Categories
Visiting Churches

Still Sparsely Attended

Where Two or Three are Gathered

A church that popped up during our initial online search for nearby houses of worship was Church #21. We’d never heard of them, and no one we talked to knew anything about them.

We vacillated whether we should visit, and when we had trouble finding their location on Sunday morning, I almost skipped them, spotting their small sign only after driving by their building three times.

Although their main room would accommodate a couple dozen, only five people showed up that morning: the two pastors, their son, my wife, and me.

They explained that most ministry happens on Saturday. Having a Sunday service is for the people they meet while doing street ministry. Those unchurched folks expect a Sunday service.

Although the sparse attendance presented an initial degree of awkwardness, our Holy Spirit led time with them was powerful and profound.

For most Saturdays, they start at 3:45 p.m. for a time of “intercession, declarations and decrees” after holding an orientation for first time attendees.

Next, they offer strategic prayer for our county, state, country, Israel, and the world.

Then they take a supper break, returning for praise and worship, wrapping up at 8:30 p.m. On the first Saturday of the month, however, they start even earlier, at 2 p.m.

We visited them on the Sunday after the month’s first Saturday. With over thirty people there the night before, many driving long distances, no one wanted to leave.

Their worship lasted well past 8:30 p.m., extending it to the early morning. Our pastors were noticeably tired on Sunday.

I wanted to return on Saturday to experience one of their fuller services. Yet with regular plans for most Saturdays, it would be months before I could make a return trip.

With my regular commitment to volunteer at the food pantry the first and third Saturdays of every month, it’s almost impossible for me to go to their service on the first Saturday, so I picked the second one, showing up several weeks later.

The Second Saturday of the Month

I arrive, expecting to see a parking lot full of cars and people milling about. I see neither. I’m the fourth—and last—person to arrive. That’s when I realize that for the full experience, I need to be there the first Saturday of the month.

The pastors both recognize me, and one calls me by name, as though she was expecting me. For all I know, she was.

Although dismayed at another visit with single digit attendance, I resolve to make the most of it, expecting another powerful, Holy Spirit led experience.

We don’t need a lot of people present for God to move powerfully (Matthew 18:20), though it is more fun when experienced with a larger group.

One of the pastors, aware of my 52 Churches journey and the book I am writing, gives me some prophetic words.

She proclaims my book will encourage others and go deep, serving as a plumb line and a survey—with both vertical and horizontal application. She envisions a chapter on resolutions, which I later add to the book.

“Ask the right questions,” she says. She proclaims my wife will write part of a chapter, something our pastor also suggested. I later invite her to do so, and she does.

Most significant for me was when she says my book “will set people free from denominationalism.” This touches the deepest yearning in my soul, for I see denominations as the antithesis to the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17:20-23).

As long as denominations exist, we will never fully realize harmony in his church. (I even addressed this in my dissertation The Convergent Church: Moving Towards the Unity for Which Jesus Prayed.)

She concludes with, “There will be more to do next, after the book.”

Overcome with hope for the future of Jesus’s church, the consequence of her words overwhelms me, as tears of joy well up. For the first time I sense the magnitude of my little book and the results of what will follow.

Although they offer the opportunity for active involvement, I take a more passive role, mostly observing and absorbing. What unfolds is not foreign to me but does stretch me.

The pastors function at a spiritual level that is only somewhat within my comprehension and barely within my grasp. Their attempts to draw me into God’s movement, produces some response on my part.

Maybe next time I’ll feel better at ease and will more fully participate.

When it comes time to offer strategic prayer, they offer me first choice: county, state, country, Israel, or the world. All the options loom as too big, too vast for me to cover. I opt for the smallest. They hand me a county map to guide my prayers.

I take the map and sit cross-legged on the floor. I stare at it, looking at familiar names and wondering what to do. The words flow freely from the ministers as I sit mute, listening for the Holy Spirit’s direction. I want to me Holy Spirit led, just like the pastors.

Eventually he gives me words to share, halting at first and then growing in confidence. The leaders affirm my prayers and add to them. Though my contribution is small, the scope of our collective prayers is profound.

The leaders sense God’s perspective on a global level, possessing a spiritual perception I seldom see in others. It’s a beautiful thing.

With forty-five minutes for strategic prayer, time moves slowly for me at first, but then I move into the flow of our intercession. Eventually I am mentally spent, with no more to give. But that comes towards the end of our prayer time, and it soon winds down.

We head to a local restaurant to eat. A few others join the four of us and we enjoy a great time together, sharing life and embracing God.

The food and the break rejuvenate me for part two: praise and worship. I expect it to match my Sunday experience with them—and it does. God’s presence fills the room as we sing to him—and for him.

Though the day was powerful, it fell short of what I anticipated. I’ll need to come back on the first Saturday of the month for the full experience. And I plan to—as soon as I can work it in.

Takeaway

Who really leads your services, the church staff or the Holy Spirit? The answer should be Holy Spirit led, but is it?

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, 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.

Categories
Bible Insights

Solomon Dedicates the Temple

Psalm 171 from Beyond Psalm 150

After bringing the ark to the temple, Solomon stands before the altar, lifts his hands to heaven, and offers these words to God:

Yahweh, the God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above, or on earth beneath; who keeps covenant and loving kindness with your servants, who walk before you with all their heart; who has kept with your servant David my father that which you promised him. Yes, you spoke with your mouth, and have fulfilled it with your hand, as it is today. Now therefore, may Yahweh, the God of Israel, keep with your servant David my father that which you have promised him, saying, ‘There shall not fail from you a man in my sight to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children take heed to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’

Now therefore, God of Israel, please let your word be verified, which you spoke to your servant David my father. But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens can’t contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have respect for the prayer of your servant, and for his supplication, Yahweh my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which your servant prays before you today; that your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there;’ to listen to the prayer which your servant prays toward this place. Listen to the supplication of your servant, and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Yes, hear in heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.

If a man sins against his neighbor, and an oath is laid on him to cause him to swear, and he comes and swears before your altar in this house; then hear in heaven, and act, and judge your servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way on his own head, and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.

When your people Israel are struck down before the enemy, because they have sinned against you; if they turn again to you, and confess your name, and pray and make supplication to you in this house; then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your people Israel, and bring them again to the land which you gave to their fathers.

When the sky is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against you; if they pray toward this place, and confess your name, and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your servants, and of your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on your land, which you have given to your people for an inheritance.

If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight, mildew, locust or caterpillar; if their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer and supplication is made by any man, or by all your people Israel, who shall each know the plague of his own heart, and spread out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven, your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to every man according to all his ways, whose heart you know (for you, even you only, know the hearts of all the children of men); that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land which you gave to our fathers.

Moreover concerning the foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, when he comes out of a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name, and of your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house; hear in heaven, your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you for; that all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by your name.

If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to Yahweh toward the city which you have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for your name; then hear in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. If they sin against you (for there is no man who doesn’t sin), and you are angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; yet if they repent in the land where they are carried captive, and turn again, and make supplication to you in the land of those who carried them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned, and have done perversely; we have dealt wickedly;’ if they return to you with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city which you have chosen, and the house which I have built for your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven, your dwelling place, and maintain their cause; and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions in which they have transgressed against you; and give them compassion before those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your inheritance, which you brought out of Egypt, from the middle of the iron furnace); that your eyes may be open to the supplication of your servant, and to the supplication of your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they cry to you. For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth, to be your inheritance, as you spoke by Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, Lord Yahweh.

1 Kings 8:23–53 (WEB)

Reflections on Solomon Dedicates the Temple

Though the Bible doesn’t call this oration a prayer, it sounds like one, interspersing praise with petition, along with some forward-looking portions that seem much like prophecy.

This reminds us that our interaction with our Creator can take many forms and have intertwined formats.

When we approach Yahweh, do we focus on the eloquence of our words or come to him without pretense?

May our praise stem from a pure heart with a desire to connect with the Almighty.

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
Christian Living

We Must Rethink Sunday School

Reform Sunday School as an Education Service to Your Community

It may be strange to see Sunday school on this list of things we must change for our churches, but we should carefully reexamine it. Do you know the original mission of this Sunday program?

It was to teach poor children how to read. And the church used the most accessible book to them, the Bible. It was a pleasant side effect that in teaching children to read, this Sunday educational program also taught them about God through the Bible.

By the time public schools came into existence and took over this job of teaching children how to read, Sunday school had become entrenched in churches.

Instead of realizing they had accomplished their objective and shutting it down, they shifted its focus to teach the church’s children about God.

It didn’t matter that this was the parent’s responsibility (Proverbs 22:6, as well as Deuteronomy 6:6–7 and Ephesians 6:4). Though parents can supplement their efforts with other resources, let’s not depend on Sunday school to be one of them.

English as a Second Language

We could use this as justification for shutting down our Sunday schools, but a better approach might be to reform this practice from the internal program that it has become back into a service effort to help those in our community, just as was the original intent.

One example that would apply in many areas in the United States is to look at teaching English as a second language (ESL). Though many ESL programs already exist, they don’t reach everyone.

Beyond ESL classes, meeting any unmet community educational need would fit nicely.

Regardless, the church should reform their Sunday school practice to address needs in their community.

Parents should resume their biblical role to tell their children about Jesus. They are the primary spiritual educators of their children. This removes the need for Sunday school, which we can re-envision as a program to help those in our community.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Christian unity and loving others.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Proverbs 22-24 and today’s post is on Proverbs 22:6.]

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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.

Categories
Bible Study

John’s Second Letter

John writes a letter to the elect, the chosen lady, along with her kids. Some people assume John uses this intimate metaphor to refer to the church (the chosen lady) and its members (her children).

But this interpretation falls apart because the New Testament considers the people as the church, not as two separate parts.

Rather, a literal understanding is that the chosen lady is an actual person.

John’s note is one of encouragement and instruction to someone he cares for deeply. Because the Bible preserves his letter for us, we can vicariously receive this same reassurance and teaching.

The chosen lady is a faithful follower of Jesus. Let’s read on to learn what John tells her.

Questions:

  1. In what ways has God chosen us? 
  2. Do our actions align with being chosen?
  3. Who do you view as a chosen person?
  4. Do you think anyone views you as chosen? Why?
  5. How can we encourage others?

Discover others chosen in Acts 9:15, Romans 16:13, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Peter 2:9. Read about the chosen one in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34.

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.


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

Beware of Christian Echo Chambers

The Dangers of Surrounding Ourselves with People Just Like Us

It’s understandable that we want to spend time with others who are like us, with folks who all think, act, and believe the same. Yet when followers of Jesus do this it’s too easy to fall into a Christian echo chamber.

A Christian echo chamber is one where everyone agrees with you. It’s a closed system that blocks any input from outside its environment, where you only encounter a theology—a belief system—that reflects and reinforces what you already agree with.

Although a comfortable place, a Christian echo chamber is also a dangerous one.

Iron Sharpens Iron

The proverb says that just as iron sharpens iron, one person can sharpen another (Proverbs 27:17).

Yet little sharpening takes place within Christian echo chambers. This is because people who live there never confront new ideas, fresh perspectives, or differing points of view to challenge their thinking.

There is no one there capable of sharpening them. As a result, they don’t grow in their faith. They stagnate. Or even worse, they regress.

Narrow Minded

As a result, life within a Christian echo chamber has a tight focus. The group quickly becomes narrow minded and eventually becomes closed minded.

They lack input to broaden their perspective and open their mind to deeper truths. People who align with their views are in, and everyone else is out. They effectively reject people who hold differing faith perspectives.

They become theological silos. This segregates the Church of Jesus and runs counter to us being one in him (Galatians 3:28).

Groupthink

Another outcome residing in Christian echo chambers is what’s called groupthink. We generally talk about this phenomenon in the business world. It’s where decisions are made with a pressure to conform, without considering alternatives.

Groupthink pushes critical reasoning aside. It discourages creativity and exploring insightful concepts. Participants delude themselves into thinking they’re open minded, but effectively they prohibit contrary ideas that could threaten the status quo.

Christian echo chambers result in the groupthink mentality too. It’s detrimental with businesses, and it’s even more detrimental for followers of Jesus.

Faith Segregation

The result of Christian echo chambers is a segregation of faith perspectives. This is a large reason why—perhaps the sole reason why—we have 42,000 denominations in our world today. It results in churches that criticize—and even condemn—one another.

The Outcome of Christian Echo Chambers

Our Christian echo chambers produce division and distrust within the body of Christ, which should function as one. How this must grieve our Heavenly Father. This surely detracts from our worship of him.

Likewise, our Christian echo chambers send a negative message to the world we are trying to reach for Jesus. And this surely detracts from our witness to them.

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.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Seeking the Full Pentecostal Experience

Expecting the Unexpected and Still Being Surprised

When we visited Church #14, I expected more. I anticipated experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit, prophetic words, and the possibility of people being slain in the spirit. I expected the full Pentecostal experience.

I braced to hear holy laughter and the tumult of the masses simultaneously praising and praying to God in their spiritual languages. I prepared to be uncomfortable.

None of these things happened.

Aside from a couple of phrases publicly uttered in a language I didn’t understand and the possibility of some subtle praying in tongues, the service was remarkably non-charismatic.

Yes, the worship music was energetic, perhaps with more gusto than some might appreciate. Though I felt a stirring, I couldn’t discern if it came from the emotion of the music or the movement of God’s Spirit.

While there, we enjoyed close community, participating in multiple God-centered conversations.

Our time with them was a spiritual experience, we worshiped God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), and our understanding of the Almighty grew. But I felt I missed the full Pentecostal experience.

The first clue of where to find the full Pentecostal experience came while talking with a friend. At half my age, she exudes enthusiasm and a zest for God.

Her ever-present smile shows how much she loves life; it’s infectious. I may have mentioned I expected a bit more from the service, but even if I didn’t, she addressed my confusion.

“You need to come back tonight,” she gushed, “that’s when us Pentecostals get really wild.”

I wanted to, but we had a conflict, as we do most Sunday evenings. I explained this, promising to return the next time our schedule permitted.

She accepted my excuse, but likely assumed it was just a socially polite response, carrying no intention of following through.

Two months later the opportunity to return on a Sunday night came, but instead my wife and I went to a movie she wanted to see. A few weeks later our schedule opened again, and we saw another movie, this time one I wanted to see.

As we discussed our options, it became clear I was more interested in the full Pentecostal experience than she. The next week my wife and our daughter went to a concert, while I made a return trip to the Pentecostal church.

Going Solo

It’s difficult enough going to an unknown church with a friend. It’s even harder to go alone. I remind myself, however, that I’ve been there once before and know a few people. Still, I’m tentative.

It’s dusk when I pull into the parking lot. This only heightens my disquiet. I persist. I walk in with a lady I meet outside, attempting conversation along the way.

I enter, surprised to be welcomed by the same person who greeted us on our first visit. He lavished us with attention then, making us feel comfortable.

He and I immediately recognize each other but are unable to recall names. It’s nice to see a familiar face. He’s pleased to see me again. I share my name, and he reciprocates.

“I’ve come back to experience one of your evening services.”

He nods, suggesting he understands the implications.

I walk into the sanctuary and sit in the back row. Memories of my first visit flood back. I appreciate the large, rectangular space: open, with a simple, yet elegant feel.

During my first visit, I suspected the worship team was an anomaly in terms of its size, talent, and energy. Tonight, an equally large, talented, and energetic group leads us.

There are about forty-five people present. This is much less than the morning service, but most churches experience a sharp decrease in attendance for their evening gatherings.

The format of the service is the same as before: an extended music set, a time for prayer, a lengthy message, and an invitation at the conclusion.

I greatly enjoy the songs and the singing, feeling the freedom to raise my hands in praise of God. I spot my young friend several rows ahead of me. It seems she’s having an extraordinary time. With sparkling eyes and glowing smile, joy emanates from her face.

Though several are dancing, her movements are more demonstrative, while at the same time remaining respectful and appropriate. I wish I could offer a beautiful performance of physical worship for God, but I can’t.

My body refuses to find the rhythm to even sway, but my heart dances on the inside.

We sing for about forty-five minutes and then the bass player transitions to the center of the stage. That’s when I recognize him as the worship pastor.

One of his team led us—and she did so with much skill. Tonight, he will give the message, as the head minister is out of town, addressing a different group.

The worship pastor is a confident speaker, dynamic and commanding, much like his boss. Another trait they share is speaking loudly, bordering on screaming.

He doesn’t need a microphone but uses one anyway. I’m not sure why some preachers feel they need to yell their message. For the fortunate sake of my ears, his fervor eventually decreases to a tolerable level.

Throughout his hour-long sermon, he shares many convicting thoughts, but his message lack structure. I’m unable to discover a central theme, aside from “worship.”

To my amusement, he begins with the same verse and teaching I heard at a different church in the morning, 1 Peter 2:9. Is God trying to tell me something?

Part way through, he makes the thought-provoking statement: “Worship is for us to edify God, and the sermon is to edify us.” I need to contemplate this.

Addressing Visitors

At several instances he singles out “visitors.” This is not in a welcoming manner but is more confrontational. I wonder if there are any other guests.

Am I being targeted? Perhaps I’m inferring too much. Or maybe he has the perspective that visitors are by default sinful outsiders in need of a Savior.

As he winds down his message, it morphs into a rant. “We need to worship despite how we feel.” He implores the church to do better. He chastises them for not worshiping God as they should. They’re holding back and not engaged.

He says there hasn’t been much in the way of healing, prophecy, or Holy Spirit activity in the past few months. He blames this on their substandard worship.

From my perspective the worship was wonderful, some of the best I’ve experienced. He feels differently. Then he reveals his son needs healing. Many prayers have been offered, but the hoped-for healing has not come.

If only the worship was better, healing would occur. Did he actually say that, or did I just think he did?

Eventually he concludes. He launches into what I think will be an alter call, and at the subtlest of invitations, all the people surge forward en masse. I’m left in the back row.

To my left sits his wife and young kids and across the aisle to my right, another couple. I surmise they’re visitors. Aside from us, everyone else has gone forward.

The same thing happened on our first visit. Perhaps it’s a reverse altar call, where the saved go forward, leaving the heathen in the pews. The minister begins addressing us visitors in the back.

We cannot hide. There’s a gulf of empty chairs separating us from the throng of people up front. I squirm, no longer hearing what he says.

Eventually, there’s a concluding worship set, and I gladly return to singing and praising God. My joy returns, but I’m still on guard. Someone approaches the couple to my right, the other visitors.

Though I can’t hear their words, the body language of the talker is confrontational. I wonder if I’ll be next. Will I be told—consistent with their published theology—that since I don’t speak in tongues, I’m not saved and headed to hell?

It’s a disconcerting moment.

The service ends. My friend bounds up to talk. We enjoy a great time sharing, and I pray for her. I also talk with others as I make my way out.

The first part of the service, with worship and prayer, offered significant spiritual connection, as was the community afterwards. In my journal I recorded several intriguing thoughts and Scripture references from the message.

Overall, I experienced a worthy supernatural encounter and am glad for it.

As I leave, I find out this wasn’t a typical evening service. Apparently, I still haven’t had the full Pentecostal experience.

Takeaway

Does your church service celebrate visitors or alienate them with its harsh words and disconcerting practices? Jesus drew people to him because of his love. Churches should do the same.

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, 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.

Categories
Bible Insights

Solomon Praises God

Psalm 170 from Beyond Psalm 150

As successor to King David, Solomon constructs the temple that his father wanted to build. With much fanfare Solomon brings the ark—which contains the two stone tablets God gave to Moses—to reside in the temple.

Before the people gather for this momentous event, Solomon blesses God and honors David.

Blessed is Yahweh, the God of Israel, who spoke with his mouth to David your father, and has with his hand fulfilled it, saying, ‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.’

Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel. But Yahweh said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not build the house; but your son who shall come out of your body, he shall build the house for my name.’ Yahweh has established his word that he spoke; for I have risen up in the place of David my father, and I sit on the throne of Israel, as Yahweh promised, and have built the house for the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel. There I have set a place for the ark, in which is Yahweh’s covenant, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.

1 Kings 8:15–21 (WEB)

(This passage repeats in 2 Chronicles 6:4–11, and we find Solomon’s two other Psalms in Psalm 72 and 127.)

Reflections on Solomon Praises God

This passage opens with a blessing to Yahweh, but then it shifts to give tribute to Solomon’s father, King David. Solomon concludes by looking at what he accomplished.

We could interpret this either as Solomon’s ego poking through or as praise to God for what Yahweh accomplished through the king.

Has our praise to the Almighty ever come across as calling attention to what we did? Though we may give God credit in this, it’s easy to wrongly elevate ourselves in the process.

May we rightly place our focus on Yahweh and what he has done.

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

Women in the Bible: King Solomon’s Wives

A Subtle Source of Distraction

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wasn’t so wise with his love life. In all he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

Even worse, many of King Solomon’s wives were foreigners, something God prohibited because he feared they would distract his people from fully worshiping him (Deuteronomy 7:3).

Unfortunately, just as God feared, King Solomon’s foreign-born wives, who had vastly different views on spiritual practices, did lead him astray.

They caused him to turn from God. As a result, Solomon ruined his legacy and consequently his son would lose the kingdom.

When God tells us “no,” there’s a good reason for it. Will we obey him or think we know better? King Solomon thought he knew better and things didn’t work out so well for him.

Finish Strong

Though Solomon started off well, focusing on God and honoring him, he ended poorly, turning from God and pursuing other gods.

It doesn’t matter so much how we start life but how we finish (Luke 14:28-30, Galatians 6:9, Philippians 3:14. and Hebrews 12:1).

May we finish strong for God, serving as an example for others, both now and in the future.

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

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.

Categories
Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 30: No Idols

Today’s passage: 1 John 5:21

Focus verse: Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

After John writes a fitting conclusion to his letter in 1 John 5:18–20, he tacks on one more verse. He simply tells his audience to keep themselves from idols.

I imagine John finishing his letter and then reading it. He gets to the end and realizes he forgot to address idols. But for him to insert this extra content into the right place in his letter would require rewriting the entire thing.

So, he takes the practical step and tacks it onto the end. 

But this doesn’t make John’s warning against idol worship an afterthought. It’s a critical issue for his audience of the day, as well as for us now.

Idolatry is the worship of idols. A second understanding defines idolatry as excessive devotion to something.

Though today few of us would bow down before an idol or struggle with the issue of eating idol-sacrificed meat, our world today excels in excessive devotions—many of them.

These excessive devotions become our present-day idols. Here are some common considerations:

Work

Though we must work to earn money to support our families, our jobs are not the goal, but the means to the end. Yet many people hold an excessive devotion to their work.

Placing too much emphasis on our jobs is a present-day form of idol worship.

Money

Too many people view income and their bank balance as a measure of success. More is better. How much more? They see no upper limit. Though we need money to live, we shouldn’t live for money—or let it become our idol.

Possessions

Our materialistic society has an insatiable desire for more. Too often we buy things because we want them, not because we need them. We desire newer, bigger, and better.

We covet what our neighbors have. This materialistic mindset of buying and owning things can become our idol.

Hobbies

A hobby is a non-work activity we pursue for enjoyment or self-fulfillment. The best hobbies align our passions and interests with ways to advance God’s kingdom or give him glory.

Hobbies kept in balance produce personal benefits. Yet we can pursue many hobbies with an excess zeal which threatens to become our idol.

Leisure Activities

In our self-induced, stress-filled life, we need a respite from the busy lifestyle we’ve created. Though needed for our mental well-being, we must guard against filling our non-work time with a frenzy of pursuits.

We must seek recreation to draw us toward God, not pull us away. Otherwise, it becomes our idol.

Family

Yes, an excessive devotion to family can become an idol, albeit a well-intended one. Too many parents embrace a child-first focus that rises above everything else. The result is making our family’s wellbeing our idol.

Though we would never physically bow down to an idol and worship it, we run the risk of worshiping its modern-day equivalents. Idols were clear in John’s day.

The issue is much murkier now and may be an even bigger threat to us than it was two thousand years ago.

Let us cast aside all our idols and put God first in everything.

Questions:

  1. Which of the six areas listed above challenge you the most?
  2. What specific idols do we struggle with today? 
  3. What changes must we make in our practices and attitudes?
  4. How can we make our worship of God better?
  5. What activities or attitudes do we need to cast aside to keep God first in our lives?

Discover more about idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10:14–21.

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 is Pentecost and Why is it Important?

Christmas and Easter Focus on Jesus, Preparing for Pentecost to Complete His Work and Reveal the Holy Spirit

Though it’s been co-opted by secular society, Christmas remains as the most popular Christian holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Next in notoriety stand the tandem of Good Friday, remembering the execution of Jesus, and Easter, celebrating his emergence from his burial vault.

While some faith practices focus on Good Friday and others emphasize Easter, the fact remains that we can’t have Easter without Good Friday and without Easter, Good Friday doesn’t matter.

What most churches gloss over, or even skip, are Ascension Day and Pentecost. Today is Pentecost (see if your church celebrates it) and a week and a half ago was Ascension Day (was that even mentioned?).

Ascension Day

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Easter. Jesus rises from the dead, spends forty days with his friends and followers, gives them final instructions, and then ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

As a matter of convenience many churches acknowledge this miracle on the following Sunday, which they call Ascension Sunday.

Pentecost

Pentecost comes fifty days after Jesus resurrected and ten days after he returned to heaven. Before he left he told his followers to wait around for a gift he would send them, something from his Father (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-5). This gift is the Holy Spirit.

On Pentecost, many of Jesus’s followers have gathered together. There is a loud noise and something like flames of fire fill the room and land on the people.

The Holy Spirit fills them and they begin to supernaturally speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-12). The same Holy Spirit lives in us today.

Pentecost, by the way, didn’t start with Jesus. Its roots go back to the Old Testament in the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), now known as Shavuot.

While some followers of Jesus celebrate the Holy Spirit, other traditions diminish him or even dismiss him.

I choose to celebrate him and his power. After all, the Holy Spirit is an equal part of the godhead. Join me in celebrating Pentecost, the culmination of Jesus’s work.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, 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.