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Seven lessons I learned in Abu Dhabi

30 Leaders from 10 different cities gathered together in Abu Dhabi early May 2017 for a Multi-Faith event. Every city leadership had representations of the three Abrahamic faith; Christians, Muslim, and Rabbis. The goal is to build bridges of relationships, develop trust and work towards a strategic plan that would bring peace and reconciliation to their cities. They created plans to eat meals together as families; to bring their constituencies together to break down the walls of separation and work together to see the prosperity of their city. They committed to standing up for each other in the face of religious persecution and get involved in global affairs in promoting peace among religions and to speak up against religious persecution worldwide.

This event was a collaborative effort between three organizations; Glocalnet, International Interfaith Peace Corp and the Forum for Peace. Glocalnet led by Dr. Bob Roberts and IIPC led by Imam Magid Mohamed, have been working together for years bringing Pastors and Imams together on a retreat called “Building Bridges of Faith”. This retreat has been designed to break down walls of suspicion, build a foundation of trust and create a pathway to peace and reconciliation in their cities. Forum of Peace led by Sheikh Bin Bayyah a world-renowned Muslim scholar and the United Arab Emirates sponsored this retreat in Abu Dhabi in May 2017 and invited Rabbis to join for the first time. It was a historic event; the first of it’s kind.

The leadership of each city returned with a strategic plan to execute the vision to promote peace and to work together to build stronger and more resilient communities of faith.

These are some lessons I walked away with.

 

  1. Every Religion has peacemakers. Find them and work with them for the common good. These are people of peace who wield massive influence. Influence many times is greater than power, for influence has the ability to move the masses as it frequently affects the heart not only the head.
  2. Love is stronger than hate. The force of love is much more powerful than hate. When religious leaders decide to love all people regardless of their differences and choose love over hate, it changes the environments of our cities and communities.
  3. Generosity is a powerful force. It is not a passive sentiment but a powerful action that moves the heart of others. It puts pressure on the soul of others for good. The leader of this region led by Sheikh Bin Bayyah showed great generosity toward the strangers and visitors and it warmed the heart of all who attended.
  4. If not us, then who? Just because we do not share common beliefs does not mean we do not share a common humanity. Religions of all people carry an ethos of what Rabbi Sacks calls “ethics of responsibility”. We of all people should be the first to put into action love and care for people. The best of our faiths should always move us to love and harmony not hate and wars.
  5. We are all truly created in the image of God. We are all children of Adam and Eve. Our journey through life and religions shapes us. However, if you look beneath the layers of beliefs and philosophies we developed as we have grown from childhood to adulthood, you will find a common humanity. A desire for family, peace, friendship and community. We all desire to be known and loved. We were not created to be alone therefore God made us to remove the aloneness of each other.
  6. Hospitality is a powerful practice. Eating meals together and listening to each other’s story breaks down the walls of suspicion and separation. Eating meals together is not some flippant thing we do. It is the core of what we do. Food creates an environment like no other. It values the other at its very essence as we share each other’s culture.
  7. Laughter brings people together like nothing else. When people laugh with each other it creates a bond. It speaks of a God who has given to us such a precious gift that allows us to forget for a moment, all of our differences and troubles and elevates us to a place that is transcendent. Rabbi Noach Wienbergs says, “Laughter is an opportunity to transcend limitations that bind us to see God more clearly.”

 

There is a need for a grassroots movement that will create friendship among religious leaders of all different faiths. “Dealing with religious actors is the major missing ingredient,” says Pastor Bob Roberts, President of Glocalnet and one of the leading Christian leaders promoting peace among all religions. It is time to capitalize on the extensive ties of faith leaders and develop a grassroots movement that is built on trust and respect for each other and seek to collaborate with our academic, political, and institutional efforts to bring positive change to this world.

 

Healing Power of Mourning

Romans 12:15b…Mourn with those mourn


A heaviness weighs over our nation like a dark overhanging cloud of impending storms. We see

the deep division among the racial fault lines; political mayhem invades our living rooms every

night; endless groups of people galvanized by specific hurt, wounds or certain values that are

gathering from outside the edges of societal norms. The LGBT community clamoring for their

causes; transgender issues clumsily breaking into our consciousness. Demanding a space to

exist and the right to use whatever bathroom they choose. Wars and rumors of wars fill the

airwaves. Large segments of the church of Jesus Christ deeply divided among political

affiliations choosing sides and losing their prophetic voices in the process. Yet the hope of the

world is wrapped up into the word called reconciliation. However it seems that mourning

historically precedes the journey of reconciliation. Romans 12:15b says to mourn with those

mourn. The way to heal hurts, sadness and disappointments is to lament with those who

lament. Logic and reason cannot heal emotional pain it takes empathy and emotions to get into

the world of broken people and sit with them in that pain and share it with them so they no

longer feel alone.

God identified a problem before sin, when He said in Genesis 2:18 “It was not good for man to

be alone” He did not design man to be alone and his solution was not Himself but another

human being called Eve. We were created to remove the aloneness of each other and yet we

see that we are altogether yet alone. The church that was mandated to break down all walls of

separation and including people in a community of belonging has consistently erected walls of

division; even within its own house. Mourning is not despair or whining. It is not a cry into the

darkness. It is a cry directed first to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s

deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the cry of those who are deeply disturbed by

the way things are. The path of reconciliation is rooted in the practice of mourning. Let’s step

back from our quick fixes, superficial anecdotes and take a seat by our brother and sister. Let’s

just sit with them; put aside your intellectual and logical answers and just mourn with them

awhile. Mourn with the refugees who has lost all; mourn with your gay friends, the loss of love

and family. Mourn with your African brother and sister whose history here in America did not

sail in on the Mayflower but on a ship ironically called “Jesus of Lebeck”, the first British slave

ship to land in America. Their history began with unimaginable pain and humiliation. Mourn

with the Mexican immigrant who left wife and kids to find work so he can feed them and clothe

them. As you mourn with them you will begin to mourn for yourself for in their pain you will see

your own brokenness. You will see that their pain is your pain and that sharing our pain can

become a source of healing. Then and only then are you truly ready to carry this gift of

reconciliation to the world.

Blessed are the peacemakers

 

Human relationships are not negotiated; they are reconciled – Robert Seiple

 

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God – Matthew 5:9

 

 

Notice it did not say blessed are the peacekeepers. There is a world of a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper. A peacemaker works toward reconciliation instead of tolerance. Its goal is transformation versus co-existence.  It deals with the heart and not just the head.

Glocalnet’s vision statement states that we are about reconciliation. The fact that relationships are to be reconciled not negotiated is a profound statement that if properly understood reframes our approach to conflict resolution. This applies to all kinds of relationships and all kinds of conflicts. Only when our goal is reconciliation instead of negotiating a transactional arrangement do we move toward a more sustainable solution. However it does require a different vision, a different set of relational tools and ultimately a desire for transformation; a permanent change of heart not head.

A different vision begins with starting with the end in mind. What is the goal we are looking for? Is it only tolerance or reconciliation; is it to be confined to our church buildings or tribe or are we called to take the message of reconciliation to the hard places of the world? A vision isolated from a hurting world loses its power.

The call of a peacemaker is to take this message of reconciliation into the hardest, darkest, most hurting places and apply the balm of healing to the hearts of people and nations. To disciple the nations it must start with healing. In the book of Luke chapter 10 verse 9 Jesus makes this point when He said, “healing precedes preaching”.

 A different set of relational tools. One of the most important relational skills is the discipline of listening to understand before you try to make yourself understood. Stephen Covey in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People articulated this principle. It’s also called listening with empathy or listening with the heart not the head. When we are in a negotiating mindset our heads lead out with logic and reason. Logic and reason are the wrong tools for emotional pain or past wounds of the heart. Only emotions heal emotions is the rule of the universe. When we sit with others and listen intently to find a way to crawl into their world, they will feel less alone after they’ve met us.

Robert Seiple, a former U.S Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, wrote in his book Ambassadors of Hope “The ultimate sustainable solution to so many of the world’s problem is reconciliation. A permanent change requires a change of heart.”

GLOCALNET’S INCREDIBLE 2016

 

We are off to a strong start for 2017!  We are speaking, training and convening from Washington, D.C., to Hanoi, Vietnam, and even Lahore, Pakistan!  We will be all over the U.S. and the world this year.  We are training government leaders, imams, pastors, mentoring emerging pastors and connecting with religious leaders of other faiths to build bridges.  We are working with governments and government leaders globally defining what it looks like to engage in the public square in a new era.  We are deeply involved in religious freedom issues and religious persecution in some of the harder places of the world.  We are working on racial reconciliation in some very new ways that we’ll be writing about later.  

 

Last year Bob Roberts spoke at many events from church planting conferences, to being invite to being a part of the Marrakesh Declaration with Shaykh Bin Bayyah that protects the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority nations.  He spoke at churches, mosques, government gatherings, the Newseum and even to 20,000 Muslim young people in Toronto, Canada.  Articles about our work were written in many national newspapers, here in the U.S., the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Dallas Morning News, the Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, In-Touch Magazine, Christian Post, Huffington Post, and many others.  

 

Glocalnet’s passion is summed up in it’s vision statement. “We relentlessly pursue peace and reconciliation among all peoples in all places for all things.”

 

Here is a brief summary of 2016:

Glocalnet Family of Churches

Glocalnet consist of a family of churches that carry the same DNA and vision to be a light in this world and to engage our cities and the world to be peacemakers and reconcilers. We have 7 churches that gather yearly for community, sharing and learning from each other. We also support each other in living out our three most cherished values which are engaging our local communities, especially among the poor and marginalized, engage hard parts of the world together and help each others establish communities of faith that make a difference both locally and globally. Our goal is to keep increasing the family by developing leaders who buy into Glocalnet’s vision and are committed to living out our three main values.

 

Church Planting & Church Planting Centers

Glocalnet church multiplication is core to our DNA and moves us forward in accomplishing the above vision. It’s going to take a different kind of church to engage the city and world in this 21st century that goes far beyond what the music and worship service is.  We train and equip our churches to multiply communities of faith with the same vision and values. We established 2 church planting centers in local churches in 2016. Our Glocalnet family trained over 40 church planters to go and establish communities of faith that bring about peace and reconciliation both locally and globally. The key to creating and sustaining this movement is multiplication, therefore we are intentional about placing the expectation and the training in every leader of Glocalnet.

 

Multi-Faith Retreats

We have designed a retreat that brings together evangelical pastors and muslim Imams together for three days. These retreats are designed to break down walls of fear and suspicions and get to know each other as humans. The essence of these gatherings is to have transparent and honest conversation with each other about difficult issues. However it does not stop there, these leaders make a commitment to build ongoing relationships with each other and their constituencies and to work together in their cities for the common good and to protect each other from religious persecution.   Glocalnet gathered for two such retreats in 2016. We did one in Phoenix with 12 pastors and 12 imams and one in Washington DC hosted by the Turkish government. These two groups continue to meet quarterly. We see walls of suspicions come down and new relationships formed after these retreats. Our goal is to build upon these relationships and create a network of religious leaders across cities and the nation who will be there to respond in emergency situations.

 

 

Global Collaboration Communities (GCC)

Glocalnet brings together apostolic leaders globally every year to build relationships and to learn from the global church.  In 2016 we met in India hosted by an exceptional leader who has a movement in that country. 20 global leaders came together to build relationship and to learn from each other, share best practices in area of engaging the public square, pluralism and church planting. The takeaways were incredible as we leveraged relationships, knowledge and learning from each other. There were visit to sikh temples, meetings with religious and government leaders to learn about religious freedom issues and how the church can play a role in creating better citizens that help build great nations.

 

Nation & City Engagement

The way churches engage the world is changing radically.  It’s a new world, the whole world is connected.  In the past global and city engagement was about doing religious stuff in a geographical context.  Today, the church must be presently bringing value to a city and nation beyond just a worship service on Sunday.  How we make disciples and engage the domains of society are critical.  That leads to natural conversations about faith and life.  We continue to help churches and people engage through the natural infrastructure of society in places that would be considered difficult for most.  

 

Hosted Mosaic Conference

Glocalnet in partnership with Northwood Church hosted Mosaic’s multi-ethnic conference. About 1200 multi-ethnic leaders from across the nation came to celebrate and champion this vision, and challenge the American Church to get beyond systemic segregation to advance a credible gospel witness in an increasingly diverse and cynical society. To bring peace and reconciliation among the races in our country.

 

So as you can see these are just small glances at the work Glocalnet did in 2016. We are committed to being relentless peacemakers and work tirelessly to move humanity beyond tolerance to reconciliation and celebration of each other.

HOW TO GET HUNDREDS OF MUSLIMS TO YOUR WORSHIP SERVICE ON SUNDAY

(Skip to 16:10 to see the interview with Imam Zia)

 

The church I pastor, NorthWood, celebrated MLK Day not just last Monday but Sunday as well.  We are in a series called ANXIETY in which we are looking at how we deal with it as people.  On January 15, we looked at how we deal with anxiety when community issues arise.  We had a guest band that was awesome, we had ethnic food tables from all over the world, and we had Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, and even an Atheist who came out of curiosity over an “evangelical church that would invite all those people to come together.”

I preached on standing together out of Romans 12 and in the sermon even brought up a friend from a mosque in Irving, Imam Zia.  He shared what Muslims believe and I explained what we believe about the birth, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus, and how to accept him as Lord and Savior.  We had hundreds of Muslims with us.  I LOVE preaching to people of other religions about Jesus – kinda what Paul did.

Paul would be shocked at what he would find in American Christianity with it’s isolationism and tribalism.  Paul was a frequent speaker at synagogues, other religious temples, philosophy gatherings, universities, markets, and countless other public square gatherings.  As a matter of fact, all of Paul’s evangelism was in the public square generally being asked to speak at their request.  Frankly, I get asked to speak at many non-Christian and other religious events and I’ve come to love it.  You’ve not preached until you’ve preached to a packed house of people where you are the only Christian!  It’s like skiing on the black slopes.  A little scary at first, but then – wow it’s incredible!

The reality is, any evangelical pastor, in any city in America can do what I do.  The truth is, it would be easy.  The reason is that so few evangelical pastors reach out intentionally to people of other religions, and most of those people of other religions as minorities want a relationship with us.    Keep in mind the early church didn’t grow through sheep swapping, better music, celebrity pastors, or backslidden Baptist and Methodist but from people from many other religions who loved the message of Jesus.

How do you do it this?  The clip above of the Sunday service illustrates this:

  1. Intentionally be friends with people of other religions.  If you’re an American evangelical pastor you are the majority – not the minority.  THEY DON’T BITE!  I’ve yet to get a bad reception from someone of another religion that you try to just be their friend.  Ask to go drink coffee, probably tea is better, or eat a meal or just hang out.  ALL THE APOSTLES DID THIS!!!  That’s how the Gospel spread to so many nations. My wife is in a cooking club with Muslims and Jews.  There are so many ways to build friendships.  Zia and I have been friends for years.  All good things come out of relationships.
  1. Visit their place of worship.  They will let you.  As a matter of fact it shows honor and respect that you would do that.  It would be a great education experience for you.  Paul did this – don’t let other Christians who live by fear and isolationism leading to judgmentalism keep you away.  It gives you chance to speak intelligently to them and to your members about what you believe.
  1. Let them share their view!  Paul did this as well.  Leave your rhetoric at home, have a conversation with people.  If the strength of our faith is keeping other faiths away or not allowing other faiths to speak – we must have a very small view of the power of the Gospel and of the Trinity.  Be gracious, listen, ask questions, be kind.
  1. When you’re asked to speak, smile a lot.  Take off your preacher face and your oratory.  Don’t let others tell you everything you need to say.  Let the Spirit guide you.  Be kind.  Self-depreciating humor helps.  Take a long term approach to what you say and do.
  1. State what you believe but be kind about it.  Share where you disagree but don’t disparage the other person.  Everyone talks about look at all the commonalities, frankly I believe the strength is in how much we disagree but how well as followers of Jesus we can still be friends with others.  As a friend of mine says, “Lift up Jesus!”  You don’t have to trash others, just tell your story and the story of Jesus.
  1. Eat a meal together and keep hanging out.  You don’t know what God might do with building relationships.  I’m sorry to say I used to see other religious clerics as obstacles to overcome in order to engage with others – I’ve come to see them as the most important people I should be friends with.  We have access to masses that can lead to all kinds of things in terms of standing up for one another, etc.
  1. Work together for religious freedom.  The whole world is connected.  What you do here affects there.  I get to help persecuted Christians around the world, and other religious minorities, because of my credibility with Muslims here in America.  Would to God, we American Christians and especially evangelical pastors would realize that when you speak and spout hate, you make it incredibly hard for believers around the world.  But, many pastors in America have been told this and still don’t control their tongues.  I guess they don’t really care about believers around the world that much as long as things are ok with them.

People talk a lot about going back to the early church – this is how it started.  They didn’t have revival meetings, seminars, books, not even a Bible – just a few letters passed around.  But they did have the Holy Spirit and Love.  The formula has not changed – but we have.  It still works.

TRANSFORMATION CHURCH – Being the Church on the Hill

There are all kinds of words that we would use to describe what “church” should be like.  My favorite word is transformation, because it’s the direct result of a church based on the Kingdom of God.  That transformation changes us, our families, our communities, our nations, and the world.  That transformation will not be complete until Jesus comes. As a result, some give up on seeing transformation beyond personal spirituality and a walk with Jesus because it won’t be complete until he comes.  This is a wrong response.  The kingdom has begun; we are to move with the kingdom as it comes.  It has been coming since Jesus came, it has come throughout the New Testament, the Early Church, church history, and even now.  Jesus set the direction and pattern for the church in the Sermon on the Mount and his parables in what he expects of us.  Paul further takes the Kingdom to new levels in Colossians 1:15-20 when he talks about glorifying God in all things, all dominions, all principalities, being transformed as a result of the Gospel of the Kingdom.  We should never give up on people, cities, and nations.  A church that is built upon the kingdom will see lost people come to follow Jesus – but it will not stop there.  A Kingdom church will engage the person, the family, the city and nation at all levels.  Read more

MORE INFORMATION & LESS KNOWLEDGE

I was at a meeting in Doha a while back on things that are happening globally with world leaders from many domains and disciplines.  It was truly an incredible meeting.  It wasn’t a huge conference, a couple of hundred people and was kept small on purpose.  I’ve actually come to love gatherings like this more than speaking to thousands of people.  Most of the time those big gatherings are pep rallies or marketing in disguise!  Smaller groups of thinkers and practitioners gathering and learning from one another is always more impactful.  There were some panels in 3 or 4 main sessions then we would break into groups and ask questions, challenge each other & debate.  It would get tense but it was really a lot of fun – you could pretty much share whatever you wanted – it was a safe place.  I was one of only about 3 evangelicals there so man were we bombarded trying to explain all of the “nuts” in our movement.  Funny how we want to define an entire group of people by a few nuts no matter what tribe! Read more

CHURCH PLANTING AT THE CROSSROADS

Knowledge is doubling faster than ever.  I can remember 30 years ago Tom Wolfe telling a group of us that knowledge doubles every 6 years, and it was projected it would do so every four, and the latest number is that it’s now doubling every 18 months.  In the past you could read where the changes were coming and plot your coarse somewhat.  Now, you have to think on the run, in the moment, realizing there are variables at work driving sub-categories of culture and knowledge that impact everything the church does.

The world is changing like never before.  Migration – a context for God’s greatest moves throughout history – is happening on a scale like never before because communications, the internet, and travel.  All things, all people, all religions are all places, no longer held within specific national borders and tribes. Do you know how to plant a church beyond your tribe?  Tribes aren’t so good at welcoming strangers.  Calling it a success because we grow a big church but basically our same tribe just makes us more of a shrinking sub-culture than a transcultural movement.  The early church and growing church knew how to relate to other cultures and religions – we can’t keep eating our own body and expect growth.  Read more

A CALL TO NORTHWOOD CHURCH – In the Wake of Violence

Who could have known, 3 years ago when Northwood began focusing intentionally on becoming a multi-ethnic church that we would be facing the challenges we are today in DFW and our nation?  God knew and he has been preparing us for such a moment as this.

Last night, as we all know there was a protest of all races and religions downtown Dallas to speak out for African American lives lost unnecessarily.  By all accounts it was peaceful.  Pictures were even taken of smiling black and white policemen standing with protesters in support.  As the event was ending, snipers deliberately targeted and opened fire on policemen.  As the crowd ran from the area where the shots rang out, the courageous Dallas policemen went towards the active rifle shots to protect the protesters.  The aftermath saw 12 officers and 2 civilians shot leaving 5 policemen dead.  Our hearts are broken over this.  I sat up and wept watching on television the reports until late in the night. Read more

What To Do In Storms

By: Omar Reyes

How should we engage this world that has lost its moorings? We have departed from the shores of absolute truth and find ourselves in the storms of relativism. These conditions have been at work for decades as absolute truth has been dismantled piece by piece and replaced with what seems right in everyone eyes. We are moving headlong into this squall of chaos and upheaval. What’s the answer? Is it hunkering down within our religious conclaves called church buildings and organizations? Is it sharpening our theological swords to fend off the enemies of truth? Is it to regain political power so as to make America great again? What did Jesus do in the midst of storms.

He slept in the storm. I heard a friend of mine say once “You will never have authority over a storm you can’t sleep in”

We need to stop running around scared and desperate for some quick fix solution. If we believe in the sovereignty of God and are called to be ambassadors of His kingdom, then we need to represent it though a spirit of calmness and self-control. Solomon said that the words of the wise are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that rule among fools.

 He spoke with authority over the situation.  God has given us spiritual authority to speak calmness into storms. Most Christians stir up more storms that they do calming them.  The key is to speak truth in love; not truth with love which is selective. When we speak truth in love; love will always be the first thing people encounter before truth. They will bump into your love before your truth is heard. Let your words be life giving and not death and condemnation.

He spoke harshly to the disciples first. He questioned their faith. Judgment begins in the house of God. We must take a good look inside our temples both physical and spiritual and judge ourselves. Maybe our nation finds itself in this perfect storm because the light of world has been hidden and only used within our lighted cathedrals. Light is for darkness. Let’s stop cursing the darkness and start turning our lights on. Maybe we lost our saltiness when we decided to compromise God’s dream for this world for our American dream of luxury and convenience. Maybe we have been serving Mammon and not God.