Power to Forgive Like Jesus

Power to Forgive

There are many things about Christianity that are unique. One of the most important of these is the Christian concept of forgiveness. No other religious or philosophical system emphasizes the power to forgive that we see in Jesus.

As an atheist living in an atheist home, I saw the emphasis on survival and “getting even.” One of our favorite sayings was, “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.” In opposition to that view, Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us. Thinking he was being generous, Peter asked, “Up to 7 times?” Jesus responded with, “…seventy times seven.” In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:12-15, Jesus taught that our forgiveness by God was dependent on our forgiving of others. The various forms of the word “forgive” occur 143 times in the Bible.

All of us have known people who carry a grudge for years and years. Long ago, I was working with two older men on a project in a basement. I had been told that these two men had not spoken to each other for 30 years because of a conflict they had with each other. One of them fell off a ladder and was hanging from a pipe. The other man was standing there looking at him when I got there and helped him down. The guy hanging wasn’t going to ask for help, and the other guy wasn’t going to help unless asked. When I asked them what had caused the problem neither of them could tell me. They hadn’t spoken to each other for 30 years, but neither of them knew why.

Grudges, bad memories, conflict, and unkind words and thoughts can eat you alive. Mental illness is sometimes rooted in problems with forgiveness. Sometimes it’s because we are unable to forgive ourselves. We need to understand that Christ died to give us the power to forgive. Even if we struggle to forgive ourselves, we need to realize that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us..” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

We sometimes read of a Christian forgiving a person who killed their loved one, and we think, “How could they do that?” Don’t underestimate what Jesus can do. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus demonstrated the power to forgive, and He expects to do the same. Remember that as Jesus was being crucified, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Atheist Experiments and Failures

Atheist Experiments and Failures

One of the least publicized aspects of atheism is the question of what has happened when atheist beliefs are incorporated on a practical level. In short, does atheism work when applied to the real world and real people? Some atheist experiments have tested that idea.

A good example is the story of Liberal, Missouri, which was founded in 1880 by an atheist named George Walser. Walser was a lawyer, and he bought 2000 acres of land in southwest Missouri to start an experimental community. He advertised across the country for atheists to come and live in a town without a church “where unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training.” He said in Liberal there would be “neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon.” Supporters of Walser published a boast that Liberal “is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell, or devil.”

Similar atheist experiments have been tried elsewhere, such as in France in the late 18th century. The government issued a declaration that God did not exist and condemned any public worship, including observance of any Sabbath. Atheist-based political systems exist today, including several communist states such as North Korea, and China.

In the case of Liberal, Missouri, the crime level, violence, and abuse became so bad that people left the town. They made written statements such as, “I’ll never live in another town that does not have a church.” Today Liberal has a population of less than 800, and there are five churches in town. Walser became a believer and wrote a book titled The Life and Teachings of Jesus. He called himself “a converted infidel who had searched for hope through materialism, atheism, agnosticism, and spiritualism, but found none.” Atheism fails all tests of practical application. Atheist experiments such as Liberal, Missouri are testimonies to what happens when God is excluded from human activities.

The Psalmist said it best “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that does good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.” Psalms 53:1-3.

As an atheist in my earlier days, I would have vociferously argued against that statement. Looking back at my life as an atheist and at the atheists who shared my belief system, I have to say the Psalmist was correct.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Two Things I Wouldn’t Have Without God

Two Things I Wouldn't Have Without God - Secure Relationships

Yesterday, I said that I lived for years as a committed, evangelistic, aggressive atheist, but then I came to believe in God. I mentioned three things I wouldn’t have without God. Here are an additional two things I wouldn’t have without God.

4. I wouldn’t have a basis of secure family relationships – neither physical, emotional, nor spiritual. All the ingredients of “family” are rooted in the concept of there being a God. Terminating a life that has nobody to speak up for it is a function of one’s moral behavior. Abortion and involuntary euthanasia are both functions of rejecting the value of all human life. The survival of the fittest necessarily places one in the position of rejecting family when that family interferes with your fitness. Belief in God fosters a desire to have a role that puts others above yourself and breeds love and fulfilling peace. It even spreads to those of like faith so that brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children can be family even if there isn’t a blood relationship.

5. I wouldn’t have hope for anything beyond this life. If there is no God, then our entire existence is couched in what happens in this life. If I am not fit, then death is the best I can hope for. I will never be in a positive survival mode, no matter how hard I struggle. If I am fit, it will only be for a short time until old age makes me less fit. Faith in God means that whatever my lot in this life, this is the worst thing I will ever experience. I have great hope for what lies ahead, and obeying and serving God, which involves serving others, is a real joy for me.

Those are two things I wouldn’t have without God. As an atheist, I didn’t have any of the five things I mentioned yesterday and today. Neither did my atheist family and my atheist friends. For many years now, I have lived a life based on belief in God. It hasn’t always been easy, and I have failed in many ways. But even if someone were to convince me there is no God, I would still want to be a Christian. I have seen the love and hope and joy of living as Christ has called us to live. The evidence for the existence of God is massive, and that simply elevates the importance of the five things I wouldn’t have without God.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Three Things I Wouldn’t Have Without God

Three Things I Wouldn't Have Without God - Something from Nothing

I lived for 20 years as a committed, evangelistic, aggressive atheist, and for many more years, I have lived a life based on belief in God. The difference is huge! Here are three things I wouldn’t have without God.

1. I wouldn’t have a meaningful explanation for why there is something instead of nothing. If there is no God, then the creation is meaningless. Even if a model is eventually constructed that explains how time, matter/energy and space came into existence, the purpose for the existence of time and space remains unanswered. The existence of God, who is love, goodness, peace, and the creator of all kinds of beauty, opens the door to an understanding of the things we all enjoy. The struggle between good and evil gives us a role to play as sentient beings who can choose and facilitate love, goodness, and beauty. Being created in the image of God embodies our very make up, so there is a reason for us to exist. That means there is a reason for something to exist instead of blind, silent, unthinking nothingness.

2. I wouldn’t have a pattern for life except “survival of the fittest.” If there is no God, then each of us is independent of any responsibility for anyone or anything else. Why would I do or give anything to anyone that would detract from my own existence? If the strong survive and the weak die, why would I not want to devote myself to being strong? The foundation of survival of the fittest is not only being strong but also being selfish and dominant. There is no room for altruism in a belief system that tells me to make sure I am the best and the strongest and the smartest. Looking after number one is my passion and guide to behavior.

3. I wouldn’t have a fixed standard of moral behavior. To be the strongest and most fit, I must have a moral standard that accommodates those attributes. That means that I must have a flexible moral standard so that I can adapt it to what fits me the best. My sexual morals must match my physical capabilities. My concept of ownership must revolve around my capabilities. There are times when lying will promote my station in life. Deception in the natural world is a key to survival in many situations, so why would it not be a part of my basis for making moral decisions? If there is no God, then trust ceases to exist. No contract of any kind has meaning if there are no absolute concepts of what is right and what is wrong.

Those are three things I wouldn’t have without God., but they are not all. There are two more I want to share with you tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

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