Easter Reflection from Ravi – “No More or Not Here?”

Hey TD!

The Apostle Paul said that if Christ has not risen from the dead, we (Christ followers) are to be most pitied.  He’s absolutely right.  Jesus’ bodily resurrection makes all the difference in this world and the next. That’s Easter hope.

World renowned apologist Ravi Zacharias shares some reflections on Easter hope, a hope I hope you’ll have soon.  Enjoy. – Arthur

 

No More or Not Here?

An Easter Reflection from Ravi Zacharias

There is a hotel where I have stayed frequently over the last thirty years. I know many of the staff and every time I return, they give me the best and kindest hospitality. I have found that when you talk to people, you learn so much about life at different economic levels, but all with the same challenges.

One of my favorite people was a bellman called Raj. He took particular care to make sure I never violated my doctor’s orders to not lift heavy suitcases. Whenever I checked in, he would bring my bags and set them up in my room. We often talked politics and spiritual issues. He was a very intelligent gentleman and a great conversationalist. I’ll never forget his statement on politics in his country. “They are not political parties, Sir. They are cartels scheming and manipulating. We pay the price for our foolishness,” he said. Fascinating take.

This time when I stayed there, I didn’t see him the first day so I assumed it was his day off. When I didn’t see him the second day, I asked one of the other bellman if Raj was on vacation.

“Oh no, Sir. He is no more,” came the reply.

Quite surprised at the phrase, I asked if he didn’t work there anymore. The reply came repeating the phrase: “No Sir. He is no more. He died last month.” I was shocked because the man was in his fifties. Evidently he had gone home one night after work, told his wife that he was not feeling well, and went to bed after a very light snack. When she tried to wake him up for breakfast, he had already breathed his last.

“He is no more.”

That phrase is pretty defining, isn’t it? The famed writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who had his run-ins with the church over his very controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ,” asked that the following words be put on his gravestone:

Den elpizo tipota.
Den fovumai tipota.
Elmai eleftheros.

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.
I am free.

Very cavalier statements, except that he is not there to defend those propositions. So it is much more meant to impress the reader than tell you anything about the departed one, whether he was justified in what he said or not. And as to his state of mind after death, all of those sentiments are an ultimate category mistake. If he doesn’t exist, attributing those sentiments brings to mind what Aristotle would have said in defining “nothing”: That which rocks dream about. A rock never hopes, fears, or seeks freedom. That is for the living.

The whole message of Easter defines this longing to be. After Jesus rose from the dead, the women went to visit where they had placed the body. The angel they met did not say, “He is no more!” He said, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here: He is risen” (Luke 24:5-6).

That statement defines everything about who we are. For the one who has given his or her life to Jesus, we will never ever “Not be!” We are meant to be in his presence eternally. The very phrase “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with you.” It is the same with “adios”: “Go with God.”

Our hearts long for intimacy. Heaven is the consummate intimacy of the spirit. That is not a category mistake; rather, it defines the ultimate expression of life in its essence. Our spirit in communion with his. The closest thing to a touch felt by the Spirit.

The time will come when we also will have to say goodbye or adios for the last time. When that happens, how wonderful to know that those who speak for us do not have to say, “He is no more.” They can victoriously say, “He is not here; he is risen.”

The gospel message from beginning to end is dependent on this promise of Jesus that he would rise again. That unsealed tomb is the seal of his promise as the giver of eternal life. Over the centuries, skeptics have gone to ludicrous lengths to try and explain why his enemies could not present his body. That would have been all they needed to quash this rumor of his resurrection. But it wasn’t a rumor. It was a fulfilled promise seen by vast numbers, and it changed the course of history.

Luke was a physician. He knew what happened to a body when it died. He writes of the resurrection and the work of the early church. The resurrection was seen and lived out. It was the event that told the world that ultimately history is His Story of what life was meant to be.

The noted writer and atheist turned follower of Jesus A.N. Wilson said that he was at an Easter service when he saw the sham and the hollowness of his life without God. He described his conversion to atheism as “a Damascus road experience” and his return to Jesus as a slow arduous process through doubt and struggle. Part of that struggle made him see the difference of the logic that drove Hitler to his mission and Bonhoeffer to his. The belief and its consequences were worlds apart. He clearly saw the value of life in keeping with the message of Jesus and the hope and the joy of the Christian message. The faith that he once attacked, he now embraced. It all happened in a small church as he heard the message and listened to the hymns. Death was no longer to be feared, not because we are brilliant or daring or write prize-winning books as Kazantzakis did, but because Jesus lives to give us life everlasting. Even the atheist Anthony Flew granted that this was the litmus test of the Christian faith, and if true would define life.

Billy Graham tells the story of German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer looking at the ruins of war and saying to Mr. Graham, “Outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know of no other hope for mankind.”

The conversion of Saul to Paul and the skeptic Thomas showed how two of the finest thinkers of their time were willing to pay with their lives after seeing the risen Jesus. One went east and the other went west. Today, more bend their knees to Jesus than to any other name.

This same trip that began in one country for me ended in Bangkok, Thailand, two weeks later. Every day as I looked outside my window, I would look scrutinizingly across the Chao Phraya River, because it looked to me like a cemetery on the other side. So I inquired of the bellman if indeed there was a cemetery on the other side of the river. He said he thought so. I hailed a ride and went over there. The main reason was to see perchance if my dear friend Koos Fietje, who was murdered in Thailand in 1981 at the age of 38, could be buried there. Bangkok is a massive city. But I was sure the Christian burial sites would not be many. As I entered, I noticed there were gravestones going back to the 1800s. I walked through the cemetery looking in every direction. Suddenly I came upon the stone you see here in the United States. I was shocked. Koos and I were very close in our undergraduate days. He paid with his life for the gospel. The last time we met was in Bangkok in 1974. He died in 1981. This was 2019. He died at the age of 38. I was standing by his grave 38 years later. Koos served as a missionary with Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

I placed some flowers at his grave and thought back on what a powerful life he had lived. Yes, there were tears.  When I went back, the bellman asked me if I found it. I showed him the picture. He looked at it and said, “What this means?” He was pointing to the verse on the stone, “For me to live is Christ but to die is gain.” I did my best to explain it to him. I saw a tear in his eye.

Two bellmen. Two weeks apart, two countries apart. Both had a tear. One because of a loss. The other because of a gain. The resurrection of Jesus makes the difference.

The hymn writer said it triumphantly:

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

That is why the Easter greeting is not, “He is no more.” Rather it is, “He is risen!”

And the joyful reply, “He is risen indeed.”

Happy Easter!

Ravi, on behalf of all of us at RZIM

TD SG – “Metamorphosis” Videos, SG Study, and Instructions

 

(Nabeel Qureshi’s powerful testimony at RZIM Founders ’13 – go from 34:30 – 1:05:20. Just click on “Watch on Vimeo”.  We were there at that meeting!)

Hey TD!

As promised, Friday night’s meeting on Romans 12:2, “Metamorphosis,” was a powerful one, with some TD’ers surrendering their lives to Christ; while others who had already committed their lives to the Lord earlier in life, prayed to repair and make right their lives in Christ.  Others were just left on their knees convicted to honor Him better with their lives.  Praise the Lord for all of that.  Let us be praying for them all and for God to keep working in our midst, bringing restoration and life to those in TD.

This coming Friday’s TD meeting will be exclusively in our small groups.  Please review the videos above as needed to keep cementing the Lord’s word and His desires into your soul while you prepare your small group studies.

Please prepare your studies well! The better the preparation, the better the discussion!

Here’s the study:

“Metamorphosis” Rom. 12:2 (sg study)

 

 

“Christ as One Shrouded in Mystery” (Judy)

Image result for christ shrouded in mystery

Hey TD!

Heading into Christmas, here’s a piece Judy has written for us to think upon as we fight to keep Christ in Christmas.  Thanks Judy!

Christ as One Shrouded in Mystery by Judy Wu

It is needless to describe how the Christ has been taken out of Christmas in this nation. What was once a sacred time where folk would count down in Advent to celebrate the coming of the Lord into humanity has been turned into explosions of lollipop red, glittery sparkles, and blasted commercialism in every direction. “Happy holidays” becomes more commonly proclaimed than “Merry Christmas.” But if Christ is not at the center of the holiday, then what is?

Aside from the ridiculousness of our ignorance comes another form of absurdity in its recognition. Frederick Buechner describes the Incarnation as “a kind of vast joke whereby the creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers… Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken.” It is almost blasphemous to proclaim so boldly that the Lord of the infinite galaxies chose to lay in a foul-smelling, rank animal habitat in order to give a new definition to humanity. And yet we set up euphemus nativity scenes with a placidly smiling Jesus, a Jesus with a perfectly spherical halo around his head, a clean and glowing Jesus, when in reality, his birth was a literal physical manifestation of being born into a world terribly tarnished by sin. As Frederica Mathewes-Green writes “We grew up with the Jesus story, until we outgrew it.1

There is much mystery in the Incarnation, and the more knowledge acquired about Jesus and the drawing close of the relationship does not detract from the enigma, but rather adds to it. How could someone so great choose to be so small? How could someone so far above the confines of space and time want to reside in me? As we understand more about the vastness of God, the more mysterious the Incarnation becomes. And mystery is heaven’s soft whisper that this is not all that there is.

Let us never outgrow the Jesus story. It is our natural inclination to be familiar and therefore, lord over our surroundings. But with something so absurd yet beautiful, it is impossible to truly grow accustomed with it. Like a diamond, it reflects new colors at every turning of the facets. It is only until we reach the source of heaven’s beckonings that we will ever understand. But until then, may our numbness of the birth of baby Jesus be turned into mystery with our every drawing close to Him.

1 At the Corner of East and Now, Frederica Mathewes-Green

TD Fri. – “Holding What We Believe”

Holding

Hey TD!

This Friday will be a special time of sharing Christ together as we learn to view and appreciate our Lord more holistically, in some ways that are clearly biblical, yet have been largely lost on us modern Christians.

This will be largely derived from a session taught by the editor of Slice of Infinity, Jill Carattini, at RZIM’s 2016 Summer Institute.  It was a very meaningful session for me, and one that really helped enhance my perspective of the Lord’s Supper.

It will be a very meaningful time.  Make your plans to be there!

– Arthur

What Will You Give Jesus? Day 6

What will you give Jesus?  How about the gift of true acceptance?  Accepting Jesus as He really is and not a Jesus fashioned the way we want Him to be?  I know He’d love that.  During this Christmas season, we need to objectively assess whether the One we celebrate is Jesus Christ … or Santa Christ.  Please read this re-post from the Ligonier web site and talk with Him about it.  – Arthur

Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

from Dec 18, 2013Category: Articles

In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than a Santa Christ.

As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?”


1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ

Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

2. A Semi-Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ

Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, “Have you done your best this year?” The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”).

3. A Mystical Jesus is a Santa Christ

Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language — is not to be confused with biblical truth.

Who is the Biblical Christ of Christmas?

The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

  • Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.
  • Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down.
  • The shepherds’ night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.
  • The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.
  • Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is “like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6)—far from good enough—and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

Adapted from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.

Consuming Christ

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Hey TD’ers!  Please read through this perceptive, honest, and insightful confession and critique by our friend, Margaret Manning of RZIM.  I believe you will see yourself in it – I know I did!  And I need to do something about it! – Arthur

It can happen to any of us since it begins innocently enough. We need to get a new camera, or a new outfit, and we begin an online search. We begin comparing prices and online reviews hoping to find the best value. Before we know it, we’ve spent an entire afternoon shopping for whatever is the latest and greatest product.

Perhaps we feel great about scoring the best deal, but I know that for me, I am overcome with a sense of disgust that an entire afternoon was lost to shopping. I feel sheepish about how I’ve used what little precious time I have to satisfy my latest consumer craving. Furthermore, the more I indulge my desire to satisfy my purchasing power the more my identity becomes that of a purchaser. As Annie Leonard notes in The Story of Stuff, “Our primary identity has become that of being consumers—not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers. We shop and shop and shop.”(1)

For the United States in particular, what began as a period of unparalleled optimism and prosperity in following World War II has become a national obsession. Retailing analyst, Victor Lebow, expressed the solution for converting a war-time prosperity into a peace-time economy of growth and abundance: “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption….[W]e need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”(2) In addition, the chairman of President Eisenhower’s council of economic advisors stated: “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.”(3)

This seems a very reductive purpose statement when looking at something as complex as economic systems. But this was the basic thinking of the time. I wonder about the success of this strategy. On the one hand, I did just spend hours of my day shopping. On the other hand, there are the perennial issues of health care, education, citizens, communities, housing, transportation, recreation, or less poverty and hunger to consider as well. Should the ultimate goal for any economy be to simply create a mass culture of consumption? Or is it to create a better society?

It doesn’t take an expert to see the impact of this ‘solution’ in our lives today. We live in a throw-away society, where what we currently have today is passé tomorrow. More insidious, of course, is the way in which a consumptive-economy works to make us feel inadequate if we do not have the latest and greatest shoes, clothes, cars, tools, technology, or gadgets.

Of course, no one is immune from this entrenched influence. A consumer-driven mentality impacts the way in which Christians view and participate in church community. Casual language about “church shopping” belies one of the more subtle impacts. It becomes more and more difficult to see the church as the present day representation of Jesus Christ; we are members of this organic body entrusted with mission and witness in the larger society. Instead, consumerism tempts Christians to see ourselves as “shoppers” examining who offers the best product for our needs. Following Jesus looks more like a marketing strategy for a better life, marriage, kids…and on and on the shopping goes.

If belonging to a church is judged as a product to be consumed, the church must appeal to the consumer to “buy into” the product. As a result, the message sounds more and more like self-help messages of Jesus as the answer to our every need, our every discomfort, and our every trial. Indeed, Jesus becomes the ultimate product to provide us with the life we’ve always wanted—comfort, convenience, and efficiency. As the church reduces Jesus to a commodity, there is more and more pressure to “sell” the benefits of following Jesus. As a result, the counter-consumer messages of the gospel are ignored or altered. But what did Jesus say?

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth. No one can serve two masters. If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does life consist of possessions. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves….for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.(4)

Indeed, in response to this last teaching of Jesus, John’s gospel reports that many of the disciples said, “‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’….[And] as a result of this many of his disciples withdrew, and were not walking with him anymore” (John 6:60, 66).

Who can hear the message of the gospel in a world that makes consumer confidence the measure of strength or weakness, success or failure? Who can listen to it when our chief desire is for a packaged Jesus, not too challenging and certainly comforting, ready and able to meet every need? Indeed, who can listen to the challenging words of Christ when we are about the business of converting “the buying and use of goods into rituals,” and seeking “our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption?”(5) Are we rightly consuming Christ or simply shopping for another product?

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team in Seattle, Washington.

(1) Anne Leonard, http://www.storyofstuff.com. (2) As cited in “Consumer Culture is no Accident” by David Suzuki, http://www.eartheasy.com/article_consumer_culture.htm, accessed Sept 13, 2013. (3) Ibid. (4) See Matthew 5:44, 6:19, 24, 7:1; Mark 2:17, 8:34; Luke 12:15; John 6:53-68. (5) Victor Lebow as cited in “Consumer Culture is no Accident” by David Suzuki.