In Memoriam: Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias

While many of you may already have heard, Ravi Zacharias passed away on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, after battling with cancer. I first encountered Zacharias’ work while at Wheaton College as an undergrad, both through his writing and his speaking. One of my mentors, Lyle Dorsett, assigned Zacharias’ books in classes on the ministry of evangelism. His books, particularly Jesus Among Other Gods, was pivotal in helping me frame my understanding of how the Christian faith made sense in relation to other faiths. A notable apologist for Christianity, Ravi spoke with intellectual clarity and pastoral concern within his ministry.

His daughter, Sarah Davis, who now serves as CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), offers a moving tribute to her father, which includes this summary of Ravi’s life and heart:

It was his Savior, Jesus Christ, that my dad always wanted most to talk about. Even in his final days, until he lacked the energy and breath to speak, he turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done. He perpetually marveled that God took a seventeen-year-old skeptic, defeated in hopelessness and unbelief, and called him into a life of glorious hope and belief in the truth of Scripture—a message he would carry across the globe for 48 years.

You can also read the official obituary, as well as a brief biography at Christianity Today, which I extracted some key points from below. If Ravi Zacharias’ influenced your life in some way, it would be wonderful if you shared that story or anecdote in the comments for this blog post.

The popular author and Christian teacher was known for his work through Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which focused on apologetic arguments for the existence of God and the reasonableness of Christianity.

He preached in more than 70 countries and authored more than 30 books in his 48-year career, teaching Christians to engage with skeptics and arguing that the Christian worldview has robust answers to humanity’s existential questions.

Zacharias was born in India and raised in an Anglican family. He recounted that his conversion to Christianity came while reading the Bible in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt as a teen. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.

Zacharias started his ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). A graduate of Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) and Trinity International University, he was commissioned as a national evangelist for the United States in 1977 and ordained in the CMA in 1980. He founded RZIM in 1984, and the organization has grown to about 200 employees in 16 offices around the world, with more than 70 traveling speakers.

Bernard Mizeki: one story of God’s unique call and gifting

Bernard Mizeki.jpegI first came across the compelling story of Bernard Mizeki in Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s outstanding book, Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

Born in Inhambane, Mozambique, in 1861, Bernard Mizeki trained as a linguist while living as a migrant worker in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1891, at thirty years of age, he was recruited as a teacher and missionary for the new Anglican diocese of Mashonaland in present day Zimbabwe by George Knight-Bruce, an Anglican bishop and pioneer missionary in Southern Africa.

Using his natural abilities and spiritual gifts, Mizeki translated much of the Bible and Prayer Book into the local languages. With his own experiences in traditional religions, he was able to explain the good news of Jesus Christ through terms the Shona people could understand, leading many to a deeper understanding level of discipleship with Jesus.

During the war of resistance to colonialism in 1896, Mizeki refused to leave his mission and was stabbed to death. He is remembered as the “Mashonaland martyr.”[1]

It was Mizeki’s unique gifts and abilities, his unique creation and experiences, that God took within His hands for the sake of the Gospel, even as it cost Mizeki his life.

We, too, are created uniquely by God, with abilities and talents, experiences and gifts, that God has knit into our lives by His sovereign grace since before we were born.


[1] “Mizeki, Bernard,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography, https://dacb.org/stories/zimbabwe/mizeki-bernard/ & https://dacb.org/stories/zimbabwe/mizeki-bernard2/.

St. Patrick’s Confession

st-patrickAh, St. Patrick’s Day is here. One of those interesting festivals based on the life of a real person and their work that now has nothing to do with the life of that real person or their work.

Perhaps you didn’t know that St. Patrick wrote a magnificent work reflecting on his life and ministry.

Why not give it a read?

I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.

For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name…[read the entire Confession by St. Patrick here.]

Byang Kato: One Life Transforming Others

 

Byang KatoThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church we celebrated and African Global Gateway weekend. As part of my message, “The Cost of Discipleship,” I shared the story of Byang Kato, sometimes referred to as the father of African evangelical theology.

In 1953, a sixteen-year-old young man in Kwoi, Nigeria, came face to face with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was confronted with the weight of his sin and the power of God’s grace. Dedicated at birth to the juju priesthood by his parents this young man, Byang Kato, was at a fork in the road. He writes about that moment in 1953:

The Holy Spirit convicted us of our selfishness…nearly a thousand men and women wept for their sins. Husbands and wives were confessing how they’d sinned against each other…With my heart breaking within me, and tears streaming down my face, I went forward to confess my sins before the Lord and His people. As a symbol of my sincerity, I took off my shirt and laid it alongside the other gifts. Oblivious to everyone, I knelt in prayer.

“It’s not only your shirt I want,” Jesus said to me.

“What do you mean?”

“I want your life, son.”

“Lord, I give you my life. I don’t know what You want me to be, but I dedicate myself to You. Do whatever You want with me.”

He did not know that he would only live to the age of 39. But in that brief twenty-three years between this pivotal moment of surrender and his unexpected death, God used Byang Kato to revolutionize African Christianity in his time. Championing indigenous theological education in both west and east Africa, as well as mobilizing thousands to serve Christ in sub-Saharan Africa, Byang Kato left a legacy as a leader of the chruch that is hard to measure.

For more on the life of Byang Kato see the following resources:

“Byang Kato,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography:  http://www.dacb.org/stories/nigeria/kato1_byang.html.

“Let African Christians be Christian Africans” by Carolyn Nystrom, Christian History: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/june/let-african-christians-be-christian-africans.html.

“Byang Kato (1936-1975): Theological Visionary,” in Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 80-95.

 

Perpetua and Felicitas

This past weekend in my message, “The Final Move” from Luke 21:5-36, I shared the story of two early Christian martyrs, Perpetua and Felicitas. These women gave their lives for their faith in the city of Carthage at the turn of the 3rd century. You can read the entire account of their lives here, but I share some excerpts below.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman who, at the turn of the third century, lived with her husband, her son, and her slave, Felicitas, in Carthage (in modern Tunis). At this time, North Africa was the center of a vibrant Christian community. It is no surprise, then, that when Emperor Septimius Severus determined to cripple Christianity (he believed it undermined Roman patriotism), he focused his attention on North Africa. Among the first to be arrested were five new Christians taking classes to prepare for baptism, one of whom was Perpetua.

The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua’s friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua’s son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!”

Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who still suckled a child, added, “Have pity on your father’s gray head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor.”

Perpetua replied simply: “I will not.”

“Are you a Christian then?” asked the governor.

“Yes I am,” Perpetua replied.

Perpetua, her friends, and her slave, Felicitas (who had subsequently been arrested), were dressed in belted tunics. When they entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn’t have to wait long.

Immediately a wild heifer charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn’t long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

This was too deliberate for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.

[Read the entire account here.]

It is Well (With My Soul)

horatio_spaffordThis past weekend, I mentioned the story of Horatio Spafford in the midst of concluding our series, “Turning to God in Troubling Times.”

Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago in the mid-19th century. As Kenneth Osbeck recounts,[1] “along with his financial success, [Horatio Spafford] always maintained a keen interest in Christian activities,” including a supportive relationship with Christian leaders of the time, such as D. L. Moody.

“Some months prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871, Spafford had invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan” [but unfortunately] “his holdings were wiped out by this disaster….[Knowing that] his wife and four daughters [needed a rest,] as well as wishing to assist [in an evangelistic campaign in Great Britain]…Spafford planned a European trip for his family in November of 1873. Due to unexpected last minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled….He expected to follow in a few days.Read More »

William Borden – an activated Christian

WilliamBordenThis past weekend in my message, “Called,”the first part of our Activate series at Eastbrook Church, I mentioned the story of William Borden, whose short life is a powerful example of someone called to Jesus and His Kingdom, who then lives for the mission of God by the Holy Spirit’s power. Much of what I read was taken from an old missionary biography, Borden of Yale by Mrs. Howard Taylor (now out of print), but can also be accessed in Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know.

Here’s an excerpt, but you can read the full story here.

     In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world’s hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his “desire to be a missionary.”
One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was “throwing himself away as a missionary.”
In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”
Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden’s classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he had lots of money. One of them wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”
During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. One of his friends described how it began: “It was well on in the first term when Bill and I began to pray together in the morning before breakfast. I cannot say positively whose suggestion it was, but I feel sure it must have originated with Bill. We had been meeting only a short time when a third student joined us and soon after a fourth. The time was spent in prayer after a brief reading of Scripture. Bill’s handling of Scripture was helpful. . . . He would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance.”
Borden’s small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshman were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.

Borden’s outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To try to rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Bill Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”

Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. He also challenged his classmates to consider missionary service. One of them said of him: “He certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known, and he put backbone into the rest of us at college. There was real iron in him, and I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of, and heroic missionaries of more modern times.”
Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to “realize always that he must be about his Father’s business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement.” Although Borden refused to join a fraternity, “he did more with his classmates in his senior year than ever before.” He presided over the huge student missionary conference held at Yale and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No retreats.”
William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.
When the news of William Whiting Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. “A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.
Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s perspective. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”