Serving God, College, and Student Loans

I once met a guy who wanted to work in broadcasting. So he went to college. In his four-year degree, taking some forty classes, guess how many applied to broadcasting? Just three. While having secondary benefit, his other three dozen plus classes were not preparing him for the job he sought, but they did take time and waste money.

In my post “Why I’m Against Seminary Training,” I asserted that most people don’t need to go to seminary before they become a minister or missionary. Most of the classes they endure are secondary, taking time that could be used to serve and costing money that could be better spent. The result is often student loans.

I’ve talked to many twenty-somethings who desire to give God a life of service, taking a job that may not pay much to do something that gives much, to engage in spiritually fulfilling work with lasting impact. There’s one roadblock: student loans. Their desired job won’t pay enough to cover their indebtedness, so they must take a higher paying job they don’t want and won’t enjoy so they can pay off their debt.

Some organizations require post-graduate degrees from seminary or Bible college as a prerequisite. My soul groans when I hear their expectations. A few of those classes may have direct application, but most just amass knowledge with little practical use.

When it comes to serving God in a ministry of some sort, debt is a deterrent, and college education is false preparation. What I think God wants is spiritually mature followers of Jesus, who have an intimate relationship with God the Father, and know how to follow the Holy Spirit. That is the real prerequisite, and it isn’t taught in college.

Align your life with God and he will work out the rest. That’s the best preparation for serving him.

Book Review: The Great Emergence

The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

By Phyllis Tickle (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Great Emergence, The: How Christianity Is Changing and Why The subtitle to The Great Emergence provides a concise summary of this book’s content: “How Christianity is Changing and Why.” To respond to this statement, Tickle first explains what emergence is, then how we arrived at this point, and concludes with where it is going.

Along the way, Tickle provides a succinct and insightful history lesson of Christianity, complete with Protestantism and Catholicism (Western Christianity) Eastern (Greek) Orthodoxy, and Oriental Orthodoxy. She notes 500 year cycles at which point major changes, or “Great Transformations,” occur. We are currently at that point of great transformation.

She introduces the “The Quadrilateral,” a matrix that effectively portrays the distinctions within North American Christianity. As readers progress through the book, the diagram morphs as additional detail is added and future trends are projected. This aptly serves to provide a clear graphical summary of the text’s detailed explanations. This book offers a cogent summary the emergent and emerging church, as well as offering a clear and compelling glimpse into the future.

[The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle. Published by Baker Books, 2012, ISBN: 978-0801071027, 224 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Women in the Bible: Eve

Eve (along with her husband, Adam), is a well-known biblical figure. I’m surprised she’s only mentioned by name four times in the Bible, twice in Genesis and twice in the New Testament.

I’ve never understood why Eve bears the heaviest criticism for disobeying God. Adam is likewise culpable, and he could have – and should have – put a stop to eating the forbidden fruit. More contemptible is the serpent, who resorted to lies to trip up Eve.

Because of their actions, all three – Adam, Eve, and the serpent – suffer consequences, which they will pass on to future generations.

Looking specifically at Eve, she receives three punishments: pain in childbirth, a desire for her husband, and him ruling over her. The middle phrase doesn’t make much sense, but the NLT renders it differently: “you will desire to control your husband.”

So before Adam and Eve messed up, things must have been the opposite: childbirth was easy, women did not seek to control their husbands, and men did not rule over their wives.

Going forward, women would desire to control their husbands, and husbands would rule their wives. However, in the beginning there was neither controlling nor ruling; there must have been equality, with God intending spouses to live as equals.

Praying for Church

One of the practices my wife and I followed when we visited 52 churches was to pray before we headed out the door. This seems simple enough and something we should have always done, but praying prior to church was a practice we seldom did, more likely skipping it than remembering.

However, one year of visiting a different church every week taught us to embrace this practice; we depended on it. Indeed, without prayer to prepare the way, disaster would have surely resulted on more than one occasion.

Almost every week we prayed we would hear what God wanted to teach us. Often we prayed for ways to give back to the people at the churches we visited. Sometimes we’d pray against fear or apprehension – or even that we could find the church. A few times, I needed to pray for a good attitude. And towards the end, we prayed to fight fatigue and to keep an open mind.

For the 52 churches, we remembered to pray 51 times. (The time we forgot was in rushing to Saturday Mass after squeezing in time with family.)

After experiencing firsthand the benefits of praying before church, we’ve continued this practice, remembering most Sundays. When we expect much at church and pray for it, we usually experience much. The opposite is also true.

If we take the time to go to church, shouldn’t we also take time to pray for a great experience?

[Read about our journey of visiting 52 churches.]

Do We Read the Bible with Preconceived Notions?

Last Sunday I challenged us to examine our faith practices, using the Bible as a foundation to confirm or refute the things we do in church (and in life). This way, we can consider our traditions and remove those that don’t withstand biblical scrutiny.

The problem is, we often justify our spiritual practices because we read the Bible through the very lens formed by those same practices. That is, we tend to only see what conforms to what we do, and we ignore the rest. Our preconceived perspective seeks justification – and we find it.

For example, not many of us – I hope none of us – handle snakes as part of our religious services, yet those that do have a verse to support it. The same approach validates polygamy as a religious practice. The list goes on. If we try hard enough, we can prooftext almost anything.

Furthermore, it’s human nature to focus on verses that support our actions and beliefs, while we skim or skip passages that challenge them. We desire biblical confirmation and avoid biblical confrontation.

To combat this, I strive to do the opposite, skimming the verses I like and carefully considering the passages I don’t: the ones that confuse me or oppose my point of view. I hope the result is a more holistic understanding of biblical spirituality, and I know it makes me more accepting of different Christian practices.

Join me in reading the Bible, not for self-validation, but to grasp a grander comprehension of God and how to best follow him.

Book Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

By Phillip Keller (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23The idea of a shepherd overseeing his flock is a powerful metaphor of the relationship between God and his people. Unfortunately, today’s world has largely lost touch with its agrarian roots, missing much of the deeper meaning of a shepherd’s watch and care over his flock.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 takes an interesting and insightful look at the 23rd Psalm from the perspective of a shepherd, who is also the author. By learning how a good shepherd protects, cares, and provides for his sheep, we can gain a better understanding into how our Good Shepherd cares for us, his sheep.

Furthermore, as we learn about the sacrifices Keller made for his sheep and the ways in which they benefited — generally oblivious to his loving efforts — we gain insight into God’s sacrifices for us to keep us safe from enemies, healthy from maladies, and content in our existence. Sometimes, though, sheep thwart the shepherd’s efforts; in this regard, Keller again shares from his experience, in which we see the loving patience of the Good Shepherd emerge.

Reading this book will appreciably change the way you read Psalm 23.

[A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller. Published by Zondervan, 2007, ISBN: 978-0310274414, 176 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Women in the Bible

This year my Bible reading is focused on notable women in the Bible. Some are famous, many are obscure, and a few are infamous. It’s been in interesting study, and for the next several Thursdays I’ll share some of what I’m discovering.

What I’ve learned already is that even though the writings in the Bible cover a time in history when men dominated the culture and women were disregarded, God often tapped his female followers to accomplish amazing things.

Join me in celebrating their lives and contribution to our shared faith. So far my list includes:

  1. Ruth
  2. Esther
  3. Deborah (the judge)
  4. Hannah (Samuel’s mom)
  5. Sarah (Abraham’s wife)
  6. Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law)
  7. Rebekah (Isaac’s wife)
  8. Rachel (one of Jacob’s wives)
  9. Leah (one of Jacob’s wives)
  10. Abigail (one of David’s wives)
  11. Michal (one of David’s wives)
  12. Tamar (in the family tree of Jesus)
  13. Rahab (in the family tree of Jesus)
  14. Bathsheba (in the family tree of Jesus)
  15. Naaman’s servant girl
  16. Jephthah’s daughter
  17. Mary (the mother of Jesus)
  18. Elizabeth
  19. Mary Magdalene
  20. Anna (the woman in the temple who awaited Jesus’ birth)
  21. Priscilla (wife of Aquila and friend of Paul)
  22. Eve
  23. Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-21)
  24. Suzanna
  25. Judith
  26. Sapphira
  27. Jezebel

Who is your favorite? Who else should I add?

A Contemporary Service (Visiting Church #52, part two, Redux)

This repost shares more about Church #52 of 52.

There’s a half hour span between the two services. As we wait, we recognize many people, waving “Hi” to some and enjoying meaningful conversation with others. Time passes quickly.

The stage is reset, with the orchestra section removed. This gives more room for the contemporary worship team of eight, the same group that concluded the “blended” service thirty minutes ago. There are three on guitar, a bass guitar, two on keys, a drummer, and a backup vocalist.

The worship leader doubles as a keyboardist, while two guitarists also have mikes and sing backup. However, the other instrumentalists also sing along with glee. They play three songs, all different from the first service. Their contemporary sound borders on light rock but lacks the edge I hoped to hear. “Safe” is the best description. Aside from the music, most of the other elements of the service are the same, albeit with some tweaking.

The message is a repeat, too, but ends differently. This time, after a moment for rededication, the pastor leads the congregation in a salvation prayer. My wife likes this as a nice reminder of our decision to follow Jesus, but I fear people could too easily misunderstand it, assuming they need to “get saved” every week.

The pastor invites people desiring prayer to come forward afterwards to meet with the prayer teams. I so appreciate offering to pray for people, but few churches do this. Why?

The service ends with the worship team leading us in the same song that ended the first service. This time they play with more gusto.

The congregation disperses quickly, and we are among the last to leave, happy for the connections we experienced today with friends and acquaintances.

Additional Thoughts: A friend who attends this church flinched at my description of “safe.” She also knew I was right. I suspect what we saw was not so much an effort to provide a contemporary service, but the attempt to connect with unchurched visitors while not offending members resistant to change.

[Read about Church #52, part 1 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Why Do We Do What We Do in Our Faith Practices?

I have a compulsion that irritates people, especially in religious circles. I ask, “Why?” I need to know why we do the things we do. What reason is behind them? Is there a biblical justification? Or is it a manmade tradition that has become meaningless ritual?

For example, in 52 Churches, I witnessed many services that began by lighting two candles. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Why do they light candles in the first place? Is there biblical support for it? And why two? Three would represent the Trinity, but two? If there’s a symbolic reason for two – or even lighting candles for that matter – then we need to know what it is so we can celebrate it. Else we should eliminate it as a practice without purpose.

Candles and the number two, however, are minor considerations. Whether or not we light two candles is of little consequence – as long as we don’t attach spiritual significance to it. However, there are bigger issues, much bigger issues, that have permeated our faith practices. Let me be bold and assert we’ve messed up most of what we do, elevating tradition over biblical command.

Consider the process of becoming a Christian. This is rife with manmade ideas that aren’t in the Bible. Yet many have elevated these processes as nonnegotiable faith requirements, superseding what Jesus taught. I think that makes them heresy. Yes, I said many churches practice heresy. I talk about this in My Faith Manifesto.

(So you know I’m not making this up, the origins of our religious ways are researched in the mind-blowing book, Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. So many of our practices are not rooted in scripture and several emanate from secular culture; that is, their origin is pagan.)

I encourage you to boldly examine your faith practices. Eliminate all that lack biblical support. What remains will be a purer, more God-honoring spirituality.

Join me in asking, “Why?”

Movie Review: A Time for Burning

Reviewed by Peter DeHaan

A Time for BurningShot documentary style in the 1960s, A Time for Burning captures honest, balanced, poignant, and candid insights into race issues and segregation from a different era. In the decades since, some things have changed dramatically, while others are disappointingly the same.

The film chronicles one minister’s attempts to nudge his all-white congregation forward by encouraging simple acts of intentionality in reaching out to members of an all-black church, of the same denomination, located only a few blocks away. The youth of each church make an initial effort by visiting each other’s church. Although the adults engage in much discussion — some hostile, others fearful, yet open — it doesn’t result in action.

In an unexpected twist the minister who pushed the idea suddenly resigns, yet the cameras continue to roll. As such, there is no satisfying end to the saga, only insight to contemplate and unanswered questions that now seem more complex. For those who lived through the 60s, the film is a powerful reminder; for those too young to know, it is a powerful glimpse into what once was and the bias and emotion that flailed against change.

[Read more reviews by Peter DeHaan of other faith-friendly videos and movies.]