Signals of Change: How Christian Broadcasters Are Changing Iran

World News recently published a feature article that highlights what Iran Alive and other Christian broadcasters are doing to contribute to the fastest growing evangelical population on the planet.

I have reposted an excerpt here, with a link to the full article on their website. I pray you will find it encouraging, and remember us in your prayers as well.

Signals of change

by Mindy Belz

Protests in Iran have met censorship and brutality, but Christian broadcasters use daily media to spark lasting reformation. (Associated Press)

It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.

That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.

read more Continue reading

Urgent! Iran Needs Your Prayers

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

I’m sure you have heard by now of the daily protests across Iran. The people are demonstrating against the government because they feel utterly hopeless that life in Iran can get any better.

This is a critical time not only for Iran but for the Gospel. Please watch my short video message and stand with us for Iran in prayer.

Would you specifically pray that we can communicate God’s heart and mind to the millions of Christians and Muslims watching our daily, live prime-time broadcasts during this time of unrest?

Thank you for standing with us.

To receive more stories and information about what is happening in Iran, text “Iran” to 74784.

3 Reasons the Magi Were Persian

In the story of Christ’s birth there are many familiar characters: Joseph, Mary, Herod, the Jewish leaders, and shepherds. But there are also several (at least three) strange foreigners called “Magi” who unexpectedly come out of nowhere. Even more shocking is that they are more alert, more knowledgeable, and have deeper spiritual understanding of the meaning of the birth of Jesus than most of Jesus’s ethnic relations.

Hossein-Behzah-Birth of Jesus-Magi

But who are these Magi who mysteriously appear around the time of Jesus’s birth and who are prepared to worship him and give him gifts? Where are they from? How do they know so much about his birth and who he is?

People from many nations—places such as Pakistan, India, and even China—claim that these Magi were from their lands. But I say they were from Iran. I say this not because I am from Iran and want to force Iran into the Bible—the Bible already has a lot to say about Persia (Iran)—but I say this because of the evidence.

May I present to you three reasons that support the fact that the Magi were from Iran?

1) The word “Magi” is a Persian word.

The Magi were not kings but were dignitaries and advisors in the court of Persian kings. They were high priests of the Zoroastrian religion. The Persian kings respected them, valued them, and sought their advice in their decisions.

2) Images in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem depict the Magi as Persians.

The Church of Nativity was erected in AD 329 by Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, in the area believed to be where Jesus was born. In AD 614, a mosaic of the Magi on the floor of the church saved it from destruction by a Persian rampage. The mosaic depicts the Magi in Persian clothing. (A ninth-century synod in Jerusalem quoted this example to show the utility of religious images.) This early image does not prove the identity of the Magi, but it shows an early, widespread understanding of who they were.

3) The Magi were familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament.

As we can see in Matthew 2, the Magi were not just following a star out of curiosity; they had great preknowledge about this birth and the identity of Christ. They knew who they were seeking, and what to do when they found him: worship.

When they saw the star, they knew instantly that it was pointing to the Christ child. They told Herod, “We saw his star” (Mt 2:2, emphasis added). They knew that a child would be born around that time and were expecting it. They knew Jesus was a King, asking Herod, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” They also knew that the child was not only a King but was God. They proclaimed, “[We] have come to worship him.”

Zoroastrians believe there is only one God, and he alone must be worshiped. The name of God in Zoroastrian books is “Ahura Mazda” (meaning “the good Lord”). Incidentally, the short form of this word is “Hormoz”—yes, the Zoroastrian name for the One God is where I get my name.

But how did these men know about the coming King? The answer is easy: Daniel. Daniel was (and is even now) respected in Persia as a prophet from God. His book, written in Iran, was available and revered by Persians. Not many people know that for centuries, many who lived in Iran were true believers in the God of the Bible. This was not just because of Daniel, but also because of Nehemiah, Habakkuk, and Esther. At the end of the book of Esther, we read that many Persians came to know the God of Israel.

The Bible also says that when Persian King Cyrus set the captive Jews free, only a small number went back to their land. They returned at several stages, and the total number of those who returned are estimated to be only around 50,000 people. Therefore, millions of Jews stayed in Persia and lived there for centuries.

It is probable that the high priests of the Persian kings were required to know the Old Testament and especially the prophecies of Daniel. That is the reason these Magi were so knowledgeable about who Jesus was and the timing of his birth.

Conclusion: What Can We Learn?

It is not really important to prove where these Magi were from. What is important is that “non-Jews” found the Christ child and worshiped him long before hardly any Jews even knew he existed. This teaches us that God’s great desire is for people from all nations to know him and worship him.

We also learn that giving is an inseparable part of worship. Yes, we should worship God with praises on our lips, but that alone is not enough and might even be considered as an empty worship—just lip service.

Giving is an integral part of worship. We should worship God with our gold (possessions), our myrrh (willingness to suffer for him, to deny ourselves, to carry our cross, and to participate in his work), and our frankincense (becoming the fragrance of Christ to this world, as in 2 Cor. 2:15, by reflecting his character and loving the lost).

Worshiping God in this manner is exactly what you are doing by standing by us, loving the Muslims enough to share the gospel with them. Persia once worshiped the God of the Bible and Jesus, his Son. Many Persians are seeking him once again. Thank you for showing them the light of God’s star, that they might follow him.

Shiite Christianity in Iran

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church in Iran has unique challenges that we must address. Indeed, three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church. Yes, a crisis!

Of course, these three challenges mean that there are also three opportunities for responding and correcting the problems. I want to visit the first of these crises and opportunities today, a crisis that is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government.


Crisis 1: Shiite Christianity 


The Church is growing, numerically, very fast in Iran. Operation World lists the annual growth rate at one new believer for every five existing. But the growth of leadership, training, and teaching is not keeping up.

Ninety-five percent of believers in Iran are isolated Christians. So out of an estimated 2 million Christians, only 50,000–100,000 are connected to a church of any kind, such as underground, online, or above the ground.

Many individuals are coming to Christ—evangelism is relatively easy—but congregations are few and weak. Don’t get me wrong—the Christians in Iran, as individuals, are strong. They are dedicated and hungry to know Jesus and walk with the Holy Spirit. But when they gather, they do not automatically form healthy congregations.

medium_do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-deity“Three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church.”

Iranians have no model for healthy, biblical community. They know how to relate to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, but they do not know how to relate to each other. With so many new believers and very few mature believers, there is nobody to teach and model such biblical relationships.

As a result, Iranian cultural values define their relationships instead—this is what I call “Shiite Christianity.” Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.

How Christianity in Iran Becomes “Shiite Christianity”

When Islam invaded Iran, it was Sunni Islam. But Sunni Islam did not suit Persians well, a people long known for their emotional poetry; it lacked any emphasis on emotional experience. So they adapted Islam to fit their culture. They invented what is now known as Shiite Islam.

“Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.”

Iranians are doing the same thing, unconsciously, with Christianity. Here are some of the symptoms of the influence of the Iranian culture on the church:

  1. Overdependent on emotions. The good news is that Shiite Muslims already value emotional experience, and so they crave experience with God—a relationship. Praise God! Allah does not give them this, but Jesus does. Lives are often changed in dramatic ways for individuals and families.But Iranian Christians can become too dependent on emotions and experience, and this overdependence can be very dangerous. Without Bible knowledge, these Christians can be easily deceived since they don’t know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit.
  2. Dictator Leadership. For Iranians, Allah is a dictator. The government is a dictator. Even family structures are authoritarian. So when Iranians form a congregation, they know no other form of leadership. Dictator leadership seems normal and feels natural to not only the leaders but also most of the people in the congregation. Servant-leadership, on the other hand, is a mystery to them. Most Iranians view servant-leadership as “weak leadership” and do not heed to it.When dictator leadership combines with a lack of Bible knowledge, all sorts of heresy can slip in. The result is often a cult rather than Christianity. There are many cults in Iran—some are imported and some are homegrown—but they are growing fast.
  3. Reactionary Individualism. After lifetimes of submitting to authority—often cruel authority—some Iranians become reactionary to any authority. Instead of submitting to one another in the Spirit (Eph. 5:21), they claim the presence of the Holy Spirit means they have no need to submit to or respect the teaching of pastors and leaders. This individualism makes leading and fostering unity even more difficult. There are many divisions among the believers in the few congregations that exist.

Opportunity 1: Using Media to Help Grow a Healthy Iranian Church 


While a vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the entire Middle East, a poorly trained church might end up creating more lasting damage for spreading the gospel in the region than no church at all.

This is why I have been working many years now not just to spread the gospel but to grow healthy Christian communities and transformed, mature believers.

The good thing about the media is that you don’t just tell but you can also show. The opportunity here is for us to model Christ-like community and servant-leadership while providing sound biblical teaching.

The Islamic government of Iran has outlawed any gathering of Christians and sentences those who gather in homes to long jail sentences. Under these circumstances, there is no other way to enter the homes of Christians and help them except through media.

Here are just some of the benefits of using media:

  • Media gives isolated Christians continuous access to comprehensive, sound Bible teaching.
  • Media makes available the virtual modeling of Christian community and servant-leadership in places where the infant church has been driven underground.
  • Media has the power to touch and change culture—for better or worse.

Four years ago I started a global church called “Church 7” as a response to Shiite Christianity. By connecting believers across the globe and modeling what a community of Christians should look like through weekly worship services and live programs, Church 7 goes beyond teaching individuals. It helps point to the kind of loving community that Jesus meant His Church to be.

Join Me to Make Lasting Change for a Healthy Church in Iran

The challenge of Shiite culture changing the Iranian church is a huge one, but the opportunity for the Iranian church to change Shiite culture is just as big.

The time is now to make a lasting difference for the growing Church in Iran. I hope you will join me in praying and working for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in Iran and the whole Middle East “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, NIV).

If you want to know more about how Church 7 is changing lives, text “IRAN” to 74784 to receive more information and video links.

 

Why Are Persecuted Christians So Thankful?

You have probably read stories of persecuted Christians who have said with all sincerity that they were “honored to be tortured for Christ.” How is it that the persecuted church can be so thankful in the face of such horror, even death?

Persecuted Christians can indeed inspire and challenge us to be thankful no matter what circumstances we are in. But how do they do it? What motivates them to have that attitude of thankfulness? Here are some reasons that they are thankful even in hard situations. Maybe we can learn something from them.

1. They have first-hand experience of the transforming power of Jesus.

You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.

In America and the West, we often don’t realize how many Christian values have become an expected part of the culture. Yes, Western society has many problems, but we still value kindness, mercy, love, and human dignity as a part of our framework. We notice and are even outraged when these points of spiritual light are missing because we are used to them and take them for granted.

27119899 - open hands holding cross, symbol of christian faith

“You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.”

In Islamic countries, there is such spiritual darkness. People live with cruelty, judgment, and death as expected norms. In Islam, individual lives do not have much value. This kind of dark environment creates such hopelessness in people that Muslims who become Christians experience major change and joy.

From hatred to love, from hopelessness to hope, from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom—many Muslim-background Christians experience change in an extreme way.

This extreme change from darkness to light creates a great appreciation—thankfulness—for the One who brought about that change. And so these believers are willing and ready to suffer for Christ and not deny him, no matter how harsh the persecution.

2. They realize their desperate need for walking with Jesus.

Persecuted Christians easily realize that Jesus is all they need, so he is all they want. Walking daily with Jesus is not an option for them but a desperate need. Being willing to suffer for Christ is tied directly to thankfulness.

For many of us in the West, we know what Jesus did for us, but we do not see our desperate need to walk with him daily. If we do not read the Bible daily, pray regularly, or go to church weekly, we often don’t notice an immediate, negative impact in any kind of major or tangible way. For us, a vibrant, deep spiritual walk with the Holy Spirit seems optional. Therefore, for us in the West, we have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful—and as a result, make a decision to walk with him daily.

3. They see suffering as a way to say “Thank You” to Jesus.

When persecuted Christians suffer for Christ, what they are doing is actively saying “Thank You” to Jesus in the best way they can. They are replying to his sacrifice with sacrifice of their own. And they are honored to do it!

Many persecuted Christians are even willing to give their lives for Jesus. Of course, Jesus does not ask such martyrdom from every believer. But we can still welcome suffering for him out of our thankfulness. The giving of time and finances is a sacrifice that the Lord recognizes and appreciates—especially when it is a result of our thankfulness for what he has done for us. It truly blesses him! Can you imagine the joy it is to know that Jesus feels blessed by something you do? The thanks you give him by willingly choosing to sacrifice your time, talents, and treasure for him?

In this season of thanksgiving, I want to encourage you to give your time and finances—not because you should, not because of obligation—but out of thankfulness.

Consider the darkness Jesus has delivered you from with his sacrifice. If you are thankful for the light, then reply with sacrificial thanks giving.

“We have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful.”STACKED #GT Logo

Tuesday, November 28 is #GivingTuesday, a global thanksgiving movement that is helping to spread light throughout the world. If you are thankful for Jesus, would you partner with us and give sacrificially to what he is doing for Muslims and persecuted Christians in Iran?

Imagine the joy of Jesus when you say to him, “Thanks, it is an honor to serve you.”


To receive stories about persecuted Christians in Iran and learn more about how to support them and reach other Muslims hungry for the gospel, text “Iran” to 74784.


Related Articles:

Seymore, Julia A. “Christianity Thrives in Iran Despite Severe Persecution.” ChristianHeadlines.com, April 4, 2016.

Lessons from the Persecuted Church: Do You Take Jesus for Granted?

Defeating ISIS—Quenching the Flames of Jihad

Some people hear me talk about Islam and think I hate Muslims because I want to offer them something other than their beliefs—and because I speak truth about what the Quran teaches. Do you think I hate Muslims? Islam was mine from birth. I practiced it for many years. These were and are my people. I have received the threats on my life. And I love them still. They are God’s treasure. I am giving my life for them.

Do you love Muslims? Perhaps you fear what they might do in your city and around the world. Perhaps you fear that they might spark a blaze of terrorism that destroys all that you own and love. What can you do when the threat of jihad presses in like an uncontrolled fire that turns on a whim and consumes everything in its path?

soldiers against a sunset
Islamic soldiers

Two recent events are pressing on my heart this week: the California wildfires and the war on ISIS. They are completely unrelated…and yet the same.

We Have Backed ISIS into a Corner

Last week, American-backed forces drove ISIS out of the caliphate’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, in Syria. You probably have seen the news reports. While some Western officials are celebrating, the mood for many is somber. European officials tasked with protecting their citizens from attacks—like the Champs Elysees killings, the Manchester concert bombing, the Barcelona van ramming, and the London subway bomb—know that the battle is far from over. American forces, hopefully, have learned from the Taliban and Al Qaeda what happens when a void is left in Islamic jihad leadership. The battle is far from over.

The reality is that when you kill a Muslim, 100 more will rise up in his place. The theology and culture of Islam—the Spirit of Islam—is anger, violence and revenge. Allah asked Mohammed to take revenge. Islam gives honor to those who kill and die for the faith. An Islamic jihadist facing defeat and dishonor is like a cornered animal—he’s at his most dangerous state.

The Enemy Is Not Just ISIS; It’s the Theology of Islam

Let’s make no mistake—ISIS is not the sole enemy. The enemy is the Spirit of Islam. There have been many “lone wolf” attacks, and yes, many have been connected with ISIS. But ISIS is not the common denominator; Islam is the common denominator. Islam makes people captive to fear and anger.

As Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani said before his death last year, “True defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight. We would be defeated and you victorious only if you were able to remove the Quran from the Muslims’ hearts.”

We may have pushed ISIS back, but we are far from claiming victory. Lone wolves and sleeper cells will continue to be inspired by whichever leader or organization takes up the mission of the Quran: Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS—or whatever we will call ISIS 2.0.

The Gospel Solves the Problem of Revenge

Yes, it is good to make terrorists weak. Yes, we must stand up and fight. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. A nation must defend itself. Military might can be a good thing. But it will never be a long-term solution to peace. For this enemy, defeat only kindles more anger and fanaticism.

In past weeks, a video of a tree in California burning from the inside out went viral. This tree and this wildfire that killed many and destroyed much is like an observant Muslim lit up by the Spirit of Islam. You can attack the flames and spray them with water, you can build barriers and backfires to contain and defeat, but hot spots will smolder and rekindle and flames will leap from one place to another. The heat will sustain itself under the ashes, in the heart of a tree—wherever it can find protection.

The only way to truly put out the fire is to quench its burning desire to reignite—for a Muslim, this means we must solve the problem of revenge. We must love them with the gospel. As the Bible teaches us, we have to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I often feel people think my message sounds like a pastor’s broken record, an empty solution that ignores the realities of terrorism and war. But I have seen the results over and over again. The love and self-sacrifice of Jesus cools the ground and quenches the flame in the Muslim heart. They no longer have to be angry and seek honor through revenge. The good news is that millions of Muslims are also fed up with the message of hatred, violence, and revenge. They are questioning the teachings of Islam and are open to the message of the gospel.

When a Muslim hears and accepts the gospel, Jesus transforms them. He puts out the destructive fire and makes them a light to hundreds. And right now, Jesus is turning many fires into lights in Iran and the Middle East. The mainstream media won’t tell you this. The Iranian government won’t tell you this. But Jesus is the great firefighter for the Muslim world. So the violence is causing Muslims—who aren’t allowed to question—to question Islam. And Jesus is drawing people to him.

Do you love Muslims? God does. He sees all the destruction caused by fire and jihad, whether in California, Europe, or the Middle East, and he weeps for the many people here and there, who are his treasure. They need the gospel. If you have it, help me share it.


Related articles:

Coker, Margaret, Eric Schmitt, and Rukmini Callimachi. “With Loss of Its Caliphate, ISIS May Return to Guerrilla Roots.” The New York Times, October 18, 2017, sec. Middle East.

McDermott. Matthew. “Watch an Eerie Tree Burning from the Inside in California Wildfire.” Video on NationalGeographic.com. October 17, 2017.

How Do You Provide Church for 2 Million Believers in Iran?

In Iran, there are no above ground churches.  Even underground churches, while effective and growing, are only accessible to 1% of all believers due to fear and security.  That is where our Global Church for Iran, or Church 7 strategy, provides a lifeline for the estimated 2 million believers who have no other option for church of any kind.  No option for fellowship, discipleship, training or encouragement that is readily available and enjoyed by those of us in the West.

Watch this exciting video to see what Iran Alive Ministries is doing about this problem.