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I'm a Christian, married to a wonderful man, Steven, and mother to a wonderful little son. I have many interests and a few noteworthy journeys in life and I enjoy sharing them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Church Discipline

I've been there in the Mormon church. I was never disfellowshipped or excommunicated, it was a fairly typical teenage "major" sin, but it was eight very painful months. And guess what? Despite all the heartbreak and guilt and work to be "forgiven," I repeated the sin later on. The Mormon church would say that was because I hadn't fully repented before, and that therefore I still had to repent of the old one and the new one.

Nor was it a process of comfort, redemption, and positive change. Nor was my sorrow so much for what I'd done as for all the pain it had caused me. I knew intellectually that it was wrong, for sure, but actually feeling it was wrong for the sin itself was always just beyond my grasp.

It also confused me why the bishop determined when I was "forgiven." It made me wonder if I could go my whole life seeking forgiveness from God but never finding it, if the sin was bad enough or something along those lines. In fact, the Mormon church says the answer to that is yes, it is possible, usually in the case of murder or an extremely terrible sexual sin, like rape. Or at least, people like Spencer W. Kimball, who wrote the handbook of forgiveness, say that.

What bothered me was the manner of church discipline. I tried very hard not to question it while I was a member, but I quickly realized after I left that it bothered me. I found places in the Bible where we were told to confess to Jesus and he would forgive. I never found anywhere in the Bible that it would take a long period of time to achieve forgiveness. Instead, it seemed to be a gift freely given.

Discipline in the Christian church is also far different, and outlined clearly. If there is an offense/sin serious enough to merit interference, there are steps to be taken, but the actual forgiveness is ready to be given the moment the sinner seeks it, not eight months after a lengthy process. Sanctification takes much longer than the actual forgiveness, of course, but that is much different.

In the Christian church, we are to that we are to judge fellow Christians. Not in an arrogant or self-righteous way, of course, but more like a judicial system--we are to call them out on their sin and beg for them to come to repentance. This is first to be done individual to individual. Whether it is one church member to another, or an elder to a member, or elder to elder, it should be one on one (although in the case of members to elder, there should be more than one member, since elders have such a tough job but are held to higher accountability). Then, if sincere supplication for repentance and outlining of the sin committed does not cause the offender to repent sincerely, then more than one person is to go together to try to do the same thing. I just imagine a few loving people sitting down someone and saying lovingly and carefully, "you need to consider what you've done. This is what we're seeing. Please turn from it, its not good for anyone, especially you." If that fails, more public or firm discipline might be needed, such as presenting the situation to a larger group of believers or having an arbitrator or mediator for the offended parties. And finally, if all else fails, the one at fault is to be basically excommunicated out of love, in hopes that they will find that when their sin is not welcomed or allowed, they will realize what it has done to them and will finally repent and return. The moment true repentance is displayed at any stage, the guilty party is to be welcomed back, comforted, and helped immediately.

Does that sound like Mormon discipline? I went to my bishop and confessed my sin, willing to repent (although, not having given my life to Jesus yet, it was doomed to fail or not be full at some level) and instead of saying, "thank you so much for telling me, know that God forgives you, now let me help you in overcoming this," I got, "You are not worthy to take the sacrament or attend the temple, and you must do this this and this, and we'll see after a while how things are going, because forgiveness will take time...oh, and read The Miracle of Forgiveness."

I can attest to the huge difference between these two things. While I've never experienced formal church discipline as a Christian because its never been necessary--are major sins have gotten left behind since becoming a Christian, although I really only had one "major" one--I think many of us have experienced what its like for a friend or loved one to talk something out with us, and we've had to admit we were wrong, and that friend or loved one was ready to repair things with us and work with us the moment we admitted it. I certainly think that good friend or loved one is a far better representation of God's forgiveness than the Mormon church is.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

If the Mormon Church is True, God is Sinful

The Bible says that the first lie that Satan ever told mankind was that they could become gods. Mormonism says this is not a lie, but is truth, and that mankind can become gods. If this is true, then God meant for mankind to sin, and wanted Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit which means God lied to Adam and Even when he told them they they should not eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil!

This is not really a surprise, considering that then sinful men can become gods and goddesses, which means that it is statistically far more likely that our God was a sinful man who achieved godhood through his world's equivalent of Mormonism than that he was a perfect savior on his world.

But what does the Bible say about God?

Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
   “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
   and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
   nor will there be one after me.

God is perfect and always was God. How could he have ever been a sinner. How could he have ever desired mankind to sin? That is completely contrary to his nature.

No parent wants their child to do wrong, and God is the ultimate, perfect father.

How Will I be Judged?

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned

Can anyone deny that they have sinned? Or, since the concept of "sin" might be hard for some to wrap their head around, have you ever done anything wrong? Failed to do your best? Didn't do something you should have? Hurt someone? Harbored ill-will or bad thoughts towards someone? Wanted something you shouldn't have? Done something that wasn't good for you and/or someone else? No one can say "no."

Now, the question is whether we'll be judged for these things or not. You have to believe in an afterlife and a higher power of some sort to believe that everyone will be judged for it. And then the question is, what is the standard? What is required?

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

If you go before a judge for a crime, you're not going to be able to say, "Well, yeah I did that, but I've done good things, too." He (or she) is going to say, "Well that's great, but you're still guilty." So if we all fall short of God's standard (which is what we do every time we sin) then we're all guilty.

Guess what happens to the guilty when God judges them?

Exodus 23:7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
Jude 1:14-15 “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Revelation 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

All of us have sinned and will be found guilty. It doesn't matter that we might not be murderers--we're still guilty, just like someone convicted of petty theft is still guilty. Our punishment may not be as severe, but according to the Bible, that just means that things won't be as bad. We'll still be punished by being thrust out of God's presence. How, then, can anyone be judged favorably?
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never sinned. And yet, God punished him for all sin. It was poured upon him on the cross as he was tortured severely and killed, and since he was perfectly righteous and gave his life for all sin, he made is possible to impute his righteousness--the righteousness of God. We cannot do this for ourselves, because we are sinners. It required perfect righteousness, which no mere human can achieve, so the Son became flesh and did it because of his love for us.

We are forgiven of our sins through his blood.

Hebrews 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

Perhaps we can understand how our own goodness cannot save us. We are guilty no matter how good we are, because we have sinned at some point. Guilty is guilty, no matter how guilty it is. This means that no amount of good works or just generally being an acceptably good person is "good enough." So what do we do to get this gift of righteousness that Jesus died to give us?

We don't get it for free.

Hebrew 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Faith is the requirement, because faith in God pleases God and he will give to them all his gifts, including the gifts of Christ's atonement. This theme echoes again and again throughout the New Testament.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Romans 3:22-24 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Its a beautiful picture of choice. We can try to justify ourselves to become "not guilty" because we don't want God's help. God will let us do that, and when we stand before him and say, "Well, I did this and this and this and this and this right," he will say, "Yes, but you did this and this and this wrong, and you did not accept me, so I will give you what you want and let you be without me for eternity. You are guilty." Or, we can look to God through Jesus, who atoned for our sins, and at judgment say, "I trusted you," and he will say, "For this, you have been forgiven and will spend eternity with me as you desired. Well done, good and faithful servant."

Our choices are simple: turn our back on God and try to do it ourselves, and fail like we've failed to be perfect so many times throughout our lives and receive the punishment of being guilty, or we can reach out our hands to God and he will place in them the gift of eternal life and forgiveness so that we are not found guilty. He will give us what we ask for, and will never force one or the other upon us.

The question is not, "How good am I?" The answer will always be, "Not good enough." No, the question is, "Am I forgiven?" The answer is "Yes" if we have found forgiveness through Jesus.

Good people don't merit heaven. Forgiven people do.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Living Like God is Real

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

So often, this world asks us to believe what we believe but not really live it out. Think about that. As a Christian, what does that look like?

Believe that God answers prayers, but then act like he's not going to answer them after you've prayed.
Believe that God wants you to give, but then fear he won't make that possible when you're tight financially.
Believe that God wants you to have peace, but then worry constantly because you don't trust him to make it possible.
Believe that God wants you to spread the gospel, but then take no role in doing so, whether it be support for missionaries or going and doing it yourself.
Believe that God wants you to live by faith, but then try to earn your salvation too.
Believe that God wants you to live a good life, but then take his grace for granted and live in sin.
Believe that God wants your marriage to work, but then think you're an exception when you hit hard times and get a divorce.
Believe that God wants you to rejoice in your salvation, but then focus on worldly worrisome things to the exclusion of all else.
Believe that God wants you to believe in the face of suffering, but then fall away the moment it gets difficult.
Believe that God wants you to speak the truth in love, but then back off in silence when people criticize you.

Is this really how we're meant to live? Believing one thing, and acting out another? I think often we don't do what we believe we should from fear of failing and hurting. We need to remember that if we live in faith, we will please God. It is when we do not have faith that we will not. God promises us certain things if we live in faith, if we walk by the Spirit. Kindness, long-suffering, love, peace, joy...these are amazing things. But we can't get them if we're not walking by the Spirit, if we're not living by faith.

I've been convicted of these things recently, between experiences I've had and some sermons I've heard. Speaking out against falsehoods and for truth is hard. There are those that will criticize and find anything and everything wrong with it and with you that they can, even if that isn't true. They will tell you that you're rude for telling people about your belief when you know they don't share it. They will tell you that you're doing something wrong for not keeping it within the walls of your home.

They will criticize you for living like you believe.

But what does God tell you? He says go and tell the world, to the ends of the earth. He says love and help others. He says that life will be hard sometimes, but he is worth it in the end. He says he will provide if we're trusting him and seeking the Kingdom first.

God wants you to live like you believe.

So the question becomes, which is most important to you? What others say and think or what God says and thinks? Maybe its time for more Christians to step up to the plate and live out their belief--live like God is real and that your life is nothing without him, because you sincerely believe that to be true. Live like you want to do the things God tells us to do, live the way God tells us to live. Give to people, even when it means you can't go out to dinner with your spouse like you usually do. Pray for missionaries, give financially to them, be a missionary yourself, even just in your office or neighborhood--you don't have to get in everyone's face, you can show them what it is to be a Christian. Pray like you know God will answer, and trust him to follow through in doing the best he can for you. Give credit to the grace of God and don't live in sin, but don't expect to earn your salvation because you're doing good.

Living like anything less than God's Word is true while saying you believe is living a half-truth at best.

I've yet to see a person who truly did so unable to say that they were blessed for it. So challenge God in your life, and live like he's there.