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Wordwise Insight, Issue #017 -- da vinci code, answering atheists
May 14, 2006
Greetings

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of Wordwise-Bible-Studies.com

IN THIS ISSUE...

BIBLE INSIGHTS. studies on hope, prayer, and Christian service, plus an important study on "Truth in Our Trials" and a critique of The Da Vinci Code

READER Q & A. Finding a church for your teens, helping an atheist son

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. Dealing with The Da Vinci Code

NEWS & REVIEWS. Several excellent books looking at The Da Vinci Code from a factual and biblical perspective


BIBLE INSIGHTS

THE PROGRESS OF HOPE
One of the great problems in our world today is a loss of hope. We cannot live without it. And biblical hope is not a wish or a maybe. It can be defined as: the joyful certainty of future blessing (cf. I Pet. 1:3-5). The word “hope” is found frequently in Lamentations 3:16-33. It translates a couple of Hebrew words whose meaning is similar: to hope, wait for, expect.

Jeremiah had warned the people of coming judgment, and now it had fallen. The Babylonians had destroyed his beloved Jerusalem. The prophet mourned over the devastated city, and hope seemed to waver. But as he meditated on the things of God it was rekindled and refocused. See in this passage...

1. Hope Exhausted (vs. 18; see context, vs. 16-18)

2. Hope Encouraged (vs. 21. There should be a colon after vs. 21, not a period. It introduces vs. 22-23.)

3. Hope Energized (vs. 24)

4. Hope Expectant (vs. 25; “wait for, NKJV, = hope)

5. Hope Evaluated (vs. 26)

6. Hope Enduring (vs. 29)

“THEN JONAH PRAYED”
Commissioned by the Lord to warn the Assyrians (in Nineveh) of the soon-coming judgment of God, Jonah refused. What if they repented? They were a danger to Israel and would continue to be if God did not destroy them. So Jonah, thinking he knew better than God, took a ship heading in the opposite direction. However the Lord sent along a tempest to get him to reconsider.

Realizing the storm was his fault, and that he was endangering the mariners on board, Jonah asked to be cast into the sea. The sailors finally agreed, and a sea monster God had specially prepared swallowed His reluctant servant. It is at this point we read, “Then Jonah prayed” (Jon. 2:1)

1) THEN Jonah prayed. His response to the storm was to volunteer to be thrown into the sea (1:12). His stubborn patriotism led him, in effect, to attempt suicide, rather than helping Israel’s enemy. But God’s severe and gracious discipline not only preserved him but brought him at last to prayer.

2) Then JONAH prayed. His shipmates had been praying before this. First, it was an appeal to their own gods (1:5), but then to Jehovah (1:14). Strangely, they showed more readiness than God’s own prophet to bow the knee to Him. Unknown to Jonah, the calming of the sea may even have brought about their genuine conversion (1:16).

3) Then Jonah PRAYED. First, he ran from God (1:3). But now he prayed to Him. To be running from the Lord is to be off praying ground. But the chastening of God has recalled him (2:7-9). Never was there a stranger prayer cell! But it was the attitude of Jonah’s soul that mattered. When he said, “Salvation is of the Lord” (2:9), he not only meant his own potential deliverance, but that of the Assyrians as well. He was confessing God to be sovereign in these things.

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
First Chronicles Chapter 12 describes the elite men of David’s army in terms that find a spiritual parallel among the followers of Christ (David’s greater Son). Here are characteristics needed by the servants of the Lord in our day.

1) Even before the king ascended the throne (when his cause was unpopular with some), they were loyal to him and ready to fight for him (vs. 1).

2) They used both prepared weapons of war, and stones of circumstance, in the battle, and were adaptable to each situation (vs. 2).

3) They were well trained and properly prepared for their work (vs. 8).

4) They were both bold and decisive in their actions (vs. 8, 21).

5) They were prepared to face danger and difficulty (vs. 15). Harry Ironside says they were “men of energy–not men who followed the line of least resistence.”

6) They were one with the king in heart and purpose (vs. 17-18).

7) They were empowered by the Spirit of God (vs. 18). The expression used here means more literally “the Spirit clothed himself with Amasai.” (He was like a glove that has no power to act until the Hand is inside it.)

8) Their numbers continued to grow (vs. 22).

9) They were full of wisdom and understood the times in which they lived (vs. 32).

10) They were organized, and orderly in the face of a desperate struggle (vs. 33, 38).

11) They were united in purpose with the people of God (vs. 38).

12) They rejoiced in fellowship and service (vs. 39-40).

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS One of the great mysteries of our earthly existence is human suffering. Why would a loving God allow His creatures to suffer since He is omnipotent and able to prevent it? These and other questions have been pondered almost since the beginning of time. That is what prompted an examination of the subject which has become an outline study called “Truth in Our Trials.” It contains a dozen biblical principles to keep in mind, plus 35 different things a wise God can accomplish through human suffering. Each point is supported by Scripture. To see the material, click on Truth About Suffering

THE DA VINCI CODE is often in the news these days. The novel by Dan Brown claims to be based on fact. Is it? Check out the resources in this newsletter, as well as the following article The Da Vinci Code.


READER Q & A...

The following two questions come from concerned mothers. I have withheld their names. Each expresses a problem likely shared by other parents who read these newsletters.

Question: One writes, “There are several churches in our rural area. Mostly people in their sixties attend, and there are few teenagers. I have two teenagers. There is only one church I know of with a youth program where they try to teach high family standards, have decent dress code, and avoid the loud "worship" music--but this is a Mormon church. My teenagers want to go to the youth services on Wednesday nights. Is this wrong?”

Answer: Let me say right off that I truly sympathize with your dilemma. Several of the churches I have pastored over the past 40 years have been in small towns or rural areas. This has limited the choices for all. Further, many of these smaller communities are in decline. The younger folks need to move away to get schooling, or to find jobs. This means the congregations of the churches are increasingly older. I also understand the desire of young people to gravitate to ones their own age, and programs that are more specifically geared to their needs (if not their tastes).

There are a number of ideas that come to mind. You have not given me a lot of detail to go on, but perhaps one of the following will suit your situation.

1) You do not mention how close you are to other communities. The needs of your teens would merit a pretty long drive to find a church that would be suitable. I can recall, when I was working in the secular business world years ago, driving about 40-45 minutes five days a week, to work, and then home again in the evening. Also, many people in large cities drive half an hour across town for work, or to attend church, and think little of it. If there’s a good church less than an hour from you, it might be worth the sacrifice.

2) A variation of this would be to find a good church that has an active youth program and agree to take your teens to events at least once a month, even if it is still further away. In this case, it might be acceptable to travel further to get involved occasionally. If you yourself are a dedicated Christian, the youth leaders might appreciate you giving them some help when you come.

3) A more radical solution is to move! It may not be possible, because of other factors unknown to me. But if the welfare of your children is at stake, one of the first priorities in deciding where to live is to help meet their spiritual needs through a solid, Bible-believing church.

4) Another radical idea: start a youth program of your own! Could you find a few young people who would appreciate being part of a program designed specifically for them? There are materials available to provide weekly Bible studies, plus ideas for activities. Once you got this underway, you could perhaps hook up with another church whose doctrines and standards are similar to yours–even if it is many miles distant. Then your little group could join them for activities several times a year. (You might even be able to convince that youth group to come your way, once in awhile.)

5) I know of a number of towns where one church thought they were not large enough to run a youth program themselves, so they hooked up with another church to run a joint program. But often this does not work well. There are inevitable clashes as to doctrine or standards, and the stronger (or bigger) church usually prevails–even if theirs is not the right and biblical course to take. Also, this joint effort does little to build the smaller church. The young people slowly drift to the stronger congregation (or the one with more things that appeal to them), leaving the other church further impoverished.

6) You might connect with a church that is faithful to the fundamentals of the faith, and agreeable as to their basic policies, even if most of those who attend are “old.” Ask if you can meet with the pastor and a few key adults to explain your problem. Show respect for them, and a desire to be supportive to the church. But tell them you have two concerns: a) How can we work together to get teen-agers to appreciate this church and its people more? And b) How can we work together to get the adults in this church to appreciate teens and their needs more?

7) As a gospel musician–and one who has taught a philosophy of music in a Christian college–I share your concern about loud (and often shallow) contemporary religious music. But we must not, as the saying goes, throw the baby out with the bath water. When it comes to music, older does not necessarily mean better, and newer does not necessarily mean inferior. Perhaps you could encourage a church to develop a music policy that will maintain the heritage we have in our hymns, but also introduce the congregation (slowly) to the best of the newer Christian music. Also discuss with them the limits of presentation style which could become a part of the church’s policy.

8) Another option would be to start a Bible quizzing program. These can be a fantastic draw for young people, and a wonderful way to bridge the gap between generations. This is exciting stuff! Teens study a chapter or section of a Bible book. (A great thing in itself!) Then compete in their home church, and send a team to compete in other churches. There are regional finals, and so on. Investigate that as a possibility. It could be the start of a more extensive youth program in one of those “senior citizen” churches.

9) Is there any good church in your area that has a children’s program–or would like to have one? If your teen-agers are committed Christians, could you and they volunteer to start such a program (such as Awana), or work in one? Getting your children involved will help them integrate into that church, even if many in it are “old.”

10) As to the Mormons... No. Definitely not. Don’t send your teens there. Whatever face they may try to present to the public, they are a false cult which does not honour Christ or the Bible. If you are in any doubt about that, check out the literature available at a good Christian bookstore concerning this group. The little booklet The Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error provides a basic summary.

Question: A second Mom writes, “Our youngest son has decided that maybe God isn't real, maybe there is no hell, and then of course there is no value in going to church, etc. I thought he had a [salvation] experience as a small child but it isn't real to him. I think he may also have had some negative influence from some older bachelor guys he has contact with.

How could we approach this problem to show that God is real ? I’ve talked to him about creation and the fall, and he says "So why didn't God do it right the first time ?" Some ideas would help.”

Answer: Thanks for the good question. Of course, your son is only saying what the Bible itself plainly says–that “there is no God.” But unfortunately for him the context reminds us of the kind of person who makes such a statement. God says he is a fool (Ps. 14:1). The reason it is foolish to deny the existence of God is that the evidence of His amazing handiwork is all around us (Ps. 19:1). So much so that sinners are “without excuse” for refusing to believe in Him (Rom. 1:20).

When you think about it, there is a certain arrogance to atheism. To say there is no God to be found anywhere in our vast universe, one has to claim he knows absolutely everything that’s out there! To assert such a thing is foolish indeed, causing Lewis Sperry Chafer to state, “It is probable that a consistent atheist has never existed.” An older theologian (John Foster) says, “Unless this man is omnipresent, unless he is at this moment in every place in the universe, he cannot know but that there may be in some place manifestations of a Deity by which even he would be overpowered.”

Many books have been written in defense of the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. Both C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell have written on such themes. If your son were a reader I might suggest The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel (published by Zondervan in 2000). Over the course of about 400 pages he deals with all the common objections to faith that unbelievers throw at us–the problem of human suffering, how could a loving God send anyone to hell, and so on. A valuable book to have in one’s library.

Another “book” that is going to be read by your son whether you like it or not is your own life. If God is real to you, and Christ’s salvation truly means something to you, your life will show it. That ongoing testimony can have a powerful effect on your son. In a poem called “The World’s Bible,” Annie Johnson Flint wrote, “We are the only Bible / The careless world will read, / We are the sinner’s gospel, / We are the scoffer’s creed.” And “What if the type is crooked? / What if the print is blurred? / What if you hands are busy / With other work than His? / What if our feet are walking / Where sin’s allurement is?” Good questions!

Regarding your son’s concerns about creation, Peter speaks of scoffers who ridicule the Word of God, saying they “wilfully forget” some things (II Pet. 3:5, NKJV). They deliberately shut their eyes to the facts. No one who found a ticking watch in the woods would immediately assume all the parts had come together by themselves without any outside help. There had to be an intelligent designer and a maker. And anyone looking at the intricacies of creation is forced to come to a similar conclusion.

Whatever your son’s study of the natural world has been, he has reached a false conclusion, indicated by his question, "So why didn't God do it right the first time ?" The answer is, He did. When the work of creation was complete, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The wonders of creation caused the psalmist to cry, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all” (Ps. 104:24). What has happened to the world since it was made is not a result of sloppy workmanship on God’s part. It is a result of human sin.

God gave human beings the responsibility of caring for our planet (Gen. 1:28), but their “dominion” was always to be restricted and governed by God’s rule over him (Gen. 2:16-17). When Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord–in effect, rejecting His rule–God punished them by placing a curse on creation. Though it still reflects the wisdom and power of God, nature is now seriously flawed (Gen. 3:17-19), and man’s care of it is handicapped accordingly. Added to that, the fallen nature of man causes him to continually abuse the natural resources we have. Selfishness and greed, carelessness and waste, strip the rain forests and fill the air with pollutants. None of this is God’s fault.

So why didn’t God simply make human beings with no power of choice, creatures that were programed to obey Him? The answer is because He did not want mere robots, or puppets. He wanted intelligent beings that could fellowship with Him, that could love Him and be loved in return. And for such a relationship to be sincere and meaningful human beings had to be able to choose whether to trust and obey God or not. They had to have the power not to trust Him, not to obey Him and not to love Him.

But I want to return for a moment to the words of Peter–that “wilful forgetting” he speaks of. Herman Wouk, in his novel War and Remembrance, about the Holocaust, speaks of “the will not to believe.” A denial of the existence of God, and the existence of hell, is often a morally loaded conclusion. That is, there is a rejection of God’s authority which manifests itself as a denial of His existence. In order to continue in his sinful ways, without accountability to God, the sinner may try to write God out of the picture. That is why Psalm 14:1 (quoted in part, earlier) says in full, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.” Atheism and a sinful lifestyle are connected.

It is important to establish a belief in God at a young age, and to ingrain a sense of moral accountability to a higher authority. Solomon writes about that in Ecclesiastes. In his later years he had drifted away from God (I Kgs. 11:1-8), but I believe the book of Ecclesiastes is a testimony of his repentance and return to God, near the end of his life. He says, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’...Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:1, 13-14).

If your son’s conclusions about spiritual things have been carefully considered, then I would certainly doubt the earlier “experience” you speak of. Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20). On my website, in the article “Assurance of Salvation” (under Articles and Definitions) I list seven things that are the fruit of salvation. To one degree or another, each of these should be in evidence in the life of the born again person.

One other possibility, and I only mention it in passing for your consideration, is that your son is emotionally depressed for some reason. Whether this has a physical, a psychological, or a spiritual cause needs to be investigated. Sometimes doubts arise out of an emotional despondency. In that case, medical treatment or counseling may be what is needed.

Next Month: An unusual hymn story.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on the Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.


IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH

1) ABOUT THE DA VINCI CODE
In recent days the novel The Da Vinci Code has received a great deal of publicity–especially with a movie version of the book being released. In addition a manuscript of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, dated from about 250-300 A.D., has been creating a stir. Both are anti-Christian in their attack on the biblical record and the Person of Christ.

Examined carefully, they are no real threat to Christian truth, but what they teach has prompted questions on the part of many. Without an understanding of the Scriptures and a basic knowledge of church history, it is easy to be confused by the arguments presented.

For the sake of your congregation it would be good to address this issue. You might consider presenting a message on the subject, or making it a topic for an adult or teen Sunday School elective. At the least, it would be good to recommend some helpful resources, and even to place these in your church library. Some suggested resources are described below. Also, see my own article on the subject The Da Vinci Code.


2) THE MYSTERY BOX
Prepare a sturdy box which can stand up to reuse. One possibility is to purchase a good-sized lunch pail for the purpose. You could paint Mystery Box on the side of it, or perhaps scattered question marks. Inside the lid of the box, glue the following instructions.

ABOUT OUR MYSTERY BOX

God has designed the physical world around us to be full of illustrations of spiritual truth. Everything from rainbows to rocks, wind to weeds, and more, is used in the Bible to teach important lessons. For example, Proverbs says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard [you lazy person]! Consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). In the verses that follow, ants are used to teach the importance of hard work and careful preparation for the future.

Using this principle of comparison, we can illustrate many valuable lessons using objects we find around the house. Think! What lesson might by illustrated with a mirror, or a postage stamp, or a glass of water, or a packet of seeds? Here is your assignment–something the whole family can work on together:

1) Choose a familiar small object. It should be something recognizable to the pastor and to most of us in the church, or the lesson may be lost.

2) Decide on a good lesson that can be illustrated by the object. Discuss this together. You could ask your family and friends for ideas. Some clues: Ask yourself what the item is used for. What are its characteristics? What would happen if you didn’t have one? And how is something here like what we have, or need, in our Christian lives?

3) Place the object in the Mystery Box, and bring it to church. Wrap it carefully, if it is something that could spill or get broken.

4) During the morning service, the pastor will take a quick look at the object, and try to come up with a lesson that could be illustrated by it.

5) If you stump the pastor–if he can’t think of a good less from the object you brought–you can share a lesson you came up with.

In introducing this project, the pastor himself should choose the items for several weeks, so everyone understands what is required. Then, he can ask for a volunteer–either an individual or a family– to take the box home and come up with something themselves. You could do this for several weeks, and then take a break from it. Use your own judgment. Don’t let the activity become stale.

The objective behind this little game is to teach the use of analogy. Much of the wisdom of Proverbs uses this technique. By being observant and using some imagination, we can find wonderful illustrations of spiritual truth all around us. This should become a habit!

3) The best Bible study tool ever! At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

4) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

5) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.


VIEWS & REVIEWS


The five resources listed below contain a clear presentation of the biblical truths under attack from The Da Vinci Code. McDowell's little book is especially recommended, if you can put up with the small print. Answers to the Da Vinci Code is a fold-out brochure. For a brief presentation, it is excellent. A number of these resources have DVD's and more website helps that are related. Other materials are becoming available all the time. Purchase one or more for yourself and for your church library. We need to be informed!

The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers (Josh McDowell)

Answers to the Da VInci Code (Timothy Paul Jones)

Discussing the Da Vinci Code (Lee Strobel & Garry Poole)

The Da Vinci Deception (Erwin Lutzer)

The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction (Hank Hanegraaff & Paul Maier)


If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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