Tag Archives: Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Estranged

In the eyes of an eight-year-old, the most wonderful thing about Lake Michigan was grandpa’s boat. Sailing was a love of his and I was a glad participant. A particularly rare treat was spending the night on the boat, gently being rocked to sleep by the bobbing waves and steady clanking of metal against mast. My grandpa tried to show me the Milky Way, directing my eyes by way of the North Star. He told us the meaning of the boat’s name, a word that sounded funny at the time. “Nomad,” he said, “is the word for a wanderer, a drifting, homeless traveler.” Feeling like the darkened sky could swallow me up in seconds, under the stars, I felt the same.

One of the things I am comforted by in the Christian religion is the insistence that I am a wanderer, a stranger in a foreign and yet familiar land. “Hear my prayer, O LORD,” pleads the psalmist, “and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears.” In the book of Hebrews, amongst the testimonies of those who have lived and died, we are told that besides having in common a life of faith, these men and women had in common the suspicion that they were people living as aliens, journeying toward the very God who makes home home. “All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.”(1)

In his book Reaching Out, author Henri Nouwen defines a stranger as someone who is “estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and from God.”(2) There are perhaps few of us who cannot find ourselves within that definition in some way each day. At the sound of breaking news, in the silence of anguished prayer, in the distraction that consumes years, there is a sense of alienation that wells up within us. Longing for promises in the distance, we wait estranged and encouraged by the hope that all is not yet as it will be.

Along the road to Emmaus, Jesus walked with two of his disciples who did not recognize him. On their way, the disciples talked about the events that gripped them with confusion and sorrow: their crucified leader, their lost hope, the ‘idle tale’ of an empty tomb. The one who traveled with them talked about the Scriptures, explaining events and promises down the centuries from Moses to the prophets. When they arrived, they invited him in to have a meal with them, and as he broke the bread, their eyes were opened: This stranger who walked with them was the one they knew. Home was once again in their midst.

On this road, there are always parts of ourselves that wander off with guilt or resentment, or get stuck somewhere on a tangent. But there is a great difference between wandering like a nomadic soul and walking as a stranger heightened by the hope that going home is a lifelong journey walked in thankful awareness of life with the Spirit. Often we are aware how long is the journey and how trying the conversations that must be had along the way. But we may find ourselves encouraged by fellow strangers in our midst. In the form of a tired traveler, Christ came to show us how to be human, how to find ourselves home again. As a stranger in a foreign land, salvation came searching for all who find themselves estranged.

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

(1) cf. Psalm 39:12, Hebrews 11:13.

(2) Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (New York: Doubleday, 1986), 49.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Man of Sorrows

“Prosperity, pleasure, and success may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things.”

Those are the words of the famed pleasure seeker, Oscar Wilde. In his De Profundis, written in prison, he wrote with profound earnestness about how much sorrow had taught him. He went on to add, “Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.”

As I reflect on those words, I take note first of the one who wrote them. A life of pain was the farthest thing from his mind when he made his choices. In that sense, none of us ever really choose sorrow. But I take note of something else in his words. His claim is bold; he is not merely confessing an idea written across his worldview, but one he insists is written across the world: Sorrow is holy ground and those who do not learn to walk there know nothing of what living means. What he means at the very least is that some of life’s most sacred truths are learned in the midst of sorrow. He learned, for example, that raw unadulterated pleasure for pleasure’s sake is never a fulfilling pleasure. Violation of the sacred in the pursuit of happiness is not truly a source of happiness. In fact, it kills happiness because it can run roughshod over many a victim. Pleasure that profanes is pleasure that destroys.

Sorrow on the other hand—while never pursued—comes into one’s life and compels us to see our own finitude and frailty. It demands of us seriousness and tenderness if we are to live life the way it is meant to be lived. One of the most important things sorrow does is to show us what it needs and responds to. Wilde said it himself: “Sorrow is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, though not in pain.”

Of all the descriptions given about Jesus, there is one that unabashedly stands out to confront us. It is a description uttered by the prophet Isaiah, prodding mind and heart at once: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3). Whether holding glimpses of global suffering or personal pain and loss, Isaiah’s is a fitting description to reflect upon.

Maybe you are at a time in your life when hurt is writ large upon your thoughts. Jesus is not unacquainted with your pain. In fact, he draws near particularly with a hand of love. Your wound may still bleed for a while to remind you of your weakness. But he can help carry the pain to carry you in strength. This could indeed be holy ground for you. It most certainly was for him.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – From the Fringes

Author A.J. Jacobs admits that he was agnostic before he even knew what the word meant. For all the good God seemed to invoke, the potential for abuse was far too high in his mind for God to be taken seriously. In a book exploring religion and religiousness, Jacobs describes an uncle who seemed to confirm this for him. Dabbling religiously in nearly every religion, his uncle went through a phase where he decided to take the Bible completely literally. Thus, heeding the Bible’s command in Deuteronomy 14:25 to secure money in one’s hand, he tied bills to his palms. Heeding the biblical command to wear fringes at the corners of one’s garment, he bought yarn from a kitting shop, made a bunch of tassels, and attached them to every corner he could find on his clothes.(1) While his uncle sought faithfulness to the letter, Jacobs was left with the impression that his uncle was “subtly dangerous.”

There are certainly sections of the Bible that when stripped of context and read in a lifeless vacuum can lead a mind to extremes. Like Jacobs, it is easy to conclude that religion and religiousness are completely ridiculous; or like his uncle, it is possible to assume complete literalism and run in ridiculous directions. The practice of making and wearing tassels on the corners of one’s garment, for instance, commanded in Numbers 15:37, is one such peculiar biblical decree easily dismissed in the name of reason or disemboweled in the name of faithfulness. Yet neither response truly yields an honest view of the command.

In fact, what seems an entirely curious fashion tip for the people of Israel was a common sight in many ancient Near Eastern cultures. Fringed garments were considered ornamental and illustrative of the owner; they were also were thought to hold certain spiritual significances.(2) In Assyria and Babylonia, for instance, fringes were believed to assure the wearer of the protection of the gods. Thus, God’s command of the Israelites to “make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations” took something familiar to the nations and gave it new significance for the nation God called his own. “39You will have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes” (Numbers 15:39). Like many of the commands and rituals described in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, the instruction of tassels is about remembrance. The perpetual presence of fringe and tassel was a tangible reminder that all of life, not only moments of piety or prayer, was an opportunity to be in the presence of God. To miss the rich substance of this divine petition is to miss it—and its petitioner—entirely.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Will To Do

The following is excerpted from Ravi Zacharias’s I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah(Nashville: W Publishing, 2004).

I have heard it said that the longest journey in life is from the head to the heart. Another way to say the same thing is that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Yet another aphorism of our time is that beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing. All of these point to one reality—our knowledge and our response are not always in keeping with each other. We seem to be inclined to separate what God intended to remain joined together.

Solomon proved this centuries ago. He made a fascinating statement in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He relates all the areas in which he searched for meaning—pleasure, riches, power, fame, and everything else one could imagine. Through all of these forays in a search for fulfillment, he says, “My wisdom stayed with me” (Ecclesiastes 2:9). How is that possible, we ask, when his day-to-day life was a colossal mess? I understand him to mean that in the midst of his duplicity, his theoretical knowledge of right and wrong never left him. He knew how to discern. But he was volitionally weak and unable to resist the tug of attraction into wrong behavior.

I have shared the following story many times over the years. Those from parts of the world where this is foreign shake their heads in disbelief, wondering how this can even be theoretically plausible, let alone practically workable. But read the reasoning first and then I will try to explain.

I give you an example of my older brother, who lives in Toronto, Canada. The story dates back to the late 1960s. At that time he was a systems engineer with IBM. Since that time, he has gone on to do several very impressive things in the world of computer software. In other words, he is mentally all right. He doesn’t have any major problem as far as his IQ is concerned. I say that because you may begin to wonder as I tell his story.

When he was in his mid-twenties, my brother came to my father and said, “You know, Dad, I’ve always maintained even when we were in India that I’m only going to marry the girl you choose for me. I guess I am ready now. Would you please begin a search for a girl for me to marry?”

I really didn’t believe he’d go through with it. We were living in Toronto, thousands of miles and a cultural planet away from the land of our birth. But this was his choice. He wanted my parents to help in “The Search.” My father and mother said, “Fine. Tell us the kind of young woman you’re looking for.” My brother gave his “ideal partner” speech and proceeded to describe the kind of person he would choose to marry.

Under normal circumstances, the parents would travel around and look for somebody that met the criteria, but in this instance my brother said to our father, “Look, you really don’t need to do that. Why don’t you just write to your sister in Bombay and let her do the groundwork? We’ll just correspond back and forth and take it from there.”

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – In Stone and Sand

Each of us, in an instant, can drudge up a snapshot of humanity at its worst. Images of genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Sudan come readily to mind. Other impressions are not far off: students planning deadly attacks at school, opportunists preying on the elderly, the greed that paved the Trail of Tears. They are visions that challenge the widespread hope that people are generally good, leaving in its wake the sinking feeling of human indecency. But ironically, such snapshots of humanity also seem to grant permission to distance ourselves from this depravity. Whether with theory or judgment, we place ourselves in different categories. Perhaps even unconsciously, we consider their inferior virtue, their primitive sense of morality, or their distinctively depraved character. And it is rare that we see the stones in our hands as a problem.

As Jesus stood with a girl at his feet in the middle of a group armed with rocks and morality, he crouched down in the sand and with his finger wrote something that caused a fuming crowd to drop their stones and a devastated girl to get up. No one knows what he wrote on the ground that day with the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery, and yet we often emerge from the story not with curiosity but with satisfaction. This public conviction of the Pharisees strikes most of us with the force of victory. Their air of superiority is palpable, and it is satisfying to picture them owning up to their own shortfall. If we imagine ourselves in the scene at all, it is most likely in a crumpled heap of shame with the woman at Jesus’s feet; it is rarely, if ever, with the Pharisees.

There are those who mock the idea of human depravity, insisting that it wastes our potential for good with unnecessary and demeaning guilt. According to Richard Dawkins, if God would just stop policing the world, then people would be good. But I suspect most of us recognize in ourselves the potential for something other than good, for greed or for cruelty, for vice just as easily as virtue. Even those who disapprove of the word “sin” have surely seen its expressions in their lives and in others. Looking below the surface of our good days or friendly moments, it is hard not to admit that who we really are at the heart of things—on bad days or even average days, when life runs amok or temptations overwhelm us—is complicated to say the very least. Thus, for most of us, it is not a giant mental leap to see ourselves in the adulterous woman.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Silence of God

Before coming to the narrative of Christ’s birth, there is a dramatic conversation which takes place between a priest called Zechariah and the angel Gabriel. One day Zechariah was serving in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.(1) Zechariah was very afraid but Gabriel spoke to him saying, “Do not be afraid. Your prayer has been heard.” Gabriel continued to tell Zechariah that he and his wife would have a son and they were to name him John. Ultimately, John would be the one to prepare people for the Lord Jesus.

Yet instead of rejoicing over the news brought to him from Gabriel, Zechariah objects, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Gabriel responds by explaining to Zechariah precisely to whom he is speaking and also cites the authority on which he bears this news:

“I am Gabriel and I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

One only needs to read the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel to find out that this promise from the Lord was fulfilled. Elizabeth and Zechariah have a baby boy and they name him John. It is only after the naming of John that Zechariah is able to speak again.

There are many aspects of this story that are remarkable. First is the context in which the story takes place: the people of Israel, of whom Zechariah and Elizabeth were a part, have not heard from God for a period of roughly 400 years! When Gabriel appears to Zechariah, it is highly likely that this is the first time Zechariah has heard from God in such a way.

To make theological matters even more complicated for Zechariah, Gabriel’s second statement, after telling him to not be afraid, is “Your prayer has been heard.” There is deep irony in this statement primarily because of the theological background leading up to this conversation. For all of Zechariah’s life, he had never heard God’s voice like this. The very act of God speaking to him would seem preposterous. Therefore, it is understandable why Zechariah questions Gabriel. Zechariah and his people have prayed to God, many for their entire lives, and they have never heard anything. How could Zechariah be sure this was truly a message from the Lord? This encounter undoubtedly marked a watershed moment, not only for Zechariah, but for God’s people and the entire world. God would speak now and humanity would be silent.

God’s silence is often a challenge to belief. One point I glean from the early part of this story is that God’s silence does not necessarily imply that God is inactive. In Israel’s case, God had been silent for years, yet in this angelic encounter, nearly the first words of instruction from the Lord are, “Your prayer has been heard.” For those of us who are immersed in the urgency of the digital world, we would do well to heed the implicit lesson of patience found in this story. God had been silent for a long time, but God was listening. There are times in our lives in which we do not hear God’s voice. Gabriel’s words tell us that although we might not hear God speaking, God is still listening.

After Zechariah objects to the seemingly audacious promise given from the Lord, Gabriel points out that it is not on his own authority that he speaks, but God’s. Implicit in Gabriel’s statement is the reality that God is bringing help to Israel, not because of what Zechariah or Elizabeth have done, but rather because of who God is. Historically speaking, God was the one who helped, rescued, and saved Israel countless times. The people of Israel knew this history well and they also knew why God had reached down and helped them. This much was clear in the mind of Israel: God’s salvation came only because of God’s character. God’s saving power came, not because of humanity’s effort, but because of God’s nature to save.

Gabriel then tells Zechariah that he will be silent. This is what strikes me most about the story: Gabriel appears to Zechariah in a time during which the people of Israel had not heard from God in years. The Lord speaks to Zechariah and tells him that God will act and fulfill his promise, but while God does so, Zechariah will be silent.

Generally I have viewed the silence of Zechariah as a punishment for not believing in God, and that may well be true. But I also see this act of silence pointing to something far deeper than one man receiving a punishment from God for not believing, and here’s why: The people of Israel knew that God had helped them; they knew why God had helped them and they also had learned how God had worked in history. Over time they had realized that God’s grace and salvation would be worked out through quietness and trust. Israel’s strength lay not in activity and being busy, but in silence. This was how God worked.

Zechariah’s silence is a symbol of God’s salvation. John’s life was spent concentrated on preparing people for Christ, the means by which people could be saved. But before John came, the Lord visited his father through Gabriel, telling Zechariah that He had heard his prayer, and was going to rescue his people not in a flurry of human activity, but in a way in which people could only watch him work and hear him speak. Perhaps one of the vital lessons we can learn from the Incarnation is to prioritize silence before God. At the very least, being quiet will remind us of a greater time, one of the greatest in history, when God spoke and humankind was there only to watch and listen.

Nathan Betts is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

(1) See Luke 1.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Kind, Beautiful, and Foolish

In his book The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky sets forth the bold assertion that “beauty will save the world.” The sheer number of ways in which this quote has been applied attests to the risk inherent in the idea, and perhaps inherent in beauty itself. Certainly the church during the Reformation recognized the risks involved in imaging God, using beauty to communicate an incommunicable mystery, the impersonal to describe a Person. For good reason, many are cautious when we hear a statement such as the one in this novel.

But Dostoevsky did not pronounce the idea with the naïveté with which it is often quoted. He did not have in mind the kind of beauty we worship in the fashion or beauty industries nor did he have in mind an impersonal object or a purely abstract notion, a distinct but distant ideal. On the contrary, Dostoevsky entertains the idea in a person, in Myshkin, who lives the quality of beauty as if an inescapable quality of his inmost being. For Myshkin’s inclination is to help rather than to harm, to give mercy rather than malice, forgiving again and again, though surrounded by people who do not. In fact, it is this group who tirelessly labels Myshkin the “idiot” because he refuses to participate in the disparaging and destructive ugliness of their own ways but instead takes what is cruel and repulsive in them and their culture and dispels it. They hate him for it; they believe him a fool. But it is a kind and beautiful foolishness.

I sometimes wonder if we have so stripped away the possibility of actual beauty in our encounters with the divine that we not only miss something real of God and others to behold in the world, but we miss opportunities to show the world the beauty of God—in hands and faces, in people who bestow crowns of beauty instead of ashes, in communities that repair ruined cities instead of causing further devastation.(1) Theologian William Dyrness laments the modern mentality that has somehow lost the sense of the “wholeness that beauty reflects.”(2) We are so mindful of beauty’s limitations; but isn’t it we who are the limited as the depicters of God’s beauty? “[When I look at] the moon and the stars that you have established,” sang David, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8:3). Describing the very wholeness that beauty reflects, Dyrness continues, “Based on God’s continuing presence in the Spirit of Christ, God is somehow present in all beauty.”(3)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Who’s In, Who’s Out?

Every society has insiders and outsiders. Groups of people or individuals are defined by a particular characteristic, belief, ethnicity, or behavior marking them as winners and losers. If one was a Jew in Nazi Germany, for example, she was an “outsider” and branded as such by a yellow Star of David sewn into her garments. If one was a Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1990s, he would be forced to use an ID card which specified his ethnic group. In addition, his skin color was a general physical trait that was typically used to designate him an ethnic “outsider.”

But just who is inside and who is outside in particular cultures is often a matter of perspective. Many Anabaptist communities, for example, intentionally live as “outsiders” eschewing many of the modern trappings of secular culture. Being outsiders is their purposeful identity. In the button-down-shirt-world of suits and ties, tattoos and multiple piercings define one as an outsider, using body art as a means of “dressing” apart from the rest of society. It seems that the boundaries around who is in and who is out shift and change constantly.

Jesus, as presented in the gospel accounts of his life, often blurred the lines between who was inside and who was outside. Indeed, he often suggested in his teaching ministry that those deemed on the outside of the society were actually on the inside. In his “outside-in” perspective, the first would be last, and the last first. Rejecting the rules that kept the poor, the broken, the sick, the disabled, or the ethnically different person firmly on the outside, Jesus instead opened-wide his arms and extended the reach of his hospitality far beyond what would have been deemed acceptable in his day.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Bad Reputations

While many industries confess to struggling during times of economic downturn, the identity management industry, a trade emerging from the realities of the Internet Age, is one that seems to gain business steadily regardless. As one company notes in its mission statement, they began with the realization that “the line dividing people’s ‘online’ lives from their ‘offline’ personal and professional lives was eroding, and quickly.”(1) While the notion of anonymity or the felt-safety of a social network lures users into online disinhibition, reputations are forged in a very public domain. And, as many have discovered, this can come back to haunt them—long after posted pictures are distant memories. In a survey taken in 2006, one in ten hiring managers admitted rejecting candidates because of things they discovered about them on the Internet. With the increasing popularity of social networks, personal video sites, and blogs, today that ratio is now nine in ten. Hence the need for identity managers—who scour the Internet with an individual’s reputation in mind and scrub websites of image-damaging material—grows almost as quickly as a high-schooler’s social media presence.

With the boom of the reputation business in mind, I wonder how identity managers might have attempted to deal with the social repute of Jesus. Among officials, politicians, and soldiers, his reputation as a political nightmare and agitator of the people preceded him. Among the religious leaders, his reputation was securely forged by the scandal and outrage of his messianic claims. Beyond these reputations, the most common accusations of his personal depravity had to do with the company he kept, the Sabbath he broke, the food and drink he enjoyed. In two different gospels, Jesus remarks on his reputation as a glutton. “[T]he Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’”(2) In fact, if you were to remove the accounts of his meals or conversations with members of society’s worst, or his parables that incorporated these untouchables, there would be very little left of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. According to etiquette books and accepted social norms, both from the first century and the twenty-first, the reputation of Jesus leaves much to be desired.

Ironically, the reputation of those Jesus left behind often does not resemble his reputation at all. Writing in 1949 with both humor and lament, Dorothy Sayers describes the differences: “For nineteen and a half centuries, the Christian churches have labored, not without success, to remove this unfortunate impression made by their Lord and Master. They have hustled the Magdalens from the communion table, founded total abstinence societies in the name of him who made the water wine, and added improvements of their own, such as various bans and anathemas upon dancing and theatergoing….[F]eeling that the original commandment ‘thou shalt not work’ was rather half-hearted, [they] have added to it a new commandment, ‘thou shalt not play.”(3) Her observations have a ring of both comedy and tragedy. The impression Christians often give the world is that Christianity comes with an oddly restricted understanding of words such as “virtue,” “morality,” “faithfulness,” and “goodness.” Curiously, this reputation is far more similar to the law-abiding religion of which Jesus had nothing nice to say. “Woe to you, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.”(4)

When the apostle Paul described the kind of life that will flourish in the one who follows Jesus, he was not giving the church a checklist or a rigid code like the religious law from which he himself was freed. He was describing the kinds of reputations that emerge precisely when following this friend of tax-collectors and sinners, the drunkard, the Sabbath-breaker, the vicariously human Son of God: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”(5) This is no mere niceness, an unfeeling, unthinking social obligation to keep the status quo. Jesus loved the broken, discarded people around him to a social fault. He was patient and kind, joyful and peaceful in ways that made the world completely uncomfortable. He was also faithfully radical and generously intense and unsettling in ways that made the religious leaders and others in power completely uncomfortable. His disruptive qualities of goodness and faithfulness were not badges that made it seem permissible to exclude others for their lack of virtue. The depth of his love for the Father did not lead him to condemn the world around him or to isolate himself in disgust of its immorality; rather, it moved him to walk in self-control to his death for the sake of all.

There are no doubt pockets of the world where the reputation of the church lines up with that of its founder and their presence offers the world a disruptive, countercultural gift. The prophets and identity managers of the church today pray for more of this. Until then, in a world deciphering questions of reputation like “What does it mean to be socially reputable?” or “What is the best way to distinguish oneself?” or “Do I like my googled self?” perhaps we might ask instead, “Who was this human Christ and how might we follow?”

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

(1) From the website ReputationDefender.com/company accessed Jan 15, 2009.

(2) Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:19.

(3) Dorothy Sayers, “Christian morality” in The Whimsical Christian (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 151-152.

(4) Matthew 23:23.

(5) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Think Again: No Longer Bound

 

You may recall me telling the story of being in a country some years ago where I was introduced to a man who had a daily habit of taking his little boy up a hill. The man would point over the border and tell his son, “Your duty in life is to kill as many of them on the other side as you can.”

Even today it is hard for me to comprehend this. Tragically, this man could never shut the gate on the past. And so he dragged the heavy carcass of historical prejudice and draped that corpse over the shoulders of the next generation as a reminder to continue the carnage.

Sadly, we discover the seeds of hate and separation in the opening pages of Scripture and within the very first family. Incredibly, the first murder in the Bible did not occur because of two irreconcilable political theories. The murder of a man by his own brother was an act unmistakably borne out of their differing responses to God! Trapped by the temporal, Cain was deluded by the belief that he could vanquish spiritual reality with brute force. God saw the inevitable result of the jealousy and hatred deep within Cain’s heart, and in a challenge that would determine his destiny, warned him to deal with it. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

Tragically, Cain ignored God’s words, and taking matters into his own hands, he killed his brother Abel.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Servant King 

 

The book and television series Game of Thrones has brought the mythical medieval world of kings and kingdoms back into the contemporary imagination. The world it depicts is a brutal world of despots and power-hungry individuals who will make any alliance to secure their way to the throne. While there are some characters who place the good of the realm over family or individual ambition, most of the characters are a despicable lot maniacally driven towards power.

For those who hail from kingless countries, the language and images of kings and lords may seem at best outdated and the stuff of Arthurian legend, or at worst oppressive. Dominant images of kings and kingdoms as overlords, like those portrayed in Game of Thrones, conjure up images of tyrants living in ancient feudal societies who will stop at nothing and not think twice about stepping over anyone who gets in their way. As a result, for some the word “king” can hold fairly negative images and feelings.

Regardless, for Christians the language of king, kingdom, rule, and authority is inescapable. Christian’s celebrate the rule of Christ over all creation. The apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian church describe Jesus in the language of kings: “God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(1)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God as Gardener

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

These are just two of the long list of questions asked of the ancient character Job. God’s interrogation bursts forth like thunder, breaking God’s long, unnerving silence with a clap that seems to drown out Job’s outpour of grief. I can read them as a harsh sting, as a silencing gavel to Job’s anguish and objections, akin to the response of an exasperated parent putting an end to the child’s inquisitive clamoring with the trump card of a louder, final sovereignty: Because I’m the parent, that’s why. It is God as Creator imagined something more like God as tyrant.

Our imagining of God is often a complicated collection of stories, images, memories, and emotions, some of which may well be more accurate—or heightened in our minds for whatever reason—than others. I long read God’s response to Job’s pain and questions with the sting of an angry or weary parent. It was the imagination of another that helped me ask: What if these words aren’t said angrily, but with gentle lament for the created world in the life of even one wilting soul? What if these words respond to both the vast pain of creation where it groans in need and the vast beauty of creation where it remains a wonder of good? Such questions thunder quite a bit differently.

A theology professor of mine who grew up farming speaks readily about the creation of the world through the landscape of gardening.(1) I remember the first time I heard him simply read from the creation story. As he read aloud and commented on the story, it was as if I was hearing it again for the first time. Parts of it, I am certain, I had never heard before. Genesis chapter 2, the account of creation that Christians and Jews hold as sacred text, says that God planted a garden in Eden to the east. God, the gardener.

I can’t say that I have ever heard a sermon about creation as gardening, the creator of the world as Gardener. I had never considered what such an identity of God might mean to me or to the world around me. Yet here is one of the first passages in the Bible where we are introduced to who God is—and God is not a warrior or a judge or even a sovereign, but first, a gardener, a nurturer of all life, protector and planter, a designer, keeper, and pruner concerned with life’s flourishing. My own experiences with gardening bring to mind an entirely different set of emotions and dispositions than I typically consider God as having: delight in dirty hands, my own investment into the life I’ve planted, the thrill of fruit, the gentle attention to life, the compilation and cooperation with so many different factors—wind and rain, sun and predators—and the pleasure of simply being near it all. I find that when I am most weary of the despair and injustice of the world, my garden gives me an inexplicable hope.

“Gardens are a form of autobiography,” someone said. God as gardener, the intimate vision at creation’s beginning, can be traced throughout the Old Testament, in the psalms, and in the prophets. Jesus, too, concurs: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Such a reading of the world’s creation and the thought of a gardener tending to me, stirs a response akin to that of the man after God’s own heart:

When I survey this vast world, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars and all that you have established, what are mortals that you are mindful of us, human beings in whatever state of despair or joy or smallness that you care for us with the loving eye of a gardener?

Magnificent and intimate, powerful and gentle, God as gardener, whose deepest concern is life’s flourishing, makes no clearer a case than in Easter’s undoing of death and the vicarious humanity of the resurrected Son. How unmistakably fitting that the place of the tomb and resurrection is also described as a garden, and Jesus himself is mistaken as the gardener on that creative morning. This Maker of all creation, the Gardener who carefully tends to the world and the signs of its groaning, is surely at work even now making all things new.

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

(1) For further reading see Norman Wirzba, From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015).

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Spaghetti Monsters and One Less God

Among atheist advocates, it has become fashionable to dismiss theism with the mantra that unbelievers, like theists, are atheist with regard to a host of entities considered to be divine at sundry times throughout history. Atheists, we are told, merely acknowledge one less God than theists. If believers understood why they reject Zeus, the argument goes, they would understand why atheists reject their God.

Unfortunately, dismissing theism on such grounds betrays a paltry acquaintance with the very idea of God, let alone the God revealed in the Bible. It is true that many concepts of God present us with entities that are nothing more than glorified human beings. But anyone who is familiar with the relevant religious and philosophical literature on the subject does not need to be told that such untutored notions of God are just pointless red herrings. Popular level atheism may be fodder for invigorating debates on the Internet, but it has little, if anything at all, to do with God.

Take, for instance, the idea of God defended by such a prominent ancient philosopher as Aristotle. Whereas Zeus and his associates held sway at the popular level, David Conway notes that Aristotle defended a God who was unchanging, immaterial, all-powerful, omniscient and indivisible; a God who possessed “perfect goodness and necessary existence.”(1) That is a striking parallel to the God worshipped in the major monotheistic religions of the world. Even among the so-called animistic religions, it is a mistake to think that the concept of God is limited to spirits in natural objects and events, even in cases where the latter are venerated. As Timothy Tennent notes, adherents of these religions acknowledge a being who is the ground of all being.(2)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Outcasts at the Table

“It would surely be much more rational if conversation rather than dancing were the order of the day,” notes Miss Bingley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

“Much more rational, I dare say,” replies her brother, “but not be near so much like a ball.”(1)

Mr. Bingly’s quip came to mind as I walked to the altar to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. “Come to the table,” we hear each Sunday at Christ’s invitation. “Everything is ready.” Eating was no doubt for Jesus a theological declaration; declaration that could perhaps have been more rationally given. But this would certainly be much less like a feast.

The insistence of Jesus at the inclusion of the unwanted of society was a hallmark of his ministry. This, along with his enjoyment of eating with others, brought upon him labels of unsavory repute. In two different gospels Jesus remarks on his reputation at the table: “[T]he Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’”(2) The theologian Joachim Jeremias describes the massive social and spiritual implications that an invitation to a meal held in the minds of this culture—namely, a declaration of worth, the offer of acceptance, and the assurance of divine forgiveness. “Hence the passionate objections of the Pharisees who held that the pious could have table fellowship only with the righteous,” notes Jeremias. “They understood the intention of Jesus as being to accord the outcasts’ worth before God by eating with them, and they objected to his placing of the sinner on the same level as the righteous.”(3)

Jesus mixed food with scandal—allowing sinful women near him at the table, breaking bread with crooked tax collectors, telling stories about dredging the hedges and the streets for the lowly to join the heavenly banquet. Food in his culture was a foreshadowing of heaven, where the righteous join God at the great feast. So it is scandalous that at his table, it is the outcast who seems to be most decidedly welcomed. Or, if we are to take the meal at Emmaus as evidence one step further, Christ is the outcast welcoming the least and the lost. “The encounter with the risen Jesus [in the breaking of the bread] began as an encounter with a stranger,” writes Rowan Williams.(4)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God as Gardener

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang in chorus, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

These are just two of the long list of questions asked of the ancient character Job. God’s interrogation bursts forth like thunder, breaking God’s long, unnerving silence with a clap that seems to drown out Job’s outpour of grief. I can read them as a harsh sting, as a silencing gavel to Job’s anguish and objections, akin to the response of an exasperated parent putting an end to the child’s inquisitive clamoring with the trump card of a louder, final sovereignty: Because I’m the parent, that’s why. It is God as Creator imagined something more like God as tyrant.

Our imagining of God is often a complicated collection of stories, images, memories, and emotions, some of which may well be more accurate—or heightened in our minds for whatever reason—than others. I long read God’s response to Job’s pain and questions with the sting of an angry or weary parent. It was the imagination of another that helped me ask: What if these words aren’t said angrily, but with gentle lament for the created world in the life of even one wilting soul? What if these words respond to both the vast pain of creation where it groans in need and the vast beauty of creation where it remains a wonder of good? Such questions thunder quite a bit differently.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Wings To Fly

They swooped in, a rush of wings, whirls, and whistles. Within a minute, they were gone. There must have been two dozen. I’ve not seen a single Cedar Waxwing since, but the sight some years ago of black-masked birds with beaks of berries has stayed with me. If I knew where to find these magnificent red-tipped creatures again, I would rush to catch a glimpse of them.

Their captivating visitation came to mind recently while reading of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke. The name Zacchaeus means “innocent” or “clean”—and yet his life up to this point has been seemingly quite the opposite. While short in stature, his wealth and power are immense, for he is a chief tax collector. As such, he is despised. Zacchaeus not only collects money for the enemy Rome from his from fellow Jews but also profits from them by pocketing his own concocted commissions.

Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, just hours before his triumphal entry into the city and final week of his earthly life and ministry. Zacchaeus has heard about this magnificent Jesus, and he is determined to catch a glimpse of him, running as fast as his stunted legs can fly. Luke writes, “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” (Luke 19:3-4). Up in the tree, Zacchaeus is afforded a bird’s-eye view of Jesus approaching.

The animosity toward this tax collector is evident: even though he beats the crowds to Jesus, he still has to climb a tree in order to see him. He must have expected to be shoved to the back once the crowds arrived. A blind beggar sitting by the road faces a similar plight, and his story immediately precedes Zacchaeus’s. When he learns that Jesus is passing by, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Luke tells us that “those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (see Luke 18:38-39).

One is poor, another powerful. Both are shunned by their communities—by people who even try to thwart them from meeting Jesus. What a tragedy!

But Jesus sees them and stops, bringing them healing, salvation, and an invitation to intimacy: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). This is the way of Jesus; “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (verse 10).

And it is the way we are called to follow as followers of Christ: to love our neighbors as ourselves, whatever their place or race, and even to love our enemies. Only with God’s indwelling Spirit can we do this; only by his tender mercies and grace have we been given eyes to see, hearts to love, and wings to fly.

Danielle DuRant

Editor

http://www.rzim.org/

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Examining Religions

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God.(1) The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke of God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appreciate that courtesy.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Life Redirected

 

We seem to live with a suffocating sense of immediacy, where demands and events come at as fast and furious pace, and where the “past” for many of us means two days ago.

 

“The way to the future runs through the past,” mused one author. 1 In our contemporary ears, this may not ring true. We seem to live with a suffocating sense of immediacy, where demands and events come at as fast and furious pace, and where the “past” for many of us means two days ago.

Within such a sense of time, the historical emphasis of the church may seem obsolete, irrational even. Growing up in Scotland in a home that was not focused on religious or spiritual things, I had little sense of time holding much weight beyond the moment or any sort of transcendent continuity. Time simply came and went. There were, of course, special times loosely connected to an earlier age, such as Christmas and Easter. But these came to primarily symbolize time off from school, special food, and presents. If they were tied to any bigger or wider story or meaning, my attitude was: Who cares?

After moving to Austria, I recall a very different scenario. I had by then become a Christian and noticed that what the church calls “holy week” was taken much more seriously there. The sense of reverence, of something special, of consecrated time, all made an impact on me. Holy week was mentioned on the national news; preparations for the Easter service in the national cathedral were highlighted. Something was in the air. This was also seen in people’s behavior. I was struck that events so long in the past, centered on the ancient Jesus of Nazareth and his death, were seen to have lasting and important impact on modern life in a modern nation.

Here in America, there is less of a national focus. We, of course, know of holy week and many churches walk toward the vast and important events of Gethsemane, the upper room, and Golgotha. But outside the church, even inside some churches, it is simply one more thing in a list of occurrences. Sadly, as a nation, we are progressively abandoning the metanarratives—the larger story—that for centuries served to define and give shape to our society and individual lives, namely the understanding of God’s covenant with his people.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Prophet and the Newspaper

Eighty-five years ago Karl Barth told his theology students to take their bibles and their newspapers, and read both; adding, “But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”(1) There are so many times when, reading or watching the news, I am most grateful for the sighing and crying of the prophets. Isaiah’s ancient plea is among the most-repeated, as I sigh between heart-breaking headlines and breaking news. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, that the mountains would quake at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1).

In the thick of stories that recount violence and injustice near and far, Isaiah’s prayer is a response for the speechless, the weary, and the frustrated. How long, O Lord? Where are you in the midst of this? Why is slavery still happening right under our noses in Atlanta? Why is sex-trafficking thriving in Moscow? How is it that poverty and addiction, racism and genocide are ignored, even as we obsess over trending gossip or social media witch hunts? For the church, the words of the prophets become a gift. How long, O Lord, are we going to be reading and seeing and tolerating such disparaging news? O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, that the mountains would quake at your presence.

Isaiah words articulate the cries for relief and justice within his world and within ours. But Isaiah does not merely cry out at God’s seeming absence and a longing for God to fix all he sees; Isaiah is not merely pointing a finger and waiting for God to act. And holding the prophet’s words in one hand with our newspaper in the other, we, too, hopefully see the significance for both hands. Isaiah cries both for God and the generation of people who have turned from God. The entire chapter is a fervent prayer for a change in the direction that Jerusalem is currently moving—for God’s intervention and forgiveness, for Jerusalem’s repentance and reversal.

“We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Random Hallelujahs

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a national establishment dedicated to artistic excellence, funding local arts projects that engage communities in collective cultural experiences. With the assistance of the ever- and omni- potent YouTube, they put themselves on the map in recent years with an initiative they called “Random Acts of Culture.” Call it a cultural experiment in the transformational power of the arts—Mozart in the mall, tango in the airport terminal, or Puccini at the farmers’ market—the result was art in unusual places, wide-eyed children and startled shoppers, culture interrupted by culture.

The idea was simple. Gather a group of talented artists in a particular city—a string quartet from the Charlotte Symphony, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, or two gifted dancers—and set them loose from the concert halls to stage a performance in the street. Or, as it were, in the shoe department. Shoppers at a very crowded shoe sale in Miami were startled as one by one their salespeople suddenly turned into characters from the French opera Carmen—shoe boxes in hand.

Yet one of these intruding bursts of creativity caused the most commotion by far. In October of 2012, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform a Random Act of Culture in the heart of a busy Macy’s store in Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ—the largest pipe organ in the world—the Opera Company and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” at high noon.

The reactions on the faces of singers, shoppers, and salespeople are worth the YouTube visit alone—which has been replayed over 9.3 million times: people with shopping bags in tow stop to raise their hands, gadgets and phones are pulled out of pockets and purses to record the moment, the busywork of a crowded mall in action otherwise stopped in its tracks by words that make it all seem so small.

The kingdom of this world

Is become the kingdom of our Lord,

And of his Christ, and of his Christ;

And He shall reign forever and ever,

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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