Human Suffering Human-Caused

Human Suffering Human-Caused
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

Toughest Part of Prison Ministry

Toughest Part of Prison Ministry
From the beginning of this ministry, we have been involved in working with individuals who are incarcerated. The toughest part of prison ministry is inescapable. It is dealing with children who are experiencing incredible pain because of the actions of their parents.

Ezekiel 18:20 makes it clear, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” Still, children who are not guilty of any wrongdoing suffer when a parent is put in jail. It is excruciating to be part of “visitation” at a prison as children cry out for love and attention and can’t understand the reason for an end to the visit that always comes way too soon.

This issue has far-reaching consequences for all of us. Dr. Molinda Chartrand who works with both military families and incarcerated people says, “Hitting, biting, and hyperactivity are much more frequent when a parent is deployed or incarcerated.” Very young children who have a parent absent from the home have a 5% higher incident rate of behavior problems than the general population. Older preschoolers have a 20% higher rate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that an estimated 2 million children with one or both parents incarcerated face the greatest risk of perpetuating the cycle of crime. Nearly 50% of all state prison inmates have either another family member in prison or have a family member who has been in prison.

There is a huge need for Christians to get involved in efforts to help address this problem. God’s plan for the family is the only plan that works. When the family is disrupted for whatever reason, it is the children who suffer as much as anyone. The toughest part of prison ministry is ministering to the children of inmates.

The data comes from the Kings Crossing Prison Ministries and the NewLife Behavior Ministries.

Why Do We Need Christmas?

Why Do We Need Christmas?
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

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Wise Choices

Physician-Assisted Suicide
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

Girls Harming Themselves

Girls Harming Themselves
On November 21, The Washington Post reported on a 15-year study showing that there has been a dramatic increase in American girls harming themselves. Cutting, swallowing poisons and pills, and other forms of self-harm have increased 8.4% annually among middle-school girls between 2009 and 2015. Hospitals across the country provided the data for the study. The lead author suggests that suicide is linked to the same causes.

Our culture’s obsession with sex and the discarding of the purpose God has for sex and replacing it with struggles for power, popularity and social status has to be a major part of the problem. The authors blame cyberbullying, and smartphones, but also include social isolation in their list of causes. Society makes girls feel like they are objects and not special creations of God. The media tells them that their bodies are the focus and not the biblical concept of being created in God’s image. When nobody tells them that they have a purpose far beyond competing for physical beauty, their feeling of self-worth suffers.

Girls harming themselves is a product of our sex-saturated culture. We will continue to see social isolation and people struggling with feelings of poor self-worth as long as our society rejects God’s plan for family and the roles for men and women.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Mothers Are Important

Mothers Are Important
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

Holiday Season and the Black Friday Kickoff

Holiday Season Black Friday
We are at the beginning of the so-called Holiday Season which is supposed to be a time of religious significance, good will, love for others, and gift giving. The chances are that you have had some kind of reaction to “Black Friday.” In 1952 Black Friday was the name given to the day after Thanksgiving because it was the day when shopkeepers balance sheets turned black (positive) from red (loss) for the year.

What began as a commentary on business profits and margins has become a time of greed and in a few cases, even violence. In 2008 a crowd of shoppers at a Walmart in Valley Stream, New York, broke down the door to the store and trampled a 34-year-old employee to death. On the same day, two people were shot to death in an altercation over a toy in Palm Desert, California. In 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin, police arrested a woman who threatened to shoot other shoppers who objected to her cutting in line. In 2011 a woman at a Walmart at Porter Ranch, California, used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to get to the front of a line to buy a discounted Xbox. The list of abuse and violence on Black Friday is long and tragic.

Some of us can remember a time when gifts at Christmas were hand-made or involved food. Thanksgiving was a religious day recognizing how blessed we are individually and as a country. Christmas was a time of Christian celebration in song and art. Our emphasis on things has pushed us to compete for whatever is the current toy of the year. Television ads show us how important it is for us to give our mate or child a new car or an expensive piece of jewelry. For many people paying for holiday gifts goes on for months or even years,

Christians should reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33, “Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or drink or even for your body and what clothes you shall put on. Is not life more than meat and your body more than your clothes? Look at the birds of the air, for they do not sow and they do not reap or gather into barns. Still, your Father feeds them. Aren’t you much better than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to your height? Why do you worry about clothing? Take a look at the lilies of the field, how they grow, and they don’t work at it… And yet even Solomon in all of his splendor was not arrayed like one of these… So take no thought saying what shall I eat or drink or what shall I wear. Your Father knows you have need of these things, but you should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you.”

Don’t allow atheistic materialism to rob you of the great joys that come from times of thankfulness, helping others, and spending time with the Lord in thankfulness and joy at the opportunity you have to be a Christian and to bring blessings to others. Let’s make this holiday season a holy season.
–John N. Clayton

Religious Freedom Threatened

Religious Freedom Threatened
We have recently posted about some believers who have had their religious freedom threatened merely because they want to live out their faith. Government agencies at various levels are attacking believers with fines, jail time, or bankruptcy because they will not participate in something which is against their Christian convictions. Wedding photographers, cake artists, and owners of flower shops and wedding venues have been charged with discrimination. Their only crime is not wanting to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies because they believe it violates God’s plan and design for marriage.

Now government punishment is being carried out against Christian farmers because they expressed their belief in the God’s design and sanctity of marriage. Steve and Bridget Tennes and their five children live on a farm 22 miles from East Lansing, Michigan. For the past seven years they have been selling their produce at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market. The city has adopted a policy that bars those who believe in traditional marriage from selling produce in the market. Steve Tennes posted his Christian view of marriage on Facebook. When the administration of the East Lansing Farmer’s Market learned about that, they said the Tennes farm, known as Country Mill, would no longer be allowed to sell.

Country Mill was selling the only organic apples available in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, and those sales are a significant part of the income for the Tennes family. Steve Tennes filed a federal lawsuit against the city, and a federal district judge ordered that he should be allowed to return to the farmer’s market until the case is settled. Tennes does not want to see Americans’ religious freedom threatened. He said, “This isn’t just about our ability to sell at the farmer’s market. It’s really about every American’s right to make a living and not have to worry about being punished by the government.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the cases we reported on earlier. That is the case of Jack Phillips, a Christian cake artist who will not participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony by designing a cake for it. The Justice Department is siding with Phillips in this case. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will decide. There are Christians who just want to live out their faith and not be forced to participate in something they believe is in violation of God’s commands. The Jack Phillips case could have repercussions for many others.

We can’t ignore the fact that religious freedom threatened just because it hasn’t directly threatened us. Believers should not be forced to do something that violates their faith. That sounds too much like the situation the early Christians faced in ancient Rome.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?
In our day of constant protests about human rights and discussions about racism and sexism, skeptics say that women are treated as second-class citizens in Christianity. The truth is that there are no second-class people in Christianity.

In his excellent book Under the Influence (Zondervan Publishing, 2001) Alvin J. Schmidt presented a strong historical case for the fact that Christianity has been the main influence for women’s equality. The Bible does not portray women as second-class citizens or as subservient to men.

One of the sources of misunderstanding is the word “submission” in the New Testament. Two Greek words can be translated “submit.” One is the Greek word hupeiko which means to retire, withdraw, yield, or surrender. It is used only in Hebrews 13:17 where Paul wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” The idea involved is to turn everything over to someone else, and that word is not used in the relationship of women to men.

The Greek word used to portray the husband-wife relationship is hupotasso. It comes from two root words: hupo meaning “under” and tasso meaning to “arrange.” It can be used in a military sense, and it means to submit yourself to or obey. When I was in the army, I submitted to my commanding officer. I was not a slave or a second-class citizen. Our commanding officer gave us a mission. Together we arranged a way to solve the mission objective. I never questioned the role of my commanding officer, but I knew he was dependent on me to arrange things to achieve our mission.

Ephesians 5 begins its discussion of submission by telling Christians to submit (hupotasso) to one another (verse 21). Christians have a common goal, and we accomplish that goal by being in submission to God and to one another as each of us has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). God gives us a job to do, and we are valued as agents to get that job done. Paul then uses the same word to describe the relationship of wives to their husbands (verse 22).

Sometimes a man will be in subjection to his wife. When it comes to laundry and grocery shopping, I do what my wife says. The picture of husband and wife in Ephesians and throughout the New Testament is a picture of trust, love, service, and respect. Paul tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). He told wives to respect their husbands(verse 33). The goal is a happy marriage and ultimately eternal life.

Christianity elevates women and places them as equals to men in every way. Each one has roles and abilities unique to them and to their gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There are no second-class citizens in Christianity.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish
Lying seems to be a heavily used skill in today’s political climate. The fact that there is so much deception in politics is interesting to me because as an atheist I viewed deception as a survival skill. When I was a child, my mother took me to narrated movie shows on nature. These were 16 mm movies filmed by photographers usually associated with The Audubon Society or The National Geographic Society. The person who did the filming usually was the narrator, and that added color and personality to what we saw on the screen.

My mother usually had an object lesson for me at the end of those films and deception was a major theme. My favorite film was an underwater movie about reef fish. The scene I liked most involved an ugly fish known as the anglerfish. This fish would lie on the bottom and dangle a piece of flesh that was worm-shaped in front of its mouth on a rod attached to its head. The fish would wiggle the lure to attract reef fish. When a fish came close to investigate, the anglerfish would suddenly lurch forward and swallow the fish whole.

My mother seized on the moment to tell me that I needed to learn a lesson about life from the anglerfish. That lesson in her atheist perspective was that life is hard and to survive we must to learn to deceive and not be deceived. Later in my efforts as an atheist, I would maintain that deception is simply survival of the fittest. The fit survive by deceiving and exploiting the unfit.

I always had good results using this to support my atheist arguments. When I tried to justify stealing money from my mother, it was less effective. I protested by referring the anglerfish, but she screamed at me, “You’re not a fish!!”

Now looking back at that from a Christian apologetic position I have to say “Bingo!!” But from her atheistic evolutionary perspective, I AM no more than a fish. When we have so much deception in politics, that is an indication of the perspective of our elected officials.
–John N. Clayton © 2017