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Bible Insights

Give Generously and Not Begrudgingly

We Must Take Care of the Poor Among Us

As we read through the law of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, we come across a command that says that we are to “give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart” (Deuteronomy 15:10).

We might have the inclination to dismiss this command as part of the old covenant, which Jesus came to fulfill, but remember that he modeled and taught generosity. For example, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to give to those who ask and don’t ignore those who want to borrow (Matthew 5:42).

This Old Testament command says to give generously to “them.” But who does them refer to? The context in Deuteronomy is other Israelites. We can extend this concept to us today and apply it by saying that it means those in our church or other followers of Jesus.

This is an ideal place to start, but Jesus’s command to give doesn’t limit us to our own congregation or spiritual community. The context of the passage in Matthew seems to include everyone.

Applying Moses is teaching in Deuteronomy to Jesus’s call to give, adds the stipulation to not do so begrudgingly, that is, without a grudging heart. To give generously with the wrong attitude is disobedience.

There’s one more item from Moses’s teaching. He promises a reward for those who give generously and not grudgingly. He promises God’s blessings to those who give. The blessings apply to their work and everything they do.

May we give generously to those in need. Click To Tweet

But Jesus doesn’t promise a blessing when we give. He just says to do it. This should be enough. If we receive a blessing for our generosity, that’s a bonus.

May we give generously to those in need without thought to a reward, because Jesus says to—and it’s the right thing to do.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 13-15 and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 15:7-10.]

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.

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Bible Insights

When You Make a Vow to God

Be Sure to Follow Through on What You Promise to Do

Have you ever promised God that you’d do something for him? Sometimes these occur from the Holy Spirit’s stirring within our souls. Yet other times, these come at a traumatic moment in a person’s life when they’re in the middle of a crisis. They bargain with the Almighty. They make a conditional vow to God: “If you get me out of this jam, then I will do ______ for you.”

What goes in the blank varies. It may be an act of service, to give money, or to change a behavior, either to start doing something good or to stop doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Regardless of the promise they make and the fact that it contains a stipulation for God to act first, the result is they are making a vow to God.

I’m not sure how God views these provisional pledges. On one hand it seems a bit manipulative by the person making the promise. Yet there is the potential for good to come out of it, providing the person making the pledge keeps their vow to God.

Lest there be any doubt about it, God expects us to follow through and keep our vow. In the book of Numbers, Moses writes that when we make a vow to God or promise to do something we must keep our word and not break our pledge (Numbers 30:2).

Though the Bible doesn’t require us to make a vow to God, it does clearly state that if we choose to do so, we must follow through and do all that we promised.

Moses later writes an additional command on the subject. He adds that when we make a vow to God, we must not be slow in fulfilling that promise. To procrastinate is a sin (Deuteronomy 23:21). A delayed obedience is disobedience.

Don’t make a rash vow to God. Instead, live a life where you don’t have to. Click To Tweet

Jesus repeats this instruction in his Sermon on the Mount. Then he adds a wise addendum, telling the crowd that the better solution is to not make a promise in God’s name (Matthew 5:33-34).

This last part is wise advice for us to follow. Don’t make a rash vow to God. Instead, live a life where we don’t feel we have to.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 28-30 and today’s post is on Numbers 30:2.]

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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Bible Insights

We Need to Take God’s Instructions Seriously

Understanding the Background behind the Death of Uzzah

The book of Numbers contains details that are easy to gloss over or dismiss as irrelevant, even boring. Yet they’re in the Bible for a reason, and we can learn something from each one of these verses, no matter how trivial they may seem. Such is the case with Numbers 7:9. It includes one of God’s instructions that they shouldn’t have dismissed.

The Ark of the Covenant

This passage details what Moses does after he sets up the tabernacle, according to God’s instructions. Since the people are nomadic at this time, everything must be portable. Easy transportation is key. To accommodate this Moses accepts gifts of carts and oxen from the tribes so that the Levites can move the items they’re responsible for.

The Levites have three clans: the Gershonites, the Merarites, and the Kohathites, each with specific duties. Moses gives two carts with four oxen to the Gershonites and four carts with eight oxen to the Merarites. But the Kohathites receive none. This doesn’t seem fair. Why not give each clan two carts and four oxen? This would keep everything even.

But Moses has a good reason. The Kohathites are supposed to carry the holy things they’re responsible for on their shoulders. This means no carts drawn by oxen. One of the holy things they’re responsible for transporting is the ark of the covenant (the ark of God).

God had already specified the ark of the covenant was to be carried by two poles (Exodus 25:14). This means no carts and no oxen. God’s instructions are clear.

The Death of Uzzah

Fast-forward about four centuries. The people have settled in the promised land, and David is their king. He wants to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

With great fanfare they put the ark on a cart. As the processional makes its way to Jerusalem, one of the oxen stumbles. One man, Uzzah, reaches out to steady the ark. I’d have had the same reaction. I’m quite sure he did this without thinking, desiring to keep God’s ark safe.

God sees things differently. Uzzah shouldn’t have touched the ark, and God strikes him dead. Uzzah dies on the spot (2 Samuel 6:6).

David’s angry at God. Frankly, I’m a bit dismayed as well.

Yet the ark shouldn’t have been on a cart. Levites should have carried it using poles, just as God had instructed. And Uzzah shouldn’t have been nearby.

Uzzah’s death was unnecessary and could have been avoided had David and his people followed God’s instructions. Click To Tweet

Uzzah’s death was unnecessary and could have been avoided had David and his people followed God’s instructions.

This is a solemn reminder for us to never dismiss what God says.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 7-9 and today’s post is on Numbers 7:9.]

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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What If God Sent a Pillar of Fire to Guide You?

For Forty Years the Israelites Had Two Signs from God to Guide Them

After spending four-hundred years in Egypt, the repressed children of God finally get a chance to leave. This comes under the leadership of Moses.

We know of Moses’s meetings with Pharaoh to negotiate the Israelites’ release, of ten plagues, and the people’s escape through the Dead Sea—as if walking on dry land. Their Egyptian captors, in hot pursuit, don’t fare so well.

Now God’s people are free!

What should they do? Where should they go? They know their destination resides in the Promised Land, the area Jacob left four centuries before when he sought food in Egypt. But instead of heading there on their own, they seek God’s direction.

Pillar of Fire

God sends them a pillar of smoke to guide them by day and a pillar of fire to guide them by night. When the pillars move, the people follow. When the pillars stay put, so do they. They do this for forty years.

I must give them credit. They were content to follow God’s direction for four decades, when they could have reached their destination, the Promised Land, in less than a week.

For all the times his people messed up when they were in the desert, I admire them for being patient and willing to follow God’s leading, even though it didn’t make sense and was taking way too long.

Wouldn’t it be great if God showed us where to go? Click To Tweet

Wouldn’t it be great if God showed us where to go today? If only he would give us a cloud to follow during the day and a fire to blaze our path at night. Then it would be easy to follow him, right?

Yet, God does lead us today. In the Bible he promises to give us his Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit fire (Luke 3:16 and Matthew 3:11). And when the Holy Spirit arrives, what is the visual sign? Fire. Yep, tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Yes, God still leads us today. He gives his Holy Spirit fire to blaze our path. All we need to do is listen—and obey.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 11-13, and today’s post is on Exodus 13:21-22.]

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

It’s Not My Fault: Playing the Blame Game

Blaming Others for Our Mistakes Comes from Our Sin Nature

Jeremiah prophesies judgment against the people in Jerusalem for their idolatry. God has had enough, and he will punish them for turning from him and pursuing other gods. Specifically, many women are burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out their drink offerings to her.

Interestingly, the Queen of Heaven only shows up five times in the Bible, all in the book of Jeremiah, with four occurrences in this chapter alone. From Scripture we know nothing about the Queen of Heaven, except that some people worship her instead of God.

When confronted over their spiritual adultery, the people aren’t convicted of their sin. Instead, they double down and pledge to continue worshipping the Queen of Heaven.

As far as the women taking an active part in this idolatrous worship, they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. It’s not their fault, they insist. They blame their spouses. Since their husbands knew what they were doing and didn’t stop them, it’s the guys’ fault.

Adam and Eve

Does this blaming of others sound familiar?

It first happened back in the Garden of Eden, with the very first sin in the world. Adam and Eve do precisely what God told them not to do. They eat fruit from the one forbidden tree.

When God points out their mistake, Adam blames his wife. “She gave me the fruit,” he says.

Eve follows his example. She blames the serpent. (See Genesis 3:1-19.)

Their example continues throughout history. When caught in wrongdoing, people seek to shift responsibility to someone—or something—else. Though we might attribute this to human nature, it’s more correct to call it sin nature. When our sin is uncovered, we add to it by sinning again when we try to deflect our fault elsewhere.

Even Moses did this.

Variations of the Blame Game

Adam blames his wife for his sin because she gave him the forbidden fruit.

The women in Jeremiah’s time blame their husbands because they knew what their wives were doing.

Today we see more ways to play this blame game.

One version is, “but everyone else is doing it.”

A second form is, “it’s my parent’s fault,” also known as “it’s the way I was raised.”

A final one is “I was born this way.”

We also point an accusatory finger at our environment, circumstances, or socioeconomic conditions.

But when we sin, the only true responsibility falls to us and us alone. We did it, and we are at fault.

When we sin, the only true responsibility falls to us and us alone. We did it, and we are at fault. Click To Tweet

Fortunately, we don’t need to let the weight of our sins break us. Jesus died as the permanent payment for our mistakes. When we follow him and become his disciple, he takes away the penalty of our sin and makes us right with Father God.

Thank you, Jesus, for taking away our sins.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 41-45 and today’s post is on Jeremiah 44:19.]

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

We Need to Listen to God and Obey Him

Our Actions and Our Lack of Actions Have Consequences

As the Israelites prepare to enter the territory God promises to give them. Moses, relaying God’s words to the people, gives them a stern warning. Though God plans to give the land to his people, they must do their part to fully receive it. They must obey God.

He expects them to drive out the inhabitants, destroy their detestable religious practices, and take the land. Then they can settle down. Of course God will help his people do this, directing their actions and offering supernatural assistance. Yet they must do their part.

If the Israelites fail to do so, it will come back on them. The people they were supposed to chase away will eventually become the source of their downfall.

These foreigners will cause problems and distract God’s people so that they don’t obey him and don’t put him first as they should. They will be a snare.

But They Didn’t Obey God

If this happens, the punishment intended for these foreign nations will boomerang on the Israelites.

We know the rest of the story. They do not fully chase away the other nations; they do not fully take the land. They coexist with their enemies, intermarry, and adopt their foreign religious practices, something that is an anathema to God.

When God speaks we better listen–and obey. Click To Tweet

God gives them chance after chance. And though there are times of revival, they are short-lived. After several centuries of mostly disobedience, God does exactly what he warns them he will do.

Because of their failure to drive out the other nations, they are themselves driven out—first the nation of Israel and later the nation of Judah.

The people hear God’s instructions, but they only partially obey, which is the same as disobedience. There are consequences.

How is partial obedience the same as disobedience? Is partial obedience ever enough? 

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 31-33, and today’s post is on Numbers 33:55-56.]

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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Moses and the Art of Delegation

Wise Leaders Delegate

After Moses led the people out of Egypt, God gave him some specific instructions for constructing a place of worship. Moses was not supposed to do the actual work, but was charged with making sure it was done correctly. It required delegation.

Here is what he did:

Moses Selected Capable People with Good Character

Successful delegation requires finding the right people; not everyone is ready or able to receive delegation. Although it was ultimately God who made the selections, it was Moses who carried it out (Exodus 35:30-33).

Moses Provided the Resources Needed to Do Their job

Moses gave all of the gifts that had been received to the people he selected. Because of their character, there was no need to be concerned about them misusing these resources (Exodus 36:3).

Moses Inspected Their Work

Since Moses was ultimately responsible for the results, he wisely inspected their work.Because the right people had been chosen for this task, this was an easy step and their work met expectations (Exodus 39:42).

Moses Took Responsibility For the Results

The people were first esteemed for their fine work, but later Moses also received accommodation for the results. Similarly, had the work not been completed or done appropriately, Moses would have received the blame.  Such is the responsibility of management (Exodus 40:33).

Moses and Delegation

This was not the first time that Moses delegated work. At his father-in-law’s advice, he set-up and trained a network of judges to help guide the people. Prior to this, Moses spent each day with people lined up to see him (Exodus 18:17-26).

When we’re overwhelmed by the work before us, can we apply Moses’s example of delegation to get the job done?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 35-37, and today’s post is on Exodus 35:30-33.]

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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What’s a Thousand Years to God?

Time Is Different in the Spiritual Realm Than What We’re Used to in the Physical

Though King David wrote many psalms, the book of Psalms also includes the work of others. One of these writers is Moses. Yes, Moses wrote a psalm, Psalm 90.

It may be the oldest of them all, the first Psalm ever written in the Bible. Also consider Moses’s song in Deuteronomy 32:1-43 and his blessing in Deuteronomy 33:2-29.

What Moses Says about Time

One of Moses’s themes is time. He tells us to number our days so that we might gain wisdom. He also says that people tend to live seventy years, perhaps eighty.

This is interesting since Moses lived 120. He lived forty years in Egypt, forty years in preparation, and forty years leading God’s people. I wonder how old he was when he wrote this Psalm.

However, Moses also writes that to God a thousand years flashes by like a day would seem to us. So it is with our God who is eternal, who lives forever.

Think about it. Time takes on a different meaning to someone who has a never-ending supply of it. But to us time places limits on our physical existence and on our future.

That’s probably why Moses wants us to count our days to remind us of our typical lifespan. We need to use that time wisely and make it count. We only have so much of it., so we don’t want to squander it.

This doesn’t mean to pack every moment with busy activity, but to use our time wisely, investing in pursuits that matter, on what will have the greatest impact.

May we spend our time on what truly matters. Click To Tweet

Peter Writes about a Thousand Years

The disciple Peter has this passage in mind when he pens his second letter. He builds upon Moses’s thought and says that to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. This is a perplexing contrast.

It reminds us that God doesn’t reckon time as we do. In fact, God exists outside of time because he created time when he made space and the world we live in.

May we spend our time on what truly matters.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalms 86-90, and today’s post is on Psalm 90:4.]

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

Today’s Church Follows an Old Testament Model

Moses Explained the Three Key Elements of Worship and We Still Follow Them

Our churches today function in much the same way as outlined in the Old Testament. We follow the Old Testament model for church. We pursue these same three key elements. We meet in a building, hire paid staff to represent God to us, and have an ongoing need for money to keep the institution afloat and moving forward.

Building

We often hear the question, “Where do you go to church?” This is an inquiry about location. In standard usage, the word church refers to a place not a people. It’s a structure more so than the community that meets there.

This mindset is pervasive within the church, but it’s universal outside it. In short, people go to a church building to experience God. The implication is that we can’t connect with him at other locations or through different situations. We want a Sunday morning service in a church building.

We go to church. We connect with God. Then we go home. Once we leave the parking lot, we revert to non-church mode and resume our everyday life.

Most people, both those with a religious background and those without it, view a church without their own facility as suspicious, as second rate, or even as somehow less than. People assume—both those inside the church community and those outside it—that this church without a building will one day mature to a point where she can have her own place to meet. Then she will be a real church.

In addition, for many churchgoers, the thought of attending in a non-typical space is an anathema to having a true worship experience. They feel that to truly connect with God they must travel to a dedicated church building.

This is part one of an Old Testament model for church.

Staff

The second element of today’s church is the staff. In most all cases they are paid employees. Yes, sometimes volunteers help, donating many hours of their time each week, but despite their generosity most churches rely on paid personnel to function.

For small churches, the paid staff is the pastor alone, while for larger congregations it’s a pastoral team, made up of full-time and part-time paid personnel.

A church-growth expert once advocated that a single pastor could sufficiently shepherd a congregation of up to 150 people. Beyond that level, the sole pastor requires help to address the needs of the congregation and deal with the details brought on by this expanded scope. The expert had a formula for that too: each additional one hundred people in the church required one more staff person. This formula seems to track at the various churches I’ve been part of over the years.

In the same way that most people expect to go to a dedicated worship space on Sunday, they carry expectations of the paid staff who work there, especially the minister. Just as the people in the Old Testament lined up each day to see Moses, overburdening him and keeping him busy from sunup to sunset (Exodus 18:13), we tend to do the same for our clergy today.

This is part two of an Old Testament model for church.

Collectively we insist that our ministers be available for us whenever we need them. This includes a crisis, such as a death, health scare, financial need, lost job, or wayward child. We also want them there for our celebrations. This means our family births (baptisms, christenings, or dedications) and our weddings (officiating), even milestone birthdays and anniversaries. We also presume their support for our own God-honoring initiatives. And we freely dump our burdens on them in the form of prayer requests. When we call, email, or text, we expect a quick response.

They’re here to serve us. That’s what we pay them for.

Then when they wisely refer us to another person who can help us, just as Moses’s father-in-law recommended him to do (Exodus 18:14), we react with indignation. We withdraw our support for this leader who we feel slighted us (2 Corinthians 6:12). And we seldom do this silently, often resorting to gossip and even slander (3 John 1:9-11). Sometimes we launch a campaign to replace our once-esteemed leader. To add weight to our hurt, we may threaten to withhold our support of the church. And to our shame, we sometimes follow through (Malachi 3:6-12).

Money

The third key element of today’s church is financial support. She needs money to function, lots of it. We often refer to this need for money as tithes and offerings. Some churches call for pledges and then urge people to meet their financial commitments each Sunday.

Over the years I’ve heard many ministers plead for money from their congregations, insisting that we must give 10 percent of our income to the local church. I’m not sure if they’re merely parroting what they heard others say, don’t know their Scripture, or don’t care, but the Bible never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Remember, the Old Testament tithe went to fuel the national religion.

In a typical church most of their budget goes to cover facility costs and staffing. This often approaches 90 percent of the total budget and sometimes requires all of it, only to still fall short. This doesn’t leave too much money—if any—for ministry and outreach.

But lest we complain about the size of our church’s budget and our leader’s calls for financial generosity, remember that this is our own doing. We’ve brought this upon ourselves. We expect to meet in our own dedicated worship space. And we hire staff to serve as our liaison between us and God. These things carry a price tag, and our church budget reflects it.

This is part three of an Old Testament model for church.

The kingdom of God will advance more powerfully when we move from an inward focus to an outward emphasis. Click To Tweet

A Kingdom Focus

Though it’s true that some churches are exceptions to this—and take exception to what I’ve just written—they are the minority. To need less financial support usually stems from one of two things. The first is having a non-typical meeting space. And the second is enjoying a lot of volunteers to do the work that normally falls to paid staff. In some cases, both elements are present, which allows for much more of the congregants’ giving to go to ministry and outreach, instead of buildings and payroll.

This allows them to move from an inward focus to an outward emphasis. Every church should strive to move toward this outcome. The kingdom of God will advance more powerfully when we do.

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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Avoiding the Rebellion of Korah

While the story of Cain killing his brother may be commonly known, the rebellion of Korah is quite obscure.

Korah was from the tribe of Levi; he and the other Levites were assigned God-given tasks to serve in the temple; they were set apart for this. However, they were not to serve as priests; that fell only to Aaron and his descendants.

Korah didn’t like these distinctions. He advocated that all people were holy, had God (the Holy Spirit) in them, and should be elevated to the level of priests. 

(Interestingly, these were something that Jesus would later proclaim and that his followers would embrace, but in Korah’s time this was not the case. There were distinctions and that’s how God wanted it at that time.)

Korah stirred up some followers, insisting on equal status for all. Then he and Moses had the equivalent of a modern-day smackdown. Moses won and was affirmed by God. Korah lost—big time. The ground beneath him opened up and he and his family fell in and died. God squashed the rebellion of Korah.

Today, we would hail Korah as a martyred reformer who pursued justice and equality, advocating that anyone can approach God.

Although Jesus would later usher in these changes, those were not the expectations God had put in place in Korah’s day. God had a different plan then, and, no matter how well intended, Korah opposed it. He will forever be associated with a failed uprising against God: the rebellion of Korah.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 16-18, and today’s post is on Numbers 16.]

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.