Tag Archives: Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Stories We Tell

 

Have you ever had the feeling that an experience you had, whether good or bad, was like a scene from a novel or a movie—like you were a part of at least a small story? With the ubiquitous presence of Facebook pages and blogging platforms, I suspect this phenomenon grows all the more common an experience (and likely one that increasingly communicates we are the leading characters of these stories). If the answer is yes, it’s probably because our lives, after all, do tell a story—and perhaps the increasing presence of such outlets to tell these stories affirms it. Every human being has a unique story unfolding as they live out their lives. Just think of it: literally billions of different stories going on all at once, intertwining, overlapping, as we love each other, hate each other, struggle together, and laugh together. Every minute new human stories are beginning in birth and old ones are concluding in death.

“The deepest convictions of our heart are formed by stories and reside there in the images and emotions of [a] story….Life is not a list of propositions, it is a series of dramatic scenes. As Eugene Peterson said, ‘We live in a narrative, we live in a story. We have a beginning and an end, we have a plot, we have character.’ Story is the language of the heart. Our souls speak not in the naked facts of mathematics or the abstract propositions of systematic theology; they speak the images and emotions of story.”(1)

We love stories because life itself is a story. We each have a story that takes place in a particular context, culture, and time in history. Depending on how we grew up, the dynamics of our families, and a million other factors, our stories are going to come out differently.

But is there any common element that runs through all of our stories, an element that we see in every life?

You may have never thought about it this way, but the Christian message really introduces a story of its own; and if it is indeed true, it’s a story that explains the “plot” of each and every human life story. What is this lot? It’s a love story. It’s the story of God’s love for us individually and collectively, God’s seeking to win our hearts again and again, and our responses to this movement toward us. We see this in the well known text of John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. I would challenge you to look at your life, look at where you are now and where you’ve been, and see if you do not find evidence of God drawing you closer to who God truly is. See if you can find God calling to you in the circumstances of your life, even in hard or painful times, whispering to you in joy, in mystery, in fear, in pain.

God is the ultimate author, God’s story the account that makes sense of our lives and brings beauty into our own stories. As one human author put it, your life could be the very poetry of God.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) Brent Curtis, The Sacred Romance (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 39.

 

 

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Beyond the Visible

 

Winters, in the north-eastern part of India, especially Shillong where I live, can be bitingly cold, and more so when it rains. One year, the winter was particularly wet, and for weeks on end there seemed no respite from the cold. One gloomy day followed another with nothing to lighten the dismal scene of overcast skies and thick blankets of cloud stretched like a shroud from one end of the horizon to the other. Suffocated by the cheerless gloom that had pervaded my very heart and soul, small woes and anxieties that had seemed miniscule before, now seems threateningly gigantic. Funny how the weather can affect one’s mood! And just as I was beginning to feel that sunny days are but a distant memory, suddenly, the sun rose up one morning, bright and strong, shining in a blue cloudless sky. I was immediately reminded of a song in the Bible likening the sun to a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing like a strong man to run its race.(1)

As I was reflecting on the sight, I noticed my neighbor’s door opened. Faithfully, as he had probably been doing every single day of his life, he turned his face to the sun and paid obeisance to it. With hands folded and eyes devoutly closed, he continued in this salutation of worship for a few minutes. As I sat there in the sun, enjoying the delicious warmth soaking into my body, I can understand exactly why people would want to worship it. There is something very nurturing, healing and life-giving about the sun’s warmth. No wonder that civilizations right from the Mayans and the ancient Egyptians to the Hindus of today, revered and worshipped it.

But does it have to end there, I thought? Should not our contemplation of the wonder of creation lead us to contemplate on the greater wonder of the One who is the cause of all existence? In his song offerings, the Gitanjali, the great seer and bard, Rabindranath Tagore captures the very essence of this truth when he sings: “The morning light has flooded my eyes—this is thy message to my heart. Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes look down on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.”(2) Clearly, for Tagore, every part of creation is but the whisperings of the Almighty to the human heart.

Somehow, this thought takes me back to my young book-reading days. In my eagerness to come to the story at once, I would just glance briefly at the title and sometimes, bypass the name of the author altogether. The author was not important for me then; the story was! But through the years, I have come to appreciate a text more by also knowing something about its writer. His/Her experiences, thoughts and impressions that colour and give shape to the work. This, I find, enriches my reading experience and adds context to the text.

As I continued to enjoy the sunshine that winter morning, basking in its light and warmth, I directed my thoughts to the ultimate author who commanded the whole story into being and who continues to sustain that story from one sunrise to the other. “How wonderful this sun!” I exclaimed. “How wonderful is the One who created this sun!” an answering voice in my heart echoed.

Psalm 19, I believe, is a jubilant declaration of this truth as it points us beyond the visible to the One who is invisible and yet, whose presence and touch can be felt, can be seen, can be experienced:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is hidden from its heat.

Ravi Zacharias recounts this story in his book The Shattered Visage: On Christmas Day, 1968, three American astronauts made the first journey that humanity will ever make around the ‘dark’ side of the moon, away from the earth. Having fired their rockets, they were homebound on Apollo 8, and beheld our planet in a way that human eyes had never witnessed before. They saw earth rise over the horizon of the moon, draped in the beauteous mixture of white and blue, bordered by the glistening light of the sun against the black void of space. In the throes of this awe-inspiring experience their first response is to open the Bible and read from the book of Genesis for the world to hear: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

Let me conclude by quoting authors Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer:

“The truth is that our supreme fulfillment, as moral beings made in God’s image, is found and expressed in actively worshipping our holy Creator. When the object of homage is noble, the rendering of homage is ennobling; but when the objects of homage are not noble, the rendering of it is degrading… [But] it is impossible to worship nothing: we humans are worshipping creatures, and if we do not worship the God who made us, we shall inevitably worship someone or something else.”(3)

Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.

(1) Psalm 19.

(2) Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, Song no. 59.

(3) Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer, Christianity: The True Humanism (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1984), 146.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry –   Isms and Rabbit Trails

 

Among my toughest audiences in apologetics are undoubtedly my two little boys. From the time words started forming on their lips, questions of various kinds have been a staple around our home—the most formidable one being, “Why, daddy?” More than any other of our appetites, I strongly suspect that thirst for knowledge and the occasional thrill of discovery have played the greatest role in shaping history. From the vast machinery of the news media to the intricate systems of the educational enterprise, from specialized research institutions to the multifaceted world of religious devotion, human hunger for knowledge is the oil that greases the mill of civilization.

So pervasive is this drive for knowledge that it can become an end in itself, opening up a rudderless detour along even the journey to God. This is true in religious systems that claim knowledge for a select few, with secretly guarded rituals forever hidden from the uninitiated. Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge, was built upon the premise that there exists a category of knowledge privileged to a select few. Most Eastern religions insist that the problem with humanity is not sin but ignorance; hence, their solution to the human predicament is enlightenment, not forgiveness. Similarly, scientific naturalism stakes its fortunes on the bare, cold facts of particles and quarks; to know them is to know ultimate reality—never mind the minor detail that, logically, there is a gaping missing link between knowing how something works and the conclusion that it was not made.

But according to the Bible, at the end of our incessant pursuit of knowledge lies a Person, not an ideology or impersonal reality. God is not only the beginner of all that is; God has also revealed Himself in the earthliest of terms. Jesus was born in circumstances accessible to the lowliest of the shepherds as well as to the most majestic of kings. He spoke to large crowds in public places and was crucified outside the city walls, thereby silencing forever the voices of self-appointed guardians of alleged esoteric knowledge. In biblical terms, no pursuit of knowledge is ever complete without the discovery of him who is the truth; to know him is to know not only ultimate reality but also ourselves.

For the Christian, then, it is a solemn thought to remember that reducing apologetics to a contest in the abstract can actually keep us from knowing God. Determined to demonstrate the consistency of our beliefs, we can easily find ourselves on endless rabbit trails—pursuing every form of ism, striving to tie each and every loose end in our belief system, finding comfort when we succeed and frustration when we fail—all the time unaware of the beckoning arms of our loving Father who is Himself the treasure we so diligently seek and hope to show others. Like Jewish leaders of old who diligently searched the scriptures but failed to recognize the one to whom they point when he stood before them in human flesh, we can perfect the art of dissecting biblical and philosophical truths with little progress in our knowledge of God—so enamored with the map that we never take a step towards the destination. As C.S. Lewis observes, “There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!“(1)

The God we meet in apologetics is mostly a subject to be studied, a case to be argued, a conclusion to be drawn—a far cry from the God who has revealed Himself both in the scriptures and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ. When the pursuit of knowledge becomes an end in itself, the conclusions we accept are decidedly driven by our most cherished passions. Just as it is possible to pursue knowledge simply to satisfy our belief in God without much concern for God, it is also possible to seek it passionately precisely because we disbelieve in God. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: In our thirst for knowledge, “intent is prior to content.”(2) Our finitude guarantees that there will always be gaps in our knowledge which only omniscience can fill, but God has put enough content in the world to satisfy any honest intent to find God.

Is it pointless then to pant for knowledge? Far be it from me to suggest such a thing! This very piece of writing is an attempt to convey knowledge! And, besides, “It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them” (Proverbs 25:2, NLT). Whenever I am tempted to disparage the passion for painstaking attention to the seemingly minutiae, I am reminded of the faithful souls who have labored for years to sift through ancient manuscripts and translate them into a language that I can read. We are all beneficiaries of the dedication of others in almost all areas of our lives. Worshiping at the altar of ignorance is no more pious than worshipping at the altar of mental abundance. But those whose pursuit of truth is infused with the purity of spirit discover that, all along, the Father has been seeking such to worship Him.(3)

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 71.

(2) Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 98.

(3) See John 4:23.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Love Sought

 

How do you know that God exists? How do you know that God loves you? These questions, upon the hearts of so many, have answers as real as the formative moments in your life.

As I have aged I seem to grow more and more prone to nostalgia. Many of us do this instinctively, clinging to memories past, perhaps looking backwards with the hope of seeing a purpose for our lives. When I travel to India, I make it a point to revisit time and again those significant marking points of my own life. As I recall these moments past but not forgotten, I hear the gentle voice of the God very much in the present. And God says: I was there. When on you were on your bike contemplating suicide, I was there. When you were but nine years old and your grandmother died, I arranged for her gravestone to hold in time the very verse that would lead you to conversion. I was there.

It is often in these harrowing moments—your parents’ divorce, your child’s birth, the death of a loved one—where God leaves a defining mark. There is reason you remember such moments so vividly. We have a choice to hear or to ignore, but regardless his voice cries out in our memories, I was there. God has been in our past. God is here today. God will be there in our future.

God exists, as Lewis worded it so well, in the “eternal now.” And the psalmist, always writing with feet firmly planted in time, but arms ever reaching for the eternal, beautifully explains, “Thou art God from age to age the same.” And while hindsight is often God’s means of gently revealing his presence all along, we can be comforted in the peril of the moment nonetheless. As we encounter these markers in time, our sorrow is held in the beautiful mystery of one who wept with a friend, who answered her question “Where were you?” with tears of his own. Beside Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus offered Mary a glimpse of the present love of God, though he knew a greater future. God was with you then. God is there with you now. And He loves you.

William Shakespeare once reasoned, “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” How do you know that God loves you? While you and I were yet wandering, Christ was wandering after us, by way of the cross. Love seeking the lost. And this sacrifice stands as the greatest marker in all time.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The House of Christmas

 

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.”

But somehow we got through the evening. He evidently loved the meal, the fire crackling in the background, the snow outside, the Christmas carols playing, and a rather weighty theological discussion in which he and I were engaged—at his instigation, I might add. He was a very well-read man and, as I found out, loved to grapple with heavy theological themes. I do too, but frankly, not during an evening that has been set aside to enjoy life’s quiet moments.

At the end of the night when he bade us all good-bye, he reached out and took the hand of each of us, one by one, and said, “Thank you for the best Christmas of my life. I will never forget it.” He walked out into the dark, snowy night, back into his solitary existence.

My heart sank in self-indictment at those tender words of his. I had to draw on every nerve in my being to keep from breaking down with tears. Just a few short years later, relatively young, and therefore to our surprise, he passed away. I have relived that Christmas many times in my memory. That year God taught me a lesson. A home can reflect and distribute the love of Christ.

The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the “little town of Bethlehem,” and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and making a home among us. G.K. Chesterton captures the wonder of such a thought:

A child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where he was homeless

Are you and I at home:

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost—how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.(1)

Jesus’s earthly address changes our own. Christ comes this Advent, and shows us what it means to live.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God and Pain

Ravi Z

“How do you expect me to believe in God,” asked Woody Allen, “when only last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of my electric type-writer?”

For a while now, at least in the Western world, the existence of any form of pain, suffering, or evil has been regarded as evidence for the non-existence of God. If a good God existed, people reason, these things would not. But they do and, therefore, God does not.

My job takes me around many different parts of the world in order to answer people’s questions about the Christian faith. I find it fascinating that I have never been asked this question in India, a country that certainly knows a lot more about suffering than many of us in the West. I find it even more intriguing that Christians who write books in situations where they have known unspeakable torment because of the gospel do not normally raise this as an issue for themselves either. Why?

There are so many ways in which questions concerning pain can be raised. It can be raised because of personal loss and suffering or because of a personal interest in the issue of theodicy, to name but two. However, regardless of the way the question is raised, it normally comes down to a moral complaint against God. “How could you allow this to happen?” The complaint is against God’s moral character. “Can I really trust God if I see this happen?” But if you are sure that you can trust God, regardless of the pain you find yourself in, there is no temptation to turn you away, as you realize God is the only one who can help.

Firstly, let’s deal with the argument against God’s existence. Ravi Zacharias has dealt with this thoroughly in his book Can Man Live Without God. If you argue from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God, you are assuming the existence of an absolute moral law in order for your argument to work. But if there is such a law this would also mean that there is such a God, since God is the only one who could give us such a law. And if there is such a God to give us this law, then the argument itself is flawed, since you have had to assume the existence of God in order to argue that God doesn’t exist. It is an attempt to invoke the existence of an absolute moral law without invoking the existence of an absolute moral law giver, and it cannot be done.

Secondly, we must also ask the question: What would it take to create a loving world void of evil? A world in which love is capable of meaningful expression and experience would also imply a world in which there is choice. If someone tells you that they love you, those words mean something because they are freely given. If you learned that someone had told you they loved you but that they had been forced to say it, their words would not mean very much. Thus, if we want to speak of a loving world, we must also speak of a world in which choices are exercised. And in such a world, there is also the possibility of choosing a course of action that is not loving, i.e. evil.

While these observations are helpful in getting at the heart of contradictions often behind the questions of God and suffering, I do not think they get at the heart of the questions as people most commonly ask, namely: Can I trust God even when faced with great evil? Is God morally trustworthy? Can I trust God even if I don’t understand what is happening?

These are profound questions, and whole books could be written about them. But I will offer one more thought. Maybe the reason we question God’s moral character when bad things happen is that we live our lives largely independent from God on a daily basis. In other words, we struggle to trust God in times of trouble because we do not really trust God when things are going well. Maybe we struggle with suffering so much in the West because we are so comfortable most of the time that we feel we don’t need God. We do not rely on God on a daily basis, and so we do not really know God. When suffering comes along, therefore, it is not so much that it takes us away from God, but that it reveals to us that we have not really been close to God in the first place.

As I said earlier, I have never been asked questions about God and suffering when I am travelling in countries riddled with the realities of it. In fact, when I visit churches in parts of the world where they are faced daily with horrific affliction, I normally leave inspired. They trust God in everything, even when things are going well. When times are hard, they cling to God because they have already learned to trust. They have learned that God does not change, even when our circumstances have.

Michael Ramsden is international director of ministries at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Oxford, England.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry –   Too Many Gods

Ravi Z

“I am a former Christian minister who is now an agnostic—not an atheist, not a theist, not a sceptic, and certainly not indifferent.(1) So begins the story of Charles Templeton, one time rousing evangelist, friend and counterpart of Billy Graham, turned renounced believer, professed agnostic. He is quick to clarify the meaning of such a title. “The agnostic does not say, as is commonly believed, ‘I do not know whether or not there is a God.’ He says, ‘I cannot know… He asserts that a combination of historic circumstances has made Christianity the dominant religion of the Western world but that it is not unique, there being a host of other religions and a variety of other deities worshipped or revered by millions of men and women in various parts of the world.”(2)

In his final book, Farewell to God, Templeton describes the unraveling of more than twenty years of ministry and a faith that was steadily besieged by doubt. His objections range from scathing frustrations with biblical stories to pained confusions with the ways of the world and the God who supposedly cares for it. One question in particular remained with me throughout the book: “If God is a loving Father, why does he so seldom answer his needy children’s prayers?” he asks. The question isn’t new to me, and like Templeton, I can rattle off an explanation based on a scriptures I know by heart. But the picture that comes to life within this question is far more personal than any routine answer would satisfy. Many wrestle through this question similar to the way we had to wrestle with the presence and absence of our own parents.

Elsewhere, Templeton critiques the world and what he sees as its “abundance of gods,” though he treats each one with the curious requirement of unquestioning obedience as if it was the only god that mattered. He describes it a point of contention—even a point of absurdity—that in the vast sea of divine beings on this planet, Christianity proposes the idea that there is only one God. Across history, there are more gods than any of us can keep track of, and they seem to come with as many descriptions as the people who created them. On top of this, he argues, a great number of these gods come with qualities that leave much to be desired in the first place; they are jealous, hierarchical, vengeful, and demanding—and very much a product of our predecessors.

Many of these observations are troublingly undeniable. I was listening recently to a collection of interviews on the subject of spirituality. They asked hundreds of people the same question: simply, “Who is God?” But the answers were as diverse as the patches on a quilt, and the finished product was not at all a comforting blanket of great divinity, but little more than a mat of troubled chaos, gapping holes, and contradiction. Coming to the end of that message, I sighed deeply—how can anyone muddle through such a mess? We seem to make gods in our own images as fast as we can get them off the assembly line.

Templeton and the many who echo him are absolutely right to point out as troubling the sheer number and seeming characters of these divinities, who “hate every people but their own…[who] are jealous, vengeful…utter egotists and insist on frequent praise and flattery.”(3) In fact, the prophet Jeremiah made a similar point. He called it a “discipline of delusion” to chase after these gods and their demands, but particularly as if it were all a matter of preference and not a matter pertaining to what is real. “They are altogether stupid and foolish,” he wrote of these individuals. “In their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood” (Jeremiah 10:8). The world of gods is indeed a chaotic place. And yet, isn’t it somewhat hasty to reject every divinity in the room simply because there is more than one? In doing so, it would seem we use our own complaint against Christianity (it is arrogant to say there is only one God) as the reason to reject it (it is ridiculous that there is more than one god).

But the description of angry gods in abundance brings me back to the question raised at the beginning. “If God is a loving Father, why does he so seldom answer his needy children’s prayers?” The reason this question demands more than a pat answer is because it deals with disappointment, neglect, silence, and heartache. The question pulls on the very shirtsleeve of a vital relationship. Perhaps it is subtle, but the question itself seems to point to something inherently different about this God—something that sets this Father significantly apart from the sea of divine and impersonal chaos. The gods Templeton and many others describe do not at all seem like gods we would miss if they were far away. They are not the kind of gods we would be saddened by if they were silent, or dare to be angry with if they disappointed us. Like all children with parents that we do not always understand, sometimes we ask questions that aren’t entirely fair (or even sensible). And sometimes we ask questions that give away the relational presence of the one we wrestle with under the surface.

I believe it is more than helpful to recognize the human capacity to create gods and chase after delusion. But so I think it is vital to recognize that not all gods are created equal, and there is reason to believe there might be one who isn’t created at all.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996), 18.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid., 22-23.

A note from Ravi Zacharias

Dear Friend,

 

Hello to all our friends and supporters. I have a special prayer request for two programs I have been invited to do with commentator and broadcaster Glenn Beck at his studios in Dallas, Texas, on Monday, November 10. I met with Glenn recently, and he is a delightful person to know and talk with. He is on his own spiritual journey. He would like to interview me on my latest book, Why Suffering?, and also on my spiritual journey.

I am grateful for this unique opportunity, but it will be a tough one. I am a deeply committed evangelical Christian. Glenn is a member of the LDS church. So in that sense we have deep distinctives. I firmly believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. I believe in the Old and the New Testament as the sufficient and final word for faith and conduct. So any addition or detraction from those truths would be in contravention of our Lord’s words.

Therefore, the challenge when I am speaking with another from a different belief (a situation I find myself in often) is to navigate carefully and wisely. At the same time, as a Christian apologist, I must be in arenas where there are counter-perspectives and clearly present what I believe. That is our field of calling, whether talking to skeptics or those of other beliefs. Unfortunately, in this day of mass communication, my words and my presence can be taken out of context or misrepresented. So please pray for me as I handle a worthy opportunity with wisdom to present the truth and the book that touches on the most painful malady facing all of humanity: “Why Suffering?”

One of the most important purposes in such interviews is to talk to people about the slow moral death of our culture. A moral soil is needed for anything worthy to flourish. With that goal in mind I talk with those who share that common concern. Moral soil and truths in our worldview are not the same. But that moral soil is indispensable for truth to stand a chance. It is that soil that I seek to prepare so that the truth of the gospel may be planted.

Thank you for your prayers. Need I say that a lot of conversations in such settings are very private? I will honor that and pray that the truth will triumph and that which was come to terms with in private will come to public fruition. I will never compromise my belief in the final and sufficient work of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. May every conversation bring others to that same conviction. Only the Holy Spirit of God can bring that change in any heart.

As RZIM celebrates our 30th year as a ministry, we are reminded that our goal must always be the glory of God. Please do pray for wisdom for me and for our team as we navigate these challenging times in our culture. We are grateful for your continued support as we seek to articulate the beauty and credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ in influential settings across this country and around the world.

With gratitude,

 

 

Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias will be interviewed by Glenn Beck on Monday, November 10, at The Blaze studios in Dallas, Texas.  You can listen to Ravi on The Glenn Beck Radio Program from 10:00am-11:00am CST.  Check your local listings or listen online at: http://www.glennbeck.com/.  You can watch Ravi on Glenn Beck’s TV show at 5:00 p.m. CST on various cable networks and online at:  http://www.theblaze.com/tv/.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Beyond Thoughts

Ravi Z

I would like to begin by telling a story about an event that took place some years ago when I was beginning my studies, an event that has had a major impact on my approach to the ministry to this day. I had a neighbor who was deeply committed to a version of the New Age movement. He and I had many conversations about God in the course of several months. He was a highly educated man with a couple of PhDs to his name, and so he provided me with an opportunity to test my training. But the training I was receiving in apologetics was good, and I soon realized that I could not only answer the questions he was asking about my faith in God, I could also poke holes in his worldview in a way that forced him to check books out of the local library to try and put his worldview back together. And I was feeling very good about myself. I was actually getting it!

Finally I decided to challenge him to consider giving his life to Christ. His reaction surprised me; he did not seem to care at all about what I was telling him. So I said to him, can you please explain to me what is going on? You don’t seem to care about what I am telling you. His answer was even more baffling to me. He said to me, “Listening to you asking me to become a Christian is like listening to a naturalist asking me to become a naturalist.”

I said to him, “What in the world do you mean. I just asked you to consider giving your life to the God who created you, and you are accusing me of being an atheist? What do you mean?”

He said to me, “All you Christians have are statements and creeds. You think that if people accept those statements and creeds, everything will be okay. When I pray, I get in touch with powers that you know nothing about.”

And that was one of the most convicting things anyone has ever said to me. Because what this man was saying to me was essentially this: “Yes, you can say a lot of very convincing things about your faith, but does your faith really rise beyond well-argued propositions?”

In his book, Beyond Opinion, Ravi Zacharias says that the greatest obstacle to the reception of the Gospel is not its inability to provide answers; it is the failure on the part of Christians to live it out. J. I. Packer writes similarly in his classic book, entitled, Knowing God: “From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture… it is tragic that….so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.”(1)

Whatever your position of faith, it is helpful to occasionally step back and ask a similar question of priority. Whatever your calling in life, what is the ultimate goal of all that you do?

The Bible addresses this question in many places, in both the Old and New Testaments, but none so much as in the person of Christ himself. If there is a message we hear loudest in his coming to earth it is this. The primary call of God is to know God, to be near God, not to serve God or to argue on God’s behalf. The end is knowing God. Even the scriptures were given to us a means to that end. For when all is said and done, when the dust settles, it is the eternally incarnate Son of God who lies behind the hauntingly inescapable question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question we must answer, with our words and with our lives. There is no neutral ground.

No, Christians don’t have only statements and creeds on which to stand. We stand on holy ground, before a holy God. And how wonderful it is when the curtain is pulled back, and we see God for Who God truly is, and we are able to say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?”

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 279.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Beyond Thoughts

Ravi Z

I would like to begin by telling a story about an event that took place some years ago when I was beginning my studies, an event that has had a major impact on my approach to the ministry to this day. I had a neighbor who was deeply committed to a version of the New Age movement. He and I had many conversations about God in the course of several months. He was a highly educated man with a couple of PhDs to his name, and so he provided me with an opportunity to test my training. But the training I was receiving in apologetics was good, and I soon realized that I could not only answer the questions he was asking about my faith in God, I could also poke holes in his worldview in a way that forced him to check books out of the local library to try and put his worldview back together. And I was feeling very good about myself. I was actually getting it!

Finally I decided to challenge him to consider giving his life to Christ. His reaction surprised me; he did not seem to care at all about what I was telling him. So I said to him, can you please explain to me what is going on? You don’t seem to care about what I am telling you. His answer was even more baffling to me. He said to me, “Listening to you asking me to become a Christian is like listening to a naturalist asking me to become a naturalist.”

I said to him, “What in the world do you mean. I just asked you to consider giving your life to the God who created you, and you are accusing me of being an atheist? What do you mean?”

He said to me, “All you Christians have are statements and creeds. You think that if people accept those statements and creeds, everything will be okay. When I pray, I get in touch with powers that you know nothing about.”

And that was one of the most convicting things anyone has ever said to me. Because what this man was saying to me was essentially this: “Yes, you can say a lot of very convincing things about your faith, but does your faith really rise beyond well-argued propositions?”

In his book, Beyond Opinion, Ravi Zacharias says that the greatest obstacle to the reception of the Gospel is not its inability to provide answers; it is the failure on the part of Christians to live it out. J. I. Packer writes similarly in his classic book, entitled, Knowing God: “From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture… it is tragic that….so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.”(1)

Whatever your position of faith, it is helpful to occasionally step back and ask a similar question of priority. Whatever your calling in life, what is the ultimate goal of all that you do?

The Bible addresses this question in many places, in both the Old and New Testaments, but none so much as in the person of Christ himself. If there is a message we hear loudest in his coming to earth it is this. The primary call of God is to know God, to be near God, not to serve God or to argue on God’s behalf. The end is knowing God. Even the scriptures were given to us a means to that end. For when all is said and done, when the dust settles, it is the eternally incarnate Son of God who lies behind the hauntingly inescapable question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question we must answer, with our words and with our lives. There is no neutral ground.

No, Christians don’t have only statements and creeds on which to stand. We stand on holy ground, before a holy God. And how wonderful it is when the curtain is pulled back, and we see God for Who God truly is, and we are able to say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?”

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 279.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Surprised by Time

Ravi Z

Have you ever noticed how often we are surprised by the passing of time? Do you catch yourself with the familiar maxim on your mind, “Time flies!” or perhaps another version of the same: “Where did the summer go?” “I can’t believe it’s already September.” Or maybe you recall the last time you noticed a child’s height or age or maturity with some genuine sense of disbelief.

Isn’t it odd to be so poorly reconciled to something so familiar, to be shocked at a universal experience? C.S. Lewis likened this phenomenon to a fish repeatedly astonished by the wetness of water. Adding with his characteristic cleverness, “This would be strange indeed! Unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”(1)

As we consider the idea of time itself, seconds on the clock faithfully pass even as we ponder. All the same, we recognize that time is not just a fleeting thing. As Ravi Zacharias notes, “[Time] never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart—sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vice grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound. But always an imprint.”(2) To be sure, the most profound imprints hold in our minds a definite place in history—the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, occasions of exceptional joy or beauty, moments of unusual pain. But isn’t there sometimes a sense that they also hold something more? In such moments, we are touched by the reality of the thing itself, a meaning that is bigger than this very moment. We walk beyond the brush strokes of time to find a glimpse of a canvas that makes our usual view seem like paint-by-number. Some of these moments seem to hold the stirring thought that eternity will be the vantage point from which we see the big picture.

Those who challenge the notion of eternity claim that it is a human invention, like religion itself, created to soften what we do not understand, to undermine the painfulness of life, to release us from the finality of death. As scientist Carl Sagan writes, “If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote…Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”(3)

Even as I give this quote some thought, my mind returns to the crematory disaster that touched the headlines across the U.S. some years ago. Few could overlook the unfathomable outrage. Over 300 bodies were carelessly discarded around the woods and lakes of the property, bodies that should have been cremated but for whatever reason were not. Deceitfully, families were handed containers holding cement or burned wood in place of a loved one’s ashes. Across the nation, people commonly noted that they felt somehow violated by this act of sheer irreverence to the dead, whether they knew them or not. In fact, at the time laws against such matters did not even exist. Who would have thought them necessary? Yet few denied that these were crimes against both the living and the dead.

But why? If we our origins are so humble and we are destined for nothing more, if we are merely a collocation of time and atoms and accident, why would we sense that something sacred had been desecrated? Why would we be astonished at such a treatment of the dead if life itself is nothing permanent?

I think we are outraged because quite certainly, something substantial was trampled on indeed. In a lifetime, we see countless glimpses of it. We remember sacred moments in time, and we understand human life to have intrinsic dignity and worth, even when our philosophies say otherwise. Note that no one asked the names, occupations, race, or accomplishments of any of the victims. Our dignity is not assigned because of who we are, nor worth due to something we have accomplished.

The Christian story makes the very robust, central claim that humankind is significant because God is significant, the Son of God choosing not only to fashion all of creation but to become one with it, taking on humanity himself. Perhaps there is a sacredness about life and death because the eternal author of time has come so near to it. Our surprise at time’s passing and our outrage at life—and death’s—violation are indeed thoroughly strange, unless God is vicariously involved in both our origin and our destiny.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Orlando: Harcourt, 1986), 138.

(2) Ravi Zacharias, The Lotus and the Cross (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2001), 16.

(3) Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (London: Headline, 1997), 204.

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Disappointment and God

Ravi Z

I struggled as a teenager growing up in Delhi. Failure was writ large on my life. My dad basically looked at me and said, “You know, you’re going to be a huge embarrassment to the family—one failure after another.” And he was right given the way I was headed. I wanted to get out of everything I was setting my hand to, and I lacked discipline.

During this time, India was at war and the defense academy was looking for general duties pilots to be trained. So I applied and I went to be interviewed, which involved an overnight train journey from the city of Delhi. It was wintertime and we were outside freezing for about five days as we went through physical endurance and other tests. There were three hundred applicants; they were going to select ten. On the last day they put their selection of names out on the board, and I was positioned number three.

I phoned my family and said, “You aren’t going to believe this. I’m going to make it. I’m number three. The only thing that’s left is the interview. The psychological testing is tomorrow, and I’ll be home.”

The next morning I began my interview with the chief commanding officer, who looked to me like Churchill sitting across the table. He asked me question after question. Then he said, “Son, I’m going to break your heart today.” He continued, “I’m going to reject you. I’m not going to pass you in this test.”

“May I ask you why, sir?” I replied.

“Yes. Psychologically, you’re not wired to kill. And this job is about killing.”

I felt that I was on the verge of wanting to prove him wrong—but I knew better, both for moral reasons and for his size! I went back to my room and didn’t talk to anybody. I packed my bags, got into the train, and arrived in Delhi. My parents and friends were waiting at the platform with garlands and sweets in their hands to congratulate me. No one knew. I thought to myself, “How do I even handle this? Where do I even begin?” They were celebrating, and yet for me, it was all over.

Or so I thought.

I was to discover later that God is the Grand Weaver of our lives. Every thread matters and is there for a purpose. Had I been selected, I would have had to commit twenty years to the Indian armed forces. It was the very next year that my father had the opportunity to move to Canada. My brother and I moved there as the first installment, and the rest of them followed. It was there I was in business school and God redirected my path to theological training. It was there that I met my wife, Margie; there my whole life changed. The rest is history. Had I been in the Indian Air Force, who knows what thread I’d have pulled to try to wreck the fabric.

Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and God has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our lives. It’s hard to understand at the time. Not one of us says, “I can hardly wait to see where this thread is going to fit.”  Rather, we say, “This is not the pattern I want.” Yet one day the Shepherd of our souls will put it all together—and give us an eternity to revel in the marvel of what God has done. Our Father holds the threads of the design, and I’m so immensely grateful that God is the Grand Weaver.

Excerpted and adapted from Ravi Zacharias’s The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Pictures of a Soul

Ravi Z

In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde describes an exceptionally handsome young man so captivating that he drew the awe-stricken adulation of a great artist. The artist asked him to be the subject of a portrait for he had never seen a face so attractive and so pure. When the painting was completed, young Dorian became so enraptured by his own looks that he wistfully intoned how wonderful it would be if he could live any way he pleased but that no disfigurement of a lawless lifestyle would mar the picture of his own countenance. If only the portrait would grow old and he himself could remain unscathed by time and way of life. In Faustian style he was willing to trade his soul for that wish.

One day, alone and pensive, Dorian went up to the attic and uncovered the portrait that he had kept hidden for so many years, only to be shocked by what he saw. Horror, hideousness, and blood marred the portrait.

The charade came to an end when the artist himself saw the picture. It told the story. He pled with Dorian to come clean, saying, “Does it not say somewhere, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’?” But in a fit of rage to silence this voice of conscience, Dorian grabbed a knife and killed the artist.

There was now only one thing left for him to do; he took the knife to remove the only visible reminder of his wicked life. But the moment he thrust the blade into the canvas, the portrait returned to its pristine beauty, while Dorian lay stabbed to death on the floor. The ravages that had marred the picture now so disfigured him that even his servants could no longer recognize him.

What a brilliant illustration of how a soul, though invisible, can nonetheless be tarnished. I wonder, if there were to be a portrait of my soul or your soul, how would it best be depicted? Does not the conscience sting, when we think in these terms? Though we have engineered many ways of avoiding physical consequences, how does one cleanse the soul?

Today we find a limitless capacity to raise the question of evil as we see it outside ourselves, but often hold an equal unwillingness to address the evil within us. I once sat on the top floor of a huge corporate building owned by a very successful businessman. Our entire conversation revolved around his reason for unbelief: that there was so much darkness and corruption in this world and a seemingly silent God. Suddenly interrupting the dialogue, a friend of mine said to him, “Since evil troubles you so much, I would be curious to know what you have done with the evil you see within you.” There was red-faced silence.

We too, face Dorian Gray’s predicament. Sooner or later, a duplicitous life reveals the cost. The soul is not forever invisible. But there is one who can cleanse and restore us. The Christian way gives us extraordinary insight into this subject of our soul-struggle, as God deals with the heart of the issue one life at a time. Indeed, in the words of the prophet Isaiah to which Oscar Wilde alluded: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (1:18).  God upholds the solution asking only that we come “willing and obedient,” ready to “come and wash” (1:19,16). So come, willingly and obediently, and find God’s rejoinder to the marred portraits within. The greatest artist of all speaks even today.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Think Again – The Marks of Love

Ravi Z

Ravi Zacharias on June 20, 2014

Years ago I was given the great privilege to be in Shanghai in the home of the famed Chinese evangelist Wang Ming Dao. He told us that he was put in prison for his faith in Jesus Christ, but he soon renounced his faith and was released from his imprisonment. Thereafter, he says, he lived with such torment of his soul that he walked the streets of Beijing saying, “My name is Peter; my name is Peter. I’ve denied my Lord.” Soon, Mao Zedong put him back into prison—this time for eighteen years. Wang Ming Dao said every day in prison he woke up and sang the hymn by the hymn writer Fanny Crosby,

 

All the way my Savior leads me;

What have I to ask beside?

Can I doubt his tender mercy,

Who through life has been my guide?

Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,

Here by faith in Him to dwell!

For I know whate’er befall me,

Jesus doeth all things well.

 

At first the guards tried to silence him. When they weren’t able to succeed, they resignedly put up with his singing. Gradually, as the years went by, they would gather near the opening to his cell to listen as he sang of God’s faithfulness to him. Eventually, they began to ask him to sing to them and to teach them the words of the song. Such is the impact of one who walks faithfully with God.

Many years earlier as a young man trying to come to terms with God’s call in ministry, I stood by a garbage dump in Ban Me Thuot, Vietnam: it was the grave of six missionaries martyred in the Tet Offensive of 1968. All alone, I pondered the price they had paid for following Christ. I asked myself whether any of them would have answered God’s call on their lives if they had known that their lives would end in a garbage dump. God knows our frailties; how loving of Him that He does not allow us to know the future. I prayed there by that grave that God would make me faithful so that I would not focus on the cost, but rather, keep my eyes on the mission to serve Christ with all my heart, soul, and mind, and on the sweetness of the walk with Him, day by day.

The Bible speaks of many who suffered on behalf on the gospel who were unwilling to abandon the precious faith entrusted to them. Consider the apostle Paul, who knew intimately what it was to write, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Think of the stoning of Stephen and the heartache endured by those recorded in Hebrews 11. Furthermore, eleven of Jesus’s twelve disciples died a martyr’s death; not one of them anticipated how they would die when they came to him. If they had known where following Jesus would lead them, one wonders whether any of them would have started on the journey, for as they proved later, they were not particularly brave men.

And yet, faithfulness over the long run is the shining example of what faith is meant to be. The story of the gospel in China is only one recent example. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong burned the seminary libraries, expelled Christians from the country, and declared that the name of Jesus would never be pronounced on Chinese lips again. He tried to bury the Christian faith completely. Today, the Chinese church is the fastest growing church in the world.

Many, many times I have looked back at my own journey. Had I known the cost it would exact, I am absolutely positive that at the very least I would have had grave reservations and trembled at stepping onto the road. What I have concluded is this: The greatest of loves will often come at the greatest of costs. We may never be imprisoned for our faith, but what one deems to be of ultimate value exacts a cost in proportion.

I have a friend who spoke to me of how difficult it was for him when he finally learned the heavy cost of his sin through the forgiveness extended to him. He had betrayed his wife and family and lived through the pain of asking for forgiveness and rebuilding that trust. Somehow over a period of time he assumed that even for them, the hurt was mended and the past expunged from their memory. One day he returned home from work early in the afternoon, just to get a break. Unaware that he was home, his wife was on her knees crying out to God to help her forget the pain she and her children were bearing. It was a rude awakening to him of the cost of his sin and of his family’s sacrificial love. Now multiply that wrong by a limitless number and you will get a glimpse of what Christ bore on the cross for you and for me.

The greatest of loves will never come cheaply. The greatest of loves that you and I can ever experience is an intimate relationship with God, who has given everything for us. And yes, sometimes, it takes everything you’ve got to honor that love and it takes everything you’ve got to honor that trust. Look at any athletes who have succeeded. Discipline and perseverance are indispensable parts of their lives unless they cheat. When you have discipline, you have the marks on the body to demonstrate it.

There is always the temptation to misjudge the cost halfway through the journey. God reminds us again and again that the true measure of gain is only calibrated at the destination. That is why even Moses, when he asked how he would know that God had called him, was told, “When you get there you will know it.” That’s not the answer he wanted but that was the profound lesson he learned.

Fanny Crosby, bearing the marks of blindness in infancy by a traveling doctor’s questionable treatment, sang of God’s faithfulness and love to her dying day—and saw the end with the eyes of her soul:

 

All the way my Savior leads me,

Cheers each winding path I tread;

Gives me grace for every trial,

Feeds me with the living Bread.

Though my weary steps may falter,

And my soul athirst may be,

Gushing from the Rock before me,

Lo! A spring of joy I see.

 

That may be why, even in singing the hymn, the last two lines are repeated: “Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! A spring of joy I see.”

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A NOBLE FOUR LETTER WORD

Ravi Z

by Ravi Zacharias on June 12, 2014

My father-in-law had a great impact on my life. He was father to four daughters and always considered me the son he never had. We were quite close and the world lost a great person when he passed away in 2005.

One of our last few conversations before he died took place as we sat across the dining table from each other at his home in Toronto. He had been diagnosed with cancer and was given no more than a few weeks to live. It came as a shock to him and to us. In this, one of our “farewell” conversations, I’ll never forget a particular word he used because he used it often in moments of reflection.

A little background will help. When the Second World War began, he dutifully enlisted to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a navigator. He navigated brilliantly by the stars. He served his country and a cause for the world with duty and honor at a perilous time in history. His use of that word “duty” epitomized his own life.

I heard him utter it again as he faced death. He was downcast as he worried that he had not left his finances in better shape for his wife. The truth is that he had provided for her, but with his sudden diagnosis, he suddenly felt so uncertain about it all. I said to him, “Please don’t worry about it, Dad…we’ll be there to take care of her.” He paused, overwhelmed by the weight of the limited time left to him, and said in somber tones, “But it was my duty to do so…” and the tears ran down his face.

There was that word: “duty.” In fact, I almost never heard him speak publicly without somehow bringing it in as a reminder to his audience. He would often quote Lord Nelson’s famous call to his countrymen before the battle of Trafalgar, “England expects every man to do his duty.” So prone was my father-in-law to quote that line that when he wrote his first book, about six hundred pages in length, I asked him with an amused expression, “Where in the book is Nelson’s line?” He looked so sheepish and dodged the question, so I opened the book and there it was: the opening line of the first chapter. I smiled and applauded that he had made my search so easy.

Duty. The two extremes towards this call miss the mark. The materially minded don’t like the word because they think it somehow handcuffs us—why place a burden of compliance that is self-made and mere convention, they insinuate. That venting is understandable, because materialists often miss the essence of many things as they go for form rather than substance. The spiritually minded don’t like the word very much either because they think it diminishes a greater demand, the demand of love. They mangle the form by isolating the substance. Their mistake is in putting asunder what God has joined together.

In his conclusion to the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that “the whole duty of man is to fear God and to keep his commandments.” So I ask, is it one’s duty to keep the commandments? Yes, indeed. Jesus positioned two commandments as the greatest: to love God and to love our fellow human beings. Making the love of God and of man our duty is surely not making them opposite sentiments.

Whatever the reasons, we are discomfited by the multiple illustrations of failure to do one’s duty that are everywhere, from political leadership to academic responsibility, and so often in the place of the arts. Offices of responsibility are more often sought for the power they bring, rather than for love of duty. Educators think character can be ignored in favor of letters against their names. In the world of entertainment, programs are aired with monetary goals in mind rather than for building up that which is good. Perish the thought that television executives might bear a responsibility to society! The living color that brings entertainment to us reflects only the color of green to its purveyors…dollars that can sacrifice sense. But that’s another topic for another day.

The worst effect from the failure to do our duty is evidenced in the home. The situation is dire. I know of those who have walked away from their wives and children and even their grandchildren to pursue selfish ambition. I find that heart-wrenching. I have seen those grandchildren longing to see their grandfather but he’s not there. He has turned his back on the minimal requirement of love: his duty.

Those who walk away with such callousness think duty and love are at odds because they often subsume love under their own personal need and ignore the greater commitment of duty. That misreading has cost our society so much. China flirted with a one-child policy and realized a generation later the costly mistake they had made in raising a whole generation of children with no siblings. How much more costly is it that multitudes are raised with no father?

What is scary about this scenario as I write about it is that to even address the need for a father is to run the risk of being accused of making a veiled attack on the culture of progressive thinking. That is not the point I am making. I am simply acknowledging that many men over the years have opted for selfishness over duty, for professional accolades over nurture, for image rather than substance, for temporal gain over an eternally defined profit, for sitting in the board room rather than standing by a crib. There is the old saying that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. We are seeing now that the cradle is ruling the world as we rock ourselves into the arrogant belief that not only is an earthly father unnecessary, there is no need for a heavenly Father either.

Contrast these two stories: Some years ago, an Air Canada flight from Dallas to Toronto met with an emergency. A fire had broken out in mid-flight in one of the restrooms. The pilot began a dramatic and sudden descent, knowing he had but a few moments to land if any were to survive. He descended at a furious speed and when he touched down emergency crews were on hand. As soon as they opened the door for rescue, the whole aircraft, sucking in the oxygen, turned into an inferno. There were some fatalities and some suffered burns, but because of his skill and the crew’s commitment, many were rescued. The captain was the last one to leave the burning airplane as he was literally pulled through the window with his uniform afire. It was a story of skill and heroism, and the captain deserved the tearful and heart-filled commendation he received as someone who had done his duty.

Switch scenarios. We move to April 2014. A ferry in Seoul, South Korea, capsizes and a large number of passengers are killed, most of them high school students who, waiting for instructions to abandon ship that never came, were swallowed up by the water and drowned.

 

One of the reasons the instructions never came is that the captain himself had fled the sinking ship and made sure he was safe on dry ground. The chorus of condemnation from the loved ones of those lost, tormented because of a captain who betrayed his trust, is not surprising. The teacher who had organized the trip took his own life, feeling that he had no right to be alive while most of his students perished. Even the prime minister of South Korea offered to resign because of the ripple effect of the tragedy. No celebration here, no commendation of a brave man; just a series of wrong decisions that resulted in the ultimate wrong decision of a man who put himself first and failed to do his duty.

Duty is the handmaiden of love and honor. It is doing that which is right rather than that which is convenient. In fact, failure of duty generally amputates somebody else’s right. Duty recognizes a cause greater than one’s self. As men and as fathers we have a duty before God and man to do what is right, honorable, and sacrificial.

On this occasion of Father’s Day, I call upon every man to do his duty: his duty to those who are in his care and his duty toward whatever task is in his trust, regardless of the personal cost. I pause, myself, to reflect upon ways in which I could have served my family better. I wish I had done that in more ways than I did. Watching our children live out their lives for God is a thrill that cannot be gainsaid.

My concern at this stage is for our youth. They live in a world akin to a tantalizing buffet line of seductions. How do they have the wisdom that enables restraint and discipline? Institutions seem accountable to nobody but themselves. That needed wisdom must come from within the home. That’s where instruction and the impartation of love, responsibility, and duty must begin. This will be a far better world if every man would do his duty to our young.

The hymn writer put it well:

Put on the Gospel armor

and watching unto prayer,

When duty calls, or danger,

be never wanting there.

(Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus)

My father-in-law was that kind of man and that’s why his last words at the end of his life were incredible. As he neared death, with his wife and children standing by his bedside, he uttered two statements. Looking toward the heavens he said, “Amazing, just amazing!” Turning to his wife of 62 years, he said, “Jean, I love you.” Those were his last words before meeting his heavenly Father.

Love had at last wedded beauty to duty, the enrichment of the here and the enchantment of the hereafter. It was the finest and the most soul-affirming of farewells. Doing your duty before God and man is ultimately welcomed in the embrace of love and commendation from whom it really matters. What more could a wife and children have asked for?

God places before us a call to the most rewarding service:  to love that knows its responsibility and that will reap the fitting reward of children who honor their parents. Out of such homes society can build a better future. That in itself would truly be amazing. To be sure, the path to that end is fraught with obstacles, perils, disappointments, and heartaches. But we cannot fail in our duty. The first step is defining, that we might know God who sent his Son who, in turn, fulfilled his duty and laid down his life so that you and I might know the love of our heavenly Father. Duty and love came from heaven to earth so that earth might reflect that splendor.

Happy Father’s Day, Gentlemen. And to families that are missing their father today, my prayers are especially for you. May God our heavenly Father be your strength.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Point of Exclusion

Ravi Z

With the numerous religions in the world, how can Christians claim exclusivity? I am often asked this question in different settings. But I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the Christian faith is the only one that seems to have this question posed. The truth is that every major religion in the world claims exclusivity, and every major religion in the world has a point of exclusion.

Hinduism, for example, is often represented as being the most tolerant and accepting of other faiths. That is just not true. All Hindus believe in two fundamental, uncompromising doctrines—the Law of Karma, and the belief in reincarnation. These will not be surrendered. In fact, Buddhism was born out of the rejection of two other very dogmatic claims of Hinduism. Buddha rejected the authority of the vedas and the caste system of Hinduism. The issue here is not who was right or wrong. The truth is that they were systemically different—both claiming rightness.

Islam, as you know, is very clearly an exclusive claim to God. A Muslim will never tell you that it doesn’t matter what you believe or that all religions are true.

But before we get upset with such claims, let us remember that it is the very nature of truth that presents us with this reality. Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.

So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Commanding Mystery

Ravi Z

Today the Queen of England will host the Royal Maundy Service at Blackburn Cathedral. She will be carrying out the annual tradition held each year on the Thursday before Easter, handing out 88 coins, to mark her age, to men and women in recognition of their service to their community and church.

For those who first experienced the events that would become the stuff of tradition, the day was indeed eventful.The word Maundy, derived from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning commandment, hastens the words of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper:

“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”(1)

It was the day the disciples received the command to love and had their feet washed by Jesus. Though perhaps in hindsight, it was the day they first saw the connection between the Passover sacrifice, their beloved teacher, and the Lamb of God. It was a day their eyes were particularly roused by the uniqueness of the humanity before them, their minds filled with history, prophecy, tradition—and mystery.

As author Annie Dillard once observed, “We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery.”(2)

In fact, Jesus is a mystery that has unarguably shaped all of history. A 1936 Life magazine article on the life of Jesus noted, “Jesus gave history a new beginning. In every land he is at home: everywhere people think his face is like their best face—and like God’s face. His birthday is kept across the world. His death-day has set a gallows across every city skyline. Who is he?”(3) The mystery of Christ, his life, death, and influence is both unmatched and unsearchable. Even Napoleon, in a conversation while imprisoned at St. Helena, acknowledged in Jesus “a mystery which subsists”: “He exhibited in himself the perfect example of his precepts… Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires, but upon what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”(4)

But who is this vicariously human, divine mystery behind these concentrated words? I can think of no better question to ask on Maundy Thursday. And yet, as Ravi Zacharias states, the precursor to the answer is the intent of the questioner. Magazine articles and television programming and new books by popular antagonists may reflect curiosity in the man the world remembers this week, but do we want to know who Jesus was, who he is, beyond the philosophical exercise?

Perhaps that first Maundy Thursday, just before the Passover Feast, just a day before Jesus was betrayed, is a revealing scene for the honest inquirer of his identity. The story is recounted in the Gospel of John.(5) Jesus looks at his disciples, his friends, those who would soon deny even knowing him, those who even so, he would love to the end. And standing with those men, knowing the weight of the darkness before him, he took a towel and a basin and began to wash their feet.

It was a lowly job—and an oft-recurring job due to sandals and dusty streets. It was a job for a servant. But here, the menial task was instead performed by the master, their teacher, the Messiah they hoped would save them with force but instead would die on a Roman cross.

The mysterious truth of Christ’s identity is this jarring humanity of an Incarnate Son who still does what is analogous to washing soiled feet: with our deepest sorrows, our sorriest actions, our small attempts at being human.  Might we wake again and again to the enormity of Christ, human and divine—royalty stooping down to serve.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) John 13:34.

(2) Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, (New York:  HarperPerennial, 1998), 4.

(3) George Buttrick, “The Life of Jesus Christ,” Life, December 28, 1936, 49.

(4) Napoleon I, “Napoleon’s Argument for the Divinity of Christ,” Evans & Cogswell, No. 3, Charleston, 1861.

(5) John 13:1-17.

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Scandal of the Cross

Ravi Z

There is a striking verse in the New Testament, in which the apostle Paul refers to the cross of Jesus Christ as foolishness to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jew. One can readily understand why he would say that. After all, to the Greek mind, sophistication, philosophy, and learning were exalted pursuits. How could one crucified possibly spell knowledge?

To the Jewish mind, on the other hand, there was a cry and a longing to be free. In their history, they had been attacked by numerous powers and often humiliated by occupying forces. Whether it was the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans, Jerusalem had been repeatedly plundered and its people left homeless. What would the Hebrew have wanted more than someone who could take up their cause and altogether repel the enemy? How could a Messiah who was crucified possibly be of any help?

To the Greek, the cross was foolishness. To the Jew, it was a stumbling block. What is it about the cross of Christ that so roundly defies everything that power relishes? Crucifixion was humiliating. It was so humiliating that the Romans who specialized in the art of torture assured their own citizenry that a Roman could never be crucified. But not only was it humiliating, it was excruciating. In fact, the very word “excruciating” comes from two Latin words: ex cruciatus, or out of the cross. Crucifixion was the defining word for pain.

Does that not give us pause in this season now before us? Think of it: humiliation and agony. This was the path Jesus chose with which to reach out for you and for me. You see, this thing we call sin, but which we so tragically minimize, breaks the grandeur for which we were created. It brings indignity to our essence and pain to our existence. It separates us from God.

On the way to the cross two thousand years ago, Jesus took the ultimate indignity and the ultimate pain to bring us back to the dignity of a relationship with God and the healing of our souls. Will you remember that this was done for you and receive his gift?

You will then discover that it is sin that is foolishness. Our greatest weakness is not an enemy from without but one from within. It is our own weak wills that cause us to stumble. But Jesus Christ frees us from the foolishness of sin and the weakness of our selves.

This is the very reason the apostle Paul went on to say that he preached Jesus Christ as one crucified, which was both the power of God and the wisdom of God. Come to the cross in these days given for our contemplation and find out this scandalous, mysterious, all-reaching power and wisdom.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

 

Ravi Zacharias – The Most Difficult Questions

Ravi Z

Out of the scores of letters that I have received over the years, one in particular stands out. The writer simply asked, “Why has God made it so difficult to believe in him? If I loved somebody and had infinite power, I would use that power to show myself more obviously. Why has God made it so difficult to see his presence and his plan?” It is a powerful question that is both felt and intellectual at the same time. One might say, “Why is God so hidden?” The question ultimately gains momentum and parks itself in our heart’s genuine search for meaning, belongingness, and relationship to our own creator.

I recall the restlessness and turning point of my own life. I had come to believe that life had no meaning. Nothing seemed to connect. When still in my teens, I found myself lying in a hospital bed after an attempted suicide. The struggle for answers when met by despair led me along that tragic path. But there in my hospital room the Scriptures were brought and read to me. For the first time I engaged the direct answers of God to my seeking heart. The profound realization of the news that God could be known personally drew me, with sincerity and determination, to plumb the depths of that claim. With a simple prayer of trust, in that moment, the change from a desperate heart to one that found the fullness of meaning became a reality for me.

The immediate change was in the way I saw God’s handiwork in ways I had never seen before. The marvel of discovering even splendor in the ordinary was the work of God in my heart. Over a period of time, I was able to study, pursue, and understand how to respond to more intricate questions of the mind.

That divine encounter of coming to know Him brought meaning and made answers reachable. I believe God intervenes in each of our lives. He speaks to us in different ways and at different times so that we may know that it is He who is the author of our very personality; that his answers are both propositional and relational (and sometimes in reverse order); that his presence stills the storms of the heart.

Oddly enough, in history, the most questioning and the resistant became God’s mouthpieces to skeptics. Consider Peter, Paul, and Thomas—just to name a few. They questioned, they wrestled, they challenged. But once convinced, they spoke and wrote and persuaded people in the most stubborn of circumstances. That is why they willingly paid the ultimate price, even as they sought God’s power and presence in those “dark nights of the soul.”

In the end, in the face of difficult questions, the answers that are given and received must be both felt and real, with the firm knowledge that God is nearer than one might think. Yes, the Scriptures reveal, as many can attest, that this assurance of nearness sometimes comes at a cost, like any relationship of love and commitment. But God is grander than any wondrous sight we may behold and the answer to every heart’s deepest question.

The final consummation of that glimpse is yet future. I firmly believe as the apostle Paul declared—that “eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Then we shall see, not darkly, but face to face. That is when the soul will feel the ultimate touch, and the silence will be one of knowing with awesome wonder. The only thing we would want hidden is how blind we were.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God and Pain

Ravi Z

The difficult question of pain forms a thorny question on which volumes have been written. Why do the innocent suffer? Why do we face all these diseases? Why the suffering of millions because of natural disasters or the tyranny of demagogues? I do not pretend to have the answers, but one thing I know: pain is a universal fact of life. Likewise, there are moral dimensions in the way we phrase our questions concerning pain, and every religion explicitly or implicitly attempts to explain pain.

But why do we even ask these questions about suffering within the context of morality? Why have we blended the fact of physical pain with the demand for a moral explanation? Who decided that pain is immoral? Indeed, almost every atheist or skeptic you read names this as the main reason for his or her denial of God’s existence.

In the Judeo-Christian framework, pain is connected to the reality of evil and to the choices made by humanity at the beginning of time. The problem of pain and the problem of evil are inextricably bound. So when we assume evil, we assume good. When we assume good, we assume a moral law. And when we assume a moral law, we assume a moral law-giver.

You may ask, Why does assuming a moral law necessitate a moral lawgiver? Because every time the question of evil is raised, it is either by a person or about a person—and that implicitly assumes that the question is a worthy one. But it is a worthy question only if people have intrinsic worth, and the only reason people have intrinsic worth is that they are the creations of One who is of ultimate worth. That person is God. So the question self-destructs for the naturalist or the pantheist. The question of the morality of evil or pain is valid only for a theist.

And only in Christian theism is love preexistent within the Trinity, which means that love precedes human life and becomes the absolute value for us. This absolute is ultimately found only in God, and in knowing and loving God we work our way through the struggles of pain, knowing of its ultimate connection to evil and its ultimate destruction by the One who is all-good and all-loving; who in fact has given us the very basis for the words good and love both in concept and in language.

Not far from my home lives a young woman who was born with a very rare disease called CIPA, congenital insensitivity to pain with anhydrosis. Imagine having a body that looks normal and acts normally, except for one thing: You cannot feel physical pain. That sounds as if it would be a blessing. But the reason it’s a problem is that she lives under the constant threat of injuring herself without knowing it. If she steps on a rusty nail that could infect her bloodstream, she wouldn’t even realize it by sensation. If she placed her hand on a burning stove, she would not know she had just burned her hand except by looking at it. She needs constant vigilance because she could sustain an injury that could take her life or cause serious debilitation. When her family was interviewed some years ago, the line I most remember is the closing statement by her mother. She said, “I pray every night for my daughter, that God would give her a sense of pain.”

If that statement were read in a vacuum, we would wonder what sort of mother she is. But because more than anyone else she understands the risks of this strange disease, there is no greater prayer she can pray than that her daughter feel pain and be able to recognize what it portends.

I ask you this simple question: If, in our finitude, we can appreciate the value of pain in even one single life, is it that difficult to grant the possibility that an infinite God can use pain to point us to a greater malady? We see through a glass darkly because all we want is to be comfortable. We cannot understand the great plan of an all-knowing God who brings us near through the value of pain—or of disappointment with pleasure.

And yet the very thing that enslaves and traps us becomes the indicator of our need for God and the means to draw us to the recognition of our own finitude and to the rescuing grace of God. The pain of pain may well clasp the lifesaving hand of God and draw us into God’s arms.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

 

Ravi Zacharias – Will and Impulse

Ravi Z

Author Daniel Goleman wrote a best-selling book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence. He begins that book with the heart-stirring story of Gary and Mary Jean Chauncey who were in the Amtrak train that went down over a bridge into swirling waters which swallowed up the lives of many. They themselves were trapped in their compartment as they tried desperately to save their eleven year-old wheelchair ridden daughter Andrea. They succeeded in saving her life, and they did so at the cost of their own.

In describing this noble act, Goleman points out that such emotionally charged moments do not give birth to impulse in a vacuum, but rather it is the outworking of a commitment to certain values and truths already made in one’s life. I believe Goleman is right in this sense. What is most obvious in the love and commitment of these parents to their young one is that passionate commitments never stand alone; they stand on the foundation of a worldview.

I mention this holding thought of many wars and much heartache around the globe, killings, insurgencies, and other manmade devastations. We shake our heads in disbelief that murderous and cruel individuals can masquerade throughout the world as heroes and saviors. They are not. They are destroyers of lives, addicted to hate and power. The truth is that many have wedded hate to their own selfish wills, and once hate lives in the human heart reason dies.

In fact, this is why Jesus said that it is not murder that is the crime; it is hate, the foundation where it all begins. He said that it is not adultery that makes a relationship wrong; it is the lust from where it all begins. You see, our actions do not come just by impulse. They come by a system of values to which our lives are deeply committed. Murderers and masterminds of violence and oppression are rarely emotionally deranged people; they are morally perverted. Their thinking is destructive and their emotions follow.

There is a simple lesson here. We must learn to think righteously if we are to act righteously. We must think justly and honorably and mercifully if we are to act with goodness and honor and mercy. And for this kind of strength, only God’s power is big enough. I hope your life and mine can learn to think God’s thoughts. Only then can hate be conquered and life be lived with truth and love.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.