Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Australian officials seek to rebrand shark attacks: Three satanic deceptions and the privilege of sharing life’s greatest gift

Australian officials would like us to rebrand shark attacks as “negative encounters.” The swimmer who was bitten by a great white shark at a beach near San Francisco last month may not agree.

Officials in Texas are assuring the public that the Dallas resident who has the first-ever case of monkeybox in our state is “not a reason for alarm.” The infected patient in isolation at a Dallas hospital may not agree.

It is human nature to downplay threats we cannot control. For example, we say of those who die that they “departed” or “passed on.” But euphemisms cannot change the reality they describe.

As of this morning, 188 people have died in massive flooding in Europe. The death toll in the Surfside, Florida, condominium collapse stands at ninety-seven. At least sixty-five people underwent decontamination on Saturday following a chemical leak at a Six Flags water park near Houston.

Three people were wounded in a shooting outside the Washington Nationals baseball stadium that caused the game to be suspended. At least two people were killed and several others were wounded by shootings at three locations in Tucson, Arizona, yesterday afternoon. And the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic stands at 4,089,175 at this writing.

American Christians are under unprecedented pressure by our secularized culture to compromise biblical truth and morality. But the inescapable realities of death and eternity beyond the grave demonstrate conclusively that every person we know needs to know what we know about death.

Martin Luther said, “Every man must do two things alone: he must do his own believing and his own dying.” Let’s see how the first helps us with the second.

Why nonbelievers fear death

It’s human nature to fear the unknown. The dread we feel that keeps us from venturing into a cave where a predator is waiting is a God-given response that may save our lives.

Even when our lives are not at risk, we understandably fear what we cannot predict. From going to a new school to beginning a new job or moving to a new city, we are naturally apprehensive of the future.

Death, of course, is the greatest unknown. Nonbelievers do not believe anyone has ever come back from the other side, so they have no empirical way to know what happens when we die. Do we simply cease to exist? Are we reincarnated? Do we spend eternity in heaven? In hell?

However, our post-Christian society has devised a solution. Postmodernism has taught us that our reality is the reality. Truth is “our truth.” Therefore, if we don’t believe there is an afterlife, we don’t need to be concerned with an afterlife. The man who declared to me “I don’t believe in hell” was convinced that his opinion settled the matter.

“I consider eternity as another possibility”

This is illogical in the extreme, of course. Denying that cancer exists doesn’t keep me from getting cancer.

Even more, this is a satanic deception. Our enemy wants nothing more than to delude us into thinking we don’t need what Jesus came to give. We are unlikely to repent of our sins and seek forgiveness if we don’t think we need to repent of our sins or seek forgiveness. We would not turn to Christ as our Lord if we do not need a Lord. If we can be our own god (Genesis 3:5), we’ll try to be our own god.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote: “When death comes / like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, / I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: / what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?” As a result, she continues, “I look upon time as no more than an idea, / and I consider eternity as another possibility.”

She concludes: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. / When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder / if I have made of my life something particular and real. / I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened / or full of argument. / I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Nor do I. Nor do you, I suspect. But her plan for being “married to amazement” and “taking the world into my arms” is to “consider eternity as another possibility.” If we see eternity as only a “possibility,” we will assuredly not be ready when we experience it as a reality.

Are you a practical universalist?

I hope you do not share nonbelievers’ agnosticism or atheism with regard to death and eternity. If you are not certain that you have made Jesus your Savior and Lord, please turn to him today. (For answers to frequent questions about Jesus and a way to trust him for salvation, please see my website article, “Why Jesus?”)

As we have seen, one of Satan’s great deceptions is convincing lost people that they are not lost. A second deception is convincing Christians that lost people are not truly lost.

Based on the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. John 14:6Acts 4:12John 3:18Revelation 20:15), we may agree theologically that lost people need Jesus. But if we are not taking the risk to share Christ with them, our actions betray our supposed convictions.

In this case, we are practical universalists. We are not so certain that our lost neighbors, friends, and family members need Jesus to avoid hell and go to heaven that we are willing to share God’s love with them.

Here we face one more satanic deception: that sharing the gospel is “imposing” our beliefs on others. Postmodern secularists have convinced many Christians that tolerance is the highest value, that telling people they risk eternity separated from God in hell is intolerant and bigoted.

In fact, it is just the opposite. Sharing God’s love in Christ offers others the greatest gift they could ever receive. It is giving people the only key that opens the door to heaven. It is sharing the cure for spiritual cancer with people who are dying of the disease whether they know it or not.

We will say more tomorrow about what happens to Christians when we die. For now, would you ask God to help you help someone you know be ready to die today?

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Denison Forum – Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams forgave driver who killed his wife: Trusting “the only correct map of the human heart”

Monty Williams is the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. His team won the first two games of this year’s NBA Finals, though the Milwaukee Bucks won Game 3 last night. If the Suns win two more games, they will achieve their first championship in franchise history.

When Williams received the Michael H. Goldberg Coach of the Year Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association this season, he said, “God knocks the ball out of the park and I get to run the bases. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to coach this team, alongside this staff, for this organization—it is a ‘get to,’ not a ‘got to.’”

But it is one thing to praise God when we succeed—it is another to trust him when we suffer.

Williams learned about saving faith in Christ from Ingrid, the woman who became his wife. Through her example and prayers, he came to trust in Christ personally. As he entered the NBA, the two married and started a family.

In 2016, Ingrid was killed when a driver under the influence of methamphetamines hit her car. At her funeral, Williams testified, “In my house, we have a sign that says, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15). We cannot serve the Lord if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness.”

He added, “Everybody is praying for me and my family, which is right. But let us not forget that there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayer as well. And we have no ill will toward that family.”

Sir Richard Branson flies into space

Sir Richard Branson made headlines yesterday when his Virgin Galactic space plane flew to an altitude of more than fifty miles before returning to earth.

However, our planet’s atmosphere extends 6,214 miles into space. Our moon is 238,900 miles from us; our sun is 94,499,000 miles away. The next nearest star is 24,984,092,897,479 miles from our planet. The edge of our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be 25,000 light-years away. The edge of our universe is thought to be 46,500,000,000 light-years away.

Jesus made all of that (Colossians 1:16), and his Father measures it with the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12).

I don’t mean to depreciate Sir Richard’s achievement, just to put it in context: the God whom Coach Monty Williams trusts and serves is worthy of our trust and service.

When we face the inevitable crises of life, we can turn to ourselves, our capacities, and our achievements, or we can turn to the One who created us, endowed us with our capacities, and enabled our achievements. We can trust creatures or their Creator. We can trust our wisdom or his word.

“The only correct map of the human heart”

I make this point because truth and biblical truth are under assault in our culture as never before. A recent study reported that only 42 percent of Americans (and only 31 percent of adults under the age of thirty) believe God is the basis of truth. According to Gallup, only 24 percent of Americans consider the Bible to be the literal word of God. This is the lowest percentage in Gallup’s forty-year trend on this issue.

By contrast, in Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers, historian Daniel L. Driesbach demonstrates that many of America’s leaders across our history had a profound belief in objective biblical truth. For example, Abraham Lincoln said of the Bible, “It is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be portrayed in it.”

John Adams stated, “The Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy, that ever was conceived upon earth.” Benjamin Rush, another of the founding fathers, called the Bible “the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published.”

Then he added, “All systems of religion, morals, and government not founded upon it must perish, and how consoling the thought—it will not only survive the wreck of these systems but the world itself.”

“The aim of the spiritual saint”

Christians in every generation have faced their battles. For followers of Jesus today, our conflict begins with the existence of objective truth and the trustworthiness of biblical truth. I plan to say more about this battle tomorrow, but for today, let’s close with this fact: the foundational way we can persuade skeptics that the Bible is truth is to experience and manifest that truth in our lives.

If we meet Jesus today in his word and worship, others will see Jesus in our words and lives. If we truly experience him this morning, we will manifest him this day. If we seek to know Jesus in everything we do, we will make him known in everything we do.

Paul, after listing his astounding personal achievements (Philippians 3:4–6), said of Jesus, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (vv. 8–9).

Oswald Chambers observed, “Self-realization leads to the enthronement of work; whereas the saint enthrones Jesus Christ in his work. Whether it be eating or drinking or washing disciples’ feet, whatever it is, we have to take the initiative of realizing Jesus Christ is in it. Every phase of our actual life has its counterpart in the life of Jesus. Our Lord realized his relationship to the Father even in the most menial work.”

Chambers added, “The aim of the spiritual saint is ‘that I may know him.’ Do I know him where I am today? If not, I am failing him. I am here not to realize myself, but to know Jesus. In Christian work the initiative is too often the realization that something has to be done and I must do it. That is never the attitude of the spiritual saint, his aim is to secure the realization of Jesus Christ in every set of circumstances he is in” (my emphasis).

What is your “aim” today?

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Denison Forum – Teen raised $38,000 for cancer research by cutting off his 19-inch Afro: Why I disagree with Philip Yancey on culture and grace

Kieran Moïse has always been known for what the Washington Post describes as “a stunning Afro that stood high and wide above his head.” For the last six years, he has not cut or trimmed it because, as his mother explained, “he really hated haircuts.”

When Kieran was accepted to the Air Force Academy, he knew he would have to cut his now nineteen-inch Afro. He lost a close friend to cancer when Kieran was in the eighth grade. So, he decided to make his hair cutting into a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and donate his hair to Children With Hair Loss, a Michigan nonprofit that provides free human hair wigs to children and young adults facing medically related hair loss.

Both plans came to fruition. His hair was mailed to the children’s hair charity, and the fundraiser ultimately brought in more than $38,000 for St. Jude’s. Kieran is now at the Academy, where his mother says, “He’s going to do great things. I have no doubt.”

Pete Davidson is getting his tattoos removed

One of the ways God redeems all he allows is by using past suffering to make us more sensitive to present needs and future opportunities to help others. The loss of Kieran’s friend to cancer led him to do what he could for cancer patients. When we use our suffering to serve, we become what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers.” And our story touches more lives than we may know.

Here’s another example in the news: comedian Pete Davidson is getting his tattoos removed. He says the process is incredibly painful and will take another two years to complete.

He teamed with smartwater to promote last Monday’s first-ever Rehydration Day, a day dedicated to getting Americans rehydrated after the July 4th holiday weekend. As a result, he made a video in which he had arm tattoos lasered off while confessing, “I’ve made a lot of questionable choices, and a couple of them need removing.” Then he added, “Now I’m trying to make smarter choices, hydrating with smartwater and stuff like that.”

When we recognize our “questionable choices” and use them to serve others, our humility earns us the right to share a positive message. If we follow Jesus, such compassion born from his grace enables and empowers us to share that grace with the world.

Presbyterian denomination takes stand on homosexuality

However, part of sharing God’s grace is standing against decisions and deceptions that harm those we are called to serve.

For example, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) recently adopted Overture 23, a statement that those who “profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘Gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) . . . are not qualified for ordained office.” The overture, which was approved overwhelmingly 1,438–417 on July 1, explains that such an identity “undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires . . . or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations.”

The chair of the committee recommending Overture 23 stated that it is not intended to exclude Christians who are gay but remain celibate. The overture must still be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s regional presbyteries and then again by a majority at the General Assembly scheduled for next year in Birmingham, Alabama.

One pastor who spoke in favor of the overture called it “most consistent with the gospel—and because it’s consistent with the gospel, it is by definition compassionate.”

I agree with that pastor and commend PCA leaders for taking a biblical stand on such a pressing cultural issue. Not everyone would agree with me, however.

Why I disagree with Philip Yancey

Bestselling author Philip Yancey was asked in an interview with Religion News Service, “If you could talk to evangelical leaders right now or to people in the pew, what would you tell them?” Yancey, perhaps best known for his insightful book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, stated: “So often the church seems more interested in cleaning up society, you know, returning America to its pristine 1950s. That’s the myth we have—we are making America pure again, cleaning it up.”

He added: “Jesus lived under the Roman Empire, Paul lived under the Roman Empire, which was much worse morally than anything going on in the United States. They didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire, not a word. They just kind of dismissed it.”

Yancey then called us to “remember why we are here. We love people, we serve, and we show them why God’s way is better. Let’s concentrate on that rather than tearing people down or rejecting them or denigrating them in some way. We’re here to bring pleasure to God. I believe we do that by living in the way God’s Son taught us to live when he was on earth.”

I appreciate Yancey’s reminder that we love people by serving them. But I disagree completely with his belief that Jesus and Paul “didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire.”

Jesus’ earthly ministry did not extend beyond Palestine, but he addressed specifically the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (Matthew 23) and the urgency of serving those in need (Matthew 25:31–46). Paul’s ministry did extend throughout the Empire; he addressed directly the sexual immorality and other sins of his day (cf. Romans 1:26–321 Corinthians 6:9–101 Timothy 1:8–11). And don’t forget that John the Baptist was martyred for opposing the sexual immorality of Herod the tetrarch (Matthew 14:1–12).

As Yancey notes, part of loving people and serving them is showing them “why God’s way is better.” However, God’s way includes sexual purity (cf. Matthew 5:281 Corinthians 6:181 Thessalonians 4:3–5Colossians 3:5) and holy living (cf. Galatians 5:19–262 Corinthians 7:1Hebrews 12:14).

William Wilberforce’s “two great objects”

As we have seen today, we serve others best when we do so out of humility that recognizes our own weaknesses and compassion that empowers us to seek their best. Then we will pay any price to impact our culture with God’s transforming word and grace.

William Wilberforce testified, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

What “objects” has God Almighty set before you?

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Denison Forum – Children send handmade cards to Surfside first responders: The paradoxical path to God’s strength and peace

Let’s begin with some good news: First responders at the Surfside condominium tragedy are receiving hundreds of homemade cards from children. One note said, “Dear First Responders, thank you for everything you did and are doing even tho some people have not been recovered you guys are working day and night to find those that are missing that’s what makes you guys hero’s.”

So far, nearly five hundred similar notes, crafted by children of all ages from near and far, have been hand-delivered to first responders at the scene of the collapse. Hundreds more are expected to pour in as the search for victims continues.

The idea began with Florida state Sen. Lauren Book, who returned home from visiting the site and had to explain the tragedy to her four-year-old twin children. They wanted to help, so they spent the day at their dining room table with crayons and construction paper, creating about fifty cards. Their mother brought the notes to the site the next day, handing them to any first responder she met. Many of them cried instantly, she said.

She then posted the idea on Twitter, asking for children to mail in similar notes of encouragement. Cards have been delivered from around the country.

Death toll from COVID-19 passes four million

People obviously need such encouragement today.

Eighteen more bodies were recovered from the rubble Wednesday as the search of the collapsed building in Surfside, Florida, turned from a rescue effort to a recovery operation.

The global death toll from COVID-19 passed four million yesterday, a number equivalent to the population of Los Angeles. Japan’s prime minister announced a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo this morning as organizers consider banning all spectators from the Olympics.

The Washington Post reports that “America’s workers are exhausted and burned out” after fifteen months of pandemic-related stress. Axios notes that many Americans are responding to such stress by drinking more alcohol—a lot more for some—even though the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that alcohol-related death is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the US.

Reflecting the stress of recent months, an American Psychological Association survey found that 61 percent of US adults experienced undesired weight changes since the pandemic began. And experts are calling the ransomware attack that began over the Fourth of July weekend a “landmark event” that could lead to future “disruption on an absolutely massive scale.”

“He is our actual hope”

Where can we turn to find the best source of strength and peace in these hard days? The answer would surprise most people in our secularized culture.

MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, recently made headlines when she and her current husband made a $2.7 billion donation to several groups. She included several progressive Christian groups but excluded evangelical ministries.

Kelly Kullberg, editor and co-author of the bestseller Finding God at Harvard, responded: “The Left is attempting to redefine the gospel, using biblical words but not their accurate meanings. If we, as individuals, no longer admit our sin, we no longer turn to Jesus. And he is our actual hope. And biblical truth yields great love for people and great progress for cultures.”

Kullberg is exactly right. The paradoxical truth is that we will not turn to Jesus as our “actual hope” unless we recognize that we need what he alone can provide. As we noted yesterday, to fear and revere the Lord is to recognize that he is the true King and Judge of the universe and to admit that we need his forgiveness, grace, and peace.

“The mind of Zeus is hard to soften with prayer”

How can we experience God in such a transforming way? The key is to see him as he actually is.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (v. 1) and saw himself in the light of God’s holiness (vv. 3, 5). Isaiah’s confessional response led to his cleansing (vv. 6–7) and his commission as one of the greatest prophets in history (vv. 8–9).

We are not to fear God as did the Greek and Romans, whose deities were capricious, sinful, and vengeful. Zeus was unfaithful to his wife Hera, Poseidon was known to foist storms and shipwrecks on those who displeased him, and Ares was feared for his violent temper. In Prometheus Bound, the Greek playwright Aeschylus (525–455 BC) said of their gods, “Many a groan and many a lamentation you shall utter, but they shall not serve you. For the mind of Zeus is hard to soften with prayer.”

Nor should we see God as a “resident policeman,” “parental hangover,” “grand old man,” or “managing director,” as J. B. Phillips notes in his classic Your God Is Too Small.

Rather, we are to fear and revere God as “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3), the one true King of the universe. The more we worship him with humility, repentance, and submission, the more we experience his perfect will and empowering presence.

When last were you awed by God?

I invite you to take some time today to experience God as Isaiah did. Read Isaiah 6 and imagine yourself in the text. See God on his exalted throne. Hear the angelic worship. Feel the foundations shaking. Smell the smoke filling his temple.

Ask him to reveal anything in your life that displeases him, then confess all that comes to your thoughts and trust him for his cleansing grace. Now surrender your life to his purpose—whatever he asks, wherever he leads, whatever the cost. And know that as you fear and revere your King, he will use your life for his eternal glory and your greatest good.

When last were you awed by God?

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Denison Forum – Latest from Tropical Storm Elsa and condominium collapse: Do Americans fear God? If not, why not?

More than four million people in Florida are under hurricane warnings as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches landfall this morning. The system became a Category 1 hurricane yesterday before weakening to a tropical storm early today. Millions of people are facing life-threatening storm surges, heavy winds, potential isolated tornadoes, and heavy rains that could cause flooding up and down the Florida coast.

Meanwhile, the search for victims of the Surfside, Florida, building collapse reached its fourteenth day today. Eight more deaths have been announced, bringing the death toll to three dozen with more than one hundred people still unaccounted for.

Sisters buried in the same casket

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn have been married seventy-five years today, the longest marriage in presidential history. From living in publicly subsidized housing while running a peanut warehouse to becoming governor of Georgia and president of the United States—theirs is a made-in-America story.

Their anniversary is not the only auspicious event on this day. On July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first female Supreme Court justice in US history. On this day five years earlier, female cadets enrolled at West Point for the first time.

However, the storm in Florida and the condominium tragedy remind us of our finitude as Americans and as humans.

The bodies of two young sisters pulled from the rubble of the Florida condo building were buried in the same casket yesterday alongside their parents. Officials in Montana are searching today for a grizzly bear that killed a woman early Tuesday. Chicago has now recorded more than two thousand shootings so far this year, a 58 percent increase since 2019. And the “woke” culture continues to escalate as Disney removes “ladies and gentlemen” from its Magic Kingdom greeting to be more inclusive.

As we noted Monday, the freedom we celebrated on July 4 is rooted in the declaration that “all men are created equal.” However, as we discussed yesterday, our freedom as finite and fallen people is best exercised under the authority of our Creator. When we fear God, we need fear nothing else, as Oswald Chambers observed.

Why don’t we fear God?

When was the last time you feared the judgment of God so much that you did something you would not otherwise have done? When was the last time you did not do something you would have done for the same reason?

It’s hard to fear what we don’t believe exists. I doubt that you’re worried about an invasion by Martians this morning.

According to Pew Research Center, 10 percent of Americans do not believe in God; another 33 percent believe in some type of higher power but not the God of the Bible. Only 43 percent of those under thirty believe in the one true God.

But denying the existence of something or someone doesn’t change its reality. I’ve never met the Queen of England, but denying her existence makes her no less real. The man who told me “I don’t believe in hell” didn’t change the existence of hell. In fact, if he persists in his rejection of the gospel, one day he will discover for himself how wrong he was.

In addition, many Americans have attended churches where divine judgment and the existence of hell are seldom if ever mentioned. The “seeker sensitive” movement that began in the 1980s was a well-intentioned strategy to make worship services more accessible to nonbelievers. However, if we speak only on topics that lost people want to hear, we are like oncologists who never tell our patients when they have a life-threatening malignancy.

If we don’t help others fear God now, one day they will most assuredly wish we had.

Why should we fear God?

The first reason to fear God is that he is fearsome. He is the Judge of the universe (Revelation 20:11–15) before whom “each of us will give an account of himself” (Romans 14:12). We do well to remember every day that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

second reason to fear and revere God is that his word commands us to do so. The psalmist called us to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:1). Jesus was blunt: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

third reason to fear God is that doing so is best for us. The God who is love (1 John 4:8) wants only our best. His will for us is always “perfect” (Romans 12:2). The harder it is to obey his word, the more we need to obey his word.

The king of the universe cannot honor rebellion against his reign lest he deny his holiness and permit that which harms his subjects. He calls us to seek his glory because to do less would be idolatry on his part and ours. Conversely, when we enthrone him in our hearts and serve him with fear and reverence, we experience his best in and through our lives.

A frightening flashback

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss practical steps we can take to fear and revere God more fully. For today, let’s ask ourselves this question: If I feared God more than I do, what would change in my life?

I came across my doctoral dissertation in my library yesterday. Opening it, my mind flashed back to December of 1986 and the oral exams I had to pass before I could begin writing it. During the two-hour test, my professors could ask me anything we had discussed in three years of doctoral seminars. Only if I passed their scrutiny would I be permitted to write the dissertation that would complete my degree.

I spent six months preparing for those exams. I had the highest respect for my professors and actually feared their examination since they held my academic future in their hands. But the experience made me a better student and scholar, which was precisely what it was intended to do.

Paul testified: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). I don’t know that you and I will face his judgment tomorrow, but I don’t know that we won’t.

Are you ready?

If not, why not?

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Denison Forum – Congresswoman rebukes America on July 4, evokes strong response: “Maybe the best reason to love the United States”

My grandfather fought for America in World War I. He was so proud of his country and the flag he defended that he installed a flagpole in the front yard of every home he owned. Every day that I knew him, he raised the American flag at sunrise and lowered it at sunset. I still remember the pride I felt as a child on the day he first allowed me to join him for this ceremony.

However, the New York Times tells us that “what was once a unifying symbol—there is a star on it for each state, after all—is now alienating to some.” The article asserts that many now identify the flag with former President Trump and his supporters. Negative response to its claims and tone has been swift and strong. 

Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Missouri) also caused an uproar when she tweeted, “When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and Black people still aren’t free.” Others were quick to note that she is free enough to be elected to Congress. 

We can be upset with those who criticize our nation, its founding, its progress, and its flag. But we should also note this fact: unlike much of the world, we live in a nation where we are so free that we are free to criticize our nation, our leaders, and each other. 

As E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in the Washington Post, “Maybe the best reason to love the United States is that it’s a place where people are free not to love it.” 

“The legacy of dignity and worth” 

What is the source of such freedom? 

Preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 4, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described with his usual eloquence the injustice so many African Americans still faced in America. He called for justice, fair pay, and equality for all Americans. 

But he did so on the basis of America’s founding creed, quoting the Declaration of Independence’s stirring proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” He then claimed that this declaration “ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world.” Dr. King explained: 

“It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from his hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and worth of human personality. 

“The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.” 

“The true ground of democracy” 

Dr. King was right, of course. Because we are each created by God in his image (Genesis 1:26), we each possess “dignity and worth.” The equality promised in the Declaration of Independence finds its source in this theological truth. 

However, there’s another side to this affirmation. 

In his 1945 essay “Membership” (published in Weight of Glory), C. S. Lewis stated: “I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. 

“On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy.” 

“Corruption and darkness will reign” 

It is because we are each fallen, broken, sinful people that we cannot be trusted with unaccountable power. It is because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” that we need God (Romans 3:23). 

The Constitution grants us freedom of religion because we need it. We need the God we are free to worship and trust. We need the biblical truth we are free to proclaim. We are so immoral that we need the morality taught by God’s word and empowered by his Spirit. 

This is why Daniel Webster warned us so prophetically, “If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.” 

And it is why “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). 

Tomorrow, I intend to explore why our culture no longer fears God, why we should, and how we can. For today, let’s close with this observation by Oswald Chambers: “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” 

Do you fear God today?

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Denison Forum – Supreme Court sides with athletes over the NCAA: What might this ruling tell us about future religious liberty cases?

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a ruling that challenged the NCAA’s approach to student athletes, stating that the existing rules violate antitrust laws by placing limits on the education-related benefits that schools can provide.

Yesterday’s decision does not mean that schools can begin outright paying players, giving them luxury cars, or doling out many of the other frivolities and benefits that have gotten universities in trouble in the past. 

In writing the concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh was clear that “the NCAA’s remaining compensation rules also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.” Kavanaugh went on to add that “the NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

Despite the legalities and logic behind the court’s ruling, however, there are still many who lament their decision as the first step down a path that will fundamentally alter the sports and entertainment they hold so dear. 

But the presence of such concerns, in conjunction with the court’s unanimous decision, offers a helpful insight into how the Supreme Court is supposed to work that could prove important as we look to issues of religious liberty in the years ahead. 

How much does the culture influence the Supreme Court?

When it does its job well, the Supreme Court is supposed to decide cases on the basis of law rather than public opinion. And while religious liberty is clearly a more nebulous concept to many on the court than blatant violations of antitrust laws, it is still encouraging to be reminded that cultural whims do not have the final word on these issues.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that these shifts in NCAA rulings did not occur until they gained momentum with the populace at large. While the law of the land is meant to be above public opinion, the justices are still human. Moreover, because the cases they see have to work their way up through the less-insulated lower courts first, which cases arrive before the Supreme Court is often dictated to some degree by which issues are most important to the masses. 

Twenty years ago, it’s unlikely that challenges to the NCAA’s compensation of student athletes could have gotten the necessary momentum to make it all the way before the country’s most powerful court. But here we stand. 

Recent challenges to religious liberty have often followed a similar course. 

How will the Supreme Court decide religious liberty cases?

Many of the recent cases pertaining to LGBTQ rights, for example, are based on new interpretations of laws that date back much farther than the current outrage. It was only when they began to generate greater public support that they worked their way up through the legal system.

As such, while there is some room for encouragement in remembering that the justices who will ultimately pass judgment on these issues can, and should, be willing to do so in the face of powerful opposition, we should not take for granted that they always will. Moreover, they can only pass judgment on the laws brought before them, meaning what happens further upstream will always dictate, to some extent, the areas of the culture over which they will yield the most influence. 

That’s why the primary lesson we should take from this story is that it is, and always will be, foolish to place our hopes in the hands of other fallen people or the institutions they create. 

And that’s fine. 

In the roughly two thousand years since the time of Christ, God’s people have worked with varying degrees of help or opposition from their government. And while help is usually preferable, it’s not necessary. 

The advancement of his kingdom is not dependent upon friendly courts or laws that align with Scripture. It’s dependent on the faithfulness and obedience of his people. 

That should be good news. 

Is it for you? 

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Denison Forum – Photo of father sleeping on hospital floor goes viral: The path from sincerity to spiritual transformation

Joe Duncan came home from working a twelve-hour shift as a cement technician to learn that his daughter was having difficulty breathing. His wife, Sara, wanted to take her to the hospital, but Joe had to return to a morning shift a few hours later. She encouraged him to stay home and rest, but he insisted on making the one-hour drive with his family to the hospital.

Their daughter received treatment and was cleared to go home after two hours. Sara found Joe napping on the hospital floor using the car seat as a pillow. She took his picture and wrote, “I was looking at him thinking how thankful I am for him and how I wouldn’t want to do this life without him.” Her post went viral.

Father’s Day gave us all an opportunity to thank our fathers and to thank our Father for our fathers. Being there, showing up, and doing life with our families is the foundation of fatherhood.

Sincerity is not enough

Here’s the problem with this wonderful story, however: being there is essential, but it’s not enough. Sincerity is not enough.

The Bible tells us that parents are to teach God’s word “diligently to your children . . . when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7; cf. Ephesians 6:4Proverbs 22:6).

God’s word also tells men how to be good husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19; cf. Ephesians 5:25); “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28).

Sincerity is essential, but it is not enough. However, our secular culture disagrees.

Boris Johnson says he is a “very, very bad Christian”

US Catholic bishops announced on Friday that they had voted to prepare a document laying out conditions under which Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including President Biden, may be denied Communion. Watching the media’s largely negative response, it is clear that many consider Mr. Biden’s apparent religious sincerity to be sufficient, regardless of his positions on official Catholic doctrine.

In other political news, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently married fiancée Carrie Symonds at Westminster Cathedral in London. The fact that they were married in a religious rather than secular ceremony interested the media, since the prime minister has been less than forthcoming about his personal religious views. He did, however, tell an interviewer for The Atlantic, “Christianity is a superb ethical system and I would count myself as a kind of very, very bad Christian. No disrespect to any other religions, but Christianity makes a lot of sense to me.”

In our culture, sincerity is enough. If the prime minister sincerely believes he is a Christian (albeit a “very, very bad” one), he must be a Christian. Just as I can be a fan of the Texas Rangers or Dallas Cowboys by declaring myself one, I can be a Christian by declaring myself one. Sincerity has replaced truth in our culture.

Why won’t this work?

The death of the president’s dog

One answer is logical: Our postmodern, relativistic culture rejects the existence of absolute truth, which is an absolute truth claim. In a brilliant new article I hope you’ll read, philosopher R. J. Snell observes, “One cannot deny our ability to know the truth without making truth claims and by that very act affirming the possibility and necessity of truth.”

Another is practical: I can sincerely deny that Boris Johnson exists, but my sincere opinion doesn’t change his reality. I can ignore the fact of death, but death won’t ignore me. Even the president of the United States is just as mortal as his beloved dog Champ, whose passing was marked with grief by the Biden family Saturday.

Iran’s new president is obviously sincere about his commitment to Shiite Islam. However, he has been accused of systematically sending as many as three thousand people to slaughter on orders of his religious leader, the former Ayatollah Khomeini. We can be sincere but sincerely and tragically wrong.

“Go back to your beginnings with God”

However, if our sincere faith is faith in the one true God, everything changes. Consider three biblical facts.

One: It’s not too late to come to Jesus.

The New England Aquarium honored a woman’s thirty-eight-year-old ticket that had been in her great-aunt’s wallet. Jesus is even more gracious: he will welcome your faith whether you are young (Matthew 19:14), old (Luke 2:25–38), or even at the end of your life (Luke 23:42–43).

Two: It’s not too soon to come to Jesus.

A new medical device is giving surgeons “x-ray vision” by fusing digitally enhanced images into the microscope of a surgical device. Jesus is even more omniscient (Luke 6:8) and will lead all who will follow into his providential and perfect will (Matthew 11:28–30).

Three: The best way to serve others is to help them follow Jesus.

A father’s best gift to his children is leading them to their Father. If we sincerely love others, we will want them to love our Lord. However, we cannot give what we do not have or lead others where we will not go.

To this end, let’s close by focusing our grateful sincerity on our loving Savior.

Billy Graham’s personal pastor, Don Wilton, told of a time he asked the famed evangelist, “Please tell me what I need to know as I try to serve the Lord.” He writes that Dr. Graham “looked at me for the longest time, and then he began to talk.” Dr. Graham advised him, “Go back to your beginnings with God. God will never be able to use you unless you are totally surrendered to him. A surrendered man never forgets where he came from as a sinner separated from Christ.

“From a heart of gratitude will flow loving the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind. From the act of surrender will come the love you have for your wife and children. From that same heart will flow the love with which you love your people and preach the Word.”

Would Jesus say you are surrendered to him today?

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Denison Forum – Supreme Court to consider case that could undermine Roe v. Wade: The power of ideas and steps to biblical thinking

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could undermine Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion across America. The Wall Street Journal explains that the case in question is “a Mississippi abortion law that seeks to ban the procedure after fifteen weeks of pregnancy, a case that gives the justices an opportunity to revisit the court’s precedents protecting abortion rights.”

According to the New York Times, pro-life supporters are “expressing excitement at the court’s decision to consider the case, saying they hoped the justices would overturn Roe and allow states to restrict abortion at any stage of pregnancy.”

John F. Kennedy famously noted, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” If anyone doubts the wisdom of his statement, they need look no further than the idea that led to legalized abortion in this country.

More than sixty-two million abortions have occurred since Roe v. Wade; 93 percent of abortions in the US are elective. This means that 57 million lives have been ended through abortion for reasons that have nothing to do with rape, fetal health, or the mother’s health.

Why you should “watch your thoughts”

Abortion is just one example of the power of ideas. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is another: the latter was created in 1987 “for the purpose of liberating Palestine” from the former.

Article Thirteen of Hamas’ charter rejects all “so-called peaceful solutions” to its conflict with Israel and states, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad” (holy war). Article Thirty-Three calls on all Muslims to continue this war “until liberation is completed, the invaders are vanquished, and Allah’s victory sets in.” Accordingly, its history is one of aggression and violence toward Israel and the Jewish people.

Another example is the idea that biological males who identify as females should be able to compete against females in sports. Female athletes who have lost to such competitors are now speaking out against regulations they consider unfair. The NCAA claims that strength and endurance advantages of transgender women “dissipate after about one year of estrogen or testosterone-suppression therapy,” but a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that such individuals continue to have a competitive advantage over female athletes.

The philosopher Lao Tzu warned us: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

Three steps to biblical thinking

In Monday’s Daily Article, I stated the importance of investigating truth claims before accepting them. We are to worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) as we “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), but “the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

In other words, to think effectively, we need to think biblically.

I recently studied a prayer in Psalm 119 that offers practical help in this regard. Here we find three steps to biblical thinking and living.

One: Choose to immerse ourselves in God’s word and worship.

The psalmist testified: “With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes” (v. 145). Obedience is the natural and joyful response of a person who worships God with passion. When last did you pray to God and obey his word with your “whole heart”?

Two: Meet God early and late.

The psalmist continued: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words” (v. 147). The best way to walk with God is to begin walking with God. The sooner we connect with the Spirit of God and the word of God, the sooner they can empower and guide us.

The psalmist then added: “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (v. 148). The best way to end the day is by meditating on God’s promises and presence.

Three: Seek God’s word for the challenges we face.

Being immersed in God’s word through the day does not prevent obstacles and challenges. Rather, it empowers us to face the temptations and opposition of a fallen world. For example, after the psalmist noted, “They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose” (v. 150), he claimed the biblical truth, “But you are near, O Lord, and all your commandments are true” (v. 151).

Like Jesus, who confronted the wilderness temptations of Satan by reciting biblical truth (Matthew 4:1–11), we should know God’s word and use its wisdom to defeat our enemy and glorify our Father.

Billy Graham’s pastor

Thinking and living biblically is the path to God’s best for our lives and for our culture. The less popular God’s word becomes, the more God’s word is needed. And the more we need to think and live biblically to glorify the One who has given us his word and his Son.

Don Wilton has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, since 1993. He was also Billy Graham’s personal pastor. I am reading his new book, Saturdays with Billy, in which he describes his weekly visits with Dr. Graham.

As Dr. Wilton told the Christian Post, humility was a constant theme of his encounters with Dr. Graham. The world-famous evangelist’s life reflected Galatians 6:14, a verse that was posted in a number of places around his home. It reads: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

If we take time to immerse our minds in this biblical truth, it will become true in our lives and our legacy.

Why not today?

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Denison Forum – Pet tiger recaptured in Houston: Trusting God’s word when we do not understand his ways

A pet tiger that had been wandering around a Houston neighborhood for several days has been found safe. It was taken to an animal sanctuary yesterday morning, and for good reason: there really is no such thing as a “pet” tiger. As the Humane Society notes, attacks by captive tigers have killed children and adults.

What is true physically is even more true spiritually: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He has clearly been roaring lately, as a scan of the headlines shows:

  • A four-year-old boy was found dead Saturday morning on a street in Dallas. Police said he died in a violent manner and have arrested a suspect in connection with his death.
  • The Biden administration is seeking ways to prevent cyber threats such as the ransomware attack that caused havoc for Americans on the East Coast.
  • Economists are concerned about rising inflation and disappointing jobs reports.
  • As the conflict in Israel continues, observers report that Hamas is winning the battle for leadership of the Palestinian national movement, with significant consequences for the future of peace in Israel.

If you and I were all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, we would not allow tigers to attack humans or humans to mistreat tigers. We would not allow children to be harmed, much less murdered. We would not allow attacks of any kind on innocent people, or inflation to threaten our financial wellbeing, or military conflicts and their inevitable destruction.

And yet, our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God does. Obeying God’s word when we don’t understand his ways is one of the great challenges of the Christian life and a significant obstacle to faith for many skeptics. In a culture with greater scientific progress and technological sophistication than ever before in human history, it is easy to deceive ourselves into believing that we should not believe what we cannot understand.

However, with God the opposite is actually true. To paraphrase the classic song, the less we understand his hand, the more we need to trust his heart.

The miracle of medicinal mud

John 9 finds Jesus in the Temple precincts, where he had been debating with the religious authorities. As he left, he and his disciples “saw a man blind from birth” (v. 1). The Great Physician responded to the man’s plight in a strange way: “He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’” (vv. 6–7a).

If I were the man born blind, I would question both what Jesus did and what he asked me to do.

Using mud for medicinal purposes was common in the ancient world. So-called “medicinal clay” is described on Mesopotamian tablets around 2500 BC and by ancient Egyptians as well. It can draw toxic substances from the body, protect against bacterial infections, and help with skin diseases. But none of this would be true for a person born blind.

Nor does Jesus’ command to the man make sense in human terms. The pool of Bethesda was adjacent to the temple area; we visit it whenever I lead groups to Israel. The pool of Siloam, by contrast, was at the opposite end of the city. Formed by Hezekiah’s tunnel in 701 BC, it has been partially excavated and is a remarkable site. I have taught John 9 many times when visiting it.

But we make our way there on buses as sighted people. Imagine being blind, your face caked with mud, making your way through the city streets. None of this would make sense to you. But the man obeyed what he did not understand, with this result: “He went and washed and came back seeing” (v. 7b).

Obeying God’s will when we don’t understand his word is a common theme of Scripture. Noah built an ark to protect from a flood such as the world had never seen; Moses stood before a Red Sea that only God could part; Joshua and the people stepped into a flooded Jordan river that the Lord then stopped; the disciples who left their nets to follow Jesus had no idea they would become the spiritual forebears of billions of saved souls.

Each testifies today: when we do not see God’s hand, we can trust his heart.

Teaching calculus to a three-year-old

Where are you being asked to trust what you do not understand? What does God want you to do or stop doing in order to be more like Jesus? Who is he asking you to forgive? From whom is he calling you to seek forgiveness? Where is he calling you to use your influence and witness even more passionately and courageously for your Lord?

When it’s hard to trust God, remember this fact: human minds cannot understand divine sovereignty (Isaiah 55:8–9).

This should come as no surprise. If God is omniscient and our minds are finite and fallen, how should we understand his thoughts? He is not withholding explanations he could give if he wished—there are times when we simply are unable to understand his purposes and ways.

If we cannot explain calculus to a three-year-old, how much less can the King of the universe explain his thoughts to fallen humans?

Far from a problem for skeptics, this proposition should encourage faith in God. If our minds could fully understand God, either he would not be God or we would be. If we could understand every word of the Bible, we would have good reason not to believe that God inspired it.

I traveled in Turkey many years ago doing research for a book on the seven churches of Revelation. My driver and guide was a committed Muslim. During our conversations, he explained that he could not become a Christian because he could not understand the doctrine of the Trinity. I asked him: If there were no mystery to the nature of God, would he truly be God?

When you cannot see his hand

As we’ll see tomorrow, I am not asking you to suspend your intellect or to accept truth claims without investigation. Rather, I am encouraging us to believe that a Father who sent his Son to die on a cross so we could live eternally is a God who always wants our best.

I can testify both rationally and personally that it really is true: when we cannot see his hand, we can trust his heart.

Would you trust your greatest challenge to your Father’s heart today?

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Denison Forum – Rocket attacks and violent riots escalating in Jerusalem: The one pathway to true peace

“A struggle is now raging over the heart of Jerusalem,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated yesterday. He was addressing riots in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. What sparked the violence?

Thomas Friedman explains in today’s New York Times: Jerusalem Day is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and establishment of Israeli control over the Old City after the Six-Day War in 1967. It was celebrated with prayer services at the Western Wall beginning Sunday night.

It roughly coincided with Muslims’ Laylat al-Qadr, or “Night of Power”, commemorating the night when the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. It is the most sacred night of the Islamic calendar and is marked by thousands of Muslims gathering at the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

As Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, Palestinians threw rocks at them. Israeli police raided the mosque, where Palestinians had stockpiled stones. Hundreds of Palestinians were wounded; more than twenty Israeli police officers suffered injuries as well.

Yesterday’s violence was part of a weeks-long escalation. A month ago, Israel blocked some Palestinian gatherings at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Then a plan to evict dozens of Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighborhood engendered further conflicts.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has called for a new intifada—or uprising—in response. Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets into Israel yesterday, one setting off air raid sirens as far away as Jerusalem. The Israeli military responded with airstrikes.

I have led more than thirty study tours to Israel and love the Holy Land deeply. I have lifelong Jewish friends in Jerusalem and Palestinian friends in Bethlehem. Out of my decades of travel to the region, I have a personal insight I’d like to share with you today. But first, let’s consider a very brief overview of the region from two perspectives.

The Jewish version

The Jewish people believe that the land we call Israel was promised to them through Abraham (Genesis 12:7). His grandson Jacob became the father of twelve sons who became the progenitors of twelve tribes. Under Joshua, these tribes took possession of the land of Canaan in obedience to God’s direction.

Around 950 BC, King Solomon completed the first temple atop Mt. Moriah (1 Kings 6) where Abraham had offered Isaac centuries earlier (Genesis 22). After that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, it was rebuilt when the Jews returned to their land from Babylonian captivity but was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Following the second Jewish revolt in AD 132, Emperor Hadrian quashed their armies and scattered their people. He renamed the land “Palestine” (the Latin version of “Philistine,” the sea peoples that inhabited the Mediterranean coastal plain of the nation). Until 1948, the Holy Land would be known as Palestine and its inhabitants as Palestinians.

In AD 312, the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and legalized his new religion the next year. This began the Byzantine or “Christian” era in Israel. However, in AD 637, an Arab Muslim advance conquered Jerusalem and Palestine. The Muslim era continued until the Crusaders “liberated” and ruled the land from 1095–1291.

Egyptian Mamluks drove the Crusaders from Palestine and controlled the land until the Ottoman Turks gained control in 1517. They dominated Palestine until they were defeated by the British in World War I. In 1917, the British Empire was given control of Palestine. They left in 1947; on May 14, 1948, the modern State of Israel was born.

However, the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount (where the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque stand), remained under Jordanian control. In 1967, Israel gained control of all of Jerusalem. They allow Jordanian administration of the Temple Mount itself, while Israel controls the Western Wall and adjacent areas.

Nonetheless, Israel considers the entire, united city of Jerusalem to be its capital.

The Muslim version

Muslims tell the story very differently. They believe that Abraham offered not Isaac but Ishmael to God. Since they trace the Arab race to Ishmael, this makes the Arab nation God’s “chosen people,” not the Jews.

They also believe that the Prophet Muhammad was transported by God from Mt. Moriah to heaven and returned to Mecca the same night, making Mt. Moriah their third-holiest site (after Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet, and Medina, where he died). They completed the Dome of the Rock in AD 691 as a shrine over this location, followed by the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Arab Muslim residents of Palestine who were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 still claim the land as their own. Some, such as the leaders of Hamas, believe that the Jews should be driven from the region and the entire land reclaimed for a modern nation of “Palestine.” Many who reject the existence of Israel also claim that the Jewish temples never existed in Jerusalem.

Other Palestinians seek a “two-state” solution whereby Israel would keep some of the land and the Palestinians the rest. Both Palestinian groups claim East Jerusalem (including the Temple Mount) as the capital of a future nation of Palestine.

In recent years, Jewish settlers have been building homes and communities in the West Bank (an area located on the western bank of the Jordan river and including East Jerusalem). Many do not recognize the Palestinians’ right to the land; some claim the entire region as part of God’s mandate for the Jewish people. This land, however, is vital to a future Palestinian state, making the “settlements” extremely controversial and problematic.

“The way of peace they have not known”

As much as I love my Jewish and Palestinian friends in the Holy Land, I am convinced that the solution to their conflict lies with neither. Controlling the city of Jerusalem and its Temple Mount or finding a way for both peoples to live in one tiny region will not create the peace each seeks.

This is because we cannot have true peace with each other until we are at peace with God. Peace is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), God’s gift to those who have made his Son their Savior and Lord. Otherwise, as Paul explained, “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Romans 3:9) so that “none is righteous, no, not one” (v. 10) and “the way of peace they have not known” (v. 17).

The good news is that, according to friends of mine who are missionaries in the Middle East, Muslims and Jews are coming to faith in Jesus in unprecedented numbers. We can “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) by praying for all who live in Jerusalem and the Holy Land to meet the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:7).

Would you join me in making this your daily prayer, beginning today?

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Denison Forum – “Rainbow Disney Collection” will honor LGBTQ Pride Month: How and why to be the “visible presence” of God in the world

Let’s begin with some good news: you didn’t get hit by falling rocket debris yesterday.

Remnants of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. Most of its components were destroyed upon entering the atmosphere. Parts that survived reentry crashed into the ocean west of the Maldives, a small island chain south of India.

However, we don’t need threats from space to endanger life on earth.

Six people were killed yesterday morning during a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The suspected shooter, believed to be a boyfriend of one of the victims, is dead as well. One of America’s largest pipelines was shut down late Friday after being hit by a cyberattack and is still offline this morning.

Last Saturday afternoon, three bystanders were shot in New York City’s Times Square when a man arguing with other people fired wildly into the crowd. One of the victims was a four-year-old girl who was toy shopping with her family and was hit in the left leg. 

Speaking of children: the Walt Disney Company has unveiled the Rainbow Disney Collection. Designed to honor the annual Pride Month in June that celebrates the LGBTQ community and movement, the catalog of apparel and toys features T-shirts, Mickey Mouse ears, mugs, and even baby apparel, all adorned with rainbows.

This is just one way Disney seeks to introduce children to LGBTQ ideology. The 2020 Disney-Pixar animated film Onward had a minor character who was a lesbian; Pixar’s short film Out featured a gay lead character; and the Disney Channel cartoon series The Owl House featured a bisexual main character.

In 2018, Cartoon Network featured a same-sex wedding proposal on the animated series Steven Universe. The network is working to create comic strips asserting that there are multiple gender identities. Earlier this year, the Nickelodeon series Blue’s Clues and You! unveiled a song teaching children the alphabet while promoting LGBTQ advocacy.

“The stronger the emphasis, the fewer the Christians”

If you’re like me, you read such news and feel frustrated that the church is not doing more to impact the culture. If we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–14), why is our salt and light not doing more to season and enlighten our culture? Why, in fact, are churches and Christian institutions sometimes the problem more than the solution?

In an article published yesterday, David French makes a vital distinction between Christendom and Christianity. As he explains, “Christianity is the faith, Christians are believers in the faith, and Christendom is the collective culture and institutions (universities, ministries) of the faith.”

French cites the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who saw the Christian institutions of his day as hurting rather than helping the faith. Kierkegaard issued the compelling warning that imitating Jesus “is really the point from which the human race shrinks. The main difficulty lies here; here is where it is really decided whether or not one is willing to accept Christianity.”

He then explained the problem: “If there is emphasis on this point, the stronger the emphasis, the fewer the Christians. If there is a scaling down at this point (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine), more people enter into Christianity. If it is abolished completely . . . Christianity spreads to such a degree that Christendom and the world are almost indistinguishable, or all become Christians; Christianity has completely conquered—that is, it is abolished!”

In other words, we can make the imitation of Jesus into doctrines about Jesus and then build institutions to proclaim these doctrines. But we should remember James’s warning: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).

Doctrines and institutions that do not lead people to know and imitate Jesus personally will never change the culture. That’s because the culture changes when people change. And people are changed not by our words but by God’s Spirit.

People tempted by LGBTQ attraction and ideology are liberated not by protesting against Disney (though we should clearly stand against unbiblical morality) but by the transformation Jesus brings to a life yielded fully to him (2 Corinthians 5:17). For people being tempted by other forms of immorality in our broken culture, the answer is the same: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

The earliest image of Jesus

A two-thousand-year-old marble head of Emperor Augustus has been discovered in a town in Italy. It was originally part of a statue towering at least six feet seven inches. I have seen many such statues of Augustus in museums, each depicting the emperor in power and glory.

Now contrast these statues with the earliest image of the Savior born in Bethlehem when Augustus ruled from Rome (Luke 2:1–7). It was made in mockery of the Christian faith and depicted a donkey-headed Christ on his cross. Other early images made by Christians show Jesus as a shepherd and a healer. Not until the fourth century do we find images of him ruling in authority.

This is not because his earliest followers knew Jesus to be anything less than King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Revelation 19:16). Rather, their depictions call us to serve our King by serving others. The more we love Jesus, the more we will love those he loves. And he loves everyone.

The Holy Spirit uses changed people to change the world. The apostles could impact the Sanhedrin by their preaching because their lives had been impacted by its truth (Acts 4:13). Paul could call multitudes to Jesus because he had been transformed by Jesus (cf. Acts 22:1–21).

Churches and institutions can call our culture to imitate Jesus to the degree that those who comprise these churches and institutions imitate Jesus.

The “visible absence” and “invisible presence” of God

If you and I will meet with our risen Lord each day in worship, submitting to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and asking him to manifest the character of our Lord in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23), he will answer our prayer. If, like Jesus, we will seek to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45), our Lord will use us to draw others to himself.

In Telling the Truth, Frederick Buechner speaks of the “visible absence” and the “invisible presence” of God in the world. I would add a third category: the “visible presence” of God in the world through the people of God in the world.

Whom will you serve today?

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Denison Forum – A mother’s “Traveling Diary” goes global: The empowering path to “spiritual beauty”

Kyra Peralte is a mother of two in Montclair, New Jersey. A year ago, she started keeping a journal about the challenges of juggling marriage, work, and motherhood during a global crisis. She found the experience cathartic and wondered how other women were dealing with the overwhelming stress of the pandemic.

So she decided to invite women from around the world to fill the remaining pages of her composition notebook with their own pandemic stories. She wrote an article about her idea, then created a website so participants could add their names to the queue. Each person was allowed to keep the diary for up to three days and fill in as many pages as they wished, then mail it to the next person, whose address Peralte provided.

Her journal became “The Traveling Diary,” traversing the globe via snail mail and collecting handwritten stories. A year later, seven notebooks have circulated in locations from the United States to Australia, Canada, and South Africa. So far, 115 women have signed up to participate.

Creating a way for people to deal with their challenges in community is just what a mother would do.

The help mothers need

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Anna Jarvis initiated the idea of a Mother’s Day in 1905 to honor the memory of her deceased mother. Nine years later, President Woodrow Wilson made the day a national observance. By Ms. Jarvis’ death, forty-three countries around the world had joined in the holiday.

The impulse behind such a day is obvious: except for Adam and Eve, every human being in human history had or has a mother. While some never knew their mothers and others had very difficult childhoods, most of us experienced the kind of compassion Kyra Peralte modeled. And we are grateful for a day to express our gratitude.

Godly mothers especially deserve our support in these challenging days.

According to a national poll, 46 percent of parents say their teenagers’ mental health has worsened during the pandemic. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the proportion of twelve- to seventeen-year-olds visiting emergency rooms for mental health reasons rose 31 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. This is in addition to the ongoing mental health crisis among young people and other challenges mothers have been facing during the pandemic.

Where can they find help? A research study of more than two thousand mothers reported that being well-adjusted as a mother depended largely on how much emotional support was available from other people in their lives. The study showed that mothers especially need to feel unconditionally loved for their “core” selves with a reliable source of emotional comfort and authentic relationships with family and friends.

Here’s the good news: No matter how family and friends encourage or discourage us, our heavenly Father will always love us for who we are. He is always there for us. He seeks nothing other than an authentic relationship with us.

A lesson from a gas cap

As we close our weeklong focus on personal spirituality as the basis for public courage in the face of an antagonistic culture, let’s apply our discussion to mothers and families.

During one of my pastorates, I borrowed our church van to drive to a distant university for a board meeting. Unfortunately, I failed to pick up the gas cap key from the church office before leaving. When the van needed gas, I had no ability to open the cap and had to find a locksmith. I learned practically what every driver knows intellectually: vehicles need the fuel they were designed to use.

It is the same with our souls.

Most mothers can identify with Mark 6:31: “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Jesus’ purpose in calling us from the world is to call us to himself. He promises that those who “abide” in him will bear “much fruit,” but he also warns us that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Oswald Chambers was right: “Every element of self-reliance must be slain by the power of God. Complete weakness and dependence will always be the occasion for the Spirit of God to manifest his power.”

Our Father’s invitation to mothers is his call to us all: identify our challenges, admit that we cannot face them without God’s help, bring them to him in faith, and trust him for the resources and encouragement we need.

Finding “the world of spiritual beauty”

Henri Nouwen observed: “Contemplative life is a human response to the fundamental fact that the central things in life, although spiritually perceptible, remain invisible in large measure and can very easily be overlooked by the inattentive, busy, distracted person that each of us can so readily become.

“The contemplative looks not so much around things but through them to their center. Through their center he discovers the world of spiritual beauty that is more real, has more density, more mass, more energy, and greater intensity than physical matter. In effect, the beauty of physical matter is a reflection of its inner content.”

Whatever our circumstances, Jesus will reveal the empowering “world of spiritual beauty” within them to all who make time to seek it with him.

Will you accept his invitation today?

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Denison Forum – Pastor’s wife advocates for vaccines and receives death threats: A call to courage that glorifies Jesus

Emily Smith is an epidemiologist at Baylor University, the wife of a Baptist pastor, and a mother. She has been working hard to help her fellow evangelicals understand the urgency of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Though she has received vociferous criticism and even death threats, she is committed to her calling: “I just feel such a sense of obligation, especially from a Christian perspective, to be the Good Samaritan, and hopefully get people to band together and still wear their mask and get a vaccine.”

Jamie Aten is executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. In his work, he has helped his fellow evangelicals deal with hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other disasters. His ministry has been widely received with gratitude.

When he began urging his fellow evangelicals to get vaccinated against COVID-19, however, some of the responses he received were ugly. He even had to file a report with the sheriff’s office where he lives after getting an email claiming his work on vaccines was “punishable by death.”

Biblical citation labeled “hate speech”

C. S. Lewis observed that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

new policy in China went into effect last Saturday. It requires all clergy and religious leaders in China to “support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system,” and “practice the core values of socialism” while adhering to the “autonomous management of religion.” As a result of this policy, Chinese Communist officials removed Bible apps and public Christian WeChat accounts. Bibles in hard copy are no longer available for sale online.

Communist authorities recently closed Catholic Church-run children’s homes and orphanages and have ordered Christians to fly the Chinese flag and sing patriotic songs in their services. A recent publication includes China among sixty-two countries, comprising two-thirds of the world’s population, that violate religious freedom.

Finland is not on the list, but a member of its parliament is facing six years imprisonment for allegedly committing three crimes, including “hate speech.” A medical doctor and the mother of five, she has publicly voiced her opinion defending biblical sexual morality. One of her “crimes” was quoting Romans 1:24–27, a tweet for which she was accused of hate speech and interrogated by the police.

“I will not back down from my views,” she said. “I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”

“God’s story, my story, and their story”

Jacob Bland is the new president and CEO of Youth for Christ, a ministry that began in 1944 when Billy Graham served as its first full-time staff member. Today, it operates in over one hundred nations and has more than 160 chapters across the US. Bland explained his organization’s strategy in a way I found compelling: “The way we look at it, there are three stories that are overlapping: God’s story, my story, and their story.”

To advance God’s kingdom, we learn the stories of those who need Jesus, then we share his story by showing how he has changed our story and can change their story.

In yesterday’s Daily Article, I described the urgency of defending biblical morality in an increasingly antagonistic culture. I also noted the importance of living the truth we proclaim, knowing that our lives must be the first sermon we preach.

How can we be the change we wish to see? Paul’s letter to a church in an antagonistic culture offers us clear and compelling guidance.

When Paul came to the Greek city of Thessalonica, a mob responded to the gospel by attacking followers of Jesus (Acts 17:1–10). Nonetheless, the apostle encouraged Thessalonian Christians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). He reminded them that their salvation came “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v. 13), that divine-human partnership by which we accept God’s word as true and the Spirit uses that truth to transform our lives.

The basis for our salvation is “our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (v. 16). Paul could therefore pray for the Lord to “comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (v. 17).

Four empowering imperatives

This passage calls us to four simple commitments that are transforming for us and our influence:

One: Remember that God is love (1 John 4:8). Because he “loved us” in the past, he has given us “good hope through grace” for the present and “eternal comfort” for the future. No matter who you are or where you are, God loves you.

Two: Believe God’s word is truth (John 17:17). What the Bible says about sexuality or any other issue we face is the unchanging, life-giving truth of God.

Three: Submit to the sanctification of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:181 Peter 1:2). He alone can make us like Jesus (Romans 8:29), transforming us into the kind of people whose lives will draw the world to our Lord.

Four: Stand firm for your Lord (1 Corinthians 15:5816:13). The greater the opposition to Jesus, the greater the opportunity for courage that glorifies our Lord.

A song on the radio

As we choose to follow Jesus with courage, it is vital to remember that we need God’s grace just as much as anyone who rejects God’s grace. The other day, I was driving home from the office and heard a powerful song by Sidewalk Prophets on the radio. Titled “You Love Me Anyway,” it includes these lyrics:

I am the thorn in your crown
But you love me anyway
I am the sweat from your brow
But you love me anyway
I am the nail in your wrist
But you love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But you love me anyway

Will you celebrate and share this love today?

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Denison Forum – Church confirms drag queen for ordination: The urgency and power of personal morality

A gay man who is also a drag queen was recently confirmed by a Methodist church in Illinois as a candidate for ordained ministry. He wore wigs and full makeup while participating in his church’s “Drag Sunday” in April.

Another Hillsong pastor resigned last week after sharing explicit photos on social media. A Southern Baptist pastor in North Carolina resigned after being arrested and charged with child pornography.

And Josh Duggar, a former star of the television series 19 Kids and Counting and a very public Christian, appeared in court last Friday after he was arrested and charged with receiving and possessing child pornography. Though he pleaded not guilty, he has confessed to adultery and viewing pornography in the past.

My father served in World War II and never attended church again. As a result, I grew up without a church and with all my father’s faith questions. If I had read these stories before I became a Christian as a teenager, I would have seen them as excellent reasons to not become a Christian.

Should President Biden be able to take communion?

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone released a letter last Saturday calling for public figures who support abortion to be barred from taking communion. He serves in San Francisco and is thus archbishop for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is an ardent abortion supporter. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is likewise considering a document that would advise Catholic politicians who support abortion to not receive communion.

Here’s why this is such an urgent issue for them: Catholic theology teaches that the communion wafer and wine (also known as the Eucharist), when presented by the priest at the altar during Mass, become the body and blood of Christ (a doctrine known as “transubstantiation”). The Church states that this “sacrament” is “the source and summit of the Christian life” and that “in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church.” The Church also teaches that abortion is a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law.”

As a result, we would expect the vast majority of American Catholics to agree that public officials who support abortion should not take communion. But we would be wrong.

According to a new poll, 87 percent of Catholic Democrats believe President Biden should be allowed to receive communion, despite his passionate support for the “moral evil” of abortion. Only 44 percent of Catholic Republicans agree.

Why “we are losing a generation”

In my Daily Article last Friday, I discussed our society’s belief that sexual freedom and “authenticity” are essential to personal and social flourishing. In this view, the biblical worldview is dangerous to society and must be replaced with a secular vision for the future.

As Christians respond to this unprecedented threat to public biblical morality, it is absolutely vital that we demonstrate personal biblical morality.

Ethicist Russell Moore is right: “The problem now is not that people think the church’s way of life is too demanding, too morally rigorous, but that they have come to think the church doesn’t believe its own moral teachings.” He adds: “We are losing a generation—not because they are secularists, but because they believe we are.”

This is why you and I need a transforming, intimate, daily relationship with our risen Lord. And why our enemy will do all he can to keep us from one.

“Satan demanded to have you”

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus warned Simon Peter: “Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). “You” is plural in the Greek, referring to all the disciples. Satan wanted to “sift” them, meaning to shake them so violently that they would fall and fail.

Jesus continued: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (v. 32a). The “I” is emphatic; “you” is singular, referring to Peter alone. Jesus prayed that his faith (“faithfulness” in the Greek) would not “fail” in the sense of a complete and final denial of his Lord.

Jesus knew that Peter would experience a temporary failure but that God would redeem it: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b). Following Peter’s denial of his Lord (Matthew 26:69–74), he would repent and would “strengthen” the other disciples after their similar failures (John 21:15–19).

Peter responded, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). However, the opposite occurred: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me’” (v. 34). And so it was (Matthew 26:75).

The key to being like Jesus

How can this event help us experience the holiness in our lives we wish to see in the world?

First, expect temptation to find you. If Satan would attack your Lord (Matthew 4:1–11) and his lead disciple, he will attack you (1 Peter 5:8).

Second, pray for help to the One who is praying for you (Romans 8:34). If Peter had been more humble, he would have been more holy (cf. Micah 6:8).

Third, offer others the grace you have received (Matthew 28:19). Peter’s post-Easter ministry encourages each of us to be “beggars helping beggars find bread.”

The key to being like Jesus is staying close to Jesus. Oswald Chambers is right: “A great many Christian workers worship their work. The one concern of a worker should be concentration on God.” He added: “The only responsibility you have is to keep in living, constant touch with God and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your cooperation with him.”

Would Jesus say you are in “living, constant touch” with him today? If not, why not?

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Denison Forum – A political leader whose faith is deeply encouraging: Preparing for a threat that seeks to replace Christianity

The American media continues to cover President Biden’s Wednesday night address to Congress and the reactions to it. Meanwhile, another politician is making news in ways that are deeply encouraging.

Scott Morrison is the prime minister of Australia and a very public Christian. He spoke recently to the Australian Christian Churches’ national conference, where he shared his personal faith and sense of call to his position.

The Guardian reports that “Morrison is far from alone among Australian prime ministers either in holding religious beliefs or in talking publicly about them. But he is unusual in modern times in expressing such a direct sense of divine calling to the office of prime minister.”

The article takes a decidedly skeptical view of this “divine calling.” This is unsurprising, since the prime minister’s holistic faith conflicts directly with the narrative that now dominates our culture.

A threat “the church has not encountered before”

One of the transformative consequences of stepping away from our daily lives is an enlarged perspective when we return. Like a helicopter sightseeing tour that shows us a beautiful location from a higher view, retreating from the routine can help us see ourselves more clearly from God’s perspective.

One of the clear messages I sensed from God in recent days is that his people must prepare more urgently than ever for the challenges that are coming. We are in the early stages of a movement the church has never faced before, one which threatens us in ways that are now becoming clearer.

Sociologist Philip Rieff describes the era when the Christian movement began as the “first culture.” It was dominated by a pantheon of gods whose followers were content with their religion and not missionary toward the larger world. According to Rieff, the Christian movement sparked a monotheistic and evangelistic “second culture” which swept away the “first culture.”

Now we are in what Rieff calls the “third culture,” which Australian pastor Stephen McAlpine describes as “hermetically sealed off from anything transcendent.” It “recognizes only horizontal identity constructions, not vertical ones. Here is where meaning is determined, and here is where authority lies. It is ours to construct—and deconstruct.”

McAlpine adds: “This third culture is highly evangelistic and actively hostile to second-culture values.” For example, it considers sexual “freedom” and “authenticity” to be vital to personal and social flourishing. Biblical morality is therefore seen as dangerous to society and potentially deadly to LGBTQ individuals. The same vitriolic stance is taken with regard to abortion, euthanasia, or any other personal “freedoms” that are “threatened” by biblical faith.

According to McAlpine, this is a “new religion” and rival gospel “the church has not encountered before.” It seeks nothing less than to replace Christianity with its secular vision for a better future.

“My soul pants for you, O God”

What seems to be very bad news is actually the shadowside of very good news.

Every human being is made in God’s image for personal relationship with our Maker (cf. Genesis 1:27). Nothing in secular culture can fill this “God-shaped emptiness” that Pascal described. The further our society moves from biblical truth, the more people will hunger for biblical truth.

Therein lies our opportunity and our challenge.

Frederick Buechner noted, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” “The world’s deep hunger” is to hear from God. Not just about him—from him. The storms our culture faces are so grave, we cannot navigate them without divine leadership, provision, and protection.

You and I are conduits through whom our Lord speaks to our world. But we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot speak a word from God unless we hear a word from God. To meet “the world’s deep hunger,” we must first meet with God.

Our “deep gladness” comes from such intimacy as well: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). David testified: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

More than at any time in my lifetime, evangelical Christians need to follow David’s example today. As we face the cultural challenges that lie ahead, we desperately need a transformative, empowering connection with our Lord. I plan to say more about this connection next week; for today, let’s close by choosing to make it our first priority as the people of God.

“I don’t have time to sharpen my ax”

Ecclesiastes 10 offers this remarkable insight: “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed” (v. 10).

The story is told of a newly hired lumberjack who felled more trees on his first day than anyone else. By the fourth day, however, his output had fallen so far that his supervisor asked him what was wrong.

The man said, “I don’t understand. I’m working even harder than before but cutting less timber.” The supervisor asked the lumberjack how often he sharpened his ax. He replied, “I have too many trees to cut—I don’t have time to sharpen my ax.”

When last did you sharpen your “ax” with God? When next will you?

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Denison Forum – President Biden delivers first joint address to Congress: Two lessons on God’s calling to serve others

The Constitution requires the president to “from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union.” Though technically not a State of the Union address, President Biden fulfilled this obligation last night in front of a joint session of Congress. While most recent presidents have delivered such an address earlier in the year, the Coronavirus and other factors combined to delay last night’s report.

Biden began his speech with an update on where the country stands with vaccines before moving on to a general overview of his legislative priorities going forward. Among the most discussed were jobs, healthcare, immigration reform, climate change, foreign policy, and education.

He spoke for just over an hour and took a generally optimistic and conciliatory tone, with the phrase “the country supports it” used several times to portray a general agreement among Americans on several of the issues he discussed.

But while Americans may agree on the problems that need to be addressed, there remains a general lack of consensus on how to best address them. Tim Scott, in his response to the president on behalf of the Republican party, emphasized that reality on several occasions.

Scott spent much of his speech lamenting the partisan divides that still exist and outlining how the disparate views on how to move forward have often been at the heart of such conflict. He argued for a greater emphasis on taking a bipartisan approach to crafting legislation rather than just in support of legislation as a key component of the solution.

That emphasis is one of two I would like to highlight from last night’s affairs that can help us better understand how God is calling us to serve others and advance his kingdom today.

Focus on the issues

President Biden began his speech by stating, “Tonight, I come to talk about crisis and opportunity.” And while segments of his speech sought to depict a unifying path forward, he could not seem to consistently avoid relying on unnecessarily extreme rhetoric and examples to help elucidate how he views our current situation as a country.

In his depiction of the January 6th assault on the Capitol, for example, he stated it was “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” While what occurred that day was both embarrassing for our country and frightening for what could have happened, placing it above events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks is needlessly reckless and inaccurate.

Senator Ted Cruz’s description of what Americans could expect from the speech, published in an opinion piece yesterday morning, was not much better. The tone and content of the article, in which he began by stating “Let me save you an hour of your time this evening and sum up President Biden’s speech in three words: boring, but radical,” included little intended to bring Americans together unless they were coming together in opposition to the president.

In both cases, we see either the inability or the disinterest of political leaders to disagree in a way that does not give the other side cause to disengage from the conversation. And while that hardly makes either man unique in recent times, it does reinforce that we should probably look elsewhere for our examples of how to engage with others.

Fortunately, the Bible gives us a much better option.

As Christians—literally, “little Christs”—our example is Jesus. And while he was hardly above engaging in spirited debate with others, he never did so in a way that deviated from the truth or inaccurately maligned the other person. He kept his focus on the most important issues and spoke in such a way as to foster understanding and growth for everyone involved.

If we can learn to model that in our conversations with others, even if they choose not to return the favor, then we are far more likely to give God room to use that discussion to advance his kingdom.

Find real solutions

Our second point for today is closely related to the first.

Conducting our conversations in a way that avoids extreme examples and demeaning characterizations, while important in its own right, will make the greatest impact if those discussions are intended to find real solutions.

One of Senator Scott’s critiques in his response to President Biden’s speech was that, in regard to the problem of racism, “My friends across the aisle seemed to want the issue more than they want a solution.”

While that may be true for some, it is an approach that is hardly unique to the Democrats. Abortion and immigration, for example, are issues that Republicans rely heavily upon to generate support in their campaigns, but often seem less concerned about when it comes time to craft policy.

And it’s understandable why this approach would be tempting: it tends to work.

Unfortunately, it also makes it difficult to trust that either side really wants the changes they so eloquently describe.

Are we any different, though, when we spend more time complaining about a problem or lamenting its existence than we do trying to fix it?

If you hear of a need at your church or a hurting family in your neighborhood, is your first instinct to talk with other people about how tragic the situation is, or do you take steps to help make a real difference? It could be that such conversations are an important first step, but if that’s where our commitment level ends, then it’s quite possible that we have stopped short of God’s will.

Model what you wish to see

George Bernard Shaw once noted that “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

Regardless of what you think about President Biden, Senator Scott, or the speeches they gave, last night served as an important reminder that our political climate is largely a reflection of our culture. Perhaps it’s because the issues in Washington are often easier to see than the ones in our own communities, but we must learn not to focus so much on the speck in our politicians’ eyes that we ignore the plank in our own (Matthew 7:3–5).

Far too often, we make a habit of the very same behavior that we lament in others. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So take some time today and ask the Lord to help you reflect on your recent interactions to see how closely they align with the example of Christ. Then commit to making whatever changes are necessary to model the conduct you wish you could see in others.

After all, chances are good that it won’t be long before God gives you the chance to do just that.

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Denison Forum – Biden first US President to acknowledge deaths of Armenian Christians as genocide: Why the Armenian Genocide matters today

President Joe Biden made history this past weekend when he became the first sitting US president to recognize the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire—present-day Turkey—in the early twentieth century as a genocide.

It’s taken this long for the United States to officially describe horrific slaughter with accurate terminology because Turkey has long been seen as an important ally in the Middle East, and they are predictably hesitant to accept that classification. That the genocide is relatively unknown compared to those that occurred in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany—both of which seemed to be working from the Ottoman playbook—has helped give cover to minimizing the gravity of what actually occurred.

But, as noted conservative Ben Shapiro stated in praising Biden for the decision, rectifying the omission has been “long overdue.”

To understand why this decision is important for us today, though, we must first know a bit more about what happened and why the Ottomans systematically killed so many Armenians.

What is the Armenian Genocide?

The Armenian Genocide refers to a period starting around April 1915, when the Ottoman Empire began to arrest and deport the Armenian population within its borders to concentration camps in the desert. But many never made it that far. Instead, the Ottoman civil and military officials oversaw the systematic mass murder of somewhere between six hundred thousand to well over one million Armenian Christians across the journey.

To understand why the Armenians were targeted, however, requires going back several centuries.

The Armenians maintained a relative level of independence within the region until the Ottoman Empire conquered them during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While their relationship with the Ottomans was seldom easy in the years that followed—experiencing varying degrees of oppression based on who was in charge and a host of other factors—some Armenians began to rise to economic and political prominence within the empire during the 1700s. As Ronald G. Suny writes, “The prominence and influence of the well-educated and cosmopolitan Armenian elite had a drawback, however, in that it became a source of resentment and suspicion among Muslims.”

When a group of Armenians from Russia began agitating for independence in the late 1800s—a call most Ottoman Armenians rejected—it gave many within the empire’s leadership the provocation they were looking for to begin cracking down on the Christian minority within their borders. Over the next decade, minor uprisings were met with a decisive and harsh response, resulting in tens of thousands of Armenian deaths.

The situation began to escalate in earnest when, in 1913, a more extreme group within the ruling Young Turks movement came to power and increased their oppression of the Armenians by spreading rumors that they were collaborating with foreign powers and blaming them for the empire’s defeat in the First Balkan War (1912–1913).

When the Ottomans joined with Germany and Austria-Hungary a year later in World War I, they attempted to coerce the Armenians among their ranks into convincing their brethren across the Russian border to fight on the Ottomans’ side. The Armenians refused, however. After suffering a resounding defeat to the Russians in 1915, the empire placed the blame squarely on the Armenians and began either killing or deporting the Christians en masse.

By the time the war ended, over 90 percent of the empire’s Armenian population had left or died, and most of the surviving remnant were forced to either convert to Islam or face a similar fate. Their homes and property were divided up amongst Muslim refugees and any remaining traces of their existence were erased from the culture.

Why President Biden’s statement is significant

To this day, Turkey refuses to accept the historically accurate depiction of what occurred between the Ottomans and the Armenians during World War I. While they admit some Christians were deported and killed, they deny that any sort of systematic execution took place. Moreover, they argue that the action was warranted because the Armenians were rebels and represented a risk to national security.

Given that modern-day Turkey—under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—desires to recreate the Ottoman Empire and reclaim its position of international significance, their approach to this issue is notable. Moreover, their increased oppression against dissenters, restrictions on free speech, strict censorship of news and internet sources, and recent history of violence against the Kurds and others demonstrate a willingness to use manipulation and force to maintain their authority.

And while the systematic extinction of those in their way remains further down that path than where they stand today, the similarities between the nineteenth-century Ottoman government and that of modern-day Turkey are notable. All of which makes President Biden’s decision to reclassify the atrocity as genocide both significant and commendable.

That he and his administration are willing to risk the further fraying of our relationship with Turkey to bring awareness and context to the country’s history also demonstrates a tacit awareness that their current trajectory must not be allowed to continue unchecked.

Why this news should matter to us

But, as horrific as the actions of the Ottoman Empire were and as potentially dangerous as Turkey’s present course may be, why should President Biden’s decision to officially acknowledge the genocide as a genocide matter to each of us?

To start, what happens in the Middle East seldom stays in the Middle East. As America prepares to withdraw our remaining troops from Afghanistan in the coming months, present trends—in Turkey and elsewhere—make it easy to imagine a scenario in which their stay back home is relatively short lived.

Will you please join me in praying that tensions in Turkey specifically, but also the region as a whole, decrease? Will you also pray that the spiritual awakening currently bringing thousands of people in the Middle East to Christ each day continues and can be part of that stabilizing force?

Finally, the genocide that killed more than a million Christians a little over a century ago was far from the last time believers were persecuted in that region. Despite the growth of the faith—and perhaps because of that growth—the Middle East remains a very dangerous place to serve our Lord. So as we acknowledge the genocide perpetrated against believers long ago, let that memory fuel your prayers for the believers in harm’s way today as well.

What happened before can happen again.

Let’s pray right now that it doesn’t.

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Denison Forum -Fresh off another Oscar win, Pixar looking to cast its first openly transgender character: How should we respond?

Pixar Animation Studios has become perhaps the most preeminent name in children’s entertainment. They have been a mainstay at the Oscars for more than two decades and, this year, developed two of the five movies nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. Soul took home the award, becoming the eleventh such Pixar property to do so.

The success of their recent offerings is not the only reason they are in the news today, however.

Last week, word began to circulate that they were looking to cast someone to voice the character Jess in an upcoming project. Jess is described as someone who is “compassionate, funny, and always has your back.” They are looking for a 12–17-year-old who is “enthusiastic, outgoing, funny, and energetic” who also feels “comfortable acting in front of a microphone” and can “authentically portray a 14-year-old transgender girl.”

If that last part caught you by surprise, that’s kind of the point.

As of this writing, we don’t know much about the character’s role, the size of the part, or even if the project will be a feature-length or short film. But when it airs, Jess will become the first openly transgender character in a Pixar project. And while the company started heading this direction by including the first openly homosexual character in Onward last year—a cyclops cop named Officer Specter—it’s still a big step that caught many by surprise.

So how should we respond to this news?

To answer that question well requires looking at the issue on a couple of different levels.

Know what you don’t know

To start, it’s important to acknowledge what we don’t know.

As referenced above, Pixar has not given details on the size and prominence of the transgender character’s role, but history would seem to indicate it will be minor. The homosexual cop in Onward had one scene in the movie, and the only reason her sexual orientation was revealed is that a quick line mentioned her “girlfriend.”

When news broke that the live-action Beauty and the Beast would include a “gay moment,” many quickly denounced the film and called for its boycott. To this day, it’s not completely clear when that moment occurred, and the most likely scene is when two men bump into each other on the dance floor at the conclusion of the film.

My point in referencing both of those examples is this: if word had not leaked prior to the screening of each movie that they would contain a homosexual character, most people—and almost every child—who watched it would have never noticed.

It’s unclear if Jess’ transgender identity will be clearly noticeable, but it seems likely that at least part of the reason the story is making the rounds now is so that when it actually occurs, people will be looking for it.

The inclusion of characters in children’s programs who overtly embrace a lifestyle that runs counter to God’s truth as revealed in the Bible should not be taken lightly. The first such instances are often a test to see how far companies can push the limits before it begins to hurt their bottom line.

At the same time, the reaction—and overreaction—from Christians to announcements of LGBTQ characters in the past has often done more to publicize and advance that agenda than if a more measured approach had been taken. Blanket outrage usually does little more than temporarily rile up those who already agree with you, only to then make it seem like that anger was misplaced if the reality ends up being relatively minor and otherwise difficult to notice.

Let’s not make the same mistake this time.

There’s no harm in waiting for more information before deciding how you will react. In fact, far greater harm is likely to come if you don’t.

Should you see the film?

But while we wait for more information, many of us will already begin struggling with whether or not we will see the film when it’s released.

As the parent of two kids who are most likely going to want to see this movie, this discussion hits pretty close to home. And while there’s a lot that goes into that decision, ultimately there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Just be sure to include God in the discussion as, if you are open to his guidance and committed to following it, he will let you know what to do.

What we should not do, however, is pretend that shielding kids from a single film will shield them from the broader issue.

The days when it was safe to simply hand your child the TV remote and walk away ended a long time ago. While Pixar may be the biggest name in the children’s entertainment business to recently go down this path, they are far from the first. Fortunately, a quick Google search is usually enough to learn everything you need to know to make an informed decision.

While researching parental reviews for children’s programming may seem strange, it’s becoming an essential part of the parenting—and grandparenting—experience. After all, it’s worth taking an extra two minutes before telling your kids yes to help protect them from material they may not be old enough to process well.

And if they are old enough to have those conversations, perhaps viewing a film as a family could offer a better introduction than waiting for school or friends to have the first word on the subject.

Reacting with wisdom

Tony Evans once said that “wisdom may be defined as the ability to take spiritual truth and consistently apply it to life’s realities.”

As we prayerfully search for ways to respond well to the increasing attempts to render spiritual truth secondary to cultural norms, it will be of even greater importance to seek wisdom to apply God’s word to life’s realities in a way that is both relevant and faithful to Scripture. 

Pixar’s latest project could be a great opportunity to practice that wisdom in your family, with your friends, and on your social media. But as you do, remember that wisdom and outrage seldom coexist well. One usually ends up dominating the other.

Which will you choose today?

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Denison Forum – The national conversation over Ma’Khia Bryant’s shooting: A call for responding with reason

While the world waited in anticipation for the final verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on Tuesday, sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. Hours later, the body cam footage was released and appears to show that the officer delivered the fatal blow moments before Bryant, who was holding a knife, could do the same to another young woman.

Do those circumstances alter the tragedy of Bryant losing her life at such a young age? Absolutely not. But they do give it context, and that context is important for understanding what really happened and how we should respond.

You see, even the few hours between when the news of Bryant’s death was first reported and when the footage was released were enough for many to form and voice very strong opinions about the heartbreaking event. And for many, those opinions were not greatly changed by the video.

NBA star LeBron James, for example, was among the most prominent and controversial voices to weigh in. On Wednesday he tweeted and then quickly deleted a picture of a Columbus police officer with the caption “You’re next. #accountability.” He later explained that he removed the tweet because people used it “to create more hate” and that “ANGER does (not do) any of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though. My anger is still here for what happened that lil girl. My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!”

As the protests over Bryant’s death in the days since demonstrate, many share LeBron’s anger and frustration. And while we can debate the degree to which those emotions are warranted and well-placed in this instance, I’d like to focus our attention today on a different question, one that pertains to a problem that has been building across our culture for some time now and shows few signs of changing anytime soon.

Know why you’re speaking

While discussing the shooting on-air Wednesday night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo praised Don Lemon’s initial response of choosing to be “cautious about it . . . because there was a lot of emotion, and understandably so. You’ve got a sixteen-year-old kid who’s gone.” The two then went on to describe the challenges police face when called to a scene where, whether or not the officer fired his weapon, “I think that someone’s life probably would have ended.”

In highly charged situations, such as the shooting in Ohio, responding with reason rather than emotion is an essential but difficult task. It becomes even more challenging, however, when making a fast response is more important than making an informed response, which unfortunately is often the case in today’s cultural climate.

As Christians, we cannot afford to fall into that trap, as doing so drastically increases the chances we will speak, tweet, or post something that quickly looks foolish or offensive (often because it is).

Fortunately, there is a fairly simple question we can ask ourselves to help avoid that temptation: Why do I feel the need to share this thought with others?

It may sound simplistic, but so many of the mistakes we make in conversations on a variety of platforms come about because we are either trying to contribute to a conversation we don’t fully understand, earn points with friends and those we admire, or vent our frustrations at a given topic.

Knowing why you feel the need to speak is a big part of making sure you won’t regret what you say. And it’s a principle Jesus modeled well throughout his ministry.

Think before you speak

In John 8:1–11, for example, we find Jesus teaching at the temple when, in an effort to test him, the scribes and Pharisees dragged a woman in front of him and asked, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

Instead of answering right away, Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When he was finally ready to answer, he stood and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He then knelt back down and continued writing in the dirt.

Over time, what had begun as a tense and emotionally charged situation eventually de-escalated to the point that he was left alone with the woman.

While Jesus could have responded correctly without hesitation—an ability we often lack—by taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he not only ensured that his words were chosen carefully but also waited until at least some of the initial furor had died down. He was then able to bring God’s wisdom and perspective to bear on the situation in a way that otherwise would not have been possible.

A challenge for you today

The national conversation surrounding the death of Ma’Khia Bryant could have been far more productive if there were more voices that prioritized speaking reasonably rather than rapidly.

Unfortunately, it’s rare if we make it more than a few days before the next social calamity provides us the chance to try again.

When it does, will you take a moment to ask yourself why you feel the need to share your thoughts before you do so? How you answer that question often has a direct correlation to how much God is able to use those thoughts to advance his kingdom.

Choose them wisely.

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