Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – School board votes to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

The school board in Fargo, North Dakota, has voted to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before their biweekly meetings, ruling that the Pledge does not align with the district’s diversity code. The board’s vice chairman explained that the problem is two words: “Under God.”

The words “under God” were added to the Pledge in 1954 by a joint resolution of Congress and have withstood numerous legal challenges over the years. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, upon signing the bill, stated: “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

How many of our leaders today believe that “spiritual weapons” are “our country’s most powerful resource”?

The Fargo school board certainly does not. In fact, the board’s president recommended that members replace the Pledge of Allegiance with a “shared statement of purpose” which she thought was more appropriate for their work.

In other words, rather than being “one nation under God,” they will be “one nation under us.”

Salman Rushdie remains hospitalized after attack

While our nation slides ever further into moral relativism and missional chaos, many of our geopolitical enemies are choosing the opposite course. Consider Iran as an example.

Author Salman Rushdie was stabbed roughly ten times Friday as he prepared to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. His family said yesterday that he remains in critical condition in the hospital. Rushdie was taken off a ventilator over the weekend but is being treated for multiple wounds and may lose his right eye.

His attacker’s motives are not yet known, but an initial investigation suggested he had posted on social media about his support of Iran. He may have acted in response to an edict (known as a fatwa) by Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death.

Rushdie’s novel, Satanic Verses, is considered blasphemous by many Muslims. The fatwa calls for Rushdie’s murder and offers a $3 million bounty for anyone who kills him. It has never been revoked by Iran’s leaders.

An Iranian government official denied today that Tehran was involved in the assault, but he added that his country considers “[Rushdie] and his supporters worth [sic] of blame and even condemnation.” The front page of a newspaper in Tehran said yesterday that Rushdie had gotten “divine vengeance” and claimed that former President Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo, his former secretary of state, “are next.”

In related news, the Justice Department unsealed charges last week against a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for attempting to arrange the murder of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Mike Pompeo and former State Department Iran policy coordinator Brian Hook have received extended Secret Service protection due to Iranian threats as well.

Three steps to getting elected

A perceptive essay in the New York Times explains why Iran remains such a threat to the US. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, reminds us that the 1979 Iranian revolution was fueled by religious fundamentalists focused on anti-Americanism. From then until today, the regime’s rulers have made their opposition to the United States central to their nation’s revolutionary identity.

Whether the issue is Iran’s nuclear program, its sponsorship of terrorist regimes in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza, or its geopolitical ambition to rebuild the Persian Empire, the ideological pattern is clear: America is the “Great Satan” who must be opposed for the sake of Iran’s survival. Iran’s entrenched leaders depend on this “threat” to legitimize their power, unify their military, and forestall meaningful reforms within their country.

I am reminded of an observation a perceptive friend shared with me many years ago. He noted that to motivate people to your cause, do three things: (1) convince them they have an enemy; (2) convince them they cannot defeat their enemy; and (3) convince them you will defeat their enemy if they vote for you, give you money, or do whatever else you want them to do.

This strategy has empowered Iran’s leaders for more than four decades. The despotic rulers of Russia, China, Cuba, and North Korea are similarly fixated on the “threat” of the West. This missional focus enables and protects their leadership despite their manifest failures to enhance the lives of their people.

Embracing a mission God can bless

On one hand, we have the West’s relativistic insistence on tolerance of all truth claims (except those considered “intolerant”), to the demise of truth and the forfeiture of missional focus. On the other, we have autocratic regimes that focus missionally on external threats (usually America and the West) to enhance their personal power at the expense of their citizens.

Scripture offers us a third way: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Let’s consider three reasons we should embrace this missional command.

One: God cannot empower any other purpose, because to glorify anyone or anything ahead of himself is to commit idolatry. As a result, when we seek to glorify God, we position ourselves to experience his omnipotent power and omniscient leadership. When we don’t, we don’t.

Two: He made all that is, which is why “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). (For more on the stupendous magnificence of God’s creation, see my latest website article, “Supergiant Betelgeuse has unprecedented stellar eruption.”)

Three: He purchased our eternal salvation. We should therefore respond with gratitude: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

I plan to say more tomorrow about living for God’s glory. For today, let’s close with advice from the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC–AD 65): “Adopt once and for all some single rule to live by, and make your whole life conform to it.”

What “single rule” will you live by today?

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Denison Forum – Mega Millions tops $1 billion and the so-called Respect for Marriage Act: Two ways to deal with discouragement

No one won last night’s Mega Millions drawing, which had a jackpot of $830 million, the fourth-largest in US history. As a result, the grand prize in Friday night’s drawing is now an estimated $1.02 billion, though that number is certain to grow as more tickets are bought ahead of the drawing.

If you bought a ticket but didn’t win last night, consider this: your odds of winning were one in 302.5 million. By contrast, consider your odds of experiencing the following:

  • Having identical quadruplets: one in fifteen million
  • Becoming an astronaut: one in twelve million
  • Being struck by lightning: one in ten million
  • Being crushed by a meteor: one in seven hundred thousand
  • Becoming an Olympic athlete: one in five hundred thousand

Some discouragements are just part of life, but others reframe life. Consider the so-called Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) that has passed the House and is now before the Senate. It would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and require the federal government to recognize any marriage if it is legally performed in any of the fifty states.

Why is this bill so discouraging?

One: If a single state recognizes polygamy as legal marriage, the federal government would be required to do the same, making polygamy the long-expected next domino to fall as marriage continues to be redefined and corrupted. Since a town in Massachusetts has already done this, and the state of Massachusetts was the first to recognize same-sex marriage in 2004, such a scenario seems more plausible than ever.

Two: The RMA goes much further than the 2015 Obergefell decision by focusing on the LGBTQ community and thus rendering marriage genderless. As John Stonestreet notes, “This will harm children and further confuse reality.”

Three: The RMA has no provisions whatever for conscience protections. Legal actions against florists, cake makers, wedding chapels, and others who stand for biblical marriage will undoubtedly continue.

“Those who seek the Lᴏʀᴅ lack no good thing”

We have focused this week on finding victory over temptation and doubt. Today, let’s discuss discouragement.

Our first response should be to expect it. Challenges and setbacks are part of life, even (and sometimes especially) for people of faith.

In Psalm 34, David testified: “Those who seek the Lᴏʀᴅ lack no good thing” (v. 10). However, verse 18 adds, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Apparently, we can still be “brokenhearted” and “crushed” even though God is “near” us.

Verse 19 captures this tension: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lᴏʀᴅ delivers him out of them all.” While God’s timeline may not be ours, the ultimate outcome is beyond doubt: “The Lᴏʀᴅ redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned” (v. 22).

We know how the story ends, but not when. In the meantime, discouragement is part of life.

“Rejoice in the Lord always”

Our second response should be to seek the joy of Jesus no matter our circumstances.

Paul wrote the letter of Philippians while in prison to a city where he had been imprisoned. Nonetheless, he could exhort his readers: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

“Rejoice” is a present-tense imperative, an ongoing command without conditions or qualifications. While happiness depends on happenings, spiritual joy (the essence of “rejoice”) transcends our circumstances. No matter where we are, we can rejoice “in the Lord”—the phrase means to be intimately, deeply connected to our Master and King.

The darker the room, the more urgent the light. If discouragement has weakened your desire to be with God, this means your spiritual eyes have become adjusted to the dark. In this case, the less you want to be with God, the more you need to be with God.

(For more on the transformative power of meeting God in his word, please see my latest website article, “Where to see a $43 million copy of the US Constitution.”)

“Strength I find to meet my trials here”

There is more to say, so we’ll conclude this discussion tomorrow. For today, let’s close with a remarkable story that caught my eye recently.

Karolina Sandell-Berg (1832–1903) lived a life filled with heartbreak and hope. She was stricken at an early age with partial paralysis but was miraculously healed at the age of twelve. In gratitude, she began writing verses of praise to God and published her first book of spiritual poetry at the age of sixteen.

Ten years later, she was on a boat trip with her father, a Lutheran minister, when he fell overboard and drowned in her presence. Her hymns became even deeper and more heartfelt in the years to come. She wrote over six hundred hymns in total.

She married in 1867, but their only child died at birth. She became ill with typhoid fever in 1892 and died eleven years later. And yet, through all her discouragements, Karolina could testify in perhaps her most famous hymn:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what he deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest. 

Will you trust your Father’s “wise bestowment” today?

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Denison Forum – CIA director says Vladimir Putin is “entirely too healthy”

President Joe Biden tested positive yesterday morning for COVID-19. According to a White House statement, “He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms.”

In other political news, US Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, was assaulted at an event last night, though he escaped serious injury. Italy’s president dissolved parliament yesterday following the resignation of the country’s prime minister. And CIA Director William Burns responded to rumors about Vladimir Putin’s health by stating, “As far as we can tell, he’s entirely too healthy.”

Geopolitics are not the only place to find illustrations of our uncertain times. Over one hundred million Americans are under heat warnings and advisories (for more on the heat crisis, see Dr. Ryan Denison’s insightful new article.) Ghana has confirmed its first outbreak of the highly infectious Marburg virus, which has a fatality rate of up to 88 percent.

And experts who gathered in Rome this week for a conference organized by the University of Notre Dame warned that religious freedom is under attack all over the world.

“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth”

This week we’ve explored reasons to trust God’s will in uncertain times. Let’s close with this fact: the more uncertain the times, the more we need to trust God’s will. The more difficult the surgery, the more we need a skillful surgeon. The heavier the burden, the more we need a strong friend.

However, it can be hard to trust God when it’s hard to trust God. That sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but it’s true. The more difficult the times, the more we are tempted to blame God for them. And the more we are tempted to double down on ourselves.

From Socrates to today, Western society has taught us that to “know thyself” is the key to wisdom. Self-reliance is the path to personal success and significance, or so we’re told.

Epicurus (341–270 BC) claimed, “Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.” Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” So did Ayn Rand: “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.”

Joseph Campbell assured us, “You become mature when you become the authority of your own life.” And Steve Jobs famously advised, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.” (For more on our cultural self-reliance and our need for what only God can do, please see my new article, “‘Nap boxes’ and the providence of God.”

However, as you consider the news I’ve reported today and the daily drumbeat of crises in the headlines, let me ask: How is self-reliance working for us?

Why Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane

In challenging times, I recommend a look back that empowers a look up.

The Garden of Gethsemane is my wife’s favorite place in Israel. It was here that Jesus chose to die for us. As he watched the soldiers marching through the eastern walls of Jerusalem, into the Kidron valley, and up the Mount of Olives, he had abundant opportunity to flee what he knew was coming.

If he had retreated back to Galilee, the authorities in Jerusalem would have been pleased—this would have ended the threat of a revolt by his followers without risking the wrath of these same followers over his arrest and execution. And yet he stayed where he was, sealing his death.

However, there’s even more to the decision our Savior made that night.

Judas had already conspired with the authorities to betray Jesus, but arresting this popular figure needed to happen under the cover of darkness and outside the city lest the crowds hear of this plot and rise up against it. How could this be arranged?

Jesus solved their problem. He waited for them late at night and outside the city walls at a place Judas could find him: “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples” (John 18:2).

It was there that Jesus chose what would come the next day: he would suffer the most grievous form of torture ever devised, bear the sins of all of humanity on his sinless soul, and be separated from his Father for the only time in all of eternity. It was there that he chose to die on a cross so you could live eternally.

He would do it all over again, just for you.

“I choose to trust God in everything I do”

When we remember the love that drove Jesus to the cross and we consider that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), we realize that he loves us today as much as on the day he died for us. As a result, we can trust his word and will to be best for us because he only wants what is best for us.

Now we can name our challenges, entrust them to his compassion, claim his ongoing intercession for us (Romans 8:34), and ask that his Spirit empower us to love our Lord and our neighbor as we are loved. In this way, we will become catalysts for the spiritual renewal our culture needs so desperately.

Let’s close the week with a remarkable illustration of my thesis: Alena Wicker has been accepted to the University of Alabama Heersink School of Medicine. What makes this news so remarkable? Alena is thirteen years old. She graduated from high school at the age of twelve and is now a junior in college.

After her acceptance to medical school, she posted a note on Instagram thanking her mother: “A little black girl adopted from Fontana, California. I’ve worked so hard to reach my goals and live my dreams. Mama I made it. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Alena also testified to the ultimate source of her opportunities: “Thanking God for every open door and for allowing my gifts to make room for me.” She added on Facebook: “No matter what happens in life I choose to trust God in everything I do.”

Will you follow her example today?

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Denison Forum – US House passes bill protecting same-sex marriage

The US House of Representatives passed a bill this week protecting the right to same-sex marriage. It prohibits anyone from denying the validity of a marriage based on the race or sex of the couple. The fate of the legislation is uncertain in the US Senate.

Those who drafted the bill were politically astute to link interracial marriage with gay marriage since people like me who object to the latter on biblical and moral grounds support the former on the same grounds.

I have written often that racism is sin and that God views us all as members of the same human “race” (cf. Galatians 3:28). Consequently, interracial marriage is absolutely acceptable from ethical and Scriptural perspectives (cf. Numbers 12:1). By contrast, I have also written that God defines marriage as the lifelong covenant of one man and one woman, making same-sex marriage indefensible on the same grounds.

Should adultery be illegal?

The “culture wars” can be difficult to win in large part because they can be so complex. Adultery is immoral (Exodus 20:14), for instance, but should it be made illegal? Elective abortions are grievously wrong, but what legal consequences (if any) should women who choose them face? Does allowing a terminally ill patient to die make us complicit in their death? When do genetic advances to diagnose and treat disease cross the line into eugenics?

The good news is that we have an omniscient Father whose Spirit will guide us into “all the truth” (John 16:13) and empower us to make a transformative difference where he calls and equips us to serve (1 Peter 4:10).

In addition, our Creator is still active in his creation. He is no deistic clockmaker watching the world he made “run down.” To the contrary, he “knows everything” that is happening in our lives and our world (1 John 3:20) and holds us all accountable for what we have done and left undone (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).

His word is clear: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Judgment in two phases

This week, we have explored reasons to trust God’s will in uncertain times. Today let’s choose to live biblically by remembering this urgent truth: “the Lᴏʀᴅ is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18).

As I have written, God’s judgment comes in two phases: permissive and proactive. His permissive judgment is a consequence of unrepented sin when he is forced to withdraw his hand of provision lest he bless that which harms his children and violates his word. I believe this is where our culture is today.

As David French notes in a recent article, “culture wars end with consequences.” He surveys a growing number of articles published by elite media and from within secular feminism decrying the consequences of ubiquitous pornography and transactional sex. French wisely concludes, “You can fight reality, but reality always wins.”

If we still refuse to repent, God must then respond proactively with judgments such as we see in the exodus from Egypt and in the book of Revelation. I do not believe we are there, yet. But we are clearly experiencing grave challenges, from a pandemic which shows no signs of slowing to deep political divisions and rancor, grave economic challenges, and rising geopolitical threats.

When we are not experiencing God’s best, we should always ask why.

Five reasons to seek God’s pardon

In a day of sin and judgment, God called his people: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her” (Jeremiah 5:1). The people needed God’s “pardon” for five reasons:

  1. False religion: “Though they say, ‘As the Lᴏʀᴅ lives,’ yet they swear falsely” (v. 2).
  2. Immoral religion: Jeremiah turned to those who “know the way of the Lᴏʀᴅ, the justice of their God” (v. 5a), but “they all alike had broken the yoke; they had burst the bonds” (v. 5b).
  3. Sexual sin: the Lord “fed them to the full,” but “they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores” (v. 7).
  4. Callousness toward people in need: “They judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy” (v. 28).
  5. False religious leaders: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so” (vv. 30–31).

How relevant are these issues to our day?

Religion is a deceptive substitute for a true relationship with God in any church or culture. When religious people and clergy engage in sexual abuse and other personal immorality, they grieve their Lord and defame their faith. Sexual sin and callousness toward the needy are both epidemic in our society. And ministers who sanction homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, bless abortion clinics, and refuse to advocate for the poor and marginalized “prophesy falsely.”

A personal question

I believe God is still looking for “one who does justice and seeks truth” (Jeremiah 5:1). The prophet declared, “The eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

God is a loving Father who wants only the best for his children. It is not a heretical prosperity gospel to assume an abundance mentality with our Lord, to know that he loves us and wants to bless us.

This does not guarantee health and wealth—his blessing may not be material but spiritual and may come in spite of material hardships (cf. John 16:332 Corinthians 12:10). However, as I noted earlier, if we are not experiencing God’s best, we should always ask why.

So, I’ll close with a personal question: Are you experiencing God’s best today?

NOTE: For more on having an “abundance mentality” with God, please see my latest personal blog, “Doughnuts that taste like ice cream.”

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The Denison Forum Daily Article – “Lightyear” star calls critics of film’s same-sex kiss “idiots” who will “die off like dinosaurs”

Chris Evans plays the title character in Disney’s new film, Lightyear, that released in theaters Friday. As you probably know, the movie has generated controversy by featuring two women in a lesbian relationship and a kiss between the two. When asked about those who have raised concerns, Evans said, “The real truth is those people are idiots.”

He explained that the “human story” is “one of constant social awakening and growth” and claimed that people who oppose such “growth” will “die off like dinosaurs.” According to Evans, “the goal is to pay them no mind” and to “march forward and embrace the growth that makes us human.” (For more on the film, please see Mark Legg’s article, “’Lightyear’ features same-sex kiss: Should kids see Disney’s latest film?”)

Our post-Christian culture is certainly attempting to follow Evans’s advice and is especially focusing on indoctrinating our kids. Disney has launched an LGBTQ clothing line for children. CNN is promoting a “guide to LGBTQ summer reading for kids and teens.” Earlier this month, a group of four Colorado elementary schools staged an after-school celebration of Pride Month including a drag queen story hour.

Our rejection of biblical morality is a symptom of our broader rejection of biblical truth. Gallup announced Friday that belief in God in the US has fallen to 81 percent, a new low. Abortions are increasing in America, reversing a thirty-year decline. And attacks on religious liberty continue: a Jewish school in New York has been ordered by a state judge to recognize an LGBTQ student club despite its religious objections.

Why Juneteenth is a spiritual holiday

A fifteen-year-old boy was killed and three adults were shot when gunfire erupted last night at a music festival in Washington, DC. An ethnic attack in Ethiopia left more than two hundred dead. The FBI is investigating a series of attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. A New York Times editorial writer explicitly describes her difficulties with childbirth as an argument for abortion over adoption.

It may seem that our world is too broken to repair. But yesterday’s Juneteenth celebrations remind us that it is always too soon to give up on God and his work among us.

Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with news that the Civil War was over and slavery in the US was abolished. Juneteenth Freedom Day (combining “June” and “nineteenth”) has become the oldest known celebration observing the end of the enslavement of humans in the US. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. In June 2021, President Biden signed a bill making it a federal holiday.

Reflecting on the theological significance of Juneteenth, teaching pastor Rasool Berry writes in Christianity Today, “It is always good for Christians to celebrate freedom. The end of the evil institution of slavery in our midst is valuable and valid no matter how messy and incomplete it is. There’s a renewal possible with a celebration such as Juneteenth—it’s a reminder of where we’ve been and hopefully where we’re going.”

He reminds us of Paul’s admonition to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and states, “Juneteenth provides a unique national moment to do both.”

Beware a self-fulfilling prophecy

Slavery grieves the heart of the God who made every human in his image (Genesis 1:27) and loves each of us as if there were only one of us (quoting St. Augustine). And yet he used humans to liberate humans. He used Abraham Lincoln to emancipate the slaves in 1863 and the US government to enforce that emancipation across the nation. He used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and legions of brave Christians to lead the fight for civil rights, a struggle that continues today.

If we give up on God and on our nation, we will obviously be unavailable to either. Then our spiritual and cultural pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, being change agents in a broken world requires more than a willingness to be used by God—it requires loving those we are called to serve. Paul grieved so deeply for his fellow Jews who rejected their Messiah that he could wish himself “accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).

His compassion came from the One who “had compassion” on those he served (Matthew 14:14), the Shepherd who would leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who was lost (Luke 15:3–7), the Savior who would call a hated tax-collector by name and stay in his home so that salvation could come to his house (Luke 19:1–10).

Such love is a “fruit” of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) manifested in every Christian who is “filled” and controlled by him (Ephesians 5:18).

“Allow your heart to be a marketplace of humanity”

If our response to Chris Evans’s ridiculing of biblical Christians was anything less than loving grief for his soul, we need to be “filled” with the Spirit. If we could read about the falling rate of belief in God and the rising rate of abortion without pain in our spirit for our nation, we need to be “filled” with the Spirit.

Henri Nouwen observed: “One of the greatest human spiritual tasks is to embrace all of humanity, to allow your heart to be a marketplace of humanity, to allow your interior life to reflect the pains and joys of people not only from Africa and Ireland and Yugoslavia and Russia but also from people who lived in the fourteenth century and will live many centuries forward. Somehow, if you discover that your little life is part of the journey of humanity and that you have the privilege to be part of that, your interior life shifts. You lose a lot of fear and something really happens to you. Enormous joy can come into your life. It can give you a strong sense of solidarity with the human race, with the human condition. It is good to be human.”

To experience such loving “solidarity with the human race,” we need the help of God’s Spirit. English theologian Edwin Hatch’s prayer should therefore be our daily intercession:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou would do. 

Would you make his words your heart’s cry to God right now?

(For more on experiencing the love of God in the power of the Spirit, please see my latest personal blog, “Is this the end of the English bulldog?”)

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Denison Forum – The latest on the church shooting in Alabama

There has been another church shooting, this time in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. Two people were killed and another person was injured yesterday evening in an attack at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills. The suspect, who has not yet been identified publicly, is in custody.

When I saw the news, I had to decide whether or not to report it. If it seems mass shootings are daily occurrences, that’s because it’s true. The Gun Violence Archive has counted at least 246 mass shootings through early June. Since this is the 168th day of the year, we are averaging 1.5 such tragedies every day.

In a culture as broken as ours, compassion fatigue is real. How many of the signs are you experiencing?

  • Feeling exhausted physically and psychologically
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • Feeling irritable, angry, sad, or numb
  • A sense of being detached or having decreased pleasure in activities
  • Ruminating about the suffering of others and feeling anger towards the events or people causing the suffering
  • Blaming yourself and having thoughts of not having done enough to help the people who are suffering
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Physical symptoms, including sleep and appetite disturbances, nausea, and dizziness.

It can feel especially overwhelming to be a parent in these days. Unsurprisingly in these crisis-filled times, 44 percent of non-parents ages eighteen to forty-nine say they are not likely to have children. This is an increase of 7 percentage points in four years. According to Pew Research Center, the reasons range from just not wanting kids to concerns about finances, climate change, and “the state of the world.”

With Father’s Day coming on Sunday, I’d like to reframe such discouragement as a spiritual opportunity: what fathers need most cannot be found in our fallen world, but our Father can give us what no one else can.

We must love God most to love others best

My greatest desire as a father is to love my wife, our sons and their wives, and our grandchildren well. However, as author Jon Bloom notes, “The most loving thing we can do for others is love God more than we love them. For if we love God most, we will love others best.”

He explains: “Those who have encountered the living Christ understand what I mean. They know the depth of love and breadth of grace that flows out from them toward others when they themselves are filled with love for God and all he is for them and means to them in Jesus. And they know the comparatively shallow and narrow love they feel toward others when their affection for God is ebbing.”

So, to love my family well, I must love God well. But that’s a problem.

Charles Spurgeon wrote: “There is no light in the planet but that which proceedeth from the sun; and there is no true love to Jesus in the heart but that which cometh from the Lord Jesus Himself. From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring. This must ever be a great and certain truth, that we love him for no other reason than because he first loved us.”

The great English pastor was quoting the Apostle John: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love for God comes from the God who “is love” (v. 8).

Asking for a gift to give a gift

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described this transaction well: “When we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what that is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.”

So, to love my family well, I must love my Lord well. But to love my Lord well, I need the gift of love which only he can give. How can I receive from him this gift that I can then give to him and others?

When I am “filled” and controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), I experience the “fruit of the Spirit,” the first of which is “love” (Galatians 5:22). Here is what happens in our lives when we experience this “fruit”: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).

Would my family say these statements describe my relationships with them? If not, why not?

When the devil fears us

St. Antony of Padua (1195–1231) was a personal friend of St. Francis of Assisi and one of the most profound thinkers of his day. In one of his sermons, he noted: “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience, and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”

St. Antony also observed, “The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much.”

Will the devil fear you today?

NOTE: For more on our theme, please see my latest blog, “What I don’t want for Father’s Day,” and my sermon for this Sunday, “My favorite Father’s Day story.”

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – New hymnal and Bible study celebrate LGBTQ ideology

You might think that “Queerly Beloved” and “Quirky, Queer and Wonderful” are the titles of Pride month TV shows. They’re actually two of the hymns in Songs for the Holy Other: Hymns Affirming the LGBTQIA2S+ Community.

Alongside a “queer hymnal,” we now have the “Queering the Bible” project. A ministry tied to the Presbyterian Church (USA) has launched a sixteen-part study which looks at the gospel of Mark as a way of “learning about how we experience God as queer folk, and how we experience Scripture as queer people.”

If you believe that God creates us in his image as male and female (Genesis 1:27) and defines marriage as the covenant of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:21–24Matthew 19:4–6), how would you respond to Christians who endorse and celebrate LGBTQ ideology?

As I reported yesterday, at least thirteen companies have announced plans to help employees travel across state lines to obtain abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Companies across the country are celebrating Pride Month by participating in parades, affixing rainbow logos to email and other correspondence, and contributing to LGBTQ causes.

If you work for a company that has chosen to help fund abortions or celebrates unbiblical sexual morality, how should you respond?

These are not speculative questions. As our culture moves further and further from biblical morality, Christians are coming under increasing attack for our biblical beliefs. And believers who work in the secular marketplace are facing increasing pressure to capitulate or resign.

Let’s consider three biblical responses.

One: Know what you believe

Scripture calls us 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). Whether the issue is abortion, sexual morality, or another ethical challenge, it is vital that we know what we believe and why we believe it.

For example, if you believe abortion is morally wrong, how would you defend your position? If you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, how would you respond to those who disagree? If they are unwilling to consider biblical truth, how else would you persuade them?

It is incumbent on all American Christians these days to know and be able to defend basic biblical truth claims. Apologist William Lane Craig: “Many Christians do not share their faith with unbelievers simply out of fear. They’re afraid that the non-Christian will ask them a question or raise an objection that they can’t answer. And so they choose to remain silent and thus hide their light under a bushel in disobedience to Christ’s command.

“Apologetics training is a tremendous boost to evangelism, for nothing inspires confidence and boldness more than knowing that one has good reasons for what one believes and good answers to the typical questions and objections that the unbeliever may raise. Sound training in apologetics is one of the keys to fearless evangelism.”

(Three of my articles on defending life are herehere, and here. For help defending biblical marriage, go here. For ways to explain and defend the essential facts of the Christian faith, go here.)

Two: Know your “red lines”

In Jeremiah 29, the Lord calls his people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (v. 7). In Romans 13, we are told to “be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). However, when the apostles were commanded by the authorities to stop preaching the gospel, they responded, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Some issues are “hills to die on,” but others are not. If you work in a secular environment, you will undoubtedly face challenges to your faith that are not worth resigning and thus ending your influence with your colleagues. You may, however, face other issues that are so grave they demand that you take a stand even at the risk of your employment.

It is best to decide such “red lines” ahead of time.

For example, I spoke recently with an executive at a secular hospital system. His hospital does not do elective abortions at this point, but he has decided that if their policy changes, he will resign. By contrast, he has decided to stay even though the hospital celebrates Pride Month in ways that make him uncomfortable, choosing to remain where his faith can prayerfully impact those he influences.

Pray for the guidance of the Spirit as you “discern what is the will of God” in this respect (Romans 12:2).

Three: Speak and act redemptively

Earlier we noted Peter’s call for us to be ready always to “make a defense” of our faith. The apostle continued: “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15b–16).

As I say so often, we are not called to be culture warriors but cultural missionaries. The other side is not the enemy. We are called to speak and act redemptively, reflecting the light of Christ in the darkness of our day (Matthew 5:14–16) so that others are drawn to our Lord and find in him the joy and peace their souls long to know.

St. Chromatius (died about AD 407) was one of the most celebrated theologians of his day and a ministry partner with St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. Responding to Jesus’ call for us to be the “light of the world,” he wrote: “Since he is the Sun of Justice, he fittingly calls his disciples the light of the world. The reason for this is that through them, as through shining rays, he has poured out the light of the knowledge of himself upon the entire world. For by manifesting the light of truth, they have dispelled the darkness of error from the hearts of men.”

He then warned, “If we fail to live in the light, we shall, to our condemnation and that of others, be veiling over and obscuring by our infidelity the light men so desperately need. . . . Therefore, we must not hide this lamp of law and faith. Rather, we must set it up in the Church, as on a lamp stand, for the salvation of many, so that we may enjoy the light of truth itself and all believers may be enlightened.”

How will you display the “light of truth” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – What will happen when the Supreme Court rules on Roe v. Wade?

On this day in 1940, the first prisoners arrived at Auschwitz; more than one million Holocaust victims eventually died there. Every time I visit Israel, I grieve again for the six million Jews—a quarter of whom were children—murdered by the Nazis.

Closer to home, there were more mass shootings in the US last weekend, leaving at least ten people dead and forty-two injured in ten cities. Such tragedies are horrifically devastating; one is too many.

However, during that same three-day period, more than 5,400 babies were aborted in the US. (I calculated this number based on the CDC’s total of US abortions in 2019, the last year on record, divided by 365 days and multiplied by three.) Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, more than sixty-three million babies have been aborted in the US, ten times the number of Jewish Holocaust victims.

Could the ruling that enabled these deaths be overturned today?

On May 1, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked that would overturn Roe v. Wade and return the question of abortion to the states. It was not final, so we will not know the Court’s actual ruling until it is released. The Court typically releases its opinions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and on the third Monday of each sitting. Since the Court recesses this year on June 26, their ruling on Roe will be released within days, perhaps today.

What will happen if the Court overturns Roe? Let’s discuss three relevant questions and then turn to a holistic biblical response.

Where will abortion be legal?

According to the Guttmacher Institute (GI), twenty-six states have laws indicating that they intend to ban abortions. Thirteen have enacted “trigger laws” that would ban abortion altogether if Roe is reversed. Of these thirteen, four also have pre-Roe bans that could be enforced if the ruling is overturned. Five other states that have not enacted “trigger laws” also have such pre-Roe bans.

In addition, seventeen states have passed other bans or extreme limits on abortion that could be enforced without Roe; four of them are not included in the “trigger bans” and /or pre-Roe law groups. And GI classifies four additional states as “likely” to ban abortion based on the state’s history and political atmosphere.

On the other side, sixteen states plus the District of Columbia protect the right to abortion through state law. By my count, they total more than 118 million in population. Other states are likely to pass similar laws soon. Some states such as Maryland are increasing their capacity to conduct abortions.

What about “out of state” abortions?

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law a series of abortion bills yesterday that protect providers as well as patients coming from out of state seeking to access abortion. Connecticut and Washington have passed laws that would shield resident abortion providers from facing penalties under abortion laws in other states. Bills progressing through the Illinois and Connecticut legislatures would protect patients traveling from out of state and providers who care for them.

Meanwhile, a law proposed in Missouri would make it illegal to help someone get an abortion even in a different state.

After the Supreme Court draft leak, at least thirteen companies (Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Citigroup, Yelp, Match, Bumble, Levi Strauss, Lyft, Uber, and Mastercard)  announced plans to pay for abortion travel across state lines.

What about pharmaceutical abortions?

The FDA announced last year that it would continue its pandemic-era policy to allow medication abortion, also known as the “abortion pill,” to be prescribed via telemedicine. Medication abortion now accounts for the majority of US abortion. In response, a Texas law bans abortion-inducing drugs seven weeks into pregnancy.

If the Court overturns Roe, it is plausible that states which ban abortion will seek to ban pharmaceutical abortions as well. However, there is no clear precedent for a state to ban a medication the FDA has approved.

Rejecting three lies that empower abortion

As you can see, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade today or in the next two weeks, the battle over abortion will shift from the federal level to the states and even local communities. Those of us who believe life is sacred from conception to natural death will be on the front lines. We will need to do all we can for the sake of the unborn, their biological parents and families, and our larger culture.

Abortion has been legal in the US for nearly fifty years because our society has embraced three lies:

  • Radical personal autonomy (“My body, my choice”) tempts us to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
  • Utilitarian ethics values people based on what they do (the unborn and the infirm are thus especially at risk) rather than who they are as bearers of the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • The privatization of religion separates biblical truth from daily life, rejecting the biblical call to holistic faith (Romans 12:1–2) and reducing God to a hobby.

To win the abortion battle, you and I must first reject these lies in our personal lives. We must refuse the temptation to make God a means to our ends, value every person as Jesus does, and make him our king and Lord every day.

Then we can pray for the unborn to be saved and cherished, use our influence wherever we can, and support ministries that serve the cause of life with truth and love (Ephesians 4:15).

Pope Benedict XVI was right: “The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is the very opposite. It is a deep wound in society.”

How will you help heal this wound today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Senators reach bipartisan framework for addressing gun violence

Democratic and Republican senators announced an agreement yesterday on a legislative framework aimed at reducing mass shootings in America. The bipartisan group said they were working to write legislation that would give more funding to school security and mental-health programs. It would also provide incentives for states to implement and maintain red-flag laws and would include juvenile records in background checks for people buying guns who are under twenty-one years of age.

In a vital sign of support, ten Republicans have signed on to the agreement; if all fifty Democrats in the Senate support the legislation, it would then reach the sixty votes needed to advance. According to the Wall Street Journal, the framework puts lawmakers on course to advance the most expansive bipartisan gun violence measure since the assault weapons ban in 1994, which lapsed a decade later.

Their announcement comes a day after rallies and marches across the US advocated for gun reform in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. The nationwide event was organized by March for Our Lives, a group founded by student survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that killed seventeen people in 2018.

China will “fight to the very end” for Taiwan

Violence and the threat of violence is dominating our news again this morning.

China’s defense minister stated yesterday that his country would “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwan’s independence. His speech came just weeks after President Joe Biden said the US would respond “militarily” if China attacked Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that momentum in Ukraine is shifting in Russia’s favor, as Ukraine lacks the weaponry it needs and Western support for the war effort is fraying in the face of rising gas prices and escalating inflation. Russia’s immoral invasion is turning cities across the Donbas region into ghost towns. Residents are fleeing in droves, leaving behind empty streets. Many who remain have no money to live elsewhere and struggle to find water, food, gas, and power.

Even preparing for war can be deadly: five US Marines were killed during a training flight crash last week in the California desert. One of them was the son of former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Sax, who said of him, “He was my hero and the best man I know. There was no better person to defend our country.”

In an ironically tragic picture of our times, ministries devoted to saving the unborn are being firebombed, attacked, and vandalized. According to a US Conference of Bishops report, there have been at least 134 arson and vandalism attacks on churches in thirty-five states and the District of Columbia in the last two years.

The secret to changing the world

If the day’s news causes you to doubt whether there is anything you can do to make a difference, you’re right. You cannot convict Vladimir Putin, an arsonist, or anyone else of their sins or save their souls. Neither can I.

However, our Lord “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Able translates the Greek dynamai, from which we get “dynamite.” Far more abundantly could be translated, “immeasurably more than.” The “power at work within us” is again dynamis.

A literal translation of Paul’s proclamation would therefore assure us that God “has the explosive power to do immeasurably more than anything we can ask and think according to the same explosive power that is already at work in us.” This “power at work within us” is the Holy Spirit.

When you trusted Christ as your Lord, his Spirit came to live in you as his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) with the very power that created the world (Genesis 1:1), “convict[s] the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8), empowered Jesus’ ministry (Acts 10:38), “gives life” (John 6:63), and will “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). He will empower us and use us in ways beyond anything “that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

The secret to changing the world is admitting that we cannot change the world, then submitting to the only One who can.

Learning from the “Harp of the Holy Spirit”

St. Ephrem of Syria (AD 306–73) was a prolific poet, teacher, orator, and defender of the faith. He is especially known as one of the first to introduce song into the Church’s public worship as a means of instructing the faithful. He often took popular songs of heretical groups, used their melodies, and changed their words to embody orthodox doctrine. His many hymns earned him the title, “Harp of the Holy Spirit.”

What was the secret to such a remarkably effective ministry?

In Epistle to a Disciple, Ephrem wrote: “My beloved in the Lord, before every other thing set humility in thy mouth when thou art ready to make answer, for . . . thou knowest that by humility all the power of the Enemy is brought to naught. . . . My son, array thyself in humility, and thou shalt make the virtues of God be with thee. And if, my son, thou art in a state of humility, no passion whatsoever shall have power to draw nigh thee.”

Are you in “a state of humility” today?

NOTE: Long ago, Alfred North Whitehead asserted that great people plant trees they’ll never sit under. I use that quote often because it’s so true. Your ongoing support of our ministry sows seeds of biblical truth in the lives of believers across the globe. Please give today, knowing that your gift will be doubled by a generous matching grant of $35,000. Your giving makes a world of difference.

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Denison Forum – Have scientists discovered hell?

“Imagine if Earth were much, much closer to the Sun. So close that an entire year lasts only a few hours. So close that gravity has locked one hemisphere in permanent searing daylight and the other in endless darkness. So close that the oceans boil away, rocks begin to melt, and the clouds rain lava.”

This is how NASA describes 55 Cancri e, a planet fifty light-years away from us. In the coming weeks, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to give scientists their first look at this fiery world.

However, you don’t have to turn to the skies to find a planet filled with hellish behavior.

There has been another mass shooting, this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where at least four people were killed on a hospital campus. Several others were injured; the gunman apparently then took his own life. In other news, the man accused in the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, has been indicted on more than two dozen charges. And the victims in Uvalde are being remembered and honored as burials continue this week. I could go on.

But even in our fallen and broken world, there is a pathway to peace available to each of us today.

Why temptation is spiritual dopamine

In The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World, Andy Crouch explains addiction in a way I had not understood before. He cites Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz, who reported that “drugs of addiction” such as cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine, and alcohol “generate, hijack, and amplify the dopamine reward signal.” However, Crouch notes that “the real power of these drugs goes beyond their ability to generate rewards.”

According to Crouch, Schultz and his collaborators discovered that “not only do these drugs unleash floods of rewarding dopamine, but they prevent us from learning that their rewards are fleeting. By interfering with ‘reward prediction,’ the most powerful hijackers of the dopamine pathway create the sensation, at a primal level of our brains, that their rewards are ever new and ever worth pursuing—even as our own self-awareness and reflection tell us they are damaging and degrading.”

Crouch warns that “everything from gambling to social media can grant us the same superpower sensation—and create the same learning-resistant illusion.”

Temptation works in the same way. Satan assures us that we can get away with whatever we are being tempted to do, that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Otherwise, we would not commit the sins we are being tempted to commit.

But Jesus warned us that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). As I often warn, sin will always take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we wanted to pay.

In a culture filled with conflict and confusion, what is the path to the peace our souls long to experience?

How to find “perfect peace”

The prophet Isaiah testified, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Keep translates a Hebrew word meaning to “watch, guard, protect.” Perfect peace translates shalom, which refers to “completeness, soundness, prosperity, being whole.” The mind refers to “forming a purpose through thought.” Stayed means to “support, lean on.” Trusts means to “be full of confidence.”

A literal translation of this assurance would therefore be: “You keep and protect in completeness and wholeness the person who forms his thoughts and purposes by depending on you, because he places his full confidence in you.”

Why should we trust God in this way? The text continues: “Trust in the Lᴏʀᴅ forever, for the Lᴏʀᴅ God is an everlasting rock” (v. 4). The prophet responded, “My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you” (v. 9a). For this reason: “For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (v. 9b).

However, if we seek this peace from any source but God, he cannot bless such idolatry: “If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 10). As we noted yesterday, God cannot encourage idolatry lest he participate in it and reward that which harms us.

By contrast, when we seek God, “O Lᴏʀᴅ, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (v. 12).

We may have committed such idolatry in the past, but it is not too late to repent: “O Lᴏʀᴅ our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance” (v. 13). If we do not, judgment is inevitable: “Behold, the Lᴏʀᴅ is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain” (v. 21).

“How can we be a blessing in this neighborhood?”

Let’s respond to this remarkable text in two ways.

One: Seek divine peace today. 

Ask the Spirit to bring to mind any ways in which you are trusting someone or something other than the Lord for your peace. Then confess what comes to your thoughts, claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), and make the intentional decision to rely on his peace and power.

Two: Extend the peace of Christ to others. 

A church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, asked its neighbors, “How can we be a blessing in this neighborhood?” Their response: “Help us close Rebels Bar,” a “nuisance bar” that had been used for prostitution, drug sales, and other criminal activity for decades. So the church bought the bar. Since that time, new businesses and restaurants have moved into the area. And the church has brought the peace of Christ into its community.

“Let that loving voice be my guide”

Let’s close with a prayer by Henri Nouwen that seeks the peace our Lord offers:

Dear God,

Speak gently in my silence.
When the loud outer noises of my surroundings
and the loud inner noises of my fears
keep pulling me away from you,
help me to trust that you are still there
even when I am unable to hear you.
Give me ears to listen to your small, soft voice saying:
“Come to me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest
for I am gentle and humble of heart.” Let that loving voice be my guide.

Amen.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Is America under divine judgment? A warning from Dr. Tony Evans

Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most brilliant biblical expositors in the evangelical world. Always measured and thoughtful, he is the opposite of a reactionary voice. As a result, when he says America is under judgment, you and I should listen. And when he explains why, we should listen even more personally.

In an interview with the Christian Post, Dr. Evans stated his belief that God’s judgment on our world is evidenced by conflicts which seem unending in recent years. He cited 2 Chronicles 15:3–6, which reads in part, “One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress.” He also pointed to Romans 1, which speaks of God removing himself from those who remove themselves from him.

Why is God judging us?

Dr. Evans stated, “I think one of the things we’re facing now is the judgment on America because of the failure of the church to be the people of God that represents his kingdom more than we represent the nation.” This is because, as he states, “We’ve been more cultural Christians than biblical Christians.”

Is he right?

LGBTQ flash cards in a preschool class

Funerals began yesterday afternoon in Uvalde, Texas, a week after a mass shooting that killed nineteen children and two teachers. Several schools have faced copycat threats in the days since. Just days after the school shooting in Uvalde, more than thirty people lost their lives from gun violence around the country.

In other news, today marks the first day of Pride Month, an annual focus on the LGBTQ community. As evidence of the further normalization of unbiblical sexuality, a school system in North Carolina is investigating how LGBTQ-themed flash cards were used in a preschool classroom.

As another sign of our times, consider this headline: “Laverne Cox is first trans woman to have Barbie doll modeled after her.” The article came to me in an “Optimist” email from the Washington Post among other “feel good” stories.

And the ongoing pandemic is impacting our children in deeply significant ways. In a New York Times survey, 94 percent of school counselors said their students were showing more signs of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic. One said, “Anxiety is filling our kids right now. They are worried about their family and friends. They are stressed because they are behind in school.”

Parents are struggling as well. They are dealing with the rising costs of gas, groceries, and other daily expenses. Black, Latino, and Asian parents are stressed about racism, bullying, and violence their kids may encounter. And 62 percent of parents said they feared their children could be victims of a mass shooting.

One parenting expert said, “There’s almost not a word to express the stress parents are under right now. ‘Overwhelmed’ doesn’t cut it. It’s beyond anything we’ve experienced.”

Beware “the coral insects of thy little sins”

Yesterday we focused on Alan Noble’s perceptive book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World, and his assertion that we belong either to ourselves or to God. Here’s why his book is relevant to Dr. Evans’ warning: when we belong to ourselves, we commit idolatry. We worship the creature rather than the creator.

God cannot bless such sin because he cannot be complicit in idolatry, and he knows how much this sin harms us. In fact, he must judge such sin as a means to our repentance and restoration to himself.

As a result, it is imperative that you and I see sin as God does. There are no “small” sins with a holy God, no “private” sins we can commit without consequences. On the contrary, “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).

Charles Spurgeon noted that God “hides his face behind the wall of thy sins” and observed, “That wall may be built up of little pebbles, as easily as of great stones. The sea is made of drops; the rocks are made of grains; and the sea which divides thee from Christ may be filled with the drops of thy little sins; and the rock which has well nigh wrecked thy ship may have been made of the daily working of the coral insects of thy little sins” (his emphasis).

However, he added, “Christians can never sin cheaply; they pay a heavy price for iniquity. Transgression destroys peace of mind, obscures fellowship with Jesus, hinders prayer, brings darkness over the soul; therefore be not the serf and bondman of sin” (his emphasis).

How to be blessed

Dr. Evans is right: The further our culture turns away from God, the further we turn into idolatry and the inevitable judgment of God. What is true of our nation is also true of your soul and mine.

However, our Lord can empower us to live for Christ and not for ourselves, to choose holiness over idolatrous sinfulness.

He promised Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Sufficient in the Greek means to have all we could want or need. Made perfect could be translated as “brings its intended purpose to completion.” If we will admit our weakness over temptation and ask God for his power to fulfill his Christlike purpose in our lives (Romans 8:29), his grace becomes sufficient for us, always.

When we face temptation, therefore, our first response must be to turn to our Lord for such help and victory. Our second response must be to then do what he tells us to do. As we obey God, we are empowered by God. When we do what we are called to do, God does what only he can do.

As we work, God works. As God works, we work.

John Calvin observed, “It is a most blessed thing to be subject to the sovereignty of God.”

Will you be blessed today?

NOTE: For more on today’s conversation, please see my latest personal blog, “How I resolved one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.”

Denison Forum

Kids4Truth Clubs Daily Devotional – God Changes Hearts

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

King Nebuchadnezzar was rich and powerful. He was king of Babylon, and his country had conquered many other nations in wars. He had many slaves, many soldiers, and many wise men to give him advice and answer his hard questions. Because of his greatness, King Nebuchadnezzar was proud.

One day the king was walking in the palace. Looking around he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built . . . by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?”

A very humbling thing happened to Nebuchadnezzar that very hour. He lost his mind. He was driven away from the palace, and he lived like an animal, eating grass. His hair grew thick and shaggy, and his nails became as long as birds’ claws.

After a time, Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned. He became a normal man again. But one thing about him was very different—his heart. At the end of Daniel 4, we find him praising God instead of himself. God had changed his heart from a proud one to a humble one.

Is there someone you know who needs a heart change? Maybe one of your friends or loved ones needs to trust Jesus Christ as Savior. Or maybe someone you know is living a proud and disobedient life. What is the best thing you can do for that person? Ask God to change that person’s heart into a heart that loves and glorifies God. God can change anyone’s heart for His own glory.

God changes hearts that He might receive glory.

My Response:
» Am I praying regularly for God to change the hearts of people I know?
» Have I ever asked God to change my heart to love and glorify Him more?

Denison Forum – How a nine-year-old killed in Uvalde shared the gospel

Ellie Garcia was one of the nineteen children murdered at Robb Elementary School in Texas last week. She died about a week before her tenth birthday.

Her father shared a photo he took in January of his daughter praying. He wrote, “I love you baby girl and I love the way you pray.” He also posted a TikTok video she made recently, where she said, “Hey, guys. I just wanted to give you a little catch-up. Jesus. He died for us. So when we die, we’ll be up there with him. In my room, I have three pictures of him.”

Now Ellie sees her Savior face to face.

In stark contrast, a ten-year-old boy in Florida was arrested Saturday evening for threatening in a text message to attempt a mass shooting. Detectives interviewed the boy and developed probable cause for his arrest.

In such troubled times, how can we raise more Ellie Garcias?

Let’s consider this story as a cultural parable: a severe lifeguard shortage is delaying public pool openings from coast to coast. Philadelphia has enough lifeguards to open only eighteen of the city’s sixty-five available outdoor pools. Chicago needs hundreds more lifeguards. The shortage will likely cause a large decline in swim lessons, which could lead to increased drownings.

Clearly, we need spiritual lifeguards to keep us from spiritual drowning. As we will see today, we have a binary choice to make. The wrong choice imprisons us, while the right choice liberates us.

Option one: “We belong to ourselves”

Alan Noble is one of the most perceptive evangelical cultural analysts in America. He has written for the AtlanticVoxChristianity Today, the Gospel Coalition, and First Things.

His latest book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World, has received praise from Tim Keller, Michael Wear, Karen Swallow Prior, and Tish Harrison Warren among other leading evangelical voices. I had not seen his explanation of our cultural moment anywhere else and found it both biblical and empowering.

Noble views our root problem as “a particular understanding of what it means to be human: we are each our own, we belong to ourselves.” He quotes the influential claim of John Rawls that “freedom consists in pursuing our own conception of the good life while respecting the rights of others to do the same.”

However, Noble warns that if “we belong to ourselves,” there can be no common good, only “billions of private goods.” Since we have no objective means of validating ourselves with reference to objective truth or morality, we are constantly chasing the validation of others.

Some have given up, according to Noble, choosing an “alternative space to pursue existential justification” through social media and video games. Some choose marijuana, psychiatric medications, or other drugs and substances. But the prevalence of “deaths of despair” (suicides, alcohol-related deaths, and drug overdoses) and the epidemic of depression driven by feelings of inadequacy illustrate the pain we cannot resolve through self-reliance.

Option two: “You are not your own”

Noble then pivots to the good news: you are not your own. As Paul noted, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God” (1 Corinthians 6:19). As a result, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (vv. 19–20).

When we submit our lives to the One who made us and knows what is best for us, we experience a significance we can find nowhere else from no one else. Jesus sets us free from bondage to sin and self, the constant quest to be enough and to do enough.

There is now no image for us to maintain because we were made in the image of God. There is no identity for us to discover or create because our identity is found in Jesus’ love for us.

Noble notes that we are then free to live in light of God’s existence, goodness, and providence, trusting that he will make of us what is for his highest glory and our greatest good. We serve others because we wish to serve them whether they serve us or not. We have no need to justify ourselves before others because we are justified by the God of the universe.

We extend grace to others because we have received grace. And we do our best in the power of God’s Spirit and trust the results to him. Noble quotes T. S. Eliot, “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

(For more, please see my reflections on Dr. Noble’s brilliant book in my personal blog.)

The key to spiritual dynamite

Paul said of Jesus, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28–29).

Struggling translates a Greek word meaning to “fight, compete, do everything possible.” While Paul is giving his very best to help people know Christ, he is not alone in this fight: with all his energy that he powerfully works within me could be translated “with all the supernatural energy of Christ that is right now powerfully [dunamis, from which we get “dynamite”] energizing me.”

A saying often attributed to St. Ignatius or St. Augustine captures Paul’s testimony: “I will work as if everything depended on me; I will pray as if everything depended on God.” Said more briefly: as I work, God works. As Oswald Chambers noted, “When we choose deliberately to obey him, then he will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us.”

Consequently, here’s the simple but transforming question: To whom will you belong today?

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Denison Forum – “The last full measure of devotion”: A Memorial Day reflection

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited Uvalde, Texas, yesterday to place flowers at a memorial for the nineteen children and two teachers who were murdered at Robb Elementary School last Tuesday. In related news, the Justice Department announced it will review law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting.

This review comes amid reports that some police officers apparently violated protocol by choosing not to risk themselves as the shooter was murdering children and teachers. The timing of this news was noteworthy, coming the day before America honors the men and women who died across our nation’s history to protect our freedoms.

Our greatest president’s greatest speech

On Memorial Day, these heroes are often described as giving “the last full measure of devotion.”

Our nation’s greatest president authored these words as part of what many consider his greatest speech, brief remarks we call the “Gettysburg Address.” Abraham Lincoln spoke on November 19, 1863, four and a half months after one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The conflict led to more than fifty-one thousand casualties. My wife and I visited the battlefield several years ago and were deeply moved by the memory of what happened on its now-hallowed ground.

On that Thursday, the president called those assembled “to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In the words of his speech, let us consider:

The strength of their courage 

As “these honored dead,” those who fell at Gettysburg typified the expression, “All gave some; some gave all.” Like them, more than one million Americans have made the courageous decision to risk themselves and then to die on our behalf.

The depth of their sacrifice 

By giving the “full” measure of their devotion, they paid the ultimate price to serve our nation. Each person we remember on this Memorial Day did the same for you and for me.

The cause for which they died 

President Lincoln memorialized those who died in the cause of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Their sacrifice reminds us that freedom is not free, that the price of our freedom has been paid in the blood of our military heroes and the grief of those who loved them.

“Politics is not going to cure that”

Now it is our turn to “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” It falls to us to do all we can so that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom” and that our democracy “shall not perish from the earth.”

Such “resolve” takes many forms: military, economic, political, and cultural among them. But most of all, it requires a spiritual commitment mirroring the commitment we remember today.

The historian Christopher Dawson defined culture as “an accumulated capital of knowledge and a community of folkways into which the individual has to be initiated.” To help initiate Americans into such a healthy “community,” Heritage Foundation President Kevin D. Roberts recently emphasized the role of faith and civic virtue in the American democratic experiment.

Roberts pointed to Alexis de Tocqueville, the nineteenth-century French scholar who affirmed the virtues inherent in American democracy. However, Roberts noted that de Tocqueville “never could have imagined that we would stop going to church, that we would have each year, as Pew Research Center documents in its studies of religiosity, fewer and fewer Americans who even claim a religious affiliation.”

According to Roberts, “Politics is not going to cure that. The handful of schools who inculcate a serious faith in their students can help cure it. But ultimately, you and I will fix that as evangelists living out the Gospel Commission.”

“Righteousness exalts a nation”

God’s word states, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). The Hebrew word translated righteousness refers to “things done justly, blameless behavior.” Such action exalts (“advances, elevates”) a nation.

This is a fascinating declaration since the Hebrew word translated nation (goy) typically refers not to Israel but to the Gentiles. It thus applies to every person on earth, whatever our ethnicity or background (cf. Galatians 3:28).

By contrast, “sin is a reproach to any people.” Reproach is the opposite of exalts—it refers to “shame” or “disgrace.” This is true of “any” people anywhere. As one commentator notes, “A nation’s political health depends to a great degree on the moral integrity of its people.” And as President George Washington observed, “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ

On this Memorial Day, how can you and I “take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion”?

By taking “increased devotion” to the One whose Spirit and word empower us to be a nation worth such sacrifice.

Would you ask God to help you choose and emulate the “righteousness” that “exalts a nation”?

Would you ask his Spirit to help you stand against the “sin” that “is a reproach to any people”?

Would you honor the sacrificial courage we remember today by the sacrificial submission of your life to your Lord on behalf of your nation (Romans 12:1–2)?

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Psalm 33:12). Let’s do all we can to help our nation be so “blessed” to the glory of God.

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Denison Forum – Congress to hold UFO hearing today: What God may have intended with the question of alien life

A US House of Representatives subcommittee will meet today for the first open congressional hearing on UFOs since 1970. The hearing is in response to a report delivered to Congress last June by the intelligence community and the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.

That Task Force has since been reconstituted as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, which exists to “detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in Special Use Airspace and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.”

If you read all that and came away thinking that there are probably better ways our government could be spending their time and resources, well, you’re not alone.

Even the chairman of the House subcommittee holding the hearing, André Carson, confessed “I’ve gotten some chuckles” from others about the meeting. He went on to add, though, that “it’s something I’m passionate about and I think I can take the heat. This may be the very thing that brings Democrats and Republicans together, at least for an hour or two.”

He also argued, on a more serious note, that the hearing was important because “this is an area of high public interest” and “any undue secrecy can serve as an obstacle to solving the mystery, or it could prevent us from finding solutions to potential vulnerabilities.”

Regardless of what you may believe personally about aliens and UFOs, Rep. Carson is right that it’s an area of high public interest.

But if it’s not an area of personal interest to you, why should you still care?

What does the Bible say about alien life?

Let’s start with a basic, but necessary, point of clarification.

If your faith in God feels threatened or shaken by the prospect of life existing outside of our planet, then you should first consider wrestling with why that’s the case.

Nothing in the Bible expressly denies the existence of extraterrestrial life. Neither does anything in the Bible require us to believe it’s out there. Why? Because the Bible is far more concerned with your life and my life here on Earth—and, more specifically, how to live that life in relationship with God—than it is that speculative question.

Satan would love it if we became divided over or obsessed with an issue that, most likely, just doesn’t matter instead of focusing on the things that do.

That said, I do think it’s telling that so many in our culture are fascinated by this subject.

A poll taken last year around the time that the initial report was released found that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe that it’s more likely than not for intelligent life to exist on other planets. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that the universe is just so big that the odds of us being alone seem improbably low.

And that conclusion makes sense, from a certain point of view.

After all, the part of the universe we can see is an estimated 93 billion light-years across and still expanding. Beyond its sheer size, the universe is also filled with countless stars, planets, galaxies, and other cosmological phenomena.

When you couple that information with the fact that there are really only two accepted theories for how life started on Earth—either it evolved naturally or was created—it becomes easy to see why people on either side of that divide would believe there’s simply too much out there for us to be alone.

But what if, rather than starting with what we can observe, we instead start with what God has revealed in the Bible?

Why did God create such an expansive universe?

If, as Genesis 1 describes, God created everything that exists by merely speaking it into existence, then the size of that existence really shouldn’t matter. Whether it was one planet or a million, one sun or a million, it’s not like it was a struggle for him. Nothing in Scripture indicates that he would feel compelled to create life on other planets simply because he created other planets. It’s not like they’re going to waste by just orbiting around in the universe unoccupied.

The argument that intelligent life exists on other planets because the universe is too big for us to be alone is predicated on a mindset that—if the Bible is correct—simply is not necessary to hold.

Rather, what if the reason God created an ever-expanding universe filled with stars, planets, and mysteries we still haven’t even begun to grasp is to point us back to him?

What if that sense we get of feeling like an infinitesimal speck when we look up at the night sky was meant to remind us of our need for the one who holds all that we can see and more in the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12)?

And what if our universe was a gift that God intended to remind us of just how much he loves us and how special we are to him?

People have looked to the stars and have been drawn to the divine in most every culture across human history. That is not a coincidence.

So, as our national attention once again shifts to the expanse of space, ask God to help you use that focus to point people back to him and to remind them of his love.

After all, that’s why it’s there.

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Denison Forum – Pro-choice protests at churches: How should Christians fight the culture wars?

When my wife and I sat down to watch the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” Saturday afternoon, we had no idea we would witness history. Rich Strike did not enter this year’s Kentucky Derby until thirty seconds before the deadline Friday after another horse was scratched. The colt had exactly one previous victory in his career. He went on to win in the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.

In another weekend surprise, First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Mother’s Day to meet with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. The next day, Russia held its annual Victory Day parade to pay tribute to those who fought and died in World War II.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that Vladimir Putin used his speech to “try to channel Russian pride in defeating Nazi Germany into support for this year’s invasion of Ukraine. But contrary to some expectations, he did not make any new announcements signaling a mass mobilization for the war effort or an escalation of the onslaught.”

Closer to home, a pro-life organization in Wisconsin was set on fire yesterday in an apparent arson attack. A pro-life pregnancy center in Denton, Texas, was defaced with graffiti. A Sunday Mass at a Los Angeles church was disrupted by protesters in red hooded gowns. Abortion supporters blocked the door of a church in Manhattan Saturday; one protester chanted, “God killed his kid, why can’t I kill mine?”

Saturday evening, pro-choice activists protested outside the homes of Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. More demonstrations outside the justices’ homes are planned for this Wednesday. The organizer of the Saturday night protests said, “The time for civility is over, man. Being polite doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Is this true?

Are civility and decency “secondary values”?

Sporting events are obviously competitive and typically “zero-sum” affairs: if one competitor wins, the others lose. Ukraine must obviously defend its country against Putin’s immoral invasion or fall to Russia. But how should Christians respond to “culture wars” such as the conflict over abortion? Is it true that “the time for civility is over”?

This is the argument of a First Things article by New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari: “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values.” Ahmari wrote his article to oppose what he calls “David French-ism,” which he criticizes as being too “polite” and not nearly adversarial enough.

French is a Harvard Law School graduate, Iraq veteran, noted religious rights advocate, prolific author, and committed evangelical Christian. Denison Forum Executive Director Dr. Mark Turman and I were honored last week to record a podcast with him. During our conversation, David made the argument that we must not choose between “Sermon on the Mount” character and a “Romans 13” ruler—followers of Jesus should seek both.

In response to a growing sentiment that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” he similarly noted in yesterday’s French Press article that “the spirit of fear that grips so much of the modern American church might be a reason why so many Christians have scorned civility and decency in the public square, but it’s not a justification.”

How, then, should we respond to the “culture wars”? In his latest book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, David eloquently calls for Christians to engage in political conflict in ways that honor our Lord and exemplify the “fruit” of his Spirit.

He observes, “Those who care the most often hate the most, and one of their chief methods of discrediting ideological allies with whom they compete is by portraying them as too tolerant of the hated political enemy. Kindness is perceived as weakness. Decency is treated as if it’s cowardice. Acts of grace are an unthinkable concession to evil.”

So, who is right?

“You also must forgive”

Paul writes in Colossians 3: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (vv. 12–13, my emphasis). Let’s focus on the italicized half of this remarkable sentence.

“If” could be translated “whenever,” recognizing the reality of what follows. “One has a complaint” refers to a plaintiff’s legal allegation against another person.

“Forgiving” could be translated as “pardoning,” the gracious decision not to punish. As ethicist Lewis Smedes shows in his classic book Forgive and Forget, biblical forgiveness does not mean that we excuse the hurtful behavior, tolerate it, or pretend it did not occur. When a governor pardons a criminal, she does none of these things. Instead, she chooses not to punish the criminal.

This is how “the Lord has forgiven you”—he has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14). In light of such forgiveness, Paul tells us, “You also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13; cf. Ephesians 4:32).

If not, why not?

I plan to say more about forgiveness and our “culture wars” tomorrow. For today, let’s make this conversation personal.

Do you have a “complaint” against someone? Will you pardon them as your Father has pardoned you?

If not, why not?

Does someone have a “complaint” against you? Will you seek their pardon?

If not, why not?

NOTE: I hope you’ll listen to our entire podcast with David French. During our wide-ranging conversation, he reflects on the Supreme Court leak and our larger cultural moment with a depth of wisdom I commend to you with gratitude.

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Denison Forum – Two gifts every child needs to give and every mother needs to receive

Mother’s Day is coming at an unprecedented time for American society.

For the last two years, most mothers were forced to stay inside on this special day due to the pandemic. As a result, Mother’s Day spending is expected to total $31.7 billion this year, up 13 percent from last year. The average consumer will spend 25 percent more compared to the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Approximately 84 percent of US adults are expected to celebrate the holiday.

We should do everything we can do to honor and encourage our mothers. Has there been a time in our lifetime when Americans needed mothers who live and parent biblically more than today?

A “Mother’s Day Strike” to support abortion?

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court leak shocked the nation with reverberations that are continuing today. In one of the most ironic and contradictory announcements I can remember, some pro-abortion activists are calling for a “Mother’s Day Strike” to protest the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. They want people to cease working, shopping, attending school, and other activities.

While Americans are thanking our mothers for giving us life, they will be protesting for the right to end life. Their decision to use Mother’s Day for their cause reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s statement, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”

Here’s another sign of our times: President Biden announced yesterday that Karine Jean-Pierre will replace Jen Psaki as White House Press Secretary when Psaki steps down on May 13. This is one of the most visible positions in our government. The press secretary’s briefings make the news almost every time they occur.

The president’s announcement was especially noteworthy for this reason: She will be the first Black woman and the first openly gay woman to hold the position.

Two gifts that change our lives

Here’s the good news for mothers and their children (that’s all of us): we have a Father who loves us unconditionally and whose word shows us how to encourage our mothers in empowering and transforming ways.

Ephesians 6 begins: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (vv. 1–3). The text addresses all “children” of all ages and identifies two gifts every mother needs.

The first is to “obey” our mothers—the Greek word is a present active imperative calling us to seek and follow their guidance every day. The second is to “honor” them—the Greek word means to treat them with deference, respect, and kindness. It is also a present active imperative calling us to find ways to honor them every day.

Why are these gifts so important?

When we give them to our mothers, “it may go well with you,” referring to the quality of our lives, and “you may live long in the land,” referring to the quantity of our lives. These are not unconditional guarantees (the righteous Abel died at the hands of his unrighteous brother Cain, for example), but abiding principles. When we obey and honor godly mothers, our society is blessed. Our lives are blessed. And our mothers are blessed.

(There is much more to say about this remarkable text, so I invite you to read my sermon for this Sunday expanding on this biblical passage and its life-changing practical principles.)

Mental health resources I encourage you to consider

Whether you are a mother or a mother’s child, these two gifts can be life-giving. In addition, our ministry has sought in recent days to respond practically to the stress and anxiety of these days. As I noted on Monday, mental health challenges are very real and very pervasive in our society.

Consequently, I invite you to visit these resources on our Denison Forum website:

Rebecca Walls leads Unite, one of the most effective community engagement ministries I know. She has just published an article titled, “How to equip yourself to help others fighting anxiety and depression.” She shows us how to join a live, online overview that explains the basics of relational emotional healing and how to browse a site that helps people find the help they need.

Chris Legg, a pastor and licensed professional counselor, wrote an article titled “Struggling with mental illness? Consider these 7 ideas.” He identifies practical steps for those wrestling with mental illness and discusses ways the church can help.

Chris earlier wrote an article titled “3 reasons why churches fail at mental health.” He discusses the “perfection” trap, the “not-here” trap, and the “Bible is sufficient for everything” trap.

His son, Mark Legg, serves as our Associate Editor and wrote an article titled “Why are teens sadder, lonelier, and more depressed than ever before?” He notes the horrific escalation of sadness and loneliness among American teenagers, warns of mistaken answers, outlines four reasons for increasing persistent sadness, and offers parents some very practical ways to help children find their identity in Christ.

Dr. Lane Ogden, a licensed professional counselor and longtime friend, wrote an expansive article on what the Bible says about mental health. He explains how our minds work and how our thoughts and feelings interact, cites biblical verses on mental health, and identifies practical ways to increase healthy thinking.

I also wrote an article titled “Mental health for pastors: Three ways Jesus practiced self-care.” I focused on social distancing, gratitude in hard times, and the priority of physical health for mental health.

The model for the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic gifts ever given to our nation. Whom did the French sculptor Bartholdi fashion her after? He never formally answered the question, but as the Statue of Liberty tour website states, “There seems to really be only one person whom the Statue of Liberty most closely resembles.” A portrait of his mother, Charlotte Bartholdi, when placed next to the statue, shows that they are almost identical.

Bartholdi found a way to honor his mother every day.

How will you follow his example?

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Denison Forum – The Supreme Court news you may have missed

This week, a Supreme Court ruling made headlines. I’m not referring to the draft by Justice Samuel Alito of a majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. The day before the “leak heard ’round the world,” the court ruled that Boston violated the free speech rights of a person when it refused to fly a Christian flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.

The court determined that the city discriminated against Harold Shurtleff because of his “religious viewpoint.” Boston had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags before rejecting Shurtleff’s because he wanted to fly a Christian flag.

Here’s the amazing part: the Supreme Court not only overturned lower courts that had sided against Shurtleff, but it did so by a unanimous 9–0 decision. And that decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton and is considered the second-most liberal member of the court.

On this annual National Day of Prayer, let’s give thanks for the freedom to have a National Day of Prayer, a right that would be unthinkable for Christians in many countries around the world.

And let’s use this right as God intends, which is more counterintuitive than you might think.

The Supreme Court flip that led to 22 million abortions

I am grateful that the Continental Congress issued a national call to prayer in 1775. I am also grateful that Billy Graham’s call for America’s leaders to unite in prayer during the Korean War led to the National Day of Prayer tradition that began in 1952.

However, I am confident that American leaders who believe in prayer also believe that we need to pray for our nation not just once a year but every day of the year.

The Supreme Court leak has once again exposed the danger of self-governance without personal morality. Presumably, a single person made the decision to leak this document, a decision to betray their trust and the confidentiality of the court that has precipitated a crisis now dominating the news.

Consider another example of the power of one person in a democracy. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s flip on abortion when the Supreme Court considered Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 caused the court to affirm rather than overturn Roe v. Wade. Had he remained consistent with his long-held position on abortion, more than twenty-two million babies aborted since that time could have been saved. This is the population of Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming—combined.

We could spend the rest of the day discussing the other moral crises of our day. My point is simple: America needs America’s Christians to pray for America fervently and daily.

But there’s a catch.

“Can man make for himself gods?”

Paul declared, “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). This seems to be a self-evident assertion: If a human makes an object, how can that object be divine?

The prophet Jeremiah similarly asked, “Can man make for himself gods?” Then he answered his question: “Such are not gods” (Jeremiah 16:20). You and I would obviously agree.

However, the great British pastor Charles Spurgeon would caution us that our response might be too hasty. He wrote: “We pity the poor heathen who adore a god of stone and yet worship a god of gold. Where is the vast superiority between a god of flesh and one of wood? The principle, the sin, the folly is the same in either case.”

Then he added this convicting note: “In ours the crime is more aggravated because we have more light and sin in the face of it. The heathen bows to a false deity, but the true God he has never known; we commit two evils, inasmuch as we forsake the living God and turn unto idols.” He then prayed, “May the Lord purge us all from this grievous iniquity!”

I fear that one such “grievous iniquity” is the way some of us pray. When we make prayer merely a day or an event, we violate the biblical command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When our prayers are merely transactional—praying for our nation so God will bless our nation—our prayers make God a means to our ends.

I fear that God would consider such prayer to be akin to idolatry. We are not praying to the wrong God, but we are praying for the wrong reasons.

“Prayer is the life of the saint”

A. W. Tozer observed, “The Scripture does not say of Abraham that he believed the text and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Abraham believed God. It was not what Abraham believed, but who Abraham believed that truly counted” (my emphasis).

The purpose of prayer is first that we know God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The psalmist spoke for us all when he prayed, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

The Scottish minister John Baillie was thus right to pray: “You have breathed your Spirit into my spirit; you have formed my mind to seek you; you have turned my heart to love you; you have made me restless for the rest that can be found in you.”

Oswald Chambers would have agreed. One of the great spiritual geniuses of all time, he observed: “The correct concept is to think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops. . . . Prayer is not an exercise, it is the life of the saint.” As a result, he taught us to “maintain the childlike habit of offering up prayer in your heart to God all the time.”

Our larger prayer

Without question, we should pray for God to bless America. In fact, we are commanded to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2) and for our needs (Matthew 7:7). We should pray for our nation as the Jews prayed for theirs (Psalm 122:6).

But our larger prayer should be that Americans would know God. That we would receive not just his gracious favor but his living presence. That we would seek not just what he can do for us but the salvation he alone can give us. That we would experience the spiritual and moral awakening that is our true hope for the future.

Would you make this your prayer for America today?

Would you make it your prayer for your soul?

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Denison Forum – The latest on the Supreme Court leak and “the one and only pro-life argument”

The leak of a Supreme Court draft Monday evening is dominating the news again this morning.

Amy Howe, the Supreme Court analyst at SCOTUSblog, tweeted, “It’s impossible to overstate the earthquake this will cause inside the Court, in terms of the destruction of trust among the Justices and staff. This leak is the gravest, most unforgivable sin.” Criminal law professor Orin Kerr called the leak “the most egregious violation of confidentiality for a staff member or employee of the court that you can imagine.”

Barricades were erected around the Supreme Court building after the leak in anticipation of public reactions. This turned out to be a wise move, as demonstrators on both sides rallied Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Signs included “[expletive deleted] SCOTUS” and “Sam Alito Retire [expletive deleted].”

One activist wrote, “Seriously, shout out to whoever the hero was within the Supreme Court who said ‘[expletive deleted] Let’s burn the place down.’” Others issued similar calls for violence against the court.

After the Kavanaugh confirmation in 2018, hundreds of protesters tried to break down the Supreme Court’s bronze doors, scaled the building and its statues, and threw tomatoes and water bottles at the cars of justices who had attended his swearing-in. We are left to wonder what the reaction will be if the draft document does in fact mirror the court’s ruling this summer, or if it does not.

What prompted the leak?

Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement yesterday confirming the authenticity of the draft opinion leaked to POLITICO and announcing an investigation into the document’s disclosure, which he described as a “singular and egregious breach” of the court’s trust. According to Axios, “This is the first time in modern history that a ruling has leaked before the court issued it publicly.”

It is being reported that Roberts did not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, resulting in a five-to-four majority for such a ruling. However, draft opinions are far from final since justices often change their minds during the writing process. For example, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court was reportedly ready to reverse Roe but ended up affirming it after further negotiation.

Some therefore believe that the leak was intended to “incite violence and bully justices into changing their votes.” On the other side of the coin, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes this morning that the leak “might suggest that a leaker on the conservative side hopes to freeze a wavering justice—Kavanaugh being the obvious candidate—into their initial vote.”

Legal experts are discussing the degree of illegality involved in the leak. Some Democrats are calling for Congress to pass a federal law codifying Roe v. Wade, seeking federal legislation that would override laws in states that restrict abortion. Some are demanding that the Senate eliminate the filibuster rule to pass such a bill.

Democrats and Republicans are both claiming that the ruling will help energize their supporters in the midterm elections. And some are calling for the Court to issue its ruling now rather than in late June or early July, arguing that the leak “was meant to corrupt the process.”

Meanwhile, Amazon promised to reimburse employees who travel to obtain abortions; Yelp announced that it would do the same. And as more states restrict abortion, an estimated fifty doctors are traveling across state lines to perform abortions in places with limited abortion access.

A brilliant case for life

How should Christians respond to this furor?

Writing for Public Discourse, law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen outlines what he calls “the one and only pro-life argument.” He makes a brilliant case that the issue comes down simply to this question: whether the unborn child is or is not a living human being. If it is, there can be no moral justification for killing it save in self-defense (saving the life of the mother).

He makes his point by asking whether any moral argument justifies killing “a born, living child.” He compiles all the “good” arguments for abortion: “poverty, economic or social stress, lost or delayed opportunities, single motherhood, male abandonment, sexual autonomy, conscientious but unsuccessful use of contraception, the child’s disability, rape or incest, the emotional or psychological distress of parenthood.” Then he asks whether any of these would “justify what we would otherwise recognize as the simple murder of a living newborn, infant, or toddler.”

Paulsen then compiles all the “bad” motives for forbidding abortion: “hypocrisy, callousness, intentional subjugation of women, discrimination, a desire to impose unwelcome religious beliefs upon others.” And he asks whether they would “render the deliberate killing of born, living human children right.”

His point is clear and compelling: if the unborn child is a living human being, he or she deserves the same protections of the state as any other living human being. In fact, Paulsen notes, “If the unborn child is factually a human life, then saving such lives from the violence of others is a compelling interest if ever there was one. Indeed, it is a moral obligation and imperative.”

Our most urgent imperative

Paulsen is right: as controversy over the leaked Supreme Court document swirls and the political ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade dominate the cultural debate, the personhood of an unborn child should be our most urgent imperative. That’s why in my website article, “Abortion and the Mercy of God,” I offer an in-depth scientific, medical, and biblical argument that life begins at conception.

For today, let’s focus on this fact: we are in this to advocate for living human beings. We believe that David’s prayer is true of every human from the moment of conception:

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13–1416).

Would you take a moment to thank God for forming you in your mother’s womb?

Would you thank God that your mother chose to give you life?

Would you ask God what you can do today to help someone else choose life?

NOTE: For a discussion of the moral arguments for and against abortion and biblical responses, I encourage you to listen to a new episode of The Denison Forum Podcast I recorded yesterday with Dr. Mark Turman. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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Denison Forum – Leaked draft reveals that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, according to what POLITICO calls “an initial draft majority opinion.”

I intended today to continue Monday’s discussion of mental health issues and biblical encouragement. However, since the POLITICO report is such an obviously significant story, I will shift to summarizing it, then we’ll consider three biblical responses.

Roe and Casey must be overturned”

The draft making global headlines today was written by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated inside the court. It was obtained by POLITICO last night, which describes it as “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation” of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing federal abortion rights and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that largely maintained them.

Alito writes, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

POLITICO further reports that, according to “a person familiar with the court’s deliberations,” justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voted with Alito in a conference after hearing oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December. The line-up reportedly remains unchanged as of this week.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan are working on one or more dissents, according to the source. It is reportedly unclear how Chief Justice John Roberts will ultimately vote and whether he will join an already written opinion or draft his own.

An “unprecedented revelation”

The draft opinion runs ninety-eight pages and includes a thirty-one-page appendix of historical state abortion laws. According to POLITICO, it is “replete with citations to previous court decisions, books and other authorities, and includes 118 footnotes.” It is labeled as a first draft of the majority opinion and includes a notation that it was circulated among the justices on February 10.

However, as POLITICO notes, justices sometimes change their votes as draft opinions circulate. Major decisions can be subject to multiple drafts and vote changing, sometimes until just days before a decision is unveiled. The court’s decision will not be final until it is published, probably in the next two months.

POLITICO adds that “no draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending” and observes, “The unprecedented revelation is bound to intensify the debate over what was already the most controversial case on the docket this term.”

What about legal precedents?

Justice Alito notes, “Until the latter part of the twentieth century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right.”

Justice Alito lists about two pages’ worth of decisions in which Supreme Court justices overruled prior precedents. He also writes, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

The justices held their last arguments of the current term last Wednesday. A series of sessions are now set over the next two months to release rulings in still-unresolved cases, including the Mississippi abortion case that led to Alito’s draft.

If the court does rule as the draft document would indicate, a federal constitutional protection of abortion rights would end and each state would be allowed to decide whether to restrict or ban abortion.

Would this end abortion?

According to this morning’s New York Times, if the court overturns Roe, “abortion would probably become illegal in about half of states.” One group lists twenty-four states that are likely to ban abortion; another group lists twenty-six such states.

However, women seeking abortions could travel to a state where abortion is legal or order pills online from outside the country. Texas is an example: after a law went into effect in September banning abortion at around six weeks, abortions at Texas clinics fell by half. But many women were able to obtain abortions in other states or by ordering pills. As a result, the total number of abortions among Texas women fell only by around 10 percent.

So, what does today’s news mean?

If the Supreme Court rules as the draft opinion would indicate, the fight for unborn children will be waged in the states. Since abortion will still be available in many states and through pills, we will need to focus on what has always been the heart of the issue: ministering to women who are considering abortion. Let’s close with three simple but urgent ways to do this.

One: Go to them.

Jesus went to Samaria (John 4:4), where he initiated a relationship with a Samaritan woman (v. 7), violating the conventions of his Jewish culture (v. 27). Following his example, let’s seek ways to help women who are considering abortion. If you do not know any, ask the Lord to lead you. Consider volunteering at a crisis pregnancy ministry in your community. Earn the right to be heard by building relationships based on compassion and humility.

Two: Offer hope in Christ.

The Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well for water, but Jesus offered her “living water” (v. 10) that would become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). Jesus will forgive every sin we confess (1 John 1:9) and make us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) with “abundant” and joyful life (John 10:10).

Our highest purpose with every person we meet is to offer them the hope we have found in Christ. To do this, we must often meet felt needs to meet spiritual needs (cf. John 6:2). Women choose abortion for a variety of reasons, including financial pressures, educational or job plans, and not being emotionally or mentally prepared to become a mother. Christians and churches can help to meet these practical needs, offering hope that leads to our ultimate hope in Christ.

Three: Pray for them.

Please join me in praying daily for women and their families to choose life for their unborn children. Pray for those who minister directly with such women and consider joining them. Support their ministries as you can.

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

Let’s make abortion unthinkable through our intercession and compassion. Millions of lives are in the balance.

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