Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 February 2023

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads to mark the first day of the Easter-season Lenten fast. What’s with the ashes? It comes from bible: When ancient middle easterners grieved, they put ashes on their heads. 2Sa 13.19, Jb 2.8 Ashes were also used to ritually purify sinners. Nu 19.9 So it’s to repeat that custom.

Giving… so it can be given you.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February 2023

For certain Christians, whenever the topic of generosity comes up, this is the first bible quote which comes to mind. It’s part of the Sermon on the Plain; Jesus said it, so you can take it to the bank, right?

Luke 6.38 NIV
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

And that is what they’re counting on. Give, and it’ll be given you. Give, and you’ll get. And not just mere karma-style reciprocity: You’ll get more. You’ll get a lot more. You’ll get a tenfold return on your donation. A hundredfold return, if we can borrow a line from the Four Seeds Story

Mark 4.8 NIV
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

A hundred times what you put in. Doesn’t that sound like the best reason to be generous? You only get that kind of return when you’re gambling. And this is no gamble! It’s on God. Jesus himself said there’d be some kind of hundredfold return on what gets put in.

Now yeah—Jesus only said there’d be a hundredfold return in this parable, and in it he was talking about sharing the word, namely God’s word; it produces a hundredfold return, but that’s a trait unique to God’s word. Pulling it out of context to claim it can also be applied to charity, is in no way a legitimate use of the scripture. Doesn’t matter how many preachers claim, “No it is legit; it’s a biblical principle, and combined with 20 other verses it reveals a profound cosmic secret about how the kingdom works!” It’s not, it doesn’t, and they’re using your greed to con you out of your money. Don’t fall for that.

’Cause I point out to you something which should be fairly obvious to those of us who practice basic reading comprehension: Jesus’s statement in the Sermon on the Plain does not say we’re getting back more than we put in. It says quite clearly, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” You’re getting back the same. Jesus talks about his Father’s overabundant grace a lot, but here, in this particular favorite proof text, he’s actually describing reciprocity.

So what about the whole “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” bit? That presumes that’s what we gave. We gave others a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. We were generouslike any fruit-producing Christian oughta be. We gave abundantly, so we receive abundantly.

If we didn’t give abundantly? Well, “with the measure you use, it’ll be measured to you.” You gave stingily? Expect others to reciprocate stingily. If it looks pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it’s only covering up the fact everything below the top layer has weevils in it.

Or, because not every Christian is a covetous dick, someone actually practiced generosity towards you. Which is awesome. Now pay it forward.

But if your only motivation for generosity is because you think you’ll be in God’s karmic debt, and because he’s infinitely rich he’ll overdo it when he repays you, and you are banking on him falling for your clever money-making scheme… man are you missing the point.

St. Valentine’s Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February 2023

As you should know, saints days are usually the day a saint died.

In Roman Catholic thinking, this’d be the day the Christian actually became a saint, ’cause now there’s no chance whatsoever of them ever quitting Jesus—why would you, now that you’ve been with him in heaven?—so their sainthood is absolutely a done deal. Whereas those of us on earth: Meh. You’re Christian now; we don’t yet know how well you’ll hold up when the poo-poo really hits the fan. ’Cause some of those people back in Roman Empire times who could’ve been martyred saints, as soon as the Romans even threatened to smack ’em around a little, they quickly denounced Jesus and promised to worship the Emperor. So much for their sainthood.

So… how well might you hold up under persecution? Heck, in a country where Christians don’t even get persecuted (except in their own minds), how well might you hold up even when you’re simply suffering? ’Cause plenty of people seem to have a rather low breaking point. Parents die?—even though everybody’s parents die?—quit Jesus. Not cured of whatever ailment you really wanna be cured of?—quit Jesus. Don’t get that job you were convinced God was gonna grant you?—quit Jesus. One of the pastors quietly suggested next Sunday you might experiment with underarm deodorant?—quit Jesus. If these triggers are starting to sound stupid… well, some people get triggered by the pettiest things. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” Mt 16.24 doesn’t appeal to a culture which denies itself nothing.

But I digress, ’cause today I’m gonna write about the martyr St. Valentine.

Of course the tricky part is which one. There have been many Christians named Valentinus, and some of them lived and died for Jesus, and back in antiquity some bishop decided to give one of them his very own feast day. In the west, bishop Gelasius 1 of Rome fixed it on 14 February. But which Valentinus is this day about? Well, we don’t know.

Well we don’t. This is one of those facts that’s been lost in antiquity. We don’t know anything about St. Valentine. Jesus does, ’cause Valentinus is one of his. That, I suppose, is what counts most.

We know of five ancient Christian martyrs with the name Valentinus. Three in particular, but really any of the five—or in fact none of them—could be the guy with the feast day. There’s no saying for certain. I don’t care which historian you’ve read who claims, “Oh it’s definitely this Valentinus”—it’s not definite at all. We don’t know. Unless some archaeologist finally gets hold of a document in which some bishop first proclaims a St. Valentine’s Day, we’re not gonna know. Some things in the universe are just gonna remain unknowns. Deal with it.

The five Valentinuses are:

  1. A presbyter who served in Rome, buried on the Flaminian Way in the late 200s. Orthodox Christians observe his feast day on 6 July.
  2. A bishop of Interamna (now Terni, in central Italy), killed during a trip to Rome in the year 269. The church of Terni claims this Valentinus died on 14 February, and he’s the St. Valentine… but of course they would. Orthodox Christians observe his feast day on 30 July.
  3. A member of a missionary team to north Africa (today’s Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya), who were all killed at once, and that’s everything we know about him.
  4. A bishop of Passau, who later became a hermit in northern Italy, and died in 475.
  5. A bishop of Genoa, who died in 295.

St. Valentine’s Day was part of the official Roman calendar till 1955, when Pope Pius 12 decided to consolidate a bunch of saints. Of course by then it was already part of popular culture. Medieval Christians had decided St. Valentine, whoever he was, was the patron saint of romantic love, and invented a few legends about how he secretly performed Christian weddings for couples, enraging the emperor, who had him killed for that, not for Jesus. Greeting card manufacturers of course spread the story he used to cut heart-shaped pieces of parchment and give them to other persecuted Christians to remind them of God’s love; which is also likely bogus, but it gives schoolchildren something nice to write about in their St. Valentine’s Day essays.

God’s character.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February 2023

No doubt you’ve heard of the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, for way too many Christians, they’ve only memorized Paul’s list Ga 5.22-23 and whether they actually strive to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. is a whole other deal. They know these are virtues, but too many of us are kinda just expecting them to appear spontaneously, rather than really work with the Holy Spirit on our character.

Okay. What are these virtues in relation to God himself? Does he exhibit them? Is he loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, etc.? Or have we never made any such connection? Maybe doubt we even should make such a connection, ’cause we’d rather imagine God as offended at humanity’s sins, mournful over humanity’s sins, ready to smite people over their sins, absolutely fed up over people’s sins, eager to offend and outrage people back (after all, they offended him first!) and so forth? Do we figure these traits aren’t in any way practical, considering God needs to be super-duper vengeful right about now?

In other words, do we figure humanity’s sins have flipped God over 180 degrees, and made him fleshly?

I’ll leave you to ponder that idea, and whether our ideas about the wrath of God haven’t somehow turned him into Zeus. But as you hopefully know already, if you wanna know what God is like; if you wanna identify God’s attitude and character traits, the best thing to do is look at Jesus the Nazarene. Does he exhibit the Spirit’s fruit? Or when you read the gospels, do you figure Jesus likewise is triggered and enraged and ready to call down fire because he has HAD IT with these maggot-farming Judeans?

If so, I don’t know what bible you have, or what sort of demented “Christian” movie you’ve been watching. Every bible translation I know of, reveals the Spirit’s fruit describes Jesus’s character. And since Jesus is God, the Spirit’s fruit describes God’s character. Christians think and act fruitful because the Spirit within us thinks and acts like that.

So this being the case… whenever we look at the LORD’s behavior in the scriptures, what attitudes should we attribute to him? Fruitful ones? Or fruitless and fleshly ones? Which traits sound like Jesus, and are therefore God’s?

…Unless of course you don’t believe Jesus is God. Not really. Plenty of Christians flub the concept of trinity, and imagine Jesus is only a segment of God, or a mode of God, or even isn’t really God; he’s just a really important creation—he’s the Son of God!—but not God himself.

And if Jesus isn’t fully God, then it’s understandable—even okay—if Jesus and God are entirely different individuals. Not one in purpose, will, intent, attributes, and character; two distinct deities, like Zeus and Hades. Who are playing a cosmic game of “good cop bad cop” with humanity: God’s the bad cop, eager to roast us in hell, and Jesus is the good cop, trying to get us forgiven and saved—not from sin and death, but from God himself. ’Cause God’s super murdery, but Jesus is more about peace and love than Ringo Starr.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow Christians express this demented idea. All sorts of Christians. Even people who went to seminary and studied way more theology than I have, and should know better! Christians who should know the apostles wholly meant it when they wrote in the scriptures how Jesus as the image of God, Cl 1.15 someone whose very nature is that of God, Pp 2.6 the only-begotten God who accurately reveals who the Father is like, Jn 1.18 and if you’ve seen him you’ve seen the Father. Jn 14.9 Who identified God himself as love, 1Jn 4.8, 16 and defined love by God’s gracious attitude towards us. 1Co 13.4-8 Yet despite knowing these scriptures, they still think God is wrath, and Jesus opposes him. God is the angry Old Testament tribal deity, and Jesus is the loving New Testament global deity… and of course they like Jesus way better.

But this twisted view of God is unbiblical and heretic. Again: Jesus is God. If you think God’s character is all bile and rage, you’re wrong. Get rid of that idea. God’s character is Jesus’s character. Jesus is all about peace and love; so is God.

Context? Who needs context?

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February 2023
CONTEXT 'kɑn.tɛkst noun. Setting of an idea or event: The larger story they’re part of, the circumstances or history behind them, the people to whom they’re said. Without them, the idea is neither fully understood nor clear.
[Contextual kən'tɛks.tʃ(əw).əl adjective.]

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

It doesn’t come from bible, though from time to time someone will claim it totally does, and therefore it’s a divine command. But nope, it’s not scripture at all. Comes from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, act 1, scene 3. Shakespeare’s no slouch, but it’s still not bible.

Why do people quote it? Typically because they literally mean it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! Because if you never borrow money, chances are you’ll never go into debt or bankruptcy. If you never lend money, you won’t have to fret when your friends can’t repay you. Simple, prudent advice. Words people think we oughta live by.

Okay, so why’d Shakespeare write this line?

Well… actually we don’t care why he wrote it. We’re only interested in what we mean by it: Don’t borrow! Don’t lend! We presume Shakespeare meant the very same thing. It’s straightforward enough, isn’t it?

But a Shakespeare scholar, or anyone who’s stayed awake through Hamlet, will recall exactly where it came from. The wily King Claudius’s not-as-wily adviser, Polonius, is giving advice to his son Laertes before he sends him off to university. If they watched any halfway decent performance of Hamlet, they’ll remember Polonius was kind of an idiot. All his other advice in the play turns out to be wrong, bad, foolish, and fatal.

“Well okay, Shakespeare put it in the mouth of a dunce. But it’s still sound advice.”

Is it? Look at the life stories of certain billionaires, and you’ll notice nearly all of them, in order to start the company which made ’em a billion dollars, borrowed money. (The few who didn’t borrow money, already had money, or had wealthy relatives.) You’ll also notice nearly all of them lent money, and made a bunch of money that way too. As for lending, should I not buy treasury bills? Should I not put my money in long-term certificate of deposit accounts? Should I not invest in businesses and people I believe in?

Really, I find the only people who quote it are self-serving or stingy people. And if they claim it’s godly advice, it’s really not. Bible doesn’t back up Polonius at all.

You see the problem. Context is important. We should care where our quotes come from. We might be giving bad advice. Or, when quoting the bible, we might make a divine command out of something which was never meant to be one.

Don’t believe in fake Messiahs and fake second comings.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 January 2023

Mk 13.21-23, Mt 24.23-28, Lk 17.22-24, 37.

The word χριστός/hristós is a loaded term. Nowadays we just translate it “Christ” and presume it means the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. First-century Judeans figure it likewise meant Messiah, the king-like-David who’d conquer the Romans and the world and whose kingdom would never end… and we Christians believe that about Jesus too, although we figure all that takes place in his second coming, ’cause it clearly didn’t in his first. (Although he did conquer the Romans all the same.)

Thing is, hristós literally means “anointed one.” And you’re likely aware there are a lot of people nowadays who call themselves, or call their favorite gurus, Spirit-anointed leaders, or teachers, or prophets, or even politicians. People who follow those gurus as if they’re Jesus himself. People who worship those gurus, although they’d never, ever admit it: They claim they only worship Jesus, but y’notice how you’re never, ever allowed to dislike or criticize their gurus. Speak ill of them and their worshipers will call you heretic, or otherwise act as if Satan itself pooped you out.

When I was a kid and read this passage, I noticed how Jesus said these people would “seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” Mk 13.22 KJV I actually found that hard to fathom. What Christian would be dumb enough to follow anyone other than Christ? But I’ve since lived and learned. All of us have witnessed Christians who let themselves get led astray—and if you’ve never seen any such thing, odds are you’re astray.

But like Jesus himself said, “But take ye heed; behold, I have foretold you all things.” Mk 13.23 KJV He gave us a heads-up. Don’t fall for the frauds! Worship only the actual Anointed One, and if anyone tries to tell you he’s pulled some kind of secret second coming, or is plotting some kind of secret rapture, tell ’em they’re absolutely wrong, and quote ’em these passages.

Mark 13.21-23 KWL
21 “Then when anyone tells you, ‘Look here; it’s Messiah!’
‘Look there!’—don’t believe it,
22 for fake Messiahs and fake prophets will be lifted up,
and will present signs and wonders,
to lead the chosen people astray, if doable.
23 You watch out.
I have foretold you everything.”
Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone tells you, ‘Look here; it’s Messiah!’
or ‘There!’—don’t believe it,
24 for fake Messiahs and fake prophets will be lifted up,
and will present great signs and wonders
in order to lead even chosen people astray, if doable.
25 Look, I have foretold you.
26 So when they tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the desert,’
don’t go out!
‘Look, he’s in the private room,’
don’t believe it!
27 For just as lightning comes out of the east
and is visible all the way in the west,
thus is the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever the corpse might be,
there the eagles will gather.”
Luke 17.22-24, 37 KWL
22 Jesus tells the students, “The days will come
when you will long to see one of the Son of Man’s days,
and will not see it,
23 and people will tell you, ‘Look there!’
or ‘Look here!’
Don’t go, nor follow.
24 For just as lightning flashes from the sky
and gives light to all under the sky,
thus is the Son of Man in his day.
37 In reply the students told him, “Where, Master?”
Jesus told them, “Where the body is,
there also the eagles will gather.”

Worse tribulation than they had ever known.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January 2023

Mk 13.17-20, Mt 24.19-22, Lk 21.23-24.

Most American Evangelicals are conditioned to think Jesus’s Olivet Discourse is entirely about our future. Not his students’ near future; humanity’s future, specifically our own. It’s a combination of self-centeredness (“the bible’s speaking about me!”) and the fact there’s a whole lot of money to be made, and power to be gained, by keeping your people terrified of a scary future.

But it’s not. And if you don’t believe me, ’cause your churches have been really successful at convincing you otherwise, I recommend you read today’s Luke passage more than once. Really read it. Let it sink in.

Mark 13.17-20 KWL
17 “Woe to those who have babies in the womb,
and those who are nursing, in these days!
18 Pray lest it happen in the rainy season.
19 For these days will be tribulation.
Unlike what’s happened to what God creates,
from the first creature until now,
it may never yet be this bad.
20 If the Lord doesn’t shorten the days,
not all flesh will survive—
but because of the chosen whom he selected,
he will shorten the days.”
Matthew 24.19-22 KWL
19 “Woe to those who have babies in the womb,
and those who are nursing, in these days!
20 Pray lest your flight happen in the rainy season,
nor on Sabbath.
21 For then will be great tribulation.
Unlike what’s happened
from the beginning of the world until now,
it may never be this bad.
22 If these days aren’t shortened,
not all flesh will survive.
Because of the chosen,
these days will be shortened.”
Luke 21.23-24 KWL
23 “Woe to those who have babies in the womb,
and those who are nursing, in these days!
It’ll be great calamity in the land,
and wrath upon the people.
24 They will fall by the machete’s blade,
and be put into captivity in every nation.
Jerusalem will be trampled by gentiles
until the gentile era might be full.”

’Cause according to futurist End Times prognosticators, the Olivet Discourse is about a seven-year stretch of great tribulation which takes place just before Jesus’s second coming. It’s not about the Romans invading Israel in the year 70, destroying Jerusalem, killing 2 million Judeans, and scattering the rest of them all over the Roman Empire.

Even though Jesus is obviously talking about the events of the year 70.

Well… it’s obvious to people who know the history of the actual great tribulation. Not so obvious to American Evangelicals who know little to nothing about it—who know that’s how the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, but very little else. To them, this won’t be a great calamity in the land; it’ll be a great calamity all over the earth, like the English Standard Version implies.

Luke 21.23 ESV
“Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.”

True, γῆς/yis can be translated “land” or “earth.” Or “dirt.” It means that kind of earth—the ground below us, not the planet. You want the planet, you’re more apt to use the word κόσμου/kósmu, “world”—although this can also mean all the people of the world, like when Jesus says God so loves the world. Jn 3.16 But you get the point. Translators who choose to turn yis into “earth” typically have an agenda—namely to make us think something’s global when it doesn’t have to be.

Or, bluntly, isn’t.

Don’t even go back to get your stuff.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 January 2023

Mk 13.15-16, Mt 24.17-18, Lk 17.31.

So in his Olivet Discourse, Jesus spoke about “the abomination of desolation,” as the KJV calls it: Something—probably something nasty and disgusting—which’ll make it impossible to worship in temple anymore. Something that’d ultimately happen when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE, although Jesus didn’t tell his kids specifically when all this stuff would happen—although he indicated it’d happen within their lifetime, and for a few of them, it did.

When that happened, Jesus said, run for the hills. Mk 13.14 Get out of there before you’re overtaken by it. And in the next two verses, he makes it clear he’s not kidding about getting out of there as quickly as possible. You can interpret these verses as hyperbole if you wanna, but I don’t think that’s wise. When you hear the tornado siren, you don’t go digging around for all your favorite photo albums; you get in the basement. Same thing here. Run.

Mark 13.15-16 KWL
15 “One on the roof: Don’t come back in!
Never go inside, to take up what’s in the house!
16 One who’s gone to the field: Don’t return to what’s behind,
even to take up your clothing.”
Matthew 24.17-18 KWL
17 “One on the roof: Don’t come back in
to take up what’s in the house!
18 One in the field: Don’t come back
to take up your clothing.”

Luke doesn’t include this warning in its version of the Olivet Discourse, but it does have this Jesus-saying elsewhere in the gospel… specifically when he’s talking about his second coming. That’s most of the reason a lot of Christians confound the Olivet Discourse warning about the destruction of Jerusalem, with the End Times and second coming: They think it’s all the same thing. It’s not. The Luke passage is indeed about the second coming, but the Mark and Matthew passage is about the destruction of Jerusalem. I’ll quote the relevant verse anyway:

Luke 17.31 KWL
“On that day, whoever’s on the roof
and their stuff is in the house:
Don’t come back in to take it up!
And likewise one in the field:
Don’t return to what’s behind!”

In the Olivet Discourse, the warning is to ignore your stuff and run from disaster. In Luke, the warning is to ignore your stuff and run to Jesus. In both cases, you’re not gonna need your stuff! But it’s for whole different reasons, and just because the verses are parallel doesn’t mean we’re to pluck them out of context and claim they’re all about the destruction of Jerusalem. Or the second coming.

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 January 2023

6 January is Epiphany, the day which celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world.

True, the Christmas stories depict that taking place on Christmas Day. With angels and sheep-herders, and frequently magi; with Jesus’s dad fully dressed as if he’s about to travel, either ’cause they’re gonna flee to Egypt really soon, or because he and Mary only arrived minutes ago, ’cause they didn’t know better than to travel when you’re heavily pregnant.

Well technically he was revealed to the world at his circumcision, and when those two prophets identified him as important. But really he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry—at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-36 The Message
29 The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, 30 “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ 31 I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
32 John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. 33 I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. 36 He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

In eastern churches which still follow the Julian calendar, Epiphany’s gonna wind up on 19 January, and sometimes it’ll be called Theophany.

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Two theories. One is Jesus’s baptism had to take place when the Jordan was in flood, otherwise there wouldn’t’ve been enough water to immerse him. January’s a good bet.

The other theory is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings—and if you begin with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of January. So since that’s when they always read the baptism story, stands to reason that’s when they’d celebrate Jesus’s baptism. This theory’s much less plausible: The ancient civic year began on 25 March, not 1 January… and why start with Mark when historically Christians start the gospels with Matthew?

Regardless of why, ancient Christians picked 6 January to celebrate Jesus’s baptism. And since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include all his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized Jesus’s birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany evolved into a separate celebration of Christmas.

Yep, that’s how it happened. I know; pagans like to claim we Christians took over all the pagan winter solstice festivals, and shoehorned Jesus’s birthday into that. Didn’t work like that. Any Christian can tell you: We didn’t swipe pagan holidays. We swipe Jewish ones. If they happen to line up with pagan ones (as Jewish equinox and harvest festivals naturally would) it still doesn’t mean we swiped pagan holidays.

Nope, we still don’t know when Jesus was born, or baptized. Does it even matter? We just need a day or two to celebrate. Or 12. And for the longest time Epiphany also lasted several days. Usually eight.

Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.

Ulterior motives for being religious.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January 2023

In 2018 Trevin Wax wrote “Routine bible reading can change your life.” Another site changed the title to the clickbaity, “Why so many Christians start, but don’t finish a bible reading plan.” ’Cause that’s what it’s about: Why so many Christians start, yet don’t finish… you know.

Got my attention because at the turn of the year, I usually urge folks to start a bible reading plan. I plug mine, but any will do. I encourage people to do it in a month, in part because I’m convinced longer programs are needlessly so, and you’re more likely to give up on them because they’re longer. You gotta rigidly stick to it for so long—and you’re not gonna get as much out of a bible snippet as you will a whole book.

Wax gave another reason Christians quit on these plans, and it’s quite insightful for a lot of reasons. I’ll quote him. (But yeah, I edited out all his capitalizations to keep it consistent with TXAB’s styleguide.)

One reason may be that we have too high of an expectation of what we will feel every day when we read. We know this is God’s word and that he speaks to us through this book, and yet so many times, when we’re reading the assigned portion of scripture for the day, it all feels so, well, ordinary. We read a story, note a couple of interesting things, don’t see how it applies to our lives today, and then move on. By the time we near the end of the first books of the bible, we’ve gone through extensive instructions on how to build the tabernacle, or how the sacrificial system is to be implemented, or a book of Numbers that is aptly titled. We read the daily portion of scripture, put down our pencil or highlighter and wonder, “Why don’t I feel like my life is changing?”

I sympathize with Christians who feel this way. We’re right to approach the bible with anticipation, to expect to hear from God in a powerful and personal way. But the way the bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt, but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening up our lives before this open book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise. The same is true of scripture reading. Not every meal is at a steakhouse. Not every meal is memorable. Can you remember what you had for dinner, say, two weeks ago? Probably not. But that meal sustained you, didn’t it? In the same way, we come to feast on God’s word, recognizing that it’s the daily rhythm of submitting ourselves to God and bringing our plans and hopes and fears to him that makes the difference.

If you’re the “too long, didn’t read” sort… well first of all, what’re you doing on TXAB? I write yards of articles. But in summary, Wax correctly points out people read bible because we’re hoping it’ll transform us for the better. And it does! But we want it to change us now. Not gradually, not over the course of the year we take to read it, not as an effect of reading and following it for years: Right bloody now. And if we don’t see immediate results, we’re gonna ditch it like we did cardio. Seems the bible’s just another thing that’ll make us sweaty, tired, hungry, achey, and frustrated.

We already know Christians lack the patience to stick with bible reading plans; again, it’s why I encourage short little one-month plans. But like Wax said, some of this impatience comes from what we expected to get out of reading the bible, and what we want—what we really want—are powerful spiritual experiences. We want every daily bible reading to be an epiphany: “Great Thundering Moses, I can’t believe I never realized that before. Why, that upends everything I ever believed. Now I have the secrets of the universe! I… have… the POWER…” and now you’re quoting He-Man instead of bible.

Probably expect to be glowing like Prince Adam… when he tranforms into a guy who looks exactly the same, only shirtless and more tan.

This is why too many Christians read bible: We want secrets. We want revelations. We want visions. We wanna grow a brain full of profound truths which make us wise and infallible, and know God better than the smartest bible scholars. We wanna infallibly know God’s will, and use that knowledge to have the best possible life in the best possible timeline. The bible is our magic lamp, so start rubbing!

Of course none of this is why we oughta read bible, and all of this betrays many of the reasons people think we need to follow Jesus. We’re not following him because we love him and want to grow closer to him. We’re following him because he’s rich and powerful, and whenever he throws us a bone, it’ll be a golden bone.