The Apologetic Muslim

  

Something both wonderful and sad took place earlier this week. I was hanging out with a large crowd of students in the minutes before a midweek worship gathering at our church when I began a conversation with a wonderful young man that I will call Tahm.

We engaged in several minutes of very interesting conversation about travelling and our common interest in helping others. As the conversation continued and the service drew near this delightful guy shifted gears. It was then, with apologetic tones, he felt the need to inform me that he was a practicing Muslim—and the look he gave me that followed was one I will never forget. It said, “how will you treat me now?”

In September 2001 I was wrapping up my first collegiate tour of duty, finishing up a degree in communications, journalism, & public relations. I was surrounded on a daily basis by international students at a time in my life when, overnight, our nation turned hostile toward almost anyone of middle eastern ancestry. I remember how ugly it was. How afraid everyone was. I remember my Pakistani friend Zishon was whisked away to a safe place off campus in a storm of confusion. Zishon was a Muslim too. He didn’t identify with the hateful acts of violence perpetrated by those who claimed to share his faith.

That’s what I remembered this week when Tahm shared his faith with me. He was afraid of my response. It broke my heart. He wanted to know if he was in a safe place. 

Do I have strong opinions about Islam? Absolutely. Should I allow that to influence my treatment of Muslims? Absolutely not.

Many, many, many, times in life I completely blow it. I let Jesus down. I fail to respond as he may have in a given situation. But I think I got it right with Tahm. I invited him to lunch. I expressed my genuine desire to get to know him. And then I walked him to the sanctuary myself as the service started.

Jesus said that he came to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) That my friends includes anyone and everyone. But how often, I wonder, do our responses to people’s lives get in the way? How we respond to the vulnerability of those who walk into our lives says more about us than any sermon we can preach, book we can write, or song we can sing.

Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

WALKING WITH GRANDPA

  

Today my parents came to visit us. It was a really good day. We didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary but it still stands to serve as a day that will mark a special place in my memories.

One of the best moments of the day came after lunch. The fellas in the family; my oldest son Ethan, my brother Brian, my father, and myself all went for a stroll outside—in the woods. It was great. Perhaps the best part of the whole affair was the simplicity of it. We just went outside, for a walk, together.

At one point I looked up to see my dad, who has never been an overly affectionate man, holding my three-year-old son’s hand. It was touching. Why? Because it was a perfect picture of rare and raw masculinity at work.

My dad is a man’s man. He loves the outdoors. He would rather be outdoors than anywhere else you can imagine. He likes all of the kinds of things that the men of his generation enjoy about the outdoors, but mostly he just enjoys experiencing God’s creation.

Back to the walk in the woods…

This picture perfect masculine moment came when my dad, a hard working outdoorsman of the rarest kind, used his strength in a way that offered my son protection. It was the simplest of gestures. But it carried so much meaning for me. It was more than my dad holding my son’s hand.

It was a multigenerational extension of strength, identity, and initiation—all wrapped up in the protecting hand of a grandfather. Something that is becoming rare in our society today.

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We are no longer at a crossroads in our civilization. No, the crossroads has long since passed, and may indeed no longer even be visible from our rear view mirrors. We missed the turning point. Men stopped being men. Fathers stopped being fathers. A generation grew up with dad’s in their homes that were not dad’s in any other capacity that mattered—and having lived that way they have believed that fatherhood is optional. My sons’ world is a world where the numbers of kids who know their dads is fewer than it has ever been, and the number who know their grandpas is fewer still.

I will be there for my boys. As much as I can be. My dad has always been there for me—and will be a grandpa to my sons. But what will the continuing repercussions be for a society that finds itself lacking grandpas who want to hold their grandsons’ hands?

What will the implications be for boys, of all ages, who don’t have someone to model strength for them? To tell them who they are? And give them a loving push into manhood?

The answer is all around us. It’s in our prisons. It’s in our broken sense of honor, justice, and morality. It’s found in the depravity that permeates our culture like a dirty poisonous fog. It’s death.

Without the guiding embrace of a man, on some level, a boy cannot become a man—and a man cannot truly live.

God walked with Adam in the Garden. He showed him strength, purpose, and identity. He showed him fatherhood. And ever since the Fall we’ve been fighting to get it back.

Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Welcome: A Letter to My Son on His First Day in This World

  

Welcome to the world son. It’s a lot different out here, huh?

It’s big. And cold. And wonderful.

Sometimes it can be scary. Sometimes it can be miserable. But it is also beautiful.

Everything is new. Not as new as you. And not as cool as you, but it’s all new to you. And you’re new to everything.

There are quite a few people who have been waiting to meet you. Some of them are pretty awesome. They have already been in love with you for a while.

Your mom, brother, and I are crazy about you. We’ve been talking about you and getting ready for you for months. We’ve prayed for you every day together.

You’re a little brother now. And big brother has been really excited about you!

You’re a grandson, nephew, and cousin too—and those are all names that come attached with more awesome people who love you a whole lot.

The one mommy and I are most excited about though is the name son. We welcome you into this world because you’re our’s. We both get to love you, teach you, and help you.

You don’t know it yet but you’re a minority now. Not every sweet little boy or girl has a mommy and a daddy. And while we’re not anything that special we are yours. And you are ours. And we promise to do everything we can, the best that we can, as often as we can. It’ll have to do because you’re stuck with us.

So welcome to this world. It’s crazy (I think I already mentioned that but it is worth repeating). I can already tell how awesome you are. My little gift from God.

You’re going to grow up to do some pretty amazing things. Just try not to grow up too fast ok?

waiting

Waiting

Parenthood comes with lots of “waiting” time. This isn’t something anyone warns you about. Not saying there’s a lot of calm time just waiting.  Waiting at practice, waiting for potty time, waiting on food to cook or cool (isn’t that funny that we have to do both).  Waiting at the doc’s, waiting for a phone call,
waiting…waiting… Waiting.

Maybe that’s why pregnancy comes with so much waiting.  Waiting on a positive test result.  Waiting to tell everyone until you’re ready. Waiting for nausea to subside. Waiting to find out what you’re having.  Waiting at the docs.  Waiting on test results. Waiting on your water to break.  Waiting on contractions.  Waiting to push.  Waiting on birth.

Having had my first child after being induced at almost 42 weeks I did a lot of waiting.  Now here I am waiting again.  God designed pregnancy to be a certain length of time for different creatures.  Why does ours have to be so long?  Why do we have to wait? And why is it so hard?

Waiting can do one of two things to you.  It can exhaust you or revive you.  We have to LEARN to be good “waiters.”

Isaiah 40:31 speaks of the good kind of waiting.

31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

But we often see people who react quite differently to the waiting.  Who impatiently demand change or anxiously blame the waiting on something.  What is different?  Okay let’s be honest we all are these “bad waiters” sometimes.

So what can we do?  Shift our focus and be content.  Paul talked about learning to be content in all circumstances.  Not accepting of status quo but so rooted in Christ and so trusting of His plan that you can accept what comes your way.  You can search the scripture but Jesus didn’t follow a “traditional life schedule,” write out a to do list, or whine about the demands of the job.  No he consistently fed those around him and then turned around and spent time with His Father.

So let us focus on serving while we wait. Let us remember the things we allow our minds to dwell on have power in our life.  As Paul wrote:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (‭Philippians ‭4‬:‭8-9‬ MSG)

Harmony and peace while waiting.

Walking the Line

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My wonderful grandpa’s birthday is today. Much of my stubbornness and compassion came from him. I talked to him on the phone earlier and shared with him the name we have chosen for our second son, Jonathan Eli. At Thanksgiving he had announced to the family, pretty much out of the blue, that he had been thinking of that name. Today when I told him that we had in fact chosen that name for our son he said, “I know. I just told my sister Ruby on the phone.” He was touched but not surprised.

Apparently he really did know. It was one of those inexplicable knowing by faith kinds of things. A measure of the movement closer to God I have seen in my grandpa’s life in very recent years. The power of God’s love has been hard at work in the lives of my mom’s family. Prayers that were prayed for decades have been coming to pass in the wonderful work of God’s mercy and grace. The culmination of a passage from the Psalms that has been really moving to me lately…

I’m finding my way down the road of right living, but how long before you show up? I’m doing the very best I can, and I’m doing it at home, where it counts. Psalm 101:2-3 MSG

My Papa has been an incredible example to me in my life. Not because of his perfection, because I have never been under such a false assumption where he was concerned. In fact, I have long since felt that his many flaws were so well known as I grew up that they always pushed me in an authentic direction. I struggled to actually be authentic much of the time, but the example was there. I never felt that he tried to be someone he wasn’t. I never felt that he pretended. He was never fake. He was always himself. And he never apologized for it, perhaps another series of traits I inherited.

Like the classic country ballad his nephew Bob helped to make famous my Papa Wootton has always Walked the Line. Not perfect, but dedicated. Dedicated to his family. Dedicated to the things that matter. When I grow up I hope I can be just like him.

Happy Birthday Papa & Happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of you.

Thanks for reading,
Nate

The 3rd Lament: God’s Great Faithfulness

When I think of Lamentations it’s not usually a go-to source for encouraging scripture. But Lamentations 3:19-24 paints an incredible word picture of the beauty of God’s love for us. I want to visit this wonderful passage over the next few days in hopes that it will encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.

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… there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: GOD ’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. (‭Lamentations‬ ‭3‬:‭19-24‬ MSG Emphasis Added)

How great is the faithfulness of God? Have you ever considered that question? I mean, after all, what is faithfulness? It is the condition of being full of faith. An ongoing permeation of belief in something.

God has great faithfulness. God permeates faith.

After all it is by him that we believe in him. It is by his words that we have faith. It his because of his great limitless love that we are adopted in.

God’s faithfulness is not measured by moments, actions, or attempts. It is not defined by works, not even those wondrous things by which we come to him. God’s great faithfulness is measured only by him. That is to say, God is inseparable from his great faithfulness.

He will always believe. He will always be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of the unseen. (See Hebrews 11:1) Or as one translation puts it, he is our confidence.

God’s great faithfulness is as reliable as he is. Always. He has great faith. Both in himself, and in his love for you. Yes, God’s great faithfulness means something for you. It means God always believes in the you that you could be. Because the blueprint for your potential rests in the grace of God alone.

God’s great faithfulness is pointed right at you.

The 3rd Lament: New Every Morning

When I think of Lamentations it’s not usually a go-to source for encouraging scripture. But Lamentations 3:19-24 paints an incredible word picture of the beauty of God’s love for us. I want to visit this wonderful passage over the next few days in hopes that it will encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.

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… there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: GOD ’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. (‭Lamentations‬ ‭3‬:‭19-24‬ MSG Emphasis Added)

Every morning. That’s how often the prophet Jeremiah realized that God’s mercy rolls back around. God’s willingness to extend his love and kindness is in step with the dawn; and its always dawn somewhere.

Every morning the mercy of God is hand crafted. The creator of the periodic table preempts every element of grace you find yourself needing with the passing of each day. It’s custom. For you. For everyone. For every situation.

In the face of such terribly compassionate love and mercy, how can anyone think themselves unworthy of God’s affection. Forgiven much. Love much. (See Luke 7:36-50) That is the opportunity. That is the reality.

Custom grace. A love tailored for all humanity. That fits every individual. It’s not a bandaid for your burdens. His is a lifeline for your soul. A legendary leg up.

Maybe that’s exactly what you are needing right now? Failure has gotten old. The same tired patterns of behavior may have left you feeling a little more than broken. Well, the sun is always sweetest at dawn. Move out from the darkness of our own designs and embrace the caring nature of the Father.

Every day is a new day. A new dawn. A new chance to walk the path God has for you.

The 3rd Lament: Loyal Love

When I think of Lamentations it’s not usually a go-to source for encouraging scripture. But Lamentations 3:19-24 paints an incredible word picture of the beauty of God’s love for us. I want to visit this wonderful passage over the next few days in hopes that it will encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.

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… there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: GOD ’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. (‭Lamentations‬ ‭3‬:‭19-24‬ MSG Emphasis Added)

Jeremiah went through a pretty horrible time. He is often called The Weeping Prophet. And his writings portray much of the anguish he must have experienced.

Like Jeremiah we ourselves face difficult things from time to time. The thing that gives me incredible hope in the love of God is the great opportunity we have in those hard moments. In difficulty we find a fight or flight scenario. We can run. Forget. Abandon. Or we can step up (or be lifted up) to be seized by the kind of certainty that can only come through a faith that has been tested and tried. Faith isn’t easy. I would submit to you that anyone saying total faith in God is easy has probably never had to live where the rubber meets the road.

This kind of fighting faith was Jeremiah’s every waking moment. Instead of throwing in the towel he went round for round. He stood toe to toe with all of the craziness happening around him. Stuff like death threats, starvation, imprisonment, and assassins. He never quit. He didn’t give up on God. Why? Why did he keep his grip on hope?

Because Jeremiah remembered the inexhaustible love of God.

Jeremiah knew that God’s love is loyal. Even when we quit God will never leave us or forsake us. (Read Dueteronomy 31:6)

Jeremiah knew that God’s love has an endless source, namely God himself. This Loyal Love is rooted in the very nature of the one who wields it. There is always more for those who go looking to find it.

Jeremiah knew that God’s love is merciful. The love of God is full of undeserved grace. That unending, unmerited, supply of affection comes to those who certainly do not deserve it. Yet it comes. God’s love is the merciful product of the God of mercy.

Jeremiah knew that God’s love couldn’t have dried up. It may have felt that way, looked that way, or seemed that way—but the prophet knew. Deep down in the Well of Living Water is an unquenchable source. The love that does not run dry is the love that defies all apparent circumstances.

Jeremiah knew this. I believe it kept him going through the most difficult times. You can be sure that God’s loyal and merciful love is in full supply for you. Today. Wherever you are. Whatever you’ve done. No matter your circumstance. Ask him for some and watch the floodgates open.

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The 3rd Lament: Hold On To Hope

When I think of Lamentations it’s not usually a go-to source for encouraging scripture. But Lamentations 3:19-24 paints an incredible word picture of the beauty of God’s love for us. I want to visit this wonderful passage over the next few days in hopes that it will encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.

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… there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope… (‭Lamentations‬ ‭3‬:‭19‬ MSG)

Remember this, there is one constant, God loves you. It helped Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet credited for penning the Book of Laments. He went through some really crazy stuff. But he held on to hope.

We go through some crazy stuff too sometimes. To others it might not seem so bad, but for the person experiencing the turmoil it’s never a fun to place to be. The wildness of the ride this life throws our way can catch us off guard. It can blast the wind from our lungs, the strength from our hearts, and the opportunity from our fingertips—but it can not change the way God feels about us.

Even our own reckless personal choices can cause tremendous pain and heartache, but they don’t affect the way God feels about us. He loves us deeply. And for those of us who choose to recognize that love for what it is, and abide in it, it is our constant.

When life gets shaky we can hold onto Him. We can hold on to hope.

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In This For Good

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They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included. Also Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. (‭Acts‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬ MSG)

Commitment is crazy scarce in our culture these days. When things get rocky people run for the hills. If that sounds like you then you’re in good company.

When Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26) his disciples scattered. They just flat split. Even Peter, his best friend, sold him out, denying him when the going got tough.

If you have ever split, quit, or cut your losses—which narrows it down to just about everyone that breathes oxygen and falls under the description “human being”—then you and the disciples have a lot in common. They were quitters. But they didn’t stay quitters.

In the Book of Acts the early church historian Luke paints a vivid picture of a dedicated body of brothers whose undying devotion to the Gospel flipped the world upside down. But it’s the same guys that left Jesus high and dry in the Garden. What changed?!

They experienced the resurrected Jesus. They had quit on Jesus, but Jesus wouldn’t quit on them. He walked right into the room, declared his identity, deity, and design for their lives, and charged them all with a Holy Mandate, a Great Commission.

Each of them made an about face. They went 180. They flipped the script, settled their heart’s compass on true north, and went ALL IN.

They agreed. They were in it for good. Hell or high water. Pain, persecution, and martyrdom would follow all of them. Every last one. But they agreed. They were in it for good. Because Jesus makes quitters into world changers.

If you struggle with commitment, you don’t need more guilt. You don’t need better reasons to stay in the mix. You need an encounter with the risen Jesus. Ask. He’ll help. He hasn’t quit. He’s in this for good.