#125 What Love is This (18/04/04)

Message by: Dr. Ravi Zacharias

Introduction by
Dr. Robert H. Schuller

I am very honored to introduce a man I've known by name and respected for his extraordinary work. I first met him briefly in Amsterdam at a World Evangelism Congress with Billy Graham. He is one of the top gifted speakers in the world and has spoken in over 50 countries including the Middle East, Vietnam and Cambodia, and at numerous universities worldwide, notably Harvard, Princeton and Oxford.

He was born in India in 1946 and immigrated to Canada with his family 20 years later. Today he lives with his wife, Margaret, in Atlanta. While pursuing a career in Business Management, his interest in theology grew. Subsequently he received his Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity International Universities. He also received two Doctor of Divinity degrees and a Doctor of Law degree.

At the invitation of Billy Graham, he was a plenary speaker at the International Conference in Amsterdam in 1983, 1986 and 2000. His weekly radio program, "Let My People Think," is broadcast to thousands of stations worldwide. He is President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries headquartered in Atlanta with additional offices in Canada, India, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Ravi has a new book out entitled, "Recapture the Wonder." It is a great honor for us to have him here. Let me read just one sentence of his new book ... "Wonder is that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason." Listen to him. He is intelligent, educated and he matches his life for Jesus Christ with impeccable integrity of an educated mind. Dr. Zacharias, we love you.

Guest Pastor: Dr. Ravi Zacharias

I want to have you turn your minds with me this morning to an Old Testament book, a tiny little book called Hosea. You can go back home and read it in its entirety in just a few minutes. Fourteen short chapters, autobiographically written by the prophet Hosea, living seven hundred years before Christ. Hosea and his wife, Gomer, had three children, but tragedy struck that home. For some unexplainable reason Gomer decided to thwart that love. Seduced by the allurement of the night-lights, she walked out of her home and started to sell herself in harlotry.
Many an evening this prophet, who used to preach to the people through the day, would be seen in the streets of his beloved city looking for Gomer. At times he’d be seen standing outside the brothel, just waiting for a moment to talk to her, to love her, and to win her back.

In this little personage, God displays His love for us in such extraordinary terms. If you’ll give me your attention, I want to take you through four very profoundly moving truths. I promise you, if you understand these truths, it will be the most revolutionary thing in your life because, from this truth, all other truths of love must be defined.

Isn’t it ironic, 2000 years after the cross of Jesus Christ, when a movie called "The Passion of The Christ" is made to capture that event, the world is still divided and doesn’t seem to understand what it is all about?

But let’s go back to this book called Hosea and follow these ideas as they unfolded. The first thing you see is, as this man goes looking for his wife who has broken her bond of commitment to him, somebody stands in the street and says to him, "Hosea, we love you, we respect you, we admire you. You’re a man of integrity. But we do have a question for you: How can a holy man like you be in love with such an adulterous person like that?"

Hosea says, "I’m really glad you asked because I have an answer for you. Now I’m beginning to wonder how a holy God like that can love such an adulterous nation like us?"

For you see, when Hosea raises that question in his own mind he takes a microscopic look at the heart of God. Go back across the centuries. When God was looking for a nation through whom he was going to reveal Himself, why did He not go to Greece? Greece: the land of philosophers, where philosophical definitions were made and written; Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Contemporary philosophers will tell you that most of western philosophy is merely footnotes to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. But God did not go to Greece. In addition He did not go to Rome, that glorious city that wasn’t built in a day with the majesty of the Caesars. No, He did not choose to go to Rome. Nor did God go to Babylon, which was renowned for building its magnificent palaces of splendor. Renowned because of its wonders encased in their cities.
The Almighty went to a tiny little nation of people laughed at by Greece, abused by Rome, enslaved by Babylon and He said to them, "You are the apple of my eye." If you read it in the original language it doesn’t say "the apple of my eye." It says, "You are the little maiden of my eye." Do you know what that metaphor means? "You are the little maiden of my eye." It is so deeply touching. It is like you telling the girl you love, "Come close - come closer - come very close and look into my eyes. When you see that miniature reflection of yourself in my eye, you will know that you alone are that little maiden in my eye." God takes that kind of love to a most undeserving group of people and He says to them, "You are that little maiden in my eye. You are the apple of my eye."

What love!

Now I ask the question, why did God bring you here this morning? Why has He raised you up in a land of such abundance?

Only a few weeks ago I was in a nation and in a city that I shall leave unnamed, impoverished, pathetic, and sad, two million people homeless in that one city alone, yes, two million people.
I was born in a tiny little home, in a narrow little street of Southern India. If I gave you the name, most of you would never be able to pronounce it. The first time I took my wife and children there, the street was so narrow you couldn’t even take a car, there were only rickshaws to take you in. There are two sewers on either side of that road. As I walked by there, my eyes were just flooded with tears. I could not believe that my little feet had hit the pavement there many, many years before. As I was trying to get to the home to knock on the door to see who was living there, we could not go in because there were a couple of buffaloes parked on the front step blocking our entrance. Now, many a night as I get on my knees before God and think of where He has taken me in these four decades, I look back and I say, "Why me? Why did You lean over on that hospital bed so long ago and find this young man who had nothing to offer you?"

Billy Graham was interviewed by a press reporter and the press reporter said to him, "Mr. Graham, I’ve heard many, many preachers better than you." Quite an audacious statement to have made to Mr. Graham! And he said, "But I want to ask you this question: why has God chosen you to be the evangelist to the world?"

In his most natural, shy response, Billy looked at the press reporter and said, "When I get to heaven that is going to be my first question."

That needs to be our first question? Why me? Why have You loved me with this kind of everlasting love? That’s why the songwriter says,

"What language shall I borrow?
to thank you Dearest Friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end;
O make me Thine forever
and should I fainting be,
Lord let me never, never
outlive my love for Thee."

The love of God is undeserving, but when we go one step further ... the love of God is desperately needed. His design for you and me is that of a loving Heavenly Father. Madam, you need that love. Sir, you need that love. It is the only love in the world that gives you essential worth.

Naturalism cannot do that for you. Naturalism operates from a vacuum in the transcendent. But God says to you, "I have fashioned you and designed you for a purpose as an individual." The very word means you are indivisible. You are uniquely put together. You need His love. I need His love. God’s undeserving love. God’s love ...desperately needed.

Have you made a commitment to God? Have you ever said something to Him in your own prayer life? Time and time again I think back to those moments when I came to crossroads and made some commitments to Him. And then as you start to stagger and you begin to struggle a bit, it is so good to go back to those moments and remember what it is you said to Him when He was moving in your heart so deeply.

My brother lives in Toronto, Canada. He’s two years older than I am. When we moved to Canada in the mid-sixties he went on to work for IBM. He’s quite a smart guy. I say that because you’re going to begin to wonder about his intelligence as I tell you this story.

He was a systems engineer with IBM; he’s done a lot of software work for the eastern European travel industry, for example. About ten years ago, if you were looking for a room in Sophia, Bulgaria, and were looking on the Internet, the software had been designed by my brother for many of those nations in their hotel industry. I say all that to point out this one incident in his life.
Around 1968 he came to my father and said, "Dad, I think I’m ready to get married. Why don’t you return home to India and find the right young woman for me?" Our family was sitting around listening to this conversation, and I thought this can’t be for real - but it was. My father looked at him and said something even more astounding. He said, "Son, we really don’t have enough money for me to go away to India for that long and spend all those weeks looking for the right person. Is it alright with you if I ask my sister, who still lived in India, to look for the right young woman?" My brother said, "That’s fine dad."

So my aunt began the search, and every second or third week a lot of mail would come from India to Toronto with photographs and bio data sheets and it was fun around the dinner table, all of us giving our grades and our numbers, and what we thought of each one. Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t believe I saw a bad picture. Everybody’s picture was fabulous, and I told my brother, "You know this can very easily be done by a good photographer. So you’d better be careful what you think you’re looking at."

But he would look ... he would read ... and he would look and he would read. His nighttime reading was fantastic. Enjoying all of this. Finally he contacted my aunt, having selected one and said, "This is the young woman. She loves the Lord and this and this and this, and I’d like to contact her." Telephone numbers were exchanged and they started talking on the phone, once every two weeks or so. Finally he said to me, "I think my mind is made up. I’m going to choose this young one." And he told my dad, "Dad, would you go ahead and make the arrangements."
A thousand wedding invitations were sent out and they had not even met. He was leaving on a weekend, arriving there about on a Monday to be engaged that night and was going to be married on Friday night ... then turn around Sunday and come back to Toronto. All the guests had been arranged, all the invitations sent out and these two had not set eyes on each other. Ladies and gentlemen, I began to worry.

Finally I said to him before he left, "I’ve got a question for you. What happens when you get off the plane and as you are walking towards her you see her with that garland in her hand, and you say to yourself ‘Good grief what have I done?’ Or she looks at you and says, ‘I hope it’s his brother and not him.’ What are you going to do? Are you going to get on the phone in India to phone a thousand people and say to them, ‘We’ve seen each other and its over?’"

He said, "Have you finished, Ravi?"
I said, "Yes."
He said, "Sit down, Ravi. You’re going to go into the ministry so I’m going to tell you something, and I suggest you write it down and never ever forget it. What you are saying cannot happen, and the reason is this. Love is more a question of the will than it is of the emotion. If you will to love someone, you can."

They’ve now been married thirty-five years and have three children. In one of my books entitled, "I, Isaac, Take Thee Rebecca," I penned that story, but I’ve ended it with these words:

"I understand that without the emotion, marriage can be drudgery, I understand that. But I also understand that without the will, it can be a mockery. "

If you have not committed your will to anything, something else owns you, other than that thing you’re feigning any commitment toward.

When God calls you and me to be committed to Him, He is calling for our will. Not only does He love us, but He asks that we remember what it is we promised Him when we came to Him. Bring your will.

Then we move to the third stage, which is God’s response. God says, "I will beat you as a moth. I will beat you as a lion. And I will remove My presence and depart from you. A moth weakens, a lion tears apart." Further, He says, "If My weakening of you doesn’t change you, if My dismemberment of you in someway doesn’t change you, I will have to remove My presence and depart from you."

This is where I look at our current cultural crises in North America today. Evidently we won’t turn to Him by just becoming weaker. We may not even turn to Him when we are in some way mangled. But what I think is happening in our cultural crises today is a loss of wisdom. We do not seem to understand right from wrong anymore. We have no moral point of reference as a basis upon which to make our decisions.

Did you ever hear of the man in England who used to go to work every day, and on the way he would stop outside a clockmaker’s store and synchronize his watch with the clock in the window? One day the clockmaker stopped him and said, "I am amazed that every day you stop and synchronize your watch with my clock. What kind of work do you do?"

The man replied, "I am embarrassed to tell you this, but I’m the timekeeper in the factory and the clocks in the factory don’t work very well. So I synchronize my watch with your clock every morning because I have to ring the bell at four o’clock every afternoon at the end of the day’s shift."

The clockmaker started to laugh and said, "You’re not going to believe this. My clock doesn’t work very well either. I synchronize it with the bell that I hear from the factory at four o’clock every afternoon."

What happens when two incorrect watches correct themselves by each other? They will become more and more out of sync with reality every single day.

Nobody describes what is happening in our cultural crisis better than J. K. Chesterton, who wrote in the middle of this century. In this passage he’s talking about the skeptic who wants to rebel against everything, and overturn all the moral percepts by which the culture had lived. Mr. Chesterton, this brilliant English journalist captured the dichotomy with these words:

"This new rebel who rebels against everything is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore, he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book, a novel, in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men.

Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything."

You see J. K. Chesterton said it in a simpler way: "Every time you remove a fence, always pause long enough to find out why it was put there in the first place."

God gave us the moral law to remind us that our worship is sacred, that my body is sacred, that my words are sacred, that my time is sacred, that the property I own is sacred. It is the de-sanctification of all of these that have split us, and put us in the mess that we now find ourselves.
The tragedy of disbelieving in God is not that a person ends up believing in nothing, alas it is much worse. A person may end up believing in anything.

I was speaking at the University of Iowa when a woman stood up and said, "I object to almost everything you’ve said." I said that’s not surprising.

She said, "Whoever told you that the world needs to be coherent. Where did you get this idea that life had to be coherent? Is this not a western idea you are throwing upon us? Where did you get this idea from that life had to be coherent?"

I said, "Ma’am I’ll be very happy to answer question, I just have one question for you. Do you want my answer to be coherent or my answer to be incoherent?"

What do you say?
When I was at the University in Manila, the Philippines, a man shouted from the floor, "All of life is meaningless."
I said, "You don’t believe that."
He said, "I do."
I said, "No you don’t."
He said, "I do."
I said, "Say it again."
He said, "Everything in life is meaningless."
I said, "You don’t believe that."
He said, "I do. Who are you to tell me I don’t?"

I said, "I am assuming, sir, that what you just said was meaningful. If what you just said was meaningful, then everything is not meaningless. On the other hand, if everything is meaningless, than what you’ve just said is meaningless, too. In effect, you’ve really said nothing."

This same man stayed for the end of the meeting and came to the church that night. He was also the first one at the altar.

What happens when life breaks down ... when there is systemic contradiction? The closer we get to God, the closer we get to reason. The farther we move from God the farther away we move from reason.

God's love is unmerited, yet desperately needed. God's heartache is that we do not keep our commitments to Him. Consequently God's response to us is that He will remove His presence and depart from us. But that’s not the way He ends the story.

In Hosea, Chapter 14, God says to the prophet Hosea, "Go and love her again." God says, "I’ll heal your backsliding and love you freely for My anger is turned away from you."

Ladies and gentlemen, the one word that defines the Christian faith is the word forgiveness. God forgives you. God forgives me. God gives each of us a chance to start afresh.

Jim Bakker, in one of his books tells the story of the time he was in prison after that sad event in the 1980's. One day, wearing his overalls as he was cleaning the latrines in the prison, a guard came to him and said, "Jim, there’s somebody here to see you."

Jim said, "I don’t want to see anybody."
The guard said, "I think you’ll want to see this person."
Jim said, "I’m filthy."
The guard said, "Yeah, that’s alright. You may go and change."

Jim was going to change when he stopped and said, "No, this is what has happened to me." And with all of the splashes from the water on the floor, and all of the tragedy that had befallen this gentleman, Jim Bakker, embarrassed by what he looked like, put the broom and mop aside and walked over to the waiting room and was stunned when I saw Billy Graham standing there. Billy took three steps toward me and wrapped his arms around me and embraced me. In that moment, I wept like a little child, realizing that my name symbolized all that was corrupt to society, and his name symbolized all that was pure. I was being held in the embrace of a man who was pure."

You know, if that kind human acceptance does that much for you and me, think of what it is when God himself puts His arms around you and says, "Welcome home."

What love is this? It is God’s love, and no other love can be defined until that love has been properly understood.

I preached this year in Wales, where in the fall they celebrated a hundred years of the Welsh Revival. Many hymns came out of that revival, and I close with the words of one of these beautiful songs. It’s a magnificent melody, and here are the words:

  "Here is love, vast as the ocean,
loving kindness as the flood
when the Prince of Life our ransom
shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten throughout
heaven’s eternal days.
On the Mount of Crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide,
through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love like mighty rivers
poured incessant from above.
Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love."

God offers you that kiss. He offers you that embrace today. You may be the apple of His eye. May God richly bless you. Amen


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