Texas shooting: The Aftermath

On Sunday, while I was worshipping at my church, a shooting happened just a few miles away at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It turned out to be the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 died (almost half of them children) and others were injured.

As a fellow Texan, I can say that the whole community is still in the early stages of the grief process. If the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we’re somewhere in between denial and anger.

Anger is obvious, because we’re mad something like this could happen.

The denial part is equally strong. To be honest, Texans have a certain pride that things like this can’t happen here. In such a small town, this seems like the most improbable thing. It’s hard for us Texans to wrap our minds around it.

That said, I feel that it’s important and necessary that we work our way through the grieving process, no matter how tough it is. And the first thing to bear in mind is this: We can grieve.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul talked to the church about grief. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Paul never told the Thessalonian believers not to grieve; he told them to grieve from a place of hope.

This hope, I believe, can propel us to go beyond the “acceptance” stage of the grieving process to a sixth stage that is available to believers. That stage is “worship”.

As believers, we can land somewhere greater than just accepting the negative circumstances. With faith and hope available to us, we can go beyond mere acceptance and turn it into worship towards God. We can turn it into giving to others. We can turn it into doing the hard thing out of love. We can turn it into gratitude for what God has given us.

While this tragic turn of events might seem extra heart-breaking in light of the upcoming Christmas season, I’d like to suggest that we change our perspective and see the opposite instead. Not only should the approaching Christmas season give us hope and comfort, it can teach us how to process this sixth stage of grief. And Mary’s a great example of how to do it.

When she found out she was pregnant, Scripture tells us that she accepted her fate. But she was human, just like you and me. This young girl’s expectations for her life were shattered by something God did. Surely she felt these emotions too:

  • Denial that God would do such a thing to her. How could that even happen? How could a virgin become pregnant—much less with the Son of God?
  • Anger that her expectations for her life wouldn’t be met. Why did she have to be given an abnormal pregnancy?
  • Bargaining with God to find someone else to do this. After all, she was already engaged and about to be married to Joseph. Surely God could find someone else who didn’t have so much at stake to do this.
  • Depression over the loss of a scandal-less marriage and nice, quiet honeymoon season.

Mary probably experienced a lot more mental turmoil. But Scripture focuses on what she did after the fifth stage of acceptance. Mary’s faith not only led her to acceptance, but ultimately, also to worship.

One of the most beautiful songs from Scripture was birthed out of this grief-turned-to-worship moment.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

—Luke 1:49-50 (NLT)

That’s what happens when we let God speak into the areas of our heart that disappointment or tragedy exposes. We have the opportunity to respond with worship. By giving to others. Praising God. Loving the unlovable. By focusing on God instead of ourselves. Appreciation pours from our hearts and turns into worship.

I’m working on letting my grief turn into worship through these circumstances. I’m trying to help my friends walk through this process too. Let’s add faith to our acceptance and see worship result from this tragedy. God can get glory through this.

Harvey Weinstein: Monster or One of us?

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Google the name “Harvey” today and you’ll immediately get a deluge of negative articles about Harvey Weinstein—previously celebrated but now disgraced American media mogul.

Weinstein’s nightmare started a month ago, when allegations of sexual harassment against him by several women, including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, came to light in a New York Times article.

Since then, more than 90 women have stepped forward to accuse Weinstein of rape, sexual harassment, or assault starting from the 1970s. And the allegations show no signs of abating.

The spectacular fall from grace of entertainment company Miramax’s founder has triggered a flurry of articles about the power dynamic of the casting couch and systemic abuse of women in Hollywood. And the backlash against Weinstein has been immense.

Not only has he suffered professionally—he has been sacked by the board of his company, expelled by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and kicked out of the Producers Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, among other things—but his personal life has taken a big hit as well. His wife, Georgina Chapman, has announced that she would divorce him, saying that her heart “breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions”.

Weinstein has been called “a monster” and a “beast”, and the shocking allegations about his unbecoming behavior, if true, seem to warrant only one appropriate response: condemnation. Those who have tried to make jokes about the saga—like English talk show host James Corden and Britain’s Environment secretary Michael Gove—have been slammed for being insensitive and making light of the situation.

Sure, it’s hard to sympathize with a man who—if all this is indeed true—has for decades abused his power and gotten away scot-free with his actions against women.

But in a Telegraph article, writer Laura Bates offered an interesting perspective. “Harvey Weinstein is not a ‘beast’ or a ‘monster’,” she wrote. “He is a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. The only difference is that Weinstein’s alleged offences have finally, after decades of shameful silence, emerged into the public eye. But thousands of men like him continue to operate with impunity.”

It’s true, isn’t it? Weinstein is not the only who may be guilty of such misdeeds. In recent weeks, allegations against other high-profile figures in Hollywood, like Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and Steven Seagal, have also come to light.

If there is anything to learn from such cases, it’s this: regardless of how powerful or important we are, our sins will find us out eventually—if not in this lifetime, then in eternity when we face God. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

In a way, this is both comforting and disturbing. It is comforting, because it means that even those who have managed to keep their misdeeds hidden from the public eye will ultimately face judgment from the ultimate judge. But it is also disturbing, because it means that every one of us will be called by God to account for our actions—no one is excused and no one is exempted.

So, perhaps, it’s wise if we—instead of pointing the accusing finger and casting stones at those who have fallen from grace—put in more effort to make sure our lives are in check. After all, what if we were in Weinstein’s shoes? What if one day you woke up to see all your past sins suddenly uncovered and put under the spotlight for the world to see? Would that make any difference to the way we respond to Weinstein now?

We could take a leaf out of actress Ashley Judd’s (one of the first victims who came out to accuse him) book. When asked in a television interview with ABC news about what she would say to Weinstein today, even as he continues to deny the allegations, she responded with a message full of grace: “I love you, and I understand that you are sick and suffering. And there is help for a guy like you, too, and it’s entirely up to you to get that help.”

You see, though the extent of our sinfulness may differ, we all are sick and suffering. And we all need help (Romans 3:23-24).

Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi

Screenshot taken from YouTube

I never thought I would cry over a complete stranger. But the death of a man whom I have never met had me tearing up a few times this week.

Last night, it happened again while I was watching the live stream of Christian apologist and author Nabeel Qureshi’s memorial service. Hearing two of his mentors, apologist Ravi Zacharias and Rice University chemistry professor Jim Tour, recount their time with the 34-year-old and his love for Jesus as well as his non-Christian family, had me welling up in tears.

Perhaps it was because the tributes were heartfelt and heart-breaking, or because it felt like I actually knew him personally. I bought Nabeel’s book two years ago, and have been following his progress since he first announced that he had advanced stomach cancer. Whichever reason it was, Nabeel has certainly made an impact on my life—as well as the lives of many others.

Here was a man who centered his entire life on Jesus and the gospel even though it meant turning his back on the people he loved most dearly—his family, who were staunch Muslims. Not only that, he went on to proclaim the good news of Christ, through talks and books—such as New York Times Bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus—despite threats to his safety and relentless criticism from those who considered him an apostate.

So many, including myself, were shocked that God would take him home so early on in his earthly life. Like most people, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why? Why now, when he was at the peak of his ministry? Why now, when he had just started a family? Why now, when the world needs gifted and passionate communicators like him to build bridges with the Muslim community?

Though none of the answers that have been circulating online can fully answer these questions, a post I stumbled on provides a deeply encouraging and helpful perspective. It was written by Nabeel’s colleague, the North American Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). In a beautiful tribute to his dear friend, Abdu Murray wrote:

Ravi Zacharias, who loved Nabeel deeply, has written about him in a secular news source. Thousands who had never heard Nabeel or the gospel he loved to preach have now been exposed to Jesus’s life-changing message. People have seen Nabeel’s steely faith remain steelier yet in the face of death. They have seen the “peace that passes all understanding,” as the Bible calls it, in Nabeel’s voice. And they are encouraged to face difficulty with grace. A deaf world is roused through the megaphone of pain to hear the message that God has overcome the troubles of the world through Jesus. Nabeel was a megaphone for that message in his life and he is a megaphone for that message in his passing.

 If not for anything, Nabeel, who made a significant impact during his life, continues to make an impact in his death. Many have come to know of him, his books—and his God—after hearing about his life and death over the past week. I believe Nabeel’s legacy will continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Nabeel is no longer with us. We will miss him dearly. But while his passing may seem like a huge loss, let us not forget that he is in a far better place today. And let’s not mourn without hope—for we have the full confidence that God will continue to raise up men of great faith to continue His kingdom work. Just as God can raise up a devout Pharisee like the Apostle Paul and an ex-Muslim like Nabeel to become effective ambassadors for Him, He can—and He will—continue to convict the hearts of men in His own time and way.

Learning to Face Death from Nabeel Qureshi

Photo by Nabeel Qureshi

“It’s a little unsettling to watch the vlog of someone who knows he’s about to die,” I remember telling my mother after watching what would be Nabeel Qureshi’s second last video blog on YouTube just last week.

In it, the Pakistani-American Muslim-turned-Christian apologist spoke about his final stages of life and how he was receiving palliative care.

Still, both of us were shocked by how quickly the 34-year-old’s passing came. The popular itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) died on Saturday, 16 September, after a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He leaves behind his wife, Michelle, and two-year-old daughter, Aya.

As tributes poured in for Nabeel over the weekend, I found myself saddened by his death and wondering why God took him at such a young age, when he was still so active, effective, and passionate in ministry.

I first heard about Nabeel two years ago when a friend told me about his book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Reading his book, I was struck by how thoughtfully and objectively he had presented the facts about Islam and Christianity.

As I started reading up more about him and watching his videos, I was moved by Nabeel’s deep conviction and commitment to the gospel despite what it cost him, and heartened that God had raised such a brilliant and articulate person to reach the masses—in particular the Muslim community—for Him. Months later, I saw the heartbreaking news on Nabeel’s Facebook page: he had advanced stomach cancer, and the prognosis was grim.

As I’ve been following his progress intermittently since then, his death, though imminent and expected, still feels sudden and surreal. But the legacy that he has left behind—and the lives he has impacted during his short 34 years on earth—is unquestionable. Being just a couple of years younger than him, I cannot help but think about my own life and wonder about the kind of legacy I would leave behind one day.

One of the things about Nabeel that has deeply impacted me was how he faced death. Unlike many others, he had the privilege of knowing and preparing for his last days on earth. Even up till his last days, he was still uploading video clips testifying about Jesus. Perhaps, however, being able to stare at death in the face was a little overwhelming—even for a man of great faith like him.

I remember watching his second last vlog and thinking that he sounded almost discouraged and despondent; he seemed to be really struggling to accept that God may not eventually heal him. This both surprised and encouraged me.

It surprised me, because I had assumed that he would be 100 percent settled in his heart by this time, that his time was drawing to a close. But it also encouraged me, because his complete honesty about his desire to be healed showed how even great men of faith had their “moments”. But, finally, it is what he said at the end of the video—without any hint of bitterness in his voice—that I would always remember: “But if it shouldn’t be Your will, Your sovereign will at the end of the day, then I trust You, and I love You anyway . . .”

And I believe that that is exactly how Nabeel would want all those who are grieving over his death to respond: to completely trust God and love God regardless of the outcome. May Nabeel’s life and death inspire us to devote our lives to Jesus for the rest of our days, so that like the Apostle Paul and Nabeel, we can say with confidence at the end of our lives, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)

 

Read author’s follow-up article: Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi