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J*** is a four-letter word

February 18, 2013 3 comments

A four-letter word has crept its way into my prayers and perhaps it has done the same to yours. It’s not a word we would think is vulgar but I believe God winces when he hears me say it. It is a word that puts limits on a limitless God and constrains His ability to bless me. The word I am speaking of is “just”. Not the adjective describing His nature. God does not have a problem with that. However, when used as a qualifier I believe it can hinder the effectiveness of my prayers. I can’t even count the number of times I have prayed something like this:

“Father God, I just want to thank you for your faithfulness.”

Or

“God, I ask that you just help me to be a better father.”

While it is most likely unintentional, or a habitual word pattern I have developed, consider what we I am saying to God when I use phrases like this. Do I really only want to praise Him for faithfulness? Am I really seeking help in just one area of my life? The answer is an obvious “no”. But is it plausible that my Father means more to me and has more for me but my language limits both my giving and receiving of blessings?

Let me put this in terms I can deal with…like brownies and ice cream. I love both, and while they are each great on their own, when put together a sweet synergy happens that borders on perfection.

Let’s say I lovingly put a brownie in a bowl, scoop a huge “Pennington-size” amount of vanilla ice cream on top, then proceed to pour on my daughter’s favorite toppings like chocolate syrup, sprinkles, marshmallows, whip cream and a cherry to top it off. Placing it in-front of her she smiles and starts to eat it, enjoying the mixture of ingredients given to her. I stand-by with great satisfaction that she is enjoying what I blessed her with and after the last spoonful passes between her lips she turns to me and before walking out of the kitchen says, “Dad, I just want to thank you for the sprinkles.”

Sprinkles?

Am I grateful that she liked the sprinkles? Sure. Am I puzzled or even disappointed that she did not mention the syrup, marshmallows, cherry, or even the ice cream and brownie? You bet.

How many times do I do that to God? I know his goodness and complexity is such that I could never adequately show my appreciation to him but do I look past or take for granted the bulk of what he has given me, just thanking him for the “sprinkles”?

Taking another look at the dessert metaphor, as a dad, if I had a hot pan of brownies, fresh from the oven and a gallon of Blue-Bell vanilla ice cream in the freezer I would love to give some to my daughter. In fact, she is the reason for making them in the first place. If she just asks for a brownie, I would gladly give it to her but she would be missing out on the ice cream also available to her because she did not ask for it. I might give it to her anyways because I am a good father but I might also assume that she just wants a brownie and nothing else.

Scripture tells me that while God knows what I need before I ever ask for it. It is still dependent upon me to ask.

If I believe that everything belongs to God and that all good things come from Him, then I can ask for everything he has to bless me with. I can ask for the brownie and the  ice cream!

I believe that if I remove from my prayers words like “just” that naturally limit my praise and petitions that God will be faithful to bless me according to his will. That is good news because he tells me that he is willing to bless me exceedingly, abundantly over and above what I can imagine and ask for. So not only will he give me the brownie and ice cream, but because of his love for me, he will add what he knows will increase my joy like the syrup, sprinkles, marshmallows and the cherry on top.

Categories: Prayer, Words Tags: ,

Words I did not understand – Salvation

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I touched on this one briefly in my last post about “Grace” so I thought I would go ahead and give a full explanation.  This post may be a bit longer than usual because of the subject matter but if you are not familiar with LDS doctrine you will find it interesting and eye-opening.  I have taken some quotes from LDS.org to show clearly what their doctrine on this topic is.

Let’s start with what I touched on last time.  When talking to LDS about salvation you are unknowing talking to them about something very different than what a typical Christian would think.  To a Christian salvation means being cleansed from sin and ultimately living with God in Heaven when we die, based on His righteousness and not our own.  Not so for the Mormon.  When they talk about salvation and it being a free gift what they are really referring to is the resurrection.

“All people eventually die. But through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected—saved from physical death.  In this sense, everyone is saved, regardless of choices made during this life. This is a free gift from the Savior to all human beings.”

Christians would share the belief that the resurrection is for everyone but the next paragraph on the LDS website is where our paths quickly part.

“To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, an individual must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37-38). Those who have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority have been conditionally saved from sin. In this sense, salvation is conditional, depending on an individual’s continuing in faithfulness, or enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God”

A few things are worthy of note here.  First, LDS doctrine states that you must be baptized by someone having “proper priesthood authority” in order to have a chance at living with God again.  When they state this, what they are actually saying is that in order to go to heaven, you must be baptized into the LDS church because they are the only ones who have this “priesthood authority”.  This view point however does not explain the thief on the cross that was told by the Savior that he would be with Him in paradise that day.  There was obviously no time for baptism yet he was granted a place in heaven.

The second thing to notice is that even after a confession of faith and being baptized into their church, that is still not enough.  Salvation for a Mormon continues to be “conditional” on them doing all the things the church leaders tell them to do.  This next quote punctuates that very point.

“Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives”

Unfortunately for Mormons, this teaching is not from God.  The book of Romans tells us that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  In chapter 4 it also says that “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Romans 10: 9-10 – That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

I was brought up believing that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was only powerful enough to pay for my past sins but it does not pay for future sins.  In addition to that, if I had repented of a sin and years later repeated that sin, the past sin would be added to the new one and the initial act of repentance would be made void.  In essence that is what they are saying.  Salvation is contingent on me being able to stop sinning throughout the rest of my “post-baptism” life.  That, as we all know, is impossible so Mormons go through life with absolutely no assurance of salvation.  They can never say for certain that they have done enough to make it to heaven.  They miss that God justifies the wicked (ungodly) and they diminish the power of Christ’s blood to wash away our sin.

What a Christian would call “salvation, a Mormon refers to as “Exaltation”.  This is their word for living with God for eternity.  According to LDS.org the only people who qualify for this are faithful LDS who complete a number of requirements.  Here is how they explain it:

Eternal life is to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and dwell with Them forever—to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.  This exaltation requires that men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that all Church members make and keep sacred covenants in the temple, including the covenant of eternal marriage. If the word salvation is used in this sense, no one is saved in mortality. That glorious gift comes only after the Final Judgment.”

There are so many things to address in that statement that I might have to take care of some of it in a following post.  Let me just say this…the Cross and the Blood have such limited power in this system that they have to add their own works, covenants and requirements to even have a chance of getting there.  They even go so far as to reinstate a version of Old Testament law and temple worship (in their own way and without animal sacrifice).  Unfortunately, even with all of that…they lack any type of guarantee.  As the last sentence points out, salvation is not even possible until we die.

When I was a Mormon all of this toil and work, with no actual hope attached to it, was exhausting.  Every General Conference (when you hear the prophet and apostles speak) you are told that what you are doing is good…but not good enough.  Work harder, sacrifice more, do more, re-double your efforts.  There is no rest for the weary.  Why?  Because it is up to each individual to do everything they can to work their way into heaven, never knowing if they have done enough.

My heart breaks when I think about it.  Most of my family is still LDS and running on their individual hamster wheel, going as hard and fast as they can but never moving.  They miss the peace that could be theirs if they would just recognize and understand that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith”.  When He said “It is finished” He left no room for doubt.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62: 5-8)

Hebrews 7:28 – The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. 20And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ “22Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Romans 3: 20-28 – 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

This is the doctrine of Biblical Christianity.  These are the teachings of Christ and His Apostles.  As Paul says:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Gal 1:6-8)

The LDS gospel of “works based salvation” is no gospel (good news) at all.  I pray that those Mormons who are weary and burdened will see the hope that is in Christ.  That they will see the futility of trying to be justified by the law and that they will surrender their lives to Jesus and ask for His forgiving grace.

Categories: Mormonism, Salvation, Words

Words I did not understand – Grace

August 14, 2010 1 comment

Before I was a Christian, and when I started to study the Bible, There were a lot of common words, ideas or themes that I did not understand.  That may actually be putting it lightly.  They were so foreign to me that I could not even begin to grasp the concepts behind them.  I now recognize that part of the reason for this is that I was taught from birth that they were either false doctrine or the meaning of them was twisted to denote something very different…often the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches.

One of the first words I struggled with was “Grace”.  I recall going up to a pastor of a church I was visiting and asking him to explain “Grace”.  An impossible task for a 3 minute conversation.  He mentioned the standard idea of “unmerited favor” and what you would expect to hear but I could not, for the life of me, wrap my mind around it.

I grew up in a works based religion where everything must be earned.  I had been reared in a church that taught me that only one thing was free or a guarantee and that was that I would be resurrected.  That was it…according to the LDS teachings I grew up with Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection broke the bonds of death and because of that everyone would be resurrected.  Anything past that though required a lot of work on my part.

To give you a glimpse into that doctrine here are a few of the verses from the Book of Mormon most commonly used to display this idea.

2 Nephi 25:23 – For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

The majority of this verse sounds great and is very much in-line with Biblical teaching but when you add the context of the last five words to it, everything changed.  Grace becomes an afterthought, something that only takes affect when we have left everything we could possible give on the table.  It limits and diminishes the power and scope of God’s grace.

Moroni 10: 32 – Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

This verse, which is actually one of the very last things said in the Book of Mormon, takes it one step further.  Here we see a very clear “if/than statement” that naturally signifies a conditional reward.  “IF” we deny ourselves of ALL ungodliness…”THAN” God’s grace is sufficient for us.  Without one…the other is not possible.  While the first passage in 2 Nephi tells us to basically work harder and do more…this one actually tells us to literally become perfect.  If we have cleared ourselves of “all ungodliness” than we have become perfect.  If we have become perfect by our own actions and works, than we have no more need for a Savior nor His grace.  Now, most LDS would say that it is impossible to actually become perfect but that God wants us to be as perfect as possible and then Christ will make up the difference.  It would appear that these two verses actually contradict each other and they do but that is the doctrine of Mormonism and I have learned over the past two years that it stands in direct contradiction to Biblical Christianity.

What does the Bible say about Grace and salvation by Grace?

Romans 11:6 – And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

1 Cor 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

I like this declaration by Paul because it underlines the fact that God’s grace is something that can impact our lives every day as a source of strength an empowerment, not just something that fills in the gap at the end of our life.

Galatians 2:20-21 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 5:4 – You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

And perhaps the most well know passage about grace:

Ephesians 2:4-5,8-9 – But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Growing up, grace was not a word mentioned very often but when it was, the context was always something earned, a reward for a job well done.

This is now the context in which I view grace…a gift of God.  A gift not to be earned, but received.  A gift I cannot do without NOW.  Grace is the sustaining force in my life that provides me the strength and ability to live each day.  It is my confession of fault and “unworthiness” and subsequent dependency on Jesus that qualifies me for His grace…not my self proclaimed righteousness or good works.  It is by grace that I have been saved and I’m proud of it!

Categories: Grace, Mormonism, Words