It is interesting to observe how many times we hear heaven or paradise mentioned in our daily lives. John Denver sang a song titled “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which began with the words “Almost Heaven.” It was a song about West Virginia. I have been to the town of Paradise, Michigan, and I remember a wide variety of songs that talk about being in paradise, such as Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise.”
The fact is that all of these references to heaven or paradise are misguidedas far as being an accurate description. West Virginia is beautiful, but poverty, black lung disease, and unemployment are issues that make the state less than heaven for many residents. Paradise, Michigan has its share of mosquitoes and cold weather. Songs about paradise or heaven are statements about a temporary condition or hope.
In reality, what we all desire is freedom from all those things that make life on Earth less than heaven or paradise. Tragically, many people follow a religion or teaching that promises not freedom from all the negatives but the fulfillment of the pleasures of Earth. Physical gratification of any kind is not heaven.
The biblical portrayal of heaven is unique.In heaven, time ceases to exist, and all things of the material world come to an end. (See Hebrews 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:24, and 2 Peter 3:10-12.) If space/time and matter/energy disappear, then all the negatives that exist in the physical world go as well. Revelation 21:4 describes it well: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The consequences of our culture refusing to accept God’s teaching and His creating of male and female continues to produce bizarre results. We are not talking about equal rights for equal pay, but of human compassion and care. We are talking about forcing a women’s shelter to accept men.
The Hope Center in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, is a faith-based women’s shelter that provides hot meals, job training, and beds for homeless women. Most of them have escaped from sex trafficking and abuse. When the Center refused to admit an intoxicated man in a pink nightgown, the city of Anchorage charged them with gender discrimination. Like similar laws in other cities, Anchorage has a law banning discrimination based on gender identity.
The Genesis account makes it clear that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). For a variety of causes ranging from abuse to chemical issues, some people struggle with their sexual identity. These folks need our care, compassion, and support. Attempting to create a sexless society where there are no distinctions between male and female is a sure way to create chaos. Men can’t have babies, and some women are not equipped to handle certain roles due to physical size and strength. That is not discrimination; it’s just a fact. Sometimes there are needs peculiar to gender, and certainly, a women’s shelter meets some of those needs.
Imagine the problems that will develop if women’s shelters have to admit any man who says he thinks he is a woman. The Bible clearly tells us that humans have roles, both in the secular world and in the Church. In the Anchorage case, a lawsuit was filed in federal court, which resulted in a temporary order preventing the city from forcing a women’s shelter to accept men. In October, Anchorage agreed to make that order permanent.
If you do any cooking, you know that to be a successful cook, you have to stir the pot every so often. Not only does stirring the pot prevent the food from sticking to the bottom, but it also improves the flavor by mixing the ingredients. The Earth and its relationship to life is also a kind of pot. We are just beginning to understand how complicated the relationship is between the Sun and the various ecosystems on Earth that allow life and advanced life to exist.
In 2018 NASA launched a probe called the Parker Solar Probe to fly near the Sun and make measurements and observations. No space probe has ever been close enough to the Sun to gain much data, but this probe was designed to fill that gap in our knowledge. At this point, it is about halfway between the Sun and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
The Sun has what are called switchbacks when the magnetic field briefly reverses itself. This reversal varies the amount of solar wind coming to the Earth. This variable wind compresses Earth’s atmosphere, stirring the pot, so to speak. The mixing of the gases makes changes in our atmosphere, which we can observe in the auroras. The magnitude of the switchbacks also affects our power grids and orbiting communication satellites.
It is obvious that the movement of materials in our atmosphere and the constant changes that take place are part of the solar system design. The new data may open doors not only to how we can protect our power grids, but it may give us further understanding of the origin and sustaining of life on Earth.
Stirring the pot is one more factor in the intricate design of our planet and solar system that makes life possible. When Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom being present before the creation, it speaks of things we are just beginning to understand. The more we know of the creation, the more we know of the Creator.
We live in a difficult time for the United States. Not only is the country divided, but the political leaders on all sides embrace moral decisions that fly in the face of how Christ taught us to live. We are concerned about issues regarding Christians and politics.
It is not a new thing for political leaders to clash with good morals. In Luke 3:18-20, we read that Herod the tetrarch imprisoned John the Baptist when he spoke out about Herod’s evil actions with his brother’s wife. (See Luke 3:18-20.) The enemies of Christ tried to get him in trouble by saying the He was opposed to Caesar and the Roman authorities. Today it is likely that someone speaking against the immoral practices of politicians may suffer consequences. Our courts now endorse immoral practices.
In spite of John’s imprisonment and execution by a Roman leader, Jesus told his followers to pay taxes. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Today, some religious leaders have gotten involved in politics to the extent of telling their followers how to vote. What is the proper relationship between Christians and politics?
Paul addresses that question in Romans 13. In verses 1 and 2 he tells us that God has instituted governing authorities and that Christians should be subject to them. In verses 3-5, he wrote that rulers are servants of God. The next two verses tell Christians to pay taxes and give respect and give honor to authorities. Paul wrote this to people living in a pagan, violent, immoral political system. Starting with verse 8, Paul talks about what Christians should be doing that was in contrast to the political system of his day.
God instituted civil law to provide order in the human community. Even the most corrupt politician does not want the culture he rules to be dominated by murder, violence, and anarchy. The Ten Commandments provide the structure we need for order in society. As humans have strayed from God, they still need order and structure. Even when the agents of this order and structure are corrupt, they still provide a framework in which people can live. As far as Christians and politics, we are not called to make a political agenda our number-one priority. Romans 13 ends with Paul saying, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Whatever you do politically, let your Christian values guide it. The wall of separation we need to be concerned about is the wall between walking in the light and walking in darkness. (See 1 John 1.)
I went with my grandson to a musical instrument mega-store, where he was looking for an amplifier for his bass guitar. In addition to being a guitarist, he is also a drummer. While there, my ears were accosted as he tested a drum set and then tried out several bass guitar amps. The bass was so loud it rattled objects in the vicinity, and I could feel it pounding on my body. The experience reminded me of the connections between humans and music of all kinds.
My grandson purchased nothing because he didn’t find anything he liked in his price range. As we left the store, I was a bit relieved since my ears were still ringing. Stepping out into the parking lot, the sound of heavy traffic on the busy New Jersey street was relatively quiet.
Humans and music have been connected from the beginning. The artifacts left behind by the earliest humans include primitive musical instruments. Music styles change, and tastes in music vary from person to person. Just think of all the different musical genres and styles that people create and enjoy from country to classical, from jazz to gospel.
Music can stir our emotions. It can transport us to new places in our minds or stimulate us to action. Music can soothe our troubled souls, or a sad song can make us cry. The words of Christian songs can inspire us, and music can also tempt us into sin. Music goes beyond our minds and reaches into our emotions. What is it about music that so moves us? Perhaps it’s a desire for heaven.
Read the book of Revelation, and you will get an idea of the role of music in heaven. Music and worship go together, both in this life and in the life ahead. One of the things that distinguishes humans is our ability to create, perform, and appreciate music. Since we are created in the image of God, that must mean that God appreciates music also. Revelation indicates that singing for God before His throne will be a joyful experience. Until then, humans and music will go together as we long for the time when we are at home with God. For now, singing as we worship Him in our assemblies brings us joy as we honor our Creator.
The abortion issue is not only a political football, but now it has become a threat to population stability. That is because of sex selective abortions.
In India, 50,000 babies are aborted each month because they are girls, and females are considered to be a burden on the family. One long-term effect of the 17.3 million baby girls killed in India during the past 30 years is a huge gender imbalance in the population. In any human society, there is roughly a 50/50 balance between males and females. That means that if baby girls are aborted, there will be many males without wives, and that disrupts marriage, families, and children.
You don’t have to go to India to see cases of sex selective abortion. In 2016 the state of Indiana passed a law protecting the unborn from abortions based on race, sex, or disability. Planned Parenthood went to court to have the law overturned, and the court ruled that the law is unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to address the case. We have been told that there are counselors who are advising expectant mothers to have an abortion because their baby is a girl.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made this comment about the case: “Enshrining the constitutional right to an abortion based solely on the race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the views of the 20th Century eugenics movement.”
We would add to that comment that sex selective abortion shows even more clearly that abortion is infanticide. If you wait until you can determine the sex of the pre-born child, you are simply murdering an infant. We consider Herod’s killing of the innocents described in Matthew 2:16 as barbaric. In our world today, the slaughter far exceeds what Herod did.
Some people are confused by the fact that the Bible uses different names for God. We often use different terms to speak of the same individual. I might refer to my biological father as Dr. Clayton (he held a Ph.D. in philosophy), Mr. Clayton, Alfred Stafford Clayton, Staff, father, or daddy, depending on whom I was talking to or addressing. Those different names emphasize different aspects of the person. Likewise, the different names for God emphasize various aspects of His nature.
“Elohim” in Hebrew refers to God’s power and might. It involves the fact that God is the only true and supreme God. That word was used in Genesis 1:1 because the creation process was a radical display of power and might. The Hebrew word “Adonai” was used in reference to God’s authority in human affairs. In Deuteronomy 6, we see the conclusion of the giving of the Ten Commandments. In talking about the value of the commandments, God tells His people that the purpose of those rules was “that it may go well with you” (Verse 3). Verse 6 indicates God’s authority: “And these words ‘Adonai’ commands you today shall be on your heart.” This isn’t about power and might, but about structure and order given by one in authority.
Perhaps the most quoted name for God is “Yahweh.” Since “Yahweh” is the proper name of the divine Person, the Jews would not even speak it for fear of violating the commandment against using God’s name in vain. You will find “Yahweh” in passages that involve the promises of God. We see an example of the use of different names for God by a careful study of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, the word used for God is “Elohim.” In Genesis 2, the word used is “Yahweh.” Some skeptics have maintained that Genesis 1 and 2 had two different authors, but looking at the names used for God dispels that idea.
The first chapter of Genesis deals with the creation. The power of God is the theme throughout the entire chapter. In Genesis 2, the theme is not creation, but the relationship between man and woman. Verse 24 of chapter 2 spells that out: “Therefore (the stated purpose of the chapter) shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one.” God’s plan for man and woman was for the support man needed (verse 20). Many of us who have lost our wives can testify to the truth of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Being one is not just sexual; it is emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
The two names for God used in Genesis 1 and 2 do not indicate different authors. They express different themes, and both are important and correct. The Bible uses other different names for God, and that is not a weakness because each name carries a different emphasis. Understanding that is a key to understanding the Bible.
We recently received questions and accusations surrounding the issue of whether Christianity is a cult? This is not a new issue because, in the first century, many claimed that the apostles were promoting a cult. So, is Christianity a cult?
How do we identify a cult? Most definitions revolve around one figurehead who dictates the actions which the cult members must follow. The cult leader gains something by the actions of those who are members of the cult. Those gains can be monetary, sexual, physical, mental, or emotional, but there are always gains for the cult leader. The methods of control in a cult can be physical or sexual rewards for joining, physical punishment for not following the rules, or psychological control by intimidation or withholding of acceptance by the group.
History is full of religious cults. So is Christianity a cult with Jesus Christ as the cult leader? We are talking about Christianity as presented in the Bible. We do not mean organizations established by humans that call themselves Christian but have practices and teachings which contradict the Bible. There are denominations and sects that we would agree are cults. They have their own book of rules apart from the Bible. They have their own leader who dictates what members do, and they maintain control of their members by techniques that contradict biblical teaching. That is not biblical Christianity. Here are some reasons why biblical Christianity is not a cult:
1) The leader of Christianity died for the members of the group and refused money, fame, or items of physical comfort.
2) The message of Jesus was to serve others, not to be served. That was what He did.
3) The message of Christianity is, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians. 2:12), not, “Do what I say or else.”
4) Members of Christianity are not removed from the world and isolated from outside influence. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That is not a cloistered, isolated existence.
5) One source of information is given to Christians, and that is the Bible. It is a perfect guide for life. It is not a book of rules but a source of information on how to live successfully. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Matthew 5-7.)
6) The message of Christ was and is confirmed by immediate and long-term physical results. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16) is the challenge of Christianity. When people follow the teaching of Christ, they find peace, love, compassion, service, and freedom. No cult produces freedom in any sense.
We do not argue for someone to join “our cult.” We encourage all people to choose and live in a way that works and will bless all people. Is Christianity a cult? Absolutely not!
Imagine standing naked outside on a cold winter day. When winter’s chill comes, people take shelter. If we have to be out, we put on more clothing. Most animals have fur or feathers to help keep them warm, and they also seek shelter from the cold. Trees in winter can only stand there and take it for months at a time. So how do trees prepare for winter?
Living cells in plants or animals consist primarily of water inside a membrane. If you leave a bottle of water in your car on a night when the temperature drops below freezing, you know it will freeze and break the bottle. That is because water has the unique property of expanding as it freezes. The same thing can happen in living cells. If the water in the cell freezes, it will expand and rupture the membrane. Animals that are endothermic (warm-blooded) generate heat within their cells by burning sugar to produce energy. Plants make sugar using light energy. With a few exceptions, they don’t produce heat.
How do trees prepare for winter? They use a process botanists refer to as “hardening.” The cell walls become more permeable to allow water to escape. At the same time, sugars, proteins, and acids in the cell are concentrated into a syrupy liquid, which acts as an antifreeze. The spaces between the cell walls become filled with ultra-pure water filtered through the cell walls. Pure water without stray atoms to form a nucleus around which ice crystals can grow, will freeze only at a much lower temperature. With the cells filled with antifreeze and spaces between having only ultra-pure water that can be super-cooled without freezing, the tree is ready for what the winter brings.
How does the tree know that it’s time to harden for winter? Fall weather can fluctuate quickly and dramatically. A tree can’t depend on the fickle weather because it could easily be fooled by warm days that suddenly turn cold, causing it to freeze to death. Trees know when to prepare for winter because of the length of the days – the “photoperiod.” Weather is unpredictable. The Sun is absolutely dependable. When the tree senses a decrease in light in each 24-hour cycle, it knows winter is coming, even if the weather is unusually warm. The pattern of changing daylight and darkness is exactly the same every year, even though the weather is capricious.
God engineered this incredibly well-designed system. “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for seasons and for days and for years’” (Genesis 1:14). Thus God designed the system which says, “Trees prepare for winter.” It’s another engineering marvel from the Creator.
When we read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, we see how different they are from any other religious teaching in the world. Following those teachings would benefit all of the inhabitants of this planet. Jesus taught an essential attitude toward possessions and wealth. I have always enjoyed the phrase “attitude of gratitude.”
Americans have moved from an attitude of gratitude to an attitude of entitlement. There is no reason to give thanks for something if it was owed to us in the first place. We seem to jump from one “gimmie festival” to another as we go through the holidays. The result of this is stress, worry, anxiety, and all of the physiological disorders that go with this self-induced pressure.
Many years ago, Dr. Stephen Post, a physician at Case Western Medical School, shared some data on how people benefit from an attitude of gratitude in Guideposts Magazine (November 2007, page 78):
Just 15 minutes a day focusing on things you’re thankful for will significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies.
Naturally grateful people are more focused mentally and measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression.
A grateful state of mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate.
Caring for others is draining. But grateful caregivers are healthier and more capable than less grateful ones.
Recipients of donated organs who have the most grateful attitudes heal faster.
How do Christians develop a natural gratitude that affords them these benefits? In the Psalms, the Hebrew word for thanks occurs 31 times. Psalms is a worship book that concentrates on praise to God. Thanksgiving is a vital part of the praise and worship of God. In the New Testament, there are 50 occurrences of the word “thanks.” The Hebrew word “towdah” and the Greek word “eucharista” convey pure worship and are translated “thanks.” Giving, being thankful, feeling gratitude for our blessings is pure worship, and it culminates in service to others.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV). Materialism is a serious source of pollution to our spiritual living. An attitude of gratitude can help to clear that pollution.