Tag Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – How James Bond got his name: Summarizing effective ministry in seven words

The trailer for No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, came out yesterday. The previous movies in the franchise have generated more than $7 billion in worldwide box office sales.

Have you ever wondered how the iconic spy got his name?

Ian Fleming, the writer of the novels that birthed the movie franchise, was an avid bird-watcher. On a trip to Jamaica after World War II, he noticed a book on birds of the West Indies by an ornithologist from Philadelphia named James Bond.

Years later, Fleming wrote to Mr. Bond’s wife: “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.”

However, like a spy novel, there’s a twist to the story. It turns out, an intelligence officer named James Bond served under Fleming in a secret elite unit that led a guerrilla war against Hitler. James Charles Bond, a metalworker from Wales, died in 1995 without revealing his spy past.

His family suspects that Fleming used the bird-watching James Bond to protect the identity of the real James Bond.

What Avengers: Endgame earned overseas

One of the reasons I pay attention to popular movies is that their popularity reveals so much about us.

Sean Connery’s British secret agent first appeared during the height of Cold War paranoia and offered us the assurance in film after film that the West could defeat the Soviets. In the decades since, James Bond has taken on our most frightening enemies and saved the world with his unique mixture of brash courage and technological wizardry.

The Westerns of the 1930s gave us solitary heroes who inspired us during the Great Depression. The comic-book superhero films of recent years typically make far more money overseas than they do in America, highlighting the global nature of our economy and the exporting of Western culture. (Avengers: Endgame earned more than $817 million domestically but more than $1.9 billion overseas.)

As long as our culture needs heroes, Hollywood will supply them. At least, the fictional kind.

“It is in the dark where he seems to visit most often”

Yesterday we discussed the existential crises facing our world and God’s call to demonstrate his love to hurting people. Today, we’ll explore a real-world strategy to do just that.

The key is to find a need and meet it with the love of Christ. The greater the need, the greater the opportunity.

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Denison Forum – Greg Abbott responds to ‘God put you in a wheelchair’ tweet: Paying the price to change someone’s life today

 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott was paralyzed from the waist down in 1984 when an oak tree fell on him as he was jogging in Houston. He has since made overcoming adversity one of the themes of his public life.

For instance, he recently tweeted a video of a young man in a wheelchair climbing an indoor wall with the caption, “Never quit. Never give up. Overcome any challenge.” A person replied, “So great to see but if I ever end up in a wheelchair I’m just ending it.” The governor responded: “That’s what I thought before I ended up in a wheelchair. I’ve done more AFTER the accident that left me paralyzed than before that accident. With God all things are possible.”

Someone then tweeted back to the governor: “God put you in a wheelchair Greg.” Gov. Abbott replied, “God didn’t cause the accident that left me paralyzed, but He did help me persevere over that enormous challenge.”

He added: “I’m a testament that the glory of God is revealed by a young man’s back being broken in half and still rising up to be Governor of Texas. With God all is possible.”

How Luka Doncic changed a boy’s life

Greg Abbott is not the only public figure making news for the right reasons.

Prior to scoring twenty-seven points and leading his team to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic met with twenty-two-month-old Kris Zudich and his family. The reason: Doncic helped raise more than $2.2 million so the boy could get medical treatment at UCLA for a rare muscle condition.

Three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, are working with Dallas-based Topgolf and the International Justice Mission (IJM) to raise awareness on modern-day slavery, especially in the area of sex-trafficking. The Kershaws recently traveled to the Dominican Republic with IJM. They operate Kershaw’s Challenge, which benefits schools in West Dallas and Los Angeles, children in Zambia and, most recently, the Dominican.

And San Francisco 49ers star cornerback Richard Sherman recently donated more than $7,000 to help eradicate a middle school’s lunch debt. Earlier this year, his foundation donated $20,000 to Tacoma Public Schools for the same purpose.

Responders to terrorist are “truly the best of us”

Their stories remind us that making a real difference in the world comes at a cost.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Greg Abbott responds to ‘God put you in a wheelchair’ tweet: Paying the price to change someone’s life today

Denison Forum – From ‘Christmas Parade’ to ‘Winter Parade’: Two ways to experience the power of Christ this Christmas season

Charleston, West Virginia, has held an old-fashioned downtown Christmas Parade for many years. In early October, the city’s official Facebook page announced: “The Charleston Winter Parade will begin at the corner of the Kanawha Boulevard and Capitol Street.”

Their recently elected mayor made the change to signal that their city was a place for people of all faiths and cultures. However, that is not how many residents saw her decision. City council members learned about the name change when everyone else did. Then they began hearing from constituents who were upset.

On the third day after the mayor’s announcement, she changed her position and the Christmas Parade was back on.

A “Capitol Holiday Tree” and “Merry Coffee” cups

Divisions over Christmas seem to be escalating as our culture’s secularism escalates.

Here are two examples in the news: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has renamed the state’s Christmas tree the “Capitol Holiday Tree.” And Starbucks recently unveiled new seasonal cups for the holidays, none of which uses the word Christmas.

Two of them say “Merry Coffee.” Each cup’s sleeve displays the words, “We wish you a merry coffee.” (A Starbucks spokesman noted that the company still offers a “Christmas blend” and that their stores will be decorated during the holidays with Christmas colors and candy cane ribbon.)

It is a cultural fact that secularism and relativism go hand in hand. In order to move away from historic religious truth and orthodox morality, secularists must begin by redefining truth and morality as personal and subjective. Once they convince us that “truth” is what we believe it to be, the way is clear to rename and redefine those religious beliefs and practices they find objectionable.

But, as John Adams wisely noted, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Shootings, storms, and suffering

Today’s news reminds us of our need for the unchanging Christmas truth that God has entered our broken world (Philippians 2:6–8) and is present with us still today (Matthew 28:20).

A Sunday early-morning shooting in New Orleans’ French Quarter wounded nearly a dozen people. Yesterday morning, a shooting in a Chicago suburb killed one person and injured several others.

Continue reading Denison Forum – From ‘Christmas Parade’ to ‘Winter Parade’: Two ways to experience the power of Christ this Christmas season

Denison Forum – Some surprising Black Friday facts: How to be grateful for what we do not yet have

Americans are expected to spend roughly $87 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. Counter to stereotypes, 88 percent of men say they plan to shop on those two days versus 85 percent of women. Men will also spend more than women on average.

One more gender-related fact: men (56 percent) are more likely than women (49 percent) to regret a shopping purchase.

And so, our culture shifts its focus from gratitude for what we have to shopping for what we do not have. There’s a surprising spiritual lesson here for us.

Giving thanks in the future tense

This Thanksgiving week, we’ve been discussing the biblical commands to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). We have noted that God calls us to give thanks “in” and “for” all that we experience.

The harder our circumstances, the harder such gratitude can be. So, we learned on Tuesday to trust God to redeem all he allows. On Wednesday, we focused on the power of public gratitude in times of hardship. Yesterday, we learned that when we thank God for his material provisions, we position ourselves to experience even greater spiritual grace.

Each of these days, we focused on gratitude in the present tense. Let’s close our Thanksgiving week by thinking about what we do not yet have. As we will discover, when we thank God for the future in the present, we experience his providence in transforming ways.

Two surprises in a familiar miracle

John 6 tells the story of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. We are familiar with the boy who had “five barley loaves and two fish” (v. 9) and the fact that Jesus “distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (v. 11).

Two elements of this miracle are often overlooked.

One is the gracious gift our Lord offered the crowd, providing them “as much as they wanted.” This was a rare feast for impoverished people, one they would long remember.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Some surprising Black Friday facts: How to be grateful for what we do not yet have

Denison Forum – The world’s most expensive Thanksgiving dinner and a surprising example of transforming gratitude

Welcome to America’s second-favorite holiday (next only to Christmas). But we’re a bit conflicted about the main course.

Eighty-eight percent of us will eat turkey today. Unsurprisingly, 70 percent of us say it’s not a proper Thanksgiving meal without turkey. But 65 percent of us would like an alternative to turkey on the table.

Of course, we could join the 9 percent of Americans who will eat their Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant. Then we could order whatever the restaurant serves. If you have a spare $150,000, you could celebrate the world’s most expensive Thanksgiving dinner at New York City’s Old Homestead Steakhouse.

Poultry aside, here’s an important statistic: While the holidays are filled with shopping and commercials for more shopping, 88 percent of us say we are thankful for family today. Only 32 percent say they are thankful for wealth.

Giving thanks “in” and “for” all things

This Thanksgiving week, we’re exploring the biblical commands to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). As we have noted, God calls us to give thanks “in” and “for” all that we experience.

In hard places, this is hard to do. We can pretend that all is well, but God sees our hearts. We can claim that things will inevitably get better, but biblical examples of innocent suffering prove that it’s not necessarily so.

On Tuesday, we discussed ways to trust that God will redeem our present challenges. Yesterday, we noted the power of public gratitude in the face of hard times.

Today, let’s learn from an unlikely source how and why to be grateful for present gifts.

“Your faith has made you well”

Luke 17 tells the familiar story of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus.

Jesus met these suffering men as “he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (vv. 11–12). In response to their cry for mercy, he told them to “go and show yourselves to the priests” (v. 14a), the act of one who wants to be pronounced clean of leprosy so he can reenter society. And as they obeyed him, they were “cleansed” (v. 14b).

However, only one returned to thank Jesus for his cleansing (v. 16a). Luke makes clear the astonishment he expects his readers to feel when he adds, “Now he was a Samaritan” (v. 16b).

As John notes, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). Jews considered Samaritans to be a race of half-breeds resulting from intermarriage between Gentiles imported into the region by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:24) and Jews who remained there after the Assyrian conquest.

Consequently, the Samaritans and the Jews lived in enmity for centuries. The former built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. They accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament and rejected all Jewish traditions. That the only person returning to give thanks was a Samaritan must have shocked Luke’s Jewish readers.

As a result, only the Samaritan received Jesus’ word of blessing: “Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). “Well” translates sozo, meaning “to be delivered” or “to be saved.” The other nine were healed physically; only this man was healed spiritually.

A Scottish pastor’s surprising prayer

From a Samaritan leper, one of the unlikeliest of all faith heroes, we learn this lesson: thanking God for his material gifts positions us to receive even greater spiritual gifts.

This is a powerful reason for choosing gratitude “in” and “for” all circumstances. No matter how hard things are, we can always find a reason to give thanks. And when we do, we experience what God can only give to those who are willing to receive his grace.

Consider an example: A Scottish pastor was famous for beginning his invocation each Sunday with a word of thanksgiving. He could find something positive in even the most negative of times.

Then came a Sunday when the weather was atrocious: icy streets, frigid temperatures, howling winds. When the pastor rose to pray, those in the congregation thought, “Surely he’ll not begin with thanksgiving on such a terrible day.”

But they were wrong: the pastor opened his prayer with the words, “Lord, we thank you that it is not always like this.”

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving”

As you gather with your family and friends today, God’s word invites you to make time to give thanks for his material provisions. The food you share, the shelter and safety you enjoy, the blessing of being with those you love and those who love you. Even if gratitude is hard for you, look for ways and reasons to give thanks.

When you do, know that you will experience God’s spiritual favor as a result. As you “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4), you will encounter the Lord himself. Like the Samaritan leper, you will fall “at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:16).

And that will be a Thanksgiving to remember.

NOTE: On this day of thanks, I am especially thankful for you. It is a wonderful privilege to share this ministry with you each weekday morning. May the Lord bless you and yours with a wonderful day filled with gratitude and love.

 

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Denison Forum – Paralyzed Army veteran completes marathon in robotic exoskeleton: The power of public gratitude

Terry Hannigan Vereline is a former Army sergeant and Vietnam veteran. She made history earlier this month by becoming the first paralyzed competitor to successfully finish a marathon with the help of a robotic exoskeleton. She completed the New York City Marathon by walking the entire 26.2 miles over the course of three days.

“Don’t give up,” she said in an interview. “The things that I did prior to me being paralyzed, I can still do. It’s just finding another way of doing it.” She is grateful to those who helped her use her exoskeleton to fulfill her dream.

In other news, DeAndre Hopkins scored two touchdowns as his Houston Texans defeated the Indianapolis Colts last week. Each time, he gave the ball to his mother sitting in the stands. Here’s what makes their story so remarkable: his mom has been blind since 2002, when she was attacked by another woman who believed she was sleeping with her boyfriend.

Acid was involved in the assault, causing her blindness. She has never been able to see her son play in the NFL, so he gives her the football when he scores at home games as tangible proof of his gratitude for her support.

Singing hymns in prison at midnight

Yesterday, we encountered the biblical commands to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). We are to give thanks “in” and “for” all that we experience.

As we noted, the harder our circumstances, the more difficult it is to express such gratitude. We may never understand God’s reasons for allowing our suffering until we are with him in glory. But we can claim the fact that we will know then what we do not know now (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we can trust his heart even when we do not see his hand.

A second way to be thankful in hard places is to note the way people who express gratitude in adversity can inspire the world with their courage.

Paul’s example comes to mind. When he and his fellow sailors were facing calamity, “he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat” (Acts 27:35). Then “they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves” (v. 36).

When Paul and Silas sang hymns to God at midnight in a Philippian jail, “the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). When God did not remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the apostle chose to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And his courageous gratitude still marks those who encounter it today.

“If it bleeds, it leads.”

One reason such gratitude is so inspirational is that it is so unusual. It’s far easier when reading the day’s news to focus on the negative than on the positive.

For instance, CNN tells us that life expectancy at birth continues to drop in America. Brutal weather is disrupting holiday travels and could even ground the famous balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time since 1971. And a man who contracted a rare bacterial infection after being licked by his dog has died.

I could go on, but you get the point. As the old newspaper adage goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We are more drawn to bad news than to good news.

There’s a second factor at work as well. Secular people discount the possibility of a divine factor in their current circumstances. They also see the future as chaotic and unpredictable. As a result, they are unlikely to credit God for their present successes or turn to him with their present problems or future fears.

Consequently, for millions of Americans, Thanksgiving is a holiday focusing on feasting and football rather than a holy day focusing on a Father who loves us.

The Power that empowers gratitude

For these reasons, giving thanks to God in good times is countercultural. Giving thanks to God in hard times is even more so.

That’s an important reason why giving thanks in and for all things is so important. Skeptics can discount our faith when life is easy. But they cannot help taking note when we trust and thank God when life is hard.

So, if you are facing challenges today, know that others are watching. And know that God will help you experience gratitude if you will ask him.

The biblical call to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV) is preceded by the imperative to “be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). When we submit our struggles and pain to the Holy Spirit and ask him to redeem them for God’s glory and our good, he empowers us to give thanks in a storm and sing hymns in a prison.

“How manifold His goodness, how rich His grace to me!”

On Thanksgiving Day, we’ll learn from a very unlikely source how to give thanks for what we have. On Friday, we’ll learn from a small boy’s gift how to give thanks for what we do not yet have.

For today, as we consider the power of a grateful heart, let’s close with this testimony:

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and praise,
To Him whose loving kindness has followed all my days;
To Him who gently leads me by cool and quiet rills
And with their balm of comfort my thirsty spirit fills.

Within the vale of blessing, I walk beneath the light
Reflected from His glory, that shines forever bright.
I feel His constant presence wherever I may be;
How manifold His goodness, how rich His grace to me!

My heart is overflowing with love and joy and song,
As if it heard an echo from yonder ransomed throng.
Its every chord is vocal with music’s sweetest lay,
And to its home of sunshine it longs to fly away.

I feign would tell the story, and yet I know full well
The half was never, never told—the half I cannot tell.

Fanny Crosby wrote these words. Her eyes were blind. But her heart saw God and gave him thanks.

Does yours?

 

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Denison Forum – Megachurch pastor killed on way home from church: Thanking God when it’s hard to be grateful

“Pastor Dimitri was one of the brightest, most intelligent, and most innovative leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.” This is how one pastor remembers Dr. Dimitri Bradley, the founder of a megachurch in Virginia who was killed in a car crash last Wednesday night while driving home from church.

The fifty-one-year-old pastor and his wife started City Church in Richmond in 1998 in the living room of their home, growing it to nearly four thousand members. A memorial service for Dr. Bradley will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m.

In other news, a pilot was flying his single-propeller airplane in rural Minnesota last Saturday when disaster struck. According to the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, the plane “hit a cluster of power lines and became suspended on a guideline, upside down.” The pilot was inside, hanging upside down as well.

Workers de-energized the power line and rescued the pilot. He was uninjured.

“So this is what God is really like.”

It’s easy to give thanks to God for remarkable stories such as the rescue of the stranded pilot. I’m sure you have your own examples of wonderful provisions that make thanksgiving joyful this Thanksgiving week. As we learned from Mister Rogers yesterday, ten seconds is enough time to remember those whose love has been instrumental in our lives.

However, the Lord states that neither his capacities nor his character change with changing circumstances (cf. Malachi 3:6). It is therefore just as logical and plausible to view him through the prism of Dr. Bradley’s tragic death as through our gratitude for the pilot’s survival. I’m sure you have your own circumstances that make thanksgiving challenging this week.

After C. S. Lewis’ wife died, he wrote in A Grief Observed that he was not in danger of ceasing to believe in God. Rather, he was in danger of believing “such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”

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Denison Forum – ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’: Why emulating Fred Rogers is so compelling today

My wife and I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood on Friday. This morning, I’d like to explain why you must see this film. And why emulating Fred Rogers’ ministry is so needed for our world and our souls.

“The great enigma of modern American media”

The movie is based loosely on the relationship between Fred Rogers and an Esquire reporter named Tom Junod who was sent in 1998 to interview him. Since I strongly urge you to see the film, I won’t tell you more about their relationship except to say that it tells a story familiar to anyone who knew Fred Rogers in person.

Here’s just one example: Junod writes about a boy in California with cerebral palsy who was so depressed that he talked about wanting to die. However, he loved watching Mister Rogers on television.

A foundation designed to help disabled children brought Fred Rogers to meet him. They talked, then Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” The boy said he would.

Mister Rogers then said, “I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?” He later explained to Junod: “I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God.”

According to Junod, “Ever since then [the boy] keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.”

One movie reviewer said of the film: “Nearly two decades after his death, Rogers remains the great enigma of modern American media, an unassailable object of good intentions whose influence spanned generations.” In a culture as broken as ours, such a person is indeed an “enigma.”

“Broadcasting grace through the land”

Fred Rogers was a music major in college with plans to attend seminary upon graduation. Then he came home to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to discover that his parents had bought a television. When he turned it on, according to Junod, he knew that he wanted to use its medium “for the broadcasting of grace through the land.”

He attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he earned a Masters of Divinity degree, and also took graduate courses in child development at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduation, he was ordained by the Presbytery of Pennsylvania with the charge to continue his ministry to children and their families through the media.

Fred Rogers continued that ministry for thirty-three years, touching millions of souls.

His singular focus was on helping children understand their intrinsic sacred value. He looked into the camera and imagined a single child to whom he was speaking. He did all he could to help that child face the challenges of our broken world, discussing such difficult subjects as death, divorce, and war.

Across three decades, his mission was to convey to children everywhere the fact that God loves them just as they are.

“The three secrets of happiness”

Today’s news is all the evidence we need that we need Mister Rogers’ message as much today as ever. A deputy’s son killed a beloved sheriff in Alabama, authorities said yesterday. A small passenger plane crashed into homes in Congo, killing at least twenty-five. And a mother in Australia has been charged with murder after her two children were found dead in a hot car Saturday.

In such a fractured time, a New Yorker review lauds the film’s “dramatization of an unabated sense of responsibility to do whatever one can to help put things aright” and calls it “a work of intimate and tragic politics, of unsought heroism that’s cursed with the very fact of its necessity.”

Fred Rogers made the same point rather more simply.

Continue reading Denison Forum – ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’: Why emulating Fred Rogers is so compelling today

Denison Forum – School district forces females to share locker room with biological males who identify as ‘girls’: Three biblical imperatives

A school district in Illinois has voted to allow biological males who identify as girls unrestricted access to the female locker room. Privacy stalls are available, but transgender students will no longer be required to use them.

One student was in tears after the ruling, telling reporters she felt “uncomfortable, my privacy’s being invaded, as I am a swimmer. I do change multiple times, naked, in front of other students in the locker room. I understand that the board has an obligation to all students, but I was hoping that they would go about this in a different way that would also accommodate students such as myself.

Robin Williams was right: “Words and ideas can change the world.” And not always for the better.

Yesterday we discussed God’s call to choose courage when our culture rejects biblical truth and morality. Today, let’s think together about some practical ways we can respond biblically to such opposition.

Ephesians 6 reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12).

Using Paul’s military metaphor, let’s consider three imperatives.

One: Remember what is at stake

It’s tempting to accept society’s relativistic narrative that truth is individual and subjective, that evangelical opposition to unbiblical morality is a matter of personal preference rather than a reflection of objective reality.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Continue reading Denison Forum – School district forces females to share locker room with biological males who identify as ‘girls’: Three biblical imperatives

Denison Forum – New York State prevents churches from making employment decisions based on pro-life commitments: Answering God’s call to courage

Imagine a day when your church cannot refuse to hire a person to lead your congregation’s ministry for expectant mothers on the basis of that person’s pro-choice agenda.

Or a day when a staff member at your church cannot be disciplined for encouraging others to have an abortion.

If your church is in New York State, that day has come.

Why Senate Bill 660 is so important

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill 660 recently. It specifies that an employer shall not “discriminate nor take any retaliatory personnel action” against employees with respect to their beliefs and choices regarding abortion. The bill makes no exceptions for religious organizations.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) states that the bill “requires all employers—including churches, religious schools, faith-based pregnancy care centers, and religious nonprofits—to disavow their beliefs about abortion, contraception, and sexual morality by forcing them to hire and employ those who refuse to abide by the organizations’ statements of faith.”

As a result, faith-based hospitals in New York State cannot require future or existing employees to abide by their pro-life commitments. Nor can faith-based schools or businesses. Nor can churches.

Two versions of “discrimination”

What do we do when two versions of “discrimination” collide?

Pro-choice advocates believe that pro-life employers discriminate against them by refusing to hire pro-choice employees. They ask you to imagine being told by a pro-life CEO that you cannot work at his engineering firm because you believe abortion should be the decision of the mother rather than the government.

By contrast, pro-life advocates believe that the State of New York discriminates against pro-life employers by forcing them to consider candidates who reject the employer’s commitment to life. They ask you to imagine being the CEO of a Baptist hospital who must hire a pro-choice advocate to lead your pregnancy center.

The logic of the pro-choice position

Each side in this culture war is convinced that its logic should prevail.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court declared that it “need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” claiming that “the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” The Court therefore chose to give the mother whose body supports the fetus the right to decide whether or not to abort that fetus.

Such logic extends to the claim that pro-choice advocates are not forcing anyone to choose an abortion. Rather, they say they are working to preserve the mother’s “reproductive rights.” They believe that she, not the government, is in the best position to make such a determination.

Over the years, I’ve heard from people who say they are personally opposed to abortion but do not believe it is the government’s right to make this decision for others. They would say they are “pro-choice” but not “pro-abortion.”

The logic of the pro-life position

By contrast, pro-life advocates are convinced that life begins at conception. We cite clear biblical teachings as well as strong scientific evidence for the humanity of the so-called fetus in his or her mother’s womb.

We agree with the American Declaration of Independence that every person possesses “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We therefore believe that the mother’s right to choose should not take precedence over her child’s right to live.

While pro-choice advocates claim that such a position discriminates against the mother, we counter that their position discriminates against the child. The mother may be required to bring a child to term, enduring several months of significant challenges in the process, but her child will then have an entire life to live. If she aborts her child, ending the challenges posed by her temporary pregnancy, her decision is obviously permanent for her child.

And we note that when a child is born, it simply moves from inside his or her mother’s body to outside of it. In New York State, that child can be aborted just moments before his or her birth. By what logic is the intrinsic nature of a baby different when it shifts location?

“Be strong and courageous”

I have taken us down this road today to make a point: Despite the logic of the pro-life position, which I consider to be far superior to that of pro-choice advocates, our society is reaching a tipping point with regard to religious freedom on this issue. If current trends continue, Christians will pay an escalatingly high price for affirming biblical morality on abortion. We are facing similar pressure on LGBTQ issues and euthanasia.

I plan to focus tomorrow on practical ways we can respond biblically to such pressure. For today, let’s decide that we want to.

As Joshua prepared to lead God’s people into an uncharted land and future, the Lord said to him: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Note that this word came to Joshua before he began facing Canaanite enemies. The Lord called him to choose courage before he needed courage.

This is because courage does not earn the provision of God—it positions us to receive it. If we will not go into battle, we cannot experience the presence and power of God in the battle.

Is there any price you won’t pay to follow Jesus?

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Denison Forum – Pete Buttigieg now leads in New Hampshire: Biblical responses to the popularity of the first openly gay presidential candidate

Pete Buttigieg has “surged to a 10-point lead in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary,” according to a poll released yesterday. The New York Times reports that he also holds a “commanding lead” in Iowa’s presidential caucuses.

Buttigieg is a graduate of Harvard and studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He served in the military in Afghanistan, reportedly speaks eight languages, plays the guitar and piano, and is active in the Episcopal Church. His debate performances have displayed his obvious intelligence and grasp of policy detail. In many ways, he seems an ideal fit for many Democratic voters.

Buttigieg is also gay and is married to his husband, Chasten. An LGBTQ advocacy magazine named him one of fifty “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving toward equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people.” In their view, he is “reshaping politics and driving the religious right crazy in the process.”

How our society has changed on same-sex marriage

As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry, my purpose today is not to endorse or criticize Mr. Buttigieg as a politician. Rather, it is to note the degree to which his popularity highlights our society’s acceptance of homosexuality.

In 2004, 60 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, while only 31 percent were in favor. Today, the numbers are reversed: 61 percent support same-sex marriage, while 31 percent oppose it.

By contrast, only 32 percent of non-evangelical Americans have “warm feelings” toward white evangelical Christians, the group most identified for its opposition to same-sex marriage.

A recent essay in the Wall Street Journal notes that 44 percent of Americans aged eighteen to twenty-nine say they identify with no religion; one of the reasons most cited by “nones” for their antipathy is that they “don’t like the positions churches take on political/social issues.” The author, a college professor, adds that some of the “issues” his students object to most often have to do with “women’s reproductive rights and non-heteronormative sexuality, especially same-sex marriage and transgender rights.”

A group of clergy prayed for a Planned Parenthood clinic

My purpose today is not to debate biblical teachings on same-sex relationships (for more here, please see my article, “How does same-sex marriage affect you?” (PDF) and chapters three and four in my book, The State of Our Nation: 7 Critical Issues).

Rather, I’d like to focus today on the confusion wrought in the culture by the conflicting signals Christians are sending on this issue.

Pete Buttigieg and his husband were married in the Episcopal Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ are among other American denominations that either endorse or permit same-sex weddings. By contrast, most Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, and Pentecostal churches in America forbid same-sex weddings, as do the Presbyterian Church of America and many Methodist congregations.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Pete Buttigieg now leads in New Hampshire: Biblical responses to the popularity of the first openly gay presidential candidate

Denison Forum – Chick-fil-A Foundation will no longer donate to Salvation Army and FCA: A question and two important facts

 

The Chick-fil-A Foundation announced yesterday that it is “introducing a more focused giving approach to provide additional clarity and impact with the causes it supports.” As a result, it will “deepen its giving to a small number of organizations working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger.”

As a result, the Foundation has committed $9 million in 2020 to three initiatives: it will support education through Junior Achievement, address youth homelessness through Covenant House International, and fight hunger by dedicating $25,000 to a local food bank at each new Chick-fil-A opening. The company’s total benevolent gifts will approximate $32 million next year.

What the Foundation will not do is continue its financial support of The Salvation Army or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), each of which has been accused of anti-LGBTQ bias.

The question is why.

An overview of the issue

Chick-fil-A first made LGBT-related headlines in 2011 after the WinShape Foundation, supported by restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy and his family, made contributions to the Family Research Council and Exodus International. LGBTQ activists protested, considering these groups to be discriminatory.

The next year, CEO Dan Cathy publicly stated his support for traditional marriage. Following a public backlash, the Civil Rights Agenda announced that Chick-fil-A had “ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights.”

The company also formed a new charitable arm, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, which continued to support groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and The Salvation Army, which are not focused on political action.

However, protests against the company’s alleged anti-LGBTQ bias have continued to escalate. Airports in San Antonio, Buffalo, and San Jose have prevented the restaurant from opening or stated they would not renew its lease. Boston’s late mayor pledged to ban the company from opening within city limits.

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Denison Forum – Four people killed at family gathering in Fresno: Why we need to emulate the kindness of Tom Hanks

I had planned to begin my article today by focusing on the kindness of Tom Hanks, whose portrayal of Fred Rogers will open in theaters this Friday. Then I opened my computer this morning to learn that another shooting was making headlines.

Fresno Police Lt. Bill Dooley described the tragedy: “This was a gathering, a family and friend gathering in the backyard. Everyone was watching football this evening when unknown suspects approached the residence, snuck into the backyard and opened fire.”

Ten people were shot and four died.

Tom Hanks “is just as nice as you think he is”

The more that violence fills the news, the more we need examples to give us hope. That’s why Tom Hanks is such an important model for our culture.

Hanks’ movies have grossed nearly $10 billion worldwide. His portrayal of Fred Rogers will be at least his seventy-first film.

But Hanks is known at least as much for who he is in real life as for who he is on the movie screen. His powerful recent interview with the New York Times is subtitled: “Hanks is playing Mister Rogers in a new movie and is just as nice as you think he is.”

Here are some examples cited by the Times reporter: When Hanks was shooting Angels & Demons in Rome, a bride and her father couldn’t approach the chapel because of the film crew, so Hanks stopped filming and escorted them to the altar. He once bought some boxes of Girl Scout cookies, then offered selfies to passers-by as an enticement to buy. He found a woman’s student ID and used his Twitter feed to get it back to her.

What do college students want most in a mate?

Time magazine reports that researchers asked 2,700 college students to narrow down the characteristics that were most important to them in a lifetime mate, and one emerged from all cultures: kindness.

Kindness works for churches: Congregations in California are responding to the state’s housing crisis by sharing their parking lots with people who live in cars, providing mobile showers for the homeless, and exploring ways to build affordable apartments on their own land. One minister explained: “This is just one part of how we live out our faith.”

Kindness works for managers: according to Forbes, science now shows that it’s more productive to praise people for their successes than to correct their mistakes.

Kindness even works for popes: Pope Francis hosted 1,500 homeless and needy people for lunch yesterday as the Roman Catholic Church marked its World Day of the Poor. Last week, a mobile clinic was set up in St. Peter’s Square, where volunteer doctors gave free specialist health care to the poor.

Why is kindness so rare?

Why is kindness newsworthy? One reason is that it is so rare.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Four people killed at family gathering in Fresno: Why we need to emulate the kindness of Tom Hanks

Denison Forum – Why do we hiccup? Some surprising unsolved mysteries and the bias against religion

The humble hiccup has been one of science’s enduring mysteries. People from before birth to old age get hiccups from time to time. So do cats and rats. No one knows why or how to stop them.

In fact, an internist performed a five-year study involving fifty-four hospital patients with hiccups, attempting a wide range of treatments. None proved effective.

Now a study led by University College London may have solved the mystery. Researchers monitoring thirteen newborn babies found that hiccupping triggered a large wave of brain signals that could aid their development. This brain activity might help babies learn to monitor their breathing muscles, leading to the ability to control their breathing voluntarily.

However, hiccups have no known advantage for adults. Why, then, do we persist in them?

It’s still a mystery.

Is a recession coming?

In other news, more than half of the world’s wealthiest investors are preparing for a drop in financial markets before the end of 2020, according to UBS Global Wealth Management. Investors are worried about the 2020 presidential election and the trade dispute between the US and China.

In a survey of more than 3,400 high-net-worth individuals, more than 79 percent think markets are moving toward a period of higher volatility. About 55 percent of respondents expect a “significant drop” in the markets over the next fourteen months.

However, the study was conducted between August and October following a volatile third quarter. Recent signs are already pointing to a firming US economy in the fourth quarter. A strong US labor market, robust consumer spending, an improving housing sector, and optimism on trade talks with China have combined with better-than-expected third-quarter earnings and a supportive interest-rate policy from the Federal Reserve.

So, will the financial markets see a significant drop in the near future?

It’s still a mystery.

The “spiritual but not religious” movement

I could go on: scientists don’t really know why gravity exists, how plate tectonics work, or how animals migrate so successfully.

My purpose is not to criticize scientists, but to point out the inherent limitations of science. And my purpose in pointing out such limitations is not to criticize science, but to remind us that all humans are finite creatures in need of truth and wisdom only our Creator can supply.

Here’s why this theme is on my mind today.

It was my privilege to deliver the T. B. Maston Lectures at Baptist University of the Américas (BUA) in San Antonio this week. I believe strongly in BUA’s crucial mission and the leadership of its outstanding president, Dr. Abe Jaquez.

His faculty asked me to discuss the popularity of the “spiritual but not religious” movement, an urgent and timely topic. A Pew Research Center study reports that only 48 percent of Americans now consider themselves to be both “religious and spiritual,” while 18 percent say they are “neither religious nor spiritual.” But 27 percent say they are “spiritual but not religious.” Their number has grown nearly 50 percent in recent years.

By comparison, Pew Research Center estimates America’s evangelical population to be 25.4 percent. The Baptist population is 15.4 percent. According to an authoritative study, only 20.4 percent of the US population attends church on any given week.

This means there are more “spiritual but not religious” Americans than Americans who attended church last Sunday.

“There was no king in Israel.”

A major reason why so many Americans choose to be spiritual but not religious is that they think they no longer need religion to be spiritual. It is conventional wisdom in our postmodern culture that truth is personal and subjective. There is no such thing as “truth,” only “your truth” and “my truth.”

We are therefore all equally able to discern spiritual truth for ourselves without need of divine revelation from a divine Creator. Or so we’re told.

How’s this working for us?

The theme of the book of Judges is the theme of our culture: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). In a true kingdom, the king is the final authority on all subjects. His declaration is truth, his word inviolate.

Throughout Scripture, we are told that our God is such a king. Jesus called us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He taught us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We are to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are creatures in desperate need of truth only our Creator can provide.

It has been well said: To get along with God, stay off his throne.

How to know if God is your king

When last did you enthrone Jesus as king of your life?

Here’s a practical way to answer the question: We make God our king to the degree that we do what he says whether we want to or not. If he is our counselor or father, we can ignore his direction. If he is our king, we must do whatever he tells us to do.

So, I’ll ask again: When last did you make Jesus your king?

 

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Denison Forum – Ellie Goulding threatens to boycott Salvation Army benefit at Dallas Cowboys halftime show: The pervasive power of personal influence

Ellie Goulding generated headlines yesterday with her announcement that she would boycott the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving halftime show unless the Salvation Army makes “a solid, committed pledge or donation to the LGBTQ community.”

The singer had agreed to perform at the nationally televised show. Then fans on Instagram accused the Salvation Army of discriminating against LGBTQ people and condemned her for supporting the organization.

She immediately made her announcement, adding that “supporting an anti-LGBTQ charity is clearly not something I would ever intentionally do. Thank you for drawing my attention to this.”

David Hudson, the Salvation Army’s National Commander, responded: “With an organization of our size and history, myths can perpetuate. An individual’s sexual or gender identity, religion, or lifestyle has no bearing on our willingness to provide service. We stand firmly behind our mission to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

Later in the day, the Salvation Army confirmed that Goulding would perform as planned. Hudson thanked the singer and her fans “for shedding light on misconceptions and encouraging others to learn the truth about The Salvation Army’s mission to serve all, without discrimination. We applaud her for taking the time to learn about the services we provide to the LGBTQ community.”

The Army’s campaign is now in its 129th year and brought in $142.7 million last year to help those in need.

The growing percentage of LGBTQ characters on TV

I have spoken at Salvation Army events and supported their work for years. Their service to those in need is both urgent and effective. However, the controversy sparked by Ellie Goulding’s announcement is not the focus of my article today.

Rather, I am concerned about the dramatic degree to which LGBTQ activism influences our culture.

According to the Associated Press, the percentage of LGBTQ characters regularly seen on primetime broadcast television this season reached an all-time high of 10.2 percent. This achieved the 10 percent goal the advocacy group GLAAD set for the networks by 2020.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Ellie Goulding threatens to boycott Salvation Army benefit at Dallas Cowboys halftime show: The pervasive power of personal influence

Denison Forum – Karen Pence’s powerful analogy for religious liberty: How and why to speak the truth in love

 

Karen Pence is in the news as she increases her role in the 2020 presidential campaign. In an interview with USA Today, she was asked about her decision to resume teaching art at Immanuel Christian School, which doesn’t allow gay teachers or students.

The reporter suggested that “a gay person might say that your faith is attacking them for who they are.” Mrs. Pence replied: “I don’t make that connection. This country was founded on religious liberty. And I think we have to be careful about infringing on anyone else’s beliefs. I think that if you have someone who has a certain belief, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily judging you.”

She illustrated her point effectively: “For example, there are people who have certain dietary restrictions because of their faith. I don’t feel like they are judging me if I eat that food.”

She then added: “That’s unfortunate if someone feels judged. It certainly would never, ever, ever be my intention for anyone to feel judged by me. Definitely not. But I’m just a person who believes in the Bible, so it shouldn’t be right for someone to attack me for my beliefs.”

Ordering a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant

Let’s work with Mrs. Pence’s analogy for a moment.

The website Dallas Kosher lists a large number of restaurants that serve kosher food in our city. If I walk past one of these restaurants while eating a cheeseburger (violating the orthodox Jewish interpretation of Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 14:21), I cannot imagine that I would feel judged by those inside.

If they are observant Jews, they are simply following the teachings of their religion. As a Gentile Christian, I am following the teachings of mine (cf. Acts 15:19–20).

But imagine that I walk into one of these restaurants and demand that they cook a cheeseburger for me. I am asking them to violate their religious beliefs for the sake of my personal preference. I could order a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s down the street, but I insist that since this kosher restaurant serves the public, they must provide what the public wants.

If they refuse, I take legal action and the courts agree with me. As a result, a kosher restaurant has to prepare nonkosher food, violating its owner’s religious beliefs and practices, or close its doors.

This scenario seems ludicrous because it is. I am not aware of Nazi sympathizers who have successfully petitioned the courts to force Jewish bakers to produce cakes with swastikas on them. Or non-Muslims who have successfully required Muslim bakers to make cakes defaming the Prophet Muhammad.

But evangelical Christians are regularly asked to violate our religious beliefs by those who claim our rights are violating theirs.

Sharing truth with those who disagree with it

This subject is relevant as the follow-up to yesterday’s Daily Article, where we explored biblical teachings regarding premarital cohabitation. I outlined the nonreligious reasons why biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage are best for us. Then we explored God’s word on this issue and sought his forgiving grace wherever we need it.

Today we’ll pivot that conversation into a discussion of ways to speak biblical truth to those who disagree with its wisdom.

Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture describes five ways Christians have historically interacted with culture:

  1. Christ against culture, where we withdraw as far as possible
  2. Christ of culture, where we follow the culture wherever it leads
  3. Christ above culture, where we live by both secular and spiritual values
  4. Christ and culture in paradox, where we engage cultural issues as a means to growing the church
  5. Christ transforming culture, where we seek to be salt and light through the transformational witness of the gospel.

Now let’s apply these to the issue of premarital cohabitation. The first approach would call us to retreat from such conversations; the second would endorse secular practice; the third could cause us to hide our Sunday values from our Monday friends; the fourth would stand for biblical truth but without working to change cultural values; the fifth would seek to change minds and hearts in alignment with God’s best for us.

How can we be catalysts for such transformation?

“And such were some of you.”

When we hear a convicting message, it is human nature to convict the messenger. That’s why, to be change agents in our secular culture, we must first convince others that our message is motivated by love for them.

Those who are living outside of God’s will for sexuality need to know that we care about them enough to share hard truth with them. The same is true for those who sin in any other way (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

It would be far easier for us to go along to get along, to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. But we are custodians of grace called to pay forward what we have received, giving others truth that transforms all who receive it.

We are to do so with humility and hope: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

The sins for which God has forgiven you may be the very sins he is now asking you to address with his truth and forgiving grace.

Where will you begin today?

 

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Denison Forum – More Americans have cohabited than married: The risks of disobeying Scripture and the promise of redeeming grace

 

For the first time in our history, more Americans have lived with a romantic partner than have married one. According to Pew Research Center’s new study, the number of those who have ever married has fallen from 60 percent in 2002 to 50 percent today, while the number who have cohabited without being married has grown from 54 percent to 59 percent.

The study also reports that 69 percent of Americans say it is acceptable for a couple to live together even if they don’t plan to get married. Sixteen percent agree with cohabiting if the couple plans to marry. Only 14 percent of us believe it is “never acceptable” for a couple to live together before marriage.

Here’s the irony: the more that Americans grow to accept cohabiting, the more we learn how detrimental such a lifestyle can be for those who practice it.

Are married couples more satisfied than those who cohabit?

One reason many couples decide to live together is to “test” their relationship to see if they should marry.

However, according to a Barna Group study cited by the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), couples who are “testing” their relationship experience higher levels of depressive symptoms, abandonment anxiety, and negative interaction. The IFS concludes that “if you are considering whether or not to move in with someone to test the relationship, it’s likely not the wisest thing to do.”

The Pew study reports that married adults are more likely than cohabiting couples to trust their partner to be faithful to them, act in their best interest, always tell them the truth, and handle money responsibly. They are more satisfied with their partner’s approach to parenting, the way household chores are divided, how well they balance work and personal life, how well they communicate, and their sex life.

Continue reading Denison Forum – More Americans have cohabited than married: The risks of disobeying Scripture and the promise of redeeming grace

Denison Forum – The Mercury transit and Veterans Day: “The nation must be as loyal to them as they are to the nation”

 

The tiny planet Mercury will pass across the middle of the sun today.

However, you and I should not try to see the so-called Mercury transit by looking at it since looking directly at the sun can cause permanent eye damage. Plus, Mercury will be just a tiny dot on the sun. NASA therefore recommends using a telescope with a certified solar filter.

Or, for the vast majority of us who do not possess such instruments, we can watch on the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s website. Their equipment will directly view the Mercury transit, which we will then experience secondhand.

Let’s consider this story as a parable for one of the most important but overlooked days of the year.

Facts many Americans don’t know

Today, Americans honor the 19.6 million active and former members of our armed forces. Veterans Day is a federal holiday, which means that government offices are closed. So are most banks.

However, for much of American business, it’s business as usual. Many restaurants in the Dallas area are offering veterans free meals or discounts to express gratitude for their service. But most restaurants, stores, and businesses appear to be open. And I found only one school district in our region that is closed today.

Many Americans don’t know that, as the Department of Defense explains, today is “Veterans Day” rather than “Veteran’s Day” or “Veterans’ Day.” The day does not belong to one veteran or a group of veterans—it is intended to honor all veterans.

The Defense Department also notes that many confuse Veterans Day (honoring all who have served our country in war or peace, whether alive or dead) with Memorial Day (honoring those who died in defense of our country).

And in my experience, most Americans do not seem to know that a period of silence lasting two minutes is to be held at 11 a.m. each year on Veterans Day.

Astronomical amateurs

I don’t know anyone personally who disagrees with the importance of honoring our veterans. Why, then, is Veterans Day less understood and celebrated than would seem appropriate?

Continue reading Denison Forum – The Mercury transit and Veterans Day: “The nation must be as loyal to them as they are to the nation”

Denison Forum – What makes this Homecoming King and Queen so special? Valuing every life as much as God does

 

Noah Stokes and Khrystya Gordon were crowned Homecoming King and Queen last Friday at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colorado. They were honored in the Homecoming parade and dance the next day.

Why is their story so newsworthy? Because both Noah and Khrystya have Down syndrome.

I cite their story in light of a National Review article reporting that 61 to 93 percent of US women choose abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis.

Fortunately, federal legislation has been introduced that forbids abortion providers from performing abortions sought because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Tragically, a Gallup survey shows that 49 percent of Americans favor such abortions in the first trimester (though support drops to 29 percent in the third trimester).

99 percent of this group is happy with their lives

A study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics asked people with Down syndrome ages twelve and older about their self-perceptions. Nearly 99 percent indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97 percent liked who they were; 96 percent liked how they look; and nearly 99 percent expressed love for their families.

The participants “encouraged parents to love their babies with Down syndrome, mentioning that their own lives were good.” The study concluded: “Overall, the overwhelming majority of people with Down syndrome surveyed indicate they live happy and fulfilling lives.”

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Denison Forum – The faith of Kanye West: Two biblical responses to celebrity conversions

 

Kanye West is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with more than 140 million records sold. He has been described as a “rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, and fashion designer.”

His latest album, Jesus Is King, debuted at No. 1 on the charts. Every song on the album has appeared on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week as well.

His faith is making as many headlines as his albums.

West launched Sunday Service, a Christian worship group, earlier this year. Its first public performance was on Easter Sunday. At a service this past Friday, more than a thousand people reportedly raised their hands to commit their lives to Christ. A pastor who attended the service called it a “new wave of revival.”

West explained the purpose behind Jesus Is King: “Music is my job. That’s why I’m putting out the album. Serving God in everything that I can do is my job. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m on the planet is to be in service and in fear, love, and service to God.”

“He’s in the Bible. He’s in prayer.”

West has struggled with mental health issues over the years, at one point telling David Letterman that he has bipolar disorder. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, told The View that her husband’s new album was instrumental in his becoming a Christian.

“Kanye started this to really heal himself and it was a really personal thing, and it was just friends and family,” she said. “He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ.” He has reportedly announced that he will only make gospel music going forward.

Criticism has been swift and sharp.

Referring to the financial contributions West is making to Sunday Service, Rolling Stone calls his new album “a megachurch masquerading as a 12-song tax-shelter bar bonanza.” An article in the New Yorker headlined: “Kanye West’s Sunday Service Is Full of Longing and Self-Promotion.” Another writer called the service “a private affair that looks more like a celebrity cult.”

However, the pastor who is traveling with West and speaking at Sunday Service meetings says Kanye West’s new faith is genuine. According to Adam Tyson, West is “living and walking with God.” The pastor has seen noticeable changes in the rapper’s life: “He’s in the Bible. He’s in prayer.”

When Tyson shared the gospel with West at their first meeting, the artist responded: “I’ve been radically saved. I believe that message and I want to get that message out to the world.”

“People want to see him fail at Christianity”

Our first biblical responsibility to Kanye West and other celebrities who come to Christ is to pray for them. Paul wrote: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). We are required to pray for each other and for those in positions of cultural influence.

Actress Patricia Heaton, an outspoken Christian, says she is praying for Kanye West because she believes people want to see him fail in his new faith. “It’s very hard,” she explains. “I think when someone of his stature in the industry and someone who has his amount of fame makes that kind of proclamation, people then really watch and scrutinize everything he does to catch him falling down.” She warned that “people want to see him fail at Christianity.”

Writing for Faithwire, Tré Goins-Phillips offers these suggestions as we pray for and encourage celebrity Christians: don’t expect instantaneous maturity; don’t anticipate perfection; stop idolizing fame; allow for missteps; and be understanding and trust God.

“Don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother”

Our second biblical responsibility to celebrity converts is to serve them by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Pastor Hans Fiene notes that “Christians shouldn’t be afraid of getting burned by Kanye West because our faith isn’t rooted in the fidelity of Christians but the faithfulness of Christ.” As a result, he counsels us, “Don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother.”

The pastor explains: “God has not called you to be Kanye West’s faith auditor. He’s called you to be Kanye West’s brother. So instead of trying to keep him outside the feast of salvation until he’s proven himself worthy, rejoice to enter with him into the feast where all formerly unworthy sinners are invited to eat and drink the worthiness of Jesus Christ.”

As “formerly unworthy sinners,” we are called to help each other live biblically and redemptively: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1a). But we are also to “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (v. 1b).

In short, we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2).

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation”

I cannot determine the genuineness of Kanye West’s faith. Or of yours. Or you of mine.

But I know this: How we treat Kanye West tells the unbelievers we know how we will treat them if they join our faith.

Our Father calls us to pray for each other and help each other follow Jesus. And he calls us to model community that expects the best of one another and encourages one another when we fall short.

Henry Ward Beecher noted that “compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” And it will lead more sinners to the Savior.

Who needs your compassion today?

 

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