If you are an American and want to read a book that will make you appreciate life in the United States of America, this book is for you. Happiness Is a Fat Gecko will make you realize how blessed you are not to live in a developing nation.
I have known Dr. Frank Black for a very long time, and have appreciated his dedication to the Lord. Dr. Black worked in the emergency room of Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana, for 19 years. He had been looking for ways to use his medical training and his Christian faith together where they were most needed. In 1992 he and his wife Lou Ann moved to Africa and lived in Chimala, Tanzania, where they worked for five years. This book tells the story of their experiences.
Happiness Is a Fat Gecko does not belittle or denigrate Africa or Tanzania, but in my opinion, it is a strong apologetic for the validity of the Christian system. The relationship of humans to nature and the value of the moral laws that Christ taught are contrasted with witchcraft, sorcery, and native medicine. The fact that a doctor would leave one of the largest hospitals in the United States where he could have money and power, to go to a country where there was a shortage of even basic medical equipment, and local people rely on shamans, is a strong example of what Christianity is all about.
The title Happiness is a Fat Gecko comes from the fact that Geckos (small lizards) are welcomed into the houses where Dr. Black worked. The reason is that they eat mosquitoes, and malaria is a major plague in Tanzania.
The book is well written, easy to read, and hard to put down. There are 48 short chapters, and each chapter contains humor, personal stories, and feelings from Dr. Black. We spend way too much time and energy fussing with each other over things that don’t have much relevance to the majority of people in the world. People like Frank Black do things that have eternal significance without a lot of recognition. I am sure this book will affect you as it did me. I recommend it highly.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Happiness Is a Fat Gecko by Frank Black, Dog Ear Publishing, ©2017, 235 pages, $14.50 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-4575-5951-8. You can find it on Amazon.
At a meeting last summer, my dear friend Paul Methvin told this story about cake baking. It is so good I would like to share it with you.
“When I was a child I was watching my mother make a cake. She measured out some bitter chocolate. I liked chocolate, so I asked her for a bite, which she let me have. It was bitter, and I spat it out. She took some vanilla and added it to the chocolate. I licked the spoon because I like vanilla, but it too was bitter. She took some lemon juice, which I knew better than to taste, some baking powder which I also didn’t like, and a bunch of lard which she offered me on a spoon. It was disgusting, and I wasn’t about to taste it. She mixed all of these unpleasant things together and put it in the oven. When she took it out of the oven, there was this wonderful smell and later a wonderful taste. The cake was a huge success, but it was made up of a bunch of things that individually were not good at all.”
Don’t you see that life is very much like cake baking? The apostle Paul had a life made up of a bunch of unpleasant things. His father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) which was a group of legalistic, cynical Jews who fought against Jesus. He persecuted the Church (Galatians 1:13) and killed and imprisoned Christians (Acts 7:58) making havoc of the Church (Acts 8:3). He was educated in the graduate school of Gamaliel but became so unpopular that in Damascus the Jewish leaders tried to kill him. He had to be let down the walls of the city at night in a basket to escape (Acts 9:23-25). He spent three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and began a ministry (Acts 13) that involved a long road of beatings, floggings, stonings, and imprisonments. It is from all of these negative things that Paul was able at the end of his life to express a satisfaction and a joy for all he has been able to do (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
My cake baking life has also been made up of a lot of bitter things. I was raised by an atheist family, involved in organized atheism, educated in a very liberal and immoral university, and driven nearly to suicide by consequences of an immoral life. I had a son born with numerous birth defects, and the love of my life died. On top of that, I was rejected and condemned by people who should have been supporting brothers and sisters. Those are the ingredients that went into my “cake.”
How about your cake–your life’s experiences? Each event may be bitter and hard to bear. The oven of life bakes us and at the judgment what God will see is a cake that the Spirit has produced from all our hardships and pain. We just need to add the right ingredients from God’s Word to make it sweet and palatable to God.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
There is a constant flow of books, articles, television shows, and blogs dealing with the question of why God allows human suffering. All religions deal in one way or another with this issue, and atheists have attempted to dance around it by denial or avoidance.
We have suggested over the years that Christianity offers the only rational solution to the issue because:
1) The question is only for this life and in the context of eternity is of extremely short duration.
2) Suffering allows ministering to others that Christians are uniquely called to do.
3) To be human there has to be choice, otherwise love is impossible, and choices can have consequences.
Most logical people would agree that if you jump off a bridge, you can’t blame God when you hit the bottom. The fact is that massive amounts of human suffering are because we refuse to live as God calls us to and we do things that bring suffering upon ourselves. God doesn’t cause wars and human actions that cause droughts and famines. God also does not cause us to make bad choices that lead to our own suffering and the suffering of others.
Science News in their last issue for 2017 gave a summary of the latest data in four areas where human suffering is human-caused:
1) 13.4 million U.S. adults misused or abused opioids. (Data from 2015).
2) 19 children die or are medically treated for gun-inflicted wounds every day.
3) 9 million people died directly from pollution.
4) 46% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise.
It isn’t 100% of the pain and suffering issue, but a vast percentage of the pain in this world we bring on ourselves. It is not caused by an angry or malicious god who likes to see us hurt.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
The abortion battle continues with the “20-week abortion ban” being the present focus of pro-life advocates. Last October The House of Representatives approved a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, but the Senate has never taken it up. Seventeen states have already adopted 20 weeks as the cut off for an abortion. On Friday President Trump spoke to the marchers in the annual March for Life in Washington, and he called for the Senate to pass the bill and send it to his desk.
It seems that the 20-week ban which would allow abortions up to 20 weeks after conception is a compromise that many people are willing to accept. Promoters of the bill say that 60% of Americans are supportive of the 20-week cutoff. The reason for 20 weeks is that some data shows that “babies can feel pain in utero” at that time.
Everyone knows that this is a compromise, but it still has enormous problems. Determining when a baby feels pain is subjective at best. Outward signs of pain in the womb are difficult to detect and interpret. That statement that “babies feel pain” means that they are babies! The major question is when does a human become a human? Is it at 20 weeks? The fact is that the baby is still a baby at 19 weeks. It is not a cow or a pig or a fish; it is a baby.
Our culture cannot dance around the fact that when the sperm meets the egg and conception occurs it is a child at that point. We apparently are willing to practice infanticide, but we don’t want to call it that. Certainly, the earlier a pregnancy is terminated, the less traumatic it will be for the baby and the mother, but the fact is that it is still the destruction of a human life.
Let’s be honest and call it infanticide and work to prevent the conception by following God’s laws as to how we are to conduct ourselves morally. Where that fails, let us allow the child to live and give a parent like me the joy of raising the child. I have three adopted children, and I thank God that those three mothers had the courage, strength, and love for the child to allow my children to see life beyond birth and bless myself and my wife with the joy of raising them.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
The New York Times recently reported that the United States government between 2008 and 2011 spent 22 million dollars on a secretive program to investigate UFO claims. A collection of stories has now emerged concerning the results of the study. It includes:
Reports of pilots seeing strange aircraft that moved at great speeds and made 90 degree turns at full throttle.
Claims of government contractors constructing specially-modified storage buildings to house mysterious “metal alloys” recovered from UFOs.
A quote from the former director of the program saying “What was considered science fiction is now science fact.”
We have pointed out repeatedly that whether there is life in outer space is not an apologetic issue. God may have seen fit to create life elsewhere. Historically the UFO claims have been used by skeptics and opponents of Christianity in all kinds of ways to suggest that aliens are responsible for our existence and that we are just pawns in some alien chess match. The fact that this story is raised repeatedly in the media is a reflection of that way of thinking.
The fact is that the story of pilots seeing strange space vehicles originally occurred in the 1940s and has been shown to be reflections off the cockpit windows. I have a friend who works with government contracts to test new alloys and materials. All of their samples come from the Earth, and there are dozens of buildings built with government contracts to store all of the materials being tested. His favorite line is, “We have a solution, now we are looking for the problem for the solution to solve.”
We can’t blame aliens for the chaos that is in our world today, and we can’t look for aliens for solutions to our problems. Christ has the answers everyone is looking for, but He will not force solutions on us against our will. What Jesus calls us to do goes against our selfish desires. Wasting 22 million dollars on UFO claims is a reflection of the ignorance that permeates the governing agencies of our culture.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. There are many people who dislike Christmas, and they have various reasons. I have some reasons why I think we need Christmas.
For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of the winter solstice when daylight seems much too short. Christmas serves to cheer us up and get us through those winter doldrums. That leads to a second reason–the decorations and especially the lights which bring beauty and cheer, even on those cold, dark days.
A third reason is the emphasis on family at Christmas. It seems that everyone wants to spend time with family and those we love as we carry on the Christmas traditions we enjoy. Related to that is the fourth reason, and that is giving. We enjoy giving to others. Jesus said there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). We naturally tend to want others to give to us. But when we give to others, we learn that what Jesus said was true.
Reason number five relates to giving. God’s love for us prompted him to give the greatest gift of all. God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived among us (John 1:14). Why do we need Christmas? The greatest reason for Christmas is to remind us of the gift God gave to us. He came to show us how to live and to give himself for us. If we could all follow the example Jesus gave and accept the gift he offers, the joy of Christmas would last all year long.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling. Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation. Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.” That is the secret of gift giving.
“Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being murdered, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.
The story of Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is truly the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of his creatures to bring them to himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.
When we realize it is true, we must ask ourselves, “What can I give in return?” What is the secret of gift giving? When it come to giving ourselves it is not holding hold back anything. That is not easy to do. God is the one who gives without holding back, but our giving has strings attached. We should say with the Jewish King David, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” In fact, we should offer to God that which costs us everything. That would still not match God’s gift to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2017
Citizen Magazine reported in August that over 50% of “Christians” approve physician-assisted suicide. As we get older, we have relatives and friends who no longer want to stay alive because their quality of life is poor and they see no hope of getting well. The question really is a matter of alternatives.
In previous years there was a group known as The Hemlock Society who campaigned for and supported physician-assisted suicide. They have renamed themselves Compassion and Choices. The title suggests that we need to have compassion for the dying and allow them to kill themselves with the assistance of a physician to make sure the suicide isn’t bungled.
They have it only half right. We must have compassion for the dying. In this culture and this time of medical advances, there is no reason why anyone should have to endure massive pain as life ebbs toward its end.
Seventy years ago my paternal grandmother had spinal cancer that was causing her massive pain. The doctor severed her spinal cord in a way that stopped the pain but rendered her unable to walk or control her bladder or bowels. She lived for 15 years after that surgery. I remember visiting with her, being taught by her, playing games with her, and hearing about ancestors that I would never see. She was positive and encouraging to me.
Suicide doesn’t allow some vital things needed by those left behind. My younger brother is suffering a similar disease situation as I write. He too has had surgery on his spine that has confined him to a wheelchair. It allows him to continue to enjoy family, his grandchildren and working with his wife on family issues and problems that she otherwise would have to face alone.
Humans are not robots. We are created in God’s image, and our relationship to God and one another is different from animals. The statement by a euthanasia proponent that putting down a human is no different than putting down a dog is incredibly ignorant. We need to have compassion for the survivors as well as the dying and make choices that benefit everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Mothers are important and an organization called MOPS encourages motherhood. On their website they say that there are two billion mothers in the world and that four million babies are born in the United States every year with six out of ten born to single mothers.
Christians should be concerned that five in ten mothers say they don’t feel they receive emotional support from their churches. Outreach ministries of most congregations have ignored the needs of mothers. Mothers are important and we cannot overemphasize the importance of helping young mothers realize that the first seven years of a baby’s life shapes their entire development.
Church programs that don’t start with helping train the child from birth on are missing the most effective ministry they can have. For ideas and inspiration for an outreach to mothers, visit www.mops.org/church.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
During the U.S. football season in the fall of 2017, we have had a national kneeling controversy. It centers over whether the players have a right to kneel in protest during the national anthem. There have been enough varied opinions on this issue to fill a massive number of talk shows and ESPN commentary sessions. Many argue that “freedom of speech” is the issue, even though not a word is spoken.
This debate has ignored the right of coaches to kneel–including high school football coaches. Two years ago a Bremerton, Washington, high school coach named Joe Kennedy was fired for kneeling in prayer on the field after football games. There is no indication that players participated or were asked to participate. Kennedy appealed, and the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against him, The court said he: “Took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon impressionable and captive minds before him.” Kennedy served 20 years in the marines, and he says, “I just want the same rights as everyone else. What applies for one should apply to every American.”
As the kneeling controversy continues, I know many middle school and high school coaches in my area who have a moment of silent prayer or meditation before a game starts. If someone objected, that would probably be forbidden also.
In a C-SPAN interview, Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said that we must “be able to determine where we are as Americans. If we are going to honor all free speech and all free exercise of religion, we need to be able to honor that universally.” We agree wholeheartedly.
–John N. Clayton © 2017