Commenting on the power of branding, a friend of mine from Singapore told me that many watches have the same works inside. It is the logo on the outside or the celebrity that wears it that has the power of persuasion to buy it. The brand becomes identified with whoever markets it. I’m sure that’s true of almost everything you see on a billboard. Walking through airports, you see the same names and personalities everywhere except for the local names marketing their local offerings.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the mind works? When people see a certain watch on a tennis player, they know that the watch isn’t responsible for his or her success. But they still want a watch like his. If I could play like Federer because I wore his watch, he would no longer be unique. It is not the watch that makes the man or woman. No, Federer is where he is because of skill, hard work, discipline and practice. He has earned his trophies.
Winning the person not the debate
In this call to be an evangelist, we have some foundational similarities but even greater differences. Most important for us as speakers is that we remember whom we serve and not how good is our serve. We have to remember to whom the trophies ultimately belong and why they are laid at His feet. We must remember that winning a debate is nowhere near as important as winning the person. We are not here to win the applause of the crowd but to be mindful of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. We have a message that is old and an audience that is new.
Why do I begin this way? There are comments that I hear repeatedly as I travel, as does our whole team: “Thank you for helping to answer my questions”, “Thank you for keeping me from giving it all up.” Those comments are both troubling and relevant. We exist to deal with the deep questions of the heart and mind. There are other ministries that exist for the same reason, and we are ever grateful for them. Is there a uniqueness in the message? No, but I trust as a team there is a breadth in the method we seek to embrace together as we speak and train.
Nourishment for the soul
When I had the privilege of speaking at Dr. Norman Geisler’s funeral, I was reminded afresh of how indebted I am to him and to many others who poured their hearts into my life. I mentioned some of their names as I spoke at Dr. Geisler’s funeral. I did my master’s work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois (now Trinity International University). At that time, the names of the professors there of theology and philosophy of religion were household names among evangelicals: Kenneth Kantzer, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery, John R.W. Stott, J.I. Packer, I. Howard Marshall, Walter Kaiser, Gleason Archer, John Gerstner, John Woodbridge, and others. Sitting at their feet was truly nourishment for the soul. It is the same impact we at RZIM hope to have on the next generation of apologists. It is important to have and share both the answers and the experience of walking this path for our Lord.
In the last month, a couple of well-known names in the Christian world have spoken of struggles with their faith. G. K. Chesterton said that when belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him but, in heaven’s name, to what? Abandoning one’s faith in God is nowhere near as difficult as it might seem. But then what? Where else do we find answers for the most existential relevant questions, to the deepest questions of life?
Job struggled with his faith but never denied his Lord. Even our Lord himself struggled as he approached Calvary. It is fascinating to me that it was one from the crowd that helped him with the physical burden of carrying the cross, but the spiritual burden was for him and him alone to bear.
Without bearing the cross and without the resurrection, there are no answers. Science has the answers to many things but not to moral reasoning and to the “why” of life’s meaning. These concerns are at the heart of the questions we are asked. Wearing a certain watch doesn’t make us a champion but interpreting the times is indispensable to why we are here in the first place.
Touching lives across the globe
We cover hundreds of thousands of miles across the globe. Since the beginning of the second quarter, I could tell you the scores of venues our team has visited and the number of lives that have been touched. As I write this, checking out of a hotel in an Asian country, the guest-relations employee surprised me when she said, “Can I ask you a question? I am a Buddhist and I know you are a Christian. Can you tell me what is the difference? We all try to be good in life. But I find I have no real peace in my life, my marriage, and my job. Something is missing.”
She went on to say that many thousands of guests come and go through their hotel and she has noticed there seems to be no true happiness with most who come there. Then she said, “You stay in your room and write, and I know you write about God. I am not sure I understand about God.”
I looked at my watch. I knew I had a flight to catch. But her question allowed me to remember why I was there in the first place. Otherwise, I would have well fit the model of the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan.
So it is, everywhere we go. In the last few weeks, from Charlotte, NC, to Washington, DC, to Halifax, NS to the US military base in Wiesbaden, we’ve heard questions galore from people in different walks and stages of life.
True apologetics remembers the story
So let me get to another question we are asked, that comes from those who follow Jesus but struggle with where to go to worship with head and heart. Frequently, the question of different styles of worship comes up. This is very often a struggle between different ages. As Christian apologists for the gospel’s sake, we try our best not to get into issues that may send the wrong message. But this is what I think we have to consider on this issue: if we only attempt to be relevant to one generation, we ignore the very ones who brought us this far. We lose sight of the need of every generation to have their heart’s cry be heard and to not lose their past completely. They are part of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Yes, today and tomorrow are important, but let’s not forget yesterday. The watch tells us what time it is, but it is the soul that reminds us of “So what?” This is why true apologetics is not just an argument; rather, it remembers the story.
With my questioner at the hotel, I went to John 3 and 4, the new birth and the crushed spirit of a broken person. It was an amazing conversation. I had her open the Bible in her own language on her cell phone as I opened mine and some incredible things happened in thirty minutes. People walked by and some listened in. Evangelism is not just about our appointments; it is punctuated by divine appointments.
That is why we are itinerant. We go to the questioner. May I give you another example? I finished my talk and Q&A at our Zacharias Institute, and I lingered to answer some personal questions. The hour was getting late. I had just had surgery three days before, and my body was sending me signals but I saw the faces of those in line and hated to leave. Finally, my colleague nudged me and said, “I really think you should call it a day.” So I looked down the line of people once more to see if there was anyone that looked in particular need, and I finally signaled to a young man to come to the front of the line. He began his story by giving me his name, then he said: “I am eleven days away from my fourteenth birthday. In the next eleven days I have to choose between my mother and my father.”
My heart sank. What does one say when brokenness is having to be an instrument in another break? I said the only thing I could say: “I will pray for you – that you don’t lose either.” That’s where our conversation began, and that’s how it ended in prayer.
Meaning gives hope for the heart
Dear friends, the gospel may not take away all of our struggles, but without the gospel the very struggles become absurd sensations in a meaningless world. In other words, meaning is what gives our struggles meaning. A meaningless world makes all hurts nothing more than meaningless, punctuated feelings that come and go with time. Likewise, no eternity to hope for and no hope for the heart.
As I look to the next few venues, there is so much for which to prepare: Singapore, India, Indonesia, several stops in the US and Canada (Colorado Springs in a conversation with Dennis Prager; California; New Jersey; Texas; New York; Hamilton, Ontario; Delaware, and other spots), Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, a very closed country ( a privilege rarely given), the UK, South Korea, and so it goes.
Our works will outlive us
The wonderful thing is that the ministry now has multiple voices on multiple tracks. This is an amazing time in which to multiply impact. The response we get from our mass media posts is heart-warming. My dialogue with the renowned Ben Shapiro brought thousands of responses. The books are getting very positive feedback as so many of our team are now in print. My latest, one co-authored with Abdu Murray, Seeing Jesus from the East, will be released early next year. It was a delight to write with Abdu. He’s a great writer. There are so many issues that are beautifully eastern that we often miss: the motifs of the temple, the wedding, the parables, questions of shame and superstition. All of these have an eastern twist with a global reach. We enjoyed writing it. The next one will be with Vince Vitale. We have begun work on it, and it will be, I think, a highly relevant one for our times. I am really happy with the opportunity to keep writing. Those works will outlive us.
As I bring this letter to a close, since I began with the tennis ace Roger Federer, let me end this with an anecdote about him. Recently, at the Australian Open, he was walking back to the dressing room. The fine doorman asked to see his badge. Undoubtedly, I am sure, because, there are many Federer lookalikes in this world! Federer did not have his badge on him and had to wait for his equipment man to come who was also carrying his badge. He showed the badge and was let in. I was duly impressed. My goodness! What class on and off the court. Perhaps more importantly, the doorman was doing his job and it was for the player’s protection.
Facing risks for the gospel
As we travel around, we know how many it takes to get us to where we are and how many risks we face. You are among those that care for us and protect us. Your generous giving makes it possible to go to many places and do it without stipulating any honorarium such as the military base in Wiesbaden. Because of you, we are free to go to serve in His service. Unfortunately, we are also living in days when security measures cost so much, but we have to take them. Our entire team stands behind the scenes and works so hard.
Thank you for standing with us. The end of September marks our fiscal year-end. We need your help. All we ask is that you seek the mind of the Lord. May He be your guide.
God bless you, dear friends. RZIM’s brand is not in our watches but in keeping watch over a world in need and in bringing a message entrusted to us by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to that needy world. His message is the only one that combines grace and truth, embodied in him. That truth is eternal, and the cross is more than a brand. It is the definition of life and forgiveness, bringing hope in a world that can get trapped in the hollowness of names and brands. We carry that message of our Lord especially to those who struggle. You make our struggle lighter. Thank you for your support.
God bless you, dear friends.
Ravi and the entire RZIM team