So this guy pulls out a Bible on a plane…
It sounds like the start of a joke right?
Except, it wasn’t a joke.
In late September I headed out on an adventure from the mountains of far Northern California to the mountains of East Tennessee for a Christian women’s retreat for writers, podcasters and creators. Through a series of three flights, including an overnight, I trekked from almost one side of the country, to almost the other.
As I settled into my seat on that first flight Monday afternoon, I politely smiled and said hello to the older gentleman already seated next to me. As the flight crew made their final departure preparations, my neighbor set a grocery bag on his lap. One of those modern, plastic, double-handled, nearly indestructible, will probably last forever ones. In my imagination and out my peripheral vision I expected this man to pull out some sort of homemade lunch. Maybe a sandwich? Or last night’s leftover lasagna? Like a good student in school I kept my eyes on my own paper business and went back to reading.
And then I heard a familiar, but unexpected sound. Instead of ziplock bags and Tupperware being opened, I heard the familiar sound of thin wispy Bible pages being turned. You know the faint rustling sound of that super thin paper you worry you’re one overly strong wisp away from tearing?
Glancing over I saw my seat mate, who I guessed was in his late 60s or early 70s, leaning far over into God’s Word, glasses perched on his nose. I’m pretty sure it was the first time in my life that someone seated next to me on a plane (that I didn’t know) was reading their Bible. Their physical Bible. And this wasn’t some small pocket version that might have passed as something else. This was a large, heavy, worn, black leather, King James Bible opened to the Book of Joel.
Joel, if you’re not familiar (or don’t remember) is a minor prophet and comes near the beginning of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. You’ll find him after the rather lengthy, prophetic Book of Daniel (the last of the major prophets) and the first minor prophet, Hosea.
Joel was one of the earliest prophets and lived in the southern tribe of Judah. While the exact dating isn’t known (some scholars date his ministry and the book to around to 835 BC), Joel’s prophecies were recorded prior to the Babylonian invasion, which saw the lion’s share of the southern kingdom taken off in captivity to live in exile in Babylon for 70 years.
Sitting there beside this man, I felt that push the Holy Spirit gives us as believers. I could have easily kept my eyes buried in the book I was reading, Slow Growth Equals Strong Roots by Mary Marantz. I was tempted to.
I’m usually pretty quiet on planes. Rarely am I the one to strike up a seat mate conversation – but I felt that nudging. The Lord had set a divine appointment, I could feel it. He’d seated me next to a believer and I had a choice to make. Connect with another disciple or just keep to myself.
I leaned over a bit and said, “so you’re studying Joel?”
For the next hour or so we talked back and forth, sharing our experiences of being raised in different faith traditions; me: Catholic, him: Lutheran. Of coming to Christ later in life; me: 34, him: 29. Of baptism; me: at a mega church in Arizona, him: in a lake, I think in Washington state. We discussed the richness and importance of Scripture and talked of our desire to share Jesus with other people.
He told me of a friend who is writing a book. I told him about the writer’s retreat I was on my way to in Tennessee because I’ve been working on writing a book of my own.
We’d only just met and yet it was like we had known each other much longer. This older and seasoned saint quoted scripture, flipping through the pages of his well used, freely marked Bible. Notations filling the margins, evidence in ink of his hunger and love for God’s Word.
Two and a half hours later as we deplaned my new friend said, “see you later.” And whether it’s in this life or the next, I know we surely will.
Over the course of the next 24 hours as I navigated more flights and airports, I found myself thinking back to our conversation. How rich it was because we were on the same page. While we disagreed on a few things, they were secondary issues. I like commentaries (especially the old ones from Spurgeon and Henry), he’s not a fan. He didn’t seem too excited about books and blogs and social media as ways of sharing the Good News; I think God’s Word can and should be shared anywhere we can plant seeds. But, overall, we enjoyed agreement. We connected over our love of Jesus and the importance of Scripture.
And that’s the part I can’t shake. Like a little splinter you feel under your nail or in the palm of your hand. You can’t see it to pull it out, but there it is, reminding you of it’s presence. Digging in a little deeper by the hour.
Biblical literacy matters… and it’s falling away.
Every year the number of people reading their Bibles declines. In a 2022 study by the American Bible Society, their research team found that during the height of the COVID years, 26 million Americans stopped reading God’s Word regularly. They estimate only 10% of Americans read the Bible daily. Which to be honest was a higher percentage than I was expecting. (You can read the full 2022 report, State of the Bible).
If we want to abide in Christ, we need to ready, study and know His Word.
I know you’re busy. I know you have lots of responsibilities. But this matters. Just like praying matters, reading and studying the Bible matters.
Why? So you’ll know when you come face to face with “twisted scripture.”
It might be easy for us to spot false statements that are obvious – but it’s a lot trickier to spot statements that are twisted. Those ones that are just slightly off. But being slightly off matters when we’re talking about topics like eternal salvation.
As I was waiting for that first plane, in my small regional airport, I found myself scrolling through Instagram, watching the stories of accounts I follow and one particular story stood out.
An account I follow had re-shared someone else’s post referencing John 3:16-17 and commented, “We know we’re sinners in need of a savior, but how beautiful that Jesus comes with zero judgment and only love.”
Hmm… does that sound right to you?
I pulled out my own worn Bible from my carry on to read for myself what the Apostle John wrote:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”John 3:16-17, ESV
And I looked back at what their story said:
Mmmm… close, but not quite.
When Jesus came, the first time, he did not come to condemn the world, “but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
But Jesus does judge. He is the judge. And he’s coming back to judge the living and the dead. (Read John chapter 5 for the details).
His judgment is just and right and true… but to say that Jesus doesn’t judge is twisting God’s Word to appease the world that cries against judgment.
You can see how easy it would be to like a story like this. To believe that Jesus is love and zero judgment… but that’s not true and that isn’t love at all.
Let’s look real quick at the verses that come after 16 and 17. The Apostle John goes on to say:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
But whoever does what is true comes to the light,
so that it may be clearly seen that his works
have been carried out in God.”John 3:18-21, ESV
To someone who doesn’t know God’s Word, the message that Jesus doesn’t judge is a welcome message! But it’s a lie. It’s setting up non-believers and the “un-Bibled” for a fall… a BIG one.
So here’s my question for you is your discernment turned up? Are you spending time, sacrificing other things to read and study God’s Word? I hope you are. If you aren’t, today is a good day to start.
We are called to abide in Christ. Knowing His Word is one of the ways we do that… even if we’re on an airplane.
Intentional, consistent prayer is another way we abide in Christ.
Praying you will make a daily practice of spending time reading and studying God’s Word. It will bring you closer to Jesus, help you to share Him boldly with others and sharpen your discernment to know when the Word is being twisted to the world’s liking.
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It makes me feel uncomfortable inside, but recently, when I find myself without anyone to talk to at a gathering (like after church or at a social event), I walk over and just join another group. It might seem silly, but for me, it’s always a little scary. Joining groups I haven’t been invited to […]
So this guy pulls out a Bible on a plane… It sounds like the start of a joke right? Except, it wasn’t a joke. In late September I headed out on an adventure from the mountains of far Northern California to the mountains of East Tennessee for a Christian women’s retreat for writers, podcasters and […]
Encouragement for the Day Ahead
Words of encouragement, inspiration and biblical truth to move you closer to Jesus
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