Abu Da'ud

A bare willow tree

Pressure comes in life, sometimes stripping us bare. It can be persecution, pandemic or a panoply of crises. What are we to think, to do?

My neighbor’s willow tree reminded me of answers I’d learned long ago. In late summer and fall, it had gorgeous branches full of green leaves that would sway happily in the breeze. The tree looked like it was enjoying life and its freedom.

Then the seasons changed. Men came and cut off all its branches, stripping it down to the nub. It became a bare tree. To add insult to injury, when the rains came and fell on the exposed cuts, the bright wood began to dull and become gray. Everything that seemed to have so much function and beauty now looked like a dead pole stuck in the ground.

On some days, the pole looked like it was simply numb, feeling nothing. On other days, it seemed to want to rage at the sky, saying, “Why did you do this to me?”

We seem to ask the same questions when pressure comes, when things are taken that we value or even treasure. We experience many powerful, often negative emotions. We probably, like the willow, cannot fully see what is happening.

We can learn answers from the willow in spring. Slowly, little green shoots appear. They turn into branches, which quickly erupt with leaves. The tree looks even bigger than before.

God does not send calamity, but will often use it to prune us so that we can bear more leaves, more fruit (John 15). Rather than shut down, fear or rage at God and each other, we can reach out to God with thanks for the change in season and what He will accomplish in and through us. We can reach out to others in love rather than take out on them our frustration from thwarted expectations.

God is still in control, and loves you thoroughly. He is for you and with you. Be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world that threatens you. He gives grace and mercy for times like these. You, like the willow, may be experiencing a change in seasons, but please remember and trust that God is still Lord of the seasons

Keywords: seasons, change, trust

MBB identity is not based on performance

MBBs need to know that the extent of their obedience and performance, even good works from a pure heart, are not their identity in Christ. 

Christians are children of God, and their identity is a gift – given at salvation. What they do is different than who they are. God loves them because they are His. He does invite them to work with Him, but that is not why He loves them. 

MBBs, as well as all Christians, should ensure that they are doing the right things for the right reasons. To do so requires hearing the Holy Spirit, knowing God’s character and the new covenant. Learning how to do these three things, as well as many others, is covered in my book, Discipling Muslim Background Believers.

Keywords: MBB discipleship, identity, performance

Staying focused on Jesus as seasons change

While losing focus on Jesus can happen at Christmas time, this post is more about losing focus at the change of spiritual seasons: bad to good; good to bad; difficult to easy; plenty to little; and so on. Christians tend to do better when they keep Jesus as their focus because He is our source of life and joy.

Most Christians know that He is our source, but get distracted. The key to returning to a good focus is not simply following a checklist, nor is it simply trying to think more about Him. Thinking about Him is not bad. It must, however, be done in the context of a relationship that is living and vital.

All Christians are given a doorway into that relationship in Christ. Many then treat following Jesus as something that they do every now and then — usually at church or sometimes during prayer or even regular quiet times.

What God offers us is so much bigger and better. While He is always with us, He wants us to always know and experience His presence.

He calls us friends. We are not slaves, simply there to perform tasks of obedience. Rather, He calls us to an exciting life of serving and loving others with Him. We live and work in a vital, sustaining relationship with Him. He wants us with Him always, and died to prove it. Because He rose, we are members of His family, perfectly and fully loved.

Distracted? Lost focus? Then remember. Remember that you are part of His family, and He calls you sister or brother. He loves you with an everlasting love, calling you friend — the close kind. So close that He takes up residence in you. Ask Him to keep reminding you of His love, presence and friendship. Also ask Him to continue to reveal greater depths of His love an friendship, and how that revelation affects how you live. Do your part — seeking to know His friendship.

When we know we are truly loved for our benefit, we tend to respond lovingly. This response refocuses us, giving us the ability to properly live out our relationship with our Lord and friend, Jesus Christ.

p.s. Knowing you are in or out of focus often takes monitoring your attitudes, thoughts and actions. Regular short times of reflection can be enough, using even the simple question, “Is my priority of my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being lived out in my attitudes, thoughts and actions?”

Keywords: Christian, discipleship, love, friend of God, re-focus

God’s welcoming nature revealed in His names

God welcomes us. People either forget that or never knew. Many need God’s peace today, and God calls them to Himself so that He can give them that peace. People often cannot see His welcome, so they live in frenetic and uncomfortable worlds. So how do we understand His welcome if we cannot see it?

The first thing is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We can then look at just two of His names, Father and I Am. His names reveal His character and how He acts.

Many understand God’s immense power, revealed when He says He is I Am. He is self-existent and can do anything He wants. That knowledge is good, but leaves people wondering how He will treat them.

God is revealed in Christ as a good father who cares for and deeply loves His children. He made all of us, and those that follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are His children. We can then know that the One that can do anything welcomes us as His children and looks favorably on us individually. We can come to God and He will take care of our circumstances. He also giving us a peace that passes understanding as He works in our circumstances. This peace is based on knowing his goodness continues towards us regardless of our circumstances.

Keywords: how God sees us, Father, I Am, names of God, love, children

Feeling rejected? Rub love in like a lotion.

That’s what I was told a few months after I had become a Christian. It was great advice, but took me a while to discover what it meant, even though my friend told me.

He said that though I was being loved a great deal by others, I still felt rejected because of the effects of being disowned and disinherited after becoming a Christian. He said that the love was rolling off of me like water off of a duck’s back because I did not have a way to receive it.

I knew he was right, but told him I did not know how to change it. He said that much of it was about focus. I told him that in my mind my focus would often go to the thing that screamed the loudest — in this case the pain from the rejection. Acceptance and love were not being received because their voices were being drowned in the noise from the storm of pain.

He paused for a while, looking down, brow furrowed. He took so long that his wife reached out to gently touch his shoulder, reminding him of the need to speak. I think He was praying, asking God to speak through him. I believe He did.

He continued to wait, then finally told me to rub love in like a lotion. He clarified that the kind of love I should focus on was love that agreed with the description of love in 1 Corinthians:4-8 and came from people that wanted the best for me. He said I should actively focus on that love, and continue to think about it until it went in (to my mind and soul). He said I should rub the thoughts in until all the love was absorbed into me, and that I should not stop doing so until I knew that I had been loved. I should note that I was being loved by people and by God.

He said that God was building in me the ability to receive love, and eventually I would be able to take it in fully. He said that receiving love would overcome the rejection, leaving me free to grow in Christ fully, with the ability to help others.

Receiving love in my life has brought healing, comfort and confidence. It takes time, but rubbing love in like a lotion has been helpful in receiving love and practicing Philippians 4:8-9. I recommend actively receiving love if you feel rejected or are being oppressed or persecuted — yes, even rubbing love in like a lotion. It works.

Keywords: Receiving love, lotion, rejection, persecution, oppression