President Caner details his spiritual sojourn
by Vicky Kaniaru
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews)— "My father dreamed of the three boys he had to be devout Sunni Muslims," said Truett-McConnell College president, Dr. Emir Caner.
Retracing his spiritual sojourn from Islam to Christianity in a sermon titled "The God Who Draws Near," Dr. Caner preached TMC's first chapel service Aug 23 from Isaiah 9:2-6.
With a testimony cannot be explained by "some logical sequence of events, but only by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," Caner said his Turkish father, Swedish mother, grandmother, and two siblings immigrated to the United States in 1969. A year later, Caner was born.
Characterizing himself as the epitome of the middle school nerd, Caner said that members of a small Baptist church shared the message of Christ with him. Because they "invaded my life with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, I'm here today," he said.
Caner cited the four titles of God from the Isaiah passage -- Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace -- and said God had functioned in those roles in Caner's life.
"It doesn't matter who rises up against you and your Lord, you can't be defeated," Caner said. "It is not the absence of suffering; it is the promise of his presence."
Referring to God as the Wonderful Counselor, Caner compared the written Word of God and the living word, Jesus Christ: "Those two, the living word and the written word, are inseparable."
Caner added that the most dangerous thing about Islam is that it is fallible. Noting the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, Caner said "Jesus Christ died for every single one of them—that they may know him if they just believe."
The Bible is also intimate because it is God's "love letter to you and to me ... when you open it up, it's not merely something that tells you to obey. More importantly, it's not a letter of the law; it's a letter of love," he said.
As the almighty God, Jesus "didn't come to be a good savior or a better savior or the best savior. He came to be the only Savior mankind has ever known."
That's the message he needed to hear when he walked into Stelzer Road Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio, said Caner, who added that he was terrified when he arrived because of the ridicule he had experienced in school. However, Caner was embraced with love and "for the very first in my life, I actually had friends."
One night the pastor asked Caner, "What do you think about Jesus?"
"Muslims will tell you this: 'We respect Jesus,'" Caner said. "Here is the problem, no one can respect Jesus -- Muslim or non-Muslim," indicating that mere respect falls far short of an appropriate response.
"Jesus said he is God," Caner said. "You have two options: bow your knee in surrender and worship or reject him. Everything else is a lie of the devil."
In November 1982, Caner placed his faith in Jesus Christ at that little Baptist church in Ohio. He returned home and shared the news with his mother, who did not care. However, in the ensuing years, Caner repeatedly witnessed to her.
Referring to God as everlasting father, Caner recounted the day he told his father that he was a Christian. Caner was a Christian for a few months when on a Friday night, his father asked Caner to sit and pray with him. Caner had vowed not to bow his knee to another god again.
"But how do you tell your hero that?" Caner said. "This was my father. This was the one I emulated in every possible way in my life. How do you tell him? You won't, except by the power of God that works through you."
When Caner told his father that he was a Christian, his father forced Caner to choose between his father and his new faith.
"Ladies and gentlemen, there are very few choices in the world like that. However, I am not going to forsake my Lord," said Caner, whose father drove him to his mother's home and disowned him for 14 years.
"In that little Chevy Chevette, driving toward my mother's home, I heard the beautiful words of our Lord, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you,'" Caner said. "That's the power you need in your life when everything seems to be going wrong."
In the following years, God called a shy Caner to preach. At first, he refused. But Caner soon realized that "you cannot be joyful in this life if you're not obedient in this life."
After months of struggle, he relented to God's call to preach. He became a youth director at a church in Gahanna, Ohio. While there, he saw his mother finally give her life to Christ.
Some time later, Caner's Swedish grandmother -- whose religious views were essentially syncretistic -- ultimately committed her life to Christ, too.
The people of Wood Baptist Church "loved my grandmother to the cross," Caner said. "I was going to teach on a Wednesday night and Grandma said, 'I want to know the same Jesus you know,'" Caner recounted. "And at the age of 92, [she] placed her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
Caner witnessed the moment he had hoped and prayed about for years when he baptized his grandmother.
Never having heard from his father in years, Caner got a call from one of his brothers, saying that their father had summoned them all to his side because he was dying from cancer.
When Caner arrived and reunited with his family, his dying father handed each sibling a copy of the Quran.
"He was hoping that I would revert back to Islam," Caner said. "I was hoping he would surrender his life to Christ. He didn't. Four days later, he died without hope."
"What do you do in the most difficult moments in life?" said Caner, who added that the answer is found in the arms of the Prince of Peace.
"We know the promise of the Prince of Peace is that one day, our Lord will split that eastern sky and come back to get his children," Caner said. "And that God, that intimate and that personal God, will be the same God who carries you through the valley and brings you back to the mountaintop."
"I tell you without hesitation, with everything that's happened [and] the loved ones I have lost -- with the Lord, I have gained. I have no reservations. Jesus is my everything," Caner said. "The greatest joy in life is knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. He who is Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace."