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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.