Being In The Middle Is Not Easy

As a Muslim background believer, I have certain beliefs that put me at odds with some Christians. For example, I have no firm Eschatological stance on the part that Israel plays in the Second Coming. Some evangelicals automatically assume that I hate the Jews because of my Muslim background, or even worse, they might question my salvation as if it is based on a firm support of Israel rather than my faith in Christ.
The other day I was listening to Dr. Doda (not his real name), a mega-church pastor, being interviewed on a radio talk show. Our doctor is known for his partnership with the nation of Israel and has written books on the subject. During the course of the interview, he made the comment that the future of America rests upon her supporting Israel. When the interviewer asked why, he quoted what the Lord said to Abraham (Gen. 12:13), an interpretation that, for many years, has been argued for and against. I leave that argument to smarter people and theologians of which I’m neither. The conversation hit home with me when the subject of Iran came up.
Very confidently, Dr. Doda said something like, “As Ezekiel tells us, Iran and Russia will join forces to attack Israel and that’s when God will destroy them both.” I was rather shocked at the glib and nonchalant way this man of God was referring to the destruction of millions of people. “If what you’re saying is true, Dr. Doda, shouldn’t you be doing all you can to introduce these masses of humanity to Christ?” I asked myself. Not once during the interview was it brought up that in the midst of all this confusion and political unrest, our Lord has made Iran the fastest Muslim country coming to Christ. I guess that couldn’t be as important as what one should or should not believe when it comes to supporting Israel.
On the other hand, there are those Christians who question my sincerity in Christ and love for Muslims because of my stance against Islam as a religion. According to them, somehow being a Christian should prevent me from criticizing the religion of my fathers.  And since apparently I support Israel by cautioning the Church about the advancement of Islam in the West, I’m somehow encouraging people to hate Muslims. I guess this group of Christians assumes because I left Islam I automatically hate Muslims.
For almost 30 years I pastored the most unique church on the face of the earth. It consisted of 50% Muslim background Iranian believers and 50% Messianic Jewish Iranians. I find it rather amusing that a majority of those Christians who are so diligent in supporting Israel as the nation and people of God have never raised a finger to win one Jew to Christ. And, on the other hand, many of those Christians who are so concerned about me offending Islam have never had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with one Muslim. I have done both. I don’t hate Israel or Muslims and my record speaks for itself.
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41 thoughts on “Being In The Middle Is Not Easy

  1. People naturally fear what they don't understand. Most don't take the time to understand so they wind up relying on someone else's opinion rather than forming their own. Then they feel threatened if someone outside of their “box” invades their “box” because they can't defend what they don't understand. And so it goes…

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  2. I'm so appreciative of your thoughts here. I can't tell you how many times I've sat through conversations when people have spoken of Iran in this way without considering the millions who have yet to receive Christ much less the fact that I have people in my family whom I love there! There is a serious disconnect, perhaps from the seared concious we now have thanks to media and books like Dr. Dodo's. I do hope you will write/post more from your perspective in the middle because it is unique and well informed and your heart is clearly shared with Jesus. Thanks.

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  3. L5, thank you so much for your kind words. As I've always said, I'm so honored when people read my blogs. I don't mind people not liking the government of Iran or those who run the country. I don't like them either. But, there is something wrong when we use such vague Bible passages to prove a political point. By the way, my book is almost ready for the press. Please pray for me. Which part of Iran are you from?

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  4. Precious Shah, I can't imagine who could ever say that you hate Jews or Muslims. I know that you love them both. I will never forget when I was doing your books and wrote that letter to you…do you remember dear friend? It was because of working with the Iranian believers, because of a Jew, that I really came to understand what John 3:16 means. God so loved that world that who so ever believes…Jew, Muslim, anyone and you have been a strong witness to both. There has been a lot of sadness in your ministry. I am sad for this and I love you so dearly. Your friend eternally, Debbie Byars

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  5. Shah,

    Thanks for this amazing spiritual food. I also remain rather divided on the mainstrem Christian interpretation of how the Biblical prophecies about Israel tie into the modern day state of Israel, and have often felt slighted or looked down upon by other Christians for not accepting the mainstream view without question. I believe that there is a lot of blood on the hands of Israel right now as far as sin goes regarding their treatment of the Palestinians and such, and that they are not a nation that is spiritally seeking God overall, and so I do not see how we are going to say we should blindly support a nation doing that. And yet, the Bible says what it says, and the Jews are precious to God, even if they are secular Jews living in sin. I am waiting for revelation from God on exactly how the prophecies tie in to today. I also get irritated when people place America's support of Israel as the primary condition for God to bless our land, when in fact I think the primary condition is based on how much we are wholeheartedly seeking Him. I am also irritated when people have a lot to say on the topic of Islam and Judaism and such, but yet do nothing to reach out to them whatsoever. I am a bit surprised that Christians expect you to love Islam; that is weird to me. Mostly for me I encounter believers that expect me to hate Islam and be scared of the Muslims, and when I tell them they are just people and we need to love them like everyone else and share the Gospel with them, they get weird.

    That is awesome what you shared about Iran. Thank you for that encouragement on how God is working in that land.

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  6. Shah, I like you…

    I believe in you and your work in the gospel. I think your words are true, thanks for sharing them. I think our pastor friend forgets grace and John 3:16-17 when he talks in terms of destruction of countries. They can do the same when they talk about earthquakes and famines in the end times. As believers these are painful things for those “for whom Christ died”. In kindness we dialogue, thanks my friend.

    And as a friend once told me, Shah you alright, I don't care what anyone says about you.

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  7. Hi Shah – thanks for sending this. Evidently you are receiving some criticism from various circles eh? I want to comment on several things you bring up. For the most part, I am 100% with you, except for when you say that you are against Islam. If Christians are to be against Islam, then we need to be against everything that tries to take the attention and allegiance from all human beings from following the Creator God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This would include us being against (and speaking against and warning Christians and Americans from) materialism, secularism, pluralism, new age religions, modern Judaism (can people find Jesus through contemporary Judaism as practiced today?), greed, lust, and on and on, as there are idols tempting man in every corner of the earth, even where Islam isn’t. I don’t see that Jesus criticized other religions or people in general, only hypocrites who used religion for their own gain. I am starting to see that this is the case within Islam also, that the carnal nature takes control and people end up using religion for their own benefit.

    An interesting take on this is that I am from a Jewish Background. Lately I have been thinking about how I don’t bad mouth or speak bad against Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, or those who even fight against us. We are commanded to love, and I understand that without the love of God being poured into our hearts (through the Messiah Christ), how can we expect anyone to act in the ways that we think are right? Something I don’t understand is why so many MBBs are AGAINST Islam, rather than having compassion on the people and realizing that so many are doing what they think is right and trying to please God. How can we be against people who are believing that they are following God? I feel that we need to not be against them, but to come along side them and to help them see the way more clearly. If we become friends with them, and walk with them, then they will see where we walk, and if our lights are shining, then they will see the light (if they are able and God has mercy on them to cause their eyes to see). Even if they don’t, we should honor them for their zeal in trying to do what is right and to please God.

    In studying the origins of Islam I find that much of Islam is built on a continuation of the true desire to worship the One true Creator God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. True, Muslims have some things wrong, but compared to heathen and pagan Americans, they are much closer to the Kingdom. And, after all, our goal is not to build the religion of Christianity (where man prevails) but the Kingdom ( where the King rules).

    Blessings to you dear brother

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  8. Dear Shah. I apologize for the many Christians who identify the modern state of Israel with the restoration that the Bible speaks of. We need to remembr that the Old Testament prophets spoike against injustice to anyone, and while there is no doubt that there have been terrible attracts against the state of Israel, that state has also been guilty of injustice against many Palestinians.
    The Gospel i know calls us to love, respect men and women of every cultural and religious background, calling all of us to faithful discipleship following Jesus Christ.
    Keep us the good work.

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  9. I am so happy to have met you, Shah. I am happy to meet Christians in general, but you more so, because you are different than my “western” friends. I so want to know your perspective on things. Same when I talk with a very religious Jew, I want his perspective on the O.T. I actually talk with them like an older brother with whom I have a spiritual connection, for we worship the same God, though he has not recognized his Messiah as Yeshua, my savior. Dennis Prager is an example of a Jew with whom I have koinonia, in spite of obvious our different beliefs.

    You, Shah, have walked where so very, very few have. To me, you are a unique personality. You are special. Being in the faith for 52 years, in service to Christ in 4 churches, many missions around the world, in the military, and in jails and prisons, I have yet to meet a converted Muslim. In spite of my wider-than-most exposure to people different than myself, like most Christians I live in a bubble of sorts.

    You recognize the uniqueness of your bubble, and the uniqueness of the rejection you've experienced in our common bubble, the Church. There is so much more to the story than I know, but I sense the hurt I've known so many to experience in their involvement with denominational Christianity. The exclusivity of their pet theologies makes them special in their own eyes and those who are in anyway different are expected to change or leave, certainly not “lead” as you were called to do.

    Eschatology is not ministry and should have no experts even among those who look forward to His coming. But, neither is there ministry in intentional martyrdom. You point out your differences in a somewhat negative way most likely due to things you've suffered in church ministry. Who would ever think that in The House of God, The Family of God, a very special servant should suffer persecution? The one who expected something else. If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, my dear brother in Christ, it is good enough for you. Expectation is the handmaiden of disappointment, my teacher often warned us.

    So, how can we see the would-be theological giants in every church of every denomination as innocent children of God and not the Pharisees they seem to be? How can we see them as worthy of our pouring out our lives in ministry to them when they reject the message and kill the servant? First, we need to remember, as our Lord does with us, that we are all but dust, thus we have the treasure of the Holy Spirit in an earthen vessel. Our flesh is weak. The flesh of the flock and all of the earthly shepherds too is weak. So, take up your cross daily and expect no honor or respect by those in your own house, even the House of God. Expect to be misunderstood by those you love and are called to serve by dying for them daily. Be a witness of love and sacrifice to the Church by opening their eyes to the concept of loving their neighbors, because most of us very easily forget who our neighbors are, let alone our enemies!

    Again, you are uniquely called to a very special Ministry of Reconciliation. I pray that God can give you wisdom to be a willing Marteus, able to focus your attention on the deaf and blind in the church without feeling a victim of the martyrdom common to ministry.

    I, personally, hope to get to know you better and learn from you.

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  10. Dear Dav,
    Thank you for all your kind words. I'm just as honored and happy to have met you too.

    How true it is that we refuse to learn from our past and history. Somehow our arrogance makes us feel that what applied to others is not applicable to us.

    I started to do another blog which starts this way,

    I need to be motivated to write. Often the motivating agent is anger, which can easily be misunderstood for bitterness or lack of forgiveness. The other day I was sharing my concern with my friend, Nate.

    “Some people mistake my anger for bitterness,” I told Nate.

    “Shah, if you have passion, you have anger. There’s no passion without anger, ” replied my friend.

    All that to say, I am not bitter or carry unforgiveness. I'm more like the US government, which for almost 9 years sought JUSTICE regarding 9/11. You see, as one raised in a shame-based culture, I'm supposed to revere revenge, however, as a follower of Christ, I've learned to revere justice. I believe if more Christians stood up for justice, the church would have been a very different place. I feel, often, in the name of forgiveness or out of the fear of being labeled as bitter, we hide from seeking justice. Seeking justice is just as important to me as demanding forgiveness is for most Western Christians. I believe the Lord wants us to show both and not over look one at the expense of another.

    I expect to be respected just as much as the, “theological giants in every church of every denomination” as you call them. Where does it say in the Bible that they deserve more respect than you and me. If anything, I see Nathan, the prophet, rebuking David, God's anointed. Was Nathan disrespecting David, or did have martyrdom complex? Is there a time for all God's giants to realize that they are dust too and should be willing to receive corrections from a much lower ranking person?

    I look forward to talking to you face to face at my church, Sunland Starbucks. Emails are emotionless and prone to misunderstanding. I appreciate hanging out with you.

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  11. Thanks for this, Shah!!!

    BRILLIANT!!!!

    Every day I am learning that GOD cannot be restricted to theological or sociological boxes of HUMAN devising.

    Every time MAN in his limited wisdom comes up with a formulaic approach to understanding GOD, God does something totally unexpected.

    AND, I am in total agreement (more every day) at how we cannot fully KNOW the infinite mind of GOD with our very limited minds, and therefore how can we presume to pronounce judgement upon millions of people as if we were sitting upon the throne of God. WE do not know, and cannot presume or pretend to know God's intimate and personal dealings with the hearts of individuals, especially in their crucial moments or final moments. We cannot even presume to claim that we always fully know and understand our nearest and dearest…

    The CHURCH's view of 'end times' may be as warped, off-base, and off-target as the Jewish Leadership's conception of MESSIAH was a bit off when Jesus came in a form they did not expect, and would not accept. GOD is always climbing out of (or indeed SMASHING) man's tiny boxes.

    Our mission is to love people into the kingdom.
    As St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach the GOSPEL. If necessary, use words.”

    Bless you Shah!
    Did you publish this on your blog? Or on fb?

    Btw, LOVE this poem; think it speaks to this very issue; thought you might enjoy it:

    What is the difference

    Between your Existence

    And that of a Saint?

    The Saint knows

    That the spiritual path

    Is a sublime chess game with God

    And that the Beloved

    Has just made such a Fantastic Move

    That the Saint is now continually

    Tripping over joy

    And Bursting out in Laughter

    And saying, “I Surrender!”

    Whereas, my dear,

    I am afraid you still think

    You have a thousand serious moves.

    “Tripping Over Joy”-Hafiz-

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  12. Shahrokh joon,

    I am thankful to God for you!!! You are a breath of fresh air in the Church and though it may be painful for you to be in the middle, rest assured that there are many who are blessed by you very much.

    May the Lord use your unique place and perspective to bless His church; on the left, on the right, up, down and in the middle 🙂

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  13. I think the Dr Doda you are referring to is John Hagee. If not it sure sounds like him.
    The idea of iran and Russia joining forces to attack Israel is known in the Bible and Gog and Magog. Many people have figured out that Gog and Magog are Russia and Iran but they never read Revelation 20:7-9 that plainly says the whole Gog and Magog invasion happens AFTER the Millenium or AT LEAST a THOUSAND years from now.

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  14. BROTHER, THIS IS SO HEART BREAKING. THANK YOU FOR YOUR CLEAR AND FAITHFUL STAND FOR THE GOSPEL.

    Do you mind if I send this to some of my friends who are struggling with these issues to encourage them? Can I include your name and email or shall I just send the email without your name?

    Thanks and God bless,

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  15. Thank you so much for the sharing. I fully agree with you especially since the Lord is increasing my passion for Muslims. I too believe that Iran will join other forces against Israel, but this isn't my concern. I'm concerned with those peoples and others coming to Christ

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  16. Good article–I have felt some of the same feelings and had similar thoughts from time to time. Having tried to share Jesus with Jews and Muslims, and a few 'Christians” too!
    keep sharing

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  17. Hi Shah,

    Thank you for this. Just wanted to let you know that my friend, Ali, attended our church today for the very first time. He states he was never Muslim, that many in Iran are nothing. He totally broke down and wept during our Praise and Worship time. He is a young man going to college and he is outstanding. He has many, many problems but we have pointed him to Jesus and he believes.

    Also, I sent one of your old emails to my friend, Zahra, from Iran. She is a godly woman in our church and on fire for the Lord and a dear friend. She may email you.

    Bless you,

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  18. Hi Shah;
    it is good to hear from you now and then. You always bring a “middle” point of view that is not heard by this christian anywhere else. I wonder if you have ever written at least an essay, or short book on the position which you hold. You outlined in the sparest fashion in the recent letter, a lot of material that would be most helpful to the perspective of many Christians who have only heard from “Dr. Doda” and have a hunch that there must be something more to it than that. I personally would like to hear the full-blown explanation of all the points you outlined in the comments about Dr. Doda's position.

    Even if you e-published it on Barnes and Nobles “pubit” site, it would be readily available for anyone we wanted to tell about it.

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  19. Dan, thanks much for your kind comments and the link. I can't tell you how honored I feel.

    I guess my problem is that I don't have any particular views on the End Times. I'm an evangelist who's more concerned with the present state of man's soul than he is with the future of the world. If my concern is wrong, may the Lord forgive me. And, that's why I've never written anything about the subject.

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  20. There is a book is by George Eldon Ladd called “the Last things”. This might be a bit hard to find since its an old book, but since you are in the US anything is possible. One thing for sure is am not a dispensationalist like your Dr Doda friend.

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  21. Siseho, how good it is to hear from you, my African bro.

    Over 10 years ago, I read Ladd's book at least twice and still didn't understand it. As I told another brother,

    “I guess my problem is that I don't have any particular views on the End Times. I'm an evangelist who's more concerned with the present state of man's soul than he is with the future of the world. If my concern is wrong, may the Lord forgive me.”

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  22. They have never won a Jew to Christ or shared the gospel with a Muslim, OR met you! Haha
    You are the soul reason I am such a believer today.
    Thank you for the email

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  23. Shah, I appreciate the balance you strive for in your ministry. Rather than talking about it, you just did it — for 30 years no less. Our current climate is so politicized, and because you don't fully 'belong' to either side, you become a target. Make sure you keep folks around you who will pray — it can't be easy what you are doing for the body of christ. but totally needed.
    Peace

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  24. Dear Brother Afshar,
    Thank you for your recent blog, which seemed heart-felt and sounded as if, in the face of some skepticism toward you, positive feedback would do you good. I think I understand what you said, have no problem with it and think it may help some who otherwise cannot entertain or respect the concept of conversion outside of the norm parameters of common American church experiences.
    Last year I retired from a local pastorate and, after many years of being too busy, began to paint again. Did three paintings, and put them on YouTube. One is a resurrection piece, in which Jesus is presented as a Mediterranean-Palestine area Semite, a young, strong, hard working carpenter in the prime of life as he rises from the death couch.
    The clip is done in a non churchy way, just talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I did this with the idea that Muslims, Arabs, Jews, atheists and others would be addressed respectfully and thus may hear and think thoughts they otherwise never think.
    Tuesday, I was in a Kinkos to copy a tedious amount of receipts and records for my attorney and I had my laptop with me. A nice Muslim woman was there and liked the art on my laptop background, which opened the door for me to share the first piece about the 2008 Obama election, the second, an Abraham Lincoln piece. Then, after she told me she liked the art, I told her I had another clip, a resurrection piece and asked if she would feel offended if I showed it to her. This Muslim lady saw the whole clip and then we talked a bit afterward. I did not try to “close the deal,” but I trust the Lord that a seed is planted or watered and perhaps I will get to talk to her on this again.
    Here is a link to the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqXkjBR9rmQ
    God bless and be encouraged,

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  25. Dear Frank,

    I watched your Utube clip. I wish I had 1/10 of your talent. Artist such as yourself amaze me. As far as I'm concerned,To be able to transfer an image that you have in your mind to a canvas is a pure miracle. Truly, we are all made in God's image to be able to create as beautiful a painting as yours.

    Yes, I believe your interaction with the Muslim lady was God ordained and depending on how she deals with the seed you (your painting) planted in her heart, the Lord himself will close the deal.

    Thank you for sharing your clip and the story with me. May the Lord to continue to use you even more greatly in this stage of your life.

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  26. I have just finished your book. Thank you for the candid sharing of perspectives not clearly shared before in my circle of awareness. The honest willingness to broach topics most of Americans would not understand. You have done so in a humorous and open way that anyone that can read will enjoy and gain understanding of shamed based cultures. Thank you for showing the grace and faithfulness of God to answer your questions where you were and yet helping you move forward in your understanding of God and His dealings with you.
    I want to add my recommendation to others of a book that will make a huge difference in your life and attitude toward people with a shame-based cultural background.
    May God bless you and open many doors to you.
    Gary

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  27. Hey Gary, this is so encouraging. Thank you!I hope the word gets around and people read the book. I believe,as you said, there's a message there that the church in America needs to hear. Thank you again.

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