Christian Concept of Hope

Christian Concept of Hope

We read in 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now abides faith, hope, love, these three. But the greatest of these is love.” How can hope be listed as a foundation of being a Christian? The answer is that the Christian concept of hope does not mean “wish.”

The lexicon tells me that the word translated hope literally means to expect, to look for, to await. It is not to wish for something to happen. In Romans 4:16-22, Paul speaks of Abraham being the father of many nations, and he says Abraham “believed in hope”? Does that mean Abraham hoped that God did not lie to him about his future? That is absurd. Verse 19 tells us that Abraham believed and was not weak in faith. Abraham’s hope was looking for what was about to happen.

The Christian concept of hope does not depend on what we possess, what we can do for ourselves, nor what any other human may do for us. We don’t hope (wish) that we will go to heaven. We look forward to it. Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and see if you think Paul expresses the WISH that heaven awaits him. He looked forward to heaven.

Over and over, we see this Christian concept of hope in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 1:10, Paul wrote, “On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.” He did not say we wish He could or would. Colossians 1:27 speaks of the “hope of glory.” Not that we wish it was, but that we are waiting for it. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul refers to Christians and repeats the message of our key passage in 1 Corinthians 13:13. He wrote, “Let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for the helmet the HOPE of salvation.” Notice that this is a covering for the head, the most sensitive part of our bodies. Notice it is not the “wish of salvation.” It is “the hope of salvation.” It is the expectancy, the things we are waiting for.

In Hebrews 6:17-20, we see this stated again. Read the passage. Notice that there are two unchangeable things. One is that God cannot lie. The other is that our HOPE is an anchor for us. That is our promise of salvation. In Romans 15:13, we see God referred to as the “God of HOPE.” The God of promise. The God we can look forward to. Not the God of “maybe” or “possibly” or “could be.” Things like the current pandemic can be approached fearlessly by Christians because we have the assurance that something better is coming – guaranteed!!

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Decline in Practicing Christians in America

Decline in Practicing Christians in America

The Barna Research Group is a research agency that has been doing statistical analysis of religion since 1984. Their studies are widely recognized as academically valid. One useful part of Barna’s work is that they repeat studies to identify trends. Research this year indicates a decline in practicing Christians in America.

Barna defines a practicing Christian as: “Someone who identifies as a Christian, agrees strongly that faith is very important in their life, and has attended church within the past month.” In the year 2000, 45% of Americans surveyed identified themselves as Christians using that criterion. In February of 2020, that percentage had dropped to 25%. This research was based on interviews with 96,171 adults.

When you think about the numbers associated with the Barna definition, it is evident that the word “practicing” is the weasel word. Many people who claim to be Christians have not made a practice of attending Church services. At the same time, they would probably be upset to be called “non-practicing Christians.” However, the truth is that Barna used the same set of questions in 2000 and 2020. There can be no doubt that there has been a sharp decline in practicing Christians in America.

It may be that the coronavirus pandemic will pull some of us away from making a god out of our material possessions. But unless we replace our zeal for things with enthusiasm for the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will continue to be poorly equipped either for this life or for eternity.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can find previous posts about Barna Group research HERE and HERE.

Positive Results from a Quarantined Easter

Positive Results from a Quarantined Easter

Today is a historic Resurrection Sunday when church congregations in the United States and much of the world are unable to assemble in one place. We pray that we will be able to get back together soon and that this will never happen again. However, there may be some positive results from a quarantined Easter.

In some countries, Christians meet in fear for their lives and physical well-being, not because of a virus, but because of the government. In the United States, we have never experienced that kind of persecution. Perhaps the present experience will give us a little more appreciation for the freedom we have. In the early days of the Church, persecution was common. Despite that, the Church grew.

Perhaps one of the positive results from a quarantined Easter is that we will think less about the commercialism of the day and concentrate on the real meaning. Instead of Easter trappings, we can spend more time contemplating Christ’s resurrection and what it means. Instead of Easter Sunday, we can think of it as Resurrection Sunday.

We can be thankful for modern electronic communication that allows us to stay in contact with fellow Christians as well as family and friends. Thanks to the internet, many churches are continuing their services while “social distancing.” In doing so, they are reaching and sharing the gospel with people who would never come to their building. Perhaps this will encourage us to use the internet to spread the gospel in more effective ways than ever. That could be another one of the positive results from a quarantined Easter.

Another positive result might be that it will help us appreciate the value of fellowship with other Christians. The Church not being able to meet in person can help us realize what a blessing it is to worship with our brothers and sisters. I hope that when we can get back together, we will appreciate the fellowship of other Christians as never before. Perhaps when this problem is over, we will find a new enthusiasm for “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

The truth is that Resurrection Sunday should not be a once-a-year event. Each week is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. We encourage you to read our previous posts titled “Christ’s Resurrection Celebration” and “The Event that Changed the World.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Doormaker Ants and Sealed Doorways

Doormaker Ants and Sealed Doorways

Ant behavior is a remarkable teacher. It teaches us God’s wisdom shown in all of His creatures, even down to the smallest and weakest. We see that wisdom in doormaker ants and sealed doorways.

The Bible refers to ants as models that humans would do well to imitate. In Proverbs 6:6-8 and 30:25, we read, “Go to the ant, consider its ways and be wise. It has no commander. No overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest… Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer.”

We have mentioned before that various kinds of ants are programmed genetically to do things that they don’t think out but which show thinking and care. The species Stenamma alas is another example of a behavior that speaks of God’s design. These doormaker ants and sealed doorways show wisdom of design.

These ants build their colony so that the entrance is surrounded by hard material. The entrance is circular, and one ant is posted there with a nearby pebble that has been carefully chosen to fit the entrance exactly. The pebble is the same color and texture as the surroundings. When an enemy approaches, the guard ant rolls the pebble into the opening. The fit is so tight that enemies cannot dislodge it even if they find the opening. You can see why the scientists who study these ants call them doormaker ants.

This reminds us of the tombs of the Egyptian kings and people of Jesus day who made or selected large stones to carefully fit the entrance to their places of burial. Jesus was buried in such a tomb. Rolling away the stone from the entrance to the tomb of Jesus was not a simple task. (See Matthew 28:2.) It involved a violent earthquake and an angel. Most importantly, it involved the power of God over death. Unlike doormaker ants and sealed doorways, the stone was not moved to let Jesus out but to let others in to see that his body was gone.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Information about doormaker ants in Skeptic Magazine, Volume 25 # 1 2020 page 8.

Real Death Rate is One Per Person

Real Death Rate is One Per Person

As the world and our country battle the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, we see daily statistics on the death rate. Whatever the death rate from COVID-19, as someone has said, the real death rate is one per person.

Death is something we generally don’t like to talk about or even think about. Some people seem to believe that if they don’t think about it, they won’t die. That hasn’t worked for anyone so far. Failing to think about death leaves us unprepared when it happens. In his book Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection, Stephen T. Davis wrote that “Human beings are the only animals who know that they must die, and thus the only animals who try to hide from themselves the fact that they must die.”

One of the things that separates us from other animals is our reasoning power. Our reason tells us that it is irrational to believe that impersonal and nonrational forces could have produced us human creatures who are both personal and rational. In my opinion, that is one of the strongest evidences for a personal and rational Creator God.

Now, suppose that you were the Creator of the universe, and your crowning creative achievement rebelled against you. Would you be willing to take on the form of those rebellious creatures to redeem them? Would you be willing to leave your eternal abode to enter the world of those disobedient and ungrateful beings to show them how to live? Would you be ready to die for them, even though they still didn’t catch on and follow your instructions? Is it possible that the Creator could have that much love?

It is more than just possible. It happened. The Creator did it. He died for us—for you and me! But that isn’t the end of the story. He conquered death! Yes, you can say that the real death rate is one per person in this life. But just wait for what God has in store for those who love him! (Read 1 Corinthians 2:9.)

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Christ’s Transfiguration and Its Significance

Mount Tabor, traditional site of Christ's Transfiguration
View of Mt. Tabor, the traditional site of the Transfiguration.

Perhaps Christ’s transfiguration was the most significant biblical event other than the creation and Christ’s resurrection. It is described in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Three men meet together on a mountain–Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

The Law and the Prophets were the basis of Judaism. Exodus 24:13-18 tells us that Moses went up on Mount Sinai and received the Law. Deuteronomy 34:6 indicates that he had no known grave. Elijah, the prophet, went up Mount Horeb (Sinai) according to 1 Kings 19:8, where God spoke to him. Like Moses, Elijah had no grave (2 Kings 2:11).

God told the people through the prophet Malachi that the Law and the prophets would lead to Christ (Malachi 4:4-6). In Luke 9:34-35 we read of Christ’s transfiguration and the cloud which symbolized the covering of divine presence. God spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” The message is clear. Don’t let the Law or the prophets guide you–follow Jesus.

To this day, people want to snip out various parts of the Law or the prophets and use them in their religious practices. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that He fulfilled the Law and the prophets. Jesus summed up the Law and the prophets in Matthew 7:12 with what we often call the “Golden Rule.” Colossians 2:6-23 states that Jesus blotted out the written code with its regulations by nailing to the cross (verse 14).

Christ’s transfiguration leads us to real freedom. Just as Moses led Israel out of slavery to Egypt, Jesus leads all of us to real freedom from sin. Romans 6:4-23 speaks of Christians having a new life, not a legalistic political system. The Law was impossible to keep perfectly because of human weakness. Romans describes the new life we are called to. We can be completely and totally free by God’s grace and the power of love.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Viral Diseases and Christians

Coronavirus- Viral Diseases and Christians

Listening to the media, you might conclude that we have a new threat to our survival in the COVID-19 virus, but that is not the case. Viral diseases have been around from the earliest days of human existence. Recorded history tells us that in 430 BC, a virus took root in Athens and killed two-thirds of the city’s population. Seventy-five million people died from the Black Death in the 14th century. One hundred million people died from the Spanish flu of 1918, and 500 million people were infected. In modern times entire native populations have been wiped out by virus infections. We have all heard of HIV, MERS, SARS, Ebola, H5N1, Nipah, and Zika virus epidemics and their massive numbers of victims.

Scientists studying each of these diseases have determined that they came to humans from animals. HIV originated in chimpanzees. MERS came from camels. SARS originated from bats and civet cats. We can trace COVID-19 to bats and soldierfish. The massive concern about the current coronavirus is that there are far more humans to contract and spread the virus than at any time in the past. Also, we are more concentrated in cities, are more mobile, and have close interaction regularly with animals. In the past 50 years, more than 300 pathogens have emerged. With the use of more animals as pets and as food, there is an increase in the diseases they bring to humans.

From a historical standpoint, the biblical injunctions about hygiene and animal husbandry avoided much of the viral disease problem. The identification of clean and unclean animals reduced human interaction with animals that carry disease. The elaborate rituals of washing and handling animals used as food not only had an aesthetic appeal but reduced the opportunities for disease transmission. The acts of quarantine for anyone showing symptoms eliminated the spreading of disease from one person to another. Pandemics in an isolated farming population was not likely.

As the human population increased, and cities became population centers, the incidence rate of viral diseases increased. Advancing science and technology gave brought the ability to control some diseases. Selfishness, greed, carelessness, and poor hygiene provide easy ways for viruses to spread. Instead of following God’s rules for cleanliness and the preparation of food, humans have employed destructive methods. This is especially true in cultures that have no connection to God’s instructions. It is no accident that the coronavirus for COVID-19 originated in China and in a food market there where food handling and animal managing is limited. It is also no accident that many of the viruses that have decimated human populations were spread because of sexual practices that ignore God’s instructions for sexual relationships.

This virus is not a tool of punishment forged by God. There are good viruses and harmful viruses. Using the intelligence God gave us and following His commands, we can eventually eliminate the effects of the bad ones. Meanwhile, Christians can help those who are infected. We can also work to improve the lifestyles of our friends and neighbors to reduce the spread of viral diseases.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from The Week, March 6, 2020, page 11.

Premillennial Dispensational Eschatology and Ecology

Premillennial Dispensational Eschatology and Ecology

Misguided religious understandings can frequently lead to clashes with scientific evidence. We have pointed out many times the biblical and scientific problems with premillennial dispensational eschatology (end-times theories). Dr. Al Truesdale has written an article in the ASA Journal titled “Last Things First: The Impact of Eschatology on Ecology.” (See link below.) In the article, he points out that if you maintain that God will suddenly take believers to heaven before the dramatic destruction of Earth, there is no need to be concerned about the environment.

Second Peter 3:10-11 predicts the end of planet Earth. The passage describes the destruction of Earth when the elements will be destroyed by fire. If this planet will be burned to nothing, why take care of it? Some suggest that if the planet is to be destroyed in the relatively near future, there is no need to be concerned about climate change. Why sacrifice to preserve what will be destroyed anyway?

We all know that there are passages in the Bible that talk about things being everlasting. The word translated “everlasting” in passages like Isaiah 24:5 and Jeremiah 32:40 is the Hebrew word “olam” meaning “age-lasting.” That does not intend to suggest an eternal time-frame. No Hebrew word affirms an eternal duration to anything except God. The Bible has numerous references to the end of the age.

In addition to problems with the destruction of the cosmos, premillennial dispensational eschatology attempts to make God’s Kingdom and the return of Christ into a political event of a physical kingdom. The new heaven and the new Earth of Revelation 21 and 22 are spiritual in nature. First Corinthians 15:50-57 makes it clear that it is not a physical, political war that Jesus is coming to wage. His purpose is to return us to a relationship with God that is spiritual.

God told the man to “take care of the garden, dress and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), and the Bible gives no time-frame for when the cosmos will be dissolved. Taking God’s word “literally” means caring for the Earth and all God has given us. We cannot justify exploiting and destroying planet Earth based on the premillennial dispensational eschatology theories of human denominations.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Dr. Truesdale’s article is in the American Scientific Affiliation Journal, Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, March 2020, pages 3-14. Read it online HERE.

What Is Faith?

What Is Faith?

Recently an atheist challenged me on the notion of faith. His definition was, “Faith is jumping to a conclusion when you don’t know the answer.” He went on to say that faith is not a virtue. He was following a version of the “god of gaps” concept, which says that God is what you invent when you can’t explain something. It views faith as a negative, blind response that stifles the individual and stops the thinking process cold. Truly, then, what is faith?

The definition of faith in the Bible is ambiguous. Two Greek words are translated “faith.” One is “elpis” used in passages like Hebrews 10:23. The other is “pistis” used in passages like Hebrews 11:1. The lexicon tells us that “elpis” refers to hope. If you look at Hebrews 10:23, you can see that the use is not blind, but general. “Pistis” refers to steadiness or steadfastness, but it is not blind.

Much of modern science is based on faith. The “big bang theory” is a faith concept. It is based on a great deal of evidence, but it cannot be tested or falsified in any way. We might be more inclined to call it a conclusion than a faith. Evolution is based on several acts of faith. One of those is uniformitarianism, which says that no process has operated in the past that is not operational today. Natural selection (survival of the fittest) is a faith concept. We repeatedly find situations where the fittest don’t survive, so we have to modify the concept. Evidence becomes a factor here. Can we find a cause for the fit not surviving?

Quantum mechanics started as a faith. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” As scientific research progressed, scientists saw evidence that led them to believe (have faith) that what they observed was being caused by things that they couldn’t see or detect at the time. What is faith if it is not built gradually on evidence?

Hebrews 11 describes in detail what it means to have faith in God and act on His instructions. Various cases are highlighted to illustrate people who acted by faith without a practical understanding of why they were doing what they were doing. Did they do it blindly? Abraham, for example, is one of those whom the Hebrew writer tells us functioned by faith. Did Abraham act blindly? As you read the history of the life of Abraham, you see that he had many experiences that built his faith. This history is reviewed in Hebrews 11:8-19. Reading his story in Genesis, you see Abraham having experience after experience, which gave him a steadfast faith to sustain him.

What is faith to us? Why is our faith different? The answer to that is evidence. Our experiences in life, our education, our study, our failures, our successes, and what we have seen, can all build our faith in God, or destroy it. Faith is never blind. Our faith is either something that works, builds us up, and blesses us, or leads us to despair and destructive actions. Hebrews 11 describes what faith can accomplish. Verses 33-40 tell us that through faith, people have “subdued kingdoms, brought righteousness, obtained promises … God having provided a better thing for us.”

This ministry exists to build up faith and give all of us confidence that ultimately we will have something better. That is our most enduring faith, and massive amounts of evidence support it.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Flood Geology and John C. Whitcomb

Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon

The co-author of The Genesis Flood, John C. Whitcomb Jr., passed away on February 4, 2020. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris wrote the book advocating Flood Geology and supporting Young Earth Creationism.

Morris was an engineer, and Whitcomb was a theologian. John C. Whitcomb was long associated with Grace Theological Seminary, where he received his degree and taught until 1990. Grace is located in Winona Lake, Indiana, and associated with the Grace Brethren Church, which has Anabaptist and Calvinist roots.

Whitcomb and Morris used the so-called Flood Geology to fit scientific data into their religious beliefs. Ronald Numbers, the author of the book The Creationists, says, “By showing how the deluge of Noah compressed earth history into no more than 10,000 years, Whitcomb and Morris at one stroke eliminated the need for ‘biblical gymnastics’ and deprived evolutionists of the time required for the natural origin of species.”

The problem with their approach was that neither of them was trained in geology. Many of those reading The Genesis Flood were also not trained in geology and had grown up in a religious tradition that demanded a young earth. Dispensationalists hailed the book as gospel, and end times teachers and preachers used it extensively as a source of information. The result was the wide acceptance of Flood Geology as the book became a best-seller.

We are dealing with a different population in the 21st century. Young people today have had academic training in geology and earth science. National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Scientific American have popularized modern understanding of the facts of astronomy and geology. Most of us know that the cosmos is larger than 6,000 light-years, indicating that the light from distant stars has been traveling for far longer than 6,000 years. In places such as the Grand Canyon, we can see rock layers that contain fossils that were clearly not produced by a flood. Anyone with basic geology knows the difference between a clastic sedimentary rock and a chemically precipitated rock. That understanding tells us that a flood did not produce structures like the Grand Canyon since they are mostly made up of rocks that are never associated with a flood.

Flood Geology, which Whitcomb and Morris wrote about in 1961, will not stand up in 2020. Students of the Bible today know that the Genesis account is not dated or timed. They know that attempts to use the Bible as a clock of history are not only bad theology but violate the intent of the writers. For more on this discussion, please read “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word,” which is available free at THIS LINK.

We need to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris spoke where the Bible is silent. Today many of those who believe that their message accurately presents what the Bible teaches are leaving the Christian faith and looking for more plausible explanations. The “Does God Exist” ministry is dedicated to showing people that God does exist, that He is the Creator, and that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. We do not defend the claims of those who have twisted God’s Word to fit their human theological beliefs.

— John N. Clayton © 2020