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6. Abigail - Walking in Wisdom

We live in a world that is invested in education, intellect, position, celebrity, money, and power. People place importance on where someone went to school or what job title she holds. We talk about someone being brilliant in a particular field or famous for her accomplishments.

The Bible does not downplay hard work and excellent training, but it places more emphasis and importance on godly wisdom. Without wisdom, even the most educated and intelligent people make poor choices. Without a biblical worldview and a biblical view of humanity, seemingly smart people come up with solutions that will not work. God’s word gives us wisdom to navigate the difficult situations in life. This week we will look at an incident from the life of a wise woman named Abigail.

Step into the Story

Read I Samuel 25:1-43

1. How are Nabal and his wife Abigail described in v.2?

 

2. According to v.3, what was David tell his servants to request of Nabal? What had David and his men done for Nabal’s shepherds? (v.5, 15-16) 

3. How did Nabal respond when the servants followed David’s directions? (v.10-11) What was David’s response when he heard from his servants how Nabal had responded to his request? (v.13)

4. To whom did the servants appeal after Nabal refused David’s request? Did they feel that Nabal’s response was appropriate in light of the protection David and his men offered them? Why didn’t they appeal to Nabal? (v.14-17)

5. What did Abigail do when she realized that her entire household was in danger? (v.18-19) [If you are amazed like I am that anyone could prepare that much food so quickly, remember that they were getting ready to have a feast to celebrate the shearing of the sheep.]

6. What was David planning to do to Nabal’s household before his encounter with Abigail? (v.21)

7. How do Abigail’s actions and words demonstrate her humility before David?(v.23-25)

8. Read Abigail’s appeal to David in v. 26-31. What did Abigail remind David about the LORD? Be specific as you look at these verses.

v.26

v.28

v.29

v.30

v.31

9. What happened to Nabal after he found out what had transpired? (v.36-38) What did David do after he heard about Nabal’s death? How did Abigail respond to David’s invitation? (v.39-42)

10. Review Abigail’s actions, her words, others’ words about her, and the narrator’s description of her. What evidence do you see that Abigail was a wise woman?

11. Are there relationships and situations in your life right now that are difficult? Are you dealing with people who are foolish or angry? Do you need to make an appeal to someone in authority? What did you learn from Abigail’s example that you could apply to your specific circumstance?

Journey through the Principle

Abigail displayed wisdom as she dealt both with her foolish husband Nabal and with David who was very angry and ready to take revenge. Dealing with difficult people is a great challenge. Abigail shows us the value of learning and applying God’s wisdom in relationships and in making an appeal.

Too often, we value human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom when navigating tough situations. Our first instinct in problem solving may be to call a friend for advice, look on the internet, or find an expert. While these are valid methods for acquiring information, we need to recognize that the Lord is the source of true wisdom. We can research and gain information but then we need to filter everything through the truth of Scripture. God’s wisdom is relevant and practical. His word will provide guidance when we are facing a serious problem.

Read James 3:13-18.

1. How is the wisdom from above described in verse 17?

2. How is the wisdom which is not from above described in verse 15?

3. Are you surprised that James describes the wisdom which is not from above as natural? Why or why not?

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways

And My thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9

Walk It Out in Life

Read Proverbs 2:1-9 (NASB) below and circle the word God, any synonyms for God, and any pronouns that refer to God. Also, underline the verbs in verses 1-5.

1. My son, if you will receive my words

And treasure my commandments within you,

2. Make your ear attentive to wisdom,

Incline your heart to understanding;

3. For if you cry for discernment,

Lift your voice for understanding;

4. If you seek her as silver

And search for her as for hidden treasures;

5. Then you will discern the fear of the LORD

And discover the knowledge of God.

6. For the LORD gives wisdom;

From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

7. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,

8. Guarding the paths of justice,

And He preserves the way of His godly ones.

9. Then you will discern righteousness and justice

And equity and every good course.

1. Who is the source of wisdom?

2. How much effort is required to get wisdom? (v.1-5)

3. What is the result of knowing and applying God’s wisdom? (v.9)

4. According to this passage, is it possible to be extremely intelligent, highly educated, but not wise? Explain your reasoning, using Proverbs 2 to support your argument.

Walk It Out in Parenting

When I became a parent, I wanted to do all the right things. I purchased books written by experts on parenting. I had a plan. I would follow all the advice and we would all live “happily ever after.” Immediately I discovered that the experts did not agree on how to parent. The world’s best advice for parenting was inconsistent and confusing. I was very surprised, but I shouldn’t have been!

Having been a teacher and having gone to seminars on classroom learning environments and discipline, I had already been exposed to the world’s view of humanity. I spent all day in a seminar one time where the lecturer recommended setting up multiple stations in a large classroom with different subjects and learning activities. We were to let the students choose what they wanted to do and when they wanted to do it. (This was a seminar for secondary teachers not pre-school or early elementary). “What if the student stays at the station he enjoys and never goes to the subject he dislikes?” we questioned. Apparently, that had not been a problem or not much of one for this expert. Of course, she had never disciplined her child either. She just gave options or choices and let him decide. I realized later that her entire system and philosophy were based on the belief that people (children in particular) are basically good. Given a good environment and creative learning activities, children would choose what is right. Her view of humanity was not a biblical one. Even though her teaching style and learning activities were creative and hands on, she built her plan on a false premise.

The Bible teaches that we are born with a natural inclination to sin. Our job as parents is to love our children, discipline them, and teach them the truth. As we saw in James, the wisdom that is “natural, earthly, demonic” is not the wisdom from above. As you evaluate any parenting advice, be sure to take that advice back to the Word of God, and test it to see if it is wise, biblical counsel. As moms, we want to walk in God’s wisdom, not in the world’s wisdom.

The book of Proverbs is a wonderful place to look for practical and biblical wisdom. It speaks to almost any issue we could encounter. When I have had a really difficult problem, one for which there seems to be no solution, I have read through the entire book of Proverbs and copied down every verse that pertained to my dilemma. God speaks through His Word to give me direction and wisdom.

The book of Proverbs has 31 chapters. You can read a chapter of Proverbs each day of the month. Saturate yourself with the Word of God so that you will be wise and discerning.

Hold His Hand

Abigail gives us insight into her theology in the appeal she made to David. She told David that it was the LORD who kept him from shedding blood and taking matters into his own hand (1 Sam 25:26). She reassured David that the LORD would establish David’s house (I Sam 25:28). She used a beautiful word picture to remind David that his life was held securely by the LORD (1 Sam 25:29). And she reminded him that the LORD would do everything that he had promised David and that He would make David a leader over Israel (1 Sam 25:29).

In her haste to gather food and make the preparations to meet David, Abigail did not have time to brush up on her theology or on her relationship with the LORD. Her appeal flowed out of her strong belief in God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness. David did not have to take matters into his own hands because it was the LORD who would establish his house, protect his life, and do everything He had promised David. The LORD would make David a leader over Israel.

How many times have I taken matters into my own hands when I should have trusted the LORD to work things out? How many times have I turned a situation over to Him only to take it back when He did not “fix” it on my timetable? Abigail took action but she knew the outcome was in the LORD’s hands.

The LORD has not changed. He is still the one who will do everything He has promised us. He is in control, He is establishing us, and He is protecting us. Just as the LORD fulfilled His promise to make David a leader over Israel, He will fulfill His promises to us as believers.

Related Topics: Character Study, Curriculum, Wisdom

7. David - Walking in Repentance and Restoration

Many live in depression, discouragement, and defeat because of unconfessed sin. The consequences of wrong choices reverberate in their lives and burden them like an unrelenting taskmaster. Even if they know God’s willingness to forgive, many women reason that He could never use them in service.

However, biblical characters emerge from the pages of Scripture not only with their successes but also with their failures. We are surprised to see that God uses such imperfect people. He takes people who have committed great sins and restores them. Be encouraged as you read about the repentance and restoration of one of the greatest heroes in the Bible, King David, the “man after God’s own heart.”

Step into the Story

David and Bathsheba.
Read 2 Samuel 11

The author begins by giving the setting of the story as “in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle.” The contrast introduced by the word “but” tells us that David (the king) was not out at the battle but was at Jerusalem.

1. In verses 2-4, there is a progression. Write down the verbs in each verse that tell actions that David took. I’ll start you out with verse 2.

v. 2 David arose, walked, and saw

2. What was the immediate result of David’s sin with Bathsheba? (v.5)

3. Why did David send for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who was at war? What did David hope Uriah would do? (v.6-9)

4. What do Uriah’s actions and words in v.10-11 tell us about his character?

5. In v.12-13, David made another attempt to get Uriah to go to his house. What did David do and what was the result?

6. Since his first two attempts at a cover up were unsuccessful, David devised another plan. What was his plan and how did he get the message to Joab? (v.14-15) (Notice that David’s attempt to cover his sin also had a progression. Each time his plan did not work, he moved to another level.)

7. Was David’s plan successful? What happened to Uriah? (v.16-17)

8. In v.17-25, Joab dispatched a messenger who brought an update on the war. What did the messenger say about Uriah?

9. What did David do after Uriah’s death and the period of mourning? (v.27) How did God view David’s actions?

10. Can you recall a time when you sinned and then tried to cover it up? Were you ultimately successful?David and Nathan
Read 2 Samuel 12

1. Nathan the prophet was sent by God to confront David. How did he approach David in order to help him see his sin?

2. How did David react to Nathan’s story? (v.5-6)

3. Write down the statement Nathan made to David after David reacted to the story Nathan told him. (v.7)

4. What was David’s response when he realized what he had done? (v.13)

5. According to v.13-14, what was the good news that Nathan delivered to David? What was the bad news?

Journey through the Principle

David and God
Read Psalm 51

In Psalm 51, David cried out to God in confession.

1. On what basis did David ask for forgiveness? (v.1)

2. Against whom did David say he had sinned? (v.4)

3. In v.10-12 David petitioned God for certain things. Make a list of what he requested of God. (Note: As New Testament believers, we do not have to pray that God will not take His Holy Spirit away from us. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit did not indwell all believers as He does now.)

4. David expected not only to be restored but also to be a useful servant of the Lord in the future. What things did he mention doing in v. 13-15?

5. Is there something you have held back from doing because of past sin in your life? Will you ask God to restore the joy of your salvation, to allow you to praise Him, and to use you to reach others for Him? Write your request out to the Lord.

6. What kind of sacrifice is pleasing to God? (v.17)

Walk It Out in Life

We often think of David’s great sin as adultery with Bathsheba. However, we have seen that he not only committed adultery but also plotted to make sure that Uriah would be killed. David confessed his sin, received forgiveness from God, and knew God could still use his life. After we have confessed a sin, we know that “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9 NASB).

Have you let Satan convince you that something you have done is so great that God could never use you? Have you told yourself that you have done something so unthinkable that if anyone knew, they would never accept you?

1. In Revelation 12:10, we learn that someone is accusing believers before God day and night. In Revelation 12:9, we learn who this is. According to Revelation 12:9-10, who is this accuser?

2. In Hebrews 7:24-25, who is always making intercession for us? According to 1 John 2:1, who is our advocate with the Father?

 

To whom are you listening? The accuser of the brethren accuses us before God day and night. Our Advocate is always interceding for us in heaven. We have to choose to receive God’s forgiveness and to renew our minds with His Word so that we hear His voice and not Satan’s. If you have been listening to the accuser, confess this to the Lord and fill your mind with God’s thoughts from His Word.

Walk It Out in Parenting

 

In this series of narratives related to David’s sin with Bathsheba, we can learn not only from David’s example but also from the example of Nathan. God sent Nathan to confront David about his sin. He did so in what might seem to be an unusual way to confront someone. It requires a lot of thought and effort to make up a word picture or story to communicate something that could be said directly. Nathan could have said, “David, look at you. You have committed adultery. You are responsible for Uriah’s death. What on earth were you thinking?” However, we learn from Scripture that Nathan’s story drew David in so that he responded emotionally to the injustice of the rich man who took the poor man’s only lamb. When David became incensed at the man who took the lamb, Nathan said one of the most gripping statements in Scripture. “You are the man.” Only after Nathan had David’s attention did he deliver his, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel” (2 Sam 12:7).

My husband and I learned the idea of communicating by using stories or word pictures in a Bible study on parenting that we attended when our children were young. We learned to create a word picture to encourage, to confront, or to convey a feeling. My husband used a story about baseball to talk with one of our sons who was having difficulty receiving “coaching” from his dad. Before he could finish the story, our son said “So, I’m the second baseman.”

I have used this approach several times when making an appeal for one of my children to an authority in a situation that I felt needed attention. I have used this only when a more direct approach did not seem to be effective because communicating to someone by a word picture takes more preparation, time, and thought. One time I wrote a short, one page story to communicate a point when I was asked to provide written feedback on a particular year at school. I have also used a very brief word picture such as, “I feel like I’m dialing 911 and no one is answering” to express frustration that I was not receiving a response on something I considered very crucial. It is helpful if the word picture relates to something the person is interested in or can identify with. Notice that Nathan’s story involved flocks and a little ewe lamb, something that David the shepherd would immediately relate to. Although I have rarely used a story to communicate in a confrontational situation, I do think it is very effective and something worth considering when you are having trouble getting an idea across.

 

Hold His Hand

David’s prayer in Psalm 51 begins with the words, “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” Throughout the Psalms, we sense the intimate relationship that David had with the Lord. He called on God in many different situations and poured out his heart to the Lord repeatedly. After David began his prayer by asking God to be gracious to him, he asked God to forgive him. In beautiful poetic language, David prayed, “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps 51:1b-2 NASB). These three word pictures describe what David believed the God of lovingkindness and compassion would do. “Blot out” is a reference to human records that could be erased. “Wash” is used to compare forgiveness to the washing of clothing. The verb “cleanse” comes from the ceremonial law and speaks of purification for temple participation.9

This same God of lovingkindness and compassion is willing to forgive you and to forgive me. He will erase, wash, and cleanse every sin that holds us back from experiencing His best.

Will you bring your confession to the God of lovingkindness and compassion? Only He can set you free from the guilt and shame that shackle you to the past. Let Him wash you with His complete cleansing and forgiveness.

The New Testament encourages us to confess our sins to one another (James 4:16). As believers, we live in community and we are able to experience healing and forgiveness as we confess our sins to other believers.

In the MOMS study at our church, we have a prayer time each week that follows a format called PRAY (praise, repent, ask, and yield). The “repent” portion of the prayer time is silent. One week I heard someone say something out loud during the repentance part of the prayer time. I thought that maybe the mom did not know that this part of the prayer time was silent, but I found out later that she wanted to confess a particular sin to her group. Only her small group could hear what she said and she only said one word. However, her leader told me that the mom felt it would help her to confess to the others in her group. She had already confessed to the LORD, but she wanted others to pray for her and affirm her forgiveness.


9 Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary – Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 832.

Related Topics: Forgiveness, Character Study, Curriculum, Adultery

8. Daniel's Friends - Walking Despite Opposition

Step into the Story

Read Daniel 1:1-7

1. How did Daniel and his friends come to live in Babylon? According to Daniel 1:4, what kind of young men were they?

 

2. What kind of education did they receive and how long did it last? (v.4-5) What happened to their Hebrew names? (v.6-7)

3. Try to picture yourself being taken involuntarily to another country, given a new name, taught a new language, and put into an education program to teach you your new culture. Would you be bitter toward God for allowing this to happen? How hard do you think it would be to hold fast to the principles you had been taught and to the God you worshipped?

The Fiery Furnace.
Read Daniel 3.

1. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what did he require all the people to do? (v.1-5) What would happen to someone who refused to worship the golden image? (v.6)

2. To what positions had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego been appointed? (v.12)

3. How did King Nebuchadnezzar react to the report that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had not followed the order to worship the golden image?

4, What rhetorical question did Nebuchadnezzar ask in v.15? What was the expected and implied answer to his question?

5. What did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego affirm about God in v.16-18?

6. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the his order, what actions did the king take? (v.19-21) What happened to the men who put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace? (v.22)

7. Why was Nebuchadnezzar astonished as he looked into the furnace? (v.24-25)

8. After Nebuchadnezzar ordered the men out of the fire, the officials gathered around them. What did they observe? (v.27)

9. What did Nebuchadnezzar say about the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in v.28-29? Notice the last words of v.29, “there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

10. Have you ever been in a situation where doing right was a cause for ridicule or punishment? How did you handle the pressure to give in to the demands of others to conform?

"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us

from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

But even if He does not,

let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods

or worship the golden image that you have set up."

Daniel 3:17-18 NASB

Journey through the Principle

Are you surprised when you are following God and doing what is right yet encountering opposition? Jesus told His disciples, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33 NASB). James also anticipated trials for believers when he stated, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (Jas 1:2-3 NASB).

1. Look up the following verses and write down every instruction or command to those who are suffering because of their righteousness.

1 Peter 3:14-17

1 Peter 4:19

1 Peter 5:6-9

2. 1 Peter 5:6-9 is followed by a wonderful promise in v.10.

After you have suffered for a little while,

the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,

will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

1 Peter 4:10 NASB

Write a prayer thanking the God of all grace for His promise to perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Walk It Out in Life

If we are walking in spite of opposition, we must know what the Bible says about our strategy against our enemies. The Bible identifies three enemies we face as believers while we live in this present world. These enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are instructed to fight the temptations we face based on their source. We need to know when to flee and when to stand firm since these commands are opposites.10

Look up the following verses to determine how to deal with each type of opposition. Copy down key words or phrases that give instructions or commands.

The World

Romans 12:2

1 John 2:15-17

The Flesh

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

2 Timothy 2:22

Galatians 5:16

The Devil

Ephesians 6:11-13

James 4:7

1 Peter 5:8-9

What are the repeated commands to us as believers in dealing with Satan? Ask God to help you follow these instructions in order to stand against the opposition you face as a believer in Christ.

Walk It Out in Parenting

How do we teach our children to walk with the Lord despite opposition? Daniel and his friends were able to stand firm in their faith and to obey God because they knew Him and they knew His Word. When we teach our children about God and His Word, we are putting the truth in their minds and hearts. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, the only weapon of offense found in the passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. The Word is what Jesus used when He was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4. The Holy Spirit can call to mind specific verses and promises that are recorded in our children’s hearts.

How are you helping your child learn and memorize God’s Word? What are some creative ways to learn Scripture? (Note: You can learn along with your child!) Discuss some ideas in your small group. Bring a favorite resource or idea for teaching the Bible to your children to share with your group. Books, videos, games, and music are all great ways to teach your child the Word of God.

Hold His Hand

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had already experienced God’s deliverance in Babylon (see Daniel 2). They had seen God accomplish the impossible when their lives were spared after Daniel not only interpreted the king’s dream but also described the dream. In Daniel 3, Daniel’s friends looked to God for deliverance and He honored their faith and obedience.

Notice again how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego responded to the king. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan 3:17-18 NASB). Daniel’s friends believed that God was able, but they did not know if He would deliver them. They prayed for deliverance, but their obedience was already determined.

Can you be obedient in a crisis, knowing that God might not deliver you from the situation? Trusting the God who is able to deliver also involves submitting to His sovereign will.

In vv 16-18 we see the proper response to a crisis by these three faithful men. They reiterate their faith in [Yahweh], claiming his ability to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar, though denying a knowledge of his will. Such, of course, is the attitude all believers should have about personal crises. We simply do not know if God will heal a certain person or bring someone to salvation. But we do know that he is able!11

Will you ask the Lord to give you “even if He does not” faith, faith that is obedient and that trusts the God who is able? We do not always know God’s will in a situation, but we do know that He is able. Write your request here.


10 Dr. Stanley D. Toussaint, Unpublished Class Notes on Hebrews, General Epistles, and Revelation, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring 2005.

11 Daniel B. Wallace, “To Bow or Not to Bow,” online: http://bible.org/article/bow-or-not-bow-essay-daniel-3, accessed 26 July 2005.

Related Topics: Curriculum

9. Nehemiah - Walking in Prayer

Do you feel that your prayers are repetitious and not very effective? Is your prayer life up to the challenge of a crisis situation? This week we meet a man who responded to a crisis by calling on the God of heaven. Nehemiah prayed with confidence, humility, and power. Learn from Nehemiah and your prayer life may never be the same!

Step into the Story

It had been almost one hundred years since the first Jewish exiles returned to their homeland from Babylon. Although the Temple had been rebuilt, the walls were broken down, leaving the people without protection from their enemies. When Nehemiah heard the news, he responded with prayer and action.

Nehemiah’s Prayer
Read Nehemiah 1.

The book of Nehemiah begins between mid-November and mid-December in the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes (approximately 446 B.C.) in the city of Susa in Persia (modern day Iran). Chapter two takes places several months later in the spring of 445 B.C.12

1. What report did Nehemiah receive about Jerusalem? What was his response? (v.3-4)

In the ancient Middle East, a city wall provided protection for the inhabitants. The condition of the city wall was also seen as an indication of the strength of the people’s gods. The ruined condition of the wall of Jerusalem reflected badly on God’s name.13

2. As Nehemiah began his prayer, what words and phrases did he use to praise God? (v.5)

3. Whose sins did Nehemiah confess? Who were these sins against? What were the sins they had committed? (v.7)

4. On what basis did Nehemiah make His appeal in v.10? Did he mention what good people they had been?

5. What was Nehemiah’s request? (v.11) What position did Nehemiah hold in the royal court?

6. Have you ever suddenly found yourself in a crisis situation? What was your first response? Did you immediately pray to the God of heaven or did you take matters into your own hands to try to fix the situation? How could Nehemiah’s example help you in the future when you face overwhelming circumstances?

God’s Answer.
Nehemiah 2

1. When the king asked Nehemiah why he was sad, how did Nehemiah respond? (v.3)

2. After Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah what he was requesting, Nehemiah prayed again. What was Nehemiah’s request in verse 6?

3. According to verse 8, why did the king grant Nehemiah’s request?

4. Can you recall a time when you made a successful appeal to someone in authority over you? Did you give yourself credit for being persuasive or for making a good case for what you wanted? Did you see God at work in your situation?

 

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Ten recorded prayers range from the quick “arrow prayer” (Neh. 2:4) to the Bible’s longest prayer (Neh. 9). The walk of faith is a balanced blend of prayer and action. Nehemiah prayed and then put his request before the king (Neh. 2:3,4); he prayed and then “set a watch” (Neh. 4:9). He exhorted the people to “remember the Lord …and fight” (Neh. 4:14).14

Journey through the Principle

As cupbearer, Nehemiah held an important position in the royal court. His responsibility and position of trust gave him unusual access to the king. After Nehemiah received the report about Jerusalem, he was greatly distressed. Although he was in the king’s presence often, Nehemiah did not attempt to persuade the king or to use his position to influence the king until he had prayed. In our context, this would be similar to the White House Chief of Staff’s praying for several months about a crisis before going to the President with his request. Nehemiah knew that God was ultimately in charge. Nehemiah’s prayer and its results are an illustration of Proverbs 21:1, “The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”

Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one is similar to the PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield) format for praying.

Nehemiah approached God in prayer by

  • Praising Him as the LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God.
  • Repenting by confessing his sins and the sins of the people.
  • Asking God to grant him compassion before the king.
  • Yielding himself to God by repeatedly calling himself God’s servant.

As New Testament believers, we can similarly pray by

  • Praising God for who He is and for what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.
  • Repenting by confessing our sins and thanking him for cleansing us.
  • Asking Him for our requests.
  • Yielding ourselves to Him and to His will for our lives.

What principles of prayer do you learn from the prayer in Nehemiah 1?

In order for us to take a principle (that we can apply today) from the prayer of Nehemiah, we look at two things. The first is repetition. Repetition of a word, phrase, or idea focuses our attention and emphasizes what is being repeated. In narrative literature, repetition is a key to understanding what the passage is saying. The second thing we examine is harmony or consistency with the rest of Scripture. For a principle to be valid, it must agree with the rest of the Bible. In fact, when we interpret a narrative passage, we should find that principle in other places in Scripture. I want us to look at Nehemiah’s prayer to see whether or not the PRAY principle meets these criteria.

Take each of the four parts of the PRAY format. Look for words or phrases in Nehemiah’s prayer that show his praising, repenting, asking, and yielding. Then find another verse in Scripture which encourages or commands us to pray, repent, ask, or yield. I will do the Praise section as an example. (It might be helpful to use a concordance to find the supporting verses or cross references).

PRAISE

Find examples (words or phrases) from the prayer in Nehemiah 1 that show Nehemiah’s praise to God.

v. 4 God of heaven

v. 5 LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God. who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Find examples from the rest of Scripture encouraging or commanding us to praise God.

Psalm 103:1-2 (NASB)

1. Bless the LORD, O my soul,

And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

2. Bless the LORD, O my soul,

And forget none of His benefits;

Psalm 145 (NASB)

1. I will extol You, my God, O King,

And I will bless Your name forever and ever.

2. Every day I will bless You,

And I will praise Your name forever and ever

REPENT

Find examples (words or phrases) from Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1 that show his confession of sin.

Find examples from the rest of Scripture that address confession of sin. (This is the hardest category in which to find specific verses. Try Psalm 51 or 1 John 1:9).

ASK

Find examples from Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 that show his specific requests.

Find examples from the rest of Scripture that encourage us to ask God for our needs.

(Use your concordance and look at verses under the word “ask”.)

YIELD

Find examples (words or phrases) from Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1 that show his humble spirit.

Find example from the rest of Scripture encouraging us to yield or submit to God. (Use your concordance to look up verses with the words “submit” or “humble”.)

Walk It Out in Life

I want us to practice writing out a prayer in the PRAY format. We will take each section separately and examine it.

PRAISE

In this study we have seen many names of God and descriptions of God. We have observed that God is the

  • God who remembers (Noah)
  • God who provides (Abraham)
  • God who takes what others meant for evil and uses it for good (Joseph)
  • I AM (Moses)
  • God under whose wings I can seek refuge (Ruth)
  • LORD who would do everything he had promised (Abigail)
  • God of lovingkindness and compassion, who blots out my transgressions, washes away my iniquity, and cleanses me from sin (David)
  • God who is able to deliver (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)
  • LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God (Nehemiah)

Choose one of these names or descriptions of God and write several sentences praising God for who He is and thanking Him for what He does.

REPENT

1 John 1:9 tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Write out several sentences confessing (agreeing with God about) specific sins. Remind Him of 1 John 1:9 and thank Him for forgiving you.

ASK

Asking is the part of prayer with which we are most familiar. I grew up praying very general requests such as “Bless all the missionaries” or “Forgive me of all my sins”. Notice that Nehemiah was very specific as he prayed, “Make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” (Neh 1:11 NASB).

Write several sentences expressing specific prayer requests to the Lord.

YIELD

Yielding is probably the hardest part of praying biblically. Our natural tendency is to want God to do things our way. My goals and desires have changed over the years, but even with a spiritual goal in mind, I may have already decided how God could accomplish it.

I think of yielding to God’s will as something similar to writing a blank check. I never liked to send a blank check to school with one of my children because I knew it might not reach its intended destination. When I yield my will to God’s, I imagine that I am giving Him a blank check. He is free to fill in the amount and I trust Him to do what is best for me. However, as I have read through Scripture, I have noticed that the saints had conversations with God. David, in particular, was very honest with God about how he felt. So I express what I want and “make my case” as I am praying. In my check analogy, I am writing my request on the memo line of the check. “Lord, you know my desire in this matter.” However, ultimately I have to leave the decision with God. I may grieve greatly (and I have) when God says no. I may not understand His decision. But in the final analysis, He is God. I have to acknowledge His sovereignty, His wisdom, and His great love.

Have you yielded yourself to God? Do you give each day to Him? Write several sentences expressing your heart’s desire to God. Ask Him to help you have the attitude that Nehemiah had of being God’s servant.

Walk It Out in Parenting

 

When our children were young, we established a bedtime ritual we called “Pillow Talk.” When everyone was ready for bed, we all went into one bedroom and sat on the beds. Each person could ask a Bible trivia question, name a chorus or song that we would all sing, or give a Bible reference and see if anyone could quote the verse. We did not do this every night, but it was a fun time. After going around with our questions and songs, we “prayed around” with each person praying a sentence prayer.

Are you teaching your children to pray? Do they see you praying about things that are important to you? I would suggest you pray out loud for your children from their earliest days. What could bless your children more than to hear their names spoken before the Father by their own mother?

Share with your small group any ideas you have about praying with your children and teaching them to pray,

Hold His Hand

To whom did Nehemiah pray? He addresses his prayer to the “LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God” (Neh 1:5). You will hear people say that all religions worship the same God, but they call Him by different names. I hope as we have walked through the Old Testament that you have seen that the God of the Bible is unique. He is the one true God and He has revealed Himself to us.

Nehemiah uses the title “God of heaven” four times in the first two chapters of the book. This title is found in the Old Testament mainly in the exilic and post-exilic books.15 Daniel prays to the God of heaven (Daniel 2:18-19). Jonah says he fears “the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). Ezra uses this title repeatedly. Why is God called the God of heaven?

Not only did God create heaven but the Bible also says He is in heaven. Furthermore, God is ruling from heaven. Isaiah 66:1 says, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.’ ” The God of heaven is a sovereign God and the rulers on earth are under His power and authority. I like the way 2 Chronicles 20 expresses this same idea in the prayer of Jehoshaphat.

O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens?

And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations?

Power and might are in Your hand

so that no one can stand against You.

2 Chronicles 20:6 (NASB)

Isn’t that a powerful description of God? When everything in the world seems to be out of control, God is still on His throne. He is the ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in His hand.

Does your life seem out of control? Are you shaken by the events going on in the world? You can call on the God of heaven, the sovereign God of the universe, today. Write out a prayer thanking Him for being not only the God of heaven but also your God.


12 Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentar. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 77.

13 Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 584.

14 Dorothy Kelley Patterson, ed. The Women’s Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson , 1995), 756.

15 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 655.

Related Topics: Prayer, Character Study, Curriculum

Bibliography

Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. Basic Books, 1981.

Baldwin, Joyce. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988.

Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Exodus.” Online: http://www.soniclight.com. Accessed 26 July 2005.

Cundall, Arthur E. and Leon Morris. Judges and Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968.

Kidner, Derek. Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979.

Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967.

Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973.

Patterson, Dorothy Kelley, ed. The Women’s Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1982.

Radmacher, Earl, Ronald B. Allen, H. Wayne House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1984.

Toussaint, Stanley D. Unpublished class notes in BE 107 Hebrews, General Epistles, and Revelation. Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring 2005.

Traina, Robert A. Methodical Bible Study. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Wald, Oletta. The New Joy of Discovery in Bible Study. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002.

Wallace, Daniel B. “To Bow or Not to Bow.” Online: http://www.bible.org. Accessed 26 July 2005.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, eds. The Bible Knowledge Commentary - Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Zuck, Roy B. Basic Bible Interpretation. Colorado Springs: Victor, 1991.

Zuck, Roy B., ed. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

Related Topics: Library and Resources, Character Study, Curriculum

Answering the Big Questions of Life

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
Visit Probe's website

The three major worldviews--theism, naturalism, and pantheism--have vastly different answers to some of life's biggest questions, says Probe's Sue Bohlin.

 

This article is also available in Spanish.

One of the most important aspects of Probe's "Mind Games" conference is teaching students to recognize the three major world views—Naturalism, Pantheism, and Theism—and the impact they have both on the surrounding culture as well as on the ideas the students will face at the university. Because we come from an unapologetically Christian worldview, I will be presenting the ideas of Christian theism, even though Judaism and Islam are both theistic as well.

In this essay I'll be examining five of the biggest questions of life, and how each of the worldviews answers them:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • How do you explain human nature?
  • What happens to a person at death?
  • How do you determine right and wrong?
  • How do you know that you know?1

Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?

The most basic question of life may well be, Why is there something rather than nothing? Why am I here? Why is anything here at all?

Even Maria Von Trapp in the movie The Sound of Music knew the answer to this one. When she and the Captain are singing their love to each other in the gazebo, she croons, "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could."

But naturalism, the belief that says there is no reality beyond the physical universe, offers two answers to this basic question. Until a few years ago, the hopeful wish of naturalism was that matter is eternal: the universe has always existed, and always will. There's no point to asking "why" because the universe simply is. End of discussion. Unfortunately for naturalism, the evidence that has come from our studies of astronomy makes it clear that the universe is unwinding, in a sense, and at one point it was tightly wound up. The evidence says that at some point in the past there was a beginning, and matter is most definitely not eternal. That's a major problem for a naturalist, who believes that everything that now is, came from nothing. First there was nothing, then there was something, but nothing caused the something to come into existence. Huh?

Pantheism is the belief that everything is part of one great "oneness." It comes from two Greek words, pan meaning "everything," and theos meaning "God." Pantheism says that all is one, all is god, and therefore we are one with the universe; we are god. We are part of that impersonal divinity that makes up the universe. In answering the question, Why is there something rather than nothing, pantheism says that everything had an impersonal beginning. The universe itself has an intelligence that brought itself into being. The "something" that exists is simply how energy expresses itself. If you've seen the Star Wars movies, you've seen the ideas of pantheism depicted in that impersonal energy field, "The Force." Since the beginning of the universe had an impersonal origin, the question of "why" gets sidestepped. Like naturalism, pantheism basically says, "We don't have a good answer to that question, so we won't think about it."

Christian Theism is the belief that God is a personal, transcendent Creator of the universe—and of us. This worldview showed up on a T-shirt I saw recently:

"There are two things in life you can be sure of.

  1. There is a God.

  2. You are not Him."

Christian Theism answers the question, Why is there something rather than nothing, by confidently asserting that first there was God and nothing else, then He created the universe by simply speaking it into existence. The Bible's opening sentence is an answer to this most basic of questions: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

How Do You Explain Human Nature?

Another one of the big questions of life is, How do you explain human nature? Why do human beings act the way we do? What it really boils down to is, Why am I so good and you're so bad?

During World War II, a young Jewish teenager kept a journal during the years she and her family hid from the Nazis in a secret apartment in a house in Amsterdam. Anne Frank's diary poignantly explored the way she tried to decide if people were basically good or basically evil. Acts of kindness and blessing seemed to indicate people were basically good; but then the next day, Anne would learn of yet another barbarous act of depravity and torture, and she would think that perhaps people were basically bad after all. After reading her diary, I remember carrying on the quest for an answer in my own mind, and not finding it until I trusted Christ and learned what His Word had to say about it.

Naturalism says that humans are nothing more than evolved social animals. There is nothing that truly separates us from the other animals, so all our behavior can be explained in terms of doing what helps us to survive and reproduce. Your only purpose in life, naturalism says, is to make babies. And failing that, to help those who share your genes to make babies. Kind of makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, doesn't it?

Another answer from naturalism is that we are born as blank slates, and we become whatever is written on those slates. You might mix in some genetic factors, in which case human nature is nothing more than a product of our genes and our environment.

Pantheism explains human nature by saying we're all a part of god, but our problem is that we forget we're god. We just need to be re- educated and start living like the god we are. Our human nature will be enhanced by attaining what pantheists call "cosmic consciousness." According to New Age thought, the problem with humans is that we suffer from a collective form of metaphysical amnesia. We just need to wake up and remember we're god. When people are bad, (which is one result of forgetting you're god), pantheism says that they'll pay for it in the next life when they are reincarnated as something less spiritually evolved than their present life. I had a Buddhist friend who refused to kill insects in her house because she said they had been bad in their previous lives and had to come back as bugs, and it wasn't her place to prematurely mess up their karma.

The Christian worldview gives the most satisfying answer to the question, How do you explain human nature? The Bible teaches that God created us to be His image-bearers, which makes us distinct from the entire rest of creation. But when Adam and Eve chose to rebel in disobedience, their fall into sin distorted and marred the sacred Image. The fact that we are created in God's image explains the noble, creative, positive things we can do; the fact that we are sinners who love to disobey and rebel against God's rightful place as King of our lives explains our wicked, destructive, negative behavior. It makes sense that this biblical view of human nature reveals the reasons why mankind is capable of producing both Mother Teresa and the holocaust.

What Happens after Death?

In the movie Flatliners, medical students took turns stopping each other's hearts to give them a chance to experience what happens after death. After a few minutes, they resuscitated the metaphysical traveller who told the others what he or she saw. The reason for pursuing such a dangerous experiment was explained by the med student who thought it up in the first place: "What happens after death? Mankind deserves an answer. Philosophy failed; religion failed. Now it's up to the physical sciences."

Well, maybe religion failed, but the Lord Jesus didn't. But first, let's address how naturalism answers this question.

Because this worldview says that there is nothing outside of space, time and energy, naturalism insists that death brings the extinction of personality and the disorganization of matter. Things just stop living and start decomposing. Or, as my brother said when he was in his atheist phase, "When you die, you're like a dog by the side of the road. You're dead, and that's it." To the naturalist, there is no life after death. The body recycles back to the earth and the mental and emotional energies that comprised the person disintegrate forever.

Pantheism teaches reincarnation, the belief that all of life is an endless cycle of birth and death. After death, each person is reborn as someone, or something, else. Your reincarnated persona in the next life depends on how you live during this one. This is the concept of karma, which is the law of cause and effect in life. If you make evil or foolish choices, you will have to work off that bad karma by being reborn as something like a rat or a cow. If you're really bad, you might come back as a termite. But if you're good, you'll come back as someone who can be wonderful and powerful. New Age followers sometimes undergo something they call "past lives therapy," which regresses them back beyond this life, beyond birth, and into previous lives. I think it's interesting that people always seem to have been someone glamorous like Cleopatra and never someone like a garbage collector or an executioner!

Christian Theism handles the question, What happens to a person at death, with such a plain, no-nonsense answer that people have been stumbling over it for millenia. Death is a gateway that either whisks a person to eternal bliss with God or takes him straight to a horrible place of eternal separation from God. What determines whether one goes to heaven or hell is the way we respond to the light God gives us concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. When we confess that we are sinners in need of mercy we don't deserve, and trust the Lord Jesus to save us from not only our sin but the wrath that sin brings to us, He comes to live inside us and take us to heaven to be with Him forever when we die. When we remain in rebellion against God, either actively disobeying Him or passively ignoring Him, the consequences of our sin remain on us and God allows us to keep them for all eternity—but separated from Him and all life and hope. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). But it is a delightful thing to fall into the arms of the Lover of your soul, Who has gone on ahead to prepare a place for you! Which will you choose?

How Do You Determine Right and Wrong?

One of the big questions in life is, How do you determine right and wrong? Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show one day. He asked the studio audience to close their eyes and point north. When they opened their eyes, there were several hundred arms pointing in wildly different directions. Then Mr. Covey pulled out a compass and said, "This is how we know which way is north. You can't know from within yourself." He used a powerful object lesson to illustrate the way Christian theism answers this big question in life.

Naturalism says that there is no absolute outside of ourselves. There is no final authority because space, time and energy are all that is. There is no such thing as right and wrong because there is no right- and wrong-giver. So naturalism tries to deal with the question of ethics by providing several unsatisfying answers. One is the belief that there is no free choice, that all our behaviors and beliefs are driven by our genes. We are just as determined in our behavior as the smallest animals or insects. Another is the belief that moral values are determined from what is; the way things are is the way they ought to be. If you are being abused by your husband, that's the way things are, so that's the way they ought to be. Even worse is the concept of arbitrary ethics: might makes right. Bullies get to decide the way things ought to be because they're stronger and meaner than everybody else. That's what happens in totalitarian regimes; the people with the power decide what's right and what's wrong.

Pantheism says that there is no such thing as ultimate right and wrong because everything is part of a great undifferentiated whole where right and wrong, good and evil, are all part of the oneness of the universe. Remember "Star Wars"? The Force was both good and evil at the same time. Pantheism denies one of the basic rules of philosophy, which is that two opposite things cannot both be true at the same time. Because Pantheism denies that there are absolutes, things which are true all the time, it holds that all right and wrong is relative. Right and wrong are determined by cultures and situations. So murdering one's unborn baby might be right for one person and wrong for another.

Theism says that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and absolute right and wrong. We can know this because this information has come to us from a transcendent source outside of ourselves and outside of our world. Christian Theism says that the God who created us has also communicated certain truths to us. He communicated generally, through His creation, and He communicated specifically and understandably through His Word, the Bible. We call this revelation. Christian Theism says that absolute truth is rooted in God Himself, who is an Absolute; He is Truth. As Creator, He has the right to tell us the difference between right and wrong, and He has taken great care to communicate this to us.

That's why Steven Covey's illustration was so powerful. When he pulled out a compass, he showed that we need a transcendent source of information, something outside ourselves and which is fixed and constant, to show us the moral equivalent of "North." We are creatures created to be dependent on our Creator for the information we need to live life right. God has given us a compass in revelation.

How Do You Know That You Know?

This question generally doesn't come up around the cafeteria lunch table at work, and even the most inquisitive toddler usually won't ask it, but it's an important question nonetheless: How do you know that you know?

There's a great scene in the movie Terminator 2 where the young boy that the cyborg terminator has been sent to protect, is threatened by a couple of hoodlums. The terminator is about to blow one away when the young boy cries out, "You can't do that!" The terminator—Arnold Schwarzenegger—asks, "Why not?" "You just can't go around killing people!" the boy protests. "Why not?" "Take my word for it," the boy says. "You just can't." He knew that it was wrong to kill another human being, but he didn't know how he knew. There are a lot of people in our culture like that!

Naturalism, believing that there is nothing beyond space, time and energy, would answer the question by pointing to the human mind. Rational thought—iguring things out deductively—is one prime way we gain knowledge. Human reason is a good enough method to find out what we need to know. The mind is the center of our source of knowledge. Another way to knowledge is by accumulating hard scientific data of observable and measurable experience. This view says that the source of our knowledge is found in the senses. We know what we can perceive through what we can measure. Since naturalism denies any supernaturalism (anything above or outside of the natural world), what the human mind can reason and measure is the only standard for gaining knowledge.

Pantheism would agree with this assessment of how we know that we know. Followers of pantheism tend to put a lot of value on personal experience. The rash of near- and after-death experiences in the past few years, for example, are extremely important to New Agers. These experiences usually validate the preconceptions of pantheistic thought, which denies absolutes such as the Christian tenet that Jesus is the only way to God. The experiences of past- lives therapy have persuaded even some Christians to believe in reincarnation, even though the Bible explicitly denies that doctrine, because personal experience is often considered the most valid way to know reality.

Christian Theism says that while human reason and perception are legitimate ways to gain knowledge, we cannot depend on these methods alone because they're not enough. Some information needs to be given to us from outside the system. An outside Revealer provides information we can't get any other way. Revelation—revealed truth from the One who knows everything—is another, not only legitimate but necessary way to know some important things. Revelation is how we know what happened when the earth, the universe and man were created. Revelation is how we know what God wants us to do and be. Revelation is how we can know how the world will end and what heaven is like. Revelation in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way we can experience "God with skin on."

Naturalism's answers are inadequate, depressing, and wrong; pantheism's answers are slippery, don't square with reality, and wrong; but Christian theism—the Christian worldview—is full of hope, consistent with reality, and it resonates in our souls that it's very, very right.

Notes

1. These questions are taken from James W. Sire's book The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, Ill.:InterVarsity Press), 1977.

©1996 Probe Ministries.

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/answering-the-big-questions-of-life/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Women's Articles, Worldview

4. Moses - Walking in God-Confidence

Step into the Story

What comes to mind when you think of Moses? I can remember sitting in Sunday School as a child and hearing the story of Moses’ being placed in the Nile River and being rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. We sat in a semicircle of little chairs and the teacher had a picture which included not only Moses but also Moses’ sister, Miriam, with whom I identified. Maybe this is the story you remember or perhaps you picture Moses and the children of Israel at the crossing of the Red Sea with the walls of water on each side and with the Egyptians in pursuit. This week we’ll look at another well-known story about Moses—the one about Moses and the burning bush.

The Call of Moses.
Read Exodus 3:1 – 4:22.

1. Where was Moses and what was he doing when the angel of the Lord appeared to him? (3:1-2)

2. Who called to Moses from the burning bush and how did He identify Himself? (3:4-6)

Because Israel has frequently been in the furnace of affliction throughout history, though not consumed, Jews have identified the burning bush as a symbol of their race. This symbol often appears on the walls of synagogues or in other prominent places not only in modern Israel but also in settlements of Jews around the world. The fire also probably symbolized the presence of God dwelling among His people (cf. Gen. 15:17; Exod. 19:18; 40:38). God was with His people in their affliction (cf. Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Dan. 3:25; Heb. 13:5). This was the first time God had revealed Himself to Moses, or anyone else as far as Scripture records, for over 430 years (v.4).6

3. What did God tell Moses He had come down to do for His people? (3:8) Through whom was God going to bring His people out of Egypt? (3:10)

4. The exchange between the Lord and Moses consists of a series of questions and responses. Look up the questions Moses asked (and his excuses) and the responses God gave him. Use the chart below to record what you find.

 

Reference

Moses

God

1 (3:11-12)

Who am I?

 

2 (3:13-15)

Who are You?

 

3 (4:1-9)

What if…

 

4 (4:10-16)

`

   

 

 

5. Which of the questions did God not answer directly? Why?

6. In Exodus 3:16-22, God gave Moses His plan. What response would the following groups have to Moses’ message?

  • The Israelites (v.18)
  • The king of Egypt (v.19-20)
  • The Egyptians (v.21-22)

7. Can you identify with Moses and with his feelings of inadequacy? What are some areas in which God might want to use you, but in which you are holding back, perhaps out of fear?

8. Read Jeremiah 1:4-9. How did Jeremiah feel when God called him to be a prophet? What were his hesitations? How did God answer him?

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said,

"Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.' "

Exodus 3:14 NASB

In Exodus 3, we read how God announced his name to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (v.14) - a phrase of which “Yahweh” (Jehovah, “the LORD”) is a shortened form (v.15). This name is not a description of God, but simply a declaration of his self-existence and his eternal changelessness, a reminder to mankind that he has life in himself, and that what he is now, he is eternally.7

Journey through the Principle

After looking at Moses’ reluctance, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who stood before Pharaoh and who led the children of Israel as they crossed the Red Sea. Perhaps you are reluctant to follow God. What do the following verses, written to those seeking to trust God, tell you that might help you and encourage you to be God-confident?

Philippians 1:6

Philippians 3:4-9

Philippians 4:13

2 Timothy 1:7

Walk It Out in Life

Are you surprised to learn that some of the great leaders in Scripture struggled with the same feelings of inadequacy that you do? I am certainly encouraged to know that I am not alone in believing I can’t do something. What is the real problem with this kind of thinking? I am looking at myself and comparing myself to the task to which God has called me. No wonder I feel inadequate. I am inadequate. Yet God does not call me to do anything for Him out of my own resources. He calls me to be faithful and to allow Him to work through me. Yes, this involves stepping out in faith. Yes, this is scary. Yes, I don’t always know the entire plan or the outcome. But He is always faithful.

For several years, the winter student retreat at our church was called “It’s Not All about Me.” As parents, we all loved that title. What a great message to emphasize with students in junior high and high school! But we moms need to hear that message as well. It’s not all about us. It’s about Him. It’s about His will, His plan, His enabling, and His faithfulness. The reason we cannot see clearly is because our focus is on ourselves and not on Him.

God gave Moses what he needed to be the leader and the deliverer of the children of Israel. As believers, we have been given what we need to accomplish the task God has assigned us to. Let’s look together at Ephesians 1 to see what we have been given “in Christ.”

1. Read Ephesians 1 and notice the blessings you have been given because you are in Christ. (Look for the words like “in Christ”, “in Him”, and “through Jesus Christ,” Record at least 5 blessings and the verse from which you found each blessing.. Be sure to thank the Lord for what He has given you!

v.3 every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

v.4 chosen, holy, and blameless

If you struggle with feeling inadequate, confess to the Lord that you are focusing on yourself and your resources instead of on Him and His resources. Write a prayer asking God to help you remember to choose to be God-confident not self-confident. Thank Him for being the all-sufficient God

Walk It Out in Parenting

How can I teach my children to be God-confident? Certainly the first way we teach anything to our children is by example. As we moms learn to allow God to work through us instead of allowing feelings of inadequacy to hold us back, our children will watch us step out in faith. The second way we can teach our children to be God-confident is to teach them from their earliest days that God created them and He has designed them uniquely. He knew them and the plans He had for them before they were ever born. Our children are special because they are created in God’s image.

We taught the idea of being created by God to our children when they were very young. We wanted to make sure they knew the truth first. Later when someone told them they just happened or that they evolved by chance, that person would be contradicting the truth they already knew and believed. In other words, we wanted them to know the truth first so they could recognize a lie.

1. Psalm 139:13-18 tells us that God designed us before we were born. Read these verses and write 2 or 3 sentences that summarize them in language you could use with a small child to explain how God created him or her.

2. Look again at the call of Moses and the call of Jeremiah. How does God remind each of them of His design?

Exodus 3:10-12

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Hold His Hand

Moses had asked, "Who am I?" implying his complete inadequacy for his calling. God replied, "I am who I am!" (Exodus 3:14) implying His complete adequacy. The issue was not who Moses was but who God is. I believe God meant, I am the God of your forefathers who proved myself long ago as completely adequate for all their needs, so it really doesn't matter who you are, Moses. Moses would learn the complete adequacy of God himself in the events that followed. Later, Pharaoh would say, "Who is the LORD?" (5:2), and God's response was, "I am the LORD!" (6:2, 6, 8). Pharaoh, too, then learned God's complete adequacy. The real issue, then, was, and is, who God is.8

Do you know the I AM, the God who is adequate? Have you experienced His sufficiency? If you are feeling inadequate for the task He has called you to, cry out to Him and step out in God-confidence because you know and rely on the great I AM.

Write out the questions and fears you have regarding your calling as a woman, as a wife, or as a mother in a postmodern world. Listen as God assures you of His adequacy.


6 Thomas L .Constable, “Notes on Exodus,” online: http://www.soniclight.com, accessed 26 July 2005.

7 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 78.

8 Constable, “Notes on Exodus”.

Related Topics: Faith, Character Study, Curriculum

Apologetics and Evangelism

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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This article is also available in Spanish.

A master in classical apologetics, Probe's Jimmy Williams, explores the use of apologetics in sharing the gospel.

 

Today as never before, Christians are being called upon to give reasons for the hope that is within them. Often in the evangelistic context seekers raise questions about the validity of the gospel message. Removing intellectual objections will not make one a Christian; a change of heart wrought by the Spirit is also necessary. But though intellectual activity is insufficient to bring another to Christ, it does not follow that it is also unnecessary. In this essay we will examine the place and purpose of apologetics in the sharing of our faith with others.

The word "apologetics" never actually appears in the Bible. But there is a verse which contains its meaning:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you the reason for the hope that is within you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

The Greek word apologia means "answer," or "reasonable defense." It does not mean to apologize, nor does it mean just to engage in intellectual dialogue. It means to provide reasonable answers to honest questions and to do it with humility, respect, and reverence.

The verse thus suggests that the manner in which one does apologetics is as important as the words expressed. And Peter tells us in this passage that Christians are to be ready always with answers for those who inquire of us concerning our faith. Most Christians have a great deal of study ahead of them before this verse will be a practical reality in their evangelistic efforts.

Another question that often comes up in a discussion about the merits and place of apologetics is, "What is the relationship of the mind to evangelism?" "Does the mind play any part in the process?" "What about the effects of the fall?" "Isn't man dead in trespasses and sins?" "Doesn't the Bible say we are to know nothing among men except Jesus Christ and Him crucified?" "Why do we have to get involved at all in apologetics if the Spirit is the One Who actually brings about the New Birth?"

I think you will agree that today there are many Christians who are firmly convinced that answering the intellectual questions of unbelievers is an ineffectual waste of time. They feel that any involvement of the mind in the gospel interchange smacks too much of human effort and really just dilutes the Spirit's work.

But Christianity thrives on intelligence, not ignorance. If a real Reformation is to accompany the revival for which many of us pray, it must be something of the mind as well as the heart. It was Jesus who said, "Come and see." He invites our scrutiny and investigation both before and after conversion.

We are to love God with the mind as well as the heart and the soul. In fact, the early church was powerful and successful because it out-thought and out-loved the ancient world. We are not doing either very well today.

Reasoning and Persuading

Most Christians today seem to prefer experiencing Christianity to thinking about or explaining it. But consider these verses:

Matthew 13:23: "But he who received the seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit." They all heard it, but only the "good soil" comprehended it.

Acts 8:30: "When the Spirit prompted Philip to join himself to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch (who was reading Isaiah 53), he asked, `Do you understand what you are reading?' The eunuch replied, `How can I except some man should guide me?'"

Acts 18:4: Paul at Corinth was "reasoning in the synagogue every sabbath and trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks."

Acts 19:8: Paul at Ephesus "entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God."

Romans 10:17: "So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." Again the emphasis is on hearing with perception.

2 Corinthians 5:11: "We persuade men," says Paul. Vine's Expository Dictionary describes this Greek word like this: "to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations."

All of these words—persuasion, dialogue, discourse, dispute, argue, present evidence, reason with—are vehicles of communication and are at the heart of Paul's classical evangelistic model. Can there be saving faith without understanding? Can there be understanding without reasoning? The Bible would appear to say no. Paul urges believers in 2 Timothy 2:15 to study to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed.

J. Gresham Machen, a great Christian scholar, said the following words in 1912 to a group of young men at Princeton Seminary:

It would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well-prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power in connection with certain prior conditions for the reception of the Gospel. . . . I do not mean that the removal of intellectual objections will make a man a Christian. No conversion was ever wrought by argument. A change of heart is also necessary . . . but because the intellectual labor is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary. God may, it is true, overcome all intellectual obstacles by an immediate exercise of His regenerative power. Sometimes He does. But He does so very seldom. Usually He exerts His power in connections with certain conditions of the human mind. Usually He does not bring into the kingdom, entirely without preparation, those whose mind and fancy are completely contaminated by ideas which make the acceptance of the Gospel logically impossible.

If these words were true in 1912, how much more are they needed today?

Individual Responses

People respond to the gospel for various reasons—some out of pain or a crisis, others out of some emotional need such as loneliness, guilt, insecurity, etc. Some do so out of a fear of divine judgment. And coming to know Christ brings a process of healing and hope to the human experience. To know Christ is to find comfort for pain, acceptance for insecurity and low self-esteem, forgiveness for sin and guilt.

And others seem to have intellectual questions which block their openness to accept the credibility of the Christian message. These finally find in Christ the answers to their intellectual doubts and questions.

Those today who are actively involved in evangelism readily recognize the need for this kind of information to witness to certain people, and there are many more doubters and skeptics out there today than there were even twenty years ago.

We can see more clearly where we are as a culture by taking a good look at Paul's world in the first century. Christianity's early beginnings flourished in a Graeco-Roman culture more X-rated and brutal than our own. And we find Paul adapting his approach from group to group.

For instance, he expected certain things to be in place when he approached the Jewish communities and synagogues from town to town. He knew he would find a group which already had certain beliefs which were not in contradiction to the gospel he preached. They were monotheists. They believed in one God. They also believed this God had spoken to them in their Scriptures and had given them absolute moral guidelines for behavior (the Ten Commandments).

But when Paul went to the Gentile community, he had no such expectations. There he knew he would be faced with a culture that was polytheistic (many gods), biblically ignorant, and living all kinds of perverted, wicked lifestyles. And on Mars Hill in Athens when he preached the gospel, he did somewhat modify his approach.

He spoke of God more in terms of His presence and power, and he even quoted truth from a Greek poet in order to connect with these "pagans" and get his point across: "We are God's offspring" (Acts 17:28).

One hundred years ago, the vast majority of Americans pretty much reflected the Jewish mentality, believing in God, having a basic respect for the Bible, and strong convictions about what was right and what was wrong.

That kind of American can still be found today in the 90s, but George Gallup says they aren't having much of an impact on the pagan, or Gentile community, which today holds few beliefs compatible with historic Christianity.

To evangelize such people, we have our work cut out for us. And we will have to use both our minds and our hearts to "become all things to all men in order to save some."

A Variety of Approaches

As we're considering how we as Christians can have an impact on our increasingly fragmented society, we need to keep in mind that many do not share our Christian view of the world, and some are openly hostile to it.

In fact, a college professor recently commented that he felt the greatest impediment to social progress right now was what he called the bigoted, dogmatic Christian community. That's you and me, folks.

If we could just "loosen up a little," and compromise on some issues, America would be a happier place. What is meant by this is not just a demand for tolerance . . . but wholesale acceptance of any person's lifestyle and personal choices!

But the Bible calls us to be "salt and light" in our world. How can we be that effectively?I don't have a total answer, but I'll tell you after 30+ years of active ministry what isn't working. And by my observation, far too many Christians are trying to address the horrendous issues of our day with one of three very ineffective approaches.

  • Defensive Approach Many Christians out there are mainly asking the question, "How strong are our defenses?" "How high are our walls?" This barricade mentality has produced much of the Christian subculture. We have our own language, literature, heroes, music, customs, and educational systems. Of course, we need places of support and fellowship. But when Paul describes spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10, he actually reverses the picture. It is the enemy who is behind walls, inside strongholds of error and evil. And Paul depicts the Christians as those who should be mounting offensives at these walls to tear down the high things which have exalted themselves above the knowledge of God. We are to be taking ground, not just holding it.
  • Defeatist Approach Other Christians have already given up. Things are so bad, they say, that my puny efforts won't change anything. "After all, we are living in the last days, and Jesus said that things would just get worse and worse." This may be true, but it may not be. Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour of His coming. Martin Luther had the right idea when he said, "If Jesus were to come tomorrow, I'd plant a tree today and pay my debts." The Lord may well be near, He could also tarry awhile. Since we don't know for sure, we should be seeking to prepare ourselves and our children to live for Him in the microchip world of the 21st century.
  • Devotional Approach Other Christians are trying to say something about their faith, but sadly, they can only share their personal religious experience. It is true that Paul speaks of us as "epistles known and read" by all men. Our life/experience with Christ is a valid witness. But there are others out there in the culture with "changed" lives . . . and Jesus didn't do the changing! Evangelism today must be something more than "swapping" experiences. We must learn how to ground our faith in the facts of history and the claims of Christ. We must have others grapple with Jesus Christ, nor just our experience.

Apologetics and Evangelism

I want to conclude this essay with some very important principles to keep in mind if we want to be effective in seeing others come to know Christ through our individual witness.

1. Go to people. The heart of evangelism is Christians taking the initiative to actually go out and "fish for men." Acts 17:17 describes for us how Paul was effective in his day and time: "Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there."

2. Communicate with people. Engage them. Sharing the Gospel involves communication. People must be focused upon and then understand the Gospel to respond to it. It is our responsibility as Christians to make it as clear as possible for all who will listen. "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:11).

3. Relate to people. Effective witness involves not only the transmission of biblical information; it also includes establishing a relationship with the other person. Hearts, as well as heads, must meet. "So, affectionately longing for you," said Paul to the Thessalonians, "we were well pleased to import to you not only the good news of God, but also our own lives, because you have become dear to us" (1 Thess. 2:8).

4. Remove barriers. Part of our responsibility involves having the skills to eliminate obstacles, real or imagined, which keep an individual from taking the Christian message seriously. When God sent the prophet Jeremiah forth, He said, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth . . . and I have ordained you to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." Sometimes our task as well is one of "spiritual demolition," of removing the false so the seeds of truth can take root. Apologetics sometimes serves in that capacity, of preparing a highway for God in someone's life.

5. Explain the gospel to others. We need an army of Christians today who can consistently and clearly present the message to as many people as possible. Luke says of Lydia, "The Lord opened her heart so that she heeded the things which were spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14). Four essential elements in sharing the gospel:

  • someone talking (Paul)
  • things spoken (gospel)
  • someone listening (Lydia)
  • the Lord opening the heart.

6. Invite others to receive Christ. We can be clear of presentation, but ineffective because we fail to give someone the opportunity and encouragement to take that first major step of faith. "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we beg you in Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).

7. Make every effort by every means to establish them in the faith. Stay with them, ground them in the Scripture, help them gain assurance of their salvation, and get them active in a vital fellowship/church.

©1994 Probe Ministries.

The original version of this article is found at https://www.probe.org/apologetics-and-evangelism/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Evangelism

The Impotence of Darwinism

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Darwinian evolution claims to have the explanatory power and the evidence to fully explain life’s apparent design. Probe's Dr. Ray Bohlin explores the evidence.

 

Darwinism, Design, and Illusions

Darwinian evolution has been described as a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.1 What Daniel Dennett meant was that evolution as an idea, what he called "Darwin's dangerous idea," is an all-encompassing worldview. Darwinism forms the basis of the way many people think and act. It touches everything.

What Darwin proposed in 1859 was simply that all organisms are related by common descent. This process of descent or evolution was carried out by natural selection acting on variation found in populations. There was no guidance, no purpose, and no design in nature. The modern Neo-Darwinian variety of evolution identifies the source of variation as genetic mutation, changes in the DNA structure of organisms. Therefore, evolution is described as the common descent of all organisms by mutation and natural selection, and is assumed to be able to explain everything we see in the biological realm.

This explanatory power is what Dennett refers to as "Darwin's dangerous idea." Darwinism assumes there is no plan or purpose to life. Therefore, everything we see in the life history of an organism, including human beings, derives in some way from evolution, meaning mutation and natural selection. This includes our ways of thinking and the ways we behave. Even religion is said to have arisen as a survival mechanism to promote group unity that aids individual survival and reproduction.

Since evolution has become the cornerstone of the dominant worldview of our time—scientific naturalism—those who hold to it would be expected to take notice when somebody says it's wrong! A growing number of scientists and philosophers are saying with greater confidence that Darwinism, as a mode of explaining all of life, is failing and failing badly. Much of the criticism can be found in the cornerstone of evolution, mutation and natural selection and the evidence for its pervasiveness in natural history. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is evolution's repudiation of any form of design or purpose in nature. Even the staunch Darwinist and evolutionary naturalist, Britain's Richard Dawkins, admits, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."2

No one denies that biological structures and organisms look designed; the argument is over what has caused this design. Is it due to a natural process that gives the appearance of design as Dawkins believes? Or is it actually designed with true purpose woven into the true fabric of life? Darwinian evolution claims to have the explanatory power and the evidence to fully explain life's apparent design. Let's explore the evidence.

The Misuse of Artificial Selection

It is assumed by most that evolution makes possible almost unlimited biological change. However, a few simple observations will tell us that there are indeed limits to change. Certainly the ubiquitous presence of convergence suggests that biological change is not limitless since certain solutions are arrived at again and again. There appear to be only so many ways that organisms can propel themselves: through water, over land or through the air. The wings of insects, birds and bats, though not ancestrally related, all show certain design similarities. At the very least, various physical parameters constrain biological change and adaptation. So there are certainly physical constraints, but what about biological constraints?

Darwin relied heavily on his analogy to artificial selection as evidence of natural selection. Darwin became a skilled breeder of pigeons, and he clearly recognized that just about any identifiable trait could be accentuated or diminished, whether the color scheme of feathers, length of the tail, or size of the bird itself. Darwin reasoned that natural selection could accomplish the same thing. It would just need more time.

But artificial selection has proven just the opposite. For essentially every trait, although it is usually harboring some variability, there has always been a limit. Whether the organisms or selected traits are roses, dogs, pigeons, horses, cattle, protein content in corn, or the sugar content in beets, selection is certainly possible. But all selected qualities eventually fizzle out. Chickens don't produce cylindrical eggs. We can't produce a plum the size of a pea or a grapefruit. There are limits to how far we can go. Some people grow as tall as seven feet, and some grow no taller than three; but none are over twelve feet or under two. There are limits to change.

But perhaps the most telling argument against the usefulness of artificial selection as a model for natural selection is the actual process of selection. Although Darwin called it artificial selection, a better term would have been intentional selection. The phrase "artificial selection" makes it sound simple and undirected. Yet every breeder, whether of plants or animals is always looking for something in particular. The selection process is always designed to a particular end.

If you want a dog that hunts better, you breed your best hunters hoping to accentuate the trait. If you desire roses of a particular color, you choose roses of similar color hoping to arrive at the desired shade. In other words, you plan and manipulate the process. Natural selection can do no such thing. Natural selection can only rely on what variation comes along. Trying to compare a directed to an undirected process offers no clues at all.

Most evolutionists I share this with usually object that we do have good examples of natural selection to document its reality. Let's look at a few well-known examples.

The Real Power of Natural Selection

It should have been instructive when we had to wait for the 1950s, almost 100 years after the publication of Origin of Species, for a documentable case of natural selection, the famous Peppered Moth (Biston betularia). The story begins with the observation that, before the industrial revolution, moth collections of Great Britain contained the peppered variety, a light colored but speckled moth. With the rise of industrial pollution, a dark form or melanic variety became more prevalent. As environmental controls were enacted, pollution levels decreased and the peppered variety made a strong comeback.

It seemed that as pollution increased, the lichens on trees died off and the bark became blackened. The previously camouflaged peppered variety was now conspicuous and the previously conspicuous melanic form was now camouflaged. Birds could more readily see the conspicuous variety and the two forms changed frequency depending on their surrounding conditions. This was natural selection at work.

There were always a few problems with this standard story. What did it really show? First, the melanic form was always in the population, just at very low frequencies. So we start with two varieties of the peppered moth and we still have two forms. The frequencies change but nothing new has been added to the population. Second, we really don't know the genetics of industrial melanism in these moths. We don't have a detailed explanation of how the two forms are generated. And third, in some populations, the frequencies of the two moths changed whether there was a corresponding change in the tree bark or not. The only consistent factor is pollution.3 The most well-known example of evolution in action reduces to a mere footnote. Regarding this change in the Peppered Moth story, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne lamented that "From time to time evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong."4

Even Darwin's Finches from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador tell us little of large scale evolution. The thirteen species of finches on the Galapagos show subtle variation in the size and shape of their beaks based on the primary food source of the particular species of finch. Jonathan Wiener's Beak of the Finch5 nicely summarizes the decades of work by ornithologists Peter and Rosemary Grant. While the finches do show change over time in response to environmental factors (hence, natural selection), the change is reversible! The ground finches (six species) do interbreed in the wild, and the size and shape of their beaks will vary slightly depending if the year is wet or dry (varying the size seeds produced) and revert back when the conditions reverse. There is no directional change. It is even possible that the thirteen species are more like six to seven species since hybrids form so readily, especially among the ground finches, and survive quite well. Once again, where is the real evolution?

There are many other documented examples of natural selection operating in the wild. But they all show that, while limited change is possible, there are limits to change. No one as far as I know questions the reality of natural selection. The real issue is that examples such as the Peppered Moth and Darwin's Finches tell us nothing about evolution.

Mutations Do Not Produce Real Change

While most evolutionists will acknowledge that there are limits to change, they insist that natural selection is not sufficient without a continual source of variation. In the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, mutations of all sorts fill that role. These mutations fall into two main categories: mutations to structural genes and mutations to developmental genes. I will define structural genes as those which code for a protein which performs a maintenance, metabolic, support, or specialized function in the cell. Developmental genes influence specific tasks in embryological development, and therefore can change the morphology or actual appearance of an organism.

Most evolutionary studies have focused on mutations in structural genes. But in order for large scale changes to happen, mutations in developmental genes must be explored. Says Scott Gilbert:

"To study large changes in evolution, biologists needed to look for changes in the regulatory genes that make the embryo, not just in the structural genes that provide fitness within populations."6

We'll come back to these developmental mutations a little later.

Most examples we have of mutations generating supposed evolutionary change involve structural genes. The most common example of these kinds of mutations producing significant evolutionary change involves microbial antibiotic resistance. Since the introduction of penicillin during World War II, the use of antibiotics has mushroomed. Much to everyone's surprise, bacteria have the uncanny ability to become resistant to these antibiotics. This has been trumpeted far and wide as real evidence that nature's struggle for existence results in genetic change—evolution.

But microbial antibiotic resistance comes in many forms that aren't so dramatic. Sometimes the genetic mutation simply allows the antibiotic to be pumped out of the cell faster than normal or taken into the cell more slowly. Other times the antibiotic is deactivated inside the cell by a closely related enzyme already present. In other cases, the molecule inside the cell that is the target of the antibiotic is ever so slightly modified so the antibiotic no longer affects it. All of these mechanisms occur naturally and the mutations simply intensify an ability the cell already has. No new genetic information is added.7

In addition, genetically programmed antibiotic resistance is passed from one bacteria to another by special DNA molecules called plasmids. These are circular pieces of DNA that have only a few genes. Bacteria readily exchange plasmids as a matter of course, even across species lines. Therefore, rarely is a new mutation required when bacteria "become" resistant. They probably received the genes from another bacterium.

Most bacteria also suffer a metabolic cost to achieve antibiotic resistance. That is, they grow more slowly than wild-type bacteria, even when the antibiotic is not present. And we have never observed a bacterium changing from a single-celled organism to a multicellular form by mutation. You just get a slightly different bacterium of the same species. The great French evolutionist Pierre Paul-Grassé, when speaking about the mutations of bacteria said,

"What is the use of their unceasing mutations if they do not change? In sum the mutations of bacteria and viruses are merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect."8

What I have been describing so far is what is often referred to as microevolution. Evolutionists have basically assumed that the well-documented processes of microevolution eventually produce macroevolutionary changes given enough time. But this has been coming under greater scrutiny lately, even by evolutionists. There appears to be a real discontinuity between microevolution and the kind of change necessary to turn an amoeba-like organism into a fish, even over hundreds of millions of years.

Below is just a quick sampling of comments and musings from the current literature.

"One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved. . . . historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism."9

"A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for the larger-scale changes evident over longer periods of life's history (macroevolution)."10

"A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution."11

While each of the above authors does not question evolution directly, they are questioning whether what we have been studying all these years, microevolution, has anything to do with the more important question of what leads to macroevolution. And if microevolution is not the process, then what is?

Natural Selection Does Not Produce New Body Plans

The fundamental question which needs addressing is, How have we come to have sponges, starfish, cockroaches, butterflies, eels, frogs, woodpeckers, and humans from single cell beginnings with no design, purpose or plan? All the above listed organisms have very different body plans. A body plan simply describes how an organism is put together. So can we discover just how all these different body plans can arise by mutation and natural selection? This is a far bigger and more difficult problem than antibiotic resistance, a mere biochemical change. Now we have to consider just how morphological change comes about.

The problem of macroevolution requires developmental mutations. Simply changing a protein here and there won't do it. We somehow have to change how the organism is built. Structural genes tend to have little effect on the development of a body plan. But the genes that control development and ultimately influence the body plan tend to find their expression quite early in development. But this is a problem because the developing embryo is quite sensitive to early developmental mutations. Wallace Arthur wrote:

"Those genes that control key early developmental processes are involved in the establishment of the basic body plan. Mutations in these genes will usually be extremely disadvantageous, and it is conceivable that they are always so."12

But these are the mutations needed for altering body plans. However, evolutionists for decades have been studying the wrong mutations. Those dealing with structural genes, microevolution, only deal with how organisms survive as they are, it doesn't tell us how they got to be the way they are. Optiz and Raft note that

"The Modern Synthesis is a remarkable achievement. However, starting in the 1970's, many biologists began questioning its adequacy in explaining evolution. . . . Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest."13

Wallace Arthur:

"In a developmentally explicit approach it is clear that many late changes can not accumulate to give an early one. Thus if taxonomically distant organisms differ right back to their early embryogenesis, as is often the case, the mutations involved in their evolutionary divergence did not involve the same genes as those involved in the typical speciation event."14

To sum up the current dilemma, significant morphological change requires early developmental mutations. But these mutations are nearly universally disadvantageous. And microevolution, despite its presence in textbooks as proof of evolution, actually tells us precious little about the evolutionary process. If these developmental mutations that can offer an actual benefit are so rare, then macroevolution would be expected to be a slow and difficult, yet bumpy process. Indeed, Darwin expected that "As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favorable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can only act in short and slow steps."

The origin of body plans is wrapped up in the evidence of paleontology, the fossils and developmental biology. What does the fossil record have to say about the origin of basic body plans? When we look for fossils indicating Darwin's expected slow gradual process we are greatly disappointed. The Cambrian Explosion continues to mystify and intrigue. The Cambrian Explosion occurred around 543 million years ago according to paleontologists. In the space of just a few million years, nearly all the animal phyla make their first appearance.

"The term ‘explosion' should not be taken too literally, but in terms of evolution it is still very dramatic. What it means is rapid diversification of animal life. ‘Rapid' in this case means a few million years, rather than the tens or even hundreds of millions of years that are more typical . . .15

Prior to the Cambrian, (550-485 million years ago), during the Vendian (620-550 million years ago) we find fossil evidence for simple sponges, perhaps some cnidarians and the enigmatic Ediacaran assemblage. For the most part we find only single cell organisms such as bacteria, cyanobacteria, algae, and protozoan. Suddenly, in the Cambrian explosion (545-535 million years ago) we find sponges, cnidarians, platyhelminthes, ctenophores, mollusks, annelids, chordates (even a primitive fish), and echinoderms.

While many animal phyla are not present in the Cambrian, they are mostly phyla of few members and unlikely to be fossilized in these conditions. James Valentine goes further in saying that "The diversity of body plans indicated by combining all of these Early Cambrian remains is very great. Judging from the phylogenetic tree of life, all living phyla (animal) were probably present by the close of the explosion interval."16 Later Valentine assures us that the fossil record of the explosion period is as good as or better than an average section of the geologic column.17 So we just can't resort to the notion that the fossil record is just too incomplete.

In the Cambrian Explosion we have the first appearance of most animal body plans. This sudden appearance is without evidence of ancestry in the previous periods. This explosion of body plans requires a quantum increase of biological information. New genetic information and regulation is required.18 Mutations at the earliest stages of embryological development are required and they must come in almost rapid fire sequence. Some have suggested that perhaps the genetic regulation of body plans was just more flexible, making for more experimentation. But we find some of the same organisms in the strata from China to Canada and throughout the period of the explosion. These organisms do not show evidence of greater flexibility of form.

The type of mutation is definitely a problem, but so is the rate of mutation. Susumo Ohno points out that "it still takes 10 million years to undergo 1% change in DNA base sequences. . . . [The] emergence of nearly all the extant phyla of the Kingdom Animalia within the time span of 6-10 million years can't possibly be explained by mutational divergence of individual gene functions."19

Darwinism would also require early similarities between organisms with slow diversification. Phyla should only become recognizable after perhaps hundreds of millions of years of descent with modification. Yet the great diversity appears first with gradual drifting afterward, the opposite of what evolution would predict. Again some suggest that the genetic structure of early organisms was less constrained today, allowing early developmental mutations with less severe results. But there would still be some developmental trajectory that would exist so the selective advantage of the mutation would have to outweigh the disruption of an already established developmental pathway.

But each of these speculations is unobservable and untestable. It's quite possible that developmental constraints may be even more rigid with fewer genes. But even if the constraints were weaker, then there should be more variability in morphology of species over space and time. But as I said earlier, the Cambrian fauna are easily recognizable from the early Cambrian deposits in China and Greenland to the middle Cambrian deposits of the Burgess Shale. There is no testable or observational basis for hypothesizing less stringent developmental constraints.

This stunning burst of body plans in the early Cambrian and the lack of significant new body plans since the Cambrian indicate a limit to change. Evolutionary developmental biologist Rudolf Raff told Time magazine over ten years ago that "There must be limits to change. After all, we've had these same old body plans for half a billion years."20 Indeed, perhaps these limits to change are far more pervasive and genetically determined than Raff even suspects.

Along the way, functional organisms must form the intermediate forms. But even the functionality of these intermediate organisms transforming from one body plan to another has long puzzled even the most dedicated evolutionists. S. J. Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, asked,

"But how can a series of reasonable intermediates be constructed? . . . The dung-mimicking insect is well protected, but can there be any edge in looking only 5 percent like a turd?"21

With his usual flair, Gould asks a penetrating question. Most have no problem with natural selection taking a nearly completed design and making it just a little bit more effective. Where the trouble really starts is trying to create a whole new design from old parts. Evolution has still not answered this critical question. I fully believe that evolution is incapable of answering this question with anything more than "I think it can." However, unlike the little train that could, it will take far more than willpower to come up with the evidence.

In this brief discussion I haven't even mentioned the challenges of Michael Behe's irreducible complexity,22 William Dembski's specified complexity,23 and a host of other evolutionary problems and difficulties. This truly is a theory in crisis.

Notes

1. Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999).
2. R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (W. W. Norton, 1986), 1.
3. Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2000), 137-157.
4. Jerry Coyne, "Not black and white," Nature 396 (1998): 35-36.
5. Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
6. Scott F. Gilbert, "Opening Darwin's black box: teaching evolution through developmental genetics," Nature Reviews Genetics 4 (2003): 735-741.
7. Lane Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin, The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Richardson Tex.: Probe Books, 1984, 1989), 103,170.
8. Pierre-Paul Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 87.
9. David L. Stern, "Perspective: evolutionary developmental biology and the problem of variation," Evolution 54 (2000): 1079-1091.
10. Sean B. Carroll, "The big picture," Nature 409 (2001): 669.
11. Andrew M. Simons, "The continuity of microevolution and macroevolution," Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15 (2002): 688-701.
12. Wallace Arthur, The Origin of Animal Body Plans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 14.
13. S. Gilbert, J. Optiz, and R. Raff, "Review--Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology," Developmental Biology 173 (1996): 361.
14. Wallace Arthur, The Origin of Animal Body Plans, 22.
15. S. Conway Morris, Crucible of Creation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31.
16. James Valentine, On the Origin of Phyla (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 183.
17. Ibid., p. 194.
18. Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117 (2), (2004):213-239.
19. Susumo Ohno, "The notion of the Cambrian pananimalia genome," PNAS USA 93 (1996): 8475-78.
20. Rudolf Raff, quoted in "Then Life Exploded," by J. Madeleine Nash, Time, Dec. 4, 1995, p. 74.
21. S. J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin, 1977, 104.
22. Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
23. William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, (Lanham, Maryland: Roman and Littlefield, 2002).

© 2005 Probe Ministries

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/the-impotence-of-darwinism/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Creation, Evolution, Science

Your Work Matters to God

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Probe's Sue Bohlin examines the question, Is work a curse or a blessing? Many people's view of work is less than what God says it is: His gift to us.


Many Christians hold a decidedly unbiblical view of work. Some view it as a curse, or at least as part of the curse of living in a fallen world. Others make a false distinction between what they perceive as the sacred—serving God—and the secular—everything else. And others make it into an idol, expecting it to provide them with their identity and purpose in life as well as being a source of joy and fulfillment that only God can provide.

In their excellent book Your Work Matters to God,1 Doug Sherman and William Hendricks expose the wrong ways of thinking about work, and explain how God invests work with intrinsic value and honor. Rick Warren echoes this idea in his blockbuster The Purpose Driven Life when he writes, "Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with an awareness of his presence."2

First, let's explore some faulty views of work: the secular view, some inappropriate hierarchies that affect how we view work, and work as merely a platform for doing evangelism.

Those who hold a secular view of work believe that life is divided into two disconnected parts. God is in one spiritual dimension and work is in the other real dimension, and the two have nothing to do with each other. God stays in His corner of the universe while I go to work and live my life, and these different realms never interact.

One problem with this secular view is that it sets us up for disappointment. If you leave God out of the picture, you'll have to get your sense of importance, fulfillment and reward from someplace else: work. Work is the answer to the question, "Who am I, and why am I important?" That is a very shaky foundation—because what happens if you lose your job? You're suddenly a "nobody," and you are not important because you are not employed.

The secular view of work tends to make an idol of career. Career becomes the number one priority in your life. Your relationship with God takes a back seat, family takes a back seat, even your relationship with other people takes a back seat to work. Everything gets filtered through the question, "What impact will this have on my career?"

The secular view of work leaves God out of the system. This is particularly unacceptable for Christians, because God calls us to make Him the center of our life.3 He wants us to have a biblical worldview that weaves Him into every aspect of our lives, including work. He wants to be invited into our work; He wants to be Lord of our work.4

Inappropriate Hierarchies: Soul/Body, Temporal/Eternal

In this article, we're examining some faulty views of work. One comes from believing that the soul matters more than the body. We can wrongly believe that God only cares about our soul, and our bodies don't really matter. The body is not important, we can think: it is only temporal, and it will fade and die. But if that view were true, then why did God make a physical universe? Why did He put Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate and keep it? He didn't charge them with, "Go and make disciples of all nations which aren't in existence yet, but they will be as soon as you guys go off and start making babies." No, He said, "Here's the garden, now cultivate it." He gave them a job to do that had nothing to do with evangelism or church work. There is something important about our bodies, and God is honored by work that honors and cares for the body—which, after all, is His good creation.

Another wrong way of thinking is to value the eternal over the temporal so much that we believe only eternal things matter. Some people believe that if you work for things that won't last into eternity—jobs like roofing and party planning and advertising—you're wasting your time. This wrong thinking needs to be countered by the truth that God created two sides to reality, the temporal and the eternal. The natural universe God made is very real, just as real as the supernatural universe. Asking which one is real and important is like asking which is real, our nine months in our mother's womb or life after birth? They are both real; they are both necessary. We have to go through one to get to the other.

Those things we do and make on earth DO have value, given the category they were made for: time. It's okay for things to have simply temporal value, since God chose for us to live in time before we live in eternity. Our work counts in both time and eternity because God is looking for faithfulness now, and the only way to demonstrate faithfulness is within this physical world. Spiritual needs are important, of course, but first physical needs need to be met. Try sharing the gospel with someone who hasn't eaten in three days! Some needs are temporal, and those needs must be met. So God equips people with abilities to meet the needs of His creation. In meeting the legitimate physical, temporal needs of people, our work serves people, and people have eternal value because God loves us and made us in His image.

The Sacred/Spiritual Dichotomy; Work as a Platform for Evangelism

Another faulty view of work comes from believing that spiritual, sacred things are far more important than physical, secular things. REAL work, people can think, is serving God in full-time Christian service, and then there's everything else running a very poor second. This can induce us to think either too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves. We can think, "Real work is serving God, and then there's what others do" (which sets us up for condescension), or "Real work is serving God, and then there's what I have to do" (which sets us up for false guilt and a sense of "missing it").

It's an improper way to view life as divided between the sacred and the secular. ALL of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we're making a business presentation or changing soiled diapers or leading someone to faith in Christ. It's unwise to think there are sacred things we do and there are secular things we do. It all depends on what's going on in our hearts. You can engage in what looks like holy activity like prayer and Bible study with a dark, self-centered, unforgiving spirit. Remember the Pharisees? And on the other hand, you can work at a job in a very secular atmosphere where the conversation is littered with profanity, the work is slipshod, the politics are wearisome, and yet like Daniel or Joseph in the Old Testament you can keep your own conversation pure and your behavior above reproach. You can bring honor and glory to God in a very worldly environment. God does not want us to do holy things, He wants us to be holy people.

A final faulty view of work sees it only as a platform for doing evangelism. If every interaction doesn't lead to an opportunity to share the gospel, one is a failure. Evangelism should be a priority, true, but not our only priority. Life is broader than evangelism. In Ephesians 1, Paul says three times that God made us, not for evangelism, but to live to the praise of His glory.5 Instead of concentrating only on evangelism, we need to concentrate on living a life that honors God and loves people. That is far more winsome than all the evangelistic strategies in the world. Besides, if work is only a platform for evangelism, it devalues the work itself, and this view of work is too narrow and unfulfilling.

Next we'll examine at how God wants us to look at work. You might be quite surprised!

How God Wants Us to See Work

So far, we have discussed faulty views of work, but how does God want us to see it? Here's a startling thought: we actually work for God Himself! Consider Ephesians 6:5-8, which Paul writes to slaves but which we can apply to employees:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

It's helpful to envision that behind every employer stands the Lord Jesus. He sees everything we do, and He appreciates it and will reward us, regardless of the type of work we do. I learned this lesson one day when I was cleaning the grungy bathtub of a family that wouldn't notice and would never acknowledge or thank me even if they did. I was getting madder by the minute, throwing myself a pity party, when the Lord broke into my thoughts. He quietly said, "I see you. And I appreciate what you're doing." Whoa! In an instant, that totally changed everything. Suddenly, I was able to do a menial job—and later on, more important ones—as a labor of love and worship for Jesus. I know He sees and appreciates what I do. It forever changed my view of work.

God also wants us to see that work is His gift to us. It is not a result of the Fall. God gave Adam and Eve the job of cultivating the garden and exercising dominion over the world before sin entered the world. We were created to work, and for work. Work is God's good gift to us!

Listen to what Solomon wrote:

After looking at the way things are on this earth, here's what I've decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that's about it. That's the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what's given and delighting in the work. It's God's gift!6

Being happy in our work doesn't depend on the work, it depends on our attitude. To make the most of our job and be happy in our work is a gift God wants to give us!

Why Work is Good

In this article we're talking about how to think about work correctly. One question needs to be asked, though: Is all work equally valid? Well, no. All legitimate work is an extension of God's work of maintaining and providing for His creation. Legitimate work is work that contributes to what God wants done in the world and doesn't contribute to what He doesn't want done. So non-legitimate work would include jobs that are illegal, such as prostitution, drug dealing, and professional thieves. Then there are jobs that are legal, but still questionable in terms of ethics and morality, such as working in abortion clinics, pornography, and the gambling industry. These jobs are legal, but you have to ask, how are they cooperating with God to benefit His creation?

Work is God's gift to us. It is His provision in a number of ways. In Your Work Matters to God, the authors suggest five major reasons why work is valuable:

1. Through work we serve people. Most work is part of a huge network of interconnected jobs, industries, goods and services that work together to meet people's physical needs. Other jobs meet people's aesthetic and spiritual needs as well.

2. Through work we meet our own needs. Work allows us to exercise the gifts and abilities God gives each person, whether paid or unpaid. God expects adults to provide for themselves and not mooch off others. Scripture says, "If one will not work, neither let him eat!"7

3. Through work we meet our family's needs. God expects the heads of households to provide for their families. He says, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."8

4. Through work we earn money to give to others. In both the Old and New Testaments, God tells us to be generous in meeting the needs of the poor and those who minister to us spiritually. 9

5. Through work we love God. One of God's love languages is obedience. When we work, we are obeying His two great commandments to love Him and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.10 We love God by obeying Him from the heart. We love our neighbor as we serve other people through our work.

We bring glory to God by working industriously, demonstrating what He is like, and serving others by cooperating with God to meet their needs. In serving others, we serve God. And that's why our work matters to God.

Notes

1. Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1987.
2. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. p. 67.
3. Philippians 1:21
4. Romans 12:1, 2
5. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14
6. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, The Message.
7. 2 Thess. 3:10
8. 1 Tim. 5:8
9. Leviticus 19:10—Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. Ephesians 4:28—Let him who steals, steal no longer but rather let him labor performing with his own hands what is good in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. Gal 6:6—The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.
10. Matthew 22:37-39

© 2004 Probe Ministries.

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/your-work-matters-to-god/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Careers, Christian Home, Women's Articles

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