Christmas Traditions vs. Bible Facts

Christmas Traditions vs. Bible Facts
It is interesting to see how many Christmas traditions are not found in the Bible. A classic example is the song “We Three Kings” which we often hear at Christmas time. Tradition even identifies those “kings” by name, appearance, and which gift each brought. They are:

Melchoir – old – white hair – bringing gold – a gift for a king.
Gaspar – young – beardless – bringing frankincense – a fragrant gum – smoke from burning is said to symbolize the prayers of God’s people ascending.
Balthazar – black – heavy beard – bringing myrrh – a fragrant resin from Arabia used in embalming (John 19:39, Psalms 45:8, Proverbs 7:17).

The Bible does not mention how many there were. It just says that they came from the east to Jerusalem. The word translated “wise men” in Matthew 2:1 is also used in Acts 8:9,11 and Acts 13:8 in reference to a sorcerer. The biblical reference to them being kings is Psalms 72:10 – a Psalm written for Solomon which mentions three kings from Tarshish, Sheba, and Seba. Matthew 2:11 tells us the three gifts.

Who saw the “star?” The shepherds of Luke 2:8-20 did not see the star, but were told about the birth of Christ by an angel. Herod didn’t see the star even though the birth was not far from Jerusalem. Since the wise men were not Jews and apparently were from a sorcerer type of background, they came from their homes to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. When they learned the baby was to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6), they were guided by the “star” to the place where Jesus was. Christmas traditions often place that in the manger. Matthew 2:11 says the young child and his mother were in a house. The fact that Herod killed all the baby boys in the area that were two years old or younger indicates that the wise men come at a later date to the house where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living.

So what was the “star.” It certainly was not a typical star. Normal stars don’t move and stand over a manger, and they would have been visible to Herod or anyone else in the region. Modern attempts to explain the star as a comet, a supernova, or an aurora simply don’t work. The conception of Christ was a miracle. You don’t explain it by parthenogenesis or any scientific method. You either accept it or reject it on faith. Similarly, the star the wise men saw was not a natural object, and they knew that. In the Old Testament, there was a pillar of fire that led Israel out Egypt and into the promised land. The ancient Jews called it the Shekinah glory (See Exodus 13:21, 24:17, 40:48 and Ezekiel 1:28, 10:18-19, and 11:23).

Christmas traditions aside, the wise men from the east would be part of the ancient oriental world, and they would have carried the message to the Gentiles in that area. The shepherds represent the Jewish community of the area where they shared the news. The story is amazing, beautiful and pregnant with meaning. It doesn’t need the embellishments of modern Christmas traditions.

If you are interested in learning more about Christmas traditions vs. Bible facts, we recommend a book called Star of Jacob by Wayne Leeper. You can borrow it from this ministry or purchase it at THIS LINK.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Justifying Animal Behavior in Humans

Bonobos - Justifying Animal Behavior in Humans
We have received several letters from people suggesting that sexual practices among animals show that humans are not unique in their moral choices but are merely acting out their animal heritage. Our supposed animal heritage can then be used for justifying animal behavior in humans.

We have read articles and news releases describing animal behavior including the pedophilia practices of bonobo apes, and recreational sex, rape, and homosexuality in monkeys. We have seen documentaries on the fact that many males in the animal kingdom kill the babies of their own species. The supposed reason for that is to push the mothers of those babies to become more quickly receptive to the sexual advances of the males.

It is a foolish argument to suggest that humans are just animals and that all human behavior is inherited and therefore we can’t condemn it. One PBS program recently said that the greatest threat to the babies of bears and lions was from the males of their own species. I am sure that very few atheists would maintain that human males should not be condemned for killing their offspring.

The other major point we would make is that sexual activity in animals is almost always a way of expressing dominance and control. The pedophilia practices of the bonobos produce extreme violence among the clan. Using sex to show dominance or to establish a pecking order among the group is a long way from the purpose of human homosexuality.

God created humans in His image. That means that dominance and control is not the only focus of our relationships. The “oneness” that God intended for sexual relationships (Genesis 2:24) is a long way from establishing who is going to control the group in which they live. The “agape” love which humans are capable of, goes far beyond sex. In John 17:24-26 Jesus spells out agape in terms of God’s love for His son. Animals are not capable of that kind of love.

When humans misuse sex or use sex only for physical pleasure, the result is always catastrophic. After Amnon raped Tamar (see 2 Samuel 13) he “hated her exceedingly.” That was the beginning of a long series of tragedies for the whole family. Justifying animal behavior in humans violates the uniqueness of humans and human relationships, just as it did for both Tamar and Amnon. Animal sexual activity does not produce what God intended in the marriage relationship.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Why We Need Christmas

Why We Need Christmas
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. Many people dislike Christmas for various reasons, and some are good. I have some reasons why we need Christmas.

First, for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of the winter solstice when daylight seems much too short. Christmas serves to cheer us up and get us through those winter doldrums. That leads to a second reason–the decorations and especially the lights which bring beauty and cheer, even on those cold, dark days.

A third reason is the emphasis on family at Christmas. It seems that everyone wants to spend time with family and those we love as we carry on the Christmas traditions we enjoy. Related to that is the fourth reason, and that is giving. We enjoy giving to others. Jesus said there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). We naturally tend to want others to give to us. But when we give to others, we learn the truth of what Jesus said.

Reason number five relates to giving. God’s love for us prompted Him to give the greatest gift of all. God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived among us (John 1:14). The greatest reason why we need Christmas is to remind us of the gift God gave to us. He came to show us how to live and to give himself for us. If we could all accept the gift Jesus offers and follow His teaching and example, the joy of Christmas would last all year long.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Giving Something of Value

Giving Something of Value
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling.

Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation.

Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation.

Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love.

Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.”

Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face, I will still love you” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being crucified, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.

The story of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is indeed the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of His creatures to bring them to Himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.

When we realize it is true, we must ask ourselves, “What can I give in return?” We should not hold back anything–but we do. God is the one who gives without holding back, but our giving has strings attached. We should say with the Jewish King David, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” In fact, we should offer to God that which costs us everything. That would still not match God’s gift to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

California Wildfires Follow Up

California Wildfires Follow Up
Our printed journal for the fourth quarter of 2018 contained an article titled “Lessons From the Fire.” In it, we pointed out that the California wildfires in 2018 were the result of human mismanagement of the forest, and not some “act of God” as the media has sometimes reported. In the article, we gave three biblically-based lessons that we should have learned from the fire. You can read it HERE.

We have received responses from people who live in the fire area. Here is a recent email comment:

“I drive past the ruins from this fire when going to the doctor and have observed that houses are being rebuilt in the same location using the same materials. Nothing has been learned from the past experience. Besides this, lawyers are having a field day getting clients to sue the local utility company. One of them has had a half page ad in the local paper every day since the fire. It’s true that the company power lines were responsible for some of the fires…but not all of them.”

The fact is that the start of the fires was not the issue. The real problem was the biomass that provided fuel for the flames once they started. There has been almost no discussion in the media about managing the other forests in California that are tinderboxes waiting for a spark to repeat what happened this fall.

God didn’t cause the California wildfires, and He will not prevent catastrophe from resulting from human stupidity, mismanagement, and greed. God told Adam, “take care of the garden of Eden, dress it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The basis of that command surely applies to us today. It is up to us to take care of what God has loaned to us.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Atheist and Satanic Seasonal Displays

Atheist and Satanic Seasonal Displays or Christmas Nativity
The apparent solution to all of the lawsuits and negative publicity about Christmas displays on public property is to allow atheist and Satanic seasonal displays. In South Bend, Indiana, where our ministry is located, the Northern Indiana Atheists have erected a display titled “Oh Come All Ye Faithless.” On the grounds of the Michigan Capitol a Satanic group called “The West Michigan Friends of the Satanic Temple” is attempting to repeat the “Snaketivity” display that was erected last year by the Satanic Temple’s Detroit chapter. It featured a red snake coiled around a black cross with a pentagram on it with a sign that read “The Greatest Gift is Knowledge.”

Our ministry agrees with the free speech of all of these displays, even though we disagree with their belief system. There is an adage that says “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.” As a veteran, I firmly support that statement.

I agree with the Northern Indiana Atheists that there should be a separation of Church and State. It is interesting that this atheist group is a non-profit and thus takes advantage of the same rights that churches have. Jesus said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. The government has no right to interfere with religious freedom or to persecute religions that are trying to serve and help others. Unfortunately, government restrictions and attempts to control religious belief are increasing in America as we have shown in our posts during the past year.

The view that knowledge is a great gift is not contestable. Calling it “the greatest gift” is an opinion that is poorly supported. However, Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom and Romans 1:18-32 extols the importance of knowledge. Atheist attacks on the Bible and the concept of God are demonstrations of bias, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice – all of which fly in the face of knowledge. This ministry is an educational program trying to present knowledge that can be helpful in addressing the problems in the world and individual lives. Atheist and satanic seasonal displays do nothing to solve those problems.

These displays remind us of Paul’s discourse to the intellectuals in Athens in Acts 17:21-33. He said, “I found an altar with this inscription ‘to the unknown god.’ Whom, therefore, you ignorantly worship, Him I declare to you.” More sharing and listening on the part of all of us will result in less conflict and more cooperation. We need to address the real problems humanity faces in today’s world, and Christianity does that.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Data from South Bend Tribune December 4, 2018, page A1 and December 8, 2018, page A-2.

Human Gene Editing

Human Gene Editing
We have written about human gene editing using the technique known as CRISPR. (Read more about it HERE and HERE.) One of the fears of those who are opposed to uncontrolled use of the CRISPR technique is that it will be used to produce “made to order” babies.

CRISPR could be used to treat a person with a genetic disease, but that is a different scenario from controlling a baby’s athletic skills or eye color. The big problem is that once we apply human gene editing, whatever was changed is passed on to future generations. That includes whatever errors might be made in the process.

He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, announced in early December 2018, that he had altered the DNA of two embryos to make them resistant to HIV. He then placed them in their mother’s womb resulting in a successful live birth. Marc Thiessen writing in the Washington Post said, “Gene editing is here, and it poses an enormous threat to humanity.” The problem is that there is no way of telling what other characteristics were altered in the process, or what it could lead to. Thiessen says “If science continues down this road, we will cross a moral line from which there may be no return.”

Science cannot determine the use to which its discoveries, such as human gene editing, will be applied. Will CRISPR be used to eliminate diseases that are produced by genetic change? On the other hand, will it become a way for scientists like Jiankui to make large amounts of money by producing made-to-order babies? The belief system of the scientists is what will determine this. An atheist has no reason not to use CRISPR to make a fortune for himself no matter what it does to the human race.

We need Christians who believe God is our Creator. We need scientists and medical practitioners who accept God’s view of humans that we are special, created in His image and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16.)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Expectancy and Despair

Life Expectancy and Despair
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released its latest annual report on American life expectancy. The report shows that for the third year life expectancy in the United States has not grown and has declined. The last time that this happened was in World War I when a flu pandemic killed 675,000 people.

The report says that drugs and suicide are the main culprits now with the overdose rate up 356% since 1999. The 2017 death toll is 70,237 far outstripping the total American fatalities in Vietnam.

It is interesting that everyone studying this life expectancy issue seems to agree on what the cause is, and what the solution is. The NationalReview.com says that “we are facing not so much a drug problem as a heartbreak problem.” An AARP study found that one-third of Americans report chronic loneliness and conclude that isolation is a state “about as deadly as smoking.” David Brooks writing in the New York Times says “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs or better welfare programs that will save us from this ongoing social catastrophe; it’s human relationships and a society that cares about people more than money.”

We suggest that people need to read and follow the example in Acts 2:41-47. People had a common faith in God, and they took care of each other. They “CONTINUED DAILY WITH ONE ACCORD” and spent time together focusing on meaningful relationships. The result was that “they had favor with all the people.”

This reminds me of a comment I heard Carl Sandburg make when someone asked him what he thought about Christianity. His response was “I don’t know, I have never seen it tried.” Christianity is not a legalistic way of restricting human behavior. It is a way of life that blesses everyone who is a part of it and everyone around those who live it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Reference: The Week, December 14, 2018, page 17

Christian Atheism and Thomas Altizer

Christian Atheism and Thomas Altizer
The term Christian Atheism seems like a contradiction. However, that was the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. On November 28, 2018, Altizer died at the age of 91.

Thomas J. J. Altizer was the theologian who in the 1960s promoted the idea that God was real but had passed away leaving humans to find the sacred on their own. Time magazine on April 8, 1966, gave Altizer’s teachings a boost when they ran a cover that in big red letters said: “Is God Dead?” That issue was devoted to the theology of Altizer which incorporated the teachings of various philosophers including Hegel and Nietzsche. Other religions, especially Buddhism, capitalized on Altizer’s teachings and he gained quite a following.

Altizer himself expressed remorse at the effects of his teaching. Time magazine quoted him in the December 17, 2018, issue (page 11) saying that today people are empty of the joy that we once celebrated. The reason we are empty is that humans cannot find the sacred on their own.

The biblical adage of Solomon certainly applies here: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” When we discard God, we have nothing that can take His place. Materialism doesn’t work. No philosophy works. Christian Atheism doesn’t work. Only the joy that we find in the teachings of Jesus Christ has worked and still does work today.

Some people want to kill God and do so in their own minds. However, the evidence for God’s existence remains strong and continues to grow. Altizer didn’t kill it, and he came to emptiness in his own life. God is a living, moving entity, and the more we learn of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Demons Cannot Make Us Act Against Our Will

Demons Cannot Make Us Act Against Our Will
Yesterday we stated that a careful study of the Bible and some common sense make it clear that you and I are not in danger of being taken over by a demon. In other words, demons cannot make us act against our will. We have free will to choose our actions. There are six reasons why that is true:

#1) Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus “was tempted in ALL points as are we.” You don’t need to be biblical scholars to know that Jesus was never tempted by being demon possessed and never needed an exorcism.

#2) There is no warning to the early Church in scriptures about demon possession. The New Testament is full of warnings about things. Read Acts 20:27, Acts 20:31, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28, and 1 Peter 1:3. These are realistic threats, and ones that we have seen become a problem. Nowhere is there a warning about demons. We see people do horrible things, and we see greed and selfishness express themselves in terrible events. We have also seen mental illness cause suffering. Those things are the result of human weakness, abuse, or neglect. They are not involuntary takeovers by demonic forces.

#3) The Bible gives us cures for Satan’s attacks on us. James 4:7 tell us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Ephesians 6:12-18 tells us that God has given us armor “that you may be able to withstand the evil day having done all to stand.” God has never put us into a situation where he could not resist evil. Demon possession even occurred in defenseless, innocent children in biblical times. (See Matthew 17:18 and Mark 9:24).

#4) God has promised Christians protection from anything that could cause us to lose our soul. First Corinthians 10:13 tells us nothing can happen to us that hasn’t been experienced by others and that there is always a way out of anything that could destroy us. Demon possession is certainly not “common to man.” Revelation 20:1-3 gives us assurance that God can control Satan and make good on the promise that demons cannot make us act against our will.

#5) The methodology of exorcism in the Bible is nothing like what happens in today’s world. The exorcisms that I have seen took hours and involved incredible psychological pressure on the “possessed.” In biblical times the process took seconds and generally involved one command. There were no regressions in people who experienced exorcism. In today’s world regression is very common.

#6) Perhaps most importantly is the fact that demon possession violates the entire Bible in that it defeats our capacity to choose. It violates our free moral choice. Joshua said, “Choose you this day who you will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15). That admonition is violated if a person involuntarily is forced to obey Satan and evil. Philippians 2:12 tells us to choose to find salvation, but leaves it up to us to do it. Demons cannot make us act against our will.

Every judgment scene revealed in the Bible shows people answering their judgment by how they lived and what they chose to obey. (See John 20:31 and Mathew 25:31-46.) From Job to Paul we see the principle of freedom of choice. Demons cannot make us act against our will. Nobody at the judgment will be able to say that they had no choice, or as comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it.” We make our own choices, and God does not allow us to foist our imperfections off on something over which we had no control.
–John N. Clayton © 2018