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Christian Living

Go and Prepare a Place

How Engagement and Marriage Worked in the New Testament

In Bible times, when a couple became engaged, the groom-to-be with go home and prepare a place for them to live by adding a room to his parents’ house. As soon as he finished the construction, he would go to his fiancée, the marriage ceremony would take place, and they’d go live in the room he built for the two of them.

Though the Bible doesn’t detail this practice, history does. I’d heard this before, so it was nothing new to me to hear it again in the minister’s sermon.

Joseph and Mary

The message was about Joseph and Mary in the book of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25). At this point in the narrative, Joseph and Mary are engaged. This means Joseph is building a room for them, adding on to his parents’ house. Once the room is complete, they’ll marry and begin their life has husband and wife.

This is the point at which the Virgin Mary becomes pregnant under Holy Spirit power. Joseph doesn’t break their engagement, and he continues building their home. Once it’s done, they get married. But they don’t consummate their marriage until after Jesus is born.

This explanation helps us better understand the story of Joseph and Mary. But then my mind took off and found other situations where the practice applies as well:

Peter and His Wife

It’s always bothered me that Peter, a married man, would leave his wife alone while he traveled with Jesus. How could she provide for herself while he was gone?

But realizing this ancient practice—where a young married couple would live in a room attached to the house of the man’s family—gave me a better understanding. Yes, Peter’s wife would stay home as he travelled with Jesus, but she wasn’t by herself. She was with her in laws, since the room she lived in was attached to their house.

She wasn’t alone when her husband traveled. She was with family. Knowing this lessens my concerns over Peter’s wife.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

In Jesus’s parable of the ten virgins, these young ladies wait for a wedding ceremony to take place, but they don’t know when it will be. Though this seems strange to us now, it makes sense when we understand the custom of the day.

Their friend is engaged. Her wedding will take place once her fiancé completes the room for them to live in. Since no one knows for sure when this will happen, the wedding ceremony guests wait in expectation.

We can imagine the groom working late into the evening putting the last touches on the room. He finishes at last and in eager expectation he goes to get his bride-to-be, even though it’s the middle of the night.

The virgins hear he’s on his way. Five of them are ready to join the happy couple in their wedding feast and marriage celebration. The other five aren’t ready, and they’re left out (Matthew 25:1-13).

The lesson here is to be ready for Jesus to return. This leads us to the next observation.

Jesus and His Church

Jesus tells his followers that his father lives in a big house. He’s going there to prepare a place for them, to build a room for them to live. Once he completes the construction, he’ll come back to get them. Then he’ll take them to live with him so they can be where he is (John 14:2-3).

Though this may perplex modern day readers, two thousand years ago, the inference made sense to Jesus’s audience. They saw it as an allusion to marriage, to a spiritual wedding.

Jesus will build a bridal suite for his church. When it’s complete, we—collectively as his church—will marry him (Revelation 21:1-4). We will be the bride of Christ.

One day Jesus will come back to earth to get us. Then our wedding ceremony with him will take place, and we’ll live with him forever.

But right now, he has gone to prepare a place for us. And we wait for him to come back. We must be ready, for he could return at any moment—even in the middle of the night.

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

Going Home

We Should Embrace Our Homecoming to Eternity

After writing his psalms of praise to God, Isaiah continues the positivity by looking forward to the day when his people will receive deliverance from their enemies, about them going home.

Though the people view this as a physical rescue, many people today understand it as a spiritual one. In both cases we look forward to the time when we go home, either in body or in spirit.

Three times in Isaiah 27, he says, “in that day,” referring to God’s future rescue of his people, of them finally going home.

Each time, he uses this phrase to introduce a section of this prophecy, with the second part of three being the longest and most poetic. But it’s in the last section that we find a most encouraging proclamation.

On this long-anticipated day of deliverance, the trumpet call will reverberate throughout the land. God’s people living in exile will return home. Some have been languishing in Assyria, which conquered Israel in the middle of Isaiah’s ministry and deported many Israelites to Assyria.

Others sit exiled in Egypt. Though Jeremiah ends up there, it won’t be for another 150 years. His own people will drag him there as they flee Judea to avoid capture by the Babylonians.

It could be that Isaiah is looking forward in time, prophetically referring to Jeremiah and his crew. Or it could be that others have already fled to Egypt to escape the Assyrians. Regardless, this prophecy looks forward to when it’s time for them to return home.

When they come home, they’ll worship God on his holy mountain in Jerusalem. Imagine living far from home.

Then after years of longing to return to the country of your birth and your youth, you finally get a chance to go. And in this great homecoming, you worship God as the giver of this gift: your repatriation, both physically and spiritually.

In our spiritual homecoming, however, we’ll return to our Creator, spending eternity with him in heaven. What a glorious reunion our going home will be. We anticipate this in great expectation, and increasingly so for people as they grow older and their time to go home draws near.

A more tangible understanding of this homecoming appears in one of Jesus’s parables. We often call this The Parable of the Prodigal Son or The Lost Son.

After turning his back on his father and squandering his share of the inheritance on carnal pleasures, this young man realizes he needs to return home and seek his father’s forgiveness.

He slinks back in shame over what he has done with his life and how he disrespected his dad. He plans to grovel and ask for the smallest of mercies.

In our spiritual homecoming, we’ll return to our Creator and spend eternity with him in heaven. Click To Tweet

Meanwhile, his father has been scanning the horizon, watching for his son’s return for a long time. As soon as he spots him, Dad runs out to meet his boy, embracing him and kissing him. The father dismisses his boy’s request for forgiveness as irrelevant.

Instead, Dad reinstates his son as a member of the family, an heir to all he has. He throws a massive party in celebration of his boy’s return.

So it will be when we see Jesus in heaven, after the end of our time here on earth.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 25-27 and today’s post is on Isaiah 27:13.]

In our spiritual homecoming, we’ll return to our Creator and spend eternity with him in heaven.

Read more about the book of Isaiah in For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

An Act of Omission is the Failure to Act

An Act of Commission is an Act We’ve Done

When I think of being punished, be it by God or people, I think in terms of things I do wrong. That is, doing things that I shouldn’t have done. Some people call this an “act of commission.” They are things I have committed.

However, there can also be consequences for not doing the things we should have done.  This is an “act of omission.” They are things I didn’t do, even though I should have.

Jesus talks about acts of omission in a parable about the sheep and the goats. The goats were guilty, not of doing wrong, but of not doing what was right. Their failure was a failure to act.

Jesus even gives specific examples:

  • a failure to feed the hungry,
  • a failure to provide water to the thirsty,
  • a failure to show hospitality to the stranger,
  • a failure to give clothes to those in need, and
  • a failure to look after the sick and imprisoned.
While one person can't solve all of these issues—or even one of them—each person can do something Click To Tweet

Each of these are huge issues—and overwhelming—but enormity is not an excuse for inaction. While one person can’t solve all of these issues—or even one of them—each person can do something to make a difference, be it simply to help one person who is hungry, thirsty, homeless, needy, or hurting.

Don’t be a goat; help someone today.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 23-25, and today’s post is on Matthew 25:31-46.]

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 Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God?

Kingdom of Heaven versus Kingdom of God

The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is synonymous with “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Some writers in the Bible simply prefer one over the other; it is not meant to designate two different concepts or kingdoms.  (Mark and Luke used “Kingdom of God,” whereas Matthew used “Kingdom of heaven.”)

Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables. Click To Tweet

These phrases can perhaps be best understood by considering that Jesus desires to brings heaven’s rule to earth. Under his rule, there are benefits and responsibilities to his subjects—the church.

Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables:

Consider how do these parables can change our view of God and our relationship to him.

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

Even if Someone Rises From the Dead, Not Everyone Will be Convinced

A Parable about Lazarus

In the parable about the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, Jesus shares an intriguing story. In it, both men die. Lazarus goes to heaven, but the rich man ends up in hell.

Desperate to spare his family from the torment he is suffering, the rich man makes a request of Father Abraham to send Lazarus back, warning those he loves. Abraham reminds him that they have already failed to heed the prior warnings that others have given.

The man persists, asserting that they would surely listen to someone who has returned from the dead. Abraham’s’ words are somber, saying “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

This was later proved to be correct. After Jesus’ resurrection, hundreds of dead people came back to life, went into the city, and appeared to many. Yet despite hundreds of formerly dead people walking around the city, only a 120 believed and were waiting in the upper room as Jesus commanded.

What happened to all the rest? They saw the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and hundreds of the undead, but they remained unchanged.

Jesus’s prophecy was correct, that “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Though not everyone will be convinced, some will be. I am; are you?

[Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 27:51-53, Acts 1:14-15]

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

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

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Jesus Focused on the Kingdom of God, Not Church

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, but we made a church instead. What if he never intended us to form a church? After all, Jesus did tell his followers to “seek first the kingdom of God,” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).

Let’s look at where else the Bible talks about the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven and where it talks about church. (Mark and Luke write the kingdom of God, whereas Matthew prefers kingdom of heaven. The phrases are synonymous.)

Kingdom of God, kingdom of Heaven, and church are New Testament concepts. These terms don’t occur anywhere in the Old Testament. Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God/heaven and little about church: eighty-five times versus three (and then only in Matthew).

Clearly Jesus focuses his teaching on the kingdom of God. Since Jesus comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), the kingdom of God must be how he intends to do so. If the call to seek first the kingdom of God is so important to Jesus, it should be important to us too.

Jesus’s Parables about His Kingdom

Today’s church should push aside her traditions and practices to replace them with what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. Jesus explains the Kingdom of God through parables:

We should use these parables to inform our view of God and grow our relationship with him and others.

The Kingdom Is Here

In addition, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he mentions how close it is, saying that it’s near (Luke 10:9 and others). It’s within his disciple’s lifetimes (Mark 9:1), even present (Luke 17:21).

How do we understand this immediacy of the kingdom of God? Isn’t kingdom of God a euphemism for heaven? Doesn’t it mean eternal life? If so, how could it have been near 2,000 years ago but now something we anticipate in our future?

Though an aspect of the kingdom of God looks forward to our eternity with Jesus in heaven, there’s more to it. We must view the kingdom of God as both a present reality and a future promise.

The kingdom of God is about our hope for heaven when we die, but it’s also about our time on earth now. Click To Tweet

Yes, the kingdom of God is about our hope for heaven when we die, but it’s also about our time on earth now. The kingdom of God is about Jesus and his salvation, along with the life we lead in response to his gift to us. The kingdom of God is about eternal life and that eternal life begins today.

Heaven is just phase two. We’re living in phase one—at least we should be.

We’ll do well to embrace Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom of God to how we should act today. We should seek first the kingdom of God.

Check out the next post in this series addressing seminary.

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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Visiting Churches

How Does the Story End? (Visiting Church #48)

Today’s destination is next door to last week’s; they even share a common drive. We enter, sign the guest book, and head towards the music. Standing just outside the sanctuary, Candy sees an acquaintance, who invites us to sit with her and her husband.

This is the third time on our journey we’ve experienced this visitor-friendly gesture.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

A self-supporting cross stands in the aisle. I wonder if it’s a regular fixture or something added for Lent. I appreciate the symbolism of a cross being at the center of the space and the focal point for all who enter.

Their pastor is out of town and the laity conducts the entire service, just as with our time at Church #29. I applaud their ability to fully lead a service on their own. The result is a low-key, comfortable feel, lacking any hint of pretense or performance.

A man gives some announcements and then asks for more. Several people stand in turn to share news. Candy’s friend use this time to introduce us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture, and many murmur their welcome.

Today’s scripture reading, from Luke 13:1-9, follows the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent. We sing another song in preparation for the sermon, which the bulletin calls “reflections.”

Our speaker reads her message, delivering her words in an effortless manner that is easy to hear. Referring to the fig tree in Jesus’ parable, she notes that “Christianity is a religion of second chances.” We don’t know what happened to the fig tree.

Did it eventually produce fruit or did the gardener uproot it? “The outcome is ours to choose”—both for this story and for ours.

[Read about Church #47 and Church #49, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #48.]

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

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Lost Son: Our Heavenly Father Watches and Waits for Us

The Parable of the Lost Son Shows God’s Unconditional Love

Jesus teaches us of his Father’s unconditional love in a parable. Some people call this story “The Prodigal Son,” but calling it “The Lost Son” is more accurate (Luke 15:11-32). In this allegory we have a man and his two boys.

The older son is compliant, while the younger son is rebellious. The younger boy, the prodigal, has the audacity to ask his father for his share of the inheritance while Dad is still alive.

The father agrees, and the son takes off. He turns his back on his dad. The young man squanders his inheritance on an unrestrained life. Soon his money is gone. He’s left with nothing, taking on a despicable job to stay alive.

In his despair, he thinks back to his father and of how well he treats his hired hands. They have it much better than this wayward son—the lost son—who is penniless and starving. He decides to return home in humility.

He plans to beg the father he disrespected to take him on as a hired servant. At least then he’ll have enough to eat.

Meanwhile the father is on the lookout for his boy.

As the son journeys home, his father spots him in the distance. He runs out to embrace his boy. The son is returning to the father, and the father accepts him without hesitation, without asking questions.

Dad will have none of his boy’s plea to work for his food as a laborer. Instead the father reinstates the boy’s status as a son, an heir to all he has. With much joy Dad takes his boy in, reunited again.

To celebrate, the father throws a lavish party for his boy. He explains his rationale to the older brother. “My boy was as good as dead but is alive again. My lost son is now found.”

All we need to do is embrace God and accept his love. Click To Tweet

The Lost Son and Us

Like the lost son, the same applies to us if we disrespect God and turn our back on him. He’s waiting, looking for us to return. And when we come back, he’ll throw a lavish party. He will reinstate us as his heir. We were dead but are now alive. We were once lost but are now found.

Whether lost or found, God offers us unconditional love that we don’t deserve. All we need to do is embrace him and accept his love.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 13-15, and today’s post is on Luke 15:11-32.]

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

A Traditional Yet Modern Service (Visiting Church #31)

It’s Saturday, and we head to church, a Seventh Day Adventist gathering. The focal point of the sanctuary is a large stained glass array. Modern and abstract it portrays an arm reaching up, with a dove upon an open hand.

I’m not sure if the dove is being held, given to us, or presented to God. I ponder the spiritual implications. Isn’t that the point of art?

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

To its right are pipes for the organ, prominent, but not ostentatious. Next to them, on an angled wall, resides a large flat-panel monitor. Announcements sequence as the display counts down the time to the scheduled start.

The service is the most technologically integrated one we’ve seen so far in our journey and certainly the most professional with its application.

The comforting modern feel contrasts with several traditional elements of the service: singing hymns, the pipe organ, and a male chorus. In addition to the organ and hymns, we also hear the piano a couple of times as well as two contemporary tunes.

It’s World Kindness Week, and today’s service reflects that theme. Two girls read about the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:33-37. The first reads in Spanish. (The only time we hear a second language.) The second girl reads from the KJV, even though the pew Bibles are the NKJV.

Some middle school students perform a skit, presenting modern-day scenarios about helping others. In the message, “Giving at a Cost,” the minister shares a story from Native American lore, again illustrating the theme.

The service is an ideal melding of the traditional and modern. With professional execution, engaging speakers, and compelling content that draws me to their worship.

[Read about Church #30 and Church #32, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #31.]

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

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Are You a Good Samaritan?

Helping Our Neighbors Should Be More Important Than Following Religious Rules

A man comes up to Jesus. The guy’s an expert in Jewish law. Today we might call him a theologian. He asks Jesus a question, “What should I do to earn eternal life?”

The answer is simple. There are two steps. Love God and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. It’s that easy. Love God and love others. Then you’ll have eternal life.

Who Is Our Neighbor?

This must make the theologian squirm, because he asks Jesus, “Well, who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus gives him a parable, that many people call the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is how it goes.

Robbers beat up a man and leave him for dead.

A religious leader (a priest) walks by and ignores the man. Later another religious person (a Levite) does the same.

It could be they’re in a hurry or that helping this hurting stranger will somehow cause them to break one of their religious rules. Or it may be that they just don’t care. Regardless they fail to help their neighbor in need.

Then a religious outcast (a Samaritan) comes upon the wounded man. The Samaritan attends to the man’s injuries, takes him to a safe place, and pays someone to look after him.

“Which of these three men,” Jesus asks, “was a good neighbor to the hurting man?”

The answer is the Samaritan, but the religious theologian can’t bring himself to say that word out loud. Instead he merely says, “the one who showed mercy.”

Jesus then tells the theologian to go and do the same thing.

Be a Good Samaritan

Though the religious people of the day dismissed and even despised Samaritans, it is the Samaritan—the good Samaritan—who does the right thing and earns Jesus’s approval.

Though I want to be like the Good Samaritan, I fear that too often religion gets in my way. Click To Tweet

Who are we in the story? Are we religious insiders who fail to help our neighbors in need, or are we someone who pushes religious rules and people’s expectations aside to do what is right? Or may it be we’re like the theologian who would rather focus on words then action.

Though I want to be like the Good Samaritan, I fear that too often religion gets in my way.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 10-12, and Today’s post is on Luke 10:25-37.]

Read more about the book of Luke in That You May Know: A 40-Day Devotional Exploring the Life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.