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Who was the ‘designated survivor’ last night? A bunker mentality and the power of joy

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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If you’re not familiar with David Bernhardt today, be grateful.

Mr. Bernhardt is the US Secretary of the Interior, an important job that oversees the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Geological Survey, and the National Park Service, among other duties.

But he made the news last night as the “designated survivor” during the State of the Union address.

This is a custom dating back to the 1960s when the US was concerned about a potential nuclear attack during the Cold War. Every member of the president’s Cabinet (except one) attends the State of the Union, along with a joint session of Congress.

If, however, an attack was to destroy the building and kill all those present, the government would be completely obliterated. So, a single Cabinet member is taken to an undisclosed, secure location outside of Washington, DC, until the conclusion of the event.

This year, that “designated survivor” was Mr. Bernhardt. Had an attack destroyed our government, you would obviously know his name today.

A bunker mentality and the power of joy

What would it have felt like to be David Bernhardt last night?

In some ways, his status is a metaphor for evangelical Christians in America. We can feel (rightly) that our culture is moving away from Christian morality as quickly as possible and that we are the few who are left on the side of truth. It’s easy to adopt a bunker mentality, to wait out the storm until it passes in hopes of emerging again into the sunlight.

But such a negative mindset is wrong, for at least three reasons.

One: God is still king, no matter what happens in his kingdom.

Our Lord is “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Timothy 1:17). He alone is omnipotent and omniscient. We are creatures, not the creator. He rules the universe as fully today as before he created the first humans.

This is an important fact to remember in the face of discouragement. When Elijah was fleeing the wicked Queen Jezebel, he told the Lord, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). But the Lord revealed to him that there were “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal” (v. 18).

More are with us than we know.

Two: Negativity is unattractive.

A church member was sent to the airport to pick up the visiting preacher, a man he had not met. He approached a likely candidate and said, “Are you a minister?”

The traveler grimaced and replied, “No, it’s my ulcer that makes me look that way.”

When we adopt a scarcity mentality and bunker mindset with regard to our fallen culture, our negativity pushes others away from Jesus rather than drawing them to him. In a day of such chaos and controversy, people are not looking for more bad news.

By contrast, when we are optimistic and positive, they will want what we have. In light of the fact that our Father is the king (see fact #1), we have every right (and responsibility) to represent him in a joyful manner.

Three: Joy can be our most positive witness.

Joy is a sense of wellbeing that transcends circumstances. It is not a product of our culture but of our relationship with Christ. It is the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) and manifests the “abundant” life Jesus came to give (John 10:10).

Billy Graham was no stranger to cultural challenges. His sermons often spoke in specific ways to the ungodliness and immorality in the day’s news. But he always turned from the bad news to the good news. And he carried himself with an unceasing sense of positivity and joy.

Here was his explanation: “I’ve read the last page of the Bible; it’s all going to turn out all right.”

Do you agree?

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