As I finished reading this third week of Acts (and 7th week of the Luke/Acts series), I found myself thinking about how much time it was taking every day. The answer was “not much.” That doesn’t mean I managed to squeeze it in every day, of course. Wednesdays seem to be extra jam-packed so they’ve become my most frequent skip day. But I’m old, so Fridays tend to be boring, which transforms it into my make-up day.
When reflecting on how much time was “not much,” I thought it’d be fun to think about things I do daily that take more time than reading a chapter of Luke or Acts.
Look for the remote for the TV.
Find something to watch on Amazon Prime.
Watch something on Amazon Prime.
Search for the perfect playlist to read by. (yes, I can spend more time finding a station or playlist than it actually takes to do the reading).
Find the right podcast to listen to on my drive home from work.
Play PokemonGO (seriously…I could read the Bible in a month if I spent as much time in the Word as I do trying to catch ‘em all).
Read outrage on Twitter (people are even more outraged there than on Facebook).
Try to figure out how to use Snapchat.
Stare off into space.
Watch the local news (seriously…I watch for 45 minutes and see the same irrelevant stories 3 times each and the same set of commercials about 8 times).
Talk around the coffee pot at work.
Laugh at the dogs.
I don’t do every single one of these every day, but I guarantee I do them every weekday and most weekend days as well. Every one of them takes more time than taking a slow and deliberate read through a chapter of Luke or Acts. None are more profitable, though.
We’ve heard that “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This verse tells us scripture is important, life-changing, and vital to our Christian walk. It does not promise it is intuitive or easy. That’s why Paul is encouraging Timothy to stick with it. That’s why I’m encouraging you to stick with it. The entire New Testament was written almost 2,000 years ago. That’s quite a cultural gap to cross, but it is not impossible. It just takes a bit of persistence. “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
I have one more week in the Acts of the Apostles. We’ve read 24 chapters in Luke and 21 in Acts so far. That’s more than many (most?) Christians ever read. If you’ve stayed with us, congratulations. Well done! If you stopped along the way, just pick it back up again. Start right where you left off or rejoin us in Acts 22 Monday.
In case it’s not obvious, I’m pretty passionate about God’s Word. In the past 12 years I have journeyed from a completely unchurched atheist to a (soon to be) seminary graduate. Obviously God has done an amazing work in me. The tool He has used the most to shape, chisel, mold, and grow me is the Bible.
What’s on your lazy list? Is there anything you can put down in order to pick up the Word?
We’ve finished one week in the book of Acts. I love this book because it takes everything we learn in Luke and shows us the implications. This is what eyewitnesses to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus did next. This is how the first and second generation of believers formed communities and walked out their faith.
Luke speaks to us as individuals. It confronts us with facts and forces us to answer one question: who was Jesus? As I said numerous times as we read that book, it only leaves two options. He was either God in the flesh, come to reconcile and redeem humanity or he was a raving lunatic. He is either the Lord or a lunatic. There is no in between. There is no wiggle room. As we read Luke, we respond with complete surrender or complete rebellion. If you think you’re walking a tightrope between the two, you are in rebellion.
Acts speaks to us as a body of believers. It shows us that our faith is not meant to be a solo project and is not something we can remain silent about. These early believers shared their faith everywhere they went. The honestly believed that all who weren’t following Jesus were doomed to perish. They had both urgency and boldness. They didn’t see any other possible response.
Three things that we find in these believers:
First, they know, acknowledge, and proclaim the truth about Jesus. They believe He was the promised messiah who came to reconcile mankind. He is the savior. Even more, they believed He was God. His life, death, and resurrection provided the only path of redemption. Like I said last week, reconciliation is simple but not easy. All you have to do is trust Him. Fully. They knew this and lived like it.
Second, they feared no man. With their eyes fixed on eternity, the opposition of this earth was minor. They didn’t worry what others would think. They didn’t worry that their friends would think they were weird or their coworkers would talk behind their back. Their identity was found in the savior and nothing else.
Third, they humbly worked out the implications of the incarnation with unity. Those with political agendas were quickly corrected and removed (see: Ananias, Sapphira, Simon). The believers weren’t seeking their truths, they were seeking His truth. The truth. And they yielded to it. Together.
What’s the big takeaway from this book? It’s in the title. Act. People often criticize the modern church by comparing it to the believers in this book. What’s the answer? Act. Seriously. Shut up and act. Pursue Christ, allow scripture to refine and sharpen you, and live out the faith. Instead of criticizing all those churches that don’t measure up, be the church that does. Find a band of believers that agree then take the Gospel to the world with urgency and boldness.
What’s stopping you?
Note: A bunch of crazy folks decided we would read through the books of Luke and Acts. We started January first and read six chapters per week of Luke, with a day of grace every week. Now we’ve moved to Acts. We’re shooting for seven chapters a week. If you want to read more than that or less, that’s fine too. There are no checklists or daily reminder. If you want to spend time in the Word of God, just do it. I’ve been posting a weekly check-in with a few thoughts and reflections every week.
Today is grace day. As we take a day off between Luke and Acts, it’s an opportunity to take look both back and ahead. In just a few short weeks we’ve made it through all 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke. Over the next few weeks, we’ll travel through 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Personally, I have found reading through books of the Bible has been the most fruitful way to learn about following Jesus. If you’ve taken this journey with me so far, I trust that you have found it uplifting, insightful, and challenging.
Looking back, my first reflection is about the book itself. I have loved how detailed and comprehensive Luke is. Luke was highly educated, compiling the Gospel of Luke from numerous eye-witness accounts. He wrote in a way that would be verifiable to the people of his day. These aren’t mysterious, mystical ramblings intended to inspire and enlighten like we find in other religions. This is an ancient biography. Whatever your opinions of miracles may be, the writer and witnesses to these events are simply reporting what they have seen. As far as style, it was not written to a Jewish audience and is somewhat linear in its telling of the life of Jesus. All of this makes it one of the most approachable books in the Bible for today’s audience. Written communication was much different back then, but this book comes pretty close to what we’re used to. Although it takes a little bit of work at times, most of us can get a lot out of this book quickly.
My second reflection is about Jesus Himself. Although much of what He said was misunderstood in its immediate context, He was quite clear about who He was and why He came. He has not left room for anyone (then or now) to call Him a great teacher or miracle worker. He quite clearly and repeatedly claimed divinity…that’s why the religious elite wanted to kill Him. If He claimed divinity and was not, then He was quite mad. But when we see what He did and what He taught, we see that He spent His entire ministry freeing people. He frees them from sickness, oppression, hunger, and even from death. Each of these acts points to the greatest one…He came to save all of us from the power of sin and death. The one form of oppression that enslaves us all is sin. The one form of poverty that touches each of us is spiritual. It is only through Jesus we are freed from the power and penalty that comes from sin. It is only through Jesus we become reconciled to God, which makes us spiritually rich. Some claim the ministry of Jesus is only about poverty alleviation and social justice here on earth. In this one book, we have seen people who are poor, rich, sick, healthy, Jew, Gentile, man, and woman all come to Jesus. We have seen that exact same demographic turn their back on Him. While the ministry of Jesus certainly brings with it justice and liberation here on earth, it is ultimately meaningless without freedom from sin and reconciliation with God. That’s why Jesus came.
Finally, the last reflection about Luke is personal. This time through Luke, I paid special attention to the interactions Jesus had with others. Throughout the Gospel, His invitation was open to everyone He met. Everyone. Throughout the Gospel, we see people continually walk away. I never once noticed Him turn His back on anyone. That is incredible to think about. The stereotype of Christianity is that it is judgmental and exclusionary. Jesus doesn’t model that. But why did so many turn away? In Luke, Jesus invites people to follow Him. It’s more than just belief…it’s a call to trust and follow. That is where new life is found, that is where we find freedom and refreshing. But there is a cost, and Jesus states it quite plainly. When He says “trust me,” He means with everything. For most, that is too steep a price to pay. Yes, we want relief. We want assurance. But we want it on our terms. We’re still stuck in a transactional mindset, negotiating with God…trying to get a small bit of relief in exchange for a tiny bit of obedience. Jesus holds His arms open wide and says, “give me all of you, and I will give you all of me.” He knows He’s getting the bad end of that deal, but He offers it anyway because of His deep love for us. He knows it will cost Him His life. He will die an agonizing death. Even so…His arms are open wide. Following Jesus is simple, but not easy.
We’re clinging to the pennies in our pocket while He’s offering us the keys to a Kingdom.
If you aren’t caught up with us in Luke, read a chapter or two today. Or dive into Acts since that’s where we’re headed next. This is a no-frills, no-pressure, grace-filled journey. Enjoy it.
As you start to dive into Acts, here are a few things to watch for.
Luke wrote Acts, so the writing style, pace, and language is going to be nearly identical to what we just finished. Expect a few historical details along the way. Feel free to Google some of the names and places if you like. There’s a lot of travel in this book, so this will be a great time to visit the maps in the back of your Bible!
Pay attention to the messages preached. Who is the message for? Why is it important? What’s the purpose? Remember, although the Old Testament tells Israel to welcome in the foreigners and sojourners, Judaism was primarily a national religion. Bringing outsiders in was uncommon. This changes dramatically in this book. Notice the role of women in this book. Are they valued or are they outcast? Do they play prominent roles or are they bystanders? A lot of people think the early church was pretty close to perfect. Pay close attention…what do you think? What did they do right and what did they get wrong?
If you’re reading closely, a few weeks in you might notice where Luke joins the story. This is one of my favorite little treasures in the book. If you think back on the Gospel, you’ll notice Luke isn’t in it at all. However, from Paul’s writings and from Acts, we know that Luke was converted to Christianity sometime after the ascension. If you’re reading closely, you’ll spot a specific shift in a specific town. Luke starts using the word “we” to refer to the travelers. Cool stuff.
A couple of final things to watch out for…look for how the Holy Spirit moves, acts, and empowers people. We’ll see it right off in chapter two, but pay attention throughout the rest of the book. Also pay special attention when they speak of the Word of God. What are they talking about? Why is it important? We’ve often heard Jesus referred to as “the Word.” Is that what they mean here?
I hope you’re enjoying our journey through Luke and Acts. I’ve been sharing a few reflections every day on my Facebook page to keep us on track and motivated. Feel free to join the conversation. I love seeing so many people reading along…people seem to be talking about the Word everywhere I go and it’s beautiful. Thanks for coming along with me.
Three weeks ago I began a journey through the Gospel of Luke. Many brave folks joined with me to read 6 chapters per week of Luke before moving on to 7 chapters of Acts. It has been an incredible journey. I’ve loved every interaction with each of you who are reading along, even if we aren’t going at the same pace. The pace I’m setting has us finishing Luke in the coming week.
One observation that stuck out this time through has been the extent of Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation. He is demonstrating the mercy of God by feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcasts, and freeing the oppressed. His day-to-day actions affirm that God sees every human as valuable. By entering into this world, Jesus demonstrates God’s willingness to enter the muck and mire to pursue each and every one of us. We are that loved. You and I can’t fully imagine what it would be like to step out of the perfection of heaven and enter into this fallen world. God is the one living being who knows the beauty and perfection of this world before it was tainted by sin. He chose to enter this broken place for you. That’s how much we are loved.
In the first eighteen chapters, I have not seen Jesus turn His back on a single person. His invitation is always the same…follow me. The invitation is open to the poor and rich alike. Smelly fishermen and corrupt tax collectors. His arms are open to the outcast and unclean. Religious leaders and soldiers. It’s even open to people who will ultimately betray Him. All are welcome. But following Him means trusting Him…not only trust Him with eternity, but with every day of this life, too. Following Him means we trust His plans for today, setting aside our own ambition. He becomes our deepest desire and greatest love. He is our Lord. We’re stubborn, though, and obedience is hard. In these chapters we’ve seen person after person turn from Him. Those people understand the cost and are honest. How many of us say the words necessary to fit in Christian circles but cling to our own stubborn pride on the inside? How many think they trust Jesus’s plan for their eternal destiny and yet aren’t trusting Him with His plan for their life today? What’s interesting is that I’ve not once seen Jesus demand perfection from anyone. But His call to trust Him is not something that can be done halfheartedly. To trust at all, we must trust completely.
Next, I see the ministry of Jesus is one of both reconciliation and liberation. When Luke mentions “the poor,” the term broadly includes not just those with little money, but also the prisoners, disabled, oppressed, hungry, mournful, persecuted, and sick. Not only is there material poverty, but spiritual poverty as well. The rich ruler in Luke 18 has every material thing he could ever need, but turns away from Jesus. He is spiritually empty, but refuses to take a handout.
Following Jesus brings with it the continuation of His ministry of liberation. Every person on earth is either participating in liberation or in need of it. Followers of Jesus commit to participate in this mission. If you think you’re a Christian but aren’t actively participating in both demonstrating the mercy of God and actively working to liberate the poor and oppressed, it is likely you’re spiritually impoverished and in need of your own liberation. Don’t be like the rich young ruler…grab hold of the outstretched hand of Jesus. Follow Him.
While the ministry of liberation is important, when it is not accompanied by the message of reconciliation with God, it is ultimately meaningless. If we solved world hunger, freed all slaves in the world, stopped all wars, and ended racism completely, we would have successfully made this “a better world to go to hell from,” (to quote Adrian Rogers). Jesus has His eye both on today and on eternity and we must as well.
As I reflected on this week, I imagined my two feet on this path of discipleship. One foot is the proclamation of the Gospel. The other is the work of liberation…ending oppression and seeking justice. It takes both feet to follow Jesus. If we only do one or the other, we don’t move. Jesus is always on the move. To follow Him, we must know, grow, seek, and serve.
If you haven’t started reading Luke yet, go ahead and open it up. You can join me in chapter 19 (which is a great place to jump in) or start with chapter 1. See how far you get in 15 minutes. Check in and let me know how it goes.
“Well, I guess that’s that. It’s over.” The bridge of our friendship was crossed and set aflame. Raw emotions and bruised feelings put us on opposite sides of a river that could no longer be crossed.
I’m no saint. Four decades of walking through life has left a graveyard of dead friendships behind me. Some are clearly because of my own recklessness with the hearts that have been entrusted to my care. With some, perhaps I’m not so clearly the only one at fault. When we draw near to others, our broken places always end up clashing. Too often it’s too much to bear so we cross a bridge and light a match.
Some days the weight of those burned bridges is overwhelming. I gaze over my shoulder at the graveyard of dead friendships and grieve. It doesn’t matter who lit the match, the gap is now too wide to cross. Although the world throws around words like forgiveness and reconciliation, they are quickly followed by demands for a pound of flesh. Somebody must pay. It’s easier to stay on our own side of the river, wandering alone down the shore. The message we hear is clear…forgiveness is impossible. Roads that split never reconnect.
As I wander alone, I stumble into chapter 15 of the book of Luke. Although this story is about family, the principle carries through. Words were said. Or perhaps the words were left unsaid. “You’re dead to me,” was communicated. The paths diverged for the two who had cherished each other. One stood firm, the other wandered off. Both were without the other. The relationship was over. Forever.
The wanderer soon learned that life alone was miserable. Others merely saw him as a means to an end and walked away as soon as his usefulness was gone. He looked up from rock bottom, gazing past his shattered hopes and remembered the one who truly loved him. But that bridge was burned. The inferno consumed it quickly and it was gone forever. Even if he could find his way back, he could never repay all he owed. He would never deserve that love again.
Even so, he wandered back toward the one who had never left… Toward the one who had firmly stood at the gate…first watching the prodigal wander away with the father’s money and heart…then watching for any sign of his return. His faithfulness was rewarded when a lone figure emerged on the horizon. The familiar silhouette in the distance brought a flood of joy. Arms outstretched, he ran to reunite with his son. The one who had wandered had the courage to return. The one who remained behind faithfully anticipated the glorious day of his return.
Honestly, bridges are a horrible metaphor for relationships. Our emotions and desires are not matches setting the world ablaze. True and treasured friendships are never burned beyond reconciliation. Like the parable of the prodigal son, humility and love on both sides of that river build new bridges on which we stand. Love says “you are more important than my pride.” Love is quick to forgive and runs toward reconciliation.
Take a look back at your own friendship graveyard. Can these dry bones live again? Jesus teaches us that as long as we’re living, reconciliation is possible. He models it for us. He stands firmly and unwavering upon the truth, arms open wide and ready for us to return. The past remains in the past. We step into our future pure and fully forgiven. We can run to Him, and then we can run to each other.
Who you need to run to? I bet those arms are open wide, waiting for you to take the first step. Run, and let the celebration begin.
Thirteen days ago turned to page 855 in the book I’ve carried for thousands of miles. It’s been on almost every trip I’ve taken in the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve used it to prepare and preach from pulpits in both Brazil and the US. The words of Isaiah 35 brought profound insight and encouragement last December when I was in Houston. As I opened to page 855–chapter one of the Gospel According to Luke–a new and unexpected journey began.
In the Christian circles I tend to run it we frequently open our Bibles together. Usually it is because someone is teaching and asks us to open to a specific verse. Honestly, this has confused me a bit from time to time…the teacher always reads the verse, so why do we turn to it? We’re don’t read entire chapters together, and certainly don’t have the time to read entire books. Sure, it can be helpful to mark a passage or scribble some notes in the margins, but how many of us really do that during a sermon?
Still…the Word beckons.
On January 1 as I read the first word in Luke 1 (“inasmuch”), a bunch of friends did the same. We aren’t physically together and we’re not reading at the exact same time…but folks said “I’m in” and began the two month journey through Luke and Acts. Everyone is going at their own pace, which is wonderful. I’m reading 6 chapters per week in Luke, but grace is abundant. This week, Wednesday was simply too busy and I was too exhausted. So I didn’t. I shared that I didn’t. As expected, people responded with grace, not condemnation. That’s what life together is supposed to look like. That’s what we do.
Having just finished chapter 12, I am now halfway through the book of Luke. Just a few small steps every day and here I am. Halfway. Most days it takes longer for me to write a few thoughts about the chapter than it does to actually read it. This two weeks of reading has taken me to page 872. Seventeen pages in twelve days of reading. On one hand, it doesn’t sound like a lot. On the other, there has been so much ground covered. Remember…we’re reading text that was written almost two thousand years ago. It’s not necessarily all going to be straightforward and easy. It was originally written to a different people in a different culture living at a different time. Some of it seems quite foreign.
As I pause today in the journey through Luke that we’re on, I have a couple of areas I’ve personally noticed change.
The last two weeks something really cool has happened. People are sending me messages letting me know they’re with me on this journey. I’m getting insightful takeaways from my friend Tamarah. I got a message from Mike letting me know he’s reading with us while he’s traveling. Some people tell me they’re behind but still with us. Dear friends are engaging with Scripture at a level they never have before. Because we are doing it together. I’m learning that we all get more out of God’s word when we go through it together. We have a longing for community because God designed us to do life together. It makes sense that His Word is experienced better together.
I’m afraid most of us carry around a lot of baggage about God’s word. Many Christians carry an unnecessary burden of guilt…perhaps because they think they don’t read their Bible enough. Or perhaps it’s because they have tried and just don’t understand it. We want to love God’s Word, but find it intimidating or unapproachable. We look around us and see Bible verses printed floating around everywhere…sometimes used like fortune cookies or horoscopes, bringing brief feelings of hope and encouragement…but sometimes used as daggers, thrown at others with the intention of drawing blood. But there has to be more, right? Surely God’s Word is more profound than a fortune cookie. Surely it has some other purpose than to wound and condemn. Unfortunately, guilt and pride keep us from opening those pages and even more, it keeps us from asking the questions we find embarrassing.
We’ve all been there. Nobody was born understanding Scripture. Way back in the early chapters of Luke it says that Jesus grew “in wisdom and stature.” It was even a process for Him. Personally, I remember sitting in Mike’s class and asking if John the Baptist was the same dude who was one of the disciples. Was he the one who wrote John, or was John just about him? Was Luke a disciple? Are Christians supposed to take every word of the Bible literally? Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? Why do people think Jesus was God? How can there be one God if the Father and Son both claim to be God? What’s up with this Holy Ghost thing…is that like Christian Gatorade or something? Do we even need the Old Testament anymore? What’s up with all those lists of names? Why don’t all Christians read the Bible?
I asked all of those questions at some time in the past 10 years or so. I’m not embarrassed in the slightest about any of them. That’s how I learned who God is. That’s how both my faith and knowledge deepened. And now that’s happening around us…as we read together, we can learn from each other. We’re all travelers on a journey and all have something to contribute. We’re a community.
Our community is a bit disorganized, but it’s beautiful. I cherish every interaction. Nothing’s off the table or out-of-bounds.
Knowing others are also reading changes my own perspective. I’m not only reacting to what resonates with me, but I’m anticipating what others will respond to as well. It broadens my view and allows the Word to challenge me in unanticipated ways.
In the first twelve chapters, I have found myself comforted by the narrative. The story of Jesus’ life and ministry is familiar. When the disciples feed the crowds, I’m delighted. As the people lean in to listen to the incredible teachings of Jesus, I’m amazed. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds…it’s like visiting old friends.
But there’s more that has been happening. In addition to the life and events, there is conflict. There are teachings that are hard. As I read Luke, I see Jesus continually warning us to stop focusing on things of this world. He tells us to seek the Kingdom of God, which seems to be a stark contrast to the kingdoms we build for ourselves. He tells us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) That brings my mind back to the woman with the alabaster flask in Luke 7, who out of gratitude washes the feet of our Savior with her tears and anoints His head with oil. This woman who had nothing pours out everything she has for Him, simply as a worshipful response to the forgiveness she has found through Him…the new life she has found. She knows Jesus and has been transformed. She is no longer who she was…she has walked away from her old life completely. Her future is completely unknown except for this…that she is trusting Jesus with it. There is deep meaning in the anointing of Jesus here, but for her it represents letting go of her “before” to step fulling into “next.”
As I read I wonder what pieces of my past am I still clinging to that are keeping me from fully following Him? I often think of emotional baggage like the tattered and worn suitcases we bring back from Brazil. Rio is really hard on luggage. But what if the weight I’m carrying around is an alabaster flask, beautiful and full of a substance of great value? Do I trust Jesus enough to break that flask and pour its contents out for Him? Do I trust Him with my future, even if it is uncertain and difficult? At the end of chapter 9, Jesus seems to be telling us that we can’t look both back at our old lives and continue forward with Him. As He said in chapter 11, “a divided household falls.” And so I look at my heart and pray the end of Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts. And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The reality is, trusting Jesus with eternity often seems much easier than trusting Him with tomorrow.
Even so…among all these teaching that challenge me so greatly, Jesus never gives up on anyone. Sure, He rebukes Pharisees and Scribes. We see plenty of people leave His side when the teaching gets difficult or the cost of following Him grows too high. But He never turns His back on anyone. This is where I find hope. In these chapters it is abundantly clear that following Jesus is not an easy life. He never guarantees that…in fact, He repeatedly tells us the opposite. When we follow Him, though, He remains with us. He does not abandon us, even in the middle of our messes and failures, even in our deepest hurt and darkest places. When friends abandon us or tragedy strikes, He is there with us…lifting our face and pointing it toward eternity…toward a time when there will be no more tears or pain. These chapters remind me that we don’t get there by breaking our jars and unloading our baggage. Those things bring us closer to Him in the journey, but ultimately all of our hope is in Him. We get a beautiful glimpse of Him on the pages of the Gospel According to Luke.
On December 31 I posted an open invitation to join me in reading Luke and Acts. There are no checklists and no discussion questions, just a ragged band of misfits wandering through the Word together. I’m reading 6 chapters of Luke each week and plan to read 7 chapters of Acts per week when I get there. I set that pace because it seems achievable and I’m just dorky enough to need that kind of symmetry. Four weeks through Luke and four weeks through Acts. But if you want to take this journey, do it at your pace, not mine. Read 30 minutes a day if you want…perhaps that will be 2 or 3 chapters. Read more or less…just keep reading. I’ve been posting a few thoughts and my progress on my personal Facebook page because that’s where this all started, but I’m happy to interact with anyone anywhere. Reach out to me and let me know how it’s going. And if you’d like me to reach out to you a couple of times a week to see how you’re doing, I’d be happy to.
One week ago I cast a message in a bottle out into the sea of social media. It was both a declaration and an invitation. I publicly pledged to kick off the new year by systematically reading Luke and Acts. With that pledge was an invitation to take this journey with me. No formal plan…no checklists, daily email reminders, or study questions. There’s no medal at the end and there are no tests. Simply: read through Luke at your own pace. Then read through Acts. Share what you want to share, but don’t feel obligated to do so.
The pace I set for myself was six chapters of Luke per week. When I got to Acts, I’d move to seven chapters per week. At that rate, it would take 4 weeks per book. It’s a reasonable enough pace that it should be approachable by someone opening the Bible for the first time. It’s also possible to catch up if you fall behind but want to stay with the group. In my Bible, each chapter is only a page or two.
Something interesting happened… quite a few friends chimed in with “I’m in.” As people volunteered to go on this journey with me, my excitement grew. After the clock struck midnight, I stayed up until about 2:30 talking with my oldest son. Right before turning in for the evening, I thought, “hey…I could go ahead and read chapter one! It’s January first!” As much as I love reading Scripture, knowing so many others were going to be enthusiastically turning to Luke 1 in the morning brought new joy to it for me, too. One of the lessons I think scripture quite clearly gives us is that we are not meant to walk our spiritual journey alone. God brings people into our lives specifically so we can encourage and sharpen each other. Every “I’m in” has affirmed this in the past week. The questions, comments, and insights shared with me through Facebook, the blog, and in person have been delightful.
Some who messaged were reading the Bible for themselves for the first time. Some were adding this to their “though the Bible in a year” plan they had repeatedly done for years. All ages and all levels of people bravely jumped in. I got questions as wide-ranging as “where can I get a Bible” to “what was the meaning of the incense at the altar in chapter 1?” It was beautiful and good.
And we made it. We’re six chapters in. We’ve taken the first six steps through the book of Luke. We’ve seen the births of both John the Baptist. We met Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Jesus grew up and was baptized. Both John the Baptist and Jesus started their public ministries. Jesus shared the beatitudes in His famous Sermon on the Plain. And so much more…
On my agenda for this next week is chapter 7-12. We will move into the heart of the ministry of Jesus. We get to see the first parable of this Gospel. Parables are simply stories told to illustrate a point and were one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach. There are a couple of parables that are unique to this Gospel, including my absolute favorite (although that one doesn’t come until chapter 15). This week we also will see quite a bit of healing and miracles as well as a few nuggets of truth coming from the lips of our savior. As you go through the week, remember that every word is important. I’d like to challenge you to contemplate both the transfiguration and the cost of following Jesus in chapter 9. Notice the attitude of Jesus toward the Father. Be on the lookout for the Holy Spirit. Notice how much time Jesus spends in prayer.
Above all else, don’t give up. If something challenges you, allow it to challenge you, but don’t let it stop you. Make a note, write down a question, but keep going. If you have trouble reading, then listen! That’s not cheating at all…that is how Christians have taken in scripture for thousands of years. The Youversion Bible app has a “play” button that reads the text to you in multiple interpretations and even multiple languages. Explore a little and find what’s right for you. The Bible.Is app has an audio option, too. Both apps are free. Even listening, you won’t understand every little thing the first time through and that’s okay. The important thing is to persist. God’s Word is designed to be read for a lifetime.
When traveling across the country, there are many options. You can fly from coast to coast. You could drive. If you’re Forrest Gump you could even run. A different perspective is provided with each. The view from an airplane gives a broad view from above. On foot you move a lot slower but get a lot more detail, experiencing sights, sounds, and smells not available from a plane. This chapter-a-day path through Luke and Acts is much more like looking out the window of an airplane than it is a road trip. We’ll see themes, events, and attitudes but might miss some of the more subtle points and people. That’s okay. Enjoy the ride and learn to long for a return trip through this same country.
Have you seen anything new or unexpected so far?
Once again, thanks stepping into this journey. One week from today we’ll be halfway through the Gospel of Luke!
Yesterday I shared my desire to start the year with a simple, approachable Bible reading strategy. As much as I love a good plan, the intent is for our time in the Word to be something enjoyable and uncomplicated. There are no formal checklists, questions, or study guides. Our goal isn’t to climb the highest mountain, but to take a few small steps.
To be honest, I had no expectations when I hit “publish.” Having strongly encouraged others to begin Bible reading with the books of Luke and Acts, I had a bit of an internal conviction. How could I continue to recommend something I’ve never done myself? There are no other words for it but to say I felt led to not only follow my own advice, but to do so publicly. I have no agenda and no formal structure. And yet…I start the New Year with quite a few brave souls who have said “I’m in.” I find myself craving structure that will allow us to connect and communicate. I want us to be in a small group, holding each other accountable and answering each others’ questions. I want that because I’m comfortable there. I love to hear what everyone else is experiencing. I love to answer questions. I love to hear how God is working in each person’s life. I love encouraging others, praying for them, and lending an empathetic ear when things aren’t going well.
My desire is to connect with and unite all of us who have expressed a desire to do this Luke/Acts plan. The original call, though, was simplicity. The call was to a personal journey through the scriptures. So, for now, I’m resisting complicating things by pulling everyone into a group. I’m not a ringleader, I’m a sojourner. Feel free to send me questions, observations, and feedback, but I’m not driving this bus. I love to hear about how people are engaging with the Word and what they are learning.
Today, on Day One, I’d like to share a few tips and answer a few common questions. If these are helpful, super. If not, that’s fine too. Share your own tips with me so we can all learn from each other.
What’s the schedule? The plan is to go through Luke and then Acts. I’m shooting for a chapter a day, with a little bit of built-in grace. For Luke I’m shooting for 6 chapters per week. For Acts I’m looking at 7 per week. If that’s too much, then just stop when there are natural breaks. My Bible has 6 headings within the first chapter of Luke, and each of those would be fine stopping points. The goal here is to find your own rhythm. Don’t let it become a burden, but don’t give up either.
What translation should I use? Whatever you’re comfortable with. There are a billion articles on the internet talking about the different English translations of the Bible. Most “ordinary” people I know still like the NIV. The more scholarly types I hang out with prefer the NASB or ESV because they are a more literal translation of the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The CSB is a newer translation that is approachable but is also sticks closely to the original text. Some people prefer the Message, which is a paraphrase and not a translation. Personally, I find it poetic and fine in small quantities but distracting. It is old enough now that the “modern language” found in it is already a bit dated. But, the best translation for you is the one you’ll actually read. Don’t force yourself into King James if the NIV is easier for you to read. If you grew up with the KJV and find the NIV or ESV to be too informal, then by all means continue on with King James! For this study, I’m going to be using my trusty ESV journaling Bible. I’ve carried this Bible to Brazil a number of times and have spent hours in it already. I can take notes in it, highlight it, and carry it around everywhere. Although I use the Bible on my phone a lot, there is something about a physical Bible that is more inviting and intimate.
What commentary do you recommend? My goal is still to keep this simple. Personally, the best approach I’ve found if you’re struggling to understand the text or if you find you have a lot of questions is to get a good study Bible. When I first became a Christian at the age of 32, one of my first purchases was an NIV study Bible. The footnotes and brief commentaries were helpful but not distracting. They were there if I needed them, but were out of the way if I didn’t. There wasn’t devotional content (which I find distracts from the text). I’ve since “upgraded” to a really big ESV study Bible that I got on sale a few years ago. It has a lot more content in it than the NIV Bible did, but either one is sufficient. There are good study Bibles in all the major translations. An alternative (and one that fits in nicely with the overall vision) is to write out your questions and stumbling blocks and then just keep reading. Don’t seek the answers yet, just let them simmer in your mind. You may find that the answers become apparent (or irrelevant) later. I’m not saying ignore your questions…I would never say that. I’m saying enjoy this first soak through these two books and then return later for a deeper dive. If you’re looking for more insight without any additional cost, check out my New Testament professor’s web site. Here is the link to Luke 1 and 2.
Any other advice? Pray. Persist. Pray some more. From the very opening chapter of Luke we see God responding to prayer. God acts. God moves us. Why not invite Him to illuminate His Word? Invite Him to continue to transform your mind, heart, and spirit as He draws you into His Word. Pray for persistence as you spend the next 2 months reading Luke and Acts. Pray for the Word to bring you joy, that you eagerly anticipate the next reading and that you begin to long for it. I’m already praying these things for all of us. Join me. I know we have a few non-Christians joining us as well. You all can go ahead and pray too, okay? What’s the worst thing that can happen?
If you have any other questions, please share. As part of my time in Luke and Acts every day, I will be praying for each of you. If there is anything specific I can pray for, let me know.
I’m thrilled that so many people have decided to join this journey and I’m excited to see all that the Lord is going to do.
A new year breaking through brings fresh start. As we take down our old calendar and hang the new, we say goodbye to last year. 2018 is a blank page, ready to be filled with stories, adventures, and friends.
For believers, a common goal each year is to dive into scripture. We know that God’s Word is important, but for some reason we struggle to establish a consistent reading habit. I’ve managed to establish this habit, which has resulted in a true delight in the Word. Sure, I can be inconsistent. Some days I honestly don’t feel like opening the book. But when I’m away too long I miss it. I long for it. It’s important for believers to be connected to the Word.
I taught small groups Bible studies at church for more than seven years. I’ve developed curriculum and guided discussion for both adults and young teens. In 2017 I stepped away from that for a time, but the love for the Word, the discussions it brings, and the lives changed has never faded. Year after year I’ve had believers express a desire to learn more about the Bible…learn to read it for themselves, understand it, and have their lives shaped by it. This year, let’s do it.
My own personal experience tells me there is nothing mystical or mysterious about Bible intake, it just takes a little persistence. It’s a big book. There are a number of different literary genres at play. While it’s possible to start January 1 with Genesis 1:1 and move straight through, that really isn’t an approach that is likely to lead to much success. While much of Genesis can be engaging, by mid-February Leviticus hits…this is where even the best intentions of Bible reading go to die. I’m not saying to avoid this book at all costs, there is plenty of great stuff there. It just takes a lot more work than other books. Why do the heavy lifting so early in the journey?
The strategy I’ve recommended for a couple of years is modest. It’s two books of the Bible, Luke and Acts. I love this approach for a number of reasons. First, both books are written by the same author so it’s the same writing style and voice throughout both books. Second, Luke was writing to an audience not intimately familiar with the old Jewish texts. Kind of like you and me. Third, Luke was highly educated and had a great attention to detail. Because of this, he paints vivid pictures of what is happening throughout both books. Fourth, Luke set out to preserve history. These two books read like part one and two of a historical narrative. Much of it reads like an adventure story. Fifth, a lot of the narrative is already familiar. The traditional Christmas story comes largely from Luke. Jesus’s familiar teaching and life events are here. Much of the passion narrative is also here. Luke includes the resurrection, Great Commission (Acts 1:8), and the ascension. Sixth, Luke includes things that you never knew were in the Bible, too. While there will be a lot that’s familiar, there are some fun discoveries to find as well…like the night Paul preached so late that a kid fell out a window and died. Yikes! It’s okay, Paul healed him. Seventh, Luke provides the “what” of the Gospel in the Gospel of Luke, while giving us the implications of the gospel in the book of Acts (the formation of the early church, evangelism, helping others).
So here’s my big confession…although I’ve shared this strategy countless times I’ve never actually done it myself. So, as I hang my brand new calendar, I’m going to walk this path. Feel free to come along with me if you like.
Here’s my plan: I’ll start with Luke 1:1 on January 1. My goal is to read 6 chapters per week, which will complete the book of Luke by the end of January. I’ll move on to Acts, which I’ll read at a pace of 7 chapters per week. That will be 4 weeks for Acts. If I go a little slower, that’s okay, too. I’ve got a lot of reading to do for grad school, so I’ll adjust as necessary. Grace happens. Once per week I’ll write up a blog post about what I’ve read that week. Six chapters are a whole lot of content, so my post will be a simple highlight or application from the week’s reading. I’d love it if you’d join me in the journey…share with me what you’re getting out of the text or your struggles. Let’s hold each other accountable, too. Sometime in March, maybe we’ll go on and start a new journey after this one.
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A Gideon handed out Bibles in my second grade class. Back then I thought it was a holy book, filled with mysteries and wonder. Not that I read it, of course. The little orange book was the entire New Testament preserved on unimaginably thin pages. King James version, of course. Although I thumbed through it quite a few times, for some reason the only verse I remember reading was John 3:16. I memorized that one. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
I took a different path, and decades of skepticism and atheism followed. Occasionally I’d skim through the Bible looking for a verse or two that could demonstrate how full of nonsense it really was. I approached the book arrogantly, holding tight to my preconceptions. I found in it exactly what I wanted to find, as long as I didn’t dig too deep.
Somehow, against all expectation and probability, I found Christ at 32. The most dramatic piece of the story is that it didn’t conform to any stereotype I always claimed brought people to faith. I wasn’t at rock bottom. There was no personal crisis. Life made sense and I wasn’t looking for a crutch. I didn’t do it for the kids. I just stumbled into the presence of God and couldn’t look away. Not long after, I returned to the Word with determination and intentionality. And now, here I stand.
Hundreds of years ago, many brave men and women did the same. Opening Bibles, they dropped presuppositions and allowed themselves to be transformed by the Word of God. Countless brave souls gave their lives for the truth they discovered. Once touched by the Word, they simply could not turn back. Many echoed the words of Polycarp, who when threatened with death replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has He ever done me any harm. How, then, could I blaspheme my King who saved Me?”
Today we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Before there were hammers and theses, there was an opening of the Word. Although a trained Augustinian monk, reading the book of Romans transformed his world. Like many before (Waldo, Hus, Wycliffe, and so many more) and many since, humbly seeking God through His inerrant and preserved Word changed the trajectory of that young monk’s life. It changed the course of history as well.
I’ve been reading, studying, meditating on, and teaching the Bible for about a decade now. I don’t claim that it’s easy or obvious, but this book and this pursuit has been nothing less than transformational. I don’t claim to have changed history, but my time in the Word has transformed my marriage, family, community, and myself. It has lead me into experiences more deep, rich, and joyful than any from my first 32 years of life. It has sustained me during unspeakable hurt and tragedy. Here I stand. I can do no other. I long for everyone to experience this as well.
Today, while many around the world commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation, join me in spending time in the Word. Whatever your belief system or worldview, grab a Bible (or Bible app) and turn to Luke. The first couple of chapters are familiar and will go quickly. You can read the entire book in a couple of hours, or break it up over a couple of days. But read it. Let go of assumptions and read it with fresh eyes. And please, ask me questions. I love questions.