Acts 1:1

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,

 First book… began to do and teach

Luke is the author of the book of Acts.  He is also the author of the gospel of Luke.  He is conducting a research project that takes him from the birth of Jesus to the birth of the church.  Theophilus is the person to whom Luke wrote both books. 

We know that Luke was a doctor and his writing is meticulous. Of all the gospel writers he is the most detailed and thorough.  He uses words precisely. When he says his first book was what Jesus began to do and teach we need to take note.  The first work is the gospel of Luke where Jesus is the lead character from start to finish, but in this second work, the book of Acts, Jesus is going to make a brief appearance and depart the scene.

How are we to understand the word “began”? Luke tells us that Jesus is going to continue both doing and teaching. How?  The way this is written is supposed to make us lean in and look for the answer right at the outset. We are supposed to enter here looking over the shoulder of the resurrection man, listening to a dead man teach about how to live in light of his destruction of the laws of sin, death, and physics. He is going to continue doing things and teaching us things and we’d better pay attention. He is no longer the peasant prophet, he is now the ruler of life and death. We listen in on the conversation and find out that he is not planning on sticking around and that some other person (thing, event) is going to shape and guide the movement he has begun. 

It is the Holy Spirit. It is not an it but a he. A person. He is the Spirit of Christ. What does that mean?  It means we should look for and expect Him to act like Jesus and to do the kinds of things Jesus did and say the kind of things Jesus said. He is not unknown to us. The whole gospel of Luke tells us what to expect from Him. Now we wait to see how He will arrive on the scene and what the gospel of Acts will be. 


Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

The Governor of Arizona vetoed a bill yesterday that had a lot of people up in arms.  Did you hear what the bill was about?  I saw a lot of activity on social media with posts about discrimination and race and homosexuality.  It seemed to me the bill must be about letting people decide to discriminate against minorities if they wanted.  I assumed it must mention specific issues abridging a gay person’s rights.  Who would support that?  Stupid.  This morning I finally got around to reading the bill.  You know it is amazingly simple to get informed in our day and age.  The bill I found is only two pages long.  You can read it yourself in less than three minutes.  Even with the legalese it isn’t hard to get through it.  I was surprised at what I found.  This bill isn’t about discriminating against gay people, its about protecting people’s rights to act according to their religious beliefs.  That is what it says.  The government is not allowed to make anyone violate their conscience. It is basically nothing more than a repetition of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Personally I am very happy to have the First Amendment guaranteeing me that no one can make my wife wear a burqa or tell me I can’t read the Torah.  If you’ve looked around you know that religions ask people to believe and to do lots of things.  What to wear, what to read, what to say, when to say it, who to associate with, who you can marry…tons of stuff.  Most of it leaves somebody shaking their head one way or another.  There is no sensitive way to say this, so here it is:  freedom of religion means the freedom to act stupidly.

Now if it happens to be YOUR religion, it is the freedom to act piously or correctly or whatever, but if its someone else’s religion, that’s a different story.  We all know this or feel this, but few of us can be real enough to say it out loud.  And some religions take their particular set of beliefs and practices so seriously that venturing to criticize or laugh at state_oppression_1them will get your name on a religious hit list.  Religion is about pleasing God, improving the world and/or getting to heaven.  If you believe in God, there aren’t many things that could be more important than your religion.  Forcing someone to give up their religion’s belief structure is stealing their core identity.  It is intolerant.  It is evil.  No matter how stupid it may seem to you.

The dirty little secret, though, is that only religious people try to force their religion upon others.  The religious are both the oppressors and the oppressed.  It is the nature of religion to enslave, not to free.  If you really believe you have THE set of beliefs and behaviors that please God and that God can only be pleased by people believing and acting upon these things, you cannot help but look down upon those who don’t.  You have to relegate them to second class citizenship.  You have to oppress them either implicitly or explicitly.  You have to discriminate against them.  They are the people messing up the world by acting in ways that displease God.  They are the ones who bring judgment on all of us.

Great, you say – I was looking for someone to finally agree with me that religion is the problem so we can all agree to get rid of it.  But it isn’t so easy as that.  The absence of God or gods does not mean the absence of religion.  If you have what you think are THE set of beliefs and behaviors that will make the world a better place if everyone would just adopt them, you have the same issues as the religious people.  You don’t have a God you have a Good that you worship and serve.  You are in fact, a religious person without a religion.  And you look down upon those who don’t hold your beliefs.  You are intolerant of them and you oppress them in the name of your Good.  Your non-religious religion is just as enslaving as any other.  The fact is there is no such thing as religious freedom.

I will make a claim here that will make many of you scoff, but it is true.  The Christian gospel is not religion.  The Christian gospel is the opposite of religion.  I am not saying Christians are not guilty of religious abuses.  I am not saying Christians don’t do stupid things in the name of Christianity.  I am saying that the Bible does not teach religion.  The Bible is not the story of what we must do to please God or to get to heaven or to make the world into a great place.  The Bible tells the story of what God has done to help us, to fix what is broken, to get us to heaven and to make the world a better place.  The Christian gospel is not about bad people gradually becoming better people from the outside in by their beliefs and behaviors; it is the story of God changing people from the inside out when they start believing what he has done and that he is for them.  People who rightly believe the gospel have no business looking upon others as second class citizens because they are not keeping the right rules and holding the right beliefs.  Christians know that they are not making the world or themselves better because they keep the rules or believe the right things. They know it is a miracle of grace that they have come to believe the gospel.  They can’t give themselves any credit for it.  God is the one making everything better by what he does.  Christians don’t expect to be better people than their neighbors and have no glory in it if they are.  A Christian can only claim to be loved by God for no good reason, and because they know that the last thing love can be is coercive, they know better than to try forcing the gospel into anyone’s life.  It can’t be done.  There is no such thing as religious freedom, but there is freedom from religion.  The gospel is freedom from religion.  It is freedom to love people who really disagree with us.  It is freedom to know that God is the one who will make everything right in its time and in his way.

How to Stop Shooting Off Your Mouth

“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (King James Version of Proverbs 10:19)
“The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.”
(The Message, Proverbs 10:19)
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
(English Standard Version of Proverbs 10:19)

Sitting in a public spot early this morning I had a few extra moments before getting out to drive the school bus (yeah, that is 1 of the 4 or 5 jobs I have).  I try to redeem the time when waiting and for me the best way to do that is to read.  I broke out my phone and opened my pocket Bible app which if you don’t have one I suggest Laridian, I’ve used it for years and its cool.  But I couldn’t read it.  I read the same line 5-6 times and still could not get it going.  The problem?  The morning coffee klatch that is always going on in this place.  Same three people.  Same volume of words.  Words, words, words, words.  A flood of words.  Not especially loud and certainly not offensive in nature; just a multitude of words that washed over me drowning out all coherent thought.  I considered moving to another part of the lobby, but realized it was not far enough away.  You know how it feels when you weren’t paying attention to some sound but your mind gets locked in somehow and you can’t help hearing it?  The dripping faucet in the night.  The irregular banging of a hammer on the construction site near work.  But to me there is nothing so distracting as an endless drone of words.

I’ve quoted the verse from Proverbs about this so much over the years it immediately came to mind this morning.  A bunch of words means a bunch of room for error.  The more we talk the more we open ourselves up to saying something we should not say.  Words are 1375738928_free-speech-words-are-weaponsweapons.  Some are so sharp just a touch opens up a serious wound.  Others are barbed fish hooks.  Once they puncture a hearer they will not come back out easily. There are double-edged words that cut both speaker and hearer, and cudgel words that smash people.  And some words are quicksand pulling us in and choking out all air and light.

I have a conceal carry permit for a gun, although I rarely carry.  In fact I’ve only carried my .38 revolver once, and even when I did I kept the rounds in one pocket and the gun in another (gun enthusiasts please don’t write and tell me how stupid I am).  I did it because I am very aware of the damage I can do with a gun and I was being extra cautious.  The first time carrying a gun in public I was more comfortable knowing there was an extra step between me and using it.  I am no where as cautious with my words in public or in private.  I generally shoot first and ask questions later.  I make a lot of mistakes.  It has taken me years to slow down the words I use with my friends, my coworkers, my kids, my wife.  I swear it feels like a balloon blowing up inside my chest sometimes when I want to spew words back out over a person.  I can hardly keep it in.  But I’ve learned to do better.

How about you?  How careful are you with the words you let out of your mouth?  Try an experiment the next time you are with a few people.  See if you can just listen.  See if you MUST speak.  Don’t be rude.  Answer any questions directed your way, but attempt to throw the talking back to someone else and try to steer away from giving your opinion, your achievement, your advice, your feelings.  Just. Listen.  Warning:  this is very hard.  Another exercise:  when you are with a group of people and engaging in conversation, do not Words_as_Weapons_by_dickie0speak about a person who is not present unless you would say the same exact thing in their presence.  Do not contribute to a conversation that tears down another person with jagged edge words.  Warning:  you may not think this is hard, but if you really are keeping away from talking about others in a disparaging way, you will notice at first you don’t have much to talk about.  No kidding.  The first time I did this I was shocked at how much my words are devoted to dismantling other human beings.

Once you get a feel for using fewer words and for using less damaging words, you will agree with the Proverb.  You will see how hard it is to control your words and how many opportunities there are to do damage with them.  All your relationships will benefit from cutting down on your words and practicing restraint with the words you do use.  You know what I think when I see someone who can’t stop talking?  Who floods the phone or the lobby with words?  I think they must not be heard.  No one is listening to them, or that is their self perception.  When I hear a person who uses weaponized words I think this person must be trying to get higher by making others lower.  I can tell both of them the truth in a few words.  The truth is that they (we) have the ear of God.  God listens.  Your boss may not hear you or your teenager may ignore you, or your spouse may talk over you, but you are heard by God.  Let that sink into your heart and the urgency to make people hear you will diminish.  It will give you peace.  Your heart is heard and understood by the most important being in the cosmos.  The truth is also that God makes much of us.  He elevates us.  You could tear down all the people in the world and never get a higher reputation.  You could shrink down every person who ever lived and not get the place God gives to you.  That will put out the fire in your heart and words.  It will make you reconsider just what you hope to gain by ripping and tearing at people when it gets you no where compared to where God takes you.  And it will humble you to see that God uses good words about you; “son,” “daughter,” “faithful,” “beloved.”  This is our power to use fewer, better words; God’s ear and God’s opinion both revealed in Jesus.  And this power over words is the power to change more than just our patterns of speech, it is the power to change our marriages, our communities and our world.

Can You Hear the Ring of Truth?

“Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’ ” So Elijah went. When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, “Why have you come back?” ”
“A man came to meet us,” they replied. “And he said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you…” (2 Kings 1:2-6)

Think about the men sent out from the king to inquire about his health.  They meet a complete stranger on the road who tells them to go back to their king and tell him he is going to die.  Without even getting the name of the stranger they obey his words.  Either these messengers are stupid or they know truth when they hear it.  Since you have to believe their very lives are at stake it must be a case of good hearing.  There is a tuning fork within each person which resonates when struck by Truth.Church-bells-001

What is Your Rank and Title?

“He was doubly honored above the Three and became their commander, even though he was not included among them.”  (1 Chronicles 11:21)

How many of us are waiting for the title before we feel we can do anything effectively?  One day several years ago I went home from work in my navy officer’s uniform and the next day I put on a suit and went to work in a church (yeah I used to wear suits every day back then – now it’s only if I’m marrying or burying someone). After about a week I realized I didn’t know what to call myself.  Was I a pastor?  A staff member?  In the navy it was naval_rank_insignia_and_uniforms_by_regicollis-d658diapretty easy to describe myself; I had a rank and a position and they both had names.  I don’t remember how it got resolved but about a year later I decided I must be a pastor because I was doing what a pastor did.

People who find and follow Jesus will always be working in areas without well defined ranks and titles and will usually only discover what they are by reflecting back rather than projecting forward.  This makes perfect sense when you consider Jesus holds the only position and the only rank that matters.  If we wait to be included in anything or wait upon someone to bestow a title upon us in order to serve Christ we will never serve Him.  Honor, inclusion and titles are things which come to people who serve Christ with nothing but a recognition of who He is and what He has done – and they mean very little compared to knowing Him.

Kindergarten Kindgdom

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-15)

So the kingdom of God has come near?  We should repent and have lives that show a real (not a religious) relationship with God.  So what do we do?  It isn’t so difficult; just kindergarten lessons: share your stuff, don’t take things that don’t belong to you, be happy and play nice with others.  God followers do ordinary things through extraordinary means with eternal (2)