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Reviews of Books & Movies

Movie Review: Ben-Hur

A Timeless Classic with Eternal Implications

Ben-Hur (2016) is a story of Jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur who seeks to avoid scrutiny in the first century Jerusalem as he navigates the tricky ground between Jewish zealots and the Roman occupiers, all while doing what is right.

When an act of generosity brings about his ultimate betrayal, Judah ends up a slave. He survives and works his way back to Jerusalem, using his knowledge of horses to do so. He searches for his family and lost love, while seeking reconciliation with his estranged stepbrother.

There is, of course, an epic chariot race at the pinnacle of this action-adventure movie. The story also provides intrigue, interesting personal dynamics, and romantic elements, offering something for everyone.

We see Jesus in a minor recurring role throughout the movie’s overall arc, but his climatic crucifixion toward the end and what happens afterward is the major point of the movie and a most rewarding conclusion.

If you’ve not seen this 2016 version of Ben-Hur, check it out. Or watch it again.

Ben-Hur Background and Other Versions

A big reason why I put off watching the 2016 version, was that I had been underwhelmed by the 1959 version, despite it starring Charlton Heston. Though critically acclaimed and award-winning—winning eleven Oscars—the long-run time of 3:32 minutes was enough to deter my appreciation or discourage additional contemplation. That was a mistake.

In addition to the well-known 2016 and 1959 versions of the movie, IMDb notes additional productions of Ben-Hur. Major ones include the original 1907 silent short, lasting fifteen minutes; the longer 1925 silent movie, lasting 2:23 and which was later dubbed with music and sound effects for re-release in 1931, and a Ben Hur miniseries in 2010, which interestingly was only three hours long.

The story originates from an 1880 book Ben-Hur: The Tale of Christ written by Louis Wallace. The best-selling book was called the most influential Christian book of nineteenth century.

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52 Churches

Playing it Safe

Our destination is not a church to visit but a revisit, returning to the congregation we were part of a decade ago.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #52

1. This church would be bigger, except they keep sending members away to plant new churches. 

How could your church do better at sending people into the world to advance God’s kingdom?

2. After the service the pastor invites people to come forward for prayer with the prayer teams. I appreciate them serving people through prayer, but few churches do. Don’t they see prayer as important? 

How can you elevate prayer at your church?

3. Today we heard an insightful message from a gifted communicator. We enjoyed worship led by talented musicians. Yet something felt off. They have a traditional soul. “Safe” best describes their vibe; they are playing is safe. 

How can you help move your church from playing it safe to being bold for Jesus?

4. I had meaningful conversations today, but they were all with people I knew. If I had shown up as a stranger, I would have departed as a stranger, feeling more alone than when I had arrived. 

What can you do to make sure no one leaves your church feeling like a stranger?

[See the prior set of questions or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

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Christian Living

Why is Pentecost Important?

Celebrating Holy Spirit Power

In another post we talked about the four main Christian holidays. In succession, they celebrate that Jesus came to earth (Christmas), died so we could live (Good Friday), overcame death to prove his mastery of it (Easter), and having completed his mission, he gave us a gift (Pentecost).

Pentecost is the conclusion of the Easter story.

Here’s the progression of events leading up to Pentecost:

Jesus Goes Home

Having completed his mission here on earth, Jesus returns to heaven (Mark 16:19).

Jesus Prepares a Place for Us

As followers of Jesus, we look forward to the time we will join him in heaven and spend the rest of forever with him. As we wait for that day, he is getting ready to welcome us (John 14:2-3).

Jesus Listens to Our Prayers and Intercedes for Us to God the Father

How wonderful to know Jesus is in heaven as our advocate, representing us to his Father, our Heavenly Father (Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus Sends Us the Holy Spirit on Pentecost

This is the climax; this is Pentecost. When Jesus returns to heaven, he does not abandon us; he sends the Holy Spirit to comfort us and guide us. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in us, an essential aspect of putting our faith into action (John 16:7).

Pentecost reminds me of these things, foundational to my faith: that we will one day join Jesus in heaven, that we can pray to him now, and that we can live in concert with the Holy Spirit every day.

Today is Pentecost. Even though I’ll go to church, I don’t expect they’ll celebrate what this day means; they may not even mention it. This is a travesty, which is why I’m remembering it now.

Today, whether privately or with friends, I hope you’ll celebrate Pentecost and all it means.

Happy Pentecost!

Read more about this in Peter’s new 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.

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Bible Insights

The Bible Personifies Wisdom

What the Bible Teaches About Wisdom May Shock Us

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about wisdom. The word pops up in fifty-five versus in this thirty-one-chapter book. That’s a lot of wisdom. This may be the reason why many think of Proverbs as a book of wisdom.

As Solomon and his co-writers compile the proverbs in this book, the reoccurring theme of wisdom takes an interesting turn in chapter 8. In this, we see Wisdom personified.

This means instead of being an abstract concept to pursue, Wisdom takes on the characteristics of a person, perhaps the expression of a spiritual entity.

To consider Wisdom as a feminine side of God fills me with a sense of wonder and awe. Click To Tweet

Wisdom Personified Is Female

First, we’re introduced to Wisdom as female. I like that. Wisdom stands at the fork in the road. She calls us to listen. She speaks truth. The discerning accepts her words as right. They possess knowledge.

Then we read what Wisdom has to say. We encounter the words of Wisdom as someone speaking to us and advising us. It’s an interesting read. Be sure not to miss it.

Wisdom Witnessed Creation

Even more amazing, however, is what Wisdom reveals about herself. Midway through her discourse, Wisdom shocks us by saying she was there when Father God created our reality.

This means that Wisdom existed before creation. She was there prior to the beginning of time. She witnessed creation, therefore she wasn’t created.

This causes me to ask, just who is Wisdom?

I wonder if Wisdom is a facet of God. If so, I find comfort that God has a feminine side. To talk about God as our heavenly father and his son as our Savior, while comforting to most, is decidedly masculine. To consider Wisdom as a feminine side of God fills me with a sense of awe.

Though the Bible teaches us much about God, there’s so much more that we still don’t know. One day we will understand it all. After our time here on earth is over and we join God in the spiritual realm, he will explain everything to us—or maybe she will.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Proverbs 8-11, and today’s post is on Proverbs 8:27.]

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

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Christian Living

What is the Purpose of Church?

Make Sure Your Faith Community Focuses on the Right Thing

We need to examine the purpose of church. Why do we meet each week? What are our goals when we come together? What should our focus be? Though people will give various answers, the responses fall into two broad categories: ourselves and others.

Church Is for Christians

Some people feel the purpose of church is to serve its members, the saints who’ve been made right through Jesus. Their right standing in him places them on the inside. They expect church to meet their needs and their wants. If the church disappoints them in the slightest, most will go church shopping and leave for another destination that better matches their expectations.

If the purpose of church is to serve its members—and to a lesser extent, its attendees—it has an internal focus. It seeks to serve itself. Some people call this navel gazing.

The church’s initiatives seek to meet the preferences of its members. It does this by feeding the flock each Sunday morning (never mind that we’re supposed to feed ourselves), providing programs that the members want, and having a pastoral team that jumps whenever a member calls.

Churches for the Lost

Others say that the purpose of church is evangelism, to rescue the lost who need Jesus to save them. In this case, these churches have an external focus. They want to reach the world for Jesus, to convert sinners and bring them into the fold.

This fulfills Jesus’s final instruction to his followers to go out into the world and tell people about him (Matthew 28:19-20). We sometimes call this command, the great commission.

Churches Are for Both

Most churches claim to be for both the Christians (the insiders) and the lost (the outsiders). This is a more appropriate position with the implicit intent being to prepare the insiders to go into the world to connect with the outsiders.

Yet this seldom happens. Or if it does only a small minority follow through by going out and telling others about Jesus.

Most churches that claim to have both an inward and outward focus, however, major in meeting the members expectations and minor in telling the world about Jesus.

Though their ideals say one thing, their actions and investments counter that claim.

Do our actions honor Jesus by following his commands? If not, this is an ideal place to start. Click To Tweet

The Purpose of Church

The purpose of church should be to prepare its people to go into the world. In doing so they serve as a witness for Jesus through their actions and their words.

Though many people worry about the words they will say, their initial concern should be about their actions. This is because few will listen to what we say if what we do turns them off first.

Do our actions honor Jesus by following his commands? If not, this is an ideal place to start.

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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52 Churches

The Megachurch, a Grand and Welcoming Experience

I’m both excited and apprehensive about visiting our area’s largest church, a megachurch.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #51

1. A sign at their drive tells first-time visitors to turn on their four-way flashers—because they want to give us VIP treatment. I don’t bother and follow the flow of cars, but it’s a nice touch. 

What can you do to give visitors VIP treatment?

2. After the opening set, one of the co-pastors explains that it’s nametag Sunday, something new they’re trying to facilitate better connections with one another. 

How can you help people connect with each other?

3. After the service I turn in our visitor card and they offer a tour of the facility. Our guide wraps up with a challenge to come back for three months to see how our faith grows. “You can’t evaluate a church on just one visit.” 

How can you encourage others on their faith journey?

4. While making connection was a concern at Church #50, forming meaningful friendships would be even harder here at this megachurch. But they do offer opportunities to meet people and form deeper relationships on Sunday nights and throughout the week. 

How can you help people connect at your church?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

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Bible Insights

God’s Spirit to Be Poured Out on All People

The New Testament Cites the Old Testament

Many passages in the New Testament of the Bible quote parts of the Old Testament, which was written hundreds of years before. In some versions of the Bible, footnotes—added by the translators—refer us to the original text.

Holy Spirit

One verse, however, cites the source in the text, not a footnote. It’s in the book of Acts, where Peter directly references what the prophet Joel said. Here’s what happens:

Jesus tells the disciples that he will send the Holy Spirit to them to help and guide them. The Holy Spirit shows up and things get crazy. There’s the sound of a strong wind, the appearance of flames of fire, and the disciples preach in other languages (Acts 2:1-13).

The people can’t comprehend what’s happening. They freak out. They blame it on too much wine. This explanation is plausible for the crowd, who has never seen the Holy Spirit at work, empowering people to speak in other languages.

God’s Spirit

Peter sets them straight. He reminds them that Joel foretold about this infilling of the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit. The prophet wrote, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28-30).

Joel says it will happen. Peter and his pals experience it. And spiritual power and reality changes forever. God gives the Holy Spirit to them. And from that day forward, all who follow Jesus will have God’s Spirit in them too. Yes, everyone—all. That means them, and it means us. You and me. All. 

As a result, crazy, Holy Spirit things can happen to us too. But many of Jesus’s followers today dismiss this indwelling Holy Spirit. In doing so, they dismiss the power of God’s Spirit in them and in directing their lives.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Joel 1-3, and today’s post is on Joel 2:28-29.]

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

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. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s new book, Dear Theophilus, Minor Prophets: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope

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

Though David Says That God Is “My Refuge,” I Doubt David Feels It

When it Comes to God, Should We “Fake it Till We Make It?”

Psalm 142 is a prayer of lament. David’s hiding in a cave, likely fearing for his life. He feels alone with no one walking alongside him or having any concern for him. He cries out that he has no refuge, no protective shelter, no safe place.

Even though it seems his hideout in his cave provides a refuge, it’s a physical safety. Perhaps he also seeks a spiritual refuge. He feels he has none.

In his despair, he cries out to God. He writes, “I say, ‘you are my refuge,’”

Note that he doesn’t proclaim that God is “my refuge.” How could he do that when he just said he has no refuge? He merely says that he said it, not that he confidently believes that God is “my refuge.”

Push Through the Doubt

This reminds me of the phrase, “Fake it, till you make it.” I’m not sure how I feel about this adage when it comes to God and spiritual matters, or when it comes to anything, for that matter. But it seems that’s what David does.

Though he says God is my refuge, he doesn’t believe it. Not at that moment. But he prays it anyway. He’s pushing through his doubt, hoping to reemerge to find confidence in God again.

David isn’t being disingenuous in his prayer. He’s being honest—bluntly honest—as honest as he can be in that moment. He’s struggling to reach out to God amid despair and overwhelming opposition.

My Refuge

Intellectually, David may know that God is “my refuge,” but emotionally he’s not feeling it. Physically he’s not seeing it. Yet spiritually he pushes through. He cries out to God, saying words in faith that he can’t yet put his confidence in.

When we’re struggling, hurting, or afraid, may we follow David’s example. Click To Tweet

But he knows he’ll get there. He knows that his weak prayer will move him from human doubt to godly confidence. And God, I suspect, patiently waits for David to get there, for David to get to a point where he moves from going through the motions to a place of faith.

So David can boldly proclaim, “You are my refuge!” (Psalm 142:4-5, NIV).

When we’re struggling, hurting, or afraid, may we follow David’s example.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 140-144, and today’s post is on Psalm 142:4-5.]

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

We Need an Emergent Mindset

Seek Ways to Make Our Faith Communities Relevant to a Postmodern World

In the early 2000s there was much talk about the emergent church. The idea was to address shrinking church attendance by taking steps to be more pertinent to a younger audience, many who dismissed the religious practices of prior generations. These people weren’t turning their backs on Jesus, however, just the institutional church. Therefore, churches need an emergent mindset.

Though this need is even more pronounced now than ever, we don’t hear much about the emergent church movement anymore. But this wasn’t a fad that died out. It’s more likely that the people doing this aren’t talking or writing about it. My post, “What Happened to the Emergent Church?” addresses this.

Even so, for churches to remain pertinent to changing demographics, they need to embrace an emergent mindset. First, we need some background. In my post I wrote:

“The emergence movement seeks to reimagine church in fresh, new ways to connect with a disenfranchised society that is open to spirituality, albeit apart from the traditional church.”

What does this emergent mindset mean for today’s churches?

Avoid the Status Quo

If churches do the same things they’ve always done, they’ll get the same results. This means that for churches that want to reverse their decline in attendance will need to reverse their practices. This doesn’t mean they must change, or even should change, what they believe and teach—providing that it’s biblical. Instead, they need to reevaluate everything else they do that surrounds it.

Many churches today struggle with declining attendance and an aging congregation. For most of them, the only time they grow is when another declining church closes and those members seek another place to attend.

Advocate Change

To move away from status-quo church practices means to embrace change. Most people, however, don’t like change. This is especially true with long-time church members who have fixed expectations. They may oppose needed changes by threatening to withhold donations. They may even follow through.

In short, they use money to selfishly manipulate the church into doing what they want her to do.

To avoid this unproductive response as much as possible requires teaching about the need to adapt to meet changing societal expectations. Becoming what future generations need and will be drawn to requires an emergent mindset. This can help churches grow numerically and not shrink.

Launch New Initiatives

After about ten years of existence, churches move toward becoming institutions. As they do so, self-preservation becomes key and most other activities become secondary.

If you think your church is the exception to this truth, look at your numeric growth. If it’s stagnant, you are an institution. If you’re seeing healthy, Jesus-focused growth, you may have overcome this generalization. It’s also likely that you have an emergent mindset.

For everyone else, know that doing what’s required to attract the next generation is most difficult from inside an institution. Instead of attempting to do this from within, an alternative is to launch a new initiative that comes from your established church but is not a part of it.

Just make sure that this initiative your launching is truly something fresh and not merely repackaging what already isn’t working.

Make sure your church is around and viable to help future generations encounter Jesus in meaningful ways. Click To Tweet

Embrace the Emergent Mindset

Make sure your church is around and viable to help future generations encounter Jesus in meaningful ways. Doing so will require you to stop doing what you’re currently doing, embrace change, and start a fresh way for people to experience God.

It won’t be easy, but it is essential.

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Peter DeHaan News

For Unto Us

40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah

In a world of distractions, this devotional Bible study on Isaiah reminds us where to put our focus and what this faithful prophet can teach us.

Isaiah’s powerful words in the Old Testament look forward to a time when the Messiah will come, the much-anticipated king who will rule over Israel.

Although Isaiah’s key message was directed toward the Israelites, his words still bring hope and comfort to a weary world today. For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that Jesus not only came to dwell among us, but is still our wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, and prince of peace.

For Unto Us offers forty days of practical teaching and inspirational encouragement as we study the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and their connection to Jesus and how we live today.

This devotional Bible study offers a compelling look at Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messiah—the promised one of Israel who brings hope and peace.

For Unto Us will help you to:

  • hold on to a strong faith when times are uncertain
  • foster a sense of awe of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished
  • pursue justice for the vulnerable
  • embrace the coming savior who will welcome all people of all nations
  • inform our life today for a better tomorrow

For Unto Us gives accessible and no-nonsense insights into God’s most prolific prophet. You’ll learn how to connect his writing to your life and apply his words to your world today. With practical application questions and additional resources, you’ll discover an amazing prophet whose words can still inspire us.

For Unto Us is a great resource for those searching for an accessible and clear devotional on Isaiah that won’t overwhelm. Open the pages of this book, and uncover the truths of Scripture that bring comfort and hope each day. 

Get your copy of For Unto Us today.

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.