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‘Time Zones Were Invented for the Railroad’: Two principles that give life eternal significance

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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'Time Zones Were Invented for the Railroad': Two principles that give life eternal significance
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Have you ever wondered who invented time zones and why? I had not. They make intuitive sense since the sun obviously comes up at different times for different people.

Then I saw this headline: “Time Zones Were Invented for the Railroad.” I could not imagine how this could be true, so I had to read the article.

It reminds us that before mechanical clocks were invented, people used sundials to tell the time. “Noon” was when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. As a result, each town had its own version of time even after mechanical timepieces were introduced.

Then came the transcontinental railroad. As people left a city to travel by rail across the country, watches had to be reset frequently to accommodate the different times at each station.

Enter Sir Sandford Fleming. A Canadian railroad engineer, Fleming suggested dividing the world into twenty-four longitudinally based time zones, each on an hourly variation. The US adopted this idea nationally, which created four different zones based on degrees of longitude.

A year later, England, Scotland, and Wales joined us. Eventually, the rest of the world followed suit.

Two observations follow.

One: People we have never heard of can influence our lives in ways we cannot imagine.

Before reading the article, I had no idea how or why Sir Sandford Fleming was relevant to my life. But every moment of every day I am in Dallas, I am in the Central Time Zone. Every time I communicate with colleagues and friends in the Eastern Time Zone, I must account for the difference.

Two principles that give life eternal significance

We find this principle throughout Scripture.

Moses created the first governmental structure in Jewish history when he “chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and tens” (Exodus 18:25). This was because his father-in-law Jethro, a man forgotten by most, gave him this direction and wisdom.

We have the book of Philippians, my favorite of Paul’s letters, because a disciple named Epaphroditus brought support from the Philippian church to the imprisoned apostle. In turn, Paul wrote this letter to express his gratitude, an epistle delivered by Epaphroditus to the congregation (Philippians 2:25–30).

Two: We understand little of the world we inhabit.

I cannot engineer a railroad train or the rails on which it travels. I cannot even create a precise sundial, the “clocks” used before clocks were invented. Much less create the laptop on which I am writing these words or the internet by which you are reading them.

This principle applies even more to the word and will of God. He reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

These principles combine to make this point: God can use us in ways we cannot imagine and the world may never notice. His omniscient Spirit will lead us if we will follow. He will empower us if we will submit to him. And our obedience will bear eternal significance, whether our secular culture recognizes our service or not.

Mother Teresa was right: God measures success by faithfulness.

How successful will you be today?

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