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Our unnatural way of marking time

You’ve probably heard of “The Monday Blues,” “Hump Day,” or “T.G.I.F.”  

They bear witness to the frustrations and joys known as the workweek, those five days in which we look forward to the weekend.   

But why should the week be seven days in length?   

Why not six days, or eight, or ten?

And why bother at all to measure time by the week? 

Organizing time into a seven-day unit is not only unnatural, it was also unknown to most of our ancestors.      

Ancient civilizations marked the passage of time in a variety of ways, but it was always connected to something happening in the sky—the daily sunrise and sunset, the monthly lunar cycle, and the annual revolution of the earth around the sun. 

The calendars of the ancient world are rooted in these regular manifestations of nature.

Measuring time by the week was unknown among most ancient civilizations because the concept of a seven-day unit of time corresponds to nothing at all in nature.

No astronomical events occur on a seven-day cycle.

And yet today, virtually every society conducts its business weekly, as well as daily, monthly and yearly.      

How did the week gain such status?

Answer:  the Bible.

The concept of a seven-day cycle was unique to ancient Israel and is enshrined in the opening chapters of Genesis.

The first three days of creation involve the creation of the various domains:  the sky, the earth, and the sea. 

The next three record the creation of those who will inhabit the domains:  sea creatures, birds, livestock and human beings. 

Finally we read, “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day from all the work he had done.”

The Israelite week is unnatural in that it is completely independent of the movement of the celestial bodies.

Since the nations other than Israel tended to worship the sun, moon, and planets, God’s imposition of an unnatural seven-day week upon Israel suggests that he is unique. 

He is above nature and he alone should be worshiped.

God’s rest on the seventh day would have far reaching implications for humanity in another way.

The New Testament picks up this theme of rest and applies it to the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

The creation week in Genesis finds its fulfillment in the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry when he entered Jerusalem to be crucified for the sins of the world. 

Laying down his life and finishing his work, Jesus then took his rest in the tomb on the seventh day before rising from death on Easter as the firstborn of the new creation. 

And just as God provided ancient Israel a day of rest from the burdens of labor, so God now provides eternal rest to all people who labor under the burden of sin and guilt.

This good news of forgiveness and freedom from condemnation is for all who put their faith in Jesus, and it went global.

The spread of Christianity enabled the worldwide success of the week.

The Roman Emperor Constantine officially adopted the seven-day week in AD 321.

Afterword, it spread to Arabia, to China, to India and beyond.     

Today, nearly all of the world’s population organize their time by the seven-day cycle which has no counterpart in nature, given by God who is above nature and first described in the biblical account of creation

 

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Like public education? Thank Martin Luther.

Like public education?  Thank Martin Luther.

If Jesus had never lived, the world would be a very different place.

The followers of Jesus elevated the status of women, abolished slavery, created the first hospitals and universities, invented modern science, established schools for the blind and the deaf, and advocated for the God-given rights of the individual and due process under the law. 

Much of what we take for granted today is the direct result of Christian influence in society, including public education. 

Shortly after the Reformation began in the 16th century, Martin Luther demanded compulsory public education for all children, girls as well as boys, including servants and other marginalized groups. 

No one was to be excluded, as it was Luther’s desire for all people to be able to read the Bible in their native language. 

Compulsory education for all was a radically new concept.

Before the Reformation, schooling in Roman Catholic countries was limited to the clergy and nobility. 

Until the 19th century, Rome largely confined its educational initiatives to the male elite, with few opportunities for girls, and Rome resisted the concept of mass education until the early to mid-20th century. 

Other German Protestants followed Luther’s lead, developing a comprehensive system of primary and secondary education, which became the blueprint for educational reform throughout western and northern Europe. 

Great Britain made Protestantism a global phenomenon, and Protestant missionaries introduced mass education in the British colonies.  This is why education rates in Britain’s colonies were substantially higher than in the colonies of, say, Spain or France.

The Protestant influence on public education is still observable today, even in secular countries, according to Dr. Horst Feldmann, University of Bath, UK, in his article, “Still Influential:  The Protestant Emphasis on Schooling,” published in the journal Comparative Sociology.

Feldmann looked at data from 147 countries, both developed and developing countries, and found that those with a legacy of Protestantism still have more young people attending secondary school. 

In fact, those with the highest population of Protestants, such as the Nordic countries, have the highest contemporary enrollment rates.

Feldmann statistically controlled for factors such as income and demographic factors, to eliminate their effects. 

He summarizes his findings as follows, “In contrast to what many might expect, the Protestant legacy has an enduring effect on secondary schooling—in spite of almost 200 years of secularization.” 

He warns, however, that “Protestantism’s influence over schooling has diminished over time, and that contemporary Protestantism, in contrast to historical Protestantism, does not affect schooling.” 

It is ironic that some educators today, and even some Protestant leaders, disavow the need for any religious influence in our public schools.  

I understand. 

With so many interpretations of the Christian faith on the loose, whose theology would be taught in the classroom?

One may argue that no theology is better than bad theology, but only on the condition that good theology is being taught in the home.

Educators today may not be aware of the Christian roots of their profession and some may not care.

Still, given the Protestant origin of mass education, given the inherently religious nature of humanity, and given that education is crucial for personal and societal development, educators would do well to better understand the lingering effects which historical Protestantism still exerts today, even in a culture that has become increasingly secular. 

Has anything else they have tried had a similar impact?

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Churches Exclude Children with Autism

(Summarized from Christianity Today, July 20, 2018)

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, America’s religious communities are failing children with chronic health conditions, such as autism, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders.

Sanctuaries are much more sympathetic to children with asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or vision problems than children with conditions that limit social interaction.

Autistic children are twice as likely never to attend religious services as children with no chronic health conditions, and they are most likely to feel unwelcome.

Studies have shown that regular religious attendance is associated with improved mental and emotional health and overall well-being.

And yet, children with the greatest need of a supportive religious community are least likely to have it.

Lack of education and attitudinal barriers in churches are a major deterrent to worship attendance for children with autism and their families.

All church members need to make a theological and ethical commitment to welcome children regardless of their disability and even to invite these children to actively participate in the church’s ministry.

 

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Is secular progressivism a religion?

An online dictionary defines secular progressivism as “an alleged movement in the United States with the ostensible goal of removing religion from the public sphere.” 

Apparently some individuals question whether such a movement exists, but among conservative religionists, there is little doubt.

Princeton professor Robert George and author Mary Eberstadt argue not only that it exists, but that it has acquired a quasi-religious character.  

George believes that over the last several years, secular progressivism has become our state religion, and that it is promoted with missionary zeal by an elite in government, industry and the media, eager to punish anyone who dissents from its orthodoxy.

The examples are legion.

A fire chief in Atlanta was fired for self-publishing a Bible study book for men which included his belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. 

The city of Houston issued subpoenas ordering specific pastors to turn over any sermons mentioning homosexuality, gender identity and/or then Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian.

Military chaplains have been forced out of the Veterans Administration for quoting Scripture and praying in Jesus’ name. 

A U.S. Marine in North Carolina was court-martialed, given a bad-conduct discharge and denied military benefits because she posted a bible verse on her computer, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” 

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship was banned from Wayne State University for requiring its leaders to be professing Christians.  

A visitor to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was ordered to remove a pro-life pin on her lapel before entering because it was a “religious symbol.”

If the worst aspect of any religion is intolerance toward those who disagree, then secular progressivism meets that standard.   

This is especially true in the area of sexual ethics.

According to Eberstadt, the underlying faith of this secularism is the sexual revolution, and its first commandment is that no sexual act between consenting adults is wrong. 

In fact, any sex outside of traditional marriage is not only permitted but affirmed as long as it is consensual.

Like any religion, secular progressivism has its own saints, such as Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Mead, as well as abortion advocates Helen Gurley Brown and Gloria Steinem. 

Of course, there is also a demonology, with conservative Christians and anyone advocating traditional morality heading the list. 

If secular progressives have a non-negotiable ritual, it is abortion, which has become a litmus test of secular orthodoxy.

Gone are the days when secularists argued that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” 

Today, it must be celebrated. 

There are even inquisitors and witch hunts, targeting the many “phobes,” haters and bigots who must be shamed online and driven from public life.   

Then there are the missionaries, including progressive church leaders in the United States who impose their LGBT agenda on African churches, tying financial assistance to the normalization of gay marriage among a population which stoutly rejects it.   

Africans Christians complain that they are being colonized once again by western powers, not with orthodox Christianity which they would welcome, but with the belief system of secular progressivism which, they argue, is often contrary to God’s Word and to nature itself.

Several years ago, a study conducted by Oxford University concluded that human beings are inherently religious, confirming what many of us know instinctively. 

It should come as no surprise that secular progressives, like the most ardent religionists, should promote their beliefs with righteous zeal. 

Secular progressivism claims to be a neutral force in society and sees itself as a bulwark against the claims of competing religions, which it assumes have no place in the public square.   

It fails to recognize what it has become—a competitor in its own right, with its own moral imperatives, its own myths, saints and holy days and, sadly, its own tendency toward intolerance.
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When in Africa, you can skip the wildlife

Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

I love animals and saw majestic wildlife on safari in Tanzania, but most memorable of all was meeting the people of the Kilimanjaro Region as part of a medical mission team.

The take away:  people are far more interesting than animals.

Tanzanians do not know strangers.  Upon your first meeting, you are greeted with extensive handshaking. 

A man from Kenya told me how frustrated he was with the Tanzanians’ love of long greetings. 

Kenyans, he said, are more westernized and always in a rush, but Tanzanians take time with you.

To him, it was culture shock. 

To me, it took a little getting used to, but it underscored the value they place on relationships.

I was the evangelist for the 2018 Mercy Medical Team in Tanzania, a ministry of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. 

A Tanzanian doctor and several nurses from the city of Moshi assisted our American nurses with their medical and translation skills. 

We ministered to both body and soul, serving nearly 1,400 people, many of whom would not ordinarily see a doctor or nurse.    

Meeting in a small church in the village of Uchira, mine was the first station of the clinic. 

I spoke to groups of twenty or more, sharing how God provides medicine for the body and also medicine for both body and soul in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A Tanzanian Lutheran pastor provided translation in Swahili.

From the evangelism station, patients would go to other stations to have vital signs checked, medical histories recorded and medication prescribed. 

Finally, each patient was individually prayed for. 

We served Christians, Muslims, animists—anyone and everyone who came to the clinic.

Most Tanzanians are materially poor by our standards, but they lack for nothing.  Their wealth, as well as their identity, is in their community. 

When a person is in need, he goes to others in the community, and assistance is provided. 

Most of us would be embarrassed to ask family or friends for money.  Africans would be embarrassed not to.

Visitors to East Africa often say, “These people are so happy and they have nothing.” 

But they do not have nothing.  They have a community that cares about them.  They have all they need.

How many westerners can say the same?

In East Africa, material possessions are not so much yours or mine as they are “ours.”  This is especially true if you have an abundance of things that you are not using. 

Such things are viewed as available for the community in time of need, because what matters most are relationships, not stuff.   

In our culture, being late is rude.

In their culture, being late is often the result of giving attention to other relationships.

It’s hard to fault that.

Regardless of your culture, life is really about relationship and little else.

We are all social creatures, created in the image of the God who is eternal relationship—one God in three persons--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Through the Son, we have fellowship with the Father and with one another. 

That fellowship surpasses all other experiences, regardless of the continent you’re on.    

It’s great to see Africa’s “Big Five:” the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and Cape buffalo. 

But if you visit Africa, go first for the people.  Join a mission trip or find a cultural safari where you can interact with and learn from the people you meet.     

People really are more interesting than animals.

Close-up of two men shaking hands. It seems the African handshake could be slowly fading out in the countries affected by the Ebola and Marburg viruses’ outbreaks. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

 

Are all religions basically the same?

Do all religions lead to the same destination?

In a word, “No.”

The world’s religions don’t even agree on what the destination is.

For example, Buddhism teaches that your problem is suffering.  The solution is the eight-fold path and the goal is nirvana, which means you essentially become extinct with respect to the material world. 

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that your problem is sin, the inborn tendency to go your own way apart from God.  The solution is forgiveness, by which God restores the broken relationship, and the goal is a resurrected life in a renewed heaven and earth.

In Hinduism, your problem is a vicious cycle of life, death and rebirth.  The solution is discipline in various forms—ritual actions, wisdom, or devotion to the god of your choosing, and the goal is not salvation from sin but escape the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. 

In Islam, your problem is self-sufficiency, or acting as if you can get along without God.  The solution is submission to Allah by following the five pillars of the faith, and the goal is a paradise of sensual comforts.

In Judaism, the problem is a rhythm of wrongdoing, punishment, and exile.  The solution is to return to God by remembering the covenant and following the commands of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible.  The goal is to repair the world by doing the commandments and restoring righteousness.

Some religions emphasize that life has gone wrong, while others emphasize that life itself is wrong.

There is no agreement on the destination, neither is there agreement on the problem nor the solution. 

Certainly there are common elements among religions generally:  belief in some kind of transcendence, an ethical system, rituals, and stories about creation and the end of the world. 

Popular writers such as Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith, as well as those engaged in interfaith dialogue, have emphasized these and other similarities, and that is appropriate to a point. 

All too often, however, people assume that these very different belief systems are just alternate paths up the same mountain, and that fails to do justice to the distinctiveness of what each religion teaches.

It is condescending to lump all religions together as if their various pillars or foundational teachings are more-or-less tangential to their similarities.

I am a Christian because I believe the Bible provides the most convincing explanation for the moral weakness and fallibility we all experience, and because it provides the most realistic remedy:  grace, mercy and forgiveness for the undeserving, not by our own efforts, but solely by the efforts of the one who died and rose again for the sin of humanity, Jesus Christ. 

That’s not an inconsequential point, just as the Shahada is not inconsequential to Islam nor enlightenment to Buddhism.

The very notion of religious toleration, which characterized our nation’s founding, assumes that the differences between religions are real and substantive. 

Such honesty need not be divisive and, most importantly, it is being respectful of the various traditions.

Tolerance grows only when differences are first acknowledged and then allowed.

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Firearms in churches: Christians may disagree

Guns in churches is really a non-issue, and I will explain why shortly.

I address it only because there is a larger issue in play, and it is reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “do not exceed that which is written.”  

Scripture speaks to many subjects:  the creation of the world, the sinfulness of humanity, and the grace of God for all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Scripture also speaks of the sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb, and the truth that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. 

But scripture does not address every issue that we confront, including emergency response procedures in churches.     

Knowing this, Christians down through the ages have agreed, “We speak where scripture speaks, and where scripture is silent, we must be silent.”

That doesn’t mean we can’t have an opinion, but it remains only that—an opinion.

We cannot say, “Thus saith the Lord,” where the Lord has not spoken a clear word.

To speak for God in such situations is to burden consciences in a way God never intended.

In such matters, we may exercise Christian freedom, but we must exercise our freedom in a responsible way that always takes the well-being of our neighbor into account. 

For example, when Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person,” he is speaking to his disciples about their own lives and how they should not strike back against those who are persecuting them personally.

He is not prohibiting them from acting to save the lives of others, which love of neighbor would certainly allow and perhaps even require.   

When someone perceives that the only way to save life or prevent further loss of life is to attack, even kill an active shooter, I assume he or she does so out of love for neighbor. 

I cannot condemn such an action. 

I can only thank God the person was there and had the opportunity and the concern for others to act. 

What mother or father would stand idly by while their child’s life is being taken? 

Does Jesus require that of parents? 

Not in my opinion, but it’s just that—my opinion.

There is room for honest disagreement among Christians in this regard, because there is no clear word from God that addresses every situation.   

Even Mennonite Mutual Insurance Company, which arose in a denomination with deep pacifistic roots, leaves open the possibility that a church may have well-trained, armed security on its premises.

I am not advocating that.  I am only saying there is a range of opinion among fellow-believers who understand that this question lies in the realm of Christian freedom.

Mennonite Mutual produced a document, Guns in Churches:  Addressing Church Security Needs, which states, “It would be easy to say, ‘Let’s look at scripture.’  But does scripture clearly spell out what we are to do in cases of people carrying out a violent attack in the church?”

The implied answer is “no.”

They are simply remaining silent where scripture is silent.   

More than an active shooter, I fear the tendency in myself and in all of us to speak a “Thus saith the Lord,” when there is no such thing.   

There are enough issues that divide Christians; we do not need to create more.

Whenever I face questions for which there is no clear biblical answer, I always ask myself, “How can I best love the other person in this situation?”

We can charitably disagree on what form love may take, but the care and well-being of others should always be a guiding principle.

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