One consequence of many things happening in the world today is that we have worldwide food shortages. In the United States, we complain about the price of food and how much it has risen. Yet, in places like Somalia, there is simply no food available.
COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, rapid population growth, climate change, drought, and escalating conflict have combined to cause starvation and poverty in many places in the world. The United Nations reports that 349 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, up from 287 million in 2021. In Somalia, the number of people facing “catastrophic” acute food shortages has risen from 5.6 million in December 2022 to a predicted high of 8.3 million by June 2023.
All of this pain and suffering is not something caused by God. The refusal of humans to follow God’s instructions, along with human greed and selfishness, are driving the chaos and pain. However, it does afford opportunities for Christians to provide the food and water that people need. No atheist group is going to address this crisis. We have to be reminded of Christ’s statement in Matthew 25:31 -40 that providing the needy with food, water, clothing, and support is what He expects of His followers. Worldwide food shortages may offer an excellent opportunity to show people everywhere what authentic Christianity means.
Every day we hear a new report about someone killing a number of people in a way that raises the question of whether the killer is mentally ill. We can’t know what goes on in the head of someone who pulls out an assault rifle and starts killing a bunch of strangers. The fact is that even innocent children have been the victims of someone who had no logical motive for shooting them. However, Christ’s teachings are key to good mental health.
Mental illness has always been an issue for humans, but the increase we have seen in recent years has not just been because of the greater availability of guns. It has also been catalyzed by poor mental health in our culture. The rejection of God and the denigration of Christianity are factors in that mental health crisis.
Read Matthew 5-7 and ask yourself why Jesus told His followers to do the things He taught them. In the first 12 verses of Matthew 5, known as “the beatitudes,” Christ’s teachings are key to good mental health. If you choose to comfort, exhibit meekness, strive for purity, show mercy, and be a peacemaker, God will bless you with stability and good mental health.
In verses 21-25, Jesus talks about relationships and the importance of not carrying grudges and long-term conflicts. Next, in verses 27-32, Christ deals with sexual issues and the importance of not looking for sex in a context that violates God’s plan for marriage. Finally, in verses 38-48, He talks about handling conflict and avoiding acts of revenge and retribution.
In Matthew 6, Christ deals with materialism and the importance of trusting God to care for our basic needs. A person who follows all that Jesus taught will be on the way to good mental health. The most common cause of mental illness is a failure to live as God has told us to live. Of course, there are other causes of mental illness, such as disease, injuries, and environmental factors, but even those causes would be reduced or eliminated if we would live as Christ told us to live.
There are multiple causes for the violence, including gun violence, plaguing America today. Hypocrisy on the part of those who claim to be Christians is part of the problem, but it doesn’t dilute the value of what Jesus taught. The fact that Christ’s teachings are key to good mental health is another evidence of the validity of Christianity and the inspiration of the Bible.
One of the most challenging issues today is the question of how to die. Thanks to medical advancements, a person with a terminal illness can be kept alive for a very long time with no quality of life. This has resulted in a worldwide push for the adoption of euthanasia. In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that criminalizing euthanasia violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 2016, the Canadian Parliament passed Bill C-14, the Medical Assistance In Dying or MAID law.
In 2021, the Canadian Parliament passed a more expansive MAID law called C-7, allowing mental disorders to be sufficient grounds for euthanasia. That year, euthanasia became Canada’s sixth leading cause of death, with 10,064 deaths reported. The expanded MAID law allows people who are nowhere near death to be euthanized. Anyone experiencing dependence or feeling that their life lacks dignity is a fit candidate for euthanasia under C-7. Having to wear diapers or drooling could potentially qualify a person. In addition, persons with disabilities who can’t afford housing that would meet their needs are being euthanized.
One of the main problems with legalizing euthanasia is the “slippery slope” it creates. That is already becoming evident in Canada. The Quebec College of Physicians recently called for parents to be allowed to euthanize infants younger than one year. Nevertheless, various churches in Canada have not opposed MAID. The United Church, Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, released a statement saying, “we are not opposed in principle to the legislation allowing assistance in dying.” The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada have supported MAID.
Evangelical, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Church leaders, along with Jews and Muslims, have opposed MAID. Also, various disability organizations, such as the Canadian Council on Disabilities, have been vocal against the euthanasia issue.
The Canadian experiment with the MAID law should alert us that euthanasia is not the answer to what to do with the disabled or those in extreme pain. Instead, in our day of medical advances, the emphasis should be on combatting pain and allowing people with disabilities to live productive, dignified lives. Just as Jesus ministered to the poor and disadvantaged, so should we.
Discover magazine carried a story titled “Fowls in Love” about two Canada geese nicknamed Arnold and Amelia. Many animals pair up to raise young or for protection. However, evolutionary survival of the fittest fails to explain animals sticking together when one of the pair becomes injured and unable to assist in survival. So do animals fall in love?
The Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center staff in Barnstable, Massachusetts, noticed the male goose limping. He had an open fracture that wouldn’t heal on its own. They caught Arnold and prepared to do surgery to repair his foot. The female goose observed the procedure through the clinic’s sliding glass door. When Arnold awoke from surgery, Amelia was allowed into the room, and she used her beak to preen his feathers. For the next 14 days, Amelia was at the center daily, sharing Arnold’s meals and spending time with him.
After Arnold was released, the staff observed the pair together for two weeks until they left with a passing flock of Canada geese. Do animals fall in love? The article writer concludes that the two geese were in love. The article ends with this statement by the veterinarian who did the surgery, “There has to be some internal motivating force that allows that animal to behave in a particular way, and we call it love – that internal driving force.”
This is a classic example of anthropomorphism, attaching human characteristics to an animal. The biblical concept of love is spelled out uniquely in the New Testament by the Greek word “agape,” meaning to consider the object of one’s attention to be of incredible worth. Jesus used agape in His teachings, and we find it in New Testament references to marriage. Human marriage is not just for survival.
We have numerous geese where we live on the St. Joseph river in Michigan. They are always in pairs, and getting near to one of them or their chicks invites an attack from the mate. Raccoons learn to avoid pairs but will go after an isolated goose or chick. Do animals fall in love, or is there a survival reason?
God has placed an instinctive drive in geese to maximize their chances of survival and success in raising young. The bond between Arnold and Amelia demonstrates how strong the instinctive drive is. It is not the biblical concept of love. When Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies and not resist evil (Matthew 5:38-45), He tells them to do something animals cannot do.
As our culture turns away from God and the Christian system of living, we have a vast void that many people fill by turning to recreational drugs. Drug promoters try to convince people that they offer solutions to the negative human experience. For example, we now see “churches” that advertise a quick way to have a spiritual experience using a psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca. The promoters of ayahuasca drug use in churches claim it will give spiritual enlightenment and bring the user closer to God.
The government of New Mexico has allowed the ayahuasca church the right to use the drug as a sacrament even though the main ingredient is illegal under U.S. federal law. In Oregon, a U.S. District Court ruled that a church is free from prosecution for the use of ayahuasca because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Hummingbird Church, with locations in California and Utah, regularly conducts ayahuasca services.
Ayahuasca came to the U.S. from South America, where it has been used in religious rituals for many years. It is usually consumed as a tea. The active ingredient is N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), with harmala alkaloids added to prevent the hallucinogenic drug from breaking down in the digestive system.
The risk factor for ayahuasca is very high and similar to the LSD craze. It raises the heart rate and blood pressure. Many users experience seizures, and most lose muscle coordination resulting in falls. Respiratory arrests have happened, especially with people who have had the COVID virus. One complication is HPPD (hallucinogen persisting perception disorder), which, along with persistent psychosis, results in flashbacks long after discontinued use. New data also links serotonin syndrome disorder to the drug.
With ayahuasca drug use in churches in the United States, we can expect it to become more widely distributed. In addition, we can expect to see use among high school and college kids, especially those who have rejected their parent’s church and Christianity in general.
A person who throws God out of their life will desperately seek something to fill the void. Ayahuasca, like LSD, is a bad choice. The body of a Christian is the dwelling place for God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and any attempt to find a substitute is destined to fail. Ayahuasca drug use in churches and on the street will bring pain and, ultimately, death to the user. Worse than death, eternal separation from God is the ultimate tragedy for any human being.
When dealing with people who have no church affiliation, we often hear the line, “I don’t need to go to church to be good.” This frequently comes from someone who has had a bad experience with the hypocrisy of a church-goer. However, new research data shows collateral benefits of worship and involvement in a church. The study by Johns Hopkins researchers shows a connection between being socially isolated and dementia.
The study involved 5,022 dementia-free U.S. adults aged 65 or older with an average age of 76 and not living in a residential care facility. The data showed that socially isolated adults have a 27% higher chance of developing dementia than those who are not socially isolated. The study defined social isolation as “having few relationships and few people to interact with regularly.” That included whether the person attended religious services or participated in social events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that social isolation is responsible for other serious health conditions, including heart disease and depression.
These studies are not designed to validate attendance at worship or involvement in church activities. However, they show the collateral benefits of worship in a corporate setting. Meeting together in a church setting meets the criteria for preventing social isolation. Worship and Bible study are always on a regular schedule, so participation is not sporadic and allows a person to associate with the same group of people regularly. If the group is following the instructions of Jesus and the example of the first-century Church, participation provides the ideal environment to avoid social isolation.
Galatians 6:2 tells Christians to “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” In Acts 2:42-47, we read that the early Christians were together daily (verse 46) and shared food and fellowship. The acts of worship encourage people not to be socially isolated. Singing together (not listening to someone else) is a recognized tool for avoiding social isolation. Who hasn’t enjoyed singing with others around a campfire? The communion service is not just vertical with Christ but horizontal as we join in a common act of spiritual oneness.
Tragically, many churches have fallen into the same trap as the Corinthian Church did by letting human power struggles produce social isolation. (See 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.) According to the Bible, true worship provides a way to be at peace with God while living with others and avoiding isolation. God has given us many ways to improve our lives, and we should not overlook the collateral benefits of worship and avoiding social isolation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report on drugs and highway safety (December 2022) showing data from seven level-one trauma centers and four medical centers around the country. Of 7,279 road users tested, 20% of drivers had blood alcohol levels of .08% or higher, exceeding the legal limit in every state. However, they also found that 20% of those tested were positive for two or more drugs, so alcohol was only part of the problem. The studies also found that over 50% of injured pedestrians and just over 43% of injured bicyclists had a drug in their bloodstreams.
In addition to recreational drugs making highways unsafe for all of us, new studies released by the American Lung Association show the effect of long-term marijuana smoking. Data gathered at Ottawa Hospital in Canada show that 93% of older marijuana smokers had developed emphysema. That is higher than the rate in cigarette smokers, which was 67%. However, the data on non-smokers that have come out over the years suggests that emphysema is not a significant concern unless a person is around second-hand smoke.
Addiction to recreational drugs, including alcohol, is not just a problem for the users. Last week, here in Niles, Michigan, a friend was driving on Main Street with her child in a car seat. A person pulled out of the local marijuana distribution shop without looking, hitting, and totaling my friend’s car. I was putting groceries in my car at the local supermarket when a guy drove into the parking lot at high speed, doing wheelies and forcing me and several others to run into the grocery store to avoid being hit. The policeman later told me the driver had just come from the marijuana store and was using the drug as he drove.
This issue goes beyond drugs and highway safety. The further our society goes away from God, the more pain, suffering, disease, and abuse we can expect to see. Christians know that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), and we should take care of them. Therefore, bringing the gospel of Christ to our society is not just a spiritual issue. It is also a clear road to a better and safer life for all of us.
At this time of year, a wide range of organizations addressing some human need solicit money from those of us who try to wisely use what God has provided. My personal list is 98 organizations that I have attempted to help in some way during 2022. What kind of organizations are these, and what does it say about the influence of Christianity?
The largest group of requests comes from organizations dealing with health issues. Many of those groups deal with vision problems, including blindness, eye diseases like glaucoma, and correctable problems like congenital cataracts, but also guide dog programs. Of the 98 organizations, 36 of them deal with health problems. Of the 36, nearly half are Christian organizations that supply things like ships with surgical facilities that travel around the world.
The next largest group is organizations dealing with poverty and hunger. Of the 20 groups doing this kind of work, all of them are Christian organizations. Another 13 are environmental groups, and 6 of those are Christian organizations. That adds up to 69 of the 98 being in these three areas or 70% of the total. Of those, 44 are Christian-operated–47% of the total.
Of the remaining 29 groups, 7 are child-care organizations, and all are Christian groups. Two are disaster relief groups, and both are associated with Christian organizations. Several other areas of concern have Christian connections but are not managed by a Christian group. For example, wildlife conservation, veterans, and entertainment programs involve some Christians but are not sponsored by a Christian organization.
How many atheists, naturalists, and world religious groups in the United States are involved in the issues of today’s world? The media takes great delight in telling about a mistake by a Christian leader or hypocrisy in a Christian organization. However, the press ignores the work done by groups claiming allegiance to Jesus Christ, even though the influence of Christianity in charitable work is evident.
Jesus said, “by their fruits you shall know them.” False claims and moral corruption by some claiming to be Christians and even Christian leaders will eventually be rooted out. The good things done by groups and individuals who sacrificially give to address the world’s problems live on and will be seen in eternity. Read Matthew 25:34-46 and see what Jesus says about it.
Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court decision has affected almost every aspect of American life. Politicians have jumped into the abortion war not only as a party platform, either pro or con but also as a fund-raising device. I counted eleven organizations using anti-abortion messages in solicitations we recently received. Planned Parenthood reports a 4000% increase in donations to their pro-abortion efforts. The political involvement in the abortion issue is staggering.
Planned Parenthood has received billions of dollars from taxpayerssince the year 2000. Laws like the one in Indiana requiring health providers to bury or cremate fetal tissue have been upheld by a federal appeals court and are still being challenged. Throwing money at this issue or debating it in court or Congress will not settle the fundamental problem that led to the abortion war. Americans are going to have to decide whether human life is special or not.
We are a small step from deciding that any human life that is costly, inconvenient, or dysfunctional can be legally terminated. We recall Peter Singer’s suggestion that severely mentally ill people, life-sentenced criminals, seniors who cannot manage their own affairs, and mentally challenged people unable to do productive work should all be euthanized. That would save massive amounts of money and eliminate prisons, nursing homes, and hospice facilities. Singer is an Australian moral philosopher, currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.
The Bible has fundamental answers to the abortion war:
All humans are of infinite value, and their bodies are the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. (See Matthew 5:44-48 and 1 Corinthians 3:16.)
Sex is a designed creation of God to provide a unique bond between a man and a woman in a committed relationship. It is not a recreational device to be used in any way one chooses. (See Matthew 19:4-6 and I Corinthians 6:15-18)
Humans are uniquely endowed with the capacity to love (agape) all other humans and to consider ALL humans to be of extraordinary worth. (See 1 John 4:7-11.)
As long as we make sex a commercial commodity and use human life as a tool to promote a political agenda or raise money, the abortion war will continue. Science and technology can offer solutions to prevent unwanted pregnancies without the wholesale use of abortion as a method of birth control. But the real solution is beyond that.
As faith in God and acceptance of the Bible as a guide for life decline, we can expect the intensity of the abortion war to increase. However, Christians can set an example, teach biblical moral principles, and address the collateral damage. However, looking the other way as these issues swirl around us does not help the situation.
One of the unique things about Christ’s teachings is His emphasis on forgiveness. During this holiday season, people need to practice forgiveness at home, at work, and in worship assemblies. Looking at every other religious system, you see a striking emphasis on revenge and retaliation. In the Koran, for example, Sura 2:194 says, “Anyone who attacks you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.” Sura 42:42-43 says, “Those who avenge themselves when wronged incur no guilt,” and Sura 47:3-5, “retaliation is decreed for you in bloodshed.” Even in the Law of Moses, the code is “breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Leviticus 24:17-20). By contrast, Christ taught forgiveness.
The fact is that revenge serves no purpose and harbors massive pain. When you read the teachings of Christ, you see a whole different set of guidelines for relationships – love your enemy, go the second mile, and turn the other cheek. (See Matthew 5:38-48.) That is radically different from every other human religious system. Christ taught forgiveness so strongly that in His model prayer (Matthew 6:12-14), He says that God’s forgiveness is contingent on our forgiveness of others. In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter questions Jesus about how many times he has to forgive a brother who sins against him. Peter puts the limit at seven times, but Jesus says it is seventy times seven. He is not saying that 490 is the limit, but there should be no limit to how we forgive others.
Sadly, one of each year’s highest murder and suicide rates occurs around Christmas. In Matthew 26:28, Jesus gives His followers a symbol to remember the sacrifice of His death. The verse says, “Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying all of you drink from it. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.” Communion, “the Lord’s Supper,” is a time for renewal and the realization that the blood shed on the cross washes away our sins. Peter tells us that baptism is when we accept the forgiveness of sins (See Acts 2:38 and 22:16). In 2 Corinthians 5:17-2, we read about God’s forgiveness and the fact that becoming a Christian makes all things new.
People have asked me to help resolve various family conflicts over the years. In some cases, a marriage was teetering on the edge of divorce. Others have involved kids and their parents. I saw conflicts in the school where I taught, and they reached a maximum near the Christmas holiday. In all those cases, the conflict was eased or resolved when someone simply expressed forgiveness and thankfulness for the other person.
Christians need to understand that revenge is the devil’s tool. Love, compassion, and empathy are God’s tools. Forgiveness can be difficult, but it is powerful for healing relationships. When we understand why a person has done what they have done, we can have more empathy for them. Knowing that all humans have infinite value can resolve much of the pain in the world today. Christ taught forgiveness, and that is the starting point for resolving conflicts in any season of the year.