Posts

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

When I Don’t Agree with the Bible

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six-year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and Bible class ministry in church, and also preaches, trains, and teaches in different churches and youth groups in Singapore. He has been married for 15 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (11-years-old) and Elijah (8-years-old).

Recently, a Christian friend of mine shared that she was going through a very rough patch in her life. Why would God, described in the Bible as the God of love, allow her to go through all that? she asked. What added to her disappointment was that God did not answer her prayers. The God of the Bible didn’t seem to match up to her expectations.

Another Christian friend told me he was in a relationship with someone; it was a relationship which the Bible clearly spoke against. Both of them were truly in love with one another and the relationship meant a lot to him. To him, God was unreasonable in the way He spelt out His expectations in the Bible, especially in terms of whom believers can have a close relationship with.

These are just two of the many others I know who struggle with what the Bible says. For these two friends of mine, it is especially tough because the disagreement is not just about a conflict of ideas; it involves a clash of expectations, interests and lifestyles.

What do we do when we don’t agree with the Bible? To answer this question for myself, I’ve learned to first review the basic assumptions and convictions I have about myself and God respectively.

 

Assumption #1: My ideas and feelings cannot be wrong

Disagreements (of any sort) between individuals occur when both sides are certain that they are right. I find it hard to accept things that are different from what I have learned from young to be true. This is especially so when I am very certain about my views and convicted about how I feel.

Naturally, when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and how I feel, what I think and what I want, my most instinctive reaction is to say that the Bible cannot be right.

But if I am honest with myself, I will have to acknowledge that there have been numerous occasions in my life that I have been proven wrong in the way I look at things, the way I feel, and the way I respond. The reality is I can be wrong—even though I may not like to admit it.

I remember the time when my application for medical school was rejected. Unlike some of my friends who wanted to be doctors for personal reasons, I really wanted to “save” lives. So I thought God got it wrong. It has been a humbling journey since, but as I look back on this time in my life, I realize God knew better. Many have affirmed me in my role as a teacher. And as I teach the Word of God and share the gospel of Christ, I am in fact “saving” lives for eternity. I thank God that while I was wrong about myself then, God wasn’t wrong about me.

 

Assumption #2: I know my Bible well enough

For those of us who have been Christians for many years, we would have heard many sermons and done much reading and studying of the Bible for ourselves. With all this head knowledge, we may come to understand God and life in a certain way.

Inevitably, when God and life do not turn out the way we understand, we struggle. But, if we read our Bible more carefully in its proper contexts, we will realize that we have misread our Bibles and misunderstood the character of God all along.

I used to think that God would answer every prayer I said if I ended it in Jesus’ name. But that is not what John 16:24 meant at all. You can imagine the numerous occasions when I felt disappointed with God for not answering my prayers. But that was because I understood Him wrongly. On hindsight, I realize He must have been the one who was truly disappointed with me instead.

 

Assumption #3: God must act in a certain way

We expect our close friends to understand and accept us, and we hold certain expectations about how they should act and respond. As such, we become very disappointed when they don’t. So, if God doesn’t act in a certain way according to our expectations, we believe that something must be wrong with Him.

But we cannot look at God in the same way we look at our friends, because He is not a mere human who has to pander to our desires and expectations. He is the great God who rules with absolute authority and wisdom. In Isaiah 40:12-26, we read of how the Israelites had to grapple with some mind-blowing metaphors about the incomparable greatness of God. The reality is, if we can “sort God out” and tell Him what He should do, then He can’t really be God because He is under our control.

 

Therefore, for myself, here are three foundational pillars that I choose to stand on:

Pillar #1: God defines everything, not I

The most fundamental issue I must address is whether or not I accept the fact that in spite of what I think and how I feel, God—who is perfect in power, love and knowledge—defines what is right and wrong, good and bad, true or false.

I can choose to be proud and stubborn because I think I know better since I have read, seen and experienced a lot. Alternatively, I can be humble and accept the reality that God, being the great God, does work beyond my scheme of things.

When Job was tested, his wife and his friends offered many “reasonable” explanations as to why he had to suffer many afflictions. But God does not work or have to work within our scheme of things. In the climactic end in Job 38:1-40:2, God reminded Job that He is the great God; He knows how to run the universe He created and His wisdom is greater than human wisdom.

I have found that on many occasions, my perception and judgment are limited and biased. There is still much I do not know. In fact, I need to learn, unlearn and sometimes even re-learn some things. Guess what? My children are my teachers when it comes to this aspect. Their seemingly innocent questions like, “How did this come about?”, “Why must it be like that?” and “Why did you say this but do that?” often show me that I don’t know as much and I’m not as loving, wise, patient and fair as I like to think I am. It will be foolish to think that I know better.

 

Pillar #2: God is God of the Word

There are truths and issues I must accept simply because they are clearly written in the Bible. At first glance, I may not understand or agree with certain truths or instructions. But it does not change the fact that God has written them in the Bible.

My response is not to un-write, erase or gloss over these things; rather, I need to take time and effort to learn and understand them. At times, I may need to simply accept these truths even if they don’t make full sense to me. Maybe we don’t quite understand fully the Trinity or the idea of predestination. Maybe we can’t answer the question of why a good God allows sufferings. Maybe we cannot comprehend why God didn’t answer our prayers. Nonetheless, we can hold on to these questions and wait to see how God will help us work through them along the way. When Habakkuk found God’s ways confusing and sometimes mysterious, God’s answer to him was: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4). So, wait for His deliverance.

 

Pillar #3: God is God of the world

Instead of focusing on the differences between what the Bible says and what we see, why not take comfort and be encouraged by the many instances of congruence between the Bible and the world? This should not surprise us at all, since the same God who gave us the Word is also the same God who made the world.

One good exercise is to constantly look for and marvel at examples of how God’s character and truths are seen in the world we live in and in the experiences we go through. For example, love, mercy and justice (or for that matter, even choice and consequence) are not just abstract concepts. These are important principles that are being displayed and lived out in our lives and societies. They do demonstrate in some ways (though imperfectly) how God interacts with the world. But God will necessarily differ from and transcend human applications of these principles because, unlike man, He is perfect in all His ways.

So what do I do when I don’t agree with the Bible? I think I am ready to answer the question now.

 

When I don’t agree with the Bible . . .

  1. I will re-visit my pre-suppositions, ideas, desires and interests and face the possibility that my ideas of the world, life or even God and my feelings may be incorrect.
  1. I will re-look what the Bible says in its contexts once again, as I could have misread and misunderstood what it says.
  1. In areas where I am able to work through the clashes and see my mistakes, I will re-align myself and learn to put away my pride and stubbornness.
  1. In areas where I still cannot sort it out, I will re-establish my basic trust in this great and awesome God with the anticipation that He will make things clearer in time to come.

These ideas seem rather obvious, don’t they? Yet when we are faced with real issues, they are harder to grasp than they appear. And that is probably why my two friends struggled. While I’m glad that one of my friends is learning to understand and accept that God has a much better and bigger plan for her, my other friend has to now work through extremely difficult issues in the relationship that God has spoken against.  My prayer for him is that he can re-align himself back to God in due time.

How Long Should I Wait for Marriage?

Written By Emily Hoosier, USA

At my Christian college, I quickly learned that most Christian couples marry young. We even have a phrase for it, “ring by spring”, which refers to two people getting engaged (ring) before graduating from college (by spring).

I used to assume that if a Christian couple dated for too long, they were either refusing to commit to holy matrimony, or were enjoying sex before the big day. Waiting one year was reasonable, and two years was commendable. Beyond that, it looked suspicious and sad to date without an engagement ring.

But when this story became my reality, I came face-to-face with my own prejudices.

When my now-fiancé and I started dating over four years ago, I told him, “I don’t want to date for five years. If we decide we want to marry each other, let’s just get married.” These words may look aggressive in print, but they represented the honest overflow of my fearful and foolish heart. They also echoed advice I had heard from trusted leaders. I was afraid of making a mistake, and I thought marrying quickly was the right thing to do.

We both knew we wanted to marry each other since the early days in our relationship. With that in mind, I thought we should begin discussing venue locations and cake flavors. I did not see any value in waiting to marry. To me, it actually seemed harmful. How is it possible to practice abstinence for years with the one you love? Why would we choose to live separately when we could choose to live together?

But for my then-boyfriend, choosing to live apart for a time was a matter of responsibly stewarding the gift of our relationship. He wanted not only to finish college, but also work in a good job before asking me to join his life as his bride. He believed our purity was possible, even when I cried in fear of failing such a daunting standard.

I wanted to live near my boyfriend, but God led us to colleges in different cities for most of our dating experience. Even after I finished college and could move closer to him, God provided me a career opportunity which required me to temporarily live in a city farther away. Each choice to follow and trust God’s leading in my life became a way for me to express love to Him.

God never changed my desire to marry my boyfriend as soon as possible. He did, however, change my view of the waiting. God let me see that dating for years was not necessarily bad and unhealthy. It could even be good and purifying. God used that experience, like no other, to redeem pain in my past, strengthen my love for Himself, and purify my love for my boyfriend. Because God called us to it, waiting was the most loving and faithful thing I could do for that time.

Marrying quickly is not inherently good or bad, but following God is always good. The paths God led me along were not always comfortable or approved by everyone, but I had the promise of Psalm 23:2-3: “. . . He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

While friends and family affirmed us in our walk together, not everyone in the church did. New friends and acquaintances asked how long we had been dating. When our answer did not include a wedding date, a few expressed concerns about our marital status and advised us on how to solve it. They offered stories about getting engaged or married before finishing college or finding jobs. Comparing those stories to ours only hurt my sense of security in God’s plan for us. At worst, I felt shameful and defensive about our dating story.

Those years brought almost as much pain as they brought joy. Despite the pain and loneliness in our waiting, we chose to live in that tension for years. I journaled frequently; those journals were my personal Psalms. When my boyfriend and I laughed together or simply enjoyed being around each other, I sang my thanks to God for His faithfulness and good gifts. When we went weeks without seeing each other, or wanted nothing else but physical intimacy together, I cried out to Him in my frustration and loneliness.

Going to God in prayer was essential. Through it, God received my weary heart and gave me strength to keep going. One day in prayer, my attitude completely changed. I realized that God understood what I felt. He understood what waiting for marriage was like. It was as if God planted the thought in my head―Jesus is also waiting to be with His bride forever. He knows what I feel. This revelation of God’s empathy for me in my pain drew me deeper in love with Him. This deepened love sprouted deeper trust. And I could see more clearly that years of waiting was the “right path for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

By God’s grace, I was able to give up my expectations of what life ought to look like. By His grace, I was able to surrender my own selfish motives for marriage. That was when we knew that our marriage would not be a selfish decision, but a solidly good one.

Marriage after dating four months or four years will have its own set of advantages and challenges. If God’s story for your life involves more waiting that you planned, take heart. No waiting is wasted with God. We can rest knowing from Romans 8:28, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Should Christians be Optimistic or Cynical?

Written By M.D. Valley, Africa

In my earlier years, I constantly swung between being optimistic and cynical. Whenever I wanted something desperately, I would fix my mind on it and pour my 110 percent into it, along with a few prayers.

But whenever things didn’t work out my way, I would react like a spoilt child who didn’t get the candy she asked for. In those moments, overwhelmed by disappointment—and sometimes, resentment toward God—I would tell myself that it was better to be a cynic than an optimist. After all, I figured, optimism didn’t seem to pay off.

A friend of mine shared that he gives his best in everything he does, but keeps failure as a viable option. His reasoning was this: expecting the worst protects one from too much disappointment when things don’t work out.

But not for me. In my case, whenever things didn’t work out, I would be haunted by thoughts that maybe my wishes would have come true if I been a bit more optimistic. After all, if the blind man hadn’t cried out to Jesus to have mercy on him and heal his blindness, maybe Jesus would have walked on by. If he had sat back wallowing in his disability and believing that Jesus wouldn’t care and that there was no hope for him, then he would not have been healed (Luke 18: 35-42).

Over time, I realized that the root of our unhappiness—regardless of whether we are the cynical or optimistic type—is usually the same: we want something but we don’t get it. So how do we address the root problem?

The simple answer is hope.

Czech writer and philosopher Vaclav Havel once said that “hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”.

The ultimate difference between hope and optimism is that the former is rooted in a deep trust in God. It is an assurance that God’s will would be done, regardless of the outcome. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That came before praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13). It was something that Jesus himself demonstrated at the most painful point of His ministry on earth.

In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus faced the reality of His impending death on the cross. But though the prospect of what lay ahead of Him distressed Him to the point where His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44), He did not abide by His will but by God’s will.

To be honest, trusting God to the point of death is no easy feat. The human reflex is to flee from pain and sacrifice. A friend of mine once held a job that did not honor God, and she was restless in her spirit. She knew that if she quit that job, she would have no income to support her child and herself. She had no family support in the country she resided in and being an immigrant, it would be particularly difficult for her to secure another job.

But it came to a point where she knew she could not continue to dishonor God by her choice of career. So she took a bold leap of faith and quit. The first month went by and there were no offers and no interviews, but she hoped, and had faith. Three months later, a recruiter called her and offered her a better job that would sponsor her work visa and grant her child support.

I have since learned to change my prayer from “I want this and that” to “let your perfect will be done”. I’ve learned not to be optimistic but rather to have faith, to persevere, and to hope—in God.

Just a few years ago, I found myself in a job that was not what I had prayed for. At the time, I could not understand why God wanted me there. It was grueling work; my boss was so difficult that no one could work with him except me. After two years, however, God gave me a new job that was even better than what I had initially prayed for. Ironically, I was selected for that job because of my experience in my previous job—the one I had disliked. I realized that good always comes out of every circumstance no matter how difficult the situation is, and this truth has given me peace.

I have come to realize that God always answers our prayers with what is good for us (Rom 8:28), even though what we hope for may not come to pass in the particular way we envision it. He gives us what we need—and not necessarily what we want.