Powerful Forgiveness

Powerful Forgiveness
We have come across a story that shows the strength of some Christians, and how their ability to apply powerful forgiveness can bless others and bring about healing.

Carla Willmon was a junior at Harding University in 1995. Two men kidnapped and murdered Carla and were incarcerated for that terrible crime. In 2015 Carla’s parents, Roy and Jeanie Willmon wrote to each of the men. The Willmons expressed their forgiveness and their desire to study the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s forgiveness with them.

That kind of forgiveness is beyond the ability of most people to understand. Our natural reaction is to want revenge, to retaliate, and to build a dossier of hate. The problem is that the death of your child and the loss you have sustained is only made worse by building up all of those negative feelings.

After several months of correspondence and study, both men were baptized into Christ Jesus, and both are actively teaching others. These men have reached several other inmates with the gospel. The Willmons continue to send books and teaching materials to them.

Some of us talk the talk, but here is a couple who have lived it remarkably. God’s way works. The teachings of Jesus have the potential to make good come out of the most horrible situations. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Powerful forgiveness that grows from powerful faith can change lives.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Religious Freedom Challenges on Campus

Religious Freedom Challenges on Campus
We have reported on challenges to freedom of religion in the United States. A growing number of religious freedom challenges have taken place on college campuses, specifically orchestrated to attack Christianity.

At Florida Atlantic University a student named Ryan Rotella refused to participate in a class exercise in which students were to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then stomp on it. He was suspended from the class and told not to return.

At Missouri State University Emily Booker was required to write to state legislators urging passage of homosexual adoption laws. She refused, and the university threatened to withhold her degree.

Several graduate-level counseling programs require students to counsel homosexual couples rather than refer them to other therapists for relationship counseling. At Missouri State University and Eastern Michigan University, students were expelled from the programs if they referred homosexual couples to another counselor.

You can read about those cases in Citizen magazine for October of 2017 (page 30).

Another case that is very disturbing involves Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland. A young man named Brandon Jenkins applied for admission to the radiation therapy program. Even though he exceeded the minimum requirements, the college denied him admission because he was a Christian. When an interviewer asked him what was the most important thing in his life he said that God is. When Jenkins asked why he was denied, the director and coordinator the radiation therapy program told him, “this field is not the place for religion.”

The job of a college or university is to educate students for the area of work they choose. It is not to tell them what to believe or force them into actions which go against their conscience. A young person should not face religious freedom challenges just to get an education. Students and parents can find help concerning religious freedom on campus at this website.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Religious Test for Judges?

Religious Test for Judges
A new question has come up about who is fit to serve as a judge in American courts. The Senate Judiciary Committee has been screening candidates for judicial positions and some members of the committee seem to be establishing a religious test for judges. The indication is that faithful Christians should not be allowed to serve on the bench.

One of the candidates is Amy Coney Barrett who is a practicing Roman Catholic. The committee challenged Barrett’s fitness to serve as a judge because, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Barrett has said that “faith informs her views.” However, she has also said that she is obligated to interpret and apply the Constitution and the laws, not her own beliefs. She was a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who was also a faithful Catholic. Senator Dick Durbin asked Barrett, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” What the senators seem to be forgetting is that the United States Constitution strictly prohibits a religious test for judges. That question should not even be asked of a judicial candidate.

This anti-Christian bias in judicial appointments reminds us that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to make a decision that will affect the religious freedom of Americans. The judges serving on the lower courts are usually the ones that are later appointed to the Supreme Court. It seems that atheism is the only faith that some of the senators would accept as valid for being a judge. David Harsanyi of the National Review said that in the view of some senators “the only acceptable religion for public officials is ‘orthodox liberalism.’”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?
In our day of constant protests about human rights and discussions about racism and sexism, skeptics say that women are treated as second-class citizens in Christianity. The truth is that there are no second-class people in Christianity.

In his excellent book Under the Influence (Zondervan Publishing, 2001) Alvin J. Schmidt presented a strong historical case for the fact that Christianity has been the main influence for women’s equality. The Bible does not portray women as second-class citizens or as subservient to men.

One of the sources of misunderstanding is the word “submission” in the New Testament. Two Greek words can be translated “submit.” One is the Greek word hupeiko which means to retire, withdraw, yield, or surrender. It is used only in Hebrews 13:17 where Paul wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” The idea involved is to turn everything over to someone else, and that word is not used in the relationship of women to men.

The Greek word used to portray the husband-wife relationship is hupotasso. It comes from two root words: hupo meaning “under” and tasso meaning to “arrange.” It can be used in a military sense, and it means to submit yourself to or obey. When I was in the army, I submitted to my commanding officer. I was not a slave or a second-class citizen. Our commanding officer gave us a mission. Together we arranged a way to solve the mission objective. I never questioned the role of my commanding officer, but I knew he was dependent on me to arrange things to achieve our mission.

Ephesians 5 begins its discussion of submission by telling Christians to submit (hupotasso) to one another (verse 21). Christians have a common goal, and we accomplish that goal by being in submission to God and to one another as each of us has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). God gives us a job to do, and we are valued as agents to get that job done. Paul then uses the same word to describe the relationship of wives to their husbands (verse 22).

Sometimes a man will be in subjection to his wife. When it comes to laundry and grocery shopping, I do what my wife says. The picture of husband and wife in Ephesians and throughout the New Testament is a picture of trust, love, service, and respect. Paul tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). He told wives to respect their husbands(verse 33). The goal is a happy marriage and ultimately eternal life.

Christianity elevates women and places them as equals to men in every way. Each one has roles and abilities unique to them and to their gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There are no second-class citizens in Christianity.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Lesson from the Bees

Lesson from the Bees
For a bee to fill its honey stomach with nectar to take back to the colony, it has to visit from 100 to 1500 flowers. The honey stomach is a special pouch for the nectar, and it can hold about 70 mg (0.0025 oz). To make one pound (.454 kg) of honey requires 50,000 bee-loads of nectar. You might think that this is a very inefficient and poorly designed system. However, we can learn a lesson from the bees.

Every year beekeepers in the United States collect about 163 million pounds (74 million kg) of honey. Besides that, each bee colony will eat between 120 and 200 pounds (54 to 90 kg) of its own honey in a year. The bee’s system for producing honey is highly efficient, and well coordinated in the hive. How is that possible?

Two things make honey production productive. There are enormous numbers of bees, and they all work together. Each bee contributes a very small amount, and each one has a job to do. The hive contains many bees with one purpose, goal, and objective—to make the hive work. They are each 100% committed to the purpose of getting the job done. There is no squabbling, no power politics, no division, and no jealousy among the bees.

We can learn a lesson from the bees. When Jesus told His followers to preach the gospel to every creature, He didn’t tell them something that was impossible to do. He also prayed for unity. He knew that division was the one thing that would stop His followers from getting the job done.

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about the body of Christ, His Church. He said that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” even though we are diverse in our race and status. Then in verses 24-25 he adds, “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

Think of the different status and abilities of the bees in a hive working together for a common cause and learn a lesson from the bees.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Transactive Memory and the Bible

Transactive Memory and Couples
Many times a new concept appears in the scientific literature, and when we look at it, we see that it is something that the Bible has already described. A recent example of this is a concept given by social psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory.

Transactive memory is defined as “a shared system for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” Wegner explains this concept in this way: “People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure to carrying out the pair’s memory tasks.”

Psychologists are using this concept to help people dealing with the death of a spouse. As a person who has gone through that experience, I can testify that when your wife of 49 years dies, a part of you seems to die too. Panic attacks after the death of a spouse are common, and that is when you suddenly are faced with having lost a large part of your memory.

Bible readers will recognize this “new” concept. In the Old Testament, a variety of transactive memory devices were commanded and put in place by God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 12, 20; Exodus 13:14; and Joshua 4:6 are all cases where devices such as writing history on door posts were given to help remember the past and teach children the value of a culture. The various feasts of Israel in Exodus 23:15-16 were transactive memory devices.

In the New Testament, the congregation was developed as a transactive device. Acts 2:41-47 shows transactive memory helping the first century Church. James 5:14-16 described congregational conduct in various circumstances in life. The Bible itself is a transactive device as it is described in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

One of the problems with megachurches is that much of the transactive memory value of the local congregation is lost. It is hard to pray for or to encourage someone you don’t know. Death is of little meaning if you don’t know the person. The congregational conduct discussed in Hebrews 10:22 is difficult in a huge congregation.

When Jesus prayed for unity, He gave us something that can sustain us in every stage of life and in every crisis. We defeat that blessing when we make entertainment the focus of our worship and when we don’t build relationships that allow transactive memory to function. Transactive memory may be new to the world of social psychology, but it is as old as the Bible itself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Cancer Curse and God

Cancer Curse and God
One of the most common catastrophic illnesses facing humans is cancer. If you live long enough, it is almost sure that you will experience cancer in yourself or a loved one. Atheists contend that there can’t be a God or He wouldn’t allow the cancer curse to become so common and cause so much suffering.

A study recently released by Johns Hopkins University found that 29% of cancer-causing mutations result from environmental factors such as Sun exposure or cigarette smoking and inherited genetic mutations cause 5%. The remaining 66%, according to the study, are completely random and are due to bad luck. The authors of the study say they wanted to offer comfort to people with cancer who were living a healthy lifestyle, by showing that it was not their fault they got cancer.

This type of study has many problems. First, it involved 32 cancer types and 69 countries. The sampling of the study would have been extremely difficult because cancer incidence in areas with large amounts of asbestos in the soil and bedrock would be different from areas with no asbestos. The effect of exposure to toxins in the environment would vary widely. The ages of the subjects are also important because part of the cancer problem is that more people are living long enough to get cancer. That was not the case even 100 years ago.

When God created the first humans, there was no cancer problem. The point is that God did not create cancer. Passages like Deuteronomy 28 tell us that rejecting God would result in God not withholding “curses” on humans. Verses 1-14 describe God’s protection from these things, but verses 15-68 describe the curses in detail. The Hebrew word for curse in these verses is arar which means to be completely without God’s help or blessing.

When humans reject God, we are left on our own to deal with the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8 talks about reaping what we sow. That principle applies to people or nations as well as individuals. James 1:13-17 describes God as a loving God who never gives us temptations of any kind, but rather brings good things. It also tells us that God does not vary or mislead in the way He deals with us.

We have contaminated our world with chemicals that we disposed of in irresponsible ways. We have contaminated our bodies with chemicals from recreational drugs, alcohol, and even prescription drugs. The result has been a cancer curse and many of the curses God warned of in Deuteronomy. We need to turn back to Him.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Issues

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Issues
The weekend issue of USA Today for August 25-27 made the problems of Catholic priests sexually abusing children the front page story. The article centered on recent cases in Guam, and made the statement that the continuing Catholic Church sexual abuse issues have “shattered faith.”

There are multiple things to consider in this tragic situation. Many of the people coming forward and making claims about abuse are relying on “repressed memories,” which is only marginally reliable at best. Also, large settlements publicized in the media have encouraged people to claim sexual abuse, which may or may not have happened.

The point that we would like to make is that this whole horrible issue has nothing to do with the existence of God or with the validity of Christianity. The New Testament clearly teaches the condemnation of sexual acts outside of marriage. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:1-11 make it clear that the sexual needs of men and women are to be met only in the sacrament of marriage. The man-made teaching that those who serve God as Church leaders should not be married and should be celibate is at least a part of what has led to Catholic Church sexual abuse issues.

First Timothy 4:1-3 predicts that human perversions of God’s design would take place. “In latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. Speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry …” The Bible never commands celibacy as a requirement of Church leadership. In fact, the qualifications of bishops given in 1 Timothy 3 require that they be “the husband of one wife (verse 2).

When humans add commands or requirements to what God has given and alter what Jesus taught, the result is always catastrophic. While this may “shatter faith” in human institutions, it should not “shatter faith” in either God or in His Word.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Political Issues as a Barrier

Political Issues
We get a lot of mail related to things that we express in our posts. In recent months some have wanted to know why we haven’t had any articles about the Supreme Court, the political parties, Donald Trump or about the political issues of our day.

Recently our good friend and brother in Christ David Thurman, had a beautifully crafted article in his periodical Gospel Minutes in which he said what we believe is true about how we should handle the political issues of our day. Here is his statement:

“When it comes to morality, God is our only authority. So whatever the Supreme court says about marriage is not relevant to our teaching and practice on the subject. We will still teach that marriage is between a man and a woman. Whatever our society says about sexuality, we will still contend that sex belongs in a monogamous, married relationship between a man and a woman. Whatever our society says about violence in the streets and black lives and police officers being targeted, we are going to contend that all violence is evil and has no place in our society.

“However, much of politics is not morality based. It is merely opinion. I have good friends who grew up in one political mind-set. They are polar opposites to my upbringing and current political views. Yet, we are brothers in Christ and love each other. I am not going to let his/her political view alter my more important relationship in Christ.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 14, ‘One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God, and he who eats not, for the Lord does not eat, and gives thanks to God’ (Romans 14:5-6). Substitute ‘political viewpoint’ for ‘day’ in these verses, and we get the point. One man’s opinion is between him and God. My opinion may differ, but that is between me and God. Each should be convinced before God that what he/she thinks is the right thing for us. That is, God should be involved in our political viewpoint. But, if another man reaches a different conclusion, that is between him and the Lord, not between him and me. Just as the ‘day’ should not be a barrier to fellowship, so politics should not be either.

So, include God in all aspects of your life, including your political thinking. But if another believer reaches a different political position based on his or her understanding of the Lord’s values, then let him or her have that conviction, and do not let politics become a barrier to unity and fellowship.”

Reference: David Thurman in Gospel Minutes February 24, 2017, page 4.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

New Life from an Old Source

New Life from and Old Source
My daughter and I were digging up potatoes in the garden. Most of the potatoes were pretty small, but we try to be sure we do not waste anything, so all of them were going in the bucket. Suddenly I heard, “Yuk, this isn’t a potato” and she reared back to pitch a tulip bulb she had dug up into the compost pile. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we want to plant that in the flower bed, and it will be beautiful by spring.” She looked at the dirty, shabby tulip bulb and said, “How can anything as pretty as a tulip come out of something as ugly, old, and beat up as this?”

The fact of the matter is that it is a basic design of the Creator that causes all kinds of beauty and new life to come from an old source that has been buried. These beautiful flowers all were dead looking ugly bulbs at one time. It is a design of nature that allows seeds to come out of a dying and rotten vegetable.

The same thing is true on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level. A beautiful Christian life is only possible when the ugly old person of sin is buried. Those of us who have found ourselves deep in sin, fight a losing battle if we try to overcome that sin on our own. It is only when we bury that sinful, ugly old person that something beautiful can blossom and grow. That is why baptism is such a wonderful and beautiful act. Perhaps those who have grown up in the church cannot appreciate it as much as those of us who experienced total contamination by the world, but it is far from a meaningless or senseless act.

New life for old is a very good offer. Everything God tells us to do is logical, reasonable, and pregnant with meaning. Let us bury the old life of sin, come out of the waters of baptism a new person in a new relationship with God, and with a new capacity to change the world through the power God gives us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017