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

Christmas Date: December 25?

Christmas Date
One of the interesting questions about Christmas is why people observe it as the date of Christ’ birth, and how December 25 was chosen as the Christmas Date.

Many people spend a lot of energy condemning the observance of Christmas as the birth of Christ, because the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate it, and because it almost certainly is not the actual date of His birth. Paul dealt with this kind of issue in Romans 14, and he clearly indicated what our attitude should be. In verses 5 and 6, Paul wrote, ”One man considers some days to be more sacred than others while another considers all days to be alike. On questions of this kind, everyone must decide for himself. The man who values a particular day does it in the Lord’s honor, and he who does not regard it does so to the Lord.”

Biblical Archaeology magazine had an interesting summary of the December 25 choice of the date for Christmas in their November/December 2013 issue. It may be instructional for all of us to understand the selection of the Christmas date:

“Most (but not all) Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on this date. It was first identified by Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 A.D. In his five-volume treatise Chronographiai, he calculated the day of Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) to be March 25 in the year 1 B.C.–the first day of the calendar year and 5,500 years after the Creation of the world, according to his estimates–thereby resulting in Jesus’ birth on December 25 of the same year. Later historians came up with the date March 25 for the Annunciation believing there was a connection between the date of the crucifixion, March 25, and the Annunciation. The Eastern Church also linked Jesus’ conception and birth but placed his conception on April 6 and his birth on January 6. In Armenia, Christmas is still celebrated on January 6. For the rest of the East and liturgical churches in the West, January 6 came to be celebrated as Epiphany, marking the arrival of the magi to the Nativity. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany became ‘the 12 days of Christmas.’ Many countries–including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, and Ethiopia–celebrate Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19 because they hold to the older Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar.”

Regardless of the Christmas date, we hope that you will remember to do as Paul wrote and honor the Lord on any and every day, all day.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Joseph’s Role in Christmas

Joseph's Role in Christmas
Many of us remember news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who had a series he called “The Rest of the Story.” He would tell us things related to a current news story that we might not be aware of, but which were significant to the story. I suggest that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, is “the rest of the story” in this season as we look at Joseph’s role in Christmas.

Joseph was a Jew, as was Mary (Matthew 1:1-17). In the Jewish system, the marriage relationship was complex. The groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride of his intent to marry her. This promise involved a gift, it was made in the presence of two witnesses, and it could not be revoked without a formal divorce. The groom and bride would not have relations or live together for a year as the bride stayed with her parents. At the end of the year, the groom would come and take the bride to his family home and the marriage would be consummated. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to prove that the bride was not pregnant and that her claim to be a virgin was true. If it were established that the bride was not a virgin, she would be stoned to death by the men in the town according to Deuteronomy 22:20-21.

In Joseph’s case, it seemed clear that Mary was not a virgin because she was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). This meant that she could be stoned to death for violating the Jewish law. We see this in John 8:3-5. When the lawyers and Pharisees quoted the law, Jesus told the sinless ones to start throwing stones. They were all afraid to cast the first stone and one-by-one they slipped away.

Joseph loved Mary, and you have to know that his heart was breaking at the situation. He had a dream in which an angel told him that the baby Mary was carrying was a special creation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25). For that reason, Joseph should not fear that he was breaking the Jewish law. It would have been easy for Joseph to explain away the dream as a figment of what he wanted, or as a product of stress. Instead, he accepted the dream and went on with the marriage.

Joseph sets the standard of obedience to God by accepting Mary and the situation she brought into his life. He accepted being a father to Jesus and went through all of the painful experiences of a Jewish father (Luke 2:41-48). He did all of that even though he didn’t understand it all (Luke 2:49-50).

Joseph is an unheralded hero of the Christmas story. We need to follow his example of being obedient to the things God calls us to do, no matter what life and circumstances may bring upon us. Joseph’s role in Christmas should be the “rest of the story” for us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Ancient Animal Butchering by Humans Is a Croc?

Ancient Animal Butchering Is a Croc
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.

“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.

The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.

The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.

Data from Science News December 9, 2017, and the November 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Kepler-90: Our Twin Solar System?

Is Kepler-90 a Twin to Our Solar System?
It seems that every week astronomers make an announcement that the media use to suggest that the cosmos is overflowing with life similar to planet Earth. The latest system presented as identical to our solar system–and therefore harboring life–is around a star known as Kepler-90, 2545 light-years away.

Kepler-90 is made up of a parent star and eight planets, the same as ours. The star that serves as the sun for the Kepler system is a G type star, and our Sun is a G-2 star. Some of Kepler-90’s planets are rocky planets comparable to the Earth. There are also two large planets comparable to Jupiter and Saturn. Three of Kepler-90’s planets are the size of Uranus and Neptune. Tabloids have been calling this system our twin because of these similarities. They are even suggesting that we need to make contact with the “humanoids” living there.

The reality is that no scientist, at least in print, feels that this solar system is the same as ours. First, all of Kepler-90’s planets are closer to the sun of the system than the Earth is to our Sun. They would undoubtedly be much too hot to support any kind of life based on carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is also important to note that in our solar system our large planets have a function that can only happen if they are farther from the Sun than the life-bearing planet. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all serve as shields to planet Earth. The four Jovian planets will absorb any large object from outside the solar system that is on a collision course with Earth. The famous Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet in 1992 was torn apart by Jupiter and destroyed. Had Jupiter not shielded the Earth, the collision of the Earth and Shoemaker-Levy 9 would have been devastating.

A system with a star emitting the right spectra and having rocky planets does not necessarily support the existence of life. We produced a chart titled “Evidence for Design in the Universe” that lists 47 variables necessary for a planet to harbor life. You can access the chart on our doesgodexist.org website, or request it from us and we will mail you a copy.

Astronomers haven’t yet found anything close to a twin to our planet. Even if they did, and even if there were life on it, all that would prove is that God created life elsewhere. It would indicate that the Creator carefully chose the right constants and chemical constituents to allow life to exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mormon Church Leadership

Mormon Church Leadership
In October of 2017 the Latter-Day Saints Church, better known as Mormons, celebrated its 187th Semiannual conference. The head of the Mormon Church leadership is its president Thomas S. Monson. He was appointed to the council of the twelve apostles in 1963 and became the president in 2008. He was not present at the conference because of health issues due to his age of 90 years. When Monson passes away, the office of prophet/president will go to Russell M. Nelson, the senior apostle who is 93.

Mormonism began in 1823 with a 24-year-old Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel and given golden plates which enabled him to establish the Church of Christ in 1830. Several years later the church was renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Joseph Smith was appointed “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of the church.”

The DOES GOD EXIST? ministry deals with evidence. Is there any evidence from science to support the claims of the Mormon church? The answer to that question is “No.” The claimed tablets that were supposedly translated by Smith were never seen. The claimed location of the angelic appearance and burial of the tablets was near Palmyra, New York, but no archaeological support has been found.

The claims of Mormonism also lack biblical support and many of the teachings conflict with the Bible. Most of us are familiar with “Mormon Elders” who are young unmarried men who are sent into mission service and called elders. When we read the biblical description of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 we see qualifications that these young men don’t have. The biblical concept of the congregation and how it functions and how it is governed has nothing in common with conferences or presidents. Whole books have been written on the lack of biblical support for the Mormon claims.

The history of the Mormon Church leadership is a story of violence, polygamy, and control. A great source for more information is the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, PO Box 1884, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. Or visit their website www.utlm.org.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Global Warming Issue

Global Warming
There can be no rational question but that our planet is experiencing a period of global warming. The data shows that warming is growing daily, but research is also showing that this is not an unusual situation. In the past, there have been periods of global warming far greater than what we are experiencing now. However, humans were not a part of the global warming issue then, but they certainly are involved today.

In the geologic period known as the Pliocene, carbon dioxide levels were similar to today’s. They trapped heat and raised global temperatures higher than what we are experiencing now. Temperatures in the Arctic were as much as 19 degrees Celsius higher than today. This warmth allowed changes in the living systems that were around at the time. In the Arctic, forests grew, and mammals like horses and camels became abundant. Wildfires roared across the landscape spewing soot into the air which further altered the climate of the area.

We are now seeing fires around the world which can alter climate. Russia had a fire that burned 283,280 square kilometers in 2012. In 2015 there were 20,230 square kilometers burned in Alaska. California has been experiencing some of the worst fires on record. Wildfires have broken out in Greenland, which is unusual. Scientists are investigating how soot from the fires is affecting the climate of the region.

We can learn a lot about our future by studying what has happened in the past. We must add human influence to the picture, but we need to avoid buying into the views of extremists on both sides of the global warming issue.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Data from Science News, December 9, 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

Unobtainium or Unobtainable

Unobtainium
Have you ever heard of the discovery of a new mineral called unobtainium? It has enough power to allow humans to travel faster than the speed of light. Chances are you have heard of it on the internet. As you can probably guess, it’s fake news.

We have received a few emails in the last eight years suggesting that we are on the verge of being able to travel throughout the cosmos because of the development of this new mineral. One writer even suggested that God was an alien who came from a place where this mineral exists in large quantities. The writer suggested that the alien created Earth and all life on it as a great cosmological experiment.

My first contact with unobtainium was when my wife dragged me to a movie titled Avatar produced by James Cameron in 2009. The theme of the movie was that a deposit of unobtainium (spelled unobtanium in the movie) existed on an alien planet inhabited by gentle blue creatures who lived in a tree. Then greedy Earth people came to exploit the deposit, destroying the tree and the aliens in the process.

Scientists and engineers have used the term since the 1950s to describe a mysterious substance that doesn’t exist. It’s is a joke used to describe anything that is impossible. The tabloids may promote this as a real substance, but the only thing that will take you out of this world faster than the speed of light is to be resurrected as described in 1 Corinthians 15:22-57. Unobtainium is truly unobtainable.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Impact of a Judge on People’s Lives

Impact of a Judge
It is easy to see that both political parties in the United States, are very concerned about who is going to be appointed as judges, especially on the Supreme Court. A president serves a four-year term, but the impact of a judge can be felt for generations. Many people voted for President Trump purely to keep liberal judges off the court. The legacy of Democratic presidents has always included their choices for judges.

As an example of the concern, a major battle revolves around U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who has consistently ruled against issues of faith. Crabb ruled that “The National Day of Prayer” was unconstitutional. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her decision.

Judge Crabb has twice sided with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) on questions of taxes. Three years ago Crabb declared that the clergy housing allowance violated the First Amendment. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed the suit. The Justice Department argued that the FFRF wasn’t harmed because they could claim the benefit for themselves. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed judge Crabb’s decision and restored the housing allowance.

The leaders of the FFRF applied for the benefit and were denied by the Internal Revenue Service. This fall the FFRF sued again saying that religious leaders had a preference over secular employees. Crabb has again ruled in favor of their complaint. The case will probably be appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The important point here is the intent of the benefit. Ministers provide needed services to the community. Because their pay is rather poor, the government was trying to help them with a basic expense. Secular workers are generally better paid and in most cases are not providing low cost or free services to the community. Also, the housing allowance is justified by the fact that ministers are required to live in the communities they serve.

A judge who seems to have a bias against religion can cause a hardship on many people who need the services that ministers provide. The impact of a judge, even a single judge, can affect the lives of many people with one decision.
–John N. Clayton © 2017