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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.

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.

When Schooling beat Phelps: 3 lessons on success

Written By Natalie Hanna Tan & Joanna Hor

Image taken from here.

Just before the crack of dawn on the tiny island of Singapore, a hero’s welcome awaited 21-year-old Joseph Schooling, the country’s first Olympic gold medallist, who had just touched down after a 24-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro.

It started with a water gun salute as the plane hit the tarmac. This was followed by hundreds of adoring fans adorned in red and white, screaming and chanting his name as he made his way into the arrival hall. The grand welcome was a fitting tribute to the tremendous success the young swimmer had attained in the pool at the ongoing Olympics: On Saturday morning (13 August), Schooling beat stiff competition in the 100 meters Butterfly finals to become the first Singaporean athlete to win an Olympic gold medal.

For Singapore, he had achieved the impossible by winning its first gold medal and setting a new Olympic record. For the rest of the world, he had achieved the impossible by beating the mighty Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a timing of 50.39 seconds.

As Singaporeans, we watched the nation rally together and bond as we celebrated Schooling’s win. Since Saturday, numerous companies have been posting congratulatory messages on various media platforms or announcing deals and discounts to honor his achievement. One taxi company said it would be displaying a congratulatory message to Schooling on all 17,000 of its taxis’ rooftop signs for a week, while one fast-food giant celebrated his victory by giving out free nuggets to the first 50 customers.

Schooling himself was also rewarded with a S$1 million prize from the government, 1 million miles and a Krisflyer elite gold card from Singapore Airlines, and free rides from ride-hailing platform Grab for an entire year. On Monday, he also made history by being the first sportsman to be formally congratulated in Parliament.

Needless to say, as fellow Singaporeans, we are very proud of Schooling’s achievements. And like many others, we’re fully supportive of every accolade he has received and will receive in the days ahead. But as we celebrate his win, perhaps it would be good to mull over some lessons we can learn from his journey.

 

1. Success is much sweeter when it’s motivated by a larger cause

What was striking about the deluge of articles about Schooling was that his family and friends played a huge role in his motivation to win. At a press conference after his epic win, he said, “I think this race means more to my family and friends and those people who supported me. I did this for them – when you do that, when you race for people greater than yourself, it really means a lot once you’ve accomplished what you wanted to.”

The close-knit tie that Schooling, an only child, shares with his parents is a beautiful one to behold. Right after his race, he was reported to have made a call home to his dad and told him, “I love you too, Dad”. Upon his arrival at Changi Airport on Monday, father and son were photographed sharing a long hug. “My love for my son is nothing I can describe to you all,” Colin Schooling was quoted by various media outlets as saying.

It is also noteworthy that Schooling has a deep passion for his country. During the conference, he shared that he hoped to pave the way for sports in Singapore, set a new precedent for the young, and show others that people from the smallest countries can do extraordinary things.

Let’s constantly remind ourselves what or who we’re achieving success for, and may that drive us to do our best in everything. When we strive for success for something or someone beyond ourselves—whether for God’s glory or for our loved ones—it is always sweeter.  

 

2. Success comes at a hefty price

Although Schooling took just 50.39 seconds to make history, it was the result of decades of work. That meant many, many hours in the pool and the gym, and a little time for anything else. At the age of 16, the teen had already known the cost involved if he wanted success in the pool. “I’m sacrificing my childhood – my time with friends – but I want to look back after I’ve reached my goal and be able to say that I made it,” he had said back then.

At the tender age of 14, Schooling had left his family to fly halfway across the world to US to be trained in the Bolles School in Florida. His parents had to take turns to fly to Florida to take care of their son, often for a few months at a time. This meant that the family had very little time together.

Besides physical separation and emotional strain, the family also had to deal with financial challenges. Schooling’s mother, May, has shared that despite the money provided by the scholarship their son had received, the family has had to dig deep into their reserves and watch their spending to continue funding his education and training.

Let’s remind ourselves that success requires plenty of sacrifices. But we also need to recognize that not every single one of us has what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Whatever happens, let’s learn to be content with what God has given. And in the meantime, continue to celebrate the successes of those around us!  

 

3. Success is momentary

During an interview done while on his way back to Singapore, Schooling acknowledged that winning has now become the “new norm” in his life and that in order to maintain his position, he has to up his game. Perhaps he realized that the hype surrounding his historic win and achievement would eventually die down one day, and that he had to train harder if he wanted to stay on top.

When it comes to staying on top, the best person Schooling can take reference from is probably his childhood hero – the phenomenal Michael Phelps, the holder of 23 Olympic gold medals. For someone who seems to have it all in life, it will probably come as a surprise to many that being on top has not meant a smooth-sailing life for Phelps. Many articles have described the reigning Olympian’s rocky journey over the past few years: A constant struggle to find peace in his heart had led him to drugs and alcohol, and even saw him entertaining thoughts of suicide at one point. Ultimately, it was the book, The Purpose Driven Life, that pointed him in the right direction – God. It had led him to believe that “there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet”.

 

Imagine that! If being the world’s greatest Olympian is not enough, how can any one of us expect any form of success to satisfy us? In the end, Phelps saw where true joy and satisfaction could be found – not in gold medals, but in Someone greater. Whether we are aiming for victory in the pool, on the track, in school, or at work, it is a lesson we can benefit from.

What I’ve learnt from The Voice about Hope

It struck me the other day after burning countless weekday nights on five seasons of the reality TV singing competition, The Voice, that at the end of the day, it really (and sadly) isn’t about the voice.

It might be because I’m nursing a broken heart after my favorite contestant was booted off Season 7 of the US show after delivering a jaw-dropping and technically flawless performance. Of course, it’s hard to be objective when it comes to voices, but when you’re given a standing ovation by all four judges after your performance, it does seem a little cruel that you have to bid farewell to the stage so abruptly. (In case you’re wondering what happened, he didn’t get the audience vote and his coach didn’t use the save vote on him either.)

He wasn’t the only one to receive the cruel cut. Other outstanding singers have had to take a bow early on in the game, mostly because their coaches had a better idea on how to train their team members or they just weren’t the ones their coaches’ “guts” were prompting them to pick.

Whatever the reason, whether one gets to stay or leave usually has very little, if not nothing to do with their voice. And while I don’t deny that just being on the show provides a great opportunity for unknown singers to jump-start their music career, there can only be one winner at the end of the day. Even if you do win The Voice, it doesn’t guarantee your success in the entertainment industry. (None of the past six winners of the hugely popular TV show have actually had a breakthrough in their singing careers.)

So if you think about how the game is played and what your prospects are, it’s almost depressing. No matter how good a singer you are, how hard you practice, or how much your coach loves you—nothing guarantees your success eventually. Worse still, there’s nothing you can do about it.

A more important revelation I had while nursing my broken heart was that The Voice in essence, is life. Even if you’re the smartest man on the planet, you work like a dog or your boss loves you—success, or for that matter, a smooth-sailing life, is never guaranteed. In the meritocratic society like the one I live in, I’m trained to believe that you reap what you sow. Do well and you’ll be rewarded.

But more often than not, life chooses not to work according to the formula we’ve nicely determined. What hope is there after we’ve exhausted everything we’ve got? Perhaps that’s why a concept like hope is very much needed in the world we live in. Is there actual hope we can hold on to in a world permeated with uncertainty, unfairness, and even inequality?

I believe the answer is yes. Sure, the world is unfair and that’s a fact we all have to accept, but there is real, tangible hope if we choose to believe in the one who has made it possible for us to be hopeful to the end of our lives. And the best part is, it doesn’t rely on how well we perform.

For an average intellect person like me, this news is life-changing and profoundly comforting. No matter how badly or well I perform and how my life turns out, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. There is more to life than this short temporal stay and I know for sure that my eternity is secure in a far better place because of what He has done. He, the only one who can bring true hope in our lives if we choose to believe, is Jesus Christ.

Photo Credit: AXN