Many friends have asked me about the recent election in Iran. We certainly cannot entirely trust what news sources report, especially when the news facts come from the Iranian Government. Below is a Q&A, which I hope is helpful to those who want to know more.
On Friday, February 26, 2016, there was an election in Iran. The people chose their parliament representatives and also elected members of the Assembly of Experts, whose job is supposedly to keep the supreme leader in check and choose the next leader in case of the death of the current leader, Ali Khamenei. With the age of Khamenei (76) and his failing health, it is very likely that this elected Assembly of Experts will select the next supreme leader.
The “moderates” and “reformists” had a great victory. But don’t celebrate and become hopeful for a major and meaningful change yet. These moderates and reformists are not truly moderates and reformists. Please remember that all aspiring candidates were vetted for election by the super-conservative clergy who are in power (the Guardian Council). So the terms moderate and reformist are relative terms. When super extremists are running the country, extremists will look like moderates and reformists by comparison.
Why did many people not vote?
A large number of people did not vote, believing that their vote would not make any difference. The Guardian Council approved only 161 of the nearly 800 aspiring candidates registered for the election, leaving an average of fewer than two candidates per seat. Therefore, a large number of the people’s favorite candidates were not put on the ballot, and many “moderate” candidates ran unopposed.
So why did some people vote?
No one knows how many really voted, but we can reliably assume the number is much smaller than Iran has reported. Historically, the Iranian government has reported a hyper-inflated number of those who participated to give the appearance of a democracy and a government supported by the people. Many of those people who voted Friday declared that they did so to choose between “bad and worse.” They voted knowing that their vote would not cause a major change, but their logic was this: “a minor change in the right direction is still better than no change.”
If Iran is a dictatorship, why was there an election?
There are only two centers of power in Iran: (1) The clergy determine the policies, especially the supreme leader, who has final say on all matters both domestic and international. He can veto all decisions made by the elected officials of the parliament and even the president; (2) The Revolutionary Guards have financial and military control of the country. These two centers of power know that for survival, they need each other. Therefore, they always mutually support each other.
What is the role of the elected government in Iran?
The elected government in Iran does not have any true power. Its role is to implement the policies determined by the clergy and the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Its goal is to give an appearance of democracy when in fact the people truly do not have any power. The main responsibility of the government is to keep people in check so that the power of the clergy and the interests of the Revolutionary Guards will not be threatened. Therefore, President Rouhani and all these freshly elected officials do not have any real power. They are there to serve the interest of those in power and NOT the people. As was President Khatami’s role in the 1990s, Rouhani’s role is to give people false hope and keep them busy and under control for another eight years.
What is the impact of this election?
Do not expect any major change in internal affairs and international policy of Iran. As the supreme leader has said, USA and Israel will continue to be enemies of Iran—and that will never change. The proud and overconfident clergy of Iran used to think that they did not need anybody’s goodwill and that the sanctions would not hurt them. But they were wrong. One lesson they learned is that they need interaction with the rest of the world so they can survive economically. Therefore what we will see happen because of this election is more free trade between Iran and western countries. On the other hand, I predict (and I hope I am wrong) that Iran’s support of terrorism against the United States and its citizens will increase now that they have more financial resources to do so.
We Christians in the West seem to have a growing appetite for writing and reading books about the end times. We want to know how the events of the Middle East relate to the prophesies in the Bible. We want to know how nuclear Iran and militant ISIS and Russia are part of the end-time events. End-time prophecies get our attention.
Understanding the end times is a good thing.
But what are we doing with all that knowledge? Most of us are satisfied with just knowing and forget what the Lord commands us about doing. We forget that whenever there is talk of the end-time events in the New Testament, that discussion is for three purposes:
(1) to give courage and comfort to persecuted Christians
(2) to motivate Christians to live a holy life
(3) to remind Christians to get busy doing the Lord’s work
Much is happening around the world that should concern us as Christians because we can make a major difference. God reveals future events with an intention for us to get busy. He wants His church to be a part of History (His Story) and make history.
Most of us, however, are merely observers, at best keeping ourselves busy by matching Bible prophecies to events. Very few get involved in what God is doing.
Bible prophecies should motivate us to keep occupied with His work until He comes back.
You Are the Solution
Every night, we watch news about Islamic violence around the world: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mali, Paris, San Bernardino. The list goes on and on. It looks like nothing shocks us anymore. Nothing can make us wake up from our spiritual drowsiness. We hear what ISIS and other terror groups (including Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas, and wings of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard) are doing around the world, not realizing that we are called to be a major part of the solution.
We have the answer to ISIS, and we are quiet.
The military alone cannot stop ISIS and other terror groups. Islam is a religion of violence that feeds on, grows, and gets stronger with violence. We have seen this occur in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and many other places. The answer is the love of Jesus. It’s the love of Jesus through you. As Ephesians 4:15 tell us, sharing the truth of the Gospel with love is the key that unlocks the closed doors of Islam and will set Muslim captives free.
So many in the U.S. (and in this election cycle) want to push Muslims out of our country and let the Middle East destroy itself. Will you decide to reach out to your Muslim neighbor and get to know him? Will you share Jesus with the woman wearing a hijab walking down your sidewalk or in your grocery store? Millions of Iranian Muslims are desperately waiting for you and me to do our part. Will you see what God is doing in Iran and join the cause to transform Iran into a Christian nation in this generation?
You have Jesus’s love. What will you do with it? I pray you will join me and get busy.
Please Pray for Saeed and Naghmeh
Right after an early morning interview on Saturday, January 16, I heard the good news that the Iranian government had released the four Iranian-American prisoners and an imprisoned American student. I was particularly happy to hear the Saeed Abedini was among those released.
As many of you might know, Saeed is my relative. He is married to my niece, Naghmeh, who in my opinion is a hero, fighting for the release of her husband tirelessly for the past three and a half years. I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with Naghmeh when she was nine years old. She came to Christ while she stayed with us for a couple months.
I know many of you have been praying for the release of Saeed.Please continue to pray for Naghmeh and Saeed. They face great challenges ahead of them. In November, Naghmeh shared with the public that her relationship with Saeed had been filled with abuse for many years. Now that they are back together, they need our prayers and support even more for personal and relational restoration. I am so glad that Franklin Graham himself has offered to do marriage counseling with them.
Why Did the Iranian Government Free the Prisoners?
I believe the Iranian government wanted to project a positive image to the world as the sanctions were being lifted. They wanted no one doubting that removal of the sanctions was and is a good idea. The government released the captured American sailors so promptly and treated them so gently for this same reason.
Iran’s government was struggling to survive because of those sanctions. The nuclear deal threw them a financial lifeline that will help them survive for the next ten years. They are about to receive over $100 billion dollars to pursue their goals around the world. These goals include opposing America in every aspect. Unfortunately Iran will use some of this money to support terrorism against American citizens. I hope I am wrong, but it is very possible that we will see an increase in anti-American terrorism around the world and in the U.S. itself.
One thing is for sure: the release of these American citizens does not mean that the Iranian government is changing its policy towards United States. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, was very clear when he warned, after freeing the hostages, that Iran should remain wary of its old enemy the United States and its “deceit and treachery.”
Please Continue to Pray for Iranian Christian Prisoners
In many ways, Saeed had become the face of persecution in Iran. This was a good thing because it reminded us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran. Now that Saeed is free, let us not forget those who remain.
Christianity continues to grow in Iran, and the government continues to react to it by increasing persecution. Even now, many heroes in Iranian prisons are suffering for their faith. Their names may not be in the media as Saeed’s was, but God knows their names and cares for them. So let us obey the Scripture that says, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3, NIV).
Please Join Us in Supporting the Persecuted Christians in Iran
With your support and the help of organizations such as The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), we are serving persecuted Christians in Iran. We provide assistance with the emotional, spiritual, and financial needs of families who have a member imprisoned for his or her faith. Our 24/7 satellite TV broadcast serves the millions of persecuted Christians in Iran who are living in isolation and in fear of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Together, we are able not only to inspire and encourage them to stand up for the Lord and not give in to fear and pressure, but also to share their faith with their persecutors. We believe these actions are God’s will for His children—and that is what we will do.
Dorell, Oren. “International Sanctions against Iran Lifted in Landmark Nuke Deal.” USA Today, January 16, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/01/16/usa-iran-diplomats-nuclear-deal/78892802/.
Wilkin, Sam, and Sharafedin Bozorgmehr. “Iran’s Khamenei Welcomes Sanctions Lift, Warns of U.S. ‘Deceit.’” Reuters, January 19, 2016, sec. World. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-khamenei-idUSKCN0UX10Q.
Last year, in the months approaching Thanksgiving, I travelled extensively and spoke at many churches and conferences. One thing I said over and over was this: “I hope I am wrong, but soon we will see ISIS sleeping cells in the western countries and the U.S. start their terrorist activities.” It turned out that this prediction came true sooner than even I thought, first in Paris, and then in the United States.
The Paris attack and last month’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, has made even more clear the global strategy of the Islamic State (ISIS).
They are calling on all sympathizers and sleeper cells to carry out lethal assaults in the West. They want everyone to know that no one is beyond their reach.
The overwhelming result of these attacks is a rising fear about terrorism. According to polls, fear has reached a level not seen since the aftermath of 9/11. Such fear gives excuse to political frontrunners like Donald Trump to exercise hatred toward an entire people group. And many leaders and citizens are following in his footsteps. When they do this, they are handing a victory to the prince of darkness.
Satan’s plan through ISIS is to put fear in our hearts and foster hatred towards all Muslims so that we do not reach out to them. Sometimes, I can hear his dark voice saying, “They (Muslims) are mine, do not touch them. Fear and hate Muslims. Because if you love them, you will steal my captives from me.”
On the other hand, some do not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough. We see this position from political leaders that follow President Obama. They count low-level terrorism as an unavoidable necessity in our world full of “radical fringe” groups. It happens, they say, but not as often as car crashes, shark attacks, or lightening strikes. Fear of terrorism is overrated.
Peter Baker, a New York Times news analyst, recently showed this low view of imminent danger in a summary of President Obama’s off-the record comments: “He would send significant numbers of [ground] forces to the Middle East . . . only in the event of a terrorist attack in the United States so catastrophic that it all but paralyzed the country with fear.” The president apparently does not feel that there is a high probability of such a catastrophic event.
ISIS and other Muslim groups/nations do have a political agenda. Islam does actively promote the use of fear and terror to spread both its spiritual and political borders. We see this regularly in Iran, not only in the government’s persecution of Christians and its own Muslims but also in Iran’s continued launching of banned missiles despite last year’s nuclear deal and its continued support of Shi’ite terror regimes (such as Hezbollah and the Houthis) in the Middle East.
Yes, it is right to be wise about our borders, but not by hating a group of people both within and without. Terrorism from foreigners and domestic sleeping cells, such as the recent New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne, Germany, will continue until we make some changes. Shunning Muslims is not the answer. Embracing them and allowing love to transform them is.
The real solution to terrorism and fear is to reach beyond our borders to people who are disillusioned with Islam and Islamic governments, to those who are more open to the Gospel of peace than at any other time in history.
God is at work in Iran and among the flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq. He is bringing hearts to Him and breaking down “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Christians and those born captives of Islam (Eph. 2:14, NASB). We must remember that, once, we too lived “according to the prince” of darkness and were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2, 3).
We must be cautious, but we must not fear or hate. God calls us to love Muslims so much that we are willing to share life with those who know only death—the life of the Gospel.
Won’t you pray for how God wants you to love Muslims this year? Steal Satan’s captives! Prevent more terror by helping bring Muslims to Christ in Iran, in America, and everywhere.
As fallout from recent Islamic State (ISIS) attacks in Paris continues, more than half of the United State’s governors have said they will bar Syrian refugees from coming to their states because they pose a great risk to national security. New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie declared his state would not take in any refugees—“not even orphans under the age of five.”
Congress has also joined in, voting on November 26 to make the process for Syrian and Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. more difficult.
The issue is far from simple, and I respect that even Christians will have varied opinions on the right course of action. Yet this is what is on my heart:
- As Christ-followers we must have compassion for those who suffer.
The parable of the Good Samaritan instructs us to be sensitive even to the needs of our enemies (Luke 10:25–27). Many Old and New Testament verses teach us to serve strangers and refugees (Lev. 19:33–34, Heb. 13:2). So as Christ-followers, we must help these refugees. Thank God many Christian organizations are already helping the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and Europe and because of them, many refugees are becoming Christ followers. Let us also not forget that the United States was founded by refugees.
In terms of mission opportunities, refugees are right now the most open Muslim group to the Gospel. We Christians should share God’s love and the Gospel with them. Many will respond to that. The American Church should step out of its comfort zone and take advantage of this great mission opportunity. Moreover, a good number of these refugees are already Christians. Are we not called at least to help our brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Yet we must be wise and alert.
The Lord admonishes us in Matthew 10:16 to be as wise and alert as serpents, understanding the cunning of our enemies. ISIS sends people pretending to be refugees to infiltrate western countries such as the U.S. They come with the mission to start hidden cells for ISIS and to recruit American youth.
I know from experience that some of Iran’s “Christian” refugees have been Islamic government agents trying to infiltrate western countries and Iranian Christian communities worldwide. Iran’s government boasts that they have spies and agents in every western country who are supported by the host country because they entered as a refugee. Not surprisingly, these pretend refugees are usually supplied with false but compelling evidence documenting their torture while many Christians who have truly suffered for their faith have little documentation to verify their stories.
So we must extend compassion with our eyes wide open.
- We are already conquered if we let fear rule us.
I think that maybe especially due to the recent events in France, many in Congress and some governors have acted out of fear. A priority goal for ISIS is to spread fear (terror) worldwide. This is how they gain power. If we act out of fear, they have accomplished their objective.
Please pray with me that more and more refugees will hear the Gospel and discover and embrace God’s perfect love.
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
Recommended Reading: “Syrian Refugees in America: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Debate”
In my last post, I showed how ISIS is causing Muslims to question their faith. At the core of their questioning, they must decide who the true Muslims are—themselves or the brutal members of ISIS.
Many people around the world are asking, “Are the members of ISIS true Muslims or merely terrorists seeking religious legitimacy?”
President Obama has repeatedly stated that the religion of violent extremists savaging Iraq and Syria is irrelevant. Many have criticized him for refusing to call ISIS Islamic terrorists. But he insists, “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Yet ISIS unashamedly claims that they are true and great Muslims.
So who is the true Muslim?
If we ask this question about Christianity, isn’t it logical to say whoever most closely follows the teaching of Jesus and His example is the most true Christian? The definition of a good Christian is not subjective, but comes from solid criteria. Whichever people follow the example of their holy book and their leader, they are the better adherents to that faith.
This same criteria will tell us who is a good Muslim: the one who lives out the teaching of the Quran and follows the example of Mohammed more closely.
Using that objective criteria, we must conclude that the members of ISIS are very good Muslims. What they are doing is based on numerous Quranic verses and the practices of the Prophet Mohammad. Yes, indeed they are following Islam more closely than “Moderate Muslims” who ignore those call-to-violence verses in the Quran, and downplay their own historical record of what Prophet Mohammad did.
ISIS is challenging all Muslims to have another look at their faith. Many Muslims are taking up that challenge, looking at the Quran more objectively, and coming to the conclusion that the root of their problem is not ISIS but Islam itself.
What ISIS is doing to Sunni Muslims, the Islamic Republic of Iran has done to Shiite Muslims in Iran. After over 35 years of Islamic rule, Iranian Muslims have come to the conclusion that the root of their problems is not political but spiritual. They vast majority have come to believe that the problem is not with the Islamic government but with Islam itself.
Please pray for the many Muslims that are seeking refuge—physically and spiritually—from the ravages of the Islamic world. They are open and ready for the Gospel. Pray that the Church and the nations will be open to them. Let’s pray that all of us be free from fear and hatred towards Muslims, and instead, be filled with God’s immense love for them.
And pray for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim-background believers in Iran. Through Iran Alive Ministries, I have seen multitudes of Muslims in Iran seek refuge in Jesus. They are repulsed by the violence and hatred and are attracted to the love, joy, and peace that Jesus offers. Coming from darkness, they value the light even more. They value their new faith in Jesus so much that they are ready to live and die for Him. And they are closely living out His example, enduring persecution with humility and honor, loving their enemies, and spreading the Kingdom of God.
Join me in supporting these true Christians.