Social Distancing, Public Health, and the Bible

Social distancing is an important public health measure to slow or stop the spread of many diseases. God’s instructions to the Hebrews in the Bible were primarily for holiness, but also had important health benefits.

I was at the auto parts store last week buying brake pads to replace the old ones in my daughter’s Prius. An elderly woman walked in, donning a mask and gloves, and carefully staying at least six feet away from others. When a clerk approached her and when other customers walked by, she retreated. I walked the long way down a separate aisle to get around her, trying to provide the space that she needed. Given her increased level of risk, and the fact that she didn’t seem grumpy, I appreciated her caution.

Social distancing, putting space between people who may infect each other with a disease, is the major way that individuals and governments throughout the world are trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has worked many times in history, such as in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, a far deadlier disaster than the current plague. The nation, and indeed much of the world, has been staying at home, or at least away from others, for over six weeks. Public health experts have used many other interventions for infection control as well. This article will discuss social distancing and other public health actions against infectious disease.

Continue reading “Social Distancing, Public Health, and the Bible”

Advertisements

Childbirth and Children in the Bible

A summary on the bearing and raising of children, and children’s lives, in the Bible and ancient Middle East. 

A reader who was preparing a Bible study asked me for some information on children in the Bible. Life in Bible times was centered around the family, and children were a vital part. Our 21st century debates in the West about whether to marry and whether to have children were unthinkable for most people in antiquity. For the vast majority of people, marriage was expected and even required. There were good reasons for this:

Continue reading “Childbirth and Children in the Bible”

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

Shepherds have uniquely valuable insights into this most beloved of Bible passages.

It was almost Christmas as my young family and I left for church from our town house in Bad Kissingen, Germany, a few miles north of Schweinfurt. A middle-aged German couple lived next door, and one day I asked the wife if they attend church, and what were their holiday plans. She replied that she and her family had attended services occasionally long ago, and were planning a quiet Christmas. Hoping to encourage her to go back to church, at least for Christmas, I mentioned that the Bible has some wonderful passages and asked her if she had ever heard of the 23rd Psalm. “Der Herr ist mein hirte!” she shot back, “Of course! Germans learn that as children. Do you think we know nothing?” I apologized for my inadvertent insult, but couldn’t help thinking about Psalm 23 as cultural classic versus Psalm 23 as living truth. My neighbor memorized Psalm 23, but showed no sign of living it. Followers of Christ must know it, and live it.

God uses the research, experiences, and insights of other Christians to help us see into the Scriptures. Much of the Bible is written in the language of farmers and herders. The 23rd Psalm is a beautiful, symbolic description of our Father’s care for His people through a shepherd’s eyes. As a professional shepherd and the author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Philip Keller shares some valuable insights, which I have included.

Continue reading “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”

Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was physical, not just spiritual. Likewise, Christians do not live eternally as disembodied spirits, we will have perfect physical bodies.

During our recent trip to Athens, Anna and I wanted to see some of the key Greek places mentioned in the Bible. Philippi and Thessalonica were too far to travel during our stay, at least a six hour drive each way, but Corinth was close, just over one hour by auto.  About 12 miles west of Athens on the road to Corinth, however, lies another important Greek religious site, Eleusius and the site of one of the most renowned mystery cults.

Continue reading “Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection”

Will My Dog Go to Heaven?

Gracie - John Niven - cropped 1.jpg

People love their pets, and want to know what will happen after they die. The Bible provides an answer. 

About two weeks ago I saw John at a riverboat party. The general mood was light, but he stood alone in the shadows, his face stained with dry tears. John and his wife, their children long out of the house, had been forced to put their beloved dog, Gracie, to sleep. I listened long and said little as he shared his heart, and soon the party was over. A few days later he approached me at another gathering.

“Mark, you are a minister, right?”

“Yes, I was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister.”

“Will Gracie go to heaven? I have heard both – some people say that she will, and others say that since she doesn’t have a soul, she won’t.”

He paused. There was silence as I considered my reply. John was still visibly distressed, and I had to be right, but I equivocated.

“Well, the bottom line is that no one knows for sure.”

John’s face fell.

Continue reading “Will My Dog Go to Heaven?”

When Crisis Comes

What do we do when crisis comes? What should we do? How can others help?

Carolyn, a friend in her 90s, approached me at church after the morning worship service a few Sundays ago. She and her husband Alan had had a terrible week. The previous Tuesday she was hit by another car while driving, destroying her vehicle but leaving her mercifully with only a few bumps and bruises. On Friday there had been an electrical fire in her house. She and her husband were safe but their home was badly damaged. They were living in a nearby hotel and needed prayer. The couple, another friend and I prayed together immediately, and my family has lifted them up before the Lord several times in the past few weeks.

Continue reading “When Crisis Comes”

The Early Church – From Movement to Organization

God used the most ordinary means to make His Church the largest and most powerful organization on earth. 

There seems to be much for Christians in America to be discouraged about in 2016. Conventional wisdom holds that while the Church is growing quickly in China and the developing world, Europe and America are in the “post Christian” doldrums. The 2016 presidential campaign has taken twists and turns that have distressed some evangelical believers. In her book Confessions of a White House Speechwriter, Peggy Noonan writes that growing up on Long Island in the 1950s, a woman who attempted suicide was a celebrity because no one else did it. Divorce and even adultery were unheard of. Sixty years later, such cultural morality seems a distant dream. Christians have more children than their secular counterparts, but then lose many to an implacably hostile school system.

The paragraph above reflects the feelings of many, but contains some statements that are true and others that are false. Even if every word were true, believers in Jesus Christ should never be discouraged. Over the course of dozens of recent conversations in church and at home, I have tried to reassure my brethren with the promises of God in Scripture (John 16:33, Romans 8:28). While these verses can be encouraging, many people need more visible encouragement.

Continue reading “The Early Church – From Movement to Organization”

The Growing Church

The Church of Jesus Christ will always grow – the Almighty has so willed it. How wonderful that we get to help. 

Jesus told His disciples to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1). For 2000 years the Church of Jesus Christ has shared the good news of the gospel throughout the world. The body of believers has grown from 120 members in the Upper Room (Acts 1:15) to over 2.3 billion people, out of a total world population of 7.3 billion, today. While the Way of Christ is growing by leaps and bounds in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa, progress seems to have stalled in Europe and North America. In the heavily Muslim areas of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Indonesia, Christians comprise a tiny fraction of the people. Growth feels impossible, and some become discouraged.

Sometimes Christians have effectively demonstrated the saving grace of Jesus to those around them, but other times have not. Many people reject Christ because they don’t have a clear idea who He is. Dedicated believers have often looked to one of the most exciting periods in the history of Christianity, the early Church, for guidance on how to grow. This is a great practice, for the earliest years of any new religious movement (NRM) are the most dynamic. Since few NRMs survive their founder, early Christianity was an example of how to grow and sustain growth over the decades, centuries, and millennia.  This article will examine Acts 2:41-47, which describes the earliest days of the Church, to look for clues about how to grow and sustain the Body of Christ today.

Continue reading “The Growing Church”