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52 Churches

A Shepherd Cares for His Flock

Discussing Church 33

Even though this church is only nine miles from our house, the contrast between their lives and mine is stark. These people live in poverty. And their shepherd cares for his flock.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #33

1. We struggle to sing hymns. The organist learned to play because no one else could, and the minister isn’t adept at leading singing. We push through. God doesn’t care about our musical ability, only our heart. 

How can we better align our perspective with his?

2. The people of this rural congregation struggle getting enough to eat. Behind the church is a sizable garden, planted for their church community. The pastor offers venison for Thanksgiving to those in need, as well as firewood to help heat their homes. 

How open are you to see the needs of others? What can you do to help?

3. The reality of these people’s lives puts an exclamation point on being in need. Their physical needs are great and their life, far different than mine.

How can you help meet the tangible needs of the people in your church? Your neighborhood?

4. These people worship God with their church community, their extended family. Being together is what matters. This minister takes care of his congregation; he’s a shepherd who cares for his flock. He loves them, and they, him. 

How can you show love to others?

[See the prior set of questions, the next week, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What Do We Do When We Meet Together?

The Bible Tells Us to Not Give Up Meeting Together, but We Often Miss the Point

As we persevere in our faith, one aspect of this is to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Many people interpret this verse as a command to attend church. It isn’t. Not really. While meeting together could include going to church, it should encompass much more.

Where We Meet

The phrase to not give up meeting together is a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. He says anywhere two or three people get together and place the focus on him, he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

  • Meals: Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? I think so. While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to fellowship with others and include Jesus. But do we make the most of these opportunities?
  • Small Groups: Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection with each other and draws us to God. If we skip our small group, it’s as if we are giving up meeting together, which the Bible says not to do.
  • Coffee Shop: People often meet at coffee shops to spend time and hang out. If you include God in your meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, you assemble in his name.
  • Homes: Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If you both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together where he is included? It should.
  • Outings: What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet together in his name.
  • Church: Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. But I list it last because I wonder if it isn’t the least important. Why do I suggest this? Because when we meet in this environment, we often (perhaps usually) do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.
The reason we meet together should be to encourage one another. Click To Tweet

When We Meet

The command to not give up meeting together goes on to explain why. People tend to skip this part. The reason we are to meet together is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this in our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of meeting together—that is, going to church—they’re quick to miss that the reason is to encourage each other.

If we’re not going to do that, then we might as well stay home.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Let’s Not Forget Who’s in Charge

Good and Evil are Not Equal and Opposite Forces

In Revelation we read about the dragon and the beast, a great battle, and the tribulation the whole world faces.

The Beast

Embedded in the middle of this epic tale, we see a curious revelation. John writes that the beast is given power to wage war against God’s people that he created. John says the beast is given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation (Revelation 13:7).

Who gave the beast his power and authority?

God.

If God can grant the beast power and authority over the world and all creation, then that means God is more powerful than the beast and the forces of evil.

Think about this.

Contrary to what many people think, God and Satan do not exist as equal players in the age-old war of good versus evil. God is superior to Satan. God created Satan, albeit for good. Satan, in his pride, rebelled against God and has fought him ever since.

You see, the battle isn’t fair. God has the upper hand. Satan functions within the limits God places on him.

In the final battle, the victory goes to God. Click To Tweet

The Final Battle: God Wins; Satan Loses

That means in the final battle, we already know the winner. The victory goes to God. Satan loses. Big time.

If we’re on God’s team, we’re on the winning side. And for those who follow the enemy, they’ll lose along with him.

God’s in charge. God is more powerful then evil. Let’s not forget that. When we go with God, we go with the winner.

To him be the honor, and the glory, and the power, forever and ever. Amen.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Revelation 13-16, and today’s post is on Revelation 13:7.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Blessed to be a Blessing

God Blesses Us So That We Can Be a Blessing to Others

God wants to bless us. He loves us and wants to give us his best. This idea of blessing occurs throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, God often ties his blessings to the people’s obedience and to the attitudes of their hearts. Yet, the first time we encounter this word in the Bible, it’s God’s unconditional promise to bless Abraham. He does this prior to Abraham doing anything to demonstrate his obedience to God’s commands or his faith.

God blessed Abraham for Abraham’s sake, but there’s more. Through Abraham, God promised to bless all the people on the earth through him (Genesis 12:2-3). In short, God blessed Abraham to be a blessing to others.

But this doesn’t just apply to Abraham. The word bless occurs hundreds of times in the Old and New Testaments. It’s a reoccurring theme. More specifically, the phrase bless you occurs fifty times. Furthermore, the idea of blessing other people shows up four dozen times, and blessing nations shows up another fifteen.

God expects us to be a blessing to others. We should view God’s provisions to us from this perspective. He blesses us—he prospers us—so that we can be a blessing to others. Here are some ways we can do this:

Donate Money

For many people, when they consider the idea of blessing others, they think of money. Providing financially for others is an ideal way to be a blessing to them. We can use the money God has blessed us with to give to organizations whose mission aligns with our passions. We can also give money directly to people in need.

In both cases, however, we must be good stewards of God’s financial blessings to us so that they will have the best kingdom impact.

Share Possessions

We can also be a blessing to others when we share our possessions. When we have things we don’t need, we shouldn’t throw them away. Instead, we should give them away.

We can give directly to individuals in need or to organizations, who will in turn give them away or sell them to raise money for their cause.

Yet let’s move our thinking beyond our castoffs. We can also give possessions that we still use, that still have value to us, to others. If someone has more need of it than we do, then maybe we need to give it to them.

In these ways, we can be a blessing to others.

Give Time

Aside from material items, consider our time. We can give our time to help others. This can occur by volunteering for various organizations focused on helping others. It can also occur directly by helping a neighbor who could use some assistance.

And lest anyone complains that “I don’t have enough time,” let me remind you that we all have 24 hours in each day. We choose how to use that time. Why not choose to give some of it away?

Mentor Others

A specific way to be a blessing to others with our time is to do one-on-one mentoring. In this way we invest ourselves in them, helping them to have a better life, be it physically, spiritually, emotionally, or all three.

Pray for Others

A final option—the most important one—is something that everyone can do. We can all pray for others. And we can start today, right now.

God has blessed each of us. Seek ways to use his blessings to us to be a blessing to others. Click To Tweet

Blessed to Be a Blessing

In both large and small ways, God has blessed each of us. Seek ways to use his blessings to us to be a blessing to others.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

Commitment Sunday and Celebration

Discussing Church 32

This church has been homeless for a while, but they moved into their own space last week. Today they celebrate God’s faithfulness on a trying journey with their annual commitment Sunday.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #32

1. We arrive to learn that it’s commitment Sunday for them, with contribution pledges sought for the upcoming year. The woman who explains this is embarrassed that our first visit falls on their annual plea for money. 

When you ask for money, how can you help visitors feel welcomed and not obligated?

2. When their minister learns we’re not used to liturgical services, she introduces us to someone who can guide us. He takes his job seriously and performs it admirably. 

How can you apply this visitor-friendly gesture to your church services?

3. The guest speaker says, “Bigger is no longer better in the church world,” and “Smaller is where the work will be done.” He’s so right. 

What is your attitude toward church size? Does something need to change?

4. Afterward is a brunch to celebrate God’s provision and praise him. “We don’t want to intrude on your celebration,” I say to one lady. Her response removes all doubt, “You are one of the reasons we’re celebrating.” 

How well do you celebrate visitors?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Downside of the Protestant Reformation

For all its good, the Protestant Reformation also spawned a wave of disunity that continues to this day

Reformation Day is one October 31. It celebrates the Protestant Reformation. I love the Reformation even though it was actually a spiritual revolution against the established status quo. (But perhaps that’s part of its allure.) After all, the root of Protestant is protest.

Though the actual reformation isn’t fixed in one date, on one person, or from one location, as a matter of convenience Martin Luther emerged as its posterchild, Germany became its setting, and Luther’s posting of 95 points of contention on October 31, 1517 set the date.

Hence we have established Reformation Day to communicate our celebration of this much larger movement.

I understand that Luther didn’t intent to spark a religious revolt. What he sought was to bring about needed change within the established church, a most admirable and lofty pursuit. Though most of the changes he advocated did eventually occur; they didn’t happen quickly.

Instead it took decades. In the meantime impatient change backers, anxious to correct religious errors, set out to form a new church, a reformed practice with the Bible as its anchor.

This was fine, except that not one new church emerged, but many, all variations on a theme but lacking tolerance and love for one another. They argued, they fought, and they killed one another in the name of their brand of religious theology.

Each variation of Protestant thought assumed it was right, which implied everyone else was wrong.

Each variation of Protestant theology assumes it is right, which implies everyone else was wrong. Click To Tweet

Today, almost five hundred years later, we’re still stuck in this mindset. Each person and each preacher and each church establishes their sincerely held view of spiritual thought and then rejects all others who disagree.

But that’s not a problem, they say. The dissenters, the ones rejected, just go out and start their own church, complete with their own spiritual litmus test of who’s in and who’s out. As a result we now have 43,000 Protestant denominations.

How deeply this must grieve Jesus who earnestly prayed that his followers would live in harmony, that we would be one. And, for all the good it produced, we have the Reformation to thank for this most unbiblical result of division, dissension, and disunity.

God help us all.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Jesus Says “Follow Me”

The Simplicity of Faith

In Peter’s darkest moment, he denies that he even knows who Jesus is. I don’t criticize Peter for this, however. Despite a desire to respond differently, I suspect that if facing death, I could easily do the same thing.

Later, after returning to life, Jesus restores Peter to right relationship with him. Three times Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

Three times—each one corresponding to one of Peter’s three betrayals—Peter confirms that he does indeed love Jesus.

Then, for Peter to show his love for his master, each time Jesus asks Peter to take care of Jesus’s flock, that is the Christian church.

Love Jesus, and follow him. Click To Tweet

Peter doesn’t realize the importance of repeating this exchange three times, that he must affirm his love for Jesus in equal number to his three betrayals.

Then, when his pledges of support offset his prior denials, Jesus can complete Peter’s restoration. Jesus concludes with the simple instruction, “Follow me.”

That’s the essential requirement of Jesus, the simplicity of faith: To love Jesus, and follow him. It’s that simple.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is John 20-21, and today’s post is on John 21:15-19.]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Don’t Let Your Prayers Be Hindered

Understanding the Weaker Vessel

When Paul talks in the Bible about marriage, I struggle with his words because he was a bachelor. What does he know about the subject? Peter, on the other hand, was married so I give more credence to what he says on the subject. Even so I struggle a bit when he talks about women as the weaker vessel in 1 Peter 3:7.

This verse is specifically about husbands and wives. It’s part of a longer passage that talks about the marriage relationship. Let’s breakdown what Peter says.

The Weaker Vessel

In looking at multiple versions of this verse, most use the phrase weaker vessel. It offends my sensibilities because I strive to view men and women as equals. Some verses clarify that this weakness refers to physical characteristics, which I understand to be true, even if I don’t want to dwell on it.

The Message translation doesn’t use the phrase weaker vessel. Instead. it says, “as women they lack some of your advantages” (1 Peter 3:7, MSG).

The Expanded Bible clarifies this even further using the phrase as “the less empowered one” and explains that in the society of that time, women tended to have less power and authority (1 Peter 3:7, EXB).

Can we expand our understanding of this teaching beyond marriage to produce a general principle? Or is that taking the verse out of context?

If we choose to extend Peter’s instructions beyond marriage, we should all—men and women—take care in how we treat others who may be a weaker vessel to us: those who lack our advantages, who aren’t as empowered, and who possessed less authority.

As we do so we promote a God-honoring justice.

Joint Heirs with Jesus

Not only is this verse about husbands and wives, but it also refers to a Christ-centered marriage. Husbands and wives who follow Jesus are his heirs.

Some translations say co-heirs or joint heirs. The rendering I appreciate most, however, is that we are equal partners (1 Peter 3:7, NLT).

As heirs of Jesus, we receive an inheritance from him, both now and later. That is, we inherit eternal life.

So That Your Prayers May Not Be Hindered

The outcome of husbands treating their wives properly, as joint heirs with Jesus, is a more effective prayer life. In this way, Peter gives a command with a promise: treat your spouse well and your prayers won’t be hindered. Other renderings say “blocked” (1 Peter 3:7, CJB) and “ineffective” (1 Peter 3:7, AMP).

Peter gives a command with a promise: treat your spouse well and your prayers won’t be hindered. Click To Tweet

Moving Forward

Putting this all together, when husbands treat their wives properly—when everyone treats everyone else with respect—our prayers will be more effective.

Don’t we all want a more vibrant, effective prayer life? Then we should take care how we treat others.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Day of Contrasts

Discussing Church 31

This church offers a mix of old with new, contemporary with traditional, and public friendliness with personal indifference. As a bonus, they also talk about having a Thanksgiving potluck.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #31

1. At one point, the leader asks everyone who is able, to kneel. It hurts when I kneel. So focused on my pain, I miss the prayer. 

What practices in your church may get in the way of people encountering God?

2. Two girls read about the Good Samaritan: the first in Spanish and the second in English. But this is the only bilingual part of the service. 

What changes can you make to your service so it’s more accessible to people of other languages or cultures?

3. Afterward is a Thanksgiving potluck. Publicly, they invite all to join them, but no one personally does. “If we walk slowly,” Candy says, “maybe someone will ask us to stay.” No one does, so we leave. 

What can you do to personally invite someone to do something?

4. Aside from the two greeters at the door, no one talks to us. After the service I try to make eye contact with many people, but fail each time. I don’t matter and want to cry. 

How can you let people know you care?

Though this church had much going for it, the lack of personal connection is my lasting memory.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Martin Luther’s Concerns

Martin Luther’s 95 Concerns Were Distributed in Printed Form and Essentially Went Viral

Martin Luther lived five hundred years ago. He was born at the dawn of the modern era. He became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation. A key technology in birthing the modern era was the printing press.

The printing press also helped drive the Reformation. It propelled the spread of information. This moved a premodern society into the modern era. (A similar change occurs today, as the internet helps us move from the modern era into the postmodern era.)

This printing technology broadcast a message of spiritual enlightenment to a people poised for religious change. We politely refer to the transformation that emerged as the Protestant Reformation, but the word revolution might better describe the spiritual rebellion that followed.

Luther’s List of Concerns

The fuse that ignited this came from a list of ninety-five concerns that this German monk had about the abuse of one specific church practice: the sale of indulgences, which, at the risk of oversimplification, allowed people to buy their salvation.

We call Martin Luther’s concerns, his talking points, as his ninety-five theses. He wrote it in Latin, so the masses wouldn’t know about his concerns.

However, without Luther’s knowledge, well-meaning followers translated his ninety-five theses into German and printed copies for the people to read.

This turned his handwritten list into a printable tract, which saw wide distribution throughout the country and spread his concerns to a much larger audience.

Widespread Distribution

Though not all Germans could read German, they could understand it as others read to them. What they heard disturbed them, likely in part because many of them had paid for full indulgences, which Martin essentially outed as a scam.

Then others translated his ninety-five points into other European languages. This spread his message across the continent. Though five centuries prior to the internet, his list of ninety-five theses went viral—long before the information super highway and Twitter existed.

The private discussion Martin Luther sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead... Click To Tweet

Outrage ensued. The private, internal discussion he sought with Church leaders never happened. Instead, a revolution resulted.

But Martin never wanted to lead a rebellion or become its figurehead, he didn’t intend his ninety-five points to attack the Roman Catholic Church, and he certainly didn’t mean to spark a revolt.

Martin wanted to work for change within the system. But the laity, now aware of his concerns, were poised to rebel against what they saw as an unsympathetic Church that exploited them and didn’t care about them or their plight. The people wanted a religious revolt, and that’s what they got.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.