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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Lifeless forms of plastic."


My latest blog is adapted from my book, "Broken yet beautiful: Rising up from their ashes."
Women living in Iran struggle for basic human rights under a dictatorship government. They are
 forced to wear the hijab when going out publicly and can be fined or arrested if caught by the morality police. In this new blog, I explain the how extreme the Hijab Law is to the extent that even mannequins are required to be veiled.




       One of the traditions of my Iranian friends as they prepare for the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is shopping for new clothes. Spring is just around the corner and its time for new beginnings and one of those, “new beginnings” is expanding one’s wardrobe!

        My dear friend Atefe, who lives in Tehran, excitedly left her home one day to go shopping at a local clothing store. While browsing around in the clothing store, she noticed Iranian security officers confronting the storeowner. Later on, she discovered that the security officers had found the storeowner was in violation of The Islamic dress code. She had failed to put hijabs on all of the mannequins and had to do so immediately or be arrested!

        It is Islamic Law for all women to wear a veil when they go out publicly. If they fail to comply they can be fined, arrested, or lashed.

        But wait a minute! Help me out please!
Is there not a distinction between human beings and mannequins? What is a mannequin?
A mannequin is a lifeless form of plastic representing a human being that is used to display the latest fashions in store windows.
Oh, I get it now!

The Islamic Regime would prefer that all Iranians behave just like mannequins. Mannequins don’t speak or talk back or protest or whine or complain. These lifeless plastic forms wear whatever you put on them without a complaint and stand in the window all day!

It seems that image is everything according to Iranian Law. Iranians are supposed to obey without complaint and wear whatever they are told just like mannequins in the store window.

The sad reality to this, “image is everything,” scenario is that it reduces real human beings to lifeless forms without hearts and souls. Human beings cannot exist under these conditions. They quickly lose all self-worth and self-esteem and that’s exactly what false religion does. It robs people of all meaning and purpose in life and reduces them to little more than “puppets” on a string.

God didn’t create us as lifeless forms or puppets on a string. He created us with great value and gave us a heart to discover the beauty of life that surrounds us. He breathed into our souls, love, purpose, and creativity to shine like the brilliant colors of the rainbow and to make a difference in a world of suffering and pain. Our lives won’t shine very brightly is we are reduced to the morbid and depressing existence of mannequins in a store window, but…
     
          “Image is everything, right?”


God offers true hope and healing for both Iranian and Saudi women. The Bible teaches that he hears the cry of the oppressed and rescues them. I have spent the last seven years of my life writing the stories of my dear Iranian friends and being their voice. One day soon, I believe they will be able to walk down the streets of Tehran without fear of being arrested. I also believe that God is going to bring justice and freedom to the women of Saudi Arabia. I can say this with confidence because the Bible teaches that God is a God of justice! One precious psalm is my encouragement that God will keep his promise and free the women of the Middle East and restore their dignity to them. I want to conclude this section by sharing this powerful little psalm that I pray for my Iranian friends every day:

“He will rescue the poor when they cry to him. He will help the oppressed who have no one to defend them.
He feels pity for the weak and the needy and he will rescue them.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.”
 (Psalm 72:12-14)

What a powerful promise from God’s Holy Word! God understands their pain because he became a human being in Jesus and suffered excruciating pain in order to save us from our sins. Jesus was spit upon, mocked, insulted, and betrayed. He understands evil and betrayal,


because he experienced all of them. The women of the Middle East are leaving Islam everyday because they have found a God who understands their pain and suffering. Jesus is that God. He is not a distant deity faraway disconnected from out pain, but a God who is both our refuge and strength and our ever-present help in time of need! (Psalm 46:1-2)
       

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Phoebe: A light in the darkness of Rome.


The debate over women leadership in the church is firmly settled by the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Traditionalists try to mold Paul into their theological mindset, but instead the mighty apostle emerges as a staunch supporter of women's ministry in the churches. Paul was anything but a misogynistic apostle! When read in context, He was one of the greatest supporters of women's rights in a Middle Eastern culture rampant with oppression and discrimination!




       



While there was darkness and oppression of women in the Roman culture, there was also a light that penetrated the darkness, revealing a woman who stood up against the adversity and shined brightly the truth of God’s word. That woman’s name was Phoebe. Phoebe was a bright and shining light in the early church, a dedicated servant that the Apostle Paul highly commended in the last chapter of his great epistle to the Roman Christians.

Romans 16:1-2
        “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

        Origen, an early church father, scholar and theologian (184-253) shared his insights on the Romans 16 passage written by Paul…

        This passage teaches two things at the same time; “women are to be considered ministers in the church, and ought to be received into ministry.”

        I want to make one thing extremely clear from the outset. The Apostle Paul was not a misogynist! Although many conservative scholars teach that he placed Biblical restrictions on what a woman could do or not do in a church ministry, Paul certainly did not fit their mold. Here in Romans 16, he praises several women, Phoebe, Acquila and Priscila, as well as recognizing Junia as an apostle! Through misguided and bias teachings, Paul’s reputation has been tarnished and many scholars have turned him into a rugged, disciplinarian who put heavy restrictions on women in the church. Later on, in section three, I will address the select Scriptures used by those who believe that the Bible has put limitations on the function of women in church ministry.

        Returning to Romans 16, there are several important points to consider on what Paul says about Phoebe. Paul refers to Phoebe as servant, using the Greek words, diakonos and doulos. The Greek word, diakonos, is where the term deacon is derived from. A deacon in the first century society referred to one who ministered, a slave considered to be a household servant. In the New Testament, diakonos is the word that Paul used to describe the ministry of Christ as well as his own ministry. In the same way, Phoebe was described by the Apostle Paul as a servant, a messenger like Christ, not making any distinctions because of her gender. Paul puts Phoebe on the same level as other church leaders such as Tychais, Epaphras, and Timothy. It is a well-known fact of history that Phoebe was a house church leader in a local church, the church of Cenchreae.

        Phoebe was also the person that Paul probably chose to deliver his letter to the Roman house churches. In Romans 16 he introduces Phoebe as the official letter carrier to the Roman congregation. She read the letter to the congregation and was also able to provide commentary on the doctrinal issues in the book of Romans. Phoebe had proven herself to be a trustworthy and respected church leader to the Apostle Paul, He entrusted Phoebe with the great message of salvation to the Roman world!

        “Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe, the whole future of Christian theology!”

        In verse 2 of Romans 16, Paul recognizes Phoebe as the “patron” or “benefactor” to many people, including me.”

        The Greek word for patron or benefactor is prostatis. The CEV (Contemporary English Version) renders the word, prostatis as “leader” and “defender of many.” According to this Greek word, Phoebe is much more than just a helper.
        In the ancient world, the word prostatis which is equivalent to the word, prostates, had a strong connotation toward leadership. Aristotle used the word prostates to describe a person designated to stand before others as a “democratic leader” or a “protector of the people.” These people were responsible for protecting citizens against the attacks of chief magistrates in power. They would defend the underprivileged in the courts.

        In Rome, prostates served as a technical term for the “leader” or the “president of the Jewish community.” Why wasn’t this same word translated that way and applied to Phoebe? Unfortunately, once again, the poison of bias has crept into the translator’s mind simply because theologians would not believe that the Apostle Paul would ever be in favor of a woman pastor. Yet here in Romans 16, The Apostle Paul commends and praises Phoebe as someone who is a trustworthy close associate that God mightily used in spreading the gospel in addition to also serving as a competent and bold house church leader in Cenchreae.

        God was grieved over the gender discrimination and oppression of women in both the Greek and Roman cultures and raised up Phoebe from the ashes to be a blazing light in the darkness, demonstrating to the world her incredible value and worth as an equal image bearer!




Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.



This is a powerful scene from my book, "Broken yet beautiful: Rising up from their ashes." The pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery to test his reaction. What Jesus does shocks them and challenges their cultural view about the status of women. The reaction of Jesus is the perfect model for the church today on how women should be treated with mercy instead of contempt and ridicule.




     The view of women in the culture of Jesus’s day was both sad and deplorable. Women were treated as second-class citizens by the religious establishment:

“The oral law of Jesus’s day,” “Let the words of the law be burned rather than committed to women!” “The woman,” says the Law, is in all things inferior to man. Let her accordingly be submissive.”
(Apion 2:210)
“Praised be to God that he has not created me a gentile: Praised be to God that he created me not a woman.”      (The thanksgiving prayer of a Jew)

               A Rabbi considered it beneath his dignity to speak in public to a woman.
          
        This was the mood of the Jewish religious culture and it was very hostile to the average woman. It was into this culture that Jesus came to restore the value, dignity and worth of a woman,

        In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, verses 3-11, the Bible unveils a heated scenario between the Pharisees and scribes concerning a woman caught in the act of adultery. They immediately bring the woman to Jesus with motive of testing him. To the religious leaders the woman was merely property owned by her husband and her vile act had brought disgrace upon him. However, it is interesting and perhaps deliberate that the man caught in the offense was conveniently missing. Why hadn’t he been brought to be stoned along with the woman? It is also worth pointing out that the religious leaders were really not interested in upholding God’s moral law, they were instead intent on exposing Jesus as a false prophet and discrediting him. The adulterous woman had become their perfect propaganda tool to confront and discredit the Son of God. Filled with passionate rage they looked Jesus in the eyes and asked the question:

        “Will you have her stoned as the law required?
        The religious leaders were referencing Deuteronomy chapter 22 and verses 23-30.

        The religious leaders had devised an elaborate scheme to expose Jesus as a false prophet. If he agreed with the law in favor of the woman being stoned, then they would point out that he was betraying his reputation among the crowds as being a compassionate rabbi. If, however he spared the woman’s life, they would cry out that he was disobeying the law of Moses and was therefore a false prophet. The religious leaders were convinced they had cornered Jesus into an impossible trap to escape from.

        Jesus knowing the intent of their deceitful hearts, bent down and began writing with his finger in the sand. While theologians have debated for centuries what exactly Jesus was writing, it is possible that he was writing down their individual sins. However, there is a pertinent passage in the Book of Jeremiah that is more likely referring to what Jesus was writing, a passage that speaks of God’s judgment upon a rebellious religious establishment.

        “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountains of living waters.
                                           (Jeremiah 17:13)
        The text should literally read, “those who turn aside from my ways, will have their names written in the dust and blotted out.”

        In writing in the dust with his finger, Jesus was instead pointing the accusing finger of judgment upon the corrupt religious leaders. Jesus stood up and in a precise and confrontational tone pointed his finger of judgment at them exposing their hypocrisy.

        “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her!”

        With this confronting declaration, Jesus forever silenced the mouths of the religious elite. They were unprepared for this heart-piercing confrontation. Their hypocrisy had been exposed and one by one they let the stones fall from their hands and departed.

        In one of the most beautiful scenes in all of the Bible, the adulterous woman was left alone with Jesus. No doubt she was still shaking with fear and anxiety. Yet Jesus shows tenderness, respect and compassion for this woman. He treated her with great value instead of condemning her for her sin. The religious leaders had treated her as damaged goods with malicious contempt, but the Son of God reached out and showed her mercy instead. He showed respect first by acting contrary to the rabbinic code of that day, He spoke to the woman.

        “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

        “No one Lord,” The woman replied.

        “Neither do I condemn you, “Jesus reassured her, “Go and from now on sin no more.”     

                                                *********
 

        This is a beautiful illustration of the compassion and respect that Jesus demonstrated toward women. He confronted the abusive religious leaders, exposed their hypocritical hearts, and stood in defense of this adulterous woman. Jesus did not deny that she had sinned but instead of condemnation he extended grace and mercy toward her. When I read about the horrific stories on the internet of Muslim crowds stoning women to death in Middle-Eastern countries like Pakistan, engaging in honor killings, I immediately think of this beautiful account in John’s gospel. I can picture Jesus standing in defense of these helpless women and pointing the accusing finger back at them. Jesus is the “God of Justice” a defender of the honor of women. He refused to align himself with the false Rabbinic code of his day and instead lifted women out of the gutters of discrimination, restoring to them their dignity as equal image bearers of God.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The future of Iran, 40 years later. What does the Bible say?



Since Khomeini seized power on February 1, 1979, The Iranian people have been prisoners in their own country. Iran has become "one big prison," with thousands of lives lost on the streets covered with blood without any hope of freedom. Yet the Bible promises a future of hope for the Iranian people in a powerful little prophecy hidden in the Book of Jeremiah. "Elam" will have a glorious future!
The following article is featured in our new book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran," in both Kindle and paperback on Amazon.com.




            On February 1, 1979, millions of desperate Iranians filled the streets of Tehran welcoming their new king from exile. The Ayatollah Khomeini stepped down from a 747 jumbo jet that had just arrived at the airport from Paris and proclaimed himself as the new leader of The Islamic Revolution. Iranians were emotionally overwhelmed and very hopeful that the Ayatollah would bring them the true freedom that they had been longing for now since the Shah and his family had went into exile in Egypt.

            It has been 40 years since that historic moment in time and Iranians have gotten everything but true freedom.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has been one of the fiercest totalitarian governments in the Middle East. It has been forty, long and cruel years of oppression under a dictatorship that has replaced freedom with slavery to an ancient system of Sharia Law. There has been forty years of lies and deception, forty years of suppression of human rights, with no religious freedom, and no freedom of speech. Forty years of executions as the penalty for speaking out and disagreeing with the government. Forty years of women being covered and veiled and lashed for failure to adhere to the Islamic dress code. Forty years of the reign of Mullahs who rule your life from the cradle to the grave.

            During the winter uprising of 2017, when Iranian protesters took to the streets in 70 cities demanding that the government get out of Syria and start taking care of them, there was a haunting chant that could be heard summing up the angry mood of the people, “The people are paupers while the Mullahs live like gods!”
            The Iranian economy was in a death spiral due largely to the newly imposed sanctions by the Trump Administration. Instead of sharing the wealth with the people that was gained by the sanction’s relief from the Obama Administration, the Mullahs continued financing their terrorist connections and lived like kings while children slept in cardboard boxes out on the streets. Inflation, poverty, and homelessness saturated the landscape resulting in an increase of suicide from depression and despair. Iranians were desperate for freedom and longed for the glory days when the Persian empire flourished under kings who treated the people with tolerance and justice. One such King was King Cyrus who founded Persia by uniting the Iranian tribes of the Medes and Persians. Although Cyrus, who was known as a great conqueror, was most well known for his tolerance and magnanimous attitude toward those he defeated. When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he was greeted by the grateful cheers of the Jewish community, who welcomed him as a liberator. Cyrus is recognized from the pages of the Bible as being compassionate to the Jews and allowing them to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple. Respect and tolerance were the outstanding qualities of Cyrus who is credited for creating the first Charter of human rights known to mankind. Every October 29, thousands of Iranians pay respect at his grave celebrating King Cyrus Day.

            Iranians are desperately searching for a leader, a liberator, a king like Cyrus who will free them from the oppression and tyranny and return their land to the glory of the Persian Empire. Although not as famous as the ancient King Cyrus, President Donald Trump has reached out to the Iranian people recognizing their right to have a free homeland once again. The Trump Administration has been supportive to Iranians and confronting the regime with their serious human rights violations. Iranians have responded with hope that Trump will be the world leader who will create the right circumstances for an overthrow of the evil regime that has oppressed and enslaved them for the past 40 years. They are rising up with hope and beginning to believe again that there is a future for Iran, a future with the promise of freedom and democracy. The burning question that must be answered is, “Is there a bright future for the Iranian people or will it be 40 more years of death and destruction?”

            The key to answering this very important question is to first recognize that God is the sovereign Lord over history. Scripture provides the answer to this burning question.


“Praise the name of God forever, for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;  
He removes kings and sets up other kings..”


            Daniel 2:20 declares that God is sovereign and that he is the one who sets up kings and kingdoms and removes them for his providential purposes. Satan is not in control of this planet, but rather, as Scripture plainly teaches, God has the final say to the course of world events.
            There is one powerful and insightful passage of Scripture in the Old Testament written more than 2,500 years ago that has tremendous insight into the future of the Iran. I believe that this scripture may very well hold the prophetic key for the future of all Iranians. Prophecy expert, Bill Salus, author of the exciting prophetic book, Nuclear showdown in Iran, comments extensively on this passage of Scripture. Mr. Salus has studied this prophecy in depth and offers what I believe is an exciting and thought-provoking revelation of Iran’s future!


                                  
           “Ancient 2600-Year Old Prophecy Predicts Iran’s Future”
“Iran Has Double Trouble Ahead, Ezekiel 38 and Jeremiah 49”
Jeremiah issued his prophecies concerning Elam about 596 B.C. Jeremiah wrote about Elam about a decade before his contemporary Ezekiel prophesied about Persia in Ezekiel 38:5. Ezekiel’s ministry spanned between 595–573 b.c. Modern-day Iran is comprised of ancient Elam and Persia.

           Ezekiel was familiar with Elam, according to Ezekiel 32: 24-25, but he did not include Elam in the lineup of invaders in Ezekiel 38. Elam was probably intentionally omitted, because it is the subject of its own distinctly different prophecy, outlined by Jeremiah.

           Jeremiah 49:35, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.”
“Iran Continuing Ballistic Missile Program (ICBMs), Says UN Report”
— Israel National News, 5/16/14
“Israeli PM threatens to strike Iran: Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel may have to act against Tehran unilaterally to curb it from achieving its nuclear goal.”
— Al Jazeera, 7/17/13

         The Elamites were warlike people and expert archers, according to Genesis 14:1-9 and Isaiah 22:6. Jeremiah predicts that Iran will suffer the fate of a broken bow, which might imply that the IRGC (Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp) will be unable to launch scores of Missiles at its enemies. Additionally, he declares that Iran will be struck at the foremost place of its might, which today could infer an attack upon its nuclear program. One of Iran’s most strategic and vulnerable nuclear targets is the Bushehr nuclear reactor, located in the heart of ancient Elam.

        Presently, Israel has dual concerns about Iran’s military intentions. They are concerned about Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons, and the rogue regime’s obsession with developing ICBM’s.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 25, 2014, as saying to German Chancellor Merkle.
The goal is to prevent Iran from having the capability to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons. I believe that means zero enrichment, zero centrifuges, zero plutonium, and of course an end to ICBM development. Because none of these elements —none of them—is necessary for developing civilian nuclear energy, which is what Iran has claimed that it wants.
Jeremiah 49:36, “Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
“The Next Chernobyl?”
         Bushehr, however, could turn out to be the most dangerous piece of Iran’s nuclear puzzle for another reason: haphazard planning and ongoing technical problems mean it could be the next Chernobyl, igniting a humanitarian disaster and explosive economic damage across the oil-rich region.
— New York Times, 1/2/13

         Jeremiah informs us that the attack upon the ancient territory of Elam will produce numerous refugees, perhaps even turning into a humanitarian crisis. Exiles will be dispersed worldwide, as if being blown about by overpowering winds. Several studies conducted of the safety of the Bushehr nuclear site have concluded that an accident at the facility could result in such a disaster. Jeremiah 49:37 says
        “For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, says the LORD; And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.”
“Iran: ‘Thousands of Missiles’ to Rain on Israel”
— World Net Daily, 8/28/13
“Saudi Arabia Displays Ballistic Missiles in Likely Display to Iran”
— National Journal 4/30/14
“Iranian Commander; We have Targets Within America”
— The Daily Caller, 2/1/14
Provoking the Lord’s Wrath
        In addition to the Lord, Iran has other enemies in this prophecy. The headlines above depict a few of them. Each enemy, for varying reasons, seeks to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear nation.
Additionally, Jeremiah says that Elam has stirred up the Lord’s anger, and that provokes the Lord to cause a severe disaster inside of Iran.
Perhaps this alludes to a nuclear disaster caused from a strike upon Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. Nuclear Showdown in Iran explains how the present Iranian regime has fiercely angered the Lord.
Jeremiah 49: 38-39, “I will set My throne in Elam, and will destroy from there the king and the princes,” says the LORD. “But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,” says the LORD.
“Open Doors: Growth of Christianity in Iran ‘Explosive’”
— Christian Post, 3/23/12
“Greatest Christian Revival in the World in Iran”
— World Net Daily, 7/25/12




      Jeremiah’s last two verses present the exiles of Jeremiah 49 with great news. Iranians who accept Christ in advance of his second coming will be returned from global exile into the restored fortunes of their historic homeland in Elam. Moreover, Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17) and Elam (Jeremiah 49:38) are the only two earthly locations identified in Scripture for the future establishment of the Lord’s throne.
Presently, several million Iranians have already become born-again believers in Christ. In fact, Iran has the fastest growing evangelical population in the world.  Multitudes of Iranians are accepting Jesus as their Savior through watching Christian satellite tv and experiencing miracles, dreams, visions and healings. This Christian back story is truly the big story of Jeremiah’s prophecy

            Bill Salus has unraveled what I believe is a very key prophecy referring to the latter times. The Jeremiah prophecy refers to the latter times and has not yet been fulfilled. If Jeremiah 49 is really referring to the nation of Iran, there is hope for the Iranian people that have been scattered as refugees all over the world. God states that He will one day set his throne in the center of Elam. He will permanently establish his kingdom there in the midst of Iran.
            Our book began with a fervent prayer to God to “please bring freedom to Iran.”  One day he will do just that. He has promised it and God cannot lie!