Chasing Light Into Darkness
“I can’t see anything dad.”
My seven year old son squeezed my hand ever tighter as we both recognized the obvious truth of his statement. He and I along with my wife and five year old daughter had scrambled up the canyon wall in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey where we were hiking and had climbed into the entrance of a man made cave, a tunnel actually, that angled back into the cliff face and into what we knew from our guidebook was probably a complex of tunnels and rooms; the ancient homes of an ancient people. We had walked the sandy path for nearly twenty yards when we came to a right hand turn. The tunnel was four feet across and just over five feet tall, a rectangular shaft cut straight and true. A few steps into our right turn and we had run out of light. There was a shadowed outline of what appeared to be another tunnel or perhaps a doorway a few feet further into the gloom but beyond that we could see nothing. Darkness stretched out before us.
I crouched to rest my bent back and together we discussed our options. We had taken a tour of an amazing underground city the day before which had ignited the flames of our inner explorers. Unfortunately, while none of us wanted to turn back, we didn’t have a flashlight. The flip phone I had at the time didn’t have a flashlight and the gray green glow of its one inch square screen gave barely enough light to see our hands in front of our faces. What we did have was our compact digital camera which had a flash. It was worth a try and so I pointed the camera into the smothering darkness and took a picture. In an instant the tunnel burst into light and just as quickly receded back into darkness. In that moment however we had seen a vision of the future; there wasn’t just one doorway on the left, there were three evenly spaced entrances off of the main tunnel we were in, a tunnel which disappeared ahead in a distant darkness.
Dragging my hand along the wall, we made our way into the darkness until we came to the fist cleft in the sandstone. Another flash and we knew it was the entrance to a small and rather insignificant room. The next was the same but the third entrance led into a room that had a very large and rather deep pit carved into its floor. From our tour the day before we knew this had most likely been used to store grain in ages past, however the possibility of stumbling into one of these deep pits was unnerving. We squatted for another conference, reiterating to the kids to stay together and agreeing to not take any unnecessary risks. We proceeded another thirty yards or so when we noticed light ahead. We made our way forward and found a tunnel returning to the face of the cliff. It was another way out and it brought both relief and courage.
We turned back into the darkness and continued to explore. When we ventured deep enough, the light was non-existent and we rarely knew what was beyond the edge of our flash. Ten feet at a time, we wandered this complex of tunnels and rooms, discovering what felt like ancient secrets, including a large room where we imagined the community gathering for meals or worship. Fear and joy mingled as we spent the next hour chasing the light into the darkness.
As I read the Biblical stories, it seems that in many ways, faith is the simple act of chasing light into the darkness. When Moses’ mother coated a papyrus basket with tar and pitch she was simply taking the next step of faith. She hadn’t seen the whole story but in faith, she had followed the flash of God’s grace into the darkness. Moses’ sister had only seen a glimpse of a better future but she knew her God and so she took tentative, faith-filled steps into the river where she waited, standing in the shadows, standing in the muck and mire of the river, standing in the light of expectation. Joseph’s dream was followed by a pit and slavery and prison but he held on to hope, trusting that God was working behind the scenes and would remain true. When the twelve disciples watched their risen Lord ascend into heaven, the great commission was still ringing in their ears. Go and make disciples of all nations. The whole world was the vision Jesus had given them and yet they had no budget, no buildings, and no infrastructure to speak of. They did have a promise, that Jesus would be with them until the very end of the age, and they’d spent three years watching Jesus do the work of His kingdom and so they simply moved forward into the next thing God showed them.
The story of the book of Acts is the story of the disciples peering down dark tunnels expectantly looking for the light to flash. They lived with a deep trust that God was working and that His kingdom would expand. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what they were supposed to do - Go make disciples of all nations - but they didn’t necessarily know how it would get accomplished. They prayed and planned and took daily steps of faith, all the while trusting that God was orchestrating His will. As the disciples took those daily steps of faith, God stepped with them into their context to infuse it with His power in His timing. It is the faithfulness of the disciples that is paramount. The planning was helpful. The strategies were important. But as Andy Stanley points out, “believers with vision live with the knowledge that “how” may come about independently from their planning. But it will not come about apart from their faithfulness. Faithfulness is critical to success.”*
This is the pattern I watch weekly in the volunteers who serve in Crescent Project’s Embassy ministry which I help lead. Embassy works to equip followers of Jesus to go into the online spaces where Muslims congregate. There they build rich, lifelong friendships through which they’ll have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus as they share their lives. Every interaction is an act of faith. The will of the Father is clear - He desires that none should perish so he sent his only begotten son to seek and save the lost and to give His life as a ransom. In Jesus is life and that life is the light for all mankind. While the vision of the Father is clear, how it will actually come about is another question all together. Meaningful scriptures shared with Muslim friends are met with smug comments that give no hint of interest in the gospel. Honest probing questions are deflected and avoided. For many of our volunteers it can be a long, bent-backed slog through tunnels of darkness as Muslim friends respond with seeming indifference. And yet as we look to the scriptures we find hope that the Father is drawing people to Christ. He is at work behind the scenes whether we realize it or not. Seeds are planted which the Holy Spirit will water in His time.
This truth was highlighted in the story of a young lady from Central Asia. One of our Embassy volunteers had been laboring for nearly two years, meeting only indifference and the needy immaturity of a nineteen year old teen wanting to learn English even as she became a sort of surrogate aunt for this young lady. But then Covid-19 spread across the globe carrying in its wake a growing sense of anxiety and fear. This young lady was swept into a dark tunnel of despair and insomnia. And then suddenly a light flashed in her heart as the prayer of our volunteer struck a nerve. A prayer in Jesus' name broke down a door of insomnia. A prayer in Jesus’ name brought a bright calm into a heart swirling in the darkness of increasing anxiety. An invitation to read the scriptures was hesitantly accepted and a few months later this young lady placed her trust in Jesus. The blinders fell off and she stepped into the light.
It is a truth that you can can almost certainly trace back through your own journey of faith. Someone took a risk to share with you. Someone stepped through their fear to point you to the truth. Something happened that in the moment seemed like disaster. Faith always requires the active pursuit of light into darkness. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.
We rarely know what lies on the other side of the darkness, but as we take steps of faith, as we move forward in prayer and hope, as we step into the light - even the dim flashes born of our weak faith - God shows up.
* This quote is from Andy Stanley's book, Visioneering: Your guide for discovering and maintaining personal vision (2016). Multnomah Publishers. (pg. 58)
Learn more about Crescent Project and Embassy.
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If you have been involved in ministry to Muslims for more than a few months, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Nabeel Qureshi. His journey from devoted Muslim to apologist for the Christian faith was masterfully documented in his New York Times best selling book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. His dedication to pursuing and proclaiming the truth with grace and humility shows up in his hundreds of talks, interviews and debates which can be accessed with a simple search on Youtube. His writing is generous, never belittling the Muslim worldview but giving it a fair response as he did so well in his short book Answering Jihad. Nabeel sadly was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer in 2016 and died a year later at the age of 34.
C. S. Lewis famously said that, “Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.” The psalmist exhorts us to “Sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations (89:1).” One of the gifts that thinkers and writers like Qureshi leave to all generations is the gift of their books. No God But One: Allah or Jesus? is one of those important books that will indeed be a gift to generations of Christians as it makes His faithfulness known.
“No God But One: Allah or Jesus? addresses the most important questions at the interface of Islam and Christianity: How do the two religions differ? Are the differences significant? Can we be confident that either Christianity or Islam is true? And most important, is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?”
With a description like the one above, I came to this book expecting an academic tome, something created for the intellectual heights of academia or those dedicated missiologists who read everything they can get their hands on. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that Nabeel's voice in the book had stayed true to his voice in both of his other books: winsome, accessible, narrative and generous. I think this highlights one of Qureshi’s greatest gifts to the church: His ability to speak with authority and deep knowledge about complicated and complex topics in ways that we can all understand. He is engaging without being flippant, compelling without being preachy and committed to the truth without being pedantic.
No God But One: Allah or Jesus? Is written in two main sections which each explore two important questions through five different parts.
The two questions are:
With these questions framing up the discussion, Nabeel makes a rock solid case for the claims of the Biblical understanding of Jesus and graciously pulls apart the Islamic arguments both for Islam and against Christianity. At nearly 300 pages, this is an in depth study of the topic. Just about everything a person has heard or wondered about Islam is covered.
A few years ago I was sharing with a group of high school students who were reading Kate McCord’s book, In the Land of Blue Burqas. Most of them were not interested in ministry to Muslims but all of them felt that they had grown in their understanding of the God of the Bible because for the first time, they’d seen their God side by side by the god of the Quran. The distinctions they were sensing brought about a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the God they worship.
With No God But One: Allah or Jesus?, Nabeel Qureshi gives readers a chance not only to learn about Islam, but in so doing, he invites readers to grow in their own understanding of and appreciation for the God they serve. Because of this, I want to encourage everyone who follows Christ to read this powerful book.
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