Literal Vs. Figurative

I’m a writer who loves to write about the world in my imagination. But when I write stories, I want people to understand that it is not an autobiography but a version of a reality that I know personally or a combination of real stories that I’ve put together.  It’s important to me that the reader understands where I’m coming from; otherwise, they will miss the important truth that I’m trying to illustrate with my words.

And I have a feeling, if we don’t look at the author’s intended meaning (whether literal or figurative) we are going to (as readers) misconstrue or overinterpret things found in scripture. (See my previous post on the Author’s Intended Meaning.)

Another main thing you must identify when reading through scripture is to ask yourself, “Is this to be taken literally or figuratively?” If you are reading through the Psalms and you are applying it as though it is literal- well, have fun with that. When you’re delving into the prayers of men, interlaced with poetry… you are in for a wild ride.

So, here’s the dealio. There’s a lot of weird stuff in scripture… (valley of dry bones, trees that clap their hands, Jesus is the light of the world… just to name a few.)  When we look at these weird things… the only thing we can do is ask ourselves- Is this for real? Or a metaphor for something? When reading through the Bible, you really need to understand grammar… or your head will be swimming.

Let’s look first at some examples of figurative language in the Bible.

Figurative

Most people, when reading the Bible, whether believers or not, usually can understand the Bible. It’s when the words point to something that they don’t agree with, or whether something seems far-fetched or confusing that brings any issues to the surface. There are ways to decipher the text’s original meaning, however. Take a look below.

Similes in Scripture

Most of us can spot a simile from a mile away. A simile is a phrase found within a sentence with the word, “like” or “as” in order to compare two obviously different things. For example, in Isaiah 53:6 we find it written, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” It’s pretty clear here that the author is comparing us to sheep who have wandered. We are acting like sheep… that wander…therefore, the author uses it to prove a point.

Metaphors in Scripture

When we look at metaphors found in scripture, it can be slightly harder to identify. According to the Merrier-Webster Dictionary, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase pointing to one object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness. John 14:6 is a perfect example of this, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” By making this statement, Jesus was declaring that only through Him (and following His Way) would lead a person to the Father. He also declared that he was the Truth of God… living in the flesh. Finally, he declared that he was the holder of the key to Life… eternal life. Whoa. (Metaphors are the braver, bolder cousin to the simile.)

Other Figurative Language

While researching to write this post, I realized that by writing this, I had opened a can of worms.

There are not only our easily recognized metaphors or similes… but there are also figures of association, personification, illusion, understatement, completion, etc. (Here’s a super detailed article on the many areas of figurative in the Bible if you want to TOTALLY geek out: Click Here!).

And it wasn’t until I was knee-deep in a Psalms Project dissecting them for figures of speech that I realized the vastness within Scripture. If you’re really wanting to thoroughly understand all the nitty-gritty of metaphoric language, Ethelbert Williams Bullinger wrote an intense book for you called, “Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.” If you’re wanting a quicker version that just highlights a couple of examples from each, check out the notes from this class lecture. But here’s the point, Scripture is full of metaphorical language. You cannot just read something and always assume it is literal.

Moral of the story: Remember that the passage of Scripture you’re trying to figure out was written to a specific audience at a specific time by a specific author. Start with historical context and work from there. Check out other commentaries to determine if they believe it’s figurative or literal… but don’t always take their word for it.

Do your research!

What is the Gospel?

Let’s walk back in time for a second. Picture this: It’s 26 A.D in Nazareth (Israel). You’ve spent the week as a stonemason and your arms ache from the back-breaking work you do, day in and day out. This Sabbath morning, you’re sitting in the synagogue listening to...

Finding the Kingdom During Covid 19

Finding the Kingdom During Covid 19

March 2020

I sat with a towel twisting my wet hair up on our bed, back in our master, while our worship pastor, our children’s director and my husband sat no more than 10 yards away and I listened to their honest, pure, worship. Tears began to fill behind my eyes and threatened to stream down my face. The words that rang throughout my house were, “You are making all things new…” And yet, as I sat in bed with a fever and a desperation to heal quicker, I knew and loved that my church was still being a church.

In the Confusion

This time with the craziness of Covid-19 has been a whirlwind or as some have referred to as being like the movie, Groundhog’s Day… over and over. Social media has gone RIDICULOUS with people now having free time to spout off their thoughts and ideas about the situation (I’ve seen an immense amount of good come out of our situations) but this morning… I could just be… and listen… and softly sing to my King while no one watched. Honestly, I could barely get the words out. Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to amidst all of this chaos and disorder:

  • I’ve found peace where once my heart was jumbled and stressed.
  • I’ve been able to breathe, really breathe in, and experience pure joy with my kids daily.
  • I’ve been able to dig into Scripture and geek out to the possibilities I find there.
  • I’ve been able to worship with no one watching.
  • I’ve been able to spend time reaching out to my church family more regularly to ask for or pray for them.
  • I’ve watched my kids settle in and just be… without the crazy amount of time constraints they used to have.
  • I’ve been able to see all of my church family’s faces via Zoom and laugh with them.
  • I’ve watched our church family come together in a tighter knit community to support and love on each other even virtually.

Chaos and the Church

It’s not the same… we can’t meet together collectively. It’s not normal… we aren’t allowed to worship together in the same room anymore. It’s not even similar… we are spending church virtually instead of spending next to flesh and blood. But here’s the thing… we are meeting separately… but we are together in spirit.

We’ve got to let go our our stubbornness… our resentment for how things were handled… our need to want things our way… and move into a time of healing, rest, and thankfulness that we live in a time and age where we can still meet- even if virtually.

I think back to one of the first Sunday’s after Jesus’ death. We find the disciples and Jesus’s followers spread out all over the city of Jerusalem… hiding. Some followers had even left the city and were headed home to Emmaus. But when Jesus finally appears to them in Luke 24, they think he’s a ghost. They can’t even believe he’s back!

The Kingdom they thought was coming… didn’t.

The life they thought Jesus had alluded to- was completely upside down.

I mean- the guy they’d been following around had been preaching of a new Kingdom… and then, whelp, he was killed. And now, they were huddled in a house, just waiting for something and thinking that there was no way this Kingdom was going to happen anymore.

“Then he said to them, “Don’t you remember the words that I spoke to you when I was still with you? I told you that everything written about me would be fulfilled, including all the prophecies from the law of Moses through the Psalms and the writings of the prophets—that they would all find their fulfillment.”  He supernaturally unlocked their understanding to receive the revelation of the Scriptures,  then said to them, “Everything that has happened fulfills what was prophesied of me. Christ, the Messiah, was destined to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  Now you must go into all the nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins so that they will turn to me. Start right here in Jerusalem.  For you are my witnesses and have seen for yourselves all that has transpired. And I will send the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to you. So stay here in the city until the mighty power of heaven falls upon you and wraps around you.”

Here’s what’s crazy about us humans: we think we’re soooo smart. The disciples thought it was all over when their Savior was killed (and who’s to say we wouldn’t have thought the same?) They thought the Kingdom that Jesus preached, would never rise up. And yet, it did.

The Kingdom is happening around us. I’m seeing it in the faces of people who are selflessly dropping off food on our porch so that my husband doesn’t have to scramble to make dinner for all of us after taking care of us all day. I hear it in the voices worshipping from my living room. I receive it from the texts and social media messages that encourage and build me up with promises of prayer and healing. I read about it through the words of my King in scripture. I feel the Kingdom when I pray while weeping when no one is watching. It is all around us. God is with us.. even when we feel like church isn’t normal. The Kingdom is here… do you feel it?

Calm Before the Storm: Part 1

Calm Before the Storm: Part 1

I’ve heard several planters say that at points in establishing the church, they realize that everything is going well… really well. People are coming to Christ. Families are jumping in and joining ministries at the church.  The children’s and teen ministries are growing and expanding with great speed. And then they hold their breath. Waiting… for the storm to begin to rumble in the distance.

And as lightning strikes… they grab onto anything close to them and pray for God to carry them through.  I know, because, we have just experienced this at our church.  There was excitement everywhere at Thrive.. and then a slow ache of complacency creeped in. Doubts formed. Leaders were overwhelmed. And burnout begins to flicker.

The Looming Storm

If we turn to Matthew 8 and Luke 8, we learn how the disciples handled a very crazy storm upon Lake Galilee.  I specifically love the description of this situation in Mark 4:35-41 (NLT).

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.  Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

How did the disciples handle the storm? With panic.  With doubts that Jesus would allow them to perish. By trying to take control of the situation.  So, how should they have handled it? Would they not have remembered King David’s song, where he wrote in 2 Samuel 22:10,

He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.”

Their own fears clouded their vision of who was sleeping in the boat next to them.  They chose to panic and distrust rather than put their faith and trust in the One who had created the world.  Yes, maybe they didn’t trust that God would take care of them.  Maybe they didn’t trust that God knew the outcome of the storm.  But don’t we all do that?  When storms erupt in our lives, is our first instinct to trust that the God who created those waves, rain, thunder and lightning? Do we trust that He has the power to keep EVERYTHING under control?  Or do we need some reminding?

Handling a Storm

So, if a storm is breaching the church, what do you do as a leader?  Do you wait it out?  Take cover? (As some storm chasers would say…) Or do you do the unthinkable and drop to your knees?

Something that most people would see as strange when a storm approaches.

Pray.

Instead of running… and shutting people and relationships out… address the storm for what it is.  It is warfare, not brought on by those around you in your church but from the one who is deliberately trying to bring you down: Satan. A minister once told my husband to remember who the true enemy is… not those around you in the church who bring frustrations or issues… but the one who has battled against God since before time.

When issues crop up, address them head on.  Pull those in question to you, point out what Satan is trying to do and then get on your knees together to ask God for a solution… and for His Protection.

Remind Yourself and Your Team.

This is not the time for panic.  Leave all of that behind.  (Take a few breaths if necessary.) Ask God for strength and peace to know how to handle the situation.  Isaiah 26:3 says,

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

How do we keep our minds on Him?  The easiest way we know how. Pick up His Word and remind yourself and team of his power and faithfulness to us.  Keep a list of the things that God has shown his faithfulness in the past and reflect on them during these times. Knowing and remembering these things will help you to push through to the calm after the storm.

This verse shouts to me when I am weary and downtrodden.  John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Gather your troops and read through scriptures that will uplift and give you strength.  Remind each other of God’s faithfulness.  Then pray and support each other through these times.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2!!