Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Attack on day care center kills dozens, including 24 children

A former police officer killed thirty-six people, including twenty-four children, during a rampage at a day care center in Thailand yesterday. Most of the children, aged between two and five years, were stabbed to death, police said.

In 2020, 9,152 children between the ages of one and fourteen died in the US, which works out to twenty-five a day. Like the children massacred in Thailand, each of these deaths is an unspeakable tragedy. I cannot imagine the pain parents and families must feel at the loss of a child.

By contrast, 629,898 babies were aborted in the US in 2019, the last year for which the CDC reported a yearly national total. This averages to 1,725 babies aborted every day in America.

In other words, sixty-nine times more children die each day in the US from abortion than children ages one to fourteen die from all other causes combined.

How Disney and Google are promoting abortion

The subject of abortion is back in the news after the Biden administration unveiled new measures this week intended to protect abortion rights. The president also called on Americans to pressure Congress to pass legislation that would ensure abortion is legal across the country.

The Health and Human Services Department has already declared that doctors and hospitals must provide an abortion under federal law when a doctor deems it necessary for a pregnant woman in an emergency medical condition to be stabilized. The federal government has also instructed (PDF) pharmacists not to deny patients access to abortion medications.

In related news, Disney and Google are supporting a program that will award film students a $25,000 grant toward creating movies that promote abortion rights. Sheryl Sandberg, the former chief operating officer for Meta Platforms, has donated $3 million to the ACLU to support abortion rights.

And Planned Parenthood is planning a mobile abortion clinic that will travel close to the borders of states that have banned abortion, making it easier for women in these states to abort their children.

The preeminent right of our day

Two centuries before Christ, the Jewish Mishnah forbade abortion except to save the life of the mother. The Didache, the earliest theological treatise after the Bible, likewise states, “You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.” From then to now, the sanctity of life from birth to natural death has been a central tenet of orthodox Christian faith. Millions of Americans—including 47 percent of Catholics and 63 percent of evangelical Protestants—object to abortion as a consequence of their religious beliefs.

But the “right to life” today runs headlong into what is euphemistically called the “right to choose.” (This “right” does not extend to the unborn baby, of course.) And the “right to choose,” whatever the subject, is the preeminent right of our day.

noted recently that many people dismiss biblical truth on LGBTQ issues, not because they identify as LGBTQ, but because they want to dismiss such truth when it pertains to sexual sins they do want to commit (such as premarital sex and adultery). The same logic pertains here. A woman’s “right to choose” to end the life of her unborn child is commensurate with the right to choose one’s spouse (whatever their gender or number), the right to choose one’s manner and timing of death, and a host of other personal “rights.”

In this view, so long as your “right to choose” does not impinge on my “right to choose,” you are as free to make your choices as I am to make mine.

Satan’s one strategy

Four biblical conclusions follow.

One: Christians should expect to face increasing attacks on our First Amendment religious freedoms from abortion advocates just as we do from LGBTQ advocates.

In the former case, it will be Christian health care providers on the front lines, as in the latter it is currently Christian wedding service providers. In both cases, we are seen as discriminatory and hateful toward minorities and thus undeserving of the protections of civil society. This is just one way Jesus’ warning is coming to pass: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

Two: On this and other “culture war” issues, we should decide today what stance we are willing to defend tomorrow.

When opposition comes, we will need to know what we believe and why we believe it. For example, I recently consulted with a Christian hospital executive who has decided that if his hospital system begins performing elective abortions, he will resign. He has thought and prayed about his response and is ready if it is needed. All Christians in all dimensions of our secularized culture need to follow his example as we “count the cost” before we must pay it (Luke 14:28).

Three: We must beware the lure of the “right to choose” in our own lives and souls.

You may be as adamantly pro-life as I am, but the “right to choose” is nonetheless tempting for us in other areas. Any thought, word, or deed that conflicts with God’s word is sin. Satan has only one strategy—“you will be like god” (Genesis 3:5)—because this strategy is all he needs. Every temptation is a variation on this theme. Surrendering every day to the lordship of Christ (Romans 10:9) and the authority and power of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) is thus vital.

Four: We must earn the right to help others choose God’s will for their lives.

From women considering abortion to patients considering euthanasia and everyone in between, every person you meet today needs to experience the love of God found in the community of faith. Jesus assures us that he stands in such solidarity with those in need that “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

How will you serve Jesus today?

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Denison Forum – Is the threat of nuclear war “at least equal magnitude” to the Cuban Missile Crisis?

In 2018, a pro-Kremlin journalist asked Russian President Vladimir Putin in what scenario Russia would use nuclear weapons. He replied: “If someone decides to destroy Russia, then we have a legal right to respond.” He admitted that “for humanity it will be a global catastrophe” but added perilously: “Still, as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state, then I want to ask myself the question: ‘Why do we need such a world if there is no Russia there?’”

Putin claimed that Russia would launch a nuclear weapon only if it detected the launch of missiles headed for Russia, but he did not clarify if Russia would respond only in the case of nuclear warheads or non-nuclear missiles in general.

Fast-forward to the present. Putin signed the final papers yesterday to illegally annex four regions of eastern Ukraine as Russian territory. Ukraine is continuing its offensive in some of these areas, forcing widespread Russian retreats. Ukrainian guided missiles supplied by the US and the UK have been instrumental in changing the course of the war against Russia.

Will Putin now see such missile strikes against his forces in annexed Ukrainian regions as missile launches against Russia?

A Cold War historian explains the current crisis

This scenario is just one reason Cold War historian Michael Dobbs, author of a definitive account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is warning that the conflict in Ukraine “presents perils of at least equal magnitude” to that confrontation.

There are other reasons for grave concern as well: Dobbs points to the possibility that “a stray shell from either side could cause an accident at a nuclear power plant, spewing radioactive fallout over much of Europe.” Russia could bungle an attempt to interdict Western military supplies to Ukraine, slipping over into NATO countries like Poland and triggering an automatic US response. Or a Russian decision to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukrainian troops could escalate into a full nuclear exchange with the West.

Dobbs adds that in 1962, US President John Kennedy and his Kremlin counterpart Nikita Khrushchev possessed “an intuitive understanding of the peril confronting not just their own countries but the entire world if the crisis was allowed to escalate.” This was because both had experienced the horrors of World War II and knew nuclear war would be many times more destructive.

In light of Putin’s question, “Why do we need such a world if there is no Russia there?” we are left to wonder if he shares their understanding of the peril facing the globe today.

A new “Scooby-Doo” movie character is a lesbian

In other news, a new “Scooby-Doo” movie portrays the lead character as a lesbian. A senior member of the British parliament says the Church of England must embrace same-sex marriage or face mounting pressure from the government.

Samford University, a Baptist school in Alabama, is facing protests and criticism for affirming its commitment to biblical sexuality and marriage. And a New York trial judge has ruled that polyamorous relationships are entitled to the same legal protections given to two-person relationships.

Here’s what these stories have in common with Vladimir Putin’s Russia-centric nuclear threat: they each illustrate the conviction that I have a right to what I want, no matter the consequences for those who disagree.

In this view, if Russia believes its territory (legitimate or not) is under attack, it can respond however it chooses. LGBTQ ideology must be embraced by every segment of society even at the cost of First Amendment religious freedoms. If you disagree, you are dangerous to society and undeserving of legal or cultural protections.

Unfortunately, this is familiar ground, a growing attack on conservative Christians I have documented often in the past (for a larger discussion in historical and biblical context, see my book, The Coming Tsunami). Today, I’d like to make a point on this urgent issue I’ve not made before, one that applies as fully to me as to anyone who opposes my biblical worldview.

“My claim to my right to myself”

For nearly thirty years, I have read Oswald Chambers’ classic, My Utmost for His Highest, as part of my morning devotional time. Yesterday I read again his definition of sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” This time, his explanation struck me as it had not before.

Chambers observed: “The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god. This disposition may work out in decorous morality or in indecorous immorality, but it has the one basis, my claim to my right to myself.”

This claim is at the foundation of everything that is wrong with our culture. But it is prevalent in “moral” people as well, as Chambers notes: “When our Lord faced men with all the forces of evil in them, and men who were clean living and moral and upright, he did not pay any attention to the moral degradation of the one or to the moral attainment of the other; he looked at something we do not see, viz., the disposition.”

In other words, those of us who uphold biblical morality and religious freedom can be as sinful as those who reject it if our motives are “my claim to my right to myself.” This is a binary choice: I can love and serve my Lord and my neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39), or I can love and serve myself. I can make God my god, or I can make myself my god (Genesis 3:5).

But I cannot do both. Neither can you.

A life-changing paragraph

Inside the Bible I used as a pastor, I taped a paragraph where I could see it each Sunday before I preached. Its words from Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life stirred my soul again when I read them today:

“A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. There must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to him—ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business, and our time. All we are and have becomes his, to be held henceforth entirely at his disposal. From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards.

“Not until the lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to him. If we do not give him absolute authority in our lives, he can be present, but he cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed.”

Will the Spirit be “powerful” or “stayed” in your life today?

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Denison Forum – The deaths of Loretta Lynn and Steve Jobs: “Have the courage to follow your heart”

Legendary country singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn passed away yesterday at the age of ninety. The Washington Post calls her “a trailblazer for other female country performers” and notes that she was the first woman to win the Country Music Association’s award for entertainer of the year.

Speaking of historic deaths, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away on this day in 2011. In a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, he offered this now-famous advice: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” He added: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

By following his “heart and intuition,” Jobs reinvented the music industry with the iPod and iTunes (Apple Music now has over one hundred million songs), reinvented personal communications with the iPhone, changed the way we consume media with the iPad, made computers accessible to non-technical people with Macintosh, changed the way software and hardware are sold, and built Apple from nothing into what is today the world’s most valuable company with a market cap of $2.347 trillion.

“You should have a target on your back”

I thought about the courage of Steve Jobs and Loretta Lynn in light of an article by evangelical cultural commentator Dr. Michael Brown titled “If you’re a Christian, you should have a target on your back.” He offers specific examples:

  • “If you speak up for the unborn, you will be targeted.
  • “If you uphold marriage and family as God intended, you will be targeted.
  • “If you claim salvation is only through Jesus, you will be targeted.
  • “If you resist LGBT activism in the schools, you will be targeted.
  • “If you preach the word of God with brokenness and humility but without compromise or dilution, you will be targeted.”

He cites Paul’s assertion: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12) and states, “If we’re not being persecuted, resisted, or targeted on some level for our godly living and preaching in Jesus, then something is wrong.”

Jesus warned his followers, “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

Does the world hate you today?

This week, we’ve explored both secular and biblical responses to the antagonistic secularism of our day. Today, let’s seek the courage to employ both in service to our Lord and our culture.

One: Pray for sacrificial courage.

It is not easy to be vilified for believing what Christians have believed for twenty centuries, but that’s where we are today. No one likes being called intolerant and bigoted.

But we can claim the fact that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And we can pray now for the courage we will need today.

Two: Choose courage for the sake of those who need biblical truth.

The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). As a result, when we share our faith, we are not imposing our values on others—we are giving them the greatest gift they will ever receive. Conversely, if we cower before their opposition, we dishonor our Lord and harm the very people we are called to serve.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 540–604) observed: “Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. . . . [They] are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.” He added, “The word of reproach is a key that unlocks a door, because reproach reveals a fault of which the evildoer is himself often unaware.”

Three: Love people whether they love our Lord or not.

John warned us: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). We are called to stand for biblical truth because we love those with whom we share it. The more they reject it, the more they need it.

The sicker the patient, the more urgent the physician.

Cornel West observed: “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.” As Erma Bombeck noted, loving our children enough to let them hate us is “the hardest part of all.”

“The world cannot hate us”

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is considered the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. They will spend it fasting from food and water as they face their wrongdoings and seek forgiveness.

We can join them by taking time for our own introspection and confession. Are there areas of your life where you are compromising with the standards of the world? Where you are less than courageous in your public faith? Where you are hiding your light (Matthew 5:15) rather than shining as a light in the world by “holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15–16)?

Let’s pray today for the courage of our convictions. And let’s trust God to answer our prayers as we choose to stand boldly for our Lord.

Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote in his biography, “The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!”

Will you be dangerous today?

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Denison Forum – Why Hurricane Ian caught so many in Florida off guard

Trust seems to be a scarce commodity these days.

For example, the would-be winners of almost $29,000 at an Ohio fishing tournament were disqualified recently after it was discovered that their fish were stuffed with lead weights and fish fillets.

On a much more somber note: as of this morning, the death toll from Hurricane Ian has risen to at least 103. Part of the problem is that the storm was predicted until the last thirty-six hours to strike Florida further north than where it landed. As a result, many in the Ft. Myers region were unprepared for the violence of the hurricane when it hit their area.

The main American forecast model insisted for days that the storm would strike the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend areas as a Category 2 storm. The European model, which uses faster supercomputers, consistently signaled a more southernly and stronger storm track for Florida. (Its prediction ended up being far closer to the actual outcome.) The National Hurricane Center then split the difference, leading to a predicted landfall north of where the storm came ashore.

In other news, an Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts after at least 125 people (including thirty-two children) were killed in a soccer stadium crush. And the polls were wrong once again, this time in Brazil, where the incumbent president received more votes than had been predicted and is now in a runoff with his leading challenger.

Each day’s news provides more proof that we are fallen people living in a fallen world. Why, then, is it hard to convince secular people that they need more than secular society can provide?

Moving the Overton window

If lost people understood that they needed Christ, they would turn to him. The fact that they do not shows that they do not believe they need any more “spirituality” than they already have. Thus, as we noted yesterday, they must want what we know they need.

We might think that disasters like Hurricane Ian would turn many toward God since such tragedies clearly show us our finitude and frailty. They force us to confront the mortality we are otherwise so good at ignoring. And they prove that we need to be ready today for what might come tomorrow.

However, for many, natural disasters are invitations to question the love, power, or even the existence of God. And they align with a cultural narrative that reinforces self-reliance. As the Stoic Epictetus said, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” His words could be the mantra of our day.

Consequently, the spiritual Overton window (the range of what is socially acceptable) has moved the cultural center to the left. The younger you are, the further to the left you have moved.

If I do not believe I have cancer

Now, for the first time in American history, a majority of Americans reject biblical truth on a wide range of moral issues. For many, “morality” is defined as “doing whatever you want to do that doesn’t harm someone else.” This is a logic trap: for me to disagree causes you harm and thus crosses this line.

Why is this definition of morality so appealing?

Consider an example: the LGBTQ population is at most 5.6 percent of American society. But if we decide that the Scriptures and/or Christian tradition are wrong on LGBTQ issues that do not affect 95 percent of us personally, we can then decide that they are wrong on other issues that do.

Once we determine that Christianity is wrong about homosexuality, we can decide that it is wrong about abortion. Or premarital sex, or cohabitation, or pornography, or euthanasia, or a host of other decisions.

This relativistic view of morality rejects the only solution for our problem: “You know that [Christ] appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). If I do not believe I have cancer, I will not consult an oncologist, much less consent to the chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery she prescribes.

How can we respond biblically to such deception? How can we speak the truth in love when such truth is so unpopular?

One: Pray with passion

Because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is a spiritual conflict that must be fought with spiritual weapons. Thus, praying fervently for spiritual awakening and moral renewal is priority one for Christians.

Two: Guard your heart

We must be the change we want others to adopt. Here’s where to start: David testified, “I will ponder the way that is blameless” (Psalm 101:2). To become “blameless,” make this commitment: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (v. 3, my emphasis).

If we do, we must deal with it immediately. Like cancer, denying sin permits it to metastasize: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Ask the Spirit to show you anything you need to confess, then confess what comes to your thoughts and claim God’s forgiving grace (v. 9).

Three: Seek the power of God

Are you living and working in supernatural power? God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). In these critical days, we dare not limit his power by our faith. Settle for nothing less than his best.

God will never ask you to do something he will not enable you to do. “He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and thus empowers our frailty with his omnipotence and our finitude with his omniscience. You can do “nothing” without Christ (John 15:5) but “all things” with him (Philippians 4:13).

Theologian R. C. Sproul observed, “The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in.”

Do you?

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Denison Forum – New California law blocks parents who oppose “gender-affirming” therapies for their children

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are visiting Puerto Rico today and Florida on Wednesday to view areas devastated by Hurricane Ian. There have been eighty-seven confirmed deaths from the storm as of this morning, but the number is expected to rise.

Meanwhile, a cultural storm is brewing that is devastating not just a part of our country but our entire society.

The US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade one hundred days ago yesterday, which was a historic victory for life. However, of all the massive consequences so far, one is especially foundational: the “culture wars” are coming home. States and local communities are taking ownership of morality issues on unprecedented levels and in unprecedented ways.

Let’s consider some examples.

What California’s law does to parents

Last Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 107, which David French explains this way: “A child can cross state lines to obtain ‘gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care’ and obtain immediate protection from efforts from parents to bring their child home.” In short, if your child goes to California for sex-change surgery, there is nothing you can do to stop them once they get to the state. The order even blocks parents from receiving information about their child’s treatment.

This is just one of the ways many in our secularized culture are seeking to dismantle the family and overturn traditional morality.

A Wisconsin school board is going forward with sex ed curriculum that teaches lessons on gender identity to elementary school students. A New Jersey law forces schools to teach LGBTQ history. The New Jersey Department of Education has imposed sex education standards requiring school districts to teach middle school students about sexual activities I will not describe here.

One author even has a book titled Abolish the Family.

This trend is extending into Christian denominations as well. The United Methodist Church and many of its local congregations are more affirming of LGBTQ ideology than ever, though many local congregations remain committed to biblical orthodoxy. The same is true for the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and numerous other mainline denominations. Even some Baptist churches are embracing LGBTQ ideology over biblical sexuality.

If you stand for biblical morality, expect to face the opprobrium of society as a result. As one example, the Supreme Court’s approval has sunk to historic lows after its abortion ruling.

How should followers of Jesus respond most redemptively?

“The Next Pandemic: Anxiety Over Life Itself”

Secular people are unlikely to be persuaded by biblical arguments. I assume that a Muslim could not persuade you to adopt Islam based on verses from the Qur’an.

So, following Paul’s example in employing Greek logic and quoting Greek philosophers to persuade Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–31), we need to understand those we seek to persuade. Let’s begin with the reasoning used by secularists who oppose biblical morality.

For advocates of California’s new law protecting children who seek “gender-affirming” therapies from intervention by their parents, any parents who oppose such therapies are abusing their children. Abortion proponents believe the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe victimized women by denying them “reproductive freedom.”

More Americans than ever before believe that people who oppose same-sex marriage are just as discriminatory as people who oppose interracial marriage. It is conventional wisdom today that LGBTQ rights are just as valid and vital as any other minority rights.

Now, let’s use secular evidence to show our secular friends that secular morality is not working. For example:

  • One consequence of the “sexual freedom” movement is a horrific upsurge in sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.
  • In response to federal recommendations that all adult Americans ages nineteen to sixty-four be screened for anxiety, the Wall Street Journal headlines “The Next Pandemic: Anxiety Over Life Itself.”
  • A 2021 poll found that just 49 percent of Americans were more optimistic than pessimistic about the state of the world, a low point since the survey began in 2009.

How the world will know you follow Jesus

I plan to discuss several biblical responses in tomorrow’s Daily Article. For today, let’s close with this fact: to persuade people that they need what we have, they must want what we have.

Advertisers work hard to convince people who don’t need a new car that we want a new car. Otherwise, we’ll be content with what we drive. The same is true of our souls. If people see Christ in us, the “God-shaped emptiness” in their souls will be drawn to our Lord.

So, how can we live in such a way that others see Christ in us?

John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend, counseled us: “Whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). This is both biblical and logical. If I abide in Christ (John 15:5) and his Spirit thus controls my life (Ephesians 5:18), the Spirit of God will make me more like the Son of God (Romans 8:29).

Therefore, I can determine the degree to which I follow Jesus by the degree to which I imitate Jesus. So can the world.

Are you confident that the people who meet you today will see Christ in you?

If not, why not?

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Denison Forum – The latest on Hurricane Ian: Did a Native American blessing protect Tampa Bay?

 “Her only way out is on a boat.” That’s what a daughter told rescuers in North Fort Myers about her mother, whose home was swamped by five feet of water. “We don’t know when the water’s going to go down. We don’t know how they’re going to leave, their cars are totaled,” she said.

This is just one of the stories emerging from Florida, which was hit by the fifth-largest hurricane ever to strike the US when Hurricane Ian came ashore Wednesday afternoon. Emergency crews are working to rescue trapped residents from flooded homes; President Biden warned that there may be “substantial loss of life” in the state. About 2.6 million customers are still without power this morning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “The impacts of this storm are historic, and the damage that was done has been historic.” An insurance expert warned that the hurricane could cost $30 billion in losses, which would be “one of the most severe loss events in US history.” One Florida Gulf Coast resident said she’s lived in the area for nearly thirty years and had not seen damage this extensive. “This is the first time that I’ve ever lost everything,” she said.

Now Ian has reached hurricane strength again and is expected to make landfall in South Carolina today. More devastation is still to come.

As horrific as these days have been, on a numeric level they could have been even worse. The Tampa Bay region was the largest metropolitan area in the potential path of the storm. Earlier this week, the hurricane was on a trajectory to make a direct hit on the city.

Then the storm turned.

“Thank goodness for the Tocobagans”

Residents around the Tampa Bay region were urged to evacuate Tuesday as they prepared for what was predicted to be their first direct hurricane hit since October 25, 1921. In the century since, their area has grown from a few hundred thousand people to more than three million today.

Many live in low-lying neighborhoods that are highly susceptible to storm surges and flooding. A 2015 report concluded that Tampa Bay is the most vulnerable place in the US to storm surge from a hurricane. A National Weather Service meteorologist called such a disaster “our worst-case scenario for the Tampa Bay area.”

Then, Tuesday evening the hurricane shifted east, sparing Tampa Bay a direct hit. Why?

Here’s one explanation: according to local legend, blessings from Native Americans who once called the region home have largely protected it from major storms for centuries. The legend includes the many sacred burial mounds built by the Tocobagan tribe, which some believe were meant as guardians against invaders, including hurricanes.

When Hurricane Irma weakened before it struck the area in 2017, a local historian said, “I wasn’t a believer before, but I am now. Thank goodness for the Tocobagans is all I have to say.”

However, another resident said, “I don’t know if I believe that legend. I do believe in the power of God.”

Five ways to pray effectively

Those of us who “believe in the power of God” know that praying for God’s power is essential to experiencing his best. We are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), remembering the warning, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Prayer does not earn God’s favor—it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

But, for what exactly are we to pray?

Let’s consider this paradoxical principle: Pray to God as if you were God. I know that sounds a bit heretical, but let me explain. If I were God, this is how I would want you to pray to me for the victims of Hurricane Ian and for anyone else in need of intercession today:

Be specific. No one, not even God, can answer generic prayers that have no answers. “Be with us,” for example, is not only unnecessary since Jesus promised he would be with us “always” (Matthew 28:20)—it is also impossible to quantify. If you wouldn’t know when God answered your prayer, your prayer is not specific enough.

Be bold. He is God, and “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). So “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Charles Spurgeon noted: “Thy sigh is able to move the heart of Jehovah; thy whisper can incline his ear unto thee; thy prayer can stay his hand; thy faith can move his arm.”

Be honest. God already knows your heart (1 John 3:20) and invites you to “reason together” with him (Isaiah 1:18); the Hebrew is literally translated as “argue it out.” If Jesus could ask “why,” so can you (Matthew 27:46). If Paul could plead for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” so can you (2 Corinthians 12:8). When you don’t have faith, you can pray for the faith to have faith (Mark 9:24).

Be persistent. Jesus taught us to “ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). The Greek says literally, “Ask and keep on asking.” It’s not that persistent prayer changes God—it positions us to be changed by God. Right now, you and I are thinking about God. When we pray, we connect with him. And no one who truly experiences God can be the same.

Be childlike. One of the reasons Jesus called us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3) is that children often trust their parents more than their parents trust their Father. Ask your hard questions, but know that your fallen and finite mind cannot by definition understand the supernatural mind of God (Isaiah 55:9). Ask for what you want but trust your Lord for what is best.

“The will to win is wasted”

Whenever and for whomever you pray, look for ways the Lord wants to use you to answer your prayers.

God is “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, my emphasis). We are the hands and feet of Jesus, the body by which he continues his earthly ministry today (1 Corinthians 12:27). He touched hurting bodies with his hands; today he touches them with ours. He spoke to people needing God’s word with his voice; today he speaks to them with ours.

The bestselling author James Clear noted, “The will to win is wasted if it is directed toward trivial affairs.”

Toward what “affairs” will you direct your prayers and your actions today?

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Denison Forum – A hurricane we’ll talk about “for many years to come”: A reflection on doubt and hope

As it neared the Florida coast, Hurricane Ian was so gigantic that the International Space Station could see it on the distant horizon. Hurricane Charley, a horrific 2004 storm that killed fifteen people and left more than one million people without power, could fit entirely inside Hurricane Ian’s eye. The storm stretched five hundred miles east to west, twice the width of the Florida peninsula.

After wiping out power on the entire island of Cuba, Hurricane Ian made landfall yesterday afternoon near Cayo Costa, Florida, as a Category 4 storm. Wind gusts of 140 mph were recorded in Cape Coral. Storm surges up to eighteen feet have been seen. Homes were moved, obliterated, and submerged. Streets in Naples looked like rivers; there are reports of vehicles floating out into the ocean. More than 2.2 million people are without power in Florida today.

The storm is tracking across eastern Florida this morning. It is expected to move off the Florida coast later today and approach the coast of South Carolina tomorrow. Orlando set a daily record with 7.72 inches of rain reported yesterday at the international airport; the previous high for the same date was 2.68 inches of rain. Central and Northeast Florida are expected to receive isolated totals of thirty inches of rain today.

This is a storm we’ll talk about “for many years to come,” according to National Weather Service Director Ken Graham.

“The conclusion I dread”

I cannot imagine how people who have lost everything are feeling this morning. But I can say as a cultural apologist and a pastor that, in the face of great suffering, asking “why” is normal and appropriate.

  • If our God were not all powerful, we could not blame him for what he could not prevent. No one faults me for the existence of cancer.
  • If our God were not all loving, we would not be surprised when he does not intervene at times like this. No one who knew of Hitler’s vehement hatred for the Jews could be surprised by his role in the Holocaust.
  • If our God were not all-knowing, we could understand why he doesn’t stop what he doesn’t see. You cannot know what you cannot know.

But Christians claim that God is all three. We believe that his character and capacities do not change; if he could part the Red Sea and calm the stormy Sea of Galilee, he could prevent tragedies like Hurricane Ian. But he did not.

For most of us, our fear at times like this is not that God does not exist. Rather, we agree with C. S. Lewis, who wrote after his wife’s death: “The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

“The gift we most desire”

At the same time, I think we should ask ourselves why we are asking such questions. Perhaps the very fact that this disaster provokes such angst for us shows that we believe, perhaps subconsciously and intuitively, that this is not the way the world should be.

Why? Nothing in our experience as fallen humans on a fallen planet guarantees a life without tragedy.

To quote C. S. Lewis again, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

In Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular WorldHenri Nouwen expressed this explanation profoundly:

“I know that the fact that I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. How can I search for beauty and truth unless that beauty and truth are already known to me in the depth of my heart?

“It seems that all of us human beings have deep inner memories of the paradise that we have lost. Maybe the word innocence is better than the word paradise. We were innocent before we started feeling guilty; we were in the light before we entered into the darkness; we were at home before we started to search for a home. Deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts there lies hidden the treasure we seek. We know its preciousness, and we know that it holds the gift we most desire: a life stronger than death.”

“The universal way of the soul’s deliverance”

Today is a day for grief and mourning, for solidarity with millions of people who are suffering through one of the worst natural disasters in US history. It is a day to ask hard questions and, perhaps, to recognize that even in despair there is hope and in mystery there is Mystery.

My purpose this morning is not to offer the victims of Hurricane Ian a logical explanation for their suffering but rather to point them—and us—to the One who heals broken hearts and calms stormy souls.

As Jesus wept for Lazarus, he weeps for Florida. And he asks us to trust him with our suffering and confusion, our doubts and grief. Those times of our greatest pain, when we understand him the least, are the very times when we need him the most and therefore need to trust him the most.

Such trust positions us to experience all that his redeeming love and healing grace stand ready to give.

In his classic The City of God, St. Augustine observes that “the universal way of the soul’s deliverance” comes from One whose “design . . . is impenetrable by human capacity.” For example, he notes that when Abraham was promised, “In your seed shall all nations be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), he had to leave his homeland and father’s house and, by obedience, worship the one true God “whose promises he faithfully trusted.”

Abraham could have such confident faith in the midst of his many tribulations because he was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

So can we.

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Denison Forum – “It’s going to be historic”: The latest on Hurricane Ian and two practical responses

Hurricane Ian is headed for the southwest coast of Florida and is likely to make landfall this afternoon or evening as a major Category 4 storm. Hurricane conditions are already impacting Florida’s Gulf Coast this morning, with major flooding reported in Key West. The National Hurricane Center is warning of storm surges with “life-threatening inundation.” More than 2.5 million people have been advised to flee as the storm advances on the state.

The hurricane is currently predicted to come ashore south of Tampa Bay and cut across the state directly for Orlando. Central Florida could expect fifteen to twenty inches of rainfall, with localized rainfall of up to twenty-four inches. For comparison: the most rainfall Orlando has ever experienced over a three-day period has been 13.75 inches.

“It’s going to be historic,” according to one National Weather Service meteorologist.

Three questions I’m asking myself

As I respond this morning, I’m not sure what I can say that you don’t already know.

As a cultural apologist, I could ask why God allows natural disasters. However, as I have written in the past, sin led to a fallen world and the disasters and diseases we face as a consequence (Romans 8:22). There were no hurricanes in the garden of Eden.

I could ask why God sometimes intervenes with such disasters, as when Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee, but not at other times. However, this is a question we need to answer practically rather than speculatively. When Peter asked about John’s future after the resurrection, Jesus responded, “What is that to you? As for you, follow me” (John 21:22 HCSB). We’ll say more about practical responses to the hurricane in a moment.

So, here are three questions I am asking myself today.

First, why have I focused in this article on Hurricane Ian more than on Hurricane Fiona? The latter devastated Puerto Rico and swept away homes in eastern Canada, but I have not made it my primary subject today.

Second, why have I written about Florida but not Cuba, where Ian brought terrible devastation yesterday as a Category 3 hurricane? The storm caused floods, knocked down trees, ripped off roofs, and damaged hospitals. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the coming days about the hurricane’s horrific effects on the island.

Third, why am I writing an article that is more theoretical than personal? I have focused on theological principles and reported facts, not on personal stories or reflections.

The answer to all three questions is obvious: I live in the United States, but I don’t live in Florida. The same is true for most of you.

If faith is a “crutch for cripples”

However, here’s what you may not know: I have family members and good friends who live in Florida. And I love the people of Cuba—I’ve traveled ten times to the island and pray every day for the pastors and churches with whom our ministry partners there.

As a result, while Fiona was disastrous for people I don’t know personally, Ian is devastating for many I do. Consequently, I am much more engaged in the disaster currently unfolding.

Here’s my point: God cares about those devastated by Fiona even more personally than I care about those affected by Ian. There are no speculative issues in our world with him.

Despite what the Deists thought, God is not a clockmaker who made the world and now watches dispassionately as it runs down. Despite what Freud thought, God is not a speculative projection of our “father” image but a real Father who loves each of us so much he sent his Son to die so we could live eternally.

As a result, those who follow Christ as Lord are his “body” continuing his earthly ministry in our day (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christianity is not the “opiate of the people,” as Marx claimed, but the only hope of a broken and chaotic world. If faith is a “crutch for cripples,” we are all cripples.

Act into feeling

If the devastation caused by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian is not personally grievous for us, it should be.

We are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). According to Jesus, a neighbor is someone in need whom you can help (Luke 10:37). And you can help every person affected by these tragedies through your intercession and support for ministries serving them.

Such compassion begins by praying for compassion. It begins by asking God to break our hearts for what breaks his heart. It begins by asking his Spirit for his first “fruit”—agape, unconditional servant love in action (Galatians 5:22).

Then we act in the belief that God is answering our prayer. We do not wait until we feel compassion—we act in compassion. We take practical steps to demonstrate God’s love in our service. As counselors say, we act into feelings, and often the feelings follow.

Whether we feel compassion for those we serve or not, they will feel our compassion in our service. And our service to those in need will serve our Savior and Lord (Matthew 25:40). St. Vincent de Paul (1581–1660) reminded us that those in need “are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor” and who “went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself.”

Booker T. Washington on happiness

To serve hurricane victims in Canada, you can support the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse as they serve those in crisis. To help those in Puerto Rico, you can partner with evangelical ministries at work on the island.

To help those in Cuba, I highly recommend our ministry partner there, Proclaim Cuba, and encourage you to support their work here. To serve those in Florida, I recommend (as always) the ministry of Texas Baptist Men as well as Convoy of Hope and the American Red Cross.

As you pray for these hurricane victims and those who are serving them, also ask the Lord to open your eyes and heart to those in need you can serve closer to your home.

Booker T. Washington observed, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

How happy will you be today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The problem with Vanna White’s marriage advice

When Vanna White received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Wheel of Fortune creator Merv Griffin called her “America’s sweetheart.” She has been the show’s co-host for forty years and is one of the most famous and popular celebrities in America.

She told People magazine, “I was baptized a Baptist, and I’ve always had my own personal relationship with God.” However, she says, “I don’t preach, because everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs.”

According to a new article on yahoo!life, these beliefs include the marriage advice she gives her two children, now in their twenties: “Don’t get married until you’re thirty. You can live with your girlfriend or boyfriend. You can have all the fun you want. Just don’t get married until you’re thirty.” She adds: “Wait until you’re thirty, you can still do all the same stuff. Just don’t tie that knot, just in case.”

Choosing “tree” as your personal pronoun

My point is not to criticize Vanna White; her advice to her children is more the norm today than ever before. My purpose today is to ask why this is so.

In the 1970s, when only 0.2 percent of the US population lived as cohabitating romantic partners, would you have believed that the number would climb to 15 percent in the eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old age bracket today? This despite the fact that couples who cohabit, even as common as this has become, are still at advanced risk of divorce compared to couples who do not.

If I had told you in 2005 that same-sex marriage would become the law of the land in 2015, would you have believed me? If I had told you in 2014 that a mainstream show like NCIS Hawai’i would portray a lesbian love scene on primetime television last week, would you have believed me?

If I told you last year that a Massachusetts school district would promote a book teaching children how to use gay sex apps and containing pornographic descriptions I will not reproduce, would you have believed me? Or that a Chicago curriculum would prompt first graders to choose their own gender pronouns? (One character chose “tree” as their preferred pronoun.)

“Take every thought captive”

As I noted in a recent Daily Article, “normalization” is “the process through which wisdom becomes conventional.” A New York Times article explains that “things, simply by becoming more common, become more acceptable.” By contrast, behavior that is viewed as abnormal is easily considered weird or deviant, often resulting in ostracism or bullying.

There was a time when LGBTQ behavior would have been seen as abnormal and biblical morality as normal. Now, after decades of strategic cultural normalizing of the former and condemnation of the latter, the script has flipped.

As a result, it is more urgent than ever before in American history that Christians normalize biblical values for their fellow Christians.

Dr. John Newport, my major professor in my philosophy of religion doctoral studies, often emphasized the importance of “immersing” people in the biblical worldview. He reminded us that churches see their members for a few hours a week at best; schools and society influence them for the rest of the week.

To counter the secularizing forces constantly at work, we must be deliberate and strategic about helping Christians think “Christianly.” In biblical terms, we must “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, my emphases).

“The Lord added to their number”

In other words, the best way to fight the culture wars is first to focus on Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus taught us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (v. 1). As a result, he urged us, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (v. 4). The consequences of this decision are enormous: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5, my emphasis).

Do we truly believe this? Do we truly believe that apart from “abiding” in Christ we can do “nothing” of true significance?

If Christians do, we will “abide” in Christ every moment of every day. As a result, we will refuse sin and worldliness. We will worship and study Scripture with passion. Our lives will be marked by spiritual disciplines and intimacy with Jesus.

Consequently, we will share God’s word out of the overflow of God’s Spirit in our lives. We will do evangelism because Jesus will be making us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). We will demonstrate the “fruit of the Spirit” in our personal character and public witness (Galatians 5:22–23). We will operate in the gifts of the Spirit (for more, see Dr. Ryan Denison’s new book, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?).

Our churches will be marked by unity and compassion (Acts 2:42–47a). We will be transforming change agents in a culture desperate for the “salt” and “light” of God’s word and love (Matthew 5:13–16).

And what was true of the early church will be true of us: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

The gospel in action

In the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona’s destruction in Puerto Rico, evangelical ministries Samaritan’s PurseOperation Blessing, and World Vision are partnering to deliver emergency relief supplies across the island. Shelter tarps, water filtration units, portable family water containers, tablets for purifying water, cleaning buckets, clothes, blankets, tents, and fans are among the items being supplied.

Each of these ministries embraces biblical sexual morality. Each would therefore be condemned as homophobic by secular critics.

But ask the thousands of people in Puerto Rico being served by their compassion if they are modeling a faith worth following.

How will you follow their example today?

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Denison Forum – The latest on Ukraine: Putin’s threat of nuclear escalation “could be a reality”

Tropical Storm Ian is expected to become Hurricane Ian today and is moving toward Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for the entire state. After the devastation left by Hurricane Fiona in the Caribbean and Atlantic Canada, it is wise to be prepared today for the crisis that may come tomorrow.

Case in point: as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses forward on annexing occupied regions of Ukraine, experts are warning that the threat of nuclear weapons is rising if Putin feels “cornered.” Putin confirmed this threat himself when he stated in a national address that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to protect what he claims to be Russian territory, which in his view will soon include areas that are part of the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in an interview yesterday that this threat “could be a reality.” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the US will “respond decisively” if Putin moves to use such weapons.

Putin is likely to be feeling more “cornered” today than ever before. Russian police have arrested hundreds of people protesting Putin’s “partial mobilization” order conscripting three hundred thousand reservists into active duty. Many are fleeing the country, suspecting that this is just the first wave of call-ups. In addition, the Associated Press reports that “the tide of international opinion appears to be decisively shifting against Russia.”

Why, in the face of such opposition at home and abroad, is Putin continuing on this path? Is his threat of nuclear weapons real or is it a bluff? The answer is relevant not just for world peace but for our culture and for our souls.

Two illuminating articles

Dr. Marlene Laruelle is an international affairs professor at George Washington University and author of the book Russian Nationalism: Imaginaries, Doctrines, and Political Battlefields. In a recent New York Times guest essay, she explains the crisis in Russia in terms I’ve not seen elsewhere.

We have been hearing about Russians protesting the war from the beginning. But Dr. Laruelle says there is a “party of war” made up of the security agencies, the Defense Ministry, and outspoken media and political figures that has been “mounting a sustained critique of the Kremlin’s handling of the war” for a very different reason. In short, “they want a much more aggressive war effort.” Recent military reversals have played into their hands.

In her view, their loud and growing insistence that Putin increase the war effort is behind his announced mobilization, forced annexation, and threat of nuclear escalation. If he loses their support, his regime, which is founded on his tsarist metanarrative of rebuilding “Mother Russia,” may founder as well.

With regard to this metanarrative, we should consider a warning from Dr. Stephen Kotkin, a history scholar at Princeton and Stanford and author of a recent Foreign Affairs article, “The Cold War Never Ended.” Dr. Kotkin writes: “Many Russians view their country as a providential power, with a distinct civilization and a special mission in the world, but Russia’s capabilities do not match its aspirations, and so its rulers resort, time and again, to a hyperconcentration of power in the state in a coercive effort to close the yawning gap with the West.

“But the drive for a strong state does not work, invariably devolving into personalist rule. The combination of weakness and grandeur, in turn, drives the autocrat to exacerbate the very problem that facilitated his appearance.”

In Dr. Kotkin’s view, this “Cold War” metanarrative will persist “until Russian rulers make the strategic choice to abandon the impossible quest to become a great-power equal of the West and choose instead to live alongside it and focus on Russia’s internal development.” However, if Dr. Laruelle is right, abandoning such a quest could cost Putin his position and even more.

The importance of perspective

I had seen Putin’s previous references to nuclear weapons as a bluff intended to remind the world that Russia is in fact a nuclear power. In light of these articles, however, such confidence may be misplaced. If Putin truly believes that his regime and his future are at stake, it’s hard to be sure he would not do whatever he believes it takes to protect them.

Laruelle and Kotkin illustrate the crucial importance of perspective: seeking to understand not just actions but motives and working to discern the worldview we do not see that forges the world we do.

This quest for discernment is vital not just for geopolitics but for Christian engagement with our lost culture. If we don’t understand why lost people do what lost people do, we will not effectively persuade them to follow Christ. They will dismiss us as judgmental and even dangerous to their secularized society.

Two transforming words

The good news is that Jesus knows our hearts (John 2:25) and thoughts (Matthew 9:4). His Spirit is working right now to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). He will “guide you into all the truth” (v. 13) to the glory of Jesus (v. 14).

So, know this: God will lead you to change hearts and history if you are willing to be led.

No one is beyond the reach of Christian intercession, witness, and compassion. You can engage others with confidence, knowing that the Spirit is preparing today the people he wants you to influence tomorrow. And you can pray with confidence, knowing that Jesus is interceding for you (Romans 8:34) as the Spirit intercedes within you (Romans 8:26) right now.

Let’s join them. Ask the Spirit to lead you as you pray for:

  • Vladimir Putin to repent of his nuclear threat and murderous aggression in Ukraine.
  • Christian leaders in Russia to be salt and light with their leaders and in their culture.
  • God’s wisdom for world leaders as they confront the threat of nuclear escalation.
  • Protection for Ukraine’s leaders, soldiers, and people.
  • God to redeem this crisis by bringing spiritual awakening to Russia and Ukraine.

Samuel’s prayer was the key to his transformative life: “Speak, Lᴏʀᴅ. I am your servant and I am listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NCV). From his example, I am learning to pray two transforming words in every circumstance, opportunity, and challenge: Speak, Lord. And I am learning that God does in fact speak to our minds, our hearts, and our circumstances if we are willing to listen.

Would you say these two words to God from your heart right now?

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Denison Forum – The courage of an Amazon driver and the faith of NFL quarterback Trey Lance

An Amazon driver named Kevin Rivera was finishing his route in Long Island, New York, when he saw a house on fire. Through the front door, he could see several people inside the home, including a woman and a baby. They were apparently unaware of the fire, so he courageously rushed in to help.

He got the family of seven to leave through the back door and away from the flames, then he rescued their two dogs. When they got outside and saw their burning house, they realized how dire their situation was. “They just started crying,” Rivera said later. “They just got emotional.”

To those thanking him for his bravery, Rivera replied, “To be honest, I just feel great that I did something.”

Report recommends all adults be checked for depression

This story points to two relevant facts today. Here’s the first: Our cultural house is on fire, but most of the people living in it don’t know it.

The United States Air Force Academy is instructing cadets to refrain from calling their parents “mom” or “dad” and to use words that “include all genders.” A former Mississippi official pled guilty yesterday to misusing millions of dollars in federal aid meant for poor families. The Boston Celtics’ head coach was suspended for the season for an inappropriate relationship with a female team employee. Boeing agreed to pay $200 million for misleading the public about the 737 Max following two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

A US government panel recommended this week that all adults under the age of sixty-five be screened for anxiety disorders and all adults be checked for depression. The report is both relevant and urgent as anxiety and depression continue to escalate in American society.

And yet, we are turning from Christ and Christianity in record numbers: the percentage of self-professed Christians in America is predicted to fall from 64 percent in 2020 to as low as 35 percent by 2070. “Nones,” those who have no religious affiliation, are expected to rise from the current 30 percent to as high as 52 percent by that time.

If Christians suggest that the problem is sin, we are dismissed as outdated, irrelevant, or even judgmental and dangerous to others. As a result, our secularized society is convinced that the cure is worse than the cause.

“You will not surely die”

This fact leads to a second observation: One of the hardest things to do in life is to help people who don’t believe they need help. If people don’t think their house is on fire, they’ll likely refuse our attempts to rescue them. The same is true with their souls.

Here we meet one of Satan’s most effective strategies: deluding humans into believing that we do not need what Scripture teaches, that we can dismiss the word and will of God and make our own decisions for our own advancement.

In the garden of Eden, he convinced our first parents that God’s warning was wrong: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Instead, by violating God’s clear instruction, they could “be like God” (v. 5). And we know personally the results.

We have been falling for the same deception ever since: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

“We are to be saved by our good works”

In his fascinating spiritual biography of Thomas Jefferson, Baylor historian Thomas Kidd notes that our third president was certain that when he died he would, in his own words, “ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved & lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.” Upon what did he base such confidence?

Jefferson absolutely rejected the divinity of Jesus, convinced that “Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of god physically speaking.” He believed that “we are to be saved by our good works which are within our power, and not by our faith which is not within our power.”

Late in his life, Jefferson summed up his faith: “Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself; and your country more than life. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. And the life into which you have entered will be the passage to one of eternal and ineffable bliss.”

In short, he was convinced that we are to “adore God” but trust our good works for salvation.

“God put that in my plan to use it as my platform”

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s skepticism, the evidence for Jesus’ uniqueness and divinity based on history, archaeology, ancient manuscripts, and logic is remarkably compelling. (For examples, see my website article, “Why Jesus?”) But many in our postmodern culture are likely to dismiss our arguments as “our truth.”

They measure truth by relevance, which is actually good news for the gospel.

When people see the transforming difference the risen Christ makes in us, they will want what we have and be drawn to the Lord we serve. Charles Spurgeon was right: “A Christian man should so shine in his life that a person could not live with him a week without knowing the gospel.”

NFL quarterback Trey Lance is a case in point. The San Francisco 49ers traded three first-round picks to Miami for the right to select him in the 2021 NFL Draft. They designated him their starting quarterback before this season began. Then, in the second game of the season, he fractured his right ankle and had to have season-ending surgery.

Lance posted an update on Instagram Tuesday, sharing an image of himself from his hospital bed and quoting Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” On his Twitter profile, he calls himself a “child of God” before he describes himself as the “San Francisco 49ers Quarterback.”

He told Yahoo! Sports in 2020, “Football is not who I am, it’s what I do. I’m obviously going to put everything possible into it because that’s what I love to do. But at the end of the day, I think God put that in my plan to use it as my platform.”

What is your platform?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Family takes world tour before children lose their vision

This story is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time: a Canadian family is on a world tour so their three children with retinitis pigmentosa can build their “visual memories” before they lose their eyesight. So far, they have seen elephants, zebras, and giraffes in Namibia before moving on to Zambia, Tanzania, Turkey, Mongolia, and Indonesia.

“There are beautiful places everywhere in the world, so it doesn’t really matter where we go,” their mother explains.

When good things happen to good people, we tend to credit the good people with little thought for the God from whom “every good gift and every perfect gift” comes (James 1:17). However, when bad things happen to good people, we tend to blame God even though he “cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

If Christians must account for evil in a world we claim was made by a loving Creator, skeptics must account for good in a world they claim was produced by chaotic chance.

I cannot help them with their problem, but I can offer three thoughts for ours.

One: Some suffering is the cost of living in a fallen world

God allows some suffering as a result of living in a fallen world (Romans 8:22). The law of gravity affects sinners and saints, atheists and missionaries alike.

If a chess master allows a novice to take back a move, the game can continue; if she allows a novice to take back every move, there can be no game. If God intervened every time the law of gravity was about to harm someone, there could be no law of gravity. He would likewise be forced to suspend all speech lest some words harm some people and even all brain activity lest some thoughts turn to sin.

In addition, God sometimes allows natural disasters and diseases to show us our finitude and need for his providence and provision. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” led him to transforming reliance on his Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). God wants to redeem our “thorns” in the same way.

Two: God permits the consequences of misused freedom

A health care expert says the sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases in the US is “out of control.” The CDC warns that people who smoke cigarettes are fifteen to thirty times more likely to die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. These are examples of the passive judgment of God whereby he responds to our sins by allowing us to experience their results.

A parent would never allow her three-year-old to experience the consequences of choosing to walk into a busy street, but she might allow her twelve-year-old to experience the consequences of refusing to do his homework.

In the same way, God sometimes judges sin by allowing its consequences. He said of his sinful people, “I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ” (Ezekiel 11:21). Paul reported that the Lord responded similarly to “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18) when he “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v. 24), to “dishonorable passions” (v. 26), and to a “debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28). He does this to bring sinners to repentance, confession, and reconciliation with himself (1 John 1:9Proverbs 28:13).

However, such consequences often affect the innocent as well as the guilty. With congenital syphilis, infected moms pass the disease on to their babies, potentially leading to deafness, blindness, or even death for the child. Second-hand smoke causes nearly thirty-four thousand premature deaths from heart disease each year in the US among adults who do not smoke.

Three: God brings judgment against unrepentant sinners

If the consequences of our misused freedom do not bring us to repentance, God sometimes turns from passive to active judgment.

His warning to Judah is his warning for us as well: “I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ” (Ezekiel 15:8). His character does not change (Malachi 3:6). What he has judged in the past, he must judge in the present.

However, as with his passive judgment, God’s active judgment affects “the land,” including the faithful left in it. When God punished Judah with exile to Babylon, Daniel was exiled as well. Jesus warned that when Jerusalem fell, “women who are pregnant” and “those who are nursing infants” would suffer along with everyone else (Luke 21:23).

The spiritual life is a mountain

Here’s my point: faithful Christ followers must work with urgency for moral and spiritual awakening not only for the sake of unrepentant sinners facing judgment but for our sake as well.

Transformational encounters with God empower our faith in the face of disease and disaster. And they lead sinners to repentance before natural consequences or divine punishments for their sins affect us, our children, and our grandchildren.

Jesus called us to “walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you” (John 12:35). Either we walk in the light of Christ or we are overtaken by the dark. You and I are moving forward with Jesus or we are moving away from him. The spiritual life is not a level road but a mountain: we are either climbing up or we are sliding down.

And as we go, so goes the nation we are called to serve as “the” salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16).

We founded Denison Forum in 2009 to be a catalyst for moral and spiritual awakening. I am more convinced today than ever that the need for such a transforming movement of God’s Spirit is urgent and that the time is short.

For the sake of our culture as it slides further and further into immorality, and for the sake of our own families and communities, you and I must humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Then, and only then, will he “heal our land.”

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Denison Forum – Dallas ranks #1 in the nation for infidelity

Some crises are beyond our ability to control.

Hurricane Fiona intensified into a Category 4 storm today as it headed toward Bermuda after slamming the Turks and Caicos Islands yesterday and devastating Puerto Rico on Monday. Alaskan officials are rushing to provide aid to remote villages flooded by recent storms; a major earthquake struck Mexico on Monday; Uganda has declared an Ebola virus outbreak.

Other crises are entirely of our making.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of his country’s military today, calling up reservists as he escalates his war in Ukraine. A cheating scandal is rocking the chess world. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom is promoting billboards in conservative states telling women seeking an abortion that “California is ready to help” and (ironically) quoting Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Doesn’t he realize that a mother’s closest “neighbor” is her unborn child?

However, lest Texans like me jump to the conclusion that his state is ungodly and ours in the “Bible Belt” is more godly, we should consider this news: a new index reports that Dallas, Texas, ranks No. 1 in the nation for infidelity. Using Census Bureau data, the “most unfaithful cities in America” were identified. Fort Worth, Texas, came in second; Houston ranked third.

By contrast, the “most faithful cities” were, in order: Pasadena, Torrance, Roseville, and Visalia, each of which is in California.

A mirror in the world’s largest castle

Whether religion is morally transformative depends on its object, not just its subject. We can go to church, but if we do not encounter the risen and living Christ, not much will change as a result.

As British Prime Minister Liz Truss read at Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral Monday, Jesus alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). His Spirit alone can change human hearts (John 16:8). He alone can make us a “new creation” as the children of God (2 Corinthians 5:17John 1:14).

The uniqueness and necessity of Jesus was illustrated for me years ago when I first visited Windsor Castle, the site of the queen’s burial. The castle was originally completed by William the Conqueror around 1086; it has been enlarged and renovated many times since, most notably by George IV, who died in 1830. It is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

The ceiling of St. George’s Chapel, where the queen was buried, is so ornate that I wanted to stare at it for hours. However, it is so tall that doing so is difficult and renders an observer dizzy from the effort. As a result, a large mirror has been placed on the floor, angled at the ceiling. When we look at the reflection below, we see the reality above.

In the same way, Jesus assured his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). This is true of no other person in all of human history.

Does God accept the worship of all religions?

I make this point in response to a very disturbing report on “The State of Theology” in America just released by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research.

It notes that 43 percent of evangelicals agree that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” This percentage has risen thirteen points in just two years. Correspondingly and tragically, 56 percent of American evangelicals also agree that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” This percentage has risen fourteen points in two years.

Another study, this one by George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, is even more disturbing: it reports that at least a third of senior pastors in the United States believe a person can earn a place in heaven simply by being a good person.

No wonder our culture is continuing its slide into unbiblical immorality. The retired congressman and my personal friend Frank Wolf is right: politics are downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from the church.

If those who preach sermons and those who hear them do not believe they urgently need a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, we should not be surprised when their beliefs and their actions mirror those of our fallen society. The longer we avoid the light, the more our eyes adjust to the dark.

The prayer of a genius

So, let’s be clear: Jesus is who the historic Christian faith claims him to be: the sinless Son of God who walked our planet, died for our sins, rose from our grave, is praying right now for us, and will return one day as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). (For evidence demonstrating the truthfulness of each of these claims, see my website article, “Why Jesus?” and my book, Wrestling with God.)

If you build your life on his unique lordship, when the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, diseases, and the temptations of life find you, your house will stand (Matthew 7:24–25). If you do not, it will not (vv. 26–27).

A brilliant scholar at the University of Edinburgh was known affectionately to his students as Rabbi Duncan. The professor was a world-famous expert in Hebrew and Aramaic. One day some students began joking among themselves wondering what language this renowned genius used in his prayers.

Knowing his meticulous daily schedule, they made their way to his room in the nearby college and knelt quietly outside his door. To their surprise they could barely hear him whisper the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee.

When last did you go to him?

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Denison Forum – My reflections on Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral: Two keys to her greatness

I remember vividly the awe I felt when I entered Westminster Abbey for the first time. Parts of the present structure date to the 1040s; the Abbey was rebuilt by King Henry III and consecrated in 1269. The interior is much taller than it is wide and stands 101 feet in height. It gives those who enter an immediate sense of the vertical, drawing us from ourselves to God.

Queen Elizabeth II designed her state funeral conducted within the Abbey yesterday in the same way: vertically. She chose the music and the readings for her service personally. Each song was Scripture set to music or worship directed to the Almighty. And each reading came directly from the word of God.

For example, as her coffin moved through the Abbey, the choir sang The “Funeral Sentences” setting Scripture to music. The first hymn was Psalm 42 set to music and was “inspired by Her Majesty’s unwavering Christian faith,” according to Buckingham Palace. The second was “The Lord is My Shepherd”; the third was an anthem called “My Soul, There is a Country,” which points to “One who never changes—Thy God, thy life, thy cure.”

The fourth song, “O Taste and See,” was composed for the queen’s coronation in 1953 and sets Psalm 34 to music. The last congregational song was the national anthem and prayer, “God Save the King.”

Scripture readings were taken from 1 Corinthians 15 and John 14. As a result, billions of people around the world heard proclaimed the truth that God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57) and Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The reading from John 14 ended with Jesus’ statement, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (v. 9, KJV). The queen wanted the same to be said of her.

Awe produces humility

Watching her service yesterday morning was a true worship experience for me. Upon reflection, I believe I understand the source of the queen’s commitment to God and others: awe and adversity.

Her state funeral was so God-honoring because she lived her life in the same way. True awe of God always produces true humility toward God which leads to true service to others.

For example, when Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne,” he was humbled by his sinfulness in light of God’s holiness and then he served God and others as one of the greatest prophets in history (Isaiah 6:1–8). Jeremiah saw his finitude in light of God’s revelation and was empowered to speak God’s word to the world (Jeremiah 1:4–10). John saw the risen Christ on Patmos, fell at his feet, and then gave the Revelation to the world (Revelation 1:9–20).

Queen Elizabeth II was similarly awed by God. Ministers who knew her best say her humble worship empowered her sense of divine calling to her duty. One said she was so immersed in Scripture that she would “just evangelize naturally.” Archbishop Justin Welby noted at her state funeral yesterday: “In 1953 the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her.”

From her example and those in Scripture we learn this fact: we can measure the degree to which we truly worship God by the degree to which we serve him and others.

Adversity produces humility

Adversity produces humility as well. Joseph’s years of slavery in Egypt taught him to treat his brothers not with pride but with humble service (cf. Genesis 50:18–20). Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” led him to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Queen Elizabeth II, for all her wealth and power, knew personal adversity as well. She was twenty-five years old when her father died suddenly at the age of fifty-six and she inherited his mantle as the sovereign of a nation seeking to recover from World War II. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of her, “But she’s just a child.” Historian Tracy Borman says that other officials likewise feared that she was “naïve” and “didn’t know anything about running a country.”

Guiding her nation through the Cold War, armed conflicts, deep political divisions, and very painful family struggles, she became what one commentator yesterday described as “the greatest monarch in the history of this planet.” She knew firsthand the truth of the statement she made famous in the aftermath of 9/11: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

“We are all visitors to this time, this place”

Here’s the caveat: awe and adversity produce humility and service only if we choose for them to do so. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, many were awed and placed their faith in him (John 11:45), but the religious leaders “made plans to put him to death” (v. 53). I have likewise seen adversity turn people from God rather than to him.

But if you will live your life in awe of God, using adversity as an opportunity to trust and serve him, your life will count in this world and be celebrated in the next.

Archbishop Welby observed yesterday, “The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death. The pattern for all who serve God—famous or obscure, respected or ignored—is that death is the door to glory.” Later he noted: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are forgotten.”

In her 2011 speech to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia, the queen quoted an Aboriginal proverb: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

Now Queen Elizabeth II has returned “home.” She is no longer a queen—she has an even higher calling as a worshiper of the King. But I believe she will hear for all eternity those words we should all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

When last were you awed by God?

When last did you use adversity to trust and serve your King?

Why not today?

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Denison Forum – The most watched broadcast of all time: Honoring the Queen by serving her King

Up to a million people are lining the streets of London this morning for Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral. Five hundred heads of state have assembled from around the world. The service is likely to be the world’s most watched broadcast of all time with 4.1 billion viewers.

It began at 11 a.m. in the UK, which is 6 a.m. EST and 5 a.m. in Dallas. If America’s response so far to the queen’s death is any indication, we can assume that millions of Americans are up watching.

The New York Times wondered recently if Elizabeth was the “Queen of America.” The article noted that the NFL’s first game of the season observed a moment of silence for her. Apple turned over its home page to a black-and-white photo of the young monarch. Even the Old North Church in Boston, where two lanterns were held high in 1775 to warn that the British were coming, invited visitors to sign a condolence book for the queen.

When Charles gave his first speech as king, ABC, CBS, and NBC covered it live, with CBS reporting 2.8 million viewers. By contrast, the broadcast networks declined to televise a speech by President Biden a week earlier. Only 23 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the presidency; in 1975, even after Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon, the figure stood at 52 percent.

There’s a lesson here we dare not miss.

All the monarchy we want

America’s fascination with the British monarchy and concurrent resentment of our own government are both ironic and instructive. As I noted recently, our nation rebelled against Elizabeth’s great-great-great-grandfather, King George III. We fought a War for Independence to rid ourselves of a monarchy.

However, scholars responding to the outpouring of affection for the queen in recent days have explained that for Americans, we get the upside of the monarchy without the downside. We continue to cultivate a political relationship with the United Kingdom that is vital to our economic and military interests. We can participate in the pomp and circumstance, history and tradition of the crown.

And yet, we pay no taxes to support the royal family and are in no way under their authority. You might say that for Americans, the British royal family is all the royalty we want.

In a way, our fascination with a monarch who has no power in our lives reflects America’s cultural ethos. As does our frustration with American leaders who do.

“All the thrills of religion and none of the cost”

More than 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a “higher power,” but less than 50 percent are members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Pew Research Center reported last week that if current trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of the US population within a few decades.

And yet, we continue to claim that we are “spiritual” even if we are not religious. I heard one of the Pew researchers in a radio interview last week; when asked if their report means Americans are becoming less spiritual, she stated that this is clearly not the case. It is just that we are choosing what we wish to believe outside the confines of established religions.

In a culture that defines all truth as personal and subjective, why would religious “truth” be any different?

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described such religion as belief in an amorphous “Life-Force”: “When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest.

“If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you.

“All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?

“Today we need a special kind of courage”

George Washington would have disagreed strongly with this approach to God. On this day in 1796, the “Father of Our Country” issued his “Farewell Address” as he approached the end of his second term in office. In it, he famously stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” And he added, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

Queen Elizabeth II would have agreed with our first president.

In 1957, she delivered her first Christmas broadcast on television. The Cold War was escalating and the Soviet Union was apparently winning the space race with their Sputnik spacecraft. The conflict in Vietnam was growing; the Asian Flu pandemic had claimed over 150,000 lives around the world; racial tensions in the US were increasing.

She therefore stated: “Today we need a special kind of courage. Not the kind needed in battle, but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics, so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.”

She consistently and publicly found that “special kind of courage” in her faith, calling Jesus “an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” Just last month, she prayed for Anglican bishops that “you will continue to be sustained by your faith in times of trial and encouraged by hope in times of despair.”

If the Queen of England, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world, needed a King, how much more do we?

Now she has joined the saints of the ages and the angels of all eternity in proclaiming, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).

How will you emulate her commitment to this King today?

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Denison Forum – Second-largest school district in the US a victim of cyberattack

It is estimated that global cybercrime will reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, an amount larger than every economy in the world except the US and China.

For example, Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the US with more than 640,000 students enrolled, was hit with a ransomware attack a few days ago. Such attacks on schools and universities are on the rise.

Cybersecurity threats are also escalating against the US water industry, the US healthcare system, and industrial infrastructure, including electricity grids, oil and gas facilities, and manufacturing plants. Uber Technologies said yesterday that it was investigating a cybersecurity incident that forced the company to shut down several internal communications and engineering systems.

The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against three Iranian individuals alleged to have launched cyberattacks against the US and global critical infrastructure. The individuals are still at large and believed to be in Iran. The State Department is offering a $10 million reward for information on the three men. The Treasury Department has also announced sanctions against ten individuals and two groups affiliated with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, alleging that they have carried out ransomware and other cyberattacks since at least 2020.

You and I cannot see a cyberattack, only its effects. Therein lies my point today.

What our daily mantra should be

As I noted yesterday, “secret” sins are one of Satan’s most effective strategies for hindering the advance of God’s kingdom through God’s people. Sins known only to God nonetheless grieve the Spirit who alone can empower us to do eternal good.

Human words cannot transform human hearts. The Spirit alone possesses the power to bring us to repentance and faith (John 16:8) and to make fallen people into God’s new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is only the Spirit working through us that can do anything of eternal significance.

Consequently, our daily mantra should be, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

However, Satan knows this fact as well and counters the work of God’s Spirit through God’s people by leveraging three cultural factors:

  • We are consumers who have been taught by brilliant marketers that the world exists to meet our needs.
  • We are fallen people plagued by the “will to power” to be our own god (Genesis 3:5).
  • Unlike the Catholic concept of penance for sins in this lifetime and purgatory for them in the afterlife, evangelical Christians focus on the immediacy of God’s forgiveness and grace when we confess our sins to him (1 John 1:9).

Satan plays to all three factors with “secret” sins we think we can choose to commit and then confess without consequences. No one but God knows, we say to ourselves, and he forgets all he forgives (Isaiah 43:25). But we should remember that Satan is at war with a God he cannot attack directly (Revelation 12:9), so he attacks his children to hurt their Father (1 Peter 5:8). The best way to hurt me is to hurt my kids or my grandkids.

As a result, Satan’s evil character will not allow him to offer us a temptation that does not produce greater evil than the good it promises. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Three facts about “secret” sins

Here are three facts about “secret sins” we should remember:

One: “Secret” sins lead to debilitating “secret” guilt.

When God forgives the sins we confess, Satan then afflicts us with guilt for committing the very sins he tempted us to commit. Guilt is also how we punish ourselves for failures God has forgiven and forgotten. It can be debilitating in our lives, leading to a second factor:

Two: “Secret” sins cause us to feel we are unusable by God.

When we are engaged in “secret” sins, even after we confess them, Satan whispers to us that we are hypocrites if we share our faith with others when we are not fully living up to it ourselves. This is one of the main reasons more Christians do not share the gospel more publicly and persistently. It affects our willingness to serve the kingdom in other ways and steals our joy when we do.

Three: “Secret” sins, even when confessed, cost us reward in heaven.

The Bible promises, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Every time we fail the test we forfeit such a crown. God forgives the sins we confess, but the rewards we would have gained for refusing to commit them are lost forever.

What’s the solution?

Satan knows the sins we can resist in our strength and doesn’t waste his time with them. So, we can know that every temptation we face is one we cannot defeat without God’s help. However, part of Satan’s tempting strategy is to entice us to fight temptation in our ability. He drags us into the quicksand an inch at a time until we are in too far to escape.

What is the answer, then, to “secret” sins?

Developing the reflex of responding to temptation immediately by taking it to God in prayer. Such a reflex positions us to be “filled” and empowered by the Spirit in ways we would not have experienced otherwise (Ephesians 5:18). It draws us closer to our holy Father and makes us more usable in his kingdom.

As the Renaissance scholar Erasmus noted, Satan hates nothing so much as for his evil to be used for good.

Here’s the bottom line: Yielding to temptation makes us weaker. Refusing temptation makes us stronger.

Will you be stronger when this day is done than you were when it began?

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Denison Forum – Railroad unions and companies reach deal to avoid a strike: Why this is good news for you

The news broke this morning that freight rail companies and unions representing tens of thousands of workers have reached a tentative agreement to avoid a strike. Following all-night talks, the agreement now heads to union members for a ratification vote. While the vote is tallied, workers have agreed that they will not strike.

Why is this news important to you?

The Association of American Railroads trade group estimated that a strike would cost the American economy $2 billion a day. According to the Associated Press, railroads carry cars, coal, chemicals, grain, imported goods, and other products and raw materials throughout the country. A shutdown, even if brief, would delay critical shipments and ripple across the economy.

A railroad strike would cancel commuter trains, cause energy prices to rise, disrupt deliveries of produce, meat, and building supplies, and add to inflation.

I do not know a single person who works for a railroad. Before this morning’s news broke, I had no idea that a railroad strike could impact me personally. But problems we cannot see are no less real. Because we don’t know they exist, we don’t respond to them until they grow so large we must.

As a result, our unseen problems can be the most dangerous problems we face.

Therein lies my point today.

“No creature is hidden from his sight”

Yesterday we discussed the power of private character. Today let’s focus on the alternative: the peril of private sins.

This topic became urgent to me when I read a verse in the book of Ezekiel that arrested my attention. The Lord said of his sinful people: “I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols” (Ezekiel 6:9a). We cannot see the “heart” of another person or the images their eyes see, but God can: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). His heart is “broken” by such “secret” sins.

In addition, what God sees in a sinner’s heart and mind will eventually be known to the sinner: “They will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations” (Ezekiel 6:9b). And to the rest of us: “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

As a result, our response to sin should always be immediate and courageous: “Thus says the Lord Gᴏᴅ: ‘Clap your hands and stamp your foot and say, Alas, because of all the evil abominations of the house of Israel, for they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” (Ezekiel 6:11).

Why Satan loves to use “secret” sins

Let’s take a moment to unmask Satan’s strategy behind “secret” sins.

Our enemy wants us to commit adultery, but if we refuse, he tempts us to view pornography with the justification that at least we are not committing adultery. If we will not view pornography, he tempts us with lustful thoughts with the justification that at least we are not viewing pornography. This is because he knows that, as Jesus warned us, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

If you are thinking that this paragraph does not apply to you, beware: Satan will then tempt you with other sins with the justification that at least you are not committing sexual sins.

Why does the devil love to use “secret” sins? Because he knows what they do to us: “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). And he knows that any sins, known by others or not, are enough to grieve and “quench” the Holy Spirit’s work in and through our lives in the world (Ephesians 4:301 Thessalonians 5:19).

Oswald Chambers warned: “Even the very smallest thing that we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is completely sufficient to account for spiritual confusion” and “can only be conquered through obedience.”

“Secret” sins and public religion

Paradoxically, Satan is pleased when we commit “secret” sins while maintaining public religiosity. When we persist in private sin while preaching sermons, leading Bible studies, attending worship services, or writing or reading articles like this one, we are tempted to believe that our “private” sins are not harming others or we could not be engaged in such religious activity.

However, because the Holy Spirit cannot fully use a person who persists in unconfessed sin (cf. Romans 8:6–8), our spiritual activities have little effect on the larger culture. Our salt “has lost its taste” and our light is “under a basket” (Matthew 5:1315). Neither can then fulfill their transforming purpose in the world.

The lure and prevalence of “secret” sin help explain the truth of A. W. Tozer’s observation: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

How strong are your batteries?

You have perhaps had this experience: the power goes out at night, so you hunt for a flashlight. You find one in a drawer and turn it on, but the bulb barely glows in the dark. You replace the batteries, but the flashlight still doesn’t work. It turns out that the contacts between the flashlight and the batteries are corroded with disuse.

Only when you clean out the corrosion and replace the batteries can the flashlight dispel the darkness it was created to defeat.

When the batteries are weak, the darkness is strong. When the batteries are strong, the darkness is weak.

Is the spiritual darkness of our day growing weaker or stronger?

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Denison Forum – The death of Judge Ken Starr and traits that “were once considered normal”

Kenneth W. Starr, a former federal judge and US Solicitor General, died yesterday of complications from surgery. Judge Starr served as president and chancellor of Baylor University and dean of the Pepperdine Law School. He argued thirty-six cases before the US Supreme Court and served as Independent Counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater and President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

I was honored to be his friend. We met when he came to his post at Baylor in 2010 and stayed in contact across the years after. He was gracious to appear on our Denison Forum podcast; I was privileged to interview him for an Institute for Global Engagement event earlier this year at Dallas Baptist University.

He combined brilliance, sincerity, transparency, and humility like few people I have ever known. In my review of his 2021 book, Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, I called his work “an indispensable guide to defending religious freedom.”

Judge Starr is survived by his beloved and brilliant wife, Alice Mendell Starr, to whom he was married for fifty-two years, and by their three children and their families.

“The rock on which modern Britain was built”

History is often made by exceptional people like Judge Ken Starr whose names are known to history.

More than twenty-six thousand people filed by Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin in Scotland yesterday before it was transported to London and spent last night in Buckingham Palace. A procession including King Charles III, Prince William, and Prince Harry will accompany it today as it travels to Westminster Hall, where it will lie in state for four days ahead of the queen’s state funeral on Monday, September 19.

The reason for such a national outpouring of grief and affection is simple: as Prime Minister Liz Truss observed, the queen was “the rock on which modern Britain was built.”

In other historic news, Francis Scott Key penned the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on this day in 1814. Two years earlier on this day, Napoleon entered Moscow in an invasion that eventually failed and cost his army more than four hundred thousand men.

On a happier note, after Albert Pujols hit his 697th home run, moving into sole possession of fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list, he gifted the ball to the fan who caught it and then signed two more balls for him. In other sports news, baseball great Ty Cobb’s dentures are going for more than $11,000 at auction. Neither Pujols’s home run ball nor Ty Cobb’s false teeth would be valuable if they were not associated with such historic figures.

However, history can also be made by people whose names are unknown to history.

The US has reached the historic milestone of one million organ transplants; each donor, while unknown to the rest of us, changed a life with their gift. A political leader in Idaho protested a planned “Drag Kids” performance including children “from ages 11–18,” leading to the event’s eventual cancelation. And a nurse saved a three-month-old baby who had stopped breathing during a flight Thursday night. Whatever the little girl grows up to accomplish will be an extension of that nurse’s compassion.

Traits that “were once considered normal”

Watching news coverage of the death of the queen, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas observed: “One is struck by the adjectives used by reporters, commentators and people interviewed outside Balmoral Castle and Buckingham Palace: sense of duty, virtue, integrity, service. What astounds is that these and other character traits the late Queen exhibited were once considered normal and worthy of being taught to children, but today stand in sharp contrast to what is modeled and accepted.”

He added: “One commentator said the Queen’s death is the symbolic end of the Greatest Generation. We pay lip service to the virtues that made the greatest generation great, but no longer promote them, whether it is in public schools, social media, or the wider culture.”

What is being said of Queen Elizabeth II could be said of Judge Ken Starr as well: both were known publicly for traits that were deeply personal. Their exemplary character and humble commitment to service were grounded in the sincerity and depth of their faith.

The queen was tutored as a young girl by the Archbishop of Canterbury and called Jesus “an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” Ken Starr’s father was a Congregationalist minister; the judge’s often-repeated maxim, “Truth is a bedrock concept in morality and law,” came from his family and from his personal faith.

“The true measure of all our actions”

C. S. Lewis noted, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” But here’s the point: someone is watching.

Our names may never be known to history like the queen and the judge, but someone knows us as personally as anyone knew them. The people we live, work, and go to school with matter just as much to eternity as a queen or a federal judge. If they do not follow Jesus, we are the only Bible they may read, the only sermon they may hear.

This makes our personal integrity, or lack thereof, a kingdom issue of eternal consequence.

We cannot expect the people who know us to follow Christ if we do not. We cannot expect them to embrace biblical morality if they do not see that morality reflected in our daily decisions and actions.

By contrast, if Jesus is our first love, the passion of our hearts and king of our days, those who know us will see him in us and be drawn to his transforming love.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers to “remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). When those who know you “consider the outcome” of your way of life, will they want to imitate your faith?

Queen Elizabeth II said, “The true measure of all our actions is how long the good in them lasts.”

What will be the “true measure” of your actions today?

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Denison Forum – Are drag queens “what America is all about”?

The Emmy Awards were held last night. Among the honorees: Zendaya won best lead actress in a drama series for HBO’s Euphoria, which is so sexualized and graphic that even Common Sense Media’s review is forced to use descriptions I will not repeat here. The same goes for their review of HBO’s The White Lotus, which won for outstanding limited series. I could go on.

When a political leader claims that drag queens are “what America is all about,” transgender characters are increasingly featured in video games and on television, and a Texas teacher tells students to refer to pedophiles as “minor-attracted persons,” it is clear that our moral compass is not just broken but nonexistent.

Australia’s Margaret Court, winner of twenty-four Grand Slam singles titles, made news during the recent US Open when she disclosed that she has become a persona non grata in the tennis world because of her Christian beliefs. She opposed same-sex marriage when it was proposed in her country, and the backlash has been severe ever since.

For example, LGBTQ lobbyists are calling for Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena to be renamed. She replies, “They got everything they wanted in marriage, and everything else. So I think, ‘Why, when you should be so happy you’ve got that, are you still taking it out on people if they haven’t got the same beliefs?’ That’s what I don’t understand.”

Closer to home, LGBTQ activists are currently lobbying US senators to support the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would expand same-sex marriage protections with no religious liberty protections. And a Justice Department official recently labeled the religious liberty legal group Alliance Defending Freedom as a “hate group.”

Drag queens as worship leaders

In Ezekiel 5, the Lord says of Jerusalem, “She has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her” (v. 6). Her “wickedness” was “more than the nations,” not because it was objectively worse but because she knew better.

Scripture warns, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). The more we know, the more we are responsible for what we know.

Satan has added an additional layer of deception in our day.

Not only do many Americans reject the moral truth of Scripture, but they claim the mantle of Christian faith in so doing. From praying for God to bless clinics that perform late-term abortions, to citing Christian “compassion” in support of euthanasia, to enlisting drag queens as worship leaders, to claiming that abortion does not contradict the Christian faith, many so-called “people of faith” have been busy undermining the faith.

When I am a Cowboys fan

Such deception is even more powerful when the ones doing the deceiving are themselves deceived.

This is possible and even popular because, in our postmodern society, we think we are Christians if we say we are. This makes sense in cultural context: I am a Democrat or a Republican if I say I am, regardless of how or whether I vote. I am a Cowboys or Steelers fan if I say I am. In our culture, I am “non-binary” or transgender if I say I am. We think the same way with Christianity.

But relational reality is different. I could not claim to be married to Janet until she agreed to marry me. I could not claim to be a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary until the seminary conferred such status on me. I could not claim to be the pastor of the churches I served until they called me to be their pastor.

In the same way, we are Christians only if Christ says we are. And he says we are Christians only if we have made him our Savior and Lord and thus have “become children of God” (John 1:12). Our religious claims are true only if they are biblical. Our lives are pleasing to God only when we do what he says pleases him.

“Save others by snatching them out of the fire”

Jude warned his readers that “certain people have crept in unnoticed . . . who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (v. 4). As a result, he called his fellow believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3).

To “contend” (epagonizomai in the Greek) is to “make a strenuous effort on behalf of.” This command applies to every dimension of our lives, every day of our lives.

This “strenuous effort” begins at home. You and I need to measure everything we think, feel, say, and do by the authority of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12) under the leading of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The first step in the wrong direction can lead to all the rest. An airplane one degree off line will miss its destination.

The more our culture rejects biblical truth, the more passionately we must embrace it.

And this “strenuous effort” extends to everyone we influence. The stakes could not be higher: we “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23) when we lead them from the deceiver to the Savior.

“You can give me the power to do good”

If you and I renew our commitment today to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” our Father will help us.

John Baillie testified to God, “The good that I want to do, I fail to do, but you can give me the power to do good.” Thus he prayed: “Dear Father, take this day’s life into your keeping. Guide all my thoughts and feelings. Direct all my energies. Instruct my mind. Sustain my will. Take my hands and give me the skill to serve you. Take my feet and make them quick to do whatever you ask. Take my eyes and keep them fixed on your everlasting beauty. Take my mouth and give me the words to tell others of your love.

“Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace. Make this day’s work a little part of the work of the kingdom of my Lord Jesus, in whose name these prayers are said.”

Amen?

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Denison Forum – Scotland honors the queen and a “Tribute in Light” in NYC: A 9/11 promise of transforming hope

I wish I had been in New York City last night to see the “Tribute in Light” in person. Each September 11, two beams, comprised of eighty-eight seven-thousand-watt xenon lightbulbs, are released into the sky to echo the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers. Just seeing the video of the tribute was deeply moving for me.

All of us old enough to remember 9/11 will never forget it: the shock when the first airplane flew into the North Tower, the horror when the second plane struck the South Tower, the buildings spewing smoke into the sky, the people fleeing their burning floors by jumping to their deaths, the attack on the Pentagon, the collapse of the South Tower, the crash in Pennsylvania, the collapse of the North Tower. Less than three hours after the first plane to be hijacked left the Boston airport, the iconic Twin Towers lay in ruins in Lower Manhattan.

A few years earlier, I stood at the base of the World Trade Center. From the ground, I could not see the top of the two towers. That such colossal buildings could be destroyed so quickly is still staggering to me. Each year’s anniversary is another reminder of our finitude, frailty, and mortality.

Another headline in today’s news is a similar reminder: Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin arrived in Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh yesterday after a six-hour procession from her beloved Balmoral Castle. King Charles III and his Queen Consort Camilla are traveling today to join another procession taking the queen’s coffin to St. Giles Cathedral, where it will remain for twenty-four hours so the Scottish public can pay their respects. It will be flown to London on Tuesday.

Charles became king in the moment of his mother’s death, though his coronation could still be months away. In these two facts we find a life principle of transforming hope today.

“Did you think I was immortal?”

America is separated from the rest of the world by oceans on the east and west, deserts to the south, and forests and lakes to the north. Except for an abortive attempt by Japanese soldiers to take the Aleutian islands off Alaska in 1942, foreign enemies have not attacked Americans on our soil since the War of 1812.

9/11 changed that calculus forever. As every traveler enduring TSA airport screening knows, our enemies can use American airplanes to kill Americans. Not to mention cyber, chemical, biological, and radiological threats. We can also die of diseases we did not know existed. And, as the pandemic continues to prove, a virus two thousand times smaller than a dust mite can kill more than a million Americans.

If the queen of England, with all her vast resources, is not immune to the frailty of life, no one is. If towers reaching 110 stories tall and built to withstand hurricane-force winds could be felled by airplane hijackers, no occupant in any building is truly safe.

The queen’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603), reportedly said from her deathbed, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” France’s Louis XIV (1638–1715) was the only monarch to rule longer than Queen Elizabeth II. However, his last words were said to his grieving attendants: “Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?”

“We die to be raised up”

It is understandable to fear any journey into an experience we cannot see beforehand: stepping into a pitch-black room, attending a new school, working for a new manager. The greater the consequences of our decision, the more fearful we naturally become. Staying at a new hotel provokes far less apprehension than starting a new job.

Death feels so permanent to us. Except for Lazarus and Jesus, no one has come back to our world from the other side. It is therefore the greatest and most fearful unknown.

But St. Athanasius was right: “We no longer die to be condemned, we die to be raised up and await the resurrection of all, which God will bring about at a time of his choosing.”

Here’s why: “One has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).

A transforming personal anniversary

If you have made Jesus your Lord, your “old man” died in the moment that you trusted in Christ (Romans 6:5) and you were “born again” (John 3:3) as a child of God (John 1:12). Now you already “have eternal life” (John 3:16). Note the present tense.

The forty-ninth anniversary of my salvation experience was last Friday. For forty-nine years, I have possessed eternal life. Now, as the child of God, when my body dies (if the Lord tarries), I will in that moment be united with Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). When I close my eyes here, I will open them there. When I take my last breath here, I will take my first breath there. I will step from death into life and from time into eternity.

So will you if Jesus is your Lord.

My mother “died” of cancer in 2008. Some might say, “She lost her battle with cancer.” Actually, the cancer died and she is more alive today than she was then.

We often say that someone “passed away.” Actually, the world passes away. And we are with our Father and with “a great multitude that no one could number” forever (Revelation 7:9).

You are uncrowned royalty

All of this is illustrated by King Charles III’s ascension to the throne last Thursday. In the moment of his mother’s death, he became king. Nothing changed externally—he had the same appearance, with the same height and weight and the same personal characteristics that were his the day before. But in that moment, his status changed. Though he is yet uncrowned, he will be known forever as the king he was born to be.

In precisely the same way, the moment you trusted Christ as Lord you were born again into his royal family (1 Peter 2:9). You can now serve him faithfully and fearlessly, knowing that the worst that can happen to you leads to the best that can happen to you. You can use your momentary days for eternal significance and live for God’s glory rather than your own, secure in the knowledge that you will share his glory when you worship at his throne.

You are uncrowned royalty today, but if you are faithful to your King, you will receive one day “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Isaac Watts (1674–1748) testified:

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.

What “shall employ” your “nobler powers” today?

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