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Bible Insights

Jesus Says “Follow Me”

The Simplicity of Faith

In Peter’s darkest moment, he denies that he even knows who Jesus is. I don’t criticize Peter for this, however. Despite a desire to respond differently, I suspect that if facing death, I could easily do the same thing.

Later, after returning to life, Jesus restores Peter to right relationship with him. Three times Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

Three times—each one corresponding to one of Peter’s three betrayals—Peter confirms that he does indeed love Jesus.

Then, for Peter to show his love for his master, each time Jesus asks Peter to take care of Jesus’s flock, that is the Christian church.

Love Jesus, and follow him. Click To Tweet

Peter doesn’t realize the importance of repeating this exchange three times, that he must affirm his love for Jesus in equal number to his three betrayals.

Then, when his pledges of support offset his prior denials, Jesus can complete Peter’s restoration. Jesus concludes with the simple instruction, “Follow me.”

That’s the essential requirement of Jesus, the simplicity of faith: To love Jesus, and follow him. It’s that simple.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is John 20-21, and today’s post is on John 21:15-19.]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere 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

Why It’s Important that We Prosper

Prosperity Is Not a Bad Word, and We Must Start Embracing It as Good

A popular pastime today is to decry prosperity as an evil that plagues the world. These folks think that all people who prosper are greedy and selfish—though some are. They advocate taking from those who have and give to those who have not. In truth, these people aren’t interested in helping the poor as much as they are envious that others have more than they do.

They miss the point that God wants us to prosper.

The Bible has much to say about prosper and prosperity. We often think of prosper in terms of money, but it also applies to other areas of our life. Our family can prosper. We can prosper by enjoying good health. And we can prosper in intangible ways when we lead a God-honoring life.

Consider some of what the Bible says about the idea of prospering:

  • God plans to prosper his people and not harm them, plans to give them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • God told Jacob to go back home and he would prosper (Genesis 32:9).
  • Obey God that we may live long and prosper (Deuteronomy 5:33).
  • Walk in obedience with God and do all he says so that you will prosper in everything you do and everywhere you go (1 Kings 2:3).
  • A person who gives generously will prosper (Proverbs 11:25).
  • Those who trust in God will prosper (Proverbs 28:25).
  • You will prosper more, and then you will know that I am your Lord (Ezekiel 36:11).
  • God made his people prosper while they were in Egypt (Acts 13:17).

Some of these verses apply to individuals, while other passages have a broader audience, but the point we can glean from all these verses—and many others in the Bible—is that God loves us. And he wants us to prosper.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

But many people desiring prosperity, miss the point of why. They think their prosperity is for their benefit and theirs alone. Taken to an extreme we end up with a prosperity gospel and a prosperity theology. Don’t go there.

These overreaches miss the basic biblical truth that God wants us to prosper. He wants to bless us. But why?

God doesn’t bless us with success and wealth so that we can live extravagant self-centered lives. He blesses us not for ourselves but for the sake of others.

God loves us and wants us to prosper. Click To Tweet

God told Abraham, “I will bless you and you will in turn bless others” (Genesis 12:2). This means that God’s blessings are not for us to consume or to squander in conspicuous living.

Our blessings are to share with others. As God is generous with us, may we be as generous toward 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

Tame the Tongue

Be Careful What You Say

Many people today—too many—feel they have a right to say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it. What they forget is that this privilege also comes with a responsibility to not say some things, to at times keep quiet. Just because we can say something, doesn’t mean we should. Sometimes silence should prevail over our speaking. We must tame the tongue.

Though this unfiltered spew of unrestrained rhetoric is most pronounced online, especially social media, it carries over from cyberspace into our physical space, tainting our in-person interactions.

This must stop.

Though the world may not know any better, Christians should.

In the Bible, we see that James agrees. He has a whole passage warning about the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue, one that both praises God and harms others with its words (James 3:1-12).

James uses the analogy of people taming animals, but no one can tame the tongue. He says it’s full of “restless evil” and “deadly poison” (James 3:7-8, NIV).

Does this mean that we have no chance of controlling our words? Of course not.

Though people may not be able to tame the tongue of others, we can—through God’s help—tame our own tongue. We can restrain what we say with Holy Spirit help.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus telling them that when they speak truth in love it will help them grow into maturity (Ephesians 4:15). This is an ideal place to start. We say what is true, but we do so in love.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lists the characteristics of love. Love is patient and kind. It’s not envious, boastful, or proud. It doesn’t dishonor other people, isn’t selfish, and doesn’t yield to anger. It doesn’t remember the wrongs of others. It mourns evil and celebrates truth. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Tame the Tongue

May these traits of love guide our speech, knowing that in some cases the best thing to say is nothing. In this way, we can tame the tongue.

The tongue is a dangerous tool that must be tamed. Click To Tweet

The tongue is a dangerous tool that we must control.

We have a responsibility to God and to others to be careful what we say. Sometimes saying nothing is the best solution.

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

Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Inaddition, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward. Jesus offends them.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.

When things get tough, Jesus’s disciples stick around. They’re all in. Click To Tweet

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too. Don’t let the message of Jesus offend you,

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is John 5-6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere 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

Are You At the End of Your Rope?

A Hopeless Situation

Imagine you are going down the side of a 200-foot cliff—with a 100-foot rope. At 99 feet down, you find yourself literally dangling “at the end of your rope.”

What an apt metaphor for a hopeless situation. At this juncture, there are but three options—none of them good:

  1. Try to climb back up (which is physically impossible for most people)
  2. Hang on as long as you can in hopes of an eventual rescue
  3. Give up and let go.

Eugene Peterson uses this powerful image in his paraphrase of the Bible, which puts ancient thoughts into contemporary terms. Consider the following references from The Message:

  • “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” (Matthew 5:3)
  • “The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.” ([Matthew 21:35)
  • “When someone gets to the end of his rope, I [Paul] feel the desperation in my bones.” (2 Corinthians 11:28)
  • “Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope. You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break.” (Psalm 79:8)
  • “Your anger [God] is far and away too much for us; we’re at the end of our rope. You keep track of all our sins; every misdeed since we were children is entered in your books.” (Psalm 90:3)
  • “Oh, God, my Lord, step in; work a miracle for me—you can do it! Get me out of here—your love is so great!— I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.” (Psalm 109:21)
  • “God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.” (Psalm 116:1)
  • “Hurry with your answer, God! I’m nearly at the end of my rope. Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me! That would be certain death.” (Psalm 143:7)

When we are at the end of our rope—and it happens to all of us sooner or later—God is there to rescue us; so don’t give up.

God can help in a number of ways, either directly or indirectly: a timely visit from a friend, some encouraging advice, the perfect Bible verse, or a visit with a pastor or counselor.

But not everyone has these options. If that’s you and you’re at the rope’s end, reach out to TheHopeLine, staffed by Christian Hope Coaches. They will listen, offering understanding, encouragement, and prayer, along with practical resources to help move you in the right direction.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 114-118, and today’s post is on Psalm 116:1.]

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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Christian Living

A False Assumption About Church Growth

A Lesson in Reacting to the Unexpected

In college I heard an account about a struggling church who hired a minister to help them grow. He was full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. In no time he connected with the local community.

They responded by showing up for church on Sunday morning and for the community programs throughout the week. By the time he reached his one-year anniversary as their pastor, the church had added programs, went to two Sunday-morning services, and had more than doubled their attendance.

And the church fired him.

A False Assumption

What neither the church leaders nor the congregation were aware of when they hired their pastor, their goal to grow their church carried an unspoken expectation, a false assumption. They anticipated the new attendees would be people just like them.

When their growth came from people who differed from them, they realized they weren’t getting the results they wanted and blamed their new pastor.

This church was in an urban location. The members, however, drove from their suburban homes to this inner-city church each Sunday. These white-collar, middle-class people carried the false assumption that their increase in numbers would come from people just like them: white-collar, middle-class.

Yet the church didn’t reside in a white-collar, middle-class neighborhood. It sat in the middle of a diverse community of blue-collar workers along with the underemployed and unemployed.

The church members didn’t feel comfortable with this rapid shift in the demographic of their church. They blamed the minister and got rid of the problem.

The church soon returned to what it once was. Most of the locals stopped attending, the church retreated to one service, and its members ceased their outreach into the community.

Though the church members’ desire for numeric growth is admirable, their failure to embrace the outcome isn’t. Though we can understand their false assumption of what the growth would look like, we can’t excuse their reaction to it.

Love and Embrace Everyone

Their surprised results should have caused them to look inside themselves, to uncover their biases of people and who they wanted to go to church with.

Yes, embracing a different socioeconomic group might have been uncomfortable for a time, but it would’ve been a necessary interpersonal development for each of them on their spiritual journey.

Instead of embracing their commonality in Jesus, they sought what made them feel most comfortable. Click To Tweet

Instead of embracing their commonality in Jesus and the unity he prayed for, they sought solace in the status quo and what made them feel most comfortable.

It’s easy to be critical of this close-minded congregation, yet I wonder if we are all a bit like them, just in diverse ways.

God, reveal to us our blind spots—any false assumption we may carry—and show us how to love all your people, not just those who are just like us.

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

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Bible Insights

Warn One Another in Love

Consider What the Bible Says and How to Apply It

I’ve talked about the need for theological diversity in our churches. While we need to embrace those who hold different understandings of Jesus, we perhaps need to adopt a separate view of the behaviors of people who live contrary to God’s word. Or maybe not. Instead, we need to warn one another in love.

Paul touches on this in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica. He tells them to stay away from those who do not follow his instructions. He specifically refers to what he says in that particular letter.

However, by extension, we could assume he means all the commands in the Bible. But this might be dangerous, for we read the Bible through the lens of our experiences and not with the comprehension of the original audience or their situation.

It’s too easy to see what we want to see when we read the Bible and miss what God actually wants to communicate.

Even more worrisome is to imply that these verses offer a principal that we are to avoid those who don’t follow the words of their church leaders or spiritual guides. But this becomes even more problematic.

People are fallible, and many religious leaders have led their flocks astray by demanding compliance to some misguided belief. Don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

Who Is in Error?

We need to proceed with the utmost care before we criticize the actions of fellow believers. After all, we could be the ones in error.

If we do feel we must move in this direction, we should advance with great caution and follow Paul’s teaching in this matter: We are to not view these folks as an enemy but as a brother who needs a gentle warning. We need to warn one another in love

Christians who don’t behave as we think they should aren't the enemy. Click To Tweet

I say it again, if other Christians don’t behave like we think they should, they are not the enemy. If we say anything, we need to warn them in love and not with self-righteous indignation.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.]

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

His Love Endures Forever

We Should Praise God for the Many Ways He Loves Us

Love is a recurring theme in Scripture (686 verses). It shows up in most every book of the Bible (60 out of 66). The word is most common in Psalms (157 verses). Psalm 136 leads the way with 26 mentions of love, all in the repeating refrain “His love endures forever.”

This Psalm is a song of praise to God. It affirms who he is and what he’s done. In response to each phrase of thanks and appreciation, the singers repeatedly chant, “His love endures forever.”

What are these characteristics of God? Read Psalm 136 to find out all the details. Here’s a summary:

  • God is good.
  • He is God of all gods and Lord of all lords.
  • He does amazing feats.
  • He created everything.
  • He guided his people, protected them, and brought them to his promised land.
  • He remembers us when we’re down, frees us from our enemies, and feeds us when we’re hungry.

And for each one of these, our response is to praise him, for “his love endures forever.” Forever is a long time. It’s eternal. Just as God is eternal—living forever with no beginning or end—so too is his love for us.

Paul says that three things will last forever. These are faith, hope, and love. Of this amazing trio, love stands in first place. Love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Jesus died so that we may live. You, me, everyone. That’s true love. Click To Tweet

John writes that the highest, most excellent, expression of love is to die so another may live (John 15:13). John is quoting Jesus. In this passage, Jesus obliquely references God’s plan to save us.

To do so, Jesus will offer himself as the once-and-for-all, ultimate sacrifice to make payment for the sins (mistakes) of all humanity, for all time. This will reconcile us with Papa.

Jesus died so that we may live. You, me, everyone. That’s true love. His love endures forever.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalms 135-139, and today’s post is on Psalms 136:2.]

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

Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity

Shun Division, Disunity, and Denominations in the Name of Jesus

Just as church member status divides the church body into two groups, so does our doctrine. Instead of obeying Jesus’s instruction to love God and love others, we make a lengthy list of what we should do and shouldn’t do, judging others according to our opinions of what’s proper and what’s not.

This legalistic approach follows what the Old Testament set in motion with its 613 instructions in the Law of Moses, of things to do and not do.

Compounding the problem, God’s children in the Old Testament added tens of thousands of manmade rules, which evolved over the centuries, to help interpret the original 613 expectations he gave to Moses.

Jesus Says to Love God and Love Others

Jesus says that his yoke is easy in his burden is light. This means his doctrine is simple to follow and effortless to bear (Matthew 11:30). To confirm this, Jesus simplifies all these Old Testament commands and man-made traditions when he says we are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27).

Yes, Jesus’s essential expectation is love.

To accomplish these two instructions to love God and love others, we can best do so through Jesus. We should follow him (Matthew 4:19 and Luke 14:27), believe in him (John 6:35), and be his disciple (John 8:31 and John 15:8).

These are all ways of saying we need to go all in for Jesus. That’s it.

That’s our essential doctrine. Everything else is secondary. Beyond Jesus and love, we shouldn’t argue about the rest. We are to be one church, just as Jesus prayed we would (John 17:20–21).

Denominational Division

Yet in the last 500 years we’ve argued about doctrine, we’ve judged others by our religious perspectives, and we’ve killed people for their beliefs. We deemed that our view was right and everyone else was wrong. We used this to divide ourselves.

We formed groups of like-minded thinkers, which became denominations.

Today we have 42,000 Protestant denominations, dividing Jesus’s church so much that we’ve lost our witness to the world. Jesus wanted his followers to live in unity. Yet we persist in division. Our denominations that we made are the antithesis of God’s unity that Jesus wants (Ephesians 4:3–6).

Yes, division occurred in the prior 1,500 years—the first millennia and a half of Jesus’s church—but that was nothing like what’s happened in the last five centuries during the modern era.

We are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. Click To Tweet

Paul says that we are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. In our relationships we should have Jesus’s mindset (Philippians 2:1–5).

To Titus, Paul writes to warn a divisive person one time, and give a second notice if they disregard the first. Then the only recourse is to ignore them (Titus 3:10–11).

Jude also warns against division. Instead of taking sides, he tells us to rise above it by focusing on growing our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and abiding in God’s love (Jude 1:18–23).

As followers of Jesus, we must pursue unity in him and oppose every instance of division—regardless of the source.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about making disciples.

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

Having a Q and A with God

Malachi Questions God and He Responds

In the short book of Malachi, there is a reoccurring phrase “but you ask” (along with a few of variations thereof). This turns into a Question and Answer monologue, with God voicing the people’s unspoken questions and then responding. It’s like having a Q and A with God.

Malachi records the whole thing, allowing us to explore the exchange and consider what God has to say. Although Malachi’s culture is vastly different from our reality, there are still lessons we can learn—if we are willing.

Q: How have you loved us?

A: Consider your ancestors Jacob and Esau. I loved Jacob and hated Esau. Do you get it now? (Malachi 1:2-3).

Q: How have we shown contempt for your name?

A: By giving me defiled offerings (Malachi 1:6-7).

Q: How have we defiled you?

A: By giving to me what is not suitable for anyone else (Malachi 1:7-8).

Q: Why do you no longer pay attention to our offerings or accept them?

A: You have been unfaithful to your wife and broken your marriage vows (Malachi 2:13-14).

Q: How have we wearied you?

A: By doing bad, yet claiming it is good and pleases me (Malachi 2:17).

Q: How are we to return to you?

A: Stop robbing me (Malachi 3:7-8).

Q: How do we rob you?

A: By withholding some of your tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8-10).

Q: What have we said against you?

A: By saying it is futile to serve me when I don’t bless you for doing what is expected (Malachi 3:13-14).

Summary of a Q and A with God

These eight exchanges address the people’s relationship with God, discussing love, defiling, and contempt. It talks about offerings that don’t matter.

About the people wearying God, robbing from him, and speaking against him. And buried in the middle of the exchange is a prescription for how to return to God.

Now, let’s apply the Q and A with God to us today.

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.