Total Pageviews

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Where is your Church?"

"And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating
with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples,
why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
             (Mark 2:16)

I have a question that's burning in my soul. "Where is your church?"
This is a common question that most Christians ask each other. Where is your church? Where do you worship at? Where do you meet at on Sunday?
In our culture today, most churches are built to look like shopping malls to attract the "sensitive seeker" and make him feel right at home. Most churches of course have comfortable padded pews with state of the art video and audio technology and even come complete with cafeterias.
If we're honest, most of our churches are insulated from the real world in a comfortable zone where members can be sheltered from all of the chaos and confusion. The Sunday sermon sometimes amounts to little more than a pep talk that's guaranteed to get you out in time for lunch or before the start of a major sporting event.
For the past two weeks my life has been challenged and transformed. I've been reading, "Captive in Iran," by my two dear Facebook friends, Maryam and Marziyeh.
I have also been emotionally consumed by the ongoing crisis of my brother Saeed Abedini in Evin Prison, who is being tortured for his faith on a daily basis.
At the same time, my Christian friend Ebi, who lives in Tehran, shared with me that he had just being released from jail after being lashed 76 times for his Faith.
Jesus preached in the synagogues, but he didn't stay there. He went out among the hurting and broken and by doing that risked his reputation among the religious elite of his day. The religious establishment didn't like that he associated with the tax collectors and the sinners. By the way, the elite religious crowd are still with us today. They haven't went away.
So my questions still remains. "Where is your church?"
Maryam and Marziyeh's church for 259 days was the "First church of worship,"in Evin Prison in Tehran, where God powerfully used my dear sisters, as they reached out to prostitutes, political prisoners and outcasts with the gospel.
Pastor Saeed's church has been an ongoing crucible of suffering in Evin Prison, where he is learning about the power of forgiveness and endurance.
Ebi's church was the painful, stinging leather straps whipped against his bare back.
"Where is your church?"
Is it safely inside four walls and padded pews or is your church, "outside of the box," among the broken and hopeless, where it is dangerous risky and inconvenient?
I have been challenged to step out of my boat, out of my comfort zone to go where the real needs are. Yes, I write books to Muslims and chat with them on the internet, but I do it in a safe environment with no real risk to my life. All of us need our faith challenged and strengthened.
The days of "playing church" are over! A hurting and dying culture needs our love and compassion.
Will you join me?

suggested reading..

"Follow me" by David Platt
"Captive in Iran"  by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Take up your cross and follow me.

"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways,
take up your cross daily, and follow me."
                       (Luke 9:23)

In the past two weeks, I have been bombarded with troubling and distressing news, concerning the people that I admire and love. I learned that my dear brother in Christ, Saeed Abedini, is suffering from internal bleeding because of the constant beatings and torture he is receiving from his captors in Evin prison in Iran. Then if that wasn't distressing enough, a few days later my Christian friend Ebi who lives in Tehran gave me some more bad news. He had just been released from jail after 12 days and explained that he had been lashed 76 times and fined a large sum of money. Why? Because of his Christian faith.  In Iran, it is a very serious crime to convert from Islam to Christianity. It can be punishable by death from hanging.
The reality of this troubling and distressing news instantly reminded me of the solemn words of Jesus as he prepared his disciples for the hard road that lay ahead of them;
"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me."
Jesus is reminding us that there is a high price, a personal cost to following him. When we identify ourselves as Christians, we are sending a direct message to the world and sometimes the world is very hostile in its response.
What does it mean to "take up your cross?" It means very clearly that as a Christian, we must die to ourself and our own agenda and be willing to submit to God's will for our lives. In some cases that may mean death.
"What? wait Jesus, I didn't sign up for that!"
Unfortunately, sometimes we are very selective when it comes to the promises of God. All of us are familiar with the verses of Scripture when it comes to answered prayer, health, healing, blessing, but some of us conveniently forget those promises by Christ himself when he declared, "If the world hates me they will hate you also," or, " in this world, you will have tribulation," or, "take up cross," and so forth.
The question then becomes, why do we follow Christ if the road ahead is perilous and full of danger and my life is at stake? Wouldn't it just be easier to just try and get along with everyone?
The answer is of course, "No!"
 Jesus took up his cross and gave his life for us! He loved us that much! He endured the pain and torture of an agonizing crucifixion so that we could be forgiven.
In this world, we too will have tribulation, but Jesus reassures us, "Take heart, be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."
These are words of comfort to me when I think of Saeed and Ebi. Jesus understands the depth of their pain. He has experienced it himself. He is saying, "Don't be afraid. I am with you. I have overcome the forces of darkness. You belong to me."
Following Jesus can be costly and sometimes we are tempted to turn and walk away. On one occasion, the teachings of Christ offended some of his "so called followers" and they quickly departed. Jesus then challenged his twelve disciples with the all important question, "Are you also going to leave?"
Peter quickly responded with the only answer any of us could give to this very important question posed by our Lord and master.
"Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life?"
When the journey becomes difficult and life threatening, we need to remember Peter's answer.
Jesus is our only life and hope. There is no one else we can trust our life with but Him.
Despite the depressing news of my dear friends, when I ponder the ultimate truth of this, then I can finally have peace and be comforted that they understand the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.
Do you still want to sign up?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Maryam and Marziyeh: Lights in the darkness of Iran.

"But those that know their God shall be strong
and do mighty exploits."
                       (Daniel 11:32)

Two years ago, I published my second book, "Shining star: a light in the darkness of Iran."
 I had no idea at the time that this book would forever change the course of my life.
There were two pivotal events that inspired me to write about the struggles of the underground church in Iran. The first event came on June 20, 2009 when I sat in front of my tv, horrified, watching a young Iranian protester, Neda Soltan, murdered in broad daylight in an alleyway in Tehran. I could not get the image out of my mind. It haunted me day and night.
The next event was watching a news report just two months later about two young Iranian Christian girls, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, on death row in Evin Prison, for sharing their Christian faith in Tehran. I was gripped by their courage and faith and knew instinctively that I had to write about it.
A few months later, I sat down at my computer and begin to write, "Shining Star" telling the story of Muslims who converted to Christianity in Iran and had to meet secretly to protect their lives.
In the middle of writing my book, I was overjoyed to hear the incredible news that Maryam and Marziyeh had been miraculously spared from the death penalty and released from Evin Prison.
Their release was an amazing answer to my prayers and I remember crying tears of joy sitting at my computer when I first heard the good news. I finished writing, "Shining star" and put their names on the dedication page, thanking God for their new freedom.
Just a few weeks ago, another life-changing event occurred in my life. God in His marvelous providence connected me with Maryam and Marziyeh on Facebook. I was astonished and overjoyed! I had finally met the two Iranian Christian women that had inspired my life and caused me to write about the underground church in Iran. Ironically, Maryam and Marziyeh had just finished writing their book, "Captive in Iran," and were preparing to go on a nationwide book tour.
I asked Maryam if she would like to read my book, "The Rose of Nowruz," which is the story of a woman freedom fighter in Iran, and she enthusiastically agreed. In a beautiful gesture of kindness, both Maryam and Marziyeh posted a picture of my book on their Facebook page.
The incredible story of Maryam and Marziyeh is an amazing story of God's Grace and favor.
After being arrested for evangelizing and handing out thousands of New Testaments all over Tehran, the Iranian government was convinced they had put an end to their preaching.
Wrong! The dark and cold cells of Evin prison could not silence my dear friends. God transformed their tiny cell into a church pulpit and for 259 days, Maryam and Marziyeh boldly preached Christ to everyone who would listen. In the midst of their suffering and pain, God turned their captivity into an incredible opportunity for being a light in the darkness of Iran.
The story of Maryam and Marzieh is the story of two courageous women who "know their God and do mighty exploits" for the glory of His name. Just like the title of my book, Maryam and Marzieh, truly are "Shining Stars," illuminating the darkness and bringing hope and freedom to Iran.