Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Life on Mars and ‘hornlike spikes’: Why Americans trust science over religion

Is there life on Mars?

NASA’s Curiosity rover found what the New York Times calls “startlingly high amounts of methane in the Martian air” last week. As the Times explains, this type of gas on Earth is “usually produced by living things.”

The mission’s controllers sent new instructions to the rover to follow up on the readings. When the results came back yesterday, the methane spike had disappeared.

In addition, a glowing object was photographed hovering just above the surface of Mars earlier this month. Whatever it was, it seemed to be moving quickly.

However, NASA notes that such images are seen nearly every week and “can be caused by cosmic-ray hits or sunlight glinting from rock surfaces.” And methane gas can be produced by geological forces that have no connection to biological life.

Are “hornlike spikes” caused by cell phones?

In other science news that turned out not to be news, the Washington Post recently reported that “young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls.” The Post cites researchers who argued that such bone growth points to shifting body posture brought about by the use of modern technology.

Not so fast, according to the Smithsonian. Other scientists noted that these bone growths have been known for centuries; one stated that she has seen “plenty” of them “in the early Medieval skulls I’ve studied.” They noted that such growths can be genetic or occur through trauma.

Such stories remind us that science is not infallible. Experts can interpret the same evidence in widely different ways.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Life on Mars and ‘hornlike spikes’: Why Americans trust science over religion

Denison Forum – The conflict with Iran: How we got here and what could come next

Nik and Lijana Wallenda safely crossed Times Square last night on a high wire twenty-five stories above the pavement. Their feat feels like a parable for escalating tensions in the Middle East.

What has led to the present crisis with Iran? Why would the Iranians escalate conflict with the US? What could come next? Where is God at work?

How we got here

Two oil tankers were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz recently, following attacks on four commercial ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month. The US, Saudi Arabia, and the UK blame Iran.

Last Monday, Iran stated that it would soon surpass the previously imposed three hundred-kilogram limit on its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The Pentagon then announced plans to send approximately a thousand more troops to the Middle East “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats.”

Last Thursday, Iran shot down an unmanned US surveillance drone. The US claims that the aircraft was in international airspace; Iran claims that it was flying over their territory.

Later that day, the United States Cyber Command conducted online attacks against an Iranian intelligence group that American officials believe helped plan the oil tanker attacks. This was meant to be a direct response to the downing of the drone as well.

President Trump also approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the drone attack, then canceled the strike. However, he announced over the weekend that the US is “putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – The conflict with Iran: How we got here and what could come next

Denison Forum – Why Juneteenth is a holiday every American should celebrate

Today is Juneteenth (“June” plus “nineteenth”). The less you know about this holiday, the more you need to know.

On June 19, 1865, two months after the Confederacy surrendered, Union General Gordon Granger led a group of federal troops into Galveston, Texas.

Maj. Gen. Granger issued this declaration: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free.’ This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

An annual rite and a century of waiting

As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. notes, Maj. Gen. Granger had no idea that his order would establish the most popular annual celebration in the United States of emancipation from slavery. The newly freed black men and women of Texas made the date into their own annual rite, beginning one year later in 1866.

Informal celebrations of the date continued until, in 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Forty-five states recognize the holiday today.

President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but it freed only slaves within Confederate states who were liberated by Union troops. Even after Granger’s proclamation, many of the 250,000 slaves in Texas were mistreated for decades to come.

African Americans would wait nearly one hundred years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Tragically, much of the prejudice African Americans have faced in our nation has come from white Christians.

“The Color of Compromise”

In The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, historian Jemar Tisby surveys four hundred years of American church history. He shows that white American Protestants in both the North and the South repeatedly used their theology and church institutions to perpetuate racial power imbalances.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why Juneteenth is a holiday every American should celebrate

Denison Forum – A shooting in Dallas and the death of Gloria Vanderbilt: Reading the world through God’s word

A gunman opened fire on the Earle Cabell Federal Building in downtown Dallas yesterday morning. According to the Dallas Police Department, the heavily armed, masked suspect was shot in an “exchange of gunfire” with federal officers.

He was reportedly taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities identified the suspect as twenty-two-year-old Brian Isaack Clyde. A bomb squad also examined his vehicle, later detonating a device in a controlled explosion.

As of this morning, federal authorities leading the investigation have not offered a motive for the shooting.

“They can’t take what’s hidden in your heart”

The bad news is that another shooting occurred in a public space. The good news is that the shooter harmed no one.

We can carry this bipolar theme into nearly any story in today’s news.

For example, Wayne Cordeiro, a well-known Hawaiian pastor, met recently with twenty-two Christian leaders in China. Eighteen had been imprisoned. They told him that Christians headed for prison smuggle in pieces of paper with portions of Scripture on them which they memorize.

“Even though they can take the paper away, they can’t take what’s hidden in your heart,” one told Cordeiro.

We should grieve with and intercede for our sisters and brothers suffering such horrific persecution. But we can rejoice in their faith and choose to emulate their courage.

The death of Gloria Vanderbilt

On the other side of the news, Gloria Vanderbilt died yesterday at the age of ninety-five.

She was the great-great-granddaughter of famous financier Cornelius Vanderbilt and the mother of CNN newsman Anderson Cooper. Hers was a story of remarkable fame and financial means.

However, her father was a gambler and an alcoholic dying of liver disease when he married her mother. Gloria was one year old when he died.

Continue reading Denison Forum – A shooting in Dallas and the death of Gloria Vanderbilt: Reading the world through God’s word

Denison Forum – Hotel manager offers free lodging for women who come to Michigan for abortions


helley O’Brien runs a hotel in Yale, Michigan, a small town north of Detroit. She is making headlines because of her offer to women who live in states where abortion is restricted: if they come to Yale, “we will support you with several nights lodging and transportation to and from your appointment.”

O’Brien likens her support of abortion to the Underground Railroad that was used to lead slaves to freedom. “I have three granddaughters, two great nieces and a lot of other women that I care about, and I don’t want any of them to die in back-alley abortions,” she added. “And I don’t want any of them to ever have to proceed with a pregnancy if they don’t want to. . . . People aren’t perfect, and people shouldn’t have to die for their mistakes.”

But babies should?

A $50 million trip to space

NASA has announced that private tourists can travel to, stay on, and return to earth from the International Space Station. For around $50 million, you can spend thirty days in space. But the fallen world you left will be waiting for you when you come back.

I live in Dallas, Texas, where a ferocious storm toppled a crane Sunday afternoon, falling on a downtown apartment building and killing a twenty-nine-year-old woman. Yesterday morning, giant tree branches littered our neighborhood. More than 100,000 people are still out of power this morning.

Former Red Sox star David Ortiz was transported to Boston early this morning after he was shot in a Dominican Republic club Sunday night. A helicopter crash-landed on the roof of a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan yesterday afternoon, killing the pilot. Officials say there is no link to terrorism.

And an airplane passenger opened the emergency exit door after mistaking it for the toilet. Fortunately, the plane was still on the ground. Unfortunately, the exit slide deployed automatically and the flight was delayed by seven hours.

The power of hope in hard times

If my car breaks down, I blame the manufacturer. If my roof leaks, I blame the roofer. If my laptop crashes, I blame Apple.

When our world breaks, it’s only natural to blame its Creator.

But Christianity has never guaranteed its followers that their lives would be easier as a result of their faith. The opposite is true, in fact: “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus warned us (John 16:33). “Tribulation” translates the Greek word for a weight that crushes grain into flour.

Such suffering is not occasional for believers: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NKJV, my emphasis). That’s because we live in a culture that has rebelled against its maker and is now dominated by Satan, the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What Jesus did guarantee is that he would redeem all he allows. Henri Nouwen: “Our hope is not based on something that will happen after our sufferings are over, but on the real presence of God’s healing Spirit in the midst of these sufferings.”

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was so painful that he pled three times with God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:8). But the apostle heard from God instead: “My power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9, my emphasis). His hope was found, not on the other side of hardship, but in its midst.

Choosing the “Way of Holiness”

But there’s a catch.

For us to experience God’s best in hard times, we must choose a lifestyle that positions us to be led and used by his Holy Spirit. When we choose the “Way of Holiness” even in the wilderness (Isaiah 35:8), the Spirit sanctifies us (1 Peter 1:2), leads us (John 16:13), empowers us (Acts 1:8), and equips us for ministry (Acts 2:4).

As Oswald Chambers noted, “The Holy Spirit is the One Who makes real in you all that Jesus did for you” (my emphasis).

Such holiness in hard times can be our most powerful witness. As Paul and Silas sang songs of worship at midnight in prison, an earthquake broke their chains and their jailer was converted (Acts 16:25–34). When John Wesley encountered Moravians worshipping during a terrifying storm, their faith helped lead him to a saving relationship with Jesus.

To quote Chambers again: “You can never give another person that which you have found, but you can make him homesick for what you have.”

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!”

When David found himself confronted by enemies (Psalm 139:19–22), here was his prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv. 23–24).

What hard place is your address today?

Would you make David’s prayer yours right now?

Denison Forum – The Southern Baptist abuse crisis: Two steps God is calling all Christians to take today


“We want our churches to be as safe as possible as soon as possible.” This is the goal of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), according to its president, J. D. Greear.

Ahead of the SBC’s annual meeting that begins tomorrow in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Greear and other Southern Baptist leaders are responding to an unprecedented sexual abuse crisis facing their denomination. They are seeking ways to hold churches more accountable for allowing such abuse and to keep people in their churches safe.

One sexual abuse victim is too many

This crisis was catalyzed by a report last February presenting information on 380 credibly accused Southern Baptist leaders, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and volunteer leaders.

Reporters discovered that at least thirty-five church pastors, employees, and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were nonetheless able to find jobs at churches over the last two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement or warn other congregations.

The stories are horrific. Victims as young as three were reportedly molested inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. Adults seeking pastoral guidance say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.

As I wrote at the time, these tragedies occurred in a very small number of the 47,000 Baptist churches in the US. The vast majority of Southern Baptist leaders are committed to personal integrity. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are safe places for children and their families.

But as SBC leaders would agree, one sexual abuse victim is too many.

“Be holy in all your conduct.”

As the SBC begins its meetings, I’d like to consider the crisis they are confronting as a larger issue for Christians in America.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The Southern Baptist abuse crisis: Two steps God is calling all Christians to take today

Denison Forum – James Holzhauer and Susan B. Anthony: The privilege of eternal significance


James Holzhauer won Jeopardy! thirty-two straight times and was poised to take over the top spot on the show’s all-time, regular-play winnings list. That was before Emma Boettcher, a librarian from Chicago, defeated him in last night’s episode.

While Holzhauer’s loss is making headlines this morning, another event that happened a century ago today is receiving far less attention than it deserves.

A vote that changed history

A hundred years ago today, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. It states simply: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The amendment was adopted by the states the following year. While it obviously changed history, the history of the amendment is also worth our reflection this morning.

In the 1872 presidential election, Susan B. Anthony and fourteen other women cast votes. At the time, women were forbidden from voting. Three weeks later, Anthony was arrested. She was put on trial the next June.

Because she was a woman, she was forbidden from testifying in her own defense. She was found guilty of illegal voting but never paid the fine imposed by the judge.

“Women, their rights, and nothing less”

Four years later, Anthony led a protest at the 1876 Centennial celebrating America’s independence. She made famous the declaration, “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” Twelve years later, she helped form the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and led the group until 1900.

Continue reading Denison Forum – James Holzhauer and Susan B. Anthony: The privilege of eternal significance

Denison Forum – Thirty years after Tiananmen: Persecution ‘the world has never seen the likes of’


Tiananmen Square consists of 109 acres in the heart of Beijing, China. Ironically, the name means “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” First constructed in 1420 during the Ming dynasty, it was the entrance to the Imperial City and the Forbidden City (the homes of emperors and their households for almost five hundred years).

When I visited several years ago, I was amazed by the massive size of the square. And by the fact that it displays no indication whatsoever that one of the most dramatic events of my lifetime took place there.

“Tank man” makes history

In 1989, weeks of pro-democracy protests led to demonstrations by more than a million people in Tiananmen Square. Thirty years ago today, the Chinese government ordered its military to reclaim the area.

Troops reached the square around 1 a.m. the following morning, June 4, leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests. An official death toll has never been released. Several dozen people were later executed for their parts in the demonstrations.

Mention of the massacre is banned in China still today.

Perhaps the most iconic moment came when an unidentified protester stood in front of a line of tanks, blocking their progress. The so-called “tank man” stood there for several minutes before he was pulled aside by onlookers.

The church’s “spectacular growth”

The same day the Chinese government massacred hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators, Communist Party leaders watched as pro-democracy candidates in Poland supplanted Communist rule. Pope John Paul II’s support was indispensable to their success.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Nina Shea and Bob Fu describe what happened to Christians in China after the Tiananmen massacre. Shea directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Dr. Fu was a student leader during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and founded ChinaAid “to bring international attention to China’s gross human rights violations and to promote religious freedom and rule of law in China.”

It was my privilege to meet with Dr. Fu a few years ago; I have followed his courageous career with gratitude.

Shea and Fu state that Chinese Christianity experienced “spectacular growth” over the thirty years after Tiananmen and report that “there could be well over 100 million Chinese Christians.” They cite projections that China could have nearly 250 million Christians by 2030. By contrast, the Communist Party numbers ninety million.

To counter such tremendous growth, President Xi Jinping last year began enforcing religious regulations to bend the church to the party’s leadership.

“A high-tech digital dictatorship”

According to Shea and Fu, ten thousand Protestant churches were ordered shut last year in Henan province, even though most were registered with the state. During 2018, more than one million Christians were threatened or persecuted; five thousand were arrested.

Mr. Xi’s regulations ban minors from entering churches and forbid Sunday schools and Bible camps. Christian symbols are sometimes being replaced in churches with pictures of Mr. Xi. Police ordered facial-recognition cameras installed in one Protestant megachurch in Beijing, prompting the pastor to close the church.

China expert and social scientist Steven Mosher warns that the persecution of Christians in China is unfolding in unprecedented ways. He reports that local officials have been instructed by the central government not to permit the public expression of religious sentiment anywhere in the towns they control. As a result, these officials are removing crosses from churches and confiscating Bibles and other religious articles from private homes.

Mosher also reports that the Chinese government is using smartphones, video surveillance, social media, and other technology to monitor its citizens. It then rewards or punishes them through a social credit system.

For example, everyone is required to have a Xi Jinping app on his or her smartphone. It is called “Study Xi Strong China”; everyone is required to study Xi on their smartphone for half an hour daily and answer a quiz. If a person misses a session, his or her social score is penalized.

Through the app, big data, artificial intelligence, and surveillance techniques, the Communist Party has developed what Mosher calls “a high-tech digital dictatorship.” He warns: “What we have in China is an unfolding persecution the world has never seen the likes of. It’s not a persecution where Christians are being arrested and fed to lions, but it’s a persecution where Christians are being arrested for their very thoughts.”

“They are doomed to lose this war”

As the world focuses this week on the Tiananmen Square massacre, let’s focus on the spiritual war being waged for the souls of more than a billion Chinese people. Just as we are to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), so we are to pray for those who are being persecuted (cf. Hebrews 13:3).

Please pray for persecuted Chinese believers to be protected and sustained by God (Psalm 46:1). Pray for them to experience “the hope to which he has called you [and] the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). Pray for them “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16). And pray for them “boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

God promises his people: “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (Isaiah 54:17). Therefore, let’s say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).

Shea and Fu quote a Chinese pastor and his wife who were arrested in December and are awaiting trial for subversion: “In this war . . . the rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned—the soul of man. Therefore they are doomed to lose this war.”

Denison Forum – Oregon lawmakers require schools to teach about the Holocaust: Fourteen-year-old helped make it happen

Alter Wiener was imprisoned in five different concentration camps during the Holocaust. Most of his family was killed, including his father. He weighed eighty pounds when he was liberated in 1945. Wiener moved to the US after the war and eventually made his home in Oregon.

High school freshman Claire Sarnowski first met Wiener at one of his talks about the Holocaust when she was a fourth-grader. The two became friends. According to Claire, it was Wiener’s lifelong dream to confront anti-Semitism by implementing mandatory curriculum standards for teaching students about the Holocaust.

She reached out to a state senator, Rob Wagner, who then co-sponsored a bill requiring such instruction. Wiener and Claire testified at a hearing last September.

“Learning about the Holocaust is not just a chapter in recent history, but a derived lesson how to be more tolerant, more loving and that hatred is, eventually, self-destructive,” Wiener told lawmakers. “Remember, be better, rather than bitter.”

Wiener died last December. The Oregon Senate passed Wagner’s legislation last March; the House passed the bill unanimously last week. If Gov. Kate Brown signs it, Oregon will begin providing such instruction in the 2020–2021 school year.

The world will be better because a fourteen-year-old did what she could to make it so.

The solution is solutions

David Brooks recently cited his New York Times colleague David Bornstein, who points out that much of American journalism is based on a “mistaken theory of change.” The theory: “The world will get better when we show where things have gone wrong.” As a result, Brooks notes, much of what journalists do is “expose error, cover problems and identify conflict.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Oregon lawmakers require schools to teach about the Holocaust: Fourteen-year-old helped make it happen

Denison Forum – Blind and autistic performer reminds us that every life is sacred

Kodi Lee played the piano and sang on America’s Got Talent when it premiered Tuesday night. The twenty-two-year-old is blind and autistic, yet he was so amazing that he received a standing ovation from the judges and a “golden buzzer” sending him directly into the finals.

I was deeply moved by his performance and urge you to watch it.

It turns out, we should not be surprised by Kodi’s success. As his website states, he is one of approximately twenty-five people in the world with such perfect pitch and an audio photographic memory (he can recall and perform music after just one hearing). He has mastered Bach, Chopin, and Mozart, and also performs rock, jazz, R&B, and pop. He was recently invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

As I watched Kodi’s remarkable America’s Got Talent performance, this sobering thought occurred to me: What if, as a result of his challenges, he had been aborted?

Two “Christian” arguments for abortion

I appeared last week on Equipped with Chris Brooks, a national radio program hosted by one of the most brilliant and insightful ministers I know. As Chris and I discussed the ongoing abortion controversy, a listener called to state that she is pro-life personally but does not believe she has the right to force her beliefs on others.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Blind and autistic performer reminds us that every life is sacred

Denison Forum – Gillette ad shows transgender son’s first shave: Responding to a six-step LGBTQ strategy


“Whenever, wherever, however it happens—your first shave is special.” This is the caption of a Facebook ad by Gillette. It features a young person shaving while a father offers encouragement.

What makes the ad unusual is that the person is transgender. The ad has received more than a million views as of this morning.

A strategy that changed America

As “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month” begins later this week, we can expect many more messages like this in the media. They are part of a strategy that has been advancing in our culture for more than three decades.

In 1987, a neuropsychiatry researcher named Marshall Kirk and a social scientist named Hunter Madsen (using the pen name Erastes Pill) wrote an essay titled, “The Overhauling of Straight America.” Their strategy later became a book.

I encourage you to make time to read their article in its entirety. It is a fascinating and troubling window into the LGBTQ movement that has swept our country in the years since its writing.

Kirk and Madsen framed a six-part strategy:

  1. “Talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible” to desensitize the public.
  2. “Portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers,” leading society to assume the role of protector.
  3. “Give protectors a just cause” such as anti-discrimination and civil rights.
  4. “Make gays look good” by elevating prominent homosexuals and celebrities who endorse them.
  5. “Make the victimizers look bad” by associating them with Nazis, KKK members, etc.
  6. “Solicit funds” for a massive media campaign.

Their advice for countering conservative churches was especially prescient: “First, we can use talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and exposing hatred and inconsistency.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Gillette ad shows transgender son’s first shave: Responding to a six-step LGBTQ strategy

Denison Forum – The legacies of Bill Buckner and Bart Starr: “For what shall we live?”

If your life ended this week, for what would you be remembered?

Bill Buckner played twenty-two seasons in the major leagues, winning a batting title with the Chicago Cubs in 1980 and playing in the All-Star Game the next year. He retired with a lifetime batting average of .289.

But it was a single play that defined his career for many. Buckner was hobbled with ankle injuries but playing first base for the Boston Red Sox when his team was one strike from winning the World Series in 1986. After three singles and a wild pitch, the game was tied.

Then a grounder went under Buckner’s glove, leading to his team’s loss. The Red Sox then lost the deciding seventh game and the Series. Buckner endured boos and even death threats from Red Sox fans.

However, years later, the city forgave and even embraced him. After Boston won the World Series in 2007, Buckner was invited back to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch at the team’s home opener in 2008. He received a standing ovation.

Bill Buckner died yesterday at the age of sixty-nine.

Bart Starr and Amanda Eller

Bart Starr, the legendary quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, died Sunday at the age of eighty-five. He was best known for the 1967 “Ice Bowl.” Fighting a wind chill of minus 48 degrees, Starr led his team to victory over the Dallas Cowboys and then won that year’s Super Bowl.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The legacies of Bill Buckner and Bart Starr: “For what shall we live?”

Denison Forum – ‘All gave some; some gave all’: A Memorial Day reflection

Howard William Osterkamp served in the US Army during the Korean War. He was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, but Army doctors misdiagnosed his injury.

He was sent back to the front lines with his leg broken in two places and served there for four months. He spent a total of nine months on the front lines during the conflict and later received the Purple Heart.

Osterkamp is widely credited with a phrase that is especially appropriate today: “All gave some; some gave all.”

As the son and grandson of military veterans, I know something of the sacrifices so many men and women have made to preserve our freedom. Today at 3 p.m., we are asked to pause for the National Moment of Remembrance, a minute of reflection and gratitude for the 1.1 million soldiers from all our wars who died for our nation.

“What the State is there for”

The Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of summer. Barbeques and parties dominate the holiday.

Americans will consume 818 hot dogs every second from Memorial Day to Labor Day (seven billion in total). We will spend $1.5 billion on meat and seafood over the weekend. More than forty-two million of us are traveling.

Such activities are a strange way to remember the soldiers who died for our country. We might expect this day to be entirely one of somber reflection.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘All gave some; some gave all’: A Memorial Day reflection

Denison Forum – Truck driver survives Missouri tornado: ‘I’m just glad God was with me tonight’


David Bell was in his truck on the side of a highway when a tornado struck Jefferson City, Missouri, Wednesday night. Houses collapsed around him. Poles snapped and transformers blew out. The tornado sent debris thirteen thousand feet into the air.

Bell had pulled over to the shoulder of Highway 54 with 44,500 pounds of soda in his trailer, not knowing he’d be in the path of the tornado. “That storm picked me up and slammed me down like I was nothing but a soda can,” he told CNN‘s John Berman yesterday.

He added: “It definitely gave me a new outlook on life. Very grateful that I’m alive. I should have been smarter and heeded the warnings. I’m just glad God was with me tonight.

“Rats are taking over New York City”

I can hear skeptics across the country asking, “But what about the people whose homes were destroyed? If we praise God for the good, shouldn’t we blame him for the bad?”

There’s much they could cite in today’s news.

According to the United Nations, drug-resistant infections could kill ten million people annually by 2050. A ten-foot great white shark has been spotted in the Long Island Sound.

And the New York Times reports that “rats are taking over New York City.” Increased construction is digging up burrows, forcing more rats into the open. Mild winters and more trash from tourists are contributing to the problem as well.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Truck driver survives Missouri tornado: ‘I’m just glad God was with me tonight’

Denison Forum – What can Christians learn from ‘Game of Thrones’?


Game of Thrones ended Sunday night after eight seasons. It was broadcast in 207 countries and territories and was one of the most popular series on television.

Because of its pornographic sexual content and extreme violence, I did not watch the show. But I believe culture-changing Christians can learn something important from it.

Two months of testing for a wig

Game of Thrones filmed in ten countries. The series used 12,986 extras and two thousand crew members in Northern Ireland alone. It included three thousand pyrotechnic effects, fifty miles of fabric for costumes, and more than twenty-four thousand pounds of silicone for prosthetics. Wigs for one of the lead characters required two months of testing and seven prototypes.

Over its first seven seasons, the series received 174 award nominations and won sixty-three times.

The series is just one example of the fact that our culture’s moral compass is broken. A generation ago, a movie as violent and pornographic as Game of Thrones would have been X-rated.

Continue reading Denison Forum – What can Christians learn from ‘Game of Thrones’?

Denison Forum – Wearable phone bags and foldable PCs: Responding to a brilliant article with news everyone needs


Would you pay hundreds of dollars for something that lets you hang your mobile phone around your neck? Retailers are hoping so. As clothing fashions get tighter and cellphones get larger, manufacturers have developed phone bags we can wear. The Wall Street Journal recommends options ranging from $18 in nylon to $890 in woven leather.

In other technology news, Walmart will soon begin testing autonomous home delivery. A German company plans to make flying taxis a reality in the next six years. The first phone that doesn’t require accessories to work on a 5G network went on sale yesterday. And the world’s first foldable PC was announced this week, with deliveries slated for next year.

It seems I could report on new technology every day. This is good news for Christians, but in a way that might surprise us.

“The sum of human ingenuity”

Paul Ford is a technology company CEO and a software engineer. He is also an award-winning writer with articles in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Businessweek, NPR, and others.

His latest article in Wired is not just a brilliant, often funny literary experience—it’s also a profound statement about where we are and why we’re here. Ford begins with this description of how far technology has come in our lifetime:

“When I was a boy, if you’d come up behind me (in a nonthreatening way) and whispered that I could have a few thousand Cray supercomputers in my pocket, that everyone would have them, that we would carry the sum of human ingenuity next to our skin, jangling in concert with our coins, wallets, and keys? And that this Lilliputian mainframe would have eyes to see, a sense of touch, a voice to speak, a keen sense of direction, and an urgent desire to count my actual footsteps and everything I read and said as I traipsed through the noosphere [the sphere of human thought]? Well, I would have just burst.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Wearable phone bags and foldable PCs: Responding to a brilliant article with news everyone needs

Denison Forum – Keanu Reeves on the afterlife: The urgency and joy of biblical wisdom

The actor Keanu Reeves (of The Matrix fame) was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently. At one point, Colbert asked his guest, “What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”

Both men are no stranger to tragedy. Colbert lost his father and two of his brothers to a plane crash when he was ten. Reeves and his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, lost their daughter a month before she was due. Syme later died in a car accident.

Reeves paused, considered, then replied simply: “I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”

After Reeves answered Colbert’s question, the host paused, looked into the camera, and smiled.

“If a man dies, shall he live again?”

A twenty-four-year-old Norwegian woman rescued a puppy she found while vacationing in the Philippines. She brought the puppy back to her resort, where she washed it and played with it. Her family later told reporters that she received “small scrapes” from the dog.

When she returned home, she fell ill. She was admitted to a hospital on April 28, where physicians determined she had contracted rabies from the dog. She died on May 6.

In other news, two sightseeing planes collided Monday afternoon off the coast of Alaska. Six people were killed. And a traveling carnival worker has confessed to killing two women and a teenager within an eighteen-day period in Virginia.

Humans face no more relevant question than the one asked by Job so long ago: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14).

“Be not wise in your own eyes”

As John F. Kennedy noted, “We are all mortal.” Given the reality of death, I am amazed by the degree to which people are willing to bet their eternity on their personal opinion.

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Denison Forum – Is a school district favoring Muslims during Ramadan? Balancing truth and love

A religious liberty group claims that a school district in the Seattle area has urged teachers to bless Muslim students in Arabic during the month of Ramadan and give them preferential treatment.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) alleges that the Dieringer School District is following a script written by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Teachers are reportedly urged to make accommodations for Muslims fasting during Ramadan and to defer tests scheduled for upcoming Islamic holidays.

A CAIR official states: “Pluralism in America means recognizing the wide variety of holidays celebrated by students of different faiths and backgrounds, including by saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Hanukkah,’ ‘Happy Diwali,’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak.’”

The FCDF’s executive director disagrees: “A school district would never order teachers to ‘welcome’ Catholic students during Easter with ‘He is risen, alleluia!’ Singling out Muslim students for special treatment is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Are we “taking religious freedom too far”?

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Denison Forum – The new royal baby and Nelson Mandela: Answering ‘the call to be selfless’


Great Britain has a new royal baby, and the world has a new celebrity.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, went into labor yesterday, delivering her first child, a boy. He is now seventh in line for the throne. The couple had previously announced that their new child would not make his or her public appearance on its first day, a departure from royal tradition.

But their son will not need to inherit the throne to change the world.

Prince Harry served in the British Army for ten years and now works to support those wounded in service. He also helps build programs to improve sports coaching and mentoring, supports children living with HIV/AIDS, and works for African conservation.

Prior to marrying Prince Harry, Meghan Markle was the United Nations Women’s Advocate and a Global Ambassador for World Vision. She now serves as a patron for charities supporting vulnerable women, education, the arts, and animal welfare.

Their son is already changing the royal family. In years to come, we will watch to see how he changes the world.

Two who died so others could live

On a somber note, Riley Howell was buried last Sunday. When a gunman opened fire in Riley’s classroom at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte last week, Riley charged the shooter, saving the lives of others. A ROTC member, his memorial service was conducted with military honors.

The same day, a Russian passenger jet caught fire after an emergency landing at one of Moscow’s main airports. At least forty-one people were killed.

According to TASS, the Russian News Agency, one of the deceased was a flight attendant who died trying to save passengers. Maksim Moiseev was in the rear of the aircraft when it caught fire. After trying unsuccessfully to open an exit door, he started helping people leave the plane.

He stayed on board until everyone had evacuated, then died in the fire.

Why older people can change the world

Friday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president of South Africa. He was seventy-seven years old at the time. As his nation holds elections tomorrow, Mr. Mandela’s story reminds us that it is never too late to leave a legacy.

The Wall Street Journal is carrying an essay that makes this point brilliantly. Rich Karlgaard, a noted journalist, bestselling author, and former editor of Forbes, argues that “early blooming is not a requirement for lifelong accomplishment and fulfillment.”

Karlgaard reports that “fluid” intelligence—our capacity for reasoning apart from past knowledge—peaks earlier in life. However, “crystallized” intelligence—the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience—rises in performance well into middle age and beyond.

For instance, the field of software coding favors the young and “fluid,” while managing projects and the business requires “crystallized” skills typical of older people.

Karlgaard cites J. K. Rowling, a divorced mother on public assistance who created Harry Potter at the age of thirty-five. He also points to Toni Morrison, who published her first novel at the age of thirty-nine and won a Pulitzer Prize at fifty-six and the Nobel Prize in Literature five years later.

Following cloud and fire

The new royal baby, Riley Howell, Maksim Moiseev, and Nelson Mandela each remind us that one life can change the world.

How can you and I make a difference that matters?

Numbers 9 continues the narrative of Israel’s journey through the wilderness of Sinai. I have traveled numerous times through this vast landscape filled with mountains and deserts. It is a parched, lonely area, nothing like the “land flowing with milk and honey” God promised his people (Exodus 3:17). But it was part of their journey to their destination.

Since they had never been here before, the Lord guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When he led, they went. When he stayed, they stayed.

Across forty years in the wilderness, even when his people abandoned him (cf. Numbers 14), he never abandoned them. And day by day, mile by mile, he led them into their world-changing future.

“Answer the call to be selfless”

You may never achieve celebrity like the royal baby has already received. You may never be called upon to stop a shooter, save lives in a burning plane, or run for president of your country.

But know this: you are on this planet for a reason.

God did not make you because the world needs another human to add to the 7.7 billion already here. He made you because he has a purpose for you that no one else can fulfill.

Stay faithful to the last word you heard from God and open to the next. If you will ask your Father to use you today, he will use you today. And whether you see the results or not, eternity will never be the same.

In their obituary for Riley Howard, his family included this statement: “Riley died the way he lived, putting others first. Our hope is that his example resonates with everyone. We hope others will, if ever the need arises, answer the call to be selfless and do the right thing without hesitation.”

Will you?

Denison Forum – The Kentucky Derby and Rachel Held Evans: A faith that changes everything

Country House won the Kentucky Derby last Saturday. At sixty-five-to-one odds, he was the second-biggest long shot ever to win America’s most famous horserace. The way he won was even more unprecedented.

Maximum Security finished first but was later disqualified for veering out of his path on the final turn. Country House, after finishing in second place, was then declared the winner. This was the first time in Derby history that a foul voided an apparent winner.

Whether we know much about horse racing or not, Americans care about the Kentucky Derby. We are fascinated by the race itself, often billed as “the most exciting two minutes in sport,” but we are also captivated by the Derby’s heritage.

The race has been run every consecutive year since 1875. Churchill Downs, the location of the Derby, was organized by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition). Mint julips, lavish hats and clothing, and the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” are part of the annual tradition.

Mother’s Day and Memorial Day

Other traditions are making news as well.

Ramadan began last night. I have been in the Middle East many times during this sacred month on the Islamic calendar. It is fascinating to watch Muslims flock to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and to observe their passion for their faith.

By contrast, Jews in Israel observed Holocaust Remembrance Day last Thursday. (Click here for my thoughts on this somber tradition.) In two days, Israelis hold their Memorial Day, remembering the country’s fallen soldiers and police as well as victims of terrorist acts. The following day, the nation celebrates its independence.

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