Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Are screens affecting our children’s brains?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been studying the effect of screen time for children. The preliminary results are in and they’re not good.

The NIH report shows that nine- and ten-year-old children who spend more than two hours in front of a screen each day score lower on thinking and language tests. This is troubling since the average “tweenager” spends up to six hours a day on their tablet or phone.

In addition, scientists have found that children with daily screen usage of more than seven hours show premature thinning of the brain cortex. This is the outermost layer that processes information from the physical world. While it’s too soon to know with certainty that screen time usage caused the changes to the children’s brains, scientists will be monitoring this relationship carefully.

Are your children addicted to technology?

The NIH report is just one example of the growing effect of technology on our children. Another study related smartphone use by children to sleep deprivation and other problems associated with poor attention spans. This is alarming since two-thirds of children take their smartphones to bed with them.

One group of scientists found that the more time four-year-olds spent interacting with media, the shorter their sleep was at ages four and six. A study published by Harvard Medical School has shown that blue-tinged light emitted by devices such as smartphones and tablets suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone vital to good sleep.

Counselors warn that digital addiction is a growing problem. The compulsion to continue playing video games or using technology is escalating. China has identified internet addiction as one of its main public health risks. In some parts of Asia, digital addiction rates may be as high as 26 percent.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Are screens affecting our children’s brains?

Denison Forum – Teacher fired for not using transgender student’s preferred pronoun

Peter Vlaming teaches French at West Point High School in West Point, Virginia. He was fired by the school board last Thursday for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun. (The student was born as a biological female but wishes to use the pronouns “he” and “him.”)

The school’s administration claims that Vlaming was told multiple times to refer to the student using male pronouns. “By failing to follow the directive, he was therefore discriminating and creating a hostile environment,” the superintendent told the board.

The next day, students at the school coordinated a walkout in support of Vlaming. Several held signs that read “Men are men and women are women and that is a fact!” and “You can’t impose delusion on us.”

Vlaming told the school board that his Christian faith was the reason for his refusal. “We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me,” he said. “Even higher than my family ranks my faith.” Asked whether the debate was worth losing his job over, he told reporters, “There are some hills that are worth dying on.”

God “made them male and female”

My purpose today is not to focus on the transgender issue itself. (For an in-depth discussion of this subject, please see my chapter on the transgender debate in my book, 7 Crucial Questions.) Nor do I want to limit our discussion to the West Point controversy.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Teacher fired for not using transgender student’s preferred pronoun

Denison Forum – Facebook tribute to ‘the man in 2D’ goes viral

Last Thursday, Kelsey Zwick boarded a flight from Orlando to Philadelphia with Lucy, one of her eleven-month-old twin daughters. Lucy suffers from severe chronic lung disease and still needs oxygen at night and when flying.

Carrying Lucy’s oxygen machine, the two were settled into their seat when a flight attendant told them a passenger in first class wanted to switch places. Kelsey later expressed her gratitude to “the man in 2D” in a Facebook post that quickly went viral:

“Thank you. Not just for the seat itself but for noticing. For seeing us and realizing that maybe things are not always easy. For deciding you wanted to show a random act of kindness to US. It reminded me how much good there is in this world. I can’t wait to tell Lucy someday.”

We change the world one person at a time.

“That’s a lot about me, Jon.”

At the state funeral for President George H. W. Bush, biographer Jon Meacham read one of the most meaningful eulogies I have ever heard. I wished that the president could have heard his moving words of tribute.

It turns out, he did.

Meacham wrote a bestselling biography of the forty-first president titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. Through the project, he and the Bush family developed a close and personal relationship.

He was asked to deliver the eulogy at President Bush’s state funeral. Not long before the president died, Meacham read to him the words he planned to share at his service. With his characteristic humor, Bush replied, “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”

While Meacham and others who delivered tributes to the president have been applauded for their eloquence, the truth is that George H. W. Bush wrote his own eulogy with his life. He authored no formal autobiography (All the Best, a book of his letters, diary entries, and memos, comes the closest), but he lived with such courage, patriotism, and integrity that his life became his legacy.

Charles Spurgeon advised us: “Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”

“You will become a mere social wastrel”

I am reading Andrew Roberts’s magisterial biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I am familiar with Winston Churchill’s story, having visited his place of birth at Blenheim Palace, his war rooms in London, and the House of Commons where he began his political career. His life and leadership have fascinated me for many years.

However, I did not realize the degree to which Churchill’s father did not believe in him. At one point, the young Churchill wrote to him for encouragement. His father responded by expressing his fear that “you will become a mere social wastrel” and that “you will degenerate into a shabby, unhappy and futile existence.”

Roberts notes that “his son was able to quote from that letter from memory thirty-seven years later, showing how much its message of distrust and contempt seared him.”

This was an early example of the setbacks Churchill would face. He suffered from depression, numerous physical ailments, and widespread opposition from his many political enemies. But he went on to lead Great Britain to victory in World War II, publish more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined, and become the only British Prime Minister to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It’s hard to think of a biblical figure whose eulogy would not include challenges and heartbreak. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery; Moses was a murderer and fugitive from the law; David’s sin with Bathsheba is one of the first things we remember about him. Daniel was exiled; Peter failed his Lord; John was imprisoned and left to die.

But the world’s opinion of us is seldom God’s.

A decree that changed history

Octavian, the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, was granted the honorific “Augustus” by the Roman Senate in 27 BC to recognize his status as emperor. He is known for creating an empire that would last for fifteen centuries. (The month of August is named for him.)

Few who knew him would have believed that his eulogy today would center on a single verse of Scripture: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

The emperor could not know that his edict issued for taxation purposes would force a Galilean carpenter and his pregnant wife to hike more than ninety miles south to his ancestral home in Bethlehem. Or that their obedience would fulfill a prophecy made seven centuries earlier that the Messiah would be born there (Micah 5:2). Or that Bethlehem’s proximity to Egypt would make it easier for the Holy Family to escape when King Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus.

God is working whether we know it or not. He is using us whether we wish to be used or not. But our lives achieve their greatest fulfillment and joy when we trust and obey him today.

We write our eulogies one day at a time.

How to change the world

And we seldom know at the time how our obedience will change the world.

The sailors aboard the USS Finback did not know when they pulled a twenty-year-old Navy pilot out of the Pacific Ocean that they were saving a future president of the United States. That’s because the future is not visible to the present.

If you want to change the world, write your name on someone’s heart today.

Denison Forum – Welcoming William Wells Denison into the world

William Wells Denison was born yesterday at 10:20 am in Dallas, Texas. He is the second son of Craig and Rachel, our younger son and his wife. Craig is the author of First15 and Chief Strategy Officer for our ministry. Janet and I are thrilled for them and our entire family.

Meeting my fourth grandchild yesterday (they will call him “Wells”) was a deeply emotional experience for me. I was filled with gratitude to God for the miracle of his life and so happy for Craig and Rachel. Janet already has a Christmas stocking with his name on it hanging by our fireplace. Our family is so blessed and truly grateful.

The two most important days in our lives

It’s been said that the two most important days in our lives are the day we are born and the day we discover why. I disagree. The two most important days of our lives are the day we are born and the day we are born again.

God was Wells’s father before Craig was. The One who “determines the number of stars” and “gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4) knew his name before we did. The Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

God made Wells for himself. He made him for eternal life with his Father in heaven. He made you and me for the same reason. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to salvation (2 Peter 3:91 Timothy 2:4).

A train painted like Air Force One

George H. W. Bush was eulogized yesterday at his home church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. His body was then taken to College Station, Texas, where it was interred next to his wife, Barbara, and their three-year-old daughter, Robin.

The president’s remains were transported from Houston on a train specifically built to honor his life. The Union Pacific train was led by a locomotive dubbed “Bush 4141” and painted to resemble Air Force One.

Like most Americans, I was deeply moved by the tributes to our forty-first president across this week. His integrity, humility, and strength were on display for the world to see, reminding us of the best of America. If he could have seen the tributes and heard the eulogies, he would undoubtedly have been deeply moved as well.

However, one moment after his physical death last Friday, he found himself in a realm so far transcending our fallen world that it defies description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT). He was well, and he was home.

The place to which Jesus took him (John 14:3) is not just glorious beyond imagining (Revelation 21:23-24)–it is permanent. People in heaven or hell are there forever.

I once heard eternity described this way: Imagine that a hummingbird transports a tiny speck of dirt from earth to the moon once every thousand years. By the time it has moved our entire planet, eternity will have only begun.

A lesson from Pearl Harbor

Here’s the problem: It’s hard for humans to understand the eternality of eternity. We live in a time-conditioned existence. We experience the universe as past, present, and future. No moment is permanent for us. There’s always something next.

We are like an unborn baby that is safe and secure in its mother’s womb and cannot possibly imagine life outside her body. If we were twins and could speak to each other, we would believe one another to be the only people that exist except for our mother.

And we would experience her only in oblique ways. She gives us life, but we wouldn’t truly understand that fact. Nor could we imagine life with her as she intends it for us.

If someone could explain to us the process of birth, we would refuse it if we could. To be taken from the only world we know into an unknown realm filled with realities we cannot imagine would seem to be like death. But in fact, it would be the beginning of new life.

As our mothers gave us life, our Father gives us eternal life. As we were born into a new life, we are born again into an eternal life.

The permanence of eternity means that we must be ready for death today. As our nation remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor seventy-nine years ago, we are reminded that tomorrow is promised to no one.

We have only this moment to prepare for eternity. If you’re not sure Jesus is your Lord, trust in him as your Savior today. If you’re not sure you’re ready to meet God, get ready.

And help everyone you know be prepared as well. Your vocation is God’s calling. Where you work and live is your mission field. Make Jesus the King of your time, resources, and influence. Live every day as if it were your last day. One day, you’ll be right.

“This symbol of our nation’s spiritual life”

On September 29, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the foundation stone for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Exactly eighty-three years later, President George H. W. Bush was present when the final stone was laid in place. Twenty-eight years later, his body would be returned to this magnificent structure for his state funeral.

The remarks President Bush delivered when the cathedral was completed were prescient: “We have constructed here this symbol of our nation’s spiritual life, overlooking the center of our nation’s secular life, a symbol which combines the permanence of stone and God–both of which will outlast men and memories.”

The president’s statement was accurate on earth–stone and God outlast human bodies–but not in heaven. Ten thousand millennia after our tiny planet has vanished, taking the National Cathedral and all other stones and structures with it, George Herbert Walker Bush will be in heaven with God.

Does anything matter more to you than being ready to join him?

Denison Forum – “A twentieth-century founding father”

“George Herbert Walker Bush was America’s last great soldier-statesman, a twentieth-century founding father. He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of Washington and of Adams, of TR and of FDR, of Truman and of Eisenhower, of men who believed in causes larger than themselves.”

With these words, biographer Jon Meacham eulogized President George H. W. Bush at yesterday’s state funeral in Washington, DC. The service at the National Cathedral was one of the most moving I have witnessed.

Several speakers referred to the late Barbara Bush, the president’s amazing wife of seventy-three years, and to their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of three. I was especially touched when President George W. Bush ended his wonderful eulogy in tears as he said, “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”

I was reminded of a cartoon published after Mr. Bush died. It pictures a World War II fighter plane now landed in heaven. Next to it are the president and Barbara wearing her trademark pearls, holding hands with little Robin. His wife says, “We waited for you.”

“Why was I spared?”

The great theologian and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen noted: “We have to prepare ourselves for our death with the same care and attention as our parents prepared themselves for our births.” George H. W. Bush was prepared for his death long before it came.

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Denison Forum – One hero salutes another: A video I hope you’ll see

Throngs of people streamed into the Capitol Rotunda yesterday to spend a moment before the flag-draped casket of President George H. W. Bush. Among them was Sen. Bob Dole.

While serving in the Army during World War II, Dole was badly wounded by German machine gun fire. He never regained use of his right arm; his left arm is minimally functional. Nonetheless, he went on to serve Kansas in Congress from 1961 to 1996 and run for president in 1996 as the Republican nominee.

Now ninety-five years old, he is confined to a wheelchair. But he wanted to pay his respects to President Bush, so aides helped him stand. He then used his left hand to salute the casket.

It was one hero saluting another. I hope you’ll watch the now-viral video.

“Your success is now our country’s success”

Today has been designated a day of mourning for President George H. W. Bush. His remains are lying in state at the US Capitol this morning. His son, President George W. Bush, will deliver the eulogy at Washington National Cathedral later today.

Many are mourning the passing not just of a great man but also of the civility he represented. Consider one example of his gracious spirit.

In 1989, President Reagan left a humorous note for his successor in the drawer of his Oval Office desk. In 1993, after a bitterly fought presidential campaign, President Bush left a letter in the desk for the man who defeated him, cementing a tradition that has continued to this day.

Here is what he wrote:

“Dear Bill,

“When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

Continue reading Denison Forum – One hero salutes another: A video I hope you’ll see

Denison Forum – Man tries to rescue Christmas decoration

A veteran named Alfred Norwood, Jr. was walking past a home in Austin, Texas, when he saw a man dangling from a second-story roof. He immediately stopped to help, trying unsuccessfully to use a ladder that was leaning against the home. He then called to people who were passing by, but no one stopped to help. So he called 911.

It turned out, the “man” in danger was a mannequin meant to look like Clark Griswold in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s so realistic that it’s easy to see how Mr. Norwood was fooled.

The homeowners tracked the veteran down and thanked him. One pointed out that hundreds of cars go past their house every day, but he was the only person to stop and help. A reporter commented: “It’s nice to know there are still good people in this world who care.”

Let’s consider Mr. Norwood’s experience as a parable for our day.

Services for a war hero

President George H. W. Bush’s body is lying in state today in the US Capitol. It will remain there until tomorrow morning, when it will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral. Tomorrow afternoon, the body will be transported to President Bush’s church in Houston for a service Thursday morning, followed by burial that afternoon.

His services are being conducted as a military operation befitting a war hero. They involve military units coordinating movements in at least three states and the District of Columbia.

The procedures are detailed in a 133-page manual titled “State, Official and Special Military Funerals.” As many as four thousand military and Defense Department civilian personnel will be involved in some capacity.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Man tries to rescue Christmas decoration

Denison Forum – The Santa Clausification of Christmas

I need to begin with a disclaimer: I am a fan of Santa Claus. I have fond memories of writing wish-list letters to him as a child and bringing our sons to visit him at the mall when they were children.

My purpose this morning is not to criticize the commercialization of Christmas, but to explore a different though related topic.

How important is religion to Americans?

In the latest Pew Research Center report, 20 percent of those surveyed named “religious faith” as the “most important” source of meaning in their lives.

Here’s the good news: religion received more votes than any source except “family.” Here’s the bad news: in a nation where 72 percent of the population identifies as Christian, a large majority of those claiming to follow Jesus do not find meaning in life primarily from their relationship with him.

He may be part of their lives, but he is not central to them.

How to get along with God

Of all life’s priorities, which should come first? Here’s God’s answer: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Scripture repeatedly emphasizes the importance of putting the Lord first in our lives (cf. Matthew 6:33Exodus 20:3Colossians 3:2). God does not share his glory. If he did, he would be committing idolatry.

Years ago, I heard a preacher warn: “If you want to get along with God, stay off his throne.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – The Santa Clausification of Christmas

Denison Forum – Indian authorities trying to recover body of US missionary

John Allen Chau was twenty-six years old. A native of Vancouver, Washington, he led missionary trips around the world for Christ.

This month, he traveled to the North Sentinel Island in India’s Bay of Bengal to share Christ with the Sentinelese tribe. Its members have been isolated for centuries, rejecting all contact with the larger world and reacting with violence when outsiders have attempted to interact with them. Their island is off-limits to visitors under Indian law.

Chau hired local fishermen to transport him within half a mile of the island. He then used a canoe to reach the island’s shore, returning later in the day.

On his second trip, the tribespeople broke his canoe, forcing him to swim back to the boat. On his third trip, he did not come back. The fishermen said they later saw tribespeople dragging his body around.

Indian authorities have now begun the arduous work of trying to retrieve Chau’s body without triggering a conflict with the islanders.

Before he left the boat for the last time, Chau wrote a note to his family. “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” he said.

Then he added: “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed–rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I will see you again when you pass through the veil.”

“When necessary, use words” Continue reading Denison Forum – Indian authorities trying to recover body of US missionary

Denison Forum – Six ways to instantly become a more positive person

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Or so we think.

We tend to believe that the Pilgrims invented the holiday when they held a feast to celebrate their successful fall harvest. However, they borrowed the tradition from the English.

And the English celebration is nowhere as ancient as the Japanese national holiday known as Kinro Kansha no Hi (“Labor Thanksgiving Day”), which goes back more than two thousand years. The Chinese have been celebrating their version of thanksgiving even longer, with a Mid-Autumn Festival that goes back 2,500 years.

Why is giving thanks such a universal phenomenon? Because it’s so good for us.

The relationship between optimism and health

One problem some of us face on this Thanksgiving Day is that we don’t feel like giving thanks. If we’re facing hardships, Thanksgiving can be more obligatory than celebratory.

However, it’s when we don’t feel like being thankful that we most need to be thankful.

Time recently published a fascinating article titled “6 Ways to Instantly Be a More Positive Person.” The author notes that optimism is essential to our overall health.

For instance, when Harvard researchers studied seventy thousand women over an eight-year period, they discovered that the most optimistic quartile had an almost 30 percent lower risk of dying from several major causes of death compared with women in the least optimistic quartile.

How can we be more positive, whatever our circumstances or challenges?

Continue reading Denison Forum – Six ways to instantly become a more positive person

Denison Forum – Why did Abraham Lincoln pardon a turkey?

President Trump pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey yesterday, continuing a long and surprising tradition.

Such clemency apparently began with President Lincoln in 1863. Two years later, a White House reporter noted that “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner.” However, Lincoln’s son Tad “interceded in behalf of its life . . . [his] plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

A century later, President Kennedy was presented with a Thanksgiving turkey and responded, “Let’s keep him going,” sparing his life. Presidents since have offered mercy to Thanksgiving turkeys in various ways, leading to the formalizing of the process by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.

This year’s presidential turkeys are named “Peas” and “Carrots.” (President Trump officially pardoned Peas, but Carrots will join him in retirement.) They’re not just any turkeys.

The National Turkey Federation tells us that turkeys selected for the so-called Presidential Flock are “acclimated from an early age to the unique experiences of the ceremony: television lights and crowded noises.” Peas and Carrots spent Monday evening at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in downtown Washington, DC, before their big day on the national stage.

When President Obama issued his Thanksgiving turkey pardon in 2013, he stated: “The office of the presidency is the most powerful position in the world [and] brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities.” Then he added humorously, “This is not one of them.”

Unless you’re the turkey.

All of God there is, is in this moment Continue reading Denison Forum – Why did Abraham Lincoln pardon a turkey?

Denison Forum – Why AD 536 was the worst year in history  

The Dow lost 395 points yesterday as tech stocks dragged down the major indexes. A star system in our galaxy is primed for an intense explosion that could wipe out the ozone layer in our atmosphere (though the system is eight thousand light years away from us).

Here’s the good news: we’re not living in AD 536, which one Harvard historian considers the worst year in human history. The reason: a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere, blanketing the land in a mysterious fog for eighteen months.

Temperatures fell; crops failed; people starved. Bubonic plague followed, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse.

How does this dismal story relate to Thanksgiving?

“Give thanks in all circumstances”

I’ve been contemplating a challenging sentence in Scripture: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“Give thanks” translates eucharisteite, from which we get “eucharist.” The Greek verb is a present tense imperative second person plural and thus can be literally translated, “Each and every one of you is commanded continually to express gratitude without ceasing.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why AD 536 was the worst year in history  

Denison Forum – Why doesn’t Disney World celebrate Thanksgiving?

My wife marked a significant birthday last week. I offered to take her anywhere to celebrate and she chose Disney World. Since she grew up just a few blocks from Disneyland in California and we visited Disney World often while living in Atlanta, the trip was a nostalgic and fun week for us both.

However, one part of our vacation was a new experience: we had never visited Disney World in mid-November. We saw Christmas decorations everywhere we looked. Wreaths on the doors, garlands on the light poles and attractions, Christmas parades in the streets. We were told that more than 1,500 Christmas trees were placed on the various Disney World properties.

The decorations were beautiful. The parades, light shows, and fireworks were stunning. Disney World celebrates Christmas in grand style.

But another holiday was noteworthy for its absence.

A holiday or a holy day?

I don’t remember a single reference to Thanksgiving. Not one pilgrim or turkey on the grounds. It was as though this Thursday’s celebration of gratitude does not exist.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why doesn’t Disney World celebrate Thanksgiving?

Denison Forum – Gospel-powered prison reform

In a rare reminder that sometimes helping people can be more important than maintaining party lines, President Trump joined with members on both sides of the aisle in Congress this week to announce that he will support a bipartisan prison reform bill. It might reach his desk as soon as next month. The bill will roll back certain elements of existing crime laws with regard to issues like minimum sentencing for nonviolent crimes.

President Trump stated that it was his “honor to be involved, and it’ll be an even greater honor to sign” the new law. As Ja’Ron Smith, the president’s domestic policy adviser, said of the bill, “What we’re doing here is finding a better way to be smart on crime. We want prison to serve as a place to lock up the people who are the most detrimental to society.”

But what about those prisoners who will be relatively unaffected by the new legislation?

There’s encouraging news for them as well.

The chance to be human again

As Yonat Shimron writes for Religion News Serviceseminaries across the country are increasingly partnering with prisons to help inmates get bachelor’s degrees in subjects like pastoral ministry and biblical studies. The goal is to train inmates to “become ‘field ministers’ who can serve as counselors for other inmates, lead prayers, assist prison chaplains and generally serve as a calming influence in prison yards.”

To that end, “Applicants must be felons serving minimum 15-year sentences with a high school diploma or GED and a clean disciplinary record for at least a year.” The point is to equip inmates to be positive forces for the gospel from inside the prison.

And the program works.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Gospel-powered prison reform

Denison Forum – Fighting fires and fighting dragons


The wildfires raging through California continue to dominate headlines today. As of this writing, forty-two were confirmed dead from the Camp Fire blaze ravaging the northern part of the state, while two more have perished from the smaller yet still devastating infernos to the south. All totaled, more than three hundred thousand people have been displaced, and, with roughly one hundred still unaccounted for, officials fear the death toll will rise over the coming days and weeks.

While the worst of the damage has come in the northern part of the state, hurricane-level winds are expected to exacerbate flames in the south as gusts pour over mountain passes in that region. Moreover, even those outside the reach of the infernos have suffered as the wildfires have sent up smoke and particles that pollute the air far beyond the scope of the blaze.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the dangers the wildfires pose, other news from the region has also struck a chord with people around the world. Stan Lee, creator and mastermind of Marvel Comics and its litany of superhero movies, passed away in Los Angeles on Monday at the age of ninety-five.

For the better part of six decades, he captivated the minds of children and adults alike through iconic figures such as Iron Man, Spiderman, the Hulk, and Thor. He pushed boundaries with characters like the Black Panther and took people on adventures across space alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Yet, the popularity of his comics and movies has as much to do with our society as his creativity. Whether it was the environment of the Vietnam War, the ever-present threat of terrorism following 9/11, the rampant cultural animosity of the last decade, or the litany of other events–like the California wildfires–that remind us that this world is a fallen place, people have often looked for a way to escape, even if only for a brief time.

But is that the correct response?

Killing our dragons

  1. K. Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Most people are fully aware of the dragons lurking around the corners of our lives. In fact, for many, the dragons seem so universally present that the hard part is finding a small corner where they don’t exist. This sort of escapism is often our natural response when the events of this life threaten to overwhelm us. After all, when was the last time you clicked over to your favorite news site and did not have to seek out something positive within the mass of negative stories?

Now, imagine what that would be like if you lived without the promise that God had already defeated your dragons (John 16:33Revelation 20:10). If the only hope you had in this world was that you, or some other fallen and flawed creature just like you, could come in and save the day, then perhaps you too would spend a bit more time around superheroes.

Fortunately, that’s not the case for us, and it doesn’t have to be the case for anyone else either.

Embracing your story

Throughout the gospels, whenever Jesus helped someone in their time of need, their immediate response was to go and tell others about what he’d done for them. Even when he instructed them to remain silent and tell no one, as with the leper in Mark 1 or the deaf and mute man in Mark 7, they couldn’t help but share their experience with the Savior to anyone who would listen.

That we are called to do the same is not a new concept for most of us. However, that we know we should tell others about Jesus but often don’t perhaps indicates that we’ve forgotten what a good story we really have to tell. I think one of the main reasons is that we’ve failed to make Christ’s story our own.

The people in Scripture who did the most for God were the ones who lived every day with an acute awareness of what he’d already done for them. Their sense of joy and gratitude to the Lord knew no end, and so their ministry didn’t either.

Have we forgotten our story?

The best superhero story ever told

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with enjoying superheroes or escaping for a couple of hours to watch a fun movie. Not all distractions are a bad thing, and sometimes it does genuinely help to forget about our troubles for a time. But when we re-enter the real world, will we be like those living without hope, or will we model something better? Will they see in us the promise that a real Savior has come and offers the salvation for which their souls yearn?

The gospel is the best superhero story ever written, even more so because it’s true and the person he came to save is you.

That’s a story our culture could really use right now. Will you share it with them?

Denison Forum – “Liberal icon” fractures 3 ribs in fall

Take my ribs, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” This is how many across the nation have responded to the news that the longtime Supreme Court justice fell in her office Wednesday evening, breaking three ribs. Others have been less charitable.

Justice Ginsburg is a metaphor for American culture. How you reacted to the news of her accident likely reveals your position on today’s highly partisan political spectrum.

“A flaming feminist litigator”

Justice Ginsburg was one of nine women in her class at Harvard Law School. She was the first woman to become a tenured professor at Columbia University Law School and the co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. As the leader of this project, she successfully argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court.

President Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993; the Senate confirmed her by a ninety-six to three vote. Since that time, she has gained a reputation for personal fortitude. She has yet to miss a day of oral arguments, even while undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, recovering from surgery for colon cancer, and grieving the death of her husband in 2010.

Ginsburg has become a “liberal icon” who describes herself as “a flaming feminist litigator.” Her criticism of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign drew applause from his critics and censure from his supporters.

One of the gravest challenges we face

It is tempting to view today’s polarization of the Supreme Court as a necessary reflection of the polarization of our nation. Since we are divided between “red” and “blue” states, rural and urban, liberals and conservatives, it seems fitting that our justices reflect such division. And it seems appropriate that the president should be able to make judicial nominations consistent with his political position since he was elected by the will of the people.

Continue reading Denison Forum – “Liberal icon” fractures 3 ribs in fall

Denison Forum – Comedian ridicules wounded veteran

It took Pete Davidson twenty-five seconds to offend millions of Americans. The Saturday Night Live “comedian” was making fun of political candidates last weekend when he came to Dan Crenshaw, a Republican candidate for Congress from Texas.

Crenshaw is a former Navy SEAL who served five deployments overseas. In 2012, he was hit by an IED blast in Afghanistan. His right eye was destroyed in the blast and his left eye was severely damaged.

After several difficult surgeries, Lieutenant Commander Crenshaw eventually regained sight in his left eye. He deployed twice more, to the Middle East in 2014 and South Korea in 2016.

He was medically retired in September 2016 after ten years in the SEAL Teams. He was decorated with two Bronze Stars (one for Valor), the Purple Heart, and the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor. He then completed his master’s degree in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is now running for Congress in the Houston district where he grew up.

Davidson, commenting on the patch Crenshaw wears over his damaged right eye, made a remark about the veteran that is so offensive I won’t repeat it here. Crenshaw replied on Twitter: “Good rule in life: I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended. That being said, I hope @nbcsnl recognizes that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.”

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Denison Forum – Meet a modern-day faith hero

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani wife and mother of five. She and her family were the only Christians in their village. Her fellow workers repeatedly urged her to convert to Islam.

In June 2009, she was harvesting berries with a group of other farmhands. She was asked to fetch water from a nearby well and stopped to drink with an old metal cup she found near the well. A Muslim neighbor angrily told her it was forbidden for a Christian to drink from a utensil used by Muslims. The woman condemned her faith and ridiculed her Lord.

Asia responded: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”

Five days later, she and her family were beaten by a mob, then she was arrested for blasphemy. In November 2010, she was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. She was put in solitary confinement while her husband appealed her conviction. Her family was threatened with death and forced to flee their village.

A Pakistani governor who supported her was assassinated; a government official who worked for her release was shot to death.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges. However, protesters immediately took to the streets and the leaders of one Islamic group called for the judges to be killed. Roads, schools, and phone services were shut down in most parts of Pakistan today as protests continued across the country.

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Denison Forum – How I felt when I voted yesterday

I voted in the midterm elections yesterday.

I’m not going to tell you what candidates I supported–this ministry is intentionally as nonpartisan as possible, hoping to reach people of any and all political persuasions.

Rather, I’m writing to tell you how it felt to vote.

This is the twenty-first time I’ve voted in a presidential or midterm election, but this one felt different. In the midst of the most virulent political animosity I can remember, I walked out of the voting precinct with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be an American.

I felt gratitude for our founders–they risked everything to fight the most powerful nation on earth in defense of an idea and a new nation. I felt enormous gratitude for the soldiers who have served and died for my freedom.

I felt gratitude for those who defend and protect us today. I felt gratitude for the women and men who love their country enough to run for office. I felt gratitude for all those who serve to make our political system work. And I felt gratitude to be an American.

Courage changes culture

On this All Saints’ Day, when Christians around the world remember the faith heroes who have gone before us, I’d like to explore with you this fact: courage changes culture.

Abraham left his home to follow God to a promised land. Moses confronted Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth. Joshua and his people stepped into a flooded Jordan River. David faced Goliath. Galilean fishermen left their vocations to follow Jesus. Peter preached to the Sanhedrin. Paul testified before kings.

It takes courage to change the status quo. Friedrich Nietzsche was right: the “will to power” is the dominant drive in our fallen human nature. People who have achieved power will typically do anything to keep it. And those who seek power will do anything to achieve it.

Warren Bennis, the brilliant management scholar, observed that an “unconscious conspiracy” exists in every organization. Its purpose is to maintain the status quo for the future benefits of current participants. I have seen this “conspiracy” at work in every church, school, and organization I have served.

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Denison Forum – Do you live in “Hauntington”?

town has changed its name to “Hauntington” at the urging of a seven-year-old.

Second grader Angelica Dee Cunningham wrote to the town council of Huntington, New York, suggesting that they make the switch for Halloween. To her surprise, they agreed.

Their decision may be a parable for our culture today.

Americans are not unique in celebrating Halloween. Romania has a Day of Dracula; Japan stages a giant parade; children in the Philippines go door to door to ask for prayers for those in Purgatory.

Nor do we devote more time and money to Halloween than other holidays. We will spend $9 billion this year on costumes, candy, and decorations. However, our Halloween spending pales in comparison to our spending on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, and Christmas.

Nonetheless, I believe Halloween may reveal more about American culture than any other holiday. Here’s why.

How many Americans will participate in Halloween?

“Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” the evening before All Saints’ Day. Tomorrow, the Catholic Church will focus on the saints of the Church. This tradition began in AD 609 and encourages participants to remember and emulate the heroes of the faith.

Tonight, by contrast, the focus will be strikingly different. Fifteen million American adults will dress in costumes; witches are most popular, followed by vampires, zombies, and pirates. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, you’ve been haunted by ghosts, skeletons, and dragons for weeks.

Some 69 percent of Americans plan to participate in Halloween today. Since that is three times the percentage of Catholics in America, it is clear that far more people will observe Halloween than All Saints’ Day.

What two mistakes do we make about the devil?

My point transcends popularity, however. How much time do Americans really focus on being thankful at Thanksgiving? How much attention do we really give Jesus on Christmas Day?

Continue reading Denison Forum – Do you live in “Hauntington”?