If Religious Books Are Not Widely Circulated 

If Religious Books Are Not Widely Circulated wrote Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster in 1825 by Sarah Goodridge

Daniel Webster was an early American lawyer and statesman who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress. He also served as the 14th and 19th U.S. Secretary of State under presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore. Here is a prescient quote from Webster.

“If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, then error will be. If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendency. If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will. If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of this land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.” ― Daniel Webster

Webster’s prediction of what America would be like “if the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of this land” is indeed coming true. We need political leaders today who recognize that.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Quoted in GoodReads.com

AI Can Be Used or Misused

AI Can Be Used or Misused

Artificial Intelligence is the latest marvel of science flooding every part of human life – for good or evil. On November 39, 2022, a company known as OpenAI launched an artificial intelligence application, a chatbot called ChatGPT, making it available to anyone wanting to use it. Since ChatGPT can write papers, students started using it to meet course requirements. Religious groups have trained chatbots to use religious texts. More than 200,000 people worldwide have used QuranGPT. Other chatbots such as Bible.AI, Gita GPT, Buddhabot, and Apostle Paul AI have appeared. Chatbots have been trained to give answers, imitating Martin Luther, Confucius, and even the Delphic oracle. Like everything else, AI can be used or misused.

Alarmists have suggested hypothetical scenarios in which AI could take over the planet. The adage “garbage in leads to garbage out” applies to AI. However, innovators can do many very positive things with this new technology. One example is the ability to read ancient documents that have previously been unreadable.

Pyroclastic flows from Mount Vesuvius buried a library in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum in AD 79. Those volcanic flows generated temperatures of 900 degrees and buried the scrolls under 60 feet of debris, baking them into charcoal. The process preserved the scrolls, but scholars could not unroll and read them because they would crumble. Using high-energy scans, scientists created a 3-D image of the scrolls and used AI to analyze the ink patterns and determine the words on the scrolls.

AI will allow scholars to study documents and other materials that were previously unreadable. This process can potentially be applied to biblical scrolls to verify the integrity of the Bible manuscripts. AI and its related tools like ChatGPT can expand our knowledge of the past and solve insoluble problems. AI offers medical advances at all levels to improve human life. Like everything else, AI can be used or misused, but the notion that it can take over all technology and eliminate the human race is science fiction and not something we should fear.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “What We’re Learning From AI” in Scientific American for April 2024

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

As Christians remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ, how do we know the story is true? Some unbelievers argue that the resurrection is a myth that arose many years later. The evidence against that idea is numerous and strong. The apostles carried the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the Roman Empire for the rest of their lives, even though they had nothing to gain except a life of persecution ending in execution. They would not have done that unless they had seen the resurrected Christ.

Skeptics have often argued that the gospels were written years later to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a myth that developed during those years. However, before any of the four gospels were written, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in A.D. 57. he included an oral tradition that summarizes the gospel message.

In the first century, there were no computers, printed books, or pamphlets, and even simple writing materials were scarce and precious. People memorized important things by summarizing them efficiently and passing them on as oral traditions. The early Christians used that method. Here is the first part of an oral tradition that Paul wrote down in that first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

The oral tradition then goes on to list some resurrection appearances of Christ. Then Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw the resurrected Christ. (You can read it for yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Of course, the “Scriptures” that Paul refers to are the Old Testament prophecies of Christ since the New Testament was not yet written.

When did Paul receive this tradition? He probably received it no later than A.D. 36 when he first visited Jerusalem. (See Galatians 1:15-18.) He possibly received it earlier than that in Damascus when, as Saul the persecutor, he encountered Ananias and received his sight. Ananias preached the gospel to him, and “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Whether in Jerusalem or Damascus, Paul received the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection no more than five years after the event. That tradition was not a myth that developed years after eyewitnesses died.

We can trust the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Although we have that oral tradition written down, we would do well to memorize it, as the early Christians did.

— Roland Earnst © 2024

Easter Egg Symbolism

Easter Egg Symbolism
Ukrainian Pysanky

Various Easter celebrations and fun activities revolve around eggs. Ancient people must have been amazed to see a new living creature emerge from a seemingly dead object. In ancient Persia, people gave eggs to each other at the spring equinox, and they set that date as the beginning of a new year. Easter egg symbolism arose much later as Christians used eggs to represent the rock tomb and the hatching chick as a symbol of Christ emerging from the tomb.

Lent was instituted to remember the fasting of Jesus, and people who were fasting would not eat meat from cows, sheep, pigs, or fowl. It was also common practice to avoid eating eggs, but chickens still laid eggs, so people decorated them. The original egg decorations were just plain vegetable dyes, but crimson eggs emerged in honor of the blood of Christ.

Eastern European people used intricate designs on eggs called pysanky, which they sold in Ukrainian shops. In Germany, people pierced and hollowed eggs and hung them on shrubs and trees like Christmas trees. In some countries, people used eggs in games. In addition to egg hunts, egg rolling activities were also conducted on the White House lawn. Some egg rollings were started at Sunday School picnics and parades before the Civil War.

The shell of a hen’s egg weighs only about one-fifth of an ounce, and it’s made from calcium carbonate just over one-hundredth of an inch thick. Despite the thin shell, chicken eggs can withstand 130 pounds of force. If it is set perfectly still with its pointed end up, an egg is almost impossible to break with one hand. Only an uneven force, like hitting it on something, can crack an eggshell.

Easter egg symbolism can remind us of Christ’s resurrection, but the egg’s design is one more example of the wisdom God has built into everything we see in the creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: The Easter Book by Francis Weiser, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and Wikipedia

The Date of Easter

The Date of Easter
The Paschal Full Moon determines the Date of Easter-

Many Christians have little knowledge of why they celebrate Easter when they do. The word “Easter” is found only once in the Bible, in the King James Version, and it should be translated as “Passover” (Acts 12:4). There is no biblical command to celebrate the DATE of Jesus’ resurrection, but the early Christians celebrated the DAY every first day of the week. So, why does the date of Easter change?

The date of Easter is just after the vernal equinox, the time when day and night have equal length. The first full moon after the equinox is called the “paschal full moon.” The name “paschal” is derived from “pascha,” which is a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning “Passover,” the historical event described in Exodus 12. The paschal full moon always happens between March 21 and April 25; this year, it was on March 25. Easter is the first Sunday following the paschal moon, so it falls on March 31 this year. The date changes because of the shape of the Moon’s orbit, so astronomy establishes the date.

Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are religious traditions not commanded or taught in the Bible. There is nothing wrong with traditions as long as they don’t conflict with the scriptures and we recognize them as traditions, not commands. Paul said it well in Romans 14:5-8: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike.” He goes on to say, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end, Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Christianity has to do with our hearts and what we do with our lives, not legalism or ritualism. Instead of questioning the date of Easter, enjoy your Easter egg hunt. Maybe you can use the significance of the egg to teach your kids or grandkids where the Easter egg tradition came from and what it can teach us about God’s wisdom and design. We will have more on that tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Accusing God of Murder

Accusing God of Murder

Skeptics in the media constantly attack the Bible and the biblical concept of God. Writers in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and The Atlantic write as if they were authorities on the Bible while accusing God of murder and condemning Him as being immoral. Taking a Bible passage out of context, they fail to examine who wrote it, why it was written, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it.

Skeptics make statements like “God murders indiscriminately” when referring to Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. They overlook the fact that Noah preached to and taught the people of his age, warning them to avoid the coming disaster. The skeptics also ignore the fact that God agreed to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten people in those cities were not involved in the wicked violence and immorality. The people had rejected God, choosing actions that led to death and disease. (See Genesis 18:20-33). The statement by the media accusing God of murder shows a lack of biblical knowledge.

The fact is that God was incredibly patient with the violence and immorality of the nations that rejected Him, not only in ancient times but also today. The people suffered the consequences of their own actions. We see that in 1 Samuel 15:3, where God commands Saul to destroy the Amalekites and “slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Skeptics have called God’s actions a senseless act of genocide that was barbaric and immoral. They say that God murders indiscriminately, but a closer study shows a different picture.

God gave the hygienic laws of Leviticus 11-18 for a reason. The cultures surrounding ancient Israel engaged in disastrous practices involving drinking raw blood, eating poorly prepared meat, sexual practices with animals and each other that spread STDs, and many infections that shortened life expectancies at a time when there was no medical treatment. Archaeological evidence and genome studies have left no doubt about the conditions of these ancient people.

Following God’s strict hygienic laws, given through Moses, allowed Israel to avoid those problems. How was God to treat the situation when Israel moved into an area where these hygienic problems were running rampant? Even the animals and babies carried the viruses and bacteria that saturated the people of those cultures.

Accusing God of murder shows a lack of understanding the Bible. From the New Testament, we know how much human sin grieved God and left Him with no alternative. The big question is whether we are creating similar problems for ourselves while possibly destroying the planet God created for us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

The Infinite Importance of Christianity

The Infinite Importance of Christianity

The quote by C.S. Lewis about the infinite importance of Christianity is true on several levels. When we use the term “Christianity,” we are not talking about human religions or denominations, usually named after humans or a particular philosophical or theological belief system. The word “Christian” literally means “Christ-like,” and that means doing and practicing what Jesus did and taught.

One thing that makes Christianity of “infinite importance” is what it offers to the poor and challenged. In Matthew 25:33-40, Jesus spoke about the Christ-like things His followers would do. Those things include feeding the hungry, giving water to those who don’t have it, providing clothing and shelter for those in need, and helping those in prison.

Another reason for the infinite importance of Christianity is the effect it has on morality. Marriage is important, and how kids are raised is vital. No one can argue with how Christ taught His followers to deal with these institutions. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus explains how Christians should treat each other and deal with the world in which they live. The wars and violence in our world today are rooted in people refusing to do what Jesus told us to do.

The most critical reason for the infinite importance of Christianity is that it provides hope for what happens after life in this world is done. For each of us, it is of infinite importance that we obey Christ and become “new creatures,” as described in Romans 6. No human religious goal is of infinite importance, whether it’s reincarnation, a harem of “black-eyed beauties,” or a return to Earth in some other space/time.

When our physical bodies return to the dust from which they came, we long for our souls to return to the God who created us. Christianity uniquely offers that hope, making it of “infinite importance.”

— John N. Clayon © 2024

Reference: “10 times C.S. Lewis made the case for Christ” on ChristianityToday.com

What the Church Is Not and What It Is

What the Church Is Not and What It Is

One of the challenges we receive from people is to describe what the Church is. Jesus Christ, in Matthew 16:18, described the Church as built on the rock that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The biblical Church does not even remotely coincide with what people tell us are the reasons why they don’t want to become part of a local church and live as Christ taught. People today are often confused about what the Church is, confusing it with what the Church is not:

1) The Church is not a building, and no money is involved in the construction of the Church described in the Bible.
2) The Church is not a political entity of any kind. (Matthew 22:21)
3) The Church is not made up of perfect people. The only thing Christians have that is not enjoyed by those outside of the Church is God’s forgiveness.
4) The Church’s message is not a bunch of “Thou shalt nots.” The message of Christ is what men and women SHOULD be doing, not the evil they might have done.
5) The Church is not a social club. Fellowship does not revolve around playing Bingo. The fellowship the Bible describes is support and help for hurting people. (James 5:13-20)

We find the biblical description of the Church in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Ephesians 1:22-24, and Acts 2:44-47. Those passages describe the nature and power of the Church. Who cares for those who desperately need help – the homeless, the abandoned, those needing food, water, clothing, and shelter? Who reaches out to those in prisons and their families? Who reaches out to those broken by their previous mistakes and desperately wanting forgiveness from God and people? It isn’t the atheists, agnostics, or skeptics, but those who are part of the biblical Church.

People often confuse what the Church is not for what the Church is. Those who attack the Church are usually those unwilling to be part of the solution to today’s deepest problems. (John 3:17)

— John N. Cayton © 2024

Social Isolation Affects the Heart

Social Isolation Affects the Heart

We have mentioned before the role the Church has in fighting loneliness, including anxiety, depression, dementia, and thoughts of suicide. Now, heart specialists and the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, have expanded the negative role of loneliness. Murthy says that “feeling disconnected from friends and family has the same impact as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” According to the Cleveland Clinic, the physical effects of loneliness include a 29% higher risk of heart disease, a 32% higher risk of stroke, a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, and a 60% increase in premature death. The bottom line is that social isolation affects the heart.

The importance of being actively involved with people, such as in a church congregation, cannot be over-emphasized. “Going to church” for an hour once a week does not help much in dealing with this issue. The Church described in Acts 2:41-47 was a group of believers who met together daily. Not only were they together sharing meals and times of worship, but they addressed each other’s needs. Church leaders today must understand that being active in a church cannot happen if the church is not active. I had a brother who was an atheist and retreated from family and all social contact. Alcoholics Anonymous was his only tool to fight social isolation, and his participation in that program was very sporadic. He died prematurely of heart failure.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives a formula for avoiding social isolation. “Let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another with a view to arousing one another to brotherly love and right conduct; not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together as some do, but encouraging one another…” Church attendance is declining worldwide, and much of that is because people see no value in what the Church is doing. Saving souls is important, but contributing to each other’s well-being must not be neglected because social isolation affects the heart.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Loneliness and Social Isolation Are Hidden Threats to the Heart” in the Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor for February 2024 (Volume 24B).

Singing In Praise to God

Singing In Praise to God

The dictionary defines “anthropomorphize” as attributing human characteristics or behavior to an animal or object, such as people’s tendency to anthropomorphize their dogs. We can probably blame Disney for much of this. Beginning with Micky Mouse in “Steamboat Willie,” numerous cartoons have presented animals with human actions, including singing. Even scientific articles tell about whales and birds singing. The fact is that only humans have the unique capacity to compose songs and use them in a variety of human experiences, including singing in praise to God.

When a cardinal “sings” his song outside your window, he is really warning other cardinals to stay out of his territory. Whale songs are communication devices to locate food sources and attract mates. When Penny Patterson taught Koko the gorilla to use the sign language of the deaf, he learned that he would receive a reward. One of my favorite stories about Koko was that when Patterson taught him to recognize a yellow streak on a canvas as a banana, he identified yellow hats and yellow ties as bananas. Only humans could compose a song such as “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

Humans use singing in many ways. The Psalms in the Bible are creative songs useful for memorizing and conveying spiritual values. The Genesis account of creation is actually a song. Being a song doesn’t make it untrue, but it is a uniquely human way to express and memorize history and values. Have you ever wondered why each military service has its own song? Why do we sing songs at weddings, funerals, and when camping? Singing is a way to express love and praise for others or God, and it can create unity. Most of us remember “We Shall Overcome,” and some will recall the protest song “Abraham, Martin and John,” referring to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:15, “I will pray with my spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing praise with the spirit, and I will also sing praise with my understanding (CSB).” Only humans can do these things, and no evolutionary explanation is supported by evidence. We are created in the image of God, and singing in praise to God is an expression of that unique creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2024