The Word: Halfway

The Word: Halfway

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.

Community

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.

Personally

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.

The Word: Six Steps

The Word: Six Steps

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!

The Word: Day One

The Word: Day One

Day One

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.

The Word: Luke

The Word: Luke

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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Here I Stand

Here I Stand

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.

Evidence

Evidence

“Jesus may have been a nice guy and a good teacher, but that was all he was.”

Honestly, I’ve always had a touch of rebellion in me. Growing up in a small Bible-belt town, I was one of very few people claiming to be an atheist. One huge reason I rejected religion (and particularly Christianity) was a lack of evidence.

“I only believe what I can prove with science,” I boldly claimed. “The Bible is a bunch of stuff a bunch of guys wrote. They were trying to explain things they didn’t know. We pretty much know all that stuff now. Science has explained it.”

I didn’t exactly go on a quest for truth. I didn’t seem necessary. None of the Christians I talked to could answer my questions. They had one consistent answer for me. “You just have to have faith.” I felt like they wanted me to turn off my brain. If they didn’t have answers, I assumed answers weren’t out there. My worldview was largely unchallenged, so I thought I must be right. Plus, it was kind of nice to live a life free from the fear of some controlling, cosmic grandpa who delighted in punishing us when we stepped outside his completely unreasonable lines. No thanks. Not for me.

Obviously, I wasn’t the first person to wander this path. I now know that countless others have clung to similar views. It’s even in vogue now.

A couple of decades before my high school years, Josh McDowell had many of the same objections to the Christian faith. Unlike me, he dove into it for himself. His quest was to empirically prove his Christian friends wrong, once and for all. Years of meticulous, global study into the historical evidence led him to a surprising, undeniable conclusion. It was true. Not only was Jesus a real historical figure, there is compelling historical evidence he performed miracles, was crucified, and resurrected. The Bible is a historically reliable book. Our Old Testament was accurately transmitted from generation to generation, and this is provable. The Biblical contradictions I found in my atheist literature were easily explained with sound, reasonable, repeatable, and consistent interpretive techniques. Piece after piece fell into place for Josh. He wrote it all down and published it a couple of years before I was born.

In all those years of arrogant posturing, I had no idea such a resource existed. McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” is a presentation of an accumulation of facts that must be faced and dealt with by any seeker of truth. This evidence lead him to a clear conclusion…Jesus was not merely a good man and good teacher. He was exactly who he claimed to be…the son of God, sent to earth as the redeemer of mankind. The claims of Christianity are true. Empirically and undeniably. Even the miracles.

The reason I tell you all this is because I finally got my hands on the book.  A new edition has been released, which has been expanded and updated by Josh and his son Sean. While largely building a case based on historical evidence, it also addresses popular philosophical questions too. It touches on the post-modern claim that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or that if there is, it can’t truly be known. It addresses objections to miracles by stating and answering objections by Hume, Spinoza, and countless others. It’s a comprehensive guide for both skeptics and believers.

Even with all this content, my favorite part of this book is Josh McDowell’s testimony, which opens the book. As compelling as the objective evidence is, hearing what McDowell endured as a child and then seeing how God has redeemed those lost years and healed his heart is powerful. To understand the broken view of fatherhood that Josh knew as a child, and then read his testimony in a book coauthored by Josh and his own son…it brings tears of joy.

Someday I’d like to write a conversation between my old and new selves. I’d like to be that person with answers that the younger me never could find. Perhaps it could help open a few eyes to the truth behind the hope that I have within me. When I write that, this book will likely be by my side, providing clarity as I respond to that young man…the young me…who so desperately wanted the truth but didn’t know where to look.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, you owe it to yourself to explore these topics. If there is even the most remote chance that Christianity is true, it’s the most important question in life. Plus, it is even more critical that a believer today be able to rationally defend and share his or her faith. Non-believers must ask themselves “if Christianity were proven to be true, would I convert?” If the answer is yes, this one book contains most of the evidence for you to examine and decide. If the answer is no, you aren’t seeking truth after all. That, by itself, is incredibly enlightening.

Check out Josh’s site here. Grab your own copy of the book here.

 


Disclaimer: I was honored to be on the launch team for the new edition of “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” While there was no direct compensation for participation on this team and my enthusiasm for this volume is very real, I wanted to mention that I was given an advanced look at this work. 

The familiar pit: Grief

The familiar pit: Grief

A side effect of a summer full of travel surfaced recently. Hours after midnight, I’ll sit straight up in bed and fumble for the lights in a mad panic. My disoriented mind attempts to discover if I’m in a hotel in Brazil, a condo by the ocean, or a sleeper train on my way to Scotland. In the dark, I could be anywhere. As the light suddenly fills the room, two questions pop into my head:

Where am I? How did I get here?

My eyes quickly find familiar objects…my lamp. The picture on the wall. My dresser. My wife. Those answers give me perspective. Context. Even though my heart is racing, the adrenaline begins to subside. My breathing slows. Awareness of my situation helps me move on. I am not entirely unchanged…even though I’m safe at home in bed, this is disruptive. I’ll be a little extra cranky tomorrow. The memory of panic will return throughout the day. Yet the truth shines through… I’m home.

Experiencing the same grief again is a similar emotional process. Self help sites and well-meaning friends may tell us grief is something we process, move through, and get over. At some point we should be better. We can expect life to be normal again. The truth is, when we lose someone we love dearly, their absence leaves a hole in our world. It’s possible to stumble into that hole again and again for the rest of our lives. When we do, we find ourselves disoriented and confused, like my panicked fumbling in the middle of the night. To find our way through it, we ask those same two questions:

Where am I? How did I get here?

Recently I found myself in that familiar pit again. Like most of us, I’ve experienced loss. Grief is familiar. I’ve recently learned that when it comes, accepting and pressing into it is much healthier than denial or avoidance. Acknowledge it for what it is without minimizing it or giving it more control than it deserves. Understand that the deep hurt is a reflection and validation of love known, experienced, and lost.

Just like the whimsy of love can drop in at any time, grief can as well. That’s what happened this time. I was staring blankly at my screen. When my screensaver kicked on, my mind snapped back to the present. “This is a familiar darkness…hello again, grief.” 

 

Although the weight had settled into my soul the day before, I finally recognized it for what it was. I was in the pit. Oh, but I knew that first key answer. Where am I? I’m in the pit. I’m mourning. Recognizing my surroundings was vital.

 

There hasn’t been a personal loss in my life lately, though. So the next question became key. Just like in my jet-lagged panic, I first had to answer:  How did I get here?

Our minds work in strange ways. Although mysterious, they aren’t entirely unpredictable. As autumn approaches and the daylight hours decrease, I tend to drift toward melancholiness. This was different. It was triggered by something. I realized social media had been showing me memories of my past.

This time, it wasn’t the anniversary of a loss that led me to the pit again. Instead, it was the anniversary of the beginning of a relationship that ultimately left me heartbroken. I had been revisiting the start of a life-changing relationship that would be cut short mere months later. Seeing the beginning prompted my mind to revisit the entire journey, including those familiar feelings about what might have been.

The wounds became fresh again. I’ve heard a broken bone become stronger than the original once it has mended. I don’t think that’s true of our emotional breaks. Years later they can still be uncovered and be once again raw and sensitive. Falling into the pit of grief reminds us that the wounds on our heart never fully heal. The pit remains because the love remains, which can be a freeing thought. Grief is a consequence of love, and love is worth it. Understanding this key helps validate our time in the pit, even years later. It frees us to feel the pain without the self-condemnation that often accompanies it.

It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to mourn again. In that way, these wounds that remain fresh do ultimately strengthen us emotionally by allowing us to revisit that love and acknowledge the loss. When we allow ourselves to feel the loss again, we also give ourselves permission to experience the joy, too. The scars we live with aren’t unlike those on Christ’s hands and feet, which the Bible tells us are eternal. Those scars are a reminder of the permanence of love. He thought it was worth it. We should, too.

My time in this particular pit had a wonderful outcome this time. By allowing myself to feel the loss, I began to remember why the loss was so deep. It wasn’t because of the way that relationship ended. The reason I find myself in this pit again is because of the joy, good times, and love. I don’t miss the ending, I miss the during. So I reached out, because in this case I can. An incredible conversation followed, and a bit of a reconnection happened. A ray of light broke through the darkness of that pit. 

Even though revisiting the pit is ultimately beneficial, it’s important to remember that life does go on. Although it is vital to allow ourselves to feel the emotions of grief and loss when they return, it is just as important to press forward into the remaining days we have been given. 

Although we glance back over our shoulder at times, our life is meant to be lived looking forward. The keys to the journey out of the pit are similar to flipping on the lights in my confused state in the darkness. Answering where am I and how did I get here was the first step for me in this new journey through this old pit.

I’ve walked this road before. I’ve been in this particular pit before. Although it’s not exactly pleasant, the familiarity makes it easier. Remembering the love that was found…the special times we shared…these things cast light into the pit. Light illuminates the path.

The world isn’t ending today

The world isn’t ending today

Today will be spectacular. For the first time in decades, a total solar eclipse will be visible for a substantial portion of the United States. My family is among the thousands who have made road trips to get a better view. For astronomy enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, this is a special day. For many it’s a once in a lifetime event, and it is a much-needed opportunity to gather together in unity and celebrate a shared experience.

But I have a bold prediction. The world will not end today. This solar eclipse is not a sign of the beginning of the end. I realize this doesn’t conform to the expectations of what an evangelical Christian is supposed to say on days like today. Truth be told, I’ve seen the posts and read the articles about how eclipses and earthquakes will lead to tribulation and second coming, and it all begins today…August 21, 2017.

The truth is, I do believe God has a purpose in this. The alarmists have it wrong, though. Instead of turning to the book of Revelation, today is a Psalm 19 and Romans 1 moment.

As we stand in awe of the moment when Day becomes night, reflect on the fact that the sun is approximately 400 times the size of the moon, but is also approximately 400 times the distance from the earth. Those ratios are the only reason the teeny tiny moon can occasionally block the massive ball of nuclear energy we call the sun. While contemplating those ratios, think about the fact that our planet is the only planet in the known universe where a solar eclipse can be seen from the surface. Why could that be? Psalm 19 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.

Think about the history of man made religions. How many have worship the sun? Countless. But these enormous orbs flying through space bring us more than life. They move us to a states of awe, wonder, and even occasionally fear. Even so, the unique design of the heavens is such that our planet receives regular reminders that even the sun can disappear. Every object in the universe is moving in an ordered way, and it all is submitting to and singing the praises of something more majestic and powerful than anything within creation. It all points to the uncreated One, who designed and created it all.

I’ve heard it said countless times, “if God is real, why does He remain so hidden?” For decades that was my go-to objection to theism. But today, as we stare to the sky and marvel at the unlikely and spectacular convergence of heavenly bodies above us, pause a moment to contemplate Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul goes on to warn that people “have exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.

No excuses

So yes, I believe that today’s eclipse is Biblical. I believe it’s a sign. But it isn’t the end. For many who look to the sky in amazement and for the first time comprehend that this isn’t simply random chance but is instead our Creator once again reaching out to us, putting on a glorious display for us in yet another effort to call us to Him… today is a glorious beginning.

Endings

Endings

As I stood worshipping during the final chapel at Moriah Christian Academy, one single, simple quote came to mind. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I took a pic to capture this moment. Both my boys were up on stage, one strumming and singing, the other pounding the keys. This bittersweet moment was fleeting and would never come again.

“I want to hear voices of angels above singing as one, ‘hallelujah, holy, holy.’” As those words echoed through the sanctuary, gratitude overwhelmed me. Smile because it happened, indeed. Our eight years at MCA have been miraculous. We were told on our first visit the school was named for the biblical Mount Moriah, which means “the Lord will provide.” He has.

The music fades. The last reverberation of this fleeting moment slowly becomes silent. Through the years I have often stood outside with my back to doors that God has closed. Jobs, ministries, and even friendships. “What’s next” is a question I face with uncanny frequency. The experience is familiar but never easy. Each ending is a reminder that life is a journey and each season is only for a time. Smile because it happened.

But oh, these precious times and memories go deep. Tears carve a canyon in our soul. The heart longs to return to treasures of the past. Remembering first days, first friends, and first adventures….Science fairs and talent shows. Yes, we smile because it happened. We thank God for the incredible times we have had. Letting go is oh, so hard, though. The smiles we now share are through tears. Even as we rejoice for all God has in front of us, we grieve for those times that will never come again. We mourn that these halls will soon be empty and “what’s next” for each of us lie down different paths.

Our oldest son is graduating, which is a beautiful thing. At last week’s chapel I mentioned that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) certainly did so with my sons. Each are unique, but each is immeasurably more than I could have ever dared to ask or imagine. I’m often humbly driven to my knees, wondering what I ever did to deserve this kind of blessing. These young men are like “arrows in the hands of a warrior,” (Ps 127:4) ready to be launched into the world, guided by divine providence to make an impact on the world. Now is their time. First one, followed quickly by the other. My role is quickly transforming from coach to cheerleader to spectator as they step fully into manhood.

Tears meander toward the earth as I turn for one last look at that closed door. I smile. Unlike that famous quote, though, I believe it’s okay to cry because it’s over while you smile because it happened. We carry both grief and joy on our travels down the road to where He is leading us next. Denying one or the other is an injustice to our past and undermines our future. We trust that it will be as profound, impactful, and significant as the roads we have traveled so far.

Finding Life: Fight For It

Finding Life: Fight For It

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12

As a kid one of our favorite games was to have breath-holding competitions. It was generally a battle of wills. We learned the human body can go longer without breathing than one would think. Somebody always won, nobody ever passed out, and we didn’t have any fatalities. Oh, but that first victorious deep breath after the contest ended was sweet.

In the journey of life, there will be moments that take our breath away. There will also be moments that find us frantically gasping for air. I have exercised induced asthma that is triggered by cold. So, while it only happens rarely, I am intimately familiar with the feeling of my body betraying me, closing down my airways as I gasp to take in the oxygen that so abundantly surrounds me. What happens when life is that way?

There is fuel for our soul…just out of reach. We are gasping for breath but disconnected from the source.

When running, the most effective response is to slow down. Open the airways. Rest. When it’s time to return to the fight, work into it slowly. Our battle is not the road or the race, it’s our airways.

In our life, too, our battle is often not what it seems. When we find ourselves gasping, our gut reaction is to try fight harder. We pull back from relationships and positive habits to focus on regaining our footing. But our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood. We easily forget the battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our struggle blinds us. 

Let’s draw a lesson from my asthma…

Plodding Onward!

Slow down, but keep moving forward. Don’t wander from the path.

Open the airways. “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.” (1 John 4:15)  God is never far from you. Recenter on Him. Breathe in grace. Breathe out praise. Pray.

Rest. Even God rested. Not because He had to, but as an example to us. Trust Him.

Plod forward. God has called you to something. But He didn’t say you had to get there today. Small steps are still forward progress. Forward progress is better than quitting the race. Trust His guidance and strength.

Find a running partner. When we can’t find God, our trusted companions can point us to Him. Speaking the truth in love can challenge us, but reorients us.

The moments of panicked gasping never last. We can learn to navigate them. God has called us to boldly step into His plan. Keep. Moving. Forward.


This post is the fourth entry of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”  You can visit part one here, part two here, and part three on my Facebook page here.