Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Why Candace Cameron Bure won’t return to “The View”: Two questions that can change your world

 

A gender reveal party sparked a wildfire that has grown to nearly ten thousand acres in California as of this morning. A woman died over the weekend while hiking amid a record-setting heatwave in the state. And at least 147 COVID-19 cases have been linked to a wedding reception in Maine.

In the midst of all the bad news, one Christian celebrity wants to focus on the good news.

Candace Cameron Bure was asked recently if she would ever reprise her role on the talk show The View. The actress chuckled and said, “No. I’m done with that chapter. I’m very grateful for that time in my life but I don’t want to talk about politics.” She explained: “Not because I don’t believe that my viewpoints and opinions are important, but I would much rather share Jesus with people. That’s really my passion.”

Notice that she doesn’t want to talk about religion or even Christianity, but about Jesus. That’s because Jesus is a real, living person, not just an idea or a worldview. He has changed her life, and she wants everyone to know that he can change their lives as well.

Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I watched A Rush of Hope, Greg Laurie’s marvelous and moving cinematic invitation to meet Jesus. After blending inspirational films and music about our Lord, the program then focused on the pastor as he explained who Jesus is and what he wants to do in our lives.

Laurie did what Candace Cameron Bure wants to do: share Jesus with people. In a broken world filled with disaster, disease, and despair, he is our only hope. Even more than we need a COVID-19 vaccine and solutions for the divisiveness of our day, we need to know him.

Not just about him. We need Jesus.

The danger of the Thomas theorem

Here’s our problem: secularization has convinced secular people that Jesus is merely an idea or historical figure they can ignore if they wish. Even Christians can fall for this deception, turning a personal relationship with their personal Lord into a religion about him they can observe on their terms.

Such decisions become tragically self-fulfilling.

In sociology, the Thomas theorem states: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” For example, thousands of people over the Labor Day holiday refused to take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. Their false belief that masks and social distancing are unnecessary will lead to very real consequences for them and for the rest of us as well.

Similarly, if like a majority of American adults you believe that Jesus is only a man, you will refuse the salvation only the Son of God can offer (cf. John 14:6). As a consequence, you will spend eternity separated from God and you will miss all that his divinity can do in your life today.

And if you believe that Christianity is about attending church and being religious, you will miss all that the living Lord Jesus wants to do in and through your life today.

The privilege of “unveiled encounters” with Jesus

Yesterday, we focused on the fact that God wants to use our temporal work for eternal purposes, noting with Oswald Chambers that “a river touches places of which its source knows nothing.”

Today, let’s focus on the work before the work.

Chambers encourages us to, “Never allow anything to come between yourself and Jesus Christ, no emotion or experience; nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source.” When you are connected to the living Lord Jesus, “you will find that God has nourished in you mighty torrents of blessing for others.”

This is because, when we encounter Jesus, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Commenting on this astounding statement, Craig Denison notes: “When we spend time alone with God, the Holy Spirit longs to lead us into direct, tangible, and transformative encounters with the glory of God. Christian spirituality is all about direct connection with our heavenly Father and not about engaging in religious practices just because we feel we should.”

You might be thinking, But you don’t know my failures and mistakes. You don’t know all the ways I am unworthy to experience the holy God. You’re right. You are not worthy to experience God personally. Neither am I. This is one reason so many Christians settle for religion about God rather than an intimate relationship with him. It’s why we read the Bible, pray, and attend worship services, but when we’re done, we are the same as we were before we began.

Here’s the amazing good news: you do not have to be worthy to experience God, for he has made you worthy. As Craig explains, “The death of Christ has made unveiled encounters with God completely available to you whenever, wherever.”

Two questions that can change your world

All across the Gospels, whenever and wherever people chose to trust in Jesus and stepped into a personal relationship with him, he changed their lives. And he is still the same today as he was then (Hebrews 13:8).

As a result, let’s close with two questions.

First, when was the last time Jesus changed your life?

When we read the Bible with the prayer that Jesus would speak to us, he will. When we pray with the desire to speak to him and hear from him, he meets with us. When we worship for the purpose of connecting with the living Lord, we do. When we serve in submission to his calling and power, we experience him as we partner with him.

So, I’ll ask a second question: When next will Jesus change your life?

 

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Denison Forum – An attorney visited a jeweler and received a new kidney: The power of working on purpose

 

Aaron Wiley and his wife Erleigh went to his favorite jeweler in May to get her diamond necklace upgraded. Their jeweler, Jennifer Pratt of JPratt Designs, helped them select a new motif for her necklace. The next day, Jennifer offered them something else: her kidney.

During their design appointment, she asked Aaron if he would like a glass of water. Erleigh said, “He can’t have any more water—he’s on dialysis and has to restrict his intake.” She had donated a kidney to her husband in 2008, but it failed in 2017 and he had been forced to live on dialysis. Aaron, a private practice attorney, continued to work, timing his travel schedule around four-hour dialysis treatments every other night.

Jennifer told a reporter that when she learned of Aaron’s plight, “I went home and told my husband, ‘I’m going to try and give Aaron my kidney.'” She added: “We were living a peaceful life, drinking wine and enjoying the pool in our backyard, and Aaron was in dialysis three or four times a week. I thought, ‘This is something I can do to fix that problem. I can make life better for him.'”

Rigorous testing showed she was a perfect match. On August 25, she gave one of her kidneys to Aaron during a four-hour transplant surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, where she and the Wileys live.

She and Aaron are now recovering at home. Erleigh says, “Jennifer is proof that there truly are angels on Earth. She’s a person of action who never wavered. We’ll never be able to thank her enough.”

Partnering with our Maker 

Labor Day is the first Monday in September. According to the US Department of Labor, this day is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Some of these achievements are obvious and immediate. Other work creates outcomes we cannot measure on this side of eternity.

Every person Aaron Wiley helps as an attorney and influences as a person will be an extension of Jennifer Pratt’s selfless gift to him. As is every person who learns their story, including you and me today.

That’s the way work works.

God put the first man in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The Hebrew word translated “work” means to cultivate and improve. The word translated “keep” means to guard and nurture. Taking these verbs together, we learn that we are called to partner with the Creator of the universe by developing and protecting his creation.

Tragically, the Fall made this calling much more difficult and painful than it was originally designed to be (Genesis 3:17–19). As a result, it is easy to view work as an unfortunate but necessary means to an end. We work to make enough money to do what we want to do with the time when we’re not working. Many work during the week so they can live on the weekends.

This is the wrong way to view work.

Two reasons to sew clothes for a baby 

Philosopher Simone Weil believed that people need to work not only for income but also for the experience of work itself. In her view, we were not created for lives of idle pleasure. It is through work that people contribute to the lives of others. Work reminds us that we are part of something greater and provides a larger purpose for our lives.

She wrote of the calling to serve others: “Anyone whose attention and love are really directed toward the reality outside the world recognizes at the same time that he is bound, both in public and private life, by the single and permanent obligation to remedy, according to his responsibilities and to the extent of his power, all the privations of soul and body which are liable to destroy or damage the earthly life of any human being whatsoever.”

In other words, we are called to work to reverse the Fall. The more difficult the work, the more urgently it is needed. The sicker the patient, the more necessary the doctor.

Remembering that our work has a larger purpose than we know gives purpose to our work. For example, Weil asked us to imagine that two women are sewing clothes for a baby. One is pregnant and thinks about the unborn child for whom she is working. The other is a convict engaged in prison labor.

Each seems to be doing the same work, “but a whole gulf of difference lies between one occupation and the other.”

“Rivers of living water” 

On this Labor Day, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on your labor. Is your work an unfortunate but necessary means to an end? Or do you see your work as your kingdom assignment, your unique way of loving your Lord and your neighbor?

It may be that, like Jennifer Pratt, you will meet someone in the midst of your labors this week whose life you can change with your service. Or it may be that your work will touch lives you will not meet on this side of eternity.

Oswald Chambers noted that “God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is.” This is because, as Chambers observed, “A river touches places of which its source knows nothing.”

If you will stay close to your Source, the Lord Jesus, “out of [your] heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

So, here’s the vital question we should ask ourselves on behalf of everyone for whom we work, whether we know them or not: How close are we to our Source today?

 

 

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Denison Forum – Was a Bible burned in Portland? Two sides of the story and the truth that will “set you free”

Was a Bible burned in Portland? Yes, but that’s only part of the story.

On August 1, the story began circulating that “left-wing activists” burned a “stack of Bibles” in front of the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, the previous night. The story was shared widely, especially among conservative media.

However, the New York Times reported yesterday that the individual who first tweeted the story “has amassed a large Twitter following by playing a right-wing American raconteur on social media.” The paper states that this individual added his own commentary, “wildly exaggerating” what the video showed.

The Times also reports that the video came from Ruptly, which it describes as a video news agency financed by the Kremlin. The Times article alleges that the video consisted of “images selected to mislead.” It reports that “a few protesters among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible—and possibly a second—for kindling to start a bigger fire.” And it references a local television reporter who “heard about the Bible burning and noted it with a single sentence in a lengthy report on that night’s protests,” linking to his report.

However, there seems to be more to the story. That reporter is named Danny Peterson with CBS station KOIN 6. He was present on the evening of July 31 and tweeted several videos and photos of protesters burning American flags. He also tweeted a photo of what he described as “a Bible being burned.” The fact-finding website Snopes spoke with Peterson, who confirmed with protesters that the book he saw burning was a Bible.

He told Snopes that the people burning the Bible and American flags did not self-identify with any particular group. However, these acts appeared to be political expressions and were not “coincidental objects that people burned in order to make a fire.” His eyewitness statement contradicts the Times report.

“The Holy Grail of all dollars” 

Was the Bible-burning episode in Portland exaggerated and publicized by the Russians? Was it reported factually by an eyewitness? Or both?

We live in a post-truth culture that believes seeing is believing and perception is reality. This perception fractures the foundations of the Christian worldview by making the Bible a diary of religious experience you have no right to impose on others.

For example, we’re told that our biblical conviction that life begins at conception is an opinion we have no right to force on women facing an unwanted pregnancy. Our biblical conviction that sex is intended for a man and woman in the covenant of marriage is allegedly an opinion we have no right to force on same-sex couples or heterosexuals outside of marriage. Our biblical conviction that life is sacred to natural death is supposedly an opinion we have no right to force on suffering people.

Since this belief that perception is reality is so prevalent, let’s take a moment to examine it.

NASA assured us that the “best meteor shower of the year” would be on display early yesterday morning. I was outside at 4:30 a.m. to witness the Perseid meteor shower but did not see a single meteor. Does this mean that the meteors did not exist? Or could light pollution in Dallas and/or my impatience in scanning the sky for only a few minutes have played a role in my disappointing experience?

A dealer is selling a 1794 US silver dollar believed to be the first coin of its kind minted by a newborn United States. One expert calls it “the Holy Grail of all dollars,” a coin estimated to be worth $10 million. However, because I know nothing about numismatics, it is worth only a dollar to me. Does this mean that my opinion is as valuable as that of experts in the field?

Tens of thousands of Palestinians spent the day on a Mediterranean beach recently when Israel allowed them to slip through its West Bank security barrier. One, a high school student, put her feet in the ocean for the first time in her life. Does this mean that the Mediterranean did not exist before she experienced it?

What happens when we “abide” in Jesus’ word? 

Solipsism is the philosophical claim that reality exists only as long as and to the degree that you are experiencing it. While I don’t know any true solipsists today, the conventional wisdom that perception is reality comes close.

According to an eyewitness, a Bible was burned as a political expression in Portland, regardless of what liberal or conservative media say about the event. The existence of meteors does not depend on my experience of them; coins can be valuable whether I value them or not; and the Mediterranean exists whether a Palestinian teenager has seen it or not.

Why are so many people so certain that biblical morality affirmed as objective truth by billions of people across twenty centuries can be dismissed as mere opinion?

One answer is that they have been deceived by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). A second is that they may not want to submit to God and the morality he requires (cf. Genesis 3:5). But a third factor may be that they need to see more Christians whose lives reflect the transforming relevance of biblical truth (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus taught, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). We must “abide” (meno) in his word—the Greek means to “remain, persist, live.” Our attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions must align with God’s word and will.

Then, and only then, we will know the truth and be set free by it. And others will be drawn to the truth they see in us.

Will the truth “set you free” today?

 

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Denison Forum – Joe Biden nominates Kamala Harris for VP: What your place in the world says about your view of the world

Joe Biden named California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate yesterday. If elected, she would be the nation’s first female, first Black, and first Asian American vice president.

Sen. Harris is a native of Oakland, California. Her father, who is Jamaican, taught at Stanford University. Her mother, the daughter of an Indian diplomat, was a cancer researcher. She served as attorney general for San Francisco and then the state of California before she was elected to the Senate in 2016.

She and Beau Biden, the presidential nominee’s late son, worked closely together when he was Delaware’s attorney general. She campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination and, after leaving the race in December, gave her full support to Mr. Biden.

Numerous Democratic leaders tweeted their support yesterday for Sen. Harris. By contrast, the Trump campaign responded much more critically.

Your position regarding Mr. Biden’s selection likely reflects your position regarding the election. Where we are in the world, both physically and ideologically, says a great deal about how we see the world.

If time is a line on a page, God is the page 

Yesterday, we explored the first part of 1 Peter 1:1, where the apostle addressed his letter “to those who are elect exiles.” We focused on our status as “exiles,” noting the importance of seeking the welfare of our society while we trust God with our future and seek his presence in the present.

Today, let’s think about the rest of Peter’s introductory paragraph: “of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (vv. 1b–2).

“Dispersion” (diaspora) refers to the “scattering” of Peter’s readers across modern-day Turkey. The locales he named comprise an area of nearly three hundred thousand square miles. I traveled through this part of Turkey some years ago when researching a book on the seven churches of Revelation; it is a beautiful region replete with artifacts of ancient towns and cultures.

Peter’s readers were exiled “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” a reminder that we must never forget that God never forgets us. He sees the future more clearly than we see the present. As C. S. Lewis noted, if we view time as a line on a page, God is the page.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Joe Biden nominates Kamala Harris for VP: What your place in the world says about your view of the world

Denison Forum – “Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago”: Why a “theology of exile” is empowering for Christians today

Chicago police shot and wounded a young man Sunday afternoon after he fired at them while trying to evade arrest. Though he was in his twenties, a rumor spread in the neighborhood that officers had shot a child. A mob then laid siege to Chicago’s downtown commercial district.

Stores were looted and windows were smashed. Two people were shot, thirteen police officers were injured, and more than one hundred arrests were made. The city then halted public transportation and raised the bridges that lead to downtown. Access was restricted to the area again last night.

“Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago,” one reporter wrote on Twitter.

The night before the riots in Chicago, a seventeen-year-old in Washington, DC, was killed in a shooting and twenty others were injured. Meanwhile, according to the New York Post, New York City is on track to have more shootings and victims this year than in 2019 and 2018 combined.

A radio question 

If you don’t live in Chicago, New York City, or Washington, DC, you might shrug your shoulders at today’s news with gratitude that you don’t live in these cities. But in a very real sense, you do. So do I.

What we need is a biblical approach to our broken culture that balances grief and hope.

I was interviewed by Kim Weir for her radio broadcast Sunday night. At one point, she asked me to address the discouragement so many evangelicals feel with the moral trajectory of our culture. As she knows, it is tempting to withdraw from the world, to stop caring about people who don’t seem to care about us or our biblical convictions.

But this is precisely the wrong way for believers to respond to the issues of our day.

Why we are “elect exiles” 

1 Peter 1 begins: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion” (v. 1). “Elect” (eklektois) means to be “chosen” by God. Note that Peter’s audience included Gentiles as well as Jews, so the apostle could not be referring only to Israel as the chosen people of God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37).

Rather, all who choose Christ are chosen by him. If Jesus is your Lord, you can know that you are God’s child, known personally and loved passionately by your Father.

“Exiles” (parepidemois) can be translated as “strangers” or “pilgrims.” Peter repeated his description later: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . .” (1 Peter 2:11). The apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), clearly described us as living in a land that is not our home.

How does this fact help us respond redemptively to our fallen culture?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to exiles in Babylon that answers our question (Jeremiah 29:1). As Jews living among pagan people who had destroyed their temple and nation, they were understandably antagonistic toward the culture in which they found themselves. The Lord spoke through his prophet to his people (v. 4), issuing three empowering imperatives.

One: Choose compassion and character, no matter how you are treated. 

God said: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). For an example of this verse in action, see Minni Elkins’s article on a pastor who is conducting prayer walks in Chicago.

Continue reading Denison Forum – “Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago”: Why a “theology of exile” is empowering for Christians today

Denison Forum – Who should Joe Biden nominate for VP? Three biblical commitments we owe his selection

 

Joe Biden is expected to announce his running mate this week. Reportedly, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Susan Rice, national security advisor to President Obama, are the top contenders. Either would make history as the first Black woman to be a vice presidential candidate for a major party.

Biden is reportedly also considering Rep. Karen Bass of California, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Four factors seem to be at work:

  • Age: Biden would be the oldest president ever elected if he wins in November, so some want him to choose a running mate who is younger and can be the future of the party.
  • Balance: some perceive Biden to be too moderate for the progressive wing of the party and want him to select a nominee that will excite these voters.
  • Demographics: some want him to select a Black candidate to gain support among Black voters.
  • Politics: as one politics professor notes, “the vice-presidential candidate can help a little or hurt a lot.” He would advise candidates, “Above all, do no harm.”

My purpose this morning is not to help Mr. Biden make his decision, but rather to discuss our reaction once he makes it.

Where are you on this spectrum? 

You are likely approaching the upcoming election in one of eight ways on a political spectrum from “right” to “left.”

  • You believe Joe Biden is wrong for America and will vote for his opponent.
  • You believe Donald Trump is right for America and will vote for him.
  • You believe Republican policies—such as the party’s positions on abortion and religious liberty—are right and will therefore vote for Donald Trump despite personal misgivings about him.
  • You support Republican policies but believe Donald Trump is so wrong for America that you cannot vote for him. (This is the “Never Trump” movement.) You will not vote at all, or you will cast your ballot for Mr. Biden or for a third candidate.
  • You support Democratic policies but believe Joe Biden is so wrong for American that you cannot vote for him. You will not vote at all, or you will cast your ballot for Mr. Trump or for a third candidate. (I am not seeing this position reflected in the present campaign, but I include it as a logical possibility.)
  • You support Democratic policies and will vote for Joe Biden despite personal misgivings about him.
  • You believe Joe Biden is right for America and will vote for him.
  • You believe Donald Trump is wrong for America and will vote for his opponent.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Who should Joe Biden nominate for VP? Three biblical commitments we owe his selection

Denison Forum – Bride’s wedding video cut short by Beirut explosion: Three keys to living in a non-linear world

 

Lebanese bride Israa Seblani stood in a long white gown and veil, smiling and posing for her wedding video, when the scene was shattered by a horrific roar and a shockwave nearly threw her from her feet.

The footage captured the moment on Tuesday when a massive explosion rocked Beirut, killing at least 135 people and injuring more than 5,000.

Seblani, a doctor working in the US, helped check on the injured before fleeing the area to safety. She said later, “What happened during the explosion here—there is no word to explain . . . I was shocked, I was wondering what happened, am I going to die? How am I going to die?”

“There are no words to describe the catastrophe” 

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the massive fireball that sent a shockwave across the city. “There are no words to describe the catastrophe that hit Beirut,” he stated.

The Port of Beirut was destroyed. Shop and apartment windows were blown out two miles from where the explosion occurred. Losses are estimated to be between $10 billion and $15 billion.

Protests erupted last night in central Beirut. More than three hundred thousand people—more than 12 percent of the city’s population—are now homeless. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured. Images of a shattered city convey just some of the horror.

Why was the ammonium nitrate there? A vessel called the MV Rhosus entered the port at Beirut in 2013 due a lack of seaworthiness and was forbidden from sailing. The ship’s owner abandoned the vessel, and the ammonium nitrate remained in a storage facility in Beirut’s port. Authorities were supposed to dispose of it safely but failed to do so.

Many in Lebanon blame years of mismanagement and corruption by the country’s political leaders. Some speculate that Hezbollah, a radical Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon and is pledged to the destruction of Israel, was holding on to this material to use against Israel in missiles or bombs.

What “could change life as we know it” 

The explosion in Beirut was two orders of magnitude greater than the most powerful nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal. This fact leads to another story in the news this week.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal states that Saudi Arabia may be working with China to join their number.

Some nine thousand nuclear weapons exist; as the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, “the use of even one could change life as we know it.”

A university professor who studies nuclear events warns that “the risk of a nuclear exchange—and its devastating impact on medicine and public health worldwide—has only escalated compared to previous decades.” He adds that “the developing technological sophistication among terrorist groups and the growing global availability and distribution of radioactive materials are also especially worrying.”

“The linear life is dead” 

The tragedy in Beirut and the threat of nuclear annihilation point to the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our fallen world. In Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler expresses this fact bluntly: “The linear life is dead.” By the “linear life” he means “the idea that life follows a series of carefully calibrated progressions—childhood to young adulthood to middle age to old age; dating to marriage to children to empty nest; low-level job to mid-level job to senior-level job to retirement.”

According to Feiler’s research, this idea “seems preposterously outdated.” He discovered that the average person experiences a life “disruptor” every twelve to eighteen months and a “lifequake” (one big event or multiple disruptors at the same time) three to five times in adulthood.

In addition, he reports, the average worker today will hold twelve different jobs before the age of fifty. Those with higher education can expect to change their jobs fifteen times and alter their skill set three times. The typical job now lasts four years; among those under thirty-five years of age, it drops to three.

To navigate such a chaotic, non-linear world, Feiler believes we need agency (“the belief that you can impact the world around you”), belonging (a community that surrounds and nurtures you), and a cause (“a transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile”).

Feiler’s insights are more biblical than he may know.

What should be our “greatest fear”? 

God’s word is replete with promises of agency, the assurance that your Father can use your life to impact your world even in the gravest of circumstances. From Joseph, Peter, and Paul in prison to Daniel in a lions’ den and John on Patmos, God uses us in spite of and often because of our challenges (cf. Philippians 4:6–7, 13).

Our Father also offers us belonging in a community of faith so strong and enduring that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And he has a cause for us that gives our lives eternal significance (Matthew 28:19–20).

So, admit that you live in Beirut, wherever you live. Pray for those who are suffering and find ways to share with them the hope and community of Christ. Live fully in this day, for it is the only day you have.

And remember: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter” (Francis Chan).

Will your life “really matter” today?

 

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Denison Forum – Statue of Billy Graham to be installed in US Capitol: The anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the ultimate solution to the sin of racism

If you’ve been to the US Capitol, you’ll remember its collection of one hundred statues, two from each state of the Union. Some, like Helen Keller and Thomas Edison, are known to us all. Others are less famous nationally.

North Carolina currently honors Charles Brantley Aycock and Zebulon Baird Vance. However, the former was one of the masterminds of an 1898 race riot in which a local government composed of Black Americans was overthrown and replaced by white officials.

In his place, a life-sized statue of Billy Graham will be installed sometime next year. Rev. Graham is one of his home state’s most beloved figures, with two state highways named to honor him. One of Charlotte’s biggest tourist attractions is the library documenting his life and ministry and its grounds that include his gravesite and restored childhood home.

The statue will feature Rev. Graham as he looked in the 1960s, preaching and holding a Bible in one hand. His son, Franklin Graham, said, “My father would be very pleased that people thought of him in this way. But he would want people to give God the glory and not himself.”

Let’s consider the replacement of Aycock’s statue with that of Billy Graham as a parable for our day.

“It gives me a great deal of hope” 

Today is the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law on August 6, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibits discriminatory voting practices, enforces the voting rights of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, gives racial minorities the right to vote across the country, outlaws literacy tests, and bars state or local governments from imposing voting qualifications.

The House of Representatives recently approved a measure to rename the legislation after the late Rep. John Lewis (D–Ga.), coinciding with a ceremony honoring him in the US Capitol Rotunda. The House voted by unanimous consent to rename the bill the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

On March 7, 1965, Lewis led a civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, in support of voting rights. He was nearly beaten to death by state troopers wielding clubs and tear gas. At the time, many Black Americans were denied the right to vote in Alabama. In Dallas County, Alabama, for example, where Black Americans made up more than half of the population, just 2 percent were registered voters.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Statue of Billy Graham to be installed in US Capitol: The anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the ultimate solution to the sin of racism

Denison Forum – John MacArthur’s church violates state restrictions: Three principles to balance in serving Caesar and Christ

Pastor John MacArthur led his congregation in worship inside Grace Community Church’s 3,500-seat sanctuary in Sun Valley, California, last Sunday. They met in violation of state restrictions stating, “Places of worship must therefore discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of one hundred attendees, whichever is lower” (their emphasis).

Videos and pictures of the service showed the sanctuary filled to capacity with worshippers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. I did not see anyone wearing a mask.

MacArthur said in a video statement, “We will obey God rather than men. We’re going to be faithful to the Lord and we’re going to leave the results to him.” He added, “We will not bow to Caesar. The Lord Jesus Christ is our king.”

According to Franklin Graham, officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest.” Nonetheless, MacArthur states, “We will meet as the church of Jesus Christ because we’re commanded to do that. We will sing, we will pray, we will fellowship, we will proclaim the word of God far and wide.”

Commenting on churches that have chosen to defer in-person worship until January, MacArthur said, “I don’t have any way to understand that other than they don’t know what a church is and they don’t shepherd their people, but that’s sad. And you have a lot of people in Christianity, who seem to be significant leaders, who aren’t giving any strength and courage to the church. They’re not standing up and rising up and calling on Christians to be the church in the world as I said on Sunday.”

How Greg Laurie’s church responded to the restrictions 

An hour away, in Riverside, California, worshipers at Greg Laurie’s Harvest Christian Fellowship met in a white tent half the size of a football field to comply with state orders restricting indoor worship.

Volunteers scanned attendees’ foreheads with infrared thermometers before they entered the tent, where they found rows of six chairs spaced about six feet apart. Masks were required and signs directed worshipers to wave at rather than touch one another.

An official with MacArthur’s Grace to You ministry said that moving gatherings outdoors to comply with state regulations was not an option for Grace because of the size of the congregation and the California heat. He also said, “You don’t have to shut down the whole church” just because people might catch an illness.

Continue reading Denison Forum – John MacArthur’s church violates state restrictions: Three principles to balance in serving Caesar and Christ

Denison Forum – Two sisters reunite after fifty years because of COVID-19: The peril of self-reliance and the power of Spirit-dependence

Doris Crippen, age seventy-three, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and became a patient at a rehabilitation center in Nebraska. Bev Boro, a medication aide, has worked at the facility for more than two decades.

Last month, Bev was looking over her patient list when she recognized Doris’s name. She was shocked: Doris is her older sister, though the two have not seen each other in more than fifty years.

The two share a father but were born to different mothers. Doris was raised by her mother and stepfather and was twenty years old when she last saw Bev. The women knew each other’s names and spent years searching for each other without success. Then the pandemic brought them together.

Despite the suffering Doris has endured, she told a reporter, “I am the happiest person in the world. I cannot believe I finally found my sister.”

We all love stories that have such happy endings, especially during days of pandemic pain and economic suffering. But what do we do with stories that don’t end so well? With family members and friends who don’t recover from this horrible disease? With prayers that seem unanswered?

  1. T. Wright, one of the most profound theologians of our generation, notes that lament is a central part of our faith. Psalms that express anger, frustration, and pain to God are in Scripture for a reason. Some of them, as Wright observes, “come out the other side into the light. And sometimes . . . they simply don’t. They stay in the dark. And there’s a sense that God is with us in that darkness.”

Yesterday we focused on our need for the power of God to live as the people of God. Today, we’ll examine perhaps the greatest obstacle to experiencing such power in painful times.

Learning from the Old West 

I’m reading Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the facts his fascinating narrative reinforces on nearly every page is the frailty of life on the frontier.

Settlers moving west were one Indian raid or hard winter from annihilation. Starvation was an ever-present possibility. A broken leg in the wilderness could mean a horrible death from infection or wild animals.

As a result, those on the frontier knew they needed God and each other to survive. Generations facing the Great Depression and two world wars learned the same lesson.

However, our technological and medical advances have insulated us from much of what they faced. The rising secularism and moral relativism that have resulted from our cultural self-sufficiency now threaten our souls.

And our churches as well.

The problem with church-growth seminars 

I was called to my first pastorate in 1984, just as the church-growth movement was gaining momentum. The scientific study of growing churches led to identifying best practices that could be emulated in other congregations. Before long, church-growth conferences hosted by megachurches became mandatory for pastors of smaller churches. I attended at least one a year in my early years as a pastor and read the literature produced by this movement extensively.

The purpose of these resources was to identify biblical principles that all churches should understand and seek to practice. The downside, however, was the sense—however unintended by leaders in the movement—that if churches organized themselves strategically, created worship and teaching experiences that appealed to a consumeristic culture, and marketed their services and events effectively, their growth was assured.

The fact is, human words cannot save human souls. You and I cannot convict anyone of their sins or lead them to repentance. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He will use us to the degree that we depend on him.

If our church growth strategies are submitted to the Spirit in passionate prayer and utter dependency, he will use them for God’s glory. But only then. Otherwise, we are building buildings and attracting numbers, but we are not growing God’s kingdom.

When God gives us “overcoming life” 

The coronavirus pandemic proves our mortality. The recession demonstrates the unpredictability and unreliability of wealth and the folly of self-reliance.

However, if we reframe the sufferings we face as an invitation to seek the strength of our Savior, he will redeem them by leading us into the spiritual renewal we need so desperately.

Oswald Chambers observed: “God does not give us overcoming life: he gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength.”

We can illustrate this principle physically. To get stronger, we must strain the muscles we intend to build. In the same way, when we develop the reflex of trusting our problems and pain to the power of Jesus, we experience his presence and peace in transforming ways.

“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” 

Speaking of biblical lament, the writer of Lamentations set the standard with his deep, despairing grief over the destruction of Jerusalem. At one point he testifies of “my afflictions and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!” (Lamentations 3:19).

But his despair leads him to make this decision: “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 21–23).

What is the source of your “hope” today?

 

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Denison Forum – Burning Bibles in Portland and two sentences every American needs to hear

Activists burned a stack of Bibles in front of the federal courthouse in Portland Friday night. A statue of Jesus was beheaded recently at a Miami church.

A recent faculty survey at Harvard University found that 79.7 percent consider themselves “very liberal” or “liberal”; 18.9 percent say they are “moderate”; only 1.46 percent call themselves “conservative” or “very conservative.”

Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe Christianity’s influence on American life is decreasing. Two-thirds say their beliefs are in conflict with mainstream American culture.

“We have no enemies, only opponents” 

And yet, this is a time when the evangelical message that we can have a personal relationship with a personal Savior is more urgently needed than ever.

Tropical Storm Isaias is on track to impact the Carolinas later today, demonstrating our finitude before the power of nature. Dr. Deborah Birx noted yesterday that the coronavirus pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread” in the US. Governmental leaders are meeting today to continue negotiations over a new coronavirus-relief package, but they cannot end the recession without an end to the pandemic that is causing it.

How can we make God’s offer of redemption in response to our repentance more available and attractive to those who need it? Consider two sentences I believe every American needs to hear.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush spoke at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis. In his brief but emotional eulogy for one of our greatest civil rights heroes, the former president made this statement: “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and in the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”

When we view those with whom we disagree as our enemies, our sentiment usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we view them as members of the same human family and citizens of the same great nation, we can engage with them in the spirit of “democracy in action.”

Ronald Reagan used to tell those who served in his administration, “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents.”

Consider three biblical principles.

One: God can use anyone, whether we think so or not 

Joshua 24 records the Lord’s address to his people at the end of Joshua’s life. It begins with God’s reminder that “your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates . . . and they served other gods” (v. 2). And yet, he “took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (v. 3).

You and I might not have chosen a childless idolater to begin a nation, but God did. We might not have believed that a prisoner in Egypt would one day become prime minister, or that a fugitive would lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery, or that a disciple who denied Jesus three times would preach the Pentecost sermon.

If God could redeem and use an enemy of his people like Saul of Tarsus, what could he do with someone who burns a Bible or beheads a statue of Jesus? Continue to pray for your nation and proclaim God’s word with grace, knowing that it’s always too soon to give up on God.

Two: All we have is ours by grace 

The Lord concluded his address with this statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (v. 13).

I did not earn the right to be born in America rather than North Korea. I did not earn the right to hear the gospel from Christians who knocked on my door and invited me to ride their bus to church. If you know more about your Lord than those who oppose your faith, you have an obligation to pay forward to them the grace you have received.

Three: We need the power of God to live as the people of God 

Joshua followed God’s message with his own: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (v. 15). The people promised in response: “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24).

However, after Joshua and his generation died, “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:11–12). They could not live as the people of God without the power of God.

Nor can we.

We cannot ask Americans to do what we are not doing. If we would challenge them to repent of self-reliance and live in dependence on Jesus, we must do the same. If we would call them to biblical morality, we must exhibit biblical morality.

Otherwise, our words are only words.

“As for me and my house” 

Joshua modeled the commitment God is calling us to emulate when he told the nation, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

I remember vividly my first visit to Janet’s home in Houston after we began dating in college. Her parents displayed Joshua’s declaration on a plaque in their dining room where everyone entering their home could see it. As I soon learned, they lived the truth of these words every day.

Could you display their plaque in your home today?

 

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Denison Forum – Man spends 267 days sailing solo around the world: The compelling power of character in chaos

Bert terHart set sail from British Columbia last year in late October on a solo journey to circumnavigate the globe. He arrived back on July 18, where he was welcomed by family and friends. And where he was promptly thrust into the reality of life in a pandemic.

“In a nutshell, I’ve been sequestered completely, totally isolated from the rest of the world,” terHart said of his voyage. Astronauts on the International Space Station orbiting thirty-five miles above the earth were actually the closest humans to him for most of his journey.

He told a reporter, “When I got back, the first thing I said was, ‘What did I miss?'”

A reader’s perceptive question 

In my sixty-two years, these have easily been the most tumultuous nine months I have witnessed. In these difficult days, Rep. John Lewis’s commitment to “redemptive suffering” has taken on special meaning and urgency.

In a recent article, I stated my deep appreciation for Rep. Lewis’s courageous and sacrificial leadership in America’s ongoing quest for racial equality. However, I also noted my disagreement with him on moral issues such as same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and especially on abortion.

A reader responded to my article with this question: “Jim, I am struggling with how to balance how a man so Christlike in his courage to confront violence/racism nonviolently could arrive at these conclusions on issues that are so contrary to God’s word. Any comments would be appreciated.”

I did not have the privilege of knowing John Lewis personally, so I cannot answer this question from firsthand knowledge. But I can describe the reasoning of many who share our faith in Christ but agree with Rep. Lewis on these issues.

On abortion, I know Christians who claim that science cannot determine when life begins. As a result, they believe that decisions regarding the preborn baby are best left with the mother rather than being “imposed” by the state. (For my response, see my paper on abortion).

On same-sex marriage, some Christians claim that the Bible does not forbid loving, monogamous same-sex sexual relations. They therefore view LGBTQ people as a persecuted minority in need of the same civil rights protections as racial minorities. (For my response, see my paper on same-sex marriage).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Man spends 267 days sailing solo around the world: The compelling power of character in chaos

Denison Forum – Barbecue Baptist Church delivers meals, hope, and levity: How being “guests” liberates us to speak biblical truth

Remember when you couldn’t find toilet paper?

Chad McMillan, the pastor of students, evangelism, and missions at First Baptist Church in Navasota, Texas, had a novel idea. He put his pastor on a trailer surrounded by plexiglass and armed him with a T-shirt gun to distribute toilet paper rolls wrapped with Bible verses. It went so well, they added a pulpit, piano, and sound system to do pop-up worship services while flinging the TP.

Then McMillan started Barbecue Baptist Church. The church borrowed a catering truck from a member and traveled around the county, serving about four meals a day, four days a week, along with a short worship service. Last month, they took the ministry on the road from Navasota to Nashville, visiting first responders and medical professionals across six states in seven days.

Along with the meals, they are offering a message of hope and some humor as well. “Not to make light of what’s happening,” McMillan explained, “but to try to give people a moment of levity and joy to know that God loves them, and we love them.”

A price it’s easy for me to ask you to pay 

When you’re offering free toilet paper and barbecue, people tend to be grateful. When you’re called to share unpopular biblical truth, they can be less so.

It is especially challenging to speak such truth to people when our success depends on their affirmation.

Most of you reading this article make your living in the secular world and are therefore measured by secular means. In such a culture, it can be risky to stand up for spiritual truth. As we’ve discussed before, if you defend biblical marriage, you’ll be branded a “homophobe.” If you advocate for life from conception, you’ll be accused of participating in a “war on women.” In these days of cancel culture (for more, see my paper here), those who oppose biblical truth have unprecedented means of attacking Christians.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Barbecue Baptist Church delivers meals, hope, and levity: How being “guests” liberates us to speak biblical truth

Denison Forum – John Lewis and the courage to lead: The truth about masks, public worship services, and conspiracy theories

 

The body of Rep. John Lewis is lying in state today at the US Capitol in Washington, DC as lawmakers and the public pay their respects. According to congressional historians, he is the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the US Capitol Rotunda.

As I noted following Rep. Lewis’s death, his original intention was to become a preacher. As a boy, he was responsible for taking care of the chickens on the family farm. He fed them and read to them from the Bible, baptized them when they were born, and staged funerals for them when they died. As he noted in his memoir, “I could imagine that they were my congregation. And me, I was the preacher.”

Rep. Lewis dedicated his life to civil rights as an expression of his faith and call to ministry. He was by no means alone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of himself, “In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.” It has been noted that “the Black church served as the center for the civil rights movement in the South in both logistical and symbolic ways.” Catholic activists were prominently involved in the Selma demonstrations of March 1965 that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

One writer describes the civil rights movement’s leaders this way: “They were pastors who rose up to confront a powerful segregationist establishment and face down violent mobs. Their steel will, backed by thousands of followers inspired by their faith [in] nonviolent resistance, broke the back of unjust segregation laws and set in motion the transformation of America into a more racially tolerant nation.”

Two ways evangelicals need to change 

Historians will look back on 2020 as another pivotal year in the struggle for racial equality. This time, however, we are also battling the worst pandemic in a century and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, all during a presidential election year.

In the midst of crisis, however, there is opportunity for the gospel. Viktor E. Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, noted: “In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength. Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it.”

In these days, I am convinced that God is calling his people to step into cultural leadership that speaks courageous truth in the character of Christ.

To answer this moment, however, many evangelicals need to revise our worldview in two ways.

One: The gospel is about more than a salvation experience. 

While Jesus clearly declared, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), he also came “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoted in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1).

As the faith leaders who helped lead the civil rights movement knew, God cares about every dimension of our lives. His word speaks to every need of our day. It is vital that we use our influence to call people to salvation in Christ. But it is also vital that we speak biblically and act redemptively with regard to racial injustice, poverty, sex trafficking, and every other issue we face.

Two: We must not be discouraged from our calling. 

As our society degenerates morally, it’s easy to give up in the assumption that there’s nothing we can do. Street riots, economic crisis, and a pandemic disease are each overwhelming, not to mention when they are combined. But discouragement is not of the Lord. It is always too soon to give up on God (cf. Galatians 6:9).

Three statements that should not be controversial 

Every Christian has a kingdom assignment, a way to use our influence to lead in this moment for God’s glory and our good. Because many will disagree with us, we will need the courage of our convictions and the compassion of our Lord.

Since writing this Daily Article is part of my kingdom assignment, I’ll use it as an example by making three cultural statements. The fact that all three are controversial is a sign of our times.

One: Mask wearing is not a conspiracy. 

In a recent article, I responded to four claims against mask-wearing by citing scientific evidence and objective medical facts. Wearing a mask not only benefits you in ways we are just discovering, it is a clear way to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Two: Public worship services during the pandemic can be dangerous. 

A small church in Alabama held a week-long revival recently. Now more than forty people, around half their regular attendance, have COVID-19. Singing is known to spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus in ways that other group activities do not, which means public worship services can be even more dangerous than many other group activities.

Again, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture is clear: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Three: We should use our influence only to spread truth. 

Conspiracy theories always run rampant in times of social upheaval. These days are no exception. For excellent responses to conspiracies about coronavirus, governmental leaders, and other issues, go here, here, and here.

Christians are commanded to reject dishonesty and slander (cf. Proverbs 20:19; Ephesians 4:29). Before you post anything to social media or share it in other ways, examine it carefully. Use your influence for good and guard your witness.

Imagine the difference in our culture if everyone obeyed this biblical command: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Let it begin with me. And with you.

 

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Denison Forum – Are these the “last days”? Why evangelicals are losing the rhetorical high ground and two ways to respond

Are these the “last days”? In Luke 21, Jesus made three predictions.

One: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (v. 10).

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the Russian Navy would be armed with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons and underwater nuclear drones. Such weapons would be difficult for the US to track and intercept.

Experts say the risk of military conflict between the US and China is higher than ever. After the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “If we bend the knee now, our children’s children may be at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Two: “There will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (v. 11).

Regarding “earthquakes,” a magnitude 7.8 quake struck off the coast of Alaska last week. Regarding “famines and pestilences,” as of this morning, COVID-19 has infected more than sixteen million people and caused more than 648,000 deaths. Experts say the pandemic has put 265 million people at risk of famine.

Regarding “terrors and great signs from heaven,” Hurricane Hanna made landfall in South Texas Saturday afternoon, flooding streets and knocking out power. And Hurricane Douglas is brushing the Hawaiian Islands this morning, bringing as much as eight inches of rain.

Three: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you” (v. 12).

China is escalating its persecution of Christians: Believers are being jailed for praying online and even official churches are being closed. The Communist government is supervising a new Bible translation. Chinese citizens are being urged to use an app dedicated to President Xi’s sayings that gives the government backdoor access to their social media, contacts, and internet history.

What does “last times living” look like? 

My purpose this morning is not to predict the return of Christ. God’s word divides history into the “former times” before the Messiah comes and the “last times” after his coming. Biblically, therefore, we have been in the “last times” since Jesus’ incarnation (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20).

While Christians disagree about the degree to which the “signs of the times” will intensify toward the end of history, we can all agree on this fact: we are one day closer to Jesus’ return than ever before.

In the meantime, how are we to live in these chaotic days? How are God’s people to respond to political conflict, natural disasters, and rising persecution? In other words, what does “last times living” look like?

After describing some “signs of the times,” our Lord stated: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:13). “Bear witness” translates the Greek marturion, from which we get “martyr.” We are to make public our faith in perilous days whatever the cost to ourselves.

Why we are losing the rhetorical high ground 

Richard Rorty was one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He did much to promote and popularize the postmodern claim that all truth claims are subjective (which is an objective truth claim, by the way). There are “truths” but no “Truth.”

However, Rorty also acknowledged that it is difficult to live in a world with no certainties. As a result, societies develop pragmatic values that become their public “Truth.” As Nathanael Blake notes, such “Truth” is produced by emotion and intensity of belief more than by reason.

As a result, American evangelicals are losing the rhetorical high ground on moral issues.

“Freedom” and “equality” are examples of values held deeply and passionately by Americans. Consequently, pro-abortion advocates gain the cultural high ground when they accuse pro-life supporters of waging a war on “reproductive freedom.” Same-sex marriage advocates employ a similar strategy with their support for “marriage equality.” Generational shifts on abortion and a public reversal on same-sex marriage (60 percent were opposed in 2004 vs. 61 percent who support today) demonstrate the effectiveness of these strategies.

In response, Christians should declare and defend biblical values in ways that resonate with a public persuaded by emotion. For example, telling our personal story is vital and effective (cf. John 9:25). And we need to match the passion of those who champion ungodliness with our passionate love for our Lord and our neighbor.

The “god” that is our enemy 

As we do, we should admit a second fact: evangelicals will pay an escalating price to declare unpopular Truth.

The cancel-culture phenomenon shows that it is easier than ever to attack those whose beliefs conflict with public “Truth.” (For more, see my paper on cancel culture here.) If you risk bringing your Sunday values into your Monday world, you are likely to experience what Jesus predicted: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

However, those who oppose biblical truth are not our enemies. Since “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” we should not be surprised when they reject “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). That “god” is their enemy and ours.

In “last days living,” however long it lasts, telling our story and promoting biblical truth with courage and compassion is the greatest gift we can give the eternal souls we influence.

How generous will you be today?

 

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Denison Forum – The death of John Lewis and the power of ‘redemptive suffering’

 

Rep. John Lewis died Friday after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. The civil rights icon was eighty years old.

He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and served as US Representative from Georgia’s Fifth District for seventeen terms. He was awarded more than fifty honorary degrees and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2011.

The son of sharecroppers, he spent Sundays growing up with a great-grandfather who was born into slavery. When Lewis was a few months old, the manager of a chicken farm named Jesse Thornton was lynched about twenty miles down the road. His offense: he referred to a police officer by his first name rather than as “Mister.” A mob pursued Thornton, stoned and shot him, then dumped his body in a swamp.

As a boy, Lewis decided that he wanted to be a preacher. He earned a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University and graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville.

However, when he was fifteen years old, he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preach on the radio and felt that God was calling him to join the civil rights movement.

Beaten, spat upon, and burned with cigarettes 

According to the New York Times, Lewis “led demonstrations against racially segregated restrooms, hotels, restaurants, public parks, and swimming pools, and he rose up against other indignities of second-class citizenship. At nearly every turn, he was beaten, spat upon, or burned with cigarettes. He was tormented by white mobs and absorbed body blows from law enforcement.”

During the Freedom Rides of 1961, the Times reports that Lewis “was left unconscious in a pool of his own blood outside the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, after he and others were attacked by hundreds of white people.” It adds that he “spent countless days and nights in county jails and thirty-one days in Mississippi’s notoriously brutal Parchman Penitentiary.”

Lewis was the youngest keynote speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. On March 7, 1965, he led a group of six hundred people marching for Black voting rights in Selma, Alabama. They were met by a group of police officers; Lewis suffered a skull fracture when one of them beat him with a nightstick.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said later. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“Hate is too heavy a burden to bear” 

In his early twenties, Lewis embraced a form of nonviolent protest grounded in the principle of “redemptive suffering.” In his memoir, Walking with the Wind, he explained that there is “something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive.”

He added that suffering “touches and changes those around us as well. It opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”

This philosophy centers in the belief that your attacker is as much a victim as you are. It requires the choice to forgive “even as a person is cursing you to your face, even as he is spitting on you, or pushing a lit cigarette into your neck.”

Lewis explained his life philosophy this way: “At a very early stage of the movement, I accepted the teaching of Jesus, the way of love, the way of nonviolence, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea of hate is too heavy a burden to bear. . . . I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve seen too much hate, seen too much violence. And I know love is a better way.”

“The strength of his might” 

I disagreed with Rep. Lewis on moral issues such as same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and especially on abortion, which is devastating the African American community. But I share his belief in “redemptive suffering,” a commitment he demonstrated courageously and sacrificially.

When what is right is also unpopular, we are forced to decide whether we will stand selflessly in courage or fall selfishly into cowardice. This is a binary choice.

The fact that God’s people are so often forced to make this choice is illustrated by the frequency with which God’s word calls us to courageous faith (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Psalm 16:8; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 1:28). Our Father’s invitation is compelling: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

But know this: when you choose “redemptive suffering,” your courage and example can change the world.

“Our nation will never forget this American hero” 

Bloody Sunday led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson presented to a joint session of Congress just eight days later and signed into law on August 6.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Obama and former president George W. Bush joined Rep. Lewis in a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The picture of Rep. Lewis holding hands with an African American president as they marched where Lewis had been beaten fifty years earlier is a testament to the transforming power of redemptive suffering.

President Obama said after Lewis’s death, “He loved this country so much that he risked his life and blood so that it might live up to its promise.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Progress is not automatic. Our great nation’s history has only bent towards justice because great men like John Lewis took it upon themselves to help bend it. Our nation will never forget this American hero.”

When asked if he regretted not continuing in traditional ministry as a young man, John Lewis said, “I think my pulpit today is a much larger pulpit. . . . I preach every day.”

Now it’s our turn.

 

 

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Denison Forum – Former football player dove and caught a child dropped from a burning building: Joining God in sharing love that changes the world

Phillip Blanks is a retired Marine and was a star receiver in high school and college. He was at a friend’s apartment in Phoenix recently when he heard screaming and a commotion. He ran outside and saw the top floor of the apartment complex ablaze and enveloped in smoke.

He looked up and saw a petrified woman on the third-floor balcony with a child. Flames were creeping up behind her. “People started yelling for the lady to throw her kids down,” Blanks said.

The mother dropped her son over the third-floor railing. As Blanks saw the small child falling, he dove for him, arms out, and caught him just milliseconds before he would have hit the ground.

Blanks said his time in the Marines, along with his athletic training as a football player, prepared him for this moment. The Marines taught him to “always be on high alert, not be complacent, and to have discipline,” he said.

He was not the only hero that day, however.

The child’s mother ran back into the building where her eight-year-old daughter was. She never came out. Word spread below that a child was in the apartment. D’Artagnan Alexander heard screams and saw the flames. “I have a three-year-old and a nine-year-old, so when I heard there were kids in there, that really hit my heart,” he said later.

He immediately parked his car, ran toward the smoke-filled building, and made his way to the third floor, where he found the girl and carried her out.

“Saving this child changed my entire perspective,” Blanks said. “It made me realize how short life is, and how we need to protect each other and treat people better.” Alexander echoed his sentiments: “I couldn’t be more thankful that we both happened to be there.”

“It was not you who sent me here, but God” 

Morgue trucks are being ordered by counties in Texas and Arizona as their morgues are reaching capacity amid the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases in their states. Florida recorded 15,300 new coronavirus cases yesterday, the largest one-day increase in any state since the start of the pandemic.

In the midst of this crisis, it is easy to feel trapped and powerless. But God knew these days were coming before we did. He assured his people, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10 NIV).

And as with Phillip Blanks and D’Artagnan Alexander, he was preparing us for this pandemic before it struck.

In the midst of a global famine, Joseph told his brothers in Egypt, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7–8).

“The reality of heaven touching the reality of earth” 

Now it’s our turn to believe that God was preparing us for this “famine” before it struck, that our past has prepared us for a present that can build a better future.

The Bible calls us “God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). As we work, God works. As we experience God’s love, we are to share his love so that others can experience it as well. In fact, we cannot understand our faith fully until we share it.

If I serve those I love, I find that my love for them grows deeper. If I serve even those I dislike, I find myself liking them in a new way. It is the same way with God—when we serve him by serving those he loves, we find ourselves loving him in an indefinable but profoundly deeper way as well.

In The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work, Regent College professor Steven Garber notes: “We think that worship and work are fundamentally different—one being more important to God than the other, one being ‘spiritual’ and one being ‘secular.’ Rather, if our truest vocation is the imitation of Christ, the very image of God, we see that everyone and everything matters, sacramental as it all is, holy as it must be.

“In a thousand ways, our human experience of this life in the world should be a window into the mystery and wonder of the reality of heaven touching the reality of earth, a ‘sacrament’ so to speak, if we have eyes that see.”

“Yearning for heaven and earth to touch” 

Your Father has entrusted you with gifts, abilities, education, experience, and relationships that are combined to make you the person you uniquely are. When you use them to help hurting people, your ministry advances his kingdom and draws suffering souls to our Savior.

Dr. Garber: “Whether our work is agricultural or academic, whether we are plumbers or carpenters, whether our labor is the law or the marketplace, whether our days take us into hospitals or schools, we want what we do with our lives to be born of something more, reflected, interpreted, and sanctified by the liturgical rhythms and realities of the truest truths of the universe. We are called to be like the Creator himself, yearning for heaven and earth to touch in and through the work of our hands.”

And when we love others as God loves us, they see his love in our compassion and are drawn to his saving grace.

Phillip Blanks and D’Artagnan Alexander are rightly being called heroes after what they did in Phoenix. But Blanks said it was the mother who saved her son but didn’t survive herself who is “the real hero.”

That’s the love of a mother for her children. And that’s the love of a Savior for those he died to save.

If you have experienced his love, with whom will you share it today?

 

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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?

 

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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?

 

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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?

 

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