A Muslim Wants to Come to My Church

Last night I hung out with six southern Africans at an apartment near where I live.  It was a motley crew, the kind Jesus would have shared a meal with.  If Pharisees would have been around, surely they would have said, “Why are you with those sinners?”

Everyone smoked constantly (not us, no emails please), we shared a few beers, one of the guys (MJ) quite inebriated, and for the most part, he talked about getting laid all night long.  Rylan and I were there because, I think, Jesus would have been there too.

So when we arrived and introduced ourselves, naturally there was the “Why are you in South Africa?” question.  They asked if we were studying at the University.  I said no.  So they asked again.  I looked at Rylan and then said, “Well, I’m kind of a campus pastor.  I work for a Christian group here in South Africa.”  Lucas, one of the guys, said, “Whoa.  You are drinking a beer.”

And so it started.

We talked about everything you can fit into a two and a half hour conversation.  We discussed the World Cup, politics, South African beer, sex, and of course, Jesus.  The Jesus conversation was riveting, but the best part of the night came when MJ asked Rylan what our thoughts were on sex before marriage.  In a sheer moment of brilliance, Rylan said, “Well, James, I think you can answer that better than I can.”

After a large gulp, I obviously told MJ that sex before marriage is a big no-no.  I told him about the wounds of sexual addiction before marriage.  I told him about the pain it can cause him and the women he sleeps with.  He told me that he has to sleep around to find the woman who “likes the same stuff I do.”  I told him that when a man and women love Jesus first, then fall in love with each other and capture each other’s heart and mind, then when they are married, they will have the best sex.  I said that married couples have total freedom, with no guilt, to experiment and learn with each other and together they will experience excitement, passion, and complete approval from God.

After I was finished, Nash (pronounced “nosh”), looked at me and said, “That makes so much sense.  That’s the way it should be.  I want to come to your church!”  Now, Nash is Muslim.  She openly admitted to sleeping with her boyfriend (who is Catholic).  She told me earlier that she would never leave the Islamic faith.  She quickly caught herself and said, “Well, obviously I can’t because I won’t stop being Muslim.”

I think that there was a small seed planted in Nash’s heart (as well as everyone else in the room).  I openly talked about Jesus and though Nash is very confused about who he is and what he has done for sinners, she heard a small, yet beautiful, truth.  She heard what kind of a change Jesus can make in a person’s life.

There is a different way to do marriage and sex.   It’s completely and wholly good.  It makes sense, but it only makes sense with Jesus, not Islam.  The cross needs to be made glorious to Nash and MJ and their friends so they can experience change.  Lord willing, as time goes on, Jesus will reveal himself to them and they will experience the change and abundant life that he alone gives.

Life Ministry

Confessions of a Campus Pastor

Campus ministry, at large, is vastly different than ministry in a church.  The demographic is narrowed.  The lifestyles are more uniform.  The conversations are generally more surface-level because college students don’t have that much experience in life.

So when a college student “accepts” Christ, it is usually a big deal.  People get super excited.  There’s praises and clapping and baking of muffins, as well as co-ministers who say things like, “That is so amazing!  God is so good!”  Most people react like this.

Except me.  I get skeptical.

Yup.  I’m that guy.

Before you burn me at the campus ministry heretics’ stake, give me some grace to be vulnerable here. First let me say that when someone becomes a Christian, there is no greater joy for me.  Seeing a spiritual baby born is truly a miracle and God deserves praise for it.  Last year, I had a friend from China that I got to know during the fall semester.   We were conversation partners so he could learn English.  We went out to dinner together.  I taught him about American football.

Then, one day, he said in broken English, “James, I hear you know a lot about Jesus story.”  So, I told him about Jesus.  He contemplated.  He battled to find truth.  He came with me to my parents’ home for Christmas.  He experienced the graces of Christian love, family, and fellowship.  A few weeks after the start of the second semester, he told me that Jesus saved him and now, by God’s grace, he was a Christian.  Our conversation meetings then turned into intentional discipleship times.

Now that’s awesome.

What I don’t think is awesome, and therefore do not get super excited about, is when a person reads a tract and the only way they understand the gospel is that Jesus died so they can have a great life.  They can get healed of disease.  They can get a good job.  They can have a better family.  They can get a free-pass from their sins. A lot of times, students will pray “the prayer,” and we truly think they are a real Christian.  Jesus gave us some wisdom about this.  He said that we need to wait a while to find out whether or not this seed that was planted landed in good soil (Matt 13:18-23).

The great American theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards helps us flesh this out.  He says that it’s not easy to tell whether someone is a real, professing Christian or simply a pretender.  He says in Religious Affections, “The difference between doves and ravens, or doves and vultures, when they first come out of the egg, is not so evident; but as they grow to their perfection [maturity], it [the difference] is exceeding great and manifest.”

Whenever someone excitedly asks me, “So he accepted Christ?!  He’s a Christian?”, I always answer with, “Let’s find out in 6 months.”  Edwards counsel is wise.  Let’s wait to make judgments until they have gotten out of the egg, flown around a bit, grown into their own feathers, and tried to find their own food.

A tangent to this is talking to people on campuses who have no “assurance” of salvation.  Here in South Africa, we hear a lot about “making sure they get assurance if they are Christian.”  I have never understood how this practically works.  Isn’t assurance a life-long battle?  After all, Paul says we are in a marathon, not a sprint.  Fighting to make your calling and election sure doesn’t happen because you know information about God’s preservation of his people.  Assurance comes about through transformation.  A Christian might say, “Of course I’m assured of my salvation.  I accepted Christ.  I’m secure.”  Others who I might share some verses with (like John 10, Romans 8, or 1 John 5) might realize Jesus preserves his people.  But we need to remember that it was Jesus who said that not everyone who says to him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Again, Edwards gives insight.  “It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.”   What are the “lively exercises” of grace?  It is a joyful and willful delight to love and obey God, study his word, pray, love people, and hate sin.  If someone doesn’t hate their sin, if they are not growing in experiencing God as the supreme Treasure of their life, one has to wonder if they ever truly met Jesus at all.

I want people to meet Jesus.  I want people to have comfort that they will not be lost.  All true Christians should want this.  But let’s not assume people are prepared to meet their Maker when they may in fact not be.  Let’s not assume people are really believers, even if they have confessed it for 10 years, when in fact they don’t really love Jesus and don’t hate their sin.

I understand this might rub some people the wrong way. I know that others might think I’m being too skeptical. I understand that I might be taking away from people’s joy.

The truth is, I love my job, but these are realities that I deal with. People can say whatever they’d like, but this goes beyond campus ministry.  This is an Evangelical problem all over the world.  I want people to truly follow Jesus, and that means continuing to preach the gospel to them as they grow to really be satisfied with Christ alone-not his gifts or anything else. Whatever you think, know that I’m just a dude doing my best, by the Spirit, to follow Jesus and be faithful to his calling.  I want to make disciples of all nations, but I don’t want any person to be fooled and get to the next life only to find out they were deceived in this one.

trying to figure out this whole “ministry” thing with you,


‘Nuisance’ Suffering Still Builds Endurance

One of the main lessons I’ve been learning while in South Africa is that suffering that seems to be a nuisance is still building endurance in my heart.  Most of the time, when I have to wait in line for a very long time, when my car breaks down, when communication is slow and sporadic, or when working with other ministries seems to handcuff me, I’d rather experience “true” Christian suffering than these annoyances.  To me, that would seem “more spiritual” or able to build me up more in Christ.

But the Lord has been reminding me that any kind of trial is either an opportunity to worship him or an idol.  If I worship Jesus, these mini-trials will build endurance, then character, and then hope (Rom. 5:3-5).  If I worship Jesus, these trials will produce steadfastness in faith (James. 1:2-4).  On the other hand, if I worship an idol (i.e. my agenda, punctuality, structure, details, etc.), then my heart grows hard, cold, unloving, and angry with God.

The apostle James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Every kind of trail, great and small, can be fruitful.  The only question I need to ask is who am I worshiping during these trials: Jesus or myself?


This Is Africa

That’s pretty much our excuse for anything that goes “wrong” or doesn’t seem right.  Example: it takes quite  while to get internet installed in your apartment.  Two weeks, in fact.

Nevertheless, our team is in South Africa, safe and sound.  Hopefully, on Tuesday we’ll get that WiFi installed.  Then, I’ll be able to blog on a more consistent basis.

I’ve learned much in two weeks.  There still is much more to learn.  I’m sure a lot of all that will come up here.



Today is World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  Here is a email I received today from Blood:Water Mission, written by Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay.  Let’s pray for the Church to lead AIDS victims to Jesus, the only true hope for their lives, and ours.

I was not really prepared.  As I turned the corner, my eyes took it in, and I felt my lungs fill with air, and let it all go,  as if I had just beheld a great waterfall, or a mountain vista.  It was nothing of the sort.  But it was still breathtaking.  It was around 3:30pm.  I looked at the sky, which had turned a woolen gray, and then back at the paper where I had scribbled the information.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My oldest son draped in a replicated Union army cap and coat, and my youngest bundled up against the short bursts of winter wind, and spray of cold rain, walked with me, the two blocks from our house to a quaint little house and barn that had been preserved as a reminder of a great and bloody battle.

It was the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, one of the most gruesome battles of the Civil War.  We were the first spectators to arrive.  The busy street had been blocked off for hours, as a small handful of volunteers placed a candle in a white paper bag for each of the nearly ten thousand soldiers that lost their lives during that fateful day of November 30th, 1864.

We walked slowly down the rows and rows of white bags that stretched out of sight, and down the street.  Perhaps it was the combination of gray clouds, misty rain, and the fact that history becomes decidedly more important to me when I am walking along with two little people who represent the future. But I was struck by the magnitude of such a display.  I was sobered by a visual of what “ten thousand” looked like.

I began to consider what it must have felt like to be there.  Both sides fighting, moved onward by a sense of purpose and conviction that was worth overcoming fear and entering even unto death.  Have I ever experienced or even witnessed two passionately opposing forces at the climax of purpose? Have I ever felt the weight of the kind of upholding of a belief that springs from the core of their souls or the urgency to protect something that rests as the very foundation of humanity?  I have never been to war.  I have appreciated it’s brutal power, and have even hovered around the ripple effects of it’s deadly sting, as friends have dealt with the loss of loved ones.  But I was humbled by the view in front, and all around me as I walked, and counted and imagined the faces and stories of each of those soldiers.  It is regretable that the story of American History must hold the Civil War in it’s pages.

Today is another day to remember.  There is another battle that our streets are not lengthy nor wide enough to hold the number of luminaries to represent all that have fallen during the fight.   It is the fight against HIV/AIDS.  And today, I remember the hands of men that I have held while doing my best to comfort them in their dying hours.  I remember the stories of hopelessness, of fear, of despair that blanketed the air of entire communities like the gray clouds of November in Franklin, TN.

But there is so much risk in thinking about too many stories at once.  Without a way to visualize millions of faces, I am reminded that AIDS is a disease that kills one person at a time.  It is a disease that destroys the body, one blood cell at a time.  It destroys families one person at a time.  It creates a void, a deep emptiness where hope and health should be,  one story at a time.  And so today,  I am thinking about how I can help one person.  How I can love and act, and advocate on behalf of one person.  And in the midst of this great and challenging fight, we may one day realize that we have the opportunity to not be able to visualize the millions of stories that have regained their threads of hope, and sustained their health.

Can you think of a person?  Can you put yourself in the place of someone wrestling with HIV/AIDS?  Do you wonder what their fears might be? Do you wonder what their families might be going through?  Do you consider the moment that they have to bring the news of their illness to their family? Is there room in your heart,  in my heart to feel what they feel?

Today is World AIDS Day.  To most of us, it is just another day.  What would it take for us to remember there is no such thing as “Just another day.”  And what would it look like to do our best to ensure that those wrestling on this day under the weight of this disease can make it to the next?

It is in our hands.  It is our ideas, our passion, our willingness to learn, to fail, to search, to love, and to fight that will bring forth the ideas and the designs to beat HIV/AIDS.

It is my hope that we will continue to feel the urgency of this great need.  It is my desire that we will continue to open our hearts to the stories of people all around the world that suffer.

I believe that God has given us this great privilege to be a part this great act of healing.  Please join us in praying, in knowing, in loving, and in serving.

And maybe we can one day celebrate by saying, “Happy World AIDS Day!”

Peace to you,

Dan Haseltine