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

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A Christmas Devo from Angela – “The Paradox of the Present

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The Paradox of the Present 

by Angela Hsieh

In this Christmas season , songs filled with general holiday cheer are echoed everywhere proclaiming “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” “tis the season to be jolly” and the like. Though lighthearted, these sentiments in cultural may subtly influence our expectations of what this season is supposed to deliver. For many people, however, they are left with deep disappointment, and the holidays are far from “the most wonderful time of the year.” For if Christmas is not grounded in the hope which Christ brings, it can be the most depressing time of the year – it can be a time where the presence of unfulfilled longings and the absence of loved ones may be felt most of all.

Yet Christmas is not just for the healthy, happy, and prosperous. The blessing of Christmas is for those who realize their need for a Savior.

Many dear families that I know have tragically lost loved ones this year. When death hits home, gaping wounds are left which cannot be soothed by any well wishes or holiday cheer. In fact, they may make it sting even more. As it often is, there is a strange contrast between the simultaneous life experiences of people. For some, this Christmas is tainted by grief as it marks the first year without a loved one, yet for others, it is joyfully celebrated as the first Christmas for a new arrival. While many gather in warm homes for Christmas parties, others are homeless on the street. While many appreciate the warmth of familial love and companionship, millions of children are in orphanages without a family to call their own. While many feast, others are famished. While people give and receive a bounty of gifts, others lack the basic necessities of life. The human existence is filled with paradoxes like these.

Yet Christmas is not just for the healthy, happy, and prosperous. The blessing of Christmas is for those who realize their need for a Savior. Jesus says in Matthew 5:3-8, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God bestowed this message of blessing through the person of Jesus Christ. God drew near to a broken and needy people in a marvelous way – by becoming one of us. Truly Christmas is about how He broke through darkness to “give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The present of His Presence is the most wonderful and paradoxical occurrence in history. Christ, the Lord of all and yet the Humble Servant, reaches out to save all people – those drunk with pleasure and those overcome by sorrow, those enamored with success and those who’ve hit rock bottom, those who are seeking and those without hope. He is the One who fully knows each person’s experience and offers to speak meaning into it. The King of Kings (Rev. 19:16) was not born in a lofty palace but a lowly manger. The Prince of Peace’s (Is. 9:6) arrival would cause the uproar of a nation. The Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32) became the son of a young girl and carpenter. The One robed in majesty (Psalm 93:1) traded His garments for infant swaddling clothes. Christ knows exactly how to address the human condition and bring reconciliation that every person desperately needs.

He is the Present of infinite worth that we could only receive if we come with empty and open hands. This Christmas, will you open up your heart to receive the greatest Present ever given?

Immanuel, God with us.

 

Are We Eating “Processed Religion”?

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That’s a good point, isn’t it, TD?

Yet, that seems to be something we are fighting each other about.  “TD is too intense, too long, too deep” et al are the cries of those who want TD studies to be lighter, simpler, and more bite-sized for easier consumption. But is that really what God wants from us? Is that what’s going to help get you through high school growing spiritually stronger each year? This is something we all at TD, both students and leaders alike, need to consider and pray through, and then act upon. I believe the following article brings some insight into the discussion. – Arthur

Some years ago, after watching a documentary that extols the virtues of juicing, I experimented with doing a juice fast. I started buying produce by the bushel and tried all sorts of juice recipes. My kitchen hummed with the sound of my juicer or my trusty Ninja blender.

It was fun for a while—a short while. The process was messy and time consuming, and cleaning the juicer was a pain. So I started buying bottled juice instead, but that was boring and expensive. I gave up before long.

One of the reasons I undertook the experiment had to do with taste. I’ve always been a picky eater, and I began to suspect that part of the reason for this had to do with what I had done to my ability to taste. I had subsisted for so long on processed, artificial food that I could not taste or appreciate more subtle (and natural) flavors. I had burned out my taste buds. So, I wanted to take some time when I was ingesting only natural foods in hopes that I could learn to appreciate real flavors.

Sometimes, when I survey the state of American Christianity, I am reminded of this reason for my juice fast. Many Christians are feeding themselves with the spiritual equivalent of processed food. It is processed religion: light shows and rock bands in place of reverent worship, self-help books masquerading as edification, and self-focused comedy shows presented as sermons.

Processed religion is often attractive. But it has been heavily refined in order to be highly palatable, so it provides only a short-term boost without much lasting nutrition. Like a sugar rush, it carries you on for a while, but it cannot sustain you over the long term. Even the best of it is spiritual milk, but we are called to move on to spiritual meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14).

As I had burned out my taste buds on processed food, I fear that we are at risk of burning out our spiritual taste buds when we subsist on processed religion. We are called to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), to “come to the waters,” and to “eat” (Isa. 55:1). But the flavors of biblical religion can be subtle, and they take time to appreciate. A quiet time of prayer, the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper, the gravity of a well-crafted, biblical sermon—these are the things that nourish our souls.

God has prescribed in His Word the things that will satisfy our spirits, because He knows better than we do what is good for us. He has provided for us the ordinary means of grace—the Word, the sacraments, and prayer—as the simple, methodical, steady diet that will allow us to grow in grace over time. When we come and eat and drink of the deep, fulfilling richness of God’s means of grace, we will be satisfied

When we concentrate on the God-ordained means of our spiritual nourishment, we can grow to appreciate them as the genuine food that they are, and we will want nothing else. And unlike my juice fast, they—and God—will not disappoint us.

What Did Jesus Do On Saturday?

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Safely Home by Ron Dicianni

Hey TD!

Most of you recognize this painting as the one that hangs in my dining room.  It’s done by renowned artist, Ron Dicianni, and is part of a trilogy that includes a powerful song by Steve Green and a life-impacting novel by Randy Alcorn (if you haven’t read it, ask a TD leader to borrow a copy.  It will impact your life.)

On this “Easter Saturday,” Ron sent his constituents and email giving us his thoughts on what Christ did on Saturday.  I’ve included excerpts below to help you continue to draw on Easter power today.

Below his devotional thoughts are thoughts from Ron the Christian, who ministers through his art.  Enjoy.  – Arthur

———–

I have a question. We know Christ died on Good Friday, and we know he was raised to Life on Easter, but what happened in between?

As we recapture what Easter really means, I want to walk with you through a few truths that sometimes fall through the cracks.

The Bible tells us that, contrary to what some might think, Jesus did not just lay there in the grave and count sheep. In fact, the Bible tells us that He descended into Hades and took the keys of Death and Hell from Satan. That’s what I tried to capture in my painting He Holds the Keys.

Nor did Christ stop there, the Bible says that He led out those who had been held captive. I don’t know what that looks like – but someday I would love to try to paint the picture!

My point is that for us, this Saturday kind of falls through the cracks. Easter is tomorrow, Good Friday was yesterday, so what do we do today?

All I can offer you is my practice…

On Good Friday I remember the sorrow of what took place when Jesus paid our debt, On Sunday I remember (and rejoice!) that the grave could not hold Him, and in between I remember that He took the keys of hell and death away from Satan, to use them to free us…forever!

Scripture tells us that the sting of death was sin and that the power of sin was the law. Elsewhere we are told that the law brings death. That we all, because of the sins we talked about in yesterday’s email, were under a death sentence. But what did Christ do? He went and took the keys of death and hell away from Satan. No longer can we be terrorized by fear of death or hell! Christ didn’t just take the judgement away, He took away any hold, any claim Satan had against us!

People tell me all the time they are haunted by the sins of their past. No more let fear make you tremble! In God’s sight you are white as snow. What does the Bible say, perfect love drives out fear! And where else but on the Cross did we see more clearly God’s perfect love – for us! Our accuser has been cast down and no longer has power over us. No longer let doubt scream that you are the accused. And no need to ever again replay the video in our heads that the only side of Easter is the pain Jesus bore. We can, and must, dwell on the victorious side of Easter when we celebrate what no other person, religion or philosophy could do…conquer the grave, and set us, the prisoners free!

————-

 

People ask me often, where I get my inspiration and my answer is “I open my Bible”. Rather than preach at you… “Pray for your family”! I painted Spiritual Warfare and A Mother’s Love. Rather than tell you… “Jesus Loves you and the Cross is the measure of His love“, I painted Salvation. Rather than just pat you on the head and say and “l’ll pray for you”, I painted Divine Healing to remind you that you can still reach out and touch the hem of His garment. And rather than merely say “There, there, He knows” I painted one of my most personally meaningful works, In the Wilderness. And many, many more.

I am blessed that God has used my paintings – in fact they are more correctly His paintings – so far beyond what I could have ever imagined. From princes and presidents to teachers and fireman to pastors and the unemployed, God truly has sent His Word out in visual form and the results have been a harvest beyond my anything I could have made happen. I truly believe, and have dedicated my career to the truth, that if you surround yourself with the Message of Christ in your Life, that it will bear dividends, in His providence, beyond what you can imagine.

And just by reading this, you are a part of that story. Thank you.

In Him,

Something to Consider on Good Friday

Hey TD!

Blessed Good Friday to you. Have you ever wondered why it’s called Good Friday? There are reasons people have offered: that what God was doing was ultimately good, or that it was really God Friday and morphed into Good Friday, etc. One answer that seems quite plausible is that the word good used to mean holy; so, Holy Friday was more the idea than the usual meaning we ascribe to the word good. 

On this Holy Friday (holy means set apart), please take extra time to commune and relate with our Lord, in remembrance, in appreciation and thanksgiving, in prayer, in meditation and contemplation.  Fill your senses and faculties and imagination with Him. Make it all about Jesus.

Below is a Slice of Infinity by our friend, Jill Carattini, that will give you something to consider this Good Friday.  Blessings – Arthur

The Absence of Beauty

Posted by Jill Carattini on April 14, 2017
Topic: A Slice of Infinity

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

There are also times when the opposite is true and it is the absence of beauty that leaves us scattered and scurrying, aware and afraid, and longing for the shelter of divine wings. Good Friday offers such an occasion. In Christian churches all over the world yesterday, the last moments of Jesus were remembered and reenacted in various ways. In his final moments before he would be tortured and killed, he shared the Passover meal with his closest friends. He washed his disciples’ feet and he tried to comfort them, though death no doubt loomed with suffocating force. In some services, following a foot washing ceremony or a last celebration of the Lord’s Supper before Good Friday, a ceremony called theStripping of the Altar concludes the worship service.

I was privileged to participate in such a service one year at King’s College Chapel, the stunning cathedral built by Henry VI in 1446. With a deafening silence that amplified the sense of heaviness at the approach of the crucifixion, objects were removed piece by piece from the altar: communion chalice and plate, the altar cross, the holy Bible, the altar candles, the liturgical coverings. As the altar was slowly stripped to a stark table, the dramatic Tudor glass windows were simultaneously growing dark as the sun set. I was struck with the impending sense of death. What happened next unexpectedly heightened that sense. Behind the altar, a massive painting by the artist Peter Paul Rubens portrays Jesus as an infant in Mary’s arms; the magi are gathered around in adoration, leaning toward the child expectantly. The sound of the painting being shut was jarring; the echo sounded like the closing of a tomb.

But it was the image of the baby suddenly and jarringly absent, beauty extinguished, that finally compelled tears. As the congregation exited in silence, I left thinking about the crucifixion in way I hadn’t before. I left with the disquieting thought of God’s absence—a Son crucified, a mother mourning, a world without Christ.

In his famed Nobel Prize acceptance speech Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eloquently hoped aloud that when the day comes that truth and goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through cultures and minds, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of beauty will push through and soar to that very same place.(1) Today, on this Good Friday, it is the absence of Christ, the death of truth and goodness and beauty himself, that pushes through, pleading with a noisy world to stop and listen to the deafening silence, which just moments earlier heard him plead: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

 

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

 

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture in Literature 1970, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.: 1993).

 

A New Year’s Gift to God

Hey TD’ers!

In this final hour of 2013, I write this post to invite you to join several members of my family, as well as Joni and Ken Tada (!), in going through the entire Bible in 2014 in chronological order.  There are 6 readings each week, giving a one day grace for catching up each week! – don’t you love how grace is built into this plan 🙂  And you can do it by reading and/or listening to it read by Max McLean!

Click here the 2014 Chronological Bible-in-a-Year Reading Plan!

If you want to listen to it read on your phone or computer, here’s where you can download the app. https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/64-reading-gods-story .  Click on NIV and you can listen there. Happy New Year! – Arthur