Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Major League Baseball star fills in as PE teacher

Harrison Bader, a Gold Glove Award-winning centerfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, learned that Meramec Elementary School in Clayton, Missouri, was dealing with staff shortages and needed some help, so he volunteered to cover a Physical Education class. However, he told reporters later, “Being a substitute science or math teacher, even at that level, would be above my pay grade.”

In other news, drivers on a Tennessee highway recently encountered a cast-iron skillet said to be the world’s largest. It was being hauled on the back of a flatbed truck to the Lodge Cast Iron store, which is building a Lodge Cast Iron MuseumUPI is also reporting on a 225.13-pound ball of human hair that has broken the Guinness World Record. (Click on the link to see the picture at your own risk . . .)

Then there is this bit of good news / bad news in the news: scientists say the sun will one day explode and kill us all, but not for another five billion years. However, some scientists also say our planet’s oceans will be vaporized by energy from the sun a mere billion years from now. Other experts disagree, claiming that our planet could host life for at least another 1.75 billion years.

So far I’ve not helped you solve any practical problems you might be facing today, but I enjoyed sharing news I found interesting in the hope that you agree. My friends know that I am just as ready to talk about a good book I read or a movie I enjoyed. And don’t get me started on my grandkids . . .

“Pleasure has no relish unless we share it”

A study by the University of Pennsylvania tracked the circulation of almost seven thousand articles from the New York Times over a three-month period. They found that positive articles were shared more often than negative ones. Another study reported that “we share our positive daily experiences 70 percent of the time.”

Virginia Wolff was right: “Pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” Albert Schweitzer agreed: “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

This week, we’ve focused on ways to respond redemptively to a culture that is “falling apart at the seams,” according to New York Times columnist David Brooks. We have noted the importance of humility in sharing God’s word with our lost friends and family members, and we have focused both on the urgency of compassion and the compassion of urgency in doing so.

Let’s close our series by centering on the well-known fact that the Christian “gospel” is literally “good news” (from the Old English god spel, translating the Greek euangelion, meaning “good news”). But let’s add this less-known fact: the Old English spel means not only “news” but also “story.” The gospel is a “good story” that has changed our personal story. Now we have the privilege of sharing that story with others so it can become their story as well.

“I have the most amazing job on the planet”

In John 4, Jesus met a woman who came to Jacob’s well to draw water. However, as he told her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (v. 13). Then he offered her the opportunity to experience “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). Given the choice, she understandably wanted the latter (v. 15).

It’s our job and privilege to give everyone we know the same choice.

Don Mansfield became Albania’s national director for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in 1991. The country had been officially atheistic for decades and had been entirely closed to missionaries until the borders opened that year. When he made his first visit to the country, three young men approached him, asking questions: “Where do you come from?” “What do you do?”

Mansfield told them, “I have the most amazing job on the planet. I get to tell people how they can know Jesus Christ.”

The leader turned to look at his friends. “Wasn’t it five minutes ago, we were talking, and we said, ‘We have got to find someone to tell us about Jesus?’” he asked them. Turning to Mansfield, he said, “Will you tell me about Jesus?”

Your truth will become their truth

Christians living in our postmodern, relativistic society are often warned that sharing their faith is the intolerant “imposing” of their values on others. Since being branded “intolerant” is the cardinal sin in our culture, it’s tempting to keep our salt in the saltshaker and our light under a basket (Matthew 5:13–16).

In addition, many Christians are unsure whether they know enough to be able to explain and defend their faith with skeptics. They know the basics of salvation but fear being embarrassed by questions they might not be able to answer.

The answer is to return to the “gospel” as a “good story.”

In a culture that measures truth by relevance, your experience with Jesus will be relevant to others to the degree that it is relevant to you. If you met Jesus this morning in his word and worship, surrendering your day to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and asking that his “fruit” be manifested in your life, your prayer will be answered. Others will see the difference Christ makes in your life and will be drawn to that difference for themselves.

Your truth will then become their truth as they experience the truth.

The compelling question

Knowing Jesus and then making him known has never been more vital for the future of American Christianity than it is today.

My dear friend Kerby Anderson’s outstanding call for us to “equip the next generation with biblical truth” makes the compelling case that young people today know less about the Bible than previous generations. They are more likely to believe that other religious beliefs lead to heaven and are less likely to share their faith as a result. 

By contrast, the more we truly experience Jesus, the more we will want to share him with others. The more the gospel becomes our “good story,” the more our lives and our words will tell that story.

So, here’s the question: When last did Jesus change your life?

NOTE: There are just four days left to reserve your seat at the virtual book launch Q&A celebrating the release of my latest and most pivotal book, The Coming Tsunami. During the Q&A we’ll look at Critical Race Theory, one of the four major “earthquakes” I talk about in The Coming Tsunami that are seismically shifting our world. So I hope you’ll join us for the Q&A. Please pre-order your copy of The Coming Tsunami to reserve your seat. Thank you.

P.S. Amazon has dropped the pre-order price to $22.50. Amazon also offers a pre-order price guarantee, meaning that you’ll pay the lowest pre-order price offered before the book releases (even if you’ve already pre-ordered). If you pre-order through Amazon, be sure to visit afterward to register for the Q&A event.

Denison Forum – A balanced review of “Fault Lines,” Voddie Baucham’s critique of modern social justice

Voddie T. Baucham Jr.’s Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastropheprovides an in-depth perspective on how social justice has divided our culture, our country, and the church, and how the tenets of modern social justice employ narratives that do not match with evidence. 

To describe this ideology, he uses his own term, “Critical Social Justice” (CSJ). While he supports social justice, he believes that Critical Theory has taken hold in today’s culture. In this context, Baucham certainly does the job of critiquing and engaging culture. 

Most of the work is aptly summarized in Proverbs 18:17, which he quotes, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

In examining the evidence for and against the idea of systemic, structural racism, Baucham does not deny racial disparity in America. Rather, he challenges the CSJ narrative, which argues that the inequality is due entirely to the racist “DNA” of America. 

While Baucham offers some alternative explanations to the disparity, though not much, he mostly attacks one prominent fallacy in CSJ thinking: “There is unequal outcome, therefore, the structure is to blame.”

He claims, to help us get a broader perspective, that America is objectively less racist than almost any other country. His perspective, as he has lived in Zambia for the past six years, is one of an insider and an outsider.

He is frank, forthright, and defends the gospel. Furthermore, while he masterfully shows that the narrative of CSJ is downright dishonest, misleading, and extremely dangerous to the church and our culture, sometimes I think he doesn’t capture the full scale of the evidence. 

Critical reflections

With full respect and admiration for Baucham’s life, work, intentions, and thought, here are some critical reflections on Fault Lines. 

He addresses some of the evidence but often leaves out the other side. For example, he uses Harvard Economics professor Roland G. Fryer’s paper, “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,” which shows that, when external factors are controlled, unarmed black and white Americans are shot at relatively equal rates. He cites this to disprove the 2.5 to 1 ratio that is often cited, which states that unarmed black men are killed at 2.5 times the rate of white men. 

However, that same paper also shows that police disproportionately use force against black Americans (even when outside factors are controlled and the offenders comply with officers’ requests). He doesn’t acknowledge the latter point. 

He sometimes uses unscholarly or difficult-to-confirm sources, like a tweet with a video compilation or an obscure YouTube video. One footnote led me through a difficult search, and I ended up listening to an entire podcast because Baucham didn’t cite the original content or timestamp. This, and other references, sometimes lacked context or only gave one side of the picture. 

As another reviewer notes, when Baucham compares the CSJ movement to a “new religion,” complete with its own “creation story” and cosmology, he stretches the comparison. Undoubtedly, the CSJ movement with Critical Race Theory often has religious fervor and generally provides a worldview. Regardless, this comparison seemed forced. 

Additionally, readers must remember that Baucham believes that there is a deep divide on this issue. When we look around, it’s hard to disagree. But, one will notice when reading that this division defines the work, and his charge is to “pick a side.” While he may be completely correct in his analysis, Baucham’s tendency to harp on the division is sometimes tough to swallow. This, compounded with the fact that he spends little time on positive solutions, makes the book sometimes feel partial and unnecessarily divisive.   

Why Christians should read this book

Suffice to say, while those complaints are important, on the whole, Baucham excellently addresses the spreading destruction of CSJ in evangelicalism. For example, he demonstrates that Be the Bridgeand other Christian works on the subject are often rifewith “Ethnic Gnosticism,” whereby the truth can only be heard from people of color and people of color are always to be believed. While humility is important, as Christians we shouldn’t abandon the belief in objective truth. 

He addresses the danger of accepting CSJ, as it can contaminate the gospel with legalism and distracting goals that tend toward disunity rather than unity. Additionally, he provides insider insight into the events of the SBC controversy and its resolution on Critical Race Theory. 

Baucham affirms the importance of ethnic diversity. He values his African heritage highly as an important part of his identity. And, indeed, he affirms that Christians must “do justice.” However, he believes that CSJ can blind us to true justice and avoid the real problems that lead to racial disparity. Insofar as this book is a critique of the movement and its danger to Evangelical Christianity, it does its job excellently. 

If you don’t pick up this work, I would at least recommend that you read and wrestle with the “Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” even if you disagree with it. Baucham refers to this document frequently and was a prominent signature on it. 

All in all, Voddie Baucham’s work is a helpful source of argumentation and a fresh perspective very much needed in the CRT debate that rages in our culture. 

In their own words

“I wish I could say this book is meant to help us avoid the impending catastrophe. However, it is not. This catastrophe is unavoidable. These fault lines are so deeply entrenched, and the rules of engagement are so perilously complex, the question is not if but when the catastrophe will strike.”

“In the end, the answer to everything is racism [in the CSJ movement]. Not only is this kind of reasoning logically flawed, but it also flies in the face of a substantial body of sociological research and the historic preaching and understanding of the black church.” 

“The black family matters. Education matters. Decisions and choices matter. And above all, God’s Word matters.” 

“Racism is real. Injustice is real. No matter how many times I say those things, I will still be accused of turning a blind eye to them—not because I deny them, but because I deny the CRT/I view that they are “normal” and at the basis of everything.” 

“Pastors…I believe the church—your church—is under attack. As shepherds, we must defend the sheep. We must repel the wolves. And yes, the wolves are many. However, this one is within the gates and has the worst intentions. He desires to use your genuine love for the brethren as leverage.” 

“Living in Africa for the past five years has broadened my perspective on social justice in two major ways.

1) I have come to understand that the Critical Social Justice movement is global… 

2) I have come to realize that culture does matter, that not all cultures are equal, that Christian culture has produced the highest levels of freedom and prosperity and the lowest levels of corruption and oppression in the world, and that transforming culture is a laudable and worthwhile goal.”

Denison Forum – Man drinks bleach at restaurant, awarded more than $9M by jury

William Cronnon was eating lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in April 2014. His waitress accidentally refilled his glass with a mixture of water and Eco-San, a commercial-grade bleach.

According to his attorney, Cronnon went to the emergency room for treatment and developed gastrointestinal issues I won’t describe here. The attorney stated that Cronnon’s injuries were “severe and persistent enough” that he could no longer work. The case went to trial, where a jury awarded Cronnon compensatory damages totaling $4.3 million and punitive damages of $5 million.

I can find no evidence that the waitress intended to harm him or that he intended to be harmed. She sincerely thought she was refilling his glass with water. He sincerely thought he was drinking water. 

But both were sincerely wrong.

Former policeman indicted in death of his mother

This week we’re exploring ways to relate redemptively to our broken society. On Monday, we discussed New York Times columnist David Brooks’ compelling description of America as “falling apart at the seams.” Yesterday, we identified three reasons to choose compassion in responding to those who reject biblical truth and morality.

Today, let’s take an additional step into such solidarity.

Some sins are obviously intentional and deserve the opprobrium of society. An example is the former New York police officer who has been indicted in the death of his mother, who was found nearly decapitated in her Queens home last year. 

At other times, those who suffer are not at fault and deserve our full sympathy and support. An example is the disaster in Tonga caused by the largest volcanic eruption in more than thirty years and the resulting tsunami waves it sent crashing across the Pacific. Clearly, no one on the island could have caused or prevented the destruction they experienced.

Two compelling calls for compassion

Most who reject biblical truth and morality fall in the latter category for two reasons, both of which relate directly to followers of Jesus today.

One: They need our help in understanding spiritual truth.

Scripture teaches: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is why non-Christians need Christians to teach and model biblical truth in ways that are accessible and relevant to them.

Much of our Christian vocabulary is foreign to those outside our faith; words like sin and lost feel pejorative to those who have no context for understanding their true meaning. Evangelism feels to them like the unfair imposition of our opinions on them. They view attending our churches in the same way you and I would view attending a Muslim mosque or a Buddhist temple.

They need precisely what you and I needed before others helped us understand and accept the truth of God’s word. They are sincerely lost, but they don’t know they’re lost. They need and deserve someone to show them the path to life in a spirit of compassion and grace.

Two: They are the victims of the true enemy.

Yesterday, I referred to 2 Corinthians 4:4. Here is the full verse: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is why “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

As a result, the first step in influencing the lost is interceding for the lost. It is praying for the Spirit to defeat the work of Satan in their minds and hearts. It is asking God to lead them to himself, to guide and use us to that end, and to protect them from the deceptions and antagonism of our fallen culture.

While some people clearly understand and yet reject biblical truth and are willing accomplices in Satan’s work of deception, the vast majority do not know what they do not know. They do not understand that they are lost and in need of salvation. They do not understand that they are the victims of the enemy of their souls and that they desperately need our intercession and compassion.

A hymn I encourage you to pray

Millions of people in our lost culture are sincerely drinking “water” that leads to death rather than “living water” that leads to life (John 4:14). This is because they need Christians to explain and model biblical truth in relevant and empowering ways while interceding for the lost to hear and respond to the gospel in the power of the Spirit.

If I am holding the only flashlight in a dark room, whose fault is the darkness?

Rather than condemning those who need my witness and intercession, should I not renew my commitment to both?

To have God’s heart for the lost, however, I must first experience God’s heart for myself. I must encounter his loving grace, his transforming mercy, his empowering presence and peace. To that end, I’ll close with a hymn I came across recently that greatly encouraged me. It was written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John and co-leader of the Methodist movement.

Charles wrote the words for more than 6,500 hymns, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” He could make such a profound impact on his culture and on Christian history because Jesus was so real in his heart, a fact he expressed in words I encourage you to pray slowly to God right now:

Jesus, my all in all thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The medicine of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown,
In shame my glory and my crown:

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty pow’r,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour,
My help and stay whene’er I call,
My life in death, my heav’n, my all. Amen.


Denison Forum – 28 murdered, 57 houses destroyed in Jihadist attack on South Sudanese Christians

At roughly eleven years old, South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. The Christian-majority nation gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan in 2011 but has seen little peace in the years since. 

In recent months, jihadists have made a more concerted effort to expand their influence in the area. As Bishop Joseph Mamer Manot relayed to the Barnabus Fund earlier this month, “massive displacement has happened, and the humanitarian situation is alarming as food and other property have been burned down into ashes, leaving survivors with no shelters, no food and no safe drinking water.”

After a recent attack left twenty-eight dead and fifty-seven homes destroyed, a Christian from the area added that “Islam is now invading South Sudan. They’re saying South Sudan is a strategic place and that [it] will be the gate to Africa [so that] Islam can go to all of Africa.” Located in Central Africa, South Sudan shares borders with Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the DRC, and the Central African Republic. 

That the jihadists’ goal is not simply to persecute Christians is an important component of what’s going on. 

Geography often has as much to do with these attacks as religion. For example, the atrocities committed by Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen against Christians in Nigeria—located roughly 1,500 miles due west from South Sudan—are as much about conflicting ways of life and land as they are about their spiritual differences. At the same time, it is far less likely that those recently killed in South Sudan would be dead if they were Muslims, so the religious component should by no means be dismissed. 

I bring all of this up today, though, for two reasons. 

Praying for the persecuted

First, we can intercede for our persecuted brothers and sisters far more effectively when we understand more about the nature of what they’re facing. 

It’s one thing to pray that God would protect them and bring their attackers to justice. But our hearts and minds engage with their suffering on another level when we know enough about them to better empathize with what they’re going through. 

Taking the time to prayerfully research the events and people about whom we pray will add a level of depth to our intercession and help them remain on our hearts and minds longer than if we simply pray and then go on with our day. Those suffering from the threats of death, starvation, and homelessness deserve that from us. 

And that is true for the tragedies we see closer to home as well, which leads to the second purpose. 

As threats of persecution and discrimination increase closer to home, we must become even more intentional about modeling Christ’s care and concern to those suffering elsewhere.

The human mind has a finite capacity for worry and distress. As the causes for such emotions increase at home, we will have to be more intentional about paying attention to the needs God puts on our hearts and minds from other places as well. It’s not that our hearts won’t still break for the persecuted Christians in South Sudan, but we’re likely to move on much faster than when we had more margin. 

When we get to that point and it feels like we just don’t have the words or energy that our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve, remember that God doesn’t evaluate our prayers by how long they are or how impressive others might find them (Matthew 6:7). And his word promises that when we go to him in prayer, the Spirit will intercede on our behalf, ensuring that God doesn’t need words to understand what’s in our heart (Romans 8:26–27). 

So the next time you see or read something that prompts you to pray, take the time to learn more about the people for whom you are interceding. 

And when it feels like you just don’t have the energy or the words to do justice to their needs, remember that we never pray alone. Find peace and reassurance in the fact that the Spirit prays alongside us, and that God knows what’s in our hearts and minds even when we can’t fully express it.

Denison Forum – Hostages in Texas synagogue freed, attacker identified

Congregation Beth-Israel is a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, thirty minutes west of my home in Dallas. Saturday morning, the rabbi and three others were taken hostage. Late that evening, FBI agents cleared the building and rescued the hostages. The attacker was killed during the operation.

Yesterday, the FBI identified the suspect, a forty-four-year-old British national named Malik Faisal Akram. His family stated that he was “suffering from mental health issues” but added that they “apologize wholeheartedly” and condemned his action. “There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” they said in a statement.

It was surreal to watch the national news cover an event so close to my home. All day, I prayed for God to protect the hostages and bring their attacker safely to justice. If he had surrendered, the Lord would have been able to answer both of my prayers. The attacker apparently did not, so God could not.

This is the nature of free will. God created us to love him and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). However, love requires freedom to choose not to love. When we misuse our freedom to harm others and ourselves, God allows us the consequences of our decisions.

One of the most important articles I have read in years demonstrates the relevance of this fact to our secularized culture today.

“America is falling apart at the seams”

David Brooks has been writing for the New York Times since 2003. Last week, he published an article titled “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams.” It profiles a culture in crisis.

Brooks reports that reckless driving is rising, the number of altercations on airplanes is exploding, the murder rate in cities is surging, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, and nurses say patients are becoming more abusive.

Teachers are facing a rising tide of disruptive student behavior; drug deaths have risen continuously for twenty years but shot up especially during the pandemic. The FBI states that hate crimes have surged to the highest level in twelve years. Meanwhile, giving to charity is steadily declining both to religious and secular causes.

Brooks sees “a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility” and adds, “This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.”

“I just know the situation is dire”

Brooks asks what is going on, then answers: “I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide, and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.”

He notes that church membership has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in US history and cites a report that our nation has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. He also cites a Washington Post headline, “America Is a Nation of Narcissists, According to Two New Studies.”

Then he adds: “There must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why?”

Brooks concludes his article: “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.”

Are we experiencing God’s permissive judgment?

My initial response was to ask: What would you expect in a culture that has been rejecting biblical truth and morality for decades?

  • 79 percent of Americans say “people can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” Only 35 percent believe moral truth is objective and absolute.
  • 69 percent say any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable.
  • In 2004, 60 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. Fifteen years later, 61 percent support it.
  • The fastest-growing religious demographic in America is those who have no religious affiliation.

God cannot lead those who will not follow or give what we will not receive. Nor can a holy Father bless that which harms his children.

It is clear to me that, as was apparently true with the Colleyville hostage-taker, our culture is in the permissive phase of divine judgment where God allows us the consequences of our decisions. Romans 1 offers an example: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (v. 26). Paul adds: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28).

The results read like Brooks’ article: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (vv. 29–31).

If we still refuse to repent, we will experience God’s punitive judgment whereby he initiates punishment for sin. The Exodus, as well as the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel, are biblical examples. The prophet warns us: “The nation and kingdom that will not serve [God] shall perish” (Isaiah 60:12).

“Who has God, lacks nothing”

Tomorrow we will focus on ways to respond with compassionate courage and truthful grace. For today, let’s close by asking whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Would you ask the Spirit to reveal to you any areas of your life where you are experiencing the permissive judgment of God? Are you sheltering any unconfessed sin or unyielded obedience? Are you experiencing less than God’s best because you are giving him less than your best?

St. Teresa of Avila encouraged us: “Let nothing frighten you. Who has God, lacks nothing. God alone is enough.”

Every person who has trusted Jesus as Lord “has God.” 

How fully does he have you today?

Denison Forum – What we’re reading: “The Intolerance of Tolerance” by D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson, a distinguished theologian and author, got the idea for his book The Intolerance of Tolerance on the college lecture circuit.

Whenever he spoke on the subject, the crowds were large and the discussion lively. Eventually, as he continued to mull over the topic, he realized he had to put his thoughts into book form.

“It does not take much cultural awareness to see that the difficulties surrounding this subject are eating away at both Western Christianity and the fabric of Western culture,” he wrote.

In his view, a seemingly subtle shift in the way we define tolerance, from the old meaning of “accepting the existence of different views” to the new one of “accepting different views,” has had profound cultural implications.

“To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it,” he wrote. “The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we move from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new.”

And anyone who believes in absolute truth is considered intolerant.

Why Christians should read “The Intolerance of Tolerance”

You will gain a greater understanding of why biblical truth is under assault and be better equipped to defend it.

The big takeaway

In this era of moral relativism, when your truth is considered just as valid as mine, tolerance is regarded as the supreme virtue.

In their own words

“This older view of tolerance makes three assumptions: (1) there is objective truth out there, and it is our duty to pursue that truth; (2) the various parties in a dispute think that they know what the truth of the matter is, even though they disagree sharply, each party thinking the other is wrong; (3) nevertheless they hold that the best chance of uncovering the truth of the matter, or the best chance of persuading most people with reason and not with coercion, is by the unhindered exchange of ideas, no matter how wrongheaded some of those ideas seem.”

“The new tolerance argues that there is no one view that is exclusively true. Strong opinions are nothing more than strong preferences for a particular version of reality, each version equally true.”’’

“Christians do think that Jesus is the only way to God. But does that make them intolerant? In the former sense of ‘intolerant,’ not at all; the fact remains, however, that any sort of exclusive truth claim is widely viewed as a sign of gross intolerance. But the latter depends absolutely on the second meaning of ‘tolerance.’”

Read the first chapter

Denison Forum – “Toddler Goes Viral Shredding Slopes” and other stories that caught my eye

I’d like to do something different today. Rather than focus on the “big issues” of the day, I’ll begin with some news that appealed to me personally:

Here’s what these stories have in common: they all promise something that will potentially benefit me personally. I am in no sense unique in this regard: research shows that appealing to an audience’s emotions or otherwise offering more of what they already want is the key to getting “clicks.”

How is this fact related to knowing Jesus and then making him known?

Why “the Christian truth is attractive and persuasive”

Psychologist Abraham Maslow made famous the “hierarchy of needs” model:

Public domain image via Wikipedia

As you can see, our highest needs are for “self-actualization” and then “transcendence.” Maslow understood the former as our desire to realize our full potential. As he said, “What a man can be, he must be.” He defined the latter as our desire to give ourselves to something beyond ourselves, as in altruism or spirituality. He equated this “need” with the quest to reach the infinite.

In the entire universe, Jesus is the best source of both.

Because he made us (Colossians 1:16), he knows us better than we know ourselves. Because he loves us unconditionally and passionately (Galatians 2:20), he only and always wants our best for us.

Because he dwells in us by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), he can empower us to fulfill our potential in a way no one else can (Romans 12:2). Because he is God, he can lead us to oneness with the infinite (John 10:28–30).

Pope Francis is right: “The Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to humanity’s deepest needs.” Human nature does not change. The word of God is perennially relevant because the needs it addressed millennia ago are the same needs we feel today. The promises it made are promises God still keeps.

Why, then, do many Christians not experience in Christ the meeting of our deepest needs?

Breathing out, breathing in

The fault is not his but ours, of course.

When we compartmentalize our spiritual and “secular” lives, we insulate and partition him from the latter and miss the fullness of the former. When we “cherish iniquity in our heart,” we block the Holy Spirit’s ability to work powerfully in our lives (cf. Psalm 66:18). When we refuse to love our neighbor, we show that we have not fully experienced the love of our Father (cf. Matthew 22:37–391 John 4:19).

But when we spend time in the presence of Jesus, listening to his voice in his word and world, worshiping him with gratitude for his grace, confessing all he brings to our thoughts and cherishing his love for us, we must be different as a result. We cannot meet deeply and intentionally with the King of kings and leave the encounter as the same person. We cannot hear “God preaching” in the Bible (to use J. I. Packer’s description) and remain unchanged.

And when we share Christ with others, we experience more of Christ. When we breathe out, we can breathe in more deeply. When we empty our hands to others, we can be filled with the gifts of God.

Jesus told his first followers, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NASB). The converse is true as well: the more we give, the more we receive.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence”

To this end, I will close by recommending a neglected spiritual practice for the new year that I believe positions us to experience God in self-actualizing and transcendent ways. 

A Presbyterian minister in Waco, Texas, named Chris Palmer wrote an article recently for Christian Century that I found deeply impactful. Titled “A worship practice Zoom can’t replicate,” it is a call for intentional and contemplative silence as a regular part of the Christian life.

Palmer believes that we need regular, extended times of personal silence to listen to God’s voice through his Spirit, word, and creation. But he also believes that we need times of corporate silence in our worship services so we can hear his voice together.

He cites David’s testimony: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation” (Psalm 62:1). Because David made this time for silence with his Lord, he could then write the next verse: “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (v. 2).

If we listen to God, he will speak. If we hear the voice of the omnipotent God of the universe, we cannot be the same. We will be empowered to give what we receive. And “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5 NLT).

When last did meeting with God change your life?

NOTE: On January 25, I’m hosting a virtual book launch Q&A to celebrate the launch of my most pivotal work to date, my book The Coming Tsunami — and I’d love for you to attend. During the Q&A, I’ll go in depth about Critical Race Theory, one of the four major “earthquakes” I talk about in The Coming Tsunami that are seismically shifting our world. To gain access to the live Q&A, please pre-order a copy of The Coming Tsunami today. Thank you.

Denison Forum – President Biden calls for amending the filibuster to pass “voting rights” bills

President Biden delivered a speech on voting rights in Atlanta yesterday afternoon. He called for the Senate to amend its filibuster rules to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which the Washington Post describes as restoring “the federal government’s authority to review certain state voting laws to prevent discrimination,” and the Freedom to Vote Act, which the Post calls “a broader bill that would create national rules for voting by mail, early voting, and other parts of the electoral process.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell disagrees with the Democrats’ efforts to amend the filibuster, of course. He threatens to place a spate of Republican-backed bills on the legislative calendar in response, stating, “Since Sen. Schumer is hell-bent on trying to break the Senate, Republicans will show how this reckless action would have immediate consequences.”

So, which side is right? 

Your answer probably depends on which side is yours.

Why the founders intended political conflict

Why does your answer depend on your side? 

Because “sides” are an intentional part of our governance. Humor me with a very brief Civics 101 overview.

America is not a true “democracy.” If it were, the majority would win every argument. Rather, we are a republic in which the minority has guaranteed rights as well. We have therefore chosen to govern ourselves through political leaders we elect to represent us. Members of the House of Representatives represent geographical districts within the various states; members of the Senate represent the states that elected them; and the president represents the entire nation.

Our elected officials are supposed to advocate for us as if we were in Washington advocating for ourselves. When you wish the government would do something I wish it would not do, our representatives are supposed to find compromises that advance the common good in a collective manner. But when my position cancels yours, as is the case for so many of our issues today, compromise becomes difficult to find.

For example, evangelical Christians have First Amendment religious liberty protection to lead their ministries according to their biblical convictions with regard to LGBTQ issues, or they do not. (The so-called Equality Act says they do not.) Abortion on demand is either a constitutionally guaranteed “privacy right” or it is not. (The Supreme Court will rule on this question later this year.)

Why our divisions are deeper than ever

Add the fact that fewer Americans than ever before trust the “other side” to do the right thing. For instance, CNN reports that the percentage of Americans who strongly dislike the opposition party has risen by 400 percent in the last two decades.

Social media plays an outsized role here as well. Christianity Today public theologian Russell Moore recently pointed readers to a relevant article by Robert Wright, who in turn quoted psychologist Leon Festinger: “People who make public commitments to a position are going to be motivated to bolster it. They’re going to become better and better at generating reasons why they’re right and their would-be critics are wrong.”

As Wright then observes, this is a greater problem than ever. Thirty years ago, it was difficult to make such public commitments. You had to get on television or radio, get a book or article published, and so on. Now anyone with a cell phone can be “on stage.” They can (and often do) voice their opinions on any subject they wish to address. And once they do, they become hardened in defending their position against its critics. And they are more likely to build “echo chambers” whereby they listen only to those who agree with them.

Rather than the consensual process of compromise for the greater good that our founders envisioned, we have a “zero-sum” battle of adversaries who can win only if the other side loses.

Why the God of the Bible is relevant today

Why is the God of the Bible uniquely relevant to such a conflicted culture?

Because this God loves “the world” (John 3:16). He proved it when he chose us long before we chose him: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Whatever your position on abortion, this God loves you. Whatever your thoughts about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ activism, he loves you. Even if you reject his love or deny his existence, he loves you.

Unlike any other supposed deity or entity in the universe, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, my emphasis). Because he is love by his intrinsic nature, there is literally nothing you can do to make him love you any more or less than he does at this moment.

Furthermore, the God of Scripture calls his followers to follow his example: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

Why our faith is vital to America’s future

This is why a spiritual awakening is so urgent for America’s future. Consensual governance requires consensual morality. If we cannot agree on our most fundamental goods and rights (or even if there are fundamental goods and rights), how can we govern ourselves accordingly?

Our founders knew that, as John Adams stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He noted that “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality.”

And he warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”

Is this what we are witnessing today?

Will you ask God’s Spirit to fill you with God’s love even (and especially) for those with whom you disagree?

Will you ask him to help you use your influence to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) wherever and however you can today?

Will you be part of the problem, or will you be part of the solution to the glory of God?

Denison Forum – Space heater fire in the Bronx kills 17 people, including 8 children

On average, 7,708 Americans die each day. Most of them are known primarily to their families, friends, coworkers, and so on. But when a space heater sparks a fire in the Bronx that kills seventeen people, including eight children, the nation grieves, as we should. When a cliff collapses on tourist boats in Brazil, killing ten people, the world watches the video in shock. 

When a beloved actor like Sidney Poitier dies, his passing makes international headlines. It was the same with television actor Bob Saget, who died Sunday, and with Betty White after she died a few days ago. 

Other deaths make the news less for who they were than for how they happened. A father in Virginia tried to walk home in a snowstorm last week; his body was discovered three days later. The body of a skier missing since Christmas was found last weekend. A Los Angeles Taco Bell worker was fatally shot last Saturday during an argument over a fake $20 bill. 

Why aren’t Americans afraid of death? 

As the news constantly reminds us, any of us could die at any time. And yet, if you ask Americans to name their top fears, their personal death ranks surprisingly low. More than half of us either are “not very afraid” (27 percent) or “not at all afraid” (25 percent) of death. Only 11 percent of us are “very afraid” of death, while 31 percent are “somewhat afraid” to die and 7 percent “don’t know.” 

We are more afraid of the way we might die than the fact of our death. In a list of our “top ten fears,” “mass shootings” comes in at #3, followed by “terrorism” at #5 and “becoming terminally ill” at #7. Each points to how we might die rather than the fact of death itself. 

Why are we mortals not more afraid of our mortality? 

The answer is tragically not that we are prepared to meet God. Only 35 percent of American adults believe salvation comes through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And yet, 54 percent believe they will go to heaven, many of them because they think they have earned their place in paradise through their good works. 

What of the rest? 

  • 15 percent say they don’t know what will happen after they die.
  • 13 percent say there is no life after death.
  • 8 percent expect to be reincarnated.
  • 8 percent believe they will go to a place of purification prior to entering heaven.
  • Just 2 percent believe they will go to hell.

“I don’t believe in the queen of England” 

I remember a day when an intense fear of hell was commonplace. Even though our family never attended church before I heard the gospel at the age of fifteen, I have strong memories of fearing what would happen to me if I died. Evangelists and pastors could present the “plan of salvation” in the knowledge that most who heard them wanted to know and then follow that “plan.” 

However, one of the many ways Satan is using the postmodern denial of objective truth is to convince millions that their opinion of the afterlife determines the afterlife they will experience. A man once confidently told me “I don’t believe in hell” as if that changed the existence of hell. 

We would not make this assumption in any other dimension of reality. Imagine your response if I assured you that the queen of England does not exist because I don’t believe in her existence. On the contrary, we know that denying reality typically harms us far more than it helps us, as when a doctor tells us we have cancer or the meteorologist warns of severe weather. 

But “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 

Unlike those who are directionally lost and stop for directions, most who are spiritually lost don’t know they are lost. If Satan has his way, they will persist in this condition until it is too late. 

Four empowering prayers 

What can we do to help them? 

I doubt your first response is to inform them that they are lost and destined for hell. If a Muslim told you that you would go to hell unless you converted to Islam, would this make you more or less interested in his faith? While lost people definitely need to know their peril and need for salvation, four preceding steps can make this news much more effective. 

1. Ask God to make our lives consistent with our message (cf. Romans 12:1–2). 

People are far more likely to believe our faith is relevant to them when it is obviously relevant to us. 

2. Ask our Father to give us his love for the lost. 

We will risk anything for those we love. When we love others as Jesus loves us (cf. John 13:34–35), our words will be empowered and inspired by compassion and grace. While no one wants to be told they are wrong and we are right, everyone wants to be loved. 

3. Ask the Spirit to lead us to those he has prepared for our witness. 

He is actively cultivating the minds and hearts of the lost to hear the good news of God’s grace. He is thus preparing someone specifically for your compassionate witness today. 

4. Ask the Spirit to inspire your words and actions. 

He knows just what this person needs to hear and see from you. If you submit to the Spirit each day (Ephesians 5:18), even when facing skeptics and critics, your words will be God’s words because “it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:20). 

If we will make these four requests of our Lord every day, our lives and our witness will be transformed. We will know Jesus and make him known with passion and compassion out of the overflow of his Spirit in our hearts. 

The late Senate chaplain Richard Halverson noted, “New Testament Christians did not witness because they had to but because they could not help it.” 

Will you join them today?

Denison Forum – Harvard study reveals the secret to long-term happiness

Harvard’s “Study of Adult Development” followed two groups of men over eighty years to “identify the psychosocial predictors of healthy aging.” Beginning before World War II, they interacted with over seven hundred men as they scrutinized blood samples, performed brain scans, and collated surveys.

According to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the director of the research project, “The clearest message that we get from this eighty-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

However, as Dr. Waldinger clarifies, “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. Not the quantity.”

Here’s what the Harvard study overlooked: there is one relationship that is most crucial to our flourishing. According to a report published last month in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “Anxiety or a lack of certainty about one’s relationship with the divine represents a threat to psychological well-being.”

Oswald Chambers turns out to be right: “There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord. Let everything else go, but maintain that at all costs, and God will fulfill his purpose through your life.”

Why is this?

“People will go a bit nuts”

The biblical answer to our question is clear: God made us in his image (Genesis 1:26) for personal relationship with himself (cf. Revelation 3:20). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

St. Augustine spoke for all of us when he said to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Confessions 1.1).

But what could I say to the person who discounts both the Bible and those who believe in its truth? An option would be to ask how we are doing in a culture that refuses to “rest” in God. How “restless” are our hearts as a result?

Andrew Sullivan summarizes the core thesis of a new book called Stolen Focus by Johann Hari: “Create a throw-away consumeristic civilization, break families into ever smaller units, add a tech revolution, online addiction, economic precariousness, breakneck social change, endless work, and the collapse of religion and meaning, and yes, people will go a bit nuts. They’ll become depressed; they’ll seek out escapes through opiates or meth; they’ll disappear down rabbit holes of online fanaticism; they’ll seek meaning through work or fame; they’ll tear each other down with glee; they’ll lose the skills for family, friendship, constancy, discipline, and love.”

“They all strive towards this goal”

Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a genius. He wrote an essay on geometry at the age of seventeen that aroused the envy of Rene Descartes. Two years later, he developed the first digital calculator. He also invented the syringe, created the hydraulic press, and laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities.

Pascal’s understanding of human experience was as brilliant as his scientific expertise. For instance, in the Pensees, he observed: “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions. However different the means they may employ, they all strive towards this goal. The reason why some go to war and some do not is the same desire in both, but interpreted in two different ways. The will never takes the least step except to that end. This is the motive of every act of every man, including those who go and hang themselves.”

He asked, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?” Then he responded to his question: “This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.”

Pascal concluded: “God alone is man’s true good, and since man abandoned him, it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest. Since losing his true good, man is capable of seeing it in anything, even his own destruction, although it is so contrary at once to God, to reason and to nature” (Pensees 425).

“Embrace something with your heart”

God’s timeless word and today’s headlines agree: Humans cannot flourish apart from an intimate, personal relationship with our Creator. This fact explains much of the suffering in our secularized culture. But it also applies to you and me just as much as to any lost person we know.

If you have trusted Christ as your Lord, the fact that you have received eternal life through him does not guarantee that you are experiencing that life today. In fact, the opposite can be the case: we think that because our eternity is secure, our temporal lives need little spiritual attention.

The Harvard study is true for you: the quality of your relationship with Jesus is the single greatest determiner of your happiness and flourishing. Neglecting this relationship is indeed a “threat to psychological well-being.” But fostering it is the pathway to the abundant life Jesus died to give you (John 10:10).

Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston observed, “To believe is not ultimately to wrap your brain around some existential concept. To believe is to embrace something with your heart as if your life depended upon it. The English word believe comes from the same etymological root as the word belove, which is to hold dear, to love deeply.”

Do you believe in Jesus today?

NOTE: As we embark on a new year, I see on the horizon some seismic cultural shifts headed our direction. This is why I wrote my latest book, The Coming Tsunami, which releases on January 25. On this day, I’m also hosting a special virtual book launch Q&A, which I’d love for you to attend. So please pre-order your copy of The Coming Tsunami to gain exclusive access. I look forward to seeing you on January 25.

Denison Forum – Was President Trump to blame for January 6? A prayer that points to the transforming hope we need

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol.” This is how President Biden explained the January 6 riots in a speech marking their one-year anniversary yesterday.

Many agree, identifying what they call a “coup plot” comprising a “deliberate effort to overthrow our democracy.” Others disagree, stating that there was not a “concerted, planned attempt to overthrow the government, let [alone] a terrorist insurrection.”

Sixty-eight percent of Republicans say the January 6 attack has gotten too much attention; only 23 percent of Democrats agree. While 87 percent of Democrats say the attack was extremely or very violent, only 39 percent of Republicans agree.

Descriptions and assignments of culpability matter as we seek to understand past tragedies lest we repeat them in the future. But I have seen no political explanations that focus on the real heart of the issue.

The Book of Common Prayer includes this intercession:

To my humble supplication,
Lord, give ear and acceptation.
Save thy servant, that hath none
help nor hope but Thee alone.

Why is this prayer so vital to transforming hope in the new year?

Father gunned down while carrying daughter’s birthday cake

The percentage of Americans who say they are more fearful about the coming year has risen from 36 percent in 2021 to 54 percent in 2022. A quick check of the news shows us why.

  • A one-month-old baby was orphaned after his parents, both sheriff’s deputies, died by suicide within days of each other.
  • A father in Texas was gunned down at Chuck E. Cheese as he carried his daughter’s birthday cake.
  • Eight children and two mothers are among the dead at a Philadelphia house fire Wednesday.
  • COVID-19 cases are topping one million daily in the US.
  • An “adored” Catholic priest was killed in a car crash Monday, one day after his fifty-third birthday.

In the face of our obvious fragility and mortality, we might expect even secular Americans to admit our need for help and hope beyond ourselves. We obviously cannot prevent death or enable our own survival beyond it. But our scientific and medical advances have improved life expectancy and inoculated us from the reality of death to a degree unsurpassed in human history.

Nor can we remedy the sin problem at the heart of all our relational and political divisions. But, once again, we have found an alternative approach.

Vladimir Putin asked two questions with regard to political violence: “Who? Whom?” What matters is who performs the action and upon whom it is performed, he claimed. When we are the who, we see our actions against the whom as justified, from January 6 rioters in Washington to street violence after George Floyd’s murder.

However, as theologian Terence Sweeney notes, “The whom you attack is a who in reality. Just as you are a self, so too are they a self.”

Three empowering daily steps

In an 1816 letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote: “Power always thinks it has a great soul, and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God service, when it is violating all his laws.”

The solution to our mortal frailty and to our political animosity is the same: admitting to God that we “hath none help nor hope but Thee alone.” I encourage you to join me in these practical and empowering steps each day across this year:

One: Invite the Holy Spirit to empower and control your life.

Ephesians 5:18 commands us to “be filled with the Spirit.” As my latest video explains, this is a daily act of confession and surrender that positions us to experience God’s best.

When we do, we can trust our Lord with the day before us. Charles Spurgeon asked: “If God cares for you, why need you care too? Can you trust him for your soul and not for your body?” He added: “He has never refused to bear your burdens; he has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul! Have done with fretful care and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God.”

Two: Walk in the power and peace of the Spirit.

Max Lucado was right: “The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the Christian. Everything from Acts to Revelation is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. . . . After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit became the primary agent of the Trinity on earth. He will complete what was begun by the Father and the Son. ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25). He directs and leads: you must obey and follow.”

In my latest personal blog, I explain how we can experience the Spirit’s peace amid our hurried lives, his purpose amid our challenges, his calm amid our distractions. Claim God’s promise: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Three: Pray for courage and then serve with courage.

When facing growing animosity, the early Christians ask God to “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). As a result, “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v. 31).

In My Daily Pursuit, A. W. Tozer wrote: “Because God has been reduced in the minds of people, they do not have that boundless confidence in his character that used to be prominent among Christians. Confidence is necessary to respect. You cannot respect a man in whom you have no confidence. Extend that respect upward to God and if you cannot respect God, you cannot worship him. You cannot have confidence in him, because where there is no respect there can be no worship. Worship rises and falls in the church depending upon whether the idea of God is low or high; so we must begin with God where everything begins.

“God needs no rescuing, but we do, and we must rescue our concepts from their fallen and frightfully inadequate condition so that boundless confidence in him can reign once again.”

How much “boundless confidence” do you have in God today?

Denison Forum – The assault on the US Capitol and Satan’s spiritual strategy

The US Capitol is the focus of global attention today. Police riot shields have been placed near doorways. Metal detectors stand outside the House of Representatives chamber. Capitol police officers are out in force in larger numbers and with heavier equipment than before. Fencing is in place in some locations.

All of this is in preparation for the first anniversary of the January 6 assault on the Capitol.

A year ago I wrote a Daily Article special edition as the crisis was unfolding titled “Chaos in Washington.” Millions of us watched on television as lawmakers were evacuated from the House and Senate chambers. Fox News‘ Chad Pergram stated, “This is the most significant breach of an American government institution since the British burned the Capitol after the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814.” Former President George W. Bush called the attack “a sickening and heartbreaking sight.”

The next day, I asked our readers to join me in praying for our leaders and people to seek reconciliation and peace, for Christians to respond with truth and grace, and for more Christians to be engaged in our democracy. You and I need to continue offering such intercession as much today as we did a year ago.

And we urgently need to renew our commitment to the most transformational yet countercultural way we can answer our prayers for our nation.

If I were Satan

The ultimate answer to every problem humans face is found in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone can forgive our sins, empower us to truly forgive others, and make us the “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) we must become to experience abundant life in this fallen world (John 10:10).

Satan knows this as well as we do.

As a result, if I were Satan, I would try to convince all Americans to be atheists. The twentieth century saw firsthand the consequences of the denial of God, with one hundred million deaths due to atheistic communism around the world. Erwin Lutzer was right: “It is said that after God died in the nineteenth century, man died in the twentieth. For when God is dead, man becomes an untamed beast.”

If I could not convince Americans to be atheists, I would try to convince them to be agnostics. This is because the practical consequence is usually the same. I have never met an agnostic—someone who is not sure God is real—who acted as if he is.

Satan is having moderate success on both fronts: according to Pew Research Center, the share of Americans who identify as atheists has risen from 2 percent in 2009 to 4 percent in 2019. The share who call themselves agnostic has increased from 3 percent a decade ago to 5 percent today.

What should be done about the remaining 91 percent who persist in some form of faith in God?

A masterful satanic strategy

If I could not convince Americans to abandon faith entirely, I would have a third strategy ready: to have faith in faith. To be “spiritual but not religious.” To believe that so long as we have faith in a “higher power,” a spiritual feeling of some sort, that is all the “religion” we need.

Our enemy is having great success here. As I reported yesterday, 63 percent of American adults believe “having faith matters more than which faith you have.” This is a quintessential postmodern approach: we can be tolerant of all faiths while requiring none. We think we can derive the benefits of believing in God or the gods without choosing any particular religion and its demands on us.

Imagine, however, applying this logic to any other dimension of our lives. So long as you have faith in medicine, it doesn’t matter which medication you take. So long as you have faith in roads, it doesn’t matter which one you travel. So long as you have faith in people, it doesn’t matter which one you marry. Where in life does “faith in faith” work?

This is a masterful strategy by Satan. It causes us to be “inoculated” by faith in a way that keeps us from getting the real thing. We get to live by moonlight in the dark without being exposed to the light of the sun.

There is only one road to heaven, but there are many roads to hell. This is one of the most popular today.

When Christianity works

Lest we shake our heads at the “faith in faith” mentality that is so popular and deceptive, let’s consider its insidious attraction for Christians as well. If Satan cannot get us to boycott worship services, Bible studies, prayer, and other spiritual activities, he’ll tempt us to make them an end instead of a means—to think we’ve checked the “God box” by going to church on Sunday and spending a few minutes in religious activities during the week.

If we are not entering his transforming presence in worship, hearing his voice in his word, and connecting intimately with him in prayer, we are placing our faith in faith. We are substituting religion for relationship. And we are missing the empowering, daily encounter with the living Christ that is our only path to being “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

In addition, if we fall prey to the “faith in faith” delusion, we will sidestep the biblical call to evangelism (Acts 1:8) that our culture brands as “intolerant” since other people have their own “faith” as well. As I noted in my latest personal blog, this is an enticing way to appear tolerant in a post-Christian culture. But it victimizes those who need the salvation we have experienced and consigns them to an eternity separated from God.

If we want an end to the political animosity and divisiveness of our day, faith in political leaders and parties is not enough. If we want to prevent another January 6 riot, faith in law enforcement is not enough. If we want true hope in the midst of a pandemic, true peace in the midst of rising geopolitical threats, true joy in the midst of economic pain, faith in faith is not enough.

In her latest blog, my wife wrote these important words: “Christianity works when Christians allow God to work through their lives.” I would add that America works best when Christians do the same.

We can have faith in faith, or we can have faith in Jesus, but we cannot have both.

Which would he say you have chosen today?

Denison Forum – Did Betty White go to heaven?

By popular acclamation, Betty White was “America’s sweetheart.” I first became acquainted with her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and laughed along with most of America at her Rose Nylund portrayal in The Golden Girls. She was terrific in Boston Legal and The Proposal among other projects.

Now we have learned that the famed actress filmed a tribute to her fans just ten days before her death. She was participating in a documentary special titled “Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration” that would play in theaters across the country. The feature-length special will still debut on January 17, but it will be retooled to be a celebration of her life and career. It has been retitled to “Betty White: A Celebration.” 

Her popularity is well deserved and not just for her television career. By one account, she supported twenty-six different charitable causes, from the American Heart Association to the Red Cross and Special Olympics. Her devotion to animals was especially passionate and noteworthy. 

Given her remarkable life, I would imagine many of you cringed at my title for today’s article. Of course someone who was as beloved and did as much good as Betty White would go to heaven, many people will say. 

To even raise the question is to seem intolerant, the worst thing a person can appear to be today. It feels unkind to ask such a question about a cultural icon like Betty White, doesn’t it? 

What did Betty White believe? 

That’s because it’s conventional wisdom that “all good people go to heaven.” Only one in three Americans affirm the statement, “When you die you will go to heaven only because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.” By contrast, 63 percent of adults believe “having faith matters more than which faith you have.” 

According to a substantive Probe Ministries study, over 60 percent of Born Again Christians believe Muhammad, Buddha, and Jesus are all valid ways to God. Pew Forum reports that 39 percent of Americans say even people who do not believe in God at all can go to heaven. Only 2 percent of Americans think they are going to hell

As a result, most Americans think Betty White’s personal religious beliefs are irrelevant to the question. She was reportedly a member of the Unity Church, which describes itself as being “for people who might call themselves spiritual but not religious.” Its “five principles” state: 

  1. God is all there is and present everywhere. This is the force of love and wisdom that underlies all of existence.
  2. Human beings are divine at their core and therefore inherently good.
  3. Thoughts have creative power to determine events and attract experiences.
  4. Prayer and meditation keep us aligned with the one great power in the universe.
  5. It is not enough to understand spiritual teachings. We must live the Truth we know.

I could find no evidence that the Unity Church teaches the need for people to confess their sins and turn to Christ as their Savior and Lord. 

By contrast, as you know, the Bible clearly teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), it is vital that we “believe in the Lord Jesus” to be saved (Acts 16:31). Scripture teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). God’s word proclaims, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, my emphasis). 

Is Christianity “worth bothering with”? 

Does this mean that Betty White did not go to heaven? I have no way to know that, of course. I did not know her personally and, even if I did, I could not see her heart. I could find no evidence that she believed what Scripture teaches regarding saving faith, but it is not for me to judge the state of her soul. 

What I do know is that she went to heaven only if she had trusted in Christ as her Savior. The same will be true for you and me one day. 

However, my larger point relates less to her and more to you: Is this conversation unsettling for you? I assume you agree with Jesus’ testimony, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But do you often consider the eternal destiny of those who do not? 

C. S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” 

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

Don’t cheat yourself out of spiritual victory” 

I am praying that today’s article will be a catalyst for us to pray more passionately for those we know who, to our knowledge, do not have a saving relationship with Jesus. I am praying that we will then respond to our prayers by sharing our faith more diligently, winsomely, and courageously with them. 

And I am praying that we will seek in this new year to be the change we wish to see: Christ-followers others can follow to Christ. 

Dr. Graham continued his admonition with the warning: “So don’t give the lie to the Christian faith by professing Christ without possessing him. Don’t lock the church door with the key of inconsistency and keep the lost from coming to Christ. Don’t hinder revival by your unbelief and prayerlessness. Don’t cheat yourself out of spiritual victory by allowing sin to imprison you.” 

Then he added: “The supply of heaven is adequate for the demands of our spiritually starved world. Will we offer that supply to the hungry masses?” 

Who among the “hungry masses” do you know today?

NEW AND NOTABLEThe Denison Forum Podcast has launched! We’re excited to bring you this new, long-form weekly podcast featuring Dr. Mark Turman and me, as well as guests in the future. Throughout this month, you’ll be treated to an inside look at my forthcoming book, The Coming Tsunami. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Also, know that The Daily Article Podcast will continue as a daily podcast narration of this Daily Article email. The Denison Forum Podcast is a new offering from us that goes in-depth on today’s most pressing issues.

Denison Forum – Fish falling from the sky and the end of BlackBerry: The key to time management and an empowering mantra for the new year

You know the year has gotten off to a strange start when you read the headline: “Residents of East Texas town report fish falling from sky.” It seems this happened during a storm last Wednesday in Texarkana, a city on the northeast border of Texas and Arkansas. 

Experts say fish can rain from the sky when waterspouts pick them up from lakes and ponds and then drop them back to the ground. However, meteorologists can find no evidence of waterspouts in the area last Wednesday or of fish landing near bodies of water. One meteorologist said, “We’re kind of confused as to how it happened as well, to be honest.” The good news is that no injuries due to falling fish have been reported. 

The same cannot be said of another natural phenomenon: the “biggest Mid-Atlantic snowstorm in years” placed twenty-nine million people under winter alerts yesterday. Thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed as a result. 

Omicron continues to escalate as well. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positiveCNN reports that “the omicron wave is ravaging local communities” with overwhelmed hospitals, staffing shortages, and business closings. Even progress comes at a cost: BlackBerry software will be switched off today, ending an era in mobile technology. 

People of faith are obviously not immune to the challenges of our day: a stray bullet killed a pastor’s wife as she attended a Bible study in an Alabama church. A suspect has been arrested and charged in her death. 

Annie Dillard was right: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Given the unpredictability of the future and the fragility of life, what is the best way to manage our days this year? 

“There’s no such thing as time management” 

Let’s begin with an answer that reframes the question. Writing for Christianity Today, award-winning author Jen Pollock Michel notes that “there’s no such thing as time management.” She explains: “The minutes are not ours to multiply. We receive them as a gift. What we can do, however, is cultivate the ability to inhabit those minutes with attention, or undiluted unfragmented presence.” 

David would agree, as his prayer demonstrates: “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15). Times translates the Hebrew for “occasion, opportunity, season.” He states that they are in God’s hand, his provision and providence. Not they were or they will be, but they are, right now. 

Of course, our secular culture disagrees. As David noted, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses” (Psalm 20:7a). What are our “chariots” and “horses” today? 

Many put their trust in medical science, or technological advances, or political leaders and parties, or our capitalistic economy, or our superpower military status, or their own abilities and resources. But if 2021 taught us anything, it should have been that these “chariots” and “horses” are not enough. 

I am deeply grateful for medical science, but the mortality rate is still 100 percent. I am thankful for technological advances, but they can be used for pornography, sex trafficking, and a myriad of other sins. I am grateful for those who serve in political office, but even the greatest leaders cannot solve the innate problem of sin that plagues the human condition. 

I’m glad to live in the American economic system, but its inequities continue to widen and worsen. I’m deeply thankful for our military and their service, but they cannot protect us from ourselves. I’m grateful to God for my abilities and resources such as they are, but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), myself included. 

What to do when you lack wisdom 

David knew his chariots and horses were not enough. That’s why he continued, “But we trust in the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ our God” (Psalm 20:7b). Today, I’m encouraging you to do the same. 

We should begin every day and repeat all through the day the prayer, My times are in your hands. Then we should partner with God in redeeming our times for his greatest glory and our greatest good. “My utmost for his highest,” as Oswald Chambers famously noted, should be our motto and our mantra. 

Scripture consistently calls us to pray throughout every day for the needs of every day: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). We are encouraged: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). 

Then, as we work, God works. As we do our utmost for his highest, we experience his power, peace, and purpose in our lives and days. And each day leads us to that day when we hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). 

Courage I will never forget 

The best way to prepare for the hard times sure to come is to place our lives in God’s hand today and each day as each day comes. We’ll close with proof of this fact in an experience I will never forget. 

Dr. Gary Cook is the longtime president and now chancellor of Dallas Baptist University and one of my best friends in the world. For many years, I admired his steadfast faith and faithfulness as he led the university from near bankruptcy to a place of great success, significance, and flourishing. But I saw Gary’s faith on display several years ago in a way that would mark me for the rest of my life. 

He had not been feeling well, so he went to the doctor. They ran tests and became alarmed. Gary called me, I called my wife, and we met him and his wife at the hospital. We were sitting together when the doctors came in with the results: he had acute myelogenous leukemia, the disease that took Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry’s life some years earlier. 

Gary would not be going home—he would be checking into the hospital that day to begin chemotherapy that night in a fight to save his life. 

After the doctor left the room, Gary turned to us and said, “Well, my times are in his hand.” As long as I live, I will not forget the courage, peace, and serenity I saw on his face and in his soul. He had made this decision a long time before. Now, in the moment of crisis, it sustained him and continued to do so through his weeks of treatment. It still does today. 

Our culture thinks our times are in our hands. Wise people place their times in God’s hands. 

How wise will you be today?

Denison Forum – Betty White’s “last epic joke”: The fallacy of naming years and the abiding faithfulness of God

Betty White’s television career spanned seven decades. The 2014 edition of Guinness World Records certified hers as the longest career ever for a female entertainer. The winner of multiple Emmy Awards, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988 and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995. When she hosted Saturday Night Live in May 2010, the show enjoyed its highest ratings in a year and a half. 

In preparation for her one hundredth birthday on January 17, People magazine featured her on its cover last week with the headline, “Betty White Turns 100!” Then, as you know, the famed actress died Friday morning at the age of ninety-nine. Some blamed the magazine for jinxing Ms. White. One person disagreed, tweeting, “I think Betty White would enjoy having made one last epic joke.” 

Of course, Christians know that life and what comes next are no joke: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). But there is something in us that doesn’t want to admit that it’s true for us. We understand in our conscious minds that death is real and that the mortality rate is 100 percent. We know that Jesus could return tomorrow, or we could go to him today. 

But as you read these words, do they feel real to you? Are you living in the same certainty that you could die today as that the sun will set tonight? If not, why not? And why does the question matter so powerfully as we begin this “new year” together? 

Why is today “January the third”? 

For what reason is this a “new year”? The trees and birds don’t know the difference. The sun rose on January 1 just as it did the day before. Why do we call today “January the third”? Why do we call it anything at all? 

There are practical reasons for assigning numbers and names to days, of course. Imagine planning for the future without such a practice, from making airline reservations to setting deadlines for school and work. But there’s a larger, deeper force at work here. 

Naming things began in the garden of Eden: “Out of the ground the Lᴏʀᴅ God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). 

God had earlier told humans: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Part of having “dominion” over something is naming it. Thus parents name their children and children name their pets. 

Why Davy Crockett named his rifle 

There is a useful function here, of course: parents can call their children away from a busy street more easily if they use the name their child recognizes as uniquely theirs. Astronomers name stars and planets so they can study them with greater precision. Botanists do the same with plants, as do entomologists with insects. 

But there is an underlying psychological and very human force at work here as well. We want to name the stars above us whether we are astronomers or not. We want to know the names of plants and animals even if we are not botanists or veterinarians. 

Psychologists say we name people and things to infer power over them. Brand experts call this “taming,” bringing the object closer to ourselves and forming emotional bonds with it. We give names to machines to feel that they work for us, such as Davy Crockett’s naming his rifle “Old Betsy.” And we name things we cannot control in nature to nonetheless feel some power over them, such as Hurricane Katrina and the “Wolf Moon” coming on January 17. 

In this sense, we named the “year” that began Saturday “2022” to identify it for contracts, to date events, and so on, but also to “tame” it, to give ourselves a sense of control over the future it represents. 

Welcome to the year 5782 

The Jewish people do not do this. The Hebrew names for the days translate simply to “First Day,” “Second Day,” and so on. The seventh day is Shabbat, the Sabbath, which translates the Hebrew for “rest” or “cease work.” It is the only day that receives its own nonnumerical name since it is the day when God “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Genesis 2:2). As a result, their days remind them of God’s creation of each day. 

Hebrew months were originally numbered beginning with the month in which the Exodus occurred. Thus, any month reminded them of the Exodus: “six months since the month of the Exodus,” and so on. Names were added only after the people returned from the Babylonian exile and wanted to continue using names to which they had become accustomed. 

Jewish years are calculated from the creation of the world in common tradition; 2022 is 5782 in their calculation. But this did not begin until the twelfth century when the Jewish philosopher Maimonides established the timeframe for the traditional date of Creation. 

As a result, every day reminds the Jewish people of its relation to their Sabbath; every month reminds them of their Exodus from slavery into the Promised Land by divine grace; every year testifies to their creation and the providential design of God. They name the year not to control it but to honor and serve the God who makes each day and controls our future. 

A promise to learn and claim 

We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. For today, let’s choose to be Jewish about 2022. Let’s begin a year filled with uncertainties and fears not by naming and “taming” our future but by submitting our lives and moments each day to our Creator and King. 

To this end, I invite you to claim and even memorize with me this promise as a theme for all that lies ahead: “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23). 

Why do you need the steadfast love, unending mercy, and great faithfulness of Jesus today

Denison Forum – Omicron is “going to take over”: Why Christmas offers the paradoxical hope we need

There’s a “candy cane crisis” in America. Logistical issues caused by the pandemic and weakness in peppermint crops are causing shortages in the industry.

In other news, a COVID-19 outbreak forced Saturday Night Live to air without an audience. The show sent home most of its cast and crew, airing mostly pre-taped sketches. The NFL postponed three games over the weekend.

And these stories are just the beginning of what is coming.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020”

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN yesterday that the omicron variant is “going to take over” the country. He predicted that “it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.”

Coronavirus cases are already skyrocketing across the country. In New York City, for example, cases escalated from 8,266 on Monday to 21,908 on Friday, more than any other single day of the pandemic. The New York Times reports that the nation’s coronavirus testing capacity is facing “enormous new pressure” with long lines, overworked laboratories, and at-home diagnostics “flying off pharmacy shelves.”

With coronavirus hospitalizations increasing 20 percent nationally over the last two weeks, doctors and nurses are “living in a constant crisis,” as one medical director stated. Forbes reports that as COVID-19 restrictions are hitting the retail sector, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas 2020.” Offices are closing and holiday parties are being canceled. Countries across Europe are imposing new travel restrictions and curfews. Harvard is going remote again, as are other schools across the nation. President Biden will address the nation tomorrow to respond to the spread of the omicron variant.

It is especially hard to face this crisis in the days just before Christmas. However, Christmas offers the paradoxical hope we need most in these hard days.

A Christmas thought I had not considered

I read a message recently by Pope St. Leo the Great (AD 400–461) that made a point I had never considered before. He stated, “Unless the new man [Jesus], by being made in the likeness of sinful flesh [Romans 8:3], had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan.”

He added: “The Conqueror’s victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition.”

I knew that death was the debt we owed for our sins—the consequence of our sinful choices—since sin cuts us off from the God who is our only source of life and life eternal (Romans 6:23John 14:6). And I knew that only a sinless person could pay the debt of our sins with his death; otherwise, his death would atone for his sins but not for ours (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Thus, I knew that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins (cf. 1 John 4:10) so we could be forgiven (1 John 1:9) and receive eternal life (John 3:16).

However, it had not occurred to me that Jesus would have to be human himself to pay this debt for humanity.

The love proven by Christmas

This is why the sacrifice of animals on the altar of the temple was not enough. Hebrews 10 states, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (vv. 11–12).

No other species could pay this debt because no other species owed it. Humans alone of all God’s creation are made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26) with the capacity to choose whether to obey or disobey his word (cf. Joshua 24:15). As a result, we are the only species that “sins.”

The only way the debt humanity owes for our sin could be paid was if a human paid it. This explains Christmas: the decision by God to become man, to enter fully into the human condition, to face every temptation we face yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), to be forsaken by his Father on the cross (Matthew 27:46) so we could be forgiven by his grace (Ephesians 2:8–9Hebrews 2:14–15).

The necessity of Jesus’ humanity also adds even greater significance to his Father’s decision to create the human race. God knew before he made the first man and woman that they would sin against him and that their sins would separate them from himself. The Father therefore knew before he created humans that his Son would one day have to become one of them to die for them.

This explains why the Bible calls Jesus “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV). And it is why the love proven by Christmas is the hope we need today.

“Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part”

I was taught in counseling classes not to tell someone “I know how you feel.” That’s because, even if my circumstances have been identical to theirs, I cannot understand their personal feelings as they face them.

But Jesus can.

Because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), grief (Mark 3:5), temptation (Matthew 4:1–10), rejection (John 15:18), and death (Mark 15:37).

He has faced all we face and felt all we feel. In addition, because he knows our inmost thoughts (cf. Luke 6:8) and we are in his hand right now (John 10:28), Jesus truly knows how we feel at this very moment.

So, let me encourage you to go to the Christ of Christmas with your secret sins and private guilt. Trust him with your inmost fears, grief, and pain. Tell him what you can tell no one else and trust him for the help and hope only he can give.

Because God is love, he loves you where you are, as you are. And because Jesus became one of us, we can be one with him.

Philip Yancey observed, “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.”

Where do you need the grace of Christmas today?

Denison Forum – The remaining kidnapped missionaries have been released

The twelve remaining members of a group of seventeen North American missionaries kidnapped in Haiti two months ago were released yesterday. Five of the hostages had been let go earlier.

In other news, a man in Western Kentucky played the gospel hymn “There’s Something about That Name” on a piano amid the wreckage of his home caused by last weekend’s tornadoes. He did not know that his sister was capturing the video, which has now gone viral.

We can use such good news amidst the hard news of the day:

Why did Jesus do it this way?

Hard news always seems harder when it comes during the Christmas season. However, paradoxically, difficult times are precisely why Christmas happened the way it did.

We know that Jesus came at Christmas because “God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) so we could receive forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and eternal life (John 3:16) as the children of God (John 1:12).

So, Jesus came to earth to die for us. But why did he have to die the way he did?

Crucifixion is the most horrific, brutal form of tortured execution ever devised. Why did Jesus not die by hemlock like Socrates or a lethal injection such as is common today? “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), which shows that you will never face greater physical pain than Jesus bore for you. He died on a cross in solidarity with your suffering and mine.

But why did Jesus not go directly to the cross? Why his three years of public ministry?

Our Lord spent this time “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 5:23). Because he healed the sick and raised the dead, we can know that he is our Great Physician today.

But why did Jesus not come to earth at the age of thirty to launch this ministry? Why come as a baby who grew as a child into a man (cf. Luke 2:52)?

“In every respect [he] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Because Jesus experienced the full gamut of humanity, he faced every temptation we face and can empower us to achieve victory whenever we are tempted today (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

But why did Jesus come, not just as a baby, but as an infant born to a peasant teenage girl in a cow stall outside an inn in an out-of-the way village?

In The Hungering Dark, Frederick Buechner wrote: “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too.”

“It’s more challenging to serve him when times are bad”

Christmas proves that the creator and ruler of the universe (Colossians 1:16) is aptly called “Immanuel,” a name which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). If you need forgiveness, you can go to your crucified Savior. If you need healing, you can go to your Great Physician. If you are facing temptation, you can go to your sinless High Priest. If your circumstances are difficult, you can go to the manger-born Child of Christmas.

However, an unbelieving world doesn’t know what we know. For them to turn to Jesus for the grace they need, they must see his grace at work in us.

Rev. Wes Fowler is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Mayfield, Kentucky. After a tornado devastated their town last Friday night, the Associated Press reports that he and his church members immediately began the work of ministry, mobilizing to “provide whatever they can to help survivors cope with the disaster’s aftermath and stay afloat—gift cards, food, generators, water, a listening ear, and more.”

The congregation quickly formed three teams: one to help affected church members, a second to work on repairing the church campus, and a third to serve the broader community and coordinate offers of aid.

Pastor Fowler said, “It’s easy to serve the Lord when things are good. It’s more challenging to serve him when times are bad, and I think that’s really when people are looking to see if our faith is genuine, if our faith is true.”

Because of Christmas, we know that the Object of our faith is genuine and true. However, we must experience his reality if we would lead others to experience his reality. As Patty Hammond noted, “Your ministry will never be bigger than your vision of Jesus.”

How big is your vision of Jesus today?

Denison Forum – Mom meets 911 operator who helped her deliver baby in her car

Elizabeth Elyce Fatoma’s middle name is a story worth knowing.

Her mother was driving herself to the hospital to deliver her but found she was going into labor in her car. Her 911 call was answered by dispatcher Elyce Rivera, who talked her through the delivery of a healthy baby girl. Fatoma then named her baby in honor of the operator. The two women met for the first time Tuesday on the Today show.

Carl Sandberg was right: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”

“LA Schools Hold LGBT Club For 4-Year-Olds”

Children are a “heritage from the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Psalm 127:3) of whom Jesus said, “To such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). I am grateful every day to be a father of two amazing sons and the grandfather of four perfect (at least in my opinion!) grandchildren.

That’s why these headlines grieve my heart today:

We are living in a day when “tolerance” has been weaponized, and our children are its victims.

In The Intolerance of Tolerance, biblical scholar D. A. Carson identifies a “subtle” shift in the way our society defines tolerance. He writes: “This shift from ‘accepting the existence of different views’ to ‘acceptance of different views,’ from recognizing other people’s rights to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance.”

Sliding “from the old tolerance to the new”

Carson explains: “To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own.”

With this result: “We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we move from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new.”

In the “old tolerance,” various religions were free to believe that their beliefs were uniquely true and to share them with others. In the “new tolerance,” no beliefs are more valid than others, and sharing them is imposing our views on others.

Carson notes that Voltaire exemplified the “old tolerance” with his famous maxim: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I would add that the “new tolerance” illogically counters: “I consider what you say to be intolerant, so I will not tolerate your saying it.”

Percentage of self-identified Christians falls 12 points

I am addressing this theme today in light of a story from the Pew Research Center that is dominating headlines: “About Three-in-Ten US Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated.” The subhead adds: “Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the US population in 2021, down from 75 percent a decade ago.”

The study also reports that fewer than half of US adults (45 percent) say they pray on a daily basis, down from 58 percent in 2007 and 55 percent in 2014. Roughly one-third of US adults (32 percent) now say they seldom or never pray, up from 18 percent in 2007.

This despite Harvard University research documenting that regular worship attendance corresponds to a 47 percent lower risk of divorce, 33 percent lower risk of mortality, and 29 percent lower risk of depression. Gallup is reporting that Americans’ mental health declined 9 percent from 2019 to 2020, with only one exception: those who attend religious services weekly, whose mental health improved 4 percent in that time. Another study showed that highly religious individuals and evangelicals in America suffered less distress last year than other groups.

Why would the tolerance of unbiblical morality and the intolerance of biblical morality be skyrocketing when the latter has such positive, proven outcomes? Why would more people than ever claim no religious affiliation when such affiliation brings such significant benefits?

“The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”

The answer is both simple and profound: Our secular society has exchanged Christ for Christianity. It has traded a personal, transformational, very real experience with the very real Jesus for a religion about him.

The Bible calls us to “know” Jesus (John 17:3); the Greek word means to know personally through experience. Paul testified, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8), a personal encounter that changed his life and changed history as a result (cf. Acts 9:1–31).

However, rather than knowing Christ in a concrete but deeply intimate way, many think the Christian faith is about rules and regulations, clergy and church buildings, doctrines and traditions. Such a religion was always destined to falter, because Christianity without the living Christ is a car without fuel, a laptop computer without batteries, an airplane without wings. As a house built on sand, it will always fall in the storm (Matthew 7:24–27).

Here’s my point today: If you and I want our culture to value biblical morality, we must demonstrate personally the liberating power of biblical morality through a transforming, daily encounter with the person of Jesus. If we want more people to identify as Christians, we must exhibit the real and living Christ in us. If we want more Americans to pray, we must show them what happens when we connect personally and powerfully with Christ in prayer.

I recently found this hymn and invite you to join me in praying its words as our daily commitment:

Lord God and Maker of all things,
Creation is upheld by you.
While all must change and know decay,
You are unchanging, always new.

You are man’s solace and his shield,
His Rock on which to build.
You are the spirit’s tranquil home,
In you alone is hope fulfilled.

To God the Father and God the Son
And Holy Spirit render praise:
Blest Trinity, from age to age
The strength of all our living days.

Who or what is your “strength” today?

Denison Forum – Denzel Washington explains why we need a “spiritual anchor” today

Denzel Washington stars in The Tragedy of Macbeth, which opens widely on Christmas Day. In an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, this son of a Pentecostal minister said he asks himself this question: “What I do, what I make, what I made—all of that—is that going to help me on the last day of my life? It’s about, Who have you lifted up? Who have you made better?”

He explained: “This is spiritual warfare. So, I’m not looking at it from an earthly perspective. If you don’t have a spiritual anchor, you’ll be easily blown by the wind and you’ll be led to depression.”

He’s right on both counts.

9-year-old girl photographed before storm killed her

Last Friday night, nine-year-old Annistyn Rackley was sheltering in the bathtub with her two sisters as storms raged near their southeast Missouri home. She was photographed clutching her favorite doll just minutes before a tornado ripped her home to shreds and killed her.

Victims in Kentucky ranged from two months to eighty-six years old and came from at least eight counties. Among them were eight night-shift workers at a candle factory in Mayfield, a city of about ten thousand in western Kentucky. There were 110 employees inside the facility when a tornado closed in late Friday night. One of the survivors said, “I definitely had the fear that I wasn’t gonna make it. It’s a miracle any of us got out of there.”

In other news, omicron has now been reported in seventy-seven countries and is spreading at a faster rate than previous coronavirus variants. According to Washington Post figures, the US has surpassed fifty million coronavirus infections and is nearing eight hundred thousand fatalities at this writing.

As omicron spreads, the New York Times headlines: “Across the world, covid anxiety and depression take hold.” The article quotes a French epidemiologist who said, “We no longer know when we will get back to normal.”

Meanwhile, Oxford Economics reports that the “misery index,” an economic indicator used to measure the average person’s economic well-being, has grown to recession-like levels.

The anniversary of my father’s death

Are we being “blown by the wind” and “led to depression” today? If so, what does this say about our “spiritual anchor” or lack thereof?

One reason many struggle to make God their anchor in the storm is that they blame him for the storm. If he is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why are tornadoes allowed to kill little girls clutching their dolls? Why are pandemics allowed to ravage the planet?

I have struggled with this question personally.

My father died on this day in 1979 at the age of fifty-five. He did nothing to cause the heart disease that took his life. Over the years since, I have known many people to experience what the factory survivor in Kentucky called a “miracle.”

Why did God not perform a miracle for my dad?

If he spared anyone in the storms last Friday night, why not Annistyn Rackley?

“The uncompromised mastery of YHWH”

In Creation and the Persistence of Evil, Jewish theologian Jon D. Levenson writes: “We can capture the essence of the idea of creation in the Hebrew Bible with the word ‘mastery.’ The creation narratives, whatever their length, form, or context, are best seen as dramatic visualizations of the uncompromised mastery of YHWH, God of Israel, over all else.”

And yet, as the psalmist complains, this God permits unspeakable tragedy to afflict his people: “You have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust” (Psalm 89:38–39).

The biblical response is two-fold. With regard to the future, Levenson notes that the Hebrew Scriptures look forward to a day when “the Lord Gᴏᴅ will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).

In the meantime, with regard to the present, we are to join God in the stewardship of his creation as we “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Levinson writes: “The creative ordering of the world has become something that humanity can not only witness and celebrate, but something in which it can take part.”

Jail officer led inmates to safety before dying in tornado

I do not know all the reasons why God allows innocent suffering. But I do know one way he redeems tragedy: by calling us to join him in responding to it with courageous compassion. As Adam partnered with God to cultivate the garden before the Fall, so we are to work with him in repairing it after the Fall.

John asked, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).

This Christmas season, may I ask you how you plan to serve your “brother in need”?

In my community, Unite DFW is inviting Christians and churches to help every school, staff member, student, and family in our area receive the support they need. (For more, I urge you to read Rebecca Walls’ informative and moving article on our website.) In your community, there are undoubtedly ways you and your congregation can make a practical difference in the lives of hurting children and families. If you do not know of such partnerships, why not do what you can to create one?

Robert Daniel, a veteran corrections officer at the county jail in Mayfield, Kentucky, led seven inmates to safety when warning sirens went off Friday night. He then went back to look for others who might need help. After the storm passed, his body was found under the shattered building. The workers he had ushered to safety survived.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

What price will you pay to offer someone the “spiritual anchor” they need today?


Denison Forum – Bishop tells children Santa doesn’t exist: The quest for hope and a tribute I will never forget

Is it true that Santa Claus’ red costume was created by the Coca-Cola Company for publicity?

Italian Bishop Antonio Stagliano reportedly made this comment during a recent religious festival at which he also said Santa does not exist. Now his diocese in Sicily is apologizing to outraged parents. Apparently, the bishop was trying to underline the true meaning of Christmas and the story of St. Nicholas, a Christian leader who gave gifts to the poor and was persecuted by a Roman emperor.

While I would never want to be on the wrong side of Santa Claus, I also appreciate the bishop’s desire to ground the hope of Christmas in truth and history. We clearly need such hope today.

Pastor and wife shot at vigil

The Kentucky governor stated yesterday afternoon that Friday night’s tornado outbreak killed at least seventy-four people in his state. With around eight hundred thousand deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the US, the New York Times reports that one in one hundred older Americans have died from the virus.

Britain is battling an Omicron “tidal wave” as infections double every two or three days and the first death from the variant was recorded. And CNN reports that cities across the US are breaking all-time homicide records this year.

One example stands for the rest: a pastor and his wife were shot while attending a vigil in the Houston area being held by a mother for her son, who was killed at his home a couple of weeks ago. The drive-by shooting Sunday evening killed one person and injured at least thirteen others.

Napoleon Bonaparte observed, “Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.” Psychologists tell us that hope is essential to managing stress and anxiety as we cope with adversity.

In these difficult days, where can we turn to find the hope our hearts need most?

The 4 “comings” of Jesus

I was privileged to talk with Chris Brooks on his national radio show yesterday. We discussed the tornado outbreak and the recent high school shooting in Michigan that occurred not far from the church where he serves as pastor.

Chris made the profound point that God uses suffering to point us beyond this world to the next and to call us from our finitude to his omnipotence. I agreed and noted that “Advent” (from the Latin adventus, “coming”) is a season when the church has historically focused not just on Jesus’ first coming but on his Second Coming as well.

In fact, as I noted with Chris, there are four “comings” of Jesus in our world:

  • The first was at Christmas when God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
  • The second is when Christ comes into believers’ lives by his Spirit at salvation (Ephesians 1:13–14).
  • The third is when, if his return to earth tarries, he comes for us at death to bring us with him to heaven (John 14:3).
  • The fourth is when he comes back to this fallen planet (Acts 1:11) as our King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

If you are a Christian, you are living between Jesus’ second coming and his third or the fourth. Every day that passes is one day closer to that day when we go to him or he comes for us. In the meantime, it is vital that we share the compassionate grace of our suffering Savior wherever and whenever we can. Each day’s news proves again that “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14), which is why “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Every day is God’s invitation to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), remembering with Mark Dever that “today is what the Lord has prepared you for.”

A daughter’s tribute to her fallen father

To prove that God can empower us to share his love in the most painful of circumstances, I’ll close with a tribute I will never forget.

My community has been grieving the death of Richard Houston II, a twenty-one-year veteran of the police department in Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas. He was fatally shot December 3 while responding to a domestic dispute.

Officer Houston received forty-eight letters of commendation during his career, two Life Saving Awards, and one police commendation bar. But his greatest achievement was the way he lived for Jesus. The married father of three “walked with God each day,” as Mesquite Assistant Police Chief Doug Yates stated at his funeral.

His eighteen-year-old daughter Shelby exemplified her father’s faith with a tribute I urge you to watch. At one point she stated:

“I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty. I have heard all the stories you can think of, but I’ve always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with. Not that I didn’t think there should be justice served, but my heart always ached for those who don’t know Jesus—their actions being a reflection of that.

“I was always told that I would feel differently if it happened to me. But as it’s happened to my own father, I think I still feel the same. There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father. But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him.

“All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus. I thought this might change if the man continued to live. But when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved. My prayer is that someday down the road, I’d get to spend some time with the man who shot my father, not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him. Simply to tell him about Jesus.”

The same Spirit who empowered Shelby to speak these miraculous words lives in you as well. Would you ask him to give you the compassion and the courage to share the hope of Jesus with someone today?