By Dr. Frank Turek
How does a man facing his own premature death exude an uplifting combination of grace, love and truth? My friend Nabeel Qureshi, who has done that for more than a year, died at age 34 on Saturday. In case you don’t know, Nabeel was a former devout Muslim who became a powerful defender of Christianity after a seven-year process of evaluating the evidence for Christianity with his friend David Wood. His first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is an international best seller.
Since being diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer last year, Nabeel has shared his thoughts, concerns and prayers through 43 video blogs on his YouTube channel. His last video, recorded from his hospital bed just seven days before his death, is a request for us to use his work and example to love others to the truth.
As you will see in his videos, Nabeel exhibited the love of Christ to the end. He never wavered in his confidence that God could heal him, but recognized that He might not. Nabeel understood that we live in a fallen world, and that God doesn’t promise any of us a long, trouble-free life. In fact, Jesus promised more of the opposite. He said that “In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).
Nevertheless, while it seems insensitive to ask this while we grieve, people are wondering why didn’t God heal Nabeel. After all, he was a brilliant and charismatic young man taken away from his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Ayah, and the rest of us, far too early. Nabeel had so much more to give to his family and the kingdom of God that his death seems completely senseless.
So why didn’t God heal Nabeel?
Is it because an evil, such as a premature death, proves that there is no God? No, because evil wouldn’t exist unless good existed, and good wouldn’t exist unless God existed. Evil doesn’t exist on its own. It only exists as a lack in a good thing. Cancer can’t exist on its own. It can only exist as a lack in a good body. So when we complain about evil, we are actually presupposing good. But an objective standard of good is a standard that is beyond mere human opinion. That can only be God’s nature. So evil may prove there’s a devil out there, but it can’t disprove God. Instead, evil boomerangs back to show that God actually does exist.
Is it because Allah is the true God, and He punished Nabeel for leaving Him. No, there’s excellent evidence the Christian God, not Allah, is the true God (see Nabeel’s book No God but One). Moreover, Muslims who suggest this should be asked, “Why did Allah wait until Nabeel had written three best-selling books, made hundreds of hours of videos and helped bring hundreds of Muslims to Christ? Is Allah’s timing off?” Not only that, Nabeel’s work will continue to bring people to Christ, probably in an accelerated manner after his passing.
Some might suggest that people like Nabeel, who experience tragedy, must be worse sinners than others. Jesus refuted that kind of shallow speculation directly in Luke 13, when he said, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Indeed, we are all sinners who will perish and we need to repent before it’s too late.
Is it because Nabeel didn’t have enough “faith”? People who claim such nonsense don’t know Nabeel or correct theology. Nabeel’s trust in Christ was deep and unwavering. But the larger point is that faith doesn’t guarantee good health and wealth as “Word of Faith” preachers assert. In fact, their self-serving theology can be refuted by one simple observation: Jesus and the apostles weren’t healthy and wealthy. In fact, they suffered and died for their beliefs. Don’t tell me they didn’t have enough faith!
So why didn’t God heal Nabeel? What purpose could God have for allowing Nabeel to die? In answering that question, we need to admit that there can be no ultimate purpose to Nabeel’s death (or any event) if there is no purpose to life. But since God does exist, and the purpose of life is to be reconciled with Him though His son, Jesus, then even tragedies can help achieve that purpose. Perhaps more people will come to know Christ because of Nabeel’s death. It’s impossible for us to know the extent of that right now, but it’s not impossible for God.
We can’t see it completely because every event, good and bad, ripples forward into the future to impact innumerable other events and people. I call this the ripple effect. But it’s also known as the butterfly effect because it recognizes that a butterfly flapping its wings in South Africa, for example, can start a ripple effect that ultimately brings rain to a drought-stricken portion of the United States. We don’t have the capacity to trace all of those ripples, but an all-powerful being who is outside of time can. In fact, there have been billions of events in history, both good and bad, that helped make you who you are and helped put you where you are.
So we don’t know why God didn’t heal Nabeel, but we know why we don’t know why. We’re finite and God is infinite. The good news is God’s character and power guarantees that He will bring good from evil “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28b). That may happen later in this life, and it certainly will spill over into eternal life.
The ripple effect led Jacques Marie Louis Monsabré, a former pastor at Notre Dame in Paris, to trust God even when he couldn’t see any good coming evil. He said: “If God would concede me His omnipotence for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in the world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are.”
Indeed, God will redeem Nabeel’s death for good like he redeemed Nabeel himself. But while Nabeel is now with the Lord, Michele and Ayah remain with us. As Nabeel asked in one of his final videos, please pray for them as well as Nabeel’s loving parents. And If you can help Michele and Ayah financially, would you please do so here?
While we grieve, let us be thankful for Nabeel’s eternally significant life. He did more for the kingdom of God in 34 years than 10,000 people do in 80. And the ripples he created—waves really—will help carry people into heaven for generations. Blessings to you, brother. See you on the other side.
It is important as believers for Christians to learn church history. It helps us learn from our ancestors. Followers need to understand where we came from to understand where we are going. We can also learn from the mistakes of early church leaders if we understand their missteps. Lastly, learn key events that occured in church history over the last 2,000 years.
The earliest Christians did not have church buildings. They typically met in homes. (The first actual church building so far found is at Dura Europos on the Euphrates, dating about 231.) They did not have public ceremonies that would introduce them to the public, and they had no access to the mass media of their day. So, how can we account for their steady and diverse expansion over the first three centuries?
After the Apostle Paul, we do not run across many “big names” as missionaries in the first few hundred years of Christian history. Instead, the faith spread through a multitude of humble, ordinary believers whose names have been long forgotten.
Early Christianity was primarily an urban faith, establishing itself in the city centers of the Roman Empire. Most of the people lived close together in crowded tenements. There were few secrets in such a setting. The faith spread as neighbors saw the believers’ lives close-up on a daily basis.
And what kind of lives did they lead? Justin Martyr, a noted early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the believers:
“We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity.
Before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God.
Before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need.
Before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”
In another place Justin points out how those opposed to Christianity were sometimes won over as they saw the consistency in the lives of believers, noting their extraordinary forbearance when cheated and their honesty in business dealings.
When Emperor Julian (“the Apostate”) wanted to revive pagan religion in the mid-300s, he gave a most helpful insight into how the church spread. This opponent of the faith said that Christianity “has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render them.”
On the surface, the early Christians appeared powerless and weak, they were an easy target for scorn and ridicule. They had no great financial resources, no buildings, no social status, no government approval, no respect from the educators. And after they became separated from their first-century association with the Jewish synagogues, they lacked institutional backing and an ancient tradition to appeal to.
But what finally mattered is what they did have. They had a faith. They had a fellowship. They had a new way of life. They had a confidence that their Lord was alive in heaven and guiding their daily lives. These were the important things. And it made all the difference in laying a Christian foundation for all of Western civilization.
Many today are worried about the Zika virus. But I’m just as concerned about certain destructive doctrines that are spreading like an epidemic.
During a recent trip to Uganda, friends there told me of a growing church in the capital city of Kampala that has been infected by the most serious form of American-style “hypergrace” teaching. This church attracts hundreds of young people who like the idea that they can fornicate whenever they want and still be right with God.
False doctrines are nothing new. In the first century, Paul sternly warned Timothy about certain preachers who know how to slice and dice God’s Word to make it fit what people want. He wrote in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but they will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, having itching ears, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to myths.”
The King James Version says the crowds who crave this reconfigured gospel “have itching ears.” The Greek word here,
knēthō, can mean “to tickle” or “to itch.” It means that people will gravitate toward teachers who tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need. And while the Bible sharply rebukes the teachers of these dangerous doctrines, Paul also blames the people who ravenously consume this distorted message.
The warning is clear: Be careful what you listen to!
There are many false doctrines circulating today, but there are four that have spread widely in the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement. You may not be able to stop the person who is preaching these heresies, but you should never, ever submit to this teaching or support it financially. Don’t ever believe these four lies:
Lie No. 1: You don’t need to repent of your sin or focus on sin. This is the crux of the “hypergrace” movement. While it is true that many legalistic Christians don’t understand God’s love and forgiveness, we can’t swing the pendulum to the other extreme and portray God as being lax about sin. God is still holy, and true grace gives us the power to live a holy life. If a preacher minimizes repentance, or says you should never worry about sin in your life, you should run out the door.
Lie No. 2: You can live however you want to live sexually. Jesus Himself warned us in Revelation 2:20 about the influence of “Jezebel” in the church. He said she was leading Christians to “commit acts of immorality.” You can see tolerance of sexual sin in many segments of the church today. Catholic bishops allowed their own priests to commit child sexual abuse for years; mainline churches have embraced same-sex marriage. But their error is no worse than that of certain charismatic preachers who minimize or ignore the sin of adultery and cohabitation among straight people. We should never evaluate a minister just by what he or she preaches; we should also take note of what he or she refuses to confront from the pulpit.
Lie No. 3: You can buy God’s blessings. I do not believe in a poverty gospel, but the prosperity gospel that emerged in this country in the 1980s almost ruined our witness. The greedy televangelist who manipulated audiences to give in the offering so he could buy airplanes or mansions will give an account for every soul he turned away from Christ. Especially egregious are the preachers who promised people healings, spiritual gifts or the salvation of loved ones in exchange for a $500 “seed” offering. God’s blessings are free. Shame on those who merchandised His anointing.
Lie No. 4: God never calls us to suffer. Whenever the church enters times of prosperity and ease, our message gets soft. This happened during the 1980s, when preachers in silk ties told us we could name and claim whatever we wanted in Jesus name. And while the verses they quoted about faith certainly apply to prayer, they mixed the message with the idea that life with God is like a bowl of cherries and that any hardship that comes our way is from the devil. These preachers avoided 1 Peter 4:1, which says: “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust an arrogant preacher who says he never has struggles or problems. I don’t follow a man because he has a Lexus or a four-car garage; I look for a broken minister who walks with a limp. The preacher who says Christians don’t suffer has never felt the fire of God’s testing, and he is likely an illegitimate son since he has never known the Father’s discipline.
God is cleaning up His church today, and He is refining the message we preach. Don’t prop up or support the false doctrines of the past. Purge their influence from your life and embrace the true gospel—the message calls each of us to take up our cross, die to our own desires and be mature disciples.
I’ve spent the past week sitting by my father’s bed in a hospital in Georgia. He fell while doing yard work (no 89-year-old man should be trimming weeds) and he hit his head on the concrete walkway behind his house. He has a fractured rib, 12 stitches in the back of his head and two bruises on his brain.
After a week, he still has no idea where he is.
On Monday, he said my name. On Tuesday, when I asked him the name of his church, he answered correctly. But when a nurse asked him who I was, he told her I was his grandson.
We don’t know what the next day holds for my dad, or the next month. Hundreds of people are praying for his healing, and there are signs that his motor skills and brain function are slowly coming back online. But whether he pulls out of this and goes back to driving his car, or whether he ends up in months of rehab, or if he dies, I’ve had to face the reality that we all get old, life is terribly fragile and death is inevitable.
We don’t do a good job preparing people for death and dying. I never had a class on it in school. We rarely even talk about it in church until someone has a funeral. It’s easy to develop a notion that life goes on and that we will never get old.
Yet the Bible doesn’t dance around the topic of death. In Genesis, the word “death,” “die” or “died” appear 68 times. It reminds us: “And Adam died,” “And Abraham died,” “And Isaac died.” One entire chapter, Genesis 23, is devoted to the death and burial of Sarah. On and on it goes, like the somber toll of a bell. Death is a cold, dreary specter that is an undeniable part of our existence on this side of eternity.
King David talked about walking “in the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4a). He could write those words because he faced life-and-death crisis regularly. Only those who have lost a loved one or cared for a sick person know how tangible that shadow of death really is. It weighs on us like a thick fog. It makes us feel lost and alone.
I have felt that fog this past week. I felt it when I had to restrain my dad from pulling out his IV tube. I felt it when I asked him a simple question and got a blank stare. I felt it when I heard another patient in the hospital scream in pain.
Yet David was sustained in that dark season. He was not overcome. He wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (v. 4). We have the promise of His presence no matter what is going on around us.
If you are walking through the valley right now because of a death, an accident, a serious medical condition, a financial crisis, the loss of a job or any other tragedy, stand on God’s immovable promises and let His words bring security to your soul. These four promises have meant the most to me during the past seven days:
Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.”
“God is good, all the time,” has become a religious cliché. But it is a powerful truth if you let the words sink in. When we walk through dark times we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness. Don’t let the devil accuse God of abandoning you; run into the Lord’s strong arms and let Him remind you of His faithful care.
John 16:33 says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
It does not matter what the world throws at you. Jesus said we would face trials and tests, but those words are followed by a comma, not a period. He calls us to face our difficulties with faith. He has already overcome every possible problem we could face. Knowing this will give you supernatural peace.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When we face a crisis, our first reaction is to worry. But the antidote to worry is prayer. Share your fears and anxious thoughts with Jesus and let His peace override them. His peace will shield you from the darkness of despair.
John 11:25-26 says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” This is the ultimate source of all our joy.
Death is not final when the person who dies is a Christian. Jesus removed the sting of death; it has been swallowed up in Christ’s ultimate victory. Don’t let death or the threat of death steal your hope.
Let God’s promises guide you like signal lights through your dark valley. The future is bright on the other side.
I’m sure you are familiar with the classic email scam from the “Nigerian widow.” The message from “Mrs. Obasanjo” informs us that her late husband, a military general, left behind an estate of $12 million, and she wants to give it to you! But the money is frozen in a Swiss bank account, so she’s asking you to wire her $1,500 to “unlock” the funds.
Few people today would be foolish enough to fall for that tired trick. But the internet has matured, and thieves have grown more sophisticated in their greedy pursuits. Today, a whole new generation of con artists has emerged, and some of them are specifically targeting Christians.
I don’t want you to be a victim! So watch out for these schemes:
1. The too-good-to-be-true speaking invitation. Last week a friend of mine who pastors in Canada received an invitation to speak at a church in England. It seemed like a great opportunity to minister overseas, but there was one catch: The church explained that my friend would need to send funds up front to pay “permit fees” that are required by the British government for foreigners.
Such permits are required, and there is indeed a fee. But in this case, the “church” issuing the invitation was involved in an elaborate religious con job. Thankfully my Canadian friend didn’t fall for it, but many innocent pastors have. As soon as they sent the funds by Western Union—the equivalent of about $775 U.S.—the church pocketed the money, and there was no event and no honorarium for the speaker as promised.
2. The pay-up-front gospel crusade. The scheme goes like this: You get an email from a pastor in a developing country who begs you to help him reach his village for Christ. You begin a long-distance relationship, and he sends photos of his evangelistic meetings. Then he invites you to come to his country, and he promises you will speak to multitudes.
After more correspondence, you agree on dates and he sends you a budget for the six-day event, which includes venue rental fees and the cost for meals for participants. And then he asks for an advance deposit on these fees, which you wire to his bank. Once the money is transferred, the “pastor” vanishes. (Cue the song, “Take the Money and Run.”)
3. The hurry-up-and-send-relief crisis. Within hours of a legitimate international crisis—an earthquake, hurricane or famine—you are contacted by an organization you’ve never heard of, asking you to send donations immediately. If you don’t know the name of the charity, don’t click on the “Donate” button—it could actually be a phishing scam designed to steal your cyber identity. First, go to your browser and see if the charity actually exists. Better yet, give your donation to a group you know and trust.
4. The wealth-laid-up-for-the-righteous investment opportunity. A few years ago, a supposed Christian businessman convinced a group of ministers to invest in an elaborate plan to mine salt from the Dead Sea in Israel and turn it into a more valuable mineral. The plan was shrouded in secrecy and super-spiritual lingo.
The spokesman for the company said only an elite few people were being offered the chance to profit from this amazing venture. Prospective investors were told that Satan was fighting the operation because it would unleash millions of dollars of the world’s money into the hands of Christians. The people who bought into this plan were convinced it would change the world—and make them independently wealthy.
Nothing ever comes of these scams. The people who invest are usually too embarrassed to report criminal behavior once they realize they’ve been bamboozled. But every year, tons of God’s money is flushed down the drain because a scam artist figured out how to use religious lingo to deceive people who should have the discernment to know better.
Jesus warned us long ago: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Things are not always as they seem. The church has been infiltrated by charlatans who pretend to be children of God but are actually agents of the devil.
How can you protect yourself? Read every email from a stranger with a skeptical eye. Do your homework and always scrutinize any financial plan carefully before investing. Be cautious when building relationships overseas, and never trust someone who asks you to send funds to them in order for you to eventually strike it rich.
Finally: If you want to have keen discernment, make sure you crucify your greed. It is usually a lust for money that causes people to fall for get-rich-quick schemes that sound too good to be true. Don’t let the love of money pull you into a trap.