Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Baptist pastor grieves for Notre Dame burning: How to prove that every day is Easter

Pastor Harry Richard grieved as he watched flames consume Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Just two weeks earlier, his church in Louisiana was set ablaze. It was one of three predominantly black churches in his area that were intentionally burned down, according to police.

But the Baptist minister sensed the Lord at work: “I think that God is using these moments to bring us closer together as a world. This is God’s hand on our lives to make us realize that we are all connected in some form or fashion.”

Meanwhile, Islamic militants are being blamed this morning for the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that killed at least 290 people. Devastating floods have left millions in Iran facing a humanitarian crisis. And the CDC says this flu season is now the longest in a decade.

The news reminds us every day that we need the redemptive work of the risen Christ every day. Unfortunately, our secular culture is less convinced than ever that Jesus is relevant today.

How can we show the world that every day is Easter?

Imagine a world without Easter

John S. Dickerson’s latest book is titled Jesus Skeptic: A Journalist Explores the Credibility and Impact of Christianity. As with his other work, Dickerson’s insights are extremely insightful and relevant.

He states that a ten-year investigation led him to conclude: “My generation of Americans—those born in the 1980s and younger—have been largely denied the truth about Christianity’s influence and record on social justice.”

For instance, Dickerson notes that nine of the ten best nations on earth for women’s rights, according to the World Economic Forum, have majority Christian populations. Followers of Jesus such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Blaise Pascal also played an essential role in launching the Scientific Revolution.

This tradition continues with Dr. Francis S. Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and now head of the National Institutes of Health. He states: “God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.”

Schools, medicine, and slavery

Dickerson also notes that “nearly every leading university in the world was founded by Christians.” He cites the fact that the first nine colleges in the US were founded by Christians. He also found that each of the top ten universities in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings, was begun by Christians.

Christians “planted the seeds of modern medicine” as well. Dickerson references Edward Jenner (the father of immunology), Florence Nightingale (the founder of modern nursing), and Johns Hopkins (whose bequest founded one of the most innovative hospitals in modern medicine). He adds that the top ten hospitals in the US, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, were all founded by Christians.

And Dickerson reports that Christians played an essential role in ending slavery in most parts of the world. In fact, he could not find a single abolitionist in the US who was not a follower of Jesus. And, of course, there is the example of William Wilberforce in the UK.

None of this would have happened without Easter.

Making every day Easter

Here’s our challenge: convincing the culture that Jesus’ resurrection is as relevant to our present and future as it was to our past. This calling requires us to be as engaged in human rights, scientific and medical progress, advancing educational excellence, and ending racial discrimination as the Christians who came before us.

In addition, it is vital that we live in ways that contradict the caricature our critics have drawn of us. Consider two imperatives.

One: Respect those who do not respect our Lord.

When pagans in Ephesus started a riot against Christians in their city, an official scolded the crowd: “You have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:37). We are to defend our faith boldly, but we are to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). The more people criticize us, the more they need our Lord.

Two: Be joyful in a joyless world.

Solomon observed: “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). If I do not find joy in the vocation to which God has called me, I dishonor the One who has assigned it to me. William Barclay was right: “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.”

“Death is strong, but life is stronger”

Phillips Brooks: “Tomb, thou shalt not hold him longer; death is strong, but life is stronger. Stronger than the dark, the light; stronger than the wrong, the right.”

When Christians are relevant, gracious, and joyful followers of the risen Christ, the world will know: He is risen, indeed.

 

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Denison Forum – Buying a T. rex and restoring Notre Dame: Our quest for legacy

 

Would you pay $2.95 million for a baby Tyrannosaurus rex?

The sixty-eight-million-year-old skeleton was discovered in Montana in 2013 by Alan Detrich and his brother. Detrich loaned the fossil to the Kansas University Natural History Museum, then decided to put it up for sale on eBay. Paleontologists warn that the bones are incomplete and shattered in parts. “The asking price is just absurd,” one said.

In other financial news, French President Emmanuel Macron made a televised address yesterday stating that he hopes to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral within five years. “That’s what the French expect; that’s what our history deserves,” he stated. As of this morning, nearly $1 billion has been raised for the project.

Building cathedrals and taking selfies

There’s something about us that wants to own, build, or achieve something of significance that outlives us.

We purchase artifacts and other iconic objects of historic value. We erect massive cathedrals that stand long after those who build them. Those of us with lesser gifts as engineers and builders trace our initials in tree trunks and on concrete. We etch the names of those we love on tombstones made of rock.

And we want to memorialize not just our lives but also our memories and will pay a high price to do so.

Sydney Monfries was just weeks from graduation at Fordham University in New York when she died Sunday after falling from the iconic campus clock tower. She was trying to take a picture of the Bronx under moonlight.

Andrea Norton, a twenty-year-old college student from South Dakota, died last Saturday when she fell one hundred feet off a cliff in Arkansas. She had been taking a group photo with her friends.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Buying a T. rex and restoring Notre Dame: Our quest for legacy

Denison Forum – The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral cannot destroy the church

The fire that devastated the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was an accident, according to the president of the Paris region. Donors have already pledged millions of dollars to rebuild the medieval landmark, one of the most iconic in the world.

The Cathedral was begun in 1163 with the laying of the cornerstone and largely completed by 1345. The cathedral towers are both 226 feet tall. They were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Around four hundred firefighters battled the blaze for nine hours before extinguishing it. The cathedral’s iconic spire fell, but the towers were saved.

People in Paris lined the streets as the cathedral burned, praying and holding vigils for the monument.

The “emotion of an entire nation”

The Notre Dame Cathedral is a significant metaphor for religion in our times.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral cannot destroy the church

Denison Forum – Hitler’s home movies are being digitized: What your reaction says about us

Adolf Hitler is wearing a white double-breasted jacket and black trousers. On his arm is a red band with a black swastika. In another scene, he wears a gray suit with a fedora and talks with Heinrich Himmler, the overseer of the Holocaust camps.

These are some of the home movies shot by Eva Braun and her friends at the Berghof, Hitler’s retreat in southeastern Germany. Braun was Hitler’s longtime girlfriend and briefly his wife. The Alpine scenery in the background is stunning.

We know about these movies because the National Archives is restoring and digitizing them. The entire four hours of footage should be completed this month.

How I react to Hitler

When you saw today’s headline and read the accompanying story, what was your reaction?

Mine was one of disgust mixed with curiosity. No figure in modern history conjures (or deserves) more revulsion than Adolf Hitler. At the same time, to see him as he was, recorded by friends in a relaxed environment, is historically unique.

What I didn’t feel was fear.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Hitler’s home movies are being digitized: What your reaction says about us

Denison Forum – The latest from Israel: Why did Jesus have to die for us?

Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be in position to win a fourth consecutive term as prime minister of Israel.

As of this morning, 97 percent of the votes have been counted in Israel’s parliamentarian election. As I explained yesterday, no party has ever won a sixty-one-vote majority in the Knesset (their Parliament). The party leader who seems most likely to form a majority coalition with other parties will be given an opportunity to do so.

So far, that leader appears to be Mr. Netanyahu.

“I know that my Redeemer lives”

Yesterday we asked the question: Why don’t the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah? There’s a related question that is especially relevant to American culture as well.

Job was confident: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26).

While life after death is affirmed in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 26:19), Judaism has evolved in its beliefs about the afterlife across the centuries since.

Rabbi Evan Moffic writes: “Heaven has [an] open door policy: Heaven is not a gated community. The righteous of any people and any faith have a place in it. Our actions, not our specific beliefs, determine our fate. No concept of Hell exists in Judaism.”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman believes that “in the afterlife, the soul is liberated from the body and returns closer to her source than ever before.” During this passage, “the good deeds and wisdom the soul has gained on her mission below serve as a protection for her journey upwards.” Then, “at the final resolution, all souls will return to physical bodies in this world.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – The latest from Israel: Why did Jesus have to die for us?

Denison Forum – The elections in Israel: Why don’t the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah?

In America, many of us are sleep deprived after watching Virginia defeat Texas Tech in overtime last night. Meanwhile, much of the world is focused on Israel, where one of the most significant elections in years is taking place.

I have led approximately thirty study tours to Israel over the years. Each time, the two most common questions I’m asked are: “Why don’t the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah?” and “How does the Israeli government work?”

The two questions are more related than one might think.

Since Israelis are voting today in parliamentary elections, we’ll address the second question first. Here’s the process:

Fourteen parties are vying for votes. Citizens vote for parties, not people. At stake is control of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and its 120 seats. The more votes a party receives, the more seats it wins.

No party has ever won a sixty-one-seat majority. After today’s vote, the president of Israel (a largely ceremonial position) will invite one party’s leader to form a governing coalition with other parties. That person will have twenty-eight days to form a government, with a possible fourteen-day extension.

The president selects the leader who, in his opinion, has the best chance of forming a multi-party coalition to reach sixty-one Knesset seats. This is usually the leader of the party that received the most votes in the election, but not always.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The elections in Israel: Why don’t the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah?

Denison Forum – How Brad Paisley and his wife are changing lives: The secret of significance

Keith Urban won Entertainer of the Year at last night’s Academy of Country Music Awards. Thomas Rhett and Kacey Musgraves won Male and Female Artist of the Year.

But, in my opinion, the most significant achievement in country music came earlier in the week.

Brad Paisley and his wife, Kimberly, broke ground on a Nashville grocery store that is unlike any I know. Customers will walk through the aisles selecting fruit, vegetables, cereal, and other groceries. Then they will check out at the register.

However, no money will change hands.

The Paisleys partnered with Belmont University, a Christian university and Brad’s alma mater, building the store next to the school’s ministry center. They hope to serve three thousand impoverished people a year.

Their Christian faith is on clear display in a way that will impact lives far beyond Nashville.

“All healthy things grow”

Many years ago, I attended a church growth conference led by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California. His approach was not at all what I expected.

I assumed Rick would talk about his church’s leadership structure, ministry organization, and marketing strategy. Instead, he spent most of the conference discussing the importance of spiritual health—for himself, his leadership team, and their members.

Continue reading Denison Forum – How Brad Paisley and his wife are changing lives: The secret of significance

Denison Forum – Two new TV series about Jesus: Why is Christ more popular than the church?

 

Jesus is a television star once again.

Jesus: His Life is airing on the History Channel through Easter. According to the show’s website, “the series interviews and consulted with a diverse group of scholars, faith leaders and theologians from across the ideological spectrum.” It views Jesus “through a unique lens: the people in his life who were closest to him.”

Meanwhile, The Chosen will debut online April 15. According to Christianity Today, it “will reimagine the radical ministry of Christ upending societal norms in a multi-season show.” The series is intended to be “faithful to the biblical text while gritty in tone.”

Jesus is clearly popular in our culture. Barna research reports that 73 percent of Americans identify as Christians. According to Gallup, that’s far higher than the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans (26 percent) or Democrats (30 percent). Census data shows that Christians outnumber any racial demographic in our country.

However, while nearly three in four Americans say they are Christians, Barna reports that only 55 percent attended a church service in the last six months. Other studies show that only 23 to 25 percent of us attend three Sundays out of eight.

Clearly, Jesus is more popular than the church today. What can you and I do about this?

Why do we need bold humility?

As I noted yesterday, the need of our day is for Christians to manifest boldness with humility. Why are both essential in our post-Christian (or at least post-church) culture?

The more people reject Christian truth, the more they need to hear it. The sicker the patient, the more he or she needs a doctor.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Two new TV series about Jesus: Why is Christ more popular than the church?

Denison Forum – Why ‘Avengers: Endgame’ broke the internet

Avengers: Endgame won’t be released until April 26, but it broke the internet yesterday.

Six hours after tickets went on sale, the film had already surpassed the number of ticket sales in the first twenty-four hours for the previous record holder, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Both AMC and Fandango experienced crashes that kept fans from buying tickets. “I have never seen anything like this,” tweeted Fandango’s managing editor.

Why is the latest Avengers film already such a phenomenon?

One answer is that the movie is billed as “Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films” in the franchise. Fans who have watched the others are obviously compelled to watch the series end.

But the larger story here is that we are a culture in dire need of heroes.

Movie critic Erin Free wrote in 2016, “Whether it’s random terrorist attacks, over-population, rising crime rates, the threat of financial collapse, the mental hangover of the Global Financial Crisis, prejudice, ignorance, infectious killer viruses, or just traffic congestion, our world is on a constant knife edge. And in troubled times, people enjoy escapism, and perhaps secretly wish that there were superheroes around to hose down all the horrors of the world.”

Since Free published his article, twelve more superhero movies have appeared in theaters.

Clearly, our need for heroes is not declining.

Creatures dependent on our Creator Continue reading Denison Forum – Why ‘Avengers: Endgame’ broke the internet

Denison Forum – Pennsylvania lawmaker criticized for praying publicly to Jesus

I was asked to deliver the invocation some years ago before a session of the Texas House of Representatives. As a Christian minister, I prayed to Jesus in the name of Jesus. Those present thanked me for my invocation, then my host gave me a tour of the Capitol.

That was then; this is now.

Stephanie Borowicz is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. When she was asked to deliver the invocation at a House session recently, she prayed to Jesus in the name of Jesus. She mentioned our Lord’s name more than twelve times and gave thanks that President Trump has “stood beside Israel, unequivocally.”

Her prayer has been roundly condemned. One critic claimed that during her invocation, “prayer was weaponized.” A Muslim lawmaker who was inducted into the House that day alleged that her prayer “blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders.” She called on the General Assembly to censure Borowicz.

Numerous media outlets are carrying the story and criticizing Borowicz for praying so overtly in the name of Jesus. However, few are reporting that a Muslim cleric followed her Christian prayer by praying in Arabic and quoting the Qur’an.

Can we be good without God?

The uniqueness of Jesus and the necessity of faith in him are prominent themes woven throughout the New Testament. However, in our culture that tolerates everything but perceived intolerance, such doctrines are anathema to many.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Pennsylvania lawmaker criticized for praying publicly to Jesus

Denison Forum – Washington Post writer leaves the faith, speaks for millions: 4 responses

This Washington Post article caught my eye: “I’m not passing my parents’ religion on to my kids, but I am teaching their values.”

The author is Jared Bilski, a writer and comedian based in Pennsylvania. He tells of growing up in the Catholic church, attending Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, and serving as an altar boy and a church reader. He says he “even strongly considered going into the priesthood.”

However, Bilski writes, “I lost faith in my faith. There were too many unanswered questions, too many problematic absolutes, too much fearmongering and way too much hypocrisy. For a religion that placed such a premium on loving thy neighbor, it sure had a lot of restrictions on whom you were allowed to love.”

The clergy-abuse scandal was the last straw. When it broke, Bilski says, “I knew I’d never return.”

However, he wants his two children to have “a solid understanding of all religions” and “respect for what others believe.” He explains: “After all, the Golden Rule is something that should be instilled in all children, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.”

As a result, Bilski and his wife intend to “expose our children to everything, spiritually speaking, to honestly answer any questions they may have about God and religion, and to let them choose for themselves.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Washington Post writer leaves the faith, speaks for millions: 4 responses

Denison Forum – Police officers replace tools stolen by thieves

 

Adrian Salgado is a gardener in Santa Ana, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.

When thieves stole his truck, cell phone, landscaping equipment, and a thousand dollars in rent money, he lost his only means of supporting himself and his family. With the money gone, he had no way to replace his tools.

Police were able to recover Salgado’s truck, but his equipment—including a lawnmower, edger, hand tools, and leaf blower—was gone.

The police officers felt they had to do something to help. They pooled their resources, obtained money from their police association, and went shopping. Home Depot chipped in another hundred dollars and offered military discounts to the officers who serve as reservists.

The police officers gave the new tools to Salgado, who immediately went back to work. One officer said, “I’ve been doing this job for twenty-seven years. Every so often it’s a good day. That was a good day.”

Does God understand?

It is gratifying to see police officers caring so personally for those they serve. In our broken world, there are times when we may wonder if God feels the same way about us.

Over the weekend, a teenager was fatally shot after knocking on the wrong door in Atlanta. A father of four is on life support after a fight with another man in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium left him with a fractured skull. A South Carolina student got into a car, erroneously thinking it was her Uber ride and was later found dead. The driver has been arrested on charges of murder and kidnapping.

Each day’s news gives us reason to question whether the Creator cares what happens to his creation. For assurance that he does, let’s explore a question many of us may not have asked before.

Why was Jesus born?

If I asked you why Jesus came to the earth, you’d say: to die for our sins.

You’d be right, of course.

But what would you say if I asked you why he had to be born to die?

We know that his virgin birth in Bethlehem fulfilled prophecy (cf. Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14). But why did God make these predictions?

If Jesus’ only purpose in coming was to die, why couldn’t he appear as an adult and immediately die on the cross for our sins?

We know that Jesus’ earthly ministry included healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead. It initiated the apostolic movement that carried the gospel forward to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Jesus’ incarnation also caused him to experience hunger in the desert (Matthew 4:2), thirst on the cross (John 19:28), weariness at Jacob’s well (John 4:6), and grief at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35). He was tempted in the wilderness and beyond. As a result, we know that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

But here’s a further question: Did Jesus have to go through his incarnation to understand the human condition?

What did God learn about us?

Are we saying that the omniscient Lord did not know as much about us before Christmas as he did after Easter? That the Father does not understand us as well as the Son? That the God of the Old Testament does not know us as well as the God of the New Testament?

Remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His Father says of himself, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). The immutability of God is a fact woven all through Scripture.

As is the omniscience of God. He knows “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10). Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3) so that the Son does not know anything the Father does not know.

What did we learn about God?

All this to say, God did not learn something about us because of the incarnation. But we learned something about him.

Max Lucado: “Why did God leave us one tale after another of wounded lives being restored? It isn’t to tell us what Jesus did. It’s to tell us what Jesus does.” It’s to prove to us that the sovereign God of the universe understands what it is to hunger, thirst, grow weary, suffer grief, and face temptation.

To repeat Hebrews 4:15, we know that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Here’s the consequence: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).

What will you bring to God?

The gospel is relevant to our post-Christian, secularist, relativistic culture because Jesus is relevant to our post-Christian, secularist, relativistic culture. In all of human history, no one else has proven so fully his solidarity with the human race. No one else has proven so powerfully his understanding of our condition and compassion for our needs.

This is why you and I must share his grace in our love and speak his truth to our times. We represent the only One who meets every need of every person we know.

And it’s why we must resist the self-reliance of our culture by coming to Jesus with our needs and challenges, questions and struggles. When we do, we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Every time.

What do you need to bring to the throne of grace today?

 

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Denison Forum – ‘Unplanned’: A movie about abortion that changes everything

 

If you’re like most of us, you’d rather not read another article about abortion this morning.

The subject is divisive, the debate vitriolic. If you haven’t had an abortion, if you don’t love someone who has, or if you’re not considering an abortion personally, it can be tempting to ignore the issue.

Then comes a movie that changes everything.

Startling abortion statistics

Unplanned is being released today. My wife and I were invited to attend an advance screening of the film a few weeks ago. It makes the issue of abortion so real and relevant that everyone should see the film.

Here’s what I mean.

According to Planned Parenthood, one in four American women will have an abortion by the age of forty-five. How many actual women is this?

Here are my calculations:

In other words, only 8.5 percent of the American female adult population and 4.3 percent of the entire American adult population has personally experienced an abortion.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘Unplanned’: A movie about abortion that changes everything

Denison Forum – British Airways jet lands in wrong country on purpose

When you’re in London, Düsseldorf, Germany, is 357 miles to the east. Edinburgh, Scotland, is 403 miles to the north. If you’re flying to Düsseldorf, you’d not expect your airplane to land in Edinburgh.

But that’s just what happened Monday.

The aviation company operating British Airways Flight 3271 filed the wrong flight plan, sending the jet to Edinburgh. The pilots, cabin crew, and air traffic controllers thus assumed the plane was supposed to go to Scotland.

When they landed, confusion ensued. Flight attendants asked for a show of hands of passengers who thought they were traveling to Düsseldorf. When every hand went up, they realized that every passenger was now in the wrong place.

We can be both sincere and wrong

There are many ways to be sincerely wrong today.

Same-sex marriage supporters are convinced that biblical, moral, or religious liberty objections are irrelevant or wrong. The same is true with abortion advocates. Their claims seem simple and persuasive: “Everyone should be able to love who they love,” “A woman is the best person to decide what to do with her own body,” and so on.

But as British Airways proved, it’s possible to be both sincere and wrong. Another topic making today’s news illustrates the same point.

Underwater hotels and restaurants are being built for the ultra-wealthy. One submerged hotel offers an underwater villa for $50,000 a night. “Billionaire bunkers” are being constructed around the world, enabling the wealthy to survive nuclear attacks and other catastrophes.

But all is not well on the wealth frontier.

As Bloomberg reports, deceptive billing for private and corporate jet users is escalating. The Department of Education has opened a probe into the $25 million college admissions cheating scandal in which fifty people were criminally charged. And the ex-wife of a man who won a $273 million jackpot does not want him back, telling reporters: “I have morals.”

Another story on our theme is being reported by the New York Times: “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good.” The wealthy are discovering that human engagement is vital to their well-being. They are spending on experiences such as luxury travel and dining rather than technology and other goods.

Clearly, possessions cannot produce happiness, even when we sincerely think they will.

Three dead ends to avoid

No one thinks in a vacuum.

You and I inherited our Western culture from the Greeks and Romans. Centuries before Christ, their worldview divided the soul from the body, determining that the former is positive while the latter is evil. This belief led centuries of Christians to venerate monastic withdrawal from the world as the highest form of spirituality.

A second version of cultural engagement we inherited from our cultural ancestors splits religion from the “real world.” As we noted yesterday, transactional religion teaches us to placate the gods so they will do what we want. “Go to church on Sunday so God will bless you on Monday” is the formula today. We are therefore told to live in two worlds: the religious and the secular, valuing each as we wish.

A third view is rising quickly in our culture: there is no soul or supernatural reality, so we are free to focus on the material. According to a new survey, 23.1 percent of the American population has “no religion,” slightly more than Catholics (23 percent) and evangelicals (22.5 percent).

Withdrawing from the culture, separating faith from life, or ignoring the supernatural—none of these is the way God intends us to relate to our world.

“The righteous will flourish like a green leaf”

I am studying Proverbs these days and found chapter 11 especially relevant to today’s conversation. Solomon, one of the wealthiest men of all time, warned us: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (v. 4). He added: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (v. 28).

If we are not to trust in material wealth, how are we to relate to the material world?

  • We are to be righteous so that God can bless the fallen culture through us: “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown” (v. 11).
  • We are to offer biblical wisdom to others: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls” (v. 14).
  • We are to be generous with all: “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want” (v. 24).

In short, we are to use the material for the spiritual, the temporal for the eternal.

Those we know who do not know Jesus may well be sincere in their unbiblical beliefs, from denying God’s existence to rejecting Jesus’ divinity to questioning the truth or relevance of Scripture. The fact that they are sincerely wrong means they don’t know how wrong they are.

And it means they need our witness and ministry much more than they think they do.

Torn up Bibles and lost souls

Ben Malcolmson played on the 2006 University of Southern California football team that won the Rose Bowl. He told Fox News yesterday, “From the moment I made the team, I knew God had a purpose for me there. I started pressing into that mission from day one.”

But he didn’t know how hard it would be to help his teammates meet his Lord.

He started a Bible study, but no one came. He began a prayer group, but no one joined him. He then placed Bibles at each of his teammates’ lockers on Christmas Eve, days before the team was to play in the Rose Bowl. When he returned to the locker room two days later, he found the Bibles torn up and shredded.

“It was the culmination of a season full of discouragement,” he said.

Nearly four years later, working as an assistant to Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, an old friend connected with Malcolmson. He told him that one of the Bibles he gave his fellow players had been picked up and read by a teammate who accepted Christ three days before passing away.

Malcolmson concluded, “Even when I couldn’t see [God’s] hand in the moment, he truly was at work all along.”

How will you follow his example today?

 

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Denison Forum – Conflict in Israel and a Jewish cemetery desecrated in Massachusetts: Why should we have hope for our culture?

Following a day of relative calm, the Israeli military carried out a series of strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight. According to the army, the strikes were in response to incendiary balloons and rockets fired earlier toward Israel by Hamas.

In other news, police say fifty-nine gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. Two of the gravestones had been knocked over. The stones were desecrated with swastikas and phrases including “Hitler was right.”

According to experts, America is experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism that is unprecedented in the last half-century. Anti-Semitism is also rising sharply across Europe: France reported a 74 percent increase in the number of offenses against Jews, while the number in Germany surged by more than 60 percent.

As I noted yesterday, discrimination is also escalating in America against those who affirm biblical morality. We are certainly not facing aggression on a level experienced by Jews around the world, but Jesus’ prediction for his followers is nonetheless true for us: “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

It would be easy to abandon hope for our culture. But it’s always too soon to give up on the future because it’s always too soon to give up on God.

“Let this cup pass from me”

I led a study tour of Israel last week. On Thursday, our group spent a very moving hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. I read from Matthew 26, where Jesus pled with his Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (v. 39).

Why did our Savior seek so fervently to avoid the “cup” that awaited him?

Continue reading Denison Forum – Conflict in Israel and a Jewish cemetery desecrated in Massachusetts: Why should we have hope for our culture?

Denison Forum – San Antonio city council bans Chick-fil-A from airport

The San Antonio City Council recently voted 6–4 to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant at the city’s airport.

Councilman Robert Trevino, who made the motion to exclude the restaurant, stated: “With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion. San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.

Chick-fil-A responded: “The press release issued by the councilmember was the first we heard of his motion and its approval by the San Antonio City Council. We wish we had the opportunity to clarify misperceptions about our company prior to the vote. We agree with the councilmember that everyone should feel welcome at Chick-fil-A.”

The statement added, “In fact, we have welcomed everyone in San Antonio into our 32 local stores for more than 40 years.”

“Everyone has a place here”

This is not the first time the Cathy family’s commitment to biblical morality has cost them business.

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Denison Forum – Attorney General releases summary of the Mueller report: 3 biblical responses

 

While I was flying home from Israel yesterday, US Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s two-year-long investigation into President Trump and his aides.

The summary addressed the question America has been asking for the last 676 days: Did the president, or anyone working for him, conspire with Russia to influence the 2016 election in his favor? Further, did he or those working on his behalf attempt to obstruct federal investigations into this matter?

The significance of the Mueller report is enormous. If the special counsel determined that such collusion or obstruction took place, the ramifications for our democracy would be foundational and tragic.

What the report tells us

Mr. Mueller’s report was presented to the US attorney general, who in turn issued his summary. He noted that the special counsel employed nineteen lawyers who were assisted by approximately forty FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The special counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly five hundred search warrants, and interviewed approximately five hundred witnesses.

The special counsel’s investigation determined that a Russian organization known as the Internet Research Agency attempted to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the US “with the aim of interfering with the election.”

It also found that “Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries.”

However, Mr. Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

With regard to obstructing the investigation, the special counsel “did not draw a conclusion—one way or the other—as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” Instead, Mr. Mueller sets out evidence on both sides of the question and states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

This decision “leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” Attorney General Barr, in consultation with other officials, determined that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

A threat that should concern every American

The essence of fallen human nature is the enthronement of self. It is seeking what is best for me at the expense of what is best for you.

Russian actors obviously felt it was in their personal and/or national best interests to interfere in our democratic process. Last year, the Mueller investigation charged twenty-five Russian intelligence operatives and social media manipulation experts. The final report makes clear their intent to influence the 2016 election.

This is a threat that should concern every American. Our right and ability to elect our leaders is foundational to our democracy. If foreign countries and actors can influence our votes and elections, our democracy is imperiled.

Closer to home, the responses we are seeing to Mr. Barr’s report are predictably partisan.

Republican leaders are claiming total vindication for the president. Congressional Democrats are calling for the attorney general to turn over all files related to the investigation; a co-founder of a Democratic support organization wrote on Twitter that Mr. Barr’s summary “is pure propaganda.”

It is unlikely that the Mueller report will change many minds. As the New York Times notes, “Opinions have hardened over time, with many Americans already convinced they knew the answers before Mr. Mueller submitted his conclusions.”

Three biblical responses

As Christians respond to this controversial issue, it is vital that we resist the temptation to put our political beliefs ahead of our public witness.

The special counsel’s report could help or hinder the spread of God’s kingdom in a variety of ways, but few of them relate directly to the president, Congress, or Russia. God’s plans for our country already took into account the findings of the report. He knew the truth long before Mr. Mueller did, and he knows what will continue to come from the proceedings.

Our Father is now calling on his children to reflect his character. Whether you are a supporter or a critic of the president and his administration, it is vital that you respond in ways that glorify our Lord and draw people to him.

Scripture prescribes three priorities in this regard.

One: We should respect the authority of the offices our leaders hold.

Paul’s injunction was clear: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Do your words regarding the president and other elected leaders respect their offices and authority?

Two: We should pray for our leaders.

Paul instructed us: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

When last did you pray for our president and other leaders?

Three: We should hold our leaders accountable to biblical character.

Jesus told his apostles, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). After washing his disciples’ feet, our Lord taught them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

Are you praying for our leaders to be biblical servants?

Are you modeling such behavior for our culture?

As I often note, winning arguments is less important than winning souls. Frederick Faber was right: “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” As a result, in a culture so riven with partisan vitriol, the words of seventeenth-century English churchman Thomas Fuller are remarkably relevant: “Kindness is the noblest weapon to conquer with.”

How will you use it today?

 

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Denison Forum – President Trump endorses Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights

President Trump endorsed Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights yesterday, marking what the Wall Street Journal calls a “sharp U.S. policy shift.” The move came during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Israel and before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House next week.

Why does the region known as the “Golan Heights” matter to Israel and to the world?

An area twice the size of Dallas

The Golan Heights is an elongated, elevated area approximately forty miles long and twelve miles wide. It comprises 690 square miles (about twice the size of Dallas, Texas). The Golan (as it is known) borders Israel and the Sea of Galilee to the west, Syria to the east, Jordan to the south, and Lebanon to the north.

I have visited the area many times over the last twenty-five years. It is a spectacularly beautiful region dominated by hills and valleys. It is also one of the most strategic military areas in the world.

The Golan was part of Syria until the Six-Day War (June 5–10, 1967) between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. During the war, Israel gained control of the Golan and soon began settlements there. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Syrian forces overran the southern Golan in a surprise offensive before they were expelled by an Israeli counteroffensive.

Israel and Syria signed a ceasefire in 1974 that left most of the Golan in Israel’s control. In 1981, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law that effectively annexed the territory. The international community rejects Israel’s claim to the region, recognizing it as Syrian territory.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has long claimed that Israel must control the Golan to protect its national security, hailed Mr. Trump’s move. Critics say the president’s announcement will jeopardize peace efforts in the region and violates a UN resolution that rules out acquiring territory by war.

Three millennia of conflicted history

I have been leading a study tour to the Holy Land this week. Each time I come to Israel, I am impressed again by the courage of her people amid this chaotic region.

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Denison Forum – A giant meteor explosion and the dangers of sugary drinks and cannabis: We are mortal and immortal

 

A gigantic meteor exploded over our planet last December. The blast generated energy equivalent to 173 kilotons of TNT, ten times the energy produced by the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima in 1945.

Why are we only now hearing about this? The explosion was over the Bering Sea, a remote location in the middle of the ocean.

Closer to home, a Harvard-led study has found that people who drink two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day have a 31 percent higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. Each additional soda or sports drink increases the risk by 10 percent.

In other health news, daily marijuana use has been linked to an increased risk of developing psychosis. People who used any type of cannabis on a daily basis were three times more likely to have a diagnosis of a new episode of psychosis. The risk increased to five times for daily use of high potency cannabis.

From the cyclone in Mozambique that killed hundreds, to the dangerous storms threatening the Northeast today, to reports that the New Zealand terror suspect planned a third attack before he was apprehended, each day’s news reminds us that we are mortal.

But we are immortal as well.

I have often quoted C. S. Lewis’s profound observation: “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

An altar seven hundred years older than Abraham

The intersection of our finitude and our immortality powerfully impressed me yesterday as our Israel study group visited the ancient fortress of Megiddo. A Canaanite altar here dates to 2700 BC—seven hundred years older than Abraham.

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Denison Forum – What is an anonymous $1.5 billion lottery winner doing with her money?

There’s a reason you can’t name the person who recently won the largest Mega Millions jackpot in US history: she doesn’t want you to.

A South Carolina woman won $1.5 billion last October. However, she did not claim her winnings until March 4. She spent that time researching professionals to help her preserve her anonymity and manage her new fortune. She has decided to keep her identity private for her personal safety.

While she is not revealing her name, we do know what she is doing with her winnings. She donated to the Alabama Red Cross to aid tornado relief; the Ronald McDonald House of Charities of Columbia, South Carolina; In The Middle, a charity that helps women with breast cancer; the City of Simpsonville Art Center; and the One SC Fund for Hurricane Florence relief.

She has not released the amount of her gifts. The only reason she made public the charities she is supporting is to raise awareness for their work. She said recently through her lawyer, “I do realize that such good fortune carries a tremendous social responsibility, and it gives me a unique opportunity to assist, support and contribute to charities and causes that are close to my heart.”

“All of us are here just to be alongside you”

After a gunman killed eleven worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October, Muslim communities around the world held vigils to show their support and raised more than $1.4 million for the survivors.

Now, Jewish communities are reciprocating as Muslims grieve following the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s history. Fifty Muslims were left dead at two mosques in Christchurch last Friday. In response, Jewish leaders are raising donations for the New Zealand Attack Emergency Relief Fund.

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