Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Nation’s largest Protestant denomination elects first African American chairman: How advocacy can change our culture

 

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded in 1845. Slavery played a significant role in its formation, a fact for which the denomination has expressed great remorse.

In a resolution adopted on its 150th anniversary, the SBC stated, “We lament and repudiate historical acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest” and added, “We apologize to all African Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”

The denomination further stated, “We ask forgiveness from our African American brothers and sisters,” and then committed to “pursuing racial reconciliation in all our relationships.”

Now the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has taken a significant step in this pursuit. The SBC’s Executive Committee, the group that runs the business of the denomination outside its annual meetings, has elected its first African American chairman.

Rev. Rolland Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, was elected unanimously in what the outgoing chairman called a “wonderful and historic moment.” He was previously vice chairman of the committee and chair of its Cooperative Program Committee.

How Tony Evans and Robert Morris are making a difference 

I became a Christian through the outreach of a Southern Baptist church and graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. While Denison Forum is nondenominational, I will forever be grateful for the contributions made by Southern Baptists to my faith and life.

But I have never been as proud of Southern Baptists as I am today. Nor have I been more committed to their goal of “pursuing racial reconciliation in all our relationships.”

To that end, this week we have been answering Benjamin Watson’s call to respond to racial injustice with awareness, advocacy, and action. Yesterday we discussed awareness, examining the history of racism in American culture and asking God to reveal any vestige of this sin in our lives.

Today, let’s focus on advocacy, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” We practice advocacy when we use our influence in the service of a value or purpose.

The Executive Committee of the SBC practiced advocacy when it elected an African American chairman. Dr. Tony Evans practiced advocacy when he wrote a brilliant article for the Dallas Morning News stating that “the church must address racial, economic, health care, and opportunity inequity, as well as recognize the systems that work against the fair treatment of people.”

Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church practiced advocacy by talking with ministers of different races “to hear the stories from these precious men and women of God of the racism and prejudice that they faced and that their families have faced, their parents, their grandparents.” He adds that their tragic stories “will break your heart.”

His church’s website states, “We acknowledge the evils of racism and discrimination fighting so hard to tear us and our nation apart at the seams.” It adds: “While these issues can be difficult to talk about, we want to keep talking about them and empower you with resources to help you in your own conversations.”

Three steps to justice and truth 

The Bible calls Eve “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). We are all created by the same Father and descended from the same parents. How can you and I be effective advocates for the value of every human being of every race as created in the image of God?

One: Identify your platform 

God has given you resources, abilities, and spiritual gifts that are uniquely yours. Ask the Lord to help you define your mission and influence in our culture today. (For more, see my latest Faithwire article, “Are There At Least 36 Intelligent Civilizations in Our Galaxy? Why Our Uniqueness Is Relevant to COVID-19 and Racism Today.”)

Two: Pray for God’s words and God’s heart 

Human words cannot transform human hearts, but God’s word spoken in the power of God’s Spirit will advance God’s kingdom in our culture and impact others for eternity. Ask the Lord to lead you to the biblical truth he intends for you to share with grace (cf. Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 3:15). (For more, see my latest Stream article, “How to Talk about LGBTQ Issues and Racism: Speaking the Truth in Love.”)

Three: Use your influence to stand for God’s inclusive love 

God called his prophet to “run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her” (Jeremiah 5:1). There is no justice that is not built on truth, and no truth that does not lead to justice.

Once you know your platform and you have prayed for God’s leading, look for ways to advance truth and justice in the lives of those you influence. And know that, however they respond, your obedience will bear eternal significance (Matthew 25:23).

The urgent question of the hour 

The hymn, God is Love, closes with these words:

Sin and death and hell shall never
O’er us final triumph gain;
God is love, so Love for ever
O’er the universe must reign.

What part of the “universe” will you influence with God’s love today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – President Trump signs police reform order and Dr. Fauci predicts when we will return to ‘normal’: How awareness can lead to hope

 

President Trump signed an executive order on police reform yesterday. He stated that “chokeholds will be banned except if an officer’s life is at risk.” In addition, the federal government will provide funding for “co-responders” like social workers to help police officers deal with issues such as homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse.

The order also mandates that departments share information on officers accused of abusing power. The National Fraternal Order of Police praised the president’s action.

In other news, Dr. Anthony Fauci told a British newspaper, “I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so. But I don’t think it’s this winter or fall.”

Two days that revealed the world 

March 11 was a day that changed the world. That was the day Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, announced they had been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and the day the NBA suspended its season.

Actually, March 11 was the day when the world became aware of a reality that already existed. A disease that began in China the previous year has now infected more than eight million people and caused more than 443,000 deaths as of this morning.

May 25 was a second day that changed the world. That was the day George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. The response to his tragic death has become a global movement to combat racism in all its forms.

Actually, May 25 was the day when the world became aware of a reality that already existed. African slaves were first imported into what we know as America four hundred years earlier. Racial minorities have been dealing with discrimination for centuries.

Awareness of racism in the past 

If you’re like most of us, you wish we were making more progress than we are on both fronts. To that end, let’s consider a call issued last Sunday by former New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson at an event he hosted called Boston Pray. As I noted in the Monday Daily Article, the hour of prayer, worship, and Bible study was remarkably powerful and hopeful.

At one point, Watson stated that to make progress on racial justice, we need awareness, advocacy, and action. Today and for the rest of this week, we will focus on all three.

Let’s begin with awareness.

Mark Noll is one of America’s preeminent church historians. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal, he has taught at Wheaton College, Notre Dame, and now at Regent College.

Over the weekend, I read his remarkable study, God and Race in American Politics: A Short History. He notes that many Europeans came to the New World with the firm belief that they were racially superior to the indigenous people they found here and to the millions of Africans who were eventually enslaved in America.

Slavery was legally abolished in the US with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. The Fourteenth Amendment extended the rights of citizenship to African Americans; the Fifteenth Amendment extended to them the right to vote. But the racial prejudice that had empowered slavery remained.

Awareness of racism in the present 

Noll writes that less than a decade after the end of the Civil War, “the unleashing of lynch-law terrorism, the general lack of concern for black civil rights in the North, and the imposition in the South of Jim Crow laws to quash black political participation” were inflicted on the nation’s African American population. (“Jim Crow laws,” named for a black minstrel show character, were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation.)

As Noll notes, the consequence was a functional repeal of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. It took almost one hundred years after the Civil War ended for civil rights legislation to ban racial discrimination and remove legal barriers to voting by African Americans.

Unfortunately, many white Americans think this legislation ended the problem of racism in our country. As African Americans across our country have been saying in the wake of George Floyd’s death, this is tragically far from true.

A yard sign offers transforming hope 

I am convinced that until our nation embraces our Father’s love for all people of all races, we cannot be the nation he wants us to be. Since “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34), we must reject all prejudice. Since he “made from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26), we must embrace all men and women as our brothers and sisters.

The good news is that our living Lord stands ready to empower us as we seek to make true our nation’s founding claim that “all men are created equal.”

As I was walking in my neighborhood this week, a yard sign caught my eye: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” I noted on Instagram that because Jesus is alive, we have hope for our past, since Jesus died for our sins (Romans 5:8) and rose from our grave. We have hope for our present, since the living Lord is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). And we have hope for our future, since Jesus will return for us (John 14:3) and will one day create “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

Here’s my invitation to you: Ask Jesus to show you if there are racial sins in your past, then repent of anything he brings to your mind and claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9). Ask Jesus to show you ways you can respond to racism in the present, then obey his call at all costs (cf. Romans 12:1–2). Ask Jesus to show you ways you can help build a more just future, then follow his Spirit’s leading (John 16:13).

I am joining you in all three prayers today in the assurance that hope is alive because Jesus is alive.

Who will experience hope because Jesus is alive in you?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – Supreme Court ruling protects gay and transgender workers: Questions about religious freedom and three biblical certainties

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” This is the conclusion of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion handed down yesterday. The court ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful “for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The court, by a six-to-three margin, ruled that “sex” applies to homosexual and transgender persons.

When I saw the news, I thought immediately about religious liberty. Does the ruling mean that churches, Christian schools, ministries, and other religious institutions could be forced to violate our biblical convictions regarding gender and sexuality? If your church’s pastor declared that he was transgender, would your congregation be able to end his employment on that basis? Could a ministry refuse to hire a gay person on the basis of their sexual identity?

Let’s discuss what we know so far, then we’ll focus on three biblical responses to this issue.

“Questions for future cases” 

Jesus taught us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). A free church in a free state is the biblical ideal, a conviction protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Yesterday’s ruling notes the objection that “complying with Title VII’s requirements in cases like ours may require some employers to violate their religious convictions.” Justice Gorsuch writes: “We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.”

Then he adds: “But worries about how Title VII may intersect with religious liberties are nothing new; they even predate the statute’s passage.” He notes that Title VII includes an exception relating to “the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on . . . of its activities.” (In other words, Christian churches cannot be forced to hire Muslim ministers, or vice versa.)

He adds that the court has recognized that the First Amendment can protect religious institutions and its ministers from the application of employment discrimination laws. And he cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”

The court did not rule on this issue yesterday, since the employers whose cases it decided did not claim religious liberty infringement. Rather, Justice Gorsuch concludes that such religious liberty issues are “questions for future cases.”

In his dissent, however, Justice Samuel Alito warns that the ruling could have implications regarding bathroom access, women’s sports, housing, healthcare, employment by religious organizations, and freedom of speech. He believes that the court’s decision “will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety.”

Three biblical certainties

We do not know the full implications of yesterday’s ruling for religious freedom, but three biblical certainties are worth remembering today.

One: God creates us as male and female (Genesis 1:27; Mark 10:6) and intends sex for the covenant marriage of a man and a woman (Genesis 1:28; 2:18; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). (For more, see my article, What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?)

Two: God loves all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a biblical passage censuring “men who practice homosexuality,” we also find these other sinners listed: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Do you recognize yourself? The good news is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). All of us.

Three: We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), no matter how unpopular that truth becomes. I expect yesterday’s ruling to escalate public acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyles, which will also escalate public condemnation of those perceived to be “intolerant” on this issue. But as the apostles declared unpopular truth to the religious authorities of their day (cf. Acts 5:27–32), so we must proclaim God’s word “with all boldness” (Acts 28:31) and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

In responding to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, ethicist Russell Moore notes: “We can be the people who recognize that those who disagree with us are our mission field, to be persuaded, not a sparring partner to denounce. We must have both conviction and kindness, both courage and patience, both truth and grace.”

How to outlove our critics 

The enemy is using our commitment to biblical sexuality against us by inciting our secular culture to condemn Christians and Christian beliefs as bigoted and intolerant. The best way to respond is to outlove our critics.

It is to love LGBTQ persons enough to risk their rejection by sharing God’s best with them in compassion and humility. It is to love our lost friends enough to risk their rejection by sharing God’s saving love with them in the same way.

However, we cannot give what we do not have. Before I can share God’s love with you, I must experience God’s love for myself. Craig Denison notes: “We’re meant to love others out of the overflow of God’s love for us.” He encourages us to make time to meet with our Father today and experience his transforming love. Then we can “ask him for his heart for people around you, and follow through with courage in love.”

Craig concludes: “If you will make it your goal to see God’s heart proclaimed through your life, you will experience more joy and purpose than you can imagine.”

Will you make this goal your passion today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – Super Bowl champion stages prayer event in Boston: A question every American should ask

 

Boston Common is one of my favorite places in America. Founded in 1634, it is the oldest park in the United States.

Colonial militia mustered here for the Revolution; George Washington came to the park to celebrate our nation’s independence. In the 1860s, the park was used for Civil War recruitment and antislavery meetings. Victory gardens sprouted during World War I; most of the Common’s iron fencing was donated to the war cause during World War II.

I remember vividly my visit to the Common some years ago. Everywhere I looked, history looked back.

Yesterday, however, the Common looked forward with a message every American needs to hear and a question every American needs to ask.

Boston Pray: Seeking Unity and Justice 

Benjamin Watson played tight end in college. Upon graduation, his Wonderlic score (measuring math, vocabulary, and reasoning) tied for the third highest in National Football League history. He was drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots; his team went on to win Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. He played sixteen seasons in the NFL.

Watson met his wife through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the University of Georgia. He has defended the unborn boldly and been outspoken about his faith for many years.

Yesterday, however, his faithful leadership may have been more crucial than ever.

Watson leveraged his influence to sponsor Boston Pray: Seeking Unity and Justice. The event’s Facebook page explained: “As Christians in and around Boston, we are grieved by the recent murders of unarmed African Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the systematic oppression of those peoples. We recognize that the underlying sin of racism is plaguing our city and nation.

“This is a crucial time for Christians to come together across boundaries to be a catalytic voice for kindness, justice, and righteousness. All are welcome to join in united prayer, scripture, and song in the Parkman Bandstand of the Boston Common on Sunday, June 14 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Please wear a mask and take care to physically distance from others, and help us to spread the word!”

I watched the livestreamed service and was deeply impressed. The crowd included African Americans, Anglos, Hispanics, and Asians. They applauded and prayed for the police and local leaders before interceding for our nation. Watson noted that we need awareness, advocacy, and action, then closed by inviting those attending to trust in Christ personally as their Savior.

How to “delight” God 

Watson began yesterday’s service by quoting Jeremiah 9:24: “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

“Steadfast love” is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek agape, referring to unconditional love. “Justice” points to actions that arise from a just nature. “Righteousness” refers to honest behavior.

As the New American Commentary notes, “These three terms express the very heart of Hebrew religion. They are not only the attributes of God; he delights in those who manifest these same qualities.”

As a result, God “practices” them—the Hebrew means to produce and exercise. He does this “in the earth,” at all times, and in all places with all people without exception.

Now he calls us to do what he does, testifying that “in these things I delight.” He wants us to find ways to love others unconditionally, without regard for their race or any other characteristic. And he wants us to express this love by seeking justice for them and acting honestly with them.

“Two generations from being forgotten” 

Here’s a question every American should ask themselves: What can we do to answer God’s call to inclusive love and racial justice that we could not do before George Floyd’s tragic death?

Benjamin Watson, as a Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, has an obvious platform in Boston. But if he had called for an hour of prayer and worship before Mr. Floyd’s death, how many people would have taken note? In response to the events of recent weeks, his prophetic leadership has made a profound impact in Boston and around the world.

Like Watson, you and I have been entrusted with influence by our Lord. He holds us responsible for producing “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” in our culture.

In fact, we will stand before Jesus one day in judgment, where each of us will receive “what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). On that day, we will learn that all we do to serve others, we do for him (Matthew 25:40).

Benjamin Watson recently declared, “Our ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God.” He suggested, “If you ever think you’re too important, ask your kid about your grandfather, she doesn’t know him. That’s how fast we are here. You are two generations from being forgotten.”

As a result, he noted, it is vital that we realize “we are part of a larger body, globally, internationally, and it’s simply our turn to carry the torch.”

What torch will you carry today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – HBO removes Gone with the Wind: How to approach media with purpose rather than fear

 

HBO Max recently announced that they would temporarily remove Gone with the Wind from its offerings in response to recent backlash over its portrayal of life in the antebellum South. The film, despite its status as a classic, has also served as a lightning rod for accusations of ignoring the evils of slavery and glorifying racial discrimination.

A spokesperson for the company justified their decision with the argument that “Gone with the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions was irresponsible.”

HBO will offer the film again when they can pair it with a discussion of the story’s historical context, though the movie itself will not be changed. As the spokesperson noted, “to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. If we are to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history.”

Regardless of whether or not you agree with HBO’s decision, they did get at least one thing right: ignoring history doesn’t change what happened, it just makes us more likely to repeat it.

The subtle influence of media

One of recent history’s most important lessons is that what we see in films, on TV, or consume via other forms of media has a way of shaping our thoughts that few other influences can match.

That basic principle is part of why HBO fears people watching Gone with the Wind might be ever so slightly more prone to underestimate the horrors of slavery or look wistfully at a time when equality among the races was a concept few valued.

It’s also what has often led Christians to be justifiably concerned with the normalization of LGBTQ+ lifestyles in movies and television.

A recent example of that fear is the new animated short on Disney+ titled Out. The 9-minute film is the first time Pixar Animation Studios has featured an openly homosexual main character, and it chronicles his journey towards telling his parents that he’s gay. And while it’s not available under the kids profile setting, it is made with the same basic animation qualities as other programs that are geared towards children.

Given the pervasiveness of media and it’s subtle—yet consistent—influence on our thinking, it’s more important than ever to have a plan in place for how we’ll consume it. To that end, what are some practical steps we can take to guard against the waves of culture slowly ebbing away at our faithfulness to God’s truth without going so far in the opposite direction that we act as though those waves don’t exist?

Don’t run from the issues

First, we need to accept that the issues are real and see that reality as an opportunity rather than a threat. Throughout his ministry, Jesus never shied away from dealing with difficult topics and was often able to use them to help people better understand the Lord.

For example, he used the incipient racism of his day to teach people about God’s love in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). He used the legalism of the religious leaders to show people the limitations of trying to make themselves right with God in their own strength (Luke 11:37-52). And he used the Jewish hatred of Roman taxes to remind them that every part of their lives should be dedicated to the Lord (Mark 12:13-16).

In the same way, we shouldn’t be afraid of the issues commonly brought up in the media. Rather, we should view them as opportunities to teach people about God.

That doesn’t mean they’ll always accept his truth, and the opposite is likely to be true as often as not. But if we willingly cut ourselves out of the conversation, then we also give up the right to lament when society seems to move steadily away from the Lord.

After all, if God’s people won’t speak up for him, who will?

Own your influence

Lastly, we need to take ownership of our own spheres of influence.

If you’re worried about your kids, for example, accepting unbiblical truths because they see them on TV or in a movie, then don’t let those mediums be the dominant voice in their lives. That doesn’t mean ignoring the topics or even restricting those shows. If we don’t bring them up, someone else will. It’s up to us to take responsibility for what we see.

If you feel like your kids are old enough to have the conversation about homosexuality, for example, Out could present a great opportunity to broach the subject. (For help preparing for that discussion, see What does the Bible say about homosexuality?) In the same way, Gone with the Wind could be a good (albeit long) chance to show how people used to see slavery and life in the South, while also discussing the flaws inherent to the portrayal of both.

And the same is true for addressing these subjects in your own life as well. If we neglect to take responsibility for the media we take in and the subjects they depict, then we will inevitably be swayed into acceptance. Instead, own those choices and ask the Lord to guide you in seeing the world—media included—through the lens of Scripture.

God is here to help, but he’s not going to do it for you.

Act with caution rather than fear

History has shown that media has the innate ability to sway public thinking in a powerful way. Thoughts shift over time to better align with what we see or read, yet the shift is often so subtle that it can only be seen in hindsight.

That’s why it’s so important for Christians to approach all media with caution.

Caution, however, should not equate to fear.

While there will be times that God leads us to simply avoid a particular film or show, ideas should never frighten us. Rather, if guided by the Lord, they can be avenues through which we can help people know him better.

So whether it’s Gone with the Wind, Out, or any other form of media, check with God before you decide that he won’t use it to advance his kingdom.

His answer might surprise you.

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – Can people spread coronavirus without symptoms? An update on COVID-19 and learning to grow amidst daily danger

In light of the protests and charged conversations regarding race, it can be easy to forget that we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. Many fear the mass demonstrations will soon bring the coronavirus back to the forefront of our minds, though. To that end, where do we stand when it comes to COVID-19?

The answer is both encouraging and confusing.

A scientist with the World Health Organization, for example, recently stated that asymptomatic people “rarely transmit” the virus to others. If true, that’s great news, as one of the primary fears with coronavirus is that even healthy-looking people could get others sick.

The WHO clarified yesterday, however, that while asymptomatic people are unlikely to spread the virus, pre-symptomatic people—those who will eventually show symptoms but haven’t yet—can still infect others.

So, essentially, if you aren’t showing symptoms you are unlikely to get anyone else sick unless you will eventually show symptoms, which you can’t know at the time.

Ultimately, they still recommend wearing masks in public and limiting your exposure to large crowds.

COVID-19 may have started in August? 

There have also been new developments with regard to when COVID-19 first appeared. A recent study from Harvard Medical School used satellite images of parking lots at six hospitals in Wuhan, China to show that, compared with previous years, there “was a steep increase in occupancies from August 2019, which culminated with a peak in December 2019.” The highest daily occupancies occurred between September and October.

That data, taken in conjunction with an increase in online searches for coronavirus-related symptoms, including those unique to the virus, led the study’s authors to conclude that the virus likely originated earlier than the previously reported date of late December.

Beijing, however, has dismissed the study as “ridiculous” and others have claimed that, while it offers some interesting evidence, it’s far from conclusive.

Acquiring a more precise knowledge of when the virus originated could be an important step toward understanding how it has spread and how we can best fight it. But, in the end, the only thing it seems we can be certain of is that we still can’t be certain.

Some good news amidst troubling times

Despite the mixed messages, it does seem like genuine progress has been made in at least containing the virus. Places like New York City that were once devastated by illness are now hitting their desired benchmarks and, while there are still problem areas around the country, there is more hope now than in months past that we’ll be able to resume some semblance of normalcy in the not too distant future.

That future isn’t here yet, though. And in these uncertain times, it can be easy to become either complacent or discouraged as life seems to spin out of our control.

There’s a basic anxiety that goes along with knowing that simply leaving your house is a dangerous decision. And even if you learn to accept that danger as a necessary part of life, it remains in the back of your mind, producing stress and making everything else just a bit more difficult.

Of course, leaving the house has always been dangerous to some extent. But when that danger seemed within our control, when it came more from random accidents than simply getting coughed on, it didn’t bother us as much. I think the reason is that even when those feelings of control are misplaced, they still imbue us with a sense of protection and security to which many have grown accustomed.

A lesson from the ancient Israelites

If there was ever a people group who knew what it was like to live with the constant reminder that protection and security were not guaranteed, it was the ancient Israelites. Whether it was the decades spent wandering in the wilderness, the enemies that made them feel like “grasshoppers” (Numbers 13:33), or the strange battle plans that made no earthly sense (Joshua 6), the Israelites were forced to approach every day with a very clear understanding of their need for God.

Now, that doesn’t mean they appreciated that fact, as evidenced from the multiple times they complained so much, the Lord told Moses he was ready to destroy them (Exodus 33:5, Numbers 14:11).

Still, God was able to accomplish amazing things through the Hebrew people, and it was in large part because they were forced to depend on him. And the same was true for the first generations of Christians as well (Acts 17:6).

How to grow from daily danger

Most of us are likely anxious for a cure or treatment that will reduce the threat of COVID-19 and allow our lives to resume without masks, public restrictions, and the myriad other daily inconveniences brought on by the virus. Until that day comes, however, let’s allow God to redeem these times by learning to live with a greater dependency on him.

After all, our need for his presence and guidance isn’t going to dissipate when the threat of the coronavirus does. Learning to embrace that need now will better equip us for the days ahead when leaning on God will feel less necessary.

It may seem counterintuitive, but these difficult days might be the easiest time for us to make that choice.

Let’s be sure we don’t waste them.

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – What does it mean to defund the police? How to respond with reason rather than fear

Minneapolis is back in the news after nine of the city’s twelve city council members voted to defund their police department. Calls to disband or defund the police have become a common occurrence throughout many of the protests around the country, but they have grown in intensity over the last week. But just what do people mean when they speak of defunding police departments?

It turns out, no one is really quite sure.

In Minneapolis, for example, the city council admitted that while they have some early thoughts, there is not a clear plan in place. They hope to work with representatives from the community over the coming months to develop a system of public safety that places a greater emphasis on community policing efforts and programs aimed at more specific problems. At this point, however, it’s still not clear if the city council even has the legal authority to take this step.

Regardless of the ultimate legality, though, the city’s decision has made national headlines and brought the conversation closer to reality than it has been before. As such, let’s take a closer look at the subject and, ultimately, what we can learn from it to better advance God’s kingdom in our culture.

Reform vs. replace

First, calls to defund or disband police have been around for many years, but they’ve always stayed on the periphery of the conversation because they were seen as both extreme and unnecessary. The argument was that greater accountability and better training would be enough to curb, though not eliminate, the tendencies at the heart of the problem.

Minneapolis city council member Jeremiah Ellison spoke for many, though, when he expressed the need “to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.” For those who agree with Ellison, the police have been given enough chances at reform, and substantive change is needed.

There are many reasons to think Ellison and those who agree with him are wrong in that assumption, but it points to the basic reality that we only get so many chances to do better before people assume that what’s broken simply can’t be fixed.

Defund doesn’t always mean the same thing

The second point is that not all calls to defund the police have the same goal. While the Minneapolis example paints a fairly clear picture of one extreme, most advocates for change seem wary to go that far.

A more common proposal centers on removing some funding from police departments, as well as certain responsibilities, and reallocating both to other groups. Issues involving mental illness, homelessness, and social services are often cited as examples of jobs that currently fall to the police in many cities but could perhaps be better handled by nonprofits or other groups focused on a single task.

Advocates for these policies also frequently argue that by refining the responsibilities of the police, it could help them better focus on the issues they are best equipped to handle without adding the undue pressure of tasks that might fall outside of their true calling.

Can more police equal better police?

Lastly, a common argument among those who disagree with efforts to defund the police is that the best way to avoid the kinds of abuses and harassment at the heart of recent protests is to hire more police rather than less.

Studies have shown that not only does a larger police presence reduce crime, but it can also mitigate the need for overtime and added responsibilities among those who serve on the force. Research in 2017, moreover, demonstrated that “a single hour of overtime led to a 2.7 percent increase in the odds that the officer would be involved in a use-of-force incident the following week.”

As Matthew Yglesias concluded, “What’s helpful is more officers, not more harassment.” However, those who have been on the receiving end of such harassment counter that it’s hard to have one without the other.

Choosing reason instead of fear

Regardless of what comes from the current conversation about police reform, the manner in which people engage in the discussion is likely to have as great an impact on the outcome as the decisions that are ultimately reached. Fear, rather than reason, is often the motivating factor for people as they think about the future of law enforcement.

For some, that fear is based on negative experiences with the police. For others, the prospect of a future without cops leads to visions of unchecked violence and disorder. As a result, it’s incredibly easy to leave God out of the ensuing discussion.

As Paul taught the Philippians, fear and logic can seldom coexist. Rather, he instructed them, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5–7).

Our culture could really use the protection of Christ Jesus for our hearts and minds at this point. Decisions will likely be made across the coming weeks and months with regards to a number of issues—the future of law enforcement among them—that will greatly impact the future of our society for years to come.

As we seek the Lord’s wisdom and discernment in knowing how to engage in those discussions, it’s vital that we follow Paul’s advice and be reasonable voices guided by the peace of God. That won’t happen, though, if we allow ourselves to be driven by fear instead.

Which will guide your response today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – How experiences shape our understanding: a difficult choice we must all make

 

James Earl Ray, the escaped convict who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., was arrested 52 years ago today in London, England. He fled to England after shooting King with the goal of reaching Rhodesia, then led by “an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government.”

Ray would later confess to killing MLK before recanting and saying he was the fall guy for a much larger conspiracy. There are still a number of people who believe him, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and multiple investigations across the decades since. The constant harassment by the FBI in King’s final years and his public denouncement of the Vietnam War give many pause in assuming the US government did not play a role in the civil rights leader’s death.

I bring all that up now to remind us that often the lens through which we see the world around us and the actions of others is determined as much by our personal experiences as by the larger reality of the situation.

The impact of a single experience

As I’ve read the various accounts of personal experiences from members of the black community in the wake of recent protests, what’s stood out the most is how even a single incident of racial discrimination can have a lasting impact.

In an article for the Athletic, for example, a series of black writers who cover various teams shared stories of the times they’ve been targeted and mistreated because of their race. The accounts of when they were discriminated against by police were especially poignant and left a clear impression on how they view cops to this day.

And it’s not that all—or even most—police are racist, but enough are to make it a real problem throughout this country.

The simple truth is that the actions of some, if seen as representative of the larger group, can often have an outsized influence on how we see the collective whole. It’s why a few bad cops can make people suspect of police everywhere, and also why a small group of rioters can cast an otherwise peaceful protest in a violent light.

And nowhere is that the case more than when those actions threaten our safety or leave us feeling powerless and afraid.

Why we’re still tribal people

As people, we’re hardwired to gravitate towards grouping both ourselves and others according to easily identifiable characteristics. Most of us have one or two that define the core of our identity and, consequently, how we identify others as well. That basic tendency is often referred to as tribalism.

For some, it’s based on what they do for a living. For others, it’s based on race or culture. Still more find that sense of identity in their faith. But all of us do it to some extent.

For the vast majority of human history, such grouping was necessary for our survival. History has, at least to some degree, trained us to see people who don’t fit in the same groups as we do with skepticism and fear.

However, a society as large, diverse, and interconnected as ours cannot sustain itself under those conditions. And that’s a good thing. After all, just because our nation was able to endure through discrimination and inequality in the past doesn’t mean it should continue in the future.

Where this is becoming a challenge for many of us today, though, is that we can agree on the problem but not the solution. That’s in part because there is no simple solution to the racial discrimination, police brutality, and other factors fueling the recent protests. Just as important, though, is the reality that it’s often simply not possible for us to fully understand the perspectives of people with whom we have trouble identifying.

Understanding what you can’t understand

I don’t know what it’s like to be pulled over by a police officer and searched, questioned, or otherwise harassed without just cause. I can read stories about it and try to empathize with those for whom that moment was not only real but, in many ways, defining, but we can’t truly understand something we’ve never experienced.

In the same way, I don’t know what it’s like to be part of a police department where a coworker was shot making what seemed like a routine stop or was otherwise injured while trying to keep the peace. I can listen and I can try to understand, but I’ve simply never had that experience.

And while neither experience would justify sinful and prejudicial action towards another person, perhaps understanding the degree to which we can’t understand where others are coming from can give us the necessary empathy and self-awareness to find a better path forward than the one we’ve been on to this point.

Ultimately, it’s not a sin to lack understanding, but it becomes a sin if we’re content to continue living in ignorance when that ignorance facilitates the discrimination and degradation of other people’s lives. God has called us to so much more.

Valuing lives over comfort

Eric Stephens put it well in the Athletic article referenced above. In talking about the residual anger and pain from experiences of racial discrimination, he wrote, “Don’t try to relate. I don’t want you to. Just understand. Just acknowledge that in some ways, our existence will always be different than yours. Don’t be afraid to stand up if you see someone being mistreated. And don’t be afraid to speak up and have a conversation about race in public and, more importantly, in private.”

Such actions will seldom be comfortable, but engaging in them anyway puts us in good company. After all, you don’t have to dive too deep in the Gospels to find plenty of examples of uncomfortable conversations Jesus had with those he encountered. But whether it was condemning the religious leaders for being blind and insensitive to the pain caused by their legalism, confronting the woman at the well with her sin, or simply teaching the otherwise bewildered masses, our Lord made a habit of valuing people’s lives over their comfort.

Given his example, can we really afford to do otherwise?

Two paths forward

It’s been two weeks since George Floyd was killed, and the protests, difficult conversations, and calls for real change don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. As such, it seems we’re left with two choices.

The first is to wait and hope that eventually things will get back to normal. I’ll be honest, there’s part of me that wants to do just that.

However, the second option is to take an honest look around us and accept that normal probably isn’t worth getting back to.

I think it’s pretty clear which path will do the most good for the kingdom and for the people God has called us to love with the self-sacrificial empathy, compassion, and concern that Christ displayed for all those who crossed his path.

Which will you choose today?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – National Guard responds in Washington, DC: Three explanations for the crisis and Jesus’ solution that changes everything

I have never felt less qualified to write a Daily Article than I do this morning.

I am a white person who has never faced a single moment of racial discrimination in my sixty-one years of life. As a result, I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be unfairly treated because of the color of my skin.

I grew up in a middle-class community. As a result, I cannot understand what it is like to despair of a better financial future.

I have never been treated unfairly by the criminal justice system. As a result, I cannot understand what it is like to fear the police and the courts.

I do not own or work at a business affected by the violence of recent days. As a result, I cannot understand what it is like to see my dreams and future destroyed in response to a tragic death in Minneapolis for which I am not at fault.

Fortunately, I do not write the Daily Article to offer my personal opinions. My mission is to help us interpret the news of the day in cultural and biblical context. This morning, I will draw on expert guides to help us do both.

Three explanations 

As I wrote last week, the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day was a horrible tragedy. Our Father hates racism and demands that we value each other as he loves us (Genesis 1:28; Galatians 3:28).

Last night, cities across America saw a sixth evening of mass demonstrations following Mr. Floyd’s death. The entire Washington, DC, National Guard was called in to respond to protests outside the White House and elsewhere in the nation’s capital. A tanker truck drove through thousands of people who were marching on a Minneapolis highway, though none of the protesters was injured. At least forty cities have imposed curfews.

Writing for Bloomberg Opinion, John Authers examines the way Americans are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I believe his insights apply just as perceptively to the crisis unfolding across our country after George Floyd’s tragic death. Authers utilizes the work of British political philosopher Steven Lukes to describe three schools of thought at work in our society. Each of them helps explain the unrest embroiling our cities.

Utilitarians seek the greatest good for the greatest number. This is the impulse behind majority-rule democracy. However, this approach can put minority populations at risk, a fact experienced by many racial minorities across our nation’s history.

Communitarians want us to do what advances the “common good” within our community. But when your community’s common good conflicts with mine, what do we do? Some are justifying the violence of recent days as necessary to effect change, even if minority-owned and operated businesses are among the victims of such violence. In this view, previous calls for change have gone unheeded, requiring an escalating response that causes majority populations to feel the pain of minority victims.

Libertarians insist that individual freedom is paramount. But as Authers notes, when citizens are left alone, “many are left to sleep on the street, city centers are full of sleaze, and a few rich people benefit from gambling.”

Each of these viewpoints is foundational to American society. Can they be reconciled? According to Isaiah Berlin, the twentieth-century British philosopher and essayist, the answer is no.

Responses to George Floyd’s death are making his point. Some minorities feel they must demonstrate in large numbers to bring about change with the utilitarian majority. Some are willing to march (and some even to perpetuate violence) in other communities to make themselves heard. Many are protesting the libertarian lack of resources and compassion for people in need.

Jesus’ solution 

I began today’s Daily Article by admitting that I do not know what it is like to experience racial discrimination, face systemic poverty, encounter injustice, or suffer as an innocent victim of violence.

But Jesus does.

He lived his life as a Jew under Roman occupation. He was so impoverished that he “nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). After his arrest, he was subjected to what has been called “the most unjust trial in human history.” He suffered and died in innocence (Isaiah 53:9; Hebrews 4:15), atoning for sins he did not commit to purchase our salvation (Romans 5:8).

As a result, Jesus has the moral authority to speak to this crisis in a way I do not. For the next few days, we’ll discuss his example and teachings as we seek his guidance together.

For today, let’s consider the single sentence that is often considered his foundational ethical principle: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This one maxim provides a way forward through the scourge of racism and violence in our day. And it reconciles the utilitarian, communitarian, and libertarian conflicts so endemic to our culture.

Consider: If every person did to others what they would want to be done to them, would racial prejudice exist? Or police brutality? Or violent responses?

Would a single person have ever been enslaved in this land or any other? Would even one of the 40.3 million people enslaved in the world today be victims?

Would the majority oppress the minority? Would members of one community oppress members of another? Would a single individual be left to face our fallen world alone?

My commitment 

I cannot force another person to choose Jesus’ rule for living, but I can choose it for myself. I can seek the most strategic, significant ways to use my influence in its service. I can pray for divine help as I love every person I meet as I want them to love me, modeling Jesus’ transformational love for us all.

This is my commitment today. Will you join me?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – The death of George Floyd and confrontation in Central Park: Praying for a Pentecost miracle today

George Floyd was born in North Carolina and moved to Houston as a baby. He grew into a talented athlete who played football and basketball, receiving a basketball scholarship to Florida State University.

According to the mother of his six-year-old daughter, he didn’t finish school, eventually returning to Houston, where he became involved in music. He left the city for Minneapolis around 2018.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence” 

On Monday, police officers responded to a “forgery in progress.” A police statement says they were “advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence. Two officers arrived and located the suspect, an African American male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step out of his car.

“After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance.”

However, the police statement left out a scene recorded by a bystander that has shocked the nation: a Minneapolis police officer keeps his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, during which the unarmed man repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe!”

“Please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man, please,” Mr. Floyd said to the officer. “I can’t move. Everything hurts. Give me some water or something, please. I can’t breathe, officer.” As the officer continued to crush his neck with his knee, Mr. Floyd added, “They’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me, man.”

An ambulance then took Mr. Floyd to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

By Tuesday afternoon, the four officers involved had been fired. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Mr. Floyd’s death “simply awful” and “wrong at every level.” He stated: “This man’s life matters, he matters. He was someone’s son, someone’s family member, someone’s friend. He was a human being and his life mattered.”

The mayor added: “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.”

“A punch in the gut for a lot of people” 

Christian Cooper is a Harvard graduate who serves on the board of the New York City Audubon Society and has long been a prominent bird watcher in New York City.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The death of George Floyd and confrontation in Central Park: Praying for a Pentecost miracle today

Denison Forum – Christian singer announces, ‘I no longer believe in God’: How you can experience Jesus more personally than ever before

Jon Steingard is a pastor’s son and a musician, singer, and songwriter. He has been the lead singer for the Christian band Hawk Nelson since March 2012.

Now he has made an Instagram announcement that is generating headlines: “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life—I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

He explained: “The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It’s more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.”

I am glad to report that several Christian musicians responded not with criticism or condemnation but with unconditional grace. Tenth Avenue North singer Mike Donehey wrote: “Man, I love that you shared this. You know I’m always around to talk about our belief in God or lack thereof. Love you and always will.” Another added: “To echo so many others here, I have nothing but love in my heart for [you], old friend.”

A foundational problem for the church in our culture 

I don’t know any more about Jon Steingard’s faith story than I have read today. I don’t know what issues caused him to come to this decision, whether they are personal, rational, cultural, or relational. My purpose is not to criticize him in any way.

Instead, I’d like to think with you about his statement, “I no longer believe in God,” since it’s a sentiment many share today.

One of C. S. Lewis’s most profound essays was titled “God in the Dock.” (In the British court system, the accused stands in the “dock”; we might change the title to “God on Trial.”)

According to Lewis, “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”

The declaration, “I no longer believe in God,” or its opposite, “I believe in God,” identifies God as the object to my subject. I have the right and capacity to choose whether or not I believe in him, just as I can decide whether or not I believe in the internet or marriage.

This kind of relationship describes many people who would disagree with Jon Steingard’s statement but agree with its subject-object assumptions.

This is a foundational problem for the church in our culture.

Why I believe in the internet 

I believe in the internet, not because I can prove its existence on logical or scientific grounds (I don’t know enough about it to do so), but because I am experiencing it as I write this article on my Wi-Fi-connected computer. I believe in marriage not on logical grounds, but because I have experienced it for nearly forty years.

God does not seek to be an object in whom we choose to believe. He seeks to be a Father with whom we have a daily, transforming personal relationship.

Unfortunately, in our consumeristic, capitalistic culture, we have commodified this intimate relationship into a religion we can “buy” or “sell” as we wish. Inheriting Greco-Roman transactional religion, we have separated our souls from our bodies and Sunday from Monday.

As a result, too many of us see Jesus as our Savior but not as our friend (John 15:15). As we noted yesterday, he wants to lead us, empower us, and use us every moment of every day. But we must choose to be led, empowered, and used.

Your six-word mantra for today 

If you are experiencing Jesus as a living, daily presence in your life, you know what I’m talking about. You don’t need to tell us that you “believe in God” any more than you would say you believe in your spouse, child, parent, or best friend. If you’re experiencing someone personally, of course you believe that they exist.

If you have asked Jesus to be your Savior but you’re not experiencing him in this way, know that he is more available to you than even your spouse, child, parent, or best friend. That’s because his Spirit lives in you (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Jesus knows your past (cf. John 4:17–18), present (cf. John 1:48–50), and future (cf. Acts 9:6). He knows your thoughts (cf. Matthew 9:4) and secrets (cf. Luke 12:2). He will speak intuitively to your spirit by his Spirit (cf. Romans 8:16; Acts 16:6–10), practically through your circumstances (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9), and rationally through his word and your reason (cf. Luke 24:27).

However, as with any relationship, we need time with Jesus to experience him more personally and powerfully. Let me encourage you to make some time for him today. Enter his presence in praise (Psalm 100:4), confess your sins and claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), then ask him to speak to you through his word and your world. Tell him about your problems and fears and ask him for his guidance and help.

Now take note of the thoughts that enter your mind and the circumstances that change in your day. Envision Jesus walking beside you as your shepherd, leading and providing for you (John 10:27). Ask him to make himself more real to you than you have ever known him to be.

Make these six words your mantra today: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV).

Why not right now?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – A soldier lived because another soldier died: The transforming relevance of the Suffering Servant today

Yesterday was a Memorial Day unlike any in memory. Outdoor concerts and events were limited; parades to honor our fallen veterans were driven rather than walked. But the pandemic did not deter us from remembering with gratitude those who died for our freedoms.

As I reflected yesterday on more than one million women and men who died that we might live, I read John Stonestreet’s Memorial Day column. John’s BreakPoint articles are always excellent, but this one especially impressed me.

In it, John shared a story Chuck Colson once told to honor Memorial Day. It was February 1945, three months before World War II ended in Europe. Eighteen-year-old Sergeant Joseph George was stationed in France and was preparing to go out on evening patrol.

His friend, Private James Caudill, volunteered to take his place. He pointed out that, at age thirty-six, he was nearly twice as old as George. He told him, “You’re young. Go home. Get married. Live a full, rich life.” Then Private Caudill went out on patrol.

A few hours later, he was killed by a German sniper.

Sgt. Joseph George returned home safely. He married and fathered five sons. One of them, Princeton Professor Robert George, has been identified by the New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative thinker.”

Dr. George and his brothers will always know that their father survived the war because his friend died in his place.

“I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” 

Isaiah 50 is one of the “suffering servant” sections of the book (along with 42:1–4; 49:1–6; and 52:13–53:12). Each foretold what our Savior would experience centuries later.

In our text, the Servant (Jesus) testifies: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught” (Isaiah 50:4).

Continue reading Denison Forum – A soldier lived because another soldier died: The transforming relevance of the Suffering Servant today

Denison Forum – A conversation I will not forget: Reflecting on Memorial Day in a pandemic

Today is Memorial Day, an observance held annually in the United States on the last Monday in May. On this day, we especially remember the more than 1.3 million Americans who have died in our nation’s wars.

As the son and grandson of soldiers and a proud and grateful American, I want to honor this day each year in the Daily Article and each day in my heart.

However, there is a companion theme on this Memorial Day I’d like us to consider as well.

A nurse with tears in her eyes 

I had minor outpatient surgery last week. I say that only to say that I interacted with several medical staff in the days leading up to and through the procedure. Each of them was wearing a mask and gloves; several were wearing protective gowns as well.

That’s because, so far as they knew, I was infected with COVID-19 and capable of spreading the infection to them.

One nurse with whom I spoke had an especially touching story. When she and her colleagues were cleared to return to work several weeks ago, her daughter moved out of their home. This daughter has been living with her older brother because her mother could become infected with SARS-CoV-2 at work and bring the infection home to her.

As a result, this nurse has not been in the physical presence of her daughter for two months. They speak over Skype or Zoom every day, but it’s not the same. I will not forget her or the tears in her eyes as she told me her story.

Thousands of healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19 so far. Add to them the multiplied thousands of people working in other frontline capacities during this pandemic, from those who deliver groceries and supplies to those who police our streets to keep us safe.

Each of them is risking their life and their family to serve us.

How best can we observe this Memorial Day during a pandemic? Consider three biblical priorities.

One: Remember 

Paul said of the Philippians, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). Like him, we should remember those we are honoring today and express gratitude to God for them and their families.

Take time today to think about the 1.3 million women and men who have died to protect the freedoms you enjoy. Envision their lives and sacrifice; consider the years they lost in serving our nation. If you know a member of their families, express your gratitude to them for the sacrifice their loved ones made for you.

I especially encourage you to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance by stopping at 3:00 p.m. local time for one minute of silence. If you know a veteran or current member of the military, find a way to express your gratitude to them as well.

Extend this commitment to the healthcare providers and other frontline workers you know. Find a way to express your gratitude today and every day.

Two: Pray 

Paul said of the Ephesians, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16). As he prayed for them, we should pray for those we are considering today.

Pray for our military and their families, asking God for their protection and encouragement. Pray for those who have lost loved ones in the service of our country, asking God for their strength and peace.

And pray for our healthcare workers and others on the frontlines of this pandemic. Ask God to keep them and their families safe. Pray for them to feel the encouragement and gratitude of our nation.

Three: Emulate 

Think of the millions of women and men who chose to serve our nation at the cost of their lives. Consider their families living with the pain of their loss. Think about the women and men serving in harm’s way around the world, willing to die that we might live. And consider the healthcare providers and other frontline workers who are serving us at risk to themselves and those they love.

You and I may not be called into their service, but we have our own kingdom assignments. With our calling comes a commitment to fulfill that calling at any cost. Those God uses most fully are those who are most fully surrendered to his use.

Scripture teaches, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Paradoxically, this is the best way to serve the Lord and men.

The path to “true happiness” 

Remember, then pray, then emulate.

Helen Keller noted: “True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

What “worthy purpose” will you serve with your life?

 

http://www.denisonforum.org/

Denison Forum – What a time capsule from 1915 contained: The power of loving God with all your heart

A copper box was recently removed from the century-old amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. It had been sealed in 1915. Among its contents were a signed photograph of President Woodrow Wilson, copies of Washington’s four newspapers, a tiny American flag, a Washington city directory, and a Bible wrapped in brown paper and tied up in a red string.

The time capsule, officially called a “memorabilia box,” had been placed in the original cornerstone for the amphitheater in 1915. The structure was not completed for five years. When the cemetery celebrated the amphitheater’s centennial, the box was opened.

Cemetery command historian Steve Carney noted that the box is a chance “to reflect on, what was the world like in 1915.” He noted: “Within three years, the United States is a completely different place. We’ve seen the horrors of World War I, and we’re in the midst of the Spanish influenza. . . . What a different place and what a different memorabilia box that would have been if it was placed in 1920.”

A surprise came when the capsule was removed and a strange container was found sitting next to it. In the 1990s, when the capsule was moved to its present location, there was some extra space beside it. Workers took the opportunity to add a mini time capsule of their own. They gathered their business cards and wrote some notes, then they looked for a container.

Continue reading Denison Forum – What a time capsule from 1915 contained: The power of loving God with all your heart

Denison Forum – What makes ‘The Voice’ winner so special: The joy of loving God with ‘all your soul’

 

Todd Tilghman grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. He and Brooke, his high school sweetheart, were married in 1998. He eventually became pastor of his home church.

Todd and Brooke had three children, then adopted a daughter from South Korea and her biological sister. The couple then had three more children for a total of eight.

Todd never sang outside of church services. However, his wife urged him to wait in line for hours at an open audition for the singing competition, The Voice. “I am really thankful that she believed in me in a place in my life where I didn’t even realize that I had sort of stopped believing in myself,” he said later.

As the competition progressed, whether viewers were Christians or not, they could tell that there was something different about him. His peace, serenity, humility, and humor came through all season long.

This week, he sang I Can Only Imagine during the show’s final competition. The next night, he became the oldest person ever to win The Voice.

Why we should love God with all our “soul” 

This week, we’re discussing ways to love our neighbor during this pandemic by loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30–31). We’ve seen that when we love God with our strength through practical commitment, we will love others in the same way. If we love him with our minds through biblical study and submission to his Spirit, we will love him with our strength and our neighbors as well.

Today, let’s think about what it means to love the Lord with “all your soul.” The word soul (psyche in the Greek) occurs about one hundred times in the New Testament. It points to the inner life, often with reference to the emotions.

Across Scripture, the psyche is associated with pleasure (Matthew 12:18), happiness (Luke 12:19), and sorrow (Mark 14:34; Luke 2:35). In contrast with our heart, mind, and strength, to love God with our soul is to love him emotionally and intuitively.

Such an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus will empower us to spend time in Scripture and to think biblically. It will move us to serve the One we love in practical ways. And it will motivate us to love others as we are loved.

This kind of deep relationship with Jesus will be obvious to others. As with Todd Tilghman, people will see the passionate joy in our lives, and they will want what we have.

Research shows the power of prayer 

Loving God with our souls is especially urgent in this difficult season.

Continue reading Denison Forum – What makes ‘The Voice’ winner so special: The joy of loving God with ‘all your soul’

Denison Forum – From poison to Christ: How the life and legacy of Ravi Zacharias inspire us to love God with our minds

Ravi Zacharias, one of the most effective apologists and communicators in the Christian world, died yesterday at the age of seventy-four.

He was born on March 26, 1946, in Chennai, India. His family went to church and observed Christian rituals, but he said he never heard the gospel. “I attended more Hindu festivals and celebrations than I did Christian ones,” he wrote in Christianity Today.

As a young man, Zacharias attended a Youth for Christ rally, where he responded to the invitation with what he later termed “a kind of half-hearted commitment.” At the age of seventeen, in response to poor academic performance that he felt brought shame on his family, he took poison to kill himself.

He was rushed to the hospital, where a representative of Youth for Christ left him a Bible opened to John 14 and Jesus’ statement, “Because I live, you also will live.”

“Jesus,” he prayed, “if you are the One who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it. Please get me out of this hospital bed well, and I promise I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”

God answered his prayer, and Ravi Zacharias kept his promise.

“Let My People Think” 

Zacharias received a bachelor of theology degree from Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto) in 1972 and a master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, four years later. In 1984, he founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

Zacharias preached the gospel in more than seventy countries. He wrote or edited more than twenty-five books about theology, apologetics, comparative religion, and philosophy. RZIM has grown to about two hundred employees in sixteen offices around the world with twenty traveling speakers. Their ministry strategies include evangelism, apologetics, humanitarian aid, spiritual growth, and training institutes at Oxford University and elsewhere.

He wrote the bestseller, Can Man Live Without God? His most recent book, The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind, won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2020 Christian Book Award in the Bible study category.

Let My People Think, a weekly radio program, airs on more than two thousand outlets in thirty-two countries. A television program by the same name is broadcast on thirty-one stations in Canada and Belize, with global coverage into Africa, China, and Europe. A version of the program airs in his native India as well.  Continue reading Denison Forum – From poison to Christ: How the life and legacy of Ravi Zacharias inspire us to love God with our minds

Denison Forum – Ten-year-old’s ‘Joke of the Day’ is making a difference: A practical way to ‘know God’s presence’

 

“Why are ghosts such bad liars? Because you can see right through them.”

Ethan LyBrand has been supplying a “Joke of the Day” such as this one during the pandemic. His audience is part of what makes this such a terrific story: Ethan is filming his jokes to share through the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) social channels.

Another aspect of the story is that Ethan is only ten, but he is finding a way to make a difference. Here’s yet another: Ethan has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Diagnosed two days before his second birthday, he tires easily and periodically uses a motorized chair for mobility.

Despite his challenges, Ethan intends to tell jokes “as long as the quarantine lasts.”

“Young trailblazers” who are “stepping up” 

Ethan is not the only young person taking the initiative to help others during this crisis: Forbes is reporting on eight “young trailblazers stepping up during the pandemic.” One built a grocery delivery robot. Another is making see-through masks for the hearing impaired. Another is 3D-printing face shields.

On the other end of the spectrum, an eighty-eight-year-old Air Force veteran named Bob Coleman is sharing his love for country music on a new online radio hour known as “Radio Recliner.” He is one of several retirees serving as DJs for the sixty-minute show. Listeners can send song requests dedicated to friends or family.

Volunteers are stepping up to serve seniors as well. For example, employees of the city of Plano, Texas, launched bi-weekly Senior Care Calls. City staff are asking how older people are doing and connecting them to community resources as needed. The AARP has a similar service for senior adults.

Loving God with “all your strength” 

Yesterday, we focused on the second Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Today, we’ll begin discussing the first Great Commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v. 30).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Ten-year-old’s ‘Joke of the Day’ is making a difference: A practical way to ‘know God’s presence’

Denison Forum – Quadriplegic climbs Mount Everest at home: A question I hope you’ll ask today

Ed Jackson was a professional rugby player before a spinal injury in April 2017 shattered his career and left him paralyzed from the neck down. After months of therapy, he was able to regain some use of his body. However, he suffers from Brown-Séquard syndrome, a neurological condition in which his left side does not function well while his right side does but has no sensation.

This challenge has not deterred Jackson. To aid in his rehabilitation, he began climbing mountains. He started with Mount Snowdon, the tallest point in Wales at 3,560 feet. Last October, he climbed the Mera Peak in the Himalayas, an elevation of more than twenty-one thousand feet.

Jackson wanted to climb Mount Everest, but the coronavirus shutdown made that impossible. So he brought the mountain to himself: he decided to climb the equivalent of the world’s tallest mountain on his stairs at home to raise money for a spinal charity. His goal was 5,566 flights of stairs and 89,058 steps over four days.

Using his right leg to climb and dragging his left leg behind him, Jackson achieved his goal, raising more than $36,000 for spinal cord research. He posted later, “Right what’s next? Thinking Tour de France around the parents’ kitchen.”

Ten-year-old builds a “hug curtain” for her grandparents 

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Emory University published a paper last week comparing COVID-19-related deaths in the US to the deadliest week of an average influenza season. Their conclusion: COVID-19 is killing twenty times more people per week than does the flu.

However, despite the pandemic’s ongoing devastation, people are finding creative ways to do what matters most to them.

For example, a ten-year-old California girl used a shower curtain, Ziploc bags, disposable plates, and a hot glue gun to create an ingenious “hug curtain” through which she could hug her grandparents. A judge in the District of Columbia is officiating virtually at weddings using her computer at home.

And a thirty-four-year-old man in New York City has created a charity to provide meals for some of the thirty-six thousand Holocaust survivors in the city. He states that 40 percent of them live in poverty.

“See, they say, how they love one another” 

Early Christians had no buildings of their own; during the pandemic, ours are vacant. Early believers had to be careful of public meetings, lest they arouse the suspicions of Roman officials; during the pandemic, believers are practicing social distancing or meeting virtually.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Quadriplegic climbs Mount Everest at home: A question I hope you’ll ask today

Denison Forum – Space junk that could have fallen on New York City and the risk of ‘murder hornets’: When bad news becomes good news

Earlier this week, the body of a spent Chinese rocket became the largest piece of space junk to fall uncontrolled toward our planet in decades. According to the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, the core passed directly over New York City before scattering debris on the west coast of Africa, though no injuries have been reported as of this morning.

If re-entry had been just a few minutes earlier, debris could reportedly have showered the Big Apple.

In other bad news that has not become news, the Asian “murder hornets” making headlines these days are apparently not as dangerous as their nickname suggests. An entomologist writing in the Conversation states that Asian giant hornets will defend their nests, but “in most cases they will not do anything if people aren’t aggressive toward them.” They are fairly common in Japan, where wasp and hornet stings kill less than 0.00001 percent of the national population.

In other bad news, a Red Sox reporter named Chris Cotillo found himself with a lot of spare time when the baseball season was suspended. Here’s the good news: he began auctioning sports merchandise to help charities in the area. He has raised $57,000 so far; others on the Boston sports scene have joined him, bringing the total close to $100,000.

And the website Travel Trivia lists “7 ways travel will change for the better in a post-pandemic world.” Among them: more travel close to home will cut carbon emissions; wildlife will thrive, and we’ll see it more often; and airplanes and hotels will be “cleaner than we could have ever imagined.”

When God’s call feels like bad news

Bad news that doesn’t become news is good news. Challenges can often be reframed as opportunities.

What is true in our culture is also true in our souls.

In my personal Bible study, I have been impressed recently with how often God calls us to complete, unconditional obedience to his word and will. For example, I noted this week that Caleb followed God “fully” (Numbers 14:24) and thus was able to enter the Promised Land.

I am reading Psalm 119 these days, where I found this testimony: “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word” (Psalm 119:101, my italics). And this: “I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way” (v. 128, my italics). Then I noted King Hezekiah’s statement to God: “I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight” (Isaiah 38:3).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Space junk that could have fallen on New York City and the risk of ‘murder hornets’: When bad news becomes good news

Denison Forum – A doctor saves the man who saved him: The best way to treat every person we meet

Dr. Rick Pitera is an anesthesiologist at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. Five years ago, he had a heart attack that led to a long recovery through physical therapy. His exercise therapist in the cardiac rehabilitation unit was named Danny Radice. The two worked together for several difficult weeks.

“He helped me get my life back,” Pitera said. “It’s not hyperbole to say I owe Dan my life.”

This March, coronavirus overwhelmed St. Barnabas with the state’s second-highest number of COVID-19 cases. One of them was Danny Radice. This time, it was Pitera who worked tirelessly to save Radice. After more than six days on a ventilator, Radice survived and finally left the hospital on April 17.

Before he left, however, Pitera took a selfie with him. The doctor had returned the favor by saving his friend’s life.

The couple who helped launch our ministry 

Much of the news this week has been dominated by the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery and issues related to racial prejudice. On Monday, we discussed God’s ability to forgive every sin we confess, including racial discrimination, and to give us a “clean heart” (Psalm 51:10). Yesterday we focused on our side of this process and the need for greater awareness, cross-racial relationships, and commitment to systemic change.

Today, let’s broaden our discussion to focus on a lifestyle of relational inclusivity. My suggestion is this: treat every person you meet as though you will meet them again.

It may be that you save a life and then this person saves yours. Or it may be that your influence on them and theirs on you extends even into eternity.

In August 1973, two men knocked on my apartment door and invited me to ride their bus to their church. They could not have known that I would one day become the youth minister of their church and that one of their daughters would be in my youth ministry.

In September 1980, I was a lonely college freshman when the chairman of the Christianity department befriended me. He could not have known that one day I would speak at his funeral.

A few years into my pastorate in Dallas, a couple who was visiting our church asked my wife and me to dinner. We could not have known that they would eventually help us launch the ministry we have led for the last eleven years.

When coincidence is providence 

John 4 tells one of my favorite stories from the life of Jesus. Here we find his humanity and his divinity both on display in a remarkable balance.

Continue reading Denison Forum – A doctor saves the man who saved him: The best way to treat every person we meet