Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias passed into eternity recently. Since 1971, he crisscrossed the globe carrying the message of Christ to the high class and low castes, to national leaders and religious followers, to prisoners and questioners. He spoke at universities and the United Nations, in public venues and in private meetings. The books he wrote, the lives he touched, the minds he trained still help believers think and thinkers believe.

I had the privilege of meeting him once. I approached him wondering if this highly respected, well-known man had the time. He did. After we exchanged pleasantries, I asked if I could hug him. He laughed and agreed! I also posed a question to him. “What is the greatest challenge facing the church today?” He responded that the church cannot afford to go off-message. We have the unchanging truth that the world needs and if we do not explain it, who will?

That truth is found in the inscription to be placed on his grave stone, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Zacharias first heard those words at the age of 17 as he lay in a hospital bed after attempting suicide. Though he wanted to die, he learned from his Creator why he should live! In that moment he committed his life to finding and following truth.

In 1983, Billy Graham invited him to speak at a worldwide gathering of evangelists in Amsterdam. There, Zacharias declared that the message of Christ must be conveyed with respect to the hearer. That idea set the tone for the ministry he founded the next year. One of the hallmarks of RZIM is to host events where challenging questions may be asked. Zacharias believed, “Behind every question is a questioner.” Even though the speakers are academically qualified in philosophy, history, literature, law, and science, their goal is not to win an argument but offer respectful and reasonable responses to the questioner. RZIM now has over 100 speakers and writers from all over the globe conducting a worldwide ministry. Zacharias structured the organization to continue, even in his absence.

Zacharias’ method was to engage the mind, believing you need not check your intellect at the door to be a Christian. Yet he had a way of simplifying truth for the rest of us. He said, “The Christian faith, simply stated, reminds us that our fundamental problem is not moral; rather, our fundamental problem is spiritual. It is not just that we are immoral, but that a moral life alone cannot bridge what separates us from God. Herein lies the cardinal difference between the moralizing religions and Jesus’ offer to us. Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive.”

Now in the land of the living, Ravi Zacharias (1946 – 2020).

Not Seeing, Believing

Evidence of facts leads to an understanding of truth.  (At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work!)  God created us with senses and common sense so that we can gain knowledge.

I know the coronavirus exists even though I’ve never seen it in a microscope.  Somebody has, and they say it has spike proteins that make it look like a crown.  That’s how the pathogen got the name “corona,” Latin for crown.

I accept that a 15 pound creature can silently defy gravity because the eagle floats in the sky.  A land based creature can move without legs.  Consider the snake on a rock when you are one step away.  Boats can slip along silently with invisible propulsion when their sails billow.  And who can deny the invisible bonds between a man and woman committed to loving one another?  Oh the wonderful things we can observe and know! (Prov. 30:18-19)

We take thinking and reasoning for granted.  One wonders how an unthinking and unreasoning universe that came about on its own could produce such higher order intelligence.  But that’s off point.  The point is that God did create us with the senses of touch, sight, hearing, and taste which, combined with logic, means we can know things about our world.  God has even embedded within us a framework by which we can know about Him.  “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20).

Jesus’ disciple Thomas relied perhaps a little much on his senses, declaring unless he saw and touched he wouldn’t believe Jesus had resurrected from the dead.  Jesus addressed Thomas’ doubts straight up when He let him see and touch.  Yet Jesus knew that millions would find other evidence compelling when He said, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).

That doesn’t mean Jesus expects blind faith.  It’s a fallacy that faith means connecting the dots in the absence of evidence.  Biblical faith is grounded in historical, scientific, and logical evidence.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, KJV).  God has created us and the universe we live in so that we can know Him.  And at the right time, He came to walk on the earth as one of us.

After his denials, Peter finally pieced together enough evidence to know the truth about Jesus.  His writes his encouragement to you.  “Though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:8-9).  Are you among those who did not see, but believe?

Eternal Memorial

Americans set aside Memorial Day to remember and honor soldiers who died while defending our country and freedom.  It is a worthy cause.

From what I read, several streams of practice and thought contributed to the formalizing of this national holiday in 1971.  One of those streams originated with Elizabeth Rutherford Ellis (d.1873) of Columbus, Georgia. She famously made her appeal for a widespread remembrance of the dead by publishing an anonymous letter in various newspapers.  In it she declares her purpose. “We cannot raise monumental shafts, and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of the debt we owe them, by at least dedicating one day in each year to embellishing their humble graves with flowers.”  The memorial was not for the dead, but for the living to acknowledge a great debt for what someone did for them.

Such a purpose for a memorial is not foreign to the Bible.  After the people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, the time came for them to cross the Jordan River.  Even though the river was at flood stage, “the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away…and those which were flowing down toward the Salt Sea were completely cut off.”  To memorialize the event, God told them to carry 12 river stones to their new lodging place saying, “Let this be a sign among you.”  When the children ask “What do these stones mean?” their parents could explain what happened (Josh. 4).  In this way the people would remember their great debt to God for the Jordan River crossing.

But God’s greatest act in human history was yet to come.  When Jesus was preparing His disciples for his imminent, sacrificial death, He gathered them in the upper room for the Passover meal.  As He broke the bread and shared the cup, He told them to remember His broken body and the new covenant.  To repeat this memorial is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26).  Jesus’ death is worth proclaiming because it can “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 9:14-15). What a death and life to memorialize!

Life naturally provides opportunities to pause and reflect on the past.  A birthday, anniversary, birth, death, New Year or Memorial Day can have that effect.  We reflect because we want to find meaning in life and to apply the lessons of the past to today.  Nothing wrong with that.  But the most profound memorial is one that reminds you not only of things God has done for you in the past, but of what He has done to secure your eternal future.

Not Forsaking

The government tells churches not to meet when officials determine such assemblies to be non-essential during the pandemic.  Most churches would comply without threats of enforcement, but some challenged the authorities.  It’s no surprise that one man’s “stay home!” threatens another man’s freedom.  The courts are already ruling on whether certain jurisdictions crossed religious freedom boundaries.

Those who see church attendance as their essential religious duty might cite, “Don’t forsake the assembling together” as the source text for their essential religious duty.  Let’s consider the hermeneutics of that Bible passage.  For starters, look at it in context.  “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:23-25, KJV).

The exhortations here are (1) hold fast to the hope and faith we have in Christ and (2) provoke or stimulate one another in ways that benefit our fellow man.  In short, it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor, the two greatest commands according to Jesus.  We do that by exhorting one another, and that is best done in community – together.  So the church gathers not because it is simply a religious duty, but as a means to loftier purposes.  If the church assembled is not an expression of loving God and neighbor, then let’s call it out as bad hermeneutics.

The unity expressed in those purposes is undeterred by diversity.  C. S. Lewis writes, “The church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.”  Philip Yancy agrees.  “Church is the place where I celebrate my identity in Christ and work it out in the midst of people who have many differences but share this one thing in common.  We are charged to live out a kind of alternative society before the eyes of the watching world, a world that is increasingly moving toward tribalism and division.”  Unity in diversity is what the world seeks, and what the church of the Lord Jesus Christ offers.

Churches report increased attendance for online meetings.  The technology helps, but it’s not like being in proximity to one another.  But the day will come soon when we can assemble together.  We miss the folks that help us hold fast to our hope and faith, and spur us on toward love and good deeds.  If we are to “not forsake” something, let’s not forsake those Biblical reasons for our gatherings.


She never married.  She never bore a child.  Yet she was a mother to over a thousand children.  Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) is remembered for her work in India rescuing orphans in the name of Jesus.

Following Jesus’ example of a sacrificial life was the outcome of early spiritual formations in her life.  As a teenager, walking home from church meeting one Sunday, she saw an old woman with a heavy burden hobbling along.  Carmichael and her brothers carried the load and helped the woman.  In that moment, she recalled a verse that focused her life on things that matter.  “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident” (1 Cor. 3:11-12).

Isolating that verse could cause you to wonder if you could ever do enough. As Carmichael struggled to live a holy life, another verse brought her great joy and relief.  It describes Jesus as the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24).  Her life of service became her joyful response to being made blameless before God by faith.

She moved to India at the age of 27.  A formative moment happened a few years later.  Seven-year-old Preena came asking for protection.  She had fled a temple where she had been sold for prostitution.  Carmichael took her in and began to learn about the similar plight of many other young girls and boys.  In 1901 she founded the Dohnavur Fellowship to provide a safe home for orphans.  But it was not an institution.  It was the children’s loving family.  They called her “Amma,” which means mother.   Dohnavur continues to this day.

One of her guiding principles was, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  To her, abiding means (1) you don’t need to explain to the Father things that He already knows; (2) you don’t need to press God, as if He were unwilling; and (3) you don’t need to suggest to God what He should do since He already knows.  Such a prayer life would require more listening that speaking.

Carmichael wrote a confession which includes these lines.  “My Joy: To do Thy will, O God.  My Prayer: Conform my will to Thine.  My Motto: Love to live – live to love.”  Her life was a living confession, as she served in India continuously for 55 years without ever returning to her home in Ireland.  When she died, to honor her memory her children placed on her grave a birdbath. On it they inscribed simply, “Amma.”