Category Archives: Uncategorized

Denison Forum – Commencement speaker pays student debt for graduating class

There are more than four thousand colleges and universities in the United States. I’m guessing that none of them heard a commencement address quite like the one delivered at Morehouse College yesterday.

Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor known as the wealthiest black man in America, told the crowd that he and his family would pay off the entire graduating class’s student debt. David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse, called Mr. Smith’s generosity “a liberation gift, meaning this frees these young men from having to make their career decisions based on their debt. This allows them to pursue what they are passionate about.”

Mr. Smith’s gift may be worth about $40 million, according to Morehouse officials.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love”

Imagine that you were one of the 396 young men graduating from Morehouse yesterday. I can think of three reasons you might decline Mr. Smith’s remarkable generosity.

You could do so out of a self-reliant determination to pay your debts yourself. You could refuse to feel indebted to Mr. Smith. Or you could consider yourself unworthy of such grace.

Now let’s consider Robert Smith’s gift to the Morehouse graduates as a parable.

The Creator of the universe considers our eternal life worth the death of his Son: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our Father loves us unconditionally: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39).

God’s love for us is unwavering: “His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26). It “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). It is inclusive: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

In short, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Anything God has ever done, he can still do.

However, for most of my life, I have struggled to accept God’s grace. It’s not that I think I can pay my spiritual debts myself and earn my way into heaven, or that I don’t want to be indebted to God. Rather, it’s hard for me to see myself as worthy of such love.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – House and Ladders

I am not sure what it is that makes us readily picture God as seated high above us. But from childhood, we seem to nurture pictures of heaven and all its wonderment as that which spatially exists “above,” while we and all of our joys and worries exist on earth “below.” While this may simply illustrate our need for metaphors as we learn to relate to the world around us, there is also biblical imagery that seems to authenticate the portrayal. Depicting the God who exists beyond all we know, the Scripture writers describe the divine throne as “high and lofty,” the name of the LORD as existing above all names. Yet even metaphors can be misleading when they cease to point beyond themselves. Though the Bible uses the language and imagery of loftiness, it also pronounces that God’s existence is far more than something “above” us. The startling image of the Incarnation, for instance, radically erases the likeness of a distant God. The message that comes again and again from the mouth of God on earth is equally startling: The kingdom of God is among us!

Of the many objections to Christianity, there is one in particular that stands out in my mind as troubling. That is, the argument that to be Christian is to withdraw from the world, to follow fairy tales with wishful hearts and myths that insist you stop thinking and believe that all will be right in the end because God says so. It was in such a vein that Karl Marx depicted Christianity as a kind of drug that anesthetizes its consumers to the suffering in the world and the wretchedness of life. Sigmund Freud argued similarly that belief in God functions as an infantile dream that helps us evade the pain and helplessness we both feel and see around us. I don’t find these critiques and others like them troubling because I find them an accurate picture of the kingdom Jesus described. Rather, I find them troubling because so many Christians, myself included, find it easy to live as if Freud and Marx are quite right in their analyses.

In impervious boxes and minimalist depictions of the Christian story, we can live comfortably as if in our own worlds, intent to tell our feel-good stories while withdrawing from the harder scenes of life, content to view the kingdom of God as a world far away from the present, and the rooms of heaven as mere futuristic promises. The kingdom is seen as the place we are journeying toward, the better country the writer of Hebrews describes. In contrast, our place on earth is viewed as temporary, and therefore somehow less vital; like Abraham, we are merely passing through. And as a result, we build chasms that stand between kingdom and earth, today and tomorrow, the physical and the spiritual, the believing world and its world of neighbors. Whether articulated or subconscious, the earth itself even becomes something fleeting and irrelevant—one more commodity here for our use, like shampoo bottles in hotel bathrooms—while Christ is away preparing our permanent, more luxurious rooms.

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Denison Forum – California approves controversial sex-ed guidelines: The importance of mothers today

Sex education guidelines now approved by California for public school teachers are being praised by LGBT advocates. However, some parents and conservative groups are opposing the document as an assault on parental rights, claiming it exposes children to ideas about gender and sexuality that should be taught at home.

As controversial as the new guidelines are, they could have been worse.

After several organizations opposed what they called “sexually explicit” and “offensive, reckless and immoral books” originally included in the guidelines, the state removed five books from its framework. One depicting male and female anatomy had been recommended for kindergarten through third-grade students. An earlier draft also included descriptions of aberrant sexual behavior I won’t detail here.

The “Golden Spike” and “Mother’s Friendship Day”

In better news, today marks the sesquicentennial celebration of the “Golden Spike”—the ceremonial final spike connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory. On May 10, 1869, the 17.6-karat gold spike was used to complete the transcontinental railway and then removed and replaced with an iron spike. The Golden Spike is now on display at Stanford University.

One side of the spike was engraved with this inscription: “May God continue the Unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”

It seems appropriate that today’s Golden Spike anniversary is followed in two days by Mother’s Day.

The year before our nation’s railroads were connected, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized “Mother’s Friendship Day,” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote harmony and reconciliation. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was instrumental later in making Mother’s Day a national holiday. (For more on Anna’s surprising story, please read my wife’s blog, “Wishing You An Un-Hallmark Mother’s Day”).

Ann Reeves Jarvis believed that mothers could do for their nation’s soul what the Golden Spike did for the nation’s railroads. She was right: a recent Barna study shows just how critical mothers are to their children’s spiritual lives.

Christian teenagers say they “talk about God and faith” and “pray together” with their mothers far more than with their fathers, family members, or friends. They are also more likely to talk to their mothers about faith questions, the Bible, and personal problems.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everyday Easter

There is a great amount of anticipation leading up to Easter Sunday. Even for those who are “Christmas and Easter” church-goers, or for those who simply sit at home and dream of Easter baskets, chocolate rabbits, and colored eggs, anticipating Easter, on the one hand, is like waiting for the door to finally be unlocked, unhinged and opened onto a verdant spring meadow. On the other hand, Easter is stepping out onto that meadow and closing the door behind on the long, cold, dreary winter.

Yet, for many, the day comes and goes and then what? Easter is over again until next year. In some parts of the world, winter still hovers above and the grey of death has not given way to the springtime. The candy is eaten, the brunches are over, and everything seems to return to normal. All that anticipation ends in just one day—with grand celebrations and powerful sermons, and perhaps with even a first playful roll in the springtime grass—and then it’s over. Or is it?

The celebration of Easter is insignificant if the celebrations do not point to the continuing reality of the Risen Lord. Indeed, in many church traditions, the season of Eastertide which lasts until Pentecost asks this very question of those who lead congregations into continual contemplation of the resurrection until the day of Pentecost: how do we perceive the continuing presence of the risen Lord in our reality? Indeed, how do we? Is it simply the annual remembrance of a historic event from long ago?

If we’re honest, many of us do wonder what difference the resurrection has made in the practical realities of our lives. We still argue with our spouses and loved ones; we still have children who go their own way. We have difficulties at work or at school. We still see a world so broken by warfare, selfish greed, oppression and sin. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus recounting the events surrounding Jesus, perhaps we wonder aloud: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a). Things seem pretty much as they were before Easter Sunday, and the reality of our same old lives still clamor for redemption.

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Denison Forum – Anti-Semitism in the US rises 99 percent in four years: My personal response

Imagine beginning your worship service this weekend with an announcement about where the exits are—in case a shooter attacks and people need to run for their lives. Or locking your doors once the service begins. Or training your congregation in ways to respond to a live shooter.

Imagine installing airport-style metal detectors and security guards at the entrances to your church. Or being harassed by demonstrators outside your building carrying signs celebrating those who murdered six million followers of your faith.

This is life for Jewish people today—not just in France, where anti-Semitic violence has risen 74 percent; or in Germany, where 1,646 anti-Semitic acts were reported last year; or in the UK, where 1,652 such incidents were reported; or in Canada, which recorded 2,041 anti-Semitic acts—but in America.

Six months ago, a man who said he wanted all Jews to die attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven people and wounding seven. Last Saturday, around one hundred people held a vigil at the synagogue to honor the victims of a similar shooting in San Diego.

Last year, anti-Semitic acts in the US were 48 percent higher than in 2016 and 99 percent higher than in 2015.

Three reasons anti-Semitism is growing

Why is such horrific prejudice and violence increasing in our country?

Conspiracy theories are one factor.

At a 2017 confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us.” The teenager accused of the Poway shooting in California apparently embraced conspiracy theories that refugees and immigrants are replacing the Christian European majority. Some white supremacists call this “The Great Replacement.”

Fear of the “other” is a second issue.

Sharon R. Douglas, CEO of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, believes hate crimes are driven by economic competition and the fear of others. “Some of our most vulnerable citizens feel empowered to turn to violence in defense of the us versus them” mentality, she explained.

Social media is a third factor.

Today it is easier than ever to disseminate conspiracy theories and hateful ideologies. According to one analyst, “These systems of communication allow racists and anti-Semites to support one another and share ideas, which apparently help inspire them to commit violent acts.”

An appalling cartoon

Anti-Semitism is not confined to Jewish synagogues.

The New York Times recently published a cartoon picturing a blind President Trump, wearing a skullcap, being led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, depicted as a dog on a leash with a Star of David collar. The paper said it was “deeply sorry” for the offensive cartoon and is “committed to making sure nothing like this happens again.”

Anti-Semitism is more than a phenomenon—it is an ideology.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Anti-Semitism in the US rises 99 percent in four years: My personal response

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Messianic Images

When considering the Christian message, it is important to remember that the disciples of Jesus were totally surprised by the events that took place in Jerusalem. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostles rightfully believed that all was lost.

Though some have argued that the disciples merely refused to accept failure after Jesus’s death and made up the story of the resurrection, a crucified and risen Messiah simply did not fit into Jewish expectations for the One who was to come. Though there was no single understanding of what the Messiah would be like, there were common elements that every Jew would have assumed within their messianic expectations.

First, the Messiah was closely linked to Jewish beliefs regarding the place of worship. He was to institute a renewal of the temple in Jerusalem. It was also commonly understood that the Messiah would be a royal military leader who would overthrow Israel’s enemies and prove his lordship through conquest. Jesus clearly did neither of these things; rather, he came in peace and died in his youth like a criminal. Why, then, would his followers maintain that he was the Messiah? Why did they not just cut their losses after his death and move on?

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains:

“There were, to be sure, ways of coping with the death of a teacher, or even a leader. The picture of Socrates was available, in the wider world, as a model of unjust death nobly borne. The category of ‘martyr’ was available, within Judaism, for someone who stood up to pagans… The category of failed but still revered Messiah, however, did not exist. A Messiah who died at the hands of the pagans, instead of winning [God’s] battle against them, was a deceiver… Why then did people go on talking about Jesus of Nazareth, except as a remarkable but tragic memory? The obvious answer is that… Jesus was raised from the dead.”(1)

In this light of resurrection, the disciples had to go through a massive renewal of their thinking. Seeing the once-dead Jesus now standing before their eyes brought them to what was a radical new way of understanding the Messiah. Of course, this is in addition to the radical suspension of the well-understood laws of nature with which they also had to grapple. Despite the quick dismissal from modernity, no mind is so primitive so as to believe that all is usual when bodies rise from the dead.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Scars of New Creation

One of the most terrifying and deeply troubling news stories for me of the past few years has been one that has escaped broad notice by the Western media. It is the story of extreme and widespread violence against women in Eastern Congo. Raped and tortured by warring factions in their country, women are the victims of the most horrific crimes. As one journalist reported, “Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.”(1) They bear their wounds in their own bodies, permanent scars of violence and oppression.

In this holiest week for Christians around the world, the broken and wounded body of Jesus is commemorated in services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The broken body and spilled blood of Jesus is remembered in the symbols of bread and wine on Maundy Thursday, and in the black draping of curtains and cloths on Good Friday. Jesus suffered violence in his own body, just as many do around the world today.

Even as Christian mourning turns to joy with Easter resurrection celebrations, it is important to note that Jesus bore the wounds of violence and oppression in his body—even after his resurrection. When he appeared to his disciples, according to John’s gospel, Jesus showed them “both his hands and his side” as a means by which to identify himself to them. Indeed, the text tells us that once the disciples took in these visible wounds “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

The resurrection body of Jesus contained the scars from nail and sword, and these scars identified Jesus to his followers. And yet, the wounds of Jesus took on new significance in light of his resurrection. While still reminders of the violence of crucifixion his wound-marked resurrection body demonstrates God’s power over evil and death.

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Denison Forum – Waiting for the Mueller Report and examining five cultural lies: Is your Savior your Lord?

America is waiting for the redacted version of the Mueller Report to be published later this morning. We will not be able to read the report in its entirety since it contains information that was presented to a grand jury and is therefore subject to secrecy rules.

In addition, intelligence officials will redact information that could compromise sensitive sources and methods or hamper other current investigations. And the Justice Department will redact information it believes unfairly infringes on the privacy of “peripheral third parties” and damages their reputations.

What difference, then, will the report make?

Not much in the minds of most voters, apparently. A recent survey found that the report “may not change the minds of many Americans about the president. Barring a bombshell revelation, voters are likely to view the report through the prism of their partisan identities.”

Five lies that explain our culture

Pick a subject, from the president to abortion to gender identity to the environment. Can you think of a single significant issue on which Americans are largely agreed?

What is causing our nation’s cultural divides to grow ever deeper and more vitriolic?

Writing for the New York Times, columnist David Brooks offers some diagnoses of our cultural condition that merit significant attention and personal application. His bottom line: “We’ve created a culture based on lies.” Five of them, to be specific.

Here they are:

One: Career success is fulfilling. Brooks notes that such success “alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.”

Two: I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency and the deception that happiness is an individual accomplishment. By contrast, “happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.” Continue reading Denison Forum – Waiting for the Mueller Report and examining five cultural lies: Is your Savior your Lord?

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Decomposition of God

“God is dead,” declares Nietzsche’s madman in his oft-quoted passage from The Gay Science. Though not the first to make the declaration, Nietzsche’s philosophical candor and desperate rhetoric unquestionably attribute to its familiarity. In graphic brushstrokes, the parable describes a crime scene:

“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God,’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I! All of us are his murderers…Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?…Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”(1)

Nietzsche’s atheism, unlike many contemporary atheistic mantras, was not simply rhetoric and angry words. He recognized that the death of God, even if only the death of an idol, introduced a significant crisis. He understood the critical role of the Christian story to the very underpinnings of European philosophy, history, and culture, and so understood that God’s death meant that a total—and painful—transformation of reality must occur. If God has died, if God is dead in the sense that God is no longer of use to us, then ours is a world in peril, he reasoned, for everything must change. Our typical means of thought and life no longer make sense; the very structures for evaluating everything have become unhinged. For Nietzsche, a world that considers itself free from God is a world that must suffer the disruptive effects of that iconoclasm.

Herein, Nietzsche’s atheistic tale tells a story beneficial no matter the creed or conviction of those who hear it. Gods, too, decompose. Nietzsche’s bold atheism held the intellectual integrity that refused to make it sound easy to live with a dead God—a conclusion the new atheists are determined to undermine. Moreover, his dogged exposure of idolatrous conceptions of God wherever they exist and honest articulation of the crises that comes in the crashing of such idols is universal in its bearing. Whether atheist or theist, Muslim or Christian, the death of the God we thought we knew is disruptive, excruciating, tragic—and quite often, as Nietzsche attests, necessary.

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Denison Forum – Would you get an ‘IRS’ tattoo to avoid taxes?

Welcome to Tax Day.

What would you do to avoid ever paying taxes again?

Twenty-four percent of Americans would get an “IRS” tattoo; 36 percent would move to a different country; 15 percent would take a vow of celibacy; 11 percent would name their child “Taxes.”

Our angst over April 15 is understandable: 57 percent of us think our current tax rate is too high. Only 34 percent think it’s just right. Surprisingly, 9 percent of us think it’s too low.

Here’s the good news: tomorrow is Tax Freedom Day.

If you allocated every dollar you earned so far this year to pay your federal, state, and local taxes, your debt would be satisfied tomorrow. Everything you make beginning Wednesday would then be yours.

Tiger Woods’ “stirring triumph”

In what the New York Times is calling a “stirring triumph,” Tiger Woods won the Masters yesterday at the age of forty-three. President Trump called the win “a fantastic life comeback”; President Obama described it as “a testament to excellence, grit and determination.”

While Woods’ fifth victory at Augusta National is historic, it didn’t change history for most of us. That’s because, unless you’re involved with golf professionally, the game is a hobby for you. And hobbies are for our discretionary time. For most people, they are ancillary to our lives, not central to them.

Unfortunately, many Americans view following Jesus in the same way—as a hobby for those who choose it. To change metaphors, we see our relationship with God in the same way we see our relationship with the government: we give him what he requires so he will do what we want him to do.

A taxpayer relationship with God Continue reading Denison Forum – Would you get an ‘IRS’ tattoo to avoid taxes?

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Through Deeper Darkness

Professor and theologian James Loder was on vacation with his family when they noticed a motorist off to the side of the road waving for help. In his book The Transforming Moment, he describes kneeling at the front fender of this broken-down car, his head bent to examine the flat tire, when he was startled by the abrupt sound of screeching brakes. A motorist who had fallen asleep at the wheel was jarred awake seconds before his vehicle crashed into the disabled car alongside the road—and the man who knelt beside it. Loder was immediately pinned between two vehicles. The car he knelt to repair was now on his chest, his own vehicle underneath him.

Years after both the incident and the rehabilitation it required, Loder was compelled to describe the impact of that moment so marked by pain and tragedy, which was unexpectedly, something much more. Loder describes the incident: “At the hospital, it was not the medical staff, grateful as I was for them, but the crucifixes—in the lobby and in the patients’ rooms—that provided a total account of my condition. In that cruciform image of Christ, the combination of physical pain and the assurance of a life greater than death gave objective expression and meaning to the sense of promise and transcendence that lived within the midst of my suffering.”(1)

For the Christian, the crucifixion is the center of the whole, the event that gives voice to a broken, dark, and dying world, and the paradoxical suggestion of life somehow within it. This is why the church calendar sets apart forty days to prepare or the cross. This is why the church marks steeples and graves in memory of the crucifixion. The death of Christ is the occasion that makes way for the last to be first, the guilty to be pardoned, the creature united again to its creator. The cross of Christ is the mysterious sign that stands in the center of the history of the world and changes everything. “I have been crucified with Christ,” said one of his transformed followers. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

The suffering and death of Christ is indeed an image that gives expression to inexplicable tragedy, unnecessary suffering, and perplexing darkness. But the cross is also the event that jarringly marks that suffering, death, tragedy, and sorrow as qualities to which the vicariously human Son of God willingly submitted himself. It is thus that the broken and bleeding Loder could sense his condition understood in the image of a broken and bleeding Christ. “For surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.” In the cruciform image of Christ on the cross, our own encounters of tragedy are not only affirmed, but held at God’s own volition. From the glory of heaven, Christ has come into the dark world where we stand.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Reigning From a Cross

His final hours were spent in prayer. Yet, the Gospel of Luke tells us that there was nothing unusual about this practice. “And he came out and proceeded as was his custom to the Mount of Olives…and when he arrived at the place…he withdrew from them…and knelt down and began to pray.”(1) As was his custom, Jesus would go to pray. We do not often hear the content of these prayers, but in this case, in these final hours, we see him gripped with passion. Luke tells us that he was in such agony that his sweat “became like drops of blood.” Under conditions of extreme duress, it is possible to rupture capillaries in the head. Blood pours out of the skin like perspiration. Whatever the case, Jesus had never been in this much distress before—even in his wilderness testing—we have no other portrait of him in anguish during prayer.

“And being in agony he was praying very fervently,” writes Luke. What was the source of his agony? Was Jesus in agony over the physical torture and death he was about to endure? Was he in agony over the spiritual condition of his disciples, one who would betray him and the others who would all abandon him in his time of need? Certainly, the latter is a real possibility as he exhorts his disciples at least two times to “watch and pray that you might not enter into temptation.”(2)

Whatever the reason for his agony, Jesus’s humanity was on full display in his prayer. He did not want to walk the path that was unfolding before him, and he pleads with God to provide an alternative path. Matthew’s gospel reveals more of his struggle. He tells his disciples “I am deeply grieved, to the point of death.” Then he prays to his Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but your will be done.”(3) The via dolorosa, the way of suffering, unfolded before him and he would go to his death, despite his anguished prayers for another way.

As Christians move through the season Lent and meditate on the passionate prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his human agony and suffering on full display, all are brought face to face with the contrast between his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the agony that now awaited. How easy it is to follow Jesus as the victorious, but not as a fellow sufferer. How often the pursuit is after the glory and the grandeur of Palm Sunday as the entryway to the kingdom. But as author Kim Reisman has noted, “That is not the Jesus way. God doesn’t dispense with death. God resurrects us from it. The truth is that the Jesus way isn’t about God taking pain away from God’s people; it’s about God providing us with strength, courage, and meaning, with abundant life, often in the midst of pain.”(4)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – From the Fringes

Author A.J. Jacobs admits that he was agnostic before he even knew what the word meant. For all the good God seemed to invoke, the potential for abuse was far too high in his mind for God to be taken seriously. In a book exploring religion and religiousness, Jacobs describes an uncle who seemed to confirm this for him. Dabbling religiously in nearly every religion, his uncle went through a phase where he decided to take the Bible completely literally. Thus, heeding the Bible’s command in Deuteronomy 14:25 to secure money in one’s hand, he tied bills to his palms. Heeding the biblical command to wear fringes at the corners of one’s garment, he bought yarn from a kitting shop, made a bunch of tassels, and attached them to every corner he could find on his clothes.(1) While his uncle sought faithfulness to the letter, Jacobs was left with the impression that his uncle was “subtly dangerous.”

There are certainly sections of the Bible that when stripped of context and read in a lifeless vacuum can lead a mind to extremes. Like Jacobs, it is easy to conclude that religion and religiousness are completely ridiculous; or like his uncle, it is possible to assume complete literalism and run in ridiculous directions. The practice of making and wearing tassels on the corners of one’s garment, for instance, commanded in Numbers 15:37, is one such peculiar biblical decree easily dismissed in the name of reason or disemboweled in the name of faithfulness. Yet neither response truly yields an honest view of the command.

In fact, what seems an entirely curious fashion tip for the people of Israel was a common sight in many ancient Near Eastern cultures. Fringed garments were considered ornamental and illustrative of the owner; they were also were thought to hold certain spiritual significances.(2) In Assyria and Babylonia, for instance, fringes were believed to assure the wearer of the protection of the gods. Thus, God’s command of the Israelites to “make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations” took something familiar to the nations and gave it new significance for the nation God called his own. “39You will have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes” (Numbers 15:39). Like many of the commands and rituals described in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, the instruction of tassels is about remembrance. The perpetual presence of fringe and tassel was a tangible reminder that all of life, not only moments of piety or prayer, was an opportunity to be in the presence of God. To miss the rich substance of this divine petition is to miss it—and its petitioner—entirely.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – From the Fringes

Denison Forum – Two responses to the Ralph Northam controversy

Ralph Northam served eight years as a United States Army medical officer, then became a pediatric neurologist. He served in Virginia’s state Senate and as lieutenant governor before becoming governor earlier this year.

On January 30, the governor voiced his support for legislation that would allow abortion until the point of birth. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) spoke for many when he responded: “In just a few years pro-abortion zealots went from ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to ‘keep the newborns comfortable while the doctor debates infanticide.’”

Then came the yearbook controversy. On February 1, images from Northam’s medical school yearbook were published. On his page in the yearbook, they picture an unidentified person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood.

After admitting that he was one of the figures in the photo and apologizing, Northam later denied that he was in the picture. However, he admitted to wearing blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest around the same time the photo was taken.

Pressure to resign has been escalating since the yearbook picture was published.

“Seize the opportunity”

Harvard’s James Herron perceptively defines racism as “a lens through which people interpret, naturalize, and reproduce inequality.” Since 64 percent of Americans say racism remains a major problem in this country, we should not be surprised that such prejudice makes the news daily.

One response is African American History Month, which is observed each February. Its purpose is to “[pay] tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.”

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Denison Forum – A kicker’s failure became eternally significant

After last weekend’s divisional round, the Chiefs, Rams, Patriots, and Saints are the last four of the NFL’s thirty-two teams still in this year’s playoffs. The combined population of their cities equals 1.57 percent of the US population.

In other words, as pro football fans go, there are far more losers than winners this morning.

In our “winning isn’t everything–it’s the only thing” culture, this is tough for those of us who live in Dallas and other losing cities to wake up to. But we can learn an important life lesson from the player who epitomized losing this season.

A kick that defied all odds

Cody Parkey is a kicker for the Chicago Bears. He set an NFL rookie scoring record in 2014 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015. Earlier this season, he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Vikings.

In the first round of this year’s playoffs, his Chicago Bears played last year’s Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. At the end of the game, the Bears were poised to win as Parkey lined up a forty-three-yard field goal. He had already kicked three field goals in the game. His fourth was right down the middle, but the Eagles had called time out just before the play began.

When the game resumed, Parkey’s kick struck the left upright of the goalpost. Then, defying all odds, it struck the crossbar. Then it fell backwards to the ground. The Bears lost.

The team and their fans were devastated. Only later did they learn that an Eagles player got a hand on the ball, deflecting the kick.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Can You Be a Scientist and Believe in God?

John Lennox responds to common misunderstandings about science and Christianity in an excerpt from his new book, “Can Science Explain Everything?”

This is an edited extract from Can Science Explain Everything? by John C Lennox (January 2019). The book is the first of a series in a joint venture with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Zacharias Institute, and The Good Book Company.

“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days?”

It’s a viewpoint I have heard expressed by many people over the years. But I suspect that it is often the unspoken doubt that stops many from engaging seriously with serious thinkers about both science and God.

In reply, I like to ask a very scientific question: “Why not?”

“Well,” the answer comes back, “science has given us such marvelous explanations of the universe and demonstrates that God is just not necessary. Belief in God is old fashioned. It belongs to the days when people didn’t really understand the universe, and just took the lazy way out and said that ‘God did it.’ That sort of ‘God of the gaps thinking’ simply won’t do any more. Indeed, the sooner we get rid of God and religion, the better.”

I sigh inwardly, and prepare myself for a long conversation in which I try to untangle the many assumptions, misunderstandings and half-truths that have been absorbed uncritically from the cultural soup we swim in.

A COMMON VIEWPOINT

It’s not surprising that this viewpoint is so common that it has become the default position for many, if not most; it’s a viewpoint supported by some powerful voices. Stephen Weinberg, for example, a Physics Nobel Prize winner said,

The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation.1

I hope you didn’t miss the rather sinister-sounding totalitarian element in this statement: “anything we scientists can do…”

This attitude is not new. I first met it fifty years ago while studying at Cambridge University. I found myself at a formal college dinner sitting beside another Nobel Prize winner. I had never met a scientist of such distinction before and, in order to gain the most from the conversation, I tried to ask him some questions. For instance, how did his science shape his worldview—his big picture of the status and meaning of the universe? In particular, I was interested in whether his wide-ranging studies had led him to reflect on the existence of God.

It was clear that he was not comfortable with that question, and I immediately backed off. However, at the end of the meal, he invited me to come to his study. He had also invited two or three other senior academics but no other students. I was invited to sit, and, so far as I recall, they remained standing.

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Denison Forum – “The legend of Trevor Lawrence has only just begun”

Clemson routed Alabama last night to win its second national title in three years. I’ve been watching college football for fifty years and have never seen a performance like the game their quarterback played.

Trevor Lawrence, a nineteen-year-old freshman, was named the Most Valuable Player. He is already being hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent. Now, after a performance for the ages, ESPN tells us this morning that “the legend of Trevor Lawrence has only just begun.”

The best part of the story isn’t the part that’s making headlines today.

When Lawrence was named Clemson’s starting quarterback last September, reporters asked how he stays so calm during games. “That’s just always my personality,” he explained. “Football’s important to me, but it’s not my life. It’s not the biggest thing in my life. I would say my faith is.”

He added: “I put my identity in what Christ says, who He thinks I am and who I know that He says I am.”

“Share a nanosecond of celebration”

There’s always more good news than makes the news.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof agrees. The title of his latest article makes his point: “Why 2018 Was the Best Year in Human History!”

Kristof claims that the world’s population is living longer and better than ever before. For instance, each day on average:

  • 295,000 people gain access to electricity for the first time.
  • 305,000 people are able to access clean drinking water for the first time.
  • 620,000 people are able to get online for the first time.
  • Only about 4 percent of children worldwide die by the age of five, down from 19 percent in 1960.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of the world’s population live in extreme poverty, down from more than 50 percent in the 1950s.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Light in the Darkness

Winters, in the north-eastern part of India, especially Shillong where I live, can be bitingly cold, and more so when it rains. One year, the winter was particularly wet, and for weeks on end there seemed no respite from the cold. One gloomy day followed another with nothing to lighten the dismal scene of overcast skies and thick blankets of cloud stretched like a shroud from one end of the horizon to the other. Suffocated by the cheerless gloom that had pervaded my very heart and soul, small woes and anxieties that had seemed miniscule before, now seems threateningly gigantic. Funny how the weather can affect one’s mood! And just as I was beginning to feel that sunny days are but a distant memory, suddenly, the sun rose up one morning, bright and strong, shining in a blue cloudless sky. I was immediately reminded of a song in the Bible likening the sun to a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing like a strong man to run its race.(1)

As I was reflecting on the sight, I noticed my neighbor’s door opened. Faithfully, as he had probably been doing every single day of his life, he turned his face to the sun and paid obeisance to it. With hands folded and eyes devoutly closed, he continued in this salutation of worship for a few minutes. As I sat there in the sun, enjoying the delicious warmth soaking into my body, I can understand exactly why people would want to worship it. There is something very nurturing, healing and life-giving about the sun’s warmth. No wonder that civilizations right from the Mayans and the ancient Egyptians to the Hindus of today, revered and worshipped it.

But does it have to end there, I thought? Should not our contemplation of the wonder of creation lead us to contemplate on the greater wonder of the One who is the cause of all existence? In his song offerings, the Gitanjali, the great seer and bard, Rabindranath Tagore captures the very essence of this truth when he sings: “The morning light has flooded my eyes—this is thy message to my heart. Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes look down on my eyes, and my heart has touched thy feet.”(2) Clearly, for Tagore, every part of creation is but the whisperings of the Almighty to the human heart.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everyone Believes in a Virgin Birth

In correspondence with an old friend, a retired Princeton University professor, he detailed his objections to the Christian faith. His final remark seemed to overshadow all other considerations and was authoritatively written as if to definitively close the argument: “Nor can I believe in a virgin birth.” Such a belief was apparently implausible, absurd, immature.

Why is the virgin birth often the most problematic miracle to accept? Why is it more troubling than the thought of Jesus walking on water? Or multiplying the loaves?

Perhaps because we are content to let God do as he pleases with his own body, and we are delighted to be the recipient of gifts. However, we are offended by the thought of a miracle that inconveniences us, that has potential to disrupt our plans and our preferences.

I considered responding to my friend with positive reasons for believing in a virgin birth, but then I realized that he was, in fact, already committed to a virgin birth.

We find one virgin birth in the story of the Incarnation:

“How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

Admittedly, this is out of the ordinary. But criticism without alternative is empty; a hypothesis is only plausible or implausible relative to what alternative hypotheses present themselves. So what exactly is the alternative?

My colleague Professor John Lennox debated another Princeton professor, Peter Singer, one of the world’s most influential atheists. Lennox challenged him to answer this question: ‘Why are we here?‘ And this was Professor Singer’s response:

“We can assume that somehow in the primeval soup we got collections of molecules that became self-replicating; and I don’t think we need any miraculous or mysterious .”(1)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – It’s a Wonderful Life

“I know what I’m going to do for the next year, and the next year, and the year after that…I’m going to shake the dust off of this crummy old town and I’m going to see the world.”(1)

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is the classic film of Christmas holiday fare. It’s ubiquity on the airwaves belies its dismal performance at the box office when it was first released just after World War II.(2) Capra’s film follows the life of George Bailey in his small town. And while the film has a happy ending, it exposes the creeping despair and bitterness that comes from the loss of George’s dreams. The film offers a powerful visual of the gap that forms between knowing what George will do “the next year and the year after that” and the reality of living that leaves him wondering whether his is a wonderful life.

Despite the film’s often saccharine sentimentality, it nevertheless presents a realistic picture of lost or abandoned dreams. Like the film’s main character, George Bailey, many of us had dreams of “seeing the world” and “kicking the dust off” of our ordinary lives and existence. Our ideal plans and goals called us out into an ever-expanding future of possibility and adventure.

In this sense, It’s a Wonderful Life offers all who enter into its narrative a chance to look into the chasm between many cherished ideals and the often sober reality of our lives. This glimpse into what is often a gaping chasm of lost hopes and abandoned dreams offers a frightening opportunity to let go. Indeed, facing the death of ones’ dreams head on forces a moment of decision. Will we become bitter by fixating on what has been lost, or will we walk forward in hope on a path of yet unseen possibility?

For Christians, the classical language of faith offers resources in depth for facing the fact that life entails death; it cannot be circumnavigated or avoided. Those who follow the path of Christ are presented with a decision: will the giving up of aspects we suspect essential to our vision of a ‘wonderful’ life lead us to bitterness or to hope? The discipline of discipleship often reveals hands grasped tightly and tenaciously around ideals that must give way to new realities. Author M. Craig Barnes suggests that the journey away from our own sense of what makes for a wonderful life is actually the process of conversion. “It is impossible to follow Jesus and not be led away from something. That journey away from the former places and toward the new place is what converts us. Conversion is not simply the acceptance of a theological formula for eternal salvation. Of course it is that, but it is so much more. It is the discovery of God’s painful, beautiful, ongoing creativity along the way in our lives.”(3)

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