“I Wonder What God Is Up To?” :: By Larry Spargimino Ph.D

“…praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:3-6).

Missions is one of the long-declared burdens of God’s heart. Going back to the original promise to Abraham, “…and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This theme continues in the Old Testament: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: For I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22). “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, That thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6).

God really means it. In the past, Assyria moved troops down a highway to wage war on Israel, but the time is coming when this highway will be one of peace and redemption. “In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, And Assyria the work of my hands, And Israel mine inheritance (Isa. 19:23-25).

And God still means it. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

This prophecy tells us that the growth of Christianity worldwide would come about through the witness of Christ’s obedient followers. From the very beginning, the body of Christ is presented as a witnessing community. The result of this witness would be measurable geographical expansion, and would extend to the ends of the earth. At the time of the Book of Acts “the ends of the earth” was coextensive with the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. As new lands and peoples were discovered in the following centuries, Christians understood this to mean that the scope of their witness must continue to expand worldwide.

Foreign Missions Is Here

At one time religion was limited by geography. Certain tribes and people groups had certain religious beliefs in common. Parts of Asia were Buddhist, others were Hindu, Shinto, and what have you. Anglicanism was the religious preference of the British, Lutheranism that of the Scandanavian countries, Presbyterianism that of Scotland.

All of this has changed drastically. According to Bob Roberts, Jr., in Bold As Love: What Can Happen When We See People the Way God Does (Nelson, pp. 6-7), today, in Dallas, Texas, 44% of the population was born in a non-English speaking nation. Some 238 languages are spoken in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. While there are large numbers of Hispanics in the DFW area, there are also 40,000 Arabs, 90,000 Chinese, 25,000 Columbians, 5,000 Egyptians, 80,000 El Salvadorans, 7,500 Cambodians, 8,000 Bangladeshis and many others. In 1975 there was one Islamic mosque in the entire DFW Metroplex, today there are 43, some of them quite large and prosperous.

America is an increasingly pluralistic society—ethnically and religiously. At one time the phrase “religious pluralism in America” meant that there were two Baptist Churches downtown and one Catholic Church in the Italian section. This is nothing compared to what we might find today: an atheist publishing house next door, a factory down the street making hijabs for Muslim women, and a same-sex adoption agency next to the sheriff’s office.

These are the facts. The trends are not surprising. The question is: will we adjust or self-destruct? Will we be obedient to the Lord and reflect the Lord’s heart in our witness, or will we dance to the doleful tune of our own pity parties? America has changed, and it is continuing to change exponentially. Should we build a bunker, or should we ask: “I wonder what God is up to?”

The Nearness of “The End”

The nearness of “the end” is something that weighed heavily on the minds of the New Testament writers. Peter writes, “But the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7). What does this mean for Christians living in the 21st century? Surrender? Hopeless resignation? No, Peter continues and says, “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (vss. 7-9).

Do these words challenge, perhaps, some preconceived notions, notions that may lead to paralysis and fear, terror and dread? Rather than giving up, Peter tells us that we should be serious, prayerful and show love for one another. And even beyond that, we should be exercising our gifts for ministry: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (vs. 10). It doesn’t sound like the nearness of the end should stiffen us up. Rather, it should fire us up. But can we be “fired up” in such an hostile environment?

When Paul wrote 2 Timothy he was in prison. This was his second imprisonment, and he was awaiting execution. During this final imprisonment Paul wrote 2 Timothy to request another visit from his “son in the faith.” The Apostle wanted to give final exhortations as he anticipated his martyrdom (chapter 4).

Paul is under no illusion that the world will get better and better, but he believed that eyes would be opened and false teachers would be recognized. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). In the verses that follow the Apostle details many of the conditions that we see today: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection…”

But when we come to verses 8 and 9, we read something that seems almost out of place: “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”

Jannes and Jambres are not referenced in the Scriptures, but ancient Jewish tradition, which Paul obviously knew, states that they were the Egyptian court magicians who spoke against Moses and did likewise perform miracles (Ex. 7:11). Pharaoh’s magicians “cast down every one his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (vs. 12). This left no doubt regarding who was speaking for God: “their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.” Paul had no erroneous notions about the world becoming pro-Christian, but he knew that God is opening eyes, and calling people into service, even as Timothy was learning, and growing in the faith so that he would have an effective ministry.

Might this mean that bold, Christian outreach is still in the plan of God, and has not been eclipsed by the lateness of the hour?

In the Foreword to Once An Arafat Man – The True Story of how A PLO Sniper Found A New Life (Tyndale), Joel Rosenberg, author of Epicenter and Inside The Revolution, writes:

Let me be brutally honest. Tass Saada was a killer. That’s why the first section of this book was incredibly difficult for me to read…Tass and his closet friends murdered Jews in Israel. They murdered civilians and soldiers alike. They attacked Christians in Jordan. Sometimes they tossed hand grenades at their homes…they did so eagerly. Tass certainly did. His nickname was once Jazzar – “butcher.” It was a moniker he relished…What follows, then, is the unforgettable story of a jihadist who found Jesus, of a violent revolutionary who was radically transformed one day by the power of the Holy Spirit and became a man of peace…

I had been invited to preach at a Messianic Jewish congregation in Jerusalem that night. My sermon title was “What God is Doing Among The Muslims.” This is not a typical message for a Jewish audience. But after much prayer, I felt the Lord wanted me to share with my Israeli friends what he had told me to share with my Jordanian friends when I had preached in Amman not long before: We need to get serious about obeying Jesus’ command to love our neighbors and our enemies…

That was the message I came to share in Jerusalem, and who was the first couple I was introduced to that night as I came to the front of the door of the congregation? Tass and Karen Saada (ix-xi).

Uncharted Territory or Forbidden Territory?

On January 26, 2010 ministrytodaymag.com published the following article under the title Texas Church Worships With Muslims, Jews.

Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, isn’t afraid of venturing into unfamiliar territories. In the mid-1990’s, Roberts began making trips to Vietnam with teams from his church to pioneer medical, educational and orphanage-related work. After 9/11, he traveled to Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and other Muslim-dominated regions to establish similar works.

Now the 51-year old megachurch pastor is blazing a new trail back in his home state: a “triologue” between three vastly different congregations. This past weekend, Keller’s Baptist-leaning congregation combined with those from Dallas’ Temple Shalom and the Islamic Center of Irving for “multifaith” worship services dedicated to highlighting and discussing the similarities and differences among the three represented faiths.

On Thursday, the congregations met for a “typical” Jewish worship service at Temple Shalom; on Saturday, the Christians and Jews visited the Dallas-area mosque; and on Sunday, both the Jewish and Muslim congregations attended NorthWood. After each service, the leaders of the three congregations—who have become friends in recent months—answered questions about their unique faiths.

[Roberts stated] “The old conversation of Interfaith basically said if we all agree on everything then we can get along…But there’s a problem with that…If I’m going to be a committed Muslim I can’t pick and choose which parts of the Quran I believe. Or a Jew, for the Torah. Because truth is truth. Truth is not relative. Multifaith says ‘we have differences.’ What Multifaith says is ‘I don’t want to be politically correct; I want to be honest about what I believe; I want to hold true to my faith…I want to build relationship on honesty.’”

Has Roberts stepped into uncharted territory or is he now in forbidden territory?

FrontPage Magazine (6/11/13) thinks it’s the latter and claims that Roberts has partnered with a Muslim Brotherhood Front. The article states that Roberts is “the most high-profile interfaith speaker at the ISNA regional conference …Roberts’ NorthWood Church is holding its own Islamist-stocked interfaith event.” One must wonder, however, if the author of this critique has read Roberts’ book Bold as Love (BAL). In it Roberts goes to great lengths to show why he abhors “interfaith” and finds “multifaith” a better term to describe his meetings. When Roberts met with Rabbi Schneider of Temple Shalom in North Dallas and Imam Zia of the Irving Islamic Center and spoke about future joint services Roberts said to them:

I made it clear that I was an evangelical, a conservative Christian, and that I didn’t like interfaith gatherings: I saw interfaith as loosey-goosey, let’s all just hug one another and ignore core truth. I wanted nothing to do with that. I liked the concept of multifaith better, which says we have fundamental differences, but the best of our faiths teach us we should get along (BAL, p. 19).

Roberts’ multifaith services were unique. On a Thursday, a few years ago, three groups of people—Jewish, Muslim and Christian—met at their respective places of worship. Does it sound suspicious, like a little ecumenical hanky-panky? Roberts further describes his abhorrence of the term “interfaith”: “I don’t like the term interfaith. It’s the nebulous, fuzzy feeling, it’s a we’re-all-going-to-the-same-place-just-different-roads-religion, a kind of Kum-by-ya experience. I don’t know of a single imam who believes I can go to heaven rejecting the divinity of the prophet Mohammed’s message. Neither do I know a single Bible-believing evangelical pastor who believes a person can go to heaven denying the divinity of Jesus or the exclusivity of the cross” (BAL, pp. 131-132).

By Roberts’ own definition “multifaith” means what the word implies: honesty about your beliefs, not a tempering of one’s beliefs in the stew of political correctness. Roberts is bold, but also gracious.

I must tell it like it is. When I am asked hard questions about my faith that can be controversial or seem politically incorrect, I do my best to stay calm, smile, and answer the question honestly.

During one meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders at our church, the conversation turned to the uniqueness of Christ, and I said, “As a Christian, I really do believe Jesus is the only way—not because I feel I am better than others, but because Jesus himself said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

A Muslim participant asked me if that meant I believe everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell.

I responded, “Anyone of any religion—Christianity included—who does not accept Jesus as the way, the sacrifice and the one who brings forgiveness of sin according to the Bible, goes to hell.” I said it as pleasantly as I could, took a deep breath, and braced for whatever would come. A Muslim man said, “I like this guy. You know what? My faith teaches me that you’re going to hell too. I can work with you. You are at least honest about what you believe” (BAL, p. 114).

Since we are on the topic of honesty, this author must admit that Roberts’ associations raise many questions and concerns. He has been featured as a speaker in Christ At The Checkpoint meetings. In my view Roberts surrenders too much to the Palestinians. I prefer Joel Rosenberg’s approach. He has a sincere love for both Israelis and Palestinians, but also maintains the integrity of God’s promises to Israel regarding the land and the people. These are non-negotiable.

Yet as we chart new territories we shouldn’t be surprised that these issues and differences come up. For those who make a blanket condemnation of Roberts I must ask: “What are you doing to reach Muslims in America other than throwing stones at those who are making some costly efforts to do so?”

What About Ishmael And His Descendants?

One of the sticking points in discussions between Muslims and Christians focuses on Isaac and Ishmael. Who has inherited the promises?

At the outset let this author state that the Biblical account is correct and has not been “doctored” as is often claimed. However, do Christians really understand what Scripture says about Ishmael? Does God have a special hatred for Ishmael and his kin, and if we share our faith with them are we therefore going against God’s will and purpose?

Recently Israel National News reported that Arab Christians in Israel have launched a new political party. Sons of the New Covenant (Brit Hahadashah) is planning to take part in future Knesset elections. “Arab Christians”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Aren’t all Arabs against the God of the Bible?

As always, the Bible helps to dispel notions that are less than true, but that are often accepted as “Gospel truth.”

We are familiar with the account of friction between Sarai and Hagar. Because the former had not yet had any children, she devised a plan whereby Abram would father a child with Hagar, her Egyptian slave (Gen. 16:1-5). The plan worked but led Sarai to despise Hagar who was driven out of the house with her son, Ishmael. Though Hagar could run away from Sarai she couldn’t run away from the Angel of the Lord.

Later in the Biblical narrative, following the birth of Ishmael, Isaac was born and both Hagar and her son were driven from the household. Hagar and Ishmael wandered around in the desert. Hagar hid her child under a shrub and the Bible twice states that God heard the cry of the child, Ishmael: “God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What alieth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is” (Gen. 21:17).

The rescue of Hagar and Ishmael is a record of Divine intervention. God “sees” and “hears” the progenitors of the Arab people. In Genesis 16:13 Hagar calls God El Roi, “the one who sees.” In the next verse Hagar calls the well Beer Lahai Roi, “the well of the living one who sees.” Hagar is the only one in the Bible who renames Almighty God. To name, or rename, someone implies special favor with, or even authority over, the person so named. Genesis 21:20 is a striking testimony to God’s faithfulness to Ishmael: “God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer.”

A few years ago two Christian authors, one a Jew and one an Egyptian, wrote a book titled Making Our Peace With The Warriors Of The Sand: What the Bible says positively about our estranged Arab cousins (Defender). We know that God’s covenant was made with Abraham and Isaac, but what about Ishmael, the son whom Abraham loved dearly? The authors, Jeffrey L. Seif and Ihab Griess explain:

The promise Hagar [Abraham’s Egyptian wife and mother of Arab peoples] received in Genesis 16:10—that God would greatly increase her offspring, and they would be too many to count—is similar to that received by Abraham in Genesis 13:16, where the text says: “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” In this regard, Hagar—as with Sarah, Rachel, and others—stands in the circle of the few women in biblical history promised the multiplication of offspring, and some special offspring at that.

“Kings shall come out of thee [Ishmael]” is the promise noted in Genesis 17:6. This forceful biblical promise elevates Ishmael and his children to a higher plane. Abraham’s saying, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee!” in Genesis 17:18 similarly lends credence to the notion that the father of the Arabs was loved with an abiding love. In Genesis 17:20, God says to Abraham, “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (p. 32).

Are these days of doom, or are they days of opportunity? Are the immigrants flooding our borders the judgment of God or are they the opportunities from God? How you and I react to the situation will determine, in large measure, which of the above is true. More importantly, how does God want us to react?