This Church Will Die Out In One Generation!

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 “When you die, your epithet will say, ‘He was way ahead of his time, so no one understood him,’” was something one of my church elders once told me.
With his hand literally on the small of my back ushering me out of his office, the district supervisor said, “Brother, I’m a church planter. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The year was 1987. I’d just left my engineering job to become the full-time pastor of the Fellowship of Iranian Christians, the first Iranian Christian organization in the US. An organization I’d founded and been pastoring bi-vocationally for the prior ten years.
Here I was an Iranian Muslim background believer (MBB) with no background or education in pastoring, let alone, a church consisting of first generation Iranian MBBs and Jewish immigrants. I was desperately in need of help, guidance and support, so I went to see my denomination’s overseer.
After the initial pleasantry, this is how our conversation followed:
Supervisor asked, “Tell me about your church.”
“Well, they’re not churches in a traditional sense. We have 3 house fellowships that meet in the evenings during the week.”
“Are you looking for a building?”
“No!”
“How come?”
“A church like ours is only good for one generation. The second generation Iranian Christians will be too Americanized to attend a Farsi speaking church. I believe it works better if the first generation Iranian Christians meet at homes during the week and on Sundays attend English-speaking churches.
This was over 30 years ago. There was no Barna Group around. What I knew was a gut level intuition. Some might even say it was a “prophetic proclamation”.
What I didn’t know at the time was how very few people knew anything about the challenges that a group like ours was facing. Unfortunately, my American born monoculture supervisor was not among the few. In fact, I don’t believe he knew anything about other cultures let alone Iranian culture. So, he got up from behind his desk and escorted me out.
By nature, most Iranians assimilate quickly into other cultures. In fact, some of the Iranian leaders have accused their own people of being like chameleons, changing colors at a drop of a hat. For the majority of us, this has made it possible to survive and succeed without having to rely on our own community.
As it may, this gift, or curse of assimilation has made the US Iranians the third most educated minority group, and one of the most successful ethnic groups. In less than 40 years, we have accomplished what many other ethnic groups have not been able to achieve in 100 years. A few years ago, when my cousin graduated from the USC School of Dentistry, out of the 100 graduates, 30 of them were Iranians.
More than 30 years ago, I encouraged my Iranian fellowship/church members to take their kids to English speaking churches, so they can be discipled in English. Some did and some didn’t. Of those who did listen to me, most their children (my own included) are still walking with the Lord. However, majority of those kids whose parents insisted that, “We are Iranians and we do things the Iranian way” have walked away from the faith.
The same outcome is taking place in many Farsi-only speaking churches in America. The attendance is getting lower and lower—the first generation has either started to attend English-speaking churches, or is simply dying out. And as I mentioned, the second generation has either walked away from the church, or is also attending English-speaking churches. In fact, I dare to say that there are more Iranian Christians attending English-speaking churches than there are those attending Farsi-speaking churches.
The Iranian churches that are growing are the ones that understood my predictions and are now having bilingual services—a service in Farsi to take care of the parents and new immigrants, and one in English reaching out to the second generation.
Let me conclude this blog by issuing two challenges:
First to the English-speaking pastors:
From all I have seen, heard and studied, church attendance among English-speaking Americans is in decline. One of the most effective ways to keep the church alive is to reach out to immigrants.
Many years ago, I developed a simple outline of how this can be achieved, but there haven’t been too many pastors willing to implement the system at their churches. Maybe the time has finally arrived? Maybe now, as a matter of survival and desperation, the American church needs to shift her paradigm by realizing our nation IS the greatest mission field God has given us.
Second, to the Iranian pastors:
Face reality! You are not in Iran anymore. The Iranians in America are different than the ones in Iran. Rebuking and shaming our young ones for their lack of ability to speak Farsi will only push them farther away from the church.
Like the sons of Issachar, (I Chronicles 12:32) understand the times and contextualize your approach in evangelism and discipleship. If you’re not capable of teaching in English, train some of your young members who are fluent in English to do so. This way, our second generation, who is teachable if they could understand the language, will not feel abandoned by the church.
PS. For many valid reasons today, I’m much more open to having a church building, but I still believe in the above principles when it comes to the second generation.
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Are You A Heat-Waver?

Have you watched the show, “King of the Hill”? It’s one of the very few animated TV shows that tells stories with moral values. In Season 12, Episode 4 (“Four Wave Intersection”), Bill — a depressed, divorced, and overweight character on the show — becomes known as the famous “Heat-Waver” when he begins to stand on the side of the highway in a scorching summer heat to wave to passing motorists.

At first, some drivers are annoyed by his seemingly foolish act, but eventually, they start to wave back. It doesn’t take Bill too long to realize how every driver enjoys being acknowledged even though they have no idea who Bill is. So, he shows up the next day on the same spot to do the same thing. Soon, he becomes the talk of the town and even radio talk-show hosts begin to talk about the “Heat-Waver”.  

For me, it all started one Saturday in 1998 when Karen and I decided to start a Bible study at our house for unbelievers, pre-Christians, non-Christians, or whatever is politically correct to call those who don’t follow Christ.

After 2 hours of discussion, we realized, as great as our attempt was, we didn’t know too many non-Christians. We worked with Christians, served Christians, went to church with Christians, socialized with Christians, ate and drank with Christians, and, consequently, had very a few non-Christian friends. Like most Christians, we lived under an illusional bubble called “Christendom”— a bubble that separated us from the real world and limited us in fulfilling the Great Commission.

As we were trying to figure out where we could find more unbelievers, one of us (I don’t remember which one) said, “Hey, what about our neighbors?” “Oh, yes! What a novel idea,” I thought to myself. However, the idea was NOT that novel.

After 8 years of living in our neighborhood, aside from the next-door neighbors on either side of our house, we barely knew anyone in our neighborhood. Why? Because we were too busy serving at the church.

So, that very day I went house-to-house on our block to invite neighbors to our home for dinner. That was the start of one of the greatest decisions Karen and I have ever made: loving our neighbors by befriending them.

In 2006 when I lost my job working for a Christian organization, I became a full-time househusband, which helped me get even more involved with the lives of my neighbors, or anyone I ran into in my neighborhood. I started my own “Heat-Wave”. I began to wave and say “hi” to anyone who drove or pass by our house. When I took my dog, Cocoa, for a walk I made sure to greet everyone I met on the street and it didn’t matter if I knew them or not. Everybody deserved to be waved at and greeted.

At first, there were some who didn’t wave back. After all, this is Los Angeles. Within some cultures, to show your teeth as the result of a smile is considered a weakness, but I kept waving and greeting. It didn’t take very long before almost everyone in the neighborhood started to wave back and came to know the man and his Chocolate Lab.

Today when Karen takes Cocoa for a walk, it’s not unusual for strangers to walk up to her and say, “Hi, Cocoa!” and then, immediately look at Karen and say, “Where’s your husband?” But wait, there’s more…

As I got to know my neighbors better, our relationships deepened and I was allowed to ask questions of them. You see, when you show people you care enough to acknowledge them even if it is by a simple wave or a greeting, they will eventually open up to you. It did take a while, but little by little, neighbors began to pull over or stop by to talk to me. Our conversations would go something like this:

Me: “ Hi, my name is Shah. What’s your name?”

Neighbor: “‘Jack’! It’s so kind of you to wave at me every day when I go by your house. Good to finally meet you.”

Me: “What do you do for living, Jack?”

Jack: “I’m an engineer. What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a writer. Here, I have a gift for you.” Going to the garage, I come back with a copy of my book and give it to “Jack” as a gift.

I don’t need to SHARE the Gospel with Jack, whom I just met. My book will eventually do that. For now, I want him to understand how important he is to me. Important enough that every time he runs into me, or drives by my house, he’ll be greeted by a wave and a smile as a significant person.
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It’s one of those pleasant June evenings in Los Angeles. Many of our neighbors are out for a walk and I’m playing with Cocoa on the front lawn. She loves to fetch her red ball. As I look up, I see Jasmine approaching me.

“Cocoa,” she screams. I don’t think she remembers my name, but Cocoa she remembers. It must be Cocoa’s color that does it, or maybe her loving demeanor.

“Where’s Victor?” referring to her husband, I ask.

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“No!”

“Victor was diagnosed with, how do you say? The blood cancer.”

“You mean leukemia?”

“Yes, that’s it. He’s very weak and can’t walk with me.”

“Will you let me pray for him?” I ask as I reach over, grab her hands and begin to pray.

Jasmine walks away with tears in her eyes thanking me.

A few minutes later Kevin pulls up. He’s my neighbor around the block.

“How are you, brother?” He’s been calling me that ever since I got to know him.

“Hey, have you lost any of Vicky’s dogs lately?” I teasingly ask him.

A few weeks earlier as I was walking Cocoa in the hills across the street from our house, Kevin approached me with tears in his eyes.

“Brother, I need your help?”

“What’s up?”

“As you know, my wife, Vicky trains dogs. Well, a few minutes ago, one of them ran away from our house.” I’ve been walking up and down the block, but can’t find him.

Without asking a word, I put my hand on his shoulder and begin to pray for the dog to come back.

That night my neighbor, Jeff, on the end of the block finds the dog.

As Kevin drives away, I suddenly realized: I may not have a church building, but I’m the block’s official pastor.

PS: This morning Jasmine told me Victor’s doing much better.

How Do You Disciple An Ex-Muslim?

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The Fellowship of Iranian Christians was the first Iranian Christian organization in the US. It was established over 30 years ago. Not long after I started the organization, it became clear that we desperately needed to train and disciple the new Iranian believers who’d left Islam to follow Christ.
At the time, our leadership consisted mostly of a group of young Iranian college students who’d become believers in the US. None of us had any Bible training and all we knew about Christianity was what we’d learned from our American mentors.  In other words, we believed in an American Jesus who taught in American style.
In an article printed in the Rev. Magazine, Alan Nelson says,
Way too much effort is invested in “book learning'” and lecture style content dumps. Conferences are notorious for this, making us think we’re gleaning far more than we really are. Hebrews 5 says that we become mature, meat-eating believers as a result of “practicing” the milk…
Not knowing any better, we did exactly what Nelson tells us NOT TO DO. Over 30 years ago, we translated a series of 10 booklets entitled, “Christian Living” and went about discipling the new converts using western lecture style content dumps. However, I had a problem.
Before translating them, I’d studied the booklets in English. Every chapter had made sense to me. My dilemma began once the booklets were translated into Farsi.  The content became quite foreign to me. At the time, I didn’t know anything about cross-cultural ministries and even though, in my heart of hearts, I knew there was something wrong with our approach, I was convinced the problem was with the new believers and me.  “After all, this how my American mentors are doing it, so it must be correct,” I’d tell myself. It took me over 20 years to finally figure out what the problem was.
Let me draw you an analogy in hope of making the above confusion clearer to my readers.
About 30 years ago my wife, Karen, was studying at UCLA. To fulfill her requirements, she needed to complete two semesters of language studies. At the time, she was engaged to a very handsome Iranian, me, so she chose Farsi. Within two semesters, thanks to an excellent English-speaking teacher who knew how to teach Farsi as a second language, Karen became rather fluent in reading, writing and conversing in Farsi .
Now, let’s fast forward to 15 years later. By this time, we’re pastoring an Iranian church. Feeling the need to brush up on her Farsi, Karen decided to take some Farsi classes at a nearby Persian school, where Iranian teachers taught Farsi to many English-speaking students. Having made a grave assumption, the Iranian teachers were extremely unsuccessful in teaching Farsi to these students. They assumed they could teach Farsi to an English-speaking student the same way they taught it to a Farsi-speaking first-grader in Iran. 
You see, by the time he made it to the first grade, the Iranian student, who’s spent all his life immersed in Farsi, knows how to speak the language. In first grade, he needs to know how to read and write the words he’s been speaking all his life. To assume that an average American who’d never been exposed to the language can be approached the same as an Iranian first –grader is where those teachers went wrong.
For example, after teaching the American students the alphabet, the students who didn’t even know that Farsi was written from right to left were required to practice writing the word, “Aab” (One of the simplest words in the language, which means “water.”) In doing so, the teachers completely overlooked the fact that, to start with, most students had no idea what “Aab” was.
           
Drawing some parallelism from the above analogy, the problem with my discipleship approach was a small oversight on my end. The booklets were written for western believers who’d been immersed in a culture, which was much more familiar with Christianity than the average ex-Muslim.
For instance, the title of the first chapter of the first booklet in the series was, “Who Is Jesus?”  After reading the chapter, the brand new believer was supposed to answer a series of questions. The first question was something like, “According to Isaiah 53, what kind of Messiah should the Jews have expected?” To most American believers this is not a very difficult question, but not so with most Iranian MBBs.
This is how a typical conversation would transpire:
Student: “What’s Isaiah?” (Which, by the way, in Farsi, is pronounced, “Esh-ah-yah”—A name completely foreign to us and difficult to pronounce. At least, in English, Isaiah is a common name.)
Me: “He’s a Jewish prophet.”
Student: “What??? A Jewish prophet??? Why do I need to learn about a Jewish prophet?  I didn’t leave Islam to follow the Jewish religion. I thought I was learning how to be a Christian!!!”
Suffice it to say, depending on the student, at this point, I had to spend the next several hours, days or even weeks to talk about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Something that was totally fruitless and unnecessary at this point.
Why is it that important for a Muslim who’s already made the decision to become a follower of Christ to know that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Jews? At least at the start, this is not a question that the ex-Muslim is preoccupied with. Not to mention the fact that most Muslims are raised with an inherent prejudice towards Jews. So, why make things more complicated? Once the new believer is grounded in the New Testament, he is more prepared to discover the Old Testament roots of the New.
Some Western Christians are quick to say, “Well, now that he’s a Christian, the ex-Muslim most stop hating his enemies. After all, this is what Christianity’s all about.” To which, I say, AMEN.  So, what our ex-Muslim friend needs is not a proof of Jesus’ Messianic claims, which can be categorized as, “Classical Theology”, but learning how to live his life more like Jesus, which is called, “Practical Theology” or “Spiritual Formations”.
As Dallas Willard says, the ex-Muslim needs to understand becoming like Jesus is done by putting solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, meditation upon God’s word and ways, and service to others at the heart of his faith. That he can increasingly resemble Christ in character and in power not by only knowing, but by following him in his overall style of life
In my own personal life, I learned more about God’s love and experienced more of his presence in the hours of practicing Lectio Devina (divine reading) than many years of book learning at a seminary.  NO, I am not against book learning. There’s definitely a place for “Classical Theology”. But, this should be done after the new believer has become more immersed in his new faith by learning how be like his Master.  
To assume that discipling an MBB can or should be done the way a westerner is trained is just as misguided as the path the above Iranian teachers took in teaching their American students. The American students first needed to learn how to speak Farsi before they could write in Farsi. The MBB first needs to walk like Jesus before he can debate with the Pharisees. After all, it is not his perfect theology that will draw him closer to his Creator, but walking in his Savior’s footstep and practicing what Jesus practiced.
One last thought: Today, the western church is facing a postmodern generation, which is quite ignorant of the Bible and Christianity in general—very much like new Muslim background believers. In my humble opinion, it is far more fruitful to disciple the new western believers through “Practical Theology” than the old-fashioned lecture style content dumping.
Now that I have your attention, contact me so we can talk about how to make disciples for Christ out of ex-Muslims or American believers at your church or organization.

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.

The Appearance Of Evil?

A few years ago, when I worked for a Christian missions organization, I got into trouble for carpooling. Well, not so much for carpooling, but carpooling with a female. This is what happened.
Three of us who worked together and lived in the same area decided to start to carpool—two male and one female. It was good for the environment and even better for our pocketbooks. All went well till the day my other male carpool buddy had to run an errand after work and needed to drive his own car. We never thought anything of it; as usual, I picked up my female co-worker and drove to the office.
As we entered the parking lot, another co-worker was just entering the building and saw us pull into my parking spot. Within a few minutes, I was reported to the boss for carpooling with a female, and was called into his office.
I was basically told that carpooling with a female had the appearance of evil, and I shouldn’t do it. Although I should have been flattered that my boss thought so highly of my multitasking abilities—being able to maneuver L.A. freeways while driving and, at the same time, performing whatever else it was that they thought I was doing—I was deeply offended and felt dishonored. In any case, I refused to obey, and continued to carpool with and without the third party.
What infuriated me even more was what took place a couple of weeks later when I approached my boss on the same subject.
“Don’t worry about it. We just found out that our president has been carpooling with his secretary for the last 20 years. So, you can now continue to carpool with a female in your car,” he said so nonchalantly.
Talk about being frustrated and angry! When I did it, it had the appearance of evil; but when the president did it, not only it was righteous, but also it became a moral and spiritual precedent for the rest of us peons. And all this time I’d thought Jesus was my moral guide. It wasn’t long after that the president, my moral compass, had to resign because of some financial irregularities.
What is this “appearance of evil” that we should avoid? Who decides that?
✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠✠
I’m flying back to Burbank from Springfield, Ore., and have a two-hour layover in San Francisco. It’s Monday night, and a Monday Night Football game is on. My favorite team is playing against the Steelers—any team that plays against the Steelers is my favorite team. I decide to sit at a bar, order a hamburger and, while eating my dinner, I watch the game.
I notice my phone is dying, so I ask the bartender if I could plug in my charger anywhere. He places a power strip on the bar in front me and tells me to help myself. That’s when a very pretty young lady who was sitting behind me moves over and sits right next to me.
“My computer is dying. Do you mind if I share the power strip with you?” she asks.
I’m very used to this. Almost always female strangers start conversing with me without any hesitations. This has nothing to do with my charming personality, but a gift the Lord has given me. People, especially women, find me trustworthy, a man with no agenda, who cares.
We spend the next half an hour talking. She tells me she’s waiting for her friend to join her, so they can go paint the town together. As I’m talking to this young, beautiful lady, I’m so grateful that I no longer work for that missions organization, which would have frowned upon seeing one of their top men talking to a strange young woman in a bar. OMG, talk about the appearance of evil.
As I get up to leave, I’m impressed to do something.
“Do you like to read?” I ask her.
She says, “I love to read.”
“I’d like to give you a gift. It’s my new book.”
“I love it. Thank you!”
I autograph my book, hand it to her, and say goodbye.
On occasions, I’ve given my book to strangers, but have never heard from any of them until the above young lady. For almost a month I’ve been thinking and praying for June (not her real name) when I get a long email from her. This is how she starts it:
“It was a real pleasure meeting you that day, and after reading
(devouring?) your book I only wish I had spoken with you more! Your
book really resonated with me. It was written in such a way that I
felt a close connection with you; the way you wrote about your
experiences was like a friend sitting next to me telling these
stories. It gives me hope in my struggles as a young woman.”
Even if I were still working for my old employer, I’d have still risked being accused of “giving the appearance of evil” to experience the above interaction. But, thank God, I don’t. I wonder what Jesus would have done?

Let’s NOT Do Lunch

So, the other day I ran into an old friend I’d not seen for a long time. As he was rushing to a meeting, he said, “Let’s do lunch!”

Having heard that phrase many times before, I wasn’t about to just let it go without a response. I called his bluff.

“Absolutely!” I replied. “When?”

He was caught quite off guard. He didn’t expect me to call him on his offer.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to you on it.”

I wanted to scream, “Hey, I didn’t ask to have lunch with you. You’re the one who suggested it while knowing it was an empty gesture.”

Do you know what happens when we give our word to do something and then renege?

1. We destroy the very foundation of all true relationships—trust. Without trust, there’s no true relationship. However, trust will be established when we stay true to our promises.

2. We give the impression that the person on the receiving end of our empty promise is neither important nor needed. Unfortunately, most of us tend to treat a person we esteem important or needed more differently than an average Joe Christian.

I was raised in a culture where to blindly trust people was your demise. In that society, we were expected not to trust, so everyone went around with his guard up 24/7. Shouldn’t we Christians be a bit different than those from my old culture? Shouldn’t all our leadership – our pastors – be people of their words?

A majority of young people I come across today are longing for a community, a place where the people are trustworthy and transparent. A place were the people’s “yes” is “yes” and “no” is “no”.

Creating such an environment starts with us as individuals. The next time you promise to do something for someone, regardless of how unimportant the person might be to you, for Christ’s sake, DO IT. This way, you create a highly sought-after commodity within God’s community—trustworthiness. Let the person know he’s important not because he’s got something that you need, but because he’s made in God’s image.

The Bible Didn’t Save Me

October 25, 2011 will mark my 40th anniversary of being a Jesus person.  The day I began my journey with Christ, I was riding my motorbike 70-80 miles an hour while on my way home from Thanksgiving dinner at my friend, Ellen’s house. I’d heard her father pray a blessing over the meal and it had greatly moved me.
I didn’t know anything about the Bible and I had never opened one. After all, as far as I was concerned, it was a corrupt book so why bother? I didn’t know anything about John 3:16. I hadn’t heard about the Roman Road or been given a tract on the Four Spiritual Laws and there was no one around to have me repeat the Sinner’s Prayer. On top of all that I didn’t believe I was a sinner. Even worse, I didn’t accept the very foundation of the Christian faith: Christ’s death on the cross, his divinity, or his position as the Son of God. But, I was one desperate and hopeless Muslim man who was willing to try anything. So, without knowing it, I did what Apostle Paul had said almost 2,000 years earlier, “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.” (Rom. 3:13, the Message)
I called and He helped.
On that day, my journey with Christ started apart from the Bible. The foundation of my faith began to form on the basis of an experience —an experience stemming from me calling on Jesus for help. Eventually, I came to understand Christ to be my Lord and savior by reading the Bible, but without my initial experience, I would have never read it. So, today, even if one proves to me that every word in the Bible is a lie, my faith in Christ will not be shaken because it is not based on the word of God, but on the Word of God (Christ) himself.
When I pastored the Iranian church, a majority of my Muslim background believer members had started their journey with Jesus through tangible experiences with him (dreams, visions, healings and so on) and apart from the Bible, very much in the same way that many early Gentile Christians had. I often wonder how the early Church did their daily “devotions” since the Bible had not be canonized yet and even after it was, not everyone could afford to have one under his arm, which brings me to my purpose for writing this blog.
In 2001 I started teaching at a Bible college. After a year into teaching American students who were almost all born and raised in Christian families, I began to notice a correlation between Muslim and postmodern evangelism, and how they both long for an experience with God. The Muslim longs for it because He’s been taught that God is not approachable and my postmodern students had only known God theologically apart from an experience (this applies to postmodern non-Christians too, but at the present my focus is on postmodern Christians).
For years, our evangelical mentors taught us not to rely on any experience, but to rely on the word of God. “After all, your experiences are not reliable,” they told us. I wonder if after getting knocked off his ass on the way to Damascus and going blind, Paul was told the same thing by the Pharisees of his time. I also wonder if we would’ve had 2/3 of the New Testament if Paul had not had his Damascus experience. After all, isn’t most of the Bible a collection of man’s experience with God?
No doubt some of my readers will disagree with me because they might assume that I’m putting more weight on an experience than the word of God. I am not. What I’m saying is what we used to say during the “Jesus People” time: “God has no grandchildren.” For our children to stand by their parents’ faith in Christ, they themselves need to have an experience to support their theology.

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.
————————————————————————————
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.