Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – What gift-wrapped grandpas and Grinch-inspired breakfasts remind us about the real meaning of our Christmas traditions

Note: Thank you to Dr. Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Editor for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.

One of my favorite parts about the Christmas season is the diverse ways in which people celebrate it. Sure, there are probably some time-tested standards that apply to most of us—putting up decorations, church on Christmas Eve, maybe a party or two—but Christmas is also the season when people tend to get a little creative with their family traditions.

In a recent article from The Atlantic, writers asked readers to send in some of their favorite family traditions for the holiday season. While the responses vary from the patently absurd to the heartwarming and inspiring, they clearly hold a special place in the lives of those who carry them out each year.

For example, LaRae LaBouff writes about how her family would routinely have fifteen to thirty people gather at their grandparents’ house each year to celebrate Christmas. As a result, once the gifts were unwrapped, the floor was littered with wrapping paper, ribbons, and other vestiges of the festivities.

They would place all the trash in a large can and then her grandfather would climb in and push everything down so that it would fit. The kids would then cover him with ribbons and bows. The tradition was known as “Throwing Pop Away” and became a key part of their Christmas experience.

As LaRae’s grandfather got older and began to suffer from cancer, however, he could no longer make it into the trashcan. Rather than give up the tradition, they began filling a smaller cardboard box so that he could still stand inside and be covered up.

She writes that in the years since his passing, other family members have stepped up to take his place and be wrapped in remembrance of their departed patriarch.

But while not everyone’s traditions are as tender and sweet as LaRae’s, they can still bring joy to those who keep them.

A Grinchy breakfast and a science experiment gone wrong

Nate Ransil writes about how he married into the family tradition of starting Christmas day off with the most absurd breakfast they can create. The tradition originated when his wife’s grandfather decided one year that there was just too much good on Christmas, so there needed to be at least one thing the kids wouldn’t look forward to. To that end, he decided to take their traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice, stick it in a blender, and serve it as breakfast smoothies.

While the idea began as a joke, Nate’s father-in-law thought it was funny and created a challenge whereby certain family members would be responsible for creating the themed Christmas menu each year.

One year they chose The Grinch, crafting a breakfast of Who pudding, rare Who roast beast, toadstool sandwiches, and bananas with a greasy black peel. Another year, the meal was inspired by Elf and featured spaghetti, crumbled Pop-Tarts, and maple syrup. He writes that last year his son and brother-in-law decided to create a science lab with frog legs, lychee fruit “eyeballs” floating in a jar, brains made of Jell-O, and bowls of worms.

While I doubt I’ll be replicating this particular tradition anytime soon, Ransil described how it always leads to a lot of laughter and the knowledge that “nobody else in the world is eating the same thing we are right now.”

When traditions become more important than people

I highlighted these examples because they offer us a good reminder that our Christmas traditions do not need to come from someplace of profound spiritual meaning in order to be meaningful to you and your family. Rather, it’s the sense of joy, unity, and remembrance they inspire that is most important. They have purpose to the extent that they bring us closer to those we love most.

However, if we’re not careful it can be easy for the tradition to become more important than the people who keep it.

In many ways, that was the primary problem Jesus encountered with the religious leaders throughout his ministry. Most of the scribes and Pharisees were well intentioned, spiritually driven individuals who just wanted to help people know God better. The problem was that they had fallen into the trap of thinking that the best way to accomplish that purpose was by adhering so strictly to their religious traditions that they left little room for the Lord to work.

Over time, they robbed God’s people of the joy they should have found in a relationship with him by insisting on a relationship with the law instead. Their traditions became more important than the people they were meant to help.

But, before we judge them too harshly, let us remember that we are far from immune to making the same error today. And there are few times of the year when that mistake can be easier to make than during the Christmas season.

Blessing God by blessing those he came to save

Take a moment to think back on some of your most cherished traditions. Do you know why they were started? Do they still fulfill the same purpose today? In what ways have they evolved over the years to make room for new family and friends to take part? And is there anything the Lord might want to change to help them better accomplish that purpose this year?

The best traditions are those that bring people together and add depth to our relationship with others. And whether they are silly, sacred, or somewhere in between, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that they are still a means to that end rather than the end itself.

So as we draw steadily closer to Christmas Day, let’s endeavor to make sure that every facet of our celebrations and traditions bless God by blessing the people he came to save.

Will yours?

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Denison Forum – My city is home to the most cheating spouses in America

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Researchers have identified the US cities with the highest rates of marital infidelity, comparing two hundred of the largest metro areas with regard to relationship satisfaction, life satisfaction, infidelity intent, and affair activities. The results are in: the three most “unfaithful” cities in America, in order, are Dallas, Texas, Fort Worth, Texas, and Houston, Texas.

This news hits close to home for me: I have lived in Dallas since 1998, I worked for many years in Ft. Worth, and I was born and raised in Houston.

We in Dallas refer to ourselves as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” We are home to some of the largest churches in America. In fact, Christianity Today once called our city “the new capital of evangelicalism.” But as the infidelity report illustrates, we are clearly living in a cultural mission field.

No matter where you live in America, so are you.

Tax-exempt status “now up for debate”

My wife and I were discussing yesterday’s Daily Article, which focused on ways Christianity is under attack in our society. Janet noted that for years, many of us have been warning that a post-Christian and even anti-Christian day was coming to our nation. Now, she said, it’s here.

Here’s why she is right.

The Supreme Court tragically discovered a constitutional “right” to abortion in 1973 and only overturned that ruling this year, but Christian doctors have not (yet) been required to perform abortions. Euthanasia is available in various forms in ten states, but Christian physicians are not (yet) required to provide physician-assisted suicide.

However, as I noted in yesterday’s article, the so-called Respect for Marriage Act will make an unbiblical and even anti-biblical definition of marriage the law of the land by congressional action. Many fear that this legislation threatens religious liberty on an unprecedented level.

For example, Roger Severino of the Heritage Foundation warns that “the tax-exempt status of religious schools and nonprofits is now up for debate. Additionally, the Left will try to use the bill to sue faith-based adoption agencies and contractors to drive them out of business as they have done in multiple states and localities already.”

Hospital chaplain fired for pro-life beliefs

Rev. Jay McCaig had been a hospital chaplain in Orlando for ten years before he was fired for anti-abortion posts on his personal Facebook page. He says he never spoke about his pro-life views with patients or employees at the hospital.

Earlier this year, a jury in Minnesota ruled against a pharmacist who refused to dispense a morning-after pill on the basis of his pro-life beliefs. The jury decided that the pharmacist had inflicted emotional harm and said the woman who requested the pill should be entitled to $25,000 in damages.

We could go on: the so-called Equality Act that has passed the House of Representatives twice has been called “the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America.” According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a lawsuit filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project would “punish religious colleges and their students by stripping them of much-needed financial aid simply because of their beliefs.”

As I have noted often, LGBTQ advocates have been implementing a decades-long strategy to normalize LGBTQ behavior through popular media and culture, legalize it in the courts, stigmatize those who disagree as “homophobic” and “dangerous,” and then criminalize such disagreement. All four phases of this strategy are clearly at work in our society today.

“Learning how to do what he said”

One significant way you and I can respond is to model the incarnational love of God to our broken culture. As I have noted this week, Christmas is God’s gift to us not because we are worthy of his love but because God is love (1 John 4:8). Because we cannot earn his love by what we do, we cannot lose his love by what we do.

When our Savior was born in a feed trough in a Bethlehem cave, he proved that he will be born again in any heart that is open to his grace. That grace will then transform our lives into his Bethlehem and demonstrate his love to our broken world.

Now it is our responsibility to show his love to those who reject it. When we defend biblical morality boldly and courageously but “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), we disprove the caricature that Christians are bigoted and hateful. When we remember that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4), we will offer them the compassion we received from those who led us to Christ.

Philosopher and bestselling author Dallas Willard noted: “The idea of having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said.” Here’s what Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Both verbs are present-tense imperatives, unconditional commands to you and me today.

My dear friend’s wisdom

To have the servant heart of the One who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), submit your life and your day to his Holy Spirit right now (Ephesians 5:18). Ask his Spirit to manifest the “fruit” of love in your life for those you encounter (Galatians 5:22). Then measure success by the degree to which others experience the love of Christ in your compassion.

My dear friend, the Dallas businessman Ray Nixon, shared this truth with me yesterday: “When the mouth is open, the heart is on display.”

What will your heart display today?

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Denison Forum – The “most severe test” for President Xi since he took power: The latest on China’s anti-lockdown protests

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the Communist leader who ruled China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and presided over a decade of rapid economic growth, died today at the age of ninety-six. His death and the memorial ceremonies to follow come at a perilous moment in China.

Protesters clashed with riot police last night in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, part of a string of demonstrations across the nation against the government’s so-called zero-COVID policy. The restrictions are causing economic hardship and sparking anger over stringent lockdown policies. Protests began last Thursday after a deadly fire at an apartment building in the Xinjiang province. Videos appear to show that lockdown measures delayed firefighters from getting to the victims, at least ten of whom died.

Protests in China are typically directed at local officials. The current demonstrations, however, are aimed at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping. The Washington Post calls the protests “arguably the most serious and widespread unrest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.” They are being described as the “most severe test” for President Xi since he took power.

CNN has verified twenty-three demonstrations so far across seventeen Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing and the financial center Shanghai. Yesterday, Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests. Top health officials did acknowledge the impact of their zero-COVID policies and pledged to “reduce inconvenience” to the public by lifting lockdowns “as quickly as possible” following outbreaks. However, this may not be enough to appease the protesters.

The New York Times adds that since China is the world’s largest manufacturing nation, the protests “are injecting a new element of uncertainty and instability into the global economy.” For example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly five hundred points on Monday and was essentially flat yesterday. Apple could see a six million unit shortfall in iPhones this year amid manufacturing pressures at a key Chinese plant.

My business ethics experience in Beijing

The unrest in China illustrates the simple but profound fact that ideas change the world. As I have written recently, Xi Jinping’s political system is built on Marxist nationalism that asserts the control of the CCP over every domain of public and private life.

In Marx’s view, the individual is a means to the advancement of society, which in turn (he claimed) will benefit the individual. Thus the state can impose a zero-COVID policy on its citizens, whatever the economic or medical consequences.

As one example, the CCP is insisting on using vaccines developed in China rather than importing Western vaccines that are likely more effective. It would rather impose strict lockdowns than change its approach, despite urging from the World Health Organization to alter its method of dealing with the pandemic.

This atheistic system naively ignores the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). To the contrary, it invests autocratic power in the hands of a single ruler surrounded entirely by loyalists. And it sees people as a means to the end of the state rather than as divinely created bearers of the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27).

I experienced this worldview personally when I visited Beijing some years ago to teach a seminar on business ethics. Those who attended wanted me to address the corruption that is so endemic in their system.

They recognized that bribes, identity theft, and manipulation of market outcomes were poisoning their business environment and undermining their future. But their atheistic culture had no objective ethics to stand upon in countering these practices. And they had no sense of the value of the individual as opposed to the authority of the state.

“He who makes rich is made poor”

My purpose today, however, is less to focus on China’s cultural challenges and more to warn that abandoning the biblical worldview is a threat to America’s future as well.

Billy Graham was right: “Many of us have put our faith in money, jobs, status, gadgets, pleasures, and thrills. Many of us—and society as a whole—have tried to bypass God, and now we are paying the inevitable price. We are in trouble because we have left out God; we have left out the Ten Commandments; we have left out the Sermon on the Mount. Now we as individuals and as a culture are reaping the tragic results.”

The answer to our cultural crisis is found at Christmas. As we have noted this week, the gift of God’s Son demonstrates our Father’s love for each of us. Christ came not because we were worthy of such love but because God is love (1 John 4:8). He made us in his image; when we receive his saving love, he remakes us as his children (John 1:12).

St. Gregory Nazianzen (AD 329–390), the Archbishop of Constantinople, explained the Incarnation this way: “He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness.”

“The New Testament example of the Christian experience”

The question is whether we will make the gift of Christmas an annual holiday or a present-tense reality in our lives.

If we choose the former, we are on the road to abandoning the Judeo-Christian moral foundations upon which our nation was built. What is happening in China can happen anywhere fallen, sinful humans exclude God and his word from their lives and their nation.

If we choose the latter, however, our lives are transformed as the One who was born in Bethlehem’s manger reigns in our hearts and lives. Oswald Chambers noted: “The New Testament example of the Christian experience is that of a personal, passionate devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ.” When I commit myself unconditionally to Christ, “I receive from God the gift of the Holy Spirit, who then begins interpreting to me what Jesus did. The Spirit of God does in me internally all that Jesus Christ did for me externally.”

How “personal” and “passionate” is your “devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ” today?

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Denison Forum – Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth, is now erupting

The biggest active volcano on our planet began erupting last Sunday. Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano had not erupted since 1984, according to the US Geological Survey. However, people on the Big Island had feared this moment for decades since Mauna Loa had been overdue for an eruption after its longest quiet period on record.

Volcanologists have not predicted thus far how long the eruption will last or where the lava might travel, so authorities have opened shelters on the island as a precaution. While the lava is so far contained within the summit and does not yet threaten Hawaiians living downslope, volcanic gases and fine ash may drift their way.

Focus on the Family sign vandalized

If you’re not on the Big Island, this does not mean you’re exempt from Mother Nature.

The Storm Prediction Center is warning of a “significant severe-weather event” later today across parts of the lower Mississippi River Valley. Tornadoes, damaging straight-line winds, and large hail are possible. Nighttime tornadoes are especially a threat for this evening. A strong Pacific storm system will also begin impacting the states of Washington and Oregon tonight with heavy rain and snow along with strong winds.

In other news, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has confirmed that a person killed in a shooting Saturday night was twelve years old. In all, Metro Atlanta police departments responded to fifteen shootings and stabbings over the Thanksgiving weekend. And a sign outside the Focus on the Family facility in Colorado was vandalized on Thanksgiving Day in response to the Club Q mass shooting that left five people dead and seventeen wounded. Graffiti was left at their facility reading, “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.”

A key leader on our ministry team lost a family member the day before Thanksgiving. A very dear friend had surgery yesterday. You can add your own stories of challenges this morning.

A theological weathervane

We focused in yesterday’s Daily Article on the fact of God’s unconditional love as demonstrated in the Christmas gift of his Son. As I noted, the Father sent his Son not because we are lovable but because he is love (1 John 4:8). We can do nothing to earn his love, which means we can do nothing to lose it.

Circumstances do not change his character. As God declares in his word, “I the Lᴏʀᴅ do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Scripture says of our Savior, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

A farmer mounted a weathervane atop a barn with the words “GOD IS LOVE.” A pastor walking by thought them inappropriate, believing that the farmer meant to say God’s love changes with the shifting winds. His companion disagreed, suggesting that no matter which way the wind blows God is still love.

But the fact that God’s character does not change may not mean all that we think it does.

“So this is what God’s really like”

In A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis chronicled his personal heartache when his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, died of bone cancer. At one point he wrote, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

When the volcano erupts and lava is headed our way, where is our God? When storms are coming and tornadoes are roaring, what good is prayer? When friends lose loved ones, why intercede to the God who could have prevented their deaths?

The holidays bring these questions into sharp relief. My father died ten days before Christmas in 1979; the Christmas season has been forever different as a result. Many of you have similar stories.

At such times, you have a binary choice to make: you can interpret God’s character through the prism of your circumstances, or you can interpret your circumstances through the prism of God’s character.

“Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”

When we do the latter, everything changes. Like physical eyeglasses that focus the way we see the world, these spiritual eyeglasses help us see what we could not see before.

When we believe no matter which way the wind blows that “God is love,” we learn that we can see his presence with us in the hardest places and times of life. We experience personally his promise, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). We discover that we can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

And we trust that he is redeeming our pain in ways we may not understand on this side of glory, so we rest in the fact that one day “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Charles Spurgeon commented: “Satan may plot to enslave us, but if the Lord is on our side, whom shall we fear? The world, with its temptations, may seek to ensnare us, but mightier is he who is for us than all they who be against us. The machinations of our own deceitful hearts may harass and annoy us, but he who hath begun the good work in us will carry it on and perfect it to the end.

“The foes of God and the enemies of man may gather their hosts together and come with concentrated fury against us, but if God acquitteth, who is he that condemneth? Not more free is the eagle which mounts to his rocky eyrie, and afterwards outsoars the clouds, than the soul which Christ hath delivered.”

According to Spurgeon, our response should be one of grateful obedience: “I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”

Would you make his prayer yours today?

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Denison Forum – Did Prince Charles try to force his mother to abdicate the throne?

My wife and I started Season 5 of The Crown over the weekend. Like most viewers, we were surprised to learn that the Sunday Times took a poll in 1991 suggesting that half of the British public wanted Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate in favor of Prince Charles. In response, Charles met with Prime Minister John Major to persuade him to encourage the queen to step down.

Except nothing I just wrote is really true.

According to the Washington Post, the poll was taken in January 1990, not August 1991. It did reveal that nearly half of the public said the queen should consider abdicating in favor of Charles. But the Post reports that “importantly, they said she should consider ‘eventually,’ not necessarily at that very moment. The ‘eventually’ has been left out in the show.” And according to Major, the meeting with Charles portrayed in the show never happened, calling it a “barrel-load of nonsense.”

To continue with royal “news”: a new biography of King Charles III claims that the monarch once “destroyed a sink because he lost a cufflink down the drain.” But as we learn from The Crown, claiming something is true doesn’t make it true.

These stories do raise a personal question: Aren’t you glad no one is publishing a tell-all exposé of your life? That no one knows the secrets you’re keeping from the rest of us?

Actually, someone does.

“HAPPY BIRT, JESUS”

As we move into the Christmas season, this Washington Post headline caught my eye: “A decade’s worth of photos capture Christmas in America, from the joyful to the bleak.” Photographer Jesse Rieser traveled to eighteen states from Oregon to Florida to capture images of Christmas across the country.

The book he published as a result shows us an inflatable Santa Claus looming four stories over a Christmas tree lot, a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex dressed in a Santa costume, and a display of soldiers guarding Santa and his reindeer called “Protecting Dreams.”

Rieser titled his book Christmas in America: Happy Birthday, Jesus. According to the Post, the title originated from “one of Rieser’s favorite photos.” In it, neon red lights spell “HAPPY BIRT, JESUS” over the roof of a white garage, with the missing four letters laying atop the shingles. This is the only reference to our Lord in the Post story.

If you were to publish images of Christmas from Scripture, what verse would be on the cover? My answer is a text that will revolutionize the Christmas season for everyone who takes it to mind and heart today.

“The Lamb slain from the creation of the world”

A preacher once told the story of a mother on her deathbed. Her husband stood on one side, their estranged son on the other. In her last act, she took the hand of the angry father and the hand of the wayward child and brought them together over her body.

In the same way, he said, Jesus on the cross took the hand of a wrathful Father and the hand of sinful humanity and brought them together over his body.

But that’s not what happened.

Recall the most famous verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This familiar declaration reminds us of the why behind the what of Christmas and supplies a vital corrective to the way many in our culture view our Father.

In short: Christmas was God’s idea. Jesus was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV). As Jesus explained, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

From his conception to his crucifixion, Jesus’ incarnation was his Father’s plan for our salvation.

“No creature is hidden from his sight”

Why does the God of the universe love us so much that he sent his Son to die so we could live eternally with him?

Is it because we deserve such love? Categorically not. Unlike a tell-all biographer exposing (or fabricating) the royal family’s secrets, the omniscient God of the universe knows the absolute truth about every single one of us: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

Your Father knows not only the deepest secrets of your past—he knows the most grievous sins and failures that are in your future. And yet, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He did this because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He loves us because it is his unchanging nature to love us. Stated bluntly, he cannot not love us, no matter who we are or what we have done.

Jesus made this fact clear in John 17 when he prayed “that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (v. 23, my emphasis). The Greek is literally translated “and loved them as much as you loved me.”

Think of it: your Father loves you as much as he loves his “one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV).

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

Here’s the point: if we had to earn God’s love, we could lose his love. If the Christmas gift of our Father was given on the basis of merit, none of us could receive it or hope to retain it. But because God “is” love, there is absolutely nothing we can do to make him love us any more or any less than he already does.

So, as we step into the Christmas season, let’s make time every day to remember the why of Christmas. Let’s reflect on the unchanging, unconditional love of our Father for us. Let’s respond with the grateful worship of our souls. And let’s pay forward this gift by sharing it with everyone we can.

In response to “the surpassing grace of God,” Paul exclaimed, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:14–15).

Do his words express your heart today?

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Denison Forum – Former grocery store owner has fed thousands on Thanksgiving for 51 years

For more than fifty years, Bob Vogelbaugh has made sure that his Moline, Illinois, community is well fed on Thanksgiving Day.

The former grocery store owner started this tradition in 1970 to include some of his customers who were going to be alone on Thanksgiving Day. What began as a small gathering inside his grocery store has grown to fill an entire food court in an area mall. He and his volunteers served more than 3,200 people this year.

“It’s not a charity dinner,” he said. “It’s just a Thanksgiving gathering of friends and people you don’t know and some people have become friends through this over the years.”

“It will not always be like this”

A pastor was famous for beginning every Sunday service with an invocation focused on thanksgiving. He would give thanks to God for events across the week, occurrences in the life of the church, and even the good weather.

However, one Sunday morning the congregation gathered in the midst of a terrible blizzard. The roads were icy; most people could not even make it to church. As the pastor stepped to the pulpit to offer his customary invocation, the few members in attendance wondered to themselves what reasons he could possibly find to give thanks on this miserable day.

The pastor began his prayer by describing the weather in all its ferocity. Then he paused and prayed, “And, dear Lord, we thank you that it is not always like this.”

November saw thirty-three mass shootings; there have been 606 so far this year. A new report warns that the threat of a measles outbreak is growing due to a significant decline in vaccination rates among children worldwide. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are likely to escalate after Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. And a writer for the liberal magazine The Nation published an article on Thanksgiving Day titled, “We’re Thankful for Our Abortions.”

But it will not always be like this.

“The marriage supper of the Lamb”

Bob Vogelbaugh’s wonderful Thanksgiving tradition foreshadows the thanksgiving dinner of all dinners. One day, those who know Christ as their Lord will hear these words: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

This amazing invitation is best understood in its cultural context.

In Jesus’ day, what we would call an engagement began when a marriage contract was signed by the parents of the bride and the bridegroom. This was the period Joseph and Mary were in when she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18Luke 2:5).

A year later, the bridegroom, accompanied by his male friends, went to the house of the bride at midnight, forming a torchlight parade through the streets. The bride and her maidens would join the parade, arriving at the bridegroom’s home. This is the background for Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13).

The third phase was the marriage supper itself, which could go on for days, as we see with the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–2).

In Revelation 19, the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride (the Church) are in this third phase. The first occurs when we place our faith in Christ as our Lord. The second symbolizes the return of our Lord to take us to his home in paradise (John 14:1–4). The third symbolizes our eternal celebration and worship in heaven, where we are gathered with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

John described our eternal destination this way: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:3–4).

“Standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb”

Like the pastor who began every Sunday service with gratitude, you and I can begin every day by giving thanks for all Jesus has done for us, all he is doing for us, and all he will do for us. And when we remember our future destiny, we are emboldened to trust our Lord in the midst of present challenges.

Consider this moving example.

St. Paul Le-Bao Tinh was born in 1793 in Vietnam. He became a Christian, then an ascetic monk, then a missionary. When persecution against Christians broke out in 1841, he was arrested and spent the next seven years in prison in Hanoi. While incarcerated, he wrote to a seminary student:

“The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.” Then he added: “But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always.”

He asked his reader, “Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race.”

He concluded: “We may not see each other again in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing his praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.”

Whatever you are facing today, remember: It will not always be like this. One day we will “exult forever in the joy of our triumph” with our Lord.

Why is this promise relevant to your soul today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Gas station chain drops prices for Thanksgiving

Know that the Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God! (Psalm 100:3).

“We hope this price reduction provides much-needed relief at the pump for our customers as they travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.” This is how Travis Sheetz, president and CEO of the Sheetz gas station chain, explained his decision to drop the price of Unleaded 88 gas at hundreds of stations to $1.99. “Sheetz is a family owned and operated company and at the heart of everything we do is giving back to our customers and the communities we reside in,” he added.

In other good news, Southwest Airlines employees found a novel way to help a traveler. They noticed that a customer left a cell phone behind in a gate area. The flight was already boarded and pushed back from the gate. So they rushed the phone out to the plane; the pilot opened his window, reached down, and took the phone from them to return to its owner.

Such stories illustrate Henry Ward Beecher’s observation, “Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”

“The many and signal favors of Almighty God”

On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s be sure to remember the intended focus of the day.

Theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. observed, “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’ It’s very strange. It’s a little like being married in general.”

Our first president would have agreed. On November 16, 1789, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the government. He called upon Americans to express gratitude to God for the conclusion of their war of independence, declaring “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”

Psalm 100 frames such gratitude with three empowering descriptions of this God.

First, he is “Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 3a), a title that translates the Hebrew word YHWH, often spelled “Yahweh.” This is the holiest name in all the Hebrew language. It means “the One who was, is, and is to come.” He is sovereign over all time and eternity, the Lord of your past, present, and future.

Second, he is “God” (v. 3b). This is the Hebrew word Elohim, meaning “one who is great, mighty, and dreadful.” This title points to our God’s creative and universal omnipotence.

Third, “the Lᴏʀᴅ is good” (v. 5). The word translated “good” means that God keeps his promises out of his character and nature. He is righteous, trustworthy, and holy.

Take time today to express your gratitude for who God is.

One hundred trillion cells

Next, the psalmist helps us focus on what God does.

First, he considers what God has done for us in the past: “He made us” (v. 3b). He created us, each and every one of us.

Consider that your body is made of one hundred trillion cells, three hundred million of which die every minute. Your brain possesses one hundred billion nerve cells. Each square inch of your skin contains twenty feet of blood vessels; placed end to end, your body’s blood vessels would measure sixty-two thousand miles. That’s how far your blood travels each day.

That same square inch of skin has an average of thirty-two million bacteria on it. And every year, 98 percent of the atoms in your body are replaced. Your God made all of that when he made you. David was right to pray, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Second, the psalmist calls us to gratitude for what God does for us in the present: “We are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3c).

This means that God knows us intimately and personally, as a shepherd knows his sheep. The shepherd lives with his sheep. He sleeps in their field and walks at their side. He weathers their storms, faces their enemies, and comforts their fears. He knows his sheep intimately.

In John 10 Jesus says of himself, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3). Jesus knows your name. He knows every detail of your life. And he loves you intimately. Nothing shall ever separate you from his love (Romans 8:35–39).

“The half was never, never told”

Let’s close this Thanksgiving Day meditation with a powerful poem of praise:

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and praise,
To him whose loving kindness has followed all my days;
To him who gently leads me by cool and quiet rills
And with their balm of comfort my thirsty spirit fills. 

Within the vale of blessing, I walk beneath the light
Reflected from his glory, that shines forever bright.
I feel his constant presence wherever I may be;
How manifold his goodness, how rich his grace to me! 

My heart is overflowing with love and joy and song,
As if it heard an echo from yonder ransomed throng.
Its every chord is vocal with music’s sweetest lay,
And to its home of sunshine it longs to fly away. 

I feign would tell the story, and yet I know full well
The half was never, never told—the half I cannot tell.

Fanny Crosby wrote these words. Her eyes were blind. But her heart saw God and gave him thanks.

Does yours?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Seven dead after attack in Virginia Walmart

At least seven people are dead after a mass shooting at a Walmart supermarket in Chesapeake, Virginia, last night. The shooter, believed to be the store manager, opened fire and then turned the gun on himself and is now dead.

In other news, Virginia’s football game against Virginia Tech that was scheduled for Friday has been canceled in the aftermath of the shooting that claimed the lives of three Cavaliers football players. Police in Idaho are asking for the public’s help after receiving a tip that one of the four students murdered on November 13 had a stalker. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is condemning Russia’s strike today on a maternity ward that killed a newborn baby.

“There’s a need and I have resources”

Scripture calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), a command that is especially difficult to obey in the midst of tragedy.

But it is in such hard times that serving others can spark gratitude in those who grieve and lift the spirits of those who are suffering.

Tom Gorzycki is an example. The eighty-seven-year-old learned to cut hair in the Navy, then worked for more than thirty-six years in a barbershop. Now he works from the basement of a Minnesota retirement home, where he offers free haircuts in exchange for donations.

The money doesn’t go to Gorzycki—it benefits a relief organization called “Arm in Arm in Africa.” In the five years he has set up shop, he has raised more than thirteen thousand dollars cutting hair. He has donated thousands more from his personal savings.

“There’s a need and I have resources. That’s what you do,” Gorzycki said. He added, “As long as my hands are steady, I’ll just keep doing it. One person can make a difference. You just roll up your sleeves and do what the heck you can.”

“Good stewards of God’s varied grace”

When I read Tom Gorzycki’s story, my spirits were lifted and my desire to serve was strengthened. I would guess you felt the same way.

Of all the people who live and love in ways that evoke such gratitude from others, followers of Jesus should be at the front of the line. Scripture is clear: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

Furthermore, God calls us a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). St. Leo the Great (died AD 461) responded to this biblical assertion: “What is more king-like than to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?”

When we serve and live in ways that honor our Lord, we direct gratitude to the Source of our lives: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

“Living and true temples of God”

The bishop, preacher, and theologian St. Caesarius of Arles was born around AD 470 and died in 542. In a sermon, he reminded us that “we are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in things made by human hands, nor in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul made according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand.”

He continued: “When Christ came, he banished the devil from our hearts, in order to build in them a temple for himself. Let us therefore do what we can with his help, so that our evil deeds will not deface that temple. For whoever does evil, does injury to Christ.”

He then applied his exhortation: “Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us, so that he who dwells in the heavens will be glorified.

“Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter into your soul, for he promised, ‘I shall live in them, I shall walk through their hearts’” (paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 6:16).

“Instead, I think of myself less”

As we prepare for Thanksgiving tomorrow, let’s resolve to be people for whom others give thanks. And let’s do so out of transforming gratitude for the One to whom we direct the thanksgiving of our tables and of our hearts.

Tim Keller observed: “The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”

As you think of yourself less and your Lord more, I invite you to make this hymn by Charles Wesley your prayer today:

O Thou who camest from above,
the pure celestial fire to impart
kindle a flame of sacred love
upon the mean altar of my heart. 

There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return,
in humble prayer and fervent praise. 

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work and speak and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up thy gift in me. 

Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat,
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make my sacrifice complete.

Amen.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – “I’ve turned my pain into a purpose to inspire others”: Lyft driver shares God’s word with her passengers

Give thanks to the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1).

“I wanted to give up, but because of my faith in God, I’m still here standing. And I just want to use my story to encourage others never to give up, no matter what you go through.” This is how a Lyft driver named Tomika Reid explains her mobile Christian ministry.

Losses have marked her life, including the death of her mother, sister, and the fathers of her two daughters. She began driving for Lyft in 2017 to support her daughters and to share her faith. “When I hear people say, ‘You made my day,’ I know I can make an impact on people’s lives,” she says. “It brings joy to me. It’s like I’ve turned my pain into a purpose to inspire others.”

This morning’s headlines are focused on the earthquake in Indonesia that has killed at least 252 people and injured hundreds, reports that Iran could attack the World Cup in Qatar, and remembrances of John F. Kennedy on the anniversary of his assassination.

However, I wanted to discuss something more uplifting and gratifying: the power of gratitude. Tomika Reid is grateful for the difference her Lyft ministry is making, and her gratitude then empowers her ministry.

Twenty-eight benefits of gratitude

What she is experiencing is consistent with what psychologists have long known: gratitude transforms those who embrace it.

For example, an article in Positive Psychology lists twenty-eight different benefits of gratitude.

Some are emotional: Journaling even five minutes about what we are grateful for can enhance our long-term happiness. A high level of gratitude has a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression. Gratitude facilitates positive emotions and makes us more resilient, increases our life satisfaction and self-esteem, and serves as a protective factor with regard to suicidal ideation in stressed and depressed individuals.

Regarding social benefits, gratitude encourages people to like us, improves our romantic relationships, enhances our friendships, increases our social support, and strengthens family relationships in stressful times. It makes us more optimistic, increases our spirituality, makes us more giving, and indicates reduced materialism.

Gratitude even improves our workplace lives: it makes us more effective managers, reduces impatience, helps us find meaning in work, contributes to reduced turnover, and improves work-related mental health while reducing stress.

Finally, gratitude affects our physical health: it reduces depressive symptoms, lowers our blood pressure, improves our sleep, increases our frequency of exercise, improves our overall physical health, and enhances recovery from substance abuse, coronary health events, and depression.

Seven empowering commands

In light of today’s theme, the biblical exhortation to give thanks becomes even more compelling. In Psalm 100 we find seven such imperatives in the Hebrew, seven commands related to gratitude.

One: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” The Hebrew means to “shout,” to participate actively and publicly in vocalizing your praise to God. To “shout” involves your voice, your mind, your emotions, your spirit, and your body in personal, passionate worship. This is an act of public praise.

Two: “Serve the Lᴏʀᴅ with gladness.” “Serve” here means to focus your entire life and existence on your sovereign Master, giving him your whole heart and surrendering your entire life to his service. This is for every moment of every day, not just an hour at church. It means to yield your life all day, every day, to his Lordship. Do this with “gladness,” rejoicing for the privilege in a lifestyle of praise.

Three: “Come into his presence with singing.” God’s “presence” refers to his “face.” This command calls us to seek personal, transforming intimacy with our Lord.

Four: “Know that the Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God.” “Know” means to acknowledge or confess, to testify publicly that the Lord is God over all the world. This is a public confession made proudly and boldly.

Five: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” Here we learn that gratitude positions us to experience God’s presence, power, and grace.

Six: “Give thanks to him.” Once you are in his presence, find specific reasons to express your gratitude to your Father.

Seven: “Bless his name.” The “name” of God denotes his presence, personality, and very essence. This means to thank and praise God himself.

The “critical thing” in life

Clearly, the Lord intends thanksgiving to be not just an annual holiday but a lifestyle of gratitude. Here’s the bottom line: giving thanks positions us as creatures before our Creator. It therefore helps us receive all our Father wants to give. And it enhances the blessings he is already providing.

Envision with me the difference a movement of Christian gratitude would make in our broken, negative, chaotic culture. Imagine the impact if God’s people lived with the optimism gratitude empowers.

G. K. Chesterton observed, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

Choose gratitude today.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Does the so-called “Respect For Marriage Act” threaten our religious liberty?

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

The Senate voted this week to advance the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” (RFMA). The legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman. DOMA was adopted overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton.

The RFMA does just the opposite, requiring the federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages in the United States. In essence, it makes the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges into federal law.

In this sense, the RFMA changes nothing about the status of same-sex marriage in America. However, the legislation is raising enormous questions about First Amendment protections for those who support traditional marriage on religious grounds.

“Explicitly declaring the Bible is wrong”

On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators announced that they had crafted “commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.” According to CBS News, the amendment “ensures nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

In addition, it makes clear that the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage.

However, US Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) opposed the legislation and warned that it threatens religious liberty: “This legislation would enable activists to sue faith-based groups that provide vital services for our communities in an attempt to force them to abandon their deeply held beliefs about marriage, or close their doors.” He added, “The Respect for Marriage Act does not provide any meaningful benefit to same-sex marriages that does not already exist. It does significantly threaten religious liberty.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, likewise warned, “The bill will be a new arrow in the quiver of those who wish to deny religious organizations’ liberty to freely exercise their religious duties, strip them of their tax exemptions, or exclude them from full participation in the public arena.”

Matt Sharp, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, also warned that the legislation could open Christians up to lawsuits at the federal level, noting that believers running businesses and charitable organizations could be at risk. He also questioned whether some Christian nonprofits could find their tax-exempt status in peril.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, the founder of Project Genesis and the managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, said in a Tuesday interview that the RFMA is the federal government “explicitly declaring the Bible is wrong.” He noted that it allows “any private actor to initiate a lawsuit if a religious school wishes to recognize only traditional marriages.” In his view, the act “means exposing our community to a host of bad actors willing to engage in litigation.”

In a day when six in ten Americans say the legalization of same-sex marriage is good for society, we should not be surprised that Congress would follow suit. And we should not be surprised when those who defend traditional marriage must pay a price for our biblical convictions.

“In the world you will have tribulation”

I’ll respond by focusing on a biblical fact that may seem surprising or even unwelcome: suffering for our faith is an indispensable part of the genuine Christian life.

Paul stated his aspiration “that I may know [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). The apostle spent time on his first missionary journey “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

If we are truly following Jesus, we must be going in the opposite direction from those who oppose Jesus. This is why our Lord warned his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). And it is why, as Paul observed, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I do not mean to suggest that we need to seek persecution. If we are faithful to our Lord, persecution will find us. Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If he considers you a threat, he will attack. If he does not consider you a threat, he will leave you alone.

Which should be true for true disciples of Jesus?

“When I am weak, then I am strong”

The time to prepare for persecution is before it arises. So, decide now that you will be faithful to your Lord today. Ask his Spirit to control and empower your life (Ephesians 5:18). Pray for the strength to refuse temptation when it strikes (1 Corinthians 10:13). When you “submit yourselves therefore to God,” you can then “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

When your life and mind are surrendered to the Holy Spirit, you can claim Jesus’ promise: “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19–20).

If you choose to pay a price to follow Jesus, you are in excellent company, for you can say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Will you be “strong” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Candace Cameron Bure ridiculed for biblical morality

Candace Cameron Bure starred in thirty Hallmark Channel movies, ten of which were Christmas films. Many of her fans were surprised when she announced last April that she was leaving Hallmark Media to develop, produce, and star in projects for the new traditional-family-oriented network Great American Family.

Now she has explained her career move in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “My heart wants to tell stories that have more meaning and purpose and depth behind them. I knew that the people behind Great American Family were Christians that love the Lord and wanted to promote faith programming and good family entertainment.”

By contrast, Hallmark will release The Holiday Sitter next month, the network’s first original film to focus on a same-sex couple. Bure has no plans to follow suit: “I think that Great American Family will keep traditional marriage at the core.”

Predictably, Bure is being criticized by some in the industry. Actress Hilarie Burton Morgan slammed her as “disgusting” and a “bigot,” adding, “I don’t remember Jesus liking hypocrites like Candy. But sure. Make your money, honey. You ride that prejudice wave all the way to the bank.” Dancer and actress JoJo Siwa called Bure’s stance “rude and hurtful to a whole community of people.”

Of course, those who support traditional marriage are a “whole community of people” as well.

Drag queen delivers the children’s sermon

In related news, the Senate voted yesterday to advance legislation that would cement same-sex marriage protections into law. The so-called Respect for Marriage Act is a major issue for religious freedom in America, a topic I plan to discuss in detail tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we are learning that at least four hundred LGBTQ candidates won their midterm races last week. And a Methodist church in St. Petersburg, Florida, recently invited a drag queen to deliver the children’s sermon during a Sunday service.

These are just a few examples of the ongoing quest to normalize LGBTQ behavior in our society. This strategy is succeeding. According to Gallup, the percentage of US adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual has now risen to 7.1 percent. This is double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first measured it.

Among Generation Z (those born from 1997 to 2003), about 21 percent identified as LGBTQ. Among Millennials (those born from 1981 to 1996), 10.5 percent identified as LGBTQ. The numbers declined significantly in each older generation.

“My body, my choice”

It is clear that LGBTQ advocacy is here to stay.

It’s not enough for same-sex marriage to be legal—we must embrace same-sex couples or be considered “disgusting” and a “bigot,” as Candace Cameron Bure has learned. It’s not enough for LGBTQ activities to be more popular and accepted than ever—we must embrace and celebrate them or face the wrath of those who do.

The reason is simple: fallen people want to be the king of our personal kingdoms. We want to be our own gods (Genesis 3:5) with authority over our own lives. “My body, my choice” is the mantra of our post-Christian culture. It applies to everything from abortion to euthanasia, from gender issues to legalizing drugs.

Medical science has helped us gain such apparent sovereignty over our bodies. For example, medication abortions can be obtained and performed at home. Physician-assisted death is more available than ever before. Physicians can modify our bodies and “transition” our genders through hormones and surgeries in ways heretofore unthinkable.

As a result, evangelical Christians should be prepared to face unrelenting and escalating attacks on biblical morality. Our children will be ridiculed at school; we will be pressured to adopt Pride Month and other LGBTQ advocacy at work; our churches, schools, and ministries will be marginalized and worse.

“I have great love and affection for all people”

You and I must resist two temptations in response.

One is to privatize our faith, to back down in the face of opposition and withdraw from the “culture wars.” This we must not do: we are commanded to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Every person you know deserves to know what you know about the Lord and his perfect will for our lives.

A second temptation is to condemn those who condemn us. This we must not do: we are commanded “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). We are not to be “culture warriors” but “cultural missionaries,” committed to “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) no matter how others treat us.

Candace Cameron Bure modeled such a response when she replied yesterday to her critics: “All of you who know me, know beyond question that I have great love and affection for all people. It absolutely breaks my heart that anyone would ever think I intentionally would want to offend and hurt anyone.”

She added, “To those who hate what I value and who are attacking me online: I love you.”

“The best way to destroy an enemy”

The simple fact is that you and I are just as fallen and temptable as those who oppose biblical morality. Our sins are no less sinful than theirs. The difference is that “by grace [we] have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). We have received a transforming gift we are now called to pay forward to those who need the grace we have experienced.

So, when you hear about Christians being ridiculed for biblical morality, pray for your fellow believers and for those who disparage them. When you face such ridicule, pray for the grace to “bless those who curse you” and to “pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28).

Theologian F. F. Bruce observed, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.”

What new friends will you make today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Three responses to recent abortion votes: The fragility and urgency of life

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

My wife and I tested positive for COVID-19 a few days ago. While more than ninety-seven million Americans have contracted the virus since the pandemic began, this was our first time. We are both vaccinated and boosted and are under our doctors’ care, so we’re experiencing mild symptoms. This could be far worse—nearly twenty-eight thousand Americans are currently hospitalized with the disease, which is causing more than three hundred deaths a day.

Our experience with the pandemic has brought back terrible memories of the days before the vaccines when it seemed that anyone could infect anyone and anyone could die as a result. Things are much different now, but humanity’s overall mortality rate is unchanged. Every one of us will die of something someday unless the Lord returns first.

From Sunday’s multiple fatalities at the University of Virginia and the University of Idaho, to last Saturday’s deadly midair collision at a Dallas air show, to comedian Jay Leno’s burn injuries following a gasoline fire, each day’s news is filled with reminders that life is finite and fragile.

And as with most gifts, the more fragile life becomes, the more precious it seems.

Unless, that is, we’re discussing the most fragile lives of all.

Abortion vote an “unmitigated disaster”

Most commentators discussing the midterm elections have focused on control of Congress, with more than a dozen House seats still uncalled as of last night. I have been watching a different story line, one that reveals something deeply urgent about the state of our culture.

According to NPR, “in every state where voters were asked to weigh in directly on abortion rights, they supported measures that protect those rights and rejected initiatives that could threaten them.” Voters in several states approved measures to enshrine abortion rights in their states’ constitutions. And Kentucky voters rejected a measure explicitly stating that the state constitution contains no right to an abortion, a defeat Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler called an “unmitigated disaster.”

These outcomes further reinforce the cultural narrative we discussed yesterday: our postmodern, post-Christian society is increasingly antagonistic to biblical moral values. In a post-Roe world, abortion will be legislated on a state-by-state and community-by-community basis. If the majority of your community is for elective abortion, they will elect pro-abortion leaders who enact pro-abortion legislation.

Consequently, protecting the most fragile of our fellow humans becomes your job and mine.

Three responses

One response is logical: unborn humans are humans.

From the moment of conception, the fetus contains all forty-six human chromosomes and is able to develop only into a human being. Nothing new will be added except the growth and development of what exists from conception. At twelve weeks, the unborn baby is only about two inches long, but every organ of the human body is clearly in place.

As a result, a child prior to birth deserves the same legal protections it will receive the moment it is born. All that happens in that moment is that it changes locations from inside its mother’s womb to outside of it. Making the case that pre-born children are children is foundational to saving their lives from abortion.

A second response is practical: pregnant women deserve all the support they need.

Every reason women cite for choosing abortion is a need we can meet. From financial support (the #1 cause of abortion) to counseling and medical resources, churches and ministries can help mothers choose life.

A third response is spiritual: our culture is being deceived.

A caller on a radio program where I was being interviewed made the claim that she is personally opposed to abortion but doesn’t feel she has the right to make this decision for others. Tolerance is the cardinal ethos of a relativistic culture in which “we have no right to force our beliefs on others.” Abortion decisions are best left to the mothers who must make them, or so we’re told.

Of course, in every other dimension of life we enact laws to protect us from each other and even from ourselves. From illegal drugs to seat belt laws, we “force our beliefs” on one another. The greater the consequences, the more strict the law and the more severe the punishment.

But when innocent, defenseless pre-born humans are at risk, we decide we cannot “force our beliefs” on those who would take their lives. This deception comes from “the father of lies” (John 8:44) who blinds the minds of those he deceives (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “comes to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

“Fearfully and wonderfully made”

The fight for life is shifting into a new season in which every community is on the front lines. This means you and I are on the front lines as well.

We need to make the logical case for life wherever we can. We need to support ministries that support pregnant women considering abortion. And we need to pray daily for a spiritual awakening that would expose the darkness of deception to the light of truth.

Then every unborn child across our land will be able to say one day to God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Joni Eareckson Tada observed, “Though gradually, though no one remembers exactly how it happened, the unthinkable becomes tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And then applaudable.”

What will you do to reverse this tragic trajectory?

Millions of unborn lives are in the balance.

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Denison Forum – Democrats retain the Senate: Why this news matters more than you may think

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts (Zechariah 4:6).

Democrats will continue to control the US Senate after Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was projected on Saturday to win reelection. Whatever the outcome of the December 6 runoff in Georgia, Democrats will have fifty votes in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote when needed.

This news is far more consequential than it may seem.

The “filibuster” is a rule requiring sixty votes in the Senate to pass legislation. It was suspended on a simple majority vote by Democrats in 2012 to confirm then-President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees and again in 2017 by Republicans to confirm then-President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court.

President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have each called for suspending it again to pass legislation codifying abortion regardless of states’ objections or legislation. There have been similar calls in support of the so-called Equality Act, which would codify LGBTQ rights with no protections for religious freedom.

Two Democratic senators—Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)—have refused to suspend the filibuster in the past. If Democrats win the Georgia runoff, they will be one vote from doing so even over the objections of both.

One vote away?

As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry, my purpose today is not to advocate for or against any political party or leader. Rather, it is to illustrate the problems inherent in advancing biblical morality through secular legislation.

For example, if you believe on biblical grounds that marriage should be between a man and a woman, you should be strongly opposed to the so-called Equality Act (EA) which has passed the US House of Representatives twice but does not have the sixty votes it needs in the Senate. But if the filibuster were suspended on this issue, the EA would pass and be signed by President Biden. And legislation considered to be the most invasive threat to religious liberty in American history would become law.

We may be one vote in the Senate from this scenario becoming a reality. Pro-life supporters could face a similar scenario with proposed legislation that would codify abortion access regardless of states’ laws or objections.

In both cases, Christians would be depending on one or two senators to prevent legislation that has broad public appeal. For example, 58 percent of Americans support a federal law establishing a right to an abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb; 70 percent support same-sex marriage.

From Moral Majority to moral minority

My entire professional life, conservative Christians have engaged our culture on the premise that the majority of Americans agreed with us. For example, Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 to advance conservative social values; the name was meant to signify that he and his supporters spoke for the majority of Americans on cultural and moral issues.

At the time, 70 percent of Americans believed (PDF) same-sex sexual relations were “always wrong”; in 1988, only 10 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. Electing lawmakers who would support traditional marriage was not only the right thing to do biblically—it reflected the broad consensus of Americans.

This consensus is now gone.

If lawmakers vote in ways that reflect popular consensus today, biblical morality will increasingly lose. You and I will hope for the “right to be wrong” on the basis of our First Amendment religious liberty protections, but these can be overturned on a case-by-case basis as with the so-called Equality Act.

Not to mention all the other ways a “moral minority” can face the opprobrium of the majority, from demands that the NCAA exclude evangelical schools, to threats against federal funding for schools deemed “discriminatory” against LGBTQ students, to calls for ending tax-exempt status for organizations that do not support same-sex marriage.

Could this be the start?

More than ever before in American history, America’s Christians will need to be both courageous and persuasive. We will need to stand for biblical morality whatever the personal cost, remembering that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). And we will need to persuade our fellow citizens that biblical morality is best for them and for society since we can no longer depend on legislation and legislators to do that job for us.

In other words, Christians in the twenty-first century are returning to the first century. We are returning to a day when we had little or no social standing. We owned no buildings, so we taught “in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20), going to those who would not come to us. We had no official clergy, so each of us was responsible for “the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:11–12).

And by Acts 17:6 we had “turned the world upside down” and birthed the mightiest spiritual movement in human history.

Our secret was simple: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Paul testified, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4–5).

Could it be that we have relied in recent decades on politics to do what only the Spirit can do? Could America’s widespread embrace of unbiblical morality and rejection of biblical Christianity force us to depend on the Spirit more than ever before?

If so, could this be the start of the spiritual awakening we and our nation need so desperately?

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Denison Forum – Meet the grandfather of ten who sold the winning Powerball ticket

The law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is perfect, reviving the soul (Psalm 19:7).

“I never collect welfare, I never collect Medicare, I never collect any money from the government. All what I do, I work hard, seven days a week. I raised my kids, graduated from the college and bought a house and I bought a business all because I work hard and become an honest man.” This is how Joe Chahayed described himself to reporters after selling the winning $2.04 billion Powerball ticket this week.

Mr. Chahayed emigrated from Syria in the 1980s with his wife, two children, and around $14,000 in his name. Now a grandfather of ten, he owns Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, an unincorporated community northeast of Los Angeles. For selling the winning ticket, he will receive a Powerball bonus of $1 million. Unsurprisingly, he plans to spend it on his five children and donate some to the community.

“Uncertainty is the friend of the status quo”

In Maxims for Thinking Analytically: The Wisdom of Legendary Harvard Professor Richard Zeckhauser, Dan Levy lists and discusses a number of insightful and practical axioms taught by the noted economist.

Among them is this observation: “Uncertainty is the friend of the status quo.” Levy explains: “When there is uncertainty about the value of the choices we are considering in a given decision, we tend to stick with our initial or previous choice.” He cites credit cards, bank accounts, gym memberships, and even toothpaste brands as examples.

Such “status quo bias” is often appropriate, as Levy notes: “As long as we consider the original brand we choose to be sufficiently good, and the cost of assessing whether to change not worth it, it is rational to stick with our initial choice.” However, he adds that “one can take advantage of status quo bias to help people make better choices by setting a default option that will be good for the person making the decision.”

In behavioral economics terms, this involves constructing “choice architecture” that “nudges” people toward good choices. Such defaults have been used to get people to automatically enroll in retirement plans or donate organs, for example.

Two transforming truths

As America has focused on this week’s midterm elections, we have focused in the Daily Article on the relationship between politics, culture, and religion. Yesterday we discussed the urgency of holiness for Christian leaders since “religion is the root of culture” and religious leaders play a formative role in the lives of religious followers.

Today, let’s close our series by considering the urgency of personal godliness for all Christians, whatever our leadership status. We’ll do so by applying the two narratives we’ve explored thus far:

  1. In a postmodern society that measures truth by relevance, our personal character is fundamental to our cultural impact.
  2. Establishing biblical authority as our “default option” will transform our personal character and our public influence.

Joe Chahayed is not the first or the last person to sell a winning Powerball ticket of significant size (though the one he sold was the largest so far). However, he made the news not just for what he did but for who he is: a hardworking, conscientious immigrant who has made a good life for himself and his family.

We are always going to be attracted to the beliefs of attractive people. (This is why celebrity endorsements remain such popular and powerful marketing tools.) However, as fallen people, you and I are more likely to live in ways that discourage rather than encourage others to trust in our holy God unless we have his help.

This is why it is so urgent that we decide every day at the start of the day to live biblically that day. When we say to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, my emphasis), it will become so. When we decide that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we will profit from it personally.

“Pilate was merciful till it became risky”

It should be noted that choosing against culture always comes at a cost. It is far easier to float with the current than to swim against it. Living biblically in an unbiblical culture especially requires courage, as the members of the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” vividly remind us:

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy” (vv. 35–38).

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis famously observed: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. . . . A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

However, the further our culture turns from biblical morality, the more it needs biblical truth. The less it considers God’s word to be relevant, the more it needs to see the relevance of God’s word in our lives.

“The testimony of the Lᴏʀᴅ is sure”

Let’s close by applying our conversation personally: What is your next step into biblical obedience? It likely will require courage on your part—if it were easy, you would probably have already taken it.

But if you will decide now to make biblical living your “default option” for the day, you will say with David, “The law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lᴏʀᴅ is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lᴏʀᴅ are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:7–8).

Will your soul be revived and your heart rejoice today?

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Denison Forum – The latest on the midterms: How America can experience a “new birth of freedom”

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” —Hosea 4:6

Republicans are still on track this morning to regain control of the House, though numerous races are still undecided. Three seats are still undetermined in the Senate as well, where Republicans hold a 49–48 edge.

It has been said that “democracy is a slow process of stumbling to the right decision instead of going straight forward to the wrong one.” As our latest exercise in democracy continues to unfold, a relevant Wall Street Journal article caught my eye today. In “Lincoln’s Vision of Democracy,” famed Princeton historian Allen C. Guelzo shows how Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” summarized American democracy concisely but brilliantly in his now-famous triplet: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

As Dr. Guelzo explains, “This wasn’t merely a rhetorical flourish. In that triplet, Lincoln lays out the three fundamental elements of democracy.” The first is consent—government of the people. The second is the people’s voice in the work of governing—government by the people. The third is government that serves the interests of the people it represents—government for the people.

President Lincoln believed that a new commitment to these three ideals would lead to a “new birth of freedom” for our land. According to Dr. Guelzo, “That new birth is the task that lies before every succeeding generation of Americans. In it, we find our way not only back to Lincoln but to democracy itself.”

How can we experience this “new birth of freedom” in these divided and divisive days?

“America’s long heroic journey”

I consider The Abolition of Man to be C. S. Lewis’s most prophetic book. In it, he consistently warns against the rising moral subjectivism that he believed would lead to the downfall of democracy. Lewis’s insights relate directly to our “post-truth” culture today.

Here’s one example: “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men [and] the solution is a technique.”

The fact that scientific techniques are more successful than magic tricks in subduing reality to our wishes makes his point more relevant. Amazing medical and technological advances have improved all of our lives immeasurably. As a result, we have been conditioned to believe that unaided human effort can “subdue reality to the wishes of men,” whatever those wishes are.

For example, in his first inaugural address, President Bill Clinton declared: “Our democracy must be . . . the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” He then called on Americans to embrace “the conviction that America’s long heroic journey must go forever upward.”

Such self-reliance lies at the heart of Western culture. Socrates claimed that to “know thyself” is the path to knowledge. Aristotle asserted, “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

How is such self-reliance working for us?

“Religion is the root of culture”

In a democracy, we are tempted to invest politics with the same power and authority we have assigned to science, asking our leaders to “subdue reality” to the wishes of those who elect them. But politics in a democracy cannot solve our greatest problems because leaders are elected by voters to do what voters want, and voters are just as fallen as the leaders they elect.

What, then, is the answer to our deepest challenges and needs? Richard John Neuhaus observed: “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” This is why renewing America requires renewing America’s religion.

I often quote from George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address because this observation is so critical for our nation: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” (my emphasis). Here’s the problem: in our secularized, post-Christian, even anti-Christian culture, many would divorce religion from morality. As I noted recently, more Americans think morality should be based on “what you feel in your heart” than any other source, including the Bible.

But Washington had a prophetic word for this dangerous fallacy: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Does Hosea’s warning apply to us?

So, renewing American democracy requires renewing American culture, which requires renewing American religion. Spiritual awakenings across our history have brought about such moral and even political transformation, but they always begin within the church.

God’s familiar promise to Israel in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to “heal their land” begins, “If my people who are called by my name . . . .” The Lord warned the religious leaders of Hosea’s day, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. . . . you have forgotten the law of your God” (Hosea 4:6).

In a day when religious leaders and entire denominations reject biblical sexual morality and endorse elective abortion, when just 37 percent of America’s pastors hold a biblical worldview, does Hosea’s warning apply to us?

However, I must admit that there is a personal downside to today’s article: it is tempting for me to criticize political and religious leaders for their failings and so avoid honesty about my own. I have no right to ask others to do what I am unwilling to do.

So I must ask, Is my heart “wholly true to the Lᴏʀᴅ” (1 Kings 8:61)?

Am I willing to serve my King whatever the risk?

Am I willing to do whatever he asks, go wherever he leads, and serve whatever the cost?

Are you?

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Denison Forum – Republicans predicted to take the House, Senate too close to call: Insights from “the father of democracy”

 “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” —Psalm 122:6

As of this morning, Republicans appear to be on track to regain control of the House of Representatives, though the size of their majority is yet to be known. Control of the Senate is still to be determined, with several pivotal races too close to call.

As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry, I am responding to the midterm elections with reflections that would be the same regardless of which party controls which branch of our government.

“The problems posed by living in collaborative groups”

As background, let’s consider a New Yorker article indicating that “reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.” In other words, we tend to make our decisions based on how our group makes theirs. Consequently, while we’re critically aware of the fallacies held by others, we are blind about our own.

In addition, we must rely on the expertise of others for the essentials of life (such as the function of toilets, as the article illustrates), so we do the same with our opinions, depending on the “knowledge” of those with whom we already agree. Further research demonstrates that we experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when we process information that supports our beliefs.

These facts relate directly to voting in a democracy. Once we identify our “group,” we tend to vote in ways that advance our group’s agenda. We are much more able to see the shortcomings of the other group’s candidates than our own. We are rewarded psychologically when our side wins and the other side loses.

And democracy, which depends on the wisdom of the voters to elect leaders most capable of serving the people, is weakened as a result.

“The father of American democracy”

In 1638, Puritan pastor Rev. Thomas Hooker delivered a sermon before the Connecticut General Court advocating for popular sovereignty, the right of the people to rule themselves. This was the first time in the colonies that an American explicitly asserted such democratic ideas.

He based his sermon on Deuteronomy 1:13, where Moses instructed the people, “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.” Hooker’s sermon influenced the creation of the Connecticut state constitution, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which was the first constitution in the American colonies.

As a result, he is often described as “the father of American democracy.”

Note his belief that our leaders must be “wise, understanding, and experienced.” This implies that the people who choose them must also be “wise, understanding, and experienced” so as to identify leaders who deserve their support. This is the fundamental challenge within our system of governance: as French philosopher Joseph de Maistre noted, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.”

The fact that we are fallen people explains the fallenness of our society and of our politics. As grateful as I am for those who are willing to engage in public service, the fact remains that we can only elect sinners like ourselves.

History professor Daniel K. Williams notes, “Political parties work well as highly imperfect tools for accomplishing particular aims, but they become horrific idols when we treat them as sources of our moral identity.”

“We have received Christ himself”

David implored us, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:6). Note that he did not encourage us to “work” for the peace of Jerusalem, but to “pray” for it. The Hebrew word translated “pray” could be rendered “beg for, plead.” The grammar could be rendered “plead and keep on pleading.”

“Peace” translates shalom, a very significant word in Jewish culture even today. It describes completeness, wholeness, health in every dimension of life. David knew that the source of true shalom for Israel and for the rest of the world lies in God, not in us. We must come to him with expectant, urgent, humble, repentant faith.

And when we do, God does what only he can do.

Charles Spurgeon observed, “By an act of faith Jesus becomes a real person in the consciousness of our heart. . . . It is true that he gave us life from the dead. He gave us pardon of sin; he gave us imputed righteousness. These are all precious things, but we are not content with them; we have received Christ himself” (his emphasis).

“Preach first by the way that you live”

This is why sharing the good news of God’s love is so urgent. As pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie notes, “God’s primary way of reaching nonbelievers is through the verbal articulation of the gospel.” We are inviting others into a personal, transforming relationship with a personal, transforming God. We can actually know Jesus and then make him known. And knowing him does in us and through us what no political party or leader could ever accomplish.

However, Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584, offered an important qualification: “Be sure that you preach first by the way that you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing but live another, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”

Live the gospel and share the gospel. Know Christ and make him known, and long after yesterday’s elections are forgotten, your faithfulness to your Lord will echo in eternity.

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

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Denison Forum – My prediction for the midterms

 “Be wise in the way you act with people who are not believers.” —Colossians 4:5 NCV

If I could predict the future, I might have joined Jim McIngvale—better known as “Mattress Mack”—in his $10 million bet last May that his Houston Astros would win the World Series. His bet won him $75 million, which is believed to be the largest payout in legal sports betting history. When asked what he planned to do after winning, the seventy-one-year-old said he’d be back to work the next morning at 9 a.m.

Or I might have purchased the winning Powerball lottery ticket and won a record $1.9 billion. The drawing was delayed, so it’s likely the official results won’t be known until later today. I’d be happy to wait that long.

Of course, I cannot predict the future. But I am nonetheless willing to make a clear prediction regarding today’s midterm elections and their consequences for our country and our culture.

“The deepest habit of mind in the contemporary world”

In his debate with Jimmy Carter a week before the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan asked the nation, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” It’s the kind of question politicians typically ask before elections. And it reveals far more than the answers voters give.

In his paper, “Is Theology Poetry?” Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis identified “universal evolutionism” as “perhaps the deepest habit of mind in the contemporary world.” He defined the term: “the belief that the very formula of universal progress is from imperfect to perfect, from small beginnings to great endings, from the rudimentary to the elaborate.”

He added that this belief “makes people find it natural to think that morality springs from savage taboos, adult sentiment from infantile sexual maladjustments, thought from instinct, mind from matter, organic from inorganic, cosmos from chaos.” However, he observed, “It seems to me immensely unplausible, because it makes the general course of nature so very unlike those parts of nature we can observe.”

This “habit of mind” nonetheless assumes that the world must evolve to get better and better. If it does not, voters in a democracy hold our leaders accountable.

Democrats are claiming that women’s rights are under attack by Republicans and hope this issue galvanizes their base. Republicans hope their focus on crime and the economy will help them win the midterms.

But this belief that political leaders can effect systemic change overlooks a basic fact about human nature.

“He will give you pardon and imparted holiness”

Scripture is clear: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). This applies to us all: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). John added: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

A. W. Tozer was right: “Sin is a terrible thing, and either we deal with our sin or our sin will deal with us.” By contrast, when a person comes to Christ, “that second the supernatural life of God invades him instantly. The dominating power of the world, the flesh, and the devil is paralyzed, not by your act, but because your act has linked you on to God and his redemptive power” (Oswald Chambers).

I do not mean to suggest that politics are not important. To the contrary, there are absolutely positive consequences to biblical political leadership. For example, in the first two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions fell by more than ten thousand. That’s ten thousand precious lives that have been spared as a consequence of decades of hard work and political engagement by pro-life advocates.

There are absolutely negative consequences to political leadership as well, as the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 demonstrates. The proposed so-called Equality Act similarly constitutes the greatest threat to religious liberty in American history.

For these reasons, I am convinced that God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call. But here’s my prediction: no matter the results of today’s midterms, the gospel will still be the only answer to the greatest problems we face.

Billy Graham noted: “In exchange for perplexity, [Christ] gives the blessed assurance of his grace and adequacy. In exchange for your anxiety, he gives you a confidence and trust that knows no bounds. In exchange for boredom, he will give you a bold, courageous, purposeful faith. In exchange for your sin, he will give you pardon and imparted holiness.”

“Courteous conduct honors Christ”

Consequently, the way Christians engage in politics is crucial to our witness and the eternal destinies of those we influence. Max Lucado was right: “Those who don’t believe in Jesus note what we who believe in Jesus do. They make decisions about Christ by watching us. When we’re kind, they assume Christ is kind. When we’re gracious, they assume Christ is gracious. But when we’re dishonest, what assumption will an observer make about our Master?

“No wonder the Apostle Paul says, ‘Be wise in the way you act with people who are not believers, making the most of every opportunity. When you talk, you should always be kind and pleasant so you will be able to answer everyone in the way you should’ (Colossians 4:5–6 NCV).”

Lucado therefore noted: “Courteous conduct honors Christ. It also honors his children.”

Will your political engagement today honor both?

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Denison Forum – What I learned in Israel about the recent Israeli elections

 “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” —2 Timothy 3:12

I returned home last weekend after spending two weeks in Israel, where I observed their latest elections firsthand. As you know, a coalition led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won enough seats in the Israeli parliament to form a new government.

What you may not know, however, is why this story matters to every evangelical Christian in America.

The issue above all other issues

The popular vote was evenly split with about 49 percent going to Mr. Netanyahu and 49 percent going to his opponents. However, as my Israeli friends explained to me, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory was fueled primarily by the rise of a political partnership led by two men who are unfamiliar to Americans but who are dominating the news in their country.

Bezalel Smotrich leads a political party called Religious Zionism which, as Israeli political commentator David Horovitz explains, “ultimately seeks an Israel run according to the laws of the Torah.” Itamar Ben Gvir leads Otzma Yehudit, which “advocates the annexation of the biblical Judea and Samaria for an enlarged sovereign Jewish state in which West Bank Palestinians would be denied equal rights.”

The two parties formed a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu’s secular Likud party to win a sixty-four-seat governing majority in the 120-seat parliament. This coalition, according to my Israeli friends, is fueled less by popular support for Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s actual agendas and more in response to the security threats Israel is facing. Violence in the West Bank is escalating dramatically; Iran continues to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon while pursuing nuclear capacities that pose an “existential threat” to Israel.

As last week’s election showed once again, a tiny nation surrounded by enemies will always put its defense ahead of other political issues.

Kyrie Irving’s suspension and the rise of anti-Semitism

Why is this fact relevant to you and me?

For the answer, we must explore briefly the global rise in anti-Semitism that is contributing to the political situation in Israel.

NBA star Kyrie Irving was suspended last week by the Brooklyn Nets after posting a documentary with antisemitic conspiracy theories and falsehoods on Twitter. Nike also suspended its relationship with him in the wake of the controversy. Irving later apologized to the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, the Jewish advocacy group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warns that anti-Semitism is rising on US college campuses at a time when violence against Jews in America has reached record levels. Last year, the ADL reported 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism against the Jewish people, a 34 percent increase from the year before and the highest number on record since the group began tracking anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.

Anti-Semitism has been called “history’s oldest hatred.” Many factors explain this tragic narrative, but one is especially relevant for Christians in America: the Jewish commitment throughout history to maintaining their unique religious identity.

Jews refused to worship the gods of Persia (cf. Daniel 3 and 6), Greece (thus the Maccabean revolt), and Rome (thus the revolt that led to the destruction of the temple in AD 70). They have been committed throughout their history to truth and morality as expressed in their 613 commandments (mitzvot in Hebrew) extracted from the Old Testament that govern every dimension of their lives.

Should the Bible govern morality?

Why is this commitment relevant for you and me?

George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University have just released (PDF) a new report studying morality in the US. Here’s the good news: “Most Americans, regardless of their religious faith, champion traditional moral values.”

Here’s the bad news: 71 percent “now contend that human beings rather than God should be the judge of right and wrong.” Forty-two percent said “what you feel in your heart” is the best moral guide, followed by 29 percent who said we should base morality on majority rule. Only 29 percent said principles taught in the Bible should guide our morality.

By contrast, 66 percent of American adults who possess a biblical worldview said that the Bible should be the main source of determining right and wrong.

As the history of anti-Semitism shows, if you will not bow to the gods of your culture, you will face the wrath of your culture. Paul warned us: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, my emphasis).

We can therefore determine the degree to which we follow Jesus by the degree to which the world opposes us.

If worshiping God yesterday does not make us different from those who did not worship him, did we truly encounter God? If you and I are not living in ways that distinguish us from our secularized, post-Christian culture, how can we truly be following Jesus?

“A sense of overwhelming awe”

The more we experience Jesus, the more we will become like him (Romans 8:29) and the less we will be like those who oppose him (cf. 1 John 3:1).

Gordon Fee has been called “one of the most influential New Testament scholars who has ever lived.” A textbook he wrote with colleague Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, was the primary textbook I used in teaching biblical interpretation courses in seminary. It is now in its fourth edition and has sold around a million copies.

Fee died recently at the age of eighty-eight. In a 1988 paper reflecting on Bible study and spirituality, he concluded (PDF) that to study God’s word properly, “We must hear the words with our hearts, we must bask in God’s own glory, we must be moved to a sense of overwhelming awe at God’s riches in glory, we must think again on the incredible wonder that these riches are ours in Christ Jesus, and we must then worship the living God by singing praises to his glory.”

By this measure, did you “worship the living God” yesterday?

Will you today?

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Denison Forum – Billy Graham state-of-the-art archive opens Monday

 “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” —Philippians 1:18

A new research facility has gathered the full documentary record of Billy Graham’s life and work in one place. According to Christianity Today (which was founded in 1956 by Dr. Graham), archives that had been loaned to Wheaton College will be combined with “hundreds and hundreds of boxes that remained at Graham’s home office in Montreat, North Carolina, and additional material from his ministry’s former offices in Minneapolis and in storage in Charlotte.”

This state-of-the-art archive is located across the road from the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. It comprises thirty thousand square feet at a cost of $12 million and opens on Monday, Dr. Graham’s birthday.

David Bruce, who served as executive assistant to the famous evangelist, has overseen the project. He notes that its purpose is not nostalgia or history for history’s sake. “Mr. Graham wouldn’t have approved of any of this unless it could be used to further the gospel,” he said. “I hope that people see the work of God in his life, and then all the history he touched, and it can encourage people to reflect on the living, breathing Word of God.”

“We have all of Jesus we want”

Years ago, a wise mentor in one of the churches I pastored said, “Our problem is that we have all of Jesus we want. Not all of Jesus we need, but all of Jesus we want.” He was speaking for more people than our congregation.

Billy Graham knew how much he needed Jesus. He told a 1993 crusade in Portland, Oregon, “I can’t live the Christian life alone. I’m a failure. Billy Graham cannot live the Christian life. I’ve tried. I can’t do it. But with the help of the word of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, I can live the Christian life. But he lives it through me.”

He knew that we need Jesus as much as he did. In 1955, he said on “The Hour of Decision,” “The regeneration of the individual is much more needed than the revolution of society.” He stated that same year, “If I didn’t believe that the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ held the answer to this world’s baffling problems, I would go back to the farm and the rural life that I love and spend my days in peaceful solitude.”

He declared, “When our minds are on Christ, Satan has little room to maneuver.” And he knew that when we are changed by Jesus, everything about us is changed: “The transformed man loves when others hate. He is just when others are prejudiced. He is understanding when others misunderstand and he is poised when others are frantic.”

Dr. Graham was convinced: “If Christianity is important at all, it is all important. If it is anything at all, it is everything. It is either the most vital thing in your life, or it isn’t worth bothering with.”

“In order that I may gain Christ”

Paul would have agreed. All through his letter to the Philippians, often considered his favorite church, the apostle repeated the same theme. He told them that even though some “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment,” nonetheless “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:17–18).

He testified, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21) and added, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (v. 23). He wanted their “manner of life [to] be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27) and informed them that their sufferings were “for the sake of Christ” (v. 29).

Paul then offered them “encouragement in Christ” (Philippians 2:1) and encouraged them to have “this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). One day, he predicted, “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 11).

The apostle set the example for all to follow: “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8).

Paul’s ultimate purpose and passion were clear: “That I may know him” (v. 10).

“My one purpose in life”

Knowing Christ is the purpose of the Christian life. Everything else about our faith is secondary and derivative. We were created for an intimate, daily, personal relationship with our living Savior.

So, let me ask you: How well do you know Jesus today?

You can know him just as you can know any other living person. Better, in fact, since his Spirit lives in you (1 Corinthians 3:16), he is always interceding for you (Romans 8:34), and he is as close as your next prayer.

You get to know Jesus just like you get to know anyone else: by spending time with him. Read his word to hear his voice. Listen for his Spirit as he speaks to your spirit. See his hand in his creation (Colossians 1:16). Speak to him through the day. Practice his presence by imagining yourself in his presence, and it will be so.

Then do all you can to help those you know to know him. Billy Graham was clear: “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”

What is your “one purpose in life”?

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Denison Forum – Joanna Gaines was “full, but running on empty” as she battled burnout

“Be still before the Lᴏʀᴅ and wait patiently for him.” —Psalm 37:7

Joanna and Chip Gaines are two of the best-known evangelical Christians in popular culture. Their long-running home improvement show, Fixer Upper, was one of HGTV’s highest-rated franchises ever and was nominated for two Primetime Emmys. The couple has expanded into restaurants, home décor, a realty company, and a TV network.

However, in a personal essay for the winter issue of her Magnolia Journal, Joanna opened up about her experience with burnout. While expressing deep gratitude for all the ways she and her family have been blessed, she writes: “I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I have. It’s hard to explain how I was feeling. I was grateful beyond measure, but exhausted. Loved, but feeling unworthy. Full, but running on empty. And because my world kept me busy, I could still feel the wheels of my life humming. What became harder to tell is where they should be headed.”

In writing her memoir, which is set to release on November 8, she was able to reflect on her life in a way that made her more intentional about being present in the moment. She says, “When I look back next time, I don’t want to see a kind of kaleidoscope life—out of focus and jumbled.” Instead, she continues, “I want to live the next season of this beautiful life in focus.”

“Take away my life”

Joanna Gaines is a committed believer who experienced burnout in the midst of great success. She is not the first, nor will she be the last. Job in his travails comes to mind immediately, as do David fleeing from Saul, Moses leading his people through the wilderness, and Peter after his denials of Christ.

But no one in Scripture pivoted from incredible success to deep personal discouragement more starkly than the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, “the fire of the Lᴏʀᴅ” fell on the altar he constructed (v. 38) and the people fell on their faces and said, “The Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God” (v. 39). However, as soon as wicked Queen Jezebel learned of Elijah’s triumph over her false prophets, she vowed his death (1 Kings 19:2).

So the prophet ran for his life, traveling from Mt. Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the south (v. 3), a distance of 120 miles and as far from Jezebel as he could go. Here, he “asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lᴏʀᴅ, take away my life’” (v. 4).

But God sent an angel to sustain him (vv. 5–7), and Elijah “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8). Here he complained again to God: “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10). God responded in a “low whisper” (v. 12) to his prophet, calling him to anoint new kings and a new prophet to continue his ministry (vv. 15–17).

And he assured Elijah that he had “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (v. 18).

God “remembers your sins no more”

Like Elijah, you and I can face seasons of deep discouragement and despair. Such struggles come to us from at least three sources: sin, temptation, and circumstances.

If, like Peter, you have failed your Lord through personal sin (Luke 22:54–62), know that God has not given up on you. As he restored Peter (John 21:15–19), so he wants to forgive you and restore you to your kingdom calling.

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind anything in your life that is displeasing to God. Now confess what comes to your thoughts specifically and honestly. Claim God’s promise to forgive all you confess (1 John 1:9), knowing that he then separates your sins from you “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), buries them in “the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and “remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV).

Now, the next time guilt comes back, remember that you confessed that sin and are forgiven for it and claim the fact that grace is greater than guilt. You may need to do this one hundred times today and ninety times tomorrow, but eventually the guilt will leave and grace will prevail.

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”

Temptation is a great discourager of God’s people as well. Satan loves to tempt us and then to tempt us to feel guilty that we are being tempted. The opposite is actually the case: the more fervently you serve the Lord, the greater a threat you are to his enemy. If he would tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–10), he will certainly tempt his followers.

Name your temptation and give it immediately to God, asking him for the strength and wisdom you need. Claim his promise: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now turn to Scripture in response, as Jesus did. Use your temptation as an opportunity for prayer, worship, and intimacy with your Lord. Note and follow this order: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). As Erasmus noted, Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good”

Circumstances can be a third source of discouragement for believers. From the stock market and rising interest rates to threats of nuclear war in Ukraine and a “worrying resurgence of tuberculosis,” today’s news can feel hopeless.

But it is always too soon to give up on God. Scripture calls us to “be still before the Lᴏʀᴅ and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7). We are promised: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

To that end, we’ll close with an eighth-century Irish prayer that was translated into one of the most beloved hymns of the church. I invite you to pray these transforming and empowering words slowly to God today:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower; Raise Thou me heavenward, Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won, May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

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