What My Muslim Friend Taught Me About Jesus

Ali is my good friend and one of my hero’s. He has taught me so much. Let me tell you about him.

Ali grew up a Shi’ite Muslim in Iran. In an effort to complete his studies as a doctor of neurology, he moved to the United States about three years ago. His whole life is in Iran; family, religion, tradition, friends, home.

After moving to New Orleans, Ali met one of the couples who are now on staff with our NieuCommunities team in San Diego. Although coming from two very different backgrounds (Iran and Washington state), they immediately connected and became close friends. More than anything, Ali became intrigued by this Jesus their lives revolved around. Within his Muslim tradition, Jesus is a prominent and highly respected prophet, but to believe in him as God is to commit shirk (holding anything/anyone as equal with Allah/God); the worst sin of all.

In fact, Ali became so intrigued by the Jesus he saw in his friends that when they moved to San Diego to go on staff with NieuCommunities, he asked if he could come with them and be part of their missional church community. After finding a neurology position in San Diego, Ali packed his bags and not only moved to San Diego, but moved into our neighborhood of Golden Hill (where all NieuCommunties participants have committed to live).

It is there that I met one of the most brilliant, yet humble and devoted men I have ever encountered. As a doctor, Ali was frequently getting published in highly respected medical journals, but as a friend he would always be the last to walk through the door. He set aside three times in his day to pray out of devotion and reverence. Anytime I saw him pray (no matter the setting) he would turn his palms face up as if opening and surrendering himself to whatever God may be speaking. For Ali, presence and devotion to his faith could be second to nothing and his life reflected that.

Although a brilliant doctor and having lived a life devoted to Islam, Ali was a humble learner who made the most of every opportunity to hear and experience the Jesus of his friends. Ali dove deep into our Christian community as he prayed, worshiped, listened and practiced alongside of us. He wanted to encounter Jesus, so he chose to expose and submerge himself deep into a band of believers whose lives had been submitted to their King, Jesus.

Ali became a very good friend of mine. Recently, I have spent a lot of time studying Islam as I seek to engage people like Ali and develop my role as peacemaker in the Middle East conflict (see this blog for more on that). Despite my occasional ignorance, Ali would listen to my questions and share insight into his sacred traditions.

Ali became my friend and dialog partner in the areas we each held most sacred. It wasn’t a competition for whose religion was more “right,” it was a dialog of mutual respect and reverence. After all, Ali wanted to experience the truth of Jesus and he asked that we intercede on his behalf.

Through the lives and worship of his new friends and the profound work of the Spirit, my friend Ali did encounter Jesus in his time here in Golden Hill. After a recent worship gathering, Ali looked at me as said, “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus.”

Having accepted a position at Temple University in Philadelphia, Ali moved away from his new family in Golden Hill last week. While it was hard for us to say goodbye, both Ali and our community knew this was not the end of our story together.

After taking Ali surfing for the first time in his life, we all gathered for a meal just hours before his flight took off to Philadelphia. We shared the ways he had impacted us and thanked him for all that he had taught us. He came to us as a student, but his humble devotion ended up teaching us so much.

It is easy to spout out a quick prayer before a meal and quickly conclude, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” Although some of us have heard and said Jesus’ name so many times, it must not lose its sacred power and authority. Ali reminded me of that. To come before God is sacred. It is not to be done in complacency, but with reverence and devotion.

Before Ali walked out the door to catch his flight, we all turned our palms to the sky and thanked Jesus for our friend; our brother.

This is a reflection first posted on my family/ministry blog: North of the Border

Travel as Pilgrimage #5: I Saw Osama Bin Laden On A Train

After arriving on the coastal city of Casablanca (north Morocco), Jan and I were anxious to make it to the heart of the North African country.  With signs and voices only offering Arabic, we navigated our way to the train station and three hours later we made it to the bustling city of Marrakech…the heart of Morocco.

Walking through the massive bazaar (the Las Vegas of farmer’s markets), I was expecting Indiana Jones and his sweet hat to walk up at any moment.  Jan covered her head to fit in with the cultural norms and I just tried to temper my inner gringo.  It was a totally different world than we were used to and we loved it.

After having a snake wrapped around my neck for a picture and eating some authentic lamb and couscous, we strolled the market.   Immediately catching my eye was a little toy train that was running in a small circle.  There were two cars to the train.  On the first was Osama Bin Laden and on the one close behind was George W. Bush.  Bush was toting a massive weapon on his shoulder, which pointed towards Osama. We immediately felt uncomfortable, intrigued and somewhat entertained.  But this little toy was telling a powerful story of America’s perception and reputation.

So often America (both from a domestic and international perspective) becomes synonymous with Christian.  To think America is to think Christian.  Some would say this is a good thing…some would say the opposite.

This little train was a microcosm of a bigger narrative. Yes, it was a caricature, but the premise was hauntingly accurate.

Central to being a Christian is the acceptance of a vocation to follow Jesus.  But certainly Jesus would not have been wielding a massive weapon on his shoulder chasing the bad guys.  No, Jesus would have been wielding the Spirit as he sought the will of his father.

I think he asks us to do the same.

So that’s the good news.  It’s not simply about Christians finding the right leader to represent us to the world…it’s about each one of us representing Jesus to the world. It is about fully stepping into the vocation we have been called into as followers of the King of the newly inaugurated Kingdom.  Like Jesus, we are to mediate between God and humanity, while living out the values of the Kingdom.

A life marked by Jesus can redeem the negative perceptions (and realities!) that the world may have about Christianity.


Why God Calls Us To Be Traders

As followers of Jesus, we are called to participate and extend God’s mission in the world. In short, all Christians are called to be missionaries. Maybe not in the traditional “missionary” sense, but we are to be on mission in our workplace, homes, neighborhoods, etc. And, if we are to fully align with God’s mission, we have to call into question other “missions” — reputation, wealth, consumption, corporate ladders, church politics — that may be fighting for our time, energy and allegiance…we have to trade one mission for the mission of God. We are called to be traders.

I struggle with this everyday. Please, enter the struggle with me. When we stop struggling, we have probably agreed to live on a mission counter to God’s.

This video (produced by RightNow.org)  is a brilliant and artful piece that invites us all to become traders.  Check it out…

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