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Bible Insights

David’s Last Words

Psalm 168 from Beyond Psalm 150

As the book of 2 Samuel winds down, so does David’s life. In the penultimate chapter, we read David’s final recorded words. In this short psalm of praise, David recites the words God spoke to him, affirming David’s godly character and righteous reign.

“Yahweh’s Spirit spoke by me.
    His word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel said,
    the Rock of Israel spoke to me,
    ‘One who rules over men righteously,
    who rules in the fear of God,
shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises,
    a morning without clouds,
    when the tender grass springs out of the earth,
    through clear shining after rain.’
Isn’t my house so with God?
    Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things, and sure,
    for it is all my salvation and all my desire,
    although he doesn’t make it grow.
But all the ungodly will be as thorns to be thrust away,
    because they can’t be taken with the hand.
The man who touches them must be armed with iron and the staff of a spear.
They will be utterly burned with fire in their place.”

2 Samuel 23:2–7

Reflection on David’s Last Words

The last words we say in our life here on earth may be recorded for others to read.

In doing so, we can talk about ourselves, or we can talk about God. Or we can do both, reminding others of our relationship with the Almighty and the lifetime of blessings he provided.

What can we do to make sure our final words matter the most for those closest to us? Should we write them down so that future generations can read them and praise God?

May our last words celebrate Yahweh and point others to him.

Explore the other psalms—sacred songs of praise, petition, and lament—scattered throughout the Bible in Peter’s book Beyond Psalm 150.

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

Women in the Bible: Zipporah

With the Pharaoh out to get him, Moses flees for his life. He marries the shepherdess Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian (Exodus 2:21-22). They have two sons: Gershom and Eliezer.q

Years later when Moses and his family travel to Egypt, God afflicts Moses. This is apparently because Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom, as God commanded the Israelites to do through Abraham.

Just as God is about to kill Moses, Zipporah takes decisive action, circumcises Gershom, and touches Moses with the removed skin. This appeases God and Moses is spared.

Zipporah does what her husband did not do, she obeys God’s command, and saves her husband’s life.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 4-7, and today’s post is on Exodus 4:24-26.]

Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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 Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 14: Jesus Takes Away Our Sins

Today’s passage: 1 John 3:4–5

Focus verse: But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. (1 John 3:5)

John reminds us that anyone who sins breaks the law. He’s talking about the law of Moses. Sin is something we all do. We’re all guilty of breaking God’s law.

The Old Testament of the Bible—especially the first five books—tells us in immense detail what to do and what not to do.

A failure to follow these rules is a sin, be it a sin of commission (doing the wrong thing) or a sin of omission (not doing the right thing).

No one can obey every one of these Old Testament rules. This means that everyone has sinned and falls short of meeting God’s expectations (Romans 3:22–24). 

To address this, God gave them an annual rite, a ceremony to symbolically take away the people’s sins. This solution was temporary; it needed to be repeated each year.

As such, the annual animal sacrifice gave only a partial response to take away the people’s sins—to make atonement (amends) for their mistakes (Leviticus 16:34).

Each year the people sinned—every one of them—whether in big ways or small. Even the tiniest slipup made them guilty of breaking the entire law (James 2:10).

Each year, everyone fell short of what the law decreed. Each year the annual sacrifice would cleanse them from their sins for the prior twelve months.

Then they’d repeat the process one year later. This continued year after year, throughout their entire lives, giving them only brief reprieves from the guilt of their sins.

This is why Jesus arrived here on our planet over two thousand years ago. Our Savior lowered himself to come to earth and walk among us, his creation. He became God in flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).

He did this to offer a permanent solution to the problem of our sins. He died as the ultimate sin sacrifice—not an animal sacrifice, but a far pricier human one.

In this way Jesus permanently took away our sins. It served as a final act, a conclusive sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus came to earth so that he could die in our place to take away our sins. His once-and-for-all sacrifice removes all our guilt, both past and present—the mistakes we have committed and the mistakes we will commit. 

Questions

  1. What is your attitude toward sin?
  2. When we see someone else sin, how well do we do at offering them the grace and mercy that Jesus gives us?
  3. How should we act, knowing that Jesus took away our sins? 
  4. Although Jesus freed us from our sins, in what ways do we let them continue to weigh us down?
  5. How can we better thank Jesus for taking away our sins?

Discover more about the law and sacrifice for our sins in Romans 5:20–21 and Hebrews 10:1–18.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.


Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love 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.

Categories
Christian Living

What Does It Mean to Worship God?

Discover How We Can Best Show the Almighty How Much We Love Him

The word worship occurs hundreds of times in the Bible. We know we’re supposed to worship God, but what does this mean? How can we best worship our Almighty Lord?

Here are some considerations:

Worship Service

Many churches call their Sunday morning gathering a worship service. I’ve always struggled with this label. In part, this is because most church services don’t seem very worshipful to me.

My bigger concern, however, is that by going to church for one hour on Sunday morning for a worship service, implies that the other 167 hours in a week are non-worship time. But this conclusion is wrong—even if that’s how many people act.

Worship Music

In most churches, about half of the worship service is devoted to music. We spend this time singing songs to God, for God, and about our relationship with him. Many churches call this worship music.

In fact, the music leader often says, “Let’s stand to worship God.”

Yet the style of music in most church services doesn’t connect with me. As a result, I find it most challenging to connect with God through their music.

Worship With Our Tithes and Offerings

Another phrase I hear from time to time is “Let’s worship God with our tithes and offerings.” This strikes me as little more than a spiritual sounding way to say, “Give us your money.”

Yes, churches need money to operate and most struggle to have enough. But the command to tithe, however, is an Old Testament one. In the New Testament we see the tithe replaced with a concept of generosity.

Yet this isn’t generosity to our local church. Its generosity to all who are in need.

Under this New Testament perspective, we don’t owe 10 percent of our income to God. It all belongs to him, and we’re responsible for how we spend 100 percent of it. This is how we can best worship God with our finances.

Bow in Worship

Most of the times we see the word worship in the Bible, it’s in bowing down in reverence.

When confronted with an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present Deity, we fall on our faces in awe. We bow low. We prostrate ourselves before our sovereign Lord. We give him our gifts (Revelation 4:9-11).

If ever we were in his physical presence, this is exactly what we would do. The same should occur when we’re in his spiritual presence too. But does it? This can happen at a church service, as well as apart from it.

In Spirit and Truth

Jesus says that true worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Though this may take us a lifetime to fully unpack, as a starting point I blogged that, “Real worship is about connecting with God. Doing so honestly (“in truth”) means to follow his leading (“in spirit”).

Living Sacrifices

Paul says that true and proper worship is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). A parallel thought is when Peter says that we’re built into his spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:4-5).

Worship God in All That We Do

As we consider worshipping God with our generosity, by bowing before him, in spirit and in truth, and as a living sacrifice, the idea of worship as a holistic activity emerges. This gets at the truth of how we can best worship the Almighty.

We don’t just worship him during a Sunday church service. We worship God in all that we do in every minute of our lives. Or at least we should.

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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Categories
Visiting Churches

Evangelical or Charismatic Church?

Confusing Messaging

I’m excited about visiting the last church on our list—or at least the final church we intend to visit. Our plans could change, and with God, they often do. I’m not sure if this church is charismatic or evangelical.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

An Independent Charismatic Fellowship

Unlike last week, this church’s website provides a lot of useful information. On their About page, they call themselves “an independent, charismatic fellowship.”

After visiting too many area churches that minimize the role of the Holy Spirit, I look forward to a church that doesn’t. I’m also encouraged that they’re independent, with no denominational baggage to slow them down or siphon off funds.

But their next line contradicts their claim of independence by stating they belong to a network alliance of churches. Either they’re independent, or they aren’t. My enthusiasm dims.

They post plenty of pictures on their website, photos of people smiling and having fun.

The adults featured are mostly younger and with lots of kids, not all with white skin. For an area with little racial diversity, a church with some cultural variation encourages me.

They offer all the programs common in church: Sunday school, nursery, youth groups, a college group, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, and small groups (albeit with a different label).

Sunday school is concurrent with the church service, forcing both the kids and their teachers to miss the experience of community worship. Though they don’t have a Sunday evening service, they do have a Wednesday night prayer meeting.

I don’t want a church that does what every other church does. I yearn for something different, something fresh and rooted in the mindset of the early church.

As I page through their website, I notice one conspicuous absence: the Holy Spirit. After a careful study, I see him only on the What We Believe page and the Senior High page.

Once a month high school students get together for “radical worship and times of contemplation where we wait, listen, pursue Jesus, and minister to each other in the Holy Spirit.” Junior high and up may join them.

Why just once a month? Shouldn’t we embrace the Holy Spirit every day?

Heading for Church

I wonder what the Sunday service will be like. Like last week, I hope for the best while braced for disappointment, though expectation prevails. Soon I’ll find out.

As we head for the church, I pray for our time there. The route is easy, but the entrance isn’t marked well, and I drive past it. A long drive reveals a parking lot that is filling up and a building larger than I expected.

The church is sixteen years old and has been meeting here for the past eleven. I assume they built the building, so it must be just over a decade old. The exterior is metal, and Candy calls it a pole barn. Though harsh, she’s essentially correct.

As we head to the door, we enjoy a nice spring day with warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. Unlike last week, when I felt anxious on my approach, today I feel peace.

Initial Interactions

Greeters, one outside the door and the other just inside, compete to offer us bulletins. Both are pleasant, but neither offers more than their brochure.

Inside is a bustle of people. Some give us wary smiles, but most ignore us. We weave our way through the masses toward the sanctuary. One man, smiling broadly, approaches us with intention. “Hi,” he beams as we shake hands. “People call me Doc.”

I share our names and ask the obvious question. “Why do people call you Doc?”

His eyes sparkle. “I used to be a doctor, but if you call me Doctor, I’ll need to send you a bill.”

“Well, we don’t want that, Doc.”

As we talk, a woman tries unsuccessfully to get his attention. Though I see this, Doc doesn’t.

It’s not until we’re walking away that I learn her mission: she wants to make sure we sign their visitor card. Eventually, she gives one to Candy, along with a pen and some brief instructions.

We sit off the middle aisle, a third of the way up. The padded chairs are comfortable, pleasing enough that I never give them another thought.

There are four sections, capable of seating 280. In addition, there are a few high tables and chairs behind us.

The space is simple, but nicely finished, giving no hint on the inside of what the outside suggests. Centered in the front, positioned as high as permitted by the gently sloped ceiling, hangs a large screen. Below it is a stage, elevated by three steps.

A traditional wooden pulpit sits in the center, the only dated accessory in the place. Lining the back of the stage is a series of curtains, hanging from metal rods supported by metal posts. Behind them is the hint of what might be a baptistery.

The place quickly fills, as people buzz with excitement. Kids abound, a few of them with darker skin, just as their website shows. However, I don’t see any adults with the same skin color. Curious.

Evangelical or Charismatic?

I also check out the bulletin. Here they call themselves evangelical, with no mention of charismatic.

Though rare in my experience, it’s possible to be both evangelical and charismatic, but one trait always predominates. Which one is it for this church?

I scan their list of elders and deacons. All the elders are male, as are all but one deacon. I wonder if this is by design and doubt it’s by coincidence.

I’m discouraged when churches place limits on how women can serve. Last, I see that the “youth band” will lead the service next Sunday.

My experiences with youth leading worship have all been positive, and I wish it were happening today. Their normal worship team, however, might also be good. Soon we’ll find out.

Seven people open the service, leading us in song. The worship leader also plays keyboard. Other musicians play guitar, bass guitar, drums, and piano. Two more sing backup vocals.

The music feels alive. I sense God’s presence. Though the song is unfamiliar to me, its message clicks.

Next is a greeting and prayer. The minister reminds us that it’s Memorial Day weekend, and some members are gone. Since they’re at about 75 percent capacity today, they surely fill the place when everyone is in town.

Pentecost Sunday

The pastor also informs us it’s Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Jesus’s resurrection. Today we celebrate God sending the Holy Spirit to the early church. It’s fitting we’re here on such an important day, even if I didn’t realize it.

The service will be different this Sunday, with extended music and a shorter teaching.

They’ll also celebrate Holy Communion, with the suggestion that through Communion we’ll finish the message—whatever that means. Sunday school is on hold today.

Next is a lengthy music set, contemporary songs that resonate with me. Along the side and in the opposite front corner, kids wave flags. One is so exuberant that his flag flies off the pole.

Though some kids appear to do it just for the fun of it, others connect their flags’ movements with the music, worshiping God through motion.

One woman also waves a flag, although stealthily. I wonder how many other adults would like to worship God in this way but are too self-conscious. I wonder the same about me.

Many adults raise their arms as we sing, physically worshiping God. For the first time in eighteen churches, this is the accepted norm.

Most of the churches we visited were stoic in their worship and for those who weren’t, raising hands was an anomaly. Today, it feels natural. I join them, happy to do so.

A lengthy list of announcements follows. The pastor says they don’t meet for Wednesday prayer in the summer. I’m dismayed. Does this imply it’s okay to take a break from prayer when other activities are more pressing?

I’m so preoccupied by this that I miss the rest of the announcements.

Taking Communion with Your Family

The minister starts his “short message,” again saying we will finish it when we take the Lord’s Supper. This perplexes me.

Is he speaking figuratively, or will this Communion celebration differ from my other experiences, allowing us the opportunity to complete his message verbally as we partake? I’m excited at the prospect and worried over the unknown.

He reads John 12:27–33 but starts teaching at verse 20. I jot down several thoughts:

Greeks are present, which is most unusual; they approach Philip, not Jesus; Philip goes to Andrew and, together, they bring the Greeks to Jesus; the door opens to Gentiles, but some people will never believe.

Though these are interesting, the teaching ends without me grasping a main point or takeaway.

“By taking Communion with your family,” he says, “we take a stand and complete the message.” I’m still confused.

Though he makes no invitation for nonmembers to partake, Doc was thoughtful enough to tell us we could. Without his approval, I would have sat in isolation while everyone else took part. Thanks, Doc.

With seven stations, each one staffed by an elder or deacon, we have options. People go forward as families. Most linger after they take the Communion elements, sometimes in conversation, other times in prayer.

After observing the process, we get in line. As it works out, we’re among the last to reach the front. The man holds out a plate with broken crackers.

We each take one, and he says something. Candy and I look at each other, wondering what to do. As he reaches for the tray with small cups of juice, we shove the pieces of cracker in our mouths. With a nod, we pick up the juice and drink it.

Without another word, he accepts our empty cups, and we sit down. Did I miss something? Were we supposed to interact with him? Was he supposed to interact with us?

Not only did we miss the community others enjoyed, but the process so distracted me that I missed the meaning of Communion. Forgive me, Lord Jesus.

Offering

After this, the minister recognizes a deacon and elder whose terms are ending; we applaud their service. He begins to offer the benediction when someone stops him. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot the offering—again. You’d think we didn’t need money.”

He launches into a lengthy discourse on giving, their budget shortfall, their plans, and the need to give. He claims he never talks this long about money, but I wonder who he’s trying to convince. Then he talks about it some more.

During this time, people wait patiently at the front of each of the five aisles, holding offering baskets. He forgets they’re standing there and finally notices them, permitting them to collect the offering.

As the basket goes by, I spot only a few bills in the bottom. Candy drops in our visitor card, with the pen clipped to it.

As another addendum, the minister asks some church leaders to come up after the service to pray for him and his upcoming trip to Africa. Then the service ends.

Interactions

We gather our things with intentional deliberation, giving time for the people sitting nearby to talk to us. But no one does. No one looks our way. I hope for someone to approach us, but no one does.

As we file out, one deacon asks if this is our first time there. When we confirm it is, he asks if we have questions. I do, but none come to mind until later.

I tell him “No.”

The conversation ends.

Doc makes his way to us, thanking us for visiting and inviting us back. He introduces us to some nearby people, but our interaction is nothing more than a handshake or head nod.

Then we repeat the process in how we entered, weaving our way between people who barely know we’re there.

We return to our car, ninety minutes after we arrived. Before I can ask, Candy shares her opinion. “The music was safe, and they were off-key sometimes.”

I groan. “I liked the music and thought it was some of the best we’ve encountered.” Though a handful of other churches are better, I ignore that fact for now. “I felt God’s presence, like I haven’t felt it at church for a long time.”

“That could be,” my wife responds, “but the music was still safe and off-key.” She’s probably right.

What we agree on is the pastor’s awkwardness. The congregation seems to accept his quirky communication traits, but I know they would grate on me. And aside from Doc, they weren’t at all friendly.

Making meaningful connections there would be hard. I don’t feel up to the challenge.

Despite some elements I really liked and an imperative desire for this church to click with me, they fell short. As I feared, I’m disappointed. Candy eliminates them from further consideration, so I do too.

We’ll get home around noon. I wonder what’s for lunch.

Takeaway

Make sure your church website sends a clear and consistent message about who you are and what you value.

I later emailed the church asking if adults are welcome at the monthly time when high schoolers radically worship God and listen to the Holy Spirit. I’d like to join them. No one responds. I could try calling them, but by now I’ve given up on the idea.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

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

David Worships God for Deliverance

Psalm 167 from Beyond Psalm 150

Second Samuel 22 looks back at one of the times when God delivered David from King Saul’s attempt to kill him. If this scenario sounds familiar and this passage from 2 Samuel looks just like a Psalm, you are correct.

This song of praise from 2 Samuel 22 is quite similar to Psalm 18. Many verses are an exact match, while others contain parallel thoughts. It’s as if one passage is a first draft and the other, a final version. But if so, we can only speculate which one came first.

Here is the version of David’s psalm of praise as recorded in 2 Samuel 22.

“Yahweh is my rock,
    my fortress,
    and my deliverer, even mine;
God is my rock in whom I take refuge;
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
    my high tower, and my refuge.
    My savior, you save me from violence.
I call on Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised;
    So shall I be saved from my enemies.
For the waves of death surrounded me.
    The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
The cords of Sheol were around me.
    The snares of death caught me.
In my distress, I called on Yahweh.
    Yes, I called to my God.
He heard my voice out of his temple.
    My cry came into his ears.
Then the earth shook and trembled.
    The foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken,
    because he was angry.
Smoke went up out of his nostrils.
    Consuming fire came out of his mouth.
    Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down.
    Thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew.
    Yes, he was seen on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness a shelter around himself:
    gathering of waters, and thick clouds of the skies.
At the brightness before him,
    coals of fire were kindled.
Yahweh thundered from heaven.
    The Most High uttered his voice.
He sent out arrows and scattered them,
    lightning and confused them.
Then the channels of the sea appeared.
    The foundations of the world were laid bare by Yahweh’s rebuke,
    at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
He sent from on high and he took me.
    He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They came on me in the day of my calamity,
    but Yahweh was my support.
He also brought me out into a large place.
    He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
Yahweh rewarded me according to my righteousness.
    He rewarded me according to the cleanness of my hands.
For I have kept Yahweh’s ways,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me.
    As for his statutes, I didn’t depart from them.
I was also perfect toward him.
    I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore Yahweh has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    According to my cleanness in his eyesight.
With the merciful you will show yourself merciful.
    With the perfect man you will show yourself perfect.
    With the pure you will show yourself pure.
    With the crooked you will show yourself shrewd.
You will save the afflicted people,
    But your eyes are on the arrogant, that you may bring them down.
For you are my lamp, Yahweh.
    Yahweh will light up my darkness.
For by you, I run against a troop.
    By my God, I leap over a wall.
As for God, his way is perfect.
    Yahweh’s word is tested.
    He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.
For who is God, besides Yahweh?
    Who is a rock, besides our God?
God is my strong fortress.
    He makes my way perfect.
He makes his feet like hinds’ feet,
    and sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to war,
    so that my arms bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of your salvation.
    Your gentleness has made me great.
You have enlarged my steps under me.
    My feet have not slipped.
I have pursued my enemies and destroyed them.
    I didn’t turn again until they were consumed.
I have consumed them,
    and struck them through,
    so that they can’t arise.
    Yes, they have fallen under my feet.
For you have armed me with strength for the battle.
    You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
    that I might cut off those who hate me.
They looked, but there was no one to save;
    even to Yahweh, but he didn’t answer them.
Then I beat them as small as the dust of the earth.
    I crushed them as the mire of the streets, and spread them abroad.
You also have delivered me from the strivings of my people.
    You have kept me to be the head of the nations.
    A people whom I have not known will serve me.
The foreigners will submit themselves to me.
    As soon as they hear of me, they will obey me.
The foreigners will fade away,
    and will come trembling out of their close places.
Yahweh lives!
    Blessed be my rock!
Exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,
    even the God who executes vengeance for me,
    who brings down peoples under me,
    who brings me away from my enemies.
Yes, you lift me up above those who rise up against me.
    You deliver me from the violent man.
Therefore I will give thanks to you, Yahweh, among the nations,
    and will sing praises to your name.
He gives great deliverance to his king,
    and shows loving kindness to his anointed,
    to David and to his offspring, forever more.”

2 Samuel 22:2–51 (WEB)

Reflection on David Worships God for Deliverance

The placement of this psalm in 2 Samuel seems out of chronological order.

Though the event immortalized by this psalm happened earlier in David’s life, it might not be until much later that he writes his words of appreciation to Yahweh.

But it doesn’t really matter when David wrote his song of praise to God, only that he did.

Thinking back on our lives, when have we forgotten to thank the Almighty for his provisions, for his blessings? It’s not too late.

Praise him now. Do it in prayer, in song, or in a psalm of your own. May we remember to praise Yahweh.

Explore the other psalms—sacred songs of praise, petition, and lament—scattered throughout the Bible in Peter’s book Beyond Psalm 150.

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.

Categories
Bible Insights

What Does an Eye for an Eye Really Mean?

In one of the Bible’s more horrific stories, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is taken by force and raped by the outsider, Shechem. When Jacob hears of this he does nothing.

Perhaps he fears for his life should he complain or maybe it’s because all his boys are in the fields tending their livestock and he is alone.

Then, despite his barbaric act, Shechem decides he loves Dinah and wants to marry her. He demands his father bring this about. The two dads talk about a wedding.

Dinah’s brothers are furious when they hear what Shechem did to their sister. They pretend to go along with the marriage talks but insist the men in Shechem’s village all be circumcised first.

As the men recover from this painful procedure, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, massacre the city, killing every man there to avenge their sister’s mistreatment.

Though they are right in responding to Dinah’s defilement, they overreact. While the rape of one girl is terrible, wiping out an entire town is a disproportionate punishment. It is excessive.

Moses Tells Us to Take an Eye for an Eye

This is the type of thing Moses seeks to stop when he says an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Leviticus 24:19-20). In this Moses does not give permission to seek unrestringed revenge.

Instead he seeks to curtail excessive retaliation, taking a response unequal to the crime. An eye for an eye is a command of moderation not the authorization to pursue vengeance.

Jesus later takes this principle one step further. He says “do not resist an evil person” and then “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:38-42). This is even more countercultural than Moses’s original eye-for-eye command to make the punishment fit the crime.

May we learn from Moses’s words and follow Jesus’s.

What do you think of Moses’s eye-for-an-eye command? What about Jesus’s instruction to go the extra mile? 

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 33-35, and today’s post is on Genesis 34.]

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.

Categories
Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 13: Children of God

Today’s passage: 1 John 3:1–3

Focus verse: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

The Bible says that Jesus is God’s one and only Son (John 3:16–18 and 1 John 4:9).

However, God also calls us his children. How can we be God’s children if he has only one Son?

The Bible is full of paradoxes, but this isn’t one of them.

Scripture gives us two explanations for this seeming contradiction.

The first is adoption. 

In another letter, Paul writes that, through the Holy Spirit living in us, we’re adopted as children into God’s family. We can call him Father, Abba, or even Papa (Romans 8:15).

Parents of biological children accept whatever God blesses them with.

Parents of adopted children make a conscious decision to accept them and bring them into their family. They are children by the choice of their adoptive parents. They are chosen.

In the same way, God chooses us to be his children. He adopts us into his family.

Another truth builds on this, giving us a second way to understand how God can have only one Son yet many children.

The other metaphor to aid us in our understanding of our relationship with God is that of a bride and groom, with Jesus being the groom and we, the church, being his bride.

By virtue of this holy, spiritual union, Jesus, the only Son of God, brings the church into his family through marriage. This makes us, his church, the children of God through our union with the Lamb of God, that is, the Son of God.

As such, we are indeed God’s children. Scripture confirms it. 

This first occurs when God adopts us into his family through the Holy Spirit. The second will occur when we, as God’s church, marry his Son. Our marriage to the Son makes us children of the Father.

We are first adopted into God’s family and will later marry into it, doubly confirming us as children of God.

Questions:

  1. How can we find comfort knowing that Father God chose us and adopted us to be his sons and daughters? 
  2. What are the similarities between your earthly father and your Heavenly Father?
  3. What are the differences between your earthly father and your Heavenly Father?
  4. How has your earthly father helped you to better understand God?
  5. What are the implications that we will one day spiritually marry God’s Son?

Discover more about our adoption in Romans 8:23, Romans 9:3–4, Galatians 4:4–5, and Ephesians 1:4–6. Read about us being Jesus’s bride in Revelation 19:6–8.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.


Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love 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.

Categories
Christian Living

Only God Is Awesome

Discover Why God Should Inspire Our Awe

The word awesome is overused today, so much so that it’s almost cliché. When most people say awesome, what they mean is outstanding or really good. Yet slang aside, the primary definition of awesome is to inspire awe. Given this, in the strictest sense, only God is awesome.

Only God inspires us to be in awe of him. Only he is worthy of our awe. When we think of God—of who he is and what he does—only God is truly awesome.

Here are some of the awesome things about God that should inspire us to be in awe of him.

Our Awesome God Created Us

God’s awesomeness starts with his creation. Us, the world we live in, and the cosmos around us are unbelievably incredible. But we too often view his marvelousness as common, as a given.

God created us. He made our world, down to the most intricate detail. And he placed us in the vastness of space, which we struggle to comprehend.

Only an all-powerful God could do this. This should inspire our awe. In this way, only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Saved Us

God is perfect, and we are not. We mess up. We make mistakes. Our imperfectness—our sin—separates us from God. Jesus came to earth as a human sacrifice to make right our many wrongs. He died so we won’t have to. Jesus, as the Son of God, saves us.

Only an all-loving God could do this for us. Only God would. Only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Guides Us

When Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, he and Papa sent us the Holy Spirit. When we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us. The Holy Spirit reveals supernatural truth to us. The Holy Spirit offers us direction. All we need to do is listen and obey.

Through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us. Only our all-knowing God could do this for us. Only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Wants a Relationship with Us

The God who created us, saved us, and guides us, wants to connect with us. He wants to be in community with us. He doesn’t want to observe us from a distance or watch us as we go about our daily lives. He wants to be in a relationship with us.

This is for both now, while we live here on earth, as well as after we die. And this will last for the rest of eternity.

Imagine that, the God who lives outside of time and space wants to spend time with us. And given all he’s done for us, we should want to spend time with him.

Thank you, awesome God, for who you are, what you’ve done, and what you are doing for us. We love you. Though we don’t deserve it, we approach you in awe, with expectation and thankful hearts.

Only you are truly awesome. May we never forget that.

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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Categories
Visiting Churches

The Friendly Church

Retired and Welcoming

This church has an innocuous name, giving no clue about who they are. But this is precisely why I didn’t dismiss it or the people who go there.

Besides judging churches by their affiliation—or more precisely applauding their lack of a denominational connection—I realize I’ve also begun judging churches by their websites.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Their Website

This website has only four pages, five if you count the site map. The footer gives a date from four years ago. I’m not sure if that was when they created it or last edited it. It could be the last edit because all the information is static.

The site displays two nature pictures and a map. It’s short on information, weighing in at only four hundred words, three fourths of which are on the About Us page. It shares the basics and nothing more.

Their site reminds me of “An Intriguing Opportunity” from 52 Churches, a “meditation group of self-realization fellowship” that mixed the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and Kriya Yoga. We skipped that “church,” and I wonder if we should skip this one too.

They earn a reprieve, however, when their “theology” section mentions several items harking from the Protestant Reformation. Though reeking of formality, at least my worry eases by confirming they’re a Christian gathering and not a cult or made-up religion.

Based on what little I can glean from their sparse website, I suspect we’ll find a traditional church mired in the past.

I hold out hope, however, there might be an exciting thread in their religious practices to appeal to my yearning for an intentional, spiritual community that seeks God in fresh ways.

Despite this small sliver of hope, my realistic expectation is to be disappointed. Still, it’s worth checking out on the off chance that they may offer what my wife seeks.

Arriving Early

At five miles away, it should be a quick eight-minute drive. Candy suggests we leave a half hour early, and I agree, fully expecting we won’t. However, we leave at the planned time.

In no rush, I pray as I drive, asking God to teach us what he wants us to learn and that we can give back to the folks there.

My heart rate picks up as we pull in the drive. My thumping chest confirms my anxious insides. The parking lot has thirty to forty cars, so I know there’s church and there will be a decent number of people.

I breathe out in relief but am still anxious. We’re fifteen minutes early and sit in the car for a few minutes before heading in.

A warm sun hits my face, balanced by a gentle breeze. Though the spring forecast is for 80 °F (27 °C) and humid with an afternoon chance of rain, there is only a hint of that now. It’s an ideal morning, perfect for church.

Given the weather, I’m wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. I expect no one else will dress like me. I don’t care. If they judge me for my attire, this is not the place for me.

A Warm Welcome

As we approach the door, a smiling man in a suit rushes from the inside to open it for us. An affable fellow, he welcomes us with a sincere greeting and a hearty handshake.

Men congregate in the hallway, some eyeing me as we walk by and most nodding their welcome. Some say “Hi” or shake my hand. Several thank us for visiting, and we chat with a few.

Half the men wear suits and the rest, business casual. As I suspected, I’m underdressed. I’m not sure where the ladies are, but the entryway seems to be the men’s domain.

A man motions to a pile of fresh rhubarb sitting on a table in a side hallway.

“Help yourself,” he says with a gracious gesture, “but don’t wait too long because it will go quickly.” His eyes twinkle. I suspect it’s from his garden.

“I prefer that someone else have it,” I say with a smirk. He misses my attempt at dry humor and thinks I’m being generous, deferring to others. The reality is I don’t like rhubarb.

The building is newer, possibly built in the last ten years. It more resembles a single-story office building than a church. I like the feel. The hallway leads us to the sanctuary, a large rectangular room, about forty by sixty feet, with a flat ceiling.

The roving minister greets us by the doorway. “Welcome,” he beams with a wide smile. “I’m Ron. I work here!”

What an unassuming man. I immediately like him. “Sit anywhere you want.” He motions to the peopleless space. “There’s plenty of room now, but we fill up fast at 9:30.”

I consider his words, wondering if he’s serious. Realizing my confusion, he laughs. “Just joking. There will be plenty of room.” Then he flits off.

“Do you see any bulletins?” Candy whispers. I glance around and shake my head. Given the tenor of everything else here, I fully expect to see an usher handing out bulletins. At the least, I think we’ll see some on a table or in a literature rack. I don’t.

Initial Thoughts

Perhaps I misjudged. Maybe this isn’t a bulletin type of church after all.

We mosey on in. Though the back rows are empty, people have already laid claim to them by laying their Bibles, bulletins, and even purses on the seats. We move midway into the room before we find a place to sit.

The row we pick has one odd chair. Though it’s padded like the rest and matches, it also has arms. “Do you want the one with the arms or shall I sit there?” Candy asks. I shrug.

A lady behind us tells us in the nicest way possible that we can’t sit there. It’s a special chair for a member who needs one with arms. I nod. Then I point to the other end of the row. “Can we sit there?” She confirms we can.

With a smile she gives Candy her bulletin. “My husband will get me another.” It’s a simple one-page document. The front repeats all fifty words from the home page of their website, but instead of a waterfall picture, there is line art of a butterfly and flower.

The back gives their order of worship, with two announcements at the bottom: there’s a men’s forum Tuesday morning and women’s Bible study Tuesday afternoon.

The times of these events confirm what I see. This is a congregation of retirees. We may be the youngest ones here.

A Traditional Service

The service starts with a prelude, sung by five people with piano accompaniment. I’m not sure if they’re a choir or a worship team. The words appear on an overhead screen.

I assume it’s there for us to follow along, but some people sing too. They have a hymnal and every song listed in the bulletin comes from it. However, they also display the words overhead.

Except for the responsive readings, we don’t need the hymnals. Each reading has four parts: the leader, everyone, men, and women. However, it sounds like both genders read the men’s and women’s parts.

After three songs comes the invocation, which morphs into us reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I’m tentative, knowing there are variations for a few words, and I don’t want to call attention to myself by saying the wrong phrase.

Next is a lengthy congregational prayer and another hymn leading into the sermon.

During all this, a clipboard works its way through the four sections of chairs, distracting me from what’s going on in the service as it winds its way up and down each row.

On the top of the first page is a place for visitors to sign in and record their contact info. We are the first (and likely only) people to do so. Below it and on page two is a list of all the regulars.

They need merely check their name. I count forty-six member families on the list, mostly couples but some singles. With ninety chairs and at about 75 percent full, most of the people in their congregation must be present.

Today they have a guest speaker from a nearby denominational church. Given his affiliation, clues from the minister, and the style of the service, this must be a denomination church, albeit a stealth one.

I’ll need to apologize to Candy for dragging her here after I promised we wouldn’t visit any more denomination churches and her telling me she wouldn’t pick one.

The minister’s text is familiar, from Daniel chapter three, about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow down to the golden monument.

His delivery is smooth, but his body language is off-putting, exuding a smug distance, bordering on arrogance. The tone of his words is sincere, but his actions are too slick.

Eventually I decide not to look at him and just listen. Still, I learn nothing new. By the end of his message, I’ve not taken a single note. I glance at Candy’s notebook. Her page is blank.

The bulletin says that next are “offerings.” I inwardly groan at the plural notation. However, despite what the bulletin states, they only take one. We sing two more songs, and the minister dismisses us.

Time to Connect

The woman behind us invites us to stay for coffee and cookies. We nod yes. It’s a good thing we agree, because she ushers us into the fellowship area so expectantly that I don’t think we could have escaped without being rude.

The woman’s husband stands by the door shaking hands and talking with people as they leave. I enjoy seeing someone other than the minister doing this. It feels more real and less forced.

Though Candy and I have a few moments of awkward silence as we stand in the fellowship hall, the people give us a lot of attention. Many thank us for visiting and encourage our return with the words, “We hope you’ll come back.”

As we talk with the folks, we tell them we’re new in the area and visiting churches. I share with several people that I saw their website and was intrigued.

Each time, they smile and nod. I’m not sure if this means they’re pleased their website is working or that they didn’t know they had one and are being polite. Either conclusion is possible.

As the crowd thins, the minister also comes up and talks some more. His attention is nice but not needed. The congregation excels at reaching out. A second person apologizes that they had a guest speaker today and invites us back to hear their minister, who is “really good.”

Nondenominational Afterall

A third person surprises me. She says they’re nondenominational. I’m shocked, so sure they were part of a denomination. I guess they can be nondenominational with a traditional vibe, just as The Church That Meets in a School was nondenominational with an evangelical vibe.

Even when people attempt to form a new faith gathering, they’re informed by their past practices and preferences. I wonder if a nondenominational church can truly be void of denominational influences.

Curiously, the person we talk to the most and make the deepest connection with is not a member. She lives in another town and comes to this church when she visits her parents. That makes her a regular visitor.

Interestingly, as we’ve visited churches, in many cases the person we connect with most deeply is also a visitor and not a member. This has happened too often to be coincidence.

Nevertheless, we leave feeling accepted and embraced. This is the friendliest of the churches we’ve visited so far and one of the few who shared food afterward.

Friendly, however, isn’t enough. Their services are too traditional to connect with me; their theology, too stoic; and their future, too dim.

If we were retired and wanted to plug into a comfortable church with idyllic ease in a close-knit church community, this would be the ideal place.

Comfortable, however, is not our goal.

Takeaway

Know that for many visitors, your church website will be their first stop. Make sure yours is inviting, easy to understand, and clearly communicates who you are.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

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.