Category Archives: Uncategorized

Denison Forum – Why baseball’s highest paid player hasn’t played in four years: Four reasons to trust God’s providence with patience

Prince Fielder is owed $24 million in the final year of his contract with the Texas Rangers. This would put him nowhere near the top ten current salaries in the sport. But it’s not bad for a player who has not appeared in a game since 2016, when injuries forced his early retirement.

Here’s why Fielder’s salary is newsworthy: As Major League Baseball works on a plan to play a shortened season, current players could receive less than their salaries dictate. But because the sport’s collective-bargaining agreement seems to protect guarantees in contracts such as Fielder’s, he will probably receive the full amount.

This is just one illustration of the fact that COVID-19 is affecting far more people than it is infecting.

Here’s a tragic example: an American missionary pilot named Joyce Lin died in a plane crash Tuesday. She was transporting coronavirus rapid test kits and school supplies to a village in Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she was forty years old.

The “principle of calculated risk” 

A fifty-five-year-old person from the Hubei province in China may have been the first person to contract COVID-19. The case dates back to November 17, 2019, nearly six months ago. As mortality from this horrible disease passes 302,000 deaths as of this morning, why is it taking so long to develop effective therapies?

George Friedman is one of the most astute geopolitical analysts of our day. In a recent article, he discussed the medical system in the context of risk. He noted that “the moral foundation of science is that it must, first of all, do no harm.” As a result, “no drug is released until it is certain that it will do no harm. This requires meticulous testing and evaluation, and that takes time.”

By contrast, “other systems operate not on a zero-risk principle but on the principle of calculated risk.” In a military operation, for instance, “the risk is calculated with care, but so is the consequence of inaction.”

In most structures, “an emergency means the acceptance of a degree of failure that would not be acceptable otherwise in order to gain time. In the military, such shortcuts may well cause deaths, even to civilians. But not taken, these risks certainly increase deaths.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Why baseball’s highest paid player hasn’t played in four years: Four reasons to trust God’s providence with patience

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Cries of the Heart

Some time ago my wife, Margie, returned from an errand visibly shaken by a heartrending conversation she had experienced. She was about the very simple task of selecting a picture and a frame when a dialogue began with the owner of the shop. When Margie said that she would like a scene with children in it the woman quite casually asked if the people for whom the picture was being purchased had any children of their own. “No,” replied my wife, “but that is not by their choice.” There was a momentary pause. Suddenly, like a hydrant uncorked, a question burst with unveiled hostility from the other woman’s lips: “Have you ever lost a child?” Margie was somewhat taken aback and immediately sensed that a terrible tragedy probably lurked behind the abrupt question.

The conversation had obviously taken an unsettling turn. But even at that she was not prepared for the flood of emotion and anger that was yet to follow, from this one who was still a stranger. The sorry tale quickly unfolded. The woman proceeded to speak of the two children she had lost, each loss carrying a heartache all its own. “Now,” she added, “I am standing by watching my sister as she is about to lose her child.” There was no masking of her bitterness and no hesitancy about where to ascribe the blame for these tragedies. Unable to utter anything that would alleviate the pain of this gaping wound in the woman’s heart, my wife began to say, “I am sorry,” when she was interrupted with a stern rebuke, “Don’t say anything!” She finally managed to be heard just long enough to say in parting, “I’ll be praying for you through this difficult time.” But even that brought a crisp rejoinder, “Don’t bother.”

Margie returned to her car and just wept out of shock and longing to reach out to this broken life. Even more, ever since that conversation she has carried with her an unshakable mental picture of a woman’s face whose every muscle contorted with anger and anguish—at once seeking a touch yet holding back, yearning for consolation but silencing anyone who sought to help, shoving at people along the way to get to God. Strangely, this episode spawned a friendship and we have had the wonderful privilege of getting close to her and of praying with her in our home. We have even felt her embrace of gratitude as she has tried in numerous ways to say, “Thank you.” But through this all she has represented to us a symbol of smothered cries, genuine and well thought through, and of a search for answers that need time before that anger is overcome by trust, and anguish gives way to contentment.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Cries of the Heart

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Missing Easter

Covid-19 made the celebration of Easter unlike anything we have ever seen. Public gatherings banned around the world, congregations resorted to Facebook live events or Zoom gatherings online in which solitary pastors connected with isolated parishioners to declare the resurrection of Jesus. Many churches creatively tackled this new reality with cleverly edited clips of house-bound individuals singing or performing favorite hymns. But no matter the ingenuity, it was a surreal experience to participate in Easter worship by myself in front of a computer screen. In many ways, I felt as if I had “missed” Easter.

But if I am honest, even without the Covid-19 restrictions, there have been Easter Sundays that have come and gone without much notice in my own life as well. Even though I am present in body and mind, my heart is often disengaged from the significance of this celebration. Thankfully, the season of Eastertide invites all to inquire how the continuing presence of the risen Lord manifests himself in our day-to-day reality—an even more poignant and pressing quest in the face of the global pandemic.

I am reminded, as I try to live into Easter realities, that the disciple Thomas also missed Easter Sunday, in a way. Remembered in Christian tradition as “doubting Thomas,” he was not physically present when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. Locked up in a room because of their fear of the Jewish authorities, the ten remaining disciples may have been huddled together puzzling over Mary Magdalene’s pronouncement that she had seen Jesus, alive and well, after her visit to his tomb. John’s gospel does not tell his readers why Thomas is not present with the other disciples; he simply records that on “the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you….’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”(1)

When Thomas did show up, the other disciples proclaimed their good news to him. They too, like Mary before them, had seen the risen Jesus. He was alive and he had come to them. Thomas, however, is not convinced and tells them so. “Unless I see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas could have made this declaration out of a place of despair rather than disbelief. Unfortunately, for him, the history of biblical interpretation and teaching has sided with the latter. Thomas is “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe; all because he wasn’t there on that first Easter appearance of Jesus.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Missing Easter

Denison Forum – Gov. Cuomo explains declining COVID-19 cases in New York: ‘God did not do that’

There is paradoxical good news in the news today.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that according to the latest coronavirus numbers, his state is on a downward descent from the curve. Unfortunately, he explained the good news this way: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that” (his emphasis).

Another paradoxical story: the final five hundred landmines at a historic baptism site on the Jordan River have been exploded and removed. The UK-based demining specialist HALO Trust group did the work at Qasr al-Yahud in preparation for Easter.

I have been to the site many times, but we always had to be very careful to stay on the one road, as mines remaining from earlier conflicts riddled the fields around us. Now they have been removed and churches can build and minister here far more effectively.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is now decimating travel to the Holy Land. I had to cancel trips to Israel planned for April and May. Closing the borders to tourism may cost $1.7 billion.

Joy in a jail cell

One of the paradoxes of the Christian faith is that believers often find the greatest joy in the most difficult circumstances. This is because joy is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” independent from any and all circumstances (Galatians 5:22). We find the joy of the Lord not in our lives but in our Lord.

Consider three examples from the life of Paul.

One: After he and Silas were arrested in Philippi and the magistrates “had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison” (Acts 16:23). But two verses later we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). Their joy was not in their jail cell but in their Lord.

Two: When the Lord refused to remove Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” the apostle responded: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). His joy was not in his pain but in his Provider.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Gov. Cuomo explains declining COVID-19 cases in New York: ‘God did not do that’

Denison Forum – ‘We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress’: A Holy Monday invitation to the cleansing power of Jesus

Vice President Mike Pence said last night, “We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress” in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the US and around the world. I watched the press conference and was also encouraged by Dr. Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus coordinator. She reported on hopeful signs from Spain and Italy, “where we see, finally, new cases and deaths declining.” As she said, “It’s giving us hope of what our future could be.”

All this because more people than ever are practicing social distancing. However, stay-at-home orders are also affecting many people in damaging ways. Some cities in China are reporting record-high divorce rates after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Pornography consumption rates in the US are up. Isolation is challenging those in recovery from other addictions as well.

This Holy Week, we will focus each day on what Jesus did that day on his way to Calvary and the resurrection. What does Holy Monday say to us as we are socially distancing on a level unprecedented in our lifetimes?

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” 

Our Lord entered Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1–10), then spent the night in Bethany (vv. 11–12). On Holy Monday, he cursed a barren fig tree as a symbol of the “fruitless” nation of Israel (vv. 12–14; cf. Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1). He next drove moneychangers from the temple (Mark 11:15–18).

Then “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). He received the praise of children “crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” (v. 15), despite the indignation of the chief priests and scribes (vv. 15–16). Then, “leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there” (v. 17).

Let’s focus today on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Five financial functions took place there during Holy Week, each of which incurred our Lord’s wrath.

Five reasons Jesus cleansed the temple 

People came to Jerusalem for Passover “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Since there were no banks along the way, they had to bring the money they would need to finance their trip to Jerusalem and back. (Some stayed in the Holy City for fifty days until Pentecost, which made their trip even more expensive; cf. Acts 2:5–11).

Three financial functions were performed at the temple which carried their own Greek designation but are translated into the same English term: money-changers.

One: Foreign coins had to be changed into local currency, which was the function of the kollybistes (the “money-changers” of Matthew 21:12).

Two: Travelers would typically bring large denominations of money for ease of transport, which had to be converted into smaller coins. This was the function of the kermatistes, (the “money-changers” of John 2:14).  Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress’: A Holy Monday invitation to the cleansing power of Jesus

Denison Forum – ‘People are coming to us saying, I need hope’: Fighting on the front lines of spiritual awakening

The Civil War ended 155 years ago next month. World War II ended 75 years ago this fall.

In the midst of both horrific conflicts, a spiritual war was being waged as well.

During the Civil War, revival services were common on both sides. Nightly prayer meetings were held in many regiments; tent meetings were filled to overflowing. A Confederate chaplain noted that “scores of men are converted immediately after great battles.” A Pennsylvania soldier wrote, “The fact that I must die became to me living and real.”

Wall Street Journal article notes that after World War II, “Americans, chastened by the horrors of war, turned to faith in search of truth and meaning. In the late 1940s, Gallup surveys showed more than three-quarters of Americans were members of a house of worship, compared with about half today. Congress added the words ‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Some would later call this a Third Great Awakening.”

“Virtual cell phone choir” sings “It Is Well with My Soul” 

We are fighting a war today that is just as real as those deadly conflicts.

At a news briefing yesterday, President Trump stated that “the peak in death rate” in the pandemic “is likely to hit in two weeks” and announced that the federal government is extending its social-distancing guidelines through April 30.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s foremost infectious disease expert, said yesterday that the US could experience “millions of cases” of COVID-19 and “between one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand” deaths in the US based on what “we’re seeing now.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also said Sunday that the administration is “asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now.” She added, “No state, no metro area will be spared.”

In the face of this crisis, Americans are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in remarkably creative ways.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘People are coming to us saying, I need hope’: Fighting on the front lines of spiritual awakening

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – O Come, Emmanuel

A post in The New York Times caught my eye: “Amsterdam Has a Deal for Alcoholics: Work Paid in Beer.”(1) One of the most emailed columns that week, the article detailed the creative and controversial work of The Rainbow Group Foundation, an NGO helping to prevent social isolation for people without caring networks of community like the homeless, the poor, drug users, and those with psychiatric problems. The organization seeks to create vital connections that foster community and enable these socially exiled individuals to participate in society in more healthy ways.

Their latest project, however, has provoked both public ire and praise. Hiring alcoholics as street cleaners and paying them with beer is not a traditional form of compensation, nor does it appear to deal with the problem of addiction. Yet, one of the unlikely supporters of the Rainbow Foundation’s efforts is the Muslim district mayor of Eastern Amsterdam, where there is a large percentage of these marginalized persons. As a practicing Muslim, the district mayor personally disapproves of alcohol but says she believes that alcoholics “cannot be just ostracized” and told to shape up. “It is better,” she said “to give them something to do and restrict their drinking.” Indeed, Hans Wijnands, the director of the Rainbow Foundation, explained: “You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death.”

One of the participants in this program has struggled with alcoholism since the 1970s after he found his wife, who was pregnant with twins, dead in their home from a drug overdose. He has since spent time in a clinic and tried other ways to quit but has never managed to entirely break his addiction. “I’m not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am proud to have a job again,” he said. Once a construction worker, he was out of work for more than a decade because of a back injury and his chronic alcoholism. Finally landing this job sponsored by the Rainbow Foundation, he now gets up at 5:30 in the morning, walks his dog, and heads out ready to clean litter from the streets of eastern Amsterdam. While he has found a new sense of purpose he still acknowledges how difficult life can be. “Every day is a struggle,” he said during a lunch break with his work mates. “You may see these guys hanging around here, chatting, making jokes. But I can assure you, every man you see here carries a little backpack with their own misery in it.”

As I read this article, I couldn’t help but hear the traditional Advent hymn in the back of my mind:

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
 
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

The haunting tune of this hymn provides a musical illustration of this modern-day exile: solitary individuals, homeless on cold, wintry streets in Amsterdam, living in a world where most consider them a nuisance at best. Gaining access to that which enslaves them as payment for cleaning the streets, they exist in a form of exile. These individuals wander in their own wilderness of addiction, exiled from themselves, from others, and likely feeling far, far away from the presence of God.

This notion of exile, of being exiled from ourselves, others, and from God, is an overarching theme in the Bible. Indeed, it is often the mournful story of God’s people who traverse its pages as captives, wanderers, and exiles. First captives in the land of Egypt, the children of Israel are freed from their bondage only to spend the next forty years wandering around in what is now the Sinai Peninsula. Brought into the land of promise, their years of freedom were relatively short-lived before they were again exiles; first, conquered by the armies of Assyria, then conquered by the armies of the Babylonians, the people of Judah ‘wept by the rivers of Babylon’ for their home. Even when they returned to their land, they were now under the thumb of the Roman Empire as captives, wanderers, and exiles.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – O Come, Emmanuel

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Another Transaction

There are a great many companies that think very highly of you and all that you deserve. You deserve the best. You have earned a vacation. You deserve to splurge on this because you’re worth it. Whether in plenty or times of economic downturn, flattery actually remains one of the most effective psychological drivers that compounds debt. In a HSBC Direct survey during one such downturn, forty-two percent of the consumers interviewed said they had splurged on themselves in the past month despite hardship. Twenty-eight percent cited their reason for the splurge as simply “because I deserve it.”(1)

Of course, each of us who has ever bought into the idea that L’Oreal thinks I am worth it or BMW believes I deserve the ultimate driving experience probably realizes that we have done exactly that: we have bought the idea, paid for both the product and the flattering suggestion. No one is giving away these things because they think we are worth it; their flattery is quite literally calculated. In effect, it’s not that they think so highly of us, so much as that they want us to think highly of ourselves. Whether we see through this empty sycophancy or not, Geoff Mulgan believes it is working: “‘[B]ecause you’re worth it’ has come to epitomise banal narcissism of early 21st century capitalism; easy indulgence and effortless self-love all available at a flick of the credit card.”(2) The enticing words are an invitation to reward ourselves, and it just so happens we agree that we’re worth it—and they are glad.

There is of course much that can be drawn from reflecting on the intemperate desires of a consumer culture and the imagination fostered within its confines. A consumerist view of the world holds a very particular view of humanity and its worth. Beside this prominent vision, the drama of the Christian story fosters another imagination, along with the space and invitation to try on its counterintuitive system of worth. The invitation of a creator who so values creation that he steps into it is one that presents every opportunity to question the psychological drivers of empty flattery and consumer seduction. The Father gives us in Christ a mediator, an advocate, a vicarious redeemer of human identity in human form. While the imagination of a consumer promises flattery, the free invitation of Christ gives a startling commentary on a similar kind of compliment, within a very different transaction. Choosing to become human, Christ has indeed proclaimed our worth. But there is nothing required to accept this unfathomable gesture of a God who takes on flesh.

Peering through the accolade proclaimed in Christ does, however, confront the very banal narcissism that epitomizes our numbed consumer hearts and imaginations. In the words of one observer: “When I look at narcissism I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”(3) Given the highly countercultural alternative of discovering worth in the son of an ordinary peasant woman, we may find that we in fact prefer the consumer transaction that tells us that being human is about what we can buy. We may find that there is something comforting and familiar in paying for our sense of worth and value. We might find it baffling to accept the idea that something deemed a gift could come to us fragile and broken. Or maybe it is the personal nature of his humanness that we find altogether unnerving—namely, Jesus was not simply born a child in first century Bethlehem; he was born a child in first century Bethlehem for you. It is perhaps far easier to accept an empty compliment.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Another Transaction

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.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Commencement speaker pays student debt for graduating class

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – House and Ladders

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.

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

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everyday Easter

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Messianic Images

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Scars of New Creation

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Decomposition of God

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.

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Through Deeper Darkness

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)

Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Reigning From a Cross