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.

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?

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The $5 Sinner’s Prayer

 The other day my wife, Karen, was channel surfing when she came across a very well known preacher who’d just finished his Sunday morning message.
With a perpetual smile on his face, the preacher said something like, “As it is our custom at this church, we’d like to give everyone the opportunity to become a Christian. So, if you want to become a Christian, please repeat after me.” He then went on to pray a traditional sinner’s prayer. What got my attention was what he said after he finished the prayer.
“If you repeated this prayer, you’re now a Christian. Make sure to find yourself a good Bible teaching church,” he said as he continued to smile.
His statement reminded me of the something that happened to me over 35 years ago.
In those days many people hitchhiked. I’d been one of those people for several years. So, when I finally bought my first car, wanting to pay my debt back to all those who’d at one time or another given me a ride, I’d picked up any hitchhiker who came across my path.
One particular day going home from work, I picked up this homeless guy off the freeway on-ramp. He was a tall thin man in his 30s. As soon as he got inside the car, he began coughing and sneezing blowing his nose in the used tissue paper I had stuck in my ashtray—Yes, those days all cars had ashtrays.
As it was my custom when I had a hitchhiker in my car, I began to share the Gospel with the man. Before I could even finish my sentence, he stopped me and said something that I’ll never forget for as long as I live. Very calmly and as a matter of fact he said, “For $5 I’ll repeat the Sinner’s Prayer for you.”
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had someone selling me his sinner’s prayer. He honestly thought he was doing me favor. Apparently, he’d been through this many times and by now he’d realized that by repeating some words, he was going to give me the satisfaction of thinking I’d brought him to Christ and therefore I owed him a few bucks – $5 to be exact.
Is it really true that by repeating some words one automatically becomes a Christian? Only the Lord knows since it is the faith in our hearts and not just the confession our mouths that saves us (Rom. 10:9). Could the above man had gone through the rest of his life repeating the prayer over and over again while making some money, but still end up in hell?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe a simple prayer can save a man’s soul. On the other hand, just because a man has repeated a prayer doesn’t make him a saved person. To assume that is to practice Islamic theology and cheapen the Gospel.
In order to become a Muslim, all you have to do is repeat the following phrase (known as the Shahada) in Arabic: “I testify that there’s no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.” Although it’s desired that one recites the phrase form the heart, a Muslim will rejoice in hearing you repeat the Shahada and will consider you a Muslim. And, it doesn’t matter if you understood a word you’ve said. Case in point, the following video-clip.
In this clip, an Arabic speaking sheikh (Muslim cleric) is guiding a Portuguese soccer player to become a Muslim by repeating the Shahada. Those who speak Arabic will find the clip quite funny, which is not the goal of this blog. My goal is to expose the danger of automatically calling someone a Christian because they have recited the words we put into their mouths.

What is the difference between this sheikh and the above pastor?
PS. I never asked my hitchhiker to repeat after me. Instead, I took him to a restaurant and bought him a nice chicken fried steak dinner.

Where’s The Christian Outrage?

In response to an accidental burning of a few Qurans, the whole Muslim nation of Afghanistan rises up against the very people who’ve sacrificed their country’s best to liberate them forcing the Christian leader of the most powerful country on the face of the earth to apologize to Afghans, but where is the Christian outrage towards the Muslim nations who are persecuting our brothers and sisters every day? Who will speak on their behalf?
Iranian Authorities Order Death Warrant for Pastor Nadarkhani
A US-based ministry has received a report out of Iran that the Iranian courts have signed an execution order for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani…
To continue with this story, please click here:
Christian Arrests Indicate Renewed Crackdown is Underway
Iran’s 1979 revolution, many Iranians believed that an Islamic-based government would offer the reforms and freedoms they had long sought under the Shah…
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Iranian Christian convert sentenced to two years in prison
A Christian convert whom security authorities arrested in her home has been sentenced to two years in prison by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran…
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Historical Christian Cemetery in Iran turned into Residential Area
The graveyard of English Christians is one of the historical sites in Bushehr, Iran, which was also used by Armenian community of Bushehr for the same purpose, but is in serious disrepair and slated for redevelopment.
To continue with this story, please click here:
Iran Ministry of Intelligence issues halt to Farsi speaking services
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has ordered the last two officially registered churches holding Friday Farsi-language services in Tehran to discontinue them…
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Iranian Christian convert sentenced to one year of deprivation of education
In the latest approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to oppose the growth of Christianity, a Christian convert was sentenced to one year of deprivation of education by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
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Church elder seized and imprisoned
A prominent elder of Narmak’s Assembly of God Church in Tehran has been arrested at work by the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of State Security agents…
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Christian arrested in Shiraz
A number of Christian converts were arrested in Shiraz after security authorities raided the residence of a Christian being used as a house church…
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Christian convert, Farshid Fathi, goes on trial in Iran’s Evin Prison
The trial of Farshid Fathi, a Christian convert who has been held in prison for more than a year, has finally been held after being postponed several times for various reasons…
To continue with this story, please click here: http://www.assistNews.net/stories/2012/s12020080.htm
Concern over health condition of Pastor Farhad Sabokroh in prison
Concern is growing in Iran over health condition of Pastor Farhad Sabokroh who was arrested together with two other Christian converts. They have now been in custody for over 40 days…
To continue with this story, please click here:

Honestly, I’m Only An Evangelist And Not An Apocalyptic Expert!

The year was 1979. The Islamic revolution in Iran was in full swing, the American embassy in Tehran was occupied and the American Christian End Times enthusiasts were printing out books like there was literally no tomorrow. One author, referring to an incident in Abraham’s life, called all Iranians “kidnappers” from day one. Another gleefully printed the above photo putting words in Yasser Arafat’s mouth saying, ” And then the Lord will put a hook in your mouth and we’ll all head for Israel—Ezk. 38″ According to these authors, Iran was hell bound. But was she really?

In the last two months, thanks to my publicist, I’ve had over a dozen radio interviews concerning my new book, Shame On You—rising from the ashes of shame to face guilt. The book is about my Muslim upbringing in Iran and it also contrasts my shame-based Iranian culture with the guilt-based culture of the West. The book has nothing to do with the End Times or what the Islamic Republic of Iran is going to do with her WMD once she develops it. However, that has not stopped some of the interviewers from asking my opinion about the future of Iran.
Questions go like this:
“So, do you think Iran has the bomb yet?”
“What do you think Iran is going to do with it?”
“Should Israel attack Iran?”
“What do you think our government should do?”
“Do you believe Mehdi is the antichrist? ”
I’m one interview away from responding with the following:
“Just because I was born in Iran doesn’t make me and expert on the Iranian government any more than you being born in America makes you an expert on what the US government should do with the military drone that is now in Iranian hands. I’m here to talk about Muslim evangelism.”
What’s more interesting is that almost none of these people have ever paid any attention to what the Lord is doing in Iran. They’re completely ignorant of the rate by which Iranians have been turning to Christ since 1979 when they were all supposed to be hell-bound. The rate is so high that it has created a great concern for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Why such a fascination with death and destruction instead of love and salvation?  Why do we hardly hear the good things that the Lord is doing In the Middle East? As we start 2012, let us be thankful for the God-given freedom so many of us take for granted in this country, rejoice with those Muslims who are entering the Kingdom and pray for the ones who are being persecuted simply because they’ve called upon the name of Jesus for their salvation.

I Love My Church, Starbucks II!

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I’ve just dropped my car off to be serviced, and have a couple of hours of waiting, so I go to the Starbucks across the street. This is my second time at this place.
As I sip on my coffee, I notice a couple walk in together. The man walks up to the counter and after ordering his drink, he turns around and asks the lady behind her what she’d like to have. He pays for his purchase and goes to the end of the counter where he’s to pick up his order. Anyone watching the couple would have no problem assuming the two are together, but this is not the case.
When it’s the lady’s turn to order her drink, the barista tells her, “Your drink was already ordered and paid for.”
“By whom?” asks the lady with a very confused look on her face.
“By that guy,” the barrister points to the man who’d walked in before her.
The woman walks up to the guy and thanks him insisting to pay the stranger back when the man says, “Lady, I’m grateful to be alive. Riding my bike here, I almost got killed by a driver who didn’t see me. So, please accept my gift to you.” He then walks out.
“Did you see what just happened?” I ask the gentleman sitting across from me.
“No!”
I go on to explain what just transpired and finish by saying, “May God help us all to see life the way this man just experienced it.”
“Amen!” responded the gentleman.
His quick response causes me to ask, “Where do you go to church?”
It turns out that Mike is a worship leader of a very large church in the neighborhood. We hit it off very pleasantly. We spend the next two hours talking about our faith, worship and the church.
As we’re talking I notice a young lady standing in line can’t take her eyes off me. Eventually she walks up to me and says, “Do you remember me?”
I really don’t, but I fake it. “Of course, I remember you! But can’t remember your name.”
With tears in her eyes she says, “Mehri! I’ve been thinking about you so much lately.”
As soon as I hear her name, I remember her totally. Over ten years ago, she used to be one of my church members. She goes to this Starbucks often, and as fate has it today, she’s come in later than usual. If it were any other day, she would not have run into me.  I introduce her to Mike and after exchanging contact info, we promise each other to meet soon.
Eventually Mike has to leave which gives me a chance to fire up my Mac and update my status on Facebook when another young man sits next to me.
“Are you on Facebook?” he asks with his thick African accent.
“Yes, I am.”
“My name is Zach! Can I be your friend on Facebook?”
“Why do you want to be my friend? You don’t even know me.”
“I’ve never met many of my friends on Facebook. At least I’ve seen you in person.”
I find it fascinating what his generation considers friendship.
“My name is Shah. You’re from Africa, correct?” I say, as I shake his hand.
“Yes, but you’ll never guess where.
“Cote d’lvoire”
“No! Benin. I told you, you’ll never guess.”
I’m not going to argue with him about the fact that I was only a country or so off the mark.
“I have over 350 friends on Facebook, but except for a handful, I’ve never asked anyone to be my friend. They all requested to be my friends,” I continue.
“Why’s that?”
“This way, I’m assured that these people wanted to be my friends because they know who I am and what I believe, so my comments and thoughts will not offend them.”
“So, what is it that you believe?”
I know that question was going to come up, and am ready for it.
“Being from Benin, I assume you’re a Muslim,” I tell him.
“Yes, I am.”
I begin to share my testimony with him from a shame-based perspective, a culture he was raised in. He finds my life-story to be interesting and identifies with much of what he hears. He goes on to tell me about some of his Christian friends who’ve been sharing the same kind of life-stories with him.
As Zach and I are talking, I notice another old friend standing in line. I haven’t seen him for over 8-9 years. It’s good to renew our friendship.
Eventually. I get a call from my mechanic. The car’s ready, and I have to leave. As I walk across the street, I realize, “I had church at the Starbucks this morning.” I had fellowship and renewed friendships, exchanged ideas on church and worship, met some new people, and shared my faith with a Muslim man.
When was the last time you did all this at your Sunday service?
————————————————————————
Since our first meeting, I’ve met with Mike again, and have had the honor of being given the three CDs he’s produced. He’s one talented man of God. I also had a chance to meet with Mehri, my old church member. She’s been through a lot these last 10 years including a divorce, unsuccessful attempt to move back to Iran, the loss of all personal possession, a new, but painful start in America, and battling leukemia.
In our last meeting, after sharing all she’s been through, trying very hard to hold back tears, she said, “Pastor Shahrokh, do you remember the first day I came to your church? I’ve never been the same since. Thank you for introducing me to the Lord. Throughout these past 10 years, He’s been my only true friend. I would have never made it without him in my life.”

I Love MY Church, Starbucks I

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The Bible college where I teach is an hour away from my house. To avoid the morning rush hour, I leave home early, which gets me to the college an hour before my class starts. I spend the hour in the neighborhood Starbucks where I get my tall “Awake” with a maple scone, and get a chance to review my teaching notes for the day.
On this particular day, as I sit down, I notice the young lady sitting across from me is reading her Bible. I automatically assume she’s one of my Bible college students, and ask her, “Whose class are you studying for?”
“It’s a Lit. class,” she tells me.
I’m confused. I know there are no literature classes at the college I teach.
“Do you go to LIFE?”
“What’s LIFE?”
“The Bible college a mile south of here.”
“No, I go to CSULA working on my master’s degree.”
“And, you use the Bible in your class?”
“Yes, one of the assignments is studying the Old Testament as a literary document.”
I’m so intrigue by the conversation, I decide to forgo reading my notes, and spend the next hour getting to know this young lady. From then on, till the end of the semester, I keep meeting with Lisa once a week at Starbucks to talk about life and The Old Testament.
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Lisa is not a believer, but her knowledge of the Old Testament would put many of my students to shame. After getting to know her well enough, I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed by the students in my “Evangelism and Discipleship” class, which she agreed.
On the day of the interview, Lisa sat on a stool in front of the class and let the students ask her questions about her beliefs. Although she was a bit nervous at first, it all went fairly well.
After the class, a student walked up to me and said, “ProfeShah (that’s what they called me) you amaze me. You not only can walk into a Starbucks, and start a conversation with a total stranger, but you can also convince her to come before a class full of Christians and be questioned about her beliefs.”
 “As I’ve been trying to teach you, evangelism is all about a relationship built on trust. Lisa knows I’ll be her friend for life whether she ever decides to follow Christ or not,” I told him.
During the same semester, along with a group of students, Karen and I had Lisa over for a BBQ where she taught the students how to swing dance.
Throughout the years since our first meeting, I’ve continued to stay in touch with Lisa. She’s always been open to hear about my faith and how I became a follower of Christ. At the same time, she’s always made it clear that she prefers to stay a secular person, enjoying her own moral values. So, what took place next was quite a surprise to me.
Last week Lisa called me. She is getting married and she wants me to do the wedding. Apparently, her Catholic fiancé wants to have a church wedding, but doesn’t want it done through the Catholic Church, so, she immediately thought about me.
I met with the couple yesterday. I feel quite honored to officiate the marriage of a young lady I met at my church, Starbucks. I’m looking forward to the privilege of sharing a Christian perspective on marriage with a group of people whom, otherwise, might have not heard it.