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Denison Forum on Truth and Culture Christian Blog and Commentary

Denison Forum on Truth and Culture

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Paul Johnson, writing for Forbes, makes a frightening comparison between Russian President Vladimir Putinand German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.  He points out that prior to World War II, Hitler sent German forces into the Rhineland (then a country west of Germany), then into German-speaking Austria, and then into the Sudetenland (areas of what was then Czechoslovakia).  

Hitler claimed that he was only honoring the wishes of German-speaking peoples who wanted to be part of his Third Reich.  Similarly, Putin claims that his incursion into Crimea came at the request of Russians there. Observers worry that he will do the same in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. 

Winston Churchill condemned Hitler's advance, but British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a settlement with the German dictator in 1938.  The next spring, Hitler used the territories he had gained to launch an invasion of Czechoslovakia, then Poland.  World War II was the result.

Is history repeating itself, this time with a Russian president determined to create an empire for himself?

This headline makes the possibility even more alarming: "Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine."  Pro-Russian militants in the area have taken over a government office and are attempting to make Ukraine part of Russia.  Now Jews emerging from a synagogue say that masked men handed them leaflets ordering them to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee, or face deportation and confiscation of their assets.  The Ukrainian Prime Minister has denounced this action, as has U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  However, a Jewish resident says, "the text reminds me of the fascists in 1941."

Martin Niemöller, the anti-Nazi German pastor who spent eight years in a concentration camp, later lamented: 

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.  Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It often seems dangerous to speak truth to power and safer to avoid conflict.  But the opposite is actually the case: "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32), while "a lying tongue is but for a moment" (Proverbs 12:19).  The apostles who refused to stop preaching the gospel (Acts 4:20) have been remembered and admired for 20 centuries, while the authorities who threatened their lives have vanished on the dust heap of history.

How should Americans stand against tyranny and for the Jewish people?  Please share your thoughts in our comments section.  And choose to glorify Jesus today by "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), knowing that God's word "shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).

When last did you pay a price to serve Jesus?  What risk is he asking you to take for his Kingdom today?

 

Publication date: April 22, 2014

Last week's lunar eclipse produced a "blood moon" as the sun's rays were refracted by Earth's atmosphere and turned the moon a reddish hue.  It was the first of four blood moons to come, a phenomenon known as a "tetrad."  Last week's event fell on Passover.  The next will be on October 8, the Feast of Tabernacles; then on April 4, Passover in 2015; then on September 28, another Feast of Tabernacles.

A host of books has been published on this phenomenon, all claiming that something historic will happen in the next 18 months.  Some predict war in the Middle East; otherspredict the return of Christ.  However, NASA tells us there will be seven more sets of tetrads before the year 2100.  That's 32 blood moons in all.

I have no idea if these events have anything to do with Jesus' return.  But I do know that a "blood moon" was associated with his death.  When Peter preached his Pentecost sermon, he cited Joel's prophecy: "the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, that great and magnificent day" (Acts 2:20).  Interestingly, on April 3, AD 33, a Passover lunar eclipse was visible from Jerusalem.  As a result, a "blood moon" rose that night over the Holy City.

Whether that event marks the precise date of Jesus' death or not, we know that he died on Good Friday and was raised on Easter Sunday.  What he did is more important than when he did it.  And what he did is intended to transform our lives for eternity and for today as well.  But here's the problem: his resurrection can empower us today only if we experience it today.  If the risen Christ is a figure of history and a fact of faith but not a Person we encounter daily, we miss his transforming power in our lives.

Here's how to know if you are experiencing the risen Jesus: are you awed by God?

When Isaiah saw the Lord he cried out, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!" (Isaiah 6:5).  When Jeremiah heard his call he responded, "Ah, Sovereign Lord!  I do not know how to speak—I am only a child" (Jeremiah 1:6).  When Ezekiel saw the Lord he fell facedown (Ezekiel 1:28).  When Daniel received the vision of God, he says that his face "turned pale" (Daniel 7:28).

When Jesus first demonstrated his miraculous power to Peter, the burly fisherman pled with him, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8).  When Paul encountered the risen Christ he was thrown from his horse and blinded for three days (Acts 9:1-19).  When John saw the glorified Jesus he "fell at his feet as though dead" (Revelation 1:17).

I encourage you to make time today to be awed by God—time to worship him, to listen to his Spirit, to meet him in his word, to see him in his creation.  Stay in his presence until you know you have met him, and you cannot be the same.

Mother Teresa told her students that if they would spend time praising Jesus, they would have all the power they needed for the day.  Easter is not intended to be an event but a lifestyle.  When last were you awed by God?

 

Publication date: April 21, 2014

Tonight, Pope Francis will visit a home for the elderly and disabled in Rome.  There he will wash the feet of residents, all of whom are lay people.  Women and non-Christians may be in the group.  However, not everyone applauds the pope's inclusivism, claiming that priests are required by Church law to wash only the feet of 12 men.  The pope doesn't seem to care.  According to a Vatican spokesman, such rules can be a distraction from "the profound messages of the Gospels and of the Lord of the Church."

I wonder what Pope Francis would think about the fact that today is "National Ask an Atheist Day."  Organizers hope to provide "an opportunity for the general public—particularly people of faith—to approach us and ask questions about secular life."  Ironically—or providentially—the annual event falls this year on Maundy Thursday. 

Oddly, I believe we can learn from both Pope Francis and the atheists who staged their Day.  Both are taking the initiative to bring their message to those who might not otherwise come to them.  While the atheists won't care, they and the pope are following the example of Jesus.

This night 20 centuries ago, our Savior went to a private garden within an area known as Gethsemane.  Why there?  He was too popular for the authorities to arrest him in the city or during daylight hours.  So he went to this garden because "Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples" (John 18:2).  It was outside the city and late at night, so the soldiers could seize him without the crowds' knowledge.  As he waited, he had every opportunity to flee into the forest and escape back to Galilee.  There he could have lived a long, natural life.  Instead, he chose to go to the cross, for us.

God has always taken the initiative to restore us to himself.  He sought Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He sought Noah, calling him to build the ark that would save the human race.  He sought Abram in a land we call Iraq today.  He sought Jacob on that night they wrestled together, and Moses at the burning bush, and David after the king had sinned horrifically.

Then he sought us in the most miraculous, unexpected way of all—he became one of us.  He folded the glory and power which created the universe down into a fetus who grew into a baby who breathed our air, walked our dirt, faced our temptations, felt our pain, died on our cross and rose from our grave.  We could not climb up to him, so he climbed down to us.

He sought fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee, tax collectors in their booths and trees, lepers in their abandoned loneliness, and demoniacs in their cemetery hideouts.  He was the housekeeper who sought the lost coin, the shepherd who sought the lost sheep, the father who sought the lost son.  He sought Peter after his denials, and Saul of Tarsus as he persecuted the church, and John on his prison island of Patmos.

And then the day came when he made you.  Not because our planet needed another person, but because he wanted an intimate, personal relationship with you.  He led me to write these words so he could use them to seek you today.  So he could wash your feet and cleanse your sins and commune intimately with you.

The God of the universe is seeking you right now.  Are you seeking him?

 

Publication date: April 17, 2014

An ancient papyrus fragment is creating quite a stir these days.  It was first made public two years ago by historian Karen L. King of Harvard University.  When, where, or how the fragment was discovered is unknown.  The owner insists on remaining anonymous.

It is only four by eight centimeters, smaller than a business card, comprised of eight lines written in black ink.  The fragment is clearly torn out of a larger document.  It was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language using Greek letters.  While some remain convinced that it is a recent forgery, analysts now report that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eight centuries and is likely that old. 

So far, you're wondering why you're reading about this.  Here's the reason: the fragment contains the phrases, ". . . Jesus said to them, My wife . . ." and ". . . she will be able to be my disciple . . ."  In other words, whoever wrote these words 12 to 16 centuries ago apparently believed that Jesus had a wife and that a woman was among his first disciples.  Imagine the shock to Christians if these claims were proven true.

Actually, they are.

Jesus has a "wife" or bride—the church.  John the Baptist referred to Christ as a "bridegroom" and his followers as his "bride" (John 3:29).  Jesus spoke of himself as a bridegroom as well (Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 2:19-20).  The church is his "bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2).  It is obvious that Jesus had no physical wife—no biblical writer even suggests the possibility, and a fragment written four to eight centuries later proves nothing.  But he has a spiritual bride whom he loves as passionately as a husband loves his wife (Ephesians 5:25-29).

And he had female disciples as well.  They were not among his twelve apostles (cf. Luke 6:14-16).  But he had many disciples in addition to the twelve (v. 13).  Among them were "the women" (Acts 1:14).  Luke 8 is more specific: "the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . Mary, called Magdalene . . . and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Suzanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means" (vs. 2-3).  Note that there were "many" women among his disciples, and that they helped finance Jesus' ministry.

This fact is especially relevant on Wednesday of Holy Week.  Today our Lord did nothing that was recorded in Scripture.  He spent the day resting at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Matthew 21:17).  In other words, the last home of his earthly ministry belonged to two women and their brother.

Two facts are clear.  One: you are beloved by Jesus.  No matter what happens to you today, know that he loves you unconditionally and eternally.  You are his "bride," and he is your eternal "husband."  Two: you can serve Jesus.  No matter what the culture thinks of you, he welcomes your faith and devotion.  He uses every gift you commit to his Kingdom cause.  He wants to stay in your home tonight.

Brennan Manning: "We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground."  Do you agree?

 

Publication date: April 16, 2014

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