New Life from an Old Source

New Life from and Old Source
My daughter and I were digging up potatoes in the garden. Most of the potatoes were pretty small, but we try to be sure we do not waste anything, so all of them were going in the bucket. Suddenly I heard, “Yuk, this isn’t a potato” and she reared back to pitch a tulip bulb she had dug up into the compost pile. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we want to plant that in the flower bed, and it will be beautiful by spring.” She looked at the dirty, shabby tulip bulb and said, “How can anything as pretty as a tulip come out of something as ugly, old, and beat up as this?”

The fact of the matter is that it is a basic design of the Creator that causes all kinds of beauty and new life to come from an old source that has been buried. These beautiful flowers all were dead looking ugly bulbs at one time. It is a design of nature that allows seeds to come out of a dying and rotten vegetable.

The same thing is true on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level. A beautiful Christian life is only possible when the ugly old person of sin is buried. Those of us who have found ourselves deep in sin, fight a losing battle if we try to overcome that sin on our own. It is only when we bury that sinful, ugly old person that something beautiful can blossom and grow. That is why baptism is such a wonderful and beautiful act. Perhaps those who have grown up in the church cannot appreciate it as much as those of us who experienced total contamination by the world, but it is far from a meaningless or senseless act.

New life for old is a very good offer. Everything God tells us to do is logical, reasonable, and pregnant with meaning. Let us bury the old life of sin, come out of the waters of baptism a new person in a new relationship with God, and with a new capacity to change the world through the power God gives us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Where Is God When Natural Disaster Strikes?

Where Is God?
Many times atheists and skeptics use natural disasters as proof that God doesn’t exist. The argument is that an almighty and loving God would not allow these things to happen, so therefore God doesn’t exist. That is a faulty argument that assumes we know more than an omniscient God could know. When faced with the current disaster of flooding from Hurricane Harvey on the United States Gulf Coast, even those who believe in God often ask, “Where is God?” They want to know why the God they believe in would allow such things to happen.

So where is God? Why doesn’t He do something about the suffering? God is there, and He is doing something. God is working through His people. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). When tragedy strikes, even those who don’t have a good relationship with God begin to show a little bit of that image as they reach out to help. Those of us who are Christians should be the most willing and eager to show God’s love. We not only bear the image of God, but we also remember what Jesus did and what He said about helping “the least of these” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Rick Stedman posted an opinion essay on the Fox News website that answers the question about where is God when a natural disaster strikes. We recommend that you read it. We could not have said it better.

We also encourage you to help those in need in any way you can. If you can donate to help the flood victims in Texas and Louisiana, please do so. But make sure you are giving your support through a trustworthy organization. You want your money to go toward helping the people in need and churches and Christian relief funds are the best a doing that.

Where is God when natural disasters strike? He is working through His people who are demonstrating God’s love to those who need it the most. There is no better time for you to witness to those who need to know that God loves them.

If you have questions about why God allows pain and suffering, we invite you to visit our website www.whypain.org.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Wonder of Flowing Water

Flowing Water
There are many lessons for us in flowing water and its capacity to change everything that it touches. We live on the edge of the St. Joseph River in Michigan, and over the years we have seen the flowing water undercut huge trees and topple them into the river. We have seen banks erode and man-made things slide into the river. We have watched huge objects float down the river and get hung up on something. Then we have seen that over a period of months or even years the river works on the object and eventually carries it away. The patience and continuous action of flowing water can bring incredible change everything around it.

Human lives function in very much the same way. Many times we want to make changes in things in quick, easy ways. When we pray, we frequently want God to do things in a fast, easily recognized fashion. God usually works more like a river than like a bulldozer. God’s actions in our lives take time, and the things that we accomplish in our lives that have lasting effects usually take place over a long period. Quick fixes are not God’s methodology, and they cannot be ours in most cases. Marriage problems take time to solve. Children require patience and consistent love and direction to make the changes that will bring fruitful and happy lives. We have much to learn from flowing water.

A stagnant lake or pond can become depleted of oxygen, and things living in the water can die. In a stream or river, this never happens because as water falls and tumbles, it dissolves oxygen from the atmosphere. Stagnation is always bad for water, and it is bad for humans as well. We need to experience dynamic change in our lives. We cannot just sit still and wait for someone else or for God to solve our problems. In the Bible, God never acted to do something for people that the people could do for themselves. As the Jews made the Exodus out of Egypt, they did not see God act until they had gone as far as they could go. When the Egyptians were behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, they had exhausted all of their options. That was when God acted.

The same is true for us. God acts in our lives when we have done everything that we can do to solve our problems. We cannot sit on our hands and cry out to God and expect him to fix things with no effort on our part. Wonderful things happen when we are active in doing what God has told us to do. Sometimes people tell me that they are unhappy with their spiritual lives, have doubts, or lack faith. I ask them what they have done to allow themselves to be active and dynamic in making changes in life. Doing the work of the Lord not only brings good things to others but makes enormous changes in our own lives. Just like water, we need to be flowing with activity.

Flowing water also brings life to all that surrounds it. In our Grand Canyon trips, the river literally teams with plants and with animals that thrive on those plants. When there is a tumbling stream with waterfalls and rapids, there will be a variety of plant, animal, and bird life flourishing in the area. People are like that too. A person who withdraws and is not active can be very lonely. God instructs us to share with others, serve others, do good for others, and teach others. It is not just for their benefit, but also for ours. Like flowing water, we are bringing life to the world around us–spiritual life.

When Jesus came to the well in Samaria, he told the woman that he had water which, if one should drink it, he would never thirst again. Christ said, “But the water I give … becomes a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever with eternal life” (John 4:14, TLB). Water figured prominently in the teachings of Christ and what he calls us to do. Let us be encouraged and active in what we bring to a thirsty world.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bible Translations and the Tyranny of God

Bible Translations
One of the constant challenges made by skeptics of the existence of God is what they sometimes call the tyranny of God. The charge is that God has done things that make it impossible to believe that He is a God of love and mercy. They suggest that the biblical stories are just myths contrived by brutal and primitive societies. This misunderstanding is often caused by Bible translations.

They give examples like 2 Samuel 12:31 where David “puts people under saws, axes, and iron and passes them through brick kilns: … ” Perhaps the most frequently used case is 2 Kings 2:23-25 where Elisha has God send a bear to rip up a group of children who are kidding him because he is bald. Just reading these stories in your KJV Bible might make you think that there is some validity to the challenges, but there is a far more basic problem here.

The problem in these cases and many others is translation. In many cases, the King James is a very poor translation of the original language, and the meaning many English words has changed since 1611. You can see this by looking at modern Bible translations or by using The Word: The Bible in Twenty-six Translations. Let us take the two examples above to see what we mean.

Second Samuel 12:31 does not say that David cut up people with saws and irons and burned them in kilns. It says he forced them into doing these things as labor. The people involved cut wood, made bricks, picked rock, and the like. It may have been hard labor, but it was not wanton brutality. The story in 2 Kings 2:23 -25 is badly distorted by the KJV use of the word “child.” The actual Hebrew word in the passage refers to a young man in a militant form–sometimes referring to an army. This was a gang of teenage thugs who were not just making fun of Elisha, but denigrating God and His spokesman. The reference to baldness probably had to do with the fact that lepers shaved their heads, and as such were outcasts. This is a case of a direct challenge to God and His representative.

To get at the question of whether we understand God’s methods, purposes, or nature, we must look at the original language and the context in which it was written. Failure to do this is not confined to those who would discredit God. It is also seen in the work of some fundamentalists and religionists.

In the debates about evolution, many creationists do not look at the words in Genesis and what they mean and how they were understood by the people of Moses’ day. The fact that the Sun, Moon, and stars were created in verse 1 and then became fully visible in verses 14-19 is lost if one does not look at the difference between the process of creating (Hebrew bara) and making (Hebrew asah). Failure to take the Hebrew words literally has caused some to limit God’s creative process to the week of Genesis when clearly God’s miraculous acts took place before the week started.

Those who claim to take the Bible literally must work at understanding what the author wanted to convey in the original language. Comparing different Bible translations can help to clarify some problems. For a detailed explanation of the Hebrew words in Genesis, we recommend our booklet God’s Revelation in His Rocks and in His Word available in printed form or online.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Why Is There Color in Our World?

Why Is there Color in the World?
One of the joys of life is the beauty that we see in the natural world. The beauty of flowers is so great that we decorate our homes inside and out with flowers of every description. People will get out of bed early in the morning to watch a sunrise display colors of incredible beauty and complexity. We admire the work of artists and photographers who can capture a permanent record of the colors of the world on canvas or film. Why is there color in the world?

There are hundreds of papers that have been written by scientists and science writers concerning the reason for color. The design of the Earth and of the life systems on Earth frequently demand that certain colors exist. For example, the green in vegetation is necessary to protect plants from the high energy wavelengths of the Sun’s light.

There are some colors in the natural world, however, that seem to defy a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. Flowers living in identical environments will frequently have radically different colors. If we postulate that the colors are different to attract different pollinators, we run into logical problems. Wouldn’t the most efficient pollinators provide the same advantages to all flowers of similar geometric design? In caves deep in the ocean, there are some of the more vividly colored tropical fish. These fish never see sunlight and have no camouflage advantage given by their colors. There are worms and burrowing animals in thermal vents deep in the floor of the ocean that display rich and beautiful colors.

A skeptic may reply that these colors are a chance consequence of the materials that make up the bodies of these organisms. The fact is that, in many cases, the colored materials in the organism are inconsequential to the survival of the organism. We would suggest an equally plausible and perhaps more realistic explanation. Could it be that a God of intelligence and creative power designed the creation not only with functional wisdom but also with aesthetic intelligence?

Why is there color? God obviously enjoys beauty. We were created in God’s image, and therefore we enjoy the beauty of the world around us. Beauty is one of the things that makes our sojourn on this planet worthwhile.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Medical Marijuana–Good or Bad

Medical Marijuana
All the discussion of medical marijuana and the questions of legalization are based on the assumption that people understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. The general public is almost universally unaware of this system, and yet it is a major player in the question of the use of medical marijuana.

In our brain and throughout our central and peripheral nervous systems we have receptors that are involved in appetite, pain sensation, mood, sleep, and memory. This complex system operates by chemical reactions with enzymes and molecules released by the system itself called endocannabinoids. When life experiences such as stress act on the brain, chemical secretions influence the ECS system and our behavior.

Marijuana contains phytocannabinoids which interact with the endocannabinoids which the body makes. The scientific name for marijuana is Cannabis sativa, and this plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids as well as hundreds of other chemicals. The following cannabinoids have been studied enough to know what effect they have on the human brain:

Cannabidiols (CBD)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiety reducer, antipsychotic, reduces muscle spasms

Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, euphoriant, suppresses nausea and vomiting

Cannabigerols (CBG)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabichromenes (CBC)

– painkiller, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antifungal

Cannabinols and Cannabinodiols (CBN, CBND)

– anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, sedative, anti-convulsant

Marijuana has a high potential for abuse, but it also has useful purposes. As we understand more about the design of our brain and nervous system, we will find ways that cannabinoids can be used to relieve human suffering. However, medical marijuana benefits do not come from smoking it which can damage the lungs and become addictive just as cigarette smoking does. Tests have shown that long-term use can lead to psychotic disorders, heart problems, and sexual/reproductive problems.

Marijuana itself is not evil, and certainly not a creation of Satan as some have implied. Humans can and do use marijuana as a destructive agent, but God designed it and intended it for good.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Nursing Orangutans and Evolution

Nursing Orangutans
As scientists study different animals in their natural environment, they frequently learn things that complicate accepted pictures of animal history. A recent series of studies of nursing orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra has shown that weaning doesn’t occur in these animals until they are more than eight years old. That is a record lactation period for any wild animal.

Determining the length of nursing for orangutans has been difficult for various reasons. For one thing, the nursing takes place high in the trees, so scientists have difficulty observing. Add to that the fact that these animals are hairy, so it becomes difficult to see what is going on. Some have suggested that the babies are just cuddling.

Researchers finally settled the question by studying orangutan teeth. Studies of the layers of material containing barium in the teeth of the babies indicate that they really are feeding. Museums have collections of orangutan teeth from years ago when these animals were not considered to be endangered and were often killed by collectors. Calcium and barium from the mother’s body go into building the nursing infant’s teeth. Primate teeth are built up with a microscopic layer each day. By examining the layers, scientists can tell when the infant orangutan stopped nursing because there is a greater concentration of barium in the nursing layers. Examining teeth from orangutans at different ages, the scientists determined that nursing can continue through age eight.

Some evolutionary theories have difficulty with these very long lactating periods. Not only is the female not receptive to males during that eight years, but she must continue to produce milk. In milk production, the mother is literally dissolving some of her body to provide nourishment for the young. These two factors seem to be counter to evolutionary models for survival. These new discoveries concerning nursing orangutans may cause some rethinking concerning theories of primate evolution.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Business Owner’s Religious Freedom

Business Owner's Religious Freedom
One of the most critical issues of this decade in America is a business owner’s religious freedom. If you own a business, do you have a right to refuse to perform a service which violates your religious faith? Here are some examples of Christian business owners being told by the government that they must provide a service that they find morally objectionable.

Barronelle Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. She declined to design a flower arrangement for a same-sex wedding. The Washington Attorney General and the ACLU brought suit against not only her business but her personally. She could lose everything because of taking a stand based on her Christian faith. This case is being appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Blaine Adamson owner of promotional printing company Hands On Originals in Kentucky turned down a job to print promotional t-shirts for a gay pride festival. He had refused to print other materials that he considered to be morally objectionable. The local human rights commission charged him with sexual orientation discrimination saying that he must print the shirts. In 2015 a Kentucky circuit court found in favor of Adamson, and that decision was upheld in 2017 by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Now the Kentucky Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case.

Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is one of a dozen similar cases where a private business owner of a bakery wishes not to produce something that violates their religious convictions. In this case, Jack Phillips did not want to design a cake for a same sex wedding. The state is threatening him with a fine and jail time.

It is not only Christian printers, flower shops, and cake decorators that are being forced by the government to provide services that violate their faith. Christian wedding photographers and videographers also face legal challenges. In the Minnesota case of Telescope Media Group vs. Lindsey, Carl and Angel Larsen have a video business. They produce videos that teach Christian values and educate couples about God’s plan for marriage. They are being threatened with a $25,000 fine and 90 days in jail because they do not make videos of same sex marriages as well.

These cases bring to mind many questions about a business owner’s religious freedom. Can a printer refuse to print pornography because of the moral issues involved, even if it is legal? Should a black business owner be required to provide materials promoting a KKK rally? Should a Jewish business be required to provide facilities for a neo-Nazi rally? Should a Christian printer be required to print materials promoting atheism? Does a business owner’s religious freedom end when the doors open for business? To turn the question around, should a business owner who is a gay rights advocate be required to produce material saying that homosexual activity is immoral?

We have commented before about the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and their efforts to protect religious freedom and Christian values. In Acts 4:18-20 we read about the authorities telling Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” They responded with, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Largest Land Animal-Titanosaur

Largest Land Animal
The first week of August a report was made in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences of perhaps the largest land animal that ever existed.

This dinosaur, found in Patagonia, Argentina, is named Patagotitan mayorum. It was more than 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighed more than 76 tons (69 tonnes). It is also one of the most complete fossils with 150 bones recovered. When it is reassembled, the skeleton will be roughly the size of a Boeing 737.

What scientists want to learn about an animal of that size is, “How could it get so big?” We recently published a post about the world’s largest snake, the titanoboa. Reptiles, unlike mammals, continue to grow during their entire lives. In this case, the question is, “What sustains such massive growth?” How much food must the animal eat? How would its vascular system work? What is its significance to the ecology of the area where it lived? What environmental temperature and oxygen levels would allow an animal of that size to live? How could a human exist in such surroundings? Some of these questions are being addressed. Some are so complex that researchers on the site say it “is really hard to imagine” the answers.

We have pointed out that the ecological system that produced the resources humans would need to exist on this planet had to be different from what we have today. Those conditions would be hostile to human survival. This fossil of the largest land animal supports that point very well.

For more see USA Today, August 9, 2017, page B1.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Origin of Life Problems Admitted

Wing Challenge to Origin of Life
One of the more honest and fair writers in modern scientific publications is Dr. Bob Berman. He has a regular column in Astronomy magazine and an interesting website. In the September 2017 issue of Astronomy (page 10) he has an outstanding brief review of the problems involved in trying to explain the origin of life. He begins by pointing out that the definition of “life” has been an issue because of questions such as whether or not a virus is alive. Viruses have no metabolism, they don’t feed or breathe, and yet they reproduce.

Berman then reviews some of the parameters necessary to consider when addressing the origin of life. Chirality is a major issue because amino acids that make up proteins come in right- and left-handed versions. Life on Earth is made up of only left-handed amino acids. Sugars used by the proteins are limited to the right-handed direction and so is DNA. The wrong chirality just will not work to support life so how could nature sort out the chirality? If life is easy to produce, why don’t we see it coming into existence all over the Earth? The “amoeba-to-man” model assumes that it only happened once which conflicts with the view that life is abundant in the cosmos.

What is especially interesting is that Berman raises questions about the ability of evolution to explain on a chance basis some of the designs we see in living things. He uses the example of the airfoil that all flying forms of life have. The upper surface is convex using the Bernoulli effect to produce lift. The earliest bird and the flying reptiles all had a wing design that works. Trial and error would not work well to explain how the wing design would come into existence by chance. Berman points out that “some 400,000 cells would all have to simultaneously mutate in just the right way to create a properly shaped wing. This defies an evolutionary hypothesis.”

Berman concludes with the statement “I’m not invoking spirituality, merely that the effect of random collisions and mutations is not always a workable answer. So perhaps nature is inherently smart.” I would suggest that wing design is just one of a massive number of design features that allow life to exist.

Berman quotes Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix as saying that the origin of life is “almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” We don’t invent a “god” to explain these things, but we would point to these things as one more evidence that there is a God and that blind chance is not a good designer of the complexity we see in the world around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017