We all know the first thing Satan does in the book of Genesis, right?
He changes God’s command to Adam and Eve, or at least plants a seed of doubt that leads to the eventual stretching or mangling of His command. “Did God actually say, ‘you shall not eat of ANY tree of the garden?’” He tweaks the words of God just enough to make them question their knowledge, understanding, and maybe even their interpretation of what He said. Not only does he plant that seed of doubt, he then makes the misinterpretation look appetizing. “What he meant was, you’ll be like Him if you eat from it.” From these words, begins a long, difficult road for mankind. But it is one that begins and ends in hope, which of course is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, with that said, is it any wonder that the very revelation of God, The Bible, written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continually and regularly gets mangled for our own benefit by nearly everyone. We constantly discover new ways to reinterpret it to mean what we want it to. Now I’m not trying to take any cues from the father of lies, but in light of so much twisted scripture, might we take for good what he intended for confusion and evil? Maybe when pastors and lay people, teachers and televangelists, start quoting chapter and verse, we should simply ask, “Did God say that?” Not to be contentious or argumentative, but so we really know what God said?
Am I being too legalistic? Should I allow for misinterpretations? Is it ok to bend the rules when it comes to bending scripture? Certainly, we need an overflowing measure of God’s grace in everything we do, of which I need even more because of my own mishandling, but I still think this is an area we need to contend for because of the possible harm it can cause other believers.
It appears much of the twisting and stretching of scripture end up sitting at the feet of works, shoving grace aside and regulating it to the back-bin of “initial salvation”, as if that was its singular goal. How many churches preach, “Now that you are a christian, do _____ to get _____”, or “if you haven’t had this breakthrough, look for sin in your life and get rid of it.” It will always be God’s grace that grows us, teaches us, convicts us and changes us. Everything else lays a heavy burden on us that we could never remove. It’s a yoke that will always be heavier than Christ’s, because it puts a focus on our accomplishments instead of Christ’s. Essentially, It’s a form of law and when it’s used as an umbrella for God’s blessings, it shields us from the grace to act because God has been so good to us already. Grace is the open invitation to follow Him un-condemned by the law, yet still free to obey the law, and even wanting to because mistakes will not be held against you. Let me give you an example of a teaching I‘ve personally heard. The working text for this scripture was Jeremiah 29: 10-14:
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
We g et a quick review of the scripture and then was told the story of how he met his wife.He explained that he was following his own plan and as a result, nothing happened, but as soon as he listened to God’s voice instructing him on specific plans on how to woo his wife, everything worked out. He said that God has a good plan for us and if we listen and follow it, we prosper. He even instructed us on how to listen or “meditate”. He said we had to clear our minds so we can hear God speaking to us. A topic for another time, I’m sure.
But, wait…? Did God really say that?
First, what do we know about this story in Jeremiah? Well, it’s about rebellious people that He(God), will exile and send into captivity for seventy years and then God will fulfill His promise and bring them back out. He knows the ultimate plan for these people, HIS PEOPLE, the plans to prosper them, give them hope and a future. But this is seventy years later! He doesn’t say call, pray and seek and I will tell you what you should specifically do to bring you out of it. He says, you will find me when you seek Me with all your heart and let’s face it, that’s the best result! Finding God even while in exile is still better than not having Him with “freedom.” But before He brings them out, He does give them some instructions while they are waiting for Him as stated in Jeremiah 29:4-9:
4This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
God tells them to live, build houses, settle down, have children. Pray for the city that you are exiled in, because, when it’s doing well, so you will you. Most of all avoid those false prophets, who tell you a quick fix is coming. It makes sense, God is always calling us to endure as His children.
So if we are reading these passages right, God might really be saying, “My plans are best but you may wait a very long time for them to be worked out, so endure, no matter how bad it gets and on top of that seek the best for the people who have taken you.” If you are His, God will definitely rescue you, even if it means from the grave. Let’s be sure we understand, seventy years of captivity means some of the hearers of this prophecy were not making their way back. They would die there. Some of the people in captivity truly loved the Lord, while others didn’t. Both died and neither saw the physical promise fulfilled. But the one who trusted in the Lord will see God in all His glory at the end as they reside there in paradise with Him.
The speaker’s story about him and his wife was nice and pulled on all the right heartstrings. But it was loaded with work… If I quiet myself down, get all the stuff out of my head, and listen for his voice, then God will tell me what to do. What if I don’t hear anything? What if I do what He says and it doesn’t work out? These are all subjective experiences. How bout this, If it worked out just right, just the way I wanted it to, I got the girl, the job, the money, so it must have been God, right?
What do you do when you trust God and your marriage falls apart, your child dies, illness comes? Have you not listened enough? Is you mind not clear enough to hear? The only thing you can say if you’re doing all these things, and nothings working out is that you are not doing enough to “tune” into God. It will always be your fault. It will always be what you could’ve done differently, and that is a heavy yoke when things aren’t “going your way”.
Trusting God is so much more than all your ducks being in a row, blessings raining down on you, seeing all those stones to step on before you move on the water. It doesn’t mean that it is a blind faith either. It’s a trusting faith, it’s a praying faith. A faith that engages the mind as we look, study, and meditate, not seeking for His audible voice, but for the understanding of His Word and He helps us understand it. It’s a faith that lets us struggle with doubt and sin. When we understand it, when we trust it, We are trusting Him. When we are trusting Him, then the storms can come and rip the roof right off the top of our house, we will still trust in Him and know however long it takes, He knows the plans He has for us and it is to prosper us. It could be in this world, but it is definitely in the next, thanks to the only works that matter, the works of Jesus Christ!
So, don’t be afraid to ask, “Did God really say that?”, because you might just learn what He actually said.
Disclaimer: I’m not a theologian and all I want is to understand His Word better. With that said, if you disagree or if I’m simply wrong in my understanding, have a conversation with me. Just please, pepper it with the same grace and mercy that has been given to us through Christ.