Loving Tebow...Loving Muslims

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Ed - In the age of 9/11 American Christians have never had more difficulty understanding and loving the millions of Muslims that God has brought to their doorstep. How do you teach your American Christian friends to bridge that gap and love their Muslim neighbors? Joey Allen, a missionary serving among Muslims has learned to love them, and has a unique insight into how we can all see our Muslim cousins differently.

I was born a Bulldog, a Georgia Bulldog fan. I never came to a point in my life where I asked UGA to come into my heart. I never had a conversion experience where I repented and turned to the Bulldogs. I was taught Bulldog-lore from infancy. All my relatives loved the Dogs (except for one cousin who everyone thought was strange for going to Georgia Tech). Everyone I knew bled red and black. In the fall, we would gather around the television altar, turn down the volume, and turn on the radio to listen to the oratory of the high-priest of the Bulldog nation, Larry Munson, the Voice of the Dogs.

My favorite t-shirt growing up was a red shirt that had “How ‘bout them DAWGS” scrawled on the front. I remember thinking Hershel Walker was cooler than Luke Skywalker, and at one point, I had all the words to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” memorized.

It's great to be a Georgia Bulldog!

When I applied to college, I only applied to one school: The University of Georgia. When I received the acceptance letter, my family and I all danced around chanting, “It's great to be a Georgia Bulldog!”

All my friends went to school at UGA. Some of my best memories are from going to football games, basketball games, baseball games, gymnastics, intra-murals, art shows, concerts, walk-a-thons, scavenger hunts, and other events.

 

One year, when Georgia defeated the Tennessee Volunteers in Samford Stadium, I was among the mob that stormed the field and tore down the goal posts and paraded them around downtown Athens.

I spent four glorious years of my life as a student there. Three times I traveled down to Jacksonville with my buddies during the last weekend of October to attend “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party” (also known as the Georgia-Florida game).

Now if someone came up to me and tried to convince me to root for another school, they would be more successful trying to convince me that a popsicle would make an effective toothpick. If someone sat me down and gave me a detailed, logical, well-reasoned presentation of why their school was better than UGA and more deserving of my allegiance, they would have no more success than they would if they tried to persuade me that a Dunkin Donut is better than a freshly glazed Krispy Kreme.

Even if they had statistics to prove that their athletics program had consistently won more titles, their students scored higher on proficiency tests, their graduates earned more money and enjoyed more success, even if their alumni reported higher satisfaction in life, I wouldn’t care. The most iron-clad logic, the most powerful arguments, and the most undeniable evidence would not be effective in convincing me one micro-unit.

Why not? Aren’t I interested in the TRUTH? Don’t I pride myself on following wherever the facts  lead me? Don’t I value things like reason, evidence, and proof?

Of course I do.

But being a Bulldog is not primarily based on an intellectual commitment. Sure, I can back up a dump truck of reasons why UGA is the greatest school on earth, but those reasons didn’t convince me to be a Bulldog.

Being a Bulldog is about being a part of a community. Being a Bulldog is about fathers and sons cheering every touchdown and grieving every fumble. Being a Bulldog is about having an instant connection with anyone who knows how to bark and say, “Sic ‘em!” I have a commitment to Bulldogism that goes far beyond the rational.

I offer this parable so we can gain insight into the Muslim mind. For most of the Muslims I’ve met (and living in a Muslim country I’ve met a few), their commitment to Islam does not rest primarily on the rational. They are born into Muslim communities which binds them with strong emotional, social, and familial bonds to Islam. It provides their sense of identity, security, and purpose. Their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, co-workers, employers, all of their friends, indeed everyone they know is Muslim. Their government, schools, books, and television is all Muslim. There is no separation of church and state or sacred and secular. Their best and worst memories all happened to them as Muslims.

The Universal Brotherhood of Muslims, known as Ummah, is a concept dear to the heart of Muslims. Muslims all over the world (both pious and secular) identify with this brotherhood and feel a great deal of loyalty and devotion to it. The Ummah invites Muslims from all countries to have a sense of belonging in something greater than themselves.

When we consider the amount of fanaticism that accompanies college football, is it any wonder that fanaticism accompanies religion? Fans display a kind of blind loyalty that renders the truth, facts, and the win/loss record irrelevant to them. A fanatical fan identifies so closely with his team that a cut against his team is an assault against his personal identity. It comes as no surprise, then, that the jeers and taunts that mark clashes between rival teams sometimes turn violent. When fans fight passionately for their team, it isn’t about which team is better or who the winner is—that’s decided on the field—it’s about team honor and respect. When suicide bombers attack, they aren’t trying to persuade people that Islam is true or win converts; they often feel dissed, and want to make a point.

Having considered the lunacy of trying to persuade a dyed-in-the-wool Bulldog like me to cheer for another team, perhaps we can appreciate the audacity of asking a Muslim to join his arch-rivals—the Christians. After all, every Muslim knows that Christians wear jean-shorts.*

I love my wife. She love me. She also happens to be Tim Tebow's sister.

Authors have filled innumerable books with dazzling explanations and defenses of the Christian faith and air-tight apologetics explaining the rationale for faith in Christ Jesus. To be sure, Islam has its apologists preaching their reasons for the intellectual superiority of Islam and decrying the flaws of Christianity. But such efforts on both sides usually succeed only at strengthening the prior convictions of their audiences.

But there’s a wrinkle in this parable.

This season, this die-hard Bulldog will be cheering for the Florida Gators.

Georgia has many rivals, from in-state rival Georgia Tech to Tennessee to Auburn and Alabama. It is hard to pinpoint who Georgia fans hate the most, but many will tell you Florida. I mean, drinking Gator-ade is considered an act of pure treason in Athens. That’s why the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company came out with the Gator-ade alternative Power-ade.

So why will I cheer for Florida today and the rest of 2009? What could have possibly succeeded where logical arguments, facts, figures, and statistics all failed?

Love.

I love my wife. She loves me.

She also happens to be Tim Tebow’s big sister. Being brother-in-law to Timmy means that I’ve been able to spend time with him. Hanging out with Timmy, I can’t help but love and cheer for him. My love for Christy is so great that it eclipses lesser priorities. Our relationship is so important that compared to school affiliations, there’s no contest.

The doors to Islam can’t be breached by force (they’ll only shut tighter), but they can be opened from the inside.

Love. Friendship. Compassion. Grace. These are the only forces in the world capable of overcoming earthly loyalties. Love makes people open to consider the truth. The emphasis on love is not to suggest that faith in Christ should be built on a foundation of emotionalism or to minimize the importance of apologetics. The Gospel is true, intellectually satisfying, and able to withstand the most rigorous scrutiny. But I also believe that raw knowledge and reason don’t do as much to motivate people to change as their affections.

The doors to Islam can’t be breached by force (they’ll only shut tighter), but they can be opened from the inside. Friends, when we share the message of Christ with our Muslim friends, we must first share it as friends. I don’t mean we have to develop a deep friendship with a Muslim before we share with him, but we must do it in a friendly way, seeking his best interest (which is a relationship with God through Christ on the basis of the cross).

Mark it down as an inviolate law: no matter what you say, your words will not be heard if you disdain your Muslim neighbor. You don’t have to be as smart as Alvin Plantinga or as persuasive as Ravi Zacharias—you just have to love your Muslim neighbor from the heart. Your brains won’t impress him as much as your heart. Dr. Earl Radmacher, a man who passionately loves the Gospel, says, “If we would focus more on fulfilling the Great Commandment [to love one another] we’d be much more successful at fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Just to clarify, we aren’t asking our Muslim friends to turn their backs on their families, cultures, or traditions. Our Muslim friends don’t need to reject their heritage, eat different foods, or adopt new customs. Instead, we’re inviting them to experience the love that we’ve experienced. We want them to know the peace and joy of having our sins, not merely forgiven, but actually atoned.  We are announcing the opportunity for Muslims to enter into a vibrant relationship with God through Christ. Only in Christ will they experience a sense of identity that transcends the things that divide people on earth, things like race, language, nationality, economic condition, gender, and even sports team allegiance. As believers in Christ, they can enjoy a true sense of belonging as an adopted child of God.  And as a member of the Church, they will find a deep sense of community that reveals that the best this world has to offer are merely poor counterfeits.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Go Timmy!

*Wearing jean-shorts is the quintessential fashion faux pas, and is a insult fans often hurl at rivals.