How to Host An Ayatollah for Easter

Written by Bob Roberts

Easter 2014 at Northwood was a blast – thousands of people on our campus and dozens of decisions for Jesus. Awesome worship and a great spirit of celebration permeated everything. By far, this was my favorite Easter ever. Several things made it exciting just beyond the attendance and crowd. First, several people gave their hearts and lives to Jesus – men, women, married couples, young adults, children, youth – like never before. We had a lot of baptisms this weekend at the Good Friday service. Our church continues to diversify racially and ethnically and from the top of the worship center looking down on the crowds you could see it – I love it! All the babies crying and chattering; the services excited me as well (except for one)! Young families historically and continue to permeate Northwood. BUT, the one thing that made it by far the best, outside of Jesus rising from the dead, was hosting Ayatollah Dr. Ahmed Iravani and his wife this weekend at our Good Friday & Easter services on Sunday.

1. Don't serve ham for Easter!

I’ve learned it doesn’t go over big with Muslims. Instead, serve an Easter Turkey! That’s what we did – really! We also served some beef with Texas barbeque sauce. They loved the meal – and they loved being in our home with our family. We talked about a lot of stuff not about “God”. We kept it all as “halal” as we knew. I feel sorry for Texas Muslims who don’t have a barbeque place. I think that business would go over huge! There are at least 500,000 Muslims in DFW, I’ve thought of opening one myself! They could eat the food and I could pass out free Bibles! What do you say Imam Zia?????

2. Don't give an Ayatollah the microphone too long!

I introduced him to our church and let him bring greetings. He was so incredibly humble and gracious. I was so proud of our church, only a place like Northwood could get away with this – they clapped for him and his wife. He got excited and nearly started preaching a sermon! He told us he respected us and wished us a happy Easter. They were mobbed by well-wishers at the end of each service. He told them he had come because he and I were friends and he wanted to experience Easter in an evangelical pastors home. He also told everyone he was reading the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible and loved it a lot. He later told me that was a courageous thing I did, that in Iran they would never get the microphone back from religious speakers!

3. Don't let them try on cowboy boots!

I took him to Leddy’s downtown Fort Worth. The people that made boots for legends like LBJ, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, George Bush . . . and the list goes on. We got a nice pair of “crocks” (crocodile not crocs), but liked to never got them off! It was hilarious – me pulling his leg, him telling me “it’s not coming off!” They did come off! I’ll be taking a trip with him soon to meet a lot of religious leaders, and more Ayatollahs. He’s told me if I would wear a robe and religious dress it would help. I’ve been thinking about making a special Texas-style Jesus robe with a unique hat like a beanie with the cross on top with a red background, followed by a rim of blue on the edges with Texas stars! What do you think? I also think I need a good title to go with the robe like “Bishop of Blue Bell parish.”

4. Expect God to do the unexpected!

After the services several people came to me and told me about “various” lifestyles they were involved in, and they knew I wouldn’t agree with them – they were right – but they said they felt loved and accepted by our church and would continue to come and visit. One said, “If you, an EVANGELICAL pastor, would have an Ayatollah who’s your FRIEND, bringing greetings, in your CHURCH, on EASTER – I figure this church is a place I can safely explore who this Jesus is that you believe and I hear others talk about. Somebody else asked me, “How does an evangelical pastor become friends with an Ayatollah? It just doesn’t make sense?” If you read the book of Acts, and you understand the Kingdom of God – nothing makes earthly sense, nothing is driven by human reasoning, but God connects people to each other for the sake of the Gospel. We should love people so much that it confuses them and confounds them instead of judging them and angering them. God is the judge. I’ve become painfully aware of how few friendships most Christians have with truly “unchurched” and “nonchristian” people. How in the world will the Gospel ever spread if we make it tribal? Jesus did away with tribes and made a new Kingdom that all people are invited into!

5. Do be prepared to answer lots of questions!

He asked me every single hard question about our faith – and it was good. Some of my answers, I felt really good about, some I didn’t. NOTHING sharpens your faith and THEOLOGY like answering a question for someone from another faith. Answering theology tribally as Christians really makes no sense when you understand the global nature that Jesus called his people to. Answering questions from a global perspective and completely non-Christian perspective helps you see how shallow, sometimes, or trivial some of our answers really are. Never be afraid to say you don’t’ have a good answer for that one. We’ll be taking a trip together in a month. I’ll be taking my Koran and he’ll be taking his Bible and we’ll be asking one another lots of questions.

6. Do ask questions!

Culture, theology, social, tribal, geopolitical – you name it – we covered it all. That’s how you learn, and you won’t offend them. They want a chance to answer and challenge misperceptions. They want to build a friendship and bridge with you. Asking questions also says, “I’m interested” and “I care” about you. Ask other people questions about how you and your tribe are perceived –you might be shocked or even disappointed – but it will help you learn how to come across in a better way.

7. Do connect as families!

I’ve been friends with Ayatollah Iravani for a few years – but never had our wives or children met. I believe you first start with individuals, but as you move deeper into relationships you trust each other. To me, it was an honor that Ayatollah Iravani would come and spend Easter weekend with my family and I and even more of an honor that he would bring his wife. My daughter and fiancé really added so much to the conversation as they talked about how young people saw the world, and were beginning their lives. Those people I am closest to in the world – I become closest when I am in their homes or they are in mine – not merely by meeting at conferences. You get involved in one another’s life issues and that is often the game changer.

This “glocal” Gospel – Good News of Jesus Christ – is for all people and all places. I pray for the day when it’s no big deal on Easter in the US, not just to see Christians, unchurched people (usually with some kind of Christian background), but that Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindu, Animists . . . . whatever religion, whatever lifestyle come to celebrate at our churches and feel at home because we radically love them – not that we compromise our faith, it’s not necessary, it’s not honest, and when we do we have no hope to offer – but that “these people love us so much it’s confusing – we are so opposite them . . . . yet, even though we don’t agree on things, they really care about us.


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