Tag Archives: Daily Article

Denison Forum – Responding to Pride Month with Fidelity Month

America is the kind of nation where a girl born in the Galveston County Jail can grow up to graduate from high school at the top of her class and attend Harvard University this fall. Our nation’s founding belief that “all men are created equal” was truly revolutionary in a world dominated by kings, despots, and class-driven societies.

Now, however, this declaration is facing a threat unprecedented in American history. This threat is represented by Pride Month as it begins today, but it is more foundational than meets the eye. To love our Lord and our neighbor well, it is vital that we understand this threat and respond in the most redemptive, positive way possible.

“Indulging anti-Catholic sentiment is an elite pastime”

This story caught my eye recently: “People in a throuple, or a relationship between three people, have gained major followings on TikTok. The hashtag #throuple currently has over 869 million cumulative views on the app.”

Columnist Jonathan Tobin is right: the legalization of polygamy was always the logical consequence of Obergefell’s legalization of same-sex marriage. He asks: “If marriage is possible between any two individuals, then why not three, four, or any number of consenting adults, regardless of their sex?”

As Pride Month celebrates LGBTQ individuals, some of its proponents have generated headlines for lambasting those who disagree. Gerard Baker, editor at large for the Wall Street Journalcites the Los Angeles Dodgers’ about-face in including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in their Pride Night festivities. As Baker notes, the group is “most visible for their performative acts—frequently involving lewd depictions of sacred Catholic rituals that crudely lampoon the church’s precepts on homosexuality and transgenderism.”

His article documents other examples illustrating the fact that “indulging anti-Catholic sentiment is an elite pastime.” He also notes that if the Dodgers had “invited an anti-trans or pro-life group to receive plaudits at a game,” the cultural response would have been far different.

Gallup reports that 7.2 percent of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than straight or heterosexual. Why is there an entire month dedicated to normalizing and legalizing the ideology and behavior of such a small minority while stigmatizing and criminalizing those who disagree? Why are groups who ridicule biblical morality elevated by popular culture and those who support it are denigrated?

“I try to please everyone in everything I do”

Critical Theory (CT) claims that our nation was created by a privileged class to protect their privileged status. In this view, minority groups, whether they are defined by race, gender identity, or sexual orientation, have been systematically underprivileged in our society as a result. Now, to undo the wrongs of our history and create a truly equitable nation, CT proponents argue that minority groups must be privileged over majority groups.

This Marxist ideology results in “woke” companies, schools, media organizations, and political leaders who believe their corporate mission is to champion minorities while persuading the rest of society to join their advocacy. As I note in The Coming Tsunami, this mission views anyone who supports biblical morality as dangerous to society.

The anti-Catholic bias Gerard Baker documents is but one symptom of this narrative. We can expect many more as Pride Month continues.

One response is to withdraw from our broken society into a Christian sub-culture. But this keeps our salt in the saltshaker and our light under a basket (cf. Matthew 5:13–16). The opposite response is to “fight fire with fire,” mimicking our critics’ militantism as culture warriors for biblical truth. But as I noted Tuesday, “such antagonism hurts those we are called to help and reinforces the narrative of ‘hate speech’ so often associated with evangelical biblical morality.”

A third way is to counter opposition to biblical truth by proclaiming biblical truth as lovingly, graciously, and attractively as possible. Paul set the standard: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32–33).

How can we follow his example this month?

What is Fidelity Month?

In his Breakpoint article yesterday, Colson Center President John Stonestreet highlights a remarkable initiative by Princeton professor Robert George. John describes Dr. George as “perhaps the leading Christian legal thinker of our lifetime.” He is a brilliant cultural analyst and stalwart follower of Jesus.

Dr. George is responding to Pride Month by announcing what he is calling Fidelity Month. This initiative will launch today with a Fidelity Month webinar open to the public at 2 p.m. EST. The group’s purpose is “to establish June as national ‘Fidelity Month’—a month dedicated to the importance of fidelity to God, spouses and families, our country, and our communities.”

Dr. George adds: “All who are interested in achieving this goal with the ultimate aim of helping to restore Americans’ belief in the importance of such values as patriotism, religion, family, and community—the values that used to unite Americans despite our many differences—are invited to join.”

Whether you formally join this group or not, let’s covenant to make June “Fidelity Month” with our Lord and our neighbors. When we see Pride Month ads and events, let’s intercede for those who created them and those who are influenced by them. Let’s look for redemptive ways to explain God’s word and will regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

And let’s ask God to help us love everyone he loves in ways that demonstrate his compassionate grace. Billy Graham noted: “The most important thing we can do is to show by our life and love that Jesus is real. Our actions often speak far louder than our words.”

Then he asked the question I’d like us to ponder today: “Do others see Christ in you, both by what you say and by what you do?”

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – How Clayton Kershaw responded to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence: Using our influence for Christ

Clayton Kershaw has long been one of my favorite athletes. It was my privilege to interview him a few years ago as part of a fundraising event for a ministry we both support. He and his wife Ellen are two of the most godly, sincere, and kingdom-centered people you will ever meet. In addition, the longtime Los Angeles Dodger is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer widely considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

Now he is in the news for a reason that is relevant if you follow Jesus, whether you follow baseball or not.

Clayton Kershaw’s statement and “the platform that Jesus has given us”

A few weeks ago, the Dodgers disinvited an LGBTQ charity called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from their annual Pride Night Celebration. The advocacy group calls itself an “order of queer and trans nuns”; their motto is “go and sin some more.” Their Easter ceremony last month included “children’s programming followed by a drag show where adult performers dress[ed] in blasphemous imitation of Jesus and Mary.” They have also hosted “pub crawls mocking the Stations of the Cross and even the Eucharist.”

After an outcry from other LGBTQ advocacy groups, the Dodgers reversed their stance and reinvited the group. Clayton Kershaw disagreed with the decision and made a statement: “I don’t agree with making fun of other people’s religions,” he explained. “I just don’t think that, no matter what religion you are, you should make fun of somebody else’s religion.”

But rather than protesting the reversal, he approached the team about relaunching the club’s Christian Faith and Family Day. “I think we were always going to do Christian Faith Day this year, but I think the timing of our announcement was sped up,” he said.

Speaking for himself and his wife, he added: “For us, we felt like the best thing to do in response was, instead of maybe making a statement condemning or anything like that, would be just to instead try to show what we do support, as opposed to maybe what we don’t. And that was Jesus. So to make Christian Faith Day our response is what we felt like was the best decision.”

Speaking of Christian Faith Day, Clayton Kershaw noted in his statement, “It’s our opportunity to be able to kind of share our testimony of what we believe in and why we believe in it, and how that affects our performance on the field.” He added, “It’s a great opportunity to see the platform that Jesus has given us and how to use that for his glory and not ours.”

“The goal of the Christian life”

Yesterday we discussed ways to use our resources and influence in voicing our disagreement with unbiblical immorality. Today let’s consider the positive side of this cultural coin. As Clayton Kershaw said in his statement, we can “show what we do support, as opposed to maybe what we don’t. And that was Jesus.”

However, to lead those we influence to Jesus, they need to see Jesus in us.

Dr. Duane Brooks, the longtime senior pastor of Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston and a dear friend, wrote in a recent daily devotional: “The goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus. We know we live in him as we begin to live as Jesus did.”

C. S. Lewis agreed, noting in Mere Christianity: “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”

Dr. Brooks added: “If [Jesus] has justified you, he wants to sanctify you. We are free from sin’s penalty. Through the Holy Spirit we are being set free from sin’s power. Someday, we will be free from sin’s presence. And all of this through Jesus.”

Three practical steps

Your goal and mine each day should be to be more like Jesus today than we were yesterday. How can this goal become a reality for us?

First, admit that we cannot become like Christ without the help of Christ.

Charles Spurgeon advised, “A little child, while learning to walk, always needs the [parent’s] aid. The ship left by the pilot drifts at once from her course. We cannot do without continued aid from above.” But this is hard for us to admit, which is why we must heed Spurgeon’s warning: “Those who think themselves secure are more exposed to danger than any others. The armor-bearer of sin is self-confidence.”

Second, ask the Holy Spirit every day to take control of our minds and lives (Ephesians 5:18) so we can be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:29).

Tim Keller noted: “The gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.” Now the Holy Spirit will reproduce in us the “life we should have lived” as he continues the earthly ministry of Christ through the “body of Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27).

Third, partner with the Spirit to manifest Christlikeness to the world.

William Booth counseled us to “work as if everything depended upon work and pray as if everything depended upon prayer.” He explained: “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works, and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”

Without God “all things are permitted”

Let’s imagine a world where Christians are more like Christ than we are like the culture. Then let’s do all we can to create that world.

Paul observed that with God, all things are possible (Philippians 4:13). Fyodor Dostoyevsky, by contrast, noted that without God “all things are permitted.”

Which of these realities will you manifest today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Target loses $10 billion over Pride-themed kids clothing: Should Christians boycott “woke” companies?

Target recently lost $10 billion in market valuation over ten days as its Pride-themed clothing line for children provoked a massive backlash. Nonetheless, CEO Brian Cornell has defended his company’s LGBTQ advocacy: “It’s helping us drive sales, it’s building greater engagement with both our teams and our guests, and those are just the right things for our business today.”

Target is not the only retailer making such headlines: Kohl’s is now selling Pride clothing for three-month-olds. The retailer is also marketing a children’s shirt with the words, “Ask me my pronouns.” Critics are calling for shoppers to boycott the retailer.

As Pride month begins this Thursday, these stories raise an important question: Should Christians boycott “woke” companies?

Are we to be culture warriors?

We can begin by identifying what not to do.

Target reports that since introducing this year’s Pride collection, “we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work.” The retailer is therefore “removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.” Clearly, any threat to stores, employees, or others violates the biblical command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

Demeaning people, whatever their sexual orientation, gender identity, or support for “woke” policies, likewise violates the biblical command to relate to others “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). We are not permitted to say about someone what we would not first say to them (cf. Matthew 18:15). We are to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

In short, we are not to be culture warriors doing battle with those with whom we disagree. Such antagonism hurts those we are called to help and reinforces the narrative of “hate speech” so often associated with evangelical biblical morality.

When I served as a college missionary in East Malaysia, those I sought to reach were not my enemies. To the contrary, they were people for whom Jesus died who deserved to know the One I knew. I was simply a beggar helping other beggars find bread.

In the same way, in cultural conflicts, our opponents are not our enemies. Satan is the enemy; those who reject biblical truth are his victims: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Consequently, “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

This is why “speaking the truth in love” should be our daily aspiration and mantra (Ephesians 4:15). Rather than fighting our opponents as cultural warriors, we should love them as cultural missionaries sharing God’s word and grace in the place and time he has assigned to us.

Voting with our dollars

In The World: A Family History of Humanity, Simon Sebag Montefiore observed, “History is made by the interplay of ideas, institutions, and geopolitics. When they come together in felicitous conjunction, great changes happen.” Note the order: ideas change institutions, which change geopolitics, which change the world. John F. Kennedy was right: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

To win the battle for minds in the context of “woke” capitalism, we must stay so close to Jesus that his Spirit can guide us and speak to and through us (cf. Matthew 10:20). Charles Spurgeon observed: “The first thing for our soul’s health, the first thing for his glory, and the first thing for our own usefulness, is to keep ourselves in perpetual communion with the Lord Jesus, and to see that the vital spirituality of our religion is maintained over and above everything else in the world.”

Then, as Jesus leads us, we are to use our possessions in ways that honor him and support biblical morality (cf. Colossians 3:23). In a democracy, we vote with our ballots. In a capitalistic economy, we vote with our dollars.

Target’s CEO was clear: his company’s LGBTQ advocacy has been “helping us drive sales,” at least until recently. The bottom line with for-profit companies is profits. Supporting companies that advocate unbiblical immorality will only encourage such advocacy. Supporting businesses that stand for biblical truth, such as campaigns to support Chick-fil-A after its CEO affirmed biblical marriage, sends similar signals in a positive way.

“The chief danger that confronts the coming century”

I am not writing today to support any particular boycotts or other economic actions against any particular companies. I will leave such decisions to you as the Spirit leads you. But I am advocating a biblical worldview that includes our use of personal finances as we declare and defend biblical morality (2 Timothy 4:21 Peter 3:15–16).

This is one way we join God at work in our broken world. The stakes could not be higher.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, died in 1912. Consider his prophetic prediction for the twentieth century: “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” Has his warning come to pass?

Lest discouragement win the day, let’s close with Edward Everett Hale’s injunction: “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

What is the “something” you “ought to do” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The debt ceiling agreement and the reason government exists: A Memorial Day reflection

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) announced last night that they have reached an agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. Congressional votes on the deal could come as early as Wednesday in the House, but critics on both sides are already lambasting it. In the midst of our bitterly divisive partisan environment, it’s worth remembering on this Memorial Day the true purpose of government and the heroes who paid the ultimate price to fulfill that purpose.

“We don’t know them all, but we owe them all”

In Mere ChristianityC. S. Lewis wrote: “It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

“A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.”

As I write this Daily Article today in security and freedom, I am grateful for the 1.1 million men and women who died “to promote and to protect” such “ordinary happiness.” Each of them illustrates the wisdom of Thucydides: “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage.”

It has been well stated: “We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.”

On days like today, I often tell the story of meeting a veteran of the war in Iraq whose face and hands had been disfigured by an IED. When I thanked him for his great sacrifice, he looked me in the eye and said, “The best way you can thank us for our service is to make America a nation worth dying for.”

How can you and I do that today?

“The breaches of the city of David were many”

In the Old Testament era, cities were largely responsible for their own defenses. When enemies advanced, they needed to protect their water sources and fortify their walls.

For example, Isaiah 22 depicts Jerusalem in a time of war when “the breaches of the city of David were many” (v. 9a). Consequently, “You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool” (vv. 9b–11a).

This was a conventional strategy in wartime. However, “you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago” (v. 11b). It was God who made Jerusalem strong under King David and protected the nation against Assyrian aggression when King Hezekiah turned to him for help (2 Kings 19:14–36).

Now, however, the nation had rejected God’s call to repentance: “In that day the Lord Gᴏᴅ of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (Isaiah 22:12–13). The prophet responded to such blatant disobedience: “The Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts has revealed himself in my ears: ‘Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,’ says the Lord Gᴏᴅ of hosts” (v. 14).

And so it was that Jerusalem, which withstood the mighty Assyrian army with God’s help, fell to the Babylonians. Their temple was destroyed and their people enslaved (2 Kings 25:1–21).

Three biblical responses

Every word of Scripture is relevant beyond its immediate setting (Romans 15:4). What can we learn from ancient Jerusalem on this Memorial Day?

One: A nation must never presume that past victories or present prosperity insulate us from future judgment.

Scripture warns: “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

Two: The best way to honor those who served our country sacrificially is to emulate their example in serving our Lord and our nation.

Samuel’s word to his people is God’s word to us: “Fear the Lᴏʀᴅ and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).

Three: Our best service to our nation is to pray and work for spiritual and moral awakening.

First, we pray: “Restore our fortunes, O Lᴏʀᴅ, like streams in the Negeb!” (Psalm 126:4). Then we work: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (vv. 5–6).

How will you sow the seeds of spiritual renewal through your intercession and witness?

“He loves his country best”

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, that day when the collective church remembers with gratitude the empowering work of God’s Spirit that birthed the mightiest spiritual movement in human history (Acts 2).

We need the miracle of Pentecost every day. When you and I are “filled” and empowered by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), God makes us like his Son (Romans 8:29) and uses us as salt and light to transform our culture (Matthew 5:13–16). Such a movement is America’s greatest need and her greatest hope.

Robert G. Ingersoll noted, “He loves his country best who strives to make it best.”

How much do you love your country today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – How will Ron DeSantis launch his presidential campaign today?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to begin his formal presidential campaign in a live audio conversation on Twitter with Elon Musk this evening. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott joined the campaign Monday with a rally in South Carolina. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is likely to run; former Vice President Mike Pence and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have been laying the groundwork for their campaigns as well.

Of course, former President Donald Trump announced his campaign last November. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have also joined the race. The Democratic Party side has three candidates so far: President Joe Biden, author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson, and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

My calling is to speak biblical truth to cultural issues without personal or partisan bias, so I would never endorse a candidate or political party. However, there is a cultural and biblical principle running through today’s topic that transcends the candidates and even the office to which they aspire.

What makes our presidency unique

In America, we elect our national leader by popular vote. (This is not entirely accurate: we actually elect a body of “electors” to the Electoral College who then elect the president.) By contrast, many of the world’s democracies are parliamentarian in structure: you vote for a party, then the leader of the party that gets the most votes (or successfully builds and leads a coalition of parties as in the case of Israel) becomes prime minister. The presidency in such arrangements is typically a ceremonial role.

The fact that our president is elected by all of us makes the presidency unique among our elective offices. My governor and senators were elected by Texans, not Iowans; my congressman was elected by those in my district; my mayor was elected by those in my city. As a result, candidates for these offices run on issues specific to our state and district. We vote for them in part based on who they are and in part based on what they say they will do when elected.

The same is true in parliamentary elections as I have observed them over the years: people typically vote for the party whose agendas most closely align with theirs, and the winning party’s leader becomes leader of the country. Again, these elections focus largely on specific issues and platforms.

A candidate for president, by contrast, must appeal to Americans across all states and districts. No set of promises or plans could appeal to enough Americans to elect a candidate solely on their merits. We largely vote for candidates based on who the candidate is, trusting that they will then do what we hope they will do.

Donald Trump’s appeal in large part has centered on his persona as a take-charge businessman. Ron DeSantis is running on the persona of a leader who knows how to get things done. Joe Biden’s supporters see him as a seasoned leader of competence and normalcy. Tim Scott declared in his campaign announcement event, “I am America.” Each of the other candidates will likewise seek to impress us with their unique qualifications as people and leaders.

The foundational decision you must make each day

I prefer our system, while flawed, over parliamentary systems for this reason: no one can know during an election the crucial issues the president will face in the upcoming term. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, no one saw 9/11 coming. When Donald Trump ran in 2016, no one predicted the coronavirus pandemic. Who a president is will therefore be vital to what they do once in office, whatever the challenges they face.

This principle transcends presidential campaigns and even the office of president.

In yesterday’s Daily Article we discussed the now-popular claim that “there is no such thing as human nature,” so “everything is socially constructed.” The Bible could not disagree more strongly: God makes each of us in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), then he remakes us as his children by the transformation of his Spirit when we trust his Son as our Lord (John 1:122 Corinthians 5:17).

Your combination of spiritual gifts, abilities, education, and experiences is as unique to you as your fingerprint. Your role in God’s kingdom is one no other person can fill. God “elected” you to your kingdom assignment based on who you are. If you could not succeed in this calling, you would not have received it from him.

You are a missionary to where you are and to when you are. It is by divine providence that you were not alive a century ago or a century from now (if the Lord tarries). Embracing your identity as the child of God and your calling to help others know God is the foundational decision you must make each day.

Finding your “why to live for”

In Find Your Why, authors Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker write: “If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.” They note that we all know what we do and how we do it. But very few can articulate why they do what they do.

They suggest that we complete the sentence “to _____ so that __________.” The first blank represents our contribution to others; the second represents the impact of our contribution. As I filled in these blanks, my “why” became clear: To respond biblically to crucial issues so that people find and follow Jesus. I found the exercise to be clarifying and encourage you to try it for yourself.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously observed, “He who has a why to live for can tolerate any how.”

What is your “why to live for” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – How to die like Tim Keller

Rev. Tim Keller’s death last Friday at the age of seventy-two made immediate headlines, and not just in the Christian world. A long retrospective in the New York Times was one of many tributes from secular outlets attesting to his cultural influence and legacy.

Keller was born on September 23, 1950, in Allentown, Pennsylvania; his father was a television advertising manager and his mother was a nurse. He embraced the church through the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) while attending Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. After masters and doctor of ministry degrees, he served with ICVF in Boston and as a pastor in rural Virginia while overseeing the development of new congregations for the Presbyterian Church.

In this role, he invited two pastors to plant a new Presbyterian church in New York City. When both turned him down, he and his wife Kathy felt God calling them to take on the challenge. They moved their three sons to New York in 1989. By 2007, Redeemer Presbyterian Church had grown to more than five thousand attendees and birthed more than a dozen daughter congregations in the immediate metropolitan area.

His dozens of books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and sold an estimated twenty-five million copies. Redeemer founded Hope for New York to provide social services and the Center for Faith and Work to integrate Christian theology with professional experience. Redeemer City to City influences urban ministries around the world.

He also helped birth The Gospel Coalition, one of the most influential Christian networks in America. The newly-formed Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics will continue his work of helping Christians “share the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel as the only hope that fulfills our deepest longings.”

“A pioneer of the new urban Christians”

I was one of the legions who admired Dr. Keller’s intellectual brilliance and pastoral spirit. I met him occasionally and heard him speak in person several times in New York City.

I agree with Christianity Today’s assessment: “Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”

However, my purpose today is not simply to add another eulogy to the many being written and shared after Dr. Keller’s homegoing. Nor is it to encourage us to emulate what cannot be emulated. Tim Keller was a generational mind called to a very unique cultural setting and moment.

We can learn much from his enduring wisdom, and we can draw inspiration from his commitment to serving Christ in one of the most challenging environments for biblical truth in America. But I believe there is another way you and I can benefit from Dr. Keller’s ministry as well, one that was brought into sharp relief for me by the passing on the same day of another cultural icon.

“Jim Brown leaves a highly flawed legacy”

Jim Brown was recently ranked the third-greatest player in the history of the National Football League. Over his nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, he led the league in rushing eight times and carried his team to its last league title in 1964. He is often included with Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Jesse Owens, and others as among the greatest athletes in history.

However, when he died on the same day as Tim Keller, the Los Angeles Times headlined, “For all his accomplishments, NFL legend Jim Brown leaves a highly flawed legacy.” The article profiles his life after football as he acted in films and advocated for civil rights but also generated headlines for allegations of violence against several women.

Jim Brown is not the only celebrity whose personal failings are making news these days. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender, “discovered that Bill Gates had an affair with a Russian bridge player and later appeared to use his knowledge to threaten one of the world’s richest men.” A California high school’s “teacher of the year” was arrested for allegedly having sex with an underage male student.

And Carl Lentz, the former minister of Hillsong NYC and pastor of celebrities such as Justin and Hailey Bieber, is in the news as FX’s four-part docuseries, The Secrets of Hillsong, began airing over the weekend. In it, Lentz describes his affair with their children’s nanny, a scandal that rocked their church and made headlines beyond New York City.

“I can’t wait to see Jesus”

By contrast, Dr. Keller ended his earthly life as he lived it: with quiet dignity, deep and abiding faith, and generous compassion for those around him. From the time he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in 2020, he was forthright about the challenges he faced and his desire to serve Christ in this season of his life.

He transparently described ways his diagnosis drew him closer to his Lord and his wife spiritually. He could even testify, “My wife and I would never want to go back to the kind of prayer life or spiritual life we had before the cancer.”

Pope St. John Paul II, who experienced his own terrible suffering at the end of his life, once wrote: “Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: ‘Follow me!’ Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world. . . . Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him.”

If we embrace our suffering as an opportunity to trust Christ with our pain and serve others in theirs, “the salvific meaning of suffering” will be revealed to us. We will testify with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). We will experience an intimacy with our Lord and our fellow sufferers unavailable to others.

And when our journey leads us from this world to the next, we can say what Tim Keller told his family before his homegoing: “I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.”

The old hymn was right: “The way of the cross leads home.”

What cross is yours today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – “Abortion can be a powerful act of love”: The danger of performative truth

“We have become a nation that is more focused on the right to kill than the right to live.”

This is how California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to the mass shooting in Allen, Texas, as he criticized Congress for not passing gun control reform. However, given his passionate support for elective abortion and efforts to bring women from other states to California’s abortion clinics, pro-life supporters like me find his statement tragically ironic.

On the same theme, I found this headline in a recent Time article jarring: “If someone you love has an abortion, give them a gift.” The writer thanks “friends and neighbors who dropped off big pots of soup [and] home-baked brownies and ice cream” when she had her abortion.

She writes: “Abortion can be a powerful act of love—for one’s self and one’s own future, for one’s existing children and family, for the pregnancy being released and thus spared from the circumstances informing the pregnant person’s decision, and often for a combination of all these things.”

This is the first time I’ve seen abortion called “a powerful act of love” for the unborn baby whose life it ends.

I promise to write tomorrow’s Daily Article

Merriam-Webster defines a “performative” speech act as “an expression that serves to effect a transaction or that constitutes the performance of the specified act by virtue of its utterance.” An example is my promise to write tomorrow’s Daily Article: this act brings something into being that did not exist until it was stated in words.

By contrast, a “constative” utterance “is capable of being judged true or false” on its merits. An example is my claim to have written yesterday’s Daily Article: you can check the article’s authorship on our website or in your inbox. If you are still skeptical, you can investigate further by consulting our editorial staff.

We now live in a culture dominated by “performative” truth claims. In this view, if I state that I am a female, even though I was born a biological male, my statement must be true even though I have no empirical way to verify it. If the Supreme Court discovers and proclaims a “right” to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, even though it overturns millennia of cultural consensus and practice in so doing, its declaration must nonetheless be true.

We have now progressed (or regressed) to the point that even performative statements that clearly contradict facts and evidence are to be taken as truth. For example, the Time article normalizing abortion claims, “Abortion has always existed on the same spectrum as birth, miscarriage, infertility, and so many other human experiences.” This is simply untrue: leaders across twenty centuries of Christian history consistently considered elective abortion to be intrinsically immoral. But the writer wants it to be true, so for her, it is.

Such “performative” reality pervades our politics as well, as Chris Stirewalt explains: do something to get covered by the media, then coverage drives polls, polls drive the media narrative, and that narrative drives reality.

“The heart wants what it wants”

Emily Dickinson described the foundational fact of fallen human nature: “The heart wants what it wants.” It is therefore unsurprising that our culture persists in confusing performative and constative truth claims, substituting our personal preferences for objective morality and calling them “our truth.”

When we can abort an unwanted pregnancy and locate our decision on “the same spectrum as birth, miscarriage, [and] infertility,” we get to do what we want while claiming moral status for our unbiblical decision. When we redefine gender, marriage, and the right to die under the guise of personal truth, we tolerate the unbiblical decisions others make, so they will tolerate the unbiblical decisions we make.

However, God knows the reality behind our performative truth claims: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lᴏʀᴅ looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). In the end, his assessment of right and wrong is the only one that matters: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

“They have brought this evil on themselves”

I am reading the book of Isaiah as part of my personal Bible study these days and am consistently troubled about my nation as a result. Because neither divine nor human nature changes, what was true for ancient Israel is true for America today.

Consider this prophetic statement, substituting our nation for Israel: “[America] shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lᴏʀᴅ shall be consumed” (Isaiah 1:27–28).

Because God is holy, he must judge sin: “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lᴏʀᴅ alone will be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:11). Consequently, “Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lᴏʀᴅ, defying his glorious presence” (Isaiah 3:8).

For this reason: “They proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves” (v. 9). By contrast, “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds” (v. 10).

“The fire of the Lᴏʀᴅ fell”

I am leading a study tour of Israel this week. Today our group will visit Mt. Carmel, where the prophet Elijah faced 450 prophets of Baal who cloaked horrific sexual immorality in the guise of their false religion (1 Kings 18:22).

You remember what happened: the one true God honored Elijah’s sacrifice when “the fire of the Lᴏʀᴅ fell and consumed the burnt offering” (v. 38). As a result, “When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God; the Lᴏʀᴅ, he is God’” (v. 39).

In a broken world, God still uses courageous individuals to turn the tide. Does America need more Elijahs?

Will you be one today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – “You should write your obituary”: Why I disagree with Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns dozens of companies. He has been extremely benevolent over the years, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1141 billion dollars. My net worth is several zeroes less.

Who, then, am I to disagree with the famed “Oracle of Omaha” when he gives advice?

The ninety-two-year-old was asked at Berkshire’s recent annual shareholder meeting how to avoid mistakes in business and in life. His response: “You should write your obituary and then try to figure out how to live up to it. It’s not that complicated.”

With all due respect to Mr. Buffett, it is. Or at least, it should be.

We can “write our obituary” without God’s help and, depending on what we choose to write, “figure out how to live up to it.” Or we can seek God’s best for our lives, knowing that we must then have his power if we are to fulfill his purpose.

There is an eternally significant chasm between these two options.

Almost a third of high-school girls considered suicide in 2021

Western secularism has been trying for generations to follow the path of self-reliance. As American playwright Tennessee Williams observed, “Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.”

How is our “magic trick” working for us?

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that mental health-related visits to emergency rooms by children, teenagers, and young adults have risen sharply in recent years. The worst escalation was for suicide-related visits, which increased fivefold.

According to recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of female high-school students said they considered suicide in 2021. Nearly 60 percent said they felt sad or hopeless—the highest number in a decade. Depression became more common among young people across the past decade; in 2015, the suicide rate among teenage girls hit a forty-year high.

New York Times opinion columnist David French reminds us that politics cannot fix our deepest problems, such as pervasive loneliness, the crises of suicide and drug overdoses, and our yearning to love and be loved. The WHO can end its emergency declaration for COVID-19, but as Wall Street Journal writers Betsy McKay and Brianna Abbott note, “The pandemic has shattered an illusion that humanity has control over its environment.”

Rather that writing our own obituary and trying to live up to it, what if we allowed God to define our life mission and then partnered with him in fulfilling it? How would we do this?

One: Admit your need for divine grace

Our first step into such a life of empowered purpose is to admit our need for what only God can do in our lives. Billy Graham wrote: “Why can’t we live together in peace? The reason is that our hearts are selfish and filled with anger and greed and a lust for power. Until our hearts are changed, we will never know lasting peace.

“Tragically, we are a planet in rebellion against God. That is why the world’s greatest need is to turn to Christ. Only he can change us from within by his Holy Spirit. But even when wars rage, we can have peace in our heart as we open our life to Christ. Ask God to give you that peace—and pray that others will know it, too.”

Take a moment now to ask God to guide your life and your day into his peace for you. Pray for his Spirit to control and empower you as you step into his best (Ephesians 5:18).

Two: Partner persistently with God

St. Augustine noted that before we became Christians, it was not possible for us not to sin. Now it is: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12). God’s Spirit will help us, but we must want the holiness he empowers us to experience.

Paul asked regarding sin, “What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” (v. 21). Remember that because Satan hates us, temptation must always cost more than it pays. Charles Spurgeon’s advice is relevant here: “When thou sleepest, think that thou art resting on the battlefield; when thou walkest, suspect an ambush in every hedge.”

One of Satan’s subtle strategies is to suggest that the persistence of temptation means it cannot be defeated. This is not true. Paul testified, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21), yet he also stated, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). After Jesus’ victory, the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13), but he remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15). Persistence is vital to godliness.

Three: Live today for eternity

Today is the only day there is: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1). It is not “carpe diem” (“seize the day”) but “cedere diem” (“yield the day”) to God (cf. Matthew 11:29).

Live this day fully for the sake of eternity, remembering that every act of obedience on earth echoes in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:27).

“An endless day that knows no night”

St. Maximus of Turin (ca. 380–465) noted in a sermon: “The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night.” As a result, “The coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice.”

St. Maximus then likened Christ’s glory in heaven to his power on earth: “The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin.”

Will you walk in “the light of Christ” today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Police identify gunman in Dallas area mall shooting: Finding grace in the midst of unspeakable grief

The world was focused last Saturday on the tradition-steeped coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, and sports fans were watching fifteen-to-one longshot Mage rally from the back of the pack to win the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, those of us who live in North Texas were horrified as another mass shooting erupted, this time in our backyard.

A gunman opened fire at the Allen Premium Outlets Saturday afternoon, killing six people at the mall and injuring at least nine others. Of the nine who were hospitalized, two later died. Three others are in critical condition at this writing. The gunman, identified yesterday by police as Mauricio Garcia, was “neutralized” by a city police officer who was responding to an unrelated call at the mall. Authorities are reportedly investigating the gunman’s possible links to white supremacist ideology.

Allen is a city twenty-five miles north of downtown Dallas with a population of 106,874. I have been there several times over the years and have friends who live in the area.

There is something about the proximity of tragedy that makes it feel more real. For example, more than four hundred people are dead and many more are missing after flooding in eastern Congo; I confess that if these floods had happened where I live, they would feel even more tragic to me.

Our omniscient and omnipresent Father is not constrained by such territorial compassion. He loves the entire “world” (John 3:16) whether we requite his love or not (cf. Romans 5:8). As St. Augustine observed, God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

How, then, should we respond when he allows horrific tragedy? Consider two options.

“Let our might be our law of right”

One answer is to view the character of God through the prism of human suffering. Many who do this decide that God, if he exists, is certainly not love (1 John 4:8) or worthy of our love (Matthew 22:37). In this view, because we are fragile people living in a broken world, we should make the best we can of life, knowing there is no larger purpose to guide our days or redeem our pain.

In the Book of Wisdom (one of fourteen apocryphal books included in the canons of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches), we read that ungodly people “reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life. . . . we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works’” (Wisdom 2:1–4).

As a result, they say, “Let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless” (v. 11).

However, “They were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity” (vv. 21–23).

“The essential activity of life”

Our other option is to view human suffering through the prism of God’s character. Many who do this believe that God grieves with all who grieve (cf. John 11:35) and calls us to join him in acting on our compassion in redemptive ways (cf. Romans 12:15).

In a brilliant new essay for the Atlantic, columnist David Brooks identifies two ways of approaching life: autonomy-based and gift based. The former stands on “one core conviction: I possess myself. I am a piece of property that I own. Because I possess property rights to myself, I can dispose of my property as I see fit. My life is a project that I am creating, and nobody else has the right to tell me how to build or dispose of my one and only life.”

Autonomy-based living is the basis for elective abortion, the sexual revolution, gender redefinition, “death with dignity,” and all other “rights” our secular society believes we deserve. According to Brooks, the consequence is a world in which “the purpose of my life . . . is to be happy—to live a life in which my pleasures, however I define them, exceed my pains.”

Gift-based living, by contrast, “starts with a different core conviction: I am a receiver of gifts. I am part of a long procession of humanity. I have received many gifts from those who came before me, including the gift of life itself.” As a result, “The essential activity of life is not the pursuit of individual happiness. The essential activity of life is to realize the gifts I’ve been given by my ancestors and to pass them along, suitably improved, to those who will come after.”

A child shielded by his mother

A mass murderer is a horrific example of autonomy-based living, but we should not let such gruesome sin blind us to the allure of the “will to power” for the rest of us. When I claim to “possess myself” in a “project that I am creating,” I feel justified in treating people as a means to my ends, whether I treat them well or mistreat them cruelly.

Nor should we allow the unfathomable scope of human suffering to blind us to the power of gift-based living for those who receive our gifts. Scripture commands us: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Every grieving person we serve is someone whose life may be forever changed by our compassion.

For example, one of the first people who arrived at the scene of the mass shooting in Allen found a child covered by his mother, who died protecting him. That boy, as long as he lives, will always know how sacrificially he was loved.

Every time you see a cross, remember that the same is true for you.

How will you pay forward such sacrificial grace today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Texas Senate passes bill requiring the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms

“We think there can be a restoration of faith in America, and we think getting [the] Ten Commandments on these walls is a great way to do that. . . . We think we can really set a trend for the rest of the country.” Matt Krause, a former state representative and current employee of the First Liberty Institute, made that statement when he testified before the Texas Senate last month in defense of a bill that would require public schools to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in every classroom from kindergarten through high school. The bill passed earlier this week and is expected to go before the State House of Representatives soon.

The reasoning behind the legislation is that the Ten Commandments played a key role in the development of America’s founding documents and, as such, should be considered historical in nature rather than strictly religious. As one might expect, not everyone agrees with that assertion.

Rep. Candy Noble argued that “this legislation will bring back the historic tradition of recognizing America’s religious heritage.” Rep. James Talarico countered that “every time, on this committee, we try to teach basic sex education, but we can’t because we’re told that’s the parents’ role. Now you’re putting literal commandments—religious commandments—in our classrooms, and we’re told that’s the state’s role.”

Arguments over the value of the proposed law could prove irrelevant, however, if the Supreme Court decides that it is unconstitutional.

Will the Ten Commandments bill become law in Texas?

This time last year, the proposed law would almost assuredly have been tossed aside by the nation’s highest court. Now the matter is less certain.

Following the Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which a football coach was found to have been wrongfully fired for praying with his players on the field after the school told him to stop, the bill’s authors argue that the path has been cleared for legally requiring schools to display the Ten Commandments in Texas schools.

Others are less sure.

The religious component of each is similar, but that’s largely where the commonalities cease. While the Kennedy case was about protecting an individual’s right to religious expression, a public display of the Ten Commandments on school grounds could be seen as an imposition of religious beliefs on the students who are required to sit in those classrooms. As such, it is likely that the bill—if it becomes law—would face a difficult path on its way to implementation.

However, questions over whether the bill could become law have largely obscured the much more important issue of whether it should become law. And the answer to that latter question is more complicated than you might suspect.

Will displaying the Ten Commandments in Texas public schools make a difference?

On the surface, the idea that students and schools would benefit from paying greater attention to the moral precepts established in the Ten Commandments makes a lot of sense. And that Judeo-Christian morality did play a historically significant role in the development of the American Constitution and much of Western society. Even the deists among our nation’s founders—those who believed that God created the world but is no longer active in it—held no reservations about the importance of the virtues God established.

As such, the argument that the Ten Commandments have historical significance has merit. But is throwing a one-and-a-half-by-two-foot picture of them up on the wall really going to make much of a difference in guiding America’s youth back to that sense of morality? And is the fight over their inclusion in the classroom going to help the advancement of the gospel among the lost?

It’s possible that the answer to both of those questions is yes, but it’s far from certain.

Moreover, history tends to show that when Christians try to impose elements of our faith where they’re not wanted, it’s the church that suffers. And it was the recognition of that reality that led Baptists to push for the inclusion of the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights shortly after America’s founding. They understood that even when the government acts with the genuine intent of helping the church, they typically end up doing more harm than good.

Changing our focus

Would it be beneficial if today’s youth were more aware of and accepting toward God’s will as established in the Ten Commandments? Absolutely.

But, as Rep. Talarico insinuated, that’s not the school’s responsibility. It’s ours. And if we were collectively doing a better job of living out God’s laws in our own lives and teaching our kids to do the same, perhaps we wouldn’t feel the need to force the Commandments into classrooms in the hope that students will glance in their direction when they get bored.

So regardless of where you stand on the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in classrooms, remember that we should be far more concerned with instilling God’s word in the hearts and minds of those he brings into our lives. Whether that’s your children, coworkers, neighbors, or anyone else you encounter on a regular basis, a key part of Christ’s call for every Christian is taking the personal responsibility of teaching others to obey all that he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).

And we don’t need the government’s approval to do that.

With whom can you start today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – How much will the British royal coronation cost the public?

Today is the National Day of Prayer. However, for reasons I will explain shortly, I am beginning today’s Daily Article by discussing the cost of the British royal coronation on Saturday.

The celebration comes at a challenging time for the UK: the country is reeling from a cost-of-living crisis that has fueled multiple strikes by hundreds of thousands of government workers, doctors, teachers, train drivers, and others. Since leaving the European Union, Britain’s currency has lost a fifth of its value. Things have been so dire that the Wall Street Journal recently headlined “Britain’s Financial Disaster Is a Warning to the World.”

Nonetheless, Saturday’s coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla is expected to cost British taxpayers at least $125 million, roughly double the cost of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.  Unsurprisingly, only 32 percent of the British public thinks the coronation should be funded by the government.

Some suggest that, since King Charles’ personal wealth is estimated at around $1.8 billion, he should pay for his own coronation. Since he became king the moment his mother died last September and Saturday’s coronation changes nothing on a practical level, some people wonder why Britain persists as the only country in Europe that still practices coronations.

However, there’s a larger question at work here, one that applies to every evangelical Christian of every nationality.

What “gives a man the only true life”

The year before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, President Harry S. Truman proclaimed a National Day of Prayer. Presidents dating back to George Washington had issued such proclamations for particular days or challenges, but President Truman’s declaration made this an annual observance.

Unlike Saturday’s royal coronation, today’s observance costs nothing for those who participate. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the debt we owed when God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16).

Evangelicals rightly emphasize the fact that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9) and that there is nothing we can do to earn or lose our salvation. However, it can consequently be tempting for us to lapse into what martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

By contrast, he explained, “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Bonhoeffer famously added: “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

“Think about these things”

While it costs us nothing to pray today to Christ our Savior, it costs us everything to coronate him our King. C. S. Lewis observed, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

God’s word emphatically and consistently calls us to the complete commitment of our lives to our King:

  • “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God. . . . You shall be holy to me, for I the Lᴏʀᴅ am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:726).
  • “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
  • God is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).
  • “Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14).

Such holiness in service to a holy King begins with our minds. As we noted yesterday, epigeneticists report that our thoughts and attitudes can lead to changes in gene expression that lead to tangible changes in our brains and, thus, our lives. As a result, we should say with Job: “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1). When we refuse to look upon or think about what is sinful, we will be less sinful.

To do this, pray every day: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Psalm 119:37). Then join God in answering your prayer: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2) through Bible study, prayer, worship, and communion with Christ.

Seek the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) through the discipline of your mind: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, my emphasis). Then turn your mind into an altar upon which you pray today and every day for our nation and her leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–4).

Spinning at 1,040 miles per hour

Our planet is spinning on its axis at 1,040 miles per hour. The earth is spinning around the sun at 66,600 mph. Our solar system is moving around the Milky Way galaxy at a rate of 558,000 mph. And the Milky Way is moving through the universe at 660,000 mph.

The King of the universe holds all of that in the same palm of his hand (cf. Isaiah 40:12) where he is holding onto you (John 10:28).

Are you holding onto him today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Why is loneliness as dangerous as smoking?

According to a new report from the US Surgeon General’s office, lacking social connections “can increase the risk of premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily.” Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30 percent and elevates our risk of stroke, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and dementia.

Technology is making this problem worse: people who use social media for two hours or more daily are more than twice as likely to report feeling isolated than those who are on such apps for less than thirty minutes a day.

“A reason for living and some hope”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. (For an excellent resource, please see Dr. Lane Ogden’s “What does the Bible say about mental health” on our website.) As a result, we’ll see a plethora of information like the Surgeon General’s report in the coming days. In the midst of all the bad news, however, here’s some good news: according to the Wall Street Journal, America is seeing a “surprising surge of faith among young people.”

A recent survey found that about one-third of eighteen-to-twenty-five-year-olds say they believe in the existence of a higher power. This is more than the percentage who doubt such an existence and is up from about one-quarter in 2021. The Journal explains: “Young adults, theologians, and church leaders attribute the increase in part to the need for people to believe in something beyond themselves after three years of loss.”

An eighteen-year-old college student is typical of many: Believing in God “gives you a reason for living and some hope.”

However, in another new survey, only 31 percent of younger Americans said religion was very important to them, which was the lowest percentage of all adult age groups. Another study found that only 20 percent of this age group attend religious services monthly or more, down from 24 percent in 2019.

A warning from the “Godfather of AI”

When a driver stops using the fuel his car was designed to depend upon, he should not be surprised when his car stops running.

A recent Harvard poll found that 48 percent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine felt unsafe recently. Twenty-one percent say they’ve felt unsafe at school; 40 percent are concerned about being victims of gun violence or a mass shooting; 73 percent believe homelessness could happen to anyone; and 32 percent fear they could one day be homeless.

More signs of the times: There are twice as many security guards employed in the US compared with twenty years ago. Due to financial volatility such as the ongoing banking crisis, older adults are entering a “retirement minefield.” And an artificial intelligence pioneer often called “the Godfather of AI” is warning that AI technologies will upend the job market and could pose a threat to humanity.

Feeling fear in a fallen world is inevitable. Having no one to trust with our fears is not.

A science-based approach to mental health

As our society focuses on mental health this month, I’d like to offer a suggestion: spend some time each day thinking less about yourself as a creature and more time thinking about creation and the Creator.

New York Times opinion writer and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren writes that “we need to take up the task of embracing the goodness of the palpable, analog world, whether it be to make time for a hike or to notice the sweetness of gentle rain or to revel in the bitterness of good coffee or to listen to the laughter of children.”

She quotes priest, author, and chef Robert Farrar Capon, who claimed that “God is the biggest materialist there is.” Capon explained that since God created the material world, he must enjoy it even more than we do.

When we consult the field of epigenetics, we find physiological reasons why focusing on the beauty of creation and the glory of our Creator is good for our mental health. These scientists study changes in gene expression that do not alter the underlying DNA sequence. As a result, they report that our environment, lifestyle, and thoughts can lead to changes in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

For example, chronic stress and negative thoughts can lead to changes in gene expression associated with inflammation and an increase in chronic diseases. However, practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and positive thinking influence gene expression to promote relaxation, stress reduction, and improved immune function. Over time, focusing on positive aspirations can lead to tangible changes in our brains and, thus, our reality.

Why God became one of us

The magnificence of creation and the majesty of the Creator intersect most fully in the One who is “the image of the invisible God” by whom “all things were created” (Colossians 1:15–16). In Jesus, God became one of us so we could be one with God.

This is why, as we noted yesterday, a daily, transforming relationship with the living Lord Jesus is so vital for us. Such intimacy with Christ feeds our souls, strengthens our mental health, and empowers our cultural impact.

So, don’t settle for a religion about Jesus when you can have a personal relationship with him. Imagine yourself walking alongside him all through this day. Talk with him about the challenges and opportunities you encounter. Ask him to speak by his Spirit into your mind and spirit. Make it your first priority today to practice his presence.

I am convinced that if every Christ follower truly followed Christ, our lonely, fearful, dangerous world could not be the same.

Will you join me in testing my assertion today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Seventh grader stops school bus after driver passed out

When the morning news is dominated by multiple fatalities from a dust storm in Illinois, tornadoes in Virginia and Florida, a Hollywood writers strike, and the death of legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, it’s uplifting to find stories of heroism as well. For example, a Michigan seventh grader recently took control of his school bus after the driver lost consciousness. He stepped to the front of the bus and used the hand brake to ease it to a stop.

He told his parents later that he knew what to do because he watched the driver do it every day. None of his fellow students was injured in the incident.

The news report nowhere speaks to the young man’s religious beliefs or lack thereof. Of course, none of us would claim that he would have to be an active Christian to do what he did. Being kind to others is instinctual for most humans since, according to social scientists, kindness clearly raises personal happiness. Living with meaningful purpose in the world is similarly linked to positive mental health and well-being. These facts are facts regardless of one’s religious commitments, if any.

“People are selfish; deal with it.”

Yesterday we noted a recent Pew Research Center report in which 65 percent of Americans agree that “it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral.” Such a claim is popular because its underlying lie is popular: morality is what you believe it to be, so you need no divine assistance in defining your moral standards or achieving them.

We are watching this worldview undermine the very foundations upon which our democracy was built. The Founders declared that “all men are created equal” and thus possess “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” However, if all truth is subjective and personal, the Declaration of Independence can be just the Founders’ truth. I am free to live by my own truth. And if my truth is that the world and everyone in it is a means to my end, who are you to tell me I’m wrong?

In this context, I found David Brooks’ latest column in the New York Times to be both relevant and disturbing. He warns about “a kind of nihilism that you might call amoral realism” and explains: “This ethos is built around the idea that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Might makes right. I’m justified in grabbing all that I can because if I don’t, the other guy will. People are selfish; deal with it.”

According to Brooks, “People who live according to the code of amoral realism tear through codes and customs that have [been] built over the centuries to nurture goodness and foster cooperation.” In their world, “cruelty, dishonesty, vainglory, and arrogance are valorized as survival skills.” As a result, “Other people are not possessors of souls, of infinite dignity and worth; they are objects to be utilized.”

Brooks applies his thesis to national and international politics and politicians, but we are watching it in the news every day. From street violence to mass shootings, sex trafficking, and the rising popularity of abortion and euthanasia, the ethos that other people are “objects to be utilized” is spreading like a moral and spiritual cancer in our culture.

Three urgent steps

You and I are just as temptable as anyone else, just as subject to the fallen human condition in which we exert our “will to power” over others as we seek to be our own god (Genesis 3:5). In fact, Satan employs a subtle deception for evangelical Christians by which we are tempted to separate our public moral stands from our private moral failures. Accordingly, God is calling us to take three urgent steps today.

One: Settle for nothing less than holistic holiness.

Scripture declares: “Blessed are those who keep [God’s] testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” (Psalm 119:2–3, my emphases). What is your “heart” condition today?

Two: Seek an intimate, transforming relationship with Jesus.

Years ago, some pastor friends and I were discussing the plague of pornography in our churches. One of them said, “Our biggest problem is that our people don’t love Jesus. If they did, they would hate what he hates and love what he loves.” The pastor was right: “If we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). How fully are you walking “in the light” today?

Three: Trust Christ for victory over sin.

Charles Spurgeon reminded us that just as we are saved by grace, we can be sanctified only by grace. Our works were of no benefit for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9); neither will they enable us to achieve the holiness we desire.

The psalmist testified, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). When we turn to God, “They who wait for the Lᴏʀᴅ shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). And we will say with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

When we bring God our persistent temptations and sins, he often leads us to counselors or trusted friends who can help us. He gives us guidance in his word by his Spirit. But ultimately, we must ask him for the victory we need and trust him to provide it.

“You are a fire ever burning”

Is it possible for us to know Christ with such transforming intimacy? St. Catherine of Siena (1347–80) did. She prayed, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied: what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”

As a result, she could say to God, “You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being.” And she could add, “You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food.”

All this because “your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you.”

Would you ask the Spirit to do the same for you today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Two-thirds of Americans say we don’t need faith in God to be moral

George Washington claimed (PDF) that “religion and morality” are each “indispensable supports” of democracy. John Adams was certain that our Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people” and is “wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (my emphasis).

According to 65 percent of US adults, these Founding Fathers were wrong.

In a recent Pew Research Center report, two-thirds of American respondents claimed that “it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral.” They can make this claim because our secularized culture has convinced them that morality is personal and subjective. Like the archer who fires an arrow and then paints the target around the place it lands, we get to choose what is moral for us and need no help from God in achieving it.

However, the mass shooting in Texas, the deadliest Russian attack on Ukraine in months, the first US mass evacuation effort from Sudan, and widespread discouragement about the future are windows into how well our subjective morality is working for us. And what do we do when your definition of morality and mine directly contradict each other? When you think abortion on demand is a moral “reproductive right” and I think it is the immoral killing of an unborn child? When you think marriage has no gender and I think it should be reserved for one man and one woman?

This debate is not only foundational to the future of our democracy—it is especially urgent for the souls of evangelicals like me.

My Apple Watch is incompetent

I walked on my treadmill last Friday morning for my usual three miles, setting the pace at 4.2 mph, which equates to 14.17 minutes per mile. My Apple Watch disagreed, however, claiming that I finished my first mile in 13.58. It tracked my second mile at 13.57. I then increased my speed to a 4.3 mph pace, which equates to 13.57 minutes per mile. My Apple Watch, however, reported that I finished that mile in 15.27.

My point is not that my Apple Watch cannot track my walking pace competently, though that is consistently true. My point is that I want to believe that the fastest time is accurate and the slowest time is a technological aberration.

It was the same when I played golf and tennis: I believed that my best shots were “normal” and my other shots were anomalies or bad luck. This is an example of the “slothful induction fallacy,” which occurs when “sufficient logical evidence strongly indicates a particular conclusion is true, but someone fails to acknowledge it, instead attributing the outcome to coincidence or something unrelated entirely.”

My purpose is not to complain about my Apple Watch or to claim unwarranted athletic prowess. Rather, it is to note that what I did on the treadmill, I am constantly tempted to do with my soul. My sins are aberrations, “deviations from the mean” as it were, while my virtuous acts reveal my true character.

If only that were true.

How Satan uses our morality against us

According to Scripture, “secret” sins do not exist: “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The psalmist said of God, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Psalm 90:8).

Dwight Moody was right: Character is what you are in the dark.

This fact is especially relevant for evangelical Christians in the context of sexual morality. Many of us have incurred the wrath of our fallen culture by standing publicly for biblical marriage and sexuality. However, Paul warns us: “In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).

For example, when evangelicals condemn homosexual sexual sin but commit heterosexual sexual sin, we sin just like those whose sin we oppose. Our sin may not be as public—a same-sex married couple is obviously living unbiblically, while a heterosexual married couple may or may not be sinning sexually—but it is no less real.

Nonetheless, Satan uses our biblical stance against us by tempting us to believe we are justified in our sins since we condemn the sins of others. He also wants us to think that our sins are less damaging if they are less public. But, as always, Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Private pornography, for example, is addictive and destroys mental health and dating and marriage relationships. Sex before marriage weakens the marriage; sex outside of marriage can obviously destroy marriage.

Satan also ensures that our “private” sins inevitably become public and then uses them to disparage our Father and our faith. Paul warned his Jewish Christian readers that because of their sins, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). In a recent survey, “the hypocrisy of religious people” was the top reason people of no faith gave for doubting Christian beliefs.

“The utter joy of being forgiven”

Tomorrow we’ll identify three practical ways to respond biblically and redemptively. For today, let’s decide that we want to. Let’s decide that we want to be as holy as God can make us. Then, let’s admit to God our need for his transforming power.

Br. Geoffrey Tristam of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston writes: “Until we acknowledge our need for God, we will never experience the utter joy of being forgiven, healed, restored, and empowered. Once we have experienced that grace, there’s no going back to a life where we trust in our own power and strength. Once we have known God’s hands upholding us and strengthening us, nothing else will do.”

Will you experience the “utter joy” of God’s sanctifying grace today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Transgender club typifies “the enduring strength of San Francisco”

Elon Musk recently tweeted, “Violent crime in SF is horrific.” A responding headline in the Sunday Los Angeles Times caught my eye: “Sorry, San Francisco is not the crime-ridden hellhole the far right claims it is.” The reason, we’re told, is typified by an “iconic transgender cabaret” named AsiaSF.

The writer admits that San Francisco is plagued by what she calls its “tech bust,” “crisis of addiction,” “anti-Asian hate crimes,” and overall lack of safety. However, she cites one of the owners of AsiaSF, who calls San Francisco “a beacon of hope for so many people.” In his view, “No matter who you are, you have to find your truth and live your truth.”

The author responds: “And that is the enduring strength of San Francisco.”

What “very happy” people have in common

Reading the Times article left me with great sadness, not only for so many deceived people in San Francisco but also for the degree to which the writer speaks for millions of others across our nation.

I would think more people would connect the cultural dots: in the years since our society has decided that all truth is “your truth,” the values of patriotism, religion, and community involvement have plummeted. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who say they are “not too happy” has more than doubled, while the percentage who say they are “very happy” has fallen by more than half to a mere 12 percent, by far the lowest percentage in the five decades the poll has been conducted.

When asked about their values, “very happy” Americans cite belief in marriage and community involvement. And 68 percent of them point to belief in God (contrasted with 42 percent of those who say they are “not happy”).

My first response upon reading the report was to claim vindication for faith in a culture that increasingly views religion as irrelevant, bigoted, and dangerous. But upon reflection, I realized there’s an urgent issue here we need to discuss, a fact about religion that our society completely misunderstands.

Aspirin won’t cure a broken leg

I’m glad “very happy” people consider “belief in God” to be “very important” to them. Here’s the problem: our pluralistic culture thinks all such beliefs are the same, just “different roads up the same mountain.”

But religions are not all the same any more than medicines are all the same. Aspirin for a headache won’t cure a broken leg. When Islam’s holy book rejects the Trinity (Quran 4:171) while the Bible consistently teaches this doctrine (cf. Matthew 28:192 Corinthians 13:14), they are clearly not teaching the same truth.

Furthermore, belief in God by itself will not change us or our broken world: “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). In recent years, religion has brought us horrific clergy abuse scandals. Denominational internecine fights have dominated headlines with conflicts over partisan politics, theological controversies, and church property. Evangelicals are stigmatized as homophobic and Trumpist; mainstream denominations are labeled wokeist and liberal.

Clearly, belief in God is not enough. The Greco-Roman world was highly religious, as Paul noted (Acts 17:22). But they treated women as possessions, threw unwanted babies out with the trash, and engaged in sexual activities too horrific for me to describe here.

“By my God I can leap over a wall”

By contrast, Psalm 18 models transforming faith in the one true God. Here David proclaims: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (v. 2). Note the eight times he calls God not “the” God or even “our” God but “my” God.

Consequently, he can pray, “It is you who light my lamp; the Lᴏʀᴅ my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (vv. 28–29). He therefore asks, “Who is God, but the Lᴏʀᴅ? And who is a rock, except our God?” (v. 31).

Now you and I have a choice to make. We can believe in a generic God and think that because we are religious, we have all of God we need. Or we can follow David’s example by making God our “rock” in every moment of every day as we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

How do we do this without being monks in a monastery?

Moving to a “God-centered dialogue”

I found help and hope in a reflection by Henri Nouwen that begins in a surprising way: “To pray, I think, does not primarily mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people.” This is precisely what many of us think praying does mean.

But Nouwen notes, “As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him in a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings.”

Nouwen offers us a better way: “Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can eventually become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts beautiful and ugly, high and low, prideful and shameful, sorrowful and joyful can be thought in the presence of God.”

As a result, “We convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer when we move from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue. This requires that we turn all our thoughts into conversation. The main question, therefore, is not so much what we think, but to whom we present our thoughts.”

Will you live in a monologue with yourself or a dialogue with God today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Boston Marathon bombing victim: “It changed me for the better”

Kenyan runners Evans Chebet and Hellen Obiri won the Boston Marathon yesterday. Ever since the bombing in 2013, the race has taken on an aura of grief and fear along with accomplishment and celebration. For two brothers, the world’s oldest marathon is all of the above. J. P. and Paul Norden each lost a leg in the bombings and now utilize a prosthetic leg. As a result, their family started a foundation, A Leg Forever, which so far has helped sixty people who’ve lost limbs pay for prosthetics, wheelchairs, and bedside care.

Speaking of the bombing, J. P. says, “In a lot of ways, it changed me for the better.” Their mother says of her sons, “Nothing stops them. I’m in awe all the time. ‘Cause I’m still angry, I still get sad sometimes for them, but nothing holds them back.”

“Either weapons or tools”

The Norden brothers typify this fact: most things, events, and experiences can be used for bad or for good. The terrorists who attacked the Boston Marathon had no idea their horrific crime would lead to good for so many who need what A Leg Forever provides. It is far easier to face challenges if we trust that they are being used for a greater purpose.

As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out in his fascinating recent article, “America, China and a Crisis of Trust,” this is a principle of enormous geopolitical significance.

Friedman makes the foundational point that digital services are “dual use”—they can be both a weapon and a tool. He explains: “In the Cold War it was relatively easy to say that this fighter jet is a weapon and that that phone is a tool. But when we install the ability to sense, digitize, connect, process, learn, share, and act into more and more things—from your GPS-enabled phone to your car to your toaster to your favorite app—they all become dual use, either weapons or tools depending on who controls the software running them and who owns the data that they spin off.”

As a result, “Today, it’s just a few lines of code that separate autonomous cars from autonomous weapons. And, as we’ve seen in Ukraine, a smartphone can be used by Grandma to call the grandkids or to call a Ukrainian rocket-launching unit and give it the GPS coordinates of a Russian tank in her backyard.”

“The single most important competitive advantage”

This fact is especially germane to America’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. There was a time when China sold us primarily what Friedman calls “shallow goods”—shoes, socks, shirts, and solar panels. Now it is selling us “deep goods”—software, microchips, smartphones, robots, and other goods that go deep into our economic and technological systems and are dual use.

Here’s the point: America doesn’t have enough trust in China to buy its “deep goods.” We purchase microchips instead from Taiwan, where 90 percent of the world’s most advanced logic chips are manufactured.

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is a foundry, meaning it takes the designs of the most advanced computer companies in the world and turns them into chips that perform different processing functions. Their business model is simple: TSMC makes a solemn oath to its customers never to compete against them by designing its own chips and never to share the designs of one of its customers with another. Their customers trust them because they know that TSMC’s business depends on keeping their trust.

By contrast, China is pursuing a strategy of global competition and dominance over the US and the West. Its failure of transparency with the origins of COVID-19, its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, its aggressive claims to the South China Sea, its support for Vladimir Putin, and its increasing threats toward Taiwan all exacerbate the failure of trust that exists between China and the West.

For example, US law enforcement officers arrested two New York residents yesterday for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” to target Chinese dissidents now living in America. And the Chinese military recently rehearsed “encircling” Taiwan after the US House Speaker visited the island.

As Friedman notes, “Establishing and maintaining trust is now the single most important competitive advantage any country or company can have. And Beijing is failing in that endeavor.” He quotes one of American statesman George Shultz’s cardinal rules of diplomacy and life: “Trust is the coin of the realm.”

My experience in Beijing

Friedman’s perceptive analysis demonstrates one of the reasons the gospel is so vital to human flourishing: only Jesus teaches selfless character and then empowers Christians to fulfill what he teaches.

I was invited several years ago to deliver lectures on ethics to a group of business leaders in Beijing. I focused on the fact that sacrificial integrity is foundational to an economy based on consumption. If producers do not trust their employees to do what they are paid to do, production falters. Conversely, if consumers do not trust that products will perform as advertised, consumption falters. A culture based on atheistic communism has no ideological commitment to sacrificial integrity and no power by which to effect such a commitment if it were to exist.

By contrast, Christians are taught to “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5) and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Then we are called to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) so he can produce his “fruit” in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).

Imagine the difference if everyone exhibited such “fruit” in their business relations. This is what the Spirit of Christ can do in everyone who follows Christ as Lord. This is what both China and the US need if they are to flourish in a trust-based global economy. This is why a true spiritual awakening is our only hope for the future we long to experience.

If you believe that Jesus redeems all he allows, you will unconditionally trust his word and others will be drawn to the Christ they see in you. So, when last did you pay a significant price to trust and follow Jesus? Are you willing to pay such a price today?

In other words, is trust the coin of your realm?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The massacre in Alabama and Kamala Harris’ defense of abortion

Four people were killed and dozens more were injured at a mass shooting during a Sweet 16 birthday party Saturday night in Alabama. This makes the 163rd mass shooting so far in 2023; today is the 107th day of the year.

When we cannot deal with the pain of such tragedy, we objectify it. “Another shooting,” we say as we grimace and shake our heads. But the families of the four people who were murdered will never say that of a mass shooting again as long as they live.

Many do the same with abortion. As of this writing, nearly thirteen million babies have lost their lives to abortion so far this year. This number is equivalent to the populations of West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming—combined.

In the US, nearly 20 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion. Those who defend such tragedies must shift their focus from the dead child to the issue of “reproductive freedom,” “democracy,” partisan politics, and so on.

Case in point: Vice President Kamala Harris made a surprise appearance at a pro-abortion rally in Los Angeles on Saturday. In her speech, she warned against “those who would dare to attack fundamental rights and, by extension, attack our democracy” and urged those in attendance to “stand up and fight” for abortion.

I want us to do the opposite today: I’m writing to “stand up and fight” for the victims of abortion.

“Roe wasn’t the beginning of abortion”

A woman in attendance at the LA rally held up a sign that read, “Roe wasn’t the beginning of abortions—Roe was the end of women dying from abortions.” A more accurate sign would read: “Roe wasn’t the beginning of abortions—Roe was the beginning of babies dying legally from abortions.”

Recent conflicts over abortion pills and Florida’s six-week abortion ban are just the latest examples of George Will’s observation that Roe v. Wade “inflamed the issue and embittered our politics.” This is because there is something intrinsic to human nature that knows that taking the lives of innocent humans is wrong.

As a result, some say they are not pro-abortion but pro-choice, claiming that this should be the mother’s decision, not that of the government. But they obviously do not extend this logic to other decisions regarding the mother and her child.

Once this entity in its mother’s womb has changed locations and is now outside her womb, her choice regarding abortion vanishes. But if that entity is a human being after it is born, what was it before it was born? From a scientific point of view, “human embryos from the one-cell stage forward are indeed individuals of the human species; i.e., human beings.”

Because we know a newborn baby is a human, we confer on it all the protections of the law and thus make infanticide illegal. By what logic do we not do the same in the womb as outside the womb?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right

Some point to “viability,” claiming that an unborn child is a “person” and thus deserves our protection only when it can live outside the womb. But what do we mean by “viability”? Left alone, a newborn child will soon die. It can breathe without its mother, but it cannot feed itself or protect itself. It is no more viable without the mother after its birth than it was before its birth.

Others say that in a democracy, we have no right to force our values on others. But the founders disagreed. Our founding creed proclaims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” The Declaration says we are “created” equal, not “born” equal. We are endowed by our “Creator”—not our mother—with “certain inalienable rights,” the first of which is “life.”

In his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged America to “live out the true meaning of its creed” regarding the equality of all humans of all races. I want us to do the same regarding the equality of all humans of all ages, from conception to death.

This issue is obviously urgent for the millions of unborn babies whose lives hang in the balance. However, it is no less urgent for the future of our nation.

Moses “stood in the breach”

When the Israelites compromised with Canaanite culture, “they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan” (Psalm 106:38). Is elective abortion for financial gain or personal convenience a similar “sacrifice”?

As a result, “The anger of the Lᴏʀᴅ was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them” (vv. 40–41). Can our nation claim to be exempt from the justice of God?

Here’s the good news: one person can change the trajectory of a nation.

When the Israelites in the wilderness “forgot God, their Savior” (v. 21), “he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him” (v. 23). When centuries later Israel again rejected God’s word and will (Ezekiel 22:23–29), he said, “I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none” (v. 30).

Will you “stand in the breach” for America?

Will you pray daily for our nation to embrace our founding creed that all lives are “created equal”?

Will you pray for our elected leaders to protect their most innocent and vulnerable constituents and for our judges to rule righteously?

Will you ask God to use you to help women considering abortion to choose life?

The longtime pastor and statesman Paul Powell was right: “We are the light of the world—not just of the church.”

How will you use your light for life today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Why President Biden will not attend the royal coronation: A reflection on divine love and human suffering

As the May 6 coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla approaches, we now know that Prince Harry will attend the event, though Meghan Markle will stay in California for their son’s birthday. Dozens of world leaders, including First Lady Jill Biden, will attend the event as well.

However, President Joe Biden will not. This decision has angered some British politicians and commentators, but it is not a personal snub: since America’s independence from British rule in 1776, no sitting US president has ever attended a British coronation. Nor do British monarchs attend presidential inaugurations, so far as I can determine.

Only if we were robots

According to the British people, their top problems include the economy, health, immigration, the environment, defense, housing, and education. What if their new king were all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving? How many of these problems could and would he solve?

Fewer than we might think, assuming he honors the free will of his subjects. They would still be free to spend more than they make, live in unhealthy ways, mistreat the environment, and so on. Only if Great Britain were populated entirely by robots programmable by the king could he solve such problems.

The king of the universe is in the same position.

The Bible is clear on his omnipotence: “The Lᴏʀᴅ reigns, let the peoples tremble!” (Psalm 99:1). His omniscience is equally clear: “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). As is his omnibenevolence: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

However, he made us to love him and each other (Matthew 22:37–39) and honors the freedom such love requires. As Jesus stated so picturesquely: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20–21).

Consequently, none of the evil and suffering attributable to misused free will is God’s fault. If I refuse to study for the test and fail the exam, the fault is not with the professor.

Why unbelievers don’t believe

I make this point in light of a new Barna study asking nonbelievers to list reasons for their doubts. Number 1 on the list: the hypocrisy of religious people. Number 2: science. Number 3: human suffering.

Each of them is the result in part of blaming God for what is not God’s fault.

When religious people act hypocritically, God grieves (cf. Matthew 7:51 John 4:20Matthew 6:1). When people misunderstand the relationship between science (which focuses on creation) and religion (which focuses on the Creator), the Creator is not to blame. When humans cause human suffering, their Father mourns (cf. Lamentations 3:22–23John 11:35).

However, you’re probably asking: What about suffering that is not caused by misused freedom? What about tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on?

It is true that we live in a world broken by the Fall and sin (Romans 8:22). There were no tornadoes in the Garden of Eden. But another principle is worth considering as well: “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

All through Scripture, God intervenes in nature at the request of his people. Jesus healed so many people that “great crowds followed him” as a result (Matthew 4:25). Because “I the Lᴏʀᴅ do not change” (Malachi 3:6), his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence are no different today than in the biblical era.

Here’s what has changed: many modern, scientific people no longer truly believe that our miracle-working God still works miracles. Even if we say that we do, our prayers (or lack thereof) often disagree.

When last did you ask God to intervene in a natural disaster? When last did you ask him to heal someone with a terminal illness (and truly believe that he could)? When last did you ask him to do what only God can do?

A modern miracle

New Testament scholar Craig Keener’s new book, Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern Worldis outstanding. Dr. Keener is meticulous in his scholarship, documenting the contemporary miracles he describes with objective precision.

Here is an example: Dr. Sean George, a thirty-nine-year-old physician in Australia, had a heart attack on October 24, 2008. His coworkers tried for fifty-five minutes to revive him, administering some four thousand chest compressions and shocking him thirteen times before giving up.

They notified his wife, who is also a medical professional. By the time she reached him, Sean’s body was cold since he had been dead for an hour and twenty-five minutes. Instead of saying goodbye to her husband, however, she took his hand and prayed: “Sean is just thirty-nine, I’m just thirty-eight, and we have a ten-year-old boy. I need a miracle!”

Immediately, Sean’s heart started beating. Because the human brain is completely dead after twenty minutes without blood, doctors were certain he would suffer irreversible brain damage. To their shock, he awoke three days later with full brain function. He was discharged from the hospital two weeks later and was back to working full-time in three months.

Aware of the significance of his experience, Dr. George kept all his medical records and has made them available on his website for the world to see.

To be sure, God does not always answer our prayers in the way we wish. I would never suggest that all suffering is due to a lack of faith. (Jesus, his martyred followers, and Job would obviously contradict such a claim.) But I do believe that some is the consequence of a post-Christian worldview that views miracles as myths and discourages faith in a miraculous God.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” Don’t let this be true of you today.

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – New vaccines could save “millions of lives”: A reflection on the spiritual movement we need

Let’s begin with some very good news: millions of lives could be saved by a groundbreaking set of new vaccines for cancer and a range of other conditions. Dr. Paul Burton, chief medical officer of the pharmaceutical company Moderna, believes the firm will be able to offer such treatments for “all sorts of disease areas” in as little as five years. “It will save many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives,” he added.

In more good news: President Biden has signed a bipartisan congressional resolution ending the US national emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the news on the virus front is not all encouraging.

The Washington Post is publishing an extensive article titled: “Research with exotic viruses risks a deadly outbreak, scientists warn.” The Post found that the number of biocontainment labs handling dangerous pathogens worldwide is now believed by experts to be in the thousands. Risks from such research are so great that one expert warns, “This is a national security concern. It’s a global public health concern.”

Here’s one more disconcerting headline: “The Deadliest Volcano in the Western Hemisphere Might Be Waking Up.” A volcano in Colombia that killed twenty-three thousand people the last time it erupted is showing signs of activity. Residents on its upper slopes are currently being evacuated out of fear of a possible eruption.

The true definition of courage

These stories illustrate the degree to which most of us are “catching and not pitching” in life. Unless you’re a scientist specializing in immunology, you have little to do with the development of vaccines or the risks of research that could change the trajectory of deadly diseases. And none of us can stop volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters from striking.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger likened us to actors on a stage with no script, director, audience, past, or future. The true definition of courage, he claimed, is facing life as it is.

How do we choose such courage in the face of tragedy?

We are especially grieved and angered when mass shootings such as the tragedy in Louisville make headlines. According to the Washington Post, there have been 377 school shootings since 1999; more than 349,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine tragedy. Pew Research Center reports that gun deaths among US children and teens rose 50 percent in the last two years.

The firearm-related death rate in the US is three times higher than in Nicaragua, nearly five times higher than in Uganda, five times higher than in Israel, and forty times higher than in the United Kingdom.

In the face of disaster and tragedy, it is a terrible feeling to feel that there is nothing we can do. But here’s what Christians can do that the rest of society cannot: we can be the change we wish most to see.

Our Lord commands us to “consecrate yourselves . . . and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). We are told to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul adds: “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

“I belong to a new spiritual order”

To this end, I cannot overstate how important I think today’s reading in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest is for us. However, we need these reflections from Chambers in yesterday’s devotional to set the stage:

“I can have the resurrection life of Jesus here and now, and it will exhibit itself through holiness.

“The idea all through the apostle Paul’s writings is that after the decision to be identified with Jesus in his death has been made, the resurrection life of Jesus penetrates every bit of my human nature. It takes the omnipotence of God—his complete and effective divinity—to live the life of the Son of God in human flesh. The Holy Spirit cannot be accepted as a guest in merely one room of the house—he invades all of it. And once I decide that my ‘old man’ (that is, my heredity of sin) should be identified with the death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit invades me. He takes charge of everything. My part is to walk in the light and to obey all that he reveals to me. . . .

“God puts the holiness of his Son into me, and I belong to a new spiritual order.”

How can we experience this “new spiritual order”?

Today’s reading answers our question: “Even the weakest saint can experience the power of the deity of the Son of God when he is willing to ‘let go.’ But any effort to ‘hang on’ to the least bit of our own power will only diminish the life of Jesus in us. We have to keep letting go, and slowly, but surely, the great full life of God will invade us, penetrating every part. Then Jesus will have complete and effective dominion in us, and people will take notice that we have been with Him.”

The movement God is calling us to join

This process begins every day by submitting that day to the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We cannot give God “tomorrow” because it does not yet exist. But we can and should give God this Wednesday as it begins. Ask the Spirit to take control of your attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions. Pray through your day, submitting your plans to him. Ask him to empower you and use you for God’s glory and our good.

Then, as you walk through this day, stay submitted to the Spirit. In the challenges and opportunities you experience, ask the Spirit to guide you and reveal Christ through you. Make this your daily habit and commitment, and over time you will see the change the Spirit alone can make in a human life.

Imagine the results if two billion Christians were so Spirit-empowered that we manifested the character of Christ to our broken world. This and nothing less is the spiritual movement God is working to advance today. Right now, he is calling you and me to join him.

Will people take notice that you have been with God today?

Denison Forum

Denison Forum – God doesn’t need heroes: What Christians in Africa and Nepal can teach us about effective evangelism

Vice President Kamala Harris has spent much of this week in Africa, attempting to forge better relationships with key governments across the continent. She has announced more than $1 billion in funding for initiatives ranging from fighting against extremist groups like al-Qaeda to building up infrastructure, agriculture, and the economies of partner nations.

And though American officials are quick to state that their primary motivation for the new policies is a genuine desire to help, China’s uptick in involvement across Africa in recent years has likely played an important role as well.

As The Dispatch notes, “While the U.S. financed about $14 billion of projects in Africa from 2007 to 2020, comparable institutions in China financed a whopping $120 billion-worth.” In addition, “China’s developmental banks lent more than twice as much for public-private infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa as the U.S., Germany, Japan, and France—combined.”

The nature of that help also plays an important role in the relationship between African countries and the West.

As Mvemba Dizolele, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes, “When the Chinese go to Africa . . . . they talk about Africa’s needs, and they try to bridge that gap.” By contrast, western nations have often spent their time focusing on humanitarian aid and promoting democracy. And while many have benefited from those efforts, Dizolele notes that “people don’t eat democracy and good governance. People need jobs. People need schools. People need hope as they contemplate the future.”

In short, too often American involvement in Africa takes the form of a hero coming to the rescue when what most Africans want is a partner to help them grow.

That’s a lesson Christians in America need to learn as well.

The plight of Bhutanese Nepali refugees

While western missions to Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world are usually undertaken with the genuine intent to help people and share the love of Christ, the reality is that we often do a poor job of taking into account what the people to whom we’re ministering actually want from us. Moreover, it can be easy to forget that while God asks us to join him in sharing his love and gospel with those who need it, he is the one ultimately responsible for saving people.

To that end, a recent story from Angela Lu Fulton about the amazing work the Lord has done in and through Bhutanese Nepali refugees offers an important reminder for each of us.

As Fulton describes, the refugees are ethnic Nepalis who were expelled from their home in Bhutan on account of their largely Hindu faith. Many traveled to Bhutan—a small country between India and Tibet—in search of work only to later face persecution from the Buddhist majority. Those who protested the discrimination were arrested, tortured, and often killed, eventually forcing upwards of 120,000 people to flee the country. The vast majority would eventually settle into seven refugee camps in Nepal established by the UN.

However, the stories of how God worked within those camps sound like they belong in Acts more than in the modern era.

Modern-day miracles

Fulton details many of these accounts in her article for Christianity Today and it is worth reading in its entirety.

One such story is about Bhadra Rai, whose family converted to Christianity after his sister was miraculously healed when a group of believers prayed for her. Rai noted that “many people in the camps were drawn to Christianity after seeing miraculous healings from illnesses, both physical and mental.” Others describe how God protected people from poisonous snake bites and drowning in rapid moving rivers.

Still more “were drawn in by the equality they found in Christianity, where there were no castes or discrimination.” As Fulton describes, “Several Bhutanese Nepali Christians said they came to believe in Christ in the camps because of the love they found at church—a love that was missing in their home lives.”

And what’s most important for our conversation today is that all of this occurred because “the power of God was actively moving.” As John Monger, who ended up in a refugee camp after his family and the local government tried to kill him for converting to Christianity, notes, “There was no missionary, no denomination, just the simple power of God, the love of God, and the presence of God.”

The Lord continued to work in and through the refugees after they were eventually resettled in America and other western nations. Those who started churches in the camps did the same wherever they ended up, often reviving the communities and more established churches with whom they partnered in the process.

As Manoj Shrestha, the pastor of Nepal Baptist Church in Baltimore, notes, “I think God was preparing them there [in the camps] so when they moved, everywhere they move, there’s a church. They have a zeal to share the gospel, they want to plant churches, they want to become missionaries.”

And when it comes to missions, there is much they can teach us.

Sharing the gospel out of gratitude

Christy Staats, who helps to train churches in cross-cultural ministry, warns that “there is a tendency for Americans to jump into refugee work thinking we are the hero, and we need to curb that.” She goes on to add that “what’s really deep in my conviction is the leadership and capability that the Bhutanese Nepali refugees display. I need to learn from them.”

And when it comes to what we can learn from groups like the Bhutanese Nepali refugees, how to share the gospel from a place of gratitude rather than obligation belongs near the top of the list.

When we truly understand how good our God is, it becomes much easier to share his love and message with the people around us. Conversely, if we haven’t encountered or don’t fully appreciate what God has done, it can be hard to get excited about telling others.

It’s the difference between sharing the gospel because we think people need it—even though they do—and sharing the gospel because we think it’s genuinely going to make their lives better.

When we look at how the first generations of Christians shared their faith, gratitude was the defining characteristic. In American churches today, though, I think obligation has become a far more common motivation. As such, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that many of us struggle to do missions well.

So take some time today to ask God to help you understand the degree to which you are genuinely grateful for all that he has done for you. Ask him to bring to mind examples of the ways that he has blessed you and redeemed your struggles. And if those struggles threaten to block out his goodness, look to the Bhutanese refugees as an example of how to find solace in the Lord even when your circumstances make that difficult.

God doesn’t need heroes. He just needs people who understand how good the good news really is and who are willing to share it with those we meet.

Will you?

Denison Forum