The earthly crisis within manhood will be there until Jesus returns, but in Christ men are pointed toward the gospel as the vision for renewal. Manhood Restored by exciting new pastoral voice Eric Mason combines theological depth with practical insights, putting men in step with a gospel-centered manhood that will enrich every facet of their lives.
John: I’m wondering if you could just give us some background information, Eric, where did you come from? What is your overall background? How did you become a Christian? A short synopsis on who you are and what brought you to this point.
Eric: Short synopsis. I grew up in a quasi-Christian home, more non-Christian than fully Christian. I grew up in inner city Washington, D.C. and didn’t trust Christ until I went to college through my campus ministry on my campus. A couple of years later I received the call to ministry, went to Dallas Seminary and was on staff at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. I played some roles there in ministry. Took a pastoral role at a church in Houston for a couple of years and started to listen to the call to plant a church. I went back to Dallas for a while and then went through a program and fellowship in Little Rock with Fellowship Associates and got commissioned by a multiplicity of churches to plant.
In Philadelphia, I have my wife and two sons. We’ve been married almost 16 years and the church is now six years old and we are a multi-ethnic church in the inner city of Philadelphia, and that’s where we are now.
John: That’s great. Eric, you wrote a book about restoring manhood. And in the introduction you ask a rhetorical question, “Another book on manhood?” What drove you to write this book?
Eric: Several things. I think people around me, the disciples. They’ve watched me make disciples for 20 years and have seen or heard when I’ve been to a conference somewhere ministering. Or just on a very, very personal level with people, feeling like there was a deep need to communicate the Word of God to this generation in dealing with humanity issues. They kind of connected with me and extracted and affirmed that’s what I needed to do through prayer and in getting with the Lord. That’s kind of how it came about, and the pandemic in our minds with the challenge of manhood and masculinity as it relates to Jesus Christ across economic lines.
John: Eric, when you look at that topic, do you see this as a pandemic within our country alone, or do you think this is something that’s going on worldwide?
Eric: Well, it’s interesting because I’m getting people from Australia, South America, Europe, all over the world contacting me about this. It has been not just an American phenomenon but it is also a global phenomenon in which manhood needs to be restored. I think that there are other contextual issues. I can’t personally say from every single country where it is, but everybody has attested to me from different backgrounds in a context that there is a pandemic need for men to be restored by the gospel.
John: And Eric, where is this problem coming from? Where is it stemming from? Obviously we could easily quantify it and say hey, we are sinners. To some extent, do you think that’s been hitting a little closer to home in this last generation? First of all, let’s identify what is that problem and then is it associated specifically with today’s generation?
Eric: Yes, I think that you really don’t see the impact, it’s just like being the president. A president can be in a presidency with a great economic upswing. But they say it takes eight years later to feel the economic impact of a presidency. I think that there has been a pendulum swing within our culture as it relates to manhood. And so I think that is what this generation is experiencing. We had the civil rights generation and their philosophy of America being as a hippie generation/black power/immigrant/bourgeois generation. And then after that we had the hip-hop/pop generation. We have what I call now the eclectic generation and I think that in light of all of those threads, there has really been a decline in manhood. And I’m talking specifically in America. There’s a good book on the father of the American economy, the kind of talks about the downswing of manhood over the last 60 years. It was written in the mid-90s and kind of gives some sociological forecasts that fatherlessness consists of not only being physically absent from the home, but can be presently absent as well. I think the fatherlessness issue is a big issue. I think there are some aspects of technology that play into man’s detached connection to the home, too. For instance, a guy that’s 35 years old and a deeper gamer, that kind of thing. And some of the quote-unquote urban context where there’s a phenomenal downswing of fatherlessness that has been a huge part of the crisis that’s in manhood today.
John: What do you think is the biggest problem? Guys not seeking Christ or guys not seeking their wives well?
Eric: Of course the bigger issue is Christ. Everything starts with that. Jesus says, “Apart from me you can’t do anything,” so I think that’s the main issue. I think it’s both an evangelical issue and it’s a branding issue. In relation to the world and in the Western culture, the church seems to be in the mind of the loss as more of an entity that there’s more robust females in Christianity versus men. So that detachment has created a lack of an apologetic for why the church can’t put a dent in this issue of fatherlessness. When seeking out why as a result to me, of having a robust relationship with Jesus Christ.
John: Eric, did you write this book for the church, for lay leaders, or did you write this for individuals?
Eric: I wrote it for both. I think the curriculum part of it is more for the church, and the DVD set. But the book I wrote for people who are not believers and believers so that, you know, I saturated it with Scripture because I believe the Word of God is alive and active in my mind. Whether or not they know that the verses are there, I think the biblical reasoning of the book can connect with the lost guy and the found guy. I wrote it for both, but I wanted it to be discipleship material that transcends the time. So that it can continue to be something of a tool in the hands of men to be able to walk with men, so we are not just pointing out a whole bunch of problems, but tooling this generation hopefully with solutions that are willing the person to work with Jesus Christ.
John: Eric, you wrote and I think I’m quoting here, “Jesus is the prototype man for men. All of us men are only as manly as it relates to the standard set by Jesus.” Do you want to explain that statement?
Eric: Yes, I think one of the things I didn’t want to do was alienate the fact that Jesus is an example for women. So my point isn’t to really alienate women because the book is on manhood I wanted to voice it, if you will, to men. And so it’s all about being the prototypical man. You know the Bible talks of him being the firstborn above among many and he’s the first fruit. Not only that, but it talks about the Word became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. There’s a Greek word in that verse which means to pitch a tent and to take residence, which points back to the Old Testament covenant of the presence of God being among men. And so Jesus Christ became the prototype of what the church based on 1 Corinthian 3 and 1 Peter 2 , was eventually going to be a house of God. And so, in light of that indigenizing that to men, what I see there is Jesus Christ being the prototype of what it means to be a man because he came to restore all things, but God chose to send him in a masculine form. And since Jesus is in every aspect of who he is based on Hebrews is the greatest of all. That would include him being the greatest man because God made him a man and he is the perfect man. Watching him in his incarnation, I wanted to extract principles from his incarnation that reflect a robust biblical masculinity.
John: Do you think there’s, I want to be careful how to say this, but do you think that there is controversy in that statement because you’re telling guys to look at Jesus because he was a man. You talked about the fact that you’re not alienating women here. How do women look at Jesus? How was your wife or my wife supposed to look at Christ?
Eric: This is like what the Scripture talks about. In relation to their was suffering. You’re looking at the first of Peter four, and it says and he left his example for us to follow. He’s not just talking to women. However, I think it’s very important that Jesus, there is a neutral part of his character that is applicable to both men and women.
Eric: The other issue though, is because He’s a man, He directly images Himself in a way that helps men to see that Jesus Christ was a man and a real man. He didn’t come in the form of a woman. Now that doesn’t mean He’s better for men than He is women. It’s interesting that you asked what women are saying. It’s funny. I have had many women comment—either through Twitter or Facebook or through Instagram—that they’re buying the book for their husbands because they’re excited about it. I’ve had some people say some stuff on the Christian profile group, and the Christian Post did a great job discussing this. And of course, some of the comments are just from people that are in different places in their spirituality.
The main point of what I’m trying to do is to encourage men to live up to their God ordained role. And it’s interesting. The Bible calls Jesus the second Adam. The fact that there was a first Adam who sinned, and what we have learned about our masculinity from that, well, we wouldn’t have learned it from Eve. We learned it from Adam. Jesus is the second and better Adam based on Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. As the second and better Adam, he’s a better man than the first. And since God made them male or female, in Genesis 1, he made them male or female, Jesus Christ is the remade, upgrade maleness of Adam and therefore, we would have learned masculinity from Adam, I think we can do so with Jesus Christ a lot better.
John: Needless to say, you wrote the book to men. It’s about men and you wrote it to men. At some point, may be a year or a couple of years from now, you may write a book to women.
Eric: Yes, I just finished a series on Eve this spring.
John: Well, there you go.
John: So the people that are reading this blog post, the women that you had just mentioned that are tweeting you and Facebook messaging you and are excited about it. If the lady is married to a gentleman who is not proactively seeking Christ, reading His Word, leading his family, what would you say, Eric, in that context to that woman?
John: What would she do with her husband in that state? Is that what you are asking?
John: Yes, if she comes to you, hypothetically, and says, “Pastor, my husband seems to be unengaged in all of those areas that you’re talking about.” How would you encourage her? What would you say?
Eric: I think the Bible answers this question so simply. First Peter 31 talks about her serving her husband, respecting her husband and praying for her husband. That he may be one with the Word. I think that there can be some nonthreatening ways that God graces us to facilitate her to get this resource and I think this resource is, of course, engaging. And basically, everything in the book pretty much comes from pastoring people. And having heard that a billion times and having discipled men and telling her about that, that’s what I would let her know. For me, when you’re looking at a pastor’s husband, I think she needs to pray for him and then talk to him about some of the challenges. And we’re assuming he’s a Christian. I think if he’s a nonbeliever it’s a little bit different. I think that when it’s a believer, she needs to communicate, which women do. Communicate her challenges with her desire to see him be the man that God wants him to be in whatever way she can serve him. And then I would hope that she’s in the church, which hopefully they are talking to leadership and asking them to help facilitate the man being more effectively engaged. The last chapter of the book is on restoring man’s relationship with the church because I think the church has to be intentional about facilitating what it is for men to be fully engaged and be the men that God has called them to be. And when that gets in order, then I think by God’s grace, the women won’t have to push towards their husbands to beg them to lead them.
John: Eric, who are you influenced by? What authors are you reading, what music are you listening to?
Eric: You know, I’m a research reader but I’m also a real man. Right now, I’m deeply influenced by Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Carl Ellis and others. Those are spiritual fathers to me. All of them have influenced me. What am I currently reading? I’m currently reading Anthony Carter’s book, Blood Work, which is a phenomenal, pastorally theological work talking about the blood of Christ on our lives. That’s been helpful. And then I’m going back to a book by Richard Lovelace that’s called, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal. I’m excited about that. And then I’m going through the book of Esther as well. In Scripture.
John: Eric, one last question here. You started an organization called Thriving.
John: Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Eric: Yes, Thriving is an organization that we started in planning a First Peter fellowship in in a really difficult area in Philadelphia. God has graced us to see tons of people meet Jesus and to be able to really get stability, financially. It’s almost a full sustainability there, then seeing it be multiethnic and engaging our neighborhood and doing work over in Malawi and planting churches in difficult areas to bring the hope of the gospel there. And so as that began to happen, people began contacting us asking us how we did it, and it got so overwhelming to the point we, for the better of the Lord, thought that an organization to help facilitate training urban leaders to be able to engage contacts with the gospel so that churches can be planted and ministry can be done in places that people don’t want to go but has a rich potential with what’s needed to engage the unreached people groups in all areas.
The redemption of manhood sets Jesus as the true standard of biblical manhood, looking to his perfect example to redeem and restore a man's life in the areas of sexuality, home, and work.
Lex Luger, wrestling megasensation and three-time world heavyweight champion, ruled the ring for years as “The Total Package.” Whether he was making a dramatic entrance from a helicopter, defeating champ Hulk Hogan, or sculpting a near-perfect physique, Lex was on top of his game. Yet backstage, he was wrestling with addictions to sex, drugs, and alcohol—things he clung to even when his mistress died suddenly of a drug overdose and Lex went to jail. There, Lex faced the truth: he was losing the fight for his life. And still awaiting him was his most brutal opponent yet, when the wrestling champ found himself helplessly paralyzed from the neck down. In Wrestling with the Devil, Lex Luger reveals never-before-told stories from his career, his struggle with personal demons, and how, through unexpected faith, grace, and redemption, he overcame all odds to fight the only battle that really matters.
Cleveland Tells Her Story Of A Devastated Childhood, Addiction As A Young Adult
And The Life-Changing Discovery That Beauty Shines Through Brokenness
Multiple GRAMMY Award-winning singer, songwriter Ashley Cleveland shares her personal story of pain, music and beauty that shines through brokenness in her first self-penned book, Little Black Sheep, A Memoir releasing in September from David C Cook. A true story of life on stage and on the streets from the back rooms of Nashville to the churches and clubs of the San Francisco Bay area, Little Black Sheep invites readers to see how their own deepest pain might just be a place of hope.
“Gradually and reluctantly with a great deal of hemming, hawing and complaining, I surrendered to telling my tale,” shares Cleveland. “This is the story of the groundwork that paved the way to my faith. It is not an easy story to tell.”
Sharing her deeply engaging story with an original, authentic voice that is equal parts humor and pathos, Cleveland was born into a Knoxville, TN family fraught with conflict, yet poised to keep up its seamless appearances despite alcoholism, homosexuality, divorce, displacement and a slavish devotion to performance. She took the rough road of rebellion into her own addiction and self-destruction. If there was trouble, near or far, she found it. In the midst of the chaos she discovered music, something she had a natural gift for and the one thing that engendered a positive response from others. She continued on, precariously attempting to balance a desire for a career as a recording artist with a growing and consuming addiction, increasingly catastrophic behavior and an absence of any foundation or understanding of a merciful, loving God.
Interrupted by an unplanned, unmarried and unwanted pregnancy that ultimately becomes the starting point of faith and a life of substance and value, Cleveland encounters the transforming power of the Living God who is abundantly forgiving, tenderhearted and relentlessly faithful to her. Little by little, her life is ultimately rebuilt, taking all the devastation in her wake and using it as a platform of experience to bring hope and courage to others. Along the way she finds sobriety, a long, devoted marriage and family, as well as success in her musical career.
“I have emerged from my own isolation to find that I love belonging to the body of Christ, to the program of AA, to the human community,” writes Cleveland in her book. “I have been invited in from the margins, not as a guest artist, but as a family member.”
Now that little black sheep, she ain’t nothin' but trouble
She’s not worth much and she’ll cost you double
Shepherd says he knows but he won’t sleep
He’s gonna go out and find
That little black sheep
(From the song “Little Black Sheep” by Ashley Cleveland)
BONUS: Ashley Cleveland "Ridin with the King" Live
If you have never heard of Phil Robertson or the Robertson boys, well, you must be living under a rock. The Robertson family has taken American TV by storm, along with it the hearts of almost every person. Along with Phil, his wife Kay and their boys, the reality TV show Duck Dynasty has been a gathering place for the whole family. In other words, it's been a breath of fresh air.
Phil Robertson was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana, a small town near Shreveport. With seven children in his family, money was scarce and very early on, hunting became an important part of his life.
As a high-school athlete, Phil was All-State in football, baseball, and track which afforded him the opportunity to attend Louisiana Tech University on a football scholarship. There he played first string quarterback ahead of Terry Bradshaw. Phil's been quoted as saying "Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks." After receiving his Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education and a Master's in Education, he spent several years teaching. While his students claim he was an excellent teacher, spending time in a classroom brought Phil to the conclusion that his time and talents would be better spent in the woods.
This year, Phil wrote a book (Happy, Happy, Happy) that shares about his journey, his faith and his family. I recently sat down with Phil to talk about those three things.
John: Phil, I'm wondering if maybe you can break down for us how you felt your sense of calling. I know in your life football is certainly part of your past. You have either served as a pastor, or certainly you have preached many times in your life, and yet you are also an avid hunter as well, and you have made a lifetime career out of that. How does one who is pursuing Christ identify a great calling?
Phil: Well, I think old Thomas Jefferson said it best, "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, and they've been endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty..." and that third thing there really caught my attention way back, "...the pursuit of happiness.” So, we have a god-given right to pursue happiness.
In my case, you have to remember, John, it did my heart more good to get about 35 or 40 mallard ducks coming down through the trees in front of me, than it did to throw a touchdown pass. When I was playing ball over at Louisiana Tech, I said, "Bradshaw, you're a second-stringer and I'm ahead of you. I could play my last year and that would keep you back a year." I said, "What I'm gonna do is I'm going to start chasing ducks full-time when I leave Louisiana Tech here," and I said, "You can step up and go on to the NFL and let the good times roll." I said, "I'll be thinking about you down in the woods while them big bruisers are stomping you in the dirt, my man." He laughed and I laughed.
Amazingly, 44 years later I saw him the other day a couple of months ago, and he was … we met up, you know, after that little speech I gave him. He said, "Robertson, you've done pretty good chasing ducks, man, you know, you have a television show." I said, "Well, you've done pretty good yourself, my man." We reminisced a little bit, you know. The bottom line is both of us ended up happy, happy, happy there.
John: Phil, do you appreciate preaching? Is that something that you enjoy doing?
Phil: Well, you have to remember I'm not ordained, like a bona fide, certified, preacher. I'm just a guy that builds duck calls. I do love God and I love my neighbor. I was converted at 28 years old, and before that I had never heard the gospel of Jesus, that God became flesh 2,013 years and died on a cross for my sins, was buried and raised from the dead.
So I zoned in on all my rotten, filthy ways, all my sins being removed, and on top of that being raised from the dead. I looked at that and said, “You know what? I never had anything that I've ever studied or looked at that gave me the opportunity to have all my sins removed and forgotten and be guaranteed my dead body could be energized and raised from the dead.” It got my attention! I basically just went forth from there, from the time I was converted. Since I didn't know that until I was 28, I just tried to make sure that the people I come in contact with at least hear that story. I just go forth across America, amazingly even before the television show. Now, the audience is just far bigger.
I've been going around all across America. They invite me to come, so I get on a jet and I go. How they all started inviting me to come is kind of beyond me, but I just started going across the country and still am. Now, all my sons do the same thing. We're just trying to infuse a little good into our culture, you know. We just think we're better off because of loving God and loving our neighbor, for crying out loud. We think the country needs it. We love them; that's why we do it. That basically is the story, and that is what the book is about. Just a family structure. I am the head of the family structure, Miss Kay and I, you know, grandma, grandpa, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. We eat together, pray together, hunt together, and that is just one little glimpse of one American family, my man.
Phil: Basically, happy, happy, happy just describes the ultimate, rarest of commodities: peace of mind. That's what I meant by that phrase. I didn't know the little saying was going viral, John. You know what I'm saying?
John: Yes. I do know what you're saying.
Phil: You never know, man.
John: Basically, when you talk about the concept of the book, is that primarily looking at the family structure and how you guys have done things in your family?
Phil: Yeah. That, plus, you know, it's a family structure and a worldview. We just think society, our culture and our world would be better off if we just loved God and loved our neighbor and did what was right. You know, our founding fathers… you know, if you read, I have researched them carefully, and I'm on the same page as George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. They all were godly men. Someone told me one time, "Yeah, but they made mistakes." I said, "So have we. We've all made mistakes." I said, "But they founded the greatest nation on earth and we didn't, and that's the difference right there."
John: Yes. When you look at the church here in the west, when you look at the Christian culture, what is your thought? Are we okay? Are we doing good? Are we loving our families well enough? Are men standing up and leading their families well?
Phil: I think we need some help in that area. I think, my view is, we sort of got zoned in into going to church. That phrase, "going to church," is not even in the Bible. So you say, "I wonder why that wouldn't be in the Bible," because everyone you talk to, they say, well, “we're going to church, yeah, we're going to church, we're going to church.”
What's happened is we were so busy “going to church,” as we call it, the American model is you report in Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. You can be there every time the door is open, but, really, when you get to looking at 168 hours in a week, if you're in a spiritual setting only four or five of them—Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night—what's happened in my opinion, is we got so busy attending that our culture started disintegrating around us. And our family structures started being torn apart. We didn't infuse Christianity as much as we should have into our culture around us. The people we meet, where we work, where we play.
My idea is, when I was converted, I just go forth, and I reach out to my neighbor, and it's far more than just going to a church building two or three times a week. Do you see what I'm saying?
Phil: We need to be more light for our culture, more salt, more leavening, though, in whatever vocation you happen to be. I'm a duck horn builder, but I made sure that all the people that I came in contact with I did in a nice way. I didn't beat them over the head with it, but I just want to tell them the good news about Jesus. That went … man, did that ever get … now the audiences, John, are like, you know, tens and tens of thousands at a sitting. So it went way past anything I could have ever asked or imagined. It just seemed like God just kept … the doors just kept getting ... the crowds kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
What is amazing to me is that these large crowds now that we go to all started from just a little TV show with a prayer at the end of the show. You wouldn't think that would have that much impact on our culture but, man, there's probably 30 or 40 million every week that watch that. I'm having to put up a gate down here because there's hundreds of vehicles pulling up in my yard. I was dumb enough, I've never turned on a computer in my life. I do have a master's degree from Louisiana Tech in education, but I've never turned on a computer here in my 67 years, and I don't own a cell phone.
Someone says, "Well, Robertson, you're all over the Internet, you're all over the computer." I said, "Well, how did I get there?" They said, "That is a good question, but somebody's putting you on there." The bottom line is, it just went beyond anything I could ask. I've never seen anything like it, I tell you that. I'm not quite sure what it is except maybe the Almighty is working in it.
John: Phil, do you think your life, or your wife's life, or even your family's life has changed since the start of the show?
Phil: Well, you have to remember, with us, simplicity is sort of the key. In other words, Miss Kay and I, we raised our boys to love God, love their neighbor. They saw us interact with so many people who had marriage problems and drug problems and alcohol problems that we'd invite them in, and Miss Kay would feed them and I'd tell them the good news.
Well, my sons were standing around or sitting around listening to all that. The impact that we had on them, and we all gathered up as a family and thanked God for our food, we just kept life simple. Now that the fame has come, and the money... well, you got to remember, the way we operate, with the removal of sin from our lives, and on top of that being raised from the dead, trust me, my man, and this is one family group that believes that takes precedent over any kind of fame or money. Because money and fame can't raise you from the dead, my man. Only the Almighty can do that.
Phil: You just keep the first thing, the important things the important things. Do you see what I'm saying?
John: Absolutely. Ten years from now, what do you want this whole thing to be? Where do you see yourself? Where do you see your family from now?
Phil: Well, at the end of the day, all you have when it's all over is your name and what you stood for. I'm kind of like old Patrick Henry. He said, "The United States was not founded on religions but by Christians." He said, "The United States of America was founded on the gospel of Jesus." I'm just carrying the good news forth. At the end of the day, that's about the only legacy I would care about, that they say, you know… someone asked, I think it was Daniel Webster, "What's the greatest thought that you've ever had in your mind?" He said, "My accountability to God." That's basically where I am.
John: Phil, besides the founding fathers of our country, what other influencers do you have? Are you a book reader?
Phil: Only the Bible. Very seldom do I read books or commentaries. I just stick with the Bible itself, and I keep it within arm's reach. I have a set of encyclopedias and I have a dictionary from old Noah Webster, the father of public education. He's the one that came up with the dictionary, and it's still his heir, it's still here to this day. I have encyclopedias, a good dictionary, and my Bible within arm's length of myself. I always tell people, I said, "I'm just short-circuiting the computer world."
John: I love it. I love it. Would you share with me a little bit about what God has been bringing you through, maybe in the last week or month or so?
Phil: Oh, my goodness, what are you talking about? If someone had told me that at some point riches would come, fame would come, and the opportunity to go across the United States of America and proclaim the good news, I would have said, literally I would have said, "Impossible." So, man, look, I just look back at it. All I can tell you is the audiences are getting bigger and bigger. This weekend I'll be at David Lipscomb University, and there will be about … I have to give three speeches because the building wouldn't hold but 4,500 at the time. They got three sellouts.
First, they said do one. Then they called and said, "Mr. Robertson, we filled the building up again, can you do two?" I said, "Yeah." Then they called back and said, "How about three?" I said, "I'll do it." Basically, the opportunity is there. To answer your question, with all these things, we just are sort of like men with a mission.
The good news is Alan, my oldest boy, goes out and does the same thing, and Jason does the same thing. By the way, Jase and Al are great speakers. Old Willie, and even old Jep, and as shocking as it sounds, even Si. Most people don't realize Si, as nutty as he is, Si is a very godly man. I mean, he's one of the godliest people I know. I mean, that guy is straight as an arrow, but it's beyond my pay grade to understand why so many women want to marry Silas Roberston. I said, "What are y'all thinking?" I said, "It's scary, Si, I tell you." He said, "Well, boys, you know, I've always blown a little smoke," he said, "but I never had some fool come along and say he'd pay me money to do it." He said, "They want some smoke, I'll blow it for them." Si is a very godly man. Most people don't realize that, and he is happily married up there on the side of the road. It's been a hoot just kind of watching my brother, you know, and all my kids. We've had a big time with it.
It's just a good format for a family group, a functional family, which I think the United States needed to see.
Phil: Face it boys, it's been a while since America saw actually a functional family who just loves God or their neighbor and hunts ducks. I mean, give me a break. I just don't see the downside of it. Evidently, there are at least 30 or 40 million who feel the same way I do, so there is still hope for America, boys. We're just trying to infuse a little good into our culture.
John: Amen. Phil, how can we be praying for you and your family?
Phil: Pray that the Almighty will continue to protect us, because you remember the Bible says that the gospel has divine power that demolishes strongholds. Looking at the world all around us and all the murder, the mayhem, and the mischief and all the immorality and all that, just remember this particular little family group literally is going into the teeth of the tiger. I would pray, if I were you, I'd pray for the Robertson clan as they go forth for divine protection and strength and boldness as we go forth. That's what I would pray. I would appreciate it, too, my man.
It isn't often a person can live a dream, but Phil Robertson, aka The Duck Commander, has proven it is possible with vision, hard work, helping hands, and an unshakable faith in the Almighty. If you ever wind up at the end of Mouth of Cypress Road, sitting face to face with Phil Robertson, you will see that his enthusiasm and passion for duck hunting and the Lord is no act- it is truly who he is.
"Tell us what we want, or we will beat you. You might as well tell us now and save yourself."
The story of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh is not just a story isolated unto itself. It's not just a story about two young missionaries in a highly politizied country. It's not just a story of the persecuted church.
But it's my story.
It's your story.
It's the story of what Christ is doing through His precious Bride. The Church.
In their new book, Captive in Iran, Maryam and Marziyeh recount their 259 days in Evin, the notorious Tehran prison. Here, prisoners are routinely tortured, abused, and violated. Executions are frequent and sudden. But for these two women, this hell on earth was a place of unlikely grace as they reflected God's love and compassion to their fellow prisoners and guards. Against all odds, Evin would become the only church many of them had ever known. It's an amazing story of unyielding faith—when denying God would have meant freedom. Of incredible support from strangers around the world who fought for the women's release. And of bringing God's light into one of the world's darkest places—giving hope to those who had lost everything, and showing love to those in despair.
I had the privilege to sit down and converse with Maryam and Marziyeh about their life of pursuing Christ.
John: Ladies, what an honor it is for me to talk with you. I’m very thankful to you for giving us the opportunity to dig into what’s been going on in your lives. Obviously, you have a book that tells the entire story of what took place and your activities. When I was going through it, I was amazed that, ultimately, this is a God story. I’m wondering, maybe, before we get into some of the specifics of that story, if either one of you, or both, could share with me, and the folks who read this blog, what is it like growing up in the Middle East? What is it like growing up in Iran as a child? What are some of your favorite childhood memories?
Marziyeh: Thank you, John; it’s really a blessing for both of us to share. Whenever we share, we consider it an opportunity to be a tool in God’s hands and we really appreciate you having us. About life in the Middle East, we both were raised in Muslim families and, as you know, Iran is an Islamic country. In our country, religious laws and regulations always stop people from knowing the truth. But, I can say that there are some differences between countries like Iran or other Islamic countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. It’s not the same; especially the way that the people follow the rules and the religious laws.
In Iran, most people are not real Muslims and they don’t believe in Islam. In fact, they are tired of these Islamic rules and believe that Islam is not their religion, but is forced on them. Most of them don’t know anything about the Koran or its teachings, and it might surprise you to know that they are very open to hear about Jesus and the message of salvation. That’s the difference between Muslims in Iran and Muslims in other countries. But, the government usually tries to force people to follow the old religious rules.
I remember from childhood we had to follow these rules. For example, at school, students were forced to read the Koran or other Islamic books or pray in a mosque that is in Arabic. And they didn’t let the student’s learn about other religions, especially Christianity. And all we were told at school was that Jesus was the prophet of love and peace, nothing more. It was not just about Islam and Christianity; they don’t even let the students do research and learn about other religions either. We both remember that when we were children of about seven or eight years old, they would force us to stay in line and say things against the U.S. and Israel. They forced us to say, “Death to America. Death to Israel,” before going to classes. At that time we were just children, we had no idea what we were saying, but these are the things that the government tried to force people to do even though they don’t want to do this.
Maryam: And I can add one or two more sentences about that. As you know, women in Iran have less rights compared to men, because according to the Koran there are many verses which are about women and about their rights [or lack of]. About how a husband can punish his wife it she doesn’t obey, and most of their rules are against women. Women usually have to wear a hijab, which most of the women don’t believe in, and don’t want to do. But, this Islamic government, they force them to wear Islamic cover.
John: Based on what you both just told me, is there a condition in Islamic countries, or, I guess it sounds like it’s okay to be specific to Iran, that when people think of Christianity they think of America? Or if they think of Americans, they think of Christianity. In other words, are both of those words synonymous with each other?
Marziyeh: I can say that I usually teach people that Christianity is good for Western countries because they teach them that most Christians don’t have hijab and don’t follow Islamic rules, and they don’t cover their hair. That’s why they teach (because of this) that Christianity just belongs to Western countries.
John: So any Western country, not necessarily the United States?
Maryam: It’s mostly about the United States. When they refer to the West, they refer to United States.
Maryam: And I remember I had this experience when I was talking to people about Jesus, especially young people. Some of them, their first question was, “Oh, so in Christianity, we are allowed to drink wine because in Bible it says that you are allowed to drink wine?” They like this about Christianity and they think that this is from the West.
Marziyeh: And also, they tell people who converted to Christianity that you are converted to Christianity because of this, these things, that you can drink as Maryam told or that women don’t have hijab. And also in their worship, they dance--sometimes they dance. And they tell that most Iranian people who are converted to Christianity is not because of Jesus, it’s because of freedom in Christianity.
John: Ladies, can you take a few moments to talk about how you were introduced to Christ?
Marziyeh: My story is a long story. Can I tell whole testimony or just briefly?
John: You can do whatever you would like.
Marziyeh: Okay, so Maryam said that about 10 years ago we both converted to Christianity, but at that time, we didn’t know each other. It’s been about 8 years we have known each other and we have lived together. As Maryam explained about Iran, we both grew up in an Islamic country and from my childhood I always loved God and wanted to find out more about His truth. I did everything to get closer to Him. Since I was born into a Muslim family, my only means of getting to know God was religious teachings among the Muslim and at school. But, I always had many questions that Islamic ideology and Sharia law [the moral code and religious law of Islam] could not answer for me.
The God who created me, He is like a father. He is closer to me than members of my family and I didn’t believe the wrong belief that exists in Islam. Because in Islam, they teach people that God is one who rules over the human right and punishes them for their life of sin. I believe that that was a terrifying image of God. I didn’t believe the daily mosque prayer bending several times in front of a God who was already in my heart. I had many questions like, “Why should I speak to my God in Arabic instead of my native language? Doesn’t this God understand my native tongue? Why should I pray to Him as if He is a great leader or ruler over me? and Why should I cover myself in front of a God who created me?” There were many questions like this in my mind and the answer I was getting at school was not convincing me. Despite all of this reservation, I decided to follow my religious duties and told myself, “I may be wrong, and the truth will show itself to me one day in the future.”
So I prayed in the mosque for two years with the prayer I used to with the Koran. And even would wake up in the middle of the night and pray to Him again. But this type of prayer and worshipping were not making me feel any closer to my God. On the contrary, they were distancing me further from Him as they had become a routine action that I was forced to do, not that I wanted to do. And I remember before I converted to Christianity, I had a dream and God spoke to me through my dream.
In that dream I was praying to the sky, suddenly the sky opened and a white horse came down and it spoke to me, and it said, “Sit on my back.” When I obeyed, the horse took me to a city where they were just coming out of the mosque.
At first, they couldn’t see me, or the horse, but suddenly the Muslim worshipers were revealed as wild animals with savage features. As soon as I saw them, they could see me, and they tried to kill me. So the horse ran like the wind to save me and I remember as I held its neck I felt its love pouring into me with the power and purity I have never known. After that, we were safe. I awoke but I couldn’t explain how much love God let me touch in that dream. I’ve never touched love like this before.
After this dream, I decided to put aside my religion and came to the conclusion that the most important part of being a believer is just my heart. Then I began to speak to my God in the way of a relationship between a father and a child. And one day I heard, at that time, one day I heard (from my friend who had converted to Christianity) about Jesus. That Jesus is the Son of God who has come to this Earth for us, for freedom from our sin. At that point, I became very curious, because I haven’t heard anything like that about Jesus. I just thought He was just another prophet as He had been introduced to us in our textbook at school.
John: I want to interrupt here. Did the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus scare you, to some extent, because it’s so contrary to how you were raised?
Marziyeh: No, it doesn’t scare me. But I didn’t know anything like that, I didn’t hear anything like that about Jesus. Because I just thought He was only another prophet, because in our school they teach us Jesus is just a prophet.
John: But He was not Mohammed? I mean, there is something very …
Marziyeh: They teach us He is a prophet, but not like Mohammed. In Islam they believe that Mohammed is the best and perfect prophet and that you cannot compare Mohammed with any other prophet. And that’s why I became very curious about this. I told myself, “How do I know Jesus is the truth?” It was the first time I heard that about Jesus, that Jesus is not a prophet, but that He is the Son of God. So I decided to study other religions and also I began to read the Bible because I wanted to find the truth. But, after awhile I realized that I could not possibly spend many years to study all religions of the world because there are many religions in this world, even in Christianity. I just decided, I just knelt and prayed and told God, “Please show me the truth because if Jesus is the truth, you must guide me to the right path and save me from being misguided. Because I don’t know what is the truth in this world. You are my God, you created me and you know what is the truth.”
After this praying, at that time, if I want to tell the whole story it’s long. But, I had a disease and for the first time I was invited by my friend who told me about Jesus to a church. It was the first time, first experience that I was in a church and it was very interesting for me because people were worshipping in joy and praying in their own language. And during the worship, suddenly, I heard the voice in my heart that told me Marzi, you are healed, Marzi, you are healed. I wanted to ignore it, but I told my friend, and she told me, “That is Jesus and he can heal you.”
And later at the medical appointment--that day I had a medical appointment too--when I went to my doctor’s office, when he wanted to write my prescription, he couldn’t. He put his pen down and told me, “I don’t know why I cannot write anything for you. Come back another time.” I wanted to insist him, but God reminded me of His message in the church and told me to trust Him. He had healed me, but I didn’t believe Him. I didn’t fully believe in Him because the healing was not enough proof for me. I just asked God to show me more about Himself and I wanted to be sure about this. Actually, at the bottom of my heart I had begun to believe in Jesus. But, still I had some doubt. For example, I had read the Bible but I had some doubts about Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? I couldn’t accept it; I didn’t believe it.
I remember one day I was praying, and suddenly the flames of the Holy Spirit came on to me and I received it and I began to pray in tongues. I couldn’t know what had happened to me. I didn’t know the meaning of my words but I could fully understand what I was telling to my God. And at that time, I remember while I was crying, suddenly I saw Jesus in front of me who was standing next to a large throne, which was covered with shining gold. And at that time, I wasn’t on the earth, and the middle of my forehead was burning as though someone had branded it. Suddenly, all my doubts disappeared and I felt that God had removed the curtain before my eyes and now I could see the truth. I couldn’t stop my tongue and just kept worshipping Him and I remember it was 12 at night until four in the morning. I kept praying and singing the song of praise nonstop. It was like a spiritual lovemaking that I didn’t want to end, but I couldn’t control it. By about four in the morning, I stopped praying, but what had happened to me was so incredible that I couldn’t describe it.
I always tell people that no one had forced me into anything or manipulated me. No one had cast a spell on me or hypnotized me. The explanation that I could legitimately derive from that experience was that I had met my God through the Lord Jesus Christ. From that day on, I dedicated all my life to Jesus and it’s been many difficult years with Him. During these years, I had many stories and dreams about God that each one is a long story. But I always tell that Jesus was the only person with me, every single day during the lonely life I had. And even without going to a church, I always have long walks with Him. He is next to me and He has been my guide in my life.
After that, at that time, I was working in a beauty salon and I had earned a trainer and management degree for training new hairdressers. I had this passion from the day I converted; I had this passion to talk with people about Jesus. After that, some of my friends suggested to me to start my own business. But I wasn’t interested in that because I believe my calling with people is their heart not their hair. So I quit my job, and after one of my friends suggested theology, I traded a certain future for the unknown because I had this passion to follow Jesus.
John: Were both of you ladies in Iran when you became Christians?
John: Is it different for a man than a woman being a Christian in Iran?
Maryam: Because women’s situations are different than men’s in Iran, we believe that women are more open to hearing about Jesus and the message of Christianity. This is because in Islam they don’t have equal rights with men. There are many Iran rules in the Koran about women, like temporary marriage. I don’t know if you have heard about this. Men can have a wife and also they can have temporary marriage. They can marry a woman for a few hours, for a week or a few months. They just sign a contract, they spend time with the woman, and after the contract expires, they are not together.
And there are also many other rules that men have. Husbands can beat their wives and [it says] that the wife needs to obey her husband. Because of all these wrong rules in Islam, especially for women, the women are more open to hearing about Jesus. They are tired of these rules and they don’t want to follow these rules. But I cannot say that men are not eager to hear about Christianity, too. They’re also open to hearing about Christianity; but in comparison, women, we believe, are more eager to hear because of all the Islamic rules against women.
John: Obviously, your story centers around the fact that the two of you started a couple of house churches that were underground. One was for prostitutes and the other one was for women. So both of them for women, but one was for prostitutes, specifically?
Marziyeh: No, the second one was for young people, women and even some men.
John: Oh, for young women and men. Okay, all right.
Maryam: Especially for young people.
John: Okay, like college age or even younger?
John: Yes, college. Then you were both turned in and you went to prison for almost a year? And not just any prison, but you went to one of the most severe prisons in Iran, in Tehran there, correct?
John: What was the most difficult part of being in prison?
Maryam: Prison is prison, and going to prison is not a pleasant experience for anyone. From the first day we suffered from many physical and mental tortures. For the first 14 days we were in a detention, which was in the basement and we had to spend our time with women who were prostitutes, addicted and homeless. The women who ran away from their homes… they sent us to that detention. We had to sleep on the ground. There were no carpets and we couldn’t eat for five days, for the first five days we didn’t eat at all.
Also, in Iran prisons, the situation is very difficult. Not just for political prisoners but for all prisoners. For example, there is not enough medical care and there is no doctor in prison. We could be, for nine months we suffered from different kinds of physical diseases but we were not allowed to see a doctor. Especially when they heard that we were Christians, they did not let us to see doctor. Most of the time we were under pressure and we believe that mental torture is even worse than physical torture. They sent us to a building, which is called 209 for interrogation. For 20 days we were not together and once a week we were being interrogated by two interrogators for long hours. We had to sit on chairs facing the wall blindfolded. These are all pressures that we suffered in prison.
But our most painful experience in prison was executions of prisoners with whom we were living every day; we had never experienced such a thing, it was so horrible. After those executions, we could feel the spirit of sorrow and death. We couldn’t say anything, we were just, we were shocked and we stared at each other but we had no power to speak. That was the most difficult experience for us in prison. Especially after prison, because when we got released, they executed one of our best friends and that was a shock for both of us.
Marziyeh: And also, you know our situation in comparison with other prisoners was worse because we were Christian. We were not allowed to use other facilities that there are in prison. For example, there were some classes. I cannot say it was good classes, but there was a center in prison that each prisoner could go to every day and participate in some classes. But when they heard that we are Christians they told us, “You are not allowed to come here. You are dirty. You are Christian. Because you have converted to Christianity, you are dirty.” The managers talked with me very bad and she told me, “You should be executed. You shouldn’t be here because you manipulate the mind of other prisoners. That’s why we don’t allow you to come here.” In most situations, like Maryam explained about the clinic, about these places, our rights were less than other prisoners.
John: How does one share the gospel story in an Islamic culture?
Maryam: We had this experience in New York after we finished the study in theology in 2005. We returned to Iran and we had this passion to go back and talk to our people about Jesus, because we knew how much they were thirsty to hear and how much they needed Jesus as their savior. I can say that when we were in prison, we were trying to, when we wanted to evangelize to people, we wanted to share our own testimony because we were from the same background. We were from Muslim countries and they would listen to us when they heard that we were from a Muslim background and our situation was the same as theirs.
Sometimes some of our American friends ask us, “How do you evangelize to people and how can we evangelize to Muslims?” We always tell people, it’s better for a Muslim to hear about Jesus from a Muslim background person who converted to Christianity because they can see the changes in our life. They could see how Jesus revealed himself to us and it had a great impact on them and they would listen to us. But if a person, for example, from Europe or America goes and talks to people in Iran, they wouldn’t listen as much as they listen to both of us. Usually, I share our own testimonies and how Jesus revealed himself to us.
John: Switching gears just a little bit. What do you ladies think of the church here in the West? Or, specifically, here in the United States? Is the church healthy here?
Maryam: We had different experiences here. When we moved here we understood that there are different denominations here and the churches are different. That teachings in churches are different from each other too. In Iran, there was just one official reading that the pastor was preaching in Farsi [a widely spoken Persian language, primarily spoken in Iran] and we could attend that church. But when we moved here, we observed that there are many churches, many denominations. We had both good experiences and sometimes not very pleasant experiences because of some teachings. Some churches, we believe they are just following the rules and in some churches we could see that people and believers are not--how can I say it?--alive. We couldn’t feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in some churches.
But, we had very good experiences also in other churches. We were in a church recently and we told the pastor that it was good that we came to their church because we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We met with many believers; some of them are really an encouragement and blessing to both of us. I can say that it’s different. Some Christians here are just believers. They are Christians because they are born as a Christian, like Muslims in Iran, they are born as a Muslim. There is a difference between a person who calls himself or herself a Christian or a person who is really a believer and had some personal experience with Jesus.
John: I’ve heard it said before that the persecuted church, that brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith in other countries are praying, to some extent--and take this in the right way--that those of us who are in the church here in the West become persecuted, because then we would live a more authentic Christian life. Do you feel a similar thought or ideal when you think of the church here in the West? Are we authentic? Is the church passionate enough for the glory of Christ?
Marziyeh: In our country, I can say sometimes persecution helps. For example, in our country they say because of persecution many people came to Christianity because they don’t have any hope. They are hopeless and they are disappointed. It helps to have a good relationship with God. What about here…? We heard in some churches that they believe that America needs persecution because people need persecution to have a good relationship with God. But, I don’t believe that we should pray for persecution.
In America, there is freedom, and Maryam explains that many people are born as a Christian. People should have a live relationship with Jesus, they should have a personal relationship with him. Most of the Christians here are born as a Christian, and they don’t touch Jesus in their life, it seems. They don’t have personal experience with Him. But I don’t believe that persecution can help these people or that we should pray for persecution. I don’t believe it’s correct.
Maryam: And also I think, I have this question because in some churches the pastor asked us, “If you need to pray for persecution, come to our churches.” But I don’t believe we need to pray for persecution and we don’t need to wait for persecution to come to change ourselves. These days we can hear the news about Middle East, about countries like Iran. There are many examples like Marzi and I, and other people who are in prison. These days an American pastor is in prison and many people, thousands of people hear the story. Why should we wait for persecution to come? There are many examples around us, we can look at them, we can start changing by just knowing that we cannot always be free, we cannot always worship God in freedom. There may be some time in our life that we will experience persecution. Persecution is not just going to free them. We all have difficulties in our own life and I don’t agree that they need to pray for persecution to come.
John: Amen. The truth is is that the persecuted church is still very much part of the church that I belong too. We are the body of Christ and if the church is persecuted anywhere, all of us should be on our knees praying for our brothers and sisters.
John: Ladies, how can those of us who are reading this blog or reading your book, or how can the church here in the United States be praying for our brothers and sisters in Iran? What is the biggest need?
Marziyeh: There in Iran, there are many Christians who are still there in the prison, like Saeed Abedini, I’m sure that you heard about him, and also Farshid Fathi, and there are also Christians. After we got released we heard the Iranian government arrested many Christian groups. We don’t know all of their names, but as you mentioned earlier we are all part of a body, one body in Jesus, and we should be responsible for those who are still suffering. We can pray for them. Maryam and I, when we were in prison, we could feel the power of these prayers and we have, we believe that we have power in our prayers and that we can change many things with our prayers.
And also, it’s very important to send letters to prison. When we were in prison, we heard from guards every day, we received about 50 letters and they told us that your letter is more than our official letters. And this kind of support scares Iranian government because they knew that Christians all around the world were uniting. And Christian people who are in prison are not alone. Because of all the pressure, they are scared to continue their cruelty. And also, it’s very important to inform other international organizations, people who work for human rights like the United Nation and embassies. Also, when we were in prison, we heard that the Pope from the Vatican sent a letter to the Iranian government, and that all of this activity scared this government that kept us in prison. We believe that when the public speaks out, it makes a huge difference.
John: How can we be in prayer for you ladies?
Maryam: We would like to ask you to pray for our families. They are still in Iran and we usually ask readers to pray for them. Also, here after publishing the book, we are under pressure from some attacks. Whenever we start a new mission, we have felt these attacks from Satan. When we were in Iran, we wanted to start our house churches or start distributing the Bible, and we had some attacks. Here also… it’s been three weeks since our book was published and we can feel these attacks, and we just need to be focused on our mission. We don’t want to be focused on the enemy. We want God to strengthen us so we can be focused on what He wants us to do.
Captive In Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh
Download the first chapter from Captive in Iran by clicking here.
On June 19, 2001, Ryan Corbin, grandson of Pat Boone, accidentally stepped through a
Linda Boone Michaelis
skylight and fell three stories onto a cement floor. When he broke through that roof, Ryan fell into a very different life from the one he had before as the beloved son of Lindy Boone Michaelis and first grandson of entertainment icon Pat Boone. As Ryan lingered between life and death in intensive care at UCLA Medical Center, Pat and Lindy decided to take action, in a big way; they went on Larry King Live, shared their faith, and asked millions of TV viewers to pray for Ryan. And so, they prayed. Heaven Hears is an unbelievable story of answered prayer—and it’s not over yet. This book will inspire you to look for answers to prayer and to see God’s miracles.
Lindy, yours is a book that no mom really wants to write because it’s in response to an experience that no parent ever wants to have. Please describe whathappened to your oldest son, Ryan, on June 19, 2001.
Ryan wanted to get some sun that afternoon. He and his friend and roommate Steve went up to the roof of their apartment building, and Ryan stepped on a skylight that was not protected with any border or railing. He stepped over it but not quite far enough to support his weight, and he fell three stories to a concrete surface in the courtyard of the building. Ryan was bleeding and unconscious, and his roommate Steve fortunately was there to call 911. They lived close to UCLA Medical Center and the paramedics arrived quickly, but we learned later that Ryan was not expected to survive the injuries he sustained. His lungs collapsed, his spleen burst, and he incurred massive internal bleeding. Ryan’s jaw was broken and a couple of ribs cracked. All his internal organs were traumatized and he labored to breathe. Ryan’s heart stopped a couple of times as medical professionals fought to save his life, and the huge concern was whether he had been deprived of oxygen for too long. And then of course no one can fall three stories and have that kind of impact without incurring a very serious injury to the brain. Ryan’s spleen was removed, his bones have healed, and his other organs have become stable again, but he is still on his recovery journey from a traumatic brain injury. One of your darkest moments was when you were airborne on your way back to Californiaand had no idea what would await you when you arrived. How did you handle the sense of helplessness you felt?
As it became more and more clear to me what I had been told about Ryan’s accident—and that the doctors and nurses couldn’t even risk moving him to the imaging room for a CT scan— I knew that his life was hanging by a thread. I felt unbearably trapped in that plane.
Then I had a thought. I absolutely had to write or I would explode and have a meltdown in front of everybody. My hand started pouring out the feelings of my heart on the back of one of my husband’s work papers from his briefcase. My words were a mixture of my heart emotions and my passionate prayers to God to help me face what I was about to walk into. I begged him not let the pain be for no purpose.
What was your life like prior to Ryan’s accident? We know you grew up in a famousentertainment family. Tell us how being a Boone prepared you to face the unthinkable.
I grew up in the real 90210 on the corner of Beverly Drive and Sunset Blvd, right across the street from the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel. I always knew that my dad, Pat Boone, was famous and beloved by loads of fans everywhere we went. But at home, my parents were very down to earth and normal. They worked hard to keep us from feeling entitled or spoiled. My three sisters and I had structure and rules and chores and never missed a church service unless we were sick. I was a very happy, content child and I truly meant it when I accepted Jesus at a young age.
I was 12 years old when I was baptized. I had watched my parents go through marital difficulties and witnessed a transformation in them, in their marriage and in their relationship to the Lord. Our faith took on more relevance to our day-to-day lives and became more than just about being “good” and attending church. Nothing truly prepares you in advance to handle pain, but it is so important to be grounded in the Word of God.
When I hit the first major crisis of my life at age 45, I can’t say I was prepared but I had the tools available. I decided to plunge into all I had believed about God, prayer, faith, and healing and learn to use those tools more often and more skillfully. I immersed myself in God’s presence in order to regain my footing. I put what I had been taught to the test, and when I did that, my parents’ beliefs became more my own. It’s not hard to believe in a loving, all powerful God when you live in a Beverly Hills mansion, go to private school, and have every material need met as soon as it arises. But when faith has been tested,then it becomes yours. You cannot deny it when God comes to your rescue.
If “it takes a village to raise a child,” then you must have relied on the support of familyand friends to assist with Ryan’s ongoing care. Tell us about that.
At first Ryan was so very fragile. He was in six facilities over a ten-month period. My mother and I shared the time at each facility during the day. I was there for six hours, and she spent six hours, and we overlapped our shifts so we had some time together each day. At night another family member, my husband Mike, Ryan’s dad Doug, his stepmom Vic, and other family and friends would sit with Ryan for three hours or so before a paid caregiver would come to stay the night and keep watch. Hospital staffs are stretched thin, and I couldn’t bear to have Ryan be alone, trapped without the ability to communicate and nobody with him to notice if he was in distress.
We brought him home as soon as we could modify our home for a wheelchair and shower that could work downstairs. Ryan’s condition was still so complicated that our insurance allowed a high level of in- home nursing care. It felt as if we had the benefits of the hospital in our home. I prayed for God to bring us the right caregivers who would be with us day in and day out after the nursing care ran out, and I know that our prayers were heard and answered in such a sweet way. God brought us James and Joseph to work with Ryan from the time we brought him home, and later Chris joined us, to round out a three-person team of caregivers. We had been warned that keeping good caregivers was one of the challenges that we would face, but in our case Ryan has had amazing men that I believe were sent to us. They have the biggest hearts and really have bonded with Ryan. After 8 years Joseph moved away, but he left us in good hands with his brother-in-law Erwin. We feel blessed because Ryan has had such great guys to help him.
Larry King has been a longtime friend of your family’s, and early on he asked you andyour dad to come on his network TV show to talk about Ryan’s accident and ask viewers to pray. Why did you decide to appear on Larry King Live, and what was the response?
At the first request, I told my dad I couldn’t do the show and he should go on without me. I didn’t feel I could expose my pain and raw wound to the world. It felt too personal. But after thinking it over for a short while, I thought about what Ryan would want me to do. He loved the Lord. He believed God was going to use his life to point others toward Him. I believed in the power of prayer and realized this was a huge opportunity to ask the world to pray for Ryan. If Ryan hadn’t been in a coma and we could have talked about it, I knew he would have told me to go on and lift up Jesus and ask for prayer.
I had recently read about Jesus praying aloud for his friend Lazarus, who had already died. Jesus publicly said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here that they may believe that you sent me." After this he called Lazarus from the grave and he lived! Even Jesus prayed in public for the benefit of the people there watching him. If he thought it was important to pray in public in his own pain (he had wept for his friend), I thought I was being signaled to go on that live broadcast and ask God to heal my son aloud and in faith.
Your book is called Heaven Hears. Given the fact that Ryan’s health has not yet beencompletely restored, what are some of the ways in which you feel that God has heard and answered your prayers?
I would so much like to have written this book with a different ending. I would love to report that Ryan miraculously got up out of his wheelchair and started walking, and that his behavior straightened out completely and his memory returned 100 percent intact. But when I look at the Bible as a whole, I see that some answers to prayer were a long time coming.
Sometimes God’s promises aren’t immediately evidenced, and there are many Scriptures to point out why that could be. James 1:2-4 talks about considering it pure joy when you face trials because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance which must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete.
My pastor, Rick Warren, often says that God is much more interested in our character than our comfort. This recovery journey with Ryan has grown the faith of every one of us in our family and caused us to go deeper in God. Ryan is still coming back to us. As we sat in the waiting room for weeks and weeks, we often put together jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. I think of Ryan like that, being put back together, piece by piece, and it’s so satisfying when another piece is found and slides into place. And with each piece I see the Ryan I know coming back, smiling at me. Each night Ryan and I both speak words of restoration to his brain, his body, and his behavior. I know heaven hears us call the Kingdom of heaven to earth. In the Kingdom, Ryan is already completely whole, and we are calling the manifestation of his wholeness to earth. I’m seeing it happen before my eyes, yet in the process, God is making all of us who are waiting and believing to be more mature and complete ourselves.
If this story was yours and Ryan’s alone, you would not have written a book. What advicedo you have for others who have faced tragic circumstances within their families?
I wanted to write a book that I could share with families who are in that darkest part of their lives, afraid and confused. I know how it feels to have your world turned upside with nothing that makes sense. It’s lonely, and you feel that nobody can really understand the isolation. People come around but unless they have experienced that phone call about a beloved being hurt who is hanging between this life and the next, they don’t know what to say and can’t relate. But there were a few people who reached out to me who did know, for they had been there. These were survivors who came to comfort and encourage me.
I also sought out books that offered hope about people who had suffered TBI (traumatic brain injury) and had better outcomes than doctors were telling them to expect. In many cases doctors take away your hope by telling you “what the odds are.” They don’t want you to be disappointed but rather pleasantly surprised if your loved one has a better outcome. But the nurses and often therapists offered stories of hope.
Ryan’s story will offer hope to many people. Some may not want to hear that he’s not perfectly healed yet. That’s not the story they are looking for. I may have had that attitude early on. But some families would be delighted to see their loved one make the progress that Ryan has made. They need to have hope that their loved one can get better than they may have been led to believe and that they themselves will smile again. I didn’t think I ever would.
I want people to know that when their foundation is shaken and it all comes crumbling down, they cannot rely on medical specialists or their own strength of will. The only sure place they can stand is on is God’s Word. We can place our confidence in His unique ability to take our rubble and broken pieces and rebuild something amazingly beautiful. I want others to know that they can fight but to fight the right enemy -- take the battle to their knees and know that they have heaven’s armies to back them up.
You and your family have begun a nonprofit foundation to help survivors of brain injuryand their families. Tell us about Ryan’s Reach and the ways in which Ryan’s own story is still unfolding.
We know we are fortunate because Ryan received a settlement after his accident which allows us to be able to afford caregivers. We are in the minority, though, and most mothers and fathers are the caregivers. We started Ryan’s Reach so that we can address the needs of families who have exhausted their resources and energy and need help.
Ryan attends High Hopes Head Injury Program in Tustin, California—a day program for people over 18 years of age who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke. We raise money primarily through two annual fundraisers which provide scholarships so others can attend this great program. High Hopes is a nonprofit, but it still requires approximately $2,600 a month to attend the program full-time. This is nothing compared to facilities that are for-profit. Most of the students at High Hopes are in no position to pay this, so they are in need of funding. We assist as many as we can, but we want to do so much more.
Our vision includes increasing the numbers of scholarships we can fund and helping High Hopes grow to be able to accept more students. We also foresee a respite care element to our foundation, allowing parents and spouses to get a break. Many parents haven’t had a vacation or even a date night in a long, long time as it’s hard to trust others with the complicated needs of someone with TBI.
To read more about Lindy's book, Heaven Hears, click here.
That’s how he describes the wealthy existence of most people in first world countries like the U.S. As World Vision President, however, he’s also familiar with those living in a “tragic kingdom,” where food, clean water and medicine are chronically in short supply. Stearns says the common denominator between the two is what both are missing: both the Magic Kingdom and the Tragic Kingdom need a breakthrough of God’s kingdom.
Richard Stearns encourages readers to discover their unique roles in God’s Kingdom, regardless of where they live. His new book, Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning, describes how to find a life of true significance and meaning. “I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and our sense of feeling incomplete in our faith,” writes Stearns. “This is inevitable, because there is a direct connection between our story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do.”
Below are some questions about his new book.
Q: Since the release of your first book, The Hole in Our Gospel, you’ve spoken to thousands of people while traveling on behalf of World Vision. What are you hearing from Christians?
A: There is a powerful common thread of longing that I hear from them—a yearning for a deeper sense of purpose and significance in their walks with the Lord. They want to discoverthat one thing that God is calling them to do. They long to feel that they are doing something important for God and that their lives really count for something. Many of them tell me they feel incomplete, as if something about their lives is unfinished. They are young and old, male and female, wealthy and not-so-wealthy. They are lawyers and real estate agents, homemakers and students, accountants and engineers, receptionists and CEOs. All of them want to experience the satisfaction of really knowing that their lives matter and that they are living in “the zone” of God’s calling and purpose for their lives. They want to feel complete and whole, living lives in which their faith is integral and not just something they do on Sundays.
Q: What perspective can you offer those who are seeking God’s call on their lives?
A: If I have learned anything about the purpose, meaning, and significance of life over the years, I have learned that, for a Christian, it is not found in any job, even a job like mine. It is not found in any human relationship, no matter how important. Nor is it found in any accomplishment, no matter how significant. Meaning, purpose, and significance are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes in lives committed to following Jesus Christ. That bears repeating: The meaning, purpose, and significance of our lives are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes, in lives committed to following Jesus Christ.
In other words, it is not our work that brings purpose to our lives; nor is it our spouses, our families, our educations, our abilities, our money, or our accomplishments. Rather, it is the purpose of our lives that brings meaning to everything else. And we find the purpose for ourlives only in Christ.
Q: If it’s that simple, why do so many first-world Christians lack a sense of purposeful
A: We all know the familiar expression “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” It is used to describe a person who is so absorbed in the things right in front of him that he has lost a sense of the bigger picture. I believe that this is exactly what has happened to many Christians in the twenty-first century—we have become so absorbed by the “trees” of our everyday lives that we have lost a sense of the bigger story within which our lives take place. We grow up, go to school, begin careers, get married, have kids, and struggle daily with life’s challenges.These are the “trees” of our lives that occupy most of our waking hours.
Our church lives aren’t all that different. We go to church each week, sing some songs, and listen to a sermon. Maybe we even pray before meals, read our Bibles daily, and participate in small group Bible studies. But they can become just more trees in a life already cluttered with trees. What happened to the forest; what happened to the bigger story? Who are we? Why are we here, and where are we headed? How do we fit into God’s big story? A hiker who no longer has a sense of the bigger landscape around him becomes lost and confused, often wandering in circles because he is disoriented and no longer knows where he has come from or where he is headed. If we are ever truly going to find purpose and meaning in our lives, we first have to rise above the trees to rediscover the forest—we have to understand what God is doing in the world and how we fit in.
Q: And this re-discovery of mission is the theme of your new book, Unfinished?
A: As the title of this book suggests, there is some unfinished business for followers of Christ in our world: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14)
I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and our sense of feeling incomplete in our Christian faith, because there is a connection betweenour story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission in the world, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do. We are like birds meant to fly but living in a cage; fish meant to swim but floundering on the beach. It makes sense when you think about it. If the Author of the universe created us to play a key role in his unfolding drama but we have failed to find our place in that story, then of course we would feel incomplete.
Q: How do you hope readers will respond to this mission?
A: There are as many ways to join the great mission of Christ in our world as there are people. My book introduces just a few of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered who are living their own kingdom adventures. The one thing they all share is the unwavering belief that God made them for a purpose, to serve him and to build his kingdom. They have rearranged their lives to put Christ and his kingdom mission at the center. They have enlisted; they have joined the rescue mission to take back the world for Christ, to serve as ambassadors of his love and to herald the good news of the gospel.
I hope readers respond by looking around them. What can you see? What is yours to do? In God’s expanding kingdom there is no unimportant job and no insignificant person. Is there a single mom who needs your encouragement, a child who needs your love? Do you see the elderly woman, lonely for a friend; a drowning teenager, hungering for a dad? Have you looked into the hearts of those you work with and seen the desperation in their lives? Is there an immigrant family struggling to adjust, needing a friend to guide them in a foreign place? Is there a social problem that you might mobilize people to solve? Do you have in your bank account the money that a floundering ministry needs to survive, that a homeless man needs to get a fresh start? Do you have skills and abilities that others need— in finance, as a doctor or lawyer, or as a handyman who can repair a broken-down car? Is there an issue of justice for which you can advocate, a wrong that you can right? Do you ache for the children who die from hunger, the orphans lacking a home, or the widow with children who just needs a loan? So many people are crying out to God for his help. Might you be the answer to one of their prayers?
You are needed to help build God’s kingdom. This is where your adventure begins.
As president of World Vision, United States, Stearns is responsible for fundraising among
American donors, program management, and advocacy to the U.S. government on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Working in about 100 countries, World Vision (www.WorldVision.org) is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty.
The busy physician has a pediatrics practice in Dallas, Texas, and meeting and falling in love with surgeon Tom Peterson is adding a rich layer to her life. She's sorting out how to introduce Tom to her family--she's the youngest of seven--and thinking about marriage.
She's falling in love with Jesus too, and knows God is good. But that faith is about to be tested, and in a way she didn't expect. The results will soon transform her entire family.
We asked Dee a few questions about her new book:
Dee, you have had a lot of fans voice interest in the continuation of the O’Malley Series. With the up-coming release of Jennifer, are you excited to get feedback from your readers to this new title?
The best part of my day is reader mail, and the most popular request I get is that readers want to know more about Jennifer O’Malley. So I am very excited that Bethany House is bringing out this novella. Jennifer and Tom are engaged in the first book of the O’Malley series, and this novella lets me go back and share their personal story in the year before book one of the series, The Negotiator. They had a wonderful romance, and a significant challenge to face together. I am eager to hear feedback from readers.
How did it feel to bring back the O’Malley family?
The O’Malley stories resonate because they are about Jesus, family, and falling in love – they’ve got a timeless quality to them which made returning to this series a wonderful opportunity. I’ve had the desire to go back and revisit this series for several years. After 18 books, Marcus O’Malley is still one of my favorite characters, and Lisa and Quinn one of my favorite couples. It was a personal pleasure to write this novella. It’s my hope Jennifer: An O’Malley Love Story allows another generation of readers to fall in love with this family.
Do you have a special connection to a particular character in Jennifer? If so, who and why?
Jennifer herself. Jennifer’s relationship with Jesus, her marriage to Tom, formed the core spine of the O’Malley series. Getting to now write her personal story was a wonderful joy. I admire her ability to cope with a crisis, and see it from the perspective of believing in God, to keep her faith, and her love for Tom. It’s a short and powerful story.
Have any of the characters in the O’Malley series mirrored anyone, related or non-related, that has been a part of your life, past or present?
I know a few guys like Jennifer’s choice in Tom, husbands who love their wives deeply and build a great life and marriage even through adversity. They stick when life is hard, and it’s a blessing to know them.
Would you ever like to see one of your novels made into a movie? If so which one, and who would you want to star in it?
My fans debate this question with great intensity so I will leave the choice of who should play which person to my readers. I would love to see one of my stories on the big screen, most writers would. The story most easily translated to film would be Full Disclosure, and I hope it does make it to the big screen one day soon.
Dannah's new book, Get Lost, she traces God’s language of love through Scripture to help you pursue your heart’s deepest desires and seek love the way God designed it to be. Because once you identify your true longings and let God answer them, you’ll know just how to respond when romantic love comes along.
I exchanged a few questions with Dannah recently and wanted to share them with you.
What made you interested in being an author?
I have loved writing since I was very small. Entered a national poetry contest when I was in first grade and won. Haven't stopped since. The catch is that when I was a teenager I dreamed of being a fiction writer. If only! God calls me to write the truth of my life transparently so that others can learn from my hurt and heartache without taking the field trip themselves!
My mom! Her faith led me to Christ and she has been a prayer warrior for me through the years. I long to have her selflessness and purity of heart.
What does your family do to relax?
We live on a hobby farm with horses, peacocks, llamas, fainting goats, chickens, dogs and cats. Relax might not be the right word, but we like loving them. (Translation: We muck stalls, throw hay and herd them when they get loose).
Coffee or tea?
I'm a tea girl, but everyone on my tour team drinks coffee so they are slowly winning me over. I'm up to half a cup of coffee with half a cup of milk in it! Of course, they say I am a wimp.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels—The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, Dead Heat, The Twelfth Imam, and The Tehran Initiative—and five nonfiction books, Epicenter, Inside the Revolution, Implosion,Israel at War, and The Invested Life, with nearly 3 million copies sold. The Ezekiel Option received the Gold Medallion award as the "Best Novel of 2006" from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Joel is the producer of two documentary films based on his nonfiction books. He is also the founder of The Joshua Fund, a nonprofit educational and charitable organization to mobilize Christians to "bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus" with food, clothing, medical supplies, and other humanitarian relief.
Joel's newest book, Damascus Countdown is available now and one scan of the description will put you on the edge of your seat.
All eyes are on the Middle East. Israel has successfully launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads - and causing The Twelfth Imam to order a full-scale retaliation. U.S. President William Jackson threatens to support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish State for unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression.
Meanwhile, CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived the attack and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. In danger not only from the ongoing missile strikes on Iran but also from the increasingly hostile and suspicious governments of multiple countries, David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.
With Damascus Countdown, bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg returns with another adrenaline-charged political thriller - a gripping tale snatched from future headlines.
All that to say, it's amazing what God has brought Joel through. Certainly God has had his hand on Joel and has allowed him to make the story of Christ bigger through fictional writing.
John: Joel, I’m wondering maybe if you could give us a little bit of background information as to just who Joel Rosenberg is? I know that you were born into a family where your father is Jewish, was Jewish, and your mom was not. Is that correct?
Joel: It’s true. My father still is Jewish, he still believes in …
John: Of course.
Joel: Jesus as the Messiah, but he was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. His parents and grandparents escaped out of Russia as Orthodox Jews in the early 1900s, when the Czar was leading the war and encouraging the pogroms--those terrible waves of anti-Semitism against the Jewish people. Their family was able to escape, and eventually got to the United States, and like any good Jewish family, they set up shop in Brooklyn, which is where my dad was born and raised.
My mom was raised in upstate New York in a little town called Rome. You might expect that it was a pretty Catholic town, being called “Rome.” My grandfather—her father—was Catholic, but her grandmother was Protestant Methodist, and unfortunately her father was a very violent, alcoholic, abusive man and eventually left the family and divorced my mother’s mother.
My mom was now an only child to a single mother in the ‘40s and that was a tough place to be. My mom was raised in the church, but she was not particularly religious. She never heard the Gospel in her particular church, and of course, my father never heard the Gospel growing up. They were both pretty much agnostics when they met and married in the mid-60s. A few years later, in 1967, I was born, and our whole family’s story began to take an interesting turn.
John: You said you were born in New York State?
Joel: Yes, I was born in Syracuse. That’s where they met. My father was an architect, working at his first job as an architect. My mom was doing graduate work at Syracuse University, and they met at a party and fell in love, and my father proposed. Though, I have to say that my Jewish grandmother was so upset at the idea that he was going to propose to a Gentile woman that she offered to buy the engagement ring back from him, at a profit to him, if he did not do this, but he went for it anyway.
John: Joel, how does Christ enter into your family?
Joel: My parents were seekers. They really were lost and it was the ‘60s. They weren’t really counter-cultural, but they were newly married in 1965. They were trying to establish a life for themselves, but they felt lost. They felt sure that there was a God; they just didn’t know who He was. When they looked back at my father’s background in Orthodox Judaism, it surfaced a lot of painful memories for him. Now, there are many wonderful, warm, loving Orthodox Jewish families and communities. My father did not live in one, however; so he didn’t think that digging into Orthodox Judaism was going to help him. My mom’s experience with her violent Catholic father left that option without any particular appeal. And since she had grown up in what was, quite honestly, a dead little Protestant church that hadn’t taught her the Gospel, she didn’t have much hope for that either.
They read the Koran. They got confused. They didn’t find it that interesting. They read the Bhagavad Gita and looked into Hinduism. They didn’t really get that either and didn’t have any draw there. They tried to read the New Testament, but they just didn’t get it, honestly, and so they’d go for long walks, talk about, “Do you know God? How are we going to find God? Does anyone know God?”
One day they happened to visit a church and they were sitting there and the pastor wasn’t there, but some visiting young couples had been asked to lead the service that day--an atypical scenario for that particular denomination. As it happened, and these couples were saying, “We were raised in the church, but honestly we never knew that we had to be born again, and that you couldn’t just go to church and then know God, you had to accept Him in your heart, you had to receive Christ by faith.”
My mom began to sit up a little, and leaned forward. She had never heard of verses like John 3:16 or John 14:6. She literally didn’t know the Good News, that Christ had died for her to forgive her, to adopt her into His family. As an orphaned kid essentially, an abandoned kid--in her min--from a broken family, the idea of God adopting her into His family was a game-changer! She just was electrified, and she thought, “How do you do that?” Well, they explained how.
They said, “Afterwards, when the service is done, if you want to come forward and ask some questions, great. If you’d like to make the decision to receive Christ, then you’ll really start to know God because He’ll be living inside of you.” Her response was, “Yes!” So she went forward, prayed to receive Christ, and assumed that my father was right next to her sharing her enthusiasm, but he wasn’t. He was finding coffee out in the lobby.
Anyway, he basically said to her, “Listen honey, I know we’re on this search, but I’m Jewish. Jews do not believe in Jesus, it’s not going to happen. I’m happy for you, but I don’t believe that. No.” To his credit, he was willing to go to a small group Bible study that my mom wanted to join. There, they were going to go through the Gospel according to Luke and study it, chapter by chapter. My father thought, “Look, any good, red-blooded American ought to know the New Testament. I tried to read it; I didn’t understand it. Sure I’ll go just so I will know the basic plot, that’s fine.”
After six months of listening carefully, two things stunned him. First, he was stunned by really reading the Word of God, because he never had done that. He had never just sat and read the Word of God, certainly not in English; he read some in Hebrew, but he didn’t understand it. To read the Word of God was electrifying to him. Confusing, admittedly, but there was something about it. I guess I don’t have to tell you, your readers or your staff this, but God’s Word is powerful!
Well, it began to affect him. The second thing that was transformative was something he never knew as a Jewish person, which was that Jesus had actually claimed to be the Messiah. He knew that Christians thought He was the Messiah, but he didn’t realize that Jesus Himself had been challenged on this point and said, “Yes, that’s exactly who I am.”
When he came across verses like that in Luke, he was shocked and thought, “Wait a minute, wait just a minute. If you claim to be the Messiah and you’re not, then I can’t call you a good teacher anymore.” This has been the classic C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell logical analysis. My father hadn’t ever heard of those two men, but he was an architect. He had an engineering mind--a logical mind--and he said to himself, “If Jesus claims to be the Messiah, which He clearly does, and He isn’t one,” which is what he thought, “then either Jesus knew He wasn’t the Messiah and was just lying to people, or He thought he was the Messiah and He’s just crazy.” But as he continued to study through Luke, he could not come to the conclusion that this person, Jesus, was a liar or a lunatic. Six months after they started in that study, he came home one day and said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I received Him by faith today on the bus coming home from work.” That was the beginning of a very serious revolution in our family, both my parents within six months of each other coming to faith in Jesus as Messiah.
[All that to say,] I was growing up in a lost, agnostic house and suddenly my parents were saying they believe in Jesus and started dragging my sister and I off to church every week. I can’t say I was a big fan of that.
John: Tell us a little bit about that journey. Obviously, if they are the ones that certainly made this decision, something was changing in the family dynamic. How did you and your sister approach this new idea?
Joel: Differently. We approached it very differently. I was a little resentful at first. I didn’t like having to go to church. I didn’t like being put in a Sunday school class where the kids seemed to already all know the Bible stories. Literally, the pastor’s son and some of the Elders’ daughters were there, and the class wasn’t that big, but everybody knew the Bible stories and I didn’t know any of them. Then they had, I don’t know if you used to force, I mean, “encourage” your kids to do sword drills?
Joel: "Hold up the Bible and say, “John 3:16,” and whoever finds it first gets a Wiffle ball and bat." That’s what they did in our class to encourage study of the Bible by, let’s say, friendly competition. I just was embarrassed because I would lose every week. They would say, “John 3:16,” and I was like, “I see a Mark, a Johnny, a Gary, a Nancy, I don’t see any John, who’s John?” I’d never read the Bible. I had never looked at the Bible. I don’t think I’d ever held a Bible.
Over the next few years, my parents got me a little pocket New Testament. It might’ve been a Gideon Bible; certainly it was along those lines. It was funny; it was one of those Bible New Testaments that have the Psalms and the Proverbs in the back. One day they said in class, “Ready? What’s the last Book of the Bible?” I looked up first and I got my hand up before everyone, and everyone was shocked because I never won. I never even played basically.
John: Yes, I know where this is going.
Joel: He said, “Oh, wow! Joel, what’s the last Book of the Bible?” and I said, “Proverbs.”
John: Oh yes, of course.
Joel: They just laughed. They said, “No, no, it’s Revelations.” I said, “Not in my Bible,” and I’m pointing it out to them: “It’s right there, black and white, give me that bat, give me that ball.” But, of course, they wouldn’t do it. I think I’m still a little bit bitter. I’m working out my angst on that one.
The bottom line is, I wasn’t a big fan. The only thing worse than Sunday school, to me was the fact that in our church we had VBS. We get to the end of the school year, and there was no Sunday school for summer. We had summer vacation, so I thought, “Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” Then I was like, “Oh no, my parents are making me go to Vacation Bible School …” And every day too. That was a disaster. The short version of that was, I really resented that because I’m not a big fan of singing, or wasn’t at the time, and I don’t like crafts, and that’s basically all you do in Vacation Bible School. At least that’s the way it was where I was raised, in the little town of Fairport, New York. It was terrible. I did like those stories about Jesus, though, but I thought, “I can think of a lot of better ways to spend my summer morning than gluing elbow macaroni to burlap to write out ‘Jesus loves me.’”
It was through that process, and honestly, prayer--the prayers of my Sunday school teachers, the lady around the corner that had VBS in her basement, parents—and the model of seeing my parents changing that I changed too. That year, when I was eight years old, I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart as my Savior. I believe I really truly was born again at that moment, even though I didn’t understand it all, and was able to receive this as a child by faith.
It was a number of years before it began to become truly, deeply transforming to me. It had an effect early on, but it wasn’t really until high school that I had to wrestle it through more deeply and then began to take it more seriously. That’s the short version of my process, my journey.
John: Needless to say, all of the workings or the activities that your Sunday school teachers and your VBS teachers had done for you specifically, Joel, they didn’t really have much effect. It was something far…
Joel: No, I would say it did, but it wouldn’t have looked that way to them. The answer of that all, the conclusion is, they did have an effect, it’s just that I didn’t look like a kid that was responding. Their faithfulness, teaching the Word of God, praying for me and loving me, being patient with me, did open my heart. In effect, it only took a few years, so in the grand scheme of things it didn’t look so difficult.
The heavy lifting was God saving my parents. I’m grateful for those Sunday school teachers and that Vacation Bible School teacher. In fact, I was teaching once at a church a few years ago and I was telling that story. People were laughing and I was maybe milking it a bit, and lo and behold, who should show up in the lobby but the lady who was running the VBS class. She was like, “Wow, it was that bad?” I said, “No, yes, I guess that’s the way I felt, but you heard the end of the story, it worked! God’s Word works.” I was very grateful and was able to tell her face-to-face.
John: It’s amazing…
Joel: Thank God for all the patient Bible school teachers out there.
John: Absolutely. It’s amazing the tools that God uses to bring people to Himself.
John: Joel, so then in high school, you understood the reality of God’s grace towards you and you received Him as your Savior? At what point did you start leaning towards writing?
Joel: That same year that I was eight years old that I prayed to receive Christ, that same year I remember having a real interest in either writing and making movies or writing novels. Basically, I wanted to become a storyteller.
Looking back, perhaps it’s fair to say those two moments converged. Obviously, it took a long time to play itself out. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I took my faith particularly seriously and started sharing my faith in high school. I started a Bible study and tried to reach everybody in my high school with the Gospel. I really got electrified halfway through my junior year, and I’d always been interested in writing, and ended up going to film school at Syracuse University.
Years later, actually, the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin to write my first novel and who knew, it became a New York Times Bestseller. This was the book, The Last Jihad, which released in November 2002. Usually when you write your first book, you just hope that your mother can find it in a bookstore within a hundred miles of her house, not that it would become a bestseller. I couldn’t have anticipated that.
That was a long time away from my early dreams of being a writer, but, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I think He did a lot to refine those desires and take me through some other paths and to prepare me for what was coming. My goodness, I can’t say either my wife or me anticipated that if I made a pivot in my career, from politics to writing novels, that that would be successful.
John: Joel, in writing these books, the Lord certainly has used you to open some very significant paths in conversation. You’ve had the opportunity to be on numerous television news programs, and radio as well. You’ve been on ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC; you’ve talked with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many others. When you walk into those settings and you are in an environment that is certainly different than the one that you and I are in right now, how do you go about it? What is your goal in that type of conversation? What do you hope to accomplish as they are trying to figure out what you stand for and what your books have been doing as well as what’s going on over in the Middle East? What is your goal in that process?
Joel: It’s a great question. Maybe the simplest way to answer it is to tell the story, just briefly, of what happened when the first novel was released. In other words, in terms of my novels, yes, my objective is to write geopolitical thrillers that are heart-pounding, edge of your seat, can’t put them down, stay up all night-type thrillers. I want to entertain. I want to grab people by the collar and pull them in on an adventure ride that they can’t let go of and that they finish to the end.
That’s the first objective. In that, I want my characters to show a whole range of different emotions and ideas, and I want some of them to be on a spiritual journey. Being on a spiritual journey has been a significant part of my parents’ life and my own life, and I think this is the most eternal point. Not every person who reads one of my novels is going to necessarily going to react well to some of the spiritual sub-themes; but they’re there and they’re important to me.
I think the novels stand on their own as geopolitical thrillers, but I also want them to spark some thinking on a range of issues, one of which is, “What about this? Where am I going when I die? What is my future and can I have a relationship with God that’s personal?” Those are my objectives, and so, I certainly hope when I walk into a radio interview or a TV or print interview, that those types of conversations will come up.
What’s amazing is that they do come up. Not every time, but when I first released The Last Jihad, that novel, from the first page, puts the reader inside the cockpit of a jet plane, which has been hijacked by radical Muslim terrorists and is coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city. That’s how the book begins and I wrote that nine months before September 11, 2001. As The Last Jihad continues, it leads from this kamikaze attack on an American city to a war between the United States and Saddam Hussein over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. All of that was written before 9/11.
When the book, The Last Jihad, released in November 2002, believe me, no one had ever heard of Joel Rosenberg, no one had ever heard of The Last Jihad, and honestly nobody really cared. When that book came out, people were so intrigued with the plot, not with me, not with my faith, not with my parents’ spiritual story growing up. What they were interested in was, “Wait a minute, you wrote about a kamikaze attack on the United States by Muslims nine months before it happened and about a war between the United States and Iraq and now we’re debating whether we should have that very war? How was that possible? How did you do that?” That was the conversation we were having.
I was on 160 radio and television programs in less than 60 days, from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas and early January of that year. I remember one of the interviews very early on, it might have been the second day of the media tour, someone was asking me, the radio host was asking me, and actually he was from my hometown, Rochester, New York, and he was asking me, “How could you do this? How could you write a book that seems to be true, but it’s fiction?”
We talked about that and he said, “What do you think is going to happen next, if you’re so insightful about the future?” We talked a little bit about where I thought we might be going in terms of a war with Iraq and how that might happen and why. Then he said, “I don’t understand, Joel, your name is Rosenberg?” I said, “Right.” He said, “That’s Jewish, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, it is, on my father’s side.” He said, “But your characters, some of them in this book, are talking about Jesus, aren’t they?” I said, “Yes, they are.” He says, “What are you, an Evangelical? A born again?” He thought that was nutty. I said, “Yes, I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah, so yes.” He said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?”
I was not prepared for that question. It’s a nice question to be asked, and I’ll own that question, but I did not imagine it would be asked on day two of this Last Jihad book tour. I was a little flummoxed, honestly. Perhaps I was not always prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that was in me, which is not good, but nevertheless I was just caught off-guard.
I said, “Sir, it’s an interesting story, but I am sure that we don’t have time for me to explain it to you on your radio show.” He said, “Are you kidding?” He said, “It’s one thing to have a guy on my show who writes fiction that seems to come true. It’s another thing to meet a Jew who believes in Jesus. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’m going to have you on after the break and you can tell your story.”
That began what has continued for 10 years now, not on every show, not on every interview, but with a lot of them, where people ask about the spiritual themes or the biblical themes or about my own personal life. Somehow they ask, they get interested, and I love to answer those questions, much like when Jesus was hanging on the cross and one of the thieves said, “Remember me.” It was the thief who started that spiritual conversation. I love to start a spiritual conversation if I can, but sometimes they get started by other people and I have an opportunity to respond.
John: Joel, I love that story. It’s amazing to me to think how often God has put you into these very, and perhaps sometimes precarious, situations for an amazing task. What a splendid opportunity that God has called you to be a part of. Joel, I’m wondering, oftentimes, I don’t want to say that it’s specific to the Evangelical community, but obviously that’s what we live in, so that’s what we’re going to talk about, oftentimes, within the Evangelical community, people will take a book and apply it to their own life, as if it is the Word of God itself. In other words, they might take a book and not necessarily claim that it has the same authority as the Word of God, but they will hold almost very close to it.
Within Christian fiction writing on occasion, various books have had that type of approach. People have looked at books such as yours in a biblical or prophetical fictional writings and said, “This is how things are going to pan out.” How do you, as a follower of Jesus, how do you approach someone with that type of thought behind them?
Joel: That’s a good question. I can’t say that I have met a lot of people, in person anyway, that have taken my books and thought that my novels were the way it was going to be. That could be happening. They’re not writing to me and I’m not meeting them.
One of the things that fiction allows me to do is play out a scenario of what could happen, and therefore be able to raise a concept, an idea, a scenario in the minds of readers that they may not have thought about. For example, one of my novels, The Ezekiel Option, which was released in 2005, is about a Russian dictator rising to power and forming an alliance with Iran and a group of other Middle Eastern countries. Then they try to attack Israel. That novel is based on a prophecy, the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39, which is what Bible scholars call the War of Gog and Magog.
What really has fascinated me personally is Bible prophecy, and when I started studying the War of Gog and Magog, I was intrigued. One, because I’m from a Russian background, my family escaped out of Russia. Two, I had an opportunity to work for Benjamin Netanyahu, who, of course, is the current Prime Minister of Israel. Three, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and a student of the Scriptures, and all of those things are elements in Ezekiel 38 and 39, Russia, Israel, the Word of God.
I wrote a novel that said, “Listen, I was thinking to myself, I don’t know exactly how that prophecy is going to happen, and I can’t say that that prophecy is going to come true in my lifetime, but what if it did? What a novel allows me to do is ask what if, and in this case, what if this prophecy comes true in our lifetime, and what if it happens this particular way? Not to say that it will, but what if it did? What would that look like? What would that feel like? What might happen? What might be the implications, personally and then nationally and internationally, if those prophecies came true in our lifetime?”
That totally intrigued me, and I think it’s intrigued a lot of people. We’re almost at three million copies of these books sold, so I think it’s reasonable to say people are also interested in those questions, “What if?”
I think any good novel, certainly a political thriller, for example, the genre I’m working in, ought to start with a very compelling “What if?” scenario and if it’s compelling enough, people will read it, not because they think, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but they think, “Gosh, what if it did?” It gets a ball rolling to have people asking themselves, in this case, “Is Russia forming an alliance with Iran? Is there any evidence of that? Does that prophecy say that? What does that prophecy say? What do other people think about that prophecy? What do I think about that prophecy? What does that prophecy mean to me?”
It’s a prophecy most people have never spent any time thinking about. In fact, Tyndale (publisher) didn’t even want to call it The Ezekiel Option, because they thought the word Ezekiel just sounds boring. It’s supposed to be a thriller. I found it thrilling and they were ultimately persuaded.
I hope that’s helpful, at least in my perspective, on how I hope readers are looking at my novels, as thought-inducers. I can see that some people might be out there, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but I’m trying to… I don’t buy into that. I don’t accept that, and that’s not the goal.
Middle East Expert Joel Rosenberg Analyzes Israel/Gaza/Iran Tensions on FOX News
Published on Mar 21, 2013
John: Joel, you don’t want to give anything away here and I completely understand. Real quick here, we’re getting close to the end of time, or at least our time…
Joel: That’s true in the…
John: In the big scheme of things, that’s very true.
Joel: Who knows exactly when that ends? No one knows that day or hour, but you in your case, yes, okay, we know that.
John: Yes. Joel, you are much more than an author and a speaker. You have also been doing some unique things with the country that your father would hold dear with Israel as well. Do you want to explain a little bit about the Epicenter Conference that you did?
Joel: Sure. A few years ago, we noticed that there was so much interest in the books that people wanted to talk about these issues and talk, not about the fictional side only, but also what’s really happening. “Joel, you did work for a Prime Minister of Israel, for a Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Natan Sharansky, and for others, you interact with generals and intelligence officers and so forth, what do you see really happening in the Middle East? What is coming? What are the timelines?”
We put together a conference called the Epicenter Conference. People can learn about it at epicenterconference.com. We’re having another one, for example, this summer in Jerusalem. Sometimes we have them in Israel and sometimes we have them in the United States. Most of the videos of the speakers from the last number of years are online at epicenterconference.com, so people can watch them for free.
The short version is, they give us an opportunity to look at some of the key issues, the geopolitical issues, some of the economic issues, but also the spiritual issues, “What is God doing? We see what the enemies of the Bible are doing in the Middle East, building weapons, terrorism, and so forth, but what is God doing?” We’ve interviewed Jewish believers, Iranian believers, Arab believers, former terrorists. It’s given us a forum to talk about what is really happening in that part of the world, not just from a geopolitical angle or an economic angle, but also through what I call the third lens of Scripture.
That’s now tied together, these conferences, with the ministry that my wife and I started seven years ago, called The Joshua Fund, which is a ministry to mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus. We educate people around the world, mostly Christians, about what’s happening in Israel and the Middle East, and what God’s plan and purpose is for the people of that region, but we also then do practical work. We provide food and clothing and medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to the poor and needy. We do that mostly through local believers, though we also are connected to government, mayors, and welfare agencies and so forth.
The idea is to help Christians understand what’s happening, but then give them a chance to make a difference. We also teach the word of God. We do pastors' training, trying to strengthen the local believers to be a light in the darkness. The bottom line of that, John, is that I don’t want to just write novels about what might happen or what will happen but we don’t know exactly will happen. I don’t want to just write fiction. These things are real. People are really in the midst of war and suffering. I want to try, as best I can to, mobilize people to make a difference, to be a blessing, to be a witness for the Lord in the place where He’s going to come back to anyway. That is an important element of what I do.
Fortunately we’ve got a great team that God has helped us build, and so I don’t have to do all that myself. It’s been exciting to help build that team and lead it, even as I try to keep my focus primarily on the writing of these novels.
John: Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk.