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Just Thinking is a teaching resource of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and exists to engender thoughtful engagement with apologetics, Scripture, and the whole of life. Danielle DuRant Editor Ravi Zacharias International Ministries 3755 Mansell Road Alpharetta, Georgia 30022 770.449.6766 WWW.RZIM.ORG




VOLUM E 26.3


Wings To Fly


04 EVERY TRIBE AND TONGUE Ravi Zacharias suggests that only when our hearts receive God’s forgiveness can we become instruments of true reconciliation.

“US” VERSUS “THEM” “Fair or not, people judge the credibility of a message by the integrity of the messenger,” argues Abdu Murray in an excerpt from his new book Saving Truth (Zondervan, 2018).

THE FORGETTABLE POWER OF EMPATHY Lowe Finney revisits the perhaps too-familiar Bible story of Zacchaeus and Jesus’s surprising interaction with this despised tax collector.



10 IN THIS HOUSE “Never in my young life had I experienced a place so unlike anything I knew,” writes Margaret Manning Shull about a trip to South Africa as a young girl.


A CRY FOR HELP John Njoroge poignantly observes, “Trying to meet our real needs without Christ is like trying to satisfy our thirst with salty water.”


No Longer Bound Ravi Zacharias offers an encouraging word for those bound by the chains of the past.

RESIST CONFUSION By accurately describing the Culture of Confusion and how it has affected our society, Abdu Murray seeks to awaken Westerners to the plight we find ourselves in. He also challenges Christians to consider how they have played a part in fostering the Culture of Confusion through bad arguments, unwise labeling, and emotional attacks. Available for purchase online at

RZIM Resources

Wings To Fly THEY SWOOPED IN, a rush of wings, whirls, and whistles. Within a minute, they were gone. There must have been two dozen. I’ve not seen a single Cedar Waxwing since, but the sight some years ago of black-masked birds with beaks of berries has stayed with me. If I knew where to find these magnificent red-tipped creatures again, I would rush to catch a glimpse of them. Their captivating visitation came to mind recently while reading of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke. The name Zacchaeus means “innocent” or “clean”—and yet his life up to this point has been seemingly quite the opposite. While short in stature, his wealth and power are immense, for he is a chief tax collector. As such, he is despised. Zacchaeus not only collects money for the enemy Rome from his from fellow Jews but also profits from them by pocketing his own concocted commissions. Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, just hours before his triumphal entry into the city and final week of his earthly life and ministry. Zacchaeus has heard about this magnificent Jesus, and he is determined to catch a glimpse of him, running as fast as his stunted legs can fly. Luke writes, “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way” (Luke 19:3-4).

Up in the tree, Zacchaeus is afforded a bird’s-eye view of Jesus approaching. The animosity toward this tax collector is evident: even though he beats the crowds to Jesus, he still has to climb a tree in order to see him. He must have expected to be shoved to the back once the crowds arrived. A blind beggar sitting by the road faces a similar plight, and his story immediately precedes Zacchaeus’s. When he learns that Jesus is passing by, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Luke tells us that “those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (see Luke 18:38-39). One is poor, another powerful. Both are shunned by their communities—by people who even try to thwart them from meeting Jesus. What a tragedy! But Jesus sees them and stops, bringing them healing, salvation, and an invitation to intimacy: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). This is the way of Jesus; “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (verse 10). And it is the way we are called to follow as followers of Christ: to love our neighbors as ourselves, whatever their place or race, and even to love our enemies. Only with God’s indwelling Spirit can we do this; only by his tender mercies and grace have we been given eyes to see, hearts to love, and wings to fly.

Danielle DuRant Editor





ifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, killed for his efforts to create a society in which all people accepted each other as equals. It was another one of those shots heard around the world. The path of a fighter for peace and justice is never smooth. It is profoundly moving to read how he struggled with giving up on his ability to succeed, or for that matter, giving up on life itself. The nature of his struggle brings to mind the words of a member of the British Parliament describing the battle William Wilberforce waged in England against slavery: “It was like pushing back a storm from a raging Atlantic with a mop and a bucket.” King’s personality, like many reformers, was very complex. A reformer’s task is always bigger than he or she is, and their opponents can crush them with taunts and despair. I see our world today with so much strife everywhere. The political scene is staggering under the weight of dissension and disrespect. I



certainly don’t recall seeing it like this before, even from the time of my youth. Language and emotions are poison-tipped to send arrows into the heart of the one seen as “the enemy.” And those who suffer the most are often those that have the least with which to fight the oppression. Racial pain is a deep pain because it goes to the soul of one’s being. No one has a choice over one’s birth. To be attacked with racial prejudice is a form of murder because you are at risk just by virtue of your very being. Such a threat brings together stories of the past, the pain of the present, and cynicism for any solution in the future. When confronted with such an unshakable reality, sadly, it can breed a prejudice all its own. I often think of the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his indefatigable spirit to fight for the freedom of his people. I was only two years old he was assassinated. As a young man, he practiced law in South Africa and faced much discrimination. What he saw of racism in those days drove



him away from the Christian faith, because he mistakenly judged a person’s profession of a faith as being the substance of that faith. The truth is, you don’t judge a belief by its abuse. So fortunately, he later qualified the difference: “I like their Christ; I don’t like their Christian.” How ironic that the only message in the world that frames humanity in God’s image, takes sin seriously, gives us the most glorious Scripture on love ever penned, and from beginning to end is a message of reconciliation was seen as a cruel belief because of the way it was being lived out. Therein lies the tragedy of racism and the failure of Christendom to deal with it or to own up to its blunders. But the truth is that prejudice is present in virtually every culture. India’s prejudice didn’t come just from the British. This is a visibly stratified society where often the most common reality is that the common person has no voice. The caste system has taken a monumental toll. Prejudice and slavery were not the localized problem of America. One wrong word in the Middle East about a group of people and you can land before the authorities. I recall one day in Toronto, along with my wife, talking to my grand-aunt who was over 100 years old. I asked her how it was that though a particular group of European missionaries led our ancestors to Jesus, as a family in India we ended up in a different denomination. She was surprised by my question. “You are the first one to ever ask me that question,” she said. I was even more surprised by her answer: “The missionaries that led our forebears to Christ welcomed them to church, but would not take communion with Indian believers. In contrast, the Anglicans did permit that. In fact, your great-grandfather, who was a lawyer, fought that discrimination in court.” Talk about a head-shaker! The terrible

reality of prejudice across the centuries denigrating or differentiating people is a calamity like unto little else. And it carried over even into the sacred expression of Holy Communion. Evidently, for some, even God would not open his sacred rite to both races on equal footing. How irrational to preach the Cross but close the door to remembering it together. Such are the vagaries of human prejudice. Thankfully, there has been some change within this generation of young people who see the errors of the past. But in some circles, prejudices still run deep. Here is the deepest mystery: Jesus did not say much about what we call racial prejudice or discrimination, or for that matter, even slavery. But his stories were steeped in answers. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans and saw them as a mongrel race. Jesus shocked them with the story of the Good Samaritan that showed up their hypocrisy. That phrase is now in our vocabulary. The keepers of the law despised those they saw as less moral than themselves. Again, Jesus shocked them with the story of the prostitute who poured out her alabaster ointment on the Savior’s feet. Her story is told wherever the gospel is preached. The Israelites of old hated the Roman’s right to force them to carry his armaments for one mile. Jesus spoke of walking the second mile. That, too, is a phrase we use today. When Paul spoke of being called to the Gentiles, the mob wanted to kill him. But the gospel was still preached to the whole world. What does all this say? That racial prejudice and other prejudices are not new. Prejudice has existed from the time of the first family when grace misunderstood led to murder.

THE REAL PR OBLEM So where do we turn? I watch children and learn so much from them. Our grandson Jude was recently taught in school


about slavery. It really shook him. He is only six years old. He came back home, his eyes filled with tears, and told his mother how hurt he was to hear what some had done to others. So my daughter Naomi made sure he was told of the calling of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he started to read about him and about others who have fought that scourge. Jude had a startling question. He

doesn’t define us. Our soul defines us in that we are infused by God’s value in us, and we love because we are first loved by God, who is Spirit. Until the day dawns when we see everyone as having intrinsic soul worth, we will judge people by extrinsic appearances—yes, by color or some other distinction. How blind can we be? There is a story in the Bible that talks of alienation and reconciliation. Jacob had betrayed his brother, Esau, when he stole the father’s blessing by pretending to be who he was not. But God pursued Jacob until Jacob pleaded for God’s blessing. “What is your name?’ asked God. Jacob knew he had been cornered. There’s the application that stings. You see, prejudice is not so much a wrong view of someone else as much as it is a wrong view of oneself. We are not who we think we are, as superior to others. Having finally seen himself as God saw him, Jacob planned to meet with Esau, fearing the worst. When the moment of meeting came, God had already prepared Esau’s heart to forgive. Esau embraced his brother and in response Jacob said, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10). What an incredible statement! Oh, the years of suffering and alienation that ensue when you make a discovery that should have been made earlier! The truth is that God has to work in the heart of the wrongdoer as well as in the heart of the one who has been wronged. Until then, the logic of unforgiveness will wreak havoc. That is the world in which we live. The logic of revenge. The German reformer Martin Luther was religious but almost “hated God” because he felt he could never be accepted

Of all people in the world, the Christian should lead the way in loving people of all nations because we all are ultimately created in God’s image. has a friend that comes from a different part of the world, and Jude asked, “Do you think my friend might face prejudice in life?” My daughter asked him why he asked that. This is exactly what he said: “My hypothesis is that if a person wants to dislike you, they will find some reason to do that.” A six-year-old using the word “hypothesis” gets your attention. But what is more profound is that his hypothesis was right because the human heart is wrong. Racial prejudice is not the problem. Racial prejudice is the symptom that reveals the real problem. We all think we are superior in some way to others, and we find reasons to dislike certain others. If in our hearts we spurn somebody, the mind will find myriad reasons to justify that cancer of the soul. Of all people in the world, the Christian should lead the way in loving people of all nations because we all are ultimately created in God’s image. Our color does not define us. Our social stature



before Him. It dawned on him one day that faith, righteousness, and grace are gifts to be received and cannot be earned or worked for. The reformer was transformed first before he could carry the message of grace to others. Oh, that we might learn this! What a burden is lifted! Salvation is God’s gift. We cannot earn it. Forgiveness is a gift. We do not merit that pardon. Receiving it is to truly understand God’s love. Fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr., America is still struggling with these matters because we have forgotten what really matters in life. In his acceptance speech when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King said, “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” Think of that statement. Think again. What are we teaching in our schools? That science will save us. Science is the queen of the disciplines. Or, our laws will save us. Really? Which science tells us that truth and love are the answers? That does not come from matter. That comes from the soul. We are already a nation of laws. What laws have changed your heart? The mirror can tell you that your face is dirty, but the mirror will not wash your face. The law can tell you that you are an outlaw. But the law will not help your heart love the law. This is the time to go to the ultimate heart surgeon who will help us love with his love. It’s time to turn from hate to love. Time to turn from prejudice to an embrace. Time to admit we are proud and wrong-headed. Time to see in each other the face of God. That can only happen when we are first reconciled to God. Then we can be reconciled with one another. Until then, the one from whom we have not sought forgiveness or that we have not forgiven will control us, and we move into the vortex of the worst kind of slavery, a prison of hate, a cloud of amnesia, or the domination of a thirst for revenge.

That’s why Jesus did not deal with the symptom. He dealt with the source. Our hearts need to receive God’s forgiveness, and then we can become instruments of true reconciliation. When you find your true master, you find we are all slaves to God, because that is the ultimate freedom. Ah! What a Master we have, who gave himself for us, who came to earth as a servant so that we might know we are destined for a kingdom. As C.S. Lewis observed, “His compulsion is our liberation.”1 The hymn writer John Oxenham said it well: In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. In Christ shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find; his service is the golden cord close-binding humankind. Join hands, disciples of the faith, Whate’er your race may be. All children of the living God are surely kin to me.2 So may we follow the call of another hymn writer: Let every tongue and every tribe responsive to his call, to him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all. 3 Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Alpharetta, GA. 1

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 280. 2 John Oxenham, “In Christ There Is No East or West” (1908). 3 John Perronet, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (1780).



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HOUSE By Margaret Manning Shull As a young girl, I had the unique opportunity to travel to South Africa. We stayed for a month in December when I was just five years old. My father’s parents and sister had immigrated to South Africa from Britain, and it was a rare opportunity to travel to see them. I can still remember the excitement of climbing into the Pan Am jet that would take me to what was surely a land full of adventure. The year was 1971. Never in my young life had I experienced a place so unlike anything I knew. Growing up in the suburban Midwest of the United States, my world was filled with snow and concrete, with winters lasting long into April with rows and rows of houses lined with sidewalks. South Africa, by contrast, was a land of bright sunshine,



vast horizons, beautiful ocean beaches, rugged mountains, and diverse landscapes—from the dusty Kalahari Desert to the mountainous coast of Cape Town. Every place was a startling, new discovery of sights, smells, and experiences. One such experience remains with me to this day. Thirsty after an afternoon at a trampoline park with my South African cousins, we went in search of public drinking fountains. Seeing just such an area not too far beyond where my tired legs could carry me, I ran ahead of the others in order to quench my thirst. Just as I leaned over to drink, a hand grabbed my shoulder and a loud, gruff voice told me not to drink from that fountain. It was for “coloreds” only. This was the first time, as I reflect back on the event, that my skin color determined my standing in relation to others. I was too young and too thirsty to notice the posted placards on the fountains, or, sadly, to notice that there were only whites on all of the beaches where we frolicked as a family. Moreover, there were only white diners in the restaurants where we ate, and only whites in most of the areas and venues we visited. In fact, there were posted designations for “whites” and “coloreds” at all the public places where the two groups might meet. I didn’t understand that apartheid, at that time, was the national policy. For all the contrasts, here was a similarity between my suburban childhood and my visit to South Africa. Where I grew up, there were only two children of color in my elementary school and one was of Asian heritage. I do not remember any African Americans in the suburban neighborhoods in which I grew up, and there was no racial diversity in my church. This segregation was far less obvious to me than the intentional policies that made up the apartheid system. Yet, hidden or intentional, the effects of a racist system were the same. How could I not conclude, as a young girl, that race determined where one lived, went to school, or worshipped?

A seminary internship working with young children in Atlanta, Georgia, afforded me an alternative experience. I would be the only white person in my internship. I was surprised at how readily boundaries seemed to give way to acceptance. I didn’t seem to be as strange to them as they might have been had they visited me in the suburbs of my childhood. Sharing the same curly hair prompted one young girl to ask me if I was a “light-skinned black.” I felt honored that racial differences were not the only thing she saw. Yet, I would have been blind not to notice that the opportunities afforded to me simply were not available in this place. And while other principalities conspired to decrease opportunity, I knew then that much of what I took for granted did not exist for these young children. A simple, nutritious breakfast—always available to me—consisted of a soda or a bag of tostada chips from the local Taco Bell for many of the kids I met here. All these experiences—from the suburbs to South Africa to the urban South— reveal aspects of the human tendency to separate and divide. Yet, an alternative narrative is presented in the Christian gospel. The redemption offered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is universally available. The reconciling work of Jesus Christ did not recognize the typical categories of human division and power but reached out to Jew and Greek, male and female, bound and free persons. The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that they “were at that time separate from Christ, excluded… and strangers to the covenants of promise…. But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near…. For Jesus is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the dividing wall.”1 The Scriptures challenge our human tendency to separate, divide, and control, and invite us to be transformed by the peace and unity found in Jesus Christ. But is this just something to hope for in an as yet unrealized future?

F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela could not have been more different, but they worked together to help end apartheid in South Africa. Even their most significant differences (which went far beyond the color of their skin) did not thwart their work toward a peaceful transition of power —when most thought bloodshed and violence would ensue. Both men understood that unity and peace were not simply a vision of an other-worldly future, but something that could be undertaken even in the very messy, fraught, and difficult world of the here and now. “Peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign,” said de Klerk. “Peace is gravely threatened by inter-group fear and envy…. Racial, class, and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies…. In our quest for peace we should constantly ask ourselves what we should do to create conditions in which peace can prosper.”2 We can look at the world around us and despair over human differences that feel insurmountable. There is so much that can engender cynicism and a sense of futility. Yet, for those who would seek a different story, we are invited to a house where there are no dividing walls that segregate human beings from each other and from God. Built upon the foundation that is Christ Jesus, this house is framed by restoration and renewal, forgiveness and reconciliation, generosity and grace, identity and belonging. In this house, No one is shut out and all may come in. Margaret Manning Shull is an adjunct member of the speaking and writing team at RZIM in Bellingham, Washington. 1 Ephesians 2:12-14. 2

F. W. de Klerk, Acceptance and Nobel Lecture, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, (Nobel Foundation), Stockholm, 1994, /nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1993/klerklecture_en.html.





By Abdu Murray

here’s an Arabic saying that often makes me smile: “Kulna fil hawa sawa.” It literally means “We’re all in the same air,” roughly conveying the same idea as the English saying, “We’re all in the same boat.” But Arabic sayings tend to have zestier connotations than their Western counterparts. “Kulna fil hawa sawa” really conveys the message, “We’re all in the same stink,” particularly the stink of the human condition. It’s a pungent reminder that all of us—yes, all of us including Christians—have contributed to the Culture of Confusion’s stench. In mid-2015, my news and social media feeds were abuzz with urgentseeming headlines bemoaning, “It’s Already Starting!” and “That Didn’t Take Long!” The articles insinuated that an LGBT activist leveraged the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage to file a federal lawsuit to outlaw the Bible as hate speech. Just three minutes of investigation revealed this narrative was bogus—and obviously so. Yes, a gay man filed a lawsuit in a Michigan federal court1 against two Christian publishers. But he did not seek to have the Bible “banned.” He sought money for emotional distress, claiming the publishers had mistranslated the Bible to be unfavorable to homosexuals. And he didn’t file his lawsuit after the Obergefell decision. He filed it in 2008—seven years before the Supreme Court’s ruling. Not only that, but the lawsuit was dismissed almost as soon as it was filed. The judge, a principled jurist I had the privilege of appearing before as an attorney, dismissed the case because it had no basis in the law and was “largely incomprehensible.”



In less time than a TV commercial break, I learned that this alarmist story was false. And yet so many people were quick to believe an obviously untrue story and propel it to viral status. The irony saddened me because some of those who perpetuated the falsehood professed to follow Jesus, who claimed to be the very embodiment of truth (John 14:6). Whether the story was propagated by those who knew it was false or by those who were duped into believing it was true, the fact remains that Christians should have behaved differently. A common phrase in Christian circles is that the church is supposed to be “in but not of” the broader culture. In other words, Christians are to engage with the culture but not be unduly influenced by it. But so pervasive and seductive is the post-truth mindset that the church, at least to some degree, has become in and of the Culture of Confusion. Part of this behavior is a reaction to society’s growing perception of Christians as enemies of progress and freedom. Some Christians believe that battle lines have been drawn, which is why they get seduced into believing and spreading false stories about people they see to be the enemy. That’s what makes the seductions of a posttruth Culture of Confusion all the more insidious. It plays on partial truths to goad us into believing and spreading untruths. This is doubly sad because when the church has doubled down on its commitment to truth, especially in the face of opposition, it has flourished, brought credibility to the gospel, and benefited society. For Christians, now is not the time to be seduced into making “them” look as bad as possible while making “us” look as sympathetic as possible. Now is the time for compassionate, yet uncompromisingly expressed, truth. If the church’s caving to the post-truth mindset has contributed to the larger cultural problem, then perhaps Christians’ rediscovered commitment to the truth can lead us back to the solution.

FIXING WHAT BUGS US Not long ago I spoke at a major university in Canada on the topic “Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable.” A member of the audience took to the microphone to pose an interesting question. “I’m a software engineer,” he began. “Once we’ve designed the software, we test it for things that bug us about it. Not just glitches, but things about the software we personally don’t like. If you were to do the same test on the church, what would bug you about it?” The audience nervously laughed at the hot-seat question. How would I, as someone who’s spoken at many churches around the world, respond? While I think the church is doing great things locally and across the world, there are things that could use changing.2 But first we have to understand what we’re hoping to debug when we reference “the church.” Consider the fact that many people today, still the vast majority in the United States, call themselves Christians. But donning a label doesn’t equate to being the genuine article. Peering behind the veils, we see that only three out of ten Americans are practicing Christians, meaning that Christian living, Bible reading, and regular church attendance are important to their lives.3 And given that America is still more religious than most European countries, Australia, or Canada, it’s safe to say that an even smaller percentage of people in Western countries are practicing Christians. “Legacy Christians,” as Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons call them, are those for whom Christianity is “background noise that can safely be ignored.”4 While “three out of four U.S. adults have some Christian background . . . about three in five American Christians are largely inactive in their faith.”5 Given these numbers, the sensationalistic or false stories purveyed in the trending social media posts come largely—but not solely—from people for whom being Christian is little more than



Too often, Christians conveniently forget the fact that like everyone else, they need a Savior.

When Christians forget that, they create an “us versus them” paradigm leading to Christians hungrily gobbling up and passing along iffy articles about how awful “they” are without a moment’s pause. JUST THINKING • VOLUME 26.3


a moniker that distinguishes them from politically left-leaning people. Who I want to address here are practicing Christians— men and women for whom Christianity is a way of life, regular church attendance is their practice, and devotion to Jesus is their ultimate aim. When I refer to the church going forward, that is who I mean. Although practicing Christians are less influenced by the Culture of Confusion, the influence is significant enough that we have to address it. So to root out the bugs, we have to start there. SEDUCTION IN TWO -PART HARMONY The church has succumbed to post-truth’s expression in two seemingly contrary ways. On one hand, Christians have compromised the clarity of Scripture for the sake of acceptance and to avoid conflict. On the other hand, Christians have indulged the cultural practice of vilifying those with whom they disagree. These two seductions seem contradictory, but when they work together, they harmonize in a grisly dirge. Let’s address the first post-truth seduction: making the gospel pill easier to swallow to avoid uncomfortable discussions with non-Christians and difficult Bible passages that challenge our behavioral preferences. In our effort to be liked, Jesus’s famous statement, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is often misquoted. Many, including those in the church, interpret this passage to mean that Jesus shunned moral judgment. And, so the argument goes, Christians have no place judging the actions of others in the broader culture. It’s quite telling that so few people quote the entire context of Jesus’s words. The full passage reads: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why

do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5). It’s worth pausing for a moment to see just how Jesus’s words actually express a message opposite to what so many want him to have expressed. Jesus says that when we remove the log from our own eye, we will see clearly how to judge our brother’s actions. Applied today, if the church gets the post-truth speck out of its own eye, it can bring clarity to a world of confusion. In the full context, we see that Jesus is saying that when we judge, it is to be for the improvement of others, not their condemnation. So why do so many people, including Christians, misapply Jesus’s statements as a blanket prohibition against all judgment? There are as many reasons as there are people who do so. One common reason is that Christians want to appear tolerant and likable, especially in a time when tolerance—though woefully misdefined—is a chief virtue. Put plainly, many Christians have bought into what Kinnaman and Lyons call “the new moral code” that people should not criticize someone else’s life choices. Can we see the seduction playing out right before our eyes? The post-truth Culture of Confusion elevates preferences and feelings over facts and truth. And by elevating our preferences to be liked and feel accepted, Christians have misapplied the plain truth of Jesus’s words and exchanged them for pleasant cultural comforts. This brings to mind Dallas Willard’s apt assessment of the spiritual landscape, in which “most of what Americans do in their religion now is done at the behest of feelings. . . . The quest for pleasure takes


over the house of God.”6 Willard’s indictment is true for some of us all of the time. And it is true for all of us at least some of the time. The second seduction—that of using the truths of Scripture to bludgeon outsiders—brings a pendular swing of overcorrecting our desire to be liked. Too often, Christians conveniently forget the fact that like everyone else, they need a Savior. When Christians forget that, they create an “us versus them” paradigm leading to Christians hungrily gobbling up and passing along iffy articles about how awful “they” are without a moment’s pause. Worse yet, Christians may make churches so unwelcoming that they repel the very people who could benefit from what Jesus has to offer. Truth is once again sacrificed, but this time at the altar of a self-righteous higher agenda to stand up to “them.” Fair or not, people judge the credibility of a message by the integrity of the messenger. If the gospel message of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation is proclaimed by those who seem to have none of those qualities, it’s hard to see how the broader culture’s response can be anything but concomitant dismay and anger. DANCING TO A DIFFERENT TUNE The way forward tempers both our need to be liked and the importance of addressing detrimental ideas and behaviors. A story in Marie Chapian’s book Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy comes to mind. She recounts the story of Jakob, a missionary to the former Yugoslavia, who encounters Cimmerman, a farmer who had lost much to the country’s rampant violence and corruption. When Jakob tried to share the gospel message with him, Cimmerman would have none of it. Angered by the clergy’s complicity in the ugliness, Cimmerman refused to hear Jakob out. “Those men of the cloth tortured and killed my own nephew before my eyes,” he

spewed. “I saw him die in his own blood, and then I watched the killers calmly genuflect before the main altar of the church, cross themselves with holy water, and a few moments later their forks scraped their plates as they ate their supper in the parish house.”7 Obviously, Cimmerman’s reaction had nothing to do with the gospel message’s truth or falsity. Church corruption does not change the facts of Jesus’s death and resurrection. But the point is this: Cimmerman dismissed the message (indeed, he dismissed Christ himself ) based on his experiences with those who claimed to believe the message. Today’s Cimmermans distrust Christians as ultraconservative, hypocritical judging exclusivists. That is, of course, a sweeping and unfair characterization. Nevertheless, that perception persists and even grows. The broader culture hears Christians lament the erosion of marriage while believing that Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians. (They do not, but that is a common misperception.)8 Non-Christians see Christians supporting conservative political leaders regardless of their sometimes serious moral failings, yet condemning liberal leaders for those same failings. While I think this mischaracterizes most genuine Christians, there are those louder-thannormal voices within the church who judge with unmitigated bias and give full vent to their anger at outsiders, “those people,” without reflecting on their own sin. The church can recapture its positive cultural influence if it rekindles its passion for the principles that revolutionized the world so long ago. In sharp contrast to our current adversarial attitudes, Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Christians are to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–14). But if the church sees everyone as enemies to be vanquished, it will lose its savor and its



brightness. What we need is neither complacency nor indignation. What we need is wisdom. A WISE TEMPERAMENT The book of Proverbs provides a template for how Christians can once again be as savory as salt and illuminating as light in a bitter and dark time. If there is a word other than confused to describe the current cultural mood, it has to be angry. From protests that flare up at a moment’s notice to knee-jerk branding others with epithets, we seem to have lost our ability to be civil to one another in the thick of debate. And there seem to be fewer and fewer exceptions in either secular or religious circles. And yet, thankfully, I experienced some refreshing exceptions recently. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at an open forum alongside Ravi Zacharias at my alma mater, the University of Michigan, on the topic “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” Every one of the 3,500 seats at Hill Auditorium was filled by atheists, agnostics, Christians, and people from different religious faiths. During the question-andanswer period, an erudite young man identifying himself as an atheist opened his question with an interesting comment: “I first want to thank the university for allowing this event to happen on campus so that we can hear and interact with differing viewpoints. I didn’t see any cars on fire or broken windows.” Of course, he was referring to recent incidents at the University of California at Berkeley where protestors ignited fires and damaged property in reaction to a lightning rod speaker who had come to that campus. In the weeks surrounding the Berkeley incident, the news was awash

with similar stories at other prestigious universities. In March 2017, students at Middlebury College in Vermont protested a speech by controversial scholar Charles Murray. The protest erupted into physical assaults against both Murray and a Middlebury faculty member, leaving her with a twisted neck and a visit to the ER. The stunning applicability of agesold biblical wisdom shows how holy writ remains eternally contemporary. In Proverbs 29, Solomon wrote that “Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath. . . . A fool gives full vent to [anger], but [the] wise … quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:8, 11). At Berkeley, Middlebury College, and other similar institutions, some protesters gave full vent to their anger, yet those protests could have happened without mayhem and violence. Contrast has a way of clarifying things, as author Os Guinness would say. Our open forum at the University of Michigan had its share of challenging questions. In fact, most of the questions came from skeptics. The evening was lively, yet civil. The students didn’t shut us down; they engaged with ideas they may not have agreed with. And thankfully Ravi and I were able to articulate our Christian positions on life’s biggest questions without compromise, all the while holding each questioner’s dignity as sacrosanct. Happily, that same civility carried over to an even bigger crowd the next day at Michigan State University and again the following week at Indiana University. We were able to disagree because we intended to do so agreeably. In the days following those events, we had the pleasure of seeing some who started out disagreeing end up agreeing and embracing the


gospel. Weeks before taking the podiums at those schools, we prayed specifically for ears to be sensitive, tongues to be judicious, and hearts to be compassionate. Again, in the wise words of Solomon, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27). Let’s pause once more for selfassessment. Lest Christians think that Solomon’s wisdom applies only to others, we must remember that in the Culture of Confusion, we are as susceptible to the kind of anger that erupted at Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere. As I write this, I’ve just read a message from a Christian friend lamenting how Christians cast aside Solomon’s advice and accosted both him and a Muslim for just having a calm conversation about their different religious beliefs. The group of Christians began yelling at the Muslim for being a “liar” and my friend for being a “charlatan” just because he refused to polemicize the discussion. In the Culture of Confusion, it’s seductively easy for any one of us to turn civility into a vice. What a contrast to the attitude the apostle Paul passed down to his protégé Titus. “Remind them . . . to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2). Paul wasn’t against engaging in reasoned argument, but he was against quarreling, especially the kind that results in vilifying someone else. Why is it so important for Christians to speak evil of no one (yes, no one) and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (yes, all people)? Because the gospel message teaches that all of us are broken people, given to sin, anger, and even hatred. Those who claim allegiance to Christ are to be washed of such things, not by their own goodness, but by God’s mercy and grace. As Paul continues, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and

pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (v. 3). One wonders if the people who accosted my friend and the Muslim he was chatting with had taken time to reflect on Paul’s words before giving full vent to their anger. What result did they expect? Did they expect the Muslim to suddenly drop all of his deeply held convictions because the decibel level had increased? Or, more likely, did they expect to set the situation aflame and bring heat, not light? Thankfully, my friend stayed in the conversation and nurtured his friendship with the Muslim. It is when we have a cool spirit, turn away wrath, and withhold our anger that our words—the message of the gospel of peace and clarity— can be heard. Students heard the gospel at the universities we visited because we were able to express our convictions without degrading anyone. And, thankfully, my friend was able to share his beliefs because he saw a person, not a target. With this kind of renewal and regeneration, Christians can—and should—speak with conviction and courage in the face of opposition, but we must do so in a way that recognizes that “we” were once—and in some ways still are—“them.” WISE WORDS I often remind myself of another popular saying: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” That contemporary idiom is a paraphrase of Solomon’s centuries-old advice: “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly” (Proverbs 15:2). Today it’s not only incredibly easy to broadcast our opinions or spread dubious stories, it’s also fashionable to do so hastily. With the advent of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook (a digital triumvirate Conan O’Brien has called “YouTwitFace”), and other social media platforms, everyone



has become a journalist. But few of us take the time to verify our sources. This is true of the wider culture and sadly of Christians as well. Recall the Bible lawsuit discussed above. That was fake news, plain and simple, propagated at a breakneck pace by those bearing the name Christian. When we hear the term “the speed of light,” we think of the fastest something can travel. But in the social media age, perhaps we should change the phrase to “the speed of lies.” Thankfully, there are many Christians who take great pains to share accurate stories and engage honestly with others. When they do, they emulate another biblical proverb: “One who walks in integrity will be safe, but whoever follows crooked ways will fall into the Pit” (Proverbs 28:18, NRSV). Integrity is the key word here, and we desperately need more of it. Integrity takes years to build and only moments to destroy. With all of the misinformation and disinformation, it would be easy to say that we should abandon the whole enterprise of social media engagement. Judging by the hunched gazes I observe at airports, though, social media use doesn’t appear to be fading. If Christians are to meaningfully contribute to the cultural conversation through social media, they must do so with integrity.9 Now the temptation is to quickly spread stories that uphold Christian views and values (perhaps even with some exaggerations) because “the other side” allegedly spreads misinformation so quickly that we have to level the playing field regardless of which “side” we’re on. That tactic is emblematic of what the post-truth Culture of Confusion is all about. It must not be the church’s teacher. When our digital or verbal discussions lack integrity, there are consequences beyond mere misinformation. The shrapnel of our hasty and angry explosions wound real people. Christian social commentator Ed Stetzer called his fellow

Christians to account for perpetuating a debunked conspiracy theory about the tragic death of Seth Rich, who once worked for the Democratic National Committee.10 The barrage of conspiracy theories that followed his murder forced Seth Rich’s parents to relive the tragedy. In their anguished words, “With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”11 It’s a deep enough wound to bury your child. To have your memories of him stripped of sentimentality because of political machinations inflicts a deeper wound yet. Regardless of your politics or your religion, the Rich family’s waking nightmare ought to give us pause before we carelessly click “share” even one more time. Indeed, Jesus’s words on this point are direct and convicting: “On the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37 NRSV). Those should be soul-shuddering words for followers of Christ. Words are meant to convey truth and bring life, not peddle falsehood or foster pain. That’s why God judges careless words so severely. In Christ, God himself is the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). If Christians are his ambassadors, then they are called to carefully choose their words. Do our words convey truth? Do they convey life? Only then will our words be wise and clear in a Culture of Confusion. Anger isn’t necessarily opposed to wise and compassionate words. When exercised with wisdom and restraint, anger can lead to positive change. Greed, racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and other injustices ought to anger us. But may I say that anger, even if legitimate, can become sinful if unchecked by godly love for others and for the truth? Anger—


even when directed at the appropriate things—can be sinful if it causes us to sacrifice clarity and truth for the sake of self-vindication. Susanna Wesley, famed preacher John Wesley’s mother, wisely taught her children about sin’s invidious creep into even our most legitimate motivations: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things: in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”12 We would do well to heed her words. Our indignation over the deterioration of the culture may be legitimate, but it can lead to sinful bitterness. Our anger over sickness, poverty, and moral decay may lead us to act, but it can also ensnare us into caring more about causes than about the people those causes were meant to help. That’s the fundamental danger inherent in failing to wisely use words. When we dance with the post-truth Culture of Confusion, the culture doesn’t change. It changes us, and not for the better. When we are so eager to believe the worst about others, we bring out the worst in ourselves. C. S. Lewis warned us against letting that darkness creep in: Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.13

We may see ourselves reflected in Lewis’s words more than we care to. May we rise above such heart-clouding cynicism. May the church have a wise temperament that leads to wise words saturated with integrity and tempered with grace. And may those wise words lead to wise actions. WISE ACTIONS A central Christian principle is that all people are made in the image of God. Accordingly, all people must be treated with dignity and respect even (especially) when their ideas or behaviors challenge us or must be challenged by us. In Jesus’s day, a teacher of the law challenged him to identify which commandment was the greatest. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” He continued, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40). Jesus emphasized loving God and loving the people he created. It’s fascinating that Jesus paired the command to love people with the command to love God. The legal scholars of his day would have thought this to be a blasphemous elevation of humanity. But Jesus did so because the person challenging him was a Pharisee, one who had dedicated his life to following all 613 laws in the Torah, but who had forgotten about caring for others in the process. In other words, in his zeal to express his love of God, he failed to love people. And in doing so, he actually failed to truly love God. One cannot love God but fail to love the people he created. That doesn’t require unconditional agreement or affirmation with everything a person believes or does. But it does entail compassion for that person. That love has motivated Christians historically. Paul Lee Tan



expressed that “a Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks, a heart through which Christ loves, a mouth through which Christ speaks, a hand through which Christ helps.”14 In the days of the Roman Empire, both before and after Emperor Constantine’s conversion, Christians founded hospitals to care for all the people who needed help. And it was Christians, suffering under tremendous persecution in the Roman Empire, who aided the Roman pagans and bound their wounds nevertheless. As David Bentley Hart explains, “Even the [pagan] emperor Julian, who was all too conscious of the hypocrisies of which Christians are capable, was forced to lament, in a letter to a pagan priest, ‘It is a disgrace that these impious Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well.’”15 From the second century through the fourteenth and beyond, Christians rushed into plague-infected areas to aid the sick and dying while others fled, sometimes dying from the plague themselves. It was Christians who led the charge in England and the United States to end the vile slave trade. Mark Twain is credited as saying, “History doesn’t repeat, but it sure does rhyme.” Today, although there are good secular and non-Christian organizations making a difference, Christians often still lead the way. From starting universities like Harvard, Oxford, and others to founding hospitals, to caring for the sick in Ebola-stricken West Africa only to contract Ebola themselves, those Christians whose actions are consistent with their words are helping to change the hearts of the very people who once opposed them. The coupling of wise words and wise actions doesn’t just get things done, it gets things— and people—changed. Matthew Parris, the well-known atheist, describes how the gospel message outpaces secular efforts to change the desperate situation in his African homeland.

In an article entitled “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God,” Parris wrote that secular “education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”16 Pause for a moment on the paradoxical depth of Parris’s carefully chosen words. He’s saying the Christian message has made the difference in Africa. That message is at once about the depravity of every human heart and the dignity of every human being. History indeed has rhymed. And when the gospel is the central chorus, the melody can be beautiful. WEARING THE TRUTH AS A COAT And so we return to Jakob and Cimmerman. Jakob had tried to share the gospel with Cimmerman, and Cimmerman resisted by pointing out that the corrupt church leaders wore their fancy clothes and holy garments to conceal the filthiness of their hearts. Jakob posed a question to the embittered Cimmerman. He asked Cimmerman to suppose that someone had stolen his coat and boots and then robbed someone. What would Cimmerman say when the authorities came to arrest him as the misidentified perpetrator because the robber wore his stolen coat? Obviously, he would say that someone had stolen his coat, pretending to be him. Still unmoved, Cimmerman replied, “I do not believe in the name of your God.” In the ensuing year, Jakob cultivated a friendship with Cimmerman. Cracks formed in Cimmerman’s stony veneer. He not only heard Jakob’s words but saw his temperament and benefited from his kindness. One day, looking at his friend through tearful eyes, Cimmerman expressed his newfound love of Jesus. He told Jakob, “You wear his coat well.”17


The post-truth Culture of Confusion is angry at Christians and rejects the message we carry. We must honestly assess our part in perpetuating the confusion and fomenting the anger. Centuries after Solomon, the apostle Paul wrote that when Christians encounter non-Christians, we are to be wise. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” Paul tells us, “so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Notice that Paul didn’t say that we are to answer each question, challenge, controversy, or political issue. We are to answer people. Questions and controversies don’t need answers. People do. The confusion and anger swirling about can be daunting. But if we have integrity and courage, we can change perceptions of the church and the gospel it carries. Integrity is the currency of truth. Courage is its backbone. When we adopt both, and perhaps only then, can the church wear Jesus’ coat well for all to see. Abdu Murray is North American Director at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Adapted from Saving Truth by Abdu Murray. Copyright © 2018 by Abdu H. Murray. Used by permission of Zondervan. 1

See Fowler v. Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2009 U.S. Dist. Lexis 17245 (E.D. Mich. 2009). 2 My initial response was that it sometimes bugs me that people, especially Christians, are a bit too eager to pick at flaws they see in their local churches’ pastors. Any critique should be measured with due respect for what the church is doing right. The fact is, being a pastor is a much tougher job than it used to be. 3 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 27. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid.


Kinnaman and Lyons, Good Faith, 59, quoting Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 199–200. 7 Marie Chapian, Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1978), 122. 8 Bradley R. E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2010). 9 For guidance on ethical uses of social media, see Brian Wassom, What Would Jesus Post? (Nashville: Westbow, 2013). 10 Ed Stetzer, “Christians, Repent (Yes, Repent) of Spreading Conspiracy Theories and Fake News — It’s Bearing False Witness,” Christianity Today Online, May 31, 2017, may/christians-repent-conspiracy-theoryfake-news.html. 11 Mary Rich and Joel Rich, “We’re Seth Rich’s Parents: Stop Politicizing Our Son’s Murder,” Washington Post, May 23, 2017, 2017/05/23/164cf4dc-3fee-11e7–9869bac8b446820a_story.html?utm_term=.21f23f 46aec9. 12 Adam Clarke, Memoirs of the Wesley Family (London: J. Kershaw, 1823), 270 (emphasis mine). 13 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 118. 14 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, 1996). 15 David Bentley Hart, quoting Julian, Epistle 22, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 45. 16 Matthew Parris, “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God,” December 27, 2008, (emphasis mine). 17 Chapian, Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, 123.



A CRY FOR HELP Until we are properly related to God, our true identity and potential will always elude us. No virtual reality or gadget can even begin to address the problem, for they only give back to us what we have put into them. By John Njoroge

Vincenzo Ricardo. If that name does not mean much to you, you are not alone. It does not seem to have meant much to anyone else except, perhaps, him who bore it. In fact it was not even his name. His real name was Vincenzo Riccardi, and nobody seemed to get it right after the sensational discovery of his mummified body in Southampton, New York. He had been dead for thirteen months, but his television was still on, and his body was propped up in a chair in front of it.1 The television was his only companion, and though it had much to tell him, it did not care whether he lived or died. Riccardi’s story raises many unsettling questions. How can a human being vanish for over a year and not be missed by anyone? Where was his family? What about his relatives? Why was the power still on in his house? Whatever the answers are to these and other questions, one thing is clear: Riccardi was a lonely individual whose life can be summed up in one word, alienation. You see, Riccardi was blind, so he never really watched television; he needed this virtual reality to feed his need for


real companionship. Moreover, his violent outbursts and paranoid behavior may have played a role in driving people away from him.2 This is indeed a tragic and extreme tale, but it makes a powerful statement about how cold and lonely life can be for many across the globe. Even those who seem to have it all are not immune to the pangs of loneliness and alienation. The Christian story attests that alienation affects us at three different levels. We are alienated from ourselves, from others, and most significantly, we are alienated from God. That is the reality in which we exist. The restoration process involves all three dimensions, but it begins with a proper relationship with God. We cannot get along with ourselves or with others until we are properly related to God. The good news of the Christian gospel is that abundant restoration is available to all who want it. This process is well illustrated in an encounter Jesus had with another deeply wounded man who lived in a cemetery (see Mark 5: 1-20). Relatives, and perhaps friends, had tried unsuccessfully to bind him with iron chains to keep him home. He preferred to live among the tombs (alienation from others), cutting himself with stones, his identity concealed in his new name: “Legion” (alienation from self ). His mind and body were hopelessly enslaved by Satan’s agents, and his life was no longer his own (alienation from God). It took an encounter with Jesus for the man to be fully restored, “dressed and in his right mind” (verse 15). Only then could he follow Jesus’s command to go back to his family and tell them what God had done for him. The restoration process remains the same today. Until we are properly related to God, our true identity and potential will always elude us. No virtual reality or gadget can even begin to address the problem, for they only give back to us

what we have put into them. They are like the message in a bottle which a castaway on a remote island excitedly received, only to realize that it was a cry for help that he himself had sent out months before. As Augustine prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” We are finite creatures, created for a relationship with an Infinite Being, and no finite substitute can ever meet our deepest needs. Trying to meet our real needs without Christ is like trying to satisfy our thirst with salty water: the more we drink, the thirstier we become. This is a sure path to various sorts of addictions. But when we turn toward the Bread of Life who offers himself up, calling each one of us to the table by name, loneliness is countered with the hope of embrace. We become members of God’s extended family. With Abraham, we look “forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Day by day, we learn to trust God as we travel with others along a heavily trodden path that never disappoints. Friends and relatives may desert us, but we are never alone. We may grieve and lament, but never like those without hope. We have peace and joy within, and even in our own hour of need, others can still find their way to God through us. The alternative is a crippling sense of isolation and alienation within a worldly system whose offerings, however sophisticated and well-intentioned, can never arouse us from spiritual death. John Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Nairobi, Kenya. 1 Erika Hayasaki, “He Died in Vast Isolation,” Los Angeles Times (March 31, 2007), online at on/na-alone31. 2 Ibid.





By Lowe Finney

P ERCHED ABOVE THE altar in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice hang the Ciborium Columns.1 Its artist is unknown. Constructed in the early 1300s from alabaster, the columns hold numerous carvings depicting various stories, among them, the life of Jesus. There are so many stories—108 in fact—that one can easily lose track of all that is displayed. On one particular panel, apparently, Jesus talks to Zacchaeus, who reaches out

of some tree branches to participate in what must have been a truly entertaining conversation. After all, this conversation with Jesus resulted in a divine home-visit, a meal, and a turnaround in Zacchaeus’s life profound enough to warrant its recording and retelling by Doctor Luke (see Luke 19:1-10). Over the last 25 years, I’ve seen the Ciborium Columns and, presumably, this panel a few times. But I remember nothing about it.


Some of us remember the story of Zacchaeus for various reasons described to us as young children in song and story. He was a “wee little man.” He climbed up in a sycamore tree. He was a despised tax collector. But like this work of art, is there also a piece of this story that is forgettable? Maybe we have forgotten that the story of Zacchaeus is a story about the human heart. Here, it is easy to overlook the fact that Zacchaeus’s heart was changed because Jesus intentionally engaged Zacchaeus where Zacchaeus was. Jesus did not have to do this in the way described in the story. As God, he could have had the same result by simply waving his hand and leaving Zacchaeus in the tree. He could have gone to Zacchaeus’s office and confronted him in the midst of cheating a poor resident of Jerusalem. He could have revealed himself to Zacchaeus in a vision. Jesus had an infinite number of ways to make himself known, and arguably, each of these ways could have resulted in the change in Zacchaeus’s life. So why interact with the corrupt Jewish official in this earthy, tedious, personal fashion? Too bad the Ciborium Columns are not helpful here. In her book The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison describes her time as a “medical actor” as she role-played different patients for the benefit of medical school students.2 Following the exchanges, Jamison documents how the medical student performed and to what extent the student was able to empathize with the “patient.” She points out that the students were not expected simply to possess an attitude of concern for the patient but that the student was expected to appropriately give life to that concern and, hence, make it evident in the heart of the patient.3 Within this setting, Jamison describes empathy: Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of

synapses firing across the brain— it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own.4 And so the point of Zacchaeus’s story comes into focus: empathy. Empathy is about choosing a common vantage point and an intentionally shared perspective. Jesus knew that prior to any change in the heart of Zacchaeus, he needed to confront the despised tax collector. But his confrontation did not come in a confrontational manner. It came as an invitation. He had to get close without encroaching. He had to reveal himself in a way that would spur Zacchaeus to decide for himself that he wanted to follow this non-traditional king. Jesus didn’t just go eat with Zacchaeus to share a meal. He went because it was important that Zacchaeus see Jesus eating in Zacchaeus’s home. Zacchaeus needed to see Jesus seeing Zacchaeus’s world as Zacchaeus himself saw it. Zacchaeus needed to see Jesus choosing to see and stay with Zacchaeus. This is the whole point of empathy. Not just that it’s done, but that the other person sees and experiences another’s kind regard of them, another’s effort to try on the same pair of shoes. So what was the effect of Jesus coming to Zacchaeus? In Zacchaeus’s eyes, Jesus is now cloaked in a robe of undeniable credibility. His view of life has now, to his eyes, been honored, and this in turn opens him to desire living a changed life. Instead of taking, Zacchaeus began giving. Instead of cheating, he restored



abundantly. As Luke records, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’” (verse 8). Empathy—the choice to sit and pay attention—was the door through which Christ walked into Zacchaeus’s life. Have we forgotten this crucial detail? Even at a time when “Choose Empathy” shirts adorn those striving for social change and in an age where interaction is based increasingly on technological means and remote interface, there is yet an ever-present challenge to engage personally and across the boundaries of culture, race, status, or tribe. Empathy reminds us that we need to be old-fashioned in our relationships. It is the ultimate first step in our understanding of and love for others. It requires effort. It requires more than simply saying, “That’s too bad” or “I feel for you” or “I feel your pain.” It demands extending ourselves. Jesus routinely modeled this kind of empathy by pushing his listeners into the place of the “other.” He positioned his ministry so as to show that others do more than simply open our eyes to their problems. They can open our hearts to what it means to be forgotten, hurt, and crushed, and likewise, accepted, forgiven, and healed— and thereby prompted to go out as a changed community. Jesus declared (in what is now known as the Golden Rule), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”5 The JudeoChristian worldview is unique in its ability to explain why empathy matters, for empathy is the response to the recognition that another person has inherent worth. The British theologian Richard Bauckham writes: God’s approbation and appreciation of every part of his creation are conveyed by the refrain, repeated at

each stage of creation: “God saw that it was good.” This indicates that each part of creation has its own value that does not depend for its value on other parts.6 Did you catch that? Any other framework for assessing the worth of another— for example, utility or power—is dismissed. Rather, the created thing simply inhabiting those characteristics endowed by its creator gives the creation its self-contained value. God made it able, and it was good? Not quite. God made it useful, and it was good? Wrong again. God created it, and it was good. Yes! Sensing and understanding this indwelling, objective value—the very image of God in each of us—leaves us little option but to peer into another person’s context and join them in their journey. And so Zacchaeus’s alabaster face beckons from the top of the altar to look past the tree and into a life. Even the best art cannot completely convey the need and certainly cannot fully extend the balm. Jesus, however, by going, entering, sitting with, and listening to, does both. Lest we forget. Lowe Finney is a member of the speaking team at RZIM. 1

The ciborium columns stand at the center of the presbytery of Basilica di San Marco, San Marco, Venice. There are 108 with one or more figures representing the life of Mary and the life and passion of Jesus Christ. For further information, see scultura/le-colonne-del-ciborio/?lang=en. 2 Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2014). 3 Ibid., 3. 4 Ibid., 23. 5 See Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. 6 Richard Bauckham, The Bible in the Contemporary World: Hermeneutical Ventures (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 82.



THINK AGAIN By Ravi Zacharias

No Longer Bound YOU MAY RECALL me telling the story of being in a country some years ago where I was introduced to a man who had a daily habit of taking his little boy up a hill. The man would point over the border and tell his son, “Your duty in life is to kill as many of them on the other side as you can.” Even today it is hard for me to comprehend this. Tragically, this man could never shut the gate on the past. And so he dragged the heavy carcass of historical prejudice and draped that corpse over the shoulders of the next generation as a reminder to continue the carnage. Sadly, we discover the seeds of hate and separation in the opening pages of Scripture and within the very first family. Incredibly, the first murder in the Bible did not occur because of two irreconcilable political theories. The murder of a man by

his own brother was an act unmistakably borne out of their differing responses to God! Trapped by the temporal, Cain was deluded by the belief that he could vanquish spiritual reality with brute force. God saw the inevitable result of the jealousy and hatred deep within Cain’s heart, and in a challenge that would determine his destiny, warned him to deal with it. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). Tragically, Cain ignored God’s words, and taking matters into his own hands, he killed his brother Abel. As extreme as these life experiences may sound, who of us has not struggled with anger, forgiveness, and pride? Yet we are called as followers of Christ to love our



neighbors as ourselves and to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Why? Because Scripture tells us that every life is valuable to God: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” uttered the psalmist David. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 13-14). At its core life is sacred and of inestimable value, whether it is the life of a darling child in the fresh blossom of childhood, or the life of an elderly, weak, and frail recluse. We are each made in God’s sacred image. Think of this truth! That is why murder is described in Scripture for what it is: an attack upon God’s image. That is also why we are told, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Murder and even hateful words are attempts to destroy God’s image in another and to deny one’s value and spiritual essence. It is that essence which gives us our dignity and our worth. It is that essence which is our glory and true home. I find it quite remarkable that Jesus did not specifically address some of the pressing social issues of his day. Rather, he went to the heart of what separates us from God and what transforms: we are sinners in need of God’s cleansing forgiveness and restoration. The truth is, we desperately need a Savior, every one of us, whatever our past and whatever our present. We need a God who not only changes what we do, but what we want to do. Scripture promises that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

No longer are we bound by chains of the past, never to shut the gate. Rather, if we are in Christ, we are filled with God’s Spirit and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). What a hope and what a promise! Warm Regards,



For more information or to make a contribution, please contact: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries 3755 Mansell Road Alpharetta, Georgia 30022

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Love is the most powerful apologetic


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“I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.”—Genesis 33:10 ©2018 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

Just Thinking Magazine 26.3  

Just Thinking is a quarterly magazine from RZIM.

Just Thinking Magazine 26.3  

Just Thinking is a quarterly magazine from RZIM.