by David Sanford
What’s our mindset when we talk with neighbors, friends, or acquaintances? It’s not enough to hear their story. It’s not enough to help them see how their story connects with God’s “big story.” It’s not even enough to get them into the Scriptures.
Sometimes, depending on their religious culture, we may need to tailor our approach. With a Hindu friend, you don’t want to start with Genesis. Instead, go straight to the Jesus story in the Gospels.
With a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ask if you can read the Gospel of John together using their New World Translation. Yes, we know that they’ve messed with John 1:1. But most of the NWT is old-fashioned, accurate and unread by the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The very fact we ask to read their Bible with them, and then don’t rail on and on about John 1:1, may surprise them. The fact we ask questions and then say “Oh, that’s what you believe” may surprise them even more. The biggest surprise, however, is when we keep asking questions with a smile on our face that makes them look at what John’s Gospel really says about Jesus Christ.
With some of our Muslim friends, we probably want to ask if we can read the Qur’an with them. Again, the Qur’an is highly revered but largely unread by the majority of Muslims. Yes, we know that the Qur’an isn’t inspired by God. We also know the latter writings are much more militaristic than the earlier surahs (sections).
Again, the very fact that we ask to read their scriptures, and then affirm what the Qur’an says that echoes (agrees) with the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures, will surprise them. Often, the even bigger surprise for most Muslims is discovering that many things the Qur’an teaches are opposite what they’ve heard taught in mosques their whole life. Then can we ask for permission to read parallel accounts about our common spiritual father, Abraham, from Genesis 12-25, etc.
Again, depending on your friend’s religious culture, you may need to tailor your approach. Uncomfortable? Only the first time.
Jesus isn’t nervous when you read non-biblical scriptures.
You don’t need to be nervous, either.
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Toward the end of my “Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think” workshop at a large Christian leadership conference in San Francisco, I opened the floor for questions. I always look forward to this.
On my far right, next to the wall, sat an Asian American gentleman who probably is my age but who looks much more distinguished, honorable, and wise. I wish I could tell you his name, but that particular workshop recording was lost.
When I asked for “Loving Your Neighbor” stories, this gentleman raised his hand and shared a detailed story about loving one of his Japanese neighbors. Years later, he had the joy of hearing his neighbor say he was now a follower of Jesus Christ.
The gentleman choked up for a second. Then his face grew serious. “It’s hard for me to explain,” he said.
“You didn’t tell your neighbor to stop going to his Shinto shrine?”
His face lit up. “Yes, yes! I felt God telling me not to say anything. God told me that He would tell my neighbor later. And about six months later, God did just that.
“And that, I believe, is the reason why he continues to follow Jesus and now comes with me to my church.”
Some have asked, Why would God wait? He should quit going to the shrine immediately, and start going to church every Sunday.
And then what?
How good that we can thank God daily for His sovereignty and providence, His holiness and love, and His mystery. May we and our neighbors always acquiesce to Him.