The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Objective Moral Values Are Impossible Without God

Objective Moral Values Are Impossible Without GodMany of my atheist friends will bristle at any suggestion that objective moral values are impossible without God. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that atheists are bad people. However, there are two things followers of the Bible have that those who reject God and the Bible do not have: a standard to go by and motivation to follow the standard.

The Bible gives a solid, clear, workable set of values. If a follower of Christ needs to know whether something is right or wrong, they can go to the Bible and find out. As we have pointed out before, the teachings of the Bible work. For a person who rejects the Bible, what standard do they use to make decisions on right and wrong? Any answer to that question is based on current human understanding. It may be the person’s feelings, the values of the peer group, the opinion of a particular philosopher or psychologist, the latest law, or the values of family or friends. Whatever the source, it is going to be a current human’s view. It’s going to be subjective, not objective.

Yesterday’s expert authority is today’s idiot. Charlatans exist in such enormous numbers that we can never be sure of the motivation for the advice they give. Following Ayn Rand’s advice as a college student destroyed the lives of many of my college friends and associates. The list of destructive leaders of the past is endless – O’Leary, Heffner, Russell, etc. All of these offered marvelous alternatives to biblical teachings that did not work. They failed because objective moral values are impossible without God.

It is not difficult to follow a moral standard that allows you to do anything and everything you want to do. Objective moral values are a far different matter. Many atheists would agree that promiscuous sex is not a good thing, but what motive would exist for not engaging in it if you think it will bring you great pleasure? Why would I find it a moral necessity to give food to a starving person when I might be faced with hunger?

As a Christian, my relationship with God and my faith in God provide me with motivation to do things and give things that might not be in my own self-interest. It is not that I am afraid God will send me to hell if I don’t do them. It is that the teachings of Jesus tell me that my life’s goals revolve around serving and bringing good things to others. I have learned to find joy in doing this and to trust God to make things work. One frustration I have with the media is that they will put the failure of a Christian on the front page while ignoring the work of churches in soup kitchens, relief efforts, alcohol recovery programs, and the care of children, senior citizens, and AIDS patients. No other religion or philosophy on Earth does as much good in all areas as the people who are expressing their love for Jesus Christ.

Faith in God and the Bible does make sense and gives humanity the only workable guide for life. Objective moral values are impossible without God, and faith in God gives us the motivational tools to follow them. Jesus has given us the standard to live by.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Winter Is Coming

Beautiful Fall but Winter Is ComingFall is a beautiful time of year. We all enjoy the changing colors of the trees, and there are changes in our lives that involve preparation for winter. Not all of us view these changes in a positive way. The fact is that whether we like it or not, change is coming. The sight of trees turning colors and the leaves falling to the ground reminds us that winter is coming.

Life is very similar to that. As we get older, signs are telling us that major change is coming in our lives. Our hair turns gray or falls out or both. There is pain in our movements that was not there before. The way we gain weight and our energy levels change, whether we like it or not. All of the medication in the world will not stop the physical changes coming in our lives. Mentally and emotionally, we must adjust to the fact that our faculties are not functioning as they did in the past, and we experience the loss of friends and family making us aware of our own mortality.

One of the things that belief in God does to us is that it allows us to approach the changes that come to our lives in the same way we do the colors of fall. We can scream and fight the fact that winter is coming, but it will still happen. We can buy cosmetics and vitamin pills, but the winter of life comes anyway. When I was an atheist, I had to look at life with all of its problems, pain, struggles, and the awful things that happen as the very best that I was ever going to have. Now, as a Christian, I can look at life with all of its beauty, wonder, and the fantastic things we all enjoy as the absolute worst I am ever going to have to endure.

How do you look at life? Is it the best you will ever have or the worst you will ever have to tolerate? Can you not see that this is the difference between the believer and the nonbeliever. It’s as different as night and day, black and white. If there were no other reason to believe in God but this one, it would be a compelling reason.

We can debate and fuss about things we do not understand. We can complain that we do not like the way God does things. But the fact is that all of those arguments have very little meaning when we are looking death in the face. The colors of change in the fall tell us winter is coming, and the colors of life tell us we will all soon stand before our Creator in judgment. Know why you believe what you believe, and intelligently trust in God to guide you to eternity.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How Do You Use Your Time?

John Clayton asks, "How Do You Use Your Time?"God has given you 168 hours of time every week that you live. The question that each one of us must answer is, “What to do with that 168 hours?” How do you use your time?

If you consider the average essentials, they might look like this:
Eight hours a day for sleeping is 56 hours a week.
Work might be 40 hours per week.
If you take an hour to eat each meal, that would add up to 21 hours a week.
Personal hygiene, including exercise, might be 20 hours a week.

That adds up to 137 hours a week, giving us 31 hours or more than 4 hours a day left. How do you use your time that is left? The chances are that the numbers quoted here not accurate with what you do. I never get eight hours of sleep in a day, but I work far more than 40 hours a week. Realize that these numbers are just a starting point for what we do with the time we have been given.

Suppose we took the Old Testament tithe of 10%. A tithe of 168 is 16.8 hours. Let’s round that down to 16 hours a week to give back to God. Assume you go to worship and Bible class every time the door is open at the Church meeting place. That would be four hours a week spent in worship and Bible study with other Christians. We still have 12 hours to give back to God every week. Let me point out that these numbers allow 14.2 hours a week for you to watch TV, go fishing, go to a movie, etc.

Sixty years ago, I decided that I was going to give God 12 hours a week, not counting “going to Church,” to equal 10% of what He had given me. I found it very hard to do. The way I did it included:
Visiting people in the hospital.
Writing and sending cards.
Setting up and conducting Bible studies in my home or in other people’s homes.
Getting involved in a prison ministry.
Working with disturbed teens.
Taking youth groups to rallies and workshops.
Shoveling widow’s sidewalks.
Preparing the Church bulletin.
I did those and other things and kept a record to get to 12 hours a week.

Do you know what happened? I found contentment and peace and strength that I had never known as an atheist. Life was full of joy and surprises. The hard knocks in my personal and professional life became less destructive to me personally. When the Bible said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” it wasn’t just talking about money. Imagine what would happen if every Christian gave back to God 16.8 hours of the time God has given them! How do you use your time?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Nature is the Unknown God

Temple of Zeus - Today Nature is the Unknown God Atheists and skeptics attack belief in God. They say that if God were real, He would show Himself in the method of their choice. They also charge that believers in God are merely worshiping a “god-of-the-gaps.” basis – meaning that when they don’t understand something, they simply say, “God did it!” We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not use gap arguments. We look at what the choices are and what the evidence supports using scientific methods and applying mathematics to test the alternatives. That is not inventing a god to explain what we don’t understand, unlike the Egyptian sun god (Ra) or the Greek god of the sky (Zeus). The picture shows the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Athens, the city where Paul saw an altar to the “unknown god.” Today Nature is the unknown god.

Most atheists and skeptics in their writings will assert that Nature established the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. You see statements like, “it is nature’s way of doing things” to explain why things are the way they are. Nature is invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why is it that atheists will say that believers in the God of the Bible are unintelligent, and those who believe in Nature are the thinkers? No one can tell us where Nature came from. Nature is the unknown god and the atheist’s “god-of-the-gaps.”

It is easy to attribute everything we know and don’t know to the great god “Nature.” Our world today is making the same mistake as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in biblical times. Today’s philosophers do what their ancestors did when they attribute all unknown phenomena like dark matter and superstrings to Nature. They explain even what they do understand by using that same Nature god.

Paul, in Athens speaking to the educated philosophers of his day, said: “For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription ‘To the Unknown God.’ Whom therefore you ignorantly worship…” (Acts 17:23). Is Nature your god and chance his only tool? The God we discuss is a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) both now and in eternity. Nature is a false god and an invention of humans with no promise for anything beyond this life.
—- John N. Clayton © 2019

Religious Knowledge in America

Religious Knowledge in AmericaIn today’s anti-Christian climate, kids not only don’t know anything about Christianity or the Bible, but they are also profoundly ignorant about religion in general. In today’s world, religious knowledge is needed.

Pew Research Center has released some of its findings on what American kids know. Since a majority of kids go all the way through school with no education on religion of any kind, their ignorance of religious knowledge is profound. Here are some of the things the Pew Research Center found:

50% of high school students think that Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
A majority of Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
17% believe Ramadan is the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Many teens think “Moby Dick” is from the Bible.

This is not just a teen problem. George W. Bush was told about the Sunni and Shiite conflict in Iraq and responded by saying, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims.” Jeff Stein of the New York Times reported that in his work with congressional leaders most didn’t have a clue about the difference. There have been attacks on Sikhs by people who thought they were attacking Muslims.

Atheists and secularists have been very successful at intimidating the leaders of education with threats of recriminations. The result is that the role of religion in America’s history has been lost in one generation. It isn’t a matter of separating church and state, but whether this purging has left modern Americans with a massive gap in religious knowledge. They don’t have an understanding of our country’s values and how faith in God has been a foundation that has produced the freedom we all enjoy.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from the Houston Chronicle, June 25, 2019 page F8.

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?One of the struggles we all have is understanding why God allows disastrous events that cause massive destruction and suffering to humans. Atheists use this question as a club against faith, and it is perhaps their best weapon. The list of events that harm humans is huge – earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, fires, floods, droughts, etc. At this time of the year, hurricanes are at the front of our awareness. Does God cause natural disasters to punish people?

If you have just seen a natural event take place that destroyed your home and killed a loved one, no rational explanation is going to be of any help. Our hearts go out to those of you who are trying to make sense of what seems to be a senseless disaster that has hurt them in ways that no one else can understand. We don’t want anyone to think that we have all the answers. If somehow we can remove ourselves from our own emotions, here are three things we need to understanding:

1) God does not cause disasters. The notion that God brings catastrophes upon people He doesn’t like, or people who violate His laws or commands is inconsistent with the nature of God. James 1:13 tells us clearly that God doesn’t tempt us in any way. The passage specifically deals with moral temptation, but verse 17 goes on to say that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” God brings good things. Jealousy or vindictiveness is not a part of His nature.

2) Human stupidity in the face of natural processes is a significant cause of calamity. Hurricanes are a classic example of this. The Earth has zones of climate that are made functional by natural processes which create climate zones. The Hadley Cell explains these zones, with different zones creating tropical rainforests and deserts. Those zones are balanced by natural processes such as hurricanes that carry water into what would otherwise be a desert. Thirty-degree latitudes north and south would be deserts if it were not for hurricanes that bring massive amounts of water to recharge water supplies. In the United States, northern Florida and southern Georgia would be deserts with no water were it not for hurricanes. Humans ignoring this system and building in areas known to be vulnerable to hurricanes while removing natural barriers such as mangroves causes much of the suffering and death.

3) Human mismanagement of God’s creation due to greed and ignorance is a major cause of human suffering. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God gave humans the assignment to take care of “the garden, to dress it and keep it.” We are the caretakers of what God has created, but selfishness and greed have caused significant suffering and destruction. We all know that polluting the air, rivers, lakes, and now the ocean has led to cancer and now appears to be affecting Earth’s climate. We all understand that exploitative agriculture has led to fires, erosion, dust storms, and insect swarms. Scientific journals are full of studies showing how human mismanagement of what God has given us is leading and has led to disaster.

Does God cause natural disasters? The answer is “NO!” It isn’t God’s will that humans suffer from natural disasters, but God has never promised us that He will protect us from ourselves. What God has done is to build a base by which His servants can help those who are suffering. The Church has a responsibility to show God’s love and compassion for the hurting. Atheists need to pitch in and help clean up the mess, not try to blame God. (Read Matthew 25:31-40.)
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible

Thomas Jefferson's Bible examined in the book Doubting Thomas
Atheists and skeptics have done a good job of convincing many people that Thomas Jefferson was especially critical of the claims of Jesus being the Son of God,and that he was a closet atheist. I have heard (and repeated I am sorry to say), the claim that Jefferson’s Bible had holes all through it in which he clipped out anything he didn’t like. The story was that a good percentage of the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible were missing. (I have commented that a lot of us do that mentally.) It turns out that most of what we have been told about Jefferson and his religious convictions are not true.

Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book published by Morgan James in October of 2014 titled Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson did clearly state that people should be free to believe or to disbelieve in Jesus, which no thinking American can deny. That view influenced his writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He also wrote, but did not publish, a work which was designed to help Indians understand the philosophy of Christianity. It was titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the Account of His Life and Doctrines as Given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgment of the New Testament for the Use of Indians Unembarrassed with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. (What a title!) According to Jefferson, this work was to help the Indians benefit from the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. Jefferson stated in a letter to William Canby on September 18, 1813: “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus Christ.”

When Jefferson was president he regularly attended the Christian worship services held at the U.S. Capitol building. He did not exclude miracles from what is called “The Jefferson Bible.” Matthew 10:8, Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 9:18-25, Matthew 9:20-22 and Matthew 9:27-31 are all in his Bible. However, he struggled with some doctrinal issues which he called “Christology.” He had an especially hard time with the Godhead.

He was not a theologian, but he clearly was a believer. He devoted a great deal of energy and time to understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ as indicated by Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Am I Here?

Why Am I Here? The editor of the October 2019 issue of Astronomy magazine begins the issue by reviewing the elements that make up our physical bodies and the current theory of how those elements are created in stars. He then asks the question, “Why am I here?” That is a question Astronomy magazine cannot answer and which the discipline of astronomy does not try to deal with.

What the science of astronomy does is give us a factual basis to know how the elements in our bodies were formulated. The editor points out that we have seven-octillion atoms in our body. (That is 10 to the 27th power or 7 billion billion billion atoms.) He reminds us that there are 60 different chemical elements in our body and he then says that that Big Bang nucleosynthesis produced those elements. So what is his answer to “Why am I here?” His answer is, “You’re here because atoms created in the Big Bang and in the bellies of stars have recombined in a way to make you billions of years after their creation – with a big thank you to your parents as well.”

What is interesting about this is that the editor doesn’t even try to answer the question he has posed. What he does is to give the current theory about HOW the materials that make up your body might have been formed. He does not answer the question, “WHY am I here?” The tragedy of modern thinking is that we have bought into substituting HOW for WHY. We see this in the media, in high school and college textbooks, and in magazines like Astronomy. The result is that humans are reduced to a product of physical change, and not a very attractive product at that. My atheist father wanted his physical remains to be returned to the earth from which it came “as quickly as possible.” His only hope for his life being significant was that his academic achievements would be remembered.

A good percentage of the Bible is dedicated to telling us why we are here. Numerous passages talk about Christians being “the light of the world.” The struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, and between destructive forces and constructive forces is spelled out over and over again. (See Ephesians 3:10-11, 5:8-14 and 6:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:5-11; John 3:19-21 for examples.)

The result of finding the real answer to “Why am I here?” makes our lives full of purpose and value. It also causes us to regard every human being as having intrinsic, inherent worth. Knowing why I am here shapes my worldview and gives me purpose and meaning for existing. It’s a question worth finding the answer to.
— John N. Clayton © 2019