Today from Dr. Jim Denison
Let’s begin with some good news: you didn’t get hit by falling rocket debris yesterday.
Remnants of a Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. Most of its components were destroyed upon entering the atmosphere. Parts that survived reentry crashed into the ocean west of the Maldives, a small island chain south of India.
However, we don’t need threats from space to endanger life on earth.
Six people were killed yesterday morning during a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The suspected shooter, believed to be a boyfriend of one of the victims, is dead as well. One of America’s largest pipelines was shut down late Friday after being hit by a cyberattack and is still offline this morning.
Last Saturday afternoon, three bystanders were shot in New York City’s Times Square when a man arguing with other people fired wildly into the crowd. One of the victims was a four-year-old girl who was toy shopping with her family and was hit in the left leg.
Speaking of children: the Walt Disney Company has unveiled the Rainbow Disney Collection. Designed to honor the annual Pride Month in June that celebrates the LGBTQ community and movement, the catalog of apparel and toys features T-shirts, Mickey Mouse ears, mugs, and even baby apparel, all adorned with rainbows.
This is just one way Disney seeks to introduce children to LGBTQ ideology. The 2020 Disney-Pixar animated film Onward had a minor character who was a lesbian; Pixar’s short film Out featured a gay lead character; and the Disney Channel cartoon series The Owl House featured a bisexual main character.
In 2018, Cartoon Network featured a same-sex wedding proposal on the animated series Steven Universe. The network is working to create comic strips asserting that there are multiple gender identities. Earlier this year, the Nickelodeon series Blue’s Clues and You! unveiled a song teaching children the alphabet while promoting LGBTQ advocacy.
“The stronger the emphasis, the fewer the Christians”
If you’re like me, you read such news and feel frustrated that the church is not doing more to impact the culture. If we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–14), why is our salt and light not doing more to season and enlighten our culture? Why, in fact, are churches and Christian institutions sometimes the problem more than the solution?
In an article published yesterday, David French makes a vital distinction between Christendom and Christianity. As he explains, “Christianity is the faith, Christians are believers in the faith, and Christendom is the collective culture and institutions (universities, ministries) of the faith.”
French cites the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who saw the Christian institutions of his day as hurting rather than helping the faith. Kierkegaard issued the compelling warning that imitating Jesus “is really the point from which the human race shrinks. The main difficulty lies here; here is where it is really decided whether or not one is willing to accept Christianity.”
He then explained the problem: “If there is emphasis on this point, the stronger the emphasis, the fewer the Christians. If there is a scaling down at this point (so that Christianity becomes, intellectually, a doctrine), more people enter into Christianity. If it is abolished completely . . . Christianity spreads to such a degree that Christendom and the world are almost indistinguishable, or all become Christians; Christianity has completely conquered—that is, it is abolished!”
In other words, we can make the imitation of Jesus into doctrines about Jesus and then build institutions to proclaim these doctrines. But we should remember James’s warning: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).
Doctrines and institutions that do not lead people to know and imitate Jesus personally will never change the culture. That’s because the culture changes when people change. And people are changed not by our words but by God’s Spirit.
People tempted by LGBTQ attraction and ideology are liberated not by protesting against Disney (though we should clearly stand against unbiblical morality) but by the transformation Jesus brings to a life yielded fully to him (2 Corinthians 5:17). For people being tempted by other forms of immorality in our broken culture, the answer is the same: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
The earliest image of Jesus
A two-thousand-year-old marble head of Emperor Augustus has been discovered in a town in Italy. It was originally part of a statue towering at least six feet seven inches. I have seen many such statues of Augustus in museums, each depicting the emperor in power and glory.
Now contrast these statues with the earliest image of the Savior born in Bethlehem when Augustus ruled from Rome (Luke 2:1–7). It was made in mockery of the Christian faith and depicted a donkey-headed Christ on his cross. Other early images made by Christians show Jesus as a shepherd and a healer. Not until the fourth century do we find images of him ruling in authority.
This is not because his earliest followers knew Jesus to be anything less than King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Revelation 19:16). Rather, their depictions call us to serve our King by serving others. The more we love Jesus, the more we will love those he loves. And he loves everyone.
The Holy Spirit uses changed people to change the world. The apostles could impact the Sanhedrin by their preaching because their lives had been impacted by its truth (Acts 4:13). Paul could call multitudes to Jesus because he had been transformed by Jesus (cf. Acts 22:1–21).
Churches and institutions can call our culture to imitate Jesus to the degree that those who comprise these churches and institutions imitate Jesus.
The “visible absence” and “invisible presence” of God
If you and I will meet with our risen Lord each day in worship, submitting to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and asking him to manifest the character of our Lord in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23), he will answer our prayer. If, like Jesus, we will seek to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45), our Lord will use us to draw others to himself.
In Telling the Truth, Frederick Buechner speaks of the “visible absence” and the “invisible presence” of God in the world. I would add a third category: the “visible presence” of God in the world through the people of God in the world.
Whom will you serve today?