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Extinguish Hell and Burn Down Paradise

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If you’re like me, you probably don’t expect renowned Islamic scholars to be women. But a friend recently told me about one named Rabia, who lived from 717–801AD and is considered one of the foremost Sufi saints.

Rabia said something which has had me thinking since I heard it, “I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”

Whoa! Is that me? You? Should it be?

Would I still follow God (to whatever degree I actually do now!) if I was not concerned about avoiding the horrors of Hell or eagerly hoping to gain the restful joys of Heaven? And in what way, if any, is my honest response to this question indicative of my character and spiritual maturity?

C.S. Lewis reminds us of “the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels,” and wonders if, “ Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”

I certainly don’t want to go to Hell and I definitely look forward to the joys of Heaven. But in my heart, I want to desire God above all, desire God more than avoiding Hell, more than enjoying Heaven, desire God principally because of the greatness and love of God. This is what I appreciate about Rabia’s bold declaration: It moves God to the center, to his proper preeminence. I often need that reminder.

Would you share your thoughts on this? You’ve likely considered ideas and aspects that have not entered my mind yet. Thanks for the challenging thought, Rabia. May Muslims and Christians all over give it fresh consideration.

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Running on Empty

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Please see the special note at the end of this email. 

Ever feel like you’re running dry? You know, a little ding breaks in on your reverie and it’s the low fuel light. Then you remember seeing a sign a couple minutes back that the next gas is 40 miles down the interstate? Just for example, not that this has ever happened to me!

It’s hard to love Muslims. Heck, it’s pretty hard to love people pretty much like you. Step across the divide of language, culture, religion and it gets tough, draining. The weight of our flesh and our culture lean heavily on us.

If you’ve ever thought, “I’m tired of caring for these people,” whoever “these” are for you, I get it. I’m with you. Actually, we’re all in this together. It’s hard. . . but there is some hope. (Tweet this.)

Paul asks his friends in I Corinthians 4.7, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you?” It’s a humbling, but easy question, isn’t it? Nothing. So what we give to others, what we give to God, comes out of a storehouse of what we’ve been given.

If we’re tired and feel like we’ve nothing to give, we can ask for more. “Dad, I’m empty. I’m skint. Give me the love you want passed on to the people you’ve brought into my life.” It’s his project before it was ever ours, right?

The refill might not come instantly or simply. But remember with me that we can only give out what God has poured in. And be reminded with me, that this God we serve, oh man, is he rich and generous, loves his kids so much. And he is dead set on his purposes to bring life to all the families of the earth.

If you could use a refill, and would like me to join you in prayer for that, I’d be happy to. Shoot me an email and let me know.
 

Special Note: Muslim Connect is free. Always has been. Always will be. But twice a year I invite you to participate by donating to offset the costs and push it forward to more people. Together we can encourage many, inform some, and by God’s grace, invite Muslims to enjoy the abundant life Jesus offers. If you find value in Muslim Connect and would like to see it go forward, please make a gift here. As a thank you, if you’ll let me know you gave, I’ll send you a brand new, sharable infographic called, Making Sense of the Muslim World. Thank you.

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Ramadan Ends. World Cup Begins.

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Please see the special note at the end of this post. 

GOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!

Two huge events for many Muslims take place today:

Ramadan ends and the World Cup begins. Can’t you just feel the religious fervor swirling around both of these?

For Muslims who’ve truly fasted this past month, arriving at the end of Ramadan is a big deal. They’ve reached a significant goal and look forward to celebrating the end of the fast. If you know any Muslims, this is a great time to wish them well. If you have sufficient relationship, ask them how it went and how they’ve been affected by the month of fasting. Affirm what you can and share their joy.

If celebrating the end of the fast weren’t enough to launch a great weekend, today also marks the beginning of the World Cup. Six Muslim majority nations will be playing: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. Maybe, just maybe, this is a chance for some good news from the Muslim world. It certainly is a good chance for us to hang out with some Muslim friends. Bonus points if you show up to watch a match bearing halal snacks!

I think a Muslim Connect World Cup Contest is in order! Guess which Muslim nation team will advance the farthest. I’ll pick a random name from those who guess correctly and send you a $10 Amazon certificate. List your name and choice in the comments below or on Facebook by June 20th.

May God find us rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn!

Special Note: The Muslim Connect email and blog is free. Always has been. Always will be. But twice a year I invite you to participate in this effort by making a contribution to offset the costs and push it forward to more people. Together we can encourage many, inform some, and by God’s grace invite Muslims to enjoy the abundant life Jesus offers. If you’re finding value in Muslim Connect and would like to see it go forward, please make a gift here. Thank you very much.

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“Will it be OK?”

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For many of us, and for our friends and co-workers, when we think of Muslims, the growth of Islam and the future of the planet, we just want to know, “Will it be ok?” Will my kids be ok? Will our country, the culture that we value, remain as it is?

Answers to those questions could fill volumes, but can also be summed up succinctly. Will it be ok? No, but yes.

No, it won’t be ok.

No, because it’s not. Many things in the world of Islam, and in our connection to that world, are not at present, ok.

No, Muslims may move into the house down the block and challenge your status quo, your peace and the comfort of “it’s always been this way.’

No, Muslims will be elected to public office, which may cause alarm and concern.

No, Muslims in some places are killing each other. And kids, how can this ever be ok, are pawns crushed in the conflict.

No, evil Muslims will do terrible things to people who didn’t even know they were party to a conflict.

But yes, it will be ok.

Yes, almost no Muslims are motivated to harm you and your family and only a tiny subset of those who are also have the means to accomplish it.

Yes, even if our culture is overrun by Islam, it will not be the first time people following God have suffered on great scale.

Yes, because as in all things, God has this in hand. He loves Muslims fiercely. And for you? He’s got your back. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He loves your heart. Further, he invites you to join him in extending the abundant life of Jesus to Muslims down the block and around the planet.

It will be ok.

Know someone who could use a reminder that it’s going to be ok? Please share this with them and invite them to sign up for Muslim Connect here.

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Good News Like Water for a Weary Soul

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I love good news! Don’t you? I realize it doesn’t sell papers, so most of what we read, see and hear represents various combinations of alarming, distressing and heart breaking. But Proverbs says, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”

If you’re feeling a little weary, drink up:
The distant land is France. And the good news swirls around a remarkable young Muslim man from Mali named Mamoudou (mama-doo) Gassama. On Saturday night, May 26th, Mamoudou was hanging with friends in Paris when everyone began shouting and pointing across the street where a four year old boy dangled from a fourth floor balcony!

After a stunning scramble up the side of the building to rescue the boy, Mamoudou humbly said, “There were people shouting and honking their horns … I didn’t think of anything, I ran across the road directly to save him. Thank God I saved him.”

If you haven’t seen the video of Mamoudou’s climb and rescue, I think you’ll agree it’s worth the thirty seconds! (Tweet this.)

As a reward for his bravery, Mamoudou met with French president Macron who promised to give the “sans papers” migrant legal residency and citizenship as soon as possible.

Without making this a bigger deal than it is or drawing conclusions that aren’t really there, let’s just drop a pin on this and say thank you. Thank you, God, for a young boy who’s getting hugged today and not buried. And thank you, Mamoudou, for countless hours of working out to build your strength, for being sober on a Saturday night and for deciding at a critical time to lay down your life for another.

I drink my Perrier in your honor!

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Learning From The Hungry

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One of the ways we keep people distant from us, keep them “those guys,” is to mostly listen to what we have to say about them. To an extent, this has to happen. (And I deeply appreciate you reading and sharing this email I write about those Muslims!) In some instances, people are so different from us that we literally can’t understand what they say about themselves.

But it’s good to go to the source, to hear about a situation or a society from insiders and stakeholders.

So as Ramadan heats up, here are three Muslims sharing about the month of fasting.

Umar, one of the kindest, smartest guys I know, graciously answered my questions about the basic reasons Muslims fast during Ramadan. I’ve compiled his side of our Facebook conversation here and strongly urge you to take a least a quick glance. Given Muslims are a huge and diverse body of people, Umar doesn’t speak for everyone. He’d never claim to! But I do feel he’s a reasonably orthodox voice on this matter.

Poet Hanif Abdurraqib, who says, “I hardly refer to myself as a practicing Muslim these days,” shares poignantly about why “. . . Ramadan is the act of faith which has endured for me.” While not as mainstream as Umar, it’s good to hear some of the hunger and searching that he shares.

Finally, (Although maybe clicked firstly!) here’s a video in which a Muslim woman, whom I don’t know at all, shares straight up stuff non-Muslims might want to know about Ramadan. And here she shares similar information, but with a healthy dose of humor. These might tweak you a bit! They did me, but I lived!

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Why Do They Fast?

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A Pew survey reports that 80% of American Muslims say they fast during Ramadan. Ever wonder why?

Here you go:

  1. Desire to Please God
    Omar Suleiman says on CNN, “. . .fasting, like prayer, is meant to primarily be an act of sincere devotion to the God who lovingly sustains us. . . .It’s worth taking the opportunity this month to ask how we can feed our souls by building that connection with God. . . .”
  2. Obedience training
    My friend Safwan says, “Ramadan is my yearly boot camp. Can I survive sixteen hours without food or water, while helping my family and community, attending to my responsibilities, all while doing my best to keep my temper in check?” Quick gut check: How would you do? Me? Not so well!
  3. Community Connection
    Again, Omar Suleiman, “People crave a sense of being valued by others, feeling an attachment to a community, and that may be why so many Muslims hold on to Ramadan, even — or maybe especially — when tough times face the community.”
  4. For Show
    Jesus said don’t do good works to be seen by men. (And I’m so glad I never do! I’m probably familiar with that verse because I’m reading through the Bible in a year. And I’m actually a few days ahead. #blessings)

    With a billion and a half Muslims around the world, surely some fast just to be seen fasting. Sadly, Jesus’s words apply to them: They have their reward in full.

Lacking the ability to look into someone’s soul and discern why they’re doing something, I assume 1-3 above motivate my Muslim friends and others in their fasting. Let’s pray they find growing character and great joy in community. Let’s ask God to see their devotion and bless them with deeper revelation of his character, his purposes and the abundant life Jesus offers.

I’d love for you to join me in reading this intriguing, story-based daily prayer guide for Ramadan.

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