Why Do We Need Christmas?

Why Do We Need Christmas?
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. There are many people who dislike Christmas, and they have various reasons. I have some reasons why I think we need Christmas.

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 that what Jesus said was true.

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). Why do we need Christmas? The greatest reason for 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 follow the example Jesus gave and accept the gift he offers, the joy of Christmas would last all year long.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Secret of Gift Giving

The Secret of Gift Giving
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.” That is the secret of gift giving.

“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” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being murdered, 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 his birth to his death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is truly 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?” What is the secret of gift giving? When it comes to giving ourselves it is not holding hold back anything. That is not easy to 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 © 2017

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Wise Choices

Physician-Assisted Suicide
Citizen Magazine reported in August that over 50% of “Christians” approve physician-assisted suicide. As we get older, we have relatives and friends who no longer want to stay alive because their quality of life is poor and they see no hope of getting well. The question really is a matter of alternatives.

In previous years there was a group known as The Hemlock Society who campaigned for and supported physician-assisted suicide. They have renamed themselves Compassion and Choices. The title suggests that we need to have compassion for the dying and allow them to kill themselves with the assistance of a physician to make sure the suicide isn’t bungled.

They have it only half right. We must have compassion for the dying. In this culture and this time of medical advances, there is no reason why anyone should have to endure massive pain as life ebbs toward its end.

Seventy years ago my paternal grandmother had spinal cancer that was causing her massive pain. The doctor severed her spinal cord in a way that stopped the pain but rendered her unable to walk or control her bladder or bowels. She lived for 15 years after that surgery. I remember visiting with her, being taught by her, playing games with her, and hearing about ancestors that I would never see. She was positive and encouraging to me.

Suicide doesn’t allow some vital things needed by those left behind. My younger brother is suffering a similar disease situation as I write. He too has had surgery on his spine that has confined him to a wheelchair. It allows him to continue to enjoy family, his grandchildren and working with his wife on family issues and problems that she otherwise would have to face alone.

Humans are not robots. We are created in God’s image, and our relationship to God and one another is different from animals. The statement by a euthanasia proponent that putting down a human is no different than putting down a dog is incredibly ignorant. We need to have compassion for the survivors as well as the dying and make choices that benefit everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mothers Are Important

Mothers Are Important
Mothers are important and an organization called MOPS encourages motherhood. On their website they say that there are two billion mothers in the world and that four million babies are born in the United States every year with six out of ten born to single mothers.

Christians should be concerned that five in ten mothers say they don’t feel they receive emotional support from their churches. Outreach ministries of most congregations have ignored the needs of mothers. Mothers are important and we cannot overemphasize the importance of helping young mothers realize that the first seven years of a baby’s life shapes their entire development.

Church programs that don’t start with helping train the child from birth on are missing the most effective ministry they can have. For ideas and inspiration for an outreach to mothers, visit www.mops.org/church.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Kneeling Controversy and Freedom

Kneeling Controversy
During the U.S. football season in the fall of 2017, we have had a national kneeling controversy. It centers over whether the players have a right to kneel in protest during the national anthem. There have been enough varied opinions on this issue to fill a massive number of talk shows and ESPN commentary sessions. Many argue that “freedom of speech” is the issue, even though not a word is spoken.

This debate has ignored the right of coaches to kneel–including high school football coaches. Two years ago a Bremerton, Washington, high school coach named Joe Kennedy was fired for kneeling in prayer on the field after football games. There is no indication that players participated or were asked to participate. Kennedy appealed, and the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against him, The court said he: “Took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.” Kennedy served 20 years in the marines, and he says, “I just want the same rights as everyone else. What applies for one should apply to every American.”

As the kneeling controversy continues, I know many middle school and high school coaches in my area who have a moment of silent prayer or meditation before a game starts. If someone objected, that would probably be forbidden also.

In a C-SPAN interview, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said that we must “be able to determine where we are as Americans. If we are going to honor all free speech and all free exercise of religion, we need to be able to honor that universally.” We agree wholeheartedly.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Holiday Season and the Black Friday Kickoff

Holiday Season Black Friday
We are at the beginning of the so-called Holiday Season which is supposed to be a time of religious significance, good will, love for others, and gift giving. The chances are that you have had some kind of reaction to “Black Friday.” In 1952 Black Friday was the name given to the day after Thanksgiving because it was the day when shopkeepers balance sheets turned black (positive) from red (loss) for the year.

What began as a commentary on business profits and margins has become a time of greed and in a few cases, even violence. In 2008 a crowd of shoppers at a Walmart in Valley Stream, New York, broke down the door to the store and trampled a 34-year-old employee to death. On the same day, two people were shot to death in an altercation over a toy in Palm Desert, California. In 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin, police arrested a woman who threatened to shoot other shoppers who objected to her cutting in line. In 2011 a woman at a Walmart at Porter Ranch, California, used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to get to the front of a line to buy a discounted Xbox. The list of abuse and violence on Black Friday is long and tragic.

Some of us can remember a time when gifts at Christmas were hand-made or involved food. Thanksgiving was a religious day recognizing how blessed we are individually and as a country. Christmas was a time of Christian celebration in song and art. Our emphasis on things has pushed us to compete for whatever is the current toy of the year. Television ads show us how important it is for us to give our mate or child a new car or an expensive piece of jewelry. For many people paying for holiday gifts goes on for months or even years,

Christians should reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33, “Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or drink or even for your body and what clothes you shall put on. Is not life more than meat and your body more than your clothes? Look at the birds of the air, for they do not sow and they do not reap or gather into barns. Still, your Father feeds them. Aren’t you much better than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to your height? Why do you worry about clothing? Take a look at the lilies of the field, how they grow, and they don’t work at it… And yet even Solomon in all of his splendor was not arrayed like one of these… So take no thought saying what shall I eat or drink or what shall I wear. Your Father knows you have need of these things, but you should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you.”

Don’t allow atheistic materialism to rob you of the great joys that come from times of thankfulness, helping others, and spending time with the Lord in thankfulness and joy at the opportunity you have to be a Christian and to bring blessings to others. Let’s make this holiday season a holy season.
–John N. Clayton

What Is Your Sanctuary?

Sanctuary
Where do you go to get away from the problems and pressures of life? Don’t say that you don’t have a sanctuary because we all do. It may be a “man cave,” or a place in the woods, or the bathroom, but there is some place where we escape. The problem is that the physical place we go to doesn’t get us away from the things we want to escape. Many people turn to a chemical solution to find our sanctuary. It may be alcohol, or pot, or a prescription drug. The problem with those escapes is that they can become what we need to escape from.

In the Old Testament, two different Hebrew words were used to identify the sanctuary. One was “miqdash” which means “a place set apart” where God was accessible to the people. The other was “qodesh” which referred to a place of physical separation. Both of these uses referred to a physical structure. It was a consecrated holy place–first the tabernacle and later the temple.

The Israelites identified the sanctuary as the “house of God.” (See Judges 20:18; 2 Chronicles 5:1; Ezra 7:20; and Nehemiah 6:10.) The limitations of a physical sanctuary are obvious. You can’t always be where the sanctuary is! I have a place in Hyalite Canyon in Montana where I love to go to when I need to get away, but it’s a long way from Michigan to Montana.

In the New Testament the “house of God” is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Peter writes, “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). First Corinthians 3:16 tells us that we “are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in (us).”

The church is not a building where we can go as a sanctuary. Second Corinthians 6:16 says that we, the church, “are the temple of the living God, even as God has said, ‘I will dwell IN them and walk IN them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’” Notice that God is IN us!!! God’s Spirit can take that which presses on us and change us so we can bear it. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God makes that promise to us!!

We can be in our sanctuary any time and any place we choose. Frequently I will get in my boat and float down the river that flows behind my house where I can talk to God and watch the wildlife around me and feel removed for a while from the current problem. I can also go to that place in Hyalite Canyon beside the waterfall and be in my sanctuary. I can be in my sanctuary wherever I am because I am not limited by time or place. In God’s wisdom He has given us a way of escape that works.

I return to my original question. What is your sanctuary? Don’t rely on buildings or temples or chemicals or anything physical. “But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Thankfulness and Being Human

Thankfulness
We had just left a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. A woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted. She said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was obvious that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to express her thankfulness to her benefactor.

We have many people to thank, such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and teachers; but most of all our thankfulness should be directed toward God. There is something about humans that makes us want to express our gratitude. It’s part of what makes us different from the animals. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. The Psalms often express thankfulness to God for the things He has done. Reformer Martin Luther called thankfulness “the basic Christian attitude.” G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.” In Romans 1:21 the apostle Paul wrote about godless people, “…they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Thank you for reading our daily posts. We hope that you will express your thanks to God who has given us all good things.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Respectable Bird– Confusing Name

Respectable Bird
Benjamin Franklin called this animal a respectable bird. They are large birds native to North America where they’re called “turkeys.” The origin of that name is disputed, but it apparently has a connection with the country of Turkey.

Turkeys were brought to England from America, on merchant ships from the Middle East area of Turkey. After being domesticated in England, turkeys spread throughout the British Empire, including India. From India, they were taken to various other countries where they were known as “a bird from India.” For that reason, the name for turkeys in several languages is connected to India. In the country of Turkey, turkeys are called “hindi” which means “India” in Turkish. To make things even more confusing, in Portuguese a turkey is called a “peru” which is apparently derived from the name of the country of Peru. To further compound the confusion, there are several other birds in other countries that have “turkey” names but are not related to the American turkey.

Native Americans first used turkeys for their feathers in about 800 BC. It was almost 2,000 years later before they used turkeys for meat. In the United States, turkeys are a popular meat on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

The founders of the United States chose the bald eagle as a national symbol. Benjamin Franklin was famously critical of that. He called the eagle “a bird of bad moral character” and wrote that “the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” With respect for Mr. Franklin, the truth is that the only creature God created that has “moral character,” whether good or bad, is the human creature. All other creatures do what God created them to do. Humans often choose to do otherwise.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

American Priorities: What Really Matters?

American Priorities
What really matters to the American public? What do Americans choose to support with the money they have left after taxes and basic expenses like food and shelter? Is it the homeless, the orphans throughout the world, the starving children in third world countries, the refugees from war, or the health issues in places where living conditions are producing blights? What are the American priorities?

Today 40% of our population says “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. As America has moved from a Christian country to a secular society, a large percentage of our disposable money goes to support professional sports, including player’s salaries. What many don’t realize is that there is a vast amount of spending involved in support of the games. The NBA, for example, maintains a “Replay Center” in Secaucus, New Jersey, with a president, vice president, and staff of officials. Last season this group examined 2,265 replays. The cost factor in just reviewing basketball plays is vastly higher than what I made in a lifetime of teaching in the public schools.

If we wanted to eliminate the national debt and balance the budget or put an end to hunger in the world, we might consider dropping professional sports for one season in America. Don’t worry; it will never happen because the problems of the world are not a priority in twenty-first century America.

There are some hopeful signs of caring in professional sports. I recently saw a television show where a professional athlete was encouraging young people to wear a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet. I am sure Jesus would be very pleased with the care center for teens that this athlete was using his wealth to support. The interviewer expressed amazement that anyone would use their multi-million dollar salary for such a project. “That is not a high priority for most of us,” the interviewer said. Looking at American priorities today, I have no doubt that is certainly true.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: A.P. release in South Bend Tribune, 11/17/17, page C4.