Posts Tagged ‘Christianity



15
Nov
12

Revelation through Feelings

The November issue of Ensign, the monthly magazine of the LDS Church, contains all the talks given at the recent General Conference.  Therefore it is an important issue and one that many members will study for the next six months.

One talk that caught my eye was by Elder Craig C. Christensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy.  It was about the Holy Ghost and how he “communicates to our spirits through feelings and impressions” (p. 13).  He talks about how his six-year old son received a strong feeling as they toured an LDS temple before it was dedicated and how he was experiencing the influence of the Holy Ghost.  The following quote from that article summarizes well his message.

“As inspired thoughts come into our minds, we know them to be true by the spiritual feelings that enter into our hearts. President Boyd K. Packer has taught: “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. . . . While we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling . . .’” It is through these sacred feelings from the Holy Ghost that we come to know what God would have us do, for this, as stated in scripture, “is the spirit of revelation.” (p.14)

Revelation through feelings, as this talk illustrates, is an important component of Mormonism.  And it’s another thing in a long list that reveals the great difference between Mormonism and the Bible.  According to the Bible, it is the place of the Holy Ghost’s revelation.  It is the Spirit-filled word – it is the lamp which shows us our way – it is where Christ is revealed to us.  Mormons would agree with that (adding the caveat “as far as it is translated correctly).  The difference, however, is that the Bible claims to be the only source of revelation.  Isaiah 8:19-20 is just one example of that.  And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

On top of that, feelings can be so fickle – and wrong!  During my ministry, I can’t count how many times I talked with individuals who weren’t concerned that they were violating a direct command of God contained in the Bible because, “it felt right”.  Or “I prayed about it and God said it was OK.”  Just a couple of talks later in the Ensign, Elder Bowen talks about the guilty feelings that he still sometimes has 22 years later over the accidental death of his son.  He shares that, not because he wants to legitimize those feelings, but to say how they weren’t warranted. My point is: how come those feelings weren’t from the Holy Ghost revealing to him that he actually was guilty of doing something wrong?

Some of my LDS friends have sincerely said they feel sorry for me because I only have the Bible to rely on.  I understand where they are coming from.  But I don’t think they understand when I reply how thankful I am that I only have the Bible to rely on.  There God has told me everything I need to know for salvation and for living a life to his glory. There the Holy Spirit has revealed to me wonderful truths about God and his love for me.  There the Holy Spirit reassures me that I will live with Heavenly Father for all eternity solely because of what Jesus has done for me – even when I don’t feel like I’m going to.  Thank God that he has given us the sure rock of his holy Word on which to base our faith!

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09
Nov
12

God is good – life can be hard

Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on Genesis 20 and how good God is.  Today I would like to share a few thoughts on Genesis 21.  This chapter records the miraculous birth of Isaac – an event that Paul expands on in both Galatians and Romans.  But the thing that struck me as I read it this morning is how there is no escaping the fact that sin often makes life difficult.

Genesis 21 tells us how Sarah laughed in joy and faith at the birth of Isaac.  (Isaac means “he laughs” a name that God gave him because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God first told them that they would have a son.)  But then in the very next paragraph we hear how Ismael didn’t laugh, he mocked Isaac.  In fact, Paul in Galatians 4 says Ishmael was persecuting Isaac.  This reminds me of the comment made by Luther that the devil is God’s ape.  He apes the ways of God but always with a vicious twist.  Here he causes Ishmael to viciously mimic Sarah’s laughter with mockery.  Sin turns the happy picture sour.

So much so that Sarah demands that Ishmael and his mother be banished. The Bible says this distressed Abraham.  It’s not hard to see why.  After all, Ismael was his only son until Isaac was born about 15 years later.  There is no doubt he loved him.  But he probably also thought if only he wouldn’t have gone down that sinful path and tried to have a son by Hagar none of this would be happening.  He realized that his own actions had brought a lot of this grief upon himself.

This illustrates a truth that is often bitter for us to accept.  And that is that even though God forgives us our sins, he still often makes us suffer some of the earthly consequences of it.  The person who stole turns to God and is forgiven.  But he still might have to serve jail time.  The believer stumbles and gossips about his friend.  He is forgiven but he might suffer a strained or even broken relationship.  God often makes us suffer the consequences of our sins – because he loves us.  He knows that, without suffering those consequences, we might continue in that sinful action.  As Hebrews 12 makes clear, discipline is a sign of God’s love for us.  But that doesn’t make it always easy to bear.  Because of sin, life can be hard.

It was hard for Abraham.  It was hard on Hagar and Ishmael – forcing them to flee. Later in the chapter we see Abimelech coming to make a treaty with Abraham.  After he was deceived by Abraham in chapter 20, he doesn’t trust him.  That had to feel like a knife in Abraham’s chest.  Sin has consequences.  Sin makes life hard.

But throughout, God remains faithful.  He reassures Abraham when he is distressed about sending away his son Ishmael.  He provides for Hagar and Ishmael when they flee and later on as Ishmael grows up.  He is our good shepherd watching over us sheep – sheep who often act dumb and sinfully.

I needed to be reminded of the reality that, because of sin, life can be hard at times.  I needed that reminder so I’m not surprised when that happens.  I needed that reminder so that I don’t entertain any notion that I can keep my life free of problems.  We live in a sinful world.  That means we will have problems.  The worst thing is to have the illusion that God will make all our problems go away. Talk about setting ourselves up for disappointment.

But I also needed the reminder that the Lord is always there for me – even when I don’t see that.  He continues to bless me in spite of my sins.  He continues to provide for me in spite of my ingratitude.  He continues to protect me in spite of my foolishness.  And most importantly of all, he continues to promise me that I will be spending eternity in his presence, as a member of his eternal family, because Jesus has covered every inch of me with his righteousness.  What a wonderful faithful Lord we have. To God be all glory!

08
Nov
12

God’s Unconditional Love

For my personal devotional time I have been taking a close look at Abraham’s life as it is recorded in Genesis.  Although the Bible calls him the father of believers and holds him up as an example of faith, the truly remarkable element running through his story is how God loved him so unconditionally.  This is seen right in the beginning of his story (Genesis 12:1-3) as God promises him tremendous blessing without once ever mentioning anything that Abraham had to do to merit those blessings.  God was going to bless him.  Period.

As I said, this runs throughout Abraham’s story.  This morning I spent time in Genesis 20.  This is a remarkable chapter for a number of different reasons but one reason is not because it is a shining example of Abraham’s faith!  On the contrary, here we see a glaring example of how sometimes Abraham was very weak in his faith.  There we see Abraham telling Sarah, his wife, to pass herself off as his sister because he was afraid that the Philistine king, Abimelech, would kill him if he knew that she was his wife.  If that wasn’t bad enough, this is not the first time Abraham had tried that.  He did the same thing years ago with Pharaoh. See Genesis 12.  But even though the Lord had stepped in and proven to Abraham that he would protect them, Abraham now does the same thing again!  Obviously, he didn’t learn from his previous sin.

But to make matters even worse, the incident recorded in chapter 20 happens shortly after the Lord had told both Abraham and Sarah that she would give birth to a son in the coming year – the son who would be the ancestor of the Savior.  Therefore, by allowing Abimelech to take Sarah as his wife, Abraham was actively putting this promise at great risk.  If there was any time Abraham should have been careful with Sarah, it should have been then!  It’s an understatement to say that Abraham doesn’t come off very well in this chapter.

But the Lord surely does.  Not only does he again get actively involved and protect both Abraham and Sarah, but he also continues to honor Abraham as a prophet!  He tells Abimelech that Abraham will pray for him and because of that, he will not die.  In this whole incident, the pagan Abimelech comes off better than Abraham, the father of believers.  But Abraham is the one who is still blessed by God.  This story becomes a wonderful illustration of how God often blesses his believing children in spite of themselves – how his blessings are often totally unconditioned on what we do.

What a comfort that is.  I hate to admit it, but I often find that I can identify more easily with Abraham when he shows weakness of faith than when he is strong in his faith.  It doesn’t take me too long to see instances in my own life where I repeated a sin –even after I learned how foolish it was to do that the first time. If always receiving a blessing from God depended on my worthiness, I would be far less blessed.  Thank God, therefore, that he loves us, not because we are always loveable, but just because he is love.  Thank God that he didn’t wait to save us until we were worthy of being saved.  Thank God that, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)  Thank God that he doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but rather loves us even though we don’t deserve it.  Thank God that he loves unconditionally!

23
Aug
12

THE ONLY SAFETY?

The following quotation is found in the teacher’s manual for lesson 32 of the Gospel Doctrines Class.  It is from President Harold B. Lee.

“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).

Just before this the teacher is encouraged to write on the chalkboard, “Follow the prophet ‘with exactness’”.  This is just one example of many illustrating the fact that the LDS Church teaches that its final authority is not the Bible. It is not even their other scriptures.  The final authority in the LDS Church is the living prophet.

All this coincides with its belief in continuing revelation – that God needs to give revelation because the world and circumstances change.  This point was made to me years ago by a LDS leader who told me that he felt sorry for me because all I had to live by was the Bible!

A couple of things come to mind because of this emphasis on the living prophet.  One is that this is still another in a long list of proofs of how much Mormonism differs from Christianity.  Christians do not think that their only safety comes from giving heeds to the words of the living prophet.

Another thought is the question of why the Lord is not revealing more new things through his prophet.  The last official “new” doctrine was the proclamation in 1978 allowing blacks to be in the priesthood.  Now almost everybody is agreed that the world has seen more change in the last thirty years than ever before.  It would seem that if the reason why there has to be continuing revelation from God is because things change, then it seems that we should have expected a whole lot of new revelation these past 30 years!  If not now with all this rapid change, when?

But most seriously of all, if people follow the words of the prophet as he reinforces the LDS doctrine that eternal life in the presence of heavenly Father is not solely the work of Jesus but is something that people also have to earn – if they follow that teaching the gates of hell will prevail against them while the gates of heaven will remain close to them.

17
Aug
12

Keeping the Commandments

This is a phrase that is commonly heard in Mormonism.  Many people in Provo countered with it as I talked about already being perfect in Christ.  They could not conceive of perfection in Christ without our doing something also -without our also keeping the commandments.

This phrase also appears repeatedly in Chapter 15 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith, the manual currently being studied in the LDS Church.  The chapter continues the discussion of mission work and is entitled, “Advancing the Work of the Lord”.  The following quote from that chapter is especially telling.

“Zion will be redeemed and the world, which now misunderstands the work of ‘Mormonism’, will live to know that it is the power of God unto salvation to those who will keep the commandments of our Father.” (p.165)

Compare that to Romans 1:16.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”  “It is the power of God unto salvation to” are identical in each quote.  But then what a difference! Mormonism points to a person’s keeping of the commandments while the Bible points to a person’s belief.

This illustrates what I heard repeatedly on the streets of Provo.  And not just there. This also illustrates what I have heard repeatedly from the LDS Church and its members over the years. The emphasis of Mormonism, even when the topic is salvation, is not on trusting and believing in what Jesus has done for us but rather on keeping the commandments.

Yes, it is the desire of every believer to try and keep God’s commandments.  LDS members grossly misunderstand Christians when they think that we believe that we can run amuck in sin because we believe that we are saved freely.  Nothing is further from the truth than that.  The key difference, however, is our motivation. Believers try and keep the commandments not as something we need to do to be saved, but rather out of gratitude for already being saved through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death.

That difference in motivation makes all the difference in the world.  For any reliance on our works in the matter of salvation does nothing less than ruin that salvation.  You can’t mix God’s grace and our works.  “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)

27
Jun
12

Who is Jesus?

Lesson 26 of the Gospel Doctrine curriculum covers Alma 24-29 in the Book of Mormon.  These chapters consist mainly of the supposed story of the converted Lamanites and do not contain much doctrine.  Because of that I am going to use one comment made by the teacher’s manual as a springboard to explain biblical Christianity’s view of Jesus especially as it differs from Mormonism’s view of him.  I am doing that not only because that is a question many Mormons ask, but one that has been asked here.  The comment in the teacher’s manual that got me thinking about that was:  Why is it essential that Jesus Christ be at the center of our conversion?”

In its bare wording, I can wholeheartedly agree with that.  But the key, of course, is what does that mean.  I usually focus on showing the difference ways Mormonism and the Bible describe the effects or consequences of what Jesus did for us.  In this post, however, I will list a few ways that Mormonism and biblical Christianity differ in describing who Jesus is.

Biblical Christianity has always placed Jesus, as the Son of God, on the very same level as the Father.  Even though it is logical to assume that the Father is older than the Son and deserves greater honor; that is not biblical.  I say that fully aware that, during his time on earth, Jesus himself says that the Father is greater than he.  (I will return to that shortly.)  I say that because the Bible itself gives them equal honor.  Think, for example, of the command to baptize in the name (interesting that it is singular and not plural – but that is a topic for another time) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  Or consider what Jesus said in John 5:23.  “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”  The word “even” in that passage has the force of “equal” as is seen in many translations that translate “just as”.

The Bible also talks about the eternity of the Son in the sense of having no beginning or end.  John 1:1 simply states.  “In the beginning was the Word”.  In other words, the Word was already there in the beginning.  The Bible also calls him “the mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) and, according to the Bible, God didn’t become God.  He was always God.

These are just a couple of many different ways that we see the Bible placing the Son on the same level as the Father.  But what about those passages, especially in the gospel of John, that indicate that Jesus is under the Father?  The key to understanding those passages is Philippians 2:5-11. “ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Verse 6 admittedly is difficult to translate from the Greek even though the Greek is quite clear.  The difficulty is not a matter of wondering what the Greek says.  The difficulty is not having the words in English to express those thoughts.  What Paul says in verse 6 is that even though Christ was in “very nature” (some translations) God, he didn’t want to publicly display his equality with God – he didn’t want to make a big deal of it.  Instead he did the complete opposite – he took the very nature of a slave, even to the point of being obedient to dying on the cross.

Those are the facts.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us the reason Jesus did that.  “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”  Jesus did this to give us the riches of forgiveness, eternal life, and the blessedness of living with Heavenly Father for all eternity.  In other words, he humbled himself and became his Father’s slave to save us.  That wasn’t his true nature – his true nature was God– but that was the nature he took upon himself for his mission of saving us.  And that is why, while on that mission, speaking as a slave, he could say that his Father was greater than he.

Compare that to the teachings of Mormonism.  It states that Jesus is a spirit child of Heavenly Father and Mother as supposedly not only all humans are, but also the devil and all the demons.  It states that Jesus was our brother, not just when he became flesh (John 1:14) but already before his birth in Bethlehem.  It states that Jesus was not always true God but like all –even his Father, he had to attain to godhood.  It tells its members to pray to the Father through Jesus, but it never tells its members to pray directly to Jesus as Stephen did in Acts 7.  In these and in many other ways, Mormonism does not give the Son equal honor with the Father.

Over the years I have asked Mormons one simple question to illustrate this fact.  Who is the one God that the Bible talks about? Keeping to its teachings, it can’t give both the Father and the Son that honor – something that Christians don’t hesitate to do. That is just one of many differences between Mormonism’s and Christianity’s views of Jesus.

And that is important because as Jesus himself said:  “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.  He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23)

16
May
12

Scriptures

Chapter ten of the Teachings of George Albert Smith is about the scriptures and the encouragement to use them.  Whenever the Scriptures are the topic, one of the most visible lines of demarcation between Mormonism and Christianity appears seeing that Mormonism includes three other books as Scripture; namely, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

This has also been one of the most hotly debated topics between Mormons and Christians.  Understandably so.  Nothing influences people’s beliefs more than what they consider the word of God.

Over the years, many Christians have listed many problems they have with LDS Scriptures. They have cited the lack of archaeology proof for the Book of Mormon; its similarity in many places with the King James Version; the Book of Abraham in reality being a funeral Egyptian text to name just a few.

One thing that I always have found curious is that the books of Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price are supposedly the correct version of the similar accounts in Genesis.  If that is correct, why didn’t Jesus point that out when he walked the earth?  We know that the Genesis account as is contained in the Bible is the one that the Jews of Jesus’ day used.  We know that from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other sources. If that account was as corrupted as indicated by the Pearl of Great Price, why didn’t Jesus correct it?  I suppose somebody could claim that Jesus’ correction was one of the plain and precious truths that Mormonism claims were taken out of the Bible.  But that is very difficult to believe.  Just think of how Jesus’ Jewish opponents could have used that to incite the crowds!  “He’s changing our Scriptures!”  It’s difficult to believe that all traces of that could be wiped out, not only from the Bible, but from ancient history.

I doubt, however, that this argument will have much effect on most Mormons.  After all, accepting books as Scripture are more a matter of belief than reason.

Over the years I have found a better way of showing the differences between the Bible and LDS Scriptures.  It is emphasizing the unique and glorious message of the Bible that salvation and my living with heavenly Father is entirely, completely, 100% God’s gift.  That we don’t have to do one single thing to receive that – that we can’t do anything to receive it.  When it comes to being accepted by God the only thing that counts is what Jesus did for me. The more I emphasize that, the more I hear from Mormons wanting to learn more.  That shouldn’t surprise me.  Because, as the Bible says, that gospel message is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.




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