Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Funerals in the Holy Land and a virtual tour of Jerusalem: Using the pandemic for eternal good

There is nothing like being in the Holy Land during the Easter season. After leading more than thirty study tours to Israel, I can tell you that each time feels like the first time. There is something miraculous and transforming about this ancient land, especially during this season.

This year, April is not only the month of Easter for Christians, but of Passover for the Jewish people and the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims. Because of the pandemic, however, the streets of Jerusalem are virtually empty. Churches and other religious sites are closed. Even burials are different.

In Israel, Jewish dead are typically laid to rest in a cloth smock and shroud without a coffin. Now, the bodies of COVID-19 victims are taken for ritual washing, which is performed in full protective gear, wrapped in impermeable plastic, and wrapped again in plastic before interment. Muslim bodies are not washed or shrouded but buried in a plastic body bag. Funerals can be attended by no more than twenty people in an open space. The bereaved are not embraced.

Here’s some good news, however: Israel’s Tower of David Museum is using virtual reality to allow us to visit the Western Wall during Passover, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Easter, and the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.

The museum has created an immersive 360-degree virtual reality experience for anyone with internet access. We will be able to see the Holy City as it is today and as it looked twenty centuries ago. The link will be available free of charge from the first day of Passover to the first day of Ramadan (April 9–24).

“Our routine is the scaffolding of life”

The philosopher Walter Benjamin noted, “History is made up of images, not stories.” The images coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, like empty streets in Jerusalem, tell the story of this unfolding tragedy.

In addition to the escalating numbers of victims and patients and its devastation of our economy, the pandemic is disrupting our daily lives in unprecedented ways. Adrienne Heinz, a clinical research psychologist at the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, notes: “Our routine is the scaffolding of life. It’s how we organize information and our time. And without it, we can feel really lost.”

As a result, she says, “I’m . . . really worried about families. I’m worried about increases in alcohol use. I’m worried about domestic violence. I’m worried about child abuse, because parents are under-resourced.”

Psychologist Susan Clayton adds: “Most of us have not faced a situation like this. So we have no previous experience that we can use to interpret it. We have no guidance about how we should be responding.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Funerals in the Holy Land and a virtual tour of Jerusalem: Using the pandemic for eternal good

Denison Forum – Joe Buck will make your home movie: Finding meaning in crisis through solitude with God

Joe Buck has one of the best-known voices in America. He has called twenty-two World Series and six Super Bowls. The son of legendary announcer Jack Buck, he is ubiquitous in the world of sports broadcasting.

Now you can have his voice on your home videos.

People are sending him videos of dogs chasing each other in an empty field, chickens on a seesaw, and an airline employee guiding a plane to its gate. For each, Buck provides his very funny personal analysis.

This is his way of helping people deal with the anxiety and loneliness of these days.

Advice from “the world’s foremost expert on grief” 

One of the most-read articles ever on Harvard Business Review is an interview with David Kessler on the grief we are feeling in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The article describes Kessler as “the world’s foremost expert on grief.”

He notes that “we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. . . . The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

In addition, we’re feeling what Kessler calls “anticipatory grief,” which he defines as “that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. . . . There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. . . . I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as small groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.”

When asked what we can do to manage such grief, Kessler applies the well-known stages of grief: “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance: This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.”

Kessler adds a sixth stage: meaning. He explains: “I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times.”

What it means to seek God’s “face” 

The US topped one thousand coronavirus deaths in a single day for the first time yesterday. Officials say the daily death toll could more than double by mid-April.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Joe Buck will make your home movie: Finding meaning in crisis through solitude with God

Denison Forum – Woman allegedly tosses Molotov cocktail at boyfriend’s residence: April Fools and the urgency of collective prayer

April Fool’s Day has seldom seemed less appropriate than in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But in the spirit of the day, let’s begin with the story of a woman in New Jersey who violated her state’s stay-at-home order when she allegedly tossed a Molotov cocktail at a boyfriend’s residence.

She has been charged with a disorderly persons offense for violating the governor’s order. As you might expect, she also faces arson and weapons charges. Fortunately, as the Attorney General’s office noted, her weapon “did not detonate.”

An asteroid the width of Manhattan Island 

For some more good news on this April 1: a giant, “potentially hazardous” asteroid will miss us this month. NASA has named the asteroid 1998 OR2. It is about the width of Manhattan Island and could wreak havoc if it crashed into Earth.

However, at its closest it will be 3.9 million miles from us (more than sixteen times the average distance between us and the moon). We won’t see it again until May 18, 2031. It will return again in 2048, 2062, and 2079, when it will only be 1.1 million miles away.

When I read about 1998 OR2, here was my thought: How do NASA’s experts know how far it will be from us? Or when it will return?

I had a similar question while walking early yesterday morning. Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter were all visible in the predawn sky. Or so a website told me. I would have otherwise been unable to name them or to know that they are planets in our solar system.

As I continued walking, I realized that I don’t know how to make anything that I saw. I don’t know how to make bricks, much less a brick house. I don’t know how to make a car’s fender, much less the entire car. I couldn’t make the concrete on which I was walking or the clothes I was wearing.

Nearly everything we take for granted is something some group of people didn’t take for granted. Rather, they pooled their experience and expertise to do what none of them could have done alone.

“The main business of their lives” 

I am taking us down this road to make a point that relates directly to our spiritual awakening series this week.

President Trump told Americans yesterday to brace for “a very painful two weeks” as public health officials warn that the coronavirus pandemic could leave 100,000 to 240,000 people in the US dead. We are responding to a crisis that is unprecedented in my lifetime by seeking a spiritual awakening that is also unprecedented in my lifetime.

We’re focusing on this familiar text: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Yesterday, we discussed the foundational urgency of humility, noting that God cannot give what we will not admit we need. Today we’ll consider God’s call to pray. The Hebrew word means to “entreat, supplicate, beg.” It is also collective, meaning to pray as a nation for the nation.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Woman allegedly tosses Molotov cocktail at boyfriend’s residence: April Fools and the urgency of collective prayer

Vin Scully predicts more Americans will respond to COVID crisis with faith: An atheist doctor comes to faith through a dying priest

Vin Scully is a legendary baseball broadcaster, the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1950 to 2016. Now ninety-two years old, he joined Fox News on Monday to discuss the delayed start to this year’s Major League Baseball season.

Scully, a devout Christian, said, “Now that I have some leisure time and we’re all locked in at home, I read an article and it was talking about what happened to Americans in World War II. It was such a terrible time.”

He added, “Three-quarters of Americans belonged to a house of worship. Today . . . half of Americans are involved in a house of worship, prior to this pandemic. So there’s your answer . . . Although they might not be able to go to a house of worship, probably more Americans will be praying since World War II.”

“More people will be coming back to the faith,” Scully went on. “And now that this terrible thing is upon us, people might very well get back to the center. And it’s a better world. We’ll see . . .”

“With the humble is wisdom” 

I referenced the same Wall Street Journal column in yesterday morning’s Daily Article. Scully is right: the anxiety of this crisis may well be a catalyst for the spiritual renewal we need so urgently.

As the saying goes, sometimes we need to get so far down that we have nowhere to look but up. Such humility is the foundational step to the spiritual awakening we need so urgently today.

As we noted yesterday, God’s promise to his people that he would “heal their land” is tied directly to their response to his call: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turned from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

First, they must “humble” themselves. The Hebrew word means “to bow the knee” or “to submit with humility.”

Continue reading Vin Scully predicts more Americans will respond to COVID crisis with faith: An atheist doctor comes to faith through a dying priest

Denison Forum – ‘Bachelor’ contestant makes her faith public: A Valentine’s Day call to courageous love

Madison Prewett is a contestant on The Bachelor. For those of us who don’t know how the show works (myself included until I did research for this article), a single bachelor meets a pool of eligible women. He then eliminates candidates, culminating in a marriage proposal to his final selection.

During the process, a one-on-one date with a candidate is a significant step forward for her. Thus, when Madison secured such a date with Peter Weber (this season’s bachelor) in last Monday’s show, she needed things to go well in order to stay in the competition.

This is what she told him: “Faith is more than just this passed-down thing to me, it’s literally my whole life and all of who I am. I want, in a marriage, someone who also has that relationship with the Lord and loves that about me and wants to raise a family in that way.”

Of course, ABC cut out her spiritual confession.

In the network’s preview for the next episode, Prewett also says she is saving sex for marriage. “If he sleeps with anybody else, it’s gonna be hard for me to continue to move forward,” she added.

Let’s hope Prewett keeps embracing her faith as the show continues.

Did Geoffrey Chaucer invent today’s holiday? 

Valentine’s Day, as everyone knows, is named for St. Valentine. Except we’re not sure which one.

Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were both early Christians who died for their faith.  However, according to legend, St. Valentine of Rome signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and healed from blindness. Another legend says he defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare husbands from war.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘Bachelor’ contestant makes her faith public: A Valentine’s Day call to courageous love

Denison Forum – ‘The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake’: My response to an article of seismic significance

David Brooks is one of the best-known public intellectuals in America. A longtime columnist for the New York Times and a contributing writer at the Atlantic, he is also the author of several best-selling books. I have found him gracious and humble in person and have followed his writing with appreciation over the years.

However, I was more than surprised by the headline of his latest Atlantic essay: “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” His article is receiving so much attention this week that I’ve chosen to summarize it and then respond to it biblically. Given the significance of this issue, today’s Daily Article is a little longer than usual.

From farms to factories 

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake’: My response to an article of seismic significance

Denison Forum – Bernie Sanders wins New Hampshire: The fallacy of generic compassion and healing power of grace

New Hampshire, with a population of 1,359,711, is smaller than forty-one other American states. Manchester is its largest city, with a population of 111,196. It would be the thirteenth-largest city in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, smaller than Denton but larger than Richardson.

And yet, all eyes today are on this state after yesterday’s Democratic Party primary won by Bernie Sanders. Although Pete Buttigieg finished a close second and Amy Klobuchar surged to third place, today’s New York Times is calling Sanders “the new front-runner of the 2020 Democratic primary.”

However, some caveats are worth noting.

Since 1976, only five of the nine Democratic candidates who won in New Hampshire eventually won their party’s nomination. And only one (Jimmy Carter) went on to become president. However, no modern Democrat has won the party’s nomination without finishing first or second in the state.

Whatever the future significance of yesterday’s primary, one lesson is that the anti-Sanders vote splintered, leading to his victory. Democrats who consider Bernie Sanders unelectable are going to have to find a way to consolidate around candidates who were not their first choices.

Such compromise, however, is at the heart of American democracy. Here we can learn a surprising lesson from history with strategic significance for Christians today.

The surprising sources of our republic 

What source did the writers of the Constitution quote more than any other? The Bible. Who came in second? Charles de Montesquieu (1689–1755).

Historian William Federer notes that the French political philosopher was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson (who translated a commentary on his thought from the French). His ideas about governance were formative for Jefferson and others who formed our nation.

Montesquieu divided governments into three categories: republics, which rely on moral virtue; monarchs, which rely on honor and shame; and despots, which rely on pleasure and fear. In his view, citizens in a republic typically act as co-kings in society, remembering that they will be held individually accountable to God and behaving morally and virtuously as a result.

Monarchs working within a Christian worldview (such as the British monarchy in Montesquieu’s day) exercise unilateral authority but remember that they are accountable to the King of kings in the next life. Despots, however, rule without reference to the biblical worldview and thus reward their supporters with pleasure while dominating their other subjects through fear.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Bernie Sanders wins New Hampshire: The fallacy of generic compassion and healing power of grace

Denison Forum – Handwritten note by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. goes on sale: The Oscars and Christian grace

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift your loved one will remember, you might consider a handwritten note from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sometime in the mid-1960s, he was asked to define the meaning of love. Dr. King wrote: “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”

Then he signed the note, “Best Wishes, Martin L. King Jr.” The rare note is for sale for $42,000.

If only everyone agreed with Dr. King.

How Hollywood sees the world 

One way our culture rejects Dr. King’s ethic of love is by rejecting those who most deeply share his faith.

A Penn State study found that “American society is in a downward spiral of interreligious intolerance.” “Highly religious Protestants” are among the groups that feel most targeted for their religious group membership and beliefs. The lead investigator noted: “When people see their religion or religious beliefs mocked in the public domain or criticized by political leaders, these experiences signal to members of entire religious groups that they don’t belong.”

A case in point: the Academy Awards.

The 2020 Oscars were watched by their smallest audience ever. According to Variety23.6 million viewers tuned in Sunday night. The show had six million fewer viewers than last year.

However, an audience of 23.6 million is still larger than the population of 177 of the world’s countries. The cultural popularity of the Academy Awards, together with the credibility they bestow on actors, directors, and films, can make it difficult to resist the worldview Hollywood promotes.

If we are to believe the movie and television industry, gender is fluid, same-sex relationships are to be celebrated, LGBTQ people are to be accorded protected status, marriage is optional and divorce is nearly inevitable, and life begins and ends whenever we say it does. I could cite popular movies and TV shows that proclaim each of these “values.” If we disagree, we are branded as homophobic, bigoted, and even dangerous.

And we haven’t even discussed the sexualized Super Bowl halftime show. If my grandchildren had been watching the game with us, we would have been forced to change the channel.

One solution for biblical Christians is to avoid all popular media. But even if that were possible, is it biblical?

Eating with tax collectors and “sinners” 

Joseph took an Egyptian name and wife when he became the second-most powerful ruler in Egypt (Genesis 41:45). Esther became queen of the Persian Empire; her uncle Mordecai ascended to “second in rank to King Ahasuerus” (Esther 2:17; 10:3).

Daniel served the rulers of Babylon and Persia from 605 BC to at least 522 BC. Jewish Christians continued following Jewish tradition (cf. Acts 3:1; 13:5) until they were forced from their synagogues toward the end of the first century.

Jesus set the example of cultural engagement by building relationships with Jews (Matthew 4:23), Samaritans (John 4), Gentiles (Mark 7:24–37), and tax collectors and “sinners” (Matthew 9:9–10; Luke 19:1–10). He called us to make disciples of all “nations” (Matthew 28:19), literally ethnos, meaning ethnicities or people groups.

Our Lord described us as “salt” and “light,” both of which must contact that which they are to transform (Matthew 5:13–16). To retreat from culture means that we lose all opportunity to change culture.

Living as a “guest” in this world 

At the same time, we are to be in the world but not of it. A ship is supposed to be in the ocean, but the ocean is not supposed to be in the ship.

Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Scripture is clear: “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

God calls us to “flee from sexual immorality” and to “resist the devil” (1 Corinthians 6:18; James 4:7b). To do this, we must first “submit yourselves therefore to God” (v. 7a). In his power we can defeat any temptation we face (1 Corinthians 10:13), knowing that “because [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

The key is to see ourselves as “guests” in this world (Psalm 39:12). We care for our fellow guests, but we know that this world is not our home or theirs.

“God never stops loving” 

When our culture violates Dr. King’s ethic of love, Jesus calls us to respond in love. David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist: “Why would we choose to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us? Because this is the way of God.

“God never stops loving, never stops caring, never stops blessing. Yes, it’s outrageous. It’s impractical. It’s unrealistic. It’s beyond us. Which is why we need God and why we need each other. Only God’s love abiding in us can love in this way.”

Who was the last person to love you “in this way”?

With whom will you pay such grace forward today?

Denison Forum – Brad Pitt wins first acting Oscar: Movies, culture, and the wisdom of Frederick Douglass

Brad Pitt won an Academy Award last night for Best Supporting Actor. (He won an Oscar in 2014 as a producer.) In his acceptance speech, he said, “They told me I only had forty-five seconds up here, which is forty-five seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week.” Thus began a night of awards juxtaposed with politics and surprises.

Joaquin Phoenix won the Best Lead Actor award for Joker and spoke out against artificially inseminating cows. Parasite became the first non-English-language film to win the best picture award. Presenter Natalie Portman wore a cape on which were written the names of women who weren’t nominated for an Academy Award for best director.

The Oscars felt to me like an evening of cultural commentary interspersed with occasional awards. The popularity of many of the actors and presenters can delude us into thinking Hollywood speaks for us.

The opposite is actually more the case.

What percentage of women have been nominated for Best Director? 

Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, Joker made the most money, ranking ninth in box office sales for 2019Avengers: Endgame grossed more than twice that much.

Women make up 50.8 percent of the American population, but they have received .01 percent of Best Director nominations in Oscars history (five out of 447 official nominations in ninety-two years). People of color comprised nearly 37 percent of the American population in the 2010 census, but only one person of color was nominated in the four major acting categories (actress Cynthia Erivo for her lead performance in Harriet).

Of the nine movies nominated for best picture, seven are set in the past. Eight are about white people; six of the eight are about white men.

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Academy Award. That year, the Oscars were held in a “no blacks” hotel. After accepting her award, she was made to sit at a segregated table away from the rest of the Gone With the Wind cast.

We would like to think that the Academy Awards have become more representative of our society since then, but of the 276 acting Oscars given since 1940, only sixteen went to black actors (5.8 percent). Seven went to Latin American and Asian American actors (2.54 percent).

What percentage of Americans are gay or lesbian? 

Some demographics are woefully underrepresented by Hollywood, while others are hugely overrepresented.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Brad Pitt wins first acting Oscar: Movies, culture, and the wisdom of Frederick Douglass

Denison Forum – ‘I am Spartacus!’: The death of Kirk Douglas and three steps to national healing

Kirk Douglas died Wednesday at the age of 103. He was born Issur Danielovitch on December 9, 1916, in Amsterdam, New York. He changed his name to Kirk Douglas before entering the US Navy during World War II.

He was the only son of seven children born to illiterate Russian immigrants. In his autobiography, he reported that his father was a “ragman,” trading in old rags, pieces of metal, and other junk. As a child, Douglas sold snacks to mill workers and had more than forty jobs in his youth. As a young adult, he once spent the night in jail because he had no place to sleep.

He recited the poem “The Red Robin of Spring” in kindergarten and received applause, an experience that caused him to aspire to become an actor. After graduating from college and studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, he joined the Navy in 1941 and was medically discharged three years later for war injuries.

He then returned to New York City, where he found work in radio, theater, and commercials. He became one of America’s biggest box-office stars in the 1950s and ’60s, eventually appearing in more than ninety movies. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981, an honorary Academy Award in 1996, and the National Medal of Arts in 2002.

Douglas and his wife of sixty-five years donated multiplied millions of dollars to various schools and up to $55 million to an Alzheimer’s treatment facility in California. After a near-fatal helicopter crash in 1991 that took the lives of two other men, he returned to the Judaism of his roots and even celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah in 1999 at the age of eighty-three.

President Trump and Speaker Pelosi were together again 

Media attention has been focused on Douglas, the growing coronavirus epidemic, and the continued controversy surrounding the Iowa caucuses. Meanwhile, a less-reported event was held yesterday in Washington, DC, that deserves our attention today.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘I am Spartacus!’: The death of Kirk Douglas and three steps to national healing

Denison Forum – Mitt Romney votes for impeachment: Uniformity, courage, and spiritual awakening

Mitt Romney voted yesterday to convict President Trump of abusing his power. (He voted to acquit the president on the charge of obstructing Congress.) While the president was acquitted on both charges, Romney became the first senator in US history to vote to convict a president from the same party in an impeachment trial.

In 1999, no Democratic senator voted to convict President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In 1868, no Democrat voted to convict President Andrew Johnson.

My purpose today is not to respond personally or politically to the senator’s decision. Rather, it is to think biblically about the reaction to his action.

Many Republicans are voicing their displeasure at a decision they consider a betrayal of the senator’s party. Democrats are praising his courage in opposing a sitting president from his own party.

If the Republicans are right, Sen. Romney was wrong. If the Democrats are right, the Republicans are wrong.

None of this should surprise us.

“We must serve God rather than men” 

The rancor on display during the president’s State of the Union address is still making news. Commentators have noted that President Trump did not shake Speaker Pelosi’s hand before the speech (he did not shake Vice President Pence’s hand, either). Speaker Pelosi’s ripping up of his speech afterwards has become a meme trending on social media.

Washington Post columnist noted that the exterior of the House end of the Capitol was covered in plastic tarp and scaffolding for repairs, which seems symbolic of our times.

Divisions in Washington reflect deep divisions in our nation. Whether the subject is abortionsame-sex marriagereligious liberty, or a host of other issues, evangelical Christians hold very different positions from religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Mitt Romney votes for impeachment: Uniformity, courage, and spiritual awakening

Denison Forum – Speaker Pelosi tears up the president’s speech: Three biblical responses to the divisions in our nation

Yesterday was unusually chaotic even for American politics.

Democratic Party officials announced partial results from the Iowa caucuses at 5 p.m. EST showing Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders in the lead. Their statement came nearly a full day after the results were delayed due to reporting issues. Four hours later, President Trump began his State of the Union address.

He became only the second president to do so while under impeachment. The atmosphere in the room was unusually tense and partisan.

The president handed copies of his speech to Vice President Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She extended her hand, but he turned away without shaking it. She then introduced him, but not with the customary, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.” Instead, she said simply, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.”

During the speech, the president honored a Tuskegee Airman and his grandson who intends to become an astronaut. He welcomed home a soldier who reunited with his family for the first time in months. The speech recounted remarkable economic good news and called on Congress to make progress on a variety of fronts.

Then, at the conclusion of the speech, the Speaker of the House stood, took her copy of the address, and tore it in two. She said later that she destroyed the speech “because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” She added that she was “trying to find one page with truth on it” but “couldn’t.”

My purpose in responding today is emphatically not to advance a partisan agenda. I would offer the same response to last night’s divisiveness if the president were a Democrat and the House Speaker a Republican.

In such a bitterly divided culture, my purpose today is to consider biblical ways to deal with disagreements as a nation and as individuals.

One: Honor the position if not the person 

First, we must honor the position even if we disagree with the person.

Peter instructed us: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13–14). Paul agreed: “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).

Note that the emperor to whom they referred was Nero, one of the most despotic tyrants in Roman history.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Speaker Pelosi tears up the president’s speech: Three biblical responses to the divisions in our nation

Denison Forum – Caucus results from Iowa are delayed: Perception, presuppositions, and the word of God


Iowa held its first-in-the-nation caucuses last night. President Trump won on the Republican side, as expected. However, we still don’t know the winner on the Democratic Party side.

The Iowa Democratic Party said the results were delayed due to “inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.” They stressed that there was not a “hack or intrusion,” but announced around 2 a.m. that the results would be provided “later today.” Officials are now hand counting the results.

There are two very different ways to see this unusual delay.

One is that Democrats in Iowa are working to provide results in as trustworthy a manner as possible. After the razor-close 2016 race in Iowa between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Mr. Sanders’ allies pushed the Democratic National Committee to require caucus states to track and report the raw numbers of support for each candidate. In Iowa, the new reporting standards slowed the gathering of data to a crawl. Technical issues contributed to the delays.

The other is to view the Democratic Party’s delayed reporting as indicative of its suitability to lead. GOP Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina tweeted: “Folks—this is the party that wants to run your healthcare, control your employment, decide what kind of car you can drive, and more.”

Bernie Sanders and millennials 

These conflicting perspectives reflect the larger conflicts in our culture.

For example, Bernie Sanders was favored by oddsmakers to win the Iowa caucuses. His campaign is fueled principally by his appeal to millennials. His focus on wealth inequality, universal health care, student loan debt, and climate change resonate with many of them. The fact that he is “quite substantially not religious,” in the words of his brother, is not a detriment to a generation noted for its lack of religious commitment.

Consider that college graduates are less likely than non-graduates to agree that “religion is very important.” They are also less likely to say they “believe in God with absolute certainty” or that they “pray daily.” In fact, 11 percent identify as atheist or agnostic, compared with 4 percent of those with high school education or less.

(Lest these facts suggest that religion is irrational, note that Christians who graduated from college are more likely to attend weekly worship services than those with less education.)

Continue reading Denison Forum – Caucus results from Iowa are delayed: Perception, presuppositions, and the word of God

Denison Forum – Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV: How Christians glorified God in and through the game


The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in yesterday’s Super Bowl by a score of 31 to 20. The Chiefs came back from a ten-point deficit in the fourth quarter to give their beloved head coach, Andy Reid, his first NFL championship.

What about the game will be remembered long after the score is forgotten?

Patrick Mahomes was “always about the other person” 

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is now the first quarterback in NFL history to win a Most Valuable Player award, a Super Bowl, and a Super Bowl MVP by the age of twenty-five. However, he has been known for his humility since high school.

According to his coaches, “He was always about the team, always about his teammates, always about the other person.” Mahomes has been following Jesus since coming to faith in middle school.

Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt has been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action. He says, “As a Christian, I think God has given me that platform to say, ‘Hey, I’ve allowed you to do a lot of things, and I need you to speak my Name.’”

49ers receiver Jordan Matthews became a Christian during his second year in the NFL and says “everything changed.” Another 49ers receiver, Marquise Goodwin, made headlines when he and his wife lost a premature son just hours before a game but continued to trust the Lord.

And Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt has been very public about his commitment to Christ. I was his pastor in Dallas and know personally of his family’s love for the Lord.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV: How Christians glorified God in and through the game

Denison Forum – One senator could decide impeachment process: History turns on tiny hinges


The impeachment trial continued yesterday as senators asked more questions of the House Democratic managers and President Trump’s defense team. The Senate will vote today on whether to introduce additional evidence in the trial.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R–Tennessee) announced late last night that he would vote against such a motion. His decision is considered a “strong indication” that Republicans have the votes to block such a step. If this proves true, the Senate could complete the trial later today, though Democrats have indicated they may force additional votes that could extend the process into early Saturday.

One senator could shorten the impeachment trial 

We will discuss the implications of the trial’s conclusion after it occurs. In the meantime, let’s consider a strategic factor at this stage of the trial.

The Senate is composed of fifty-three Republicans, forty-five Democrats, and two Independents. For the Senate to call further witnesses, all the Democrats and Independents would have to be joined by four Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) said last night that she would vote in favor of new witnesses; Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) has said he would like to hear testimony from John Bolton, President Trump’s former national security advisor.

This leaves Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska), another swing vote, who said she would announce her position today. If she intends to vote in favor of more witnesses, the decision would likely result in a fifty-fifty tie. The tie could be broken by the presiding officer, Chief Justice John Roberts, but observers believe he would abstain. The motion would then fail because it did not succeed.

In other words, Sen. Alexander’s decision not to seek further witnesses could prove decisive in concluding the trial.

When the final vote comes, sixty-seven senators will be required to convict the president. While this is considered highly unlikely, note that a number of Americans smaller than the smallest county in America (Kalawao County, Hawaii, with eighty-eight residents) could remove a president from office for the first time in US history.

Players in the Super Bowl comprise 5.4 percent of the NFL 

Sen. Alexander’s announcement is just one example of the fact that history turns on tiny hinges.

A second example is the China coronavirus, which the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency yesterday. (For my response, please see my website article, “The WHO declares China virus a global health emergency: Two biblical responses.”) The crisis likely started at a seafood market in Wuhan, China, and has now spread to at least twenty-three other countries.

Continue reading Denison Forum – One senator could decide impeachment process: History turns on tiny hinges

Denison Forum – The impeachment trial as a Rorschach test: Three rules of engagement for Christians

President Trump is speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning. Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing to launch only the third impeachment trial of a president in history.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 51 percent of Americans would like the Senate to vote against conviction, while 46 percent want the Senate to convict the president and remove him from office. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent of Republicans are opposed to convicting the president, while 84 percent of Democrats are in favor of doing so.

These positions reflect the president’s overall popularity: 88 percent of Republicans approve of the job he is doing, while only 10 percent of Democrats agree.

A Rorschach test for our country

Hermann Rorschach developed the instrument that bears his name in 1921 after noting that schizophrenia patients often interpreted the things they saw in unusual ways.

The participant is shown a series of ten inkblot cards and asked to describe what they see. However, there are no objectively correct answers. What we see says more about us than about the inkblots we are interpreting.

Impeachment functions in much the same way in our culture today. It would be difficult to live in America without having an opinion about President Trump. A statistical analysis found that the media has given three times as much airtime to his presidency as to President Obama’s. Our culture seems to be consumed daily with who he is and what he does.

Predictably, those who support the president believe the evidence supports his acquittal. Those who oppose him believe the evidence supports his conviction.

We can discuss this issue as long as we wish, but few seem open to changing their minds about President Trump. However, the way Christians discuss this divisive issue can change how people see our Lord.

Just as the US Senate is following rules of engagement for the weeks to come, so should followers of Jesus. Let’s consider three biblical principles today.

One: Focus on eternity

There have been nineteen impeachment trials in US history—fifteen for federal judges, one for a senator, one for a Cabinet officer, and two for presidents. President Johnson’s 1868 trial took nearly two months; President Clinton’s 1999 trial lasted about one month.

However long this impeachment trial takes, remember that your relationships will endure when it is over. And every person you know will spend eternity either with God in heaven or separated from him in hell.

As a result, we should filter everything we say about impeachment through this fact: we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Helping people follow Jesus is our eternal calling and highest privilege.

Two: Speak the truth in love

Ninety-three percent of Americans say we have a civility problem. According to 63 percent of us, social media contributes directly to this problem. It is easy to be anonymous on social media, saying things about people we would never say to them.

By contrast, Jesus calls us to go directly to those with whom we disagree (Matthew 5:23–24; 18:15). Imagine a culture in which everyone chose “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).

What if others slander us or our beliefs? “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

We should hold our beliefs strongly and defend them courageously, but we should do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). “Speaking the truth in love” must be our mantra and mission (Ephesians 4:15).

Three: Build bridges with those with whom you disagree

The partisan divides in our country are wider and deeper than I have ever seen them. For example, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who would be displeased if their child married someone of the opposite party has escalated tenfold since 1960.

At the same time, it is becoming easier than ever to curate the news feeds with which we agree, so that we hear and read only what we want to hear and read. The result is that we seldom engage positions or people with whom we disagree.

By contrast, Jesus befriended Samaritans (John 4) and Gentiles (Matthew 15:21–28). He called a tax collector by name and went to his house (Luke 19:5). And he called his followers to do the same (Acts 10:15, 34–35).

Who do you know with whom you disagree about impeachment? How will you build a relationship with this person for the sake of your continued witness and their eternal soul?

How to store up treasure in heaven

If Christians focus on eternity, speak the truth in love, and build bridges for the gospel, the Holy Spirit will use this chapter of American history to advance the kingdom of God.

Rick Warren was right: “The way you store up treasure in heaven is by investing in getting people there.”

How much treasure in heaven will you store up today?

Denison Forum – Chiefs and 49ers will play in Super Bowl LIV: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cultural leverage of excellence


The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Tennessee Titans in yesterday’s AFC Conference Championship game. The San Francisco 49ers won at home against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Conference Championship. Oddsmakers are favoring the Chiefs slightly in Super Bowl LIV.

Since this is not a sports column and our nation is celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, you may be wondering why I am leading with these results. Here’s what the teams who competed yesterday and Dr. King have in common: they illustrate the cultural leverage of excellence.

Faith and football

The Chiefs are led by CEO Clark Hunt. I was privileged to be his pastor for many years in Dallas and can attest personally to his family’s strong commitment to Jesus.

When his team won the AFC Championship yesterday, Clark told the world, “I want to thank the Lord for blessing us with this opportunity. The glory belongs to him. And this trophy belongs to the best fans in the National Football League.”

Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill has made clear his faith in Jesus over the years as well, recently telling reporters: “I pray before every game. I spend time with God before I get to the stadium and then when I lace up my cleats, I thank God for the opportunity to go out there and attempt to glorify him.”

By contrast, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made news in recent years for the fact that he no longer identifies as a Christian. After meeting and being influenced by Rob Bell, Rodgers told ESPN, “I think organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance.”

Rodgers is one of the most talented athletes of his generation. Like Clark Hunt and Ryan Tannehill, his commitment to professional excellence provides enormous leverage for cultural influence, whether the person uses that influence for Jesus or not.

Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never completed high school

It may surprise you to learn that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never completed high school. That’s because he was such an advanced student that he skipped his first and last years of high school and went directly into college at the age of fifteen.

He entered seminary at the age of nineteen and graduated three years later as valedictorian and student body president. He completed a PhD at Boston University at the age of twenty-five.

Dr. King was brilliant in his diagnosis of the problem facing our nation: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Chiefs and 49ers will play in Super Bowl LIV: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cultural leverage of excellence

Denison Forum – NBC Anchor endorses letter denigrating those who believe in ‘fairy tales’ such as Noah’s ark: What persecution teaches us about our faith

Denison Forum – NBC Anchor endorses letter denigrating those who believe in ‘fairy tales’ such as Noah’s ark: What persecution teaches us about our faith

I need to begin with a disclaimer: this will be a positive article written to encourage Christians that we can face any circumstance we encounter this year with optimistic, joyful faith in our Father’s power and provision.

However, to get there, I need to explain why this topic is on my mind today.

“It’s Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance”

On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, NBC News anchor Chuck Todd read and endorsed a letter claiming that supporters of Donald Trump “want to be lied to” since they believe in “fairy tales” such as Noah’s ark.

Leaving the politics of this claim aside, let’s note that Jews believe in Noah’s ark because it is described as an historical event in the Torah (Genesis 6–9). Jesus (Matthew 24:37–39) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5) believed in its historicity as well. And Muslims find it in the Qur’an (29:14–15).

A recent article in Medium goes further in denigrating biblical faith. In “Dear Christians, It’s Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance,” the writer laments that his Nigerian grandfather was chased from his village by Christian converts because he refused to convert to Christianity. He also notes that Christian missionaries imposed upon his father a new name, age, language, and clothing they deemed more appropriate to the faith.

He points to John Allen Chau, the Christian who broke numerous laws and was then killed while attempting to share the gospel with an unreached people group off the coast of India. The author’s conclusion is that any religion that believes others need to accept its message or face damnation is egotistical, intrusive, invasive, and intolerant. He is convinced that we should oppose such religions as vehemently as he does.

Of course, sins committed in the name of a religion or ideology are not necessarily the fault of that religion or ideology. As a Christian, I strongly believe that the writer’s grandfather and father were treated horrifically and indefensibly. We should not blame all Muslims for 9/11 or all atheists for Lenin’s atrocities.

And we should note that the writer’s rejection of religious “intolerance” is itself a form of intolerance.

ISIS beheads Nigerian Christians

While American Christians should note and respond to those who demean or attack our faith (1 Peter 3:15–16), we should also remember those who are facing far worse persecution than we experience.

I’m thinking of the eleven Nigerian Christians who were executed by ISIS terrorists, ten of them by beheading. It is thought that they were killed on Christmas Day. And government oppression in China that seeks to rewrite the Bible, tears down hundreds of church buildings, and imprisons pastors.

Open Doors states in its 2019 report that 245 million Christians around the world—one in nine globally—are currently suffering from persecution. On average, eleven believers are killed every day for their faith.

The countercultural way to be “blessed”

Jesus taught us: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Notice that our Lord says “when,” not “if.”

Persecution is inevitable for true followers of Jesus (cf. John 16:33). Those who hate our Father will hate his children (John 15:18–21). Paul was blunt: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Here we learn that if we are not facing opposition for our faith, we should ask whether our faith is as public and uncompromising as it should be. I’m not suggesting that we need to seek to be persecuted. But I am suggesting that we should not be surprised when we are.

What persecution teaches us

Jesus continued: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12, my emphasis).

Persecution forces us to decide whether we are living for reward on earth or reward in heaven. Until we face opposition for our faith, we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live for this world and the next. When we are forced to choose between “treasures on earth” and “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19–20), we discover which truly comes first for us.

This discovery is crucial whether we are facing persecution or not since “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21).

65,000 students began the new year in worship

More than 65,000 college students gathered in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin the new year with worship, Bible teaching, and prayer.

The purpose of Passion 2020, which ends today, “is you and me saying goodbye to lesser things and saying yes to Jesus, the One whose name is above every name.” Those attending are seeking “to live in such a way that their journey on earth counts for what is most important in the end.”

Let’s join them.

NOTE: I’m pleased to announce that A Pastor’s View launches on Tuesday, Jan. 7. This new ministry of support and encouragement for pastors and church leaders will offer free resources and a monthly teleconference with Pastor Mark Turman and me. If you are a church leader, I invite you to subscribe to A Pastor’s View here

Denison Forum – Is Alexa the new Santa? Experiencing the power of Christmas

Here’s a sign of the times: children are asking Alexa to bring them presents their parents didn’t order.

A five-year-old boy ordered a Tesla; fortunately for his family, Amazon delivered Tesla-branded running pants rather than a car. A mother says her four-year-old learned how to use her iPad to shop on Amazon and “boxes and boxes arrived. He was jumping up and down with excitement that he had ordered all this stuff.”

Here’s a more ominous sign of the times: the Wall Street Journal is reporting on “the generation gap over church at Christmas.” The subheading explains: “Strains surface when millennial children who rarely attend religious services visit baby-boomer parents who do.” The article cites a report that 52 percent of Boomers see Christmas as a religious holiday, compared to 32 percent of millennials.

The last statistic explains Pope Francis’ statement to Vatican officials that “we are no longer under a Christian regime because the faith—especially in Europe, but also in much of the West—no longer constitutes an obvious premise of common life. On the contrary, it is even often denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.”

The ceiling at St. George’s Chapel

This Christmas week, we’re going to see what Christmas can teach a post-Christian culture about Christ. Today we’ll learn about his power and discover why such omnipotence is still so relevant to us.

Colossians 1 states that the Christ of Christmas is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15). This is an astounding fact.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it several times and am always amazed by its stunningly beautiful ceiling. But staring up at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground.

When we stand before it, we can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here: Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word for “image” also shares in the nature of that which it reflects. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

Circling our planet 7.5 times a second

The Bible describes Jesus’ pre-Christmas divinity in other startling ways as well.

John 1 notes that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that the diameter of the observable universe is around 92,000,000,000 light-years. (A light-year is the distance light can travel in a year. If you could travel that fast, you could circle the Earth 7.5 times in one second.)

And Jesus made all of that.

Hebrews 1 adds that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that our planet weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. Ours is one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in our observable universe.

And Jesus “upholds” all of that.

The God who became a baby

Then came the moment when the God who made and maintains our universe entered our tiny planet. He condensed his omnipotence down to become a fetus, the tiniest human life, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby within it.

Then that baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous limbs and raise dead bodies. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Because of the omnipotence of Christ living in us, we have his power over temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13); we can overcome Satan (1 John 2:14); we can pray effectively for those in need (James 5:15); and we can take the gospel to the entire world (Acts 1:8).

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the omnipotent God proved that he could live in human flesh.

He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

How can we experience the power of Christmas in culture-changing ways?

One: Go to God first. We will have the power of Christmas when we submit to the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. We will have the power of Christmas when we walk with the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. We will have the power of Christmas when we serve and glorify the Christ of Christmas.

A post-Christian culture will see the relevance of Christ in our world when it sees the relevance of Christ in us. Frederick Buechner: “For millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.”

Will you manifest the power of Christmas today?

Denison Forum – ‘Star Wars’ and the 12 steps of the ‘Hero’s Journey’: Finding God in surprising places

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the last Star Wars trilogy, opens in theaters today.

I remember my first Star Wars film as if it were last week. I had never seen such technology on a movie screen. And when Luke destroyed the Death Star, the cheers shook the theater.

We’ve been cheering for the Skywalkers for forty-two years since.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the Star Wars business has been good business for Disney. The Force Awakens grossed $937 million domestically, the most of any movie in box-office history. Disney’s new streaming service launched with a Star Wars spinoff called The Mandalorian; Disney reported that ten million users signed up a day after the service launched.

An immersive Star Wars-themed attraction called Galaxy’s Edge opened this year at Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. The attraction sells $20 Blu-rays, $84 Darth Vader gold rings, $32 Chewbacca kitchen aprons, and $199 lightsabers as well.

“A fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo”

What explains the remarkable generational popularity of the Star Wars franchise?

Dr. Travis Langley is a professor of psychology and lead writer of Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind. He explains that Star Wars creator George Lucas “deliberately wove the most successful elements of heroic epics from throughout history into his story.”

Dr. Langley points to Lucas’ use of Joseph Campbell’s work on the “Hero’s Journey,” which Campbell based on Carl Jung’s writings about the power of archetypes and myth.

According to Campbell, the hero takes twelve steps:

  1. Living in the ordinary world
  2. Hearing the call to adventure
  3. Refusing the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold to leave the ordinary world
  6. Testing allies and enemies
  7. Approaching a challenge
  8. Facing the ordeal of death or a great fear
  9. Gaining the reward but facing the risk of losing it again
  10. Taking the road back to complete the adventure
  11. Facing the resurrection—one more severe test, a possible moment of death and rebirth
  12. Returning with the elixir—the hero has been transformed.

Shortly before he died in 1987, Campbell told reporter Bill Moyers that this “journey” is “a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo.”

The “God-shaped emptiness” in us all

Campbell is right: we are all on a journey toward God’s purpose for our souls. Unfortunately, many attempt to reach their supernatural destination through natural means.

Observant Jews strive to obey the 613 laws of God. Muslims live by the Five Pillars of Islam. Buddhists seek to follow their Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Hindus practice ascetic rituals as they attempt to progress through multiple reincarnations toward their concept of salvation.

As Pascal noted, there is a “God-shaped emptiness” in each of us. Like the Skywalkers, we battle the Evil Empire in our hearts and our world as we seek to fulfill our ultimate destiny.

But unlike the Skywalkers, none of us can complete the “hero’s journey” without the help of the one true Hero.

“He went to set up his monument”

First Chronicles 18 tells the story of David’s conquest over the enemies of his people. Included in the narrative is this unusual statement: “David also defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah-Hamath, as he went to set up his monument at the river Euphrates” (v. 3). Think of it: just as a king was building a monument to himself and his power over the region, he was defeated by the king empowered by God.

What happens to self-made heroes happens to self-made nations as well. The Lord said of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria: “This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else.’ What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist” (Zephaniah 2:15).

Trying harder to do better is imprinted on our cultural DNA. Self-reliance explains much of the material success of our society.

But self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. None of us can try hard enough or do well enough to compensate for our sins and earn our place in God’s sinless heaven.

That’s why God came to us at Christmas. It’s why he comes to us in his Spirit and word today. It’s why he calls us to submit to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), follow his will (Psalm 16:11), and depend on his power (Proverbs 3:5–6).

“Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best!”

Max Lucado: “Never did what is right involve itself so intimately with what is wrong. God on a cross. Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best! God doesn’t gasp in amazement at the depth of our faith or the depth of our failures. He knows the condition of the world and he loves it just the same.

“Just when we find a place where God would never be, like a cross—we look again, and there he is . . . in the flesh! Inconsistent surprises. Maybe the next time a surprise comes your way, you’ll see God in the middle of it.”

Where in your broken world do you need to see God today?