September 10, 2014 — by Rev. Mateen Elass


Remembering Our First Love

It cost him everything


counting-the-costs

“Count the cost,” Jesus counseled. Before we enlist in His cause, we are warned it will demand our total allegiance, but we are promised the benefits will infinitely outweigh the costs. I wonder how many of us in America, who claim the name of Christ, have honestly weighed the costs. Perhaps our often insipid discipleship is a result of our hope that if we maybe give a little of our lives to Jesus, we will still reap the reward of the “very great and precious promises” about which the apostle Peter speaks in 2 Peter 1:4.

But this is not the case for my friend, a recent Muslim convert. Having met Christ through a personal prayer encounter after much searching and questioning, he determined to offer his full allegiance to Jesus, knowing what this would cost him and his family. In recent years, he has been stabbed and shot by family members who believe only his death can restore their honor within the Muslim community. He has lost his business and home, been cut off from formerly close friends, bankrupted, and publicly maligned. What keeps him going is his relationship with Jesus Christ, whose glory and love have captivated my friend. The steep costs of following Jesus have been counted, but these costs pale in comparison with the joy of belonging to Him and His Kingdom.

As we shared time together recently, this brother in Christ told me one of his relatives had become a follower of Jesus. She had come to his home in anger to confront him over his conversion and the disgrace it had brought upon the family name. She demanded he return to the fold of Islam and resume the daily practices of their familial religion. Until becoming a Christian, my friend had been an observant Muslim, daily praying the five prescribed prayers 365 days a year, maintaining a halal diet, fasting during Ramadan, and so on. The relative standing before him was committed to the same lifestyle, and pled with him to return. He politely responded that he could not because in all his years as a Muslim, he had never encountered God personally or experienced peace, joy, and love like he does now in his present relationship with Jesus Christ. He would not give up this commitment in order to go back to something lifeless.

She was enraged by his refusal, even more by his request that she do him a favor. After she finished her last ritual prayer for the day, he asked her to take some time when she got into bed and was alone in her thoughts to say a prayer to Jesus, asking Him to show her whatever He wished to about Himself. Deeply aggravated, she left him that afternoon, declaring she would never do any such thing.

When the Holy Spirit moves


But God has His own ways. At four the next morning, my friend was awakened by insistent pounding on his front door. With thoughts of danger coursing through his mind, he approached the entrance cautiously. Peering through the peephole in the door, he saw this same relative standing there alone, tears streaming down her cheeks. As he opened the door and invited her in, she blurted out,
“I did what you told me. I prayed to Jesus. He filled me with His love.”

After sharing more of her experience of the presence of Christ, and noting that she had never experienced anything like this in all her devoted years of salat prayers, required by Islam, she declared that now nothing mattered more to her than discovering all she could about Jesus. Even the persecution that she knew would now inevitably come her way.

Sometimes I wondered if I have lost my first love for Jesus. When I first fell in love with Jesus, I remember that heart and mindset where Christ’s glory and purposes were always on my mind, where I just couldn’t wait to tell others about the wonders of life in Him, where I yearned to introduce others to Him, and experience the doubled joy of seeing the unloved come to discover they were beloved by God. My heart needs constant renovation.

There’s one thing I do know: Jesus Christ is best communicated by those who are awash in His love and are eager to carry out His will. What is true on an individual level must also be true for groups of believers—even denominations. Exhortations, programs, strategies, and analyses all have their place, but without a transformative encounter with the living, resurrected Lord, they serve merely as ICU efforts on a corpse.

May we, as a denomination, not forget our first Love. And may we nurture the hearts of newly converted believers and veteran disciples who have counted the cost and discovered that nothing compares with “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Phil 3:8).

Photo credit.


Rev. Mateen Elass

Mateen was the second of four children born to a Syrian Muslim who had married an American while studying at the University of Wisconsin. Some years after Mateen’s birth, the family moved to Saudi Arabia where his father worked as an oil company executive. During his early teens Mateen began a search for God, largely through reading. For six years he focused on eastern mysticism and meditation including a stay at an ashram in India. His heart is for those who walk where he once walked, those who search but have not yet found the love of Jesus. For that reason he particularly appreciates the church’s welcome to visitors, its willingness to walk beside them as they move toward God, and its growing enthusiasm to move outside the confines of the church campus to share Christ’s love with all who wish to hear. A frequent speaker about Islam, Mateen sees his experience on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide as providing a unique opportunity to create bridges of understanding. His great hope is that God will use him to reveal the love of Jesus to both sides. “God will provide guidance to those who seek him, and will equip his people to do his will.”

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