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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blinded By Religion


On December 5, 2012, a faulty heater exploded in the Shin Abad elementary school in the tiny village of Piranshahr and severely burned over 40 students.
Quick to cover up their incompetence, the Mullah's intelligence agents warned families to not conduct interviews with news agencies. It is a well known fact that many of the elementary schools in Iran have worn-out heaters that desperately need to be replaced. A few days later after the tragedy, two of the young students died as a result of their severe burns.
Pictured here is ten-year old Yeganeh recovering from her burns in a local hospital  When the  Mullah saw her picture, he publicly complained that she was not wearing her hijab.
Religious rituals and traditions are destructive and deceptive!! The disease of being blinded by religion is a disease that can effect all of us. God desires mercy and compassion and instead many religious leaders fall prey to a system of rules and regulations that devalues and destroys human beings.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus encountered the blindness of religious traditions many times when he met with the Pharisees and scribes. On one occasion, the Pharisees complained to Jesus that his disciples were not following the prescribed Jewish hand washing tradition before eating.
Jesus immediately rebuked the blindness of the pharisees and accused them of replacing the law of God with their man-made traditions. The Pharisee were obsessed with outward religious purity while ignoring the real problem, the sinfulness of their hearts.
Jesus pointed out their dilemma that they were busy honoring God with their lips while their hearts were far away from him. "The real problem," Jesus emphasized was the condition of the human heart. "It's not what goes into your body that defiles you, "Jesus proclaimed, " you are defiled by what comes out of your heart."
The point Jesus was making was that their religious traditions had blinded them to the real problem and had corrupted the true intent of God's law.
Sadly, the Mullah in Iran is much like the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked because of their religious traditions. Instead of showing mercy and compassion for the young burn victim, he was more concerned that she was not in compliance with Islamic law by not wearing her veil.
How deep the blindness and deception!!
Yet, let's not be too harsh on the Mullah. All of us can fall victim to the blindness of religion. We need to take seriously God's command and what he requires of us.
Micah 6:8 is God's prescription that will keep us safe from this blindness:

 "He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God."

 We can be safe from religious blindness if we practice what Micah tells us by having a heart of mercy and humility. Have you examined your heart today?

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Hunger for Justice and Freedom


"God Blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice:
  for they will be satisfied."
     (Jesus: Matthew 5:6. Sermon on the mount)


I remember working at the hospital when I discovered the good news on my cell phone.
"Nasrin Sotoudeh ends her 49 day hunger strike after Iranian officials agree to her demands."
I quickly took a second look to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Its not everyday that the government of Iran listens or agrees to the demands of political prisoners. Yes, it was really true! I wasn't dreaming after all. Tears of joy flooded my eyes. I rejoiced! I was so happy! I hurriedly posted the news on my Facebook page.
 For almost 50 long and emotionally difficult days, imprisoned human rights attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, courageously challenged the unjust restrictions the government of Iran had put on her family. Nasrin was now in her third year of serving a six year sentence in Evin Prison for defending the rights of protesters and speaking out against juvenile executions. Iranian officials had not been satisfied to just punish Nasrin. Now they were placing travel restrictions on her 12 year-old daughter Mehraveh and barring her visitations with the rest of her family.
 There is a limit to how much a person can stand by and watch a government oppress and violate the basic rights of human beings. All of her life, Nasrin had come to the rescue of the oppressed and stood in their defense. Now even behind bars, she fearlessly stood up against the system that had imprisoned her and challenged them to a contest of wills. And Nasrin won!!
 It was a very long and difficult battle. Her husband Reza many times tried to persuade her to give up the hunger strike. Yet Nasrin remained defiant and unmovable.
Now I understand why I dedicated my new book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," to this incredibly courageous lady.
There were many Twitter storm events for Nasrin, many, many countless prayers on her behalf. Everyday on my facebook page, I posted the latest news about her hunger strike. There is a very important principle to what Nasrin did. Jesus promised in his famous sermon on the mount, that God blesses those who hunger for justice. Nasrin's hunger strike was more than simply doing without food to get a corrupt government's attention. It was a hunger for justice, a hunger for freedom and I truly believe God rewarded her courage and compassion  He showed Nasrin and her family mercy and moved on the hearts of the Iranian prison officials.
 Certainly there are more battles and hurdles for Nasrin to overcome. She is still being unjustly held behind bars and even after her release she will be prohibited from practicing law for several years.
 Nasrin has inspired me that the hunger for justice and freedom can be won, but its a very long and difficult mountain to climb.
Yet God promises us He is with us. We're not alone. He will bless our efforts and we will be satisfied.
 If you hunger for justice, I hope your role model is Nasrin Sotoudeh. She is a shining star in the darkness of Iran.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The First declaration of Human Rights

 Iranians love the study of Persian History. They long to return to the glory days before the invasion of Arabs in the seventh century and the domination of Islam. One of the heroes of the glory days was Apranik, a courageous female commander of the Persian Army who bravely fought against the Arabs. This was the glory days where women were treated as equals and given true dignity and respect. One of the best known examples of "the glory days" is the artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder. The Cyrus Cylinder is a scroll like cylinder with a famous inscription written on it by the hand of Cyrus the Great. Cyrus the great was king of Babylon in the sixth century who ruled over his subjects with fairness and decency. Inscribed on the famous cylinder by Cyrus are the foundational principles of justice, liberty and freedom. It is regarded as the "first declaration of human rights." Cyrus believed in ruling with these principles and granted freedom of opinion and basic human rights to his subjects. The heritage of Cyrus was a heritage of human understanding, tolerance, compassion and freedom.
 In the pre-Iranian government of 1979, The Shah of Iran declared that the cylinder was indeed the first charter of human rights. A replica of the cylinder is housed on the second floor of the United Nations building in New York.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad could learn some valuable lessons from this famous artifact. Before the domination of Islam, Iran enjoyed a heritage of real freedom and tolerance. The Iranian government no longer reflects this heritage. They have replaced freedom and tolerance with bondage and tyranny. The freedom to think and believe is non-existent. Every journalist, blogger, protester and politician is threatened with either death or imprisonment if they dare disagree with government policy.
The Cyrus Cylinder stands as a rebuke to the present government of Iran and also a reminder of the way God intended his people to be treated. Our human rights come directly as a gift from God. The Declaration of Independence, another ancient artifact, echoes the same theme as the cylinder that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Long ago, during the glory days of ancient Persia, Cyrus got it right! He left mankind with an artifact that should be the foundational guide of every government.
The Iranian government should not ignore their own history. They do so at their own peril!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Courageous Women

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which
 you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself,
 "I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along."
  You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
                                                                  Eleanor Roosevelt

  As I draw near to finishing my new book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," a book dedicated to My Iranian friends, my attention is temporarily distracted by the incredible courage of two amazing women, 14 year-old Malala Yousufzai and 49 year-old Nasrin Sotoudeh.
    The world was stunned and outraged by the senseless shooting of a young Pakistani woman by the Taliban. Fourteen year old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head for standing up and speaking out for the right of every young woman in Pakistan to receive an education. Left for dead by the Taliban Malala was airlifted to a hospital in Birmingham, England where she received emergency surgery to save her life. Doctors are encouraged by her ability now to stand up on her feet and have sufficient memory recall inspite of her life-threatening injuries.
     Forty nine year-old Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights attorney in Tehran, Iran began a hunger strike on October 17, 2012 in Evin Prison, protesting the unjust restrictions put on her family visits.Prison authorities have forbidden her to hug her daughter and husband during visits and are denying them the right to leave the country.  In 2010, The Iranian government convicted Nasrin of acting against national security and spreading propaganda, sentencing her to more than 6 years in prison. Nasrin spent her professional career defending the rights of activists and dissidents and speaking out against unjust executions.
   This is a tale of two extraordinary courageous women who fearlessly stand up against the establishment and risk their lives for the cause of freedom. The selfless and courageous acts of these freedom fighters are very similar to the story-line of my new book, "The Rose of Nowruz." In a male dominated society where women are scorned and discriminated against, Malala and Nasrin are two "shining stars,"  lights in the darkness of fear and oppression. They have looked fear and death in the face and have put their lives on the line for the rights and freedom of women everywhere. 
Women in the Islamic world are crying out and standing up, refusing to be treated with contempt and cruelty. They are tired of senseless laws and restrictions which serve to reduce them to mere possessions and slaves. 
I am in awe of the courage and convictions of both Malala and Nasrin. They are the reason I will stop at nothing to get my new book into the hands of women's rights and human rights organizations all over the world. My friend Atefe, who lives in Tehran has challenged me to be her voice. She recently told me  in a chat that she hopes, "God causes my book to be famous so that every reader will hear the cries of every woman in Iran."
 I am humbled by Atefe's challenge. I intend to be her voice and further the cause of Nasrin and Malala. 
 I pray that the Taliban Gunmen are soon caught and punished. I think a fitting punishment for them would be to have to sit in a locked room with Malala for 48 hours and listen to her preach about the dignity and rights of women.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Hope in the face of death

"I am the resurrection and the life.
 whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live."
    (John 11:25)


All of us face the inevitable reality of death one day. It's a subject we prefer not to talk about and instead continue to make plans and pursue our dreams. Yet it's unavoidable. Death is all around us. Our lives are rudely interrupted by the tragic news of a best friend killed in a car wreck or a next door neighbor facing terminal cancer. The headline news is filled with murders, violence, and stories of incredible suffering and evil. The lives of people are shattered by this painful reality. Are there any answers that can give us hope in the face of death?
Nearly two thousand years ago, words of hope were spoken to a Jewish woman named Martha and her sister Mary. Their brother Lazarus had suddenly died and their lives were filled with grief and mourning until Jesus arrived on the scene.
Jesus gave Martha words of hope that shattered the darkness and reality of death.
Jesus proclaimed, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live."
 This is an incredible declaration that looks death right in the face and says, "I have the final word!"
 Jesus wasn't just trying to encourage Martha with a pep talk to soothe her hurts and pains. NO!
Right before the eyes of Martha and Mary and others gathered in the village of Bethany, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus come forth!" Still wrapped in his grave clothes, Lazarus emerged from the tomb to the astonishment of Mary and Martha. Death and decay were powerless against the command of Jesus and Lazarus was living proof that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be, "The resurrection and the life."
 Millions of followers of Jesus courageously risk their lives everyday, refusing to recant their faith because they have the assurance that at the instant of their death, they will stand before their living savior never to die again.
We live in a culture of fear and hopelessness with the certainty of death lingering all around us, interrupting our plans and dreams for "the good life." As a result many put their hope and faith in science or the latest diet fads to help them prolong their lives.
 However, the incredible promise of Jesus is the only words of hope that can overcome and destroy the sinful curse of death upon the human race. The promises of scientific progress and the claims of diet fads are built upon a shaky foundation in comparison to the promise of Jesus.
 You and I can confidently look death in the face and have real hope and assurance when we trust in Jesus. He alone has the words of eternal life. The curse of death is forever swallowed up by the greatest words ever uttered, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I still believe in the First Amendment

The crown jewel of being an American is our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. This is a precious freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution, but that freedom is currently under attack.
A movie ridiculing and insulting The Prophet Mohammed that was broadcast on You Tube, was blamed for the the violence and horrible tragedy in Lybia that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and four former navy seals on September 11, 2012. There is now good evidence that this was a premeditated attack rather than a spontaneous one as result of the blasphemous video.
Muslims all over the world were outraged at the video and since then have demanded that it be removed from You Tube.
I have many Muslim friends that I love and respect. As a result of this offensive video, I put a post on my Facebook page pointing out some of the positive contributions of the Prophet Mohammed. I have no respect for anyone or any group that intentionally insults and bashes someone's religion. Words are very powerful. They carry the forces within themselves of life and death. We should be very careful of the words that we speak.
However, a famous Philosopher made a statement that I agree with and I believe brings common sense and balance to this very heated issue. The Philosopher Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it."
This is in a nutshell sums up my feelings and convictions about this controversial issue. I'm an American. I love my country and the freedoms that I have because brave soldiers have shed their blood to protect these cherished freedoms. I love the privilege of publicly saying what's on my mind, to get angry, to speak out, to disagree!
This indeed is the blood-bought privilege and crown jewel of being an American. I am outraged at the ridicule and insults hurled against my Muslim friends and yet I will defend that person's right to say it! If certain special interest groups are allowed to pass legislation against so called, "hate speech" and they succeed, watch out! Then very soon, you and I will be silenced. We will no longer be able to speak our mind without fear of arrest and imprisonment  This is exactly the state of affairs for my friends in Iran. They don't have the luxury of free speech as I do and whenever they speak out, they are in fear of arrest and imprisonment.
I think what Voltaire said is exactly right! I am offended, but I will defend the rights of the person who offends me. The freedom of speech must be protected at all cost!

I still believe in the First Amendment

The crown jewel of being an American is our first amendment right to freedom of speech. This is a precious freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution, but that freedom is currently under attack. A movie ridiculing and insulting Mohammed that was broadcast on You Tube was blamed for the violence and horrible tragedy in Syria that claimed the lives of United States Ambassador Chris Stevens and four former navy seals on September 11. There is now good evidence that this was a premeditated attack rather than a spontaneous one as a result of the blasphemous video. Muslims all over the world were outraged at the video and since then have demanded that it be removed from You Tube. I have many Muslim friends on facebook that I love and respect. As I result of this offensive video, I put a post up on my page pointing our some of the positive contributions of Mohammed.I have no respect for anyone or any group that insults and bashes someone's religion. Words are very powerful. They carry the forces of life and death. We should be very careful of the words that we speak.] However, a famous philosopher made a statement that I agree with and I think brings common sense and balance to this very heated issue. The philosopher Voltaire once said,"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." That is a nutshell sums up my feelings and convictions on this controversial issue. I'm an American. I love my country and the freedoms that I have because brave soldiers have shed their blood to protect these cherished freedoms. I love the privilege of publicly saying whats on my mind, to get angry, to speak out, to disagree!! This indeed is the blood bought privilege and crown jewel of being an American. I am outraged at the ridicule and insults hurled against my Muslim friends and yet I will support that person's right to say it! If certain special interest groups are allowed to pass legislation against "hate speech" and they succeed, watch out!! Then very soon, You and I will be silenced. We will no longer be able to speak our mind without fear of arrest and imprisonment. This is exactly the state of affairs for my friends in Iran. They don't have the luxury of free speech as I do and whenever they speak out, they are in fear of arrest and imprisonment. I think what Voltaire says is exactly right..I am offended, but I will defend the rights of the person who offends me. The freedom of speech must be protected at all costs. The alternative is becoming a nation like Iran.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Power of Persistent Prayer


"So don't you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people
 who cry out to him day and night?"
  (Jesus, Luke 18:7)

  Most of us remember where we were when we first heard the news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It is a day firmly etched in our minds that we will not soon forget. I will never forget where I was when I heard the incredible news that Pastor Youcef had finally been released from an Iranian prison. I was sitting in the parking lot of a quick trip convenience store sipping on some cool and refreshing iced tea. I literally melted in tears of joy!
  For almost three years, Pastor Youcef had been patiently sitting on death row in Iran for converting from Islam to Christianity. I clearly remember immediately getting on my smartphone and going to my Facebook status and typing these words, "Pastor Youcef is free!! God has faithfully answered our prayers!!!"
 Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice worked incredibly hard on Youcef's behalf. For more than two years, he diligently fought on the internet, bringing international awareness to his his plight for freedom. As a result of his efforts, the case for Youcef's freedom was the most tweeted event on Twitter. Millions of people responded by signing petitions and speaking our for his religious freedom. However, in the end, it was the power of persistent prayer that stopped the forces of darkness and finally set Youcef free.
God honors and responds to the prayers of His people. Kingdoms rise and fall, revivals break forth and history is shaped by the persistent, non-stop, day and night intercession of the saints of God.
The Bible admonishes us in James 5:16 that, "the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results" (NLT)
Imagine the power with just one person and yet millions upon millions of people faithfully prayed to God for Pastor Youcef. The result is that the forces of darkness, the strongholds of Satan, crumbled at the light and glory and power that was generated from the prayer of millions.  God used the faithful prayers of His people to shatter the strongholds of Satan. This is absolutely encouraging to me. When I saw the picture of Pastor Youcef standing with his family, I shouted for joy in my car and didn't care who saw me or what people thought.
 In The parable of the widow and the unjust judge, Jesus pointed out to his disciples that if an ungodly, unjust judge will give justice to a widow's demands, how much more will God do for his chosen people who cry out to him day and night?"
  God hears our desperate cries. He gives justice to his people. Though the answer seems a very long time coming, in the process our faith is being strengthened and our hearts are being shaped and molded. My faith has been strengthened and my life has been changed. What about yours?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Women freedom fighters of the past and present"


Return with me to the glorious days of the Persian Empire before the onslaught and domination of Islam.
The Women freedom fighters of Iran during the Sassanian dynasty had important positions in society. Often they were involved in the government and military,fighting off the furious invading Islamic/Arab armies in the sixth century.
This was a glorious time when women were not treated as second-class citizens. When Islam conquered the Persian empire, precious freedoms were destroyed! Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and equal rights. Women became the slaves of men and instead of being courageous leaders, they were reduced to possessions and properties of a male-dominated society.
 Before the Islamic conquest, one great example of a woman freedom fighter who bravely led her nation was Apranik.
Apranik rose up in rank and became the commander of the Persian Army in the sixth century. Riding her famous white horse of freedom, Apranik courageously fought to the death against the invading Arab oppressors. Apranik lived during the Sassanian dynasty of Persia. The ancient Greek and Roman empires were both horrified and fascinated by the mighty ruling women of Persia.
You may wonder why its important to understand this golden ear of Persian history. If Iran is to return to its "glory days" they need to understand where they came from. At one time, Women were not treated as "second class citizens in Iran (Persia) but had the highest rank in society and the highest respect among men.
When I think of modern day freedom fighters in Iran like Bahareh Hedayat, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Shabnam Madadzadeh, who are suffering for their cause in prison, I realize that women are not giving up on returning to their "glory days!" These women remember their history. They still care about freedom and are willing to speak out and suffer with the hope of a free Iran one day. These are the women, who like their historical predecessors, have the courage and conviction to fight for their nation.
In just a few months, my new book, "The Rose of Nowruz" will tell the story of Bahareh, a concert violinist in Tehran, who risked her life and her family for rights of women in Iran.
The women freedom fighters are here to stay. They are not going away. Their spirits are still with us today!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"The precious gift of freedom."

"And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
  (Jesus, John 8:32)


 In the movie, "Braveheart," there is an incredibly emotional execution scene where William Wallace, the famous Scottish freedom fighter, (played by Mel Gibson) is being tortured before a crowd of onlookers. The executioner taunts and begs Wallace to "submit to the king of England and beg for mercy." Tired and exasperated, Wallace looks up at the executioner and adamantly refuses and instead gives a death cry toward the audience yelling "freedom!"
 Freedom. Freedom is at the core of who we are as human beings. We fight, we struggle, we speak out for the right to be free!
Another famous person of history, Patrick Henry, a statesman and promoter of the American Revolution proclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death!" That's how important this seven-letter word is to our existence!
I have a precious friend who lives in Iran. She will remain "nameless" because of personal security reasons. She is a dedicated English Supervisor and teacher and works very hard at teaching children. Recently, I received an emotional and angry email from her. Like other Iranians, she is struggling to survive in a culture of oppression and fear where personal freedom is almost non-existent. My friend laments in anger and outrage, "I feel we wont have a free country. I know that we won't! In this country every single action done by people must be monitored by the government! It is ridiculous, we should ask the government's permission if we wanna die! I hate, hate, hate this government.!"
 My friends goes on to proclaim in another outburst of emotional frustration, "I feel we are like animals who are living in a box and when they need us to grow they feed us and when we wont, we are imposed to die. I wanna shout everywhere. I want all people to know, I hate, hate, hate this government!"
 Can you feel? Can you hear the despair and anger and frustration of what my friend is feeling inside everyday? In America, government is " of the people, by the people and for the people." In Iran, the government is your God and they control your life from birth until death.
  How do we respond to this?
First we pray and then we speak out for their human rights and freedom. This is what I do everyday. I have the freedom that my friend desperately wants and its very painful that I cannot give it to her.
Freedom is a gift from God. God wants everyone to have this freedom both physically and spiritually. Two thousand years ago, Jesus promised us a freedom we can have when we come to know Him as our Lord and Savior. "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free," Jesus promised.
 Before his death, William Wallace cried out "Freedom!"
 This is all that my friend wants! Will you cry out for her freedom?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Husbands love your wives

"Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church
and gave Himself up for her..."
  (Ephesians 5:25)

  In a culture where spousal abuse is an epidemic, The Bible shines the light of truth as to how husbands are to treat their wives. Husbands are to cherish, esteem and love their wives with a sacrificial love. Nowhere in the Bible does God ever ordain or give permission for husbands to physically discipline their wives.
 However in the Quran, Islam's most holy book, the reader is shocked to discover that God sanctions and instructs how men are to respond if they suspect their wives have been disloyal to them.
 Surah 4:35 says:
   "As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct. Admonish them (first)
  (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them."
   The preceding verse declares that "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other." 
   The basic tenants of Islam include the teaching that men are superior to women and this verse unmistakably makes that painful truth very clear. Most women in Islam live in fear that they do not please their husbands. In fact in the Hadith, (A collection of the actions and sayings of Muhammed)
 Mohammed was given a vision of hell in which he declared, "I saw the hell-fire and the majority of its dwellers are women"  (Hadith (Bukari) Vol 7. book 62. number 124)
   According to Surah 4:34, a husband may beat his wife simply because he fears she has been unfaithful, even if she has done nothing wrong.
I have many Muslim friends who explain to me that Islam teaches the equality of men and women. They protest that the media and our culture is discriminating against them and being judgmental and unfair. I am the first to insist that not every Muslim is a terrorist and I make sure that I treat them with courtesy and respect.
 Unfortunately, I am faced with a painful dilemma. Do I compromise the truth for the sake of political correctness? I cannot. I must speak out for the rights of Muslim women and do all that I can for their safety and well being.
The Bible teaches that our love for our wives must be just like Christ, who was willing to lay down his life for their salvation.
 Their is a huge difference between fear and love.
  Are you willing to lay down your life for your wife? What will you choose?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Until the whole world hears


"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
 for you were slain, and by your blood,
 you ransomed people for God, from every tribe
 and language and people and nation..."
       (Revelation 5:9)

 One of my favorite Contemporary Christian artists is Casting crowns. In a powerful music video, the band can be seen on a rooftop at sunrise, performing one of their best songs that describes the joy and excitement of proclaiming the good news of Christ. Right below the band is a large crowd that has gathered to join them in singing, "Until the whole world hears."
"Until the whole world hears, Lord we are crying out. Lifting up your name for all to hear the sound. Like voices in the wilderness we are crying out. Until the day draws near, we'll sing until the whole world hears."
 This exciting and uplifting song by Casting Crowns is the first thing I thought of when I read about a Saudi-Arabian woman who had publicly announced her faith in Christ.
"I have left the darkness of Wahhabi Islam and entered the light of Christianity," 28 year old Maryam declared on a video seen by millions on the internet. She explained that Jesus had appeared to her in dream and gave her the name Maryam. In the video, Maryam proclaimed that she had forsaken Islam and converted to Christianity because of the treatment of women by the "morality police" in Saudi Arabia. As a result of the video, Saudi officials are outraged and promise to put an end to Christian evangelism. In order to protect her identity and her life, Maryam has decided to continue wearing her hijab.
  I am inspired and in awe of Maryam's courage. She lives in the country that gave birth to the prophet Muhammed and the religion of Islam. She has put her life on the line and declared to the whole world that she's willing to pay the price for following Jesus.
 Maryam's decision to leave Islam is not without consequences. Saudi Arabia adheres to strict Sharia law. Women have few rights and are treated as possessions. According to the Hadith, a large collection of sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammed, a Muslim does not have the freedom to leave Islam.
 In Al Bukhary's translation (number 6922) the prophet Muhammed is reported as saying, "If any man change his religion, kill him!"  This statement reportedly declared by Muhammed actually contradicts the Quran which says in several suras that there is "no compulsion in religion."
 What is is that attracted Maryam to Christianity? Many Muslim women who have come to faith in Christ say they left because when they read the Bible, they saw compassion and love in Jesus, something they had not experienced while they were in Islam.
  Maryam is not ashamed to publicly declare her faith in Christ. She does so at the risk of her own life. Like the song by Casting crowns, she is "crying out until the whole world hears."
The whole world has heard her. Can you say the same about your testimony?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Love my enemies? I hate them!!"

"You have heard the law that says," Love your neighbor and hate
  your enemy.
 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!"
  (Jesus, sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:43-44)


 "How can I forgive? It hurts too much! I want Justice!"
  This is the common reaction, the cry of the human heart, in response to terrorism, senseless killing and violent crimes that plague our society everyday. We demand justice for the evils done to us that disrupt and destroy our lives. Only when we fight fire with fire or return evil for evil are we truly satisfied.
But wait...Is there a better way to respond to the evil and hatred that surrounds us everyday?
 In his famous "sermon on the mount," Jesus confronted our sinful hearts with a command that utterly goes against our human nature. "Love your enemies!"
" Now wait Jesus, you don't understand my pain, look what they have done to the person that I love! How can I possibly love my enemies! I hate them!"
 Throughout the Bible, the consistent picture of the character of God can be summed up in one word, "Mercy."
  God is patient and compassionate and merciful and forgiving. He has every right to punish us for our sins and yet instead he shows mercy instead of judgment. Therefore, Jesus is saying to His disciples, that the mark of a true follower of him can be summed up in this command, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you." When we obey this command, our hearts are softened and the evil rage inside of us is quenched. Instead of becoming like our enemies, we turn the other cheek and respond with mercy just like God has done for us.
 This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. The Apostle Paul in Romans 12 verse 20, instructs Christians to show mercy and forgiveness to our enemies:
 "If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
 In doing this you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.
 Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good."
 Reza Khalili, former member of Iran's revolutionary guard, witnessed brutal treatment and hatred practiced by the government and began to question his Islamic faith.
 Years later, he became a Christian after reading the teaching of Jesus on loving our enemies.
 Reza confessed that the teaching of Jesus was revolutionary to him and caused him to embrace Christianity after struggling with his faith for many years.
 The ultimate example of  "loving our enemies" was  demonstrated by Jesus himself while he was suffering on the cross for our sins.
 Jesus prayed for his executioners by uttering the most beautiful words ever spoken on his lips,
 "Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
 Jesus lived by what He taught. In the midst of evil and suffering, He forgave.
 This is the royal commandment of Christianity, "Love your enemies."
 Its the teaching that sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world.
 Mercy triumphs over judgment.
 Are you following the royal commandment of love today?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Experiencing peace with God

 "Peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you.
  Not as the world gives do I give to you.
  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them
  be afraid. "
                       (John 14:27)

  "Leave me alone! I can't take this anymore!"
  All of us have heard these words of desperation before. Maybe even we have uttered them in a moment of panic.
  Stress!! The stress of raising a family, the stress of holding down a job, the stress of a complicated relationship. Stress, stress, stress!
The world is having an anxiety attack and most of us are desperately trying to get away for some relaxation and a little peace of mind. But, where do you find a peace of mind?
In the sixties, the hippie movement chanted, "All we are saying is give peace a chance." Unfortunately most of the young people experimented with marijuana, lsd, and other mind-altering drugs. The anti-authority, anti-government movement of the 60's did little to achieve peace. Instead there were riots, suicide, murders and protest rallies that ended with arrests and very little peace.
 Instead of being addicted to dangerous drugs, many people turned to the east for yoga and transcendental medidation in search of a peace of mind only to discover that the results were artificial and not long lasting.
 Since the turbulent hippie movement of the sixties, have we learned anything? The road to peace was a dead end, so now where do we find a real peace of mind?
 Nearly two thousand years ago, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus made a promise to his fretful and worried disciples. His disciples were much like us. They dealt with real life issues that were filled with stress. Jesus, realizing in a few hours he would experience agonizing pain after being nailed to a cross, spent the last hours of his life comforting his "stressed-out" followers. He made them a promise that would transform their lives in any situation.
 "Peace I leave with you: my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
  Jesus did not say, empty your minds, sit in a lotus position and mediate. No. Jesus did not promise a superficial solution to the anxiety and stress all around them. What Jesus did promise was His peace would guard and comfort their hearts in the midst of stress, anxiety and tragedy. He did not promise to remove all of the trials and obstacles of life. What he did promise was that His peace would give them an, "Inward settled assurance" that He was with them in the midst of the pain and suffering. They would have a conviction, a trust, that in the midst of real suffering, His peace would sustain, strengthen and comfort their troubled hearts.
 Would you like to experience this kind of peace?
The kind of peace Jesus is speaking of is a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that flows from a real relationship with God. When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, your fellowship with God is restored and your broken heart of sin is healed.
 This is the kind of peace that the world needs. Every other pathway will only lead to more stress.
  Jesus has come for stressed-out, troubled and anxious hearts. His peace can be yours. What will you choose today?


Monday, June 25, 2012

An Islamic awakening?

In a historic election that could shift the balance of power in the middle east, Islamist Mohamed Morsy defeated former general Ahmed Shafik, by nearly 900,000 votes, becoming the new president of Egypt. Egypt has been a land of turmoil and violence since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last February. There have been riots, numerous deaths and standoffs between protesters and the military. Now finally, in the words of Morsy, "there is now a victory of the national will and a stepping stone toward national democracy." Really?
Morsy's victory at the polls transforms the social and political culture of Egypt from a moderate, secular state to an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. There will be radical changes that will mandate new social regulations for both men and women under the rule of the Muslim brotherhood. Women will now most likely not be free to in choosing whether or not to wear their hijabs publicly. Sundays' election is a grim reminder of how radically a culture will change under Sharia law. In 1979 The rule of the Ayatollah's ousted the Shah and brought a fundamental change in the political and social structure of Iran. Freedom became a thing of the past. If you doubt this, feel free to ask my Iranian friends. They will tell you bluntly how drastically their lives have changed. Upon hearing of the results of the election, Iran congratulated Morsy on his victory and hailed the event as an "Islamic awakening."
An awakening? Really?
Since 1979 Iran has had quite an awakening. No freedom of the press, no freedom of religion, no freedom to protest and assemble, a mandatory public dress code and the list goes on and on.
I have a friend named Nada who lives in Cairo, Egypt. In a message to me after the results of the election, she lamented Morsy's victory saying, "It is so sad." Nada realizes that now her freedoms will be challenged under Sharia law.
If Islam is the final, true religion, than why are the rights and freedoms of individuals oppressed and disregarded? My friends in Iran have asked this same question over and over. Where is the love and compassion? Where is the freedom?
In contrast, there is real freedom and compassion in Christianity. From a social standpoint of view, William Wilberforce, a leading member of Parliament and a committed Christian, took up the cause of those in bondage and was instrumental in abolishing the British slave trade. He fought long and hard until the passage of the Slave trade act of 1807. Wilberforce is a prime example that there is true freedom and compassion in the hearts of those that are committed to Christ.
Christians are called to demonstrate love and compassion to everyone. Therefore we need to pray for President Morsy and people of Egypt to experience a "Christian awakening" where there is true freedom for everyone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The Rose is Gonna Live again"

"The sun is gonna shine again.
  The rose is gonna live again."


Dreams, hope and freedom are the themes interwoven in the my next book, "The Rose of Nowruz."
Bahareh is a young concert violinist who is the lead actress in a stage play called, "The Rose of Nowruz" which takes place in the turbulent and troubled capital of Tehran, Iran. The play opens with the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian new year when everyone in Iran are hopeful for a new beginning and a better life. Bahareh is a compassionate and talented violinist who adopts the symbol of the rose, a symbol of beauty and hope, and all throughout the play, she comforts and cares for her friends who are suffering in a culture of oppression. The play is filled with music and rich symbolism that is deliberately done so that the theater is not shut down by the government.
In one magical and dramatic scene, Bahareh is finally silenced by the Iranian police and dies at a violent protest rally. Devastated and saddened, her friends gather around her and pay tribute to her activism by covering her body with rose petals.
Suddenly, the audience is mesmerized by a beautiful sunrise on a video screen. A group of Bahareh's friends gather around her body laying on the stage and begin to sing, "The sun is gonna shine again. The rose is gonna live again."
The lights go out and a single blue light shines down on Bahareh's body and to everyone's astonishment she rises up from the rose petals and begins to once again play her violin.
While the Rose of Nowruz is rich with meaning and symbolism, there is a beautiful parallel that shines through the play pointing to one of the greatest events in history, the resurrection of Christ.
Like Bahareh, Jesus was the rose, a rose of great beauty and compassion. He spent his life giving hope to the hopeless and speaking out against those who would oppress them with great burdens of false religion. Ultimately, Jesus, like the rose of nowruz, was crushed and trampled by evil men and put to death on a wooden cross. Yet at the cross, "the rose" exchanged his life of beauty, bearing all of our guilt and shame so we could have hope and freedom. Like Bahareh, the rose was crushed and silenced but came back to life. Jesus rose from the dead. He was victorious, breaking the power of sin that kept us in bondage and setting us free to live out our hopes and dreams.
The Rose of Nowruz is a book of hope and freedom to my dear friends in Iran. There is no power or evil government that can ultimately triumph over the beauty and compassion of the rose.
The sun is shining once again, shouting out to the whole world, "There is hope and freedom, because the rose is alive!"
.


Monday, June 4, 2012

"Is this what Islam has brought us?"

Recently, my special friend Atefe, who lives in Tehran, Iran, shared a frustrating experience with me. It was a very hot day and she was on her way to buy a special present for Father's day. Sitting on the crowded bus, Atefe began to sweat profusely and wanted desperately to remove her hijab in order to be comfortable in the sweltering heat. Looking around the bus, Atefe watched the men sitting on one side of the bus separated from her and the other women by a horizontal bar. Annoyed by the heat and  oppressive conditions of her culture, Atefe asked herself a very important question, "Is this really fair? Is this what Islam has brought us?"
Atefe's question is a question that must go through the minds of many women living in Iran."Is this really fair? Is this what Islam has brought us? I have a question. What has Islam done for the rights and dignity of its women?
When I chat with my Iranian friends online they tell me of the horrors and humiliation the Ghaste Ershad does to women. If a woman has on nail polish, she will be confronted and fined or arrested. If her sunglasses are inappropriately placed above her headscarf or she is revealing too much skin, the Ghaste Ershad can fine or arrest her. My friends have told me in tears that in some situations, they have witnessed the Ghaste Esrhad physically beating women!
What kind of society would allow its "morality police" to physically abuse women in order to enforce an Islamic dress code?
I have a question. In observing my culture and looking in the Bible, "What has Christianity brought us? What does it do for the freedom and dignity of women?"
When I look through the pages of Scriptures, I see Jesus showing compassion and respect to the Jewish women of his time. He traveled into Samaria, a city despised by Jews, and sat down and talked with respect to a woman who was considered an unclean outcast by her piers. On one occasion Jesus confronted the religious leaders who were ready to stone a woman caught in adultery and declared, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone!" Everyone dropped their stones and walked away.
Jesus healed a woman with an issue of blood, raised the dead brother of his dear friends Mary and Martha, and showed kindness and respect to those despised by a male-dominated culture.
"What has Christianity brought us?" Love and forgiveness, respect and freedom! It is easy to see why so many women are attracted to the character of Christ and are leaving their religion of oppression to find true freedom and self-worth in Jesus.
Atefe's question is one of the most important questions that every person, both male and female, need to ask themselves living in Iran. "Is this what Islam has brought us?"
How do you answer that question?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The God of Irresistible Love

"And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him."
The parable of the prodigal son"
         (Luke 15:20)

A constant theme that runs through out the pages of Scripture is the theme about God's irresistible love. The Bible portrays God as a God of immeasurable love and compassion for his children. Even when his children fall into idolatrous practices and chase after other false gods, God pursues them with his irresistible love. Though his heart is grieved, God never stops loving his children even when they abuse the love that he freely lavishes upon them.
A perfect example of this irresistible love is found in the parable that Jesus told about the prodigal son. Jesus was a master storyteller about the love and compassion of His heavenly Father. One day his disciples and the religious leaders gathered around him as he began to tell his most famous and favorite parable.
Jesus told the story about a Father who had two sons. One day his younger son demanded his share of his inheritance now. So the father divided up his wealth between the two sons. The younger son quickly departed for another country and wasted all of his inheritance on wild and promiscuous living.
Desperate for money, the younger son agreed to take a job feeding pigs. There was a famine at that time in the land and the son was so hungry that even the pigs pods looked appetizing to him.
One day the son came to his senses and decided to return home. He would beg for his father's mercy and be satisfied to just become a hired servant. While He was on his way home, His father saw him a far off in the distance. At this point in the parable, Jesus emphasized how the Father reacted to seeing his son. Instead of being angry and bitter over what his son had done, The father was instead filled with love and compassion and ran to his son, embracing and kissing him. The Father welcomed the son in his arms of forgiveness and rejoiced that he was returning home. "We must celebrate with a feast, " The Father proclaimed, "For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost and now he is found."
After listening to this powerful story of love and forgiveness, the religious leaders were appalled and offended. Their concept of God was one of anger and punishment and certainly not grace and forgiveness.
This parable perfectly illustrates the God that Jesus frequently spoke about. He is heavenly father that never stops loving his wayward and sinning children. He is a God of irresistible love that will pursue us to the end of the earth and win back our hearts and affections for him.
What is your concept of God ? Do you carry a heavy burden of guilt and shame?
Jesus spoke this parable for a person just like you. Instead of being tormented by guilt, cry out to God today and just like in the parable, He will run toward you and embrace you in his arms of mercy and compassion.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I am more than what I wear

I came across a beautiful poem on the internet written by Samantha Higgins that captures the essence of the truth that we are more than what we wear. Samantha writes:
"Please don't judge me by my face. By my religion or by my race.
Please don't laugh at what I wear or how I look or do my hair.
Please look a little deeper way down deep inside and although you may not see it.
I have a lot to hide.
Behind my clothes the secret lies. Behind my smile I softly cry.
Please look a little deeper and maybe you will see. The lonely little girl that lives inside me."

Samantha beautifully captures a sacred truth! There is much more to us than the clothes that we wear. It is sad temptation to categorize and judge people by their clothing. Yet this is exactly what the morality police of Iran do to their citizens.
The Gasht Ershad, the title they are commonly known by, patrol the streets of Tehran to ensure men and women are conforming to the Islamic dress code. Women must be appropriately dressed, covered from head to toe and not flashing too much skin. If their headscarves are improperly worn they will be stopped by the Police and fined or arrested. Men are prohibited from wearing necklaces and their hair length must be kept short. Conforming to the Islamic dress code is a "money-maker" for the Police. For example, women wearing sunglasses above their headscarves are fined $15.00. Its $5.00 per finger if a woman is caught wearing nail polish and the list goes on and on.
If a woman is arrested, she is detained at police headquarters until relatives can come and bail her out. She is then sent home with the mandate that next time she will conform to the law by wearing more modest clothing.
President Ahmadinejad warned the citizens of Iran in a speech that an earthquake is certain to hit the capital city because of the way in which women dress.
It is both frightening and sad for a President to use fear and manipulation against the people that he was elected to serve.
In the Bible, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel spotted Eliab and cried out, "Surely this is the Lord's anointed."
However the Lord responded to Samuel and said, "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
This is an important principle that the government of Iran needs to abide by. Any religion that reduces a person's worth to what they wear is both evil and judgmental. God sees what we don't see! He looks much deeper. He sees a person of beauty and worth made in His image.

The poem by Samantha Higgins sums it up beautifully, "Behind my clothes the secret lies..."
 The Morality police of Tehran are not looking deep enough. They are prisoners of their own religion and their religion is destroying the worth and value of human beings.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No female Bikers allowed!

Just recently my special friend Sahar celebrated her 26th birthday. She is a mother, a wife and an architect living in Tehran, Iran. During our online chat, Sahar shared with me an event on her birthday that brought her great joy and happiness. She rode her friends bicycle for ten minutes and said this was the best birthday gift that anyone ever gave her. Sahar then went on to explain that in Iran women are not allowed to ride bicycles publicly.
In 1999, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that quote, "Women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles by women in public places causes corruption and is thus forbidden."
It is not surprising that this is one more rule to keep women in their "proper place". It is one more rule that suppresses true freedom and enjoyment. Unfortunately at one time in America, women were held hostage by oppressive sexist rules and were denied the right to vote. In the early 19th century the bicycle when rode by a woman was viewed as a threat to the social order and a provocation to promiscuity. The famous woman's activist Susan B. Anthony pointed out that "the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world."
We've come a long way since the 19th century in recognizing the rights of women and giving them the dignity and respect that they deserve in both marketplace and the home. But what can we do for the millions of women who are suffering from government oppression in Iran? What about them? In the last decade, thanks to the hard working efforts of former First lady Laura Bush, for the first time in Islamic history, the women of Afghanistan were given the right to vote in elections. Its time that the women in Iran are set free from the oppressive shackles and chains of a male-dominated society.
Before I leave, I have just one question for the government of Iran. Why is it ok for you to develop nuclear weapons of mass destruction that ultimately will wipe out entire nations, but it is not ok for women to ride bicycles in public? What is wrong with this picture?
I pray one day that my friend Sahar will be able to migrate to America to enjoy our freedoms and if by God's grace we should meet, Im going to give her a special gift. Her very own bicycle! However, this time she will be allowed to ride it more than a few minutes. Sahar will have the great joy of riding it up and down every public street without fear. I hope and pray that I live to see that!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Hey, I didn't sign up for this!"

"Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus
will suffer persecution."
 (2 Timothy 3:12 nlt)


"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!"
This is a typical slogan I hear so much of in evangelicalism. It is used by Christians witnessing to potential converts. I'm not questioning the sincerity of Christians who use this slogan in sharing their faith. What I am questioning is this: Is this a realistic promise that we should make to unbelievers?
Does the Bible promise this kind of happiness, health and wealth to everyone?
Can I make a suggestion? Let's restate the slogan this way with a slight modification:
"God loves you and in the future His wonderful plan for your life may include that you sit on death row suffering for your Christian faith!"
"Yikes!" Can you hear the reaction to that promise? "Hey, I didn't sign up for this!"
 For over 1000 days now, Pastor Youcef has been sitting on death row in Iran. His crime? Converting from Islam to Christianity. He just recently celebrated his 35th birthday. His life has been anything but wonderful and just recently his lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dakhah was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was accused of acting against national security and keeping banned books at home. Dakhah was also the attorney for the 12 Iranian Christians who stood trial on Easter Sunday.
In a personal, open letter to his congregation, Youcef described his captivity ordeal as "the exam and trial of my faith" and though he desires it would soon end, he has quietly surrendered himself to God's will for his life.
The Scriptures seem to promise a whole different way of life for the Christian in contrast to the popular slogans that we hear today in evangelical circles. The Apostle Paul writing to Timothy makes a promise of anything but a "wonderful life". He writes, "Yes and everyone who wants to live a godly life will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)
Jesus warned his disciples that if they truly want to follow him that they must be willing to, "turn from their selfish ways and take up their crosses daily." (Luke 9:23)
So how did we stray so far from what the Bible actually teaches?
I think in our zeal to get numbers and not offend people, we have "mass marketed" the Christian faith and given a false promise that in the end will only serve to misrepresent the true teaching of Scripture.
I don't think Pastor Youcef was ever told that God had a wonderful plan for his life. In fact, I believe it was just the opposite. In Iran, Christians know following Jesus could cost them their very lives and yet they boldly take a stand for the gospel.
I think its time that we stop using this unrealistic slogan and take an example from Pastor Youcef. He is patiently enduring his captivity. He has submitted to God's "wonderful plan" for his life.


Monday, April 30, 2012

"What is Truth?"

Philosophers, sages, and theologians have debated down through the centuries as to what is truth. If you ask a college student on any given campus, what is truth, you are bound to receive answers such as, "everyone has an opinion or preference, to each his own, and whatever I decide is right."
Two thousand years ago, standing before Pontius Pilate, Jesus didn't give an opinion or quote from any of the philosophers. Instead he made a startling affirmation as to what truth was. He looked Pilate directly in the eyes and declared, "I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true." (John 18:37)
Pilate couldn't believe his ears. Who does this man think he is! Instead of bowing down in awe and worship, Pilate mocked Christ's declaration and scoffingly replied, "What is Truth?"
Our culture has carried on this same mocking and ridicule about the nature of Truth. Truth is irrelevant, only what I decide is right, is the mood of our culture. Casting aside all respect and ridiculing and rebelling against any recognized authority, our culture has abandoned any standard of righteousness and replaced it with the their own whims and wishes. Truth has been reduced to preference and whatever feels "right" at the moment. No wonder there is violence in schools, kids killing other kids, kids murdering their parents, etc.When truth is abandoned, we lose our moral sensitivity and begin calling what is evil, good. The sad lament in the book of Judges was that "everyone was doing what was right in the sight of their own eyes." As a result there was moral and spiritual decay resulting in the judgment of God.
Earlier in John's gospel, Jesus declared that  "I am the way and the Truth," (John 14:6) Three chapters later, Jesus prayed to His father to "Teach them your Word, which is truth." (John 17:17)
The Bible presents God as a God of truth and integrity. Unfortunately most of our culture has the cynicism and unbelief of Pilate, mockingly saying, "What is truth?"
Do you care about what is true and false? Jesus says that if you love the truth then you will believe and obey him. Our culture is suffering from "truth decay." The only remedy is proclaiming Christ as the truth and affirming that His word is the final authority.
If you want a life of integrity that will stand against the storms of life when all other foundations are crumbling then come to Christ and be safe and secure in the truth.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Quest For The Meaning Of Life

Philosophers down through the ages have been on a quest for the meaning of life. From Socrates to Plato and many others, the quest to discover what is ultimate reality has consumed the thinking of man for thousands of years. In all of that time has the search yielded any solid answers?
Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, on the night before his crucifixion, made a startling claim to His disciples in regard to the quest for the meaning of life.
Jesus declared, "I am the way, the truth and the life."  (John 14:6)
What a bold declaration! Jesus was saying to His disciples, If you want to know the way, I am the way, if you want to know the truth, look at me, and if you are on a quest for the meaning of life, come to me!
I can just imagine the astonishment on the faces of every philosopher if they were listening to Jesus on that fateful night. They would have many questions and would have called Jesus to account for such a bold statement. They may have asked, "How can you say that? What qualifies you, Jesus, to make such a claim?"
That's a fair question. How can Jesus make such a bold statement. Let's look at his record.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. He showed compassion on the hurting and broken and gave hope to those who were despaired of life. Therefore Jesus can make the claim that if you want life, life as it was meant to be, come to me.
Jesus also exposed false prophets and spent much of his time correcting the religious leaders for misrepresenting the Law of God. He never lied. He always spoke the truth. Therefore Jesus can make the claim that if you want to know the truth, come to me.
Last of all, but most important, the claims of Jesus were not just empty words written in a book thousands of years ago to inspire people down through the ages. The claims of Jesus were made the night before his crucifixion. The next day, the religious leaders had Jesus tried for blasphemy for claiming to be God and He was nailed to a wooden cross. He died an excruciating death, but three days later, He rose up from the grave and appeared to His disciples.
The claims of Jesus were vindicated by his resurrection. Jesus is not a dead philosopher but a living Savior. He not only made these bold claims but is alive to demonstrate that everything he said is true.
If you are on the journey for the quest of the meaning of life, I invite you to seriously consider the claims of Jesus. They have stood the test of time and have changed the lives of billions of people.


Monday, April 16, 2012

" Don't ignore the warnings!"

"Unless your repent, you will perish."
       (Luke 13:5)
                This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic. On April 15, 1912, The largest luxury liner in the world plunged into a watery grave in the north Atlantic claiming the lives of over 1500 passengers. Since this awful tragedy, what have we learned? I could speak out against the evil class distinctions on the Titanic, but there is something far more important to discuss. Captain Smith repeatedly ignored the iceberg warnings and as a result, the lives of many people perished. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus issued a warning to his disciples, "Unless you repent, you too will perish."
                  The disciples shared a story with their master-teacher that Pilate had murdered several Galilean worshipers, implying that God allowed this to happen because they were worse sinners. Jesus didn't bother to explain why God allowed this evil act to happen, but instead pointed his finger at their spiritual condition. "You will perish too unless you repent of your sins and turn to God."
                   I can just see the faces of the disciples. They were probably speechless. They were used to Jesus kissing the babies and being gentle and loving. They must have been shocked that Jesus could be so straight forward and harsh. This is the problem the church faces today. We all want a Jesus to be meek and mild and non-confrontational. We want a" politically-correct" Jesus, but Jesus refuses to be squeezed into that mold. Jesus came to save us from our sins and because He loves us, He tells us the truth about our spiritual condition.
                    The most important thing God wants us to recognize is our need for salvation. We can cry out about injustices, evil and suffering and that all has its place, but God is issuing an "iceberg" warning to the world. If we ignore it, we do so at our own peril. Arrogance and pride was the downfall of the mighty Titanic. We need to learn a lesson from history. Jesus is the way, the truth and life. He is the lifeboat that all of us need.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus: The friend of a wounded heart

 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted:
   he rescues those whose spirits are crushed."
                 (Psalm 34: 18)


The famous musical group, The Bee Gees, had a popular song in the sixties entitled, "How can you mend a broken heart." Their song lamented the pain and heartaches people suffer as the result of broken relationships. The haunting question being sung was how do you mend the broken heart? How do you move on when you are in so much pain?
There is a short, little, two-line word of encouragement and comfort found in the Bible. In the book of Psalms, which is literally, songs of praise and lament composed by David, the once famous King of Israel, there is a tiny little statement of hope:
 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescue those whose spirits are crushed."
 I talk to my Iranian friends almost everyday, chatting with them online. Recently they have admitted to me that they have been suffering from depression and sorrow over broken relationships. My one friend, whose name I won't mention, lamented that she was tired of being tired and was thinking about committing suicide. Some of my other friends complain about feeling hopeless and tired of the oppression by the government. My heart goes out to each one of them. What kind of hope can I offer them?
 I believe part of the answer is in this tiny, but powerful, little Psalm. David writes, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted." God is not some distant, faraway deity. He is a God who is intimately concerned with the hurts and feelings of His people. This psalm encourages us that that He is near, that He is close. I can almost picture our God with His arms wide open waiting for us to run into them for comfort and healing. But Wait, God is not only close to the brokenhearted but the psalm says he does something else. "He rescues those whose spirits are crushed."
 God provides comfort and healing to our wounded hearts. How? He does it by loving us unconditionally. He rescues, that is, brings healing and deliverance to us. As a Christian, I can identify with this. Jesus showed compassion to the hurting and helpless. He healed the sick and lame and gave hope to the hurting and broken.
 Ultimately, Jesus allowed his heart to be pierced so that our hearts could be healed.
 The Bee gees sang the question, "How can you mend a broken heart?"  What then, is the answer? The answer is, trust in a God who intimately cares for us and had his heart broken so ours could be mended and healed once again.
 God is waiting for you with his arms open wide. Trust him with your broken heart. He is the only one that can mend it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"The cost of following Jesus"

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever would lose his life for my sake will find it."
 ( Luke 9:23)

What does it mean to follow Jesus? Are we to expect a life of health, wealth or prosperity? Do we all quit our jobs and head to the mission field? What really is the calling of the average Christian?
Here in Luke's gospel, Jesus comes right to the point. He lays out the requirements for following him. He doesn't give us a formula for a casual Christianity free from suffering and pain. Instead Jesus says that it could very well cost us our lives.
Jesus says, "deny yourself," that is, if you want to follow me, you must love me more than your life. Jesus immediately exposes what our true motives are for following him. Is it our self-interests? Or is is to please and honor God with a life of self-sacrifice and and obedience?
Then Jesus explains that we must  "take up the cross daily."  The life of Jesus was anything but health, wealth and success. He was scorned, ridiculed, persecuted and finally nailed to a wooden cross. When Jesus says we must take up the cross daily, he means we must be willing to do God's will and not our own. We must  focus our lives on pleasing God rather than ourselves. The life of discipleship is a life of obedience and sacrifice for the Glory of God.
 I have a very precious friend in Tehran, Iran. I cannot mention her name for her own protection. She comes from a Muslim family and explained to me that ever since she was a child she had been attracted to Jesus. In Islam, Jesus is just a Prophet, not the Son of God. Muslims worship Allah. Yet my friend's heart was drawn to Jesus. She shared with me than whenever she was afraid she immediately called out to Jesus. Just recently my friend embraced the Gospel and believed that Jesus died for her sins and rose again from the dead. "I am willing to believe in this because of my love for Jesus," My friend confessed to me.
I am in awe of my friends's courage and faith. She is an example to every Christian. In her last message to me my friend understands the cost of following Jesus. She declared that  "If my country finds out somebody changed their religion, they will find him and kill him."
"Unless you deny yourself and take up the cross daily, you cannot be my disciple."
My friend understands these sobering words of Jesus. She has counted the cost and is still willing to follow Jesus. I am speechless! I am humbled and yet inspired by this young girl's incredible faith. We can learn so much from her.
 Are we as Christians willing to follow her example? Most of us live in a country with so many luxuries and freedoms. We take our freedoms for granted everyday. My christian life has been challenged and changed by my Iranian friend. There is a cost for following Jesus. Are we willing to count the cost like my Iranian friend has done?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"We will control what you see and hear."

"Big Brother is watching you."
(quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984)

 I can remember as a young kid sitting in front of my TV set anxiously waiting for the next episode of the sci-fi classic, "The Outer limits" to begin.
 Suddenly, the ominous voice of the announcer would come on the screen and explain to the audience, "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission..For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control what you see and hear."
Recently Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei created The Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which includes heads of intelligence, militia, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Their specific task is to supervise and monitor all internet activity.
A few months ago, Canadian blogger, Saeed Malekpour, was arrested and found guilty of creating and maintaining pornographic websites. He was sentenced to death by the Iranian Supreme Court. Although he "supposedly" admitted on Iranian tv to developing the porn sites, his sister Maryam claims that it was a forced confession after much coercion and physical torture in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.
Almost 70 years ago, British novelist, George Orwell, authored a novel entitled, 1984, which since then has become a cult classic in literature.
The basic plot of 1984 is about Oceania, a society that is ruled by a dictatorial government that treats individuality and reason as thought crimes. The society is constantly subjected to fear, oppression, surveillance and mind control. The fearful theme and reminder of the novel to its citizens is, " Big Brother is watching you."
 The 1984 Orwellian novel is hauntingly similar to the situation in Iran. The government has suppressed individuality and the God-given right of every human being to think for themselves. Iran is now embarking on a National Internet which would restrict and shut down freedom of expression.
The Government claims that it's doing this for morality and security reasons.
Everyday I spend hours chatting with my Iranian friends on line, encouraging and praying for them and just listening to whats going on in their lives. I'm praying that this will soon not come to an end. When I watched the Outer Limits every week as a young boy, I was terrified when the announcer informed me that "they" were taking control of what I was seeing and hearing. Unfortunately this has become a sad reality for my Iranian friends. I don't want my friends living in an oppressive society like the novel 1984. Join me in speaking out and praying for their freedom.

.

"We will control what you see and hear."

"Big Brother is watching you."
(quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984)

 I can remember as a young kid sitting in front of my TV set anxiously waiting for the next episode of the sci-fi classic, "The Outer limits" to begin.
 Suddenly, the ominous voice of the announcer would come on the screen and explain to the audience, "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission..For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control what you see and hear."
Recently Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei created The Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which includes heads of intelligence, militia, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Their specific task is to supervise and monitor all internet activity.
A few months ago, Canadian blogger, Saeed Malekpour, was arrested and found guilty of creating and maintaining pornographic websites. He was sentenced to death by the Iranian Supreme Court. Although he "supposedly" admitted on Iranian tv to developing the porn sites, his sister Maryam claims that it was a forced confession after much coercion and physical torture in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.
Almost 70 years ago, British novelist, George Orwell, authored a novel entitled, 1984, which since then has become a cult classic in literature.
The basic plot of 1984 is about Oceania, a society that is ruled by a dictatorial government that treats individuality and reason as thought crimes. The society is constantly subjected to fear, oppression, surveillance and mind control. The fearful theme and reminder of the novel to its citizens is, " Big Brother is watching you."
 The 1984 Orwellian novel is hauntingly similar to the situation in Iran. The government has suppressed individuality and the God-given right of every human being to think for themselves. Iran is now embarking on a National Internet which would restrict and shut down freedom of expression.
The Government claims that it's doing this for morality and security reasons.
Everyday I spend hours chatting with my Iranian friends on line, encouraging and praying for them and just listening to whats going on in their lives. I'm praying that this will soon not come to an end. When I watched the Outer Limits every week as a young boy, I was terrified when the announcer informed me that "they" were taking control of what I was seeing and hearing. Unfortunately this has become a sad reality for my Iranian friends. I don't want my friends living in an oppressive society like the novel 1984. Join me in speaking out and praying for their freedom.

.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Longing

"I feel so dry and empty inside. There is no rest from the tears I cry.
 I'm broken and bruised and I feel I've died.
  But I have a real thirst that won't be denied. It's the longing."
          (From the song, "The longing," Randy L. Noble)

The great apologist and Oxford teacher, C.S. Lewis, describes in his books, that inward thirst that all human beings have for something better in life. He calls it a longing. In His classic book, "Till we have faces," Lewis writes, "The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing, to reach the mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from."
Human beings are on a spiritual quest to find satisfaction, an inward longing to discover "that something" that will bring fulfillment and meaning to their lives. Lewis proclaims that, "If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
 In my newest book, "Driven by the wind: The calling of Tara," I explore in depth the quest for spiritual reality, the longing and desire for meaning in life. Tara is on a quest for answers. Her brother Nathan mysteriously disappears in the Indian Ocean during his solo circumnavigation of the world. Tara is devastated. Her Father then dies as a result of mourning. Unable to cope with the twin tragedies, Tara sets out in her sailboat, "The Mistral wind," determined to find the answers to the pain and brokenness in her life.
We can all relate to Tara's situation. We wants answers, we cry out for explanations to the sufferings and tragedies of our lives. There is a scene in my book where Tara is awestruck at the beauty of the sunset as she nears the equator. She gazes into the sky fascinated by the orange and purple colors dancing on the clouds as the sun disappears below the horizon. The beauty of God is staring Tara in her face but she closes her eyes to the truth.
 Do you have a longing, a tugging at your heart? Are you driven to find the answers like Tara? What will your response be? Tara got into her sailboat to answer the longing and the God of Irresistible love pursued her all over the world. You can run from God but He will pursue you because in the end only Jesus can satisfy the longing of your heart. He is the bread of life that satisfies our spiritual hunger. Jesus is the treasure that your heart is longing for. What will your response be?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Driven by the wind: an intense journey of self-discovery

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."
C.S. Lewis

Does this quote describe you? What is the passion and the call of your heart?
I am busily researching my new book, "Driven by the wind: The Call of Tara." This new book is unlike anything I have ever written before. It is an incredible adventure of self discovery which all of us have embarked on at one time or another in our life.
Tara is a free spirited, independent 25 year-old woman raised in a family of sailors. She loves the ocean and feels drawn and called by it every day. One day her world is crushed when her father, her hero sailor, dies of terminal cancer. Then, just a year later, her brother mysteriously disappears on a solo circumnavigation of the world in his sailboat. Tara is devastated. She quits her job one day and decides she has to have answers and for Tara, the only answers that will satisfy her is out there on the high seas! She must deal with the pain and brokenness in her life so she sets out all alone in her sailboat, "The Mistral Wind" to find herself and the answers she needs!
I want to take my readers on the adventure of their lives across the vast oceans and continents with Tara. Tara has a longing in her heart. She has set sail on a mission to satisfy that longing, but what will she discover?
My new book will be both gripping and breathtaking, unlike anything you have ever read before. Like Tara, we have all at one time embarked on this kind of journey in some form or another. In my personal Journey, Jesus was the treasure I discovered in my search for the answers to life. Jesus became my anchor of hope. He rescued me from the treacherous deep waters of my sins and set me safely on dry land once again. He set a new course and direction for my life.
Like Tara, are you driven by the winds of self discovery? I invite you to take a journey with me in reading my book when its published this fall. I hope that it will satisfy your longing.