Peaceful Death and God

Peaceful Death
One of the things that old age brings you is that you are constantly brought face-to-face with death. Since the start of 2018, eight people that I knew well have died. The most recent was my younger brother who died from a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. All eight of those people died slowly over a period of months. All of them were aware of their impending death within their last week of life. None were sudden deaths due to an accident or an unexpected stroke or heart attack. Discover magazine (March 2018, pages 66-68) published an article about the connection between spirituality and peaceful death. It tells about a radiation oncologist named Tracy Balboni who is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A major part of the thrust of Dr. Balboni’s work is helping patients make important decisions about the end of life. They can choose whether to use every possible medical technique to prolong their life, or they can decline major interventions and use hospice care and medication for pain control.

I watched my brother die, and I have observed the difference between his dying and the death of atheists I know who died with similar ailments. Every atheist that I have observed exhausted every medical resource possible in an attempt to stay alive. Not only was it expensive, but it brought much suffering to them and anxiety to their family members. One man told me “If this life is all I have been given, then I want to hang onto it as long and as hard as I possibly can.”

In my brother’s case, two years ago this past November I baptized him into Christ. That was the culmination of a great struggle between the atheistic traditions he had grown up with, and the influence of his wife and myself encouraging him to embrace spirituality. When he accepted Christ, he was not facing death, but his mortality was obvious. In the last three months of his life, he became very weak, and his quality of life deteriorated significantly. In the last three weeks, he and I talked extensively. He was resolute in his determination to have no more medical treatments and to be in hospice. His death was a peaceful death.

Balboni has received a two-million-dollar research grant designed to put spirituality on solid ground. To those who would complain that you are measuring nothing in such studies, Balboni says: “No, no, no. There are too many associations that we’re seeing to say it’s spurious and meaningless. That argument doesn’t hold if you care for dying patients.”

A patient’s spirituality gives huge support at the end of life. In our day of rapidly expanding medical technology, faith is a very important tool for peaceful death.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Happiness Is a Fat Gecko

Happiness Is a Fat Gecko
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.

Christian Ministers Who Advanced Science

Christian Ministers Who Advanced Science
In the past, a large number of famous Christian ministers and church leaders were also outstanding scientists or worked to advance science. The attempts of some writers to portray the historical relationship of science and faith as a continuous war are at odds with the evidence. There were leading Christian ministers who advanced science. Christianity Today in the December 2017 issue had an interesting article on some of them:

FRANCOIS-ETIENNE JALLABERT was a Huguenot minister and was the first chair of mathematics at the University of Geneva in 1704.
JONATHAN EDWARDS was a minister in Princeton, New Jersey, and in 1720 became the president of College of New Jersey which became Princeton University.
INCREASE MATHER was a preacher and in 1721 became the president of Harvard University.
COTTON MATHER was a religious leader in England and was a leading advocate for smallpox inoculation in the 1720s.
JOHN WESLEY was the founder of Methodism and was a leading promoter of the use of science and modern medicine in 1740-50.
JEAN JALLABERT was a preacher and a professor of physics in 1748.

The Christianity Today article details how these Christian ministers who advanced science promoted the use of science as a coworker with faith to benefit humanity. Many religious leaders of the past were highly educated in science and used scientific concepts to encourage people in their faith. True science and true faith are friends, not enemies.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Voodoo in Haiti, the Bahamas, and Massachusetts?

Voodoo
In the newspapers on February 4, 2018, there was a story from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, about a five-year-old girl who was permanently disfigured by a voodoo ritual. Two sisters tied her down and engaged in a ritual intended to rid her of a demon. The sisters say that they perform “cleansing baths” for family and friends and the children sometimes get burned as spirits leave their bodies. Voodoo rituals like that are practiced in Haiti, the home country of the sisters.

Missionaries working in Haiti tell about an evil black pit where animals and occasionally humans are thrown into a putrid bubbling mass to appease evil spirits that cause illness. A man from the Bahamas told us that on some of the islands there, this same kind of activity is common.

The Bible makes it clear that God forbids anything associated with witchcraft, voodoo, evil spirits, or sorcery. The Old Testament law said that a person who performed this type of activity should be put to death (Exodus 22:18). Any activity of that type was forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:12). We might think that is extreme, but these things can and do result in human sacrifice. That is serious.

The New Testament included witchcraft with other immoral acts including murder (See Galatians 5:20-21). People have done horrible acts of violence in voodoo activities, and humans are frequently disfigured or violated in some way. The New Testament tells us the human body is the temple of God, and that as Christians the Spirit of God dwells in us. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Ignorance produces the kind of horrible thing that just happened in Massachusetts, and which happens every day in Haiti and the Bahamas. That is why it is so important for us to educate anyone we can on what God wants from us, and what evil can do. We should never underestimate the power of evil, but God has given us tools far superior to anything evil can produce. James tells us, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Mental Health and Christian Faith

Mental Health
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.

There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.

Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.

Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton

Evidence for God Reaching the “Nones”

Evidence for God Reaching the "Nones"
All of the polls and surveys tell us that 40% of the American public when asked what their religious beliefs are, answer by saying “none.” Within the Church, we see the same issue. A large percentage of our congregations see their membership becoming older in average age and smaller in number. The evidence for God is there for those who are willing to look.

The difficulty is that many of our young people have an inherited faith or an emotional faith. An inherited faith is one where the person comes to worship and/or is baptized because that is the way they were raised. As one young man told me, “It’s a small price to pay for peace at home.” An emotional faith is one where the person is stampeded into “coming forward” because of a guilt trip or because their best friend responded to an invitation for baptism at camp or in a Vacation Bible School.

Jesus called people to a faith based on evidence. Thomas is the classic example of that. (See John 20:24-29.) Paul reasoned with the people of his day. (See Acts 17:18-34.) Romans 1:20, Psalms 19:1 and numerous other passages tell us we can know why we believe what we believe through the creation around us. I am one who came to believe in God through the scientific evidence for God that is available to all of us.

God has given us the tools to reach people with evidential faith in the twenty-first century. For 50 years now I have been blessed to reach out to college and university students, and to people who have left the Church because they doubted that the God of the Bible is real and that His Word is God-breathed. We offer a free course on evidences for the existence of God on doesgodexist.org. Anyone can watch our video course for free on doesgodexist.tv.

A large percentage of the students in our courses and followers of our Facebook page are “nones.” If you really want to examine the evidence for God, we invite you to join us for a study of the evidence that God exists.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Cake Baking

Cake Baking
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

The Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life-Michael Shermer
Perhaps the most influential atheist in America today is Michael Shermer, who expresses his views on the meaning of life. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Shermer has had some theological training. As an atheist, he publishes Skeptic magazine. He also has a regular column in Scientific American magazine through which he promotes his atheistic views and the various books he has written attacking believers in God. His most recent book is Heavens on Earth which he promotes heavily in his column in the February 2018 issue of Scientific American.

Atheists like Shermer view something that they don’t understand as impossible to understand. Shermer spells out a view of the future of the cosmos and the meaning of life–or lack thereof. Suggesting that the cosmos will end in total heat death with nothing but endless darkness, he then says: “In light of that end, it’s hard for me to understand how our moral choices have any sort of significance. There’s no moral accountability. The universe is neither better nor worse for what we do. Our more moral lives become vacuous because they don’t have that kind of cosmic significance.”

Shermer’s views are typical of atheist arguments on the meaning of life. Notice:

1) Heat death is not the only possible conclusion that one can come to as far as the demise of the physical cosmos is concerned.
2) The fact that it is hard for Shermer to understand does not mean that it cannot be understood. It is somewhat arrogant to argue that what I can understand is all that is possible.
3) Later Shermer states his belief that, “We live in the here and now, not in the hereafter.” That is a faith statement which is not backed up by empirical scientific data.
4) Shermer denigrates the attempts of Christians to help and serve others by saying that life choice has no cosmic significance. It may not benefit molecules and atoms, but it has huge significance on the future of humanity. The negative effects of humans upon planet Earth fill the pages of Scientific American, and that is not addressed by what Shermer claims is the purpose of our existence.
5) Shermer says, “our most basic purpose in life is to combat entropy by doing something “extropic,” in other words, expending energy to survive and flourish. Every demagogue who ever lived would agree with that statement–if they understood it.

The reality is that “It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). That is also a faith statement, but it makes more sense to most of us than believing Shermer’s faith which says, “we are sentient beings designed by evolution to survive and flourish in the teeth of entropy and death.”

I am sure that the atheist community will rise in praise of Shermer’s new book. However, his subtitle of the Scientific American article “Science reveals our deepest purpose” is grossly inaccurate. In fact, we suggest that science doesn’t support his faith well at all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018