Resolutions and Priorities for 2021

Resolutions and Priorities for 2021

If you are reading this or having it read to you, it appears that you have survived the year 2020. As we come to a New Year, we all need to make some resolutions and priorities for 2021. The Bible makes some statements about life and priorities that we need to think about at the start of this new year. Here are some suggestions:

#1) BE CAREFUL WITH WHOM YOU SPEND YOUR TIME. Psalms 84:10 says it well: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.” How much time do we spend with people who have nothing to offer us but profanity, dirty jokes and stories, and an obsession with pleasure? We are sometimes forced to endure these folks at work, but it is our choice elsewhere. Make this part of your resolutions and priorities for 2021.

#2) SPEND SOME TIME WORKING ON CONTENTMENT. The Apostle Paul has much to say about contentment in 1 Timothy 6:6-12. Remember that in Philippians 4:11-13, Paul tells us how he LEARNED to be content in life no matter the situation. Being content is something you learn to do, and not learning to be content can result in sorrows of all kinds.

Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6 to remember that we brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing out. He says WANTING to be rich is a snare, and he follows that by saying, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” He doesn’t say that money is evil or that being rich is wrong. There are people in the Bible who were rich and who used their riches in a way that brought them contentment. (See Luke 8:1-3, 23:50-54, John 19:38, and Acts 16:14, 15.) Longing to be rich and the love of money can destroy us. It is no mystery why the suicide rate of famous rich people is so high.

What will make you content? How much do you aim your energy at being rich? Resolve to be satisfied with what you have and work at it through your faith.

#3) PRIORITIZE YOUR LIST OF RESOLUTIONS. Not everything you need to get done in 2021 is of equal importance. The Bible makes it clear that putting God first in your life should be your first priority. If you don’t believe in God or have huge doubts, resolve to change that through our video series (available free on Please send any questions to me at After God, put your family next on your list.

I have found it helpful to have two resolution lists – one physical and one spiritual. On the physical list, I place things like jobs I need to do around the house and health and recreational goals. On the spiritual list are things like improving quiet time with God and His Word both in amount and in quality. Doing the things that Jesus lists in Matthew 25:34-40 should be on your spiritual resolution list. Spending more time with those who are a part of God’s kingdom and finding positive entertainment also should be high on the list.

Your resolutions and priorities for 2021 can make it a year in which you find contentment. Follow God’s advice, and you will see that it works.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

World’s Only Poisonous Rodent

Worlds Only Poisonous Rodent

An exciting area of study is the way various animals protect themselves against would-be predators. We find one of the most unusual methods in the African crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi), also known as the maned rat. It’s the world’s only poisonous rodent.

Crested rats have a white-bordered mane that extends from the top of the head to the base of the tail. Their body can be up to 14 inches (360 mm) long, or 21 inches (530 mm) if you include the tail. They would make a very nice meal for a wild dog or hyena if they didn’t have a poison defense system.

Crested rats chew the bark of the poison arrow tree
(Acokanthera schimperi). They spit out the chewed matter and rub it on the coarse fur of their mane. When threatened, the rat’s mane stands erect, so the poison is the first thing a predator will contact. The toxin is strong enough to kill a wild dog or hyena.

Researchers studying crested rats report that their behavior demonstrates that they are aware of their poisonous nature. It seems to be built into the DNA of these animals to know how to secure the toxin. Animals such as skunks produce their own noxious chemicals for defense, but they are not poisonous. Scientists have not found any other mammal that collects poison from a plant species and stores it for protection. Crested rats depend on the poison arrow tree and don’t seem to be harmed by the poison.

How does the world’s only poisonous rodent develop such a tool for survival? We see God’s design over and over in animal behavior and the tools that they know how to use.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Understanding Proteins and How They Are Made

Understanding Proteins and How They Are Made

How does insulin control blood sugar levels? How do antibodies fight coronaviruses? Questions like these have been at the frontier of biochemical research for as long as we have known there were such things as proteins. Understanding proteins and how they are made is a challenge that continues to be the focal point of a great deal of work.

The human body contains at least 20,000 different proteins, and their shapes are controlled by how their component amino acids are twisted and folded. In the medical field, the importance of understanding proteins is enormous. Not understanding proteins and how they are made would be like trying to fix a car engine when you don’t know how it works or how it was put together.

The Week for December 18, 2020, quotes Janet Thornton of the European Bioinformatics Institute, saying, “This is a problem that I was beginning to think would not be solved in my lifetime.” What has changed is that computers can do in hours what would take a human years to solve. Scientists have analyzed protein structures for malaria, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis (a disease caused by parasites) to find new methods of treating those diseases.

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of life, and we know that they exist in outer space and can be produced in the laboratory. Using these building blocks to make proteins that govern how life works is extremely complex. The amino acids bend and fold in origami-like structures to make proteins. To suggest that proteins can result from some chance process of organic evolution is stretching credibility to the breaking point.

Genesis gives us the simple statement, “And God said ‘It is good.’” As biochemistry begins understanding proteins and how they are made, we see how complex God’s creation is. Those simple words wonderfully describe what we are starting to understanding as a work of incredible intelligence and design.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Behavior Has Consequences

Behavior Has Consequences

There are many long-term consequences for the things we do in life. In the Old Testament, we see a constant principle at work, that when humans engaged in things contrary to God’s will, there were ultimate harmful consequences. Moses said it concisely in Numbers 32:23: “… you have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” Our behavior has consequences.

Many times, the Old Testament tells about long-lasting consequences because someone sinned. David’s family suffered for years because of His sin with Bathsheba. Unfortunately, innocent people can be afflicted because of the sins of someone who lived long before them. The COVID pandemic has taken place mainly because people failed to follow good health practices and the medical establishment’s advice. I have personally seen that play out in the life of my son, Timothy.

Tim lived in a group home with two other men who, like him, were afflicted with past medical problems. The organization running the home took care of the men, providing meals, laundry, bathing, and medical care. Tim suffered blindness, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and mental disability, but all of those conditions had been static for years.

In early November, one of the caregivers tested positive for the virus, and two weeks later, Tim became ill and tested positive. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he was hospitalized. After a week of treatment, including being on a respirator, Tim was released from the hospital and sent back to his apartment. The COVID virus had weakened him to the point where he could not take care of himself. He had to be fed, and he couldn’t dress himself or go to the bathroom on his own. His speech had deteriorated to the point where it was almost impossible to understand him.

After two weeks of attempts to help him resume some of the normal self-care, it became clear that he was progressively weakening and had to go back to the hospital. This time he didn’t have the COVID virus, but it had catalyzed the muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, and he was in serious trouble. At this writing, Tim is in a nursing home where he spent Christmas, unable to sit up or eat any food that is not pureed. Tim is an innocent victim of the mistakes others have made and evidence that behavior has consequences.

It’s a mistake to believe that if I don’t see immediate negative consequences of my actions, they must be okay. That applies in all areas—not just COVID-19. We see it in decisions involving child-raising, marriage, sexual relationships, money management, and social relationships. James says it well when he reminds us that our lives are but a vapor lasting only for a very short time. (See James 4:13-17.) We need to be consistent in conduct, conforming to the lifestyle to which God calls us. Because behavior has consequences, failure to do so results in problems for ourselves and others.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Help to Keep Us Humble

Help to Keep Us Humble

Occasionally our readers send us poems and articles. Larry Fischer sent me this one, which I feel can help to keep us humble. No matter how good we are at what we do, anything we do as humans is pretty insignificant compared to God. Being humble is an attribute that every Christian should have. Perhaps this poem can help:

Sometime when you’re feeling important
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom
Sometime when you take it for granted
You’re the best qualified in the room.
Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul.
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out, and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you want when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.
The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.

First Peter 5:5-6 says it well: “All of you should be subject to each other and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.”

When we feel pride welling up, we should ask the Lord for help to keep us humble.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Gifts of the Magi

Gifts of the Magi

There has been a great deal of confusion about the magi’s visit to the Christ child. Not only are there differences of opinion about who the magi were, but even their gifts have been misunderstood. Atheists have claimed that the whole story is nonsense because Mary and Joseph could make so much money from the gifts of the magi that Joseph wouldn’t have to work as a carpenter. We assume that whatever value the gifts had would have helped support the family during their sojourn in Egypt.

At the time of Christ, these gifts were quite expensive. Today on Amazon, you can buy frankincense resin for $16 a pound and myrrh resin from $16 to 36 a pound. On the other hand, the price of gold is approaching $2,000 an ounce. But the value of the gifts of the magi was not primarily financial.

Frankincense and myrrh are resins extracted from wounds in the bark of trees that grow in northeast Africa and southern Arabia. Frankincense was used to soothe the gums and to treat respiratory problems, skin infections, and bruises. Modern researchers have found that frankincense has antiseptic, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains flavonoids that cause the lungs’ bronchia to dilate, helping with breathing problems. But frankincense was, and still is, burned in the worship of deity. For that reason, it seems to be an appropriate gift for the Christ child.

People used myrrh as an anesthetic. Soldiers gave Jesus “wine mingled with myrrh” during His crucifixion to relieve His suffering. He rejected the offering. Modem research has shown that myrrh can lower cholesterol levels, and it has been used to treat heart disease. A side effect of myrrh is that it stimulates the thyroid resulting in accelerated metabolism. Myrrh was used to embalm royal mummies like King Tutankhamen. The Jews also used it for embalming bodies for burial. The gift of myrrh hints at the death of Christ.

Even gold was valued for medical uses and not just business transactions. Roman doctors prescribed gold dissolved in acid to cure appendicitis. Today the drug auranofin is a gold salt listed by the World Health Organization to treat rheumatoid arthritis. But gold was and is associated with kings and crowns. This gift from the magi indicates a kingly future for Jesus.

The point of all this is that the expensive gifts of the magi had symbolic meaning. They were foreshadowing the death of Jesus, but also his deity and kingship. We know very little about the magi except that they came to worship the Christ child. Their gifts honored the one who was God in the flesh and who would eventually die to redeem all who would accept Him as their King.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Accounts of Jesus’ Birth and their Differences

Accounts of Jesus’ Birth and their Differences

One interesting area of study is the difference in the accounts of Jesus’ birth, as described by Matthew and Luke. The reason that the two versions are different is that they were written for different audiences. Matthew was a Jew, and he presents Jesus as the New Moses. Consider the parallels:

1) In Genesis 37:5-9, 28, Joseph was taken to Egypt because of his dreams, which ultimately led to deliverance by Moses. In Matthew 1:20-23, 2:13, and 2:19-20, Joseph takes his family to Egypt because of his dreams.

2) Joseph is the son of Jacob in Genesis 37:1-3. Jesus’ father, Joseph, is the son of Jacob Matthew 1:16.

3) The Pharaoh of Egypt orders the killing of male Hebrew babies before the exodus in Exodus 1:15-16. Herod the Great orders the killing of Hebrew boy babies in Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16.

4) Joseph sends for his family to come to the land of Goshen to survive a famine and set the stage for their deliverance. In Matthew 2:13-14, Joseph takes his family to Egypt to save the child, Jesus.

5) Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt to the land God promised Abraham in Exodus 14, Deuteronomy 34, and Genesis 17:6. Jesus returned from Egypt to live in Nazareth in Matthew 2:19-23.

Matthew is a Jew writing for a Jewish audience and showing that Jesus had significance for the Jews and the gentiles. Luke is a Greek and is writing for a Gentile audience. Luke begins by relating Jesus to John the Baptist, with John being the herald of Jesus in Luke 1:76-77. In 2:1-5, Luke tells us about the census under Quirinius to explain how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem. Luke then presents a different emphasis than Matthew:

1) Angels take the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-12.

2) Angels participate in heaven’s jubilation in Luke 2:13-14.

3) The shepherds visit the family and are the first evangelists in Luke 2:16-18.

4) Jesus is taken to Jerusalem and presented at the temple. There He is proclaimed “a light for the Gentiles and a glory for Israel” in Luke 2:28-32.

5) The childhood of Jesus at the age of 12 returning to Jerusalem in Luke 2:40-52. The re-connection with his cousin, John, in Luke 3.

The two accounts of Jesus’ birth remarkably complement each other. Those who try to find contradictions between Matthew and Luke are not considering who wrote the accounts, to whom they were directed, why they were written, and how the readers would understand them. The gospels of Mark and John were written for different purposes and do not tell about the birth of Jesus. 

Much of the Christmas narrative we hear at this time of year is not even in the Bible, and it is speculation about what might have happened. Reread the accounts, thinking about the purpose of the narratives and to whom they were written. You grow when you stick to the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible and ignore the later embellishments.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christmas and Creation

Christmas and Creation

In the modern Christmas celebration, we tend to think of the cute little baby lying in a sanitized manger with cattle and sheep and handsome shepherds looking on. We see oriental kings bringing expensive gifts to the Christ child. The birth of Christ was far more than that. We need to go back to see the connection between Christmas and creation.

Before creation, there was nothing – no matter, no space, no time. John 1:1-3 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”

In John 1:14, we read that the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. Colossians 1:16-20 tells us: “For by him (Jesus) were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” As we learn more about quarks and the whole subject of quantum mechanics, we are beginning to understand a small part of what creation involved scientifically.

Part of the process was the creation of humans in the image of God with the capacity to demonstrate God’s “agape” kind of love. “God so loved the world…” (John 3;16a) is an expression of God’s love. To demonstrate that love, we had to have a choice not to love. If you can’t choose, you can’t really love. Because they had the choice, humans chose not only to reject God’s love but to rebel against Him. John 1:9-14 describes the Logos or Word coming into the world and His own people rejecting Him. This set the stage for the fulfillment of God’s love “..that He gave His only begotten Son …” (John 3:16b).

That is how Christmas and creation tie together. John 1:17 tells us that Moses gave the physical rules for life, but the spiritual redemption came from Jesus. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Logos didn’t come in power and splendor but as a baby born to a poor couple in a dirty feeding trough surrounded by smelly, filthy animals.

Even though John 1:11 says that His own people did not receive Him, verse 12 tells us, “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us think about the connection between Christmas and creation. Jesus, the Logos, the one who created all things, “became flesh and dwelt among us” and redeemed us through His agape love.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christmas Holly Is a Reminder

Christmas Holly Is a Reminder

It’s an evergreen tree that can live for 500 years and grow up to 33 feet (10 meters) tall. However, it usually doesn’t live for more than 100 years or grow taller than 10 feet (3 meters). It is often associated with Christmas because people use it in wreaths and garlands, and you see it pictured on many Christmas cards. What does European (or English) holly (Ilex aquifolium), also known as Christmas holly, have to do with Christmas?

The connection to Christmas goes back to medieval times in Europe. People said that the sharp-pointed evergreen leaves reminded them of the crown of thorns Christ was forced to wear at His crucifixion. The berries, which are red during the Christmas season, reminded them of the blood Christ shed, and the white flowers stand for purity.

European holly grows as a tree or a bush. The berries are mildly toxic to people and harmful to dogs or cats. However, they provide winter food for birds, rodents, and other animals. The flowers are sources of nectar for bees and butterflies. European holly grows in shady areas in forests, and it can form a dense thicket along forest borders. Because it is a dense evergreen with sharp points, people often use it for privacy hedges.

In its native areas of Europe and other regions, holly is an ornamental plant admired for its beauty. However, since people brought it to North America’s west coast, it has become an invasive species. It thrives in the shade of forests and crowds out species native to that area. Washington state has called it a weed.

Like other plant species, European holly has an ecological niche to fill. Problems often arise when people do something to upset the balanced relationship that God has designed into nature. From the beginning, humans have done things to upset our relationship with God. That brings us back to Christmas and the reason God came to Earth in the form of a human who lived a pure life and shed His blood on the cross to redeem us. Christmas holly reminds us of that.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

People give many different explanations of what the ”wise men” saw that led them to the Christ child. (See Matthew 2:1-12.) One of those explanations says there was a planetary alignment in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Since the magi may have been Zoroaster astrologers, they knew Christ had been born and followed “the star.” There is no connection between the star of Bethlehem and a planetary conjunction.

This December 21, at the winter solstice, there is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. If you go outside about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest, you will see that the two planets are separated by less than a minute of arc, even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. If your eyesight is not very good, they may look like one very bright star.

This planetary conjunction is an exciting astronomical event, but it is not a good explanation of the star of Bethlehem. Whatever the magi saw, it could not have been a celestial star. Herod could have seen a celestial star for himself and would have had no reason to question its appearance as Matthew 2:3-10 describes. He could have had his people follow the star to find Christ and kill him.

Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the young child was.” The closest star to planet Earth, outside of the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light-years away. No stars move that way, and a planetary alignment is not a star.

The Bible does not present the star of Bethlehem as a natural object but as a miraculous act of God. Anytime the Bible says something is a miracle, it becomes a matter of faith, not science. How Jesus rose from the grave is not something we can scientifically explain. You either accept it, or you reject it, but all attempts to explain it naturally fail–and there have been many.

The star of Bethlehem was a miracle to show God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and to give Mary and Joseph the resources to move to Egypt and avoid Herod’s infanticide. The star of Bethlehem was not a natural event, but today’s planetary conjunction is. As we said yesterday, today’s event is not an omen and has no religious importance, but it is a rare, predictable astronomical event.

— John N Clayton © 2020