How Ravi Zacharias and Fred Rogers were Alike

The following is an article I wrote describing how Ravi Zacharias and Fred Rogers were alike, and how they influenced me as an apologist and pastor.  It was originally published by the SOLA Network on May 23, 2020 in the link below and republished on my personal blog with permission.  Thank you to the SOLA Network for providing me with the opportunity to share!

Many of us are saddened to hear of the recent passing of Ravi Zacharias. He was one of my favorite Christian apologists. Upon reflection, I realized Ravi stood out among other Christian apologists. With the unique way he spoke, he modeled what I tend to struggle with as an aspiring Christian apologist: sensitivity towards people and their emotions.

Another iconic figure who had a similar influence on me was Fred Rogers. Those who grew up watching his television program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” would consider him as a close friend and neighbor who “liked you just the way you are.” As an ordained Presbyterian minister to children through the medium of television, Fred also modeled what I tend to struggle with as a pastor: sensitivity towards people and their emotions.

I tend to appeal towards logic and reasoning while practicing theology and apologetics as a pastor. However, Ravi and Fred helped me to develop persuasion through character and emotion, which are necessary for effective evangelism, apologetics, and pastoral ministry. I would like to share of their influence on me by presenting three ways Ravi and Fred were alike.

1. Ravi and Fred spoke with humility

Every time I pull up the “Just Thinking” podcast and listen to Ravi speak, I am drawn in by the humility in his voice and reflect on the prideful way I often can speak.  Many apologists speak with a great show of knowledge and focus on destroying the arguments that challenge the Christian faith.  However, Ravi’s humility and calmness in his voice added credibility to what he was saying and won the hearts of his listeners.  He exemplified defending the gospel with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15) and spoke “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Much like Ravi, Fred Rogers also spoke with humility in his voice. He was warm and gentle and captured the attention of his children audience. While many adults talk down to children, Fred spoke on the same level of the children and won their hearts.  Ravi and Fred taught me to be humble and consider the audience I am ministering to, much like how Jesus Christ humbled Himself in human form to be the Savior of humans (Phil. 2:5-8).

2. Ravi and Fred evoked wonder

To wonder means to seek meaning and to be curious.  This is what philosophy is about!  Ravi noticed a lack of wonder and awe of the mystery of God and His creation. This led him to write the book, Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy.  Ravi promoted this wonder and thinking in his approach as he spoke at different events and answered the questions of the audience.  I learned from Ravi that apologetics involves leading others to wonder and think about God with the eventual hope for the worship of God!

Fred also recognized that children naturally have the propensity to wonder and imagine. During a time when early childhood television programs already became fast-paced mind-numbing entertainment, Fred’s slow pace in speaking and overall flow of his program provided children with the time to listen, think, and reflect on the subject at hand. Although Fred did not explicitly teach Christian doctrine on his show, he provided the approach to wonder and think about everything in the world God created.  This is the childlike faith missing in adults that Ravi and Christ also promoted (Matt. 18:3; Mrk. 10:14; Luk. 18:17).

3. Ravi and Fred invoked God’s love for the whole person

Ravi often followed up with the people who asked him questions during an event.  He did not see a person as a problem to be fixed or as another question to answer.  Instead, he showed God’s love and personally ministered to the needs of the whole person from heart, soul, to mind.  Ravi did so publicly on-stage as he did personally off-stage.

Fred was also known for showing God’s love to children.  He saw his television show as a ministry as he prayed, “Let some word that is heard be thine” every day.  The same love he showed to children on-screen was the same off-screen.  Whenever he met children in person, he knelt down to their level and spent long, personal time with each one to the point that his producers would be annoyed with him as his next shoot or appointment would always be delayed.  Ravi and Fred ministered with God’s love to the whole person.

Good and Faithful Servants

Ravi and Fred helped me develop sensitivity towards people and their emotions for effective evangelism, apologetics, and pastoral ministry.  Ravi Zacharias will be truly missed.  As he joins Fred Rogers and other saints in heaven, may God say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

2020 CCCGA Mother’s Day Video

Happy Mother’s Day! Here is an appreciation video to the CCCGA mothers from the youth, children, and babies, originally broadcasted at the end of the Chinese Worship Service and English Worship Service live streams.

Thanks to Emily Zhang and Hannah Eng for creating this video!

2019 CCCGA Child Dedication and “Divided” Movie Review

2019 CCCGA Child Dedication

This past Sunday on June 23 at CCCGA, six families, including mine, participated in a Child Dedication during our Joint Service.  I preached a topical sermon from various Scripture passages about The Significance of Child Dedication to prepare the congregation with an appropriate understanding of this ceremony.  I made the point that this ceremony should really be called Parent Dedication, since it is the parents who are making a commitment before God to raise their children to love and obey God.  These parents publicly answered the following questions in this commitment.

  1. Parents, do you understand that children are a precious gift entrusted to you from the Lord?
  2. Are you willing to watch your own conduct to be role models to your children, pray for them often, love them, teach them with God’s Word, lead them to know Jesus Christ, and help them receive salvation?
  3. When your children grow up, are you willing to help them fulfill God’s plan in their life?

“Divided” Movie Review

As I was preparing for this sermon last week, I was reminded about a film I came across a few years ago called “Divided“, produced by the Leclerc Brothes.  The full film (52 minutes) can be watched below.

This film opened by presenting the problem that many youths of this generation are leaving the Church and leaving their faith in Christ not only when they go to college, but also even while they are still in middle school and high school.  Many youth programs in churches focus a lot on music, pop culture, and entertainment to attract youths and sprinkle in a little Bible teaching.  As a result, youth may not see the difference between church and the culture they are supposed to be against.  The film pointed out that there is no command in the Bible to create a youth ministry, thus dividing children from the parents in the church.  But there are commands for parents to teach their children Scripture.  Many parents may not feel comfortable or theologically trained to teach their children and instead trust in the youth pastors and the Church to do the job.  But unfortunately, many youth programs in churches are not biblical.

The film showed how the Church has adopted a factory model of education.  In society, we put our children through years of schooling, and out should come out independent and responsible adults ready to work and contribute in the world.  This factory model had seeped into the Church.  Parents think if they bring their children to church for many years, out should come out a strong Christian.  The Sunday School model reflects this as well.  Children are being divided into different classes by age group and are assumed they should be at a certain spiritual level by a certain age.  One pastor in the film talked about how if we followed the biblical model of church, there would be no youth ministry.  Another pastor applies a “community” model in the church and brings together children of all ages to join the adults in their worship services.  Parents worship together with their children and hear the same preaching of Scripture from the pulpit.  Parents have the responsibility and authority to teach and discipline their children according to Scripture.  The film concluded with a call to return to the Scriptures so that within the church, we will be reunited and not divided.

Personal Thoughts

Although I agree 100% with the biblical responsibility and roles of parents to teach their children the Bible, the film seems to demonize youth ministry or other church models.  I believe that there is a place for youth ministry especially in the Chinese-ethnic church and other immigrant or ethnic churches.  Some children who go to church may not have parents who are believers.  Even if the parents are believers, there may be language or culture barriers that can prevent them from teaching their Americanized children Scripture.  These should not be excuses to relinquish the parental responsibility of teaching children. But the Church and youth ministry has a role to train and equip parents to overcome these barriers to do so.  In addition, youth ministry should help the children understand their parents’ role to teach them.  It should encourage children to show grace to their parents who are doing their best despite any language or culture barriers.  Youth ministry can also help in the situation when parents are not believers or are not even present.  Overall, I believe youth ministry can be a supplement to the parents’ ministry to their children.  Sending your children to youth ministry should be like giving them vitamins.  You cannot just feed your children a diet of vitamins and diet supplement pills.  They need a healthy, balanced, diet of real food, which is the biblical teaching that parents can provide.  Therefore, I believe youth ministry in the church has an important role to supplement the teaching of the parents.  Even though I may not agree with the film’s call to get rid of youth ministry, I agree with the biblical responsibility of parents.  I also agree that there are many youth programs in churches today that need to return back to biblical standards and not be just a place of entertainment and pop culture.

At CCCGA, we have separate Chinese Worship Services and English Worship Services.  Even though the majority of parents are in the Chinese congregation and the majority of youth are in the English congregation, the intention is not to divide them.  The worship services are meant to accommodate worship in different languages.  I record my sermons from the English Worship Service so that parents are aware of what their youth learn and can talk about it with them.  Once a month, we have a Joint Bilingual Service when both congregations worship together.  But I wonder whether the youth and parents sit with each other or even discuss about the sermon afterwards.  Before we implemented a new model and approach for Children Ministry a few years ago, I remember seeing elementary-age children being with their parents to sing worship songs in the Chinese congregation before going to their classes.  We no longer do that anymore as the children have their own worship service now.  I understand that it may have been hard for them to sing in Chinese.  Maybe during our monthly Joint Bilingual Services, the children can join the youth in sitting together with their parents to sing worship songs to God in both Chinese and English.  We can bring parents and children to worship together more often and not be divided.  We can equip more parents to be the main teachers of the Bible in their families.  In order to do so, I know we will need to trust and rely on God to work in everyone’s hearts.

2019 Memorial Day Retreat – Tower of Spiritual Growth

* Logo created by Sabrina Li

I was really tired and burned out after planning my church’s retreat last month.  Two weeks after that, I had to go to another retreat!  It was an honor to be the guest speaker and preach God’s Word to youth and college students at the 2019 Upstate New York Chinese Church Memorial Day Retreat (纽约上州华人教会国殇日退修会) held at LeTourneau Christian Center in Rushville, NY.  This retreat was for some Chinese Christian Churches from Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Geneva, Corning, and Albany.  I found that it was much easier being a guest speaker than to be a leader organizing and facilitating a retreat.  I was very glad I was able to relax that Memorial Day weekend and be refreshed.  It was a pleasure to meet brothers and sisters from other churches I don’t usually fellowship with.  Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

The retreat theme I framed my sermons in was called “Tower of Spiritual Growth”.  It is important for Christians to have consistent and flourishing spiritual growth in Jesus Christ.  Our spiritual growth can be compared to building a tower.  As we grow closer and closer in our relationship with Christ, our tower can grow taller and taller.  Aspects of building a tower were used as an analogy to represent aspects of our spiritual growth in Christ.  My sermons can be streamed or downloaded from my website here.

2019 Memorial Day Retreat Handbook

As I got a chance to spend time and talk with the youth and college students from these Chinese churches, I begin to realize how blessed CCCGA is to have an English Ministry.  Some of these churches do not have an organized Youth/English Ministry or even a pastor for these American-Born Chinese.  However, I praise God that He is working in the lives of these youth as they know the gospel and grow in faith.  I can see it as they served.  For example, the youth leading worship during the retreat definitely have the gift to do so.  They spoke and directed the people during the services to focus on God as we worshiped.  Since the worship team members were from different cities, they drove hours to meet together and rehearsed prior to the retreat.  This requires a strong commitment to God.

During this retreat, I introduced a spiritual practice called a Prayse Fire on Sunday evening that I do with my youth during our CCCGA retreats.  It is an open-mic time in the dark before a fire to share prayer requests and praises to God.  I was surprised at how many people were open to share their burdens and struggles especially to others they may not know well.  This brought the whole group close together, even though they were from different churches, as they prayed for one another.  There was one person who came to the retreat just for that Sunday.  He was not a Christian and spoke and dressed differently than the typical Chinese American.  He did not feel much love or acceptance from family and others while growing up.  But he was thankful that even though he was different, everyone at the retreat welcomed and loved him.  This is part of what it means to show Christ’s love.  I pray that this person will be connected to a church back at home and come to know God and find salvation through faith in Jesus.

Even though I came to this retreat as a guest speaker to preach and teach, I also learned a few things from God.  First, it was very easy to compare churches and feel prideful.  I thank God for helping me be humble and praise Him that there are strong brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to serve and spread the gospel in their cities.  Second, I learned to step back, trust God, and let others lead.  At CCCGA, I am so used to being the one in the leadership role and organizing something down to the exact details.  It felt weird for once to not know all of the exact details of what was happening during the retreat.  So I trusted God and let others lead while I followed.  Finally, I learned that I need to be more spontaneous and fun.  While observing the youth during the retreat, I saw the camaraderie as they interacted with one another.  They did some “in the spur of the moment” things such as dancing to music to hype everyone up before worship.  In the future retreats I plan for CCCGA, I need to have even more fun activities and leave room for unplanned, spontaneous moments when everyone just wants to do something.  I am very thankful that I had this opportunity to be a part of this Memorial Day Retreat.

2019 CCCGA Retreat – #strugglenomore

As always, everyone is excited for CCCGA’s annual retreats.  This year, it was held from May 10-12.  We changed to a new host location at the Silver Bay YMCA Conference & Family Retreat Center up by Lake George.  Although it is a further drive from Albany compared to our previous retreat locations, the accommodations were great with hotel-like lodging and other activities like archery and kayaking.  We invited Pastor Cristobal Tong from 3Stone, a ministry of NYCAC and the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, to be our guest speaker for the English congregation.  He preached a series of sermons under the theme called “#strugglenomore”.  The theme is a play off #thestruggleisreal. His sermons went through the book of 1 Corinthians and touched on various forms of earthly struggles, such as self image, body image and addictions while being grounded in the words of Paul.  Pastor Cristobal’s sermons may be streamed or downloaded from the church website here.

2019 CCCGA Retreat Program

Thank you to all of the coworkers who helped lead small groups, worship, and games!  During the retreat, there was a visitor from Binghamton named George who happened to be a pastor staying at the YMCA for the weekend.  It was great to have him join and minister to us during our time of fellowship!

* Video slideshow created by Jonah Eng.

Since this year’s retreat also coincided with Mother’s Day, the youth made a video to appreciate their mothers!

* Video created by Emily Zhang