"It's taken me some time to REALLY believe that when Jesus said 'It's done,' He MEANT it. There is such a default setting in me that wants to earn my way to being loved by God. There is also a default setting in me that thinks I can un-earn my way to being loved by Him. Both, by His grace need to constantly be re-set by the Gospel of Grace. He loves me. Now. Even while the 'old man' remains. He loves me. He loved my wretched heart to death.."
Posted on May 31, 2013 by Family Christian
Posted on May 31, 2013 by Melissa Taylor
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19 (NIV 1984)
God, are You enough? It's a question my circumstances bring me to quite often.
Over a lifetime I've concluded not only is God enough, but He has to be enough.
It takes effort on my part to make sure my heart is staying in this truth.
As a young child, I didn't realize my need for God, but I did realize I had a need that was not fulfilled. I was sexually abused when I was seven years old. My dad left our family when I was eleven. Both circumstances left me devastated, and I didn't understand then how God could ever heal my broken heart. So I spent many years trying to heal myself and make myself feel better.
Nothing was enough to meet my needs. Nothing worked.
As I grew older, I moved from being a Christian who simply believed, to becoming a Christian actively seeking and following Jesus. That was when my life began to change.
Because I was having direct conversations with God through prayer and consistently reading His Word, my faith grew. I learned that when the hard knocks came, and they would, I needed to ask one question: "God, are You enough?"
When a friend betrays me, "God, are You enough?"
When I need to forgive what seems unforgivable, "God, are You enough?"
When my child has issues out of my control, "God, are You enough?"
When my marriage is on the brink of destruction, "God, are You enough?"
When my mom is dying of cancer, "God, are You enough?"
When others don't recognize my value, "God, are You enough?"
When I struggle professionally, "God, are You enough?"
When someone I love uses words to hurt me, "God, are You enough?"
When I am in debt and don't know how I'll pay my bills, "God, are You enough?"
When my past haunts me, "God, are You enough?"
When my health declines, "God, are You enough?"
When I am let down and disappointed in my life, "God, are You enough?"
Every time I asked "God, are You enough?" I opened my Bible and began reading, verse by verse. Though my doubts were strong in the beginning, God's Word started to silence the thoughts paralyzing me.
Through promises fulfilled and promises given in Scripture, I discovered the answer was always the same when I asked: "God, are You enough?"
Yes, He is.
Nothing here on earth is guaranteed, except for one thing: Jesus is with us always. And when we understand who He is, our doubts begin to disappear.
The Bible tells us Jesus is sufficient; He's enough. Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (NIV 1984). I discovered this to be true. Every need, every doubt, every inadequacy, every fear was met, answered and removed by Jesus.
If I lost everything, I'd be okay because no one can take away my Jesus. Whether I live in a mansion on a hill or in a tent on the side of a swamp, I have my Jesus. Whether the world is for me or against me, I have my Jesus. When I am knocked down, I get on my knees and find my Jesus.
When life becomes more than you think you can handle, don't quit. And certainly don't believe the lie God is not enough. Instead, ask yourself, "God, are You enough for me?" Then plant His Word deep in your heart so you'll always have the ready answer, that yes He is. He is enough for me, for you. Ours is the God who "... will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
Dear Lord, help me to realize and remember the secret to being content in all circumstances is You. Help me to be aware of Your presence in my life at all times. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
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Reflect and Respond:
Honestly assess if God is enough in your life. Do you find yourself needing or wanting more? Remind yourself that God knows you inside and out. He loves you no matter what and He always will.
Is there a situation in your life you need to turn over to the Lord?
Psalm 33:4, " For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness." (ESV)
Isaiah 46:3b-4, "You whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." (NIV)
© 2013 by Melissa Taylor. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
Posted on May 30, 2013 by Boyd Bailey
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18
Actions born out of love speak like a megaphone of compassion to those in need. Words of concern are empty unless they are backed by involved behavior. A need does not necessitate a call, but Christ's love compels us to engage in another’s messy situation. Love does what is necessary to bring hope and healing to those who feel hopeless and hurt. Those moved from within by the Spirit initiate intimacy. They are a solution looking for a problem.
How is your capacity to love? Is it limited to your immediate family or does it overflow into acquaintances, even strangers? Ask the Lord to endow you with extravagant love from heaven for those on earth. Yes, you are a conduit for the enormous love of your Heavenly Father. After you sit at the feet of Jesus in prayer, you can’t wait to wash the feet of those who are soiled by sin. Serve in a way the world cannot explain. Hallelujah, love’s outcomes are outrageous!
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Ezekiel 33:31
I have to check my motivation to make sure I am not giving to someone expecting a favor in return. If my love is conditional then it is tainted by my personal agenda. However, pure love does not discriminate, it is determined to meet needs as they arise. Everyday encounters are seen as divine appointments to engage the Lord’s limitless resources with those in need. My attention to another is not a bother, but an opportunity to be Jesus to one distant from Jesus.
Lastly, look to the Lord Jesus as your example of "love does". Love those who are rejected by religious snobs by going into their homes and having dinner together. Rich or poor may feel isolated from the church because they don’t believe they measure up to right standards of conduct. Love those deeply hurt by sin by looking into their lost hearts with genuine compassion and mercy. Weep for the wounded and do good for those who do bad. Love does!
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
Prayer: Heavenly Father, lead me to love unrestrained and unconditional for Your glory!
Related Readings: Levitucus 19:18; John 13:34; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:17
Post/Tweet today: We are a conduit for the enormous love of our Heavenly Father. #lovedoes
© 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Posted on May 30, 2013 by Family Christian
Jason Gray is enjoying his first #1 single this week as Nothing Is Wasted reached the top spot on the Soft AC Chart.The song is having a strong impact with fans, as Gray continues to get letters of support for the single, with the messages saying how the hope and reminder that Jesus is our redeemer has changed their lives. It's from the deepest wounds/That beauty finds a place to bloom/And you will see before the end/That every broken piece is/Gathered in the heart of Jesus/And what's lost will be found again.
“Wow! That’s all I can say,” exclaims Gray. “Of all my songs, the one I most look forward to singing is Nothing Is Wasted because I know there’s always someone in the audience who needs to hear it—someone who longs to be assured that loss, pain, and even failure do not get to have the last say. God, the One who holds all our stories and works all things together for the good of those who love Him, has the last say and His final word is love. I daily get notes from people telling me how this song found them when they needed it most. I’m so grateful for the support radio has given this single and that it’s finding its mark in the hearts of so many people.”
The song, Nothing is Wasted is found on both the Nothing is Wasted EP and Jason's last full length album, A Way to See in the Dark.
Exciting concert news for Gray is that he will tour with Steven Curtis Chapman and Laura Story this fall. More details will be announced soon.
Posted on May 30, 2013 by Family Christian
Power-pop rock outfit, Relient K. has a new album releasing July 2, 2013. As far as I can tell, this will be a digital only album. Needless to say, there will be a lot of great songs from Matt Thiessen and band.
First, the track listing:
- Don’t Blink
- Lost Boy
- If I Could Take You Home
- Can’t Complain
- When You Were My Baby
- Collapsible Lung
- That’s My Jam (feat. Owl City)
Second: the lyric videos:
Third: the tour:
7/2/13 – Rocketown (Nashville, TN)
7/3/13 – Warped Tour (Indianapolis, IN)
7/5/13 – Headliners (Louisville, KY)
7/6/13 – New Daisy (Memphis, TN)
7/7/13 – Track 29 (Chattanooga, TN)
7/8/13 – Freebird Live (Jacksonville, FL)
7/9/13 – House of Blues (Myrtle Beach, SC)
7/11/13 – Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ)
7/12/13 – The Chance (Poughkeepsie, NY)
7/13/13 – The Met (Providence, RI)
7/14/13 – Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT)
7/15/13 – TLA (Philadelphia, PA)
7/17/13 – Intersection (Grand Rapids, MI)
7/18/13 – Warped Tour (CLeveland, OH)
7/20/13 – Gilloz Theatre (Springfield, MO)
7/22/13 – Granada (Lawrence, KS)
7/23/13 – Slowdown (Omaha, NE)
7/24/13 – Warped Tour (St Louis, MO)
What do you think of the songs so far?
Are you going to go see them tour this summer?
Posted on May 30, 2013 by Lysa TerKeurst
"If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load." Galatians 6:3-5 (NIV)
Comparisons stink. They do.
Just when I think I've gotten to a good place in some area of my life, along comes someone or something that seems better in comparison. And my confidence shrinks back, takes the hand of doubt, and starts ransacking the peace right out of my heart and mind.
I know deep down that God can and will use everything for good in my life, even my areas of vulnerability. But honest to goodness, it's hard on a girl's heart.
Not too long ago, I was in a situation where something I'm very self-conscious about was magnified when compared to others' near-perfection. I was at the beach with several friends who have dancer's legs. And by dancer, I mean like twenty-year-old, ballerina-perfection legs.
I guess you could say I have dancer legs too if you are referring to the dancing hippo from Madagascar.
Apparently, long, lean legs just aren't in my genetic makeup, even though I can eat healthy and exercise every bit as much as my ballerina-like friends.
So there I was on the beach. Comparing my vulnerable place to their perceived strength.
And in the private space of my most inner thoughts, I cried. I found myself feeling defeated and convinced that this area will always be a struggle for me.
Oh, I can make progress, for sure. Heaven knows, I do work on it. And most days, I see how God is using this all for good. But when comparison sneaks in, it can be hard. Worse than hard. It can just quite simply make me forget all the strengths I do have.
And when I forget, my heart shifts. I stop being thankful and instead become consumed by that thing I don't have.
Satan will always try to point out what's "wrong" to block out all that is right. And his whispers sound pretty convincing sometimes.
But that's a dangerous place to park your mind.
It's moments like these I find myself needing to soak in the truths of our key verses, Galatians 6:3-5, "If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load."
As I thought more about that day on the beach, I realized I wasn't prayed up. Knowing I might have some comparison issues, I should have asked God to help keep my focus on Him. Instead, I just found myself wallowing—and wallowing isn't of the Lord. Amen? Amen!
I share this because you need to know that we all struggle. I'm on a journey of learning. Just like you.
And I desperately need God's truth to bump into my weaknesses every single day. Only then can I get out of the shadow of doubt and into the life-giving reality of who God has made me to be. And see it as good. Not perfect. Not even close. But good. And good is good.
Dear Lord, forgive me for all of the times I've compared myself to others. I know that You have hand-picked all of my qualities. Help me to see these things as beautiful reminders of Your great love in creating me as Your daughter. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
If this devotion resonated with you, Lysa TerKeurst's Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress is just for you! Click here to purchase your copy.
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Reflect and Respond:
Reflect on our key verse and power verse today. Then, think of an encouraging truth you can use to remind yourself of your own God-given talents and character traits. The next time you catch your mind swarming with comparisons, you'll have a plan to cling to!
Romans 12:6-8, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NIV)
© 2013 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105
Posted on May 29, 2013 by Boyd Bailey
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. Mark 8:33
What concerns God? What does the Almighty deem as the most important? The Lord is concerned that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He accepts those who submit their will to His, but He rejects those who impose their will onto His. God is concerned with building His kingdom, not man’s kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven begins in our hearts with love and obedience to King Jesus. A citizen of Christ’s country is concerned about promoting His fame.
Moreover, our Heavenly Father is concerned with keeping His promises to His people. For example, He shows up in answered prayer to assure us that we are not alone. He is concerned for us when we fear giving a public speech. Not only does He give us insight and clarity in our preparation, He prepares the hearts of the people who hear our talk. He blesses our words of instruction and inspiration. He wants us to feel His peace, as we present His timeless principles.
God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:24-25
Your Heavenly Father is also concerned about your suffering. His heart goes out to you when your heart has been broken. The Lord longs for wholeness in your body, soul and spirit. If you are detached from your true feelings, He wants to reengage you with your emotions. He wants you in touch with your feelings, so you can feel the needs of others. Your Savior Jesus meets you in your place of suffering with His sensitive comfort. He empathizes with your cry for His care.
Furthermore, you partner with the Holy Spirit when you keep the concerns of God in the forefront of your mind. Yes, keep Christ’s concerns your priority and your human concerns will not keep you from Christ. Jesus bluntly brands self seeking distractors as agents of the enemy. Beware of people who talk spiritual talk, but are more concerned about their own agenda, than God’s. Concern yourself with His concerns and your human concerns will fade away. Be concerned where He’s concerned!
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. Exodus 3:7
Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep my concerns in line with Your concerns.
Related Readings: Exodus 4:31; Luke 1:25; Acts 7:31; 1 Corinthians 7:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
Post/Tweet today: God’s heart goes out to you when your heart has been broken. #heartbroken
© 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Posted on May 29, 2013 by John van der Veen
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.
Posted on May 29, 2013 by Renee Swope
"Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)
When life gets overwhelming, do you ever wonder if God notices all you have going on? Does He see how hard you're working and trying to take care of everyone and everything? Staying up late to pay the bills, and feeling stretched between relationships at home and in church while caring for aging parents, commuting to work and carpooling kids?
Several years ago, I came to a point where it felt like I was suffocating under the weight of my many responsibilities. Slowly, worry started to weave its way into my thoughts, making me wonder how I was going to do it all.
I was exhausted and ready to resign from just about everything. I didn't have enough energy to handle it all. My faith was drained too, which led me to a place of self-doubt. I questioned my ability to manage my life and doubted my ability to hear God clearly or fulfill all the roles I assumed He wanted me to do.
And all those worries made me weary, and they also made me wonder. I wondered if God noticed and cared about the burdens I carried. I also questioned why He wasn't doing something to make life easier. After all, my days were consumed with doing things for Him and others.
One day I was reading my Bible and noticed how Martha's worries were making her wonder if Jesus cared about her. Martha's sister Mary had left her in the kitchen to do all the work while Mary sat in another room listening to Jesus. The Bible tells us, "She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'" (Luke 10:40b NIV)
Listen to how Jesus responded: "'Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her'" (v. 41-42 NIV).
In that moment, Jesus showed Martha just how much He cared. Not just about how hard she was working, but about the rest He knew she needed. Instead of giving her what she demanded, Jesus showed Martha what she needed and the choice she could make to receive it.
Jesus helped Martha see that Mary hadn't abandoned her to do the work by herself. Instead, Mary chose to walk away from distractions and preparations so she could take hold of something that couldn't be taken away from her.
It was the one thing that would last even after Jesus was gone: time with Him resting in His presence, soaking in His perspective, and listening to His promises.
1 Peter 5:7 says to "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you."
As I read this verse and Martha's story, I saw the difference between what God offers and what I had been doing. I was carrying the heavy weight of my concerns but Jesus had invited me to come to Him and cast my cares upon Him, so that He could care for me.
When I do all the talking and instructing, God doesn't have a chance. Instead of telling Him what I needed, He showed me how to say, "Lord, this is what's on my mind. This is what I'm worried about." And then stop and ask, "But Lord, what is going on in my heart? What are Your thoughts about this situation? What do I need and what should I do?"
As I'm learning to give my concerns to God, my heart is growing more confident in knowing just how much He cares about me. With this new approach, my burdens are lighter and my heart is too.
Jesus, help me seek You as much as I serve You and others. I want to balance my life and my workload with You, knowing with confidence that You care about me and are good at taking care of me! In Jesus' Name, Amen.
When you purchase A Confident Heart through from Family Christian, the proceeds go to help rescue widows and orphans.
Reflect and Respond:
Some time today, even if it's as you are putting your head on your pillow, talk to the Lord. "Lord, this is what's on my mind. This is what I'm worried about."
Then ask, "Lord, what is going on in my heart? What are Your thoughts about this situation? What do I need and what should I do?"
Psalm 55:22, "Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall." (NLT)
© 2013 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
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Matthews, NC 28105
Posted on May 28, 2013 by Boyd Bailey
The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. Revelation 22:6
When expectations are unmet, a gap of concern is created. It could be a promise that was made, but lacked follow through. Or a person uncharacteristically acted in an incompetent manner, but took responsibility for their actions afterward. Perhaps a spouse was inconsistent in their behavior, but when all the facts were factored in, all made sense. When facing these life disconnects we can chose to bridge the gap with trust or suspicion. Trust is relational lubricant that assumes the best.
Can our Heavenly Father be trusted when there seems to be a chasm between what He has said, and our reality? Of course, we are finite in our understanding, but He is infinite. We never need to hold our Savior suspect over something that doesn’t make sense. On the contrary, we rest knowing Christ has already connected the dots and He can be trusted with the outcome. The Lord’s track record of trustworthiness is unblemished. Trust Him to inspire your next steps.
Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 2 Samuel 7:28
What happens when someone breaks your trust? It takes time for a broken trust to be repaired. Chronic offenders can be forgiven, but they lose their status of trustworthiness. Indeed, to be trustworthy is to be worthy of trust. Relational equity builds over time and is not overdrawn due to broken promises. Trustworthiness is a gift you give to those you love. Yes, your consistency to do what you said you would do is a gift of security to those who love you.
Therefore, by God’s grace, make it your emotional default to trust, not suspect. Take the high road of valuing the relationship over an outcome. However, make sure there is clarity regarding expectations. Discuss and then write out expectations, so all parties are aligned. Most of all, fill in the gap of uncertainty with faith in your Heavenly Father. He is true to His word and will not leave you in a state of insecurity. He is true to what He told you He will do. He is worthy of your trust!
The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy. Proverbs 12:22
Prayer: Heavenly Father, grow me in my trustworthiness and mature me to trust You and others.
Related Readings: Exodus 18:21; Psalm 19:7, 111:7; Job 15:31; Acts 12:20; 2 Timohty 4:11
Post/Tweet today: God is true to what He told you He will do. He is worthy of your trust. #trustworthy
© 2013 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.