Cultural Influence and the Bible

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I suppose most Christians around the world would agree that the Bible takes precedence over  culture as far as deciding what is right and wrong. At the same time I think all of us are sometimes confused, thinking we are following the Bible instead of culture, not realizing that our culture heavily influences how we understand the Bible.

I will provide a couple of quick examples. When Jesus tells the woman at the well in John 4, that she had 5 husbands and the man she has now is not her own, those of us in the western world quickly judge her as a loose woman jumping from man to man. However, in the Eastern world at that time, a woman could not divorce her husband. That means that 5 men had already left her and the man she was with now was not even claiming her. Jesus’ message was not that she was a slut. His message was that while everyone else had left her thirsting for love, Jesus, the Living Water, would quench her thirst for love for all eternity, as He would never leave her.

Another example is in Numbers 12, when Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ Ethiopian wife. Many in the western world think they looked down on her because she was black. That’s because we live in a culture that not even 200 years ago had black slaves. But remember that was not the case at the time of Moses’ day in the eastern world. The Ethiopians were not slaves. It was the Hebrews that had just been freed from slavery. Instead of looking down on her, they were probably jealous, and were insinuating that Moses thought he was all that, because he upgraded in their minds to an Ethiopian woman.  (Of course snubbing your nose at anyone based on the history of their race is nonsense in any culture. We are all equal!)

See how our culture influences our understanding of Scripture?  So we need to be careful when we claim our traditions and standards are based on Scripture. I would dare say some are and some are not. I remember studying the Bible with a teenage boy, who asked for a ride to church. The family giving him a ride each Sabbath, gave him a tie to wear since he did not have one. They felt he should wear a tie. He thanked them, but never wore it. While their tradition was to wear a tie, he was not convicted that he needed to wear a tie. To the family giving him a ride, he needed to dress appropriately for church, but to him a tie served absolutely no purpose and was nothing more than cloth jewelry.  Yet the family would tell you that wearing a tie was a Bible standard while he felt not wearing a tie was a Bible standard.

This reminds me of a story that comes from my extended family.  My cousin’s husband was a missionary many years ago in Micronesia. The native women came to church topless. To them breasts were totally utilitarian. The missionaries gave the women shirts to wear to church. They were surprised when the native women returned the following Sabbath with holes cut out of the shirts to expose their breasts. When the missionaries asked why, they were informed that in their culture only prostitutes cover their breasts. The prostitutes were sexualizing their breasts for sale. These God-fearing church ladies were not wanting to come across as being sexually alluring, which is why they actually exposed their breasts.  It reminds me of what Paul wrote to Titus,

Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15 NLT

Even in our own culture we struggle with this. A friend of mine came back from visiting a very conservative pastor and his family. My friend told me he was shocked when the pastor’s wife breastfed in front of them without a blanket. He told me, “And I thought they were conservative!” I explained to my friend that the wife was probably so conservative that she never thought of breastfeeding as a sexual thing. Like the godly women in Micronesia she saw breasts as utilitarian.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in modesty. I have written about modesty. But like everything else, we have to stop and ask ourselves if our convictions are biblical or cultural. Fact of the matter is that godly families around the world, and often even in the same cultures, have different ideas about what proper modesty looks like. Of course this goes for many other topics too. I was just using modesty as an example because I thought my cousin’s husband’s experience fit so well. Remember we must do all of our rebuking with Scripture according to 2 Timothy 3:16. The Scriptures will tell us exactly on what day to rest, but the Scriptures won’t tell us exactly how many inches a woman’s skirt should be from her knees. If I tell someone exactly how to dress, am I teaching them from the Bible or from my culture?

Some Bible  teachings have nothing to do with culture. For example the Sabbath is the seventh day in every culture. Leviticus 11 defines clean and unclean foods for every culture. But even though the Bible is clear that we should be respectful, each culture has different customs and traditions of showing respect. The same is true when it comes to modesty. As a matter of fact, I could share some quotes from the Bible with you that were totally appropriate in Bible times that would not fly today in our culture. For example, this is how David said he was going to capture all the men.

So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that [pertain] to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.  1 Samuel 25:22 KJV.

Newer versions word it a different way now – way that we say is more appropriate. But apparently in David’s day and in King James’ day, that was a totally appropriate way to talk and write to mixed company of all ages. So even when the Bible clearly teaches us to watch our mouths, the Bible itself words some things differently than we do today. That is because culture has greatly influenced our understanding of the Bible.

A few years ago I found a children’s Bible trivia quiz book that actually had a category for circumcision.  While I have publicly taught about Bible circumcision with all ages, the thought of using it as trivia in a children’s Bible game was a little too much for me, so I chose not to use that category.  At the same time I did not tear the section out, as  some have done, because I did not think it was appropriate. I decided not to use it myself and left it for the next person to decide for themselves.

We need to keep in mind that while Scripture does indeed take precedence over culture, that even Jesus recognizes that some things do vary from culture to culture, without contradicting the Bible. When that happens, Jesus gave us a simple rule to follow.

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12 NLT

You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here. 

Glimpeses of the Cross Day 14; A Tree Makes A Bitter Life Sweet Again

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they [were] bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, [which] when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,  And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I [am] the LORD that healeth thee.  Exodus 15:23-26

Why did God have Moses put a tree in the bitter water? How did a tree make the water sweet? In 1 peter 2:24, Peter refers to the cross as a tree. In a world of hate and bitterness, Jesus died on that tree to save us from a bitter world. Sin has caused suffering and bitterness but Jesus was lifted up on the cross to make our lives sweet again. I and many others believe this is why Moses used a tree to make bitter water sweet again.

If life has made you bitter, I would like to invite you to experience the grace that can make your life sweet again, by visiting the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. If you are not in the Tampa Bay area, you can find a grace filled church in your corner of the world here.

A New Commandment That Was There All Along

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

There is a trick question I love to ask people. What was the tallest mountain in the world before Mount Everest was discovered? I get all kinds of answers, like “Mount McKinley “and so forth, but you know what the answer is? Mount Everest!

Mount Everest was the tallest mountain in the world (Now I know a lot of geography buffs are going to tell me there are even taller mountains in the depths of the ocean) even before it was discovered. Just like the Americas were here long before Columbus ever “discovered” them. But you know what? Columbus did indeed discover America.  And so has every person who has ever set foot on its soil! We all have discovered America!

But I digress. My point about the riddle about the tallest mountain is that Mount Everest was there before it was discovered.

Jesus tells the disciples He has a new commandment for them.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” John 13:34 NLT

Jesus did not mean that the commandment had just been originated. The commandment had been there all along.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18 NLT

So like Mount Everest this commandment had been around since the foundation of the world. When Jesus said it was new, what He meant was it is new to you! It was new to the disciples who just moments earlier, were sitting around arguing over who was the greatest and refusing to wash each other’s feet. America may have been new to Columbus when he discovered it, but fact is millions already knew it was there! It was just new to Columbus!

So it is today. While many pray for a revival and wish the church would get back on track with their pet doctrine or tradition, Jesus reminds His disciples that the number one proof of revival and Godliness is:

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:35 NLT

I have seen people defend their theology and denominational traditions in some very barbaric and unchristian ways! Seventh-day Adventists pride themselves in their theology, but it is important to note that the Jews prided themselves in their theology and traditions as they crucified Christ!

Do you remember when God had Moses set up a bronze pole with a serpent on it? It was to point people to the Messiah and His sacrifice. Well problem is people started worshiping the pole instead of the Messiah it was suppose to point them to! In the end, Hezekiah had to destroy it.

“He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” 2 Kings 18:4 NLT

Somehow the pole had become more important than the event it represented. Love for God and humankind had been supplanted by this love for a pole. So in a revival Hezekiah destroyed the pole because people were worshipping it and loving it more than they were worshiping God and loving their neighbor.

Before we have a true revival in our time are there some poles you need to destroy? We know God’s law stand firm forever and will never be done away, but have we become so wrapped up in our laws and theology that we have forgotten Who the laws point to, just like those worshiping the pole forgot Who it pointed to?

There are many issues facing our church, but there is nothing wrong with our church that can’t be fixed by what is right with our church, as long as we love one another and don’t let our personal pet denominational traditions become so big to us that we forget about our love for God and our neighbor.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

The Ten Commandments In Light Of The Cross Part 1

 

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. Exodus 19:4-5

Just as the Israelites did not save themselves from the Egyptians, but God saved them; so we will not save ourselves from the power of sin, but He will. He goes on and tells us to obey His voice. My Strong’s Concordance tells me that word “obey” (shama) means to listen and be attentive. God is not demanding a legalistic obedience of works. He is asking us to listen and be attentive to His promises to save and deliver from bondage.

Many have the idea that the Old Testament is about being saved by law while the New Testament is about being saved by grace. But grace is just as real in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. God wants us to listen to His voice of promises! The Lawgiver goes on and says “keep my covenant.” Again, according to my Strong’s concordance, that word “keep” (shamar) means to guard or protect. Shamar is the same word used in Genesis 2:15 when Adam was told to keep the garden. Did God mean for him to obey the garden? No, He meant for him to cherish the garden. Care for it. Protect it. The word “covenant” is also a promise. So in Exodus 19:3-5 the Lawgiver is telling us that just as He delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, He will also deliver us from spiritual bondage, if we will only cherish His promises!

In Exodus 20:2, God begins the Ten Commandments by repeating “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “ The idea expressed is, I delivered you from bondage and if you continue trusting my promises, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In other words, if you trust in God and His promises you will have no other gods, because you will never feel like you need another god. He will be your all in all.

Glimpses of Grace; What If Moses Took A Spiritual Gifts Test?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I [am] not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.  And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?  Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.        And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand[of him whom thou wilt send.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. Exodus 4:10-14

Often we are prone to looking at our talents or spiritual gifts to figure out what we may do for the Lord. However, if Moses had taken a spiritual gifts test, he never would have found his calling. God called Moses and then qualified him. This is something important that we as individuals and a corporate church must be aware of. As individuals we are tempted to look at our talents and means and ask God for a work assignment which may accomplish based on already given resources. As a church we too often look at our budget and then organize an evangelism mission based on what we have in the bank. What we need to do is ask God for our task first! He will supply the resources.

It is in this life that we are to separate sin from us, through faith in the atoning blood of Christ. Our precious Saviour invites us to join ourselves to Him, to unite our weakness to His strength, our ignorance to His wisdom, our unworthiness to His merits. God’s providence is the school in which we are to learn the meekness and lowliness of Jesus. The Lord is ever setting before us, not the way we would choose, which seems easier and pleasanter to us, but the true aims of life. It rests with us to co-operate with the agencies which Heaven employs in the work of conforming our characters to the divine model. None can neglect or defer this work but at the most fearful peril to their souls.- Great Controversy, p. 623

When God gives us a mission He does not expect us to use our strength, wisdom and merits, but by His grace we are to use His own strength, wisdom and merits.

If you are in the Tampa Bay area I would like to invite you to the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, where we rely greatly upon the grace of God. If you are not in the area, you can find a grace filled church in your corner of the world here.

Glimpses of Grace; Standing for What’s Right

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see [them] upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.  And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.  Exodus 1:16-21

Even in a godless country, where the king knew not God, God still had a people who feared Him. I could be wrong, but I doubt the midwives knew all about God, but they still followed their conscience as far as they knew right from wrong. They feared God more than they feared the king. God rewarded them for standing for what was right the best way they knew how. They could have just resigned their positions, but instead they stayed and stood for what they knew what right. They could have followed the kings orders to protect themselves, but they would not do this. They did what God would have them to do and God was graceful with them. This should be an encouragement to us, to stand for the right no matter what.

The greatest want of the world is the want of men,–men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.–Education, p. 57.

Mark 9; Recognizing Our Loved Ones in Heaven

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Mark  9:1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. 

 9:2         And after six days Jesus taketh [with him] Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 

 9:3         And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 

 9:4         And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 

 9:5         And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 

 9:6         For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. 

 9:7         And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 

Jesus promises that some would see the kingdom before they died. At the transfiguration, they saw the kingdom of God and the Son of man as also the Son of God. But in this story I see something else too. While studying with people, many ask me if we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. I assure them they will. The disciples recognized Jesus after the resurrection and we will recognize each other after the resurrection. However, I believe we will also recognize people we have not even met yet! Why do I say that? Well, I may be reading too much into it I don’t know, but I notice in this story that right away Peter recognizes Moses and Elijah. Moses was resurrected after his death according to Jude. Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot without ever seeing death, according to 2nd Kings 2. Peter never knew Moses and Elijah by sight as they lived hundreds of years before him, but now in the transfiguration, in Jesus’ Kingdom, Peter recognizes two people he had never even met. So I say, yes we will recognize our loved ones and those we have never met before.