Would I Follow?

I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior.  Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ.  The reason it was so simple: the  Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs.  They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.

I have been struck by many parts of this book.  Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have.  Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to  refute the usual comments.  It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message.  On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told.  Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him.    Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.

Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice.  It took years to get to that decision.  He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible.  This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents.  In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:

“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?”  I’ve lived a pretty easy life.  Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps.  When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith.  I reviewed all that I said that I believed.  And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real.  But, I was never required to give up everything:  my family, my core beliefs, the familiar.  Would I do that?  Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner?  Would I be able to give details and truth?  I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.

My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology.  I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”.  While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers:  they too risk everything for their beliefs.  The difference?  Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity.  He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point.  Scientology doesn’t allow any questions.  There is no debate.  It’s all or nothing.  As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus.  How do we as Christians help to fill the void?  How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching?  Do we really care?  Do we really want to step out?

Again, I’m not sure.  It’s more  convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with  them in any depth.  It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over  and over again.  It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking  for “a little prayer for _____”  instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people.  It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.

I’m challenged.  I’m struggling.

For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree.  It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and  do not live as such.  It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise.  The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.

Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34.   His parents were helping to care for him during his illness.  I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn.  He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.

Would you follow?



When Church is a Building

When you hear talk about “the church”, what comes to mind?  Is it a building with a steeple with a cross on top?  Do you think of a place for weddings or funerals?  Does a picture of intolerance come to mind? Or, do you think of a group of people who make up the body of Christ?

Most of the times when I hear “the church” discussed, it’s a synonym for “organized religion.”  Over and over, it has been said “I can worship God on my own.  I don’t need organized religion telling me what to do.”  “The church” is seen as another  entity that will try to control the way they think, or dress or behave.  And, in all honesty, that fear comes based on some history.

At various times, “the church” has been identified as judgmental and negative.  Having grown up in the Baptist church, there always seemed to be “nos” that we had to remember.   As a teen, it seemed that if it was fun, we weren’t allowed to participate.  Many of the rules that were laid out were not Biblically based.  When we would question why we couldn’t dance, the answers were vague and very unconvincing.  Alcohol was another hazy area.  We were definitely told “NO!” but all through the Bible, we saw examples of drinking wine.  As a young teen, I was told by a church teacher that the wine mentioned in the Bible “didn’t have alcohol added yet. ”  this worked for a little while with me, but eventually I figured out that this was false.  I don’t believe that my Sunday School teacher lied to me.  She just stated what she believed to be true.   I wonder how many people were dissuaded from following Christ because of the numerous rules and regulations that were enforced by “the church”?  Now, please don’t misunderstand, I believe that there are sins that need to be corrected.  And, I believe that we need to stand up for what we believe.  However, when the message becomes “you have to do it this way to be accepted”, then, we lose the message that God loves and transforms people, and we have a problem.

Too often, we spend out time trying to correct the unchurched and fix their issues.  when, in reality, it’s the people within the walls of the “church” that need to be corrected.  We need to lose our “holier than thou” attitudes.  Once again, I have a confession:  I LOVE big churches and chapels.  I enjoy organ music and old hymns.  I was taught to respect the inner sanctum of the sanctuary:  no running, no jumping, no food, no drinks, etc.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that God doesn’t stay in the sanctuary.  I’ve learned to worship in a school, a strip center, a movie theater or a gym.  It’s not the place  that needs to be revered, but God Himself.

I currently attend church in a movie theater.  Today, was the 4 year anniversary of meeting there.  The first Sunday, there were 85 people.  Today, we fill the theater for 2 services and that doesn’t count the theaters used for the children.   God meets us there.  He doesn’t mind the drinks and food (yes, sometimes popcorn) in the theater during worship.  He doesn’t mind hearing the sound track from the neighboring movie theater in the background of our service.  He works in spite of it all.  This has been a big change for me.  I’m used to regular services, in a permanent building with Sunday School classes at 9:45.  We have 2 services and Life Groups that meet during the week.  And, we are growing.   We have no plans to build. And, I’m glad.

I’ve witnessed time and time again when churches lose sight of their calling after they become a building.  The time during the funding and building phase is a time of goal setting and dreams.  Everyone is excited about what God is doing.  Miracles often are seen during this time of faith and growth.  Then the building is dedicated.  And, the excitement wanes.  There are arguments about the use and colors.  The struggle to pay the bills and the upkeep becomes primary.  The differing views on what is sacred and what is not causes issues.  And, I think, worst of all it becomes comfortable.  There’s no longer the push to grow and stretch and stand on faith.

The Houston area has had a hard week.  Hurricane Harvey has destroyed much in it’s  path.  This week has been at time to see that “the church” is not building.  The Church is a body of believers that work together to spread the love and forgiveness of God.  We’ve seen examples of this from all over the city.  We’ve seen churches opened for people to come in and take shelter.  We’ve had the opportunity to be a living, breathing example to others in our community, both inside and outside of the church.  We are still being given the opportunity to  be more than a building.

The Church is more than a building.  It’s more than a denomination.  We are challenged to prove to the people around us that our God is relevant, that we are more than an organized religion.  Let’s take the challenge!