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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Prayer Vigil: A Tsunami of God's Glory

Today, September 26, 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Saeed Abedini's captivity in an Iranian prison.
It has been an incredible year for Saeed's wife Naghmeh as she worked non-stop day and night traveling all over the nation, giving interviews, appearing at fund raisers and speaking at the United Nations in Geneva.
Saeed's imprisonment has thrust Naghmeh into becoming a single mom for her children, Rebekkah age 7 and Jacob age 5.
This courageous "single mom" spent the last three months organizing a world-wide prayer vigil that went way beyond anyone's expectations. Over 70 cities hosted groups of loyal Christians gathering at their state capitols and government centers to cry out to God for Saeed's release. Amazingly, the prayer vigil was not restricted to the United States alone but extended out as far as East Jerusalem and the country of Spain to name just a few!
Leading up to this very special day, Naghmeh was able to hand deliver a letter written by Saeed to the delegation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. President Rouhani just happened to be staying at the same hotel as Naghmeh. To add to the list of unbelievable occurrences this week, world renowned evangelist and statesman, the Rev. Billy Graham, now 95, wrote a special letter to the president of Iran, pleading for Saeed's freedom.
This incredible, emotional week for Naghmeh culminated today in the worldwide prayer vigil.
 As I sat in front of my computer today, worshiping to songs by Chris Tomlin and praying for Saeed and Naghmeh, suddenly I experienced what I can best describe as a vision of the effect of thousands of Christians praying! I rarely have experiences like these so I was totally taken by surprise. I saw "in the spirit" a huge wave, like a tsumani, towering hundreds of feet into the air and washing over everything in its path. Then I heard a "still small voice," which turned out to be an exhortation, an encouragement for Christians participating in the vigil all over the world. I immediately downloaded a picture of the wave that I saw in my "vision and quickly began typing out what I heard the Lord speaking to me. I have never done this before and I was both excited and fearful!
Here is what the Lord gave me for Naghmeh and all Christians participating the prayer vigil today:

"As you pray today, as you raise your hands and hearts to surrender to me, I will unleash an unstoppable wave of my glory..I will unleash a wave of my power for you.
This is a wave of cleansing, a wave of My glory that will cover the whole earth.. a wave of unstoppable love to melt the hardest of is a tsunami of My glory.
Come..come now and jump into this wave..ride this wave of my refreshed.
As you pray today, I'm coming to you as a wave..prison walls are falling..hearts are being cleansed.
\There is no stopping my wave. I will speak to the nations..This is My glory wave..
So lift your hearts and voices...I'm answering your prayers..I will confound the enemy..The battles is mine..prisoners will be freed today!"

When I finished typing, I was astonished at what I wrote! This very rarely happens to me. I am humbled by this powerful word that God gave me. As I carefully read it, Im not surprised! This is consistent with the character of God. He wants to encourage all of us who have been working so hard together with Naghmeh to keep Saeed's perilous situation alive in both the media and government.
There is enormous power in prayer when Christians come together with one heart and mind and spirit and cry out to God! God desires to answer the prayers of His children. For His sovereign purposes God delights in using the prayers of His children to shape history. One of the many "pictures" of the character of God in the Scriptures is that of a well of living water that quenches the thirst of spiritual seekers. It is easy to understand that God describes himself like a wave washing over the earth and cleansing our hearts. He is the living water, the mighty wave that is unstoppable, a wave of unconditional love cleansing us from our guilt and shame.
Prayer is powerful because it is ordained by God in our hearts. The Bible proclaims in James 5:20 that, "the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results,"
It was a beautiful sight today to see our elected officials in Congress on their knees praying for Saeed's freedom. The mighty wave of God's spirit was indeed washing over the hearts of thousands, perhaps millions of Christians today as they set aside an hour of their busy life to cry out to God.
God visited each of us today in a profound way. Has His mighty wave visited your life yet?
He is the well of living water. Drink from his well today. You will never be thirsty again!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


"When I see their faces, I'm learning how to live,
 I'm learning how to love and I'm learning to forgive."

One day as I was browsing through the Voices of The Martyrs monthly publication, I was mesmerized by the pictures of the many suffering Christians. The expressions on their faces saddened my heart and I found myself weeping with conviction. There was one girl whose face had severely deformed by acid, one who was weeping over the execution of a family member, and one who was smiling with joy over receiving her first Bible.
 Everyone of their faces had an incredible story to tell the world why it was worth following Jesus in a hostile environment.
 As the result of this powerful experience I found myself composing a song that has changed my Christian life in so many ways.
 Then just last week, I came across a picture on the internet, a face that literally broke my heart. I cannot shake this haunting image from my mind and I instantly knew I had to write about it.
 Anyone who knows me and reads my blogs understands that I am not given to exploitation or sensationalism. Whenever I produce my videos or write my blogs, I strive to be Biblically balanced and try to avoid using sensationalism to prove a point.
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture that I discovered speaks volumes and a thousand words could never convey the emotions and convictions of my heart as I gazed at it.
I struggled with whether or not to post her picture. I don't want to be accused of exploitation and yet her face has an incredible story to tell, a very painful lesson for all of us Christians who live in the comfort zone of our churches.
There was no name attached to her picture. I don't think it's important. But when you gaze upon her, you will never forget her face.
She lives in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Every year millions of Muslims flock to Mecca, the capital of Saudi Arabia to take part in their pilgrimage which is one of the five important pillars of Islam.
Saudi Arabia is not friendly to Christians and especially women. Women are the property of many powerful Muslim men. They live a sheltered life behind their veils being totally submissive to their husbands. In a country that is dominated by a medieval code of lifestyle and ethics, women are forbidden to drive cars. They have very little freedom.
When I first saw her picture, I cringed in horror! It was repulsive to look upon her face.
Her left eye had been bloodied and was sewn shut with sutures! Her lips were also swollen and her mouth had been sewn shut!
I turned away in shock! Composing myself, I forced myself to look again. The caption on the picture said that this brave young girl had publicly confessed Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Outraged, her master decided to teach her a painful lesson by sewing her eyes and mouth shut, so she could never again speak about her love for Jesus.
Her disfigured face spoke powerfully to my heart. I began to weep thinking about my comfortable and cozy Christian life. Then I remembered the words of Jesus to his disciples.
"If anyone 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)

Jesus did not "sugar-coat" the path we would take. He warned us in advance that there was a cost for following him.
Paul said in Philippians 2 verse 16,
"For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ, but also the privilege of suffering for Him."
 The subject of suffering is not a popular topic in Christian circles, especially those of us in the west who are not accustomed to having their eyes and mouths sewn shut because we believe in Jesus.
Most of us live a fairly comfortable, unchallenged Christian life. It is difficult for us to comprehend and understand the incredible suffering of Christians in the middle east.
Yet there is her picture, staring us in the face, reminding us of the painful cost of following Jesus in Saudi Arabia.
I hear of amazing stories of Muslims all over the world who are being visited by dreams  and visions of Christ, persuading them to leave Islam and follow Him.
I wonder if this girl had one such vision?
Do you understand what her face is saying to us? I believe its saying that following Jesus may cost you your life but it's completely worth it! Knowing the love and forgiveness of Christ is the most precious gift in the world! There is absolutely nothing that can compare to it! There is nothing that compares to his unconditional love and grace!
Her face is screaming out to us and challenging us to be faithful in the darkest and severest of trials! Her face reminds you and me of the brutal marks and scars Jesus endured when he was scourged by the Roman soldiers before his grueling crucifixion!
Her face is saying you can sew my mouth shut but I can never be silent about Jesus. 
You can beat me and scourge me and disfigure me but I won't deny my Lord!
Instead of hatred and retaliation, I have nothing but love and forgiveness for you. I don't have a religion, I have a love/relationship with the God of the universe and He promises never to leave or forsake me!
I cannot forget this beautiful girl's face. Her face bears the marks and scars of loving Jesus.
When I gaze upon her face its very difficult to accept the claim that Islam is a religion of peace.
What is her face saying to you?
I want to close this blog with a short excerpt from my song, "Faces."
Please keep this precious Christian girl in your thoughts and prayers!

"They put them in prison. They torture them. They tie them in chains.
 But they won't deny Jesus no matter what the cost or the pain.
 They pray and forgive them and even after all of their shame.
 They want to be like Jesus. They want to be worthy of His name.
 I see their faces and they taught me how to live.
I see the love that's
in their eyes.
I see their faith and they're willing to forgive.
I feel so ashamed. It makes me break down and I wanna cry when I see their faces.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Iran: promising freedom and playing politics with the world!"

"You are free!"
  These are three liberating and incredible words that Nasrin Sotoudeh will not soon forget!
   The 49 year-old world renowned human rights attorney finally walked out of Evin Prison on Wednesday, September 18 after spending over three years in captivity. Besides Nasrin, ten other political prisoners were also released in a bold move by the Iranian government coming one week before President Rouhani's historic meeting at the United Nations in New York City.
In a brief interview shortly after her release, Nasrin Insisted that her goals haven't changed and that she would continue her work in restoring justice and defending the rights of protesters.
Nasrin had been sentenced to 11 years in prison with a 20 year ban on her legal practice and a 20 year restriction against traveling abroad for "acting against national security."
Prior to her imprisonment, Nasrin had publicly spoken out against the unjust practice of child executions in Iran and
had spent most of her legal career standing up for the rights of protesters.
Just one year ago, the bold and courageous human rights defender staged a 40 day hunger strike in Evin prison protesting the traveling restrictions against her 13 year old daughter Mehraveh and won!
After worldwide media attention and intense suffering, the prison officials finally removed the restrictions and restored her visiting privileges with her family.
When I heard the news about Nasrin's release, I rejoiced! For more than a year on my Facebook page, I posted the latest developments about her imprisonment, urging people to speak out and pray for her. I truly believe the Lord honored all of our praying and speaking out, resulting in her freedom. In my book, "The Rose of Nowruz,"  Nasrin Sotudeh is listed on the dedication page as one of Iran's women freedom fighters for human rights.
While I rejoice in the release of Nasrin and the other political prisoners, I can't help to step back a moment and pause in the midst of this celebration. Once again, I believe Iran is playing politics with the lives of human beings! They promise freedom but there is a price! It's no accident that the release of these political prisoners is conveniently timed to Rouhani's visit to the United Nations. U.N. special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, has been investigating the flagrant abuses of human rights in Iran and has extensive documentation that is embarrassing to the regime and their image to the western world. What better way to restore that damaged image than to suddenly have a change of heart by releasing political prisoners before the visit! In doing this Iran hopes to repair their image and announce to the world that they are willing to bring real reform.
Make no mistake! Rouhani is merely a pawn on the political chess board. Iran's Supreme Leader has the final word, not the president. Rouhani is a clever diplomatic strategist sent to paint a new picture, a new image on the face of Iran. Iran is suffering economically from the international sanctions and is strategically making moves for their own benefits. Don't fall for the deception that Iran suddenly cares about the value of human rights! They care about their own pocketbook!
Inspite of all of the political deception involved with the convenient release of prisoners, I truly am happy for Nasrin's freedom. She is finally home once again with her beautiful family.
Yet my heart is still sad! My dear friend Saeed Abedini still remains behind bars! Why wasn't Saeed one of the prisoners released? I thought deeply about this question. If Rouhani should meet with President Obama at the United Nations, wouldn't the release of Saeed, an American citizen, be the ultimate bargaining chip for restoring relations with the United States once again?
I can't comprehend what's in the mind of the Iranian regime! Its so sad and disgusting to play politics with the lives of human beings.
In the midst of this political game playing, I take comfort in the promises of Scripture. God doesn't play games with the lives of people! He has no political motivation or deception in mind. The lives of human beings are precious to Him!
He promises to "rescue the poor when they cry to Him and help the oppressed who have no one to defend them." (Psalm 72:12).
The lives of human beings are precious to God. He promises to redeem them from oppression and violence.
The lord heard all of our prayers and freed Nasrin. I know one day very soon he will do the same for Saeed. Our lives are precious to Him!

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Maryam and Marziyeh: A beautiful fragrance of Jesus."

"But thank God! He has made us His captives and continues to lead us
along in Christ's triumphal procession.
Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere,
like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a "Christ-like fragrance," rising
up to God.
But that fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved
and by those who are perishing.
To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.
But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume."
           ( 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16)

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of interviewing, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, authors of the incredible book, "Captive in Iran." Maryam and Marziyeh were guests on my blog talk radio program, "The Cross in the Desert," which is broadcasted live on the internet every Thursday afternoon.
"Captive in Iran" was a life-changing book for me as a Christian. It challenged my commitment and walk with Christ and taught me many valuable lessons on what it means to suffer and be persecuted for my Christian faith. 
Maryam and Marziyeh's powerful story is nothing short of a miracle! For 259 days they endured sickness, endless hours of interrogations, the threat of execution by hanging, but didn't focus on their desperate condition. Instead, they turned their prison captivity into an amazing opportunity for the gospel! 
Evin Prison became their church! Although Maryam and Marziyeh were imprisoned because of handing out bibles all over Iran, they refused to remain silent but prayed and shared Christ with all of the other women prisoners. Many of the other inmates came to them asking for prayer and inquiring why they were in prison. For nearly a year they reached out with compassion and love to political prisoners, drug addicts, lesbians and prostitutes who were spiritually empty and desperate for answers. Islam had not satisfied their heart's longing and many of them found a new life, a new beginning by accepting Christ as their lord and savior.
What was it that attracted these prisoners to Maryam and Marziyeh? It's really very simple.
Maryam and Marziyeh are humble, dedicated followers of Christ with a heart of mercy and compassion like their Savior. They are a beautiful fragrance of Jesus!
The Bible teaches that God is pleased to use us as His ambassadors, those who proclaim the life changing gospel of Christ to hungry and thirsty souls desperately searching for meaning in their lives. God says that we are a like a "sweet smelling perfume," and a fragrance of Christ. Our lives are to have a beautiful, sweet smelling aroma that will be attractive to the hurting and broken people that are all around us.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Apostle Paul paints a vivid picture of a conquering Roman general riding into the city after winning a major conquest. There was a parade and a huge celebration, called the Triumph where the general was honored with a large procession. Walking behind the general were two groups of people, the slaves and the condemned. The group of slaves were beginning a new life of total obedience to the Roman empire, while the condemned group were on their way to a certain, vicious death. Ironically, the human race is divided into to these two groups, those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
During the procession, the sweet and attractive aroma of burning incense could be smelt all over the city. Crushed flowers were strewn on the ground under the hooves of horses.
Paul uses this illustration to point out to us that like the Roman general, we too are victorious because of the great triumph won by Christ as the cross. Christians are part of the great triumph and procession, daily going out into the marketplace proclaiming the glorious good news that Jesus has forgiven all of our guilt and shame. As ambassadors of Christ our lives are to be characterized by His mercy and compassion. Our lives should carry the sweet smelling perfume of life, a persuasive aroma drawing and attracting people to our message.
Under the Old Testament, the priest poured the fragrant anointing oil all over his clothes and garments so that everywhere he went he carried the fragrance of his commitment to the ministry. In the same way Christians are called to carry the message of the gospel with great dignity and humility so that wherever we go we carry the fragrance of God's truth to a hurting and broken world.
Paul goes on to point out that to, "those who are being saved,"  that is, those who are seeking the truth, we are to them the sweet smell of life. However to those who reject our message and have no desire to hear the truth, to them, we are the smell of death.
Listening to the incredible testimony of Maryam and Marziyeh, it is easy to see why prostitutes,
drug addicts and political prisoners were drawn to them. Their lives were characterized by mercy and compassion. They were bathed in the sweet smelling aroma of the beauty and love of Christ.
What kind of fragrance are you giving out to people? Are they attracted to your message?
Do you have a sweet smelling aroma that flows out from a life of compassion and mercy?
I want to close with the Message translation of this passage of Scripture. I think it best sums up how we are to look as ambassadors of Christ.

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade.
Through us, he brings the knowledge of Christ.
Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent arising to God,
which is recognized by those on the way to salvation, an aroma redolent with life,
but those on the way to destruction, treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse."

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Dear Mr. President..."

As the summer season comes to an end, America pauses to celebrate Labor day, before gearing up for the busy Fall season. Labor Day is a day to celebrate and remember the American worker. But can we really celebrate the American work ethic with so many people unemployed?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 90 million Americans are unemployed and most of them have stopped looking for work. The current unemployment rate nationally is 7.4%, still much too high to reflect any economic recovery or job growth.
Under the Obama Administration, the black unemployment rate has risen to over 12.4% with a staggering figure of more than 41% of black teens out of work! To add to that statistical misery, the "Obama healthcare fiasco" is stunting small business growth and will certainly raise private health insurance premiums creating a recipe for more unemployment disaster in the future!
Americans are suffering under the Obama economic train wreck and the 17 trillions dollar deficit is projected to go higher unless there is a changing of the guard soon in Washington.
I have a very dear friend in Iran who is also experiencing deep economic hardship. Her name is Atefe. She lives in Tehran and like all other Iranians, she is struggling financially to stay alive.
Iran's economy has been crippled by the ongoing economic sanctions that the world, including the Unites States, has imposed on it to put a halt to their nuclear program.
The sanctions have caused double digit inflation in Iran to a staggering 37% undermining the value of its currency, the Rial and the Tomman. The unemployment rate is sky high at 15.5% and the price of food has escalated by a staggering 58%!
Perhaps hardest hit is Iran's dependence of crude oil exports, facing a monthly loss of 1.5 billion dollars that are accumulating in restricted overseas accounts. Frozen assets, double-digit inflation and soaring prices have devastated Iranians creating increased drug use, suicide and hopelessness amongst its youth.
Recently I asked my friend Atefe if she would write a letter to President Obama and tell him in her own words, how she feels about the economic crisis in her country. Atefe has a wonderful way with words and I have published many blogs featuring her stories about life in Iran. She was the source of many experiences that I wrote about

in my book, "The Rose of Nowruz" which is being read by many Iranians and human rights groups all over the world.
I want to share with you Atefe's letter to President Obama in her own words, so that you can enter her world and feel what she is feeling.

Dear Mr. President:

I have always dreamed about living in your land. A land which is called, "the land of opportunities."  I have always dreamed about how it feels to be free, to think free and live as you wish. But during these days I came to the conclusion that although the land you rule in may be "magic" for those who live in it, it is severely destructive for those living outside of it, being labeled as enemies of the U.S.
Imagine that day when you wake up and find yourself feeling "numb!" This is the way that we find ourselves every single day in our life! No one hears us, neither our leaders who claim they care for us or you Mr. President, who says that these sanctions and troubles are for our own safety. You probably can never understand how it feels to live in a country where everyday your mind must be preoccupied with what to wear so that they don't arrest you in the street and at the same time you have to endure all of these difficult problems. Can you imagine how hard it is to try and survive under the weight of these sanctions and the economic chaos?
However, even inspite of their problems and troubles, Iranians still count on you to be their friend and to care about their future.
Unfortunately, I don't believe that you really think about these things because you may hear the voice of your guilty conscience which will prevent you from living a happy life....

Can you feel the pain and anguish in Atefe's letter? She is one among millions of Iranians suffering in an economic crisis because of the policies of her government? She is not a terrorist, so why does he have to be treated like one?
In the same way, you and me are enduring an economic hardship because of the policies of our government and yet, we have the freedom to do something about it without fearing torture and imprisonment like Atefe faces if she dares to speak out!
I desperately want my country to the be the haven for the hopes and dreams of honest Iranians who are seeking a better life.
President Obama needs to read this simple yet profound letter from a suffering Iranian woman. There must be a better way to hold her government accountable without punishing Iranians who are already suffering enough under a dictatorship regime.
On this Labor day, let us remember those in other countries like Atefe who desire to enjoy the same freedoms that you and I take for granted everyday.