How Many Millennials Do You Think Have Experienced God?

One of the best times in my life was when I taught at a Bible college. I taught from 2001 to 2006. I loved it! I spent many hours with about 400-500 young men and women. To some, I became more than just an adjunct professor; I was a caring pastor, who had them to his house at least once a week. Since then, via social media, I’ve kept my relationship with a number of them.

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Reading some of their posts on Facebook over the past several years I realized that since graduation a percentage of my students have either left the church, do not consider themselves Christians, have become agnostic, or even atheists. I was deeply surprised and wanted to know why, so I began to ask questions. This is what I found out.

Some of them left the church because they were disappointed with the metanarrative style of teaching that has distilled Christianity down to a formula. You plug in the right numbers, and the outcome was a life of success, void of disappointments and pain. But these young people painfully asked, “How come my ministry, my marriage, or my business failed? I did all the right things according to what my mentors taught me.”

Some left because of the hypocrisy they saw in their leaders. They desired a level of transparency that was non-existent in their churches. Others left due to a crisis of faith. Once their beliefs were challenged in the real world—outside of their Christian bubble—they weren’t able to rise to the challenge, so they packed up and left. And finally, some left because as Apostle John says, “They did not really belong to us…”

I asked these students, “What made you believe you were a Christian, to begin with?” Some of their answers were: “Well, my parents were Christians.” “I raised my hand at an alter call.” “I went forward when I was 12.” “I said the Sinner’s Prayer when I was in high school.” “I got baptized when I was 8.” “My dad was a pastor and that’s why I went to Bible College.” “I wanted to please my Christian family.”

Almost all of these young men and women have one thing in common, they never experienced God.

Coming into the Kingdom from a Muslim background, I didn’t have a Christian upbringing. I’d never read the Bible. I never went to Church. I didn’t believe in Christ being divine, Son of God, or having died on the Cross. And I definitely never repeated the sinner’s prayer. So, it wasn’t my adequate knowledge of Christ, my moral values, or even the Bible that saved me. It was my “LA Road” experience of Jesus that saved my soul.

It was November 26, 1971. I was riding my motorcycle from Lancaster to Los Angeles, and I simply said, “Jesus if you’re really who these people (my Christian friends) tell me you are, I’ll accept you if…” I didn’t have a light or angels appear to me, but I experienced a presence, a peace that surpasses all understanding, an awareness of a hope that said, “Everything is going tobe OK.” As a result, I felt a sense of purpose for my life. No one can take this away from me. This is something, to my estimation, the above students haven’t experienced.

I realize many Christians believe the word “experience” is an anathema. They say, “Experience cannot be relied upon. After all, even heathens have experiences with the supernatural. What if your experience is from the devil?”

Is it fair to say that with all his knowledge, it was the Burning-Bush experience that brought Moses face to face with YHVH and changed his life forever? Is it correct to say that with all his theological knowledge, Saul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, would have never become Paul the Apostle if he’d not been knocked off his ass on his ass on the road to Damascus? I don’t see any place in the Bible where Paul’s experience was questioned by other Apostles as being suspect.And finally, I remember reading somewhere in my Bible where Jesus said,

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

Do you honestly believe God lets Satan step in when men or women sincerely ask the Lord to reveal himself because God is not into experiences? Is your god that weak and heartless?

Even after all these years, I will not be shaken because no one can ever take my experience away from me, or prove it wrong. Someone could shred the Bible in front of me and prove every word is a lie. They can question my faith and show me all the places in my life where God did not live up to his supposed promises. But it will mean nothing because I know I’ve been touched by someone transcendent, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am convinced with all my heart what this generation of Millennials needs is to experience the Creator, or as they like to call him, the Divine. Are we, the followers of Christ, equipped to create an environment where these young people can experience the living God? If you know the answer, please share it with us. And if you don’t, would you like to know how?

 

 

 

 

 

American Church And Muslim Immigrants!

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an article about a pastor in some Southern state church who had decided to open his church doors to immigrants. It described how the pastor had let a group of immigrants start their own congregation in his building. The blog had been well circulated and received by many people. Among many comments, one that stood out to me was, “This is the kind of church that I want to attend.” It really puzzled me, and I had the following questions:

Really? Prior to his decision to “open his church doors” to immigrants, did the pastor stand on the doorstep and prevent the immigrants from coming in? And to those who were so impressed with this action to open his church doors to immigrants, is this the first time you’ve heard of an American pastor doing something like this? Have you been living under a rock?

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a Muslim background Iranian believer. I immigrated to the US in 1969 and became a follower of Christ in 1971. Maybe this is something common in SoCal, but there are 100s of Anglo churches that share their buildings with immigrant churches.

In 1986, when the first Iranian church in the US (the church I had started 10 years earlier) was looking for a meeting place, The Church On The Way (TCOTW) in San Fernando Valley opened its facilities to us willingly and freely. From the very beginning, the pastor of the church, Jack Hayford, treaded me as one of his staff members even though I was never on the staff. But he never thought what he was doing was out of the ordinary because many other pastors had done similar things before him. In fact, the Hispanic congregation at TCOTW, which had been meeting there long before we came along, eventually became the largest Hispanic congregation in the nation.

I wouldn’t have thought too much about the above article if a couple of days ago I hadn’t seen Christianity Today’s article Missionaries Dreamed Of This Muslim Moment. The article lamented how as the result of President Trump’s “Muslim ban” “evangelical experts on Muslim missions express concerns…”

Before I go any further, it is important my readers understand that I was not a Mr. Trump supporter, nor did I agree with the decision to ban Muslims, regardless of their immigration status, from getting into the US. I believe that decision was extremely ill-advised. However, I do believe in sovereignty of all nations and the right for them to have borders.

Just by reading the title of this article, one could very easily walk away thinking that this administration’s decision has deeply hurt Muslim evangelism, even though it specifically says, “Last year, the United States admitted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, a record high yet survey after survey indicate that white evangelicals are the least excited about their new neighbors.”

In other words, the issue is not Mr. Trump’s decision, but the evangelicals’ lack of interest in reaching Muslims for Christ. By the way, I find it interesting that the survey did not say anything about how the black or Hispanic evangelicals feel about their new neighbors and making this to be solely a white evangelical issue.

I wholeheartedly agree with my dear friend, David Cashin, when he says, “This is the best case we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims.” Not because of what the Christians necessarily have done, but because of how Muslim leaders have exposed Islam for what it is truly about.

On the other hand, I disagree with David when he says,

Would a Muslim feel the American church is a safe place for them? The answer probably is they would not. The more evangelicals come out in favor of Trump’s policies, he said, the more they exclusively view Islam as a threat rather than a ministry opportunity.

First, I’ve worked with Iranian Muslims in America for more than 40 years and I’ve yet to see one who found the church to be an unsafe place. Second, for just as many years, I’ve been saying,

America is the greatest mission field God has given us. He’s brought people of every background to our doorsteps. We can change a whole nation overseas without ever leaving our homes by changing one man or woman. We can accomplish that just by taking a glass of water in Christ’s name to the man or woman who lives across the street from us, who speaks with an accent and wears a turban or a burka.

Unfortunately, in the last 40 years, regardless of the administration in charge, Democrats or Republicans, most evangelical churches of any color have shown very little to no interest in reaching out to their Muslim neighbors.

After reading my book, Shame On You, a friend who used to be the president of a Bible college told me, “Shah, the American church is NOT interested in what you have to offer. Have you thought about becoming a comedian?” I guess he really enjoyed my humorous writing skills.

For years, I took the above statement as a joke, but today I wonder…

Please, No More Information!

Recently I read an article that started with the following statement,

Do you know what your problem is? Your problem is not that you are uninformed. That is what you might have thought your problem was. Your problem is also not that you lack information. This is a common misconception. In fact, people nowadays have lots of information… Ezra Klein’s philosophy in running Vox.com has been precisely this: people do not need facts, they need explanations.

I didn’t agree with the article, but the above statement reminded of a church meeting I’d attended a few days earlier.

The meeting was good. After a great time of worship, the pastor introduced the guest speaker who spent 30 minutes or so talking about how every believer was a light and the salt of this world. He talked about the properties of salt and light. He said what it meant for each believer to have those qualities. He gave examples using a flashlight while the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed. He had us tell the person next to us how precious they were for being the light and salt of this earth. By the time he was done, most of us knew more about salt and light than we needed.who-wants-change

While sitting there, I wondered how many believers in that room weren’t already familiar with Christ’s teaching in Matt 5:13-14? How many needed more information about those verses? How many had not, over and over again, heard what salt and light do? I am sure that for most of those present, the problem was not lack of information, but what to do with it. I’m confident that everyone left the meeting feeling great about who they were in Christ, but to what end?

I am a practical follower of Christ. I believe, at this age, after being a believer for over 40 years, I don’t need more information on what it means to be a disciple/servant of Jesus. What I need is how to implement all I’ve learned about what it means to be a Christian.

I wish, unlike most teachers I’ve heard all these years, our teacher that night had sent us home with some practical steps on how to make our lights shine, or how to attract people to our saltiness, so they become thirsty for the things of God. I wish he had said something like:

Now that you know you are the light and the salt of this world. Now that you’ve become aware of who you are in Christ, I want you to implement what you learned tonight. Go from here and be the light and salt to your own neighborhoods. Fulfill God’s greatest commandment—loving your neighbor through God’s love—by, at least, getting to know your next-door neighbor’s name, offer to mow his/her lawn (if they need it), make a casserole dish and take it to them, or something like that.

In order to be the light and salt of this world, the majority of us doesn’t need any more facts and information on the subject. We need to put to work all that we already know. And for that, we need teachers who can give us simple and yet practical ways to achieve that goal. And for the Church to stop being just a hearer/information gatherer and become a doer also.

Vote For Trump! He’s A Christian.

A few years ago, I posted a blog, The $5 Sinner’s Prayer. In it, I shared a story about my eil_570xN.803635590_hw0hncounter with a very shrewd homeless man. As I began to tell the man how Jesus had changed my life, he abruptly stopped me and said, “For $5, I will repeat the sinner’s prayer with you.” Apparently, he was used to evangelicals having him repeat a prayer that would supposedly make him a Christian.

Even from a psychological perspective, I thought he was worth the $5. I am sure he’d made many naïve evangelicals walk away with the satisfaction of thinking they’d made one more person a Christian by simply having him repeat some words. However, he was also an excellent businessman who’d learned what it was that those evangelicals wanted to hear, and would provide it for them.

Recently, I heard a rumor that went something like this, “Pray for Donald Trump. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently reported that Donald had prayed with a good friend of his to receive Christ and to establish a personal relationship with Him.”

I have not heard or seen Donald make such a confession. In fact, in 2015 when moderator Frank Luntz asked him whether he had ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions, Trump said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there,” he said. “I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

I do realize that as early as last June he softened the above words by saying he hopes not to ask God for “much” forgiveness, but I still have a question for my evangelical friends. If Mr. Trump has prayed a typical “sinner’s prayer” with Dr. Dobson’s friend’s uncle’s cleaning lady’s brother, would he have asked God for blanket forgiveness of all his sins, or just a little for some of the mistakes he might have made?

I know, I know! How dare I question a man’s faith when only God knows a man’s heart? You are absolutely correct. I don’t’ know Trump’s heart. So, I’m supposed to take Dobson’s friend at his words and believe what the man claims. Something that even Donald himself has not claimed.

I just wonder if the same evangelicals were willing to extend as much grace to President Obama, who not only attended church before getting elected, but also on many occasions has confessed to being a Christian? Many might say that they wouldn’t extend the same grace to Obama because “His actions didn’t match his confession!” Do Donald’s actions match his confession? Could it be that he is, like the above homeless man, just a shrewd businessman who knows what it is that we evangelicals need to hear?

You might say, “We need to give Mr. Trump time. After all, he is a new believer.” How much time? Do you honestly believe that a man in his 70s can change overnight because a few days ago, he repeated some magical words? And if this is true, don’t you think we’re setting the man up for failure since there’s no way he would be able to live up to the standards we expect of our Christian politicians—becoming a saint in the next few months before he takes office? How absolutely foolish! Unfortunately, we evangelicals are notorious for doing stuff like this. You have to be my age or older to remember what we did to Bob Dylan after he publically made a confession of faith.

Maybe it’s my Muslim background, or maybe it’s just common sense, but I’ve come to love even more Christ’s words, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In this crooked age, we have to put aside our naiveté and take Jesus’ words much more seriously.

If you want to vote for Mr. Trump, do it because you’re voting your conscience, or as a man on a radio talk show said, “I am voting for Trump because Hillary is the devil that I know.” But PLEASE don’t do it because of a rumor that says he might have said a prayer and now he is a follower of Christ. That’s an insult to my Lord, my faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ and my intelligence.

 

Please Do Not Go To A Bible College 2

A few years ago, I posted a blog, Please Don’t Go To A Bible College. I wrote the article after teaching at a small Bible college for five years and noticing many students committing themselves to thousands of dollars in student loans to earn a four-year degree, which could only land them a job that

  1. a) had nothing to do with so-called ministry and
  2. b) they could have gotten with their high school degree — “Would you like whipped cream on top?”

At the time, I got a lot of feedback on the post, especially from some of my former students. However, a few months ago I received the following long email from David. A young man I’ve never met. To keep this blog as short as possible, I have only included the Reader’s Digest version of David’s email.

Mr. Afshar,

I’ve read your article on not going to Bible College over a dozen times. I agree with you 100%. You have one of the very, very, very few articles on the internet about this subject and I decided to finally email you asking for two things: 1) advice and 2) you write a follow-up article.

After high school, being terrified to be out of God’s will, rather than joining the military to work on nuclear reactors, (An ASVAB test had highly qualified him for that position.) David, who comes from a Pentecostal background, felt he was called to be a missionary, so he went to a Bible college.

After finishing college, he tried to go to Japan as a missionary, but all his plans failed, so he tried to pursue a Master’s program to, as he put it, “…bring another skill to the table…” It was then that he found out his former Bible college’s accreditation was so poor that the only school that would accept him for graduate work was a seminary.

After the door on Japan closed, he applied all over the country for a youth pastor position while “volunteering everywhere like crazy” trying to build up his resume. But he was turned down everywhere mostly due to being single. He couldn’t find a job even at McDonalds or Starbucks.

Today, at the age of 32, David is back to school again starting from scratch. None of his credits, even English, was transferable. He has three more years to complete his BS. He’s already been awarded the engineering student of the year, been put on the board of directors for a non-profit organization that gives scholarship to qualified students, has an internship at an aerospace company, and is waiting to hear back from NASA regarding a grant for a summer project (According to his last text, he got it).

If it wasn’t for the following, we could all say, “All’s well that ends well.” However, this is not the end of the story. David continued with these sobering words:

Going through all of that has left me in a bad shape. I am cynical about the things of God. I have trouble seeing God as someone who is good and blesses. I constantly struggle with disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and regret. I remember imagescountless sermons on hearing how God will, “open doors” ,”bless my sacrifices”, and etc. My anger is affecting my schoolwork now (My 3.81 GPA will drop down considerably after this semester). I don’t have a dating life because no women in her mid-20s to mid-30s wants to marry a guy who doesn’t have a job and won’t get one for at least three years. I did ALL the things I was told to do and this is where it has left me. I’m ashamed of having gone to a Bible college, and these days I do not tell people.

Because I had many students who went through what Dave is experiencing — and I’m deeply sorry to say that some now consider themselves to be atheists — I wrote another post a few years back to deal exactly with the above issues and questions. Please see, Modernity, Post-Modernity, Metanarrative, And….

In that article I showed how the church, in general, has made God a being who operates like a computer: by correctly using a set of programs and algorithms, God will give you the right answer. And if the answers are not what you expected, it is due to your insufficient input (lack of faith, sin in your life, not reading your Bible enough, not praying hard enough, not being present at every church service, not tithing, and…) and hardly ever preparing us for the reaction of a sovereign God whose answers might often be, “NO.”

Dave ended his email with these questions,

How do I move on? How do I get past the regret and anger? How do I get into a good relationship with God? How do I let go? Do I need to see a therapist and who would I see or how do I find one? How do I heal? How do I deal with being sexually frustrated and not being able to do anything for at least three more years and when it is slim pickings in your 30s?

Could you please write another article in case there is anyone like me, who is going through the same thing?

Since receiving this email, I’ve spent a good hour talking to Dave on the phone. He’s a brilliant and articulate young man. I don’t know how much I was able to help him. That’s why I need you to help me answer the above questions. What would you say to Dave? Please give me some practical advice and not just spiritual clichés.

 

Why So Many “Dones” And “Nones”?

As I came out of the bookstore, I had one thought in mind, “I wish I was dead!” The thought of death was the most soothing thought I had had since I’d started college.

The year was 1971 and after two semesters of college, it was obvious that getting a degree in civil engineering, something that had brought me to the US, was not going to be that easy.

In two semesters, I’d gotten nothing but lousy grades, which had made me quite ashamed of being the failure that I’d become. But even more painful was letting down my parents, who had made a great sacrifice to get their oldest to America. So, not being able to live up to a standard that my Iranian culture had set before me, my next step was committing suicide. But that day, as I came out of the school’s bookstore something happened that gave me a glimmer of hope.

As I stepped out the door, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders and my head bowed down, the guy coming towards me was dancing and scat singing. As he got next to me, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “How are you?”

imageedit_2_2122402828Never being one who hides his emotions, but at the same time not expecting anything, I said, “I’m not doing well.”

What happened next, as simple as it might sound to some of my readers, was something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

The man stopped dead in his track and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” A stranger, a man I didn’t know stopped and offered to help me. I needed that so much. I deeply wanted to know that someone cared about this worthless failure of a man.

I don’t remember what happened next. I might have said, “No, thanks! And went on my way” But I still remember that act of kindness, and try to implement it in my Christian walk whenever I can.

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I’m invited to fill in for my friend who is an adjunct professor at a Bible college. As it is my habit, I show up early. Because it was lunchtime, I sit on the retaining wall next to the entrance to the refectory (Whatever happened to the dining hall?). I want to see how the students react towards a stranger who is much older than they are and seems not to belong to their school.

As these Bible college students, our future Christian leaders, begin to pass by me, I stare at them in hope of,

  1. Out of respect for an elder, they would greet me, and
  2. At least by smiling at me, acknowledge me as a man who is made in the image of the God that they would be studying right after lunch.

Out of about 100 students who pass me by, only a few of them acknowledge my being and give me a hurried glance. That breaks my heart. Don’t they realize that I might desperately be in need of a smile, a “how are you?” an affirmation that I am still a human being made in the image of God?

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A day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across of an article about the “Dones” (The believers who’ve left the church) and the “Nones” (The nominal Christians who’ve left the church), lamenting the fact that church attendance is drastically dropping in the US.

Many of these articles sound like Chicken Little running around and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling. People are leaving the church. What can we do to bring them back? Maybe if the church offers better programs, then people will stay and the ’Dones’ will come back and the “Nones’ will be attracted to the church.” But very few talk about why these people have left and why the Millennials are not going to church.

The issue isn’t having better programs. The issue isn’t having strobe lights and fog machines or having the music so loud that you need to hand out earplugs to the parishioners as they enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I personally have no problems with any of that. But that will not solve some of the much deeper issues the church needs to face and resolve.

To think that better programs will solve the crisis the church is facing is like the old joke about a man who had 3 ugly daughters (Upon reading the word “ugly”, I wonder how many of my young readers needed to retreat to their safe spaces while clinging to their teddy bears?). One day as he’s walking on the beach, the man comes across a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.

“For freeing me from this prison, I’ll grant you a wish. What is it that you want?” said the genie.

Showing genie a map, the man said, “ I love Hawaii, but it’s quite expensive to travel there several times a year. I want a bridge over the ocean that will directly connect LA to Hawaii.”

The genie looked at the map and said, “I’m just a genie, not God. What you’re asking is out of my hands. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes! I wish for my daughters to be married. Can you find them husbands?” pleaded the man.

“Do you have a picture of them?”

So, the man excitedly pulled a photo out of his wallet and showed it to the genie upon looking at it, the genie said, “Let me see the map again!”

There’s a broken bridge between the church and the people. Until we rebuild that bridge; until we learn to smile at the old man sitting on the retaining wall rather than being too busy parsing Hebrew and Greek words for our next Sunday sermon on how to love people, until we learn our neighbor’s name who’s lived next to us for several years, until we acknowledge the fact that we’re all made in the image of God and should be treated as such, and until the church learns to love for no reason, but to obey Christ’s commandment, she will continue to be as unattractive as the above three daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Church Has Gold Dust! What About Yours?

water__lights__colors__people_in_awe_by_wokie15-d9345qtI love to talk to young people about spiritual matters. For reasons only God knows, I can connect with people younger than my own children with very little, or no problem at all. And, as a matter of fact, the other day I had one of those interesting conversations with my friend, Henry.

After attending a mega church for the first time, Henry called with a question about a phenomenon that had taken place at the Sunday service. He wanted to know what I thought about the supposed “gold dust” that had appeared in the atmosphere and landed on people during the worship time.

Before I go any further, I know that some of you might be already hot under the collar even at the mention of the phrase, “gold dust” because gold dust is not mentioned in the Bible. Fair enough! By the way, neither is dating, yet I wonder, as the Bible says, how many of my dear friends allowed their parents to choose mates for them? In any case, I promise this post isn’t about the validity or lack of such appearances, but it’s about the outcome of them.

“I have no objections to this phenomenon. I’ve been around these appearances since 1995. I don’t care if they got gold dust coming out of their ears. However, what I have issues with is what they do with it after they leave their gold dust meetings? How is this helping them share the Gospel with those outside the faith?” I told him.

My answer had a lot to do with a discussion I’d earlier had with a young Christian leader whose organization operates in these appearances and prophetic gifts with a great emphasis on worship/loving God.

I’d mentioned to him that Christ’s greatest two commandments to us is to love God and with that love to love our neighbors. That we should use the God-given gifts of the Spirit as tools in sharing the Gospel with a lost world. His answer rather stunned me, “Our ministry is called to fulfill the first part of the commandment—loving God in worship— and not the second!” I didn’t know Christ’s greatest commandment to his disciples could be parsed so decisively. Maybe it’s my English, but I always thought it was called “the great commandment” and not “the great YOU pick and choose”.

In the last 20 years, I’ve spent much of my life focusing on “centering prayer” and intimacy with God, but always with one goal in mind… using what I gain in being closer to my Creator to invite those who don’t know him to follow suit. What are all the worship, prophecies, and intimacy with God going to do for the Kingdom if we don’t love our neighbors through our love for God?

Some might argue that the purpose of the gifts is to strengthen the body of Christ, but to what end? Why do we need to be stronger if it’s not to be better followers of Christ in doing all that He’s commanded us? I have a hard time believing that He allows us to experience some of these manifestations just to make us feel good, which eventually causes some of our gatherings to become nothing but “bless me” clubs. I can’t help but be reminded of James’ admonition, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

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As the technician starts hooking me up to the Echocardiogram machine in my cardiologist’s office, I begin to ask her questions. This is the first time I meet Shirin (It’s pronounced Shee-reen), my Iranian technician. My questions are mainly about her personal life­– questions like how long she’s been in the US, how old she was when she came here, where she was born in Iran, where she went to school and so on.

As I’m talking to her, I’m also praying for the Lord to show me what kind of questions to ask in order to establish trust. To me, the main ingredient for a long lasting relation is winning people’s trust. “No trust, no real relationship!” is my motto. It is to that end that I’m praying.

As I close my eyes, I see a picture. I ask Shirin,

“Are you facing making a big decision in your life?”

She shows no reaction and turns her back on me.

“Boy, I must have blown it,” was my first thought.

Then she turned around and said,

“I don’t like my job. I’m a graphic artist. This is what my parents want me to do. I’d like to leave this job and start being an artist again.”

Then she looks at me and says, “How did you know? Did I give off a vibe?”

I chuckle! “No vibes! It was God, who loves you so much, who uses a total stranger to tell you that He cares for you. In fact, He wants you to know that when you jump, not one parachute, not two parachutes, but He will provide you with three parachutes to make sure you land safely.”

With tears in her eyes, she says, “All I needed was a push.”

The picture I was given was of her standing on the edge of a flying airplane door debating whether she should jump or not.

After the exam, I go to my car and get her one of my books and leave.

This is what I call using the gifts of the Spirit to share the Good News with people you come in contact with every day.

How do you use your God given gifts?

 

 

 

Would Jesus Laugh At A Dirty Joke?

laughingAbout a week ago I had the rare privilege of meeting some friends I hadn’t seen for 43 years. We all grew up in the same area of what at the time was the greatest city in the world—our birthplace, Abadan.

Those of you who’ve read my book know that at our small community in Abadan Iran, we all attended the same school, swam at the same pool, went to the same clubs and attended the same movie theaters. Consequently, we knew each other very well.

The four of us, among whom one is a believer, spent the first hour of our meeting reminiscing about those glorious days in Abadan, but then everything changed when our fourth friend joined us.

By nature, most Iranians are joke tellers. And, as one of the guys who speaks 5 different languages said, “There’s no other language that tells jokes better than Farsi.” No sooner our fourth friend joined us, jokes began to fly. By the way, some of these were dirty, but FUNNY!

At this juncture of my story, long before I am able to finish the rest of it, the few Christians I’ve shared it with have all rolled their eyes and made comments that surmounted to, “How dare they?”

As I was sitting there laughing my head off —Did I tell you that the jokes were dirty? I began to wonder how, so often, we Christians are not worried about what Jesus might think about something we’re doing, but what other Christians might think about it. That’s why many of us could never live like Jesus out of the fear of APPEARANCE—not what something actually is, but what it might come across as. Personally, I gave up the above fear long time ago. It is more important for me to be like Jesus than what some people might think of me.

You see, I didn’t’ get together with my friends as a “Morality Police”. My intention that evening was to enjoy my reunion with some great friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. I wasn’t there to correct them, especially since I wasn’t bothered by their jokes. I wanted them to know that I loved and accepted them for just who they were and where they were in life.

As I sat in the outdoor café laughing, I asked the Lord for an opening, which didn’t come till the end of the evening. After almost three hours of non-stop laughter, when everyone was about to say goodnight and leave, I asked if I could have just a few more minutes of their time. I then shared my journey with Jesus, which was received with an open sincerity. By then, there was no doubt that they knew I wasn’t there to judge them for laughing at some funny jokes, albeit, dirty funny jokes and I had gained the right to speak the Truth into their lives.

If we believe what the gospels tell us about Jesus, then we know He spent an awful amount of time hanging out with people who were considered to be the scum of the earth. I’m sure being around these homies; Jesus must have heard a few dirty jokes. But I don’t read anywhere that He rebuked anyone for not living up to HIS standards off the bat. And that’s exactly how I wanted to treat my homies.

The starting point for Jesus was where people were, and not where He wanted them to be. He never expected the homies of his time to start from where He was before He would befriend them at exactly where they were

What is YOUR starting point?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Quoting Scripture At People Solves Their Problems?

d4ef35196c669263d088472aac80174dMy two little dogs were going crazy in the backyard. They were barking alarmingly and jumping at the back fence. Something was up! This was not a normal behavior for them. So I went to where they were, looked over the five-foot cinderblock fence, and saw six coyotes standing on the other side while one was jumping up and down to see what was in my yard. They knew my dogs were there, but were trying to scope it out to see if they could get over. I yelled at the coyotes, but they barely moved, so I threw rocks at them and they ran away. I’d been told many times that animals will not jump over fences if they don’t know what’s on the other side, but these coyotes proved me wrong.

The next day I was talking with a couple of neighbors about what had happened, and I asked them if they’d ever heard of coyotes trying to jump over fences. Instead of answering my question, one of them said, “We live in an area with all kinds of wild animals; it is our responsibility to keep our dogs safe.” REALY!!! Luckily, my first thought didn’t come out of my mouth, but I thought, “I have taken care of these dogs for more than five years and you think I don’t know that?” How was her comment helpful? It wasn’t.

This reminded me of another conversation I had with some friends who are long-time Christians. I was telling them how for years I have prayed to be less prideful. I related how God has been able to lessen it considerably, but recently it reared its ugly head, and I struggled with it once again. Immediately, one of my friends said, “Pride goes before a fall.” Of course, quoting Proverbs 16:18. REALLY!!! “After living as a Christian for more than 20 years, do you think I don’t know that?” I asked. My other friend then related to us how he too has prayed for more than 40 years for God to take away his anger. Yet, it is something he continues to struggle with. Now we could have quoted to him Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” But would it really help? I think not.

I must admit, I am more readily willing to share my struggles with my friend who related his own struggles than the one who quoted Scripture at me. Often, quoting Scripture at people, especially those who’ve been followers of Christ for a long time, alienates them, and shuts them down. They often feel invalidated, rejected, unsure about themselves, and sometimes even about their relationship with God. Just because I know Scripture doesn’t mean I am not human. I am still fallible. I still make mistakes. I still fall short. I believe both friends wanted to help, but only one showed empathy, and it wasn’t the one who quoted Scripture.

As a bit of subtle irony, I will quote Scripture here, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” To simply quote a Bible verse at someone as if it is magically going to solve some problem, comes across way too often as sounding brass. Don’t get me wrong the Bible is great for instruction and guiding our lives, but to think we can merely quote it to solve another person’s problems misses the mark. It removes us from having empathy toward one another.

Recent research has shown that our society is losing its ability to empathize. Over the past 20 years, among college-age students, empathy has decreased 40 percent, and the greatest amount of decline has happened within the last 10 years. This is not a problem only among younger people, it affects us all. You might think this is due to more and more people not going to church, but the culprit is digital technology, namely our cell phones. As a society—yes, church goers included—we are communicating less and less in person. We are losing our capacity to show empathy. We are losing our ability to connect meaningfully with other human beings.

Going back to the conversation with my two Christian friends, by admitting our struggles to one another, it didn’t give us license to feel free to be more prideful or angry. Instead, we connected in our humanness, knowing full well that we will continue to try to be the best people we can be each day. In other words, we empathized with one another. In our society that is losing its ability to connect in a humane way, what a great time to love people, empathize with them, and make a human connection. To me, this is what means to be the light and salt of this world. What better way is there for us to be witnesses of God’s love than to empathize?

By CK Miller