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Christian Living

Is Ascension Day the Fifth Christian Holy Day?

Celebrate Jesus’s Return to Heaven, Which Prepares the Way for Pentecost

In my post The Four Main Christian Celebrations, I list for holy days (holidays) that smartly recognize Jesus and succinctly outline the key elements of his life and what he did for us. These Christian holidays are:

  1. Jesus’s Birthday (Christmas)
  2. Jesus’s Sacrificial Death (Good Friday)
  3. Resurrection Sunday (Easter)
  4. Pentecost

I wonder if I should add Ascension Day to the list. It is, after all, a critical element in the arc of Jesus’s life.

What is Ascension Day?

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Resurrection Sunday (better known as Easter). On Easter Jesus rises from the dead. He spends forty days with his friends and followers to prove he is alive.

Then he gives his disciples the directive to wait in Jerusalem for a special gift—the Holy Spirit—that Papa will send (Acts 1:4). After his parting words, he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).

Ascension Day falls on Thursday, so the date differs each year.

Out of convenience many churches acknowledge Jesus’s returned to heaven on the following Sunday, which they call Ascension Sunday—even though it didn’t happen on the first day of the week.

Ascension Day is critical, for Jesus had to return to heaven before his followers—and we—could receive the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus leaving, Pentecost couldn’t have occurred.

The Five Holidays That Commemorate Jesus’s Life

Putting these five days together reveals a sound theological understanding of the essential role Jesus plays in our faith journey. Here it is:

Jesus comes to earth (Christmas). After he spends three years to teach his disciples and talk about the kingdom of God, he dies as our once-and-for-all sacrifice to cover all the mistakes we—and everyone else throughout time—have ever made (Good Friday).

To prove he has the authority to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, he overcomes death by rising from the dead (Easter). After confirming he is alive, he returns to heaven (Ascension Day) so that we may receive the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

Recognizing these five days as Christian holy days and celebrating these holidays reminds us each year of the essential elements of the gospel story, God’s good news to save humanity.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy 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.

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Bible Insights

The Great Commission

Go and Make Disciples

Today’s passage: Matthew 28:18–20

Focus verse: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

As Jesus prepares to return to heaven, he has one final bit of instruction for his disciples. He commissions them to continue what he started and tell others the good news about how he died in their place to save them from their sins.

The Bible records these final instructions in three places—here in Matthew, as well as in Mark and Acts. Each differs from the others. We’ll cover each one in turn in our next three readings.

The most common one occurs in Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Over the years I’ve heard many preachers speak on this passage. It’s often called the Great Commission.

It’s great because no other commissioning charge is more important than telling the world about Jesus.

Jesus begins by saying that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. Implicitly he imparts this authority to his followers. Based on this he tells them to go and make disciples—everywhere.

He doesn’t tell them to make converts. He tells them to make disciples. Contrary to how most churches behave today, converts—or new members—isn’t the goal.

Disciples are what matters to Jesus. If it matters to Jesus, it should matter to us.

Jesus also tells them to go to all nations. Two thousand years ago most Jews assumed the promised Savior was coming for their nation only and no others.

Yet a careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that God planned all along that Jesus would save Gentiles, too, not just the Jews. The Scriptures allude to this multiple times.

As Jesus’s followers go and make disciples, they’re to do two things: baptize and teach.

Baptism is a public testimony of aligning with Jesus. Most of his followers today make much about baptism, arguing over how it should occur and what it means.

In considering these issues, we must remember the rebel crucified next to Jesus. Jesus promised him salvation based on his verbal assent, and he was never baptized.

Though baptism is important, the meaning behind it is even more important. Hold on to this truth.

The other thing the disciples are to do is teach. Jesus wants them to teach people to obey everything he commanded them to do.

But the people are supposed to obey Jesus’s commands, not the Old Testament ones. This is a key distinction.

Jesus commanded little of us. We’re supposed to follow and believe in him (Matthew 16:24 and John 11:25).

Next, we are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37–40, Luke 10:27, and 1 John 3:23). If we do these things, we’ll be in great shape.

Jesus concludes by saying that he’ll be with us always, even to the end of time. And he’ll do this through the Holy Spirit who will arrive in a few days.

Questions:

  • What should our response be to Jesus’s final instructions to his followers?
  • What are we doing to obey Jesus’s essential command to make disciples?

Prayer: Jesus, wherever we go may we tell others about you and make disciples.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy 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.

Categories
Bible Insights

Making God in Our Image

It is popular in today’s society for people to form their own religious beliefs and define their own personal spirituality.

On the surface this seems right, fair, and appropriately open-minded. It is the epitome of tolerance and acceptance. It is also dangerous.

If I decide that there is no hell, does that mean it doesn’t exist, thereby keeping me from it?

If I decide that doing good things can earn God’s attention and eternal favor, does that negate the punishment I deserve for the wrong things that I do and the need to be made right with the creator?

In a more down-to-earth example, what if I determine that there is a justifiable reason (that is, “extenuating circumstances”) to speed, does that protect me from a speeding ticket or remove the consequences for the accident that I may cause?

Of course not!

Too many people take a bit of this religion and that religion, stir in some popular opinion, and top it off with their logic and self-interest.

The result is not a bona fide religion or cohesive belief system, but false hope in a false belief, which produces only good feelings and nothing else.

In essence, this popular approach is an effort to make God in our image. We forget that he created us in his image.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 96-100 and today’s post is on Psalm 100:3.]

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
Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, 28: The Sin That Leads to Death

Today’s passage: 1 John 5:16–17

Focus verse: There is a sin that leads to death. (1 John 5:16)

Today’s passage teaches us some unusual things about prayer. 

First, John encourages us to pray for others when we notice sin in their lives. This isn’t all people, but our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Then God will give them life. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for others in this way.

Even so, I’ve heard the plaintive prayers of parents over the sins of a wayward child.

Yet this praying for the sins of others isn’t just John’s idea. James gives a similar instruction. He tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another. Then we’ll receive healing (James 5:16).

I’ve joined in with these kinds of prayers, but it’s always because the person I’m praying for has requested it.

John and James want us to pray for the sins of other believers. Therefore, we should.

Yet these prayers are for sins that don’t lead to death. John suggests that we don’t pray for the sins of others that do lead to death.

What is a sin that leads to death? The question is enough to give us pause.

The Bible has accounts of sin that lead to immediate death.

There are Ananias and Sapphira, whom God strikes down for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–10).

There is also Herod, whom the Lord strikes down for accepting glory for himself and not giving it to God (Acts 12:21–23).

A third example of immediate death occurs when Korah stirs up dissidents to oppose the leadership of Moses. God is not pleased and punishes some of them by opening the ground to swallow them.

Then he sends fire from heaven to consume the rest (Numbers 16:1–35).

This sin that leads to death could also relate to the unpardonable sin that Jesus talks about: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The context is the religious teachers who claim Jesus drives out demons because Beelzebul, the prince of demons, possesses him.

They say this instead of giving the credit to Jesus—or implicitly the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24–32, Mark 3:22–30, and Luke 12:10).

The unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It dismisses or even denies Holy Spirit power and his work to produce signs and wonders.

It worries me when I hear people claim that the evidentiary works of the Holy Spirit ended with the age of the apostles and no longer exist in our world today. In essence they dismiss the Holy Spirit.

Are they in danger of blasphemy against him and committing the unpardonable sin?

On an imperative level, the sin that leads to death is the sin of rejecting Jesus as the Son of God and as our Messiah. Yet, as we discussed in yesterday’s reading, it’s God’s will that none should perish, so we should pray for their salvation.

Keep in mind, though, that once a person who has spurned Jesus is dead, their decision is final, and our prayers cannot overcome their permanent rejection of the Messiah. Their choice has led to their eternal death.

These ideas of sins that lead to death are all speculation, for we can’t know for sure, but we should exercise care to guard against each one.

Questions:

  1. How can we best pray for the sins of other Christians? 
  2. Beyond that, how else can we pray for other believers?
  3. How should we react to the sins that lead to death?
  4. If we are a true follower of Jesus, do we need to worry about the sin that leads to death? Why?
  5. What should be our proper perspective of Holy Spirit power?

Discover more about sin and death in Romans 6:23, Romans 8:1–2, and Romans 8:10.

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

Do We Live Close to the World or Keep a Safe Distance?

We Must Pick Up Our Cross and Follow Jesus

Many people profess Jesus but follow the world instead of following him. We shouldn’t live close to the world. We should keep a safe distance.

Though we don’t need to change our behavior to earn God’s favor, we should want to change in response for what he did for us. We’ll be better off when we do.

Live as Close to the World as You Can

Many people who claimed to be a Christian don’t act like it. Someone watching what these folks say and do would see them as no different from people of no faith.

The thought-provoking question is, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The sad reality for too many is no. The case would be thrown out for lack of evidence.

Or if some convicting evidence could be found, it would be more than offset by a large amount of counter evidence. The preponderance of proof would support acquittal.

These people live close to the world and have no credible witness in it. They are a Christian in name only, but their faith is dead (James 2:18).

Keep as Safe of a Distance as We Are Able

The alternative is to remove ourselves from the world. But this isn’t a call to isolation. Instead, it’s a plea to distance ourselves from worldly influences.

In short, we must keep a safe distance from sin.

If we don’t, we will eventually be pulled into it. This isn’t a salvation issue. It’s a commitment issue.

Yet too many people who carry the Christian label strive to live as close to the world—as close to sin—as possible. They live a life that’s little different from anyone else. They don’t stand out. They blend in.

Others wrongly conclude that since they’re saved by grace, they can live whatever life they want. This includes a life of sin. But they’re wrong (Romans 6:1-2).

A Buffer for Our Benefit

Pursuing righteousness—that is, striving to live right for Jesus—isn’t to remove all the fun from our life. It’s to give us freedom.

As followers of Jesus, we have the freedom to really live, to live for him and not be shackled by the consequences and guilt produced from worldly pleasures.

When we live like the world lives, we run the very real risk of being sucked into it—and away from God.

There’s no buffer to keep us safe. We’ve eliminated it.

There’s no guardrail to keep us from plummeting over the edge.

When we obey God’s commands, we establish a buffer between us and the world’s negative influences. This keeps us safer from evil and the temptation to sin. This starts with how we think, which influences what we do.

Then we can keep a safe distance from the forces that threaten to harm us.

Follow Jesus—and Only Him

But we shouldn’t do this with legalistic fervor or erect judgmental attitudes towards others. This lifestyle of right living should follow as a natural progression that results when we fully follow Jesus, when we become his disciple (Luke 9:23).

The result of following Jesus as his disciple is that we no longer live close to the world. Instead, we keep a safe distance from it and the sin that threatens to pull us away and distract us from our Lord.

We must not look back (Luke 9:62). We must press on (Philippians 3:10-14).

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 Glossary

A Quick Start Guide to Key Terms in 52 Churches

Some terms in the book 52 Churches may not be familiar to all readers, such as those who don’t go to church, those accustomed to one denomination, or those familiar with only one stream of Christianity.

These definitions aren’t comprehensive, as they provide only information relevant to the book. Also included are context and commentary when it might help.

Apostles’ Creed: A formal statement of faith, concisely summarizing core Christian beliefs. Many churches recite this in unison during their church services. Widely accepted, it dates to the fourth century, possibly earlier. An alternative, and longer, creed is the Nicene Creed.

baptism: A religious ritual or spiritual ceremony involving water. It has various forms, ranging from applying, to sprinkling, to full body immersion (“dunking”). It also possesses various meanings, from a profession of belief, to preparation for a future faith, to a required ritual. Sadly, much disagreement, and even physical confrontation, has surrounded baptism and its various practices over the centuries.

baptistry: The place where baptisms occur. Depending on the method, the baptistry may be a font providing water to sprinkle on the recipient (especially infants) or a tub or pool for the immersion of a person into water.

Baptist: 1) Various Christian denominations include Baptist in their name and go by baptist. They fall into the evangelical stream of Christianity. 2) Generally, a baptist is one who practices baptism of adult believers as a sign of faith.

Bible: The central book of Christian faith. It is comprised of various genres, from many authors, written over a span of a couple millennia. It’s often called God’s Word or the Holy Bible, and believers regard it with reverence.

call: 1) A formal process by which a church congregation invites or hires a minister to work at or lead their church; they issue a call. 2) A supernatural sense of God’s leading to direct Christians to take a specific action; they feel called by God.

charismatic: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are mainline and evangelical.

Chrislam: A comingling of Christianity and Islam.

Christian: A person who is like Christ or Jesus; someone who follows or aligns with Jesus.

Church/church: 1) The universal collective of people who follow Jesus. 2) A denomination or local congregation. 3) The physical building where Christians meet, often on Sunday.

clergy: Formally trained or ordained church leaders, often paid. Also known as ministers, priests, and pastors. Contrast to laity.

closed communion: Communion offered only to members or those formally approved to receive it. Contrast to open communion.

communion: An act initiated by Jesus of symbolically sharing bread (or crackers or wafers) and wine (or grape juice) to remind his followers of his sacrificial death. Christians have continued this practice in various forms. It’s also called Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, the Eucharist, or Holy Eucharist.

congregation: A group of Christians who regularly meet together as a formalized group.

consubstantial: (adjective) the persons of the Christian godhead, who are three persons in one. See Trinity.

contemporary service: A church meeting that follows present-day practices in their music, message, and format. Contrast to traditional service and compare to seeker-sensitive.

cross: The Romans—in collusion with Jewish religious leadership—executed, or crucified, Jesus on a cross. It became a symbol for his followers. It has taken on diverse meanings and significances over the centuries and across various Christian practices. Most church sanctuaries have one or more crosses. Many people expect to see crosses in churches. Crosses are common in Protestant faith practices, which celebrate Jesus as the risen savior. Compare to crucifix.

crucifix: A replica of Jesus on a cross, which celebrates him as the dying savior. Crucifixes are common in Roman Catholic faith practices. Compare to cross.

deacon: A person, often elected or appointed, who fills various service or leadership roles in a local church or denomination. Some churches have both elders and deacons, whereas others just have deacons. Not all churches have deacons.

denomination: An organization of like-minded churches sharing a common affinity, beliefs, or history. Some denominations exercise tight oversight of their local congregations, whereas others serve more as a resource or means for interchurch cooperation. Once important to most Christians, denominations now carry less significance, with increasing numbers of people seeking nondenominational or unaffiliated congregations.

Easter: A significant Christian holiday celebrating Jesus’s resurrection, having nothing in common with the secular practice of Easter bunnies and eggs.

ecumenical: Generically, relating to worldwide Christianity or the universal church. There are also formal ecumenical organizations, which seek unity and the civil co-existence of diverse Christian expressions, beliefs, and practices. In a broader sense, but not used in this book, ecumenical can also embrace all religions and forms of spirituality.

elder: A person, often elected or appointed, who fills various service or leadership roles in a local church or denomination. Some churches have both elders and deacons, whereas others just have elders. Not all churches have elders.

elements: The two components of communion: bread (sometimes represented by crackers or wafers) and wine (or grape juice).

Enemy: Satan; the devil.

ESV: English Standard Version, a translation of the Bible.

Eucharist: See communion.

evangelical: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are mainline and charismatic.

expository preaching: A style of biblical instruction that can take many forms, but most of the time it’s a minister or teacher explaining a passage of the Bible, verse by verse. An alternate style is topical preaching. Both have their advocates and detractors.

faith: 1) A set of religious beliefs. 2) Confidence in what is unknown or intangible.

faith community: 1) A local church. 2) Any gathering of like-minded people of faith.

fast/fasting: To give up something, usually food, for a time, often associated with Lent.

fundamental: See evangelical.

Gospel: 1) The good news or message of Jesus. 2) One of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

high church: In a generic sense, a more formal church service that shuns modernism and uses liturgy. The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches exemplify this, as do many mainline (“name brand”) churches. Contrast to low church.

Holy Bible: See Bible.

hymn: A religious song, typically older and traditional, usually formal and sung with organ accompaniment, and often in Old English. Some worship leaders update the words and use guitar accompaniment to make hymns more accessible to postmodern audiences.

hymnal: A book that contains the words and music for hundreds of hymns; some also include modern songs and choruses.

intinction: One method of taking Communion, by dipping the bread (or cracker) into the juice (or wine) and partaking of the two elements together.

Jesus: The central character in the New Testament and the basis for Christian faith. He is part of the Christian Godhead, or Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

KJV: King James Version, a translation of the Bible, commissioned by King James of England in the early 1600s. Although formal, using Elizabethan English, it remains a popular version. It’s the only English version of the Bible in the public domain and not subject to copyright restrictions. This is likely one reason for its ongoing use.

laity: The attendees of a local church; not a minister. Contrast to clergy.

layperson: A non-ordained (not a minister) participant in a local church. See laity.

Lent: The forty days before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and sometimes accompanied by fasting or penance in preparation for, or anticipation of, Easter.

Lectionary: A structured list of Bible passages designed to methodically cover the entire Bible over time, with three years being common. Some churches, often high churches, incorporate the lectionary into their weekly service and some ministers use it as the foundation for their teaching each Sunday.

liturgy: A formal, written portion of a church service, said in unison or responsively. Advocates of liturgy appreciate its standard wording, which has often withstood time. It offers a thorough, theologically inclusive faith practice. Detractors label it as rigid and not open to local expressions or the Holy Spirit’s leading. See high church, which tends to be liturgical and low church, which tends to be non-liturgical.

Lord’s Prayer: The prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Many congregations recite this prayer in unison as part of their service. The prayer is in Matthew 6:9–13. Some people call this prayer the “Our Father,” based on its first two words. Some churches (often Protestant) include an addendum to the prayer, which isn’t in all Bibles. Other churches (such as Roman Catholic) omit this extra text.

Lord’s Supper: See communion.

low church: A useful, but perhaps derogatory, term to describe the opposite of high church. Low churches are less traditional and more current than high churches. Their services typically avoid liturgy. Evangelical and charismatic churches are generally low churches. Contrast to high church.

kneeling rails: A piece of furniture found in some churches, often part of pews, to provide a more comfortable way for congregants to kneel, either before the service or as part of it.

mainline: One of the three main streams of Protestantism. The other two are evangelical and charismatic.

mass: Also known as the Eucharist, the main act of worship at a Roman Catholic Church. See communion.

May Crowning: A traditional Roman Catholic celebration that occurs each May to honor the Virgin Mary.

message: The sermon, teaching, or lecture portion of a church service.

minister: 1) (noun) A person, often formally trained and ordained, who heads up a local church. See clergy. 2) (verb) The act of serving or helping others.

Missal: A liturgical book of instructions and texts needed to celebrate mass in the Roman Catholic Church.

modern: In this book, used to reference the modern era, which is roughly the last five centuries. To minimize confusion, other applications warranting the word modern in this book use contemporary or present-day instead. Contrast to postmodern and premodern.

NAB: New American Bible, a translation of the Bible, often used by the Roman Catholic Church.

NASB: New American Standard Bible, a translation of the Bible, updating the American Standard Bible (ASB).

Nicene Creed: A formal statement of faith, concisely summarizing core Christian beliefs. Some churches recite this in unison during their church services. A more common alternative is the shorter Apostles’ Creed. See Apostles’ Creed.

NIV: New International Version, a translation of the Bible. It is one of the most popular and commonly used versions.

NKJV: New King James Version, a translation of the Bible that updates the Old English found in the KJV.

NLT: New Living Translation, a present-day paraphrase of the Bible.

nondenominational: A church that is not part of a denomination. They are independent of outside influence, governance, or oversight. Contrast to denomination.

Non-liturgical: The opposite of liturgical. A non-liturgical church service doesn’t use prescribed texts or scripts as part of its proceedings. Contrast to liturgical.

NRSV: New Revised Standard Version, a translation of the Bible that updates the older RSV (Revised Standard Version).

nursery: Many churches provide a nursery to care for children while their parents or caregivers attend the church service.

ordination: A formal approval process, often culminating in a reverent ceremony, whereby a church or denomination officially recognizes a person to serve as a minister.

open communion: Communion offered to both church members and nonmembers, albeit often with some limitations, such as affirming a basic set of beliefs or having been baptized. Some churches place no restrictions whatsoever on people partaking communion. Contrast to closed communion.

Our Father: See Lord’s Prayer.

outreach: To go beyond oneself or church to serve, help, or tell others about Jesus.

pastor: See minister and compare to priest and clergy.

penance: An act often associated with Lent where people express sorrow over their wrongdoing. This can take the form of fasting, contrition, confession, the acceptance of punishment, and, in extreme cases, though not recommended, self-mortification.

pews: Wooden benches, sometimes with padding, used in many traditional church sanctuaries for attendees to sit on during services. Many contemporary churches opt for chairs instead of pews.

postmodern: That which follows the modern era; the present time. In general, younger people have a postmodern perspective, whereas older folks have a modern one. Contrast to modern and premodern.

praise: To exalt, extol, or worship God.

pray/prayer: Communication with God, sometimes formally and other times informally. Prayer can include praise, thanksgiving, confession, and requests for self or others.

premodern: The period of history just prior to the modern era and following the ancient era. Some of today’s traditional church practices emanate from the premodern era. Although having pronounced differences, there are also similarities between the premodern and postmodern mindset. Contrast to modern and postmodern.

priest: The recognized authority in Roman Catholic Churches, and some high churches, who conducts worship services, administers the sacraments, and handles the daily functions of a local parish. Compare to minister and see clergy.

Protestant: One facet of Christianity. See streams of Protestantism.

pulpit supply: A formal or informal source of people—sometimes trained and ordained, but not always—who can conduct a church service and give a message when the regular minister is unavailable.

resurrection: To rise from the dead. Jesus resurrected from the dead after his execution. Christians celebrate his resurrection on Easter.

ritual: 1) An established, prescribed order of a religious ceremony. 2) Part of an established religious routine or church practice, often subconscious. All churches have rituals, but not all realize it.

Robert’s Rules of Order: An organized set of instructions used to conduct formal decision-making at meetings. Some churches conduct their meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order, either directly or implicitly.

Roman Catholic: One branch of Christianity. See streams of Christianity.

sacrificial death: Christians see Jesus’s execution on the cross as a sacrificial death, completely fulfilling the ritual sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament of the Bible.

sacraments: a standard rite or religious ritual of spiritual significance. Protestants celebrate two sacraments: baptism and communion. Roman Catholics have seven, which include baptism and communion.

salvation: Brought into right standing with God. Within Christianity, there are varied understandings of what constitutes salvation.

sanctuary: The primary section of most church buildings where worship takes place.

seeker-sensitive: Making a church service as accessible as possible to visitors and those unfamiliar with church practices.

sermon: See message.

special music: A song performed at a church service. Many churches, especially contemporary ones, have moved away from this in favor of participatory forms of worship.

Stations of the Cross: A series of artistic representations of Jesus’s final hours on earth, from his capture through to his resurrection from the dead. These are common in Roman Catholic Churches, as well as other high churches.

streams of Christianity: The three main segments of Christian faith: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Compare to streams of Protestantism.

streams of Protestantism: The three main segments of Protestant faith: mainline (liberal), evangelical (conservative or fundamental), and charismatic (often Pentecostal). Compare to streams of Christianity.

supernatural: Relating to the spiritual, not corporeal.

tentmaker: A minister who doesn’t receive compensation from the church they serve, but instead works a day job to be self-supporting. It is a reference to Paul in the Bible who sometimes worked his trade as a tentmaker to support himself in his ministry and not rely on donations.

tithe: Giving ten percent, or one tenth, of income to the church.

The Message: A present-day paraphrase of the Bible.

traditional service: A church service that follows older practices in their music, message, and format. Contrast to contemporary service and seeker-sensitive.

Trinity: The Christian Godhead, or simply God, consisting of God the Father, God the Savior—Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit, but understood as being three entities in one.

Vacation Bible School: Also known as VBS, a short session of summer classes for children that focus on the Bible or biblical principles. It uses kid-friendly teaching, activities, and games. Usually lasting a week or two, Vacation Bible School sometimes culminates in a program for parents. Motivations for conducting VBS vary, from giving biblical instruction, to providing a break in the summer routine, to offering fun activities to kids, or as a community outreach.

Virgin Mary: The mother of Jesus, supernaturally impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

worship: 1) (verb) To show honor, reverence, and adoration to God in various forms. 2) (noun) A church service, as in a worship service.


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

Jesus Restores Peter

Feed My Sheep

Today’s passage: John 21:15–19

Focus verse: Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17)

Right before Jesus was crucified, he predicted that Peter would deny him three times.

The confident disciple was adamant it wouldn’t happen, that he was willing to go to prison and even die for Jesus (Matthew 26:31–35, Mark 14:27–31, Luke 22:31–34, and John 13:37–38).

Yet a few hours later Peter does exactly what Jesus said he would do. He denies knowing his Rabbi three times, with increasing fervor each time, confirming his final denial with an oath.

This supplies a three-fold confirmation that he denies knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69–75, Mark 14:66–72, Luke 22:54–62, and John 18:15–18, 25–27).

Peter must wallow in guilt over how quickly he gave in to fear and disavowed his master. Despite his self-assuredness, Peter is weak. His commitment to Jesus is fickle. His pledge to die for his master means nothing.

Though Peter’s failure could cause him to give up, even to end his life like Judas did, he does not. He sticks around.

This is because of Jesus’s prayer for his disciple. “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

Ever since Jesus rose from the dead, he’s worked to bring Peter back into his fold. He first appears to Peter separately (see Day 21 and Luke 24:34) and then three more times when Peter is with other disciples (Days 22, 25, and 27).

In doing so, Peter knows Jesus has forgiven him and includes him with the other disciples.

Now Jesus completes his disciple’s restoration.

Three times Jesus has Peter affirm his master, with each affirmation offsetting a denial.

It distresses Peter to have to affirm Jesus three times. But consider how much more Jesus must have been distressed for his disciple to deny even knowing him.

Jesus’s first question to Peter is pointed. “Do you love me more than these?” It’s not enough for Peter to profess loving Jesus as much as the other disciples, who didn’t deny him.

Instead, he must profess a greater love. Peter does.

In response to each of Peter’s three affirmations, Jesus tells Peter what to do. The first time he says, “Feed my lambs.” A lamb is a baby sheep. The second time Jesus says, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time the Savior says, “Feed my sheep.”

Who are the sheep Peter is supposed to care for? Jesus’s sheep are his followers, specifically his disciples. Recall that in Jesus’s earlier prayer, he asked his Father that Peter, once restored, would strengthen the brothers.

Though this three-fold restoration sequence is painful for Peter, it’s necessary.

Having now been restored, Jesus tells Peter what will happen when he gets old. Implicitly he’ll be crucified, and his death will glorify God.

But until then, Jesus tells Peter the same thing he did at the start of their time together. “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18–19).

And following Jesus is what matters most.

Questions:

  • How well do we do at following Jesus today?
  • Will we do so for the rest of our lives, regardless of what may happen?

Prayer: Jesus, may we follow you and feed your sheep.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy 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.

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Bible Insights

Make Praise Your Habit

Avoid Complaining and Negativity

If your experience is like mine, you likely know people who are chronic complainers. They seem to be always venting about something that went badly or someone who did them wrong.

Negativity is their default mode, Their glass is half empty.

Their nearly constant negativity makes them hard to be around. Their complaining attitude can be contagious and if we’re not careful they can rub off on us.

This is in sharp contrast to people who are generally positive, who see the good in life and in circumstances. These folks are fun to be around.

Their attitude is uplifting and encouraging, and also contagious. We want their positive demeanor to rub off on us.

Now consider God and us. Do we tend to complain to him, telling him all that is wrong with our lives? Or are we mostly positive, thanking him for all the good that surrounds us?

I wonder if the chronic complainers aren’t God’s favorite people to be around either. Likewise I suspect he delights in those who are thankful.

This thought will surely reform my prayers. After all, the Bible says, “make praise your habit.”

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalms 61-65, and today’s post is on Psalm 64:10.]

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

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Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 27: Ask Anything According to God’s Will

Today’s passage: 1 John 5:13–15

Focus verse: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

When we pray, do we think God hears us? Does he answer our prayers? All of them? The Bible says so. Consider what Scripture teaches.

First, we can have assurance that God does indeed hear our prayers.

John writes that we can be confident God will hear everything we ask and will grant everything we request. But there’s a condition that’s easy to miss, and it’s a critical one.

John stipulates that God will hear our prayers and answer them when we align our requests with his will (1 John 5:14–15).

The challenge for us then is to discover his perspective and pray according to his will. This may not be as hard as we think. Paul writes that we already have the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14–16).

The Holy Spirit can reveal to us the will of God. It’s simple. Each thing the Holy Spirit tells us to do is the will of God. We can count on this because God would never tell us to do something contrary to his will.

For some followers of Jesus, hearing the Holy Spirit is a daily part of life, while others struggle to hear from God, even once. But we should all lean into this and be open to hear from the Holy Spirit.

In this way we will know the will of God.

Another way to know the will of God is to read his written word, the Bible. The Father also reveals his will to us through Scripture. For example, he is not willing that anyone should perish (Matthew 18:14).

Therefore, it’s aligned with his will to pray for the salvation of others. But we must also act according to our prayers.

We plant (tell them about Jesus) and then trust God to make the crop grow (1 Corinthians 3:6) and produce a harvest (2 Corinthians 9:10).

A third way to know the will of God is to spend time with him. As we do, we will get to know him better and develop a stronger sense for what he wants, for his perspective, and for his will.

Enoch can serve as our example in this. He walked so close to God that the Almighty whisked his faithful follower into heaven (Genesis 5:22–24).

We find a fourth way to know God’s will—his good, pleasing, and perfect will—is to not conform to the world, but to transform our thinking by renewing our minds.

When we do this, we’ll understand what God’s will is (Romans 12:2).

In these four ways we can know God’s will. 

When our prayers align with his will, he will answer our requests. But answered prayer isn’t the goal; it’s the outcome.

Our aim should be to know God’s will. May we focus on that.

Questions:

  1. Can we really ask God for anything? Why?
  2. How do we react when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want or when we want? 
  3. Which of the four ways to know God’s will is the most helpful to you?
  4. Which of the four ways to know God’s will do you need to use more?
  5. What should we do to better align our perspective with the will of God?

Discover more about God answering our prayers in 1 John 3:21–22.

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.

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Christian Living

Why I Write about the Bible in Present Tense

Embrace Scripture as Present, Available, and Relevant

In most of my books and a lot of my blog posts I write about the Bible in present tense. This is an intentional effort to remind us that the Bible is not only an ancient text but also one that’s present, available, and relevant to us today.

It takes more effort to write about the Bible in the present tense, but the results are worth it. Consider these reasons why I feel this is an appropriate action:

The Bible Is Alive and Active

The authors of the book of Hebrews write that the word of God is active and alive (Hebrews 4:12). They don’t write it was. They write it is. Present tense.

They go on to state that the word is sharper than any sword, dividing soul, spirit, and body. It judges—that is, it convicts—our thoughts and attitudes.

These are all present tense attributes about Scripture. This is a key reason why I prefer to write about the Bible in present tense.

Note that this verse can also carry a secondary meeting. Recall John writing that Jesus is the Word (John 1:1, 14).

In this way we see that Jesus—as the Word—is also alive and active, penetrating and judging. Again, we will do well to have a present-tense attitude toward our Savior.

The I Am

When God confronts Moses at the burning Bush, he identifies himself as I Am (Exodus 3:14). He’s not I was, but I am.

Less we think this present-tense identifier of Father God only applies to Moses, John also references this several times in his biography of Jesus.

In it, Jesus, likewise, identifies as I am. He does this several times (John 4:26, John 8:58, John 13:19, and John 18:5-8). Though the NIV presents this as I am, other versions of the Bible use I Am or even I AM.

This I am phrase continues throughout the New Testament, peaking in Revelation 2-3 and culminating with the end-time, future-focused conclusion of Revelation 21-22.

Throughout this, we see God—both Father and Son—as the great I Am of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the end of time. We should therefore think of him as the God who is, a present tense reality.

The Living God

More to the point, the I am is a living God. We see this throughout the Bible, starting when God reveals himself to Moses in Deuteronomy, all the way through to John’s end-time vision in Revelation.

As our living God—who we served today and will abide with throughout eternity—I want to continually remind myself of this reality by writing about him in the present tense.

God and Time

We perceive God who was, is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8). Yet he exists outside of the time-space reality he created for us. As such, we are bound by time. He is not.

To our Creator there is no past, present, or future. There is a singular reality of presence. As being bound by time, this is hard for our finite minds to comprehend.

We default to past, present, and future. But to God our three perspectives converge to one. In my limited view, I best understand this reality as an extant is.

I can best remind myself of this by speaking and writing about the Bible in present tense, of speaking and writing about God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in the present tense.

Though this still limits our appreciation for God’s reality in the spiritual realm, it may be as close as we can get while we remain on earth.

Write about the Bible in Present Tense

I write in present tense as a reminder that Scripture is alive and active. It teaches us of our living God who is I Am, existing outside of time’s constraints.

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.”

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