May the Peace of God be with you” and the response being “and also with you”. This almost reads straight out of the Anglican prayer book!! The next thing they would say to each other would be “kayf halik” which means “how are you?” with the response being “Alhamdulillah” which means “I am good thanks to God” or “I am blessed by God!!”
Finally I would say, people of Muslim faith are so close to understanding and experiencing the Gospel they are just missing Grace of God. I am sad they don’t know the good news of Jesus.
In our church I would say around a third of our present church congregation come from an Islamic background. It is striking, when I have asked them why they renounced their Islamic faith. The reason they give isn’t to do with clever arguments, or strident anti-Islamic preaching that has moved them or caught their interest. It is often the unmerited favour and kindness, shown to them by Christians, so strikingly missing from Islam and it's God, that has impressed them so much and caused them to question their faith and be drawn to Jesus.
Maybe there is a wider learning in that for the church in general in Blackburn and the UK.
So pray for our neighbours in Blackburn of Islamic faith. Pray for dreams and visions of Jesus. Pray for underground churches to start in Mosques, pray for that community to be blessed and pray for Gods favour. Pray for opportunities for the church to show grace, hospitality kindness, mercy and the goodness of Jesus and the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Pray against racism, impatience and misunderstanding in our communities in Blackburn and pray for revival in our Islamic communities because who said the coming revival in the UK is going to be white middle class?
Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus Amen!!
Helpful bible passages to ponder
Luke 10:25-37 New International Version (NIV)
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
ste37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
John 4 New International Version (NIV)
(Jesus has a theological discussion about place of worship not dissimilar to what you make have with someone of Islamic faith!)
4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptising more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Scripture of the week
Presently I am reading through the bible in one year. You can have a look at it Here
This bit that really hit me between the eyes this week is this 😊
Exodus Chapter 3 v 11 – 12
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you.
I always love and am encouraged by the way, so many of the great Heroes in the bible get it so wrong and ask dim questions and how God answers or doesn’t answer the question by either ignoring it because it’s stupid or states the obvious!
This bit of the bible is just like this.
Moses is standing in the presence of the Almighty God of the universe who created the stars. He has just been asked by God to go ask the Egyptian pharaoh to let His people go.
Moses then says to God. Who am I??
God tactfully side steps and just lovingly says “I will be with you”
What Moses misunderstood is it didn’t depend on Him. It all depended on God and his willingness to be with Moses.
In Lancashire dialect God is saying “It not dependent on you dummy, what more do you need if I am with you? What have you got to worry about?”
How this is a message that I need to hear and understand 😊 and probably most of you guys are the same.
Books worth reading
The Life You Never Expected by Andrew Wilson
You can get it HERE
I had the privilege of attending the Catalyst leadership training led by Andrew Wilson who is the author of this book and he is an incredible, if slightly crazy teacher. Some of you will know him due to him speaking at Devoted and Newday.
He is also one of my favourite authors of Christian books. I have read and recommend all of them. They are always well written, succinct, punchy, funny, biblical and profound and this book is no exception.
This book is all about what happens when life does not go quite as you expect it and comes out of Andrew and Rachel his wife, experience of having two autistic children.
It’s real, raw and honest. It tackles often untouched topics of lament, grief and worship, struggle and hope. As well as reflecting on the specific challenges of raising children with special needs, it speaks into broader questions as well: the problem of suffering, building a marriage under pressure, fighting for joy and trusting in the goodness of God. I cannot recommend this book enough and if you read it, you will be brought closer to God and more equipped to walk with Jesus.
Activities and situations to pray for
Again please pray for the ongoing situation with the Bank account at CCB. Progress is being made and Gina and I are getting more and more excited as we think we’re nearly there, God willing!! Keep, praying😊 Also a big thank you to members of the congregation who have helped us pay some of the urgent bills we have needed to pay. You chaps are amazing ... you know who you are!
Alpha course was awesome last week. Thank you all for all your prayers and thank God for what he is doing. Also a shout out for Dan and Mim who made lovely, lovey food. High five chaps!!
Can I encourage you to attend the Church family meeting on the 16th Feb (a Sunday evening). This is an opportunity to question the leadership team and me about what is going on and what we and God is up to. Also we just want to share what is going on, through God and your support, prayers and finance. Please don’t miss it.
Finally I hope you enjoyed Soroush last Sunday. I believe it was a significant morning in the life of CCB where the Holy Spirit was moving and changing hearts. God was moulding and building the church at CCB. Making it glorify Him by containing many tribes, tounges and nations!! If you missed it due to you serving or were away please can I encourage you to listen to it HERE.
Stephen Norcross is an elder, married to Lisa and living in Blackburn. Stephen works full time for Community Church Blackburn. Stephen studied music at university and uses his musical gifts leading worship. He also has a passion for bible teaching.