Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Tiffany Trump’s friends enter an “unconventional” marriage

Quentin Esme Brown is a well-known socialite, formerly from New York City but now living in Los Angeles. Peter Cary Peterson was once featured in a show about wealthy teenagers living in Manhattan. The two have been close friends since they were kids.

Last weekend, they were married in Las Vegas. The event made national headlines because Tiffany Trump was a flower girl. Is this a case of two friends who fell in love and got married out of romantic passion? Not at all.

Yahoo reported: “Tiffany Trump’s friends just entered a sexless marriage, which isn’t a terrible idea.” Esme called her marriage “unconventional” and explained: “Peter and I are not romantically involved—in fact we are still dating others and will continue to seek love in all its forms—we are just each other’s hearts and wish to begin our journey towards evolution, because the more we face reality, the more we can see that there is no right or wrong.”

A licensed therapist affirmed their decision: “We don’t need to get married for any of the reasons we used to. Once you’ve got everything else in place, it is like the cherry on top.” Another psychologist explained: “A lot of these sorts of marriages are in response to society getting increasingly isolated, and people want to create a kinship model.”

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Denison Forum – Bob Dole receives Congressional Gold Medal

 

Bob Dole received Congress’s highest civilian honor yesterday. The World War II veteran, longtime senator, and former presidential candidate was given the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony that included Republican and Democrat leaders, President Trump, and Vice President Pence.

Dole, who is ninety-four years old, can no longer walk. He sat in his wheelchair for the majority of the ceremony. However, when the color guard entered with the American flag and the flags of the Armed Forces, he gestured to an aide. A young man rushed to his side and helped pull him to his feet so he could stand to honor the American flag.

For many years, Sen. Dole has met visitors and fellow veterans at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. In his remarks yesterday, President Trump noted that future generations who come to the Memorial “will hear the story of a great man who rose up from a small town in the heart of America to become a soldier, and a congressman, and leader admired by all. They will hear the story of Bob Dole. And in hearing that story, they will truly learn what it means to be a great American.”

In 1960, President John F. Kennedy quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What we are speaks louder than what we say.”

You may not be able to quote a speech Bob Dole made or describe a law he helped pass, but you will always remember what he did for our country. His sacrifice as a soldier cost the use of his right arm and nearly cost his life. He served in the US Senate with transparency and integrity. He shows us “what it means to be a great American.”

What we do truly speaks louder than what we say.

Seeing Christ in Christians

I became a Christian because I saw Christ in Christians.

As a teenager, after I started visiting a local church, I began to see a joy and peace in the lives of other teenagers in our Sunday school class. One Sunday morning, I asked our teacher how I could have what they had. She led me to faith in Jesus.

Tragically, not every person has the same positive story to tell.

Mahatma Gandhi was a British-educated lawyer before he became a pioneer for independence in his native India. His philosophy of nonviolence and peaceful resistance influenced many in the American civil rights movement, most famously Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi was a man of great personal asceticism, making his own clothes and living on a simple vegetarian diet. His personal integrity and spirituality were crucial factors in his work to help India gain her independence. He has been designated “Father of the Nation”; his birthday is celebrated nationally each October 2.

Gandhi’s relationship with Christianity has been much discussed. He read from the New Testament every day and often quoted from God’s word. As one version goes, Gandhi was once asked by a reporter why he had not become a Christian. Although he had spent years in dialogue with Christian leaders around the world, he replied, “If I had ever met one, I would have become one.”

Another version goes back to a time when Gandhi was exiled in Africa before leading the revolution in India. He was seeking the Lord and reading the New Testament. He became convinced that Christianity was the true religion and that Jesus was the Christ.

He chose to attend a church for the purpose of confessing the Christian faith. But because of his skin color, church members wouldn’t let him in. He then led 750 million people into Hinduism and said, “I would have been a Christian if I hadn’t met one.”

“They recognized that they had been with Jesus”

One of my favorite verses of Scripture comes after Peter made one of the boldest declarations in history. His statement was as controversial and countercultural in his day as in ours: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

How would the authorities respond?

“When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13).

Let’s spend time with Jesus today and then live in such a way that others know we did. The next Gandhi we meet will be grateful.

 

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Denison Forum – CVS will end airbrushed beauty product ads

CVS will end airbrushing in advertisements for its store-brand beauty products by 2020. Why? “The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established,” explained the company’s president.

What should our culture learn from this step toward transparent truthfulness?

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes “the most American approach to matters of faith: a religious individualism that blurs the line between the God out there and the God Within, a gnostic spirituality that constantly promises access to a secret and personalized wisdom, a gospel of health and wealth that insists that the true spiritual adept will find both happiness and money.”

As a result, according to the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet, “America’s greatest affliction is a poverty of meaning, of purpose, of something to fill that great spiritual emptiness we feel at the heart of our nation.”

We can confuse “your truth” with “the truth,” pretending that we are more and better than we are and projecting to the world an idealized self that we know is false. But there’s a better way.

“I have no good apart from you”

Consider a simple prayer I encountered this week. In Psalm 16, David said to God, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (v. 2).

This is one of the most profound statements of self-awareness in all of literature.

“Good” translates the Hebrew tobah, meaning “practical benefit, desirability, morality.” In the eyes of the world, David had great “good” apart from God. In practical terms, he had wonderful gifts in leadership, athletic ability, and music. In terms of desirability, he was extremely handsome (1 Samuel 16:12). In moral terms, he was described by God as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV; 1 Samuel 13:14).

And yet he said to God, “I have no good apart from you.” David was clearly aware of the reason for his attributes and gifts. Echoing such self-awareness, my high school youth minister once gave me one of the most profound words of advice I have ever received: “Always remember the source of your personal worth.”

Our great value in life lies not in who we are but in Whose we are.

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis noted that we are creatures before our Creator. We derive all that is good in life from the One who made our lives. With this result: “To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.”

“I will help thee, saith the Lord”

When we learn to say to God, “I have no good apart from you,” two results follow.

One: We stay connected to the Source of our strength.

Because he knew himself to be a creature in need of his Creator, David vowed, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). He chose to live consciously and intentionally in the presence of his Maker.

Jesus warned us of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). We cannot mix ungodliness with godliness, lies with truth.

As Oswald Chambers notes, God’s call expresses his nature, and “we can only recognize the call if that same nature is in us.” We must be on his “frequency” to hear his voice. Is God “always before” you?

Two: We live and serve with supreme confidence.

Because he lived in submission to his Maker, David could attest, “My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices” (Psalm 16:9). And he could testify, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 11).

We are loved unconditionally by the Lord of the universe. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by him (Psalm 139:14). When we fulfill his purpose for our lives, we are “doing a great work” in his world (Nehemiah 6:3).

Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on our Father’s promise, “I will help thee, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 41:14 KJV), spoke in God’s voice: “If there were an ant at the door of thy granary asking for help, it would not ruin thee to give him a handful of thy wheat; and thou art nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency.”

Then he turned to himself: “O my soul, is this not enough? Dost thou need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Dost thou want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring hither thine empty pitcher! Surely this will well fill it.”

“I have no good apart from you.” Is this the prayer and posture of your heart today?

 

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Denison Forum – ‘Minnesota Miracle’ leads to ‘incredible Jesus moment’

You never know when Jesus will show up.

Case Keenum‘s professional journey has been challenging. Despite a record-setting career in college, he went undrafted by the NFL. He was eventually signed by Houston, where he went 0–8 as their starting quarterback in 2013. He then played for St. Louis, went back to Houston, and then back to St. Louis.

After stints as their starter, he was benched and then signed a one-year contract to serve as Minnesota’s backup quarterback for 2017. When the starter was injured, he took over in the second week of the season. He led his team to a 13–3 record.

After Sunday’s last-second play that is already being called the Minnesota Miracle, he’s now one game from the Super Bowl. When the game ended, with pandemonium all around, he told a national audience that the miraculous win “probably will go down as the third-best moment of my life.”

What tops this stunning victory? “Giving my life to Jesus Christ and marrying my wife,” Keenum said as the ecstatic crowd roared all around him. One reporter called it an “incredible postgame Jesus moment.”

Four months ago, Case Keenum had no idea he would make national headlines today. But he was ready when his time came.

Is this 1776 or 1789?

The Colson Center’s “BreakPoint” recently asked several Christian leaders to define “challenges facing the church in 2018.” Os Guinness, one of this generation’s most insightful evangelical theologians, offered a response that was so compelling I will reproduce it today in full:

“If we fight the battle at any point except where the battle is really being fought, we might as well not fight. Luther’s famous maxim is urgent for Christians today. The U.S. is experiencing its gravest crisis since the Civil War, but there is no agreement as to what the crux of the battle is. The division in this country is not just between Progressives and Conservatives, ‘coastals’ and ‘heart-landers,’ and ‘globalists’ and ‘nationalists.’ It is between ‘1776,’ and the heirs and allies of the American revolution, where faith and freedom went hand in hand; and ‘1789,’ and the heirs and allies of the thinking of the French revolution, where faith and freedom were mortal enemies.

“The current crisis is a tale of these two revolutions. Both cry ‘freedom,’ but their views of freedom are diametrically opposed. They have different roots (the Bible versus the Enlightenment), different views of human nature (realism versus utopianism), different views of change (incremental versus radical), different views of freedom (the power to do what you ought versus the permission to what you like), different views of government (protective versus Progressive), different views of accountability (‘under God’ versus without God), and different views of righting wrongs (repentance and reconciliation versus reparation and revenge).

“If this is correct, the challenges are plain. The question before America: Is the ‘constitutional Republic’ to be restored or replaced? The question before us as Christians: How do we live and speak so faithfully that we honor our Lord and his ways in response to one of the greatest apologetic challenges and one of the greatest cultural challenges in all history? Now is a time for what Rabbi Heschel called ‘moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.’ All who are Evangelical and unashamed can be confident that the good news is more than sufficient for the gravity of the hour.”

When Jesus is on trial

I am convinced that Guinness is right: there is a massive cultural divide today between Americans who see Christianity as foundational to our past and essential for our future, and Americans who see Christianity as irrelevant, if not dangerous.

You and I are alive “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). It is by divine providence that you were not living in 1818 and that you will not be on this planet in 2218 (if the Lord tarries).

Your Father intended you to follow and serve Jesus in this cultural moment. You have all you need to be faithful to his call. As the saying goes, God equips the called and anoints all he appoints.

One vital aspect of successful witnessing today is doing what Case Keenum did: be ready when your moment comes.

Jesus warned his disciples that they would face persecuting authorities. However, this was to be their posture: “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19–20).

When we have an opportunity to make public our faith in Jesus, we can feel as though we are a defendant on trial, with the other person as the prosecutor looking for ways to defeat our testimony.

In fact, Jesus is on trial. The Holy Spirit is the defense attorney, while Satan is the prosecutor. The person with whom you are speaking is the jury.

Your job is to go to the stand when the defense attorney calls you and tell what you know as he leads you. You may be the first witness called to the stand, so that you never hear how the jury decides. You may be the last, and thus present when the jury renders a verdict, hopefully for the Defendant. You will probably be somewhere in the middle.

The point: your job is to be ready. Tell what you know when given the opportunity and trust the results to God.

However, our witness is effective only if it is credible. Case Keenum’s priorities are clear: faith, family, football. Are they yours?

 

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Denison Forum – Robin Roberts: My sister saved my life

Sally-Ann Roberts has worked for a New Orleans television station for forty years, twenty-six of them as co-anchor of its morning show. She will be retiring next month. Why is this story making national news?

Because her sister is Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts. And because, as Robin explained, “the only reason I’m here living, is she was my bone marrow donor.” When Robin was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder in 2012, her sister’s sacrifice saved her life.

In other words, Robin Roberts is alive because her healthy sister made Robin’s problem her problem.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reports that every day, the number of people in the world living in extreme poverty goes down by 217,000. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity; 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water. In another fifteen years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will mostly be gone.

Since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, breastfeeding promotion, diarrhea treatment, and other simple steps. These remarkable advances were facilitated by people who did not have the problem they set out to solve.

In other news, a sophomore basketball player at the University of Texas is generating headlines today, not for what he has done on the court but for what he must now do off it. Andrew Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia and has begun treatment.

His jersey now occupies a spot on the Texas bench. A halftime video offered tributes from nearly every UT team. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins have voiced their encouragement.

None of them has Andrew Jones’s disease, but he has their support.

The trust revolution

Who Can You Trust? is an illuminating new book by Oxford scholar Rachel Botsman. Her research documents the breakdown of institutional trust in our culture.

Recent years have seen an inequality of accountability as corporate leaders have failed their constituents but been rewarded with lucrative buyout packages. Political leaders have faced little accountability for their personal and leadership failings.

The digital age has made it easier than ever to voice allegations against those in power. Social media enables us to confine our news to sources with which we agree.

The results are startling.

In the 1970s, according to Gallup surveys, 70 percent of Americans believed they could trust key institutions to do the right thing most of the time. In 2016, such confidence had fallen to 32 percent. Trust in Congress fell from 49 to 9 percent. Trust in the church fell from 65 to 41 percent.

Millennials are the most dubious. According to a 2015 Harvard study, 86 percent distrust financial institutions. Three in four “sometimes or never” trust the federal government to do the right thing; 88 percent “sometimes or never” trust the media.

At the same time, we are learning to trust strangers in entirely new ways. We rent homes on Airbnb; we arrange transportation on Uber; we buy products on Amazon.

But before we engage in such digital transactions, we check the reviews. Airbnb properties and guests are rated, as are Uber drivers and passengers. Products on Amazon get “stars” and voluminous consumer reports.

According to Botsman, the key trust indicators are competence, reliability, and honesty.

Anne Frank was right

What does this “trust revolution” mean for those of us who seek to change our culture for Christ?

Ezra 9 finds the Jewish people back home from exile in Babylon. However, many have intermarried with Gentiles in the land. Ezra, their spiritual leader, must now respond to their grievous sin.

Here’s how his prayer begins: “O my God, I am ashamed to blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (v. 6). Even though he committed none of these sins personally, he identified with his people. Their failures became his failures. Years later, Nehemiah confessed the sins of the nation by expressing the same solidarity with his people (Nehemiah 1:6–7).

The old truism is true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If we make the problems of society our problems, we earn the right to share our solutions.

Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, followers of Jesus should be especially competent, reliable, and honest. Because we serve a sinless Savior, we should be sacrificial in addressing problems that we do not face personally.

And because tomorrow is promised to no one, we should find a need to meet today. Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

 

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Denison Forum – “Everything that can be invented, has been invented”

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax,” predicted Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, in 1883. “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction,” stated Pierre Pachet, professor of physiology at Toulouse, in 1872. “Everything that can be invented, has been invented,” proclaimed Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the US Office of Patents, in 1899.

Even Albert Einstein got the future wrong. In 1932 he stated, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”

Now we’re on the brink of a new year and a new spate of predictions. Forbes thinks that Democrats will fail to win the House or the Senate this year, but the Republican Party will continue to splinter. The markets will continue to do well, but a 10 percent correction will come at some point during the year. Clemson will defeat Oklahoma for the NCAA football title, the Patriots will defeat the Vikings in the Super Bowl, and the Yankees will win the World Series.

I have no idea if anything I just typed will come to pass. But I do know this about the future: it comes one day at a time. And the safest way to prepare for tomorrow is to be right with God today.

A surprising way to win a war

In 1 Chronicles 14 we find the newly crowned King David facing his nation’s arch-enemies, the Philistines. Their troops staged a raid on Israel in the “Valley of Rephaim,” just west of Jerusalem (v. 9). In a day when kings were supported so long as they could protect their people, a loss to the Philistines could turn David’s people against their new monarch.

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Denison Forum – An eight-hour flight from Los Angeles to Los Angeles

A jet heading from Los Angeles to Tokyo turned around four hours into the flight and returned to LAX. The crew discovered that an unauthorized person had boarded the flight, so they chose to return to Los Angeles.

What one person does can affect multitudes of people.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Sealver Siliga went to dinner with some friends on Christmas Eve. He asked the manager how many employees were still working, then left a $1,000 tip to ensure that each received $100 for Christmas.

By contrast, an employee burned a bagel in a St. Louis airport restaurant Tuesday night. Hundreds of travelers were forced to evacuate into 11-degree cold.

My wife and I recently saw Darkest Hour, a fascinating depiction of Winston Churchill’s leadership in the early days of World War II. As the film shows, government advisors pled with the new prime minister to negotiate for peace with Hitler. England’s troops were trapped at Dunkirk, on the western coast of France, as the Germans advanced.

But Churchill ordered the largest evacuation in military history, sending nearly a thousand vessels to rescue 338,226 Allied soldiers. Describing Churchill’s rhetoric, President John F. Kennedy said that he “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” turning his government from pacifism to courage.

“Being a better person” is our top resolution

In a world that is more interconnected than ever before, what we do today can affect humanity for years to come.

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Denison Forum – Couple delivers Christmas Day baby on side of road

Taylor and Hannah Lindeman were rushing to a hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota on Christmas Day. After her water broke, they were forced to pull over to the side of the highway to wait for an ambulance. Their baby “had other plans,” however, as Hannah later told a reporter.

She gave birth to a daughter in the car’s front passenger seat. A police officer arrived shortly after the birth and tied off the umbilical cord with a shoelace from Hannah’s boot. The couple expects to return home today.

As a father of two, I cannot imagine the stress these parents felt. But their momentary travail led to joy beyond description.

In other news, US retail holiday sales jumped 4.9 percent this year, the largest increase since 2011. Total sales are on track to reach $671 billion. This was bad news for overworked store clerks and online sales staff but good news for retailers and their shareholders.

In coming days, however, consumers will return about $90 billion worth of goods. But even that news is good news for FedEx and UPS, which are trying to get a bigger slice of the pie for deliveries and returns.

“How to think like a medieval monk”

So much of life is perspective. While I certainly believe in absolute truth and objective morality, I also know that the attitude we bring to the events of our lives is enormously significant.

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Denison Forum – Woman receives $284 billion electric bill

“My eyes just about popped out of my head. We had put up Christmas lights and I wondered if we had put them up wrong.” That was Mary Horomanski’s reaction when she went online to check her electric bill and discovered that she owed $284,460,000,000.

The electric company graciously allowed her to defer the full amount until November 2018, but her minimum payment for December was $28,156. Her son called the company and was told that the amount was an error. Her statement was soon corrected to $284.46.

Mary says that after getting the $284 billion bill, she told her son she wanted a heart monitor for Christmas.

Why “religion is not going away”

While you may not have gotten what you wanted yesterday, it’s likely that you celebrated Christmas anyway. Nine in ten Americans did. However, only 46 percent said they observed the day as primarily a religious (rather than cultural) holiday. The consumerism of Christmas continues today: 9 percent of retail sales and up to a third of online sales are returned.

While we can bemoan the secularism of our culture, I think it’s a remarkable fact that nearly everyone in America celebrates a day that is intended to honor Jesus’ birth. In fact, according to Pew Research, 81 percent of non-Christians celebrate Christmas. Included in their number are a third of Jews, three-quarters of Hindus and Buddhists, and 87 percent of people who identify as nonreligious.

The popularity of Christmas is just one example of a trend that is both countercultural and encouraging. In a fascinating recent article, humanities professor Peter Harrison explains “why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it.”

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Denison Forum – Why is Christmas on December 25?

Congratulations—you survived the longest night of the year. (Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere; more on that in a moment.)

The planet you inhabit tilts on its axis at a 23.44-degree angle. When the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, we get summer. When it tilts away, we get winter. When earth tilts as far from the sun as possible, which happened yesterday, the sun sets earlier than it does all year and we have the annual Winter Solstice. The Southern Hemisphere experiences precisely the opposite phenomena.

Our meteorological experience relates directly to Christmas, but in an indirect way.

When was Jesus born?

It is unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. Shepherds were “out in the field, keeping watch over the flocks by night” when the angels announced the Messiah’s birth to them (Luke 2:8). In the cold month of December, their sheep would have been corralled around a fire. Luke’s reference points to the spring lambing season as the more likely time of Jesus’ birth.

Why, then, do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

One explanation relates to pagan celebrations. The Romans held their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December, a Mardi Gras-like party marked by immorality. In AD 274, the Roman emperor Aurelian established the feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) on December 25, coinciding with the winter solstice. In response, Christians located the birth of God’s Son on that day as a way of inviting pagans to his worship.

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Denison Forum – Woman gives birth to child who is only a year younger than she is

Tina Wren gave birth to a daughter named Emma last month. The mother was twenty-five years old at the time. Her daughter was twenty-four. How is this possible?

Tina and her husband Benjamin married seven years ago, but the couple assumed they could not have biological children because Benjamin has cystic fibrosis, which often results in infertility. They fostered a few children, until Tina’s father suggested embryo adoption.

This is the process by which couples who use in vitro fertilization (IVF) donate unused frozen embryos to other couples. The Wrens went to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they received a donated embryo. It turns out, that embryo had been created through IVF and frozen twenty-four years earlier.

Tina gave birth to the baby she received. She told reporters, “This embryo and I could have been best friends.” As it is, they are now mother and daughter.

If Tina and Benjamin had another way to become pregnant, it seems likely that they would not have chosen this route. But they know that their new daughter is indeed a miracle.

Responding to “unexpected opportunities”

Many of the choices we make aren’t really choices. If we have only one option, it becomes the best option.

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Denison Forum – How a couple who lost 9 family members will celebrate Christmas

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are preparing for Christmas in Sutherland Springs, Texas. However, there will be nine people missing from their home.

The Holcombes, age eighty-six and eight-five, lost family members spanning three generations when a gunman opened fire at First Baptist Church on November 5. Their son, Bryan, was killed. So was their daughter-in-law, Karla; their grandson, Danny; their granddaughter-in-law, Crystal, and her unborn child; and four great-grandchildren: Noah, Greg, Emily, and Megan.

How are they coping?

Joe Holcombe, who goes by “Papa Joe,” told a Time reporter: “Everybody always wants us to be whimpering and crying because we lost some of our family. That’s not the way we are. It happened and it hurt. But we don’t look at death as separation. We look at it as just another event in our life.”

How can “Papa Joe” face tragedy with such hope? Because he believes in heaven: “It won’t be long until we’ll be there with the rest of the family. I miss my family. We don’t see them coming down the sidewalk at the front door anymore. But I won’t miss them long.”

“Blue Christmas” services

My father died ten days before Christmas in 1979. I miss him all year, but especially at this time of year.

Many churches are holding “Blue Christmas” services for people like me. Such services provide those in grief at Christmas an opportunity to pray, worship, and seek comfort in Christ. “The most wonderful time of the year” is less wonderful for those who mourn loved ones or suffer in other ways. Watching others celebrate the holiday season makes people in pain feel even more alone.

According to Psychology Today, a high incidence of depression is associated with the Christmas season. Suicide rates go up. One survey reported that 45 percent of respondents dread the holidays.

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Denison Forum – How realistic is ‘Star Wars’ today?

I recently saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As with the other movies in the franchise, the film’s plot depends heavily on some remarkable science-fiction technology. How plausible are these special effects in real life?

Don Lincoln is a senior physicist who does research using the Large Hadron Collider. Here are his assessments:

  • Droids (short for androids): “Definitely going to happen.” Lincoln points to robots that can do backflips and have made remarkable advances in artificial intelligence.
  • Lightsabers: “There are no known energy sources” with the capability to do what these weapons do on movie screens.
  • Faster than light travel: “There is absolutely no evidence” of the alternate time and space dimensions used by Star Wars travelers. As a result, such travel is “not very likely, even if you live as long as Yoda.”
  • Death Star/Starkiller Base: To destroy the Earth, you’d need to harness the energy output of our sun for an entire week, absorb and store it, then focus it as a weapon. Lincoln’s conclusion: “No way. That’s just crazy talk!”
  • The Force: “While scientists do talk about energy fields in the universe, with names like dark energy and the Higgs field, they aren’t anything like the one described in ‘Star Wars.'” As a result, “it is very unlikely that the Force will be with you.”

If the science behind Star Wars is largely impossible, why is the franchise so incredibly popular? The narrative resonates with us because it captures the essence of the human struggle: Good is perennially at war with evil. However, evil often seems more powerful than good. Thus, good people must do all the good they can while utilizing the resources of something or Someone more powerful than themselves.

We are reminded every day that we are broken people living in a broken world. From yesterday’s tragic Amtrak derailing to this morning’s fatal shooting near Times Square, the news perennially shows us the frailty and unpredictability of life.

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Denison Forum – You spent $22 million investigating UFOs

Have you heard of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program? Neither had I. But the New York Times is reporting that this little-known government agency spent $22 million of our tax dollars between 2007 and 2012 investigating unidentified flying objects.

Even though funding ended five years ago, the program has continued. However, I could find no mention in the Times article that any proof of extraterrestrial life has so far been discovered.

In related news, this headline caught my eye: “Stephen Hawking’s search for extraterrestrial life came up short.” An organization he founded has been studying ‘Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped interstellar asteroid that zipped past Earth recently. (The name means “messenger from afar arriving first” in Hawaiian.) It is the first-ever documented interstellar asteroid to fly by our planet.

The researchers hoped to detect alien spaceship transmissions or signals emanating from the asteroid. However, none were discovered.

One more story from the sky: the Geminid Meteor Shower made another appearance last week. It peaked around 2 a.m. Thursday morning. I walk in our neighborhood early each morning after publishing the Daily Article and had an excellent opportunity to see the meteor shower, but I forgot to look up.

Therein lies my point today.

The reason for democracy’s falling popularity

In his latest New York Times column, David Brooks focuses on an essential truth that is foundational to our democracy. Citing novelist Thomas Mann, Brooks defines the “one great truth” with which democracy begins: “the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – You spent $22 million investigating UFOs

Denison Forum – A retraction I am delighted to make

In yesterday’s Daily Article, I made the point that mortality is a fact for us all. Reflecting on stories in the day’s news, I stated, “Evil people like the Son of Sam killer can develop heart disease. Heroes like John McCain can develop brain cancer. The death rate is still 100 percent.”

John McCain is still a hero and he still has brain cancer. But a kind reader sent me an extraordinary note about the Son of Sam killer that I asked his permission to share with you today.

An amazing story of redemption

Dr. Steve Foster is pastor of Community Bible Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In December 2009, he visited the “Son of Sam,” David Berkowitz, in prison.

Thirty years earlier, Berkowitz terrorized New York City, killing six people and wounding seven others. Police mounted the largest manhunt in New York City history, arresting him on August 10, 1977. Berkowitz claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the form of a dog belonging to his neighbor “Sam.” He pled guilty to second-degree murder and has been serving six consecutive life sentences.

I remembered his story when reading that Berkowitz has now been hospitalized for a heart problem. What I didn’t know was the rest of the story.

Dr. Foster tells it well: While in prison, Berkowitz came to faith in Christ. Such “conversions” are often a play for media attention or sympathy from parole boards, but his has clearly been sincere. For decades, he has been ministering to other prisoners in Jesus’ name. He has especially focused on those who are suicidal and emotionally disturbed.

Continue reading Denison Forum – A retraction I am delighted to make

Denison Forum – Is this the key to long life?

“I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best.”

This is how one elderly person describes the key to long life, part of a fascinating new study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. It reports that such optimism, along with stubbornness, a love for family and country, and a willingness to work hard are traits common among a group of Italians aged ninety to 101.

However, before you decide that optimistic stubbornness is all you need to live longer, take note: other studies claim that owning a dog, drinking coffee, and doing more push-ups and sit-ups contribute to longevity. But another study warns that too much exercise can raise your risk of an early death.

Here’s a fact: no matter how long you live, you won’t live on this planet forever.

Evil people like the Son of Sam killer can develop heart disease. Heroes like John McCain can develop brain cancer. The death rate is still 100 percent.

If we will all die (unless the Lord returns first), why do we try so hard to fight the fact of our mortality?

Jesus is still the Great Physician

One reason is God-given: our Lord cares about our physical health.

Jesus was noted far and wide for his healing ministry (Matthew 4:23–25). The apostles were famous for the healing power of the Spirit at work through them (Acts 5:12–16). The apostle John prayed for Gaius “that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Is this the key to long life?

Denison Forum – Four factors in the Alabama Senate election

In a “major upset,” Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in yesterday’s Senate election in Alabama. This was the fiftieth Senate special election in my lifetime. None has been remotely as controversial as this campaign.

The Denison Forum is nonpartisan and does not endorse or oppose political candidates. As a result, my intention today is not to support or criticize the candidates or their parties. Rather, it is to explore the cultural significance of the election in the context of biblical truth.

It seems to me that four factors influenced the outcome. I predict that these same factors will continue to be relevant to American elections for the foreseeable future.

One: Personal qualifications

Doug Jones has been working for civil rights and reconciliation since high school. He served as an assistant US attorney and private lawyer before being appointed US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama by President Clinton in 1997. As a result of his work in racial reconciliation, he received 96 percent of the African American vote in yesterday’s election.

Roy Moore graduated from West Point and served in Vietnam. He was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 but was removed in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. He was reelected in 2012 but was charged with violations of legal ethics in 2016 and suspended; he retired the next year.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Four factors in the Alabama Senate election

Denison Forum – Great white shark nearly beheads diver

A great white shark nearly took off a salvage diver’s head in South Africa, according to a now-viral video. Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles’ phenomenal quarterback (and very committed Christian), has been ruled out for the rest of the year with a knee injury.

And the wildfires in California have destroyed over a thousand structures as of this morning. An anesthesiologist lost his home to fire in Santa Rosa last October. Then a second home in Ventura, which he was renting to members of the military, burned down last week.

What do these stories have in common?

Shifting themes: A terror attack struck a bus terminal near Times Square yesterday morning. The would-be suicide bomber was reportedly inspired by ISIS attacks on Christmas markets in Europe. Reuters is reporting that Russian-language hackers have stolen nearly $10 million from at least eighteen banks, fifteen of them in the US.

And the New England Patriots played without Rob Gronkowski when they lost to the Miami Dolphins last night. The All-Pro tight end was suspended for the game as punishment for an illegal hit on a Buffalo Bills player last week.

What do these stories have in common?

Continue reading Denison Forum – Great white shark nearly beheads diver

Denison Forum – Why you weren’t invited to the Star Wars premiere

The first reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi are in. According to the Associated Press, “the enthusiastic audience laughed and cheered throughout much of the two-and-a-half-hour film.” If you weren’t invited to the Los Angeles premiere, that’s because you’re not a Hollywood insider.

While being a celebrity might get you into a blockbuster movie opening, it’s no match for the power of nature. Paris Hilton, Chelsea Handler, Jennifer Tilly, and Lea Michele are among the celebrities fleeing wildfires that have grown larger than New York City and Boston combined. Tilly had to go to four hotels to find a room.

Now let’s shift gears to the most popular celebrity of Christmas. National Geographic is reporting on the final remains of St. Nicholas: “Though his remains are venerated worldwide, no one knows for certain where he rests in peace—or more accurately, in pieces.”

The man whose life became the basis for Santa Claus was a venerated Christian leader whose relics were distributed throughout Christendom after his death. A radiocarbon study conducted by Oxford University scholars shows that a relic housed in the Shrine of All Saints in Morton Grove, Illinois, does in fact date to the time of the saint’s death. Other relics of St. Nicholas are housed in more than a dozen churches around the world.

Nicholas of Myra was born in the city of Patara (in modern-day Turkey) in AD 270. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while he was young.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why you weren’t invited to the Star Wars premiere

Denison Forum – Why is a $15 toy selling for $5,000? 

This New York Times headline that caught my eye: “How the Bot Stole Christmas: Toys Like Fingerlings Are Snapped Up and Resold.”

I had no idea what a Fingerling was or why I should care. Then I learned that fingerlings are “colorful chirping monkeys (and sloths and unicorns) that wrap around your finger.” They have become one of the most sought-after toys on Christmas lists.

Here’s why they are in the news: the fifteen-dollar creatures are sold out online nearly everywhere. You can’t find them at Toys “R” Us, Walmart, or Target. But you can buy them on eBay and Amazon for double, triple, and quadruple their original price. One Fingerling on eBay is advertised for $5,000.

Here’s why: popular items are being purchased by software programs as soon as they are offered for sale. These computer “bots” buy the products at a speed that humans can’t match. They also subscribe to online sales and use multiple email addresses to bypass the purchasing limits set by retailers.

Good Morning America also reported on this story, noting that a Barbie Hello Dream House which retails for $299.99 is being sold on eBay for nearly $1,700. A Nintendo video game that normally sells for $79.99 is being resold for $13,000.

Lawmakers are calling on retailers to “block the bots.” The National Retail Federation is working to “take away the tools being used against innocent customers.” But eBay explains: “As an open marketplace, eBay is a global indicator of trends in which supply and demand dictate the pricing of items. As long as the item is legal to sell and complies with our policies, it can be sold on eBay.”

And therein lies the problem.

The “invisible hand” of greed Continue reading Denison Forum – Why is a $15 toy selling for $5,000?