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Christian Living

Are You a Sunday Morning Spectator or Performer?

Church Services Have become an Event, With Consumers Who Come to Watch a Show

Today’s churches contain two types of people. And each of us fits in one category or the other. We are either performers or spectators.

If this seems callous, consider that we live in an entertainment-centered society. We watch TV, go to movies, and attend performances. We go to the game, attend a concert, and watch videos online.

What do these have in common? Each example has performers to entertain us in one way or the other. The masses are spectators, mere consumers of the event. Though we may participate in a way, our involvement is limited to clapping, cheering, or fist-bumping the spectator next to us.

Church is no different. We are spectators there for entertainment, be it emotionally or intellectually, by the performers. The masses consume the church service.

Yes, we may sing along with a couple songs (though many people stand mute during the singing), mumble out a heartfelt “amen” upon occasion, or shake hands with our seatmate during the compulsory greeting time. But the service structure restricts our involvement.

We’re there for the sermon, that is, the lecture, and for the worship set, that is, the concert. And when it’s over we often critique the performance.

Performers

The performers at a church service are the people who stand in front of us, often on a stage. The elevation allows the spectators a better view.

The star of the show is the minister, who gives the lecture and may also serve as the event’s MC. The opening act is the worship team, consisting of singers and musicians.

If this description offends you, consider that most churches don’t select a senior minister or teaching pastor until after they have auditioned and delivered a stirring oratory.

People with spiritual insight but no speaking ability have no place in the modern church. And usually the worship team members must try out before they can sing or play. People with musical passion but not enough skill are turned away and relegated to spectator status.

Yes, we expect our performers to excel in presentation, and if they falter, they are replaced. After all, we don’t want a lack of excellence to mar the performance and drive away the spectators who have a plethora of other Sunday morning performances to select from.

Remember, we live in a consumeristic society.

Spectators

The majority of people at church services are spectators. We sit and passively watch the performance. Though we can view the elevated stage to witness the event, we may best see the back of the head of the person sitting in front of us.

We come. We watch. We leave.

Maybe we leave happy over a satisfactory performance, but maybe we leave unfulfilled, as empty as when we arrived. We wanted community but got a show.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming carefully presented spiritual content. At best we experience an event that may sustain us until we repeat it next week.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming spiritual content. Click To Tweet

Move from Spectate to Participate

The solution is to break down the wall between performer and spectator. Church shouldn’t focus on providing a performance but on offering community by letting everyone participate equally in the service.

We should all be able to share with others during our church services. Or at least have the opportunity to share. Paul tells us how. “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV).

When we start doing this in our church services, we will eliminate both the performers and the spectators, turning us all into full-fledged participants. Then we will build a true community of Jesus followers.

It will change everything.

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

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

Jabez Asks God, That Your Hand Would Be With Me

The third line of Jabez’s prayer is: “that Your hand would be with me”

Having just asked God for greater blessing—in order to bless others—and more influence—in order to help others—Jabez realizes that he needs God’s direction and guidance so that he may proceed wisely and justly.

Indeed, having more blessing and more power can easily become a heady thing, distracting or even corrupting the recipient Jabez, being aware of this risk, makes his third petition one of soliciting God guiding hand.

Just as Jabez modeled for us, may we ask God that your hand would be with me.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 1-4 and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. And read more on The Prayer of Jabez.]

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 Is Sanctification?

We Are Sanctified in Jesus and by the Holy Spirit

I don’t often use the word sanctification, but I should. It sounds too much like a theological construct that someone made up to explain God. Yet it’s in the Bible. So is sanctify. Therefore, it’s worthwhile for us to understand and embrace its meaning.

Let’s look at sanctification, the act of sanctifying. By definition, sanctify is to set apart, refine, or make holy. A related word is consecrate, which means to declare or set apart as sacred. Though they sound synonymous, and the dictionary uses one in the definition of the other, we need to make a distinction.

Consecration

The word consecration appears a few times in the Old Testament, but it’s root word, consecrate, occurs many more times throughout the Bible, though mostly in the Old Testament.

The main context for consecrate is for people to set someone or something apart for God or for religious service. This includes consecrating priests, God’s people, clothes, offerings, bread, animals, the temple, and temple furnishings.

Sanctification

The word sanctification occurs less often and is not in all translations of the Bible. Sanctification—along with sanctify—is a New Testament word. Whereas consecration is something that God commands his people to do, sanctification is something that God does in us. He sets us apart and makes us holy. We can’t sanctify ourselves; God does.

Sanctification is being made holy and set apart for God’s purpose. Click To Tweet

The Amplified Bible explains sanctification as “being made holy and set apart for God’s purpose” (Romans 6:22). This is a most helpful illumination. Therefore, it’s a process of God making us—his children—right and therefore ready to carry out his intentions.

In Jesus and by the Holy Spirit

The Bible makes it clear that we are sanctified in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2) and by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16). Both occur in 1 Corinthians 6:11. To realize that sanctification comes through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that the word only appears in the New Testament.

When we follow Jesus as his disciples, we are sanctified in him and by the Holy Spirit to be set apart and made holy for our Lord’s purpose.

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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Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church #53

As a reference, I share attending our home church on Easter Sunday. This marks the end of 52 Churches and the start of More Than 52 Churches. Though I strive to remain objective in visiting churches, our home church forms the lens I look through.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church #53.

I see value in worshiping God with family, and for Easter we go with our children and their spouses. What can we do to attend church and celebrate Jesus with our family?

The 150-year-old building, even with many improvements, still feels dated. What can we do to make our church facility as conducive to worship and community as possible? 

Though the shortcomings of a worship space shouldn’t block us from God, they can. How can we minimize the cumbersome facility elements we can’t change so they don’t get in the way of us encountering God?

There’s no plan for the service, only a general intent. The Holy Spirit will guide the leaders in what to do and for how long. How much of a role do we let the Holy Spirit play in our church services?

Though we were gone for a year, I listened to the messages online. In what ways can we extend the church worship experience and teaching to those who can’t attend in person?

Baptism at churches varies from a reserved rite, to a public declaration of faith, to an enthusiastic celebration. What can we do to better embrace baptism as the early church did in the Bible?

As we leave the building ninety minutes later, some are already arriving for the second service. Not looking at efficiency, but focusing on the human aspect, how can we foster a better transition between services?

Overall, it was a great Easter Sunday, worshiping God with family

[Read about Church 53, Church 54, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 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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Bible Insights

Three Things to Remember About Temptation

In Three Things About Sin, the prescription for sin is to deal with the temptation before it gives way to sin. It’s like getting a vaccine; preparing now to avoid a bigger problem later.

The Bible teaches us three things about temptation; they’re in the form of promises that we can claim and rely on.

1. Our Temptations Are Not Unique to Us

Others have struggled with the same issues in the past.

2. God Will Limit Temptation to What We Can Handle

God doesn’t tempt us and he does limit the enemy’s power to do so.

3. God Will Provide a Way Out

We can ask God to enable us to see the way out, give us the will to take it, and the strength to persevere.

And then we can withstand the temptation—just as he promised.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 8-10, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 10:13.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

God Gives Us Living Water

Living Water Flows from God’s Temple and Is for Our Benefit

In the Old Testament, the people perceived that God lived in the temple. They saw this as his residence on earth. To connect with him meant they had to go to the temple.

As Ezekiel winds down his lengthy prophecy, the man in his vision brings him to the doorway of the temple. And we go there with them. The man is about to reveal something extraordinary to Ezekiel—and to us: living water.

Water flows from the temple and produces a river. It’s wide and deep. Many trees grow along its banks, finding sustenance in its life-giving water. Living creatures thrive wherever the river goes. And not just a few.

Ezekiel says that swarms of God’s creation will make their home in this pure water that comes from him.

What’s more, God’s water has restorative properties. When it encounters saltwater, God’s flowing river will make the salty water fresh. Saltwater has little value. It can’t sustain human life. So, God will take something unusable and make it usable. That’s what he does.

When he makes salty water fresh, he redeems it to make it pure again, to make it good, and to make it capable of supporting life. That’s what God’s water does.

We also see this idea of life-giving water elsewhere in the Bible.

Living Water in the Beginning

During creation, God proclaims that the water will team with living creatures (Genesis 1:20). As part of God’s amazing creation, he places within it life-giving water.

Living Water at the End

In Revelation, we see Jesus sitting on his throne as a shepherd. He will lead us to springs of life-giving water (Revelation 7:17). In doing so he brings us back to God’s perfect, idyllic creation. To the world as he met it to be.

God’s living water gives us eternal life. Click To Tweet

Living Water through Jesus

Jesus—who was there at creation and will be there at the end—connects these two bookends. He says, “If you’re thirsty, come to me, and I will give you something to drink. If you believe in me, living water will flow from you” (John 7:38).

Imagine that. God’s living water flowing through us because we came to Jesus and believed in him.

And when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well, he offers to give her a special kind of water (John 4:9-14). She—and everyone else—who drinks of Jesus’s water will never be thirsty again. A spring will well up inside her, and us, to produce eternal life.

God’s living water gives us eternal life.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 46-48, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 47:1-9.]

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

Make a U-Turn to Follow Jesus

Discover the Key to Be Saved and Inherit Eternal Life

In the Bible, when people seek Jesus to be saved and have eternal life, he gives them different instructions. This is perplexing. Let’s dig into it. The most common direction he gives them is to “follow me” (Luke 5:27). That is, we must follow Jesus.

Other times Jesus adds the precursor to repent. To repent is to make a U-turn with our life. We make a U-turn to follow Jesus.

When we make a U-turn in our life, we stop moving in one direction and change course to head in a different direction. This is a good illustration of what it means to repent. When it comes to eternal life, we change directions to follow Jesus. It’s that simple.

But what about those times when Jesus tells people to do other things as a prerequisite to following him? For some he said to give away their money. To others he said to change their ways or persevere or obey God. Then there’s the command to take up their cross and follow him.

Do we need to do all these things to receive eternal life through Jesus? It’s an exhausting list if we heap all these requirements together.

Yet each of these instructions was to a particular person or group. It’s specifically how Jesus instructed them to make a U-turn in their lives. The direction they were going was taking them away from him—not toward him.

He needed them to change course so they could follow him. They needed to make a U-turn to follow Jesus.

To continue our understanding of repenting as making a U-turn with our life, know that it’s not about reaching a destination. Instead, it’s that initial act of heading in a different direction. That’s what it means to repent.

We must make a U-turn with our lives and follow Jesus to be saved and inherit eternal life. Click To Tweet

We repent and follow Jesus to be saved and inherit eternal life. This means we don’t need to do anything else; we can’t do anything else to earn our salvation.

We don’t need to follow a bunch of rules or check off things on a lengthy to-do list. All other religions carry the expectations of a performance-based solution.

Christianity does not—even though too many Christians wrongly pursue their faith as a performance-based religion. In Christianity, however, we are saved by grace, through faith and it’s not something we must work for to earn (Ephesians 2:8-9).

All we need to do is to make a U-turn to follow Jesus. Everything else is secondary.

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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Visiting Churches

Church #53: Home for Easter Sunday

Our journey of visiting fifty-two churches in a year is over. I’m sad and excited at the same time. Our reunion with our home church community looms large. We will be home for Easter Sunday.

It’s Easter, and we’re returning to the people we love and have missed. I expect a joyful homecoming and a grand celebration: personally, corporately, and spiritually. 

We arrive early to meet our kids. While our daughter and her husband attend this church, our son and his wife make an hour drive to spend Easter with us, beginning our day together at church, home for Easter Sunday.

I hope for a discreet return, but friends spot me right away. They’re glad to see me but not sure if we’re back for good. I confirm our adventure wasn’t to find a new church. They’re relieved. 

Our reunion blocks the flow of people, so I excuse myself to find my family. Even arriving early, there aren’t many places left for six, but they did find a spot. I sit down and soak in the ambiance.

There’s nothing special about the building, except its age. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the sanctuary is over 150 years old, far from contemporary. Even with many enhancements, a dated feel pervades.

To start the service, our pastor welcomes everyone, telling visitors what the regulars already know: there’s no plan for the service today, only a general intent. Its length is unknown, so it will end when it ends.

He reiterates that we have freedom in worship: We may sit, or stand, or kneel. We may dance or move about—or not. As is our practice, children remain with their parents during the service, worshiping along with the adults, but often in their own way.

There will also be an open adult baptism later in the service. With the place packed, he asks the congregation to slide toward the center of the seating to make room on the ends for those still needing seats. 

The worship team starts the service with a prayer and then kicks off the first song. The energy level is high. After thirty minutes or more of singing we hear a brief message.

The church is in a yearlong series—I’ve kept up by listening online and apprised Candy on key announcements and teachings. Today, the lesson is about Abraham and Sarah, her scheme for her husband to produce a child through her servant, and his boneheaded acceptance of her misguided plan.

Our pastor ties this in with Easter: We all make mistakes, and we all need Jesus, who offers forgiveness and provides restoration. 

Next is baptism. Our pastor shares the basics of the tradition. The rite is the New Testament replacement for Old Testament circumcision, which he addressed in the message.

Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, a ceremonial cleansing, which publicly identifies us with Jesus. Other creeds say baptism (by immersion) portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Can’t it be both?

People desiring baptism may come forward as the worship team leads the congregation in more songs. Even before hearing the full invitation, one person walks forward and then another. A line forms. 

For many churches, baptism is a somber affair, conducted with reserved formality. Not so for us. We treat it as a celebration with unabashed enthusiasm.

Our church leader prefers baptism by immersion, but the floor of this 150-year-old building lacks the structural integrity to support the weight of a baptismal pool. Instead, we use a traditional baptismal font, with the goal to get as much water on the recipient as possible.

After an elder douses the first person with water, a raucous celebration erupts from the crowd. We cheer this woman’s public proclamation of faith. We baptize a dozen this morning, with more that will happen at the next service. What a glorious Easter.

With the baptisms complete, we resume singing. After a couple more songs, the worship leader concludes the service and the crowd slowly disperses. We eventually make our way out after ninety minutes. Some have already arrived for the next service, which starts in half an hour.

Today we returned home for Easter Sunday. It was an amazing reunion, a grand celebration, and a fitting conclusion to our yearlong pilgrimage.

[Read about Church 52, see the discussion questions for Church #53, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 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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Bible Insights

How to Approach Holy Communion

In my prior post, entitled Cannibalism, Holy Communion (aka the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) was seen as a spiritual invitation to salvation.

Communion is a symbolic rite reminding us of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us as the solution for the wrong things we have done.

This is all good.

Communion is a symbolic rite reminding us of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us as the solution for the wrong things we have done. Click To Tweet

However, Paul warns against the abuse of this important ritual. He is critical of those partaking in the practice of communion in “an unworthy manner” and “without discernment.”

The result of this mistaking is “judgment” and becoming “weak and sick,” even dying.

Paul advises the proper approach to Communion is via self-examination, the result of which will most likely be proceeding with reverence and humility.

Perhaps that’s why it is often called “Holy Communion.”

Learn more about Communion.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 11-13 and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 11:27-31.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

Then They May Know That I Am the Lord

God Does What It Takes to Get People’s Attention

God speaks to the prophet Ezekiel and gives him a prophecy against Ammon, against Moab, against Philistia, and against Tyre. The prophecy against Tyre is the longest and most devastating, but all four carry the same rationale.

God will inflict them with punishment for their past mistakes. When his judgment comes, he says that then “they will know that I am the Lord.”

God is right to punish them. They have done what is wrong, with no regard to him or his people. But their sentence isn’t only punitive; it’s also to teach them a lesson—an-all important one.

He wants them to realize that he is Lord. When he says that he wants them to “know that I am the Lord,” we see embedded in this statement two names for God, one implied and the other direct.

We first see God as “I am” when he talks to Moses at the burning bush. When he asks the Almighty’s name, the response is “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV).

We later see “I am” again from Jesus when the armed mob comes to arrest him. He says, “I am he.” The people draw back and fall to the ground in reverent fear. Their reaction is because they recognize “I am” as the name of God. (John 18:4-8).

God wants us to know him as Lord: the all-powerful, all-knowing, all present creator of the universe. Click To Tweet

Not only does God want these nations to know him as “I am,” he also wants them to know him as Lord, that is, as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all present creator of the universe.

The I am appears to Moses in the Old Testament and later comes to earth as Jesus in the New Testament. The purpose of both encounters is so that we may believe him and know that he is Lord.

Do we follow Jesus as the I am and as our Lord?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 25-27 and today’s post is on Ezekiel 26:6.]

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.