Unknown Revolutionary Hero

By Dr. Mark Denison — You have probably heard of George Washington. You may have heard of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere. These are among our greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Add another name to that list: John Woolman. You remember him, don’t you? Not an outgoing, gregarious type, Woolman was a quiet Quaker from Pennsylvania. In a time when almost all men were hunters, John did not carry a gun. His hobbies included tailoring clothes and long nature hikes. Intent on learning about his fellow man, Woolman embarked on an unarmed expedition into the Indian territories. His goal was to simply learn about the natives while spreading a message of love.

As his admiration for Native Americans grew, he became conflicted on the matter of human rights. He began to question the accepted institution of slavery at a time when it was a universally accepted practice. Woolman spent 20 years traveling the colonies and journeyed back to England. He became a quiet advocate for the abolishment of slavery. His audience was his own religion. His message was universally rejected, but there was something different about John Woolman that his opponents could not easily dismiss – his character. John was a peaceful, kind, patient man. Never rude or confrontational, he let his integrity carry his message. Woolman died in 1772, never seeing his dream fulfilled. But in just four short years, the Religious Society of Friends (aka “Quakers”) voted to abolish slavery. It would take another 89 years before the country followed suit.

You need a cause bigger than yourself. John Woolman found one. What is yours? A few years ago, Beth and I enjoyed a dream vacation, a cruise to Alaska. On one of our many hikes, we witnessed salmon swimming upstream toward their death. Sometimes, when you carry an unpopular message that is bigger than you, you will have to swim upstream. And like the salmon, you may die before you reach your intended destination. John Woolman lived for a cause worth dying for. He was a man of character, a man ahead of his time. But this quiet Quaker was an American hero for one reason. He found a cause bigger than himself and he gave himself to that cause in the face of opposition in his new land and even from his Church. That is character. That is integrity. And that can be you.

Crazy Laws

By Dr. Mark Denison — Fortunately, our founding fathers knew the wisdom of building a nation on a set of laws. But is it possible to go too far? I think so. Let me illustrate. In Alabama, it is against the law to buy peanuts after sundown. Pennsylvania law books record a case in 1971, when a man sued Satan for his own bad luck. The case was thrown out on the grounds that Satan did not live in Pennsylvania. In Vermont, it is illegal to whistle underwater. In Lake Charles, the law forbids allowing a rain puddle to remain in one’s front yard for more than 12 hours.

Kentucky has several wise laws. You must bathe at least once a year. If you throw an egg at a public speaker, you will spend a year in jail. And females in bathing suits are not allowed on any highways unless they are escorted by two officers armed with a club. This law does not apply to females who weigh less than 90 pounds or more than 200. Nor does the law apply to female horses. Did you know the ancient Jews had hundreds of laws? They had one for every day of the year and another for every bone in the body. Then a man named Jesus arrived on the scene. He said, “I have come to fulfill the law.” When he called his first followers, he simply said, “Follow me.” Life is a journey. A good life is a journey to follow Christ. Follow him wherever he goes, but don’t visit Kentucky unless you took a bath last year.

March Madness

By Dr. Mark Denison — It all began 76 years ago. We call it March Madness. I’m talking, of course, of the NCAA basketball championship. Back in 1939 only eight teams were invited to the “Big Dance.” In the final game, Oregon beat Ohio State, 46-33, to become the first national champion. Since that meager beginning, the tournament grew from eight teams to 16 in 1951. The number of teams would later expand to 22, 32, 40, 48, 52, and 64. In 2011 the pool was expanded to its current number of 68 teams. Exactly 20 percent of the 340 Division I teams get in. UCLA has won 11 titles, more than anyone else. My Alma Mater, Houston Baptist University, is just 11 behind them, but gaining fast.

March Madness has become the most gambled upon event in America. Millions fill out their brackets every year, and billions of dollars are on the line. Last year, Warren Buffet offered $1 billion to anyone who picked a perfect bracket. No one won, not even my wife. But that is no surprise when you consider the odds against picking a perfect bracket. One source claims the chances of picking every game are one in nine quintillion. Dr. Jay Burgen, math professor at DePaul, says the odds are one in 128 billion. Dr. Jonathan Mattingly, of Duke, says the odds are one in 2.4 trillion. Mr. Buffet’s money appears safe. Let’s put this in perspective. You have a chance to fill out a perfect bracket, picking all the right teams. But you are ten million times more likely to win an Academy Award. You are more likely to be struck by lightning, killed by a shark, or crushed by a falling vending machine. You are more likely to become a movie star, be killed by a falling coconut, become President, or get hit on the head by a meteorite while competing on Dancing with the Stars. In other words, the odds aren’t very good.

Try this for long odds. The Old Testament is full of prophecies of the coming Messiah: where he’d be born, how he’d be born, the condition of the world when he would be born, how he would die, how much money his betrayer would make off the betrayal, etc. What are the chances of a man fulfilling 60 of these prophecies? That would be 1/10 to the 64th power. You would have a better chance of picking a certain coin out of a pile two feet deep, the size of Texas. But Jesus did it. That is beyond dispute. So you have a choice. You can pick the brackets and play life’s lottery. Or you can bet it all on the only man who has already beaten the odds. Because of what he’s done, the odds are turned in your favor. You can’t lose.

Praying Sisters

By Dr. Mark Denison — Peggy Smith was 84. Her sister, Christine, was 82. Peggy could barely see and Christine could hardly walk. But together, they changed Scotland. It happened in 1849 on the Scottish Island of Lewis, in the tiny village of Barvas. Their pastor longed for revival. He preached for revival. But nothing happened. Nothing, that is, until he visited Peggy and Christine and asked them to pray. Unable to attend church, they figured that was the least they could do. So Peggy and Christine began to pray for a movement of God. The sisters invited a few friends to join them for prayer. They extended their prayer gatherings to six hours, starting at 10 p.m. They prayed that evangelist Duncan Campbell would come to their little church for a one-night meeting. Campbell came for five weeks. He led four services every day, at 7 p.m., 10 p.m., midnight, and 3 a.m. The move of God was undeniable. Hundreds were converted. Saloons went out of business. Gambling ceased. Marriages were restored. And all of Scotland was changed.

It is amazing to see what happens when two sisters decide to really pray. Jesus said there is power in two or three coming together in prayer. He also said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). If you want to be a part of something big, you need to do three things. First, find a cause bigger than you. Second, find a buddy (or sister) to join you in prayer. Third, find the God of the universe on your knees. If you pray the way Peggy and Christine prayed, heaven will be moved, your heart will be changed, and your world will be better.

Top Ten Lists

By Dr. Mark Denison — A certain late night comedian offers up a Top Ten list every night. We all love lists. In my never ending journey to keep you informed, I offer three Top Ten lists for your critique. Let’s start with television. According to The Writers Guild, the top ten shows of all time are, in order: The Sopranos, Seinfeld, The Twilight Zone, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mad Men (huh?), Cheers, The Wire (double huh?), and West Wing. TV Guide takes seven of those shows out for their list, and includes I Love Lucy, 60 Minutes, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Honeymooners, The Simpsons (huh?), The Andy Griffith Show, and Saturday Night Live.  Let’s move to the world of baseball. The top ten players of all time, according to The Sporting News, are Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewsen, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, and Stan Musial. Not so fast, says AskMen.com. They toss in Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan, and Barry Bonds. How about presidents? According to a C-Span poll, you ranked them in this order: George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower. But ABC took a poll and got this result: Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson, and Harry Truman.

Any time you want to stir up discussion and disagreement, ask a group of people to agree on a top ten list of anything: movies, food, beaches, books, churches, cities, actors, singers, authors, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. We can’t agree on anything. Oh, wait a minute. There is one Top Ten list that has never changed. It’s called The Ten Commandments. We would do well if we could master just the first one: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Life is full of uncertainties. We all have opinions on the best restaurant, team, and place to take a walk. And your opinion matters. But when we come to The Ten Commandments, we are not looking at ten suggestions. If you break them, they will break you. So go ahead. Make your lists. But there is one list that will never change. Start with the first command and start today. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

John Quincy Adams

By Dr. Mark Denison — In his extreme old age, John Quincy Adams was slowly and feebly walking down a street in Boston. An old friend accosted him, and while shaking his trembling hand, asked, “And how is John Quincy Adams today?” “Thank you,” said the ex-President. “John Quincy Adams is well, quite well. I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming quite dilapidated. It is tottering upon its foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out. Its walls are much shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon. But he himself is quite well, quite well.”

I love the Bible’s final chapter, Revelation 22. It tells me what heaven will look like. But I also like Revelation 21, because it tells me what heaven will be like. I especially like the “not to be” part. It says there will not be any death, tears, pain, or sorrow there. The “house” you live in will eventually wear out. But that is not a bad thing. It just means moving day is coming. You are about to upgrade to a better neighborhood. Read the words of John, rejoicing in his vision of heaven. “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place’” (Revelation 4:1). As with John Quincy Adams, you may be “quite well.” But it’s about to get even better. Moving day is coming.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

By Dr. Mark Denison —  On this date, 240 years ago, Patrick Henry delivered seven of the most profound words ever spoken in American history. On March 23, 1775, in the Virginia House of Burgesses gathered in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Henry called for action against the encroaching British military force. In a speech that would not appear in print for 18 years, the planter-turned-lawyer said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Let’s back up. Patrick Henry lived a colorful, controversial, contradictory life. He spoke for liberty while purchasing up to 78 slaves. He championed the revolution while voting against the Constitution. He was an Anti-Federalist, but at the urging of George Washington he ran for, and won, a position in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist. Twice elected Governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry cared about state rights, pushing for the Bill of Rights. He was a big family man, caring for his ailing wife, afflicted with mental illness, until her death. Married twice, Henry had 17 children, most of whom became highly successful. But let’s go back to those famous words. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” No one understood the value of liberty more than Patrick Henry. And no one offered liberty more than Jesus Christ.

Speaking to a Jewish audience raised on the Law of Moses, Jesus spoke of slavery and liberty. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But then he added the good news, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” At the end of the school day, the teacher sets the students free, but not “free indeed.” After the inmate serves his term, the warden sets him free, but he is not “free indeed.” When a bird is released from his cage, he is free, but not “free indeed.” Jesus said “the truth will set you free.” But he concluded, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Patrick Henry cried out for liberty from the British. He spoke for colonialists who wanted, like all men, to be free. Henry would not settle for anything else. What about you? Are you content to be enslaved by your sin, addiction, job, relationship, or empty dreams? Or are you willing to sell out for liberty, for freedom? You can do a lot of things to find freedom. But if you want to be totally free, both on the inside and the outside, if you want to be “free indeed,” you must look in one direction. Bow to the only one in history who came to make you totally free, the only one who is able to make you “free indeed.”

The Price Paid to Get the Bible into English

By Jerry Newcombe — This month, March 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s classic Second Inaugural Address. Historian, author, and college professor Daniel Dreisbach has written a wonderful piece on how the Bible played a key role in that address, which is chiseled in stone on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial. He notes that there are some 45 allusions to the Bible in that one speech, including three complete Bible verses. Any honest student of American and English history must admit that the English Bible, the King James Version in particular, has played a key role in history. Even the leading atheist in our time, Richard Dawkins, has called it “a treasured heritage.” What people don’t realize is the high price that was paid to get the Bible into English. A price paid in blood in some cases. In 1408, a law was passed in England that strictly prohibited the translation of the Bible into English. Knowing that history, when I visited National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. about half a year ago, I was fascinated to carefully examine the large stone pulpit that stands on the right hand side at the front of the sanctuary. Since the sermon is delivered from this beautiful pulpit, the designers of the Cathedral, who began its construction in 1907, chose to commemorate the history of the English Bible with four carved statues on the corners of the pulpit and carved bas-reliefs on the sides. The four statues honor men whose lives are significant in the history of the English Bible. Presumably, Alfred the Great (849-899) is there because of his use of the Bible and its principles in his ruling. Winston Churchill once wrote of him, “King Alfred’s Book of Laws…attempted to blend the Mosaic code with Christian principles and old Germanic customs.” There is also a statue of John Wycliffe, a 14th century Oxford professor. He is credited with being the first to translate the Bible into English (the English of 1383) from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe is often called, “the morning star of the Reformation.” Reportedly, he first coined the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people”—a concept he saw in the Word of God. For his efforts, Wycliffe’s remains were later desecrated by Church officials who opposed the translation of the Bible into English. The two other statues on the pulpit memorialize Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, the best known of the translators of the King James Version (1611), and Bishop Brooke Westcott, who helped publish the Revised Version of the Bible in the 1880s. One of the bas-relief depictions on the pupil shows the martyrdom of William Tyndale (c.1494-1536). Underneath this scene are his last words, a prayer: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” That king was Henry VIII, who later started the Reformation in England by leaving the Roman Catholic Church—but not for noble reasons. He wanted to divorce his wife and marry someone he hoped would give him a son. Amazingly, just three years after Tyndale prayed, his prayer was answered, King Henry authorized the publishing of a Bible in England—the first time it was legal to do so. Tyndale played a major role in history, but he is an unsung hero. He was the first major translator of the Bible into English from the original languages. He wanted to see the day when even the “plow boy” would be able to read the Bible for himself. Although Tyndale was martyred for his efforts, Dr. Harold Rawlings, author of Trial By Fire: The Struggle to Get the Bible into English, notes that major portions of Tyndale’s Bible ended up in the King James Bible of 1611, thus, insuring wide distribution of Tyndale’s work—to this very day. Tyndale first coined the English words “atonement,” “Passover,” and “scapegoat,” based, of course, on biblical teachings. Meanwhile, the King James Bible of 1611 is acknowledged as a literary masterpiece, which has had profound and positive influence on the English language and every English speaking culture. How we got our English Bible is a fascinating story, and for anyone interested in learning more about it, I would recommend Harold Rawlings’ book, Trial by Fire. In light of the high cost to get us the Word of God in our own language, it is tragic that some people, even professing Christians, neglect the daily reading of the Good Book. Today, a vast majority of Americans might read a speech as fine as Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and have no clue about the Bible’s incredible influence on it. Nor would they have any idea of the price paid so that the Bible could become available to everyday folks—plow boys, if you will.

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Jerry Newcombe is cohost/senior TV producer of Kennedy Classics. He has written/co-written 25 books, including The Book That Made America, Doubting Thomas (w/ Mark Beliles on Jefferson), and (w/ D. James Kennedy) What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? & (w/ Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire. tiam.org jerrynewcombe.com @newcombejerry

Political Correctness

By Dr. Mark Denison — Do you know how to never offend anyone with what you say? It’s simple. Never say anything. Or at least, never say anything about religion, politics, or cats. The only exception is that in most circles it is okay to criticize Christianity, but not other religions. Avoid attempts at humor at all cost. It is acceptable to laugh at anything crude, but don’t “force” your morality on anyone else. The phrase for today is “political correctness.” If you are new to the PC game, let me help. We no longer “man” an office or position…We “person” it. We don’t allow our children to play Cowboys and Indians…They are to play Cowpersons and Native Americans.

Vice President Al Gore said it well. “My mother always made it clear to my sister and me that men and women were equal, if not more so.” You have your assignment. May all mankind and womankind strive for equality, if not “more so.” Strive for non-offensive, non-controversial speech in everything you say. But if it is political correctness you want, you may want to avoid the Scriptures. They are all about truth, whether it stings or not. King David, a “man after God’s own heart,” once prayed, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight” (Psalm 19:14). The choice is yours. You can play for the crowd and seek PC at every turn, in everything you do and in everything you say. Or you can give up and play for an audience of One.

Clocks

By Dr. Mark Denison —  What do Henry Ford, Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, and Paul Revere have in common? The answer is so obvious! They all were clockmakers at one point in their lives. Levi Hutchins made the first modern alarm clock in 1787. Fastidious by nature, Hutchins fashioned a mechanical ringing bell clock so that he could arrive punctually at work each morning. He never bothered to patent or mass-produce his invention, which only went off at 4:00 a.m. Leonardo de Vinci invented and used an alarm clock in which water flowed in a thin stream from one receptacle to another. Greek mathematician and scientist Heron of Alexandria invented a water clock during the reign of Alexander the Great. Its purpose was to limit the time a lawyer could speak in court.

We have had a fascination with time for centuries. The average American owns 3.7 watches. Did you know the average person looks at a watch or clock 452 times a day? On Sunday mornings at church, the number doubles. We always want to know the time. But God says, “No one knows the time when Jesus will return.” Instead of looking at your watch, just be ready! So how do you get ready? I know people who have gone through really hard times, some of their own doing, some not. Can they be ready? It is just when a man steps onto the stage of failure and pain that he is about to become ready. No one said it better than Henry Lyte. “When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man, when God want to mold a man to play the noblest part; when He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man, that all the world shall be amazed, watch His methods, watch His ways – how He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects, how He hammers and hurts him and with mighty blows converts him into trial shapes of clay. How He bends but never breaks when His good He undertakes. How He uses whom He chooses, and with every purpose fuses him; but every act induces him to try his splendor out – God knows what He’s about!” Jesus is coming again. It’s time to get ready. The clock is ticking . . .