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

Why Did God Create the Coronavirus?

Why Did God Create the Coronavirus?

Why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? The short answer is that He didn’t.

That question of disease applies to every human ailment caused by a virus, be it malaria, a common cold, or one of the SARS viruses. A virus is a microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium, and that cannot grow or reproduce apart from a living cell. A virus invades living cells and uses their chemical machinery to survive and replicate. Viruses are not all harmful. They exist in the body to help cells change and adjust to allow reproduction, digestion, and respiration. The problem is that viruses, like everything else, can be mutated by external forces – radiation, pollution, etc.

Built into our bodies is an immune system designed to help reject destructive viruses. This system uses antibodies that attack the proteins in the virus and stop it from reproducing. The problem comes when a virus the body doesn’t recognize as an intruder can multiply and crowd out the normal function of cells. What causes the body not to detect and eliminate a virus? The immune system may not recognize a virus that is different because it has mutated. That usually happens when the virus was in an animal where it caused no problems because the animal’s immune system recognized and controlled it. The problem occurs when the animal passes the virus to a human. In the case of the Marburg virus and the Ebola virus, the source appears to have been bats. In the case of HIV, the virus was from chimpanzees.

The use of chemicals to fight insects has been a source of many changes in the insect population. Bats eat insects, and the chemicals cause changes in the viruses in the bats. In the current coronavirus outbreak, human interactions with bats for food apparently brought the virus into the human population. The results have been disastrous.

So why did God create the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? My preacher friends will simply say that Satan created the virus. Without getting into the theological difficulties with that explanation, how would Satan have done it? The point to remember is that God did not do it.

In theory, at least, the cure for virus problems is simple. Find a way to help the body produce antibodies that can recognize and attack the invading virus. We can do this, but the process is complex and will take time. We can do it because we have some understanding of God’s design of the human body and the immune system. Meanwhile, we need to avoid pathways for the virus to get from person to person. Washing our hands, social distancing, being careful about what we eat, and how we prepare our food are the best defense strategies for now.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Science News March 14, 2020, pages 6-7.

Why Does Matter Exist?

Why Does Matter Exist?

Why does matter exist? That may sound like a silly question, but as we study nuclear reactions, it becomes crucial. Nuclear reactions produce two kinds of matter—matter and antimatter. The strange thing about these two forms of matter is that when they collide, they destroy each other, producing nothing but energy.

In the past 50 years, scientists have found that every kind of matter seems to have an antimatter equivalent. Science has discovered that electrons, which are well understood, have antimatter particles called anti-electrons or positrons. We now have ways of producing beams of positrons that physicists use in all kinds of experiments. Einstein’s famous equation, e = mc^2 can be verified when we collide positrons and electrons.

Research has led to the discovery of antiprotons, antineutrons, antineutrinos, antimuons, etc. If nuclear processes were involved in the creation of the universe, the cosmos should be full of the same amount of antimatter as there is matter. Could there be antiplanets, antistars, antigalaxies, etc.? One can even postulate antipeople. You could create the ultimate soap opera where a matter boy falls in love with an antimatter girl. The problem is that he can’t touch her, because if he does, their physical particles will all destroy each other in a huge thermonuclear explosion that would wipe out the planet.

That fictitious fable can’t happen, but it raises an important point. If all nuclear reactions produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, shouldn’t all the matter and antimatter eventually collide and produce nothing but energy. Why does matter exist?

Science News (December 21, 2019, / January 4, 2020) reported on proof that antineutrinos and neutrinos violate parity. The oscillation of the two kinds of neutrinos is not the same. Neutrinos vibrate more rapidly than the mathematical predictions of what their frequency should be, and antineutrinos vibrate more slowly. Scientists don’t understand why these oscillations are different since they violate parity. The design of the building blocks of matter involves differences in oscillation frequencies, and that allows matter to exist.

Why does matter exist? We could state that with the old philosophical question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Those questions seem to be answered at least in part by our new understanding of matter and antimatter. A major point we need to make is that matter and antimatter start with an energy source. That energy source must be external to our dimension. When we consider the intricate design features, that source would seem to be God.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Who Is Jesus?

Who Is Jesus?

Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus, but why is the birth of a baby two millennia ago relevant today? The answer to that question depends on the answer to another question. Who is Jesus? People have various ideas of who Jesus is. Some say He is God. Others say He was just a man who was a good moral teacher. But, if Jesus is not God, He could not have been a good moral teacher. Let me explain why.

There is no doubt that Jesus was born a human being. The shepherds who saw Him in the stable and the people who watched Him grow up in His hometown of Nazareth could verify that. He grew to be a rabbi, a teacher, and He had many followers. His select group of disciples who talked with Him and ate with Him and lived with Him knew that He was a man. But His teaching was like no other man. He taught with the authority of God. He claimed to be God. He claimed to forgive sins, which only God can do.

Thus, if that baby born in Bethlehem were merely a human being who grew to be a man and said the things He said, He would not be a good moral teacher. He claimed to teach the truth, and He even claimed to be the truth. He claimed to be God! If He were not God, He would be a liar or a madman, but He would not a good moral teacher.

So who is Jesus? What do we celebrate at Christmas? We remember that God took on flesh as a baby who grew to be a man. He lived a sinless life because He is God. But He did not come merely to show us how to live a sinless life. He knew that we could not. He came to redeem us—to be a sacrifice for our sins.

When Jesus was on Earth, He was truly man and truly God. He could be the sacrifice for sins only because He was God. Although Jesus was sinless, He was not a third-party victim selected to bear our punishment. It would be immoral to punish an innocent man for the sins of all the guilty people. He was also the divine lawgiver and judge, so He could choose to suffer the penalty of His own law and bear the sins of all people. One man could only bear the punishment for His own sins. God can bear the punishment for all.

So who is Jesus? On that night near Bethlehem, the angel did not merely announce the birth of a baby boy. The angel said, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 CSB). Have you allowed Him to be your Savior?

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Seeker of Truth or Thomas the Doubter

Seeker of Truth or Thomas the Doubter

People often refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” That label is inaccurate and unfair. Identifying the apostle as Thomas the doubter fails to understand his real nature. When Jesus’ life was in danger, it was Thomas who said, “Let us go die with Him” (John 11: 16). At that time, Thomas was the one full of commitment who was willing to die for his convictions about Jesus. One has to wonder why it was not Peter who was labeled as “the doubter” due to his triple denial of Christ. What we can learn from Thomas is how doubt can help a person to become a seeker of truth.

Doubt has to be confronted. When the other disciples came to Thomas with the outrageous claim that they had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, what do you think his reaction should have been? What would your response be? Many false Christs had risen in the world even in that day. There was good reason to question the claims. As a matter of fact, the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were the women in Luke 24, and no one even among the apostles believed them.

The kind of doubt that Thomas had was a healthy skepticism. He did not back off, soft soap, or withdraw from the situation, but he openly and honestly expressed his doubt. Most people in today’s world do not explore their doubts. When they have doubts about God, Christ, the Church, or some doctrinal issue, they tend to bury their concerns. The load of unaddressed doubt can create physical illness, and it can kill us spiritually. Thomas the doubter shared his doubt with his fellow disciples and did not withdraw but became a seeker of truth.

In today’ s world, people who have doubts usually leave the Church. Keeping quiet and walking away seems like the easy way out, but it leads to stress, ignorance, isolation, and a failure to grow and mature in the faith. Thomas could have walked away. Instead, the Bible tells us that a week later, when the disciples were together, “Thomas was with them” (John 20:26). He continued to study, grow, and learn and did not discard the lessons and learning of the past.

Thomas maintained his relationships with his fellow disciples and was willing to respond to the evidence presented to him. I have often wondered if Thomas actually put his finger into the nail prints and the wound in Jesus’ side. Or was the fact that his search for evidence had been responded to enough to motivate him to say, “My Lord and my God!” Those words are not just an acceptance of evidence. They are a realization that the evidence he was seeing was going to change his life. The Bible does not tell us what happened to Thomas, but secular history says he went to India and died there teaching people in that area of the world about Jesus.

We do not know all that took place between the time that Thomas shared his doubts with his fellow disciples, and when Jesus appeared to him. It is difficult not to believe that the others tried to convince him. I think God gave us the story of Thomas the doubter and seeker of truth to let us know that doubt is a normal part of maturing as a Christian.

Unlike Thomas, we have multiple ways of resolving our doubts. Today we have evidence from history, science, scripture, and thousands of years of testimony. The purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? ministry is to assist any seeker of truth in resolving their doubts. This website, as well as DoesGodExist.org and DoesGodExist.tv, are sources of help if you are a seeker of truth. We do not have all the answers, but sharing with others and learning from them goes a long way toward building dynamic faith.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Blaming Evil on Demon Possession

Blaming Evil on Demon PossessionCBS television has a new series titled “Evil.” The show deals with blaming evil on demon possession. In the first episode, a person tried to avoid responsibility for a crime by claiming to be demon-possessed. The story-line involves a psychologist trying to determine whether crimes were committed due to demon possession or psychological problems.

We need to say again that demon possession does not happen in the modern world. As we posted before, the priest who was the adviser in the making of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” explained his view of demon possession. He said that the demon-possessed “victim has had their freedom of choice taken away. The victim is no longer responsible for their actions.” That assertion is illogical and against all the evidence, and it is not what the Bible teaches. In both today’s discussion and tomorrow’s, we want to look at this subject.

First of all, let us point out that freedom of choice is a primary teaching of the Bible. God has always allowed humans to decide whether they are going to serve Him or serve Satan. There is a fundamental reason for this. Love cannot exist if there is no choice. That is true of all kinds of love. If there is sexual “love” without choice, we call it rape, and it has nothing to do with love. It is the exploitation and abuse of another human being. For someone to love you with any kind of love, there has to be the choice NOT to love you. God has always allowed humans to reject Him, and that is still true today.

When God came to Earth (John 1:14) in the form of Jesus Christ, there had to be a way for humans to reject Him. Christ performed miracles and gave people powerful tools for understanding. So that humans still had a choice, God allowed Satan to have extended power. In the Old Testament, there was no demon possession. The Hebrew word for demon (shaidim) is found twice–once in Deuteronomy 32:17 and once in Psalms 106:37. Both of those cases had to do with idol worship, not demon possession. Demons were a tool of Satan to provide a choice for humans. Freedom of choice was not taken away.

The spiritual battle continues, but Satan’s power is limited because Jesus is not here in the flesh, but the Holy Spirit is present in God’s people. Ephesians 6:12 spells this out, and Ephesians 3:10 talks about God’s plan to mount a war against Satan through the Church.

We cannot excuse our actions by blaming evil on demon possession. So how do we know that demon possession doesn’t happen today? We will consider that question tomorrow.
— John N. Clayton © 2019