Archive for March, 2011

26
Mar
11

A LITTLE WORK – A LOT OF PRESSURE

I love March Madness – the NCAA basketball tournament.  It is great seeing the players’ passion and the fans’ spirit.  And inevitably, each year, there are exciting games won with someone making a basket at the buzzer.  It’s a fun time.

But especially for the player who has to make that basket at the buzzer, it can be a time of tremendous pressure.  Imagine the following scenario.   Five seconds are left in the game.  Your team is down by one point.  If you lose, the season is over. Your coach calls time out, looks down the bench to where you are sitting, and motions you to check into the game.  As you pass him, he pulls you aside and tells you to take the last shot.  “We are counting on you.  It’s all up to you.”

Talk about pressure.  Especially if you have sat on the bench the entire game to that point.  Few people would enjoy being in that situation.  Fewer people would succeed in that situation.

But that is the position a lot of Mormons feel they are in.  It is inaccurate to say that Mormonism teaches that people are saved by their works alone.  Mormonism talks about God’s grace.  But it doesn’t teach that people are saved by grace alone. “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.”  (LDS Bible Dictionary)

This puts a lot of pressure on many Mormons.  I realize that some Mormons will respond to that statement with ridicule and disbelief –saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  But those comments do not negate the many other comments made by Mormons over the years.  Just last week a LDS woman commented on how the Mormon church’s expectations for women are “over the top” with the result that she has quit going.  (And no, she’s not lazy or looking for the easy way out.)

Pause for a moment and think of the tremendous pressure that the Mormon teaching of “total effort” exerts on many Mormons.  Imagine trying to live under that.  Even if we think that we have to contribute only 1% to our salvation – that opens the door to a whole lot of worry.  It’s like the sub coming off the bench and being told that he has to make only one basket – the winning basket.  But with one big difference.  The pressure Mormonism places on many of its adherents doesn’t last just for a few moments – it’s there for an entire lifetime.

How much better is the biblical message of Titus 3:4-7:  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,  5Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  The comforting biblical message is that Jesus took the pressure off by doing it all for us.  This is a message more and more Mormons are hearing – and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, believing.  Thanks be to God for that.

 

 

15
Mar
11

The Living Prophet

Ever since last fall’s General Conference, the LDS Church has been emphasizing the authority of the living prophet.  Twice in that General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1980 speech, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”, was not just referred to but cited quite heavily.  In fact, two different speakers listed all fourteen fundamentals.  This is striking because this was and has remained a controversial speech even among Mormons.  Numerous active LDS members have told me how they take that speech with a large grain of salt.  That critical attitude was also evident in numerous posts made by Mormon bloggers after General Conference.

It’s not difficult to see why this speech causes discomfort among some Mormons.  Here are the 14 fundamentals.  Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy listed them with this introduction: “Because they are of such great importance to our very salvation, I will repeat them again.” (my emphasis)

“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.

“Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

“Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

“Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.

“Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.

“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

“Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.

“Fourteenth: [Follow] … the living prophet and the First Presidency … and be blessed; reject them and suffer.”

Those are quite lofty claims!

But this emphasis on the living prophet hasn’t ended there.  In subsequent months, statements about the importance of following the living prophet have been appearing on the pages of the official LDS magazine, Ensign.  In fact, March’s edition spotlights this again in its column, “What We Believe”.

I, for one, am happy to see this emphasis.  I say that because it has been an ongoing frustration to quote a living prophet only to have it downplayed by Mormons as not binding.  But that is not what Benson said above.  It’s obvious that, by twice quoting those fundamentals at General Conference, the present Church agrees with Benson.  As the January edition of the Ensign states, “God continues to reveal truths to living prophets through the revelation of the Holy Ghost.  These truths are considered scripture (see D&C 68:4).  They come to us primarily through general conference, held the first weekend in April and October, when members throughout the world hear addresses from our prophet and other Church leaders.”

With statements like the above, the proper method for seeing what Mormonism truly teaches is looking at what its prophets and leaders have said rather than what individual members say.  And when a individual member’s position differ from that of the prophet, doesn’t honesty demand that, on the specific topic under discussion, that the member is not representing official Mormon teaching?

 

02
Mar
11

A Sobering Scripture

 

One of the more sobering Scripture passages is James 4:17.  “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”  This passage emphasizes an aspect of sinfulness that people often don’t consider.  The first thing most people think of when sin is mentioned are sinful things they have done.  Often the idea that we sin by not doing something is not that prominent in their thinking.  But this passage tells us that many of our sins are ones of omission.

Stop and think what this passage is saying.  Here is just one application. Every time I fail to love my wife with the same sacrificial love of Jesus, I sin.  That means every time I put my wants before hers (whether in what to eat, what TV show to watch, what activity to do), I sin.  That means whenever I tell her I can’t help her right then because I need time for myself, I sin.  That means when my love for her is not completely perfect, I sin.  All this is sin because Scripture says:  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”  (Ephesians 5:25).  Jesus never once thought of himself.  He never put himself before us.  And, according to this verse, his love is to be my pattern.  That is just one “good” I know.  But I sadly admit that that is the good that I don’t always do.  How many times a day do I fail to do this?  How many times a week do I fail to do this?  How many times in our marriage have I failed to do this?  Here is one instance that the word countless is not an exaggeration.

Loving my wife as Christ loved the church is just one of hundreds of “good” things that I know.  In fact, it is just one tiny aspect of the good of loving all people.  And that is just one of many good things God tells us to do.  The more I think about it, the more examples of sin come to mind.  Just a few minutes reflection on this passage convinces me that sin is what I regularly do.  It also convinces me that no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to stop sinning.  There will always be some “good” that I won’t do.

Couple that with something James says a couple of chapters before and the situation becomes even bleaker.  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (2:10)

Many don’t see the intent or feel the full force of these passages. Scripture tells us that the reason why God gives us such sobering commands, why he has given us the law, is to open our eyes to the seriousness of our sinfulness.  (Romans 3:20).  It’s only after people see the enormity of their sins that they will give up on thinking that they can do anything whatsoever to contribute to their living eternally with heavenly Father.  It’s then, hopefully, that they see the wonderful fact that Jesus has done it all for them – that solely because of what Jesus has done can they live eternally with Heavenly Father.

The less people see their sinfulness, the less value they will attach to Jesus and what he has done for them.  Conversely, the more people see their sinfulness, the more valuable Jesus and his work will be to them.  It all starts with how we see ourselves.  And that is why we need to take seriously these passages.

 




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