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The Bible was written to be read with your ears

Would you rather hear someone give a speech or read a transcript of it?

nullI think most of us would rather hear a speech and here’s why.

Oral communication tends to be more effective than written because it involves gestures, movement, rhythm, rhyme, and changes in tone that provide meaning and keep the hearer interested. 

Written words may be more precise, but spoken words have a more powerful effect. 

Spoken words can move you. 

A message delivered by a voice is more powerful than a written one. 

When God communicated with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he spoke.

Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to speak God’s Word to them.

The spoken word is the original and essential form of the Gospel. 

Jesus went throughout Galilee proclaiming the good news, “The time has come.  The kingdom God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”

God’s word was spoken before it was written, and it was written in order to be spoken.

The four gospels were circulated to be read aloud in early Christian worship services.

The Apostle Paul wrote his letters so that they might be read aloud in the churches.

God communicates with us through the ear rather than the eye.

The God of the Bible is one who speaks. 

Seeing is reserved for the life to come, not for this life.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.”  

Again, Paul has written, How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

God can speak to you any way he wants, but ordinarily he will speak to you through those whom he has called and sent.

Spiritual growth and maturity come through the ear.

Be thankful for the written word of God, but do not use the written word as an excuse to ignore the preached word.  

I have heard others say, “I don’t have to attend worship services because I can always read my Bible at home.”   

Having a Bible is no guarantee that you will read it, and if you read it, you will learn that we are called to meet together.

No one is to be a stay-at-home Christian unless he or she is unable to attend, and then we go to them to speak God’s word.  

The Bible is a necessary record of what God has said, but the written word should always lead us into fellowship and discussions with others so that we encounter the word that is spoken. 

The written word of God is the measuring rod we use to guide our preaching and to determine the legitimacy of the preaching we hear.

Many of our biblical ancestors believed in God without any script.  They encountered the word of God by means of a voice, either directly from heaven or, more commonly, through a called individual. 

To encounter the word of God in its fullness, hear it proclaimed in a sermon or read aloud in a worship service or Bible study.

BibleGateway.com contains many translations of the Bible which you can hear read aloud.

As author Eugene Peterson has noted, “There are still communities that get along without any written language, but none that survive without speech.”

Speech is that important.

Similarly, while the written word of God by itself has the power to convert and transform individuals, neither that individual nor the Christian community cannot survive without the spoken word. 

The Bible is widely available and should be studied daily, but it is better to read it aloud and hear it proclaimed in a public setting.

By God’s grace, that living voice will travel from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life.

Long ago, God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah, “My word that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Are we alone in the universe?

The Bible is silent on the subject of extraterrestrial life, but many believers and unbelievers are not.null

“Exotheology” is the term used to describe the theological issues raised by the possibility of life on other planets, and it has become a hot topic in recent years. 

In light of the Bible’s silence, Christians may have a variety of opinions regarding alien beings, but those responses ought to reflect what Scripture does say about life in general. 

First, the heavens declare the glory of God.  The cosmos, and everything in it, bears witness to his majesty. 

Scripture reveals that God calls each of the stars, and each one of us, by name.      

He is the author of life in all of its forms.

Second, God has bound us to his word and his means of grace, but God himself is not bound. 

In other words, God is free to do and to create whatever he wants beyond what he has revealed to us in Scripture, but what he has revealed to us is what he calls us to hold fast and not abandon, for the life of the world and for the sake of all creation.

Third, the claims of Christianity are not earth bound, but cosmic in scope. 

Jesus died to redeem all creation, and if intelligent life is discovered elsewhere, our response would be the same as it has been down through the ages:  to evangelize, to share the love that God has revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.

Fourth, the belief that there has to be life on other planets is not based on observable evidence but on an unproven and unobserved assumption:  that life arises spontaneously from non-living matter. 

From that unproven assumption it is further assumed that since the universe is vast and the number of habitable planets is supposedly large, the odds are overwhelming that intelligent life exists outside our solar system.

But what if we start with a different assumption—an observable one--that life arises solely from life?  That ultimately points back to a Creator.   Since life would have to arise from his creative activity alone, it is just as logical to assume that intelligent life is limited to earth as it is to assume that it must exist throughout the universe.

Finally, there is the Fermi Paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi. 

The paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of numerous advanced alien civilizations and the complete lack of evidence for the same.

At lunch in Los Alamos back in 1950, Fermi sat with other scientists discussing a cartoon in The New Yorker which showed cheerful aliens emerging from a flying saucer. 

That prompted Fermi to ask, “Where is everybody?” 

Based on the assumption that life arises from non-living matter, the universe should be teeming with evidence of other civilizations, many of them far more advanced than our own.

The Drake Equation, named after astronomer Frank Drake, predicts that the number of civilizations in our galaxy whose radio signals we might be able to detect would be in the thousands.

And yet, after decades of searching, we hear nothing. 

That does not mean that extraterrestrials do not exist; it means only that we have no evidence for their existence.

However, the existence of extraterrestrial life has become almost an article of faith among many in the scientific community. 

The belief that life must arise from non-life virtually requires the existence of extraterrestrials. 

The thought that we might be alone in the universe seems unbearable to some, and it points to a need deep within all of us, the need for transcendence, the longing for contact with someone or something beyond ourselves, which is really a religious need.

While we lack evidence of alien civilizations, there is strong evidence that we have been visited by someone not of this world, someone who loves each of us enough to have already initiated contact with us, not in a threatening way, but in a gracious, forgiving way.   

The Hebrew prophets predicted him, and he fulfilled their words by dying and rising from the dead.

He is as near as your Bible and he is as close as his people who gather every Sunday to hear his words spoken by faithful ministers. 

Perhaps we are not alone after all.

A Famine makes the heart grow hungry

A famine makes the heart grow hungry

Food that repels you when you are full suddenly becomes desirable, even necessary, when you are hungry. null

On a wilderness survival course many years ago, I was so famished that I could not wait to cook the rainbow trout I had caught, so I devoured it raw. 

America today is a land of abundance, and most of us have more than enough to eat, but we live in the midst of a spiritual famine—a famine of God’s Word. 

The prophet Amos spoke of such a time as this.

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land--not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. 

Notice that the famine is a lack of hearing God’s Word, which suggests that either it is not being spoken faithfully or, if it is spoken faithfully, it is being ignored.

In Amos’ day it was most likely both, as I believe it is now. 

God’s word is life itself, but when we reject it, God will withdraw it, allowing us to experience life apart from “the bread of life,” his life-sustaining Gospel.

Today the media, the education establishment, the entertainment industry and our own government banish and even disparage biblical truth or label it as bigotry.

Biblical truth is marginalized, if not forbidden, in the centers of power today. 

Yet that is not the greatest scandal.

Christian ministers self-censure in the public square, neglecting to pray in Jesus’ name or to speak his name at all in order to appear respectable and gain favor with the elites.

Even in so-called evangelical churches, much preaching today is about the Christian rather than the Christ, and important biblical themes such as God’s wrath and the Day of Judgment are avoided.      

Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School, writes that preachers today deal with God’s wrath the way the Victorians handled sex, treating it as shameful, embarrassing and best left in the closet.

Yet God’s wrath will not remain in a closet. 

It is already evident in the form of lawlessness--whether in our city streets or in our highest public offices.

The more you watch the evening news, the more famished you become, and the more you hunger for some word of comfort and for truth that is no longer spoken openly.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will not hunger.”

Jesus satisfies not just any heart, but the heart that seeks relief from the wrath and judgment of God.

Without God’s wrath, we will have no hunger for God’s mercy, and the cross, where God’s mercy is revealed, will have no appeal.

But for those who hunger for transcendent truth as well as the forgiveness of their sins, the table is set and the host invites. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

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?

Image result for church autism

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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