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52 Churches

Playing it Safe

Our destination is not a church to visit but a revisit, returning to the congregation we were part of a decade ago.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #52

1. This church would be bigger, except they keep sending members away to plant new churches. 

How could your church do better at sending people into the world to advance God’s kingdom?

2. After the service the pastor invites people to come forward for prayer with the prayer teams. I appreciate them serving people through prayer, but few churches do. Don’t they see prayer as important? 

How can you elevate prayer at your church?

3. Today we heard an insightful message from a gifted communicator. We enjoyed worship led by talented musicians. Yet something felt off. They have a traditional soul. “Safe” best describes their vibe; they are playing is safe. 

How can you help move your church from playing it safe to being bold for Jesus?

4. I had meaningful conversations today, but they were all with people I knew. If I had shown up as a stranger, I would have departed as a stranger, feeling more alone than when I had arrived. 

What can you do to make sure no one leaves your church feeling like a stranger?

[See the prior set of questions 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

What Should You Do on Sunday?

Celebrating the Sabbath

People have different ideas about what you can and can’t do on Sundays, how you should and shouldn’t act. This ranges from Sunday being the same as every other day to it being a solemn set-apart time when you go to church, rest, and do nothing else.

Though I have never pursued either of these options, my treatment of this special day has varied over the years, covering much of the area in between.

Old Testament Sabbath: The Seventh Day of the Week

The Bible tells us what to do and not do on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the end of the week, the seventh day—when God rested after he finished his creation.

God tells his people two key things about observing the Sabbath. First, keep it holy. Second, do no work. That’s it.

Note that he doesn’t mention anything about going to a church gathering to worship him each Sabbath.

Whatever you decide Sunday looks like for you, may you do it well. Click To Tweet

New Testament Sunday: The First Day of the Week

The New Testament describes what the early church does on Sunday, which is the first day of the week. Yet the Bible is short on instructing us what we can and should do today for our Sunday observances.

Jesus gives us the best guideline when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” When we factor in biblical concepts of rest and worship, we have a framework from which to form our Sunday routines.

There is no one right answer. We are each left to contemplate this on our own and determine a Sunday practice that is true to what God calls us to do.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Mark 1-4, and today’s post is on Mark 2:25-28.]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

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

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Bible Insights

Great Is Our God

We Must Remove Anything That Threatens to Push God Aside

Asaph writes that God’s ways are holy, and that no other god is as great as he. Great is our God. In the context of that day, other gods refers to idols or made-up deities aside from the God revealed in Scripture.

Today bowing down to idols and making up gods to worship doesn’t often happen in a literal sense. But in a figurative manner we do this all the time.

Here are some modern-day gods that many people effectively worship and serve as their lord:

Money

In many cultures, people pursue money as if it’s the only thing that matters. They don’t just want money to live, but they live for money and love money. They treat their investment portfolio and their bank balance as a scorecard for success.

Their priorities are wrong. What the world values is seldom what God values. Instead of trusting in money, they should trust in God.

We cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13).

Possessions

In developed countries, people are materialistic. Having more than enough money to supply their daily needs, many use their excess wealth to accumulate possessions. They buy stuff with the expectation that it will make them happier and more fulfilled. It never does.

My dad often said, “You don’t own things. They own you.” He was so wise. Remember, God blesses us so that we can bless others.

Instead of seeking solace through possessions, we should first seek connection with the Almighty (Matthew 6:33).

Influence

Another thing some people elevate too highly in their lives is the ability to influence others. Influence isn’t necessarily bad. We can influence others to follow Jesus (see Matthew 5:16). And we should.

Yet for some, the unbridled quest of influence has surpassed their quest for God.

Respect

Others pursue the god of respect. I see this happen too often among church leaders who insist their followers addressed them using their credentials, such as Reverend, Doctor, or Father. This was prevalent in Jesus’s day, too, and he warned against it (Matthew 23:9 and Mark 12:38-39).

Though descriptive titles can aid in understanding, they can also become a sense of pride. Examples I often hear include senior pastor, lead pastor, and teaching pastor.

Approval

Another consideration is seeking the approval of others. We may have a psychological need to earn someone’s approval. But this isn’t God’s intention. Paul warns against this and writes that we should only seek God’s approval (Galatians 1:10).

Great is our God. Everything else is secondary. Click To Tweet

Great is our God

None of these pursuits—money, possessions, influence, respect, or approval—are necessarily bad. But when we chase after them like gods, we run the risk of them becoming more important to us then God.

Great is our God. Everything else is secondary, if even that.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 76-80 and today’s post is on Psalm 77:13.]

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52 Churches

Church Discipline

The sprawling facility provides an impressive view from a distance. Their larger, new building suggests a thriving, dynamic community. But our experience there does not align this this, but the teaching about church discipline really connects with me.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #46

1. Yet no one responds to Candy’s phone messages or emails, so she can’t confirm the service time listed on their website. As we pull up, doubt forms. Only a few cars sit in their large parking lot. Are we here at the wrong time? 

How can you better respond to those who contact your church?

2. During worship, heavily orchestrated background tracks reverberate through the sanctuary. I can’t push past the overproduced, resounding boom. It distracts me from the words and blocks my worship

How can you best help people worship God?

3. The pastor tells the congregation to open their Bibles and follow along as he reads. The verses don’t appear on the screens. With our version not matching his, it’s disconcerting. I feel marginalized and excluded. 

What changes do you need to make to help guests feel included?

4. The minister is a gifted communicator. I appreciate his teaching about church discipline. He makes some great points. and he soon wins me over. He says that we cannot judge the lost, but we do need to judge ourselves. 

Are you wrongly judgmental? What needs to change?

[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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52 Churches

A Familiar Place

We attended this church years ago. This won’t be a visit as much as a reunion. It’s a familiar place.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #44

1. The building is twenty-five years old and well-maintained. Too many church buildings show neglect, repelling people instead of inviting them. 

What are some low-cost ways you can upgrade the appearance of your church facility?

2. The worship team has a full sound, upbeat and energetic, yet most of the congregation stands stoic. They’re spectators. 

How can you be an example to encourage others to participate more fully in worship?

3. Without a pulpit, the pastor moves to a tall table with two chairs, giving a coffee shop vibe. He introduces today’s topic, and then takes a dramatic pause while taking a sip of tea. He’s not preaching a sermon, as much as having a conversation. 

How can your church service better connect with today’s audience? What will you say to those who don’t like the change?

4. The sermon is about our creed. The minister concludes by asking two questions: “What do you believe?” and “How are you living it out?” 

How do you live out your faith?

This church is a familiar place that provided positive outcomes.

[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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52 Churches

A Refreshing Church Service

The church meets in a middle school’s all-purpose room. Large portable signs direct us to the entrance. We enjoy a refreshing church service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #38: 

1. People mill about: talking, sipping coffee, or munching snacks. They represent all age groups, with many kids. 

Younger people are the future of our church. What can you do to attract and connect with them?

2. A team of four leads worship, with optimally adjusted audio. The ideal sound tech is the one you’re unaware of. It’s only because of mistakes that anyone usually notices. This one is good. 

What should you do to make sure your audiovisual team supports your service and doesn’t distract?

3. As a special treat, three ladies from a local ballet company worship with us in dance. Ballet and guitars are an odd pairing, but the result is worshiping God through sound and movement. 

What fresh worship experiences can you add to your service?

4. Our leader gives us the freedom to dance—or not. I don’t have a danceable bone in my body, so I appreciate the permission to stay still, yet I’m disappointed because only a few join in. 

Worshipful dance occurs in the Bible. How can you incorporate dance into your church service?

Overall, we enjoyed a most refreshing church service, connecting with others who pointed us to God. We left in awe of God and his community.

[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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Christian Living

What is Church?

The Church of Jesus Needs to Focus on Three Things and Master Them All

In our normal usage, church is a building, a place we go to—often on Sunday mornings. I’ll be there later today. Other definitions for church include a religious service, organized religion, and professional clergy.

Yet a more correct understanding is that we are church, both individually and collectively. We, the church, are an organic body, not an institution, religious service, or profession. If we are the church, we can’t go there; we take church with us everywhere we go—or at least we should.

As the people who comprise the church of Jesus—his followers—I see three things we ought to be about, three things that warrant our focus:

Worship

Life isn’t about us; it’s all about him. Or at least it should be. As individuals and as a group we should worship him, our reason for being. Though God doesn’t need our praise and adoration, we should need to give it to him. We worship God by thanking him for who he is and what he does.

We worship him by praising him for his omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent greatness. This can happen in word, in attitude, in action—and in song.

Singing to God about him is a common form of worship. Yet at too many church services this musical expression of faith has turned into a concert. While this is not necessarily bad if the concert connects us with God, it is bad if all it seeks to do is entertain us.

By the way, when we say we don’t like the music at church, we’ve just turned the focus away from God and back to us, to our desire for entertainment over worship.

Beyond this we can also worship God in silence and through solitude, two pursuits that most people in our culture fail to comprehend. In fact, in our always on, always connected existence, even a few seconds of silence makes most people squirm, whereas solitude drives them crazy.

Yet we can worship God in both.

In addition we also worship God by getting along with other believers and serving those outside our group.

Worship is about God, and community is about our fellow believers. Click To Tweet

Community

The church as a group of people should major on community, on getting along and experiencing life together. Community should happen during our Sunday gatherings, as well as before and after, just hanging out.

Community is following all of the Bible’s one another commands, which teach us how to get along in a God-honoring way.

At some church services people scurry in at the exact starting time (or a few minutes late) and flee with intention at the final “amen.” They miss the community part of church; they miss a key reason for going. Remember, it’s not about us.

If we don’t like spending time with the people we see for an hour each Sunday morning, then something’s wrong: not with them, but with us. So, before we point fingers at others, we need to realize that the problem of why we shun spiritual community lies within.

Help Others

Worship is about God, and community is about our fellow believers. What about others? If we only focus on God and our local faith gathering, we stop too soon and fail to function as the church Jesus intended.

Jesus served others, so should we. And we shouldn’t serve with any motives other than the pure intent to show them the love of Jesus. Loving others through our actions may be the most powerful witness we can offer.

History is full of examples where this indeed happened, when the world saw Jesus through the tangible love of his followers.

A church body that looks only to God and at each other is selfish. A church that only gazes heavenward or internally is a church that is dying. We need to let our light shine so that the world can see (Matthew 5:14-16 and Luke 11:33).

The world watches us; they hope we’ll come through; they want to see Jesus in us.

That’s what church is. We worship and we build community so we can love others in his name.

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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Christian Living

Bear Fruit

We Must Consider What Our Life Produces

The word fruit appears nearly two hundred times throughout Scripture. Coupling the word fruit with the word bear, as in bear fruit, bears fruit, and bearing fruit occurs twenty-nine times, split between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus often talks about the fruit that people bear, with the third of the Bible’s teaching on the subject coming from him.

Bear Fruit

Though people can’t produce physical, edible fruit, like a tree would, we do produce fruit in a figurative sense. It’s the output of our life, the results of what we do and don’t do.

In a spiritual sense we bear fruit when we tell others about Jesus, and they decide to follow him too.

In Jesus’s Parable of the Sower, he talks about a farmer scattering seed. The results vary depending on the conditions of where the seed falls, but the good seed produces a substantial yield of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times what the farmer planted (Matthew 13:23). But this isn’t a story about farm output. It’s how we bear fruit. It’s a metaphor about growing God’s kingdom through saved lives—or not.

In this way, the fruit we produce through our daily actions and words reflect who we are as a person and the priorities of our lives. As we do this, we also impact those around us. This can be for good, or it can be for bad.

Bear Good Fruit

Though there may be rare exceptions, people want to produce good fruit. We desire to benefit others by the things we do and through the things we say. When we live a life that produces what is good, we draw people to ourselves and can point them to Jesus. They want to be around us because of the positive ripples our life produces. This is how we bear fruit, desirable fruit.

We do this by treating the people we meet with respect and kindness. These traits are lacking in today’s polarized, adversarial world. Society has lost sight of civility.

We can change this by being intentional in our interactions with others. This includes family, friends, and those we meet throughout our daily life.

We can also make a positive difference by the things we do. This includes helping others, especially when we don’t have to. It means going out of our way to demonstrate kindness, offer compassion, and assist those in need.

Bear Bad Fruit

Just as we can produce good through our lives, we can also produce bad. Jesus talks about this too. He urges us to produce good fruit and not bad. He adds that we’re known by the fruit we produce, that people don’t gather figs from thorns or grapes from briers (Luke 6:24).

May we bear good fruit and have the fruit of the Spirit overflow from our lives. Click To Tweet

Bear Holy Spirit Fruit

As followers of Jesus, we want to produce good fruit, spiritual fruit. Paul talks about the fruit we bear in our lives through the Holy Spirit. With God’s Spirit indwelling in us we will produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This may be the best way for us to bear fruit.

May we bear good fruit and have the fruit of the Spirit overflow from our lives. In doing so we will worship God and serve as a powerful witness to the world.

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

Work Out Your Salvation

Consider Your Response to Receiving the Greatest Gift Anyone Could Ever Get

Paul tells the church of Philippi to work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12). He doesn’t say to work for your salvation. They’ve already received eternal life as a free gift through God’s goodness (his grace), and there’s nothing they need to do to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Tell God Thank You

Jesus died in our place and took on our punishment for all the things we’ve done wrong. In doing so, he made us right with Father God. It’s a gift he gives us with no strings attached. There’s nothing we need to do to earn it. We just need to receive it. It’s a gift of salvation, of eternal life.

What do we do when someone gives us a gift? We show our appreciation. This starts by saying thank you, and we might follow-up with a note or card. Depending on the gift, we may proudly wear it, use it, or display it for everyone to see. In doing so we honor the giver.

If we follow Jesus as his disciple, he’s given us the ultimate gift that anyone could ever give. It’s a gift of salvation and of eternal life with him and through him.

This deserves the best thank you we could ever offer. This isn’t a once-and-done show of appreciation. Receiving salvation deserves our regular and ongoing acknowledgment of having been given the best gift of all time.

Work Out Your Salvation Every Day

Receiving the greatest gift anyone ever could, warrants that we say thank you every day. We do this with our words, our thoughts, and our actions, making sure they align with God’s instructions in the Bible and his will for our life. This is how we work out our salvation. This is how we honor the giver.

Working out our salvation isn’t a requirement, but it is a warranted response. It’s a show of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, and we should want to live a changed life as an ongoing display of appreciation.

And so that we don’t dismiss this as a trivial task, Paul tells us to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. This trepidation isn’t because God could take back his gift; it’s a reflection of his almighty power, which we should be in awe of and never presume.

Work Out Our Salvation Corporately

Implicit in Paul’s instruction to work out your salvation is to do so not only as a personal response, but also as a corporate response. As his church, we should work out our salvation together with other followers of Jesus as we gather on Sunday morning and throughout the week.

We do this in tangible terms by our worship of him and through our service to him and for him. In practical terms we do this by coexisting in harmony with one another, letting our words and our actions serve as a powerful witness to a world who doesn’t yet know Jesus.

We don’t have to work out our salvation, but we should want to. This is because eternal life is a gift that surpasses all others. Click To Tweet

Work It Out

We don’t have to work out our salvation, but we should want to. This is because eternal life is a gift that surpasses all others.

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

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Christian Living

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and Witness

We Can’t Witness for Jesus When We Sequester Ourselves on Sunday Mornings

Just before Jesus leaves this world to return to heaven, he instructs his followers to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In an expanded version of this incident, Jesus tells his followers to wait for Holy Spirit power and then be his witness, both near and far (Acts 1:4-9).

Witness and Make Disciples

The church of Jesus doesn’t do a good job 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 outsiders, with many churches excelling in doing so.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God, with Jesus noting that “true worshipers” will worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Meeting Together and Worship

Most churches do the meeting together part reasonably well, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet together, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or even “in truth.”

Yet few churches look outside their walls in order to go into their community 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 come to our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we are supposed to leave our church buildings to take this work to them. We can’t do that at church on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

Maybe we should forego the church service in order to be a church that serves. Click To Tweet

Go into the World as a Witness

Yes 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 have sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service in order to 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 garners a positive influence on their community.

Shouldn’t every church make a positive impact on their community? Yet so few do. They are too busy meeting together and worshiping.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

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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