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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy Nowruz to my Iranian friends!

"Give me wings of freedom so I can fly,
  I wanna fly high. I wanna soar.
 Give me wings of freedom or let me die,
 I wanna touch the sky. I wanna soar!"
       (The Rose of Nowruz)

March 20 marks the first day of Spring and the official beginning of the Persian New Year for my Iranian friends. "Nowruz" or literally, "new day," is the title of the Spring Festival that ushers in the beginning of another year in the Persian calendar. Rooted in the rich history of the Zoroastrian religion, Nowruz is a the cherished time of Spring renewal, which includes eating and celebrating with families. In preparation, Iranians busily engage in house cleaning and shopping for clothes to look their best for the great new year's event. One of the central features of Nowruz is the Haft Seen Table. Iranians erect a small table in their home and according to tradition place items on the table that begin with the letter "S." 
Sabez, (lentil sprouts) are placed in a dish of water, symbolizing rebirth. Sib (apples) are placed next on the table which symbolizes, beauty and health. Samanu ( tasty pudding) is added to the table, symbolizing affluence. Serkeh, (vinegar) is added to the table, symbolizing, old age and patience. Sir (garlic) is a very important addition, symbolizing medicine for healing. Senjed, (wild olive fruit) symbolizing love, and finally Somaq is placed on the table symbolizing the color of sunrise.
The Haft Seen Table is rich in symbolism and sets the mood for the beginning of the Persian New Year. 
Last year, I published a very important book to bring awareness to the Western world about the struggle of my Iranians friends for human rights and freedom. "The Rose of Nowruz, dreams of hope and freedom," is the story of a young concert violinist named Bahareh who lives in Tehran.
The beautiful red rose was Bahareh's favorite flower and she composes a song about a rose as the symbol of freedom during the Nowruz celebration. Desperate to see her friends have freedom from an oppressive government, Bahareh can no longer be silent and becomes a human rights activist in the heart of the Islamic republic of Iran.
Since the publication, I have had the incredible privilege of sending the pdf files of my book to my friends in Iran including several human rights groups in Canada.
1393, (Persian calendar) marks the official start of the Persian New year. But, what can my Iranian friends expect this year? What kind of hope do they have? Will they see an end to the oppression and fear? Will they finally realize their hopes and dreams?
1393 begins with Hassan Rouhani as the new president in Iran. During the election last year, he campaigned as a "moderate" promising some social and economic freedoms, but his track record thus far is anything but "moderate." Since becoming president, executions have spiked, over 687 prisoners were put to death last year. Political activists, human rights defenders, journalist and bloggers, are still behind bars, being punished for speaking out and forced to keep silent.
Campaigning as a "moderate" assured Rouhani of a victory and prevented a repeat of the violence in the last election and once again gave The Islamic Republic control of its people!
In spite of the failed promises of Rouhani, my dear Iranian friends gaze at their "haft seen " tables looking for hope and freedom. They celebrate in the midst of a society that deprives them of their basic human rights to dress, speak and believe as they choose.
This year I decorated my Facebook page with pictures of Haft seen tables and did a special radio program celebrating the new year with them. I was supposed to be a guest at the home of one of my dear Iranian friends via Skype for the start of Nowruz, but internet problems prevented that cherished event from happening. So instead, I put the picture of her table on my timeline and dedicated my page to her!
My friends in Iran are the most precious friends in the world to me! My blogs and my books are all about them! They are the focus and passion of my life.
This is my New Year's prayer for them:

"My dear friends in Iran."
  I pray that your new year is filled with peace, prosperity and freedom! As you gather together with your families this year and sit before your haft seen tables, please don't forget that I am thinking of you and praying for you.
I am praying that God will give you the desires of your heart and that your dreams and visions of the future will one day be finally realized. I am praying that one day you will have a free Iran where you can walk down the streets without fear of being monitored, without fear of being stopped because of the way that you dress. 
I am praying for the day that you can believe as you choose, that you can speak your mind without fear and imprisonment.
I am praying for the day that you will have true freedom. I believe that day will come, my dear Iranian friends. I know that God hears the cries of your hearts. Your lives are precious to Him. He will deliver you from all fear and oppression. I wanted to leave you with a promise from the Bible describing that day of freedom that I have spoken to you about.

" I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, God's home is now among his people. He will live with them and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All

these things are gone forever. 
And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look I am making everything new! And He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true!"
                                    (Revelation 21: 3-5)


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Oh how He loves us!"

"He is jealous for me.
 Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
 bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy..."

I have the honor and privilege of regularly meeting on Skype with my Iranian friends to help teach them English. During the video chat, we read my books together and I am able to assist them in the correct pronunciation of words. We have a great time together. My friends will share with me the latest happenings in their lives, including their fears and frustrations of living under the oppression of the Islamic Regime.
Just recently, my dear friend who lives in Mashhad (her name withheld for security reasons) told me a very sad story of her early childhood in Iran. Women are required to wear a hijab whenever they go out publicly. The Ghaste Ershad (morality police) daily patrol the streets of Iran looking for violators of the Islamic dress code. If a woman is not wearing her hijab correctly, or is showing too much skin and has too much make up on, she can be both fined and arrested.
My Iranian friend recalled a time in school as a child when the teacher warned her class that if a woman does not cover her head, that in the judgment, Allah would dangle her by the hair over the fires of hell!
The themes of fear, judgment, vengeance, are the constant themes I hear from my friends in Iran. They painfully describe to me how they were taught about who God is. I seldom ever hear them describe God as being loving and merciful.
Iranians are subjected to a distorted picture about who God is. When looking through the Quran, the theme of God's unconditional love for mankind is never found. Instead the Quran teaches that, "Allah loves not the transgressor," (Surah 2:190), that "Allah loveth not those who do wrong,"(Surah 3:57)
The reader is further informed that Allah loveth only those who do good deeds, "And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah and make not your own hands contribute to destruction, but do good, for Allah loveth those who do good," (Surah 2:195)
The conclusion is that Allah does not love the wayward sinner, but that He only loves those who consistently do good. His love is conditional, based on the person who keeps himself pure and clean and does what is right.
However when one reads the Bible, a completely different picture of who God is clearly emerges. The distorted picture of His character dissolves in the theme of His unconditional love.
From Genesis to Revelation, the reader is painted a picture of God who pursues His sinful covenant people with irresistible love. Instead of punishing and forsaking those who have broken His holy law, God reaches out to them with His arms of love and mercy.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love," (Jeremiah 31:3) is the cry from God's heart to His covenant people. His love is undeserved and freely given to a people who deserves judgment but instead receive His mercy!
In the New testament, the picture of God's love is made abundantly clear through Jesus. Jesus treated sinners with compassion and mercy. He once told the story of a man who owned a hundred sheep and when he discovered one of them missing, he searched the wilderness until he found the lost sheep. Once the lost sheep was found, Jesus said that the man joyfully carried the sheep back home on his shoulders. Then the man encouraged his neighbors to rejoice with him because he had found the lost sheep.
Jesus went on to explain that, "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than the ninety others who have not strayed away!" (Luke 15:7)
The picture that Jesus painted of God's love is vastly different than the one painted by the Quran. God pursues the lost sheep with His irresistible love and then heaven throws a party when the sheep is finally found!
In direct contrast to the Quran's teaching that Allah does not love the transgressor, the Bible instead emphasizes God's unconditional and undeserved love. "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners..(Romans 5:8)
God loves the sinner! This is the constant theme of the Bible. Instead of the distorted picture of a God of hatred and vengeance, the Bible paints a beautiful portrait of a God who never gives up on His people, who never forsakes them, but is constantly crying out for them to return to His mercy.
After I explained to my Iranian friend these wonderful Biblical truths about who God is, she agreed that this is the picture that she has always had of God, a picture of love and kindness.
"Oh how He loves us!" Knowing the unconditional love of God has transformed my life. Whenever I fail God and do things that dishonor Him, I cry out for His mercy and remember the beautiful lyrics to this powerful song by Jesus Culture, "Oh how He loves us."
If you
 have a distorted picture of who God is, pick up the Bible and read these Scriptures and allow His Holy Word to paint the real picture of who He is!