Saturday, February 18, 2017

Receiving Questionable Gifts

"Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away."  Romans 8:38b

When we have Muslim friends the time will probably come when we will be given an artifact gift which may cause us some concern what to do with it. What if a friend gives us a necklace with the Ka’aba charm? Such artifacts usually have a clear religious symbolism or purpose connected to them. At other times we will receive gifts which have no religious significance and do not compromise our faith convictions.

One of the first gifts I received was a hand of Fatima artifact. It came in the mail from a friend who returned to Iran.  It was meant to provide protection for me.  My friend loved me and meant only good but I depend on the Lord Jesus to protect me, not the hand of Fatima. I kept it for a while and put it away in a cupboard, thinking it could be used for teaching seminars about folklore beliefs. But after some time I didn’t feel I needed to have the actual relic to teach about it so I disposed of it. Another time a Muslim friend gave me a Turkish blue eye pendant to hang in my house. It proved awkward for me because it was a birthday gift and she was with me as I opened it.  What should I do with it, I wondered?  It was meant to divert bad luck but I don’t believe in bad luck. My faith is not in such objects but in a Redeemer who brings good out of evil.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by refusing it so I thanked her for remembering my birthday and asked her if she thought the eye would bring protection and good luck?  “Yes”, she replied.  I explained my protection is really just in God. Later I disposed of it.  Another time it was not an artifact which was given to me but a friend offered me zamzam water to drink from Hagar's well in Saudi Arabia. It was a stressful moment but I thanked her for her kindness and then inquired why she drinks zamzam water? “Is it meant to bring healing or blessing?” I asked. She laughed but didn’t answer my question. Finally a family member spoke up that they believe it brings healing. I replied,  "Actually I have something better than zamzam water. I have Living Water, who is Jesus Himself.”

We will respond in different ways. We can immediately refuse to accept the gift and possibly jeopardize a friendship and hurt their feelings.  Or we can accept it and keep it but not use it or we can dispose of it afterwards.  For me the most important thing is to understand the intended purpose of the artifact. Such gift receiving times provide excellent opportunities to inquire, listen, and speak into our friend’s fears and anxieties and to share about the protection we find in Almighty God. Being human means that we will each encounter suffering at some point but that God is with us and is our Redeemer, Protector, and Savior.  

Dear heavenly Father, if you would not be with me I would need such artifacts but You have promised Your presence and love at all times.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.