Archive for May, 2011

I Love Mormons – by David L. Rowe

May 23, 2011 2 comments

I don’t often feel the need to give my 2 cents (which is about all this is worth) about a book but I guess there is always a time and a place for everything. On my latest trip to Half-Price Books, which have become more and more frequent, a book called “I Love Mormons” caught my eye.

There are a growing number of books dedicated to the discussion of the many facets of Mormonism. Some are great, while others tend to be the same recycled material. There is something different about this book and its approach to Mormonism. Instead of taking the hard-line, doctrinal approach, it focuses 90% of its pages on the LDS culture which is the driving force behind its teachings, how they are put into practice and the subsequent impact on members lives. In short…it is woven into EVERYTHING.

The book’s premise is simple. Due to the influence of the LDS church in every part of the believer’s life, opening their eyes to the truth of the Bible and how Mormonism contradicts it is better done once certain nuances of how they think and act are understood. He proposes “A new way to share Christ with Latter-day Saints” as the sub-title reads. Let’s take a closer look at his proposed way of evangelizing to them.

One of the reoccurring themes Rowe talks about is the LDS Persecution Complex. This is the tendency for Mormons to see most (if not all) questions about their belief system and way of living as an attack. The origin of this deeply ingrained perspective has its roots in the very early days of the church’s existence. LDS history often teaches that the early Latter-day Saints (as they will call themselves) were heavily persecuted by those living around them. It is a common belief that these persecutions were un-provoked, and some were. But a closer, more thorough look at the historical accounts show that the Mormons were not the innocent victims being portrayed today. Some examples of this are briefly outlined in chapter 3.

If someone begins to talk with members of the LDS church about their beliefs, it will not take long before you see them pull the persecution card. In many ways, it is a method of protection designed to discredit any information that comes from outside the church that is not “faith-promoting”. This can be subjective and will be triggered without intent or warning. This understanding is important to his approach because once you are seen through this lens; the chance of being able to effectively reach-out to that person will be almost non-existent. I did this as a Mormon and have recently experienced it from the other side as well.

As a result of this inclination to shut-down any real conversation once an “attack” is perceived, Rowe suggests that direct questions about doctrine are better kept in our hip pocket until there is more relational trust. I would agree with that based on my own personal experience.

He tells a number of stories of people he has interacted with that ring true to me as a former Mormon. The stories dealt with the different potential reasons Mormons might be inclined to distance themselves from the LDS church. These include a deeper hunger for God, deal-breaking inconsistencies with either doctrine or history and besetting burdens.

Allow me to speak about this last reason. LDS doctrine teaches a type of “conditional grace”, a grace that is extended to a person only after they complete certain tasks or demonstrate their continued devotion. When combined with a list of “must-do” rules, the byproduct of this errant teaching of God’s grace is a weight that no one can or should carry. Though they may not admit it, many of your LDS friends and family are weighed down by this very thing. The story of Janet demonstrates this. After years of faithful service in the church she told her husband:

 “I can‘t do it anymore. I can’t lift it. My load is just too heavy. I can’t do all the things I’m supposed to.” She goes on to list the responsibilities she feels obligated to juggle and then says, “I’m just not perfect – I’m never going to be perfect, and I just can’t pretend anymore that I am. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can’t make it to the Celestial Kingdom, so why should I break my back trying?”

This kind of weariness is common and was actually the first reason I stepped away from Mormonism. My heart breaks for people experiencing this. The true grace Jesus offers escapes them but only because they have been presented with a false grace that in no way demonstrates the love and mercy God has for them. Unconditional grace is what every LDS person needs to see and understand.

One of my favorite quotes in the book that I think highlights his plea for Christians to cultivate real relationship with Mormons is when he says, “Let’s carefully observe what particular way God seems to be at work in a person’s life and think that way as we relate to him or her.” It is by partnering with God in what he is already doing that we can show the LDS in our lives the grace, freedom and rest found in Jesus.

The end of the book highlights another need that I experienced as I worked my way out of Mormonism and into Christianity…a welcomed place to land. Understanding the issues most LDS face once out, he identifies areas in which the local Christian church can improve on to make the transition as easy as possible. He also includes a glossary of commonly used LDS terms to help you understand “Mormonese”.

While the end of the book can come across as advocating a “soft” approach when discussing doctrine (which I tend to disagree with) I think this book is a must-read for anyone who has someone close to them in the LDS church but is struggling trying to understand and relate to them. Having spent 30 years in the LDS church I can say that they way he presents Mormons is accurate and is full of great insight into how they think and act. Combining the wisdom found in “I Love Mormons” with a basic understanding of LDS doctrine will go a long way in helping you effectively share the truth of the gospel with those who are in need of it most.

Categories: Book Review, Grace, Mormonism

The “Fire Escape” Approach to Salvation

May 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Having grown up in the suburbs of Fort Worth for most of my life, I cannot say that I have ever actually had any experience with a fire escape…I won’t let that stop me from using it to illustrate a point.

When I think of a fire escape I picture a New York alley with a zigzagging network of steel stairs winding its way past windows till it reaches the roof. Consider it a “stairway to heaven” if you will (queue Led Zeppelin).

Earth is the ground and heaven is the roof.

As we stand at the foot of this stairway looking up, we take notice of a few obstacles of getting to the top. First, the amount of steps seems almost un-climbable and all the twists and turns are dizzying. Second, the ladder does not reach all the way to the ground.

It is with this perspective that I want to approach the topic of salvation. Every human on earth is in the same position, standing at the bottom of this stairway and looking for the way to the top. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

There are two ways of approaching the predicament that we find ourselves in. One is trying to move our way up the stairs by our works. The other is having faith that Jesus will get us all the way to the top by what He has done.

I will use Mormonism as my example of the works-based solution because I am familiar with it. To them, the sacrifice of Jesus has limited importance. He stands next to us with his hands clasped and cupped waist high, ready to give us a boost so we can reach the bottom rung of the ladder that hovers over our heads, giving us access to the very bottom of the stairway. Once He gets us to that first rung, it is up to us to work our way to the top.

I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to climb my way up that ladder and it was exhausting. Each step was a rule that had to be kept or some action I had to take. Forget or fail to do something and back down you went. It felt like I would take one step up then 2 steps down. I never got any closer and there was never any hope of doing so.

Contrast that with the other method, relying on the finished work of Jesus on the cross and trusting in his grace to get you to the top. While the “works-based” Jesus can only push us up from the bottom, the “faith/grace based” Jesus is reaching down from the very top and effortlessly hoisting us up with his powerful, right arm. All we have to do is reach up and receive His unbreakable grasp…He does the rest.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is “cheap grace”. The cost of this grace was my no means cheap. In fact, it cost a price so high that only God could pay.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1:18-20

At this very moment, God’s hand is reaching out to you. He is stretching it toward you from heaven. Trust God, take hold of it, acknowledge the hopelessness of trying to climb your way up that “stairway to heaven” and receive the hope of salvation only found in Jesus Christ.

Categories: God, Grace, Jesus, Mormonism, Salvation

God in the Old Testament

May 6, 2011 1 comment

I have been spending a lot of my time in the Old Testament lately and my thoughts on God are changing because of it. With that kind of statement you may be thinking that I am drifting from the “God is Love” view presented in the New Testament toward the idea that “God is mean and vindictive” as many perceive when reading the Old Testament. In actuality, I cannot help but see the love, mercy and patients God continually shows to his people in the Old Testament.

Passages like Jeremiah 18:7-8 are what has helped shift my perspective.

“If at any time I announce that a nation of kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”

Judges 3 also has examples of God’s willingness to extend mercy:

v9 – “But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer.”
v15 – “Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer”
ch4 v3 – “they cried to the LORD for help.” and he send it.

In Exodus 34 God proclaims his name as “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
This is again repeated in Jonah 4:2-3

And Zephaniah 3:17 shows the love of God in a very beautiful way. “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

This list is by no means exhaustive and I am not saying that there are not accounts of God’s justice being measured out on the world. I think though that it is evident that it never has been nor never will be God’s desire to end the lives of his creation or cause damage/harm to them.

While Jesus was on the cross, God poured out his full measure of wrath and punishment for the entirety of sin on his Son. Because of that, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God’s arms are permanently out-stretched to receive anyone who wishes to receive this act of love and mercy.

I have been asked a lot lately what will happen to those who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. While I think only God can appropriately judge the hearts of men, I do think that he shows everyone mercy by withholding his justice (which we all deserve as sinners) until the last possible moment, which is death. Until the last breath, he is anxiously waiting and wooing those who have not turned to him and asked for this gift of grace he so badly wants us to receive.

God is good…Old Testament and New

Categories: God, Grace, Jesus

The LORD our God

May 1, 2011 2 comments

A pattern exists in the Old Testament that has a lot of significance in the discussion about whether or not Mormons are Christians. This pattern is the use of the words “LORD” and “God” in the same verse in phrases like “The LORD our God” and “The LORD God” and a few other variations. Why is this so important? Allow me to explain.

When you see “LORD” in all capital letters that is the Hebrew word “Yĕhova” or Jehova. It is also sometime pronounced Yahweh because the actual Hebrew spelling is YHWH and does not contain any vowels. Yĕhova is the actual proper noun given to “the one true God”.

The word “God” or “god” is a form of the Hebrew word “’elohiym”. This word is not a proper noun but rather a title. It carries various meanings which include: ruler, judge, God (the one true God) as well as god (a false god).

With those definitions in mind, let’s take a quick look at the LDS doctrine concerning the Godhead. The LDS church does not support the doctrine of the Trinity as Christian churches do. Instead, they believe God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are 3 separate and distinct gods.

“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”(Joseph Smith History of the Church, 6:474)

“In common with the rest of Christianity, we believe in a Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. However, we testify that these three members of the Godhead are three separate and distinct beings. We also testify that God the Father is not just a spirit but is a glorified person with a tangible body, as is his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. In contrast, many Christians reject the idea of a tangible, personal God and a Godhead of three separate beings. They believe that God is a spirit and that the Godhead is only one God. In our view, these concepts are evidence of the falling away we call the Great Apostasy.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84)

To support this teaching they give God the Father the name Elohim and to Jesus they give the name Jehova.

If we return to the Old Testament word usage I first explained it is easy to see that this allocation of names is not consistent with the Bible. Let’s look at Deut 6:4-5 as an example. This passage is known as the Shema, which is a very important Jewish prayer that is said twice daily.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Let’s now add the Hebrew into the verses.

Hear, O Israel: (Yĕhova) our (‘elohiym) [is] one (Yĕhova):
And thou shalt love (Yĕhova) thy (‘elohiym) with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

We can see the same thing in Isaiah 43:3 when it says “For I [am] the LORD (Yĕhova) thy God (‘elohiym), the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour:”

And again in Isaiah 45:5 – “I [am] the LORD (Yĕhova), and [there is] none else, [there is] no God (‘elohiym) beside me:”

In all of these verses, who does scripture say our God (‘elohiym) is? Yĕhova.
If that is true, than how can Elohim and Yĕhova be separate gods? They can’t.

As you read through the Old Testament, keep your eyes open for this pattern and I think you will be surprised by how many times it appears and the added significance it can give to passages.

To any of my LDS friends that may be reading this. Please consider the importance of understanding who the one true God of the Bible really is and how that affects every aspect of your theology. There is only 1 true God and he is Jehova. He is the first and the last; apart from him there is no God. (Isa 44:6)

Categories: Jesus, Mormonism