Thursday, March 31, 2016

MOTIVATION OF GRACE: THE TESTIMONY OF TWO NON-CHRISTIANS

Some years ago while in conversation with students on campus, a student from India said that back home he had a Mercedes sports car which he loved to drive fast. I asked him if he was concerned that the police might stop him. He said that they did stop him. I asked what he did. He smiled and told me that he simply showed them his I.D. and then his father’s photo, and because his father was the chief of police, they smiled and always waved him on. This man had immunity from speeding tickets because of who his father was. He seemed to be saying that he takes full advantage of it. How sad.

Not long after, I met Jesus, a Muslim attorney from the Middle East. His wife was working on a Ph.D. here and he spent his days caring for their son and so has little pressure. His home country is ruled by a king who has real authority. This friend likely knows that the secret police there have real authority to torture people almost at will. One day I asked Jesus what would happen if the King’s son raced his Mercedes through the capital city—would the police give him a ticket. He laughed at me, saying that he was the king’s son and so was above the law and could do what he wanted. I suggested that he could run over old ladies in crosswalks. He said that was true. He also said that everyone in the country wished to have this special relationship with the king so they would not have to be under the law. I then asked Jesus how it would affect him if his king paid the fantastic and unheard of price to adopt him into the royal family which would give him that privilege. Jesus smiled and said that he would be so thankful that he would always drive carefully watching out for the safety of others. He then added that he would never ever do anything wrong again out of thankfulness for what the king had done for him. I suggested that there would be a time where he might do something wrong. He said that would be impossible. I kept pushing and finally mentioned that if he forgot the price the king had paid, he could do something wrong. Jesus smiled and agreed.

Two men above the law. The first had no motivation of grace since he naturally was a son above the law. And so without the threat of punishment, he was careless about the law, being motivated by his own whims. The second man also had no obligation to law—and an even greater certainty of freedom. But he knew that his knowledge of the king’s love for him and the fantastic price paid to buy his adoption, was the obvious and sufficient motivation to always do good and not evil. The gift was so great that he didn't consider that he could ever not be thinking about it. Remembrance of the king’s grace would move him to always do good.

My Muslim attorney friend knows the heart of true Christianity. When I told him such and had him read Isaiah 53 and Hebrews 2 in a bilingual Bible, he smiled and asked if I could get for him such a Bible. He gladly took the one we were reading together. Sadly it seems easy for us Christians to fall into the thinking of the man from India--that no threat of consequences means little or no motivation to do what is good.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

ARE YOU A CHILD OF GOD OR OF THE DEVIL?

“It is always immoral to lower moral standards.”
–a philosophy professor’s words to me last fall

First, do you agree with this statement? Second, read the following verses from 1John 3 and evaluate yourself without making an immoral judgment, and then do the same for your favorite Christian. If no Christian honestly passes the test then either the translation is faulty, the text has been corrupted, the apostle John was confused, or you are reading his words in a confused way.
4. "Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."
5. "You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin."
6. "Everyone who remains in Him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him."
7. "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous."
8. "He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."
9. "Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his nature remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
10. "In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn't do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn't love his brother."

Behavior or Identity?


The Apostle John is declaring that all people can and should be evaluated by the words in this passage. I suggest that the John was very insightful about truth and wrote this letter with both the full knowledge of its meaning and the expectation that the Christian reader could understand it. Did you read the passage as about behavior? If so, did you pass the test? If you passed the test, did you do so without compromising the absolute statements in the text? I read this passage as about identity, and read it through the lens of continuous moral perfection. Therefore it is not difficult to evaluate who is of God and who is of the devil. But, you may ask, if one doesn't evaluate identity via behavior then how does one do it? It is by evaluation of words spoken from the heart. One simply has to figure out what the words mean. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

CHRISTIAN MATURITY: NOT WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN TAUGHT

What is Christian Maturity?


How you define Christian maturity significantly influences how you see the Christian life, how you read your Bible, how you deal with your failures, how you deal with the failures of other Christians, and how free you will be to be open and honest with other Christians and non-Christian friends. I suggest that there two general ways to answer this question, two very different roads, and two very different affects on you.  The following verse typifies the first.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:13

This beautiful verse was among those I memorized as a young Christian at university 35+ years ago. As a reserved, conflict-avoiding person, this verse really spoke to me. Now that I was a Christian those paralyzing hesitations could be a thing of the past. Christ in me meant that I could handle the difficulties of life. I had the Holy Spirit; I had a new heart and a new nature; God would always be with me. That word strength was attractive to me. To avoid being intimidated by my weaknesses I meditated on this verse and rejoiced in it much. For me Christian maturity was the process of growing in the strength of the Lord. Step by step, with Christ getting all the glory, I could stand firm in Him, in His grace, in His strength. This was what I thought and what I remember hearing others teach and tell me. Do you resonate with this? Can you even think of another way to think of maturity?

Fortunately in those early days I memorized other verses that spoke to me from other angles and they kept me from putting too much emphasis on that word strength.

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." -2Corinthians 12:9-10

This one taught me to see my weaknesses as assets and to celebrate them. It affected me much, but it would be many years before its place in Christian maturity dominated my thoughts and words. I now think that Christian maturity is becoming ever more sensitive to my weaknesses and my desperate need of Christ who is strong. Here is the clear choice of the two options.
  1. Christian maturity is growing stronger and stronger with Christ's help.
  2. Christian maturity is growing ever more sensitive to how very weak every Christian (especially self) is and how desperately needy each is of Christ moment by moment.
Please don't fool yourself and think that these are similar. Once you notice the significance of  number two you will grasp how radically different they are. In the last week two Christian men told me of two pastors who committed suicide--one was connected by marriage to one pastor and the other by denominational ties to the other. Both pastors couldn't handle the pressure of needing to be strong. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who writes for the religion section of the Mormon Church's newspaper. He wanted to discuss Mormons, Evangelicals and politics for his article, but we strayed quickly into our usual conversation about self-righteousness as the big sin problem in churches and in life in general. When I mentioned that Evangelicals generally believe number one above, he expressed surprise and declared that such is what Mormons believe. He was intrigued when I told him of my move from #1 to #2. In the past we have spoken much about the need for honesty about sin in light of the standard of perfection, and so #2 seemed to make sense to him for a Christian to believe.

In my dominant Mormon culture many Christians are from a Mormon background. They are Christians because they came to realize that they were fakes and failures. They then trusted that Jesus did all the work for them and found freedom and joy. Suddenly they are part of us. As they hear us say and preach that with a new heart and the Holy Spirit they can now obey the Lord and do what is right, and that maturity is growing in strength with Christ's help, what do you expect they might sense? Mormonism ingrains in its members that if they have real intent then God will help them keep all the commandments. Since they had been crushed by failure and phoniness under that teaching, how could our words not bring back those haunting memories?

Fruit of Each View


Here are some symptoms that reveal that you are thinking that maturity is a process of growing stronger and stronger with Christ's help. Evaluate yourself. Do you consider yourself to be an obedient Christian? If so what standard do you use? Do you struggle with thoughts that you are a horrible Christian and wonder if you will ever be a good Christian? Do you wish that you were a stronger Christian? Do you hesitate to speak openly and specifically about your weaknesses? Do you tend to make excuses for your failures? When you see other Christians, especially pastors, fall into "serious" sin, do you wonder how they could do that? When you sin do you have the thought that you need to read your Bible more or pray more? Do you think that of others? Do you see your weaknesses as a hindrance to growing as a Christian? Are you worried that other Christians might see you as weak? Is your testimony about the positive changes in our life? Is confession a duty, even a drag?

It is possible to see your weaknesses as the place of celebration in life, and be inconsistent, as I was, in a confused middle ground. When I heard #2 expressed, I embraced it immediately as the hidden cry of my heart. It had been there but I couldn't get it out without help. Do you see the clear distinction between the two options? Is #2 now the cry of your heart, and do you hope to never again say or think #1? If so then welcome to the party.

Here are some positive symptoms that indicate that you may think or are ready to think number 2. Do you see in yourself the seed of every sin you notice in others or can think of? Do you see yourself getting worse in the Christian life rather than better? Do your tiny sins that are invisible to others bother you? When you see other Christians, especially pastors, fall into "serious" sin, do you feel pity and know that such could happen to you if you forget your weakness? When you see Christians nearby sin, do you feel the urge to speak of the cross to comfort them? Do you know for sure that you are not an obedient Christian because perfect love is the standard? Do you find it easy to share your weaknesses and failings with others? When others point out your sins, do you freely welcome that criticism, knowing that you are worse than they know? When others share their failings with you, do you tend to smile and remind them that Jesus is all they need? Is you testimony about God saving a helpless sinner.  To you is confession of sin a glad reminder of your weakness and Christ's finished work? Is confession of sin a joy rather than a drag?

Pretending Away Weakness or Strength?


We all waver in our thoughts, but what you declare openly in your calm clear moments will be what you use to comfort, encourage, and teach yourself and others in times of trouble. If your principle is that Christianity is about becoming strong with Christ's help, then your weaknesses naturally will be seen as a hindrance. What we see as hindrances we tend to ignore, hide or pretend away. Also we tend to pretend that we are more mature than we really are. In this view we tend to confidence in our strength, which sure sounds like pride. Do you see the implications and how this view of maturity can lead to fear, isolation, pride, and false humility?  On the other hand, if your principle is that maturity is about increased awareness of weakness, then you will see  you weaknesses as good, and not see any need to hide them or pretend about them. You will celebrate them and boast in them--but that is what Paul did. If you have confidence in your weaknesses,then who would dare call you proud? Don't we actually call that humility? In this view confidence in your own strength or improvement is seen as bad and something to avoid and suppress. If you do that and boast about your weaknesses and even exaggerate them, and then on top of this you fool yourself into actually thinking that you have no good points in yourself to to trust in--if you actually convince yourself of this--would that really be a bad thing?

If you are tired of shallow relationships, excuse making, and pretending to be something you are not, then I suggest that you consider changing your view of Christian maturity. You may then be surprised at how easy it is to be honest about sin, how easy it is to forgive others, and how much you enjoy life and other people--even when they are failing. But feel free to fight against your weaknesses. As for me, I don't like the pain.

Christian maturity is becoming ever more sensitive to my weaknesses and my desperate need of Christ who is strong.


Friday, March 11, 2016

WHERE IS CHRISTIAN UNITY FOUND?

The Apostle Paul's Great Desire


Paul't great effort was to the purpose for all Christians "that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge." -Colossians 2:1-3

Notice that:
1) Paul desired all saints to be encouraged in heart.
2) All saints are already knit together. It is a done deal. It is finished.
3) The focus of that knitting together is love (God's). The implication is that it is not your (or other's) proper behavior.
4) The purpose of that knitting together is all the riches of the full assurance that comes from understanding.
5) The riches are total not partial.
6) The assurance is full not partial.
7) The foundation of the riches and assurance is understanding, This implies that it excludes your (or other's) proper behavior.
8) The understanding is focused on knowledge of the mystery of God.
9) The mystery of God is Christ.
10) ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ.
11) Since the treasures are hidden then they are not obvious.
12) A saint need search no where but Christ to discover the riches God has extended and that are already possessed in Christ.

A Vision of Encouragement Overflows


God through Paul expresses His vision and longing for all saints to be encouraged. Do you want encouragement? Then ponder what you have in Christ. Do you see a discouraged saint? Then gently remind that dear one of what you together have in Christ. Do you sense distance from other saints? Then apply the above in some way that puts you at the feet of the other that you might look together at the treasures in Christ. Do you see division among other saints? Then prepare yourself to be part of the solution by renewing you mind to this truth by simple submission through thankfulness. Thank God often for details of what it says and means and how it applies to you and to those giving the appearance of division. Then you will likely be a more-effective minister of reconciliation when the opportunity arises.

This is a community affair. Let's celebrate!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

SPIRIT VERSUS FLESH IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

"O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes on on you." -2Chronicles 20:12

Jehoshaphat, King of Judah (circa 850BC), was one of the high points in the Old Testament. This was his prayer before his people when he was informed that three armies were together approaching to war against him. He knew both that God was strong and compassionate, and that he and his people were helpless. God answered by immediately inspiring a prophet in the crowd to declare, 

The Object of Faith Fit for the Helpless

"Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, because the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow go down against them...you need not fight in this battle, station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem." -verses 14-16
The king and all the people then fell down and worshiped the Lord. Early the next morning the king and all the people went out of the safety of the city to the wilderness. The king then told the people to trust in the Lord. They all took counsel and and then the king appointed the singers to lead their peaceful march toward the approaching armies. 
"Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." -verse 21
As they sang and marched the Lord threw the enemy armies into confusion and those armies destroyed each other. The singing army collected the spoils from the lifeless enemy and sang in joy on their march back to Jerusalem. God's purpose for setting Israel in the center of the nations is then stated as the conclusion,
"And the dread of God was on all the kingdoms of the lands when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel." -verse 29

The Meaning of the Flesh/Spirit Conflict

Flesh versus spirit is the conflict between human strength and wisdom one one side, and God's strength and wisdom on the other. Read the Old Testament with this in view and you may be surprised at its commonness and clarity. Notice how the words flesh or spirit occasionally are even explicit. This conflict is not directly about sinning but rather about the focus of what one trusts in the moment. Trusting in human strength and wisdom bears the ugly fruit of sinfulness described in the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. Realizing one's helplessness and then trusting in God's provision (His strength and wisdom) bears the beautiful fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
Let's remember Jehoshaphat's experience so that when we are being threatened or mistreated, we also will see our helplessness and set our eye on the Father who has made us to be more than conquerors through him who loves us, no matter what comes our way.

Monday, March 7, 2016

FORGIVENESS WITH GOD IS BY FREEDOM FROM LAW

Three Ways to View Forgiveness of Sin: Which Way is Yours?

1. The first way is Nietzsche's way--denial of the existence of the moral world. He declared the strong person to be the one who can inflict great pain, hear the cries of the victims, and not be moved. Hitler loved Nietzsche's ideas and preached them to his generals seeking to persuade them to mercilessly annihilate the Russians, knowingly in violation of the war crimes treaties. A few self-identified atheists have told me that the moral world is unreal and forgiveness is only an emotional reaction. Two of them have had the courage to say that rape is never wrong because it is non-existent. One atheist has been repeatedly unwilling answer the question about rape's wrongness.
2. The second way is to see sin as individual moral failures and therefore evaluate and deal with them one by one. What does this look like? Each time a person sins against you, you decide to forgive or not forgive the person for that failure. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you hold grudges, sometimes you don't. It is common to wait to forgive until the offender requests it. It is also common to think that the offender needs to have some sorrow or repentance for forgiveness to not be taken advantage of. In this way of thinking, God sees, evaluates, counts, and deals with your sins one by one. Since Jesus died for all your sins, all your sins are individually laid on Jesus and therefore you are forgiven for each and every one that he carries for you. Sometimes one can think that those in heaven are those whose individual sins have been laid on Jesus and those in hell are those whose individual sins were not carried by Jesus. Sometimes this thinking can lead to doubts related to sins where one has not asked forgiveness out of neglect or pride.
3. The third way is to see sin as dishonor of God's goodness, of His perfect moral law. "God is well-pleased for righteousness' sake to exalt His law and make it glorious." -Isaiah 42:21 Thinking this way focuses understanding of sin and forgiveness on God's glory in His goodness, and perfect law as the only standard of judgment. Relations with God and other people here are thought of in terms of honoring perfect law: goodness, perfect love, and obedience as all or nothing. Since every person is born with the desire to exalt self over perfect law, and the heart is the source of all actions, then the law has already been dishonored at birth by every human alive. In the Bible and the human conscience it is written that goodness can only be honored by complete freedom from unmet moral obligations. This is accomplished either by perfect obedience to law or by total freedom from obligation to law. There is no other option because, as James declares, "He who keeps the whole law and offends in one point only is guilty of all." In this view evaluation of the moral failures of self and others is done in light of how to honor perfect law. Thus one finds that only one human action honors perfect law, and that is the appeal to the righteousness of Christ in His substitutionary death for sinners. When one is mistreated one sees Christ as the only hope for the violator, who is either 1) totally freed from rejection and condemnation in being identified with Christ in His death for helpless sinners, or 2) fully subject to God's righteous reaction against sin. Thinking this way frees one from the need to decide about forgiveness because one realizes that only God can forgive and that has already been settled at the cross. Moral failure is seen as caused by forgetfulness of or disregard for the meaning of the cross. Christ's death is not seen as payment for individual sins but rather as the establishment of the honor of the law. All men are law-breakers and Christ the divine law-keeper died the death that all men deserve. Death has been conquered and life in goodness above law offered freely to all. The mind is now free to focus sharply on the distinction between motivation from thankfulness for love received versus seeking a reward. Since perfection is always the standard, progressive obedience has no meaning. In this way of thinking sins are not forgiven but rather the person is forgiven, which means that the person is viewed through identity: either as under the authority of law or under the authority of grace. God has already taken care of the honor of the law and thus all saints are free to focus on boldly declaring that honor without having to keep score for self and others. Confession is now freely and primarily about perfect law established by Christ rather than about individual failures by humans. Confession of individual moral failures is now free from the pressure of imperfect manageable standards and can be done joyfully in full honesty in view of the finished work of Christ.
As you may suspect, I have chosen #3. Can it really be this good? Let's celebrate and invite everyone to the cross.

Friday, March 4, 2016

THE BLESSING OF LIVING IN MORMON CULTURE

Utah is a wonderful place to be a Christian and to learn to thrive in God's goodness.

The Mormon Migration to Utah


Utah is the home of Mormon culture. Before Mormons began to migrate here in the late 1840s Utah was a Mexican territory and the home to scattered native Americans as well as a few  industrious mountain men. Mormons fled Missouri and Illinois because they wanted freedom to practice their own religion without the persecution  and threats from  outsiders. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, began building their own peaceful society on the foundation of the Mormon religion, and, as a missionary religion, soon  began sending out groups to settle across Utah, Southern Idaho, and Western Wyoming. In 1848 the United States defeated Mexico and annexed Utah as a territory.  Once again the Mormons found themselves under US Government authority and subject to the pressure to conform to US cultural norms, most of which were based on European Protestantism. The pressure to conform to outside influence slowly grew over the years even though the Mormon church leaders dismissed that pressure for a long time.  Mormons saw their own religion as true, and with their centralized authority, sought to apply their religious principles to all aspects of society as they built it from the ground up. Since church and government were generally ruled by the same people , it was easy to plan towns, streets, civic buildings, church buildings, church organization, and welfare programs from the same desks or meetings. Utah was truly a planned religious society.

My Migration to Utah


When I arrived in Utah in 1983, Mormons made up about 1% of the US population but about 70% of the population of Utah. Salt Lake City, the capital and largest  city, was roughly 50% Mormon while the rest of the state hovered around  90%. Utah is a mountainous state with population centers in separated valleys. Early on, these centers, although very Mormon, began to develop their own character. Mining and railroad centers were rather rough. Salt Lake City was more refined and diversified. Utah Valley, which is now a computer software magnet, is the home of BYU, the Mormon Church's elite educational institution and likely still the largest private university in the US. BYU has a very strict honor code for its 30,000 students--99% of whom are Mormon. Tuition is highly subsidized by the Mormon church and so outsiders should not be surprised that a Mormon student who becomes a Baptist or Catholic is expelled for violating the honor code. That honor code overflows into the cities around it in such a way that religious rules and appearances are accentuated. The Mormon Missionary Training Center is near BYU, a fact which reinforces that trait.

After living near BYU for four months  I moved to Logan in Cache Valley, which is the home of USU--a public university with an 80% Mormon population. As an outsider the contrast was immediately evident to me. Facial hair was prohibited at BYU, and my neighbors had disagreed with each other about the acceptability of watching television on Sundays. In Logan facial hair was not uncommon and Sunday television viewing was not a controversial subject. But this difference didn't mean the residents didn't take their religion seriously. Theirs was a quiet confidence. Because I witness at USU often during the good weather, Mormon students from across the state and country stop to speak with me. Their stories are very enlightening. They make clear distinctions between Mormons from Utah and elsewhere. 

In 32 years as a Christian missionary in Logan, I have had thousands of religious conversations with Mormons and suspect that our valley may be the easiest place in all of the country to have conversations with people about the way to heaven. Religion is a natural part of life here and it is not uncommon to overhear religious conversation in  stores, banks, parks, or hospital elevators. This really takes the pressure off Christians, but living as a tiny minority here is a revelation of our character.  Most of us lack  confidence. We Christians are God's ministers of reconciliation to bring  peace to those who are God's enemies. God calls us to love them which implies honoring them and listening to their views in order to earn the right to speak law and grace to them. Of course they will express ideas we think false. Of course they will try to convince us of that their church is true. But persuasion is the name of the game. Christian faith is being persuaded that the finished work of Christ is all the work necessary for a person to be fully right with God. Since ours is the true persuasion, we need not fear, but do need to learn how to invite others into our persuasion. To do that well we need to learn three things: 1) to love people, 2)  to understand them and their religious thinking and language, and 3) to understand our own message. 


The Big Blessing


Living among Mormons and seeking to discuss with them the way of salvation can be uncomfortable and self-revealing. Mormons use Christian vocabulary but with different definitions. They are taught certain standard questions and answers. Their organizational leadership is not haphazard in its education of its leaders, missionaries and lay people. They prepare them to communicate their message in a way that is persuasive and to protect themselves from being persuaded by others. They use words in highly nuanced ways to seek to communicate that they also believe in grace. They are fully convinced that we all believe the same thing and that the only real difference is that they have a more complete message. They also prepare defensive strategies to handle questions from Christians. They are genuinely seeking to show that their religion has good answers and good challenges for others. Some of their questions, even when kindly expressed, are troubling to Christians. We have the option of blaming, becoming argumentative or defensive--or we can gladly welcome hard (seemingly trick) questions as an opportunity to think more deeply and carefully about truth and what we believe. First, let's be honest that we all need to think more clearly. Second, let's be honest that God can use Mormons to help us to notice our need to grow in grace. And finally, let's relax, put behind us the competition to be right, look together with them to the goodness of the law and the gospel, and lead with expressions of self-reflection. Admission of weakness is one of our huge assets. Let's use it. 

Also, I suggest that Christian culture has a hidden drawback. We Christians use religious words, but how often are we simply repeating empty words? We generally trust one another and those who teach us. But what is the meaning of what is spoken, and is it true? The apostle Paul honored the Bereans who eagerly listened to his teaching but then searched the scriptures daily to see if what he said was true. It would be good if we all did that. It would also be good if our hearers did that with our words. Do we encourage such, or even want it? We in Cache Valley who speak often with Mormons about the way of salvation have been forced to admit that we are not free from talking in circles or using empty words. It is very common for Christians here to avoid religious discussion with Mormons because without clarification of terminology, conversation can reveal pride that then leads to contention and frustration. And who wants that? The first step to a new persuasion is clear communication. And the first step to clear communication is to carefully define religious words to help us understand what each other means by the words used. Too often even this can be contentious because of the pride of fighting over who has the right definitions. The most important step is to embrace the truth that the people you are speaking with are valuable to God, even when they are wrong, confused, prideful, or worse. Truth is persuasive. If my understanding is true, real, and in harmony with the human conscience, then mutual understanding will give truth significant room to work in the other person--and in me. I have learned a lot  about truth from listening to others tell me their false ideas. Instead of assuming that we think clearly, let's keep seeking more clarity. If I seek this for myself it will not be difficult to help others seek it. 

The world is full of counterfeit religions. God is good. He therefore requires moral perfection and cannot ever compromise that perfection. His good desire was to reconcile the world to Himself. He came to earth in His Son, died the death of all men and offers reconciliation as a gift to all. This is the heart of the Christian message. All false religions deny and twist this simplicity. But Mormonism is unusual in that 1) it is very missionary minded, 2) most of its converts come out of cultural Christianity, 3) it ingrains in its members that all religion is basically the same, and 4) therefore Mormon leaders have sought diligently to perfect their message to be persuasive to cultural Christians. Since they believe all religion is the same, it is natural for them to justify becoming ever more nuanced in terminology to win people to their cause. Far and away modern Mormonism is the best counterfeit religion there ever was. Likely many Christians are fooled in conversation with Mormons when Mormons speak of Jesus and grace and declare that they are really just trying to follow Jesus' call to love other people. On the surface that sounds good. Just as bank tellers learn to spot counterfeit money, not by  study, but by  handling real money, so we saints in Mormon culture can learn to detect counterfeit religion the same way. I liken it to living in the den of master gospel counterfeiters. Less than 2% here attend a Catholic or Protestant church and nearly all the others are Mormons. Many  Mormons  like to talk about religion using our words, but the real meaning behind their words is  “do more and try harder”. The beautiful surprise of living here is the privilege of common conversation about the word of grace which is the true religion. All around us people are handing us counterfeit words of grace, and some are very deceptive. Our job is to discern the true from the counterfeit, not get distracted or discouraged, and to give to each other and to the counterfeiters words of true grace. 

I suggest that Mormonism reveals that there is still significant counterfeit thinking among Christians everywhere, not just here. Do you want to become adept at spotting the counterfeit? My mind is full of lies and needs to be renewed to the gospel. How about yours? I want all the lies in my mind exposed, and exposed ASAP. If you have any lies in your thinking would you want them revealed, so that you can get rid of them? If not, then Utah may not be the place for you. But if so, then engage Mormons in religious conversation. What those conversations will reveal is that you are not as patient a person as you think you are, and that your theology has more holes than you think it does. One of the four planned monthly topics I’ll be discussing is the blessing of living among Mormons as an aid to growth in grace and  to cleanse our minds of lies about law and grace. Be warned.  This may get personal. It certainly has for us who live here. 


What Is Grace?


Our first topic for discussion in the next monthly post on this theme will be the question: what is grace. But here is a teaser to ponder until then. The Mormon church states that it believes and teaches grace. If you read closely the short entry for grace in the bible dictionary on the Mormon Church’s website at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/grace you will notice more clarity and honesty than when in conversation with the typical Mormon. This is because conversation is personal and conviction from conscience leads to condemnation which leads to obfuscation and self-justification. Mormons express the following three basic meanings of grace.
  • The Book of Mormon gives a description of grace as a privilege--the privilege to be resurrected in order to be judged by one's works.
  • Mormons commonly declare that grace is God's help, strength, or power to do what is right.
  • They most commonly describe grace as something that comes through God's love and mercy. It is his covering of sin when one fails to do what is right. God will always give another chance to pick oneself up and to seek his forgiveness. All you need to do is repent.  
These seem simple, but conversation is easily confused when we don't realize that the other person is shifting seamlessly between definitions depending on the need of the moment, mostly for personal security issues.

In light of the above last two Mormon definitions of grace, how would you evaluate the following statement? Many Christians are like Mormons, except that the Mormons are more honest about their ignorance of grace.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

PAIN: THE BLESSING OF A GOOD FREINDSHIP

"The Wounds of a Friend Are Better Than the Kisses of an Enemy."

-Proverbs 27:6 

Very early in my Christian life at university I was told that great value was gained in reading the Psalms and Proverbs, trusted that advice, and began to read them daily. The Proverbs seemed to offer wisdom, which I wanted and knew I lacked. To help me remember and ponder key points of wisdom, I memorized some that struck me. Early on the above uncomfortable proverb forced its way onto my list as it seemed like something that would be good and important for me to learn. Being of an extreme conflict-avoidance tendency, I applied it in a very selfish way that avoided conflict. I told myself that since this proverb was true, then whatever uncomfortable or painful teaching, criticism, or correction a friend gave to me, it was good for me and was a blessing from God. Simple prayers helped me embrace this proverb, at least in that one direction. "God please help me remember that all painful words are blessings to me. And help me welcome all criticism as friends sent from your hand of grace."

After more than ten years the Lord began to get my attention that it was time for me to take seriously my need to be a good friend to others. Though I had welcomed their wounds kindly, and knew that discomforting words were a two-way street, I had been almost completely resistant to speaking uncomfortable words to other saints to help them grow in grace. Fortunately I have been under the authority of His grace the subsequent 25 years, experiencing His delight and patience as He has urged me to trust Him in this. Foot-dragging and baby steps seem to be my feeble responses so far.