Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 16, 2016, column:

Zacharias' message more pastoral than apologetic

By Mike Haynes
            All the time, people ask Ravi Zacharias questions such as, “Why does God allow suffering?” “Why does God allow disease?” Although the world-renown preacher and author has many philosophical answers, his brief response during a sermon at Hillside Christian Church was more speculative:
            “Cancer. Medical issues. How do we know God did not send someone to help us with all of this by the brilliance of their mind and their capability, and we aborted those individuals right in the womb?”
            Addressing the questions of doubters wasn’t his main intent in Hillside’s Saturday night service April 2. The native of India, head of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, is known as an apologist, which means he presents logical reasons for the truth of Christianity. But as Hillside pastor Tommy Politz noted, Zacharias’ message in Amarillo was more pastoral than
Ravi Zacharias at Hillside Christian Church April 2, 2016
            It also was inspirational. I had heard Ravi – in evangelical Christian circles, he almost has first-name status – on the radio and had seen the white-haired intellectual in online videos, but he was new to my wife, Kathy. Her reaction was, “Wow, I’d like to hear him again.”
            This message didn’t deal in sterile, hard argument but in informed kindheartedness. Zacharias recalled that his daughter, Naomi, couldn’t find her keys a few months ago and said, “I must be losing my mind.” His 3½-year-old grandson, Jude, replied, “Mommy, whatever you do, please don’t ever lose your heart, because I’m in there.”
            After an “awww” from the congregation, Zacharias made several pastoral points. Drawing from the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, he cautioned parents not to favor one child over another. He urged communicating with family members whether it’s at a baseball game or a restaurant. And he warned that the way to succeed is not through deception.
            Zacharias said while the greatest strength of his native India is its brilliant minds in science and other fields, its greatest weakness is corruption, including in business and government. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the late D.D. Davis, an Ohio businessman who gave Zacharias a large donation to help start his ministry.
            When the evangelist asked Davis what he wanted in return, Davis said he wanted only one thing: integrity.
            “When you’re living a duplicitous life, you’re running” from God, Zacharias said.
            He recited a long passage from the 1893 poem by drug addict Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven.” God pursues us even as we flee from him, Zacharias said.
            Yes, even poetry was compelling in that slightly hoarse but soothing voice, dramatic but genuine. And though Zacharias’ sermon was by no means academic, you left knowing he is both a fervent believer and a solid scholar. I later had to look up F.W. Boreham, who Zacharias called one of the greatest Christian essayists in part because of “The Sword of Solomon.” The visiting preacher, pointing out that “each individual is indivisible,” quoted Boreham on the laws of math: “The two halves of a baby make no baby at all. … No man who has once fallen in love will ever be persuaded that one and one are only two. He looks at her and feels that one plus one would be a million.”
            In addition to his overt message, Ravi Zacharias gives the impression that Christianity is so multi-faceted that all its glory can’t be experienced in a lifetime. Literature, family, struggle, joy, healing, humor, integrity, trust, scripture, transition – all those and much more bring meaning to lives touched by Christ.
            “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good,” he said. “Jesus came to make dead people live.”
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            Ravi Zacharias’ Amarillo message is available online at