Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Unobscured

 

A trend continues to take place in the online world of anonymity. Several websites offer the opportunity to air one’s darkest secrets. Visitors put into words the very thing they have spent a lifetime wanting no one to know about themselves. While visiting, they can also read the long-hidden confessions of others, and recognize a part of humanity that is often as obscured as their own secrets—namely, I am not the only one with a mask, a conflicted heart, a hidden skeleton. “Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart,” one site reads.  “If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world.” Elsewhere, one of these sites made news recently when one of its anonymous users posted a cryptic message seemingly confessing to murder, catching the attention of Chicago Police.(1)

So often the world of souls seems to move as if instinctively to the very things asked of us by a sagacious God. The invitation to confess is present in the oldest stories of Scripture. After his defiance of God’s request, Adam is asked two questions that invite an admission of his predicament; first, “Where are you?” and later, “Who told you that you were naked?” God similarly inquires of Cain after the murder of Abel, “Where is your brother?” Through centuries of changing culture and the emerging story of faith, this invitation to confess is given consistently. “Therefore confess your offenses to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed,” writes the author of James 5:16. A similar thought is proclaimed in 1 John 1:7. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Perhaps the call to transparency is not from a God who delights in the impoverishment of his subjects, but a God who knows our deepest needs.

The hope of an online confessional brings us one step nearer to meeting the need of bringing what is hidden to light, and it is commendable that so many are giving in to the impulse to explore the ancient gift of confession. But perhaps such an impulse to haul the truth from obscurity is worthy of something even greater than anonymity. Light is not meant to be kept in shadows; the benefit of openness is not meant to be experienced alone. The stories and scriptures mentioned above speak of the element of community in confession, the promise of fellowship where there is courage to be honest about our selves and our needs. On websites of nameless visitors, though I tell you my darkest secret, we remain nameless to one another. While it may help significantly to know that I am not the only one with a mask, my mask remains. The anonymity factor offers the glimpse of light while maintaining the security of darkness. But isn’t this undermining the very light we seek? It is akin to lighting a lamp and putting it under a bowl.

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Denison Forum – Congressman forgives teenager who threatened to kill him

 

“I will kill Carlos Curbelo.” This was posted to Twitter on October 24. Curbelo, a Republican congressman in Florida, responded: “Political intoxication is making some Americans more prone to both verbal and physical violence. It’s a serious crisis and we all have to do our part to put an end to it. Not sure what’s more disturbing; the fact that someone tweeted this or that 4 accounts liked it.”

The next day, FBI and local police arrested nineteen-year-old Pierre Alejandro Verges-Castro of Homestead, Florida, for making the death threat on his Twitter account. Curbelo’s office thanked the police and said the congressman would continue with his schedule as planned.

But that’s not the end of the story.

A “really, really good kid”

Last Thursday, more than a week after the arrest, Curbelo held a news conference with the teenager who threatened to kill him.

Curbelo told reporters: “Today I want everyone to know that I forgave him. As for Pierre, I wish him the best. He made a mistake and his life shouldn’t be ruined because of it.” Verges-Castro stood silently next to the congressman, who explained that the state attorney still had an open case against the teenager and that Verges-Castro would not be speaking because of that.

The next day, Curbelo told CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time that he had called authorities to ask if the teenager was truly dangerous or “just some kid who said something I’m sure he really regrets right now.” Police told him it was the latter.

So Curbelo asked for a meeting with Verges-Castro. He learned that the teenager was a “really, really good kid” who played the piano and guitar and was going to school to earn an associate degree. “He explained to me that he had some issues in his personal life that he thinks pushed him to do something like this, and he also talked about the toxicity of our politics and how nasty and negative everything is.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Questioning Gabriel

The Gospel of Luke begins with two monumental exchanges between the material and the spiritual. A messenger of the Lord appears first to an aging man in the midst of his priestly duties, and later to a young, peasant girl in the midst of anticipating the life ahead of her. In each visit, like a gust of wind that turns an umbrella inside out, the message delivered was the sort of news that moves the lives of all who go near it, let alone the worlds of those who heard it first. Both visits incite fear. Both invoke questions. But in the interchange of the eternal and the temporal, though the promises of God are similarly moving, we find two very different human responses.

Zechariah was chosen by lot amongst the other priests at the temple that day to offer the daily incense to the Lord. While the crowd stood praying outside, Zechariah entered the temple only to find an angel standing on the right side of the altar of incense. “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him,” imparts Luke. “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’”

Now Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth did not have any children. The angel’s words confronted a prayer long on his lips, a hope long deferred, a shame daily unforgotten. Zechariah’s response does not seem unreasonable to me. Fearful and uncertain, his wounded heart cried to know that God had been moving in those silent years of childlessness. “How can I be sure?” Zechariah asked. Another translation of the Greek renders, “How will I know this?” His hope for just a little more certainty seems fair enough in his state: “For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

There is a protective cynicism that runs in the hearts of those who live in the reality of unanswered prayers. I know because I have carried it too. Am I really to believe that God not only knows the greatest desires of my heart but is also able to answer them? Am I to trust the most weighted areas of my life, the most tender corners of my heart in hands that seem absent? There are times when the words of Jesus resonate much more like a commandment than a comfort: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”(2)

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Denison Forum – My response to Hurricane Michael’s devastation

I had planned to lead today’s Daily Article with good news in the news. There has been so much unrest and chaos in recent headlines that it seemed appropriate to find something uplifting to report.

Then Hurricane Michael strengthened into the strongest hurricane ever to strike the Florida Panhandle. It was nearly a Category 5 storm when it slammed into the coastline, with hurricane impacts as it continued into Georgia. As measured by barometric pressure, it is the third-strongest storm ever to strike the United States. The National Weather Service has called it “a catastrophic and unprecedented event.”

And so, once again we find ourselves struggling to find God at work in our fallen world. We know the facts: This world is broken because of sin (Romans 8:22), not because of any failure on God’s part. There were no hurricanes in the Garden of Eden. One day our Lord will make a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).

But why does he allow such devastation in our present world? It would be different if Jesus had not calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee or performed other physical miracles. Then we would be forced to live with the fact that our planet is simply broken and will not be fixed until its Creator returns.

However, our Lord retains sovereign control over his creation, so that not even a sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). All he could ever do, he can still do.

Why, then, are the people in Florida and the Southeast facing this disaster? Why are you facing your storms and suffering today?

Why did Jesus raise so few?

Max Lucado makes this surprising observation: “Jesus healed hundreds, fed thousands, but so far as we know He only raised three: the daughter of Jairus, the boy near Nain, and Lazarus. Why so few?”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – On Authority, Power, and Influence

What images come to mind in association with the word “authority”?  Typically, I think of government leaders or persons who hold positions of power.  Reading the world headlines, I often hear tales of brutality, betrayal, and oppression by those in “authority.”  There seems to be no end of warlords and despots, brutal dictatorships, and tyrants siphoning the resources of nations to hoard it for their own malevolent use.  These negative images of authority fill those who read about them or who suffer under them with feelings of mistrust and contempt.

The corruption of those in authority seems endemic to those who are entrusted with leadership.  Over one hundred years ago, Lord Acton warned: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men.”(1)  While Lord Acton’s sentiment appears thoroughly pessimistic, the requisite power that comes from being put in a position of authority often tempts the one who leads to use power for selfish gain, often in ways that promote harm, disorder, and injustice.  Given the abuse of authority that seems too often on display, it is no wonder that many feel a wary skepticism towards authority figures and institutions of power.

The attribution of authority applied to Jesus’s teaching ministry might make those who struggle with a more jaded view of authority pay attention; for even someone not familiar with the intricacies of Christian belief or theology would be reticent to compare the authority of Jesus with the way in which authority is often demonstrated in our world today.  Jesus never held political office nor did he have a high-ranking leadership position in the temple or synagogues of his day.  He would ultimately be crucified by those in authority over him.

Instead, authority is attributed to Jesus at the end of a sermon he preached.  The multitudes listening to that sermon “were amazed at his teaching; for he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”(2) What was it about Jesus that caused such amazement, and that made his teaching authoritative?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – In a World of Trouble

My husband and I had the relatively rare occurrence of a long weekend in which we had made no plans—except to stay at home and relax. We decided to revisit The Lord of the Rings film trilogy by watching one film each night of the weekend. As we watched, we were reminded of the powerful themes of good and evil, power and corruption, military conquest and its ecological impact and how hope is found in unexpected or unseen places. I continue to be amazed by the relevance and impact of these fantasy novels, adapted for film and written over sixty years ago.

In one of the climactic scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring, the young hobbit Frodo laments the world he sees around him with all of its tragedy and darkness. Looking at the difficulty in continuing on the path laid out before him, Frodo mourns, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” His ever-wise counselor and friend, Gandalf the Grey, consoles him with these words: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”(1)

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. Watching this scene and hearing these words echoes within me as I look out onto the world. There are always crises of one sort or another that might make even the strongest among us pine for different times, crises that make us wish our journey would be a different and far more pleasant trip. The recent shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, the terrorist rampage in New York City, and the almost daily bombings all around the world give us all-too-familiar examples. The seeming randomness of violence upends any sense of security in a world that is far beyond our control. We long for peace and stability. But often such is not the time that is given to us.

With an unstable world and the fear that instability naturally engenders, how does one find hope? What are we to do with the times we’ve been given? For many, flights of fantasy, wishful thinking, or simply burying heads in the sand offers a strategy for coping. Yet, even the desire to escape—through pleasure, distraction, or nostalgia—belies a longing for something more, something different, and something better. These longings speak to us of what could be and can motivate action for good here and now with the time that is given to us. As Gandalf rightly counseled, “[T]here are other forces at work in this world… beside the will of evil.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Paradoxical Presence

For many Jewish people living after the Holocaust, God’s absence is an ever-present reality.  It is as tangible as the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau, and as haunting as the empty chair at a table once occupied with a loved one long-silenced by the gas chambers.  In his tragic book about his own experience in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel intones the cries of many who experienced God’s absence:  “It is the end.  God is no longer with us….I know that Man is too small, too humble, and inconsiderable to seek to understand the mysterious ways of God.  But what can I do?  Where is the divine Mercy? Where is God?  How can I believe?  How can anyone believe in this merciful God?”(1)

This experience of absence, dramatic in its implications for the victims of the Holocaust, has repeated itself over and over again in the ravaged stories of those who struggle to hold on to faith, or those who have lost faith altogether in the face of personal holocaust.  In a world where tragedy and suffering are daily realities unchecked by divine government, the absence of God seems a cruel abdication.

The words of Job, ancient in origin, speak the same language of absence experienced by many today:

Behold, I go forward, but He is not there,

And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;

When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;

He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.(2)

The story of Job is at least in part a story of the experience of God’s absence.  While the narrator and the readers of the story know the beginning and the end, Job finds himself in the silent middle struck down by unjust suffering.  His story poignantly explores the silent mystery of a God who seems to go missing in the moments of greatest need.  Job’s cry is our cry, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him that I might come to his seat” (Job 23:3).  Job clings tenaciously to the hope that he will find God, and find a just God in his case.  “I am not silenced by the darkness” Job proclaims, “nor deep gloom which covers me” (23:17).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Remarkable Days

Fall comes quickly in the Pacific Northwest where I live. The wind has a colder sheen that sends a chilly reminder of summer’s demise, and the rains have returned. The apples are ready to harvest, even as their leaves begin to turn color and fade. There is still plenty of light and warmth to be outside yet, the fall marks the beginning of a more inward and contemplative season for me.

While colorful leaves and a colder wind signal for many the beginning of the new school year, the buying of school clothes and supplies, and the beginning of fall, for Jews, September is a very important month. It doesn’t simply signal the beginning of autumn; it is the signal to worship and to reflect on one’s life in the coming year. September holds two of the Jewish high, holy days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the original language, Rosh Hashanah means “new year” and Yom Kippur means “day of atonement.” What do these days entail for Jews? These are days filled with serious introspection, and an opportunity for repentance in preparation for Yom Kippur. The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance.

These “Days of Awe” are filled with wonder and worship, days of reflection, fasting, and prayer, days of solemnity and solace. These are days meant to set the tone for the beginning of the Jewish New Year even as they remind the faithful to reflect on what has gone before. Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people wronged during the course of the past year. These holy days are meant to orient the worshipper’s life through ritual and towards action for the coming year.

Reflecting upon these holidays practiced by a tradition outside my own, I realized that September may not seem a particularly holy month for Christians, but appears rather ordinary. Yet examining the practices of my Jewish neighbors reminds me to consider each day as a day of awe and devotion. Jesus invited his listeners, as he preached what is now called “The Sermon on the Mount” to live lives of devotion. “And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men.”(1) Using this same formulation for instruction, and whenever… Jesus assumes that those who respond to his invitation and follow him will pray and give offerings for the poor. The issue is not if these devotional acts are done, but when. In addition, Jesus understood that acts of devotion flow from a devoted heart, and from seeing one’s life as an ongoing act of worship—each and every day.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Can We Know God Is Real?

According to Will Durant, “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even the East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God.” The importance of this question impacts us all because it is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a question of life. If God indeed exists, then it would change everything. The consequences would be major, and to ignore God, to avoid God, or to reject God could be costly. But can we really know that God is real?

As it is often framed, such a question means that we are asking for overwhelming evidence or evidence of a particular nature before we feel we can make a judgment. We may insist that if God were real God would reveal himself on our terms, whether through science, or the arts, or philosophy. Yet my response would be that we should defer judgment, hold back our prejudices and our desired terms, and follow the trail of intimations to where they may lead. Let me lay some foundations.

Since the beginning of time until the present, the overwhelming majority of people have believed that God exists. This is not a compelling argument, but it is nonetheless an occurrence that demands explanation. What’s more, many scientists and philosophers continue to see overwhelming evidence of design in the natural world. The complexity, order, and life-sustaining factors are too significant to be answered by chance. If you watched a movie and were clearly awed by it, but were then told that it just came together by chance, you would scoff at the suggestion! The beauty, the plot, the detail, and the coherence tell you plainly that an intelligent agent was involved. As the old song says, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”

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Denison Forum – The missing Dallas priest

Father Edmundo Paredes disappeared from Dallas six months ago.

The Roman Catholic priest stands accused of financial theft and sexual abuse. Earlier this summer, his diocese reached a financial settlement with three males who accused him of molesting them when they were teenagers.

Paredes was suspended in June 2017. Earlier this year, church officials lost touch with him. They sent certified letters to him and went to his house but could not find him.

One church member said of the now-missing priest, “Let’s say he avoids man’s law. He can’t avoid God’s.”

Is the pope facing a “watershed moment”?

Father Paredes is just one example of the sexual abuse scandal enveloping the Roman Catholic Church. This morning’s Washington Post carries a headline asking if Pope Francis is facing a “watershed moment” for his handling of the crisis.

Princeton legal scholar Robert George, who is Catholic, asked recently in the Wall Street Journal, “Is it time for Pope Francis to resign?” The Journal reports that US bishops are deeply divided over the pope’s handling of the crisis.

Whatever our view of the pope’s response, we would all agree that abusing even one child is an unspeakable sin that deeply grieves the One who loves and welcomes children (Matthew 19:13-15) and denounces all who harm them (Matthew 18:5-6).

There is another issue at work here as well. To the degree that Catholic officials protected the institution of the church rather than those it is called to serve, they committed the sin of idolatry.

Tragically, they are not the first to commit this sin. Nor is this sin limited to Catholic officials.

“He burned the house of the Lord”

“In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month–that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon–Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down” (Jeremiah 52:12-13).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – We Must Play

In August of 1963, due to his ailing health and increasing responsibilities, C.S. Lewis announced his retirement from Cambridge. His stepson Douglas Gresham and friend Walter Hooper were sent to the university to sort out his affairs and bring home the two thousand or so books that lined the walls of his Magdalene College office. Knowing the house was already filled to its bursting point with books, the pair wondered all the way home where on earth they would find the space to put them. But Lewis had already contrived an intricate plan for their use.

A nurse named Alec had been hired to stay up nights in case Lewis fell ill and needed his assistance. As the men returned with the enormous load of books, Alec was asleep in his room on the ground floor. As the truck pulled into the driveway, Lewis appeared, cautioning them to silence. “Where’ll we store the books?” Hooper whispered, to which Lewis responded with a wink. Carrying each stack with tedious concern so as not to wake the sleeping victim, the three men piled the works around the nurse’s bed, sealing him in a cocoon of manuscript and literature. When they were finished, the books were stacked nearly to the ceiling, filling every square inch of the room where the snoring nurse still slept.

Much to the relief of the anxious culprits who were waiting outside, Alex finally awoke. From within the insulated tomb, first came sounds of bellowing, and finally the tumbling of the great literary wall. An amused nurse emerged from within the wreckage.

The characters in this story are every bit as spirited as some of the playful personalities from Lewis’s imaginary worlds. These are the whimsical scenes—fiction and non-fiction—that seal in my mind the many weighty lessons I have wrought from him. But perhaps namely: Christianity is a religion with room—and reason—for life and laughter.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Why Have Charity

It was a scene made for good people-watching. Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were placed and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.(1) There were some who made a spectacle of their giving. Others gave in guilt or joy or obligation. Many rich people threw in large amounts. A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. The motives of giving are as many as the people who give.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled “Charitable Explanation,” Arthur Brooks examined giving in the United States and its patterns through storm and season. In the month of December, for instance, as much as a third of the quarter-trillion dollars Americans give away each year is collected. Eighty-five million Americans participate.

Even so, giving is not a collective national trait. “While 85 million American households give away money each year to nonprofit organizations,” notes Brooks “another 30 million do not.”(2) There is a Giving America and Non-Giving America, he says. And what distinguishes them is not income. In fact, he reports, “America’s working poor give away at least as large a percentage of their incomes as the rich, and a lot more than the middle class. The charity gap is driven not by economics but by values.” Giving is apparently a matter of perspective, and this is true from America to Australia to Asia.

In the middle of his people-watching at the temple treasury, Jesus called his disciples to the scene in front him: a widow had dropped in two copper coins as she passed by the treasury, and it caught the eye of the teacher. Sandwiched between the generous gifts of the affluent, her coins would perhaps not have drawn the attention of anyone else. But Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (3)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Where God Was Homeless

Some years ago, we were spending Christmas in the home of my wife’s parents. It was not a happy day in the household. Much had gone wrong during the preceding weeks, and a weight of sadness hung over the home. Yet, in the midst of all that, my mother-in-law kept her routine habit of asking people who would likely have no place to go at Christmas to share Christmas dinner with us.

That year she invited a man who was, by everyone’s estimate, somewhat of an odd person, quite eccentric in his demeanor. Not much was known about him at the church except that he came regularly, sat alone, and left without much conversation. He obviously lived alone and was quite a sorry-looking, solitary figure. He was our Christmas guest.

Because of other happenings in the house (not the least of which was that one daughter was taken to the hospital for the birth of her first child), everything was in confusion. All of our emotions were on edge. It fell upon me, in turn, to entertain this gentleman. I must confess that I did not appreciate it. Owing to a heavy life of travel year-round, I have jealously guarded my Christmases as time to be with my family. This was not going to be such a privilege, and I was not happy. As I sat in the living room, entertaining him while others were busy, I thought to myself, “This is going to go down as one of the most miserable Christmases of my life.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Sure Stay

I used to be a faithful listener to the national news. But it seems that more and more news reporting delivers more and more bad news. Not wanting to begin each day already down in the dumps, I’ve become more of a sporadic listener. Of course, I recognize that this is not a recent trend. Most news has rarely, if ever, been uplifting. The events deemed “newsworthy” are generally traumatic or catastrophic events. Since there are more than enough examples of ‘bad news’ each day those ‘good’ newsworthy items rarely get reported.

These “bad news” stories are even more difficult to deal with because they are not simply news stories affecting someone else; they are real stories of the everyday realities of people all around me, and including me. Close friends have loved ones in global conflict zones. Colleagues struggle to make ends meet, or are coping with their own traumatic events and struggles. For many, their own lives comprise the “bad news” stories of struggling to survive in extraordinarily dark times.

Trouble is part of every human experience, and every human will experience days of “bad news.” No one is immune. Even the greatest of leaders in the ancient world did not escape trouble and despair. Those who might critique religious faith as a flight from reality or an escape from trouble might be surprised to see the exact opposite detailed in the pages of the bible. Even those who claimed direct experience of God, did not escape the hard realities of life in this world.

Described as a “man after God’s own heart,” David, the great king of Israel, experienced many difficulties throughout his life just as he was the recipient of bad news. And when he experienced trouble, he turned to poetry. Psalm 18, as one example, appears to have been a poem written after the experience of deliverance from national enemies and the current king of Israel, King Saul.

The poetry composed by David expresses his grief and distress in the midst his trials. The imagery he uses is of a near death experience: “The waves of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord.”(1)  His distress felt like drowning; being swallowed up by the mighty waves of the sea.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Rebellion or Resignation

I have always loved that theologian David Wells refers to prayer as “rebelling against the status quo.”(1) No doubt the feisty among us have eyes that light up at the thought. To rebel against the status quo in this light is to challenge life where it has resigned itself to something less, to bring about rebirth and reformation where life or faith have grown stale.

Others may wonder what Christianity, and specifically Christian prayer, has to do with rebellion at all. The candid lyrics of a haunting song speak of Jesus Christ as a man of love and strength, but a man very much separated from everything we see and experience today. The lyrics sing of his living only inside our prayers, and come to the conclusion that while what Christ was may have indeed been beautiful, a man of the past can offer nothing at all for the here and now of real and wearying pain. The sentiment reflects a sorely honest philosophy that many have of the world today: It is what it is. And it won’t change anything to worry about it. Prayer, within such an imagination, is useless. The here and now of suffering is untouchable.

From headline to headline we find the weariness of life and the problem of a dark world screaming at us. Many have grown to see it as an unchangeable reality. But if we have come to terms with the world as it is, it is only because we have come to refuse thinking about how it could be, or how it was supposed to be, or how we could even have an idea that something is wrong in the first place. It is not that we are unconscious of the injustice, suffering, and even evil around us, but that we feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. Still others among us optimistically call for the abolishing of poverty or the end of trafficking or the stopping of whatever cause they are presently championing. While their efforts are needed, the end they call for doesn’t seem to ever occur.

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Denison Forum – John McCain’s most singular trait

“Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended. Some voices are so vibrant, it is hard to think of them stilled. John McCain was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.”

This is how President George W. Bush remembered John McCain on Saturday after the senator died at the age of eighty-one. True to form, the senator asked Mr. Bush and President Obama—each of whom ran against him in presidential campaigns—to deliver eulogies at his funeral.

Today America is remembering one of our nation’s greatest heroes. This morning’s Wall Street Journal calls him a “principled leader.” CNN describes him as a “War Hero. Statesman. Maverick,” calling him “one of the leading voices in American politics.”

Others have fought for our nation and even been prisoners of war. Others have served in the United States Senate and even been nominated for president of the United States.

John McCain is being remembered today especially because of this singular trait: his sacrificial courage.

Why McCain couldn’t raise his arms

In 1973, McCain wrote about his experience as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Reading his account over the weekend was a moving experience for me.

On October 26, 1967, McCain’s Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi. His right leg was broken, his left arm was fractured, and his right arm was broken in three places.

Vietnamese doctors eventually tried to put a cast on his right arm (without Novocain) but could not set the bones and put him in a chest cast. He spent two years in solitary confinement, communicating with fellow prisoners by tapping codes through the prison walls. He suffered from dysentery for a year and a half.

Since his father was commander in chief of US forces in the Pacific, camp officials offered at one point to release him. McCain refused, insisting that those who had been imprisoned before him be set free first.

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Denison Forum – $120 million cannot buy happiness

 

Tim Cook will become $120 million richer today when he receives 560,000 shares of Apple stock. But he should beware: prosperity is no guarantee of happiness.

Writing in the New York TimesJonathan Rauch notes: “Real per capita income has more than tripled since the late 1950s, but the percentage of people saying they are very happy has, if anything, slightly declined.”

Why?

A Harvard study tracked a group of men for close to eighty years. The bottom line: loving relationships are the key to happiness and health. It was not money or status but strong interpersonal relationships that led to the greatest life satisfaction.

This news should not surprise Christians. We know that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that our Creator is relational by nature. He relates to himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. And “God is love” (1 John 4:8), an attribute that requires someone to love.

Here’s the question: With whom should we most seek a loving relationship as the key to happiness? The answer may surprise you.

A personal confession

I was led to faith in Christ through a bus ministry. A church in my Houston, Texas, neighborhood enlisted volunteers to knock on doors, inviting people to ride their bus to church. In August 1973, they knocked on my apartment door. My brother and I came to Jesus as a result.

I will be eternally grateful for evangelical churches that emphasize evangelism and practical ministry. But I was active in church life for years before I began realizing that Jesus wanted to be more than my Savior and Lord–he wants to be my friend. He wants an intimate, personal, loving, daily relationship with me. He wants to be a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Poverty of Words

I remember the time when my son had to go through a very simple surgery when he was just five years old. He was not able to breathe properly, so the doctors had to remove some extra tissue surrounding his nostril and nasal passages. During the hours and days after his surgery, my once-a-chatterbox son had become completely quiet. Because of the fear of being hurt if he spoke, he quit using words for his way of communication. It was overwhelming to see my boy struggling to express himself in that condition.

As I assisted my son get back to talking, I could not help but think of how unexpectedly Zechariah lost his speech after he questioned the angel who brought him such good news about a long-waited child in his old age.(1) In Zechariah’s case, the temporary loss of words was something of an acknowledgement of the promised child he doubted, a child who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Though he knew why he was made silent, I am sure he felt restless until he held his son in his arms and was finally able to describe his emotions properly.

There are spiritual retreat centers in various locations around the world, which offer “Silent Weeks” to those who are over-exhausted from excessive communication. During these weeks, individuals are banned from verbal communication in order to quiet themselves internally. The goal is simply to bring back the core purpose of real interaction: tending to what is being said in reality.

When the words are taken from us either because of the inability to speak or the lack of verbal direction, we become strangely poor, almost incomplete. There are two sides of this poverty: one is internal, losing the comfort of one’s capability to express oneself fully. The other is external, as one finds no real guidance to turn to for wisdom. In my opinion, the latter has eternal ramifications if not satisfied in a timely manner.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Within the Void

Someone told me recently that he wondered if humans only truly ever pray when we are in the midst of despair. Maybe only when we have no other excuses to offer, no other comfort to hide behind, no more façades to uphold, are we most likely to bow in exhaustion and be real with God and ourselves. C.S. Lewis might have wondered similarly: “For most of us, the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model.” In our distress, in our lament, we stand as we truly are: creatures in need hope and mercy, in need of someone to listen.

The words within the ancient Hebrew story of Jonah that are of most interest to me are words that in some ways seem not to fit in the story at all.(1) Interrupting a narrative that quickly draws in its hearers, a narrative about Jonah, the text very fleetingly pauses to bring us the voice of Jonah himself before returning again to the narrative. The eight lines come in the form of a distraught and despairing, though poetic prayer. The poem could be omitted without affecting the coherence of the story whatsoever. And yet, the deliberate jaunt in the narrative text provides a moment of significant commentary to the whole. The eight verses of poetry not only mark an abrupt shift in the tone of the text, but also in the attitude of its main character. The poetic prayer of the prophet, spoken as a cry of deliverance, arise from the belly of the great fish—a stirring image reminiscent of another despairing soul’s question: “Where can I flee from your presence?” cried David. “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.”(2)

Jonah’s eloquent prayer for deliverance stands out in a book that is detailed with his egotistic mantras and glaring self-deceptions. By his own actions, Jonah finds himself in darkness, and yet it is in the dark that he finally speaks most honestly to God. The story is vaguely familiar to many hearers, and yet our familiarity often seems to minimize the distress that broke Jonah’s silence with God. The popular notion that Jonah went straight from the side of the ship into the mouth of the fish is not supported by either the narrative as a whole or Jonah’s prayer. As one scholar suggests, “[Jonah] was half drowned before he was swallowed. If he was still conscious, sheer dread would have caused him to faint—notice that there is no mention of the fish in his prayer. He can hardly have known what caused the change from wet darkness to an even greater dry darkness. When he did regain consciousness, it would have taken some time to realize that the all-enveloping darkness was not that of Sheol but of a mysterious safety.”(3)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Constancy of Change

Not much is known about the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus who lived in ancient Ephesus approximately five hundred years before Jesus was born. What is known about him is his belief that the fundamental essence of the universe is change. The source of change, Heraclitus believed, was that fire was the central element of the universe; fire alters everything continuously and as a result nothing is fixed or permanent in the world. The aphorism “No one steps in the same river twice” gives a concise image for his philosophical views.(1) Perhaps it might not surprise the modern reader of Heraclitus to learn that those who wrote about him characterized him as the “weeping philosopher.” His contemporaries noted that he suffered such bouts with melancholy that he couldn’t finish many of his philosophical writings.(2)

While a direct intellectual link cannot be drawn from Heraclitus to the Buddha, the belief that everything is changing is also a central part of Buddhist teachings. There is no underlying substance that is not subject to the impermanent nature of existence. Instead, everything is in flux.(3) The doctrine of impermanence or anicca, applies even to human nature. Simple observation shows that the human body, for example, develops and changes from infancy to adulthood and into old age—continually changing. All living beings change as cells develop, die, and then are replaced by new cells. On a cognitive level, most humans have had the experience of fleeting mental events, or have thoughts come and go dissolving into memories that cannot easily be accessed. And all know how time seems to slip through our fingers: the future becomes the present, which becomes the past. As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan penned over fifty years ago, “The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last for the times they are a-changin’.”(4)

Friedrich Nietzsche drew upon both of these traditions as he looked out onto what he considered to be a crumbling foundation of Judeo-Christianity—a foundation taken down in part by continual change. He wrote:

“The eternal and exclusive process of becoming, the utter evanescence of everything real, which keeps      acting and evolving but never is, as Heraclitus teaches us, is a terrible and stunning notion. Its impact is most closely related to the feeling of an earthquake, which makes people relinquish their faith that the earth is firmly grounded. It takes astonishing strength to transpose this reaction into its opposite, into sublime and happy astonishment.”(5)

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