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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, May 30, 2011

Proof plus Faith?

I have seen many people, particularly LDS apologists, criticize the desire for proof in addition to faith. They say that its not true faith if you want proof, or a "sign," or they'll say that people should just be happy with their beliefs and leave science out of it.

I would say that what it comes down to is that reality and beliefs should match up acceptably, or else its likely that its the beliefs that are wrong. After all, if God is the source of Truth, then he is the source of all truth, and that includes science and logic.

This does not lessen faith in the least, and often strengthens it. I can research all I want about whether Jesus really lived, whether he really died and then was seen alive again, whether the apostles really lived and taught, whether the places mentioned in the Bible existed, whether the history of the Old Testament matches with reality as much as can be verified for such an ancient source, etc. In the end, however, none of that research will tell me whether Jesus really is my Savior and my God. I can only believe that on faith, and that is the faith Jesus asks for.

People who want evidence are not generally condemned in the Bible, with a few exceptions, usually regarding the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who had the scriptures in their hands and the miracles before their eyes and still doubted. Yet even they received the sign of the resurrection. The Old Testament talks about miracles being performed for Israel again and again. After Jesus left the earth, the earliest believers had the testimonies of multiple eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, including from people who were skeptics or even outright persecutors until after they saw the risen Lord for themselves. Today, we can see much evidence in archaeology and history. I don't think God gave us all this just to condemn those whose faith was strengthened by it, or those who began to have faith because they examined the evidence.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Acts 17:10-12 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than... those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

 Then the question becomes: what if your faith doesn't have evidence? Or worse, has evidence against it? Isn't that called blind faith? Can that not lead to being deceived? Are feelings alone proof, especially if reality contradicts those feelings? We see so many stories of people who have blind faith and who stake their very lives on it, and although their faith is sincere, they are sincerely wrong. So perhaps you should ask yourself some important questions, such as:
Am I comfortable enough with seeking truth to question the veracity of the truth I hold to? 
Do I believe that questioning truth will not change what truth is, only possibly what I hold to be true?
Does my faith have any solid support? (archaeology, logic, science, etc)
Does my faith have any proof strongly opposing it? (scientific evidence, forgeries, questionable practices, etc)
If I believe in the Bible, does the Bible support my beliefs, and am I willing to find that out if I don't know?

I remember, when I was Mormon, I believed that if the church was true, it could stand up to questioning. When I finally asked the right questions (beginning with: Was Joseph Smith a true prophet?), the church did not stand up, and I left.

I have done research on the veracity of Christianity, and continue to do research. I am taking it one step at a time: as a new Christian, I don't want to overload myself with the views of critics, I want to be able to take it one step at a time and consider each thing I learn. If I were to learn something that disproved Christianity to me as thoroughly as Mormonism was disproved to me, I would leave it. If it is not truth, I do not wish to believe it. However, Christianity has so far stood up to the test and to my questions. Though I will not stop researching, I believe Christianity will continue to stand up to the test. The difference between Christianity and Mormonism is that I am not discouraged from reading and researching what skeptics and atheists have to say about it, because if Christianity is true, it will stand up to those tests. 

The more I research Christianity, the more I am amazed. I am amazed at the reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as recorded in history, even extra-Biblically. I am amazed at the amount of prophecies Jesus fulfilled and the sheer improbability (almost impossibility) that he would do so--fulfilling just eight was so unlikely, that there are less atoms in the universe that the one in whatever chance that he would do so. I am amazed that I can walk where he walked. I am amazed about who he claimed to be, and at his ability to prove it--other religious teachers and prophets like Buddha and Muhammad never claimed to be God, because they could in no way prove that they were. I am amazed at the improbability of this universe existing perfectly how it does.

All of this does nothing more than support my faith, and I am grateful to see the sheer brilliance of the work of God in proving himself to us. But in the end, my faith is in Jesus Christ, my Lord, my Savior, and my God.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My One and Only High Priest

The other day when visiting my family for an evening, I was told that my dad has been made a high priest. This isn't uncommon for men who have been members and elders a long time. Despite teasing generally having to do with gray hair (which he has little of) and age (he's not that old and looks even younger than he is), I know my family was proud of him, and I doubt he was going to argue with being given that office of the LDS priesthood. All I could say when they told me was, "okay." There was no way I could really give positive feedback, because it wasn't there. Part of me wished they'd ask why I was so neutral, but I don't suppose they wanted to hear that answer.

I cannot accept the Mormon priesthood, but the office of high priest bothers me in particular. Since it has been on my mind, I indulged in posting this on Facebook today:

Numbers 3:10 "Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.” Leviticus 16:32 "The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. " Hebrews 5:9-10 "and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all w...ho obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 7:27 "Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself."

Historically and Biblically, there was and is only ever one authorized high priest--in the Old Testament, it was always a descendant of Aaron. Their purpose was to make yearly sacrifices for sin. Priests of the temple could only ever be from the tribe of Levi. When Jesus came, he was an exception--he was not of the tribe of Levi or a descendant of Aaron, but he sacrificed for sin once and for all, becoming the final and perfect high priest. Because he was not a Levitical priest, he is a "high priest in the order of Melchizedek," because he is like Melchizedek: "one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life." Heberews 7: 16 Melchizedek was a type, or shadow, of Christ (Hebrews 7:3). No one else has that sort of priesthood.
I cannot accept anyone but Jesus as a high priest. No one else has any right to claim that title or that authority. The responsibility of the high priest was to sacrifice for the sins of all. The Old Testament high priest did this through yearly animal sacrifice, sacrificing for even his own sin, an imperfect system that was meant to foreshadow what was to come and make them aware of the imperfection of what men could do, more than anything--as was most of the Law. Jesus fulfilled all of that. Jesus was perfect, and sacrificed himself. Jesus wasn't just perfect--he was God. My maker and creator sacrificed himself for me and became the perfect living high priest forever because he loves me.
 Why would I accept anyone else's claim to being a high priest, in light of that? 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The First Article of Faith: Who is the Holy Ghost?

"We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

The Holy Ghost, or Spirit, is a someone confusing entity in LDS theology. In the LDS Bible Dictionary, he is simply described as the third member of the Godhead, a personage of Spirit, and it is explained that there is a difference between the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the “convincing witness that the gospel is true,” and the gift, which “can come only after proper and authorized baptism, and is conferred by the laying on of hands.”

Its assumed that he's a spirit-child of Elohim, much like Jesus and ourselves. Someone he was also promoted to Godhood without first receiving a body and earning exaltation, but there is no story of faithfulness and selfless volunteering or any other such thing like there is with Jesus. He has no story, in fact.

The Holy Ghost works mostly through feelings for a Mormon. They "feel" something is right or true, and believe the feeling comes from the Holy Ghost. This is how most Mormons "know" the church is true--they've had a witness of truth through feelings.

The Holy Ghost in Mormonism can also leave an "unworthy" member, even though you might think that's when the guidance would be needed the most.

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is much different and much more potent. He is another aspect of the Trinity--he is God. He has many purposes, but testifying of truth through feeling alone is not one of them. I'm not saying that feelings aren't important and that the Spirit can't touch us through feelings at appropriate times--he's God, after all, he has that capability--but determining feelings based on truth alone is not logical nor Biblical.

1 John 4:1 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

We are told to test spirits. The Spirit may touch us through feelings, but if our feelings then do not align with other apparent and tested truths--the existing scriptures, scientific evidence, logic, etc--then it is most likely our feelings that are wrong, not the evidence at hand. If feelings alone were the standard of truth, most religions and faiths would be true, no matter how crazy they are.

The Spirit isn't just some define testifier of truth and producer of good feelings and moral guidance. He is God living in believers. We are told to walk by the Spirit--in other words, letting him lead and shape our lives as God wants it to be, to be not only the best we can be, but also to help those around us and be an example of a life transformed in Christ. Doing this yields the fruits spoken of in Galatians.

5:22-25 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

No priesthood conference is required to receive the Holy Spirit. 

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John 15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 10:47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Belief in Christ is all that's required to receive the Holy Spirit. Belief in Christ is all that's required for anything that God wishes for us, because all we need is Christ.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The First Article of Faith: Who is Jesus?

"We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

The second person mentioned in this Article of Faith is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In Mormonism, Jesus is a god separate from God. "The Savior, on the other hand, though clothed in flesh and blood during His mortal ministry, is a God." (Dec 2000 Liahona, "Christ's Role as Redeemer) They believe him to be the Creator and the God (Jehovah) of the Old Testament.

He is the eldest spirit-son of God the Father--he is our elder brother, and brother to Satan as well. Because of his volunteering to die for the sins of the world, he was given Godhood before he ever had a body, and supposedly still had to "earn" it when he was on earth--which implies that he could have chosen not to.

"Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the gospel truths and universal laws." (General Authority Milton R. Hunter, "The Gospel Through The Ages", Pg. 51)
Though its not taught much in church now, the LDS leaders have also said that Jesus was born through intercourse through God and Mary (not through the Holy Spirit like the Bible says).

"The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood - was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 115).

"Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers." (Apostle Bruce McConkie, "Mormon Doctrine", Pg. 547, 1979)

"Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh ..." (First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, 1916, God the Father, compiled by Gordon Allred, p. 150).

As discussed recently in this blog, when Jesus came to redeem mankind from their sins, the LDS believe this took place in the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than the cross.

The Christian reality of Jesus is quite different. He is not our spirit-brother, he is God. He is not a separate God, either--he is a personage of the one and only God, as discussed before in my blogs about the Trinity.

John 14:4-7; 1 Timothy 3:16; Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14; John 12:44-45; John 10:30; Colossians 1:15-17+Genesis 1:1; John 20:28-29; 1 John 5:7; John 4:24; Revelation 1:8;  Exodus 3:13-15 +John 8:52-5 

Christ took on all the limitations of flesh, without giving up his identity as God. This can be difficult to understand for us, since we as humans generally keep all aspects of ourselves together, but even we believe in the separateness of our own body, soul, and spirit--is it so hard to think that God can have that sort of separateness, but in an even greater way than us? This is how Jesus was still able to pray to God as a man, and how the Holy Spirit descended on him. The three aspects of God are separate personages--but they're all completely one God.

Let's look for a moment at Jesus suffering. Starting in the Garden, we see some very real, very strong emotions playing out--strong enough to make Luke describe Jesus' sweat as being as blood, which could either mean that he was just sweating very heavily in the same way someone bleeds heavily, or it could mean that his sweat was tinged with blood (he wasn't literally bleeding from his very pores, though.) Either way, this shows great psychological stress and anxiety. He knew what was coming.

Once in the hands of the Romans, its important to understand the sort of whipping he underwent. This wasn't just a single leather strap cracking across his back. This was a bull-whip with chunks of metal and sharp things woven into it to cause contusions that would then be ripped open. The whipping would extend from shoulders to legs. Although there was a standard number of lashes--I believe 39--it wasn't uncommon for the soldier administering the beating to give more. It was not uncommon for the beating to leave a man's insides laid bare--his spine, his arteries, his nerves, even his bowels if it was bad enough. Many died from the beating before they could make it to the cross.

The cross was horrific. In fact, the word "excruciating" comes from the Latin "out of the cross." The ordeal was so painful, they had to make their own word for it--and they subjected only the worst of people to it. Roman citizens were exempt from the cross except in the case of high treason. Outside of Roman citizenship, only the worst of criminals or those who stood against the Roman empire were subject to the cross. It was a terrible, inhumane, shameful death.

The cross was not a walk in the park either. The spikes were driven through nerves--imagine how it feels to hit your funny bone. Its because you're hitting a nerve. Now imagine how much worse it would be if you took a pair of pliers and crushed and twisted that nerve. That would give you an idea of what it felt like to have spikes driving into your wrists and feet.

Once he was lifted onto the cross, his arms would have quickly pulled from their sockets because of how he was hanging, stretching the tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This also put him into a position that made breathing in difficult, so that he would have to push up on his feet to get a good breath--a painful prospect, considering that he was pushing up on the nail in his feet. Eventually he would have simply grown to week to push up for the next breath, and breathing would have become shallow, making his heartbeat unsteady--especially since it was probably already pumping like crazy before, since he'd lost so much blood from the whipping.

In fact, experts believe its this strain on his heart that killed him. When John describes the spear being thrust into Jesus' side to confirm that he was dead, there was both "blood and water" that came out--the "water" was likely fluid caused by his heart rupturing from the strain

Knowing this was to come, and obviously having great trepidation in facing it--"let this cup pass from me"--what caused Jesus to allow himself to go through it? He was a miracle worker. He was God. He could have stopped it at any time. He could have avoided the pain and death, or at least died in a less terrible way. What made him do it? What made him endure the whipping? What made him make it to the cross? What kept him hanging there until his heart broke, and still say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"?

Quite simply the answer is love.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The First Article of Faith: Who is God?

"We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."

Okay. All well-and-good. But who are they in the Mormon faith, and who are they in the Bible? We're going to begin with God the Eternal Father.

When the LDS faith started off, the idea of God was very Trinitarian. Joseph Smith didn't even begin talking about the current version of the First Vision (there were a few versions before it) until 1842, only a couple of years before his death (http://www.mormonthink.com/firstvisionweb.htm#thefirstvision). This can also be seen in the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 15:1-4 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God, and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

2 Nephi 31:21 …And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

Alma 11:44 …Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God…

Alma 18:28 …Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?

 There was also a very clear view of God as always having been God, eternal and unchanging.

Mormon 9:9 For do we not read the God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

Moroni 8:18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

However, this view began to change dramatically and quickly. First, in his School of the Prophets, Joseph Smith began teaching of Jesus and God as separate beings, which led to his eventual final "first vision" story. God developed into a being of flesh and blood, separate from the other members of the Godhead and very much like a human being. Then, near the end of his life, Smith made another dramatic change in identifying God.

In his King Follet Discourse in April of 1844, Joseph Smith said this before a large gathering of saints:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.”

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”

D&C 132:20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. 

 In a matter of years, God has gone from being a single being of a triune nature, to a being who once was a man like us, and who progressed to godhood--and the extension is that we can become gods, too.

I know I've discussed some of the problems with this elsewhere in this blog, but understanding this fundamental difference between the Christian God, born out of Judaism, and the Mormon God is profound.

When Joseph Smith changed the view of God this radically, he changed the religion from being monotheistic to henotheistic. While monotheism accepts the existence and worship of only one true God, henotheism accepts the existence of many gods but the worship of only one (as opposed to polytheism, which accepts both existence and worship of many gods).

God now has no longer always been God--he was once a man named Elohim, and probably a sinful one, unless he happened to be his world's version of Christ. However, since the LDS belief is that Jesus will inherit this Kingdom, and we would assume that the savior of "Elohim's world" did the same, that doesn't seem likely, unless I am misunderstanding what I learned as a Mormon. God is not eternally perfect, he is not eternally God, he is not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and he is supposedly still progressing.

"God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end," (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 120).

How does this compare to Christian beliefs? Like I said, I know I've address this before, but its worth looking at again.

In Christianity, God the Father is part of the Trinity that makes up one God.

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

God is also a singular God--there are no other true Gods, never have been, and never will be.

Isaiah 43:10 …Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.

Isaiah 44:6, 8 This is what the LORD says, Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.

God is eternal and unchanging.

Psalm 90:2
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 26:4
Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

God's ways are not the ways of a human being.

Isaiah 55: 8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

God is spirit.

John 4:24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

This does not sound at all like the God worshiped in the LDS religion.

The thing is, God is so much more than the man who became a god who fathered our spirits (which he didn't--he created us, and we become his children through adoption--Romans 8). He is the God who loved us enough to give us existence, then to give us choices. He is the God who then made a plan to reconcile us to him despite us making choices that separate us from him--sin. He took on flesh himself and came down to be the ultimate perfect sacrifice for our sins, so that all who believe might have eternal life with him.

Imagine that for just a moment. God--eternal, almighty, perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful--love you so much that he became a mortal, limited his flesh, as Jesus, and died a horrible, shameful death...for you.

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

John 1:1, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God has this amazing, complete, eternal love for us. Shouldn't we give him the same?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

If Jesus did Bleed in Gethsemane...

The power of the cross is emptied if Jesus took on the sins of the world by bleeding in extreme agony for them in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cross becomes merely a tool to lead to Jesus' death so that he could overcome the grave, rather than the place where God's love poured out in the death of Jesus to pay for our sins.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This is a physician's analysis of Luke's statement about Christ's sweat being as blood in the Garden of Gethsemane:
"This is a known medical condition called hematidrosis. It's not very common, but it is associated with a high degree of psychological stress. What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there's a SMALL amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out TINGED with blood. WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT A LOT OF BLOOD; IT'S JUST A VERY, VERY SMALL AMOUNT." (The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel, 195, emphasis mine)

Even if Luke's statement of Christ's sweat being as blood was literal and not a simile (comparison), Christ wasn't sweating tons of blood or else he would have made a far more shocking appearance when he finished praying and met the soldiers and Judas Iscariot. It was due to psychological stress--he knew what was coming, and it was obvious he felt extreme trepidation about it, considering that he asked God that the cup might pass from him if it were God's will.

Even from this standpoint of a medical professional, Luke's statement does not in any way mean that Jesus was sweating literal drops of blood because he was suffering for our sins while in the Garden instead of (or in addition to) his suffering on the Cross.

Death was necessary to pay for our sins--why else would animal sacrifice have been done by the priests to cleanse sin in the Old Testament?

1 Corinthians 1:17-18
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Colossians 1:20
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Not his blood shed in the Garden)

Colossians 2:14
having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

1 Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

1 Corinthians 15 3-4
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (notice the Garden is not mentioned, but his death is.)

Contrast this with statements by Mormon General Authorities:

"In the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered so greatly that he sweat drops of blood as He pleaded with His Father. But this was all a part of His great atoning sacrifice." Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2007 General Conference

"With His divine sonship, His sinless life, the shedding of His blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, His excruciating death on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection from the grave, He became the author of our salvation and made a perfect Atonement for all mankind."
"His profound suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He took upon Himself all the sins of all other mortals, caused Him “to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.”"
James E. Faust, October 2001 General Conference

 The Garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who's in Whose Image?

The latest series my pastor has been teaching at church is about missing Jesus, and the most common way we do this is by trying to make him fit neatly into our lives, trying to make him in our image instead of us in his.

Think about it for a moment. You want to make more money, so you pray for more money, instead of praying that God will guide you financially to be responsible and to have what he wants you to have. You want to get the career you've set your heart on, so you pray you'll get it instead of praying that God will guide you into the career he wants you in, or if you know you're on a career path that is good for you in his eyes, you pray that you'll do well instead of praying that he'll use you at the workplace.

Colossians 1:  15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

This is not the language of someone who is supposed to fit neatly in our American dream.

Revelations 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
   19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
   21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We are called to live for Jesus, not Jesus for us. He is not a cosmic vending machine. He is not someone who stays in the guest bedroom of our heart, conveniently there when we need him. This is the savior of our spirits.

Too often, when we choose Jesus, we ask him to come into our hearts, and forget to give him our hearts. We want him in our lives, but only so far as our lives can fit him in. We want him to save our spirit, but we forget to follow his Spirit. We want his forgiveness, but we don't live out the gratitude we should have for receiving it.

I know when I was Mormon, I didn't understand this concept in the least. I didn't understand what it was to have God on my mind constantly, and to want to live for him. I was too occupied with following rules and trying to be "worthy," thinking that would please him. This radical relationship of love is something I didn't expect. I never made God the spiritual head the same way that a husband is the head of the household--after all, Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and we, the church, are his bride. Should we be treating him as if he were exactly that--the love of our life, who has and will spiritually provide for us like no other can?

Who is Almighty in your life? Is it God, or is it your dreams, wants, desires, hopes, fears, anxieties, and opinions? Most of us will automatically want to say that its God, but most of us would be wrong. Remembering him out of duty a couple of times a day is not a relationship with him. Following a bunch of rules to try to please him is not a relationship, its an obligation, and frankly, its an obligation we could have with or without God, if we thought that obeying all those rules would be good for us completely aside from a belief in God.

I have come to have a great awe and respect for the God I now know, the God who took on flesh and died for me himself so that I could be forgiven of my sins if I choose him. That's frankly beyond my comprehension. I'm just a creation. He chose to give me all I have--my ability to have emotions, to desire life beyond the grave, to live--and he could chose to give me no more than that, but he didn't. He chose to give me the ability to find eternal life. That's amazing to me, and I want to live a life that shows him that I know how amazing that is.

He is my rock, my redeemer, my comforter, my savior, my lord, my shepherd, my friend, my father, my Abba, my counselor, my creator, the almighty, the messiah, the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the king of kings and lord of lords, who is and was and is to come. He is my God, and I will serve him.

Will you?


Sunday, May 1, 2011

The True Miracle of Forgiveness

Some who will read this blog have read "The Miracle of Forgiveness" by Spencer W. Kimball, an LDS prophet. It is still sold in LDS bookstores, and people who find themselves before the bishop confessing sin are often encouraged to read it. Whether or not you've read it, here are some interesting quotes from it.

"Repentance is inseparable from time. No one can repent on the cross, nor in prison, nor in custody. One must have the opportunity of committing wrong in order to be really repentant. The man in handcuffs, the prisoner in the penitentiary, the man as he drowns, or as he dies---such a man certainly cannot repent totally. He can wish to do it, he may intend to change his life, he may determine that he will, but that is only the beginning. That is why we should not wait for the life beyond but should abandon evil habits and weaknesses while in the flesh on the earth... Clearly it is difficult to repent in the spirit world of sins involving physical habits and actions. There one has spirit and mind but not the physical power to overcome a physical habit" (p. 83).

"There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. ... In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his ways and started on a new path... The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life." (p. 163) 

"One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation." (pp. 206-207)

"Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works-many works-”and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit'™ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes" (pp. 324-325)

Kimball defines repentance as the perfect, successful abandonment of sin, through the following actions:
  1. conviction, in which "the sinner consciously recognizes his sin."[2]
  2. abandonment of sin
  3. confession to church authorities and/or other parties wronged by the sin
  4. restitution
  5. keeping God's commandments
  6. forgiving others 

How many of us can completely, perfectly abandon all sin? How possible is it to follow all six steps for every single sin we commit? What happens if we do the same sin again? Kimball would say you have to repent again for all the previous sins we had already repented of plus the new one, because its evident we didn't truly repent of the sin because we didn't abandon it. What happens if we don't manage to repent for all the sins before we die? He says its very difficult to repent of sins of the flesh when we are only in spirit after death, so maybe we wouldn't be able to repent completely in time for the resurrection.

Thankfully, Kimball is wrong.

John 6:28-29 "Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?' Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.' "
John 11:25 "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.'"
Acts 2:21 "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Acts 13:38-39 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses."
Acts 15:11 "No! believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Romans 1:16 "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God of the salvation of everyone who believes."
Romans 3:22-24 "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
Romans 10:9 "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

These are only from three books of the New Testament. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. We are saved from and justified of our sins through faith, through belief, in Jesus. If we truly believe in our hearts, then God will not count our sins against us. We can't be good enough by ourselves, so He doesn't expect us to be.  No law can justify us because we will fall short in following it completely. "Rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:20b)

What is forgiveness and how exactly do we get it? Forgiveness is basically the overlooking of a sin (a mistake, a wrongdoing, not doing something we should have) so that the sin is no longer with us and we can move on from it. Hopefully, we won't commit the sin again, but realistically, there are many sins that we will do over and over again throughout our lives. We achieve forgiveness through Christ.

1 John 1:8-10 "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives."

If we confess to God that we are sinners, He will forgive us and take the unrighteousness out of us. He helps to make us better people as we do this. We could never purify ourselves or remove the unrighteousness from ourselves. We have to depend on Him to do this, and depending on Him to do so necessitates a belief in Him.

Does this mean that we can go and sin because He'll forgive our sins because we believe in Him? No! Not at all! "Do we then nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 4:25)

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "Do you not know that the wicket will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of 
1 Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me--but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me--but I will not be mastered by anything."
2 Corinthians 7:1 "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
Galatians 2:17 "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves our sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sins? Absolutely not!"
James 2:18 "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."

Does this mean that we're not saved if we mess up, especially if its in something like sexual immorality or alcoholism or any of the other particularly offensive sins noted? Not at all. It means, however, that we're expected to seek forgiveness from those we've wronged and to pursue a change in our ways and of our heart, which is repentance. Sometimes it seems like only through God can we abandon these more serious transgressions.

2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
2 Corinthians 5:19 "That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them."

We are encouraged to live life by the Spirit. If someone claims he is saved, but is not trying to depart from the obvious acts of a sinful nature, we must question if his faith is real. Walking in the Spirit will help us eventually turn from the negative actions and ways we follow when we our led by our sinful nature. Its not always an overnight change, and it will not be complete in our lifetime, but the process will happen throughout a believer's life.

Galatians 5:19-25 "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this (not changing their ways and not willing to try) will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

Let's look at the differences:
Kimball says repentance comes through multiple steps done constantly, and they must all be completed before we can receive forgiveness, and that believing that we receive forgiveness automatically through Christ's grace is a teaching from Satan. He paints a picture that seems very difficult to follow and is very works-based. Yet, there's little in the book about living in love and letting the Spirit shows its fruits in our lives; its all about doing all the "right" things, instead of being all the right things.

The Bible says that we receive forgiveness through recognizing that we are sinners and need a savior and therefor placing true faith in Jesus and receiving forgiveness through the grace of God, and true faith will also lead to the Spirit helping us turn away from sins and receive goodness in our lives. It is not that we can't be good on our own, but that we can't ever be good enough without Jesus, and there are some things that are overwhelming to change on our own, especially when burdened by guilt because of lack of forgiveness. God is there to forgive us and help us become who we want to be just by having true faith in Him.