This is the fourth in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.
Sept. 30, 10:15 p.m. — ConneXion Nilai (university student ministry center)
For the third night in a row, I have the privlege of meeting with college students who have come to Kuala Lampur to study from all over the world. And tonight 47 students, representing nearly a dozen countries from Uganda to India, have gathered in the student ministry center to hear about the uniqueness of Jesus. After presenting an hour-long Bible study on Jesus’ outrageous claims, convincing proofs, and finished work on the cross, missionary Scott Carter and I open the floor to questions.
They come non-stop: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? If God knows who is going to be saved, what’s the point of evangelism? If a baby dies in her mother’s womb, does she go to heaven or hell? As was the case last night at Nottingham University and the night before at ConneXion Subang, I am worn out before the students are and the student ministry leader has to call the Q&A to a close. But not before a series of questions about Islam, including: “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”
The short answer is no. While there are some similarities between Yahweh and Allah, the differences are so significant that it cannot be said Christians and Muslims worship the same God. It’s not necessarily what people want to hear — especially in a multicultural world that increasingly values the concept of many paths to God. But it is the truth, and even our Muslim friends would agree that the Christian God and Allah cannot be reconciled.
As yourself: Does God know me (and can I know Him)? Does God love me? And did God die for me? Only Yahweh, the God of the Bible, answers all three questions affirmatively.
This is the second in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.
Sept. 27, 5:45 a.m., guest house in Subang Jaya
I am learning that I don’t need an alarm clock here. Yesterday it was jet lag that awakened me at 4 a.m., followed by the neighbor’s cat, then a flock of screeching birds. Today I made it to 5:45 and the Muslim call to prayer blaring from nearby Masjid Darul Ehsen mosque.
I roll out of bed, slip on my running shoes and head for a jog through the waking streets of this sector of Kuala Lampur. The sun rises, traffic picks up and the merchants open their doors. I pass a park where a solitary woman engages in tai chi while a dozen others exercise to the music from “Mama Mia.” Street vendors prepare their kiosks for the breakfast crowd. The pungent smell of raw fish cuts through the pleasant aroma of rice, noodles, spices and cooking meat. Tempting, but I think I’ll stay with Starbucks this morning, or maybe the McDonald’s or 7-11, all within easy walking distance of the guest house.
The temperature is in the low 80s and quite pleasant but the humidity has me oozing sweat as I round the last curve and catch a glimpse of the mosque – a mustard-colored building with multiple minarets and a beautiful golden dome. I get to thinking about the people I have met the last two days while preaching and teaching in area churches.
Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, although there is freedom of religion and one does not need to look hard to find Christian churches or other places of worship for Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and others. There is an important caveat, though: Evangelizing Muslims is off limits. This creates a tremendous challenge to my Christian brothers and sisters who love their Muslim friends and want to tell them about Jesus.
Some are fairly new Christians who have discarded their idols, abandoned their empty rituals and discovered the simplicity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But not without cost. One Chinese-Malay couple attends a Sunday evening Bible study in a neighbor’s home despite stern warnings from their parents, who culturally are to be respected and obeyed. Another couple has faced job loss and other hardships directly related to their faith in Christ. And the man who hosts the Bible study has forfeited a considerable family fortune since trusting in the Lord.
Over lunch yesterday with a local pastor and several of his congregants I am peppered with questions about politics, culture and faith in the United States. American music, film and television dominate Malaysian culture, and I find I know less about health-care reform and the Tea Party movement than my friends who live halfway around the world.
I have to admit that I don’t personally know a single American being persecuted for his faith. And the reason most Americans don’t share the gospel has more to do with apathy or fear of rejection than the threat of imprisonment. But my friends want to know: What are they to do when the Bible tells them to share Christ but the government forbids it or the culture discourages it? The apostle Peter was clear when faced with that question: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Simple. True. Powerful. But I don’t quote that verse for my new friends. The words would seem hollow coming from my lips because I have never had to live them, while these dear brothers and sisters in Christ must weigh carefully their words and actions each day.
Scott, our host and a career missionary here, responded wisely to a similar question at a workshop a few days ago. While God has granted us salvation and given us the Great Commission, He also has provided each of us with a measure of discernment to deal discreetly with our Muslim friends. Pray always for them, Scott says. Live a Christ-honoring life at all times. And when asked why your life is different, point to the One who makes it so.
This is the first in a series of occasional posts from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where I have the privilege of serving with Michael O’Neal, a church planter/pastor/teacher from Tennessee, and missionary Scott Carter to teach Christian apologetics to fellow believers and assist local pastors in their discipleship and church-planting efforts.
Sept. 22, 7:50 p.m., Los Angeles International Airport, Tom Bradley International Terminal
We’re standing in a long line of passengers waiting to get boarding passes on the Cathay Pacific flight that will take us non-stop from LAX to Hong Kong, then on to Kuala Lampur (KL). Nearly 20 hours of flying time await, and Michael and I hope we’ll be able to get some sleep as we prepare to hit the ground running in KL with teaching assignments the first night. Our casual conversation is interrupted by the man in front of us. He is growing increasingly agitated. The line is moving slowly and only one agent is working behind the counter.
Profanities stream from his mouth, and the smell of alcohol drifts our way as he turns toward Michael and me and strikes up a conversation. “I better get on this flight,” he tells us. “I was supposed to fly last night but missed my flight. I was drunk.”
For the next 45 minutes the man entertains us with salty language, a few magic tricks, and snippets of his life story, a sad saga of marriage and divorce, alcoholism, a successful career as a building contractor, and a journey from the Christian faith to Buddhism. He calls himself the “drunk monk.”
He’s on his way to Thailand, he tells us, to visit his three wives. They live in different villages and are unaware of one another but wait for his visits every other month and watch for the wire transfers of supporting funds from their husband in the U.S. He pulls out a fat wad of cash – mostly 100-dollar bills – and makes one disappear in one of the many sleight-of-hand tricks he uses to entertain his friends in Southeast Asia. “I wish this line would move,” he snaps. “I gotta get to the bar.”
The drunk monk tells us he was raised Baptist by a Bible-thumping dad who dragged him to church and ultimately drove him from the faith. Now, he says, he’s an old-school Buddhist who believes death is the end of life. “What happens if it’s not?” I ask him. “What if there’s life beyond the grave?”
“I don’t worry about it,” he slurs, running his nicotine-stained fingers through a shock of black hair. There is a glint of mischief in his dark eyes. And a lot of pain. “Geez, c’mon … I wish this line would move.”
Our friend the monk is not very serious about religion but is dead serious about draining every moment of pleasure out of life because, he says, that’s all there is. He pulls a tattered photograph out of his wallet. “My daughter,” he whispers. “Good kid. She’s 24.” She was an accident, he explains. Evidently the monk and his wife did not want kids, but his estranged wife has remarried a Bible thumper not unlike his own father and his daughter is all that’s holding him to the States.
We sense that the monk doesn’t want to hear too much about our Christian faith – two Bible thumpers from the U.S. – but he listens as we talk about Jesus and His redeeming work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. “I believe in Jesus,” he tells us sincerely.
And perhaps he does. We are no man’s judge. But as the monk finally works his way to the front of the line and staggers toward the counter, Michael and I are saddened by what we have witnessed. If, along the twisted course of his life, the drunk monk trusted in Christ as Savior he is wasting his Christian life in pursuit of pleasures that the apostle Paul said would last only a season, and one day he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ as a man escaping a burning house (1 Cor. 3:9-15). If, however, our friend rejected his father’s teachings about Jesus – however heavy handed they may have been – he will not find redemption in the villages of Thailand, the eight-fold path of Buddhism or the bottom of a bottle.
Two hours later Michael and I are waiting to board our flight when our new-found friend shuffles past, a successful stand-by passenger holding his precious ticket. “See you on board,” he tells me. “Geez, I wonder if there’s time for a beer.”