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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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bible Insights

Ash Wednesday: Jesus Predicts His Death

Today’s passage: Matthew 16:21–28, Mark 8:31–38, Luke 9:21–26, and John 12:23–26

Focus verse: Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem . . . be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)

We open our Lenten devotional with Jesus predicting his death. This is key. It confirms that Jesus knows what will happen. His Father has a plan. Jesus agrees with the plan and moves toward it.

This means his death is intentional and he is willing to die. It’s not unexpected. Jesus’s purpose in coming to earth is to save us by dying for our sins—the sins of all humanity throughout all time.

He will soon offer himself as the ultimate sin sacrifice to end all sin sacrifices. He knows this and tells his disciples what will soon happen.

This highlights the essential part of the passage. Jesus knows he will die.

Yet two perplexing items follow his declaration.

First, Peter objects. He pulls Jesus away from the other disciples and offers correction. He wants Jesus to live and doesn’t understand that the Messiah must die. Jesus’s response shocks us.

He says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Is he calling Peter Satan? Is Satan controlling Peter? Possibly. But an alternate understanding is that Peter speaks from his human perspective.

Satan tries to use the disciple’s words to attack Jesus. The enemy desires to cast doubt into Jesus’s mind, cause him to question his mission, and consider a non-lethal alternative.

So, when Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan,” he addresses the accuser. We can do the same.

The other confusing statement happens next. Jesus says that anyone who wants to be his disciple should pick up his cross and follow him. What does he mean to pick up our cross to follow him?

Jesus has said he will die and then overcome death. We know that in doing so, he dies so that we will live.

Yet, if we follow him, we need to be likewise ready to die for our faith, to die for him. Figuratively, we are to pick up our cross—the Roman tool for death.

Most of us won’t need to die for Jesus, but we must be willing to do so if the situation calls for it.

This means we must adopt a spiritual point of view to replace our human perspective. We need to exchange our worldly outlook with an eternal expectation.

Our life here on earth means nothing compared to our life eternal with Jesus. We prove we understand this when we pick up our cross to follow him.

We don’t need to be willing to die for Jesus before he will save us. Instead, our willingness to die is in response to him saving us.

Questions

  • What do we do when we face temptation?
  • What must we change to best pick up our cross and follow Jesus?

Prayer: Jesus, may we live a life worthy of you and your call to follow you.

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.

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Bible Insights

Take a Census and Make a List

God Tells Moses to Count the Number of Men for the Army

The book of Numbers opens with God telling Moses to take a census of the people. Numbers also ends with a census.

These two numberings of the people serve as bookends for this section of Scripture, which is why we call it Numbers. It begins and ends with numbers.

Count the Army

This numbering of the people is not a complete census, however. It’s only of men twenty years or older who can fight. It’s like registering for the draft. Moses lists each man. The tally is over 600,000 eligible men.

If you add in boys and elderly men, the number of males surely tops one million. Double this to account for females, and we have a conservative number of two million people. That’s a lot.

But the focus of this effort in the book of Numbers is to assess the size of their potential army. It’s over 600,000, a formable number.

David Does This Too

It seems wise for a leader to know the size of his army. God has Moses do this, but when David does this it doesn’t work out so well.

In case you’re interested he had 1.3 million men to fight in his army. However, David felt guilty for counting the number of men (2 Samuel 24:10).

This signals him putting his trust in the size of his army and not in God. God punishes him for this.

This reminds us that what God says in the Bible may be situational. For Moses it was right to number his troops, while for David it was wrong.

None of These Men Make It to the Promised Land

The book of Numbers tells us what happens next. Twelve men spy out the land. Ten of the spies are scared and tell the people there is no way the army will prevail. (Only Caleb and Joshua have faith that God will give them victory.)

The people believe the negative report and cower in fear. They rebel against God.

But then they change their mind and go forward into battle under their own power. They’re soundly defeated.

As punishment, God says that none of the men included in the count, the men registered on Moses’s list, will enter the promised land. They will die in the desert, never seeing what God wants to give them. Only Caleb and Joshua will make it in.

This list referenced in the book of Numbers is one list to avoid.

Are Our Names Written on God’s List?

However, in the book of Revelation, John writes about the book of life. In this case those whose names written in this book will make it in (Revelation 21:27). The people whose names aren’t on the list are hosed (Revelation 20:15).

There’s a time to count, and a time not to count. There’s a list we want to be on, and a list we don’t. But at the end of time, what matters is that our names are in the Lamb’s book of life. That’s what counts.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 1-3, and today’s post is on Numbers 1:2.]


Read more in Peter’s devotional Bible study, A New Heaven and a New Earth: 40 Practical Insights from John’s Book of Revelation.

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 17: What Love Is

Today’s passage: 1 John 3:16–20

Focus verse: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

The ultimate expression of love is to die for another, to sacrifice ourselves for the good of someone else. Jesus exemplifies this highest form of love by dying as a human sacrifice for us—for all people, for all time.

His death covers the penalty our sins deserve, thereby making us right with Father God.

In the same way, we should be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, this may mean to actually die for them so they can live. But in practical terms our call to sacrifice may be less demanding.

John writes that we prove God’s love in us when we have pity on our brother and sister in need. The most direct application is to share what we have with them, to give our possessions to those in Jesus’s church—our brothers and sisters. 

Having pity on them, however, doesn’t always mean giving them our belongings. At times we may need to say no. 

This isn’t a justification to not help them with tangible solutions, but to note that giving them what they lack isn’t always the answer.

Sometimes our generosity could enable them to continue to make the same ill-advised decisions or persist in the same wrong behaviors that caused the situation in the first place.

In these instances, the wise thing is to say no. We offer them tough love. This is how we can best take pity on them.

Another way to take pity on our brothers and sisters in need is to pray for them. As strange as it seems to say, in this case we must ensure that prayer isn’t our default position but a secondary one.

We get this understanding when John implores us to not love with words only but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).

In this way we can have a clear conscience, knowing that we responded rightly and can therefore rest in God’s presence.

We must remember that we are not to accumulate wealth for ourselves. Instead, we are to store up our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).

God blesses us—just as he did Father Abraham—so that we can bless others (Genesis 12:2). Yet we need to balance this with a call to be a wise steward of what God has given us (Matthew 25:14–30).

These passages give us much to contemplate when we consider how to best take pity on our brothers and sisters in need.

Questions:

  1. How can we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters? 
  2. Who are we willing to die for?
  3. When have we tried to help someone with our words when we should have acted?
  4. When should we love others in prayer?
  5. How can we better help those in need?

Discover more about Jesus’s great love in laying down his life for us in John 10:11–18.

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

Celebrate the Family

We Must Stand Firm Against Society’s Attacks on Marriage and Children

As followers of Jesus, we need to reclaim what the Bible teaches about family. This is because the biblical ideal of family has taken a hit in today’s culture. Therefore, we must counter this and celebrate the family.

Today’s secular society views marriage as optional, divorce as inevitable, and children as a burden. They decry the nuclear family as old fashioned and irrelevant, even draconian.

The popular notion of traditional marriage is that it represses women, shackles men, and may not even be in the children’s best interest.

This perspective is wrong, and we know it. We must stand against this twisted perception of God’s intention for us.

The Path Forward

We must encourage one another to listen to what the Almighty says and ignore what our culture says, even when they attack us for it—especially when they attack us.

As we do so, we can turn to our faith communities and churches. They must take a lead in championing this cause, to reclaim and celebrate the family as God’s preferred plan for his creation.

He made us male and female in his image, with a holy mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27-28). The safety and security of family is his provision to accomplish this.

Yet too many churches today fall short of meeting this desperate need to elevate and celebrate the family.

Instead, they push aside what Scripture says and what Jesus teaches to embrace a non-biblical understanding in the areas of marriage, families, and sexuality.

Instead, our spiritual teachers must remind us of God’s way and counter the world’s perversion of it.

Sex is reserved for marriage, children are our delight, and divorce isn’t an option except in cases of unfaithfulness. Our spiritual leaders need to elevate and celebrate the family.

Yet too many of our faith communities are reluctant to celebrate the family for fear of alienating those who fall outside it. They’ve been criticized for gearing their programming to the needs of families, but this doesn’t mean they should stop doing it.

Instead, they should also provide support for those without families—regardless of their situation or reason. This includes single parents and single adults, be it not-yet-married, widow and widower, divorced, and celibate.

Everyone has a place in God’s family, and we need to acknowledge and support them. We need to make room for all of God’s children in our faith communities.

The Truth about Family

As we celebrate the family, we acknowledge that no family is perfect—just as none of us are perfect.

Each family has an element of dysfunction in it, but only in a few cases is this extreme. In most all families its function far outweighs its dysfunction.

We need to acknowledge the good that families offer when they do it God’s way.

We need to celebrate the family, offering support, encouragement, and a safe place from a world that criticizes and wants to stop it.

The Next Steps

We can start by celebrating our own family.

Then encourage others with their families too.

Next, we should seek a faith community that supports our efforts to honor God through our family.

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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