Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not led down the wrong path

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and a temple-worthy Mormon, made this comment to the media after speaking to BYU students on Tuesday Oct 10, 2007:

In the past years we've had some very prominent members of the church, like Ezra Taft Benson, who are really right-wing people. Members of the church are obedient and followers in the true sense of the word, but these people [Benson] have taken members of the church down the path that is the wrong path.

Ezra T Benson was the 13th President and Prophet of the Mormon Church, serving from 1985-1994. That is a lot of years for the highest leader of the LDS religion to take his followers down the wrong path. It also underscores the danger to members of the Mormon religion who have believed Elder Benson we he stated:

"The prophet will never lead the Church astray. ... President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident, which happened to him: I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home....Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: "My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it." Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, "But you don't need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray." [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

The danger in accepting such teaching from religious leaders is that it leads to dulled discernment for the follower and no accountability for the leader. If religious leaders, like the rest of us, are fallen, imperfect, finite persons, then they can indeed lead people astray and have an even greater potential for doing so.

So, either Senator Reid is on to something and Benson not only led people astray with his political views, but also with his teaching that God would not let the prophet lead people astray, or Reid himself is leading others astray with his open indictment of Mormon Prophet Benson, in which case the church leaders who allowed Reid to address BYU students were not being very sensitive to the Spirit themselves.

Bottom line, if we call ourselves Christians, or Christ-ones, then it is Jesus the Christ we are to follow. Period. We can put no ultimate confidence in any religious leader or religious institution. And any leader or institution that says otherwise is leading us away from Christ - to our own spiritual peril.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Loyalty to Jesus?

A man stopped by our office, curious about our religious research on different new American religious groups like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. Within minutes he identified himself as a Jehovah's Witness and wanted to know what I thought about them. I replied that most Witnesses I knew were sincere, dedicated people, but I was concerned for them spiritually. When he asked why, I explained it was because they had been brought to a point where they were more loyal to the religious organization than they were to Jesus Christ.

He protested immediately and vehemently that this was not the case, that Witnesses were loyal to Jesus and Jehovah God, not to an earthly organization. I explained that I was familiar with JWs and had even attended their District Convention in my state a couple of weeks ago. He was surprised, and perhaps even a bit impressed, and as we talked I asked permission to ask a rather personal question. He graciously agreed.

"Suppose you in the course of studying your Bible," I began, "were to realize that the WT Society teaching on say, holidays like Christmas and Easter was in error. You realized that their reasoning on the subject was inconsistent and their interpretation of Scripture was incorrect. Because of this, you became convinced that celebrating holidays should be a matter of individual conscience and you now felt free to begin to celebrate Christmas or Easter with your family. None of your other doctrinal beliefs have changed, nor has your commitment to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. You still accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God for your life. However, when the elders at the kingdom hall discover your change in belief on this matter, they disfellowship you from the organization. You are no longer in good standing with the Watchtower Society. Will this place you in spiritual danger for when Armageddon comes? Are you now at risk of being rejected by Jehovah God, simply because the WT Society has decided they should disfellowship you?"

His countenance grew serious and troubled and he asked, "You mean I would no longer be in good standing with Jehovah's organization?"

"Yes," I replied. Your relationship with God and Jesus and your loyalty to them hasn't changed, only the acceptance of the WT Society."

He declared immediately, "Then yes, if I was no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses I would not have Jehovah God's approval. This would seriously affect my spiritual standing with Jehovah."

"So then," I said quietly, "your allegiance is primarily to the WT Society as an organization."

This led our dialogue into the realm of bad associations, and how important it was to have no association with anything worldly or pagan or evil, and so the WT Society as Jehovah's organization was the only place with which to associate for they were the only organization to keep themselves from such evil assocations. I asked him if he was aware that for many years the WT Society had been associated with the United Nations as an NGO (non-governmental organization) and had used that official relationship to help them with relations with other foreign governments. He was not aware. In fact he was disbelievingly not aware. I offered to get him a packet on this subject, and asked for his name and address so I could send it to him, but he refused to give it to me, saying he needed to be going, his wife was waiting outside for him (and indeed she had stuck her head in the door minutes before asking if he was almost done).

He did say I had piqued his curiousity on this subject, which he found very hard to believe, so he would do some research and would come back again to get more information on this.

I hope he does. I hope he pursues truth. I hope he is troubled enough by his loyalty to an organization that one day his loyalty will be first and foremost to Jesus Christ. I hope, because until that happens, he will continue to be the puppet shadow of a mannish, manipulative religious org. He will be unable to enter the sphere of reality where Jesus is his only Way, his only Truth, his only Life. But, once the strings to the org are cut, allegiance to Jesus will free him to life, love and relationships that are lived from the deep center of spiritual freedom and divine intimacy that he was created to know and share. That we all were created to know and share.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taken to task & Repentance

An LDS reader took issue with the subject matter of my previous blog and cared enough to take the time to let me know about it. The interchange led to the topic of repentance - pretty hefty subject and one of the most important if you believe that man's biggest problem is sin. Afterall, sin is what separates us from God, makes us unworthy of His presence, makes us deserve eternal judgment and separation from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We all sin, we're all guilty, so what are we supposed to do about it? --Repent!

But repentance in the Mormon scheme of things is no simple matter, at least not according to top Mormon leaders - their prophets. One of the most comprehensive articles on the subject I found on the official Mormon website - (gotta love how simple that is):

The Message:What Is True Repentance?
by President Spencer W. Kimball

According to the article, written by LDS President and Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, who in turn quotes former Mormon Prophet and President Joseph F. Smith, there are a number of essential elements to true repentance. In no particular order they are:

  • sorrow for sins and humble penitence and contrition before God
  • the necessity of turning away from them
  • a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds
  • a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good
  • make restitution so far as is possible for all the wrongs that we have done
  • to pay our debts and restore to God and man their rights, that which is due them from us
  • consciousness of guilt that brings one to his knees in humbleness with “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” and in “sack cloth and ashes.”
  • remorse and deep sorrow - preliminary to repentance
  • the element of shame
  • pain and suffering for the errors
  • no repeating of the sin

According to the article, "repentance must be consistent and continuous. To repent of a sin and then to tamper with it again or permit it to invade, even slightly, is to lose the repentance and its beneficent effects, and “the former sins return, saith the Lord God.” (D&C 82:7.)"

According to the Mormon who wrote me, one of the purposes of Sacrament every week is so people can repent of their sins. My question in light of that and the extensive requirements for true repentance is, can you truly repent in a Sacrament meeting?

You may become aware of the sin and confess it even, but according to the LDS Prophet Kimball you have not truly repented until you have done all the things listed above. The process Kimball describes would take at the very least hours, if not days, weeks, even months or years. If these things are happening, Sacrament must be a very mournful, tearful time every week as people reflect on and grieve over their sins. To be honest, I’ve attended firesides at my local ward but never Sacrament, so I don't know how much of this goes on.

The hugest contrast for me in all this is how repentance is talked about in Acts 5:31 "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel;" and 2 Timothy 2:25, "Those who oppose him [the Lord's servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth." There is a clear sense that repentance and forgiveness are gifts from God, something God grants to sinners because of His grace and mercy.

Quite a contrast to the conditional forgiveness that can only be earned by accomplishing true Mormon repentance, which in essence says, if you are still repenting you haven't truly repented.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Are we missing the heart here?

BYU has had a string of its athletes run into problems with the law. The latest, according to the Salt Lake Tribune of 7/5/07 was junior running back Manase Tonga arrested a couple of days ago. SLT reported: Posted: 4:40 PM

Brigham Young junior running back Manase Tonga was arrested and booked in the Utah County Jail after a routine traffic stop in Provo early Tuesday morning. Tonga was cited by the Provo Police Department at 1:30 a.m. for failure to stop at a stop sign, driving with an expired car registration and providing false personal nformation to an officer.
Tonga, 23, had a warrant out for his arrest for a prior minor traffic violation and gave a false name to the arresting officer during Tuesday's incident. "It was just a totally average traffic stop for a moving violation," said Provo Police Sargent Richard Dewey. "The officer stopped the ehicle and asked the driver for his name, and he didn't have an ID. He gave a name back to the officer and he ran it on the computer and it didn't come back to any real person." Tonga was released at 2:50 a.m. to Daniel Turagavou, who paid $207 in cash bail for the warrant and $2,150 in bonds for the citations. Tonga then left for Los Angeles to get married in the LDS temple, said Jeff Reynolds, BYU's assistant director for athletic communications.

Now maybe its because I'm a non-Mormon, an outsider looking in, but this troubled me. Here's a young Mormon man, returned missionary, star athlete, temple recommend holder, about to be married in a Mormon temple - as for spiritual externals by Mormon church standards he's got it all. And yet his behavior - dare I say the fruit of his life - shows a contempt for the laws of the land, disrespect for civil authorities, a lack of personal integrity and boldfaced lying. Now lest I judge the young man too harshly, let me say my concern is far less the offenses - none of which are that serious in and of themselves - but more the Mormon religious system that encourages external covenant keeping over deeper issues of the heart.So despite the lying to a police officer and refusing to pay a fine for breaking the law he's off to enter the most sacred of Mormon spaces - a temple. Interestingly, I'm not the only one to see the incongruity of this. A fellow BYU student posted the following in response to a SLT article:

I am so embarrassed to be a BYU fan. One stupid thing after another. And this guy actually thinks he's worthy to go to the temple after lying to the cops? Crazy!

Then consider this: Should Tonga have family members who are Christians, living Christ-honoring, God-fearing lives, but they happen to be non-Mormons, they would not be worthy to enter the temple and be a part of or witness the wedding ceremony. All non-Mormon family members would be excluded from his marriage simply because they were not members of the correct religious organization.

The spiritual danger is this: Man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart. LDS members like Tonga may not realize the state of their hearts so long as their church emphasizes external ritual over inward purity. This will keep them from authentic relationships with God and fellow men to the detriment of their spiritual lives both now and in eternity.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Real Mercy for Real Debtors

Okay, so it has been more than a day - life has a way of being, so ... daily. My inconsistent blogging aside I want to explore the concept of earned mercy. Kind of a contradiction in terms if you understand what mercy truly is - the undeserved forbearance or suspension of deserved justice or punishment. The way I explain it to my kids is: Mercy is not getting the just punishment you deserve. Grace is getting a benefit or reward that you do not deserve.

As the parents of 7 kids ages 19 - 9 my wife and I get ample opportunity to to have our children experience both. So when we found exotic lip gloss in our 9 year-old's pocket after a shopping trip, we made arrangements to go back to the store so she could apologize to the store manager and pay for the stolen goods. We also let her know that shoplifting was a crime that could be prosecuted by the store. My wife went in first to talk to the manager so that she would respond with appropriate seriousness and not just pat our adorable daughter on the head and dismiss everything with a "That's all right honey." That is not grace or mercy. So with tears and trembling lip the young thief stood before the manager and offered both her money and her apology, both of which were sternly but graciously accepted. And while justice rightly allowed for police intervention, the manager extended mercy and suspended this deserved consequence. So, my daughter experienced both relief from guilt through forgiveness and release from the punishment through mercy. Neither of which she will soon forget.

Jesus on Mercy & Forgiveness
Jesus painted a similar picture of the mercy God the Father extends to us in Matthew 18:21 and the parable of the unmerciful servant. A king begins calling in his accounts, the rules were simple - pay what you owe, or go to the debtors prison to work off the debt. A man with a debt equivalent to millions of dollars is brought in. He can't begin to pay and the king justly orders him, his wife and kids and everything he owns sold to repay the debt. The man in desperation falls at the kings feet and begs for mercy "Be patient with me and I'll pay everything back." Yeah right. It would take him multiple lifetimes to even make a dent in it. Its a ridiculous and unrealistic plea. But, for whatever reason, the king goes for it. Well actually, the king is more realistic than the servant, and instead takes pity on him and cancels the debt. It would have been merciful if he'd simply left him out of prison and let him work till his dying day throwing pennies at the million dollar debt - at least he would have been with his family. But the king/master goes a quantum leap beyond this and frees him from all indebtedness. Whoa! The wife is never going to believe this. Not only has he been mercied (the deserved prison sentence removed), but he has been graced (granted the undeserved gift of a debt wiped out).

But his wife never finds out. On the way home he runs into a fellow servant who owes him the equivalent of $10.00. He grabs the guy around the neck and says "Hey buddy, pay what you owe me now!" The guy doesn't have it, and begs for mercy. But the first servant serves justice and has they guy thrown in prison till he can pay it all back. Some fellow servants can't believe what they've just witnessed and they go to the master with the story. The master calls the servant in and says "I canceled your debt because you begged for mercy. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant." The master turns this ungrateful servant over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay back all he owed. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matt 18:21-35).

What's the point?
God the Father has extended an infinite amount of both mercy and grace to us as sinners. We've broken every commandment God has given, if not in practice, in principle. James 2:10 -- you break one commandment, you've broken them all and we do this on a daily, at times hourly basis. Earn mercy? Not only is the idea oxymoronic, its ludicrous. We could never do enough "good" to somehow merit the forgiveness of our offense against a totally holy God. That's why Jesus has the "master/king" in the parable simply forgive the whole debt of his servant - even though the servant offered to pay it back. The truth is the servant could have never done it and would have died in debt, and he and the king both knew it.

The question is: Do we?
Do we see that our sin debt is so great, our only hope is that the King of Kings be merciful to us and grant us a total and free pardon for sin. Yes, its undeserved, yes we get out of a huge punishment we most justly deserve, yes it cuts our pride off at the knees to realize mercy is our only option for spiritual survival. And yes, its the only way to be totally sin-debt free. And yes it will go against everything in our sinful, selfish flesh to cry "Mercy."

The sad thing is the LDS Church, rather than encourage its membership to cry out in humility and brokenness for mercy, feeds a person's pride and spiritually enslaves its followers by telling them they can and must earn God's mercy by continual repentance and obedience. Not only does this drive people deeper into bondage to the religious organization which dictates what obedience is and what repentance looks like, it totally skews for them the reality of God's mercy for people who need and long for true forgiveness.

The apostle Peter denied Jesus - not once but three times. He knew what it meant to receive mercy and wrote in one of his letters in the first century: "Praise be to God ... in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope ..." (1 Pet. 1:3)

As long as your trying to earn mercy, you'll never receive it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Earned Mercy Isn't

My teenagers were playing a friendly game of Mercy the other night. You've probably played it - you face off with someone, put your hands together, palm to palm, interlace fingers and then see who can bend the other's fingers and hand back to the point where the pain is intolerable, wrenching, squeezing, a stiff, disjointed dance for dominance that ends when someone cries out "Mercy!". And the point of the game is just that - though the dominant person has gained a position whereby he could inflict even further pain and injury to the opponent, at the cry of "mercy", mercy is indeed rendered and the tortured one's hand is released, usually with good-natured laughter and the appearance of a new challenger.

A friend's newsletter* noted that Mormon Apostle Richard G. Scott addressed the subject of mercy at the last LDS general conference (Oct. 2006). Since mercy is an essential facet of our relationship to God I was curious how it would be presented. Mercy by definition is "compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power; ... Mercy implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it."

In short, mercy is not receiving the punishment we justly deserve. By definition mercy is both unearned and unmerited.

I pulled our Nov. 2006 Ensign to see what Elder Scott had to say, and noted the following:
If not resolved, broken laws can cause your life to be miserable and would keep you from returning to God. ...The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God (p. 42).

Wait a minute, mercy earned by continual repentance and obedience? This is a troubling thought, but I'm late for a meeting, so I'll pick this up tomorrow, hopefully. Until then, feel free to meditate on Titus 3:5 which states:

he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

*(Mormonism Researched, Mar-Apr 2007)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

For the Tired, Rest - Part 2

[Continued from previous post] Pride will keep us from rest. Pride will keep us from admitting we can’t live all the commandments, that we never do “all we can do.” So ditch pride already and let Heavenly Father give you a present; nothing you earn, nothing you have to “be worthy” of, but rather a love gift. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you … rest.” The Apostle Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus that he and they both at one time:

were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us (made us alive) together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:3b-6)

Notice its all in present or past tense, not future. And notice when God made the Ephesian people alive with Christ, when they were children of wrath, when they were dead in sins. They’d done nothing to be worthy of being made alive spiritually it was the independent act of God, an expression of mercy (not getting the punishment they deserved as children of wrath) and a flagrant act of grace – the giving of a present that is wholly undeserved, unearned and unmerited. It had to have been a humbling thing – to see themselves worthy of only wrath and instead get life, to deserve outer darkness and but instead get to sit together in heavenly places in Jesus. To sit, to rest… to realize that God no longer saw their sin, He saw His Son. After all, they were “in Christ Jesus.” Absorbed into his life, his resurrection, his atonement. Everything Christ was, they now were.


The Double Exchange

We do get to give God something for absolute forgiveness, for atonement, for rest. We get to give Him the only thing we have – our sin. All the junk that makes us unworthy, all the failed tries, all the falling short, the huge, heaping, onerous, stinking mess. We offer that to God in exchange for the perfect, absolute, holy righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. And yes, our pride. We add our pride to the pile, like the cherry on the top of our sin sundae. It above all else must go, because the pride that says we can do something, we have to do something, is the pride that can keep us from rest. As long as we hold on to pride, we will never hold out our hands for the gift of forgiveness. The Apostle Peter talked about this as well, the exchange, because someone has to take our sin if we are going to give it away. Jesus did.

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

Heavenly Father made Jesus be sin, so we could be righteous.

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (1 Corinthians 5:21)

So, are you going to do it? Will you trade? Are you tired enough to stop clutching desperately to your pride. Are you tired enough to stop trying to make yourself worthy, to repent of all your attempts to make yourself worthy and let God make you worthy? Do you have faith that God will really do what He says – follow through on His end and actually declare you as righteous as Jesus? Then go to Him, talk to Him, humble yourself, make the trade, and rest. Once you’re worthy because Jesus has given you his worthiness, you’re free. Free to love, to serve, to give, to obey the commandments – imperfectly, inconsistently, but increasingly – not to get something, but because you’ve already got it. And when you do sin, as the Father anticipated, when you fall short, the promise and provision is there: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

So really, its not about us, or up to us to “do all in our power to qualify ourselves to be worthy.” Its done. We get to rest.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Are You Tired? Part 1 of 2

Ever feel tired? You know, worn out, the number of tasks far outweighing the amount of energy and time you have. Frustrated? Once again you didn’t get done all that needed to be done, let alone all you wanted to get done. Did you neglect your spouse, your kids, your calling? Does that make you feel unworthy? If you were truly living the gospel and relying on the Holy Ghost shouldn’t you be as successful and happy as Sister Worthier or Brother Reliable? After all, the Ensign (a monthly periodical of the Mormon Church) says,

The Holy Ghost can be a personal and constant companion to each of us. …But it can bless us only if we live worthy of its companionship. This is up to us. … we must do all in our power to qualify ourselves to be worthy of it. When we keep the commandments, our worthiness increases, and we can enjoy the blessings of the Holy Ghost.” (Ensign, July 2006, p. 66)

Does that mean the converse is true? When we fail to keep the commandments our worthiness decreases and so do the blessings? Are you ever haunted by the scripture in James 2:10, “He who keeps the whole law, yet offends in one point is guilty of all.”

Honestly, if you are like me, its rare to not have broken several commandments before lunch time. Selfishness, impatience, anger without a just cause (which the Savior said was the same as murder), pride – they’re there, in our hearts and minds, sometimes buried deep, other times bubbling to the surface. What chance then of qualifying to be worthy?

But, what if the writer of the Ensign article was wrong? What if worthiness was a gift? What if there was a way to be worthy of Heavenly Father in spite of regularly sinning, falling short, failing to do “all we can do”? What if the presence of the Holy Ghost didn’t have to be earned? What if Heavenly Father actually anticipated we would fail Him and our spouse and our kids, and therefore set up a plan that took all that into account? We don’t have to ever be without His love or presence.

How? Is it possible? Does the idea even appeal to you? Our Heavenly Father is way ahead of us on this one ... next blog.