Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Scientists aim to resurrect the dodo: How the power of small change can change the world

The old cliché that something went “the way of the dodo” could soon have a very different meaning.

As Antonio Regaldo writes for the MIT Technology Review, scientists at Colossal Biosciences in Austin, Texas, are currently working to resurrect the bird that has become synonymous with extinction. If your mind is trending toward Jurassic Park flashbacks as you read, you’re not too far off base.

Is the dodo bird coming back?

Colossal’s process works by genetically altering the Nicobar pigeon—the dodo’s closest living relative—to gradually turn it into its long-dead ancestor. This process is made possible by the research of Beth Shapiro and her team at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who recently recovered the extinct bird’s DNA from the five-hundred-year-old remains of a dodo at a museum in Denmark.

However, the dodo is not the only creature that Colossal is trying to bring back to life. By 2029, Ben Lamm, Colossal’s CEO, estimates that they will have successfully turned an elephant into a wooly mammoth, with the Tasmanian tiger also on their list of current projects.

Still, with any of the experiments it remains unclear just how many changes will be needed before one could actually say the extinct creature exists once more.

As Mike McGrew, an avian biologist at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, noted, “That is one of the big questions. At what point is your editing done? Is it hitting a hundred genes or one thousand genes?”

Whatever the answer may be, the possibilities of what such incremental changes could bring about have piqued the interest of an interesting assortment of people. Billionaires like Thomas Tull and Robert Nelson, as well as the CIA’s venture capital arm, have all decided to back Colossal’s efforts.

I bring this story up today, however, not because I’m overly excited about the possibility of seeing a dodo anytime soon—though a wooly mammoth may be a different story—but rather because the technique of relying on small changes rather than large leaps to accomplish something extraordinary offers some important parallels for Christians today.

“The best way to address social problems”

In a recent article for PersuasionGreg Berman and Aubrey Fox approached this conversation from a more philosophical point of view.

The pair discussed the idea of incrementalism, claiming that it represents “the best way to address social problems in a climate where it is difficult to agree on basic facts, let alone expensive, large-scale government interventions.”

The foundation of their argument is that big plans often fail because they require “access to high-quality information, agreement about underlying values, and effective decision-making on the part of government planners” at a time when none of those conditions tend to exist in the real world. By focusing instead on small changes that build on one another, over time we can actually accomplish more than by trying to do everything at once.

They allow that “we still need dreamers and visionaries and rabble-rousers who want to pursue moon-shot goals like curing cancer and ending hunger. But our default setting should be to admit the obvious: our problems are big and our brains are small,” so our solutions to those big problems should start small as well.

What if small changes are the most lasting changes?

What would it look like if we took a similar approach to trying to change our culture for Christ?

Granted, it would be great if we could set forth a plan that would result in a sweeping spiritual awakening and see our culture turn back to God. But that’s not likely to happen, and we can’t afford to wait for such an opportunity to arrive.

By contrast, an incrementalist approach to sharing our faith and shaping society means each of us must take advantage of the opportunities the Lord brings our way to help people know him better. It means making sure that our lives match up with the message we’re sharing. And it means being satisfied with the knowledge that we’ve done our part even if it doesn’t always appear to make an immediate difference.

Such an approach may lack the appeal of big changes and historic impact, but history shows it’s actually more likely to make the kind of difference we’d really like to see.

None of the spiritual awakenings in modern times began with Christians making a five-step plan to change the world, and they certainly did not include any reliance on government intervention to save the day. Rather, they started with believers who felt a burden for their culture and that burden led them to pray. Those prayers resulted in Christians starting to take their faith more seriously, and only then did non-Christians begin to take notice.

The same pattern holds true today as well.

From ordinary to extraordinary

While history may highlight the big movements and leaders that made an outsized difference, the most important work was often done by those who remain anonymous to everyone but the Lord.

If we can learn to be content with that fact, not allowing our ambition to grow larger than our calling, then we can begin to make the incremental changes that could eventually result in the kind of spiritual awakening and cultural renewal that often seems out of reach today.

Christianity is never going to go the way of the dodo and God will always have his remnant. But you and I can begin to make a difference simply by taking advantage of the incremental opportunities the Lord provides to share both his love and his truth with those around us.

As Oswald Chambers once remarked, “All of God’s people are ordinary people who have been made extraordinary by the purpose he has given them.”

Christ made our purpose clear in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20).

How will you fulfill it today?

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Denison Forum – Three reasons Tom Brady’s second retirement is so unusual

NFL quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement from the sport yesterday. (For an excellent analysis of his decision and its life lessons for us, see Dr. Ryan Denison’s article, “Tom Brady retires again: The cost of holding on to success for too long.”)

Brady’s decision is unusual on three levels.

First, it comes a year to the day after he retired last year only to change his mind and return for his twenty-third season. Not many people retire twice from the same job.

Second, most players retire because they can no longer play the game well enough to compete as they once did. Not so with Brady: Even though he was the oldest active player in the NFL this season, he threw for 4,694 yards, the third most in the league, while completing 66.8 percent of his passes.

Third, it would seem that Brady was no longer satisfied with the direction of his life and career. This makes him an outlier in our society.

According to Gallup, 85 percent of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives. This contrasts with only 17 percent who are satisfied with the direction of their country (the number has recently risen to 23 percent).

What explains this wide disparity between the way we view our country and the way we view our personal lives?

The “big thing” a society must get right

David Brooks responds to our question in The Atlantic: “My basic take is that life in America today is objectively better than it was before but subjectively worse. We have much higher standards of living and many conveniences, but when it comes to how we relate to one another—whether in the realm of politics, across social divides, or in the intimacies of family and community life—distrust is rife, bonds are fraying, and judgments are harsh.”

However, Brooks believes that, despite all the gloom about our nation at present, “a society can get a lot wrong as long as it gets the big thing right. And that big thing is this: If a society is good at unlocking creativity, at nurturing the abilities of its people, then its ills can be surmounted.”

Next he surveys the ways America has been “unlocking creativity” in her people, from raising productivity and living standards to investing in education, helping people live healthier, longer, and more energetic lives, and creating an excellent innovation infrastructure.

Brooks notes: “If there is one lesson from the events of the past year, it is that open societies such as ours have an ability to adapt in a way that closed societies simply do not. Russia has turned violent and malevolent. China has grown more authoritarian and inept. Meanwhile, free democratic societies have united around the Ukrainians as they battle to preserve the liberal world order.”

“Pushed from the public square”

Brooks’ claim that humans are satisfied with our lives if we have an opportunity to unlock our creativity is both reasoned and biblical. You and I were created in the image and likeness of our Creator (Genesis 1:27) and called to “work” and “keep” his creation (Genesis 2:15). While work became more difficult as a result of the fall (Genesis 3:17–19), partnering with our Creator by advancing his creation was always part of his plan for us.

The problem comes when we decouple this partnership. Satan tempts us every day to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) by taking over God’s creation as if it were our own and doing with it what we wish, all the while refusing to acknowledge the One who owns all that exists.

As one example, the London School of Economics will remove Christian words from its calendar next year. Christmas break will be “winter break,” Lent term will be “winter term,” and Easter break will be “spring break.”

Simon Calvert, deputy director at The Christian Institute, responded: “We have been warning for years that Christians are being pushed from the public square, yet the problem is getting worse.” He added, “Christians and those with traditional views often find themselves silenced or bullied. It’s particularly ironic when this happens at institutions that were originally founded on Christian principles and with endowments from Christian benefactors.”

“When he appears we shall be like him”

How can you and I resist this Satanic and secular pressure to fulfill our creative desires apart from our Creator? One key is to recognize that we are still being created.

If you have trusted in Christ as your Lord, his Spirit dwells in you as God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) so that “Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10). Now your Father wants Christ to be “formed in you” (Galatians 4:19, my emphasis) so that you are “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29, my emphasis).

We are not complete until we are completely like Christ. This will not happen until Jesus comes for us: “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). On that day, “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

In the meantime, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). If you want to be more like Christ today than you were yesterday, spend time worshiping Christ today. Then ask the Holy Spirit to make you like Jesus. He will reveal sins to be confessed, steps to be taken, and service to be rendered. And he will empower you to do all he leads you to do.

A binary choice

Every day, you and I face a binary choice with eternal consequences: we can seek to be like God’s Son, or we can seek to be our own God. As fallen human beings, if we are not intentionally seeking the former, we are by default choosing the latter.

Max Lucado noted, “Our highest pursuit is the pursuit of our Maker.”

How passionately will you pursue your Maker today?

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Denison Forum – Policeman resigns after suspension for post on gay marriage

A Georgia police officer named Jacob Kersey made this post to his personal Facebook account earlier this month: “God designed marriage. Marriage refers to Christ and the church. That’s why there is no such thing as homosexual marriage.” The next day, his supervisor informed him that someone had complained about the post and instructed him to take it down.

When Kersey refused, the supervisor warned him that failure to delete the Facebook post could result in his termination. He was placed on paid administrative leave for a week, then told he could not share personal opinions on social media that someone might find offensive.

Next, Kersey received a letter explaining that “if any post on any of your social media platforms, or any other statement or action, renders you unable to perform, and to be seen as [unable] to perform, your job in a fair and equitable manner, you could be terminated.” By this logic, any statement made by any person on any subject that another person deems not to be “fair and equitable” is grounds for dismissal.

Realizing that he could continue his career with the department only if “I compromise my values, morals, and deeply held religious beliefs,” Kersey resigned his position.

“The core of who I am”

You and I cannot control what secular authorities do about our biblical beliefs. But we can control how we respond to what they do.

One option is to pay any price to serve Christ as our Lord. After he chose this approach, Jacob Kersey explained his response: “I am grateful for the opportunity that I was given to be a police officer. I do not take that honor and responsibility lightly. However, my integrity and Christian beliefs are at the core of who I am, and I will not abandon them.”

The other option is to succumb to cultural pressure to privatize our faith, treating Jesus less as our Lord and more as a means to our ends.

This temptation is more subtle and attractive than we may think.

“Honest but reluctant taxpayers”

C. S. Lewis likened Christians who engage in religious activities to “honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope—we very ardently hope—that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.”

His analogy seems especially appropriate these days as tax preparation companies inundate the airwaves with ads seeking our business. However, I think an even better analogy for religious engagement in our culture is paying for insurance.

We buy a policy to obtain the benefits we wish to receive. We make our payments each month to keep these benefits available to us. We then draw on them as needed—medical bills, house expenses, etc.

But few people have a personal relationship with their insurance providers. I have no idea the names of those who insure our family, for example. We pay what is required (and hopefully no more) to receive the benefits we seek.

“Only pay for what you need”

I have written often over the years about this transactional religion so common to our culture. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to today, our society thinks we can give God (or the gods) what they want (going to church on Sunday, praying, reading the Bible, donating money, and so on) so that God (or the gods) will give us in turn what we want.

But I think there’s something even more foundational behind our impulse to treat God like an insurer whose benefits we procure by our religious “payments.”

You may have seen the insurance commercials on television these days with the pitch, “Only pay for what you need.” This is a tempting way to relate to God in that it limits his activity in our lives to what we want him to do in our lives. When we need forgiveness for our sins or direction for our decisions, he’s waiting on the other side of our prayers, or so we think. But if he wants to point out sins we don’t want to stop committing or lead us in directions we don’t want to go, that’s another matter.

Here’s the problem: God knows our needs far better than we do. Limiting his benevolence to our ignorance is unwise for us and grieves our Father.

“The deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled”

To return to our insurance analogy, imagine that your insurers know the future better than you know the present. Consequently, they know about the storms that will damage your roof next spring, the leaking water heater that will flood your garage next fall, and the broken water pipes that will ruin your carpet the following winter. They therefore offer you insurance you don’t know you need.

Now, to extend the analogy further, suppose that they are willing to pay the premiums themselves. All you need to do is to ask for their best and trust their answers.

Would you make that decision?

If so, I invite you to make Henri Nouwen’s prayer your own:

I so much want to be in control.
I want to be the master of my own destiny.
Still I know that you are saying:
“Let me take you by the hand and lead you.
Accept my love
and trust that where I will bring you,
the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.”
Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love.

Amen?

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Denison Forum – US will end public health emergency for COVID-19 in May

Let’s start with the good news: the White House announced yesterday that the US plans to end the coronavirus public health emergency on May 11. According to the New York Times, this is “a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less dire phase.”

Now to the bad news: A report released yesterday by the world’s largest humanitarian network states that the world remains “dangerously unprepared” for the next pandemic, which could be “just around the corner.” The World Health Organization is currently monitoring nine “priority diseases” that pose the greatest public health risk. One of them is labeled “Disease X,” acknowledging that “a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.”

I found this news disconcerting but personally less relevant since there is nothing I can do about “Disease X” or any other pathogen. However, this headline also caught my eye: “Tens of Thousands of Americans May Have This Deadly Disease—and Not Even Know It.” I quickly read the story to discover the nature of this “deadly disease” and whether I might have it.

And I saw an online life expectancy calculator in today’s news and immediately took it myself.

Why I changed my sermon last Sunday

The brevity and uncertainty of life is on my mind and heart today because of something that happened two days ago at the Chapel where I speak on Sundays.

I was about to begin my message when our executive pastor told us that someone was in need of special prayer. It turned out, a couple in the service had received word that their thirty-six-year-old son had just died. He left three small children.

We gathered around the couple to pray for them and to grieve and weep with them. After they left to be with their family, I changed my message to a conversation about trusting God with our worst fears and grief.

We began by acknowledging the shock we all felt. Children are supposed to bury their parents—parents are not supposed to bury their children. This is every parent’s worst nightmare and greatest fear.

It’s something we think could never happen to us, until it does.

Filtering the world through two prisms

This is how many people approach the subject of death itself.

I was troubled about VEXAS, the “deadly disease” in the news, until I learned that I don’t have its symptoms. But I’m choosing to ignore the pandemic which could be “just around the corner” since there is nothing I can do personally to prevent it.

I think most of us respond to such threats in a similar fashion. We filter them through two prisms: Do they affect us personally? If so, is there anything we can do about them personally? If the answer to both questions is not yes, we find something else to think about.

This is because most Americans are pragmatists, measuring truth by what works for us. In fact, the philosophical school called “pragmatism” (from the Greek pragma, “action”) originated in the US and has been deeply influential on our culture.

Some pragmatic philosophers even believe that “a claim is true if and only if it is useful.” Since the story about the next pandemic is not useful to most of us, we feel free to ignore it if we wish.

You and I are not Jesus

The biblical worldview is far different.

In God’s eyes, every person is valuable as a bearer of his image (Genesis 1:27), someone for whom Christ chose to die (Romans 5:8). As a result, I should be concerned for those who have VEXAS whether I have the syndrome or not. And I should be troubled about the global consequences of the next pandemic whether I can prevent it or not.

The good news is that our Savior feels everything we feel, whether others empathize with us or not. In fact, he “loves each of us as if there were only one of us,” as St. Augustine said.

Now he wants to do the same through his church, the “body of Christ,” as we continue his earthly ministry today (1 Corinthians 12:27). However, you and I are not Jesus. We cannot feel as deeply as he feels for even one person, much less everyone in the news and in our lives.

But if we will ask, he will direct us to a hurting person we are to help in his name. He will give us his heart for this person until we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and incarnate his grace in our compassion.

I believe he has such a person for each of us to love today. Will you ask him for yours?

The gospel on five fingers

Here’s the rest of the story: as we share Christ’s presence with hurting people, we experience Christ’s presence more deeply in our souls.

When people asked Mother Teresa why she loved the poor so much, she would point them to Jesus’ statement, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). But she did so in a very personal fashion: she took their hand and slowly wiggled one finger at a time as she said, “You-did-it-to-me.”

What will you do to Jesus today?

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Denison Forum – Critics lambast “hideous abortion idol” in New York City

On a weekend with another mass shooting in California and grief and outrage over the video of Tyre Nichols’s horrific death, watching the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs win their playoff games yesterday was a welcome distraction for many.

Meanwhile, another story in the news is more culturally significant than it may seem.

A golden, eight-foot female sculpture wearing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s signature lace collar now stands over the state courthouse in New York City. According to the New York Times, the sculptor titled her work “NOW” because “it was needed ‘now,’ at a time when women’s reproductive rights were under siege after the US Supreme Court in June overturned the constitutional right to abortion.”

Art history professor Claire Bishop called the sculpture “a magical hybrid plant-animal” and hoped that “maybe she can help channel us back to reinstating Roe v. Wade.” Critics see the sculpture in a very different light, some calling it a “hideous abortion idol” and even “demonic.”

“You shall have no other gods before me”

Idolatry is by definition “the worship of someone or something other than God as though it were God.” This sin violates the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

“Other gods” originally took the form of a “carved image” (v. 4). Today, our idols are seldom as visible as they were in Moses’ day. Nonetheless, we all have an “ultimate concern,” as philosophical theologian Paul Tillich observed.

If it is not the one true God, anything we serve in his place is our idol. From material success and financial prosperity to cultural popularity and a host of other “deities,” we are all tempted to worship something or someone who is not God.

Paradoxically, the more God meets our needs and blesses our lives, the more we tend to choose other gods to serve.

“We do not recognize the scale of his generosity”

St. John Fisher (1469–1535) was an English Catholic bishop, cardinal, and theologian who also served as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. In a biblical commentary, he observed:

“God freed the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt with many signs and wonders. Then he led them across the Red Sea dry-shod; in the desert he fed them with food from heaven in the form of manna and quails; when they were thirsty he gave them an inexhaustible spring of water bubbling from the rock. He gave them victory over enemies that attacked them; he made the Jordan flow backwards for them; he took the land he had promised them and divided it between them according to their tribes and clans.

“Although he had dealt with them so lovingly and generously, the ungrateful people abandoned the worship of God, as if they had utterly forgotten everything, and shackled themselves with the crime of idol-worship—not once but many times.”

Consequently, in words that describe our culture even more than his, Fisher noted that we are “supremely ungrateful: we have gone far beyond the boundaries of all previous ingratitude. We pay no attention to God’s love, we do not recognize the scale of his generosity, but we spurn the source and giver of all these good things and practically hold him in contempt.

“Not even the outstanding mercy he shows to sinners moves us to order our lives and actions according to his holy law.”

“Status threat and envy”

Why do we do this?

A basic fact of our fallen nature is that we all seek to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), to be in charge of our lives so we can do as we wish. As a result, we resist authority of any kind that tries to tell us who we are or how we should live.

This has never been more true than today. Our “post-truth” culture assures us we can define truth however we wish, do with our bodies (including those carrying unborn babies) whatever we wish, define gender and marriage as we wish, and end our lives whenever and however we wish.

In addition, psychologists report that when we receive help from those we perceive to be more competent than ourselves, “status threat and envy” arise and we are “likely to undermine help givers.” We “bite the hand that feeds us” because we resent our dependence on this “hand” and the control this dependence creates.

The passion of Christ’s love for you

The solution is both horizontal and vertical.

If you’re thinking only about your own best interests, ask yourself: Does it make sense to refuse the guidance of an omniscient Father who sees your future better than you can see your present? To refuse the help of an omnipotent Lord who can meet your every need by his grace?

Now let’s turn from our interests to our Savior. Reflect upon his decision in the Garden of Gethsemane to die to purchase your salvation. Consider the fact that, if you have trusted in him as your Savior and Lord, you will spend eternity in heaven rather than hell only because of his grace. Remember the last sin he forgave, the last prayer he answered.

Now take a moment to focus on Jesus himself. Envision him at the right hand of the Father as he intercedes this very moment for you (Romans 8:34). Feel the passion of his love for you.

To worship and serve anyone before Jesus is to choose idolatry and thus to “bite the hand that feeds you.” To love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to serve him as your ultimate concern is to trust the hand that was crucified for you.

How will you respond to the outstretched hand of your Savior today?

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Denison Forum – Controversial WWII museum exhibit highlights “the bad sides of history”

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It was designated as such by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 to mark the date when the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated sixty years prior. The hope is that the day of remembrance can commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime, promote education about the Holocaust, and inspire people to work to prevent further genocide.

But while nations around the world will set aside time today to remember those who died, the proper form of that remembrance remains a matter of some debate. And as those in charge of Amsterdam’s Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) have learned recently, some can be very vocal when they believe the memory of those who passed has not been honored correctly.

Humanizing the heroes and the villains

The Resistance Museum has existed in Amsterdam since 1985. For most of that history, the displays focused on highlighting the efforts made by the Dutch resistance movement to subvert the Germans across the five years they occupied the Netherlands. However, the museum’s new offering represents a slightly different approach.

The new exhibit highlights the role that one hundred individuals played in the Netherlands during World War II. But whereas such exhibits often traditionally focus on people who resisted the Nazi occupation, the museum has chosen to feature those who collaborated with the Germans as well.

Liesbeth van der Horst, the museum’s director, told reporters “We are offering new perspectives, a different emphasis. By showing the choice these people made [to collaborate] you highlight how courageous it was to choose to resist.”

But, as Nina Siegal writes, not everyone sees it that way. And, given that nearly 75 percent of Dutch Jews were deported and murdered by the Nazis during the war—by far the largest percentage in western Europe—it remains an emotional subject for many.

Jalda Rebling, whose family was part of the resistance, argued that by humanizing both the heroes and the villains of the story, “the whole wartime disappears into a grayish state.”

However, if that’s the case, van der Horst does not seem to mind.

More than “monsters and heroes”

“We don’t just have monsters and heroes,” the museum’s director notes. Rather, “people are people and you have many shades between good and bad.”

Van der Horst went on to add that “we show pictures of some Nazis, especially Dutch Nazis, because they are also part of our history. The bad sides of history also have to be included.”

To that end, the exhibit includes short vignettes on people like Hannie Schaft—a law student who “sabotaged German military operations and shot Nazis”—right next to that of Emil Rühl, who worked for months to catch her before ultimately handing her over to be killed by the Germans.

Wim Henneicke, who led a “Jew hunting” group, and Gerard Mooyman who, as a teenager, was “so impressed” by German propaganda that he joined up and served on their front lines, are other examples of people who would not have previously made the display but now feature prominently alongside resistance fighters.

Forcing people to grapple with that side of their history was an integral part of the exhibit’s purpose.

As van der Horst described, they wanted their audience to recognize that “in the face of a threatening dictatorial regime, it’s not easy to just act. Sometimes people judge too easily, in hindsight. They say, ‘More people should have been involved in the resistance,’ and ‘They didn’t do enough.’ Of course, it’s true, they didn’t do enough, but it was not that easy to do enough. . . . You cannot expect resistance from everybody.”

In general, most of us like to think that we would stand up to evil when given the opportunity. Yet, history shows repeatedly that the vast majority of people will not. There are shades of gray to every person, and one of my favorite parts about reading the Bible is that it does not shy away from that fact.

Present faithfulness does not guarantee future obedience

Whether it’s the villains or the heroes, it’s rare for a biblical character to be completely good or completely evil.

For example, with the exception of Jesus, Scripture does not include any infallible heroes, and I believe there are two primary reasons why that’s the case.

First, acknowledging that even the most important figures in biblical history were fallen people helps us to realize that there is no reason we cannot follow God as well.

Prominent figures like Gideon and Moses, for example, tested the Lord repeatedly before agreeing to serve him (Judges 6Exodus 3). And the disciples failed Jesus on countless occasions before going on to become the leaders of his burgeoning church. It can be reassuring to remember that the Lord can use us just as readily as he used them if we are willing to follow his will.

Second, by humanizing its heroes, God’s word cautions us that present faithfulness does not guarantee future obedience. Every choice we make presents us with the opportunity to follow God’s will or our own, and the consequences of either choice can be profound.

David, for example, was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) through whom the Lord accomplished truly amazing feats. However, decades of faithfulness did not stop him from assaulting Bathsheba, arranging her husband’s murder, and then trying to cover it all up (2 Samuel 11). Nor did it keep him from becoming a negligent father (2 Samuel 13), an impotent leader (2 Samuel 15), or a vindictive old man (1 Kings 2).

If David could fail so absolutely after starting so strongly, you and I can as well.

At the same time, even the villains in the Bible are rarely without some redeeming quality.

The religious leaders during the time of Christ, for example, were mostly well-intentioned people who just wanted to help their fellow Jews follow the Lord. And Paul was much the same prior to his conversion. They were sincere in their belief that opposing Jesus was an act of service to God. That they were utterly wrong in that belief does not change that there was often some pious motivation behind it.

Ultimately, none of us are so good that we are beyond the need for God’s help or so bad that we are beyond his redemption. And though there is room to disagree with the Dutch Resistance Museum’s approach to teaching people about their people’s history, the exhibit does a good job of reminding us of that fact.

Every day brings the chance to be a hero or a villain in God’s story.

Choose wisely.

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Denison Forum – Army veteran fined for praying silently near abortion facility

This morning’s headlines include former Vice President Mike Pence’s discovery of classified documents in his Indiana home; House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to block two Democrats from serving on the Intelligence Committee; the firing of several Ukrainian officials in an anti-corruption purge; the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Google; another mass shooting in California; and storms that inflicted extensive damage to communities near Houston.

Since none of these stories directly affects me in Dallas, Texas, I read the first four with interest and the last two with sorrow, but none of them with existential concern.

Will FCA clubs be barred?

By contrast, these stories feel very different to me:

  • A UK army veteran was fined for praying silently near an abortion facility.
  • A Christian charity worker in Malta could face jail time after stating publicly that his faith enabled him to turn from a homosexual lifestyle he no longer wanted.
  • A group of pro-abortion and freedom-from-religion activists demonstrated at the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Sunday evening to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
  • A Michigan state law is threatening a Christian medical nonprofit for operating according to its Christian beliefs.
  • A federal appeals court will decide whether Fellowship of Christian Athletes groups should be barred from high school campuses in San Jose, California, since the club does not permit LGBTQ students to serve as club leaders.

Do these stories feel more personal to you as well?

One reason we responded as we did is that attacks on another person’s Christian faith could obviously become attacks on ours as well. A rising tide raises—or damages—all boats.

Another is that we are members of the global body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). A hand or foot in pain is obviously felt by the entire body. It is—or should be—the same with the body of Christ.

But there’s a third dimension to these stories and the rising tide of anti-Christian animosity they illustrate, one that is foundational to the others and a factor that tempts Christians as much as it tempts our opponents.

“Don’t hide behind religion”

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov chose not to wear a rainbow jersey during warmups for the team’s recent Pride Night. He cited his religious beliefs as the reason: “I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” He also said that he is Russian Orthodox.

Interestingly, his jerseys sold out online in the days following.

Nonetheless, one sports pundit called on the National Hockey League to fine the Flyers $1 million over Provorov’s “insulting” comments. Another said the Russian-born player should go back to his homeland and join the war against Ukraine. A third called the player out for previously participating in the Flyers’ military appreciation event: “Ivan Provorov is more than happy to play pregame dress-up when it does align with his belief system.” A fourth warned him, “Don’t hide behind religion.”

Their reaction makes my point: our culture is convinced that religion is so private, personal, and subjective that it should have no bearing on our public lives or society. This conclusion has become conventional wisdom in Western society, whether in the UK, Malta, or the US.

“In Israel, Judaism is the prevailing culture”

By contrast, the Jerusalem Post notes that “in Israel, Judaism is more than a building or a property. In Israel, Judaism is more than prayer. In Israel, Judaism is even more than God. In Israel, Judaism is the pervading culture.”

Having led more than thirty trips to the Holy Land, I can attest that this is true. From Shabbat laws that restrict working (and even pushing elevator buttons) on the Sabbath to kosher dietary restrictions in restaurants across the nation, Judaism dominates every dimension of Israeli life.

I have traveled widely in Muslim and Asian countries and can tell you that the same is true there. From the five pillars of Islam to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, religion is not separate from the “real world”—it forms and frames it.

In our culture, by contrast, religion is to be kept separate from public life. It is viewed as a personal hobby, nothing more. As such, it is to be given no more weight or warrant in public life than any other hobby.

I like watching car auctions on television and listening to classical music, but I obviously have no right to make you watch or listen to what I prefer or tell you that your personal tastes are wrong. In the same way, our culture thinks, a Christian should not pray in front of an abortion clinic, discuss in public the impact of his faith on his sexuality, or seek to live by his faith convictions as an attorney, physician, or high school athlete.

When we make faith a hobby

My purpose today is less to critique secular society for treating our faith like a hobby than it is to warn Christians that we must not follow suit.

Jesus taught us: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If Jesus is not Lord of every dimension of our lives, he cannot bless, redeem, and use every dimension of our lives. A painter cannot paint a room she is not permitted to enter.

When we make faith a hobby, we lose all an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Father can do for his children.

Will you bear “much fruit” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Gunman kills ten after Lunar New Year celebration: A reflection on tragedy and hope

The Lunar New Year has begun. Celebrated by Asian cultures around the world, the holiday marks the first new moon of the year and continues for around fifteen days until the first full moon of the year. As National Geographic reports, the holiday focuses on themes of reunion and hope and is “a time for family reunions, plenty of food, and some very loud celebrations.”

It was therefore especially horrific that a gunman killed ten people and wounded ten others at a California ballroom dance club Saturday night following a Lunar New Year celebration. Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified the shooter as seventy-two-year-old Huu Can Tran and said he took his own life last night in a van after law enforcement surrounded the vehicle in a parking lot.

Authorities are still searching for a motive at this writing.

“Man is the noblest of all animals”

Aristotle noted, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Tragedies like this should convince us all that we need God, for at least four reasons:

  1. Clearly, human laws are not enough to restrain human evil—we need a transforming power beyond ourselves.
  2. When we lose someone we love, we seek help and hope we cannot produce or give.
  3. The fact that human lives can be taken by other humans demonstrates our finitude and mortality.
  4. The suddenness of such a tragedy illustrates the fact that tomorrow is promised to no one and that eternity is one day closer than ever.

These facts combine, we would think, to lead secular people to reconsider their secularity. And they often do, at least when the tragedy is fresh. Churches were crowded after 9/11. People, no matter their religiosity, often cry out to God in moments of distress. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.

But over time, the pain and shock fade and we return to the “real” world in which religion is outdated and irrelevant.

Why is this?

Building a house of sand

Oswald Chambers observed, “Troubles nearly always make us look to God; his blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere.” It is a fact that the more prosperous a society becomes, the more irreligious it becomes.

The peril of prosperity conspires with the lure of self-reliance. If we think we achieved what we have, we will think we can continue to achieve what we need.

From Socrates’ dictum to “know thyself” to the present, Western society has been built on the individual. Our foundational premise is that we can discover truth and improve the world if we will only try hard enough for long enough.

God or the gods can certainly help, or so the Greeks and Romans thought. Thus they built altars to their various deities and engaged in transactional religion whereby they gave the god what it wanted so the god would give them what they wanted. We do the same when we go to church on Sunday so God will bless us on Monday.

However, secular Americans now “know” that all gods are myths. As Richard Dawkins notes in The God Delusion, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

So, when tragedy strikes, after we move past our initial religious reaction, we soon begin seeking human solutions. President Bill Clinton captured our cultural ethos when he declared in his 1993 inaugural address, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” When a shooting tragedy strikes, we turn to debates about gun laws. When natural disasters strike, we debate climate change.

Then the next wave hits and our house of sand is washed away. But before long, we start building it again.

“What’s wrong with the world today?”

As you and I know, the only One who can transform a sinful human heart is Jesus: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Why, then, don’t more people learn from tragedy to turn to him?

The problem with Christianity is Christians.

The Times of London is said to have posed this question in the early 1900s to several prominent authors: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The well-known author G. K. Chesterton reportedly responded with a one sentence-essay:

Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G. K. Chesterton.

I could say the same. I cannot persuade secular people that Jesus can change their lives until he first changes me. Just as we will not believe an obese diet “expert” or a dentist with bad teeth, why would non-Christians want Christ if Christians are no different than anyone else?

Here’s the good news: when the living Lord Jesus transforms us, others will see the difference. If we are loving toward those who do not love us; if we are calm in the storm, courageous in the crisis, moral in an immoral age, others will see our light in the dark (Matthew 5:16). And they will be drawn to the One who is “the light of men” (John 1:4).

This is why, as Oswald Chambers noted, “The one thing for which we are all being disciplined is to know that God is real.” He is not just the subject of the sermon you heard yesterday or the article you are reading now, but he is alive, powerful, and transforming.

No one can truly experience the God of the universe in faith, prayer, Scripture, and worship and stay the same.

Has Jesus changed your life yet today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – US hits debt ceiling: A spiritual lesson on buying time

The United States hit its debt ceiling on Thursday. The Treasury Department responded by taking measures intended to buy more time before the country risks defaulting on its debt. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicted that the measures would be sufficient for roughly five months, though she also cautioned that there is “considerable uncertainty” regarding that time frame.

But this is hardly the first time Congress has come to such an impasse, and few believe the government will actually fail to raise the debt ceiling when the time comes. So why all the furor over the present debate?

Given that the markets have largely shrugged off the development, it seems like those who follow the financials most closely see the Republican refusal as political grandstanding rather than seeking genuine reform. In fact, the primary reason the debt ceiling is even an issue is that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy promised to attach spending cuts to any conversation about raising the debt ceiling in order to garner the necessary support to win his position.

Productive negotiations seem unlikely, however, with the White House publicly saying that they will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated Thursday that it is Congress’ “constitutional duty” to come to a resolution that prevents the government from going into default. Democrats in Congress appear to agree.

While that stance also seems more political than practical, it speaks to an impasse that could have dire consequences were it to continue indefinitely.

So what is the debt ceiling? And why is this annual tradition of fighting over it before ultimately agreeing that it needs to be raised such a big deal?

What is the debt ceiling?

The debt ceiling is, essentially, the legal limit for how much borrowing the American government can do in order to finance the legislation it has already passed.

The last part of that definition is important for understanding the current debate. Any spending cuts negotiated into the eventual settlement will not apply to the current debt. Rather, the debt ceiling is about making sure the government has enough money to cover the legislation currently on the books.

The debt ceiling became a law in 1917 in order to allow Congress to more easily sell bonds to fund its involvement in the first World War. It has been raised seventy-eight times since 1960—forty-nine times under Republican presidents and twenty-nine under Democrats—and twenty times since 2001 alone.

In all that time, only once has America defaulted on its debt, and that was due to an administrative error rather than the failure of Congress. Still, even though the mistake was quickly rectified and pertained only to a small collection of Treasury securities, it raised US borrowing costs by the modern equivalent of $40 billion.

The threat of a similar escalation in how much it costs to borrow money is another key factor in this debate.

Why does America keep raising the debt ceiling?

Currently, our government is able to raise the debt ceiling whenever they want because “American Treasury securities have been viewed as one of the safest, most stable investments in the modern world.” And while $31 trillion in debt is a staggering number, the US still has a better debt-to-GDP ratio than countries like Britain, Germany, Australia, and Greece.

However, should America fail to make the interest payments on our debt, those privileges would quickly go away.

That reality is why neither party has, historically, been willing to risk not raising the debt ceiling. If Republicans were required to let the country default on our debt in order to garner concessions and reduce spending, the higher interest rates would, in all likelihood, wipe out any gains made by spending less or raising taxes.

And though the present debate may seem like a partisan topic, any hesitancy to raise the limits is a relatively recent development.

Many of the same Republicans working against raising the debt ceiling now, for example, showed little hesitancy in doing so during three of the four years that Donald Trump was in office. In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling because of what he termed President Bush’s “reckless fiscal policies.”

Ultimately, it is more politically expedient for both parties to pass legislation that we can’t afford and then fight over the means of paying for it at a later date than it is to fail to pass the legislation in the first place. As such, this is likely to continue to be an issue regardless of which party is in power.

And while there is relatively little we can do to curb such patterns nationally, we can and should learn from their mistakes in order to avoid repeating them in our own lives. And those lessons apply to far more than just money.

We can’t borrow time

While fiscal responsibility is important, an issue that receives far less attention in Christian circles pertains to being responsible with our time.

This side of heaven, there will always be more work we can do to serve the Lord than we have time to do it. As such, it can be tempting to say yes to more things than we should. However, eventually that debt will come due and we cannot borrow time to account for it. That’s why it is so important to allow God to be the one who determines when we say yes and when we decline.

Others may not always understand. They may see their work as the most important way a person could advance the kingdom and, for them, they may be right. But another person’s need does not define your calling. Only God gets to do that.

So the next time you’re presented with the opportunity to give your time to a particular ministry or opportunity, take a moment to pray and ask for the Lord’s guidance before responding.

After all, it’s far better to say no initially than to default on your obligations when the time comes to pay that cost.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Number of abortions in Texas dropped 99 percent

The National March for Life is tomorrow in Washington, DC., followed in two days by Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Both are timed to correspond with January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision tragically discovered a right to abortion in the US Constitution.

Since that time, more than sixty-three million (PDF) babies have been lost to abortion.

Last June, the Court finally overturned Roe in the case of Thomas Dobbs, et. al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. States such as Texas enacted their own bans on abortion as a result.

Now we are learning the practical consequences of these legal decisions, at least in my home state: new data released by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission shows that three abortion procedures were performed in our state in August 2022, compared with 2,596 in June. This is a drop of more than 99 percent. The report also indicates that all three procedures were “medically necessary” abortions.

Between April and August of last year, the number of abortions nationwide declined by 6 percent. If this trend persists, there could be at least sixty thousand fewer abortions this year as a result of Dobbs.

As we can see, five decades of hard work by pro-life legal advocates and their allies is now saving thousands of lives.

Using the secular to serve the spiritual

In yesterday’s Daily Article I noted that “Christians must not depend on the government to do our work for us.” Whatever the courts and legal systems decide about biblical morality, we are still called to declare and defend biblical truth (1 Peter 3:15). The more people reject the truth, the more they need it.

Today, let’s consider the other side of this theme: Christians can—and should—use the government and other secular means to advance the cause of Christ.

Thousands of lives are being saved as a result of Dobbs that likely would not have been saved apart from this legal outcome. Advocates for religious freedom in the US Senate have prevented the draconian so-called “Equality Act” from becoming law, thwarting (so far) what has been called “the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America.”

We see a similar theme unfolding across Scripture:

  • Joseph becomes prime minister of Egypt and saves his family and thus the Jewish nation through whom one day the Messiah would come.
  • King David establishes the Jewish capital in Jerusalem and gives the world the Psalms.
  • King Solomon builds the first temple and gives us the wisdom of Proverbs.
  • Daniel is promoted to become one of “three high officials” in Babylon (Daniel 6:2); his witness following God’s intervention in the lions’ den (v. 22) leads the king to proclaim to the nation that “the God of Daniel . . . is the living God” (v. 26).
  • Esther uses her position as queen to prevent the genocide of the Jewish people in Persia.
  • Nehemiah uses his position as the king’s “cupbearer” (a strategic position with access to the king; Nehemiah 1:11) to advocate for rebuilding Jerusalem.
  • “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager” serves as a powerful political figure in Galilee and one of Jesus’ financial supporters (Luke 8:3).
  • Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho, repents of his sin and becomes a public example of Jesus’ mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1–10).

We could add a host of biblical figures who used their wealth and influence to advance God’s kingdom.

Are you a “paid Christian”?

Why are believers in positions of secular influence able to make an impact for the cause of Christ that professional ministers like me are not?

One reason is that the legal separation of church and state has been misinterpreted by our culture as the separation of faith and state. As a result, professional ministers are viewed as irrelevant to secular concerns. But when Christians in the marketplace live for Jesus, the relevance of their faith to the issues of the marketplace becomes clear.

A second factor is the horrific clergy abuse scandal that continues to undermine the credibility of professional ministers. So-called “lay” Christians are not painted with the same brush and have moral authority their pastors sometimes lack.

A third issue is that professional ministers are seen as “paid Christians.” When we advocate for biblical morality, we are only doing our job, or so skeptics say. But when Christians with secular influence stand for biblical truth, especially at a personal cost, they show an unbelieving world that their faith is real and biblical truth is transformative.

“My ministry is ________________”

So, if you are not an ordained member of the clergy, know that you are nonetheless ordained by God to a ministry that is just as vital as mine. You are part of the body of Christ, a “hand” or “foot” doing what no one else can do (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). Whether you are a legal professional advocating for life or a person engaged in other dimensions of secular influence, your work can make an eternal difference.

I encourage you to focus today on your specific calling. If you cannot complete the sentence, “My ministry is _______________,” pray and reflect until you can. Then live every day in alignment with your missional purpose, remembering that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Annie Dillard).

Wherever God has placed us, whatever our kingdom assignment, our life purpose is to know Christ and make him known.

Will you fulfill this calling more fully today than yesterday?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Lawsuit against Christian schools dismissed: A reflection on religious freedom in America

In 2021, LGBTQ students filed a class-action lawsuit that would force religious schools to choose between abandoning their biblical beliefs or losing students who would be denied federal financial assistance.

The so-called Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) claims to represent LGBTQ students at “more than two hundred taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” In their view, a school that upholds biblical sexuality illegally discriminates against those who disagree.

Since the schools in question receive federal funds, REAP claims that such funding should stop. As I noted in The Coming Tsunami, the schools in question received $4.2 billion in federal student aid in 2018.

Now, in excellent news for religious freedom in America, a federal judge in Oregon has dismissed REAP’s lawsuit.

David Cortman with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that represented the Christian schools, applauded the ruling: “A federal district court today rightly rejected an unfounded assault on the religious freedom of faith-based educational institutions. Title IX, which applies to schools receiving federal financial assistance, explicitly protects the freedom of religious schools to live out their deeply and sincerely held convictions.”

Professor dismissed after Muslim student’s objection

In other religious liberty news, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by an evangelical Christian former mail carrier in Pennsylvania.

Gerald Groff accused the US Postal Service (USPS) of religious bias after he was reprimanded for refusing to deliver packages on Sundays. He claimed that the USPS violated federal anti-discrimination law by refusing to exempt him from working on Sundays, when he observes the Sabbath.

The case relates to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Under the law, employers must reasonably accommodate a worker’s religious observance or practice unless doing so would cause the business “undue hardship,” which is what the USPS claimed in response to Groff’s lawsuit.

Let’s consider one more news item on our theme: Hamline University in Minnesota recently dismissed a professor for including depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in a world art course.

The course syllabus warned students that they would view images of religious figures, including the Prophet Muhammad, and included an offer to work with students uncomfortable with viewing those images. The teacher also warned the class immediately before showing the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

Nonetheless, a Muslim student complained to the university that the image violated her faith. The professor’s contract was not renewed following the fall semester. Now the university is under fire from those critical of its decision.

Protecting the “right to be wrong”

These cases illustrate the fact that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.

I am deeply grateful for the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But I also recognize that our culture is becoming ever more secularized. As a result, religious beliefs and speech that contradict social norms will become increasingly the minority view and will become increasingly objectionable to the post-Christian majority. And the right of a growing irreligious demographic to be free from such beliefs and speech will gain in popularity.

This is the view of LGBTQ students who claim to be the victims of discrimination at Christian schools. It is the position of the USPS in claiming to protect its workers from the imposition of a single employee’s religious beliefs on his fellow workers. And it is the stance of those who are protesting Hamline University’s decision to dismiss a professor over the religious objections of a single student.

When Christian morality was the majority view, the First Amendment protected our “right to be right.” Now that the opposite is true, the First Amendment is viewed as protecting our “right to be wrong.” But as our society increasingly views us as discriminatory and even dangerous, we can expect our “right to be wrong” to come under increasing attack.

My resolution for this year

Today’s conversation highlights this biblical fact: Christians must not depend on the government to do our work for us.

Whether the courts defend our religious freedoms or not, you and I are instructed to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NKJV). When the Apostles were called before the Supreme Court of their day and forbidden legally from preaching the gospel, they responded: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

Christians in Cuba face some of the most intense persecution of any nation in the world. However, I have experienced personally the amazing vitality of their churches and the sacrificial depth of their faith. I often say that visiting Cuban churches is like “walking around in the Book of Acts.”

Of the top ten countries where Christians face the most persecution, nine are Muslim. And yet a spiritual awakening in the Muslim world is bringing more Muslims to Jesus than ever before.

It is vital that Christians in America do what we can to protect and promote our constitutional freedoms. But it is also vital that Christians utilize these freedoms while we have them to lead those we influence to the One who promised, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

My resolution for this new year is simple: to know Christ and make him known.

Will you join me?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Do recent storms mean California is under judgment?

About eight million people were under flood watches yesterday in coastal Central California, including the Bay Area. The latest in a series of lethal atmospheric rivers lashed the state last night; storms that began in late December have killed at least nineteen people.

The California Geological Survey reports that the state has endured more than four hundred landslides since December 30. Violent winds from the latest storms could topple trees in soils weakened by all the rain, threatening yet more power outages and misery in the state.

Floods are not the only natural disasters Californians are facing: there is more than a 99 percent chance of a major earthquake in their state in the next thirty years. Wildfires and drought have plagued their region for years as well.

And so, the question seems natural: Is California under God’s judgment?

Our question is obviously relevant to the nearly forty million people who live in the state. But as I hope to show today, it is just as relevant to the rest of us as well.

Natural disasters and divine judgment

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote an article for Christianity Today asking whether the virus is God’s judgment on America. In it I noted that “biblical judgments are against specific sins and sinners.” I cited Pharoah’s obstinacy that led to the plagues of the Exodus, Miriam’s racial prejudice that led to her leprosy, and Herod’s prideful idolatry that led to his death (Acts 12:20–23).

Then I noted regarding the pandemic, “No specific sins caused this virus. Nor are those who are afflicted with it more sinful than the rest of us.” For these reasons, I concluded that God did not cause the COVID-19 pandemic as his punitive judgment on our nation.

I can say the same regarding the storms battering California: they are not the consequence of specific sins committed by specific sinners. In this sense, unlike natural disasters in the Bible that are directly related to the rejection of God’s word and will, these storms have not been created supernaturally by God in judgment specifically against California.

However, this is not to say that natural disasters are unrelated to human depravity.

Since our first parents sinned, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). There were no storms or floods in the garden of Eden. The natural diseases and disasters we experience in our fallen world are a consequence of the Fall and God’s judgment on human sin (cf. Genesis 3:17–19).

“Need an abortion? California is ready to help”

Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with words that describe the spiritual condition of California and our nation: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Consider some ways California has made the news in recent times:

  • California’s governor launched a national ad campaign with billboards proclaiming, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.”
  • The state requires that elementary school children be taught lessons endorsing LGBTQ ideology and does not allow parents to exempt their children from such lessons.
  • It has made euthanasia even easier to obtain.
  • The state Senate passed legislation (SB 1146) that would eliminate the ability of Christian colleges and universities to hire only Christian faculty and staff. Biola University warned that the bill would “eliminate religious liberty in California higher education as we know it.”

At the same time, some of the strongest evangelical churches, universities, seminaries, and ministries I know are in California. For example, I am deeply grateful for Greg Laurie’s ministry headquartered at the California church he pastors and his evangelistic Harvest events across the nation. Rick Warren’s ministry in southern California has been personally significant for me as well.

There are thirty-seven Christian colleges and universities in California, including some of the most influential evangelical schools in America. The state is home to more than forty schools of theology, including some of international reputation, and to innumerable Christian ministries.

“Humans are amphibians”

One of Satan’s most subtle temptations is to encourage Christians to trust in Christianity rather than in Christ. In this sense, California is a case study for the evangelical church in a secularized culture.

As someone who pastored large churches for many years, I can attest to the lure of self-reliance. When we construct massive church plants and build global ministries, we can easily think our work is advancing God’s kingdom. But human words cannot change human hearts. Even the most popular ministers and ministries cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin or save a single soul.

The more we rely on ourselves, the less we are relying on God’s Spirit.

One way God would redeem floods in California and other natural disasters in our fallen world is by showing frail humans our desperate need for his omnipotent strength and omniscient wisdom. This is true not just for political leaders who reject biblical morality but for Christian leaders who declare and defend it every day.

C. S. Lewis noted, “Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.” The key is to unite the two by using the latter for the former in reliance on God’s Spirit.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

The best way to live this day

Every natural disaster reminds us that we are one day closer to eternity than ever before. The best way to live this day is to live as if it were our last day. Then, one day, we’ll be right.

If it were today, would you be ready?

If not, why not?

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Denison Forum – The intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and National Religious Freedom Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is being celebrated across America today, and for good reason.

Here’s a brief synopsis of Dr. King’s life and legacy: he was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister. He received a doctoral degree in theology and in 1955 helped organize the first major protest of the African American civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The effort he led resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public facilities. Later that year, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Today we remember his life, celebrate his legacy, and commit ourselves to continuing the march for racial equality in America.

As a coincidence of calendar, today is also National Religious Freedom Day. This observance commemorates the day the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was signed on January 16, 1786. Thomas Jefferson’s landmark statute later became the basis for Congressman Fisher Ames’ establishment clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

As a result, each year, by presidential proclamation, January 16th is declared Religious Freedom Day.

Today’s intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and National Religious Freedom Day illustrates a fact that relates directly to our lives and our national future.

“Man is not the measure of all things”

Dr. King understood that the foundational need in America with regard to racial equality is not legal but moral.

He noted: “Christianity affirms that at the heart of reality is a Heart, a loving Father who works through history for the salvation of his children. Man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of all things and humanity is not God. Bound by the chains of his own sin and finiteness, man needs a Savior.”

However, Dr. King affirmed the necessity of legal change as we seek moral change: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” This is why the Civil Rights Act and other legislative progress have been so important.

Nonetheless, his movement focused foundationally on changing the hearts and minds of America: “In winning our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.” He believed that when we understood the urgency of racial equality for all Americans, we would unite in this cause for the sake of our nation and our posterity.

Was Dr. King wrong?

Just as our nation urgently needed (and needs) a civil rights movement to advance equality for all Americans, so too do we need a spiritual movement to advance morality for all Americans.

Our society has been deluded into believing that Dr. King is wrong: our cultural consensus insists that “man is the measure of all things and humanity is God.” As a result, we have rejected the sanctity of life from conception to death, redefined and undermined marriage and the family, and ignored constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion for those who disagree.

This is why the intersection of National Religious Freedom Day with Martin Luther King Jr. Day is so illuminating for our cultural moment. Without religious freedom, Dr. King could not have spoken to America so prophetically and redemptively. His historic “I Have a Dream” address was protected speech despite the animosity of many against his cause.

Imagine an evangelical Christian uttering similar words in front of the Lincoln Memorial today in defense of biblical morality. Would such a message gain a hearing in our secular media except in rebuke and rejection? What would be the “cancel culture” response?

Praying through open windows

Consequently, this day calls Christians to prophetic courage. We are to be as bold in declaring and defending biblical morality as Dr. King was in declaring and defending biblical equality.

We need more John the Baptists speaking truth to the King Herods of our day, whatever the cost to ourselves (Matthew 14:4). We need more Daniels praying through open windows whatever the threat to our future (Daniel 6:10).

We must do so in the humility that recognizes we need the same grace that we are offering to our nation. As Pope St. Clement I wrote to the Corinthians, “We are not justified by our wisdom, intelligence, piety, or by any action of ours, however holy, but by faith, the one means by which God has justified men from the beginning. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

And we can stand in bold confidence that embraces this moment as ours. We are cultural missionaries to where we are and to when we are. God has called us to the challenges and opportunities of this day. We can therefore claim this truth as ours: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

“A worldview in a single word”

The Jacksonville Jaguars achieved a “stirring, miraculous comeback victory” Saturday night, overcoming a 27–0 deficit to win their playoff game. Afterward, sports journalist Jay Busbee reported that Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson introduced to the team in training camp a philosophy endorsed by motivational speaker and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, a worldview in a single word: “Good.”

“When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out,” Willink has said. “Don’t get frustrated. No, just look at the issue and say: ‘Good.’” After Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions in the first half of Saturday’s game, a lineman came up to him and said “Good.” Lawrence threw four touchdowns in the second half as his team made history.

Let’s look at the challenges of this day and say “Good.” Then let’s trust and serve our good God.

All of God there is, is in this moment.

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Denison Forum – “Spare,” Prince Harry’s autobiography, is setting records

Prince Harry’s autobiography Spare is now the UK’s fastest-selling nonfiction book. I started reading it yesterday and am already glad I’m not part of the royal family.

Closer to home, flights resumed yesterday after a Federal Aviation Administration system failure left pilots, airlines, and airports without crucial safety information for hours. My first thought when the FAA paused flights was to hope their action wasn’t related to terrorism. My second was to be grateful I wasn’t flying that day.

In other news, Goldman Sachs began layoffs yesterday; just over three thousand employees will eventually be let go. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will be forced to extend their stay for several months after their Russian MS-22 Soyuz spacecraft sprung a leak. The Center for Strategic & International Studies has wargamed a Chinese invasion of Taiwan (Taiwan, aided by the US, wins but at a devastating cost). And a bestselling novel about a fictitious same-sex love affair between the son of the US president and the Prince of Wales will be made into a movie this year.

As with the royal family and air travel, I’m glad I’m not employed by Goldman Sachs, work on the ISS, or live in Taiwan. Nor do I have to read the same-sex romance novel or see the movie.

On the other hand, the World Bank’s warning that the global economy is “perilously close” to a recession does affect me for obvious reasons. And Bloomberg’s report that antisemitism is “seeping into the workplace” deeply grieves me even though I am not Jewish. My love for the Jewish people, bolstered by more than thirty trips to the Holy Land, calls me to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” every day (Psalm 122:6) and to urge you to do the same.

Advice from Ronald Reagan’s daughter

Patti Davis is the daughter of President Ronald Reagan and the author of an autobiography many years ago in which, in her words, she “flung open the gates of our troubled family life.” She now writes in the New York Times that she deeply regrets exposing her family’s private challenges to the public and has learned that “not everything needs to be shared.” She would “respectfully” suggest this lesson to Prince Harry today.

Here’s one reason her advice is worth taking: how we treat others is inevitably how the world will treat us.

Jesus advised us in the so-called Golden Rule, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). He also taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, quoting Leviticus 19:18).

Over the years, when I have followed his instruction, I have discovered this pattern: when I love my neighbor as myself, I love myself more. This enables me to love my neighbor more, which enables me to love myself more. And on the pattern goes.

My experience is not unique: a new study at Ohio State University shows that people suffering from forms of depression or anxiety may help heal themselves by doing good deeds for others. Evolutionary psychologists would no doubt call this finding an example of the “survival of the fittest”: the more compassionate we are with others, the more we experience their compassion and the more likely we are to survive and flourish.

But what if this pattern is not a coincidental product of chaotic chance but one dimension of our Creator’s design for us and our world?

“Believe the God we believe in”

If this is true, I am wrong to read Spare as though the royal family is not part of the human family and thus my family. I am wrong to care less about flight delays on the days I am not flying or to treat news of layoffs, strandings in space, war scenarios, and sexual immorality as though they do not affect me.

Instead, I need to make agape love, God’s unconditional love for others, my goal. However, since this is a “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), I need to submit my thoughts and feelings to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) so he can manifest such love for others in and through my life.

The more our culture rejects biblical morality, the more you and I will need to pray for such compassion. As my wife brilliantly notes in her latest blog, “If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, we shouldn’t condemn the world, either.” Instead, we should “believe the God we believe in” (quoting R. C. Sproul) and thus share his truth with his grace.

It would be human nature simply to write our fallen society off, turning those who reject biblical truth over to the consequences of their sinful choices. But this would contradict the example of the One who came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). It would ignore the example of the Apostle who wrote of his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for his unbelieving Jewish brethren (Romans 9:2).

And it would impoverish us personally. The more we love our neighbor, the more we love ourselves and the more we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

“The only way for us to stay well”

Henri Nouwen makes my point better than I can: “I think that we have hardly thought through the immense implications of the mystery of the incarnation. Where is God? God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small, and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless.”

As a result, he asks: “How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power?” Rather, he writes, “The only way for us to stay well in the midst of the many ‘worlds’ is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. When we discover him we can truly rejoice.”

Jesus would agree. After describing followers who care for those who are hungry, thirsty, unwanted, naked, and imprisoned, he assured us that “the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40).

And to yourself as well.

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Denison Forum – How many US teenagers have viewed online porn?

According to a new report (PDF) by the nonprofit child advocacy group Common Sense Media, 73 percent of US teenagers seventeen years of age or younger have viewed online pornography. Fifty-four percent of those age thirteen or younger have seen online porn. On average, they first consumed pornography when they were twelve years old. Nearly one-third of all teens reported that they had been exposed to porn during the school day.

A majority who have viewed pornography also indicated that they had been exposed to aggressive and/or violent forms of pornography; 52 percent saw depictions of rape, choking, or someone in pain.

I have warned frequently about the “plague of pornography (PDF)” sweeping our nation and the damage it is doing to those who view it. Singer Billie Eilish is one example: she says porn “destroyed my brain” after she began watching graphic online movies while she was still in elementary school. She added that she still suffers from night terrors and sleep paralysis as a result of some of the porn she watched.

Brad Salzman, founder of the New York Sexual Addiction Center, responded to her story: “Parents aren’t paying attention and [porn exposure] can affect [their children] for the rest of their lives. It totally colors their perception of what normal sexuality is supposed to look like and it changes the way they think that they’re supposed to interact.

“They can begin seeing other people as sex objects as opposed to human beings.”

Therein lies my point today.

A factor I had not considered

It is a tragic fact that our secularized postmodern culture has desacralized life from conception to death. It was once conventional wisdom that children in their mother’s womb were gifts from God to be cherished; now they are seen as inconvenient impositions to be disposed of as easily as possible. The elderly and infirm were once valued equally with the rest of humanity; now they are being euthanized more widely and efficiently than ever.

Sexuality was once seen as part of God’s design for his image-bearers (Genesis 1:27); now LGBTQ advocates are doing all they can to normalize their ideology among children. From the federal government down, teachers, administrators, and school nurses are being urged to adopt LGBTQ curriculum and endorse transgender identity.

Seen in this light, the ever-spreading plague of pornography is unsurprising. When a culture abandons biblical morality and objective ethics, tolerance becomes the de facto rule of the day. As D. A. Carson has perceptively shown in his masterful book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, “tolerance” used to mean that we allowed people the right to be wrong. Now it means that there is no such thing as wrong, pornography included.

But there’s another dimension to the story, one I had not considered until I began writing this Daily Article.

Of all our moral failings, pornography especially dehumanizes humans. It turns people into pictures, humans into bodies to be used. And the more pervasive and powerful this becomes, the more easily those affected by pornography transfer this desacralizing of humans to all other aspects of human experience, from birth to death.

In a culture where people are a means to our ends, we should not be surprised when lyingproperty theft, and violent crime are on the rise. Nor should we be surprised when an “epidemic of loneliness” spreads across our land. Pornography is teaching millions of Americans, beginning as children, that people are commodities, nothing more.

The courage of Michael Gerson

The good news is that the good news of the gospel gives meaning to life that can be found nowhere else.

Michael Gerson is an example.

I was privileged to know Mr. Gerson, former Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush and well-known Washington Post columnist who died last November at the age of fifty-eight. He was the featured speaker at a Dallas Baptist University event in which I participated five years ago; we spent much of the evening together.

I found him a person of great humor, winsome charm, and personal warmth. At no point did he tell me that his physical health had been torturous for many years. According to his good friend Peter Wehner, Gerson struggled with depression since his twenties and suffered a heart attack in 2004 at the age of forty. He developed kidney cancer in 2013 and suffered from debilitating leg pain that probably resulted from surgical nerve damage. The kidney cancer spread to his lungs; he developed Parkinson’s disease and metastatic adrenal cancer, then metastatic bone cancer in multiple locations.

You would never have known the pain he suffered. As Wehner explains, Gerson was grateful “for the life he was able to lead and for the people who loved him and were able to travel his journey with him. He was in pain, but he was in peace.”

What was the source of such courage? Wehner explains: “Mike’s views reflected what he called a ‘Christian anthropology’—a belief in the inherent rights and dignity of every human life. It led him to solidarity with the weak and the suffering, the dispossessed, those living in the shadows of life. His faith was capacious and generous; it created in him a deep commitment to justice and the common good.”

Michael Gerson knew that his life, no matter its sufferings and challenges, possessed eternal and inestimable value. The same is true of every person on our planet. Including you.

“The core truth of our existence”

Henri Nouwen was right: “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Do you know that you are the Beloved of God?

Does this fact constitute the “core truth” of your existence today?

If not, why not?

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Denison Forum – Georgia repeats as NCAA football champions

 “The eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV).

The Georgia Bulldogs repeated as national champions last night with their 65–7 win over the TCU Horned Frogs. Only eight schools have won repeat national championships since the start of the modern era in 1936. The current playoff format only dates to 2015, but college football has named national champions going back to 1869 (when Princeton and Rutgers were the only two teams and split their series, so they were named co-champions retroactively).

The championship game is currently played each year in the month of January, which is named for Janus, a Roman god who is typically depicted with two faces—one looking into the past, the other into the future. The other eleven months were also named by the Romans, giving a stability to the calendar that far outlasted their empire.

We name months for the same reasons we want our teams to win national championships: we name what we seek to control (time, in this case) and we feel like winners when our teams win. These sentiments reveal a truth that is foundational to our lives, our democracy, and our future.

“The worst form of government”

The House of Representatives reconvened last night to pass a set of House rules as Speaker Kevin McCarthy cleared his first major test. However, the contentious nature of the process portends much conflict ahead; lawmakers nearly came to blows during the final votes that eventually elected him to the office.

In other news, Gallup reports that majorities of Americans predict negative conditions in 2023 across twelve of thirteen economic, political, societal, and international arenas. (The one positive: a majority think Russian power will decline this year.)

But our democracy is not the only one making headlines for challenging reasons.

Israel’s new government has been in the news with regard to its relations with the Palestinians. However, I was in Israel when Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount last week and can tell you that it was largely a nonevent in Jerusalem. The issue my Israeli friends are all focused on has to do with proposals to give the Knesset (their parliament) power over Israel’s judicial High Court (corresponding to our Supreme Court).

Post-election riots in Brazil over the weekend continue to make headlines; British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is warning that the UK’s problems will not “go away” this year. All that to say, Winston Churchill was prescient when he observed: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The “twin pillars of our democracy”

Our problems with democracy go back to its very foundations.

Jennifer Szalai reviewed Costica Bradatan’s In Praise of Failure: Four Lessons in Humility for the New York Times. At one point she reports: “Bradatan recounts how ancient Athenians were so committed to democratic rules that public officials were chosen by random lots. Their reasoning was straightforward enough: Elections, which we consider a mainstay of democracy, would have allowed such variables as wealth and charisma to come into play.”

However, Bradatan noted, “a fetish for institutions didn’t protect Athenian democracy from mob rule.” For example, “There were supposedly 501 Athenians on the jury that condemned Socrates to death. According to the political logic of the day, it would have been impossible to corrupt them all; the majority decided he should die, and so their decision was institutionally flawless.”

In other words, democracy (“the power of the people”) requires that the people be worthy of the power entrusted to them. But the “will to power,” the perennial temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), is ever with us. And it undermines our democracy at every turn.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently identified the “twin pillars of our democracy” as “truth and trust.” He explained: “Without being able to agree on what is true, we don’t know which way to go. And without being able to trust one another, we can’t head there together. And everything big and hard needs to be done together.”

Here’s what Friedman’s analysis leaves out: we cannot trust one another if we have no objective basis for such trust. And such an objective basis by definition requires objective truth. As a result, we must have truth in order to have trust.

However, our “post-truth” culture, by rejecting the former, undermines the latter.

“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”

It is unsurprising, therefore, that our trust in government today is a third of what it was in 1958 (before postmodern relativism became conventional wisdom). Or that 90 percent of Americans expect 2023 to be a “year of political conflict.”

To chart our future in such chaotic times, it is helpful to look to our past.

Last Saturday marked the 233rd anniversary of America’s first-ever State of the Union address. In it, George Washington noted the need for the American people “to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last.”

His remarks were amplified eight years later in his Farewell Address when he stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Our first president added: “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

In short, democracy requires “national morality,” which requires “religious principle.” This is not just a fact of history but a biblical truth: “The eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV).

Can God strengthen our democracy today?

Can he start with you?

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Denison Forum – The latest on Damar Hamlin: Why I agree with religious skeptics

“When you put real love out into the world it comes back to you 3x’s as much. The Love has been overwhelming, but I’m thankful for every single person that prayed for me and reached out. We brung the world back together behind this. If you know me you know this only gone make me stronger. On a long road keep praying for me!”

This was how Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin thanked the world on Instagram for praying for him after he nearly died last Monday night during a game with the Cincinnati Bengals. His progress bolstered his team as they wore a special “3” patch on their uniforms yesterday. In “a play that seemed plucked from a movie,” they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in front of a packed house and went on to defeat the New England Patriots. Hamlin’s jersey was the most purchased among all athletes across all sports.

In my opinion, Dallas Cowboys chaplain Jonathan Evans, the associate pastor of NextGen Ministry at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, sounded the most enduring note from Hamlin’s near-death crisis. Quarterback Dak Prescott quoted Evans’ message to the team last week: “Your age, you’re not old or young off of your birth date but off your death date.”

An “irrational atavistic impulse”?

Barton Swaim began his Wall Street Journal editorial on Damar Hamlin by referencing “the question of when prayer on public grounds is and isn’t permissible.” He noted that “Americans, especially American liberals, have been obsessed with the question for more than sixty years.”

However, he added, “The idea that prayer is improper at big-time sporting events was forgotten on Monday night.”

After Hamlin collapsed on the field, Swaim writes, “Suddenly prayer was back on the list of things anybody could talk about or do on camera.” Signs and social media posts called for the nation to “pray for Damar.” ESPN commentators actually prayed for him on air. In the days following, NFL players across the league prayed for him and for each other.

Is this unequivocally good news? Swaim sounds a cautionary note: “I’m not entirely comfortable with so many ecumenical pleas for the favor of an undefined deity. Are all these thousands of social-media posters urging their followers to #PrayForDamar actually praying and, if they are, praying to the one true God? I’m not so sure.”

Grieving over calls to prayer

What are critics of religion thinking about this national response? According to Swaim, “They will consider the whole pray-for-Damar episode a mass expression of some irrational atavistic impulse. . . . Let the fans ‘pray’ if that’s what gives them comfort, but it changes nothing.”

In one sense, I agree with them.

I grieved in Israel last week as I heard the Adhan broadcast from minarets calling Muslims to pray to Allah rather than to Christ. I know that Jesus alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The power of faith resides not in its act but in its object. We can take the wrong road in faith that it is the right road, but we will still be lost. We can take the wrong medicine in faith that it is the right medicine, but our faith will not make it so.

At the same time, our instinctive response to pray when confronting a crisis we cannot solve with human resources reveals something important about us.

The nation does not pray when a football player sprains an ankle or suffers a concussion since our doctors can treat such injuries. We do not flood sanctuaries for prayer meetings when an airplane crashes. But when terrorists flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11, we packed church buildings for prayer. After we began learning the identity of our enemy and gained confidence in our ability to prevent further attacks, crowds in churches returned to normal.

A “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers”

One of Satan’s most subtle ploys is to focus us on what we can do rather than on what we cannot do.

We do not fear death since medical science can often postpone it, but medical science cannot prevent it. Our technological capacities exceed anything known to human history, as the advent of the iPhone on this day in 2007 demonstrated, but we cannot stop the “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” pounding California. According to a new survey, 3.3 million US adults were displaced by natural disasters last year. None of us can prevent the disasters sure to come this year.

Here’s my point: every one of us, every moment of every day, is Damar Hamlin.

Jonathan Evans is right: “You’re not old or young off of your birth date but off your death date.”  Each of us is one heartbeat from eternity. Each of us needs help and hope beyond ourselves. We were made to depend on our Maker, not just on Sunday or in a recognized crisis, but every moment of every day.

“When you don’t see the whole staircase”

So begin your day with your Lord as Jesus did (cf. Mark 1:35). (Our ministry’s morning devotional, First15, is designed to help you experience God each day.)

End your day with your Lord. (To this end, I highly recommend my wife’s new resource, Wisdom Matters, a devotional word of biblical encouragement you can read or hear at the end of each day.)

Turn every challenge to God in prayer (for help, see my latest blog, “How to live victoriously in Christ”).

And have faith that the one true God hears you and will always do what is best in response. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

What staircase will you begin to climb today?

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Denison Forum – Two years after the January 6 Capitol riot, do we still care? What extremism can teach us about evangelism

I’ll admit, my initial reaction when I realized that I would need to write about the second anniversary of the Capitol riots was somewhere between “not this again” and “I just don’t care.”

That’s not to say that the breach of the Capitol lacked significance or was in any way an appropriate or moral response to the 2020 election. As Dr. Denison wrote in the days following those events, “what we saw [on January 6] was abhorrent and sinful.” However, it was also not, as President Biden described it, “The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

The truth is that most Americans think what happened that day was wrong, but far fewer think it is worth continuing to dwell on or investigate going forward. So, if that’s the case, why am I writing about it today?

In short, it’s because it provides a good opportunity to think about a larger cultural question that continues to impact all of us, regardless of our political affiliation: Why is it that we so often feel the urge to push views to the extreme?

And, as we’ll see in a bit, the answer to that question has a profound impact on the way we should see evangelism as well.

Why people are pushed to extremism

With the Capitol riots, we see this trend in those who, like President Biden, exaggerate the historical significance of the attacks. However, we also see it from those who view the breach of the Capitol as a patriotic defense of liberty.

Both are minority positions that seem unreasonable to those who do not hold them. However, for those who do, they quickly become the only viable lens through which the events can be viewed.

But why are people drawn to such extreme views in the first place?

One reason is that extreme events push people to choose a side rather than remain in the middle, a fact that can exert a powerful pull to those who care a great deal about a particular issue. But while such an approach may help to garner support to some extent, it can also push those who reject such extremism—on either side of a subject—to extreme apathy.

As David French discussed in a recent article, if you do not hold what could be considered an extreme position on a subject, then engaging with those who do is often not worth the time. As French describes, “you instantly experience a cost-benefit analysis. Do I want to end my relationship with a beloved aunt or uncle over an issue I can’t impact? Or do I choose discretion, decide to maintain the relationship, and move on?”

After all, it can be just as difficult—if not more so—to have a rational conversation about an event when those involved assign it different levels of significance than when they hold fundamentally opposed views.

For example, the person who sees the January 6 riot as the greatest assault on democracy since the 1800s likely has more common ground for discussion with the person who sees it as a righteous protest against a stolen election than either does with someone who thinks it’s really not worth fussing about two years after the fact. The reason is that the first two participants are more likely to feel invested in the conversation while the apathetic person will probably look for a way out shortly after the dialogue begins.

Most of us probably don’t have to think back very far to remember such a conversation.

Whether it was about politics, sports, family events, or any number of other issues, we all get trapped in discussions we’d prefer to avoid from time to time. And remembering what that feels like is important when it comes to sharing our faith.

Knowing when to speak

If you have a personal relationship with Christ and your life has been transformed by his grace, chances are that you see the gospel as profoundly more important than those with whom we are called to share it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should be the ones most fired up about telling other people about Jesus. That purpose is central to what it means to be a Christian (Matthew 28:18–20).

However, that reality also means that we are likely to be seen as the extremists by those who accord faith and religion a less essential place in their lives. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised when it feels like non-Christians just don’t care as much as we think they should.

If someone has shown that they have little interest in the gospel and seem to check out every time you bring it up, continuing to press them about it is unlikely to prove productive. That doesn’t mean we should give up on them, but people can get to the place where continuing to hit them over the head with God’s word—figuratively speaking—can do more harm than good to their long-term prospects of accepting Jesus.

When people reach that point, it’s all right to give them space when it comes to the subject of spirituality. We should absolutely continue to live out the gospel around them and make sure they know that we are available to talk should they ever want to do so, but it’s all right to leave it up to them.

Ultimately, God knows their heart and their mind better than we can. He understands when the gospel will be welcome and when it will be ignored. And while his word promises that it will never return void, that is only when it is sent out according to his will (Isaiah 55:11).

That’s why it’s so important that we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our interactions with others and to respond in obedience when he prompts us to share our faith with them. He has a way of redeeming hardships and using the events in a person’s life to help them assign faith a higher level of importance, even if that shift is fleeting.

Will you be ready the next time God gives you that opportunity?

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Denison Forum – Why Russia and China’s growing partnership imperils America

Ukraine has claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a temporary military barracks in the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk that killed scores of Russian soldiers. The Russian defense ministry blamed the use of mobile phones by its soldiers, stating that this allowed Ukraine to track the soldiers’ location.

Pro-war Russians are increasingly blaming Moscow for its demonstrated military failings in the conflict. The pressure on Vladimir Putin to win the war by any means is steadily increasing. For example, Ukraine is warning that Russia is likely to respond to its latest setback by stepping up the use of Iranian-made exploding drones. Some experts are concerned that if Russia continues to lose, Putin may launch a nuclear strike on Kyiv to affect regime change by killing the Ukrainian government.

Against this escalating backdrop, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met recently to strengthen their partnership. China has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, consistently blaming the conflict on NATO and the United States instead. Putin said of their relationship, “We share the same views on the causes, course, and logic of the ongoing transformation of the global geopolitical landscape.” Xi said that the two countries should “strengthen strategic coordination” to oppose “bullying” by other nations.

This growing partnership is of obvious concern to the US and the West. However, it should especially alarm all Americans for two less than obvious reasons.

“The equivalent of tactical nuclear weapons”

Niall Ferguson has been called “the most brilliant British historian of his generation.” A Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a senior faculty fellow at Harvard, he is the author of an illuminating and frightening new essay published by Bloomberg. In it, he warns that “Cold War II could become World War III in 2023.”

And he explains why the US is in a precarious position to fight such a war.

Ferguson notes that war is “about the mobilization of real resources” needed by combatants to sustain the conflict while providing for their populations and powering their industries. In World War I, these resources were “coal, iron, and the manufacturing capacity to mass-produce artillery and shells, as well as steamships.” In World War II, they were “oil, steel, aluminum, and the manufacturing capacity to mass-produce artillery, ships, submarines, planes, and tanks.” After World War II, “it was all of the above, plus the scientific and technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons.”

Today, he notes, “the vital inputs are the capacity to mass-produce high-performance semiconductors, satellites, and the algorithmic warfare systems that depend on them.” Such systems are “the equivalent of tactical nuclear weapons” in their devastating capacities.

We depend on 61,000 ships

Ferguson explains that this is a major problem for the US, for two reasons.

One: Russia clearly lacks the algorithmic warfare systems that the US and our allies have been supplying to Ukraine, which means that Vladimir Putin may eventually be driven to use actual nuclear weapons to avoid losing the war he started. Such a scenario could lead to nuclear escalation that could threaten the US and the world.

Two: Ferguson notes that China “is dominant in the processing of minerals that are vital to the modern economy, including copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium. In particular, China controls over 70 percent of rare earth production both in terms of extraction and processing. These are seventeen minerals used to make components in devices such as smartphones, electric vehicles, solar panels, and semiconductors.”

In addition, “the US long ago ceased to be a manufacturing economy,” now importing much of what we need from the rest of the world. Most of these internationally traded goods are imported in six million containers transported in approximately sixty-one thousand ships. And China’s Shanghai Westwell Lab Information Technology Co. “is rapidly becoming the leading vendor of the most advanced port-operating systems.”

As a result, a conventional war with China could severely cripple our ability to produce the technological devices our military needs and import the goods our people require.

Dr. King’s definition of “true peace”

Ferguson’s article is further illustration of the fact that peace has been elusive for humans since Cain murdered Abel at the dawn of history. This is because we pursue peace as an object, a goal, when it is actually a consequence of prior priorities.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

King David knew much about war and peace. He noted, “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:11 NKJV). With this result: “Righteousness shall go before [the Lord], and peace shall be a pathway for his feet” (v. 13, BCP).

Here we see that peace comes from righteousness (the Hebrew word means to do what is right and honest), which comes from knowing and doing the truth. And, as Jesus made clear, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

“No God, no peace”

Imagine a world in which everyone lived by the truth of God’s word. Imagine the personal and corporate righteousness that would result.

Now imagine the consequences for a world in which each person and nation loved their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:39) and treated others only as they wished to be treated (Matthew 7:12), to cite just two biblical truths. How would this change the war in Ukraine? China’s threats against Taiwan? Crime in your city? Conflict in your home?

Peace does indeed come from righteousness, which comes from knowing and obeying the truth.

Where do you most need peace with God, others, and yourself?

The old truism is still true: No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.

How will you choose the latter today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – A high-tech show and a brewing Temple Mount crisis

 “The last five hundred years have witnessed a breathtaking series of revolutions. The earth has been united into a single ecological and historical sphere. The economy has grown exponentially, and humankind today enjoys the kind of wealth that used to be the stuff of fairy tales. Science and the Industrial Revolution have given humankind superhuman powers and practically limitless energy. The social order has been completely transformed, as have politics, daily life and human psychology.”

So writes Yuval Noah Harari in his bestseller, Sapiens. To illustrate his point, the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world’s largest technology conference, begins tomorrow in Las Vegas.

Among the many innovations on display, we will see a smart refrigerator with a touchscreen display where you can control home devices, watch videos, and make shopping lists for Amazon delivery. Mops that wash themselves, window-cleaning robots, and robots that climb stairs are expected. As are electric cars with multiple touch screens and built-in video gaming.

Temple Mount visit called an “unprecedented provocation”

From new technology to the latest in a very old conflict: Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Ben Gvir has long challenged the status quo by which Muslims are allowed to visit the site and pray with few restrictions while Jews can visit only during limited time slots and are not allowed to pray there. As a result, the Jerusalem Post reports that the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry condemned the visit as an “unprecedented provocation.”

Jordan likewise denounced Ben Gvir “in the severest terms [for] the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque and violation of its sanctity.” Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all criticized the visit as well. Even newly reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned in the past that “Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, though it sounds like a reasonable thing, I know it would have ignited the Middle East.”

And so, in the view of skeptics, we have another example of the danger posed to our advanced secular society by antiquated religion. But is the world really this simple?

“Human life has absolutely no meaning”

Let’s return to Harari’s analysis of our cultural moment. After describing the remarkable innovations that have changed our lives, he asks: “But are we happier? Did the wealth humankind accumulated over the last five centuries translate into a new-found contentment?”

His short answer is no.

He explains why: “Happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. . . . A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”

Here’s the problem, in his atheistic and secularist view: “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan . . . Hence, any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion” (his emphasis).

What is the color of a C scale?

Harari, brilliant as he is, makes a basic logical error known as a “category mistake.” We make this mistake when we ask how much the number three weighs or the color of a C scale. Harari does the same when he assumes that a “purely scientific viewpoint” is the only viewpoint from which to assess the meaning of our lives.

Of course we cannot determine the meaning of life through scientific means. How would a chemist measure the strength of his marriage in a lab? How would a physicist evaluate her friendships through mathematical formulas?

Secularists make a similar mistake known as an “association fallacy” when they point to the acts of a single person or religion as typifying all religion. Having led more than thirty study tours to Israel, I can testify that Itamar Ben Gvir categorically does not represent all Israelis, nor are his views regarding the Temple Mount the consensus among Jews. Nor are Jewish beliefs on any subject necessarily typical of the beliefs of Christians, Muslims, and so on.

The most logical way to discover the design of an object is to consult its designer. Similarly, the best way to find the purpose of your life is to consult the One who created you.

“The greatest discovery you will ever make”

Let’s not make a category mistake with our souls this year. No matter how advanced our technology becomes, Harari is right: we will never find lasting happiness through temporal comfort and convenience. And let’s avoid an association fallacy that confuses formal religion with a personal relationship with our Maker.

Jesus taught us: “Abide in me, and I in you. . . . Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5). So let’s “abide” in Christ by beginning each day with him in prayer, Bible study, and worship, then walk through the day with him in prayer and obedience. And let’s measure success by whether or not we are bearing “much fruit” for Christ.

Scripture warns us, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). So ask yourself: Will this attitude, statement, or action glorify God? Will this decision bring honor to his name? Will he be pleased with this day when it is done?

Billy Graham observed, “This is the greatest discovery you will ever make: You were created to know God and to be his friend forever.”

Will you be God’s friend today?

Denison Forum