Discontentment As Incentive

CrownThe car was still running. I enjoyed the heat being blown out at me for the last couple minutes before stepping out to run a couple miles on the Centennial Trail. The last few swallows from my coffee mug went down as I read three pages of N.T. Wright’s How God Became King to supply a starting place for a conversation with God. I extracted the thought that the Kingdom of God has already started, even as it is being built.

I switched off the ignition and slid the key into my pocket as I jumped out and headed down the trail – slowly at first due to a twinge of pain in my back. There weren’t many others on the path this morning. A few bicyclists. Another runner. I greeted them in passing with, “Good morning.”

Absentmindedly, I asked the woman walking her dog, “How’s it going?”

“Okay,” she said, as I clipped past her.

The way she said it lodged in my mind. It became the new topic of my runtime prayers, or rather, a practical extension of the idea of kingdom building.

Bothered by my own lack of compassion

My prayer dialog is perhaps unusual and a little hard to describe. A conversation runs through my thoughts, with my own voice taking both parts. It’s not like I’m asking questions and God is answering – more like I’m asking and answering, but God is moving freely in both.

“That woman needs to be encouraged. Go back and pray for her.”

“Hunh? Based on what – that she said, ‘okay,’ and not, ‘fine?'” I’d had these compulsive ideas before. I’ve come to recognize them not as tests, but more as opportunities to follow Jesus that are given as gifts. Without exception, they always require an action that most people would consider foolish. The feeling of regret I’ve faced from ignoring these calls to action in the past far outweighs the risk of injured pride. Still, it always takes some convincing.

“I can’t just turn around now and go back to her. I’d look like some maniac. And what would I say?” I had passed her, running in the same direction that she was walking. The space between us grew with every jogged step.

“You definitely need to go and talk with her. Say, ‘Excuse me ma’am, but you seem to be carrying a burden. Is there some way that I can pray for you?'”

“Okay, but I don’t want to interrupt my run. I’ll wait for her back at the parking lot. Then it won’t be so awkward that I’m going back to talk to her.”

“Don’t miss it! Remember how rotten the lost opportunity feels. She could turn around and head the other direction at any time.”

A Decision is Made

“I’ll cool down after my run by walking back that way. If I meet her on the path, then I’ll know that I’m really supposed to talk to her.” There are always negotiations and deal making in these dialogs. I was a mile away from where I’d passed her when I turned around and started to retrace my steps.

“What should I say when she calls me a weirdo, frowns at me, and tells me she doesn’t believe in God?”

“I don’t want her to feel endangered because a strange man stopped to talk to her.”

“Doesn’t matter. Gotta do it. Take it as it comes.” After 5 or 10 more minutes of internal debate, I rounded a corner and there she was – still headed my direction. There was no turning back now.

She eased the awkwardness by looking up and smiling. She said, “Going for another round of road punishment?”

I smiled back and stopped. “Actually,” I said. “I was hoping that I’d run into you again. There was something in the way you said, ‘Okay’ that made me think you had a burden that I could pray for.” I stopped talking. What would happen next?

Bricks and Mortar in The Kingdom

Janet was her name. She had arrived from Colorado in time to hold her granddaughter before she died. As believers, the newborn’s parents had time to baptize the tiny girl – prematurely born before her lungs had developed enough to support her breathing alone.

Standing there on the path in the woods, we prayed together. God’s compassion to engineer this moment built faith in both of us. The dog waited patiently.

Now, I’m not bragging about how I obeyed God’s call on that path. You can probably tell from my feeble thinking process that I’ve experienced more failures than successes in this battle. But discontentment in my irrelevant, safe life drives me more and more to be willing to consider foolish actions for the chance of creating relationships. I believe that’s what its like to live in a kingdom that isn’t finished being built yet.

The Value of Discontentment

Building a kingdom worthy of King Jesus is the adventure that satisfies. The paradox? The incentive to build is found in embracing the feeling of discontented hunger.

Have you been struggling with identifying the source of your own discontentment? What do you think of the idea that staying hungry is a good incentive to guide a life of obedience?


Early Disciples Called God “Allah” – Or Am I Reading Scripture Wrong?


Okay, Whoa! Slow down. I’m glad the provocative title for this post brought you here. Breathe. Yeah, I can show you where I read it, but first it might be helpful to take a second and let you calm your emotions as I give you some background on why I’m writing about this topic.

I read an article this morning by my friend, Martin Accad, the director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. He entitled his blog My Allah is More Authentic Than Your Allah! It’s a thoughtful treatment of the news of Malaysian lawmakers’ recent decision to disallow the Christian use of the Malay word that Muslims use for God.

The Patron God of Drug Dealers

Let me give you a real life scenario that seems similar to me, and see if it makes sense to you. Years ago I visited prisoners in the county jail and shared what I knew about Jesus with them. One day a guy told me that he felt fulfilled because God had made him the best drug dealer that he could be.

What do you say to that?

I could have told him that if he believed that God approved of dealing drugs then we weren’t talking about the same god. I could have further demanded that he not use my word to refer to his deity and refuse to talk to him unless he switched to some different name.

Hmmm. Isn’t the point of having words to fill them with meaning? Dictionaries and discussion help us to negotiate what they mean, and we talk about words to help us solve how we understand them.

So, really, we have two issues here. The first question is whether or not it’s appropriate to use the same word; the second is about the meaning we give that word.

Early Christians Worshipped Allah

Let’s start by proposing that followers of Jesus can feel comfortable using the word Allah to talk about God. Keep calm; the Bible itself says its okay. You can trust this. If you like, you can check what I’m going to say by turning to the second chapter of the book of Acts in the New Testament.

On the Day of Pentecost, there were Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world, because it was one of the annual feast days where God required his people to offer a sacrifice at the temple. In verses 9 through 11, we get a list of all the nations represented in the crowd. Notice the last one?


The narrative relays how the disciples attracted a bunch of attention. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in the languages of the people present, but that they themselves did not know. When the Arabs heard them proclaiming the wonders of God in Arabic, what word do you suppose it came out as?

Allah. It’s the Arabic word for God.

How many people spelled God “g-o-d” on the Day of Pentecost?

High Percentage of Early Adopters Among Arabs

The passage goes on to say that 3,000 people believed that day and joined those in their previous number – effectively becoming the first 3,120 spirit-filled followers of Jesus on the planet.

Let’s do a little math, shall we? Just for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that there were equal numbers of people in the crowd from each of the fifteen listed nations. That means there were around 200 Arabs. Check my calculations (200/3,120 = 0.064).

I think this suggests that about 6% of the initial members of the first believers referred to Yahweh as Allah – over 300 years before Mohammed arrived on the scene.

The problem is not who owns the word. When Arab Muslims and Arab Christians each use the word Allah today, the real issue is that they disagree over the character of the one whom the name describes.

Does this idea impact how you’d relate to a Muslim coworker? How would you go about negotiating meaning in respectful dialog?

From Joppa to Caesarea: The Conversion of Simon Peter

Caesarea88 miles south of Tyre, Lebanon, circa 35 AD

Peter relaxed on the rooftop and offered a prayer of thanks. He had let a servant know that he was hungry and looked out over the surrounding buildings along the sea as the meal was being prepared.

This Jewish town of Joppa buzzed with the news of how he’d raised the woman Tabitha from the dead. So many Jews had become disciples of Jesus in the wake of his travels – first Jerusalem, then Lydda, now Joppa. Peter felt sure that Jesus would be pleased with the feeding of his sheep.

He still felt the sting of shame from how he had denied knowing Jesus. Despite his unfaithfulness, he’d been forgiven and even empowered. He planned to make the most of this second chance.

The sky was blocked from view by a descending sheet, and Peter grew dimly aware that he was experiencing a supernatural vision. The bulging center of the sheet landed first, followed by the corners, to reveal an assortment of animals, reptiles, and birds.

A voice in his ear told him to kill and eat, but he thought it was a test. All the animals were forbidden for Jews to eat in the Mosaic Law. He said, “no way!” three times, despite the voice telling him not to question God’s ability to purify anything, before the offending menagerie was finally taken back up into heaven.

What a strange vision. What could it mean? Peter was just beginning to ponder deeply when he heard a knock at the door to the house below.

No one answered the door to the three Roman Gentiles out there. Jews didn’t mix with the enemy occupier of their land. Undeterred, the visitors called out, asking if the man known as Simon Peter was staying there.

At that moment, Peter heard the Spirit tell him, “I sent the three men who are looking for you. Go with them.”

Do you think the number three was significant to Peter?

I think Peter heard the number three in the Spirit’s voice and broke into a cold sweat. Three men. Three invitations to eat forbidden meat. Three times Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Three charges to feed Jesus’ sheep. And most memorable of all – the predicted three times he denied knowing Jesus before the rooster crowed.

Were all those threes setting him up for this key moment in which so much rode on Peter’s obedience? Would he go with the men?

The visitors told of the request of his presence in the home of a centurion, the military commander of a hundred soldiers. No stranger to a jail cell, this must have smelled like a trap to Peter. But he was determined not to deny his Lord again. He invited them in to the house to stay the night.

Ten men embarked the next day, for a two-day, forty mile journey to Caesarea.

Peter went despite his abhorrence for Romans and Gentiles. The prospect of traveling with them carried the same aversion as eating roasted lizard meat. He took six Jews with him – three times the number required to testify in a Jewish trial.

What will people think?

Imagine the reaction of Peter’s fans as they strode along in broad daylight. What on earth is Peter doing with those guys? I thought he was a holy man?! The Romans must have felt the disapproving glares and may have wondered if they were going to get out of the situation alive.

What do you suppose they talked about as they walked? Did the Jews ask about Cornelius – how he had come to fear God? Maybe Peter was in the act of explaining that Cornelius’ good works weren’t enough to be accepted into the faith before he remembered his vision about purification.

Somewhere around the middle of their journey they crossed over into Gentile territory and the hateful stares shifted toward the Jews in the party.  Cornelius met them at his house, together with a crowd of his family, friends, and neighbors.

The pregnant moment of decision

As Peter described his change of heart toward them, and explained the good news of Jesus, they were overcome by the Holy Spirit in a way that the Jews believed should have been impossible.

Who was converted? Certainly Cornelius’ faith was ratified by the Holy Spirit, but it could have happened without Peter being there, right?

I think the point of the story is the heavenly effort put into getting Peter to Caesarea to experience the event. Somewhere on the road, it was Peter who was converted to God’s kingdom plan to include all nations – not just Israel.

The power of a stroll and a conversation?

Remember, Peter wasn’t told by the Spirit to convert Cornelius. He was told to go on a journey with three men, to start a conversation.

What if the Spirit told you to you take a walk with a Muslim? Would you do it? What might happen as you talk on your journey together?