10 Things Christians Should Do On Every Flight

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Flights provide a great opportunity to talk about spiritual topics with people you never met. Conversation opens up naturally as people share their travel plans. Still, making the transition to a spiritual topic during the flight can seem intimidating.

I want to suggest 10 things Christians should do on every flight in order to naturally open up spiritual conversation. As I go through the list, I’ll share a story of my interactions with a woman scientist I sat next to on my last flight. I don’t share my story to brag, but I share it to show how these things can work in real-life situations.

1. Pray for opportunities to have spiritual conversations

Praying before the flight allows you to turn your trust over to God, no matter what happens over the course of the flight. Before my flight, I prayed for God to use me however he wanted to, even when I felt tired. At the very least, the prayer helped me to focus more on obedience rather than on my feelings.

2. Make room in your flight plans for a long conversation

People often plan out what they’re going to do on flights, whether it’s watching a movie or doing business work. For my flight, I was planning to read a book for a Seminary class, but I didn’t set a hard schedule. Once the conversation with the scientist began, I put full attention on the conversation.

3. Stay open to conversation for at least some of the flight

On a flight, it can be easy to “tune out” potential conversation by putting on headphones or staying busy some other way. In my flight, I was reading a book and didn’t seem highly approachable as a result. But I did put the book down a few times during the flight so that there was at least potential for a conversation to start up.

4. Pay attention to what the people around you are doing

If you interrupt someone when they’re deeply focused on something, it can come across as rude and annoying. At the beginning of my flight, I didn’t start a conversation with the scientist because she was focused on her phone, studying something intently. When the flight attendant came around and asked what people wanted to drink, the scientist put down her phone and seemed more open and relaxed. At that point, I felt comfortable to move to the next thing on the list.

5. Ask a basic question to the person next to you

It’s easy to ask a basic question on a flight – a question like “what are you traveling for?” opens up instant conversation. When entering my flight, I noticed the scientist was wearing a shirt with a logo that appeared to be work-related. I pointed out this observation to her and asked – “Did you travel for something related to your job?” Conversation opened up from there.

6. Bring up your faith at some point in the conversation

Bringing up your faith opens up opportunity for others to ask about it if they want to know more. In my case, it was easy to bring up my faith because I was traveling to attend a Christian conference. But it may be harder to bring up if you’re not traveling to a Christian event. In those cases, you can still mention some Christian-related activity you do and see where the conversation goes from there.

7. Guide the conversation in a spiritual direction if it seems appropriate to do so

It may be appropriate to guide the conversation in a spiritual direction if the person you’re talking to takes interest in you bringing up your faith. That was the case with the scientist, as she eventually asked me, “Do you want to be a pastor?” After explaining my answer and noticing her interest in my response, I asked her, “What do you think about all that spiritual stuff?”

8. Accept the results of a conversation

The results of these conversations are ultimately in God’s control – you don’t need to feel pressure to keep a conversation going the entire flight. The scientist and I talked for about an hour, focusing on the fact that she and her husband have been on very different spiritual paths. When our conversation ended, we went back to our individual tasks for the final half hour of the flight. I didn’t feel pressure to continue the conversation – I was simply thankful for the conversation we did have.

9. Bring something to give out if the situation calls for it

This “something” could a contact card, a book, a tract – anything that gives someone an opportunity to think or to reconnect after the flight. I gave a contact card for my group Twin Cities Apologetics to the scientist since she took interest in digging into deep spiritual topics. The card gives her opportunity to follow up and talk more if she chooses to do so.

10. Extend a thank you to the people you talk to

Thanking the people you talk to shows your appreciation for their time and your care for them. It also leaves them with a good impression of your interaction. I thanked the scientist just as we were about to leave the plane, and I could tell she was appreciative of the conversation we had.

I don’t know what sort of impact this conversation had, if any. Maybe I will find out months or years down the line. But whether I have that knowledge or not, I leave the result of the conversation to God.

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How Comparing on Instagram Crushes Christians

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Sometimes I like to write about struggles that I’m dealing with right now. One of these struggles doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it can actually be consuming. Based on conversations I’ve had recently, the struggle affects many others too.

What is this struggle? Simply put, it’s comparing on Instagram.

As someone who is starting to use Instagram frequently to promote a group, this comparison is natural to do. I want to see what similar groups are doing so I can learn from them. In the process, I may notice how many people are responding to their posts, and do an instant comparison with my group.

But from a Christian perspective, this comparison crushes my ability to see God work through my group on Instagram.

To explain what I mean, I’m going to use a real life example. My friend Jenna leads a group that has an Instagram account with nearly 10,000 followers. I lead a group that has an Instagram account with just over 100 followers.

Now, looking at those numbers alone, I can think that Jenna has it “made” compared to me. My group’s account looks insignificant in comparison.

But in this pure number comparison, I’m leaving out consideration of at least three differences between our accounts:

1. Time of existence

Jenna’s account has been around for 3 years, while mine has been around for 3 months. Obviously, the longer an account has been around, the more opportunities there are for people to see and respond to it. Yet I tend to compare my account with accounts that have been around for years, which is ridiculous since it’s not a valid comparison.

2. Target audience

Jenna’s account targets a few different groups of people, including people who run their own business and people who do other creative ventures like blogging. My account targets a subset of a particular group of people – Christians who want to discuss deep topics. Jenna’s account will generally attract a wider range of people than my account will.

3. Expertise

Jenna is very good at creating professional-looking posts and understanding what best appeals to others on Instagram. That expertise comes through in her account. I am “learning the ropes” of using Instagram – expertise will definitely take time to build up.

When considering all of these factors, I really have no basis to compare the sheer number of followers between Jenna’s account and my account. But it’s very easy to compare those numbers and downgrade what I’m doing as a result.

Now let’s step aside from that comparison. When I look solely at my group, I’m amazed by what God has done in it so far. I wouldn’t have expected a dozen people to be interested in it, much less over a hundred.

But my amazement fades as the desire for more comes in.

More followers.

More interaction.

More recognition.

And anything less than what I see happening on other accounts results in disappointment.

This Instagram comparison I think parallels to other parts of our lives. We can often compare our status in life to the status of others, whether it’s about marriage, profession, or popularity. This comparing escalates when social media enters into the picture.

When the comparing happens, everything we do can seem like a disappointment. Our lives seem less fulfilled than the lives of those around us. And our ability to praise God for what he’s given us diminishes.

When I look at my group’s Instagram account, I should focus on the account itself – praising God for what he’s done through it so far. Then I can take action with a post, and trust God with whatever results from it. Whether one person or hundreds of people are helped by the account in some way, it’s worth it!

And then when I look at life, it’s the same thing. I should focus on my life – praising God for what he’s done in it. Then I can take action, trusting God with whatever he’s calling me to.

Without comparison.

Without downgrading.

Without disappointment.

This is a hard mindset for all of us to strive for. But it’s one that will allow us to see God work in our lives. And it will increase our sense of amazement towards what he’s given us.

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When Satire Turns Serious: My Unexpected Babylon Bee Discussion

Babylon

Over the weekend I had a serious conversation about the Resurrection of Jesus in the last place I’d expect – a satire website!

That’s right – in a Babylon Bee post from Saturday, I wrote a comment that received quite a bit of attention.

The post? “Millions Worldwide Cling To Faith That Jesus’s Resurrection Was Elaborate Hoax”

The comment? “People in the first century were just dumb, superstitious peasants, which is why they were smart enough to make a story up that would deceive millions for centuries to come.”

The point of making this comment was to make fun of an assumption commonly made by Atheists (it is a satire site, after all!). But in response to that comment, someone asked a serious question – “Isn’t that how you feel about other religions though?” I understood that this question touched on my potential bias towards Christianity, but I didn’t know what part of my comment the question was referring to.

In normal, face-to-face conversations, I would ask for some clarification about the question. But in an online environment, I had no idea if I would hear from this responder again. Thus I thought that instead of asking a follow up question, it would be best to clarify what exactly my post was about.

I responded as follows:

“My comment was a satire specifically about the view that people today are more advanced and intelligent than people in ancient history. People who hold this view typically downplay the ability for people in ancient history to know what is true and to express that truth to others (such as through writing).

People who hold both this view and the view that the resurrection was made up seem to have conflicting views. They downplay the intelligence of whoever made the resurrection story up, yet affirm that they had the intelligence to deceive others in a Jewish context where it would be difficult to do so. That’s why my comment applies specifically to Christianity.

As far as the view that people in ancient history are not as intelligent goes, people could also use that view to object to other religions and their origins.”

I also invited the responder to my Apologetics group Twin Cities Apologetics. If there was a chance that doing so could lead to a long-term conversation with the responder, then extending the invite was worth it to me.

A few other people responded to my comment, and one person in particular brought up the claim that 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection at one time. After a few of these responses, the original responder came back with more questions:

“oh I see haha. Well, I have no doubt that people today are just as gullible about fake news as they were back then. As to the “500 eyewitnesses,” that’s hearsay from Paul. Unless we have some names, signed statements, etc… he could have just pulled that number out of a hat. After all, who in the early church would challenge Paul on that? And even if someone did, why should we think it would be recorded in the Bible?”

I knew that these comments and questions would require a pretty detailed response. In my response, I decided to hone in on one phrase – “hearsay from Paul”. I could have asked what was meant by “hearsay”, but again, this comment may be my last chance to get the responder or other people thinking!

Here’s what I wrote in response:

“I understand your point about gullibility. One difference I would note in that parallel is that today, a “fake news” story is one that shows up one day and is easily forgotten the next without much lasting effect. The resurrection, however, was a story that had far-reaching and lasting impact on people who believed it. There would be more reason for them to make sure that this thing that has now become their focus in life is grounded in truth.

I didn’t bring up the “500 eyewitnesses”, but I’ll talk about it anyway since you brought it up at the same time. To do so, I’ll explain why I question the idea that the 500 people claim is “hearsay from Paul”.

The 500 witnesses claim comes from the passage 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. There are good reasons to think that Paul received the information in this passage from eyewitness of the events at a time earlier than when he wrote it (which was 20-25 years after Jesus’ death).

One reason to think this is eyewitness material is that it appears to be in the format of a creed, or a basic set of beliefs held by the early church, which I won’t expand further on right now. Another reason is that Paul says he received the information in verse 3, which means the passing of that information must have come at an earlier time. One other reason is that in Galatians 1:18-20, Paul said that he visited a couple early church leaders (Peter and James) about 3-5 years after the death of Jesus, and it’s safe to assume that they would have discussed the events of Jesus (such as given in the 1 Corinthians passage) at this time.

So let’s go back to your phrase. With the word “hearsay”, the word could mean different things, but I’ll assume that you mean a “rumor”, or as one definition says, “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate”. Considering the information about the 500 can be traced back to eyewitnesses, at the very least I think we can say that there is some substance behind the claim, in which case it is not “hearsay”. With the part about it being “from Paul”, the evidence indicates that the information did not come from Paul, but from an earlier source.

And even if the 500 witnesses can’t be substantiated, in 1 Corinthians 15 we still have other claims of Jesus appearing to key people, including James the previously skeptical brother of Jesus, as well as Peter.

And one quick consideration about your point about the Bible not documenting challenges to the claim about the 500 people – The New Testament is not void of discussion about opposition to the claims of Christianity. In Galatians 1:6, for example, Paul talks about people who are preaching a false gospel.

That’s a lot of explanation for what started as a satire snippet, but I think it’s worth diving deep into these important topics! Thank you for your good and challenging questions thus far.”

Since I have not yet received a response back, I’m guessing the conversation is over.

I have a few motivations for sharing this conversation with you. One is a bit selfish – I took the time to write out these responses, so why not use them again? But another is to make a few observations about how to navigate online spiritual discussions.

From this online discussion, I pull the following observations:

  1. In a public online post, you are not only writing to the person you’re in discussion with, but also to other people who may read the discussion!
  2. If there is opportunity to build a relationship with the person you’re talking to, go for it! Building that relationship is more important than scoring quick points in an online debate.
  3. For Christians, it’s important to be courteous and respectful in these kinds of discussions so that we can reflect the character of Christ to others, especially in light of observation #1.
  4. Asking clarifying questions may not be the best route to take if there are only a few opportunities to respond. It may be better to make assumptions, explain those assumptions, and write a response with the assumptions in order to give others something to think about. The person you’re talking to can still add clarification if your assumptions are incorrect.

Is it suddenly my calling to have serious discussions on satire websites? Probably not. But at the very least, this discussion gave me practical experience and some observations that will certainly help with future online discussions.

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Is the New Testament Accurate? – The Big and Small Questions

Is the New Testament Reliable_

In meetings for Twin Cities Apologetics, discussion has commonly focused on a specific time gap – the time between when Jesus lived, and when the information about him was written down. But one member of the group recently asked a question about another time gap. The question is:

What is the date of the earliest fragments and complete manuscripts of the New Testament?

This question points to the time gap between when the New Testament books were written, and when the earliest available manuscripts of those books were produced. The question is important because if that time gap is large, we have reason to doubt that those manuscripts accurately represent the original writings. Perhaps people added or changed large sections of the original writing during that time gap, for example.

There is a basic answer to this question, which I posted initially in the Twin Cities Apologetics Facebook group:

The earliest fragment we have of the New Testament is the gospel of John from around 130AD – 40 to 50 years after the date of writing. We also potentially have other fragments that date earlier, but those fragments are still being looked into by historians (they’ve been found within the past few years).

The earliest full copy of the New Testament we have is Codex Sinaiticus from the 4th Century AD. So let’s say around 300 years after the time of original writing.

This response is sufficient to answer the question as written. But that question points to a bigger question yet – Is the New Testament accurate? Put in another way, does the New Testament we have today faithfully represent the original writings?

To reach a conclusion about this big question of accuracy, we can focus in on four smaller questions about the New Testament manuscripts we have today:

1. How many manuscripts do we have?

This question is important in our ability to compare manuscripts . The more manuscripts we have, the more we are able to compare them to see if any information changed as the manuscripts continued to be copied.

2. When were those manuscripts produced?

If we have a ton of manuscripts, but they all come from 1,000 years after the original writing, then we are left with plenty of room for doubt. The text could have easily changed in that 1,000 year period! The quantity of manuscripts itself is not sufficient to establish accuracy; the dates of those manuscripts also need to be considered.

3. How many differences are there between manuscripts, and what is the nature of those differences?

If we find many differences between manuscripts, we have reason to doubt that the copying process was reliable in preserving the original text. But the number of differences is not the only thing to consider – we also need to consider the nature of the differences.

For example, let’s say the letter “b” was missing in a manuscript, and multiple earlier manuscripts do contain that letter. Based on this data, we could conclude that this difference resulted from a copying error that was not part of the original text. But if there are several paragraphs missing in a manuscript, reconstructing the original text becomes a more difficult task.

4. Do early external sources refer to the text in the manuscripts?

An external source can provide additional evidence about the accuracy of the New Testament. For example, let’s say an ancient historian quotes a paragraph from the New Testament. That quote indicates what was written in New Testament manuscripts available when the historian lived, and thus can be added to our collection of manuscript evidence.

These “small questions” can create some extensive discussion. For sake of space, I’ll address the questions in future posts (although I know doing so creates a huge cliffhanger!). After doing so, I’ll revisit the “big question” – Is the New Testament accurate? – and see if any clear answers arise from the data. I don’t expect that this investigation will be exhaustive, but I think I’ll learn something from it. I hope you do as well.

Are there any other “small” questions you think we should consider in addressing the “big” question of the New Testament’s accuracy? Do you know of any resources that would be helpful in investigating either “the big question” or “the small questions?” Feel free to comment below!

 

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I’m a Christian Because Of… The Resurrection

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If you asked me why I am a Christian, my first response would involve the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is one of the most important and one of the most historically verifiable aspects of Christianity. To explain how it’s historically verifiable, I’ll go straight to the best evidence supporting the idea that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened.

This evidence involves a letter written by the apostle Paul (a Christian who had previously opposed Christianity) back around 50 AD. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in a church located in the Greek city Corinth, for the purpose of addressing falsehoods that had been spreading amongst people in the church. Towards the end of the book, Paul reminds the Christians of the basis behind their beliefs.

Here’s what he wrote (translated from his language – Greek):

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”

In the above paragraph, Paul summarizes the events that took place in the life of Jesus Christ – his death, his burial, and his rising from the dead (resurrection). He then lists individuals or groups of people who saw Jesus after this resurrection took place – as shown in the text I bolded above. All this information, according to Paul, had been passed down to him.

When was the information passed to him? To answer that question, we can go to another letter that Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia (located in modern-day Turkey). In the letter, Paul describes his conversion to Christianity, which happened within a few years of Jesus’ death. Then he describes what happened three years after his conversion:

“I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James.”

It is highly probable that during these fifteen days, Paul and Peter talked about the events laid out in the letter to the Corinthians – Jesus’ death, rising from the dead, and appearances to others. Thus, Paul likely received the information about these events somewhere between three to six years after they occurred. And the eyewitness testimony behind that information goes back further – likely to the events themselves.

In comparison to other writings of ancient events, this timeline is impressive. Historical works that are considered reliable today were often written using information received decades or even centuries after the events. Considering the information about key events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was passed on within a few years of the events, we have good reason to rely upon this information.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians isn’t the only evidence supporting the claim that the resurrection happened, but it is the most significant because of how close it gets us to the actual events. No matter what objections are raised against Christianity, the fact that we have early eyewitness testimony of the events cannot be ignored. Thus to me this letter is foundational in my faith – it gives me more confidence in the truth of Christianity than any other piece of evidence available.

With that said, there is other evidence that supports the truth of Christianity – whether the evidence comes through historical documents, archeological findings, or philosophical arguments. Over time, I hope to expand on this series – “I’m a Christian Because of…” – and dig into this evidence piece-by-piece.

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What’s With all the Bible Versions?

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Imagine that you’re planning to head to a bookstore. Just as you leave, your friend explains that he lost his Bible recently, and he wants you to pick one up for him. You agree to do it… after all, the task seems simple enough, right?

At the bookstore, you approach the section filled with Bibles. And you start to notice all these strange labels on each one. NIV? TEV? NRSV? Suddenly, this errand becomes more daunting than you first imagined. You quickly text your friend to ask which specific Bible you should get.

As you drive home, questions start to enter your mind about all these Bible versions. Why can’t Christians all agree on one version to use? How does someone know they have the right version? And isn’t it a problem for Christianity that there are so many versions of the Bible out there?

We can start addressing these questions by understanding that the Bible was originally written in non-English languages – Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Whenever you have a text from one language and want to write it in another language, translation is needed. Even though it’s needed, there are problems associated with translating from one language to another.

There’s the problem of vocabulary – a word used in one language may not have a precise equivalent word in another language. There’s the problem of sentence structure, where the basic sentence form of one language may be completely different than that of another language. And there’s the problem of cultural references that may be hard to translate from one language in a particular context to another language in a totally different context.

Translators have different ideas of how to address the problems. But no matter how they’re addressed, the final translation needs to be understood by a reader, and needs to represent what the original text said to some extent. These needs cause translators to find a balance between accuracy and understandability.

Accuracy involves staying as true to what the author wrote down as possible. A focus on accuracy could involve translating words literally, even if the resulting text doesn’t make  much sense to the modern reader. Translators who focus more on accuracy try to get to the formal equivalence of the original text – what’s written in the translation is the same as what the author wrote.

Understandability involves making the translation as easy to read for modern readers as possible. A focus on understandability could involve replacing cultural references from the original text with cultural references that have more of an impact in the present day. Translators who focus more on understandability try to get to dynamic equivalence of the original text – the meaning of the translation for modern readers is the same as the meaning that the readers of the original text would have had.

All the Bible versions fall on a spectrum between a formal equivalence (accuracy) focus, and a dynamic equivalence (understandability) focus. For example, the King James Version (KJV) falls heavily towards the formal equivalence end of the spectrum, the New Living Translation (NLT) falls heavily towards the dynamic equivalence end, and the New International Version (NIV) falls close to the middle.

But why do all these concepts matter? Understanding the concepts can help us address questions similar to the ones posed towards the beginning of this post. To explain how, I’ll list those questions again and address them one by one.

Why can’t Christians all agree on one version to use?

Christians who translate the Bible do agree that translations should be produced from the original text (using the most reliable copies of that text that we have). The disagreement comes from how this text should be translated. Christians use different versions because there are many versions available that use different translating methods, all of which have both advantages and disadvantages.

How does someone know they have the right version?

There isn’t necessarily a “right” version, where all the others are “wrong” versions. Proper selection of which version to use depends on the purpose of using the Bible. For example, if you want to do an intense study of the Bible with the purpose of learning what an author originally said, a version with a formal equivalence focus is likely better to use. If you want to quote the Bible in a book that will be geared towards people who don’t have much experience reading the Bible, a version with a dynamic equivalence focus is likely better to use.

Isn’t it a problem for Christianity that there are so many versions of the Bible out there?

The Bible versions actually provide a solution to a problem. The problem is that the Bible is written in languages that many people do not understand. The solution (aside from learning those languages) is comparing versions with different translation focuses. Doing so can give you a fuller picture of what the authors originally said and originally meant.

 

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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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