Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Congress to hold UFO hearing today: What God may have intended with the question of alien life

A US House of Representatives subcommittee will meet today for the first open congressional hearing on UFOs since 1970. The hearing is in response to a report delivered to Congress last June by the intelligence community and the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.

That Task Force has since been reconstituted as the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, which exists to “detect, identify and attribute objects of interest in Special Use Airspace and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.”

If you read all that and came away thinking that there are probably better ways our government could be spending their time and resources, well, you’re not alone.

Even the chairman of the House subcommittee holding the hearing, André Carson, confessed “I’ve gotten some chuckles” from others about the meeting. He went on to add, though, that “it’s something I’m passionate about and I think I can take the heat. This may be the very thing that brings Democrats and Republicans together, at least for an hour or two.”

He also argued, on a more serious note, that the hearing was important because “this is an area of high public interest” and “any undue secrecy can serve as an obstacle to solving the mystery, or it could prevent us from finding solutions to potential vulnerabilities.”

Regardless of what you may believe personally about aliens and UFOs, Rep. Carson is right that it’s an area of high public interest.

But if it’s not an area of personal interest to you, why should you still care?

What does the Bible say about alien life?

Let’s start with a basic, but necessary, point of clarification.

If your faith in God feels threatened or shaken by the prospect of life existing outside of our planet, then you should first consider wrestling with why that’s the case.

Nothing in the Bible expressly denies the existence of extraterrestrial life. Neither does anything in the Bible require us to believe it’s out there. Why? Because the Bible is far more concerned with your life and my life here on Earth—and, more specifically, how to live that life in relationship with God—than it is that speculative question.

Satan would love it if we became divided over or obsessed with an issue that, most likely, just doesn’t matter instead of focusing on the things that do.

That said, I do think it’s telling that so many in our culture are fascinated by this subject.

A poll taken last year around the time that the initial report was released found that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe that it’s more likely than not for intelligent life to exist on other planets. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that the universe is just so big that the odds of us being alone seem improbably low.

And that conclusion makes sense, from a certain point of view.

After all, the part of the universe we can see is an estimated 93 billion light-years across and still expanding. Beyond its sheer size, the universe is also filled with countless stars, planets, galaxies, and other cosmological phenomena.

When you couple that information with the fact that there are really only two accepted theories for how life started on Earth—either it evolved naturally or was created—it becomes easy to see why people on either side of that divide would believe there’s simply too much out there for us to be alone.

But what if, rather than starting with what we can observe, we instead start with what God has revealed in the Bible?

Why did God create such an expansive universe?

If, as Genesis 1 describes, God created everything that exists by merely speaking it into existence, then the size of that existence really shouldn’t matter. Whether it was one planet or a million, one sun or a million, it’s not like it was a struggle for him. Nothing in Scripture indicates that he would feel compelled to create life on other planets simply because he created other planets. It’s not like they’re going to waste by just orbiting around in the universe unoccupied.

The argument that intelligent life exists on other planets because the universe is too big for us to be alone is predicated on a mindset that—if the Bible is correct—simply is not necessary to hold.

Rather, what if the reason God created an ever-expanding universe filled with stars, planets, and mysteries we still haven’t even begun to grasp is to point us back to him?

What if that sense we get of feeling like an infinitesimal speck when we look up at the night sky was meant to remind us of our need for the one who holds all that we can see and more in the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12)?

And what if our universe was a gift that God intended to remind us of just how much he loves us and how special we are to him?

People have looked to the stars and have been drawn to the divine in most every culture across human history. That is not a coincidence.

So, as our national attention once again shifts to the expanse of space, ask God to help you use that focus to point people back to him and to remind them of his love.

After all, that’s why it’s there.

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Denison Forum – Pro-choice protests at churches: How should Christians fight the culture wars?

When my wife and I sat down to watch the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” Saturday afternoon, we had no idea we would witness history. Rich Strike did not enter this year’s Kentucky Derby until thirty seconds before the deadline Friday after another horse was scratched. The colt had exactly one previous victory in his career. He went on to win in the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.

In another weekend surprise, First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Mother’s Day to meet with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. The next day, Russia held its annual Victory Day parade to pay tribute to those who fought and died in World War II.

The New York Times is reporting this morning that Vladimir Putin used his speech to “try to channel Russian pride in defeating Nazi Germany into support for this year’s invasion of Ukraine. But contrary to some expectations, he did not make any new announcements signaling a mass mobilization for the war effort or an escalation of the onslaught.”

Closer to home, a pro-life organization in Wisconsin was set on fire yesterday in an apparent arson attack. A pro-life pregnancy center in Denton, Texas, was defaced with graffiti. A Sunday Mass at a Los Angeles church was disrupted by protesters in red hooded gowns. Abortion supporters blocked the door of a church in Manhattan Saturday; one protester chanted, “God killed his kid, why can’t I kill mine?”

Saturday evening, pro-choice activists protested outside the homes of Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. More demonstrations outside the justices’ homes are planned for this Wednesday. The organizer of the Saturday night protests said, “The time for civility is over, man. Being polite doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Is this true?

Are civility and decency “secondary values”?

Sporting events are obviously competitive and typically “zero-sum” affairs: if one competitor wins, the others lose. Ukraine must obviously defend its country against Putin’s immoral invasion or fall to Russia. But how should Christians respond to “culture wars” such as the conflict over abortion? Is it true that “the time for civility is over”?

This is the argument of a First Things article by New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari: “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values.” Ahmari wrote his article to oppose what he calls “David French-ism,” which he criticizes as being too “polite” and not nearly adversarial enough.

French is a Harvard Law School graduate, Iraq veteran, noted religious rights advocate, prolific author, and committed evangelical Christian. Denison Forum Executive Director Dr. Mark Turman and I were honored last week to record a podcast with him. During our conversation, David made the argument that we must not choose between “Sermon on the Mount” character and a “Romans 13” ruler—followers of Jesus should seek both.

In response to a growing sentiment that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” he similarly noted in yesterday’s French Press article that “the spirit of fear that grips so much of the modern American church might be a reason why so many Christians have scorned civility and decency in the public square, but it’s not a justification.”

How, then, should we respond to the “culture wars”? In his latest book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, David eloquently calls for Christians to engage in political conflict in ways that honor our Lord and exemplify the “fruit” of his Spirit.

He observes, “Those who care the most often hate the most, and one of their chief methods of discrediting ideological allies with whom they compete is by portraying them as too tolerant of the hated political enemy. Kindness is perceived as weakness. Decency is treated as if it’s cowardice. Acts of grace are an unthinkable concession to evil.”

So, who is right?

“You also must forgive”

Paul writes in Colossians 3: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (vv. 12–13, my emphasis). Let’s focus on the italicized half of this remarkable sentence.

“If” could be translated “whenever,” recognizing the reality of what follows. “One has a complaint” refers to a plaintiff’s legal allegation against another person.

“Forgiving” could be translated as “pardoning,” the gracious decision not to punish. As ethicist Lewis Smedes shows in his classic book Forgive and Forget, biblical forgiveness does not mean that we excuse the hurtful behavior, tolerate it, or pretend it did not occur. When a governor pardons a criminal, she does none of these things. Instead, she chooses not to punish the criminal.

This is how “the Lord has forgiven you”—he has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14). In light of such forgiveness, Paul tells us, “You also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13; cf. Ephesians 4:32).

If not, why not?

I plan to say more about forgiveness and our “culture wars” tomorrow. For today, let’s make this conversation personal.

Do you have a “complaint” against someone? Will you pardon them as your Father has pardoned you?

If not, why not?

Does someone have a “complaint” against you? Will you seek their pardon?

If not, why not?

NOTE: I hope you’ll listen to our entire podcast with David French. During our wide-ranging conversation, he reflects on the Supreme Court leak and our larger cultural moment with a depth of wisdom I commend to you with gratitude.

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Denison Forum – Two gifts every child needs to give and every mother needs to receive

Mother’s Day is coming at an unprecedented time for American society.

For the last two years, most mothers were forced to stay inside on this special day due to the pandemic. As a result, Mother’s Day spending is expected to total $31.7 billion this year, up 13 percent from last year. The average consumer will spend 25 percent more compared to the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Approximately 84 percent of US adults are expected to celebrate the holiday.

We should do everything we can do to honor and encourage our mothers. Has there been a time in our lifetime when Americans needed mothers who live and parent biblically more than today?

A “Mother’s Day Strike” to support abortion?

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court leak shocked the nation with reverberations that are continuing today. In one of the most ironic and contradictory announcements I can remember, some pro-abortion activists are calling for a “Mother’s Day Strike” to protest the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. They want people to cease working, shopping, attending school, and other activities.

While Americans are thanking our mothers for giving us life, they will be protesting for the right to end life. Their decision to use Mother’s Day for their cause reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s statement, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”

Here’s another sign of our times: President Biden announced yesterday that Karine Jean-Pierre will replace Jen Psaki as White House Press Secretary when Psaki steps down on May 13. This is one of the most visible positions in our government. The press secretary’s briefings make the news almost every time they occur.

The president’s announcement was especially noteworthy for this reason: She will be the first Black woman and the first openly gay woman to hold the position.

Two gifts that change our lives

Here’s the good news for mothers and their children (that’s all of us): we have a Father who loves us unconditionally and whose word shows us how to encourage our mothers in empowering and transforming ways.

Ephesians 6 begins: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (vv. 1–3). The text addresses all “children” of all ages and identifies two gifts every mother needs.

The first is to “obey” our mothers—the Greek word is a present active imperative calling us to seek and follow their guidance every day. The second is to “honor” them—the Greek word means to treat them with deference, respect, and kindness. It is also a present active imperative calling us to find ways to honor them every day.

Why are these gifts so important?

When we give them to our mothers, “it may go well with you,” referring to the quality of our lives, and “you may live long in the land,” referring to the quantity of our lives. These are not unconditional guarantees (the righteous Abel died at the hands of his unrighteous brother Cain, for example), but abiding principles. When we obey and honor godly mothers, our society is blessed. Our lives are blessed. And our mothers are blessed.

(There is much more to say about this remarkable text, so I invite you to read my sermon for this Sunday expanding on this biblical passage and its life-changing practical principles.)

Mental health resources I encourage you to consider

Whether you are a mother or a mother’s child, these two gifts can be life-giving. In addition, our ministry has sought in recent days to respond practically to the stress and anxiety of these days. As I noted on Monday, mental health challenges are very real and very pervasive in our society.

Consequently, I invite you to visit these resources on our Denison Forum website:

Rebecca Walls leads Unite, one of the most effective community engagement ministries I know. She has just published an article titled, “How to equip yourself to help others fighting anxiety and depression.” She shows us how to join a live, online overview that explains the basics of relational emotional healing and how to browse a site that helps people find the help they need.

Chris Legg, a pastor and licensed professional counselor, wrote an article titled “Struggling with mental illness? Consider these 7 ideas.” He identifies practical steps for those wrestling with mental illness and discusses ways the church can help.

Chris earlier wrote an article titled “3 reasons why churches fail at mental health.” He discusses the “perfection” trap, the “not-here” trap, and the “Bible is sufficient for everything” trap.

His son, Mark Legg, serves as our Associate Editor and wrote an article titled “Why are teens sadder, lonelier, and more depressed than ever before?” He notes the horrific escalation of sadness and loneliness among American teenagers, warns of mistaken answers, outlines four reasons for increasing persistent sadness, and offers parents some very practical ways to help children find their identity in Christ.

Dr. Lane Ogden, a licensed professional counselor and longtime friend, wrote an expansive article on what the Bible says about mental health. He explains how our minds work and how our thoughts and feelings interact, cites biblical verses on mental health, and identifies practical ways to increase healthy thinking.

I also wrote an article titled “Mental health for pastors: Three ways Jesus practiced self-care.” I focused on social distancing, gratitude in hard times, and the priority of physical health for mental health.

The model for the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic gifts ever given to our nation. Whom did the French sculptor Bartholdi fashion her after? He never formally answered the question, but as the Statue of Liberty tour website states, “There seems to really be only one person whom the Statue of Liberty most closely resembles.” A portrait of his mother, Charlotte Bartholdi, when placed next to the statue, shows that they are almost identical.

Bartholdi found a way to honor his mother every day.

How will you follow his example?

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Denison Forum – The Supreme Court news you may have missed

This week, a Supreme Court ruling made headlines. I’m not referring to the draft by Justice Samuel Alito of a majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. The day before the “leak heard ’round the world,” the court ruled that Boston violated the free speech rights of a person when it refused to fly a Christian flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.

The court determined that the city discriminated against Harold Shurtleff because of his “religious viewpoint.” Boston had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags before rejecting Shurtleff’s because he wanted to fly a Christian flag.

Here’s the amazing part: the Supreme Court not only overturned lower courts that had sided against Shurtleff, but it did so by a unanimous 9–0 decision. And that decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton and is considered the second-most liberal member of the court.

On this annual National Day of Prayer, let’s give thanks for the freedom to have a National Day of Prayer, a right that would be unthinkable for Christians in many countries around the world.

And let’s use this right as God intends, which is more counterintuitive than you might think.

The Supreme Court flip that led to 22 million abortions

I am grateful that the Continental Congress issued a national call to prayer in 1775. I am also grateful that Billy Graham’s call for America’s leaders to unite in prayer during the Korean War led to the National Day of Prayer tradition that began in 1952.

However, I am confident that American leaders who believe in prayer also believe that we need to pray for our nation not just once a year but every day of the year.

The Supreme Court leak has once again exposed the danger of self-governance without personal morality. Presumably, a single person made the decision to leak this document, a decision to betray their trust and the confidentiality of the court that has precipitated a crisis now dominating the news.

Consider another example of the power of one person in a democracy. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s flip on abortion when the Supreme Court considered Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 caused the court to affirm rather than overturn Roe v. Wade. Had he remained consistent with his long-held position on abortion, more than twenty-two million babies aborted since that time could have been saved. This is the population of Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming—combined.

We could spend the rest of the day discussing the other moral crises of our day. My point is simple: America needs America’s Christians to pray for America fervently and daily.

But there’s a catch.

“Can man make for himself gods?”

Paul declared, “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). This seems to be a self-evident assertion: If a human makes an object, how can that object be divine?

The prophet Jeremiah similarly asked, “Can man make for himself gods?” Then he answered his question: “Such are not gods” (Jeremiah 16:20). You and I would obviously agree.

However, the great British pastor Charles Spurgeon would caution us that our response might be too hasty. He wrote: “We pity the poor heathen who adore a god of stone and yet worship a god of gold. Where is the vast superiority between a god of flesh and one of wood? The principle, the sin, the folly is the same in either case.”

Then he added this convicting note: “In ours the crime is more aggravated because we have more light and sin in the face of it. The heathen bows to a false deity, but the true God he has never known; we commit two evils, inasmuch as we forsake the living God and turn unto idols.” He then prayed, “May the Lord purge us all from this grievous iniquity!”

I fear that one such “grievous iniquity” is the way some of us pray. When we make prayer merely a day or an event, we violate the biblical command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When our prayers are merely transactional—praying for our nation so God will bless our nation—our prayers make God a means to our ends.

I fear that God would consider such prayer to be akin to idolatry. We are not praying to the wrong God, but we are praying for the wrong reasons.

“Prayer is the life of the saint”

A. W. Tozer observed, “The Scripture does not say of Abraham that he believed the text and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Abraham believed God. It was not what Abraham believed, but who Abraham believed that truly counted” (my emphasis).

The purpose of prayer is first that we know God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The psalmist spoke for us all when he prayed, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

The Scottish minister John Baillie was thus right to pray: “You have breathed your Spirit into my spirit; you have formed my mind to seek you; you have turned my heart to love you; you have made me restless for the rest that can be found in you.”

Oswald Chambers would have agreed. One of the great spiritual geniuses of all time, he observed: “The correct concept is to think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops. . . . Prayer is not an exercise, it is the life of the saint.” As a result, he taught us to “maintain the childlike habit of offering up prayer in your heart to God all the time.”

Our larger prayer

Without question, we should pray for God to bless America. In fact, we are commanded to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2) and for our needs (Matthew 7:7). We should pray for our nation as the Jews prayed for theirs (Psalm 122:6).

But our larger prayer should be that Americans would know God. That we would receive not just his gracious favor but his living presence. That we would seek not just what he can do for us but the salvation he alone can give us. That we would experience the spiritual and moral awakening that is our true hope for the future.

Would you make this your prayer for America today?

Would you make it your prayer for your soul?

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Denison Forum – The latest on the Supreme Court leak and “the one and only pro-life argument”

The leak of a Supreme Court draft Monday evening is dominating the news again this morning.

Amy Howe, the Supreme Court analyst at SCOTUSblog, tweeted, “It’s impossible to overstate the earthquake this will cause inside the Court, in terms of the destruction of trust among the Justices and staff. This leak is the gravest, most unforgivable sin.” Criminal law professor Orin Kerr called the leak “the most egregious violation of confidentiality for a staff member or employee of the court that you can imagine.”

Barricades were erected around the Supreme Court building after the leak in anticipation of public reactions. This turned out to be a wise move, as demonstrators on both sides rallied Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Signs included “[expletive deleted] SCOTUS” and “Sam Alito Retire [expletive deleted].”

One activist wrote, “Seriously, shout out to whoever the hero was within the Supreme Court who said ‘[expletive deleted] Let’s burn the place down.’” Others issued similar calls for violence against the court.

After the Kavanaugh confirmation in 2018, hundreds of protesters tried to break down the Supreme Court’s bronze doors, scaled the building and its statues, and threw tomatoes and water bottles at the cars of justices who had attended his swearing-in. We are left to wonder what the reaction will be if the draft document does in fact mirror the court’s ruling this summer, or if it does not.

What prompted the leak?

Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement yesterday confirming the authenticity of the draft opinion leaked to POLITICO and announcing an investigation into the document’s disclosure, which he described as a “singular and egregious breach” of the court’s trust. According to Axios, “This is the first time in modern history that a ruling has leaked before the court issued it publicly.”

It is being reported that Roberts did not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, resulting in a five-to-four majority for such a ruling. However, draft opinions are far from final since justices often change their minds during the writing process. For example, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court was reportedly ready to reverse Roe but ended up affirming it after further negotiation.

Some therefore believe that the leak was intended to “incite violence and bully justices into changing their votes.” On the other side of the coin, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes this morning that the leak “might suggest that a leaker on the conservative side hopes to freeze a wavering justice—Kavanaugh being the obvious candidate—into their initial vote.”

Legal experts are discussing the degree of illegality involved in the leak. Some Democrats are calling for Congress to pass a federal law codifying Roe v. Wade, seeking federal legislation that would override laws in states that restrict abortion. Some are demanding that the Senate eliminate the filibuster rule to pass such a bill.

Democrats and Republicans are both claiming that the ruling will help energize their supporters in the midterm elections. And some are calling for the Court to issue its ruling now rather than in late June or early July, arguing that the leak “was meant to corrupt the process.”

Meanwhile, Amazon promised to reimburse employees who travel to obtain abortions; Yelp announced that it would do the same. And as more states restrict abortion, an estimated fifty doctors are traveling across state lines to perform abortions in places with limited abortion access.

A brilliant case for life

How should Christians respond to this furor?

Writing for Public Discourse, law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen outlines what he calls “the one and only pro-life argument.” He makes a brilliant case that the issue comes down simply to this question: whether the unborn child is or is not a living human being. If it is, there can be no moral justification for killing it save in self-defense (saving the life of the mother).

He makes his point by asking whether any moral argument justifies killing “a born, living child.” He compiles all the “good” arguments for abortion: “poverty, economic or social stress, lost or delayed opportunities, single motherhood, male abandonment, sexual autonomy, conscientious but unsuccessful use of contraception, the child’s disability, rape or incest, the emotional or psychological distress of parenthood.” Then he asks whether any of these would “justify what we would otherwise recognize as the simple murder of a living newborn, infant, or toddler.”

Paulsen then compiles all the “bad” motives for forbidding abortion: “hypocrisy, callousness, intentional subjugation of women, discrimination, a desire to impose unwelcome religious beliefs upon others.” And he asks whether they would “render the deliberate killing of born, living human children right.”

His point is clear and compelling: if the unborn child is a living human being, he or she deserves the same protections of the state as any other living human being. In fact, Paulsen notes, “If the unborn child is factually a human life, then saving such lives from the violence of others is a compelling interest if ever there was one. Indeed, it is a moral obligation and imperative.”

Our most urgent imperative

Paulsen is right: as controversy over the leaked Supreme Court document swirls and the political ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade dominate the cultural debate, the personhood of an unborn child should be our most urgent imperative. That’s why in my website article, “Abortion and the Mercy of God,” I offer an in-depth scientific, medical, and biblical argument that life begins at conception.

For today, let’s focus on this fact: we are in this to advocate for living human beings. We believe that David’s prayer is true of every human from the moment of conception:

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13–1416).

Would you take a moment to thank God for forming you in your mother’s womb?

Would you thank God that your mother chose to give you life?

Would you ask God what you can do today to help someone else choose life?

NOTE: For a discussion of the moral arguments for and against abortion and biblical responses, I encourage you to listen to a new episode of The Denison Forum Podcast I recorded yesterday with Dr. Mark Turman. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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Denison Forum – Leaked draft reveals that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, according to what POLITICO calls “an initial draft majority opinion.”

I intended today to continue Monday’s discussion of mental health issues and biblical encouragement. However, since the POLITICO report is such an obviously significant story, I will shift to summarizing it, then we’ll consider three biblical responses.

Roe and Casey must be overturned”

The draft making global headlines today was written by Justice Samuel Alito and circulated inside the court. It was obtained by POLITICO last night, which describes it as “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation” of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing federal abortion rights and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that largely maintained them.

Alito writes, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

POLITICO further reports that, according to “a person familiar with the court’s deliberations,” justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voted with Alito in a conference after hearing oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December. The line-up reportedly remains unchanged as of this week.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan are working on one or more dissents, according to the source. It is reportedly unclear how Chief Justice John Roberts will ultimately vote and whether he will join an already written opinion or draft his own.

An “unprecedented revelation”

The draft opinion runs ninety-eight pages and includes a thirty-one-page appendix of historical state abortion laws. According to POLITICO, it is “replete with citations to previous court decisions, books and other authorities, and includes 118 footnotes.” It is labeled as a first draft of the majority opinion and includes a notation that it was circulated among the justices on February 10.

However, as POLITICO notes, justices sometimes change their votes as draft opinions circulate. Major decisions can be subject to multiple drafts and vote changing, sometimes until just days before a decision is unveiled. The court’s decision will not be final until it is published, probably in the next two months.

POLITICO adds that “no draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending” and observes, “The unprecedented revelation is bound to intensify the debate over what was already the most controversial case on the docket this term.”

What about legal precedents?

Justice Alito notes, “Until the latter part of the twentieth century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right.”

Justice Alito lists about two pages’ worth of decisions in which Supreme Court justices overruled prior precedents. He also writes, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

The justices held their last arguments of the current term last Wednesday. A series of sessions are now set over the next two months to release rulings in still-unresolved cases, including the Mississippi abortion case that led to Alito’s draft.

If the court does rule as the draft document would indicate, a federal constitutional protection of abortion rights would end and each state would be allowed to decide whether to restrict or ban abortion.

Would this end abortion?

According to this morning’s New York Times, if the court overturns Roe, “abortion would probably become illegal in about half of states.” One group lists twenty-four states that are likely to ban abortion; another group lists twenty-six such states.

However, women seeking abortions could travel to a state where abortion is legal or order pills online from outside the country. Texas is an example: after a law went into effect in September banning abortion at around six weeks, abortions at Texas clinics fell by half. But many women were able to obtain abortions in other states or by ordering pills. As a result, the total number of abortions among Texas women fell only by around 10 percent.

So, what does today’s news mean?

If the Supreme Court rules as the draft opinion would indicate, the fight for unborn children will be waged in the states. Since abortion will still be available in many states and through pills, we will need to focus on what has always been the heart of the issue: ministering to women who are considering abortion. Let’s close with three simple but urgent ways to do this.

One: Go to them.

Jesus went to Samaria (John 4:4), where he initiated a relationship with a Samaritan woman (v. 7), violating the conventions of his Jewish culture (v. 27). Following his example, let’s seek ways to help women who are considering abortion. If you do not know any, ask the Lord to lead you. Consider volunteering at a crisis pregnancy ministry in your community. Earn the right to be heard by building relationships based on compassion and humility.

Two: Offer hope in Christ.

The Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well for water, but Jesus offered her “living water” (v. 10) that would become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). Jesus will forgive every sin we confess (1 John 1:9) and make us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) with “abundant” and joyful life (John 10:10).

Our highest purpose with every person we meet is to offer them the hope we have found in Christ. To do this, we must often meet felt needs to meet spiritual needs (cf. John 6:2). Women choose abortion for a variety of reasons, including financial pressures, educational or job plans, and not being emotionally or mentally prepared to become a mother. Christians and churches can help to meet these practical needs, offering hope that leads to our ultimate hope in Christ.

Three: Pray for them.

Please join me in praying daily for women and their families to choose life for their unborn children. Pray for those who minister directly with such women and consider joining them. Support their ministries as you can.

Joni Eareckson Tada was right: “Though gradually, though no one remembers exactly how it happened, the unthinkable becomes tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And then applaudable.”

Let’s make abortion unthinkable through our intercession and compassion. Millions of lives are in the balance.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The Holocaust survivor who married her American liberator

Gerda Weissmann’s entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. She weighed sixty-eight pounds when she was discovered by two American soldiers a few hours after Germany officially surrendered to Allied forces. After six years under Nazi terrorism, her feet were so frostbitten, doctors feared they might have to amputate. She was critically ill and in and out of consciousness for days as she was slowly nursed back to health at a field hospital.

One of the soldiers who found Gerda held the door of his Jeep open for her. “That was the moment of restoration of humanity, of humaneness, of dignity, of freedom,” she said later. That soldier, Kurt Klein, and Gerda fell in love and eventually married. They moved to the US where they had three children. They were married for more than fifty years until his death in 2002. By her death on April 3 at ninety-seven years of age, she had eight grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.

In 1996, a documentary about her won an Oscar. When she took the stage with the director, she told a global audience, “In my mind’s eye, I see those years and days, and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.” In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her the highest civilian honor in America, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“We must remember the past or it will become our future”

Yesterday was one of the most somber days of the year for me. Not because of anything happening where I live, but because of what happened seven thousand miles to the east in a country I consider my “second home.”

As the Times of Israel reports, “Israel came to a standstill at 10 a.m. on Thursday as sirens wailed throughout the country in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.”

I have led more than thirty study tours to the Holy Land and have been in Israel on Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. For two minutes, everything stops. Cars and buses pull over and drivers and passengers stand on the roads with their heads bowed. Ceremonies are held in schools, public institutions, and army bases across the country. An hour later, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) holds the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony during which lawmakers read out the names of Holocaust victims.

This annual remembrance is vital not only so the Jewish people can remember those who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators but so the world can vow that such a tragedy must never happen again. One hundred Holocaust survivors stated in a video released yesterday, “One-third of the world’s Jews were systematically murdered” and added, “We must remember the past or it will become our future.”

This at a time when reports of antisemitic activity throughout the world have reached a record high. The number of antisemitic incidents throughout the US in 2021 rose 34 percent from the previous year to the highest number on record. According to a new survey, nearly half of Israelis fear that a second Holocaust is coming.

Why German churches flew Nazi flags

Why would the Nazis and their collaborators believe murdering six million people (a quarter of them children) was morally defensible on religious grounds?

As the German Catholic Church admitted in 2020, German bishops were motivated by nationalism, anti-communist sentiment, and a desire to preserve the church by avoiding confrontation with the Nazis. As a result, many told their followers to support the regime during the war. On Hitler’s fiftieth birthday in 1939, churches even flew Nazi flags and prayed for protection for the “Fuhrer and the Reich.”

Now let’s ask our question differently: Why would Vladimir Putin believe invading Ukraine and murdering Ukrainians is morally defensible on religious grounds?

As Dr. Ryan Denison notes in a recent Denison Forum article, the Patriarch of Moscow has endorsed the war as a holy struggle, describing it as the government’s attempt to protect Russia from the scourges of Western debauchery and stating that, in battling Ukraine, Russia is battling the Antichrist.

It is therefore unsurprising that, as Mark Legg reports in a recent Denison Forum article, Putin’s approval rating has jumped to around 83 percent since the invasion while only 4 percent of Russians think he is responsible for the war.

These are only two examples of using religion for horrifically immoral ends. In Recovering Our Sanity: How the Fear of God Conquers the Fears that Divide Us, Michael Horton explains this tragic phenomenon, noting that many religions across history have been practiced to “manage God’s judgment.” He writes: “We have to be the star of our own life movie. So, individually and collectively, we invent ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ as ways of avoiding reality.”

If I can construct a religion that permits me to do what I wish and even endorses my immoral decisions, that religion will be both utilitarian and popular. Thus we see the popularity of “sacred prostitution” in the ancient world (having sexual relations with temple prostitutes was viewed as a way of worshiping the gods served by these prostitutes). We find false prophets endorsing the king’s agendas for the sake of their personal advancement (cf. 1 Kings 22). We see the religious authorities inciting the crowds to demand Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:21–23). From then to now, religions have often been a means to immoral ends.

“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal”

Let’s bring this discussion home: Is there a transactional dimension to your relationship with God? Are you tempted to worship God on Sunday so he will bless you on Monday? To start the day with prayer (and perhaps this Daily Article) so he will bless your day? To respond in anger if he doesn’t “keep up his end of the bargain”?

The antidote is twofold.

One: Remember that God is the “everlasting King” of the universe whether we acknowledge his sovereignty or not (Jeremiah 10:10). He is not an object to our subject, a means to our ends. Let’s therefore join Paul in praying, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).

Two: Celebrate the unconditional love of this king for us today. He loved us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8) and he loves us today “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). We cannot make him love us any more or any less than he does because by his very nature, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The Irish writer Thomas Moore invited us:

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

What “sorrow” do you need heaven to heal today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Man marries a fictional character: Learning to “spot the lie”

The New York Times is profiling a movement called “fictosexuals.” These are people who consider themselves married to a fictional character, whether a doll, a character in a video game, or a similar “person.” One person who “married” a doll wants us to know that as artificial intelligence and robotics allow for more profound interactions with the inanimate, the number of “fictosexuals” is likely to increase.

In other news, Google has launched an “inclusive language” function that warns writers to avoid certain words and phrases that “may not be inclusive to all readers.” It will prompt you to change “mankind” to “humankind” and “policeman” to “police officer,” for example. I wonder if one day I will be prompted to change “same-sex marriage” to “marriage equality” and “sex change operation” to “gender affirmation therapy” as such euphemisms normalize a “personal truth” culture.

Speaking of normalizing behavior once considered immoral, my hometown Dallas Morning News informs us that a local town’s embrace of LGBTQ “Pride” will “show [us] how to do things right” as a “perfect example of community leaders looking farther down the road than how to get a few books banned from the library.”

As the NFL draft approaches tonight, yahoo!sports tells us about a tight end who “could be the first NFL player with same-sex parents.” And celebrity Megan Fox reports that her transgender “brave child” has “chosen this journey for a reason.”

How we got here

The so-called “sexual revolution” could be dated to 1953 when Hugh Hefner began popularizing and normalizing pornography. In 1983, videotape moved films (including pornography) out of theaters and into private homes. In the late 1990s, pornographic films began to be distributed on DVD. Tragically, the internet has now made pornography an epidemic available to every cellphone in America.

Meanwhile, birth control pills were legalized in 1960, allowing couples to have sex outside of marriage without fear of pregnancy. Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl encouraged single women to be sexually active. The decade saw a rising movement protesting the Vietnam War and promoting rock music, the use of drugs, public displays of nudity, and complete freedom of sexual activity.

The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a galvanizing event in the movement for LGBTQ rights. The intentional strategy that ensued first normalized LGBTQ behavior through popular culture (the TV show Will & Grace was a major contributor) and continues today through Pride Month, the promotion of LGBTQ characters on TV and in movies, and a concerted effort to make such relationships commonplace.

The next stage was legalizing same-sex marriage, beginning in Massachusetts in 2004 and culminating with the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision. As Chief Justice John Roberts warned in his Obergefell dissent, this effort has since moved to legalizing polygamy.

Now advocates are stigmatizing those who disagree as homophobic, prejudiced, and discriminatory. And our culture is moving toward criminalizing such disagreement through the so-called Equality Act and similar legislation.

The urgency of discernment

My point is that evangelical Christians must be discerning of secular culture on a level unprecedented in American history.

Never before have prime-time television shows (and even commercials) normalized LGBTQ behavior as they do today. Never before has pornography been as ubiquitous or as widely accepted as it is today. We are even seeing movements to normalize and legalize prostitution (“sex work”) despite the fact that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently want to escape prostitution.

Sex positivity” endorsing “all forms of sexual expression between consenting adults” has entered the cultural lexicon alongside such euphemisms as “marriage equality” and “gender affirmation therapy.” It is difficult to engage popular culture on any level without being forced to confront unbiblical sexual morality. Our children and grandchildren are growing up in a society that seeks to indoctrinate them with its secular “values” on a very intentional level.

If you’re like me, right now you’re wishing there was an “off-ramp” you could take to escape the cultural collisions of our day. But we discover a better way from an easily overlooked detail in the New Testament.

A surprising choice

Acts 28 tells the story of the Apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome. After spending three months on the island of Malta, he and his entourage “set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead” (v. 11). These were Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda who were considered to be the gods who protected seamen.

Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to include this detail?

Imagine Saul the Pharisee setting foot on a Gentile ship, especially one that displayed such idolatrous figures. But Paul the apostle has learned to use his fallen culture to advance God’s kingdom. He has traveled on Roman roads to Roman cities and employed the Greek language to share God’s word “in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20) while ultimately writing thirteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books.

In the context of today’s article, the apostle would encourage us to balance two priorities: “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) while using the culture where we can (1 Corinthians 9:22) to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

For example, the New York Times “fictosexuals” story is an opportunity to share the fulfillment God brings to those who are married to “real” people within his blessing. The Google “inclusive language” story is a chance to endorse the biblical equality of men and women (Genesis 1:27Galatians 3:28) while exposing the deeper narrative that seeks to normalize immorality.

A game we should all play

A good friend of mine plays a game with his children when they watch TV called “spot the lie”: they compete to be the first to recognize when something is said or done that is unbiblical. He is teaching them to be not paranoid but discerning.

We should do the same with our children and with our souls.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Is Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter good news for free speech?

Elon Musk has been called “America’s most powerful man.” The world’s richest person, he runs Tesla, the world’s most valuable car company, as well as a rocket maker, a tunnel-digging firm, and a brain-tech company. Now he has purchased Twitter for $44 billion.

After the announcement, Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey called Musk’s takeover and privatization of the social media platform the “right path” for the company, tweeting, “Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is ‘maximally trusted and broadly inclusive’ is the right one.”

But is this the good news for free speech and for conservatives that it is being called?

Writing for National Review, Dan McLaughlin notes that with his purchase of Twitter, “Elon Musk is a hero to conservatives.” Then he warns us, “But here’s the important thing: he was once a hero to liberals and progressives, he wasn’t always a hero to conservatives, he’s not anything resembling a consistent conservative, and the day will come sooner or later that we are forcibly reminded that he is not one of us.”

In other words, Elon Musk is not “the light of the world.” That job has already been taken.

The only flashlight in a dark room

This week, we’ve discussed ways to be the change we need to see by defeating our “besetting” sins and living in the victorious power of Christ. This issue is vital not only for our souls but also for the future of our democracy.

Jesus called his followers “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The definite article shows that we are the only light of the entire “world.” If I have the only flashlight in a dark room, the darkness is my fault. But when I display my light, it defeats the darkness every time (cf. John 1:5).

As a result, the morality our democracy needs depends on Christians following Christ so passionately and obediently that others want to follow Christ. Such a moral transformation cannot be catalyzed by secular leaders, no matter how wealthy and powerful they are, or by secular institutions, no matter how pervasive and influential they might be.

“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”

In a brilliant analysis of our cultural moment, writer and attorney David French makes this point by reference to a historic document I often cite. John Adams, our second president, wrote a letter in 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (his home state). In it he makes the famous observation, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

It is Adams’ reasoning behind this assertion, however, that French wants us to consider: “We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge, or Gallantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.”

This is why the US Constitution is adequate only for a “moral and religious People” and cannot govern any other.

The Constitution and the American legal system built upon it can help to restrict and punish immorality, but they cannot prevent it. If someone wants to slander you or steal from you, they can likely do so. At best, our system will help you seek redress and punish them for their crimes, but it cannot change the character that enabled such immorality.

Adams was not alone in his opinion. George Washington noted in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He added, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

“The something I ought to do, I can do”

French concludes: “When our crisis is one of hatred, anxiety, and despair, don’t look to politics to heal our hearts. Our government can’t contend with ‘human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion.’ Our social fabric is fraying. The social compact is crumbling. Our government is imperfect, but if this republic fractures, its people will be to blame.”

The bottom line is that our democracy needs Christians to act like Christ, to demonstrate the “fruit” of his Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) and to declare and defend biblical truth in love (1 Peter 3:15–16Ephesians 4:15). We must not allow the urgency and enormity of the challenge to paralyze us into inaction: we are not responsible for what we cannot do, only for what we can.

In the famous words of Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

Here’s the key: to represent Jesus in public, we must worship Jesus in private. To be much for him, we must be much with him. To reflect his light to our dark world, our “mirror” must focus on him. The closer we are to Jesus, the more powerfully we can draw others to Jesus.

Theologian N. T. Wright was right: “You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

Who or what is the “object of your worship” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The football coach at the center of a Supreme Court religious liberty case

While the headlines were focusing on Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter yesterday for $44 billion, an event involving a high school football coach could affect the future of religious liberty in America.

Following a twenty-year career in the Marine Corps, Joseph A. Kennedy was hired in 2008 as assistant football coach for the varsity and head coach of the junior varsity squad at Bremerton High School near Seattle, Washington. Soon after, he began kneeling to pray at the fifty-yard line after each game. After a few games, some of his players asked to join him. Visiting players later joined them.

His post-game prayer continued for several years, but, in 2015, Bremerton’s athletic director told Kennedy his prayers were against the rules. He refused to stop and was placed on leave; the school district did not rehire him for the following season. Yesterday, First Liberty defended Coach Kennedy before the US Supreme Court.

Critics allege that the prayers were public, not private, and that the coach was acting coercively in his professional capacity. By contrast, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Coach Kennedy explained his position and the stakes involved: “Unless the US Supreme Court rules in my favor, teachers could be fired for praying over their lunch in the cafeteria if students can see them. That doesn’t seem like the Constitution I fought for in the Marine Corps.

“I just want to be back on the field with my guys, building a team to accomplish a mission. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.”

The latest euphemism for immorality

Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, is refusing to cancel an elective class where students will watch hardcore porn together. Despite widespread outrage, the college insists that pornography is “an art form that requires serious contemplation.”

This headline in the Washington Post is a harbinger of our moral future: “These Christian leaders embraced sex positivity—and now preach it.” The article reveals the latest cultural euphemism, using “sex positivity” to refer to “the belief that all forms of sexual expression between consenting adults are permissible and should be destigmatized.”

The writer cites aberrant theologians and ministers, many of whom are gay, to undergird her claim that the ethic limiting sex to a married heterosexual couple is less biblical than Puritan. Of course, the writer could not be more wrong from a biblical perspective. But her use of “sex positivity” to describe her position aligns with “pro-choice,” “death with dignity,” and “marriage equality” as recent additions to our cultural vernacular.

Each frames its issue in a way that resonates emotionally. Who isn’t for “positivity,” “choice,” “dignity,” and “equality”? Euphemisms can be powerfully persuasive, whether they are accurate or not.

“Lord, paint the dragon red”

Yesterday we introduced the concept of “besetting” sins, defined as sins “we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward.” What are some practical ways to gain victory over them? Let’s consider today’s news in reverse order.

First, to counter Satan’s spiritual euphemisms, we need to pray for the wisdom to recognize sin as sin.

When we deal with repetitive temptations, our moral sensitivity can grow dull and our objections weaken. Over time, we cease seeing sin as sin. The person being tempted believes the tempter’s lies (Genesis 3:4–5) and is “enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). Then desire “gives birth to sin” and “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15).

This is why we need to begin every day by submitting to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Ask him to bring to your mind anything that displeases God, then confess what comes to your thoughts. Some of what he reveals may surprise you at the time, indicating the degree to which you have been deceived. Then ask him to help you see temptation for what it is and to refuse sin as a result.

A wise friend of mine prays often, “Lord, paint the dragon red.” Let’s join him: pray for the Spirit to reveal the spiritual euphemisms of our day and give you the strength to defeat them in the power of God.

“Kindle sacred flames of love in my heart”

The next way to defeat “besetting” sins is to do what we believe to be right, whatever the cost. Coach Kennedy has paid for his convictions with his job and has endured widespread scorn and opposition across the years his case has been litigated. But he is defending his religious freedom on behalf of all those who may face similar threats in the future.

When you know you are being tempted, take these steps in this order: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). And remember that the cost of what you are being tempted to do must outweigh any benefit or your spiritual enemy who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” would not offer it to you (John 10:10).

Speaking of idols, the psalmist warned, “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:8). I often warn that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.

So pray for the discernment to know what is right and for the courage to do it. Charles Spurgeon prayed: “To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labor, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.”

Then he added: “But Lord, how can a stone rise, how can a lump of clay come away from the horrible pit? O raise me, draw me. Thy grace can do it. Send forth thy Holy Spirit to kindle sacred flames of love in my heart, and I will continue to rise until I leave life and time behind me, and indeed come away.”

Would you make his prayer yours right now?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Pennsylvania school board rejects After School Satan Club

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Let’s begin this Friday article with some good news: a twelve-year-old wood craftsman recently launched a raffle for one of his handmade bowls—etched with a blue and yellow ring, the colors of Ukraine’s flag—to raise money for Ukrainian children. As of last Friday, he had raised more than $109,000 for Save the Children’s Ukraine relief effort.

Some more good news: a city in Tennessee rejected an atheist group’s demand to remove crosses that had been in place since the 1950s. A Pennsylvania school board voted down a parent’s request to launch an After School Satan Club. A United Methodist Church high court rejected an attempt to allow the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. And churches in Poland continue to generate headlines over their sacrificial support for Ukrainian refugees.

“A shield to those who take refuge in him”

Yesterday we discussed Yuval Levin’s profound article, “How to Curb the Culture War,” noting that God is calling us to be not culture warriors but cultural missionaries. What does this mean in practical terms?

Our first step is to embrace the sovereignty of our King.

As we have seen today, there is always good news in the news. God’s Spirit is alive and at work in our culture. Early Christians lived in a world far more immoral and opposed to their faith than our culture, yet by Acts 17:6 they had “turned the world upside down.” (In fact, our latest book, titled How to Bless God by Blessing Others, looks to those early Christians as a blueprint for how we can respond to our culture today.)

It is always too soon to give up on God.

Your Father has both a geographical and a chronological calling on your life. It is by his providence that you are living where you are and when you are. He would not have commissioned you to this place and time if he could not use you in this place and time.

God’s word to Joshua as he faced the Canaanites is his word to us as we face our anti-Christian culture: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Scripture promises that our Lord is “a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5). We are called to “cast your burden on the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

What “burden” do you need to give your Father today?

“What boundless love for men!”

I spent the summer of 1979 serving as a missionary in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. It was a joyous experience in many ways, but persistent loneliness and occasional physical danger were challenging.

However, my pastor gave me a devotional book before I left in which he inscribed these words: “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” I found his wisdom to be both true and empowering. When I became especially discouraged, I did what countless missionaries have done across twenty centuries: I remembered the grace of God which I had received and was now called to share.

Cyril of Jerusalem was bishop of Jerusalem in the mid-fourth century. In his “Catechetical Lectures,” he comments on Paul’s statement in Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4).

Cyril notes: “It was not we who actually died, were buried, and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried, and who rose again, and all this has been attributed to us. We share in his suffering symbolically and gain salvation in reality.

“What boundless love for men! Christ’s undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experienced no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in the sufferings he freely grants me salvation.”

What was your last sin he forgave? Your last prayer he answered? Your last need he met?

How will you pay forward the love you have experienced from him?

“Then shall your light rise in the darkness”

Vance Pitman was a megachurch pastor who resigned his position to help plant churches across the western US. He told an interviewer, “Too many church planters show up in cities thinking like pastors of churches rather than as missionaries, thinking about how to engage a city with the gospel. How do you begin to build relational bridges? How do you build opportunities to serve the city and build those relationships that allow for cultivating gospel impact in a city?

“Before I moved to Las Vegas, I didn’t think about my city. I thought about the church that I pastored and if the church that I pastored was doing good then I was doing good. But when God put me in a place like Las Vegas, I began to think about a city and to realize the real kingdom success in that city is not just more people going to church.”

How, then, do we engage our cities with the gospel?

Pitman explains: “It can be as simple as what some would call servant evangelism, where you look for needs in a community that you can meet and you begin to meet those tangible needs, not with an ulterior motive of sharing Christ but with an ultimate motive of sharing Christ. I’m not meeting that need so I can share the gospel with you—I’m meeting that need because God desires that need in our community to be met. But as I meet that need, I look for opportunities to let you know who Jesus is in my life.”

Scripture promises: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

How will you serve the “hungry” and the “afflicted” today?

“I don’t love the Vietnamese anymore”

I once heard a veteran missionary to Vietnam describe an especially difficult day. The weather was particularly hot and oppressive and the people he sought to serve were resistant. He came home to discover that thieves had stolen every piece of furniture he owned except his couch, which was too large to fit through the door.

He collapsed on that couch and cried out to God, “I don’t love the Vietnamese anymore. You have to send me somewhere else. I just don’t love these people.” Around 2:00 the next morning, he said, the Lord spoke to him: “You’re not here because you love the Vietnamese. You’re here because I love the Vietnamese.”

That was the reminder he needed to continue in his calling.

Who are your “Vietnamese” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Florida lawmakers vote to end Disney’s tax privilege

 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law. The measure, pejoratively called the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its critics, bars classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade in Florida public schools.

The Walt Disney Company responded by stating that the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” The company wants the law “to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”

In response, Gov. DeSantis asked Florida lawmakers to consider the “termination” of self-governing privileges Disney World has held in the Orlando area for fifty-five years. These privileges exempt the resort from certain regulations and fees, saving Disney tens of millions of dollars a year. Yesterday, the Republican-led Senate complied; the Florida House is also expected to vote in favor of the legislation.

When fighting a “culture war,” should we be passivists or activists?

The answer is yes.

How Billy Graham responded to critics

Paul advised us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). When Jesus was brought before Pilate and accused by the religious authorities, “he gave no answer” (Matthew 27:12), a response that “greatly amazed” the governor (v. 14).

On the other hand, Paul called the secular government “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). When the Jewish authorities threatened his life, he leveraged his Roman citizenship by appealing to Caesar (Acts 25:11).

As these examples make clear, we should respond to our cultural opponents in ways that are appropriate to the circumstances of the moment.

There are times when engaging in a cultural battle only lowers us to the level of our critics, gives them a hearing on our platform, and elevates their exposure to a larger audience. I once heard a former chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association board describe the way Dr. Graham responded to personal criticism: he ignored it. Rather than dignify it with an answer, he remained focused on his calling and trusted his critics to the Lord.

There are other times when defending biblical truth through cultural and legal means is essential. We are to be ready to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). I am grateful for Christian legislators and attorneys defending our religious freedoms as they come increasingly under attack.

Here is what is not negotiable: we must always respond “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (vv. 15–16). This is essential for their sake but for ours as well: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17, my emphasis).

A “brew of culture-war animosities”

To this end, I want to recommend an essential article by cultural commentator Yuval Levin titled, “How to Curb the Culture War.” Levin argues for “meaningfully distinct spheres of human action, and of boundaries on cultural and political conflict that might make a healthier common life possible.”

He notes that “our lives are unified wholes, and our moral commitments must not be compartmentalized into insignificance.” However, he adds that “those boundaries also cannot be eradicated, or else the bile of bitter partisanship will flood into the broader culture and dissolve our capacity to live with others in a vast and diverse nation.”

Because Americans are ignoring such boundaries, “Everywhere you look, people seem to be dragging culture-war differences into spaces where they don’t belong, and in ways that make it awfully hard for us to trust each other, to live together, and to do our common work.” The result is a “brew of culture-war animosities that increasingly dominates many arenas of American life,” a “mix of entertainment and politics that combines the worst of both.”

In response, Levin proposes “a restoration of some boundaries between distinct domains of life” whereby we recognize “the humanity of our neighbors, seeing that expertise in one arena does not imply authority in another, and grasping that setting bounds on the reach of our cultural combat is not just a pragmatic concession to civility but also a broader path to the fullest truth about the human person.”

“The best way to destroy an enemy”

I would view Levin’s proposal through a biblical lens this way:

One: We each have a kingdom assignment and God-given resources for fulfilling it (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12–27). We should therefore “stay in our lane” rather than claiming to have the definitive last word on every issue we face. We should also respect the “lane” assigned to others and the gifts by which they fulfill their calling.

Two: Some cultural positions are worth defending at all costs, but many are distractions from the “main thing” (cf. Romans 14:13–23). We can win cultural debates and lose eternal souls. Whatever the context or the conflict, we are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v. 19).

Three: Those who oppose us are not our enemies but fellow humans for whom Jesus died. The true enemy “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Rather than seeking to be cultural warriors, we should seek to be cultural missionaries.

Tomorrow, we’ll identify practical ways to do this. For today, let’s decide that we want to, seeking ways to pay forward the grace we have received.

Theologian F. F. Bruce was right: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.”

Will you make a new friend today?

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Denison Forum – Russia takes first city since launching “new phase of war”

 “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern heartland yesterday.

Russian forces seized the city of Kreminna, which appears to be the first city confirmed to have fallen since Vladimir Putin’s forces launched a “new phase of war.” As Russia continues to attack the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine is planning this morning to evacuate around six thousand women, children, and elderly people. The Pentagon estimates that Russia has already sent eleven more battalion tactical groups into Ukraine and has tens of thousands more in reserve north of Ukraine who are being resupplied and readied to join the war.

In other geopolitical news, Iran’s president warned that it will target “the heart” of Israel if the Jewish state makes the “slightest move” against his country. This after Iran accused Israel of “Zionist” aggression following a clash between Palestinians and Israelis at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque last Friday. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp also promised a “new wave” of support for Palestinians rising up against Israel.

And more than forty people were arrested in Sweden following violent clashes between police and people angry at plans by a far-right group to burn copies of the Qur’an. Following Sunday’s clashes, Sweden’s national police chief said he had never seen such violent riots. More than two hundred people have been involved in the violence; twenty-six police officers and fourteen members of the public have been injured and more than twenty vehicles have been damaged or destroyed.

Vladimir Putin dreams of rebuilding the Russian Empire as a modern-day Peter the Great. Iran believes that the state of Israel is a “theft” of land from its rightful Palestinian owners and thus an attack on Islam. Swedish street violence is pitting people against each other over ideologies.

As John F. Kennedy observed, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

The threat of artificial intelligence

Yesterday we began discussing Jonathan Haidt’s illuminating Atlantic article analyzing the impact of social media on our culture. He notes the degree to which “a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions” and shows how social media is undermining such acceptance as polarizing and often false content becomes increasingly pervasive and influential.

Haidt believes that as corrosive and damaging to our culture as social media is now, its future effects will be far worse. He warns that “artificial intelligence is close to enabling the limitless spread of highly believable disinformation.” He cites the AI program GPT-3, which is “already so good that you can give it a topic and a tone and it will spit out as many essays as you like, typically with perfect grammar and a surprising level of coherence.” Then he notes, “In a year or two, when the program is upgraded to GPT-4, it will become far more capable.”

Deep-fake videos, images, and text will “quickly become inconceivably easy” as a result. American factions and adversaries such as Russia’s Internet Research Agency and terrorist groups will be able to use this technology to polarize our society and spread distrust.

The consequences for our children are especially damaging. As Haidt notes, they are “less likely to arrive at a coherent story of who we are as a people, and less likely to share any such story with those who attended different schools or who were educated in a different decade.” They are growing up in a world with no objective norms, no north on the compass, and only the applause or opprobrium of their social media friends for moral guidance.

Four reasons for adolescent depression

The World Health Organization notes that depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are “among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.” Four forces are especially propelling the rising rates of depression among young people today:

  • Social media use subjecting teenagers to the judgment of friends, teachers, and the digital crowd
  • decline in sociality as today’s teens spend less time with their friends or playing youth sports
  • News about the world’s stresses such as gun violence, climate change, and the divisive political environment
  • Modern parenting strategies that accommodate children rather than helping them cope with their challenges.

Each of these forces is related in some way to Haidt’s fears regarding the pervasiveness and corrosiveness of social media in contemporary culture. (For more, see Mark Legg’s helpful article, “Why are teens sadder, lonelier, and more depressed than ever before?“)

Here’s another consequence: as social media use has risen, the religious affiliation of eighteen to thirty-five-year-olds has plummeted. In 1998, 73 percent of this demographic claimed to be Christians; today the number has fallen below 50 percent.

How can Christians respond biblically and redemptively?

Every Paul needs a Timothy

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” As faith declines, so will consensual morality and ultimately the liberty that depends upon it.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy has never been more urgent than it is today: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). “Entrust” means to “pass along” in the sense of passing a baton. “Able” means “equipped and strengthened.” If Timothy will pass forward the truth of Scripture to those who will in turn pass it on to others, the Christian movement will continue and will multiply. Otherwise, it will die.

This is because God has no grandchildren. Christianity is always one generation from extinction. What Timothy and others of his generation did to promote and perpetuate the faith enabled the kingdom to advance across the ages to you and me.

Now it’s our turn. Every mature Christian needs to mentor someone who will continue the mission after their kingdom assignment is completed.

Every Paul needs a Timothy, and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Which is true for you today?

NOTE: When will the next Great Awakening occur? History records four notable ones from the 1730s to the early 1900s. Isn’t it time for another? In the latest book from Denison Forum, my son Ryan Denison describes these Awakenings and the role each of us may play in bringing about the next Great Awakening. I encourage you to request your copy of How to Bless God by Blessing Others today to learn more. 

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Denison Forum – Federal judge voids public transportation mask mandate

 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation was set to expire yesterday, but the CDC extended it until May 3, stating it needed more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the US. Airlines countered that air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Critics also pointed to the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores, and other indoor settings, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since mid-January.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Florida sided against the CDC, striking down the national mask mandate. Her ruling freed airlines, airports, and mass transit systems to make their own decisions about mask requirements.

How do you feel about her decision?

Your answer likely depends at least in part on the degree to which you trust the CDC. At the beginning of the pandemic, 69 percent of Americans believed what they heard from the agency; earlier this year, the number had fallen to 44 percent.

This aligns with a larger narrative:

  • Only 40 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government to do what is right.
  • Only 38 percent consider its impact on the US to be positive.
  • Only 23 percent believe it to be transparent.
  • And only 27 percent say it listens to the public.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are vital not just for our government but for the very future of our democracy.

“The shattering of all that had seemed solid”

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and bestselling author. In a brilliant new Atlantic article, he explains the social changes we are witnessing more holistically than anyone I have seen. I’ll summarize his article briefly, then we’ll respond biblically.

Haidt discusses “the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community” and “what is happening not only between red and blue [states], but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families” (his emphasis).

He reports that “social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories.” However, over the last ten years, social media has weakened all three.

Haidt points to “the intensification of viral dynamics” beginning in 2009 by which Facebook users can publicly “like” posts with the click of a button and Twitter users can “retweet” and thus publicly endorse a post while sharing it with all their followers. Facebook soon copied this innovation with its own “share” button; “like” and “share” buttons soon became standard features of most other platforms.

Facebook then developed algorithms to bring each user content more likely to generate a “like” or “share.” Research later showed that posts that trigger emotions—especially anger at others—are the most likely to be shared.

“When citizens lose trust in elected leaders”

By 2013, social media had become a “new game” in which creating “viral” content or demeaning content with which we disagree became the norm. Users were guided by reward and punishment dynamics that were “almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves.” Haidt notes that “the volume of outrage was shocking.”

This phenomenon is especially dangerous for democracy.

The Framers of the US Constitution knew democracy had an Achilles’ heel: it depended on the collective judgment of the people, but communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions,” as James Madison noted. The founders created a sustainable republic in response with mechanisms requiring compromise and giving leaders insulation from the mania of the moment while holding them accountable to the people periodically through elections.

But social media is undoing what the founders intended. Haidt writes that “a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions. . . . When citizens lose trust in elected leaders, health authorities, the courts, the police, universities, and the integrity of elections, then every decision becomes contested; every election becomes a life-and-death struggle to save the country from the other side.”

How to experience divine omnipotence

We will explore Haidt’s article in further detail tomorrow. For today, let’s focus on two responses: thinking biblically and acting redemptively.

Paul’s goal should be ours: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We do this by measuring every truth claim against the unchanging truth of Scripture (Hebrews 4:12). Then we can fulfill the apostle’s mandate: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

As we think biblically, we should then act redemptively.

In Acts 19, the “town clerk” in Ephesus (the chief administrative officer in the city) said of Christians in their city, “these men . . . are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess” (v. 37). Like them, we should make “speaking the truth in love” our constant goal (Ephesians 4:15). In response to the vitriol and divisions of our day, God needs us to be not cultural warriors so much as cultural missionaries.

You might think it’s too late for Christ-followers to make a significant difference in a culture as broken as ours. But it’s always too soon to give up on an omnipotent God. Anne Graham Lotz was right: “If our lives are easy, and if all we ever attempt for God is what we know we can handle, how will we ever experience his omnipotence in our lives?”

Will you experience his omnipotence today?

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Denison Forum – What caused a flagship Russian warship to sink in the Black Sea?

 “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him” (Luke 23:33).

One of the Russian Navy’s most important warships sank in the Black Sea yesterday. Ukraine claims the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles. Russia said a fire broke out on the cruiser, causing munitions aboard to explode. Whatever the cause, the results are the same: the ship is at the bottom of the ocean today.

In other maritime news, the British ocean liner Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean on this day in 1912. The ship struck an iceberg on the evening of April 14 and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. However, the cause of the Titanic’s sinking was less relevant than its outcome. If the ship had suffered an internal explosion or collided with another ship in a manner that caused the same damage as the iceberg it struck, the results would have been the same.

And Abraham Lincoln died on this day in 1865, a tragic event that changed the trajectory of American and world history. I have visited the theater where he was shot on the evening of April 14 and the bedroom where he died on the morning of April 15. I have even seen the derringer pistol on display in Ford’s Theater used by John Wilkes Booth to shoot the president.

However, the method of Lincoln’s assassination was less relevant to history than its outcome. If Wilkes had stabbed the president, struck him with an object, or poisoned him, the grievous results would have been the same.

“They have pierced my hands and feet”

I offer these observations to ask this question: Why was Jesus crucified on Good Friday?

I’m not asking why he died on this day. You know the answer: Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. As Paul observed, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

My question is: Why did Jesus die by crucifixion? Why was he not stoned to death like Stephen or beheaded like Paul? Why did he die in the cruelest, most horrific manner of execution ever devised?

You might respond: because that is the way Rome executed its prisoners. That is true, but remember that a Jewish mob stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:54–60) and tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:29).

You might also respond that Jesus had to die by crucifixion to fulfill prophecy. Once again, you’d be right: the manner of Jesus’ death was predicted centuries before it occurred. For example, David testified in Psalm 22, “They have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (vv. 16–18). Each phrase was fulfilled by Jesus’ crucifixion a thousand years later.

However, I would reply: Why did the Lord predict that Jesus would die in this way? He could have led Old Testament writers to describe the Suffering Servant’s death in ways that were much less horrific. If they could predict Jesus’ death by crucifixion, they could have predicted his death by beheading, for example.

Why, then, did the Lord arrange for his Son to die on this day in such a horrific manner?

“It is he who endured every kind of suffering”

St. Melito of Sardis was a second-century bishop and apologist for the Christian faith. In an Easter homily, he said of Jesus, “It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.

“It was he who made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night.”

In other words, Jesus endured the worst suffering a human can experience to demonstrate his solidarity with all human suffering.

You can feel no pain worse than the pain he felt when he was scourged and crucified. You can experience no shame worse than his shame when he was rejected by the crowds and ridiculed by the priests, no betrayal worse than his betrayal by Judas, no abandonment worse than his abandonment by his disciples, no horror worse than his horror when the sins of all humanity were laid on his sinless soul, no loneliness greater than the loneliness he felt when he bore our sins and his Father turned his face from him in judgment.

“Our citizenship is not of this world”

Two results follow.

One: Jesus calls us to trust our deepest pain, grief, and guilt into his crucified hands. 

Scripture assures us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). As a result, our Lord invites us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).

Why do you need such mercy and grace today?

Two: Jesus calls us to stand in solidarity with all who suffer, paying forward his compassionate grace. 

Paul explained that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Br. James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston notes: “We live in a world where Me is king. But our citizenship is not of this world. We are citizens of another country, whose king is a servant, whose orb is a towel, whose scepter a wash basin, whose crown is humility, and whose motto is service. As citizens and subjects of that kingdom, we cannot swear ultimate allegiance in any other way than taking up our towels, holding our basins, and getting down on our knees” (his emphases).

On this Good Friday, whose feet will you wash today?

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Denison Forum – Why a Texas megachurch is relocating hundreds of Ukrainian refugees

Gateway Church is a multisite megachurch based in Texas. They are in the news today because they have helped around four hundred Ukrainian refugees relocate and are in the process of helping to relocate hundreds more. According to the church’s spokesman, Gateway has been able to do this because of relationships with several congregations in Ukraine that predate the outbreak of war.

By contrast, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe released a 108-page document accusing Russia of illegally targeting hospitals, schools, residential buildings, and water facilities. The United Nations reports that 1.4 million Ukrainians are without running water and 4.6 million are at risk of losing their water supply. Experts are warning that the US and Europe “must be ready for Russian biological or chemical attacks.” On Tuesday, President Biden accused Vladimir Putin of perpetrating genocide against the Ukrainian people.

What explains the divergent ways Gateway Church and Vladimir Putin view Ukrainians?

The answer might surprise you.

“When men and women no longer revere God”

Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, White House, and congressional aide. In an article published yesterday on Christian Post, he reports that a TV interviewer asked him, “Why do you think the Russians are committing atrocities in the Ukraine?

He writes: “‘Abortion,’ I answered so quickly it surprised even me.”

Here’s the connection: whether it’s Russian soldiers massacring innocent Ukrainians or Americans murdering innocent unborn babies, both are objectifying humans as a means to their ends. He is right: “Without the sense of God’s transcendence, the concept of sin is lost as well.” The result is “the loss of the secularized individual human spirit and the soul of the society of the belief in and sense of God’s transcendence and the human accountability that goes with it.”

Henley concludes: “When men and women no longer revere God, they lose reverence and respect for the life he has created in the womb as well as the lives of innocents rushing to shelters amidst a fiery war.

“The tragedies in Ukraine should appall us all, but not surprise us at all.”

“He made him to be sin who knew no sin”

On this day in Holy Week, Jesus pled three times with his Father for this “cup” to “pass” from him” (cf. Matthew 26:36–44). I believe our Savior was focused less on the physical torture he would face, as unspeakably horrific as it was, than on the spiritual agony he would experience.

On the cross, the Father placed the sins of all of humanity on his sinless Son’s soul. In that moment, for the only moment in all of eternity, the two were separated as the Son cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Paul explained the transaction this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On this Maundy Thursday night, the Father said no to his Son so he could say yes to you and me.

Here’s the problem: we know this to be so. We’ve heard all our Christian lives that God loved us so much he sent his Son to die for us (John 3:16). As a result, we can miss the necessity of that sacrificial love for our souls today. That’s because we all too easily overlook the depth of our sins today.

A profound Yad Vashem quote

You and I don’t have to commit atrocities against Ukrainians or abort unborn babies in America to participate in a culture that objectifies others to their loss and our gain. Every relational sin we commit, from theft to deceit, gossip, slander, lust, and so on, is a variation on the same theme.

But it’s not just sins of commission that sent Jesus to the cross—it’s sins of omission as well.

When our Israel study group recently toured Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I stopped before a statement by the German writer Kurt Tucholsky that moves me every time I read it: “A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.”

I live in a country that has murdered ten times more unborn babies than the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis. We tolerate pornography and endorse all manner of sexual immorality. Racism is still endemic in parts of our society. Drug and alcohol abuse are epidemics. I could go on.

Maundy Thursday urgently calls us to remember this simple fact: it was my sins that put Jesus on the cross. And yours.

How to “abandon every false way of obtaining love”

We have focused this week on the work of the Holy Spirit during Holy Week. Let’s close today’s reflection with the fact that the Spirit not only convicts us of the sins for which Jesus died (John 16:8), but he also participates in our forgiveness and restoration “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Now we as Christians have a choice. We can embrace the security of our salvation but overlook our present sins of commission and omission. Or we can make time on this Maundy Thursday to submit to the Spirit, asking him to identify our unconfessed sins and then repenting of them with genuine contrition.

If we wisely choose the latter, we will experience the transforming grace of God in ways that will make this a true Holy Week for our souls. Henri Nouwen explained the nature of such faith with his usual depth of wisdom:

“The word faith is often understood as accepting something you can’t understand. People often say, ‘Such and such can’t be explained, you simply have to believe it.’ However, when Jesus talks about faith, he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved, so that you can abandon every false way of obtaining love. . . .

“When Jesus says to the people he has healed, ‘Your faith has healed you,’ he is saying that they have found new life because they have surrendered in complete trust to the love of God revealed in him.”

Will you experience this “new life” today?

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Denison Forum – The latest on the Brooklyn subway shooting: The urgency and power of a “Silent Wednesday”

 “He would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).

An intensive manhunt is underway at this hour for the man who set off smoke grenades and fired a handgun on a crowded Brooklyn subway train yesterday morning. Ten people were hit by gunfire, making the shooting the worst in the history of the New York City subway. Another thirteen people suffered injuries related to the attack.

In other New York news, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, the No. 2 official to Gov. Kathy Hochul, resigned yesterday after he was arrested in a federal corruption investigation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has paid a fine for breaking lockdown rules at Downing Street, making him the first holder of his office in living memory to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office.

An Olympian’s mother was killed by a stray bullet while sewing in her Connecticut home. A youth minister in the Dallas area was arrested after multiple child sexual assault allegations. Inflation has risen to the highest level since 1981 as economists warn about a possible recession by the end of the year. Sexually transmitted infections in the US surged to a record high in 2020. All this as Vladimir Putin vows to continue Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine.

In the midst of such challenging times, this story could be a cultural parable: an enormous container ship has been stuck in the Chesapeake Bay for more than a month. After other attempts to free the ship proved unsuccessful, the next course of action will be to remove cargo containers from the boat to lighten it.

If we cannot change the world, we can change the way we respond to it.

“The great enemy of spiritual life”

This day in Holy Week is sometimes called “Silent Wednesday” since the Gospels do not record any activities by our Lord on this day. So far as we know, Jesus spent the day in Bethany at the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, preparing for the monumental events to come.

Do you and I need to follow his example?

I just read John Mark Comer’s marvelous book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and recommend it most highly. This very transparent (and humorous) pastor tells his story of learning to imitate Jesus’ approach to time and the challenges of life. Early in the book, he quotes noted philosopher Dallas Willard: “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Comer notes that for much of history, life was experienced within the rhythms of nature, sleeping at night and working during the day. Then, in 1370, the first public clock tower was erected in Cologne, Germany, creating “artificial time.” As a result, Comer writes, “We stopped listening to our bodies and started rising when our alarms droned their oppressive siren—not when our bodies were done resting. We became more efficient, yes, but also more machine, less human being.”

Then, in 1879, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, making it possible for people to stay up past sunset. Remarkably, as Comer notes, the average person previously slept for eleven hours a night. Now we’re down to about seven. Technology has further hurried our lives as we can work more hours in more ways so that the average American works nearly four more weeks per year than they did in 1979.

With the iPhone and the advent of the digital age in 2007, our lives became even more hurried and crowded. Now technology companies exploit the dopamine rush that results from “likes” and “shares” on social media and constant interaction with the culture, causing many of us to be actually addicted to our devices and the engaging experiences they provide.

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”

By contrast, Comer notes that Jesus lived by the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and “slowing,” which John Ortberg defines as “cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.” In response, Comer says he has reorganized his life around three simple goals:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Simplify my life around the practices of Jesus.
  3. Live from a center of abiding in Christ.

He quotes Frank Laubach’s beautiful observation, “Every now is an eternity if it is full of God.” And he has made Paul’s assertion his personal manifesto: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV). As he notes, “ambition” and “quiet” sound more like enemies than friends, when the first actually amplifies the significance of the second.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, offered similar advice: “Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet.”

“Worshiping the Lord and fasting”

The church at Antioch changed the world by modeling today’s topic. When “they were worshiping the Lord and fasting,” the Holy Spirit instructed them to “set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Then, “after fasting and praying” once again, “they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (v. 3). And the world has never been the same.

On this Silent Wednesday, Jesus “fasted” from the world and prayed.

How will you follow his example today?

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Denison Forum – “Oreos Gone Woke”: Nabisco produces gay-affirming movie

Oreo is the best-selling cookie brand in the US and the number one selling cookie globally. In this age of “woke” business, it’s not surprising that Oreo’s parent company, Nabisco, would want to capitalize on the popularity of their commodity. On Monday, they released a short film affirming a young Asian man who is coming out as gay.

Their film is just one example of the escalation of unbiblical sexual morality in American culture. Here are some others: GLAAD, a leading LGBTQ watchdog group, is urging Hollywood to incorporate more LGBTQ content into children’s programming. A former Disney Channel actor recently spoke of witnessing his female co-stars being sexually exploited at an early age. And new sex education guidelines in New Jersey will teach first-graders about gender identity.

“My identity isn’t a golf score”

However, if you’re discouraged by Western society’s continued decay and decline, take heart: God is still using his people in culture-changing ways.

For example, after Scottie Scheffler won the Masters last Sunday, he was asked at a press conference how he balances his fierce desire to compete without letting it define who he is as a person. He replied: “The reason why I play golf is I’m trying to glorify God and all that he’s done in my life. So for me, my identity isn’t a golf score.”

Then he added: “Like Meredith [his wife] told me this morning, ‘If you win this golf tournament today, if you lose this golf tournament by ten shots, if you never win another golf tournament again, I’m still going to love you, you’re still going to be the same person, Jesus loves you and nothing changes.’”

As a result, he said, “All I’m trying to do is glorify God and that’s why I’m here and that’s why I’m in [this] position.”

“No one ever spoke like this man!”

Yesterday we focused on the power of the Spirit to transform us into the character of Christ (Romans 8:29). Today, let’s build on this theme by focusing on one aspect of Jesus’ life and work: his brilliant mind.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, our Lord was confronted by the religious leaders of his day. They had already determined to put him to death (John 11:47–53) and now sought to bring charges that would turn the crowds against him as a false teacher and prophet.

One of their questions was especially incendiary: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). If Jesus said that it was, the crowds would turn against him for supporting the hated Roman Empire. If he said it was not, the Romans would arrest him for insurrection. It seemed that they had him trapped.

But Jesus turned the tables on them, asking to see the coin used to pay the tax in question. It was a denarius, with a profile of Tiberius Caesar. He then made his famous declaration, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21). Matthew records that “when they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away” (v. 22).

This event was by no means unusual in the life of our Lord. Even when he was just twelve years old, “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). When he concluded the Sermon on the Mount, “The crowds were astonished at his teaching” (Matthew 7:28).

When the authorities earlier sent soldiers to arrest him (John 7:30), the officers returned empty-handed and explained, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (v. 46). Jesus was such a brilliant thinker and speaker that biblical scholar Jonathan T. Pennington could write an entire book titled Jesus the Great Philosopher. (I recommend Pennington’s work highly, by the way.)

“He will teach you all things”

Here’s my point: Jesus taught and spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit.

John said of him: “He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Jesus said of himself, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

He promised the same to us: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus added that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth . . . and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

If we will seek and submit to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit each day, he will help us develop the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16Philippians 2:5). We will “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). And we will “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

“The test of the artist”

In To Change the World, sociologist James Davison Hunter demonstrated conclusively that we change culture by achieving our highest place of influence and living there faithfully. Scottie Scheffler is an example: he was as fully devoted to Jesus before he began winning PGA tournaments as he is now that he is the world’s No. 1 golfer. But his excellence on the golf course has empowered his witness and platform off it.

You and I can follow the same culture-changing approach: work hard to be and do your best to the glory of God in daily submission to the omniscience and wisdom of the Spirit. He will “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13) if you are willing to be led. And he will use your excellence for his glory and our good.

Thomas Aquinas observed, “The test of the artist does not lie in the will with which he goes to work, but in the excellence of the work he produces.”

What kind of work will you produce today?

NOTE: Christians today are increasingly marginalized—yet consider how the early Christians lived under Roman rule. In our new book, How to Bless God by Blessing Others, Dr. Ryan Denison looks at how the early church responded to their culture—which was arguably much more antagonistic to the Christian faith. Request your copy today to learn How to Bless God.

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Denison Forum – University of Texas to allow cohabitation on campus regardless of gender or sexual identity

“Blessed are the people whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ!” (Psalm 144:15).

Let’s consider three very different stories as metaphors for our culture today.

One: The University of Texas will allow students to live together regardless of their gender or sexual identity. The university explained, “This helps enhance our residents’ sense of belonging and improve our competitiveness with the Austin market and other institutions. It also allows us to be more responsive to student needs.” The fact that you’re probably not surprised by this news is my point.

Two: on a lighter note, Major League Baseball will allow pitchers and catchers to use technology intended to prevent sign stealing. A catcher uses a pad with buttons on the wrist of his gloved hand to communicate the intended pitch and location to the pitcher through a listening device. This is intended to speed up the game and keep the other side from stealing signs. However, it says something about us that “America’s pastime” has to adopt such unprecedented means to prevent cheating.

Three: in other sports news, Scottie Scheffler won yesterday’s Masters tournament, solidifying his status as the world No. 1 golfer. Before Scheffler could win the tournament, however, he had to do something very important a few months ago: RSVP to his invitation to play. According to the New York Times, Augusta National sends invitations each year to golfers it wishes to invite to the tournament. They must signal their intention to play before they are permitted to compete.

There was a time when I played golf every week and practiced several times a week. However, no matter how much I worked on my game, I would never have received such an invitation. There are some things we cannot do for ourselves, no matter how hard we try.

It’s not a “Holocaust” museum

I returned Saturday after spending fifteen days in the Holy Land. I have led more than thirty study tours of Israel; each time I am deeply impressed by the continued courage and resilience of the Jewish people.

For example, terror attacks escalated in Jerusalem once again as Ramadan began. One of the victims was a former Israeli Olympian and father of three; another victim became engaged to his fiancé last month and was planning his wedding.

And of course, every visit to Israel is a reminder of the Holocaust. It is difficult to meet an Israeli who did not lose a family member to the Nazis and their collaborators.

Last Thursday, our group visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Except it’s not actually a “holocaust” museum. “Holocaust” is a Greek word referring to a “sacrifice by fire” made to God. The Nazis did not sacrifice the Jews to God—they murdered six million of them in cold blood.

For this reason, the Jewish people use the word Shoah, Hebrew for “catastrophe,” to describe what happened to their people.

Inside the museum, I noticed a quotation I had not seen before, this one from a poet and philosopher named Benjamin Fondane who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944: “Remember only that I was innocent and, just like you, mortal on that day. I, too, had a face marked by rage, by joy and pity, quite simply, a human face!”

“The best friend you have ever known”

From rising anti-Semitism around the world to the tragic death of twenty-four-year-old NFL quarterback Dwayne Haskins to the continuing tragedy in Ukraine to senseless violence against teenagers in the US and an epidemic of mental health challenges for American children, each day’s news proves again that fallen humans are incapable of changing fallen human nature. But what we cannot do, the Spirit of God can.

As Oswald Chambers noted, “It is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey him.”

Let’s apply his observation personally: identify an aspect of your life that you wish were different—something you are doing that you should stop or something you are not doing that you should begin. What can you do to enable the Spirit to transform that part of your life into the “very nature of Jesus”?

Craig Denison writes: “If you ask for a deeper friendship with the Holy Spirit, you will find he is the best friend you have ever known.” This is because “friendship with the Spirit is like any other friendship in that it develops over time. Like a new friend, you must get to know his character and personality. Spend time just talking with him, listening to him and allowing him to work in your heart and life.”

If we do, Craig assures us, “He is your gateway to experiencing the things of God. Walk in relationship with him, follow his guidance, and make a new best friend in the Holy Spirit.”

“The firstborn among many brothers”

We cannot change our hearts as the Spirit can. However, we can hinder the Spirit from doing his transforming work in our lives. Craig notes that “the Holy Spirit has a personality. He has likes and dislikes. He feels, thinks, enjoys, likes, suffers, and desires.”

As a result, it is vital that we “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30) and that we “do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). To this end, I want to encourage you to make a “spiritual inventory” part of your life each morning: ask God to bring to your mind anything that is hindering the Spirit from making you more like Jesus, then confess whatever comes to your thoughts and claim your Father’s forgiving and cleansing grace (1 John 1:9).

In addition, I encourage you to take time periodically for a deeper inventory. Offer the same prayer but with paper and pen in hand. Write down what comes to mind, giving the Spirit as much time as he needs to answer your prayer. Once again, confess these sins specifically and claim God’s forgiveness and mercy.

As Christians around the world noted yesterday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday. As we will remember this Holy Week, he died in agony on Good Friday and rose in victory on Easter Sunday. All of it was not only to save humanity but to transform humans until we are “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

Your Lord will settle for nothing less.

Will you?

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Denison Forum – Why Elon Musk serving on the Twitter board matters to every American

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed as America’s first Black female Supreme Court justice. Russia was suspended yesterday from the UN Human Rights Council. Tiger Woods’ return to the Masters is being called “his greatest achievement.” Opening Day for Major League Baseball was yesterday.

In the midst of such headline-making news, why should you care that Elon Musk is now on the board of Twitter, where he recently became the single largest shareholder? Less than one in four Americans even use Twitter. And yet, the Wall Street Journal calls Musk’s engagement on the social media site “a hopeful moment for political speech and debate at America’s increasingly censorious tech giants.”

Axios columnist Jim VandeHei explains: “Right now, Twitter decides if former President Trump can post on its platform, and whether to delete a post about vaccines if it and most scientists deem the post misinformation. In a decentralized web, you would decide if Trump appears on the web3 equivalent of your Twitter feed—and set your own thresholds on vaccine information providers” (his emphases).

In a day when Americans trust The Weather Channel more than all other media organizations (by a large margin), it is clear that media agendas are undermining trust in media. As I hope to explain today, this issue is vital not just for our news consumption but for the very future of our society.

Has FOX News “sold its soul”?

FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott recently announced that Caitlyn Jenner would be joining their organization as a contributor, stating, “Caitlyn’s story is an inspiration to us all.” The news prompted Christian Post contributor Michael Brown to write an article with the headline “Christian conservatives, you cannot put your trust in Fox News.” He claims that the news organization “has lost its voice and sold its soul.”

The transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has been likened to Jackie Robinson, even though the comparison is illogical and unfounded on a variety of levels.

Bills that would legalize infanticide have been introduced in Maryland and in California. Colorado’s governor signed a bill legalizing abortions up to birth with no limits. A battle over abortions induced by “abortion pills” is looming. The Atlantic has a long essay profiling abortion activists who are developing ways to provide abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this June.

What could these disparate stories have in common?

The best historical explanation of our cultural crisis

Carl R. Trueman’s new book is titled Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution. It is the best historical explanation of our current cultural crisis I have ever read. (For a summary of his argument, please see my overview of the book on our website.)

Trueman believes we are facing today “a situation without obvious historical parallel.” In brief, contemporary society has made two catastrophic decisions that are undermining our culture and endangering our future.

One: We have decided that we are whatever we feel ourselves to be. 

Trueman defines “the modern self” as “one where authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings.” He traces this evolution from Descartes through Rousseau, the Romantics, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Wilhelm Reich.

Whether we have read these thinkers or not, we are now all influenced by their assertions. In fact, any attempt to express disapproval of one’s decision to act in accordance with one’s feelings is seen as a blow “against the right of that person to be whoever they wish to be.”

For example, we are told that if one feels oneself to be “a woman trapped in a man’s body,” one should be free to change one’s physical body to align with one’s inner feelings. And society should honor and even celebrate the courage of such an “authentic” person.

Two: We have jettisoned the traditional frameworks by which we have always identified ourselves: nation, religion, family, and geography. 

Trueman shows how Reich and Herbert Marcuse have been especially influential in persuading our culture that historical norms and institutions have “restrained” us and kept us from experiencing personal authenticity. Now it is conventional wisdom that such institutions must be repudiated on behalf of sexual, gender, and racial “equality” and replaced with new norms that celebrate personal freedom. Any speech that disagrees or disapproves of this movement is viewed as dangerous to society and worthy of cancelation.

Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers”

It is therefore unsurprising that Twitter and other media platforms would censor speech with which they disagree (ignoring the illogic of being intolerant with the “intolerant”). Or that transgender athletes are hailed as courageous victims (ignoring the athletes against whom they compete so unfairly). Or that abortion would be hailed as a “healthcare” right (ignoring the healthcare of unborn babies).

Christians can expect this narrative to continue and even escalate. As I note in The Coming Tsunami, our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion are more imperiled than at any time in American history.

However, Trueman reminds us that early Christians faced a culture far more antagonistic than ours (so far). Many paid for their faith with their lives. And yet they engaged their antagonists with a positive argument that “Christians made the best citizens, the best parents, the best servants, the best neighbors, the best employees.” Over time, the positive difference Jesus makes in those who follow him fully became obvious, attractive, and empowering.

Paul warned that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Here is how he responded: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5).

Whom do you know who has been “blinded” by “the god of this world”?

Whom will you serve “for Jesus’ sake” today?

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