Tag: Apologetics

Almighty, Eternal God!

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The Gospel of John, 1:1-13

The very first thing John is trying to get across is the fact that Jesus is God. He doesn’t start off by saying “Once there was a prophet,” or “Jesus was a brilliant thinker,” or even “Jesus was a very good man; a holy man.”  What he said was:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

So right off the bat John tells us that:

  • Jesus has ALWAYS been with God
  • Jesus IS God
  • Jesus CREATED everything
  • Jesus is LIFE and that life is our light

This is absolutely astounding to contemplate. That God is the creator of all the universe. A vastness too great for even the most brilliant human mind to fully grasp, was created by the mind and will of the living God and he holds it all in the palm of his hand. That Jesus IS God, and the humble Jewish carpenter who knew what it was to be tired and hungry and abused, is the one who made us all. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. No wonder the Bible says that

…every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and beneath the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  – Philippians 2:10-11

It’s why I could never become a follower of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion. Their gods are too small. What their versions of eternity are, are pathetic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I know about some of these religions:

• Mormons think God used to be a man but worked his way up until he got to rule his own planet, and he is just one god among many. They think that Jesus is just one of the many spirit-children of this little planetary god. He didn’t save us from all our sins, we still have to rely on works, the cross definitely isn’t the center of history (ever seen a cross in a Mormon church?), and except for the few lucky men who get to be gods themselves the best we can hope for in eternity is one of three levels of country club pleasantness. As far as I understand it, the lucky women who get to attend to the planetary gods spend all eternity as breeding machines.

• Jehovah’s Witnesses think that Jesus is an angel, a created being. His death on the cross wasn’t sufficient to atone for all our sins and restore us into right relationship with God. We have to go house to house and whatever to earn points. From what I’ve read in the Watchtower magazines that JWs have left with me, the best we can hope for in eternity is some kind of Ozzie and Harriet suburbia. Nice house, nice job, nice life.

• Islam sees Jesus as a prophet. Not God. He didn’t die on the cross, he didn’t save us from our sins, and he can’t hold a candle to their prophet. Islam is totally works based; your good deeds need to outweigh your bad deeds, and on the last day Allah can send you to hell, anyway, if he wants. He can also cover up some sins and multiply good deeds if he wishes, but we have no assurance of his love or salvation. Heaven is a sensual paradise for men and the best women can hope for is to be good servants of their husbands. 

• I don’t really understand Hinduism but it does seem to revolve around multiple reincarnations until we finally get it right and then achieve whatever their idea of heaven is. Being one with everything and everything in us? It sounds like a total loss of identity to me. 

• Atheists claim they don’t believe in God or any kind of afterlife, but I have to wonder why they spend so much time thinking about a God they don’t believe in and why they’re usually so angry about it.

Now I know I’ve oversimplified these theologies and I’m scarcely an expert in Christianity, let alone any other religion. But what I do know is that they all are totally stifling in the end. I don’t want a nice little life. I don’t want to indulge in sensual pleasures forever. I don’t want to be pumping out babies forever. I would soon rage and rail against all of these things. I would be screaming for escape from these different versions of Hell.

I want unbridled JOY. I want to know the unsurpassable ecstasy of being in the very presence of the Almighty, Eternal, One True Living God of the universe. The God who created me and loved me so much he became human like me, paid the penalty for my sins, rescued me from death and hell, and fixed the relationship that I broke by rebelling against him. I want to be with Jesus, my creator and my redeemer. I want to worship him, adore him, love him, enjoy him, have fun with him, get lost in him. 

If you’ve ever been head over heels in love, I think that is just a tiny taste, a shadow, of the great Love we were all meant for.

The gods of these religions are too small, too dull, too petty. I want the real thing.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  – Romans 10:9-13

 

Nabeel, me, and the Problem of Pain

This isn’t what I had planned on posting. And it isn’t about caregiving, or dementia. Oh, well.

Nabeel
Nabeel Qureshi

September 16, 2017

About a year and a half ago I became interested in Christian apologetics. It occurred to me that I have absolutely no tools with which to defend my faith. Truth be told, I don’t have the tools to defend why breathing is a good idea and everyone ought to try it. I am beyond non-confrontational. I am more the “hurl one accusation at me and I freeze solid” type. So, to try to remedy that, I started listening to what the apologists have to say. It sent me on a journey I never expected, one that I now feel has only really just begun.

C.S. Lewis was the obvious first choice. For many years, I believed that Christian apologetics began and ended with him. I had no idea anyone else ever did it. He is the best and the brightest (please, please read Mere Christianity no matter what your personal beliefs are. You won’t regret it), but I learned he’s not the only one. I’d heard Ravi Zacharias on the radio, and through him discovered other great modern Christian minds, including John Lennox, Andy Bannister, and a convert from Islam named Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel especially captured my attention. Young, handsome, passionate and charismatic, he was captivating to listen to. He gave many lengthy talks on his journey from Islam to Christianity (as well as writing books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One), and from him I gained many insights on Muslim thinking and way of life. He was a gifted teacher with a bright future ahead of him. Then he was diagnosed with incurable stomach cancer. For the past year he has released many video blogs of his cancer journey, from chemo, to radiation, to more chemo, to immunotherapy, as well as the other treatments, surgeries, and procedures he endured along the way. It was hard to watch, and pretty much obvious from the get-go that his healing would only ever come from divine intervention. Many thousands of people, including myself, prayed for him throughout this past year and waited on a miracle from God.

Nabeel died today. I will never understand this side of eternity why an all-powerful God said no to our prayers. I don’t know what the answer is. I do believe his ministry will continue to bear fruit; if nothing else, I know the effect it has had on my own life. I also know that Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, quite the opposite. In John 16:33 he tells the twelve disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” Which they did. One committed suicide, ten were martyred, and only one died of old age. But he followed up that statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What exactly does that mean? To an outsider, it’s just hot air coming from a deluded nut job who duped his buddies into enduring hell on earth for however many years before dying. A few days ago I posted a request on Twitter for prayer for Nabeel. Some guy who wouldn’t use his real name (I’ll call him Poison Pen), responded with a bunch of vitriol against Nabeel and God. We had a discussion on Twitter that was interesting for a couple of days until he abandoned his arguments and kept throwing “God is a psycho” around and not responding rationally to anything I or anyone else on the thread had to say. Before things deteriorated, Poison Pen kept circling back to how could a loving God let people die, focusing on the millions who died in the Flood. It is the age-old question. The answer boils down to Free Will, pure and simple. Without the opportunity to rebel against God, we could never be rational creatures capable of thought, creativity, love, or anything else worth having. That statement opens up millions of avenues for discussion, and people far cleverer than I have devoted volumes to the topic.

It doesn’t, however, explain why a 34-year-old God-fearing man with a wife and daughter who need him, just died from a disease that usually attacks people far older. Poison Pen, a self-described atheist, apparently speaks on behalf of all Muslims, for he told me that Muslims believe Allah cursed Nabeel for abandoning the faith. (I asked him then what do Muslims believe when a young Muslim gets cancer? He just told me to go ask a Muslim. Pointless arguments are such fun.) Anyway, I don’t understand why Nabeel has died; I do believe God can and does cure people. My neighbor, a cancer survivor, was told her cancer had returned and spread to her bones about the same time Nabeel received his diagnosis. She opted for no treatment, is currently in remission and just finished a program at the local college and recently welcomed her first grandchild. Is God brutal or weak because Nabeel died? Is he gracious and strong because my neighbor is alive? Or is it maybe that we just live in a miserable, fallen world where people get cancer, shot, ran over, overdose, choke on a cherry pit, or eaten by piranhas, every single day? Shit happens.

What the whole point is, ultimately, is what happens after. Whether you die at 5, 34, or 117, the fact remains that sooner or later you’re going to die. No one gets out of here alive (except Enoch and Elijah, but that’s another topic). What happens after? It is eternity that counts. Life on earth is short. Eternity lasts for, well, forever. Poison Pen couldn’t get that concept through his head. He kept telling me how Nabeel’s legacy is ruined and his life was pointless. He wouldn’t understand that Nabeel’s life was well-lived and defined by integrity, faith, and love. His thirty-four short years on earth were precious, and this very afternoon I am sure he heard the words all believers long to hear when we meet Jesus face to face: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

How has Nabeel’s life changed mine? For one, he helped to kickstart my prayer life. He encouraged me to fervently seek God in prayer and the word. He bravely demonstrated consistent faith in and love for God in the most trying circumstances imaginable. He fought the good fight, he ran the race, he kept the faith. Now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Nabeel is partying right now! He is with the Lord, he is enveloped in love and peace, and he will never know sickness or pain again. He is reunited with a child he never got to meet on Earth when his wife miscarried last year. The tragedy is for the ones left behind, not him.

I want to be like Nabeel: that brave, that bold, that passionate. He is a huge inspiration to me. I will never be an apologist, but I was able to answer Poison Pen intelligently and kindly, two things that would have been beyond me a year ago. I have a lot of questions, and wish this isn’t how Nabeel’s earthly story would have ended. But I know he affected my life. He helped me draw closer to God. I know his legacy will live on, in his family and his testimony. I know I will meet him in Heaven. And I know that, someday, I will fully understand the age-old problem of why we endure pain and suffering.

Note: for a brief but lovely overview of Nabeel’s life and ministry, visit https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/09/16/nabeel-qureshi-1983-2017/