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Amish photos and ancient bacteria

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Amish family riding in a traditional Amish buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Credit: Utente:TheCadExpert via en.wikipedia.org)

Two disparate news items caught my eye today. The first is a bill signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn that provides for state identification cards without photographs. Why provide an I.D. card without an identifying photo?

It turns out the state has a large Amish population. The Amish consider posing for photographs to be an act of pride. They allow non-Amish to photograph their homes, farms, and buggies, but these do not help much on an I.D. card. Now the state will issue them an identification document without a photo. Some suggest creating a non-public data base in the future using fingerprints rather than photos.

Meanwhile, researchers in Australia may have discovered the world’s oldest fossil, bacteria which lived in an oxygen free world 3.4 billion years ago. Their metabolism apparently depended on sulfur rather than oxygen for energy and growth. On a planet with land masses the size of Caribbean islands, volcanic activity dominated the environment. These bacteria were able to survive in such a harsh world by using what was available in the atmosphere to sustain themselves.

What links the Amish and ancient fossils? The former refuses to adapt to the modern world; the latter survived by doing so. The challenge is knowing when to imitate the Amish and when to imitate the bacteria.

I led a conference yesterday on current trends in American spirituality. What is the state of the church in our culture? Some 40% of us say we go to church; when you count actual attenders, the number drops to 20.4%. Some 50% of American churchgoers attend the largest 10% of our congregations.

In fact, evangelical churches with more than 1,000 members posted the largest gains over the last five years, growing 83%. The number of Protestant churches with weekly attendance of 2,000 or more has doubled in the last five years. The vast majority have adapted popular music and media in their worship and activities. Some see this as necessary in reaching people. Others see it as compromise with our culture. What are your thoughts?

Here’s a reality that never changes: God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). No matter how exciting or frustrating the changes swirling around you this morning, your King is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He calls us to join him in sharing his unchanging, life-transforming love with our changing culture. Pericles, the famous builder of the Parthenon in Athens, was ironically perceptive: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

What unchanging contribution will you make to your changing world today?