Categories
Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 19: Spirit of God

Today’s passage: 1 John 4:1–3

Focus verse: This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

The third chapter of 1 John wraps up with a reference to the Holy Spirit, whom God sent to us. John now contrasts the Holy Spirit to other spirits.

These manifest in the form of false prophets—that is, purveyors of wayward doctrine. These false messages come from demons in the spiritual realm. 

The Holy Spirit speaks truth to us. These contrary spirits fill us with lies. They distort who God is and what the Bible says. Many unsuspecting believers fall victim to their twisting of the truth.

This first happened back in Genesis when the serpent (the devil) lies to Eve and misrepresents what God said to her. She foolishly believes him, and Adam passively follows her (Genesis 3:1–7).

Because of Adam and Eve’s failings, resulting from the serpent’s mischaracterization of God’s truth, sin enters our world and God expels Adam and Eve from their idyllic paradise.

John recommends that we test every spirit, that is, to test every prophet and their message. This is because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This implies that they started as part of Jesus’s church.

John gives us a simple test. He says that every spirit—that is, every teacher—who acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah who physically came to earth in human form is from God.

If someone does not recognize this truth, they are not from God. In fact, they are the antichrist—that is, anti-Christ, which is to say they are against Jesus the Messiah. 

These false prophets were in the world two thousand years ago, and they’re still with us today. We must be equally discerning of their error.

In addition to John’s basic test to identify these false prophets, we can also consult the Bible. In the book of Acts, Luke applauds the cautious approach of the believers in Berea in discerning between truth and error.

They eagerly received Paul’s message about the good news of Jesus. But because of their noble character, they examined the Scriptures (the Old Testament) to verify that what Paul claimed was correct (Acts 17:10–15). 

We should follow their example to avoid the teachings of any false prophets who threaten to lead us astray.

Questions:

  1. How does The Holy Spirit speak truth to us?
  2. In what ways must we be more discerning about who we listen to? 
  3. What doctrines have we accepted that we might want to test against what the Bible says?
  4. What are some practical ways to test them?
  5. How can we discern between truth and error?

Discover more about false prophets in Matthew 7:15, Luke 6:26, Acts 13:6–12, and 2 Peter 2:1.

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

Do You Worship the Cross?

We Must Guard Against Turning the Symbol of Jesus’s Death into a Modern-Day Idol

Do you worship the cross? The cross is the instrument of Jesus’s death when he died in our place for the wrong things we did—our sins. As such, it rises as a powerful symbol of our faith.

Yet some well-meaning people place too high of emphasis on this image. In effect, they worship the cross.

Don’t Point to the Cross

When people worship the cross, they end up making it a modern-day idol. They place crosses prominently in their homes and on their cars. They wear them on their body, be it in the form of jewelry, clothes, or tattoos.

Yes, this symbol of Jesus can serve as a means for us to talk to others about him. But how often do we do that? To make this work, we must live our life like Jesus.

Yet too often when we fall short and don’t exemplify him well, the cross we adorn—and adore—leads other people to confuse our failings with Jesus and who he is. And that’s exactly the kind of witness we want to avoid.

I’ve also heard people who refuse to attend a church that doesn’t prominently display the cross of Jesus on the building and have it on the inside. But they’re missing the point.

Point to Jesus

Jesus is what matters. The cross is secondary. It’s a symbol of the savior, not the savior.

Have you ever seen people bow down before a cross? I have. When they do this, they appear to worship the cross. Though we can’t know their motives, and they may be worshipping Jesus in their minds, this isn’t how it appears.

You may wonder if a crucifix (a cross with the suffering savior upon it) solves this problem. Though it visually lessens the disconnect between the savior and the instrument of his death, it can also become an image of worship.

A crucifix can serve as an idol just as much as a cross.

It would be an overreaction, however, to remove these iconic symbols from our lives. They serve as important representations of our faith, pointing to the savior we worship.

But we must be careful to not worship the cross.

Instead, we should worship Jesus who died on the cross and then rose from the dead to save us.

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
Peter DeHaan News

Do You Read Library Books?

Discover How to Get Peter DeHaan’s Books at your Local Library

Do you like to read books from your local or online library? I do.

Did you know you can request your library to order my books? Though they don’t have to, most libraries want to buy what their patrons request.

It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Your library should be able to order my books—e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook—through their regular acquisition channels.

All you need is the ISBN number, which is available on my website.

You get to read for free, and I make a sale! We both win.

Then once you’ve read and returned the library book, recommend it to your friends so they can read it too.

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

52 Churches: Part One Perspective

Here’s an Overview After Visiting Our First 13 Churches

We’re one-quarter of the way through our journey. It’s been more than what I’d hoped for and at the same time, not as much of what I expected.

In attending the churches closest to home in our rural, white, middle-class area I expected little racial diversity, and we saw even less.

Although I could assume our few local minorities don’t go to church, it’s more likely they aren’t attending the ones nearby. This lack of racial diversity reflects poorly on the nearly all-white churches we’ve visited.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

Despite areas of concern, I liked each of the thirteen churches and, if needed, any one could become my church home, though some would take much more effort than others.

Notable and Intriguing Churches

But finding a new church isn’t our goal. Our mission is to expand our worship of God and meet our extended Christian family. Still, three churches grab my attention:

Church #7 (The New Church) draws me. I like that they’re truly nondenominational and unaffiliated. Even more, I appreciate their many unchurched and under-churched attendees, as well as their goal of growing deeper.

As a bonus, they recently moved and are now the third closest church to our home, a scant 1.4 miles away. Their community calls me.

Both United Methodist churches hold an appeal, but the second one, Church #12 (More Methodists, More Food), edges out the first.

This is in part because they’re in our rural area, whereas the first, although slightly closer to our home, has more affinity with the nearby city I’ve become weary of driving to.

I also really like the pastor there. Her quiet reverence in leading worship guides me into God’s presence like nothing I’ve ever enjoyed at church.

The United Methodist Church, however, periodically relocates its ministers, and I wonder if I’d still feel drawn to the church once they reassign her. She’s already been there six and a half years, and I suspect she’ll move on soon.

Church #5 (Catholics are Christians Too) has a pull for me, likely because they’re an enigma. There’s much I could learn from them about worshiping God. Unfortunately, their service isn’t accessible to outsiders, and it would be hard to make friends there since there’s little community.

Additionally, I’d like to make repeat visits to Church #3 (It Only Hurts When You Care) and Church #8 (A Grand Experiment).

For the first one, I want to witness a typical service there, whereas for the second, I wonder if I’d still be as interested in their community after a second visit. I fear I wouldn’t, so maybe it’s best not to return.

Candy says that out of the thirteen, Church #2 (Growing Deeper, Not Wider) is her preference. It, too, has a strong draw for me. This makes sense as its worship style and age demographics are the most like our home church.

My only concern is that their doctrine is much narrower than mine, and I fear I would soon chafe under its teaching.

Key Observations

Overall, and most disconcerting, is the correlation I’ve seen between the members’ age and dress compared to their facility and worship style.

If you show me the building and service, I’ll predict the audience’s age and what they’ll wear. Alternately, tell me the age and attire of attendees, and I’ll predict the type of service and even the character of the facility.

The question is causality. Does an aging congregation produce a traditional service in a dated facility or does a traditional service in a dated facility attract an older crowd?

Conversely, does a younger or multigenerational gathering create a contemporary service in a nontraditional setting or does a contemporary service in a nontraditional setting attract a younger or multigenerational crowd?

Instead of wondering which caused what, the greater insight is to simply note a connection between attendee age and service style. I suspect the two go together.

Older congregations with traditional services face a deadly downward spiral, with one feeding into the other, which only exacerbates the trend.

I see no long-term hope for these aging congregations and no realistic way to rejuvenate them—aside from supernatural intervention. Pray that God will intervene.

Parting Thoughts

So far, this adventure has been great. Part of me doesn’t want it to end after fifty-two weeks, as there are a couple hundred churches within easy driving distance, but another part of me wonders if I have the stamina to persevere to the end.

Added to this are churches that warrant repeat visits. I also wonder what I might learn about Christianity by visiting non-Christian faith gatherings.

Despite that, I also miss having regular community with close friends.

With all this in mind, we press on.

Takeaway for Everyone: Many churches operate as they always have, unaware that society has changed and seeks something different. The future of these congregations is in jeopardy.

[Check out the discussion questions for this post.]

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

The Voice of God Affirms Jesus

Today’s passage: Matthew 17:1–9, Mark 9:1–9, Luke 9:28–36, and John 12:27–30

Focus verse: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

Yesterday’s passage ended with the puzzling statement that “some of you present won’t experience death before you see me coming in my kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).

What follows this is an event we call the transfiguration, implicitly fulfilling Jesus’s cryptic prediction. Peter, James, and John are there to see his supernatural transformation.

The three disciples ascend a mountain with Jesus. Suddenly his face shines—his countenance transfigures. This means his appearance changes; it’s glorified. Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus.

Peter wants to commemorate this unprecedented event—Jesus’s transfiguration and two dead patriarchs appearing before them. He offers to build them each a shrine or tabernacle in their honor. Before Jesus can respond, a bright cloud forms.

The voice of Father God comes from the cloud. “This is my Son,” he says. “I love him and am pleased with him. Listen to what he says.”

In one succinct declaration, God confirms Jesus as the Son of God, affirms Jesus’s ministry, and commands the disciples to listen to him.

Does hearing God’s audible voice about Jesus sound familiar?

Three years earlier, before Jesus begins his public ministry, he asks John the Baptizer to baptize him—even though the sinless Jesus has no sins to repent from. When Jesus comes out of the water, three astonishing things happen.

First, heaven opens, revealing a glimpse into the spiritual realm. What do the people see? What awe-inspiring sights confront them?

Next, the Spirit of God descends from heaven, looking like a dove. Imagine the time it takes for the form to travel the distance from heaven to earth. It isn’t instantaneous.

It gets their attention. The people have never seen anything like it. They’re astounded by this unique event. The dove lands on Jesus, showing his connection with heaven, his divine bond with the godhead.

A voice from heaven calls out. “This is my Son,” God says. “I love him and am pleased with him” (Matthew 3:13–17).

This is almost identical to what God says at the transfiguration. This time the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all present. We see the triune God at work.

Two times God speaks audibly about Jesus. The first time is to prepare for him to begin his earthly ministry.

The second time is in preparation for him to conclude it. He’ll do this by dying for our sins, rising from the dead, and returning to heaven.

Both times Father God confirms his Son and supports Jesus and his ministry. The voice of God affirms Jesus.

Questions

  • How does God speak to us today?
  • How well do we do at listening to the words of Jesus, as the Father instructed?

Prayer: Father God, may we always hear your voice and obey your words.

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his passion to save us in Peter’s new book, The Passion of Jesus. It is part of the Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series.

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Bible Insights

The Fallacy of Syncretism

Avoid the Error of Balaam

Although many of the mentions in the Bible of Balaam are negative, in the primary account of him, he seems to basically be a good, God-fearing guy. His issue is syncretism, which is the error of Balaam.

Balaam’s issue wasn’t his connection with God, but instead his attempt to meld the God of the Bible with other, contrary beliefs, in this case sorcery and divination. These are incompatible with God.

This practice continues today. It’s called syncretism, the fusion of differing belief systems or an attempt to reconcile religions. Consider:

  • God and Hinduism
  • God and Confucius
  • God and Buddha
  • God and voodoo
  • God and crystals
  • perhaps even God and Yoga
  • or what about God and prosperity?

But God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to be shared; he doesn’t want his peoples’ attention split between himself and someone or something else.

He wants all of us, undivided and undistracted.

It is only human arrogance that suggests otherwise. This is the fallacy of syncretism.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 22-24, and today’s post is on Numbers 24:1.]

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 18: Jesus’s Two Commands

Today’s passage: 1 John 3:21–24

Focus verse: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

John teaches us that if we have a clear conscience before God, we can be confident that we’ll receive from him whatever we ask (1 John 3:21–22).

We’ll cover this more in Day 27, but for now, we’ll look at John’s reason why God will answer our prayers. It’s because we keep his commands.

But this doesn’t refer to the Old Testament law and the many directives we find there. Instead, it refers to a pair of commands. That’s right.

Just two commands rise above all others. These are what God expects us to follow. We’ve touched on them in our prior readings. 

What are they? 

The first is to believe in Jesus. The second is to love one another. When we keep these two commands, we live in him, and he lives in us. 

In considering this first command—to believe in God’s son, Jesus Christ—let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is his first name and Christ is his second.

Though Jesus Christ may roll off our tongues as if it’s his full name, this is not the case. Christ is a descriptor of Jesus, not his name—even though we’ve made it into one. 

Christ means Messiah (John 1:41), as in Jesus the Messiah (Mark 1:1) or Jesus the Christ (1 John 2:22).

Therefore, when we read the instruction to believe in Jesus Christ, it means to believe in Jesus the Messiah, the Savior—essentially to believe in Jesus as our Messiah, our Savior.

The second command of John—to love one another—stands as a recurring theme of his. He’s already covered it and will continue to do so.

We see it throughout the book of 1 John. We’ve also covered this in Day 16 and touched on it in many other days.

God’s two commands—to believe in Jesus as the Christ and to love one another—are consistent with Jesus’s teaching about the two greatest commandments in Scripture (Matthew 22:36–40).

In a broad sense, believing in Jesus is the key way we love God, which Jesus says is the greatest Old Testament commandment.

The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is, we should love one another.

Questions:

  1. How clear is your conscience before God?
  2. Have we taken the essential step to believe in Jesus as our Savior? 
  3. Is believing enough? Why?
  4. What can we do to more rightly consider the word Christ as a descriptor and not a name?
  5. How well do we do at obeying God’s second command to love one another?

Discover more about loving one another in 2 Thessalonians 1:3. Contrast this with Titus 3:3.

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

How to Deal with Poverty

We Should Continue to Remember the Poor

The Bible talks about the poor and teaches how to deal with poverty. Poverty shows up 21 times in the Bible, most in the practical advice-giving book of Proverbs. The word poor appears much more often at 176 times.

Combined, these passages give us much insight in how to deal with poverty and those who are poor.

Here are some key verses to consider:

Jesus tells us to be generous to those who are poor (Luke 11:41). This is the only verse we need. Jesus says it. We should do it. And don’t just give a little, be generous about it.

In addition, Peter, James, and John encourage Paul to continue to remember the poor, which he had been eagerly doing all along (Galatians 2:9-11).

We should follow their advice and example in how to deal with poverty, both that which is around us and throughout the world.

Jesus, however, says that we will always have the poor among us (Mark 14:7). This means we’ll never eliminate poverty—as some people hope to do. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

We should do whatever we can to help those who go without. And as we do so, we should do so in love (1 Corinthians 13:3).

These all address the problem of poverty. It reacts to what already exists. But what if we could be proactive and help people avoid poverty in the first place?

Consider this excerpt from my book Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide:

Many have cited the following three steps to avoid poverty. The source is unclear but may have originated with Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

Young people can avoid poverty if they follow three essential rules for success:

1. Complete at least a high school education

2. Work full-time

3. Wait until age twenty-one to marry, and get married before having a baby

People who follow all three rules have a 98 percent chance of not living in poverty. Furthermore, they have a 72 percent chance of joining the middle class.

Many people criticize this claim, some citing all manner of hate-filled motivations or ignorance. Yet if we look at this list, we know in our hearts that it’s correct. It’s common sense.

We can also logically see how someone who ignores these three essentials places themselves on a path that will likely lead them to needing government assistance and living a life of poverty.

What can we do to encourage teenagers to embrace these three essential rules?

Beyond that, what can we do to help those who didn’t or couldn’t follow them and find themselves in need? I’m thinking especially of the teenage mom left to care for her children on her own.

These are big questions without clear answers, but a good place to start is to find an organization already addressing one of these areas and working with them to make a difference.

Peter DeHaan from Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide

Quite simply, one response in how to deal with poverty is to encourage young people to make wise decisions and not rush into adulthood.

To do this, we can encourage them to complete high school, find the full-time job, and wait until their 21 to get married and have children.

For each person we encourage to do this, we help them avoid poverty. This may be the best way in how we can deal with poverty.

And for those who find themselves impoverished, we should do what Jesus says and give generously.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

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
Visiting Churches

52 Churches Infographic

Learn More about 52 Churches

Discover more in the 52 Churches infographic to see key insights and data about the churches my wife and I visited in a year as covered in my book 52 Churches .

52 Churches infographic, from the book 52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Click on the above image to get a better look or download your own copy of the 52 Churches infographic.

Whether or not you’ve read the book, check out this insightful 52 Churches infographic about visiting fifty-two churches in a year for a quick visual overview of key findings.

Here’s a bit about our adventure:

My wife and I visited a different church every Sunday for a year. This book is our story.

52 Churches is part religious exposé, part travel memoir, and 100% authentic. Peter refuses to hold back his punches. You’ll cringe when this Christian author is singled out by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, unnecessarily determined to save his soul out of hell. You’ll find yourself thankful that you weren’t in Peter’s shoes when the pastor told his congregation to greet one another with a holy kiss.

You’ll read about Christian practices that are far different from your own, and in the process gain a deeper understanding of believers from all walks of life and denominational backgrounds: Protestant mainline, evangelical, and charismatic, Roman Catholic, and more.

Discover just how vast, diverse, and amazing Jesus’s church is.

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
Visiting Churches

An Organizational Metamorphosis

We’ll Bypass Visiting This Church (For Now)

So far, we’ve visited twelve churches.

With one exception—a spiritual community that wasn’t exclusively Christian—we’ve faithfully attended every church on our list, according to their distance from home.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

As our journey continues, we’ll skip some to maximize the breadth of our experience.

The first church we’re skipping is a mainstream denomination church. There are two reasons: We’ve visited this church several times before with a family member.

Second, the church has been struggling of late and is embarking on an organizational metamorphosis. They are in a time of transition from which a new church will hopefully emerge.

This new gathering will have a fresh perspective, a different pastor, and a new name. They will be reborn. Since this is all in the planning stage, we’ll set this church aside.

If their transformation progresses, we’ll visit later. And if this strategy doesn’t work, there will be nothing left to see.

It’s a tough time for the faithful few who remain. I pray for a successful organizational metamorphosis.

Takeaway for Everyone: Every church will at some time struggle. Make sure that season doesn’t turn away visitors.

[Update: though it took a while, we do eventually visit this church. I call it a reboot. I think it was worth the wait. Read about that experience.]

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.