What Do Thomas Jefferson And An Ancient Heretic Have In Common?
Thomas Jefferson’s bible was jacked up. In fact, it can hardly be called a Bible at all—hence the lowercase b in the first sentence. What was so messed up about his Bible? He took a knife to it and cut out all the Scriptures he didn’t like. Sounds a bit like a guy named Marcion (85-160 AD) who was also like a toddler with a pair scissors, an open Bible, and sleeping parents.
These men were fools. Yes, I said it. They decided that God wasn’t wise enough or sovereign enough to make sure the Bible was intact, so they took matters into their own hands. For Marcion, unhitching from the Old Testament wasn’t enough, he got rid of anything remotely related to God the Father’s just wrath toward sinners. He abandoned the gospel.
For Jefferson, Jesus was just a good guy with some good stories, pithy wisdom, and admirable life. Perhaps, he would’ve opted for a guy like Ghandi had he been around in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He couldn’t stomach the divine, miracle-working, rising from the dead, and exalted on the throne true Jesus. He just made up his own version and had his own Bible.
We Need To Be Careful
While most of us scoff at the idea of cutting up our Bibles and creating a Marcion or Jefferson bible, we need to be careful. When is the last time you read through Lamentations or Esther? Have you ever prayed through Habbakuk or Numbers? Do you ever listen to Leviticus sermons on Sermon Audio or Desiring God?
Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself often in the New Testament. Of course, I read the Old Testament too—Genesis to Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah mostly. That’s because I always try to start reading through the Bible systematically, then I drop off. I’ll dip and dodge through Psalms and Proverbs throughout the year and round off with Isaiah during Advent.
I say this half-jokingly, but I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t rando flip to the Minor Prophets or 2 Chronicles when I don’t have a Bible reading plan. Surely, I’m not the only guy who doesn’t flip to Ezekiel or Daniel at 5:15 AM in June when I decide to revamp my devotional life because Ilackluster Bible reading.
Anemia plagues many people, but I’ve most often heard about it with pregnant women and endurance athletes. It’s no joke. The body doesn’t have enough blood to transport oxygen throughout the muscles and tissues. It leaves people feeling like they were hit by a bus. The splitting headaches, spinning rooms, and weightiness of the body are beyond exhausting until help arrives.
When we fail (or refuse) to read certain sections of the Bible, we start to develop Biblical anemia. Instead of rich, soul-nourishing biblical theology, we opt for diet Bible reading, only skimming the surface or repeatedly reading our familiar and favorite passages. Many of us never get beyond a John 3:16, Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11 Christian walk. We don’t know what it is to meditate day and night like the blessed man in Psalm 1.
Biblical anemia leaves us weak and nearly defenseless in spiritual warfare, too. When Jesus waged war with Satan’s temptations, he didn’t quote John 3:16 or 2 Simon 17:5, “In the name of Jesus I rebuke you!”. There are times when John 3:16 is the right verse for the moment, but we there may also be times of suffering when we say to our souls, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14). We aren’t playing a game of Bible cherry picker, but a reminder of God’s faithfulness to Israel ought to prompt us to also trust in His faithfulness toward us.
One of my favorite childhood films was Men In Black. I always wondered what happened to the people whose memories were wiped clean by the Neuralyzer. Without a diverse appetite and diet of Scripture, we have the tendency to walk around as if we were hit by a spiritual Neuralyzer.
For some, a fascination and love for the Law of Moses causes gospel amnesia. The Judaizers in Galatia were guilty of this. They were so focused on law-keeping and circumcision that they lost sight of the true fulfillment of the law: love. Paul reminded them that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6). Even without a fascination with the Law, we can forget that we are saved by faith and not works.
For others, biblical amnesia shows up when we fail to take heed to the examples and exhortations of God in Scripture. The examples in Scripture are given as an example for us so we won’t stumble the way people have in the past. If we never read about Cain and Abel, we forget that anger can lead to murder. If we never read about David and Bathsheba, we may think we are exempt from falling into adultery due to lust. If we never read the stories in Hebrews’ Hall of Faith, we might lose hope.
We Have The Whole Loaf
The Word of God is like bread for our souls. In a culture that is starving to hear from God—but doesn’t know it—we can rejoice. We have the whole Bible. We have the full gospel. The mystery of Christ that was once concealed in the Old Testament is now revealed in the New Testament. We have it all!
Is God’s Word like honey to your tongue? Or do you view it like spinach soup that you have to slurp down and hope for the best? Our daily bread awaits our souls every single day and we have the whole loaf. Don’t shop at Marcion’s bakery or eat Jefferson’s stale loaf. Enjoy the warm and delightful bread of God’s Word.
Image source: Smithsonian Institute
Let the streaks begin!
2020, diet plans, gym memberships, and habit trackers are here! In just a few months, Planet Fitness will have open treadmills again, MyFitnessPal will be sending out plenty of “you have not logged your food today” notifications, and the Bible App streaks will be back in the single digits as we shrug off the guilt of failed New Year’s resolutions.
While I’ve started my fair share of failed Bible reading plans, I’m slowly learning how to spend time each day in God’s Word. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years. Maybe they’ll help you.
10 Tips To Help You Keep Reading God’s Word
1. Prioritize the time you spend in God’s Word each day. Meditating on Scripture for 5 minutes is worth more than the 5 hours we spend on our phones every day. We are called to be “making the best use of the time”, and there are few better ways to spend our time than reading and meditating on Scripture (Eph. 5:16). Before you watch This Is Us or dive into Tim Challies’ 2020 reading plan, make sure you give God some of your best time to read and think about His Word.
2. Use a Bible reading plan. The old adage continues to ring true in my life, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Each year I start with a Bible reading plan and end up saying to myself “this is too restrictive, I want the freedom to read whatever I want.” This usually backfires and I end up playing Bible roulette and landing in my favorite passages a couple of days each week. Having a Bible reading plan seems to be the most consistent and diverse way for me to keep reading and enjoying God’s word. Find a reading plan that suits you and try to stick with it!
3. Create a habit. Good habits change lives. Bad habits destroy us. In The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley says that our habits are liturgy and that “we need language to emphasize the non-neutrality of our day-to-day routines.” In other words, our habits reveal our worship. If our habits lead us away from hearing from God on a regular basis, there’s an idol lurking in the shadows of our hearts. Many apps have a daily notification that reminds us to read, but the best habits are the ones that we look forward to because they bring both joy and benefit to our souls.
4. Pray for the time you spend in God’s Word. Too often, we go to the Bible aimlessly and wonder why we walk away unmoved by the glory revealed to us. We confess that the Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), but we don’t ask the Divine Author to open the eyes of our hearts and minds to hear and receive the Word. A simple, dependent prayer can help: “Lord, speak to me through your Word today”. In fact, that are several heart postures we should consider before we open our Bibles.
5. Meditate on what you read. Whether you prefer a notebook, journaling Bible, blog, or a simple notecard, meditating on your reading is vital. The blessed man is the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night (Psalm 1:2). Delighting in God and His Word fuels meditation and meditation fuels delight in God and His Word. Meditation and delight are inseparable. If you don’t know how to meditate, the Puritans can surely help. They were skilled and wrote frequently on the topic of biblical meditation.
6. Pray during and after you read Scripture. Don’t just read the Bible, pray the Bible. The whole process of Bible reading should be done coram deo—in the presence of God. One significant way to be mindful of the presence of God is to talk to Him while you read His Word. So often Bible reading feels like an obscure homework assignment that is supposed to mystically connect us to a God we don’t think about before, during, or after. By praying as you read, you not only seek the presence and help of God, you also pray the very Words of God to Him. If you want to be sure that His Words abide in you as you “ask whatever you wish” (John 15:7), praying the Bible is sure to give you that confidence.
7. Discuss what you read. Unless you’re an extreme introvert, you talk to people every day. While it’s not sinful to talk about the news, weather, sports, or your family, you could also talk to someone about the Scriptures you’ve been reading. Not only will conversation help you with retaining and applying something you’ve read, it will benefit and encourage the people you are sharing with! This is an excellent way to evangelize and counsel people in your life!
8. Incorporate your Bible reading into family worship. Whether you’re single and living with godly roommates, a parent of preschoolers, or empty nest parents of adult children, you need to be having family worship. This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should include at least some Bible reading and prayer. Don Whitney offers a simple method that you can implement immediately. If you’re reading through Matthew 17 today, why not save that for family worship time? Knowing the attention span and ages in your home, select a portion or all of the chapter to read. Discuss it briefly, ask a few questions, and spend some time in prayer.
9. Obey what you read. Your Bible reading is useless if you don’t believe it. Salvation is by grace alone through faith and faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:17). However, faith without works is dead. We don’t look in the mirror and forget what we look like. Neither should we read God’s Word and walk away without a resolve, by grace, to obey what it says (James 1:22-25). It takes the power of the Holy Spirit and supernatural wisdom to see what God desires, but one of the chief aims of reading the Scriptures should be to become more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Both Sinclair Ferguson and J.C. Ryle have written on this important aspect of the Christian life.
10. Your Bible won’t read itself. Years ago, I was around some brothers who visibly loved God and His Word. They were memorizing, discussing, applying, and sharing God’s Word anytime I was around. I asked one of them a simple question: “What tips do you have for reading the Bible?”. He thought for a second and said this simple but life-changing sentence, “Your Bible won’t read itself”. He’s right.
Keep On Keepin’ On
If we want to keep reading our Bibles in 2020, we have to read our Bibles in 2020. All the tips in the world can’t replace reading or listening to God’s Word on a regular basis. In all of this, we must not forget the gospel. We are not saved by our Bible reading, nor are we keeping ourselves in God’s good graces by reading 4 chapters a day. However, as I heard so often growing up, we have to keep on keepin’ on.
We have to read on the days we don’t feel like it, begging God to change our hearts. We have to read on the days we are too tired, too busy, or too overwhelmed, knowing that God’s Word is profitable for those times, too. We simply have to keep reading because we know that the Scriptures point us to a glorious, mighty, triune God who is worthy of our love, energy, and devotion each and every day.
What are some tips you'd offer to someone trying to keep up with daily Bible reading? Leave a comment below!
Where Is Corporate Confession Today?
Do you confess your sins? Most people will probably answer with a resounding, “Yes, of course!”. Do you confess your sins to other people? Fewer will probably raise your hands on that one. Let’s be honest, accountability can get awkward.
Last question...Do you confess your sins with other people? I’d assume the numbers have dropped significantly by now. I have to put my hand down for this one. Besides my experience in the Presbyterian church (PCA), I had never even considered corporate confession as a normal part of worship.
In churches today, prayer is usually something to start or end church services with. For some, there may even be some prayer sprinkled in with offering, before and after sermons, or at other designated times. This can be corporate prayer if they are indeed praying for the people gathered together.
What I’m referring to here is a prayer on behalf of others. How often do you hear a prayer that is more than “bless this service”, “bless this offering”, or “help us worship you this morning”? These are certainly good prayers when they come from a dependent, thankful, and worshipful heart.
But how often are those corporate prayers centered on the topic of confession? I have rarely prayed a corporate prayer of confession before a service or sermon. It simply hasn’t struck me as appropriate or necessary, I guess. Truthfully, this may reflect more of my own private prayer life than anything else.
This was not the case for Ezra.
A Picture of Corporate Confession
After Israel’s return from exile, Ezra found out that the Israelites were intermarrying with the wicked nations around them. Appalled, he stopped everything he was doing and lamented over the sin of the people (Ezra 9:1-4). He tore his garments, pulled his hair, and fasted. Afterwards, he prayed a corporate prayer on behalf of the people. Many of the people joined him for this time of prayer and “wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1).
Rather than simply looking down upon the people or praying like the Pharisee, “Thank you Lord that I’m not like these fools!” he opens his prayer with “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). He continues to speak of:
Ezra embraced the sin of the nation because he was one of them. It wasn’t just their sin. In his mind, it was our sin. He even acknowledged that God’s original punishment was less than their iniquities deserved (Ezra 9:13). Ezra knew the weightiness of sin, the wages of sin, and the wonder of God’s grace in spite of that sin. He also loved the Israelites so much that he corporately confessed sin that he hadn’t committed. He was united to the people in such a way that what afflicted them would certainly afflict him.
Do we know such grief over sin? Do we say with Ezra, “O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just” when faced with the consequences of our sin? Do we see sin in the church as something worth weeping and lamenting over? These are serious questions that we desperately need to answer.
How Do You View Others’ Sins?
Are you connected to a local church? When you see the sin of fellow Christians, do you feel the weight of the sin with such fierce agony that you fall prostrate and confess the sin with your fellow saints knowing that their sin affects you?
We all need a dose of the heinousness of sin. The prophets ought to be on our priority lists of Bible-reading to be reminded of the gruesome nature of sin. We should read and tremble at the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). We need to think about the cross and the work of Jesus far more often than Good Friday and Easter. God’s Word shows us why sin should horrify us.
Weep when you see sin in your life. Mourn when you see sin in the lives of those around you. This is the only reasonable response to such deadly evil:
A Beautiful Picture
Ezra paints a beautiful picture of the love Christians must have for one another. We are one body with many members. When the arm gets an infection, MRSA can wreck the whole body. When an appendix ruptures, the whole body is in danger. When the brain deteriorates, the body soon follows. One cancerous cell can devastate the most able-bodied of us.
Sin is more deadly than we usually acknowledge, and when we realize the weightiness of it, we will confess it and beg God for mercy upon us. We will not pray, “God thank you that I’m a model Christian who has never fallen like them.”. Rather, we will pray, “Lord we have forsaken you. Be gracious to us!”