Nabeel Qureshi and the Brevity of Life

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About a month ago, Christian speaker and author Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer. Nabeel was a former Muslim who turned to Christ through an incredible series of events described in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. His ministry has led many other people to Christ as well.

Nabeel died at age 34. From my perspective, there was so much more that Nabeel could do if he had just lived longer. When I met him a few years ago, he had plans of writing books about a bunch of important topics. But his life ended after writing three books focused on the topic of Islam.

While I wish that Nabeel could have lived longer, my perspective completely changed when I watched Ravi Zacharias give a eulogy about Nabeel’s life. Towards the end, Ravi mentioned how Nabeel’s life was taken at such an early age. But he also said that Nabeel is not the first to go early. Other notable Christians also died very young:

Keith Green – A pianist, singer, and songwriter now inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Died at age 28. 

Robert Murray McCheyne – A Scottish minister who created a reading through the Bible program still used today. Died at age 29.

Blaise Pascal – One of the most well-known Christian authors ever. Died at age 39. 

Oswald Chambers – Most known for writing My Utmost for His Highest, a book still widely read today.  Died at age 43.

Henry Martyn – A missionary who translated the Bible into several languages spoken in India. Died at age 31.

Hearing this list caused me to focus on the impact that these peoples’ lives have made, rather than the length of their lives. And it’s the same with Nabeel. I can complain that he didn’t live long enough, or I can be thankful for how God used his life to make a deep impact in the lives of others.

The list also causes me to reflect on my own life. I have all these hopes for the future – that more opportunities for ministry will arise over time, or that I’ll get married some day. But no matter what hopes I have, the fact is I am not guaranteed another day on this earth.

This concept has been running through my head constantly this week. It turns me to focus on what I can do today – be obedient in whatever God has for me right now. It also keeps me in proper perspective – that I am not in complete control of my future, as much as I want to know what is going to happen. And it provokes thankfulness – that each day is a gift, rather than a given.

I am not guaranteed another day on this earth, and Nabeel did not have that guarantee either. But God can use a short life to make a big impact. He did it with Nabeel. He did it with others. And whether our lives are long or short, he can do it with us.

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The Four Assumptions of FOMO

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You come back to town after being out on vacation. You check Facebook. You see a group picture of friends taken at a social event. You see that a person you kind of like got into a relationship. You read about the fun that someone had on another vacation.

All of these things lead to a particular feeling –

FOMO – The Fear Of Missing Out 

This FOMO is a feeling that has infiltrated my mind on a daily basis. Part of the feeling derives from the fact that I live in a city that has all sorts of things I want to be involved with. But much of the feeling derives from four assumptions that often times are not true:

If I miss an event, others won’t like me as much

There is an element of this assumption that is true – if you spend less time with a group of people, you may have less opportunity to become close with that group. However, this assumption is also led by lies – that people are always thinking about you (rather than focusing on the event) and those thoughts are always negative (instead of their thoughts about you not being affected by you missing one event).

The assumption leaves out room for understanding, celebration, and patience. Understanding from others about the circumstances surrounding your absence. Celebration of the fact that people had fun at the event you missed. And patience to wait for another opportunity to enjoy time with that group of people.

Acceptance from others is the most important thing for me to pursue

This assumption is closely tied with the last one. When acceptance from people or a particular person becomes the focus in social events, then you are going to worry about losing that acceptance when missing out on an event. Those worries could carry over to the rest of life, consuming your daily thoughts to the point that it becomes a primary life focus.

But there are more important things to pursue than acceptance. Things that are important to almost everyone – building relationships with family, making a difference in the world, or building a career/vocation. And there are things that are of most importance to Christians – glorifying God, growing in character, and building God’s kingdom. When these things are in the forefront, acceptance is no longer something you have to chase after in order to feel fulfilled.

The event that I missed would be better than the one I went to

This assumption plagued me last summer. I went on a trip to London, and for the first few days I had continuous thoughts about missing a cruise that happened the same week. I held the constant assumption that the cruise would be better, no matter how much I enjoyed the London trip.

When you are choosing between two events, you can never actually know which event would be “better” unless you fully experience both, which is impossible to do. But it is very possible to idealize the event that you missed and always assume that it would be better. This assumption causes stress as you focus on what you may be missing, instead of what you are actually experiencing.

Photos from the past are realities in the present

Looking at photos of past events can trigger worries – things like “Did I miss out on something important?”, or “Would I have connected more with this specific person if I was there?” These present worries derive from knowledge about an event that happened hours or even days ago.

But this knowledge is limited – it’s usually based on a few pictures of people smiling and apparently having fun. And the knowledge isn’t about something happening right now. So does this knowledge about a past event need to affect the way you think in the present? This is a question I continue to wrestle with.

The FOMO that is led by these four assumption will continue to be a problem for many, including myself. But digging into these assumptions has helped me to understand where my fears come from. I may continue to get FOMO through Facebook, but I hope to better recognize when these assumptions are producing that fear.

 

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Explaining 9/11 and the Life of Jesus

And the Life of Jesus

A few months ago, I started digging deep into 9/11 conspiracy theories. Once I started watching videos about them, it seemed like I couldn’t stop! Something about these videos drew me to near-obsession for a couple days.

As I was deep into watching them, I realized that consideration of 9/11 conspiracy theories can connect to something else that intrigues me – the life of Jesus Christ.

To explain the connection, I first need to define what a conspiracy is. A conspiracy is basically an event where multiple people come together and agree to do something wrong (i.e. immoral or unlawful). Usually an intent to deceive others is involved.

This definition could be applied to the two most common explanations of 9/11 – that it was carried out by Al-Qaeda, or it was carried out by the U.S. government. In both cases, people would have to come together and agree to do something wrong. But the U.S. government explanation is the one called a conspiracy because it involves an attempt to deceive (lying about who planned the attacks).

People who support either explanation generally agree on a few facts:
– Airplanes hit towers 1 and 2 of the World Trade Center
– Both towers collapsed
– World Trade Center building 7 also collapsed
– A section of the Pentagon was severely damaged
– All people on flight 93 were killed after the flight changed its course of direction
– Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack
– The U.S. identified 19 highjackers of the airplanes involved

Both the standard and conspiracy explanations need to take these facts into account. The main question in a search for the correct explanation is: which one best explains all of the facts on hand? In other words, which one has the most explanatory power?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at the big picture of both explanations. This big-picture outlook could provoke some questions. For example, does it make sense that Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks if the U.S. government actually did it? Wouldn’t the leaders of Al-Queda have greater motivation to call out the U.S. as liars if that were the case?

When it comes to the life of Jesus, we can go through a similar process. Like the 9/11 conspiracy, there are a few leading explanations for the events that were written about Jesus’ life. There’s the standard explanation – Jesus is God and rose from the dead as the writers claimed. There’s the conspiracy theory – Jesus’ early followers elevated him to the level of God in an attempt to deceive others. And there are other explanations – such as his followers were deceived themselves through something like a hallucination.

A few agreed-upon facts also need to be taken into account for these leading explanations:
– A man that people called Jesus Christ lived during the first century A.D.
– Jesus did things that people claimed to be miraculous
– Jesus made authoritative claims about himself (i.e. at or close to the same authority level as God)
– Jesus died of Roman crucifixion
– People who were closest to Jesus claimed that they saw him alive after his death.
– Early Christians considered Jesus to have the same status of God (i.e. someone to be worshipped)

Which explanation has the most explanatory power when using these facts? Again, we need to look at the big picture by asking some questions. For example, if it was a conspiracy, what motivation would the followers of Jesus have to deceive others? If the followers were deceived, could hallucinations have caused that deception? If Jesus actually rose from the dead, is it possible for a miracle like that one to occur?

When we ask these big-picture questions, we can start to understand which explanation best fits all the facts. In the case of 9/11, Al-Qaeda taking responsibility for the attacks and the unlikelihood of the large-scale collusion that would be necessary for the U.S. to deceive others tip the scale towards the standard explanation – that Al-Qaeda did it. In the case of Jesus, the losses that the early followers of Jesus experienced (loss of life in some cases, loss of acceptance from others) and the unlikelihood of hallucinations leading to the experiences that they had tip the scale towards the standard explanation – that Jesus is God.

Whatever we may conclude about these events, it’s incredible that the same principles can be used to evaluate events that happened 2,000 years apart from each other. There is power in looking at the big picture, asking relevant questions, and seeking the best explanation.

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3 Notes about Judging Others

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A couple months ago, I wrote a post about “The Good Way to Judge Others”. This post was a summary of thoughts I had about the concept of judging. By the time I was done with the post, I had cut out a bunch of notes that didn’t support the main idea. However, the pushback that I received on that post all involved those things that I had cut out.

As a result, I thought it would be good to revisit those notes in this post. I know they won’t address all concerns about judging, but I hope that the notes will provide some additional clarity about this complex topic. So here it goes – three separate notes about the topic of judging others:

1. The word “judging” can be used to describe a wide array of actions

Here are just a few possible actions:
– Making some kind of assessment about one aspect of a person’s life
– Assessing someone’s overall moral character based on an action the person took
– Considering someone less valuable that yourself because the person has inferior traits compared to you
– Determining someone’s destiny based on actions the person has taken
– Calling someone’s lifestyle wrong or immoral

It is possible that some of these actions could be labeled something else, like “assessing”. But the array of definitions that could be used shows the need to be specific about what one means when using the word “judging”. For simplicity, I will assume that the use of “judging” involves all of these actions for the rest of this post, unless otherwise specified.

2. People who accuse others of judging may also be judging

When someone makes a statement like “You’re judging me!”, there is usually a moral claim behind the statement – judging is a bad thing to do. The person accuses the other of doing this bad thing.

But the person making this statement is potentially doing this bad thing as well. The person uses the information that is available to make an assessment about what the other person is doing, which is one potential definition of judging. Under this definition, the person who says judging is a bad thing ends up doing that bad thing.

This dilemma can be avoided by being more specific about the action someone is taking towards you, and explaining why it is wrong to take that action.

3. The “Judge not” passage in the Bible does not condemn all judging of others

There a passage in the Bible that says “Judge not, that you be not judged”.

So that’s it. The Bible tells us to not judge others. Case closed, right?

Not exactly. In order to understand if this passage is explaining that we should never judge others, we need to look at the entire line of thought being expressed in the passage. In this case, the line of thought comes from Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Here’s the passage in it’s full context:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

At first, Jesus appears to condemn judging in terms of pointing out the immoral actions of another person. But Jesus then turns the focus away from judging and shifts it to self-evaluation. He indicates that one’s focus should be dealing with personal immorality rather than trying to point out and fix the moral shortcomings of others.

However, the passage does not rule out all moral judgment. It actually points to the proper circumstance to judge. Let’s look again at the last sentence – You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Jesus is saying that addressing your own immorality (the log) is necessary before making a judgment about someone’s moral shortcomings (the speck), and helping the person to address those shortcomings.

This passage does provoke questions like “How do you know when you are able to make a moral judgment about someone?” But the passage is not saying something like “Judging others is never an appropriate thing to do”.

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Why I Have Fun

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Recently I’ve experienced more freedom in opening up to others and having fun. The fun could involve cracking a joke or making a fool of myself in front of a group of people. But people could question my motives behind these actions. Am I just trying to get attention from people? Trying to inflate my ego?

There likely are times when I am led by these types of motives. But there are also other motives that drive me to have fun:

The motive to tear down misconceptions about Christians

Many people perceive Christians as people who never have fun. I could see how people could think that way. Besides, what’s fun about going to church? And why are people never allowed to mosh at Christian concerts? Plus Christians don’t let loose in bars!

When someone with this perception sees Christians actually having fun together, the person can be surprised by the whole experience. That experience allows someone to see Christians – and perhaps Christianity – in a whole new light. But for me the experience doesn’t involve getting drunk just to show people how much “fun” you can be – it involves my next motive.

The motive to provide an alternative source of fun for others

From my experience in the business field, I know that for many people fun consists of a specific formula. After work, go to happy hour. On the weekends, go out to bars or clubbing. Basically, these places provide opportunities to talk and to momentarily escape from “the real world” with the aid of alcohol.

I want people to see that it’s possible to have fun beyond the obligatory bar-hop. That desire drives me to enjoy different types of events that don’t involve heavy drinking, and to invite other people to those events. Even a conversation about what I did over the weekend could cause someone to see that there is opportunity to have fun beyond the bars.

The motive to live under the joy found in Christ

There is profound joy in knowing who Jesus Christ is, and living under the freedom he provides. This freedom is not found in living without constraints. It is found when living under appropriate constraints that allow joy to be maximized and harm to be minimized.

When I am having fun under these constraints, I can experience the joy that Christ provides in a tangible way. These experiences lead to gratitude towards God – I’m actually drawn closer to him, especially when I can have fun without worry about what other people are thinking about me.

These three motives lead me to put high importance on fun. It’s not the most important thing to me – I often skip fun events for the sake of spending time on something I consider more important. But it still ranks as one of the main things I want my life to be remembered for.

At the same time, I recognize I’m not always led by these motives when having fun. Desires to be liked and noticed by people may seep in as well. So should I stop having fun out of fear of having the wrong motives?

I don’t think so. I will often have mixed motives in the things I do in life. And I often won’t know which mix is leading me at any one moment!

But through the mix of motives, God’s grace is present. He sees me the same way whether I have the right or wrong motives behind what I’m doing. I can take action even when I lack perfection.

Whatever my motive may be, I know there are incredible things that can happen out of having fun. It can build relationships and lead people closer to knowing Christ. So I carry on – having fun and enjoying the life God has given me.

 

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Beauty Is Not The Focus

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I go to a party. A woman is there. It’s obvious to most men there that this woman is beautiful. Throughout the night, I observe this woman getting constant attention from men. The next day I hear stories of how a man she never knew before messaged her on Facebook, or asked for her phone number.

This is the type of situation I have observed over, and over, and over again.

The only thing I can conclude? Beauty is the focus.

I am certainly not immune to this focus. There have been times when beauty is the one thing that triggers me to take action. For example, I’ll see a picture of someone I consider to be beautiful, and want to contact that person only because of my desire to be with someone beautiful. Or when I think about a woman, beauty will be the first and primary thing that comes to mind.

Beauty may draw an initial physical attraction towards someone. But this type of attraction is often based off emotional experiences that slowly fade away over time. As a result, it is not ultimately what holds a relationship and eventual marriage together.

There are several factors more essential than physical attraction:

Spiritual outlook – One’s view on God will drive many decisions the person makes. If two people have very different spiritual outlooks in a marriage, it will be very difficult for them to come to an agreement on important decisions in life.

Moral character – If someone has poor moral character, that person could easily drag a spouse in a bad moral direction. Moral boundaries that were once clear now become confused. The spouse could be negatively affected for a long time after being led in this immoral direction.

Enjoying time with someone – In any relationship, there will likely be times that the couple will enjoy being together, and other times where they won’t. However, if the couple consistently does not enjoy spending time together (especially in the early stages of a relationship), the relationship will become a miserable experience over time.

There can probably be more added to the list, but at the very least the importance to connect with someone on these three factors in a relationship is greater than the importance of being physically attracted to someone.

As a Christian, I’ve started to think about what my response to this idea of physical attraction should be. I obviously can’t avoid the fact that I’m attracted to certain people because of their outward beauty. But I wonder if that beauty could point me to the creator of that beauty – God – instead of driving me towards obsession over the person.

Beauty could also drive me to focus on other things about a person that have greater importance – things like the person’s relationship with God, the person’s moral character, or the joy that flows out of the person’s life.

I’m not sure what this shift in focus would look like practically, but it’s a concept I want to start to consider. Instead of a focus, beauty could be a pointer – a pointer to something much greater.

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The Good Way to Judge Others

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I wanted to write about an idea that is commonly brought up, is emotionally charged, and can be expressed in a simple way:

You can’t judge anyone.

When people say something like this, they likely are against the idea judging in general. They can give different reasons for being against it, like it makes someone feel less valuable, or it causes us to make assumptions that may not be true about someone. No matter the reasons, many people think that judging someone is always a bad thing to do.

But what if there is a good way to judge others? If there is one, it would have to incorporate things that are true, such as all humans have equal value, and we don’t have complete knowledge about someone’s life or about the future.

In light of these true things, let’s exclude the following actions from a potential good way to judge:

– Making an all-encompassing judgment about someone’s entire life
– Considering someone less valuable than ourselves
– Claiming authority over someone’s eternal destination (like heaven or hell)

And then let’s include some actions into the potential good way to judge:

– Putting focus on the idea that the judging will help us, rather than hinder someone else
– Using the knowledge that we have without making assumptions about things we don’t know
Referring to the present instead of the distant future (since we don’t know what will happen in the distant future)

Based on these excluded and included actions, we can define a potential good way to judge:

Making some type of assessment about someone based on knowledge you have about the person, for the purpose of taking the best action towards the person.

This definition still incorporates an element of judging – making an assessment about someone. But the purpose of making the judgment is good – understanding how to take the best action towards that person. And the judgment can even be necessary to help us take the best action.

The concept of a first date can show how this way to judge is both good and necessary. After a first date, someone may make an assessment that the other person does not share the same moral values, based on present knowledge about that person.

This assessment is good because it helps the person decide what action to take (likely to stop going on dates). The assessment is necessary because without it, the person could stay with someone who has different moral values, and thus could be led down an undesired path.

Dating isn’t the only example where this way to judge is good and necessary. Managers need to make an assessment about someone’s qualifications during a job interview in order to decide if hiring the person is a good idea. Christians need to make an assessment about someone’s religious beliefs in order to understand how to best point that person towards God. And parents need to make an assessment about a child’s behavior before making a decision on how to discipline the child. In all of these examples, some judging about an aspect of a person’s life needs to take place in order to take an action that is good.

Since judging others can sometimes be a good thing, a generalization like “you can’t judge anyone” throws out something that could be good. But of course, there are still circumstances in which judging is a bad thing to do. So how could should we talk about the concept of judging others?

Instead of using a phrase that indicates judging is always a bad thing, I would suggest explaining why a specific way of judging is bad. Examples could include:

“You make me feel less valuable when you tell me that I’m not smart.”
“You shouldn’t say that he is a hopeless alcoholic, because you don’t know what path he has taken to fight his addiction.”
“You don’t know if that person will eventually go to Hell, because you don’t know the future, and God is the one who makes that determination.”

By being more specific about why a particular judgment is bad to make, we can have greater clarity in conversations about judging, while acknowledging that there are situations where judging can be helpful. Getting into these specifics may be more difficult and more painful compared to making general statements. But I think the difficulty is worth the potential of having clear conversations around this otherwise confusing topic.

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