Lessons for Taking the Word of God Literally

A lot of people have a hard time accepting all of the Bible as God’s Word to be taken literally. Those of us who see it just fine are getting attacked left and right by those such as atheists who focus on a verse out of context or a concept like capital punishment that they personally find abhorrent. So through this short post I’m going to give out a couple clues that solve the problems of defending the Word for many believers. We’re lacking in clues I think because of our own teachings such as splitting the Word into “old” and “new” testaments, “church” replacing “Israel,” an “age of grace” as opposed to an “age of law” (or whatever other ages we make up) and “Jesus died so we could eat a ham sandwich.” Two clues in particular are balance and continuity.

Balance means that all of the words from God are considered together. God (and His Word) is perfectly balanced between judgment and mercy, grace and law, love and holiness. He doesn’t stop being loving to judge wrongdoers. When He gives a Law, He is not diminishing grace. A penalty such as stoning given for the breaking of a Law is just as gracious as the offer of forgiveness if one repents of sin (not leading to death). The grace is in warning others that similar behavior results in death. Stoning is like a sign post telling other people not to drive off a cliff. People have plenty of warning that certain behavior will result in capital punishment. Usually people just bull ahead knowing that it is wrong in the first place. God-given conscience tells them it is wrong, but hard hearts won’t listen. When they cease listening, that is when they are truly “stoned.”

He doesn’t stop being gracious in order to tread the winepress of His wrath. How is this so? Would you believe that treading out the winepress of His wrath IS grace? In order to have cleanliness, you have to take out the trash! If He wants a perfect kingdom with tons of blessings and no death (and He does) God must insist on removing the rot.

Continuity means that He (or His Words) are always the same. What is holy is always holy. What is not holy is always not holy. False problems are created when we try to explain His Law any other way. If we manufacture a grace that excludes Law, then we have a problem explaining judgment. If we (falsely) say that Law is “old” and grace is “new” then we have to reconcile what happens to people who don’t accept it (usually turning to the mystic lie of universalism).

It’s not God’s Word that has the problems. It is people who look at only part of it, like the blind guys trying to figure out an elephant. Remember, we started out in perfection in the Garden. If you want to find a comparison to use for where we should be, use that one.

God Approaches

It’s morning, Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement. I wake up thinking about the approach of God. He comes in clouds and thick darkness with lightning and flame of fire to judge the earth. I get up to meet Him.

I shower, but I still don’t think I’m clean enough. My clothes are some of my best, but they are not adequate to cover me. I am naked beneath His searching gaze. The earth shakes; the sky reels. Is this what they call a vision, or have I been transported to a mountain? The very air is heavy with the edge of His holiness and white with the light of His glory. I seem to see a flaming sword in one hand and stars in the other as He approaches from on high. I am terrified. I fall to my knees in supplication hoping that His judgment passes over me. As he comes closer my strength fails and I fall prostrate and blind before the majesty and might of my creator.

His voice is like a shout, like the blast of a thousand trumpets. A mighty noise, and then sudden quiet. There is a touch on my shoulder. Strength flows from that light contact. Still fearful, I open my eyes to see the dirt, and without moving look to the sides to see if I can see who touched me. The touch on my shoulder again. More strength flows in. A regular voice says, “Be not afraid. Rise and speak.” He uses a name for me that I recognize but have not heard before. I get to my feet to see a man standing. He is a little shorter than I, brown skinned and barefoot dressed in a white robe.

His darker skin is the canvas for the white scars on his forehead, light brush strokes on a smooth brow. He looks young, but his eyes are very still and I sense ancient depths. He holds up a hand in peace. His sleeve falls a little and I can clearly see a scar in his wrist.

“My lord and my God,” I say. “You sent for me?”

“I sent an invitation to everyone to meet me on this Day” He says. “I am glad you accepted.”

“But when,” I ask, “did you invite me here?”

He replies, “The invitation was in the book I gave you. You read it and agreed to meet with me here. Walk with me now, and let us talk.”

“As you wish,” I say. He speaks a word that makes me blink, and when I open my eyes I am at my house. But I can still hear Him talking.

“I am with you always,” He says, “though you may not be able to see me the same way all the time. We are together, you in me and I in you. Each word of mine that you take to heart will make your vision clearer, your hearing sharper. Soon you will see me in all my glory. Tell me what is on your mind. Share with me your fears and sorrows. Speak of your concerns for your family, your friends, your country. Let me hear what moves you. Let us walk together like this always whether I am seen or unseen.”

“Your will is my will,” I answer.

“It is enough,” He says.

Day of Wrath

Saturday is the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur. On this day, and this day only, when we had a temple the high priest would go into the holy of holies and apply the blood of the sacrifice to the mercy seat of the Aron Khodesh, also known as the Ark of the Covenant. He had to do it in a very specific way, with no deviation, or he would die. There was a time far back in history when the high priest had to go in with a rope tied around his ankle for fear he wouldn’t do things right and would die. If he did then others could drag him out without going in themselves and risking the same death.

 

The Day of Atonement was a day associated with wrath, smoke and burning. There are two facets to the smoke and burning. Either there was a sufficient sacrifice for sin, or there wasn’t. One type of smoke and burning was from the acceptable sacrifice, and God’s wrath was turned away. The other facet of smoke and burning was the wrath of God directed at people who did not have an acceptable sacrifice.

 

The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. (Zephaniah 1:14–17, ESV)

 

Before the death and resurrection of Jesus the Yom Kippur sacrifice looked forward to the offering of His own blood on our behalf. Now we remember that work in humility, but we still look forward to that final day of judgment and fast and pray for those who aren’t prepared. Those of us who believe have accepted His sacrifice and God’s wrath on this day is turned away. Those who haven’t accepted Jesus are risking the burning anger of God. This is why we “afflict ourselves” (fast) as it says in Leviticus 16:29 and other places. We bow our heads in humility remembering the sacrifice, and the cost of that sacrifice for our sins. We also fast and pray for repentance that everyone would likewise accept God’s Word and humble themselves.

 

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect —before the day passes away like chaff— before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD. (Zephaniah 2:1–3, ESV)

 

Some misguided people make a big deal out of exactly which day to have the holy days of the Lord. There is no procedure outlined for us in the Word, but there are people who want to help God out by splitting hairs about the new moon (which indicates the start of the month). They are missing the point about the whole thing. Majoring in the minors. Forsaking unity and brotherhood to push their “holier than thou” agenda. This kind of quibbling is proof that the Word does not dwell in their hearts, because love dwells with the Law and love is not in these arguments. I’ve seen many who not only quibble about this kind of minor detail but other non-biblical issues such as head coverings while at the same time ignoring more salient and weightier issues such as love and honoring others. It’s not just me, either. Watch them yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Remember the Law in its entirety with love and the Spirit in a heart of flesh. Don’t get caught up in quibbling with the quibblers. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the seven churches. Repent. Love God. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.

 

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:1–6, ESV)

Judging with Righteous Judgment Pt. 4 – Honor Parents

The admonition to honor father and mother is one of the toughest to apply in these “progressive” times. Parents are not always right. In fact many of them are consistently very, very wrong. Too many are listening to liberal philosophies of men and ignoring what God says for living and raising kids. We (especially older “we’s”) can point fingers at the younger generation’s growing refusal to honor their elders, but not without the proverbial three fingers pointing back at us. The parents are the ones that produced the younger generation. If they have shortcomings it’s obvious that we are the ones who made them that way. We don’t follow God’s ways ourselves, but then wonder why our children turn out to be so lawless.

 

That doesn’t let the youngsters off the hook, though. Sooner or later they grow up, and make their own choices. Frequently they take the hard work and sacrifice of parents and squander it on selfish decisions (like the prodigal son). There are other role models than parents they can look to, and many biblical helps available if they used their “free will” to choose them. God tells us that in the last days the love of many will wax cold (that means get colder and colder for you modern graduates of the public school system).

 

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Matthew 24:12, AV)

 

“Iniquity” is none other than lawlessness. Living without the Law. The church leads the way in this department with many many excuses for why they don’t follow parts or the whole of the Law. So not only do parents share the blame for the fecklessness of the younger generation, but churches are bearing a chunk of the blame too.

 

The primary meaning of “honor” is to take care of your parents when they need it. This includes financial help, or help with living arrangements, or legal assistance.

 

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:10–13, ESV)

 

It also means to respect your elders for the good things they do and forgive them for the bad things. Parents can make it tough to be honored. Sometimes they refuse help. Other times they just aren’t deserving of help. Honoring parents does not mean you agree with everything they do or say. Sometimes too, we cannot honor our fathers and mothers because they are far from the faith. In that case perhaps the best you can do is to just be ready to honor them, avoid bad attitudes, and forgive.

 

I try to honor my adoptive mother (father’s gone now) but she really makes it tough. She has wandered from the faith and has hard feelings towards me. She sort of booted me out of her life a year ago and “adopted” another son (a son of a friend) to take care of her end of life issues. I still honor her in prayer and attitude though, and if I get a chance I will honor her as she needs in other ways too.

 

I can’t properly communicate how pleased I am that my kids honor their parents. Mostly. 🙂 They have financially helped us quite a bit in these tough economic times. My daughter and son-in-law in particular give their tithe to us. This will redound to their heavenly bank account in multiples. I’m not taking any of that away from them with public praise because they are not doing it for that reason. They are doing it because they are honoring God and honoring their parents. But it doesn’t hurt to give them some praise anyway because they’ll be picking our nursing home too!

 

Righteous judgment begins in the individual with self-analysis and application. Honoring parents is a part of it. Not as a take-it-or-leave-it suggestion, but as bedrock for any other blessings God wants to give us.

 

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:2–3, ESV)

Encouragement

This is kind of an odd time in the history of man for communication. We can instantly speak with almost anyone anywhere in the world. In spite of knowing this we sometimes lose sight of the fact that when we post on our whole Bible blog and our Facebook page we have brothers and sisters in many other countries who have liked our pages and read what we write. When you live in the U.S. with all of the freedoms we have it is very easy to forget that things are not so great in other parts of the world. Especially for Christians.

 

We have battles here too, but they are pretty tame in comparison. We don’t have to worry about getting raped and shot on the way to the grocery store like Bernadette in Egypt does (unless we live in Chicago or Detroit). We don’t have to think much about what we’d do if somebody threatened to hang us unless we converted to Islam as one brother suffered recently. We don’t have to figure out if we can forgive the person who is cutting our throat or the throats of our children or grand children. Nobody here threatens us with economic or physical harm (well, maybe a little economic harm sometimes) for our faith like they do in many Muslim or communist countries. When we wear tassels on our pants we don’t have to think that they might make us a target for a pagan bullet. If we rest on Sabbath or observe the Passover here it only marks us as a little weird. The church might not be comfortable with it, but they aren’t plotting to burn down or blow up our houses. At least not yet.

 

But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes 9:4, ESV)

 

So it seems a little lame for us to try and encourage those brothers and sisters who are suffering as we don’t have to at the moment. But it is not lame for God. Our Messiah Yeshua suffered as many of us have suffered since the beginning. He was (and is, and will be) victorious, and promises we will be too if we persevere. Everything is in His hands, and not even a sparrow falls to the ground without Him knowing about it. He sees, and He knows what is going on with His children. He will repay, and no unbeliever will escape His vengeance. I hope I can remember this and cling to it when it comes my turn.

 

Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:18–22, NRSV)

 

We feel helpless to do anything to alleviate your terror and suffering, and “praying for you” just doesn’t seem adequate. But we do pray, and we do speak of you often to the Father. We give to certain organizations that help somewhat with some needs, and can perhaps get you to another country where it’s safer. (Consider Israel if you can’t make it to our country. As dumb as they are sometimes and even though they are at the center of the storm God will protect the apple of His eye.) Our God is bigger than all of this, and will supply all your needs. There is a plan, and a promise, and He will always be faithful and will never let us down.

 

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21–24, ESV)
It’s going to get worse for us all before it gets better, but it will get better. We win. This is our hope.

 

Shalom

The Measure We Use…

The measure we use with God’s Word is the same one He uses for blessings. If we measure out small, incomplete portions of His Word, our blessings come back to us the same way.

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (Haggai 1:6, ESV)

Likes on Facebook

Now that we’ve got more than 30 likes, Facebook shows us something they call ‘insights’ meaning we can see how many people view a post and other statistics.

It’s interesting to note that a post starting with the phrase “Sin is turning from His Word” gets 11 views while a shorter post starting with “I wonder if seven days without leaven has a side benefit for the body?” gets 59 views. Or how a post starting with the Bible verse “But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God.” gets 16 views while a post that starts with the Bible verse “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me” gets 109 views.

Do you suppose that posts which confront people with a holy God, a need for repentance, and the requirement to abide in the whole of His Word including the Law are less popular than posts that tell us about freebies from Him? That perhaps we don’t want to be reminded of our sin but can’t wait to tell people about blessings? That we like the comfortable truths, but the uncomfortable truths we wish would go away? Do we think that somehow we can gain the fun stuff without going through the cross?

If true, then I tell you without confronting and taking care of our sin there will be no blessings. What is exciting to contemplate now will vanish like a mirage in the waterless desert of our pride. He will not be a light in the darkness to those who sit in hell. There will be no benefits to a week without leaven if sin reigns in our mortal bodies. We serve a holy God, and blessings pressed down and overflowing come from Him as we adjust ourselves to all of His Word and His ways. Some blessings from Him touch everyone, like sunshine for a day at the beach. Many blessings are denied however because He uses the same measure to give them as we use when giving ourselves to Him. If we can’t see the love in discomfort from Him then we don’t know love at all. We cheapen His grace when we accept only the warm fuzzies and deny needed correction.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, a Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis till he was hanged by them, said it this way:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

God’s blessings and promises are indeed quite exciting. But we don’t get more than a pebble on a mountaintop unless we embrace uncomfortable truth now and work through it with humility and reliance on His mercy.