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Liver donor and recipient ran New York City Marathon together

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Liver donor and recipient ran New York City Marathon together
Runners make their way at the start of NYC marathon on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman)

Sara Kate Gillingham and Dave Kane were among the thirty-three thousand runners who participated in last Sunday’s New York City Marathon. But this is only a small part of their remarkable story.

Kane was diagnosed four years ago with cancer in the bile ducts of his liver and needed a transplant to live. Word spread on Facebook and Gillingham, already a friend, stepped up. “I don’t know, I just felt a calling,” she said. “I felt like I am in a really good position to do this.”

Doctors subsequently removed 60 percent of Gillingham’s liver and transplanted it into Kane. “Sara Kate saved my life,” he now says. “That’s what’s so great about this opportunity to run and to publicize, you know, the incredible bravery and generosity and love of Sara Kate and the opportunity to be a donor.”

When asked if there was one thing she would want others to know about being a living donor, Gillingham replied, “I guess it’s that it’s totally possible to make a bigger impact on the world than you think is possible by doing this—digging deep in yourself to give something that is very scary.”

She now coaches other donors through the experience and says saving Kane’s life added meaning to her own.

Police respond to ISIS threats against US malls

These are days that call for courage in the service of others.

NASA is launching its first asteroid-defense mission later this month, further evidence of the frailty of life and the unpredictability of the future. Iraq’s prime minister recently survived an assassination attempt with drones at his home. ISIS now poses a growing threat to the new Taliban government in Afghanistan; police in Northern Virginia stepped up their presence in the run-up of Election Day in response to ISIS threats against malls and shopping centers outside the US capital.

America’s suicide rate is now tied with the 1930s Great Depression as the worst in history. However, physician Matthew Sleeth notes that “without the invention and intervention of modern medicine and trauma systems, our suicide rate would be two hundred to three hundred times higher than has ever been experienced at any time in recorded history.”

He then observes, “Perhaps it is time that society faces up to the reality that what we are doing is not working.”

An unprecedented challenge and opportunity

Like Sara Kate Gillingham, you and I have an opportunity to make a systemic and transformational difference in the lives of others, but seizing this opportunity will come at a cost.

American Christians are not encountering the persecution our sisters and brothers face in Malaysia and China these days. However, we are facing a rising tide of opposition to biblical truth and morality on a level that is unprecedented in US history. More and more Americans consider biblical truth outdated, biblical morality irrelevant, biblical witness oppressive, and biblical faith “homophobic” and dangerous. (This is, in fact, the topic of my next book, The Coming Tsunami.)

The good news is that we’ve been here before. Lessons from the past can empower us to faithfulness in the present and courage for the future.

Acts 24 finds Paul on trial for his life before the Roman governor Felix and the apostle’s accusers from the religious authorities in Jerusalem. His response illuminates three steps we can and must take in responding to our adversarial culture.

One: Turn opposition into opportunity for the gospel.

After stating that he would “cheerfully make my defense” before the governor, Paul briefly cited facts disproving the allegations against him. But it took only four sentences for him to shift the focus from himself to his Lord: “This I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down in the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (vv. 14–15).

Like Paul, we can look for ways to declare and explain the truth we believe. Many in our biblically illiterate culture have no real concept of the gospel or biblical morality. We should not assume they are rejecting the truth of Scripture or even that they understand such truth. Their questions and even opposition are opportunities to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Two: Reason for the faith we proclaim.

Later in the narrative, we find Paul speaking personally with Felix and his wife Drusilla. Luke reports that “he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.” Reasoned translates the Greek dialegomai, meaning to “converse, discuss, argue.” Here the apostle provided evidence for his faith by arguing for personal righteousness, the self-control that empowers such justice, and the coming judgment at which we will be held accountable for both.

People deserve to know what we believe, why we believe it, and why they should believe it as well. We are called to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Three: Trust the results to God.

After Paul made his reasoned presentation, “Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you'” (Acts 24:25). The governor’s motives were mixed at best: “At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him” (v. 26).

We might think that such continued engagement with the greatest theologian, evangelist, and apologist in Christian history would surely win this man to Christ. However, the chapter ends: “When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison” (v. 27).

Human words cannot change human hearts. You and I cannot convict a single person of a single sin or save a single soul. Our job is to explain our saving relationship with Jesus, offer reasons why others should trust him as well, and leave the results to the Spirit.

Self-management expert Stephen Covey was right: “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.” Conversely, if your ladder is leaning against the right wall, every step you take today will get you to the right place faster.

Against what wall is your ladder leaning today?