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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.

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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The resurrection of Jesus: why it matters

All four Gospels record the fact of Christ’s resurrection, but they say little about why it matters. 

To understand the resurrection’s importance, you must go to the rest of the New Testament, especially the epistles. 

Paul describes the importance of the resurrection of Jesus in Romans 4:  “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” 

“Delivered over” is an expression used elsewhere in the Bible for God’s judgment upon sinners, implying that Christ, who was without sin, became sin for us all, dying in our place.    

But the phrase, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” says nothing about our being forgiven. 

Our forgiveness is proclaimed in the next clause, “and was raised to life for our justification.” 

“Justification” is a legal term, meaning that God, the Judge, declares you to be in the right, or “righteous,” in his sight. 

This is the chief article of the Christian religion, and it depends completely on the resurrection of Jesus. 

To be justified is to be forgiven and in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that is why Easter matters.

Jesus died for our sins on Good Friday, but our forgiveness became an accomplished fact on Easter Sunday.

Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, a Lutheran pastor, uses a football analogy to illustrate this. 

Many of us assume a touchdown is scored when the player with the ball crosses the plane of the goal line, but that’s not really true. 

A touchdown is scored for the team only when the official who has the best view of the play raises both arms to signal the touchdown. 

Only then is it official; only then are points awarded to the team.

That illustrates what happened on Easter. 

God the Father had the best view of Christ’s suffering and death, and his raising of Jesus is equivalent to the official raising his arms to signal that the touchdown is good, meaning that forgiveness is now awarded to “team humanity.”   

In other words, it does sinners like ourselves no good for Jesus to cross the goal line and die for us on Good Friday unless the Father officially approves of his sacrifice on Easter by raising Jesus from the dead.    

In raising Jesus, God shows that he accepts Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world, and all who believe this good news are declared righteous before God.

This means that Good Friday and Easter are like two sides of the same coin.  They cannot be separated. 

Without the death of Jesus for the sins of the world on Good Friday, there could be no Easter.

And without Easter, Good Friday would not be good at all. 

Good Friday is incomplete without Easter.  It’s like half a coin:  worthless.   

It would be just another day and Jesus would be just another forgotten victim of crucifixion.

But Jesus was not forgotten. 

On the third day, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, and in doing so, God has awarded righteousness to sinners, won forgiveness for all humanity, and elevated Jesus as the supreme object of faith.

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Infants, born or unborn, are in the care of Christ

In thirty years of ministry, I’ve officiated at funerals for people of all ages, including infants who were pre-term and full-term.

People often ask me how one does a funeral for someone you did not or could not know, including infants.

Although the occasion is one of deep sadness, the direction of the funeral and message is really quite simple. 

You preach Christ crucified and risen for all humanity, including that child.

You focus less on the child and more on what God as done for every person through Jesus Christ.

In fact, it’s easier to preach Christ at the funeral of an infant than an adult because the life story and “achievements” of the adult are often allowed to eclipse the achievements of Christ.  

Consider the account in Luke’s Gospel when parents brought their babies to Jesus that he might touch or bless them.    

This blessing was the act of God conferring grace upon the infants.   

The disciples rebuked the parents, but Jesus rebuked the disciples saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Then came the kicker.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

One thing all should agree on is this:  babies can do nothing but receive!

Babies cannot earn, they cannot achieve, they cannot merit or actively acquire anything, nor are they in a position to decide. 

They must be given everything by the decision of another. 

And that is Christ’s point. 

Jesus cites infants, not adults, as illustrations of discipleship. 

Infants, pre-term and full-term, are the best example of what a disciple is, because they can do nothing but receive.

It may surprise you, but the same is true for adults.

This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and it is why he also said, “If God so clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you…?”

Food, clothing and all that we need to support body and life are never earned by us but are solely the gifts of God.

As the Scripture says, “A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from above.”

It’s the same with the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. 

Like infants, we are all passive recipients of what God alone gives through Jesus Christ.

When an infant dies, pre-term or full-term, it’s not just the passing of a life, but the passing of the parents’ fondest hopes and dreams. 

That death is the consequence of sin which affects us all. 

The psalmist wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

And again, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

Comfort for grieving parents can never be found in the presumed innocence of the child. 

Such innocence does not exist, but something far better does:  God’s love for the world revealed in the death of his unique Son.

The Apostle John wrote, “He [Christ] is the satisfaction for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”  

That includes infants. 

I may not know how the infant felt about God, but I absolutely know how God feels about the infant, and the cross proves it!   

I cannot look into the child’s heart or anyone’s heart to know if faith is there, but I can look into the heart of God at the cross. 

There, I see God’s love for all, including for the child. 

To the grieving parent I say, “Turn your eyes away from everything but the cross.”

There alone is true comfort in the midst of grief.

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