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52 Churches

Commitment Sunday and Celebration

Discussing Church 32

This church has been homeless for a while, but they moved into their own space last week. Today they celebrate God’s faithfulness on a trying journey with their annual commitment Sunday.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #32

1. We arrive to learn that it’s commitment Sunday for them, with contribution pledges sought for the upcoming year. The woman who explains this is embarrassed that our first visit falls on their annual plea for money. 

When you ask for money, how can you help visitors feel welcomed and not obligated?

2. When their minister learns we’re not used to liturgical services, she introduces us to someone who can guide us. He takes his job seriously and performs it admirably. 

How can you apply this visitor-friendly gesture to your church services?

3. The guest speaker says, “Bigger is no longer better in the church world,” and “Smaller is where the work will be done.” He’s so right. 

What is your attitude toward church size? Does something need to change?

4. Afterward is a brunch to celebrate God’s provision and praise him. “We don’t want to intrude on your celebration,” I say to one lady. Her response removes all doubt, “You are one of the reasons we’re celebrating.” 

How well do you celebrate visitors?

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

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

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

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Bible Insights

Do You Offer God a Sacrifice of Praise?

Embrace a Different Way to Worship God

The term “sacrifice of praise” is only found in one verse in the Bible. It’s a curious phrase. What does it mean?

Whatever it may refer to, the first thing we see is we are to do it continually. We are to offer a constant sacrifice of praise to God. To do this, we must adopt a wider understanding of praise as more than just singing.

It certainly includes the things we say, as well as the things we don’t say—praising God with words we use as well as the words we keep to ourselves. This offering of praise could also encompass our attitude as we go about life, even our demeanor.

A sacrifice of praise could include everything we give up for God as an act of praise. Click To Tweet

While sacrifice of praise could include everything we give up—that is, what we sacrifice—for God as an act of adoration, I don’t think that concept ties in with this verse because we can’t continually offer sacrifices.

We can indeed praise God through our sacrificial living and giving, but this isn’t what phrase means.

Let’s look at the Old Testament for insight. Prior to Jesus, animal sacrifices are common—and commanded according to the law of Moses. Those sacrifices must be repeated because their covering is only temporary.

When Jesus comes along to become our sacrifice it is permanent. It doesn’t need to be repeated. It’s once and for all. This means that in the New Testament, the sacrifice of animals is obsolete. Could it be that a sacrifice of praise replaces it?

May we continually offer our praise as a sweet sacrifice that to God the Father, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit for their glory.

How do you praise God? Should you add anything to your practice?

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

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

God Is Worthy of Our Praise

The Bible is filled with praise to the Almighty, and we should follow its example

The word praise occurs in more than 360 verses in the Bible. Most of these refer to praising God. They tell of people who praise God and their need to do so. Consider the short, six-verse Psalm 150. It’s filled with praise.

The word occurs thirteen times. In fact, 15 percent of the words in the Psalm are the word praise. That’s a lot of praise.

Psalm 18:3 reminds us that God is worthy of our praise. And it’s a good reminder. At least it’s a reminder I need.

Though I talk to God daily, and on some days more than others, our conversation sounds like a monologue with me asking for stuff. Yes, my requests have a noble motivation—most of the time. And I strive to thank him for each answer he provides.

Yet thanking God is not the same as praising God. Praise is largely missing in the time I spend with him. At least in the verbal sense.

Praise God in Our Spirit

Yes, sometimes I sit in awe of his presence, and this is a form of praise. Perhaps it’s the best praise I can offer. Though sometimes I’m moved to praise God with words, I too often find that my vocabulary falls short.

My words are inadequate or even nonexistent. And for a writer, not being able to find the right words is most frustrating.

It’s easiest for me to praise God when I’m in the middle of his creation, far away from other people and our creations. It seems he’s all around me. My mind floods with an attitude of praise. Even though specific words evade me, it could be I’m praising him in my spirit.

Yet in my normal prayers, I fail to offer my appreciation to the Creator. This is the praise God is worthy to receive. The praise he deserves. The praise I fail to give. Ouch!

I can’t escape this feeling that when I neglect to praise God, that I’m letting him down. Maybe I’m letting me down. Click To Tweet

Though the Almighty is worthy of my praise, fortunately my relationship to him isn’t contingent on me remembering to praise him every day. He loves me the same, regardless of what I do or don’t do. And he loves us the same, regardless of what we say and do.

Even so, I can’t escape this feeling that when I neglect to praise him—the praise he is worthy of—that I’m letting him down. Maybe I’m letting me down.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 145-150, and today’s post is on Psalm 150:6.]

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

Do We Need to Include the Lament in Our Sunday Worship Services?

Expressions of grief and sorrow abound in the Psalms but the church has forgotten how to lament

In the churches I have attended throughout my life and visited in the past few years (nearly one hundred) I don’t remember singing songs of lament. We laud God the Father, we express love to Jesus and give thanks for his gift of life, and we invite the Holy Spirit to guide us.

In fact we call our modern choruses, praise choruses. How about a lament chorus? I suspect it wouldn’t fit our expectations, at least not in middleclass churches in the United States.

Yet laments occur in the Bible, especially the Psalms. These raw, honest, almost accusatory complaints, resonate with many as the Psalms become their go to section of the Bible during times of need.

Psalm 83 is one example. It opens with three heart-ripping pleas: God I beg you to speak to me, to hear me, and to come close (Psalm 83:1). We’ve all been there, when God seems distant. Some people call these seasons their desert place, their wilderness.

They go to the Psalms to give voice to the angst their heart cannot find words to express.

Do we skip Psalm 83:1 so we can sing Psalm 84:1-2? Click To Tweet

Yet today’s church music and Christian radio largely ignores this reality in their onslaught of feel-good, optimistic, lift-up-your-hands praise choruses.

Instead our songwriters and worship leaders go forward one chapter and write about Psalm 84:1-2 to produce a foot-stomping, heart-pounding anthem. And that’s what we sing at church—even when our heart is in a different place.

We will do well to embrace the lament, not to replace our praise, but to balance it.

What is your favorite Psalm of lament? Can you think of a song of lament? (I’m sure there are some, but I can’t recall any.)

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 81-85, and today’s post is on Psalm 83:1 and Psalm 84:1-2.]

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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52 Churches

No Language Barrier (Visiting Church #20)

There’s a Mandarin service followed by one in English;. We attend both. The worship team leads us. The words to the song are displayed in Mandarin and have the English translation underneath. They sing and I listen to voices of a different tongue. God’s presence engulfs me.

When others raise their hands, I wonder if I should too, even though I don’t understand the specific reason why. It’s a question I can’t answer.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

A prayer follows. I comprehend not one word until “Amen.” Next is the scripture text, read in unison. The woman in front of me has a parallel bilingual Bible, so I know they’re reading Exodus 19 or 20.

Later, the projector displays “20:3-17” surrounded by Chinese characters. I turn to Exodus 20:3-17 and see the Ten Commandments.

The minister is a dynamic speaker, animated, and at times joking. I find myself laughing too, even though I don’t know what’s funny. Laughter is contagious, a universal language.

I don’t expect to understand the message, but I do expect the Holy Spirit to speak to me. He doesn’t—or perhaps he did and I missed it. I know the sermon is over when I hear “Amen.”

We sing the “Doxology.” The tune is familiar, but the words are Mandarin. I consider their English equivalents as others sing. The service concludes with the “Threefold Amen.” This time I can join in.

The second service uses a different song set, but the scripture and sermon are the same, albeit in English.

They invite us to stay for lunch, something they do every Sunday. “Sharing a meal is important to us,” one lady explains. We gratefully accept and sit down to eat, making new connections as we enjoy the food.

Today is a great day at church. Although our only language is not their primary one, we manage just fine.

[Read about Church #19 and Church #21, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #20.]

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 Dangers of Christian Celebrity

Don’t Place Ministers on a Pedestal

It’s sad when it happens, but we don’t need to wait long before another prominent Christian leader falls from his pedestal. Yes, it is usually men. While their moral failings are the reason, we, too, are to blame.

With ungodly fervor, we elevate our cherished leaders, hoisting them to lofty expectations that no one can maintain. Our unbridled admiration only increases their risk of failure and our profound disappointment when they stumble.

This is not just a modern occurrence, however. Two thousand years ago, the Christians living in the city of Corinth also suffer from this unwarranted celebration of its leaders.

The people there exalt the missionaries who stop by: Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, following them with great zeal (1 Corinthians 3:4-5).

This adoration approaches the level of hero worship, just as often happens today when people gush with praise for well-known Christian teachers. The risk is that the fame of these superstars threatens to supersede Jesus.

We need to follow Jesus and no one else. Click To Tweet

While the Bible celebrates our faith’s heroes, such as in Hebrews 11, it does so posthumously. Their record has been set; they can no longer disappoint us by their human failings. We know their strengths and their weaknesses.

We esteem them accordingly, celebrating what is good and guarding against what is not.

Christian celebrity is dangerous, both for them and us. May we not fall victim to it; may we keep our focus on Jesus. We need to follow Jesus and no one else.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 1-4 and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 1:11-13.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

How Should We Praise the Lord?

Sometimes words and phrases evoke emotions in people beyond what they mean. A friend recently blogged about how the word “worship” has a negative meaning for her.

Although understanding what she meant—and empathizing a bit—I didn’t think too much more about her post until a while later when I recalled my own issues with the phrase “Praise the Lord!”

Instead of just saying, “Praise the Lord!” let’s actually do it in a way that truly honors him. Click To Tweet

Honoring God is a good and right action. Affirming God’s goodness and provision is both biblical and warranted, something I do often—though not as frequently as he deserves. However, I’m quite sure the actual words “Praise the Lord!” have never passed my lips.

For I cringe every time I hear it, not because of the words themselves or the meaning behind them, but because of my baggage that I’ve tied to those who use—and abuse—the phrase “Praise the Lord.” The spontaneous reaction I have to that phrase is disdain.

Some People Exude a Fake Faith

Those with pretend perfect lives, no hardship, and a perpetual smile. They get a flat tire and the first thing out of their mouth is “Well, praise the Lord!” Now I understand the importance of not walking around with a perpetual frown. But life isn’t always good.

Bad things do happen. And while I have confidence God will somehow, at some time, turn everything icky into something better, I stop short of proclaiming, “Praise the Lord!” at the first sign of trouble.

Then there are the thoughtless who use it to fill the space between sentences and to insert whenever their thoughts pause as they search for their next words.

More than once, I’ve mocked preachers for doing this:

“Open your hymnals, praise the Lord!…to hymn number 113, praise the Lord, where we’ll sing the first, third, and fifth versus, as Sister Marquette—praise the Lord—plays the organ. Now everyone rise—Praise the Lord!—and sing….” Ick.

Get me out of here. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

Last are those who spout this platitude with mindless repetition. They say it more often than I utter “um,” “well,” and “so.” (Sometimes I do this all at once, as in “Well, um, so….”)

No matter what is said, these folks respond with “Praise the Lord.” And no matter what they say, they tack on “Praise the Lord!” to the end.

Sometimes they even say it when it makes no sense. Someone asks, “What’s the price of gas?” and they respond with, “Well, praise the Lord!” Then when asked why they said, ‘Praise the Lord?’ and they deny ever doing so.

I’m so scarred by this that even when people say, “Praise the Lord” at the right time and for the right reasons, I still shudder.

Yes, we do need to celebrate God, but instead of just saying, “Praise the Lord!” let’s actually do it in a way that truly honors him.

Can I get an Amen? (Next Sunday I’ll share my thoughts about “Amen.”)

How does hearing “Praise the Lord” affect you?

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

Can You Be Quiet?

Silence Is Golden

We live in a world where it’s hard to sit still and even more challenging to be silent.

We are conditioned to be moving, active and physically engaged. And as we do so, we expect to be surrounded with sound, to be constantly exposed to an auditory stimulus.

To be still can be a stretch for us and to be quiet, quite unattainable. Many would ask, “What’s the purpose of being still?” “Why should I be quiet?” There’s nothing to be gained by doing so.

But God has a different idea. He says “Be still and I know that I am God.” And upon reflection, King David adds, “Silence is praise to you.”

Being still connects us with God and being quiet praises him.

Be still…be quiet…

[Psalm 46:10 and Psalm 65:1]

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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Bible Insights

Make Praise Your Habit

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.

Make praise your habit. Click To Tweet

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.