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.

The Gays And The Persecution Of Christians…

Coca-Cola removed the images which were published on its website
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As I was watching the news, there they were, a group of gay activists pouring Coca Cola down the gutter in front of the company’s global headquarters in Atlanta. This was the US gay community’s way of protesting the poor treatment of gays in Russia.
“But, what did Coke have to do with the Russian government’s poor treatment of gays?” one might ask. Well, in a few days, Russia is hosting the Winter Olympics, and as usual, Coca-Cola is sponsoring the American athletes participating in the games. The protesters were urging the company to call for a repeal of Russia’s anti-gay laws before 2014 Winter Olympics.According to the group, more than 140,000 All Out members sent messages to the company’s CEO urging Coca-Cola to speak out against Russian anti-gay propaganda.
As I watched the news report, I marveled at the US gay community’s support for the persecuted gays in Russia, and began to compare their action with the US evangelical churches reaction to the worldwide persecution of Christians. By the way, the issue here has nothing to do with one’s acceptance or rejection of the gay lifestyle. However, it has everything to do with opposing oppressive governments, or regimes that persecute, mistreat, or harm those who believe the same as you do.
I did a search on the Internet to see when was the last time a group of US Christians protested to bring attention to the persecuted church around the world. I ran across a lot of articles on the subject of persecution, or articles where you are encouraged to send emails to some governments demanding the freedom of this or that Christian. There were articles about the Pope speaking against the persecution of Christians in some Muslim countries, but nothing about even a handful of Christians actually showing up anywhere in the US to bring attention to this crucial subject. Somehow, praying, writing emails, or expecting the US government to protest on our behalf should be enough.
Speaking of the US government, let’s assume it was Iraq that had conquered America. Do you know one of the first things they would do? Turn many of our churches into mosques. We, not only didn’t do such a thing, but the church in Iraq is much worse off today than it was under Sadam’s regime. Governments and politicians, in general, do what’s expedient and beneficial to them. It took the US government over 1000 days before they even protested the arrest of American Pastor, Saeed Abedini in Iran. By the way, he’s still in prison.
On the other hand, there was my good friend, Eddie Romero, a Chicano US pastor from Southern California, who, on behalf of five imprisoned Iranian Christians, went to Iran to purposely get himself arrested by the government and bring attention to the persecuted church. Although the Christians in general applauded him, there were some who thought he was crazy. “His action can bring more harm to the Christians in Iran,” they said. To which Eddie replied, “For too long we have stood behind the walls these governments have erected and tried to communicate with them by throwing emails and letters of protest over the wall in the hope of making a difference. I want to go in and make them talk to me face to face.” I was honored to be a part of the team that helped Pastor Eddied fulfill his goal. By the way, a week after Pastor Eddie was deported back to the US, one of the five he was protesting for was released from prison.
Come dream with me. Wouldn’t it be an amazing event if the Christians in this country called a march on DC to protest on behalf of the persecuted church around the world?  If for nothing else, the march will encourage all our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world to stand fast and know they are not forgotten.

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.

What Are All These Foreigners Doing In My Country?

Years ago I was invited to teach a workshop at a large denominational convention. I was given an hour to teach on Islam and Muslim evangelism. However, at the last minute I was told I would be sharing my teaching time with a Native American brother who was going to teach on reaching his nation.

In less than 30 minutes, we were each expected to give solutions to some of the most complex challenges facing the American church. To add insult to injury, directly across from our classroom was going to be a very well known mega church pastor teaching a workshop on “church growth”.

Having faced situations like this over and over again for many years, I decided to even out the odds and placed a sign on the other workshop’s door telling the attendees that the room was switched to ours.

Within a few minutes before our class was to start, pastors began to pour in trying to grab any seat they could find. Eventually, the class was filled to its capacity with standing room only. That’s when I calmly got up to introduce myself.

“Hi, my name is Shahrokh Afshar. My friends call me Shah, but you can call me Shahrokh. Next to me is Pastor ‘Pretty on the Top’ and we are going to be your teachers for the next 60 minutes.”

That’s when one of the pastors in the back shouted, “Where’s Pastor Jack?”

“Jack who?” I replied

Needless to say, within a few seconds my class emptied— as if the rapture had taken place and only seven of us were left behind. It was obvious that to most of those pastors, church growth took precedence over evangelism, including Muslim and Native American evangelism, which are two of the least evangelized people groups in the entire world.

Four of the five pastors in the room had intended to be there all along, but after realizing the prank I’d pulled, the fifth guy stayed because he told himself, “Anyone who can pull something like this on Pastor Jack is worth listening to.” Ted and I have been great friends ever since.

It frustrates me to no end to see that even after 9/11 how much most pastors in America still operate with the above mindset—looking for the magic formula that can turn their small fellowship into a mega church overnight instead of doing the work of an evangelist, especially among these two grossly under-reached groups.

Every once in a while, I challenge believers to do the following the next time they are at church:
Before the service starts, request that your pastor ask the church members this question: ‘How many of you were saved at this church and how many of you transferred here from another church?’ If the pastor is willing to ask such a question, you’ll be shocked by the result. You’ll find out that a good 80-90% of your church members have transferred from other churches for whatever reason and are what I call “Recycled Christians”.

By the way, I’ve been to churches where 100% of the members were Recycled Christians.

“Look around you,” I often direct American pastors. “You and your church members can all be missionaries to any people group you desire without having to ever leave your home. God has brought people of every nation and language to your doorsteps for a reason. You don’t need to spend a penny traveling to their foreign lands because they have already spent their own money to be here. You don’t need to learn their languages or cultures (although it’s very help if you do so) because they’re trying hard to learn English and the American way of life. You don’t need to learn how to eat their foods because they’re desperately trying to keep their Big Macs down. All the Lord is asking you is to, in Christ’s name, take a glass of cool water across the street to the guy that may wear a turban and speak with an accent.”

According to some of the studies I’ve seen, the church attendance in America is dropping every Sunday. No doubt there are many reasons for this phenomenon, but as far as I’m concerned there are two extremely prominent causes for this occurrence.

First, a majority of Americans who are born in this country have lost interest in church attendance and don’t consider Christianity relevant.

Second, we’ve finally run out of Christians to recycle. Is it possible that after decades of recycling old disciples rather than baptizing new ones, we’re finally running out of recyclable Christians? Could the answer to the next great revival in America lie not in building another mega church building filled with English speaking believers who have transferred from smaller churches, but in Christian leaders who are willing to build their churches one person at a time by reaching out to those who’ve never heard the Good News and are more open—the internationals God has brought to our doorsteps?

Please Don’t Go To A Bible College!

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The other day I got a message on Facebook from an old Bible
College student of mine, Jeremy.


“Hey ProfeShah (that’s what my students used to call me), do
you remember the advice you gave me 5 years ago? It was one of the best words
of advice I’ve ever received in my life,” he said.


Shoot, if you know me, you know I don’t remember what I had
for breakfast this morning, let alone a piece of advice I gave someone over five
years ago. So, being a good shame-based culture person that I am, I faked it
and said, “Yes, of course!”


In my Middle Eastern culture, by admitting to not knowing
something, you’ve committed two sins: not knowing something and admitting to not
knowing something. 


I responded, “I told you to get the heck out of the Bible College
and get yourself a degree that you can make a living with”.


To my amazement, he wrote back saying, “Yes, and thank you.
I’m an engineer today making a living and taking care of my family.”


I know some of my evangelical friends get upset when they
hear me taking such a stance, but I had my reasons, of which the most important
was the welfare of my students. It was within the second year of teaching at that college when I noticed a good number of my students were graduating college with
$20-30K debt and ending up working behind a counter, asking customers, “Would you
like a tall, grande or venti?”


“If that’s going to be the case, you don’t need a four-year
college degree to pump syrup in a coffee cup or work as a bank teller,” I used
to tell them.


Most of these kids were being trained to be one thing and one
thing only: pastors. The problem was that the denomination the college belonged
to couldn’t provide enough churches for these graduates to pastor. On the other
hand, the available churches were usually 20-30 member churches not able to
support the new pastor fulltime, which again, put my students behind the same coffee
or bank teller-counter.

Knowing how difficult it is to pastor in general, I
knew we (the college) were setting many of my students up for failure. If you haven’t thought about it already, someone has and is
ready to write me about it: “Aren’t you taking these kids away from their godly
calling to be pastors?” To believe that is to believe the only way to serve God
is to stand behind a pulpit, which in and of itself is a false assumption that
has been shoved down our throats for many years. I don’t need a pulpit to serve
Christ.  


For the first 10 years after starting the first Iranian
Christian organization in the United States, I was a civil engineer during the
day and a house-church planter at night, driving all over LA County preaching
the Gospel to a newly-arrived group of Iranian immigrants. Even if I had wanted
them to, these Iranians would have never been able to support my family and me for
what I was doing.


For 10 years, it was my engineering degree that put a roof
over my family’s head, food on our table and gas in my ‘69 VW Bug.  Maybe even more important, I own my
home today – not because of the 30 years I pastored, but because of the 10
years I engineered. My salary as an Iranian pastor would have never been able
to purchase my family a house.


It took me 10 years to build a solid enough base of
supporters before I was able to leave my engineering job. By then, I was also convinced
that was something I was called to do.


Maybe 40-50 years ago, a church of 40 members was able to
support her pastor fulltime, but those days are over. Today, to be fully
supported, the same pastor needs a church that is four to five times larger
than that. That was a reality that most of my students faced. Since, right off
the bat, pastoring a large church was out of the question, they needed to have
a job that would put a roof over their heads and food on their tables while
trying to pastor a small church.  


That is why I encouraged many of my students to get out of
the Bible College and first get a degree that would give them a solid base of financial
support. Meanwhile, they could do what I did for ten years: serve God where they were.  If they never get into a “fulltime
ministry,” they haven’t wasted four years of college and thousands of dollars
getting an education they never needed. But, if they do, and feel they need
more Biblical education, they can always go back to Bible College and get their
Biblical degrees with the money they saved from their well-paying jobs.


That’s what I did.