William and Angelina’s Baptism Pictures and Stories

Today all of heaven and the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist church rejoiced, as William and Angelina gave all themselves to Jesus, because Jesus gave all of Himself for them. After having studied with Angelina and William’s parents, and cousins it was quite a privilege for me to be asked to study with and baptize William and Angelina this Summer.

Summer Studies

For a couple of summers, several of the church school children, as well as a few from the community, had a weekly Bible study group, so we could continue our walk with Jesus, and keep in touch over the summer. William (with is back to the camera) and Angelina’s parents were a couple of the parents who assisted me each summer. When the summer ended William and Angelina and their family wanted to keep meeting even once school started. They love Jesus and having Bible study!

William Parsons Scripture

As well as studying the Bible William and his family love sharing God’s Word and taking an active part in church activities. Here William is reading the Scripture for the regular worship service.

Breaksfast Study

This summer William and Angelina and I had our baptism studies in the mornings. Each morning of our studies, their mother had a delicious breakfast prepared when I arrived. Healthy fruit and yogurt and sometimes some cinnamon rolls. Yum yum! I loved our breakfast discussions while eating before we would begin our studies. William and Angelina always had insightful observations and questions about God and the Bible.

IMG_8310

William wrote his thoughts on his baptism and shared them today. William wrote:

I want to be baptized because I want to give my life to God. Jesus died for me and took my sins. He forgives me and everyone. God is perfect in every way.

Angelina Reading

Angelina also read her thoughts on her baptism,

I want to be baptized because Jesus died on the cross for us. I want to start a new life with no lies and put God first. I don’t want Satan in my life, he is evil and mean. Satan tempts people to do wrong things. I choose Jesus in my life. He is strong, mighty and kind. God loves us and cares about us. He wants what’s best for us. And that’s why I choose Jesus and that’s why I want to be baptized.

 

Angelina

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. Galatians 3:26-27 NLT 

William Parsons

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. Colossians 2:12 NLT 

fb_img_1527902060544938515662.jpg

If you have not chosen Jesus as your Savior please don’t waste another day.

What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord. Acts 22:16 NLT 

I would love to help you with this decision. You can contact me at 813-933-7505.

Why God and Teenagers Find Some Worship Services Repulsive

20180418_1546441942904207.jpg

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I want no more of your pious meetings.

Does the above phrase sound like a rebellious teenager?

How about this?

I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!

You may think that sounds like an even more rebellious teen, but fact is that’s God Himself speaking! That’s right, teens are not the only ones who have a hard time stomaching pious, hypocritical religious worship services. God may actually have more in common with rebellious teenagers than He does with pious worshipers! Not in all cases of course, but in many still, when a worship service is conducted with a Pharisaical attitude,  God Himself rejects it as well as some teenagers. God tells us exactly why He rejects some religious worship services.

When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?  Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.  I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.  Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1:12-17 NLT

God and teens are both  repulsed by false worship. False worship is not only worshiping on the “wrong day,” it is also worshiping the wrong way on Sabbath. God is not impressed with stuffy, dry, formal, ceremonial worship any more than your teenager is. But worship service doesn’t have to be that way.  Just earlier this summer I was visiting a church out of state with a friend. They were having communion service. When it came time during the service to dispense the bread, the pastor realized he had forgotten the bread, and his wife had to run out to the car to get it. Everyone chuckled. The pastor had announced earlier that he was going on Sabbatical right after the service. I joked with my friend that it appeared he was already on Sabbatical. I joked about it not to be critical, but because I could identify with his need to get away. Waiting for his wife to run to the car to get  the bread did not ruin the service at all. I hardly imagine the original communion service in the upper room being a “formal” service. I imagine it to be quite casual, though very sacred and meaningful. You don’t have to be formal and stuffy to be sacred. Sometimes formal and stuffy can be a way to cover our sin and hypocrisy. When that happens, both teenagers and God Himself turn up their noses at our so-called worship services.

We tell our teenagers straight from the Bible,

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, Isaiah 58:13 NLT

Then, many of us shake hands with the visitor, and smile to let them know they are welcomed. Then we quickly forget they are even there, so we can go to our favorite Sabbath School class, where we love to debate theology with our best friends. Debating theology while ignoring the needs of others on the Sabbath? Sounds like pleasure seeking to God! Here, I will let God speak for Himself.

What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. Isaiah 58:4 NLT

Isaiah 58:1-14 describes what Sabbath keeping and true worship is all about. Pleasure seeking is not just when a teenager plays a video game on the Sabbath. Pleasure seeking on the Sabbath also includes church leaders ignoring the needs of those around them, so they can enjoy their own Sabbath School class and worship service just the way they like it, before inviting their favorite friends home for lunch.

While the offering system is a systematic way to get outside of ourselves with our possessions, Sabbath worship is a chronic way to get outside of ourselves with our time. God tells us what Sabbath keeping and worship looks like to Him.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!  Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Isaiah 58:6-10 NLT

How do I know God means Sabbath keeping and worship by calling it a fast? Because right after this He says,

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.  Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Isaiah 58:13-14 NLT

Following our own interests on the Sabbath is not limited to secular entertainment. Following our own interests on the Sabbath includes doing church your favorite way with your favorite people while ignoring the needs of the least of these around you.

The Tampa First  and Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist  churches are a couple of the several churches I currently work with here in Florida. Both of these churches have worship service on Tuesday. Oh, they still have Sabbath services, but they keep worshiping God throughout the week. On Tuesdays they have worship service by feeding and clothing the hungry in their community. Before you laugh and say, “That is not a real worship service,” read Isaiah 58 carefully again. It is exactly a real worship service. It is worshiping God by serving others. See Matthew 25:31-46. Real worship services are not formal and stuffy. One of the biggest mistakes we make as Adventists is thinking formal and stuffy means sacred and reverent. Sacred and reverent can also be casual and informal. Sacred and reverent does not mean formal worship. Sacred and reverent means sincere worship.

I have seen teenagers eager to get involved in clothing the homeless and feeding the hungry, because they can sense they are making a real hands on, practical  difference in the community, unlike sitting on the back pew listening to a dull sermon. If we do worship the way God describes in Isaiah 58, we can create a worship service both God and teenagers can accept.

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

The Class of ’57 Had Their Dreams

bradenton 028

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

…people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NLT

In 1972, the Statler Brothers released the song, “The class of ’57 Had Its Dreams.” The song talks abut how their high school class had their dreams and then goes on to describe how each class member “today” has turned out to just be working regular jobs and living an “everyday” life. After describing various class members everyday life the chorus rings,” but the class of ’57 had their dreams.” The point of the song is that their dreams never came true. They just turned out to be ordinary people living ordinary lives.

This has me wondering, am I the only one who is living the dream, just enjoying everyday life?  My life is very routine. I am your everyday Bible Worker, except that I am the only Bible Worker I know who has never had a baptism by just going door to door, and believe me I have tried. I read stories about evangelists having interesting life-changing visits with the person seated next to them on the plane. I fly on a plane and no one knows I am there, until I accidentally push the stewardess call button while turning on the light. I duck into a quiet restaurant for an appetizer with a couple of close friends and I am just another face in the crowd. No one sees anything out of the ordinary about me, because there isn’t anything special about me.

I drive a Hyundai. My home is very modest, the kind you overlook. If I want to take a vacation from my church responsibilities, it is easy to find a nearby church where nobody knows my name. I am just an average guy living an average life, and you know what? I love it! I love my everyday life! I love my everyday routine! I love being an average everyday guy living an average everyday life. This is my dream! I enjoy my one-on-one Bible studies. I enjoy my quiet friends at the neighborhood restaurant. I enjoy reading at home alone late in the evening, just my iced water with a hint of orange juice, and  soft background music, as I bask in my solitude and anonymity.

Is it okay that I don’t have more ambition and loftier dreams? I don’t suppose I would be the dream son-in-law for an ambitious father. That’s okay. I know I am fulfilling my purpose in life by simply doing what I know is right – the best I can at least – being merciful to those in my community, and walking humbly with my God. There! That is my ambition in life – to walk humbly with my God! No wonder I feel so fulfilled while living such an ordinary everyday life. I am sorry the class of ’57 does not realize they are living the dream! Everyday ordinary life is the dream! God does not call upon us to do anything “great.” He only requires that we walk humbly with Him.

One night earlier this summer, I went with my men’s small study group to a baseball game. We didn’t have a suite. We sat in the grandstands like everybody else and spilled nacho cheese on our shirts, as we enjoyed being just another face in the crowd. We enjoyed each others’ company on the drive home, as we studied the small study group lesson via our cell phones. The driver listened as he watched the road. They dropped me off at my humble home, where I went inside to enjoy my late-night reading in anonymity and solitude. While reading on my laptop I saw an email. It was from a student I had a long time ago in my Bible chain-referencing class at school. She is all grown up now and doing well. In the email she asked if she could call me to ask a Bible question. A couple of seconds later we were talking on the phone. After all these years, she said she thought to call me, because in her words, I was one of the greatest influences on her life and why she is a Christian today.

When I hung up the phone, I sat there in my humble little chair in my humble little home, marinading in the recent conversation. Sure, to the usher that night who showed us to our seats and to the stranger sitting next to me, on whose jeans I accidentally spilled cheese sauce, I was a total nobody, If I was anything at all to them I was a minor nuisance and nothing more. But to one young woman who had a Bible question that night I was somebody. I remembered what I had heard before, “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

So to the Statler brothers I want to say, the class of ’57 is living the dream! Enjoy your everyday life. Enjoy just being an ordinary everyday face in the crowd living an average ordinary everyday life. That is the dream! Live the dream of walking humbly with your God. It’s okay if you are just one person to the world. By just walking humbly with God every day you will still be the world to one person. Probably more.

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

The 7 A’s of Confession and Reconciliation

20170402_194812

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

Like King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-12, we all get mad when we hear about oppression and injustice. Like King David, most of us have been guilty at some point of oppression and injustice. When we find ourselves guilty, it is important to make confession and reconciliation, not to get rid of our guilt and heal our conscience, but to heal the pain of those we have hurt. In Ken Sande’s book, Resolving Everyday Conflict, he shares the 7 A’s of confession and reconciliation. I would like to look a further look at them here along with God’s Word. In so doing, I believe we can find a sincere, genuine and successful approach to healing the pain we have caused others. Please keep in mind not all the steps need to be followed for lesser offenses. You will need to pray and let God lead you as to exactly what steps to follow. Please keep in mind too, that after Adam’s sin the Garden of Eden was no longer a safe place for him. While God forgave Adam, he was never permitted back into the garden here on earth. What a thrilling moment that will be, when in the New Earth, Adam is reconciled to his garden and Eden is restored! Likewise there are some extreme cases of oppression and abuse, where certain relationships will only be safely reconciled and restored in the New Earth. Meanwhile what a precious blessing and responsibility it is to restore and reconcile what can be reconciled here on earth.

The 7 A’s of Confession and Reconciliation. 

  1. Address Everyone Involved. 

Sins committed only in the heart need to be confessed to God alone. Public sins need to be confessed to all those who were hurt.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 NLT

2. Avoid Using the words, “if” “but” and “maybe.”

Say “I hurt you.” Not, “If I hurt you.” Say “I was wrong.” Not, “I was wrong but so were you.” Say, “I know I made a mistake.” Not “Maybe I made a mistake. Don’t shift, minimize or excuse your guilt.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. Proverbs 28:13 NLT

3. Admit Specifically Where you were wrong. 

Don’t be vague.

Forgive me for shedding blood…Psalm 51:14 NLT

4. Acknowledge the Hurt.

You can even ask, “Do I understand how much I’ve hurt you?”

When Saul sinned, the throne was taken from him, because he was only sorry about what his sin had cost him personally. David sinned an even greater sin, but kept the throne, because He was truly sorry about what his sin had cost God.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; Psalm 51:4 NLT

5. Accept the Consequences.

Genuine repentance accepts any due penalties.

Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 NLT

6. Alter Your Behavior.

You are not really sorry if you keep willfully repeating the same offense. Ask people to hold you accountable.  You may even put your plan for change into writing. One of the reasons I am writing about this topic is to reinforce it in my own mind.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Ephesians 4:28 NLT

7. Ask for Forgiveness (And Allow Time)

If it took you a while to confess, it may take them a while to forgive. Don’t push it or rush it. If you are sincere and genuine in these 7 steps most people will be quick to forgive.

Often times when we try to place the blame on others they will turn around and place the blame on us. Often times when we accept full responsibility for our actions, others will then accept responsibility for their actions. Here I have attempted to simplify and paraphrase the ideas in Ken Sande’s book, to again reinforce them for myself, and to help others to make reconciliation. When we find ourselves being oppressed or treated unjustly it is easy to just run away, or attack back. When mankind rebelled against God, He neither ran away or attacked back. Instead He presented Himself as the peace offering for our offense!  Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 deals mainly with God’s attempt at reconciliation. This tells me reconciliation is very important.

It may seem hard to make confession and reconciliation. It may seem easier to run away. It may cost us our pride to make reconciliation, but that is a small price considering it cost God His dear Son. If reconciliation is worth God’s Son, then its definitely worth anything it would cost us.

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

How NOT to Study the Bible With Others

As we study this week’s Sabbath School lesson, about turning hearts in the end of time, I know many of us are praying for loved ones who have turned away. Sadly, many have been brought up in the Adventist church under legalistic and even abusive home and church situations. Because of this they have a hard time separating the message of the church from the people who abused them. I have talked with not just a few people who were raised in the church, who told me they left because of abuse and emotional reasons. Later though, while discussing doctrine they tell me the exact opposite of what they told me previously. They will say emotional reasons had nothing to do with it. They left solely because of doctrinal reasons. I tend to believe what they first told me.  Our emotions are tied closely to our theology, which is why all our doctrines need to present God’s love in the light of the cross.  This is why we must stay focused on the love of God while talking about every Bible doctrine.

At a funeral service a few years ago, I was talking to a lady who was raised in an Adventist home. She explained to me that she was no longer Adventist because the Adventist church talked about the law instead of love. She since has joined a church that she considers more loving. However, her new church believes in an eternally burning hell. I am not sure why she thought a church that teaches an eternally burning hell was a more loving church. I also wonder why she felt the law was against love, while it actually promotes love by helping us put people and relationships first. It makes me wonder if she was wanting to get away from the message of the church or just the people who did not show her real love?

We need to pray for and love people who have been hurt by legalistic and abusive Adventists, instead of just preaching to them. Jesus met many in His day who were hurt by legalistic leaders. He ministered to those who were hurt by legalistic and abusive Pharisees, instead of just preaching at them. Sometimes He did not need to preach at all. The woman taken to Jesus in John 8:1–11 had been abused by the very church leaders who dragged her to Jesus. She may have made some mistakes on her own, but Jesus did not preach to her. He did not tell her, “If you stop sinning, then I will stop condemning you.” No! He never condemned her in the first place! His message was “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The “go and sin no more” was not just  a command as much as it was a declaration of her freedom from the abusive lifestyle she had endured by abusive church leaders. Jesus healed her emotions and theology by ministering instead of preaching.

Understandably, many like the woman in John 8, who have been hurt by the church are angry. Anger often gets misdirected. Ty Gibson talks about himself being an atheist, because he does not believe in the God most of the world does not believe in either. His point is that the God so many people hate and don’t believe in does not even exist. God has been so misrepresented that the God they reject is not the real God. So many are angry at God when the God they are angry with does not exist. That is misdirected anger. Likewise in Adventism, many former Adventists are angry at an Ellen White who does not even exist. Her writings have been taken out of context literally and blatantly in many compilation books. Her writings have been used to beat people over the head. Thank God my family never beat me over the head with or crammed Ellen White down my throat. I grew up reading her writings for myself, and  I read how she always talked about love and grace. I would dare say that Ellen White herself would not appreciate the “Ellen White” that many have to come to know through abusive parents and teachers who used her writings in ways that were never intended, which was more like weapons instead of the testimony of Jesus.

A while back I was talking to a woman who told me Ellen White was legalistic and only taught we are saved by works. Of course this is  totally untrue. Later in the same conversation, she told me she knew Ellen White was a false prophet because she says Martin Luther will be in heaven, while we all know he drank and ate pork. I suggested that maybe Ellen White believes Martin Luther and everyone else will be saved by grace alone. This woman was so angry at an “Ellen White” that did not even exist, that she rejected the real Ellen White who believed salvation was by grace and not by works.

In ministering to many hurt former Adventists, we must realize their issues are not only doctrinal if at all. They are emotional. Instead of defending Ellen White, we need to realize the  “Ellen White” they reject may not even exist. Do not attempt to win them to Ellen White. Win them to Jesus, He is the One who saves. Show them the God of love in the Bible, and show them the love in all of the Bible teachings.

Seeing how our emotions and personal experiences are so closely tied to our theology, it is important to refrain from emotional mind games, while studying (debating?)  with and ministering to former Adventists who are hurting. I have talked with and tried to reason with  many former Adventists who tell me they are totally healed emotionally, while they continue attacking the church and Ellen White. Hurting people hurt people. As long as they are on the attack I know they still need love and healing. Emotionally healthy people don’t make a religion out of attacking others.

These mind games work both ways. It’s human nature to try some of these tactics, so we need to watch ourselves that we don’t use these tactics and don’t allow others to use them on us. Of course this applies to general Bible studies even within the church as well as outside. Here are four suggestions of what not to say while studying the Bible with others.

  1. When you get closer to Jesus you will understand. 

It’s been a while since I heard this one, but I have heard it. Just a few years ago  a lady in the church was disagreeing with me about Jesus dying the second death. She was getting frustrated that I was not seeing things her way, so she finally rested her case by smiling and assuring me, ‘When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.” In my frustrated humanity, I wanted to assure her, that while there are 9 billion people on the face of the planet now, probably a good 8 billion of them could teach me what its like to get closer to Jesus, but she was not one of them!  Now that would not have been nice of me either.
Maybe when we see we are not “winning our case” it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it at that, rather than to say something silly we will later regret. We all know the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say, but there were times when even Jesus was silent in the judgment hall. If Jesus did not feel the need to answer every question, neither should we. Being silent is better than saying something foolish. By the way, I was talking with this lady again recently, and she was agreeing with everything I said years earlier about the cross, as if she did not even remember ever disagreeing with me.

2. You only believe that way because you were raised that way

I  have had several former Adventists tell me I am only an Adventist because I was raised Adventist. Of course they themselves are evidence this is not true! If they can leave, so can I. This also is not true when you consider the millions who have joined the Adventist Church with no previous family ties to the church. Ironically the people who use this argument on me are complaining about how judgmental the church is. Then they turn around and judge me. That’s human nature. Even as Adventists it is tempting to tell Sunday keepers they are keeping Sunday only because they were raised that way. When we do that we are judging their motives, which we really know nothing about. It’s best to just stick to Scripture. What happened generations before really doesn’t have anything to do with what Scripture is telling us.

3. Sounds like an idea from someone who was hit in the head with a rock when she was little!

It’s ironic that people who feel they were abused and mistreated in the church would turn around and make fun of a little girl getting hit in the head with a rock, but that is what many do. I have read it online and heard it in person. An idea from the Spirit of Prophecy is introduced and the person who doesn’t like it exclaims, “Sounds like something someone would say who was hit in the head with a rock!” A former Adventist with his doctorate explained to me that when Ellen White was hit in the head with a rock that it gave her a mental disorder which caused her to become a prolific writer. Of course when I asked non-Adventist medical doctors what he was talking about, they all said no such condition exists. Such comments are not only disrespectful; they are also irrelevant. When people make such comments, it shows they are still hurting. Remember, hurting people hurt people. There are those who do not accept Ellen White as a prophet, but would also never make fun of her getting hit in the head with a rock, because they are emotionally healthy and have no reason to hurt others. To these emotionally healthy people, the fact that she was hit in the head with a rock is irrelevant to her doctrine. Other comments that are irrelevant are, “So and So was a Jesuit.,” or “So and So was influenced by the Masons.” Such accusations are all hearsay. Furthermore it does not matter if the person making a statement was hit in the head with a rock, or had ties to the Jesuits or masons.  I have heard people say that the Secret Rapture teaching is wrong because it is a relatively new idea. No. It is wrong because it is not Biblical. I am sure when Rachael Oakes introduced the Sabbath to a group of Advent believers in the mid 1800’s several of them could have said, “That is a new teaching we have never heard before.” Or even, “Rachael Oakes in just a woman.” Or “Rachael Oakes is a Seventh-day Baptist. Baptists teach some things that are not right.” Fact is it did not matter if the Sabbath was a new idea or if it was introduced by a woman with a Baptist background. The only valid question is whether or not the seventh-day Sabbath is Biblical. Once again we need to stick to Scripture instead of discussing and judging  people and their possible motives.

4. The Bible translation you are using is a bad translation

I covered this idea more thoroughly in a previous post.  I have heard people call the NIV the Non-Inspired Version. They tell me you can’t preach the sanctuary message from the NIV. Well, sorry, but I have taught the sanctuary message from the NIV! No translation is perfect, including the KJV, but God has protected His Word through the ages so that everything that pertains to our salvation will be understood. If you can only prove your beliefs from the KJV, then you may want to question your own beliefs. Valid beliefs can be proven from all the translations. I find that various translations actually complement each other and help us get the big picture. For example in the KJV Job 27:3mentions “spirit.” In the NLT Job 27:3 mentions “breath.” The big picture is that the spirit that returns to God when we die (see Ecclesiastes 12:7) is simply our breath. Having said this, do not discourage someone from reading a version you may not like. The important thing is they are reading the Bible! When I became a Bible Worker over 26 years ago, I was surprised how many adults had trouble reading anything, let alone 17th century English. What good does it do for someone to stumble over all the words in the KJV  if by the time they finish a sentence they have no idea what they just read? When people ask me what the best Bible translation is, I tell them, “the one you are reading.” When people open their Bibles in any version it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on their hearts. Please do not discourage a Bible student by telling them they have a poor translation. Instead encourage them to read whatever version they are reading.

In turning people’s hearts to their heavenly Father in the end times, it is futile to argue about motives for believing, or if a belief is new or where it came from. The only thing that matters is, is it biblical and does it represent biblical teaching correctly?

Cultural Influence and the Bible

150733_10152608531944775_6013793969753763659_n

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. 

Good News for a Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked Church!

williams-picture1.jpg

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Picture it. Wewoka Woods, July, Oklahoma Adventist Conference Camp meeting 1992. I had planned on going down for the day, but some friends encouraged me to stay the night in a tent they had available next to theirs. When I went to lay down on the cot, my friends offered me blankets. I told them no one needs blankets in Oklahoma during July. Well guess what? Come three in the morning it gets cold in Oklahoma in July! While shivering on a cot at 3 am I realized why Jesus said,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15 NKJV

When I was cold I wanted to go get a blanket and change my situation. As I laid there shivering I sensed my need. Lukewarm people don’t sense their need of anything. They have no desire to change their situation.

But how can we be lukewarm when Jesus knows we have good works? When we do good deeds for others it “warms” their hearts. Malachi 4:2 talks about the Sun of righteousness. The Bible likens righteous deeds with heat. In John 3:19 as well as other places, the Bible likens evil to darkness, which without light or heat is cold. I go and see grandma in the nursing home every week and that is good. That is hot. But the only reason I go is to make sure I’m in her will, which is dark and cold. So in the end, after seeing grandma I am just lukewarm, and my hypocrisy makes Jesus so sick He wants to throw up! See Revelation 3:16.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV

Why does Jesus say to buy the gold and white garments? Isn’t salvation free? Jesus is referring to the bartering system.  He wants us to trade in our self-righteousness which makes Him want to throw up, in exchange for His robe of righteousness. He wants to take self out of righteousness since it is self that makes righteousness lukewarm. Lukewarm is not the absence of good works. It is the presence of self.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20 NKJV

Its hard to sense our need of Jesus when we are full of ourselves. But if we find our self-righteousness unappetizing, and hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness (See Matthew 5:6) He will come into our hearts and dine with us and feed us His own righteousness.

Remember the door in heaven, in the message to Philadelphia? That door was open. Heaven’s doors are wide open. But when Jesus comes to Laodicea, He finds a heart that has works, but is so full of self it has locked Jesus out! Heaven’s door is open but Laodicea’s door is closed. When Jesus came to earth He was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the inn. Later Jesus tells us there is plenty of room for everyone in His Father’s house. (See Luke 2:7 and John 14:1-3). Heaven has plenty of room. Heaven has an open door. If we are lost it’s because we had no room for Jesus and our heart’s door was closed.

Jesus hasn’t given up on Laodicea. He hasn’t given up on us! He has high expectations for His lukewarm, poor, miserable, blind and naked church!

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Revelation 3:21 NKJV

Working at UPS one day, my supervisor got frustrated about a mistake I made and berated me. He made me feel like I was useless and about to get fired, when he turned around and said something that gave me hope! He said, “You may think I am overreacting by getting so upset about this, but when you become a supervisor, you will understand why I got so upset.” In the middle of censoring me, he told me he expected me to get promoted. In the same message Jesus calls His people poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked, He also talks about them overcoming just as He overcame!” Jesus encourages all of the 7 churches to overcome, but the church that represents the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, He expects to overcome “as I also overcame.”

There is wonderful news for a wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked church that recognizes it is cold and needs a Savior. Jesus stands at the door of your heart. Open the door. Give Him your rags, which only make you lukewarm and still leave you naked. He will clothe you with His robe of righteousness, so you won’t have to be cold, miserable and naked any longer. Heaven’s door is open. There is plenty of room. What do you say?

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