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A retraction I am delighted to make

Posted by    |    December 15th, 2017 at 5:52 am

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In yesterday’s Daily Article, I made the point that mortality is a fact for us all. Reflecting on stories in the day’s news, I stated, “Evil people like the Son of Sam killer can develop heart disease. Heroes like John McCain can develop brain cancer. The death rate is still 100 percent.”

John McCain is still a hero and he still has brain cancer. But a kind reader sent me an extraordinary note about the Son of Sam killer that I asked his permission to share with you today.

An amazing story of redemption

Dr. Steve Foster is pastor of Community Bible Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In December 2009, he visited the “Son of Sam,” David Berkowitz, in prison.

Thirty years earlier, Berkowitz terrorized New York City, killing six people and wounding seven others. Police mounted the largest manhunt in New York City history, arresting him on August 10, 1977. Berkowitz claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the form of a dog belonging to his neighbor “Sam.” He pled guilty to second-degree murder and has been serving six consecutive life sentences.

I remembered his story when reading that Berkowitz has now been hospitalized for a heart problem. What I didn’t know was the rest of the story.

Dr. Foster tells it well: While in prison, Berkowitz came to faith in Christ. Such “conversions” are often a play for media attention or sympathy from parole boards, but his has clearly been sincere. For decades, he has been ministering to other prisoners in Jesus’ name. He has especially focused on those who are suicidal and emotionally disturbed.

In his blog post, Dr. Foster notes: “It was hard for me to imagine this man as the former Son of Sam. He was humble, gentle, self-effacing.” Berkowitz has developed a writing ministry with Christian ministers around the world; his testimony has been used by Prison Fellowship in many of their prison outreaches.

Berkowitz views his imprisonment as just punishment for his crimes and has regularly refused even to attend his parole hearings. He has also issued a public apology, asking for forgiveness from those he has hurt.

Dr. Foster says that he left his meeting with David Berkowitz with Paul’s testimony in his mind:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12-14).

I am delighted to retract my description of David Berkowitz as “evil.” He is not who he was. His transformation shows that the gospel that changed Paul’s life still changes lives today.

Partner with the God who redeems

How can you and I experience and share this transforming power with our culture? Several personal journal notes I have made in recent days help answer our question.

One: Delight God by depending on him.

I recently read in Psalm 147, “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (vv. 10-11). To “fear” and “hope in” God is to revere and trust him.

God loves you no matter what you do, but he delights in you to the degree that you depend on him.

Two: Go where he sends and say what he says.

Jonah 3 tells the story of the prophet’s ministry in Nineveh. This city and its people were bitter enemies of the Jewish nation. Yet, when Jonah warned them of divine judgment, “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (v. 5).

Clearly, the Holy Spirit had been at work in Nineveh before Jonah arrived. I noted in my journal: when we follow God, he leads us where he has already prepared the way for us.

We are like farmers planting seeds in soil–we can go where the ground has already been plowed, or we can try to plow it ourselves. However, only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin and change lives. If he does not convict people, we cannot convince them. Obedience to God is fruitful; disobedience is fruitless.

Three: Submission to God brings peace.

Yesterday’s reading in Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest includes this observation: “Whenever you obey God, His seal is always that of peace, the witness of an unfathomable peace, which is not natural, but the peace of Jesus. Whenever peace does not come, tarry till it does or find out the reason why it does not.”

David Berkowitz has clearly chosen to depend upon the Lord. His ministry from prison is now being used to touch lives around the world. And the peace Dr. Foster witnessed in his countenance is evidence that the Prince of Peace rules his heart.

After his meeting with Berkowitz, Dr. Foster responded in his blog post: “Grace. Abundant grace. Amazing grace. Poured out from God upon those who need it. And all of us need it . . . whether we recognize it or not.”

Do you recognize your need of grace today?

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A personal request from Jim Denison

Posted by    |    December 14th, 2017 at 11:09 am

Reading Time: 3 minutes

God promises that his word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). His Spirit uses his word to save souls and change lives.

As we face unprecedented attacks on biblical morality, people more than ever need biblical truth on the issues that matter. That’s why Denison Forum exists–to take God’s word to today’s culture with news discerned differently.

Our good news

The Lord has been so gracious to build and use this ministry. Recent notes from some of our readers have been very affirming:

• Gajanan wrote, “Every day I read your article. It is very helpful for me to grow in Christ. My wife and I work with orphan kids in India. Sometimes we get discouraged but many times your articles encourage us to serve the Lord continuously.”

• Diane added, “Your daily accounts always bring clarity and biblical perspective for the current events facing us.”

• Eli wrote, “I am truly motivated to live my life for Christ by your examples of real life situations you tell your readers about every day.”

• Tom said, “I often forward your messages to my children and we all grow in our faith. We are also better equipped to help others as a result of your work.”

• And Colleen added, “I am thankful for a Christian perspective on the current world events that are taking place. We must be aware, informed, and confident that our God is in control.”

It is a great honor to share biblical truth with each of our readers. By God’s grace, we are reaching more people than ever before with his word:

• My Daily Article now reaches 119,000 subscribers in 234 countries and territories around the world.

• Between subscribers and those to whom they forward our emails, the Daily Article has been read more than 11.5 million times this year.

• In March, we launched Cultural Preaching, a weekly cultural engagement resource for pastors. More than 2,000 pastors in sixty-five countries and territories receive this newsletter each week. Cultural Preaching has been read more than 41,000 times so far this year.

• In June, we partnered with Dunham + Company to initiate our most ambitious growth campaign to date. We are on course to grow our reader base ten-fold next year and enlist nearly three million followers through social media.

• In September, we invited readers to help us raise funds for Hurricane Harvey relief. Together, we donated $339,582 to this cause.

• In October, we launched The Jim Denison Resource Library, containing thousands of my sermons, Bible studies, white papers, and other resources created over thirty-five years of ministry.

• Janet Denison’s Bible studies, blogs, and website articles are reaching more people than ever before.

Christian Parenting continues to offer biblical insights to parents and families.

Why we need your help

This ministry depends entirely on your support. There are no funding sources apart from the generosity of readers like you.

That’s why I’m writing today to ask for your help.

Your gifts as we come to the end of this year will enable Denison Forum to help more Christians engage the issues of our day and use their influence for God’s glory.

Would you help us financially? A $50,000 matching grant will double your gift to help bring biblical truth to our broken culture in the coming year. Matching this grant will help us reach our goal of $1.3 million in December, part of our $2.7 million annual budget.

I want to thank you personally for helping give God’s word to our hurting world. To make a secure, tax-deductible donation online, click here. If you would prefer to send a check, you can mail your tax-deductible donation to the Denison Forum, 17304 Preston Road, Suite 1060, Dallas, Texas 75252.

It is a wonderful privilege to share this ministry with you each day. God bless you and yours.

Jim Denison

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Is this the key to long life?

Posted by    |    December 14th, 2017 at 5:54 am

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best.”

This is how one elderly person describes the key to long life, part of a fascinating new study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. It reports that such optimism, along with stubbornness, a love for family and country, and a willingness to work hard are traits common among a group of Italians aged ninety to 101.

However, before you decide that optimistic stubbornness is all you need to live longer, take note: other studies claim that owning a dog, drinking coffee, and doing more push-ups and sit-ups contribute to longevity. But another study warns that too much exercise can raise your risk of an early death.

Here’s a fact: no matter how long you live, you won’t live on this planet forever.

Evil people like the Son of Sam killer can develop heart disease. Heroes like John McCain can develop brain cancer. The death rate is still 100 percent.

If we will all die (unless the Lord returns first), why do we try so hard to fight the fact of our mortality?

Jesus is still the Great Physician

One reason is God-given: our Lord cares about our physical health.

Jesus was noted far and wide for his healing ministry (Matthew 4:23-25). The apostles were famous for the healing power of the Spirit at work through them (Acts 5:12-16). The apostle John prayed for Gaius “that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

God calls physicians and scientists to partner with him in healing bodies today. When a baby born with her heart outside her body survived because of extraordinary medical care, I believe her Father in heaven rejoiced.

In my work as Resident Scholar for Ethics with Baylor Scott & White Health, I have marveled at the God-given talents of doctors and care providers. A baby was born recently at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas as the result of a transplanted uterus–the first in the US. Many patients who would have died just a few years ago are experiencing remarkable health through genetic medicine advances.

God wants us to care for our physical bodies even as we care for our souls. He grieves when we are sick and suffering and wants us to pray for health and long life. Christians never truly die–the moment we take our last breath on earth, we take our first breath in heaven (Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:21). But we should seek to glorify God on earth as long as we are on earth.

Death is still the great enemy

A second fact seems contrary to the first: death is “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26). It is especially frightening for those who are not prepared to face it. If you’re not sure where you will go when you die, it’s clearly not safe to die.

Note the many ways we seek to ignore or obfuscate the reality of our mortality. We use euphemisms such as “he passed on” or “she left us” to avoid saying that a person “died.”

There was a day when nearly every funeral I conducted included an open casket and a processional past the deceased person’s body. Today there is seldom an open casket even at the cemetery or a body present at the memorial service. This change is in part a way of giving families privacy at the graveside service, but it is also a way for some to avoid the fact of death.

If I don’t know where a road leads, I’ll avoid taking it. If I’m already on such a road with no exit ramps in sight, I’ll avoid thinking about its destination. I’ll focus on the journey, ignoring the fact that it will end one day.

This refusal to confront our mortality is a very effective tool of the devil in keeping people from considering their need for Jesus. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis quoted a demonic tempter: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

That’s why followers of Jesus need to be courageous in talking to people about their need for Jesus. I know that such conversations can seem confrontational. But if you were an oncologist and knew a patient had cancer, would you risk hurting their feelings to tell them their condition? If you had the cure for their disease, would you pay any personal price to share it with them?

The measure of our love for lost people is our willingness to tell them they are lost.

Conclusion

If you have trusted Jesus with your eternal salvation, would you thank him right now for his saving love? He came at Christmas, died on Good Friday, and rose on Easter just for you. Would you thank him for those who brought you to him? And would you ask him to use your life and words today to lead someone else to him?

Billy Graham is right: “Heaven is real and hell is real, and eternity is but a breath away.” Are you ready?

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Four factors in the Alabama Senate election

Posted by    |    December 13th, 2017 at 6:12 am

In a “major upset,” Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in yesterday’s Senate election in Alabama. This was the fiftieth Senate special election in my lifetime. None has been remotely as controversial as this campaign.

The Denison Forum is nonpartisan and does not endorse or oppose political candidates. As a result, my intention today is not to support or criticize the candidates or their parties. Rather, it is to explore the cultural significance of the election in the context of biblical truth.

It seems to me that four factors influenced the outcome. I predict that these same factors will continue to be relevant to American elections for the foreseeable future.

One: Personal qualifications

Doug Jones has been working for civil rights and reconciliation since high school. He served as an assistant US attorney and private lawyer before being appointed US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama by President Clinton in 1997. As a result of his work in racial reconciliation, he received 96 percent of the African American vote in yesterday’s election.

Roy Moore graduated from West Point and served in Vietnam. He was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 but was removed in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. He was reelected in 2012 but was charged with violations of legal ethics in 2016 and suspended; he retired the next year.

In recent months, he faced allegations of sexual impropriety from at least eight women. These allegations apparently played a role in Jones’s upset victory, the first time Alabama has elected a Democrat to the Senate in twenty-five years.

As supporters of both candidates would agree, personal qualifications are obviously significant for elective office. Just as an overseer must be qualified for leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7), so a political leader should be qualified to serve.

Two: Political positions

A candidate’s political agenda is always relevant to an election. But this factor was especially important in the Alabama race, causing many conservative voters to support Judge Moore despite the personal allegations against him.

In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals agreed that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” Last year, 72 percent agreed with this statement, a far larger swing than other religious groups the poll studied.

I believe that one reason for this change is the opposition evangelicals feel from the culture. With the legalization of same-sex marriage and the rising hostility to biblical morality in our society, it’s not surprising that 83 percent of evangelicals believe religious liberty is under attack.

In this environment, many conservative voters are more concerned about a candidate’s political party and agenda than his or her personal qualifications. For instance, some Republicans who are troubled by personal accusations against Donald Trump nonetheless celebrated his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

In addition, recent allegations of sexual impropriety against political leaders show that we do not always know the private character of those we elect to office. And it is possible for God to use people who live unbiblically to advance his Kingdom agenda. The pagan king Darius issued a proclamation honoring the one true God (Daniel 6:25-27); Caesar Augustus ordered the census that fulfilled Scripture (Luke 2:1-7; Micah 5:2).

In today’s bitterly partisan environment, we will continue to see many voters support a candidate more because of party and position than because of personal qualifications. Scripture teaches that we are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). What a candidate will do in office is obviously a vital question for voters and constituents.

Three: “Fake news”

The Alabama election saw widespread complaints that criticisms of Roy Moore were “fake news.” According to exit polls, 51 percent of voters said the allegations against Moore were probably or definitely true, while 44 percent said they were probably or definitely false.

There have been several high-profile journalistic mistakes in recent weeks that have fueled widespread distrust of the media. “Fake news” will continue to be a major factor in our political climate for some time to come. The ninth commandment is clear: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). We are to “put away falsehood” (Ephesians 4:25) and reject slander (1 Peter 2:1).

Four: Write-ins and no-shows

Several newspapers in Alabama urged conservatives to write in a Republican rather than cast their vote for Moore. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby says he “voted for a distinguished Republican write-in” rather than vote for Moore.

According to Newsweek, Jones’s margin of victory was a little under 21,000 votes, while there were close to 23,000 write-in votes cast. Assuming most would otherwise have gone to Moore, “write-in votes had a decisive impact.”

In addition, only 1.3 million votes were cast out of 3.2 million eligible voters, meaning that nearly two million people chose not to vote rather than support either candidate. No-shows were especially significant on the Republican side. As The Atlantic reports today, “Although many white voters weren’t convinced to vote for Jones, the allegations against Moore persuaded many of them to stay home.”

Some Christians believe that we should focus more on building authentic Christian community and less on engagement with the secular culture. There are times when we must “go out from their midst, and be separate from them” (2 Corinthians 6:17, citing Isaiah 52:11). One way to do so is to view an election not as a binary choice between two nominated candidates but as an opportunity to write in a candidate or to protest the process by refusing to vote.

Conclusion

In our contentious, polarized society, we can expect more divisive elections. The mid-term elections next year are shaping up to be especially contentious. There are clearly no perfect candidates (or voters).

If Christians are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), we must be engaged in the cultural and political issues of our day. But we must always act with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). No matter how we or our candidates are treated, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is an imperative for us.

Shane Claiborne: “I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination.” How will you spread your faith today?

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Great white shark nearly beheads diver

Posted by    |    December 12th, 2017 at 6:03 am

A great white shark nearly took off a salvage diver’s head in South Africa, according to a now-viral video. Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles’ phenomenal quarterback (and very committed Christian), has been ruled out for the rest of the year with a knee injury.

And the wildfires in California have destroyed over a thousand structures as of this morning. An anesthesiologist lost his home to fire in Santa Rosa last October. Then a second home in Ventura, which he was renting to members of the military, burned down last week.

What do these stories have in common?

Shifting themes: A terror attack struck a bus terminal near Times Square yesterday morning. The would-be suicide bomber was reportedly inspired by ISIS attacks on Christmas markets in Europe. Reuters is reporting that Russian-language hackers have stolen nearly $10 million from at least eighteen banks, fifteen of them in the US.

And the New England Patriots played without Rob Gronkowski when they lost to the Miami Dolphins last night. The All-Pro tight end was suspended for the game as punishment for an illegal hit on a Buffalo Bills player last week.

What do these stories have in common?

Great white sharks may be “top tier predators” in nature, but their hunting behavior is obviously amoral. Pro football players may occupy a similar rank in athletics, but the hit that injured Carson Wentz was both legal and typical for the sport. The latest California wildfires are being blamed on natural causes such as dry conditions in the region and the state’s Santa Ana winds.

However, Islamic terrorists, cyber-hackers, and football players who blindside other football players are clearly making immoral choices. What’s more, they illustrate a larger narrative I’d like to explore and relate to the grace of Christmas today.

“You have never talked to a mere mortal”

If our culture embraced the sanctity of human life, we would believe that every person we meet is worthy of our deepest respect. As C. S. Lewis noted, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

However, it has been conventional wisdom since Darwin that humans are the coincidental result of natural selection. Since Freud, many have believed that belief in God is an illusion based on the infantile need for a powerful father figure. Postmodernism has taught us that the Bible is a compendium of personal opinions about a subjective faith.

In such a culture, we ought not be surprised by the abortion of unborn babies and euthanizing of unwanted seniors. Or by the endemic racial discrimination that is part of the fabric of our society. Or by the proliferation of pornography and sex trafficking in our time. Or by the burgeoning ranks of homeless and hungry people in our midst.

Islamic terrorists especially illustrate this theme. They believe that every person who is not aligned with them is either an infidel (non-Muslims) or apostate (other Muslims). In their view, such people are worthy of death.

Thieves are another example. Whether they are stealing electronically from banks or in person from front porches during Christmas, they clearly believe that they have the right to take what is ours. Athletes who intentionally injure other athletes are demeaning their peers as well.

We could illustrate this cultural narrative at great length today. Three former NFL players now working as television analysts are being accused of sexual harassment this morning; a woman who was stopped from smoking on an airplane threatened to kill everyone on board; the stories of Rohingya women and girls raped by soldiers in Myanmar are truly heartbreaking.

Think how different the news would be if each of us saw each of us as God does.

The grace of Christmas

If you believe that the behavior I described in the last section is immoral, beware: “You have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).

Every time we sin against someone, we claim that we are more valuable than they are, that the sanctity of human life does not apply to them as it does to us. But here’s the good news: Our Father sees us as worthy of his unconditional love, no matter how conditionally we love each other. The Christ of Christmas became one of us that each of us might be one with him.

In worship last Sunday, I heard a Christmas song with this powerful chorus:

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

Why do you need his transforming grace? Who will experience his unconditional love in yours today?

NOTE: Today’s Senate election in Alabama is generating national attention. Our ministry is nonpartisan and does not endorse or oppose candidates. However, I will address the results of the election in tomorrow’s Daily Article as we discuss its significance for our culture.

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Why you weren’t invited to the ‘Star Wars’ premiere

Posted by    |    December 11th, 2017 at 6:00 am

The first reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi are in. According to the Associated Press, “the enthusiastic audience laughed and cheered throughout much of the two-and-a-half-hour film.” If you weren’t invited to the Los Angeles premiere, that’s because you’re not a Hollywood insider.

While being a celebrity might get you into a blockbuster movie opening, it’s no match for the power of nature. Paris Hilton, Chelsea Handler, Jennifer Tilly, and Lea Michele are among the celebrities fleeing wildfires that have grown larger than New York City and Boston combined. Tilly had to go to four hotels to find a room.

Now let’s shift gears to the most popular celebrity of Christmas. National Geographic is reporting on the final remains of St. Nicholas: “Though his remains are venerated worldwide, no one knows for certain where he rests in peace–or more accurately, in pieces.”

The man whose life became the basis for Santa Claus was a venerated Christian leader whose relics were distributed throughout Christendom after his death. A radiocarbon study conducted by Oxford University scholars shows that a relic housed in the Shrine of All Saints in Morton Grove, Illinois, does in fact date to the time of the saint’s death. Other relics of St. Nicholas are housed in more than a dozen churches around the world.

Nicholas of Myra was born in the city of Patara (in modern-day Turkey) in AD 270. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while he was young.

Obeying Jesus’ command in Matthew 19:21 to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his entire inheritance to help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was made Bishop of Myra while a young man and participated in the council that produced the Nicene Creed.

Those who are celebrities today may be forgotten tomorrow, but the Holy Spirit describes God’s faithful with this promise: “They may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). The deeds of St. Nicholas have obviously followed him.

Will others say the same of us one day?

The legacy of an improbable king

Over the weekend, I found myself reflecting on the life and legacy of King Josiah. The Bible describes this unlikely king with the highest praise: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25).

The godliest king in biblical history ascended to the throne at the age of eight (2 Kings 22:1). Eighteen years later, those refurbishing the temple “found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord” (v. 8), probably the Book of Deuteronomy. The king then gathered the leaders and people (2 Kings 23:1) and “read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord” (v. 2).

Next, Josiah made a personal commitment “to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments” (v. 3a). Following his example, “all the people joined in the covenant” (v. 3b).

Putting his commitment into practice, Josiah then directed the destruction of every implement used for idol worship (vv. 4-20) and ordered the observance of the Passover (vv. 21-23). He did all this “that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord” (v. 24).

Now that we know his remarkable story, we are not surprised by the biblical assessment that there was no king in biblical history as godly as Josiah (v. 25). However, his story was recorded by the Holy Spirit in Scripture not just to honor this faithful king but to lead us to emulate him.

How can we follow Josiah’s example today?

Emulating Josiah to glorify Jesus

God has given you a Kingdom assignment he has given to no one else. Here’s how Josiah would encourage you to be a good steward of the influence the Lord has entrusted to you during this Christmas season.

One: Spend time with your Father in his word. My major professor in seminary used to speak of being “immersed in Scripture.” Don’t let the busyness of the season distract you from the One whose birth we celebrate.

Two: Make public your personal commitment to Jesus. Testify to the “reason for the season” as the Spirit leads you, knowing that he will use your witness to lead others to join your faith.

Three: Align your life with values that glorify your Lord. Remove all that dishonors him in your personal life and stand publicly for biblical morality wherever you have influence.

As you emulate Josiah to glorify Jesus, don’t wait until you have a greater opportunity to serve your Lord. Be of use where you are because you certainly cannot be of use where you are not.

Nicholas of Myra had no idea he would become a venerated saint and that I would encourage us to follow his example today. Now it’s our turn. Singer and evangelist Keith Green: “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!”

Whose souls are you responsible for this Christmas?

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Why is a $15 toy selling for $5,000?

Posted by    |    December 8th, 2017 at 6:02 am

This New York Times headline that caught my eye: “How the Bot Stole Christmas: Toys Like Fingerlings Are Snapped Up and Resold.”

I had no idea what a Fingerling was or why I should care. Then I learned that fingerlings are “colorful chirping monkeys (and sloths and unicorns) that wrap around your finger.” They have become one of the most sought-after toys on Christmas lists.

Here’s why they are in the news: the fifteen-dollar creatures are sold out online nearly everywhere. You can’t find them at Toys “R” Us, Walmart, or Target. But you can buy them on eBay and Amazon for double, triple, and quadruple their original price. One Fingerling on eBay is advertised for $5,000.

Here’s why: popular items are being purchased by software programs as soon as they are offered for sale. These computer “bots” buy the products at a speed that humans can’t match. They also subscribe to online sales and use multiple email addresses to bypass the purchasing limits set by retailers.

Good Morning America also reported on this story, noting that a Barbie Hello Dream House which retails for $299.99 is being sold on eBay for nearly $1,700. A Nintendo video game that normally sells for $79.99 is being resold for $13,000.

Lawmakers are calling on retailers to “block the bots.” The National Retail Federation is working to “take away the tools being used against innocent customers.” But eBay explains: “As an open marketplace, eBay is a global indicator of trends in which supply and demand dictate the pricing of items. As long as the item is legal to sell and complies with our policies, it can be sold on eBay.”

And therein lies the problem.

The “invisible hand” of greed

In The Wealth of Nations, Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) spoke of the “invisible hand” of the market. He argued that an economy functions best in a free market scenario where everyone works for his or her own interest. If people are allowed to trade freely, self-interested traders will compete with each other, leading markets toward positive outcomes.

For example, a business that charges less for its product will draw customers. Other businesses will be forced to lower their prices or offer something better than their competitor. When enough people demand something, it will be supplied by the market. The seller gets the price he wants and the buyer gets the goods he wants.

But this economic system is fair to customers only when businesses are able to compete with each other. Smith did not envision a day when bots could buy all the Fingerling toys on the market and resell them for outrageous sums of money.

The phenomenon of bots at Christmas exposes this reality: humans are tempted by greed. No matter how much we have or don’t have, most of us want more than we need.

John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in human history. Even though he was noted for his remarkable philanthropy, when a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” he replied, “Just a little bit more.”

During this Christmas season, as materialism and consumerism dominate our culture, how can we set a better example for our secular society?

The value of values

In July 2002, President George W. Bush delivered a significant speech on corporate misconduct in which he noted: “All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there is no capitalism without conscience, there is no wealth without character.”

Similarly, Warren Buffett described the traits he seeks in employees: “You look for three things: You look for intelligence, you look for energy and you look for integrity.” Of the three, he says that integrity is the most important.

How can we choose character over greed?

One: Agree with God. His warnings on the peril of possessions are clear:

• “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
• “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
• “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).
• “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

If you think you’re the exception, you’re being deceived.

Two: Pray for integrity. We cannot be godly in human strength (Romans 7:9). But whatever God asks us to do, he helps us to do.

Phillips Brooks: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

Imagine a world where all of God’s people accepted this invitation. Will you “pray for powers equal to your tasks” right now?

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Should the US declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?

Posted by    |    December 7th, 2017 at 5:15 am

NOTE: Given the complexity and significance of today’s subject, this Daily Article is longer than usual.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” President Trump announced yesterday. After his statement, Palestinian protesters burned photos of the president in Gaza City. By contrast, the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City were lit with the colors of the American and Israeli flags.

Why is this such a controversial and divisive issue?

I have been to the Holy Land more than twenty times. Each time, I am amazed again by the complexities surrounding Jerusalem, the religious capital of more than half the world’s population.

Rather than make a case for one position, I will survey the history of the Holy City and briefly outline the various arguments on this divisive issue. Then I will ask you to join me in a commitment to two principles that transcend controversy and advance God’s Kingdom.

An introduction to Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for almost six thousand years. Three millennia ago, it was captured by King David and made the capital of his kingdom (2 Samuel 5:6-10). His son Solomon built his palace and the first temple there (1 Kings 6-7).

Babylon destroyed the city and its temple in 586 BC; they were rebuilt after the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great liberated the Jews in 538 BC. King Herod enlarged the temple and city greatly, but both were destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city in AD 129-30, naming it Aelia Capitolina. When Constantine became emperor, he changed the name back to Jerusalem in AD 324.

In AD 614, the Persian army conquered the city and destroyed most of its churches. Muslims called the city “el-Quds,” meaning “the holy.” They believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from a rock in Jerusalem known as the Foundation Stone. (Jews believe this rock is where the creation of the world began and was the location of their temple.) In AD 691, Muslims completed the famous Dome of the Rock over this location. It is the third-holiest site in the world to Muslims (next to Mecca and Medina, the places of the Prophet’s birth and death).

The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque comprise the Temple Mount. The structure enclosing this elevated area on its western side is the famous Western Wall or Wailing Wall. Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, so this Wall is their place of prayer closest to where their temple once stood. It is therefore the holiest site on earth to them.

Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in AD 1099 but surrendered it to the Muslim general Saladin in 1187. Ottoman Turks took over in 1517, rebuilding walls around the city. This enclosed area is known today as the “Old City.” It is only .35 square miles in size, with a population of approximately 35,000 people, and is located in what is known as East Jerusalem. The larger city of Jerusalem is home to more than 857,000 Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Jerusalem in the modern era

During World War I, the British army captured the city in 1917. Jerusalem remained under British rule until 1948, when they withdrew from Palestine and Israel declared independence. The new State of Israel gained control of West Jerusalem. However, East Jerusalem came under the control of Jordan, which denied Jews access to their holy sites, many of which were destroyed or desecrated.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, Jewish forces regained East Jerusalem. Jewish and Christian access to the holy sites was restored. Israel left the Temple Mount under the jurisdiction of an Islamic authority (the waqf) but opened the Western Wall to Jews.

To this day, Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Since 1950, all branches of the Israeli government (except the Ministry of Defense) have resided in West Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem to be its “complete and united” capital.

In response, United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 478 ruled this declaration a violation of international law and called on UN member states to withdraw their diplomats from the city. All twenty-four countries that had their embassy in West Jerusalem eventually moved them to Tel Aviv, where eighty embassies now reside.

However, in 1995 the United States Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, requiring that the American embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all signed waivers delaying this move every six months, citing security concerns. The US took the position that the final determination of Jerusalem should be part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution.

What the president announced

Yesterday, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced a plan to move the American embassy there. He also signed a waiver delaying the move another six months. White House officials explained that the waiver decision was necessary since it would take several years to move the embassy.

The president noted in his remarks that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and was reaffirmed by unanimous Senate vote six months ago. Presidents have delayed the move in a desire to advance peace. However, according to the president, “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”

The president noted that Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. He therefore considers his announcement “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” However, he made clear that “this decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.” He also voiced his support for a two-state solution and called on all parties to “maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.”

Arguments for this decision

At least four assertions are being made in support of the president’s decision.

One: It recognizes reality.

Nearly all the agencies of Israel’s government reside in Jerusalem. For this reason, Russia recently recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is Israel to be the only nation in the world that is not permitted to choose its own capital?

Two: It strengthens Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.

On December 23, 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” The US chose to abstain, allowing the resolution to become international law.

This resolution affected not only settlements in the West Bank but also historically Jewish sites such as the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The UN resolution forbids renovation or even maintenance of these areas.

UNSC 2334 is part of a larger attempt to undermine Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The “Temple Denial” movement claims that no Jewish temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Last week, the UN General Assembly voted one hundred and fifty-one to six (with nine nations abstaining) to adopt another resolution disavowing Israeli ties to Jerusalem.

UN bodies have adopted eighteen resolutions against Israel so far this year. In response, the president’s announcement lends America’s support to Israel’s solidarity with its capital city.

Three: It does not change the status quo in East Jerusalem.

The American embassy will be in West Jerusalem, an area that has been under Israeli sovereignty since its independence in 1948. The status of East Jerusalem will still be resolved through the peace process as before.

Four: It refuses to bow to the threat of terrorism.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz responded to the danger of terrorism: “No American decision should ever be influenced by the threat of violence. Terrorists should not have a veto over American policy. If the United States were to give in to threat of violence, it would only incentivize others to threaten violence in response to any peace plan.”

Arguments against this decision

At least three assertions are being made in opposition to the president’s decision.

One: It escalates the threat of violence.

Some commentators believe that the president’s statement will not provoke significant violence. Others claim the Arab world is less centered on the Palestinian cause than in the past.

However, King Abdullah II of Jordan fears that the move could be exploited by terrorists to stoke anger in the region. Saudi Arabia has condemned the plan for this reason; Turkish President Erdogan threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Israel as a result.

The patriarchs and heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem issued a statement warning that this step “will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive divisions.” The US State Department is reportedly bracing for violence at its consulates and embassies as a result of the announcement.

Two: It could undermine the peace process.

A statement from the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed that the US will be “disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace” and will “contribute to the further destabilization of the region.” The president’s announcement might limit the ability of moderate Arab states such as Jordan to support a peace process initiated by the US. It could force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to walk away from the peace process at a time when his leadership is vital to its success.

Three: The timing is not right.

The president has stated that his administration is working on a plan for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Some argue that yesterday’s announcement should have been part of this process.

Conclusion: What we should all agree on

Whether we agree or disagree with the president’s decision, we should all agree on two biblical facts.

One: Jesus is the only hope for lasting peace.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is difficult to resolve in part because both peoples lay claim to the same holy sites. After millennia of animosity between Jews and Arabs, distrust is deep and difficult to overcome. But Muslims around the world are turning to Christ in unprecedented numbers, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. And missionaries to the Middle East tell me that remarkable numbers of Jews are making Jesus their Messiah as well.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 10:13). True peace comes only from the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7). We should intercede daily for spiritual awakening in this conflicted region of the world.

Two: We must “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). This is a present-tense imperative for all believers.

Have you obeyed God’s command yet today?

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Supreme Court hears landmark religious liberty case

Posted by    |    December 6th, 2017 at 5:56 am

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard what Eric Metaxas calls “perhaps the most important free speech and religious freedom case in our lifetime.”

Eric explains the case succinctly: Jack Phillips is an artist who designs cakes. His business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is an expression of his faith. He has refused business in the past that conflicted with his faith–for instance, he won’t design Halloween cakes or cakes that celebrate divorce. The Satanic Temple recently asked him to create a cake for Satan’s birthday, but he refused.

When a same-sex couple asked him to design a cake for their same-sex wedding, he declined. He offered them any cake or other product in his store.

But the couple was infuriated and brought him before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It fined Phillips and ordered him and his employees to go through a “re-education” program. He has since stopped making custom wedding cakes, a decision that has cost him 40 percent of his business.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that government cannot force citizens to make, say, or do something that carries a message they reject. For example, the Court has ruled that the government cannot compel Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag. Now the Court is being asked to extend this religious freedom to the rest of us.

Can businesses “discriminate” against customers?

Writing for The Hill, Emilie Kao states, “At stake is whether the First Amendment to the Constitution protects all Americans at all times.” When Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, he stated, “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

We can claim that people who go into business forfeit the right to “discriminate” against customers. But Colorado already respects the rights of African-American cake artists to decline requests expressing the racist ideals of the Aryan Nations Church. Now the state refuses to respect the rights of a Christian cake artist to decline a request that violates his religious beliefs.

Consider the logic of this decision. Should a Jewish baker be required to make a cake celebrating Hitler’s birthday? Should a Muslim be required to make a cake that defames the Prophet Muhammad? Should a Christian be required to make a cake with pornographic images on it?

This is about more than wedding cakes. As Kao notes, a farmer in Michigan was banned from selling his fruit at a local market because he declined to host same-sex weddings. Families in Illinois are prevented from fostering children if they won’t affirm transgenderism. Residents in Minnesota and Arizona face criminal penalties if they operate a business that doesn’t conform to the state’s view of marriage.

Should Chick-fil-A be allowed to close on Sunday to honor the Lord’s Day? Should Christian retailers be allowed to refuse to sell pornographic magazines? Should Christian bookstores be permitted to refuse to sell the Satanic Bible?

What about racial discrimination?

Of course, some see this as an issue akin to racial discrimination. Would Jack Phillips be able to refuse to make a wedding cake for an interracial couple?

The connection between same-sex marriage and racial discrimination is tenuous, however.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of Los Angeles calls this connection “offensive” and says that the civil rights movement “is not about sex.” Bishop Gilbert Thompson of Boston: “I resent the fact that homosexuals are trying to piggy back on the civil rights struggles of the ’60s.” Pastor Garland Hunt of Atlanta adds: “Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with civil rights, this is an issue of morality.”

What are the differences between gay rights and civil rights? In his excellent A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, Kerby Anderson notes these facts:

• Race is clearly inherited; the origins of homosexual orientation are still very much in dispute.
• The biological differences between people of different races are miniscule, varying by just two-tenths of one percent. But the anatomical and biological differences between males and females are obviously very significant.
• Race cannot be chosen, while homosexual activity is a choice.
• While minorities continue to face economic discrimination, there are far less financial consequences for homosexuals. To the contrary, studies place the average income of homosexual households at either twice or 60 percent higher than the national average.

I would add that the Bible clearly rejects racism (Galatians 3:28). But it also forbids homosexual relationships and defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

I want to be clear: racism in all its forms is wrong. God loves the entire world (John 3:16) and calls us to do the same (Matthew 22:39). But it is not discriminatory for a Christian to refuse to make a cake that violates his religious beliefs.

To the contrary, it is discriminatory to force him to do so.

Conclusion

I invite you to pray for Jack Phillips and those who are defending his religious freedom. Pray for the Supreme Court justices to preserve our First Amendment rights.

And pray for God’s people to use this issue to speak the truth in love, defending biblical morality in a spirit of humble grace. We are all broken sexually and morally. We are all in need of grace. And the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

NOTE: A minister recently claimed that those who want to see the Church of England embrace a more open view of the LGBT community should pray that Prince George grow up to marry a man. For Ryan Denison’s thoughtful response, click here.

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Pray for Prince George to marry a man? Two thoughts

Posted by    |    December 5th, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth, a minister in the Scottish Episcopal Church, is in the news after arguing that Christians who want to see the Church of England embrace a more open view toward the LGBT community should pray that Prince George, England’s four-year-old future king, grows up to marry a man. The post originally ran in January of this year but regained notice following the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It has since been deleted, but that hasn’t stopped news sources such as Time and The Guardian from offering their two cents.

While the statement was far from Holdsworth’s only suggestion, it has generated the most headlines. And it’s not difficult to understand why. After all, very few on either side of the LGBT debate support the notion of using prayer to try and sway the sexuality of a four-year-old. While the reasons behind that belief may differ, a bit of common ground is seldom a bad thing.

And while I imagine that most of us stand in opposition to Holdsworth’s petition to prayer, it’s worthy of closer examination as it reveals two important insights on the host of issues the reverend attempts to address.

What determines our beliefs?

First, if Holdsworth is right and a gay king would truly change the beliefs of some Christians on the sinfulness of living out a homosexual lifestyle, then it says more about us than the teachings of Scripture. As Tim Keller writes, “When I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry.” The reason why, as Keller then explains, lies in the fact that our personal experiences do not change the truth of Scripture (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1).

If our views on homosexuality shift after meeting someone living out the LGBT lifestyle, then they were never really based on the Bible in the first place. As Christians, none of us should find joy in condemning the lifestyle chosen by members of the LGBT community, but our preferences do not change the truth of God’s word. As a result, the most loving thing we can do is to help people better know Jesus and experience his grace. Teaching them the truth of Scripture and holding one another accountable to those realities is a fundamental part of that process.

If Holdsworth’s theory is correct, then it stands as an indictment of our commitment to God’s word rather than what Scripture teaches on the issue of homosexuality.

Why we can trust Scripture on this issue

Second, the reverend’s encouragement to pray that the prince would be gay, rather than simply making his case from Scripture, typifies an argument often seen among those who cannot make their claims biblically. Because Holdsworth deleted his post, I cannot know what, if any, such attempts at a scripturally based argument he made. Yet the reality remains that the sort of exegetical gymnastics typically required to claim that the Bible does not call homosexual activity sinful are difficult to accept.

Still, a number of well-intentioned Christians have tried to make such a case. And while their arguments vary, they most often come down to the ideas that we currently misunderstand what the Bible says about living out an LGBT lifestyle and that the near-universal consensus of almost two thousand years’ worth of Christians has also been wrong on the subject.

That last part is especially important as most Christian proponents of homosexuality argue that the church’s traditional stance is similar to issues such as slavery, divorce, Christian participation in war, women in the ministry, and a host of other views that have often shifted over the years. As Keller points out, however, those comparisons are flawed in that none of the other issues enjoyed anything close to the level of consensus among believers as seen with regards to the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.

In short, there has never been a period in Christian history, save for the last few decades, when anything close to a majority of believers thought that God’s word permitted homosexual activity. And while tradition does not guarantee correct beliefs, it does establish a rather large burden of proof on those who would offer a different understanding.

Conclusion

As Christians, we can have confidence that Scripture condemns homosexual activity as sinful. At the same time, however, it’s vital we remember that the Bible never singles it out as more sinful than the host of other faults that can have an equally large impact on our walk with the Lord.

While Holdsworth’s suggestion that we should pray for a four-year-old to be gay is both terrible and tragic, our Lord has no more patience for us when our rhetoric and actions toward the homosexual community drive them further from him. But while God’s word makes that clear, our approach often tells a different story. To a heavenly Father who just wants what’s best for all of his children, no matter their sexual orientation, that sad reality is equally tragic.

Truth in humble love should characterize our response to Holdsworth as well as the members of the LGBT community he’s trying to help. Is that how sinners of any sort would describe your witness today?

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