|By Jim Denison
History was made Saturday in Great Britain. The day after another horrific shooting, this time in Santa Fe, Texas, it was good to watch good news. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married before a watching world, we witnessed a fascinating mix of tradition and innovation.
There was much in the wedding to celebrate. But I would have added a vital element to the ceremony.
Seated directly opposite Queen Elizabeth II was Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, a descendant of slaves on plantations in the American South. A black choir sang; a black cellist performed; a black minister preached. African-American women flew from America to join the procession in the streets and participate in history.
Denise Crawford, a court stenographer from Brooklyn, made my favorite observation of the day: “One of the children of slaves is marrying a royal whose forerunners sanctioned slavery; the lion is lying down with the lamb.” She added, “Today is a day that history will never forget.”
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28). Nor should there be in ours.
The couple’s decision to wed on a Saturday was unusual, as royal weddings usual occur on weekdays. The Queen was married on a Thursday; William and Kate were married on a Friday.
However, their choice of Windsor Castle was traditional, making them the sixteenth royal couple to celebrate their marriage at the castle since 1863. I have visited the site and can attest to its stunning architecture and remarkable history.
The castle was built in the eleventh century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. It is the now the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
St. George’s Chapel, the site of the wedding service, was established in the fourteenth century and expanded in the following centuries. Henry VIII is buried there; Queen Elizabeth plans to be buried there as well.
The Bible commends the significance of history and tradition. It instructs the Jewish people to remember the Exodus during each year’s Passover (Exodus 12:26–27) and encourages us to learn from past events as an “example” for our faith (1 Corinthians 10:11). It was good to see a wonderful royal tradition continue.
A powerful sermon on love
American Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry delivered an impassioned sermon. He has been criticized for his support for gay marriage and commended for his work with social justice and immigration.
In his powerful message, he stated that “Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history. A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world—and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.”
Later, he stated that Jesus “gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world . . . for us.”
Everything he said was true. I wouldn’t change a word of his sermon. But I would add a section to it.
Adding the gospel
I would add that the way we experience this life-changing love is by repenting of our sins and making Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. I would add that Jesus alone is the way, and the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). I would add, as Peter testified, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
My statement is not a personal criticism of Bishop Curry. I have attended many weddings over the years where the biblical plan of salvation was not clearly presented. Each time, I have lamented that those in attendance, many of whom do not regularly attend church services, did not learn how they could experience eternal life in Christ.
Queen Elizabeth has been a strong Christian since she was young. In Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen (an excellent biography I highly recommend), we learn that her mother read Bible stories to her and instructed her in the Book of Common Prayer. As a result, she “developed a deeply held Christian faith” and still kneels to pray each night.
However, unlike the Queen, many in our culture see biblical morality as irrelevant if not dangerous. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle lived together for several months before their marriage, as did William and Kate before theirs. Many of the celebrities who attended the wedding have been outspoken in their rejection of biblical sexual morality.
The answer is not to condemn people but to invite them to know and follow Jesus. When people meet him, they become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But only then.
“Redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer”
The wedding that made history is now history. But we can continue to celebrate inclusiveness and learn from history. And we can make sure those we influence know how to know Jesus personally.
As C. S. Lewis noted, “We are summoned . . . to combine as creatures with our Creator, as mortals with immortal, as redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer.” Will you honor your Redeemer by sharing your redemption today?
The Bolts—not the ones in the air—are big here. I played baseball once upon a time, so, I knew about the Rays. And I have become a Rays fan, even though I still pull for the Cardinals, Braves, and the Royals. J But I had no idea how big the Tampa Bay Lightning (aka Bolts) was down here. It may be because I was not a hockey fan? They are vital to our community. Many fans exist of what I still consider a “northern” sport. It’s been fun to enjoy their success as a team and observe a winning professional team in our area, unlike some of the other professional teams in our area. (Sorry, but it’s true, but I still pull for them.) There are bumper stickers, posters, and rabid fans everywhere. I like it. But, I still don’t like hockey. One of our deacons, his name is John and he welcomes people as they come in the buildings on Sundays, continues to try to make a hockey fan out of me. You may need to pray for him because it ain’t happening so far. J BTW—the bolts in the air are big too. Wow!
My Southern—not to be confused with the country—accent drawls—attention. (You see what I did there?) Now, I had served in FL before moving here four years ago, but not South Florida. Even though I had been chided in the past about my accent, nothing like what has occurred here. Needless to say, it doesn’t bother me, unless they say country. (Friend, I can take you to “country” on our upcoming mission trip to my beloved home state, but I can assure you that I ain’t country! J) So, I try to use it to my advantage. It’s sort of like me listening to an English accent. I ask them questions just to hear them talk. When outsiders ask me where I am from and what I am doing down here… man, I go for it! J I love the people of St. Pete!
Fifth Avenue is made up of the most eclectic group of folks—which is a good thing—I’ve ever pastored. When I moved here we had a certain amount of cultural representation. I have noticed an expansion of various people groups becoming the norm. There is not much more I could be excited about than this reality. Why? Because it better represents the body of Christ as well as our community. May HIS Tribe increase!
AFTER THIS I SAW A VAST CROWD, TOO GREAT TO COUNT, FROM EVERY NATION AND TRIBE AND PEOPLE AND LANGUAGE, STANDING IN FRONT OF THE THRONE AND BEFORE THE LAMB… Revelation 7:9
My mother passed away a few years ago. Mother’s Day always causes me to do some reflecting. I was the youngest of three and her only boy. Yes, I’m a Mama’s boy. 🙂 Mrs. Ann Overstreet Kitchings, had many strengths, but I don’t have time to elaborate in this brief article. (Perhaps a book one day… Ann Flew High Until the Day She Died?) Ok, back to the point of this writing today—she intentionally reached out to love those that needed a loving touch.
MY MOM TAUGHT ME HOW TO VISIT NURSING HOMES… When I was a child, my mama would take me to this one particular Nursing Home. It was not very nice, but the residents were. Why? Because I belonged to Mrs. Ann. She spoke to everyone and ministered to those that needed it most. She understood what the least of these meant and modeled it in front of me. I’m thankful and always remember this practice when I enter Nursing Homes today. I’m not as good as she was, but I sure try to be as much like her as I can in certain situations while visiting.
MY MOM SPENT HER FINAL DAYS IN A NURSING HOME… My mom was in her “sweet spot” when she went home to be with the Lord. The final months of her life were spent as a resident in a local nursing home. I witnessed her being a Preacher’s Wife again—meaning, the joy of loving others was evident. She made the most of her final days by soaring with the strength her Jesus talked about often… “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them…” ~Romans 12:9a
MAYBE YOU AND I NEED TO GO VISIT A NURSING HOME THIS WEEK? What a wonderful time to reach out to those mom’s that may or may not have family left on this earth or in this city. Whatever strength your mom, my mom, or other moms have or had that align with God’s Word, let’s recall it and consider practicing it.
Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. ~Hebrews 13:7
By Dr. Jim Denison
Stephen Hawking was one of the greatest physicists in history. One professor predicted that scientists “will still be talking about Hawking radiation,” his theory about black holes, a thousand years from now.
His spirit was buoyant as well; an actor who played him in a 2014 biopic called him “the funniest man I have ever met.” I was deeply impressed upon reading his bestseller, A Brief History of Time, and am not surprised that it has sold more than ten million copies.
After Hawking died this week, I read his autobiography, My Brief History. His story is both fascinating and tragic, with enormous implications for our faith and culture today.
He “wanted to fathom the depths of the universe”
The facts of Stephen Hawking’s life read like a novel. He was born on January 8, 1942, exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo. He did not learn to read until the age of eight. He was never ranked more than halfway up his academic class.
When Hawking was diagnosed with ALS at the age of twenty-one, doctors predicted that he would live only another two years. He survived his disease for fifty-five years. As his body deteriorated, eventually he used a single cheek muscle to control communication devices, writing only a few words a minute.
Nonetheless, he was able to produce groundbreaking scientific work. He was especially known for his explanation of the behavior of black holes. From the beginning of his academic career, Hawking “wanted to fathom the depths of the universe,” seeking to understand “where we came from and why we are here.”
Several times in his autobiography, he states that he had a “satisfying life.” He points to his successful career, the fact that he was married twice and had three “beautiful and accomplished children,” and his global travels and meetings with world leaders.
He concludes his book: “I’m happy if I have added something to our understanding of the universe.”
Three arguments for atheism
Some atheists reject God’s existence because they cannot reconcile an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God with evil and suffering in the universe. Tragedies such as yesterday’s bridge collapse in Florida cause skeptics such as Sam Harris to proclaim that there is no God.
Hawking’s atheism was of another kind.
He stated clearly: “We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.”
It’s not that Hawking had no exposure to biblical truth. His father insisted that he study the Bible as a child for its literary value. In My Brief History, he tells of working with a research assistant who “was an evangelical Christian, and he did his best to convert me when he later came to live with us in Cambridge. He used to read me Bible stories at breakfast.” The physicist assured him that he “knew the Bible well” from earlier studies. Hawking even helped smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union at the request of a Baptist who was part of his travel group.
In A Brief History of Time, he referred to the “mind of God.” However, he meant only “the embodiment of the laws of nature.” In my research, I found at least three reasons why Hawking chose atheism.
First, he rejected the concept of a personal God with whom we can have a personal relationship: “When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.” But why? Why is the apparent insignificance of a human life relevant to the existence of a Creator and the possibility of relationship with him?
Second, he became convinced that “spontaneous creation” explains the existence of the universe, with no need to appeal to a Creator. But his theory requires the prior existence of gravity. As Oxford mathematician John Lennox notes, Hawking must then explain how gravity came to be. He must also explain how a law can create physical reality (for instance, Newton’s laws of motion do not cause a moving car to exist). And, even given Hawking’s parameters, could God not have designed a self-creating universe?
Third, he asserted: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
But computers and people are far more different than we are alike. This is what philosophers call a “category mistake,” like asking the color of seven or the weight of a circle. The fact that computers have no afterlife bears no relevance to an afterlife for humans.
Upon this mistaken logic, Hawking tragically risked his eternity.
“I am the bread of life”
Why does Stephen Hawking’s atheism matter today?
Imagine what his brilliant mind could have contributed to humankind if it had been empowered by the Spirit of God. Imagine his influence as an intellectual Christian. And imagine his eternal reward if he had turned from the creation to its Creator, trusting his soul to our Savior.
If Christians do not grieve the deaths of Stephen Hawking and other non-Christians, something is wrong. We are then implicit universalists, ignoring the fact that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). Such a person is not in the “book of life” and will spend eternity separated from God in hell (Revelation 20:15).
If people could go to heaven without Jesus, why did Jesus die for us? Why did Paul have “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for his fellow Jews who had rejected the gospel (Romans 9:2)?
Our Savior’s invitation is still open: “I am the bread of life; whoever come to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). But we must turn from ourselves to our Maker: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (v. 63).
Beware the “illusion of knowledge”
Ironically, Stephen Hawking was convinced that “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” However, his rejection of God was one such “illusion of knowledge.” Now, tragically, he knows better.
Are you praying for the non-Christians you know to know the Truth before it is too late?
Like many of you, I have been heartbroken over the news about some of our more “high profiled” pastors. For example, I opened up the Tampa Bay Times this past Sunday (April 8th edition) and the front-page headline read: Broken Trust—How Henry Lyons cheated a Tampa church and a wealthy charity. And a few weeks ago, Dr. Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago was accused of sexual misconduct. Furthermore, our own Dr. Frank Page, President and Chief Executive of the Southern Baptist Convention stepped down due to an admitted morally inappropriate relationship. The news about all three of these men has been made public in the past month.
Here are my thoughts…
>BUT BY THE GRACE OF GOD… It’s by God’s grace that any of us aren’t marked by a “fall” of some kind during our lifetime. WE must never, ever, be quick to judge. And we certainly should never judge what we do not know. That is not our role! “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” ~John 8:7
>CONFRONTING A FELLOW BELIEVER CAN BE APPROPRIATE… Have you seen the popular T-Shirt that says something to the effect of Who are you to judge me? Church discipline is taught in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Why? Ultimately, for restoration! Sometimes that occurs and sometimes it doesn’t. But just as Nathan confronted David, occasionally at the right moment, and at the right time, God may lead us to confront an erring fellow believer. “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ ~2 Samuel 12:13
>CONSEQUENCES ARE SURE TO FOLLOW MORAL FAILURE… I have witnessed minister friends be restored. Without fail, the consequences have been awful! (Read the full story of David) Some are back in full-time ministry. Some are not. A moral failure does not have to define a person. “… But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” ~Romans 5:20 Yes, the consequences are costly, but I do believe ministers can be restored.
>WE MUST PRAY FOR PASTORS AND CHURCHES TO BEAR THE IMAGE OF CHRIST… The Apostle Paul taught us to pray “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Folks, Paul even asked believers to pray for him! (Ephesians 6:18-19) If Paul needed it, I certainly do, and you probably do too. Please pray for these minsters mentioned above and please pray for others. With social media and the evils of our day, we must be vigilant. THANK YOU!
A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. ~Ecclesiastes 7:1
By Dr. Jim Denison
Fifty years ago today, at 6:01 p.m. EST, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.
Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours is a riveting narrative of the events that led to Dr. King’s tragic death. Written by veteran journalist Joseph Rosenbloom, the book chronicles the last thirty-one hours and twenty-eight minutes of Dr. King’s life.
Rosenbloom explains why the great civil rights leader was in Memphis and paints an extraordinary picture of his commitment and courage.
Why he came to Memphis
In 1968, Dr. King was working to mobilize what he called the “Poor People’s Campaign” in Washington, DC. His goal was to gather thousands of impoverished people of all races from all across the country. They would stage protests at our nation’s capital until lawmakers enacted reforms to eradicate poverty in this country.
In the midst of this massive effort, he was asked to divert his attention to Memphis to support a garbage collectors’ strike that had been ongoing in that city for weeks. Dr. King felt he owed these men and their families his support, so he and his leadership team made their way to join them.
Of course, he could not have known that an escaped felon named James Earl Ray was seeking to murder him. Ray had been discharged from the Army, but not before he acquired basic proficiency with a rifle. After escaping from prison, he followed a circuitous route that brought him to Memphis.
There he learned through television and newspaper reports that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel in room 306, his usual lodging when in the city. Ray rented a room in a run-down building across the street.
Dr. King and his group were planning a dinner that night at a supporter’s home. He walked from his room onto the hotel balcony and was talking with his friends in the parking lot below when Ray fired the bullet that killed him.
“I’ll never live to be forty”
I was especially moved by Rosenbloom’s description of Dr. King’s steadfast courage in the face of enormous peril. For example, his traveling group was forced to disembark from their airplane to Memphis after a bomb threat had been reported. Only after the plane was searched were they permitted to re-board the aircraft.
Rosenbloom reports that, despite numerous death threats, Dr. King rarely sought police protection. He believed that if his enemies were determined to kill him, they would likely succeed.
Dr. King told his attorney, “I’ll never live to be forty. I’ll never make it.” “He was philosophical about his death,” longtime colleague Andrew Young said later. “He knew it would come, and he just decided, you know, there was nothing to do about it.”
When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Dr. King told his wife, Coretta, that he expected to die in the same way himself. If the president of the United States could not be protected from an assassin, he believed that no public figure was truly safe.
The night before he was murdered, he told a crowd of supporters that God had allowed him to reach the mountaintop and see the Promised Land. “I may not get there with you,” he told them. “But I want you to know, tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Then he exclaimed, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The next day, he would see the Lord himself.
“Fear not, for I am with you”
There is so much we could say about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this morning.
We could remember his visionary leadership in helping enact some of the most significant civil rights legislation in our nation’s history. We could remember his intellectual brilliance as a world-class theologian and orator. We could remember his sacrificial service on behalf of those he led (he donated nearly all of the $200,000 he received in honoraria each year to his civil rights organization).
However, I am focusing today on Dr. King’s remarkable courage. He knew that Memphis was a boiling cauldron of racial conflict but traveled to the city despite its dangers. He knew that many were seeking his death but continued forward. He paid for his vision with his life.
His courage stands today as a model for all who would serve their Lord and their neighbor with transformative purpose.
Before God sent Joshua out to lead his people into the Promised Land, he challenged him: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (1 Chronicles 28:20). Paul testified: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Where do you need the courage of Christ to serve his cause?
When I was a pastor in Atlanta, Dr. John Haggai (not the San Antonio pastor of similar name) became a dear friend and mentor. His life motto still challenges and encourages me today: “Attempt something so great for God it’s doomed to failure unless God be in it.”
I know of no better way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or to serve his God.