Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Why a journalist’s disappearance is globally significant


Jamal Khashoggi, a famous journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s leadership, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain some documents. He has not been seen since.

His fiancée is afraid he has been kidnapped or killed. Turkish authorities claim to have evidence that he was tortured and murdered by Saudi agents. Saudi officials insist he left the consulate shortly after arriving.

Let’s survey what we know this morning, then we’ll explore the reasons why his disappearance is so significant to the Middle East and to the West.

Who is Jamal Khashoggi?

Jamal Khashoggi was born in Medina in 1958. His grandfather was the personal physician of King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His cousin, Dodi Fayed, was dating Princess Diana when the two were killed in 1997.

A longtime critic of the Saudi government, he relocated to the US in 2017 and began writing for the Washington Post. He founded a new political party this year directly opposing the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On the afternoon of October 2, he went inside the main entrance of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document proving he was divorced. He could then marry his fiancée, a Turkish citizen, who waited outside. After he did not come back out, she reported him missing. The Saudi government claims he left the consulate through a back entrance.

What happened to Khashoggi?

CNN reported on Monday that the Saudis were preparing a statement acknowledging that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. According to CNN’s sources, the interrogation was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey. The report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved will be held responsible.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why a journalist’s disappearance is globally significant

Denison Forum – Is your sports team killing you?

Steven Clary and his friends were ecstatic at halftime of the 2017 Super Bowl: his Atlanta Falcons were up 28-3 over New England. By the time the Patriots came back to defeat his team, he was in the hospital with chest pain.

A study published last year suggests that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can substantially affect the cardiovascular system. Heart rates peak most often during scoring opportunities and overtime.

September and October are the only months when you can watch baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. But our fixation with athletics is not confined to this season of the year: Americans spend $100 billion on sports each year.

According to a Barna study, 64 percent of Americans think pro athletes have more influence in society than pastors. We commonly refer to “idolizing” sports figures and other celebrities. Perhaps we’re more right than we know.

The sin at the heart of all sins

I have a wooden idol on one of the shelves in my library. I purchased it nearly forty years ago when I was a missionary in East Malaysia. It is a hand-carved image of a bird with a large beak. I was told that some of the natives viewed it as a nature god.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Is your sports team killing you?

Denison Forum – Why has Tom Cruise been recast as Jesus?

The BibleWalk Museum in Mansfield, Ohio, is a collection of more than three hundred wax figures. Its guided tours include the Miracles of the Old Testament, the Life of Christ, the Heart of the Reformation, the Museum of Christian Martyrs, and Amazing Grace–The Journeys of Paul. There’s also a “Dinner with Grace,” a Bible-themed dinner theater on the property.

Many of the museum’s wax figures come from closed wax museums around the country or were bought from manufacturers that had a surplus. Some were celebrities in their previous lives.

For instance, a wax figure of Prince Charles is now Abel, the murdered brother of Cain. A wax figure of Prince Philip serves as an angel. Elizabeth Taylor is in the King Solomon scene, apparently playing the Queen of Sheba. Steve McQueen and John Travolta have roles as well; Tom Cruise has been recast as Jesus.

Journalists and comedians have made fun of the museum for reusing celebrity figures. However, director Julie Mott-Hardin sees a larger purpose behind the publicity they have received: “Deep down, we believe that God sends each person here, so I want to make sure–as much as it’s in me–that they’re getting out of their experience here everything that God wanted them to get.”

Pastor Brunson returns home

Our post-Christian society is looking for significance in the wrong places. We focus on the celebrities in our culture and miss the ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things in God’s power for God’s glory.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why has Tom Cruise been recast as Jesus?

Denison Forum – Meghan Markle, Prince Harry expecting first child

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is expecting her first child with Prince Harry, according to an announcement by Kensington Palace this morning. The palace said the baby is expected in the spring of 2019.

The news was announced as the couple began a tour of Australia, their first official tour since their marriage. Their baby will be seventh in line to the throne.

Why is a royal baby so special?

UNICEF estimates that 353,000 babies are born each day around the world. What makes a royal baby so special?

Prince George was born on July 22, 2013. The next evening, he was presented to “the biggest media circus in royal history.” Hundreds of TV crews and reporters lined up for almost a month outside the hospital where his mother gave birth.

When Princess Charlotte was carried out of the hospital, the receiving blanket in which she was wrapped sold out within minutes. Its brand monitored 100,000 people from 183 countries visiting their website in less than twenty-four hours. When Prince George greeted President Obama at Kensington Palace in 2016, the clothes he was wearing sold out in minutes as well.

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Denison Forum – Hurricane Michael: Finding hope in disaster

Last weekend, Michael was a tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. It was barely a hurricane Tuesday morning, with winds of ninety miles per hour. As the Associated Press reports, “a little over a day later, it had transformed into a monster.” Its wind speed increased 72 percent in less than thirty-three hours.

“Storms are known to do this, but normally we see this happening when it’s away from land,” according to a University of Florida climatologist. “What’s unusual is that it’s happening so close to land.”

The Atlantic now ranks it as “among the most ferocious land-falling hurricanes in American history.” The Washington Post agreed, describing Michael as “one of the most intense hurricanes to ever hit the United States.” It moved toward Georgia and Alabama by evening, becoming the first Category 3 storm to hit Georgia since 1898.

We have developed the most advanced meteorological technology known to humanity. Hurricane experts use satellites, buoys, and aircraft flown into the developing storm. They combine data from various predictive models.

But our best scientific instruments are no match for nature. This week’s devastation is another reminder that our world is more unpredictable and ungovernable than we wish to admit.

It is human nature to believe in the permanence of the present and to assume an even better future. But there’s only one way to face tomorrow with guaranteed hope.

Why did the religious authorities reject Jesus?

Have you ever wondered how the religious authorities could reject the teachings of the Son of God? Or how such astute theological minds could miss the truth of his revelation, while Galilean fishermen and common crowds heard him with grateful appreciation?

Continue reading Denison Forum – Hurricane Michael: Finding hope in disaster

Denison Forum – Why did Nikki Haley resign as UN Ambassador?

The big news this morning is Nikki Haley’s decision to resign as US Ambassador to the United Nations. She reportedly suggested the idea to President Trump six months ago and plans to make her resignation effective at the end of the year.

Why is she leaving a position of such influence?

“It’s been eight years of intense time”

The president was effusive in his praise: “She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together. We’ve solved a lot of problems and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems.”

However, skeptics immediately began speculating about the “real reasons” for Ambassador Haley’s decision. While some have pointed to the possibility that she might run for president in 2020, she stated clearly: “I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one [pointing to President Trump].”

Others are suggesting that her role has become limited since John Bolton took over as national security adviser. Critics have questioned her use of private airplanes last year. And some wonder if financial considerations were a factor since she has one child in college and another headed there soon.

Ambassador Haley’s explanation is simple: “It’s been eight years of intense time,” referring to her tenure as governor of South Carolina prior to joining the administration. She wants the president to have “the strongest person to fight” and believes “it’s good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it.”

It’s worth noting that her two-year tenure is exactly the average for a UN ambassador: Since the position was created in 1946, there have been thirty-six people to hold the office.

Hurricane Michael and political storms

In other news, Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall over the Florida Panhandle later today. Forecasters predict “a dangerous storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds.” Total damage and economic impact in the US could approach $15 billion.

In this day of heightened political tensions, we should not be surprised that the approaching storm is sparking political storms as well. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the US Senate, may see his favorability ratings rise as he responds to the natural disaster. Skeptics are already claiming that his hands-on response to the pending tragedy is politically motivated.

In addition, the Democratic nominee for governor pulled his TV spots from media markets set to be impacted by the storm, while his Republican opponent did not. Now both sides are accusing the other of using the storm for political purposes.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Why are we so quick to ascribe political motives to political leaders? One reason is that we’re so often right when we do.

Lord Acton, a prominent British historian, famously remarked: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. . . . There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why did Nikki Haley resign as UN Ambassador?

Denison Forum – What Amazon’s empire says about your soul

I haven’t seen this much cardboard since our family moved to Dallas twenty years ago. Like millions of Americans, our home is the regular destination of brown boxes adorned with smiling logos. What was once a simple online bookseller is fast becoming the most ubiquitous company in the world.

CNN Business tells the story of Amazon’s astounding rise to global dominance. The company seemingly sells everything a consumer can buy, from electronic readers to home security systems to groceries. While there are genuine concerns about the demise of traditional retailers, Amazon’s business model is clearly in the ascent.

One sentence explains their success.

What I learned about America in Cuba

Jeff Bezos, now the world’s richest man, told an Economic Club of Washington dinner last September: “The number one thing that has made us successful, by far, is obsessive-compulsive focus on the customer as opposed to obsession over the competitor.”

This is a fascinating window into our culture. Why does such a customer-centric business model work so well? Consider two factors, both of which relate directly to churches today.

One: Americans are conditioned to think like consumers.

As Bezos notes, we will always want low prices, fast delivery, and large selection. And we will reward companies that deliver them to us. Likewise, churches that tell us what we want to hear will gain a hearing today.

I have discovered that it is not so everywhere. In my frequent travels to Cuba, I have witnessed Christians taking stands for Christ that lead to economic deprivation and government oppression. I have met Muslims who converted to Christianity at the risk of their jobs and even their lives. I know of pastors in China who preach the gospel while facing government censure and worse.

Two: Our culture is more cocooned than ever.

Shopping in a mall is a communal experience, as is attending a movie in a theater, a concert in a music hall, and a worship service in a church building.

Continue reading Denison Forum – What Amazon’s empire says about your soul

Denison Forum – What do politics and UFC have in common?

Did you hear about the fight that began after it ended?

Three million people paid to view Khabib Nurmagomedov fight Conor McGregor in an Ultimate Fighting Championship title bout Saturday night. A bitter personal conflict between the two has been brewing for months. After Nurmagomedov won, he climbed out of the octagon-shaped cage in which they fought and attacked one of McGregor’s corner men. Two men from Nurmagomedov’s camp jumped into the cage and attacked McGregor.

Did the verdict settle the hostilities? McGregor: “I always say you should aim for peace, but if you can’t get peace, you should aim between the eyes. This will never be over.”

The heart of the issue

The UFC fight feels like a parable for America’s political culture this morning. After the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh, USA Today headlined: “Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation didn’t settle this fight. It ignited it.

petition to impeach Kavanaugh has now gathered over 125,000 signatures. Republicans are hoping the fight galvanizes support ahead of the midterm elections in November.

The conflict over Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation was not just another example of the divisive rhetoric that has split America into “red” and “blue” states for years. Nor is the animosity solely due to the fact that a five-to-four conservative majority now sits on the Court.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, explained the issue succinctly yesterday: if the conservative justices do not overturn Roe v. Wade, “they will nullify it, pretty much.” She expects the new Court to allow more state restrictions on abortion.

And this is the heart of the issue.

When the system fails

Continue reading Denison Forum – What do politics and UFC have in common?

Denison Forum – Why you’ll receive a text from the president today


If you live in the United States, you’ll receive an unprecedented text on your cell phone today.

In 2016, President Obama signed a law requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create a system allowing the president to send cellphone alerts regarding public safety emergencies. The Wireless Emergency Alert System has now been created as a result.

Americans can opt out of natural disaster or missing children alerts, but we are not able to avoid the presidential alert system. The president has sole responsibility for determining when such alerts are to be used.

But don’t read your text expecting to hear President Trump’s opinion on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process or other news. The presidential alerts can be used only for national emergencies.

Fifteen words are making headlines

Today’s text will state, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” These fifteen words have drawn national attention all out of proportion to their size and urgency.

In other news, the FBI could finish its probe of Judge Brett Kavanaugh today. The White House authorized the agency to interview anyone it deems necessary. However, even an expanded process would include only a few of the multiplied thousands of people Kavanaugh has met and worked with over his life.

The FBI investigation is partially the result of a now-viral conversation between Sen. Jeff Flake and two women in an elevator after last Thursday’s confirmation hearing. Their appeal played a role in his decision to request the FBI probe before moving forward with the process.

Here’s my point: Small things can make a big impact, for bad or for good. When the news makes us feel discouraged and powerless, we can remember that one person can change the world. And we can decide to be that person, to the glory of God.

Two priests who changed the world Continue reading Denison Forum – Why you’ll receive a text from the president today

Denison Forum – Is a skull-shaped asteroid headed for Earth this Halloween?

Asteroid 2015 TB145 passed our planet three years ago. It missed us by just 300,000 miles and was visible to those with good telescopes. Eerily, it visited us on Halloween and looked very much like a skull.

This time around, however, the asteroid will not be in a Halloween mood. It will be twenty-five million miles away and will appear as a “dot of light,” according to NASA. Its shape may have changed due to collisions with other celestial objects. And it won’t be at its closest to us until November 11, well after Halloween.

A neighborhood our Founders envisioned

While the asteroid won’t be celebrating Halloween, my neighbors will. One already has “ghosts” hanging from their trees and a giant inflatable dragon breathing fire at those who pass by. If history holds, there will soon be dozens of houses in our area displaying a variety of goblins, ghosts, and ghouls.

It’s apparently not too early for Thanksgiving, either. A home in our neighborhood is displaying the word Thankful for passersby to see. Personally, I prefer their decoration to the lawn dragon.

As the November elections draw closer, we’re seeing more and more homes with yard signs supporting one or the other of our senatorial candidates. Campaign signs for state offices are proliferating as well.

While our Founders may not have imagined lawn dragons, this kind of opinionated diversity is just what they intended.

A parable made of bricks

In a monarchy such as the English system our Founders rejected, the king retains authority because his subjects fear his power and hope he will serve their interests. Governments in China, North Korea, Cuba, and Russia stay in power through the same means.

It is different in a republic like America, a system built on consensual self-interest. We elect those leaders we believe will best meet our needs. We support our country and trust that our country will serve us.

How is that working for us these days?

I was walking in our neighborhood yesterday and came upon a brick mailbox that appeared to be intact from the front but was falling apart in the back. Bricks were lying on the lawn, victims of decaying mortar.

I wondered if the mailbox is a parable for our day.

The mortar that holds us together

The mortar that holds our democracy together is trust in democracy. Are we seeing an erosion in such trust?

Curated news feeds expose us only to the reports and opinions we choose. I know people who only listen to Fox News or CNN and would never consider changing.

In addition, our 24/7 news cycle is starved for content and has given more people a platform than ever before. The more strident their voices, the more profitable their shows.

And support for the institutions that bind our nation together has been declining for decades. The Vietnam War and Watergate undermined trust in our government. Corporate corruption such as the Enron scandal has damaged trust in business. Moral failures by clergy members have eroded confidence in denominational and religious leaders.

It’s not surprising that trust in our government, once at nearly 80 percent, is now below 20 percent, a historic low. Fifty percent of Americans were members of a Protestant church in 2003; the number has fallen to 36 percent today while the number with no religion has nearly doubled from 12 percent to 21 percent.

Our unique contribution to culture

I don’t know if Americans can or will regain the trust in institutions that has historically held us together. But I do know that Christians must not be identified primarily with these institutions.

Perhaps we’re seeing a decline in religious affiliation today because we’re offering the wrong value proposition. Too many people think we’re inviting them to join and support just another institution, political party, or social cause.

Our only unique contribution to culture is our invitation to a personal relationship with our Lord. Nothing else we do matters as much. Everything else we do, others can imitate.

For people to believe that they need a personal relationship with Jesus, however, they must first see that such a relationship has been transforming for us. They will know we are Christians by the “fruit of the Spirit” we display (Galatians 5:22-23). They will be attracted to Jesus when they see Jesus making a difference in us.

I became a Christian because I wanted what I saw in Christians. Forty-five years later, I remain grateful for believers who lived so authentically and joyfully that their faith was contagious.

Julian of Norwich: “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

Will your life and influence honor God today?

Denison Forum – As FBI probe continues, hope amid the conflict

The FBI is conducting another background check on Judge Brett Kavanaugh this week. Agents can interview his friends from high school, study his calendars from the summer of 1982, and check his records from college as well.

I have heard people say, “I’m glad it’s not me. I wouldn’t want my life from thirty-six years ago to make the national news.”

I understand the sentiment. Some of the political cartoons I have seen in recent days are horrifically deplorable. Tweets and other public comments about Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford have been demeaning in the extreme.

The paradox in our system

Here’s the paradox in our system.

On one hand, it allows us to hold our leaders to a higher standard than we ask of ourselves. As Judge Kavanaugh undergoes his seventh FBI investigation, details from his private life will be on public display.

On the other, in a representative democracy, leaders reflect those who elect them. The bitter rancor of the Senate hearings mirrors the divisiveness of our day.

Joseph de Maistre claimed, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” I don’t think that’s true of repressive regimes such as I have witnessed in Cuba. But it’s true of a democracy, where we elect people to represent us.

So, if we want character in our leaders, we must first seek it in ourselves. We cannot expect leaders to take us further than we are willing to go.

There was a day when Christians were the conscience of their pagan society. When Romans discarded unwanted babies, Christians rescued them and raised them as their own. In a day when they had no political capital to outlaw slavery or prostitution, followers of Jesus purchased slaves and prostitutes, then set them free. When plague swept Rome and the emperor and wealthy classes abandoned the city, Christians stayed behind to serve the sick and bury the dead.

The first Christians risked their lives to honor their Lord with the boldness of their witness and the compassion of their service. And by Acts 17:6, they had “turned the world upside down.”

My silent retreat Continue reading Denison Forum – As FBI probe continues, hope amid the conflict

Denison Forum – Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify: My response


In breaking news, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this morning on whether to recommend Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the full Senate.

I watched yesterday’s Committee hearings. The senators were sharply contentious; the two witnesses were deeply emotional.

As conflicted as the day was, however, this thought prevailed in my mind: the process worked.

An American citizen was able to bring her concerns about a federal judge and now Supreme Court nominee before United States senators charged with investigating his candidacy. He was able to respond publicly to her allegations.

The number of countries across world history where such a scene would be possible is indeed small.

“Democracy is the worst form of Government”

Seven decades ago, Winston Churchill stated: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

  1. S. Lewis testified that he believed in democracybecause “I believe in the Fall of Man.” He disagreed with “people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true.”

What is his evidence? “I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation.” Lewis concluded: “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.”

The best government is one that holds leaders accountable. Not dynastic rule as in North Korea, or one-party rule as in China, or one-man government as in Russia.

But we also need a system in which leaders hold us accountable. William Wilberforce used the governmental system of his day to abolish slavery. American leaders used our legislative process to enact civil rights. I am glad that sex trafficking and illegal drugs are illegal. I am grateful for police officers who enforce the law for the benefit of those who obey it.

And we need an adversarial judicial system. I am glad we have both prosecutors and defense attorneys so that anyone can gain a fair hearing and anyone can defend himself or herself in such a context.

“The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One”

But none of these advantages found in a democracy can repair what is truly broken about our society.

Our root problem is spiritual. It is a disease no doctor can cure, a brokenness no law can repair, a condition no judge can reverse.

Even if a conservative majority on the Court makes abortion illegal, there will still be abortions (as there were before 1973). The Supreme Court infamously advanced slavery in the horrific Dred Scott case of 1857.

Time notes that in 1973 the justices “discovered an unwritten ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution” when they legalized abortion, resulting in the deaths of more than sixty million babies. The Court discovered a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, overturning centuries of precedent for traditional marriage.

As Chuck Colson famously noted, “The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.”

Human words cannot change human hearts

Christians can make two mistakes in response to yesterday’s hearings.

One: We can shake our heads at the chaos of the system and retreat from engagement in governance. But Plato was right (as paraphrased by Ralph Waldo Emerson): “The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.”

God calls us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). We are to speak biblical truth to them, as Paul did to Roman leaders (Acts 24-26). And we are to engage in the political process as God directs.

Two: We can ask our government to do what it cannot. A fallacy popular in evangelical circles is that if we can just elect enough evangelicals, we can “turn around” our country.

While we need more evangelicals in office, human words cannot change human hearts. Laws can regulate society, but they cannot transform it.

“How do you know when the gold is pure?”

Let’s invert the pyramid that puts governmental leaders at the top and citizens at the bottom. In a democracy, our leaders serve us. That’s why they’re called “public servants.” We elect them, and we can remove them.

The esteemed former Congressman Frank Wolf notes that “Congress is downstream from culture.” Beyond participating in our democracy, Christians have a high calling to be the change we wish to see.

As the “body of Christ,” we continue the earthly ministry of Jesus today (1 Corinthians 12:27). The apostles were so Christlike that their enemies saw their “boldness” and “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Now our Father wants us to know him so intimately that his Son is displayed in our lives and our influence advances his kingdom in our culture.

A group watching a goldsmith at work asked, “How do you know when the gold is pure?”

His answer: “When I can see my face in it.”

How pure is your “gold” today?

Denison Forum – Why is today’s Senate hearing so crucial?

Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Last night, Judiciary Committee Republicans revealed that they have interviewed a man “who believes he, not Dr. Kavanaugh, had the encounter with Dr. Ford in 1982.” However, Dr. Ford plans to testify today that she knew Kavanaugh in high school and will clearly identify him as her attacker.

One reason Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is so critical is that it could change the ideological balance of the Court. For many years, there have essentially been four liberal justices, four conservatives, and a swing vote (Anthony Kennedy). If Judge Kavanaugh replaces Justice Kennedy, the resulting five-to-four conservative majority could control the Court for fifteen years or more.

The status of abortion rights, religious liberty, and a host of other issues could be affected.

The America I remember

I’m old enough to remember an America that looked much more like I wish we looked today.

I was born in 1958. In that year, according to Gallup, 92 percent of Americans identified as Christians; only 2 percent said they had no religion. Last year, 59 percent of Americans identified as Christians; 20 percent said they had no religion.

Fifty-nine percent of Baby Boomers like me (born 1946-64) say religion is “very important” in our lives; only 38 percent of Younger Millennials (born 1990-96) agree.

I grew up with no church commitment at all. That made me a distinct minority in my community, where nearly everyone went to church on Sunday. Many of us remember a day like that.

However, 1958 was a bad year for civil rights. On June 29, Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by Ku Klux Klan members, killing four girls. Virginia’s governor threatened to shut down any school if forced to integrate. And thirteen African-Americans were arrested for sitting in front of a bus in Birmingham.

In 1958, women made 63 cents for every dollar earned by men; today, they earn 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns. The poverty rate over the last six decades has fallen by half–from 23 percent to 12.3 percent.

A remarkable story

It’s easy to idealize the past, but there’s never been an era that did not include good and bad. And we cannot go back in time, even if we wish to do so. As Heraclitus noted, you cannot step in the same river twice.

How, then, are we to help our country become all God wants us to be?

Today’s Senate hearing and the results of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process are crucial. The political governance of our country is vital to our country. I believe that God is calling more Americans into public service than are answering his call. I believe strongly that Christians should be engaged in our political process on every level.

But I also believe that the solutions to the spiritual crisis of our day are spiritual. We need a new word from God for every new challenge we face.

Consider an extraordinary example.

In 2 Samuel 5, David has just become king of the united tribes of Israel. In response, their archenemies, the Philistines, mounted an assault with so many soldiers that they “spread out in the Valley of Rephaim” (v. 18).

How did the great warrior-king respond to his first crisis? Did he mount an offensive? Did he stage a strategic retreat? “David inquired of the Lord (v. 19). And God led him to attack and defeat his enemies.

Now the story takes an amazing turn.

The Philistines returned (v. 22), so David “inquired of the Lord again (v. 23). This time he was told, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines” (vv. 24-25).

David “did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer” (v. 25).

Your “tent of meeting”

I am absolutely convinced that America’s moral and spiritual future rests with America’s Christians. My reason is emphatically not because we are better than anyone else or more deserving of God’s favor.

It is because a lost person “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). God speaks his life-changing word to those who can receive and share it. We are our nation’s only salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

That’s why it is imperative that we meet with our Lord every day; that we seek his word for us from Scripture, prayer, and worship; that we follow David’s example by giving every challenge we face to our Father in prayer. He has a new word for each new day.

Moses met God in a transforming way at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). Then he continued to encounter God in a “tent of meeting” where “the Lord would speak with Moses” (Exodus 33:9). In fact, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (v. 11).

It may seem that such a relationship is impossible for us. “I’m not Moses,” you may be saying to yourself.

But as Craig Denison notes: “You and I have access to relationship far greater than a face-to-face encounter like Moses had. We have God’s Spirit within us fellowshipping with our spirit. We never have to leave the burning bush or the Tent of Meeting. True restored relationship finds its source in continual, unending encounters with God’s presence dwelling with us and upon us.”

Where is your Tent of Meeting? When will you meet your Father there?

Denison Forum – $18 million worth of cocaine found in bananas

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, President Trump stated that American culture is built on “deep faith.”

For evidence, we could point to Rolling Stone‘s headline: “A Christian Singer Is Bigger Than Drake and Ariana Grande This Week.” Lauren Daigle’s new album topped records by Drake, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj on the Billboard 200.

Or we could note Pew Research Center’s report that more than 70 percent of Americans identify as Christians. America’s largest religious demographic is “Evangelical Protestant” at 25.4 percent.

However, America’s second-largest religious demographic is “Unaffiliated (religious ‘nones’)” at 22.8 percent. This is a larger percentage than “Catholic” (20.8 percent) or “Mainline Protestant” (14.7 percent).

As a sign of our troubled times, the Washington Post reports that homicides in Washington, DC, have now surpassed the number of people killed in the city in all of 2017. As another sign of the times, a group of protesters heckled Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife inside a Washington restaurant, forcing them to leave early.

And authorities say bananas donated to a Texas prison had nearly $18 million worth of cocaine hidden in the boxes.

Is culture like the weather?

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Denison Forum – How Ashley Kavanaugh defended her husband

“I know Brett. I’ve known him for 17 years. He’s decent, he’s kind, he’s good. I know his heart. This is not consistent with Brett.” This is how Ashley Kavanaugh described her husband last night as the two were interviewed by Fox News.

When asked how their daughters are dealing with accusations against their father, she said, “They know Brett and they know the truth.”

Why is character under attack today?

This is such a complicated issue. On one hand, the last thing I want to do is defend any kind of sexual abuse. No person is above the law, not even (or especially) those who interpret it on our nation’s highest levels of jurisprudence.

On the other hand, in a democracy with a free press, anyone can make an accusation against anyone. Gone is the day when a person is innocent until proven guilty. Today it seems that the accused is guilty until proven innocent.

This is bad news, for the accused and for the accuser.

In situations like these, it is difficult for the accused to prove their innocence without demonstrating the guilt of those accusing them. To debunk the charges they face often requires that they discredit their accusers. Consequently, victims of sexual abuse face unfair scrutiny and counter-allegations that make it harder for them to come forward.

But it is also unfair for victims of false accusations to be forced to prove their innocence. They bear the burden of guilt though they have done nothing wrong.

Add the fact that, in our 24/7 news cycle, with thousands of media outlets starved for stories, it’s easier than ever to generate a headline. In our bitterly polarized, highly politicized day, it’s hard to trust the motives of those who accuse or defend political figures.

As a result, personal character has never been more important–or more attacked–than today. How is this fact relevant to followers of Jesus?

Why is popularity so perilous? Continue reading Denison Forum – How Ashley Kavanaugh defended her husband

Denison Forum – Why is Mr. Rogers back in the news?

The news is filled with unlikely stories this morning.

Two years ago, who would have imagined that Donald Trump would be addressing tomorrow’s United Nations General Assembly as US president? Bill Cosby was once a cultural icon; now he faces years in prison as his sentencing hearing starts today. A year ago, Tiger Woods couldn’t sit or walk because of back pain; his victory yesterday is being called “the greatest comeback story in sports history.”

And Mr. Rogers is back in the news.

Google honored Fred Rogers on the homepage of its search engine last Friday to celebrate the filming of his first episode on September 21, 1967.

I encourage you to watch the short video. You’ll learn that Mr. Rogers often named his characters for real people in his life (Queen Sara was named after his wife, for instance). His mother hand-knit all the cardigans he wore on his show, including a red sweater that is now at the Smithsonian. And the stoplight at the opening of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood always blinked yellow to remind kids and parents to slow down a little.

Fred Rogers was not the only television personality to begin a show fifty years agoHawaii Five-ORowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and The Mod Squad would qualify as well. But Google chose to honor Mr. Rogers instead.

What does Fred Rogers’ abiding popularity say about our troubled times?

“I like you just the way you are”

Fred Rogers’ message was simple: “I like you just the way you are.” We are starved for such unconditional affirmation because we find it so seldom in this world.

The root of our problem is not just that others condemn us for our failures. It is that we condemn ourselves for our failures.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why is Mr. Rogers back in the news?

Denison Forum – What Harvard study says about kids raised in church

A new Harvard study investigated the health and mental health of children and teenagers who were raised with religious or spiritual practices. What they found was fascinating.

Those who attended religious services at least once a week as children or teens were about 18 percent more likely to report being happier in their twenties than those who never attended services. They were almost 30 percent more likely to do volunteer work and 33 percent less likely to use drugs in their twenties.

In addition, people who prayed and meditated individually on a daily basis had more life satisfaction, were better able to process emotions, and were more forgiving. They were less likely to have sex at an earlier age and to have a sexually transmitted disease.

The Forbes article reporting on the study concludes: “Some of the fundamental habits that humans have been doing for eons (praying, meditating) might actually have a lot more value than we tend to think.”

By God’s design, a divine-human partnership is essential to human flourishing. Consider an example.

“A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”

The future of Israel was in jeopardy. A massive Midianite army numbering 135,000 troops (Judges 8:10) was ready to annihilate the Jewish forces. Gideon mustered 32,000 soldiers, but the Lord led him to dismiss all but three hundred (Judges 7:2-8). God’s purpose was to show the Israelites that their deliverance came from the Lord and not from their hand.

Armies in the ancient world conveyed signals through “trumpets” (usually rams’ horns). They often marched at night to the light of torches. Gideon’s original army had three hundred such trumpets and torches. The torches were carried inside clay jars so as not to alert the enemy, then the jars were broken when the assault was to begin. The trumpets were used to convey orders to the troops.

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Denison Forum – Chelsea Clinton: Ending abortion would be “unchristian”

America has been focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, you may have missed this in the news: Chelsea Clinton claims it would be “unchristian” to end abortion in America.

During a radio interview, the former first daughter said it would be “unconscionable” for the US to return to the “pre-Roe” era when abortion was illegal: “When I think about all of the statistics that are painful of what women are confronting today in our country, and what even more women confronted pre-Roe and how many women died and how many more women were maimed because of unsafe abortion practices, we just can’t go back to that.”

She added, “Like that’s unconscionable to me. And also, I’m sure this will unleash another wave of hate in my direction, but as a deeply religious person, it’s also unchristian to me.”

Clinton also claimed that the legalization of abortion was a boon to the US economy: “American women entering the labor force from 1970 to 2009 added three and a half trillion dollars to our economy, right? The net, new entrance of women–that is not disconnected from the fact that Roe became the law of the land in January of 1973.”

“Bad philosophy needs to be answered”

Let’s learn from Chelsea Clinton’s defense of a ruling that has cost more than sixty million unborn children their lives. We can respond to unbiblical claims in two ways: we can ignore them, or we can engage them.

Ignoring falsehoods may seem to be a short-term solution. We’re all busy people with multiple demands on our time. When we encounter statements we know to be false, it’s easier to dismiss them and move on.

However, if we will not counter falsehoods by speaking biblical truth to our culture, those who need God’s word will not hear it. “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Chelsea Clinton: Ending abortion would be “unchristian”

Denison Forum – Why is this library loaning neckties?

The Riverside branch of the New York Public Library has more than books to loan. You can also check out a necktie, bow tie, handbag, or briefcase. They are intended for people with limited resources who are heading for job interviews, auditions, school performances, proms, or other events for which they need to dress up.

In other news, a Chicago schoolteacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard her and gave her more than $500 in cash to help.

Here’s a similar story: an Alabama man had to walk nearly twenty miles to his new job. When his CEO found out, he gave the man his personal car.

When you read these stories, how did they make you feel?

A surprising survey

There’s something in us that is attracted to that which is selfless, gracious, and joyful. The darker the room, the more we are drawn to the light.

However, it’s a sign of the times that so many of the shows that received Emmys on Monday are so dark and ominous. As I noted yesterday, the world is more unhappy than it has been in a decade. Gallup’s Negative Experience Index found that markers for worry, stress, sadness, and physical pain are all at record highs.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why is this library loaning neckties?

Denison Forum – Emmy Awards ridicule Christians

The Emmy Awards began last night with a monologue from co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che. The Saturday Night Live cast members recited a typical litany of political jabs and sarcastic digs.

Then Che told the audience that his mother would not be watching the show. The reason: “She says she doesn’t like watching white award shows because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough.”

Che continued: “That’s true. The only white people that thank Jesus are Republicans and ex-crackheads.”

It’s hard to imagine such a joke aimed at Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists. But ridiculing Christians is fair game in Hollywood these days.

The latest on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination

As you know, college professor Christine Blasey Ford is alleging that Judge Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were high school students. Judge Kavanaugh calls her accusation “completely false.”

Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh both stated yesterday that they are willing to testify before Congress about this issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee has now scheduled a hearing for next Monday to hear from both.

Republicans are severely criticizing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, for the timing of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Last July, Dr. Ford sent a letter alleging sexual abuse against Judge Kavanaugh to her local congresswoman, Rep. Anna Eshoo, requesting confidentiality.

She forwarded the information to Sen. Feinstein on July 30, who provided the letter to the FBI only last week. The senator states that she wanted to protect Dr. Ford’s identity and forwarded the letter only after a news report surfaced about it. She said nothing about the letter during the weeks-long process of interviews with the judge and the Senate’s confirmation process.

What could happen next

If Dr. Ford’s allegation prevents Judge Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the Supreme Court, it will be difficult for the Senate to confirm another candidate before the midterm elections. If Democrats then win the Senate, they could block President Trump from naming a conservative to the Court.

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