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Bible Insights

Do You Seek God First for Healing When You Are Sick?

Azariah the Son of Oded

Azariah, son of Oded, comes to Asa, King of Judah. The prophet tells the king, “If you see God, you’ll find him. If you walk away from him, he’ll walk away from you” (2 Chronicles 15:2). That is, to seek God first.

King Asa takes the prophet’s warning seriously and acts. He decides to seek God. He implements spiritual reforms and restores worship. The nation is at peace—at least for several years.

Then Asa makes a treaty with another king and goes to war against Israel. Another prophet, Hanani, goes to Asa criticizing him for relying on another nation, king, and army instead of God. This time, instead of responding positively, Asa takes offense and throws the sage in prison.

Things go downhill from there.

Seek God Today

A few years later Asa has a disease develop in his foot. Although painful, he does not seek God for healing. Instead he relies on doctors to cure him. They don’t. Two years later Asa dies.

In all instances, we are wise to seek God first. Click To Tweet

Many Christians in developed countries today act just like King Asa. When a medical problem arises, they rush off to the nearest doctor seeking the wisdom of people to restore them to full health.

And if the first physician doesn’t produce results, they’ll pursue a second opinion from another medical professional.

They don’t seek God for supernatural healing.

I’m not sure if this is because they’re not conditioned to turn to God for their physical ailments or if they don’t believe he can heal them. At best, they may whisper a short prayer asking that God will enable the physicians to heal them.

Jesus Came to Save and to Heal

Oh, how this must grieve God with our lack of faith and unwillingness to trust him with our health and our future. Remember, Jesus came to save and to heal. If we trust him for our salvation, why won’t we trust him for our healing?

Though this isn’t a call to dismiss medical treatment, it is a plea to seek God first and then consider modern healthcare as an adjunct or secondary source. Sometimes God will heal us directly and other times he will work through physicians.

But in all instances, we are wise to seek God first.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Chronicles 16-18, and today’s post is on 2 Chronicles 16:12.]

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

What Do We Do When God’s Commands No Longer Make Sense?

Contrary to the Law of Moses King David Reassigns the Duties of the Levites

In the book of Numbers, Moses details the assignments and responsibilities of the tribe of Levi, mentioning them over fifty times. Though the priests, descendants of Aaron, are from this tribe, the rest of the Levites have God-assigned responsibilities too.

Chief among them is taking down, moving, and setting up the tabernacle and related elements of worship. They must do this each time God’s people move camp as they wander about in the wilderness.

The nation of Israel spends about four decades in the desert, sometimes moving frequently and other times not so much. This keeps the Levites busy.

Then they get to the promised land, conquer it, and occupy it. No longer is there a need to disassemble, transport, and reassemble the tabernacle. What do the Levites do now that their primary job is irrelevant? That’s a good question.

Over four hundred years later, some four centuries with the Levites having nothing to do, King David arrives on the scene. He reassigns the Levites to new tasks that relate to worshiping God.

Who does David think he is to countermand the commands of Moses, as received from God? It seems ill-advised to ignore what’s in Scripture—God’s written word—and replace it with something that makes better sense to us. But this is precisely what David did.

Though we could concoct a principal from this and say that when Scripture—God’s past commands—no longer makes sense in the present, we are free to change them. Just like David did. Yet, I’m not going to go there. I think it’s an overstretch, a misapplication.

Remember, after all, David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). That’s significant.

Hold to what the Bible says and apply it the best we can to our life and culture today. Click To Tweet

Whenever I encounter something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, I don’t ignore it. Instead I meditate on it. I ask the Holy Spirit to supernaturally explain it to me.

Sometimes he does so right away, in other instances it takes a few days, and on occasion I wait for years. But until God instructs me otherwise, I’ll hold to what the Bible says and apply it the best I can to my life and our culture today.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 24-26, and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 24:3.]

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

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Bible Insights

Why Love Matters the Most

Last week in my post, How Important is Knowledge?, I noted that many in our society—and the Western Church—esteem knowledge above all else, while Paul says that love is more important. That is, love matters.

In another place Paul elevates love over several other things as well, such as supernaturally using other languages, giving prophetic words, having spiritual discernment, exercising deep faith, possessing a giving heart, and enduring physical hardship.

Although these things have value, they aren’t as important as simply loving one another. In fact, without love, these other things don’t even matter, not really.

Love is the greatest thing of all. Click To Tweet

I’ve often seen well-intended followers of Jesus seek an impartation of supernatural gifts, especially speaking in tongues, but I’ve never seen anyone ask for more love. Yet if we really believe what Paul says, that love matters, then love should be the first thing we ask for.

After all, Paul does say that love is the greatest thing of all.

[1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 13:13]

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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Bible Insights

3 Unusual Examples of God’s Healing Power

God Uses His People to Heal the Hurting

Elisha dies, but his influence lives on. Yes, Elisha continues to teach us today, thousands of years after his death, through the words recorded about him in the Bible. However, he also has a practical effect on someone postmortem. It’s one example of God’s amazing healing power through his people.

1. The Healing Power of Elisha’s Bones

A man dies, and his friends are burying him when a gang of bandits come into view. Not wanting to end up like their buddy, the pallbearers dump the body in the nearest tomb.

It happens to be Elisha’s final resting place. When the body touches the bones of Elisha, the dead man becomes undead and jumps to his feet (2 Kings 13:21).

This is an amazing example of God’s power to heal. It’s the ultimate healing: resurrection. But that’s not all. Here are two more stories.

2. The Healing Power of Peter’s Shadow

The Bible also tells about people bringing their infirmed friends and placing them on the street where they expect Peter to travel. They hope Peter’s shadow might fall on the sick as he passes by.

Though the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that people received healing this way, why would they go to this trouble if Peter’s shadow hadn’t healed others in the past? (Acts 5:15).

3. The Healing Power of Paul’s Handkerchief

Later in the book of Acts, we read about God doing astonishing miracles through Paul. This supernatural power is so extraordinary that even handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touches have the power to heal people.

They bring these garments to people who need healing. The people who receive them are cured and evil spirits are cast out, even though Paul isn’t physically present (Acts 19:11-12).

Is God still in the business of healing people? Click To Tweet

God’s Power to Heal Is in Us

God’s healing power occurs through a dead man’s bones, a shadow, and articles of clothing. Is God still in the business of healing people? How can these examples inform our view of miracles and how we act today?

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Kings 11-13, and today’s post is on 2 Kings 13:21.]

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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Stephen is Martyred

Learn More about Stephen

The third sermon in the book of Acts: Acts 6:8-7:60 (specifically Acts 7:1-53).

Setting: Jerusalem, before the Sanhedrin (the ruling Jewish council)

Speaker: Stephen

Audience: Jewish leaders (members of the Sanhedrin)

Preceding Events: Stephen supernaturally does many miracles and amazing things. The opposition stirs up trouble, has him arrested, and persuades others to lie about him.

Overall Theme: Stephen gives a concise historical overview from Abraham up to Jesus. Throughout this history, God is at work.

Scripture Quoted: Exodus 2:14, Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3:5,7-8,10, Deuteronomy 18:15, Exodus 32:1, Amos 5:25-27, Isaiah 66:1-2

Central Teaching: The Jewish people miss seeing God at work, resist the Holy Spirit, and reject Jesus, just as they did the prophets before him.

Subsequent Events: Stephen is Martyred, brutally killed by a mob.

Being bold for Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit does not always guarantee our safety or a happy outcome.

In Stephen’s case, his words to tell others about Jesus don’t have the desired impact of them deciding to follow Jesus. Though the crowd is motivated by his message, they have the opposite reaction and instead kill the messenger, literally.

This post is from the series “Sermons in the book of Acts.” Read about sermon #2 or sermon #4.

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

The Seven Transformations of Peter DeHaan

A Personal Story of Growing in Faith and Action

[This personal essay first appeared in The Transformation Project: A West Michigan Word Weavers Anthology.]

A caterpillar turns into a butterfly; a tadpole becomes a frog. People can change too. We call it transformation. Here’s my story.

1. The Bible Matters

We moved between fourth and fifth grade. I didn’t learn much at my new school. I was far ahead in most subjects, especially Math. However, I lagged in English, especially grammar, sending me on a lifelong quest to grasp it. Given that I ended up an author, and not a mathematician as planned, this ironic twist amuses me.

How I managed to earn A’s in English remains a mystery.

Teachers give more attention to students on the fringe, both those who struggle and those who shine. Since I stood out in most areas, my teacher gave me more attention. Although I didn’t learn much academically that year, she gave me something more important, something life changing: an enhanced self-image.

Succinctly, I began fifth grade as an above average student who believed he was average. I ended the year as an above average student, convinced he was exceptional. This single readjustment of my self-perception forever altered my life.

No longer did I seek to merely get by in school, to take the easy way out. Learning changed from drudgery to delight. I desired to excel.

My newfound interest in education spilled over into religion, as I devoured faith-friendly books—both fiction and nonfiction. Later, I became intentional about reading Scripture. I loved my pursuit of biblical knowledge.

Soon I read the New Testament, and a couple of years later I covered the entire Bible over summer vacation. This sparked a life-long passion of digging for truth in God’s word.

As strange as it sounds, a secular schoolteacher provided the catalyst for my first transformation: an overall desire to learn, which spilled over to an intellectual pursuit of God.

2. The Vast Diversity of Jesus’s Church

I grew up attending two small, mainline denominational churches, where church was a traditional experience: stoic, reserved—and boring. I had trouble connecting faith with church.

What I read in the Bible didn’t much match what I experienced on Sunday. Perhaps changing churches would solve my dilemma.

After high school, I veered evangelical.

At this new church, aside from seeing young adults my age excited about faith and happy to go to church, two other things astounded me: the music and the sermon. Both were fresh and inviting. This sparked a spiritual rejuvenation in me.

My old church had effectively put God in a box. As I migrated to a different doctrine, I had to escape my old theology. This resulted in a newfound freedom to comprehend God afresh. My faith leapt forward when I came to this church, completing a shift in my focus from an intellectual pursuit of God to a personal relationship with Jesus.

My new church, however, also put God in a box, even smaller and more confining.

Their box, fundamental in construction, lacked love and excelled at judgment. Their idea of godly living existed as rules. Theirs was a heavy load and not freeing. Jesus proclaimed the opposite: a light burden and gentle yoke. He offered rest from the religious regulations of the day—not bondage to them.

This church’s doctrine was narrow, dogmatic to an extreme. Pastoral opinion, uttered as fact, allowed for no disagreement. They isolated themselves from most of Christianity, turning up their religious nose at the unity Jesus prayed for.

At first, I didn’t see their error, but when I did, it became an oppressive weight. A spiritual angst welled up inside. I craved escape.

My second transformation occurred not when I joined this church or when I left it, but in the realization that Jesus’s church is more than one gathering, one denomination, or even one faith perspective (be it mainline, evangelical, or charismatic; Protestant or Catholic).

The church of Jesus, with its many branches, is diverse and wonderful. He prayed we would be one (John 17:20-21)—and I began to embrace that too.

Jesus’s church is huge—and I’m glad I’m part of it.

3. Learning to Feed Myself

I wasn’t being fed spiritually, so I switched churches. My reason sounded so spiritual, but my claim revealed immaturity. Unable to feed myself, I expected my pastor to do it for me. I was a baby Christian, only able to drink milk and not eat solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Though I read the Bible daily, prayed most days, and had a relationship with Jesus, I expected my pastor to shovel enough spiritual sustenance into me each Sunday to sustain me for the week. I didn’t know how to do this myself.

Even worse, I didn’t realize I was supposed to. Isn’t that what we pay our ministers to do?

The pastor at this church had a different view. He explained I needed to feed myself—and then showed me how. Soon I learned what to do, no longer relying on him to nourish me.

I discovered how to listen to God, hearing his words and direction. I grew as a person of prayer and faith. My intimacy with God deepened, overwhelming me with peace and joy.

Learning to feed myself spiritually marked my third transformation, establishing the basis for the next one.

4. Holy Spirit

I joined with a group of believers who were diligently seeking more from their faith. We immersed ourselves in learning about the Holy Spirit. I was ecstatic about the new truths we learned.

After a time, with my friends gathered, I asked the Holy Spirit to indwell me, to take over my life, and envelop me. They stretched out their hands and prayed for me—and nothing happened.

What went wrong?

Discouraged over this non-event, only later did I realize I’d already done this.

Decades prior, while still in high school, one of the things I read was a little blue booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. I studied it carefully and eagerly said the prayer they suggested. A few years later came a follow-up booklet that taught about living the spirit-filled life.

I raced through it to reach the end, seeking what I needed to do. With excitement, I invited the Holy Spirit into my life and to fill me. A powerful wave of God’s love engulfed me, a warm supernatural whoosh. Life made sense.

Everything came into focus. God emerged for me as a vibrant, real presence.

After a few days, however, my supernatural bliss evaporated. My spirit-filled euphoria was gone. Dejected, I returned to my tiny booklet to reclaim that feeling but without success. I tossed it aside and soon forgot it.

Though I failed then to comprehend it, the Holy Spirit had been quietly active in my life ever since but without my awareness. I thought supernatural insights and promptings were normal for all Christians.

Now that I understood the scope of his influence, I became intentional about listening to and following the Holy Spirit’s lead. Nowadays we work together as a team—at least most of the time.

My fourth transformation embraced the person of the oft-forgotten member of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

5. Jesus’s Healing Power

The opportunity for another change came when a group of like-minded Jesus followers launched a healing room. This required a bold step forward, both for our group and for us as individuals.

We went to training and we practiced what we learned, initially on each other and eventually applying it to others, timidly at first and then with greater confidence—not in ourselves but in God’s amazing power. Our faith in action moved forward.

This stretched me spiritually, and I savored my new insights into God and the grandeur of who he is.

Jesus, we learned, came to heal and to save. Two thousand years ago, the masses clamored for his healing power, but most missed his saving power. Today, Christians in the Western world see Jesus as savior but dismiss him as healer. I embrace both—and with unapologetic passion.

Each week our team would gather to worship God and listen for his instructions. Then we’d open our doors to offer prayer and healing. There I experienced firsthand what I’d only read about.

God used us to heal people: emotionally, spiritually, and physically—sometimes gradually and sometimes immediately.

As we worked together, we taught and encouraged one another, learning to rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and power. My fifth transformation had begun, never complete but always moving forward.

6. A Mission to Spread the Word

I started college when I was sixteen. Twenty-seven years later, I finally finished—or so I thought—with a PhD in Business Administration. I never went full time but always fit my classes and homework around a full-time job, usually while working forty-five to fifty-five hours a week.

Along the way, I made many sacrifices. To my dismay, this included giving up time with family. When my last diploma arrived, my wife asked, “Are you finally finished?” I assured her I was.

But God had other plans.

A few years later, he whispered to me, “Go back to school.” He didn’t say when, where, or why. He simply said, “Go.” The rest was up to me. Since God was doing the telling, I figured my studies should have a spiritual focus.

Both dismayed and elated at the prospect of more formal education, I moved forward, but my quest was a long one. It took five years, but I graduated with a second PhD, this one in Pastoral Ministry, of all things.

My dissertation explored church unity. The topic drew me in, with increasing fervor. I could not let go of its persistent grasp. The unity of Jesus’s church became my passion.

Writing my dissertation also sparked something else deep inside my soul. Although I’d been writing most of my life, for the first time my writing intersected with my faith.

Until then, I’d spent decades writing about business and for business. But now, being a wordsmith had a greater purpose. I ceased trying to write quickly for work and began striving to write with quality for God. My words had a higher calling.

My passion to write about godly things exploded into a calling I could not shake. Soon I wondered if my next career would be as a writer. As I studied and practiced and improved, I knew verbalizing my intention was the next step.

At a mere whisper, my words, “I am a writer,” released an inner desire to write for God. Then I spoke, again, this time a little louder, “I am a writer.” Self-doubt retreated. But I needed to make a firm declaration.

“I am a writer!” I bellowed with confidence. And so I was. My sixth transformation, as a writer on a mission for God, was set in motion.

When I die, my spirit, the essential me, will transform into something wonderful, amazing, and everlasting. Click To Tweet

7. The Final Transformation

I don’t know what the future holds or if an additional transformation awaits me. There is one, however, I can be sure of: death.

I will one day die, and my ultimate transformation will take place. My body—where my soul and spirit reside—will cease to function. My essence will find release, no longer imprisoned in the physical realm, no longer bound by time.

My spirit, the essential me, will transform into something wonderful, amazing, and everlasting—not for personal glory or self-aggrandizement, but for eternal communion with my Creator, worshiping and experiencing true spiritual intimacy with the King of Transformation.

Then my transformation will be complete. I will finally be home.

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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The Medium of Endor

Not Everything That’s Spiritual is Good

Here’s the situation. The prophet Samuel is dead. God has abandoned King Saul, and the once-promising ruler is losing his grip on power. Saul prays, but God doesn’t respond. None of the ways Saul has heard from God in the past are working now. In desperation, he seeks a medium.

In his better days as God’s king, Saul expelled all the mediums and spiritualists from the country. Now he wants one. It’s his last option for supernatural guidance. His aids tell him there is a medium in Endor. Some versions of the Bible call her a witch.

Not all that’s spiritual is good. Click To Tweet

In disguise, Saul seeks her out. She is cautious, fearing execution if her skills become known. He persists, promising her safety. After some persuasion, she relents. Saul asks her to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. She does.

Then she realizes who Saul is—the king who outlawed and ousted everyone in her line of work. She screams at Saul because of his deception, but he urges her to proceed and serve as a link to connect him with Samuel.

For Samuel’s part, he’s not pleased at having his existence in the afterlife disturbed. He’s likely happy there and wants to remain there, not be sucked back toward the physical realm.

Samuel confirms it’s too late for Saul. God has left him for good. Furthermore, Samuel says the next day Saul and his sons will die in battle. The nation will be lost.

Saul is distraught, losing what little hope he has left. The medium of Endor urges him to eat, and she prepares a meal for him.

Saul eats and then leaves. The next day, Saul and his three sons die—his boys in battle and Saul by suicide.

Not all that’s spiritual is good. The medium of Endor is one such example. When our prayers seem to go nowhere, do we keep our focus on God or seek unwise alternatives?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 26-28, and today’s post is on 1 Samuel 28:3–25.]

Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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

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Christian Living

The Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel Prophesies to Dry Bones and Breathes Life into Them

One of the most evocative images in the book of Ezekiel is him speaking to dry bones scattered before him. It’s a valley of dry bones. The bones animate and reassemble. Tendons connect them. Flesh covers the skeletons. Breath enters these reconstituted bodies, mere corpses, and they live again.

It’s powerful imagery, the dead becoming alive. But what does it mean?

Fortunately, God explains it to Ezekiel

The bones represent the people of Israel. They are dried up. Their hope is gone. Cut off. Effectively, they are dead.

God will open their graves, resurrecting them to bring them home.

In addition to restoring their physical life, he will give them a spiritual life too. He will put his spirit in them. Then they will live. Truly live.

As with most prophecies, this one contains multiple applications.

Israel

The first is for his audience of that day, Israel. The people overflow with discouragement and are without hope. God reminds them that they can place their hope in him. He will restore them as a nation and bring them back from captivity and return them to the land he promised for them.

Jesus

We can also see this passage looking forward prophetically to Jesus. Consider two items: the prophecy of graves opening and God putting his spirit in his people so they can truly live.

When Jesus dies the curtain in the temple rips in half from top to bottom, symbolically allowing us to directly approach God. There is an earthquake and tombs break open. Bodies of many holy people come to life. We don’t know who they are or have a count, just that there are many, and they lived holy lives (Matthew 27:51-53).

Next, consider Pentecost. Jesus’s squad waits in Jerusalem for the special gift that Papa will send them. A violent wind sounds. Something like tongues of fire hover over each person. And the Holy Spirit fills them with supernatural power (Acts 2:1-4).

When Jesus dies the curtain in the temple is torn open from top to bottom, symbolically allowing us to directly approach God. Click To Tweet

End Times

In John’s epic vision as recorded in the book of Revelation, we also see dead bodies become alive (Revelation 11:7-11 and Revelation 20:11-13), just like Ezekiel said.

To wrap things up, the Holy Spirit and Jesus invites them—and us—to come and receive the gift of life (Revelation 22:17).

These are some of the key things we can learn from Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 37-39, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 37:13-14.]

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

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Christian Living

5 New Testament Ideas for Church

Discover What the Bible Teaches About Church

While considering a better New Testament approach to church, we talked about the three key perspectives that Jesus changed: meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

Then we looked at ten more New Testament practices: relying on the Holy Spirit, worship, prayer, fasting, community, eating together, caring for our people, valuing one another, helping others, and informal leadership.

Now we’ll look at five more tangible ideas of church and meeting together from the pages of the New Testament.

1. The Acts 2 Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus are hanging out. This is the first church. What do they do?

Luke records their activities:

  • They learn about Jesus. Think of this as a new believer’s class. Remember, they’re mostly all new to their faith in Jesus. This is teaching.
  • They spend time with each other. This is fellowship.
  • They share meals. This is community.
  • They pray. This is connecting with God.
  • They meet every day at the temple were people outside their group are. This is outreach.
  • They also meet in homes. This is fellowship.
  • They share all their possessions. This is generosity.
  • They praise God. This is worship.

As a result, more people join them every day. This is what the early church does and how God blesses them (Acts 2:42–47).

What significant is what they don’t do. There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the early church in Acts 2 gives us much to contemplate when we consider how our church should function today.

2. The Acts 4 Example

As the book of Acts unfolds with its historical narrative of the early church, Luke notes two more characteristics of that church: unity and sharing everything (Acts 4:32).

First, the church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with his prayer that they would be one then, just as we would be one today. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it.

Unity describes what everyone of us should pursue and what every church should be. Jesus yearns for us to be united. Over the centuries Jesus’s followers in his church have done a poor job living in unity, as one.

Second, no one claims their possessions as their own. This isn’t a mine-versus-yours mentality. Everything is ours. They have a group perspective and act in the community’s best interest. They do it out of love for each other. They share everything they have. Not some, not half, but all.

This example is hard for many in our first-world churches to follow today, though not as much for congregations in developing countries. Regardless, while we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, this isn’t a command. Later Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional (Acts 5:4).

From Acts 4 we see an example of unity and generosity. This complete generosity, however, is a practice that happens at this snapshot of time for the early church. We will do well to consider how we can apply it today.

3. Paul’s Perspective

Now let’s look at a third passage. In it, Paul instructs the church in Corinth of how their meetings should proceed (1 Corinthians 14:26–31). While Paul writes to the Corinthian church, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow his directives as well today.

Paul opens by saying “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian community gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.

This removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. During a typical church service today a few people lead, while most people watch.

This means that only some are active during the service, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.

Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place.

Sing a Song

First, when we meet, we should sing a hymn or share a song. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song.

Anyone can do that. Our singing could also mean—it probably means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads.

Teach a Lesson

Second, the same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more.

We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. Everyone who’s present can do this.

All we need is a willingness to share something God taught us or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.

Share a Revelation

Third, the idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He can do this through what we read or things we see. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight.

Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share our insights with those gathered.

Speak in Tongues

The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity. Speaking in tongues is the first of these two items. The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth how to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our church community.

But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27). This implies speaking in tongues is not a requirement. But he does give guidelines for when people do speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27–30). We will do well to follow Paul’s words.

Interpret the Tongue

Fifth, after someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it (1 Corinthians 14:28). After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church? (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).

The Holy Spirit’s Role

These five items require no preparation, just a willingness to notice the direction of God’s Spirit. This means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this, we will encounter times of silence as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people today. But listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is central to the gatherings of the early church.

Paul says everything we do at our meetings must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. This means not doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities.

Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for the common good of Jesus’s church. This will best advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

4. Don’t Forget Meeting Together

Note that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church, says when you come together, not if you come together. This reminds us that gathering with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not optional (1 Corinthians 14:26).

The book of Hebrews confirms this idea of regular interaction when it warns to not give up meeting together. We do this to encourage others to better love and help each other (Hebrews 10:24–25).

This idea of coming together, of meeting with others, can occur on Sunday morning, or it can happen at any other day or time. The Bible doesn’t tell us when to meet. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over time.

Though many people interpret this instruction to not give up meeting together as a command to attend church, it isn’t. Not really. While meeting together can include going to church on Sunday, it should encompass much more.

It’s a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. Jesus says anywhere two or three people gather in his name—that is, they get together and place their focus on him—he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

Here are some ideas of how and where we can meet in Jesus’s name.

Meals

Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to connect with others and include Jesus when we eat. But do we make the most of these opportunities?

Coffee Shop

People often meet at coffee shops to hang out. If we include God in our meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, we assemble in his name.

Homes

Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If we both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together which includes him? It should.

Outings

What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet with others in his name.

Small Groups

Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection and draws us to God. But this doesn’t need to be the result of a formal small group program in our church.

We can make our own small group whenever we wish, meeting in the name of Jesus.

Church

Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. I list it last because it might be the least important. This is because when we go to church, we usually do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

People tend to skip that part. The reason we are to meet is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this at our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of going to church, they’re quick to miss that the reason is to provide encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then we might as well stay home.

5. What Jesus Says

Let’s return our discussion to Jesus.

Recall that after Jesus rises from the dead, he tells his followers to stay in Jerusalem, waiting for a surprise Father God has planned for them: the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon them and give them supernatural power (Acts 1:4–5).

They wait, and the Holy Spirit shows up (Acts 2:1–4). Amazing things happen, and the number of Jesus’s followers explodes (Acts 2:41).

They wait in Jerusalem as instructed, and they receive the gift of Holy Spirit power as promised. But after all that, they remain in Jerusalem. Instead they’re supposed to spread out and share Jesus’s good news around the world. He told them to do that too (Matthew 28:19–20). But they don’t. They stay put.

They don’t realize that God’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay there forever. Sometimes what God tells us to do is only for a season.

Then there’s something else for us to do. But if we don’t make that transition, we end up being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. Instead of staying in Jerusalem—something they’re used to and comfortable with—their mission is to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20).

How well are we doing at going into the world and making disciples today? Are we staying put in our church—what we’re used to doing and where we’re comfortable—or are we looking outside of our church to do what Jesus said to do?

I suspect you know the answer.

Make Disciples

Today’s church falls short of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus. They care for their own to the peril of others. Many churches ignore outsiders completely, sometimes even shunning them.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God.

Most churches do the meeting together part, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or “in truth” as Jesus said to do (John 4:23–24).

Yet few churches look outside their walls to go into their community—let alone the world—to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to enter our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we’re supposed to leave our Sunday sanctuary to take this Jesus-mandated work to them. We can’t do that in a church building on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

If we want to make disciples, we need to go out and find them. This brings us to the second part.

Go into the World

There is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service so they can be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and receives a positive reception from their community.

These were both service initiatives, not outright evangelism. But the best—and easiest—way to talk to people about Jesus is to first serve them in his name.

Every church should make a positive impact on their community. They do this best by entering it. Yet so few do. They’re too focused on meeting together and worshiping instead of going out into the world to make disciples.

We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts. Click To Tweet

Summary

We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts.

  1. Follow the early church’s example to learn about Jesus, pursue fellowship and community, pray and worship, meet daily in public and in homes, and practice kindness.
  2. Pursue unity and generosity.
  3. Be ready to rely on the Holy Spirit to sing, teach, share a revelation, speak in tongues, and interpret a tongue.
  4. Refresh our idea of what meeting together means.
  5. Balance our inward efforts on church meetings and worship with an outward focus on going into the world to make disciples.

Pick one change to make and then pursue it.

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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