Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Facebook’s name change and Donald Trump’s new social media platform

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Facebook is changing its company name next week to focus on building the “metaverse.” What is the metaverse, you ask?

The term was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, where it referred to a 3D world inhabited by avatars of real people. BBC reports that the metaverse “could be to [virtual reality] what the modern smartphone is to the first clunky mobile phones of the 1980s.” The article explains, “Instead of being on a computer, in the metaverse you might use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments. . . . this virtual world could be used for practically anything—work, play, concerts, cinema trips—or just hanging out.”

Facebook is making a huge investment in the metaverse, announcing its plan to hire ten thousand people in Europe to build it. You can already use technology to stage “watch” and “listen” parties with nearly every streaming and gaming company. This is apparently the next step.

Donald Trump is launching “TRUTH Social”

In other digital news, former President Trump has announced plans to launch his own social media platform early next year. He’s calling it TRUTH Social and considers it part of his efforts to fight back against “the Big Tech companies of Silicon Valley, which have used their unilateral power to silence opposing voices in America.”

Meanwhile, PayPal is reportedly in late stage talks to acquire Pinterest at a cost of $45 billion. And the Wall Street Journal reports that a ransomware gang masqueraded as a real company to recruit tech talent.

Digital news makes the news daily. There is much you can do online, with more coming. But a cell phone cannot hug a grieving spouse. A laptop cannot open Christmas presents from your grandparents. A tablet cannot substitute for a parent at a recital or baseball game.

In a new poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans who use social media platforms believe life was better without them. While Pascal was right to observe that there is a “God-shaped emptiness” in our souls, there is a “people-shaped emptiness” in us as well. The first time God ever said something was “not good,” he made this declaration: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Real people need real people. And that’s the good news we’ll discuss today.

“The key to a fulfilled life”

Oscar Thompson’s Concentric Circles of Concern: From Self to Others Through Life-Style Evangelism is a classic in the field. Dr. Thompson, a longtime pastor and evangelism professor, identifies seven relational “circles” in our lives: self, family, relatives, friends, neighbors-associates, acquaintances, and “Person X” whom we’ve not yet met.

He notes: “The key to a fulfilled life is relationships. Things do not satisfy; relationships do.” His book encourages us to first “get right with God, self, and others,” since we cannot give what we do not have or lead people where we are unwilling to go. When “you do get things right in your own life with God,” he writes, “he will begin to engineer humanly impossible circumstances to bring more people into your concentric circles to have their needs met.” As a result, “You become fulfilled as you see the fruit of God’s Spirit impacting the lives of those around you.”

Dr. Thompson adds: “When you make Christ Lord of your life, you forever surrender the right to choose whom you will love.” It is that love for others that fuels all we do to serve our Lord (cf. Matthew 22:37–40).

Next, we are to survey our relationships, work with God through prayer, build relationship bridges to them, show God’s love by meeting needs, make disciples and help them grow, and then help new Christians make disciples.

Dr. Thompson is right: the people in your spheres of influence “are there for you to love—to meet their needs—so the Father can draw them to his Son Jesus.” He notes that we need to start where we are, since “you will not have a ministry in the future if you do not have it now. . . . So, remember that your ministry is not out there somewhere in the future; it is now!”

Why Luka Doncic is already an MVP

As the NBA season begins this week, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the clear favorite to be named Most Valuable Player (MVP) when the season ends. But he is already the MVP for patients at Children’s Health in Dallas and Plano, arranging for a bag of surprises to be delivered to eighty patients Tuesday. They included a pair of Jordan sneakers; a Jordan drawstring, bag, hoodie, and socks; as well as a letter from Luka and a signed photo.

You will probably never compete in the NBA and may never attain the celebrity of a basketball superstar. But God has entrusted someone’s needs to your care today. He has prepared someone for you to share your compassion and faith with them. He has prepared you for that relationship as well.

So, ask him to put that person on your mind and heart right now with Samuel’s prayer, “Speak, Lᴏʀᴅ, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NLT). Then say to God with Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Yesterday morning, I was walking in our neighborhood before dawn under a beautiful harvest moon. The moon reflected the sun’s rays so powerfully, they cast my shadow ahead of me as I walked. However, before long I came under a streetlight; its brilliance far outshone the moon.

Obviously, a streetlight cannot compare with the moon for luminosity. But it was so much closer to me than the moon that its light illuminated the entire block where I was walking. 

You and I are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) as we reflect Jesus, the “light of the world” (John 8:12). We are like the moon reflecting the rays from our Source. We therefore need to be aligned with Jesus and we need to be close to those who need his light in their darkness.

Who will walk under your “streetlight” today?

NOTE: The Ten Commandments are the ancient “rules of the game” from God that tell us how to live if we want to live well. I unpack each of these rules in my tenth volume of Biblical Insight to Tough Questions, where I seek to answer questions about how to handle our ambitions, religion, stress, parents, enemies, sex, possessions, lies, and lusts. Please request your copy of this new resource* today.

*You can also pre-order the entire 10-volume set of Biblical Insight to Tough Questions, where I unapologetically answer dozens of our culture’s toughest questions with Scripture.

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Denison Forum – Haitian gang demands $17 million for missionaries

“Precious in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

The Haitian gang that kidnapped seventeen missionaries on Saturday is demanding a ransom of $1 million for each person they are holding, for a total of $17 million. A top Haitian official reported the demand and disclosed that among the missionaries are five children—one an eight-month-old baby, and the others three, six, fourteen, and fifteen years old.

He added that negotiations could take weeks, explaining, “We are trying to get them released without paying any ransom. This is the first course of action. Let’s be honest: when we give them that money, that money is going to be used for more guns and more munitions.”

In other news, a plane carrying twenty-one people crashed near Houston yesterday. However, the New York Post reports that “miraculously, only one person was reported injured.” Looking at pictures of the plane’s wreckage, it indeed seems a miracle that any of the passengers survived.

So, here’s the question: If God “miraculously” protected these passengers in Houston, why did he not protect his missionaries in Haiti?

Hypersonic weapons and submarine missiles

Examples of our need for such protection abound, from record homicides in Portland, Oregon, to North Korea’s submarine ballistic missile test described as “possibly the most significant demonstration of the North’s military might since US President Joe Biden took office,” to China’s testing of a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon that “surprised and alarmed US officials,” to an asteroid that “just zipped past Earth closer than the moon’s orbit.”

We know that God is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) and “does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). This is because “the Lᴏʀᴅ has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

Why, then, does he not intervene when danger threatens his people?

In Acts 12, we read that “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (vv. 1–3). If God did not spare James, it would seem that Peter’s life would soon be over as well.

But not so. God sent “an angel of the Lord” to free Peter from his prison cell and thus rescue him “from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting” (vv. 7–11).

If Peter, why not James?

How Peter died

The question becomes more complex when we learn how Peter eventually died. Jesus had warned his lead apostle: “When you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God)” (John 21:18–19).

The First Epistle of Clement, written from Rome to Christians in Corinth around AD 96, stated: “Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy suffered not one or two but many trials, and having thus given his testimony went to the glorious place which was his due” (1 Clement 5:4). His execution most likely occurred after the fire of Rome, when Nero sought to transfer blame to Christians and persecuted them mercilessly (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

According to the early church historian Eusebius, Peter was made to watch his wife’s execution first: “When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, ‘O thou, remember the Lord’” (Ecclesiastical History 3:30:2).

The apostle’s own execution followed: “He was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way” (Ecclesiastical History 3:1:2). An early source describes his death this way: “Peter, having come to the cross, said: ‘Since my Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from the heaven upon the earth, was raised upon the cross upright, and he has deigned to call to heaven me, who am of the earth, my cross ought to be fixed downmost, so as to direct my feet towards heaven; for I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord.’ Then, having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up” (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ante-Nicene Fathers 8:484).

Not a wall but a door

Why did God allow Peter to die in this way? Why does he allow missionaries to risk their lives and their children by serving him in dangerous places such as Haiti? Why does he allow you and me to face the suffering and pain of life on this broken planet?

This is obviously a very large conversation, but here’s one fact we often overlook: For Christians, death is not a wall but a door. It is not the end of life but the beginning of life we cannot imagine on this fallen planet (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Peter knew this to be true: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4).

When we die, we simply step out of the car and go into the house. There we find God’s “inheritance” waiting for us in reward for our faithfulness. And there we will understand what we do not understand today (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I am not suggesting that we should not grieve for those who are in heaven today. If Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, we can weep at their graves (John 11:35). But I am suggesting that we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We have not lost them—we know precisely where they are and we know that we will join them. In fact, we are one day closer to that great reunion than ever before.

A lesson from a podcast host

I recorded a podcast last week with a host who made this profound statement: This world is the closest to hell a Christian will ever be. However, it is also the closest to heaven a lost person will ever be.

It is our job to help every person we know choose heaven now, knowing that the time is coming when it is too late to choose. C. S. Lewis noted, “When the author walks on the stage the play is over.” I cannot promise you that the Lord will return tomorrow, but I cannot promise that he will not.

In the meantime, believers can experience in this life something of what we will experience in the next. St. Augustine observed, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”

What romance, adventure, and achievement will you seek today?

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Denison Forum – “Required” is required reading for courageous Christians

Required: God’s Call to Justice, Mercy, and Humility to Overcome Racial Division offers readers a detailed, yet relatable, perspective on what it would look like for Christians to apply God’s standards to the issues of racial division that continue to plague our country. 

To that end, Bishop Claude Alexander and Dr. Mac Pier unpack this topic around two primary beliefs. 

The first focuses on Micah 6:8 and the Lord’s call “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God.” The second stems from the first: “that the process of addressing the tensions and the realities underlying them requires awareness, ownership, and agency.” 

As Alexander and Pier go on to explain, the justice, mercy, and humility with which we are called to live necessitate viewing the racial and societal injustice around us as problems over which we must take ownership and action, regardless of whether we had a hand in creating those problems. 

Through exposition of passages like Esther, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and others, the authors demonstrate the biblical mandate to join the Lord in addressing these issues while providing examples of the God-sized impact that various organizations and people have had on their communities by doing just that.

Why Christians should read Required

Required offers Christians clear insights into God’s heart for his people to actively engage with the racial division that continues to place a ceiling on the impact that his church can have on our culture. 

Alexander and Pier offer encouraging examples of Christians that have transformed their corner of society for the kingdom by responding positively to the Lord’s call and creatively looking for ways to be a blessing to those harmed by injustice. And they do so in such a way as to make clear that God has called and equipped each of us to do likewise. 

The big takeaway

In Required, Alexander and Pier manage to leave readers both convicted and encouraged. 

If you will engage with this book, taking time over the course of its chapters to prayerfully ask God to open your heart to the difficult truths revealed throughout, you will finish with a better understanding of the problems we face and God’s power to work through his people to redeem them for his glory and the kingdom’s advancement. 

To truly experience that redemption and play a part in that advancement, however, you must be willing to do the uncomfortable work of engaging with these issues in a real and personal way. 

The church is filled with well-intentioned believers who look at the racial injustices around us with lament, but far too few who decide to become part of the solution. An honest and vulnerable reading of Required will make the need to take that latter step unmistakably clear. 

In their words

Consider these three choice quotes from Required:

  • “Our lives with God empower and inform our lives with others. It is what God requires for life with him that sets a conduit for what is necessary to do life with one another.”
  • “Whenever we speak of responsibility over the history of race and the continued existence of racism, some people will say, ‘Racism isn’t my fault. I’m not racist. I have friends of color.’ I respond that it isn’t my fault either. It is neither of our faults, but it is something that exists for which God calls us to own and change. None of us chose the race to which we were born. God assigned and designed it to us. With its conferral came blessings and burdens that we inherit. Thus, while the existence of racism, prejudice, and bigotry is not our fault, it is our problem. We all must own it as our problem. While we may not bear responsibility for its commencement, we do have responsibility in its continuance.”
  • “Cultures don’t change by merely posting things on the internet, making great declarations that everyone should follow, or getting angry about what’s not right. Cultures change one person at a time; it happens when others see you and me doing good, speaking differently, acting differently, and refusing to allow a political party, a news outlet, or the internet to define our views. Our good works and good words will be noticed. In time, they will follow our example. Good is more powerful than evil. So we need not wait for some messiah figure to make racism go away tomorrow. The Messiah has already come; we just need to follow Him, and the time is now!”

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Denison Forum – What I learned from Colin Powell

I was shocked to learn of Colin Powell’s passing this morning. Television news is preempting regular programming to discuss his remarkable life and historic legacy, as they should. 

He served as America’s first African American national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state. Born in Harlem of Jamaican parents, he grew up in the South Bronx and graduated from City College of New York, where he joined the Army through ROTC. He served two decorated combat tours in Vietnam and rose to the rank of four-star general. 

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan selected him to be national security advisor. Two years later, President George H. W. Bush promoted him to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him America’s top soldier. He later served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush, a position for which he was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate. 

I will always remember a speech I heard him give years ago as part of a leadership conference. He focused on the importance of humility for a leader, a priority he modeled in ways I’d like to reflect upon today. 

Treat well those you don’t have to treat well 

One of Gen. Powell’s observations was that great leaders treat people well whom they don’t have to treat well. This is an old but true maxim, one that is especially urgent in a materialistic secular culture. 

I watched him model this attribute in ways he may not even have fully recognized. When he took the stage, he thanked by name the staff member who introduced him. He was the only speaker on the program who did this. He also thanked by name other staff members who had helped him with transportation and logistics. He took questions from the audience, asking each person their name and then responding to them by name. Again, he was the only speaker in the daylong session to do these things. 

A CEO once disclosed his unusual hiring practice: whenever a prospective employee came for an interview, he arranged for this person to wait in his outer office for ten to fifteen minutes past their appointment time. Then, after their interview, he asked his administrative assistant how the person treated her. He felt he could learn far more about the applicant this way than from what he or she said during the interview. 

The philosopher Martin Buber distinguished between “I-Thou” and “I-It” relationships. The former should characterize the way we relate to people; the latter should describe our relationship with inanimate things. Unfortunately, we often confuse the two, using people as objects in our quest to accumulate things. 

The night Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples and abandoned by the others, he first washed their feet (John 13). This was an act of such abject servitude that no Jew could be made to perform it. Imagine Jesus kneeling before Judas, Peter, and the rest, washing their dirty feet and drying them with his servant’s towel. 

Now hear his command: “You also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). If the Son of God could wash their feet, whose feet can we not wash? 

How will you treat the people who serve you at a restaurant or other business today? How will you treat employees or strangers? Will you say about people what you would not say to them (cf. Matthew 18:15)? Will you say anonymously through social media what you would not say in person? 

How we treat those in need is how we are actually treating Jesus (Matthew 25:40). 

Learn from those with whom you disagree 

In his speech, Gen. Powell repeatedly emphasized the urgency of being a lifelong learner, of constantly acquiring wisdom and applying it in life. Our ability to learn from circumstances, challenges, and other people would set us apart as leaders, he stated. 

He was an example of his message, adapting the military principles he learned in his first career to the diplomacy and political service essential to his second. Not everyone can adapt knowledge and wisdom to new circumstances and challenges, but those who can are typically more successful in every season of their lives. 

The philosopher John Locke believed that we are born as a “blank slate,” a tabula rasa on which life writes its lessons. We are therefore the product of what we learn and what we do with what we learn. The key is to be intentional with what we write on our “slate” and what we then do to use this information wisely. 

We find this strategy modeled in the life of the young Jesus, who “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). We find it modeled in the life of the elderly Paul, who even near the end of his life asked Timothy to bring him “the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). 

I learned this principle from Gen. Powell not only in the positive sense but also in the negative.  

For example, I disagree vehemently with his “pro-choice” position on abortion. We should note that he was not “pro-abortion,” claiming that “a child is a valuable creation,” but he also asserted that “the law of the land says a woman has the right to make that choice.” 

In his political endorsements he frustrated nearly everyone at one time or another, supporting both Bushes and the Republican Party before endorsing the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama and strongly opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump. He made a speech in the 2020 Democratic National Convention supporting Joe Biden’s candidacy and declared himself an independent after the January 6 storming of the US Capitol. 

My point is not that I agreed with all he said and did. It is actually the opposite: we can and must learn from those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. 

If we can learn only from sinless people, we can learn only from the Lord Jesus (cf. Hebrews 4:15). But if we will ask the Lord to show us what we are to learn from every person and circumstance we encounter, life will become a constant classroom in which we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). 

Be ready every day for the last day 

The news is reporting that Gen. Powell died of complications from COVID-19, even though he was fully vaccinated. He was battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response. This condition put him at greater risk from the virus. 

His death from coronavirus while fully vaccinated does not indicate that the vaccines are not effective or that we should not be vaccinated. Rather, his death shows us the danger of the disease and the urgency of preparing for it as best we can. If someone dies in a car crash while wearing a seat belt, we don’t stop wearing seat belts. The opposite is true: we are reminded of how dangerous car crashes can be and of how much we need to wear seat belts and take other safety measures. 

Even with all his power and status, Gen. Powell was mortal. So are you. So am I. Death humbles us all and thus prepares us for the life to come. 

In our secularized and yet prosperous culture, we need this reminder. We need to remember that all we have is not enough to guarantee another day of life and that this world is but a means to the next. This is the dot before the line, the classroom from which we graduate into the “real world.” 

Our motto every day should be, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). 

“A good soldier of Jesus Christ” 

In a 2007 interview, Gen. Powell said, “Let others judge me. All I want to do is judge myself as a successful soldier who served his best.” 

In his final letter, Paul exhorted his disciple Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3–4). 

If we humble ourselves before the One who enlisted us in his service and make it our aim to please him each day, one day we will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). 

There is no higher calling. 

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Denison Forum – A bisexual Superman and William Shatner’s return from space

When I was a kid, Superman was my favorite comic book hero. I never imagined I’d see a picture published by DC Comics in which he kisses another man, but that was then and this is now: Jon Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, is officially bisexual. Monday’s announcement of the news was timed to coincide with “National Coming Out Day.”

Dean Cain, who starred as Superman on television in the 1990s, pointed out that this is nothing new: Robin was already bisexual, the new Captain America is gay, and his “Supergirl” daughter in his TV series was gay.

Of course, targeting children and youth with the message of LGBTQ normalization is nothing new, either. Last June, the Walt Disney Company unveiled the Rainbow Disney Collection featuring T-shirts, Mickey Mouse ears, mugs, and even baby apparel adorned with rainbows. Three years ago, Cartoon Network featured a same-sex wedding proposal on the animated series Steven Universe.

Earlier this year, the Nickelodeon series Blue’s Clues and You! unveiled a song teaching children the alphabet while promoting LGBTQ advocacy. The series also released a Pride parade video narrated by an animated version of drag performer and activist Nina West. Kellogg’s introduced LGBTQ-themed cereal for Pride Month; the children’s cartoon Rugrats now features a lesbian single mom.

And a new California law requires retailers to have “gender neutral” toy sections. A critic warned that the legislation will “impose a de-gendered ideology and viewpoint on retailers.”

Ninety rattlesnakes beneath a house

Some problems have obvious solutions. For example, when nearly ninety rattlesnakes set up a den beneath a California woman’s home, she called a reptile rescue team to remove them.

Other problems are more intractable. For instance, capybaras are swarming a wealthy gated community in Argentina. They are the world’s largest rodent, reaching 140 pounds in size. They are destroying lawns, attacking pets, and colliding with people. No one is quite sure what to do.

Several asteroids larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza will approach our planet in coming months; fortunately, none are on a collision course with us. However, a meteor may have exploded over New Hampshire last Sunday, causing a prolonged boom that shook homes. And a small plane crashed into a San Diego neighborhood, killing two people and demolishing a home newlyweds had just finished remodeling.

When we face intractable problems, we can ignore them, worry about them, or try to solve them ourselves. Or, as with the California woman whose home was infested by snakes, we can seek help from those who can do what we cannot.

Yesterday we discussed Satan’s temptation strategies and the importance of seeking God’s power over our Enemy each day. Today, let’s focus on a very practical way to do so.

Kicker defeats Alabama, glorifies God

Seth Small kicked the game-winning field goal for Texas A&M last Saturday in their upset win over No. 1 Alabama. However, he told reporters after the game that this did not top his list of best moments: “It was probably the third-best moment of my life, right after I accepted Jesus into my heart as my true Lord and Savior, and then after getting married to my wife this summer.”

Before his kick, Seth said, “I was just repeating Psalm 23:1 to myself all night, which is ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want.’ That kind of comforted me.”

According to Gallup senior scientist Frank Newport, 55 percent of Americans say they trust themselves, while only 37 percent trust the legislative branch. Author and speaker Jordan Peterson is enormously popular in large part because he calls us to take accountability for our lives, friends, families, and community through what one reviewer calls “heroic responsibility and self-sacrifice.”

By contrast, when the greatest example of “heroic responsibility and self-sacrifice” in history faced his wilderness temptations, he responded to each by quoting God’s word (Matthew 4:1–10). When Peter faced skeptics of the Pentecost miracle, he quoted the prophet Joel to the crowd (Acts 2:14–21). When he faced critics of his ministry with Cornelius, he quoted what the Lord had revealed to him about the Gentiles (Acts 11:1–18).

God has a word for you every time you face temptation and trials. This is why memorizing Scripture is so important, as this discipline gives the Spirit tools he can use in our minds and hearts. And it is why turning to God as soon as we face difficulty is so vital. His Spirit will empower us, lead us, and use us to the degree that we are willing to be empowered, led, and used.

“Heroic responsibility and self-sacrifice” may well be required in defeating our spiritual enemy, but their ultimate source is in the One who said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

What William Shatner got wrong

Those of us who believe in biblical morality are becoming more countercultural with each year that passes. From comic books to toys to TV, movies, and social media, unbiblical messages surround us all day, every day.

The good news is that we can look up for the strength to look around. We can choose the vertical in confronting the horizontal. We can find in heaven the resources we need to live authentically and victoriously on earth.

In this sense, William Shatner got it exactly wrong yesterday. After making history as the oldest person ever to go into space, the ninety-year-old actor was ecstatic upon his Blue Origin flight’s return to earth, telling Jeff Bezos: “Everybody in the world needs to do this. . . . I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just, it’s extraordinary, extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this.”

Shatner was especially impressed with the atmosphere through which he traveled: “This air which is keeping us alive. It’s thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small.” Speaking of the sky into which he traveled, he said, “Fifty miles and . . . you’re in death.” Then, referring to our fallen planet that “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4), he said, “This is life.”

Where will you point to for life today?

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Denison Forum – Jon Gruden resigns, Matt Amodio loses, and Mark Harmon retires: How to finish the race well

Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned Monday night after the New York Times detailed emails in which he made what the article called “homophobic and misogynistic remarks.” The Wall Street Journal earlier reported on a 2011 email in which Gruden used a racial trope to describe an African American.

Gruden’s resignation was applauded by columnists who wrote that he “had to go” and that his emails “painted him as a relic of what professional football can’t be anymore.”

On the opposite side of the cultural spectrum, Jeopardy! champion Matt Amodio’s epic winning streak ended Monday night at thirty-eight games and $1.5 million. In a Washington Post interview, he expressed his gratitude for the kindness of the show’s staff and the support of the fans and even wished his online hecklers well.

Not long after Amodio’s winning streak came to an end Monday evening, NCIS lead actor Mark Harmon ended his run on the show after eighteen seasons. He had reportedly wanted to retire after last season but learned that doing so would cause the show to be canceled. So, he agreed to return for a handful of episodes if the show returned for Season 19. The show warned after Monday’s episode that we should “never count [him] out,” but Harmon ended well.

What is true of athletics is also true of life: we are remembered less for how we start the race than for how we finish.

What God can’t remember

This week, we’ve discussed the relationship between private character and public service, noting that private sin keeps us from being used and rewarded by God while personal character positions us to be used publicly in ways we may not imagine at the time.

Much like the underwater oil pipeline that was likely damaged months before it ruptured and sent oil spewing onto some of California’s most famous beaches, what we do not see today can change the world tomorrow. God’s word warns: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

This is not just because personal secrets inevitably become public stories—it is also because the Enemy who tempts us intends to use our sins against us in ways we seldom see when we’re being tempted.

Here we encounter one of the problems Christians perennially face when dealing with temptation. So long as the results of the sin we are considering do not seem to harm others, we easily conclude that we can commit it without public consequence. We can then confess this sin to God and claim his promise to forgive us (1 John 1:9), separate our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), cast it “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and “remember [our] sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

John Claypool told the story of a priest who was troubled by a grievous sin he had committed while a seminary student. He had confessed his sin often but still felt the weight of its guilt and shame. A woman in his congregation came to him one day with the shocking news that God had begun speaking to her in an audible voice. Skeptical, the priest said to her, “The next time God speaks audibly to you, ask him what sin your priest committed while in seminary.” She said she would.

She returned the next week and the priest asked if she had done as he asked. She said she had. “And what did God say?” he asked her. She smiled and replied, “He said, ‘I don’t remember.’”

Erasing your spiritual “hard drive”

Here’s the problem: While God forgives all we confess and forgets all he forgives, Satan does not. You may think you erased your sins from your spiritual “hard drive,” but he keeps them until a time he can use them most effectively against us.

Jon Gruden was in his dream job with a contract worth $100 million over ten years: the richest contract in NFL coaching history. Now the remainder of that contract, $60 million, will be voided.

The higher Satan allows us to climb the ladder of success, the further we will fall and the more people we will hurt on the way down—not least ourselves.

My purpose is not to frighten us regarding our past. If you have confessed your sins to God and made restoration where appropriate (cf. Matthew 5:23–24Luke 19:8), you have done all you can do with what is done. It is now a mistake to try to have a better past. Every time guilt and shame attack, claim God’s grace and freedom.

Rather, my purpose is to equip us regarding our present and future. If Satan could not use our sins against us in ways that outweigh the “good” they seem to offer, he would not tempt us with them. Even though God will forgive and forget, the devil will not. Nor will the world.

“Open my eyes, that I may see”

It is important to understand Satan’s strategies so that “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). But we need to do more. Every time the enemy tempts us, we need to turn to the Spirit for the strength, wisdom, courage, and perseverance we need (James 4:71 Peter 5:9).

The devil is stronger than I am, but Jesus is stronger than he is.

Tomorrow we will discuss practical ways to experience God’s power over the evil one. For today, let’s close with the commitment to seek such power daily in prayer. If we “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,” God assures us that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

To that end, I invite you to make this familiar hymn by Clara H. Scott your prayer today:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

NOTE: Over the past four decades, I’ve been following cultural developments with professional and personal passion. And after nearly forty years of observation, study, and research, I’ll say I’ve never been as concerned about the trajectory of our culture as I am today. That’s why I’ve written my most pivotal work to date: my book, The Coming Tsunami. And it’s why I want to invite you to pre-order your copy—so you can be ready for the tidal waves of threat and opposition that are headed our way.

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Denison Forum – Why you won’t vote for George Clooney

During the 2016 presidential campaign, George Clooney stated emphatically, “There’s not going to be a President Donald Trump.” Now, apparently, there will not be a President George Clooney.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andre Marr, the sixty-year-old actor stated that, while he’s engaged in politics, he hopes to reduce his workload rather than increase it by running for office. When asked if he had such political intentions, he said quickly, “No, because I would actually like to have a nice life.”

He has a point. In recent days, activists supporting the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending bill have accosted Sen. Krysten Sinema at an airport and on her way to the bathroom. Over the weekend, they announced their plan to follow her at yesterday’s Boston Marathon as well. Sen. Joe Manchin was recently at the houseboat where he lives while in Washington, DC, when a group of kayakers confronted him on the same issue.

When asked about the way Sen. Sinema had been treated, President Joe Biden replied, “The only people it doesn’t happen to are the people who have Secret Service standing around them. So, it’s part of the process.”

Tim Keller on celebrity pastors

Public service comes at a cost. Conversely, when we are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we are motivated to serve. When we love our Lord, we must love our neighbor (Matthew 22:34–40). When God is working in us, he will work through us.

Yesterday we discussed the temptation of “private” sins that seem to have no public consequences but keep us from being used and rewarded fully by God. Today, let’s accent the positive: private godliness positions us to be used by God in ways we cannot imagine beforehand.

Well-known pastor and author Tim Keller acknowledged to Christian Post that he is viewed as a “celebrity pastor in some circles.” However, he also understands that if he misuses his platform, “a lot of Christians can be put to shame” because of him.

He added: “Therefore, if God gives me a bigger ‘platform,’ then I actually have a responsibility not to disappoint people. Not just to look like a great person; I actually have to be holy; I have to actually mortify my sin. I have to have a prayer life. I have to do the stuff that every Christian needs to do. I don’t have to be better than other Christians. I just need to be what God wants a Christian to be.”

While public ministry requires private godliness, the converse is also true: private godliness empowers and enables public ministry. In seeking such godliness, let’s consider a simple but paradoxical fact.

A clown shortage and a war hero

Northern Ireland is experiencing a clown shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem in circuses and other places where clowns are needed. Being a clown is anonymous business—the more a crowd can identify the person behind the costume, the less effective a clown that person will be.

In other news, Private First Class Desmond T. Doss of Lynchburg, Virginia, was presented the Medal of Honor on this day in 1945. He was cited for outstanding bravery as a medical corpsman, the first conscientious objector in American history to receive the nation’s highest military honor.

He served during the bloody battle of Okinawa, saving the lives of dozens of his fellow soldiers at grave risk to his own. When Mel Gibson brought his incredible story to movie theaters with Hacksaw Ridge, I was invited to a private screening followed by a time of discussion with Mr. Gibson. I asked him why he felt compelled to make the film; he explained that he felt PFC Doss’ story was one the world needed to know.

He was right. As the movie makes clear, PFC Doss served with no thought of personal advancement. He simply saw his fellow soldiers in danger and did what he could. He could have had no possible idea that six decades later, his story would make global news.

“I am not but I know I Am”

The more we seek personally to glorify God, the more publicly he can use us. This is because God cannot share his throne lest he commit idolatry. If he seeks to glorify anyone above himself, he leads us into worship of the creature rather than the Creator. As Israel’s idolatrous history illustrates, this sin only leads into further sin.

By contrast, when we say of Jesus what John said of him, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), the Father uses us to draw more people to his Son than we could ever lead to him in our ability for our glory. When we say with Louie Giglio, “I am not but I know I Am,” we know the great I Aᴍ (Exodus 3:14) in ways that will lead others to know him as well.

God’s word states paradoxically, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Scripture promises, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). Solomon noted, “Humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33).

The more we seek public recognition, the less God will lead us to experience it. The more we seek to honor our Lord and glorify our Savior in all we do, the more God can trust us with public ministry that will lead even more people to him.

How to “build a tall house of virtues”

Tim Keller is just one of many “celebrity pastors” in our day of global journalism and social media exposure. You could name many others. But I’m sure Rev. Keller would agree that celebrity is not enough.

As the moral decline of our culture illustrates, we need fewer personalities and more servants. Being famous is no substitute for being faithful. As we noted yesterday, we cannot save a single soul or change a single life. Only the Spirit can accomplish spiritual transformation.

So, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves why we do what we do for God. Why did I write this Daily Article? If you attended worship last Sunday, or taught a Bible study, or led worship, or preached a sermon, why did you do so? Think of your last act of service as a Christian—why did you do what you did?

If we do not seek intentionally to honor Jesus in all we do, we will honor ourselves instead. Our default position as fallen people is to be on the throne of our own hearts, seeking our own glory. The “will to power” (Nietzsche) that began in Genesis 3 continues to tempt us today. But if we ask the Spirit to help us know our motives and seek to glorify God in everything we do, he will answer our prayer.

St. Augustine noted, “If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility.”

How deep are your foundations today?

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Denison Forum – What “llama therapy” and “emotional support fish” say about us

 “Llama therapy” is in today’s news. A Washington Post writer tells of a recent hiking expedition with her family in Yellowstone National Park aided by a “calm and gentle beast of burden” who carried their gear and bonded with them on a “calming immersion in nature.”

Emotional support animals are more popular than ever. From “emotional support fish” to dogs and other animals, they are one way many people are coping with the challenges of our day. For example, depression in America has reached epidemic levels, increasing by 450 percent since 1987. Five times as many people are taking antidepressants now as then.

Let me be clear: depression is a very real disease, one that must be treated by every means available. Like cancer or heart disease, it often requires the help of medical, psychiatric, and psychological professionals. Other forms of anxiety and emotional trauma are very real as well and should be taken with utmost seriousness.

However, I believe there is a causal factor behind much of the emotional and psychological pain of our day that is never discussed in secular media and is especially challenging for Christians.

High school crowns transgender homecoming queen

Repairs to stop the fifty-eight-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco from sinking have made it worse. Consider this story as a parable of our times.

A transgender teenager was recently crowned homecoming queen at her Florida high school. Evan Bialosuknia said, “I’m the first, but I hope I’m not the last, and I just hope that people will start to open up and see that it’s normal and that trans women are women.”

Netflix series called “Sex Education” is being praised by the New York Times for its “frank but sensitive depictions of teen sexuality” including “more stories about queer relationships” and “gender presentation.”

In an important article titled “The end of vice,” Bryan Walsh notes that “all the old vices—from sex to gambling to drugs—are quickly becoming legal as both society and the criminal justice system rethink their values.” For example: legal betting on NFL games is up 32 percent. Support for decriminalizing prostitution rose from 24 percent in 1978 to 52 percent last year.

Our secularized culture is busy “repairing” the supposedly intolerant legalism created by Judeo-Christian values. But how is that working for us?

In The Hungering Dark, Frederick Buechner writes:

“If darkness is meant to suggest a world where nobody can see very well—either themselves, or each other, or where they are heading, or even where they are standing at the moment; if darkness is meant to convey a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness suggests conflict, conflict between races, between nations, between individuals each pretty much out for himself when you come right down to it; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.

“Darkness is what our newspapers are about. Darkness is what most of our best contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies over our own cities no less than over the cities of our enemies. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too. If we are people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths.”

Satan’s backup strategy

Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12). The definite article shows that he is the only light of the world. He also told his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) as we bring his light into the darkness. Note again the definite article.

If the room is dark and I have the only flashlight, whose fault is the darkness?

I believe that if God’s people brought the light of Christ more fully into the world, the world could not stay the same. But to bring his light, we must stay connected to his light. As the moon must remain aligned with the sun to reflect its rays at night, so we must remain aligned with the Son to reflect his love.

Jesus taught us: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Oswald Chambers observed: “I cannot save and sanctify myself; I cannot atone for sin; I cannot redeem the world; I cannot make right what is wrong, pure what is impure, holy what is unholy. That is all the sovereign work of God.”

As a result, we must “abide” in Christ constantly to bring his light into the dark. We therefore know that we must avoid public sins that shame our Lord and ourselves.

However, while Satan would obviously like us to commit such grievous public sins, he has a subtle backup plan: he tempts us with so-called “private” sins that the world never sees and we can be deceived into believing do no real damage. Such sins are especially dangerous since we can be tempted to continue committing them without apparent consequence.

But know this: Any sin grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:301 Thessalonians 5:19). Any sin breaks our alignment with the Son and eclipses our witness in the world. We may not recognize these disastrous repercussions since they do not cause positive harm so much as they prevent positive good.

Only in eternity will we see how much fruit on earth and reward in heaven we forfeit by sins we believe we can commit without consequence (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12–15).

The path to spiritual freedom

If you want to find true peace in a world of pain, abide in Christ. If you want to shine true light in a dark culture, abide in Christ. Abide in him on Monday, not just on Sunday. Abide in him in your private thoughts, not just your public words and actions. Recognize “private” sins as the cancer they are. Malignancy starts with tiny cells that, left untreated, can eventually kill the patient.

As a result, I encourage you right now to take a moment for a spiritual inventory. Ask the Spirit to bring to your mind any “private” sins you are committing, then confess whatever comes to your thoughts, claim God’s forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), and ask for his help in refusing them in the future (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The next time you are tempted by a sin that appears to have no consequences, recognize this as a lie from the devil. Now “submit it to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, my paraphrase). You will live in spiritual freedom, and your life will reflect the transforming light of your Lord to a world desperate for your hope in Christ.

Dwight Moody observed, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

What character will you choose today?

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Denison Forum – Man awoke to a bat on his neck, declined vaccine, died of rabies

Yesterday, lawmakers approved a last-minute stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown set to take effect today. Here’s why this is good news: if a partial government shutdown had occurred, airline passengers could see major delays if unpaid air traffic controllers chose not to work; national parks and other sites could have closed; processing of Social Security claims and benefits verification would have stopped; and any company doing business with the US government could have been impacted.

In other words, what happened behind closed doors in Washington affected millions across the nation.

Some other stories in the news illustrating this theme:

In each case, what was once private soon became very public. Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez observed, “All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” But the second and third seldom stay that way for long.

The unseen danger of “corroded” pots

This week we have explored ways to help people seek God who do not believe they need to seek God: demonstrate life transformationchoose compassionembrace excellence, and exhibit compelling joy in the Lord.

We’ll close with one more factor: private sin corrupts our public witness in ways we seldom foresee at the time.

In Ezekiel 24, the Lord warned the people of Jerusalem that the king of Babylon would lay siege to their city. God explained why they were facing such peril by employing a powerful parable: “Set on the pot, set it on; pour in water also; [then] put in the pieces of meat, all the good pieces” and “the choicest one of the flock” (vv. 3–5). However, the pot had “corrosion” in it that ruined the food it cooked (v. 6). What others could not see soon corrupted what they could taste.

“Corroded pots” always have this effect on what they touch.

For example, the ongoing clergy abuse scandal has obviously devastated thousands of innocent victims. But it has also given secular people abundant reason to reject the faith these clergy represent. Many ask, “If religious leaders can commit such horrendous sins, why would we consider their religion for ourselves?”

In a fallen world filled with constant temptations, how do we keep our “pots” from becoming “corroded”?

Learning from Benjamin Franklin’s failures

In his thoughtful and practical new book, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table: It’s Time to Win the Battle of Your Mind, pastor and author Louie Giglio warns us that entertaining private sinful thoughts allows Satan to influence our lives in ways that wreak far greater damage than we imagine when we are being tempted. Louie writes: “If [the devil] can claim victory over your mind, he can eventually claim victory over your life.”

The answer, however, is not trying harder to do better. As Louie notes, “The solution is surrender.” It is claiming the victory Jesus has already won over Satan and sin at the cross, then seeking his power through Scripture and the Holy Spirit to defeat what is tempting us. (I plan to say more about the role of God’s word in our minds and lives in Monday’s Daily Article.)

This solution is as countercultural as the transformation it offers. Even when we recognize the power of “corroded pots” to ruin our lives and witness to the secular world, our enemy tempts us to fight temptation in our strength. That’s because he knows we will eventually lose the battle.

Benjamin Franklin is Exhibit A of this fact. In a brilliant article for our website, my good friend Dr. David Dykes discusses Franklin’s personal religion. David is an acclaimed author and recently retired pastor of one of America’s greatest churches. He insightfully describes Franklin’s thirteen “moral habitudes” (crosses between habits and attitudes) to which he was passionately committed.

However, David notes that Franklin later admitted in his autobiography, “I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it.”

So will we.

“God is not a miser with his grace”

We cannot give what we do not have or lead others where we will not go. In a postmodern culture, a compellingly persuasive apologetic for the relevance of Christianity is demonstrating its relevance in our lives. This means that Christians must live like Christ. But it also means that Christians must seek the help of God’s Spirit to emulate God’s Son (cf. Romans 8:29).

Are you giving the enemy a seat at your table today? Remember that public devastation always results from “private” sin, then name your temptation and take it immediately to God. Ask his Spirit for the strength to resist the enemy and the resolve to be like Jesus.

Have you already allowed private sin to “corrode” your “pot”? Then name your sin now, acting before this cancer metastasizes further and destroys your life and witness. And claim the promise of Romans 5:20: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

In Grace for the Moment, Max Lucado expands on this promise: “To abound is to have a surplus, an abundance, an extravagant portion. Should the fish in the Pacific worry that it will run out of ocean? No. Why? The ocean abounds with water. Need the lark be anxious about finding room in the sky to fly? No, the sky abounds with space.

“So should the Christian worry that the cup of mercy will run empty? He may. For he may not be aware of God’s abounding grace. Are you? Are you aware that the cup God gives you overflows with mercy? Or are you afraid your cup will run dry? Or your mistakes are too great for God’s grace? God is not a miser with his grace. Your cup may be low on cash or clout, but it is overflowing with mercy.”

You can have a “corroded pot” or an overflowing cup. Choose wisely.

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Denison Forum – Did Benjamin Franklin’s personal religion help him achieve “moral perfection”?

As a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in winning America’s independence and framing our constitution. 

He was also an inventor. He didn’t invent electricity, but he invented the lightning rod. His other inventions included bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the $100 bill—not really. 

You might not realize it, but Ben Franklin even invented his own personal religion. 

Benjamin Franklin’s personal religion

Franklin was raised in a Puritan Presbyterian family and was baptized at an early age. Based upon his writings, it’s clear that he was a God-fearing man. However, in his adult years, he seldom attended church and he viewed Jesus as a great moral teacher, like Socrates. But he didn’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. 

When Benjamin Franklin was a young adult, he established his own religious system to be a good moral person. In his autobiography, he wrote: “It was about this time [age twenty] I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time. . . . As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.”

Franklin’s thirteen “moral habitudes”

Franklin enumerated thirteen moral qualities that he tried to attain. He called these his “moral habitudes” (a cross between a habit and an attitude). They included temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. 

Franklin took his personal religion seriously. He had a little book with his thirteen moral qualities written down the left side. Then he had seven columns for the seven days of the week. He would judge himself and, if he failed or needed improvement, he would make a mark in that column. Each week he would erase the marks and start over. He soon found that there were so many marks that erasing them tore a hole in the page! He got a new book, and, when a page would fill up with marks against his plan, he would tear that page out and start over. 

Failing at perfection

Later in life when he wrote his autobiography, he reflected on the failure of his system: “I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it. . . . In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself. . . . For, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

Ben Franklin was a wise, powerful individual. However, he admitted that he failed to live a life of perfect moral purity. He could have saved himself a lot of frustration and paper if he had applied Galatians 2:20 to his life. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

We can never achieve moral perfection ourselves. There is only one person who ever lived a perfect life: his name is Jesus, and he lives in those who have placed their faith in him.

Instead of inventing thirteen moral habitudes, we already have God’s list. Galatians 5:22 describes nine character qualities that Jesus was to live out through us: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” 

But you don’t have to create a checklist and make a daily mark when you try to live up to those character qualities. Those nine words simply describe the personality of Jesus. 

As you surrender to Jesus living in you, he energizes those qualities in your life.

Dr. David O. Dykes served as pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas before retiring on September 1, 2021. He is the author of 21 books, including three action-packed novels, writing as David Orlo; all are available on Amazon. He is currently booking speaking engagements and can be reached at dod75701[at]gmail.com.

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Denison Forum – An ancient solution to California’s disastrous wildfires

In 2020 and 2021, six of Californias’ ten largest fires in its history swept through the state. 

The August Complex, a collection of multiple fires that grew together, ravaged over one million acres of land in California. In the California fires of 2020, thirty-one people lost their lives and whole towns were swallowed by the massive blazes. One estimate claimed the cost was $10 billion in damages to the economy from the year 2020 alone. And 2021 hasn’t been much better. 

Only recently was the Dixie wildfire mostly controlled, after almost reaching one million acres itself. It is the second-largest wildfire, following close behind the August Complex.  

The desolate aftermath of these massive wildfires leads many to wonder if we could have done something more to prevent them. 

For decades, US policy put its efforts into preventing fires at all costs. The beloved Smokey the Bear reminded everyone to put out our campfires completely and dispose of cigarettes correctly. His catchphrase, riffing off of the World War II Uncle Sam poster, says, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” 

Though somewhat effective in preventing unintentional, man-made fires, this sentiment only covers part of the problem. Certainly, accidents have sparked destructive wildfires in the past, yet as our methods for fighting fires have become more advanced, the wildfires seem to be getting worse, not better. 

Surprisingly, the policy of complete fire prevention has fueled, not prevented, the new massive wildfires. 

The paradox of fire suppression

On a family trip to Wyoming many years ago, I remember surveying the pristine forests of Yellowstone National Park with wonder. I also remember the words of my grandfather, a professor with a Ph.D. in forestry. He warned against the blanket policy for national forests: never let anything burn. Like a prophet of the trees, he sagely rubbed his beard and predicted the disasters that this practice would lead to. 

And he was right. 

Though some pin the problem on climate change and others point out the record droughts in recent years that add to the problem, one expert says, “The biggest piece I’d still say is the condition of our forest. I’d say it’s 75% of our problem.” 

What is the condition of the forests in California? 

Well, interestingly, since we’ve aggressively fought the fires for so long, brush and dead forest matter have increasingly built up to frightening levels. One analysis aptly called California a “tinderbox.”

In the normal life cycle of a forest, lightning will cause natural forest fires that allow for greater biodiversity as it clears out deadwood and brush. The carefully balanced ecosystem depended on fires long before humans were there. These natural fires generally don’t kill large trees because they’re small and burn at a low level. According to one estimate from Pewtrust, before the 1800s approximately 5–12 percent of the land of California would naturally burn every year.  

Most critically, natural, low-burning forest fires act as a reset button.

Ironically, the fact that we’ve fought fires so well for so long means that the forests are like powder kegs, with forests full of dead material that will fuel more destructive fires.

A lesson from Indigenous people

Centuries ago, Native Americans regularly intentionally burned forests as part of their cultivation practices. The legacy lives on today in people like Bill Tripp, who is part of the Karuk tribe in California. He and others are leading the way to go back to the centuries-old practice of methodical burning to cultivate forests and hopefully prevent more massive wildfires.

Though some steps in the area of controlled burns are being made, California in particular has a long way to go. 

One article which I’ve drawn on several times in this article is provocatively titled We must burn the West to save it.” In it, the author concludes, “without concerted action now, the risks will only get worse.”

Wisdom lies in the past. Very quickly, the indigenous practice of forest burning became outlawed when the United States spread to the West, taking American Indian land. The American Indians lived in the Americas for thousands of years and knew how to tend the land of America with responsibility. Practical wisdom lies in the past, in practices from old and diverse cultures. 

They can lead to great lessons if properly understood.

God uses fires in our lives

The second piece of wisdom lies in a more metaphorical lesson. 

When difficulty enters our lives, it can burn like a fire. However, in my experience, times of hardship also reveal the pervasive deadwood of sin. 

Lying like unobtrusive, innocent twigs and leaves, sinful practices and postures build up in our hearts over time. If we approach hardship rightly, then God can use them as a fire to burn through the deadwood. 

Fire can also represent the Scriptures themselves, a difficult word from a friend, or some frustrated desire. All of these can lead us to get the deadwood out of our lives. 

God’s discipline can be a mercy that prevents a massive wildfire from overwhelming us and destroying our lives in a deeper way, like using a small fire to prevent a big fire. As James writes, “Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). 

Fires are hot, and they can burn. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Yet, Dr. Jim Denison reminds us of this truth: “God redeems all he allows.” 

The next time a door is closed, a season becomes fraught with hardship, or an inconvenience happens, reflect on your response. If you can say, “I have learned to give thanks in all circumstances” with Paul, you’re further along than me, but it’s something for everyone to strive for. 

Allow God to clear the deadwood from your heart, praying that he would reveal your hidden sins, even if it’s painful.

Maybe God is allowing a controlled burn in your life to make way for new growth.

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Denison Forum – How did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Recent meteoric evidence may prove the biblical account

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction is among the more well-known tales of the Old Testament. It is also included in the Qur’an (11:74–83 and 29:28–35) and is cited by Jesus as a clear example of God’s judgment against sin (Matthew 10:14–15). 

For a long time, it was presumed that something like the great earthquake that rocked the region around 1900 BCE was the cause of the two cities’ destruction, turning it from a fertile land with plenty of fresh water into a barren waste. While this account never fit all that well with the biblical description, it at least offered a plausible explanation for what might have happened and why those who witnessed it could have passed down that account in the fashion we have today. 

Recent research, however, offers another explanation.

A meteor may have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

After fifteen years of excavations and study, archaeologist Christopher R. Moore and his team found evidence that, around 1650 BCE, a massive meteor burst through earth’s atmosphere near the ancient city of Tall el-Hammam—the location where Sodom and Gomorrah are commonly thought to have existed—and exploded 2.5 miles above the ground, raining fiery debris on the cities below. 

The ensuing blast was roughly a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, and everything in its wake would have been instantly incinerated as air temperatures rose to more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The shockwave that followed a few seconds later raged at speeds of up to 740 miles per hour as deadly winds destroyed whatever the initial blast did not.

Ultimately, there’s no way to know this side of heaven if the meteor is what God used to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah or if it was something else entirely, but the plausibility of that scenario offers us an important reminder for how we should look at the Bible today. 

Is the Bible true?

As Christians, we don’t need historical evidence to believe that the Bible is true (See Dr. Jim Denison’s “Why do we believe the Bible is actually the word of God?“) But that doesn’t mean it’s not welcome when it happens. 

The meteor that very well could have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is far from the only time history has backed up the Bible. 

Daniel’s prophetic description of events in chapters 7–12, for example, is so accurate that it forms the primary reason many scholars today date the book to the second century BCE rather than when Scripture claims Daniel actually wrote it. 

The Pool of Bethesda in John 5 was thought to be a myth until it was uncovered exactly where the Bible said it would be, and now it serves as a common stop on tours through Jerusalem. 

Pontius Pilate was considered by many to be a fictional character until a Roman inscription documenting his office and life was discovered. 

And that’s just to name a few examples. 

The truth is that regardless of how many times history proves the Bible to be correct, there will always be enough gaps between what Scripture describes and our ability to prove it that those who want to doubt its veracity can find reasons to do so.

But just because holes in our understanding exist does not mean that the fault is with Scripture rather than us. When weighed against evidence to the contrary, the balance tips heavily in favor of the Bible’s veracity. Believing that God’s word is true is the most logical approach to take, even if arguments can be made to the contrary. 

At the end of the day, though, what Abraham Lincoln once said of the Bible remains the best advice for us today: “Take all that you can of this book upon reason, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.” 

Adopt that approach today, and you will learn just how right he was. 

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Denison Forum – One woman turns a two-day yard sale into a year’s worth of kindness

NOTE: I want to thank Shane Bennett, Ryan Denison, and Mark Legg for their outstanding work in writing the Daily Article last week while I was traveling with my wife. I am honored to share this ministry with them and excited to return to writing this week.

We might not expect a typical garage sale to make the Washington Post. But what happened recently in Arlington, Virginia, was anything but typical.

Susan Thompson-Gaines recently staged her third annual “Kindness Yard Sale” outside her home. The two-day event was a “kindness” sale in two ways. One: You could pay whatever you chose for any item; if you wanted to hand over $5 for twenty dresses or $10 for a bike, she simply thanked you. Two: She will spend the money not on herself but to help others.

After last year’s sale, she and her husband threw a virtual beach party for a group of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, kept an outdoor pantry filled with food, and added coffee pods to a teacher’s lounge. They also helped 111 neighborhood children write letters to Santa; Thompson-Gaines then wrote each child a personalized letter from Santa and gave them a wrapped present under a tree adorned with ornaments from people across the neighborhood.

This year’s sale raised more than $11,000. People across the next year will be helped by her remarkable kindness as a result.

My recent travels in Vermont

What Susan Thompson-Gaines does with her “Kindness Yard Sale” is both extraordinary and ordinary. She touches hundreds if not thousands of lives with her unusual generosity, but her yard sale is something nearly anyone with a yard could do. It requires no advanced degrees, special skills, political influence, or financial wealth.

She typifies the best of humanity. And that’s my paradoxical point today.

I am writing after spending last week with Janet in Vermont. We had always wanted to see this beautiful state in the fall, and our experiences exceeded our expectations. The mountains are majestic, the changing leaves are magical, the small towns (many are called “villages”) are quaint and picturesque, and the people are hardworking and welcoming.

And yet, surrounded by such reminders of God’s creative genius and grace, the vast majority are apparently oblivious to his presence and power. World Population Review ranks Vermont as the third-least religious state in the US, one percentage point ahead of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. According to Baptist leaders, 97 percent of the state’s population is unreached with the gospel.

The people we met appear to be doing the best they can to be the best they can. So far as many seem to know, that’s the best anyone can do.

But that’s not good enough.

Funeral services for Gabby Petito

Funeral services were held yesterday afternoon for Gabby Petito as the manhunt for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, continues this morning. (For more on this tragic story, see Mark Legg’s excellent article, “Gabby Petito and the search for perfect justice.”)

In other news, investigators arrived last night at the scene of Sunday’s deadly Amtrak derailment in Montana that killed three people and left seven hospitalized. A mother and her two-year-old son died Saturday after falling from the upper deck at Petco Park before the San Diego Padres’ baseball game. The day before, a school bus driver was fatally stabbed in front of students after picking them up from a Washington state elementary school; more information is expected to be released today.

A study published today by Oxford University shows that the life expectancy of American men decreased by two years during the pandemic. A recent salmonella outbreak has more than doubled in infections in over a week. And the US in 2020 experienced the biggest rise in murder since the start of national record-keeping in 1960, according to previews of a report to be issued later today by the FBI.

Here’s what these stories obviously have in common: they illustrate our undeniable mortality. Whether we hold kindness yard sales or commit homicides, the Greek playwright Euripides (died 406 BC) was right: “Death is a debt all mortals must pay, and no man knows for certain whether he will still be living on the morrow” (Alcestis 1:783–4).

Meeting a man who is spiritual but not religious

One reason Christians know everyone needs Christ is that we know everyone needs a Savior. We remember what Jesus said of himself: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). And we know that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life [through saving faith in Christ], he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

However, most of the unreached people in Vermont, Texas, or anywhere else in our secular culture apparently do not know or believe these biblical facts. If they believe in heaven at all, they believe that their good works are good enough to earn their place in it.

Last week, Janet and I were on a history tour where our speaker confidently told our group that he is “spiritual” and highly committed to living with integrity but has no personal religious commitment. He was apparently untroubled by any concern that he would spend eternity separated from God in hell as a result.

How can we help such people see their need for Jesus?

“They had been with Jesus”

We’ll continue this conversation tomorrow. For today, let’s close with this fact: all people are created by God with a “Christ-shaped emptiness” (paraphrasing Pascal), whether they know it or not. When lost people meet Christians in whose lives Christ is active, empowering, gracious, and compelling, what they are missing draws them to the only One who can satisfy the deep hunger of their souls.

When the religious authorities “saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Will the people you meet today say the same of you?

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Denison Forum – Gabby Petito and the search for perfect justice

NOTE: Thank you to Denison Forum staff writer Mark Legg for writing today’s Daily Article. Mark has written twenty articles for Denison Forum and has provided research for many others.

True crime shows seem to have an undeniable draw. Netflix’s show Tiger King was watched by 64 million households over the first month of its release, and Tiger King 2 was just announced. True crime podcasts often land in the top twenty in ratings. Sometimes, the public will become caught up in a high-profile case as it plays out, perhaps most infamously in the O. J. Simpson trial.

The disappearance and death of twenty-two-year-old Gabby Petito has similarly captured the nation’s attention. The story was swept up by social media and national news sites alike, fueled primarily by TikTok.

Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, gathered a social media following with their minimalist van life and adventures across the country. But their purportedly pristine life covered up increasing tension between the couple, reports of Laundrie’s temper flaring, and Petito’s eventual disappearance.

The investigation is ongoing, but what do we know for sure?

A timeline for the disappearance of Gabby Petito

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie set out on a several-month-long cross-country trip in their van at the beginning of July. Petito documented the “van life” with her fiancé on social media, appearing to experience beatific bliss camping together. In August, they uploaded their first YouTube video to document the trip. Nothing seemed amiss.

In late August, the couple traveled to Grand Teton National Park. Suddenly, Petito stopped posting to social media, and her parents were unable to reach her. They received one last suspicious text from her phone on August 30 which read “No service in Yosemite.”

On September 1, Brian Laundrie returned to his house in Florida in their van without Petito. Laundrie refused to give Peitito’s whereabouts or even talk about what happened.

On September 11, Petito’s family reported her as missing. Laundrie’s lawyer told police that he advised Laundrie not to speak with authorities, and Laundrie “plead the Fifth.”

On September 15, the police described Laundrie as a person of interest.

On September 17, Laundrie’s parents told police they had not seen him since September 14, when he supposedly went hiking.

The FBI found Petito’s body on September 19.

On September 22, they publicly ruled her death a homicide.

As of this writing, the police haven’t found Laundrie. As of Thursday evening, the FBI placed a warrant out for his arrest because he used Petito’s debit card, though they are still investigating his involvement in her homicide. Laundrie’s large head start makes the manhunt incredibly difficult. Though they are searching in the swamps of a Florida national park, many suspect that this is a false lead.

The good and bad of social media and “web sleuthing”

Underneath the facts lurks the involvement of social media, both apparently for ill and as a tool for good.

Gabby Petito and her fiancé’s lives were public, but social media hid their domestic disputes that arose in the days leading to her death. The police released bodycam footage of when they stopped the couple on August 12 because of a 911 call that reported Laundrie hitting Petito. They stayed in separate places for the night, per the recommendation of the officers, but the next day the couple reunited and continued their road trip. This presents a tragic reminder showing how social media can whitewash people’s broken lives.

The difference between previous crimes that garnered nationwide attention is that, with TikTok, this case unfolded in almost real time to millions of people and allowed them to “investigate” themselves. The involvement of interested but ordinary people trying to uncover crimes is called “web sleuthing.” With so much attention, video clips and eyewitness testimonies were discovered that aided the investigation, narrowing their search for Petito. These testimonies may become critical evidence in an upcoming trial.

Due to the Laundrie family’s perceived reluctance to cooperate with the police, a protest gathered outside their house on September 17, demanding that he and the family speak up. At that point, unbeknownst to the crowd, Laundrie had already gone on the run.

As of September 22, #GabbyPetito received more than 794 million views on TikTok. The family used the platform to garner support and raise awareness of her case, but many are criticizing the sensationalizing effect of TikTok.

So, while amateur investigators on social media and the public’s attention did aid the investigation, it also led to confusion and, in the opinion of some, it made a tragedy into a public spectacle. Countless theories cropped up in the days where Gabby was still missing. Some were conspiratorial, some were reasonable, but everyone seemed to have an opinion.

Now the Petito family seeks justice and mourns the loss of the young woman. Undoubtedly, the court case will draw similar national attention when it comes to trial.

Imperfect justice and “missing white woman syndrome”

Some are using this case to bring another issue of justice and human imperfection into focus. On most news sites covering the Petito case, they are drawing attention to a trend in public attention called “missing white woman syndrome.”

This observation claims that missing persons cases usually gain nationwide attention only if the subject is a woman and white. One study at least tentatively supports this conclusion, and anecdotal evidence seems to confirm this correlation. (For more, read what the Bible says about racism and look through the resources we’ve compiled on the subject.)

I have two simple observations: most news sites reported on the “missing white woman syndrome,” and most of those same news sites extensively reported on the Gabby Petito case anyway.

Gabby Petito’s bright life was cut short through homicide. Turning her death into a political point seems inconsiderate at best. How do we honor her family while still redressing the racialized tendency of the public eye?

It all becomes a tangled mess. I certainly have no answers, but thankfully someone does.

Perfect justice for Gabby Petito

Governments must carry out justice. That is part of their purpose according to Scripture (1 Peter 2:13–14). However, human institutions will always fail to mete out perfect justice. The power and knowledge of human institutions will remain limited, yet they are not in the case of God.

May God reveal tainted hearts and eyes to us; only he alone knows true justice untainted by prejudice.

Convicting each of us, Christ teaches that anger itself reveals a heart of murder. Sin, though varying in its severity, is common to all people. Christ both deals out justice and, praise God, forgives us our own sins and our own anger, which infects our hearts and which Christ says is akin to murder (Matthew 5:21–23). In our own relationships, we should pray for healing from malice and “not let the sun go down on our anger” (Ephesians 4:26).

Though officials will likely find Laundrie—and hopefully justice will prevail—ultimate justice will be dealt from God’s perfect throne of judgment.

Pray for the Petito family and that they will find justice and peace. Empathize and mourn with them. Join me in praying that they will be blessed and comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Then, consider others in your lives who are mourning and mourn alongside them. Though we cannot directly show love to the Petito family, tragedy will strike at friends and family close to us.

When it does, let us draw near to them with compassion.

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Denison Forum – Why did the Taliban request a seat at the UN?

NOTE: Today is North Texas Giving Day, the single biggest day of giving to this ministry every year.

We’ve set an $850,000 one-day goal so that together, we can extend Christ’s presence in our world in the year ahead.

Please give by midnight tonight, knowing that a $120,000 Matching Grant will double the amount and impact of any donation you give.

And please note: you don’t have to live in North Texas to give. Thank you for your support on this most important of days.


NOTE: Thank you to Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.

The United Nations General Assembly began this week in New York City and it didn’t take long to start making waves. But while a number of issues—ranging from climate change to Covid—have dominated the discussion, the storyline I’ll be watching most closely revolves around the Taliban seeking to replace Afghanistan’s current representative with one from the new regime.

Currently, the former Afghan government is the only authority from the country credentialed by the UN, meaning that the Taliban is currently locked out even though they are clearly in control of the country. As such, the people representing Afghanistan to the world have been largely forced to flee their own nation.

The UN has said that they are unlikely to make a decision during the current session, though it’s possible something could happen later this year. However, recognizing a representative from the Taliban would, in the eyes of many, be akin to recognizing and legitimizing their government—and that has left many nations more than a little wary.

As such, the UN is using the status as a carrot of sorts to try and entice the terrorist organization turned ruling government to make some changes on how they operate. Chief among those changes is addressing what remains a concerning record of human rights violations, both before taking power and in the weeks since.

Amnesty International, for example, outlined earlier this week how the “Taliban are steadily dismantling the human rights gains of the last twenty years . . . including targeted killings of civilians and surrendered soldiers and the blocking of humanitarian supplies in the Panhshir Valley, which constitute crimes under international law.” Moreover, they warn that “restrictions have also been reimposed on women, freedom of expression, and civil society.”

In short, the Taliban has yet to show a genuine interest in governing according to the standards by which most nations are judged. And while other countries that have UN representation are also guilty of similar crimes—China among the most prominent—the new leaders of Afghanistan are being held to an understandably high standard (at least for now).

“Dialogue could be fruitful”

That the Taliban is encountering resistance in their quest to be recognized as the official government of Afghanistan should not come as a surprise. That they want to be legitimized on the global level, however, is an even more important development.

Such a desire demonstrates that their goals are not necessarily the same as we often think about when it comes to radical Islam and terrorist activity. While certain groups, such as al-Qaeda, are often focused on attacking western countries in defense of Islam—or at least that’s what they claim—the Taliban have long had a different objective in mind. For them, Afghanistan is not just a launching pad for jihad. It’s home, and it has been for centuries.

While many of their ideals are aligned with other terrorist organizations, they legitimately desire to be seen by the world as the ones in charge of their homeland. It’s why they can state with all sincerity that they believe “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government (and) for other countries, including European, Asian, and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us.”

That the world doesn’t seem to agree is of lesser importance than that they see themselves as worthy of that level of legitimacy.

And there is, perhaps, some logic behind the idea that they should be treated as more than usurpers. As the leadership from Qatar noted, “Boycotting them would only lead to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could be fruitful.”

If the Taliban show signs that global recognition is more important than re-establishing their old ways of governance, then perhaps there is hope that the situation for the Afghani people could begin to improve. However, it is uncertain what that would mean for their relationship with other radical Islamic groups—most of whom do not tend to look kindly upon compromising what they perceive to be the only way to correctly live out their faith. Stranger things have happened, though, and we can (and should) be praying that they are willing to make those changes.

But it’s hard to pray about what we’re not thinking about, and therein lies the problem for many of us.

What to do when you lose spiritual focus

I suspect that for most Americans, the situation in Afghanistan has already begun to work its way to the periphery of our collective awareness. We know it’s not good, but unless something abnormally bad happens—a high bar to clear for that region at the moment—then we’re probably not going to give it much thought.

And the same is true for other areas of our lives as well. That’s just part of what it means to be fallen, finite humans.

Fortunately, we serve a perfect, infinite God and, if we’ll take the time to stay in touch with him, he will direct our focus where it needs to go. And when it comes to praying in a way that aligns our hearts and minds with his, giving him that authority is essential.

So take some time right now to ask God to help you see the world around you through his eyes today. Ask him to make the things he wants you to be praying about stand out in a way that’s hard to ignore. Ask him to bring to mind people and places that need to go to the top of your prayer list. Then stand back and silently give him room to work.

When giving God the authority to direct your thoughts becomes a way of life, you’ll start to notice a real difference in how you pray and how you perceive the world around you:

  • Seemingly innocuous Facebook posts will start to look like requests for prayer.
  • Conversations will take on an added layer of depth.
  • People you haven’t thought about for years will pop into your mind without any explanation other than that God wanted you to think about them.
  • And your interactions with coworkers, neighbors, family members, and anyone else the Lord brings across your path will seem like opportunities rather than obligations.

In short, when God is the one in charge of how you experience and interpret life throughout the course of your day, then every day takes on a new level of purpose and meaning.

It won’t happen unless we are intentional about asking God to make it happen, though.

Have you made that request today?

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Denison Forum – How the church can bless the culture into spiritual awakening

A recent report out of England found that the country’s forty-two Anglican cathedrals contributed £235 million (roughly $321 million) to their local economies in 2019. Among that value included more than six thousand jobs and volunteer posts, accruing more than nine hundred thousand hours of service through food banks, support groups, and various outreach ministries to help their respective communities.

And such contributions are not unique to Great Britain.

In America, faith-based groups contribute more than $316 billion in savings to the US economy every year. In addition, congregations, religious institutions, and faith-based businesses contribute roughly $1.2 trillion of socio-economic value to the country, which is the equivalent of the world’s fifteenth largest national economy.

I bring these statistics up, however, not as an opportunity to congratulate ourselves for a job well done but rather to show just a small taste of the potential we have to bless our country and our community by serving others in the name of Jesus.

Why the global awakening is missing America

There is a Great Awakening going on in our world, and hundreds of thousands are being adopted into the family of God every day as a result. Muslims are coming to Christ in numbers never before seen in history. Similar stories are found in South Korea and China, where within the next ten years, their combined Christian populations are projected to pass America’s.

But we’re not seeing it here, and there is little to indicate that will change on its own.

Matthew 8 could give us a hint as to why that is.

The chapter starts with Jesus coming down the hillside after delivering the Sermon on the Mount to encounter a leper and then a centurion. Both were in desperate need of his help and, because of the faith they demonstrated, both received the healing for which they asked (8:1–13). He then proceeded to do the same for the mass of people that followed him to Peter’s house (8:14–17).

Later on in the chapter, he and the disciples leave that area and encounter two demon-possessed men. Jesus heals them both, granting the demons’ request to instead inhabit a herd of pigs who are then driven off a cliff and die. The herdsmen fled and came back with a town’s worth of people who “begged him to leave their region” (8:28–34).

In both instances, people experienced the miraculous power of God. But while the first group responded with gratitude and faith, the townspeople at the end of the chapter asked Jesus to leave and wanted nothing to do with him. The difference is that those he healed were aware of how much they needed him. Those who sent him away were not.

That same pattern is at the heart of why some parts of the world are encountering Christ in powerful and transformative ways while, for most of the West, that’s simply not the case. Our culture just doesn’t understand why we need what Jesus has to offer.

So what can we do to help them take that step?

A different path to revival

In previous centuries, the Great Awakenings that helped shape so much of western culture—especially in America—began because a large segment of the population became increasingly aware of their need for God.

At times, as with the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, that happened through preaching and emphasizing the depravity of humanity. Far more often, though, it happened because people who thought God just didn’t care about them or that Christianity was just for the wealthy—one of the primary fallacies the First Great Awakening tried to correct—encountered the good news of Jesus from people who cared about them enough to share it.

Given the state of our culture today—where morality is largely subjective and the church is often seen as a barrier to progress—we are not going to convince many people that they need Jesus by just praying that God would change their hearts while criticizing all the ways in which their lives run counter to his teachings.

To be sure, prayer still has a very large role to play in helping our culture come to Christ, but if it essentially amounts to “God, please let them know how awful they are,” then we’re not going to see things improve very much.

I’d like to propose a different approach.

Revival starts with you

Instead of looking at the world around us and lamenting at how lost they seem to be, what if we shifted our focus instead to asking God how we can best bless the lives of those around us?

What if our prayers were less about what’s wrong with the world and more about what we can do to make it better?

In Genesis 12, God blesses Abraham so that, through Abraham, he might bless the world (Genesis 12:2). As Christians, we are heirs of that purpose.

What would it look like if we devoted a substantial amount of our time in prayer to asking the Lord how he wants to use us to bless the people we meet?

What kind of an impact could we make on our community if, instead of trying to figure out ways to get them into our churches, we chose instead to figure out ways to meet their needs where they are?

As mentioned at the start, the numbers don’t lie. A lot of Christians are already doing that, and it’s awesome. But if we want to see the Great Awakening that’s creating new believers across the globe come to our borders, then it’s going to take a level of intentionality and Spirit-driven focus that is often lacking in our communities of faith.

We may not change the narrative about our faith on a national level, but every person we meet is a chance to change it on a personal one. If we want to see revival, then it has to start there.

God has a plan to use each and every one of us to be a blessing in his name to the lost around us.

We just have to ask and then obey.

Will you?

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Denison Forum – Facebook is hurting its users, but is it our fault?

NOTE: Thank you to Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.

It should not come as a surprise that social media companies like Facebook have an outsized influence on the way their users see the world. But the degree to which that’s the case—and the extent of the issues it’s now causing—are starting to become more widely known.

Recent reports from the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and others warn that from amplifying body issues, eating disorders, and depression among teenage girls to driving people into extremist groups on their website, Facebook and its subsidiaries are increasingly hurting their users.

Before we launch into efforts to break them up or lay blame for all the world’s wrongs at their feet, though, we need to understand that we are the reason they have that power. We’re wired to seek out the self-destruction they offer—and that’s our fault more than theirs.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t steps Facebook and others could take to help mitigate some of those issues. And they do hold some responsibility for the fact that cries to do just that have largely fallen on deaf ears. After all, countless books, articles, and studies have pointed out the way that their approach to creating communities of people around the world place a higher priority on generating traffic than on responsibly moderating their services.

But a big part of the crisis—and one of the reasons why we need to be careful about asking them to fix our problem—is found in this question: Who should we really trust in this day and age to serve as that censor, determining when and where a conversation or group crosses the line?

Some restrictions should be obvious, and largely are. Instances of pornography (especially when involving children) and sex trafficking, for example, are rightly censored. That said, even then Facebook has often struggled to crack down on those using its services to perpetrate such evil.

But what about political misinformation and issues surrounding public health topics like Covid and vaccination? How about what is defined as hate speech?

And the waters get even murkier from there.

The reality is that what exactly constitutes misinformation or speech that deserves to be removed can often be difficult to know before it has already spread to the point that containment becomes a largely fruitless endeavor. And making the call too quickly, before all the information is known, can mean shutting down important conversations and censoring the truth rather than lies.

There are practical steps Facebook can, and should, take to help the problem—such as reducing the importance of comments in determining which posts are pushed by their algorithms. However, at the end of the day, they really can’t make a large enough difference to solve the problem.

So what can?

3 ways to use social media wisely

As mentioned above, the reason social media outlets like Facebook are prone to fostering the kind of destructive content for which they are often maligned is that we are wired to gravitate toward the kinds of silos that confirm rather than challenge our views. So when Facebook’s algorithms suggest content based on our previous usage, it just sends us deeper down the same lines of thinking. Their entire system is built around that strategy, and expecting them to change now is simply not going to happen (and probably wouldn’t help much if they tried).

Ultimately, we’re left with two options: cut off all social media or become more intentional about how we use it (e.g., take a social media fast). To be honest, there is some merit to both.

But let’s go forward under the assumption that you do not plan to delete your profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the others. What steps can you take to help mitigate some of the dangers and make greater use of the benefits they offer?

1. Admit that you are not immune to being deceived.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering there are several warnings throughout Scripture regarding how our Enemy thrives on lies and deceit (John 8:44) and that there will always be those who try to tempt us away from the truth with false teachings we might prefer to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).

Far too often, though, we can fool ourselves into thinking that because we profess to serve the God who is truth and believe in objective truth, we will always be able to tell the difference between truth and lies. However, apart from a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance and on a community of believers in which everything is tested against the teachings of Scripture (Acts 17:11), our pride can actually make us among the most prone to believing what isn’t true.

That, in turn, is why the second step is so important.

2. Surround yourself with people who care more about knowing the truth than about being right.

If you wonder if that’s you, then ask yourself this simple question: When was the last time you can remember being wrong about something?

If nothing comes to mind, then it’s worth at least entertaining the notion that the reason is not that you are always correct, but rather that there aren’t enough people or other influences in your life to help you see when you’re wrong.

Do you have friends or family that challenge your way of thinking? Are you open to being challenged? If the answer to either question is no, then spend some time today praying that God would help you improve in that regard and expand your circle to include people that can help you grow rather than just feel good about where you are.

It may not—and likely will not—be a pleasant change at first. But as you come to see the fruit it bears in your walk with God and his ability to use your life to expand his kingdom, you’ll come to appreciate it.

And that brings us to the final step.

3. Hold everything but your relationship with God loosely enough that if he shows you something needs to change, you’re willing to do it.

Set higher standards for the groups you follow and participate in on social media. Be willing to set boundaries around the relationships in your life. That doesn’t necessarily mean cutting off friendships or ignoring family members, but if you know that there are some people who bring out the worst in you, just be careful. Ask the Lord what a healthy version of that relationship would look like and then make whatever changes are necessary to get there.

How will you use social media going forward?

At the end of the day, we could lament everything wrong with Facebook and other forms of social media, but if we’re waiting on them to fix the toxic culture that they foster, then things are just going to keep getting worse.

So take responsibility for your own life and your own influences. Surrender them to God and give him free rein to make whatever changes he deems necessary.

Facebook can be a wonderful place where the Lord uses you to expand his kingdom in ways that, to this point in history, were simply unimaginable. But that’s not going to happen unless you take the necessary steps to ensure it can be a tool for God rather than the Enemy.

Which is more true in your life today?

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Denison Forum – 95,000 Afghan refugees may come to the US: How will Christians help?

NOTE: Thank you to Shane Bennett for penning today’s Daily Article. He has previously written for Denison Forum, and we appreciate his knowledge and insight on reaching Muslims with the gospel.

According to the New York Times, “As of September 14, about 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the United States. . . . Nearly 49,000 are living on eight domestic military bases, waiting to be resettled in the United States.”

By this time next year, a total of ninety-five thousand is expected.

We haven’t seen anything like this since the end of the Vietnam War. While government agencies work around the clock and refugee care organizations rapidly retool, many American Christians may be asking “What in the world?!” and “How can we help?”

My friend Ginny related, “I was heartbroken as I watched what was happening to Afghans, but I didn’t want to just sit in a place of brokenness. I asked myself, ‘What can I do as a mom, a normal person, to provide a warm welcome for some of those who’ve suffered so much?’ So I googled ‘helping Afghan refugees,’ picked an organization that popped up, and arranged a visit. My whole family went. We were told several ways to help, then we went out and let the kids spend their ‘giving’ money to buy the basic set-up stuff for one Afghan refugee apartment.”

I expect stories like Ginny’s to multiply across the country in the coming weeks, in part because Americans tend toward generosity and a willingness to help. We’ll also see stories grow as Christians like us obey the clear teaching of Scripture for situations like this.

What does the Bible say about refugees?

Leviticus 19:34 says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God” (NIV).

This is not lightweight instruction.

“Love them like yourself, remembering where you came from.” Few of us have experienced what Afghan refugees are going through, but core to our theology is the truth that we were lost and have been found. We were outsiders who experienced the amazing kindness of God.

So, we share God’s kindness.

In case we’re tempted to say, “Well, that is the Old Testament,” Jesus gets all up in our grill in his debate with the lawyer in Luke 10. The principle is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus’s response to “Who is my neighbor” came in the form of the story of the Good Samaritan. It ends with Jesus effectively telling the lawyer (and you and me): “Go act like the Samaritan. Show mercy to the one in need. Do this regardless of ethnicity and cultural suspicion.”

This Afghan migration to our shores may be the greatest opportunity in years for us to obey Jesus’ instruction to act like the good Samaritan.

How can I help Afghan refugees?

If you feel a little angst about so many people coming to the US from somewhere like Afghanistan, you’re not alone.

With respect, may I remind you what Jesus told us about worrying in Matthew 6:33? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV).

Some of the Afghans coming to the US right now will commit crimes. I pray none will give themselves to terrorism, but some bad things will happen both through them and to them. Nonetheless, we’re called to the kingdom work of Jesus, and that means loving Afghans as they arrive in our country.

So what can normal Christians do?

1. Pray

Believe God knows this situation way better than we do and has the power to open doors, comfort hearts, and bring people to himself. Let’s ask him to do so!

Download this simple, half-page prayer guide and see if you can get it in your church bulletin this week. Also, the amazing talent at PrayerCast.com produces stunning videos that will help you pray for Afghans.

2. Give

Imagine you only had the clothes you’re wearing and the cash (not cards!) currently in your pocket. Your wife is gripping your hand in a way that communicates her fear. And your kids are asking, “When will we get there?”, but this time you don’t even know where you’re going! Such is the reality for many Afghans as they make their way to the US.

If you have more than the clothes on your back and the cash in your pocket, you can probably help them. Check out Welcome.US, a growing clearinghouse of opportunities, or be like Ginny and google something local.

If you feel like swinging for the fence, do what I just did and sign up through AirBnB.org to open your guest room (or RV!) to Afghan refugees. It only took about five minutes.

3. Befriend

This current crisis will fade from the news as they all do, but upwards of one hundred thousand possible new Americans will still need help. Long-term friendships cost more than money. They take time, attention, and energy. But, as people of Jesus, we have received grace and the mandate to connect. This isn’t for all of us, but it may be for you.

If you’re down to take action that’s a little bigger than a baby step, figure out a way to invite an Afghan family to their very first American Thanksgiving dinner! If you’re a guy, here are some manly ways to build friendships with Muslims.

4. Advocate

Lobby your church to make strategic contributions of attention, prayer, money, and friendship.

Mike Bell, a pastor and the director of Healing Nations, says, “You don’t have to wait for your church to figure this out. Look for a great opportunity, then you can potentially bring your church along.”

I just recently got a thumbs-up from my pastor for our church to provide the start-up needs for one Afghan apartment in Denver.

5. Connect

If the incoming Afghans don’t land near you, how about extending kindness to whatever Muslims are nearby?

There are several million in the US—at work, down the street, in the next town over. Some have been here for generations. Many are successful, with children and communities they’re proud of. Most would be willing to chat with us. We’d likely learn something, and they would too.

May the God who opened doors for this blessed influx of Afghans open up opportunities for each of us, as he sees fit, to extend the love, grace, present peace, and hope of Jesus to both newly arriving Afghans and Muslims all over.

A note from Shane Bennett: If I can help you in your or your church’s efforts to connect with Muslims, please let me know. If you’d like a fun, weekly reminder of how much God loves Muslims, sign up for Muslim Connect, my 300-word weekly email.

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Denison Forum – Washington Football Team hosts Pride Night Out

The Washington Football Team defeated the New York Giants last night in stunning fashion: they missed a field goal that would have won the game, but a Giants player drew an offsides penalty. Given a second chance, Dustin Hopkins made the kick as time expired that won the game 30–29.

However, the game’s unusual outcome is not why I’m starting today’s Daily Article with it. Headline news was made beforehand when the Washington, DC, franchise held its first “Pride Night Out.”

It hosted a pregame party for guests and reserved blocks of tickets for attendees to watch the game together. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and the LGBTQ marching band DC’s Different Drummers performed as well.

LGBTQ activists are continuing their decades-old strategy to normalize and legalize LGBTQ relations and to stigmatize those who disagree. The so-called Equality Act is a recent example of the second and third tactics; last night’s game in Washington was another example of the first.

We can expect many more. For example, NPR is celebrating Wednesday’s marriage between Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis. The article notes that this marks the first same-sex marriage of a sitting United States governor. The US averages 3,473 weddings per day (based on 2020’s total number of weddings), but NPR made sure we didn’t miss this one.

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down”

My purpose this morning is not to defend biblical marriage, a subject I have discussed often over the years (herehere, and here, for example). Rather, it is to commiserate with evangelical Christians who are ready to give up on the “culture wars” this ongoing issue represents.

It is one thing to face a crisis with a plausible end such as an economic recession or even a military conflict. But when a problem has no end in sight, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, fatigue sets in. Despite the biblical warning, “Let us not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9), that’s exactly what can easily happen to us.

When a pandemic turns endemic, we need resources beyond ourselves. As Tish Harrison Warren notes in a brilliant New York Times article, this is just what we find in our faith. “We have been given the gift of knowing how the story ends,” she writes. She explains that through Jesus’ resurrection, “we were rescued from the oppression of sin and the power of death. The end of the story is that Jesus makes, as the Book of Revelation says, ‘all things new.’”

As a result, she testifies: “The church proclaims that in the resurrection, we have glimpsed the Promised Land. We cannot know the path ahead for any of our individual lives, but we can read the big story of redemption back into our particular life and our particular moment.”

But there’s a catch.

This week we have been exploring ways to experience empowering intimacy with Jesus. Yesterday, we noted that pride is “the devil’s most destructive tool” and a powerful weapon against spiritual intimacy. When we are deluded into self-reliance, we won’t choose Spirit-dependence or pay the price to know Jesus better than we already do. Rather than embracing “the big story of redemption,” we seek to redeem ourselves.

However, you and I were made to need intimacy with our Maker. In our anti-Christian culture, we need the power of God to embrace and defend the truth of God. As Charlie Chaplin wisely observed, “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”

“With the humble is wisdom”

How do we find the “rainbow” waiting for those who turn from pride to humility and self to the Spirit?

Wise king Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). He also offered us “wisdom” that leads to such humility. Let’s take three steps with him today.

1: Learn from the past.

Solomon noted: “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12). Where have you failed in the past to be the person you wish to be? Would you let these painful memories humble you before the God who forgives and heals?

2: Seek God in the present.

Perhaps Solomon’s most famous words are these: “Trust in the Lᴏʀᴅ with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6). What problems in the present seem too great for you to handle alone? Would you let these challenges humble you before the God who guides and empowers?

3: Trust God for the future.

Solomon observed: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lᴏʀᴅ establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). What about the future worries you this morning? The very fact that you are troubled by tomorrow shows that you cannot solve its problems today. But God can: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lᴏʀᴅ that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Will you let your fears of the future humble you before the God of eternity?

How a 9/11 widow discovered the “most beautiful blessings” of God

If we allow past pain, present problems, and future fears to humble us before the Lord, how will he respond?

Shelley Genovese Calhoun lost her husband and the father of her little girl on 9/11. In the decades since, she has made this discovery: “There is nothing that can compare to [God’s] word and his promises. Only he can make the painful things of the past the most beautiful blessings of our future.”

She testifies, “I have seen God’s glory show up in the midst of my pain and his inexplainable peace cover me in the midst of my suffering.” She adds: “In my darkest days, as I drew near to Christ, he drew near to me. I have never felt a closeness to the living God like I felt when my pain was so heavy that I could not bear to carry it on my own.”

However, Shelley admits that there have been times when “I didn’t have the strength to pray or even words to say.” In those moments, “The presence of God met me right where I was, comforting me in a way I’ve never been comforted before.”

She also learned through her heartbreak that “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” And she found that she can comfort others with the comfort she has received, which is why she wrote her book, Twice Blessed: A Journey of Hope Through 9/11.

God loves you just as much as he loves Shelley. The intimacy with Jesus she experienced is available to you today.

Will you admit that you need what only your Father can supply?

If so, what steps into intimacy with him will you take today?

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Denison Forum – “Freak accident” kills man at McDonald’s

I have traveled through Vancouver, Canada, occasionally over the years and always enjoyed my time in this beautiful city. However, what people are calling a “freak accident” occurred there recently; as you’ll see, what happened in Vancouver could happen where you and I live as well.

A man was driving through a McDonald’s restaurant takeout lane when he opened his door to get something he dropped from his window while paying. As he leaned out, the car rolled forward. The door hit part of the restaurant, pinning him between the door and the frame. A police official said, “Efforts were made by first responders to revive the man, but tragically, he died on scene.”

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker cites compelling research to show that by almost every metric of human wellbeing, the world is getting better—from war, violence, and poverty (all declining) to health, wealth, happiness, and equality (all improving). But it doesn’t take long for the news to remind us of our mortality as well.

Some more examples: CNN reported yesterday that “1 in every 500 US residents have died of Covid-19.” An American intelligence official estimated Tuesday that al Qaeda could begin to threaten the US within one to two years. I noted earlier this week that the next terrorist assault on our country is likely to be a cyberattack. I also noted that a solar storm could cause an “internet apocalypse,” affecting much of society for weeks or months at a time.

Now we’re seeing the gravity of such threats in real time: Apple issued emergency software updates this week after finding a flaw that allows highly invasive spyware to infect anyone’s iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac computer without so much as a click.

“The devil’s most destructive tool”

We are focusing this week on ways to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus. Yesterday we discussed the temptation of so-called private sin and its danger to our spiritual health. Today, let’s focus on a second enemy of spiritual intimacy.

I often state that God redeems all he allows. One way I believe he would redeem the demonstrations of human finitude and fallenness we encounter each day is to show us our constant need for resources only he can supply.

Here’s the reason we need such reminders: as C. S. Lewis noted, “It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” Thomas A. Tarrants of the C. S. Lewis Institute adds: “Lewis is not simply giving us his private opinion but summarizing the thinking of great saints through the ages. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of sin. Likewise, Calvin, Luther, and many others.

“Make no mistake about it: pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool.”

Consider three ways pride manifests itself in our lives today.

1: Time

In Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Tish Harrison Warren quotes Dorothy Bass, who warns us of “a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. We come to believe that our worth must be proved by the way we spend our hours and that our ultimate safety depends on our own good management.”

Warren confesses that Bass described her “with stinging accuracy.” I must make the same confession today. That’s why we should proclaim, “This is the day the Lᴏʀᴅ has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, my emphasis).

2: Prosperity

In 2013, Margaret Loughrey won $37 million in Ireland’s EuroMillions lottery. However, she said in 2019, “Money has brought me nothing but grief. It has destroyed my life. I have had six years of this. I don’t believe in religion, but if there is a hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad.” She was recently found dead in her home.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. He was especially right with regard to prosperity. The more we have, the more we want. If money is a means to power, we can never have enough. That’s why “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

3: Adversity

Conversely, adversity can promote pride. We think we can solve our problems, so we double down on ourselves by trying harder to do better.

Artist Winslow Homer spoke for many in our self-reliant culture when he stated, “There’s no such thing as talent. What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” Psychologist Carl Rogers added: “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.”

To the contrary, when Paul faced a “thorn in the flesh” he could not remove in his strength, he heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“I have calmed and quieted my soul”

Tomorrow I plan to close our week with practical ways to defeat pride and to experience transforming intimacy with Jesus each day. For today, let’s make David’s prayer ours:

“O Lᴏʀᴅ, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lᴏʀᴅ
From this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131).

Is your heart “lifted up” in self-reliant pride, or would God say you are as dependent on him as a child on its mother?

There is not a third option.

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