Tag Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – The impeachment trial as a Rorschach test: Three rules of engagement for Christians

President Trump is speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning. Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing to launch only the third impeachment trial of a president in history.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 51 percent of Americans would like the Senate to vote against conviction, while 46 percent want the Senate to convict the president and remove him from office. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent of Republicans are opposed to convicting the president, while 84 percent of Democrats are in favor of doing so.

These positions reflect the president’s overall popularity: 88 percent of Republicans approve of the job he is doing, while only 10 percent of Democrats agree.

A Rorschach test for our country

Hermann Rorschach developed the instrument that bears his name in 1921 after noting that schizophrenia patients often interpreted the things they saw in unusual ways.

The participant is shown a series of ten inkblot cards and asked to describe what they see. However, there are no objectively correct answers. What we see says more about us than about the inkblots we are interpreting.

Impeachment functions in much the same way in our culture today. It would be difficult to live in America without having an opinion about President Trump. A statistical analysis found that the media has given three times as much airtime to his presidency as to President Obama’s. Our culture seems to be consumed daily with who he is and what he does.

Predictably, those who support the president believe the evidence supports his acquittal. Those who oppose him believe the evidence supports his conviction.

We can discuss this issue as long as we wish, but few seem open to changing their minds about President Trump. However, the way Christians discuss this divisive issue can change how people see our Lord.

Just as the US Senate is following rules of engagement for the weeks to come, so should followers of Jesus. Let’s consider three biblical principles today.

One: Focus on eternity

There have been nineteen impeachment trials in US history—fifteen for federal judges, one for a senator, one for a Cabinet officer, and two for presidents. President Johnson’s 1868 trial took nearly two months; President Clinton’s 1999 trial lasted about one month.

However long this impeachment trial takes, remember that your relationships will endure when it is over. And every person you know will spend eternity either with God in heaven or separated from him in hell.

As a result, we should filter everything we say about impeachment through this fact: we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Helping people follow Jesus is our eternal calling and highest privilege.

Two: Speak the truth in love

Ninety-three percent of Americans say we have a civility problem. According to 63 percent of us, social media contributes directly to this problem. It is easy to be anonymous on social media, saying things about people we would never say to them.

By contrast, Jesus calls us to go directly to those with whom we disagree (Matthew 5:23–24; 18:15). Imagine a culture in which everyone chose “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).

What if others slander us or our beliefs? “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

We should hold our beliefs strongly and defend them courageously, but we should do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). “Speaking the truth in love” must be our mantra and mission (Ephesians 4:15).

Three: Build bridges with those with whom you disagree

The partisan divides in our country are wider and deeper than I have ever seen them. For example, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who would be displeased if their child married someone of the opposite party has escalated tenfold since 1960.

At the same time, it is becoming easier than ever to curate the news feeds with which we agree, so that we hear and read only what we want to hear and read. The result is that we seldom engage positions or people with whom we disagree.

By contrast, Jesus befriended Samaritans (John 4) and Gentiles (Matthew 15:21–28). He called a tax collector by name and went to his house (Luke 19:5). And he called his followers to do the same (Acts 10:15, 34–35).

Who do you know with whom you disagree about impeachment? How will you build a relationship with this person for the sake of your continued witness and their eternal soul?

How to store up treasure in heaven

If Christians focus on eternity, speak the truth in love, and build bridges for the gospel, the Holy Spirit will use this chapter of American history to advance the kingdom of God.

Rick Warren was right: “The way you store up treasure in heaven is by investing in getting people there.”

How much treasure in heaven will you store up today?

 

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Denison Forum – Chiefs and 49ers will play in Super Bowl LIV: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cultural leverage of excellence

 

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Tennessee Titans in yesterday’s AFC Conference Championship game. The San Francisco 49ers won at home against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Conference Championship. Oddsmakers are favoring the Chiefs slightly in Super Bowl LIV.

Since this is not a sports column and our nation is celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, you may be wondering why I am leading with these results. Here’s what the teams who competed yesterday and Dr. King have in common: they illustrate the cultural leverage of excellence.

Faith and football

The Chiefs are led by CEO Clark Hunt. I was privileged to be his pastor for many years in Dallas and can attest personally to his family’s strong commitment to Jesus.

When his team won the AFC Championship yesterday, Clark told the world, “I want to thank the Lord for blessing us with this opportunity. The glory belongs to him. And this trophy belongs to the best fans in the National Football League.”

Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill has made clear his faith in Jesus over the years as well, recently telling reporters: “I pray before every game. I spend time with God before I get to the stadium and then when I lace up my cleats, I thank God for the opportunity to go out there and attempt to glorify him.”

By contrast, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made news in recent years for the fact that he no longer identifies as a Christian. After meeting and being influenced by Rob Bell, Rodgers told ESPN, “I think organized religion can have a mind-debilitating effect, because there is an exclusivity that can shut you out from being open to the world, to people, and energy, and love and acceptance.”

Rodgers is one of the most talented athletes of his generation. Like Clark Hunt and Ryan Tannehill, his commitment to professional excellence provides enormous leverage for cultural influence, whether the person uses that influence for Jesus or not.

Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never completed high school

It may surprise you to learn that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never completed high school. That’s because he was such an advanced student that he skipped his first and last years of high school and went directly into college at the age of fifteen.

He entered seminary at the age of nineteen and graduated three years later as valedictorian and student body president. He completed a PhD at Boston University at the age of twenty-five.

Dr. King was brilliant in his diagnosis of the problem facing our nation: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

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Denison Forum – NBC Anchor endorses letter denigrating those who believe in ‘fairy tales’ such as Noah’s ark: What persecution teaches us about our faith

Denison Forum – NBC Anchor endorses letter denigrating those who believe in ‘fairy tales’ such as Noah’s ark: What persecution teaches us about our faith

I need to begin with a disclaimer: this will be a positive article written to encourage Christians that we can face any circumstance we encounter this year with optimistic, joyful faith in our Father’s power and provision.

However, to get there, I need to explain why this topic is on my mind today.

“It’s Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance”

On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, NBC News anchor Chuck Todd read and endorsed a letter claiming that supporters of Donald Trump “want to be lied to” since they believe in “fairy tales” such as Noah’s ark.

Leaving the politics of this claim aside, let’s note that Jews believe in Noah’s ark because it is described as an historical event in the Torah (Genesis 6–9). Jesus (Matthew 24:37–39) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5) believed in its historicity as well. And Muslims find it in the Qur’an (29:14–15).

A recent article in Medium goes further in denigrating biblical faith. In “Dear Christians, It’s Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance,” the writer laments that his Nigerian grandfather was chased from his village by Christian converts because he refused to convert to Christianity. He also notes that Christian missionaries imposed upon his father a new name, age, language, and clothing they deemed more appropriate to the faith.

He points to John Allen Chau, the Christian who broke numerous laws and was then killed while attempting to share the gospel with an unreached people group off the coast of India. The author’s conclusion is that any religion that believes others need to accept its message or face damnation is egotistical, intrusive, invasive, and intolerant. He is convinced that we should oppose such religions as vehemently as he does.

Of course, sins committed in the name of a religion or ideology are not necessarily the fault of that religion or ideology. As a Christian, I strongly believe that the writer’s grandfather and father were treated horrifically and indefensibly. We should not blame all Muslims for 9/11 or all atheists for Lenin’s atrocities.

And we should note that the writer’s rejection of religious “intolerance” is itself a form of intolerance.

ISIS beheads Nigerian Christians

While American Christians should note and respond to those who demean or attack our faith (1 Peter 3:15–16), we should also remember those who are facing far worse persecution than we experience.

I’m thinking of the eleven Nigerian Christians who were executed by ISIS terrorists, ten of them by beheading. It is thought that they were killed on Christmas Day. And government oppression in China that seeks to rewrite the Bible, tears down hundreds of church buildings, and imprisons pastors.

Open Doors states in its 2019 report that 245 million Christians around the world—one in nine globally—are currently suffering from persecution. On average, eleven believers are killed every day for their faith.

The countercultural way to be “blessed”

Jesus taught us: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Notice that our Lord says “when,” not “if.”

Persecution is inevitable for true followers of Jesus (cf. John 16:33). Those who hate our Father will hate his children (John 15:18–21). Paul was blunt: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Here we learn that if we are not facing opposition for our faith, we should ask whether our faith is as public and uncompromising as it should be. I’m not suggesting that we need to seek to be persecuted. But I am suggesting that we should not be surprised when we are.

What persecution teaches us

Jesus continued: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12, my emphasis).

Persecution forces us to decide whether we are living for reward on earth or reward in heaven. Until we face opposition for our faith, we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live for this world and the next. When we are forced to choose between “treasures on earth” and “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19–20), we discover which truly comes first for us.

This discovery is crucial whether we are facing persecution or not since “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21).

65,000 students began the new year in worship

More than 65,000 college students gathered in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin the new year with worship, Bible teaching, and prayer.

The purpose of Passion 2020, which ends today, “is you and me saying goodbye to lesser things and saying yes to Jesus, the One whose name is above every name.” Those attending are seeking “to live in such a way that their journey on earth counts for what is most important in the end.”

Let’s join them.

NOTE: I’m pleased to announce that A Pastor’s View launches on Tuesday, Jan. 7. This new ministry of support and encouragement for pastors and church leaders will offer free resources and a monthly teleconference with Pastor Mark Turman and me. If you are a church leader, I invite you to subscribe to A Pastor’s View here

 

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Denison Forum – Is Alexa the new Santa? Experiencing the power of Christmas

Here’s a sign of the times: children are asking Alexa to bring them presents their parents didn’t order.

A five-year-old boy ordered a Tesla; fortunately for his family, Amazon delivered Tesla-branded running pants rather than a car. A mother says her four-year-old learned how to use her iPad to shop on Amazon and “boxes and boxes arrived. He was jumping up and down with excitement that he had ordered all this stuff.”

Here’s a more ominous sign of the times: the Wall Street Journal is reporting on “the generation gap over church at Christmas.” The subheading explains: “Strains surface when millennial children who rarely attend religious services visit baby-boomer parents who do.” The article cites a report that 52 percent of Boomers see Christmas as a religious holiday, compared to 32 percent of millennials.

The last statistic explains Pope Francis’ statement to Vatican officials that “we are no longer under a Christian regime because the faith—especially in Europe, but also in much of the West—no longer constitutes an obvious premise of common life. On the contrary, it is even often denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.”

The ceiling at St. George’s Chapel

This Christmas week, we’re going to see what Christmas can teach a post-Christian culture about Christ. Today we’ll learn about his power and discover why such omnipotence is still so relevant to us.

Colossians 1 states that the Christ of Christmas is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15). This is an astounding fact.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it several times and am always amazed by its stunningly beautiful ceiling. But staring up at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground.

When we stand before it, we can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here: Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word for “image” also shares in the nature of that which it reflects. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

Circling our planet 7.5 times a second

The Bible describes Jesus’ pre-Christmas divinity in other startling ways as well.

John 1 notes that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that the diameter of the observable universe is around 92,000,000,000 light-years. (A light-year is the distance light can travel in a year. If you could travel that fast, you could circle the Earth 7.5 times in one second.)

And Jesus made all of that.

Hebrews 1 adds that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (v. 3). Scientists tell us that our planet weighs about 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. Ours is one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in our observable universe.

And Jesus “upholds” all of that.

The God who became a baby

Then came the moment when the God who made and maintains our universe entered our tiny planet. He condensed his omnipotence down to become a fetus, the tiniest human life, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby within it.

Then that baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous limbs and raise dead bodies. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Because of the omnipotence of Christ living in us, we have his power over temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13); we can overcome Satan (1 John 2:14); we can pray effectively for those in need (James 5:15); and we can take the gospel to the entire world (Acts 1:8).

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the omnipotent God proved that he could live in human flesh.

He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

How can we experience the power of Christmas in culture-changing ways?

One: Go to God first. We will have the power of Christmas when we submit to the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. We will have the power of Christmas when we walk with the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. We will have the power of Christmas when we serve and glorify the Christ of Christmas.

A post-Christian culture will see the relevance of Christ in our world when it sees the relevance of Christ in us. Frederick Buechner: “For millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.”

Will you manifest the power of Christmas today?

 

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Denison Forum – ‘Star Wars’ and the 12 steps of the ‘Hero’s Journey’: Finding God in surprising places

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last film in the last Star Wars trilogy, opens in theaters today.

I remember my first Star Wars film as if it were last week. I had never seen such technology on a movie screen. And when Luke destroyed the Death Star, the cheers shook the theater.

We’ve been cheering for the Skywalkers for forty-two years since.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the Star Wars business has been good business for Disney. The Force Awakens grossed $937 million domestically, the most of any movie in box-office history. Disney’s new streaming service launched with a Star Wars spinoff called The Mandalorian; Disney reported that ten million users signed up a day after the service launched.

An immersive Star Wars-themed attraction called Galaxy’s Edge opened this year at Disney parks in Orlando and Anaheim. The attraction sells $20 Blu-rays, $84 Darth Vader gold rings, $32 Chewbacca kitchen aprons, and $199 lightsabers as well.

“A fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo”

What explains the remarkable generational popularity of the Star Wars franchise?

Dr. Travis Langley is a professor of psychology and lead writer of Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind. He explains that Star Wars creator George Lucas “deliberately wove the most successful elements of heroic epics from throughout history into his story.”

Dr. Langley points to Lucas’ use of Joseph Campbell’s work on the “Hero’s Journey,” which Campbell based on Carl Jung’s writings about the power of archetypes and myth.

According to Campbell, the hero takes twelve steps:

  1. Living in the ordinary world
  2. Hearing the call to adventure
  3. Refusing the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold to leave the ordinary world
  6. Testing allies and enemies
  7. Approaching a challenge
  8. Facing the ordeal of death or a great fear
  9. Gaining the reward but facing the risk of losing it again
  10. Taking the road back to complete the adventure
  11. Facing the resurrection—one more severe test, a possible moment of death and rebirth
  12. Returning with the elixir—the hero has been transformed.

Shortly before he died in 1987, Campbell told reporter Bill Moyers that this “journey” is “a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo.”

The “God-shaped emptiness” in us all

Campbell is right: we are all on a journey toward God’s purpose for our souls. Unfortunately, many attempt to reach their supernatural destination through natural means.

Observant Jews strive to obey the 613 laws of God. Muslims live by the Five Pillars of Islam. Buddhists seek to follow their Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Hindus practice ascetic rituals as they attempt to progress through multiple reincarnations toward their concept of salvation.

As Pascal noted, there is a “God-shaped emptiness” in each of us. Like the Skywalkers, we battle the Evil Empire in our hearts and our world as we seek to fulfill our ultimate destiny.

But unlike the Skywalkers, none of us can complete the “hero’s journey” without the help of the one true Hero.

“He went to set up his monument”

First Chronicles 18 tells the story of David’s conquest over the enemies of his people. Included in the narrative is this unusual statement: “David also defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah-Hamath, as he went to set up his monument at the river Euphrates” (v. 3). Think of it: just as a king was building a monument to himself and his power over the region, he was defeated by the king empowered by God.

What happens to self-made heroes happens to self-made nations as well. The Lord said of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria: “This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else.’ What a desolation she has become, a lair for wild beasts! Everyone who passes by her hisses and shakes his fist” (Zephaniah 2:15).

Trying harder to do better is imprinted on our cultural DNA. Self-reliance explains much of the material success of our society.

But self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. None of us can try hard enough or do well enough to compensate for our sins and earn our place in God’s sinless heaven.

That’s why God came to us at Christmas. It’s why he comes to us in his Spirit and word today. It’s why he calls us to submit to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), follow his will (Psalm 16:11), and depend on his power (Proverbs 3:5–6).

“Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best!”

Max Lucado: “Never did what is right involve itself so intimately with what is wrong. God on a cross. Humanity at its worst. Divinity at its best! God doesn’t gasp in amazement at the depth of our faith or the depth of our failures. He knows the condition of the world and he loves it just the same.

“Just when we find a place where God would never be, like a cross—we look again, and there he is . . . in the flesh! Inconsistent surprises. Maybe the next time a surprise comes your way, you’ll see God in the middle of it.”

Where in your broken world do you need to see God today?

 

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Denison Forum – Three ways to interpret the impeachment of President Trump: The verdict of history and God’s call to eternal significance

The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump last night, a decision that fell almost entirely along party lines.

As I noted yesterday, some House members have been trying to impeach the president for years and undoubtedly see yesterday’s vote as a vindication of their efforts. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some see the House Democrats as attacking the president unfairly and are even more likely to support him.

This marks only the third time in American history a president has been impeached. Few events in American political life are as potentially significant and insignificant at the same time.

A vote that could change nothing or everything

There are three ways to interpret what happened in the House of Representatives yesterday.

In one sense, the House vote may change nothing. The Republican-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit the president when his trial begins in early January. If it does, he will stay in office and will be free to run for reelection in 2020.

In a second sense, the House vote dramatically changes history. Even if the Senate acquits the president, impeachment will forever be part of the record of his administration. And if the Senate removes him from office, America will obviously never be the same.

In a third sense, we do not yet know the future significance of yesterday’s action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House could at least temporarily hold its articles of impeachment from the Senate, depending on how the latter chooses to conduct its trial on the president’s removal.

Even if the Senate acquits the president, we do not know the effect of impeachment on his future. President Andrew Johnson survived impeachment in 1868, lost his party’s nomination for reelection later that year, then won back his old Senate seat in 1875. President Bill Clinton survived impeachment in 1999 and left office in January 2001 with a 65 percent approval rating, the highest of any of his predecessors in half a century.

Assuming that President Trump is acquitted, undecided voters may see his impeachment as a reason to vote for or against him next year. The divided House of Representatives may achieve greater unity in the future, or its action may signal a new era in which impeachment becomes another tool in oppositional politics.

Until the Senate acts on the House vote, and perhaps for years afterward, we will have a limited perspective by which to judge the ultimate significance of yesterday’s action.

Visiting the Reagan Library

This balance between the now and the not-yet pervades every dimension of our world. You and I experience life in the present moment. But we also experience life as a continuum in which yesterday becomes today which flows into tomorrow.

This balance means that every moment is intrinsically significant, for it holds our past and our future in its hands. As a result, we must do all we can to be as faithful to our calling as we can while we can.

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Southern California. As we toured this marvelous facility, we were struck by several of President Reagan’s quotes on display.

For instance, in his State of the Union address in 1984, the president stated: “Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”

How can the same be said of us?

“You eat, but you never have enough”

One option is to ignore the future for the sake of the present. However, such shortsightedness impoverishes both the future and the present.

The Lord said to the exiles who returned to Judah and rebuilt their homes while ignoring the house of God: “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm” (Haggai 1:6). What we have without God is never as significant as what we can have with him.

A second option is to ignore the present for the sake of the future. However, such speculation impoverishes both the future and the present.

The Lord counseled his returned exiles: “Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord” (vv. 7–8). Rather than speculate about God’s future judgment, we should obey his present call. Then our present obedience will lead to his present and eternal reward.

“God wants to use us as he used his own Son”

The significance of yesterday’s impeachment vote awaits the verdict of history. But it also illustrates the urgency of serving our divided nation and our sovereign King with a courageous witness and compassionate grace.

Oswald Chambers: “It is only the loyal soul who believes that God engineers circumstances. We take such liberties with our circumstances, we do not believe God engineers them, although we say we do; we treat the things that happen as if they were engineered by men.”

As a result, “God is made a machine for blessing men, and Jesus Christ is made a Worker among workers.” Our Lord intends the opposite: “The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us.”

Here is the bottom line: “God wants to use us as He used His own Son.”

How fully can God use you today?

 

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Denison Forum – Dallas woman is a millionaire for a day: The transforming joy of selfless giving

Ruth Balloon finished her shift at Roma Boots in Dallas last week, then she happened to check her bank account. It turned out, she had an extra $37,000,000. She called her husband, who called the bank, who explained that it was a clerical error and took back the money.

“I was a millionaire, I have a screen shot of it so I can say that now,” said Balloon. “It’s quite a story.” She said there was no way she was going to keep the money, but she did think about how she could have spent it. “First I was going to do 10% tithing. Then I was going to donate some money and then I would have invested in real estate,” she explained.

The world would be a better place if Ruth Balloon were actually a millionaire. Football star Kahlil Mack is actually a millionaire, having signed a $141 million contract with the Chicago Bears last year. And he is actually making the world a better place by paying off all the holiday layaway accounts at a Walmart in Fort Pierce, Florida, his hometown.

Another story on the same theme: Dave McAdams is a youth pastor, baseball coach, and owner with his wife of a coffee house in Oak Grove, Oregon. He is also dying of cancer. Last Wednesday, the owner of a nearby coffee shop closed her store for a day and ran theirs.

“I knew that I had to do something to help them keep their business afloat so that Tina could be with Dave,” said Pixie Adams, owner of Moonlight Coffeehouse. “So, I decided to take over their shop and throw all of the support I could through my business and my community their way.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone were willing and able to help us with all our problems in whatever way is best for us?

Remembering my father

My father died forty years ago yesterday.

For the first number of years, the anniversary of Dad’s death brought only pain and grief, that tightening of the throat and chest that washes over you and brings it all back like it was yesterday. But with the passage of time, perspective has enabled me to remember the good as well as the hard.

Yesterday, I found myself thinking about all the ways my father loved our family and provided for us. I thought about fishing trips together and vacations and campouts. I always knew he loved me and that he would do all he could do to provide for us.

My father was relevant to every dimension of my life, every day of my life. When he died, all of that changed. Now he is relevant as a memory, a figure of the past whose influence continues but who obviously has no interaction with my life today.

Unfortunately, this is how some see our heavenly Father’s relevance to our secularized culture. For them, God is an outdated concept, a superstition left over from less scientific times.

For others, God is a benefactor like Khalil Mack or Pixie Adams, someone who helps us with our problems from time to time but bears little transformative relevance to our decisions and society.

What we need is to see our Father as he is, in all his power and holiness. When we do, his relevance to our lives and culture will be both obvious and urgent.

Praying at Drag Queen Story Hour

I am reading 1 Chronicles these days and found a statement I had never noticed before. David wanted to build a temple for God, but the Lord sent word through the prophet Nathan that David’s son would build such an edifice instead. The Lord then offered David his assurance that the king’s line would be blessed greatly.

Here was David’s response to such grace: “Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you” (1 Chronicles 17:25). David was so awed by God that he needed courage to enter his presence even in gratitude for his blessing.

Does our culture need such courage to pray to God as we understand him today? Do you?

A pharmacist who is also a local pastor is being sued because he would not provide an abortion pill to a customer due to his opposition to abortion. Another pastor is facing prosecution by the city of Spokane, Washington, after he attempted to enter a public library. He wanted to pray quietly for children attending a Drag Queen Story Hour as they heard a crossdressing person read books about sexuality.

A common claim in our culture is that we must keep our religious beliefs to ourselves. If our culture saw the God of the universe as he truly is, the fallacy of such a claim would be transparent.

“God’s light is more real than all the darkness”

The angels of Christmas announced “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Henri Nouwen commented: “Joy does not come from positive predictions about the state of the world. It does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world. . . .

“The surprise is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. No, the real surprise is that God’s light is more real than all the darkness, that God’s truth is more powerful than all human lies, that God’s love is stronger than death.”

Your Father is the king of the universe. His reign is relevant to every dimension of your life and brings joy to all who make him their king with humble awe and grateful obedience.

Will “all the people” see the “great joy” of Christ in your life today?

 

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Denison Forum – The latest on impeachment: How and why to trust the sovereignty of God

The House Judiciary Committee appears likely to adopt two articles of impeachment today and send them to the full House of Representatives, where they may be voted upon as early as next week. If the House approves the articles by a simple majority (which seems very likely, given its Democratic majority), they are then sent to the Senate for a trial.

For the Senate to convict the president and remove him from office requires a two-thirds supermajority vote of those present. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, this seems very unlikely.

Meanwhile, a new poll reports that 50 percent of Americans say President Trump should not be impeached and removed from office, while 45 percent think he should be.

Ours is not the only government in turmoil.

British citizens have begun voting today in parliamentary elections that are likely to decide whether the world’s fifth-largest economy leaves the European Union next month or moves toward another EU referendum. An exit poll will be published when polls close at 10 p.m. (4 p.m. in Dallas) and may indicate the winner.

The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed a vote yesterday to dissolve itself and hold an election on March 2, 2020. This sends Israelis to ballot boxes for the third time after both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz failed in their attempts to form a governing coalition.

Watching the Baylor/OU game

Last weekend, I watched on television as Baylor played Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. I had to leave the game for a while, so I recorded it. Oklahoma was leading 10–0 at the time and the game looked like it was going to become a blowout.

When I returned, I checked the score online to see if I wanted to keep watching. I learned that Baylor was now leading 13–10 at halftime. I then watched the rest of the half, but I already knew its outcome.

You and I are playing a game whose score has already been decided. As my college professor noted, Christians can summarize the Book of Revelation in two words: “We win.” But the plays that make up that final score are nonetheless vital.

And the fact that God knows the future does not mean that he necessarily determines it.

The Lord sees tomorrow more clearly than we see today (Isaiah 46:10). He can see on Thursday what you will have for dinner on Friday. But watching and determining are not always the same thing. If I could watch you read this Daily Article, that fact would not mean that I forced you to read it.

God’s sovereignty does not negate our freedom. Scripture repeatedly calls us to exercise our free will in ways that honor the Lord and obey his will (cf. Matthew 7:21; John 14:21; 2 Timothy 2:15).

Here’s what God’s sovereignty does mean: his ultimate purpose will always be fulfilled. Lawmakers in Washington can debate the future of the president and voters in Great Britain and Israel can elect a prime minister, but no one can depose the King of the universe.

“In all your ways acknowledge him”

In these days of political turmoil, it may be instructive to remember an earlier leadership transition. 1 Chronicles 10 records the death of King Saul by his own hand after his forces were defeated by the Philistines (v. 4).

But the Chronicler made certain we understood the larger forces at work: “Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (vv. 13–14).

Saul chose to end his life, but that choice was consistent with God’s sovereign judgment on Saul’s choice to trust a medium rather than God’s sovereign will. What “mediums” do we trust today?

The familiar invitation of Proverbs 3 still stands: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (vv. 5–6, my italics). Our society understands trusting God with some of your heart in some of your ways, especially those that are private and “religious.” But those who seek the will of God and trust the sovereignty of God in all their ways are unique in our secular culture.

And they are uniquely blessed and used by their sovereign Lord.

“There is only one relationship that matters”

I have been reading Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, every morning for three decades. Across all those years, one paragraph especially stands out for me.

In the November 30 reading, Chambers states: “There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord. Let everything else go, but maintain that at all costs, and God will fulfil His purpose through your life. One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purpose, and yours may be that life.”

Will God “fulfill His purpose through your life” today?

 

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Denison Forum – The most popular Bible verse for 2019: The peace of God requires the power of God

 

What would you guess might be the most popular Bible verse, according to YouVersion’s 400 million users?

Philippians 4:6 is the answer. The verse says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

What does its popularity say about us?

Volcano burns honeymooning couple

The day’s news seldom lacks for “anxious” headlines. For instance, a Virginia couple on their honeymoon in New Zealand were severely burned by the volcanic eruption on Monday that killed at least six people. Twenty-five people are currently hospitalized in critical condition.

A three-year-old boy whose mother was strolling him through a Manhattan crosswalk was struck and killed by a truck Monday, shortly after the two had finished eating breakfast at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. And six people were killed in a shootout in New Jersey yesterday, including a police officer, two suspects, and three civilians. The dead officer was Detective Joseph Seals, age forty, who was married with five children.

Tragedy makes the news daily, but we face more systemic issues as well. For example, a new study shows that death rates are increasing for middle-aged Americans of all racial and ethnic groups. Suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholism are the main causes, but heart disease, stroke, and other medical conditions are contributors as well.

Clergy are certainly not immune. For instance, a mental health summit for pastors was held last Friday at Wheaton College. About four hundred ministry leaders filled a sold-out auditorium; the event was live-streamed to seventy-seven churches around the world. It responded to a recent report that about half of all Protestant pastors feel as though the demands of ministry are more than they can handle; 54 percent find their role to be frequently overwhelming.

US Catholic priests are likewise dealing with stress, burnout, depression, and substance abuse issues. An escalating shortage of priests is exacerbating demands on Catholic clergy as well.

“The Lord is at hand”

Where can we find peace in such perilous times? Yesterday, we discussed the urgency of seeking to live by the word of God. Today, we’ll focus on seeking the help of God to obey the word of God and experience the peace of God.

Like every word in God’s word, our favorite verse for the year has a context. In the Greek, Philippians 4:6 actually continues a sentence Paul began in the previous verse: “The Lord is at hand.” The phrase means that God “is present in this time and place.”

This restates Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), as well as our Father’s assurance, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10). As a result, Paul’s thought continues, we can choose to “not be anxious about anything.”

However, the fact of God’s empowering presence does not mean that we have no responsibility in advancing his kingdom.

“Valiant men” were “expert in war” but “cried out to God”

In 1 Chronicles 5, we read that “the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war” (v. 18). Unsurprisingly, when they “waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphis, and Nodab” (v. 19), “they prevailed over them” (v. 20a). Here we see the importance of developing our skills until we are “expert” in them.

But the rest of the verse gives the underlying reason for their victory: “For they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (v. 20b). As we give God our best minds and skills, he uses us to do more than we could do without him.

We find this divine-human partnership at work all through Scripture.

Moses was skilled in Egyptian culture, then God used his courageous leadership (Acts 7:22). David was a brilliant warrior, theologian, musician, and statesman who depended deeply on God’s strength (Psalm 25:5). Daniel was a skilled scholar (Daniel 1:20), but also a fervent intercessor (Daniel 6:10). Paul was trained by the most acclaimed scholar in Judaism (Acts 22:3), but he knew he could do all things only “through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

“This small way that leads to real peace and joy”

As we work, God works. As we give God our best and trust him for his best, we experience his power and know his peace.

Christmas illustrates our theme. Micah 5 contains the famous prediction that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of “one who is to be ruler in Israel” (v. 2). But two verses later, we learn how the Messiah would fulfill this calling: “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD” (v. 4).

As a result, “he shall be their peace” (v. 5). The peace of God comes to those who depend upon the power of God.

Henri Nouwen: “It is hard to believe that God would reveal his divine presence to us in the self-emptying, humble way of the man from Nazareth. So much in me seeks influence, power, success, and popularity. But the way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness, powerlessness, and littleness. It does not seem a very appealing way. Yet when I enter into true, deep communion with Jesus, I will find that it is this small way that leads to real peace and joy.”

Will others find the “peace and joy” of Jesus in you today?

 

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Denison Forum – A man who nearly died at Pearl Harbor has been buried there: An inspiring story of courage that compels our best

The USS Arizona has seen its last burial.

Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last man to escape the ship during the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. He was one of only 334 crew members to survive the December 7, 1941 attack that killed 1,177 of his fellow sailors.

When the ship exploded, Bruner swam across seventy feet of burning water to reach the repair ship USS Vestal. He suffered burns on nearly 80 percent of his body and was wounded by Japanese gunfire. He recovered from his injuries and returned to sea, serving aboard the destroyer USS Coghlan in eight more battles against the Japanese. He died this year on September 10, just months before his ninety-ninth birthday.

More than nine hundred sailors are entombed within the sunken ship. The remains of forty-three USS Arizona survivors have been interred there over the years as well. Per his request, an urn containing Bruner’s ashes was placed by divers inside the ship Saturday, the seventy-eighth anniversary of the attack.

Lauren Bruner will be the final person to be interred on the USS Arizona. The last three living survivors plan to be laid to rest with their families.

My father’s war story

Does reading about Lauren Bruner fill you with gratitude for his courage? It does for me, especially because what happened at Pearl Harbor so directly changed what would become my life.

My father grew up in a small town in Kansas with plans to become a doctor. He had never seen Japan prior to the “date that will live in infamy.” I doubt he had heard of Pearl Harbor before it was attacked.

But when President Roosevelt declared war on Japan (see his moving speech here), my father immediately enlisted in the Army and fought the Japanese in the South Pacific. Most of the men with whom he served died there. He witnessed atrocities that would mark him for the rest of his life. His entire trajectory was changed by his military service.

Sixteen million other Americans joined my father in serving our nation during World War II. Of their number, 405,399 were killed in action and 671,278 were wounded. No one who served our nation would ever be the same. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay.

“Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border”

I was reading through 1 Chronicles and came upon the passage made famous by Bruce Wilkinson’s bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez: “Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (1 Chronicles 4:10).

For God to “enlarge” his “border” meant to increase his territory and influence. Jabez wanted his life to count as fully as possible. But he knew that this was impossible unless the “hand” of God was “with” him to lead, empower, and protect.

Such a prayer may seem audacious, but “God granted what he asked.” It seems that the Lord wants us to seek to be all we can be for his glory and the good of others:

  • We are to “work heartily” in all we do (Colossians 3:23). Are you doing so?
  • God wants us to “approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). Are you ready for that day?
  • Our Father empowers what he expects: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Are you seeking such empowerment?

The temptation of being good

As I read about Lauren Bruner this weekend and thought about my father’s sacrifice, I was inspired to make Jabez’s prayer my own. If millions of men and women could give their best to serve our nation, I can give my best to serve my Lord.

Here’s the problem: it is tempting to settle for less than our best when our good seems better than others. If we have not yielded to cultural pressure on abortion, homosexual relations, euthanasia, etc., we can conclude that we are more moral than those who have. But heterosexual sexual sin is sin as well. God cares for the poor as well as the unborn. He wants the best medical care for the indigent as well as the terminally ill.

And he wants us to champion all that he champions. I have noticed that it is easier to preach against sins I am not tempted to commit personally.

The secularity of Christmas

It is interesting that Jesus chose to be born in a “secular” stable rather than a religious shrine. He chose for his first worshipers field hands who were ritually unclean and unwelcome at the Temple or synagogue. The first religious leaders who met him were pagans from what we call Iran today.

Jesus chose to make his home in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). Neither he nor any of his apostles had rabbinic training. None would be “ordained” as we know the term today.

In other words, God intends his kingdom to extend to every corner of the culture, not just the parts we call “spiritual.” Here we discover a subtle but deadly temptation of the enemy: if he cannot lead us to reject all spirituality, he will tempt us to confine it to a day, a morning habit, a select group.

And to call ourselves good because we are better than some.

How to be “more than conquerors”

Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

The more we are submitted to Jesus, the more we can be used by him. The more our lives count for what counts most. The more we experience his abundant life (John 10:10) and are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

How fully will you surrender to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ today?

 

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Denison Forum – An apocalyptic asteroid and a shortage of french fries: Embracing the peace that ‘surpasses all understanding’

This headline is an uplifting way to begin your Friday: “Apocalyptic asteroid strike that could wipe out humanity is ‘only a matter of time,’ top scientist warns.” Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast told the BBC, “We will get a serious asteroid impact sometime. It may not be in our lifetime, but mother nature controls when that will happen.”

Here’s another news item to make your day: we may be facing a french fries crisis.

Crop damage due to cold and wet weather is causing a shortage of potatoes in North America. As a result, the US Department of Agriculture expects the nation’s output of potatoes to drop 6.1 percent compared to the previous year. Consequently, prices may rise and we may see a shortage of French fries in the near future.

Here’s my question: Which of these stories feels more real to you?

A “city-killer” NASA missed

We’ve been warned about “killer asteroids” before, but humanity still survives.

Fortunately, NASA assures us that it “knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”

Here’s the problem: the space agency could be wrong.

They didn’t spot the “city-killer” asteroid that narrowly missed Earth last July until just hours before it shot past us. The manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies admitted, “This object slipped through a whole series of our capture nets, for a bunch of different reasons.”

When it comes to killer asteroids, it just takes one. But no one knows when—or if—that one will arrive.

“The worst natural disaster in the history of North America”

The french fries crisis, on the other hand, is a real-time problem. We may not be astrophysicists qualified to calculate the trajectory of near-Earth objects, but most of us “would like fries with that.” We can understand this threat to our fast-food consumption.

It’s human nature to focus on problems we think we can control to the exclusion of those we cannot. That’s usually good advice for countering stress and anxiety.

Here’s the catch: our biggest problems are more like asteroids than french fries. The fact that we cannot control them only makes them worse.

Continue reading Denison Forum – An apocalyptic asteroid and a shortage of french fries: Embracing the peace that ‘surpasses all understanding’

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.

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

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.

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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.

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