Is Life Worth Living?

Is Life Worth Living?

People sometimes ask, “Is life worth living?” I recently read a police report of a young man standing on the ledge of a very tall building threatening to jump. He finally said to the police officer who was trying to talk him down, “Can you convince me that life is worth living?” The officer hesitated, not knowing how to answer that question, and the young man jumped. An interesting fact about life on planet Earth is that only humans can commit suicide. (There is a false story that lemmings commit suicide, but we have dealt with that before.)

The year 2020 gave everyone reasons to question the value of life. Disease, loss of loved ones, abuse, political chaos, sexual issues, and various mental issues have combined to cause people to desire a life worth living. One argument for faith is that it provides a reason to live, even when life’s traumas make it difficult.

What does atheism offer to make life worth living when things turn bad? When I was a child, singer Peggy Lee had a song titled “Is That All There Is?” She sang about wanting something very badly, but the result was never as good as what she imagined. It is like buying an expensive new car you have wanted to own for a very long time. Then after having it for a while, wondering why you spent that much money. Everything in life is like that. Even marriage has the familiar half-life. In courtship and engagement, you have the belief that your potential mate is that person with whom you want to spend your life. But once the newness wears off, marriage becomes something that takes effort to keep it working.

What I have described so far applies to all of us. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a man with great wealth and power, expressed his struggle with what the world offers. As you read through the book, you see that he does it all and has it all, but he finds it is all meaningless. The Bible is full of stories about men who had opportunities to be very successful. Moses had it made as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Then Hebrews 11:24-27 tells us that he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh to see Him who is invisible.” Paul was trained by Gamaliel, a well-known scholar, and was on his way to becoming a leader of Judaism (Acts 22:3). But, like Moses, he found something better.

So atheists and Christians face similar problems in keeping an active life worth living.
What makes Christianity different, and why does it lead to an optimistic, upbeat feeling about life, even when things go wrong? The answer is that Christians have a purpose for our lives. Solomon wrote as a conclusion to his discussion of life’s meaninglessness: “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil–this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).

Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8-11 that God had a purpose for his life and an eternal purpose which was accomplished in Christ. In Acts 9:10-19, God tells Ananias about Saul and says that “this man is my chosen instrument.” Having that purpose for his life drove Saul to become Paul and leave his leadership in Judaism to suffer abuse as a Christian.

We are all chosen instruments. Our skills and talents may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but God created every one of us to do something unique. We must choose whether or not to accept the purpose for which God created us. But having a purpose and fulfilling that purpose makes life worth living, meaningful, and worthwhile. Not only do we find fulfillment in doing what God created us to do, but having purpose means being able to face the problems of life and use those things to accomplishing our purpose.

Being a Christian does not mean we will be immune to the problems that everyone faces. If that were the case, people would become Christians for the wrong reason to escape their problems. Instead, what Christians have is the promise of God that there will be a way of escape from those problems (1 Corinthians 10:13). Furthermore, the problems, including death, will be used as part of our service to God.

The heartbreak of having a child born with multiple handicaps and later losing my wife have given me unique opportunities and satisfaction in my efforts as a Christian. There is a life worth living when you have a purpose for existing, and you can see that the purpose extends beyond your existence on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

What Do You Think of the Bible?

What Do You Think of the Bible?

What do you think of the Bible? That is a critical issue we all must face. For many people, the Bible is a collection of fairy tales. Those who hold this view say that snakes talking, the globe being flooded, heaven and hell, and a shepherd boy with a sling killing a giant are on the same level as Mother Goose. They may be stories appropriate for children but not for well-educated adults.

For other people, the Bible is a great literary work comparable to the writings of Shakespeare or Edgar Alan Poe. Perhaps they might believe that in a few cases, it has moral lessons embedded in the stories. Many religious leaders view the Bible as CONTAINING the word of God but containing a lot of material that is not God’s will for modern-day people.

The Bible itself claims to be God-breathed, sometimes referred to as plenary inspiration. Passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 and John 1:1 claim that the Bible’s message provides all humans with everything they need for completeness and that the Bible is God’s Word for us today. The implications of this understanding for LGBTQ practices, abortion, and marriage are huge.

What do you think of the Bible? Here are some things that can help resolve whatever conflicts we may have with the Bible:

  1. Whatever you read in the Bible, consider who wrote the passage, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people it was written to would have understood it.
  2. Examine the words in the original language. Anyone can use a concordance to check out the Greek or Hebrew words to see what they meant. The word translated “giant” in Genesis 6:4, for example, refers to “fallen ones” and refers to moral issues and not super-sized humans. It was not a “whale” that swallowed Jonah. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable and the name Lazarus means “without help.”
  3. Look for historical evidence when considering the integrity of a passage. You can use archaeology, historical documents, and fossil evidence to evaluate the correctness of a statement. Many biblical accounts that skeptics challenged were later found to be supported by the evidence.
  4. Be sure to separate the physical from the spiritual. Humans frequently reduce God to our level. God is not an “old man in the sky.” God created humans in His spiritual image, not His physical image. God is not physical, sexual, or racial. He is not limited in space, nor does He have any needs that revolve around food, time, drink, or politics.
  5. Distinguish miracles from things that are unusual but possible. There are miracles in the Bible which are matters of faith and must either be accepted or rejected. Don’t expect anyone to prove that Lazarus or the widow of Nain’s son rose from the dead. Likewise, nobody can prove that Jesus walked on water or fed 5000 people in a desert place. If the Bible claims that a miracle happened, you can’t conduct an experiment to see if the claim is true. Miracles can’t be repeated or tested.
  6. Do not allow tradition or denominational creeds to replace the Bible. The Bible does not give us the age of the Earth, and there is nothing in the Bible about dinosaurs. A person can die spiritually, and hell is eternal punishment, not eternal punishing.

We have addressed all of these issues repeatedly, and our websites, videos, and printed materials are available. What do you think of the Bible? It is “God-breathed,” but humans must apply common sense and serious study to resolve the challenges of skeptics. We have recently learned the importance of the biblical concept of quarantine, but the Bible speaks of many other practical areas of life. Give some serious thought to what you think about the Bible. Believing and applying it to decisions in your life can bring meaning to how you live and how you die.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Explaining the Manna in Exodus

Explaining the Manna in Exodus
The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

Christians sometimes make the mistake of devising naturalistic theories to explain biblical events. A classic example of this is explaining the manna of Exodus 16:14-35. It is true that certain insects in the Middle East secrete an edible substance. Some restaurants serve it and claim that it is the same manna that God provided to Israel in the wilderness.

The best-known example of wild explanations of manna was by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book Worlds in Collision, which was popular in the 1950s. Velikovsky claimed that Venus was ejected by Jupiter and became a comet that contained edible fragments containing carbohydrates which provided the manna of Exodus 16. Now we have people claiming that fragments from the ort cloud of material outside our solar system are the source of the manna.

We should first point out that there may be hydrocarbons in space, but there are no carbohydrates. There is a vast difference. The biblical account tells us that the manna could be baked (Exodus 16:23) and that if it was kept overnight, it “bred worms and stank” (verse 20). Baking would ignite a hydrocarbon. The Bible describes the manna as “like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (verse 31). None of those things match the composition of a comet or Venus. We have landed on Venus, and the surface is familiar rock types like ones found on Earth.

Many things in the biblical account can be explained in natural ways. For example, it is not difficult to believe that quail could descend on a population in significant numbers (also described in Exodus 16). Explaining the manna as a product of insects, as it is today in smaller quantities, would not explain its properties and regard for the Sabbath (verse 23). We could only interpret that as an act of God. How the manna was produced becomes an untestable question, and constructing explanations with wild assumptions damages faith instead of supporting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Made for Another World

Made for Another World

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Those words were written by C. S. Lewis, a professor of English literature at Oxford University and later at Cambridge University.

He wrote more than 40 books which are still in print even though he died in 1963. His writings have been translated into more than 30 languages. Some of them from the “Chronicles of Narnia” series have been made into movies by Disney.

The quote about being made for another world comes from Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis experienced times when he longed for something that was just beyond his grasp. Haven’t we all had that experience? We look for beauty, but everything has its imperfections. We long for justice, but we find injustice all around us. We long for love, but people disappoint us. We desire peace, but turmoil surrounds us.

This world has many things that seem attractive to us. Food, travel, sex, pleasures of all kinds beckon us. They appeal to our senses and our inner longings, but again and again, when we obtain them, they fall short of our expectations. We say, “There must be something better.”

We believe, as C. S. Lewis did, that those desires which nothing in this world can satisfy are evidence that we were made for another world. The good things of this world are only shadows of things to come. Lewis was an atheist who came to believe and accept Jesus Christ as his savior. He still faced challenges of grief and terminal illness in this life, but his faith brought him through to another world.

We believe that God made us for another world, and He will bring us to the fulfillment of the beauty, justice, love, and peace we long for.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Ghosts Are Not Real

Ghosts Are Not Real

As we approach Halloween in America, some people ask, “Are ghosts real?” No, ghosts are not real, and there are natural explanations for the stories about ghosts.

The fall 2020 issue of Popular Science (pages 78-87) carried an article by Jake Bittle titled, “Why Do We See Ghosts?” The article explains some famous encounters with Ghosts throughout history starting in 1500 B.C. and including the Amityville haunting in the 1970s. Bittle points out that some people WANT to believe in ghosts and will interpret anything they don’t understand as the action of a ghost.

Those of us who have spent many nights sleeping on the ground have had the experience of hearing sounds in the dark that we cannot identify. When I was in the army, I spent much of my sleep time awake wondering whether the sound I heard came from a human or a natural object or animal–or my imagination. In ancient times, it could be essential to identify a sound you didn’t recognize so that you could avoid being eaten.

Several years ago, I attended a meeting of paranormal experts on the Queen Mary, a ship that some say is haunted. Our guide repeatedly saw ghosts and tried to convince us that they were real. In every case, there were natural explanations for what our guide saw or heard. Nobody in our group saw anything that could be called a ghost.

As technology has advanced, there have been many new ways to produce effects that people could interpret as ghosts. There also have been studies relating ghost sightings to drug use or mental illness. I have friends who had all kinds of ghost experiences when they were using LSD. In those cases, ghosts are not real, even though they seem real.

There is no biblical support for ghosts. Saul’s experience with the witch of Endor was a miraculous act of God that terrorized the witch ( See 1 Samuel 28:5-19). When people reject God, as Saul did, they are desperate to find spiritual guidance of some kind, and they often seek help from ghosts

There is no support for the existence of ghosts or their interaction with humans. In Mark 6:49, when Jesus came walking on the water, the disciples “SUPPOSED it had been a spirit,” but that is the only reference to ghosts in the New Testament.

God has promised us that we “will not be tempted above that which you are able to bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Bible tells us that we can find truth in God’s word and by looking at the world God has made (Romans 1:19– 20). We need to avoid wild stories and things like Ouija boards when making life decisions because they are products of human fantasy. Ghosts are not real.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Building Faith in God and the Bible

Building Faith in God and the Bible

Churches are seeing an exodus of young people. One reason is that many do not provide relevant teaching for building faith in God and the Bible. I recently received an announcement by a well-known preacher that he was beginning a series of lessons on reasons to believe in Jesus. I’m sure that the lessons will be outstanding, but will they address the things that are keeping young adults away from the Church?

The listing of evidences in the announcement included the empty tomb, the stone taken away, the grave clothes lying there, the eyewitness testimony, the faith of the apostles, and the conversion of James and Paul. Those are all evidences based on the Bible. Those of us with a long history of hearing sermons and being in Bible classes are familiar with the biblical teachings and believe them to be true. We still need to have our faith strengthened, so we are not denigrating this kind of teaching. But building faith in God and the Bible requires more than quoting the Bible. Where is the Church failing the unchurched, and, in many cases, failing the children of church members?

In recent postings, we have dealt with the popular teachings of Bart Ehrman, who devotes many of his books and articles to attacking the biblical account. We receive many letters from skeptics and atheists attacking the biblical account based on Ehrman’s material. Magazines like the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic Magazine are full of attacks on the Christ and the Bible. The leader of many attacks in these atheist publications is Michael Shermer, a former preacher, and graduate of Pepperdine University. The Freedom From Religion organization joins the attacks with advertisements in Scientific American and other popular scientific journals.

It is essential for church leaders to understand that young adults receive a heavy dose of attacks on the Bible. Quoting the Bible as proof of something only works for people who believe the Bible is 100% true. Most of our preacher training schools have a single course on apologetics. They pay very little attention to archeological evidence, historical support, and scientific answers to the skeptic attacks. Building faith in God and the Bible requires more than quoting the Bible.

Bible classes for young people must include evidence that does not depend on scripture alone. This ministry provides resources to do that, and we often review books that give this kind of support. We are in the process of completing a video series by John Cooper on archaeological support for the Bible. We have a museum in York, Nebraska, designed to show through artifacts the credibility of the Biblical account. Before we quote scripture to prove anything, we need to be sure that the person we are dealing with believes the Bible is from God. God has given us the tools to do that, and we must use them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Fermi Paradox – Where Is Everybody?

Fermi Paradox – Where Is Everybody? - Arecibo Message

There are billions of stars in the galaxy, so there must be billions of planets in the galaxy. For many years people have speculated that there must be intelligent life out there and even civilizations that have developed space travel. In a casual conversation among scientists in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi asked, “If these civilizations do exist, where is everybody?” That question came to be known as the Fermi Paradox, and it led to the picture, which we will explain.

The Fermi Paradox points out the lack of any evidence for what many see as a high probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy. Since no space aliens have landed on Earth and announced their arrival, some scientists decided to search for them by electromagnetic radiation. In 1960 astronomer Frank Drake began a coordinated project which became known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Ever since then, millions (or billions) of dollars and millions of hours have been spent listening for any transmission of any intelligent beings on other planets. The results have been zero. Where is everybody?

In 1995 the SETI Institute established Project Phoenix, which concentrated only on the 800 closest stars and their planets. Working from 1995 until 2004, the project concluded that there is no species as technologically advanced as humans in the universe within 200 light-years of Earth.

Because of the laws of physics and the dangers of space, any space traveler would be limited to no more than one percent of the speed of light. (Exceeding, or even approaching the speed of light is only possible in the movies.) So traveling at maximum speed from the nearest possible location, a space alien would need 20,000 years to reach the Earth. You could add to that another 5,000 years to dodge space objects (including stars, planets, and asteroids) on the trip. So for a space alien to reach Earth would take at least 25,000 years, and probably much longer.

So what is the picture? It’s a digital representation of what is called the Arecibo message. In 1974, scientists sent out a radio message from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They aimed it a star cluster called M13, which is 25,000 light-years away. If there is any intelligent life there able to receive and decode it, the message tells about planet Earth and humanity. (You can find the “decode” HERE.) Of course, if there are any intelligent beings in M13 wondering “where is everybody,” they should receive the message in 25,000 years.

The Fermi Paradox is still unsolved. As the leader of Project Phoenix, Peter Backus, said, “We live in a quiet neighborhood.” God, on the other hand, being unlimited by time and space (remember that He created time/space and matter/energy) is always near and ready to hear our prayers unless we are unwilling to acknowledge His existence.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Danger of Curiosity – It Killed the Cat

Danger of Curiosity – It Killed the Cat

I am sure you have heard the old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Perhaps someone used it to give you a warning about the danger of curiosity. In other words, they wanted you to stay just as you are and not ask questions.

However, asking questions is part of being human. The truth is that cats are not particularly curious. If you observe them, you may notice that they are extremely cautious. They may watch from a distance or test something cautiously with one paw. Humans, however, are not so cautious in their approach to things.

Humans are born into the world with a lot to learn, and they have to do it in a short time. Perceptual curiosity is the tool babies use to learn about the world. Adults who know the dangers of the world are always putting up barriers because the infant hasn’t learned the danger of curiosity.

However, perceptual curiosity is not restricted to humans. Animals such as dogs and crows (and even cats) display curiosity as they randomly explore unfamiliar objects. They may be thinking, “Does it move?” or “Can I eat it?” That is not much different from an infant’s investigation of the surroundings.

There is another level of curiosity only seen in humans. Psychologists call it epistemic curiosity. Jordan A. Litman of the psychology department at the University of South Florida wrote a paper on epistemic curiosity in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. He defined epistemic curiosity as “the desire to obtain new knowledge (e.g., concepts, ideas, and facts) expected to stimulate intellectual interest…or eliminate conditions of informational deprivation.” Epistemic curiosity requires an understanding of complex language and the ability to think and reason. It goes beyond infant or animal curiosity. Humans display epistemic curiosity after their perceptual curiosity has given them the necessary tools.

Epistemic curiosity leads humans to go beyond creating simple tools, which some animals can do, to imagining and inventing new creative possibilities. It has paved the way for creativity in music, art, and science. Humans have an intellectual interest in things beyond what is required for mere survival. We want to eliminate “informational deprivation.” We wonder what would happen if…, and what will happen when…” We want to know if there is a God. We want to know if this life is all there is. This ministry seeks to encourage that curiosity and encourage people to follow the evidence where it leads.

The problem comes when people choose to stay at the perceptual curiosity level
. “If our senses can’t detect it, then it doesn’t exist.” “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” “Curiosity killed the cat, so, therefore, don’t be curious.” “Don’t ask too many questions.”

If someone wants you to stay just as you are and avoid the danger of curiosity–beware! Don’t be afraid to ask the crucial questions. Sadly, it is not always unbelievers who avoid the danger of curiosity. God is not afraid of our questions. Let us, like Job, not be afraid to ask the questions–and accept the answers.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Why Call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

Nazareth, Israel. Why Call Him Jesus the Nazarene?
Modern city of Nazareth, Israel

One of the interesting facts about Jesus Christ is that the name of the town where He grew up is frequently used with his name. When Pilate ordered a sign to be placed on the cross, it said, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 19:19). When Christ appeared to Saul (Acts 22:8), he said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Peter and Paul referred to Jesus as “the Nazarene” in Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 10:38, and 26:9. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?”

There is a reason why the village of Nazareth was always kept in the dossier of Jesus Christ. The reason is still valid today. Christ never attempted to use worldly standards to emphasize His message. When He had the opportunity to gather a following, He sent the crowds away. When people wanted to elevate Him to a ruling position, He rejected those attempts. Remember that when Peter drew his sword to stop the arrest of Christ, Jesus told him to put it away and healed the man Peter had injured. (See Matthew 26:47-52.) Unlike all other religious figures and organizations, Jesus emitted a gentle image and focused people on His message, not His appearance or power.

Nazareth was an obscure little village in Galilee, and not highly regarded. In John 1:46, when Nathanael was introduced to Christ (John 1:46), he said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Even the relationship between Christ and the village of Nazareth was not that good. In Luke 4:16-30, when Jesus returned to his home town, the citizens rejected him and tried to throw him off a cliff.

Matthew wrote about Jesus, “Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). Although no Old Testament prophecy uses the title “Nazarene,” many passages predict that Jesus would be “despised and rejected.” (See Isaiah 53:3; Psalms 22:6; Daniel 9:26; and Zechariah 12:10.) Nazareth was a despised place (as we see from Nathanael’s comment), and even the citizens that despised place rejected Jesus.

Our world of religious violence, hatred, and power is the complete opposite of that for which Jesus Christ stood. Why call Him “Jesus the Nazarene?” Using that title reminds us of what Christianity is not, and what it is. Christianity, like Christ, is not about worldly power or prestige. It is about love and compassion.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

God Will Provide a Way Out

God Will Provide a Way Out

We hear it all the time, statements like “I can’t take much more.” “I can’t handle this!” “This is too much!” and “I can’t stand it!!” We all have expressions of frustration and exasperation, and in the middle of this current pandemic like all previous major problems, we hear some wild ones. “I’m going to blow my top,” “I’m going to pull my hair,” “I’m going to the lake and make a hole in it.” There is a theological issue involved here. If God exists, why does He allow things to happen that push us beyond what we can stand? Or does He provide a way out? I maintain that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13.

Before going further, please do not interpret this discussion to trivialize anyone’s crisis. I just watched my daughter nurse her husband, the father of her three children, through six months of terminal cancer. She is now not only left with no husband and three boys to raise and also with no financial resources and her own health issues. My students in our correspondence courses who are in prison frequently say, “You can not imagine what it is like to be locked up in this hell hole.”

This Corinthian passage was written to Christians and offers unique help. One of the miseries that atheism produces is that it provides no hope of any kind when problems like this pandemic happen. When I was young and fit, I maintained that God was a crutch that I didn’t need. Very quickly, things happened to me that made me not so young or so fit. It wasn’t that I looked for a crutch because I continued to be a vocal atheist. But I was miserable in not always dominating others and getting my way. I was not able to overpower circumstances in life because I simply wasn’t fit.

First Corinthians 10:13 and similar passages don’t tell us that God will shield us from bad things. They don’t tell us that Christians will not face tragedy and frustration and even death. The passage says that God will “provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That way out is rarely a miraculous zapping of whatever is afflicting us. It is usually God using Christians, His workers on Earth, to help us through it.

Read Matthew 25:31-40, and what do you see Jesus saying to His workers at the end of time? They were those who provided a way out for those in misery. The very nature of Christianity is to relieve the afflicted, and Jesus did that and taught His followers to do it. That is why Christians do the prison ministries, the correspondence course programs, our seniors outreaches, our food banks, our water well diggings, our hospitals, our schools, and many other things.

There are those times when the way out is death. I have lost a wife, a son-in-law, a brother, and dozens of dear friends who were in such pain that death was a blessing. I can only say that with confidence about those who died as Christians. The way out for me is coming, and it will be a blessing, not a curse.

— John N. Clayton © 2020