Life-changing Commitment

Life-changing Commitment at the Tomb of the Unknown SoldierHaving a life-changing commitment to anything is practically unheard of in today’s world. Our society has generally discarded God. The majority of our citizens believe in “looking after #1” and “survival of the fittest.” Thankfully, there are a few notable exceptions.

We recently observed a 4th of July celebration that reminded us of the commitment that some have made to allow citizens of the United States to live in freedom. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., is an example of a remarkable exception. In 1921 an unidentified soldier was killed in France during World War 1. A special tomb was set up to honor the unknown and all of the others who gave their lives.

Over the years, unknown soldiers from World War 2, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam Conflict have also been interred there. Because of the patriotism and commitment of many Americans, in 1930 the government established a guard which functions 24/7/365. All members of the guard are a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry. They must be between 5’ 10” to 6’ 2” tall with waistlines not to exceed 30 inches. They serve a two-year tour of duty, living in barracks under the tomb. They are committed to drinking no alcohol – on or off duty – for the rest of their lives. For the first six months of duty, they are to speak to no one nor watch television. They spend their off-duty hours studying the lives of those buried in the cemetery and memorizing the names of 300 of them and where they are buried.

A soldier takes precisely 21 steps as he walks in front of the monument. He then pauses for 21 seconds before walking in the other direction. That number is related to the 21 gun solute often given to special dignitaries. Guards are changed every 30 minutes. After finishing their two years, each soldier receives a wreath pin to wear on his lapel. He must forfeit the pin if he ever breaks the life-changing commitment to which he originally agreed.

Countless American soldiers have given their lives in defense of our country through the years. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one way for us to express the appreciation of a grateful people.

The above description comes from Words of Inspiration and Encouragement by Marion Owens (ISBN 9781790619429). It shows the life-changing commitment that many have made to honor those who gave their lives to allow this country to exist and stay free. It also takes a life-changing commitment for Christians to maintain their faith and continue to obey God in a hostile world. Let us pray that God will bless us as we live out the commitment to be “the light of the world.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

One Nation Under God

Hobby Lobby - One Nation Under GodOn July 3, 2019, Hobby Lobby took out a full-page ad in newspapers all over the country titled One Nation Under God. Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A are two large companies in the United States that have consistently pushed a Christian agenda in the way they conduct their business and in the things they promote.

Chick-Fil-A closes on Sundays to allow their employees to attend Church and spend time with their families. Atheists groups have tried to prevent Chick-Fil-A from getting contracts at airports and public universities because of their Christian stand.

Hobby Lobby has also promoted the Christian faith and its values and practices. The One Nation Under God ad quotes Psalms 33:12, which says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.” The ad also quotes American presidents, founding fathers, Supreme Court justices and rulings, Congress members, educators, and even foreign opinions.

The quotes in One Nation Under God are worth reading, and they show America’s history in relation to the Christian faith. It would be interesting to see what difficulties the ad buyers of Hobby Lobby ran into when they tried to purchase space in some newspapers that are traditionally opposed to Christianity.

To see the ad and read the quotes, click HERE.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cross on Public Land Bladensburg, Maryland

Bladensburg Cross on Public LandIn 1925 a group of people erected a cross in Bladensburg, Maryland to honor 49 local men who died in World War 1. In 1961 the state bought the land and since that time it has maintained it, including the Bladensburg cross. Recently there have been court challenges to allowing a cross on public land.

During the first week of July 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the cross could stay even though it was on public land. This decision is not really a victory for those who want Christian symbols on public land. The justification for the Court allowing the Bladensburg cross to remain is that it had taken on a secular meaning as a memorial, and was no longer a Christian symbol.

It should be evident that this ruling by the Supreme Court would not apply to most situations since most crosses are not part of a secular memorial. Religious people tend to twist the descriptions of their symbols to get around the law. When the Catholic Church objected to using the King James Bible in public schools, people who were pushing for the study of the Bible changed its classification to literature rather than religion.

Jesus Christ never told His followers to worship a cross or any other physical thing. It seems to many of us that a cross on public land or otherwise can easily become an idol. Perhaps it can become a twenty-first-century golden calf rather than an intelligent response to the needs of our modern culture.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

For more details on this, click HERE.

School Counselors Available

School Counselors AvailableI was always amazed at the magnitude of the challenges that I was asked to deal with as a public high school science teacher. Kids would come to me with problems that were not only huge but sometimes life-threatening. Several times in my 41-year career, students told me that they were going to kill themselves. I was expected to handle every situation on my own. There were no professionally-trained school counselors available, no matter how bad the situation.

People wonder why we have school shootings all over this country. With the breakdown of the family and the lack of any moral code in the lives of today’s adolescents, school shootings are not surprising. The July 2019 issue of NEA Today published a report on this dilemma. According to recent surveys, the ratio of counselors to students in the United States is 444 to 1. There are 1.7 million students with no access to counselors and six million students who cannot see a school psychologist and ten million students who have no social workers available to them.

In my years of teaching, counselors helped students make our their class schedules. The school system had professional people in the administration building, but they rarely got to the schools, and when they did, it was for special needs situations. There were no school counselors available for personal contact with most of the kids.

As we continue to force religion out the lives of young men and women, we will continue to find them adrift in a world that is full of huge and growing challenges. Local Church congregations have an excellent opportunity to help save lives as well as souls by having people available to work in the vacuum that American education presents.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

What Is Hell?

What Is Hell?What is hell, and why does God threaten to send us there? For the past two days, we have been looking at the challenges of this email we received:
“How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”

The emailer’s understanding of hell is traditional, not biblical. No one can answer all the questions about hell with authority, because no one has been there and returned to tell about it. Works like Dante’s Inferno have influenced us. Preachers who have used hell as a scare tactic to control their audiences. Misconceptions abound.

So what is hell? We tend to portray hell as a place of eternal punishing rather than a place of eternal punishment. There is a difference. When Jesus talked about hell, He used clearly symbolic words. He spoke of hell as a place of flames and burning sulfur (brimstone). Another time he called it a place of darkness (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13). Sometimes we hear hell explained by the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. The description of hell is presumed to be taken as literal. However, no Christian sees it as an instruction to pray to Abraham or that Abraham is the judge. Those things are presented in the story.

What we can say about hell is that it is total separation from God. An atheist who never wanted anything to do with God in life is going to be granted that same wish in hell. God never forces himself on any person. We are always free to reject God if we so choose. The only problem is that we must also suffer the consequences of that rejection of God. God is love, light, good, compassion, justice, etc. All of those things will be a part of heaven. None of those things will exist in hell. Being lost is frequently described in the Bible as “the second death” (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Theologians argue endlessly over what this means, and whether the soul can die. I certainly have nothing to add to the discussion, but I know that being separated from God and all the blessings of God is not something I wish even to consider.

The emailer states everything in diametric opposition to the truth. God is good, not evil. God is love, not hate. Hell is simply the separation from God that the emailer claims to desire. God clearly says that He does not want anyone to be lost, but for all to inherit eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). However, God also allows us to reject Him and all He offers. This is like the parent who painfully releases a child to travel a road the parent wishes they would not travel, hoping they will learn from the wrong choices and return to the parent’s loving embrace. The Prodigal Son story in Luke 15 makes this so obvious that no one can miss it.

Our rejection is not what God desires, and He always is there to welcome us back. What is hell? Our wrong choices can bring us death and eternal separation from God. That is hell, and you do not want any part of it. Come to God, obey His love and blessings. Enjoy eternal life with love, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and freedom from pain that we can only dimly imagine.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

-May/June 2006

Why Does God Tell Us What to Do?

Why Does God Tell Us What to Do?Why does God tell us what to do and punish us for not doing it? Yesterday we began to consider the frustrations of the person who sent us this email:
“How can you expect me to believe in a God who created me against my wishes and without my consent, and then because I don’t do things the way he thinks I should, sends me to eternal suffering in hell? That is a product of a twisted mind and is not something I can believe in or serve. I didn’t ask to be born, and I won’t spend my life worshiping an evil, abusive God who rejoices in bringing pain to everything he touches.”

The emailer’s view of why God tells us to do things is badly misinformed. God does not tell us what to do because God is a control freak. Many people seem to feel that God’s commands are just the reflection of an ego that demands things that make Him feel better.

The first problem here is that these folks have a very poor understanding of what God is. God is not a human consumed with human passions and weaknesses. God does not have self-image problems, ego problems, moods, sexual desires, power struggles, or feelings of envy. God is not a human and is not limited to human emotions and feelings. Furthermore, God does not need us. Over and over the Bible defines God as love, light, a spirit, not flesh and blood, not a man, etc. (see John 4:24; Matthew 16:17; 1 John 1:5; 4:8,12,16; Numbers 23:19; John 1:1). Suggesting that God tells us what to do because He wants to have control over us and satisfy His own power needs is a complete misunderstanding of God’s nature.

Why does God tell us what to do? Even with our limited ability to understand, we can see that everything God tells us to do is for our own good. God’s rules for sexual expression are the right formula to give us the best and most fulfilling aspect of sex. Sexual clinicians agree that a single committed relationship is the best formula for completeness and fulfillment. Nobody questions the fact that STDs will not spread in a monogamous, committed relationship. Even the most radical proponents of alternative lifestyles cannot argue that their proposals for gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever are superior to God’s plan of one man one woman committed to serving each other for life. They argue theirs is as good, and that is an argument that the data does not support. No one questions the wisdom of the biblical instructions that oppose violence, murder, or abuse.

Even those things that God tells us to do in worship are for our own well being. God does not ask us to pray because He needs information from us, or because He needs praise. Prayer is an act which helps us to learn to look to a higher power and reach beyond ourselves. That is something recognized by every 12-step program to overcoming addictions. Interestingly, some groups opposed to the existence of God are now promoting Transcendental Meditation and other similar acts as a substitute for prayer.

Giving is not something God tells us to do because He needs our money. If we believe that God is the creator of all things, then we surely understand that. Giving is something humans need to learn to do for our own well being. The biblical injunction, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) is really a discussion of what benefits the giver, not what benefits the receiver. The person who never learns to give will be unsuccessful in his marriage, in his sexual relationships, in his family, and his friendships. Every act God instructs us to do is for our well-being, not for control purposes.

Why does God tell us what to do? Because He loves us! Tomorrow, we will deal with the emailer’s question about hell.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Vibrant Christian Households

Vibrant Christian HouseholdsWhat are vibrant Christian households? The Barna Group is a research and polling organization which specializes in research related to faith and Christianity. They recently surveyed “spiritual vibrancy” within Christian households. The results are interesting.

The factors Barna looked for in Christian households were spiritual practices, spiritual conversations, and hospitality. Spiritual practices included praying and reading the Bible together. Spiritual conversations involved talking about God and faith among the household members. Hospitality refers to hosting non-family guests on a regular basis. They wanted to see how thoughtful, transformative faith can grow in families and be passed down through generations. The Barna Group defined households that practice these three areas as spiritually vibrant. That required spiritual practices every day or two, spiritual conversations every week, and hospitality several times a month.

Barna surveyed more than 2,300 households of practicing Christians “who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.” Of the active Christian households studied, only 25% were classified as Vibrant. The 33% of the households that exhibited spiritual practices and conversations, but not hospitality, were classified as Devotional. The 14% of households that practiced hospitality only were classified as Hospitable. That leaves 28% of the Christian households classified as Dormant.

This causes us to ask the question, “Which category would my household fit into?” Maybe more important is, “Which category do I want my household to fit into?” That leads to, “What can I do to make my Christian home more Vibrant?” It’s something to think about, and pray about, and talk to your family about. According to the Barna report, “spiritual vibrancy is not determined by unchangeable characteristics, but by things any Christian can improve.”

You can read more details about this survey and get some ideas for developing Vibrant Christian households on Barna’s website. Click HERE for more information.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Importance of Religion and Family Life

Importance of Religion and Family LifeThe Pew Research Center wanted to learn about global views on the importance of religion and family life, so they surveyed over 30,000 people in 27 countries. One set of questions presented was, “Does religion play a more or less important role today than it did 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?” A second query set was, “Are family ties stronger or weaker than they were 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?”

A large majority in most countries agreed on the two questions involving family ties. There is strong agreement that family ties are weakening and that it is a bad thing. Across the 27 countries, 58 percent said that family ties had weakened while 22% said there was no change and only 15% said they had strengthened.

There was less agreement concerning religion. A median 37% said that religion plays a less important role in their countries today, while 27% said it is more important. Interestingly, most of the people surveyed were NOT OPPOSED to religion playing a more important role in their countries. The most significant opposition to religion’s role seems to be in Europe with Sweden (51%), France (47%), and the Netherlands (45%). In the United States, only 18% are opposed to a more important role for religion in the nation. In Canada, the opposition is 29%.

The countries where the largest percentage of people said that family ties are strengthening are Indonesia and the Philippines. The countries where more people said that religion plays a more important role now than 20 years ago include the Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. By far, the people of Indonesia said that religion plays a more important role now (83%). Indonesia is 87% Muslim, and Nigeria is evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Kenya is 83% Christian and the Philippines 90% Christian in the broadest sense.

Not surprisingly, in the United States, people who consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative (to the right end of the political spectrum) are 42% more likely to favor more religious influence in the country than those who are liberal or left-leaning. That attitude is reflected in the positions taken in the current U.S. Political campaign.

For more details on this study of the importance of religion and family life, visit the Pew Research website HERE.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Definition of Marriage

Definition of Marriage One of the issues that arouse emotional response from many people in our culture is the subject of marriage. The gay community has brought a challenge to western culture by tying human rights to the issue of marriage, and essentially demanding that marriage be redefined to eliminate the biblical concept. The logical outcome of that change is whether there can be an absolute definition of marriage.

Since we live in a culture that is attempting to do away with absolutes, you can expect that to applied to an absolute definition of marriage. If that is the case, then many other forms of marriage will be viewed as acceptable. Polygamy (one husband, many wives) as taught by Islam and many Mormons would have to be condoned. Group marriages, polyandrous marriages (one wife, many husbands), family marriages, and any number of other things the human mind can conceive will become acceptable. There are those in our society who are willing to say that any system a person wants to engage in should be accepted by society at large because that is a basic tenet of human rights.

What is happening in the Muslim world today is a good demonstration of why this kind of thinking will not work. Various cultures practice polygamy, but Islam is the only religion that specifically sanctions it. Mohammed had five wives, and the Koran suggests that is the proper number. Osama bin Laden’s father had 52 children by 16 wives. Not all Muslims embrace polygamy just as they do not all embrace jihad. However, the Koran is very clear in sanctioning polygamy, and Muslim fundamentalists embrace and enforce it among populations where they have control. Mansour al-Nogaidan, a Saudi Arabian dissident, described his own experience in clear terms: “You can’t have a girlfriend in this society, it is too expensive to marry. As a young man, all you are thinking about is sex, so the teachers tell us, ‘Don’t worry, no need now, when you kill yourself you’ll have plenty of girls in heaven.’ “What does this practice do?

William Tucker writing in The American Spectator (June 2004, pages 50-52) summarized it, this way:

“In a society where not all men will be able to reproduce, excess males have very little social value. Therefore it is not surprising to find among this bachelor cohort three major characteristics: (1) an excess of pent-up sexual frustration, (2) an internalized sense of personal worthlessness, and (3) an extremely nihilistic-shall we say suicidal-disposition toward self-immolation and violence. Suicide bombers are easily recruited in these ranks.”

Some people maintain that all religions are equal and that there should be no discussion of why one religion might be in error while another is correct. They should look logically at where the teachings of various religions lead. The gay marriage issue may not produce a gender imbalance, but it does lead to other consequences. The most fundamental problem is that if the definition of marriage changes according to everyone’s personal rights, then marriage becomes meaningless.

The Christian system clearly identifies the concept of marriage as one man one wife for life. That is the ideal and what God intended from the beginning. Polygamy was allowed in the Old Testament, but it was a human modification, not God’s original plan. Genesis 2:24 clearly states that a “man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife [not wives], and they become one flesh.” In the New Testament there is a clear definition of marriage in these terms, and even commands that husband and wife should not separate for any significant time to avoid passion leading to adultery (see 1 Corinthians 7:4-9).

The logic of God’s definition of marriage is clear. A stable marriage between a man and a woman leads to the birth of children who are raised in intact families leading to a healthy society. Since babies are born in roughly equal sexual numbers, there should essentially be a mate for every human. Everyone has the potential right to sexual and emotional fulfillment in marriage according to God’s design. Changing the definition of marriage will ultimately bring misery and unhappiness to humans. All other options lead to disease, problems for children, abuse, and chaos for society. The Christian institution of marriage according to God’s plan is a great apologetic for the validity of the Christian system.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Discrediting Jesus and the Bible

Discrediting Jesus - Romulus and RemusSkeptics have tried for 2,000 years to find methods of discrediting Jesus and the Bible. When Jesus was on Earth, people debated who and what He was. All kinds of mistaken concepts circulated, frequently controlled by the desires and beliefs of His enemies. Things have not changed. Sometimes skeptics have tried to explain away Jesus in terms of ancient pagan cultures or Jewish religious sects.

At one time, people claimed that the source of the stories about Jesus came from the Essenes, a sect of Jews who lived near the Dead Sea and left what are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes wrote about a man known as the “Great Teacher.” Skeptics suggested that this individual was elevated by his followers to be “the son of God,” and that led to the myth of Jesus Christ. Further research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and new archaeological discoveries laid that claim to rest.

People have tried to tie Christ to the ancient Egyptian cult of Isis. There is a story of a “resurrection” in that legend, and skeptics bent on discrediting Jesus claimed that was the origin of the story of Christ’s resurrection. Osiris was the Egyptian god of the underworld, and supposedly was the husband of Isis. In the Egyptian legend, Osiris was murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. Isis recovered the body, but Osiris’ brother retrieved it, cut it up into 14 pieces, and scattered the pieces around the world. Isis found all 14 pieces and resurrected Osiris.

The story of Christ could not have been borrowed from the cult of Isis because it has none of the characteristics of the story. Nowhere in the resurrection account is there any supernatural battle between equal gods, no sex interest, and no war based on physical skill and intelligence. When Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of one of Christ’s attackers, Jesus healed the ear and told him to put away the sword. There is no struggle for political power in the story of Christ. The contrast between the story of Isis and the story of Christ is so enormous that even the rankest skeptic should be able to see the foolishness of trying to compare them.

Other attempts to explain the virgin birth by stories from pagan myths are even more ludicrous. In one case, the sun-god Apollo became a snake and impregnated the mother of Augustus Caesar, so the baby born was without a mortal father. Not only is this account used by some skeptics of Christ ridiculous in its content, but it was written after the biblical account had been recorded in the gospels. The gospel writers could not possibly have drawn from it.

Another claim was that the founder of Rome, Romulus, inspired the story of Christ. Romulus was supposed to have been fathered by the Roman god Mars. When he and his twin brother Remus were left to die in the Tiber River, a she-wolf adopted and raised them. Later Romulus killed Remus and became the founder and first king of Rome. Once again, one just has to read the account and ask if there is any similarity between this mythical story and the account of the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

Skeptics continue to look for ways of discrediting Jesus and the Bible. Relativism, materialism, selfishness, the total abandonment of morality, and the disintegration of the home make the Christian message unpopular. As people try to justify their lifestyles and selfish exploitation of others, they will resort to almost any way of discrediting Jesus and His beautiful and functional teachings. We need to answer the challenge as we demonstrate the love and service that Jesus commanded His followers to show.
— John N. Clayton © 2019