What Christians Can Eat

What Christians Can Eat

The COVID-19 virus has raised many new issues for Christians. There seems to be no question that the virus came to humans from animals. Specifically, it appears that bats are the primary source of many of the viruses that have plagued humans. So there is a question of what Christians can eat.

The Old Testament dietary laws did not allow the Israelites to eat certain foods. Genesis 9:2-4 says not to eat meat that “has its lifeblood in it.” Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14 spell out a wide range of dietary restrictions. Today we know why those restrictions were put in place because the animals the Israelites were forbidden to eat were carriers of viruses infectious to humans.

In the New Testament, the picture changes. The early Church leaders met to determine what actions they should abstain from and what Christians can eat (Acts 15:28-29). They decided that Christ’s followers should avoid all trappings of idolatry, including licentiousness, drunkenness, and fornication. They should also avoid eating blood; specifically, animals strangled so that the lifeblood was still in the meat.

Colossians 2:14-16 tells us that Jesus nailed the legalistic rules of the Old Testament to His cross. The passage is clear that Paul is talking about “religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, and Sabbath Days.” Jesus did not do away with the lifestyle choices referred to in Acts 15, but with the Old Law’s legalistic demands that were difficult for the people to keep.

The other passage that deals with what we can eat is Acts 10:9-16. God gave Peter a vision in which he saw a sheet full of animals lowered to him, and a voice told him to kill and eat. What we tend to miss is that Peter identifies two kinds of foods he had never eaten. Verse 14 quotes Peter as saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten that which is COMMON (Greek word koinoo) or UNCLEAN (Greek word akathartos).”

The word “common” means ordinary, like everyone else. The word “unclean” means defiled, impure. God’s response to Peter was, “What God has cleansed don’t you call COMMON.” “Defiled” would mean what is referred to in Genesis 9:2-4 – having its lifeblood in it. “Common” would mean the things the Gentiles ate that were not defiled. Peter is about to convert a Gentile, a major change in his life. God makes it clear that he can participate in Gentile foods, but this passage does not approve drinking blood or any other impure foods.

What Christians can eat is virtually anything, but they need to avoid those foods that are dangerous for human consumption. By their diet, early Christians could be protected from diseases that were common in the pagan world around them.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

God Will Provide a Way Out

God Will Provide a Way Out

We hear it all the time, statements like “I can’t take much more.” “I can’t handle this!” “This is too much!” and “I can’t stand it!!” We all have expressions of frustration and exasperation, and in the middle of this current pandemic like all previous major problems, we hear some wild ones. “I’m going to blow my top,” “I’m going to pull my hair,” “I’m going to the lake and make a hole in it.” There is a theological issue involved here. If God exists, why does He allow things to happen that push us beyond what we can stand? Or does He provide a way out? I maintain that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13.

Before going further, please do not interpret this discussion to trivialize anyone’s crisis. I just watched my daughter nurse her husband, the father of her three children, through six months of terminal cancer. She is now not only left with no husband and three boys to raise and also with no financial resources and her own health issues. My students in our correspondence courses who are in prison frequently say, “You can not imagine what it is like to be locked up in this hell hole.”

This Corinthian passage was written to Christians and offers unique help. One of the miseries that atheism produces is that it provides no hope of any kind when problems like this pandemic happen. When I was young and fit, I maintained that God was a crutch that I didn’t need. Very quickly, things happened to me that made me not so young or so fit. It wasn’t that I looked for a crutch because I continued to be a vocal atheist. But I was miserable in not always dominating others and getting my way. I was not able to overpower circumstances in life because I simply wasn’t fit.

First Corinthians 10:13 and similar passages don’t tell us that God will shield us from bad things. They don’t tell us that Christians will not face tragedy and frustration and even death. The passage says that God will “provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That way out is rarely a miraculous zapping of whatever is afflicting us. It is usually God using Christians, His workers on Earth, to help us through it.

Read Matthew 25:31-40, and what do you see Jesus saying to His workers at the end of time? They were those who provided a way out for those in misery. The very nature of Christianity is to relieve the afflicted, and Jesus did that and taught His followers to do it. That is why Christians do the prison ministries, the correspondence course programs, our seniors outreaches, our food banks, our water well diggings, our hospitals, our schools, and many other things.

There are those times when the way out is death. I have lost a wife, a son-in-law, a brother, and dozens of dear friends who were in such pain that death was a blessing. I can only say that with confidence about those who died as Christians. The way out for me is coming, and it will be a blessing, not a curse.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Religious Anti-Science Rhetoric

Religious Anti-Science Rhetoric

For the 51 years of this ministry, we have confronted religious anti-science rhetoric. Our critics are those who feel that science is an enemy and that you can’t be a good Christian and embrace science. We are now in a period when the issue of whether people can meet together for worship services has become an issue of science and politics. Some politicians oppose churches resuming worship services saying there is strong scientific evidence that it will expose participants to the COVID-19 virus. Many religious leaders insist that this is an attempt by the government to restrict religion. They say that this scientifically-based objection is destroying the right of people to worship together.

In previous articles, we have pointed out that a great deal of ignorance is involved in rejecting science. According to the dictionary, science is knowledge. Knowledge is always neutral. The critical thing is how we use it. When new scientific knowledge gave us lasers, the question was how we would use lasers. Would they be weapons that cause massive destruction, or would they be medical tools to heal eyes?

We now understand how the COVID-19 virus spreads from one person to another. Will we use this knowledge to stop the progression of the illness, or will we use this virus to destroy whole masses of people? The bubonic plague from 1347-1351 killed 200 million people, which was nearly half of Europe’s population. Religious anti-science rhetoric today has the potential to create a catastrophe.

It isn’t our knowledge about the COVID-19 virus that is a threat to freedom or to worship. The reality is that science will eventually develop a vaccine that will allow everyone to worship together. Smallpox was killing 400,000 people a year in Europe, and it only stopped when scientists developed a vaccine. It is hypocritical for religious people to vilify science while they: 1) enjoy modern technology in their entertainment 2) go to medical facilities for treatment of disease, 3) use scientific advancements to grow and prepare their food, 4) use new scientific discoveries in their businesses, and 5) use science in their homes to improve their standard of living.

Proverbs 8 makes it clear that God has used science (wisdom) in all He has done. Psalms 19 and 139 refer to God’s creation, and Romans 1:19-20 points out that science reveals God’s existence through the things He has made. The following verses, Romans 1:21-32, point out that human moral and political choices cause the pain and destruction we see in our world.

Christianity doesn’t need to violate social distancing to worship and to practice our faith. James 1:27 defines true religion, and Jesus made it clear that He is there when just two people come together in His name (Matthew 18:20). First Timothy 6:20 tells Christians to avoid scams and religious claims called science. Ignore the religious anti-science rhetoric and know that God and science are friends. Don’t listen to politicians and religious hucksters and rely on evidence and the message of proven researchers. Join together in prayer and worship in our homes on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or whatever method you choose. Rejoice that, through science, God has given us new ways to come together, encourage each other, and glorify Him even in the middle of a pandemic.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Discover magazine, June 2020, page 11.

Living Honorably Day at West Point

Living Honorably Day at West Point

“In no way does Living Honorably Day enhance the readiness of our military. This is about destroying men because they are the foundations of the family … Men are so important, and they are walking out of their families today all over America” — U.S. Army Lt. General (Ret.) William G. Boykin

General Boykin made those comments on Family Research Council’s Washington Watch radio show. He was referring to a program called Living Honorably Day at the U.S. Military Academy. On January 14, 2020, the Academy at West Point canceled all cadet classes and required all cadets to view a screening of Miss Representation. This is a documentary produced by Girls’ Club Entertainment and featuring Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Rachel Maddow. The feminist leaders label previous military teaching on discipline and accountability as “toxic masculinity.” The phrase “be a man” is no longer allowed in military training.

The feminists running the program at West Point use the term “hypermasculinity” to describe the biblical teaching that men are to be the leaders in the family. It is difficult to read Ephesians 5:21-6:4 and not see the wisdom of God’s plan for the family. Women have some guaranteed roles, and motherhood is one of them. No matter how badly I, as a man, might want to be a mother, it is not possible. The notion that nobody has guaranteed roles is a response to the abuses that have been heaped on women in some areas of our culture. Men need to have a role in life, and feminists like those in the West Point incident demonstrate selfishness and a lack of concern for men while trying to correct abuses women have received.

General Boykin and others in the military see a weakening of our ability to defend ourselves as a nation, and Living Honorably Day is just a symptom of that. We need to consider the reflections of Boykin and others on what is happening to society in general. Christian men and women can correct the weaknesses and abuses that occur in our culture without generating abuses on another part of our culture.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Family Research Council letter of March 2020.

Pandemic Fear and Faith

Pandemic Fear and Faith

We are all going through changes as the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads, and many people seem to have pandemic fear.

In my lifetime, I have seen several disease epidemics. I find it interesting how differently people are responding to this than they did when I was a child, and polio was running wild. Polio was a much more serious issue than COVID-19 ever thought of being. If you got polio in 1952, you were either going to die, be paralyzed, or be in an iron lung for the rest of your life. For those who are younger, an iron lung was a huge tin can that breathed for you, because polio could stop you from breathing on your own. If you were put in an iron lung to preserve your life, the chances are that you would be in that large tin can until you did die. It was awful, but we did not have the pandemic fear.

Even though polio was much worse than the current virus, my classmates were not absorbed with fear and extreme measures to avoid getting polio. We were told that flies carried polio. I remember my mother stringing flypaper all over the place, and going bonkers if she saw a fly in our garage. I was not allowed to go to outdoor events for fear of polio. Still, there was no panic from the media and no cancellations of anything. That is a huge contrast with what has happened in 2020 as we face this virus. That is even though most people who get the virus do not die or have any long-lasting effects. What is the difference?

In my childhood years, being an atheist was unique. I was the only openly atheistic person in my high school class. Our family went to Brown County State Park every Sunday to swim in the park swimming pool. We had the pool to ourselves because everyone else was in church. I had friends who did contract polio. Outside of a sign which said “quarantine” being placed on their front door, not much else happened.

The panic that has gripped our culture today is amazing. According to the CDC ordinary, run of the mill flu killed 61,000 Americans last year and over 12,000 this year so far. But the pandemic fear of COVID-19 far exceeds the fear that has been with us before.

I would suggest to you that as our culture has drifted away from God, the fear of the unknown has grown exponentially. At least part of the pandemic fear is our lack of faith as a society about life and death and who or what is in control.

One fundamental message of Jesus Christ is that Christians should not be driven by panic and fear of the unknown. In Mark 4:36-41, we read the wonderful story of Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm in a small boat. Jesus is asleep, and they wake him up. Christ quiets the storm and says to the disciples, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (verse 40).

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible calls believers not to be driven by fear. Joshua 1:9 tells us not to be afraid. Psalms 23:4 talks about walking through the darkest valley. Psalms 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “…the Lord your God will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5-8 tells us that the Lord is our helper, so we should not be afraid. Jesus tells us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

If you believe that this life is all you will ever have, then you will fear anything that threatens this life. If you believe that there is something better coming, then nothing that happens in this life is of great consequence. However, I have an instinct to survive and knowing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), I will do what I can to avoid premature death. I am washing my hands, avoiding crowds, and following the other guidelines. Still, I can relate to Paul’s discourse in Philippians 1:21-24, where he says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am in a struggle between having a desire to leave and be with Christ, but I know I should abide in the flesh, which is more needful for you…”

We want the life God gave us to be fruitful and meaningful. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Let our love of God cause us to relax and avoid pandemic fear. This can be our living message to a lost, dying, and fearful world.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Christian Martyr Data Discrepencies

Christian Martyr Data Discrepencies

We live in a time in which many people who wear the name “Christian” are being killed. Various groups who keep track of Christian martyr data have wildly different counts of how many have died for their faith.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity says that 90,000 Christians were martyred in 2019. The International Society for Human Rights says that 10,000 were martyred. Open Doors puts the number at 4,305. The problem here is that the definition of a “martyr” is not the same for everyone.

The Nazis killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer in World War II because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. His Christian faith was the reason he became involved in the plot. Does that make him a martyr? Christians were killed in civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Should they be classified as martyrs? There is a monument in Bicknell Park in Montebello, California, in memory of one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1921, the Turkish government killed 1,500,000 Armenian Christians. Does that make all of them martyrs?

Martyrs have always been held up as examples of faithfulness. In today’s world, there are many countries where converting to Christianity is a sure way to be executed. The early Roman persecution of Christians is undeniable and uncontested. Determining Christian martyr data in our modern world varies by how we define “martyr.”

Those of us who live in the United States should be thankful that, so far, we don’t have to be worried about being singled out or killed by the government because of our worship. That may change, but we should thank God for the freedom Christians enjoy now in the U.S. and other countries.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Christianity Today, March 2020, page 23-24.

Seeker of Truth or Thomas the Doubter

Seeker of Truth or Thomas the Doubter

People often refer to him as “Doubting Thomas.” That label is inaccurate and unfair. Identifying the apostle as Thomas the doubter fails to understand his real nature. When Jesus’ life was in danger, it was Thomas who said, “Let us go die with Him” (John 11: 16). At that time, Thomas was the one full of commitment who was willing to die for his convictions about Jesus. One has to wonder why it was not Peter who was labeled as “the doubter” due to his triple denial of Christ. What we can learn from Thomas is how doubt can help a person to become a seeker of truth.

Doubt has to be confronted. When the other disciples came to Thomas with the outrageous claim that they had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, what do you think his reaction should have been? What would your response be? Many false Christs had risen in the world even in that day. There was good reason to question the claims. As a matter of fact, the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were the women in Luke 24, and no one even among the apostles believed them.

The kind of doubt that Thomas had was a healthy skepticism. He did not back off, soft soap, or withdraw from the situation, but he openly and honestly expressed his doubt. Most people in today’s world do not explore their doubts. When they have doubts about God, Christ, the Church, or some doctrinal issue, they tend to bury their concerns. The load of unaddressed doubt can create physical illness, and it can kill us spiritually. Thomas the doubter shared his doubt with his fellow disciples and did not withdraw but became a seeker of truth.

In today’ s world, people who have doubts usually leave the Church. Keeping quiet and walking away seems like the easy way out, but it leads to stress, ignorance, isolation, and a failure to grow and mature in the faith. Thomas could have walked away. Instead, the Bible tells us that a week later, when the disciples were together, “Thomas was with them” (John 20:26). He continued to study, grow, and learn and did not discard the lessons and learning of the past.

Thomas maintained his relationships with his fellow disciples and was willing to respond to the evidence presented to him. I have often wondered if Thomas actually put his finger into the nail prints and the wound in Jesus’ side. Or was the fact that his search for evidence had been responded to enough to motivate him to say, “My Lord and my God!” Those words are not just an acceptance of evidence. They are a realization that the evidence he was seeing was going to change his life. The Bible does not tell us what happened to Thomas, but secular history says he went to India and died there teaching people in that area of the world about Jesus.

We do not know all that took place between the time that Thomas shared his doubts with his fellow disciples, and when Jesus appeared to him. It is difficult not to believe that the others tried to convince him. I think God gave us the story of Thomas the doubter and seeker of truth to let us know that doubt is a normal part of maturing as a Christian.

Unlike Thomas, we have multiple ways of resolving our doubts. Today we have evidence from history, science, scripture, and thousands of years of testimony. The purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? ministry is to assist any seeker of truth in resolving their doubts. This website, as well as DoesGodExist.org and DoesGodExist.tv, are sources of help if you are a seeker of truth. We do not have all the answers, but sharing with others and learning from them goes a long way toward building dynamic faith.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Power of Faith and Love

Power of Faith and Love

In my atheist days, I ridiculed religious people for believing something that has no power. I didn’t realize the power of faith and love.

“What good does being a Christian do you that I can’t get at my local bar or club?” That was my challenge. I said that I could have fellowship and share love and material blessings without going to church. I pointed out with some validity that going to church is similar to being a member of a country club. I pay my dues and enjoy certain privileges to be a member of the club. For many church attenders, their contribution is their dues, and they get to go to social events and have some name recognition.

This distorted view of Christianity misses the point at many levels. The Church is not a social club, but a service organization. People in the Church serve the community. They provide relief, take care of the sick, educate children, and support good causes.

Even more important is the power of faith that comes by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus states things in Matthew 5-7 which are ludicrous to an atheist. How can a rational person love those who hate them (Matthew 5:44)? What is the logic of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? How can anyone be willing to go the second mile (Matthew 5:41)?

To answer the atheist challenge, just ask what is causing the problems for most people living in 21st century America. Why do we have such a high suicide rate? Why is drug usage high and growing? What causes so many people to struggle with depression? It isn’t physical needs that are the most significant problem. It is emotional and spiritual ills that push people into behaviors that sometimes take their lives.

Paul describes the power of faith expressed in love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. People of faith understand the love which surpasses physical needs. “Love is patient and kind: love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing or keep a record of wrongs but rejoices in the truth… Love never ends.”

There is even a particular Greek word “agapao” to describe that kind of love. It’s a love that fulfills the emotional and spiritual needs that we all have, and God’s Spirit brings that love to life in us. The power of faith is available to anyone who will seek it.

— 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

End Of Life and God

End Of Life and GodOne of the most difficult personal issues of today is what a person should do when they are very near the end of life, and their quality of life is zero. Medical science has progressed to the point where a person can continue to be alive even though they are in enormous pain and connected to machines with no hope of ever being free of wires and tubes. Most of us do not want to ever be in that situation, but the fact is that many of us will be.

I have a Buddhist friend who maintains that having a difficult time in life at any stage is payment for sin, and we should not do anything to minimize that payment. There are many Christians who maintain that God and God alone should determine the time of our death and that extending or reducing the time of death is wrong.

We are not talking about suicide in the sense of wanting to leave this life because of relationship problems or failures in life. We are talking about cases like a woman named Brittany, who had an aggressive brain tumor. After an eight-hour surgery, doctors told her that they could not get it all and that within six months, she would die. Doctors told her that “her symptoms were going to get much worse with brutal headaches, seizures, a loss of motor and cognitive abilities, a change in her personality, and ultimately she would die.” She did die on her 30th birthday in Oregon where she and her family had moved because physician help in dying is available there.

This case has been publicized by an organization called “Compassion and Choices.” They are pushing for nation-wide acceptance of “physician-assisted compassionate death.” They are using Brittany Diaz as their poster child. There are all kinds of issues involved in a case like Brittany’s. The medical profession has been lax in dealing with pain, and the current opioid crisis has made the situation worse. The potential for abuse in end of life cases is enormous. The expense of keeping a terminal patient alive can bankrupt a family. On the other hand, end of life situations frequently provide for healing among those left behind and also allow a person a final opportunity to be obedient to God. How should Christians deal with this issue?

The first point we need to understand is that death from a biblical standpoint is when the soul returns to God. It is not when the heart stops beating or when the person stops breathing. A person can be dead, and yet their body can continue to do biological functions. The Bible tells us that the body is the “temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you. If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). This same principle is involved in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, where Paul condemns prostitution by again referring to the body as “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” He ends by saying, “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

We are not talking about “pulling the plug” in this discussion. Christians can work with their physicians when death is near to stop the pain and yet allow the person to continue to manage their affairs. Giving enough relief from pain to cause a person to be unable to manage their affairs is rarely the situation, and it is not actively killing the person. Even giving morphine can accelerate the death of an individual by suppressing breathing, but pain killers should be available for every individual.

Each case is different, and each person should make clear what they want to be done when the end of life is near. When God has more work for a person to do, and they are able to do it, physician-assisted suicide should not be forced upon them.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: CompassionAndChoices.org.