Tag Archives: Daily Article

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical citation labeled “hate speech”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four empowering imperatives

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

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

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

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

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

A song on the radio

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

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

Will you celebrate and share this love today?

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

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

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

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

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

Should President Biden be able to take communion?

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

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

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

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

Why “we are losing a generation”

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

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

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

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

“Satan demanded to have you”

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

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

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

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

The key to being like Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A threat “the church has not encountered before”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My soul pants for you, O God”

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

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

Therein lies our opportunity and our challenge.

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have time to sharpen my ax”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on the issues

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, the Bible gives us a much better option.

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

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

Find real solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model what you wish to see

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Armenian Genocide?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why President Biden’s statement is significant

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

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

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

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

Why this news should matter to us

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

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

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

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

What happened before can happen again.

Let’s pray right now that it doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how should we respond to this news?

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

Know what you don’t know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not make the same mistake this time.

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

Should you see the film?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reacting with wisdom

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

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

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

Which will you choose today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know why you’re speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think before you speak

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

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

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

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

A challenge for you today

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

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

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

Choose them wisely.

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Denison Forum – Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans steal the show at the 2021 ACM Awards: How excellence leads to gospel opportunities

The attention of the nation has been understandably fixed on the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s trial and the jury’s verdict that he is guilty of all three charges. As such, other significant events in our culture have largely gone overlooked.

And while I’m not sure I would normally classify the Academy of Country Music Awards as an event of significance, this year’s show qualifies. The ACM made an effort to highlight diversity within their industry, tabbing Mickey Guyton as the first Black woman to co-host the awards show—she shared the evening’s duties with Keith Urban—and capping the night with a performance by the Brothers Osborne, whose lead singer came out as gay last year.

What struck me most, however, was that out of all the storylines and performances that defined the evening, it was the gospel music performance by Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans from the former’s new album My Savior that stole the show by most accounts. (For more on the album, please read Minni Elkins’ excellent article.)

Now, I feel like I need to say upfront that I’m not a fan of country music. Maybe it was an act of rebellion after moving back to Texas in Junior High or perhaps it’s a character flaw I have yet to fully rectify, but the 2021 Academy of Country Music Awards was among the last things I expected to be writing about this week.

Underwood and Winans’ performance, however, goes beyond country music. The response it has received from various media and news outlets offers two important lessons for us to consider today.

Excellence is easy to appreciate

Some of the same outlets that praised Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s performance of “WAP” at the Grammys last month as “show stealing” and “incredible” described Underwood and Winans’ musical journey through the gospel message in similar terms. And after listening to the latter duo’s stirring performance, it’s easy to understand the appreciation it has garnered.

Both Underwood and Winans demonstrated remarkable vocal range and a clear passion for the songs they shared. Whether it was Carrie’s stirring acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace” or the duo’s collaboration on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “The Old Rugged Cross,” it would be difficult to deny the excellence of their performance, even for those who may not ordinarily have given a second thought to the content of what they sang.

But while few can replicate both women’s vocal brilliance, each of us can aspire to their commitment to using the unique set of gifts that God has granted us to the best of our ability and to the pursuit of his glory. Fortunately, that’s precisely what he asks of us.

You see, there is something about the pursuit of excellence that is easy for people to notice and appreciate, regardless of the context in which it occurs. Perhaps it is easier to recognize when it comes to music, athletics, or other more public displays, but the principle applies to our work, our relationships, and our personal pursuits as well.

We see this pattern displayed in the Bible throughout the course of Daniel’s life.

From the time he was brought to Babylon, Daniel’s commitment to excellence and fulfilling his God-given potential attracted the notice and praise of others. Whether it was as a young man with Nebuchadnezzar after he excelled in his training (Daniel 1) or toward the end of his life with Darius (Daniel 6), Daniel modeled Paul’s instruction to the Colossians: to treat every task and every facet of his life as an opportunity to serve God by pursuing excellence in his service to others (Colossians 3:23–24).

And while that unwavering commitment made enemies among those who looked on with jealousy, it also enabled him to share the message of God in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. That, in turn, leads us to our second point of consideration.

Excellence earns the opportunity to share the gospel

While Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans are exceptional singers, the music industry is filled with gifted musicians and they would be among the first to tell you that there are others who can at least rival their vocal abilities. Yet, it’s difficult to see many others being given a platform at a secular award show to spend more than seven minutes singing hymns about the Lord.

Granted, country music tends to be a bit more open to lyrics that speak of God than many other genres, but it is still noteworthy that, on a night when they made a point of celebrating their diversity, the faith often seen at odds with certain elements of that diversity was given such a showcase.

Underwood, however, has spent the better part of two decades building a reputation as one of the industry’s brightest stars, winning sixteen ACM awards throughout her still-thriving career. She has also earned the respect of legends like Dolly Parton, who introduced the performance by saying “I have always admired Carrie’s incredible talent, but I am just as impressed with her personal qualities—compassion, kindness, generosity, and, most of all, the powerful faith that we both share.”

As such, she was given the freedom to “TAKE US TO CHURCH,” as the ACM Awards’ official Twitter account described it. And that’s just what she did, sharing the message of our need for God’s grace, the Lord’s unwavering faithfulness, and his offer of salvation through the gift of “The Old Rugged Cross” before concluding with a powerful invitation to celebrate his greatness.

Everyone who witnesses that performance walks away having encountered the gospel. They may not fully realize it, but the seeds have been planted for the Holy Spirit to work through those lyrics to help people encounter the Lord, perhaps for the first time. And it was her consistent commitment to excellence that earned her that opportunity.

What is your motivation?

A. W. Tozer once wrote that “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”

If we will commit to serving the Lord in excellence, offering our best to him in recognition of the fact that he has offered his best to us, then there is no limit to what he can accomplish through our lives. And each day offers us a new opportunity to do just that.

What will God be able to accomplish through your life today?

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Denison Forum – Derek Chauvin found guilty on all three counts: Two potential dangers against which we must guard

Almost eleven months after George Floyd’s death, a jury of his peers found Derek Chauvin guilty of second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. Sentencing will occur in eight weeks, but his time in prison has already begun.

As one might expect, reactions to the result have varied.

George Floyd’s brother Philonise described it as “a day of celebration” while others, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, stated that the result is “a relief, but the celebration is premature.” Pointing to the decision as a potential turning point in police accountability, Tulsi Gabbard tweeted “Thankfully on the verdict of George Floyd’s murder, justice has prevailed. Moving forward this must be the norm—not the exception.”

President Biden and Vice President Harris praised the decision before quickly pivoting to the work left to be done. And Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison went a step further, stating that the guilty verdict “isn’t justice, it’s just one step towards it;” thoughts echoed by the state’s governor, who added that “justice for George Floyd will come through real systemic change, to prevent this from ever happening again.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Tucker Carlson described the trial’s outcome as the jury’s cry of “Please don’t hurt us.” Candace Owens termed it the result of “mob justice,” pointing to the statement by Rep. Maxine Waters in which she urged protestors to “get more confrontational” in the event of an acquittal as evidence of undue pressures placed on the jury to find Chauvin guilty.

Many more likely find themselves caught somewhere in between: aware that Chauvin’s actions were reprehensible, but perhaps unsure if the outcome of the trial was truly just and mostly just grateful that the proceedings ended with a relatively peaceful response.

Regardless of where you might fall along that spectrum of thought, chances are that it’s relatively close to where you sat before the trial ever began. And while that tendency is natural, especially in a case where so much has been litigated through the media as part of the national discourse for nearly a year, it reveals two potential dangers of which we must be aware.

Don’t trade difficult truths for convenient lies

The first issue is that when we approach a situation with a preconceived notion of what should occur, it becomes very easy to prioritize the truths that best fit with what we want to believe while either ignoring or minimizing those that would challenge our preferred perspective.

For example, those who saw nothing wrong with the calls to violence in the case of an acquittal and argued that they couldn’t have possibly swayed the jury’s conclusions were not viewing the situation objectively. However, those who recognized the potential dangers associated with those threats and concluded that they were the only reason the jury rendered a guilty verdict made a similar error. In both cases, people approached the situation so confident that their point of view was correct, they either distorted or ignored legitimate factors because such realities challenged their preferred understanding of events.

We cannot afford to make that same mistake.

Whether it’s in our response to the Derek Chauvin trial or in any other facet of life, we must remain more committed to the truth than to our preconceived notions.

And every day presents us with the opportunity to do just that. After all, few people in history have defied expectations and circumvented the boxes into which people tried to place him as frequently as the rabbi who preferred the company of sinners over self-proclaimed saints and the messiah who chose the cross over an earthly crown. As Christians called to follow his example, we must avoid the temptation to accept convenient lies over difficult truths, even—and especially—when doing so would better fit with our preferred version of reality.

Shifting goalposts

The second danger against which we must guard is closely related to the first. When we become the foundation upon which our understanding of reality is built, what we want to believe functions as the lens through which we view the world around us. That, in turn, can make it tempting to try to constantly redefine reality to better suit that perspective.

With the Derek Chauvin trial, for example, many of those who have spent the last eleven months rightly crying out for justice on behalf of George Floyd quickly redefined what that justice should look like once the final verdict was read. Floyd became a martyr whose legacy could only be honored if officers involved in other shootings received the same fate as Chauvin or when law enforcement has been completely reformed.

And while the police should be held accountable when they unjustly take a life and there are systemic issues within law enforcement that need to change, shifting the goalposts simply because we need something else to continue driving us and giving us a purpose will ensure that we never experience the peace and fulfillment we crave.

That’s an exhausting way to live.

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” that endless pursuit of our self-defined goals is an example of what he wanted to help us avoid (Matthew 11:28–30). It’s only when we accept his yoke and allow him to steer us toward the goals he desires that we can find real peace and the ability to adapt with our circumstances, rather than try to make them adapt to us.

Shaped by God’s truth

Charles Stanley once said, “We are either in the process of resisting God’s truth or in the process of being shaped and molded by his truth.”

A quick glance at our culture reveals which path most people have chosen, and the results speak for themselves.

As the fallout from the Derek Chauvin trial continues to build over the coming days, let’s choose the better path and allow God’s truth to shape our response and equip us to help others do the same.

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Denison Forum – How will the Derek Chauvin trial end? Why we must pray before we post

Closing arguments were heard yesterday in the trial of Derek Chauvin following three weeks of testimony. It is now up to the jury to decide whether or not Chauvin is guilty of the charges for which he stands accused in relation to his role in the death of George Floyd: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

For many, Chauvin’s guilt was decided as soon as the video of the tragic event went viral shortly after Floyd’s death on May 25th of last year. Chauvin’s fate, however, is not in the hands of the masses but rather in those of twelve of his peers. As such, what they decide over the coming days will reverberate across the nation and around the world in a way that may shape much of the discourse on issues of race, police conduct, and justice for quite some time.

In light of those potential repercussions, today I’d like for us to focus on how we can best pray for those on the jury, the crowds gathered in anticipation of their verdict, and for our fellow believers to respond in accordance with God’s sense of justice rather than our own.

Why only God can be truly just

Justice can often seem like an elusive concept in our culture. Rarely will multiple people look at the same event or the same outcome and come away with a unanimous understanding of what a just response would look like. And while there are many reasons this is the case—varying degrees of personal proximity to the issue, differing views on the need for grace versus accountability, etc.—the chief factor is that God’s justice is measured out according to a fair and accurate understanding of our sins. We, as fallen humans, lack that ability. 

The third chapter of Genesis offers a helpful example of this distinction.

In this chapter, we see God’s response to the sin of Adam and Eve. He addresses directly what they’ve done wrong, disciplines them in a way that reinforces the gravity of their mistake, but does so from a place of holy opposition to sin rather than a desire to see them suffer. 

Now think back to the last time you were hurt or witnessed an event that filled you with anger and the desire to see justice done. Were you able to respond as the Lord did, administering discipline in accordance with the sin committed? Or did your reaction cross that boundary and come from a place of anger or resentment rather than holiness and the desire for redemption?

If it was the latter, the reason is most likely that when anger leads us to action, the result is often akin to a volcano that has been building toward eruption over a long period of time. Whatever or whomever it is that finally leads us across that threshold to action is likely to receive more than their fair share of our wrath.

As Dallas Willard remarked, “The explosion of anger never simply comes from the incident. Most people carry a supply of anger around with them.” As a result, it is next to impossible for us to justly judge the actions of one person or a group of people when our response is likely determined, at least in part, by the unrelated actions of others as well.

Owning those limitations enables us to better understand why we need the Holy Spirit to help us seek God’s justice for a given situation rather than rely on our own.

Embracing that reality will be essential to justice being done with regards to the outcome and aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s trial as well. As such, let’s close for today by looking at three groups for whom we must pray in light of the need for the Lord’s justice to be done, both in the trial’s outcome and in the aftermath that follows.

First, pray for the jurors

The first group for whom we must pray are the jury members who will soon render the verdict that will ultimately decide Chauvin’s fate. Even without the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the trial, determining if the prosecution has presented a strong enough case that the accused should be found guilty would be a challenging task. When factoring in the outside pressure to come to such a conclusion, their job becomes immeasurably more difficult, even if Chauvin should be found guilty.

Couple that with the temptation to judge Chauvin not just for his role in the death of George Floyd but also as a proxy for other high profile police killings, such as with Breonna Taylor, and, more recently, Duante Wright. Limiting their judgment to the case at hand will likely prove a monumental task.

As such, we must pray that the Lord will give them the ability to judge rightly and fairly based on the evidence presented to render a just decision.

Second, pray for the crowds

And the same is true with regards to the crowds in Minnesota and across the country who have gathered in anticipation of the court’s verdict.

Many see the current trial as an extension of the larger, and often valid, problems with police conduct in this country. To them, Derek Chauvin stands accused not just of killing George Floyd but as a representation of the officers who either have already been acquitted or have yet to stand trial for their roles in the deaths of others. As such, their understanding of justice in this case may not line up with that of the Lord’s, even if their assessment of Chauvin is proven correct.

Pray not only that God’s justice will be rendered in the trial, but that it will prove satisfactory to the masses of people who already seem to have determined what that justice should look like. It is an essential responsibility for us today.

That responsibility, in turn, leads to the last point of prayer we must discuss.

Third, pray for yourself and fellow believers

As followers of Christ, we are tasked with being peacemakers in an often unpeaceful world (Matthew 5:9). It’s important to note, however, that being a peacemaker does not mean simply attempting to limit the presence of conflict in a given situation, though we should seek to avoid actions that would escalate it. Rather, it means being the embodiment of God’s presence and an ambassador for his justice in order to help others look to him for the proper perspective in a given situation. 

Over the coming days, it seems likely that conflict will escalate around the country and social media will once again be filled with people who feel the need to express their views on the situation. Our challenge as believers will be to pray before we post and make sure that we run any and all comments through the lens of Scripture and the Holy Spirit before they escape into the larger world. 

So as we conclude, please join me in committing to make prayer a priority throughout the day. Pray for the jury, pray for the crowds, and pray for yourself and your fellow believers. Do so any and every time the Lord places them on your heart or the news brings them to mind. 

Will you start right now?

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Denison Forum – Man runs from Disneyland to Walt Disney World: How to turn our discouragement into God’s transforming strength

Don Muchow recently ran from Disneyland in Southern California to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida—a trip of more than two thousand five hundred miles. He completed his cross-country trek to bring awareness to Type 1 diabetes, a disease with which he has been living since 1972.

Eight years ago, Heather Abbott was standing near the finish line at the Boston Marathon when two bombs exploded. Four days later, her left leg was amputated below the knee. She received a prosthesis for walking, but insurance would not cover additional prostheses for other activities. When she learned of this problem, she created the Heather Abbott Foundation, which has now raised more than $1 million and helped provide customized prosthetic devices to more than forty-two amputees across the US.

Queen Elizabeth II has announced that she will allow self-guided tours of the historic Buckingham Palace gardens for the first time in the palace’s history. Members of the public will be able to enjoy meadows “carpeted with primroses and bluebells . . . flowering camellia, magnolia and azalea shrubs and trees,” according to the press release.

A paradoxical point of redemption

There is good news to celebrate, but there is bad news to grieve as well.

Three people were shot and killed in Austin, Texas, yesterday. Three other people died in a shooting early yesterday morning in Wisconsin.

The global COVID-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as cases surge worldwide. A couple was preparing to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary when the husband was killed in the FedEx mass shooting last Thursday. And a grieving pastor and his wife are asking the public to help police catch whoever killed their daughter in a Birmingham, Alabama, park on Easter Sunday.

Both sides of the news provoke discouragement in me. I cannot run continents, raise millions of dollars for amputees, or offer historic gardens to the public. I cannot stop the pandemic, prevent shootings, or solve the murder in Birmingham.

Here’s the paradoxical point I would like us to consider today: God wants to redeem such discouragement for his highest glory and our greatest good.

This ministry exists to help people respond biblically and redemptively to our fallen culture. But such responses can feel like an exercise in frustration and futility. The moral trajectory of our society is clearly downward; our political divisions are deepening; street violence is threatening; Christian influence seems to be waning.

But when we recognize our inability to make a transforming difference in our broken world, that’s when we can be used by the One who can.

“When I am weak, then I am strong”

Today’s Daily Article was sparked by Br. Todd Blackham’s recent devotional for the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston: “The paradox, the crux of our faith, is God’s power being made perfect in weakness. When we can face the sober reality of our helplessness, our powerlessness over sin and separation from the source of life, that’s when Jesus can step in to lift us up.”

When Paul asked the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” God refused and instead told his apostle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (v. 9b). He had learned the source of transforming strength: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

I believe the greatest challenge we face in engaging our fallen culture lies not in the culture but in ourselves. All that Jesus has ever done, he can still do. All of God there is, is in this moment. But he can do through us only what we allow him to do in us.

Self-reliance constricts the Holy Spirit. He can use fully those who depend fully on him. His best for us is far better than our best for ourselves.

Why God gives us discernment

History turns on tiny hinges formed by sacrificial service.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord took place on this day in 1775. Eight Americans were killed at the Battle of Lexington: John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathan Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzey, Asahel Porter, and Jonas Parker. They died never knowing that their sacrifice would spark the American Revolution and change history.

The next time you encounter something in the news that discourages you, embrace that feeling. Don’t turn off the news or turn away in despair. Instead, name the hopelessness you feel and the inadequacy it incites in your spirit.

Now turn your weakness into a request for God’s strength. Ask him to give you words to pray and say, steps to take, compassion to offer.

Oswald Chambers reminded us that “God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.” When we choose to pray and serve despite all opposition and discouragement, we experience the power of God in ways that will change our lives and our culture.

One of my great privileges as a pastor in Dallas was to develop very close friendships with two other pastors in our community. I was eating lunch with them one day when we began discussing the persecuted church around the world and the joy that believers experience when they suffer for Jesus.

One of my friends made this profound point: “When Christianity is easy, it is hard. When Christianity is hard, it is easy.”

Which is true for you today?

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Denison Forum – Mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis: Five promises we can claim and pray

Eight people were shot and killed and several others injured Thursday night in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Genae Cook told a media briefing that the scene was an active shooter situation when officers arrived just after 11 p.m. local time.

Police reported that the alleged shooter “has taken his own life.” Multiple victims were transported to various hospitals in the area. One person was in critical condition, according to police. 

“This is a sight that no one should see,” Cook told the media briefing. The identity and motive of the shooter have not been released as of this hour, nor have the names of the victims been publicly released. 

Every day could be our last day 

At the moment of this writing, 46,500 people have died so far today. By the time you read these words, the number will have continued to escalate. Death is a present reality every day we live. For example: 

  • On this day in 2017, a college senior killed thirty-two people on the campus of Virginia Tech before taking his own life.
  • On this day in 2014, the South Korean ferry Sewol capsized and sank, killing 304 people, most of whom were high schoolers.
  • On this day in 2011, a Taliban sleeper agent detonated a vest of explosives hidden under his uniform, killing six American soldiers, four Afghan soldiers, and an interpreter.
  • On this day in 1947, a ship carrying ammonium nitrate blew up in the harbor in Texas City, Texas. A nearby ship carrying ammonium nitrate and sulfur caught fire and exploded the following day. The blasts and fires killed nearly six hundred people.
  • On this day in 1945, a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea torpedoed and sank the MV Goya, which Germany was using to transport civilian refugees and wounded soldiers. It is estimated that up to seven thousand people died.

These calamities from the past remind us that every day could be our last day. Tragedies such as the FedEx shooting especially affect us because they strike close to home. While we do not know the motive of the shooter at this time, we do know that what happened at the FedEx building could happen nearly anywhere to nearly anyone. Including you and me. 

What I do not know today 

Does God’s word offer us help and hope as we respond to another mass shooting and as we face our own mortality?  

The Bible explains crimes such as the FedEx shooting as the tragically sinful misuse of human freedom that began in the Garden of Eden and continues today. It promises God’s presence and empathy with all who suffer as a result of such sin or any other calamity in this fallen world. It calls God’s people to be his instruments of intercession, compassion, and ministry for those affected by such tragedy. 

However, it does not tell us why innocent people are so often the victims of sin or calamity that is not their fault. I don’t know why my father died from heart disease at the age of fifty-five or why my oldest son had to suffer from cancer. 

A FedEx employee told reporters after the shooting, “Thank God for being here because I thought I was going to get shot.” What of those who were? 

I do not know why the innocent victims of this tragedy had to suffer and die. I do not know why some survived and others did not. But there is much that I do know that is relevant to us today. 

Five promises we can claim today 

I read daily from Daily Light for Every Day, a compilation of biblical readings by Anne Graham Lotz. Anne writes: “Without fail, the verses selected for a particular day’s reading seem to speak specifically to that day’s needs. In fact, God has spoken to me more often through the verses in Daily Light than through any other book, except the Bible.”  

After reading this morning of the tragedy in Indianapolis, I read verses in her volume for today that teach these life principles: 

One: We can speak to God honestly about our fear, confusion, and doubts. 

David told the Lord, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold: I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me” (Psalm 69:2). We can name our pain and tell God about it. 

Two: We can know that God hears us when we call. 

David testified: “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22). God hears us when we do not hear him. 

Three: We can fight fear with faith. 

The writer of Lamentations said, “Water closed over my head; I said, ‘I am lost.’ I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’” (Lamentations 3:54–57). He offers us the same assurance today. 

Four: When we struggle to find hope in the present, we can remember God’s faithfulness in the past. 

The psalmist asked, “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’” (Psalm 77:7–9). Then he responded: “I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old” (vv. 10–11). 

How has God been faithful to us in the past? Since he does not change (Malachi 3:6), we can claim his faithfulness today. 

Five: We can trust God for a better future in the midst of present tragedy. 

David testified, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:13). Since we are the child of God and nothing can take us from his omnipotent hand (John 10:29), we can claim David’s promise today. 

“Weep with those who weep” 

I invite you to make these promises yours wherever you need the assurance of God’s love and grace in your life today. Then please join me in praying for the victims of the FedEx shooting and their families. Pray that God’s Spirit working through God’s people will make these promises real and relevant for them. Pray for them to have the faith to believe that God is redeeming this tragedy in ways we may see and ways we may not on this side of eternity (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

God’s word calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The Savior who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25) is grieving right now (John 11:35). 

Let’s join him on our knees. 

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Denison Forum – Pro-life activist was nearly aborted: The power of changed lives and encouragement from one of the greatest sermons of the twentieth century

Christianity Today is profiling a woman who was nearly aborted in 1989. Claire Culwell’s mother had an abortion at twenty weeks that killed Claire’s sibling. Soon thereafter, she discovered that she was still pregnant (she had not known she was carrying twins). She returned for a second abortion, but it never took place due to complications from the first.

Claire is now a wife, the mother of four children, and an activist for the cause of life.

In 1989, there were reportedly 1,396,658 abortions in the US. When you read Claire’s story, do you resonate with gratitude that she was not one of them? That sentiment is a God-given belief that every life is intrinsically valuable, a fact Christians call the “sanctity of life” doctrine.

We see this doctrine on display every day. For example, nationwide grief over the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright continues to make headlines. We have seen tributes to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier on this day in 1947.

We have seen the good news that a federal court has upheld an Ohio law banning abortions on babies with Down syndrome. And we have seen the tragic news that a father drowned last Saturday while rescuing two sons from a riptide on the Texas coast.

Each story is another reminder that, as St. Augustine noted, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

Remarkable good news about faith 

I have been making a case for Christian optimism in recent days based on these facts:

  • It is always too soon to give up on God’s grace.
  • Jesus is as active in our world today as when he first rose from the dead.
  • God’s capacity to change our fallen world depends not on our finitude but on his omnipotence.
  • Secularism fails to keep its promises, demonstrating our need for faith in a transcendent God.

Today, let’s consider a fifth factor: our lives are lived best in relationship with our Maker, a fact that demonstrates the abiding relevance of our Lord to our broken world.

As you may know, Gallup recently announced that church membership in America has fallen below 50 percent for the first time. The Boston Globe is responding with two paradoxical reports. One is that “the unwavering faith and passion of true belief is increasingly being channeled not into religious observance but into identity politics and the culture wars.” This can be problematic on a variety of levels.

The other part of the article is far more positive. It states (with links to substantiating research) that “regular worshipers tend to live longer, to suffer lower levels of stress, to have fewer symptoms of depression, and to have better cardiovascular and immune function. Similarly, the data suggests that religious worshipers tend to be happier, to drink less, to have lower rates of drug abuse, and to give to charity and donate blood at above-average rates.”

The article adds: “Amid the uniquely difficult circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey of self-reported health conditions found that Americans who attended religious services regularly were the only demographic group that appeared to avoid a decline in their mental health in 2020.”

It then offers this sobering response: “To the extent that religious practice across America is weakening, it seems only too likely that those benefits will fade too.”

They “recognized that they had been with Jesus” 

It stands to reason that those who experience the “abundant life” of Jesus will demonstrate the results of that life to the world (John 10:10). For example, I was drawn to the Christian faith by the faith of Christians. I did not ask my tenth-grade Sunday school teacher how I could be saved, regenerated, or justified—I asked her how I could have what she had. She sat down with me and led me to Jesus.

When the Spirit fell at Pentecost, Peter declared the word of God just as his Savior had earlier (Acts 2Matthew 5–7). When he and John met a “man lame from birth,” they cared for him just as Jesus had earlier cared for a lame man (Acts 3:1–10John 5:8–9). When Peter and John refused to stop preaching the gospel, the religious authorities saw their “boldness” and “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

If others don’t see the difference Jesus makes in our lives, they have the right to question whether Jesus will make a difference in their lives. Conversely, if we are controlled by the Spirit who empowered our Lord (Ephesians 5:18Acts 10:38), Jesus will fulfill his promise that “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do” (John 14:12).

Here’s the bottom line: if God’s people will seek the power of God’s Spirit to speak God’s word and share God’s love, our lives must inevitably impact our secular culture in ways we can see and ways we cannot.

“Death couldn’t handle him, and the grave couldn’t hold him” 

I was honored to bring the keynote address at the 57th Annual Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday. It was deeply moving to hear Gov. John Bel Edwards describe his faith so personally and to join legislators and Christian leaders as they prayed for their state and our nation. 

The purpose of my address was to invite those present to a deeper commitment to the kingship of Jesus than they had ever known so God can use their influence to shape their culture in transformative ways. I closed with quotations from one of the greatest sermons of the twentieth century, a message delivered by Dr. S. M. Lockridge on the kingship of Jesus. The brilliant preacher said this of our risen Lord:

“He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s preeminent. He’s the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He’s the key of knowledge. He’s the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the gateway of glory. He’s the pathway of peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. 

“The Pharisees couldn’t stand him, but they found out they couldn’t stop him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in him. Herod couldn’t kill him. Death couldn’t handle him, and the grave couldn’t hold him!”

The pastor closed with this declaration: 

“He’s the master of the mighty. He’s the captain of the conquerors. He’s the head of the heroes. He’s the leader of the legislatures. He’s the overseer of the overcomers. He’s the governor of governors. He’s the prince of princes. He’s the King of kings, and he’s the Lord of lords. That’s my king!”

Is he your king?

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Denison Forum – Woman refuses to return $1.2 million after clerical error: A fascinating article by a religious skeptic and the empowering privilege of intercession

By Dr. Jim Denison

Imagine receiving $1.2 million in your brokerage account as the result of a clerical error. What would you do?

Here’s what Kelyn Spadoni of suburban New Orleans allegedly did: she refused to return the funds, moving them instead into a different account so the bank could not reclaim them, then used some of the money to buy a new car and a house. She has been taken into custody and was fired from her job as a dispatcher for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. So far, about 75 percent of the money has been recovered.

Her story is a parable for a secular society that is spending the cultural “funds” we received from our Judeo-Christian heritage but refuses to acknowledge our debt. This refusal is growing more serious and damaging by the day.

For example, the Supreme Court ruled last Friday that California cannot bar meetings of more than three families from worshipping in a private home. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the decision is the fifth time the Court has overruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on pandemic orders against worship, as an exasperated majority points out.” The Journal editorial adds: “The willfulness of the lower courts in defying the High Court underscores how much religious liberty needs protecting against the militant secular values that now dominate American public life.”

Many secularists think religious liberty is about the right to be wrong, an appeal to an outdated constitutional mandate that protected what educated people now know to be superstition at best and dangerous prejudice at worse. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, many cultural elites are “committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life.” 

But we should ask: Does this “moral vision” work? Does it deliver what it promises? A fascinating article by a religious skeptic offers a perceptive answer.

“Life without fellowship and shared meaning” 

John Harris is a columnist with the Guardian, a British publication, and a nonbeliever. He is also brutally honest about the results of his skepticism during the pandemic: “Like millions of other faithless people, I have not even the flimsiest of narratives to project on to what has happened, nor any real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death.” 

As an irreligious person, he believes that the value of religious community lies in community rather than religion, focusing on the way religious people sing, pray, and eat together. He asserts that “rediscovering things need not be a matter of finding God,” claiming that secular society can provide similar structures for dealing with society’s problems.

This is an understandable position for someone who does not know God, but it’s completely wrong. Harris doesn’t understand that Christians gather and serve in community because we know God and thus find unity in him and fellowship with each other. Our Savior empowers us to forgive each other, love each other, and serve with each other.

Imagine people standing along the walls of a room with a chair in the center. The closer they draw to the chair, the closer they draw to each other. 

Harris concludes honestly: “For many of us, life without God has turned out to be life without fellowship and shared meaning—and in the midst of the most disorienting, debilitating crisis most of us have ever known, that social tragedy now cries out for action.” 

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” 

In recent days, I have been outlining a case for Christian optimism: (1) it is too soon to give up on God’s grace; (2) the risen Christ can do anything he has done before, including the transforming of our lives and culture; and (3) God’s ability to change our fallen world depends not on our capacities but on his. 

Today, let’s add a fourth component: secularism inevitably fails to keep its promises, demonstrating our need for faith in a transcendent God. 

A Gallup poll recently reported that socialism is as popular as capitalism among young adults in the US. Baby boomers, by contrast, prefer capitalism to socialism by 68 percent to 32 percent. That’s because we remember the decadence and corruption of the Soviet Union and other socialist states. Those who have lived in socialism are among its most ardent critics

Having been to Cuba ten times, I can testify that socialism simply does not work. A system that excludes biblical truth and morality is a house built on sand (Matthew 7:26–27). Solomon issued a warning that is especially relevant to our culture today: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). 

An amazing fact for Ramadan 

The inevitable decline and decay of secularism does not justify inaction on the part of Christians, since this slippery slope will claim many victims along the way. To the contrary, you and I need to intercede for our lost culture boldly and compassionately, knowing that every soul for whom we pray is someone for whom Jesus chose to die. 

In fact, the greater the spiritual need, the more passionate our intercession should be. When Jesus saw that the people “were like sheep without a shepherd,” he “had compassion on them” and “began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). John asked, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). 

Here’s the good news: when we pray for people to come to Christ, God works. 

In light of the start of Ramadan yesterday, theologian Ed Stetzer reports that 84 percent of all Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred during the last thirty years. He notes that this should not be surprising since the Muslim World Prayer Guide began thirty years ago. My friends at GFM Ministries have served more than two million Muslims and have led more than 348,000 into Christian discipleship. Their ministry begins with intercession for Muslims, then God shows them how to answer their prayers with their service. 

Will you pray today for our secular culture to experience the spiritual renewal we need so desperately? 

Will you pray for a secular person you know in the same way? 

Will you ask God to use you to answer your prayer?

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Denison Forum – Judge rules that Christian club can have Christian leaders: Why our faith is key to experiencing the power of God

Let’s begin with good news you wouldn’t think to be news: a Christian club in Michigan can legally require its leaders to be Christians.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a student ministry that provides community and Bible studies on college and university campuses. It has been part of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, for seventy-five years. The club is open to all students, but it requires its leaders to agree with the organization’s statement of faith. 

As the Becket Fund noted, Wayne State “rightly allows fraternities to have only male leaders, female athletic clubs to have only female members, and African-American clubs to have only African-American leaders.” However, it claimed that a Christian club should not be able to have only Christian leaders, deeming InterVarsity’s leadership policies “discriminatory” and de-registering the club in 2017. 

Judge Robert H. Cleland of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled last week that the university’s actions “strike at the heart” of the First Amendment and are “obviously odious to the Constitution.” He added that the school’s attempts to dictate the club’s leadership are “categorically barred by the Constitution.” 

Prince Philip’s “wonderful knowledge of the Bible” 

This is not the only good news in the news. Premier Christian News is reporting that Prince Philip encouraged Queen Elizabeth II to talk more about her Christian faith ahead of her Christmas broadcast in 2000. Those who knew him well were not surprised. 

The Rev. Prof. Ian Bradley has preached where the queen attends services when staying at Balmoral, her estate in Scotland. He told Premier that Prince Philip “would note down all the details of the sermon.” He added that Philip “had a wonderful knowledge of the Bible, and then he would sort of quiz you at lunchtime, ask you about your sermon and really put you on your mettle.”

Rev. Bradley stated: “I was amazed at his biblical knowledge. I mean, we sat up one evening, talked almost far into the night about biblical references to the environment, his great interest, of course. He was very well steeped in the Bible.” 

Many of us were unfamiliar with Prince Philip’s faith or Judge Cleland’s decision in favor of religious freedom. But our lack of knowledge makes these stories no less real. We serve a God who “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness” (1 Corinthians 4:5). 

In other words, God is working to advance his kingdom in ways we may not see. We should never judge his omniscience by our fallen minds (Isaiah 55:8–9) or his omnipotence by our finitude (Matthew 19:26). 

The power of God and a personal confession 

In recent days, I have been suggesting a case for Christian optimism based in the fact that it is always too soon to give up on God and that the risen Christ can still do anything he has ever done before. Our problem is that we tend to measure God’s capacities by ours, assuming that we are experiencing all that he is doing. 

Ernst Troeltsch, a nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theologian, famously argued by his “principle of analogy” that there is “an essential similarity between our humanity and the humanity of the past period.” This approach to historiography examines reports of the past through the prism of the present. If people don’t walk on water today, Jesus and Peter did not walk on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22–33). If bodies don’t rise from the dead today, Jesus did not rise from the dead. 

This mindset affects biblical Christians more than we might think. 

In the first church I pastored, a woman came to our Wednesday night prayer meeting with the news that she had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. We prayed fervently for her healing. She returned in three weeks with the news that the cancer was gone. I will confess to you my first thought: I was glad the doctors got it wrong. 

A young pastor complained to Charles Spurgeon that people were not responding to his sermons. Spurgeon said, “You don’t expect them to respond every time you preach, do you?” The young man assured the great preacher that he did not. Spurgeon replied, “That’s why they do not.” 

“I began to suspect that life itself has a plot” 

With God, we often get what we expect. Not because our faith limits God in any way, but because our faith limits our capacity to receive all that God intends to give. 

It is hard to pray for miracles if we don’t expect miracles. It is hard to obey the word of God if we don’t expect God to keep his word. 

Oswald Chambers was right: “Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey him.” But we must obey him. 

Chambers added: “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” If the second phrase is true for us, the first is irrelevant. 

The Secret Service agent who saved a president 

Jerry Parr was nine years old when he saw the 1939 film, Code of the Secret Service. The actor playing agent Brass Bancroft was a young man named Ronald Reagan. At that moment, Parr dreamed of becoming a Secret Service agent. 

Parr went on to achieve his dream. Reagan went on to become president of the United States. 

On March 30, 1981, Parr was escorting Reagan to his limousine outside the Washington Hilton hotel when an assailant opened fire. After shoving the president into the car, Parr made the decision to take him to George Washington University Hospital. First Lady Nancy Reagan later credited Parr with saving her husband’s life. 

If you and I will stay faithful to the last word we heard from God and open to the next, he will use us in ways we may never anticipate. We cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness. 

Will you judge God’s capacity to use you by your abilities or by his?

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Denison Forum – The death of Prince Philip: Continuing the case for Christian optimism

Buckingham Palace announced Friday that Prince Philip had died at the age of ninety-nine.

His story is truly remarkable. He was born on the Greek island of Corfu, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. His uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, was forced to abdicate the throne in 1922. The family fled just ahead of a riotous mob, smuggling the eighteen-month-old prince out of Greece in an orange crate they converted into a makeshift crib. 

Philip and the future Queen Elizabeth II first met as children at the wedding of his cousin in 1934. They met again at Dartmouth Royal Naval College and began corresponding while he served in the Mediterranean and Pacific Fleets during World War II. 

The two were married when she turned twenty-one. He served his adopted country for more than seventy-five years. By the time of his death, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements, delivered 5,493 speeches, and served as the patron of 800 charitable organizations. 

The queen has described being left with a “huge void in her life” after his death, their son Andrew said yesterday. Prince Philip’s funeral is planned for next Saturday at Windsor Castle. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ceremony will be limited to thirty mourners with no public processions or viewings. 

“Did not our hearts burn within us?” 

I have been an Anglophile for many years. I have visited Westminster Abbey numerous times, the church where Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth were married in 1947. I have visited their homes at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I have even watched every episode of every season of The Crown. But I never had the privilege of knowing Prince Philip personally. 

The same can happen for us with Jesus. Two people who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus knew all about him—that he was “a prophet mighty in deed and word” (Luke 24:19), that he had been crucified (v. 20), and that many had hoped he would be their Messiah (v. 21). They had even heard the report that he was alive (v. 23). However, they did not know him (v. 16). 

But when Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27) and led them in prayer and worship (v. 30), “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (v. 31). Then they told each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32). 

Their story is in God’s word because it can be our story. It is possible to know Jesus in the same way I knew Prince Philip—familiar with the facts of his life and respectful of his influence in the world. But knowing about someone is not the same as knowing them. 

Do you remember a time when you asked Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Savior and Lord? That was the time you established a personal, saving relationship with him. If you don’t remember making such a commitment, I urge you to do so today. (For more, please see my website article, “Why Jesus?“) 

If you have established a personal relationship with Jesus, how would he describe that relationship today? To draw closer to him, do what these two did: listen to him in his word and meet with him in worship. Ask his Spirit to show you anything that is blocking your relationship with him and confess what comes to your thoughts. Then ask Jesus to make himself more real to you than ever before, knowing that he wants such intimacy with you even more than you do with him. 

“The Bible says to take strength from weakness” 

Last Friday, I offered a case for Christian optimism based on the fact that none of us knows when our Lord will return. If we give up on our culture, our pessimism will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result, we must believe, pray, and work for the spiritual awakening our culture so desperately needs while leaving the results and the timing of God’s judgment to him. 

Today, let’s add this fact: All that Jesus has ever done, he can still do. As a result, all that his followers have ever done, his followers can still do.

If Jesus could transform Peter from a despondent failure into the preacher of Pentecost, he can transform any life. If his followers, empowered by his Spirit, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 KJV), we can do the same.

The chaplain of the House of Representatives recently followed the example of the apostles before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29–32). When the House approved a coronavirus relief package almost entirely on party lines, she prayed in their presence: “Forgive them, all of them. For when called upon to respond to a once-in-a-century pandemic that has rocked our country, upended its economy and widened the chasm of partisan opinion, they have missed the opportunity to step above the fray and unite to attend to this national crisis.” 

A street preacher in Brazil has been following the apostolic example in praying for the sick with passion and compassion (cf. Acts 9:36–4128:7–9). He is leading his people in ministry to COVID-19 patients by standing outside their hospitals while lifting their voices in worship and intercession. “The Bible says to take strength from weakness,” he explains. “We sing and pray because our voice can bring assurance of the love of God to those taking their last breaths.” 

A predominantly white congregation in St. Louis recently followed the inclusive example of early Christians (cf. Galatians 3:28). After his church made a $100,000 contribution to a predominantly Black congregation, the pastor explained: “Any time you begin to do life together with somebody who’s different than you, you get different perspectives. You get different histories and you begin to create a shared history together.” 

Joining Jesus on the way to Emmaus 

The best way to convince a skeptical culture that Christ is relevant to our challenges is for Christians to be relevant to our challenges. The best way for Christians to be relevant to others is for Christ to be relevant to us. 

I invite you to join Jesus on the road to Emmaus today. Listen to his voice in his word; spend time with him in worship; ask him to make himself real to you and then through you. 

A case for Christian optimism rests on the fact that Christ is as fully alive and as powerfully active today as when he first walked our planet. William Carey, the father of the modern missions movement, was therefore right when he encouraged his followers to “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

Let’s do both today, to the glory of God.

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Denison Forum – Post-pandemic cosmetic procedures and escalating depression: Making a counterintuitive case for Christian optimism

I am writing today to make a case for Christian optimism.

My argument is not based on post-pandemic hopes, though the International Monetary Fund predicts a remarkable global economy this year and people are already discovering exercise routines and cosmetic procedures intended to help them look their best as they reenter society. 

Nor do I intend to ignore evidence to the contrary such as the horrific mass shootings in Bryan, Texas, and in South Carolina or the record-high violence by Islamic extremists in Africa. The CDC estimates that more people died of drug overdoses in the twelve months ending in August 2020 (the latest figures available) than ever before in a single year. The pandemic sent rates of depression and anxiety soaring. We are facing attacks on religious liberty that threaten the nature of our democracy in a time of growing secularization.

My case for Christian optimism transcends the good and bad news in the news. In brief, I want to convince you that negativism and pessimism are self-fulfilling prophecies that have no place in a biblical worldview.

“Seek the welfare of the city”

Jeremiah 29 finds the Jewish people exiled in Babylon. The Lord sends them a message that must have shocked them: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). 

Like them, we are called to pray for our nation and her leaders, whoever they are (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Our call to “honor everyone” includes the injunction to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). We are to serve Jesus by serving those in need (Matthew 25:35–40) and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), beginning in our Jerusalem and extending to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

God calls us to pray and work for the salvation of all because he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). 

This does not mean that all “reach repentance” or “come to the knowledge of the truth.” To the contrary, Jesus stated clearly that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). In the final judgment, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Are we the last generation? 

We may be the last generation before judgment. We may be living in that generation that refuses to repent and return to God and is so far gone, a holy Lord has no choice but to judge us. As is often said, if God does not bring judgment against America, he owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.

But we may not be that generation. It may not be too late. It may be that many in our nation will turn to God in repentance leading to genuine spiritual awakening.

Every spiritual awakening in American history was preceded by desperation. Perhaps the immorality and spiritual destitution of our day will turn God’s people to him with passionate humility and intercession that sparks the awakening we need.

However, if we decide beforehand that it is too late for America, obviously we will not pray and work for America to turn to God. We will not risk our social status by standing for biblical morality in our anti-Christian culture. We will not share Christ with those who are likely to reject us and our witness. We will not pay a price to take the light of Jesus to the darkness of our world (Matthew 5:14–16). 

In this case, giving up on America will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If God’s people stop sharing God’s truth and standing for God’s word, the lost culture will obviously become more lost. The light will stay under a basket while the darkness persists. 

This is not our decision. You and I have no right to tell God that our nation is too far gone and that we will no longer pray and work for the spiritual awakening America needs. No one but God knows the final “day and hour” (Matthew 24:36). Our job is to stay faithful to our kingdom calling until Jesus calls us to heaven or returns to earth.

Choosing a “culture of #JOY” 

I plan to continue this discussion on Monday. For today, let’s close with examples of God’s work demonstrating that he’s not yet finished with us. 

Churches across America baptized multitudes of new believers during last Sunday’s Easter services. So long as we can partner with the Spirit in bringing the lost to Jesus, we must. 

World Vision announced recently that its COVID-19 response reached fifty-nine million people (twenty-six million of them children) with compassionate aid and the good news of the gospel. So long as we can meet needs in Jesus’ name, we must. 

The Scottish Parliament has congratulated evangelical churches and ministries for their service supporting people and communities in need throughout the pandemic. So long as we can glorify our Lord by sharing his love, we must. 

The official Twitter account of the Baylor University men’s basketball team states: “Culture of #JOY.” Head Coach Scott Drew explained after his team won the national title last Monday: “Our joy is Jesus, Others, Yourself.”

Will you choose this “joy” today?

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Denison Forum – Why Baylor Coach Scott Drew is such an appealing Christian: Three steps to conversations that affect eternity

Scott Drew is one of the most appealing Christians in America these days. As the head coach of the Baylor University men’s basketball team, which won the NCAA championship in convincing fashion Monday night, he is understandably in the media spotlight. In stories about the team and their victory, Coach Drew’s faith almost always comes up.

For example, Sports Illustrated quotes ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who said of him: “He has an optimism, a sense of faith and a sense of family and togetherness that is real. People said early on he’s a phony; he’s a charlatan. But the more you see it, you know it’s real stuff. He’s like that Sunday school preacher, but he believes what he’s preaching. Optimism, with him, is like breathing.”

Such an attractive witness is especially vital in a day when evangelical Christians are being assailed on all sides. From lawsuits alleging discrimination on Christian campuses to accusations of right-wing political agendas to escalating threats against religious liberty, believers need to defend what we believe with urgency and compassion.

Yesterday, we discussed the priority of biblical thinking and God’s call to stand for biblical truth. Today, let’s look at practical ways to answer his call.

One: Choose courage before courage is required 

We will frame today’s conversation in light of Acts 17 and Paul’s transformative encounters with the Greco-Roman culture of his day. From his experiences, we find a roadmap for effective engagement with our post-Christian culture.

The chapter opens with Paul’s experience in Thessalonica, where he and his followers faced a mob that falsely accused them of insurrection against Rome (vv. 1–9). Here we learn that standing for biblical truth often requires us to stand against untruth, commitments that often come at a significant cost.

Paul made the decision to stand courageously for his Lord long before he reached Thessalonica. Jesus warned him shortly after his conversion, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). In nearly every city he visited in the Book of Acts, Jesus’ prediction came true.

Paul knew that his strength came not from himself but from his Lord. That’s why he could testify, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And he could state, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). He knew that he needed the Spirit to guide him, use him, and protect him. So do we.

Before we go any further, would you stop and ask Jesus for the strength and courage you will need to stand for his word today? 

Two: Invite people to consider biblical truth 

Back to Acts 17. After Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica, he and his team traveled to Berea, where they began ministry in the synagogue there (v. 10). Luke reports: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (v. 11). As a result, “Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (v. 12). 

From the Bereans we learn a second principle: invite people to investigate biblical truth. 

You and I cannot convict people of sin or save souls; this is the work of God’s Spirit (John 16:8–11). Our job is to present the truth and invite people to consider its claims on their lives. When we do so in an open, winsome, conversational way, they are often more receptive than if they feel pressured by us. 

Charles Spurgeon noted: “The gospel is like a caged lion; you don’t have to defend it—just let it out of the cage.” If we will share God’s word in the power of God’s Spirit, answering questions as they arise in a spirit of genuine inquiry, God will use us to plant eternal seeds of truth in the souls we encounter.

Would you invite God’s Spirit to lead you as you share God’s word with those you meet today? 

Three: Show people their need for biblical truth

Now we follow Paul to Athens, where he was invited to address the Areopagus, the intellectual leaders of the leading intellectual capital of the day (vv. 19–21). He began his address by referring to an altar he had discovered in their city with the inscription, “To the unknown God” (v. 23a). He stated, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (v. 23b).

Paul proceeded to use reason in sharing the gospel with these rationalists. He showed them the illogic of believing that the God who made the universe would live in manmade temples such as they had constructed in their city (vv. 24–25). Next, he quoted their poets’ declarations that we are made by God as his offspring (v. 28) and exposed the contradiction of worshiping such a personal God as if he were “like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (v. 29).

The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers he addressed (v. 18) prided themselves on their logical consistency. By showing them the flaws in their reasoning, he opened the door to explain to them the logical and reasonable conclusion: the God who made them and everything else now calls them to repent and turn to him before facing judgment for their mistakes (vv. 30–31). 

Here Paul employed what is known as the “apagogic” task, which Merriam-Webster defines as “proceeding by the method of disproving the proposition that contradicts the one to be established.” He knew that people will seldom consider biblical truth unless they first believe they need biblical truth. If their beliefs are true and trustworthy, why would they change them?

Are you willing to help people face the (perhaps difficult) truth that they need to know the truth?

An hour on a train 

We’ll continue tomorrow with two more practical steps. For today, let’s close with a question that was asked of the famed apologist Francis Schaeffer: “What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you just had an hour to talk to him about the gospel?” Schaeffer replied, “I’ve said over and over, I would spend forty-five to fifty minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma—that he is morally dead—then I’d take ten to fifteen minutes to preach the gospel.” 

Schaeffer explained: “I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God.” 

The Holy Spirit knows the heart of every lost person you know and wants to use us to lead them to salvation. However, we must choose to be courageous in sharing God’s word and helping them see their need for biblical truth.

Are you available to be used by God’s Spirit today?

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Denison Forum – The Los Angeles Times publishes Easter articles attacking Easter faith: Three steps to biblical thinking for biblical living

There was a day when Easter Sunday elicited cover stories and headlines on Easter themes in American media. I remember sympathetic biographies of biblical figures along with reflective essays on the abiding lessons of Jesus’ resurrection.

Things have changed.

The Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed for Easter Sunday titled, “How Christians came to believe in heaven, hell and the immortal soul.” Written by Bart Ehrman, one of the most notorious anti-Christian critics in contemporary culture, it is an astonishingly false portrait of Judeo-Christian faith and history. The book on which the essay is based has already been soundly debunked, but many who read Ehrman’s Easter article may nonetheless be persuaded by the falsehoods it perpetrates.

Two days earlier, the Los Angeles Times published a different op-ed, this one for Good Friday. Titled “Why America’s record godlessness is good news for the nation,” the article responds to the recent Gallup report that church membership has fallen below 50 percent for the first time.

The author celebrates what he calls “organic secularization,” by which “members of a society become better educated, more prosperous, and live safer, more secure and more peaceful lives” and thus turn from religion. In his view, “highly secular democracies” do a “much better job” of meeting human needs than faith-based charities. As a result, he concludes that we should celebrate the growing secularism of our day.

The author ignores the remarkable growth among evangelical and conservative churches and ministries in our day. Nor does he take note of the seminal work by Robert D. Putnam and David Brooks, among others, which highlight the social connections that are especially strengthened in religious communities. And he dismisses the relevance of “a heavenly reward that fewer and fewer of us believe in,” as if our personal beliefs (or lack thereof) change eternal reality.

The two anti-Christian articles have this in common: both were published on two of the most significant holy days in the Christian year. And both are based on selective arguments that conflate personal opinion with objective truth.

Christians who were intellectual giants 

As intellectual attacks on Christian faith and practice continue to escalate, it is vital that Christians respond with intellectual passion and compassion. Such a commitment is nothing new for us. In fact, the rational and reasonable nature of our faith has been foundational to its transformative effect across Christian history.

Scholar Stanley Jaki demonstrated conclusively that modern science was “stillborn” in other cultures but came to life in the fertile soil of Christian reason. The list of great scientists who were also committed Christians is both large and inspiring.

Women were some of the greatest heroes in Scripture, as Shannon Bream shows in her powerful book, The Women of the Bible Speak. From the early church to today, women have excelled as theologians and leaders.

Hans Küng’s seminal book, Great Christian Thinkers, was enormously influential and encouraging. J. R. R. Tolkien’s role in leading C. S. Lewis to faith in Christ stands as just one example of an intellectual giant who influenced an intellectual giant.

Biblical thinking for biblical living 

How can we stand for biblical truth with clarity and compassion today? 

First, make a daily commitment to love God with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). 

God’s call still resounds today: “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). This is a present-tense imperative, a daily checklist of God’s continuing commands to each of us each day. 

According to the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, only 9 percent of US adults read the Bible daily. Are you in their number?

Second, immerse your mind in God’s word (John 17:17). 

God’s word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). This means that Scripture will instruct us in the right path, stop us when we choose the wrong path, set us in the right direction again, and keep us there. 

As a result, it is vital that we meet God every morning in his word and then consult biblical truth as we face decisions and challenges all through the day. Biblical thinking leads to biblical living. Was this your experience yesterday? Will it be today?

Third, respond to falsehood with biblical truth (1 Peter 3:15–16). 

Paul’s commitment should be ours: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). To destroy means to refute. Arguments refers to truth claims; lofty opinion refers to arrogant thinking. Raised against the knowledge of God means to be opposed to what God has revealed.

After refuting all such falsehoods, we are called to take every thought captive, meaning literally to “capture” each and every thought. We do this to obey Christ and his word, heeding Paul’s testimony as God’s commission to us.

A dear friend of mine has taught his children how to watch television and movies biblically: they compete to “spot the lie” whenever they see something unbiblical. Imagine the difference if all of us did the same for ourselves and those we influence. 

“Did not our hearts burn within us?” 

Tomorrow, I plan to discuss practical ways you and I can respond biblically to unbiblical truth claims. For today, let’s renew our commitment to thinking biblically. 

On the first Easter, the risen Christ who met the disciples on the road to Emmaus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In response, they later said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32). 

When last did your heart burn within you? Why not today?

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Denison Forum – Kanakuk Kamps and the urgency of accountability: Salvation in three tenses and the peril of Christless Christianity

The United Nations has condemned a bombing at an Indonesian church on Palm Sunday, an attack that wounded twenty people. Turkey is expelling Christian pastors as its leaders continue their move from democracy to Islamic nationalism. 

Closer to home, a group of college students is suing the US Department of Education, seeking to eliminate the religious exemption that enables Christian colleges to align their practices with historic Christian doctrine. Baylor University is among more than two dozen faith-based schools named in the class-action lawsuit. 

However, the greatest threats to the church are not from without but from within.

“There is no statute of limitations on truth” 

Kanakuk Kamps is one of the largest Christian camps in the world. Since its founding in 1926, it claims to have served more than 450,000 campers. Each summer, approximately twenty thousand kids pass through its gates outside of Branson, Missouri, and in other locations. Numerous families in the churches I pastored have had wonderful experiences with Kanakuk. 

Now, tragically, Kanakuk is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. 

Former Kanakuk director Pete Newman went to prison in 2010 for abusing boys. Nineteen victims were identified in the initial investigation against him. However, Christian journalists David and Nancy French recently published an extensive article noting that the damage could be far worse. 

They describe Newman as enormously charismatic: “Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him, and children wanted to follow him.” However, as they note in deeply disturbing detail, he abused boys in camp cabins, in the gym, in the pool, in the showers, on father-son retreats, and on a mission trip to China. They report that camp leaders were extremely slow to respond to rising allegations against him. 

A site called “Facts About Kanakuk” lists other former Kanakuk staff and associates who have been convicted of sexual abuse of minors. Christianity Today reports that one of Newman’s victims died by suicide in 2019. 

It also notes that Kananuk has since put on child protection training seminars for leaders from more than four hundred and fifty fellow Christian camps and ministry organizations. Kanakuk now lists detailed guidelines regarding contact, interaction, and conversations which staff members can have with campers. 

However, David and Nancy French note that the number of Kanakuk victims who have come forward remains unknown since many cases were settled with nondisclosure agreements. They explain the reason for their report: “There is no statute of limitations on truth.”

A catastrophic weakness in our theology 

Any biblical response should begin with the fact that God loves children and condemns anyone who victimizes them. Jesus stated bluntly that for such a predator, “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). The abuse of a single child anywhere in the world grieves the heart of our Father and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. 

Why, then, would a camp run by evangelical Christians be susceptible to such horrific sin? It seems to me that evangelicals suffer from a catastrophic weakness in our theology.

We know that salvation is in three tenses: 

  1. We have been saved from condemnation as sinners and granted salvation as the children of God. 
  2. We are being saved through the process of daily sanctification. 
  3. And we will be saved from physical death to eternal life in heaven. 

We know that we must depend on God for the first and third tenses of salvation. We cannot save ourselves from our sins (Ephesians 2:8–9). We obviously cannot save ourselves from physical death once we die and are dependent on God to raise us to eternal life with him (John 11:25–26). 

However, we all too easily ignore the fact that we are just as dependent on God for the second tense of salvation. We fall prey to the lies of our fallen culture that promote self-sufficiency and reward external success. This is true of charismatic figures like Pete Newman, brilliant communicators like Ravi Zacharias, and trendsetting innovators like Bill Hybels. Too many leaders forget that “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1) and that “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). 

The body of Christ is complicit here. The more famous a Christian leader becomes, the less we seem to hold them accountable for the sins to which all people are tempted. We want heroes to value and emulate and resist our biblical responsibility to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). 

So long as this cycle of accountability avoidance continues, more tragedies will make more headlines, dishonoring our Lord and grieving his heart.

“Encourage one another and build one another up” 

This is where Easter becomes especially relevant. 

On the day after billions of Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fact is that he is just as alive and active as he was when he first rose from the grave. He is just as committed to interceding for us (Romans 8:34), walking with us (Matthew 28:20), forgiving us (1 John 1:9), and empowering us (Acts 1:8) as when he first walked our broken world. 

But we, like his first followers, must choose to follow him. We must admit Jesus was right when he told us, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We must submit to his Spirit each day and all through the day (Ephesians 5:18). We must ask him to make us like himself (Romans 8:29) “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). 

We must hold each other accountable to God’s best for us (Proverbs 27:17) as we “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We must start every day by admitting how much we need Jesus to empower us by his omnipotent grace.

Christless Christianity is no Christianity at all. 

Alexander Maclaren was right: “The risen life of Jesus is the nourishment and strengthening and blessing and life of a Christian.” 

Will you invite the risen Lord to be glorified in your life today? 

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