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Sunday, February 8, 2015

I'm No Longer At This Site!

Dear friends:

I've moved. If you want to read my new posts, please go to:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If You Don't Change Them, They Will Swallow You UP!

 On the Sunday after 9/11 my message to my Iranian church started by me asking the following question and answer.

Who put a gun to your head and demanded that you leave Iran and come to America?

If you dont like living in America, Ill personally buy you a one-way ticket and send you back to Iran.

Using Jer. 29:4-7, I then went on to show them, as immigrants in this country, what our responsibilities towards America should be. Once I made them aware of our role as immigrants, I then challenged them, as followers of Christ, to put aside our Third World corrupt habits that almost all of us were raised with, and be a light and salt to our community.

Over a year ago, I felt the need to preach the same message again, but this time to English speaking churchesChristians who are born and raised in Americaalong with a long disclaimer repeated throughout my message. I felt the need to include the disclaimer because these days, many Americans take offense to everything, even on behalf of those who are not asking for it. So, I had to start my message with the following warning, which I kept repeating throughout my teaching:

Please be advised that I gave this message to my IRANIAN church, and it is NOT directed at you. By the way, after I was done preaching it, the whole church gave me a standing ovation, so PLEASE dont get offended on their behalf.

My message had to do with change, that of heart, mind, soul and behavior. It was an attempt to help them become more like those who belong to the Community of Jesus. It challenged them to outflowing action that would influence the adverse Iranian community that surrounds them. In doing so, I gave them example after example of the corruption that exists within much of our culture. The type of Third World mentality that is so, so foreign to the majority of American Christians, but so, so natural to us who were born and raised in Iran.

But, why are you giving this message to the American church, one might ask.

Because I am very concerned about the type of society my grandchildren might be facing in America.

In his article, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, Ed Stetzer says,

As the Nones (Nominal/cultural Christians) rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane. The minority of Christians in a culture will begin to feel even more like a minority when more nominals become Nones. As people no longer claim to be Christians, Christianity will be further marginalized

Although Mr. Stetzer considers this to be something positive for the future of the churchShe then will be full of REAL (Whatever that may be according to him) Christians.he doesnt take into account the vacuum this lack of Christian influence will create in the society. Those of other mentality/cultural mindset, i.e., Muslims, will not sit back and wait for the Christians to easily once again get their influence back. These non-Christians will fill the void.

In his recent column in Los Angeles Times, How corruption abroad threatens U.S. national security, Doyle McManus wrote,
 We often look at corruption as a secondary issue in international affairs: as a moral problem that allows Third World governments to steal from their people and gets in the way of equitable economic development…But the lesson of the collapse of the Iraqi army, an army built with $25 billion in U.S. aid, is this: Corruption isn't only a moral issue; it's a national security issue, too.
That's the message of Sarah Chayes, a former reporter for National Public Radio, who spent 10 years working on economic development projects in Afghanistan — only to find that corruption was getting in the way of nearly everything she did.
 I want the American church to understand what happens when she losses her influence in society, an influence that is directly related to the teachings of Christ. I long for the church to realize what an unscrupulous society awaits her if she doesnt stand up for Christian Principles and offer the life changing teachings of Christ to those around her, especially those of us from the Third World.

After hearing my message at his church, a member, a white American, who was offended by what Id said, asked the following question,

So, what is the redemptive value in this message?

My answer: If you dont change my mindset with the teachings of Jesus, I WILL swallow you up.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Not At My Church!

The name of my organization is Shahzam Factor...Seeing church different. The tagline has to do with something I have begged the American church to do for over 30 years, CHANGE. The following article is about that very subject. It's written by my friend CK who, from time to time, will be doing guest appearance on this blog.                                                                                             Shah
Why is it so difficult for us to realize the need for change? From churches and businesses, to non-profit organizations and even families, so often we fail to see the need for change. It seems that we so often need to come to the brink of disaster before we come to terms that if we don’t change, our organization, our relationship, or our church will fail.

As I have researched “change” in my graduate studies the past two years, it has struck me how difficult change is for people, people in some of the most successful companies, people throughout history, even people in the Bible. Let me give you a couple of examples.

World Class Medical Center Nearly Closes
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts is one of the leading hospitals in the world. The quality of this institution is due in part to the long standing and coveted relationship with Harvard University. Many of the doctors who practice and teach at the medical center also teach at Harvard. However, this institution nearly closed. For years, the medical center was losing money. During this time, several CEOs hired reputable consulting firms to determine why the medical center was consistently losing money. Report after report was submitted to the executives, board of directors, and the chief medical staff. Yet nothing changed and the medical center continued to lose money. It wasn’t until Paul Levy was appointed CEO in 2002 that things changed.
In Levy’s first few months on the job, he faced the fact that the medical center was nearly bankrupt, and that the governor and city officials were planning to take possession of the institution. But Levy had a plan to revamp operations and was able to convince the governor to delay the closure for six months. Confronted with the fact that they were about to lose everything, the medical center’s executives, board of directors, medical staff, and employees finally saw the need for change and made some tough decisions. Over those six months, Levy spent a great deal of his time explaining what needed to change—from leasing space on the expansive campus, and cutting jobs, to refining operations, and restructuring the medical staff and board of directors. He also communicated how the changes would take place and secured the support of everyone involved. His plan worked. Today, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is going strong.

Resistance to Change in the Bible
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, can be seen as a book about people who resisted change. Prophet after prophet warned the Israelites to change their ways otherwise judgment would come. But they didn’t and judgment did come—they were captured and displaced. In the New Testament, Jesus proclaimed the message of peace, love, and reconciliation to God. He performed the most powerful act of love, ever. Yet, people who heard his message and saw miracles did not believe him or change how they lived their lives. For more than 2,000 years millions of people who have heard the gospel refused to repent, to believe, to love, to receive grace, and to see the need to change their lives.
Any believer, who has evangelized, especially pastors, would probably understand how difficult it is for people to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. However, believers, especially pastors, are the very people, who need to realize the need for change. Modern-day prophets—the statisticians and researchers—are sounding the warnings. The Hartford Institute of Religion Research estimates fewer than 20% of Americans actually attend church every Sunday, more than 4,000 churches shut down every year, and between 2010 and 2012 less than half of churches added any new members. In June 2014, CharismaNews published an article by Ed Stetzer, examining trends, which paint a picture of a dwindling church. In their book, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”, Joani and Thom Schultz show how church membership is declining and why. Research conducted by Steve McSwain, author and consultant, was published on Huffington Post showing statistics that the church is in decline across different denominations.
Are we going to be like the Israelites and ignore the prophets? Will church leaders be like the doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center and disregard the research only to say “Not at my church”? Are you going to be like those whom you have shared the Gospel with and yet, never saw the need to change? We have passed post-modernism and entered a new age when EVERYTHING is changing. Right or wrong, People who were once employed are becoming free-agents; schools are shifting from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning; established industries are being threatened by new business models; social media has changed how people communicate and the list goes on. With all of the research showing that church attendance is declining, and every aspect of society changing, are you able to see a need for change in the church?

                                                                                                                    By CK Miller, guest blogger

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Us Against Them!

“I am sick and tired of being called derogatory names,” bemoaned my friend. 

“Just because I believe in traditional marriage, that doesn’t make me a homophobe. If  I say I am against killing the unborn, that doesn’t mean I am against women exercising their rights. I have no problem with immigrants. For God’s sake, I am an immigrant myself. However, I am against illegal immigration. Why should that make me a xenophobe? I am NOT a racist when I talk about the absence of fathers in the black community. Don’t these people realize that all this name-calling prevents us from having civil conversations that may result in solving some of these issues?” 

His woes reminded me of what we, the followers of Christ, for years, have done to ourselves, and those outside the church. 

If you attended a white evangelical church, you had to be a Republican. No Democrat could survive the criticism in those churches. On the other hand, in a black church, you were an Uncle Tom if you were a Republican. Today, this attitude is fiercer than ever before. I have Christian friends who have cut off relationships with other Christians purely for political reasons. 

The sins of the church toward “outsiders” are many. Once a year, my friend, Pastor Phil, sets up a tent in a public place and uses it as a confessional booth. Inside the tent he dresses up as a monk and when people walk in to confess, he is the one who confesses the sins of the church to them. I am no Phil, so I limit my confession of the churches’ sin to only one example. 

For years, the church singled out the gay community and pounded on them. We would more readily accept a supposed repented murderer to our fellowship than a Christian gay man/woman who has spent a lifetime serving God with all sincerity while struggling with his/her sexuality. We’d be more willing to listen to any sexual struggles a heterosexual might have with his/her sins, but hardly ever willing to hear of the struggles of a gay man or woman. 

And by doing so, we have created a culture of “US” (the righteous Christians) against “THEM” (those who don’t agree with us, the righteous Christians. 

The fact that those who are in Christ are called righteous is a biblical reality (2 Cor. 5:21). However, according to Jesus, the righteous person is poor, humiliated, desperate, hungry, thirsty, persecuted and… (Matthew 5:1-12)  But, even more important, this righteousness or rightness with God isn’t the result of some personal achievement.  As Tugwell says, 

…the trouble with their (Pharisees) outstanding righteousness was that, all too easily, it could be viewed precisely measured, so that at the certain point, you could say that you had now achieved it. This meant that it could all too easily come adrift from its original inspiration in devotion to God and become self-sufficient.

It is against this self-achieved and measurable righteousness that Jesus speaks of.  The self-righteousness that proudly stands up and proclaims, “God, I thank you that I am not like those people…” Luke 18:12—The kind of self-righteousness that sets US against THEM.  

Let there be no misunderstanding. I strongly believe in right vs. wrong. Unlike some who accuse others of intolerance because the so called, “intolerant” happens to distinguish between good and evil, I believe in being objective distinguishing between right and wrong. However, my objectiveness and effort in doing right doesn’t make me MORE righteous. As I remember, Jesus said something like, after doing all that we should have done and refrained from all that we should have refrained from, we’re still useless servants. What conveys the above humble attitude must be the way we communicate what we believe.

For example, I believe the definition of marriage should be reserved for a union between a man and a woman. Putting the Bible aside, this has been a universal truth that every society, culture and ethnicity has believed and practiced since the beginning of time.  In an ideal world, my definition of marriage should not set me against those who don’t agree with me, but we don’t live in that world yet. Because of what I just said, the reality is that many will call me names like homophobe, xenophobe, racist and… That I can’t help, but the way I react to those who don’t agree with me is something I CAN control.  And this is where I’ve so often come short forgetting that ultimately, as a follower of Christ, my goal must be winning people’s hearts and souls and not an argument. 

It’s a day before the election in California. The fate of Prop 8  (The proposition against same sex marriage) is going to be decided tomorrow. As I’m opening my living room windows facing the street, I notice my neighbor, Ted, walking his dog. Ted and Eric (not their real names) are our gay neighbors whom we’ve know for the last 24 years. They’ve been together longer than many Christian couples I know.  We have been to each other’s homes for dinner many times and have a good relationship.

“Hey Ted, I just wanted you to know how I’m going to vote on Prop 8 tomorrow,” I screamed out of the window.

If you know me, you know that I’m one of the most transparent people you ever come across—and sometimes to a fault. And this was one of those times. In my way of thinking, I wanted my neighbor, the person I have know for a few years now, love and have a very high respect for to know where I stood. This was my way of saying, 

“Thank you for accepting me as a friend even though we don’t agree on this subject.”

Ted laughed and says something like, “Shah, we all know how you’re going to vote.” And walked away.

About a year later, as Karen and I sitting in Ted and Eric’s living room waiting for dinner to be served, Eric, Ted’s partner, very sternly faced me and with tears in his eyes said, 

“What do you have against me marrying this man that I love so much?”

The question completely catches me by surprise. I’m blindsided and was at loss for words. His crying makes me cry.  I’m suddenly faced with the fact that my statement of a year ago, how be it, coming from a very innocent and pure motive, has hurt people I care for.  It’s very easy to disagree with nameless or faceless “Them” out there, but it is a whole different world when those “Them” are your friends. 

“I have nothing against you getting married. My opposition is to changing the definition of marriage,“ I respond

“What do you mean, “ he demands while crying.

“By changing the definition, we’re opening the Pandora’s box which will come back to haunt us.”

“No! It won’t.”

As much as I care for this couple (and they know it), and as much as I do not want to see my friends hurt or upset by/with me, I have to stand up for my convections/values. And so does he, for that matter. 

We go on crying and arguing. 

At the end, we come to the conclusion that we’re not about to change each other’s mind, so with my wife and Eric watching us rather uncomfortably, we hugged and sat down to eat dinner. I love Ted and Eric not because they agree or disagree with me, but because they’re my friends made in God’s image.

A few years later, when Prop 8 is overturned by the Supreme Court, as much as I disagree with the decision, I text Ted with one word, “Congratulation!”

I’ll leave you with these words,

To the Christian community, expressing God’s love towards those with whom we disagree should not be confused with agreement with their point of view. While we should hold firm to our Judeo-Christian principles, we must continue to love because Christ commanded us to do so.

To the gay community, please don’t reject me because I am willing to tolerate you, but not celebrate you. As much as I detest using the word, “tolerate” within the context of this article (It sounds like painfully putting up with something or someone, which is not my intention at all) I am using it because, strangely enough, it is a very acceptable word within the gay community. I may disagree with your point of view, but I am NOT against you as a person.

And this, my friends, is the key to a civil discourse.