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. 

Part Two: Truth

Part Two: Truth

“The truth is out there.” Mulder’s words still echo from my youth. These words crash into the popular and convenient claim that there is no such thing absolute truth. But think about it…to claim there is no absolute truth is a contradiction. It’s claiming to be an absolute truth! It’s enough to make your head spin.20150927202810_img_9710-02.jpeg

At Grace, Truth, & Coffee, the second foundation we build upon is truth. We don’t claim to have cornered the market on the truth. We’re travelers on a journey, just like a million other pilgrims. We’re searching for the truth, not with arrogance and condescension but with humble grace.

Humanity has embraced a divisive view of truth… we believe that my truth is contrary to your truth and so we build walls and remain isolated. Our truths conflict, and so they keep us apart. We protect our truth that we hold so dearly while superficially affirming your truth. The problem is, we weren’t created to live divided. At our core, we need each other. We long for connections. Our soul cries out for relationship. Yes, the world is full of relative truths about things like preferences and aesthetics. Lying deeper than those are absolute truths. Some are scientific, like gravity. Some are historical, like the Visigoths or Huns. Some are moral, and these can be the most controversial. However, difficult does not mean impossible, and doesn’t negate their existence. What we find as we uncover these truths together is that they unite rather than divide.

As we pursue truth, we do so with respect. In our quest, we each bring different knowledge and life experiences. Years ago, Stephen Covey advised “seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This is our guiding principle in our pursuit of truth. We each have something to contribute, and everyone deserves to be heard.

The truth is out there. Let’s find it together.