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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.

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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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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Like a Thief in the Night

The alarm of discovering your house has been broken into is one I imagine stays with you long after the thief has gone home. Though most are not eyewitnesses to the looming figure that wrongfully entered, victims of such crimes often report seeing shadows in every corner and silhouettes peering through their windows. Signs that someone had been there are enough to call them to alertness.

Whether you have experienced the shock of burglary and its lasting effects or the violating despair of personal loss, the portrayal of Christ as one who will come like a thief in the night is a startling image. The description is one that seems uncouth amongst the less taxing images that will soon be sentimentally upon us—a peaceful mother and father beside a quiet baby in a manger, a bright star that guides wise men in the obscurity of night. How can the gospel juxtapose these images of one who comes as a child of hope and yet returns like a looming, unwanted figure? But this is the counsel from Jesus himself: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”(1)

The cry of the Christian season of Advent, the sounds of which are just starting to stir, is the cry not of sentiment but of disrupted vigilance. One of the key figures in celebrating the season, John the Baptist brings the probing message that continues to cry in urgency: “Are you ready?” Are you ready to discover this infant who came to dwell in the midst of night and suffering? Are you ready to hear his invasive message? Are you ready to discover God among you, the hunter, the thief, the King, the human? During the season of Advent, the church calls the world to look again at stories that have somehow become comfortably innocuous, to rediscover the disruptive signs that someone has been here moving about these places we call home, to stay awake to the startling possibility of his nearness in this place even now. “I say to all: ‘Stay awake,’” says Christ in Mark 13:37.

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Joyce Meyer – Keep Walking on the Water!

And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00-6:00 a.m.) Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!” Peter replied to Him, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water.” — Matthew 14:25-28 (AMP)

Adapted from the resource Battlefield of the Mind Devotional – by Joyce Meyer

Let’s focus for a moment on this part of a well-known New Testament story. The disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee at night when they looked up and saw Jesus walking on the water. That is amazing, but as the story continues, Matthew wrote of the boisterous winds, yet Jesus kept walking on top of the waves.

The disciples were afraid—and that makes sense. Who would expect to see anyone walking on top of the water, even under the best of conditions?

Then Jesus cried out and told them, “Take courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!”(Matthew 14:27 AMP). This is the powerful moment in the story. What will happen now? Do they move over and give Jesus a place to sit in their boat? Should they get out and join Him on the waves? Do they huddle in fear, reminding themselves that human beings can’t walk on top of water?

Peter was the only one who responded in true faith. And let’s make no mistake here. For Peter to say, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28 AMP) was a tremendous act of faith. You’ll notice that he was the only one who spoke that way.

That was a powerful moment of faith. It was a defining moment that pointed out Peter’s great faith and belief in Jesus, the Anointed One of God. He was so convinced that Jesus truly was the Son of God that he was ready to get out of the boat and walk on top of the water with Him.

How many of you would get out of the boat? I emphasize this because it would be easy enough to say, “Lord, I see You walking on the water, and I believe I could walk on the water alongside You.” But would you? Do you have the kind of faith that would enable you to step out of the boat? Of the 12 disciples, Peter was the only one who took that step of faith.

I’m not citing this example of faith to discourage you or to make you feel that your faith is somehow lacking. I’m simply pointing out the great triumph of a man who dared to believe! Peter believed so strongly that he took a step of faith over the side of the boat and started walking toward Jesus.

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Denison Forum – George H. W. Bush’s last words

This is the end of an amazing life.” So said Neil Bush when his father, President George H. W. Bush, passed away Friday night at his home in Houston.

Mr. Bush had been dealing with numerous health issues over recent years. In his last hours, he was asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. He declined, saying that he was ready to go and be with Barbara, his wife of seventy-three years, and their late daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of three.

Mr. Bush had rallied Friday morning but declined quickly that evening. His children around the country were notified. George W. Bush called from Dallas, telling him he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.

I love you, too,” Mr. Bush told his son.

The New York Times reports that they were his last words. I disagree.

The youngest pilot in the Navy

George Herbert Walker Bush was the last US president to have served in combat. He and his wife hold the record for the longest marriage in presidential history.

He enlisted in the armed forces on his eighteenth birthday. The youngest pilot in the Navy when he got his wings, he flew fifty-eight combat missions during the Second World War. On one mission over the Pacific, he was shot down and rescued by a US submarine.

After a successful career in the oil industry, he turned to public service. He was elected to two terms in the House of Representatives, then served as Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the US Liaison office in the People’s Republic of China, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president, and president.

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Denison Forum – My visit to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC

I toured the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, yesterday.

The Museum is truly amazing. Its 430,000-square-foot building is located just three blocks from the US Capitol and has been rated one of the ten best museums in Washington.

It is an immersive experience in the history and stories of God’s word. Walking through its galleries took me back to the first century and demonstrated the impact of Scripture on humanity.

I cannot imagine a more powerful or persuasive witness at the heart of our nation’s capital.

As I toured the Museum of the Bible, I was struck by the difference one person can make. The Museum is the vision of Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and son of the founder, David Green. The Green family has largely funded the $500 million project.

Every person who visits will be impacted by their faith and faithfulness to our Father.

“People are increasingly hopeless”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced yesterday that suicides and drug overdoses have driven life expectancy down in the United States. Overall, there were 2.8 million US deaths last year, nearly 70,000 more than the previous year and the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

What is driving this epidemic of drug overdoses and suicide?

Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University: “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide.”

It’s tempting to become hopeless about the hopelessness of our culture. But that’s exactly the wrong response.

From lockup to opera

Consider Ryan Speedo Green (no relation to Steve Green), a former juvenile delinquent who was incarcerated as a twelve-year-old after he pulled a knife on his mother and brother.

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Denison Forum – Twitter blocks writer for saying ‘men aren’t women’

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist who podcasts and writes about feminist issues. She was recently blocked from Twitter for questioning the validity of transgenderism.

In her response, she notes that “Twitter knowingly permits graphic pornography and death threats on the platform (I have reported countless violent threats, the vast majority of which have gone unaddressed), [but] they won’t allow me to state very basic facts, such as ‘men aren’t women.’”

She adds: “This is hardly an abhorrent thing to say, nor should it be considered ‘hateful’ to ask questions about the notion that people can change sex, or ask for explanations about transgender ideology.”

Here’s her problem: Twitter has changed its rules to ban “misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” For those (like me) who didn’t know what these offenses are: “misgendering” is using a pronoun that contradicts a person’s perceived gender identity, while “deadnaming” means using a person’s “birth name” rather than the name they now prefer.

For instance, if I send a tweet describing Caitlyn Jenner as “him” rather than “her” or refer to this person as “Bruce,” I risk being blocked by Twitter.

Man disrobes in women’s locker room

In light of Twitter’s decision to enforce LGBTQ ideology, the following story, if posted on my Twitter account, could cause my expulsion.

Ben Shapiro is a popular conservative writer and Orthodox Jew. A fellow congregant told him that many of the women in their congregation exercise at a female-only gym for modesty purposes.

However, this month, a transgender woman–“a biological male who suffers from gender dysphoria,” as Shapiro describes the person–came to the gym.

This person, who retains his male biological characteristics, walked into the locker room and proceeded to disrobe. When management told him that he could use a private dressing room, he refused, announcing that he was a woman and could disrobe in front of the other women.

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Denison Forum – Are “designer babies” here?

It sounds like the plot of a bad science-fiction movie: a renegade scientist violates global moral standards to engineer a new breed of humans. But that’s what has happened, if a Chinese scientist is to be believed.

He Jiankui, a researcher with a PhD from Rice University and postdoctoral training at Stanford, announced this week that he has created the world’s first genetically edited babies. The twin girls were born this month.

However, Dr. He did not publish his research in any journal or share any evidence or data to prove his claims. He spoke today at the Human Genome Editing Summit in Hong Kong, where he announced another “potential pregnancy” involved in his study. He said he felt “proud” of his work in the face of nearly universal condemnation.

“I think that’s completely insane”

Dr. He states that the father of the twins has HIV. As a result, Dr. He used a genetic editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas-9 to disable the embryos’ CCR5 gene to make them resistant to HIV infection.

However, there are other ways to produce embryos from HIV-infected men without altering their genes. An HIV expert said that about half of HIV strains don’t need the gene Dr. He edited to infect patients, meaning the immunity he tried to confer is not complete. A gene-editing expert warned that people without normal CCR5 genes face higher risks of getting certain other viruses such as West Nile and of dying from the flu.

Many scientists are appalled by this announcement. “I think that’s completely insane,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Love of People

Let love be our legacy is a sticker that adorns the back bumper of my car. Passed out by churches in my county after the early days of the 2016 presidential election in the US, at the very least it reminds me to be careful how I drive and react to other drivers on the highways and roads of my city and state. For how could a car with that kind of bumper sticker cut someone off in traffic?

Obviously, the sentiment conveyed is far more than simply a corrective to road-rage or crazy driving. It points to a future yet to come when I am long-gone and others talk about the imprint (if any) my life has made. Will it be an imprint of love? Did love guide my choices such that there is a future left for all who will come after me? And not just any future, but a world characterized by love, even filled up to overflowing.

On my good days, I am very conscious of my bumper sticker and take its challenge very seriously. I ask myself if love was the legacy from this day. On my bad days, the bumper sticker simply reminds me of how short I fall when it comes to love; it is nothing more than a platitude or a pretend piety that barely hides my misanthropy. I see the real size of my heart and it is so small. The legacy of love seems an impossible dream.

French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre once wrote: “Hell is other people.” In his play, No Exit, Sartre presents a sardonic vision of hell as the place in which one must spend eternity with individuals one would barely seek to spend five minutes with in real life. As one writer notes, “The most terrible, exasperating torment, in Sartre’s eyes, is the agony of soul caused by having to live forever alongside someone who drives you up the wall. Their annoying habits, their pettiness or cynicism or stupidity, their disposition and tastes that so frustratingly conflict with yours and require, if you are to live in communion with them, some sort of accommodation or concession of your own likes and desires—that, says Sartre, is Hell.”(1) Sartre’s vision, though highly narcissistic and individualistic, is often closer to our real selves than most of us would care to admit.

Living, working, and interacting with other people can indeed create a hellish existence for many. And most of us, if we are honest, can quickly think of the names of individuals whose personal habits or grating personalities make relating to them very difficult at best. Sartre’s honesty, albeit through a cynical lens, also exposes clear boundaries of human love. The capacity for love is generally offered to those who are easy to love or who share our own way of living in and viewing the world.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Of Gratitude and Grief

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit with some friends who live in Colorado. We spent a couple of days hiking in the beautiful San Isabel National Forest. Within this section of the Rocky Mountains are five major mountain ranges that rise from 5800 to over 14,400 feet and have the most mountain peaks above 14,000 feet. The difference in elevation affords one multiple views from different perspectives.

Starting at the tree line populated by various conifers, aspens, and cottonwoods, we climbed to the more barren alpine terrain dotted with scrub brush, alpine wildflowers, and wildlife. Reaching the ridgeline, the vistas of the valleys and trails below took on ever-new perspectives. Climbing higher gave a broader panorama, obviously, but each step taken presented ever-changing views. From my perspective, I thought I had seen everything on the trail, and yet new aspects of the horizon continually became visible.

Like hiking, life often has a way of shifting one’s perspective. While on the hike, I received a text message from a concerned relative. “Was I anywhere near the shootings?” the text read. I hadn’t learned yet about the horrible massacre that had occurred just hours earlier in an Aurora, Colorado theater where 12 people were killed and 58 were seriously injured. From striking beauty and the grandeur of mountain vistas to images of suburban sidewalks spattered with blood, our perspective shifted once again. Now the awe producing vistas of our hike were juxtaposed against the horror and terror of what should have been any other night at the movies in suburbia. While we had been enjoying the landscapes, others were fighting for their lives. While we laughed at marmots at play, others wept over their lost loved ones. While our feet trod lightly without a care in the world, others bore the weight of worry and fear that their loved ones, too, were among those killed. And this grievous juxtaposition of opposites occurs over and over again in contexts all around the world.

How quickly our perspectives changed. Just as our view of the landscape looked differently as we made our way along the trail, so too changed our perspective of our precarious place in the world and the brevity of life. Despite the serene beauty around us, our perspective shifted to dark and deadly forces not two hours away from where we stood. Gratitude gave way to grief over what was lost.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – This Is a Human

The recognition of one’s humanity can be an uncomfortable pill to swallow. Life’s fragility, life’s impermanence, life’s intertwinement with imperfection and disappointment—bitter medicines are easier to accept. The Romantic poets called it “the burden of full consciousness.” To look closely at humanity can indeed be a realization of dread and despair.

For the poet Philip Larkin, to look closely at humanity was to peer into the absurdity of the human existence. Whatever frenetic, cosmic accident that brought about a species so endowed with consciousness, the sting of mortality, incessant fears of failure, and sieges of shame, doubt, and selfishness was, for Larkin, a bitter irony. In a striking poem titled “The Building,” he describes the human condition as it is revealed in the rooms of a hospital. In this vast building of illness and waiting, one finds “Humans, caught/On ground curiously neutral, homes and names/Suddenly in abeyance; some are young,/ Some old, but most at that vague age that claims/The end of choice, the last of hope; and all/ Here to confess that something has gone wrong./ It must be error of a serious sort,/ For see how many floors it needs, how tall…”(1)

With or without Larkin’s sense of dread, this confession that “something has gone wrong” is often synonymous with the acknowledgment of humanity. “I’m only human,” is a plea for leniency with regards shortcoming. In Webster’s dictionary, “human” itself is an adjective for imperfection, weakness, and fragility. There are, nonetheless, many outlooks and religions that stand diametrically opposed to this idea, seeing humanity with limitless potential, humans as pure, the human spirit as divine. In a vein not unlike the agnostic Larkin, the new atheists see the cruel realities of time and chance as reason in and of itself to dismiss the rose-colored lenses of God and religion. Yet quite unlike Larkin’s concluding outlook of meaninglessness and despair, they often (inexplicably) suggest a rose-colored view of humanity.(2) In the other side of this extreme, still other belief-systems emphasize the depravity of humanity to such a leveling degree that no person can stand up under the burden of guilt and disgust.

In deep contrast to such severe or optimistic readings, Jesus of Nazareth adds an entirely different dimension to the conversation. The divine and human Jesus brings before us the notion that while there is indeed an error of a serious sort, the error is not in “humanness” itself. In his own flesh, he provides a way for the great paradox of humanity to be rightly acknowledged: both the deep and sacred honor of being human and yet the profound lament and disgrace of all that is broken. So the Christian’s advantage is not that they find themselves less fallen or closer to perfection than others, nor that they find in their religion a means of simply escaping this world of fragility, brokenness, guilt, suffering, and error. The Christian’s advantage is Christ himself. The human Son of God mediates on our behalf, bringing us back to a full and forgiven humanity. We are, in Christ, re-humanized not dehumanized. In his life, death, and resurrection, Christ shows a world that has gone awry in light of God’s severe and merciful pursuit. In his vicarious humanity, we encounter our own.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Unobscured

 

A trend continues to take place in the online world of anonymity. Several websites offer the opportunity to air one’s darkest secrets. Visitors put into words the very thing they have spent a lifetime wanting no one to know about themselves. While visiting, they can also read the long-hidden confessions of others, and recognize a part of humanity that is often as obscured as their own secrets—namely, I am not the only one with a mask, a conflicted heart, a hidden skeleton. “Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart,” one site reads.  “If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world.” Elsewhere, one of these sites made news recently when one of its anonymous users posted a cryptic message seemingly confessing to murder, catching the attention of Chicago Police.(1)

So often the world of souls seems to move as if instinctively to the very things asked of us by a sagacious God. The invitation to confess is present in the oldest stories of Scripture. After his defiance of God’s request, Adam is asked two questions that invite an admission of his predicament; first, “Where are you?” and later, “Who told you that you were naked?” God similarly inquires of Cain after the murder of Abel, “Where is your brother?” Through centuries of changing culture and the emerging story of faith, this invitation to confess is given consistently. “Therefore confess your offenses to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed,” writes the author of James 5:16. A similar thought is proclaimed in 1 John 1:7. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Perhaps the call to transparency is not from a God who delights in the impoverishment of his subjects, but a God who knows our deepest needs.

The hope of an online confessional brings us one step nearer to meeting the need of bringing what is hidden to light, and it is commendable that so many are giving in to the impulse to explore the ancient gift of confession. But perhaps such an impulse to haul the truth from obscurity is worthy of something even greater than anonymity. Light is not meant to be kept in shadows; the benefit of openness is not meant to be experienced alone. The stories and scriptures mentioned above speak of the element of community in confession, the promise of fellowship where there is courage to be honest about our selves and our needs. On websites of nameless visitors, though I tell you my darkest secret, we remain nameless to one another. While it may help significantly to know that I am not the only one with a mask, my mask remains. The anonymity factor offers the glimpse of light while maintaining the security of darkness. But isn’t this undermining the very light we seek? It is akin to lighting a lamp and putting it under a bowl.

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Denison Forum – Congressman forgives teenager who threatened to kill him

 

“I will kill Carlos Curbelo.” This was posted to Twitter on October 24. Curbelo, a Republican congressman in Florida, responded: “Political intoxication is making some Americans more prone to both verbal and physical violence. It’s a serious crisis and we all have to do our part to put an end to it. Not sure what’s more disturbing; the fact that someone tweeted this or that 4 accounts liked it.”

The next day, FBI and local police arrested nineteen-year-old Pierre Alejandro Verges-Castro of Homestead, Florida, for making the death threat on his Twitter account. Curbelo’s office thanked the police and said the congressman would continue with his schedule as planned.

But that’s not the end of the story.

A “really, really good kid”

Last Thursday, more than a week after the arrest, Curbelo held a news conference with the teenager who threatened to kill him.

Curbelo told reporters: “Today I want everyone to know that I forgave him. As for Pierre, I wish him the best. He made a mistake and his life shouldn’t be ruined because of it.” Verges-Castro stood silently next to the congressman, who explained that the state attorney still had an open case against the teenager and that Verges-Castro would not be speaking because of that.

The next day, Curbelo told CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time that he had called authorities to ask if the teenager was truly dangerous or “just some kid who said something I’m sure he really regrets right now.” Police told him it was the latter.

So Curbelo asked for a meeting with Verges-Castro. He learned that the teenager was a “really, really good kid” who played the piano and guitar and was going to school to earn an associate degree. “He explained to me that he had some issues in his personal life that he thinks pushed him to do something like this, and he also talked about the toxicity of our politics and how nasty and negative everything is.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – Congressman forgives teenager who threatened to kill him