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Monday, April 29, 2013

The Evil of Silence

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil
 God will not hold us guiltless.
 Not to speak is to speak
 Not to act is to act."
                Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On April 9, 1945 Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in The Flossenburg concentration camp just three weeks before the U.S. liberation. He had been arrested and convicted in a conspiracy assassination plot against Hitler. Eberhard Bethge, one of Bonhoeffer's students, writes of a man who witnessed the execution, quoting him as saying, "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensured after a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so completely submissive to the will of God."
Bonhoeffer loved God. He was not afraid to speak out. His life and ministry was dedicated to the Lordship of Christ. He sacrificed his reputation on the altar of submission at a time when the world was plunged into a bloody conflict with Germany and loudly proclaimed God's truth at the risk of his life. In his classic book, "The cost of discipleship, " Bonhoeffer issued a clarion call, a summons, to awaken the Christian Church out of slumber and back to obedience in following Jesus. He lived what he preached and at the end of his life, He set an example of what true submission and obedience to Christ looked like.
We live in a politically correct culture that is ashamed and afraid to speak the truth because it might offend others. On November 5, 2009, Nidal Hasan, a 39-year old Army psychiatrist, and practicing Muslim, opened fire on his fellow comrades, murdering 13 and injuring 30. Prior to opening fire, he  was heard screaming, the phrase, "Allah Akbar!"
After the shooting, a full investigation was conducted and the final verdict from the department of defense and the federal government was that the incident was the result of "workplace violence."
President Obama refused to label the tragedy as a result of terrorism but instead opted for the convenient, unoffensive phrase as, "workplace violence."
Our nation has plunged itself into a deadly mire of political correctness that sacrifices both the truth and our God-given gift of free speech, in order to satisfy the demands of living in a multi-cultural society. Our reputation has become our "god" and every day we sacrifice our rights and freedoms to this "demanding deity" to make sure that its not offended.
However, Bonhoeffer, surrounded by the pressures of war and death, would have nothing to do with this "politically correct deity." He proclaimed, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
For over 200 days, Saeed Abedini, American citizen and Calvary Church pastor, has suffered brutal beatings and torture in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran for his Christian Faith. His condition continues to deteriorate as he suffers with internal bleeding and now kidney failure. Doctors refuse to treat him because they consider him "unclean," labeling him as an apostate for converting from Islam to Christianity 13 years ago. Saeed's human rights have severely violated. The ACLJ, The United Nations, His wife Naghmeh, and thousands of loyal followers on Facebook are working tirelessly, day and night, urging people to sign a petition for his release and to write Saeed encouraging letters.
Yet in all of this furious sacrificial activity, there is an ominous silence from the office of the most important leader of the free world, The President of the United States!
Why? Why has President Obama been so silent? Why has he seemingly refused to be a voice for Saeed, calling on Iran and demanding them to release an American citizen being held illegally in a brutal and dangerous prison?
Four years ago, President Obama called on Iran to release American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was charged with being a spy and held in Evin prison. Next he publicly spoke out for the release of three American hitchhikers, Sarah Shroud, Shane Bauer, and Joshua Fattal, who also were being held in Evin Prison.
Yet in the case of Saeed, there is total silence.
A dedicated father, husband, and pastor is fighting for his life in the most brutal prison in the world. His condition continues to deteriorate. A simple public declaration from President Obama  demanding Iran release an American citizen and return him to his precious wife and two children could mean the difference between life and death.
Bonhoeffer declared, "silence in the face of evil is itself evil."
Our nation desperately needs leaders with courage and conviction who have not been poisoned by the venom of political correctness and who are unafraid to stand in the face of evil with a pointed finger saying, "Listen to me!"
The writer of proverbs, admonishes us to raise our voices against injustice and to not be afraid of speaking out against evil,
 "Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves,
ensure justice for those being crushed."
                    (Proverbs 31:8)
Bonhoeffer was right. We have a solemn duty to be a voice against evil and to not keep silent. Our words and proclamations carry within them the very power of life and death.
Over 25 years ago, President Raegan, stood at the Berlin Wall and  courageously called on then Russian President Gorbachev to, "Tear down this wall!"
Gorbachev listened and the rest is history.
We need to follow the example of Reagan. With one united voice let us cry out to Obama, "Mr. President, Call on Iran to release Saeed!"
I pray to God that he hears our voices!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Remember my chains."

"For you have been given not only the privilege
of trusting in Christ,
but also the privilege of suffering for Him."
   (Philippians 1:29)

 The Apostle Paul admonished the church in Colossians 4:18 to "Remember my chains."
 Persecution, hardships, distress and intense suffering characterized the life and ministry of Paul. Most of his epistles were written during his dark times of suffering in a lonely Roman prison cell, at times chained to the guard as he wrote.
 Paul understood what Jesus meant when he explained the cost of discipleship as "Taking up the cross daily to follow him."
 In his letter to the church at Philipi, Paul explained to believers the way of the Christian life by saying, "For you have not only been given the privilege of trusting Christ, but also the privilege of suffering for Him." (Philippians 1:29)
 All over the world, Christians are enduring intense persecution in the crucible of suffering for their faith in Jesus. 
One such example is Iranian Christian Pastor, Saeed Abedini. During a ministry trip to build orphanages in Iran in 2012, Saeed was arrested by the Revolutionary guard.
His crime? According to the Iranian government, Saeed was guilty of associating with the house churches and acting against security. Translation: Leaving Islam and converting to Christianity. In Iran, if a Muslim leaves Islam and converts to any other religion, he or she is guilty of committing the sin of apostasy and is subject to death by hanging. There is no real freedom of religion in Iran, especially if a Muslim turns from Mohammed to embrace Christ.
 The court sentenced Saeed to 8 years in Evin Prison, one of Iran's most brutal prisons where prisoners are subjected to beatings and torture on a daily basis.
Since his imprisonment, Saeed has endured brutal torture and beatings aimed at getting him to recant his faith and return to Islam. The beatings have been so severe that it has cause internal bleeding, a severe medical condition, that has gone untreated for several months.
On Sunday, May 19, A special, "national day of prayer" will be observed for Saeed and all other Christians around the world who are suffering for their faith. Naghmeh, Saeed's beautiful wife, has been busy texting and tweeting the event on Facebook and twitter. She is urging churches to come together in a time of prayer for her husband and the persecuted church. It is a special occasion to "remember the chains and sufferings" of Christians who are the front lines for their faith in countries that are hostile to Christianity.
 In a letter, smuggled out of Evin prison, Saeed writes a powerful message to the church on how to deal with the poison of unforgiveness. As he faces continuous beatings every day with no prospect of adequate medical care, instead of being bitter and angry, Saeed chooses to respond in forgiveness.
He writes, "When we forgive, we become free and we become messengers of peace and reconciliation and goodness.
 And in this dark and evil time, we can live full of love and full of peace and full of joy and shine like the stars."
Saeed refuses to hate and instead explains that he has forgiven the doctor that didn't treat him and the interrogators who continue to torture and beat him. Instead of revolting, he forgives, just like his Lord and master Jesus, who prayed for his executioners while hanging on a wooden cross and dying for our sins.
In the midst of hatred and brutality, Saeed has been a true example of Christ-like love by overcoming. He has overcame the hatred and insults, responding with love and forgiveness, just like Jesus did.
Jeremy Camp wrote an incredible worship song entitled, "Overcome."
Just two weeks before he left for Iran, Saeed recalled how this powerful song with its lyrics  and meaning, had drove him to tears, as he reflected on how Jesus overcame death and sin for us.
The chorus of the song glorifies the majesty and worth of Christ in what he endured and suffered to provide a perfect salvation.
 "Savior, worthy of honor and glory, worthy of all of our praise. You overcame.
 Jesus, awesome in power forever, awesome and great is your name. You overcame.

 We will overcome, by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.
 Everyone overcome."
 As I reflect on these incredible lyrics, rich and meaning and praise, I find myself like Saeed, worshiping in tears and praising Jesus for the victory that he won for each one of us.
 In the midst of tremendous suffering and pain, Saeed, like Jesus, has overcome. He has overcome by the blood of the precious lamb and by the powerful word of his testimony. He has filled Evin Prison with the blazing light of the glory of Christ, overcoming all of the darkness and hatred. Saeed reminds us in a very powerful way that each of us is called to suffer for Christ and in our individual sufferings, we can light up the world with a flame of glory, shining into the darkness of evil.
 On Sunday, May 19, let us pause and remember Saeed's chains, and in doing that, we are also remembering the millions of other chains of suffering Christians all over the world.
"Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."
       (Hebrews 13:3)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Priority of Prayer

O God Listen to my cry!
Hear my prayer!
From the ends of the earth
I cry to you for help
when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety
for you are my safe refuge
a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
      (Psalm 61:1-2)

A few weeks ago I came upon a very touching video on Facebook. It was a short, 5 second clip of Jacob Abedini. Jacob is the five-year old son of Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith. In this short video, little Jacob is pleading with God in tears and asking Jesus to bring his daddy home soon. Jacob's little prayer broke my heart, but it quickly reminded me of how much our prayers and tears mean to God.
Jacob's very short prayer is a perfect example of the priority of prayer in our lives. How important is prayer? Think of it this way. Prayer is like breathing. Ask yourself this question. How long can you live without oxygen? Without breathing? Not very long! Our existence depends on it.
In the same way, our spiritual life is depended on prayer. Most of us unfortunately are trying to exist and survive on tiny bits of oxygen very day and if prayer is like oxygen, then we are slowly suffocating ourselves.
A great example of a lifestyle of prayer is found in the book, "Captive in Iran," by my dear Facebook friends, Maryam and Marziyeh. Locked behind bars for 259 days in Evin Prison in Tehran, Maryam and Marziyeh spent their entire captivity reaching out with the gospel and praying with political prisoners, lesbians, drug addicts and outcasts. They had a reputation of being "the Christian ladies" who would pray for everyone's needs. Many of the women prisoners were desperate and broken down by the sorrows of life and needed someone to just listen to their hurts. Maryam and Marziyeh listened with compassion and held hands with them, praying and crying out to God for their needs.
On one occasion, Marziyeh prayed with Mana, who was having a hard time sleeping because of nightmares. As Marziyeh began to pray, Mana began to cry saying she felt so peaceful and relaxed. The next morning, Mana was so excited and shared with Marzieyh that the night before she had asked God to reveal to her the truth about Jesus. The very next morning a friend, who knew nothing about her prayer, handed her a wooden cross that she had made at the craft center. "I can't believe God would answer my prayers so quickly!" Mana shouted for joy, "I know its a sign that all of your words about His love are true!"
This is a great example of when we are obedient to God in prayer, sometimes He replies quickly with an answer that strengthens and encourages our faith. 
In my own life, God has blessed me with incredible answers to my prayers. I remember spending three months interceding
 and praying, crying out to God, that all charges would be dropped against Maryam and Marziyeh, and they would be finally be freed from their imprisonment. God faithfully answered my prayers and the prayers of many Christians all over the world. Not only did he answer my prayers but He also gave me the privilege of connecting with them on facebook to become their friend.
The Psalmist, from the depth of his being, cries out to God, "Oh God listen to my cry! Hear my prayer!"
God delights in hearing from his children. We have a love-relationship with God through Christ. If we truly believe this, then praying should never be a dull or boring activity, but instead it should be an adventure, a time of delight, where we are like children sitting on our father's lap and telling Him what's on our hearts.
That's exactly what little Jacob did. He "climbed up on his father's lap" and in simple words, not flowery language, but in simple child-like words, he asked his father to bring his dad back home to him.
God wants you and me to have the same child-like attitude like Jacob. So if its been awhile since you've prayed, why not begin again today? If its getting a little hard to breathe, than prayer is definitely the answer. Your Father desires to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"No one hears our voices!"

"No one hears our voices. We scream about our deprived rights.
 We scream so that someone hears our voices."
   ...Shabnam Madadzadeh... (Evin Prison 2011)

Imagine yourself in a crowded, dirty prison cell, where you can't use the toilet until the guards decide to respond to you call. Imagine being subjected to long hours of psychological interrogations, beatings, and threats of execution if you won't recant your faith.
Imagine being sick without proper medical attention for several days. You are doubled-over with stomach cramps from rotten food. Infections, sickness and disease has invaded your prison cell and months pass by before you can even have legal representation.
Can you and I possible imagine this hideous suffering?
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh didn't imagine this. They lived through it!
My dear friends are busy on their, "Captive in Iran" book tour sharing their powerful testimonies about their sufferings in Evin Prison and how God used their captivity for 259 days to reach out to the hurting and broken with the Gospel.
On the Sean Hannity Radio program, Maryam passionately explained that their main purpose behind the many media speaking engagements is to "be a voice for the voiceless of those still suffering in Evin Prison that don't have the luxury of being seen or heard."
Recently, the media has focused on the plight and suffering of Saeed Abidini, a Calvary church pastor, who is serving an eight-year sentence in Evin Prison for his Christian faith. He is being beaten and tortured daily to recant his faith and return to Islam. There is nationwide effort through the Aclj to put pressure on Iran to release him. 
Unfortunately there are many, maybe thousands, who don't have the luxury of media attention so that their voices can be heard. They sit alone in the darkness, broken and desperate, crying out for hope and freedom.
In some cases, a desperate prisoner does manage to have their voice be heard. One such person was Shririn Alam Hooli,
a dear friend of Maryam and Marzieh and a cell mate with them in Evin Prison. Just six days before her execution on May 9, 2010, Shirin graphically described in a translated letter, the brutal treatment that she had been subjected to as a prisoner. 
Shirin described being tied to a bed and being beaten with electrical batons,cables and then kicked in the stomach until she fell unconscious from internal bleeding.
On one occasion, her interrogators left her alone to think about the questions they were asking her and stopped for prayer time. When they returned from prayer, the beatings continued!
"No one hears our voices," Shabnam Madadzadeh cries out in desperation. "We scream so that someone hears our voices."
However someone is hearing their cries in their seemingly hopeless situation. God hears them. God has rewarded the suffering of my dear friends, Maryam and Marziyeh, with an incredible opportunity to be a "voice for the voiceless," to make known the desperate situation of those still in chains.
We too have an opportunity to be their voice through speaking out and praying. We have a responsibility to confront the Iranian government with the serious human rights violations and call for an end to their suffering.
But let us not forget in our all of our speaking out and praying, God is not deaf. He hears their cries and will soon deliver them. God promises to answer the cries of the afflicted:

The Lord replies," I have seen violence done to the helpless and I have heard
the groans of the poor.
Now I will rise up to rescue them as they have longed for me to do."
                                     (Psalm 12:5)