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Setting the Captives Free

I’ve been participating in the “twittering” going on about the protests in Iran. I’ve watched the video of the innocent and defenseless girl in the street, intentionally shot by religious thugs and dying as her friends hopelessly tried to save her. A beautiful young life cut off by the Islamic Revolution’s coercive lust for power.

Acid is dropped by government helicopters onto peaceful crowds. Women are beaten with truncheons for standing on sidewalks. Police use knives, razors, and axes against demonstrators.

That was just the first day. Since then it’s gotten worse, with more murders, imprisonment without medical treatment, and destruction of property by the police.

And exquisitely, all this is perpetrated in the name of… God?

Let’s see how we got here.

Historical background

The Jewish scriptures point to a coming Messiah who will institute a New Covenant. The Christian scriptures identify that Messiah and the new covenant that will never be superseded. Muhammad overrides both, and then uses the sword to impose his new doctrine.

Christian history is replete with the sordid episodes of violent men. Indeed, even to this day there is discord in the Body of Christ, though it’s usually not bloody. But all this is a deviation from the perfect standard set by our Founder, who chose the Cross over violence. The church jumped the tracks by embracing the sword of the state, with lasting repercussions to our spirituality and the reputation of Christ.

But the political aggression of Islam is not a deviation from its founder’s philosophy, it is a reflection of it, and that is why it continues to this day. As Islam critic Wafa Sultan says, any movement that uses the power of the sword to propagate itself is not a religion, it is a political entity.

Some say that Islam needs a reformation of the kind that Christianity underwent. But the problem is that the Christian Reformation took us back to our Biblical roots. For an Islamic reformation to have any moral validity, it would have to leave Islam’s violent Koranic roots behind.

Others look for Islam’s own Messiah, al Mahdi, to change things. The problem there is that anyone who strengthens Islam’s coercive stranglehold on liberty is doing neither God nor man any good and cannot be the Messiah.

This is exactly why Jesus said that His Kingdom is not of this world. Government cannot be perfected until men are perfected. Christ works in this age to perfect individuals, at a level that law cannot begin to reach, through their voluntary cooperation. While this, of course, can serve to elevate societies, until true perfection comes no man is worthy of absolute authority.

Not all Muslims are Islamic

Now I want to shift gears to make a critical distinction.

I’ve learned a lot during the past few days by listening to the “tweets” coming out of Iran. Here is a terror-exporting nation that is one of our worst enemies, which is in the deep grip of Islamic tyranny, and yet I have seen statements from Iranians professing a love of God and man and freedom that almost brought tears to my eyes. As I listened, I wished I had the purity of heart some of these people have.

“Allah, we are nothing without you”; “Allah, you are everything”; “We are all one in Allah” (even knowing that most of his readers come from the Christian West); “Live with a passion for freedom, for Allah is a consuming fire”.

Such consecration, such generosity of spirit, such selflessness, and such courage in the face of brutal tyranny! Remember as you read those statements that “Allah”, while the Muslim name of God, is also simply the generic Arabic translation of the word “God”. That might make it more palatable.

The point is this: not all Muslims are radical Islamists. Many are just plain folk who had the bad luck to be born into a coercive culture that brooks no dissent. In other words, they are captives in need of rescue. And we’ve got to reach them.

The beauty of Christ is that the wall of separation that divided Isaac and Ishmael has been torn down. Just like all of us, Ishmael the rejected becomes “accepted in the beloved” when he turns to Christ. Consider the conversation the woman at the well had with Jesus:

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” – Jn 4:20-26 ESV

Let’s unpack that:

  1. The modality of worship is no longer important.
  2. Salvation comes from the Jews
  3. True worship is this: spirit and truth.
  4. God is seeking true worshipers.
  5. Jesus is Lord.

God is looking for hearts to pour the eternal life of Christ into, and who you are, where you come from, and your manner of worship are not the issue.

And that message was exactly what this woman needed to hear, because as a Samaritan, in today’s terms she would be an Arab.


Years ago a Pakistani man pumped gas at a station near me. Zahid always had a smile for me and my kids, and we often shared a laugh. But he apparently was alone in the US, and he complained about his disappointing life.

On Thanksgiving Day that year I ran down to a deli to get some things before it closed. Passing the gas station, I saw that Zahid was working alone. At the deli I saw plates of cookies for sale, and I got the bright idea of buying one for Zahid.

I stopped at the station on the way back, got out and gave the cookies to Zahid, simply smiling and saying “Jesus loves you”. No big deal, I thought –  the cookies had only cost $2. I was completely unprepared for Zahid’s reaction, as his eyes began to well up with emotion. My small act of thoughtfulness had touched his loneliness and pain with a little balm.

I didn’t know what to do, so I slapped him on the shoulder, smiled and took off, because I didn’t want to embarrass him.

A month later, Zahid called me into the station’s office and gave me a box. Puzzled at why he would give me anything, especially for Christmas, I opened it, and inside were the most exquisite turned marble aperitif glasses I have ever seen. I protested that I couldn’t accept them, but Zahid said it was nothing and insisted.

Shortly after that the station changed management and Zahid was suddenly gone. I can only pray that the love of Christ continued to lead and protect him, and that he did not give in to the bitterness that claims so many Muslims.

The challenge

How many tender souls are hidden in Muslim garb, trapped in Islamic societies? Souls we would hear crying out, if we were to pay attention, for the love of God and the healing touch of a caring church?

Beyond the export of terrorism, beyond the immanent nuclear capability, this is why we must care about what happens in Iran – and in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and Myanmar, and Bhutan, and so very many others.

And let us not forget that Christians living unspeakably brutal lives in these nations need our help as well.

We simply cannot ignore the pleas of those in captivity if we want to continue in God’s blessing. Despite its faults, the church of Jesus Christ has been given all authority to do His work. We need to lift up Jesus, so that He can draw all men to himself.

And we need to care.

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