Tuesday, October 25, 2011

History in the Making or Interesting Fiction? A Book Review of “The Tehran Initiative”

Iran has finally done it without the intervention of the West; they have possession of a nuclear weapon!  Who are they going to target, Israel or America? The CIA has seen this coming, and has an agent there in Iran trying to get a nuclear scientist out of Iran while maintaining his cover.  The twelfth Imam seems to have arrived as prophesied in the Holy Qur’an, but is he the Messiah, or the Devil Incarnate?  Is Israel ready to go it alone; and launch a preemptive strike against the nuclear sites of Iran, even knowing that in doing so it will only add to the tension that is now present in the relationship with her only ally? Is the United States willing to step up to the plate, or only further discredit her status as a true superpower?

            These are the questions and intrigue that will greet you in the newest novel from Joel Rosenberg, “The Tehran Initiative”.  In this volume you will take a journey through the life of C.I.A. agent David Shirazi, a native Iranian who was brought into the United States just prior to the fall of the Shaw. Agent Shirazi now serves his country by being heavily undercover through a mock business supplying merchandise to the new leader of Iran, and the bringer of a Muslim alliance. 

            “The Tehran Initiative” is my first exposure to the writing of Joel Rosenberg who has made quite a name for himself since September 11, 2001.  My father was a huge fan of Mr. Rosenberg’s work, and so when I was given the opportunity to read this newest volume, I wanted to see what he was all about.  All I can say is I was not disappointed.  With his knowledge of current events, Joel Rosenberg spins a tale so engrossing, that in one evening I was able to finish this work of 459 pages.  There was not one single moment in this book where I wondered what the purpose of that particular section or sentence was about.  So intricate was each detail that I was immediately brought into the story in such a way that I could see and hear all that was going on. 

            One of the biggest questions I had about Joel Rosenberg was how bold was he really going to be in his faith? I’ve seen him on a few interviews, but had never really seen him give a very clear and concise gospel message.  That was something that I really wanted to see how it would be portrayed in his novel.  All I can say is I was very impressed.  With very clear and concise gospel presentation Joel Rosenberg has the gospel clearly explained to his main character.  With a very true glimpse of how many former Muslims are coming to saving faith in the one true God, Jesus Christ, so does Mr. Rosenberg have Christ manifested to David Shirazi.

            I definitely rate this book a 5 out of 5 in all areas.  The story will carry you easily through the pages.  Christ is clearly manifested as the only way to heaven.  And we again see a true presentation of Iran, and the belief in the Twelfth Imam that compels and drives Iran’s current leader.   If you have a chance to pick up this book, you will not be disappointed.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Joel Rosenberg Interview from Tyndale House Publishers

An interview with Joel C. Rosenberg
author of The Tehran Initiative

1) This is the second book with CIA operative David Shirazi. Where does the story pick up from your previous bestseller The Twelfth Imam?

A: The Tehran Initiative begins about sixty seconds after The Twelfth Imam leaves off. I’ve tried to create a near seamless connection between the two. And there’s another book coming, The Damascus Countdown.

2) You started writing The Tehran Initiative when the Arab Spring began earlier this year. Did events impact your writing or the storyline?

A: Actually, I was well into writing The Tehran Initiative when the “Arab Spring” began and it was a little eerie because the novel opens with the assassination of the President Egypt and Egypt descending into chaos after the leader’s fall. Fortunately, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wasn’t killed, but he certainly fell quickly and somewhat unexpectedly and Egypt is still reeling from the aftermath. The novel really focuses a great deal on the intense desire amongst many Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa to build a global Islamic empire, or a “caliphate.” And that’s certainly a growing theme among the Islamists in the region this year.

Perhaps what struck me most curious since the publication of The Twelfth Imam and while I was researching and writing The Tehran Initiative is that the so-called Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has began speaking more publicly about the coming of the Twelfth Imam. He used to be silent, or nearly so, on this subject. He let President Ahmadinejad do all the public talking about Shia End Times theology. But Khamenei has become more bold over the past year or so. He has told people that he has met personally with the Twelfth Imam, though we don’t know what he meant. Did he meet with a flesh and blood person? Did he see a dream? Or a vision? We don’t know. But Khamenei has also asserted that he is the personal representative on earth of the Twelfth Imam, as well as the so-called Prophet Muhammad. These developments – along with his support for Iran’s aggressive nuclear development program – suggest Khamenei senses the time is very short before some claiming to be the Twelfth Imam emerges publicly. In part, that’s why the Iranian government released the pseudo-documentary film in early 2011 called, “The Coming Is Near,” about all the geopolitical signs that they believe are indicators that the Mahdi’s arrival is increasingly close at hand. Whether it will really happen or not remains to be seen. But the Iranian leadership is certainly convinced. Most of them, anyway. And, of course, the Bible tells us in Matthew chapter twenty-four to expect false prophets and false messiahs in the last days. So we can’t rule out the possibility that we’ll actually as false messiah emerge from the Shia world.

3) You’ve earned a reputation of writing stories that seemed ripped from tomorrow’s headlines. What is going on in The Tehran Initiative that we can see unfolding in the news?

A: I think the biggest parallel between The Tehran Initiative and current events is the growing sense amongst Shia Muslim leaders – particularly in Iran – that the Twelfth Imam is coming any moment, coupled with Iran’s feverish efforts to build nuclear weapons, and the Israelis’ growing isolation in the world and feeling that they may have to hit Iran all by themselves.

Did you see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic address at the U.N. in September, or read the full text? You should. It’s instructive. Ahmadinejad is not a world leader worthy of the world stage. He is the evil leader of an Iranian death cult. A recent U.N. report indicates he is making progress in building nuclear weapons. He is calling for the arrival of the Twelfth Imam and wiping Israel “off the map.” He aspires to be a mass murderer beyond the scale of Adolf Hitler. He deserves to be in prison, or an insane asylum. His U.N. speech was further proof, if more was needed.

Like Hitler’s speeches in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, Ahmadinejad isn’t hiding what he believes. He’s pretty clear. He denied the Holocaust. He blasted the U.S. for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. He blamed the terrorist attacks 9/11 on the U.S. government. He insisted that his so-called messiah known as “Imam al-Mahdi” or the Twelfth Imam is coming soon. He insisted Jesus Christ will come with the Mahdi to take over the world. He called for a one-world government when he called for “the shared and collective management of the world.”

Consider these excerpts: “This movement is certainly on its rightful path of creation, ensuring a promising future for humanity. A future that will be built when humanity initiates to trend the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet. The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah. He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice freedom and love across the world. He will present to every single individual all the beauties of the world and all good things which bring happiness for humankind.”

Though most world leaders do not appear to understand what Ahmadinejad is really saying, students of Shia Islamic eschatology or End Times theology do. The Iranian leader believes the end of the world as we have known it is increasingly close at hand. He believes the time for establishing an Islamic caliphate or global government ruled by the Mahdi is rapidly approaching. What’s more, he believes that the way to hasten the coming of the Twelfth Imam is to acquire nuclear weapons and use them to annihilate the United States, which he calls the “Great Satan” and Israel, which he calls the “Little Satan.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands what Ahmadinejad means. So do some of his top military advisors. That’s why they believe Iran is in the eye of a gathering storm in the Middle East, and that the chance of a major war is growing.

“Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program. The opposite is true; it continues full steam ahead,” warned Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command Chief Major General Eyal Eisenberg in a speech earlier this month. Also noting recent uprisings in the Arab world and growing tensions with Turkey, Eisenberg said, “This leads us to the conclusion that…the likelihood of an all-out war is increasingly growing.”

To me, all this feels ripped from the pages of The Tehran Initiative. Unfortunately, it’s all true.

4) Readers seem to get very attached to your characters. What goes into creating the characters in your novels?

A: It’s the Colonel’s secret recipe of seven herbs and spices. I could tell you, but then I’d have to….well, never mind….no comment to that one.

5) What experiences in your real life do you draw from to piece together these novels that incorporate geo-politics, espionage, romance, and Bible prophecy?

A: Someone once told me, “Write where you live in your head.” For some reason, that advice resonated with me and stuck. I’m fascinated with politics, prophecy and the Middle East. Living in Washington, D.C. and working in and around the political world for the past two decades has certainly helped provide context for me to write political thrillers. I think traveling extensively throughout the Middle East and North Africa has been helpful, too. Somehow, it’s all worked together in a way some people find as interesting as I do.

6) You often incorporate Old Testament prophecy in your books. What scriptures do you draw from for this book and why?

A: There’s no question that I am absolutely intrigued by Bible prophecy, and I like to start with an End Times prophecy – or a group of last days prophecies – and ask, “What if these were to happen in my lifetime? What would it look like? What would it feel like? How might such prophecies realistically be set into motion, and what might be the implications of their fulfillment?” That’s how I approach writing these books. But I don’t think of it like writing a fantasy novel or science fiction. I’m genuinely trying to imagine how it could really play out? I’m not saying these prophecies will necessarily come to pass the way I envision them, but they are interest to war game and see what happens. And given what’s happening in the real world today, I think readers are as curious as I am, and somehow my plots don’t feel that far-fetched.

7) You’ve been successful with your non-fiction books Epicenter and Inside the Revolution and you have a large following reading your analysis of Middle East events on your blog and e-newsletter “Flash Traffic.” Why do you continue to choose writing novels about the Middle East?

A: What could be more interesting? Presidents and presidential candidates constantly focus on the Middle East. Prime Ministers do. Kings do. Generals do. The media does. The economists do. The fact is, the eyes of the nations are riveted on Israel and her neighbors, the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future. The stakes are very high. There is lots of uncertainty. It’s mysterious and dangerous and complex – it has all the elements of riveting political thrillers. And the Bible says the Middle East will become even more dramatic until the very return of Jesus Christ. Why write about anything else?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Run of my Life

“It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

            This last weekend, Oct. 14-16, was the Men’s Retreat for Magnolia Bible Church.  It was a great time of fun and fellowship with my fellow brothers in Christ.  We had two men profess faith in Christ on Saturday night, which is always a cause for celebration.  We had a speaker who spoke about men rising up and being the leaders we need to be for our families, our neighborhood, our Church, and our community.  He actually worded it that we need to be the Pastors of our streets. 

            Originally, I was going to be spending the weekend up at University of Texas Dallas for the Texas Leadership Conference for Phi Theta Kappa, the two year college International Honor Society.  Upon finding out that our men’s retreat was going to be on the same weekend, I almost decided to forgo the men’s retreat.  This was not God’s plan for me, and almost as immediately as I contemplated not going to the retreat, I was convicted and decided to instead forgo the Leadership conference.

            The truth of the matter is that there has been a whole lot of sin and junk going on in my life over the past month or two.  Although there were many days in which I was still able to kind of demonstrate a good Christian walk, there were many days when I was not even faking it well.  In fact about three to four weeks ago I chose to again satisfy my love for sin instead of my love for my Savior.  This has lead to a lot of tension, of course, between my wife, children, and I.  In fact it was enough to have the Elders of our Church decide that indeed it was for my best interest that for the time being I not partake in any roles that resemble leadership in the Church. 

            On Saturday night I was talking to the head of our men’s ministry, just letting him know how much I appreciate his heart and willingness in leading the men of our Church.  I was not intending to speak to him for any length of time, but he felt the need to talk with me.  This is something I greatly appreciate about Rickey.

            Rickey is a great man of God, and also nice and blunt, which is something I both appreciate and need.  As we were talking Rickey again challenged me with some things to think about.  Being raised by a Pastor, as I was, I am very knowledgeable in things of the Scriptures.  In each of the sessions of study I took notes, and in the last three sessions our speaker had us break up into groups to debrief from the previous one.  Since I had notes I ended up leading the small group I participated in, in the sense of refreshing from our previous session.  Rickey told me that every time he sees me sharing the knowledge I have been blessed with he just thinks, “What a waste”.  I have all of this head knowledge and it hasn’t made any difference in my spiritual walk.  He again challenged me that I have to be credible if I’m going to be of any benefit to the Men’s Ministry, and he reiterated that the men’s ministry needs people like me.  He told me, “Paul, you are going to be heartbroken if you are sitting on the sidelines as you see this ministry take off, I know that.” You know what? He is right.

            Rickey is an older man, and in great physical shape.  He regularly works out, and in fact was going running with a couple of the other men the next morning.  I use to enjoy running, although I haven’t been in quite some time, really probably since my junior year of High School.  I decided to go running with these men the next morning. 

            The title of this post is the Run of my life, so now let me tell you why I chose this title.  As I joined the men that Sunday morning I started off on a pretty nice, steady pace, and was in fact ahead of two of the men whom I was running with, and maintaining an even distance with the third.  However, this lasted for only about four to five hundred meters, and all of a sudden I’m breathing heavily, and need to, in fact, just slow to a walk for a brief period of time to catch my breath.  I was then able to run for probably another three to four hundred meters before I again had to slow to a walk, and then another two hundred meters before I finished off…walking. 

            During one of the times of running I also hit a pothole in the asphalt, and almost got tripped up, however I was able to maintain my balance, but it did cause a little pain in my ankle that I rolled.  Throughout the run and definitely in that moment, I almost fell, I had a revelation.  This run was a picture of my Spiritual walk.

            Like many people who profess faith, I started off with a fire and a passion that could not be quenched.  This was a race I was running with all the energy and strength I could muster.  As the days and weeks rolled by and now years, life happened.  This of course has often lead me to a point of either walking in my spiritual life, or quite frankly, standing still.  I remember shortly after my wife and I got married we again were returning to a point of passion and fire, again running the race set before us.  This led me to create Biblically Born Again Ministries, and work alongside my dear brother, Dave Jenkins, and help with Servants of Grace, and participate with Lynn Davenport in Alpha and Omega. 

            Then life happened.  Sin crept into my life, or I simply chose to quit running, and then I saw these things I was so passionate about, for a time, simply fade away and disappear.  In 2008 it got to a point where I even denied my faith.  Why would I do such a foolish thing? The answer is quite simple.  I again loved my sin more then I loved my Savior.  I thought I wanted what I wanted regardless of how bad it was for me and my family.  This of course also led me to step down from working alongside Dave Jenkins.

            In the middle to end of 2008 I again returned to a passion and began my study of 1 John.  Although there have still been sin struggles throughout my study of 1 John, for the most part I was again running the race.  My relationship with my Savior was the focus of my drive and my family has benefitted from that.  It even got to the point where I again could serve in the capacity of teaching the two and three year olds at Church.

            Well, now I slowed back down to a walk, but by the grace of God, He has placed people in my life who are not going to let me get away with falling out of the race.  What is also equally important is I’m not going to let myself be satisfied with that which I know brings no joy or happiness to life.  Yes, I chose my sin over my Savior, over my family, and over myself, but I am not going to be satisfied walking in this race.  The LORD has done so many great things in my life, and the goal of my life should be to glorify Him! 
           As I think of the quote I began this blog with I see something I never thought about.  I have not looked at each step as a goal to glorify my Savior.  I have looked at each step of my spiritual run as a step that benefits me, and that is not what this race is about.  Today, I’m sharing with you all the run of my life in the hope that you will see that your life is a run as well.  Are you going to run the race for Christ so you can hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant”? Or are you running the race for yourself? I tell you now that if you aren’t trying to glorify Christ, you may feel happy for a time, but the run you are on will only lead to destruction and heartache.  Believe me, I know!

Friday, October 14, 2011

“Courageous”, a Movie Review

On October 6 I had the opportunity to go see Courageous in theaters with the men of Magnolia Bible Church.  This was a movie that I have been greatly looking forward to seeing, that being said, I was not disappointed!

            Courageous is the newest production of Sherwood Baptist Church out of Albany, GA.  These are the creators of Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof (Oh no they brought an end to the filming of movies that start with the letter F!). All jokes aside, there is no doubt that Sherwood Baptist Church has done something remarkable by not running from Hollywood, but infiltrating, showing courage even before the filming of this movie.  For those of you who think it isn’t a big deal, I just want to help you realize that this was the fourth largest grossing film on opening weekend, and its actors aren’t asking for 10 million dollars plus each.

            Prior to going into seeing the movie, I had been warned by a few friends that it was a movie that would make me cry.  What most of these friends didn’t realize is that I had taken the opportunity to peruse through the novelization of the screen play written by Randy Alcorn a few weeks back, so I thought I knew what I was getting into.  Again, I want to reiterate that I thought I knew what I was getting into.

            Watching the film, even with a group of guys, didn’t stop the shedding of tears, and the hearty laughter that came out of me.  There is no doubt that Courageous is one movie that will definitely send you on an emotional roller coaster.  Yet it was more than just an emotional roller coaster, it was a call, a challenge, for change.  The question is; who will hear? 

            With all I can muster I would encourage all men to go see this movie.  We all know that it is time for us to rise to the challenge and lead our families in their relationship with God.  Are you willing? If you can see it with other men in your Church go.  Take your families, even with the PG-13 rating this is a movie I would be comfortable taking my young children to.   After you have seen the movie, go to your local Christian Bookstore, or on-line, and get your men to participate in the Courageous Bible Study.  A four week study, that is well worth the work.