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My debate with the most famous rabbi in America

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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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of the L'Chaim Society (Credit: Shmuley Boteach)

This has been a Christmas season like no other.  With the Newtown tragedy still on our hearts, we watched in horror as police reported another shooting, this time a man who set fire to his neighborhood and then killed two firefighters as they responded.  Meanwhile, the “Fiscal Cliff” is still looming, with tax hikes for nearly every American and no progress in Washington toward a solution.

Last week I wrote an essay titled “God on Trial in Newtown” that became the subject of an interfaith dialogue on Huffington Post.  I was interviewed along with a Buddhist leader in California, a United Church of Christ minister in Vermont, a Muslim imam, and Jewish rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has been called “the most famous rabbi in America” by Newsweek magazine.

When I made the claim that God could not prevent the consequences of misused freedom without denying freedom itself, the rabbi called my statement “absurd.”  The God who parted the Red Sea could have stopped the tragedy in Newtown, he claimed.  Of course he could.  If he could create the universe with a spoken word, he could stop a lone gunman.  But once he begins preventing the consequences of freedom, where can he stop?  If he prevents murder, must he prevent stealing or lying?  What about fiscal mismanagement in Washington?  What about your last mistake?

Choice requires consequence.  If I order a pizza but the driver brings me yogurt, my choice was only apparent, not real.  As Christmas fades, what choices for the new year would the Lord like you to make?

On Christmas Eve I heard a sermon on a text I’d never considered.  My brother is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas, just north of Houston.  Mark preached on Matthew 2:3, which reports that when King Herod heard that the “king of the Jews” had been born, “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Why were they “disturbed” by Christmas?  Here was Mark’s very insightful answer: “Jesus is in the business of disturbing people who are sitting on his throne.”

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{/source}Oswald Chambers would agree.  In today’s reading from his classic devotional we find this assertion: ” Every now and again, not often, but sometimes, God brings us to a point of climax.  That is the Great Divide in the life; from that point we either go towards a more and more dilatory and useless type of Christian life, or we become more and more ablaze for the glory of God—My Utmost for His Highest.”

Before my brother’s remarkable sermon, a woman sang a solo I’d never heard.  As Mary, she sang to her unborn Child: “I’ll hold you in the beginning; you will hold me in the end.  Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem.”  Would make her prayer yours today?