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

Father’s Day 2021 and Real Fathers

Father’s Day 2021 and Real Fathers

Many related consequences result from the drift of western culture away from faith in God and away from biblical teaching. One of the significant changes is in the role of fathers. Several years ago, I had this vividly pointed out when a male student in my class was bragging about the number of children he had fathered. He had five women pregnant at the same time, and he called himself a “stud father.” I told him he could make whatever claim he wanted to about being a stud, but he could make no claim to be a father. Father’s Day 2021 should remind us of the essential role of real fathers.

In my 41 years of teaching, it was indeed a rare thing to have a father show up for a PTA meeting or a parent conference. When I was a student in elementary and high school, it was my father who was called in to participate in my discipline. I don’t recall my mother having a role in correcting my frequent bad behavior.

The New Testament concept of fathers is unique. Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 give fathers instructions about managing the education and conduct of their children. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells what we commonly call the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” However, the star of the story is not the son but the father. Christ’s story tells of a father who anguishes over the decisions his son has made. He watches anxiously for his son to abandon his foolishness and return to the values of the father’s home. With grace, he forgives the son for his bad behavior. The child’s mother is not in the story, and we know that the forgiving father represents God.

A child who grows up without the example, teaching, discipline, and love of a father is vulnerable to many problems. This is true behaviorally and sexually, and we see the consequences of weak father images in our world today. Some children do well despite not having a strong father image, but in those cases, there is often a grandfather or other male who provides the balance every child needs. In the case of Timothy in the New Testament, Paul refers to him as “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).

Being a father has nothing to do with impregnating a woman. Being a father to a child means assuming massive responsibility, devoting vast amounts of time, and striving to be the example the child needs to see. The child also needs to hear “I love you” from the same man who shows the child what is really important in life. In 1972, the United States established a day set aside as “Father’s Day.” On this Father’s Day 2021, our nation is suffering greatly because so few men have the strength, courage, and wisdom to be real fathers.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Alcohol and Marijuana Data

Alcohol and Marijuana Data

We see articles in the media about the benefits of using alcohol and marijuana, but the actual data does not support those claims. Here in Michigan, marijuana was approved for recreational use in January of 2020. The state has just released data for OWI (Operating While Impaired) cases since that time. The state records show a 73% increase in “cannabinoid-involved” crashes in 2020.

Another area of concern is the increased use of alcohol. There have been reports that drinking in moderation is beneficial to the body. A study by researchers from the University of Oxford seems to dispute that. The study of 25,000 people who reported alcohol intake shows disturbing effects of any amount of alcohol. The study focused on the effect of drinking on gray matter in the brain, involving regions that process information. The study showed that the more people drank, the lower their volume of gray matter. Gray matter decreases with age and dementia but adding the effect of alcohol speeds up the process.

The conclusion of the Oxford research was there is “no safe level of drinking.” The researchers say that damage to the brain is greater than damage from having a high BMI or smoking. Of course, there are other concerns, such as the effect on the heart and lungs, but drinking is a significant factor as far as brain damage is concerned.

Distilled alcohol and marijuana are recreational drugs that were unknown in the time of the Old Testament. Distillation has given alcohol greater potency, and the production of new sources of THC for recreational use is a more modern production of drugs used to escape the problems of life.

God’s solutions to human struggles have never involved anything destructive to humans. As our culture has become more atheistic, people have looked for substitutes for spiritual help and support. The use of alcohol and marijuana has resulted in an increase in mental problems of all kinds.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: USA Today Network for 6/7/21 and The Week for June 11, 2021 page 21.

Assistance in Dying is a Difficult Issue

Assistance in Dying is a Difficult Issue

We have had several personal experiences with a person approaching death that brought up the issue of assistance in dying. One of the cases in our family involved a loved one dying in an Asian country. The belief in that country was that life is all there is, so a person should be kept alive at all costs, no matter what. Our loved one was in enormous pain and begging to die, but his Asian wife refused to allow him to receive any drug that might shorten his life. Drugs such as morphine can relieve pain, but they can also shorten life, so she did not allow those drugs.

There is also a medical treatment called palliative sedation, which renders a person unconscious until they die. In the United States, hospice offers palliative care but does not hasten death. Individuals can use VSED, which is “voluntary stopping of eating and drinking.” The decision is difficult, and when the person loses consciousness, family members can override it.

Ten states and the District of Columbia now allow medical assistance in dying. Doctors in those states can prescribe a lethal dose of a drug if requested by the patient or their power of attorney. The states are Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and New Mexico.

Several of our church friends have faced the issue of assistance in dying. Our current issue is our son Tim who is mentally incapable of deciding for himself and is in a pathetic condition. COVID-19 has activated his cerebral palsy complications and especially his muscular dystrophy, so he is bedfast and barely able to communicate. He is making no visible progress, and because of blindness, he has very little quality of life. I read to him daily over the phone. He can only eat pureed food because he can’t chew and swallow hard foods. He is cut off from friends or family because it is virtually impossible to understand his speech.

What do you do in a case like my son Tim? He is a physically strong person, so he may remain in this state for a very long time. Having a doctor inject him with a lethal dose of drugs might seem to be the merciful thing to do, but that is pure euthanasia and assumes he will never make any recovery. Who has that kind of knowledge?

We share this with you to underline the issue of assistance in dying. As our population ages and as medical care advances, this issue will only get more complex. Join us in praying that God will lead us to know how to deal with this new problem facing humanity, which is especially difficult for believers in God.

John N. Clayton © 2021

For two different views on the assistance in dying issue, you can turn to the websites of Compassion and Choices and the National Right to Life Committee.

Planned Parenthood Data for 2020

Planned Parenthood Data for 2020

We saw the Planned Parenthood data for 2020, and it disturbs us. The organization performed 354,871 abortions, which is 9,199 more than the previous year. The government gave $618.1 million of federal tax money to Planned Parenthood in 2020. That does not include $80 million from the Cares Act, which was to help small businesses because of the pandemic. Other services which Planned Parenthood provides, including adoption, prenatal care, and help with miscarriages, declined by 40%.

Planned Parenthood also gave presentations in public schools, and in some cases, parents were not notified about the content. Because of the political situation in the United States, abortion pills may be made available through the mail.

As a Christian who works with various child-care organizations, I know of many couples in our area who want to adopt a child. As has always been true, there is a long wait time to get a child. Adopting requires laborious home studies and interviews. As the parent of three adopted children, I know the joy of having a child when you are biologically unable to conceive.

The Planned Parenthood data for 2020 is disturbing. It’s easy to oversimplify this issue, but the notion that abortion is a solution to birth control is medical nonsense. The psychological problems resulting from abortion are huge because aborting a child is infanticide. Americans are critical of other cultures that don’t protect children or even discard unwanted children, and yet our culture is doing the same thing. If you ever watch a video of an abortion, you will see that it is indeed the killing of an infant and not the removal of a blob of flesh that is simply part of the mother.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from the American Center for Law and Justice

My Brother Jim and Alcohol

My Brother Jim and Alcohol

We have frequently pointed out that a massive percentage of the pain and death people experience is directly related to their choices in life. If you don’t believe in God, what do you use for support when you hit the usual frustrations in life? My brother Jim bought into my parent’s atheistic beliefs. For much of his life, he lived as an atheist.

When my youngest brother grew frustrated with the everyday struggles of life, alcohol became his tool for coping. That caused him to be unable to help others or find meaningful companionship. When he struggled with his normal sexual drives, he did not believe that marriage was the only way those feelings could be satisfied. My brother’s marriage failed because of his alcohol use, and it also seriously affected his relationship with his two sons.

My brother Jim was fired from his first teaching job because his alcohol use affected how he dealt with his students. One of his sons and I pleaded with him to realize what alcohol was doing to him, and gradually he began to move away from his addiction. He eventually got involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, started studying the Bible, and carried on extensive conversations with me about the existence of God.

I finally convinced my brother Jim to go with me and a group of 50 Christians as we toured the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and the Canyonlands. In addition to showing evidence that the Bible accurately describes Earth’s history as revealed in these places, we all engaged in singing hymns, praying for one another, and studying God’s Word. At the end of the trip, my brother admitted that he could not be an atheist anymore and that he saw the validity of Christianity.

What do people in our culture do to relieve the pains that come in life? The use of drugs, including alcohol, has skyrocketed in my lifetime. Developing a relationship with God and working with those of like faith to establish a realistic approach to failure and frustration is not on the radar for much of our culture.

As people reject God, ridiculing the Bible,
and questioning its relevance to the struggles of life, the problems they experience have grown. The ultimate result of this is a massive increase in health issues related to drug use and an enormous rise in legal problems, including prison terms. More than half of the prisoners studying our correspondence courses are in prison because they abused drugs.

Unfortunately, the use of alcohol and the destructive nature of my brother’s early atheistic beliefs had consequences on his relationships and health. He had marginal relationships with family, had few friends, and never found the kind of joy that Christians have when they follow God’s Word. In addition, his health had been compromised by his use of alcohol. On May 28, he died from all the damage alcohol had done in the past. Living the Christian way of life is essential to give the hope of eternal life and to give us the very best things that this life can bring. My brother Jim is a case history that demonstrates that fact in vivid, realistic terms.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood

Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood

One hundred years ago, on June 1, 1921, a mob of white people engaged in one of the worst acts of terrorism in United States history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, ten thousand black Americans were left homeless, and as many as 300 were killed. Not only did the white mob attack and destroy black-owned businesses and churches, but they set fires to complete the destruction. Some even made firebombs out of turpentine-filled bottles and dropped them from airplanes. Today we remember the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood.

I am amazed that I never heard of the Tulsa Massacre in all my years of formal education until recently. That is even though I grew up as the only white kid in my elementary school and had a father who taught in an all-black college in Talladega, Alabama. It is also despite the fact that I saw and experienced racial hatred and prejudice in person after I left Talladega and moved to Illinois. It has only been since the murder of George Floyd that I learned of this terrible blot on America.

As a Christian, I look for explanations of how such a thing could happen in a Christian nation. As an educator, I have to search for lessons to draw from this horrible tragedy. Here are some lessons I see from the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood:

1-Mob violence is irrational. It was mob violence that killed Jesus Christ. How could people have seen the miracles of Christ and comprehended the practical applications of His teachings, and still nail Him to a cross? When a “mob” of atheists attended my lectureships over the years, I have experienced violence. I learned that you can’t get a mob of people to think and reason logically when they are shaking their fists in rage.

2-Ignorance produces irrational violence. Those who attacked Greenwood and started shooting people and setting fire to their homes, businesses, and churches had been convinced that blacks were less than human. If you can write off people who threaten your ego as less evolved than you, killing them is no worst than shooting an animal. The teachings of Jesus are very clear that love and openness are crucial parts of the Christian system. 

3-Another facet of ignorance is not taking the Bible literally. It will lead people who claim to be religious to do things that contradict the Bible. I would assume that people in Oklahoma in 1921 would have claimed to be Christians, but they did not apply the message of Matthew 5-7. Emotional contagion is a term sociologists use to describe people who allow themselves to do something that violates common sense, and it was a major part of the Greenwood massacre.

4-History books are sanitized to promote a worldview desired by the ones who publish the books. I took U.S. History classes in high school and college. How can I be over 80 years old before I knew about the Greenwood massacre? I find that atheist books do not record the Liberal, Missouri, experiment in which a town was established that did not allow churches. The reason is that it was a failure, but atheists, like Christians, do not want to admit their failures.

5-Humans fail to learn from the history of failures. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” What has been the result of men and women following religious systems outside of Christianity? Has Hinduism produced a higher standard of living? Has Islam elevated the status of women? 

Have we learned anything from the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood? Do we believe that “black lives matter,” which those who attacked Greenwood in 1921 did not? Can atheism stamp out Christianity, knowing that it promotes equal rights for all humans and espouses a moral code that values all life? This ministry promotes evidence, but ignoring evidence leads to a repeat of history. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Memorial Day 2021 and What It Means

Memorial Day 2021 and What It Means

When I was a young man, Memorial Day was a big deal. There were parades, speeches, special services at many churches, and a town memorial. We were constantly reminded of the men and women who died to make it possible for us to live in freedom in the United States. In those days, in Bloomington, Indiana, where I grew up, many military veteran’s groups marched in the parade, and all the high school bands participated. After serving in the military, I found that Memorial Day had changed. It had become “the first weekend of summer.” There were no parades, and only a few veteran groups paid attention to the original purpose. What will Memorial Day 2021 be like?

Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in 1868, three years after the civil war ended.
At Arlington National Cemetery. Flowers were put on all graves, and 5,000 people attended the ceremony. General Logan, who directed the ceremony, said, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Since that time, over 1.2 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a National Holiday by Congress. In 2000, Congress enacted The National Moment of Remembrance Act (P.L.106-579). Its charter says, “To encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country … by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.”

The National Moment of Remembrance Act suggests that at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day, “Everyone is to pause for a moment of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation … It is a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.” We are in no way minimalizing the struggles for freedom and racial equity in America today, but even with our problems, how can we look at other nations and not be thankful for what we have?

On Memorial Day 2021, not understanding the sacrifices of the past has made us a selfish and self-serving people. Our ecological problems are because we want what is ours without thinking about the future. Our moral problems are because we have forgotten the teachings of Jesus Christ, which call us to live to serve others with integrity. In Luke 22:19-20, we read about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper as a way of helping us remember Him, what He taught, and the example He set. First Corinthians 11:28-30 warns Christians not to participate in communion without thought and understanding since “for this cause many are weak and sickly among you.”

What is true of the Church is true of America. We need a memorial to remind us of the important things. On Memorial Day 2021, let us not be so focused on our own agendas that we forget the past and what our predecessors have done to allow us to have what we enjoy today.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Problem of Pornography and the Church

Problem of Pornography and the Church

In over 50 years of working with young people both in church situations and in my teaching in public schools, I have found one of the most destructive things in our culture is also one of the least talked about. It’s the problem of pornography.

Several years ago, our ministry produced a video series with Jimmy Hinton dealing with sexual predators. This series was personal for Jimmy because his father is in prison for sexual misconduct, even though he was a preacher for many years. It is an excellent series, but we have found that congregations don’t want to talk about this subject. When we send the DVD series and the teaching materials we provide with it, we usually have to mail it to an individual or business address rather than a church. The usual statement from church leaders or ministers is, “Well, we just don’t have that problem here.”

We have done many youth rallies and camp sessions and have participated in many church workshops. Over and over, teens have come to us to find answers to their personal struggles with porn and sexual abuse but wanting to remain anonymous. In several situations, I was forced to confront a youth leader or a minister about their use of pornography. In some cases, they were involved in a relationship that was in clear violation of God’sWord.

An organization known as LifePlan has released new data on the problem of pornography. Pornography use has skyrocketed, with one website reporting four-and-a-half billion hours of porn watched in one year. Seventy percent of Christian youth leaders have had a teenager come to them for help in dealing with pornography. Let us be clear that we are not talking about “dirty movies.” We are talking about movies that display sexual intercourse and perversions, including sex with animals. The STD rate among young adults (ages 15 to 24) in the United States is over 10 million a year.

I have learned by experience that giving a lesson on sexual behavior is a quick way to be reprimanded. People don’t want to hear teaching from the pulpit about why sex outside of marriage is not only wrong and sinful and destructive mentally and spiritually. “That’s the parent’s job” is the usual response. But parents aren’t doing it, and having the Church back up a parent who IS doing it should be the best of all worlds.

Don’t assume that this is someone else’s problem. We need to have frank discussions with kids. Youth leaders need to broach this subject with teens and their parents, and they need to know how to deal with their own struggles. Read Romans 1:24-32 and discuss it in detail with the young people you have access to. Pornography is a growing business in our world, and the problem of pornography isn’t going away. Neither is Satan going to stop bringing it into the minds of those who claim to be Christians.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Who Owns Your Body When You Die?

Who Owns Your Body When You Die?

One of the medical issues of our day is the shortage of organs for transplant. Many people die while waiting for a heart, kidney, or liver, and the problem of finding organ donors is complicated. That leads to the question of who owns your body when you die?

In the United States, there are data banks for almost every organ in our bodies. If someone needs a kidney, their surgeon can go to the kidney bank and see how many people in the database have the blood type and traits to be a donor. Often kidneys are supplied by living donors, so the kidney is moved from one person to another, with both the donor and the one receiving the new organ in the same operating room. Of course, that is not possible for many organs such as hearts.

The government of Switzerland is considering a bill that would make the state the receptor of everyone when they die unless the person officially opts out. When a person dies, their organs will become a “public asset” so doctors could harvest them for transplant to alleviate the shortage. The Swiss medical establishment says that between 50 and 100 patients die in Switzerland every year because of the lack of organs for transplant.

This proposed law brings up all kinds of issues and gives a whole new dimension to the relationship between the state and the individual. Who owns your body when you die? Many times a dying person is in a coma or is pronounced brain dead. Taking their organs would certainly be a form of euthanasia. What about the person who is terminal with cancer but has organs that are unaffected by the disease?

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” That same chapter tells us that we will all be changed (verse 52). The natural body is not sacred. It is the dwelling place of God’s Spirit when we are alive (1 Corinthians 3:16), and our soul is housed in it. But Genesis tells us that our body is “dust to dust.”

The body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26). I had that vividly pointed out to me as I stood beside my wife’s bed when she died. The body was lifeless, cold, and unresponsive. My wife Phyllis was gone and what was left was the house in which her spirit had lived.

The issue here is how much control the state should have over our being. Who owns your body when you die? In Switzerland, at least, the state may be considered the master of our existence, even in death.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Week, May 21, 2021 page 16.